I. DECEMBER 2019, BC: “Wednesdays With Margot”
I’m an insider.
By that I don’t mean I’m part of a small knowing faction of people. I belong to no esoteric subset of society. I am not an inside trader. I have no inside knowledge.
Put simply: I spend the majority of my time inside. I do this because:
- I am preternaturally an introverted antisocial homebody.
- I work from a home office.
- When I exercise I do so in my basement. I am kind of intimidated by gyms: all those rock-hard humans pumping and grunting and sweating…
- I live in Vermont where winter lasts for 398 days—or so it often seems and:
~I am afraid of falling on the icy sidewalks and breaking my wrist, effectively quashing my ability to write;
~I do not trust snow tires;
~I do not ski.
- I deplore having to pick out something acceptable to wear. As a stay-at-home writer, my daily attire resembles what other people wear when they’re home sick with the flu.
- On the whole, I don’t like group activities: I shun yoga classes. I belong to no sangha.
- Outside is scary. So many people. So much noise! All that eye contact and small talk I might have to make!
Okay, so all hyperbole aside, I do venture out now and again, but I need a good reason to. Some of these reasons include:
- Food shopping. I try to limit this to once/week.
- Going to Goodwill. I love Goodwill—you never know what treasures you will find in other people’s castoffs. I once found a signed copy of my first novel at the local Goodwill.
- Restaurant eating. I will never ever turn down a chance to dine out. Being waited on and not having to load the dishwasher is, for me, heaven.
- Traveling to places beyond Vermont—i.e.: flying to Florida to see my mother.
- Volunteering for the food shelf.
- Plays, concerts, etc. I don’t think twice about dolling up and heading out to see live performances, even if it means going alone. I’m partial to symphonies and musicals.
- Lectures. Not really—I’m lying.
- Book groups. Whoa, what? I don’t actually belong to any, but every now and then I’m invited to speak about my memoir. I normally fret and dry heave and change my outfit 17 times before I’m out the door.
- Author readings, but only if it’s someone I know and wish to support (see below).
- Bike riding along Lake Champlain.
- Occasionally meeting friends for lunch or coffee.
- In particular, meeting my friend Margot for lunch or coffee.
Margot is a writer. Besides being an associate editor for Vermont’s groovy independent weekly, she bylines terrific book and movie reviews for them. Oh, and she’s also the author of two young adult thrillers. She recently let Loy read an advanced copy of her newest novel, The Glare, (set to be released July 2020) and Loy deemed it “really scary and really good.”
Speaking of Loy: on Tuesday nights she works at Leunig’s Petit Bijou, a small semi-heated kiosk in downtown Burlington. It fancies itself a French bistro and beyond selling espresso drinks and pastries, its Francophile-inspired fare includes beignets, poutine (which is French Canadian and, honestly, I don’t get why it exists), pre-wrapped duck pate and other assorted sandwiches, as well as an intriguing mix of salads, many of which are festooned with fruit.
Every Tuesday night, after she closes, Loy is supposed to toss out all the food deemed less than fresh, but instead she brings it home, whereupon I immediately dig through the bags, culling the jambon et buerre baguettes, stale scones, and wilted salads from the perfectly edible remains.
And then I email Margot.
Because Margot is another shut-in insider who isn’t keen to interact with other humans. Like me, she works from her home office. When she exercises, she dons headphones and walks around her condominium complex (3 circuits = 1 mile) while listening to her favorite podcasts. Once a week she takes a one-on-one ice-skating lesson.
But on Wednesdays Margot has to leave her house for a mandatory editorial meeting. As long as she’s dressed and already outside, Margot is almost always up for getting together, especially when I tell her about the food bounty I’ve scored. I mean, who doesn’t love a free lunch?
Margot is also a skittish driver and hates going anywhere in the city where parking is problematic. The local food co-op has plentiful parking, but more importantly, it has cutlery.
And packets of oil and vinegar.
I try to get there a bit early so that by the time Margot finds me in the small airy café, I’ve set two places with paper napkins, plastic forks and knives, and laid out our feast of leftovers. For the next two or three hours we talk books and writing and publishing and life and editing and movies and cats and family dramas while taking bites of one salad then another; eating half a turkey sandwich before moving on to the ahi tuna and then to the roast beef. With our coffees, we plunder the brownies and eclairs. Around us I sense the other patrons eyeing our food orgy with a mix of suspicion and jealousy, but I don’t care because when I’m outside with Margot, I feel both empowered and at ease. We relate to one another’s social discomfiture and writerly frustrations. We have no trouble making eye contact. She offers me intelligent and inspiring advice about my novel-in-progress, and—even though she tries to demur—I expound on the reasons I admire the shit out of her many talents. And when, at last, we walk out together to the parking lot, neither of us feels the need to hug goodbye.
II. MARCH 2020, AC: “Internity”
I just sent Margot an email, checking in. She’s concerned about her sister and mother, her job, and the public relations plans surrounding the launch of her novel. I didn’t have to ask her how she’s doing being isolated because this new normal our fellow earthlings are presently experiencing is pretty much status quo for the likes of us insiders.
I mean, yeah, in some respects it’s still the same:
- I’m the same unsociable wench today that I was three months ago.
- I’m still working from my home office, but now I have to close the door to block out the sound of whatever Netflix series my daughter is streaming.
- I’m still hitting the basement gym: I’ve got a spin bike, a treadmill, multi-pound weights and a thick black horse mat. FYI: I follow along with Fitness Blender and Heather Robertson for most of my workouts (both are free).
- Icy sidewalks and eye contact aside, the thought of going outside is scarier now than ever before.
- Other than changing my underwear, I’ve had on the same pair of gray leggings and the same flannel shirt for 5 days now.
But it’s also very very different:
- I’m not going grocery shopping anymore. We’ll soon be needing more eggs, milk, gin, and flour, but I believe we have enough food stocked in our larder to hold us over until the president stops referring to the pandemic as the “Chinese Virus,” or until people stop dying from it: whichever comes first.
- Goodbye Goodwill.
- Takeout food only. We are doing what we can to support local restaurants by getting a few of our meals to-go. Invention being the daughter of necessity, curbside pickup is the order of the day; even the library is asking patrons to wait outside while they bring your checked-out books to you.
- All bucket lists have been upended in the sand and travel is now a thing of the past. Tragically, I am not sure when or if I will ever see my mother again.
- The food shelf is in dire need of help, but I have, regretfully, chosen not to continue retrieving food from grocery stores for them.
- The fat lady has sung and the curtains have been drawn. Still, I’m gladdened by the generous spirit of so many artists around the world who are sharing their work on social media.
- Speaking of social media: I used to scroll through the Big 3 a few times a day, but now I find myself constantly getting swept up by the tsunami of homemade bread pics, masterful memes, global news and personal tales. I’ve clicked the ANGRY emoji so often lately I’m tempted to suggest to Mark Zuckerberg that everyone be given a lifetime allotment of them and once you run out you can no longer be angry—even at the photos of those selfish deny/can’t die spring breakers in Florida.
Now that (almost) the entire planet has joined the insider club, I’m no longer an outlier. My heretofore isolatory behavior has become socially acceptable, if not downright mandatory.
We are all of us, alone together.
And frankly, it sucks. It stinks. It’s impossibly, ineffably surreal.
It’s also an incredibly inconvenient time to be diagnosed with cancer.
In January, after two biopsies of what I presumed were innocuous but annoying red lumps on my scalp, I found out I have non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. More precisely: Primary cutaneous follicle center lymphoma (PCFCL), a type of B cell lymphoma (PCBCL).
For the most part, it’s considered an indolent cancer.
[ in-dl-uhnt ]
having or showing a disposition to avoid exertion; slothful: an indolent person.
Pathology. causing little or no pain; inactive or relatively benign: an indolent ulcer that is not painful and is slow to heal.
This means that if the cancer is confined only to my scalp, the prognosis is generally excellent. But, if the tumors on my head turned out to be merely the—excuse the pun—tip of the iceberg, it is far less excellent. In order to find out what lay beyond, the docs needed to dig deep inside me.
First, they took a lot of my blood.
Then they shot radioactive glucose through my veins before strapping my arms down and feeding me into a PET-CT scan machine.
The news was good: all 14 blood tests were normal and there was no sign of cancer in my lymph nodes or organs. But, it just so happens that in about 10% of cases, this drowsy cancer acts like it just downed a case of Red Bull, kicking into high gear and Franken-forming into a more deadly systemic B-cell lymphoma.
We were all in agreement: the sooner I get these pesky bumps off my head the better.
Did I mention that this kind of cancer is extremely rare and few docs exist who know anything about it? Did I also mention that there is no set guidelines for how best to get rid of the tumors?
The radiation oncologist I met with said 15 rounds of high-dose radiation to my entire head would do the trick. It would also cause brain damage and permanent alopecia (baldness).
Many second opinions later I found a smart dermatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock who more or less wrote the (very thin) book on this cancer. She suggested low-dose rate brachytherapy to only the tumors.
“Why irradiate perfectly good skin?” she stressed before walking out the door following our hour-long consultation. “With this cancer there’s a 40% chance the tumors will come back, but most likely in different parts of your scalp. We want to be able to radiate those when they do.”
Because of this pandemic nightmare, all non-emergency medical procedures are on hold, including treating lazy-ass tumors. As much as I love being an insider, a homebody, a sane and satisfied shut-in, I am anxious to get outside ASAP and zap these motherfucker rogue B-cells.
Until that happens I guess I’m staying inside, like I usually do. And, just for the heck of it, I might even change my clothes.