Anecdotal Value

Last Night I Saw Andrea Gibson

andreagibsonfanart

and I made this for her

Last night I saw Andrea Gibson and it was as if my entire existence lead up to that moment. I stood toward the back beside Lauren with no one in front of me. I held on to her nonstop throughout. I had the clearest line of vision and the perfect amount of distance. Any closer and I think her words would have punched actual holes through my chest. I remember holding my breath for the longest sentences and only remembering to exhale when she stopped speaking.

I first knew her through her love poems and I was pleased to hear some of those. However, the most important thing she does is dismantle the patriarchy and educate about white privilege among other topics. I loved every second of the roller coaster. It was painful and I laughed. It was lighthearted and I cried. It was so important. I felt like Jack Kerouac the first time he heard Howl. My heart was beating out of my chest as I was constantly drawn out like a long thread.

I am rarely so inspired, but I have never been more discouraged. I felt meaning and passion and at once worthless. I don’t deserve to breathe her air. I don’t even deserve to be here (actual thoughts). Then panic: I have nothing important to say with my art. I may be talented, or whatever, but I don’t do anything important with my work other than indulge my own feelings. Seeing performance about social justice and things that matter really puts you in your place.

It left me changed for the better. I can only hope to become part of something much, much larger than myself. No, I can also try, even if it hurts. After all, if there’s one thing we know, it’s that it hurts to become.

Advertisements

77 Days at the Bottom of the Ocean

Yesterday was the day I’ve been waiting for. Yesterday I was told that I have a clean bill of health…and it only cost me $90 to get this information. To be honest, I have been having a very hard time writing this post. Every time I sit down at my computer I start writing and then stop. Maybe I’ll get a sentence out but nothing felt right. I sat here and sipped enough coffee to know that there was something wrong with the way I was approaching this (and all of my writing lately) and today I think I finally figured it out. I wanted to convey the despair and the pain, but to be perfectly honest, the memory of this experience isn’t a bad one.

I am as surprised as you are, trust me. Yes, this was a very difficult experience wrought with tears and agony, but when I think back on it now, I actually feel happy…

I remember fantasizing about this day.  I laid motionless in a twin bed situated near the window in my Aunt’s guest room. It was beautiful outside but impossibly hot and humid. Still, it made me think of home. I envisioned the sun coming in through the windows making the wood floors glow. I’d walk slowly on my own two feet and set my things down in the spotless, empty space and breathe a sigh of relief because it was finally over.

AuntTerriGuestRoom

 

It wasn’t anything like that, of course.

It was not a triumphant return. I arrived, washed up on the shore of my messy shoe-box in the Tenderloin. I was still feeling my pain meds, still reeling from the turbulence, happy to be on the ground but emotionally and physically drained. Somewhere during the 35th minute on the phone with Comcast  I just gave up, collapsed, and cried.

Comcast

I thought back to the day I left for Maryland back on May 3rd.  After my injury everything changed so abruptly, I think I was just in shock. Of course I fought some depression. My life up until that point was entirely dependent on my ability to walk and so was my job. Oh God, what have I done?

Car

So what did my life look like over the past 84 days?

It looked like doctors appointments and x- rays. It looked like telling this story over and over again.

XRAY

It looked like hopping and crutches and struggling to dress myself. It looked like staring out of windows and writing in my journal. It looked like crying. It looked like Oxycodone.

Pills

But it also looked like blueberry pancakes and coffee.

Pancakes

It looked like wearing her clothes to bed, waking up to a hand on my shoulder and turning over to Lauren sitting there with a coffee, or a smoothie, or flowers.

 

SmoothieKing

It looked like drawing with Emma. It looked like learning guitar with Elise. It looked like folding laundry and having a very important talk with Lauren’s mother about homosexuality and relationships. It looked like long car rides with the windows down. It looked like me always sideways in the backseat holding her hand from the driver’s seat.

HandHolding

It looked like watching planes land. It looked like reading out loud in the park. It looked like music, writing, movies, laughing, art, and sleeping. And coffee. It looked like lots and lots of coffee.

Dunkin

I guess what I have realized now that I have finally resurfaced, is that this injury was a bad one, but it was also one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

KissSelfie

Trimalleolar Displaced Ankle Fracture: A Brief Medical History Pt. 2

Definitely the coolest I have ever/will ever look.

Definitely the coolest I have ever/will ever look.

“I’m gonna do one more loop. I’ll be right back”

Next thing I knew I was on the ground clutching my shin, mouth agape, staring at my left foot in shock.

My toes on my left foot were parallel with the pavement. No. My foot was rotated a full 90 degrees to the left. This is not happening.

Oddly enough, I was actually not convinced anything was wrong. I patted at the side of my foot to confirm my suspicion that my shoe had somehow gotten twisted over my foot because there is no way that was possible. I didn’t fall that hard, I wasn’t going fast, I was attempting nothing more complicated than basic forward motion on a deserted, dry parking lot in the middle of the day. What the fucking fuck.

Much to my dismay (read: horror) my foot actually was turned that way. There was no pain, no blood, just pure panic as everything came at me at once.

My flight

Work

Insurance

Hospital

Lauren

And who is going to check on my kombucha fermenting in the pantry?!

WHY GOD WHY?!

I yelled for her and she came running over. I pounded the ground with my fist and looked back at my foot in utter disbelief.  I waited for tears that never came. I don’t believe I let out any discernible words or phrases, only quick, shallow gulps of air, a long string of ohmigod’s, and intermittent gagging.

Shortly after Lauren arrived by my side, calm as ever, Steve the grounds keeper drove up and beckoned me to the curb. I had twisted myself waiting for Lauren to reach me such that my foot vaguely pointed in the right direction. I considered the possibility that I was risking further damage but I literally could not look at my foot without wanting to puke. I could taste bile.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance? What do you want to do?”

I rocked back and forth.

“Uhm….. I…… Uhm……”

I looked at my foot, then back at Steve.

“I really feel as though *gasp* decision making should not *gag* be up to me. “

I ended up deciding against the ambulance despite having health insurance. Call it pride, call it stubbornness, but rugby left me in the solid mindset that you get an ambulance if and only if you are carrying your own head. I could talk, I wasn’t even crying, so I had Lauren drive me.

Through no fault of Lauren’s, who is an impeccable driver, this turned out to be one of the most painful experience of my life. Remind me next time, to opt for the ambulance.

Although, had Lauren not been there, I surely would have died. She is an angel. Period. She maintained a completely calm demeanor the entire time, almost taking to me as if I were a child, but in the most comforting way.

“Ohmigod Lauren this hurts so badly, this is so bad.”

“I know, baby. Tell me how much it hurts. We’re going to get you there as soon as we can. First were going to go straight, then we make a left and the hospital is right there. You know, Elise and Luke were born here. Where were you born again?”

“I was born at H-Hopkins.”

“Oh wow.”

“I know, I’m hella fancy.”

And before I knew it we were there. She did all the talking and I just sat there, exhausted and in pain, asking the nurse how their days were going.

In the waiting room I made my first phone call. I called my manager, Niamh.

“Hey Niamh, it’s Katie. “

“Hi Katie, this is Niamh.”

“So I have good news and bad news. The good news, is that I asked Lauren to move to SF and be my girlfriend and she said yes.”

“Oh awesome! “

“The bad news is that I almost certainly broke my ankle.”

The rest of the conversation was fine, but it made me sad. I hate disappointing people, I hate letting people down who depend on me. It’s literally the worst feeling. But that was the main stressed I had to deal with other than my ankle, so once that was over I could focus more readily on the  matter at hand.

I spoke with Amanda, the triage nurse who, in addition to being adorable in bright red Ray-Bans, made me feel hopeful.

“It could just be dislocated. I’ve seen stuff like that happen before. “

“Yeah?  Sometimes people come in with their limbs twisted around and just walk out of here?”

“Well… Maybe not walk out… “

Okay well, that was promising. Maybe this was going to be fine after all. It could just be dislocated…You know you’re in trouble when that is your bright side point of view.

Next thing I knew I was being wheeled to the x-ray room – where the magic happens. I hopped (literally) up on the table and that was the last time I saw my foot in its state of contortion.

“I don’t want to look.”

“Okay, you don’t have to look.”

I put my hood up over my eyes.

Lauren and the nurses ran back and forth in and out of the room as they snapped pictures and I agonized without looking at my dangling limb.

“I’m going to need you to roll up her pant leg, can you do that?”

“Sure.”

*roll roll roll*

“And take her socks and shoes off. Thanks.”

I had to ask

“Any bones sticking out?”

“….Uh…No….”

Just this gruesome fucking shit.

Just this gruesome fucking shit.

I was not entirely sure. I couldn’t see my foot but I could see Lauren and the nurses looking at each other. Not the most comforting.

I would find out later, upon asking why I was given a prescription for antibiotics, that there was a small but deep “abrasion” on my foot. This may or may not be due to a bone piercing through and going back in. It’s a mystery, but we hope that’s not what happened. In any case, I am to report to the ER immediately if I experience any symptoms of infection, which according to my doctor are not that dissimilar to turning into a zombie. Red streaks resembling scratches, high fever, sweating etc.

My pant leg had blood on it which explains why it was quickly tossed in the garbage after it was cut off and I was immediately distracted. BTW, I now have a sweet pair of grey shorts that have an amazing story behind them. Jealous?

Once I was back on the gurney it hit me that the worst part was yet to come. I just knew it. In the meantime, the doctors were able to amuse themselves with these:

I'm pretty sure that doesn't go there.

I’m pretty sure that doesn’t go there.

I mean, that's not bad right?

I mean, that’s not bad right?

I could be okay.

I could be okay.

“Well, your ankle is definitely broken.”

Actually “broken” is sort of an understatement. What you are looking at here is a “trimalleolar displaced ankle fracture.” a fancy term for “you have broken every major bone in your ankle in at least one place, in addition to dislocating it.”

*tears*

“It doesn’t appear to be dislocated, but it might be it just hasn’t shown up on the x-ray. Also it looks like from where the breaks are, it’s an unstable fracture and you’re going to need surgery” (For the record: it was definitely dislocated…hella dislocated)

Lauren sat beside me and I just buried my face into her and cried. I sobbed. This cannot be happening. Can’t. Even.

I’m not really sure exactly what happened after that. I just remember Lauren attempting to comfort me while I processed and sobbed and then I was given two Percoset and left to cry for 15 minutes.

The plan was that I would get a shot of Novocaine in my ankle so they could set it. Fine. Yes. Do that. I don’t care, I just want to die.

“It’s okay, they just have to put you back into place for now. Then maybe later you can get a new robot ankle.”

Ugh. I love you.

“Do you want me to tell you what I’m about to do or–“

“Absolutely not. kthanks.” (I actually said “kthanks”)

“Okay then.”

I stared at Lauren tears in my eyes. I was not looking forward to this. The shot of Novocaine was on par with the worst pain I’ve ever experienced (the irony is not lost on me) but feeling my bones grinding together was a new level of discomfort.

Yeah, let’s go with discomfort.

“Lauren, this is so bad. This is actually the worst.”

“I know,baby. I know it is. It really is.” as she hugged me from her seated position at my side.

She held me and I clawed and cried and sobbed. I may have bit her, I’m not sure. For the 25 seconds (i.e. the eternity) the nurses were pulling and twisting my foot I felt no pain, yet, I still felt it. All of it. And I heard it (that was probably the worst part).

One final pop and I actually felt some relief. That must have been when they put my ankle back in its socket. Ahhh.

When it was over, the nurses practically high-fived each other while they remarked on how well that went. Pam even mentioned how she’d never seen a bone move that far before. Huh. I took a look at my foot again for the first time since it happened. It was all snug in its cast.

Snug.

Snug.

By this time the Percoset and the Novocaine were doing a wonderful job on me. I was feeling more like my normal self.

“Uhm, excuse me, nurse. Can we address this rather serious situation?” I said pointing to my arm. I had sustained a tiny scrape and it stung. I wanted a band-aid.

“It’s pretty bad, I think we should take care of this.” in my best dead-pan delivery I could manage. The nurses laughed and dressed my “wound.”

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be interesting. If Sami Peterson taught me anything, it is that when painful things happen, the best coping mechanism is often “I am such a sad beautiful creature.” All things considered I am very lucky. I am lucky that my health insurance kicked in FIVE DAYS prior to this incident, I am lucky my boss loves me and I have a job whenever I am able to return. I am lucky this happened in a place where I have friends and family and Lauren to take care of me. Blah blah blah *bright side* blah blah blah *it could always be worse*

But really, if the past few days have taught me anything it is that life can change drastically in an instant, and the better you are able to roll with the punches, the easier it will be. I have actually found myself quite happy despite everything. There are several inconveniences: yes, I need surgery. This will require me to stay in Maryland for at least another 6-7 weeks. I’m not sure when I’ll make it back to San Francisco, or how the surgery will go. Yeah, I won’t be able to work for 12 weeks which makes me feel like a loser and everything I loved about my former lifestyle is now gone (a large part of my life depended on the ability to walk, it turns out).

However, I get unexpected time on the same coast as much of my extended family, I get to spend a lot of quality time with Lauren (unf. amazing), I can still do artwork, and read, and as my mom pointed out, I didn’t crack my head open so I am still very much myself.

It will be challenging, I still cannot believe this has happened to me, but this is just another valley of ayahuasca, another Camino. I will emerge from this an better version of myself, with a new appreciation for my body and my spirit.

And hopefully, if I’m lucky, a new robot ankle as well. 

I Just…I Can’t Today.

“This cannot be happening.” I was staring at a bloody tissue that I just took out of my ear. I also stared at the swollen muscle in my forearm. I threw the tissue away and popped 800 milligrams of ibuprofen.

“What are your plans for today? Do you want to head to the market with me?”

Yeah. I should probably do a thing. I still can’t believe this. I was so close. So close to being done with it. I sat down and began a Google search

“Blood coming out of ear.”

Cancer. Also perforated eardrum. Hmm…

“If your eardrum had burst then you’d know.” Josh explained.

“Yeah well, I’m not in that much pain. And I can still kind of hear. I’m okay, right?”

“Yeah like, I think your body is just dealing with that infection you had before. It’s just cleansing itself.”

Yeah. My body is doing me a favor. It’s working properly. It’s a champ. I’m definitely going to the market. And you know what, I’m not going to see a doctor because eff that. I’m done with doctors. I am fine. I’m totally fine.

Josh and I took an Uber to Mission Beach and I got myself a free coffee. I chatted with Mackenzie and was feeling pretty good. Soon we were on our way to the ferry building with a wad of cash and plans to get ramen. I chatted with Tommy, I called my mom. She also thought it was something minor. Like, everything is all connected there, so it’s reasonable to think that this will run its course in a day or so. Besides, I was feeling fine. I even decided to walk home. After I finished some delicious ramen, I was off. One ear-bud in, cruising down Market street on a sunny day. No problem.

It wasn’t until I got back to the apartment that I started to get uncomfortable. Like, lots and lots of pain. And then it hit me: I wasn’t feeling any pain before because of the 800 milligrams of ibuprofen I took for my wrist. I. am. an. idiot.

It hit me all at once. Excruciating. I was frantically Googling free clinics and my head was throbbing. I called an appointment-only clinic just in case they had something available. Unfortunately they did not. I then sprinted to the free clinic a few blocks from my apartment to try and get there before they closed. I was met with chains and padlocks on the doors. I stood there for a few moments, taking it all in. So much pain. Crack heads walked in front of me, behind me, they said things to me. I just stood there in shock and pain.

I said out loud to myself: “I should go to the hospital.” 

Then silently answered myself: “No, you cannot afford that. Just go home and take more pain killers and deal with it. Who knows, maybe it will go away tomorrow? Yeah, okay.”

I made it home, immediately took another 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. I laid down on Zach’s bed fully clothed, shoes on and everything, and waited. Why is this happening to me? I have been in such a state for days and days and I found myself slipping into these daydreams where someone was sitting on the bed beside me, and just had a hand on my shoulder or back. The mere thought of human contact brought me to tears. And so I just cried silently until I fell asleep.

This morning it wasn’t better. I went to the farmer’s market and barely made it home without crying. I sat down and really contemplated my situation.

“I should probably go to the doctor.”

But I really don’t want to. My insurance from work doesn’t kick in for 90 days, which might as well be an eternity at this point. But I should do something. As I mentioned in my Brief Medical History, my concern is that I have a ruptured eardrum caused by the staph infection I had. It’s the only things that fits my symptoms, and it’s the only reasonable explanation. If that is the case, it will require me to go on antibiotics, which I am quite unable to take because I’m literally, deathly allergic to antibiotics. I am afraid. I don’t want this news. I don’t want to see a doctor. But I have to because there is no other option.

I decide to take a walk. I end up at Lush (because I was probably subconsciously going there the entire time). I’m convinced Lush exists to remedy bad days and celebrate extremely good ones.  I leave with a rainbow and glitter bubble bar because I just can’t think of anything better than. When I get home I call the clinic.

“Are you in any pain?”

(define pain?)

“Well, not right now. But I did take a lot of ibuprofen earlier so it’s hard to say.”

“And you said there was blood?”

“Yes.”

“Hold on, please.”

*holds*

“Can you come in today at 2:45?”

“Uh, sure. I mean, is this something urgent. Should I be worried?”

“No, I think the doctor doesn’t think this will take very long so she can fit you in.”

Well that’s good news right? I’m feeling better about this. Things are looking up. I cab over to make sure I make my appointment on time and after an hour in the waiting room I finally see a doctor. She asks me to start from the beginning, and I tell her the whole story. I start with January 1st and I’m crying, again, obviously.

“Wow, you’ve had a really tough month. 2014 hasn’t gone so well so far has it?”

No, wait. That’s not true. Things are awesome actually, everything except this. Except that my body is betraying me every chance it gets, despite being as healthy as possible. I try to explain this to her, but she’s right. January hasn’t been going very well. I mention that the irony is not lost on me. She asks me to describe my lifestyle. I tell her I don’t drink or smoke (anything), I walk between 3-6 miles every day, I am vegan (the good, whole-food kind), I take vitamins, I exercise, I don’t put anything on my skin I wouldn’t eat. This is all just some horrible cosmic joke at this point.

“Well it does look perforated, and infected. I would say you’re right and that it was due to the staph. Let me get my resident and she can take a look just to be sure.”

*sigh*

“It’s a really good thing you came in to see us when you did. You know that right?”

“Yes. I know. Thank you.”

She made very direct eye contact with me. I could tell she was feeling sorry for me. I allowed it though because I was also feeling sorry for me.

As soon as she shut the door I threw off my glasses and buried my face in the crook of my arm. It’s done. I can’t believe that is what happened. The worst-case scenario. And that’s when I decided I was so desperate, I might as well post a super ultra-needy cry of desperation over social media about needing someone to just come and hug me. I regret nothing. I knew no one was available. I knew I would be alone the entire night, but it was important to me that someone at least know that I was in need of this. It was the best I could do. I was helpless. I was alone, on a cold table, getting bad news. I was scared. And there was no one there but me. 

She returned with her resident and I was examined a second time.

“Unfortunately, you need to take this antibiotic. The thing is, we are currently out of stock and there is a shortage. It’s expensive, but we will try to help you as much as we can, okay?”

“Ok.” I’m terrified.

“There is no reason to believe that you will have a reaction to this. Of course we can’t be 100% sure until you take it. But, it’s the only thing we can do right now. If you don’t treat it well…you run a lot of risks there as well.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice, do I?”

“No, you don’t.”

Hoping for the best

Hoping for the best

It’s not so much that all of this was happening. I don’t really want to be told that it’s going to be okay, or that the money isn’t a big deal. I know it’s going to be fine. My course of action is clear, all things considered I’m taken care of. I know I can deal with it. I’m an adult and I’ve probably gone through worse. It’s just that, I have been so relentlessly sick with one thing after another for and taking care of myself for a solid month. It’s really getting to me. I really do just want a hug and to cry on someone. As incredibly hackneyed and melodramatic as that sounds. 

I left the doctor’s office and got on the bus, the first bus that stopped. Messages were pouring in from my embarrassing status update. I decided to hop off early when I noticed that I was at Divisadero and Hyde. I grabbed my stuff and realized I didn’t have my wallet so I pried the doors open (practically) and found it on the floor. God, could you imagine? I just sat on the sidewalk in disbelief for a moment. Thinking of what could have happened had I not realized it when I did. It was settled, I was going to take comfort in The Mill after all. I actually didn’t think I had time, but I decided to prioritize this experience I had been looking forward to all day, because of the terrible state I was in. And to celebrate not losing my wallet on SF public transit. 

I asked the guy at the counter to give me something vegan that would fix the worst day. He told me he knew just the thing and charged me for that and a coffee. I didn’t even care what it cost. He ended up bringing me a thick slice of wheat toast with honey, almond butter, pumpkin butter, and a pinch of sea salt along with my favorite coffee.

This was definitely the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience with food. I was suddenly okay with my solitude. I realized that I should take this opportunity to get better at dealing with things on my own. After all, it’s not like I am truly alone. There are so many people who love and care about me (as evidence by my phone blowing up so much it ran out of battery). This wasn’t so bad. I was going to be okay. I had my coffee and toast and a way out. It may not have been cuddles, or a hug, but the effect on me was pretty damn close.

IMG_20140129_180235[1]

28 Days Later: a brief medical history

IMAG0961_1[1]

You know when you go to bed with a slight earache, and then you wake up thinking “wow, this kind of really hurts now and there is a lot of water coming out of my ear” and then you realize it’s actually blood? 

Oh is that just me? Yeah I’ve definitely had better mornings.

The irony (there is actually a lot of irony in this story) is that my previous blog entry is all about being un-sick. Well let me re-define sickness to mean: feeling symptoms of illness. Clearly, I still have some shit going on. Clearly.

I feel like at this point I should really come out with the whole story, because I’m clearly not making it out of the woods anytime soon and I should probably establish a record of this to leave behind when all of these ailments finally do claim my life.

It all started on December 31st when my leskibro Keith took me to a magical New Year’s Eve celebration held in a cozy warehouse in downtown San Diego. Where dreams come true. I don’t drink, so I was mostly sober (let’s go with that) and surrounded by a bunch of dirty hippy strangers dancing their faces off, essentially, my ideal state. Obviously I picked up a sore throat from this, but it was mild and I didn’t care because I got to ring in 2014 in Narnia surrounded by beautiful girls who all wanted to talk to me. Life was good.

(Irony part 1: If I had been drinking, I might not have gotten this sore throat. Maybe the antiseptic qualities of alcohol would have helped. Maybe not, but it’s fun to think about)

I was feeling a bit worse when I rolled home at 6am. but much better when I woke up from a power nap at 8am. Still, the only symptom was fatigue from the shenanigans the night before and the sore throat. Completely manageable. I gargled with some Listerine like a champ and just went about my day.

That night I had to say goodbye to people so we went to the Yellow Deli (Yolo Deli) and of course I ordered the kid’s peanut butter and banana sandwich and as many coffee refills that I could get at 8pm. (4, the answer is 4). I ended up staying up most of the night, but it was fine. I was keeping myself steadily caffeinated and nourished with vegan things and I felt great all things considered. I was like “this is not a big deal, all we’re doing is road tripping today”

Keith and I drive up to SF (read: Keith drives, I DJ). Of course, we have to hang out and do fun things while he’s here, so Thursday night we stay up, Friday night we stay out (1015 Folsom, always a pretty OK time) and on Saturday I start to notice some things…

1. my sore throat is not going away

2. My glands are very swollen and I seem to be developing a rash on the side of my face. Uh oh.

After Keith leaves the next day, Sunday, I decide I need to check this out. It is painful, I have a fever. Lots and lots of problems. I suck it up and head to the Clinic on 490 Post and I am informed that I have a staph infection. Awesome.

“Are you allergic to any medication?”

“Yes. Azythromycin, and penicillin in general.”

“What happens when you take these?”

“I die.”

“Okay, so we won’t give you any of that.”

“Great, thanks.”

*actual conversation*

I walk out -$250 but with life-saving medications. Yay! I begin the course, staph is dissipating, but due to low immunity (I’m guessing) I acquire the illness of my dear roommate Zach. I spend the next week simultaneously recovering from a staph infection and having a cold. The cool thing about this was that it really kept me on my toes. A new symptom every day. Sometimes I had a sore throat, other times I was sneezing, coughing, congested, chills. It was like a surprise every time. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Until about 8 days into this when I was about to begin my second to last day of these supposedly safe antibiotics. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take them because I woke up with a fever of 103 and a rash all over my entire body. (Hint: this is what happens when antibiotics are about to kill me). 

Back in the doctor’s office, I leave with two more medications and a shot and -$220. But again, my life has been spared so I’m not that upset by it. This is when I return to my apartment and hibernate for days and contemplate the meaning of life.

When I am finally mostly recovered from this, I had that magical day of being un-sick when I went to Lush and did fun things and I thought my life was on track. It turns out though, that I was still having major chest congestion, I was coughing and having pretty low-energy all around.

But this was slowly dissipating. I was happy. Each day I was feeling better and I even started working! Yes! I even did yoga on Sunday. I did a thing! Life is good.

Until this morning when I woke up with my pillow covered in blood and I’m just sitting here wondering what the fucking fuck is my life?

(Irony part 2: I have the healthiest lifestyle of anyone I know, and yet I have been sick for almost an entire month).

After frantically Googling my symptoms, I determined that in addition to cancer, it is probably a residual effect of my staph infection which was on the same side of my head. The only problem here is that if it is infected, then I need to get on antibiotics, which kill me. 

I’ll have you know, I only cried for about 20 minutes over this, until I gathered the impetus to do something productive. I made coffee and breakfast and now I feel immensely better. I’m actually in no pain at all and I think while I’m waiting for my health insurance from Starbucks, I’m going to go to the farmer’s market with Josh and try to clear my head. 

Ha.

Into the Wild: The Miraculous Norway Adventure

IMG_9854

It was sometime between when I filled my camelpack with glacier melt and started a fire with my own hands that I realized Norway might be my favorite country so far. This might come as a surprise since my last two entries have been a little on the down side, but that is only a glimpse of moments. The overall story is incredible and I would be surprised if it got better than this…

We arrived in Oslo courtesy of two Macedonian gentlemen. From there we made our way to our first host’s apartment, getting over the initial shock of how expensive food is in this country. When I say “expensive” I don’t just mean “SF-rent expensive” I mean “one-Corona-costs-$11-American-dollars-expensive.” Yeah. Our budget of 55 crowns per day per person is the equivalent of two bottles of Coca Cola here. This would be a huge inconvenience if Norwegian people weren’t so amazing and friendly and generous.Our time in Oslo was good. We stayed with two different couples, had good meals, drank beer, went running, and visited the two points of interest: the famous ski jump and the sculpture garden. 

But Oslo is just a snapshot of Norway. We were interested in the wilderness, and boy did we get thrown into it abruptly.

Friday night, we went out to a lesbian bar with our second hosts Arnaldo and Mia who turned out to be a lovely, beautiful couple. We went out, drank, came back, drank some more, shenanigans, debauchery etc. etc. This was our first party night since we left Dublin 7 months ago. It was long overdue, and we made the most of it. We stumbled home in ambient twilight, it was nearly 2am. But we didn’t get to sleep until about 5. Of course it’s Norway, so the sun was shining brightly by then, but we still decided to try and sleep it off anyway.

I was ready for sleep, and feeling fine albeit tired. Sadly, the same cannot be said for all parties involved. It started as low whispers from the bedroom, and then became increasingly louder and more intense. Our hosts were fighting. Their common language is English so we could easily understand everything. Unfortunately, it was getting serious and got to the point where we just decided to bail. We packed our things and were out the door. We are reasonable people and left out of courtesy more than anything. It sounded like the last thing they needed to worry about was coushsurfers when their relationship was potentially ending. 

I didn’t even have my hiking boots on all the way as I bounded downstairs. We realized at the doorway to their building that we left our running shoes on their balcony (which is connected to their bedroom). But there was no going back. Sleep deprived, we hauled our packs to our first host’s apartment to see if by chance they were home.

Success! They were! But…they were leaving in 30 minutes to go on vacation. Maria and I pulled ourselves up from the couch and got our things together a second time. It was not a nice feeling.

They were kind enough to drop us on the road outside of Oslo to save us a walk across town. We still had not slept so we bushwhacked into some forest just beyond the guard rail. It turned out to be infested with mosquitoes, huge, aggressive ones, thirsty for blood.  But we were too tired to care. We threw our tent down and passed out for a few hours. When we woke up we shoveled some bread and oil into our mouths and hit the road.

The first lift took about 8  minutes, and it ended up being the only lift we needed. We were picked up by a HUGE Norwegian guy named John. But after a few moments in his car, we realized he was very gentle and kind and probably also a little lonely. He was eager to show us EVERYTHING along the route to his cabin in Rjuken. Eventually, he said if we wanted, we could pitch our tent in his garden. This eventually turned into a full-on invite into his house. As we stood outside the supermarket, planning that night’s meal, it started to rain and we gladly accepted the offer to sleep indoors.

and to this mountain

he took us to this old train

and this old train

His house was messy and a work-in-progress, but huge. And it was nestled in between two mountains surrounded by wilderness. It was idyllic and exactly what you would expect from a mountain cabin in Norway. We made dinner, had ice cream, and slept off the past 48 hours.

view from our attic room

view from our attic room

our bunk

our bunk

the living room. Reindeer pelts and all.

the living room. Reindeer pelts and all.

The next morning, we had breakfast and he showed us some of his outdoors gear. He quickly assessed that we were into camping and hiking, and actually gifted us each TWO pairs of WOOL SOCKS EACH.

behold: tent socks

behold: tent socks

We were thinking it doesn’t get much better than that. This had to be the best lift ever. Later that day we said goodbye to John. He dropped us on a lonely stretch of road. The only one leading out of town. After a long while we finally managed a lift. It was slow going, and we ended up stuck at a gas station for quite some time. That is, until a kind woman driving a Prius pulled over for us.

I sat in front this time, and turned on the charm. After about 20 minutes, she suggested that we sleep in her guest room instead of sleeping outside. We accepted, and once again, had a roof over our heads that wasn’t made of nylon.

Her husband is from Wisconsin, so we actually had some nice conversations about America as they stuffed us with tea and homemade bread and jam. Oh, they also lived in a mountain paradise and had an awesome cat.

OMG

OMG

Blacky

Blacky

The next morning, we were fed the best breakfast ever consisting of coffee and oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. I haven’t been this excited about breakfast since I lived in SF. And to think, she actually apologized about only having oatmeal to offer.

perfection

perfection

So off we were to Odda, in an attempt to climb to Trolltongue. Our host drove us to a good waiting spot, and though it took a while to get a lift, we eventually got one that took us directly to Odda. Once there, we got a lift directly to our trailhead with some Belgian hippies. It was the day of door-to-door service.

We began hiking at noon and slept in the mountains that night. The following day, I woke up with a sore throat which was lame, but it didn’t hold me back too much. It was a slow day getting out of the trail spot, but by the end of that day, we found ourselves with yet another hike under our belts (and a glacier) and we were in the best camping spot of my entire life. To top it off, I started a fire with my bare hands.

I AM GOD

I AM GOD

We were flying. Life was adventurous and easy. That is, until it began to rain that afternoon.

Our next destination was another glacier, but hitch-hiking in the rain is not ideal. As you know from ALL of my previous posts, I am thrown into a sea of despair when it rains and I am outside with no end in sight. However, I managed to keep it together for a little while. We didn’t wait long before a man pulled up in a BMW. He drove us all the way to the ferry and even pair our ticket for us. After that, we caught a lift to Voss where we spent some time in the tourist information center before setting out into the local wilderness to camp.

It was rainy, but we had the tent and there was a grocery store close by. The following morning was miraculously dry, and we packed up in high spirits. Unfortunately, it would take us about 3 hours to leave this tiny town.

PLEASE!

PLEASE!

We spent 45 minutes getting rejected by car after car after car. Amazingly, Maria was the one who took the first cry break. Indeed, this was the first time while hitch-hiking in Norway that we would wait more than 10 minutes for a ride. It was agony. I was actually waiting for the sting of despair to overtake me, but strangely it never came. This is when I had my moment of clarity that sometimes things are hard for no reason, just keep on keepin’ on and eventually you’ll be out of it.

I also had a strange 6th sense feeling that whatever lift did get us out of this mess would be a good one. I was not disappointed.

holy s**t

holy s**t

Pavel is from Slovakia and he was driving to Flom to pick up a few friends. He kindly picked us up and opted for the scenic route instead of the tunnel.

“Flom is famous for beer brewing. You must try a beer when you get there.”

We communicated subtly something to the effect of “like we have the money for microbrews in Norway.”

“Since you decided to go to Flom, I will buy you each a beer.”

Wow. Thanks Pavel! You just spent $40 on complete strangers and were late picking up your friends to stop on the side of the road so we could take pictures. Is there something in the water here?

It was the best beer we had since Belgium. Truly. And our good fortune didn’t stop there.

As we drunkenly hitch-hiked toward our next glacier, we were picked up by an awesome Polish woman who worked on a cruise ship. She took us through the longest tunnel in the world and dropped us right on the ferry line.

the longest tunnel

the longest tunnel

And we hitch-hiked right across the ferry into this:

A tunnel that we can't walk through.

A tunnel that we can’t walk through.

It was nice that the weather was good and we were able to laugh at this situation. The ferry worker who was apparently 16 (he looked not a day over 12) laughed at our predicament with us. He eventually called his coworker and asked if he would give us a lift to the other side.

He did and we had a nice dinner in a rest stop before we were picked up by another Norwegian guy who decided after we were in his car that he would drive us an hour out of his way to drop us off where we needed to be to hike to the glacier.

we set up camp in another mosquito forest

we set up camp in another mosquito forest

and called it a night.

Our trip to the glacier was a success except that it began to rain while we were there. We left our tent in the Mosquito Forest and returned to a sopping wet domicile. I begrudgingly ate a peanut butter sandwich inside, dreading the inevitable of packing the tent away wet. This was the beginning of the end for me. We stood in the rain for almost an hour trying to get out of that spot, and when we were dropped in the next town, I had another low moment.

I noticed the no camping sign where we were standing, and the dangerously curved road with no shoulder to speak of. It poured. We were doomed. We couldn’t camp anywhere, or walk anywhere except for backwards. This was hopeless. We were wet and sad looking. I looked down at my shoes and actually tried to cheer myself up with thoughts of being chained to a desk as an alternative to this. It didn’t work.

A semi-truck rushed by me and sprayed me with water and I just sobbed. I covered my face with my hands and accepted the fact that I was at the 11th hour yet again.

And then Kai stopped for us. In less than 10 minutes from my breakdown I found myself here:

petting a kitty

petting a kitty

And drinking tea and eating crackers. Kai had seen me crying and decided to pull over. This was the first time my despair was actually acknowledged by a driver. He invited us to camp in his garden, but as usual, it quickly evolved into an offer of a shower and a guest room….and tacos.

mmm taco Friday in Norway

mmm taco Friday in Norway

We had extremely stimulating conversation with Kai the entire night. He was actually running a foot race up a mountain the following day, and offered to drive us an additional 100 kilometers over a mountain pass. Obviously we took this offer too. I think he was a bit surprised by us. He confessed he was not expecting questions about Norwegian economics or about the ethics of the textile industry in other countries. He was expecting more like “where is the McDonalds?”

He was surprised, but pleased, and we enjoyed the opportunity to defy some American/hitch-hiker stereotypes.

The next morning he dropped us off and this was the day of Ask and You Shall Receive. There was rain. Lots of it. I was not happy.

fml

fml

This is not where I like to be, usually. I tried all of my usual mental exercises to get myself through it, but it was quite unsuccessful. Instead I started to focus on simple things that would improve my situation. The gas station attendant came by to chat with us. The thought crossed my mind (and Maria’s) that a coffee would be great.

I went into the station to make a peanut butter sandwich and out of nowhere the gas station attendant says “Would you like a coffee?”

“Yes, but I have no money, unfortunately.”

“No problem.”

And then bam. Two free coffees. AND just as I handed Maria her cup, a car pulled over for us. The bad news about this day is that there was the annual summer solstice Trondheim to Oslo bike race taking up all of the road and making every passing car super angry. We resolved to the fact that we would likely die there at the gas station. Worst of all, I really wanted ice cream.

I walked up to the first woman I saw on the sidewalk and tried to sweet-talk my way into her car. She wasn’t interested in driving us anywhere, but after a full hour of conversation and several tips about what to see and do in SF (when she and her family visit next week) she offered to buy Maria and me ice cream.

NO WAY!

NO WAY!

Yes way. This stuff really does happen to us. But wait, it gets better…

So we eat our ice cream and no one stops for us for a long time, and then finally a car sneaks into the gas station and calls us over. It is a nice-looking Norwegian guy who invites us to ride along with him to the next town. We find out while we’re in his car that he was running the same foot race with Kai earlier that day and he overheard Kai talking about us.

I think that was the first time our reputation preceded us. He mentioned that Kai said it was a very good experience and this was followed by an invite to put our tent in his garden as well. Score. It was raining. Life is good.

We ended up crashing their summer solstice barbecue. We arrived to a house full of kids playing and his lovely wife who stuffed us full of food as soon as we put our foot in the door. We stayed up past midnight talking and sharing stories. Basically, it was good old fashioned family fun for us.

barbecue!

barbecue!

If you can imagine, it gets even better than this. Not only did we get to sleep in a bed, indoors, but the next morning our hosts offered us each a wool buff for free. Apparently they were given as gifts but their kids don’t like them because they are “itchy.” I was both amazed and thankful at how stupid children can be and graciously accepted this gift of wool. Again.

And again it was raining. Our host left us, feeling somewhat guilty at a terrible place to wait, but it was no problem. I quickly spotted a hippy van driven by two Dutch kids and in no time we were headed back to Oslo in a 1973 VW bus. It was green and had flowers and everything. They informed us they had seen us the previous day during the bike race and wanted to stop for us but were too late to pull over. We are famous now. 

It took some time, but I’m sure you can see why Norway is my favorite country. Okay sure, it is really expensive and it rains a lot, but it is also the land of free coffee and ice cream and people are kind and gift you wool. I am leaving this place with some of the best memories of all of my travels. Okay yeah, sometimes I get bent out of shape about the weather and occasionally Maria and I have deep philosophical conversations about the meaning of it all, but this is what traveling is like. 

It is full of ups and downs and the best lesson I have learned in my time in Norway is ask and you shall receive. A positive outlook is usually followed by a positive outcome. 

This is Morocco Part 2: “How many camels, please?”

This might be more of a rant than anything else, but I can’t help it.  Again, I’ve had a great time here in Morocco, but I could never live here. In the past 25 days I have come to a better understanding of Arab culture, and you know what? It’s not for me. This is not an opinion on Islam. Islam has nothing to do with this. This is about the culture, and while there are aspects of it that I truly appreciate, the negative ones still tip the scale unfavorably, for me. 

We stayed with five hosts while in Morocco. Four of them were men and all four of them were great. Different, but all positive experiences. When we finally made it to Fes, we had the opportunity to stay with a girl. And she turned out to be the least Moroccan, Moroccan girl you can imagine. 

Aida, is 26 and works for P&G. She manages a team of 45 men, and all of her clients are men. She has her own apartment in Fes and is unmarried (although she has a boyfriend). Aida has a degree in mechanical engineering and is more of less glued to her blackberry. She could have come straight out of Los Angeles. 

Aida represents less than 1% of Moroccan women, but she was able to give me some insight into what it is like to grow up as a woman in this country. She grew up with the attention, the cat calling and she is able to ignore it. It is innocuous to her, but for Maria and me, it is still a bit distracting. 

“Not a lot of men work.” she explained.

but they do a lot of this

but they do a lot of this

and this

and this

You can find men, always, hanging out at cafes. Passing by any given cafe, the tables outside are likely to be packed with men sitting either alone or with friends, smoking and drinking coffee. Meanwhile, women walk along the streets doing things. They shop, they buy groceries, they study, they go to work, they go home, they wait for buses. But they are always doing something.

I have never seen so many men in my entire life, all in one place, doing exactly fuck-all. 

Unless you count staring, hissing, or shouting at girls who pass by. Yeah, not exactly my idea of a good time. It is some unwritten law that if a Moroccan guy makes eye-contact with you, he is overcome by a compulsion to say something, usually at your back, to get your attention.

Boys will stop their motorbikes, follow us. I’ve had any number of things shouted at me from passing cars, guys on the street, rude gestures. I just, can’t handle it emotionally. For Maria it is easier because she has dealt with this attention from men for longer but it is very new to me and I don’t like it. 
Obviously, this does happen in the US, but not nearly as frequently. I managed to live my entire life in America and never had this happen to me. But moving on…
One night, we were sitting with our host in Merzouga waiting for the bus. This boy came up to us on his motorbike and introduced himself. Then he asked if we wanted a beer and to perhaps go to the dunes nearby.
He must have asked Maria and me 10 times if we wanted to go out to the sand dunes with him and “relax.” Politely refusing once is already awkward enough, especially in a country where it is rude to refuse something that is offered to you. But we managed to divert the conversation to the behavior of Moroccan men toward us.
“You see,” he began “When a man tells you you are very pretty, it is because you are. You should just smile and say ‘thank you.”
Yeah that sounds great, except I just don’t buy that a man would shout something like “hey pretty lady” from his motorbike just to make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. WTF am I supposed to do after you speed by me? Run after you? Wave my arms and call you back and talk to you more?
If you truly want to pay a woman a compliment, there was probably better ways of going about this. I’ve had men say “Hello” to me and smile and felt fine. “Welcome to Morocco.” is also another one I don’t mind. “Bonjour, Madame.” is also acceptable, along with many other innocent greetings. But there something about “Que es bonita” and then following me down the street asking where I’m going and if I need help creeps me the hell out. 
But how many times do I have to say “no thank you” before they leave you alone? Answer: at least 10. Why are the first 5 times not good enough? Furthermore, I have to supply justification for why I do not want to go to the sand dunes with this young man. The problem is that they have to be reasons he understands. Finally, I have to resort to something explicit like “Please go away.” and then I am accused of being disrespectful.
The point is, I miss being able to walk down the street without having to have a 5 minute unwanted conversation with every person I pass. I miss just walking to get vegetables and saying ” Hi” a few times, getting a “Hi” back, and just moving on. Trust me, after nearly a month of this, it begins to wear you down. 
We actually stayed with another American girl here in the city and she confirmed all of the same feelings. It was nice to have somebody understand without having to go into explaining where you’re coming from beforehand. But it didn’t exactly stop the behavior.
“You can’t change the culture.” she explained. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she was here for a longer haul than we were, and already a year into her service.
“Yeah, it definitely wears you down. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, and sometimes you have really really bad days.”
Well, I finally experienced one of those really bad days. We walked by ourselves to the Medina and we received the usual treatment along the way. Inside the Medina it is a bit different. Vendors will try to pull you into their shops, but they do this to everyone. It’s still a bit annoying, but in a different way and one which doesn’t make me angry at them. I just politely say “no thank you” and walk away.
But I was on edge. So much so that one vendor said something to me as we passed him. I heard “nice ass.” and in perfect sync, Maria and I turned around and stormed over to him. Before we could say anything he threw his hands up in defense and pointed to his face.
“Nice eyes! Nice eyes!” He seemed scared. This made me feel better. 
But the breaking point was still to come, and it would happen just as we left the Medina. We passed by two loitering men in the parking lot. I saw out of the corner of my eye that they were following. Maria was a few steps ahead but I was close enough to hear.
“Hey, how many camels? Please, how many camels?”
I stopped and turned. I took off my sunglasses and stared him right in the face.
“Is this how you make friends?” Maria had noticed and came to join me. The man also walked over, smiling confidently.
“I am sorry. My English is not so good.”
“Oh so, you just shout things to us in English but you don’t understand it? Do you even know what I’m saying?” Maria asked.
He smiled and said again “My English…”
I took this as an opportunity to talk at him. I didn’t really give a damn whether or not he understood me. I just wanted to express my frustration to him, specifically and have him hear my tone. 
“Actually, you can help me. May I have some money?” I said. He looked at me, surprised, but he immediately reached into his fanny pack and showed me some change.
“You know, for the offense. I think 5 Dirham will do.”
“Oh no, 5 is too much.” He said, still kind of laughing.
“Do you even have a job? Or you just stand around like every other Moroccan guy doing fucking nothing all day?
“Yes, I have a job.”
“Do you have a wife?”
“No…”
“I can understand why.”
And then I left. Did it really solve anything? No. Did it change his mentality? Not at all. But I felt damn good. I felt like I just had a warm shower. I felt refreshed. I just needed for once to not be passive. After so much time in this country, it was very apparent that the men who behave this way are not dangerous, they are just annoying and disrespectful. Instead of being passive when I encounter this, I am more likely to engage them. If it’s what they want, so be it, but at least I feel more powerful.
Obviously one can argue that not all men in Morocco are like this. Yes, that is true. But most of them are. You can disagree with me, but you’d be wrong. And even after all of my positive experiences with my hosts, the truly polite and respectful men who were gentlemen, the behavior of the general public left a lasting impression.
I’m glad I came here, and I am glad I spent so much time here, but let’s just say I am really looking forward to my plane touching down tomorrow in the Netherlands.