How Bubble Tea Leads to Love

In Argo Tea on the first floor near the back of the Flatiron Building. Its nose points towards Madison Square Park near the intersection of West 23rd Street, 5th Avenue, and Broadway. The first full day of Autumn is clear, warm, and breezy. Sweetened coconut milk bubble tea chills in a domed plastic cup.

Had to troubleshoot a non-working power strip strapped in under the table. Three outlets in a row were cold. I looked underneath the other end of the table. The power button was off. Click. Power button now red. I now have juice flowing into my computer.

Ten years in IT troubleshooting pay off in real life with one, simple question: “Is this thing on?” Kind of like when you learn calculus in high school, but real world problems boil down to, “Does this add up? What can you take away – How much – and still be left with enough to give you what you need?”

Questions like these lead to interesting stories, unexpected results, and memorable experiences. A lot flows from them. Sagas. Adventures. The search for riches, whether material or spiritual. All, like those in the Hellboy series by Mike Mignola, willing to sell their souls to find their purpose in life and to play a powerful, decisive role.

Yet in their desires to destroy others, they can only destroy themselves. Unable to control or contain the raw power. The bigger the seekers become, the harder and wider they self-destruct. Only in romance stories do protagonists become larger than themselves and life all because of love.

Hate falls in upon itself utterly. Not a trace remains visible. Hate may rise again and powerfully so, only to devour itself again in the  process of its Becoming. Not so with Love.

Love inspires. Love grows. When one wants Love returned and it is not, then the Soul withers itself unto its Death. A truly Loving Soul fades away, the daisy blossoms remain white and the grassy fields, untouched.

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The Kind of Man I’d Wish For You

Last time I saw my niece, she looked the most beautiful I have ever seen her. Tomorrow, she will attend her junior prom. I starting thinking about my own junior and senior proms, the black and white dresses I wore, and the friends who came as my dates. There’s something about being 17 and attending prom that makes you feel the cusp of your adulthood with much ahead to anticipate. Choosing a life partner is a huge part of that.

If my niece is as lucky as I am, she will find the kind of man that I have been so lucky to find. I am convinced that my husband Mark is an angel who came down from heaven in order to spend his life with me. The man has more patience than the patience of all the Saints put together. He is, by nature, gentle, kind, and selfless. I have never met anyone who gives from the heart as easily and readily as he.

Mark regularly puts me first, is communicative and honest, and does not pick arguments. Not a single mean bone resides in his body. He’s intelligent, pursues hobbies and interests of his own, and never makes me feel guilty. He encourages me to follow my heart, develop my own interests, and has supported me in countless ways.

More than anything, Mark makes me feel loved. When I tell him he is the best thing that ever happened to me, he protests that it is he who is the lucky one. Affectionate and loving, Mark cares about my feelings and is a great listener.

I love his sense of humor. I could be pissed off about something, and Mark will find a way to cast an amusing twist on the situation. Like the sun breaking through storm clouds, I am suddenly enlightened and happy. When he laughs, I love to watch the laugh lines that crinkle at the corner of his eyes. He’s handsome, sexy, and is an attentive lover. As if it couldn’t get any better, Mark is  utterly devoted, faithful, and loyal.

I once told Mark that I used to have an idea of the kind of man I wanted to spend my life with, a man who was smart, funny, and kind. However, Mark blew my ideas apart and showed me how reality could be better than I imagined. If my Mark, my angel in human form, was the template for men in the world, the world would be a much, much better place.

Illness, Alienation, and PTSD – Part 6

Read Part I, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

The surgery in 1992 that I had for an intestinal blockage was the last of my surgeries for intestinal blockages, but not the last of my intestine and stomach related issues. Since then, I seem to have experienced periods where my stomach seemed to be having intense gas pains that worsened in intensity. When that happens, I follow this protocol:

  1. Take GasX. If it’s actually gas, GasX works like a dream. Tums don’t cut it.
  2. Take Pepto Bismol. This helps with any stomach cramping. If one dose is not enough, repeat one hour later.
  3. In the meantime, get my heating pad out and lay it over my stomach.

Almost every time in the intervening 23 years, this has worked. Mark and I vaguely remember me going to the ER once, possibly in my late 20’s, for stomach pain that would not go away. But nothing serious was discovered because I did not have any further intubations with an NG tube nor any blockages discovered.

So it was with surprise when, on March 1st, I followed my protocol to find that it did not work at all. By the time 9pm came around, an intense pain gripped the right side of my abdomen. It seemed to start near my appendectomy surgical scar and go up to right under my rib cage. When it continued unabated for 30 minutes and I was crying out in pain, I asked Mark to call an ambulance.

I had tried to go to the bedroom, but the pain caused me to curl up in a ball. Any attempts to move my right leg away from my abdomen caused more pain. I was unable to sit straight up, to walk, or to do anything except lay there. I asked Mark to go let my mother know that I was having stomach pains and that we were going to call an ambulance. I was sweating because the only other time I ever felt pain like that was when I had intestinal blockages. I prepared myself for the worst.

I felt terrible for my mother to have be in the same room with me while I was crying out in pain. The pain was at a 10 level, and I could not keep it inside, even if I wanted to (and I wanted to). I knew it was just hitting her in the gut with helplessness and shared empathetic pains, so I told her to go downstairs so that she wouldn’t have to listen to me. She refused to leave until the EMTs were taking me to the hospital.

The one thing about my town that rocks is the speed of the EMTs, police, and fire department when someone is in need of an ambulance. We waited only a few minutes before someone was knocking on our door. I needed help just to get up off the floor and sit on the ottoman. To get me out of the apartment, they put me into a chair and then slid me onto a gurney to take me to Winthrop.

By the time I was being processed in the ER, my stomach started to feel a little better. They gave me some fluids while they had me drink contrast for a CT scan. The results came back showing that no blockages, but that there seemed to be a change in caliber to the intestinal in the mid transverse colon and constipation throughout the sigmoid, ascending colon, and cecum.

I found this odd, but I chalked it up to the smaller opening that they saw in the colon. Even though I had already passed soft stools that day, I felt a kind of straining that I can only chalk up to not having enough room for the intestines to breathe. It certainly wasn’t traditional constipation, and, after the enema, the attending nurse told me that it was odd that there were no hard pieces. I didn’t think it was odd if things could not move through easily enough on their own. I was relieved not to be in pain anymore and to be able to go home.

I was released with instructions to follow up with my primary care, take Miralax for the constipation, and go for a colonoscopy. I met with primary care and her GI specialist that week, but I did not care for his bedside manner. I also did not want to go to a Queens endoscopy center. I wanted to go to a hospital that I trusted.

That weekend, I talked it over with my sister M. She helped me research GI specialists and even came over to the house to visit and to work with me. The next day, I made the appointment with the GI for the following Monday. Once that was done, my sister M then helped me research for a new Winthrop-affiliated primary care doctor. I made an appointment with the new primary care the following Friday. She spent so much time with me, helping me research and select two new doctors, that I bought her a gift that will soon be delivered.

After my release from the ER, I continued to feel uncomfortable. I could feel and hear stool moving through my midtranverse colon. It sounded like things were being squeezed through a smaller opening. I ate small meals and stuck to a low residue diet, but even doing that made my stomach feel hard and uncomfortable. My stomach felt full all day long. I had periodic bouts of pain right under my ribcage. I decided to start taking the Miralax every day and eat a low residue diet. Things went on in this manner for almost two weeks until suddently I could eat normally with no discomfort or full stomach.

I’m still taking Miralax every day, but went down to half a dose a day because stools too loose are a problem in their own right. I’m also having weird twinges and bouts of pain in the area under my ribcage. But now I have to wait. After the appointment with the GI doc, I went to check out and make an appointment for the colonoscopy.

The scheduler first offered me the date of May 12th. May! I said to her, “I have to wait two months to get a colonoscopy? That’s insane!” She then looked again and offered me an April 29th date, which I took. Afterwards, I said to my sister M, “Well, now I know that no one ever has an emergency colonoscopy. You have to wait for that sucker!”

One positive that thing has occurred is that, for whatever reason, going to the ER motivated me a bit to move forward on my writing goals. It felt like a great stone had been moved from a closed entrance, allowing light to enter for the first time. Usually, an ER trip with significant pain like this would have me refusing to move forward on things that are anxiety-producing for me. Work is one of those things that causes a lot of hand-wringing on my part, but that’s a topic for a different series of posts. However, I was able to make a few changes.

I printed out an accountability calendar created by Carrie Brummer, creator and owner of ArtistThink.com. Carrie is an art educator and tries, through her site, articles, and free online classes, to encourage people to explore their creativity in different ways. I printed the calendar out, hung it up on my wall, picked and start date and began writing.and decided that I would start using it mark off the writing that I did. Every day. Across the top I wrote, “Don’t break the chain.” Jerry Seinfeld once told an aspiring comic to write every day and to not “break the chain.” Nothing feels better than checking off that little box and knowing that I am fulfilling my commitment to myself and my writing goals every day, even if it’s just a little bit.

Today is day 13 of that unbroken chain. As a result of recommitting myself to daily writing, I restarted the morning writing exercise that I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. She recommends writing three, 8.5″x11″ pages of freehand writing every morning. I found the three page minimum difficult when I tried it last year, so I decided to make it easy on myself and make it a one-page minimum. Yesterday, after spending a working day’s worth of time researching rheumatology docs for my mom, taking her to the appointment, helping her get xrays, bringing her home, filling her RX, getting milk, eating dinner, and coming home, I was exhausted. I could only manage that one page. I was surprised at the depth of what I wrote because, if you had asked me, I would have told you that any thinking at all would be out of the question.

On all the other days, I’ve managed to write that one-page minimum plus more. Sometimes it’s writing for my blog post. Sometimes it’s writing for my stories. Sometimes it’s writing down ideas that I have. WHATEVER it is, I am committed to writing and keeping the writing thing going. When I did that last year, I was so much happier. One day this week, I realized that I laughed and smiled more than I had been lately. I chalk it up to the writing practice. I feel productive.

My trip to the ER could have been paralyzing. For the first time ever, it wasn’t.

And Then There Were Two….

Trigger Warning: If you’ve recently lost a pet, are grieving, and would rather skip the details of the last day of a sick, old, and dying cat, you might want to skip this post. If you want to read a tribute to my cat Hunter instead, read my blog from Monday, October 6th.

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When I woke up yesterday, my husband told me that there was something wrong with my beloved 18 year old cat, Hunter. Mark had given him his medication and his subcutaneous fluids. Hunter didn’t move much, nor did he eat more than a nibble of his treats. Hunter did not come at all when food was put out.

I saw Hunter sitting uncomfortably by the water bowl. He moved away, and his back legs stumbled. You could tell he was in pain just by looking at him. When you can see that, you know it’s bad.

Hunter climbed into a chair where he likes to sleep, but he couldn’t quite rest comfortably. He moved slowly and did not lie down all the way. I decided to call the emergency line at my vet’s. I heard from my vet about 15 minutes later. She was already going into the office, so she said to meet her there.

Hunter looked so ill that I began crying. I went downstairs and told my mother to come up and visit Hunter because he was very sick. She was alarmed at how he looked and cried with me.

After getting some coffee, Mark and I drove Hunter to the vet. A physical exam indicated fluid in his stomach. The vet took some out and showed us the foam at the top, which indicated a severe protein deficiency. We considered draining his stomach, but the vet said it would probably fill right back up. We could take him to a specialist for it, but testing would cost at least a thousand dollars without giving us any real hope of him getting better.

Given his poor prognosis and that Hunter was excruciating pain, we decided it was time to say good-bye to Hunter and asked to have him euthanized.

I have loved animals all my life, especially cats. After you spend 18 years doing everything you can to keep your pet happy and healthy, telling a vet that now is the time to end your pet’s life  is nauseating. I hate the very idea of it.

But what are my options? Hunter was already in a lot of pain, and my vet said that he could die at any moment. I do not really feel there are any good options when you come to a point like this.

I called my mother to let her know what we were doing. I could only understand half of what she said through her crying. Since we moved down to New York, Hunter has been a constant companion to her. After she started to give him treats, my mother was Hunter’s queen. He would get on his hind legs and tap my mother’s arm to let her know he wanted food. Other times, he would grab her arm and pull it towards him. Or he would meow, which was more like a cute little grunt than a meow.

Hunter had the cutest little face, the most intense stare, and the softest fur you would ever touch. He used to flop over in my lap so I could scratch his belly. I’ve spent 45 minutes, an hour just petting that cat’s belly at least a couple of times a week since I got him. More recently, he did it only occasionally because he was no longer comfortable laying on his side. I think the last time that we did this was in the last couple of weeks, but it wasn’t for more than 5 minutes before Hunter had to move.

So now our home and our hearts are emptier. Yesterday was three years ago that I first met Gwendolyn, and today is three years that I brought her home. Life is like that. Sometimes you mourn and celebrate on the same day.

When you have them from when they are kittens, like I have with Hunter and Gwenny, they really do think you are their mother. That parent/child bond can exist between you and a being of another species. Hunter was an especially sweet and affectionate cat. He could not get enough of whatever attention that you wanted to give him.

I will miss his snuggling, his belly, his fur, his tail. I used to gently hold it and tell him it was my tail. If he was in my lap, I would lay it against my chest and pet his tail. He would let it stay there. So soft!

Some people claim that you cannot love an animal and that animals cannot love you back, that it is only attachment. To them I say, go to hell. I loved my cat, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me back. Sometimes, the final way that you can show them your love is to recognize when it’s time to end their lives. It’s just so painful and goes.

When Hunter was euthanized, he was surrounded by me, Mark, a vet tech, and the vet who had cared for him this past year. She thought he was a great cat, too, even though his pain meant he growled when he received the physical exam or was put on the scale.

After Hunter died, I pet him for a little while, gave him kisses, told him how much I love him, and how much I was going to miss him. I feel like someone shot a cannonball through the place where my heart and lungs used to be. The house feels empty, even though I still have two kitty babies in my life.

Each living soul is different from another. Getting or having another pet doesn’t make the grief less or the grieving easier. Even though it’s painful, I will open my heart and home to cats who need homes as long as I possibly can. The only thing worse than having to put your beloved cat down is having an empty house.

Bless you, my baby Hunter. I hope your journey over the Rainbow Bridge was a good one. If there’s an afterlife, I hope to see you again. Find us a comfy chair where I can sit down and rub your belly for as long as you want.

Remembering 9-11

On September 11, 2001, I went to work at a company that made stationary. In a semi-private room with stools at long wooden tables, the workers would fold paper according to a certain pattern. I was a relatively new addition to the team of women who performed these tasks.

Sometime after 9am that morning, someone said that a plane crashed in New York. Someone turned on a radio, and we sat at the long tables folding stationary and listening to the events in New York City unfold.

I was shocked. What the hell was going on? How could a plane crash into a building in New York City? New York City!

I strained to hear the details of what was going on while folding paper. I was the only New Yorker in the room. People around me listened in the way that people removed from a tragedy listen. I felt like my home was being torn apart, and it made me antsy. I felt more affected by the events than the people around me seemed to be. I felt a sense of terror, isolation, and aloneness.

When a second plane crashed, I started to panic, thinking of my sister S who lived and still lives in New York City. Then later, another crash at the Pentagon. I felt frantic, torn between an urge to do my work at a new job and a desire to flee the place immediately and run home to New York to be with my family.

With all the calls going into New York, the phone lines were jammed. After several tries, I was able to reach my sister who was working mid-town. She could see the smoke rising up from downtown, but she was far enough away not to be in imminent danger. If I didn’t go home, at least I could be a bit reassured that my family was safe.

The more I learned, the more shaken I became. The idea that thousands of people were murdered within a few hours on American soil by terrorists made me physically ill. People running down the stairwells. People doused by airline fuel and killed by falling debris. Firefighters and rescue workers flooding the area to do damage control and to save lives, some of whom died. People walking to get away from the disaster, deserting the downtown area.

September 11 is also my husband’s birthday. That night, we went to our go-to Chinese restaurant for dinner. The news was on the television. Staff and customers had their eyes focused on the TV. I couldn’t take it anymore. We had to get our food and leave. I cried before we even left the place. I couldn’t watch it.

Lives lost due to hatred. People just going to work, their futures cut short. Families devastated. I could barely handle it and I was over 200 miles away, my family was safe, and no one I knew was injured or killed. I couldn’t imagine what anyone in the area went through that day without feeling ill.

For many years afterwards, I refused to go to the World Trade Center area. The change in the skyline was a reminder that things changed. If you lived in NY, the World Trade Center Towers were one of the defining features. You knew where you were looking and what building it was.

On a high school trip into the World Trade Center, I remember taking the escalators up to the elevators. Our destination was the observation deck on the 102nd floor. You could walk right up to the thick glass windows that stretched from the ceiling down to the floor and beyond. Even though I was afraid of heights, I walked up to the glass and looked straight down. I remember standing there, the view, and the vertigo that kicked in. I walked back towards the center of the room and stayed far away from the glass, but I could still see the expanse of the New York City metro area, including Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

The NaNoWriMo writers critique group that I attend in NYC meets at the Whole Foods on Greenwich Street from which you can see the new World Trade Center. I still haven’t gone to visit, and I don’t think I will. The area has changed. We have changed. I am changed. I have no reason to go to the spot because I remember.

I remember what it looked like, how the site of the World Trade Towers made me feel. I was proud to be part of a beautiful city with impressive architecture and some of the tallest buildings in the world. I remember the view and the thick glass walls. I remember the helplessness, fear, shock, horror, disgust, anger, devastation, and the deep sadness.

I remember a floundering president who became galvanized, instituting world-changing policies and starting war in response to the tragedy. I remember a nation supporting one of its member states and its citizens rising to the occasion by giving support and offering to make personal sacrifices of their own rights in order to join the fight against terrorism. I remember New Yorkers focusing on the future, on rebuilding, on continuing with their lives as a big fuck you to terrorists. You won’t stop us. We will survive.

I remember that thousands of innocent lives were lost because of hatred. I remember heroes sacrificing themselves to save others. I remember the lives of the lost, and I remember the people who loved them. I remember love.

Family Visits

I drove my visiting sister A and her husband G to visit our 84 year old uncle in a rehab facility. My uncle L, who has been in the facility at least a month, is experiencing  congestive heart failure, requires oxygen, and is experiencing organ failure.

If you are not familiar with congestive heart failure, let me give you a brief synopsis: The heart, no longer able to pump blood effectively, means less oxygen to the brain, a reduced capacity of the lungs to get oxygen into the body and more fluids in the lungs, and organ failure. The brain, kidney, and liver, among others, no longer function optimally. Death isn’t necessarily imminent; my husband’s mother lived with it for years.

Whether his memory is being affected by the congestive heart failure, or whether it is due to another condition, such as dementia, I find it hard to visit him. While we visited, my uncle told me the same stories about my father that put him in a bad light, which he has told me at least once every time I have seen him since at least December. These things happened 60-70 years ago. But so what? 70 years ago, approximately 30 years before I was even born, is too long ago for me to care. I did get angry with my uncle and told him that I didn’t want to hear it.

I asked him: What’s happening now? What else can we talk about now? Can I help him now? What is there to do? Because whatever happened has happened when my father was alive. He is dead. I am glad that my uncle didn’t give the “traitors” help when they didn’t want to help my dad. But so what? Those people are long gone.

I grew up spending Thanksgiving at my uncle’s home, and, in reciprocation, my cousins, uncle, aunt on my father’s and my mother’s side used to spend Christmas with us. I have some great memories of watching Godzilla movies at my uncles on Thanksgiving (thankfully, I was not subject to watching football).

At this point, whatever it is my father did or didn’t do, whatever it is my uncle thinks or doesn’t think, whatever stories he has to tell, I no longer care. When all the players are dead, some of them for many, many years, it is time to move on.

In some ways, having a great memory such as my uncle has is wonderful. He remembers all the birth years of his half-siblings and siblings, starting from 1900 to himself in 1929. Given that he came from a family of 10 and this is 75 years later while he is sick with congestive heart failure, I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

But having an amazing memory is a problem when you repeat the bad stories of your deceased brother over and over again. Yes, I was upset earlier. But I also have compassion for him. The way we think when are elderly is a product of all the ways we have thought through our entire lives.

Do I like what he says? No.
Do I like what he thinks? No.
Is he elderly and ill? Yes.
Am I going to stay worked about the things he says about my deceased father, his brother? No.

I just don’t have time for that shit anymore.

 

One Positive Thing Leads to Another

This morning I did something different: I played music while stretching, and I took the time to notice tension release after some poses, which are a combination of yoga and physical therapy stretches. After a few days back into my stretching routine, I am feeling better.

The stretching and the physical therapy exercises I do in pools helped me feel really good before my recent descent into despair. Like I person who thinks she can stop taking the medication that are making her sane, I stopped the stretching and the gym earlier this month. I get lazy. I think I can get away with it. I get proven wrong.

The gradual release of tension in my body of the fibromyalgia pain lightens my body and my mood. I start to float through a lot of things I want to do: writing, being creative, finding inspiration, moving forward. I considered getting up earlier and how doing so would allow me to get to writing earlier in my day. I considered this body-mind-mood connection.

But my brain felt as empty as stage with only a spotlight on it. Usually, this worries me. Today I thought. Is that so bad? If my brain was an empty stage, what characters might come out? What stories could I write?

I sent my short story to three friends. Two read them and gave me comments. Whee! I have never willingly asked anyone for feedback on something I wrote. That’s a new one for me. All of this is new. I reminded myself that I do not produce widgets. I build worlds in stories.

How fucking awesome is that?

Then it hit me: I am incredibly blessed! I have so much privilege of which I am not even aware most of the time. My life is amazing, just the way it is. I have love, a home, companion animals, awesome friends, loyal family, access to healthcare for mind, body, and soul, and all the food and Starbucks coffee that I could possible want.

I have books, a bed, and a safe environment that I can make my own and create in. I have the power to move my life forward in any direction I want. My life is the way it is because I allowed all of it in. My relationship with my mother has improved immeasurably, one sister wants to be closer to me, and the others are in good standing. So much Love exists in my life. So much PeacePower, and Privilege.

Yes, I have been through health and surgery hell. I survived J– R–. I survived years of head-banging therapy. I survived jobs I despised and toxic friends.

Every time I listened to my desires in recent years, I came face to face with the answer I needed. My desire to grow brought me to a book to EMDR to M– P– who helped you with IFS, ACT, and EMDR to missing my family to moving home for my father to a vastly improved relationship with my mother to diving into a writing career to being self-directed, and to speaking your truth to your family and finding that you can live through it all even when doing so is scary.

All told, I wrote a full 8.5″ by 11″ page of things I can be grateful for. That must be some kind of record! All that writing gave me a renewed sense of Hope and Faith in myself. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it.

Hope is my word that Buzzfeed says best describes me. Hope is a cat in the Garden City Petco that I want to adopt. Sweet, soft, and loving, Hope was found impaled on a fence. She let me pet her through the window.

I am humbled by the ability of abused souls, human and animal, to continue loving even after torture and pain, accidentally or not.

I think we need new Internet shorthand. Instead of SMH, we should start thinking talking and sharing SML – So Much Love.

Go spread some love.