Young Mame

She’s eccentric; the kind of girl who one day might wear satin jumpsuits to cocktail parties. She carries herself with a bubbling coolness, a contradiction of temperament. One moment she is detached as a Japanese dowager, the next vying for the gasp of an audience. Some might label her dramatic. She’d probably agree. She relishes exhibition. She moves animated, flittering in a flattened world, pushing her will upon it with an infectious charm, a large part of why I love her.

It has been nearly five months since Jordan was diagnosed with cancer, and the disease is distant from her – a log line in her life story, seldom more. Her illness wafts around like a familiar scent, rarely intruding upon her life. She is matter-of-fact about it, leaving the high drama to more mundane crises: denial of sweets, manipulation of her brother, trivial playground bruises.

But the scent of the disease lingers. It irritates reality when we pause, thinking it benign. Thankfully, it does not threaten health. Our daughter blushes forceful will over life’s testing challenges. Her illness surfaces in ghostly forms, like a random software bug. She stammers over familiar words, forgets conversations, teeters with misplaced observations. Sure, she is smart. It is her intelligence that renders error immediate. She over-compensates to conceal mistakes. Her eyes feign sovereignty. She puts her back into false assertions. It is once noble, inspiring and sad. And I can’t help but love her more. She reminds me of a modern day Mame Dennis. I imagine her twenty years from now, a character none can comprehend, full of life and contradiction; never sweating the big things, sounding crescendos on nuances the rest of us overlook.

Of the members of our family, none weather change better than she. In these past few months change has been abundant. Cabana Group closed its doors. I began a new career and have spent nearly every week on the road. We sold our home and moved into a new apartment. Virtually every part of our lives is different. Jeanette, Lucas and I have each grappled with the depth of change, erupting in outbursts of emotion, occasionally isolating ourselves with guarded defenses, and often binging on indulgent pleasures. But Jordan is unaffected. She sleeps sound. She accepts each change with practical rationality. Auntie Mame’s motto rings true in her spirit: life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving.

People often ask me how we deal with Jordan’s condition. They search my eyes for signs of vulnerability. Or they scramble to find the right thing to say. They project themselves into my life and shutter at the thought of their child stricken with serious illness. Most assume the worst. Who wouldn’t? But to sit in Jordan’s presence is a lesson in the mind-boggling crossword puzzle of life. You can’t converse with her and not imagine a grown lady with an indomitable presence. Her spirit is bigger than the room that encloses it. At times trying, at others intensely gratifying, she commands with eyes that win you over. Her petite bean-pole of a frame chasses delicately about only to pirouette and turn on you with agile strength. She has the mettle of a CEO, or a diplomat, or celebrity. She has the character of a survivor.

I am daily inspired by the girl that is my gift. You can’t feel sorry for her. She won’t let you.

When I was a teenager, a friend bought me a copy of Patrick Dennis’s book. I read it with glee several times. I still have it. The binding is worn and the pages are brown and brittle. Last week, in the midst of our move, I dusted it off and skimmed it for old time’s sake. Once again, I laughed out loud. I lost myself in the whimsy of Auntie Mame’s world, thinking it something from another era; thinking the story as dated as the battered copy on my bookshelf. But then I realized Mame is alive and well. She lives in Jordan.