Category Archives: FIRST PERSON

ON MY PATH

I hope I can get over this. I hope I can get past this. I hope I can figure out – very quickly – what decision to make in this moment with what I know, hoping for the best outcome. And it’s all new, so I don’t know much.

It’s a lot of decision-making and that may be the hardest part. If I let myself think and overthink and ruminate and wonder about each decision: Standard treatment, or experimental? Take a break from chemo when I feel bad, or power through? Try to handle the protein shakes, or get a tube for feedings? Well, if I keep second-guessing what I end up doing, I will pretty much go down a dark hole and I might not get back up. There are no guarantees. How will I live with myself if I die because I made poor decisions? Haha, you know what I mean. I don’t want to have regrets.

So I just pray for the strength and the wisdom to deal with what has been put on my path, and the fortitude to keep going. I appreciate everything this team has done for me, but honestly, when the doctors keep asking me what I think, what I want to do, that’s it’s my decision, I’m kind of like, well, you are the doctors. How should I know?

You don’t have to tell them this, but I basically hem and haw until they end up spitting out or at least hinting what they think is best, then I tell them that is my decision. This informed consent thing, I get it, but it really puts a huge burden upon the patient who is sick and maybe dying and trying to get through the day and is in no shape to make life-and-death decisions. But again, I pray for the strength to get through everything that has been put upon my path, and I guess that includes this whole informed consent thing, haha… so I am okay. I am handling it well, I think.

I would ask you what you think, but then you might turn around and ask me what I think, and then we go around and around…like I do with the doctors. So I will just ask that you keep me in your thoughts and prayers, and I thank you for your kindness.

LAUGHING

She said the only way I could breathe clearly is if she gave me a pig noise, like this. Really! What are you laughing at, doctor? I told her that I can only breathe clearly if I lift the tip of my nose, so she said maybe I would have to decide on whether I could live with a nasal obstruction or a pig nose. She knows I am an artist, because I told her so, and I told her I am also a practical man, and I need both lovely form and lovely function combined into the same nose.

Then the hearing doctor, well the gal who does the test, she set me up with something to try – a hearing aid sample – and I kid you not, I could hear the very footsteps of the spider stealthily crawling along the wall above me. The very footsteps! But alas, the price of this delicacy was over six thousand dollars, and if Medicare says they cannot afford to pay for that kind of thing, I wonder how on earth they think we elders can!

How am I exercising if my nose is so obstructed? Motivation, my friend. I am biking on a stationary bike and treading water in a pool and doing much more. I start out choking and spluttering, holding my nose up for the first ten minutes lest I swoon, but then I focus on the prize: I want to have a pair of sexy legs for when I get strong enough to go dancing again. What are you laughing at, you think the ladies don’t notice that kind of thing? Ah, the innocence of youth, who still see their sweet mother in every woman they meet. Time is a great teacher, my friend.

Oh, and the nose doc who claims she cannot help me without turning me into a veritable swine sent me on to a psychologist – not for vanity. She said I seem stressed. Being taciturn by nature, she cannot imagine anyone being loquacious by choice. Because it would have to be an absolute crisis to loosen her tongue. Oh, these Northerners! And she was projecting her own preferences upon poor little me. But I accommodated the needs of the nose doctor, due to my native delicacy with the ladies, and met with the psychologist. I can help you with the diagnosis, I told her as soon as I sat down. I have the mind of a 16-year-old and the body of an aging horse. My mind keeps making promises that my body cannot fill, and thus I suffer. If you can fix that, I told her, you will become a millionaire. Ah, doctor, you laugh. She didn’t.

Okay. My prescriptions are all set, and so am I. Oh! And for my follow-up, please, please, make sure I am scheduled with you yourself, doctor. Last time they pawned me off, yes, sure, you work on a team, but still they pawned me off – and my first thought when I saw the strange doctor’s face was a sinking one – my doctor doesn’t love me any more! What are you laughing at, doctor? This is serious for me! I want our relationship to continue. Think about it! We have been together as doctor-patient for near upon 13 years now, longer than either of my marriages lasted! And you are most humane. So, as very few men say this time of the morning, especially if they have just spent the night with a lady whose big brute of a husband is about to arrive back in town, I really want to see you again! Ha ha ha – why are you laughing?

MUST KNOW

You keep telling me to calm down, but you need to realize that I must know! How can I relax when I don’t know what is going to happen? For example, when are your patients routinely discharged, by which I mean, morning – noon – or night? Is there a specific time? My daughter needs to know because she has to park and by the way she parks where one hands over the keys and it can be quite a delay to get one’s car back, at least that has been her experience, and the cost is extreme – I cannot help wondering whether there isn’t someone noble and charitable who could assist in reducing the onerous cost of parking!

Ah, not something you deal with. More central to the discussion: How am I supposed to deal with a urinary catheter at home all by myself? My daughter works and you can imagine there would be some unease and even, speaking openly, a slight disgust, in handling such a matter on my behalf, but how am I supposed to take care of it? How do I wash my hands? How do I maintain asepsis in my home? Which sink do I use? Will there be gloves? What if there is some cross-contamination between fecal matter, urine, and the equipment? Also, I understand that every bit of equipment I am using at this moment is the property of the hospital. Who will order my supplies? Who will deliver them? How are they paid for? Who will set up someone to come to the house and assist me? How will I get training? How do I get a home health aide? How long will they come? I cannot do this on my own! I need training. I need extensive training! I am in the dark – completely in the dark about all of this!

Also, a small matter, but vital to me, you say that I am the one to order my food, but how would I know what to eat? Please tell me, what are the most recommended and fortifying foods for your patients post-surgically? Due to the extreme stress I have lived through, my kidneys may not be functioning well. I don’t believe they can process the food I eat, or even handle water. What? The kidney function results are – normal? So I can order – whatever I want to eat? Well, that won’t work! I wouldn’t know where to begin! I cannot have apple, which constipates me. I cannot eat toast – too dry. Crackers – same thing. My organism is delicate and it lowers my morale to try and explain this to people who cannot seem to understand how very finicky my digestion is. I simply cannot take responsibility to make these decisions right after a surgery! Please, order for me – I feel defeated in every way. Hot cereal? Too heavy. Breakfast burrito? Cannot digest beans. French toast? Too sweet. Fresh fruit, toast and two eggs? Well, okay, but I make no guarantee that I will be able to eat it!. I just wish I could know for sure which food items are best.

Was that phone call the doctor, finally? Thank God! When am I going home? And who will help me with my catheter? What? You are taking the catheter out here? What? Oh, no! How will I ever get a catheter to put back in, how will I get it placed, where do I get it and who on earth will come take care of it? My daughter cannot do this – if for no other reason, because she works! What? I won’t have a catheter at home? No catheter? Then how do I get the urine into the bag? Do you expect me to hold it all day? What if the bag overflows and makes a big mess? No bag? What do you mean, no bag? I won’t have a bag? You said I would have a leg bag!

Pee like normal. Pee like normal? But I suffer from incontinence. What am I going to do about that? Yes, I had incontinence before I came to the hospital for this procedure, but that doesn’t mean I want to go home with it! Believe me, I lost sleep over it. And there will be even less sleep for me when I get home! I thought I was going home on a bag. And I was worried about that. But now I am worried about NOT going home on a bag. Crosses upon crosses to bear. And what about the balloon the doctors placed inside my bladder? How will I get that balloon out? What, no balloon? You are taking it all out? But you already told me that I was going home on a bag. Here I was, worried about one thing, and now it’s another!

I just wish I could know, for sure, what is going to happen. You cannot imagine how much stress, how much fear I go through, when I want to know what is going to happen, and then you keep pulling the rug out from under me. Everything keeps changing, and my satisfaction is plummeting! I am filled with anxiety and a deep dread of the unknown. I know you have other patients to attend to, but before you leave, please, can you at least tell me when my breakfast will arrive? How many minutes? It would help me if I could know when to expect it. You don’t know? Can’t you find out and tell me? I would really like to know.

NOT UGLY

Doctor, can you please tell her? She won’t let me change her dressings, and her skin is oozing and weeping from the radiation. It’s really burnt up and now it got infected. And the gauze sticks to it and she gets rough when she pulls it off because she just hates it all so much. But she’s hurting herself, and I could be more tender and patient, if only she would let me. I could use water to loosen it or whatever you tell me. The approved ointments for radiation, anything. I’ll do whatever you say to change the gauze with the least skin damage and the least pain. And use gloves to protect her. I don’t mind at all. How could I? I’m her husband!

But she won’t let me change them! No, she doesn’t want me to, because she says it’s so ugly. Can you tell her, it’s not ugly? She says I just think that because I haven’t seen it yet!

You’re the doctor. And I know you’ve seen a lot of these mastect- whatever they’re called. You know, where you have to – take off the breast and that. You’ve seen so many patients, doctor. And I’m sure some of the others have gotten embarrassed too, and felt bad about the scars, and then the radiation burns. I mean, natural modesty. I get it. But it tears me apart to have her lock herself in the bathroom and try to change her own gauze. She’s crying inside the bathroom and I’m crying outside the bathroom. But she won’t let me in. It breaks my heart. She’s so down now, and hopeless, and talks about dying…

No, seriously, baby – listen to the doctor! The doctor knows!

That’s great, doctor, that you can tell her you know how she feels and all. That’s really great. But can you please just tell her that she HAS to let me help her? She’ll listen to you. Even if it’s embarrassing at first, I don’t care. Like I told her, nothing about her can ever be ugly. Not to me. She has dedicated her life to me and the kids, and I just want to take care of her! If you make her let me, and she sees that I can handle it, maybe she won’t feel ugly any more, and then she will want to live…

WHILE YOU CAN

Yes, I am doing great with the physical therapy, if I do say so myself! I am improving by leaps and bounds, but then I was raised to give my best. If you tell me to walk to that chair across the gym, I will, no matter how far! With the walker of course, because the last thing I want to do is fall down. Or have my pants fall down, as they almost did the other day when we forgot to tie them after the bathroom! I was so busy figuring out how to keep my nose above my toes and which hand to put on the walker first. Heaven above, that was a close one. I don’t want to be the talk of the town! Okay, next exercise. I’m ready!

Yes, my legs are shaking a bit, but that’s okay, it’s not from pain – it’s from effort. I push myself. Mom always told me whenever I slowed down and got daydreamy, hey, she would say. Hey! Since you can’t be pretty, at least make yourself useful! Hahaha, no, I didn’t take it as an insult. Pretty doesn’t put food on your table. The menfolk in the countryside have something better to do than stare at their wife’s face, much less her backside. I am a hard worker and it has stood me in good stead. That much is as true as I stand here! Yes, I know, I know, the three-pound weights and the arm lifts. Don’t be disappointed by my weak arm now. I try not to be. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

The strength of our arms and our backs was our livelihood back home, and for a lot of us here as well. I never went to school. Luckily, I have a good memory, and I know how to sign my name and write a phone number, and that’s better than some people. I can keep track of which pills I have to take, too. They are different colors and sizes so that’s all right. And I can tell time. Oh, and bus numbers! I know my bus numbers. And as soon as I get to walking steady after this latest fall, you will find me on the Number 5, heading to the mall for a walk in indoor comfort. Oh, don’t worry! I always take a grandchild and my walker with me! We have good times.

Oh, this step exercise! You know how hard it is to get my weak leg up, the poor old limb. I’m like a tree struck by lightning! Haha! Yes, we laugh so we don’t cry. And I believe God wants us to laugh. I believe we came here to enjoy this wonderful gift of life. It doesn’t mean you won’t have sorrows and hard work, and why shouldn’t we? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And we will all die anyway, that’s a given. When the neighbor asked my Mom why do you joke so much, she answered with another joke: Why take life seriously? We’ll never get out of it alive! But still and all, my Mom always told us, enjoy life while you can. Don’t sit still – you can rest when you’re dead. But enjoy being alive even as you work. It lasts less time than you think, when you are young and it stretches out past the horizon.

The older you get, the more you can look at the bright side, and the bright side is, I am on my legs again after the stroke and the fall. I have my voice and I can feed myself. I can take care of my grandchildren and cook meals. I can help around the house. I get a little Social Security from my years of housecleaning. I am finally old enough to get Medicare, and it’s a blessing! I have a few old hens I see at church every Sunday and we drink coffee together and gossip. Nothing unkind! Just interesting! And I am getting stronger every day. You said it yourself, right? I have so much to be grateful for.

Oh! Is our time up? But wait, I have more advice to give you! Haha, it will have to wait for next week. Time is money for you young folks and you must be getting on. God bless you and keep you safe. I will pray for God to grant you the peace I see you are lacking in your shifty eyes. Yes, they look impatient! Yes, they do! Aaw, okay, I am just kidding. But if the shoe fits, you know the saying… anyway, you have exhausted me with all your chatter, so please help me into bed before you go. The chair? Okay, okay, have it your way. Leave me in the chair by the window. I will look out at God’s creation. Now go drag the next one out of bed! Haha! Don’t be idle! Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Go on now! And remember to enjoy yourself while you can. I know I do.

UNDER WATER

Yes, my hands are in poor shape indeed. Along with the rest of me! Working in the cold and damp on the forest floor. Cutting those shiny green leaves people like to have in their bouquets, called salal. We get paid by the bunch. And then in the fall, trimming evergreen for wreaths. Then we can stand up and work, but the needle trees are so poky! Our hands are scratched to pieces. How they sting when I wash dishes! But what can we do? We try to stay above water, but things keep happening.

We cannot speak the language here, and there are no classes for those of us who cannot read and write. We don’t have a car and we don’t know how to drive, so we have to pay another fellow every day to give us a ride out to the forest. We pay for each passenger, so it costs a lot. Because we all have to work.

I often think about luck and adversity, and how much our choices might make things better or worse. I cannot decide how it all works, how to get to safety. It seems like every time we get close, something else happens. I have constant anxiety. And now these health problems. What will happen to us? I am the one who keeps the family together, and feeds them.

The kids remind me it is not my fault. They are the ones who wanted to come here and give it a try – they are the ones who brought me. But I cannot stop worrying – what else might fall away beneath us and leave us without ground to walk upon? How can we scrape it together, with electricity and water bills, trailer rent, paying a driver, things we never paid at home? And they must be paid!

I have talked to the kids about going home. But they say we don’t have the money to get home. Where do we belong then? We have fallen between the two places and they both have their doors shut and we seem to be trying to climb in through a window but the windows are too high for us. And now my health.

Me and my old man, you know. We will pass away here, far from everything we know. Our children made their choice and want to live here, even though their life seems to be one of constant suffering, slender hope, disappointment, work, and worry. My only hope is for the grandchildren. They will be born here, they will fit in, they will have papers.

If God grants me a long enough life to know them, I wonder what they will think of me. What can they know of our suffering, our struggles, born in this new place? I only hope that when they look upon me, they can see me as a real person, and not look at me like the people in the grocery store do here in town. If I live to see them ashamed of me, then I will have lived too long.

FIGHT FOR HIM

So I was seeing this guy at work, and yeah he was married, but his wife wasn’t around. I mean, she was going to come later, after her visa came through. Because he had status. From ICE. He had papers, so he was bringing her and the two kids up, but it takes years and years. And meanwhile, he is a man, and things can change, and we were both lonely, and two years go by and we are happy, and then she pops in out of the blue. Her visa came through. They arrived. Her and the kids. You know?

Well, I tried to back off and let him, you know, have his family, but I guess after all those years of waiting, he found out he wasn’t that happy with her after all. He was not the same person anymore. And I think the fact that he hadn’t really been waiting for her, like she had been waiting for him, you know, they were arguing at home. And she heard about me, of course. People talk and she was not happy about me. She heard about me, because a lot of us are here from the same area and she has like five cousins both male and female who work with us at the packing plant. So I backed off.

A few months go by. He’s still living with her but now he’s unhappy and lonely just like when I met him and he misses me and he starts looking at me all goo-goo eyes and regretful and bringing me coffee on breaks and pretty soon he is walking me to my carpool and then he wants to give me a ride himself and then he drops me off last and you know. He’s all wistful and needy. It happens. And it happens a few more times, and one time I’m like, remember, you have a wife, and he’s like, well, I want to come back. I am happier with you. I want to leave my wife and be with you. And we can have kids and all that. Me and you, baby. I love you best, and I promise to treasure you and protect you as much as the eyes in my own face.

So he gets brave for once, which our men are not known for in these situations, and he breaks the news to his wife, and she goes ballistic. She really loses it. We walk out after work the next day and she is there with two of her female cousins, and they grab me right in front of him and put me in a car – and he just stands there! He just stands there half-smiling like an idiot, in shock, I guess. But here I am in a car with an angry woman on each side of me holding one arm and the wife is driving and this is not good. Not good. I didn’t even know she knew how to drive! So she drives us out to this long gravel road and then she just pulls over by the river, under the trees, and they take me out of the car. And the two of them hold me by the arms and she starts in on me. And she is shaking with rage.

No, I know. I’m the one charged with assault here. I mean, I know I’m the suspect for this fight. I know. This isn’t that beating. I’m trying to explain the situation from before so you can try to understand. You look young. I don’t know if you’ve gotten married yet or if you have kids but people can get fierce. Where I am from, it’s not that unusual for women to fight and it is always over a man. I’ve heard women here just walk away and are like, oh well. Hope they’re happy. I’ll get another one. But we don’t like to switch. We aren’t raised that way. We get stuck on the one guy, and if there are two of us, there will be trouble until somebody wins and somebody walks away. And I tried to walk away but he came after me. Not my fault.

Anyway, the wife said a bunch of really nasty, vulgar stuff. Excuse my language, but she kept saying “I’m gonna show you what a whore looks like!” and I was thinking, well I’m not a whore, I’m more like his other wife kind of, but of course I couldn’t say anything back. I just stood there held by my arms and she kept screaming at me and then she slapped me a bunch of times but she was still mad so she punched me and pulled my hair and scratched my arms and face, and then they pushed me down and kicked me, her and the cousins did. I just curled up trying to protect my face.

I thought they might throw me into the river – I really thought this was the end of me and I was kind of glad I don’t have children yet. But then they just walked away and left me there and drove away. I just lay there for a while like a wounded deer, wondering what the hey. In shock. In pain. Thinking of the foolish look on my man’s face when his wife was shoving me into the car. What a wimp! Where was he when I needed him? Yeah, sure, he’s gonna protect me like the eyes in his face. Sure, buddy. I guess you’re destined to go blind then. He didn’t have the …. bravery to protect me after he said he would. Empty words!

I managed to get up partly because it started raining and I had to move, but everything hurt like crazy. It turns out I had a broken rib. I had to walk forever, limping along, then I got a ride and the people who picked me up took me straight to the hospital. By now my face was swollen up bad. Anyway, I guess the doctors routinely call the police when somebody shows up like I did, and luckily they didn’t call ICE on me, because I don’t have papers. The police gave me a bunch of information about where I could get help. They figured a man had done it so they gave me stuff on domestic violence and immigration both. The looks on their faces when I said it was a woman! The cops were two men and they were like, dang!

So funnily enough, because she beat me up, I called the numbers the police gave me about my rights and all that, and it turns out if you are the victim of a crime or a even witness and you help the police to solve it, you can get a special visa called a U-visa. I think it was set up for solving drug crimes or something like drug trafficking, but it also works for people who get beat up like me. So my rival was going to get me a visa. God is great. But then the devil fools with the best laid plans. My foolish pride.

The thing is, our traditions. Maybe someone from here could get that happy ending, and be like, hey lady, thanks for loaning me your husband a couple years, and then thanks for getting me a visa. I won. But what she had done rankled my heart. Not just the beating. This woman, she had hurt my feminine pride. Dragging me away in front of my man and him doing nothing. And I was really injured, too. My face was every shade of purple and blue and one eyes was swollen shut. The rib took a couple weeks to heal. I had to stay away from work because it’s a lot of heavy lifting. I was staying with some girlfriends from the plant and they would come home with gossip and tell me about my guy, who by the way never came around. And I had nothing to think about but my guy and his wife and the look on his face and the things she had said to me, and me waiting to get tossed into the river. And feel my pain and it hurt to even move. And my pride rose.

When I was better enough to go back to work the first thing I did was walk straight up to him and ask him what he was going to do. Was he going to make a life with me like he had said he would? I was ready for it now. He looked sheepish and mumbled something about how he was married in the church and he had to stay with his real wife. I started to argue and then he looked up and said, “The thing is, she fought for me. She was willing to fight for me. She might go to jail! So she must really love me.”

I was stunned silent, and I walked to my station, and just stood there, sorting apples, like a robot. Who knows where the apples ended up, seriously. So there I am thinking to myself, are you kidding me? You just told me that you are happier with me. You want to be with me. You’re going to take care of me. We’re gonna start a family. And now you get all remorseful just because your wife beats me up? Really? I mean, really! Well, okay. You find it exciting and thrilling to have a woman fight for you? Okay! I can fight for you, too, if that’s what it takes. I mean, I was willing to back up, but not after this. God who sees all knows my heart was enraged!

So yeah, in answer to your question, yeah, everything in the police report is true. Yup. We fought and I won. And he just stood there like an idiot once again. Doing nothing. And now I might get deported, unless you can help me, and then he’ll probably just find somebody else at work and start over, because that’s what men do. They’re not like us. They don’t have soft hearts. I loved him with every fiber of my being. Even if he isn’t worth it, my heart still goes out to him. So I don’t want to lose this case. I don’t want to have a criminal record. I don’t want to get deported. I have to win this.

HERBS

I hear what you’re saying, nurse, but know what I know. How? Because I read constantly. I educate myself. There is so much about how to cure cancer on the internet! But the doctors don’t tell you about it. And if you ask, they say it isn’t a sure thing. Then again, what is a sure thing in this life? The doctors don’t guarantee me a cure. Yes, there are new tumors and new symptoms. That’s true. But I’ve been fighting this for 8 years now. I’ve read all about nutrition and supplements and herbs and natural medicines. I’m taking something now, a special kit I ordered online. They gather the herbs in the forest. Then they mail them around the world. And no offense, but unlike the doctors here, they guarantee me a cure in six months!

Tell the doctors what I am taking? Why, that would take all day! Oh, gosh. I’ll try to remember…. Cat’s claw and annatto seed. Cinnamon and turmeric. Garlic and ginger. Valerian and copal. Even cacao. Honey. And peppers! Some kinds of peppers stimulate the blood and help fight disease. Some strengthen. Some calm. And now periwinkle. Been used forever. I’ve taken dozens of different herbs and tinctures, teas and powders, and supplements. The science is advancing so quickly! There is a new product almost every day. This company is good because they put it all together.

Right now, I have a combination of tea leaves, powder and capsules that was mailed to me direct from the native healer. Probably has all of the above plus jasmine and whatnot. Hibiscus, lemon peel, all kinds of healthy things. Some you’ve never heard of! Plants only the locals know about. I make a big jar of tea from their special mix, refrigerate it, and have half a cup in the morning, another half cup in the evening, for the first ten days. Meanwhile, I mix a spoonful of their special powder into my oatmeal after I bring it to room temperature. And add raisins and cashews. And I take a capsule of the nutritional supplement with a glass of warm milk and honey at bedtime. I do these things for 30 days, that’s the cure. I am on day seven now. I already feel so much stronger! They even have dried flowers to keep under the pillow, because it makes an aromatherapy that helps as I sleep! A relaxed, well-rested body heals more. It can take up to six months after treatment to see the full benefit, just like chemo. So it is scientific.

I tried to tell one of the doctors last year about some of these supplements, and he gave me a silly argument. He said they are trying to lower my immune response with the chemotherapy, and I might be using things to raise it. And that could impact how effective the chemotherapy is on rapidly dividing – I don’t remember the details now, something about raising and lowering. But if that’s true, why are thousands of people like me getting cured every day? There are testimonials online. Why is cancer just disappearing from their bodies? There has to be something to it. The healer who sent me the cure says that we need to look at the big picture. The body seeks balance. If you lean forward, your body naturally wants to lean back to be upright again. If you stand on one foot, your other foot will want to come down! And that makes sense to me. It’s logical.

So I still do believe that if the doctors give me something to kill cells, I can take something on top of it to protect cells, and everything will balance out. Think about it. These herbs have been used for 30,000 years, and who ever heard of cancer until maybe 50 years ago? It was always cured before then. So I am willing to do the chemo and the surgeries and all that, but don’t ask me to give up my herbs. And don’t blame me for trying every possible thing. I want to be around and I have to fight on all fronts. And honestly, I don’t understand half of what the doctors tell me, because they say it so confusing. It’s like listening to the church service in Latin. They feel like they said everything. And maybe they did. But not to me. They leave satisfied. But I leave mystified. So you can’t blame me for searching for something I can get my hands on and really understand.

MAKE A LIST

Yes, this is my third marriage. My first? Well, I was very young and so was he. And then there was the other woman, and that was that. You know our men want to have their cake and eat it too, but I was not going to put up with that, as young as I was. I left him and moved to my mother in the US to work and find a better life. I learned the language, and it was not easy. Then again, when I set my mind to something, I can make it happen, God willing! All things are possible to God, and I have a story about that. But first, some sadness.

My second husband was from here. Very different. Older, more settled, but it turns out he had mistaken ideas about what a woman from my country is. He seemed to think that we would let the men tell us what to do. Haha! He must have been watching the wrong movies. And in fact, it turned out that he had been. To be serious. I couldn’t talk about it for years, because of the pain, but now I can. He was addicted to pornography. I had no idea, no warning. The saddest day of my life was finding him hunched over his computer, looking at someone who could be his daughter, a mere skinny teenager, and touching himself. That was it. I actually vomited, because my whole body and soul immediately rejected him. I still remember the dizzying emptiness, as if I had vomited out my whole marriage in a single cast. I fell in a heap to the ground, but the ground sustained me. I honestly thought I might fall right through it. But I didn’t. I survived.

Some men! What is wrong with them? I really wonder. My first husband tried to tell me that he didn’t really care about the other woman. That she had no value in his eyes, no importance at all. He seemed to think that would comfort me. I found that odd. If he didn’t care about her, why would he risk his marriage and future family for her? Why would he enter a part of his body into hers? What a strange way to think. What a breach, what a disconnection! I let it go, but I really cannot understand it to this day.

My second husband tried to tell me the girl on the screen was not real. Those words haunt me. Not real! I told him she was more real to me than he was. Because he was just an empty shell of a man. And she was most certainly somebody’s daughter. Having to suffer and smile for such as him! What made him think he should have sexual access to this teenager? I demanded an answer. But there was no answer. He just stared at me like a fool. Blinking like a deer in the headlights, frozen – paralyzed. I don’t think he was even in his body at the time I found him. Apart from God he was, that I know. I went to counseling after that, and they called what my second husband did dissociating – when your mind is actually out of your body and your body is abandoned. Such weakness in a grown man infuriates me. I feel the bile rise in my throat even as I speak of it today!

What happens to certain men to lead them into thinking that women are not important – that women are not real? I wonder. What kind of childhood trauma, what kind of abuse? What would make a man think that telling a woman that another woman doesn’t matter or doesn’t even count as a real human would be a nice thing to hear? What sadness there is in that. A deep well, fathomless. I believe these men are banished from God. Outcasts. And as a Christian woman I knew I had to leave him immediately. It was consorting with the devil to stay. If I cleaved onto him still, I would cleave onto his sin. It was my bounden duty to depart, although it cast me back into poverty. Still I left – to redeem my very soul.

Think of me with compassion! In all my youthful innocence, in all my desire to be good, and do good, it just went from bad to worse. First, a man who says a sister of mine in Christ, from the same church, is not important. That he can become one with her in the flesh and it has absolutely no meaning. That it shouldn’t even register for me as a transgression, because of her lack of importance as a human being! What sinful thinking. What a dark underbelly he showed me. Then worse yet, a man, already grown, even middle-aged, who would obliterate the very existence of suffering girls. To deny their humanity. To stand before me and state with conviction that they are not real! They are not fully human! What madness, what sin is this? Slavery was built on these lies. And human trafficking is modern day slavery. Give it a pretty name, and call me a prude if you will. I know what I know. And denying someone’s humanity is the basis for all human suffering. An absolute recipe for sin.

So here I was only 25 and already divorced twice. What could I possibly do but turn my life completely over to God? Like a child. God had never forsaken me, but I had moved away from God in my blind search for partnership and marriage. I was the one who had been out of touch. So I turned back to God and asked forgiveness for my own transgressions. I asked for the gift of clear-sightedness. I prayed to come into alignment with God. I prayed for atonement. I prayed until my heart was clear and strong again. I felt I was ready to try again. So I put up an ad. Optimistically. Third time’s a charm, haha!

Oh, heavens! The devil was in it. I can tell you that! The men I met! I went through some very bizarre first dates. Strange and stranger. I didn’t know what to do, but I was way too young to give up on love. I kept looking, and some dates made me laugh, and some made me shake my head in despair. I cast an ever wider net, hoping to catch my golden fish, but no such luck. Then one day I opened up and I told the ladies at my church prayer circle, and the oldest one gave us this advice. Make a list, ladies. Make a list. And then pray with an open and trusting heart. Pray to God who made you!

She told us, put every single thing you want on that list. Don’t be vague. You don’t make a shopping list that just says “some nourishing food” when you go for groceries. Be specific. State your true desires. She didn’t tell us to do it there at church, of course, because that would be embarrassing, but to do it in the privacy of our homes and to humbly pray over our list. And make sure, she told us, not to settle. If there is one thing on the list that does not match, that man is not God’s gift to you as a faithful servant. Make a list! Be specific! And pray.

The first thing I had to do was pray to God to suspend my disbelief. Could there truly be a man to match me, a twice-married woman, who was still pure of heart? By then I was already running my small business on the internet, mostly cosmetics, so at least I didn’t need a man who could take care of me financially. But I longed for a soul companion, one with his own innate moral sense, a man that I wouldn’t have to guide or shelter… a man that might even protect me in my most vulnerable places. For him, I would gladly offer my life, and use every breath in my body to serve him. To rest in him. The potential joy of it made my heart flutter! So I made my list, and I gave it to God. Let me think what was on it, as best as I can remember.

Strong moral fiber. Thoughtful. Self-aware. Insightful. Clean. Neat. Professional. Nicely dressed. Very hygienic. Because if he may end up kissing me, my dear, he had better be thinking about the quality of his breath! Man of God, of course. Good Christian. Loves his family. Understands family ties. Cleans his shoes. Believe me, I dated a few where it was only the scuffed shoes that warned me off. I decided that mine would have immaculate, shiny shoes. Ambitious, like me. An equal partner. In good shape, because I work out and I care a lot about it. Did I say well-dressed? Well put together? That matters. Not vain, but a man who likes to look his best. Must be able to lead me in dance, vitally important, and appreciate my cooking. I grew up in the kitchen at home! And of course, above all, faithful in word and deed. And not because I am watching! True to himself, and thus trustworthy. A strong man. Someone who can see the humanity in everyone. Who knows himself well.

Perhaps a strange list. Perhaps. But God is great, and thirteen years after my last divorce, guess who I found? Him! Yes, I just got married for the third time a year ago last summer. Yes! We run the internet business and it is expanding like crazy. We go to the gym most mornings, because we have the time. We make our own schedule. And I have time to take care of my mother, and come with her to her appointments, as she grows forgetful. He supports me in this, and is kind to her himself! And my dear, he is tall and clean. Healthy and strong! What do you call those kind of push-ups where you clap your hands underneath you between the push-ups? Yes, he can do those! He cares about staying in shape. And he treats me very well. He sees and appreciates my good qualities. He is pure of heart. He wishes to do good in the world. We help through our church, and we enjoy ourselves immensely, and we pray together!

As to my list? Yes, haha, even down to the shoes it was a match, just as the old auntie at church had advised me, may she rest in peace. I knew it would click when he finally invited me to his home and there was a shoe-shine kit by the shoes at the front entryway. That was the last piece of the puzzle. I saw it, and thought to myself: God’s last detail. A man with clean shoes is a clean man. And so it was, in the most fundamental way.

I feel sure that God is holding us as man and wife in the overwhelming immensity of His Loving Hands. I have felt human love before, this is true. But in giving my love to men who were unworthy, men for whom I merely settled thoughtlessly, without intent, I was sloppy. And I paid for it. Now I finally feel completely safe, in my innermost heart. And my dear husband feels just the same about me, that he can rest in me. What joy, what happiness! And the baby to come… truly God is great. And whatever else God chooses to give me or take from me, I shall praise Him to my dying day.

FLOPHOUSES

I moved here around 20 years ago now. Maybe 25. Back in the day, we had flophouses, you know what I mean? You could get a cheap room right downtown, with your own bedroom. Or share a room with a couple other guys for even less. You had to go to the end of the hall for a bathroom, but that was okay. No kitchen, no cooking, except a couple big old houses by the university, but the downtown ones, they were reasonable. You could get work for the day and pay for the night’s bed pretty easy. Or pay by the week, whatever. We didn’t worry about sleeping outside. It wasn’t a thing.

I don’t remember people actually camping outside. I don’t remember a single tent in a city park. There was no Jungle under the freeway. There were no Official Encampments, at least that I knew of. There were not a bunch of rows of campers, people in cars, and pretty much somebody in a sleeping bag in every business doorway, it seems. In every green space. In every possible spot. We were poor then, and most of us still are poor, but we were working poor, and we slept inside. I think the owners made a profit, too. I mean, we didn’t demand much. Mostly just a roof over our heads and a locked door. Now these buildings are gone, and it’s just high-rises and condos. Instead of being locked in at night, we are locked out.

You know, I grew up in a poor country, and I grew up seeing beggars. People who had nothing but what somebody might hand them out a car window, or the food someone might give them by the back door. And when I got here, I thought wow! Everybody who works can sleep inside. And everyone can find some kind of work. It’s like a miracle. People talked about how there was money enough for everybody. Now they say the money is gone, but where did it go? The government prints the same amount of money, right? So the money is still around, it’s just changed hands. It’s concentrated. Like in the countries we fled from to come here and have a better chance. Life is funny that way. Not haha funny, but more like food for thought.

I worked for the same guys, small companies, for years. A house remodel here, a clean-up there, a rockery, a fence, some landscaping around town. Basic stuff. A lot of the owners would just pick us up and drive us to the work site, and that was great. But those small businesses seemed to dry up around the same time that our housing got pulled down. Maybe it got too expensive for them, too. Maybe the traffic did it. Who knows. I’m still able-bodied, so I count my blessings there. But I lost my contacts. So now I am just one of a hundred guys standing outside of Home Depot at 5:00 a.m.

I get picked up a couple of times a week, and every once in a while, they will hire me back for a couple days. But a lot of them don’t want to pay you unless it’s something really heavy, something they don’t want to do themselves, like moving concrete and demolitions. More tear-downs than building. Then they decide how much to give you, and you can take or leave it. There used to be more of a standard day wage, but now there’s a guy who’s hungrier than you, louder than you, and younger than you, pushing out in front, so you’d better take it quick or forget it. Just hop in the back of the pickup and shut up.

I never thought – I never even dreamed – that I would be sleeping outside. I’m a hard worker. I’m a good worker. I’m a willing worker. Sleeping outside! Sleeping in doorways and parks. Keeping all my stuff in this backpack, nowhere to put it down. Going to that shared laundry downtown where they let you put on a jumpsuit and wash all your stuff at once. Why do I say all? It’s mostly one outfit with layers. And two pair of pants, in case someone needs you more clean for a job inside. And work boots.

Camping out in the city is not camping out. You think about campfires, and fishing, and starlight. No. Think about rain. Think about cold. Think about concrete. Think about trying to find a doorway where no one will kick you out or hurt you. Your backpack is your pillow and you hold it with both hands. Maybe you put your wallet into the foot end of your sleeping bag, in case someone does grab your backpack and run off. Think about every noise, every rustling. And sorry to say it, the city rats. You gotta wake up, you gotta keep an eye open. You sleep four or five minutes at a time. Then as soon as it gets light, you gotta get that first bus and stand and hope for work. You tired? Too bad. You hungry? Share a can of beans. You sad? Can’t afford it. Don’t even think about it.

The city has to be what the city has to be. I get that. It’s changing. People call it growing pains, and talk about how it will get better later. But let’s face it, it’s not going to get better for people like me. At the end of the month, eating carefully, staying sober, trying to get work every single day, the only way I can put together the couple hundred dollars my family needs to survive, is by sleeping in a doorway. And I will do it as long as I can, because I’m a working man and I’m going to take care of my family the only way I know how, by working. I used to think once my kids were grown I’d get a break, maybe even move home, but my wife has diabetes and needs insulin and now it’s my parents too, you know? I was just gonna say I wish it could be easier but I can’t let myself think that way. I could fall apart. And then where would we be?