My Big Fat Cambodian Monthly Update

Hey Guys.

If you were sitting around today (middle of the night) thinking, I wish Brooke would post a real long monthly update, this is your special day!

In Rwanda, I was frantically posting every 72 hours because Jeff & I were the only people experiencing most things, it was all brand new, and I felt like it would a) slip through my fingers too quickly to internalize if I didn’t write it all down and b) verify to 62 people who funded us we didn’t run off with a wad of cash to the Cayman Islands.

In Cambodia, there are 7 of us providing content (Anna, Sarah and Hannah and Tara each have blogs), my first feature was due 2 weeks after we got here which occupied most of my time and mental energy, and I feel generally less spazzy this time around. Also, at least 20 of those 62 people told me they felt confident Jeff and I were not rolling around in piles of cash on a remote beach somewhere, so that’s good.

Either way, here are some things I’ve been dying to share but just now getting onto paper/the internets.

Weather
I don’t care what the iPhone says, it’s not 90 degrees here; it’s 90 thousand degrees. Every day is a constant struggle not to rip off my clothes and run around naked OR to stand underneath the cold shower for 11 hours at a time with 30-minute breaks. It’s just really hot. Never have I ever spent so much time organizing clothing into tiers of importance and “saving” certain things for days when I know I’ll be out walking around. I tried to combat this issue by having one of the girls make me some traditional freely flowing lightweight pants the locals seem to love, but ended up with these beauts: yellow polka-dotted pants gone wild.

Housing
We are staying at a compound rented by CGI for the girls in the Imprint program, so although we have our own living space (kind of like a little apartment), we have 7 housemates ranging in age from 17-26 with a combined 20 words of English, and we have a groundskeeper/people-keeper named Mom-sung, who we have renamed Monsoon because of all the swooping in and helping.  Here is a little picture sequence demonstrating the Monsoon-ness, but yesterday took the prize when she tried to physically lift me onto her lap in the van because sunlight was streaming in the window onto my arm. She is the personification of the spiritual gift of hospitality, with a dash of crazy and a sprinkle of obsession.  Monsoon and the girls are sweet, though, and we’ve spent time together watching scary Cambodian soap operas, looking at photos of friends and family on the laptop, and eating dinner together every night. Speaking of food…

Food
We eat well. The girls feed us a variety of greens, veggies and meat, and mealtime constantly smells like fried garlic, which is awesome. Unfortunately, each meal also includes a 14-thousand foot mountain of rice or noodles, sometimes both, with chili and soy sauce. Every morning we are served two French baguettes each, which we protein-ify with peanut butter and a side of Nescafe instant coffee, but we are fighting off the squish with jump ropes and I-candy. Every meal, no matter what the food is, everyone yells, Nyam bai! Nyam bai! which means Eat rice! Eat rice!  Also, three people have put their hands on my belly and gestured a baby, then when we say no, they laugh and shovel pretend food into their mouths and say, Nyam bai? Nyam bai? Eat rice? Eat rice?  *Hangs head* I will not say anything else about that, because I’ve realized (this is profound) that if I continue to present myself in this way, although funny, people will begin to see me in this way. I will say that when our poor intern started puking, Jeff came up and said, in his best Cambodian accent, Throw up rice? Throw up rice?

Jeff has sought out a little more culinary adventure than I have: whole fried frogs and duck fetus. Gag me. He almost had fried tarantula, but lucky for him (me?), the team was sick that day and we opted to stay in. Somewhere inside the world wide webs are the videos of the fried frogs and duck eggs. We also visited this cool picnic area that served toasted turtle. We did not partake.

Language
Khmer is the hardest. Everyday we communicate with Monsoon and the girls through gestures, which we’ve gotten really good at. Picture me scooping up invisible ice cubes and dropping them into my empty glass, saying tink, tink, tink. Ohhh! Ice! Ice! Picture Jeff squawking like a chicken, laying a pretend egg, cracking it on the surface of an invisible frying pan and making a Chhhhh noise. Oh! Fried Egg! Fried Egg!  Imagine Monsoon with her hand above her head saying Shhhhh and washing her armpits. Oh! Shower! Shower!  And, if you dare, imagine Monsoon walking past the dinner table with my clean bra (she does our laundry) around her waist trying hard not to laugh. Oh!  Saggy boobs! Saggy boobs! Monsoon is funny even with no words.

Work
Each morning we meet Srey Leak, CGI staff, at the primary school to speak with the teachers in each class. Usually we’re greeted by excited and squirmy students, and the top one or two are selected by the teacher to stand up and perform a song or greeting, which is adorable. But we actually come in search of the lowest ranked students, not the highest, and they’re often times sitting at the back with embarrassed smiles and very little eye contact.  We walk home with a different struggling student every day at lunch to visit with families and learn what might be keeping each child from being successful.

We’ve gone home with students whose parents are fighting or divorced or using drugs. Our hearts broke with a student whose siblings were killed in a car accident three years ago and who is being called “a gentleman’s boy”—the equivalent to being called gay—by other kids in the class. There was a little boy whose parents had each abandoned him leaving his two grandmothers in a deadlock over whether or not to sell the little boy to ‘His Excellency’, another term for rich man.  There have been orphans and single parent homes and homes with disabilities. We’ve seen families of four living in 10×15 sq foot rooms, and four families of too-many-to-count living in a four-bedroom house. We’ve seen families who simply don’t have the means to pay for afternoon classes or for lunch. We’ve seen kids who live too far away to walk back and forth every day. And we have visited with kids whose families can’t care for them at all and have arranged for their stay at a Children’s home, which most refer to as an orphanage.

We are also learning that the stories not told over lunch are those things that happen when the poverty becomes insurmountable. When the snails don’t sell, and the fish don’t bite, and the kids have already dropped out of school, and there is nothing left to eat. In that tight spot, we’ve found the underbelly of poverty. It’s not hunger or filth or lack of education—though these things are difficult enough. For some families, there is one last option, one final economic recourse: selling or renting out a child. The underbelly of poverty here is the sex trade. It’s what happens when there is simply no other solution.

But! We’re seeing the prevention of this recourse through the program we’re working with: CGI Kids. CGI is working hard to identify and intervene through relationships and community involvement before the family reaches this level of desperation. J and I got the chance to meet two little girls and their families, for whom CGI has provided an alternative.

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My feature article in July will be the story of these two little girls and their families, about CGI Kids and Kien Svay kids and my little nieces and how all of these things fit together. So download the July issue! It will be broadcasted from a virtual blowhorn on all my social media accounts when its ready for download.

Church
You thought this update was over, didn’t you?

Church yesterday morning: hour-long van ride to the bank of a river with wooden steps leading into the water, a boat appeared and ferried us to an Island, we removed our shoes before entering the church, sang worship songs in Khmenglish, then voted on 2 of 4 singers who were competing in a singing contest to be the new worship leader. People around us wanted #2 and #3 to win, so they took our #1 and #4 slips, but somehow #4 won, and he was definitely in last place. All this was followed by a sermon and kool-aid communion, my legs lifted off the floor the entire time due to 3 big spiders roaming the tile, and with a couple of 4-year-olds sticking their little hands through my chair to tickle my armpits. Door to door? About 5 hours.

Play
Due to my lack of legit updating, it might appear via FB that all we do is play. That’s because I posted like 300 pictures of bike rides through our neighborhood, some bamboo picnic areas on stilts, a bamboo train ride with the team, and a fantastic 24-hour anniversary celebration in Phnom Penh. Some friends let us borrow bikes for the summer, and we’ve been making friends with neighbors, visiting the “ploating” restaurants on the river behind us, and finding ways to explore Phnom Penh by rooftop when we make it into town.  We’ve visited the S-21 genocide memorial, the National Palace and Museum, the Silver Pagoda, the Fine Arts District, a sunset boat tour of the Mekong, and will visit the Killing fields this week. We’ve also had a couple of team days in Phnom Penh and Battambang and will head to Siem Reap this weekend by boat for our mid-trip retreat. What?! Half over already?

Our anniversary was awesome because school was conveniently closed for testing, so we packed up and went to Phnom Penh.  For the entire 24 hours we did activities that benefited ministries all over the city. We ate lunch at Friends, a restaurant that trains and employs street kids, got massages by trained blind masseurs using their skills for self-sufficient living, and river toured with a company who’s profits maintain an orphanage.  Pics from the weekend: here.

Okay. I think that’s it for now, except everything else, which you’ll find in the July issue of World Next Door! Speaking of, did you download Rwanda’s Issue? DO IT! But if you can’t download the app, you can still find the content online here. It’s our first published content for World Next Door and we’re pretty pumped about it. People outside the family even like it :)

Welp. If you’re still here, you’ve made it until the end. For your diligence, here is a dancing kindergartener:

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For more pics of our time in Cambodia, click here.

For more pics around our Kien Svay neighborhood, click here.

For additional posts about Cambodia, click here.

Bye!

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I Am (married)

Anniversary Edition!

I Am, by marriage, second-generation thin crust pizza, spicy Italian sausage from a local butcher, whole milk mozzarella and pizza sauce that’s not to sweet, not too tangy, not to salty.  I am popcorn at 10pm with garlic salt and crushed black pepper, scrambled eggs most mornings, and breakfast in bed on my birthday. I am a cup of coffee snuck onto the bathroom counter while I’m in the shower. I am a late night mini DQ run accomplice.

I Am, by marriage, at the very top of a 14 thousand foot mountain. I am sitting at the UW Terrace with some kind of local brew in Madison, WI or at the New Glarus brewery with a $3 flight, or taking a lazy stroll on State Street after the Farmer’s market when the weather is warm and I’m in a sundress. I am in the upstairs bedroom on the left, waking up on holidays to rolling hills, Palamita Pond and a little farmet outside frosted windows in Beloit, Wisconsin. I am our very first Indiana Avenue facing one-bedroom apartment just a few steps from the Canal and White River State park by foot. I am sitting on a fixed and treated deck, sipping a summer Shandy by the Monon, with a yard just mowed, twinkle lights on, and a grill cooking fat-tire brats in Carmel, Indiana.

I Am, by marriage, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, aunt, niece, and cousin. I am Bucky the Badger and flip-flopper and Merlot Kathy and Indiana Ron/Wisconsin Ron depending on the score. I am Brookaliscious. I am a gold medal swimmer at an Olympic wedding! Most of the time, without even thinking before it slips out even at work, I am simply Babe, which is okay with me.

I Am, by marriage, always in style. The dress never makes me look fat, the hair always looks good, there is definitely a change in my arm muscles, and yes, I can have the last bite/piece/sip. I am good enough, cool enough, nice enough, honest enough, funny enough, pretty enough, smart enough and competent enough. I am known. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am “I will” and “I do” and “I now pronounce you man and wife!”

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PS: Some friends have started doing this exercise with me, and I’m so thrilled it’s catching on. Three friends means catching, right? I do these weekly on Sundays, except for today which is Monday,  If you like it, please respond with your own answers.  Wouldn’t that be fun? (Yes, Brooke, that would be SO fun.)

Thanks to my pals who have responded- I love knowing who you are!
So tell me, everyone else, who are you?

Three Bottles & a Fat Bastard

This was my first attempt at writing a fiction piece for Scribes, and the assignment was to write a story about wine. You will be temped to think these stories are about J and I, because you’re not used to a fictional voice in this space, but don’t do it. Although I weave parts of our own stories throughout, much was absorbed from the experiences of those around me, including friends, family, and the good ole ER.

~~~

Among the mess of gift bags, wrapping paper and brunch, under the last tent standing to shade them from the morning sun, with sleepy eyes and brand new rings, they came across the last wedding gift: a bag containing four bottles of wine with notes attached.

He lifted the first bottle from the bag—a 2009 Barefoot chardonnay. The note, tied to the neck with ribbon, on a tiny piece of green construction paper, read: Open this on your first anniversary. May you dance Barefoot and enjoy the great memories of your beach wedding.

She smiled, and selected the second bottle—Big House Red. She flipped over the little blue note, tied with a yellow ribbon. Enjoy this as you celebrate closing and moving into your first house together. What a wonderful adventure is ahead of you.

The third was a bottle of Little Penguin Pinot Grigio. He read the yellow note out loud: Celebrate and rejoice after the birth of your first child. What an awe-inspiring miracle. Many blessings to your new family.

The fourth was a bottle of Fat Bastard with a red note attached: Your first fight… don’t call her fat, don’t call him a bastard, or trouble is sure to follow. Enjoy this when you make up.

They passed the bottles back and forth in wonder, imagining how these events would unfold.

She pictured their anniversary on a beach in the Caribbean with 360-degree views of the island, a front porch hammock, and one—maybe two—weeks of R&R reflecting back over the last year and how much love had filled the space of it. It would be so romantic. They would open the bottle and dance on the beach, barefoot. She could hardly imagine what the year would hold—family Christmases and Thanksgivings, living in the same house, city, state, and country together. She looked at him and wondered how they’d appear to each other after a year had passed.

He, too, imagined their beachy first anniversary. They would kayak and sip wine. Dance under a full moon, in that top floor condo with the porch hammock and the rooftop hot tub. They would open those French doors to the beach each morning and have at least one amazing dinner at the expensive restaurant down the street. He would wake up early to snap pictures of the sunrise, and catch a glimpse of her sleeping softly in the morning haze. Or maybe they’d go back to the mountains like they did on their honeymoon. They’d returned home just a few days ago, in time for their stateside reception last night. Either option would be great. As long as they could get away and do something special.

Passing the Big House Red, she imagined the closing of their first house together—what the house would look like and how cozy they’d feel, how home they’d be.

Right now, they lived in a little one-bedroom apartment on a canal. It was adequate for the two of them, bright and spacious, but too small to host anyone else or invite friends over for dinner. They didn’t even have a kitchen table. In the table space sat a desk, which they’d clear off on those rare occasions they didn’t eat on the couch ottoman. Once, they’d had a dinner guest and he sat on an exercise ball because they only had two chairs. The entire place was new—the city, their jobs, the apartment. They weren’t sure how long they’d stay; they’d each only come here for jobs. But she thought they might end up in a big house near her family up north, or a trendy loft in Chicago, maybe. That would be the exact middle between their two families in Michigan and Wisconsin. They’d want to be in a good school system, not too far from the city, but not too close, either. They’d probably close on their first house when they had their first kid, or settled on long-term jobs, or were ready to be committed to a place. She didn’t care where it was, but she figured it wouldn’t be here.

He imagined by the time they were ready to close on their first house together, they’d already be back in Wisconsin on 10 acres of rolling hills in the country.  They’d have a kid or two, so they’d need to fix up and sell his old two-bedroom bachelor pad currently being rented by graduate students, and buy a bigger family house just outside city limits. Or maybe on the east side—it’s getting more trendy there. He thought she’d probably like the east side.

As he put the Big House Red back in the bag, she picked up the Little Penguin. She secretly couldn’t wait to uncork this bottle, signifying the birth of their first child. They would wait two years, probably. They’d spend time traveling and enjoying one another, get their lives and finances in order first, and then take the plunge. What would their first little baby look like, she wondered? It would be a girl—his eyes, her hair. A snapshot moment played in her mind, the two of them holding hands in the hospital as everyone passed around their new little baby, cooing and rocking and arguing over who she looked like most. The kid would be an athlete. And so perfect.

He imagined a boy, decked out in Brewers or Packers gear. They’d play baseball together, or, you know, whatever the kid wanted to do, he’d support it. He knew before he’d even met her he wanted to have kids. It would be tricky timing, though. He wanted stability, friends and travel first. On the flip side, he didn’t want to be an old dad, either. He was pushing 40, and friends had told him he would never feel entirely ready. He imagined about two years from now they’d be opening that bottle, excited and nervous and thrilled while the baby slept soundly next to them.

Smiling at the last bottle, she wondered what would do them in. What would cause the uncorking of the Fat Bastard? In her wildest imagination, she couldn’t even conjure up an image of the two of them fighting. The closest they’d come was after the earthquake in Haiti. He had an opportunity to respond with a medical team for six weeks right before their wedding, and she created a position or herself on the French-speaking team they both thought was brilliant. The team didn’t buy it. He had to decide whether to stay or go, and she supported either option. But here is how they dealt with stress: She needed to talk it out eight different ways, and he needed space to process internally. They stewed separately for four hours and met for dinner. Over soup, he verbalized intent not to go. She agreed. Done.

He thought it would be money, for sure. Spending habits would open the Fat Bastard. Either that, or the need for alone time. She was extroverted; He was introverted. Having never lived together, he wasn’t sure how it would all play out, but they took extra care in fleshing out these differences before the engagement. He was confident whatever the issue, they’d communicate their way through it straight to the make-up bottle of Fat Bastard.

 ~~~

A year later, they sat with 18 friends and family members around the kitchen table/desk in the one-bedroom apartment by the canal. Their one-year anniversary happened to fall on the day of a biking event in the city, and each of their family members from all sides and states came to participate. Everyone stayed with the two in their 900 square foot apartment. There was no barefoot beach dancing or wine-sipping; there were no French doors or 360-degree island views. There were no rooftop hot tubs or mountains of any kind.

Instead, there were bowls and bowls of veggie pasta, friends and family gathered on chairs and stools and milk crates on the deck. There were air mattresses piled floor to ceiling. There were breakfast spreads and popcorn parties, lots of grilling, laughter and story telling. They toasted their waters and beers and Gatorades high in the sky on the deck of the little apartment, under stars and twinkle lights, marveling over the rare gathering of almost the exact same group of people who had lined up on a beach for a wedding a year ago, wishing the two another great year, and reminiscing over stories the couple had never heard—stories about skinny dipping and champagne surfing after the ceremony.

Although not what they imagined, they uncorked the bottle of Barefoot chardonnay on a Monday night, after all the families had left and enjoyed a slice of freezer packed chocolate wedding cake. Their anniversary had been meaningful, if not tropical. A month later, they went to the mountains. Four months later, they went to the beach. The celebrated their anniversary 4 times that year, which was a different kind of better than they had imagined.

The following November, six months after their anniversary, they sat with friends, wrapped in blankets and flannel, in a lake house on the northern border. They had accidentally purchased a house. They weren’t looking, but a friend was selling who offered a good price in a neighborhood they loved, and the mortgage for a three-bedroom home would be less than the monthly rent of their one-bedroom apartment downtown. It was a no-brainer. No realtor, and the signing happened over a beer. The owner had given them access to the house before the closing to re-paint, tile the bathrooms, and replace the carpet with wood floors. On the day of closing, while He was at work, after they had signed and taken ownership, She flooded the house. That really happened. She was trying to figure out why the master bath only reached lukewarm temps, and somehow wrenched the entire fixture off the bathroom wall. The bathroom, bedroom and hallway were ankle-deep in lukewarm bath water in about six seconds. Her brother and the plumber directed her to the water shut-off, and each came over to pry up wood planks in an effort to save the floors.  But the floors were ruined—the floors her brother had installed two days earlier. She didn’t know what to do. She called Him at work, and He reassured her. They would call the insurance. Everything would be okay. This is why She loved Him. Everything was okay.

The next morning, they set up industrial sized fans in three places, grabbed the bottle of Big House Red and drove three hours north to meet a another couple for a weekend at the lake house. There, in the cozy glow of a fire and s’mores, they opened the bottle of Big House Red and toasted the closing of their first house together. This was not how they imagined it, but in the span of life and death and disaster and fulfillment—life was good. They were home. Just not right this very second. Right this very second, they were in a different home three hours away with the best of friends, wrapped in cozy blankets toasting the moment while their real home was drying out.

The flooded house would hold a thousand firsts: gardens and furniture, friends and kids, small groups and family Thanksgivings, job changes, bike routes, budget changes, lost rings, vacations, sick days, bonfires, grill outs, Christmas trees—it would hold the entire first chunk of their marriage, after the little apartment on the canal. They would outgrow it quickly, but hang on to it as long as possible: their little bungalow on Main.

~~~

Years later—three, to be exact—she could just cry thinking about the Little Penguin bottle, gulped down in some throw-her-arms-up battle through 18 months of infertility and a desperate need for a bottle of white because company was coming. She would immediately purchase another bottle of Little Penguin in the morning. The next day they would begin fertility treatment.

The treatment worked quickly, and they became pregnant within the first three months of injections and monitoring. They were ecstatic and began decorating a nursery in the little house on Main—forcing His office into the living room area. He didn’t mind. They would find out the gender next month and teased about which sport the child would play, and what the name would be. Every sign or menu item He saw, He would say: Hey! Let’s name the baby that. For example, Stromboli—Strom for short.  They each began making arrangements to shift work schedules to 30 hours per week in order to care for the baby equally without a sitter. He would work Mondays and Wednesdays, She would work Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they would alternate Fridays.

At 16 weeks, though, the worst of the worst happened.  She sobbed in the ER holding her 5-inch, 4 oz. baby with 10 fingers and 10 toes in a little pink kidney-shaped emesis basin. Everything had happened so fast—He was on his way to the ER from work. They had only told family they were pregnant three weeks earlier.  He sat next to her in the hospital bed, as they looked at their first child, genderless and nameless. They asked for a picture, but the nurse had no camera. They looked to the Social Worker and the Chaplain who had come into the room for support and resources, but nobody could do anything. The Social Worker called the Forensic Nurse, knowing she had access to a camera for evidence collection. But the Forensic Nurse would not permit the camera to be used in this way. She only wanted to document this, the birth of their first child. They were devastated.

When everyone else left the room, the Social Worker offered up her cell phone. “I could take a picture for you, right here, and send it to your phone or your email. I don’t know what the rules are for this, so we’d have to delete it right after it’s sent.”  They agreed, through tears, took the picture, and sent it to themselves at home. They deleted it from the Social Worker’s phone and said goodbye to the little baby.

They spent several days holding hands, but not talking or eating. They spent several more days watching TV and going on long, solitary bike rides. Sometime during the second week, they started eating snacks and taking walks. They went back to work. They took deep breaths and were very careful with each other. During the third week, He brought home a bottle of Little Penguin. They poured a glass and celebrated the brief life of their first child. He kissed every place the tears fell, and she again knew everything would be okay. Everything was okay.

The following spring, they gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Waiting for them at the house was a chilled bottle of Little Penguin and two glasses. They gave each other the longest hug ever in the world and toasted to their healthy little penguin.

Two years later, they gave birth to twins and immediately purchased an entire a bottle of gin.

~~~

On the 96th floor of the Hancock building in Chicago, several decades later, they sat at a corner table, surrounded by their kids and grandkids to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. After rounds of appetizers and meals and desserts, She pulled the bottle of Fat Bastard out of her giant purse. In 45 years, they could not bring themselves to open the Fat Bastard, which would have meant they’d had THE fight. The first one, the worst one, the one you had to make up over.

They’d had moments: stressful moves, budget veers on both sides, parenting struggles, a constant battle over who would let the dishes pile up the longest until someone broke and unloaded the dishwasher, and there was that one time he threw away her entire bag of dry cleaning because she’d put them in a black trash bag and he assumed it was trash. Whoops.

But they never opened the Fat Bastard until this very moment, in celebration of their 45 years together, having made it so far and so long. They opened the bottle, poured a glass for everyone, and drank until it was gone. They looked at each other, smiled and swallowed the last gulp hard. They’d consumed the worst, and they were okay.

What neither disclosed was that each had replaced the bottle an average of 3-4 times per year, having emptied it without the other knowing.

The 500 Things Theory

For our one year anniversary I made this list. I would like to keep the list, and add to it the following:

Here is what Jeff and I have discovered after two years of marriage. (I would call it flowers and rainbows- but that’s because I’m on vacation right now, and marriage demands far less of me poolside.)

This conversation formed, credit to Jeff, over months of providing support to certain brothers going through certain dating relationships.

Suppose there are a finite number of irritating characteristics in a person- lets call it five hundred. Five hundred annoying things. Dating for three months or three years, living together before the marriage or after, you will never be exposed to every single negative thing, because they present themselves over the span of a life, triggered by a span of circumstances. Simply: if you live with the person first, and it’s cool, you’re not safe. If the person is your same religion, you’re not safe. If you scored off the charts on every compatibility survey, you’re not safe.

It’s easy to identify the good characteristics during the good times- We have so much in common! He’s so handsome! She’s so fun! He’s so good with the kids! These are the pretend qualifiers. Good times will occur in your lives, and you will manage them with essentially no skill or training. You can bank on this.

The bad time characteristics are the real qualifiers, because these are tools that will navigate you through those other 500 things. Does this person have characteristics you’ll need to get through hard times? How does this person communicate when they’re not agreeing with everything you say? (Sometimes you will say stupid and unfunny things.) How does the person respond to stress? Would you trust this person during your most insecure and irritable moments? How does the person negotiate? What role does he/she take in problem-solving? You will hit some kind of brick wall somewhere, and you’ll need to figure out how to get up, over or around it.

What I’m saying is: nobody is safe from marriage. Even if you have the person move in, share the bathroom, live out their financial habits and hygiene habits and spiritual habits and nose-picking habits in front of you, there will ALWAYS be something else.  Marriage is not the expectation that you found the one person in the world for you and you’re certain you’re compatible. Marriage is the expectation that shiz will arise and you’re certain of your ability to navigate through it together effectively. When the car breaks down, when its raining on vacation, when the dishes don’t get clean because the barbeque sauce wasn’t rinsed off the pate first, when the dill weed falls out of the cabinet and shatters and you’re BOTH running late, when the bedroom floods, when the budget is cut, when you inexplicably cry through 3 consecutive church services, when four families want you on the same holiday, when you get home from a 12-hour shift and don’t feel like talking to anyone, when there is nothing to make for dinner, when you gain 15 pounds, when the roof has to be replaced, when you can’t get knocked up, when half the outlets in the house don’t work, when you can’t find a job, when the fam is coming in an hour and the place is a wreck.

Here is the question that matters: Is this who I want next to me in the trench? (You’ll be in a trench somewhere, sometime.) Or even better: Am I the type of person someone would choose to trench-up with?

Yes. And I hope so. (He could at least live off me for a few years in that trench if something happened- think turkey drumstick- amazon thighs, burn my fat for oil, etc.) This we knew after our 85th self-facilitated premarital survey. We dated in two separate states-  countries, even- 800 miles apart for over a year, and only flew home together on our honeymoon. Most would never believe we could know each other in any kind of way dating like that. Not really. But we did. And we are a good team.

Happy 2nd anniversary, J. I got you a tropical storm named Debbie.

Switching gears entirely: Like, 5 years ago or something, I decided I wanted to work for Doctors Without Borders. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are the only mental health professionals hired by Doctors Without Borders, and they work in countries with armed-conflict, natural disaster, famine, epidemic, post-war recovery, refugee camps, etc. to provide mental health services. I could not WAIT to travel the world and do this. In the meantime, I got married. The Irony: last week I got my LCSW. Doctors Without Borders does not accept couples.

What’s the return policy on this gig?
KIDDING! I would rather have J.

Operating Instructions: First Year of Marriage

1. While many people are afraid they’ll discover some kind of annoying habit about the other during the first year, it turns out marriage functions like a full-length mirror. You might discover some crazy habit you didn’t know about yourself reflecting right back. (Me? Yes, you.)

2. Sometimes you can learn adaptive habits from each other, like making the bed every day. There! Now, doesn’t your day feel more organized? Yes!

3. Per the prior, the last one out of bed makes it. Except for today.

4. Sometimes you need to go to the bathroom for 45 minutes. What you do in there (examine your pores, pluck your eyebrows, steam clean your face over the sink on one leg with John Legend on your ipod- whatever) is your own business. It used to be your SSB: Secret Single Behavior. Now it’s your Secret Married Behavior. It’s okay to keep it secret.

5. Separate bathrooms are icing on the cake.

6. Engage in hobbies together. People might laugh when you turn your living room into photo studio, but it’s y’alls own thing.

7. A programmable thermostat can help facilitate this discussion: The heat was on all day?

8. One of you may be the type to save the good champagne and Swiss fondue for a special occasion; the other may want to pop the cork at 8pm on a Tuesday. Find a way to make 8pm on Tuesday a special occasion. S’mores fondue night by the river? Yesssss.

9. Re-evaluate goals when things like thousand-dollar car repairs come up. You’re probably working toward something. Continuously reset the course together.

10. Keep a bottle of Fat Bastard in the house to uncork after your first fight. The presence of the wine itself may keep you from having a worst-ever first fight.  For all who wondered, we have not yet opened the Fat Bastard…

11. You might accidentally buy a house. When you do, agree in advance how many towel bars and curtain rods you will ask him to help hang. There is a threshold.

12. Per the prior, don’t flood the house.

13. Per the prior, know where the water shut-off is if you begin to flood the house.

14. Per the prior, when your spouse floods the house, take the opposite temperament, call the insurance company, set up a fan, and get away for the weekend. It will fix everything.

15. Discretionary spending accounts: one of you may be at a constant balance of $5 as you happily line up shoes and play with new hair accessories (Jeff?); The other could fly to Hawaii with his. Mutual goals achieved otherwise.

16. The Ron Hartman rule: don’t take the last slice of pizza.

17. Post-it notes, breakfast in bed, and knee squeezes- excellent forms of nonverbal communication.

18. If you can make each other laugh, you’re already through it.

Any tips for year two?

Car accident day

I was driving to work today and remembered it was July 9th— car accident day. Yesterday I forgot all about it, which is so typical, and didn’t remember until I was sitting at the light on Fairfield and Taylor today, on my way to the Boys & Girls Club. I looked at the clock and it was 10:15. Automatically I thought—wow, they would have still been cutting me out of the car. I was irritated in my memory that they hadn’t hurried it up already.

I texted Sprinky and said, “Do you know what today is?”
She texted back, “Oh yeah. Car accident day. Glad you are alive ☺”

I was glad too.

I was also really glad that I was not one of those emotional people who freak out over things like “anniversaries” or “flashbacks” and that I didn’t feel the need to call in to work or speak with anyone about it, that I was a triumphant, resilient enough person to just drive to work and say, “Oh yeah. That old accident?” and then flip the radio station.

But then, without my permission, Sprinky’s face popped into my head and I remembered her expression when she walked into the ER. I remembered trying to lift my head to tell her I was okay, but being held down by the neck brace and the Velcro on the backboard. I remembered tears pouring out, and the BGC staff standing around the corner behind the curtain. I remembered the guy pacing outside my car window calling everyone in my phone book, pulling at his hair and saying: fuckareyouokayshitfuckdon’tmoveshit! And I remembered those terrifying seconds between when the guy hit me and when the wheel of the semi came through my window. I remembered that panicky feeling of knowing I was going to die right there and that no one would even find out for, like, two hours. I remembered how scared I was after it all stopped and I was waiting for help to arrive.

The terror of that day—of 10:15 four years ago—clamped onto me, and before I knew it I was sobbing through the intersection—like, not a pretty little reasonable cry, but hiccupping and wailing and dry heaving, the kind where people in the car next to you mouth: are you okay? And you nod and then wipe your nose on your work shirt and breath in another staggery little cry.

When I got to the Club one second later, I sat there for a minute and called my dad (who was unavailable), sat there some more, breathed into a paper sac, wiped my face and went inside. I felt like I could pull it together. Then someone went and said “hello” to me. I lost it all over again and that caused a mild panic for the administrative staff, because they had never seen me act like this.

They tried to send me home, but I told them that I could not afford to go home, because my friends could not pay me an hourly rate to sit at home and console me. And then I told them, crying like a crazy person, “And I’m taking the kids swimming today. I love swimming.”

I think they were telepathically transmitting the number to Parkview Behavioral between them, but they offered nicely to work something else out so I could take some time if I needed to. They even said I could just leave and come back in a few hours.

Instead I told them (like any girl who knows her psyche) if they could just give me some good gossip, I think I could get my mind off it and I’d be fine.

They told me something juicy. Sure enough, that did the trick. An hour later we were discussing the van schedule and I didn’t shed another tear all day.

I ended up meeting Sprinky for lunch at the little downtown Starbucks, though, and after a few conversations about California and work and the price of gas—with a few random interjections like, “Then I got so scared when they started cutting the car” followed by, “Do you know how many calories are in this?” normal breathing was restored.

The experience itself seems so lonely, probably because I was the only one in the car and the other guy died. All I can do is try to explain it, which is never as satisfying as I think it’s gonna be. But lunch was great, and at closing time today when all was said and done, I felt like patting myself on the back and saying, as if I were 27 and 4 at the same time, “Yeah, that was scary. But it’s over. Let’s just go home.”

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Here is the original story, written in 2005, one year after the accident: July 9th 2004