Sunday, August 16, 2009

beach house

We did it. That little pink house on the beach, just a block or so from the town square of Chuburna Puerto? It's ours and that's the view from my front porch at sunset. It's shocking. I'm excited. I'm terrified.

I am a child of caution, the baby of Depression-era parents who planned and conserved and didn't take inordinate risks. Though I cast off their conservative ways in my teenage years and have carried a certain free-spiritedness into adulthood, faced with something as dramatic as giving up my life in the country of my birth and moving to a strange land, it all comes back.

I am afflicted with what-ifs. What if beach erosion takes my little house away. What if the Category 5 hurricane comes. What if the massive number of gringos fleeing the US results in an anti-gringo backlash among the Yucatan people, a people, by the way, who only allowed paler-complected folk into their state in the early 1900s (read about the Yucatan Caste War for details ~ the Mayans were justified, but they are the fiercest of warriors).

The idea of being without income of my own, of relying on my husband is as terrifying as anything. I've earned my own money since I was 12. I was essentially self supporting (clothes, activities, doctor visits) from 14 on. Yes, my parents put a roof over my head and paid utilities and such, but my urge for independence was so extreme that I refused almost all other financial support.

On the other hand, I fell in love with Yucatan. Merida is stunning and such a gorgeous, cosmopolitan city, that it felt like a more beautiful New York. My little village, Chuburna Puerto, is home to 2500 souls. There are tiendas, a cement store, a soon-to-be-internet cafe, and a town square where people gather. There was a carnival going on while we were there, and a real bullfight, replete with blood. I'm told the town is sleepy, quiet, slow most of the year. There's not a Wal-Mart in sight. I can do that.

On Yucatan time, I felt free. My mind stopped racing. Oh, we started planning some changes to the house, but that was fun and wasn't anything like the constant low level hum of anxiety and dread that afflicts me here.

Basically, I have to make ~ or I've already made ~ a decision to go rogue. I'm not going to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm not going to work until I'm 67. I'm not going to stay put any longer. I'm going to be a bad grandma and a worse stepmother. The good daughter in me will keep me around until Daddy's gone, but I don't expect that to be more than a couple of years and then I am out of here for good.

Out of here for good. Out of here for good. I type those words and it seems unreal. Really? Me? Moving to a foreign country? It's incomprehensible. And exciting. And frightening. And really, really exciting. I'm happy. Except when I'm scared. But I'm mostly happy.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Merida, Yucatan, the White City. Whale sharks. Pink flamingos. Can't wait.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

what if?

In the her book How of Happiness, Sonya Lyuobimirsky proposes that people writing about how something wonderful might not have happened experience a greater boost in joy than those who simply recount how the happy thing came to being.

. . . People who wrote about how they might never have met and fallen in love with their sweethearts had a bigger jump in happiness than those who wrote about how they did meet and fall in love.

Apparently, contemplating the fact that a key event might never have happened, at all, makes it more surprising and mysterious. Just think how close you came to having a different fate - your life could have gone in another direction, so easily!

For years when asked how I met Mike, I'd tell the long version of the story rather than simply saying "oh, at an AA meeting." The long version is a story of near misses and out-of-character behaviors, all leading to the moment in which he asked and I said yes and so began 17 years of a wonderful life together.

In AA, it is commonly accepted that people with a lot of sobriety are not to become romantically involved with folks who have just a little. It's a wise prohibition, having much to do with vulnerability and discouraging those who would take advantage of that, as well as maintaining a safe space for recovery.

As a relative old timer of nine years, when I met a three months sober Michael, I was friendly, as I am to every other newcomer. Over a period of a couple of months, I noticed that he was unusually happy and excited about recovery. I was too, and so we chatted after meetings, and I sometimes steered him away from the occasional bristling long sober old toads who attempt to steal the joy from another while avoiding the personal work necessary to acquire their own.

In all of my life, I haven't come across anything as exhilarating as watching a real, live, in the flesh spiritual transformation taking place before my eyes. I have shared it here before, but there is nothing that convinces me of the existence of a Power more than watching a hopeless, desperate, dying alcoholic catch fire with recovery. That transformation, the miracle that puts the light back into dead eyes, that puts an end to the suffering of alcoholism ~ to the desperate mental obsession, to the agony of physical craving ~ that Transformative Power is my God, my proof of a Great Reality. It is all I need, and all I need to know, to be assured that there is Something.

Mike had that fire, that electricity that arrives with the gift of a sudden freedom from the horrors of the disease. I have always envied him that, since my freedom came over a period of years, many some of the most miserable of my life. Given that instant release, he was boundlessly joyful. Having come to the rooms of AA fresh from thirty days of treatment preceded by two weeks of DTs and three weeks strapped down in an ICU, he was like a fresh-hatched chick, waking up in a new, perfect, and beautiful world.

This man I love is the worst kind of alcoholic. Physically damaged by the disease with cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis, physically addicted to alcohol as few people really are, his alcoholism seemed to him to be hopeless. I have met a number of men ~ and a few women ~ like him. Knowing they can't quit drinking, they look forward to death as the only hope of relief.

Mike's pancreatitis and a severe seizure sent him to the hospital where he was told he'd have to be admitted or he could die.

"How long do I have?"
"Not long."
"I can't go in the hospital, doctor. I drink."
"I know."
"No, I drink. A lot."
"I know."

Mike didn't know that pancreatitis is, about 90% of the time, the result of alcoholism. He likely reeked of alcohol, as most physically addicted, late-stage drunks do. It wasn't news to the doctor that he drank, but her matter-of-fact acceptance of it somehow made him feel there might be hope for him.

I wasn't around for all of this, but I know the little miracles hidden within that story. Had he not developed pancreatitis, he would have been able to continue drinking. Had he kept drinking, he'd never have had that seizure and he'd have surely died of cirrhosis. Had he not been delivered to that ER, given that compassionate doctor, he might not have been given a way out.

And then I know the miracle of our meeting. Why would he have chosen that particular meeting in that little clubhouse, from among 300 meetings in this town? Why did I sit in that room rather than the other five in the building? Why did we strike up an acquaintance and find that connection of joyful sobriety?

And then there was the night we really did connect. I was at a Friday 5:30 meeting, one I usually didn't attend. Mike was there with his spanking new little Chevy truck, a nice change from the $500 Goodwill Datsun he'd been driving for five years. It was April 18, 2002, and everyone was talking about Springtime in the Ozarks, the annual conference in Eureka Springs.

After the meeting, Mike was standing outside, talking to four other men. He wanted to go to the conference and none of them were planning to take the trip. I walked by and Mike looked up at me and smiled and said "What about you, would you like to go?"

"The conference in Eureka."
"Oh, I . . ."
"It will be fun and I've got a new truck!"
"Maybe I . . ."
"I'll pick you up, we'll be back tomorrow night."
"I guess I could reschedule . . ."
"Do! Let's go on a roadtrip."

And so we did. I rescheduled. He picked me up that morning and we set out and we never shut up. We talked all the way there. We talked over lunch and between the meetings. We walked the streets of downtown Eureka talking, talking, talking. I never talked so much to any man, ever, and my experience with men is extensive.
It was entirely different, this thing with Mike, from the moment we set out on that trip.

But here's the thing. I'm not one to cancel plans with others. I never went to that Friday night meeting before. I am really not inclined to launch out on the road with someone I barely know, without any means of escape. I'd never gone to that conference, never wanted to. Mike always laughs when he says he'd never have asked me if he'd still been driving the Datsun. Too embarrassed, though now he knows I care little about the material. He just wouldn't have asked.

And so we fell in love almost instantly, the two of us. That evening after the meeting, we ran into each other at a poker game. I played across from Mike and drew the only Royal Flush ~ in hearts, what else? ~ of my life. And it hit me today what a fluke it was and how it could so easily not have happened. Had those circumstances not occurred, would I have met someone else? Would he? I don't know. Don't want to.

I think when everything is right it just happens. Maybe the Universe thought we looked cute together. Whatever it was, whatever it is, Ms. Lyuobimirsky is right. My happiness has increased in telling you why it almost didn't happen. So before I go and kiss my dimpled sweet man, what about you? Have you had a near miss that led to something wonderful? Maybe it wasn't a true love, maybe it was a lifelong friend, a wonderful job, a change of direction in life. Tell, please.

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