Category Archives: FIRST PERSON

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?

GOOD FACE

What can you do? You gotta put a good face on a bad day, or it all goes to pot. Every evening, before bed, I thank God for the good, and I thank God for the bad, because I know it’s all a part of the whole.

You think it’s fun to have a disease that keeps eating away at your lady parts? To have all kinds of doctors and residents and even students and suchlike, all interested in getting a good look at your baby maker? Spread eagle on the table like the stories in the ladies magazines about the poor gals being kidnapped by aliens?

I’ve had a good run of it, and I’ve still had some good laughs, in spite of the pain. In spite of the surgeries. In spite of the steroids and the other medicines. But I admit it’s hard when you get a disease like this, because you’re not exactly going to walk around talking about it and sharing it at church. It’s called Paget’s but who cares? Nobody’s ever heard of it.

I married my husband when I was a young – fresh out of puberty. We had both just gotten our feathers. Two fledglings, fresh out of the nest, I guess you could say. But my, was he well built! Tall and strong, with every muscle in place. You know how some guys look silly with the boots and the silver buckle and the cowboy hat? He didn’t. He was made for the ranch. I looked up to him literally and physically, and I trusted him implicitly.

All I can say is some people looked sideways at us because we started young, but God is great, and He gave us time. Almost 50 years before this disease kicked in and changed our lives. I’m not the only one growing old, of course. He has a use a walker now, and they say he may end up in a wheelchair. I don’t know how I am going to be able to get him in and out of the bathtub, but I plan to have fun trying!

Remember, I tell younger people, for the days to come, when things get bad. I mean, irremediable. I mean, so bad that you know they are not going to get good again, not in this lifetime. You still have a heart? You still have breath? You still have a mouth? Then laugh. Laugh so you don’t cry. And keep on. Keep on laughing. Where there’s life, there’s hope, and when the hope is gone, oh well. There’s still laughter. And memories…

The dancing we did. The village dances where instead of lining up along the wall with the other girls, I just walked intertwined with my man, wrapped around him like a vine, my hand hooked into the back of his belt. His muscular arm slung around my neck so I was in the crook of his elbow and his hand hung right above my breast, just inches away, haha! I would keep laying my cheek upon his chest, just to feel his heartbeat through his white shirt. Strutting like two peacocks, we were. Well, I guess I was the peahen, but I sure felt like I could wag my little tailfeathers! Haha. And the music…

We’ve had a good run. Not everyone can say as much. We’ve had a good run and a good life with good memories. So would I wish this disease on my worst enemy? Well, haha, I might, but I don’t have any enemies. God has been too good to me for me to hate anyone else or wish them ill. So if a certain number of people just have to have this disease, and God says I can handle it better than the next gal, well, I trust God. And God trusts me. So I’m gonna have to handle it. That’s my view of things.

So some free advice from a old hag. Remember to thank God for the good. And remember to thank God for the bad. It’s all part of life. And you never know what’s coming around the bend. You don’t know what else might get laid upon your table. You don’t know when God might be letting you off easy. It could be a lot worse! You just don’t know! Just accept, and be glad.

LOOK UP!

So I was downtown in that area where there are a lot of stores, a lot of tourists, a lot of beggars, and a lot of that bad kind of business, if you know what I mean. Hardened people and drug dealers, people selling stolen goods, and worse. And I had just come out of a store and then this young man he starts glaring at me, and I think, oh no you don’t! Not with me, you young whippersnapper! I am not afraid! Don’t try it on with me! Ha!

So I just look right at him, and I tell him, “Don’t you look at me like that! Say your prayers instead because God loves you! Yes, Christ died to wash your sins clean on the cross on Calvary so pray – pray to Him!”

He quit glaring and took a step back and looked surprised, and a few of his comrades started to gather. I went on. “The lamb of God was sacrificed to show you the way to heaven, and yet you are an abomination in the sight of God, until you wash yourself clean of these sins! Stop what you are doing, young man, before it is too late. You think you have time to reform, but you don’t know what day is your last. God has counted every hair on your head and every day of your life!”

Then I realized that he didn’t actually speak my language and that was why he never answered me but just stared. And my English is just terrible because I was never able to go to school in my home country so I cannot read or write, but I tried to use sign language and the few words I could say, like God, and pointing up to the sky, and look for Him, meaning seek Him, and this guy and his friends all looked up at the high buildings, and I kept preaching as best I could. I was earnest. They seemed to be pointing at the birds so I kept yelling,”No birds! God! GOD!”

Then suddenly they are started laughing and I started laughing too and I said. “God! God!” And they said back, “Yeah, God! God!” And the one glaring guy with the baggy pants and his underwear showing he just kind of sidled up to me and patted my shoulder and said something like you’re alright, grandma or something encouraging like that, and I grabbed his arm by the elbow before he and his friends turned away, and I looked right in his eyes and I caught his eyes. And I swear a saw a glimmer – he smiled and he nodded. I hope God opens his heart soon and shows him a better path, and I pray for that boy, I pray that he will be saved.

My niece, she worries about me. She told me, “Auntie, you gotta understand, it’s like back home. You don’t mess with the gang members. You don’t harass the drug dealers. You don’t ask questions about the kids of the street, or intervene. It’s too dangerous. You could get killed!”

But I told her, “Honey, I am a warrior in the battle for souls. And just like any other warrior, I will go into danger. I am not afraid, because God is with me. No one can touch a hair on my head without God’s permission. Now, I can’t read the bible myself, but I have heard enough of it in church. Don’t you think that if I get killed fighting for God, that I will have a glorious place in heaven? So what is there to be afraid of, anyway? We’ve already made it through a civil war. This stuff is pretty easy.”

I am sorry to worry her, because she helped get me out of my country, but I have to do what I have to do. God willing, someday my son will be able to join me here, and we will have such a happy life, and I can finally relax. Until then, I will continue to help these young men wherever I find them, in the strong hope, the firm belief, that while I do God’s work here, God will in turn let someone help my son, and open his heart, on the other side of the globe, and bring him safely to me. From my lips to God’s Ears! God willing!

ASK GOD

Doctor, I know you are a scientist and an expert and all that, and of course that’s why I come to you. You know more about the lungs that anybody on my side of the state and that’s why they want me here. And I feel a little embarrassed to even bring this up, but it is weighing on me and I’d like to have an answer, if it doesn’t take too much of your time.

I promise I am using the inhaler, and taking my prescriptions, and I am not disrespecting the advice you gave my local doctor! Not at all. But one of my girlfriends took me to a traditional healer that she has worked with, and don’t worry! I am not taking any herbs or anything that could impact the plan of care you have. I don’t want you to get mad at me! But I want to be honest, and I have a question.

I don’t know if you know, but my son was killed at the apple orchard where he works. And it hit me really hard, because he is my only son and my baby. And no one can tell us why. No one knows He was just found dead, and they called us and we drove there, and then we saw him in a coffin, and he really was dead. It really was him. But no one knows why.

So I lost 27 pounds and I cried my eyes out and I am still crying and as you can see my eyes are like two red, burning holes in my face. I can’t believe I still have eyesight. And I have hardly slept for weeks. My daughters all scold me and tell me to buck up and see the positive. But what’s the positive? I have this lung thing, maybe from being slowly poisoned at work. And my husband is on dialysis, and I can’t even take care of myself, let alone him. And he won’t share my grief – he has just shut down.

And either one of us would have been happy to die instead of our son, even if we were healthy – that is what any parent would do – but God didn’t let us. And I wish I could ask God why, so I could understand. I know that God doesn’t do anything without a reason, and I know it is not my place to judge or question Him, but I just wonder. Why? Why did God drag my life out through all these years of harsh work, poverty and struggle, burdens at home, with false hopes? Longing for peace, longing for rest? And having it denied to me? Only to have my son killed, and we don’t know why.

Why did God let me outlive my only son, and lay this heavy burden of pain upon my heart – to crush me to the ground when I had hoped for rest and relief from these burdens? My kids are grown – the grand kids are coming – this is supposed to be the happiest time in a woman’s life. And then He takes my son – the apple of my eye, the one who always loved me best. He used to call me every single evening, just to say hi. I would sit on our porch and hear his voice. If you heard his voice, doctor – so soothing. Now I don’t want to go on the porch. I just pace inside our tiny trailer, back and forth those few steps like a caged rat. May God relieve me from my painful thoughts. From my pain.

Sorry to cry, and sorry to get off topic, doctor. I know your time is precious, and others wait eagerly for your fifteen minutes. But the traditional healer says that my worsening lung condition might not be just from the agricultural work. That it might be from my grief. And just like I cry tears from my eyes, she says that my lungs can cry and then they get congested, and that could be how I got the scar tissue, just like other wounds in our flesh will cause a scar, right? You must know all about this, more than I ever could. So my question is, do you have any treatment for grief? Because if I am crying into my lungs and causing scar tissue, I want to get the right treatment for that.

I don’t want much, not anymore. To be honest, all I hope to do at this point, doctor, is get strong enough so I can bury my husband. So I can live long enough to see him through his last illness. Then I will be ready to join my son in heaven, God willing. If you can lighten my burden, doctor, I would be so grateful. And you would be doing a good deed. I really do feel like my lungs are crying and sobbing, and I can feel that when I breathe. Perhaps you can hear it with your stethoscope. My lungs are choking on sobs, inconsolable. There must be something you can do. Is there a treatment for that? If not, would you allow me to take herbs from the healer? I mean no disrespect. But the pain is overwhelming.

DIE IN PEACE

Thank you for having this meeting. As you know, I tried to get unplugged last week, and my family pressured me to change my mind. They even brought the minister, supposedly to pray with me and comfort me, but really to pressure me to “keep trying, trust in God, and wait a bit longer,” but for what? I’ve been in the nursing home and now the hospital for almost a year now. What I am waiting for? And why do I have to stay plugged in? I want you – the hospital staff – to let me go, and not tell my family this time.

God didn’t put me on this breathing tube. You did. If we are going to say that every single thing that happens is God’s will, then that makes the civil war in my country, the death of my firstborn, the incarceration of my brother who was innocent – I don’t have the breath left for philosophy. In a word – I don’t believe in absolutes. Things are more complicated than that.

I am respectfully requesting that you tell me what my rights as a patient are. Do I have to stay on the breathing tube because my family wants me to? Do I have to let them visit, if I don’t want them to? Can you tell them what I am doing, or where I am if I change rooms, if I don’t want you to? Can I sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order, of the Physician’s what you call it, the POLST form again? Can you carry it through this time? Thank you.

I tried to explain to my grown kids. My disease is not going to get better. It is a progressive muscle wasting disease that will leave me drooling and maybe seizing in a bed or wheelchair. I am dying. I am losing function. I can no longer walk. I can no longer bathe myself. I can no longer breathe on my own. I can no longer process my own food, so I have to have a feeding tube, just to drag things out. They just talk about God – God – God. How is this God’s will? Why would God in His infinite mercy care if I take 10 years or 10 minutes to die from this disease? That’s insane.

And every word I say, on this breathing tube, feels like sandpaper in my throat, makes me feel like I am running out of oxygen, even if you turned it up. If it weren’t for the pain pills, I couldn’t even voice. One of the respiratory techs, about 13 years old, just said I’ll get used to it. I’d love to pop a hole in his throat and see what he says then. Because I won’t get used to it. It’s not going to get more comfortable. It’s going to get worse. I am dying. This physical therapy, “try to get your legs stronger!” – what’s it for? Get strong enough to have more muscle wasting? Slow it down – for what? I am not going to run a marathon and raise money to cure my disease. It’s just dragging out the inevitable.

The kids, they rush over here once a week, and they’re like, oh hi Dad – we love you Dad – keep trying! Keep fighting! God wants you to try! I guess they and their minister just got appointed God’s Special Helpers and nobody told me. Then they pull out their phones and play a game, or God knows what, looking up to make small talk, and then their hour is up, and it’s bye Dad, love you! You keep trying! You keep fighting! Fighting what? God’s will? Because according to them, it is God’s will that I have this cross to bear. And I should be humble and just take it. So who I am supposed to be fighting?

They want to just claim they follow the bible word for word, and they are so close to God they can actually tell me – the one in the patient bed – what God’s special plan is for me! Their own father! They know God’s plan! Which apparently is to lose all my abilities while using more and more technology. To lie in bed begging for a shower and being offered some powdered chemical in an aluminum cap that a patient tech will comb out, and then call that a hair wash? I cannot even brush my own teeth, for god’s sake! I cannot even clean my own bed sores, from needing diapers now, and when I ask the nurse she acted like I’m asking for a massage with a happy ending. I’m not! I want to be clean. My body is failing. I’m in pain. I’m trapped. I want out.

The kids tell me that what I want is a sin, thanks to their fanatic mother taking them to that church – that it is suicide. But “God’s will be done” applies equally to having a natural death. How is it suicide to stop using artificial measures to artificially extend my life? Is it suicide to not take a heart transplant? Is it suicide to quit chemotherapy if it’s not working and maybe killing you faster? Do we have some inherent duty to “keep fighting” our fate and to die with less dignity, less comfort, more pain, and more agony, drawing it out for weeks, months and years so our families can tell their friends we were good Christians?

It is comforting to think in absolutes. I understand them. It is comforting to say everything is black and white. I should know. I was a journalist, and people wanted set truths that they could repeat with confidence, even if these generalities and slogans by definition are bound to be wrong in many cases. They want certainty! They want “the” truth! And when I wrote what was difficult, and I questioned things, I was threatened with death. Because I scared the people who wanted absolutes. But life doesn’t deal in absolutes. Life is messy and complicated and painful and doubtful. I should know.

This is the last time in my life that I will speak. So I thank you for the care you have provided, and I make this last request, that you make sure you have what you need in writing. My wishes are that you move me to another room. Take me off the patient list, and don’t tell my family anything. Take all the tubes out of me and off of me. The feeding tube, the drainage tube, the breathing tube, everything. You can keep the IV for pain medications if you like. I don’t expect to last for long, but no matter how long it takes, at least I will be on my way out.

Die alone? Yes, I will die alone. Without a single loved one by my side. And I understand what you are saying, that it may take even a couple weeks, although I feel certain that it will be a matter of minutes. Would you want someone screaming and wailing at your bedside, saying you will rot in hell, demanding that you not go, when that is all you want to do? I am not killing myself. This disease is killing me. All I ask now is to die in peace. Of course I would love to have a loved one, anyone, who would sit by my bedside and comfort me at the end, but I don’t have anyone who loves me more than their love of being righteous in the eyes of their petty little God who would punish me eternally for choosing to let my disease run its course. So may I please sign whatever I need to sign, while I still can?

SAY WHEN

I’m sorry to complain. I am grateful for this opportunity to stay alive, and to have the gift of a donated liver. Someone lost a family member, and in their worst moment of grief, they were able to think about someone they don’t even know, and offer me a new chance to raise my daughter as a single father. Of course I am grateful. Of course. But I am still a grown man. And I don’t like being treated like a fractious child, and scolded for no good reason by the nurse, who is in too much of a hurry to do a good job.

I know you are busy here at the hospital, especially in this clinic, and I really do understand. There are so many people, some transplanted, some on the waitlist, some getting sicker, or rejecting an organ, some finding out that have some other health problems so they are about to get kicked off the waitlist, some changing insurance, and some reacting to medicine, or finding out they got a new disease with their new organ. And all the while, suddenly an organ gets flown here in a box of ice and someone like me is rushed to the operating room and the doctors leave the clinic to do the surgery, and other people come in to cover, and the nurses are running around to try and make it all work. I do get it.

And yet still, I am a grown man. I am responsible. I am following the medicine regime to the letter of the law. I am going to the lab every time as required. I am drinking a lot of water, having zero alcohol, resting when I can, eating healthy, taking walks every day, writing everything down, taking my blood pressure, checking my weight, all of it. I have never been late to an appointment. I come early. I have never given this nurse any reason to be frustrated with me. And yet today, she scolds me. She shows her anger and her frustration, but is that my fault?

All I asked was to have the next appointment be on a Monday if possible, because that is my day off, and she lit into me.

“You are NOT allowed to work until WE say when! WE will tell you when you can work! The NEXT appointment is supposed to be the one where the doctors decide if you are able to work! YOU don’t decide when to work! THAT’s not the DEAL! That’s not how it works! You are not following PROTOCOL! WHO told you you can work!?!” She stood with her hand on her ample hip, looking down at me, instead of sitting down like the doctor and interpreter always do, so they can look me in the eye, like equals.

“Mrs. Nurse,” I told her. “I understand your position, but please take a quick moment to understand mine. I will gladly tell you who told me to work. Our mutual friend Necessity told me to work. I am a single father – my wife was murdered and left me our baby girl, which is why I left my country, or I would not be here to bother you. She is 17 now, and she is going to high school and working as many hours as she can, but she cannot earn enough by herself to pay our rent.” The nurse started to interrupt, but I held up my hand. And although we were both then speaking at the same time, the interpreter very kindly kept saying what I was saying to the nurse.

“I cannot live under a bridge with my daughter. She needs a roof over her head. She needs to be safe. My motivation for having the transplant in the first place was to provide for my daughter. Her teachers say she is bright, and she wants to go to college and become a nurse. Do you think if she becomes homeless right when she is taking college exams and applying for college that will help her? I have to work and keep her housed and safe.”

The nurse just rolled her eyes. “I don’t have time for this. I’m in five rooms at once! I’m gonna write a note and tell your doctors that you went to work before you were approved. Go talk to the scheduler about your next appointment. You can go now,” she told me and then walked out. Luckily, the scheduler was more understanding, and I got my Monday appointment!

Again, I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. I understand they have recalcitrant patients whom they may need to speak sharply to. But I am not one of them. I understand why the nurse is frustrated. But I was lucky to get my job back, and I don’t want to lose it. My whole point in getting the new liver was to work as hard as I can so my daughter can have a better and longer life than her mother had. Do you know my wife only lived one more year than my daughter’s age right now? That was not a long life! I know my wife is watching me, and I don’t want to let her down. I want her to see our daughter in college, alive and well. That is what I am living for.

COMFORT

My greatest comfort is my God-given sense of humor. God made me a happy-go-lucky fellow who loves to work. Always cheerful, always joking. Some of the ladies at the packing plant get ticked, I will admit, because of my humor. But like I told the boss, I only tease the ones who show up five minutes late. The ones on time, I just welcome to work. But the stragglers have to take a hit. It’s my way of helping the boss remind the workers that five minutes early is a lot better than five minutes late, haha!

Yesterday a newlywed gal came rushing in five minutes late and I called across the packing plant, “What’s the matter, hon? Did you have trouble this morning because the bedsheets were stuck to you?” Well, they all know me, so she just waved me off and kept on running to her station. I am 82 years old so they take me with a grain of salt. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I told them.

My greatest pleasure in life is working. It has been the light of my life, the best thing I have known. The worst thing about this cancer is that they tell me I can’t work any more, that I won’t be able to go back. Work is all I’ve known. It’s what I was born for, and it’s what I enjoy. It’s like if you told my wife she was not allowed to spend any time with her grandkids. She would go crazy. Now she’s saying just take it easy. Stay home. Visit with your family. Yes, I love them. Of course I do. But I’m used to the pace and the flow of the packing plant. I’ve been there for 40 years, since I hurt my leg in a fall off a ladder and came in from the fields, you know what I mean? I was born to work. And I want to work.

Now the doctors are showing me these images and studies and saying the cancer is pretty much all over. Cannot be operated. No use with chemo. Nodules and lesions and what have you, all over the lungs and kidneys and wherever else. They talk about comfort measures. I told them, my only comfort is work. Just send me back to work. I don’t care how much I get paid. I can work for free. If I can’t work, I can’t relax. But they said no go. My working days are over. Well, I might have to get some chickens then just so I have something to do. Because I’ve gotta stay out of the wife’s hair somehow. She isn’t gonna want to see me moping around the house day and night. I mostly worked with women so I’m used to the hens, haha.

I wish some of my pals from work would come over and cheer me up, but the hours are long and they go home tired. I wouldn’t care if they teased me. I wouldn’t care if they joked around until I laughed so hard I almost cried. I wouldn’t care if they teased me kinda rough, you know, like you do when you really care about somebody. When you trust each other like siblings. The people at the packing plant, you know, they’ve gotten to be like family. I’m gonna miss them a lot. I wonder who they’ll have to roll their eyeballs at now. Probably nobody. I wonder if they’ll miss me. Because I’m sure gonna miss them, even the grumpy ones. To my dying day.