Sister Helen Joseph

Sister's been getting back to me lately. I'm not at liberty to post what she says, but here (after a brief intro) are my responses.



I have an imaginary friend, you might say, an alter ego. She knows everything about me but sometimes she forgets or gets muddled so I go over things. This starts with a note I wrote to her in the spring of 2014 to clear up some thoughts on my medical issues.

Spring 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph:

So, it’s been quite the decade, hasn’t it? In 2004 I went home, back to Maine, to die but I lived and had to make other plans.
Then in the spring of 2014, there was no announcement. No life changing statement. No bang. No whimper. As I was folding clothes in the living room one day, it came over me like sunlight emerging from behind a cloud. I’m healthy. There is nothing to look up for that.
There was that time in 1996 when my gynecologist told me in the post-surgical visit, “It’s healing very nicely, but unfortunately you’ll need more treatment.” I bought the Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Cancer Book on my way home. There was the day a few years later when my oncologist told me, “You did everything we asked. There is no reason for you to be here, except that you do have cancer again.”
There was even the time a few years after that when nervous shaking and rapid weight loss sent me to Web-MD. The same oncologist sent me to a thyroid specialist for Graves Disease. When my knees ached, I took ibuprofen and then prescription dose Naproxen. When my left knee started to buckle out from under me, my new orthopedic surgeon told me, “They’re both bad enough to replace.” One surgery and I got two new titanium joints.
Now in 2014, ten years after I went home to Maine and many years after the beginning of my medical times, I realize I’m still here. I thought I would continue to add to my growing list of ailments – high cholesterol, allergy induced asthma, and pre-diabetes which I call pretend diabetes. I thought all this only went one way. Now I realize these things are still here, but they’re under control. I don’t have to plan around them.
After more than ten years, I don’t take any more cancer drugs. Not Tamoxifen, not Arimidex. I out grew them or outlived their necessity. I still sneeze during grass pollen season and in Indian restaurants, but I don’t need drugs all year for that. My thyroid evened out and so did I. Even the anti-anxiety, the anti-depressants, and the pro-sleep drugs haven’t been necessary anymore.
Have I outgrown these at sixty five? My Medicare plan would have covered all of them, but my new primary care physician, didn’t prescribe anything. I left my annual physical thinking, “When do I go back? Next year?”
I don’t have to see a thyroid doctor in a matter of weeks or an oncologist in six months. I didn’t hear whether I should see my primary care in three months or six months. Even the results of my mammogram came back with a section highlighted in yellow. No abnormal findings. No evidence of disease.
So that’s settled. With no treatment plan, nothing to research, I’m free to acknowledge whatever went wrong before, while looking ahead. I’ve earned the capacity to plan for myself.
Love, Honey
P.S. My doctor’s office called to schedule my six month visit to monitor my diabetes. I thought of explaining it is only pretend, but decided to go along.
P.P.S. That went well, I thought, but now my next visit is in three months. This diabetes thing could be time consuming especially if I actually take up exercise and I will. I bet I do everything they ask.

July 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph:

Back to Pyramid. Then & now comparisons are looming large. When I first came here in 1996, I was so anxious. What if something happens to the car? Or if I don’t have enough clothes or the right clothes? All around general anxiety. What if I’m not good enough at this?
The X was, if not the cause, the instigator of much of my anxiety. I’d always be afraid I’d have to deal with him, really his anxiety or his anger. With the kids, it’s different. We all loved each other then. We all love each other now. Sure that glosses over much, but it’s also true.
In 1996 I was searching. In 2014, I’m found. Back then I did not have as many friends certainly not as many true heartfelt friends and I had no writing community.  Yeah, in 2014, I’m found. I am somebody. I’m Ellie O’Leary, the writer. Let’s deal with that, shall we?
Love, Honey

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,

You’ve been critical lately but I can handle it. I’m in a good place – no, really. I’m not talking euphemisms again. I’m at Pyramid. I’m in a good place, better than good. I’m at my renewal place. OK. I’m also in a good place mentally and physically.
I’m looking forward – not back. I like where I live so I have no homeless, pity party attitude. I look forward to staying there indefinitely. My writing is going extremely well. I submit all the time. Always have something out there. So far this year I have published one essay and have one essay and one poem accepted for publication. I still have my CNF Memoir contest submission in progress as well as The Rattle Poetry contest. So far I’ve “won” subscriptions. That’s the kind of attitude I have now. I enter contests, I get subscriptions, so I won subscriptions.
It’s good to be a winner. Don’t be critical of me.
Love, Honey

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,

Yes, I guess that is what I am saying. I’ve outgrown Pyramid, but don’t tell anyone because I have not outgrown Pyramid. I never have – I never will. The sisterhood, the comraderies, the support. I’ll always benefit from that. It would be my loss if I got so high on myself that I gave it up.
What I mean is I am way past the anxiety I carried with me in the early years. Also, between all the learning I have gained here plus all . . . .
I’m on retreat. I don’t have time for this now.
Love, Honey.

late July 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,

I’m home. Cat’s gone. Girlfriend took off.
Love, Honey
August 1 2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,

No, I did not.
Love, Honey

8/24/2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,
Well, the votes are in. OK, maybe not the votes, but all the paperwork is there. I have applied for the MFA. Let’s not talk about it. I’m very good at waiting. I’ll just do that.
Love, Honey

8/24/2014
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,
Yes, I am.
I don’t usually hear back from you so soon. I’m used to waiting, that’s how I got so good at it.
Love, Honey

Dear Sister Helen Joseph,
Of course I was kidding when I said I would have to rob a bank. I'm not kidding when I say I'll have to use smoke and mirrors. It's an expression, although I have no smoke.
The deadline was September 1 to have my application complete and I got the call on September 10. When I saw someone was calling from Portland, I thought it was my doctor's office or someone from the collective he belongs to. I joked to myself that it might be Stonecoast, but I thought it was too soon for them. I was giving them until at least the end of the month. When I heard the woman call me Helen, then I was pretty sure it was Martin's Point Healthcare, but she said Stonecoast. Yeah, in. Accepted, me.
If I had the money to pay cash for this, I would be all set. Now I have to figure something out. That's where the smoke and mirrors come in. You are welcome to contribute.
Do you know the only suggestion that I might be too old for this came from you? Only you.
Love, Honey

End of Summer 2014, just before the Solstice
Dear Sister Helen Joseph,

You knew those were my real parents, didn’t you? There was no twin for me. As much as I wanted Ellen and the Real Parents to come claim me after all, it wasn’t going to happen and you knew.
So, when Mommy died. That was real. My real mother, really died. Barbara and Josephine had options, not that they played out, but I wanted that, too.
No, I did not go in search. I didn’t think Ellen would be at Bates. My twin wouldn’t have had to pick a college near home. Anyway, where was her home? How would I know?
Yes, I always figured, ok, always hoped there was another one of me out there named Ellen. She got the more modern name and The Real Parents kept her. Even boys liked her. She had matching outfits and a pretty bedroom and her parents, The Real Parents, both worried about and encouraged her.  I hoped they'd come get me, but they didn’t.
No, when I struck out on my own it was to find myself, not them.
Love, Honey




November 2014
Dear Sr. Helen Joseph,
Did you give them this information? Did you tell the college that I never had a mother, ever? Did you let them believe I was my brother's daughter? Really? Why didn't I see this until this year? Must we always have reality be your reality - your way?
Love, Honey

Dear Sister Helen Joseph,
Yes, that is what I mean. My brother is Daniel O'Leary, Jr. My father was Sr. and there was a mother. My mother, remember. And no, my daughter Brigid is not named after you. You are not named Brigid.
Love, Honey


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