I actually started writing this blog over two weeks ago on October 20th, and it’s right there in the fancy history-tracking feature on this thing.
I just didn’t feel much like finishing it, or blogging at all for that matter, since.
I made revision after revision and just couldn’t bring myself to publish any of it, and not because I had a hard time admitting I was officially a cat lady. It was because shortly after finishing what I thought was a great blog, I received some very shocking news and it shook me to my core. It’s been a while since I’ve felt like this. And I’ve been struggling with lots of emotions these last few weeks, both bad and good and the fifty shades of moods in between.
This blog was supposed to be about Sushi, our “new” family cat, who coincidentally sat right next to me when I started typing.
It’s become “our thing.” Every time I sit down with my Mac, Sushi curls up right next to me. He’s nestled up against me right now.
We adopted him from a small family-run shelter close to our home just three short weeks ago (though it feels much longer)…
And yes, we named our cat Sushi.
I’m blogging about a cat, therefore I am a cat lady. That’s how it works, right?
Then there’s sushi the food, not our cat, as in the sushi that has been flying off my bamboo mats at Rice House and into many homes in our town of Evergem, and other towns both near and far. There’s also the sushi that was made under my guidance and instruction, at the very first sushi workshop Rice House hosted nearly a month ago. I meant to blog about all of this sooner, but my heart just wasn’t in it.
My husband Davy and I had no idea what to expect when we created the sushi workshop event, and booked space enough for at least ten potential students, at our town’s community center (conveniently located just right across the street from Rice House). Would ten people in our tiny town be willing to come out on a Monday night, let alone pay to learn how to make sushi? Would the event be a flop?
I’m so glad we had such a great turnout…
Because present on that night,
was a doctor, hairdresser, and pastry chef baker,
oh, and also among the group,
October 12, 2015
George turned out to be the evening’s rockstar, and he held his own and really did roll some tasty maki. I can tell you this first-hand because I sampled some.
And come May, Rice House turns two years old and it really has evolved like a motherfucker.
Hard work can actually pay off. A lot of times, it really can. Legally. Sometimes illegally too. Because…
Don’t knock shit until you’ve tried shit.
But we all know there are things that happen in life, that have nothing to do with how hard you work. Or even whether or not you are a good person. I’m talking about cancer.
FUCKING FUCK YOU, CANCER, YOU FUCKING FUCKFACE FUCKHOLE FUCKWAD FUCKING FUCKER, CANCER.
Unfair to everyone it touches, but especially unfair to young children. You don’t have to be a parent to feel this. You just have to be human.
Parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their child will survive childhood. Children shouldn’t have to worry about chemotherapy or needles or why they’re losing their hair, or why they can’t just sleep in their own bed every night like they used to. It’s just not fair.
Yet there is one child in my life (and Davy’s) in particular, Farah, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. She’s the eldest of two bright and beautiful daughters, of our friends Houda and Daan. And when I say recently, I mean it’s been a month since diagnosis.
My body literally went numb when I was told by Houda, because it was the last thing I’d expected to hear…because what kind of sick fuck actually sits around waiting to hear news like this?
Just like that, Farah’s life is now forever changed, as are Houda’s and Daan’s, and baby Lynah’s too though she’s too young to grasp any of this. And in turn, mine and Davy’s too. Because it’s not the cousin of a friend of a coworker’s child in some wide degree of separation who is sick. It’s closer. And when it’s closer, it hurts that much more.
Noah is yet still too young to understand how sick Farah is, and I have not gone into depth with him because he is not yet even four. But neither is Farah. They’re the same age, and born the same month. Fast friends. But cancer gives zero fucks. It never has.
I waited as long as I could to tell Noah. But he ended up beating me to it, as Fall Break approached, asking me if we were still going to Farah’s house for another family playdate during vakantie (vacation). Because Noah forgets nothing, and he knew very well that we had plans coming up with Farah’s family.
In response I asked him a question. Had he seen Farah in school recently, and he answered no. So I told Noah, simply, that Farah would not be returning to school for a while because she was very sick, and in fact we wouldn’t be able to go to her house either during the break because she needed to rest and get better. I asked him if he’d like to maybe draw a pretty picture for Farah, to make her smile.
He answered quickly in a clear and somewhat serious tone, “Yes mama, I want to draw a picture for Farah and buy her a pink flower because pink is her favorite color.”
And it is. It struck me like a slap in the face that he knew that, or that he even remembered that. Pink. Farah’s favorite color.
She was head-to-toe in pink the last time we had her over for a playdate at our home, see-sawing and carefree in the summer’s breeze. She’d even asked specifically for the pink fork and knife from our Ikea kiddie cutlery, when we all sat down for lunch that day… Noah has since asked again when he can bring Farah that pink flower, and I’ve answered that her doctor must say it’s okay for her to have visitors and, “Farah’s mama will tell us when.”
The thing is, I thought Davy had been lucky in a sense, as he’s never actually been this close to fucking cancer. I admit I envied him just a little, because I’ve lost loved ones to cancer. But then I saw how news of Farah shook Davy, badly, and I once again realized that there is no luck when it comes to caring. Or cancer. No rhyme or reason either.
I also realized that I’ve been living in some Belgian bubble these last five years, untouched by what cancer can do. Because this is the first time, since I moved to Belgium, that news like this has hit me about someone close to me. That bubble has now been burst.
Needless to say, I haven’t quite been myself since receiving Farah’s news. I’ve been throwing myself into all sorts of extra work and projects, even staying off Twitter to some degree which is quite epic, trying to cope with the constant flood of emotions. Anger and sadness, frustration and fear, and…wow, even some guilt, all of these to varying degrees. And often all of them in the same day, on any given day as of late.
So I Googled what I could possibly be doing for Farah, and Daan and Houda, and even Lynah. I really wanted to do right by them, and be there for them, all of them. I mean…every parent out there knows that this phenomenon of finding a child who gets along fabulously with your child and who also happens to have cool ass parents that become real friends, just doesn’t occur often enough.
So I did as Google instructed and Davy and I offered, gently, food and favors and specific services…anything that we might be able to do for them that might help, that might free up their time so they can have more of it with their two little girls. But to be honest, it was also because there was this overwhelming sense that I should be doing something other than feeling sorry. And then I made myself feel like shit, feeling selfish for making this about me in any way, because doing something for our friends would somehow make me feel better about all of it? And was I stepping on someone else’s toes? Was this not how Belgians behaved? Was I just being the crazy American again?
And so I struggled, and even avoided, finishing this blog about well, my cat. I felt stupid. I felt frivolous, writing a blog about a cat, and about sushi. How could I put out something so silly when there were bigger things happening around me?
But before Sushi or the sushi workshop ever happened, there was still our little Noah. And Davy. And me.
In September, our little family of three, spent half a day with Ann De Wulf, a warm and gifted photographer who was sent to our home by Libelle Magazine, to accompany an interview conducted by one of their editors, Karolien Joniaux. The article was to be about my life here, as an expat, and all its ramifications and comparisons to the U.S., cultural and otherwise.
September 28, 2015
Ann made us all feel comfortable, as we should have felt in our own home, and at Rice House. She made it easy to pose for hours in front of a camera like we did it on the regular. And Noah’s behavior spoke volumes of Ann’s warmth, and the two quickly became buddies by day’s end.
By the time we wrapped up, Noah and Davy were exhausted, each taking up their own couch and napping while I snapped photos of them in anticipation of a future blog. None of us knew anything yet of Farah’s condition. I suppose ignorance can indeed provide some degree of bliss.
Part of me wishes I could just go back to September, before we ever had a cat or put on a sushi workshop or found out about Farah, because I feel like life has been racing along faster than usual. Flying by even, and I can’t seem to slow it down. But I do know that life must go on. And this is something I realized in a big way, this past week, after meeting up for one long drink with Farah’s mom.
After weeks of chatting and text message novels back and forth between our busy schedules, Houda and I were finally able to get together, and just…talk.
It was Houda’s first real time away from Farah in over a month, and she wanted to hear all about how Noah and Sushi were doing.
They’re doing heartwarmingly great by the way…
Just this afternoon, on my lap, a favorite spot now for both Noah and Sushi
And Houda wanted to know how Rice House was going and how I felt about the Libelle article, which had just come out the day before. I had a million questions I wanted to ask Houda, but I stopped myself. I lived in the moment, sipping my drink slowly, and letting the conversation just flow like it always had between us.
We did of course eventually talk about Farah, and how she’s thankfully taking well to treatment yet beginning to lose some of her hair after a month’s worth of chemotherapy. We talked about her youngest baby girl Lynah, and her husband Daan (who is soon to become Davy’s gym buddy, something Houda and I are equally enthusiastic about), and about their work and time off for Farah, and countless other bullet points. But mostly we talked about Sushi and sushi and Libelle, and sex and gossiped some too. Because that’s what girlfriends do right?
We ended up also talking about what it’s like to be a strong and opinionated woman of color living in Belgium, because this was in fact a topic covered in the Libelle article. Houda actually grew up here and I just got here in comparison, but the colors of our skin make us stand out. We can’t help that. But we can control what people come to know us by, and remember us by. I’m grateful to have found a friend in Houda. I thought I was a strong woman, but she inspires me to be stronger somehow.
But what struck me most while we were talking about some of the more unpleasant details around Farah’s hospital stays, was that Houda stressed repeatedly how much better their circumstances were than that of other families in the children’s ward. And that the hospital is fantastic in all they do, and the Belgian healthcare system leaves little to pay for out-of-pocket, but that there are still families in great need. Because we all know how everything can cost a little yet add up to a lot. And so with Houda’s blessing I’ll be setting up a small wishlist (Update: Now Final: Farah’s World) on Amazon UK, for anyone who cares to or can gift an item of comfort, going to Farah and other children at the hospital, fighting the tough fight against whatever disease taking hold of their little bodies… All gifts will be collected and delivered to the Children’s Cancer Ward at UZ Gent Hospital.
If you would like to donate a smaller amount, to be matched by me and my husband Davy, please use the “Donate” button on the bottom right of this blog. We are hoping to collect all items from the wishlist for this cause.
So it turns out the best thing I could actually do, and that I did, was just being there. Meanwhile all the while I thought I was doing nothing. But what I had done was kept the lines of communication open to remind Houda and Daan that our friendship would always be there. And it will be.
And with Houda’s and Daan’s permission, I’ve finally let it all out, and allowed myself to finish this blog which has turned out to be the length of multiple blogs. If you would like to leave a message of support and understanding for Farah’s family in the comments or share you experiences, please do, but please don’t pass judgements or question anyone else’s intent.
I can’t wait for Noah and Farah to be reunited, and see how much they’ve both grown since this summer.
I’ve said time and time again that Farah is absolutely one of the smartest and most delightful little girls to have crossed Noah’s path, and I look forward to snapping photos again in awe of her playfulness once again.
Thanks for staying with me while I worked through this.