Where most years I would spend time looking up new bands, I spent most of 2016 looking up Decadron and brain chemotherapy. Watching my dad’s insatiable and unrestrained independence deplete and evaporate like a blot of water on sheet metal during a hot summer day. Choruses of doctors and nurses reciting Homeric-like tragedies to my sister and I as we played the unsuspecting audience. Our hands to our mouths in horror. You hear “stage four” and your muscles tighten. Your legs buckle like a Jenga tower. And you cry. Not immediately, like in the movies, but later during a moment of decompression. In the belly of an elevator at night. In the front seat of a car. Maybe in front of your friend as he recites a baseball score. It’s a game show wheel. The news sets the rudders in motion, and before you know it you’re in a forest of dark blue hospital chairs; arching televisions playing HGN; and waiting rooms full of wary, terrified people.
“Are You scared?” a woman, suffering from the same cancer as my dad, asked me in radiology. Every response bottle necked in my mouth. Yes was the easy response. Full of brevity. Concise and true. But I wanted to say so many so many other things. I felt confused. Estranged from reality. Disoriented in my own body. But would these responses, so full of uncertainty and sadness, be too real and full of traction? Probably. And my business wasn’t to make hers worse. I responded the only way I could. The way she wanted me to. And said only “yes.”
As everyone will tell you, it is hard. There’s EKGs, CAT scans, treatments, surgeries, frustration, palm clenching anger. Two weeks after taking my dad for brain radiation, I began to dust off my father’s hair from my shirt after seeing him. Tufts here. Strands there. But you have to bridge levity with strength. You have to maintain a sense of liveliness, confidence, overt joy. It is phantom armor. Making us both look stronger than we are, more resilient to errant blows. More fierce.
So much of my confidence this year came from listening to bands from Seattle. Lisa Prank’s nuanced wit; Chastity Belt’s uncompromising sense of self; Tacocat’s wily color wheel of independence and understanding; Mommy Long Legs’ visceral spontaneity and teeth-baring conviction. Here are artists that stand for community, friendship, style. Artists that have a slingshot understanding when it came to life’s finite urgency. These are people that are proud to be themselves. Fearless, funny, electric. That’s what I needed. But even if only an eye dropper of positivity, a stroke of color in an otherwise black metastasis it was something that made me have hope. With Lisa Prank, it was a constellation of flower patterns, lithe chords, and identifiable pains: bolts of hurt and frustration that I could process. Feelings that came from relationships and emotional foibles. Not cancer. Not sterile, eggshell colored walls of an oncology center. Not the lifeless plastic plants that flank a leafy table of old National Geographics and Home and Gardens. This, instead, was an accessible and familial pain. I understood crushes and self-referential quips. I did not understand immunotherapy. I craved a pain I knew.
I spent this past weekend in Portland, watching Robin Edwards perform as Lisa Prank. Three of my friends – Tim, Sarah and Mike – by my side. All of us rocking, moving our heels, bobbing energetically. It was a pinata made of sledding synapses, pulpy memories, and curdled milk products that bubbled and congealed in house made whiskey. Eruptions of laughter in Portland’s Bar Bar gave way to spurious ashes of blackout recollections. I was 900 miles away from home, seeing an artist I loved with friends I loved. But I felt guilty. I wondered if this was a selfish composite. A charcoal sketch of self-medication. At the end of the show, I didn’t have my sea legs. I thanked Robin and bought a tape, but conversation escaped me. I didn’t know how to say thank you for the happiness, strength, and confidence she gave me over the past few months as I was going to hospitals with my dad. Seeing medical tubes sprout from his arms. Instead of saying how I felt, I awkwardly pivoted, walked out of the door, and joined my friend Mike for pizza down the block. Sitting there with a soggy plate full of pineapple and ham, a stomach full of Pacific NW whiskey, and a mind full of thankfulness, hope, and the future.