The Give and Take


So four or so days ago, I dared to write about What I Did Right in the years of getting my son and me to the safe, good place we are now. And I paused for an ordinary moment of peace.

So, of course, the next day I had a recurrence of an infection that I had just two weeks before. It’s a pretty serious infection, in my colon, diverticulitis for those who will be tortured by not knowing the exactitudes. (I would be so tortured myself. Specifics make me feel better-armed for all the uncertainties.) And the closeness of the two infections is decidedly concerning. So yeah, just in case I was feeling too good, something swooped in to remind me how fragile this all is.

I’ve had this kind of shazaaaam before. Many times before, actually. So I wasn’t surprised. I’m not so egotistical as to think that the universe has it in for me, but I am enough of a believer in allegory to take it at face value: Cherish the days you feel connected to everything around you, for it is fleeting, all of it. I mean, I think I don’t necessarily need to keep reliving this beautiful piece of truth over and over and fecking over again, but chance disagrees, and finds me a perfect messenger.

I remember being in the hospital with my mother, unconscious, almost every day for a month, waiting for her to wake up so we could say goodbye before she died. (She did come to and live several more months, but oh, the agony of thinking we’d never even get the chance to say goodbye.) This was mere weeks before my book came out—my book about finding beauty in hardships, about finding my way back to good. I got the first hard-bound, published copy when my mother was unconscious, and I cried that she would never see it.

My book was called Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce. About what I thought had been the hardest period of my life: my divorce, my falling-apart house, the water leaking in everywhere, my infant son, all happening right as I took over Redbook magazine. Well, ha, said the universe to my book’s core premise. HA TO ALL THAT.

My book was published March 10. My dad went into the same hospital where my mother had been in ICU the night of my official book party, March 12. He was instantly gone, but still alive (my mother dying at home), a freak brain infection having felled him and made him unreachable except in the most tragic, incidental twinges of brain electricity, during which he would say, “Hi, Stacy,” as if he were fine, and I would have to walk out of the hospital room, my fist stuffed in my mouth to keep the wail within me.

The day I resigned from Redbook—my heart in my throat for leaving the only job I’d ever wanted to have, ever since I was a little girl, a job I’d done and done well at four different magazines, since I was 29—I joked with my team that the subtitle of my next book was going to be called “One Reformed Optimist Says ‘Fuck That Shit.’ ”

So yes, I know irony. 

Hello again, you fickle creature.

Okay, fine, so diverticulitis is no death sentence, but it’s also incurable. And I am forty-fucking-five, thank you very much, and was diagnosed with this (largely genetic) disease when I was 34, right after my husband had unilaterally ended our marriage, and I had an infant son, and was running a national magazine and…. Well, whatever. It seems to show up at dramatic moments, as if to make a point, to bring me to my knees when I am already on my knees. No, really. Listen:

First bout: 2004, three months after husband moved out

Second bout: 2010, after my mother and father died four weeks apart

Third bout: 2012, when my boyfriend and I broke up at last, after destroying our relationship slowly across two heartbreaking years

Fourth bout: 2013, right after I managed the huge transition of moving out of New York City and into our new home, a double move (into storage first) because the deal didn’t go down smoothly and I had a huge work conference in between

Fifth bout: Two weeks ago. Are you experiencing a lot of stress? asks the doctor. Well, no, not any more than usual, I say. I mean, I have spent the last eight months feeling like I’ve landed, that I did a really good, really hard thing, that I am finally able to leave the series of traumas behind (yes, the sudden deaths of my parents, but let’s not forget my son’s crisis, me losing my job, the financial insecurity of being unemployed and being a breadwinning single mom). Work is busy, as it always is, but doesn’t feel unusually stressful, even though it’s definitely pedal to the metal right now. I am gardening, spending time outside close to the largeness of the world which comforts me deeply nearly every day. I have a sweet, insane puppy dog who makes me laugh and makes me want to kill him in equal, charming measure. My son is thriving, turning into this beautiful, fascinating, sweet, loving, inquisitive, confident person before my very eyes, his legs stretching ever longer beneath him.

So, fine. It’s just a bout of diverticulitis. No big deal. Very painful, very scary. My temperature rises, I’m in excruciating pain, I think I might end up going to the hospital (if a diverticula ruptures, you have to go to hospital pronto so you don’t go into septic shock and, uh, die), so I get my dearest friends in Garrison prepped and ready for that middle-of-the-night call I hope I don’t have to make, my babysitter packs a “go” bag for my son, and I fall dead asleep praying my temperature comes down. Awaken at 11pm, temperature has dropped a degree. Awaken at 3am, soaked in sweat; the fever has broken. Oh thank holy god. And then a few more days of antibiotics and resting up and I’m fine and fit as a fiddle. Back to life!!!

Until two weeks later, and it hits again. And rapid recurrences are Not Good.

And so here I am. I am happy, I am whole (excepting the colon, of course). And I am nervous and trying not to live too far into the future. The tests I have to take next will tell the (new) doctors (I have to find, because now I live here, in Garrison) what they need to know to tell me what I need to do. And if surgery to remove part of the diseased organ is what they recommend so be it.

But dammit. I was just getting to Good.

So I won’t take this personally. But I will take it as a lesson. Another lesson. In the endless string of lessons life tosses on our strands in a row, like so many pearls: things of glistening beauty borne of a painful irritating setback, pushed deep in the flesh.

It’s what we make of these setbacks that sticks around and lasts.

And I’m going for the glisten, friends.

Root for me, please. It matters, you know.



About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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17 Responses to The Give and Take

  1. Brent Almond says:

    Seems I’m having to root for too many people these days — all these fucking diseases. I applaud your “not taking it personally,” because I’m sure it feels that way at times.

    Thank you for continuing to share your story, pain and all. For the catharsis and working-through aspect on your end, and the getting-us-to-root-for-you aspect on ours.

    And congrats on making it halfway to 90! (I arrived just a couple of weeks ago)

  2. Lindsey says:

    I am rooting for you. Always, without ceasing. xox

  3. Rita says:

    I somehow missed the previous post, which I clicked through to immediately. Then this.

    I long ago abandoned the idea that things happen for a reason. We get the choice to find reason within the chaos, though, big or small as it may be. I think perhaps your greatest gift (that I’ve been able to see, knowing you only through your writing) is your ability to find those threads of reason that tie all your experiences together.

    However, I agree that you’ve had more than your share of irony and AFGOs and deserve a whole big bunch of Good for awhile. Rooting hard for that, and for you.

    • stacy says:

      Yes, the “choice to find reason within the chaos.” Which is, what I finally learned, actually the point. It’s faith, grace, or one big beautiful lie. But actually, perhaps those three are all the same thing? No matter. They soothe anyway. And I am greatly, greatly honored by your compliment. And your presence in my life, as always. xo

  4. Rita Arens says:

    Go kick your colon’s ass. ROOT!

  5. MARK RETTMAN says:

    … Wow. What a great example for all…. chin up and ever forward… What else is there but family and friends ( and I would add laughter) in life? Those three things matter most of all and everyone is pulling for you …. This too shall pass.

  6. Becky says:

    You know we’re all rooting. Hell, Chat’s reserving our rental house in the country for our 25th in Lex Vegas today. And forgive me for noting that a writer is having issues with her colon (of all things). Hope that gave you a smile. Big love from Denver.

    • stacy says:

      Yay 25th reunion! Yay, friends after all these years! And yay for the most excellent joke about diverticulitis surely ever to be told. xoxo

  7. Deb Rox says:

    Rooting for you, always.

  8. alexandra says:

    Here in your corner, with a heart full of love for a woman I fell in love with while finally finding minutes to myself at a Barnes & Noble, with your book. The glisten on the pearl — I now KNOW you, but what drew me to the book store that day: a crushing bout of depression that had reared its head yet again.

    All these pearls, Stacy, from the pain of the embed of the sand… and look how they glisten. I am in your life. I love you.

  9. Jill Snausage says:

    Oh my dear doubled-over friend! I am just catching up on your filled in blanks and am so sorry to read about your pain. A friend had surgery this summer for the very same thing and he is doing so much better. But I saw his pain and his wife told me about the agony. Holding you in my heart and wishing for resolution and recovery. xo Jill

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