I have participated in a number of political demonstrations, but few as memorable as the March for Women’s Lives in 2004. More than 1.15 million people converged on the mall for the largest march on Washington in U.S. history. But what I am starting here—it is not the memory of a massive protest, or a recollection of the Bush Administration’s use of women’s rights as a political bargaining tool.

Writers do this. We begin with something approachable, something we trust we might get onto the page or screen correctly. We try for a moment to hold the story in our heads, even as we know we have to let it go.

I marched with my sister, Stephanie, and our friends, Emily and Kristine. I was two months pregnant at the time, pale, surviving on ginger ale and Saltines because everything else induced nausea, and excited about the new bump–even if it was too small then for others to really notice—under my This Is What A Feminist Looks Like t-shirt.

Emily was a new friend. She and my sister had become comrades on the nightclub scene in Los Angeles. Emily is British, a media executive working in the United States on a green card. As a US resident but not a US citizen, she could not cast votes for pro-choice candidates. The march represented for Emily a rare opportunity for her view to be counted. Representatives from more than 57 countries carried their national flags that day.

I have known Kristine since elementary school. We used to jump rope in her driveway; we played softball together in middle school. I remember going to the lake for her birthday, loving the same songs in high school. Kristine had taken the train from Philadelphia to meet us in Washington.

Kristine was three years away from being diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a cancer that affects the body’s soft tissue. Flash forward to summer 2009. Kristine has paralysis on the left side of her body; the result of a blood vessel rupture caused by a brain tumor.

Of all the incredible moments to take away from that spring day in 2004 in Washington, this is what I remember most: laughing with a healthy and vibrant Kristine, admiring her wise and off-kilter observations, her sense of adventure, all of us believing in so much—in strength and unity and time.

This is the sorcery of creating prose. You see, I have tricked myself into writing about Kristine’s cancer. We know what happens after the March for Women’s Lives. Fox News reports no one was there. CNN reports everyone was there. Progressives go home to campaign for John Kerry, to see another Democrat win a record number of women’s votes but not the White House. Our nation suffers four additional years of runaway-train Republicanism.

I refuse to include George W. Bush, President on the “Year You Were Born” page in my daughter’s baby book. Instead I paste ticket stubs from the Kerry-Edwards fundraising events my sister and I attended just before my daughter was born.

This is what happens with Kristine. She faces seven rounds of intense chemotherapy; severe hallucinations; heart and vascular surgery to remove tumors from her Superior Vena Cava and the veins behind the clavicle; 37 rounds of radiation on her back; a metastatic tumor in her lung and brain; brain surgery to remove a large tumor from her right frontal lobe; a blood vessel rupture caused by the brain tumor, depression, and (hopefully temporary) paralysis.

Most days her sense of adventure remains intact somehow; the infectious quality of her kindness and laughter endure. She tries an experimental treatment center in South America. She and her boyfriend maintain an excellent blog (kristinebecker.blogspot.com) tracking her progress. She turns 38 and dares to believe she might celebrate her 40th birthday. She is fierce, without need of our admiration, yet she has it in endless supplies.

Would you believe I intended to write about bull fights? This is the emotional chance a writer takes. You sit in front of your computer screen inspired to challenge the slaughter of a bull. You recall another protest, and another, and suddenly you’re gulping back tears as you fail to properly describe the bravery and failing health of a treasured lifelong friend.

 

It is with a heavy heart that I repost this entry today, originally written in September. Kristine Anne Becker passed away at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day 2009, in the arms of her boyfriend, Ryan MacDonald, her partner in a brave battle against leiomyosarcoma. Kristine asked that there be no formal funeral service. A friend has posted a Facebook update that says, Right now, this minute, go out and do something fabulous in honor of Kristine, and certainly that is the type of remembrance Kristine would prefer. The last time I saw Kristine she had traveled to Los Angeles to volunteer at a fundraiser for Fertile Hope, an organization she admired, one that provides fertility counseling to young women whose cancer is treatable, but whose treatments threaten to leave them unable to achieve future pregnancies. I remember Kristine waving from the curb as I picked her up at LAX. Although Kristine had committed to a strict raw diet, although she must have been tired from traveling, she was in my sister’s kitchen making my little girl her favorite Kraft macaroni and cheese before I was even inside the door. My sister visited Kristine in Philadelphia in October. Kristine was doing well then, but knew, of course, that with another tumor in her brain, every good day was a gift. To say Kristine will be missed does not quite seem adequate. It seems at this moment, words should weigh so much more.

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STACY BIERLEIN is the author of A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. She is the editor of the award-winning anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection (May 2008), and a co-editor of Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience (October 2011). She is a founding editor of the independent press Other Voices Books as well as co-creator of the Morgan Street International Novel Series. Bierlein is a graduate of Syracuse University and Columbia College. A native of mid-Michigan and avid traveler, she currently makes her home in Newport Coast, California. Follow her on Twitter @StacyBierlein.

14 responses to “I Meant to Write about Bull Fights”

  1. What a beautiful tribute. It’s strange how you start writing one thing and end up somewhere entirely different. Ever time I attempt a TNB post that happens, although I’ve never had anything as important to say as your story about Kristine.

    And the comment about FOX News: typical. They are lying scum.

  2. Jill Boydston says:

    Stacy-

    I enjoyed reading your essay.
    Kristine would be honored.
    Jill Boydston

  3. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    A beautiful elegy, and wise.

  4. I love this story, Stacy. It makes me smile and makes me a little sad because I find myself doing something similar as to what you just did: remembering a friend or loved one through prose.

    The first line of creative prose I ever wrote in my life was about my good friend, Jeremiah, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2003. I just posted part of a story on here involving him, “The Black Thunderbird.”

    Jeremiah died a few years ago but I always find myself remembering him through a story, a funny memory of our time together.

    Writing, I learned, was my coping mechanism. When my dad was diagnosed with leukemia last March I found myself writing nonstop like I did when Jeremiah was first diagnosed. Though writing could not save either of them physically, it has in my opinion preserved their spirits in some way.

    Your story did that. I really liked this.

  5. Angela Tung says:

    a beautiful essay. i’m so sorry about your friend kristine.

    it’s so true how you often start off writing about one thing, and the act of writing leads to something else entirely.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Oh Stacy. I remember reading this when you first posted it and how wonderful it was then. It’s even more poignant now that Kristine has passed away. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    I’m going to make sure I do something fabulous in her honour today.

  7. I remember reading this for the first time too, Stacy – I’m so sad to read that you have lost your friend, and, rest assured, I’ll go out and do something fabulous in her honour today.

  8. Oh, girl. I have been in quite the narcissistic little bubble for the past 12 hours about some glitch with my Slut Lullabies galleys, and rereading this has reminded me yet again of something I should already know: what a gift every “good day” of reasonably solid health is; what a gift it is to still be able to feel almost-young at 41; what a luxury it is to think of myself, so frequently, as “too busy” to spend my time either raising funds for causes in which I believe or marching for them or even lying in the arms of someone I love, because time seems so foolishly limitless and things that do not matter much seem to matter more than they should. I have a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator that I have thought of myself as being too busy (again!) to crack open, but tonight I am going to take the night off, and drink it, and be with my husband, and enjoy my life in honor of Christine, whom I wish I had gotten to know. Thank you for this.

  9. “Right now, this minute, go out and do something fabulous in honor of Kristine.”

    You have, Stacy. You have.

  10. Sharon Anderson says:

    I am sorry for this sad news. I’m a 8 yr. leiomyosarcoma survior, stage IV but tumor free for the last 5 years. Please let the family know that if they wish designate a cause for donations in her honor, they can set up a special fund at LMSarcoma Direct Research Foundation http://www.LMSdr.org .
    The money goes to LMS research.

    Blessings,
    Sharon

    • Stacy Bierlein says:

      Sharon, thank you for the LMSarcoma Direct Research Foundation information. It is beautiful and inspiring to learn that you have been tumor free for five years. Thank you so much for reading this and commenting, and best wishes to you.

  11. Stacy Bierlein says:

    My most sincere thanks to you all for your beautiful comments.

  12. Greg Olear says:

    A moving tribute, Stacy, to an obviously excellent person.

    Would that this had not happened, and your post really was just about the bull fights.

  13. Lynda Rutledge (Stephenson) says:

    Ah, Stacy. You had me at “I Meant to Write about Bull Fights” and you sealed the deal with “This is the sorcery of creating prose. You see, I have tricked myself into writing about Kristine’s cancer.” It’s so true. “This is what writers do.” And I love how you’ve captured that here. And I hate why you had to capture it. I stumbled on this in the way one does, several clicks from the Ragdale site, and suddenly I am reading you, hearing your voice all these years since Columbia, explaining what we writers do. It’s 2011. You may never see this comment. But if you do, know that I am proud of how you captured this with remarkable creative nonfiction grace.

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