I first met Tricia at a reception for then poet laureate of the United States Billy Collins, April of 2004 (Collins' wrote the cigarette poem I posted a few months back). Collins' gave a sold out reading at Dingledine and the following day twenty students were invited to attend a lecture
by Collins. I was in awe just being in his presence and trying to impress him with lord knows what sort of verbal bosh and pretentious tongue blather which made him role his eyes and question the veracity of our department.
In the circle (english majors form circles EVERYWHERE they go) there was one lady I had never seen before. She was wearing a mickey mouse shirt, glasses and had hazel bangs that slipped down the side of her face (which I would learn later on was a wig).
The lady smiled incessantly throughout the discourse of the lecture. She flirted with the poet laureate and made a joke about S &M that made Mr. Collins hackle with delight. At the end of the lecture she promptly gathered her folders and confidently strutted out of the room.
About a week later I was in another classroom (with desks seemingly arranged like crop-circles) when I inquired to Shannon Moore if she knew the origins of this affable creature who felt so comfortable cracking sado-masochist jibes with Billy Collins.
"Her name's Tricia." Shannon said. "She's a grad student and teaches at ICC."
It turned out that Tricia was going through chemotherapy for a lump she discovered late last autumn. Her hair was fake; she wore glasses so that no one would suspect that the streaking brows a top her nutmeg eyes were penciled in and that chemotherapy had ruthlessly stripped her every patch of her hair on her body, like brown bristles sprinkling off a dead-alley evergreen several weeks after the joyous holiday has past.
By the time Tricia was diagnosed with cancer I had already had my fair share of the disease stain the blood-lining of my familily genes. In less than five years I lost two grandparents, a cousin and my father. The last father to son activity I performed with the old man was helping him take a shit, lowering his boxers and wiping the ass of my father before two days before he died.
There's many things I hate in life (rich bradley kids from Northshore 'burbs, my ex-girlfriend, AIDS, poverty, academic dross-n-excess, financial destitution, Dr. Gorin, Illinois Public school systems in general) and Cancer ranks right up there, and, pardon my candor, but FUCK YOU twatty Georgie W. for not possessing the elementary social insight to diagnose CANCER in itself as a weapon of mass destruction. There, I said it mister president, Fuck you. Your troops are haggard and on there deathbed here at home, chief and you manipulate biblical passages for your own global naivete. In the immortal words of Greg Brown "I have my hand on my heart but I don't know what for." I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!
To the best of my knowledge Tricia was never as truculent as I am towards the disease that blasted the cells of fifteen percent of my family from me over the past half-decade. In fact, what makes Tricia my hero is that she conquered the disease in the same manner in which she conquered the heart of the US poet laureate that one spring morning:with charm and laughter.
The local paper did an account on Tricia this morning and showed a Christmas card of her and her family smiling. Tricia is sporting the infamous chemotherapy-inspired Sinead O'Conner doo while her three children and husband are each wearing a sort of nylon over their heads, pretending to be bald as well.
"Merry Christmas!" the card said, "And a Happy New Hair!"
Last semester Tricia stopped me after a Screenwriting class to congratulate me for a local writing award I had won. It was my first encounter with her tete-a-tete. Ironically the story that I sold was about my father who had died from a disease she was all too familiar with.
What happened next was weird. She just wanted to talk about my story and all I wanted to do was thank her for surviving. She smiled and acted like the twelve months of enervating chemo treatments were no big deal.
"When you have kids its just something you do. You survive."
She was wearing her wig, the same wig she had on the first time I had spotted her flirting with Billy Collins. In the article this morning she talked about loosing her physical identity, but never loosing her sense of humor."
"Look," She told the local Urinal Jar (Journal Star) reporter. "I thought to myself, If I'm going to go through this experiment, I might as well laugh my ass off."
The last time I saw Trish was about a month ago. We were walking opposite directions. A woman with scruff short hair was power walking on the sidewalk opposite from me. She hollered out my name and I had no clue who it was (I thought it was a lesbian at first)= to my dismay it was Trish.
"Can you believe it--MY HAIR IS COMING BACK!!!!"
"So it's gone?" I inquired. "The cancer is gone?"
"As far as I know." She responded. She went on to talk about her screen play (80 pages!!!) how BU had hired her to teach two classes this pending autumn. When I asked her again about the venom that momentarily rented the inside her body, she just laughed, referenced her kids and again, insinuated, that surviving is just something you do. You live and laugh as much as possible through this process of life--through the art of living.
I tried telling Trish just how much her survival meant to me that afternoon. She blushed it off and I hugged her goodbye, told her that I was proud of her. That she was my hero for conquering the disease that took my old man so suddenly three years ago.
Her shock of short hair looks like golden wheat atop her head and (using her own humor) Trish, you really were the sexiest lesbian I've ever seen that day (with the exception of late night hi-channeled adult quality viewing, of course....hehehe).
What Trish doesn't know is, after our last encountered, I cried. An avalanche of tears spilled from my sockets. True I was missing my dad, pissed off that he had died before he ever had the opportunity to escort one of his daughters down the aisle; pissed off that he had died while his only son and first born was engaged in a rather hedonistic and unhealthy lifestyle.
But mostly the reason I shuffled tears away from my cheekbones that afternoon has to do with beauty. Beauty in its most true and unadulterated form seems to sometimes involve an intersection of suffering, glory, resilience, laughter. What I saw that day, gazing at Trisha's back confidently power walking down Cooper as she gradually dissipated was simply a person who had accepted the "test" they were for some horrible, inexplicably given and had impeccably passed it with multiple plus signs following the first upper-case vowel.
Most notorious writers can't do this. For a long time I hid. I hid behind the blonde that was coddled in my right palm and the beer that was grasped in my left. I hid behind a plume of arid, cancer-friendly cigarette smoke. I hid behind prose so bloated it must be mistaken for splashes of genius 'less it be uncloaked for the elementary ink-drops that it truly was.
For a long time I hid. The Dragon firing up my cigar. The lizard pouring me another round. Mara telling me that the girl who just rightfully dropped my ass and has deemed me a 'creep' was a bitch-to-begin anyway before I cozen her into a kegstand and wet-t contest.
What I saw in Trish was a human being who accepted what life/God had given her and laughed, joyous streams of laughter in response.
Attagirl, Trish! Atta fuckin' girl!