Deliver These to Ricky

Deliver These to Ricky

Deliver These to Ricky 1920 1440 Christy Lorio

In June 2018 I made a discovery that I shared something with my dad. These letters serve as a way to explore and connect our shared experience. Chris and Christin are my siblings. Pam is my mom. 

 

Hey Dad,

Do you remember the time you gave yourself your own stitches? You were out on the property on Shady Park Lane before you and Mom started building the house. Did the street even have a name yet? It was just an overgrown acre of land, thick with trees wrapped in cat claw vines. I remember the ditch would fill up with crawfish after a hard rain and rabbits would hide out from the alligators that inevitably crept into the next door neighbor’s pond.

You were clearing the property, cutting down some of the thorny trees. You were out there alone and you gashed your hand. Or was it a leg? I don’t remember but you gave yourself your own stitches because you didn’t want to sit and wait at the emergency room for hours. Mom was horrified — I think we all were— but I think she was secretly proud and maybe even a little jealous of your grit. I know I was.

I didn’t live in the house on Shady Park Lane for long. What, a few months? I remember that tiny Fat City apartment you helped me move into. It’s the last time you helped me move. I turned 21 in that apartment. You called me at midnight to wish me a happy birthday. This feels like a very long time ago yet not long ago at all.

I live in the city now, as in New Orleans proper. Cat claw takes over the fence during the summer months and encroaches on the sweet olive tree in the front yard. When we still rented the house, our landlady told us that her mother’s ashes are buried under that tree. That’s kind of weird, right? I’m not sure if that’s true but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. I thought you would get a kick of that. I haven’t tried to dig up Pat’s mom so the mystery remains. Anyway, the olive tree is still there and so is the banana tree. We bought the house about a year after we moved back to New Orleans— we hadn’t lived in it since we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina.The banana tree is so massive that  the dogs disappear in its thick stalks. We call it the jungle now. The leaves fade to tan right around Mardi Gras each year but the tree comes back stronger, taller, and greener as the years pass.

 

Love,

Christy

***

 

Hey Dad,

My fourteenth wedding anniversary is this month. Thomas and I had just started dating when you got sick. I wish you could have met him. He came with me to the hospital sometimes. Did you know that? He would wait for me in the lobby while I visited with you. I never told Mom and Maw Maw that. When it was all over,  I remember Mom and Maw Maw asked me why he didn’t go to the funeral. Can you imagine meeting your girlfriend’s family for the first time at her father’s funeral? They acted like it would have been the most natural thing but I wasn’t having any of it. Thomas would have gone if I asked him though. He’s just that type of guy. I mean, he stuck by me through your death and through Maw Maw Tut Tut’s death a year and a half later. And now, seventeen years after we first started dating, we’re dealing with colon cancer again. This time it’s mine and not yours. Did you see this coming? I didn’t. Remind me to tell you how I found out.

 

Love,

Christy

***

Hey Dad,

I felt pretty good today so I went to the museum by myself, the one in City Park. The last time I went to the park was November of last year for the Fall Crescent City Classic. I ran my second ever 5K race and placed in the top ten percent of females for my age group. Not shabby for being 37 years old and having just started running a few months prior. And I beat Thomas by several minutes. When he finished I asked him what took him so long.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Two weeks ago things started to feel real. There is no denying that I have cancer now. I had two surgeries in one week— one to place the chemo port in my chest and an intense radiation treatment to my brain. I forgot to tell you that I also had brain surgery in July to remove a cancerous brain tumor. I need to catch you up on so much.

Mom came to the house to bring me to surgery to have my port put in. I was in the bathroom fixing my hair in the bathroom when a wave of grief engulfed me. I thought about how the days of fixing my hair will soon be over. I knew that losing my hair was a possibility but I remembered that you didn’t lose yours. Last year I cut my hair short for the first time since you were alive. Then I decided to dye it blonde for the first time ever. It sounds silly and vain but— stay with me— I think when we make deliberate changes in our outward appearance it can have an impact on us internally. I felt like I could do anything after I dyed my hair. I also felt that way when I started running. If I can do this, what else am I capable of?

I am capable of surviving cancer. That’s what I am capable of. I could die from this, just like you did. I promise you I won’t.

 

Love,

Christy

***

 

Hey Dad,

So this is what happened. June 2018, I was in Cork, Ireland. I was supposed to be there for almost seven weeks for a little bit of work and a little of vacation with Thomas. I was in the country for two days. It was a Saturday. I bought a ticket to see a play, then walked around the city centre killing time before the show started, or at least that was the plan. I was in front of the English Market. It’s kind of like a farmer’s market that sells produce, meat, seafood and sundries. I was going to check out a vintage clothing store then grab a bite to eat. I was about to walk in when I felt my mouth start to twitch. It did not frighten me. My first thought was “Oh, this is an odd, new sensation.”

Turns out, I had a seizure.

The seizure was caused by a cancerous brain tumor. I spent a week in the hospital while the doctors ran tests on me. The only reason I found out about the colon cancer (the brain tumor was secondary) was because I mentioned that you died from colon cancer. The doctor told me he was “99% sure” that my test results would come back negative, so when he told me I had three tumors in my butt I completely broke down. I could handle the brain stuff because it felt like an anomaly. But colon cancer? It was my worst nightmare come to life. I thought about how much we went through when you died and I didn’t want to put the family through that again.

Anyway, I flew home to take care of the cancer. I didn’t want to get stuck in Ireland. I thought I might die in Ireland and never see anyone I love again. I can’t say I’m doing better but I am comforted in knowing that I have support here and the healthcare is so much more advanced. I will survive this but there are times when I don’t feel as if I am living.

 

Love,

Christy

***

Hey Dad,

I got my haircut this weekend. The doctor told me it will take another two weeks for my hair to start falling out. I don’t want to see strands of hair clogging the bathtub drain. I don’t want to wake up to clumps of hair on my pillow. My hairdresser cut it slightly longer than a buzzcut. We left the top long, to where it falls just to eye-length, and dyed it purple. Might as well have fun with it while I still have it.

I was scared to lose my hair but I am not anymore. Cutting my hair gave me a sense of control. I was (and still am) petrified of chemo. Every time I leave the house I feel a pang of fear that someone or something could hurt me. I’ve never felt that way before. Where is this fear coming from? My body does not feel like it is mine anymore. This feeling first started in the Irish hospital. Every day someone was drawing my blood, taking my vitals, running me through an MRI tube, poking and prodding me. When I had the brain tumor removed it was the first surgery in my life. Go big or go home, right?

I have this body that’s mostly okay but there is something wrong with it. I feel mostly okay when I’m in between chemo treatments. I feel fine but I need to be fixed; otherwise I will die.

Did you feel like that? Did you feel like your body was mostly okay or did you feel betrayed by it? Did you feel broken? There is so much I’m just now realizing that I don’t know about you and your struggle because I was too afraid to ask. Mentally, I was barely hanging on when you were fighting your own colon cancer while running a business and raising a family on a lower middle-class income. I was 21, a full-time college student working a full-time job and dealing with a full-time sick dad. Chris would soon move out of the house and Christin was barely in high school. I can’t fathom how you felt, knowing that you were leaving behind a wife and three kids. Yet you held on. You held on long enough until someone told you that I had arrived at the hospital. “Christy’s here?” you asked. And then you were gone. But I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there for you at that moment. I was at Thomas’ house, the same one we own now.

Right now, I am your daughter but I am not you. The doctor said they can cure me. Cure— such a bold word. I want to believe it, but I know better than to cling to that word because I thought you would pull through but you didn’t. It was nothing you did wrong. It was nothing you did or did not do. I want you to know that. None of it was your fault. Why am I telling you this? Maybe it’s because I am telling myself this as well. None of this is my fault.

 

Love,

Christy

 

***

Hey Dad,

Some days I feel almost normal. I can’t get too accustomed to a return to normalcy. I can’t linger in the idea of returning to normal. My speech is still off after the brain surgery. I’m seeing a speech therapist, but I’m not sure if I will ever sound like my old self again. I was complaining to Christin about how much effort it takes just to talk. Having a sister that’s a speech therapist has helped me grasp what’s going on with my brain. I expressed to her how I want to sound like my old self again but realize that I might not ever get back to that again.

“At least you’re alive,” she said.

She’s right.

Nothing about my life is going to be normal for the rest of this year. Hell, maybe even longer than that. I couldn’t return to a pre-Ireland life even if I tried.

My body is healing from my surgeries. My skin is clearing up. I developed acne on my neck and shoulders right after brain surgery. My head incision is healed and the hair is growing back— just in time for it to fall out. I have bags under my eyes for the first time in my life. I know that sounds vain. I know that things could be much, much worse. I try to remind myself that others have it a lot worse than me but I also have to tell myself that it’s okay to acknowledge that cancer really fucking sucks.

Mom has been dropping F bombs lately. I remember when we were kids that was one of the only curse words that were totally off-limits. She’s been slinging them around like she’s making up for lost time. It’s refreshing to see her loosen up a little.

 

Love,

Christy

***

Hey Dad,

My back hurts from sitting and lying down for so long. I’m not used to having to rest this much. I haven’t been to the gym in almost two months and the neurosurgeon instructed me to wait another month before I start to lift weights again. I want to take back my body and I don’t want to waste away.

I started reading a book about decluttering and cleaning (haha, that is so Pam Lorio of me) and it made me realize the value in keeping the house as clean as possible. Mom and Christin both told me the story about when you had surgery to remove the tumors and you were on the riding lawn mover two weeks after surgery. Mom cursed you out and told you to get off the damn thing. She said you told her, “What? I’m just sitting down.” Mom told Christin, “God, Christy is Dad all over again.” The doctor fussed at me for riding my bike so soon after surgery. Chris and I rode our bikes to Hansen’s to get snoballs. It was too hot for a 30 minute walk and I can’t drive right now. What were we supposed to do? My neurosurgeon gave me major stink eye when I told him that. He asked if I was wearing a helmet. (I was.) The look on his face said “I just fixed your damn head.” I got fussed at again by my oncologist a week later. She warned me about potholes and reckless drivers. Mom fussed at Chris so we both got fussed at, just like when we were kids. I guess some things never change.

 

Love,

Christy

***

Hey Dad,

I will say this— one of the good things about the hospital is having your meals come to you. Did you like the break of having to figure out what to do about lunch every day? I guess I’ve never given much thought to what you did for lunch on a day-to-day basis before you were sick. Did Mom pack you a lunch for work? Did you stop by the po-boy shop in the neighborhood, the same one that my high school gym teacher let us sneak out to while we were walking for exercise? Or did Maw Maw cook for you at her house? I bet you stopped by Maw Maw’s for rice and gravy a few times a week. There is so much that I don’t know or can’t recall about your daily habits.

I cringe with regret thinking about how I should have visited you more in the hospital. I think you know how hard it was for me to see you like that, my strong dad wasting away, so frail, so defeated by this thing inside your body that you couldn’t see or touch. And now I have it. I have your disease.

Even after all these years, and especially after my own diagnosis, I can’t even think about the end of your life without getting upset. I still can’t read a book or watch a movie with a strong father-daughter dynamic, or a parent who gets cancer or dies of a terminal illness.  We went to a friend’s wedding a few years ago and I had to walk away during the father-daughter dance. It was at the gardens at City Park. I walked to the edge and allowed myself to ugly cry and be inconsolable.

And now, I feel this closeness to you that I’ve felt before but I’m just realizing I barely scratched the surface of. I thought we were close. We were, but now I feel like a detective trying to piece together who you actually were versus who I remember you to be. Maybe the memories should be enough to sustain me. Maybe I shouldn’t dig too much into the past. What would you want? What do I need?

 

Love,

Christy

***

 

Hey Dad,

Remember that time when we were kids and mom went out of town one weekend for a teacher’s convention? You let us stay up well past our bedtime and watch a “Planet of the Apes” marathon with you. That was so much fun. We all thought we were getting away with something. It was one of those moments I realized you were fun loving, not bound by the rules of life you abided by, able to create your own sets of moral codes and not limited to what you were taught in so many years of Catholic school. You were a little bit of a rebel— my own rebellious streak comes from you. Always pushing the boundaries ever so slightly, always trying to figure out how to buck the system without getting into too much trouble or causing an uproar.

Maybe it was the music you listened to growing up, like Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. They symbolized freedom and rebellion and youth. But you also listened to traditional Cajun music— always in the truck, on way to church, dropping me off at school, our weekly visits to the grandparents on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. The Cajun music was a nod to our Cajun heritage. To Maw Maw Tut Tut growing up on a house boat, to Paw Paw C.L.’s family, who has been in Louisiana since before the Louisiana Purchase. To the pirogue rides, the frog hunting, the rabbits you raised for sustenance in the backyard (I still can’t believe mom let you get away with that), to the duck hunting, the deer hunting, the swamp. These things run in our veins, sustaining us and carrying us through hurricanes, oil spills, termite swarms, armadillos tearing up the backyard and the dog getting blamed for it. And yes, colon cancer. Father-daughter colon cancer. The same cancer that plagues a disproportionate number of Cajuns in Louisiana. Some heritage, right?

 

Love,

Christy

***

Dear Dad,

You used to tell me “Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed.” I have my second round of chemo tomorrow. I am expecting the worst. I’m expecting to be nauseated and weak. You also told me “There’s always going to be someone worse than you and better than you.” when I barely got beat out for State Honor Band. Now I’m taking that same advice and reminding myself that there are people much, much worse off than me right now. Still, it’s easier to say that than believe it. The day of my first chemo appointment I cried when I woke up, I cried on the way there and I cried in the waiting room. The anticipation and having the needle put into my port was worse than the chemo itself. The skin over my port is still sore and healing from the surgery. It feels like I have a quarter-sized board game piece lodged in my chest. When all of this is done I am going to steal the line you used to tell people when they asked how you were feeling.

“Any better and I couldn’t stand it.”

 

Love,

Your daughter

Header photograph © Lesley-Anne Evans.

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7 Comments
  • Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar
    Teryle Watson 01/14/2019 at 2:09 pm

    This is a profound and deeply personal read for me.My beloved father died from colon cancer on my thirtieth birthday. He was only fifty eight.The love of my life,my precious husband battled colon cancer for three years.He got his angel wings on September 18th.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.I pray that you will remain strong and win the battle over this illness.
    You are bigger than the cancer.
    All the best,
    Teryle Watson

  • Oh Christy! I just think that you are fabulous. I have since the first day/night that I actually met you. I had worked with Thomas for quite awhile and listened to him talk about how much he adored you! Then you came to Fins and I was wearing a red North Face coat. You said something along the lines of how ironic that I would be wearing that jacket. I knew instantly that you were great people. I adore you! It’s been over 13 years but I still feel like I know you. I am always here for you in any way that I can. You and Thomas are bright spots in my life!

  • Very touching. Very well written an Good to read.

  • Thank you for sharing. You are such a great writer. Your dad would be so proud of how strong you are. I enjoy following you on Connect and listening to your videos.

  • Please keep writing and sharing.

  • Lucinda Kempe
    Lucinda Kempe 01/22/2019 at 6:17 pm

    Eh, la bas, Christy❣️ Fine work:,poignant., hard and true. Glad to have discovered a fellow New Orleanean♥️♥️♥️ Here at Barren Magazine.

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