Monday, July 31, 2006

Operation: Not Just a Game Anymore - Part One

I went to the hospital on Wednesday at noon, advised by the head nurse that my doctor was running behind schedule and it would be futile for me to come in at ten, as I was originally instructed. Three and a half hours later, I was finally given a bed and wheeled from the same-day-surgery unit to the OR waiting unit. Billy was kind enough to capture the moment on his camera phone, catching an oh-so-flattering shot of me in the uncomfortable bed as I was wheeled around. But thankfully he snapped the photo before they had a chance to outfit me with the fashionable blue hairnet I would be required to wear in surgery.

I was asked by every nurse, doctor and aide what my birthday was and what I was there for, a sort of pop-quiz for the future patient. After rattling off my birthday, military style, I said "Laparoscopic Bilateral Ovarian Cystectomy," in the whiny sort of tone that comes with telling people the same thing over and over.

"Possible Open," the nurses added.

"Yeah. Possible open." Did they have to remind me?

Each uniformed hospital employee that visited my bedside, inserted an IV or asked me questions, also seized the opportunity to jab at me about my Surgery That Wasn't the week before. "Ah, so you're the girl who left us last week," said the tall anesthesiologist as he made his way to my pre-op bed.

"Not my fault," I said, adjusting my hairnet and trying to maintain some semblance of dignity. "You guys held me up. I couldn't eat for over 12 hours. That, my friend, was torture."

"We're glad you didn't wait," he said, checking my currently installed IV. "We didn't get out of here till after midnight as it was. And, this time, don't worry. We'll get it done."

"I hope so. I don't want to be wearing this fancy hospital gown for nothing." I covered my exposed ass cheek and smiled.

They wheeled me then into the OR, where a blast freezing air hit me like a gunshot as we rolled through the door. They suited me up with inflatable leg warmers and what looked like swimmies that wrapped around my arms to prevent blood clots during surgery. They talked to me, keeping me calm in the face of my procedure. "You're so calm," said the masked nurse to my right. "Most people are freaking out right about now." I couldn't see her mouth behind her hospital-blue surgical mask, but I could see the kind smile in her eyes.

"Well, I'm just ready to get it over with."

It was true. I was ready. I didn't even think about crying or worrying in all my time in the waiting room, in the bed, alone, or as they wheeled me from place to place. I just felt like I was one step closer to being done. Thankfully.

The pace around me wasn't hurried and urgent, just purposeful. They made me feel that I was in capable, calm hands. They spoke to me as they prepared my bed, my gown, my drugs. "The medicine is going in," I heard the anesthesiologist say from behind me. I felt the burn of it as it flowed into my arm, then I looked up at the OR lights. I watched them go from sitting perfectly still right over my face, to dancing pirouettes and figure eights above my head. One eye closed, then the other.

I woke up hours later to the sweet faces of the recovery nurses. "Did they have to cut me open?" was my first groggy question to them.

"No sweetie," replied the nurse closest to me. "Just three little incisions. That's it. Everything went really well." She smiled and brushed my hair back from my face.

I was so happy, I cried.

After I spent roughly a half hour giggling, crying tears of joy, and telling the nurses that they were the best nurses ever, they rolled me through the narrow corridor that led to the elevator that would take me to where I began, same-day-surgery. We picked up Billy and my mom on the way, and they rode with me on the elevator.

"The doctor said everything went really, really well," my mom said from the foot of my bed. Billy held my hand as we scaled the floors of the hospital, until we heard the ding that released us into my final recovery locale.

"The nurses here are the best," I said. "I'm going to write a letter."

"I just wish all of the patients could be like her," giggled the nurse as she pushed me out into the unit.

I disregarded her comment and forged ahead. "I'm hungry. When can I eat?"

"You're hungry already? That's great," the nurse chirped, heaving my bed through a hall. "We'll get you something, don't worry."

I felt absolutely no pain, sitting there in that bed as one nurse released me to another. The new nurse came over to me, glass of water in hand. "So I hear you're hungry already?" She set the Styrofoam cup on the half-table reaching over my bed, my body. "Well, I took the liberty of ordering you a little dinner already, so you and I are on the same page. Drink this water, I'll bring you some food, and as soon as you pee, you're free to go."

I couldn't drink the water fast enough. Though the pain was non-existent and the nurses were incredible, I wanted nothing more than to get home. To get in my own bed and sleep. I ate the salty turkey sandwich she gave me, drank all the water that my mom and Billy could bring, and finally decided that I should go to the bathroom.

I went to get up, forgetting the openness of my gown and the absence of underwear. "Maybe," Janet, the nurse said, rushing in front of my exposed nether regions, "we should get these two to give us some privacy." She nodded at my mom and Billy.

"Who are we kidding?" I said, motioning to Billy to grab my underwear from the bag I brought. "They've both seen it."

And Billy, I think, helped me into my underpants. Or it could've been my mom. Or the nurse. Or the janitor. I'm not sure exactly. All I know is, they somehow made it on to my body, and allowed me to walk to the restroom. I didn't care that the back of my gown fluttered open with every step I took. I didn't care about the way I looked, the way I walked. I just cared about getting out. But I couldn't pee yet.

For the next two hours I took frequent, hopeful trips to the unisex bathroom. I exited to the rush of the toilet flushing, calling out as I opened the door: "Don't get excited. Still nothing." The nurse wanted to go home just as badly as Billy, my mom and I did. She was waiting for me and one other patient to go. And rather than admitting us, she stuck around, crossing her fingers for us, hoping we'd all be able to go home soon.

"I have your discharge papers all ready," she said as she strolled to my bedside. "When you pee, you can go. So just let me go over this with you quickly. No driving for 24 hours. No working out for at least a week. No sex." She looked at Billy, then back to me. "Okay? No sex. For a week. Okay?"

"Got it," I said.

"Nothing inside you for a week. No tampons, no toys..."

"OKAY," I said, letting out a nervous laugh. It was one thing to be naked in front of my mom and boyfriend at the same time. It was quite another to discuss the use of toys in front of them. I thanked God that my father and brother had left the hospital when my doctor told them everything was fine.

"No lifting," she continued, undaunted. "Stairs are okay, and it's better if you try to get up and walk from time to time. Drink a lot of water, and leave your bandages alone till Friday. Keep them clean and dry till then..."

"You mean," I interrupted, "that I can't shower till Friday?"

"Yes. That's what I mean."

I crinkled my nose. Great, I though. I get to be bandaged and stinky. Awesome.

She went through a litany of things I should and should not do, then capped off her speech with the good news. "We've got some drugs for you, too."

"Will they be as good as the ones I'm on now?"

"No. That's the really good stuff. But we've got some other good stuff for you to take home."

We sent Billy out to pick up the controlled substance that would get me through the next few days. We hoped that I'd pee by the time he got back. I didn't.

They moved me to another room, Billy brought me more water, we waited.

Finally, I rushed from the bathroom, elated. "Does just a little bit count?" I excitedly asked the nurse.

"Yes it does! You're free!"

We dressed me and declined the use of a wheelchair. We got me out to the car. "Can we stop somewhere and get me something to eat?"

"Of course we can, baby," Billy said from the driver's seat. "Anywhere you want."

We settled on Arby's. I ate my Beef 'n' Cheddar like it was my first meal in a month. We headed home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Impatient Outpatient

Once again, I am on the eve of surgery. Since I woke this morning, I have had to refrain from smoking, and I will not be allowed to imbibe any adult beverages this evening. Even though, for reasons completely unrelated to my surgery, I could use a vodka. Or twenty. I have a whole post I'd like to write about why, exactly, I could really use a good bender right now, but that's just going to have to wait.

At any rate, I went to the hospital today, gave more blood, just in case I need it. I got a very fashionable bracelet to wear through the night. I'm all ready for surgery.

This time, I'm not even really thinking of it. I'm just sort of anxious to get it over with. I want to be able to smoke again, and to hopefully go a few weeks without feeling, as I do now, like there's a vice grip around my midsection. That's the goal. I just want it to be done. I'm starting to get impatient; I just want to get there, go under and get out. I'm no longer worried or nervous or full of angst. I'm just tired of waiting, and ready to be done. I just got the call from the hospital, and I'm the first same-day surgery that my doctor is doing tomorrow. But I do have to follow two "major surgeries." So I have to go in at ten, but I've been advised to call before I leave the house. Here's hoping I get right in and right out.

So this time, hopefully for real, I really am going to be absent for a few days, at least until I'm good and recovered. I'd blog from home, but, as I've said before, our computer decided it no longer felt like turning on. (Which is pretty much the last straw for that thing. If Billy doesn't throw it out of a window and into a tree, I will.) So, unless I visit Ma & Pa's house, this will be my last post until Monday.

Everybody have a great rest of the week, and an awesome weekend. Ya'll come back now, y'hear?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Because Blogger Sucks...

...and wouldn't let me on all morning, you get another list. Sorry.

1) I went to The City (and for those of you who don't live in the tri-state area and think I could be referring to any city when I say The City, that's New York City I'm talking about. Yeah. I'm a badass.) on Saturday night with a friend and her boyfriend to see Jim Florentine at Caroline's. Sitting out in the lobby/bar/waiting area, killing time before the 12:30am show started, my friend's boyfriend was asking me about Sirius Radio, a luxury I love so much that I may marry it (I hope it proposes! Cross your fingers for me!).

"So," he said, resting back on the couch we were seated on, the back of which was maybe 10 or 12 feet high. We all felt like kids, or at very least that we had all unwittingly stumbled onto an Alice in Wonderland set. "How does the Howard Stern station work? I mean, is it just Howard's show all day long, on constant repeat?"

"Actually," I said, sitting up a little straighter, preparing to speak with authority, "he has two stations. And on one of them, yes, it's his show on an all-day loop. But there are like, Howard News Team reports and a show about the show that morning. Stuff like that. On the other channel there's some different programming, and a few other guys with their own shows."


"There's this guy, Bubba the Love Sponge. He's really raunchy. But I like him. There's also a guy, Farrell, on there. But I can't stand the guy, so I don't listen to that one. He just grates on me."

Cut to a half hour later, where we go in to get seated. "We have seats right up front, would you like them?" said the Caroline's employee. Feeling brave and crazy, we said yes. We didn't know when he said "right up front" he meant "not even a centimeter from the stage. Like, if the comedians get sweaty, and it rolls off of their person at any point, it will probably hit you in the face." So, we go, and sit practically on the stage. There were five of us, but the tables are made to seat 12, set perpendicularly to the stage. And the six seats away from the stage were occupied by what appeared to be a group of friends. The guy sitting almost across from me spoke, and I thought Gee, his voice sounds familiar, and the more he spoke, the more I thought I knew him from somewhere. Until I realized, Holy shit! That's the guy whose show I don't listen to on Sirius because it drives me crazy! So this guy was sitting right across from me, and even though I don't like him, or have anything to say to him because I'm not a fan, I fought the urge to say "Hey, man, I listen to you on Sirius." I didn't say it, though, because that would be a lie. If I hear him on Sirius, I change the channel. Because he's obnoxious and loud and he never lets anyone finish speaking. BUT, there in the comedy club, he was quite polite and quiet. Who knew.

Anyway, aside from that, the show was alright. The comedians were okay, but it's wasn't the rowdy, laugh-till-I-cry laughter I expected. (To be fair, the opener/announcer guy was funny. And I like Jim Florentine for the way he messes with telemarketers, not his standup.) But I had a great time, anyway. And, shit, what are the chances that I'd be sitting right across from a guy I was just talking about. As one of my companions for the evening said, "Only in New York."

2) Sunday was absolutely beautiful here. Billy and I, his cousin and my brother, decided to go to a lake about two minutes from our house to fish. Although my idea of "fishing" is more "sit on the shore, read one of my new books and drink and/or smoke." So that's what we did. The boys headed down the rocky beach to cast their lines, and I sat in a collapsible chair in the grass and read Augusten Burroughs. Last time we did this (Chase and Billy and I), I had the foresight to wear my bathing suit, to get a little bit of color on my pasty skin. This time, however, I decided not to, as it was sort of cool and I didn't think we'd be out there that long.

Three hours, a picnic lunch, half of my book, about twenty fish and one snake later, I looked down and saw that, oh yeah, I got color alright. Nice and pinkish-brown, all down the front - and only the front - of my arms, on my chest (in the exact shape of the two layered tank tops I wore that day) and on the bottom three quarters of - once again, only - the front of my legs. Oh yes, and in the shape of the shoes I wore, too. I hadn't noticed myself getting burned because it was cool and windy and I didn't really feel the sun at all. Until I was standing by the shore, looking for a snake that had just disappeared under a rock (but that's another post for another time), and I felt the sun reflecting off of the water and hitting me with what felt like a million shiny little razor blades. So now, when I'm shirtless, and pantsless, I look like I'm still wearing that tank-top and pedal-pusher and wedged-heel outfit of yesterday. It's very, very sexy. And comfortable too.

On the bright side of this story, Billy has now taken to calling me his Faberge Egg. "So priceless and beautifully decorated, yet so fragile." Of course, when he followed it with a comment about not being able to take me anywhere without some sort of injury/rash/malady, it wasn't as cute. I just liked that he called me priceless. Because I'm a nerd.

I'm just hoping that this lobster-thing I have going is going to fade into a nice brown instead of the blotchy, itchy, bumpy sun poisoning I'm accustomed to. I've been applying a blue jelly Banana Boat product with aloe and lidocaine pretty regularly, hoping to stave off the inevitable grody rash that comes when I foolishly spend time in the sun.

BUT, I know that, if I don't do some tanning now, I'm going to either blister and pop, or just spontaneously combust when we get to Mexico in August. So I have to do some tanning/burning now to get it overwith. I don't want another fight with sun poisoning to sabotage another trip of mine.

3) I bitch a lot about old drivers. But the group of drivers I haven't mentioned yet are the young assholes. Granted, I'm more irritated when I get stuck behind someone doing roughly twenty below the limit (which I did everytime I went somewhere this weekend. Seriously. Every. Fucking. Time.), but I just can't go any longer without mentioning the passion with which I hate teenage drivers. Not your nice, normal teenaged drivers, who are bound to blossom into responsibly-driving adults. Those kids are fine. It's the 19 year old in a customized Honda, with the muffler that makes his car sound simultaneously like an insect and a Harley. With the sound system, and the rims and the lowered body kit. He probably has a real fancy paint job, and maybe even some weird bumper that changes the look of the car. The make, year, model and customization options are unimportant, as they will change from kid to kid. What will NOT change, however, is how horribly they drive. Fifty miles over the speed limit, through a residential section. Passing on the double yellow. Passing in the turning lane, even though signs clearly instruct them to refrain from passing. Cutting people off, not because they need to, but because they think it's fun to fuck with people. They ride your ass, they rev their engines unnecessarily. They're horrible. What ever happened to normal, law-abiding drivers?

I mean, sure, I speed. We all do. But it's maybe ten over the limit and I generally try to respect my surroundings. In a neighborhood, I don't crank up my gangsta rap so that the elderly people enjoying their dinner have to listen to every curse word imaginable. I try not to let the thumping of my bass shake the siding off of houses I pass. I don't cut people off. And most people just apply common laws of courtesy when driving. Why can't teenagers? And, on a related note, when did I get old?

4) I was elected today to go and pick up lunch for my coworkers and myself. I also had to stop at the bank and go to the convenience store and pick up bottled water and candy. I always plan my drives so that I have to make as few left turns as possible. (I just don't like making left-hand turns, okay?) So my first stop was at the convenience store. And, as is my habit, I rolled up my windows, turned off my car, opened my door and grabbed my purse to walk inside. Much to my surprise, my purse was quite light. Only then did I movie-flashback to the office, where I set my overstuffed wallet on top of the business checkbook, then cut to me leaving the business, and the camera pans to the wallet still sitting on the checkbook. I groaned. I had some cash with me, and since I was stopping at the bank anyway, it wasn't the money issue. It was the driver's license issue that bothered me. I always take my license with me. EVERYWHERE. I'll make sure I have it when I drive the four minutes of deserted country roads between my house and my parents'. I take it with me even when I'm not driving, just in case something terrible happens, for identification purposes. But I never drive without it. Ever. Knowing, then, in the gas station parking lot, that the drivers license was not sitting there in my wallet, made me uneasy. What if I got pulled over? "It's just a few miles," I said uneasily to myself, shrugging. And I turned my car back on and went to leave. Waiting to turn out of the parking lot, a state trooper drove by.

I pulled out onto the main drag and went exactly the speed limit. I'm not sure what the penalty is for driving without a license, but I imagine it involves handcuffs and the words "We're going to have to take you down to the station." So I was careful. Very careful. But I felt like there was a sign on the exterior of my car that shouted "I'm driving without proof that I'm legally allowed to do so!" Never has my ten minute lunch pick up seemed so long.

5) Everyone in the office has just decided that they all want to hang out somewhere to do their various tasks. And they all decided that my desk is just the place to do it. Which is awesome because we all know how much I love sharing my space. But it also means I have to stop typing before someone notices that there's really no need, ever, to type this much at my job.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I Love a Quickie

It's literally closin' time here at work, but I figured I'd write a quick post before I left this job (where I do nothing) to go home (where I also do nothing. And laundry.). Just a few random tidbits for the weekend....

Our computer at home has finally, officially, once again, crapped out. Which is a big surprise to someone whose boyfriend spent a couple hundred on getting it back up and running. AND who did without said computer for, oh, MONTHS while the "repairmen" in town "fixed" the "problem." I went to turn it on Thursday night, and - surprise! - it didn't. It just sat there, smugly crossing its little wire arms across its keyboard chest and refused to light up with activity. Everything was plugged in, everything was hooked up. I hit the button hard, soft, with my finger, with my toe, with my shoe, with a pen. Nothing. Up until Thursday, it had been on at least once a day. But Wednesday it saw no action. Much like a line from a movie (the title of which I can't remember, and I can't remember who said this, or what actor it was, or if it was male or female) that said sharks can't stop swimming for even a minute because they'll forget and drown and die, our computer probably needed to be fondled at least daily, to remember what it was like to turn on and, you know, work. And since we, the horrible owners that we are, neglected it, it drowned and died.

So, RIP computer. Even though you sucked for the last month anyway. It was (meager) fun while it lasted.

But this means no limewire downloads. No blogging from home. No ipod updates for poor Billy. Who has now lost his entire music collection for the SECOND time in less than a year. CPUs don't favor my boyfriend much.

Another, final, thing. I think I would be a much better communicator with my friends if everyone I knew just accepted the fact that I'm a much better text-messager than I am phone-talker. I could text until my fingers fall off. Talk on the phone? Not so much. I'll talk for, like, three minutes, and then this sense of boredom/panic washes over me that inspires me to think "I need to get off this phone now!" and "I have something else I could be doing!" simultaneously. Also, I rarely answer my phone in my car because, frankly, my car is the only place in my life that is truly mine, and I see phone calls during my drives to be an intrusion of my alone-time. So I let calls go to voicemail. Which I then hate to listen to. But I do. And then I forget to return phone calls (Adriana, I'm calling you back today), and then people think I don't want to talk to them. Which is SO not true. I just don't want to talk to them on the phone. I'd much rather talk to them in person. Because, basically, I see telephone conversations as meeting coordination ONLY. Nothing else. I rarely catch up with people over the phone, unless they live far away. But I really just don't enjoy it if I know I could just as easily drive and meet the caller somewhere. So, yeah, my point? Text messages are the way to go.

However, on a related note, is anyone else who texts a lot unable to get into the texting lingo? I seriously cannot send a text message in the faster, fancier abridged text that everyone I know is so fond of. I have no problem reading it, deciphering it, enjoying it...But I just can't write it out. For some reason, my brain is wired to ONLY write in full, proper words. I finally, after months, stopped capitalizing everything. And that still makes me a little queasy. Perhaps I have an obsession with grammar?

Okay, so that's it. It's 3:12, and I have to go home. There's...well, there's nothing waiting for me there, but it'll be better than being at work!

Have a good weekend!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sushi Grade

It's 8:30 in the morning, and it's still dark outside. I drove to work with my headlights on and my wipers set at full speed. I sipped my coffee from my ever-present Dunkin Donuts mug, the one I stole from Billy's cabinet and claimed as my own roughly a month after we started dating, and splashed my way up Route 6. Waking up in the absence of sunshine keeps me from actually waking up, it makes my shuffle my way through my routine, dragging my feet as I move from bed to kitchen to bedroom to bathroom. I meander through my shower, creep through my makeup. I stare at my closet and look at the clothes I know I'll be wearing, too lazy to even reach up and grab them. I just feel resigned. Tired. A little bit sad.

The chugging from the air conditioner we installed Tuesday night filled the room. But the air it was pushing out wasn't cold; in fact, our bedroom was hotter than the hallway just beyond our door. A compromise was reached last night when Billy got home, late, from work and came in to find me watching Sex and the City in a below-freezing room.

"Where's my snowsuit? Have you seen my gloves?" He said, pulling the knot out of his tie.

"Turn it off if you want to. It was just hot in here earlier. I don't mind if you turn it off and put the fan in the other window."

"You really love air conditioning, don't you?"

"Yes. Yes I do. But you can turn it off. I don't mind."

"We'll just turn it down, okay?" And he walked over and turned it from "Coolest," the temperature I'd set it on, to just "Cool." "How'd you sleep last night? Okay?"

"Yeah, I slept like a rock." I'd passed out at 10:00. "Except I woke up with a stiff neck. I must've fallen asleep in a weird position."

"No, it's the air conditioning," he said. "I have a stiff neck too, and I haven't had a stiff neck since we got this bed."

I discounted his statement, blaming the fact that I guzzled three strong Vodka-tonics in the sunshine the day before, which had obviously caused me to go comatose in some strange position while he watched old, recorded episodes of Two and a Half Men.

And this morning, the room was warm but the AC was still on, and my neck is stiff again. Maybe it was the AC. But I know for sure that I felt it the moment I woke and reached to slam Snooze on the alarm. My neck would only turn so far. "Fuck," I hissed, turning my whole body when just my neck wouldn't cooperate. Now, I was irritated that I was having to wake up, irritated that the radio that wakes us had somehow faded from a Lite Rock station to a grating wall of exceedingly loud static, and irritated that my neck was frozen into an awkward position. It was dark, I was hot, and even putting on the new terry-cloth sundress/robe thing I bought yesterday at TJ Maxx didn't make me happy, despite its bright, hot pink color.

Only when I was lathering my hair in the shower did I realize why my mood was so sullen. I had a strange dream last night, the details of which I don't quite recall, only that I remember thinking "It's just a dream. It's okay. Wake up. You have to wake up. It's just a dream." I know it had to do with Billy, and I know I was crying, and I remember feeling unbridled glee when I realized, in my dream, that it was, in fact, a dream. I must've been teetering on the edge between REM and lucidity, as my reaction to the dream was physical enough to feel real, but I was somehow aware that it wasn't and I needed to wake up.

When I sat, post shower, in my bed next to Billy to apply my makeup, I told him about the dream. "I had a weird dream," I said, pulling my tools from my makeup bag: Foundation sponges, eyeshadow brush, eyelash curler, powder brush, blush brush. From the corner of my eye, I saw his reaction.

An exasperated eyeroll, a sigh. "So, tell me. What did I do now?"

I let out a small, tired laugh. "I'm not sure, exactly. I'm pretty sure you broke up with me, but in some horrible, harsh way. And I kept saying 'Nah, you're not serious,' and you were like 'Yes I am. Get your shit out of my house.' And, somewhere in there - and it's the only thing I remember with any clarity - I realized 'Oh my god. It's just a dream. It's okay. Wake up.' It was just weird." I curled my eyelashes, checking the curve of my lashes in a hand mirror.

From behind me, reclined in bed, Billy's voice came: "Why are you so insecure?"

I clamped the curler on my left eye's lashes, hoping that the stinging I felt in my nose wasn't a precursor to tears. I don't know why I am. But I am. And it doesn't even make sense. "I'm not that insecure. I mean, sure I have my weak moments..."

But that's a lie. Because I am. I'm terribly insecure, and it seems incurable.

"When are you just going to understand, believe, that I love you very much?"

Here's the worst part. He shows me, every single day, how much he loves me. Not only does he tell me, but he shows me. He shows me with the air conditioner, with his phone calls and random text messages, he shows me with his presence at every turn with my health issues. He kisses me, he calls me beautiful, he spends his time with me, he talks about the future, he lets me know I'm in it.

But, still, I don't always believe.

I go through phases: There will be weeks, months, that I don't doubt, even for a second, that Billy loves me. But then, there are the days, the moments, where I just don't believe it. Not that I think he's lying, but I think everything will change. Because this is too good, he loves me too much. I don't deserve this. And my luck is sure to run out soon.

Because I've been told before about forever. I've been pumped full of Future, and Family, Marriage, Life, A House Together, Growing Old. And it never happened. And I never loved anyone the way that I love Billy. So it's terrifying. Because what if the same thing happens? What if he's full of Future now, but realizes, in months, years, that he doesn't with that with me?

There are moments, when I bring him his coffee and set it by him while he's still sleeping, that I just can't believe how lucky I am. I love him, and he loves me back. Just the same. The scales aren't tipped in anyone's favor. It's just wonderful, equal, all-that-I've-ever-wanted, love. You spend so much time wishing and hoping for something like this, and when you get it, you hope it lasts forever. I just wish I had a guarantee, something concrete, that it will.

The insecurity isn't fear that he doesn't love me as a person. It's not am I enough, am I good enough, does he love me as I am? I am enough, I'm good enough, and he does love me as I am. I'm just scared that the forever I want will fade from his mind, but not from mine. I'm still scared that, eventually, his love of freedom with trump his love for me. It's happened before.

"I do believe you," I said. I just don't ever want to lose him. He knows that.

Driving home from the hospital on Wednesday, we somehow started talking about me. "You," he said, "with your hard, steel outer-shell. And your soft, sushi-grade inside." He kissed my hand that he was holding and smiled. "I know you."

He does. He got through the little shell I fashioned, and found my sushi grade insides, the ones that give when confronted by worry, doubt. They're malleable and raw. The insides that make me push other people away before they get a chance to reject me. The insides that love so completely, so full-throttle, that they can't help but fear that there won't be much left if it falls apart. And he loves me anyway.

I know it could get old to him, loving someone like me. But he does it. Because we wants to, and because he loves me like I love him. He knows I'd give him the world if I could, and that I'd do anything for him. And he knows that ups and downs are to be expected. Just like I do.

It's been an hour since I started writing, and it's sunny out now. And I feel better. Funny how that works.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It Figures

Preparation for my surgery took up my entire Tuesday night. But not in the prepare myself for being operated on kind of way; more like the prepare the house because my mom will be here kind of way. I cleaned the kitchen and did our laundry and washed my sheets - I did what I could to make the house as presentable as possible on the eve of what would be her first visit to the house I call home.

My car's significant oil leak presented a problem for me, in that I needed to get to Wal Mart to stock up on snacks and items that I'd be needing while I was unable to leave the confines of my house. Not only was I going for food, but I also intended to pick up the air conditioner I'd need for the bedroom. Billy and I have thus far lived in an air-conditioner-less bedroom, surviving the hot nights with a fabulous window fan, and generally staying out of our sunward-facing, second story bedroom during the daylight hours. My mom had commented, last week, that I'd probably be quite uncomfortable post-op in the heat of our bedroom, so I threw out the notion of a window unit air conditioner to Billy. "I hate air conditioning," he said, shaking his head. "It makes my throat hurt, and we have to keep the windows closed, and that sucks for smoking."

"But," I argued, "we keep the windows closed all winter and you're fine with that."

"Yeah, but now is the time we can actually air it out. I really just don't want an air conditioner."

So, I figured, since he said no, I'd go buy one and maybe even install it myself, on the condition that it would be removed after I'd recovered.

But my car wasn't cooperating. There's something obscenely embarrassing about having to check your oil in a crowded Wal Mart parking lot. And I wasn't all that thrilled about having to pop my hood and possibly add a quart or two of oil while a good two-thirds of my townspeople walked by. Also, what if I ran out somewhere between home and the Supercenter, and my engine exploded. I didn't need that. So I scrapped the idea. We could live without Baked Lay's for another few days. And I'd just have to live without AC.

But Billy called on his way home, early, from work. I told him I'd been busy scrubbing down the house, and that we have new sheets on the bed and clean clothes in the closet. "Aw, babe. That's awesome. Hey, when I get home, why don't we drop your car off at the mechanic, and I'll take you to Wal Mart, and," long, resigned pause, "we'll pick you up an air conditioner."

I nearly shouted with glee.

And so we went, picking up a cart full of easy-to-prepare food and other various accoutrements for my three day sit in. He hefted the air conditioner into our cart and, almost to himself, said, "The things I do to make you happy." Oh, and he does.

We installed the window unit upon our return to our newly-clean bedroom. I say "we," but he did the actual work. I held open the window and passed him screwdrivers and foam window buffers. And then I kissed and hugged him to the point of disgust for being so kind as to not only get the air conditioner, but also to install it immediately.

Wednesday morning we woke up (in the delicious, cool, air-conditioned room) and prepared for surgery. I showered and shaved well (to avoid the inevitable sloppy shaving the hospital would try) and steeled myself for surgery. Although, I did a horrible job of steeling myself: I couldn't help crying over the intense gratitude I felt for Billy installing the airconditioner, and then over the fact that I accidentally spilled Billy's coffee all over the bedroom floor. "Relax," Billy said, clearly frustrated over my hyperactive emotions. "It's okay. Don't cry."

"I'm not," I cried, wiping my eyes with one of the paper towels from the roll he was using to clean the carpet. My mouth wouldn't cooperate with me, and kept insisting on turning into a frown and quivering. "It's just that I haven't smoked in two days. And I think it's making me too sensitive." I flopped backwards onto the mattress and stared up at the ceiling, unbidden tears rolling down my cheeks.

"I know baby," Billy said sweetly, his hands full of coffee-stained paper towels, as he leaned over to kiss me. "It'll be over soon."

My surgery was scheduled for 11:30. We planned on leaving by ten, and informed my parents that we'd be at their house then. And, just as I picked up my bag to head out the door, my phone rang.

"Laurie, this is Mary from the hospital. How are you?"

"I'm okay," I said cautiously. I immediately checked the clock, trying to decide if maybe my surgery was scheduled for 9:30, and I'd heard them wrong and now I was late.

"Listen, your doctor is running behind schedule, so we can't get you in until 2. Do you want to wait and come in then, or are you starving and have a headache and want to just come in so I can start your IV and get you prepped?"

"I'll come in," I said, with authority. I knew that sitting at home would only make me slip and take a drag of a cigarette (that Billy was kindly smoking out of my presence) or a sip of water.

"Okay, just don't come in before 12:30, because I don't even have a bed for you yet."

"No problem."

I told Billy, then called my parents. "We'll be leaving at 11 instead. They're backed up," I said.

"No problem, sweetie," my dad said.

And so I laid on the bed, took of my toenail polish and watched Switch with Billy.

We left right on time, heading over to my parents' house to lead the caravan of cars that made up my parade for the day. Billy and me in the lead car, Mom and Daddy in the middle, Chase pulling up the rear. And we drove, all in a line, the hour it takes to get to the hospital.

We walked through the sliding glass door that lead to outpatient surgery, filling up the quiet hallway with our loud voices. I headed to the check-in desk, my posse of loved ones behind me, got my little bracelet and my paperwork, and we headed to the waiting room.

We took up a whole section of seats, the five of us, sitting there talking about memories, making jokes. We giggled over everything: My lack of makeup, the fact that I brought a purse and a bag of stuff, complete with change of clothes, for a two-hour operation that wouldn't require an overnight stay. We tried to stifle the laughter that erupted when a man of roughly 80 hobbled through the waiting room wearing a mesh shirt, basketball shorts and Teva sandals. "Damn," Billy whispered loud enough for the other four of us to hear, "I was going to wear my mesh shirt today."

While we giggled and waited, time crept by. Having not had anything to eat or drink (even water) since before midnight the previous day, I was starting to become uncomfortable. My mouth was dry, my belly growled to remind me it was there. A headache was beginning to form, due to lack of food and caffeine. One-thirty, two-thirty...Sitting in an uncomfortable seat, waiting for my turn.

"This reminds me of a sitcom," Chase said, turning his body to face Billy and me. "You know where, like, one of the characters is in the hospital or something, and the whole episode is flashbacks? That's what this is like."

And it was. We all laughed about our roles, and I glanced again toward the side of the room the nurses came from. "But if they don't call me in soon, we'll be reminiscing here overnight. Or, worse, some other day." I checked the clock again. "I'm, like three hours late, here."

"They'll get you soon," Mom reassured me.

And, just like that, my name was called. I gave an over-enthusiastic "WOOHOO!" and jumped up, not unlike the audience members of The Price is Right do when their names are called. But the nurse's solemn shake of her head quieted my celebration. "Don't tell me I have to be rescheduled," I said, eyebrows furrowed.

"I need to talk to you," she said sadly.

We sidled up to the check-in desk, me with my cotton-mouth, my comfortable loose fitting clothes, my no makeup, my polishless toes, my prepared-for-surgery mindframe, her with her scrubs and a look of regret. "We had two emergency cesarean sections, and another one that was scheduled. We have a girl in here before you, and she's been with her IV for two hours. We have to take her today, because she's ready, but we can't even operate on her until 4:30, at the earliest. Then it's another two hours for her surgery, meaning we can't operate on you until 7, at least."

I stared at her. Maybe I blinked a few times.

"Now," she said, her smile sympathetic, "we can still do you today, but I'll be honest with you: I wouldn't want her operating on me at seven or eight o'clock at night, having been operating since six this morning. And that's almost twenty-four hours that you've gone without food or water. You can do whatever you like, but I think you should reschedule."

It made sense to me, to not want to have a surgeon digging around in my abdomen after working for over twelve hours straight. But I was all ready. I was ready to go under, ready to have the surgery. I'd blocked out three days for my recovery. I'd adjusted my work schedule. I had finally mentally prepared myself, sitting in the waiting room. Suddenly, I was no longer scared, no longer nervous or worried, just ready. And now I was being re-fucking-scheduled.

I resigned myself to the fact that it was the best and only option. "Let's reschedule."

My poor family, Billy included, sat there, all of them having taken the day off of work to sit there and wait for me, only to find out that there was no big pay-out. No big shebang. No fucking surgery.

I headed back toward them, my shoulders slumped and dejected. I couldn't help the tears in my eyes. Again, for the third time that day, I was crying. I laughed and gestured to my eyes. "I don't know what this is all about," I said. "I should happy. I can smoke now. I can eat. I just really wanted to get this over with."

Billy wrapped his arm around me. "It's okay. It'll get done."

I just felt so freaking bad. "I'm sorry you guys came all this way for nothing."

My dad closed his magazine. "It's okay, sweetie."

But it's just so fucking my luck to go in for an operation and then not get it. To stress out for weeks about a date, and then have it moved on me. In She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb, the main character does the same thing, worrying over her first day at college for months, then shows up that day only to find that she had the date wrong, and admission was still a week away. She was thrilled that she'd avoided her dreaded college experience, but upset because it just gave her another week to worry. That's how I felt. Simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

SO, that being said, my surgery is now scheduled for next week, and I'm just going to forget about until then. Although I am back at square one in terms of being ready for it, I'm not going to stew in worry and nerves. If my situation were risky, they wouldn't have told me it was no big deal to wait another week. And I think everyone is pretty sick and tired of hearing me talk about it. So, for now, things are back to normal.

For another week at least.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sorry I Can't Write More, I'm Busy Being CUT OPEN

It's my last day of work before my surgery. Which means that all the time I've been using to blog, which I should've been using to work, must be made up now. Which means that I am going to be a very busy girl today. I have bills to enter, bills to pay, money to appropriate, a desk to clean, letters to mail, and general tidying up to do. Because I'll be out for three or four days, and I don't want someone sitting here and finding that I'm a slob. Because I am, I just don't want it to be that obvious.

Anyway, today is pretty hairy. Because it's the day before my surgery and all sorts of worst-case-scenarios are running through my head. And because I need to get everything in order here before I go. And because I am under instructions to not smoke or drink alcohol today. So I have not had a cigarette since roughly 11:40pm last night.* And this is a horrible feeling. Actually, I really feel bad for my boyfriend and coworkers, because I am really crabby. And when I say "crabby," I mean "a raging bitch from hell."

Because not only am I on the eve of my operation, but my car, my beloved Gwen, is giving me problems. A phone call from my friend Chuck informed me that she's leaking an inappropriate amount of oil. And what does a girl of 25 do when there's a problem with her car? She goes straight to Daddy. Who lets her know that there is probably NO OIL IN HER CAR, according to the dipstick reading. Allow me to add that I am usually very good about this sort of thing. Because when you drive a '96 car with, oh, 140,000 miles on it, you have to kind of stay on top of stuff like that. But, somehow, I sprung a leak. Four quarts to fill it, and five extra quarts, just in case, and I'm up and running. Naturally, Billy is also on the case, calling me when he thinks I've made it to whatever destination I was headed, to make sure I got there and my motor didn't explode. Now I have to make an appointment to get my CAR's insides fixed, scheduling it to coincide with MY insides being fixed. Awesome.

So I won't be updating for a while, a few days at least. I'm going to the hospital this afternoon (after I check my oil and fill accordingly) to donate some blood to myself, should I need it during surgery. Then tomorrow, bright and early, I get to head to the OR with no makeup and no nail polish on and get my ovaries tinkered with. I'm scared, but I just want to get this over with. Wish me luck.

I'll be back soon.

*Please refrain from leaving "Why don't you quit smoking now?!" comments. I know. I've thought of that, too. We'll see, okay?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Lake Mohonk

We sat down at dinner, after a day full of decadent bliss - massages, eucalyptus steam baths, a dip in a mineral pool, calming tea, a bushel of grapes - in Mohonk Mountain House's luxurious dining hall. In our semi-formal dinner attire, we took a seat in the middle of the hall, surrounded by dark wood floors, thick beams, shiny silverware, other well-dressed patrons. We held hands over the table's linen and gave our drink orders to our young waitress. I felt hopelessly elegant there, rich and classy, in my cream-colored stilettos with my handsome boyfriend in his suit jacket. The whole day was positively lousy with romance, if for no other reason than it was a day of just Billy and me, indulging in things we never, ever get a chance to do. We chose our four-course dinners while I gushed to him over everything that we had done, over how enamored I still am of him.

The whole day was perfect, one non-stop festival of smooth pleasure. Our 7:00 dinner was the crowning jewel of our day. Except for one thing: The man sitting next to us.

He his party, four of them in total, followed the hostess to the table just to my right, and instantly began complaining.

"Well, I'm sorry sir, but that table is taken," the hostess said apologetically. Everyone there was friendly and accommodating, lending an extra air of luxury to the resort.

"We wanted to be seated at the window," the tall, portly man protested, his voice much louder than necessary.

"Tables are first come, first serve, sir." The hostess gave a smile that suggested both her regret and the fact that there was nothing she could do for him.

"But we have reservations."

"Everyone here has reservations," she reminded him. "So the table you get depends on your time of arrival. Had you arrived at your reserved time of seven, or a few moments before, we would have been happy to seat you near a window. It is, though, quarter-past, and that table has been taken."

"We'll wait then," he said gruffly.

"Unfortunately, sir, we are reserved for the rest of the evening. So I'll have to ask you to sit here. And I do apologize for the inconvenience."

"Fine," he said, throwing up his chubby hands. "I'm not happy about it," he warned, "but we'll sit here."

They took their seats, and the fat man took to entertaining his three dinner partners.

"Look at that guy," I whispered to Billy, tilting my head in the man's direction. "He started complaining before he even sat down." Billy looked at him, shrugged, and took a sip of his water. He didn't seem to care about our neighbor or his attitude, but I did. I was sucked in to the drama of their four-top.

I faded out of their conversation, irritated by the man's obnoxious demeanor, and back into a dialogue with Billy. Somewhere, when I wasn't paying attention, their young waiter arrived at their table.

The next thing I heard was this:

"I just need you to tell me," said the fat man, forcibly, "where this shiraz comes from. Is it Australia? Probably, it's Australia, but I need you to tell me where, in particular, this wine comes from." His chubby finger was jamming against the paper in front of him, his eyes glaring at the nineteen year old serving him.

The waiter advised that their wine list has the origins of each wine, but since the man was just looking at the waiter's notes, there would be no indication there. The poor waiter's booklet, with his orders from each table, the specials, and God-knows what else waiters keep in those things, was clutched in the chubby fist of the man, who I surmise must've strong-armed it away from the lad at some point during his specials speech.

"Yes, well, wine lists usually do have the locations." The condescension was unnecessary. "But I just need you to tell me where it's from." Apparently, the waiter was being quizzed.

The waiter reached helplessly for his book, to no avail. It was in the clutches of his customer, and would not be released until origin of each wine was given. The man began to flip through the different papers in the book, while the waiter stood over him, obviously overwhelmed by this man's gall. "I'll be happy to get you a wine list, sir."

"Forget it. That'll just take too long. My wife and I," he said, pointing to the hunched-over woman to his right, "will have the shiraz. I hope it's from Australia." He handed back the book, it being of no use to him anymore.

Again, I tapped Billy's hand and nodded my head in the man's direction. "Check this guy out, listen to him about the wines!" I whispered, this time with a ferocity in my voice that indicated it was worth paying attention to.

The man began to explain to his three bored guests the difference between various red wines. He was spelling shiraz a number of different ways, and explaining how each spelling indicated its place of origin. He capped off his impromptu wine class with something like "It's tough to go out to eat when you know so much about wine." He sighed, clearly feeling the burden of the wealth of knowledge he possesses.

"He probably just went to one of the wineries in this area," I said to Billy in a hushed tone, "and now he's an 'expert.'" I used air quotes.

"I bet 'he is,'" Billy replied, using his own set of air quotes and rolling his eyes at the guy.

The young waiter, who was starting to look scared and flustered, delivered the wine. We watched as the glass was set on the table, then as the man peered at the glass through squinty eyes. The waiter had begun to leave the table, for one of the many other tables for which he was responsible, when he was summoned back by the sausage-like finger of the man.

He lifted the glass and handed it back to the waiter with a look of disgust on his face so profound you'd think he found feces floating among his shirraaaazzz. "There's a spot on this glass," he said, the anger in his voice matching the disgust on his face. "What about yours," he said quickly to his wife, "check yours for spots, too." The wife just shook her head no. I wondered if she was embarrassed.

"I would totally spit in his wine," I said to Billy, now less anxious to lower my voice. There's a line between obnoxious and asshole, and this guy had a foot on either side.

When it came time to order, the waiter looked terrified. He just knew he was going to be subject to all sorts of questions. He was right.

"This seaweed salad. Is it real seaweed?" ("No," I said to Billy, whose eyes were glued, like mine, to the exchange at our neighboring table, "it's the fake stuff you put in fish tanks.")

"These wasabi mashed potatoes. What's wasabi?"

"Is this Angus steak very fatty?"

"This truffle dressing on the salad, what does it taste like?"

"How big is the sirloin?"

The waiter looked harried. He couldn't walk up to or leave that table without a million questions. I could sense his dread as he neared our section, aware that, no matter where he was headed, this man would summon him.

When the waiter wasn't standing right beside him, awkward and unsure, the man was busying himself by not letting anyone else at his table talk. He told story after story, looking to his wife for confirmation of each story ("Remember that time, in The City?") but not allowing her to actually say yes or no. The volume of his voice suggested his companions were hard of hearing, though they didn't seem to be. It seemed to me that he just believed he was very important, and that he wanted everyone around him to believe it, too. He punctuated his sentences with a shake or a stab of his corpulent hand, his too-tight-pinky ring reflecting the candle on their table. He laughed loudly enough to ensure that the entire resort could hear him, flashing his gold-capped rear tooth. His jowls shook with his raucous laughter, though those seated around him rarely did more than chuckle. He was clearly his own biggest fan.

When the waiter returned with the food and set it before each guest, the man questioned him. "Are you sure that's right? Because she," he said, pointing to the lady opposite him, "asked for no wasabi." He threw the word around like he was an old pro about wasabi, regardless of the fact that, moments ago, he had to ask what it was. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," the waiter mumbled.

I leaned into Billy, stupefied by this man. "So how much gross shit do you think they put in this jackass's meal?"

"As much as they could fit."

"Do you think his wife in embarrassed? I bet he does this all the time. Probably, like, every time they go out to dinner, he asks a million questions and acts like an authority on everything. I bet she hates going out to dinner, and usually avoids it at all costs."

"Maybe that's why she's sitting like that," Billy suggested, pointing to the wife's body language. When not eating, she sat with her body angled away from her husband, her arms crossed in front of her chest. She looked dejected, resigned to sit next to this man. The other people at their table sat uncomfortably, picking at their food or wiping away the condensation from their glasses. No one wanted to make eye contact with him, as though doing so would inspire him to tell you something he thought you didn't know. But even though no one looked at him, he never stopped talking.

Once the meals were all placed on the table, everyone but him picked up their forks and began the picking process, where they push the food around, examining it from each angle before tearing into their meat and potatoes. He, on the other hand, took a moment to tuck his linen napkin into his shirt.

"I am now," I said to Billy, disgusted, "licensed to hate this ass. Look at him." We glared in his direction. "You're not eating lobster, mothafucker. You're eating steak. Is it necessary? The napkin in the shirt," I said quietly. There was just something about that maneuver that seemed so smug, so asshole-ish.

Suddenly, there was activity at his table. He was searching for the waiter, with vigor. "Chris," he said, because apparently they were now friendly, "you got that wrong," he said, pointing with his fork his wife's meal. His double chin was sadly highlighted by the napkin tucked into his collar and he was chewing a piece of steak as he spoke. "She wanted wasabi, and she," he pointed his fork at the lady opposite him, "didn't want any. Are you sure you got it right?"

"Yes sir, I am."

"Actually, I think we're all wasabi-less." He paused for a second, chewing and assessing the bite he was taking as he spoke. "You said wasabi was spicy. This isn't spicy."

"I'm sorry, sir, but the only one without wasabi was her meal," he gestured to the woman. He waited for a second, then nodded and went to move away from the table.

"One more thing!" cried the man, obnoxiously swallowing his wasabi-less bite. "Close those blinds. Thanks." He gestured to the windows that lined the entire dining room. Apparently, the supple pink sunset did nothing for his appetite if he wasn't sitting at a window actually appreciating it. "It's too bright in here." He gestured to the other man at the table. "He's got sunlight right in his face."

"I'm fine, really," said the man, shooing away the instructions.

The fat man looked at him, his napkin-turned-bib swishing as his head turned. "No you're not. You're blinded by sun." He turned his attention to the waiter. "Close 'em." And we went back to his steak.

It was seriously almost as if he was still upset about not sitting by the window, and in seeing the sunset light creep through the dining room, he saw his opportunity to ruin it for everybody else.

"I hate that guy," Billy seethed. We were now blatantly staring, and no longer keeping our voices to a whisper. "What a dick."

"I feel bad for the waiter," I said, glancing at the frazzled boy who was clearly falling behind on his other tables because of this guy.

I've heard tales of these kinds of diners, but I've never actually seen one in action. I surprised myself with how much I despised him. I wanted to throw my dinner rolls at him. I wanted to go over and tell him that nobody is impressed. I wanted to walk by his table, lean over his fat back and whisper seductively, "I hope you know that every waiter in here took turns spitting in your meal tonight, asshole."

We grabbed our waitress. Billy motioned her closer and leaned in. "Could you tell that waiter," he pointed at the young man as he scuttled by, "that we're sorry that guy at that table is such a dick?"

She laughed and asked why. We told her the abridged version of the evening. "And just tell him that we feel really bad for him, that we're confirming that guy really is an asshole. Tell him we hope he has a good night when that table leaves." I, personally, don't know how waiters and waitresses do it. I have so much respect for them. I worked for one day in a restaurant, and I couldn't handle it. I don't know how they keep their composure.

"That is so nice to hear," she said. "Sometimes you think it's you, you know?"

"Oh, it's not him," I said. "It's that guy."

"Yeah, we hate him," Billy added. "Just not as much as his waiter does."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Happiness is Made of...

1) A late night drive with my little brother, where we cranked old Bon Jovi and sang at the top of our lungs. Last night, Milford was privy to a stirring rendition of both Livin' on a Prayer and You Give Love a Bad Name. Never before has this brother and sister duo thrown quite as much fervor and passion into singing. Much less, singing to Bon Jovi. Our mobile concert didn't end with those two classics, but there was a solo (mine) of Blaze of Glory, a solo (his) of Whitesnake's Here I Go Again (On My Own), a lead singer (me)/choir (him) performance of Madonna's Like a Prayer, complete with car-dancing: flailing arms and many hands-folded-into-prayer-position interpretive moves. This dancing and singing occurred on an excursion to the Dairy Queen, where Chase and I parked in the exact same spot in which we always park, sat in the exact same booth we always sit in, opened the door too hard like we always do, and I ordered the exact same thing I've ordered the past three times we've been.

"You're getting the Heath Blizzard again?" Chase asked, surveying the menu while the young employee scooped extra Heath chunks into my vanilla ice cream.

"Oh yes I am. What are you getting?"

Chase rubbed his chin like a man twice his age, indecisive and contemplative. "Do they have anything with Peanut Butter?" Oh my God, I thought. He's turning into our father.

"You could get a peanut butter shake or sundae. Or maybe a Reese's Peanut Butter cup blizzard," I suggested.

He let out a sigh. "Yeeeeah," he said, stretching out both the word and his long arms. "I think I'll get the Reese's Blizzard."

There's something about that particular Dairy Queen that brings out the goof in both of us. We sit in our little booth, scooping our ice cream into our mouths with long red slender spoons and can, for some reason, find humor in everything. It's been there that we've witnessed a thin and frail old man with a long, long beard, who closely resembled Father Time, with his family. He reminds us of an old, ridiculous country song that our dad has on one of his Old Time CDs called Trinkets and Beads. This is a song we've always pictured being sung by an old man not unlike the Dairy Queen patron, who would do a little jig while he sang "Trinkets and beads, trinkets and beads, got five times more than anyone needs..." We've spotted men in tank tops with backs and shoulders so hairy that they resembled the standard Big Foot image, who looked as though they'd stumbled into this establishment by accident while trying to terrorize some campers in the woods just behind the DQ's brightly lit facade. We've watched a woman decide that she didn't feel like walking to the Dairy Queen's restroom ("What?" She said to cashier, her baby resting on her jutted hip, "the restroom's outside? Forget it.") and change her screaming baby right there on the table. We've been goofy, Chase making me laugh so hard that people look at me like I'm crazy. He accidentally-on-purpose gets ice cream on his nose and cheeks, then, straight-faced, asks one of the employees for an extra spoon or something. I don't know why but it makes me laugh every time.

Our drive is always with the windows down, trading the comfort of air conditioning for the ability to stick our hands out of rolled-down windows during our dancing. We always get home windblown and sticky, but full and aching from laughter.

2) Flowers given to me, not by my boyfriend, but by my incredible friend Melanie.

She showed up on our Monday night date with them, a card in her outstretched hand, wishing me well for my surgery. But more than that, she just did it to cheer me up. And they have. They sit on the island in the kitchen, greeting me every morning as I stumble downstairs to make my coffee. The rose in the middle has bloomed since coming to my house, and the rest of the flowers (I'm not sure what they are...Sorry!) all swarm around the rose in the most beautiful and cozy way.

"I went to florist," Mel said as we took our seats in the smoking section of our local haunt, "and I was like 'What kind of flowers should I get?' And I was looking at everything they had, and I wanted to get you something different, but I was like 'NO CARNATIONS! I KNOW HOW SHE FEELS ABOUT CARNATIONS!'" She finished with a giggle that echoed mine and took a sip of her coffee. I blinked back tears of raw gratitude and sheer appreciation.

A good friend knows which flowers you hate. But, more importantly, she knows exactly what you need when you're feeling a little low. Who said you have to wait on your boyfriend to give you flowers? They're incredible coming from an amazing friend, who has known you for as long as you've been in Milford and also knows everything - and I do mean everything - about you.

I should've used my flash for the picture, and I should've used an actual camera instead of my camera phone. But no matter how good the picture, it wouldn't convey the way they make me feel every time I see them. A reminder of someone who loves me. Someone I love.

She's a friend I don't see all the time. Jobs, boyfriends, distance and life get in the way of our regular meetings. But months can pass between our encounters, and it still feels like no time at all once we're face to face. We don't talk on the phone, we don't email each other, but our marathon sessions together - which last a minimum of two hours - suggest a closeness you don't see everyday. We store up the happenings in our lives, and explode with stories as soon as we sit. After telling our waitress "We're gonna be a while," we spill our lives out on the table over coffee, cigarettes and some sort of meal. We laugh like we're the only patrons in whatever restaurant we've chosen. We've cried over our meals, laughed, sulked, complained, beamed. By the time we leave, our table is covered with empty sugar packets and a million secrets.

3) Playing an old CD on my way into work. Two, actually. The first one was MTV The First 1000 Years: R&B, where I found not only Bobby Brown's My Prerogative, but also Tina Turner's What's Love Got to Do With It. I'd forgotten I had the CD, but last night's flashback session with my brother made me seek something old and familiar. I turned it up and sang along, feeling lost in junior high or earlier, recalling the crushes and school dances that the songs carried.

I then switched to the stripped version of Gavin DeGraw's Chariot CD. It reminded me of this time last year, where I went with Chuck and Pollo to his concert. I watched him onstage, with his curly hair and his passion for what he was doing, with his quirky sense of style and his genuine joy, and I wished for someone. I just wish I could find someone like that. Passionate and creative, sentimental, unafraid, confident. I liked his curly hair. I loved his music. And I remember, standing there in the crowded and sticky theatre, how much I wished I had another half who would enjoy this with me. Someone eccentric. Someone, perhaps, with curly hair. Someone who wouldn't think me silly for wanting to sing and dance to the music, someone who could understand being swallowed whole by music, a moment.

Before I went to the concert, I told Billy, who was merely an acquaintance at the time, that I'd be seeing Gavin DeGraw. "You'll love it," he said. "He's incredible in concert."

And I did love it. And, after making those wishes over the strains of the song Meaning, I got Billy. The one who does understand, who doesn't blame me for loving a song because of the piano in it, the one who gets just as into music as I do, the one who sings along, loud and honest, when we're in the car together.

I got what I wanted.

I have all that I need.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ramble On, Laurie. Ramble On.

1. I am addicted to Vitaminwater. I mean, seriously. I bought $20 worth of the stuff at the IGA today. I drink roughly three to four bottles of it on a daily basis, and I'm wondering if it's really that beneficial to my health. Is it okay to drink that much? Can you have too much Vitamin C, B3, B6, B12, B5, Zinc and Chromium? Because I am such a sucker for this stuff.

Defense, Vitaminwater's Raspberry-Apple drink, says it aids in wound heeling. Should I be drinking this non-stop after my surgery? Will it really help me, or am I exactly the gullible idiot this company is after? I realize that whatever excess vitamin C you take in, you just pee out. But I take Centrum daily, AND Vitamin C tablets. AND I drink water and tea supposedly infused with MORE vitamins. Could I be doing myself more harm than good? Or am I doing nothing at all?

I can rationalize my addiction because this water, even though it has carbs and sugar, has got to be better than the liter or so of Dr. Pepper I used to drink on a daily basis, right?

Less than a half of my purchase today.

2. I finally updated the blogs on the right there. Finally, the ones with dead links have been updated. Seriously, it was driving even ME crazy. So Serra and Kristi, I'm finally linked to your proper blogs. And I have some new ones over there. FINALLY. I have seriously been meaning to do that for weeks.

3. I went through my pre-op paperwork today (it was in my purse), and I just realized that I can't wear MAKEUP OR NAIL POLISH during my surgery. Are they TRYING TO KILL ME? Seriously, I thought it was bad when I couldn't eat for 12 hours, but that's doable. Then they tell me I can't smoke or drink for 24 hours. And it sucks, but I can do it. NOW I see I can't wear makeup? What? And, the other thing is I have fake nails. Big, long, fake acrylic nails fashioned to look "natural." I swear, if I have to take them off, somebody better reimburse me the $60 it's going to cost me to put them back on. And do I have to go without toenail polish, too? Because that's just crazy. That may just be pushing it too far.

4. I was invited to a Purse Party in two weeks, a party where some woman sets up about a billion fake designer purses, and all the women ogle them and buy some good knock offs. Which sounds awesome. But then I asked what the price range is, figuring on about $20. Because that's what you pay on Canal Street in New York City or the flea market if you're a good bargainer. The woman who invited me says, "Oh, they range from, like, $50 to $100." Fifty to a hundred? Are you kidding me? Is it just me, or does it seem ridiculous to be paying anything more than $30 for a good fake bag? I mean, yes, it's cheesy to carry a fake bag. But I'm guilty. And I'll admit it. And I can't rationalize paying $1,000 for a purse. So I love fake bags. But there's something deep inside of me that refuses to pay for a knock-off what I could pay for a nice real Guess purse or a real Coach at TJ Maxx. Am I wrong?

5. I need a new CD. I've been listening to The Fray for months now, and though it hasn't gotten old yet by any means, my vocal range isn't compatible with that of the lead singer. It's always too high or too low for me to sing along comfortably. So I need something new, preferably by a chick, with awesome lyrics, preferably of the Love or Broken Hearted variety, so that I can have little mini-concerts in on my 20 minute drive to and from work every day.

6. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I really can't wait for the new Christina Aguilera CD to come out. But I will buy it when it does. Oh yeah. I said it.

7. Is it just me, or is everyone noticing how bloggers are slowly but surely starting to shut down their blogs either because they're over blogging or because they're going to blog for someone else? It makes me very sad, this trend. Especially this one. Because, even though she's blogging for VH1 now and she says she'll continue to update her blog, too, I know it's a lie. It's like the old "Let's just be friends, and see where it takes us" line in a breakup. You know it's not going to take us anywhere. They'll forget about you, and then you're just left, combing the archives for reminders of the way it used to be. You think I'm being dramatic? It happened here.

8. I also need some books to read while I'm laying around my house eating bon-bons for three days. I definitely want Augusten Burroughs' new one and this one by Laurie Notaro (and not just because we have the same first name...My friend Scott told me he couldn't stop laughing while he read it, and we both share an obscene, sometimes scary, love for David Sedaris. So I trust him.). But, really, those are the only two I can think of. I read five books in Belize. And I was drinking and actually doing other stuff, too. So I imagine that, if I'm not too doped up, I'm going to be reading a lot. Either that or watching a lot of porn. Ha! Kidding, mom! Maybe.

9. To anybody who read the now-removed grammar post, I'm sorry. That was pretty stupid.

10. In order to make up the time I'm going to be using for my trip to Mexico in August with Billy, I've been working every Saturday for the past two months. I will continue to work these days until my time has been dutifully made up. But now, I'll be taking three weekdays and a Saturday off for my surgery. At the rate I'm going, I will be working on Saturdays for the rest of my life.

11. But, my massage is on Sunday, at that pretty much makes up for it. The Spa called today to confirm, and asked for either "Laurie or William." It was sort of cute, the way they asked for either of us. It made me feel like a real couple. But, anyway, apparently, we have to be there early to "fill out paperwork," which I find a bit odd. I count on filling out paperwork at the doctor's office, but at a spa? It seems sort of silly. Shouldn't they just rub me all over and leave it at that?

12. I ordered something awesome for Billy for our year anniversary - A Ghana world cup jersey, with his favorite player's number and name on the back. At first, I was a little bummed because it was backordered until October. Now I find out that my order never went through, and the gift is now not available. I told him about it already (not only can I not keep a secret, but I thought since I know what I'm getting for our anniversary - the trip to Mexico - he should know, too.) and now I have to tell him to forget about it. Any suggestions for a new gift?

13. I downloaded and set as my ringer "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. I'm a little embarrassed every time it rings, but it makes me smile, too. It reminds me of junior high, walking home from school, the ice cream truck. I love it.

14. On a related note, DJ Jazzy Jeff will be DJing at a club about an hour from here in two weeks. My friend showed me the flyer and he goes "How much does that suck? Will Smith is making millioins of dollars per movie, and this guy is DJing at tiny venues. You think the Fresh Prince would've set him up with a gig in Philly or something." But I don't think Mr. Smith owes Mr. Jazzy Jeff anything. We argued about that for a while. But it all came down to the fact that we can't believe DJ Jazzy Jeff will be in Newburgh! Will he play and remix "Summertime?" "Parents Just Don't Understand?" "The Theme for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air?" In West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days... Ahh. That'd be incredible.

15. If I don't stop this now, I'm going to keep adding things to list until it's ridiculously long AND until the second I leave work. And there are things I should be doing; I should go and, you know, work.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rub Me the Right Way

For Christmas, Billy and I were given a gift certificate to receive, as a couple, massages and dinner at a resort about an hour away. The certificate itself, loopy script on the outside envelope announcing the contents are "Especially for you," has been sitting in my unmentionables drawer for months. We've been saving it, waiting to use it, initially, until our return from Belize. We reasoned that we'd be bummed out about our return to home after ten days in paradise, so there the certificate sat. Waiting. Getting massages, though, got lost in the shuffle of getting back home. Too much was going on to focus on making and keeping an appointment to get rubbed down.

Before we knew it, May had passed us by entirely and June was upon us. "We need to go get that massage!" Billy would say, reaching around to rub his own back for emphasis. But, still, our weekends were filled. Family obligations mixed with the desire to just stay home and have some time to ourselves kept us from scheduling it then. Even though that green envelope sang to me with each opening of my drawer, reminding me that I could be laying face-down on a plush table, getting rubbed down by some man with strong hands who would use fragrant oils and who would probably pay some panflute music in the background, I still put off scheduling our date.

So I moved the certificate from the drawer to my nightstand. Just so we could remember.

The last week of June, Billy turned to me, just before we climbed into bed, with the certificate in his hand. "Let's go do this. Seriously. We need to schedule it, or we're never going to do it." I nodded and tucked the certificate in my purse.

I scheduled it for this weekend.

Little did I know then that I'd need it now more than ever. I need to be removed from the people I know, the sights I see, and just spend some time with my boyfriend.

I will be spending that time here:

We have massages scheduled for late afternoon, so that we can spend a majority of the day walking the grounds of the Mohonk Mountain House, a place so beautiful that I nearly fainted when I looked it up online. I'd never heard of it before, much less been there, but the giver of the gift assured us it was incredible. I had no idea it was this incredible. Our massages will be followed by a brief interlude of an hour or so, and then it's onto a fancy dinner - to which Billy is required to wear a jacket and I am "encouraged" to dress up. But "encouraging" me to dress up is like "encouraging" a fish to wear scales. I was elated to discover it would be not only relaxing, but also dressy. I've been looking forward to it for weeks.

Last night, I couldn't stop complaining about my back. It hurt no matter what position I was in, standing, sitting or lying down. Motrin wasn't helping, and neither was my old friend Vodka. "I hate to ask you this," I said to Billy, arching my back to alleviate the pressure I felt, "but could you maybe rub my back for a minute? Right here?" I put my hand over my lower back and gave him a pitiful look.

"Of course, baby."

In the middle of his task, he spoke: "Hey! Our massages are this weekend, huh?" He said it as though he'd just remembered.

"Yes they are," I said into the pillow.

"Good. You could use it." He leaned down and kissed my back.

"So could you." My voice was muffled, so I rolled my head to the side to look at him. A truly excellent boyfriend is a boyfriend who will rub your achy back four days before your scheduled hour long Swedish massage. "You deserve it," I said, smiling at him over my shoulder.

"I can't wait," he said, smiling back and kneading exactly the spot that hurt.

Me neither.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Follow That Hallway All the Way Down, Then Make a Left, Then Go to Pre-Admissions, but Don't Take a Number, Just Let them Know You're Here."

My surgery is a week from today, which makes my date of operation July 19. This morning, I had my pre-op appointment, where they carted me from room to room, taking my blood, telling me a whole bunch of information about my procedure and recovery that I can't remember even now, let alone a week from now. (I was a little out of it, because I was not allowed to drink coffee before the appointment.) They told me I can't eat or drink anything for 12 hours before I go under, and I can't drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes for 24 hours before the surgery. That, my friends, is what I consider torture of the nastiest kind. If there's any time in my life where I'll need food, cigarettes and vodka and/or wine, it's in the 24 hours before they cut me open. BUT, on the brighter side, the surgery is laparascopic, so I'll only have three teeny incisions... UNLESS they have to cut me open-open and, I don't know, remove SOMETHING from my insides... But scarring should be minimal, and I should be up and about in three or four days. But I'm going to go ahead and tell Billy and my family that I'm still in pain for, oh, about a week or a month or so, so that they are forced to bring me whatever food tickles my fancy, some good movies, and maybe a piece of jewelry or two.

Hey, if you're gonna be operated on, might as well focus on the advantages, too, right? Right.

In going in for my "Pre-Admission" appointment, I should've had the foresight to bring with me a book or a magazine, or something to keep my attention during all that time I'd be stuck waiting for my turn to have my blood sucked. Because all I was left with were some ancient copies of Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, whose wrinkled covers suggested that they had seen better days. And that those better days were roughly three years ago, before they were man-handled by thousands of nervous pre-op patients. Other than that, the hospital offered little pamphlets and brochures on surgeries, hospital stays, patient's rights. Which brings me to the newest development in my Freak the Fuck Out Episode: Left with no other options, I thumbed through the hospital's FAQ brochure. It tells you about keeping your valuables in a safe place, using the safety rails of your hospital bed, asking for assistance when going to the bathroom after an operation, and asking the right questions of your doctor and staff before the surgery. And I quote: "Doing surgery at the wrong site is 100 percent preventable." Uh, duh. It went on to advise you to communicate with the staff to ensure your surgery goes according to plan. WHAT? I didn't even CONSIDER worrying about that. UNTIL NOW. Thanks a lot, Hospital Staff.

At any rate, as we all know, it's really not a HUGE deal of a surgery. It's just a huge deal to me because I'm a big baby/fraidy-cat (and according to Anonymous - who is, according to my sitemeter, from my area! He may even KNOW me! - an attention/drama whore), so naturally, this surgery is virtually the ONLY thing I want to talk about. Ever. About how I'm having surgery, how I'm scared of it...You know, regular drama queen stuff. I'm sure I'm driving everyone crazy with it: Mom, boyfriend, coworkers, you readers. I'm doing my best, however, to not work it into casual conversations with relative strangers. Like, when I'm getting coffee at the local gas station, I try not let the conversation go like this:

Cashier: "That'll be $1.15."

Me: "Oookay [distracted, digging in wallet]. Here you go. Oh, and I'll be having a bilateral ovarian cystectomy next week. Thanks!"

Cashier: [Bewildered look on face] "Uh. Okay? Have a nice day? [under breath] Freak."

So far, so good. I think, though, that the only reason I haven't brought it up to the gas station attendants/waitresses/salespeople I talk to is because I just know they'll say "Oh, that's no big deal. Women get those all the time."

So, yeah, I should be fine, physically. Mentally? Not so sure. I just twist and turn and freak out over everything, so as you can imagine, my hyper-active, overly-analytical brain is having a fucking FIELD DAY with this one. But, really, it should be okay. In doing this surgery, I'll save myself the risk of losing an ovary (or both) to, according to my doctor, an overly-aggressive cyst. (I picture that "Overly-aggressive cyst" as a cyst with a mustache and a deep voice and big muscles, possibly with a tattoo and a missing finger or two, with a scarred face, due to a knife-fight, of course.) So it's more preventive, really. I'm not so stoked about the fact that said doctor wrote "POSSIBLE OPEN" after each "Laparascopic cystectomy" all over my pre-op paperwork, hinting that it's more than just a distant, worst-case scenario option. But I know she has to write it. According to the nurse with whom I spoke today, my doctor is "meticulous" in the OR, which causes them to run late, so I shouldn't count on my surgery taking place right on time. Which irritates me, because it just means I'll be laying around in a stupid hospital gown stressing out for longer than necessary. But it means she's thorough. Which, when it comes down to it, is way more important than punctual.

But here's a fun fact I learned during all of this. Actually, I learned it yesterday when I decided to do the dumbest thing a pre-op patient can do: Visit to diagnose myself with all sort of horrible things! Anyway, I learned that ovaries are the size and shape of almonds! Who knew? Not me. They fucking hurt so much that I was under the impression they took up a good 3/4 of my abdomen, basically filling up all the space, about 2 inches above and below my belly button and all the way around my entire midsection, which would explain why I get cramps in my front, but also why my back hurts so damn much when it's that time of the month. But now I find out they're teeny-tiny. How can something THAT SMALL make me hurt SO MUCH and make me SUCH A HUGE bitch? Ah, the wonders of the human body.

But everything is now set for my admission a week from now. I have to revisit the lab the day before my surgery, "to donate blood. Just in case you need blood during surgery," (Thanks, Mr. Flobotomy. I needed to think about bleeding out, too.) but other than that, all systems are GO. And now there's nothing left to do but wait. And think of ways to pry sympathy from my loved ones for as long as possible.

Monday, July 10, 2006

We Land

A full day of flying has brought us here, to a dusty airport in what I assume is the middle of Belize City. Employees of the airport wheel two flights of stairs to our idling plane, securing the steps to the open doors while we in the plane clamor for our place in the exit line. Carry-ons drop from overhead compartments, bags are flung over shoulders, hair is fluffed, legs are finally, blissfully stretched. I peer out of my window while the heat from outside slowly makes it way into the aircraft, gliding over us as we wait, wait, wait. Finally, word is given that we’re free to disembark, and Billy and I shuffle our way out of the back of the plane. “I love this, in these countries, where they put steps in the front and the back,” he says over his shoulder as he leads me out. We step out into the heat, onto the tarmac, following our fellow fliers into the airport.

Everything is brown. Brown building, brown dust, brown people. Over the airport I can see palm trees, blue sky. The side of the building announces something in Spanish, words adhered to a stucco exterior. I look up at Billy expectantly, a smile spreading across my face. We’re really here. Oh my God. We made it. It didn’t seem real, even all that time in the plane and I still hadn’t quite wrapped my brain around the fact that I’d actually be somewhere when we landed.

I try to look casual, like I know what I’m doing. Like I’m not impressed. But I am. Because it’s different. Billy holds my hand tightly as I survey my surroundings like a kid, taking in every detail; smelling the air, noticing the way the breeze feels against my bare arms. He kisses me, mid-stride. “We’re here,” he says, squeezing my hand. “I know,” I say, amazed at the truth of it.

Everything about the airport is different than what I’m used to. The wide doors, the lack of a food court, the quaint set up. The toilet water is warm beneath me, the water from the faucet only comes out cold. There’s no air conditioning. The sweat accumulating on my upper lip and beneath my tank top just heightens my experience. I rush from the ladies’ room to Billy’s side, giddy like a school girl.

We make our way to the Customs line, passports and declaration forms in hand. I have no idea what to do, so I watch Billy for clues. At twenty-five, I've never traveled out of the US, but Billy had 28 countries under his belt before we arrived here in Belize. I love that I know he’s here to guide me, because I feel suddenly stripped of any knowledge I’ve ever had, unsure of what to do, just standing there with my passport, waiting to gain access to my vacation. We talk about nothing in particular, me with my eyes glued to the space just beyond the Customs Guy. As soon as I’m on the other side of him, I’m actually in a new country for the first time in my life. Once we're beyond the man behind the desk, we're legally on vacation.

A sweaty man in a button down shirt calls us up to his desk, his hand already outstretched for our documents. I can’t stop smiling while he circles and makes notes on my little declaration form. No, I’m not carrying any beef. Yes, I’m from the US. No, we don’t know where we’ll be staying. He takes out his stamp, thumps it against an inkpad and slams it into the clean pages of my blue passport. Billy, his hand wrapped around mine, nudges me with his hip. I look up at him and smile. I actually want to cry. “I’ve been stamped,” I say. “My first stamp!” I celebrate quietly as we collect our things and head to baggage claim.

Billy surveys the room, looking for other backpackers from whom we can gain direction. But there are none. I keep my eye on the slow turnstile that unleashes a parade of bags for all of us recently-landed tourists. Our backpacks, his red one and my gray one, make their way to us, and we grab their straps, still warm from the Belize sun outside.

With our backpacks secured to our bodies, we make our way to the main “terminal,” which, unlike the airports I’m used to, is just another room in the same small building. Our Belize book is tucked into one of the backpacks we’re carrying, and from that, we’ve deduced that Belize is not a country that boasts beaches. Famous for its coral, most of its sea side communities offer docks on which to enjoy the water; their beaches are more rock and coral than sand and waves. So we decide to book a flight to Placencia, a travel move made on the direction of Billy’s cousin, who promises quaint beauty and quiet beaches.

I stand behind Billy in line, letting him do the talking and make the decisions. Even though everyone around us speaks English, this is all new to me; The country, this method of travel. I'm accustomed to flying with bags of tightly-packed luggage secured beneath me on the plane, suitcases full of shoes and makeup, glittery tops for going out, casual clothes for milling about whatever city I'm in. But this is new, traveling with only a backpack's worth of belongings. No heels, no makeup. I'm not used to picking where we'll be headed upon our arrival, I'm used to knowing exactly what hotel I'll be calling home. But this was our deal: He brings me along on his annual vacation to somewhere, and I have to travel his way. Forsaking my makeup, my heels, my glittery tops.

I adjust my weight from side to side as Billy asks the Tropic Air agent, a smooth mocha woman with bright teeth and a wide smile, about the flights they offer. His speech takes on a different cadence as they speak, claiming an accent similar to hers. No contractions, no big words; simple English with clipped consonants and sharp vowels. I giggle to myself as he secures our seats on the plane.

We board a small plane, choosing solitary seats across the aisle from one another, both with views of the water over which we're flying. I've never seen anything like it in my life, all of this water, so clear and such a perfect shade of turquoise. We hold hands across the space between us while he laughs at my unbridled excitement. I look at him, saying with my wide eyes that I can't believe it.

Three stops later, and we're in Placencia. We make our way out of the 12-seater airplane and into the wide-open airport, sliding through the thick heat on our way inside. A sign on the door, "No shoes, no problem. No shirt, problem," makes us chuckle as we enter. "They do call it 'Barefoot Paradise,'" he reminds me, pulling open the door and letting me go ahead of him. We are lead to the taxi we've requested, and climb inside the back of a mangy old minivan. Billy tells the driver the name of a hotel he read about on the plane ride. The car bucks and lurches to start as the pock-marked driver nods and says "No problem."

We drive over bumpy dirt roads, as Billy recalls his days in Africa. He tells me about the public transportation there, how, in Ghana, there would be maybe ten or fifteen people squeezed into the five seats our taxi offers. I try to listen intently, but I'm too wrapped up in what's just beyond him, outside of the dusty windows. We heave through ruts and over blemishes on the dirt road, taking a narrow passage that squeezes between the ocean and a field of lush grass. We fly down a poorly paved road, where small buildings - homes and businesses - litter the low shoulder. We come into town, one road snaking through crisp white buildings, with tropically painted trim. Aquamarine, fuscia, orange, they pop out and away from the homes they highlight.

The driver stops in front of a small restaurant. "Here you are," he says to Billy. We look around and see nothing, beyond some residential homes, a few restaurants, a pharmacy. "Sea Spray?" Billy asks, loudly enough to be heard over the whining engine of the car. "Yeah," the driver says, turning his large body and opening his door. He lumbers around the vehicle and opens the back of the van. He pulls out our backpacks while we squirm out of the side door. "Sea Spray," he continues, dropping our packs on the dusty road at his bare feet, "is just that way." He points between the two buildings in front of us, nodding at the elevated sidewalk stretched between them. "Follow that," he says. "You'll see it."

We heft our backpacks over our shoulders and do as we're told, stepping up onto the narrow beige footpath. Conversations drift out of the screened windows of the buildings around us. Spanish music in one home, rap blasting from another. Coffee colored children run toward and around us, hopping off of the sidewalk and into the sand to pass. Bright pink flowers fall from imposing bushes sprouting from the sand, and, just off in the distance, we can hear the ocean.

We cross a T in the sidewalk and there, nestled behind squat palm trees, is our hotel of choice. Their lobby is a small building, just a desk and four walls, open to the sidewalk and, behind it, the beach. Billy talks to the man on duty and I peer out the back door. My shoes, flat-soled and pink, have trapped sand between my toes. I'm sweaty, and travel weary. But I'm in awe. It's dusk, and through the narrow door of the hotel, I can see the ocean. Palm trees undulate over clean sand, the remnants of the sun dancing over bright blue water. So this is why he travels so much, I think to myself, resting my shoulder on the door frame. I could finally see it, the draw to be somewhere different, somewhere new. The view, my surroundings, the town: They were all a surprise, a welcome diversion from what I see, day in, day out.

"You ready?" Billy says from behind me, chin hooked over my shoulder, taking in the same sight as me. He dangles a key in front of our shared view, and scoots around me to lead the way. I don't even have to answer.

Our second-story room is simple - seafoam walls hugging a basic bed, a bathroom, a small TV. But what it lacks in amenities it more than makes up for in location. The windows and the back door open to a porch, replete with multi-hued hammock and wooden beach chairs. The railing gives way to beach below us, affording us our own private view of the shore line, the water, the sky. The air is thick inside, and the single ceiling fan offers little relief. But out on the porch, a steady breeze flies up from the water, tousling my hair and ruffling my skirt with cool, damp fingers. Billy exhales and stretches out in the hammock, his long body curling the fabric into a lone parenthesis. He stretches his slender arms and rests them behind his head as I rest my elbows on the white railing. "What do you think?" he says, eyes closed. I look at him. "I think it's amazing," I reply, before resting my eyes back on the ocean before us.

Dusk has passed by the time we settle into our room, and we make our way to the restaurant a short walk from our hotel. The restaurant sits right on the shore, the thatched roof stretching over our heads the only thing between us and the air. We order drinks and seafood, and look out on the moon-kissed ocean while we wait.

Sweaty glasses of coconut rum and pineapple juice are set on the table by our smiling waitress. Billy makes a lazy circle in his drink with his straw, then sets the straw on the table. With his long fingers, he lifts his glass, tilting it toward me. "Toast?"

I smile, bowing my head and tucking my hair behind my ear. I take my own glass and hold it even to his.

"To us," he says, "for making it to Belize." I nod and pull my drink toward me. "And," he says, "to you. To your first trip away from America."

"To me," I agree, laughing. We take sips of our sweet beverages and resume staring at our new surroundings.

Bellies full, we take walk down the deserted beach. Shoes in hand, our toes slip through the sand as we head to no place in particular. "I do believe," Billy's shadowed figure says to me, "that this is officially a romantic moment. Moonlit walk, sand, ocean, foreign country." I agree with him, leading us to a pair of unoccupied beach chairs.

We rest our tired bodies in the whitewashed seats, our legs stretched out in front of us. "So, what do you think?" He asks me again.

I turn my body to look at him in the dark, and offer him a serene smile.

"I can't believe I'm here."