Monday, April 2, 2018

30 Years of COMFORTABLE


Relationships are strange.  So many factors involved: what is their purpose, how much energy must be devoted to them, what do we get out of them…  I confess that I am not the type of person to over-examine things, relationships included.  I hear of friends writing PLANS, 5 or 10 year schedules, for their lives and relationships.  You aren’t going to find such a plan on my laptop (or in one of the many half-used legal pads laying around the house). 

I guess what I am trying to say is: I happened on a relationship that somehow just works.  It works without a real PLAN.  It works with very sporadic disputes.  It works without much fuss or caretaking – it just works.  And trust me, I know how lucky that is.

Springtime in DC - trees are starting to bloom
I realize I am (we are) fortunate to have somehow stumbled on each other 30 YEARS AGO.  Yesterday (Easter) was our 30 year anniversary.  We celebrate the anniversary of the day we began dating, which seems more special (and momentous) to us than the day we actually got married (which we also celebrate, because celebrating is fun, but does not hold as much value in my heart).  Our first date (way back when) in Rochester, New York was the night before Easter, 1988.  We went out to dinner, grocery shopping, and then watched (VHS) movies.  And actually, we really haven’t been apart since that night!  I mean, sure, we have often been PHYSICALLY apart – David taught in Paris and I stayed in the states for a long time, I often go on work trips without him, etc. – but our hearts pretty much got “knit together” that night.  So, every Easter we celebrate our anniversary (and, since Easter is a “rolling holiday” on the calendar, so is our anniversary).

Shhh, don't tell Fannie Mae, but we climbed over a little gate to take photos by their amazing flowering trees.
Anyway, neither of us had planned anything for this anniversary.  I felt sort of sad about that – I mean 30 years seems like a big number that should have some grand activity attached to it, no?  A trip, making a painting together, a romantic hike, at the very least cooking a fancy meal.  But we hadn’t even gotten it together to get groceries to cook…  I was a bit down about that as I got dressed for the day.

“What to wear for a 30th anniversary?”, I wondered.  As I pulled out undergarments, I found a fancy, lacy pink and lilac bra that I could not ever remember wearing.  Yes, that had to come out of the drawer for this big anniversary!  A dainty, lacy bra.  Oh, and those fancy pink panties that haven’t been worn in years, I should wear those, too.  Ok, so maybe there was not a big plan of events for the day, but at least I would know that underneath whatever I decided to put on, I would be a lovely date.

Then to the closet to finish getting dressed.  I wanted to wear a new, pretty peach sweater, but it was chilly out and I didn’t want to be cold all day…  Nix that idea, swap the pretty peach for a warmer, boring basic grey…  But wait, once I pulled that on, all of the sudden the fancy bra looked silly – lacy bumps and lumps…  And TIGHT, it felt tight.  Ouch.  And those gorgeous undies, under my leggings and skirt they felt restrictive and uncomfortable… 

It didn’t take long for me to decide to do a complete re-do in the undergarments department.  The lacy bra was swapped out for my usual, cozy one, and the same for the underwear.  I might not be the sexiest date, but I would be a COMFORTABLE one!

And that’s when I giggled.  I marched into the bathroom and told the whole story to my date, who takes hour long showers so of course was still in the steamy warm bathroom.  “David, I think our relationship works so well because it is COMFORTABLE,” I declared.  He poked his head out of the shower and listened to my analogy of the underwear and our love life.  I think he agreed with me – we fit together because we are comfortable.  We are not fancy.  We may be not pretty.  But I tell you what – whether I am sitting next to him on the sofa, driving around with him looking for a parking spot in DC, or walking to the post office together – I am comfortable.

Me and my comfortable love (in our backyard on our 30th anniversary)
And comfortable, to me, is happy. 

Happy 30th anniversary my love.  My comfortable, funny love.

30 years is a lot to celebrate!!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life Lesson From A Rock

We had a scare yesterday.

Well, WE didn’t exactly, but David did. 

And I guess that is what made it so scary.  David is unflappable.  He does not really get frightened.  We can be in the middle of a huge rally or gathering, or a situation that is escalating, where I sense the potential for danger, and David remains calm and collected, never flinching.

But yesterday he panicked.  And his reaction has made me reflect.

First, the story:  for the last year or so I have wanted to PAINT ROCKS.  It is a trend – people paint rocks and then hide them for unsuspecting strangers to find.  It started as a kindness act – bring a little sunshine into someone’s life.  But it has become a bit of an “in group” thing now – people paint super fancy, beautiful rocks, then give their fellow rock painters hints at where they are hiding them, at which point hordes of collectors descend upon the hinted at location and score pretty treats. 

I know this much about “rocking” because I am part of a Facebook community in Florida about the activity, not because I have ever actually DONE it.  Until yesterday!

David and I have both been off work and in Florida, but SICK.  We have hung around the house, slept a lot, and played Parcheesi and UNO, and visited a dying neighbor daily.  Those things, while nice, are not exactly the way that I normally choose to use my time away from work (except the part about visiting the neighbor, I am grateful that we get to do that).  I was healing from my cold/sore throat/cough, but developing CABIN FEVER, so yesterday I took us on our first ever rock hunt in a park!

The problem was, David is still sick (blowing his nose every ten minutes or so) and lethargic, and it was actually COLD for Florida (around 50 degrees).  The other slight problem was that David thought we were just heading out for an errand (cuz I hadn’t told him of my plan to also go rocking…) so he didn’t bring a sweater or coat…

But he went along with my plan, and after the errand we parked and started walking around a cold, gray Florida park looking for rocks. 

I found my first ever painted rock, hidden at the base of a tree, relatively quickly.  I must confess that I was disappointed – it was a simple rock with only a bit of red and green painted on it. The rocks I had seen photos of in the group were amazing – mermaids, sea scenes, elaborate animals, funny characters, and mandalas (my favorites).  The one I found didn’t hold the charm or beauty that I had anticipated, but I accepted it as my “first rock”, put it in my pocket, and set about finding others.

My first ever found painted rock (so far the only...)
As we hunted, David and I went different directions.  It was organic – we were both looking down for rocks and just walked apart.  As I hunted I walked further and further.  I kept seeing things that looked (to my beginner’s eye) like “perfect” spots to hide the most beautiful rocks, so I got drawn in and kept wandering.  I guess I presumed David was doing the same thing.  I turned to look for him and couldn’t see him (wrapped in a purple blanket he found in the car I thought he would be easy to spot).  But I just figured he was hunting in another area.  We were the only people in the park (regular Floridians don’t want to hang out outside when it is cold, they have more sense than that).

When I had wandered all the way to the other edge of the park I turned to look for my purple blanketed best friend again.  I couldn’t see him, but saw a car with headlights pulling into the park.  At first I was excited to think that maybe it was a rocker coming to hide some gorgeous new rocks, but then I recognized the headlights and knew it was David.  “Oh good,” I thought, “He has gotten back into the car to stay warm.  I will just hunt a couple of more minutes then head back to the car”. 

So, I looked through some old dead trees (they have great crevices that look like good spots for hiding, but no luck).  And I looked by some park benches (maybe hide some for older people who can’t walk far in the park to find- but no luck).  And I wandered back to where I had seen our car park.

Along the way back, I got spooked a couple of times, but nothing out of the ordinary. 

When I was just a few steps away from the car I turned around to see David RUNNING towards me.  RUNNING.  He was sick with a cold, had no energy, and it was cold.  And he was RUNNING to me.  I couldn’t figure out why – but as he ran up to me his face looked both petrified and relieved at the same time.  When I asked why he was running, he explained that when he looked around and couldn’t find me he had feared I had been attacked.  I didn’t have my cell phone with me.  He was afraid I was beaten up and lying in some bushes.  So, he had run the entire park, screaming my name (which I had not heard), looking for me in a panic.

It was so strange for me to hear this coming from him.  He never fears things like this.  In our 30-some years together I didn’t remember this type of situation ever occurring.  I felt awful for making him worry!

Then I realized, how he was thinking was MY way of thinking...  How many times in my life had I been afraid like that, not afraid enough to run and scream, but afraid enough to panic.  Afraid enough to walk faster to get out of the situation (avoiding running to not make myself look more obvious and, I feared, put a bigger target on my back).  Afraid enough to make a “pretend phone call” so it looked like I was not alone.  Afraid enough to change directions and alter my plans to avoid what looked like a dangerous situation…

As we got in the car and calmed down, I walked through (out loud) the incidents that had happened while I was in that park that I registered in my brain as potentially dangerous, and the ACTION PLANS I instinctively created to protect myself.  There had been a group of men standing in a line near a bathroom or public park shelter.  I noticed them and put myself on high alert.  I was a woman walking alone – they were a group of unknown men, the only other people in the park.  What were they doing there?  Why were they in a line?  Did they have bad intentions??  Should I turn around and not go in front of them, or would that draw more attention to myself? 

I walked on a bit quicker until I passed them.

In another part of the park I heard talking, voices, and I had not seen anyone else.  I perked up – on alert to figure out where the voices were coming from and if they posed danger…

While walking back to the car, I saw a man shaking out a beach towel.  He looked unkempt.  Why did he have a beach towel in a park?  It wasn’t sandy here, why was he shaking it out?  He also had a backpack…  Was he dangerous???  I had to walk in front of him, quite closely, to get to the car.  I made a mental plan – walk fast, but not fast enough to look scared, never look scared.  No, just look ahead (don’t make eye contact, though sometimes my mental plan is to do the opposite and MAKE eye contact, so they know I have seen them…) and keep walking.  Chin up, shoulders back, look strong.  I didn’t have my cell phone, which scared me knowing there was no chance to call for help if he did something.  But I could see the car, and knew David would be in it keeping warm.  If needed I could RUN to the car.  “But what if David is NOT in it?” my mind worried.  “Wait, I have my car keys!” I reasoned.  As long as I could make it to the car and touch the door handle, it would unlock even if David wasn’t there.  I would jump in and lock the doors as fast as I could, keeping the man out.

This is the mental plan I made as I walked.

This is what I thought.

This is what I have to think.

Of course, like most situations, the man posed no actual threat to me.  But as a woman walking alone, my mind knew I needed to be prepared. 

When I got to the car, David was running up behind me, out of breath and pale.  He explained his fear, and I felt horrible for frightening him so much.  Then as we talked and I took time to think back through what I had thought and felt as I walked alone.  I rarely think back and “unpack” all of that baggage, it all just seems natural and instinctual to me.  It feels as if I HAVE to do those mental gymnastics, stay alert and on edge, to keep myself safe.  Maybe David’s huge panic on this day was his version of my mental planning and being frightened for my entire adult female life.

After a while I decided to listen to the voice mail he left me when he got scared.  I don’t think I have ever heard his voice sound like that, and again, I felt awful for causing him that much stress.  But I also felt grateful.  Grateful that I have a partner who is willing to run for me, hunt for me, scream for me. 

An old photo of me and my amazing partner on Ormond Beach at sunrise.  In talking things through, I realize that
Ormond Beach is one of the few places on earth that I normally feel safe and comfortable walking alone.
 And I felt angry.  Angry that when I am out in the world, I have to always have some sort of guard up to keep myself safe.  And angry that I know I am not the only one.  I think most women, if they were to think about their interaction with the world and think back through their thought patterns of a day, would have the same mental plans that I do. 

Try it.  Take a day, or hell, take an hour.  Rewind your brain.  Did alarm bells go off?  Did you feel unsafe?  Did you take action?  Did you change what you had planned to do, even in some small way, because of potential or perceived danger?  Did you PLAN for what MIGHT happen?

It is exhausting.  Constant watching, waiting, listening, looking, thinking, planning…  Exhausting.   

We are going to go hunting for rocks again, but this time we will hunt together.  So that plan has been made.  But there will be countless other times when I am walking alone in the world that I get scared.  I will keep my guard up.  I will make mental plans.  But maybe now I will be better able to rewind and think about it all at day’s end.  Maybe if I unpack a bit and see how the plans were not necessary, how I was safe all along, I will be able to let down my guard a bit. 

But I don’t know that I will ever truly feel SAFE.  I can’t imagine a time when I could be alone in the world as a woman and not pay attention.  Can you?  Do you? 

Exhausting. 


#MeToo

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hold the Champagne

I guess I have always been a feminist.  A feminist in the sense that I believe that all genders are equal. The older I get, the more deeply I believe that, and the less I care about people who judge me for it.

Apparently this is what a feminist looks like while watering the garden
I am also a democrat, and a believer of many of the ideals the democratic party supports: women’s right to choose, gun control, health care as a human right, equal rights for all, etc.



The night before the election at a big rally in Virginia
In the 2016 presidential election I was unabashedly on TEAM HILLARY.  I had a big yard sign.  I sported t-shirts. I watched the debates (and played debate BINGO).  I was all in. 

Ready for GOP Bingo - early on in the campaigning season
Peace, Love, Hillary
(canvasing with my partner 2 days before the election - we knocked on 49 doors and talked to 59 people)
I live in Arlington, VA, very near DC, and on election day, November 8th , I had a job in town.  When work was done I made my way to the White House and stood in front of it in my pantsuit, worn specially for the occasion.  I cried.  I could just feel the energy!!  I knew this was the day – this was it!  Hillary was going to be president.

Pantsuit on, White House ready (I thought...)

Casting my ballot later that evening - more tears.
But these were HOPEFUL tears, tears of CONVICTION and belief
I didn’t know it yet as I stood in the sunshine at the White House, but as the day and night wore on it became more and more apparent that the history I had been so confident would happen was not to be.  Like so many people across the country, I stayed up staring at the TV until the wee hours of the morning.  I bawled.  My mouth hung open in shock and amazement for most of the night.  I could not believe what was happening.

The next morning dawned and I woke up with a puffy face and red eyes.  Obviously, life went on.  It took a few days for it all to sink in.  I did some serious soul searching, and I realized something:

I knew all along that I was not voting for Hillary because she was a woman.  I feel that many people who voted for the other candidate voted for him because he was NOT a woman (i.e. – he was a man…), but I honestly believe that Hillary’s gender was not the defining factor for me when considering for whom to cast my vote.  No.  I voted for Hillary because she was the most qualified candidate, the person who would do the best at the monumental job she was “applying” for. 

But in those days after the election, it hit me.  We have never, ever had a female president.  I mean, obviously I knew that fact, but once Hillary lost, it hit me hard.  We have NEVER elected a woman.  Never

59 other countries have elected a woman to lead them.  The list is long and includes places like India, France, Pakistan, Brazil, and Liberia.  How can all of these countries – 59 of them – have believed more in equality than the United States??  Is that not a bit horrifying to you?

I didn’t realize until after the election how important it is to me to have someone in authority who is like me.  A woman. Every man who voted in the 2016 election, and every man who has ever voted in this country, knows the feeling of having a leader who is in some fundamental way like him.  And every single woman in our country does not know that feeling. 

But I WILL know that feeling.  Someday, the misogyny in our country will be beaten.  A woman will rise to the highest level, and I will likely cry again.    

And when that happens, I will open this bottle of champagne that I bought to celebrate as we watched the 2016 election returns come in.  I haven’t open it yet, didn’t have any reason to.  But today, almost 10 months after the election, I finally made a sign to place on it and tied it on.  I squirreled the bottle away for safe keeping.

This champagne will wait.  But it, and I, will be READY.
And when the day comes that a WOMAN is elected PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, I will open that champagne with such glee.  I will drink and laugh and cry and shout.  And if this election takes years and years and years to come to fruition, and if the champagne has gone off and tastes horrible by then, I will still laugh, and cry, and DRINK IT.  Because there will be reason to celebrate.

And if I do not live to see that beautiful future November day, then you can bet a female relative or friend will have my bottle of champagne in front of them and will open it and make a toast to history and to women.  Because you better believe that even though that champagne was not expensive, it is DEAR, and it will be passed down in my will if need be.  So sisters, friends, niece, great-niece – whoever ends up with this bottle should I not have reason to drink it in my lifetime – do me a favor, make a toast and shed a tear for me on that historic day.





Friday, May 12, 2017

A Living Rose


These roses are my mom.

Summer 2014 - roses and bees
Not my actual, real life mother, of course.  But they are part of her.  They are, in my mind, a living breathing reminder that she spent time on this earth.  That she smiled.  That she loved me.  And that she is gone.

They were her roses – one of several bushes planted in my parents’ back yard in Omaha.  My dad was taking them out around 12 years ago and I carefully lugged one from Nebraska to Virginia, in the hopes that it would survive and I could plant it.  It worked.  And now, each spring it blossoms. 

This year's blooms
It doesn’t make the prettiest flowers – they are a bit scrawny and don’t have many leaves.  The roses do not have a scent, which always disappoints me.  Then stems are short so they are hard to cut and bring indoors.  And the they have some very wicked thorns – I have been cut by them many times. 

But for all of those shortcomings, I still look at the bush and smile every spring when ROSES APPEAR.  I am sure if my mom was still around she would have replaced this rather beat up rose bush years ago.  But she is gone, and the roses remain in my yard as a reminder of HER. 

I share this story to encourage you to keep a LIVING part of your loved ones when they are gone.  Instead of only holding onto remembrances like tea cups or photos, try and keep something that “breathes”, that lives.  Keep a plant, a tree, a rose bush…  I am inspired each spring when Mom’s roses bloom, and I imagine that you will get the same joy out of keeping a living thing from your loved one, too. 

Such beauty, and such a sweet reminder
Of course, this plan has a major pitfall:  at some point, the living remembrance item is going to die.  That’s inevitable and must be accepted.  I went through that a couple of years ago when a beautiful plant I kept from my mom’s funeral died.  I was quite upset, and when I tried to figure out why I realized that somehow I was trying to “keep my mom alive” by keeping that plant green.  And when the plant died, I felt like a failure, like I had failed my mom.  I was really depressed about it.  But, it did teach me a lesson, and I feel like now I can be happy and celebrate the last tiny living “piece of my mom”, the rose bush, while it is here, and am better ready to deal with the reality that someday it, too, will die.

So there you have it – Susan’s “helpful tip” for dealing with grief I guess:  keep some LIVING thing.  And when it blooms (or fruits or sheds or whatever it does), you will be reminded of your love, and you will smile.


(If you want to read the other piece I wrote about the plant from my mom’s funeral, you can see it here: Learning Acceptance (link)


Friday, April 21, 2017

The Elusive Search for Impossible Perfection

I think we all do it, really, in some form or the other.  We search for perfection.  Some people dream of a perfect BODY – curves in all the right places and nary a wrinkle.  Some people hunt for the perfect mate – someone who fits every idealized fantasy they can imagine. 

Me – sometimes I catch myself running after the perfect EXPERIENCE…

I did it tonight, and when I realized what was happening, I had to laugh.

Here’s the deal – perfection doesn’t EXIST.  There is no perfect body, no perfect mate, no perfect family, no perfect house, or perfect life.  And there is no perfect experience

Have you ever tried to do that – ensure that you will have the perfect experience??  If you can look at it from the outside, from a bird’s eye view, you will see how utterly ridiculous it is.  How about this one: trying to make the PERFECT HOLIDAY!!  You buy the biggest, fullest Christmas tree.  You decorate it with gorgeous ornaments.  You bake the fanciest of cookies. You buy the very best gifts and wrap them with the most beautiful paper.  But it will not be PERFECT.  Someone will end up with the flu and have to stay in bed instead of opening presents.  The sweater you give to your uncle will be the wrong size.  One of your guests will be allergic to nuts and unable to eat what you prepared.  IT WON’T BE PERFECT, trust me!  I think that is one reason people get so stressed around the holidays – they want, no, they EXPECT everything to be perfect, and it never is!

Here is what happened one year when my partner David and I tried to give his mother the PERFECT Christmas, the Christmas we knew would be her last one on earth:
Instead of the artificial Christmas tree his parents owned and always used, we went and got a “perfect” one.  A live one, so that the house would smell of pine.  We set it up in the living room as his parents watched, wondering why we had wasted money on a tree when there was a good plastic one in the basement.  When it was decorated, David and I stepped back and marveled at the beauty.  Then we all went to bed and in the middle of the night heard a very loud CRASH as the tree, which had been so large we had to TIE IT with string to a curtain rod to hold it up (cuz bigger is better, more PERFECT, right???) CRASHED TO THE FLOOR.  The water from the tree stand leaked all over the hardwood floor and even stained it a bit.

Not to be derailed in our goal of a perfect last Christmas, we got a bunch of little brown paper bags and secretly made luminaries by cutting pretty shapes into the bags, putting in a bit of sand for weight, and putting tea light candles in each one.  When the coast was clear, we snuck into the front yard, put all the luminaries out, lit each candle so they would glow, rang the doorbell, then quickly hid from view!!!  As David’s mom opened the door, we quietly sang a lovely Christmas carol.  WHAT AN EXPERIENCE, RIGHT???  The snow, the luminaries glowing, our melodic (if slightly out of tune) voices serenading her…  Ahhhhh…  Her response??  “E-gads!  It is freezing out there!  Come inside, you are gonna catch cold!”.

A blurry (far less than perfect) photo of our failed attempt at the perfect last Christmas
Perfect, right?

Another time I remember that we (I guess it is “I” really, and David is willing to race alongside me) believed that if we tried hard enough, we would have the PERFECT EXPERIENCE was a sunset in Key West, Florida.  Everyone in Key West told us that a person “needed” to see sunset at Mallory Square.  I mean, Mallory Square was the place to watch the sunset.  From the sound of things, if you didn’t witness the sun set from Mallory Square, why, you were nothing and had wasted every penny you spent coming to the southernmost point of the United States!!!  So, “sunset at Mallory Square” went on my to do list, of course!!!  We had a busy day of fun, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about the end goal, the perfect sunset, and watching the clock.   So, when it was almost time, we drove to the much hyped location. 

Only, everyone ELSE had gotten the memo, too, so parking was nowhere to be found…  We drove around and around and finally settled on a spot that was quite far away.  And you know what that means – A FOOT RACE TO GET TO SUNSET PERFECTION!!!!!  We took off (well, I took off, and David followed…).  I was not going to miss that sunset, damn it!!!  We raced down cute little streets, past adorable ice cream shops, with one goal in mind – P-E-R-F-E-C-T  S-U-N-S-E-T.  Of course, as we raced, the sun was doing its own racing… 

So, by the time we got to Mallory Square, there was only a tiny bit of sunset left. 

A tiny bit of SUNSET, but a LARGE MASS OF HUMANITY!  Everyone and their brother was there, making it impossible to see the sunset!!!

FOILED!

This is David.  At the legendary PERFECT SUNSET in Key West.  With every other tourist in the world.
Lucky for us, in situations like that we often see the humor instead of the sadness.  I mean, seriously, how many gorgeous sunsets have we seen in our lives already, what the hell made us think this one was going to be even more perfect than the others we had witnessed??? 

Sunset in Washington DC when the Washington Monument was covered in scaffolding - pretty!

Sunset in San Diego at Balboa Park - gorgeous!

Sunset in Tel Aviv - amazing!!!

Sunset at the Air Force Monument in DC - stunning
Sunset in KEY WEST, on the same vacation as the huge sunset failure described above:  beautiful,
but NOT in the PERFECT location of Mallory Park.  :) 
Anyway, I was reminded of this elusive search for impossible perfection on my walk tonight.  The reason I was reminded, not surprisingly, is that I had fallen into the trap again.  The last few years I have had a project to take one photograph of the same thing every day.  The first year I photographed my bed, whatever bed I woke up in, first thing in the morning*.  This year, I am shooting my HAND.  So, I brought my camera on a walk this evening to take today’s hand photo.  As soon as I stepped out the door I saw some gorgeous clouds with pink and orange light glowing behind them.  I knew I wanted THOSE to be the backdrop for my hand!!  Only, I wanted it to be perfect, see…  I didn’t want any roofs or electrical lines blocking the beauty…  So, I walked in the direction of the clouds.  I walked…  And walked…  All the while hunting for an unobstructed view to take this perfect hand photo with glowing clouds.

And, like in Key West, as I walked, the sun was setting, and the pink and orange colors were fading. 

There wouldn’t BE an unobstructed, perfect view.  Because this is REAL LIFE, and real life is not perfect

So, I stopped in the middle of the street.  I laughed out loud at this insane search for perfection.  And I put my dumb hand in the air and took a picture. 

There.  Photo for the day completed.  MY H AND.
I guess my point is – don’t waste your time trying to make things perfect.  In the end, the time will have been wasted and perfection will not have been found anyway.  ENJOY the pink clouds while they are there, because soon enough, the sun will set.  

(Link to the story and video of my first "Photo Everyday Project" - Bed a Day

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Change of Perspective


I got rear ended the other night.

I was driving home, through DC, and stopped at a red light.  The car behind me was also stopped.  Only, then it WASN’T stopped, and it bonked (quite hard) right into me. 

I was startled.  I jumped out to see what had happened, who had hit me.  The guy was still sitting in his car, so I walked up to his window, which he opened.  “What?”, was his response.  “What???  Umm, you just HIT ME, that’s what!”.  What followed was an exchange where he insisted it was “nothing” and I insisted that he had HIT MY CAR.  He got more and more irate, and I got more and more ticked off.  He said, “Yeah, I looked at my phone”. 

Look, I am no angel.  I look at my phone at red lights, too.  And I do not know why he decided to step on the gas, just because he was looking at his phone, but for some reason he must have (or perhaps taken his foot off the brake, but he hit me pretty hard so it felt like gas…). 

So there I stood, at 10:30 PM, in the dark, at the intersection of 18th and New Hampshire NW, staring at a guy who ran into me and was basically yelling at me from inside his vehicle.  When he saw I was not backing down he ordered me to, “Pull over there!!!  Pull over there!”.  But before I did that, I returned to my car, got my phone, and took a photo of his license plate.  “What are you doing?  I said PULL OVER THERE!” he man-hollered at me.  I looked him in the eye and said, in my meanest voice, “I AM GOING TO PULL OVER THERE.  BUT I AM NOT SURE IF YOU ARE GOING TO PULL OVER THERE.  AND SO I AM TAKING A PHOTO OF YOUR LICENSE PLATE…”. 

A car with 2 young guys pulled around us at that point with their windows open.  They heard me talk loudly to the man and saw me take the photo.  Part of me thought I should say to them, “Excuse me!  This man does not seem all that nice…  Do you mind pulling over and staying with me a minute or two while I get his insurance information, just in case he decides to beat me up or something???”.   But I didn’t say anything to them, and they kept driving.

So, I followed the guy’s instructions, I “pulled over there”.  He finally exited his vehicle and repeated his claims about it being “nothing”.  I asked for his insurance information, and this ticked him off more.  “IT IS NOTHING!!  What are you doing?  You are trying to take ADVANTAGE, aren’t you??  Aren’t you????” he quizzed me. 

I was nervous.  It was dark.  My car had been hit.  A stranger was yelling at me.  He had admitted it was his fault.  I was tired.  I took his insurance card that he handed me from his wallet and took a photo of it.  His name was Aldo.  His license plate was from Maryland.  He drove a 2015 Hyundai.  And then, as we both stood on the street, his demeanor got a little nicer.  He kept repeating it was no big deal, I was exaggerating, and asked to see my insurance card, too, but his tone changed.  He was less defensive, a bit more desperate.  Sure, he accused me of trying to blame him for old scratched on my bumper (I wasn’t – I was blaming him for the NEW SCRATCHES…).  But something about him seemed a bit different at this point of the interaction.

After we exchanged information we each got in our cars and pulled away. 

But I kept thinking about him… 

And in the end, I think I could kind of see things from his eyes.  Maybe they are not even HIS EYES, I mean, I totally made “these eyes” up.  But maybe, just maybe, he is an immigrant.  He had a heavy accent.  He had a name (first and last) that sounded foreign.  And maybe, just maybe, if he was not a citizen or does not hold a green card, then something like innocently rear ending a lady on a DC street and getting the cops called on you could mean something very dire… 

Look, I would never have even thought of this scenario 6 months ago.  But with the whole travel ban and immigration mess our country is in right now, I really stopped to think it through. 

This fender bender, which resulted only in new scratches on my 13 year old Prius that has over 175,000 miles on it, was certainly not worth the risk of some old man getting deported.   Yes, it was his fault.  And yes, he was rude to me.  But maybe he had reason to be rude…  Maybe he thought if he was angry enough, yelled loud enough, I would scamper back to my vehicle and give up.

I didn’t scamper, and I am sort of proud of that.  And I didn’t give up.  But what I also didn’t do is call his insurance company.  Heck, it is only more scratches, right?

As much as I despise the current political climate, I am glad that it made me stop and think and see this man, or who this man might be, in a different light. 

This is the United States of America.  All are welcome here.  (Just keep your foot on the brake at red lights, please.)



Friday, February 24, 2017

DONE!

DONE.

My teeny tiny “cancer journey” * is finished.

Got the stitches out today at the ocular plastic surgeon, have to go back and have a quick follow-up in 4 weeks, but for all intents and purposes my “little ride on the cancer train” * is over.

I am hesitant to include this photo, but in the spirit of honesty, here you go.  Nurse David captured not only my recently removed stitch area, but also every clogged pore on my face and my very unplucked eyebrows.  Here you go, world!  
And I realize how LUCKY that makes me. 

Starting out with this form of cancer, basal cell carcinoma, has been a primer for me.  It’s the most common type of cancer.  It very rarely metastasizes (spreads to other areas).  If detected early, it can be removed.  I was one of 4 million people in the United States alone to deal with it this year (I was in great company!).  (You can learn more about basal cell carcinoma and other skin cancers here:  Skin Cancer link here )

I say this was a primer, because I am a realist and know that almost certainly another form of cancer will come my way at some point in life.  Honestly, most of us will have the bad fortune of getting cancer at some point in our lives, right?  Think about it:  how many friends and family members do you know who have/have had cancer?  I know loads: my maternal grandma, my sister, my mother, my dad, my paternal grandpa, friends….  So, I guess my point is, if I had to get any type of cancer at age 50, I am glad it was THIS kind.  They cut it out, they close me up, they take out the stitches, and voila, done.  No chemo, no radiation.  In the cancer department, this was like pre-school stuff.

My sister Sherry - dealt with breast cancer

My mom and dad - mom had colon cancer (this photo was from our family cruise for her last Christmas)
and dad has prostate cancer and skin cancer
Even so, I have learned quite a bit in the short 5 months I have been thinking about this!  May I share??

·         When you see a spot that you feel is suspicious, don’t trick yourself into thinking it isn’t.  For a while I pretended to myself that mine was a “dry spot”.  After a while I knew it was probably cancer, I honestly knew.  But I thought it was “too close to my eye” and I figured “there is nothing they could ever DO for it in that location anyway…”.  So, I put off going to the dermatologist.  My bad.  My very bad.  By the time MOHS was done and I showed up for the close, the ocular plastic surgeon (who I had met a week earlier and seen the pre-surgery spot) had a hard time not showing his deep concern when he took the bandage off, looked at the big chunk of my face missing, and said, “Oh.  That.  Is.  Bigger.  Than.  I.  Expected…”  He reminded me again today – I need to get checked at a dermatologist every 6 months.  If these spots are caught early they are manageable.  (And he mentioned again today how surprised he was by the size the original surgeon had to remove and left him to close…)  So, the point of this bullet is:  IF SOMETHING LOOKS SUSPICIOUS, JUST GO GET IT CHECKED.  It doesn’t hurt!  The doctor just looks at your skin.  If she/he says “false alarm”, cool!  If not, you get it dealt with.
 
·         Facebook friends, phone friends, card sending (and flower and cookie sending) friends and text friends are awesome.  Having people cheering you on makes it all seem doable.

·         Trust your instincts and take control of your medical care if you have the opportunity to do so.  The only other time in my life I was seriously ill, I was too sick to really be involved in the decision making.  But this time I was awake, alert, and involved.  I can sometimes have a tendency to “be nice” and not want to “hurt people’s feelings” or maybe to doubt that I could know better for myself than a professional might know.  But in this case, I didn’t feel the first ocular plastic surgeon was a good fit, and I decided to say something.  It caused a bit of a mess in the scheduling and it meant postponing everything a bit, but it was well worth it because in the end I had a doctor who literally said he “enjoys the challenge of skin cancer” cases and it turns out that is what I needed cuz mine was, ummm, a bit challenging to close up…  So, trust your gut.  It is your body, your time, your money, and your life!  Be comfortable with your medical professionals and find ones that are good fits for you.  (Note to self: use this new empowered Susan to start hunting for a really good dermatologist, cuz the one who found this originally was sort of cranky and not my style…)

Dr. Cytryn removing my sutures today.
We wore matching masks - his cuz he is a doctor, mine cuz I have the flu.

·         Anesthesia is awesome (and hard to spell).  Last night when I should have been sleeping but wasn’t, one thing I was thinking about was, “I do not remember getting DRESSED after my close surgery…  I know I didn’t ride home naked…  Did David dress me??”  So, today I was sitting in the chair at the surgical center waiting for the doctor to pop in to remove the sutures between other surgeries.  A nurse kept walking by, waiting for his next case.  He smiled and we ended up talking to him.  He was really sweet, and I finally asked, “Is your accent Russian?  It is really a pretty accent!” and he said yes, then he and David both smiled.  Turned out I had the SAME CONVERSATION with him LAST WEEK, asked him the same damn thing – he was my post-op nurse.  He said we had a good talk last week, none of which I remember!!!  So yeah, anesthesia is a good invention. 

·         Another note for good medications J (no I am not a pharmaceutical rep, but this is something I learned from a friend when I started this whole experience): do not be afraid to ask for meds.  My friend told me that she had eye surgery and asked for a prescription to calm her nerves beforehand.  I took that advice and asked the MOHS surgeon for something (because I knew patients are awake for MOHS).  She gave me a small prescription of Ativan, and I took one before MOHS.  It was exactly what I needed.  I was awake, alert, could talk and function, but was not overly nervous about her coming at my eyeball with sharp instruments. 

·         Fun cool thing – I have one little red mark RIIIIGHT by my tear duct.  At first I thought it was a scab from the surgery, then as the week with stitches progressed and the swelling went down, I began to dread it was a STITCH.  A BIG, THICK STITCH right by my tear duct.  That was gonna need to be CUT OUT…  Yes, that was another thing I was thinking about all night last night when I should have been sleeping…  But it turns out it is what my plastic surgeon called a “pie cut” (he might’ve called it a pie slice?  We have been calling it my pie hole today)!!!  It is a little slice he made to let blood come out (I think that is how he explained it?  Or maybe to reduce pressure?) like you make little cuts in the top of your pie crust when you bake!  Isn’t that excellent??  I have a PIE CUT by my tear duct!  Whew, not a stitch, just a scab, will heal.  (Also, speaking of tear ducts, he was happy mine had not been involved (there was a fear it would be) and told me today he “irrigated the tear duct” to check it.  Who would imagine?  Coolness. 

·         And finally, I know we have all heard this a zillion times and I don’t need to repeat it, but:  wear sunscreen.  I always do at the beach, but I need to be more diligent about it while out gardening and things like that.  And when I asked about it today, the doctor said, “Yeah, the spot you got it in is easy to miss with sunscreen!  That’s why you wear SUNGLASSES and a HAT, too”.  Touché, doc, point taken. 

NOT taken today, and we WERE wearing sunscreen.  I am not going to stop going to the beach
(even though I know I will be a little nervous at first...) just because of this little run in with skin cancer!
So there you have it.  thanks to everyone who has been so supportive while I have been figuring this out.  Oh, and I had graaaand plans for today; was going to get the stitches removed, take a jumping photo with the surgeon, go buy fancy ass cupcakes for the doctors and deliver them with thanks, go to a new exhibit at the Hirshorn Gallery, and spend glorious time in the sunshine.  But alas, it was all I could do to keep from throwing up my Tamiflu pill and ride lying down in the car to the doctor.  As soon as sutures were out I retreated to bed to let this dumb flu play out.  Looking forward to delivering cupcakes, jumping, and gallery hopping in the coming days/weeks. 

HUGS (but don’t hug me til this flu is gone…). 


*I say the phrases “cancer journey” and “cancer train” tongue in cheek…  I recently bought a greeting card that says “I promise never to refer to your illness as a journey (unless someone takes you on a cruise)”.  I dislike that phrase “cancer journey” and feel it makes light of people’s real experiences with serious illness.  It is a euphemism.  If you feel the same way, you need to check out the greeting cards (and other merch) at Emily McDowell website here  .  Frickin’ brilliant I tell you.