Monday, July 31, 2006

The Ugly Truth

I didn't want to have to tell you this. It's embarrassing and it isn't attractive. But it's a reality for one of every four women, one of every five men, more than thirty million Americans altogether. Most of us (ninety percent, according to some web sites) aren't even aware that we are members of the club. In my case, I've been unhappily cognizant of my membership for seventeen years, ever since my freshman year in college and a certain irresponsible ex-boyfriend who shall forever remain nameless. Here's the ugly truth:

I have herpes.

For many years, I only had an outbreak on rare occasions of heightened stress. A~ and I were able to, shall we say, work around it, for a very long time. But then I went back to school and all hell broke loose. Little sleep, poor diet, intense competitive pressure. It wasn't long before I was flaring up regularly.

Two years since graduation, I'm less physically taxed and the disease has eased up some. But emotionally, these have been two of the most challenging years of my life. It doesn't surprise me that I still have outbreaks on a regular basis.

In the past week alone, I got both engaged and divorced (or nearly so). I commuted back and forth between J~'s place and mine more times than I can count. I taught my most demanding pre-finals classes, after which, I'll be virtually unemployed. On top of that, I painted J~'s kitchen and prepped the living room, began packing up my apartment in earnest, and embarked on the really and truly life-altering project of making a baby. As if the rest weren't life-altering enough.

I'm thrilled. I'm emotional. I'm occasionally exhausted and overwhelmed. For a few minutes lately, several times a day, it feels like my heart rises up and spasms in my throat. I suppose it should come as no surprise that in the wake of all this, my herpes would flare up just a tad.

J~ and I did make a stab at baby making (forgive the horrible unintentional pun) on the night of his birthday, and another when we woke up the next day. But by Friday evening, I wasn't feeling quite right. I went to bed early, and in the morning, no surprise, herpes. We absorbed the sobering news: There can be no more baby-making sex until I heal. This takes several days, at least.

"Maybe it's a good thing," I said to J~. "I'm still painting the house, and I'm paranoid about breathing the fumes while pregnant. Plus, there's lots of heavy furniture to move in the coming month. Not to mention, I just got divorced. And we just got engaged. Maybe this is my body's way of saying I can only absorb so many big changes at once."

And, wouldn't you know it, not until just this morning do I have the tell-tale sign (EWCM) that the fertile window is upon us. And healing? Not quite yet.

Bottom line: J~ would need to have some powerful mojo (or some very tenatious sperm) for his birthday wish to come true. So, as is my habit of late, I'll be waiting on my period with bated breath. But meanwhile, we've turned our sites to next month, when I'll be mostly moved into the house, rested, healthy, and ready to try again.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Your Wish is My Command

Yesterday was J~'s birthday. He came to my place after work, and I took him out for an extravagant dinner. The room was loud, the food was outstanding, and we ate it smiling, shouting occasionally into each other's ears about how incredible it is that we've found each other, how lucky we both feel. We ordered dessert. No singing, no candles - I didn't want to make a spectacle out of him. But I had him make a wish just the same. He closed his eyes to concentrate before taking a first bite.

In the parking lot, our bellies full, waiting for the valet to bring the car around (actually waiting, ludicrously, for the valet to back the car out of the spot exactly in front of us), J~ asked, "Do you want to know my wish?"

We discussed the rules of wishes: if you tell me, then it won't come true, I protested. And the finer points of where these rules come from in the first place: Are you really superstitious about that? he asked. I gave it a moment's thought. No I guess not. Tell me.

"I wished that we make a baby tonight."

People, I'm telling you, he could have laid me down right there and then. The valet could've backed right over us. I wouldn't have minded one bit.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I've been thinking about the word "engagement" in terms of what it means to be engaged in living. I did a search on the word, which led to seven definitions, the first six of which tie in with the expected connotations: war, marriage, short-term employment. But the seventh and final definition gets a little closer to what I have in mind: The condition of being in gear. I picture a car idling at a crossroads, in neutral, while the people inside bite their nails or worry a map between their fingers, trying to decide which way to go. Being engaged in living, it seems to me, means choosing a goal, or even just a direction, and making a move. It means taking risks, going out on a limb. It means being aware that life is short, and it is now.

I'm not saying engagement in living necessarily means strenuous action, or wildness, jumping out of airplanes, taking that new job and moving cross-country, or even picking up the phone, or going out on Saturday night. For many of us, the bravest and riskiest and most appropriate striving might be toward time alone, a much-needed rest. The poet, Audrey Lorde, while battling cancer, called taking care of her body, getting enough rest, "an act of political warfare," which, when you think about it, in our feed-the-corporate-machine work-overtime, get-ahead society, might not be such a stretch. But I digress.

On Wikipedia, I found a word tied to engagement which comes closer to what I'm talking about here: Disambiguation: the process of resolving ambiguity. I like that. I like how that leads me back to the traditional connotations of engagement. Dating is ambiguous. Marriage is not. Talking about combining lives, making babies, and getting married, is not the same thing as being engaged. It is ambiguous. It's sitting at the crossroads in neutral. Maybe the car is coasting ever so slightly, but the foot is poised over the brakes.

J~ "popped the question" Monday night and I felt prickly hot sweat break out on my scalp and lower back. Emotion welled up in my chest - a combination of love and fear and excitement - I didn't know if I wanted to laugh or cry or jump his bones or freeze up into a statue. We're just coming up on six months together, which isn't a long time at all. Our divorces aren't final -- his will be soon but mine won't until November. I'm not sure of my footing yet, in this still-shocking aftermath of A~, and I do fear more pain. There's (almost) every reason to wait. But we're not the idling type. Life is short. This is what we want. I said yes.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cry Me a River

I sat down to write this morning already knowing the title of today's entry. As I absorb, on yet a deeper level, the end of my marriage, all the little hardships of my unexpectedly unmarried daily life (and some of these are very little) have been sparking multiple rounds of copious bawling grief.

But there is more to the last few days than crying. There is also the garden, bearing string beans and dill and kale and basil, squash of two varieties, and, as of yesterday, the first ripening tomatoes. And there is the kitchen at J~'s, freshly painted and looking fabulous, if I do say so myself. There is the run I took last night, reminding me of the power this thirty-six-year-old sometimes overfed body still contains: six miles with a sprint finish, and no urge to stop, not even on the long, steep, uphill in the last two miles.

On the work-front, there is my teaching: two weeks left and going very well; my students producing excellent work, and for the most part, seeming to enjoy it. And waiting in the wings: a long-time client with a list of projects for me to help promote her new book, and just last week, a magazine design and illustration assignment arriving via email from an old and beloved design school professor.

And of course there is J~ and this seemingly bottomless falling in love.

Best of all, there is the great wave of energy I feel after the tears subside, after I've let go just a little bit more of A~ and the dream I had of him and I. This is when I see most clearly that my new, unexpectedly unmarried life is alive and full of potential and exactly what I want in the wake of my divorce. If crying is what it takes to get there, than crying is what I'll do.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Divorce Court

It didn't seem that hard. Nerve-racking, yes, but emotional? Not really. That is, until I walked back to the courthouse on my lunch break the following day to file the next round of papers, and the clerk informed me with head-shaking dismay that I clearly didn't know what I was doing. (Usually lawyers handle this part of things, and since I didn't use a lawyer, I was dependent on my own research and the advice of marginally knowledgeable friends.)

"On what grounds did the magistrate grant the divorce?" the clerk asked.

"Under these," I said, pointing to the line I had circled on another form: Irreconcilable differences which has caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.

"That's the grounds you filed under. What grounds did she grant it under?" I looked at him quizzically, realizing, as I absorbed the question, that this could be different. "See," he responded, before I could answer, "you don't even know that."

I almost cried then, kept my head down, staring at his hands - he had bony fingers, and a bright gold wedding band made of hearts stacked end to end. Married, I thought, and with bad taste. That did it. I got angry. And snapped my gaze up to his face. "Listen, asshole," I said -- okay, so I didn't say that in words, but I said it with my eyes -- "What do you suggest I do?" He told me to order a tape of the proceedings and transcribe what the magistrate said at the end of the trial. He gave me the requisition form. I mumbled thank you, and fled.

I managed to hold back the tears until I got to the street.

I survived the trial day dry-eyed, thanks to adrenaline and deep breaths and reminders to myself that it was almost over, that this was what I wanted, that I had J~ and he is so much better than A~ ever was. But now that I was going to have to re-experience the whole humiliating episode, it wasn't so easy-breezy anymore. Suddenly it sucked to be divorcing. As great as J~ is, this was not my wish in life. I would give him back in a heartbeat if I could roll back time and transform A~ into the person I once thought he was. But, as it turns out, time travel isn't possible (yet?) and A~ is not that person. I'm glad I know it, but it's hard.

"Thanks," A~ had said to me as we were leaving the courthouse the previous day, "for everything."

I nodded, but I didn't reply. What he was saying was heartfelt. For me, however, it was like the mugger saying to the muggee, "Thanks for the cash." You're welcome? I don't think so.

"Call me sometime," he went on. "Or email. I'd like to know how you're doing."

Again I nodded, speechless.

It seems like such a pathetic end to twelve years of love and commitment. Thanks for everything. Keep in touch. But then again, "pathetic" is par for the course. And "end" is absolutely fitting.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got my period, and my happily ever after to attend to.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Heat Wave Limbo

I'm staying at J~'s house in the shady, breezy countryside tonight in order to avoid my stuffy third floor apartment in the heat-wave city. Since I must be showered and dressed and on the road by seven a.m., I won't be writing my usual first-thing-Wednesday-morning entry. Responsible blogger that I am, I'm writing now, instead.

Tomorrow is D-Day: Divorce Day. I'm meeting my mother (my witness) and my soon-to-be-ex downtown at nine for the main event. "I hope it goes well," my friend L~ said on the phone just a minute ago, "though I don't know what 'well' means for this sort of thing."

"It means that we have an easy time finding parking, that everyone shows up on time, and that we're in and out within a half-hour," I replied.

Indeed, that's all I'm hoping for. After twelve years together, I want the quickest possible divorce.

I'm so ready to be divorced.

I'm so SO ready.

It'll be three months before the final divorce papers come in the mail, but next time I write, I should be in official divorce limbo.

I should also be out of am-I-or-am-I-not-pregnant limbo, yet again.

My period is due tomorrow, perhaps the next day.

This is getting to be a regular thing with me, this slim chance of pregnancy. J~ and I did use condoms this cycle. That is, until the fourteenth day, probably post-ovulation, when we threw caution to the wind. (What wind? There's no wind! We talked and we decided we were ready, simple as that.) Blame it on hormones, blame it on divorce emotions, blame it on the heat wave, but as slim as the chances are, I still kind of hope I am pregnant.

Who knows, it may have been too late to conceive this time, but not too late to keep me from speculating, and from letting you in on the suspense.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Who is YOUR Inner Coach?

Several years ago, I played tennis with T~, a dark-haired, beer-gutted, hard-hitting, clay court enthusiast, with the sweetest heart and the loudest, foulest mouth on the court. "What a stupid stupid shot!" he'd yell. And "Goddammit! How could you be such an idiot?!" Luckily, he was only reprimanding himself. But still, every time he did this, I tensed. The people on the next court tensed. It was uncomfortable.

"You should fire that inner coach of yours," I said to him once. "He doesn't seem to be helping your game." The words fell out of my mouth and I instantly regretted them. I'd never thought of the "inner coach" before and I doubted T~ would appreciate the suggestion. He'd just lost a third game in a row and he was seething. To my surprise, he laughed, and relaxed a little. He was a bit gentler with himself for a few minutes, a bit more focused. But three points into the next game he double-faulted and began berating himself for having the worst f-ing serve in the universe.

You always do that, Amy, I found myself thinking the other day as I walked the six blocks from my class to my car. What is wrong with you? I'd eaten too much lunch on top of too much breakfast. My stomach was stretched uncomfortably and I felt like a failure. You really have a problem. You're getting fat and you're just going to get fatter. By the time I got to the car I was miserable, considering stopping on the way home to buy a treat to cheer myself up. But I recognized the cycle, the downward spiral of that kind of action, and suddenly, I recognized something else as well.

I hadn't seen or thought of T~ in three years. In fact, I'd quit playing with him after that day. But somehow, I had his voice lodged inside my head. I had inadvertently hired his inner coach.

So I promptly took my own advice. I fired that coach and hired another, modeled after Lance Armstrong, Martina Navratilova, a conglomeration of everyone I could think of whom I considered successful and imagined would be supportive. Take the reins, my new coach said to me. You're in charge. You can do this. Easily.

I decided to spend my afternoon running long-avoided errands, then take a jog in the cool of the evening. I'd shower, have a nice salad for dinner, work on a painting, watch a few episodes of Sex and the City from my beloved DVD collection, and start fresh in the morning.

It turned out to be a great day.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Countdown to D-Day

A week from now I will be divorced.

Well, almost.

I have my day in court on Wednesday, July 19th. Assuming all goes well (all should go well. There's no argument. A~ doesn't even plan to show up.) it will be three months before the paperwork proclaiming me officially unmarried will arrive in the mail. But after Wednesday, there is nothing else I have to do. I'm done. For all intents and purposes (except remarriage, that will have to wait) I'll be divorced.

I'm nervous, but only about the mundane details. Like, for instance, I'm not sure where exactly the court is, or where I will park (my city has terrible parking) or if I'll get there on time (I'm not very good at getting places on time) or if I'll have all the proper paperwork on hand. I'm nervous that my witness (I need to have someone along to testify that I actually truly live in this state) will be acceptable even though she lives elsewhere and is my mother. I'm slightly less nervous that I won't properly answer the questions that the judge puts to me. I'm not nervous at all about being emotional, though, who knows, it could happen.

By the way, coincidentally, July 19th is my mother's birthday, and the anniversary of her own divorce. I've heard that life is cyclical, but this is ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Imaginary Baby

Last night, J~ and I took a walk, ate a peaceful dinner, went our separate ways to complete some chores and phone calls, and then lay down side by side, tired, and smiling at each other from our respective pillows. "Wow," J~ said after a long silence. "I just got a really strong image of us lying here, just like this, with a baby between us."

My first thought was cynical: Just like this, my ass. We'd be a hell of a lot more tired. But I let go of that. For just a second, I let myself picture it too. It was a beautiful picture, full of love, and shockingly easy to imagine. I looked into his eyes, and we both laughed. Wow, I thought. He really does want to do this.

And then I felt how much I love him. And then I wanted to jump his bones (but didn't -- too tired). And then I felt a wave of apprehension, because a new picture flashed through my mind: Us lying here, just like this, only years from now, having accepted that the baby wasn't going to happen for us. It wasn't a terrible image. There was as much love in it, but also sadness.

I just wish it wasn't so shockingly easy to imagine.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Yesterday evening, I hung out with my brother D~ at my brother A~'s house, late into his last night before flying back home to California. With the movie Gladiator on in the background while he packed his bags, we talked about our budding romances, and how throwing pregnancy into the mix might effect us.

"Have either of you overstepped your bounds yet?" D~ asked, meaning, had J~ and I had a confrontation. Had we worked through anything tricky. He hated the thought of us hitting a first-ever snag with a baby on the way.

"We've definitely had difficult conversations," I told him. "We've certainly had emotional conversations. But there hasn't been much in the way of overstepping."

Well, come to think of it, there was that time I called J~ "Marshmallow Man" once too many times, in reference to some wishy-washy parenting, or an unclear boundary with his ex. He let me know I'd gone too far. I immediately got it, and apologized, and haven't used that derisive nickname again.

And there was the time J~ made a judgmental comment when I decided against a second trip to his place in a single, busy week. (I don't remember the exact words, but essentially, the sentiment was, If I were only working two days a week, I would do it for you.) In our next conversation, we were both prepared to revisit this issue, and to honor the fact that as a part-time counselor (at the time) and part-time freelancer, I was actually working more than two days. And in any case, I can hear about, and care about, his disappointment without owing an apology or an explanation for my choice. It was never an argument. He got it, and was already prepared to retract his statement before I said a thing.

The truth is, we haven't had anything close to a knock-down-drag-out, not much that can even qualify as confrontation. In fact, there hasn't been much drama at all in this relationship, except in the mere act of being open to each other, after so much hurt in how our marriages ended. (If you're not a long-time reader: J~ and I were both cheated on by our long-time partners, and dumped.) This doesn't mean there isn't communication between us, or emotion (lots of emotion) or passion (lots and lots of passion). Even so, it seemed like I wasn't giving my brother enough of an example. But to my surprise, he nodded, satisfied.

We turned our attention to Gladiator, where a life and death struggle was taking place in the Colosseum, blood and sweat and bodies flying, the crowd gone wild. "Can you believe that used to be considered sport?" I said. "I wonder if, a few hundred years from now, people will say the same thing about our sports." I was thinking of football. A game without someone carried out on a stretcher is exceptional.

"Look at boxing," D~ said. "It used to be that fights were thirty rounds long. It pretty much guaranteed that there'd be a knockout. Then it went to fifteen. Now, fights aren't more than ten rounds, unless it's a championship, in which case, it's never more than twelve. And if it looks like someone's about to get knocked out, chances are, they'll stop the fight."

"Huh. I didn't know that."

It's still far too easy to find examples of violence to read too much into this, but maybe there actually is some subtle shift in society, as illustrated by our sports. Maybe there is a trend toward honoring human life, away from unnecessary pain. Maybe J~ and I, in our own small way, are furthering this subtle shift with our relationship. No less passion. No less heart. But far less drama. And maybe, if we're lucky, no knock-outs at all.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Party Time

All of you BorN regulars who've strongly advised caution, and applauded my recent turn toward romantic sobriety, will be disappointed in me today. Last night, I told J~ I'm ready for this to be the last month of condoms. In spite of a cauldron full of worries, it remains clear: This is what we want to do. Life is too short for indefinite hesitation. As Annie Dillard is quick to remind us (see Imminent Death, three entries back), we're not getting any younger.

I also told him that I wanted to see an R.E. A.S.A.P (that's reproductive endocrinologist, for those of you who've never faced any challenges in that arena and haven't needed to apply this particular combination of acronyms).

Those of you readers who've strongly advised I get tested up and down and left and right, I'm sure you're also surprised to see my brick wall against medical intervention isn't quite so solid after all. (See Slippery Slopes, my entry from May 16th).

It's not a complete tear-down, though. I won't let them inject dye into my uterus to make sure its formed properly. I won't get an endometrial biopsy (where they pinch a sample of uterine lining, to make sure it's forming thick and rich enough to support a baby) because I wouldn't do any of the hormonal medications that would be prescribed in this case. But I will let them take a vial or two of blood. If there's a clotting disorder to blame for my miscarriages, I'd rather submit to the slightly disturbing baby aspirin once-a-day ritual (I'm a bit medicine-phobic) than kick my crying self as a third miscarriage comes on.

On the phone with J~ last night, I held my breath for his response. I expected he'd distrust my conviction, have some words about taking it slow, about how freaked out I'd seemed just a few weeks earlier. But no. There was a moment's hesitation, but not breath-held worry, as I feared. More like a deepening, letting it sink in. "I think it makes sense," he said. "Let's get this party started."

With B~ tucked in safely with his mother for the weekend, and off to camp for the next two weeks, J~ will make his way to my place tonight after work for the first in a string of nights of delicious privacy. Tomorrow, we'll be guests at a picnic at my brother's house, and Sunday, we plan to roll up our sleeves to spackle and sand and paint J~'s house.

This party is about to get rockin'.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Deep Thoughts

On Monday, I was planning to follow up on the ideas from Annie Dillard's we're-all-going-to-die so write-till-you-drop thing, but that Baby Anakin conversastion fell in my lap while I was trying to decide what to say. So here I am, once again, and I've been brooding. But I've got little to show for it.

Sometimes, when facing inevitable death, writing is the last thing on your mind.

Today's pulse check reveals what's becoming standard status for me: still in love, still not-quite divorced, still ambivalently and nail-bitingly aspiring to parenthood, still using condoms, still working toward the big move-in with J~. We've been seeing each other for five months now.

Time flies.

So, until I think of something new to say, I'll leave you with one of my favorite "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey, of Saturday Night Live fame:

Maybe in order to understand mankind we have to look at that word itself. MANKIND. Basically, it's made up of two separate words "mank"and "ind." What do these words mean? It's a mystery and that's why so is mankind.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Making Way for Baby Anakin

I'm sitting with my laptop at J~'s kitchen table composing today's blog entry. Moments ago, B~'s ride arrived to take him to day camp, but before that, he paced the length of the kitchen and livingroom, and came up behind me as I wrote. "This is private," I said.

"I know," he replied, turning reluctantly back to his pacing. I moved on to email, but it was too late. He'd seen something.

"If you had a baby," B~ asked, "what would you name it?"

"That depends on who I had a baby with, because I would want to choose the name together."

"If you and Dad had a baby."

Months ago I asked J~ to have a conversation with B~ about this. I didn't want us to spring a pregnancy on him out of the blue. I also wanted him to know about my miscarriages, so that he would be aware that a pregnancy, in my case, wouldn't necessarily lead to a little brother or sister. As far as I knew, this conversation hasn't happened yet. I imagine J~ would explain that by saying the right moment hadn't presented itself.

Maybe this was the moment now, but I wasn't sure I was the right person to be having it. So I stalled again. "Well, then, it depends on if it was a girl or a boy."

"A boy," B~ said, still pacing.

He had me cornered. So I admitted: we've talked about the possibility of having a child, that we liked the idea of using J~'s middle name, his own father's name, if it were a boy. It's a name we both like.

"That's a stupid name."

"I'm sure we'd be willing to consider your ideas too," I laughed.

"Anakin." He said, smiling ever so slightly. What twelve-year-old boy doesn't love his Star Wars?

"I like it," I said. "It's a good name. But even if we didn't officially name him Anakin, you could call him that. Maybe it would catch on."

B~ smirked, indicating he found the compromise ever so slightly distasteful.

"How would you feel about that," I asked, "if we had a baby?"

"I think it would be cool."

"Well, it's something we've talked about. We might like to do it." I was keeping my voice carefully casual. But now I took a deep breath, continued slowly. "Only we don't know yet if it would work because I was pregnant twice last year and I had miscarriages both times. Do you know what that is?" He did. And he stopped pacing to nod and confirm. "So even if I did get pregnant," I continued, "it might not work.

"I've heard that there are things doctors can do to help that."

"Yes, some women find that it helps, but it doesn't work for everyone. It can be very involved. There are some things I wouldn't want to do."

"Well if you can't get pregnant, why don't you adopt?"

"That's a possibility," I said. "But let's wait until I move in before we make any decisions."

He had resumed his pacing, begun making a passionate case for adoption, when his ride arrived.

Life goes on.