12.20.2007

Merry Christmas!

So if I thought that Christmas was complicated with divorced parents of my own I was a fool! This year I've got two new families: BF, the little man, and BF's mom and my dad's newly acquired family. While I adore having all of these new people in my life they do tend to complicate things.

When my brother and I were younger Christmas plans were pretty easy. My dad has a very small family which he doesn't really interact with; we used to have Christmas Eve with my dad and his mom at his house and then he and my brother would go to Christmas Eve church services and I would go to my best friend's family Christmas Eve party (being the black sheep that I am) and hang out. My dad and brother would join the party after church, we'd go home at 1:00 or so, sleep, wake-up the next morning and open presents and then go to my mom's house. There we'd do the gift exchange thing again with her and her boyfriend (he's been around for almost ten years now - I like him and he's never tried to be my dad - they're never getting married). After a couple hours of hanging around the house, getting some brunch, relaxing a bit and playing with new presents, we'd go to my mom's big giant family Christmas gathering. My mom's one of five who all felt the need to be fruitful and multiply; my grandmother has twelve grandchildren.

This year things are getting more complicated. Now my dad actually has family; my brother and I have SOs; and my SO has a son. So we're not doing Christmas day with either of my parents. We're going to spend Christmas Eve afternoon/evening with my dad, my brother and my new stepfamily, then my brother is coming to my mom's with us when my dad and his new clan go to church at 6:30. We're going to do presents and a late dinner there and then BF's ex is going to drop off the little man with us after he spends the day with her and her family across the river, probably around 11:00 or so; last year it was midnight. Christmas morning, BF's mom and ex-wife are coming to our house to watch the little man open presents and exchange gifts with us (the ex relationship is coming along beautifully, I'm actually okay with her being there and she actually invited us to spend Christmas Eve at her family's gathering). After that the ex is presumably leaving and we'll have lunch and hang out at our apartment with BF's mom for a while. After that it's off to Quakertown to my mom's family's gathering for the rest of the evening, hopefully BF's mom will come with us.

Busy two days and it made me cry more than once trying to figure out how it was going to work out, but now that it is, I'm pleased.

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This Christmas season has been awesome.

The little man was only 20 mos. old last Christmas and he didn't quite get the whole tree/santa/presents/Christmas thing, but this Christmas has been totally different. He went to see Santa at the mall and was totally excited about it, told him he wanted a fire truck and a video game, though he was too amazed to smile for the pictures, just stunned looking. He was thrilled when we put up our Christmas tree last Saturday night (it's fake and gorgeous; one of the best purchases I ever made). He helped put ornaments on and directed me about where to place them up high. It was adorable and such a joy. When I let him press the button to turn on the lights, he gasped as if it was the most wonderful thing ever.

BF and I have also been having a great time on our own. I've been pretty sick for more than a month, but the last two weeks have been much better. My semester at school is finally over so I've got more time to cuddle (passed everything, luckily). He also took this week off, so Monday and Tuesday we just hung around the house and enjoyed the time alone together and Wednesday morning we drove to Washington D.C., where we are now.

We've been having a blast. Our hotel is all retro fabulous and it's really just nice to be away. We got here too late yesterday to do anything; apparently there isn't anything to see in this town after 5:30 - the Smithsonian museums close, the national buildings all close, even most of the chain food places close at 7:00. So we went out for dinner and came back to the room with ice cream and snacks, climbed into be and watched the Discovery channel. Mythbusters rocks.

Today was a bit more productive. We got out early planning on hitting the museums, but we found out they only give out a limited number of tickets for tours of the Capitol building, so we headed over there. We got there just as the 12:15 tour was leaving, but nabbed tickets for the next tour and headed across the street to the House of Reps building for food. After twenty minutes of going from one closed food shop to another in that building, we were directed to a connecting building. We got to the cafeteria there just as everyone in the two buildings was taking their lunch break; it was packed. We didn't get to pay for our lunch until the tour that we had tickets for was beginning, so no Capitol tour. We walked to the Air and Space museum instead and had a good time there. The American History Museum, which is right up my history-geek alley, is closed for renovations. We knew this before we came, so I was prepared to not get to see it, but the Air & Space museum had an exhibit that was a mini-American History museum; it was awesome. I got to see so many incredible artifacts. After Air & Space we went over to the Natural History Museum, picked up some cool Christmas gifts and spent an hour browsing the Gems & Minerals exhibit, which was very cool, before the museum people kicked us out and we hiked our badly aching feet back to the Metro and then back to the hotel.

So here I am, sitting, watching crappy sitcoms, while my dear love is out at Whole Foods getting us some sandwiches for dinner. The one negative part about having lupus and traveling to a place where you're expected to walk a half mile here and a half mile there and up and down Capitol Hill and around museums and on tours for hours at a time is that it hurts like a motherfucker. Of course it hurt an hour after we left the hotel and only got worse throughout the day. Walking from the metro station to the Capitol Building was exhausting - about a third of a mile up-hill. The worst part is that sitting down doesn't do a damn thing to make things better or stave off the inevitable limping. I could hardly get back to the hotel after being on my feet for six hours and now I can hobble, barely, but I'm basically stuck on the couch for the rest of the night, hoping that I can walk tomorrow and do it all over again. I could skip this kind of thing. I could do two hours and then back to the hotel for a rest, but as I said, everything closes after sundown. I refuse to live my life like a cripple. I refuse to see half of a museum. I refuse to listen to my body and stay home. So I suck it up and hobble my ass around and I'm glad I do, it just hurts, but that's my hand to play.

Okay, well that was extremely long and I have to go eat the sandwich my wonderful man has procured for me.

12.04.2007

My Poor Bronchioles!

I am seriously motherfucking ill. Excuse the language, but my chest feels like it has tiny daggers in it that go just a little bit deeper each time I breathe. This has been coming on for a month now but the doctor said "it's just a sinus infection, viral, nothing we can do about it but it will go away on its own." That was something like two weeks before Thanksgiving. So for the past month I've been feeling congested, achy, and generally just shitty. Then, yesterday the proverbial shit finally hit the fan. I woke up after three hours of sleep with sharp pain in my left lung. Went to the doctor, who promptly sent me to the ER. With a medical history containing the words "pulmonary embuli", that's doctor-speak for multiple blood clots in my lungs, pretty much any chest pain I get, from a pulled muscle to bronchitis, is treated as if it could be life threatening. A very nice way to get through triage fast; I didn't even see the waiting room.

So my wonderful BF brought me my (brand new) PowerBook (that I'm entirely in love with)and some school work. Then he whisked the little man off to spend the night at grandma's house and came back to sit and wait with me. My mom came too, she rocks and her skills as a nurse came in quite handy when they removed my IV, gauzed and taped it, and a minute later I was dripping blood all over myself and the floor. One of the wonderful side effects of taking blood thinners is that you never know whether or not you're going to bleed like a stuck pig. I get blood-work done routinely and there's never more than a drop or two on the gauze when I take it off, but Jesus Christ, this big fat gauze pad and the tape that was holding it in place were a lovely shade of deep red, soaked through.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Something was obviously wrong. Beside the pain, which I'd reigned in with the help of my good friend Darvocet, my blood oxygenation level was below 90% (not good) and my heart rate was hovering around 130 beats per minute (also not good). So they drew what seemed like a gallon of blood to test the hell out of, gave me a nebulizer treatment, which never does a damn thing, gave me a chest x-ray, and followed that nice little dose of radiation with a massive dose courtesy of the CT scanner. The worst part was that I wasn't allowed to drink anything. I didn't give a shit about eating, but with my sinuses full of gunk, the constant mouth breathing left me feeling like my mouth was the Mojave. Their solution: ice chips. Now as any woman who's done the whole childbirth thing knows, ice chips suck. They are a poor substitute for actual hydration, which is what I was really craving. And the bag of saline that they were pumping into my veins didn't do the trick either. So it just sucked.

All of my labs came back normal. The chest x-ray and CT showed nothing. Diagnosis: Bronchitis with a secondary helping of pleurisy. Now bronchitis I can deal with, but pleurisy is one of those things that you'd wish on your worst enemy. From what I understand, the membrane surrounding your lungs has a gel-like substance between it and your lung tissue. Usually this is highly viscous and acts like a good lube when you breathe. Pleurisy is when that substance becomes sticky and creates lots of painful friction with each breath. Think about sex without lube. Not good. That's what this feels like with every breath.

So now, on the eve of finals, with my European history thesis still unwritten and much studying to do, I feel like shit. I did, however, get a paper revised while I sat waiting for my results, so there's a plus. I really must crack the doctors and nurses up in the ER though. I can rate my pain on a one to ten scale like a pro, I speak their language (bilateral PEs, lower left quadrant, palpate, acute pain, diffused throughout the lung), I can predict with pretty good accuracy what tests will be run, and generally know how to be a patient. Hell, I've had years of practice. But what they seem to like the most, and are the most surprised at, is my demeanor. I run down my medical history, my list of drugs, my symptoms, all of that, and all the while I'm friendly, smiling, helpful. It's something you just get used to after a while. It's like "Okay, I have chest pain, this is going to mean a 5 hour trip to the ER and there's no getting out of it, so I suck it up and deal." And I do. I see no reason to be uncooperative or unfriendly to the staff there, and I learned long ago that this is my hand to play, I can be miserable about it, or I can accept it with a smile. So that's what I do and let me tell you, it makes the whole experience far more bearable.

10.31.2007

One Plus One Equals Eight

So how about some current events...

My dad got married last week. I’m thrilled for him, really everyone seems to be – even my mom. I’m also thrilled that the damn thing is over. Don’t get me wrong; it was beautiful, we had a great time, I saw people I haven’t seen in way too long, and I got to get all prettied up and wear a gorgeous dress. The weeks preceding the wedding, however, were so fucking stressed I though my head was going to explode. Next time someone asks me to be their maid of honor, I’m going to…well of course I’ll say yes, I’ll just go somewhere and cry afterward.

Mind you, I’m still a full time student; I have three evenings a week that I don’t have school. Theoretically these should be spent doing schoolwork. Unfortunately, the familial obligations just would not end. Spend an entire Saturday visiting the wedding/reception cite, eating with the whole new fam (there are now 9 of us, counting BF), trying on bridesmaids dresses. Spend another Saturday dipping and decorating 130 caramel apples – and the next day on the couch recovering from being on m feet for 10 hours straight. Spend a good number of nights shopping for and baking wedding cakes – yes, that’s right, we made their cakes. Spend another two afternoons having my dress altered and trying on the finished product. Crinoline sucks, as does any corset that isn’t black satin and intended to be worn alone. Putting on the freaking underwear alone took ten minutes.

Then there was the 24 hours before the wedding, during which everything that could go wrong did and we were all stressed out of our minds. BF and my littlest new stepbrother’s tuxes were the wrong size – they promised to fix them by Thursday afternoon, 24 hours before the wedding. Of course they did not. The C-300 that my dad rented to get to and from the wedding was not at the rental place at 2pm Thursday, when it had been promised, or at 6pm, when he was totally stressed. The flowers for the centerpieces “never made the plane” on Wednesday according to the Big Brown International Shipping Company, and then they fucked it up and didn’t send them again on Thursday. The ever-optimistic bride went to a local florist and bought fresh white roses, fixing that one. The car finally showed up Friday morning along with the tuxes. That just left one crisis to be resolved – the cakes.

We had 16 tiers baked by Thursday morning, recipes for filling, buttercream, and fondant in hand. We’d run a test cake, determining that it could be done, but not in our apartment, so we arranged to use my mom’s amply sized kitchen for the task. We made our fillings and arrived at her place at 5:30pm to start the assembly. Cutting and filling the cakes went beautifully. The buttercream spread like a dream. The fondant, however, well motherfucker is just about the only word that aptly describes it. I got two 8” tiers covered before it started sticking like crazy – impossible to roll out. We, of course, had not taken the 75% humidity into account when we did our test. So at 8:00pm we turned on my mom’s central air and waited for it to cool enough to make our task feasible. Then, thank god, my younger brother – 19 – showed up to help. We got the cakes done. Slowly. Imperfectly. We finished with all 16 tiers and cleaning the kitchen at 6:00am…just in time to go home and sleep for three hours before my hair appointment. The saddest part was that they looked like cakes that a ten year old made out of clay. I was so disappointed on our ride home, but also confidant that BF would fix it.

My head hit the pillow at 6:30, I wasn’t asleep until 7:00, and I was up at 10:00 to shower and get my sleepy self to the salon for hair and make-up. BF got up at the same time and drug himself to the craft store to find a way to make our cakes look, well, all I was hoping for was passable.

After a few wonderfully indulgent hours at the salon, challenging the stylist with a pain in the ass up-do, having all of the imperfections on my face smoothed over and having a great time chatting with my soon-to-be step-mom and step-sister, we drove to the wedding site to get things going. When we arrived, BF was already there, with his tux and five beautifully decorated cakes. I was thrilled and amazed at what a little satin ribbon and a cascade of silk flowers could do to for our previously sad, plain cakes. The bride and groom ooh-ed and aah-ed and thanked us a million times.

The ceremony was beautiful – even if it lasted an hour and a half. They had readings from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” about the arrival of spring after the winter, bible passages about life and hope surviving tribulation. As you may have guessed by now, neither the bride nor groom had had easy times since their previous marriages. The bride’s divorce was particularly difficult, during her last pregnancy, and not all that long ago. My own parents divorce, though amicable, left my dad in a depression that lasted for years; he overcame that, and addiction, through the support and guidance of the church. While I don’t believe in their god personally, I have seen up close the power of faith to support those who need a lift and to keep those who would otherwise be overcome by sadness afloat long enough for love and hope to return to their lives. I do not, however, believe and I am not a hypocrite. So as our new family sat in a circle before the altar, I did not sing about the love of Christ. Thankfully I had my brother standing next to me, also not participating in the overtly religious aspects of the ceremony.

They really thought through including all six of their children in the ceremony. It wasn’t the joining of a man and a woman, it was the joining of two families and I think that it really did a lot to bring all of us together. It’s strange. I didn’t really think a ceremony would mean so much, but as my new step-mom put a string of pearls around my neck and we kissed and hugged and held back our tears as best we could, I really felt that we were connected in a different way than when she was just my dad’s girlfriend or fiancĂ©e. It’s hard to explain, but she has pledged herself to be there for me and my brother as if we were her own. She doesn’t just want my dad, she wants the package deal, and I love her for that.

After we’d all shed our tears and the ceremony ended, we got down to the fun. Dancing, drinking, meeting my dad’s new friends, catching up with the old friends. It was a great time. I got to dance with my dad as the bride danced wit her dad. I don’t think things could’ve gone better. We got a million compliments on our cakes – the look, the flavor – it was awesome.

And now my family has grown by five. I love them all. They love me. It’s a great feeling. I haven’t gotten married yet (obviously), but I really feel like I got a taste of why people get married – it really does change everything.

8.29.2007

An Introduction: Conclusion

And then just as their divorce became final, the house sold. We had thirty days to find an apartment, which caused me incredible amounts of stress. It was just an incredibly bad time for it all to happen. My health wasn’t great. I was in the middle of writing final papers and taking final exams and I was about to start an intensive six-week period where I’d be taking three accelerated classes. And I just hate the whole process of moving. Plus we had to do it on an incredibly accelerated time schedule; I had been expecting 60-90 days when the house sold; 30 seemed insane. However, I was incredibly happy that we were moving out of there. Everything about that house reminded me of her; it was inevitable. They had redone the bathroom together, picked out art, decorated; she was everywhere I looked. I needed to give our relationship a fresh start, one that wasn’t mired in the remnants of his marriage and finding our own apartment and doing all of those things ourselves was exactly what I wanted and we needed.

We’d spent the previous few months picking up “stuff” for our anticipated new residence. New dining room, living room, and bedroom furniture. Art, decor, knick-knacks; everything that we needed to make our new place feel like it really was "ours". We looked at several apartments together and I wasn’t thrilled by any and then BF went back to a listing that we’d missed seeing because of a late season snow storm. He went alone because I was sick and came home beaming; he’d found “it.” We scheduled another appointment to see it the next day and I loved it too. It was a second floor two bedroom with a huge living room and master bedroom, a great room for the Little Man, tons of closets, cool angles, great windows, and we’d be the only tenants in the building as both of the commercial spaces downstairs were empty. We put in applications that day and anxiously sat anxiously hopeful through the weekend. We got the call the next Tuesday; it was ours.

We signed a lease almost immediately, started moving in and that was that. We love it here. Five months later it’s looking and feeling like home. We’re still crazy in love. Marriage is on the horizon, though not close on the horizon. I’ve got a new job with a boss who lets me change my hours as my health and school schedule requires and pays me enough that I only have to work part-time. And there’s a sweet Little Man who has gone from a crawling baby to a chatting little boy and tells me he loves me all the time, now knows the ABC song that I sang to him every night before bed and digs deeper into my heart every day.

We aren’t without our share of problems. Living with someone who has a chronic, invisible illness is not easy. His unhealthy, unfulfilling, uncommunicative marriage left him with some wonderfully frustrating habits. Dealing with a future-MIL that still has dinner with the Ex-Wife and really hasn’t accepted her son’s decision or my presence is trying. Guilt is still an issue. Even though we both know that it was the right thing for everyone and that a divorce now, rather than five years from now, is probably the best thing for the Little Man, breaking up a family is not something that you get over in an instant, but in the words of The Beatles, “it’s getting better all the time.” We love each other, more than anything in the world, more than either of us ever thought was possible, more every day.

8.28.2007

An Introduction: Part IV

They were separated, but living together for the next two months. God they were slow months. If the waiting to see if she would leave him was bad, the waiting for her to actually leave was even worse.

Sometime around the end of June, he told me that she'd signed a lease and would be moving out in the beginning of August. That only made July drag on even slower. We were still being "good." He was still going home every night after work. We certainly weren't dating or anything like that. Can you imagine being head over heels, ridiculously in love with someone, spending eight hours a day just a few feet from them and not being able to touch them except for a few stolen moments here or there? No dates, no sitting up all night chattering away, no phone calls. I was going mad. I was an emotional wreck. I never entertained the idea that it wasn't worth it. It was just hard.
I moved in the night she moved out. I didn't really intend to move in right away, I just kind of went to stay the night and never left. I wanted to be with him every minute. I didn't want to miss anything; I'd already missed so much.

For some strange reason I thought it would get easier once she moved out. Really, it was just trading one kind of difficulty for another. Instead of dealing with her as the "Other Woman," I was now being seen as replacing her and trying to be a mother to her son, which I certainly was not, but I can definitely see the insecurities and emotional instability that she was going through and the results didn't surprise me, just made things difficult.

She came by the following weekend to collect a few things she'd left and was none too pleased to find that I'd taken up her half of the closet/sink/bed/etc. Then she was informed the following weekend by my BF's mom (with whom she was still speaking, dining, and continuing their oddly close relationship) that I had gotten the Little Man up, had breakfast with him and played a bit while we let BF sleep in a little that Sunday. Can you say unexpected, unnecessary crisis? She flipped. Insisted that I either start spending my time somewhere else while her son visited his father or she's get herself a custody lawyer. Yep, that was her card. She could make their impending divorce easy and give BF the 60/40 split they'd agreed was best for everyone, or, if he didn't comply with her wishes, she could drag lawyers into it and try to make him an every-other-weekend dad, which was the absolute last thing he wanted to be. This card was to be played quite a few more times before their divorce was finalized. Understand that I mean every single time she didn't get her way by "quite a few."

So I spent Saturday through Tuesday evening back at my mom's. Sam and I were still working together at the time (something that would come to a sudden halt in the near future) and I was a full-time student as well, so Monday through Thursday I didn't get home until around 8:30. I was irritated to be living in flux again, sad to not be able to see BF as much as I wished I could, after all, Saturday and Sunday I was actually free from school and work and it totally sucked that I was never getting to see the Little Man; it's amazing how fast you can become attached to someone who's just learning to walk and talk. But "attached" and "want to be his mom" are worlds apart. She is his one and only Mom. Always will be. I can't replace her because she's a good mom and he loves her to death. Nor did I want to. I was 23, and had a full plate of my own that I did not plan to include motherhood on anytime in the near future.

And when the shit finally hit the fan with a small and ridiculous blog war between her younger sister and myself (which was so ridiculous we ended up on the now defunct trainwrecks.net), she decided to make the first move towards the near-perfect situation we now share. She invited me out for drinks and mini-desserts. So I skipped school and hauled my anxious ass down to the local chain restaurant, bar & mini-dessertery. I had no idea what I was going to say to her. If I said what I wanted to when I walked into the place it would have only made things worse and that would just be bad for all of us (a concept that her sister did not quite get - you’ll see). She was slightly late, so I got to think for a while and get more anxious going over the “how to start” scenarios in my head. I hadn’t seen this woman in nine months; I hadn’t spoken to her in six; it was weird. And then it wasn’t.

She came in, sat down, ordered a drink, apologized for being late, and we both just took it from there. It was awkward getting started. Voicing issues that we both felt passionately about in a civil way, trying to work things out, gaining an understanding of where the other was coming from. The conversation tended to drift away from the “business at hand” and on to more intimate details of our pasts, what we were like, what had gotten us to that point, how she needed to reign in her fucking sister, well not quite that harsh, but that’s what I would’ve liked to say. We talked for hours. After the first half hour or so of weird, you would’ve thought that we were old friends rather that a wife and her husband’s mistress. But the fact was that we were both so much more than that and actually sitting face-to-face, eating miniaturized tarts and s’mores, we both really started to understand it. It helped that we’re very similar: nerdy, antisocial, weird. It helped that she was in the middle of a massive rebirth as whole new person that she’d apparently submerged deep under the titles of wife and mother. She was happy, moving on. She wasn’t looking forward to a reconciliation; she just wanted to make sure that her baby boy wasn’t being exposed to someone who was going to be here today and gone tomorrow. She didn’t want someone else thinking that they could step in and take her life right out from under her. And she didn’t want me invading what she considered her blog-turf. I didn’t want her and her wonderful sisters painting me as the Whore of Babylon on their respective blogs or anyone else’s. I wanted to reassure her of my intentions and calm her suspicions about what I wanted here. I also wanted to move back in with BF full-time and stop the bullshit back-and-forth between his and mom’s houses. I wanted her to chill out. We both agreed that BF needed to be more upfront with her when it came to their de facto relationship; she had needed kid gloves in the preceding months, had still clung to the concept of separation but not divorce, but she was doing much better now and could be handled much less gently. We couldn’t have known that, thus the need for such a sit down.
I felt like so much was accomplished that night. I established in her mind, pretty firmly I think, that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We talked about how we envisioned family life moving forward. The word “blended” was mentioned, as were joint birthdays, vacations, dinners, soccer games, etc. I felt like we’d laid the foundation for a positive relationship rather than hostile one.

As we left the restaurant, I gave her a hug (!) and she told me to kiss the baby for her. It was so much of a relief, a release, hope for the future and hope that this would actually end up being a good thing for everyone.

That weekend her brilliant younger sister propped eight three-inch long nails up behind each of my tires. BF and I were in Baltimore on a mini-vacation, sleeping in a gorgeous hotel, spending the day perusing the inner harbor and the National Aquarium. He noticed the nails the day after we got home while outside raking leaves. First we called the police and filed a report. I didn’t want them to actually do anything, I was sure that that would be taken care of privately, I just wanted a report filed, a formal record of this crazy girl who’d threatened me repeatedly and had now acted. If she tried anything else I wanted good standing to have her ass arrested. BF called the Wife, and she, from what I hear and have no reason to doubt, gave little sister a serious earful. She had no more desire to make the situation hostile than we did. She didn’t want to end up in court because her asshole little sister went and fucked up the good thing we all had going.

The next few months were no joyride, but they weren’t bad at all. I lost my job and went on unemployment in October. We shared custody of the Little Man with no disagreements and no resentment over the holidays; he spent Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with her family, came to our house late Christmas Eve, woke up with us and had a great Christmas morning with his grandma and us, followed by Christmas day with my family. It was interesting to get a first taste of what’s to come. My parents divorced when I was young and I’ve been dealing with sharing holidays and birthdays for almost all of them. Throw in two more sets of families to the mix and I’m realizing that I’m going to have to get pretty good at turning down invitations and setting priorities.

The Little Man seems to be dealing with all of this incredibly well too, which makes everything better, because we all just really want him to be happy and lead the most stable, happy, loved life possible. And with my lack of a job I was free to stay home with him for the two weekdays that he lived with us, saving ridiculously large sums of money on daycare and allowing some excellent bonding time. I fell in love, seriously hard. This little boy is incredible and though I had had no plans to be any kind of parent at 23, I was rapidly feeling more and more like a step-mom.

BF and the Wife began the process of becoming ex-husband and wife at the end of last year. No lawyers, no fighting, just a few trips to City Hall for paperwork and some great software that made sure they covered all the angles and no one got screwed. Splitting up the household goods wasn’t easy, but they worked it out equitably. The biggest problem was their house; it had been on the market for months without so much as an offer and it was a huge financial burden that neither could afford, considering that they were now splitting the mortgage payments in addition to the rent on her apartment in the city.

To Be Continued…

8.27.2007

An Introduction: Part III

Now remember, my best friend had just died, and I hadn’t even thought about dating anyone since we’d broken up a year before, so this new relationship honestly started as a friendship…that’s just not where it ended up. It started out with lunches, just plain old lunches, with four or five other guys at work. One hour. Nothing special. Well, nothing much. There was the fact that we talked constantly, that I talked about him outside of work. To my friends. To my mom. But we never saw each other outside of work. He’d find reasons to hang out at my desk; I was the receptionist and he was in IT, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to find reasons for him to come over and hang out. After my manager was fired the next month and my work-life became a massive overload of insanity, he played a big part in helping me out and keeping me from a total nervous breakdown. He was smart as hell. He was witty and sarcastic. He made me laugh and finished both my sentences and my crossword puzzles. He was the first person I'd felt a real connection to since meeting my three best friends in junior high (one of whom is in college in Boston, one moved to Austin to escape this suburban boredom, and the other has, well, she’s a heroin addict and I haven’t spoken to her in years). He was everything I looked for in a friend, so when he bridged that work-to-social gap and invited me to a New Year’s Eve party that he and his wife were going to, I gladly accepted. I prettied myself up (it was a party after all), they picked me up, and we all went to the party together: him, his wife, their 10-month old baby, and me. It was not the “party” I had expected. Every party I’d been to in my life had revolved around a keg with a very large stereo blasting very loud music ‘til 4 or 5 am. This was very different. I was introduced to the other eight or ten people there; we sat around the dining room table playing board games. It was great. Actually Intellectual Conversation. Something I had been sorely missing. At some point, rather early in the evening, my new friend’s wife snuck upstairs to put the baby to bed, which apparently didn’t work, because she didn’t reappear until after 2 am. So I got to know his friends, the geeks that I should’ve been hanging out with in high school, but was too interested in drugs and in not appearing too smart, to hang out with. We literally played board games for like four hours and had a blast doing it. I learned ridiculously complex rules and got my first real introduction to people that really were just like me…five or six years older, but what does that matter? So when a few weeks later he invited me out to shoot some pool and have some dinner with him and another friend, I once again readily accepted. Only his friend called to cancel on dinner, not pool, just dinner, so we sat at the restaurant and talked like old friends for as long as we could justify holding the table on a Saturday night, and then went off to the pool hall. At which point we were informed that we were on his own, the friend had a girl over and wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. Did I mention I can’t really play pool? So he showed me how to take a shot; it wasn’t that I hadn’t done it before, just that I hadn’t in about ten years. I got better, even won a few games. We chatted away the whole time about…well…everything. When we left we made plans to get together the following weekend at his house for Scrabble; his wife’s family was going through a bit of a crisis and she and the baby had been spending their weekends with them.

I was telling myself one thing and behaving the complete opposite. I kept telling myself, my brother, my mom and dad, anyone who would listen that we were just good friends, that we found each other enjoyable, but that I would NEVER get involved with a married man. At the same time, I was waking up just a few minutes earlier every day, making sure my outfit was just right, makeup perfect, not a hair out of place…everything that you do when you want someone to notice you.

I was nervous as hell going over there that first night. After all, he was married! I had Morals! and Ethics! But firm in the adolescent belief that there was really nothing to worry about, that we were both “good” people; I took the drive to his house and had one of the greatest nights of my life. He had the Scrabble board already set up as I walked into their cute little cape cod. We played a game; he kicked my ass. We ordered food, ate, and instead of playing another game, we relocated to the couch. Sitting a safe distance apart for a single girl and a married man, we got started talking. About our families, our pasts, our taste in music, my illness. We talked about so much I couldn’t even try to recall everything. And then I looked up and it was six in the morning; the sun was starting to make the world outside glow with that blue-grey haze that signals the coming of a new day. We had spent the night together. Not having sex, but building something that was more deep and intimate than any of the sex I'd had in my life. As I walked back to my little sedan parked very obviously in their driveway, I was scared for the first time. Scared of the butterflies in my stomach. Scared of the gut feeling that said (slightly more loudly now) that I was treading on some seriously perilous ground. Scared of the potential that I saw in our relationship. Scared that maybe those morals and ethics didn’t deserve capital letters after all. It didn’t take long for our friendly banter in the office became much more blatant flirting. Well, as blatant as you can be in a small office when you’re trying really hard not to be obvious. We spent more and more time finding excuses to be where the other was. One unexpected evening, the rest of our co-workers headed down to the bar in the lobby. We were going to join them after finishing up some orders that had to ship that day. We finished the orders and quickly found that we were both much more interested in talking alone in the quiet office then going down to some smoky, loud bar. So there we sat…for hours. Suddenly it was almost nine and we were both starving. Obvious choice, little restaurant down the street. So we took up residence at a high-top table in the bar and ordered some food…and of course, there was much more talking. The conversation between us never seemed to flounder; silences were totally comfortable; it was amazing. And then he said the words that changed the rest of our lives…well his half anyway; that he was crazy about me and didn’t know what to do. We’d talked about his marriage numerous times; they gotten married too soon and too young; it was just the next step after dating for so long; neither really thought that there was more out there; neither was capable of real communication with the other, so she just went along with what he wanted; he didn’t feel challenged or excited; life had become baby-centered and unfulfilling. I really don’t think he expected my reply, because he looked like he was going to fall out of his chair. I said that I felt the same way (actually my pain in the ass inner brainchild came out and I used the word "reciprocate." Ugh.), but he was married and I wasn’t going to be that person, couldn’t be that person. We talked more and things started to get emotional with the “what do we do now?” and “we obviously can’t just be friends.” We both needed some air, so we stepped out into the brisk February chill and walked back to his car. We sat there for a minute in silence, neither of us knowing what to do or say next. He drove me back to the parking garage at work, where my car still was. Again we sat. And then we talked…in short spurts…me trying my hardest not to cry (and I didn’t). At some point I just told him to go home, it was either that or I was just going to have to kiss him right there, and I don't jump into things like that without a good deal of thought. I got out of his car, into my own, and broke down into great big sobs. After a serious cry, I drove the ten minutes it took to get home in silence, trying to think, but at the same time being completely unable to coherently put together a thought. It was nearly 1 am and no one was up as I crept into my house. I was online five minutes later; he signed on five minutes after that. We talked until the sun came up, again. Only this time we said everything that we’d been holding back. That feeling that I’d had for weeks just overwhelmed me. I loved him and that was it. We talked about the feeling. The crazy in love feeling that neither of our logical minds had allowed us to really believe in. Romance Novel Love. Free-falling. We made plans to see each other the following weekend; his wife would be gone with the baby for the weekend again and the house would be empty. The week seemed to stretch on for an endless amount of time and wouldn’t you know it, Friday it snowed. Massive amounts of snow. Stay in the house and watch TV snow; not a weekend to travel with a baby and she didn't. So we waited another week for the weekend that happened to be my 22nd birthday. Friday afternoon, as we walked to the parking garage together as we’d done for months, he kissed me. I asked “What took you so long?” We both smiled, went to our cars, and drove home eagerly anticipating the next night’s tryst.

There were no complications that weekend, at least not any that I knew about as I left my house with butterflies as big as 747s flying around my stomach. All dressed up, I had left the house telling my mom that some friends were taking me out on the town and I probably wouldn’t be home. That was the first real lie I had to tell anyone about what was officially an affair. When I pulled up to his house, parking down the street this time to keep from arousing the suspicions of any nosy neighbors, I was a ball of anxiety. I think I sat there for a good three or four minutes just staring, trying to figure out something, anything, that would make me feel like this was wrong and I needed to go home. I’d been thinking for two weeks by then, but nothing came, and nothing would come. This was right. This was the man that I was meant for. I don’t like words like fate and destiny, words that imply a lack of free will, but damn it if anything was ever predestined, this was it. These instant romance novel sparks that didn’t just go off when he touched me, it was just being in his presence, having a conversation. I’d never felt that before; I've felt it a million times since. Once again, I knocked on the door and was let in to their cute little cape cod. This time I sat right down on the couch. He did the same. We sat there, hand in hand, arm to arm, trying to breathe, trying to memorize the moment, totally overwhelmed. I don’t know how long we sat there in silence. I broke it at some point to ask what was for dinner; he said it was a surprise. Then we made love. It was that simple and that real and that excellent. I melted into a pool of mush and as we lay on his couch, dripping with sweat in post-coital bliss, he quietly told me “Don't freak out, but I told her.” I didn't freak out, but I didn’t know what to say so I stared at the ceiling and waited until something came, “And she still left you here alone?” he said yes, I said wow, he said he had to check on dinner and I grabbed a tee shirt as I pondered why on earth she would allow this to happen. He had told me weeks earlier that she had asked if she needed to be worried about me, that she had cheated early in their relationship, and that he almost felt like she wanted him to do it; a way to even the playing field, I guess. He made me salmon stuffed with crab for my birthday dinner. We ate half dressed and then spent the rest of the night in each other’s arms. This was not the time for talking… ...The next few months however, were full of talking, between him and his wife, between them and their marital counselor (who was a total waste of time and money, but helped both of them realize that they were actually unhappily married), between his wife and me, between me and the one friend I let in on my big giant secret. Lots of talking. Lots of sex during lunch breaks, because while we were having an affair that his wife was fully aware of, we did not flaunt it by seeing each other outside of business hours. We didn't go out to dinner together and then lie to her about where he'd been; we didn't sneak off to hotel rooms. We didn’t secretly call each other. It was probably the most open, honest, bizarre affair you could conceive of. She knew what was going on every step of the way, no lies, no bullshit. We did go out to dinner together a few weeks into our relationship; he asked her first, she grudgingly obliged. Even when she emailed me about the heartbreak I was causing her and how committed she still was to making things work, I was perfectly frank and as sympathetic as I could be, but I didn’t try to excuse what I was doing or promise to stop. I let her know how strongly I felt that this was it for me and she seemed to understand pretty clearly how strongly her husband felt. There was nothing that I could say to make things better. The only thing I could have done was to stop seeing him. And I felt then, just as I do now, that he’s was it for me, that he isn’t it for her, and never was, and that it would all be alright at some vague point in the future. The next four months were like living in limbo. I was going to school, working, and waiting. Waiting for her to start throwing things; waiting for her to decide she had enough; waiting for him to decide if he was willing to be a part time dad. Waiting. Then one day she decided that this waiting shit was for the birds. She told him it was her or me and he had a week to make a decision. I was scared shitless. I broke down and wrote him the most honest, pleading email I’ve ever written in my life; I’d never done anything like it before, never fought for anything because I’d never wanted anything this badly. I said exactly what I felt, exactly what I wanted; that he should leave her and we could be blissfully happy together.

Two weeks later he gave her his answer. Me.

To Be Continued...

8.16.2007

An Introduction: Part II

So, having lupus is not like having bronchitis (a malady that I am also acutely familiar with). They don't give you some pills and make it go away. Of course, I was a dumb 17 year old, so what the fuck did I know.

I went to a specialist shortly after my diagnosis, she prescribed some pills for the pain and some immunosuppressants to try to keep things under control. I took the pain pills like clockwork...the other ones were a bit more sporadically remembered.

It was summer; I had just met a new guy, one who incidentally would play a huge role in shaping the following four years of my life; I felt okay again, a little achy, a little tired, but okay. So I went right along with the drinking, smoking and assorted other illicit indulgences. I got through my senior year with the help of some great teachers. I couldn't walk from class to class; I couldn't sit for long periods of time; I couldn't carry books. I really couldn't go to school. So school came to me. Once a week, at the library, I’d meet with a teacher, take a test or two, give them my work, and get work I'd completed back. I got straight A's that year.

The new guy, let's just call him C., was great, minus some major issues from having abusive alcoholic parents. We broke up twice before we finally moved in together.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...That fall I excitedly started my college career, anxiously anticipating all of the things that had been missing from high school. You see I love to learn, my high school just made it awful. I wanted freedom to work at my own pace, to not be guided through the steps of writing a paper for the eleventh time, to actually learn meaningful…stuff. And that first semester was great. I took a course on the history of math, one on human sexuality, online classes...I was elated that this place actually lived up to the hopes I’d had for it.

My second semester at college, everything came crashing down.

Two weeks into the semester, after a weekend of drinking down the Jersey shore with C. and some other friends (he was just a friend then, we’d broken up the previous month) I noticed a strange pain just below my ribs, which I, of course treated as no big deal and carried right on with the fun. By Monday, however, the pain was stronger and I didn’t have anything better to do so I called my doctor who immediately told me to get my ass to the hospital (in so many words).

Pulmonary Embuli was the diagnosis. Multiple blood clots in both of my lungs. Along with a major flare of my lupus. Inflammation (i.e pain) throughout my whole body.

After a week in the hospital they sent me home, only to have the same thing happen again less than a month later. I was put on blood thinners that Officially Suck and I’ll be on them for the rest of my life. In the blink of an eye, everything had changed. And nothing was ever the same.

I dropped out of school, quit my job, and took up residence on my mother’s couch. I still went out occasionally with my friends, still talked to C. constantly - boyfriend or not, he’d become my best friend - but there was no drinking allowed and I was so sick most of the time that I was interested in little else besides hanging out in a friends apartment and smoking pot.

Six months later I was still sick as hell, still unemployed and feeling like a worthless lump, when C. gave me an ultimatum – I could either be his girlfriend or he couldn’t go on being my friend. He said that it was too hard to love someone so much and not be any more than a friend. I caved, easily. I loved him, well I really, really liked him, despite all of our differences and major issues, and I was in no shape to go and lose my closest friend on top of everything else that I’d lost because I didn’t want to cross that line between being best friends and having sex, which is what it really came down to.

Two months later we moved into our friend’s house – his roommate was moving out and he had a room to fill. Mind you I had no income and C. had a major taste for pot, which he spent nearly half of his considerable income on (for a 19 year old with no education). I think we made rent twice before we had to move out…and into his house, with the alcoholic parents and me, with no car and no job and sick, sick, sick.

I don’t know how we made it last so long. I think we both reeeaaallly wanted it to work, after all we did love each other, in an immature, bizarre, and cruel sort of way. We fought constantly and about everything: from the lack of sex(hard to feel sexy when you throw up everything and your hips feel like they’re on fire), to the lack of money, to his parents, and my inability to go out and party. I thought he was insensitive; he thought I was cold.

Six months later his parents moved out and left us with the house, the rent, and each other. It really was a doomed situation, but it happened at the perfect time. My doctors had finally found a combination of drugs that actually worked and I felt great. I quickly got myself a job and registered for the next semester at school. That was about the same time that C. lost his job that actually paid well and took another that paid about a third of that. That didn’t stop his rate of marijuana consumption or his keg-party lifestyle; he was just doing it on my dime now. I think his mother paid more than half of our rent every single month until I left him, which I admit was not a terribly long time. There just came a point when I got sick of telling him to grow up, packed all of my stuff into my trunk (where some of it still resides) and hauled my ass back to my mother’s.

And for the next nine or ten months things were great, I was loving my job, loving school, getting great grades and having nothing else to worry about. C. moved down to the Jersey shore to supposedly have one huge last party of a summer before he planned to come back and start an intensive 10-month auto body certification program. We talked every other day and I was hopeful that he was actually “getting it out of his system”; that when he came back he would be a more stable, mature person and we could give “us” another shot.



One Sunday morning in September I got a call from one of his roommates. He’d overdosed on cocaine and died of a brain aneurysm.

It blew me out of the water. I was so mad at him. So sad that he was gone, but unable to sit around and cry with my friends because I was just so angry that he’d been so stupid. The funeral was surreal. The weeks afterward I just kind of went ahead with life set on autopilot. A new semester had just started and life just had to go on…

And that’s how things went for a few weeks, and during that time I started having lunch with a group of guys at work. I’ve always had an easier time being friends with men…the problem ended up being that I got very close with one of the guys in our little “lunch group”. The real problem was that this one was married.

To Be Continued…

An Introduction: Part I

Everyone in my life learns the story at some point; usually over time, but I think that this may be the appropriate time to summarize and give you the gist.

I was the smart kid in school. I'll just get it out there now. I don't do it to brag or to put myself above anyone. There are athletic kids, popular kids, rich kids, poor kids...all kinds of kids; I just happened to be one of the smart ones. (Which pretty much excluded me from most other groups)

I had one or two friends at any given time and I usually had my nose in a book...it's amazing how little has changed.

When I went to junior high I stopped being one of the smart kids. I became best friends with a beautiful, depressed, artistic girl and suddenly I had lots of friends. Older friends, who were just as smart as I was, who I could talk to without being accused of condescension. And then there were drugs. Lots of drugs. By 16 I had gone through most of the list of common illicit substances; trying, but not sticking with anything I'd call an upper, because, damn it, they just make me paranoid and nauseous. My high school years were spent indulging in alcohol, pot, LSD, and ecstasy on the weekends (but always being home by midnight) and being bored to death with school during the week. I always kept my head above water though, never addicted to anything (except nicotine) and never letting my grades fall below a self-imposed C average. I should have been getting straight A's; I can see that now because now I do, but then I just didn't give two shits.

At the end on my Junior year, when I was looking forward to the summer and the end of that high school hell was in sight, I came down with mysterious knee pain. I had suffered from migraine headaches my whole life, causing me to miss massive amounts of school, so another health problem was the least that I needed. Not expecting it to amount to much, I went to the doctor and had some lab tests run. When they asked me to make an appointment to discuss the results I didn't think anything of it. It's not in my nature to worry. Turns out I should have been worried, I had lupus. I had no idea what that meant though, I was not devastated, I was actually relieved; they had found the problem and they would fix it. Ha! Was I wrong. A few weeks later a doctor at one of the big giant hospitals downtown told me that I also had fibromyalgia, which was causing my migraines. What a way to start the summer...

For those who don't know, the kind of lupus I have, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease. It's like your body is allergic to itself. Instead of functioning normally, my immune system also produces a variety of antibodies that attack various cells in my body causing, in my case, major joint pain over my whole body, a blood clotting disorder that landed me in the hospital not once, but twice with blood clots in my lungs, and lung "issues" including pleurisy (not too fun) and pneumonia (way less fun). I'm lucky in some ways, it could be attacking my kidneys or my liver. But that's really little consolation. Fibromyalgia is much more difficult to explain, but in general it causes a lot of fatigue, widespread muscle pain and weakness, oversensitivity to painful stimuli and changes in temperature, and of course, migraine headaches. There are a variety of treatments for both diseases. The traditional approach is pills and my health insurance covers those, so that's what I take. I could go to an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, and a chiropractor, but once again, I'm a college student. Blue Cross and Blue Shield don't believe in alternative medicine. And I'm already in enough debt.

Oh and of course, there's no cure for either disease.

To Be Continued...