Saturday, February 28, 2015

I'm not dead yet...

Received this from Tinton this morning after calling him to tell him about the cancer and to ask for him to be available for Liv if she needed to talk and couldn't talk to me. We haven't told her yet, are waiting until we know if the cancer has spread, until we have the complete picture. But, I want her to have as much support as I can find for her and I believe that Tinton will be one of the best sources of that.

He didn't say much, just that he loved me and that this all sucked so much. And that it seemed so unfair to him that the Isis terrorists who cut off people's heads couldn't have gotten this instead of me. I was proud of myself. I am learning to talk about this without breaking down. I recall doing this 7 years ago, too. That I learned to compartmentalize and talk calmly without my voice shaking.

So...anyway, he sent me this:

I texted him right away.

Thank you for the lovely poem. But...hey, I'm not dead and gone yet. I'm still here and still ready to fight again.

His reply:

I know! I didn't mean it that way...and remember that first couple of lines about looking back when you are OLD....and my beautiful Maria? I have no worries about you not fighting. Every time I watch "Walking Dead", I think that you would be in that band of kick ass survivors. You are the strongest person that I've ever known.


I did it before. I'll do it again. And I will motherfucking swagger......

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Tell me what to do. I'll do anything."

Bing's words.

So, I gave her one long look and said, "Three things. 1) Don't shave your head when all my hair falls out. 2) Go to any movie I pick, no raised eyebrow. No snide comments about artsy fartsy films. 3) Be my gate keeper. I really don't want my co-workers seeing me looking like shit."

She smiled.

"Well, I was hoping there would be a 'fuck me silly whenever I order it up' but I'll deal. And...please GOD, no Fifty Shades of Gray. That's ALL I ask. One little thing."

"Deal," I said.

We shook on it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


I fucking hate that word. I have breast cancer in both breasts. Getting further tests done on March 3 to see if it has spread. But, I'm getting up every single day, working every single day until I can't. And then, I will fight and be back at it.

No coward's soul is mine.

"Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are." Memoirs of a Geisha

Saturday, February 21, 2015

More pain on the plains....

"I feel like Job and I'm mother fucking SICK of it!"

Yeah. That was me. Screaming again. At poor Bing. Who is the last person in the world whom I should be hollering at. But, we tend to behave the worst with those we trust the most.

So, I did.

I had my annual mammogram last week. It's always the same. I have what the radiologist playfully calls busy breasts. This is geek doctor code for dense. I have very small, very dense breasts. My Mother died of breast cancer. Her grandmother died of breast cancer. A cousin on my Mother's side of the family died of breast cancer. My sister is a 10 year breast cancer survivor. Another cousin on Mother's side of the family is currently recovering from a lumpectomy after her lump showed cancer. So, I am careful.

I get mammos. And it is always the same ole, same ole. Breast is very dense, very busy. But, no changes. Come back next year.

Until this time.

I knew that something was very wrong when the nurse smashing my breast as flat as a pancake suddenly started making chirpy small talk with me as instead of the usual two photos of each breast became 5 and then 6.

And then, when she stepped outside to have a little chat with the doctor on call.

And then came back in and told me that Dr. R would like me to have an ultrasound. Right now. Right this minute.

So, I had one. I kept trying to twist to see the computer screen but the technician carefully turned the screen away from me and took photo after photo after photo.

Then, she abruptly got up and said that the doctor would be in to talk to me shortly.

Well, this wasn't going well, I thought.

Dr. R came in the room, all hurried business. She didn't look like a person who pulled punches. And she didn't.

"Maria, I want to take a closer look myself."

"Is there a problem?" I asked. And then almost laughed. OF COURSE THERE IS A PROBLEM, YOU IDIOT.

She didn't answer right away, just squirted more gel on me and ran that wand over and over, all over, up to my armpits and then back again. She sighed.

"My gracious, you have terribly busy breasts!" she finally said.

I sat up, trying to maintain my dignity with my gelled up breasts and little paper gown.

"Please, I need you talk to me and refrain from calling my breasts busy, please!" I said.

She looked me in the eye.

"We have found three rather large, very solid lumps," she said. "One in each breast and....."....she slowed down her voice while I winced...."one in one of the lymph nodes in your right armpit."

I sat still, too shocked to speak. I had feared that one lump. But..THREE?? And in my LYMPH NODE? Sweet Jesus. No. No.

She continued. "They are new and very large."

"How large?"

"About as big as a superball in your left breast. About as big as a bing cherry in your left breast..."

I bit my lip at the word bing.

"And your lymph node has a very odd hook on the end of it, a small dark, solid mass. We need to get you in to see a surgeon. ASAP. I'll send the nurse in to schedule that. Any questions?"

I shook my head. Really, there wouldn't be much to say until a biopsy was done.

I got my things together and walked out to my car, leaning heavily on my cane.

Fuck. Fuck.

I crawled inside. Sat staring blankly out the window. Slowly, slowly, slowly put my head on the steering wheel. Felt my eyes well up. Sat up. Shook my head. Sternly told myself to STOP THIS SHIT NOW. I stopped.

Picked up my cell phone and texted Bing.

Just got done with mammo. Seeing a surgeon on Monday, the 23rd. Found 3 lumps. 1 in each tit, 1 in my lymph node.

I stared at the words for a long time before I pushed SEND.

The phone rang a minute later. On the screen came Bing's smiling face, her ring tone of Ventura Highway blaring out.

I answered. "Hi."

"Okay, I'm in the middle of a class, but I want you to know two things. 1. We will be fine and 2. I'm right here. Right here. Where are you?"

"Sitting in the car. I have to get to work. I have a 10 o'clock patient."

"I'll take off work on Monday and we'll see the surgeon together. Ok?"


"Maria, sweetheart. I love you. We'll talk tonight. It's going to be okay. Are you okay to drive?"

Well, THAT riled me. What did she think? This wasn't my first cancer rodeo.

"OF COURSE I CAN DRIVE. Do you take me for a wuss pants?"

"Never. Ever. I I'm here."

"I know. Bye." I hung up before my voice could break.

I got through the day. Completely fine. Dry eyed. I gave myself a mental talking to. I am high risk for cancer. I've beat it before. Not breast cancer. But, hey...maybe I just have some weird growths and an infected duct in my lymph node. This could all be nothing. Except that it probably wasn't. I wasn't stupid. Any lumps in lymph nodes are very, very dangerous. Two lumps, two BIG lumps that weren't there last year? Really dangerous. Especially in a high risk person. Like me. But, no jumping to conclusions. Worry is fruitless. What worries you, masters you. I will NOT let this master me. Yet. Not until after the biopsy.

That night, Bing and I talked quickly before it was time to pick up Liv at her study group. She did all the Bing things that she does so well. She made me sit in her lap and cuddled me. Told me over and over how much she loved me, how she would stand with me, no matter what. How we wouldn't worry until we had something tangible in our hands.

I kept nodding affirmatively. Not crying. Not ever crying. We agreed not to say anything to Liv until we knew for sure. If this was bad though, we couldn't keep it from her as we had when she was 8. She was 15, too old to fool this time.

I stood up finally and said that I had to go, needed to stop at the library and pick up some books that were being held for me before I picked up Liv.

Bing sprang to her feet. "I can do that for you!" she said. "Or...let me tag along."

I turned on her. "Don't you DARE start caretaking me yet!" I said. "I'm FINE."

She swallowed, nodded. Held up her hands. "Ok, Ok...I just thought maybe we could stop at Dairy Queen on the way home, pick up cones for Liv and orange julius for you...."

I shook my head. No. appetite, I told her.  Picked up my coat and headed out.

I felt my spine relax when I walked into the library. The smell of a library is like balm to me. Calming.  I saw a little girl with her Dad. He had a mountain of books in his arms. She had untidy hair and was wearing flip flops. In February. On the prairie. Mom was either out of the picture or out of town or something. Men. GOD. But, they both looked happy and there were all those books...

I had a sudden memory that made me smile. When Liv was in kindergarten, her teacher, in an effort to get the children to take an interest in books, started a project. For every 20 books read, she would hand out a free certificate for a mini Pizza Hut pan pizza. All one had to do was bring in a list of the books read. Well, Liv immediately made it her business to read 20 books every day. We went through all her books in the house within a week. And she had pizza for lunch almost daily. And then we started going to the library every few days after school so that she could pick out 20 new books. She would insist that we read them the second we arrived home. TWENTY books. I was so relieved when that project ended (probably because Liv hogged all the certificates...) But, looking back, how FUN it was, really. Sitting on the sofa together, the pile of books on the end table. A glass of chocolate milk for her. A cup of tea for me. And her nestled up against me, sighing with pleasure as I opened each new book. Sometimes it took us two hours to get through them all. And all that pizza! She never tired of it and the guy at Pizza Hut began to know us by name. Liv and Mama picking up that personal pan mushroom and pepper pizza, her favorite to this day.

I checked out my books, watched the Dad carefully slide all the books in a backpack and then pick up his daughter, putting her feet into his coat pockets as they headed out the door. She waved happily at me, smiling over his shoulder. I waved back.

I walked out to the car and went to pick up Liv. When she slid into the car, I leaned over and planted a kiss on her cheek. She frowned and then smiled. "What is THAT for?"

"Can't I kiss my own daughter?"

"Suuurre," she said, giving me a long look. "Mama, you look pensive. What's up?"

I told her about the Dad and child at the library. Asked her if she remembered those kindergarten days of 20 books and all that personal pan pizza. She laughed. Said she did.

"I did kind of get sick of pizza, but I LOVED sitting on the sofa with you and having all that time with you," she said. "Just us and books. NIRVANA!"

As I was driving, I suddenly thought to myself, "If I can get through this light before it turns yellow, I don't have cancer."

I made it through. Whew.

Once home, I went upstairs and did my nightly ritual for the shower as Liv took Socks out for his final walk of the night.  I brushed my teeth with Colgate Optic White and then took my finger and put an extra gob all over my teeth and shut my mouth tightly. I slathered baby oil all over my hair and skin. And stepped in to water as hot as I could stand.

I lathered and cleaned. Spit out the toothpaste. And slowly held my breasts in my hands, searching for those lumps. Nope. Nowhere to be found, the little shits. I began to hold my breath. If I could hold my breath for 50 seconds, I did not have cancer. I made it to 43 and then had to take a long gasping breath. Told myself to STOP THIS SHIT NOW.

And then, I put my head into the spray of water and cried. Hard. Careful to be silent. I had my eyes squeezed shut but heard the shower door open. A naked Bing got in with me. Silently, gently holding me.

Whispering, "I'm right here with you. Right here."

And that was when I started screaming.

"I FEEL LIKE JOB! I'm MOTHER FUCKING SICK OF IT! JAYSUS! Why does it ALWAYS have to be ME who has this shit happen? Am I going to have to give up body parts one by one? First my finger, then my boobs...what next? WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?" I screamed this to the top of the shower.

Bing stopped talking and just held on, letting me get it out.

I finally stopped. And then leaning in to her, said, "I don't want to die. I want to see Liv graduate. I want to move to New Orleans with you. I want to...I don't know...I just don't want to be a member of this fucking club again, you know? Can't someone else take a turn?"

Bing didn't answer. I looked up at her and to my surprise, saw that she was silently crying. I think I've seen Bing cry about four times in our whole relationship.

This scared me silent. We stood under the water, clinging to each other. And then I said, "I'm sorry. I'm jumping the gun, I know. And I know that others have it worse. I'm lucky. I have good insurance. A good support system....."

We heard the downstair door slam. Liv was back home. Bing shut off the water. Ran a washcloth over her eyes, kissed me fiercely and got out of the shower. I followed suit, drying off and putting on my soft chenille robe.

Later, in bed, we would talk more, assuring the other that we were fine. We would be fine. Just another thing to get through. And fall asleep, wrapped in each other.

The next day, as I drove to work, I told myself....if I can make that light before it goes yellow, I don't have cancer....

And so it goes....

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Date night with my wife...and on another topic: Don't try this at home.

Well, we aren't that romantic, so it really isn't a date night, but I think that we qualify as one of the great romances of all time, so I'll call the post what I bloody well like.

Valentine's Day is not a big deal at our house. I did find the perfect greeting card for Bing back in October and have been holding on to it, waiting for a good occasion and so Valentine's Day was it. It was a lovely black and white rendering of two birds huddled in a tree under the shelter of an umbrella, nestled happily together. The title of the drawing was called "Shelter the other" and on the inside, I wrote a quote from Emily Dickinson:

I find it shelter to speak to you.

Because I do. I don't know how much more romantic it can get. She's my shelter. I'm hers.

She bought me what she always does:

One perfect piece of mint chocolate fudge from the Russell Stover store.

And that was it, folks....

Except that we ended up having a splendid date spite of the fact that my hair was recovering from a deep shellacking.

Since Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday this year and not a week night, we had an easier time of connecting.

Liv had plans to have what she calls hen night with her friends. Liv refuses to officially have a Valentine (much to the dismay of Alan, the hockey playing prepster who follows her around shamelessly) except that she did get a card from Sven, who is now staying on indefinitely in New Mexico because his car mechanic free lancing job is now starting to make some real money and he feels that he should stay there and save enough to complete his schooling and then move back here. She did not show me the card and in spite of the fact that I am dying to snoop, I will not. And I suspect that a card was sent to him as well but since she doesn't talk about Sven, I will never know.

So, Liv and three of her friends were planning on watching movies at a friend's house that evening.

Bing and I looked at each other and decided to hit a twilight showing of a movie where the tickets are only 5 bucks. (Romance!!)

She wanted to see Whiplash.

I wanted to see The Theory of Everything.

We compromised and saw this:

Brilliant. And since whenever I see a film where the characters speak in British or Irish accents, I tend to speak in them, too, it was BLOODY brilliant. Benedict Cumberbatch's name just fucking trills right off your tongue, yes?

There is something so cozy about going to a movie with a long time partner. And some wonderful little details.

1) We always stop at Walgreens to buy one box of Raisinettes to share. Why pay 5 bucks for the box when you can get it for a buck? We also bring a bottle of water from home and share it. These are smuggled in via my purse.

2) We always arrive early so that we can sit in the front row of the tiered seats so that I can rest my feet on the rail.

3) The armrest between us goes up for prime warmth or snuggling. My right hand goes in her left hand and and my shoulder into hers. We put one of our coats over us because it's always cold in theaters. Even in Summer, we bring a sweater specifically for this purpose.

4) No TALKING unless it is urgent during the movie. If someone behind us talks, we both turn around and glare threateningly.

5) Bing always grabs napkins from the concession stand because in movies like this one, I always say, "Pshaw! I am not going to cry!" And by the end, I always cry. Always.

6) I'm in charge of keeping us both hydrated with the water bottle. She is in charge of doling out the Raisinettes. We let go of hands to do this and then re-join once sips are taken and/or candy popped.

7) Sometimes, if a scene is particularly beautiful, one of us will stroke the others hand with our thumb. Bing tends to be moved by beautiful music; I tend to be moved by dialogue. And sometimes (all right...frequently)....start crying.

Example from The Imitation Game:

"Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."

So, the movie was grand.

Afterwards, we walked out to the car, arm in arm, huddled against the 5 degree cold.

When we got in the car, we decided we were hungry and would try that little Vietnamese restaurant that we saw on the way to the movies. Surely, even though it was Valentine's Day....not many would choose a Vietnamese restaurant to eat at? We were right, it was only half full. And wow....we picked well.

This place is our new fave.

We sat in our booth smiling at each other in that soupy way that seldom happens between us anymore. Spoke about many things. Liv, and how nice it is that she is old enough to have this whole other life that doesn't include us so that we can actually be alone sometimes. Liv, and how awful it was that she wasn't with us because she would've adored these noodles. How our work weeks went. Was that foster parent still working out? The very gay black man who I suspected might be a transvestite? How he had charge of a three year old autistic boy and now a seven month old girl and how he was the best foster parent that I had ever seen. These children were thriving in his care. The three year old learning so quickly and the baby girl clinging to him with her eyes wide with love.  The tender way that he touched the children's heads. How I notice things like that. We talked about whether or not she should take that job from the non profit that had been offered to her. The salary was so good, much better than hers now. But, was it worth it if we planned on moving after Liv graduates? And wouldn't it be wonderful to be in New Orleans right now? 63 degrees! Imagine that! In February!

And we sipped our hot spicy tea, we talked about my hair. And how I solved the problem.

This is for those of you who do idiotic things sometimes, so...for all of you:

I have incredibly dry skin and hair. About once a week, I put a big giant blob of cocoa butter or shea butter on my hair before I get into the shower. I have also been known to slather my body with it. I get in the shower and clean up all the moving parts, leaving my hair for last. And then, I rinse out the shea or cocoa butter and do my regular shampoo routine. My hair is soft as silk for days.

Well, I ran out of both my shea and cocoa butter, so stopped at Target hurriedly on my way home for more. I always get a specific brand that is basically cheap as dirt for cocoa butter and for shea butter, I order it from a place in Africa. It comes in a big bag of chunks that look like bricks of white butter. I melt them slightly, mix them up with sweet almond oil and make my own.

But, on this errand, I was just looking for my cheapo plain cocoa butter. I'd use it while I waited for my next shipment of raw shea butter. My cheapo brand was not to be found and I was in a hurry, so I glanced at other offerings, found one that said it combined cocoa butter, shea butter and vitamin E and although it was pricier than my usual, I shrugged and bought it.

Without looking carefully at ALL of the ingredients as I usually do.

The next morning, I decided to try the new product. I opened the jar and noticed that it had the consistency of Crisco. My usual product is a lot more....moist. lotion. But, it was 6 in the morning and I didn't have my glasses on, so I grabbed a big handful of it and rubbed it in my hands to warm it a little and then smeared it all over my head, all the way down to the tips of my hair.

I see you laughing. And you are being very rude. But, I don't blame you because I was a dumb ass and didn't look at the ingredients....until....

I got in the shower and when I tried to rinse the goop out of my hair, it stuck like glue. It seemed to have adhered to each and every hair shaft on my head.

I lathered with shampoo four times. Four times failed.

Finally, I got out of the shower and attempted to run a comb through my hair. It felt like my hair was coated with candle wax.

I glanced at the clock. Shit. I had an 8:30 meeting and had to get Liv to school by 8. It was 7:20. I slicked back my hair with a wide comb and put it up in a tight chignon. And dudes, that was the tightest, best chignon I've ever had. No straggling hairs. My hair looked like I had shellacked it neatly into place. It looked like mannequin hair.

When I got home that evening, I checked the ingredients on the jar. Cocoa butter. Shea butter. Vitamin E oil. So far, so good. And then I saw the next ingredient: Cera Microcristallina. I frowned. Looked it up.

Microcristalline WAX.

So, I went on an internet search.

How to get wax out of hair.

I had a few options that did not appeal to me that involved heating my hair and melting it out of my hair.

Finally, I found one where I had all the ingredients:

Smear baby oil ALL over your hair. Liberally. Get in the hottest shower that you can stand. After 4 minutes, try to rinse baby oil out. You will only be able to get about a third of it out. That is where DAWN dishwashing liquid comes in. Wash your hair with Dawn. And then do a regular shampoo.

I tried this.

And thank you baby hey zeus, it worked.

So...just in case you ever do something so DUMB ASSED. I have the cure right here, folks.

My hair is now back to normal.

And the Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula is now in my cupboard to be used on my body only!

So....a belated Happy Valentine's Day to you all.

May you all have someone to shelter you and may you also be good natured when you explain to your spouse why you had shellacked hair and she sits across a booth and laughs her ass off.

Romance is well and alive here on the prairie.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That post where Maria admits that she is THAT kind of woman

I yelled at another human being today. Twice. The same person.

And I don't regret it.

I think I am becoming a very cantankerous older person.  I worry that soon I will be limping outside and brandishing my canes at kids and yelling at  them to stop walking on my grass.

THAT kind of person.

Today was not my favorite kind of day. It was an Alexander Day. You know the book about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I have those days sometimes, too.

I had my tri-yearly visit with my Rheumatologist. Whom I don't really like personally, but he is a very good doctor. I just find his personality sort of annoying. And I don't like being poked and prodded by people that I don't know well. I don't know him well and part of his job is poking and prodding me. Plus, I once walked by his personal office after a visit once and I saw him picking his nose. Not eating boogers or anything, but...digging. I glanced away quickly. Another time, I was at the movies with Bing and he came in with his wife and sat a few rows in front of us. I noticed that she was the one who went out and got them their goodies. And he sat there playing with his phone while she attempted to talk to him. Finally, she gave up and just sat silently as they waited for the movie to begin. I told Bing that this made me really dislike him. She sighed and said that maybe she was a chatterbox or something, we didn't know their story. I retorted that I was the body language expert here and he was acting like a dick. Anyway....I'm never in a good mood the 4 times per year (or more often if I have pain) that I have to see him.

Today, was no different. He sat in front of me, checking out my wrists, my hands, my ankles and knees. I endured it.

And then I had to go get blood taken for my lab work. My heart sank when I saw that the little Asian guy wasn't there. He is a good sticker. This time, it was the rawboned girl who looked like Nancy Drew. She checked out my arms. I told her that I have really, really bad veins and perhaps it would be best if she just took it out of my hand. She thought she should try my arm. I told her that no, she shouldn't, that my veins roll and that Asian guy is the only one who can stick me there. Please use my hands. She looked at me and knew that I would win, so she took the blood out of my hand. And then she said, "Oh, WOW. What happened to your finger?" And she said it in this repulsed way. So, I told her that my spouse bit it off in a domestic argument. She gave me a long look and then realized that I was kidding and said, "No, really. What happened to you?"

I didn't feel like talking about it. I curtly told her that I have RA and incurred a bone infection.

"OH. EW. That's too bad," she said.

Yes. EW. Too fucking bad.

I was so glad to be done with that clinic. I allowed myself a flat white from Starbucks. A venti. Although, I refuse to say the word venti because it just sounds so pretentious. So, I just said, "I'd like a blueberry muffin and the largest flat white that you can give me."

The voice on the drive thru said, "Do you mean a venti flat white?"

I sighed. Yes, I told her. That one.

And then I drove to work. I'd forgotten that there was an All City Chorus practice in my building that day. Which meant buses everywhere and no parking. Our parking lot was literally full. And no parking left on the street. I circled around until someone came out of the building and then I shamelessly trolled her all the way to her car and sat there with my blinker on, waiting patiently.

As the car pulled out, this tiny little fiat made a fast turn around the corner and took my parking place!

I beeped and gestured. The driver ignored me. I KNOW she had to have seen me. Unless she was blind.

I waited until she got out of her car and began speed walking towards the building. I caught up with her in my car, rolled down the window and informed her that she had shamefully taken my PARKING SPOT that I had been waiting for.

She ignored me, her face as red as a beet. She picked up the pace. I thought I recognized her. Wasn't she that dentist on the 5th floor? I caught up with her and rolled down my window again.

"I hope you have crappy karma for the rest of the day," I said to her.

Again, she ignored me. By now she was practically running.

I sighed and watched her sprint into the building. A few moments later, another person came out and I lucked out. He was only parked a few lanes from the building. And no creep tried to jump my spot.

So, I got to work crabby and stayed crabby. Even when Carlos came in and told me that I would live longer if I tried to be a pacifist.

"You need to let it go," he told me. "Here. I am pretending that I am holding a broom. Let's sweep all your anger out of the office."

"Carlos," I told him, "Wouldja please just let me be mad? I need to feel mad right now. I'm not throwing things. I'm not screaming. I'm just....agitated. LET ME BE FUCKING AGITATED."

He carefully backed out.

I wished so badly that I was a witch. I would've turned her into a frog just for a moment or two, just to scare the bejesus out of her and then I'd change her back. And then every time I saw her in the hall or the elevator, I would make quiet "ribbit, ribbit" noises just to let her know that she was screwing with the wrong person.

By lunchtime, I was pretty much over it. Until I was walking back to my office after a nice bowl of chili in the cafeteria and as I was waiting for the elevator, it opened and guess who stepped out in her white coat?

You know who.

The parking spot stealer.

The second she saw me, she sprinted past me. And I mean she RAN. I laughed and called after her.


It felt good but startled the other person in the elevator. When I got on, he looked at me as if I might be unbalanced and maybe he should have taken the stairs.

I told him what she did. And he shook his head.

"She's definitely a chicken butt," he said.

I nodded. YUP.

Now, I'm home and thinking that maybe Carlos was right. Maybe I need to let this just slide off my back.

But, I feel like Rick in that scene when they are put in the box car on THE WALKING DEAD.

Yeah. I am turning into a real bitch in my old age......

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Hugging Carlos

I work in a very large building. We are on the fourth floor, about halfway up. The building is mostly full of medical practices, there are 2 dentists, a foursome of orthopedic surgeons, 3 shrinks, 7 physical therapists and an oncologist. There are others, too. A life coach. I admit to making some cracks about her. She looks like Joan Rivers and has that voice timbre too. I can just see her whipping her clients into shape. There is a jeweler. A yoga studio for pregnant women. A circular newspaper place. So, a lot of us.

To be in this building, you have to have one person who goes to building meetings three times a year. I'm that person. I really, really hate going to these meetings because they are boring and slightly stupid ("Today we are going to talk about those who have been choosing to park too close to the white line in their parking places.") but they are mandatory. So, I go and post the minutes of the meeting and take down the previous one.

Last month, the meeting was on inappropriate office behavior. There was a video and everything, although I was dismayed at the actors. I mean, c'mon, I could have done better and I'm no Meryl Streep. And the story was so passe. I mean, there was the secretary and there was the boss who was invading her personal space. Everyone knows that get up. How about one with co-workers just to change things up? But, no. There was white flag behavior. This showed the toothy secretary smiling up at her boss as he showed her photos of his wife and children. The next was blue flag behavior. This showed the boss leaning down to show his secretary a document with his hand on her shoulder. Then, the red flag behavior. The boss saying "Happy Birthday!" to his secretary and pulling her in for an obvious too-long hug as she peered over his shoulder at the camera looking visibly alarmed. And then, the last...the black flag behavior. There was that sneaky boss again, yanking his severely red lipped secretary into a janitor's closet and kissing her soundly on the lips. She struggled at first and then gave in to her passion, kissing him back.

Why was I the only one laughing? This was like a throw back to the fifties. The secretary looked like Joan Harris on Mad Men. The boss looked like Ward Cleaver.

We get it. No hanky panky at the office, dudes.

As I walked back to my office, I glanced down at the list of red behaviors

Touching a co-worker without their permission
Longing glances
Telling jokes that are sexual in natural
Complimenting on body parts

I sighed. I know that this is important. As a woman, I am especially glad to have these perimeters in place. But, I dunno. Different situations call for different actions. Anything to do with humans can not be fixed.

Example being: Carlos.

Carlos is our office translator. We hired him in August, against our better judgment. His wife had died in June and he was still grieving. But, he wanted so badly to change his profession from working as an interpreter for immigration services. So, we hired him.

Mostly, it has worked out. Carlos is an impeccable worker. He comes in on time and leaves on time. This is so vastly different from our previous translator who trotted in every day almost an hour late and was known to sneak out early on Tuesdays when a local theater had 2 dollar matinees and free popcorn.

Carlos is a very formal gentleman. When a woman walks into his office, he stands. Since we are an all woman office except for him, he ends up bobbing up and down a lot. I've told him that he doesn't need to stand every time a woman enters the room, but he says that he can't NOT stand, that it is just him. So, okay. His choice.

Carlos drives to visit his wife's grave at a cemetery in a town about an hour away every Sunday afternoon. He brings her one red rose. Puts it on her grave. Tells her about his week. I know this because he invited me to go with him. I declined.

We have grown to love Carlos. We admire his grit. The way he just shows up ready to work every day in spite of his pain.

He and I talk frequently. He seems to have chosen me to be his main confidante. He tells me that he has a very hard time with weekends. That he and his wife used to LOVE weekends, loved sleeping in, making a big breakfast together and passing the paper back and forth. That he sometimes lays in bed after his alarm rings in the mornings and for just a moment, forgets that his Elly is dead. And then it all comes back to him and he lays crying with tears flowing in his ears.

That he can no longer watch The Americans, Modern Family, or Justified because these were their shows. That they would watch them together every week and share a bowl of pistachio ice cream. Now, it just makes him sad. So, he has taken to watching Spanish shows on his laptop because she never liked them and he doesn't associate them with her in any way.

That he makes sure to get his hair cut once a month because she always told him that she thought he was most handsome on the day of his haircut.

He recently found out that he has type 2 Diabetes. He thinks this may be because he was comforting himself every night by going to a local buffet for dinner. He doesn't cook and his wife was an award winning cook, even wrote a cookbook. She always made amazing, nutritious meals for them and now that she is gone, he found it easier to just go to a buffet for dinner. To have his oatmeal for breakfast, eat his lunch in our cafeteria and then go to the buffet for dinner. And get dessert every night. So. Yes. Diabetes. He is now buying pre-made salads on his way home from work at a grocery store and eating the soup and salad special at our cafeteria instead of the meatloaf and mashers.

But, it is hard. It was his comfort. I told him that using food for comfort is a very bad idea, but a very common practice here in America. And that I get it. If I didn't have type 1 Diabetes, I am pretty sure that I would be on that reality show about My Fat Fabulous Life.

I asked him if he liked to read. No.

Poor guy. Time will help. I know this. But, I can't profess to understand his pain. If Bing died in June, I don't know that I would have the strength to do what he did; change jobs and start something new. Keep going. Or maybe I would. I hope I die first so that I never have to know.

Carlos says he cries in the men's room a lot. And I can always tell when he's had a cry. His eyes are red and he has this determined look on his face when he comes back.

Last week, Carlos told me that February 6th would be a hard day for him. It would have been his wife's 60th birthday. I asked him if he wanted to take the day off. NO! he told me. Staying home would be torture. At least at work, he would be busy. But, to please know that this would be a hard day for him. I nodded.

And talked to the staff. We came up with a plan. A red flag plan.

We have a pretty small office. Three secretaries. Three administrators. One nurse. One translator. One office manager. One janitor.

And yesterday, when Carlos came in, we had a small angel food (low sugar) cake in the break room. Simply decorated. Happy Birthday, Elly.

No one made a fuss. But, at some time during the day, every single one of us went into Carlos' office and gave him a long, sweet hug. No words. Just a hug.

When I went in to hug him, as I pulled away, he looked at me and said, "I can't tell you how much this has all meant to me. I even got a little sliver of cake! You and everyone in  this office are shining stars. I just want you to know that you saved my life today, dear Maria."

I gave him one more hug and left.

I felt relieved. Had worried that it might be too much, overkill. But, I guess not. As we were all leaving for the night, pulling on coats, boots, Carlos said, "I would like to make an announcement. I am mad for all of you dear women. Thank you for today."

And then he bowed (he does a lot of bowing too....go figure...) and left us.

I hope he's okay this weekend.

But, I think maybe, in this case, a red flag was called for.

Don't you?