This week I learned of not one, but two people I knew who lost battles against cancer. My mom told me she had learned on Facebook that Jason Pascal passed away. Jason was approximately the same age as me. His mom, Carol, was my mom’s best friend. Carol had four boys; my mom had four girls. We spent hours and hours in the Pascal’s log cabin on the plateau of Issaquah when I was young. Jason’s uncle lived on a lot next door to the log cabin, and operated a fruit stand on the side of the road. They had a corn field. Jason’s dad George Pascal taught me how to pack sand for a sand castle. Mark, Jeff, and Jason, the three oldest boys, obsessively collected baseball cards and tried (unsuccessfully) to get me interested in all their baseball trivia, which of course they had memorized. The boys were peeing outdoors once while we were all playing; I decided I wanted to try it. Even though I was mere steps from their home and a toilet (and the busy roadside), I pulled down my pants and peed behind a bush in their front yard, only I didn’t realize I needed to squat—none of the boys needed to squat! So I peed on my own pants. I learned an important lesson that day: Girls don’t pee the same as boys.
I played in the front/side yard with Jason; we played tag, and I ended up in “jail” (under their wooden picnic table). I pretended to be upset about being stuck in jail by pulling up blades of grass. “Don’t do that,” Jason admonished. “It’s not good for the grass.”
My mother remembers Jason as gentle. I don’t remember much about his personality because kids are in their own little worlds. Except any boy who cares for grass must have had the capacity to care for other things.
Gazing into the hazy past, that is pretty much my only distinct memory of Jason, but I think of it every time I sit on grass. Jason Pascal and green summer grass go together in my mind.
When my parents divorced and we left that church, I didn’t see the Pascals again except for once or twice as a pre-teen. I thought of Jason only from time to time, until my mom told me this week that he had fought and lost his battle against cancer.
Jason’s older brother Jeff came into the kitchen once when Carol and my mom were making brownies. “MMMMM!” he said. “I smell the flesh of brownies!” My mom and Carol laughed and laughed.
Lee, the youngest, and my sister Jody, had a little romance when they were five years old. Jody would sit on their hard-wood floor when she was still in diapers, and suddenly fling herself backwards, smacking her head on the hard floor. Maybe she felt the need to burst out. Her impact was cushioned by rag-rugs Carol had braided by hand.
The boys all shared one dark messy wooden-walled bedroom with four wood bunks, each topped with a ticking-striped mattress in blue and white. I imagined their bedroom was a caboose.
Years ago I drove up to see if the log cabin was still there. It had been replaced by a development, 200 homes, all squished in and identical, tall and plain. The corn field had been replaced by another development.
Time passes, and the things we loved when we were young simply disappear without anyone checking to see if we mind, and without us noticing until it’s already done. I’m sorry, Jason. I’m sorry you didn’t make it. I’m sorry I didn’t notice until it was done.
I had previously conceived of a runway collection inspired by my neighbor and friend and survivor Autumn’s breast-cancer scarring. This was the first week of the fashion program where we were asked to actually start committing to a runway mood/collection. I had been debating whether to have my first runway show be the Moss/scarring/cancer collection, or a collection based on sepia-toned historical photographs.
On Tuesday morning this week, at 7:52 a.m., Dixie, my step-grandmother, passed away from cancer. We were on strained, awkward terms with each other. I hadn’t seen her for a couple years, because we disagreed on some issues that are important to me. However, when I learned she had cancer I sent her an email and tried to connect with her the only way I knew how: to tell her about the idea I had for my Autumn/scarring/Moss runway collection, and to tell her it was inspired by southern fashion designer Natalie Chanin (Dixie was a southerner too). She responded in kind, telling me she thought it sounded like a lovely and creative idea.
The collection is centered around two textures: concrete and moss. It’ll be gray and green, with some other forest accent colors mixed in. The concrete is the cancer, the calcification that happens in all of our lives, the hardness that makes us grow old too soon, or breaks us down, or sometimes even defeats us entirely. Disease, pain, fear, hatred, depression.
But under concrete there is soil, and life forces itself up through the cracks. Moss in cracks of pavement, city sidewalks carpeted in green. Even in the city there is natural growth. Moss is a survivor, and a beautiful scar, an irregularity imposing its wabi-sabi imperfect beauty upon perfect/ugly uniformity.
We all bear scars on our bodies, from small or great injuries. Each scar has a story or a memory, a physical manifestation of something we hold inside ourselves. Scars are like blooms, moss marring and decorating us for better and for worse.
I’m sorry you didn’t make it, Dixie. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to let our old wounds mellow and re-unite later in life. You did your best to welcome me and my sisters into your family, and even if the transition was rough, you invited us into your home and made beautiful food for us and shared stories with me about your mother, when I was going through a difficult time with my mother. I’m sorry your mother marked you with scars, but by sharing them with me you helped me heal from some of my own. Your life was spent in service to others; even if your own scars didn’t heal, you helped heal others.
Another dimension to the Moss collection was that I conceived of it during the upheaval time when I was leaving teaching. I walked the neighborhood of my school during breaks to clear my head, to escape, to re-center. That was when I first noticed the moss, and felt emboldened by it. I was the moss, struggling to escape from the confinement of cement, feeling I was losing the battle against standardization. I grew on the sides of trees, rocks, I was everywhere, surviving and living and feeling vibrant despite being trapped. Finally I realized there was no trap, the only trap was in my own mind. I broke free, lifted myself from the pavement, and stepped off the sidewalk into the wild.
That’s what the collection is about: breaking from the confinement of our minds and the city sidewalks, taking to the wild forest to renew and restore ourselves in the abundance of nature. It’s not always safe, dry, or warm out there, but there’s strength to be gained from taking risk and trusting the universe for a little while.
The day after my last day as a teacher, I drove to the Olympic peninsula with my husband, and we ended up driving around Lake Crescent in the dark in a wild rain/windstorm. We came around a bend. A tree had fallen across the road. We turned back, realizing we were in actual danger. But we made it back home okay, and spent a restorative night in Port Townsend. The next morning we awoke to realize our hotel room had a vast sweeping view of the Salish Sea and mountains. I couldn’t believe I was done with teaching, that I didn’t need to go back, that I had my entire life ahead of me and that my only limitation was my fear.
As a teacher, I took kids to the Olympic peninsula a few times, for a week at camp. We learned about nurse-logs: big old trees that have fallen, but whose bark and trunk and roots, rich in nutrients, feed and provide homes for new saplings. In the forest, death fosters new growth.
So the decision was made for me, that I will do the Moss collection and wait until later for the Sepia collection. Dedicated to Autumn, Annette, and Jackie, who survived, and Jason and Dixie, who did not. All of you inspire me and remind me to be stronger.