Monday, July 15, 2013

One short life with two wonderful wives Part Two: Kim’s story

Kim the Brave
This is the second part of the story of how the lives of two of my wonderful ladies, Karina and Kim are linked, and also how their lives and stories unfolded in and around the Chicks with Balls project.

During the same visit that Karina (from my last blog entry) posed for me for Chicks with Balls, I also saw our dear friend Mike, her now ex-husband with whom she had a rock solid friendship. 

He had, after 6 years single, remarried and now had a two-month old baby with his new wife Kim.

I had no idea what to expect from Mike’s new wife. Like many children of divorce, I had nursed a secret hope that Mike and Karina might get back together again…though I knew they were so happy as friends, I didn’t want that boat to be rocked. I guess I just hoped they might stay happily divorced, so whenever we came to NYC it would be like the old days.

But, the charismatic and talented professor of radiology, Mike, had inevitably, years later, found someone new.  Her name was Kim and when we were introduced, I knew I was meeting a woman of true quality. She was younger than Mike, but not ridiculously so. She was a great mom, but not competitively so.

And Mike treated her with a respect and tenderness that was obvious. She was the mother of his child and had made real his dream of becoming a father. I got to hold baby Miles and we talked in the park for an hour or so.  Then they went their own way, living the metropolitan parenting dream of pushing an agreeable baby in a stroller laden with high tech diaper gear to the happy activities of a lazy Sunday in the city. Knowing their one bedroom was already too small, Mike also showed me pictures of the lovely house they would be moving into in Bronxville, an immaculate inner suburb of Manhattan.

The following year we visited NYC again for an art show I was in. Of course we would see Karina and Mike…only separately this time. 

Oh, and by the way, Mike casually mentioned to us that a few weeks ago much of his stomach had been removed after a cancer diagnosis. He was now going through chemo to blast the cancer in his nodes…so, we should take the Harlem line from Grand Central to Bronxville, he’d pick us up at the station and we’d visit his family in their beautiful suburban home.

Wow. Cancer was not even on the radar…but now it was.

Mike was a radiologist, a physician, a realist. He knows when doctors are giving you false hope and when they are happy to report you’re worrying for nothing. And, to us, Mike was pure optimism. Six more rounds of chemo and then he’d be done. Cancer would be just a blip on the radar and on with life.

He filled me with optimism too. I took photos of him and Miles to do a painting. (I have done two “father battling cancer” paintings so far; one where I was able to catch it in time and the father is thriving 5 years later. One, where I was too late. I was hoping with Mike I had caught it in time. Painting you…it’s what I do instead of thoughts and prayers. I optimistically called this painting, “Mike and Miles are not done yet…” and purposely left an unfinished stroke just to prove it.)

I loved seeing how beautifully Kim was raising Miles, and what a proud father Mike was. Miles had Mike’s frown and there was a depth of knowledge and understanding in his very young intense eyes. Kim too, seemed to have that depth of understanding…of Mike. She had his number. Her confidence was a different type than Karina’s altogether. She had the confidence of a second time mom, only with her first child and new family. That is a rare gift indeed.

A fun visit, a positive self-diagnosed prognosis by Mike the radiologist and we came home to Ohio cautiously optimistic. We also knew we should visit NYC again before too long.

So I finished the painting and put off visiting…if we didn’t see the cancer we could pretend things were okay. When we finally did bring the painting for them, this second visit wasn’t light-hearted like the previous one…but it wasn’t sad either. Yes, Mike’s cancer had spread. He was painfully thin, his speech labored, and it looked like all movement for him hurt. But Mike, ever the achiever, seemed to actually thrive on the struggle. Practically starving to death between his tiny stomach and the cancer taking nutrition from his body, Mike continued to see patients, read X-ray films, give rounds, lecture, work out, even ride his bike. Mike wasn’t going to die until he was dead…maybe not even then.

But this story isn’t about Mike. It’s about the women, and now it’s Kim’s turn. In her 2 years as a mom and almost as long as a caregiver to a cancer patient she had assumed these roles with grace, courage, cheer and acceptance. She was a firm, loving and stable mom to Miles, as she was a constant and loving wife to Mike.

Kim was profoundly qualified for Chicks with Balls and I selfishly knew she must pose. When life unfolds around the art, for better or worse, it makes the art profoundly important…even though it was an intense time, even though there was a toddler running around, even though Mike’s chest catheter was draining fluids at an alarming and messy rate.

Knowing I would ask Kim to pose, I brought the Chicks with Balls pitch book. A short flip through and she was sold. She wanted to do it then and there, no thinking about it, just do it.

And so we did.

Mike and Kim had a private back yard with loads of natural sunshine on this lovely June afternoon. Mike had gone upstairs to lie down, and Scott was enjoying the rare treat of playing inside with a 2-year old that wasn’t his own.

Kim chose balls from Miles’ toy bin and added Mike’s special beat-up baseball from his childhood. Very comfortable showing her beautiful tanned and toned upper torso, Kim exuded peace, confidence and acceptance.

Two short months later, this strong, proud, brave woman would stand with peace, confidence and acceptance and speak at her husband’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of New York City.

I had never seen a widow speak at her husband’s funeral, but when I thought about it more, it really makes perfect sense. Kim had to get back to business. Toddlers don’t wait for a respectful period of mourning to pass before asking for Macaroni and Cheese or having a tantrum…they want it now. They force the healing process too.

I was so proud and impressed that Kim, in speaking at the funeral, had bravely grabbed by the balls, this new and unfamiliar life that had been thrust upon her to replace the beautiful one she had started with Mike. I know that she will be a profound success at this. I know that happiness and laughter will live in their home, and I know that Kim will make Mike and their son, Miles proud each day as she navigates these uncharted waters with courage, strength and love. And of course balls.

Epilogue…you know how I love epilogues. It has been less than a year since Kim spoke before the crowd at Mike’s funeral and she and Miles are thriving. Kim and Karina actually only met for the first time at Mike’s deathbed, but they have since become friends. At that first heart-wrenching meeting, Kim, thinking like a mom, invited Karina to provide an irreplaceable link for Miles to his father’s life before she knew him.

So Kim, Karina and Miles all get together now and again for a toddler outing. Miles will grow up hearing Mike stories (there are so many) and, through these two wonderful women who both loved Mike so much, he will grow up to know his father. 

And, in the spirit of the full circle that Chicks with Balls chronicles and sometimes completes, Kim and Karina and Miles will all be getting on a plane together to fly out to Ohio for the August 9th opening reception of Chicks with Balls. This especially warms my heart because I know that in so many ways, it means that Mike will be here with us too.

I call her painting, “Kim, the Brave”.