Friday, August 21, 2015

A Shoeulogy

Lest you think that this has all been about perspective and growth and strength, I feel the need to share with you one of the most devastating (and, frankly, shallow) aspects in our journey to health through loss. I reached a point several years ago where I was utterly pleased with my wardrobe. I had cultivated and curated pieces that I loved and could intermingle with each other to wear again and again. It made me feel good and it gave me confidence.

More than my wardrobe, though, was my shoe collection. I can only say, with a tear in my eye and not an ounce of irony, that my shoes were my babies. I had boots: suede, leather, snakeskin; red, black, brown, camel; high heel, low heel, mid heel; knee high, calf high, ankle booties. I had heels: patent, suede, fabric, leather; gold, black, brown, burgundy, red, nude; stiletto, wedge, chunky. I had sandals: strappy, flat, walking; leather, rope, cork, plastic. I even had a couple of pairs of sneakers and three or four pair of flats. Did I mention the boots?

Learning, as we did, that we would have to lose everything in order to gain health was hard enough to bear, but when it became clear that "everything" included my shoes, it was just too much. I would dissolve into a puddle just thinking about it. And with that, let me provide you with a eulogy for my shoes, a shoeulogy, if you will.

Goodbye, red snakeskin Manolo Blahniks. From the first moment I saw you on the rack in Filene's, I knew we were soulmates. From your $250 pricetag (which I talked the checkout lady down to $150) to your perfect stiletto heel to your absolutely uncomfortable leather sole, I loved you. You were with me at my rehearsal dinner, on a trip to Prague where I nearly broke your heel off (sorry about that...nobody told me there'd be cobblestones), and on days at work when I really needed to be sassy. You were the queen of my closet.

Goodbye, nude pumps. You served dutifully for several years, smartly blending in with browns, blues, oranges, and even, on one occasion, sequins. You were up to whatever task I chose to draft you into: a business lunch; a summer wedding; dinner out on a Saturday night; brunch with the Girls. You were the pearl necklace of shoes -- elegant and suitable for nearly every occasion.

Goodbye, black riding boots. From September through March, you were the go-to choice for comfort and ease. Whether it was a denim skirt or skinny cords, you knew just how to make any outfit look as if it had just emerged from a Town & Country Magazine shoot in the English countryside. Cheerio, old friend.

Goodbye, red satin peeptoes. You carried me down the aisle on my wedding day, and danced the best night of my life away with me. You gave me a blister on my little toe, but I forgave you for it. And even if you didn't get out much after that night, your place on my shelf was one of honor.

Goodbye, black leather high heel Prada booties. Like your cousin Manolos, we met in that aisle in Filene's, your name on the box issuing a siren call that could not be ignored. Though you probably didn't appreciate it, I told anyone who would listen that you only cost $150 (marked down from $795) because I knew your real worth. What I would give to stroke your Italian leather one last time . . .

Goodbye, Stuart Weiztman lanyard cork wedges. You were without a doubt the most comfortable, sky-high shoes I've ever owned. You went with everthing: jeans, dresses, slacks. I could put you on in the morning, walk a couple of miles, and keep wearing you into the evening. A dutiful and practical shoe, you gave me height and confidence and comfort. I'm glad you're now living with some girl in Australia who totally gets you.

Goodbye, J. Crew red snakeskin mid-calf almond toe heeled boots that were half a size too small, but fit if I wore stockings instead of socks and ignored that I couldn't feel my little toe. You were the best $35 bargain a gal could ask for. For more than 10 years, you marched yourself out when I really needed a kick (and had forgotten about that pesky little toe thing).

Goodbye, Aquatalia knee-high suede high heeled dress boots, I think I'll miss you most of all. I coveted, nay stalked, you online for three years before I finally made you mine. You went with everything, kept me warm, and felt like you were made from the skin of a newborn. I loved everything about you and would've slept wearing you if I could. You made my life better just being in it, and it's a little darker out there now that you're gone.

To all the other boots, flats, sneakers, heels, and sandals, you may not have been my favorites, but you served me well and loyally every step I took. May every step you take be one toward heaven.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On the Way to Better

I checked into the hotel with just the clothes on my back, my phone, and my wallet. Minutes earlier, I had walked out of our now-empty home for the last time, having purged the remaining bits of our life into the garbage. Just before I left, I snapped one last picture of our beautiful view of Thomas Circle and tweeted, "I don't live here anymore." It took my breath away how much it hurt. 

The woman at the hotel desk handed me a package with the clothes I would wear and a purse I was borrowing from my mother. They were the only possessions I had. I swallowed the lump in my throat and went to my room.

As I stripped off my clothes and put them into a garbage bag, I thought to myself, "How did I get here? How had I survived the past year? Would I survive what was coming next? What was coming next?" There I was, in nothing, with nothing, and I couldn't fathom how I was going to put my life back together. I didn't know if WH was ever going to get better. If we were ever going to be better.

Standing in the shower, as I washed my hair (three times, with antifungal shampoo), I felt resolute. I was literally and metaphorically washing off all that had come before: the mold that had upended our lives; losing our home, our things; the months of searching for answers and doctors and treatments; the gutwrenching heartbreak of not living together, of not being able to comfort each other with even a hug, of suffering separately; the time we could never get back; the loss, so much loss. It all went down the drain as I stood there washing it away.


I went downstairs to the hotel's restaurant and ordered a glass of wine. I don't remember what it tasted like, or the two glasses that followed, but it was more sacramental than any communion wine I'd ever drunk. This was my rebirth. This was my new reality. This was my new normal. Starting over with nothing. Except that I didn't have nothing. I simply didn't have stuff. And in that moment, even as I sat there alone with nothing to my name besides the clothes on my back, I knew that I would never truly have nothing. I had WH -- who was on his way to recovery. I had my parents who were giving me a home again. I had our family who were holding us up in whatever way they could. I had our wonderful, loving, and supportive friends who had been there through all of the hell and helped us keep going, who gave us strength we didn't know we had. I had what I needed, what really mattered.

The hell wasn't quite over yet -- that kind of lingering burn doesn't go away in an instant and you bear the scars forever -- but eventually the burning stops and the scars fade, and you come out of it. And there we were, on our way out of it, on our way to better. . .

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

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

Tested

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.