Nothing You Could Say Could Tear Me Away

I’ve been waiting for seven years to say that I’ve met someone and not have it be an April Fool’s joke or clickbait.

Today is that day.

I can’t tell you much about her because she’s a mom. Her kids know she’s dating someone, but not who it is. It’s too early for them to meet me, but acceptable for them to know that if their favorite sci-fi novels are missing, they haven’t been stolen. I hope they know what their mother has done having told me I could read anything I want. 😛

Editor’s Note: This week I borrowed “out of my mind,” by Sharon M. Draper. It’s about an 11 year old girl who has a photographic memory and is trapped inside her body. She can see everything, but she can’t tell anyone about it because she can’t write. She finally gets a voice, and not everyone is eager to listen.

I can give you details that have nothing to do with my girl’s current life, though.

She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Vocal Performance. When she’d gotten those done, she auditioned for one of the specialized choirs in the Army, and got a secured chair as an alto before she shipped off for basic training. After she retired from the Army, she directed church choirs for a while, then reinvented herself yet again. I absolutely wouldn’t tell you what that was, anyway, because it tends to make people ask her for things as if her time doesn’t cost money.

One of the things I truly love about my girl is that she reminds me of so many people I’ve loved over the years…. The professional musicians that raised me, including my biological parents, teachers at Clifton, HSPVA, Clements, private instructors in trumpet and voice, beloved choir directors, et al. are the lights that shine behind her, strengthening our connection with shared language. She’s also from New Jersey, not Texas, so she doesn’t remind me of any one musician from my past, or any of them if we’re strictly talking personality. The Texan church musician is an archetype all its own, can I get an “amen?”

And now you’re going to ask if her voice makes me cry, and I’m going to have to decide between snarky comeback and my vulnerable truth. I’m going to go with it.

The truth is that even when she’s just driving and singing absentmindedly, my heart flips. If I was sitting in the audience of one of her performances, forget about it… I’d be gone. She’s got the kind of heart that I know she’d be singing to me no matter how many people paid to be on the front row. What really makes my heart clench is singing together…… You can coax me into crying with that mental picture almost a hundred percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop her from giving me shit about being a soprano and a trumpet player, and I love every second of it. Because she’s a choir director, she already knows all the inside jokes that are going to make me laugh, especially because her field choir traveled with a band and that rivalry never goes away. For instance, a lot of her friends have gone from the Army Field Band to professional work all over Washington and Baltimore. I am only one degree from Marin Alsop now, and I will not tell you anything about those conversations. I will only say that no matter what I’ve heard, it’s trivial. I’ve heard it all in my own musical life. I still want to see Alsop conduct. Whether she’s Jesus incarnate or Lucifer, every time she gets excited and does that little Bernstein hop, I’m drooling like a computer programmer at a Star Trek convention.

Here’s the best inside joke according to me:

My Girl: Voice is the superior instrument with choral music being perfection.

Me: Back the fuck up, Wilhousky.

Here’s why it’s an inside joke. Peter Wilhousky wrote one of the most famous, glorious arrangements of the Battle Hymn of the Republic I’ve ever heard in my life. My choir director at church from seventh grade to ninth loved it, so I’ve known every note to the soprano, first trumpet, alto, and second trumpet part since before I could type. I have also dabbled in first tenor because I will never drop out of the the a capella section in rehearsal. It’s just too chewy.

One of the first things I asked her was, “since you were in the military, just how many times have you done the Wilhousky arrangement?” She said, “a million, and I’m not even exaggerating.” One of the reasons I like it so much is that whether I was singing or playing, it was so damn fun.

My girl and I have other things besides music and the full on church experience regarding how the sausage is made, but I feel they might be too identifying, and thus, too private for now. But if we stay together long term, I’m sure more details will be allowed to creep out. I know we’ll be having discussions about how much I can say and when, and later on if things go really well, asking the kids themselves how much they want said about them because they’re teenagers. They can make up their own minds. I would also rather sign up for shock therapy treatment than become, for lack of a better term, a “mommy blogger.”

I’ll tell you right now, though, one of the kids and I are obsessed with the same thing. I’m not aiming to be a parent. The kids already have two parents. However, if neither of them are as into this shared thing as me and the shorty, it’s on like Donkey Kong. I tease my girl about it all the time…. I get fake disgusted with her assessment of something in said activity and say things like, “if I ever meet your kid, I’m going to assure them you’re only there to hold my bag and my water.” Teasing that hopefully never even gets close to the line of actually hurting is our thing.

This is the first potentially serious relationship I’ve ever been in where we’re not thinking about having kids. She has kids already. So, time is deliciously limited and every moment counts. It’s a little bit tricky because even though we don’t live that far from each other, it’s not really close enough to meet up on a whim. This is because I live in Maryland, a few miles further northwest than the line between Maryland and The District, still inside the beltway of the city. She lives in a suburb of Baltimore that’s closer to BWI, only 30 minutes from my house by car but two completely separate transit systems. The closest I can get is taking the bus to the Metro station and getting on the MARC train, with either my girl picking me up at the airport station (which thankfully, is very close to her house), or a quick Uber ride to get myself there if she’s tied up at work or something.

I downloaded the public transit app for Baltimore and added one ticket to BWI and a funds card with a few dollars on it. It’s for both of us. I can escape if something goes wrong and I just don’t feel like talking about it right that moment, and if nothing ever goes wrong, it’s just handy to be self-reliant. I’ve also watched too many couples break up because one person always has to do the driving… or if that wasn’t the main problem, it certainly didn’t help anything.

It’s something of which I’m aware, but I’m not as panicked as I would be if I lived in Houston. Now, I don’t have to be reliant on my girl to get me anywhere in either city/suburb. Any time she wants to pick me up to save me time or to spend more time together, it’s welcome and I am always grateful. I just don’t want to feel like a big issue later on…. Driving is one of those things that’s irritating enough if you’re rarely the driver… more so if you’re the only one who does it. When the honeymoon period wears off it’s generally the first knock-down drag-out fight.

Only one piece of the puzzle is left, and that won’t get solved until we decide to get really serious. If I move to the same city or the same house, we’ll gain the ability to do one more thing that we don’t have now…. being able to call each other up and say “I’m going to the pub with the crew. Meet us in 20.” It’s still possible if plans are made early enough in the day, but right now I’m at door to door in somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. Her town is small enough that I could walk to a pub in 20 minutes if I was local. As long as I stay put, though, 90 minutes to two hours door to door is much faster than I could do it by car, because between traffic and construction there’s no time of day where it takes dramatically less time than others.

It’s so easy that next time my girl might not want to drive here, either. Our friends in Silver Spring would haul us around or we could Uber. So much better than sitting in traffic and driving. It’s sitting in traffic, reading and cuddling. The reason it’s not sustainable as a solution is that if we’re a committed couple, I would lose my mind getting to her or the kids if there was an emergency. Anything less than immediately is unacceptable. “Less than two hours” might fly in a long distance dating situation, but in a partnership is cruel to everyone. Being reliable is important to me.

For now, it’s a delicious thing to will time to stand still; things can progress slowly… I can take things out, try them on, think about them until they’re not foreign anymore. My girl and I can create a private bubble of writing to each other and dates where we really get to know each other with more senses than just reading words on an electronic page. If we’re playing for keeps, we need to be a team, starting with learning how the other one communicates.

I find that I communicate best in writing, especially when I have to say something hard. I can take as long as I need to flip out about it, and then calmly craft a response. My emotions are enormous. Most people don’t deserve my kneejerk reaction. They deserve my response after I’ve walked off and written about it. Just one of the things that lets me be an INFJ on my own without scaring the bejesus out of anyone… and then when I get to the part where I need to say something out loud, I’m confident because I’ve worked it out on my own. I simply need input. If my girl feels strongly about something, my own conclusions need to change. If we’re chatting about it online, I have two things. The first is the ability to copy and paste my thoughts into a letter. The second is that a moment expands when I read about it later…. and in a much more beautiful way than if I just tried to think about the conversation and remember it that way. That’s like trying to read a series of novels and then being tested on which events happened in which book.

I love going back over our conversations and rereading, because different things jump out at me than they did the first time, because I’ve walked away and am looking at it from a different perspective than I was even ten minutes ago.

There’s another advantage to rereading our conversations, and it’s invaluable. Because I’m rereading our conversations and replying to things as they come up, it’s like conflict repellant, and every bit as effective as bug spray. One of my triggers is having someone tell me that my perceptions aren’t accurate. I spent so many years doubting my own perceptions and instincts when I am actually extremely astute. Not much gets by me, and doubting my abilities as a visionary and truth teller when I can bring the receipts is a flat out rejection…. yet another reason why it’s taken me so long to open myself up to a romantic situation.

Only once has this happened, but I went on a date several years ago with a woman who’d gotten the URL for this web site from my OK Cupid profile. Then, she asked me out for coffee. When I accepted, she turned out to be a drooling fangirl who wanted me to be the voice I am here. It’s something that doesn’t seem like it would be problematic. This web site is me. I am this web site. Here’s the rub. At no time during that conversation was I ever allowed to deviate from anything I’ve already written, as if writers are never allowed to change their minds. Particularly with bloggers, entries are just verbal pictures, not even videos. It’s 2D with a timestamp. She’d quote me to me and then accuse me of lying, even if it was 2016 (or whatever, I don’t even remember that much- just that it was before my mother died) and the entry was from 2014. It made me express something verbally that I’ve always known with my other senses. I love respect. I hate fame.

Blogging is a stream of consciousness first draft in which I’ve given myself permission to write absolute shit. This is nothing compared to the heights I can reach with research and dedication. In some ways, I should never have become a blogger in the first place. I laid out every problem I had, including my struggles with mental illness, in hopes of “leading from the back.” Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, et cetera.

The pro was that people I didn’t know flocked here because I was saying things that connected. Those closest to me started trying to judge the stability of my mental health by my silly observations. I have the same relationship with my blog that I do with preaching in public. I can lead one person or a million, but not two…. as in, it’s very easy to talk to people I don’t know. People I do know tend to think that they are excellent detectives. Not once have they ever been right. They are right that occasionally I do spiral out, and as bad as they think. But not when.

The difference in my writing voice is not mania vs. depression. It’s “in the creative zone” vs. “I haven’t written in X number of days and I am itching to get everything out.” The other differences that are seen as lies are actually easily explained without being excused. I can only write one line at a time. My mind is a multi-core processor. Every time I tell a story, it includes thoughts from all the cores and not just the one I was using at the time the story was originally written. My details don’t get larger or smaller. They just get more dense…. or in layman’s terms, “I can bring the receipts. I don’t just make shit up.” Well, unless I’m preaching. One of the funniest things my little sister has ever said was “DAaad? Wassat true, or were you just preachin?'”

Returning to this moment, it’s foreign to me that someone wants to date me… will hold my hand walking down the street, will give me quick kisses and put her arm around me as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. It’s been 10 or 11 days. Nothing is being rushed about our relationship. It cannot be for all our sakes. We’re not thinking for two, exactly. Well, we are, but it’s not the two of us. I have an activity to do and she has a bag and a water to hold.

I’ve thought about kids two other times in my life, and shut the door permanently. I can’t remember what year it was that Dana and I went to the OB/GYN to check and see if we were good to go, but I was much younger then……. even still, it would have been a geriatric pregnancy. I am almost positive that if I had to make a choice between getting an abortion and having a child would be torture, because some kind of trauma was probably involved. I’ve also wanted a child since before my mother died, but I know my biological child would look like her even if the biological father didn’t. The flip side of the coin is that I would be much crazier than advertised if I decided to carry the pregnancy to term. I already have to choose between physically and mentally sick (physical drug side effects). A pregnancy would make that distinction as clear as it could possibly be. Both my medications (I think) are pregnancy approved…… but what if they don’t work for me while pregnant? Yes, I have thought a lot about this. Maryland has everything I need if something were to happen here, but I go to Texas more often than I travel anywhere else. Southern men are typically sweet and genteel. If they are liberal enough that they don’t have a problem with homosexuality, sometimes the flirting gets intense because we both know it’s not going anywhere.

If they’re a conservative crazy, and the percentage on that in Texas is not zero, it’s not impossible that they’d say they love Jesus while shooting me in the chest, or letting me live but raping me because “you’re only a lesbian because you haven’t had a real man yet.” Let me really drive it home for you. After the shooting in Colorado Springs, I had a panic attack. I was filled with survivor’s guilt. My only accomplishment that day was living in Maryland. I met my girl not long after, and it was like coming up for air after free diving. When she kissed me, I remembered what I was fighting for. I fall asleep thinking about her, and all I would do to keep myself strong so that she can lean on me. It’s all any couple wants. That the idea of support in government via marriage tax breaks and support in community through erasing prejudice is just crazy and we have to tear down all the progress we’ve already made is Looney Toons. Of the two, though, I’d rather have the love and support of the community. I’m kind of over entangling marriage and the government. Laws can move legal protections. They can’t change hearts and minds because that’s not what they’re designed to do.

As for me and my girl, we’re being careful not to become examples of the lesbian U-Haul stereotype. It’s good for the kids, but we see why it’s not that big a deal for other people (especially if it’s just the two of them in a very large house). Because of our shared language and library of images, I believe we could move in together tomorrow and with some counseling, make it work. There are multitudes of things that make us unique, but we are also extraordinarily similar. Both musicians, birthdays five days apart (although she’s four years older), both fluent in church lingo for an amazing understanding of my life before she arrived. It’s a whole bunch of things that would make us able to start off with good communication and get better at it, not constantly trying to make it work and needing counseling to keep from throttling each other. Getting by is just not the goal, though. It’s both of us thriving and growing together and not at each other’s expense.

Actually, there are ways in which it would be eerily difficult to tell us apart. There are others that are wildly different, but not in any way that would cause conflict. The kind where her life experience differs greatly from mine and brings a whole new skill set to the table. At her core, she’s the kind of peacenik musician you’d find at Interlochen and Julliard, but of course she also had to go through a program physically designed to make her fail to get into this professional-level program. It’s akin to winning a chair in a major symphony (or medalling in the Olympics). By contrast, I synthesize ideas very fast and often throw out thoughts before saying “do you have the bandwidth to listen to……” I am also highly adept at taking on the emotion of every person in the room, and thus have inside information as to their motivations. I’ve always had instincts in that direction, but I’m deadly accurate now that my bullshit detector has dropped.

Speaking of taking in the reaction of everyone in the room, my favorite thing is still being the only one not drinking. Sometimes I do, but I think it’s more exciting to relax with a non-alcoholic beer (especially in a glass) so that people forget two things. The first is that you’re not really drinking. The second is that you’re a diarist. You’re not talking to a reporter, but definitely reporter-adjacent. At parties, if I don’t know you and you have a dumbass attack in front of me, you’re probably going to become a funny story on this web site. If I do know you, I’ll at least ask you if I can write about it because you can laugh about it and I’m not hitting a real nerve. Live and learn.

I feel so good around my girl that it’s a great surprise she’s told me I do things for her that help. I don’t feel as if the relationship is one-sided. I feel wanted in a way that I haven’t in years, that I am a priority and she drops everything for me the same way she checks out of our relationship when we’re apart so that other people also get her full attention. It’s priceless, and feels healthier than trying to manage five conversations at once.

I honestly forgot how much all people need these feelings. I was so focused on independence that I forgot about interdependence, and how nice it can be as well. I’d let the pendulum swing too far into loneliness… particularly because I didn’t notice I was lonely. I used to be the real life Linus Baker, just American and not British…. also not from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, my life feels whole. I have amazing friends, and a chance at a real thing with someone I’m crazy about. It didn’t feel real until she told the kids, though. Doesn’t matter that she only told the kids she was dating someone. Fine for them not to know it was me specifically. It just made me feel important that she thought our dating life was important enough to mention. Maybe now she’ll let me have diet soda at her house (I can hear it now… “friggin’ sopranos…..”). Even if she doesn’t, there are times when I think my heart can’t get bigger; it always does.

Like when she took me to Ingrid Michaelson and held me while Ingrid sang… some dates are close to magic… when you can feel the night stretching to accommodate your wishes. We went for half smokes and fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl, then walked to Jeni’s ice cream for a “nightcap.”

The next day we took in a matinee of “Into the Woods,” and then it was time for her to go back to her real life. It was so hard to let her go, knowing that I was stepping out on faith that we’d find a way to keep seeing each other if our paths aligned.

My faith is in this being the start of something big. She feels the same way, but I don’t want to speak for her on anything more than that. Wanting to be together for keeps if we continue being successful at communication is the one thing I don’t have to fact check. How we feel is deep and intense, passionate in every color across the Scandinavian sky. At the same time, I’m 45. She’s older than me. Combining lives is not an easy process, and when kids are involved, sometimes love isn’t enough. Unclear communication regarding division of labor kills a relationship faster than lack of love ever will.

I have issues with having brilliant ideas and an interesting relationship with follow-through. Luckily, my girl has plenty of experience in dealing with people close to her that have mental health issues. My girl can recognize a coping mechanism and roll with it, or help me create one. I will never get over the idiosyncracies that my mental health presents, but I can always use more cognitive behavioral therapy to make it manageable. It’s the same with medication. I take meds to make it better, but it’s a pill…. not a magic wand.

There’s one last connection that we have that I can tell you about, because it’s probably the thing I feared the most in putting myself out there in terms of dating. My grief is deep, It is ever-present. There is no moment of any day that I’m not away from it. It’s a constant dream, waking and sleeping. Her mother is dead, too. So much I don’t have to explain when we share that particular frame of reference. You just join the shittiest club on record. It’s something you literally can’t explain to anyone else who hasn’t lost a parent, because the feelings are too deep to put into words. Losing anyone is painful. Losing a parent rewires you from the inside out. Putting things into words gets easier over time, especially for writers because they’re constantly exorcising their demons whether it’s fiction or not. My girl and I are also in roughly the same place in our process. It’s not overwhelming anymore. It’s a dull buzz that’s occasionally triggered into an alarm. It makes our music connection that much more intense and primal. If you know me in real life, you got here several paragraphs ago.

I need to write this down for posterity, because it is a moment I’ll never stop treasuring. I remember her sitting on my couch. I was kneeling on the floor so I could look into her eyes. It was too much. Too powerful. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I said, “thank you for bringing the music back.”

Nothing you could say could tear me away from my girl.

It hit me all at once that I was dating someone my mother would have loved and wanted to adopt. James Lipton was famous for asking this question from the Bernard Pivot questionnaire…. “If heaven exists, when you arrive at the pearly gates, what would you like to hear God say?”

My favorite answer is Harrison Ford’s…. “You look just like me.” My own is a delicious smirk and “see what I did there?”

We’ve Been Here Before

I absolutely, 100% believe I came up with a multimillion dollar franchise idea yesterday. It all came together in a flash, just picture after picture. I’m glad that I’m 45 now. I could not have done this ten years ago, and I’m not even sure I can do it now. However, it’s *such* a good idea that I can’t sit on it. I want to tell you all about it, but of course more people are reading this than just my friends. All I will tell you is that it starts off with one book… that publishers will KICK THEMSELVES IN THE ASS for not thinking of before I did.

I will say that it’s a spy novel, but there are a bazillion different kinds, so that doesn’t really give it away. What’s different about this time is that I asked my dad to help me write it. It was a very specific choice for one reason alone. I learned everything I know about writing from watching him craft sermons, Bibles studies, etc. He was the one person I could think of as a writing partner where it would be almost no trouble at all to meld styles, because brass tacks, we’re the same person.

The last piece of the puzzle is that I know Langley has a book/script/media review board to review what spies are writing to make sure they’re not giving away sources & methods, as well as helping people who have never worked for The Company and would like some help with jargon, etc. If I can figure out how to work with them, then that’s my next call. I don’t talk on the phone, really, but I would for this.

It’s passion, and as a Bipolar II patient who rarely goes into hypomania, I don’t feel it often. It’s nice to have something I’m excited about because I don’t have to write a book, I want to.

I’ve also asked my friend Heather to check in on me every once in a while and see how I’m doing, just to be accountable to someone. She’s not my editor, but she IS an editor for textbooks and standardized tests in higher mathematics, so she knows what it’s like.

Heather is a new friend who I hope one day will be my old friend. Her brain is the second sexiest I’ve come across, but she’s not in second place. It’s love all, nil/nil, etc. Additionally, we are so much alike that we can’t shut up, and contain enough multitudes that we are also completely different. I mean, in what UNIVERSE am I good at math? If there is one, I wouldn’t know how to find it, but Heather would. Maybe I should ask?

We Can Do Hard Things

The title of this entry is the title of Glennon Doyle’s podcast, but the podcast is not what I’m pondering. It’s the catch-22 of how to be a white person and call the black community out on some shit that is very harmful to me… but without making it sound as if it is equal to or more disturbing than anything white people have done to them. It’s just that in this instance, I’m not speaking as a white person, especially not a white person with entitlement. I have it when I choose to use it, which is never. I’m speaking as a lesbian. I am not the person that you think I am at face value. You cannot attribute the same attitudes toward a white minority that you can toward the white, straight, cis majority, because I’m fighting them just as hard as you.

Here’s why. If I was seen kissing my paramour/girlfriend/wife on a street corner, the race of the person who saw me would be irrelevant. There’s just as much chance of me being harassed or assaulted, even sexually as a public service, by someone with any background. It’s not about my color, it’s about my perceived sin.

I came out when I was about 14. Violence against gays and lesbians has always been very real. It was 1991, not 2022. I can draw a direct parallel between me and Emmett Till, because if I was caught whistling at a woman, seemingly making advances toward her, I would have been in just as much trouble, because black Christian Evangelicals are just as brainwashed by crazy as white ones.

Lesbians are in a tight spot. We are seen as non-threatening if men do not know who we are courting and it is just a fever dream to have a threesome with us as they spout their “Christ is love” bullshit, because it sounds dirty coming out of that kind of mouth. However, if the man does know the woman in question, particularly if he sees us as a threat to his relationship, we are well on our way to black eyes because “we’re not real men.”

Well, no shit, Sherlock. That’s why I can make her scream so much harder than you.

Now imagine me smarting off like that to a black or white man who thinks he’s tough. Now I’m even closer to death. Additionally, I can think of no worse childhood than growing up black and trans, especially if your family is religious. Black and white Evangelicals are equally guilty of indirectly killing their children because they don’t see their faith as bullying.

Add race to being queer and it is just a mess. White, straight, cis feminists don’t have the same needs as women of color. Queer women of any race have different needs than straight. Trans women have different needs than cis. In terms of trans and cis women, it is like one man has fathered children with identical twins. We are biologically the same and yet cousins because of trans women’s socialization as men when they were young.. This is on its way to being a non-issue with puberty blockers and supportive parents, but right now, it is a hard thing we can add to the list.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos on building houses, both on and off the grid. What I’m seeing is that the entire house is wonky because in the queer community, we didn’t actually create all the vassal agreements needed to be powerful as a voting bloc. What I’m saying is that the house will fall soon if we don’t go back and fix the basement.

But don’t worry. We Can Do Hard Things.

Julie & Julia

I absolutely fell apart last night, because for the first time in legit years all I could do was cry and miss Dana…. just inconsolable that she wasn’t holding me while I cried. This is because when I heard the news that Julie Powell, of Julie & Julia fame, had died, I folded into myself with memories.

That movie never fails to bring me to tears. Watching Meryl Streep cut onions while studying for culinary school always reminds me of my curly haired spitfire, a description that one of my friends gave her and will stick for the rest of my life.

Yes, we are broken up. No, I am not confused. I have a good memory, that’s all. When I’m not thinking about it, she’s out of sight, out of mind. But we all have our triggers, don’t we? And some of them are actually sweet rather than terrifying. So if anyone, friends or potential new girlfriends, has a problem with me having memories, good luck and God bless. I’m sure you can find a woman somewhere without memories, but I’m sure she’ll also have other symptoms from getting hit on the head that hard. Bless your heart.

I would be a total narcissist if I didn’t realize that I was at fault as much as anyone else in the world is responsible for a breakup, try to learn from my mistakes, and move on completely. Luckily, I know I’m not a total narcissist because that’s exactly what I’ve done. Believe me, if I hadn’t, I doubt I would have many (if any) sweet triggers left.

Also, I think it’s important to reconcile your past because then you stop torturing yourself over it. When I look back on Dana, 80% of the time it’s to laugh and smile about a memory. It’s not like I don’t have negative triggers, there’s just so many fewer than there used to be with the passage of time. I can honestly say that we were amazing right up until we weren’t, and those communication issues went back far longer than I originally assumed. My teenage crushy, blushing feelings for someone of the opposite orientation were a reaction to something both in me and that Dana triggered at the same time. My reaction was my own, I have no bones about that. She didn’t “make me do” anything. I’m just saying that I reacted poorly to stimuli I didn’t realize was there. Does that make sense?

I thought I would start writing incessantly about her as time wore on, because I’d have some perspective on our relationship and could dive deep into the wreck. It has always been an assumption on this web site that I am leading from the back, laying out all my fears, experiences, and dreams for the future in hopes of helping someone else.

Here’s what I didn’t count on. The wreck is as much of a mess as old necklaces stuck in a drawer and somehow over the last 20 years they’ve knotted, attracted dust, and probably have gum on them and smell like old purse. Diving into it takes so much out of me that I don’t have any stomach for it. Maybe I’ll never write about it, maybe I need another 20 years. What I do know is that I lost the love of my life so far. It’s been a blessing to know I am capable of eventually having another.

Then the 20% becomes the 80% and I don’t like who I become thinking about that much trauma happening in that little time. Two years of awful destroyed some five years and change of wonderful. Only thinking about those five years is akin to loving The West Wing right up until Aaron left.

The changes in my personal life were just as dramatic, but they evened out. Maybe Aaron Sorkin writing my life was just a little too dramatic for me. Maybe Amy Sherman Palladino will call. Great writer, and she seems to be connected umbilically to Alex Borstein, so she’ll be in my TV show and I will pay Amy extra every time she gives me a kissing scene with Alex. Seth McFarlane and Seth McFarlane could play our next door neighbors if it was animated. I would love to have a weekly show on free television that stars Seth MacFarlane as a gay couple. I’m dying laughing just thinking about it.

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

I slowly slide back into humor, leaving the wreck untouched. We are picking chesterberries, we are running a kitchen, we are sitting outside by the fire in various states of sobriety. Drunken trivia nights where winning was dependent on who could remember the answer. Going to pub trivia and deciding that our team name should be an ellipsis and a sentence, so that when we won, it would be stuf like “And the winners tonight are….under investigation by the FBI.” Days spent working on Katrina’s yard together, or running “our kitchen.”

Phillip Hunker and Outpost were talking about living your dreams in “Grind” by saying “stop trading five days for two, and do with your love what you’re supposed to do.” It works the same way in reverse. I will never stop trading my two for five with Dana. I’m working on the other thing.

It’s what I think about when I’ve been inconsolable and crying.

The Voting Monolith

I hate to admit it, but not being on Facebook is really, really nice. I hid the icon on my iPhone and use Messenger exclusively. Turns out I don’t need to see when I have a like. I don’t actually care. If I want to know something, it’s probably about how the world works, or how to improve my relationships… not a contest to see how many people love me at any given moment. Why worry? I already know there’s a vast tens of you somewhere.

Apparently, I am a big deal in India.

My biggest collection of foreign readers used to be Australia (I’m American, Marylander specifically). I liked that a lot. Being associated with what is essentially a large island full of people descended from criminals directly appeals to my own sense of self. Actually, that may be one of the truest things I’ve ever said. I had an ancestor- I think his name was Anthony and went by “Tony Lanagan.” I’m not exactly sure where, but there’s still a Tony Lanagan in my family, just a much younger one.

Anyway, the ancestor was kind of rough and tough Irish. Ended up on the unlucky end of a murder. I am extremely forgiving because I don’t know what the world was like back then. Yes, my ancestor was innocent in that incident where he died. Was he always innocent? Unclear.

I can’t think of many instances in which I would actually “be gay and do crime.” Well, at least until the Supreme Court takes me to my concentration camp.

Too dark? Fuck you, no it’s not. I’m not the only one warning of complete collapse. Remember when I was out in front of the Iraq war? Just one of those Portland libtards who turned out to be absolutelyfuckingright. Does this entry sound angry? It kind of is. But actually, don’t take all my ire as anger. It’s also abject fear, hoplessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Nothing is scarier to me than undoing progress.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Affirmative Action and the conservative supermajority is poised to overturn. Biden better pack that court IMMEDIATELY if he doesn’t want to be responsible for the downfall of all the human rights we’ve already won by the time he moves on. What a fustercluck. How sad is it that so many politicians are so popular in America and get elected easily, but because those votes didn’t come from a particular geographic location, it screws everyone in the country. So maybe do away with the Electoral College while we’re at it.

If gay marriage, Affirmative Action, Roe, and Griswold all fall (and they very well could), it points to overturning Lawrence v. Texas as well. You know, the laws that made gay sex illegal? If women have no right to abortion and no right to privacy, why do you not think gay sex won’t be on the chopping block? We’ll go back to being personified sin wishing we’d left when we had the chance. If you remember the entire world coming for Jews and gays, you better start digging that shit back up. I’m not going through that again, and I’m pretty sure the Jews are also with me on this, capiche? Get your shit together, United States.

God, I’m sure this could be signed by every minority in this country.

It’s also a sick, sick internal feeling to be white and a minority at the same time in the age of “White Fragility.” It does absolutelyfuckingnot (using it again because Heather likes it) feel like a picnic wanting to join “The Movement” and have half the black community be with us and the other half hate us so much. The Black Church is known for many, many things that are wonderful. They’re also known for treating the queer community like absolute shit.

I am not stupid enough to think that black and gay people are having the same experience of the United States. It’s not possible. But what I will say unapologetically is that even though our two paths diverge in the woods, if we each walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we can tell where they might pinch the other’s feet.

We are better together than we will ever be apart, especially as a voting monolith.

And I’m just going to leave that right there, because the truth bomb needs to sit awhile. What are we going to do? We don’t have the option to do nothing.

Now I’ve Done It

Once the Facebook scanners find you, it’s all over but the crying. Like I said, there is no recourse because “there aren’t enough people to manage content.” So, an Evangelical Christian came at me like the brain dead idiot into which she has willingly transformed. It was epic in terms of how close she was to getting the point. It was smacking her in the face the whole time. It was like my hand was on her head and she was windmilling her arms. The entire thread has been taken down, but ended with “you go and learn everything by rote…. come back to me when you have an original thought.” She came back with “is that the best you’ve got?”

Oh dear God.

I thought I was safe because my words were originally a bumper sticker. I said, “No. Jesus loves you, but I think you’re a bitch.” #bumperstickerwisdom And that’s how I got banned for a month less than two days after I got banned for a week. Between this and trying to win a cooking contest, I really feel like I’m getting my full use of the words “inciting violence.” But maybe not as much as I want, because if I’d come back at her with an original thought, I would have been in hell, not Facebook Jail. I am so mad at being cut off from my family and friends for that long, but I have absolutely no choice in the matter.

Aaaaaaanyway, these people drive me insane. They think the Bible is all about learning facts. Facts and the Bible are not really compatible after 2,000 years. Not only is it leaving science and medicine to their own devices by taking it literally, they’re missing out on a wealth of information spiritually by not taking it seriously. No true Jesus scholar would agree that learning your faith by memorizing scripture is a good ideea. It’s better to learn concepts.

My analogy for this is cooking (again).

I am a professional cook, yet I have only one true recipe. Even that was a wild guess at how much spice to put in the dish as I worked backwards. That’s because I understood the concept, but didn’t write down the facts. I innately know that fat supports heat, acid cuts fat, sugar neutralizes acid, acid neutralizes salt. Witth those combinations, you can make damn near anything. It’s all about choices. Let’s take one. Acid. Are you going to use citrus or vinegar? Well, how much fat are you trying to balance?

It is directly akin to my reading of the Bible. It comes in bites, I chew on it until I can swallow, and then I pass on my understanding, just like I did with the whole “concepts” thing. I had to cook thousands of times until I rose above the facts… so as it goes with the meticulous study of a book…… and it’s amazing how much The Bible and Le Guide Culinaire (Escoffier) have in common. The take home message in a professional kitchen is Old Testament “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” RAGE. Way, way before that, in order to become the best of the best, you work your way through the Luncheon Lectionary (yes, I did just make that up). You don’t read Le Guide from cover to cover, although you can. You skip around depending on what you need.

There are two types of people in the world. Those that can extrapolate assumptions from incomplete data…. #bumperstickerwisdom

The Art of War

I’ve gotten so many warnings on my Facebook account that I’m now banned for seven days, after a serious escalation in how long the bans last. It has cut me off from posting, sharing, or liking anything. Why did I get banned? Well, the last time was that a black girl called me “Raisin Potato Salad” and I took exception to that. I said, “if you’re going to talk to me about food and use it as an insult, FYI I’m from the South and a professional cook. We’re gonna throw down, and I’m going to kick your ass sideways.” Every single infraction is exactly like this one… empty threats and half-kidding. It is totally the former President’s fault. Facebook has turned on these industrial-sized content management machines that scan text for violence, and they’ve shut down every single way to get a real person to look at your account. Most of the periods you have to wait to get your case looked at last 30 days, so the ban expires before real eyeballs will sit down with you.

Once you are on their radar for “inciting violence,” you can’t get back off. The noose tightens, and there’s no recourse. Facebook doesn’t give a damn anymore. Instead of working on solving the problem, they simply tell everyone there aren’t enough people to review content, like they’ve just given up and you can die mad about it.

I’m letting everyone know about this so they can avoid saying things like “kick your ass,” because if I have any friends that don’t say it, I’m not close enough to them to know that.

At last count we were talking about Theresa. That relationship didn’t work out, and I’m sad about it. But for the first time, I’m glad that I called it early and didn’t run toward total bullshit like I normally do. She just didn’t get me, and that’s fine. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I needed to escape before I fell in love with her and I was completely screwed up inside. I’ve spent too many years alone to spend time thinking about a relationship that’s too hard, too early.

So, I waited about a week and then asked someone else out. I finally got mad (not at Theresa, I’m not like that). I yelled at myself. I said, “Leslie, LOSING YOUR MOTHER WAS HARD. GETTING A DIVORCE WAS HARD. ASKING A WOMAN OUT IS NOT HARD.” It was especially easy because I blocked Theresa immediately and deleted our entire conversation history.

It was not because I didn’t absolutely love her pictures and artistic flair to bits, it was that I knew seeing her face in my feed would hurt. I wanted to save myself from every single bit of it. When have I done that before? It was like learning music could change my mood from the inside out. I moved on so much easier because I didn’t give myself the opportunity to get more upset than I needed to be.

I made sure to let Theresa know that I didn’t block her because she did something bad, and I didn’t block her from using my phone number or my e-mail address. I haven’t heard anything, so I assume she’s protecting herself, too. There’s no way either of us said anything to really be angry about. In fact, I can write the experience off as a few weeks where I felt sublimely happy that only half belonged to “new relationship” dopamine. The rest was feeling myself come alive. Resurrection after “the long dark night of the soul.” In that way, there is much to encourage taking the win even though I technically lost.

She was a doll and it made me happy to blush and flirt. That’s enough, and I said as much in the last entry- that if it was only the last text of the day that belonged to her, I was satisfied.

But how did I win?

I really took care of this relationship in a way that I haven’t before. I never once used a statement that included the words “you made me.” I never once directly said or implied that anything she did caused my reactions. I think that’s the hardest part to learn in any relationship. Dana helped me learn that lesson, and I helped me expand on it.

It’s comforting and settling to remember Dana that way because it shows that we were a good team, and always will be, in a way. Especially when I’m asleep, we have coffee in my dreams or I take her to lunch… but we’re not dating. That thought literally made me cackle out loud and now the dogs are barking incessantly…. it’s a double entendre… both the idea that we’d ever start dating again AND the fact that in my dreams, I am still an Idealist and I’ve gamed all this out. I am going to die of asphyxiation. Send help.

However, in the end, I trusted my love for my friends more than I trusted Theresa. It wasn’t anything that they said. It was that I knew they loved me for me because they’d been around long enough to understand me at least as much as they were capable. I am not easy. I am a magical being, a sort of unicorn. At 45, I am finally coming into my power.

Let me explain. I am not living in a fantasy world. The dragons are only metaphorical, and Winter is Not Coming.

The reason why I am magic is that I am an INFJ. It is the rarest of all the personality types, ranging from 9-15% of the world’s population. Therefore, it is so rare that there are people out there who have never met one. I can directly compare myself to Jesus, who is historically thought of as INFJ, and Martin Luther King, JR., who actually was.

If there is a Biblical story I can relate to you so that you understand who I am, it is Moses… and to be clear this is not evangelism. I don’t care if you believe in God or not. Bible imagery is just a little more universal than other books.

Back to Moses. We’re not talking about Moses at the end of his life….. Charleton Heston and all that….. We’re talking about the teenager who killed the dude in the desert, the one that was approached by God to lead the Jews and his first reaction was “you really want my brother.”

Moses had to work through everything to claim who he was, and by the end of his life he had really owned himself. I hope to do the same, but right now being an Idealist is frightening and overwhelming. What happens is that I have the equivalent of an iCloud account in which there are like, seven billion phones backing up. The stream of images is relentless. Then, I get into a crowd, and the emotions of every person in the room are on full display, as well as past history because I can see trauma and trauma bonds.

If you’ve seen the movie MiBIII, you know what I mean because you’ve seen it in action….. Griffin does what I do.

The problem with personal relationships is that beginning them can be a right disaster. You can game out all the possibilities in front of you, they can’t and think you care about them a lot more than you do…. not that you won’t (you’ve gamed that out), but that you are trying to be prepared for all eventual outcomes and that doesn’t stop, ever, because Erik Erickson posits that the core personality is set by six years old.

So, you walk the line in terms of presenting yourself because you know if you impart everything you know, the other person will run like hell. They think you’ve gone from mildly interested to stalker in an afternoon.

….and only for the simple reason that they’ve never met an INFJ before. You know, if I’m the Idealist I claim, I probably should have seen those Facebook bans coming…. it’s comforting to know I didn’t see Donald Trump coming, either.

Letting Go and Letting Leslie

I know the phrase is “let go and let God.” However, I have never put myself first, and I believe the God is implied. Prayer is nothing without shoe leather. We’re a duo, not a Trinity. Jesus is the face I use the most often, but it comes as Middle Eastern. I choose Lebanese most often because the family I rent from hails from its mountains.

My landlady still has an incredibly thick accent and talks on the phone in Arabic often. When we’re in the same room, I look at her with admiring eyes. I’ve told her that I absolutely love listening in on her end of her phone calls, because I don’t know a lick of Arabic. I’m not invading her privacy, but still enjoying the lilt of the language. I’ve thought about learning Arabic many times, but haven’t started yet because it would ruin the magic.

I felt the same with my former housemate Nasim, who used to dazzle me with Farsi. Of course when she told me she was from Iran I practically jumped over two people to tell her that my favorite movie was Argo. She looked at me like, “typical American.” I wish I could tell her what has happened since then.

I could almost cry thinking about not making it to DC before Tony Mendez (spy who created the operation behind “Argo”) stopped making public appearances. He died before his last book, The Moscow Rules, came out. Two things about that, though. The first is that Tony got CIA’s approval to publish the day before he passed away, and the book was a collaboration with his wife, Jonna. Jonna was on book tour and gave a talk at the International Spy Museum, and afterwards, I looked her up and asked her to read one of my blog posts (The Spy in the Room). We’ve stayed in touch casually, and it’s been very rewarding.

Thinking about the scenario of telling Nasim all this is a schadenfreude that makes me giggle. I’ve been laughing a lot more these days.

I came to a fork in the road, and I chose light.

For nine years, I’ve dealt with the grief of losing people I still love in my memories due to being both alive and dead. Since I went to University of Houston I’ve dealt with medication that robbed me of any desire to be in a relationship unless someone broke through with enough force that I noticed. For almost a decade, I have avoided romantic relationships, because it was being willing to take a chance on upending the life I had carved for myself…. the one where I was just happy enough not to notice I wasn’t really happy. I was having good times, but not consistently enough because my dopamine receptors weren’t accepting applications.

I know this is going to sound strange, but I am now open to the idea of dating because of Queen Elizabeth II. I can hear you from here. “Say what now?” Hear me out. I’ll make it make sense.

I was watching a few short videos of Her Majesty’s funeral and for a split second, I considered my mortality. And that was all it took.

I thought to myself “this is how I’m going to tell that story for the rest of my life.” When I thought I was done, the Queen forced me to consider.the last time I had romance, making me feel old and rusty. Was I really going to die thinking I wasn’t enough?

So here I am, chatting in this Facebook group for women of my age and persuasion. My ego started getting stroked immediately, and I was dumbstruck. I am rarely speechless, but this broke me open even more. Part of the reason I’m not a joiner is that I think no one will like me. But several people told me I was cute, and it made me feel better about myself.

A few days later, many filtered down to one.

We’re getting married next week. (KIDDING. LESBIAN JOKE. KIDDING.)

I was going to end it there because it was more dramatic that way. But then I realized it had been a while since we’ve caught up and this isn’t really big news………… except for the fact that I opened my heart to her. That I was brave and she was endearing. That I could see myself having romance in my life when I couldn’t before…….. but I can’t say that we’ve met. Officially. This is because we’ve only chatted online, not in person.

She’s coming to visit in about two weeks, and then I’ll know if I actually have anything to tell you or not. The reason she’s not local and it’s still extremely early days of dating is that she’s on vacation from work and coming to DC, anyway. We met unofficially when she commented on my reply to a question from her about The District, so I’m glad this is not all about me (because Lord knows I love a staycation).

So far she’s a writer’s dream woman- unavailable most of the time. (Now I’m dying laughing picturing her reading this). However, she can leave her house in the morning and be at my house mid-afternoon/early evening, so it’s not like it’s an impossible situation. It’s just right for people who have only known each other as long as we have. We can entirely avoid that U-Haul stereotype through the cunning use of direct chat.

Actually, I take it back. I do have big news, and I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it before. I’m very excited to have someone in my life I view as a kindred spirit, so even if “it’s not there” in person, what does it matter? We write very well together, and that relationship could easily last our whole lives. I am constantly saying that friendship is underrated and this one is truly fantastic. I should have walked the walk before. If there’s anything I miss about being married or having a girlfriend the most, it’s companionship. I’m constantly looking for new ones so I don’t have to depend on the same one all the time.

We’re talking so easily and well that I’m not worried about going on a date to see if we click. The biggest part was stepping out of my comfort zone to join that group in the first place.

I have had a lot of guilt and shame over the way I treated Dana, and hurt at the way she treated me. Then, my mother died, and because one grief hadn’t ended before the next one started, they got lumped together and compounded. I shut down all of my emotions; the brain is an organ and it was doing everything it could to help us survive. My own thoughts and feelings comforted me because I had little outside contact.

I tried so hard to keep from hurting someone else that I forgot to love them, too.

Along the way, I began to take it into account that not 100% of the blame is mine (nor is it one partner’s in any relationship). After a while, I even believed it. Now, I am only talking about the part I do own.

Innately thinking I hadn’t done bad things, but that I was a bad person, I thought I was protecting women from me. That I was really doing them a favor. When the grief cleared into a fog thin enough to see, I learned that it was a lie my brain was telling me to protect me from getting hurt again. It was protecting me from another potential loss.

I’d forgotten what it was like to have a last text of the day. If that’s all it is, then I will still be extremely happy. I’ve learned to trust again, and go with the flow. Whether this is a temporary high or a daily habit is up for debate, though, and I haven’t been able to say that in sooooooo long.

It’s delicious knowing that something could be beginning, and that there is a defined date in the future in which I get to “go see about a girl.”

Here’s what I know so far. In pictures and on video chat, she’s really pretty. She’s been a social worker, and is now a chef. When she told me she was a chef, I had two reactions: “Oh, shit” and “this is fantastic!” These thoughts presented as “not another one” and “we will never shut up.” The fact that I have been married to a chef and have cooked professionally only made me wary for a half second, just because Dana was my best friend and I miss her on that level every day.

I don’t reach out because we have our peace and I’d like to keep it. Therefore, my knee-jerk reaction to umm… let’s call her Theresa (mostly because that’s her name) was that because we couldn’t shut up, this could be something. This could be more grief down the road. A chef? I could let a chef in. That wasn’t scary on its surface, but it was a red flag that this is someone I could let in enough for her to gut me. As a chef, she’d be quite good at it. Moreso because she writes plays and acts (shut up). This had the potential to be a major disaster, and my lemon of a brain almost made me miss it due to fear.

When we were chatting privately, I said, “I don’t know if you meant this to be a date or not, but I’d be open to it.” My stomach was in my mouth until she said “I didn’t know I wanted that until you asked.” Then we were off at the races planning a great and memorable first date. I excitedly told her that I was so glad she said yes, because “even if we don’t like each other or the restaurant catches fire, we’ll have good writing later. It’s a win-win situation.” I was and continue to be lucky that she laughs easily and often.

I think she has long auburn curls, she says that they’re only long compared to my hair. I see it all the time, especially in my dreams.

Like I said, it could be something. I just don’t really know yet. What I do know is that I have been unable to feel the possibility of dating open up until now. That is the real, and for now only story I’m telling. But that the story includes her real name because she said she wanted to be a real person here is telling.

Stay tuned.

Boobs! And Cupping!

Now that I have your attention, I must tell you in advance that this entry might be a bit boring. Or not. Looking at your own writing is a mixed bag. Unfortunately, what I’m writing about is not sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I mean, it should be. I’m not that old. Ok, I’m 44, and medical advice has changed. I didn’t think I’d be getting a mammogram for at least another year or two. Conventional wisdom has changed to over 40. I was officially NOT. IMPRESSED.

This is because I’ve heard so many horror stories about how much it hurts to have your boobs squished into a machine one at a time. Either the machinery has changed, or the women telling those stories were “jeweling the elephant.” In case you’ve never heard that term before, it comes from an Armistead Maupin novel called The Night Listener.

The main character talks about a friend who went to India for a wedding. It was small and intimate, but by the time the friend came back to the United States, the groom had ridden in on a jeweled elephant. Thus, a great phrase was born (the friend was not from Texas, but I assure you that Texans are not immune to this concept…. a three inch bass that had to be thrown back is a 12-inch keeper at the ice house). So what I’m saying is that it’s a strong possibility that the memory of the mammogram was maybe worse than the test itself. On the other hand, my previous point stands. Perhaps advances in mammography have led to the test being much less painful. I’m going to bet on that.

I felt pressure, certainly, but no actual pain (from the test itself…………………..). A few weeks ago, I fell and got a horrible muscle spasm in my back, bad enough to need muscle relaxers and a trip to an orthopedist and physical therapy twice a week. The hardest and most excruciating pain was just having to stand up for 10-15 minutes in a row.

I was also in a lot of emotional pain, because the date was my mother’s birthday. I haven’t felt the overwhelming grief of my mother dying in a long time (every day it’s a dull buzz that runs constantly in my head), but it surfaced mightily when I realized she couldn’t fly up to be with me, nor could I debrief with her over the phone. It was primal, four-year-old child “I want my Mommy.” Because here’s the thing. No matter whether you have family history of breast cancer or not (I don’t), what kind of breast tissue you have (mine is extraordinarily dense and required a couple of takes to get the test right), or whether the person doing the test has one year of experience or 20, the fact that it takes at least a week for the results to come back makes you nervous. You have thoughts that range from “I hope I’m okay” to “I’m probably dying.” I got them earlier this week and they were completely normal.

I also learned that I’m not interested in changing my pronouns or coming out again, but I had a moment of clarity in which I’d never felt more non-binary in my life. I was wearing my hair short and punk, had on both earrings and a cartilage piercing, and was dressed in men’s jeans and an old Ubuntu Studio t-shirt. I’d also brought my well-worn CIA baseball cap for after the test as my emotional support item. It makes me feel braver and stronger than I actually am.

As I was standing there naked from the waist up, I felt truly disconnected from my femininity. It was if my breasts had a life of their own, separate and of me at the same time. I was also completely focused on other things. My pain level was at a seven. I was trying to cover it up with jokes, which brought the pain down to a six and a half. I was also thinking constantly about how I had no idea what was happening most of the time (shut it).

And even though it was completely platonic and professional, I hadn’t been even partially naked in front of another woman for at least seven years, so that was uncomfortable as well… but not in terms of attraction. It was akin to changing in front of other women at a gym……. in seventh grade.

I told the technician that it was my first mammogram, and she said that I had come to the right place. She had 20 years of experience and would make everything as painless and easy as possible, plus, she REALLY loves her job. I said she’d have to, because no matter what the job is, you’d have to love it to do it that long. I made her laugh. Score. Witty rapport with her and endorphins for me.

I was drawn into her bubbly personality. I was wearing this (actually kind of cool) scrub top that tied in two places. She offered to let me drop one side of it at a time, but it unwieldy and time-consuming. I said, “would it be easier for both of us if I just took it off? If you’ve been doing this for 20 years, I’m going to bet you’ve seen a breast before.” She said that was the right answer and we’d be done much quicker.

The funniest part was that she adjusted the machine before I took my top off, and she said, “I have clearly miscalculated.” I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt, and the words of an old girlfriend floated through my head….. “awwww, you got the boobs I always wanted.” That moment of levity carried me through the rest of the test with ease in terms of erasing nervousness, and I think the laughter even brought down my pain more for a minute or so. The hardest part of the test was standing still for fifteen minutes.

A couple of days after the mammogram, physical therapy started. The first session was sublime, because all they did was have me lay on my stomach and massage me for almost an hour and a half. I thought they were all going to be like that.

Nope.

The second session started with 10 minutes on a bicycle to “warm up.” I am what you would call, as Jim Gaffigan says, “indoorsy.” I haven’t exercised in years. I learned something good about myself, which is that even though it had been a long time, it didn’t feel like my calves were going to drop off until the 10 minutes were up.

After that was when my problems really began to kick in. The whole idea is that my arthritis stems from a birth defect. It’s called retrolisthesis, and it occurs when a single vertebra slips and moves back along the intervertebral disc underneath or above it. The quickest way to fix it permanently is to surgically fuse the discs, but my doctor said to try Physical Therapy first and strengthen my core.

When I started those exercises, my other birth defects kicked in. I have a mild case of cerebral palsy, which hasn’t affected my brain or speech, but completely changes my movement and balance. I fall all the time. In fact, I fall so much that I’m bruised all over the place and can never match up which fall goes with which injury. So, of course, the first exercise was trying to balance on a board that sat atop a rubber ball. I could tell that my physical therapist thought I was exaggerating when I couldn’t do it, so I clued him in. He said, “I need you to try a little harder because this exercise is really, really important. Of course it was. And, of course, I was even more terrible at it when I felt under pressure to do well. I am a perfectionist, and any time I feel like I’ve done something less than perfectly, my anxiety kicks up and I feel like a total failure….. even in times where I get 70-80% right.

But this? Grading this would be a zero.

I also told my physical therapist that I saw a treadmill, an eliptical, and a bike, and to never, ever put me on the eliptical, even if God himself came down and told him it was okay. My balance is so off that I fell off the first time I used it. Thinking I just didn’t know how to use the machine, I tried it three more times, which led to (you guessed it) three more falls.

Two weeks ago, we also tried cupping. Apparently it’s supposed to increase the blood flow around your injury, allowing it a better chance to heal itself. I would be willing to try it again, but the first time all I felt was weirdness. Like, the strangest sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. Like other things, though, perhaps it takes more than one session to feel like it helped. But we haven’t done it again. I’ve laid on my stomach and used electrostim with either heat or ice.

The most frustrating part of all this is twofold. The first is that the physical therapy is helping, but I’m not getting better very fast. The second is that the longer I’m in pain, the more my mental health suffers, because nothing in my body feels good. My psych meds and the muscle relaxers help, but like my physical pain, I’m not getting better very fast. Also, don’t tell my doctor, but I’m cheating. She said that she’d like me to take the muscle relaxers instead of NSAIDS because the NSAIDS might make my acid reflux worse. After a week of that bullshit, I bought four bottles of omeprazole and a year’s worth of Aleve. Along with my back pain, I’ve had arthritis in my hands since I was 30, and my knees have been 44 since I was 19. All of it has to do with working in a kitchen. In college, I was a waitress. When I was older, I became a cook. The repetitive strain injuries have mostly gone away, except for the times when I’m typing like a madman. The arthritis is here to stay. Pretty sure it’s osteo and not rheumatoid, because my knuckles/fingers look normal.

That being said, my stepmother is a rheumatologist and a lot of her patients are women my age…. so of course I’m a tiny, tiny bit paranoid about developing an autoimmune disease.

The upside of all this is that my friends have been amazing, checking in on me a lot and offering to rub my back with Voltaren cream or Icy Hot. It lightens my mood, because since I’m perpetually single (by choice), the one bad thing about it is that I am continually touch-starved…. just not right now.

Next week I’m getting a different massage therapist while my current one goes to visit his family in Tehran. I nearly fainted when he said that because Argo is my favorite movie of all time and space. I joked with him. I said, “could you take a picture of the bazaar for me? I don’t have one without Ben Affleck in it.”

And then we laughed so hard I almost fell over……………………..

Why I Eat Mostly Plants

This morning I had a vegan breakfast burrito that seemed larger than my actual stomach. Turns out, it was. I ate half of it before I tapped out. I got it from “The Impossible Shop” in Bethesda, where their burgers and burritos were buy one, get one free. I didn’t spend much, and I got four meals out of it. As I was eating, I realized I could write about it. Here, in no particular order, are the reason plant-based eating appeals to me:

  • I get to pay the ADHD tax up front.
    • Plant-based food can sit in my refrigerator much longer than meat. I had to ask myself what was better…. protein that would spoil in my refrigerator quickly if I forgot about it, or protein I would actually get around to eating? I started stocking my freezer with veggie burgers that took a few minutes in the microwave, or 20 minutes in a saute pan if I was feeling fancy and wanted to crisp them up. I stocked my fridge with veggie hot dogs, cashew cheese, and soy-based cream cheese. I’m pretty sure that if Whole Foods stopped carrying veggie dogs, vegan cream cheese, and hot sauce I’d be dead by now (here, have the recipe for a really great hot dog). As a lifelong sufferer of ADHD, I generally don’t realize I’m hungry until I need food right the hell now. The ADHD tax is that my groceries are a little more expensive, but not horribly so.
  • It’s healthy.
    • Hear this, and hear it well. You are not going to save many, if any calories on a plant-based diet, and it’s a huge misconception. However, what you do get is less saturated fat and more vitamins if you actually eat vegetables. It’s possible to be vegan and not eat them, getting by on Impossible burgers, sausage, etc. But if you’re willing to eat the rainbow along with it, you get superfood. A lot of nights, I will make salad mixed with lentils and rice, add dried fruit like cranberries or cherries, and use a handful of walnuts or pecans for protein. I found rice and lentils that take 90 seconds in the microwave…. and by salad, I usually get mise already prepared. Chopped red onion, carrots, Brussels sprouts, etc. You might be shocked that I’ve cooked professionally, have acceptable knife skills, and still buy the mise (short for mise-en-place, French for “everything in its place,” and means preparing your ingredients to throw in a pan/rice cooker/etc. beforehand), but remember…. ADHD TAX. Do I need veggies I can use quickly or veggies that will spoil because I won’t remember I need prep time? The ADHD tax is less than the amount I would spend throwing whole veggies in the trash.
  • Plant-based is better for my mental health.
    • Between ADHD, depression, and anxiety, I will never (get to) go off meds in my life. They’re chronic conditions. However, eating superfood helps keep them at bay. My diet is the supporting actor. I also buy vegan meal replacement shakes and tiny vegan chocolate milks to drink with my meals because they’re fortified with all the vitamins I skip while cooking, particularly B and D (they help especially in the winter). When I get really, really depressed and anxious, I sometimes develop a block on eating, and both ensure I still get calories.
  • I propagate less animal cruelty.
    • Michael Pollan’s mantra is “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I’ve taken it to heart, and only eat dairy sparingly and meat a few times a year. I have found that as I get older, I have less and less tolerance for lactose, and sometimes get mild stomach upset with meat. But I’m not going to become so fanatical about my diet that it affects other cooks. I don’t want anyone to bend to accommodate me. What we’re having is what we’re having. But eating less meat is better than having it for every meal. Pollan’s other mantra is “don’t eat anything that your great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food.” Though I’d have to explain cashew cheese, it wouldn’t be too foreign… you can make it as easily in your home kitchen as they did with whole milk and cheesecloth. I also don’t want to feel bad about the very occasional Nashville Hot Chicken or piece of bacon. I just don’t buy it for home use.
  • Plant-based eating made cooking exciting again.
    • I already know my way around a kitchen using traditional ingredients over and over (and over and over). Figuring out substitutions, learning to make alternative junk food, and trading recipes on the Internet sparked my creativity in the kitchen, and I wasn’t bored anymore. I can make a mean vegan macaroni and cheese or Alfredo sauce. Pastry with olive oil is delicious. I don’t bake (different skill set), so I generally buy pastry and cakes, but I know from experience in eating them that I won’t eat non-vegan desserts unless I’m at someone else’s house and that’s what’s offered. Vegan desserts are just too amazing to ignore, or to skip eating because “they’re gross” and you’ve never even tried one. Girl, please.

My diet is entirely based on Anthony Bourdain, and I’d like to believe he’d be proud of me. His disdain for vegans and vegetarians was LEGENDARY (LEGENDAIRY?), so my mantra comes from him. “When you reject other people’s food, you reject them, because their hospitality is deeply rooted in their culture and family.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. I accept other people’s gifts as well as I do my own. However, it’s rare that other people cook for me. Most of the time, I’m on my own, and I have to cook food that aligns with my values… the biggest of which is paying the ADHD tax on the front end instead of owing more on the back end.