I left work rather abruptly after my diagnosis in January. I loved my windowless office at the university; it was my first work office of my own. Sure, I’ve held other jobs but none of them came with a space to call one’s own. The small room in the less traveled hallway meant that I was on my way to what I’d longed for: a life in academia.
I moved out on a weekend when no one was about; I didn’t think I could speak to anyone without crying. I didn’t want to have to talk about cancer or my treatment. The first cancer diagnosis was hard enough; the second was distressing and heartrending because this time I knew what to expect. I knew I’d have to give up teaching for the immediate future; life would shrink to treatments and doctor visits. Goodbye students, office, friends at the university, peace. I threw everything in storage boxes and we brought them home and put them in a closet. My books, my notes, my lesson plans, paperclips, highlighters: everything.
Now fall is here and I’ve been organizing. I opened the closet and began to sort through my papers. I went to the old office downstairs and brought up my poetry-writing papers and found all of my Army -wife- volunteering paperwork. The three stacks of belongings feel like evidence of three different lives. I have always had strong boundaries between different aspects of myself. I imagine that this is good for focus. When I am writing I am consumed by it, when I teach I am dedicated, when I volunteer I am committed, when researching and thinking critically: riveted.
You wouldn’t think that sorting through pens and papers and binder clips would elicit so much emotion. But the task has been a challenge for the emotional weight. I must be an imagist. Objects carry meaning for me. Manila folders: writing classroom and the flood of my student’s faces. Binder clips: reading final portfolios with my peers in graduate school. Notes and books: the pleasure of learning something new. A poster of a Monet painting: the moments when graduate school was overwhelming and I sat and stared into the painting to find peace. Sticky tabs: the excitement of marking pages of poetry as I planned my classes and the nervousness of standing in front of 30 strangers and declaring my passion. A small collection of floppy disks: the editors’ meetings and the informal conversations about poetry with my poet friend Dennis. A red chair, a bowl of silk geraniums: the silence of my office early in the morning before students as I prepared for the day.
Sometimes it is hard to breathe, but I have been making headway. I am preparing everything for the future and for the opportunities that the future must certainly bring.