Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two reasons, in retrospect, I'm glad I had shingles this past summer:

[Photo: May 29, 2009. My front left quadrant, which basically resembled my back left quadrant. Good times.]

1) Because I've had CFIDS for 18 years, I'm usually in pain most days and I have a high tolerance for it. (I had a high tolerance for pain before I became ill, for that matter: when your dad has Nazi shrapnel embedded in his leg and his skull bears a dent from the same's rifle butt and your mom survived a horrific car accident as a child but spent a good deal of her childhood taking care of her injured mom, you and your brother realize pretty young that, in the scheme of things, a garden variety cold or flu or even broken bone is not a huge fucking deal.) As I've written about, due to my compromised immune system, I still had a fever a year and a half after the pneumonia from January 2008 when the shingles hit Memorial Day Weekend 2009.

As any physician, massage therapist, or person who has had shingles will relay, it is one of the most excruciating forms of pain the human body can experience. As I was not in optimum condition when mine hit, it was exceptionally pernicious and drawn-out. However, and I sound facetious but I'm not, this occurred to me two weeks ago: thank god I didn't get shingles slightly later in the year or the worst physical pain of my life would have coincided with by far the worst emotional pain that's found me. Since TJ died, no matter what, I've forced myself to write and go for a walk each day (frequently sobbing through both, but I do it) and while everyone in my sphere and many in his have graciously and sincerely offered their help, I insist on doing my own grocery shopping, cooking, errands, et al because if I don't, I'm flat out going to go crazy. And, as I've written of repeatedly here and elsewhere, I've been deeply touched by my family and friends, who have unfailingly taken me to lunch or dinner or coffee and listened and prompted me to laugh to the degree I'm able and, in some cases, held me while I cried.

But if the shingles had descended even a hair later than it did, none of the above would be possible because I would still be a de facto invalid and I'm certain I would be rendered insane. I'd have shingles each day the rest of my life if it would somehow resucitate his.

2) Because I had shingles throughout the summer and because TJ was (using the past tense still seems wrong) so incredibly caring, we saw each other nearly everyday during what turned out to be his last days. We usually saw each other a few times a week anyway, but while I was flattened, he, of his own volition, made me homemade spaghetti sauce and burritos and chicken noodle soup and stir-fry and frequently did my grocery shopping, picked up my prescriptions, and as I improved, drove me on short jaunts so I could actually leave our neighborhood. During the worst of the pain, he decreed we would have Goofy TV and Junk Food Night and we viewed CBS' Monday night line-up and scarfed his signature popcorn (made with olive oil and parmesan cheese, which sounds gross but he made deliciously), pepperoni pizza, nearly a pint each of Haagen-Dazs, and, somewhat as a joke at that point, several organic mangos and glasses of water. (Obviously, both of us ate healthily as a rule, hence the fun of splurging.) Despite the left part of my skull, neck, and torso were on fire, he made me laugh the whole goddamned night. And, of course, there was the delightful surprise party he threw for me in August. (I count it among my favorite days and, if you're curious, you can read about it here: http://theslipperyfish.blogspot.com/2009/08/best-anniversary-ever-as-such.html)

TJ and I first met in a Creative Writing class spring quarter of our junior year at the University of Washington 1988. He told me he liked my short story; I told him he had a great name for a mystery writer. He asked me out, but I had a boyfriend then. We stayed friends and later dated on and off from 1991 to 1994, again in 2000, throughout 2007 and on and off until he died. (I wouldn't usually divulge private details publicly, but I've been asked this question about a thousand times in the past six weeks and I'm confident he would be fine with my answering it definitively.) When we weren't dating, we remained close friends and everyone still saw us together. Hence, the confusion. And while this seems self-evident, no, of course we did not date each other while we were seeing other people or while he was briefly married. Also, and he'd be amused that I'm writing this but here goes: both of us broke up with each other more than once. I.e. it was a level playing field, as it were, which is part of what allowed us to remain close and grow to be best friends.

And that's just it: regardless of our "status" at any given moment, we were best friends and told each other so all the time. Nothing went unspoken: we frequently told each other how much we loved one another. There's not a room in my home he didn't paint or in which he didn't hang the pictures, move the furniture, install the light bulbs, make repairs, or, well, you can take it from there. And while his family, to whom I deferred on all matters while he went missing and who insisted I was the only one of his friends allowed to have contact with them during those four days and who asked me to hold the vigil the night we learned he was dead and to make dozens of phone calls on their behalf and asked me to help coordinate his Seattle memorial along with his cousin, and then, without a word of explanation, allowed me to read online later that same day the details had been set despite the fact I made it repeatedly and abundantly clear I would continue to defer to each of their wishes re the memorial (and I have the emails that bear this out), well, I know their agony is immeasurable and I wish them peace. And if they're comfortable having buried their son without including the person with whom he was closest throughout his most of his adult life, so be it.

I'm going for a walk now. Despite all odds, I've been cane-free for the past two weeks for the first time since January. And I suspect a certain climber of prodigious intellectual and creative gifts and a massive, ceaselessly kind heart has a bit of something to do with it.

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