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It is, and it isn't.  I am posting this, finally, long since my last post in this blog, (why do I hate the word blog so muuuuch), or since this play happened, because I have had a couple recent days of ick-ew-damnit-gross-shut-your-stupid-post-cancer-meds-face-dumb-merg-blech-oh are you crying now?-kinda days.  I have had them, these them days, in the last couple years, and I have shared bits of them. I have, as is the best possible way to purge eloquent, posted them on my Facebook wall.

Oh, but I haven't been in the same place to sit and write as I was a few years ago.

I wrote because all I could do was sit.
and heal.
and rethink my life.
And then I got busy. with Life.

Last year, among many privileges that I can't put effectively in one post (I'm not a literary barbarian), I got to write a play with my students.

Auditions were (what was I thinking) to tell a personal story that made you
make you
laugh, truly and deeply, but that on paper, as it were, seems tragic.

This came from my experience, my instinct to tell the funny side of my darkest days.  The kids blew us away with their response.  I took the stories they shared with us in their surprisingly bizarre honesty, added 3 of my own, and two of a fellow teacher at CFA who heard about our project, and as best I could in a couple of weeks, and with the limitation of it being for competition and limited to 40 minutes, tied their own words and personalities together in a hopefully cohesive narrative. ("As best I could..." "cohesive narrative..."  Oh, Jennifer.  This is why you hate the word blooooogggg.)

Anyway, there are 3 sets of siblings in this play, and yet, none of their stories are related. WHAT?!?!  That wasn't on purpose. The kids workshopped every aspect of the piece, from whether it should be plot/character driven, or a series of monologues...art, dance and music, tone and style, costume and flow.  I asked them what they thought their strengths of expression were, and tried to incorporate every one.

It was a beautiful, challenging, terrifying, hilarious, cathartic, amazing experience.   I still can't believe we did it in a such a short time, and so concisely, and that these HIGH SCHOOL students put this out there in the world.


Entrance; begin speaking after cross behind flats.

Camryn: MY STORY
Martha: MY HUMOR
Megan: MY FEAR

Peel Off begins #2




All: (wha?)
Henry: Morbid Hilarity!  Oh, that's good...C'mon!

Begin Chair Walk

Flats are upstage, straight across.

Freeze in front of chair…Martha “scurries”… All sit.  Giggle at Martha.  Martha finds chair.


Martha: When I was five years old I had two cats. One named Tang and the other Sunshine (but I will only be talking about Sunshine)
my dad came into the house after a long day at work with a sad expression on his face. When questioned why he looked so down he explained to us that our cat sunshine had been hit by a car and was now dead. Sad at this news we all walked to the back yard where there was a hole dug approximately the size of our cat and our dead cat in a trash bag. We had a funeral for the cat and my oldest sister Rachel put flowers into the ground. Two days later we were all sitting in the living room when we heard a scratching sound on the door. My mom went and opened the door and in walked Sunshine perfectly fine.
 As it turned out (our cat) Sunshine had been on an adventure for the past three days and we had buried someone else's cat.
Maybe cutting this line: (After the realization that we had buried the wrong cat we decided it would be best if we just left it there because as my mother says "we weren't going to dig up a dead cat")

Flats in arch.
“TEETH” chairs go directly to spot…big almost-chomp on “Oh my God!”

Eric: Cancer, am I right!? 
Max: Oh my god you can't say that! 
Lily: Cancer, that's hilaaaarious! 
Max: Argh! Stop it!! What are you thinking?!
Eric: No, that's from a show...
Micah: er... a movie..er,
Eric: Anyway it's funny.
Max: Cance –(cut off..whisper) “cancer” (regular voice) is not funny...you can’t LAUGH at…that…and you can't say that...out loud.
Eric: Whaaaat? You can’t say what…Cancer?
Max: Shhhhhh!!! Wouldja just…!?
Eric: Out loud. 
Max: NO!
Eric: Why not?
Max: You know!  You could...it's.....ya know...you could...get it?
Eric: That's not how this works! That's not how any of this works!

Monster mouth disperses.

Chris: I have a cat story...

Amber: I have been through a lot of terrible things,
Camryn: but some of them seem pretty funny in retrospect.
Chris: Some were even funny at the time.
Micah: I want to shine a light on an extremely dark time.
Chiara: I want to share my dad's story, so he knows how proud we are of him.  I want to make others laugh, especially my family and my dad.
Megan: And I want people to know that no matter how desperate and scary the situation seems, it will get better.
Eric: That there (can) be unfathomable darkness before there can be light.
Lily: There is a preordained human response to scary words, and then they become either a fundraiser or the elephant in the room.
Max:  I want to bring to light the issues people our age (aren't sure how to) deal with.
Henry: Things like dying,
and illness, CANCER,
struggling with sexuality,
bullying, discrimination...

Grace: Well there are a lot of monsters.

Begin moving chairs to restaurant.

Eric: They steal away reason and rights,
Trying to chew and claw away pieces and people in your life as you know it. They delight and thrive on your regret and defeat.  They don’t have to hang out in your closet and terrorize you!  You don’t have to help sharper their fangs. They don’t have to define you, or that person you care about. 



Lily: Picture it; Olive Garden, by the Mall...lunch rush.  Oh yeah, you know it's a special day. Actually, it had already been a very long day.  Morning MRI that was one step on the way to determining severity and ideal treatment. After all the waiting and cold and nerve that goes along with that, there were two hours for lunch until a meeting with the warm fuzzy surgeon.
I have been a professional actress most of my life, which means, obviously, that I’ve waited tables.  Which also means I have a LOT of tolerance for bad service, if the server is in the weeds or really trying.  Conversely, I know when a server is being lazy or dismissive and even, sometimes, just a jerk.
ANYWAY, I started getting frustrated.  My parents, who were nervous wrecks over their daughter having been recently diagnosed and going through all these tests, were getting protectively agitated.
My parents are both mild mannered and sweet.  My mom, in particular, is a tiny little delicate flower; petite and precious and generally talks to the world like Snow White talks to adorable creatures of the forest.
It was about 15 minutes that they waited for water. Waitress finally noticed there was a full table and turned on her fluster, approaching as though she's been soooo busy. 
“We've been waiting a pretty long while and at this point we might just have to order our food to go.”
She cocked her hip and said with snippy exasperation,
Henry: “Well, it’s lunch rush, so I am pretty busy.  It's not my fault...”
She was cut off by my mom SLAMMING her hand on the table and in a voice loud enough for at least all of that server's section, said,
All: (smack flats)
Max: “My daughter has CANCER!”
All: (look at Max)
Waitress, stunned and schooled, apologized profusely, took the order, and swiftly slunk away. 
“Mother...you did not just play the cancer card at an Olive Garden!”
We all laughed so hard.  And the service after that was impeccable.

At the Movies

DONATION (station) (sorry, I had to…)

I was taken to the movies, a matinee, by some friends.  I was broke from all the co-payments, tired, and not sure if I was going to live.  I hobbled up to the window and the girl behind the glass was maaaaaybe 17, a tiny little thing working for minimum wage and not giving a crap about her job.  She told me the price of the ticket, which was absurd (shocking, right?) and it aggravated me how much a matinee ticket was.  Then she followed it up with, "Would you like to donate a dollar to St. Jude's" or something like that, the whole time smacking gum and not making eye contact.  Again, not giving a crap about what she's doing, who she's asking.  She had other priorities.

Now, let it be known, I almost always donate, especially to St. Jude's.  It's just the essence of good humanity.  But, this day wasn't the day to ask me.

I laughed loudly, right at her, and I saw all eyes turn in my direction.  I said, "What?  Hell no!  Why don't you use some of your precious profits and give that away instead?  It's not like this movie is worth ten freakin’ dollars a head to begin with."

She said, "Uh, omgah, like these kids have, like, omgah, cancer, and like, stuff."  I barked back, "So do I, but you're not doing me any favors, are you?"

And then the air, at an outside ticket booth, was sucked away by everyone, even those who weren't paying attention.  It was so epic.

The little girl, poor little thing, was totally speechless.  Everyone was.  And you should've seen my smile.  It was everything.  Everything.



Camryn: So, breathing's cool. 
I have severe asthma. So severe, that even the old lady at Church with too much perfume on can send me into an attack. (Or, well, I guess a young lady, too...or...anyway)  It is this sensitivity that caused one of the most traumatic days in my life. It was fifth grade, the period right before PE Class. This was the year when all of us got to wear PE Uniforms for the first time. This was a huge deal at my school, it was almost a right of passage; it meant that we were almost middle schoolers. Of course nearly everyone at that age is self-conscious, so the 30 boys in my class and I would wait in a line to use one of the three stalls that our bathroom had. It was finally my turn to change, and so I walked into the stall and began undressing when all of the sudden the lights started flickering. Then I heard some of the kids in my class start yelling and screaming, and the lights started flickering even more! I didn't know what was happening! I tried to hurry up and change faster, but then all of the sudden an axe spray can rolled under my stall and started spewing into my face. I couldn't breathe! I was overwhelmed; the gas was filling my lungs, the lights were flickering, people were yelling out and screaming... I felt like I was in Vietnam!!! I desperately started banging on the door because I couldn't get out! Finally I opened it, but it was too late. The attack started. I could not breathe. I had to run out of the bathroom, down the stairs, and to the nurse with barely any clothing on. Oh the humiliation. When I finally got to the nurses offices, she freaked out and couldn't find my medicine! What a disaster! After frantically searching, she finally found it and gave me a breathing treatment. Luckily I survived. I haven't changed in a bathroom stall since.

Begin moving to hospital scene.
Chris: Up until recently, I had six cats...
Lily: Yeah, I'm allergic to cats, too.
Chris: no...I...
Amber: Where did I go to vacation over the summer? The Emergency room.  
I thought all was ok. Like my tongue wasn't so (swollen) it would probably (go) down in a few minutes. I didn't need my epi pin just hand me some water, right? Ava's mom didn't agree with my highly professional medial ideas, so she took us to a pharmacy. 
We (me, Ava, her sisters + her mom) walk into this CVS dressed to the nines because it was after we saw our peers' graduation. (High heels and all!) Fabulous! Ava's mom hurries me along by my hand to the back counter. I'm laughing this whole time because I can barely speak normally (muffled laugher and pointing at swollen tongue). I tell Ava to take a video this is hilarous! 
While we are standing in this line I hear a muffled voice say,
Man: “You too?”
 [There is a tall skinny man standing there pointing at his ballooned tongue.] The same thing happened to him! We were standing there trying saying what happened to each other.
Micah: Dude I was at this crazy Indian restaurant and there were nuts.
Man: blah blah blah blah
Micah: blah blah blah blah
Amber: (Everyone) just laughed at us. Ava's mom snapped me out of my conversation to say the pharmacists couldn't give me an epi pen without a proper order.  So the next thing I heard was "hospital." This is when the panic set in. I’d never been to a hospital because of my own health reasons. 
In the car ride Ms. [MRS?] Medina was asking me things like "what's my full name, my parents numbers and when I born" Ava backed her saying they wouldn't be able to understand me. Rude, If only I knew sign language. 

She pulled up to the ER and dropped us off telling us to run (inside). So we strut in, (appearing to be in perfect health with our fancy get up...especially in comparison to) everyone else in the hospital looks tired and hurt and ill. The lady at the front asks me why I'm there, so I just stick out my tongue.
Lily: Take her back FIRST.
Amber: I was still (a little in denial). 
With Ava's mom at my hip, we walked back to the second waiting room leaving my best friend and her sisters out in the lobby worried.  At this point I was crying because everything was moving so fast and I didn't know how serious it was. We weren't even in that second waiting area for 2 minutes until 3 nurses came out to rush me in. 

They lead us to the ER, a little hall with curtained rooms for each patient. They are so fast at pushing me into that room, at the rate they were going, I thought I was about to die. With my curtain wide open and (doctors and nurses) walking around, the nurse threw me a robe…
Chiara: Put this on and lay down.
Amber: I'm thinking
Micah: “Um, hell no, I'm not dying, it's not that serious, and there are people everywhere!”
Amber: I jumped into the bed barely covered.  As soon as I sat down two nurses came to my sides and stabbed an IV in my vein. No warning! Needles being my biggest fear I started sobbing again. 
Micah cries out.
Amber: It was at this point the head doc came in the room. He was cute and youngish but super calm like
Eric: So, uh, hey, how are you doing Amber?
Micah: I don't know I've been stripped and stabbed by your minions!
Amber: My heaving breathing was calmed when the nurses ran some drugs through that IV. It soothed me immediately.
Micah giggles and smiles
Martha: Honey it's gonna be alright they will make you better, ok.
Amber: All I could do was smile, close my eyes, and nod.  

Amber come downstage. Begin moving set to arch.

At the end of all of this my dad finally made it to the hospital to see what I had gotten myself into. He FaceTimed my mom who was out of town at the time. She was so upset she couldn't be there, but was glad Mrs. Medina stepped up as honorary mom. After that scare I realized how fragile Life is. I need to change things for the better before tree nuts take me out.

Flats in arch.

Flats down stage, straight across.
Micah: While I was home, going through treatment for my own cancer, I went through some old storage in our attic (oh, the things we keep hidden away in boxes...unused and unseen and unnoticed for years). I found some old letters...er, rather, copies of old letters I'd not ever sent and tucked away in a box with French homework, my old, used pointe shoes, and an outfit for a Kermit doll...the actual naked Kermit was not there.
This letter, written fifteen/sixteen years ago, was written to a boyfriend at the time. (I've left out the boyfriendy parts) 

(Reading): Okay, this is truly random ---- Last night I dreamt of the day I found out my mom had Cancer.  It was an awful dream.  But ya know what…when I woke up, I realized, as hard as I try, I cannot remember that day.  The dream was not at all how it really happened.  And I have absolutely no idea why I dreamt about it.  Even weirder…when my parents told me, (I can’t even remember if they both told me, or just my dad, or my mom, or what), I do know it was at my grandmother’s house in Atlanta.  We were in my mom’s room from when she was a little girl, a little ballerina, the second story of the house, in the woods, out her windows all you see are tree limbs and leaves and I bet she thought she felt like she lived in a tree house) But it was the same house where, when I was about seven or eight, that my father told me there was no Santa Clause.  All I can see when I try to remember the Cancer part, is my dad trying to tell me that Santa isn’t real.  That Santa isn’t alive at all. When you hear that, it isn’t just that something doesn’t exist, it’s like a little part of you dies.  But you keep this stubborn brave face, like you knew it all along, or like it’s perfectly okay and you can handle it.  The same day my dad told me that, my older brother pulled me aside later and tried to convince that Santa WAS real. He just didn't want the fantasy to be over.
Anyway, I wonder how my dad picked that day, that afternoon, that place and time.  What were the circumstances that finally turned “we should tell Jenny” into actually telling her?  I don’t remember any other part of that day, except that it was sunny.  But I don’t remember any of the Cancer day at all.  Isn’t that strange?  And why did this hit me, out of the blue?  Is it a sign?  A reality check?  Perspective?  Completely random? …..it’s been six years and I haven’t dealt with it yet…why now?

I still can’t remember the day my parent’s told me about my mother’s cancer.  But I’ll never forget the day they found out about mine.

I never did find that Kermit.

Chris: I still have the card that told me how long I'd be radioactive.  It's hilarious.  I had to show it to the armed-guards at high-tech metal detectors because apparently I'd light up all the censors and be taken down in a brave act of homeland security y if I didn't flash the card fast enough.  My leg was also indigo blue during that time.  Picture Avatar, but only on my right thigh.  It was pretty awesome.

Start making dining room.


Chiara: My dad was born with a rare disease called Bertolotti's Syndrome, in fact only 1-2% of the world's population has the disease. He was a professional hockey player, he was even drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL, but all of the hard physical activity made his back worse and worse. By the time I was 5, he was paralyzed. To add on to the craziness, my mom had just given birth to my younger brother Luca. After a year or so of being unable to move, my dad received an extensive 10 hour surgery on his spine. He was finally able to move again, but he had to learn had to walk [normally] all over. It just so happened, my little brother was learning to walk at the same time. It was only natural he copied my dad's movements, walking around hunched over, trying to stand up straight. Today, I can say my dad and my little brother walk normally and live a happy, active life. :)
Dinner Table
Grace:  Okay, so, I have a grandmother…
Henry: We
Grace: WE have a grandmother. She was always one for the theatrics.  She started locally and worked her way up and was eventually one of the hosts of Romper Room.  Everyone who knew her would describe her as overly dramatic (wow what a shocker!!!)  She is now 89 and has developed Alzheimer’s.  It's gotten to the point where she can't remember her grandchildren.  Every year my mom's side of the family flies to New York where my mom and her siblings grew up for a family reunion.  One night we tried to sit down for dinner but my big cousins were fighting and my little cousins were screaming.  Everything was as hectic as it could get.  My grandmother, finally having enough, stood up and screamed "I don't see why the children should be around for cocktail hour."  We were like “Whaaa?” My mom and her sister were extremely embarrassed and tried to ration with my grandmother.  [We were all like, “Calm down Grandma!”] They eventually took their argument outside where it was pouring rain.  My grandmother got into my mother’s car thinking it was hers and telling the whole family that she was going to leave. 
Henry: She doesn’t drive.  We don’t let her.
Grace: It took about 20 minutes in the rain, but they finally got her to come back inside. They were all drenched.
Henry: Once they get inside, Mom was like, “Well we still have to eat dinner.” We sit down and it immediately becomes silent and awkward. Nobody says anything.  My grandmother sits down at the head of the table and proceeds to say,
*Family Laughs*
Chris: So the Cancer thing...and my cats...
Flat mid stage, straight across.
Eric: Every single person I know has been affected by cancer in some way, and I want people to know that that there are things to look forward to.

Megan: When I was in fifth grade, my sister had cancer. And I remember looking at her after her surgery, with a draining tube sticking out of her neck. And I remember wanting nothing more than to trade places with her. I remember wondering, why is she the one? My sister, the most kind, compassionate, understanding person I've ever known. Why not me, the cynical, rude, judgmental one. Why not me? The one who struggles to be happy and the one who keeps secrets. The outsider. I remember thinking about how smart she is, and how much she has to offer this world. So why not me, Why not me?

Eric: (There is another) side of these situations. Not just the funny side, but the real side. The side of the person who isn't going through cancer, and not their parents or significant others. But the side of the sibling on the sideline. Feeling so helpless and confused. 

All draw


Max: After she was diagnosed, her two brothers, one three years older, one three years younger, were at a complete loss.  They are a close family, and very loving.  And what's funny is the youngest in the family is this big, like huge, like hulk huge indestructible military dude, was the most emotional and sensitive about it.  The brothers got together and tried to figure out what they could do to help their sister.
So, a couple weeks into chemo, she is sitting in the office at her parents’ house, and her dad comes in with a Victoria Secret bag.
No!  I know it sounds weird!  It was weird for her! Stay with me.
And her sister in law and niece (her older brother's family lived next door) were anxiously in tow.
She was used to awkward attention due to her condition, but this was odd.
He holds up the bag and says, “Jenny, is this yours?”
“Uh, no.”
“Are you sure?  I found it in the car.”
At this point she is not only uncomfortable, but kind of offended...AS IF she had recently been shopping at Victoria Secret, or even the mall for that matter. She wasn't allowed in public without a mask for cryin' out loud!
As she started to give another indignant “NO,” she noticed this little face pop up out of the top of the bag.
It was from her bothers.  And it was the best gift in the whole wide world.
She said she had every excuse to lie in bed and feel sorry for herself all day...but there was this little ball of fluff named Marlon Brando that needed attending to.

Chris: Yeah...pets.  My cat,
All: Oh okay
Start moving to diagonal and sit by “no, no, no.”
Chris: So, um, up until recently I had 6 cats. About a year and a half ago, one of my cats, Bunny died. We don't really know what from, we think it might've leukemia, but we weren't sure. Anyway, when we had her put down it was late fall in New York, so the ground was really hard. We decided to not bury her yet as we couldn't dig, so we put her in the freezer downstairs. Well, Bunny ended up being in the freezer downstairs for about a year. About 4 months ago, another one of my cats, Lily, ended up dying from liver cancer. This was during the summer, so the ground wasn't frozen, meaning we could bury them. So my step-dad and mom came back from the vet with Lily in a box, my mom all teary-eyed, my step-dad asked my mom if she wanted to bury Bunny too. My mom said yes, and my step-dad said "Alright, I'll go get the catsicle."

All: Waaaa Waaaa ugh!
Max: Was it like just in there smiling at you…like every time you go to get dinner it’s just like *pose*
Chris: No, no, no.  But it made us all laugh.
Stand on your line:
Amber: I have been through a lot of terrible things,
Camryn: but some of them seem pretty funny in retrospect.

Chris: Some were even funny at the time.

Micah: I wanted to shine a light on an extremely dark time.
Chiara: I wanted to share my dad's story, so he knows how proud we are of him.  I want to make others laugh, especially my family and my dad.
Megan: And I wanted people to know that no matter how desperate and scary the situation seems, it will get better.
Eric: That there (can) be unfathomable darkness before there can be light.
Lily: There is a preordained human response to scary words, and then they become either a fundraiser or the elephant in the room.
Max:  I wanted to bring to light the issues people our age (aren't sure how to) deal with.
Martha: Things like dying,
and illness, CANCER,
struggling with sexuality,
bullying, discrimination...
Chris: and frozen cats…

Grace: Well there are a lot of monsters.

Finish final picture.  Then take your chairs and go. 

Henry: So my friend Emma had just gotten back from chemo in Chapel Hill. She's been going for a long time so the trip wasn't anything special. Anyways, right when she got home I called her and said "get ready to go because we're going to see Big Data downtown tonight!" …for those of you who don't know, big data is a semi-ok band that happened to be there that evening, but that doesn't matter… What does matter was how HORRIBLE the show was. It was like if you turned Murphy's Law into a musical performance. So we left halfway through with some pretty low morale and, in response the overall bumminess of the situation, I put on the radio in an attempt to maybe kinda cheer us up a little bit.  Now I don't know if you've heard the song "tell me when to go" by E-40, but it came on and changed everything. The songs chorus is literally "ghost ride the whip" repeated over and over again, and if you don't know what ghost riding the whip is, it's when you put your car in drive, open the door, and do something dumb while the car rolls around by itself.
Yeah, I know…I said “dumb”
So anyway, in a last ditch effort to make HER day suck a little less I parked the car and told Emma to go and stand on the sidewalk with no real explanation. Then I plopped the car in reverse, drove to the end of the street, turned the stereo up, and ran alongside my car as it crawled up the street towards her. Logically this wasn't nearly cool enough so I jumped on top of my big brown SUV and positioned myself like a model (explain/badly imitate pose).
Come to think of it this was probably a horrible idea that could have wrecked my car or landed me in jail or a plethora of other things but that doesn’t matter, now. What matters was that instead of dealing with hospital gowns and tubes and big medical words I can't understand, she was smiling. I got to see my best friend smile and forget about rhabdomyosarcoma at least a few minutes.
That’s all.  It’s not super funny…she just was so happy in that moment.

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