Back in 2005 I got it in my head that I needed to move from where I was living in eastern Pennsylvania to Boulder, Colorado. Touring Boulder-area Waldorf schools that August was the clincher — one school mistakenly assumed we’d be moving that fall instead of the following year, which was the original plan, and suddenly there were boxes being packed and trucks being loaded and houses being rented and divorce papers being filed. One foot followed the next and the next and somehow there we were, me and my three youngest kids, in the bright mountain land with 360-degree sunset skies.
Waldorf schools beget community. A ready-made set of potential friends among like-minded parents who shared similar values and lifestyles. I was eager to make new friends in this new place and to encourage friendships for Nathaniel and Serena. There was a family with two children, one in Nathaniel’s 4th grade and one in Serena’s kindergarten class, so a playdate seemed like the perfect thing. Perfect for them and perfect for me. I would meet a new friend.
Karen had close-cropped hair and a wide smile. She explained shyly that the tumor in her belly made her look 4 months pregnant. I was more interested in finding the commonalities between us and planning in my head how I could better get to know this interesting woman who seemed so much like me. I heard the words cancer and untreatable but I never equated them with I am going to die soon. Karen died a few months later. I never saw her again.
I’m filled with shame now for my lack of understanding and awareness of Karen’s experience. She made a smoothie for me and watched me drink it. Having a new person in her home that afternoon must have been exhausting. We sat outside and watched our children playing together. I was so fixated on my own experience PUPPY PUPPY A NEW FRIEND YAYYYYY! that I failed to understand she was dying and had no energy and probably little desire to make new friends.
I think about Karen now when I look at my belly in the mirror in the mornings before my shower. Maybe my tumors have grown overnight, I think. Do I look 4 months pregnant? I’m 93 pounds and you’d think those tumors would be visible, pushing outward into a not-baby bump. Every morning I think of Karen, every morning and every night. I wonder just how much I am like her.
This Karen died almost 5 years later in 2010 but it was me that killed her, not cancer.
Karen (me) was born 50 years ago. Her mother, Jane, called her Casey. Karen never liked her name and thought it belonged to someone else. Maybe it did. There were five Karens in her 4th grade class and each one seemed either too boisterous or too insipid. Who would want to be like that? Karen never got a proper goodbye. I wanted too much to put my painful past — the truth of who I didn’t want to be — behind me. By becoming Talyaa, I thought, I could embrace the fullness of who I am. I didn’t realize that to do so I’d have to kill Karen.
Maybe changing my name to Talyaa was a mistake. Who will call me Casey now? My mother is dead. I resented that nickname and wanted a better one but a better one never came and so I named myself when I had the chance. I’m not sure I’ve completely integrated my new name. I still hear “Karen” in my head sometimes when I’m writing my name at the bottom of emails to people who once knew me as Karen. So strange.
I wonder sometimes now that if in pushing my earlier-self Karen behind me, I wasn’t creating the life-or-death situation I find myself in now. Did getting rid of a part of myself — the part of me attached to a name — create cancer? Maybe it’s stupid to think this way. To wonder. But people with cancer do wonder. We try to find the exact moment in our lives when everything changed.
I can’t go back. I’m Talyaa now. There is a man who adores Talyaa. So many people are here with Talyaa. Talyaa is the woman I am becoming, I think. But I wonder how much damage I did in wanting so deeply to not be the woman I was.