vacation

I like vacations. I especially like unexpected vacations, like the one I was just on. I say “unexpected”, but I mean “forgot about”. This happens to me more than you’d think. To many people, being sick IS vacation. There is the luxury of staying home and taking care of yourself. I don’t know what this says about our society, that a “staycation” can be as desirable as a vacation, but I do know that being housebound because of illness is no vacation.

I don’t quite remember how this vacation came together, yet here I was, two days before departure, bitching to Katie about leaving. I am one of those people who feel compelled to leave a clean house and yard. I know, no surprise there. It’s more work up front, but always worth it on the return side. So I was running around the house, cleaning and weeding and watering and organizing, and not packing a single thing. Was this vacation worth it? Should I be leaving at all? What was I thinking back in March? Oh yeah, I had planned on being well.

The journey itself is enjoyable to me. Something about solo travel makes me feel competent and free. The whole flavor of travel has changed for the better since becoming single. My ex was an impatient, tense traveler. I’m chill to the point of sending my itinerary to my friends because I can never quite remember the particular details of dates and times (see first paragraph—it happens a LOT). Still, I get myself from point A to point B with little fuss and trouble.

Some people, myself included, struggle with the idea that sickness deserves a vacation. The answer is emphatically yes. Serious illness gives few breaks, and a respite punctuated with illness is better than no respite at all. Or, as my friend Paul has said, “I can be sick in Paradise or sick at home. I choose Paradise”. I knew that many people would think going on vacation would mean I was better. I am better, but I am not well. I knew I would have some bad days, perhaps during, but definitely afterward due to the stress of travel and fun. What I didn’t know was how worth it going on vacation was.

Something else went on vacation, too. My medication schedule. I can do that with Lyme. Each bug, borrelia, babesia, and bartonella, has intense defense mechanisms (biofilms,  cysts, and hiding in tissues where there is no blood flow, like eyeballs and joints and the brain), so the protocol is always changing. Most doctors pulse medications in monthly bursts, to constantly hit them with something different. That means I can, theoretically, miss a week or so of most medicines and not mess up my treatment.

Almost all Lyme literate doctors use both pharmaceuticals and herbs to treat Lyme. The pills are easy. I can take up to seven pills in one gulp, if they’re not huge. The herbs are different. I mix all the herbs in a glass, 15 drops at a time. Then I put in maybe an ounce of water and drink it. Katie watched this once and said, “That smells like some foul shit.” A note about some of the stuff I take: it is some foul shit. I don’t think about how it tastes. I just chug it. I’m still trying to figure out what in my life made me such a champion medicine taker and I’ve got nothing.

I always feel a little bit naughty that first day I don’t take my meds. The freedom from that tedium is immense, I can’t believe how easy it is to NOT take medicine. I have them with me, too tethered to the thought of needing them to leave them at home. Sometime in the afternoon of day two, as on most vacations, something loosens inside of me. I don’t care what’s going on in the world. I quit checking my phone and my computer lies idle. The medicine migrated to the bottom of my suitcase.

Isn’t that the whole purpose of vacation? A rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit? Too often we pursue vacations with a grim purpose to pack as much activity and fun into them as possible, leaving exhaustion and frustration in the wake. I much prefer my friends’ pace: puzzles, hammocks, a vague daily plan which may or may not involve an actual activity, games at night, and the freedom to do whatever you’d like.

I got myself home with little fuss, and a small bonus: dinner with another friend. I milked a few more hours of vacation, and returned home to Katie and the dogs. That might be the best part of vacations for me—the moment I walk in the door of my own home. The smell is deeply familiar and comforting, as my home smells like both my childhood and adulthood. The dogs greet me as if I’ve been gone forever. Katie bounds up the stairs and gives me a hug. “I missed you!” I’ll start retaking my medicine tomorrow. Tonight I will unpack before I let out that final exhale of vacation, before thoughts of tomorrow, with schedules and chores, creep in.

 

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dad

Yes, my dad is alive and kicking. I want to take the opportunity to embarrass him while I can. It’s not often we get our own personal heroes, but I have one, a fact that has become even more emphatically clear during my struggle with Lyme. Dad and I are extraordinarily close, our relationship uncomplicated, unlike the relationship I had with Mom. Maybe that’s the nature of fathers and daughters, but more likely it’s because our personalities simply mesh. His 89th birthday is next month. He hates his birthday. His office once threw him an unbirthday party because he assiduously and purposefully withheld the date for years. He is going to kill me for writing this. I know it. That’s okay, Dad. You know you love me.

I was adopted on the sixth day of my life. I didn’t know until this year that mom and dad adopted me because I was a “hard to place” child, because I am half-Hispanic. This fact rattled me a bit. Hard to place? Moi? That’s because Mom never shared this tidbit with me, and I don’t think it ever occurred to Dad to even mention it, until I asked.

Dad was raised in a world of women. His dad traveled for work, and eventually divorced his mom when Dad was twelve. Dad credits his decidedly egalitarian views towards women (an anomaly for his generation) to this upbringing. I realized he was different from a lot of other dads early on. Other kids weren’t canoeing with their fathers. Other kids weren’t playing ping-pong, tennis, or just talking to their fathers. I rarely heard of friends’ fathers vacuuming, cleaning windows, or washing dishes. He did all these things and more without complaint. I complained enough for the whole family. Mom went back to work full-time when I was in the sixth grade with his blessing (I hesitate to state it that way, because he fully supported her choices). In his mid-fifties, he moved to Memphis for her job and commuted to Denver two weeks every month because she had interrupted her career to move for his. He took care of Mom for the last ten years of her life, putting aside nearly everything for her.

One of the things I love most about Dad is his absolute, unwavering unconditional love for those fortunate to be in his orbit. He wants nothing but good things and happiness for you. This used to intimidate and frighten me: could I live up to such a fierce love? Now I see that I do the same to Katie. There are worse things in life to know you are someone’s sun, moon and stars. He spoiled me a bit, but again, there are worse things. He has supported me unequivocally throughout grad school (he used the proceeds from Mom’s cello and bow to pay for it) and through my ordeal with Lyme disease. I do the same for Katie, and we do what we can for him. It’s a happy circle of unconditional love that I wish everyone could experience.

Dad was not a pushover, however. I tested plenty of boundaries. My brothers didn’t know what boundaries were. Dad has questioned his (and Mom’s—they were a team, 100%) choices on how he raised us. This is both endearing and annoying, because there were maybe four or five times, tops, where the punishment was unwarranted. He likes to remember differently, but some of his punishments were downright genius. One of my favorite stories (and his least, probably because it reflects poorly on me) is the time I was caught completely bombed on Quaaludes (thank goodness the guys’ parents came home, because we were literally on our knees howling with laughter because we couldn’t get the car keys in the door to unlock the car). Dad grounded me for six months. He said we were going to be spending a LOT of time together and signed me up for tennis lessons with Kingwood’s new tennis pro, Jim Rombeau. To this day Dad and I share an abiding love for tennis. This didn’t solve all of my misbehaving, but it brought us much closer together.

There was a time when it used to irk me that old boyfriends (really, all of my friends) always asked how Dad was doing, to the point where I suspected they liked him more than me. Now I see it for what it is, a huge compliment to him. He’s nonjudgemental and listens, no matter your sex or age. I remember discussions about news, books and life as early as nine or ten. When I was twelve, or maybe thirteen, I announced I was atheist. He asked me how I came to that conclusion and we began a discussion on belief and faith that continues to this day.

Dad won a lawsuit against an oil company known for stiffing independent exploration geologists who’d done work for them, largely because the jury found him an impeccably honest and moral witness. He once told me he’d rather see an honest F than a cheater’s A. He embarrassed me and my cousin Ginger at the movie theater by doing a spot-on imitation of Tevye singing “If I were a Rich Man” during intermission. He got thrown into the pool regularly because he was that dad, a good sport who liked to have fun. He likes to solve the world’s problems over a few drinks. He makes his granddaughter feel like she’s the center of his universe.

Whew. All these compliments! Lest you think he’s perfect, he can’t dance. His singing is abysmal. His ‘cooking’ is utilitarian at best, popcorn and wine at worst. He hates to wait. He can barely sit through a movie. He hates most holidays. He never feels like he gives good gifts (this is nonsense, he gives the BEST gifts).  He gets mad when Katie and I fuss over him. Too bad, Dad. We will fuss over you forever. Many friends who know him joke about letting him adopt them, too. He picked me, a hard-to-place monkey-faced baby. I’m not nearly as nice as he is, so too bad, he’s mine, and I’m not sharing.

 

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deflate

My favorite! I didn’t think anyone noticed this particularly delightful symptom, but they do. It’s when you feel pretty good—you’re shopping for furniture or at a concert at Red Rocks, or just playing pickleball when WHAM! Deflate. I’ve been thinking about exactly what happens, and how perceptive people can notice so quickly. I’m a fairly high energy person, sometimes hyper, even (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, friends), so when I am quiet and still, it isn’t normal. The Lyme deflation is swift and complete, reducing me to a zombie-like trance. In the space of less than fifteen minutes I can go from peppy and happy to paper-doll flat (I really should insert a Tom Brady reference to Deflategate here, but I can’t think of one. Feel free. Really.).

Today I deflated an hour into playing pickleball. I have had a lot of bad days lately, not sure why, but am I ever sure why? The symptoms have all risen to above my neck. I still have liver pain, kidney pain, joint pain and fatigue, but those are all intermittent and no big deal. It’s the brain/eyes/teeth trifecta that make me miserable. For the past three or four weeks, my eyes have been wonky. My left eye has this giant grey floater that swings from side to side, daring me to shift my eyes from side to side, like I’m watching a bizarre tennis match inside my eye. It drives me crazy. I’ve had eye problems since the beginning of Lyme. Itching, burning, an eyeball ache, floaters, blurry spots, ghosting in my peripheral vision, and now this big grey glob in my eye.

I was playing okay, I was in a bitchy mood, which is not uncommon. I had energy and made most of my shots. About an hour in, my eyes acted up. I rubbed them and they teared and burned and that damn glob swung back and forth, distracting me from the ball.  Within minutes  my head pounded and my energy dissipated. A fullblown deflation. Two of the three players I was with stopped and asked if I was okay. Wow. I didn’t think I looked different when I deflated. As I left the court (after losing, goddammit!), I said I wasn’t feeling too well. They said they noticed. Others noticed when I gathered my things and walked out.

Why am I unaware of my own deflation? I mean, it’s happening to me, you’d think I’d notice. Perhaps all my energy goes into maintaining my composure while out in public. If I’m home and I deflate, I can collapse on the sofa or in bed and not worry. If I’m out doing something, it’s different. The energy it takes to simply walk or speak is almost out of my reach. I’ve been thinking about when I see this kind of collapse in others. A small child deflates naturally, several times a day, either into sleep, or a tantrum, or more often than not, a stupor. Maybe that’s what people see happening to me. I can stupor with the best  of them!

The silver lining is I’m not super aware of my collapse. I can acknowledge my decline and be aware that I have to get home. Other than that, my ability to respond to other people is pretty much gone. I think because I am usually gregarious and very tuned in to the moment I might get a bit of a pass from most of my friends. At least that’s what I hope.

I made it home, and now I am dressed in my favorite sloppy outfit, ensconced in my magic blue writing chair and high as a kite. Medicinal marijuana is a gift from nature. Don’t knock it until you’ve had Lyme. I hope this particular deflation doesn’t last too long. Hey, another silver lining: this may be the first time I have stayed coherent during my collapse! If you are my friend, don’t correct me on this one, please.

 

 

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circles

This weekend is my fortieth high school reunion. I am going. There is something about Texas that keeps me coming back, but I’m not a Texan. I’m what I like to call an ‘accidental Texan’. My parents aren’t Texans, they are from Kansas, dropped into Texas because my dad was a geologist. I was born in San Antonio and adopted at six days old. I spent most of my childhood here, and went to college in Austin.

Houston and Humble are both deeply familiar and completely alien to me now. I wonder if my classmates who never left feel this way, too. For some reason, when Lyme moved into my brain for an extended duration, I went back to my past, circles within circles of memories. A high school reunion is a big circle. Many people say, “You’re going back? Why?” It’s hard to explain why Humble High School Class of 1976 was special. For those of us who were there, it marked us as one of the first classes where two radically different groups of students came together. It’s hard to imagine what a mass influx of new people from all over does to the delicate social balances that make up a high school. There was resentment and miscommunication, sure, but also a sense of adventure and acceptance. At least half of our class had lived in Humble most of their lives. The other half had lived there less than five years. Of course, there was Forest Cove, but they evolved into a super-tight group that didn’t quite fit into either category. I am over-simplifying here, but this is why I have a special place in my heart for Humble.

This past winter, I had days upon days where I could only lie in bed and listen to music. I could not read, TV was totally beyond me. With Lyme, I’ve spent the last year turning inward, often going back in time. I spent a few months looking up old boyfriends, as if imagining the road not taken would change the fact that I had a serious illness. Lyme disease is a great trickster. I felt fine one day, then was down for three or four days in a row. The symptoms varied—from the merely annoying, like achy joints and muscles, to the downright scary, like when my heart rate plummeted to forty-two beats per minute, or the times when I forgot how to drive. Of course, I took special pains to get bitten by a tick that carried three bugs: babesia, borrelia, and bartonella. I am an overachiever in all the wrong things. Lyme zigged and zagged its way through my body, never once stopping and asking how I felt about the whole thing.

In earlier years I worried quite a bit about how my life would look to my former classmates. Did I look happy? Successful? Did my family represent a fabulous, American dream kind of life? Now that I’m older, I care less and less about those kinds of measures. Instead, there is a long list of sorrows and joys that we all understand now: the great levelers. Loss of parents, brothers and sisters, and sometimes children. The birth of grandchildren, a life spent with someone you love, a settled sense of happiness. The list of lost classmates is growing. How I want to look is like me, the me I was way back then. I hope my classmates see me and know in an instant that I have changed very little inside. I’m still impulsive, dorky, happy, and smart-mouthed. I still sing in my shower and car. I still dance while I’m cleaning house. I still like almost everyone and wear my emotions right where everyone can see them. I still get anxious when I see old friends, that feeling that everyone else knows what’s going on and I don’t. I hope I take the time to see the person inside of them, too.

Music was a great comfort while I was sick. I actually listened to ‘Free Bird’, the Humble High Class of ’76 song and liked it. I listened to everything. Classical, rap, rock, electronica, jazz, soft rock (!?!?), and even, for an afternoon, The Eagles, a band I loathe. What does this have to do with anything? The whole circle thing, right. I saw Willis Alan Ramsey last Saturday night with my old friend Bryce Payne (he is both old and an old friend…an old old friend?) and had the pleasure of hearing a song he sang to Valerie Bell Greiner, another old friend from Humble. We were college freshmen, about three weeks in, and Willis played in Dobie Mall, right by the elevators. I was watching a Texas folk hero play ‘Northeast Texas Women’ to a friend of mine. I felt like I had arrived. All of life would be like this. I told Bryce and he was skeptical. He hadn’t heard this story, and he was certain he would have, if it had really happened. Was I certain it had happened? Mostly. It was one of those crystalline memories that stay with you. After the show we found ourselves standing next to Willis Alan by the door, and I said, “It’s a full circle night. I saw you play at Dobie Mall in 1976.” Bless his heart, he said “I remember that! First time I ever played by elevators.” Full circle indeed.

There is a sense of nonchalance about this reunion. Serious illness gave me the gift of whittling down my life to the things that truly matter to me. I hope I remember this as I recover. Now, I can’t quite figure out why going in circles has been so comforting this past year. Maybe you have an idea. Maybe by connecting with the past in times of crisis we can forge a new reality, taking strength from happier times. Maybe by getting a chance to revisit the past, as I will do this weekend, I can put the circles in some sort of order. Ha! As if life can be ordered. Maybe I’ll just kick back and enjoy it for what it is: a time to reconnect with people who knew me before I knew myself.

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