Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Attack of the Latter Day Saints

A couple of Springtimes ago, The German was downstairs with the laundry and some Mormons gave him a little card advertising the offer of a free Book of Mormon if you called and ordered it from their 1-800 number. Well, he passed it on to me because he knows that I have a penchant for reading religious texts. I guess it stems from my childhood. My mother always explored other cultures and taught me not to be afraid to do so either. Reading about religion is a good way to get to understand people because spiritual views seem to be at least very close to the core of human consciousness. So anyway, I called and requested a book. I figured by ordering one this way it would just come in the mail and I'd have the opportunity to get to know a bit about their views without giving any of them the impression that I was interested in joining their church. That turned out to be a big mistake.

Less than a half hour later two female missionaries from The Church of Latter Day Saints were knocking on my door. Although it was unexpected, I wasn't upset really. They said they'd be glad to bring me a copy of the book and answer any questions I had. I told them that would be fine. The two returned a few days later while The German was at work. They asked if they could come in and tell me a little bit about the book and their faith. Since I was getting the book for free--they wouldn't even accept a donation for it even though I did offer--I figured that letting them at least give their intended message was at least some compensation.

They were really sweet. They told me that they are often in the neighborhood and asked if I minded if they stopped by again soon to see what I thought of the book. I told them that I planned to read it simply out of curiousity and not because I was looking to join them but they were still welcome to stop by. Well, they did come back and I asked them a few things about their core beliefs. This led to them stopping by almost every week. They were nice enough girls, so I really didn't mind at first. After awhile, it did become a bit imposing but I didn't have the heart to tell them that what gave them so much faith simply didn't that for me. When I became a bit ill we lost touch. I suppose they gave up after knocking on my door a few times and not finding me available. I thought that was the end of it but it wasn't.

About a year later, a new set of missionaries knocked on my door. This time they were male. These guys seemed as sincere as the first two and they were definitely friendly as well. However, I think they first stopped by me when they were very close to finishing their rotation in this area, so they only stopped by and chatted with me a few times. After that I got no visits for months and I figured they'd finally given up on converting me. Once again, I was wrong.

The next two fellows who dropped by were real jerks. They started out by telling me that they had come to set my baptism date. I let them know that while I had asked a lot of questions about their church, they shouldn't have assumed that meant I wanted to be baptized as one of them. They asked me to tell them whatever questions I needed answered before I would be willing to believe that theirs was God's only true church. I told them that they'd have to show that God would really discriminate between his children based on skin color as was their never-apologized-for practice up until about twenty years ago.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The One That Couldn't Be Mine

My pulse is absolutely racing tonight. A very exciting event occurred. I was sitting here at my computer pissing away my time as usual while The German drowsed in front of his new 42 inch monstrosity in the living room and VanGoghGirl played with the mountains of toys spread out across her room. She had just finished talking to her cousin in New Orleans when the phone rang and she brought it to me to answer (after checking the caller ID to make sure it wasn't any of her squeaky-voiced tweenie friends, of course). I didn't recognize the name or the number but I answered anyway since this hurricane has spread all my friends out to all parts of the country.

The voice on the other end of the phone took me back over a decade. When I was a student at HellOnEarth High School, I ran with a rather raucous crowd. Skipping school, drinking, partying while each other's parents were away--we did it all. Throughout those crazy years, I had a couple of boyfriends. The most significant of these was a guy I met in eleventh grade.

At the time I was dating a guy we called Duck. A lot of his close friends were acquainted with the girls in my little clique. I first met Spoogie while on my way to a party where he knocked me down on the grass in what was supposed to be funny but was not at all that in my view. Despite such an introduction, we soon became pretty good friends. After we had been friends for a while he managed to prove to me that my boyfriend also had another girlfriend. As you can imagine that left me feeling a bit piqued since I was absolutely crazy about Duck.

Spoogie did his best to cheer me up. He would come around after school to pick me up so that I could hang out with my friends (who went to the neighboring high school) a little bit before I had to be home. He and I soon became a couple. It was a very complex relationship. I'm quite sure that I was never the only girl that he was involved with. Most of the time that we were together he lived with another girl and her family. I know, it seems kind of slimy but what can I say? I was young at the time. Besides, the other girl knew about me too. I don't think Spoogie knows this but I used to talk to her on the phone sometimes. Perhaps one mitigating factor in her mind was the fact that Spoogie and I never had sex. She was closer to his age--I was a few years younger--so, I'm sure I must not have seemed like much of a threat in her eyes.

When I started at HellOnEarth a lot of my girlfriends were virgins. By the time we got to eleventh and twelfth grade, most of them were not. In my clique the girls were all sleeping with the boys. I never looked down on them for that. It was their decision to make and they were comfortable with themselves so that was that. However, I just didn't feel the same way. I dated some boys and did my share of kissing but none of those corny lines or adorable faces impressed me enough to want to go to bed with them. I suppose that my religious background probably had a lot to do with it too. Going to our congregation three times a week was more than enough to instill a heaping dose of "catholic guilt" on anyone regarding the sins of fornication and "loose conduct".

The only person that made me want to change my "flowered" status was Spoogie. To understand why I have to explain what my life was like back then. My mother had just gotten married to a man who moved into our house with five of his eight children. My own father distanced himself from me and my brothers and I suspect that it was because my mother's marriage left him feeling replaced. So, even though I was struggling to handle puberty and peer pressure, I had no one I felt comfortable with enough for me to turn to them for guidance. Spoogie filled that role. He encouraged me to stop skipping school and drinking and getting into trouble. At the same time, he also helped me let loose and have fun when we were together because I knew I had someone looking out for me and my best interests. I guess that's part of the reason he wouldn't sleep with me. He knew that I wasn't ready for that and wouldn't have felt good about myself if I had gone through with it even though I loved him. So, he simply refused. I did try all sorts of ways to change his mind and there's nothing in the world that could induce me to ever discuss that sort of thing here but the fact remains that none of my attempts worked. At the time, I didn't understand why he wouldn't be "my first" but now that I look back on it, I think the reason why I am still so crazy about him is because our relationship never did take that route.

After I graduated from high school we sort of drifted apart. I met VanGoghGirl's biodad and I got pregnant for him. Spoogie seemed to resent the fact that the guy who came after him was not nearly as noble-minded and he detached himself from me completely. It really hurt to lose him like that because he was one of the few guys in my life that I felt I could trust. A few years later, a mutual friend told me that Spoogie had gone to jail. She gave him my phone number and he called me. We wrote to each other a bit but lost contact about six months before his was due to be released. I moved to a new place and lost his address and though I asked my mother to let me know if he called again, that never amounted to anything either.

About a year ago, VanGoghGirl's biodad told me that he saw Spoogie at the home of one of his girlfriend's buddies. Of course, that hater wouldn't help me try to find a way to get in touch with him. A few other people I know told me that they had spotted him a few times in various spots but no one had any news on where he was staying. Then Hurricane Katrina struck.

He was one of the first people that I thought about. I had always felt that as long as he was in New Orleans, I'd see him eventually. Suddenly that hope fizzled away. I posted on message boards asking for information about him. The German was sympathetic. He understood how important this was to me. We posted requests for information about him on every evacuee and survivor message board we could find. I even filled out the Red Cross form for the missing. Unfortunately, I got no response regarding him even as we did eventually find some of my step-dad's family using the same methods.

Then two months later, I opened my e-mail box to find a message with Spoogie's name as the title. It was a really short message from someone who said she was his sister, asking me how did I know him. I immediately fired off a really long e-mail explaining why I really wanted to get in touch with him. You see, when he was incarcerated, he sent me some photos of his children and asked me to hold them for him. One of his sons is now deceased and I wanted to give them back to him because I worried that he might have lost everything in this storm, like a lot of other people did. I know my mother was more worried about the pictures that she left behind than she was about her actual house. I wanted to let him know that what he had trusted me with was still here for whenever he wanted them back.

I checked my e-mail all day long but got no response. Everyday I looked through my inbox hoping that I'd see another e-mail from his little sister but again I had no such luck. So that brings me to this evening with him asking to speak to me. I recognized his voice immediately. It's crazy that after all this time he sounds exactly like he did when we used to go out on the Lakefront and talk about our problems for hours. He was pretty amused by the message I posted on the missing list requesting information on his whereabouts. We talked for almost an hour.

It turns out that he did try to ride out the hurricane. Fortunately, he survived it. He's taking care of his mother right now because his father is in the hospital. We tried to catch up as much as possible. I had to tell him about the cancer when he asked me about why I dropped off the map shortly before he got paroled. I asked him about his kids. I knew that he had two sons (plus his son that died) but I also found out that he has a daughter. She's 13 years old and so is one of his sons. That really blew my mind. That's only a few years younger than I was when I met him. Of course, VanGoghGirl is 10 now. So, I guess he and I are both getting older a lot quicker than it seems.

Because of the hurricanes, he has to start all over like almost everyone else from New Orleans. I really wish there was something that I could do to help him. He did so much to support me when I was young that I don't think I will ever be able to find the words to express how big of an impact he had on my life. I've always wanted to imagine that I meant as much to him as he did to me. I don't know if I could convince myself of that no matter how much I want to believe it. He was so charismatic and handsome that there was always a string of girls in his life at any given time. I don't know where I rank in his hierarchy of past relationships. He says that I should know that he always put me first. I don't know. I can't help but think about how things might have been if he had actually ever given me the chance to be all that he needed. That's all in the past now because The German is the man I intend to marry but I really hope that I can grow old with Spoogie still in my life. Just having him to talk to would give me more comfort than I've had in a long time.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Kid At Her School

VanGoghGirl has been having problems at school again. She has some sort of rivalry going on between her and a little boy that is in the same gifted class and art classes and also rides the bus with her everyday. I think we'll just call him Hanuman for the sake of convenience. Anyways, Hanuman was the darling of the art program at the school before VanGoghGirl came along. He had won a national contest which resulted in a certain company donating hundreds of dollars in art supplies to the school. Once she joined it, they were both considered the top two students. However, VanGoghGirl kind of eclipsed him rather quickly. The Louisiana State Archives has yearly exhibitions of art from the entire parish, one for each of the three grade groups (elementary, middle, high school). For the past three years VanGoghGirl has had the most pieces selected for the elementary students' exhibition. It's a pretty big deal locally and it resulted in the school superintendent asking if he could put a copy of one piece in his office after he saw it.
Hanuman is really good. His art is very different from VanGoghGirl's. The art teacher says that while Hanuman is very good at realism, she doesn't consider it to be as advanced as VanGoghGirl's. She said VanGoghGirl's understanding of art and her abstract art put her on the same level as the college students she teaches. She said that VanGoghGirl is the most talented student she's ever known because she can sing, act, and create art with equal talent. Okay, now that I've finished bragging about my kid I'll get down to what's going on with Hanuman.

This squirt seems quite determined to try to knock VanGoghGirl down a few notches every single day. He constantly brags to the other children about what his parents do for a living and how they have so much money. He tries to keep his little sister from being friends with any of the other children on the bus and he even makes racist jokes from time to time. He's the shortest kid in the class and it's quite clear that he's already in stage four of Napoleonic Syndrome. In other words, the kid's obnoxious. I've tried to help VanGoghGirl figure out how to deal with him. At first I suggested that she try reasoning with him. That didn't work. I spoke to their teacher and that didn't help either. Yesterday, I called and spoke to the assistant principal who brought the two children into her office and talked to them about it. Ms. SternButFair says that Hanuman denied ever saying anything insulting to anyone but she wasn't buying it. She told the kids to stay away from and not say anything to each other. Of course, the little jerk still harassed VanGoghGirl on the bus afterwards.

I'm one step from telling her to just punch the little jerk if he gets close to her. No. Seriously, if this lasts a few more days, I'm going to call for a conference with his parents and the Parent/Teacher Liaison. I refuse to allow this little thug to verbally abuse my child for another two semesters.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What Katrina Did

So much has happened since my last entry. The hurricane turned out to be so much more devastating than I had any idea I would or even could be. My mother's house didn't flood at all but it will still have to be torn down and rebuilt because the wind tore off part of the roof so that when you stand in my brother's room, you can see clear through to the sky. Then the rain poured down into the walls which means that they'll all have to be torn down. I think I was in denial about how bad it was even after I visited for the first time after the storm. I could tell that my brother's room would need to be repaired and, because of seepage from that room, also my mother's room below it. However, the other rooms looked pretty good. Everything was almost as it was when they left. There were water spots on some of the ceilings and I guess that should have clued me in but I suppose I was seeing what I wanted to see and nothing more. My mother and step-dad are living in Dallas now while they wait for the insurance company to take care of their part.

My great-aunt also lost her home. It was right on the corner of Tennessee St. which is where one of the levee breaks occurred. They don't even have anything to go back to. The house is gone, completely blown to bits by the water. Fortunately, she had evacuated or else she'd surely be dead. She's been suffering from depression ever since she found out about her house though. She's living in a FEMA trailer on one of her niece's homes in Baton Rouge right now.

One of my maternal aunts had a house in New Orleans east. The kitchen in her house is elevated a bit higher than the rest of the rooms on the main floor and the water still got as high as the top of her kitchen counters. So, the only room that didn't flood was her attic. They're living in Arkansas right now while they decide what to do next.

Another aunt evacuated to Baton Rouge where one of her daughter's had just moved. Her second-floor apartment made it through the hurricane intact but she still can't live there because the first floor apartments totally flooded so the whole building has to be renovated. Her other two children also evacuated to Baton Rouge. The German found an apartment for her son to rent; His apartment in New Orleans was destroyed by flood waters. Her younger daughter had been living in St. Bernard parish when the storm hit. When she went back to see her apartment, everything in it was pushed around like a tornado had been inside of it. She's found a house to rent and moved to New Orleans earlier this week.

My oldest brother lost everything too. The German and I sneaked into the apartment complex and saw some really mind-blowing sights. There were garbage bins, the kind that it takes those special garbage trucks with the lifts to pick up, that had floated ontop of cars and rested there as the water receded. There were cars that had been picked up from the parking lot and carried into the lake in the middle of the complex. My brother's apartment had no walls left. From outside you could see past his living room and into what had once been his bathroom. So, he has nothing to come back to either. He and his girlfriend and their kids are living in Atlanta now.

I'm realizing now that I would have to write for a very long time in order to talk about how much has happened since the hurricane. I think I'll have to do this in installments. At least I'm starting to try to write about this again. It's just been so painful that I didn't think I could bear to do it. I still don't know how much I can say about it at one time. I really wanted this to be a release but I'm afraid that it may just open up wounds that haven't even fully closed yet. However, they may never close so this may be as good a time as any to talk about it. It's just one day at a time, I guess.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina--why do all of the bad ones have female names?

Well, we have power for a little while so I'm going to try and type a bit. My mother, step-dad, brother, sister-in-law, and brand spanking new niece left New Orleans on Saturday morning. The traffic was light and it only took them an hour and a half to get out here. We were able to find a hotel room for them but only for one night. The German, VanGoghGirl, and I hung out with them at the hotel until bedtime and then we came home to get some sleep. Around midnight, I talked to my youngest brother and his girlfriend and they told me they had plans to leave the next morning. I called my oldest brother around 1:30 a.m. and asked him what he was going to do. He said that he was still trying to figure all of that out because transportation was sort of a problem for him, his girlfriend, and their two kids. The problem? His girlfriend's car doesn't have air conditioning. She figured that since it was the middle of the night it wouldn't be all that bad and that it was better to just go and be hot than to stay and perhaps lose their lives. I told him that The German would be glad to come and get him but he decided to be obstinate. He insisted that he wasn't leaving until after he washed their laundry and took care of some things. The German said that he was just going to leave to get them and bring them back here while the roads were pretty clear. I called and told my brother that he had already left and got chewed out about it. He told me that he wasn't leaving yet so I might as well tell The German to come back home. I was pretty upset because this control freak was willing to make the rest of his family pay the price for his obstinacy. I called up my bio-dad and told him about it and he called my brother and also got my uncle (his twin) to call him. Bio-dad says that my brother probably won't speak to him for awhile but at least he'll be alive and able to have time to get over it as long as he's out of danger. Bio-dad has his faults but he's extremely practical-minded and knows how to win an argument with my brother (and almost anyone else for that matter).

Yesterday (Sunday), my mother and her crew wound up having to stay here because the nearest available hotel room was in Ft. Worth, Texas which is nine hours away from here. The hotels are full of Floridians who came out this way to avoid the storm back when it was expected to hit them the hardest. Despite the lack of hotels rooms, things went fairly smooth. The contraflow plan kept the cars moving on the highway for everyone who didn't wait until mandatory evacuation order was issued. Of course, my brother wasn't one of them. He didn't leave until the order came through and so he got stuck in the throngs trying to get out of the city. If he hadn't had his family with him, I'd have said it served him right for not leaving when he could.

The winds started kicking up by the afternoon and by evening it was raining. We wound up having to take a trip to Wal-Mart to get some more supplies. The lines were unbelievable. I even saw one of my old buddies from New Orleans who had come to my city for shelter.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Funeral History

I've been thinking a lot about funerals. I feel like I've definitely been to more than my share of them in the past. The first one I went to where I actually understood what was going on was when my best friend's grandmother died. My mother had been best friends with her mother since they were in fourth grade. Me and my best friend were born only two weeks apart from each other and had been best friends since birth. Her grandmother was hit by an eighteen-wheeler truck while standing at the bus stop waiting to go to work. My mother had to take care of all the arrangements for the funeral because her friend was too torn up to do it. As a matter of fact, her friend didn't even go to the funeral because she couldn't bear to see her mother in a coffin. Me and my best friend were about eight years old.

Next came my maternal grandfather. What I most remember about him was the way his kisses were always prickly from his five O'clock shadow. He would often tell me that one day he was going to take me to visit Yellowstone National Park. Thanks to his die-hard cigarette habit, he died of lung cancer that eventually spread to his throat and killed him. My grandmother found his body on the floor in the living room when she came in from work one evening. He really loved science so it was no great surprise when we found out (after he had died) that he had already arranged to have his body donated to a local university. So, instead of a full-fledged funeral, we all got together at my grandmother's house, read a few verses from the Bible and said a little prayer. I was around twelve years old.

Then there was my friend Clarence a.k.a. Clay. I was fifteen and he was sixteen. He was shot to death at a birthday party after trying to help break up a fight that had erupted there. The sad thing is that his friends who were actually doing the fighting didn't get hit at all even though they were the ones the shooter had aimed at. After the funeral, I (along with the other twenty or so kids who had skipped school together that day) went to his parent's house and did our best to comfort his family. That was the first funeral that I went to on my own. My mother never would have agreed to me going to Clay's funeral. It took years for the police to catch the guy who killed Clay. They claimed they couldn't find him but the thug never even left the city. One day, Clay's mother saw the boy walking through the mall shopping with his friends. She called the police and they finally picked him up after having that one basically handed to them on a silver platter.

My beloved maternal grandmother came after that. For most of my life, my grandmother worked in the housekeeping department of a fancy downtown hospital, the Dauphine Orleans. She would often receive foreign coins in her tips and she always saved them for me. The hotel where she worked used to have them put these little piroulines on the bed pillows. The staff also had to stock those little Andes chocolate mints in the rooms too. My grandmother always had plenty of these left in her pockets and gave them to us to munch on when we came to visit. A few years after my grandfather died, she came and lived with us. Once she set the house on fire because she fell asleep with a cigarette in her hand but fortunately, no one in the house got burned. It was diabetes that killed her. First she had one foot cut off. Then they amputated the other. Then they cut off her legs up to her knees. Then she died. I was sixteen. I almost got into a big argument with the guy who officiated the services at the funeral. His mother had been friends with my grandmother. So, the jackass proceeded to spend the entire service talking about how nice his mother was to my grandmother when she was alive. I really wanted to tell him that with the way things looked, he wouldn't have long to wait until it was time to talk about his mother at a funeral. My mother stopped me.

Shortly after graduating from high school, another one of my close friends from that period died. Karl Brooks and his girlfriend had gotten a place together. One day after work, Karl went into a little corner store to pick up some diapers for his girlfriend's baby. When he stepped outside, someone asked him if he had any change to spare and Karl said he didn't. A moment later, Karl stopped to use a pay phone. While standing at the phone stand, the same person walked up and saw him. The people who witnessed the incident say that the guy got pissed off at seeing Karl putting money in the phone and yelled, "I thought you said you didn't have any money!" before shooting him several times. I got to see many of my old high school buddies at Karl's funeral. One of our friends had been pregnant with twins for Karl while they were in high school but her mother had forced her to have an abortion. She was there too. A few years later, Karl's mother went on one of the afternoon talk shows and told his story hoping that this would help the police to find the killer. It didn't.

When I was twenty, yet another one of my high school pals was killed. His name was Fred Beasley. He was sitting on the porch of the house that he shared with his girlfriend and some unknown person came up and shot him in the head. He was known throughout the neighborhood as a stay-out-of-trouble kind of guy. He wasn't a drug dealer. He worked. He paid his own bills. It was completely unexplainable. His was the worst funeral that I have ever been to. Fred's family and his girlfriend were mad and fussing about the fact that the mother of his daughter arrived late. The pastor did everything he could to try and recruit new members during the funeral by calling for everyone who knew they weren't "saved" to come up so that they could be baptized after the funeral. The organ player and the singer did their best to choose songs that would get the family hysterical with grief. Despite how much I liked Fred, I was really sorry that I went to his funeral and I swore I was not attending another high school buddy's funeral EVER.

A couple of years ago, I went to the funeral for my step-sister's baby. My step-sister was living in Germany at the time where her soldier husband was stationed and she went into labor too early. She was only about six months pregnant. The doctors were unable to stop her labor from progressing and she gave birth. The baby only lived for a couple of hours. They flew back to the U.S.A. to have the baby buried here. There was no funeral, only a gravesite prayer. My step-sister's husband wouldn't let anyone else handle the coffin. He carried the it from the hearse to the grave himself. Unfortunately, none of us ever got to know the baby or make any memories with him.

I think it's kind of sad that none of the deaths I've had to deal with personally were simply from old age. They all seem like lives that were cut short prematurely. I wonder if that's because of the way my friends and family died or if it's just that all deaths feel like that.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Life is Funny

This morning I decided to google "mandala" images. And I came across some really breathtaking photos on this one site. Then I visited the link to their blog and fell in love with these one-panel stories they had posted on their. I was going through them all when I saw this one and, although it might seem silly, I really felt like I could relate to it.

You see, I have an bone tumor on one of my ribs. Whenever I have to get another scan done to my ribs, I dress up, fix my hair as nicely as I can, and wear my prettiest earrings. It always makes the x-ray technicians smile because I tell them that I got all dolled up because I like to look nice whenever I'm getting my picture taken. Using my time before the scans to dress up helps me not to focus too much on whatever they might see. It helps to keep my day funny regardless of any news I might receive once the doctors take a look at the results.

This picture also reminds me of when I was first diagnosed. I went to the doctor on campus because I had a cold. While I was there, I told him about a back pain that I'd been having for a long time off and on. I figured it was from carrying so many books around campus. Well, he did an x-ray because, since I have lupus, he worried that it might be a fluid build-up around my lungs or even TB since college campuses can be a breeding ground for it. Well, to make a very long story short. It was actually cancer. Now, how's that for life being funny? Sometimes you go in with a cold and you come out with prescriptions. Sometimes you go in with a cold and you come out with cancer. Yet, despite all of that, life is still a wonderfully funny place.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Entrer le Bébé


A wonderful "package" arrived yesterday. My niece entered the world surrounded by the families of both her mother and her father. My mother, step-father, sister-in-law, and brother had gone to the hospital on Tuesday night after a day's worth of on-again-off-again contractions. Not much happened that night but they decided to stay under the doctor's supervision just in case they got stronger. By the morning, she was in full-fledged labor.

The German and I decided to let VanGoghGirl miss school and come along for the trip. When we got to the hospital there was already a pretty good crowd of folks waiting as well. My sister-in-law's mother, nanny, grandmother and aunt had come from Des Allemands to be there for the big moment. My sister-in-law's best friend arrived shortly after us along with her boyfriend. I had met her friend at the baby shower a few weeks ago. I was really happy to see so many people come from all over the area to be there with my brother and his wife.

Me and VanGoghGirl went to see the lady of the hour and I must say she was the most beautiful woman in labor that I had ever seen. I just know that I wasn't that serene when my daughter was making her grand entrance. Of course, the fact that I was almost completely dilated by the time I got to the hospital might have something to do with that. Anyways, my brother was standing next to his wife looking like he was in shock. He was absolutely sentimental with me and my daughter telling us how happy he was that we were going to be here for the delivery.

Well, thanks to the miracle of epidural shots, my sister-in-law didn't even feel most of her labor. The gorgeous mommy only had to push twice and suddenly she was there--the baby. How lucky is that? I'm really glad that she had a positive experience with her first delivery. While she was in labor, the baby went into distress for awhile and the doctors told her that if things didn't improve that they might have to perform a Cesarean Section. However, they were able to get the baby's heartbeat under control and she was able to have a vaginal delivery.

When we came in after the delivery, my sister-in-law was holding the baby and my brother was standing next to her looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. The baby was absolutely angelic! She had a pretty little thin layer of straight black hair on her head. Her face was the only part of her body that had any color. Her whole face was blush-colored from crying. I can't say I blame her, though. Who'd want to be thrust into such unfamiliar environs after spending all your life in a nice cushy mommy-tummy? Heck, if I could go back to being that carefree I would even now!

Her arms and hands were fairly blue. It reminded me of VanGoghGirl. When my baby was born, if she'd have been any more pale she'd have been see-through. My niece already looks like her parents. She has her father's eyes and her mother's eyes. When I looked over at VanGoghGirl she was crying and smiling at the same time. She just kept saying that she'd never seen anything that beautiful before in her life. Seeing her amazement really made me slow down and take in the whole scene a bit more too.

My youngest brother and his girlfriend arrived about a half hour after the birth. My oldest brother is a teacher now so he couldn't just leave work but he got on the phone and congratulated the new mommy and daddy. We stayed with them for a couple of hours and I even got to hold the baby. I had said to myself that I wasn't going to be disappointed if they really didn't want everyone holding the baby just yet. However, my brother saw me looking as my mother held the baby and asked me if I wanted to hold her too. I can't believe how much he has matured. I feel like I'm going to have to get to know him all over again. I think I'm going to have to get past looking at him as just my little brother. He's working full-time with a wife and a child now. That's really awesome if you compare it to his younger days. I can't wait to see where life will take him next.

VanGoghGirl came up with a nickname for the baby already. It's Ladybug. She loves ladybugs. She has ladybug pillows and ladybug toys and she even paints them sometimes. So, when she told me that this was the nickname she wanted to give the baby, I could tell that she's really already in love with her cousin. Since we found out that the baby was going to be a girl, we've talked about all of the cool things she's going to teach her. Now she's really excited and can't wait until we can get started. I'm really looking forward to babysitting and spoiling Ladybug as much as I do VanGoghGirl.

I'm really glad that VanGoghGirl hasn't expressed any jealousy. My brothers were worried that she might feel like her place was threatened now that there would be a second female grandchild/niece/great-grandchild. I think that it helps that there is a big age difference between the two girls and no matter what, my daughter will be the oldest grandchild. She thinks that makes her responsible for teaching her cousins all of the stuff she's learned so far. It's a lot of fun to watch her with my oldest brother's two kids. I have to remind her that she can't expect them to just follow all of her directions perfectly the first time she's trying to teach them how to draw or write something. She forgets that she didn't learn things instantly either. I've also told her that now she'll have someone to help even things out because it will be two boys versus two girls when all of the grandchildren go to their Mimi's house. She definitely liked that idea.

We stayed at the hospital for a few hours after the birth and then we had to leave. VanGoghGirl's school was having Open House and we needed to go and meet her new teacher. By the end of the day we were all totally exhausted and I slept more soundly than I have in weeks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Self-Loathing People

About a week ago an incident happened around here that really has me upset. As my daughter was walking from the bus stop, one of the girls asked her if the rolling bookbag she was dragging along was a Hilary Duff bag. Hilary Duff is one of the latest Disney-created teen sensations. She's had her own television show and music album and now she's branching off into a line of accessories for little girls called "Duff Stuff". So anyway, after my daughter tells the girl that it is a Duff Stuff bag, the girl asks her why she got a "white girl bookbag". Before my daughter could answer, the girls says "Oh yeah, that's right. It's because YOU'RE white!" Another girl in the group tries to defend my daughter and tells Miss Smartie Pants that VanGoghGirl is not white, just light-skinned. Unwilling to let it go at that, the mean girl says "Well, she acts like she thinks she's white!"

This really hurt my daughter's feelings. However, being the kind of person that she is, she still didn't want to believe that the girl was purposely being mean to her but it bothered her all the same. My first reaction upon hearing about this was to try to help her shake it off and just get her mind off of that and onto something more positive. The next day though, while she was at school, I got the opportunity to think about it some more. There was another incident that happened around here a few weeks ago.

VanGoghGirl doesn't have chemically relaxed hair. Before she was even born, I decided that I wasn't going to go that route with my child. I just don't believe in putting all of those harsh chemicals on a child's head. Besides that, I also think that natural African-American hair is beautiful. I have some friends who started out saying they'd keep their child's hair in it's natural state but went on to change their mind as the child's hair got a bit longer and it became more time-consuming to keep it looking nice. I think that's fine. It's a personal choice. I used to wear my hair natural but then I relaxed it and now I'm considering going natural again.

The thing is, I haven't felt the need or desire to relax my daughter's hair. Maybe I'm lucky. I'm not trying to brag but the majority of people in my family have really thick, gorgeous hair and VanGoghGirl's paternal family has really wavy hair that tends to stay healthy looking even after it's pretty long. So, my daughter happened to inherit a head that tends to have more good hair days than bad. Most of the time I braid it in five or six ponytails. Sometimes, The German's sister cornrows it for me and sometimes I even flat-iron it for a bit of variety.

Well, on this day, my daughter was going out to play and didn't have many daylight hours left before she'd have to come back in again. So, I simply brushed and combed it and put it in some ponytails but I didn't braid them. She hadn't been outside for long when she came back inside. I asked her what happened and she said that one of the girls had told her, "I wouldn't let my child come outside with her hair looking like that." It was the same girl that went on to make the comments about my daughter supposedly thinking she's white. Uh, I just have to wonder what this girl thinks her hair would look like if her mother hadn't been frying it to pieces with curling irons since she was old enough to walk. My daughter's hair is healthy, shiny, long, and wavy compared to that girl's limp, broken-ended, and dull mess held together by a half-bottles' worth of hair spray. I know that might sound harsh but I'm sorry, this kid is old enough to know better. There's nobody forcing her to set out to hurt other's feelings. The sad thing is that my daughter thinks the girl is really pretty but evidently this girl doesn't feel beautiful at all. But that's no reason to try and make VanGoghGirl feel bad.

This girl had been one of the nicest girls in the neighborhood but all of a sudden she's really changed. She doesn't really live over here but her grandparents live right beneath me and we all get along just great. Her grandfather is a Muslim and we often sit and talk about race and politics and all the problems commonly faced by and caused by "our people" (blacks). He's extremely intelligent and he really loves trying to talk to the children in the neighborhood about respecting themselves and their elders. The mean girl even has a great mom. Last year her mom told her she could pick three girls and invite them to a slumber party. When the girl asked VanGoghGirl to be one of the girls, I wasn't surprised because they have played together for years.

Somewhere along the way, this girl seems to have developed some real self-hatred. VanGoghGirl doesn't carry all of the baggage about skin-color that so many blacks hold onto even in this day and age. I'd like to keep it that way but it seems that black people are making that really difficult. Of course, this is nothing new. People used to throw rocks at my mother and her sisters on their way home from school along with calling them the same "White girl!" name-calling crap that black people are so quick to dish out. The sad thing is that now, decades later, black people are still doing the same old thing.

How in the world can you teach a child to be proud of being an African-American when they see these same people behaving in a manner that no one should be proud of? I swear, no racism is worse than that which black people will experience at the hands of other blacks. The German and I were discussing this a couple of months ago after he read an article and shared it with me. A white social worker tried to attend the National Association of Black Social Workers annual convention but was refused entry. I'd think that black people would be glad that someone who works with a lot of black clients actually cared enough about them to try and gain some insight into their situation but no, not these jerks. As usual, we had to go and show that we can be just as discriminatory and ignorant as the sort of white people that "we" complain about. Good grief! Even David Duke lets black people attend his NAAWP rallies.

I was just going to put all of this stuff with my daughter behind me when I happened to tell The German's sister about it when she asked how VanGoghGirl has been doing. She really went ballistic! She felt like it was a much bigger deal than I initially did. She told me that I really need to tell that kid something because I have no idea how much those comments might have an effect on my daughter. She said, "That girl might have been having a good day and then hear that and go in her room and cry! That could totally upset her day and change how she looks at herself for a long time!"

I must admit that I felt rather sheepish after listening to her. I had tried to teach VanGoghGirl to just write such incidents off as signs of other's envy which are best ignored. I felt that all of the positive messages that we give her about body image would make her pretty immune to the stupid comments that people occasionally make. The German and I have spent hundreds of dollars on books and dolls that feature characters that look like her in the hopes that she'd see herself as having a place in this society where she could feel beautiful and valued. Now it seems that all of that won't have done a bit of good because just a little hatred goes a lot further than all the love in the world.

I think The German's sister recognized that before I did. If I had been thinking, I probably wouldn't have told her about what had been going on. After I did tell her, I could see that this was clearly a situation that she could relate to. The German has told me how he was picked on about the same sort of things and how those messages still affect him to this day. Him and his sister's anger have shown me what can result even when you have a mother that shielded you from a lot. If I don't do the best I can to help my daughter deal with this, she could grow up as maladjusted as a lot of other girls I know. Either they hate their body and repeatedly engage in relationships where they are abused or they see their body as the only thing in the world that will get them attention. As usual, I can see all of the problems but finding my way to the solution is going to take a lot of time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Medications

The Chemical Structure of Lortab

Today, I went to see the oncologist that treats me in this city. I actually have three doctors who take care of me and my cancer but I only have to see two of them frequently. The visit was okay. My orthopedic oncologist in the nearby city has decided to take a wait and see approach with me. My last x-rays were good, no signs of new cancer growth. So anyways, I spoke to my doctor today about getting off some of my medications. I am really feeling tethered by these drugs. On the one hand, I'm really happy that they are willing to give me the sort of meds that it takes to keep my pain fairly controlled. However, I just really wish that I could get off of most of it. My doctor said that the reality is that I'll probably always have to be on some sort of pain meds because of the procedures that I've had. He said that he didn't recommend me trying to get off of my meds all of a sudden and that he's comfortable with me taking the amount that I get now. That was reassuring. However, I want to be off of it if there are any other alternatives that we could try. So the doctor decided to start me on Mobic and increase the dosage of Neurontin in the hopes that over time this will allow me to get off of the medication that I really dislike by substituting it for other meds and then we could see how small a dosage I could use and still get pretty good pain relief. That's not exactly what I was hoping for but it sounds like a good plan to me. My goal is still to get off of the narcotic because I just don't want to take it anymore.

I used to work as a pharmacy technician. During that time, I saw umpteen people come through the pharmacy with altered prescriptions for narcotics. If a person goes to the dentist and comes up to the counter with a prescription for 100 Percocet, then you should definitely be suspicious. That actually happened once. The prescription had been written for 10, not 100. The person wasn't even smart enough to use the same color ink when they tried to add the extra zero to it.

That wasn't the only such incident, either. Only once did we have a situation where a certain doctor was prescribing narcotics willy-nilly. The pharmacist decided not to fill any more narcotic prescriptions from this particular physician because of all the addicts that were coming in with 100 tablet prescriptions from him. Eventually, he was investigated by the government and they put a stop to his ability to prescribe narcotics.

I really hate the fact that there are doctors who are prescribing carelessly or, worse yet, making money by illegally selling prescriptions to people who simply seek to abuse them. Still, as bad as that is, being a drug addict seems a lot worse than simply being a rogue doctor. I have a real fear of becoming like that one day. My doctors say that's pretty much impossible given the medication in question and my reason for taking it. As long as you take it when you're in pain, you won't get addicted to it, according to them. I guess my worry is irrational but I just can't shake it from my head.

Maybe it has to do with the drug abuse I've seen. One of my best friends from high school became addicted to crack cocaine while attending university. Another guy that I dated for awhile but finally settled down and became friends with was a frequent drug user. It didn't seem like that big a deal to me at the time because he seemed to have it so under control. He was a university student attending school on a scholarship. He maintained good grades and he had the body of an athlete. He never exhibited any of the ugly symptoms of drug abuse Unfortunately, he's now sitting in a state prison for a crime that he committed while he was high. As it stands, he will spend the next few years in jail for something that I know he wouldn't have done if he was sober. My friend from high school is now drug free, married, and the mother of three children but her drug use did leave her permanently altered mentally.

Personally, I don't understand why people even want to abuse Percocet and other narcotics. After my first and second surgery, I was prescribed Percocet for the pain. It tore up my stomach and it was months before I could take them without feeling really sick. If the pain hadn't been unbearable, I would have chucked that prescription down the porcelain throne in the bathroom. Eventually, I was able to switch to something a lot less potent. Then I reached this plateau where the pain stopped decreasing. Now I'm left with a good deal of pain every day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the pain at all. Hey, you have to survive something in order to hurt from it. I'm thankful just to be here.

There are two main reasons why I really want to be off of the meds. The first one is that it makes me tired. I don't consider it really ideal when the only way to get rid of pain is to take a medication that will cause me to sleep through half of its effectiveness. I'm trying to finish up school so that I can move on to a few other things but being drowsy and medicated all of the time means that I can't do a lot of the things that others do. Driving is out of the question. Now, try being a non-driver while living in a semi-rural area where the closest bus stop is three miles away. I have great family. The German usually takes me where I need to go but in order for me to finish up in college, I need to be able to get back and forth to campus while he's out at work. We're still trying to figure out how to deal with this obstacle.

The second reason I want to be med-free (or at least free of the strongest one) is a bit different. I really hate explaining to people what medications I take. It's impossible to hide the fact that I take medication because I have to take them so frequently throughout the day. And I think people "mean well" when they ask me about what I take. However, when I answer their question, they act like I just said that I'm shooting up morphine or something. So, what is the name of this horrible drug? It's Lortab.

I think this reaction that I get is because of popular culture. In one of the areas where The German works, there is a mobile home community. Unfortunately it's not a nice one (We do have some mobile homes that obviously cost more than some of the regular homes). The police are always going into the community for drug busts because of the jerks that create Crystal Methamphetamine labs out there because it's a bit remote. Then there's all the songs that glorify the use of drugs. I used to enjoy all of those songs until I had VanGoghGirl and now I can't stand any of it.

Anyway, most people don't know a whole lot about Lortab but they do know that it's a narcotic and that's enough to induce a really surprised reaction. Explaining why I have to take it really didn't seem like a big deal at first but now that I'm a few years into my treatment, I'm really a bit tired of it all. I just want to be able to live my life without constantly wondering if I have enough of my medication in my pill box to get through the entire day's activities and then worrying that I might have forgotten the box altogether. Trying to get my medication filled at the local pharmacy is problematic too. My doctor had to write on the prescription that these were prescribed because I have cancer. However, they still give me the skeptical look when I come in with prescriptions. I guess that's karma at work for all the folks I gave the same look to. Fortunately, The German is pretty good about going down there and cause a ruckus until they get it all right.

Well, now that I've taken my meds, I'm starting to get tired. Maybe I'll update tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Mi Familia


Me; VanGoghGirl; my cousin and his wife; another cousin, his wife and daughter; my brother and his girlfriend

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Race Relations in the Bayou

Alligator Bayou near Baton Rouge, Louisiana

As if my flat isn't in a rural enough area, I've had to traverse even deeper into some sparsely populated parts of Louisiana lately. One of my brothers and his wife are due to have their first baby in a few weeks. So, we had to go out to Des Allemands for the baby shower over the weekend. VanGoghGirl, my mom, and I have been looking forward to it for awhile. The German was not but I dragged him along anyway. I've been trying to get to the bottom of why he's so reluctant about going out there but he isn't making it easy.

I think that racism has a lot to do with it. He's told me about how growing up bi-racial wasn't very easy in this part of Louisiana. Imagine being raised by a mother who is very educated and a different color from you in a place where neither is common to see. The fact that she is so completely free from the petty hatred that is so common here probably made it worse because he got to see that being racist is a choice that people make. Even now he regularly comes home with stories of how he's been called various slurs when driving through the more homogeneous areas surrounding our city. I think that visiting Des Allemands bothers him because it reminds him of those places.

The German and I haven't actually had any bad experiences in Des Allemands the few times that we've visited. However, my pregnant sister-in-law is bi-racial as well and she's talked about how much prejudice she witnessed as a child. I don't think she ever really found herself the intended victim of racism but she says she felt it all the same whenever she saw it in action. I wonder what kept her from being the target of racism despite living in an area where it's so pervasive.

She really does look just like the rest of her Cajun family members despite the fact that she's half Puerto-Rican. But I'm not sure if that would have caused her to see more racism or less. People out there who looked at her wouldn't have known they were talking to someone who was half-Hispanic because, thanks to their Cajun heritage, almost everyone is a bit swarthy. So a racial slur isn't likely the first thing some one would use if they wanted to insult her. However, since she isn't readily identifiable as "bi-racial", those who didn't know about her Hispanic ancestry probably wouldn't realize that she might take personally the racism that she witnessed them inflict on others.

My sister-in-law has decided to name the baby "Jazmine-Marie". I'm really glad that everyone is so crazy about this baby already. Almost everyone in her family has accepted and welcomed my brother despite the ethnic differences between their family and ours. Jazmine-Marie's great-great-grandmother is really looking forward to meeting her and so am I.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Fugitives From Reality

Me and Jeff, one of my best friends who is a Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Survivor

Sometimes I think that I might be running from the truth. I want to believe that I will be the one to beat the odds. I tell myself, "Incurable is not the same thing as terminal." I don't believe in asking my doctors about how long I'll live. If I did ask them, all they could do is guess and I can guess all by myself. Some people say that when you get cancer, you should go out and find out everything there is to know about your disease.
I did that when I was diagnosed with Lupus. I wanted to know about everything that could possibly result from having it. I gave stacks of papers to my mother, thinking that she'd be as eager to read them as I was. When it became apparent that she wasn't reading them, I was really disappointed. It took me years to understand that she really couldn't handle what those papers might say.
When the questions about what this was in my chest really began, I had that same inquisitive feelings as before. However, I quickly learned that this was going to be a lot different from having a very mild case of a potentially deadly auto-immune disease. As they narrowed down things down, the diagnoses went from serious to very serious to grave. None of the doctors would give me any reason to be optimistic. At the very least, there was a mass in my chest that would require neurosurgeons and cardiologists to remove in a series of complicated surgeries. Hopefully it would be benign and it would remain that way until they could get it out.
Well, it turns out that it wasn't benign and they weren't able to remove it all. So, now I'm living with cancer. But, as is so often the case with me, it couldn't just be some run of the mill sort of cancer. My tumor happens to be a very rare one. Even most of the people in the medical profession have never heard of it.
There are some advantages to having a rare cancer. If you have breast cancer, you're sure to know of someone who also had it but didn't fare very well, despite the fact that there are lots of people who have survived it. My mother is included in that number. She just made her five years in remission mark which means that she's considered "cured". To get back to the point, people tend to focus on and remember the horribly sad stories much more than the happy ones. With chondrosarcoma, no one is likely to say that they know someone who died of that. However, there are also some disadvantages to having a rare disease. The doctors don't really have a lot of data to fall back on. Unless your doctor works at one of the big cancer research centers, you're likely to be the only patient with chondrosarcoma that they'll ever see in their entire career. So, they can't really tell you how things are likely to go in your case.
In the end, all they can do is try some things and see what happens. I'm trying to learn how to be happy with that. I'm not sure I want to know how likely it is that something will go wrong when it comes to a procedure that I must have done regardless of the risks. I'm not sure whether preparing to go into a procedure with little information is really worse than going into it knowing that it has a very high probability of having undesirable consequences. I mean, if what you read is only going to increase your stress levels, then won't that negatively affect your outcome too?

Me and one of my Oncologists


National Cancer Survivor's Day, June 5th, 2005

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Bare Essentials

Noor Mahal and VanGoghGirl's American Girl Doll

Where should I begin? I live with my two cats (Layla and Noor Mahal), my daughter ("VanGoghGirl") and my sweetheart ("The German") in a comfortable flat right on the edge of a nice city in the southern part of the state of Louisiana. It's a nice place to be from. You always have great stories to tell others when you visit other states.

I suppose I should also add that I happen to have a rather rare and incurable bone cancer called Chondrosarcoma in my chest. But that's not really all that significant, now is it? I didn't choose to have cancer; It chose me. So, I'm not about to be a poseur here and pretend that I am some brave or courageous person based on what I have been forced to deal with. I'm just dealing with the cards I've been dealt because I'm not ready to die just yet.