Thursday, January 23, 2020

My Writing Project: Paul's Memoir

My journal from 1990-1993.
I have begun a writing project, one that I said back in 1993 deserved to be written. I am working on a memoir of my first love, Paul, who died of cancer at the age of 20.

He and I went to high school together but didn't start dating until after we graduated. We were together throughout college and in the fall of my junior year he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. While doctors said his chances of survival were 80%, after 10 months of aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, he became a part of the 20% that doesn't make it.

I've been in touch with Paul's mother and asked for her blessing to put this down on paper, which she agreed to, though talking about Paul and looking at things that remind her of him is still incredibly painful 28 years after his death. Her grief and mine were and continue to be so different — I had lost my future husband, she lost her child.

I am in the process of going back through my journals and diaries back from when Paul and I were together. The journals document our relationship, its ups and downs, his cancer diagnosis and treatment and eventual death.

One journal covers the majority of the time, the next is a little snippet and then mostly empty, as I had graduated college and life became, well, life.

This was the opening entry of the first journal. I find it ironic because little did I know that by the end of the same journal I would have an actual body to deal with, one that belonged to someone I loved very much.

Here's my first journal entry:

A couple nights ago I had a strange dream. The setting was an old farm or some type of rural building. I was there with an older man, possibly the owner. He was somehow shot and killed and I was shocked by his death. However, this wasn’t the main part of the dream, as that happened quickly at the beginning. 
The burial was the appalling part of the dream. His body, no casket or coffin, was lowered by two ropes into a grave which was filled with water. He was bloated and white, but once under the water he took on a greenish cast. They took the ropes out from under him, causing his body to roll in the water. A dirty glass was placed over him and planks were nailed over the glass, spaced apart so you could still see his body. He floated up to the glass, pressed against it in a desperate way as if trying to escape. Then I woke up. 
Good beginning to a diary, isn’t it?
And so this process begins. I may or may not update this blog as this continues, we'll see how this goes. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Creamed Tuna on Toast

Subtitled "Validation that I'm a good cook."
My youngest is known for her back-handed compliments, statements like:

"You're not as annoying as I thought you'd be." (Said to a new student after they became friends.) 

"This isn't as bad as I was expecting." (Said to me after taking a bite of a dish I made.)

"After eating school lunches, your cooking is pretty good, Mom!" (Also said to me after she started taking school lunches in high school.)

So I have to set the record straight.

I'm a good cook. Most of the food I prepare is edible, not chewy, not dried out, has flavor and provides nutrients to my family when enjoyed in moderation. I make an amazing marinara sauce, have learned how to make fresh pasta which has gotten rave reviews, and can roast and saute vegetables to perfection. 

Today I recounted to my kids one of my favorite meals that I ate as a kid — creamed tuna on toast. It is exactly what it sounds like. If you want to try it, here's the recipe:

1 can of tuna
1 can of canned peas (15 oz, strain out the water first)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup

Mix it all together, add a little milk if needed and warm on the stove. While warming, toast up a bunch of bread. Serve the stack of toast alongside the bowl of creamed tuna, and voila! It looked a lot like the photo above when you put it on your plate.

I loved this meal as a kid. It had a blend of mush and crispy toast, or mushy toast if you let it soak in. And I loved the satisfying "pop" of peas in my mouth when I ate them.

When Wayne and I were first married I made this dish for the two of us one night. I like peas, he does not. If his mom ever cooked with tuna he doesn't remember eating it. We sat down to our stack of toast and bowl of creamed tuna and he looked at me skeptically. He tried it, ate one spoonful and got himself a can of chicken noodle soup from the cupboard which he warmed up and ate instead.

"Don't ever make that again," he advised. And I haven't, for as much as I've wanted it myself.

Fast forward 25 years. We have two girls, teens now, neither of whom like peas or tuna. One of them is gluten-free, and gluten-free bread isn't known for being the best, even when toasted.

Today I just described this dish to them both and told them how in my house growing up, it was a staple dish in frequent rotation. They both made gagging noises and agreed that I am indeed a better cook since I never try serving them that dish.

Speaking of which, I believe this entire post is a back-handed compliment to my mom, because I loved that dish and clearly her grandchildren wouldn't. Love you, Mom! 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA)

An appropriate visual for living with someone with anxiety (SWA).
I wrote a post yesterday about a trip Lindsey and I took to New York City over New Year's. All in all, it was an incredible, amazing trip. I had glossed over the real purpose of this trip; it was an exposure for Lindsey's fear of flying.

For us, this was a Very. Big. Deal.

Lindsey hasn't been on a plane since a terrible experience flying to and returning from the Dominican Republic three years ago. At the time her overall anxiety level was really high and she had a panic attack on the plane that lasted an hour. If you've never experienced a panic attack, for an entire hour Lindsey believed she was going to die — truly believed, in her heart of hearts, that this was the end. It was terrifying and traumatic. Once we arrived, we took a car service to our resort, and, sadly, saw a car-scooter collision that was more than likely fatal for the scooter driver. It reinforced the idea that she was going to die on this trip. She and I left after just two days because she was unable to function, she was dreading the flight back so very much. The flight back was just as horrible as the flight there, and she said that her flying days are over.

Fast forward three years.

Lindsey is in a very different place with her anxiety. She is juggling online high school classes with college courses, held down a job, has grown in confidence and in knowing herself. So when she said she was willing to try to get on a plane to see a musical, I was happy that she had identified a "reward" for this exposure that she would be willing to do.

It is a very different experience traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA). This successful trip did not happen without a lot of planning and accommodations.

For one, after arriving in NYC and getting to my sister-in-law's condo, Lindsey was completely exhausted. We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day and got take-out from the nearest bodega for dinner.
Truth 1: If traveling with SWA, be prepared to be in a city with incredible culinary experiences but be unable to take part in any of them.
Before going to bed we talked about all the places we wanted to see during our very short trip. Lindsey had a whole laundry list of things she wanted to do, but I know we wouldn't be able to hit them all. I knew more than she about how long it would take to travel from one part of the city to another, and also had a realistic expectation of how much energy she would have for seeing all of these things.

Her sleep that evening was interrupted by a terrible stomachache, a known latent side effect of high anxiety for her. Which meant that there would be no morning tourist stuff for us, sleep is critical to her mental health and she doesn't function well without it.
Truth 2: Vacationing with SWA means planning light schedules with plenty of time between outings to rest. Heavy itineraries are anxiety-inducing. 
Once again back to the bodega for breakfast which we ate in the condo, then we took a Lyft down to Lincoln Center to re-create a photo of her chasing pigeons from when she was in New York at age 2. We cabbed it over to the Met but the line to get in was incredibly long and snaked all the way to the end of the block. Lindsey said she wasn't up for the long wait in line and didn't want to do anything else, so we cabbed it back to the condo.
Truth 3: Vacationing with SWA means paying for transportation to go places only to turn around because the crowds are too much. Flexibility and patience are needed. 
We chilled back at the condo. I took a nap before we had to get ready for the show. We decided to eat at a restaurant near the condo, then take a Lyft down to the theater district. The restaurant we chose had a problem with their wood oven, which meant the menu was cut in half. We managed to find things to eat anyways, but this little glitch in our plans meant Lindsey was nervous that something else was going to go wrong. And, eating out makes Lindsey anxious, so she was ready to get the bill and go as soon as our meal was finished.
Truth 4: Dining out with SWA means meals are sometimes rushed and you never ever eat dessert out.
Our Lyft driver to the theater district was so nice! A lovely lady named Clara, whose calm demeanor and careful driving helped Lindsey. We got stuck in traffic on the way there, but because we left super early it didn't matter.
Truth 5: Traveling with SWA means anticipating delays and always leaving plenty of time. 
We arrived at Winter Garden Theater a full hour and 10 minutes before the show, plenty of time to walk around Times Square before curtains went up, which we had talked about doing. And yet, once we got there Lindsey didn't want to leave, she was concerned something was going to happen to us and we wouldn't get back in time. So we stood in the lobby for 40 minutes until they opened the doors, and sat in our seats for 30 minutes before the show began. We had time to get a poster before sitting down, use the bathroom and get a drink.

The opening act was incredible, and then there was a delay for technical difficulties. I've never seen a delay for issues in a play of this caliber before. Of course I was catastrophizing in my head as the minutes ticked by, hoping they would be able to figure it out and not cancel the show. I'm sure Lindsey was doing the same. After about 10 minutes they figured it out and the show went on.

We finally explored Times Square after the show, when Lindsey was less anxious about missing it. It was filled with lights and people and it was a great 15-minute experience, at which point Lindsey had enough of the crowds and we went back to the condo.
Truth 6: Some tourist experiences will be shortened or avoided because crowds are exhausting to SWA.
The next day we decided to try the Met again. There was no line and we were able to walk right in and begin exploring. We ate lunch there, then felt refreshed enough to keep going. I let Lindsey lead, seeing whatever she wanted, moving along when she was done and staying to absorb where she wanted to spend more time. I could've spent a lot more time in the galleries of the Impressionists. There were entire rooms of Monet, Renoir and Matisse, and we glanced at them as we walked through.
Truth 7: Sightseeing with SWA means putting your own interests second to theirs, especially since waiting and boredom increases anxiety. 
After four hours in the Met, I convinced her to walk through Central Park a bit since we were right there. After about 15 minutes we grabbed a cab and headed back to the condo.

It was New Year's Eve. We ordered take out from a nearby Italian place and had the most amazing homemade pasta. We watched a movie and were in bed by 10 p.m. while a million people gathered in Times Square just a few short miles away to watch the ball drop. (See Truth #6).

We never went south of Times Square. We did few "typical" tourist things. We never saw the lower Manhattan skyline, 30 Rock, Empire State, Statue of Liberty or the World Trade Center. We spent more time than most tourists would snuggled up on a couch with a blanket, watching shows.

I was relating our successful trip to a relative of mine, who is looking forward to our family being able to take more trips in the future. We are, too. But one successful trip does not mean her anxiety is "gone" or that this is over — it is one success in a journey toward a better life living with anxiety.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Start Spreading the News....

Lindsey is a big fan of Broadway musicals — she's already seen Wicked, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots and, of course, Hamilton, all in Minneapolis. This past fall she came across the music of "Beetlejuice the Musical" and immediately loved it. She started looking into the musical itself, which has won a few Tonys this past year, and discovered that it's currently playing on Broadway and nowhere else.

"If we get tickets to see Beetlejuice on Broadway, I'll totally get on a plane to get there," she said to me out of the blue one day this past fall.

"Really?" I queried. Lindsey has a significant phobia about flying after our last disastrous spring break trip. After discussing the possibility of this trip, Wayne and I said, "You're on!"

Thus our trip to NYC was planned. We decided that it would just be Lindsey and I, as Wayne and Marissa had gone to New York two years before. We would be able to stay in Laurie's condo in Washington Heights, as Laurie was in Europe on holiday.

Long story short, the trip was a wild success. The flight out went beautifully, even though it was delayed by 2 hours. (Extended waiting increases Lindsey's anxiety.) She was practically giddy when we landed, she was so thrilled that it went well.

Lindsey was in New York when she was 2. I like to joke that Marissa was there too, but I was pregnant with her at the time so she couldn't see much. Not sure why she doesn't remember it. Anyway, we have a series of photographs of Lindsey at age 2 chasing pigeons in front of Lincoln Center. We decided to try to re-create those photos. It was a little challenging since it was raining out and there were hardly any pigeons. But we did find one willing participant. I would say we were successful at the re-creation.

Unfortunately it rained most of that day and was expected to be clear the day we were supposed to leave. So we called the airline and changed our flight to leave a full day later, giving us two full days in New York.

Beetlejuice was amazing. We had just spent $52 on a glass of wine and a bottle of water for Lindsey and shortly after Beetlejuice was singing "Enjoy your $50 wine." We thought he was joking about how expensive wine was, but apparently not!

Before curtains went up.
After the show we walked through Times Square, which was filled with all the theater-goers whose shows had just ended. It was energetic, full of light and crowds and vendors and tourists.

Crowds in Times Square.

Lindsey in Times Square. 

The next day we spent the afternoon at the Met, taking in an exhibit of armor and one of vintage dresses. We had tried to go the day before and the line to get in wound around itself and all the way to the end of the block, probably because it was raining and all of the New Year's Eve tourists were looking for something to do that was indoors. This time, we walked right in and spent four hours walking from gallery to gallery, taking in all kinds of paintings we had no idea were at the Met. We happened across "Washington Crossing the Delaware" and were blown away by the size of the painting.
Lindsey in front of the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" painting. 
Armor that Maxamillian I had made for his 12-year-old son.
He must've thought a lot of his son's manhood.
That night was New Year's Eve, and over a million people were gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop. On the other hand, we were curled up with blankets on Laurie's couch, watching a movie called "Leap Day," appropriate considering that 2020 is a Leap Year. We ordered take-out from a nearby Italian place and it was amazing. Homemade pasta and delicious sauces, we both deemed it a grand way to ring in the new year.

Selfie attempt in Central Park.
The next morning we went back to LaGuardia for the flight back home, which went as well as the flight out. Lindsey entertained herself watching "Maleficent 2" on the plane and was surprised when it was time to start descending from the clouds.

All in all, it was a fantastic return to air travel for Lindsey.