Round Two

Friends:

Something has been weighing heavily for a few weeks now but it was not my story to tell. However, my dad recently chose to share his story, so I can now share as well.

Two months ago, my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Several appointments and tests later, we now know it is a dangerous form of adenocarcinoma, Stage III, with involvement of one localized lymph node.

Dad just officially retired a couple weeks ago, which had, of course, been planned all year; we just weren’t expecting his retirement plans to be consumed with cancer treatment.

He began radiation therapy today, and chemo starts tomorrow. He will have 5 and a half weeks of these treatments, followed by a two-month “break” before they perform surgery to remove the malignancy. The surgery is extensive, essentially removing the majority of his esophagus (plus that stray lymph node), and then using the upper portion of the stomach to create a new digestive track. The recovery will take several months at best.

For those who don’t know… this isn’t my dad’s first rodeo with cancer. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007; he was successfully treated and has been in remission for 10 years. But they say that if you’re going to get cancer, NHL is the kind you “want”, as it has the highest successful treatment rate. Esophageal adenocarcinoma doesn’t carry the same optimism.

Fortunately for Dad, it was discovered before it had metastasized, which is one reason for its lower recovery rate. His oncologist believes that with This aggressive treatment plan and a successful surgery, Dad’s odds of survival are 65%. That’s a helluva lot better than the normal 25% odds of someone at Stage IV.

If you know my dad, you know he’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. He is brave and otherwise healthy, which is in his favor. He has a good care team in place, friends in Colorado to help him, and a family (including a brother who is an MD!) who are supporting him completely and will be helping as needed. Right now, we are asking for your prayers, thoughts, healing energy, and positive vibes as we tackle this horrible demon yet again.

P.S. Yes, my Munchkin knows what is going on with his grandpa. We decided that he was old enough and this was too serious to keep from him. So far he’s handling it well, but keep him in mind as well as we face the weeks ahead. He has a big heart for a little guy, and he loves his grandpa. They are looking forward to a “boys-only” Rocky Mountain camping adventure once Grandpa is well enough to go… a retirement promise that Dad really wants to keep.

My dad, The archaeologist, teaching a session in Colorado
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Dating while Brown in a Red State

Antonio is coming in for the weekend tomorrow.

I finished two of my summer classes this week, so he thought he’d come in so we could celebrate a little. He was thinking ice cream. But I have been trying to find ways for us to get out more, now that I’m so close to having life return to somewhat “normal”.

One thing we both enjoy but for some reason have never done together in our three years is go wine tasting. We’ve tasted at home, or at dinner, but not gone to a winery and just enjoyed a leisurely tasting. So I thought, “Hey! I could surprise him with a trip to French Lick!” I haven’t had a nice glass of French Lick Catawba in ages, and that sounds just lovely. And I hear their cafe’ (which is new since I was there) is really good.

And then I suddenly realized… I don’t know if it’s safe to take Antonio there.

My dad’s family is from Orange County, Indiana… home of French Lick Springs and the incredible West Baden Springs Resort. If you’re from down there, you call it “the Valley”. Springs Valley, to be more precise. My grandpa was born there. My great-grandparents both worked for the hotel’s original owner, Mr. Sinclair, back before the Great Depression… my great-grandmother was a maid who used to babysit the Sinclair children, and my great-grandfather was a livery driver who , as family legend holds, used to drive for Al Capone when he came to town.

But there’s a darker side to Springs Valley and Orange County. The side that was – and still is – a stronghold of the Klan. My big family secret is that I am only a few generations descended from a grand wizard of the KKK in Orange County. We don’t talk about it, OBVIOUSLY. It’s not something we’re proud of.

What I am very proud of, however, is how my parents made a conscious decision to raise my sister and me differently. To raise us to be accepting and to understand that race does not define a person. My dad’s interest in anthropology and my mom being raised by someone who grew up in a multi-ethnic community in Canada went a long way toward their own personal views of being people who embrace diversity, and passed along those values to us. My dad and his brother have both deliberately broken a generational “curse”, so to speak, in raising children (me, my sister, and two of my cousins) to be open-minded, accepting people who work with, love, and befriend people from all walks of life. (My two cousins are both doing amazing work in the areas of LGBTQ+ advocacy and Native American advocacy, but that’s another post.)

But down in Orange County, the Klan still lives. Even some of my extended family never outgrew those old, dangerous ways of thinking. Lots of people down home still believe in racial segregation and white supremacy. They’re not people I’m close to, but I’ve been to family reunions in the past and you hear things. Back before I knew how to speak up.

I can take Antonio somewhere else. We can come up with plenty of other places to celebrate, to spend time together. I can even think of a dozen other wineries nearby where we could do the same thing. But three years in, this is the first time I’ve run into a situation of not feeling safe to take him somewhere. I am so insulated from this in a way, because my home here in Bloomington is so diverse and all-embracing (for the most part). That’s the beauty of living in this literal liberal mecca in the middle of red Indiana… Antonio and I never feel unsafe together in downtown or out-and-about. But that’s not true all around us.

Bloomington is a bubble. Sure, we joke about “never pulling over in Martinsville”, but the fact of the matter is that this is real. Especially under the current administration. I sometimes recheck Antonio’s wallet just to make sure that his US passport ID card is still there, even though I know he never takes it out… just as peace of mind for me. I worry sometimes when he’s out flying, because while he may be relatively safe in an airport, we don’t always know what lies outside the terminal for a commuter crew. I worry that someone with an agenda may pull him over and never stop to determine that he’s a naturalized American before something terrible happens.

I don’t have any answers for this tonight. I just needed to write. For all the horrible atrocities taking place in our country tonight, for all the scared children ripped away from their parents at our southern border, for all the black and brown people being murdered in the streets… I see you. I know that my issue of where to go on date night is nothing compared to what you are facing just for being alive in what-used-to-be-America. I’m so sorry. This is not what we are meant to be. I promise to keep using my voice to fight for you, and to keep my eyes open. We can’t go back to this being normal.

In the meantime, I’ll be coming up with a new idea for date night.
I can buy my French Lick wine at Kroger. I can never buy another Antonio.

How I met my pilot

Three years ago today, I woke up nervous. I drank my coffee, took a shower, and took an extra long time getting ready.

Still nervous.

Because I was about to do something that felt totally crazy…
That afternoon, I drove an hour to the airport. To pick up a stranger.

*****record scratch*****

*****freeze frame******

Okay, let me back up.

It was early February of 2015, and I had grown pretty fed up with the whole online dating thing. After more bad dates and more verbally abusive or just gross online interactions, I decided to take a break for a while. So one afternoon, I logged on to deactivate my accounts.

Which is when I discovered I had a new message.

It was only two words long: “Storm tested?”

That’s what caught my attention. Because that simple question meant that whoever he was, he had actually taken the time to read my profile. We all know I tend to be a bit… umm… *verbose*… and I was never good at keeping my profile short and sweet. So to know that someone had taken the time to read that far said something.

I replied.

That reply became a months-long conversation.

He was a pilot, just getting ready to advance to the airlines after years of private and instructing work. He was from South America, and working in Florida, but had gone to school here and was looking to move back to Indiana. He spoke French, just as I was learning. He was divorced, too.

So we talked. And texted. For months. And finally started talking on the phone. He was in training, back and forth between PHX and YYZ. By that point, I knew I was starting to feel something for this handsome stranger who seemed too good to be true.

Then he offered to fly to Indiana so we could meet in real life.

*cue freak out*

I mean… on the one hand, who does that? Is he some sort of crazy person? On the other hand… that may be the most effort that one man has ever gone to for me. (Including my ex-husband!)

So I did something I’d never done before…

I paid for a real background check.

I felt so shady. But I am a survivor of date-rape from a previous very bad online date-gone-awry. So to meet someone who wasn’t originally from this country, and who had very little online presence, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. (Okay, I had a choice… I could have said no. But all along I just had this feeling… this Gibbs-gut-feeling that I just had to meet this guy.)

His background checked out. (I should have known… who gets hired by a commercial airline if they didn’t pass a background check?) So when he offered to fly into IND on what would have been my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary?

I thought it was a sign.

So despite thinking I may have been completely crazy, I accepted.

Those of you who have been to the new IND terminal know there’s a spot right in the center where you can watch arrivals entering from both concourses. And it was there that I stood, my heart pounding. It was hot and humid. I was wearing a jacket anyway, wearing heels with my jeans… trying to play it cool and feeling anything but.

And there he was. Antonio. Coming out of Concourse A… dark shiny hair and beautiful brown skin contrasting a crisp white Oxford shirt, striding in with the swagger of… well, a pilot.

The drive home was a little awkward, I admit. I still couldn’t get over the idea that I wasn’t completely nuts and that this was really happening. This guy really flew in all the way from Miami just to go on a date with me?!

We went out for Indian food that night. Then we walked around downtown, which is the first time I discovered he walks too fast for my short little legs. We walked down to Hartzell’s for ice cream, which is when I first actually met the real Hartzell, who happens to be an old friend of Antonio’s from when he lived here years ago.

That night we shared a first kiss over a bottle wine while the radio played “This Magic Moment“.

I know… it’s so terribly cheesy. So cheesy, in fact, that I held my breath and didn’t tell our story for a long time. I was afraid if I said too much or talked about it too much, I would break the spell. I’d jinx it somehow. I had been divorced for years, and in that time my longest relationship had lasted less than a year. Most of them only a few dates.

But now it’s been three years now. So maybe it’s safe.
………………*fingers crossed*………………..

A lot has happened since then. It hasn’t always been easy. I won the Cox Scholarship just about 6 weeks after we officially started dating. Antonio changed airlines. He has been based out of no less than 5 cities for work. I’ve learned by fire what it means to love someone who works in the aviation industry. We’ve dealt with a cancer scare (mine), losing my grandfather (another pilot, to whom Antonio had grown close as well), a hurricane (we got lucky when Irma turned left at the Keys, saving the MIA house from more damage than just the roof and the fence), sick family members in foreign countries, job changes, and so much more.

We also saw the 2016 election turn the world upside down. I went through a lot of emotional turmoil realizing that the country that I grew up in wasn’t really what I thought it was. I have learned more than ever what it means to be an immigrant and a non-white person in America right now. Antonio’s experiences have opened my eyes on a personal level of what it means to love someone who is constantly “othered” by our society. Antonio, who has never been around small children or sick people, has learned how to love both my Munchkin with all his quirks, and this girl living the fibro life. We’ve had times of frustration and misunderstanding. We have learned that we are both stubborn, and both sometimes short-tempered.

But we have also learned how to listen more. How to walk away when we need to so we can come back and work through things together. Antonio is learning to speak fibro and I’m learning to speak pilot. We’ve learned how to maneuver around language and cultural barriers. We’ve made our relationship official (at least in the state of Florida). We’ve learned to manage a relationship lived mostly apart, and take pleasure in the times when he is home. We have dates by FaceTime and Skype when he’s away. We practice French with the Munchkin and dream of traveling the world together. We’ve shared each other’s families and traded traditions. We talk about the future.

Today is the third anniversary of the day that a pilot took a crazy trip to Indiana to take a chance on some random girl from the internet. The day our lives changed. Antonio is in TUL, getting ready for a transfer to MKE, while I’m wrapping up the last of my undergrad coursework. The life of an aviation family isn’t always easy, and it’s very rarely predictable. We may have to only share a glass of wine in spirit tonight. But we’re happy. He supports me and I’m immeasurably proud of him. We’re not sure what, exactly, comes next.

But whatever it brings, we’re going to do it together. The skies ahead may not always be smooth… but it sure looks sunny from the cockpit.

P.S. I did eventually confess to Antonio about that background check. And you know what? He said he was glad that I had been so smart about it. Told you he was a keeper! 😉 

Take my hand, my son…

Today was a really emotional day.

Mom and I spent most of the weekend in our hometown working to prepare my grandparent’s house for auction. The household goods were loaded into a truck today for the auction later this week, and we’ve been painting and cleaning for months now to prepare the house itself for sale.

We were already tired when we got back today. At one point, I opened a box of Christmas decorations while looking for something, and I was struck with a familiar scent that took my breath away… my grandma. I choked down the lump in my throat, because we had work to do. Family tension did nothing to relieve my emotional state during the afternoon. A drive home, groceries, and picking up the Munchkin, and we were finally home again.

But as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one feeling emotional today.

It was a rough evening for my Munchkin, who is struggling right now. He doesn’t want to go to his dad’s house, and yet he has an extra overnight this week (which puts him at dad’s for 6 of the next 7 nights). He’s tired of being stuck in the middle. He doesn’t understand why his dad and stepmom say such mean things about his mom and grandparents. He said he is afraid that if he tells his dad how he feels, he will just be punished yet again. He told me that he is worried that if he tells people how he feels that nobody will believe him.

There were lots of tears before bedtime from a boy who is afraid to hurt anyone, and yet is quite tired of being a pawn in this grownup mess.

He may be 13 now, and he may be just a couple inches shy of surpassing me in height, but sometimes he is still very much my little boy. He still loves to snuggle. We still have a bedtime prayers routine, without which he will not go to bed.

During that routine, when he has had a rough day, I still sing to him. Usually he wants “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra“, or “You are my sunshine.”

But tonight when I tucked him in to bed, this old song popped into my head:

Day is Done: Peter, Paul, and Mary

A sign? Maybe. All I know is that it felt like the right song at the right moment.

Earlier during his meltdown , I talked with my Munchkin about our “village”. That his village was going to get him through all this stuff with his dad. That he can trust these people around him, in the village that mommy has built for him, to believe his feelings, to listen when he talks, to help him face the hard times. That just like his favorite heroes Harry Potter and Percy Jackson… even though things won’t be easy, he won’t ever do it alone. That it will be worth it in the end, and that I, along with his village, believe that he will get through this.

Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m making him feel any better. Tonight was one of those nights. But I tried. God, I hope it sinks I to his heart and helps bravery rise up within him. After I just hired yet another attorney, and my own faith falters, I pray that when I said to have faith in his mom and in our village, that it planted a seed.

Sometimes, I’m not sure whether being the mom or the kid in the middle is harder…

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

Ed. Note: This piece was written both as catharsis on the loss of my grandfather, and as ethnographic research paper for Dr. Marvin Sterling‘s ANTH-E393 World Fiction and Cultural Anthropology class at Indiana University. It is both biographical and fictional. 

The sky is a brilliant blue. There’s a warm breeze drifting up over the hill from the river below. The beauty of this late summer day betrays the solemnity of such an occasion. I’ve always thought so. Some might complain about duty in the cold or rain or snow; to me, it always felt like the weather should match the mood. It’s as if the warmth of the sun is a slap in the face to a family in mourning.  Continue reading