family

Solitaire with Yoda

cards

Dear Dad,

I taught Yoda how to play solitaire last night. He was bugging me to play cards with him and I just needed some time to work a quiet word puzzle, so Bashert suggested I teach him how to play. At first, he was not really interested; too complicated and boring he said then he started to catch on. I think it helped to tell him you taught me how to play and that I was playing with him, that clever boy.

Funny, the things that stick in one’s mind. I remember it was when we lived in Phoenix, in the second house that you taught me to play. That made me about the same age Yoda is now: eleven. You taught me to play left handed despite the superstitious attempts of your teachers to overcome your natural left handedness, some of it still shone through. I never corrected that even though the rest of the world seemed to play in the other direction. This is the way my Dad taught me, so this is the way it is played. I showed Yoda the same.

It took him a minute to catch on – how to build the cards down and up at the same time and to read the entire board – but he got it. The kid can play a mean game of chess, so I thought this wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for him. A few more games and he will see the strategy involved.

I told Yoda, it’s always good to know how to play a game of solitaire with real cards. I told him of how I was stuck in an airport for six hours in the days before portable electronics. After I finished off the book I brought for reading on the plane, I didn’t want to pay airport prices for anything else and people watching only goes so far when you are by yourself. Cards to the rescue.

That story led to other stories and before you know it, we were all laughing and having a splendid time without all the distractions of the television or computers. It was a warm, cozy and fun time. I hope it’s one he remembers down the line.

I ended up teaching him a couple of different games of solitaire besides our old standard, Klondike. He really took to Aces Up. I think because I told him that it could be really frustrating to win. Klondike has about a one in four win ratio, with Aces Up the ratio is a bit wider. He read that as a challenge, I believe. He didn’t win, but he didn’t get frustrated either. I loved that.

He hasn’t given up on learning to shuffle. His hands are almost big enough to handle a full sized deck and he is a hair’s breath away from getting it down. So many things we take for granted until we see someone learning it for the first time.

Thank you, Dad for taking the time to teach me.

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Never Hide Again

Pride balloons        As this day, this “National Coming Out” day comes to a close here in America. I am reminded of something Bashert and I promised ourselves about 16 years ago; we will never hide again.

You see, Bashert’s first ‘real’ job after graduating from college was teaching art at a local, private high school. Thing is, this private high school was also a Catholic school, complete with their very own nun and moral turpitude contract clauses. Bashert could not reveal the fact that not only was she living in ‘sin’, she was also living in sin with a woman. So, for the first year of our relationship, we lived in hiding.

Every morning before Bashert left for work, she took the ring off her finger. It broke my heart each time. We were careful not to be seen too close together when out and about town. There was many a time I took off for other parts when one of her students or their parents were spotted. Even as far away as Atlanta, we had to watch out. We ran into a student of hers up there in a jewelry store, of all places. We became professional level dodgers.

Why did we do this? Fear. Bashert was our only means of support. I was still in school with no job. Our livelihood depended upon her livelihood and she could be fired for being openly gay.

After a year of this exhausting life in the closet, Bashert said she didn’t want to hide anymore. She couldn’t stand all the avoiding and having to take a ‘beard’ (false male date) to school functions. So, we quietly began living our lives in the open. Well, sort of. She still took her ring off and I just became an unnamed entity in Bashert’s life: her unspoken partner, her ‘friend’. I attended fund raisers and didn’t leave her side when kids or their parents came up to her. I helped with community projects and we attended Pride festivities in Atlanta. We went to dinners with other faculty. Some knew our relationship, others chose not to acknowledge it and others didn’t like it a bit.

What did this cost us? The least thing was a keyed car. The biggest thing was her job. At the end of that school year, the principal stated that there wasn’t enough money to continue the art program. They were cutting back and didn’t need a full time art teacher for the next year. Her contract was not renewed. Next fall, the art program was suddenly back on – with another teacher.

It was that year, we told ourselves no more hiding. If we lived in the closet and shamed ourselves, how were we to expect others to treat us with any dignity or understanding? How could be expect my daughter to accept us as the family we were if we didn’t set the example? We decided then and there to just be us. No fancy or dramatic coming outs, no topless marching in the Pride parade (although eventually I did get to ride in the Dykes on Bikes segment thanks to some very good friends who owned motorcycles at the time). Nope, we just went about our lives as matter of fact. And for the most part it was okay and became more and more natural as we practiced what we preached.

The only other time we shied away from the full truth was when I went to work. I got a part time job at the local library. I didn’t really go back into hiding or so I told myself: Bashert and I continued to live in the open outside of my job, I just didn’t talk about it at work.

This was my second time working at the county library, the first being 20 years earlier and with many of the same people. From what they knew, I was no different from that young student, except a good bit older and greyer. As said, I didn’t talk about my present outside life.

I worked there two years before the rumours and comments began. Of course, a lot of it probably had to do with the timing of Yoda’s birth. Not many ‘roommates’ get that excited about the other roommate’s pregnancy and birth. I took my vacation around Yoda’s birth for goodness sake and kept a picture of Bashert and him on my desk – not so subtle.

One coworker kept dropping the hint that she loved watching the HBO show “Queer As Folk”. If I hadn’t been so exhausted from now working two part time jobs and having a newborn and a teenager in the house, I might have recognized an ally, but I was pretty blind.

Another coworker, actually, my boss at the time kept making side comments as to how she was grossed out by seeing two women kiss on television. These were never made quite in my full presence, but as I was passing through the room or loud enough so that I could hear them through the doors in my area next to hers. I got that picture.

Why didn’t I stand up? Why didn’t I fight back? One reason alone – fear. At this point, I was the sole means of support. I needed my two part time jobs and I lived in a state and worked for a county government where I was not protected under the law. I could be fired for being gay. Money won out, plain and simple.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a full time position at my other job not too long after Yoda was born. At that job, I was protected under their anti-discrimination policies. I said goodbye to library and the last time I ever avoided the truth of my family.

Bashert and I reaffirmed our stance with each other after my stint at the library. No job was worth lying about ourselves even if it was by omission. Yoda and Nene would not know parents who were together, yet separate. We were a family and took our place in the world.

For the last ten of almost 18 years, Bashert and I have just lived our lives, no fanfare, no dramatics, just matter of fact. We are lucky. Despite a few, short rough patches in other family relationships and our initial forays in the job market, we have met with few who deny our place. Yoda’s school and friends know he has two moms. Nene has grown proud of her relationship with Bashert and considers her a stepmom of the best character. My job continues to support and expand their anti-discrimination policies and Bashert is now a substitute teacher for the same government that could have fired me ten years ago.

It did get better and we have kept our promise to each other; we will never hide again.

Breakfast at McD’s

place-setting-compToday I returned to the doctor’s office for my lab work. I need a big girl sticker for just returning after Tuesday’s misadventures in waiting. But this time the wait was reasonable, my appointment was a 8am, first on the list, so I was willing to give them the 10 minutes for set up time. Twenty minutes overall wasn’t too bad (I was early again).

Dr. M. told me that the tests being done get the best results if I fast and stay hydrated. I took that to mean that not only was blood being drawn, but also the good ol’ pee in a cup thing. So, I gulped a nice, large thermos of ice water on the way over to the office. Turns out the hydration was just for getting a good vein. I ended up hungry, but full if you get my drift.

Since the blood drawing (sounds rather Medieval doesn’t it, blood drawing…), anyway, since that didn’t take very long, I figured I could wait until I found a breakfast place to relieve my hunger and bladder. The less time spent in a place where sick people congregate, the better – especially in a place where you know they will have touched the same things you will.

I really didn’t want to stop at a fast food place. I thought I owed it to myself to have at least a decent egg and toast breakfast. But time and nature have their own ways and my nature call became rather urgent just as I was coming up on, you guessed it, MacDonald’s.

I succumbed to the lure of the golden arches and it’s usually clean bathrooms. What the heck, their iced coffee isn’t that bad. I pulled in and parked across from the door and walked in. I first hit the facilities, which thankfully, were in lovely order. Next, I moved to find something on the menu that didn’t seem to scream, “You are eating crap!”

All the cute little pictures above the counter seemed to feature some version of a biscuit sandwich. I wanted at the very least, pancakes. I questioned the woman behind the counter. “All you seem to have are biscuit sandwiches. I want pancakes.” She replied, “You can get a McGriddle with an egg and bacon.” I asked what a “McGriddle” was. She said it’s like two pancakes with the syrup inside served with an egg, cheese and bacon. I thought okay, it’s not Denny’s, but it will do. I placed the order.

What came back to me was a biscuit sandwich. Seems I should have paid attention to the ‘like’ portion of her statement. Oh, well. I asked for a fork so that I could take the sandwich apart and pretend that I was having the breakfast I ordered. (I did not eat the bacon. I rather figured it did not come from a turkey.)

My doctor’s office is located about 15 miles or so from where I live in town. The county where it is situated is developing and has quite a few businesses popping up all around. The countryside is fast becoming a quasi-urban/suburban area. Many of the residents, however, are still very rural. They are the ones who grew up on the former farms and country roads now being overtaken. The McDonald’s that chose me is also in this same rural/suburban crossroads and the clientele showed this with clusters of older folks speaking with deep, Georgia southern accents.

Not wanting to sit at one of the single barstool type places, I took a booth seat next to a group of three older gentlemen, who were deep in swapping stories. Expecting to hear tales of hunting or local politics, I was pleasantly surprised to hear what they were discussing – their families, more specifically, special family vacations! It was all so sweet.

One gentleman, who I shall call Mr. Buttonup, was treating his coffee clutch brethren with the tales of how he and his family used to take vacations in the mountains and tell ghost stories around the campfire. He laughed and laughed telling the tale of how he and his wife took turns inventing outlandish stories that took place “right on this very spot.” He added with a smile on his face that it never took long for everyone to end up in the same big bed for the night.

Another gentleman, Mr. GreenPolo, told of his inexpensive vacation at the beach. “Best time we ever had and all for under $300!” His companions were very impressed. “We walked the beaches for miles, it was just wonderful.” They all agreed that one could not get such a vacation for $300 nowadays. And at that they began to talk about moseying along.

My heart jumped a little when I realized they were about to leave for it had struck me a little into their conversations that they were all about my Dad’s age. I was eavesdropping with a wistful ear and wanted their stories to go on. It was so pleasant to hear these men teasing back and forth and regaling each other with stories, not of hunting, or business deals, but of times spent with their families. It was if I was listening to my Dad again. I wanted to thank them for that little piece of joy they had just given me.

As they started to leave, I called out to Mr. Buttonup, “Sir, if I may…” and I explained that I had lost my father this year and that their conversations about their families had truly touched me. I apologized for listening in, but I thanked them for letting me in for just a moment even if they didn’t realize they did.

Mr. Buttonup said I was most welcome and Mr. GreenPolo asked what I said. Apparently, he was a bit hard of hearing. (I guess that was one of the reasons I could hear them so clearly; they were compensating for Mr. G.) Mr. B told him the short version of what I said and they both smiled. Mr. B asked if I was from there and I told him no, I was only on this side of town for an appointment. Then he said I was welcome to come back anytime, they met almost every morning right there. That made me smile.

I may not have gotten what I wanted this morning, but I sure got what I needed. I cried a little after they left, both for what they had given me and for what I will never have again, but in the end I was left with a smile. Someone knew I needed that little slice of love even if it came wrapped in a fast food breakfast biscuit. Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.

Lullaby

Naptime2    I am very weary these days, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of grief and stress. It is difficult to find a safe shore to rest upon and when by chance I do find a moment to lie my head down, anxiety churns the waters. So tonight I thought perhaps I could try a story of a lullabies – lullabies that eased weary souls a long time ago.

When my daughter Nene was an infant, she was at first calmed by the old standard by Brahms, but as she grew into toddlerhood, she began to prefer more rousing  tunes. She had a strange proclivity toward military anthems and Linda Ronstadt’s, “You’re No Good.”

I remember one particularly grouchy afternoon at my grandmother’s home. Nene could not be cajoled or convinced into thinking anything other than the world was coming to an end and she had to meet it with her lungs giving full voice to her song of woe. My grandmother, mom, and I were stretching to our respective wit’s end. Four generations of women were about to implode and bring Nene’s prediction to fruition.

When the tension and noise finally reached ‘this will drive out the armed fanatics holed up in the house’ level, my mom asked if there was anything else to try. I said well, it sounds odd, but we can try the “Marine’s Hymn.” Mama and Mom looked at me like I was nuts, but at this point it was that or actually call in the Marines. So, I started in with, “From the halls of Montezuma…” And it worked!

Mama and Mom started chiming in and Nene fell into a stupor that would have won a prize on “America’s Funniest Videos.” By the time we finished “Anchors Away”, she was out, lolled over in her little yellow walker. Always her own, that kid.

Sixteen or so years later, Yoda was a completely different story. He definitely preferred the more melodic, slow tempo themes. Often I would hum as smoothly and dolce as I could muster the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” or a quiet version of some folk song culled from my memory of “Sing Along with Mitch.” But the one song that would always close the deal, was “Little Red Caboose.”

Now if you Google this song, you will more than likely be bombarded with versions containing inane adults wearing engineer outfits and singing the lyrics in an over the top Barney fashion. The version I sang was one I found in my collection of old 45rpm single records – a slow spiritual, one sung or hummed right gives the slow, rhythmic rocking of a train moving down the tracks. It was a perfect tune for an active and sensory issued baby.

One afternoon while Yoda and I were out visiting my parents, he had reached his infant tolerance for sociability and began to fuss. So, at that point I swaddled him up tight and removed myself to the dining area to try and calm him down before it went over the top. I could recognized the signs a wee better with the second child…

My Mom stepped off to I don’t know where, to give us space to work I guess. My Dad went to sit in his chair in the living room, not too far from where I was sitting with Yoda. I began to run through my repertoire of songs and then moved in with the closer of “Caboose.”

I rocked, sang, and the hummed for about 5 minutes and the little guy finally settled into a nice little nap. I could even hear a small snore. I smiled and listened again. This wasn’t Yoda’s snargle (what we had termed his breathing issue common to baby boys when born small – another story). I turned my ear to the sound again and realized that my Dad had fallen asleep!

When it came time for me to leave my parents’ house that afternoon and I went over to say goodbye to Dad, he pulled me in and thanked me. When I asked what for, he said it had been a very long time since anyone had sung him to sleep.

Eleven years have gone by and it still brings a smile to my face to remember the time I sang a lullaby to my Dad.

Sleep well, Deddy-O, sleep well.

Let’s Go For A Ride

Dad_motorcycleIn the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).

Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.

Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.

On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.

Hello, Officer.

I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.

We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.

Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.

And my Dad is gone.

I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.

What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”

But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.

I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.

Depression/Suicide: Robin was not alone

COne of the things I hold dear from the week my Dad died is his comment to me that he was proud of me and that he was glad to have “his Sam back.” You see, for a long moment in time no one was sure if they would ever have me back.

Normally, I don’t speak of those times very much and especially not to strangers. It is not that I am ashamed, but rather a life long sense of shyness and privacy holds me back. When taking a psychology class in high school, we students were asked to use one word to describe ourselves; my word: private. It is a hard thing to overcome, but with this sudden and disturbing death of Robin Williams, I somehow feel compelled to reach out. Bashert says no one can tell a story as well as one who has experienced it. As the Talmud says, “Save one life, save the world entire.” or as a friend said last night, “Untreated depression is a terminal illness.”

So big breath….

I hail from a nice, middle-class family – the iconic midcentury family: two parents (each of the opposite sex), three other siblings (two older, one younger) and a rotating menagerie of pets. By the time I came along my parents owed their own home and we had a plethora of extended family. My Dad supported the family financially and my Mom supported us all at home. As I said, iconic. Get it? All American Family. Nice people.

But it doesn’t mean anything to the black hole that is Depression.

Using that crystal clear vision know as hindsight, my dance with Depression began early in life, but it didn’t become a slow dangerous tango until the early 90s when I entered my thirties. It was then I no longer had the lead over my own life. Depression slowly took control and by 1996, I was a knife blade’s edge and one signature away from either taking a heavily escorted ride to Milledgeville, Georgia or finding out for sure what happens after we cease to exist in this form.

Another big breath…

Written descriptions can never really reveal the desperation, the depth of despair that clinical Depression brings. So I am going to give something that I have never given before – a glimpse inside my mind of those dark days – an entry from my journals. I have changed names and left out a few references because they concern specific people whom I do not wish to reveal.

As you read these words, remember – I have loving parents, siblings, friends and doctors surrounding me, supporting me. Depression does not care.

11 July 96:

My well of resources is about dry. I’ve managed to hold on until now. Bits and pieces of saving grace have fed my hopes, but I can’t seem to comprehend anything of grace now.

Monday, I checked into a motel because I couldn’t bring myself to return to the house – the questions – the outrage, the suggestions, the sympathy. Too much, too much. I couldn’t be with anyone. I didn’t want to be with myself.

I’ve been on a downward slide for a long time. I’ve told you and others, but everyone seems to think they know me. That I have this powerful inner strength to help carry me through. I’ve said it in words and shown it in deeds. I’m dying.

My inner strength is used up. I’m tired and I want the pain to stop. I’m trapped and very much alone. People say wait to see what tomorrow brings; don’t let the bastards win; it’s a no-win situation, blah, blah, blah…I’ve used the words myself [remember ‘R’?]. It’s all crap when you’re on this side. She should have called the cops. I have many layers and I’ve reached one that doesn’t give a shit about promises, loyalty, or trust. It will be soon. My anger and despair are calling for rest.

I’ve begun making the lists of things to take care of – things that needs to be tied up. Sometimes it makes me queasy, but mostly it gives me calm. So much tension to be (sic) releaved.

My new little knife has become a comfort token. I’ve taken it with me everywhere. It even stays in my hand all night long. It gives a pleasant warmth.

I wonder if any sleep will come tonight? I’ve started my program of aspirin. It would be nice to rest…pack up your troubles in your ol’ kit bag and smile, smile, smile…

Depression is not just sadness. It is a deep, soul sucking despair that cares for nothing but ending the pain. It doesn’t care that you have a spouse or children that depend on you or parents that worry about you. It doesn’t care that you have fame and fortune or not. IT JUST DOESN’T CARE. It is a never ending darkness that steals joy and wonder from inside. Outside the world may seem fine, but inside? Inside there is nothing but the hunger for escape. One does not simply pull up your bootstraps and move on.

It takes a massive amount of effort and energy to combat Depression. The person with Depression is not the only one who wears out. It is frustrating and painful for all concerned. Depression is a sneaky jerk and can trick even the most experienced eye. I was lucky and had some very stubborn people in my corner, who just wouldn’t give up on me no matter how I far I fell, faked it, or pushed away. There is no ‘cure’ for Depression, only recovery. It is a lifetime battle often fought minute by minute.

Depression is a mental illness that needs more exposure and not by more loss. If you or someone you love is suffering, please, please get help. We don’t need anymore poster children.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1.800.273.8255

http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/things-you-shouldnt-say-to-someone-struggling-with-depress

To Dad, Love Sam

Nature Boy – eden ahbez

There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.

Once upon a time, in a previous lifetime when I was falling apart to come together, I was obsessed with playing cards. Solitaire was my constant companion; I played hour after hour, shuffling and reshuffling, black on red, red on black – a coping mechanism to soothe and wait for the world to make sense again.
In my present life, I do not play cards that often. Instead, I collect them. Each deck I acquire, either from a place visited or just an old, interesting design, reinforces the awareness of how far I have traveled. They are markers of all dark things conquered – trophies.
Nowadays, I use many distractions, FB, Pinterest, old videos, but mostly I’m found with my nose stuck in a crossword puzzle book. Codewords, cryptograms, syllacrostics and the occasional word find are my solace and escape today. They keep my mind awake and numb at the same time. They are also a touchstone to my Dad. “Great for waiting,” he said.
That’s what I brought to him in the hospital: a crossword puzzle book. Something to pass the time between the alphabet barrage of testing: EEG, ECG, EKG, CT,  PT, EIEIO…
Dad was not the best speller in the world, so sometimes his solutions to crosswords were a bit inventive. We think it has to do with the fact that he really should have been left handed, but back in the 30s left handedness was still seen as well, suspect – especially back in the dirt farm area Dad came from. The teachers tied down his left arm so that he would learn to do all with his right hand. It worked to a point. He ended up ambidextrous – I play cards and use a computer mouse left handed thanks to him – but his spelling was always lousy.
I was lucky to pass the time in conversation, as well as, work a puzzle or two with him that week. The talks were long overdue. We talked and talked for hours. I kept asking if he wanted to rest, but he kept declining, saying he wanted to chat.
We spoke of his love for literature and science. We pondered the energy of the universe – that energy is neither created or destroyed – and how he thought there is ancient energy all around us. He asked to borrow some of my archaeology books so that he could learn more. He said the subject always fascinated him – proper archaeology, too, not paleontology. We talked of passing age milestones; the psychological sense of relief both my sister and I felt when we successfully passed the age of 21, the age his sister was killed by a drunk driver. We talked about the new home Bashert and I just closed on and the things we were going to have to do to our fixer-upper, including the floor.
Dad told me that when he worked for Taylor Furniture as a young man, he hated when people would come in to look at flooring because he would have to move entire rolls of linoleum around from the back of the store to the front sidewalk and then back again. He would go “find” something else to do when he heard anyone mention flooring. That’s my Dad; work smarter, not harder.
We laughed at silly things and I kidded him about wanting his comb, so he could pretty himself up for the nurses. But he had eyes for only one person. Mom.
Mom, his favorite subject. He kept coming back to her. He told me that there was a beautiful nurse on the floor, but that she had nothing on Mom. Even when he was all woozy and waking up from one of the tests he went through, his first thoughts were of her. He wanted to go home because he, “missed his girl.”
On the Friday of his week in the hospital, he finally fell to sleep after Mom and my sister Calico Nell arrived. I guess he felt comfortable with Mom there. I visited with Mom and CN for a bit and then left, giving Dad’s toe a little squeeze as to not wake him, but to let him know I was going. I whispered love and that I really enjoyed talking to him about everything and that I would see him later.
CN told me the next day that Dad was upset that he didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought about calling, but she told me that Mom was visiting on her own for the first time. The weather had been so dicey the rest of the week, CN was driving her in to visit. I didn’t want to disturb their time together. Let him have those moments with ‘his girl’. I’m glad I made that decision. I had my time.
Dad died that night. Massive heart failure due to previously unknown, plaque filled arteries. He died of a broken heart and ours broke in the process.
I’ve had my head stuck in word puzzles ever since. Two months, now. Concentration on anything else hurts too much. Between bereavement, foot ailments and my own discovered hypertension, work has been a struggle. Our house, while coming along is still in flux. Schoolwork sits untouched, unread, unfinished, unwritten. But damn it, I have conquered the Dell no-clue, codeword puzzle. In ink.
Each book I finish stands in a stack, another legion of trophies to mark the passing of dark places. I am not sure how high the stack will have to be before most of the darkness fades, but for now it’s great for waiting.
I love you Dad.

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.