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.