My Year in the Black Cottage

6 min read

Two years out from my diagnoses. Two years out from surgery. Two years and not much has changed. 

When I sat down to sum up the last year of my life and the lessons I’ve learned from my diagnosis on, I thought it was going to be really positive. I was proud of my progress, even before I pressed a single key. And then it was quiet. And I was still. And I had to admit things to myself. And I realized I’d been so very wrong. I guess that’s what I get for my arrogance. 

For the record, this will probably be full of mistakes and very not polished. The more I go over it, the more I’ll lose my nerve, and the less likely it’ll make it to my website. So please forgive any errors you come across. 

The truth is I’m no better off than I was last year. If I’m being super, gut wrenchingly honest, I’m worse. 

What’s so strange about it all is if you’d asked me how I was doing a few weeks ago I’d have gushed about my birthday trip. I’d have talked about good friends and fun nights, and my amazing family. And please, don’t misunderstand, all those things are true. 

I know, logically, I am so very fortunate to have the people I do in my life. Far more fortunate than I deserve, in fact. 

The problem isn’t them. The problem is me. 

When I was sick I’d lie down and visualize a small black cottage in ankle deep water. It was a mixture of the place Eleven goes in Stranger Things, and of the house Annie Nielsen lives in when she’s in Hell in What Dreams May Come. Yes, clearly I have a flair for the dramatic. However, it’s the most honest way I could paint a visual picture of the emptiness I physically felt. 

I thought I’d left that cottage behind a long time ago. Sure, every now and then I’d go back when I needed to let the coldness settle in and take a small nap, just for a bit, but then I’d leave again. Overall, though, I didn’t need it anymore. Not like I did when I was in treatment. 

What I realized about five minutes ago, is that I never actually left. All the wonderful moments, the times when I feel like I can actually breathe, I’m not out of the cottage at all. It’s just me managing to stick my head out of the attic window. Because in actuality, I now realize that my Stranger Things and What Dreams May Come black cottage has taken on a bit of a House of Leaves type structure. It looks the same on the outside, but it grows larger every second of everyday on the inside. And now it’s stretched so tall that I was fooled into thinking I could leave it behind. The truth is I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be able to leave it again. And that realization sucks.

And the point of all this isn’t to be poor, poor Erica. Or talk about how awful I’ve got it, because I don’t. I’ve got it good. Like I said before, I have great friends, family, and support. My remaining tumor is under control, prognoses is good and the future looks bright. Pointing all that out again isn’t repetitive, it’s simply so important it needs to be said more than once. I’ve got lots of time to hop in my Jeep and drive around with my wonderful husband, snuggle with my kids, hang out with friends and family, and bake and cook on the weekends while I listen to really loud music and sing at the top of my lungs into spatulas, and I promise you my singing voice is absolutely atrocious. When I ask my six-year-old if she’d like me to sing to her, she literally says, “No, thank you.” What’s the point of that little rant? It’s that I’m not some Sad Sally. I promise. 

The point of this post is to simply say I highly doubt I’m the only one with a black cottage. I think a lot of us have them, and we’re all in the same space. Our cottages might look different in design, the terrain altered, but there are many of us there. And maybe we can’t see each other through the fog. We all have something going on at some point or another, and maybe when we are at our lowest we can remember that we’re alone together. Maybe instead of judging each other’s journeys, we can forgive each other for our weaknesses. We can love each other for our strengths. We can offer each other grace. Even if we never meet.

And if we stick our heads out of the attic windows at the same time and I manage to see you, I promise to smile. To wave. If I’ve had a baking day I’ll offer you a cookie or slice of fresh baked bread. We can munch and chat until we’re exhausted again. Until we both retreat back to the bottom floor for much needed naps.

But above all, I promise you from the bottom of my heart , I won’t sing to you. 😉