Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just When I Thought I Might Start Dating Again. . . .

Just when I thought I might start dating again, I saw this:

Now, I don't mean to be heartless or insensitive to the plight of the Tree Man, but when I discovered that this was, in fact, a real condition and not just someone made up with latex and makeup to look like he was turning into a tree for sort of a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" kind of moment, I was horrified and disgusted. His condition literally made my skin crawl from head to toe.

And when I learned that what was causing this terrible condition was not some rare, unknown tropical disease, but instead. . . . .


yes, that's right, the sexually transmitted disease that also causes the oh-so-popular genital warts and cervical cancer (as if those two possibilities aren't bad enough), I am considering becoming permanently celibate.

Instead of showing children in school pictures of blisters and oozing pustules on various genitalia, they should show them TREE MAN. I am convinced that this would do more than anything to single-handedly stop the rise of teenage pregnancy. In fact, I think teen sex might cease to exist altogether.

Perhaps you are saying, "Come on, Mama Solo. Yes, this man does have a terrible STD that has ravaged his entire body, but this isn't that common. You can't avoid dating and intimacy forever just based on this!"

True, Tree Man may be a one in a million case, but you don't know me! I have terrible luck! I wouldn't be the one in a million to win the lottery. NO. I'd be the one in a million who, after being single and celibate for over four years due to the demands of single parenthood, ventured into the dating world only to become world-famous as TREE WOMAN: The first known case of HPV gone wild in the west!

Thanks, Tree Man. I think you just may have permanently ended my sex life!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fear of Dying

When my friend Erin and I went skydiving for her 30th birthday, we invited her other best friend, Gretchen, to come skydiving with us. Gretchen said something like, "No way! I can't imagine putting my life at risk by doing something so crazy when I have a little boy. I just can't." Neither Erin nor I had children at that point, so we didn't really get it.

Now I get it.

In a few days I am having surgery to deal with a pretty serious skin condition that I have which causes scarring and can lead to a loss of mobility of your arms and your legs. It's not major surgery, but it's not really minor either. And even minor surgery can have complications.

I've had surgery three times before--once an exploratory laparoscopy, once to remove my gallbladder, and once because my appendix burst. All of them turned out fine, more or less, and I wasn't overly worried about it.

But this is different. Now, I AM A MOMMY. And not only that, but a single mommy and the only parent my son has ever known, since his dad has never even met him, has never even seen a picture, and isn't involved in any way.

Because of this, I am fraught with emotions about my upcoming surgery. I am so worried that something will go wrong, leaving my son to be raised by my parents, with whom I have a very difficult relationship.

To prepare for this, I had a will drawn up. I've written letters explaining how I would want my son to be raised: vegetarian until he's old enough to decide for himself, no guns, no hunting, no forced religion.

I know I will probably be just fine, but it's so hard not to worry that maybe I won't be.

Today when my parents came to take my son to their house so I could finish my work before I have surgery (I teach college and have tons of papers to grade), I had a hard time holding back the tears. I am going to try to see him before my surgery, but I might not be able to make it to their house (an hour and a half away) before I have surgery.

My mind kept going to the thought "What if this is the last time I see him?" The tears welled up in my eyes.

He was sitting in the back seat of my parents' car in his car seat, waiting to go to their house.

"Can I have a kiss?" I ask.

"NO! You can't!" he says, a typical response for my three-year-old boy.

"Ok, don't kiss me. I don't want a kiss. I HATE KISSES. Ick. No way do I want a kiss." I try reverse psychology on him, and it works.

A big grin spreads across his face, and he grabs my face with both hands and plants a few juicy ones on my lips. We both laugh.

"I love you," I say.

"I don't love you," he says. "You're not a good mommy," he says, smiling, then makes his scrunched up "mean" face. He loves to bug me, the little turkey.

I think . . . . what if this is the last thing he says to me? I can't help but be melodramatic and overly emotional.

I tickle him. "If you say that again, I will tickle you more!"

He laughs. "I don't like you! You're not a good mommy!" I tickle him. He continues to goad me, and I continue to tickle him.

Finally he says, "I love you. You're a good mommy."

"How about another kiss?" I ask.

"I just gave you one!" he complains.

"How about another one? I need a few more."

He obliges and gives me a few more wet, sloppy kisses.

"Let's go!" he yells at my dad, as if he's a chauffeur.

They pull away from the curb, and once he's out of sight, I burst into tears.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fear of Flying

Six years ago, on August 30, 2002, I took my best friend Erin skydiving for her 30th birthday. When I had asked her what she planned to do for her 30th birthday, she said, "Crawl into my bed and cry."

I said, "Well, that's not very creative. Why don't we do something fun? Something exciting!"

"Like what?" she asked.

"I don't know. Something memorable," I replied.

I paused.

"Like . . . . skydiving."

Before it was out of my mouth, I already regretted it. Did I really want to do that? I had always planned to go skydiving someday, but was I ready for that kind of excitement? After all, I was afraid of heights. I hyperventilate standing at the edge of a movie theater balcony.

Erin's face lit up. "Skydiving?!!! YES! LET'S DO IT!"

At that point, there was no getting out of it. We were going skydiving.

Erin and I had met a few years prior in an adjunct faculty office at the community college where we both worked. She was stylish, intelligent, funny, and intimidating. The first time we talked, she asked, "Who's your favorite literary theorist?" as if there was a right answer. At first, I thought she might be a bit of a literary snob, a stuffy intellectual, but I soon realized she was just extremely bright--a brilliant novelist who had penned two novels--and a wealth of information about all things literary, historical, and political.

A week after we first met, she invited me to dinner. We found out that we had attended the same university and shared many of the same college friends. We soon became fast friends and spent most afternoons together, having coffee, grading papers, shopping, running, hiking, and gossiping about men, sex, and the sordid sex lives of our former university professors, who were in their 60s and sleeping with 20-something grad students that we knew.

Our friendship was full of laughter--both at others and at ourselves. One of our favorite daytime excursions was going to Nordstrom Rack, picking out the most hideous clothes we could find, forcing each other to try them on, then laughing at each other until we almost peed our pants as we emerged from the dressing room wearing full length Lycra "evening gowns" with glued-on glitter, studded and bejeweled "pleather" vests, mom jeans, or senior citizen cruise ship attire.

Weekends were spent drinking, salsa dancing, picking up men, and talking loudly in bars about inappropriate topics. We were always doing something together.

Our friendship, though close, wasn't without its flaws. Like a bad boyfriend, Erin would sometimes stand me up, leaving me sitting on my couch on a Saturday night in my over-the-top salsa dancing ensemble--a red and black short, flirty dress, darkly shadowed eyes, and glittery red toenail polish--without as much as a phone call. Sometimes she seemed irrational. We didn't fight much, but she began to disappoint me more and more frequently. I didn't quite understand what was going on, but it would soon become clear.

One day, I got a call from Erin's mom. Erin had been hospitalized with a nervous breakdown after trying to drive to Mexico to see the Virgin of Guadalupe. The police had found her wandering, confused and alone, in southern California. She didn't know who she was, but they were able to contact her parents after finding her driver's license. She just left work one day, got in her car, and tried to drive to Mexico. I was shocked. Who does that? Why would she do that?

Erin was upset that her mom had called me. She was embarrassed. Yet she called me from the local hospital where her parents had moved her and asked me to bring her yogurt-covered raisins. I obliged.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was buzzed into the psychiatric ward through a series of locked doors. One young man sat on a bench near the doors talking to himself. Others swatted at invisible insects and talked to invisible people. It was what you'd expect from a psychiatric ward: disturbing, hopeless, and crushingly sad.

I found Erin's room and walked in, not knowing what to expect. She was sitting in the dark, looking nervous and shaky.

"I can't believe my mom called you," she began, sounding somewhat like her normal self.

"I can't believe you didn't call me!" I said.

"I didn't want you to see me like this," she said, looking at the floor. "Did you bring the raisins?"

"Here they are," I said, handing them to her. She stuck her hand into the plastic sack and ate several handfuls as if she was starving. Then all semblance of normalcy disappeared, as a look of complete horror came over her face.

"They are wet! Why are they wet? Why are they wet?" She collapsed into tears, sobbing uncontrollably.

The raisins weren't wet. I didn't know what to say or what to do. She didn't want me to touch her. I didn't want to scare her. I didn't want to contradict her. I didn't know what to do, but I was there.

Before I left the hospital, I gave her a card that told her I loved her, and I would be there no matter what. And I was.

Erin was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the last year or so of our friendship was peppered with all sorts of disturbing incidents: Erin's frequent drunk driving, hallucinations, and delusions. Voices in her head told her all sorts of things. One day she thought I had poisoned her food. We were eating at a restaurant when she suddenly looked at me in horror and spit her food back onto the plate. Months later, in one of her moments of clarity, she recalled that event and explained what had happened. Sometimes she lived in the reality that most of us do, but often she lived in a reality that was hers alone.

Along with her mother, I fought to find her some sort of treatment. First, she tried the various cocktails prescribed to her by traditional doctors. Some made her completely comatose. Some made her twitch and drool uncontrollably. One made her gain 20 pounds in two weeks.

Then, they took a trip to a specialist in Canada that I found via some internet research. This doctor put her on a wide range of natural treatments, and she actually improved quite a bit. Unfortunately, she only seemed to improve just enough to realize how terrible her life really was. She realized the seriousness of her illness, that she would probably never recover, that she would be tormented by voices and visions for the remainder of her life, that she would never be able to write, and that she would live with her parents and likely remain unmarried and childless.

That reality became too much for her to bear, and on one April night, a Good Friday, Erin committed suicide.

I received the news the next day from Nitin, an East Indian guy she and I were friends with. He arrived at my apartment shortly after I returned home from work. He had called to tell me that he needed to talk to me about Erin, which was unusual. Why did he need to talk to me in person? Why immediately? I had a sick feeling in my stomach.

After Nitin's phone call asking to meet me, I tried to call Erin's house. Cheryl, Erin's mom's best friend, answered their home phone, which was unusual. When she realized it was me, she spoke so gently and carefully it was if she was trying to wrap me in cotton. With a sweet, calm voice, she said, "Ohhhh, sweetie . . . . Judy needs to talk to you, honey, but she's not here right now. Will you be home, sweetheart?" There were condolences in her voice. At that moment, I knew for certain something was terribly wrong.

Then I got a call from my mom, who sounded panicked, though I could tell she was attempting to sound normal. She said, "Ummm, hi. Ummmm, your dad and I are coming down to Costco right now, so I just wanted to let you know that we are, ummmm, coming down there."

"Why are you coming to Costco?" I asked.

"We need to get . . . . water," she said.

An emergency trip to Costco to get water? My mom has never been a good liar. Too many odd things were lining up, and I knew Erin was gone before I even knew.

A few minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. Nitin walked in and he was unable to even talk to me or look at me. His face was full of anguish.

"Is it Erin?"

He shook his head yes.

I began crying. It was all too obvious. I didn't want to ask any more questions, but I forced myself.

"Is . . . . is she . . . . is she . . . alive?"

He shook his head no, and I began frantically pacing the floors and sobbing, then I completely collapsed.

Today, Erin would have been 36 years old.

Tonight I had dinner with Judy, Erin's mother; and Gretchen, Erin's other best friend. We met as we do every year to celebrate Erin's life, and over many glasses of wine, we shared our memories of Erin.

When I think of Erin, I like to remember that day when we went skydiving. We jumped from the plane only a few seconds apart, and I landed on the ground just shortly after she did. She ran to me, her face full of pure joy and exhilaration.

"That was AWESOME!" she screamed.

Every time I look up to see a sky of robin's egg blue dotted with handfuls of cotton-ball clouds, I remember Erin and that magical day we spent flying without fear.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It All Began with a Weakness for Hot Latin Men Who Can Dance

I had always wanted to learn to salsa dance. When I was 23 and planning my wedding (leading to a marriage that would end only a year later), my finance and I considered hiring a salsa band for the reception because we loved Latin music, despite our distinctly non-Latin backgrounds. We went to watch the band perform at a local salsa club and were so stunned at the skill of the salseros spinning, twirling, hip-shaking, and fancy foot-working that we decided not to hire the band. We were convinced no one would be brave enough to dance at the reception.

From that point on, I was determined to learn to salsa. It was hot. It was sexy. It was sweaty. It was Latin.

I've always had a thing for Latin men. Even when I was five years old, it had already begun. I drooled over Eric Estrada on "CHIPS," so much so that my mom was embarrassed about it.

Eric Estrada: Object of my 5-year-old lust.

And I arose early on weekends to lust over the boys of Menudo. No, I am not ashamed to admit this, even now. Ok, maybe just a little.

What's not to love about metallic lycra pants?

This prepubescent obsession with Eric Estrada and Menudo, a love of salsa music, and my determination to rub bodies with sweaty Latin men led me to one place: salsa dancing lessons.

After finally committing to lessons, I fought through embarrassment over my lack of instantaneous salsa dancing talent, and drooled over my hot Latin salsa teacher--incidentally, also named Eric. After many months of lessons and workshops, I was finally a fairly proficient salsera and began frequenting local salsa clubs as often as three or four times a week.

One night, I was dancing with an extremely short Guatemalan fellow who was determined to nestle his face between my breasts during the close holds, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. As I determined exactly how I would extricate myself from this uncomfortable situation, he led me into a spin, and mid-spin, it happened . . . .

I made eye contact with him, dancing with a hot Latina halfway across the dance floor, and I nearly lost my breath. We held our eye contact as long as we could, and as I stared into his eyes, so dark brown that they were nearly black, it was as if I was looking at my destiny: so strongly was I drawn to him. Wondering if maybe I was reading too much into it, I looked towards him again at the next turn. Sure enough, he was trying to make eye contact too, and we looked at each other with intensity until our partners drew us back into the dance.

The song ended, and I made a hasty retreat to the edge of the dance floor to grab my girlfriend, Erin. I was in the midst of saying, "Erin! Oh my god! This guy was looking at me and he is so hot and. . . ." when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

There he stood, impeccably dressed, from head to toe, wearing charcoal gray wool pants, a windowpane-patterned shirt in pale blue, and pale blue suede shoes--a combination only a suave Latin man could pull off. His hair was coal black and wavy, his perfectly smooth skin the color of a latte. He smiled, showing his broad white teeth lined up perfectly in his mouth, and said, "Jou wanna dance?" in his heavy accent. I took his hand and smelled the intoxicating scent of his sweat and cologne as he pulled me adeptly onto the dance floor.

He danced like a Latin Fred Astaire--smoothly, with confidence, and a sly little grin as he looked up at me and gyrated his Latin hips to the salsa beat. He was such a talented dancer and lead that I became his Ginger Rogers, mamboing effortlessly across the floor as if I had done it all my life. As good leads do, he made me look like perfection on the dance floor.

It was all over. My destiny was set.

We danced until the wee morning hours, and he then asked if he could call me when I got home.

"Call me? It's 3:00 am!"
"I know," he said, with the same sly smile.
"Ok," I agreed, as giddy as a middle-school girl.

After arriving home, I waited for his call. The phone rang, and I answered.

At this point I realized that he barely spoke English. No matter. What I was interested in didn't necessarily involve talking. We could dance, and well . . . .

We could kiss. I discovered his kissing talents a few nights later on our first date. We decided to go see "Y Tu Mama Tabien" at a local second-run movie house. When he arrived, he looked decidedly American, wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt. The ensemble was disappointing, to say the least. I discovered he was coming right from his job, where he worked designing furniture, so he was dressed more casually. I found his occupation somewhat interesting, and it was not what I had expected.

Once in the theater, the racy storyline of the movie quickly affected us, and we were soon making out like two teenagers in the backseat of a car. And OH, MY, GOD. Could this boy kiss. Never have I kissed someone who kissed so well, and I doubt I ever will again.

Fast forward several months: We are dating and dancing as much as four or five nights a week. We frequently see foreign films, which I love. He cooks me traditional Mexican food and fattens me up. We cuddle on the couch and watch "Sex and the City" with Spanish subtitles. I am happy, for the most part.

But then he begins having crazy, irrational jealous rages. He accuses me of sleeping around. He goes through my email and searches documents on my computer. He claims to see emails that are solid proof of my infidelity, and when I ask him to show me what he is talking about, he says I erased them.

I tell him that there is no one else, that I love him, which is true, yet he doesn't believe me. He constantly questions me and asks for evidence of my truthfulness. Sometimes he shows up at my work or home unexpectedly. At first I am excited to see him, thinking he has shown up to surprise me, but I soon realize that he is not trying to surprise me: he's checking up on me.

I begin keeping receipts when I go to the grocery store, to Starbucks, to get gas, or go clothes shopping to prove that I was, in fact, where I said I was. If I go to the gym, I buy a bottle of water to prove I was at the gym. Sometimes I feel afraid.

He drinks too much on weekends and flies into drunken rages. One night, he drives 70 miles an hour on a city street and nearly hits a parked car. He won't let me drive. He won't let me get out of the car. He won't stop.

I ask him to stop drinking when we go out, and he does. He starts attending a Spanish language AA group. He starts going to counseling. Things seem to be looking up.

But the jealous, irrational behavior continues. Sometimes he pushes me. Often I am afraid.

Still, I don't want to leave. I rationalize his behavior. I want to help him, to fix him, as women sometimes do. He tells me horrendous stories about his childhood: His dad raped him. His dad sold him to other men for money. His parents abandoned him in a small Mexican village when he was five years old. Someone found him and brought him to his grandparents' house. I don't know what is true and what is not. I tell myself, "He just needs to know that someone loves him. He's getting better."

And when he is normal and calm, we have so much fun. I know it sounds irrational. I think, "I know I need to break up with him eventually, and that he wouldn't be a good father or husband. This is just for now." But part of me thinks maybe he will get better. The good part of him represents the best boyfriend I've ever had: loving, affectionate, generous, funny, smart.

Unfortunately, the bad part of him is also the worst boyfriend I've ever had.

Suddenly, time has passed and we've been together for two years and some months. I finally realize that it's time for me to move on. I finally realize that I need and deserve something stable, something normal. After breaking up and getting back together several times, we finally break up for good.

It's October 2004. I start feeling sick. Everyone at the office has the stomach flu, and it's a bad one: we are all vomiting. But my "flu" continues on for a week longer than everyone else's, then two weeks. I don't think anything of it. I have missed my periods for several months, but I don't think anything of that either. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and my periods are often absent for months at a time. I have been told by several doctors that I will probably never have children. My experience has proven that to be the case. I have never been pregnant despite a marriage and several long-term intimate relationships, and I am 30 years old. I never even entertain the thought that I might be pregnant. It's not in the realm of possibility.

It doesn't even cross my mind until one unusual night.

It's 1:00 am and I awake with a start. Like someone waking from a terrible nightmare, I bolt upright, sitting straight up in my bed.

"You need to get a pregnancy test," a voice says in my head.

I am not sure if this is coming from my own mind or body, or whether this is the voice of a higher power of some kind, but I decide I am being silly and go back to sleep.

Exactly one hour later, at 2:00 am, I am jolted out of sleep again, sitting upright in my bed with a big frightened gasp, as if someone just shook me and screamed in my ear.

"You need to get a pregnancy test," the voice says again.

I still think this is ridiculous. I go back to sleep.

Yet again, one hour later at 3:00 am, I am sitting up with a jolt and a gasp.

"You need to get a pregnancy test," the voice says, without any particular urgency.

At this point I decide, "This is odd. I am just freaking out. Ok, ok, whatever. I will get a pregnancy test tomorrow."

On my way to work, I stop by Rite Aid and pick up a pregnancy test. There are two tests in the box, and they have a digital read out. I take comfort in knowing that it will clearly read "PREGNANT" or "NOT PREGNANT" and that I won't have to decipher whether there is one faint line or two.

Even with the odd incident of the night before, I truly think nothing of this. I've taken pregnancy tests before, and they never meant anything. At this point, I am pretty convinced I can't even get pregnant.

It's 15 minutes before I have to teach a writing class at the community college where I am employed, but I have just enough time to slip into the public bathroom stall and get this done. No biggie.

I open the box, scan the instructions, unwrap the test, pee on the testing stick, and stand there for a second, bored, waiting for what I know I will see: "NOT PREGNANT."

Suddenly, and much more quickly than the several minutes the box says you need to wait, I see the bold letters appear in the digital readout: PREGNANT.

"What? What? No way! Oh my god! Oh my god!" I nearly pass out, literally, and grab at the walls of the bathroom stall for stability.

A swirl of conflicting emotions erupt, ranging from happiness to complete panic. "My parents are going to kill me! Oh my god! What will I do? Maybe this is wrong. Oh no! He is the WORST person I could have gotten pregnant by! What will I do? I am so stupid. Oh my god. A baby? I'm going to be a mommy. A mommy! I never thought this could happen. I thought I'd have to adopt if I wanted kids. This is a miracle! I can't believe this! What will I do? Am I really ready for this? I am so scared! . . . . ."

Damn you, Eric Estrada! This is all your fault.

Or perhaps I should say thank you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Now, The Only Thing That Reminds Me of Being Young, Drunk, and Childless

Lysol and vomit

The lovely pairing of aromas wafted through my bedroom as I tried to sleep last night. Once, prior to mommyhood, this would have been reminiscent of a wild night of bar hopping, disgusting public restrooms, and too many drinks with friends . . . or, more often, friends who had too many drinks.

Now, it only reminds me of the little three-year-old person lying next to me in bed, who barfed up a dinner of spaghetti, sourdough bread, zucchini, and strawberry ice cream after having gagged on his nemesis, the toothbrush.

I swear, if there were an Olympics of Vomit, my son would excel in multiple events. He would excel at the vomit equivalent of the long jump, pole vault, and shot put. His regurgitation acrobatics are truly gold medal worthy. Once I swear he expelled twice his body weight in vomit and completely covered his bedroom, a hallway, and the bathroom as I desperately tried to get him to the toilet.

No one ever said motherhood was glamorous!

I was once what I would call a "sympathetic vomiter": if I heard it, smelled it, or saw it, I was bound to join the barfer in his or her moment of glory.

Finally, after three years of trial by fire, or vomit, rather, I am finally almost immune to its effects. Perhaps now I should abandon my teaching career for a more lucrative career in medicine, one that I always avoided because of my squeamishness over bodily functions--vomiting being at the top of that list. There's always a bright side to everything, no?

After the vomiting attack, he gave me this pathetic look that said, "I told you how much I hate the toothbrush! Now look what you made me do?!" He then told me with confidence that he would never eat again. Why? Because then he would never have to brush his teeth again. It was, in his three-year-old mind, a perfect solution.

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