Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Would You Do?

What would you do if the person you love more than anything got sick and nobody could figure out what it was or why it happened?

What would you do if, after visiting doctor after doctor and having test after test, you had to watch your partner be told "it's all in your head" as he only got sicker and sicker?

What would you do, when, after knocking on what seems like the door of every doctor in the country you finally found one who believed him and could treat him?

What would you do if that doctor told you that one crucial step to treatment was avoidance, in effect cutting off the head of the beast that got him sick -- and that meant losing your dream home and every. single. thing. inside it?

What would you do if your clothes and hair were so contaminated by the thing that makes your partner sick that it meant you couldn't live together until he recovered?

What would you do if people you loved questioned your commitment to your partner, at a time when he was in greatest need, and doubted your relationship?

What would you do if helping your partner get better meant debt, loss of friends, and that people sometimes didn't believe you?

What would you do if, no matter how many times you explained it, people still couldn't seem to understand the depth of this illness and said, "but he doesn't look sick"?

What would you do when, at 39-years-old, you had to move back in with your parents "for now," knowing that "for now" means indefinitely?

What would you do if you had to travel long distances regularly to see the miracle doctors who were giving your partner back his life?

What would you do if insurance didn't cover the miracle doctors, treatments, travel, or tests?

What would you do?

Over the past several years, I've found myself asking all of these questions. And the answers were always much easier than you'd think.

You'd fight like hell to find answers for your loved one.

You'd believe and reassure your partner, because you've watched him slowly decline.

You'd cry your eyes out because you finally found someone who could help you -- a doctor named Hope.

You'd cry again, over the things you we're losing, but know that what you'd be gaining -- your partner's health, your marriage, your life -- would be infinitely more valuable than anything tangible.

You'd look ahead to the days when you WILL be together instead of lamenting the ones you're apart, making the most of the time you are able to be together in the meantime. 

You'd cut naysayers loose, shrug off false friends, and lean on the ones who do support you, who are unconditionally there for you, offering reassurance instead of strife. You'd count every word of encouragement, of love, of healthy wishes as a blessing and live on those when the days were darkest.

You'd keep fighting like hell, like hell, like hell -- even on the days when it felt like hell.

You'd explain it again, and again, and again -- as many times as it took for people to get how sick he is, how easily anyone might be stricken, that this is real even though it doesn't quite have a name.

You'd bitch and complain. And you'd be grateful as hell that you have a safety net with people who love you and don't mind when you bitch and complain. And then maybe you'd bitch a little more.

You'd get up early and you'd stay up late and you'd know that every trip back and forth was a step closer to wellness and a chance for you to be together again.

You'd pay and you'd fight and you'd do anything you could because health shouldn't have a pricetag.

You'd never, ever give up because real love means that you fight for the person you love when they can't always fight for themselves. You fight, because you know he'd do it for you. And you keep fighting, together, because for better or worse sometimes means the worst.

For more information about environmental illness, mold, and mycotoxin poisoning, read here, here, and here, and watch video here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Some days, I feel like I'm being tested. If I'm honest, the last couple of years, nearly every day, I've felt tested. This past weekend, the AC unit broke resulting in a flood in my room. Carpet was ripped up, blowers were installed, I was displaced. Nothing to go to pieces about, really, except that when you are in a constant state of unease, taking away one's "fortress of solitude" feels like the straw that broke the camel's back.

But in those moments this weekend (and in the ensuing days of ongoing disarray), there were little messages reminding me that I'm not being tested alone. That I'm not the disaster I often feel like I am. That I am loved.

Sunday, during a text exchange with a friend, she said to me, "Thanks for being such a good friend! To all of us who get to call you a friend." Reminder. 

Sunday afternoon, visiting a restaurant I hadn't been to in months, our favorite manager said to me, "Where have you been? I've been missing you and WH!" and followed with a big, sincere hug. Reminder. 

Monday afternoon, after lamenting on Twitter my displacement, another wonderful friend surprised me with a cake delivery at work. Just because. It left me speechless and happy. Reminder.

Yesterday morning, I was telling a colleague about my plans for the weekend which include a visit from a very dear friend, his partner, and their three "tornadoes." She said to me, "I really admire how much you value the people in your life. It's really remarkable how you keep in touch with people and show them what they mean to you." Reminder. 

This morning, a "good morning" text from another dear friend checking in to say hello because she hadn't heard from me in awhile. Reminder.

Yesterday, today, and every day, my friend @RedVelvetEsq is doing something to make me smile. Whether it was yesterday's email, "I don't want anything except to say hello. And, that I love you." Or this morning's request for advice and an offer of support. Or just knowing she's a pillar on my porch. Reminder.

If being tested means I get these little reminders, then I'll take it. And I'll pass with flying colors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Things and Such

I've been reflecting a lot on stuff lately.  To be clear, I've not been reflecting on a lot of stuff, but on stuff itself--things, posessions, mementos.  I have a lot of stuff.  Most of which is fairly junky and meaningless.  Oh sure, I have the first book that made me love reading, my grandmother's antique china, and the same teddy bear I've been sleeping with since I was eight (yes, I'm almost 40 and still sleeping with a teddy bear, not the point here).  But most of the other stuff I've got is just that . . . stuff. 

Is there any particular reason to keep stacks of old magazines?  A miniature Etch-A-Sketch? A vase full of old wine corks? I think no.  So why do I still have them?  Lots of reasons, including I might need them someday, they amuse me, or they remind me of something.  But as I've been thinking about all of this stuff, it's occurring to me (slowly -- after all, I have been a packrat all my life) that I don't really need any of it. All those things I've hung onto to remind me of some time in the past?  I don't need them to remember celebrating my wedding with everyone that I love.  I don't need them to remember that time my girlfriends and I went to Chicago and got into all kinds of shenanigans.  I don't need them to remember every happy Christmas spent with my family. I don't need them to remember what's really important. 

Last weekend, I celebrated a friend's baby shower, after which a group of us went to dinner.  We reminisced about ridiculous times we'd had together, talked about other loved ones who weren't at the table, and looked to future adventures we'd have together.  I didn't need to take the paper napkin ring and slip it into my purse in order to remember that evening with my friends (or all the others that had come before it).  Because what's important isn't the stuff, the memento, the physical reminder -- it's the connection to the people who matter the most, it's the collective memories we share together, it's the promise of new beginnings. 

As I think about all the needless stuff I've collected, I have realized that it's really the intangibles that decorate your life and not the tchotchke you picked up on the boardwalk in 1987.  Don't worry, I'm not going all zen Buddhist on you -- but I think maybe the impermanence of things is a good reminder of what is permanent: love, laughter, memories, the promise of the future . . . and that is what's really important.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reflections on 38 Years

Today I am 38. Some days I feel not a day over 20. Others, I feel 80. This is aging, I guess.  Where you look back and think, "How did I get here? I can't possibly be this old."  I'm getting closer to 40 (which, for the record, I don't fear), and this makes me think a little about where I have been and where I'm going. I'm not where I thought I'd be when I was a kid, or ten or even five years ago.  But where I am is pretty good . . . and I need to remember what I have done, instead of kicking myself for what I haven't yet.

I've been to Europe, but not Asia. There's much of the world that I still haven't seen.  But I will.

I've met a President, a pop star, an Academy Award Winner, and a Supreme Court Justice (two, actually), but not Cher.  She continues to elude me, but she's still kicking and so I am.

I've learned the value of sunscreen, a comfortable pair of shoes, expensive olive oil, and nice champagne. They're worth paying for in a way that expensive sunglasses, underwear, and cell phones are not.

I've ridden a horse, an elephant, and a camel, but never flown on a trapeze. With a complex for doing that not too far from home, there really is no excuse.

I've had a mamogram, a sonogram, an MRI, but not a colonoscopy. Because I'm not that old. Yet.

I've found the love of my life.  And I'm definitely not done with that yet. I can't wait to be to crotchety old folks together.

I've cultivated a village of the most wonderful, thoughtful, loving friends and family anyone could ask for -- and even though that says much about them, I have to remember what it says about me.  And be proud of it.

I've learned not to take myself too seriously (most of the time). But I'm still learning that it doesn't always have to be perfect -- because flaws can be funny.

I own property! Which is probably why I have many of the grey hairs on my head. But it's mine (ours) and I love it.

I've fallen in love with the written word and books.  Including my own, which I have not yet managed to write. But it's in there.

I've laughed and cried and loved. And there's so much more of that ahead of me, I can only hope that the tears are from joy more than from sorrow.

I've done a lot, but there's a lot more to do, so if you'll excuse me, I'd better get going.  There are things I want to accomplish today . . .

Happy Birthday to me, circa 1979

Monday, June 10, 2013

Remembering, With Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My grandmother died yesterday after an entirely too-long battle with Alzheimer's.  As the oldest grandchild, I was lucky to have known her when she was healthy, which she was during all of my childhoodIt's going to be hard to say goodbye to her this week, but it was much harder to slowly say goodbye as she descended into her illness. But that's not what I will remember about Grandma.  I will remember how nearly-perfect she was.  There aren't words to describe the depths of her kindness, there just aren't.  I'm not a religious person, but Grandma was -- and she lived her life in such a way that religious or not, it was an example for everyone.  When I think about her, the verse above comes to mind, because she was love.  

Love is patient, love is kind.  My grandmother was both of these in spades.  The mother of seven children, grandmother of ten, great-grandmother of two -- it would have been easy for her to lose her patience.  She could have become frustrated, hard, curt.  But she never did anything but smile and love us.  She did everything for everyone.  When I was a kid, I would go stay with her for a week every summer and during that week I got to eat whatever I wanted, do whatever I wanted, and stay up as late as I wanted. When I got up in the morning, Grandma, like a short-order cook, was ready to whip up whatever breakfast delight I could imagine.  We would laugh and play cards and have fun.  One of my cousins, who was significantly younger than I, used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents' house.  When he was a toddler, he was constantly calling for "Gammommy."  How she didn't lose her mind was beyond me, but she never did.  She always answered when called for, and always with a smile.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. My grandmother never talked about herself. She showered all of us with attention and affection, but she never asked for anything in return.  I never heard her raise her voice or saw her get angry.  As each of her children got married and had children, she welcomed the newcomers with open arms, happy to have more people to love.  We spent every Thanksgiving with my grandparents and all my uncles, aunts, and cousins.  Grandma cooked a feast for us every year -- with out complaint, sometimes without compliment.  And she loved every moment of doing it.  Come Christmas, she effortlessly whipped up the biggest variety of Christmas cookies I've ever seen assembled in one place.  I haven't had a rum ball like hers in many years, but I can still taste it in my memory.  She did these things because she loved them, because she loved us -- not so we would thank her or shower her with praise about her baking.  Just because . . .

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  You might think my grandmother was soft, and she was, but she was also tough.  How else does one raise seven children, six boys and a girl?  How else does one survive breast cancer and a masectomy? How else does a person manage to keep a smile on her face even at times when she must've been exhausted, or cranky, or sick?  In her gentle, loving way, she looked out for us all -- her husband, her children, and grandchildren, protecting us, always with a smile. 

When I remember my grandmother, I will always remember her smile and her pervasive, unwavering kindness. And how much she loved us all. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lotteries, Luck, and the Women Who Came Before Me

Last week the Powerball soared to nearly $600 million.  As is often the case when it gets to that point, I bought a ticket.  I didn't win.  Well, I didn't win the jackpot . . . but I did win $4.  I doubled my money.  And that's not nothing.  That got me thinking about luck and winning and how often we end up ahead, and don't really notice it because we're too busy worrying about what we didn't win.

Take for instance the line of women from whom I come. My mother's mother grew up in a working-class Italian family in the '30s and '40s in D.C.  When she was in high school, there were sororities that all the girls joined.  Unless you were Italian -- you weren't allowed to join, because of who you were.  A lesser woman might've admitted defeat and sat at home feeling sorry for herself.  Not my grandmother.  She and her friends started their own sorority. They continued to meet regularly for more than 60 years -- in fact, until she died, she continued her friendship with her high school sorority sisters.

In the 1980s, the "club girls" all bought vacation houses in the same neighborhood in Rehoboth.  As a kid, I can remember riding my bike all over the neighborhood to see my "aunts" every summer.  When my grandfather died, one of the strongest memories I have is all the club girls walking down the street to my grandparents' house to console my grandmother -- this group of little old ladies, united in solidarity for one of their sisters.  It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.  The remaining women -- there aren't many left anymore -- still meet.  What a way to stick it to the bigots who wouldn't let them into their clique.  I can't think of anything more valuable than the longevity of their friendship.  This is a lesson I learned from my grandmother -- a lesson that I took deeply to heart.

And what about my mother, the daughter of my determined Italian grandmother.  She decided to run for office when I was in high school.  She became a school board member -- a brilliant leader committed to making our schools better.  And then there was that one time she strong-armed the President (of the United States).  Yes, you read that right.  There was a conference in town where a collection of school board members from various places around the country were convening in her district to visit schools. As the president of the school board, she had extended an invitation to the President to meet the leaders at one of the schools, but he declined in favor of another event, so she made other plans for the visitors.

The morning of their visit, she received a phone call from the administrator for her school board saying that the President had changed his mind and would in fact like to attend the school visit.  "Too bad," she told the administrator, "we have other plans." The adminstrator was confused.  "You mean, you want me to tell the President 'no'?"  That's precisely what she meant, unless, she told him, she and her guests could have a private audience with the President.  "You want me to demand an audience with the President?"  She did.  So the administrator delivered the message that, unfortnately, the visitors were busy and were unable to meet him, unless of course he could make time for a private audience with them.  I'm still not exactly sure how that conversation transpired, but it ended with the most powerful man in the world agreeing to my mother's demands. Don't take no for an answer, even from the President . . . another valuable lesson learned from the toughest woman I know.

When I think about my recent $4 windfall, I realize that it's probably the best I'll ever do in the Powerball.  You see, my luck fell somewhere else. I won the legacy of hard-assed determination from two brass-balled ladies who refused to be put into a box, who refused to take no for an answer, who knew the value of standing their ground, and the strength of female friendship.  I don't know, I guess that person who won the lottery thinks she won something pretty special, but I'd rather have my prize -- it's priceless, after all. And it's a legacy I hope I can live up to.

My great grandmother, gandmother, mother, and me, 1975.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

. . . and the Net Will Appear

I'm not a risk taker. I follow rules, take the road most taken, and generally do what is expected of me.  And lately all of that rule following has made me pretty . . . uncomfortable.  I'm mid-career, mid-stride, nearly mid-life.  And frankly, I'm quite tired of being mid-anything.  I'm ready to shake things up, make a change, move on to whatever's next.

Trouble is, I have no idea what's next.  You're probably thinking, "Duh, WashingTina, nobody knows what's next. That's the whole point, isn't it?"  I don't do so well with not knowing what's next.  I'm a planner.  I like to know what's for dinner by breakfast.  I like to know what I'm doing on Saturday by Monday afternoon.  I like to know where my next paycheck is coming from, how many vacation days I've earned, and the exact number of pennies in my bank account.  Not very exciting.

I was at an event recently focused around creativity.  Despite my straight and narrow path, I do consider myself creative.  And what I learned at this event was that creative types take risks.  They fail. They dust themselves off, try again, and fail again.  Sometimes they fail thousands of times before they succeed.  Over and over again, the speakers at this event (Oscar winners, journalists, heads of Fortune 500 companies, and the owner of several major sports teams -- the most successful people around) talked of risk.  And failure.  And eventual success.  It was profound and it was inspiring.

Sitting in the event next to me was a dear friend, a friend who is a lot like me in many ways.  A friend who is toying with starting a business of her own.  During one point in yet another talk about risk and failure, I elbowed her and whispered, "See! It's not too late!"  And as dear friends are supposed to do, she elbowed me back and said, "Same goes for you, my friend."  She's right. And I got uncomfortable again.  

I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing lately, a gift from that same dear friend, a friend who believes in me and thinks that I should be writing (and I suppose I should).  King discusses his first attempts at getting published, when he was just a high school kid, nailing the rejection slips from failed tries to his wall.  He writes:
By the time I was fourteen . . . the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. 
And he didn't stop. He kept on writing.  And writing, and writing.  He's one of the most prolific writers of our time (and a damn fine one, at that).  He learned how to risk when he was just a kid . . . something I didn't do, for fear of getting grounded, or disappointing someone, or hearing my name pronounced with a hard "T" on Tina, the way they do when I'm in trouble.  The note I wrote to myself in the margin by that passage in his book, "Even Stephen King failed!!"  A gentle reminder.

And so I must learn to risk.  Without too much analysis, without too much fear, with the permission to fail.  A pretty tall order when you've done exactly the opposite on all accounts your entire life.  I don't yet know what it's going to be, but I know that I'm getting closer to the leap . . . and I know, as the old adage says, that the net will appear.

Leap and the Net Will Appear
Image by chicksprint via Flickr