Family

The Surge: My Baby Story Version, Chpt. 6

J&ENow that we had a donor, the waiting game began again.

Bashert is not the most patient person in the best of times. She hates to wait. Oh, does she hate to wait.

Once we traveled to North Carolina to see the Highland Games that are held on top of Grandfather Mountain – a real mountain, mind you. The road up is quite steep and twisty, so the organization holding the event had arranged for bus ferries up and down the mountain. When we were through with our visit to the games, we walked out and faced a half mile long line to board the bus down the mountain. I sighed and accepted the slow progression of shuffling forward foot by foot, but Bashert? Oh, no, this would not do.

Before I knew it we were out of line and meandering up toward the loading zone. As we got to the front, Bashert began conversing with a family as if she were picking up a conversation just left off. The family chatted back, as comfortable with this relationship as Bashert seemed to be. Now, knowing that Bashert had ties to the Scottish game community through her bagpipes playing days, I thought this may be a family she knew. We continued the conversation and eased our way on to the next bus, probably a good thirty minutes before we would have had we stayed in line.

As we took our seats, I turned to ask Bashert who those people were. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea.” I guess I must have blanched because she then added with a big smile, “But we’re on the bus aren’t we?”

Like I said, she hates to wait. So waiting for something pretty much totally out of her control, say the surge of ovulation, was excruciating torture. She thinks I didn’t notice, but I think she must have tested every single day that month in hopes that she could will it to happen on her schedule.

The Friday morning it actually did happened you would have thought Ed McMahon rang our doorbell. Bashert woke me from a sound sleep (two jobs remember?) shouting, “I’m surging, I’m surging!” and dancing around the bathroom holding the test stick. After realizing what was happening and it wasn’t just a panic attack about a bug in the bathroom again, my heart kind of stopped. The same terrified and joyous feeling I had when we chose the donor came over me. This was it; the ball was really rolling.

We shook ourselves out our happy stupor and managed to call the clinic. Our joy was short-lived.  The call to the clinic revealed that once “the surge” began, we had to wait 24 hours for the optimal time to perform the insemination. That meant 24 hours more of anxious waiting and a Saturday appointment. Bashert was not a happy camper.

I was privy to some of the anxiety producing situations Bashert was going through, but I didn’t know the full extent until much later – some not until she began to write her story – so, her extra heightened state of distress about having the insemination on a Saturday confused me. Being upset about the wait I could understand, but I just couldn’t see the big deal about Saturday. I thought the timing was great since I wouldn’t have to call into work and we could spend the whole day together.

Slow dawning came about when she finally told me that because the insemination would be done outside of a regular office day, the on-call doctor would do the procedure. The on call doctor that weekend: Dr. Lizardo.

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Who’s Your Daddy (sorta): Baby Story Chpt. 5

J&EWe don’t all have access to a willing rock legend, so choosing a donor who will contribute half the genetic material to your child is no easy task. You wouldn’t believe the sorts of things you have to wade through.

I sifted through all the informational literature, testimonials, videos and price guides to finally come up with a cryogenics bank that suited our parameters – ethical, genetic testing, IUI ready secret sauce, anonymous donors and price.  Once that was settled, I was able to start concentrating on finding the perfect donor again.

We had already discussed what our ideals were. Since Bashert was to be the one who carried, we wanted to find someone with more of my features, colouring, etc. But I have to tell you, once I got into the website and saw the different combinations I could come up with, it was like playing with an electronic paper doll. Let me see…green eyes, black hair, medium complexion. No, no…blue eyes, curly hair, ears that don’t attach at the bottom and left handed. Scot/Irish heritage?  Latino? No problem, throw in a foreign language? sure thing…

Another thing to get through was the donor levels. Who knew that sperm came in economy, standard and premium?And for goodness sake let’s not forget the washed and unwashed states. As Bashert is want to say, “Oh, vey!”

Economy, just as it sounds, was the lowest level of sperm available. That sounds kind of bad, doesn’t it? Lowest level – like they should be hanging out on the street corner trying to push drugs to unsuspecting kids or something. No, these poor unwashed masses were simply those donors who had only limited genetic testing, no college education recorded and the other documented donor information was a bit skimpy. These were the guys that donated before the heavier standards were in place for this particular cryo bank. There was a sort of a “you pays yo’ money and takes yo’ chances” kind of feel to these donors. It may have been perfectly lovely sperm, but most of this bargain-basement special sauce did not come IUI ready and we wanted a bit more for our future child.

The next level up was the standard class, I think the group was actually tagged as the name of the cryo bank, sort of  the “Sperm R Us” donors. These were the young guys just starting out in life, but working toward something, undergraduate degree, next level management, that sort of thing. They had been accepted into the program after the more stringent testing began. They recorded more extensive medical and familial records. A few even had baby or childhood photos and a recorded interview. But with this added measure of security and intel came a jump in price. In 2002, an IUI ready vial of special sauce at this level was around $250 a pop (so to speak).

The crème-de-la-crème of the special sauce was the premium standard for this bank. Called the graduate level, this category was for the eggheads – no pun intended. To be in this club, the special sauce must have been cooked up by gentlemen with no less than a Master’s and preferably a PhD. That level of education was really all that separated the wheat from the chaff. The items available to share about the donor were all the same. Bashert and I weren’t prepared (or able) to pay upwards of $400 a vial just for the “dahctah”.

Remember, Bashert was working for a private diner’s club, but only making minimum wage – back then that was $5.15 an hour. I was working two part time jobs, one that paid minimum wage and had a set 20 hours a week and one that paid about $8 an hour for around 30 hours a week. The bankroll was not fat cheddar. We would have to pay outright for the sauce, storage, transportation, and insemination. The only thing covered under insurance was the testing – and that turned out to be a sore spot later.

So, with our picky protocols and shallow pockets, we like Baby Bear, selected the level we felt most comfortable with – “Sperm R Us”.

Once I was done playing genetic dress-up, I got down to brass tacks and began looking in earnest. Bashert’s clock was ticking toward her next ovulation and after the assault she suffered at the hands of Dr. Lizardo, we wanted to move through this stage as soon as possible.

It was frustrating. Time and time again, I would think this was the one only to read a little further into it and discover that schizophrenia ran in his family (yeah, we were really surprised that one made it on the list, too) or that there was rampant heart disease on his father’s side. As time grew nearer, I was seriously beginning to think about lowering our standards some in order to make this happen.

But then one afternoon, I was back at the computer and a new number popped up under my descriptive search. Green/blue eyes, medium complexion, dark hair, correct blood type…so, I opened his file to read more. Oh, hey, curly hair – Bashert would like that…a little on the short side, but that’s okay – good things come in small packages & I’m not exactly a basketball player either, getting his bachelor’s degree, likes team sports & art, absolutely clear medical record and family history until this caught my eye: uncle died in Holocaust…wait a minute…grandfather perished from injuries sustained in Holocaust…wait just a dang gone minute here…are we talking Jewish?

We had purposely not searched for Jewish donors. Since we were able to be choosy we didn’t want to possibly reintroduce diseases that run in the Ashkenazi gene pool. But as I read down this guy’s list of publicly available information, he fit the bill in every category we had decided on. The more I looked, the more excited I got. I called Bashert over to the computer.

I read off all the information I had gathered and then…ta da…revealed that he was all that and a bag of bagel chips! You would think we were at a Chippendales’ show they way we were oohing and awing over this guy’s profile. We were so taken that we decided right then and there to order the “extras’ so that we could get the fullest scoop we could. The extras included a personal profile he had written and a childhood photo. Yes, we knew it was more money out of our pockets, but I think we both knew this was the one. The essay was nice; he came across as a good guy, but what truthfully sealed the deal? The photo.

Now, I searched and searched for a match for my physical characteristics/interests and that criteria is what this guy came up under, but people when that childhood photo slowly revealed itself (we were on dial-up, so it took forever!), fractal line, by fractal line there in all her male gender identity sat Bashert. The kid could have been Bashert’s brother! I actually looked at her and asked, “Your Dad used to be a traveling salesman, right?” It was uncanny.

At that moment, we knew we had found the one. We went to the phone and began the arrangements. We had enough saved up for two vials of special sauce and the extras we had ordered. We had our ducks in a row with all the physician paperwork completed in advance, so all we had to do was set up an account, tell them what we wanted, hand over the credit card number and voilà! we would be set to move into the next phase of this story: insemination.

My friends, as joy filled as the moment was, it was also absolutely terrifying.

First a Bank & There Ought To Be a Law: Baby Story Chpt 4

J&ESince I couldn’t be directly involved with the physical proceedings, I threw myself into finding the perfect cryogenics bank and donor. First came the bank.

Sperm banks are regulated at the National level by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). They are supposed to be regulated at the state level by each state’s respective State Department, but as we have all heard, the follow through is not always the most attentive. We wanted a place that stood by ethical policies that protected both the donors and the clients.

We wanted a place that did the most genetic testing possible at the time. As Bashert has Ashkenazi Jewish heritage on both sides of her family, we needed to make sure that the donor we selected didn’t have a history of known diseases prevalent in that type of lineage.

We also needed a bank that supplied IUI ready special sauce. Not all places did.

One of my own criteria was that the donor be anonymous. Bashert and I talked about that one extensively. My reasoning was emotional. If I wasn’t able to contribute genetic material, I at least wanted to be the full other parent to our child. To me, a anonymous donor is as the dictionary describes – one who gives without need of recognition or acknowledgement. I didn’t want any ghost of parental figure lingering in the background of our lives. We would have the pertinent information, such as, medical background, family histories, physical characteristics, personality reviews and so on to give to our child when the time was right. I just didn’t want another physical person in the mix. Three’s a crowd.

So, I was looking for a place that was shown to follow ethical practices, have IUI ready specimens, perform extensive genetic testing and have donors that agreed to remain anonymous. And oh, yeah, we had to be able to afford it.

Well, in 2002 that narrowed down our choices quite nicely. It even eliminated the bank we have right here in our home town. It would have been wonderfully convenient and less expensive, but we just didn’t feel it met our picky standards. Besides, it sort creeped me out knowing that the donors could have come from right next door. Silly, I know, but there you go.

We ended up with one of the larger banks located out of state. It had been around for some time and seemed to set the standards for what a cryo bank should be and met the qualities we were searching for. The next step would be setting up an account and finding the perfect donor for us.

I am going to pause here for a moment and tell you something about myself. I am a mild mannered person, quite shy really and it takes a lot to get me visibly angry. But mess with anyone I love and it’s Bruce Banner to the Hulk in three seconds flat.

Now, in the previous chapter I said that I was not able to attend the actual appointments with Bashert due to our situation. We had to maintain covert operations in order to achieve the goal of the mission. Little did I know what indignities (sounds like such a small word for her suffering) Bashert was having to endure. She kept me in the dark about many of them so that I wouldn’t go to the clinic and get myself arrested.

It makes my blood boil even now to recall the horrific circumstances she had to go through with one of the doctors. I could deal with the attempts to overcharge us and even the onslaught of negativity that came from a place that was supposed to be about giving the gift of joy to parents, but I could not deal with was the physical violation that occurred.

You see, part of the process in verifying that a woman has viable eggs is a vaginal sonogram. It is an invasive procedure that should be handled with the utmost of respect, care and gentleness. Bashert’s original compromise with the ID was to do one ovulation cycle and then have the sonogram. What Bashert didn’t know was that her ID had a partner that filled in when he was not available. It just so happened that her ID was not available the day she was to have her sonogram done.

It is always discomforting to have your regular physician replaced at a pivotal point, that’s why I have disliked going to team practices where I am never quite sure who I will be seeing on appointment day. Knowing that Bashert was already on edge about a procedure she had never experienced before and had not been told what to really expect, the change up created an even more heightened state of unease.

I did my best to try and give her support as I kissed her goodbye that day. What she told me later had me ready to wrap my hands around Dr. Lizardo’s throat. If I had known the rest of what Bashert did not reveal, I am not sure we would have Yoda right now.

When I came home from work that afternoon, I expected to find a partner relieved that the deed was done, but happy with the results. Instead what I found was a visibly shaken woman who had obviously been traumatized by the doctor who was supposed to be helping. (see Bashert’s site for her revealing story). I was ready to report that freaking doctor to the head ID,  the AMA, and whoever else I could find. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have reported it to the police (after I had beaten the living hell out of the woman).

This woman, this “doctor”, who supposedly took an oath to protect her patients had basically raped Bashert when performing the vaginal sonogram. Dr. Lizardo made sure there were no witnesses – all the staff was gone, including the attending nurse. She used undo force and did not listen to Bashert’s concerns. She offered no real apology or comprehension as what she had actually done.

Bashert didn’t let me in on the whole story at the time. She wanted to go ahead with our plan to have the baby she so wanted. She didn’t want to jeopardize anything even in the face of such degradation. She felt constricted by the limited choices we had and for whatever reason, Dr. Lizardo seemed to realize that Bashert was bound by that. What a fucking situation to be in. Even with the partial information I had, I was so beyond furious.

This is what many lesbian and gay couples have to go through just to have a family.  Humiliation and violation without recourse. And people wonder why we are fighting so hard to get the rights we deserve.

At that point, no matter what the ID said was needed, we were going to stick to the plan, get the insemination done and get the hell out of Dodge. As the kids say today, that place was “whack”.

To get this accomplished, it was time to pick a donor.

Secret Sauce: Chapter 3 of my version of our baby story

J&EOkay, I know two women cannot make a baby together, at least at this point in time. We are sort of minus one component, the squiggly little guy production factory; the secret sauce, if you will. So what does the resourceful lesbian couple do? Why research cryogenic banks of course. It seems many kind gentlemen finance their college educations with possible life-giving donations.

During the initial research, we found that most reputable banks required that we work through a doctor’s office or a fertility clinic. There were a few places that would ship directly to your home, but since we were new to this and I wasn’t quite ready for turkey baster 101, we decided to discuss our options with our OBY/GYN.

Our doctor is a lovely woman, great sense of humor, wonderful bedside manner and general nice person. She had/has never once blinked an eye or made any kind of issue about Bashert and I as a couple. She is about as grounded as they come and we knew she would give us the straight poop, so to speak. We were a bit disappointed, okay, a lot disappointed, to find out that while she would gladly be the one to see us through any pregnancy, she wasn’t set up to do inseminations. She told us we would need to seek out an infertility clinic to aid us in the insemination process if we didn’t want to try at home.

As fate would have it again, we met a couple who had just gone through this process. Their sage advice – don’t let them know you are a same-sex couple. What? This couple was turned down by the two clinics in town because they were a lesbians. They had to go 100 miles away to find someone to assist them. Bashert was shocked at this, but I found myself angry and frustrated. Here we were determined to face the world as a unified front and we are being told that for our most important act as a couple we must go into hiding again or travel outside our community? Criminy! Not a good way to start out in my opinion. But Bashert was determined (again) to see this through come hell or high water, so she hatched a plan. It’s always a little scary when she comes out with, “I have a plan…”

She would present herself as a single woman.

Confession time here. I know I have been talking all out and proud, you know, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” sort of thing, but the reality of it was different. One of my jobs was with a local government agency, a local Georgia government agency. That meant no protection under the law. I could be fired for my relationship with Bashert. It was the same damn thing as her “moral turpitude” clause and the South Carolina state laws that prevented me from fighting all out for full custody of my daughter. The people I worked for weren’t exactly readers of The Huffington Post. I still had one foot in the closet in order to pay the bills. Sometimes, economics does win. So, Bashert’s plan of action was a bit hard to take, but like the economic reality of my job situation, it was necessary to achieve what we ultimately wanted – a baby.

I hated being left out of the loop. I couldn’t be there to hear all the little things, the details that usually get lost because, well because, Bashert is a hypochondriac. If one thing is mentioned that sets off her worry button then all else is lost while she chases down her imminent death inside her head. I couldn’t be there to hold her hand and let her know all will be okay. I couldn’t be there to participate in the steps leading to the creation of our child. I just couldn’t be there. And it hurt.

The amount of information that Bashert came home with from that very first visit was astounding. We were so grateful that the doctor took the time to write everything down, but then as I found out what all he had suggested, it sounded like this guy was all about taking time. And for us time meant money.

The infertility doctor (ID) was suggesting that Bashert got through six to twelve cycles of ovulation to make sure that she could get pregnant and that was after waiting three to six months to make sure she was ovulating correctly! Each cycle would mean another visit to and testing at the clinic, as well as, a vial of the secret sauce for each insemination try. This guy was out to bankrupt us even before we got started.

I know the money talk may sound crass and you may say, hey if they were that determined what did money mean? Well, eating for one thing. We had hopes and dreams, but eating and keeping a roof over our heads seemed important too. I was putting in as many hours as I could at my second job and Bashert was working full time for the club, but we were still barely making ends meet. Any extra money we made was set aside for “plan baby”.

The ID listed several options when it came to the secret sauce. Here comes the scientificy stuff. The first option was ICI or intracervical insemination. This is the form of artificial insemintation (AI) that most resembles the way sperm is introduced during actual intercourse.  The sperm is deposited near or into the cervix and the boogers have to swim the race. Not much prep work is done to the sperm before the AI takes place. The sperm remains “unwashed” – we rolled with laughter when we were introduced to that term! The chances of becoming pregnant with this option were roughly the same as anybody’s. (This is the one people do when choosing to do AI at home.)

The second option was IUI or intrauterine insemination. In this AI, the sperm gets a shower first – it is referred to as “washed”, really can you keep a straight face? Anyway, the sperm is washed so that it won’t cause cramping and have the uterus just turn around and kick the little guys out. Because the sperm is place in the uterus, usually directed toward the side the egg is scheduled to release, the chances of pregnancy go up a good bit.

The third option was IVF or in vitro fertilization. This is one of the most complicated procedures.  While technically still a form of AI, it is usually listed separately because it involves removal of the eggs, inseminating them outside of the uterus and then implanting them back in. Expensive, painful, more than a beggar’s chance of multiple births, but no more guarantee of viable pregnancy than any of the other methods. I can safely say we ruled that one out first thing.

After some time of discussion, we decided (outside of the clinic environment obviously) that we would choose the IUI. From the preliminary research of cryo banks, we figured we had enough money saved for two vials of the secret sauce and we needed as much bang for our buck as we could get. We also knew that we not could afford six to twelve months of visits and testing. My insurance (from my second job), just that year had begun to cover domestic partners and would pay for most of the testing, but not the visits or any actual insemination procedure. And my friends, the clinic demanded money up front,. No cash – no service.

Along with the discussion about what type of AI, we had to discuss how to circumvent all the testing and waiting the ID wanted her to do. He was treating her as if she couldn’t get pregnant and that was not the issue at hand. We finally came up with a compromise that she would present to him. She would agree to one month ovulation trial and the vaginal sonogram to verify that she had viable eggs to make the whole thing worthwhile to try.

Again, Bashert had to go face down the ID alone. Give that woman credit, she stood her ground and laid out the plan. I don’t know what she said to him, but she got what she wanted. We had advanced to the next round – one part fun, the other part down right criminal.

Friends, now what? Chapter 2 of my version

J&EI have to admit it didn’t cross my mind that our friendship would be anymore than that; friendship. Considering the gruesome breakup I was experiencing, I certainly was not looking for anything more. But somewhere between that first, “Geez, why doesn’t she just go away?” and my realization that I was going to be devastated if she really did move to Israel as planned after her graduation, the relationship had moved into something else entirely. Much to the amusement of our other friends (yes, I made more friends regardless of what my daughter Nené might say) we became a couple. The story of the in between is quite a tale unto itself, but that is ours to savor and occasionally let tidbits out, but for now I move on to the next step: cohabitation.

When Bashert and I first moved into together, it was as if we were on vacation every day, well at least at home, well at least some of the time. You know that closet that you hear about gay people coming out of? Well, let us say our life was pretty much one big walk-in.

I was still immeshed in that nasty ongoing divorce and my attorneys at the time suggested that I not reveal to my daughter the true aspect of our relationship. The laws in the state of South Carolina, the state that had power over the divorce proceedings, were not kind to those of my ilk. The ex-husband-to-be was not below using any and all means to keep my daughter away from me and cut off any kind of financial support he could. Bashert and I were forced to set up a farce of a roommate situation whenever Nené stayed with us.

Bashert had graduated and was in the “real” world teaching art at the local Catholic high school. I know, joke in the making: Jewish, lesbian teaching at Catholic school. When she was hired, she had to sign a “moral turpitude” contract. This meant that they had control over her so-called moral behavior even outside of school and oh, let us see – what was the official 1997 Catholic standing on homosexuality? Oh, yeah – get the hell off our property, die and burn for eternity. We were forced into another farce of pretense. Not that we were very good at it, in either situation.

By this time Nené was around nine years old and it was pretty apparent that we weren’t doing such a good job keep ourselves in the closet around her. I found a crumpled note in her room after a weekend visit. “Mom – I think you are gay with Bashert”. I guess it is hard to explain to a nine year old why Mom’s “roommate” is involved in most every aspect of our lives and not have her be suspicious. Trying to be something we were not in order to keep Nené in our lives was causing more damage than helping.

Things at Bashert’s job were not much better. Bashert took her ring off each morning before work, a painful thing for both of us. She took “beards” to various school functions. We separated whenever anyone from her school was seen in our vicinity when we were out and about – even at the grocery store. Despite the precautions we thought we were taking, we ended up having our car keyed and wonderful rumors were heard about us being seen making out in the Winn Dixie parking lot. Really? At least they could have picked a more up-scale place than a grocery store parking lot..

On a weekend excursion to Atlanta, we stopped in a jewelry store and lo and behold, Bashert heard a student call her name, “Hey, Miss Smith!”  Arg. We couldn’t even relax when we went out of town. The closet was getting mighty stuffy.

In 1999, after two years of teaching there, the Catholic school Bashert was working for suddenly “lost” their funding for the art department and her contract was not renewed. Funny how the funding was “found” two months later when they hired a new art teacher. I’m just saying.

Now at this point you may be wondering why all this background. Why not just jump right in with the baby story? Well, to understand some of the coming story, you had to know some of the back story. You see, it took those years of struggle – finding each other, overcoming our differences (still working on that one occasionally), hiding from family and the world – to build the determination and convictions needed to start fresh as an open and proud family.

After Bashert lost her teaching job, we decided that whatever job she found it would have to be one that accepted us. No more hiding. I also made the decision to fire my attorneys. All the secretiveness had done nothing to further my cause, in fact, it had done more harm than good to the relationship with my daughter. It wasn’t until Bashert and I made the decision to “come out of the closet” together that Nené started to come around.

Bashert found another job as a graphic artist at a place that really didn’t care one way or the other about her personal life and I found an attorney who specialized in representing gays and lesbians. We were on our way. The only thing left to work out was my lingering strings tying me to The Jackass. Bashert wanted to expand our family and I did not want to bring a baby into our relationship until I was able to say I was free and clear to be hers. You see, as liberal as my views had become, I was still old fashioned enough to say that we needed to be “married” before we had kids.

It took two more years before the divorce could be finalized and believe me it wasn’t for want of trying on my part. By the time it was all said and done, I had graduated with my BFA, started not one, but two part time jobs, Bashert had started working for a private dinner club as Membership Director and Nené had begun high school. It was a long haul to get to that sad, but relieving day in May.

Once the shock of the reality of my divorce had worn off, Bashert wasted no time in preparing for our commitment ceremony – she had that fierce determination going again. On July 27th we were standing in front of 50 of our closest friends and family to proudly show them that we were committed to living an open and loving life together. It was a beautiful ceremony that people still talk about today 12 years later. I only hope our legal wedding will be half as warm and special when that day comes (hint, hint to the federal government).

After the ceremony, Bashert began talking in earnest about wanting to have a baby. I admit it, I was nervous. I was now 40 years old, trying to maintain two jobs and going through the teenage years with Nené. One by one, Bashert knocked down my arguments, made sure to include Nené every step of the way and had me convinced.

We were going to make a baby.

A baby story – my version of the tale

J&EMy partner Bashert is writing a series of exposés on our journey to have a baby (Yoda). She is amazed by all the wonderful responses she is receiving. I’m not surprised at all. She can tell a story, that woman. She pours all her heart into what she is regaling and lays it on the line, warts and all.

I am reading right along with all of her other fans. It is funny to read about my life from the outside. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I sit and make note of things I had forgotten and sometimes I revisit very angry moments. It was a roller coaster ride for sure. If you haven’t read her exciting tales of the road to motherhood then pop over to her site: www.bashert04.com.

I was teasing with her when she told me with wide eyes how many hits she had in under an hour the other night just after she posted another segment. I joked that maybe I should write my own version of what went on. She said why not? I thought about it and decided, why not? So I present to you my side of the story – our baby story.

 

We Meet

We met in college. In 1995, at the age of 34 and seeking some source of sanity, I returned to school to finish out my Fine Arts degree I started back when the dinosaurs roamed about. I was two years into a very nasty divorce and custody battle that would eventually drag on for another eight years. I was emotionally and physically scarred and needed a place to help me feel good and right about myself.

Learning had always been a refuge for me, but starting over was hard. I was so socially removed, I barely spoke above a whisper and held everyone at arm’s length. To say that I tried to keep to myself is a radical understatement.

Bashert was ahead of me in the program despite being nine years my junior. A couple of years earlier, she fought to gain her independence from an abusive father and get into college. Fighting hard for things is a major theme in Bashert’s life – keep that point in mind as we go through this story. She knew no strangers; she had friends and acquaintances all over campus.

As a sculptor, Bashert had no love loss for two-dimensional work. Give her some clay to play with and she is a happy camper. Back then the closest thing she came to painting was applying glazes to her ceramic creations. I had the reverse situation. Three-dimensional work and I just didn’t get along – never did; I still have the pinch pot I made in third grade as testament to that fact, the poor malformed little thing. No, give me paper and pencil and I was in heaven.

I never really painted before taking that class, but oh, it was love at first stroke! The way the paint moved across the canvas, pushing and pulling in a beautiful dance of negative and positive spaces. The sharp, piney tang of turpentine and the mellow musk of the oils were heady perfumes for me. And the colours – oh, the colours! The painting studio turned out to be my home. There was only one thing out of place there – Bashert.

It would be suffice to say that painting and Bashert didn’t get on, but add in that we later found out she was pretty much colour blind, that sealed the deal. At the time, I just thought she had been sent into my life to be yet another punishment for whatever hellbent life I had lived earlier. Shy to begin with and emotionally crushed on top of that, I did not know what to do with this girl.

I would arrive at the studio to find her sitting cheerfully at my station with a big grin on her face announcing that she “borrowed” some of my cadmium yellow or a cleaning rag or any number of other supplies. She would chat away as I tried to start my painting day and tactfully extricate myself from her. But she had worked it out so that her painting station was right next to mine and the badgering never ended. Often I would find myself staring in wonderment that she couldn’t get it that I was yearning to left alone.

Get it, she did not and the barrage of questions kept coming either about myself or ultimately about how to paint her images. “How would you do this one?” What colour should I use?” “Could you just take the brush and show me how?” My reply was always, “It is your painting.” I think this made me more a challenge to her. I remember going to my therapy sessions and telling the doctor in an exasperated voice, “That girl has some serious boundary issues!”.  I was already dealing with a vindictive ex-husband to be and a hormonal seven-year-old daughter, another aggravating person was the last thing I needed in my life. On some level I think I was relieved when the class was over just to end the torture from Bashert.

But remember what I said in the beginning? Bashert knows how to fight hard for the things she wants and for some unfathomable reason, she wanted to be my friend. She didn’t give up.

We went on a university sponsored trip to Washington, D.C. and she made sure that I couldn’t bury my nose in my crossword puzzle book on the ride up. She asked me to help her with the art gallery at school where she worked putting up monthly art exhibits. She asked for rides around town to her various other jobs, despite the fact that she hated my 1968 Mercury Cougar muscle car. I loved that car…sigh. But that’s another story.

All the while we were together, she would talk. And talk. And talk. Slowly, oh so slowly, those rides became stops and the talks became conversations, long conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the night. The aggressive girl with the boundary issues taught me how to be in the world again and somewhere in the midst, miraculously became my first friend in almost 15 years.

Baseball – it’s berry, berry good

atbatThe Braves cried this week, not just because they lost for the first time, but because it was the end of the season for them.

For many, including Yoda, this was the first real team they ever belonged to. It was the first time they felt a brotherhood built around a common goal. The goal was not necessarily to win, but to bring out the best in each other. That they did.

In five months, the Braves went from a team of loosely joined boys with little experience to a determined and undefeated west county championship team. It was a joy to see them grow. Yoda went from barely able to throw the ball 20 feet to hurling it to the cutoff man from outfield with palm stinging power. We watched a frozen infield turn into a quick response team. In nine and ten year old boy abilities, it was like watching the Keystone Cops turn into the Bolshoi Ballet.

We were all astounded at their progress, but most of all we were proud of the sportsmen they became. To a man, the Braves played honestly and with honor.

Their head coach, Joe Lewis (and yes that is his real name) made it clear from the very beginning that baseball is a game to be played using the best of themselves. Coach Lewis and the other three assistant coaches, Benton, Clack, and Thigpen always upheld themselves as the examples of what they wanted the kids to be. Each advancement made by a boy was celebrated proudly with a high-five, swooping hug or just a “guy” fist pound and each frustration handled with finesse as to bring out a betterment, not an embarrassment.

This true coaching led the boys to an undefeated title in their division of live pitch. And as such, they were slotted to play in the wider all county championship series. And play they did.

The first game of the series, they played on fire, but the flames were doused by a nasty thunderstorm. In the second inning the game was called due to weather. They would have to begin again the next day.

The boys were a bit dispirited the second day. Whether it was fatigue or their first exposure to the darker side of sportsmanship, I’m not sure. This was the first time the boys had experienced parents that openly mocked them, shouted insults and attempted to overrun the umpires’ calls. It was disheartening to see such behavior directed toward nine and ten year old children.

It took a lot not to return in kind, but instead we returned in kindness. We applauded every effort and every well-played inning. We drowned out the ugliness with cheers. Coach Lewis made sure that his boys would not be the ones to create animosity on the field or that his parents would not be thrown out during this championship series. We chose to show the boys the high road.

The boys ultimately lost the series, but not for trying. There were great hits, excellent pitches, throws and catches. There were a couple of amazing and clever home plate plays and even a tie-breaker extra inning, but it was not to be. The shameful tactics used by the other team won out. Cheaters do sometime prosper.

The boys were upset that they lost. It was hard to face their first losses this late in the game, but it wan’t until they cleared the field and gathered their equipment out of the dugout that the true meaning of the loss hit home. It was their last game together.  For Yoda, it was as if he lost his best friend and he wasn’t the only one. Reports from other parents were the same.

Several of the boys are moving up to the next level, as is Coach Lewis. The Braves as we knew them will not return, but we are glad to have the experience we did. It could have been something so different. Coaches Lewis, Benton, Clack and Thigpen built a team based on camaraderie and pride in a game well-played; the boys’ reaction to the last game proved that.

We were fearful that long ago blustery try-out day in February. We had heard the horror stories of spiteful parents and coaches that screamed, but fortune smiled in our favor. We became part of the Braves and Coach Lewis, we got a piece of that pie.

Dibs on the MatchBox Car

In my grandmother’s home was a magic box. Every child in our family was magnetically attracted to it. It sat almost at the end of a long hallway that divided Mama’s shotgun house, directly in front of the single bathroom.

It wasn’t a grand thing. Only about as wide as a five year old’s arm and covered with brown shelf paper, it was an unassuming vault of treasures. It was Mama’s toy box.

As soon as we entered the house, my younger brother and I would beeline through the living room, dart through the doorway from the dining room and race down the hall to the awaiting trove.  Lucky was the kid who arrived first, she or he got first dibs on what was the choice item of the day.

It varied from time to time what things it held for us to discover. Slinkys, yo-yos, soldiers with their feet frozen in blobs of green plastic or some ViewMaster reels might be found. Often, Matchbox cars, HotWheels and Tonka trucks were at the ready to populate the small, two-story garage handbuilt by my Grandfather or race down the long hall.

There was never anything large or very expensive in the box. Mostly just odds and ends left over from birthdays or Christmas’ past. Things to be discarded or treated with possible childhood distain would be magically transformed into an object of desire. Mr. Potato Head might not have both ears, but his pipe and glasses were there and that was great. Only a few Spirograph gears might be available, but there was enough to create fabulous designs to captivate any willing adult art admirer.

Palpable delight was felt in digging through the bit and pieces, mining for just the perfect toy to claim for the day or the hour or until Mom told us our turn was over. Imagination would take over when we found the stray crayon or some pirate coins hidden in the back corners.

Built way before mandatory locking hinges and I’m sure repurposed from another use, the box had a lid with the tendency to fall back into closed position. You really had to make sure that it was all the way back before starting to rummage. Once, in my haste to grab a good toy, I failed to push the lid all the way back. Slap! across my nose the hasp came – blood, tears and a lesson well learned.

The inevitability of growing up and its cruel disassociation with the magical never really affected Mama’s toy box. It never moved. Even as we grew and became busily involved in the ways of adulthood, it remained steadfast in its place guarding the long hallway ready to offer any passing child a chance to play. The next generations would soon experience the joy of running through the house to claim their daily prize.

In these often harried and tense days, it is nice to bring to mind the magic box in Mama’s hall. Though the home she kept for 40 odd years or so has been gone for quite some time, claimed by urban planning, the memory of it and that box full of childhood joy will always be there ready for another day of play. Race you there.