Suit and Tie (and poop)

January 15, 2013

I haven’t written anything in a while because life is pretty okay right now. It’s so okay can hardly believe it. I just realized I’ve put off (out of necessity, mostly, because I’ve moved twice since November 1st) TWO months of revising my book proposal and three months of writing here. Things were crazy – packing/unpacking, being tired, etc. – but I also haven’t been able to think about WHY it’s near impossible to own the fact that things are pretty okay by reliving a bunch of Clark stuff. I needed a break.

I couldn’t have dreamed my new apartment. It’s an affordable two-bedroom on the second floor of a rowhouse in Petworth. There are bay windows and a garden. The shower has two sets of jets on two walls aimed at my ribs and belly and two showerheads. Last Sunday I sat on the couch in the natural light and cried. I’ve shut down a lot of thoughts about Clark, or even writing about him, because thinking about a time when my life was to take care of him as he died makes me feel so afraid.

Justin Timberlake put out a new song, “Suit and Tie,” yesterday, which I’ve listened to about 20 times already. I was 22 and pretty depressed the last time he released an album full of fresh material, in 2006 (his guest appearance on Timbaland’s “Carry Out” in 2010 helped me get through a rough spot, too, but it wasn’t his song). In 2006 I was struggling to save a soured relationship – not because I thought it was best for me, but out of a legitimate and naive fear that no one else would want me. (I’ve since connected most of these insecurities to some deep-rooted issues related to my father. This was pre-therapy.) Every day, I’d drive an hour to work in traffic to Dulles, where I hated the corporate environment at my job and was forced to take a time management class because I showed no interest in my tasks. There were plenty of outdoor nooks to hide and smoke cigarettes in on the then-sprawling AOL campus, so that’s what I did, every 30 – 60 minutes, for the nine months I worked there. I lost 40 pounds. I went on Zoloft for the first time. I started work with professional help on those daddy issues. I went to the gastroenterologist for stomach problems that were most likely caused by sky-high anxiety. Now these past issues seem so trivial, but at the time, things were hard.

I took comfort in the routine I developed for my commute. Every day, I’d get in my car and drive to the Tenleytown Starbucks, in the same neighborhood as my college, where I’d park illegally and run in to collect my large coffee and whatever treat I thought I deserved that day, which was usually the iced lemon pound cake. As soon as I returned, I’d slide FutureSex/LoveSounds into the CD player and light the first of at least four cigarettes I would smoke en route. I’m glad that I did what was needed to take care of myself without much guilt. That ritual was my everything.

One day, after weaving my way toward I-66, I realized I would have to go to the bathroom sooner than later. As I progressed down the highway, I made slight adjustments – I rolled down the window, set aside my coffee, and finally, turned off JT. He’d been comforting me every day, from the title track through even (sometimes) “Losing My Way,” and I didn’t want to associate him with the pressure building in my lower abdomen. I breathed through my nose in the silence.

I made it to I-267, the toll road. I didn’t want to get off at an exit before my own because then I’d have to pay another toll, and at the time, I was too irresponsible to plan ahead for my daily back-and-forth. I was always reaching behind me and scooping up nickels from the floor of the backseat or asking coworkers for spare quarters before taking off for the day. If I got off at an earlier exit, I’d have to scrounge for extra change before finding a place to poop. I decided to forge ahead toward a familiar bathroom.

I finally reached my exit and tossed my cents in the basket. I was less than five minutes from my destination, my anticipation building for the release. I stopped and started down the road until the left turn-only lane that would funnel me in to the parking lot. Sitting in that lane, waiting for the flash of green arrow, I lost control and shit my pants.

Reality settled in. At first, I cried. While still crying, I called my coworker, Carol, whose nearby home I’d been to before the Christmas party, and sobbed as I told her the news. “Turn around and go to my house,” she said sternly. I kept apologizing through my tears. I did what she said and parked in the cul-de-sac, the pile of poop in my new Limited jeans (yes, I remember) growing colder. As I calmed down, I began to assess what would happen once Carol got there. I needed a plan. Luckily, I had just moved, and there was a box of garbage bags in the car. I wrapped two around my hips and  thighs and tied them tightly together at my waist.

Carol began shuffling toward me after she arrived and parked. I could see she was worried. I rolled down my window and yelled, “Carol, I made a diaper!” She laughed a bit, probably relieved I wasn’t crying anymore, and we hurried inside, where I ran to her bathroom, rinsed off my butt and legs, and double-bagged my soiled jeans. She gave me too-short pants to wear home, and I told her to only tell our boss, the other woman on our team of five, and to not tell Dave and James. On the drive back to DC, I listened to Justin.

A week later I stopped caring and, on our way to a team lunch, I told the boys what had happened. Only years afterward, when Dave came to me and Clark’s apartment to bring him cake for extra chemo calories, did he tell me that of course Carol told him and James what had happened immediately after I called her because she was freaking the fuck out over her more-stranger-than-friend coworker soiling her home with her SHIT. “BECCA SHIT HER PANTS AND IS NOW GOING TO MY HOUSE.” That was warranted, I suppose, and I loved hearing about it.

I’m nowhere near where I was then – I’ve quit smoking and have gained, for the most part, control over my bowels. I’ve also gained back that 40 pounds. I’m in love and I love my new apartment. I’m actively trying to live in the moment without freaking out over what bad things may possibly happen in the future (Lexapro is helping). Things are okay right now. I’ve got no reason to turn down the new JT.


On Medicaid

October 12, 2012

When Clark and I divvied up cancer-related responsibilities, the task of getting Medicaid for him was assigned to me. He didn’t have health insurance when he was diagnosed, and because of his advanced pre-existing condition, no company would give it to him. Luckily(?) for us, his cancer and broke status qualified him for the government’s plan for the lowest-income Americans. (Here’s a great Medicaid explainer from the AARP.)

Let’s say, in a fit of tolerance for bureaucratic bullshit, you get your car inspected and wait at the DMV to process your registration, all in one day. Hanging out at the D.C. Medicaid office is 10 times worse. And I imagine I had more resources at my disposal than most applicants  — printers to ready my forms in advance and easy access to the Internet. There’s a Web portal now, I see (though it says “Web Registration” instead of “Apply for D.C. Medicaid”), but there wasn’t then — I had to take off work and apply in person. It took two days because the first time, I was turned away from the “wrong” IMA Service Center, even though it doesn’t instruct applicants to go to a specific one on the website. Clark received his approval almost immediately, eight days after I applied.

Medicaid then reimbursed me for a portion of the $15,000 I’d paid out of pocket for his initial scans (I had some savings from a settlement I received after a car accident). It paid for his doctor visits at Georgetown. We had first visited some doctors and had tests performed in Virginia, and bills for those medical treatments, I think, are still unpaid. He’s dead, and we weren’t married, and it was easy to ignore phone calls and mail in the aftermath of losing him. But the D.C. treatments and doctor visits – all of those were covered.

Clark didn’t need the Medicaid for medical treatment once he enrolled in clinical trials – those services were paid for since he was a guinea pig in the hospitals’ experiments. During his first trial, Medicaid paid for all but $1 of each prescription we filled, and there were times when he was taking five different drugs per day. When he was at NIH, they took care of the cost of his drugs with an internal pharmacy.

Everything was so terrible all of the time, I can’t imagine how much worse things would have been without Medicaid. When his cancer progressed too far and he was kicked off the last NIH trial, his Medicaid paid for last-ditch-effort chemo. In those early days, the reimbursements for the money I shelled out paid for food and rent. I was making $40,000 at the time, and I had to cut down shifts at my second, part-time job to accommodate his needs. We lived in pricey D.C., and we certainly struggled, but it would’ve been worse without that money.

With the upcoming election, it’s come time, though, to imagine how much worse it could have been. It could be as bad as if you’re a family of three making, say, $10,000 per year and fail to qualify for Medicaid because of the change in eligibility the system will suffer if Mitt Romney is elected to the presidency. And if you live in one of those places, you might not have access to a free, viable alternative like a clinical trial to help fight your serious disease. You’re poor and sick and fucked.

From Mother Jones:

This is not a minor point of technocratic disagreement. It represents a massive change in our commitment to providing decent medical care for those who can least afford it. Medicaid, much more than Medicare, demonstrates what’s really at stake in November’s election.

I am so grateful Medicaid was there for us when we needed it. I am so grateful I’m not in a position to need it now. I am disgusted that taking it away as an option for one of the most vulnerable populations in the country is actually on the table.


return from california

September 20, 2012

I got back Sunday from 5ish days of obligation-free bliss in California and I’ve been bummed out ever since.

I called my mom on my walk home from work on Monday and halfway through started crying. “You always get like this, every time you go back to D.C.,” she said. She’s talking about coming back to the city post-Clark, how everything under the umbrella of the city’s existence reminds me of Clark. That’s not so much the truth anymore, but there’s something to what she’s saying. I’ve dreaded my returns the past few years, and this time was especially hard.

I think it may have something to do with being able to better carve out a distinct version of myself while away. Even though D.C. is my home and I defend the city when people hate on it, I feel a little trapped here and wonder how and when I’ll ever get out. In LA and SF, the things for me to like and eat and feel connected to and be made happy by are different than what I’m used to. They feel like mine alone, when most of what I’m attached to in D.C. is mired in context. Across the country, there’s the Ann Friedman-endorsed coconut-kale smoothie, the avocado surplus, a general uptick in friendly and chill vibes, and cheap karaoke bars. It was perfection.


I know I’ll get over it really soon. But I booked a trip to New York City for next weekend just in case.


bye bye jessica

August 1, 2012

My best friend is moving away to New York City by way of a noon train today.

I think I have not started processing that she is no longer down the block and that our unplanned-but-routine weekday evenings of yoga plus roasted vegetables or takeout and ice cream plus a viewing of select reality television shows or 30 Rock are no longer convenient to arrange.

I feel unsettled, but then she is the one leaving the city closest to the town she’s from and the other where she attended college. She is the one making changes and taking risks. So I also feel envious and proud and excited.

And now, at least, I will always have something to look forward to, because there will always be some near-future date I will see her on.



a celebration

July 31, 2012

My life in recent years has been full of dreadful anniversaries. X years since the death of, X years since the last Christmas with, birthdays acknowledged in the absence of. This Sunday, though, I celebrated a good one.

That’s me! Eating the kickoff meal for Jeff and my one-year anniversary celebration. It’s a frittata with avocado on top (obvs), hashbrown potatoes, and a bloody mary. Fun fact 1: I met Jeff at the Black Cat and do not remember what we talked about while at the bar (whoops!). Fun fact 2: I was actually repulsed by the shirt Jeff was wearing when we first interacted, which had holes in both armpits and at the back of the neck.

One of my favorite ways to celebrate anything these days is by staying in a hotel because the experience is all about convenience and leisure. Bed-living, TV-watching, ice bucket-chilled beverage-drinking. These robes, while in line with the theme, did not look so attractive on our bodies (possibly due to their color and/or shapelessness). Still, we wore them after dinner while watching many streaming episodes of things. Room service seems like too ridiculous a luxury because it’s so overpriced, but we ordered a carafe of coffee for the morning, which was heavenly to receive. I answered the door wearing the bathrobe.

This is how happy I was.

This is how happy Jeff was.

For my birthday in March, Jeff bought me a Capital Bikeshare membership and a helmet. I left the helmet at a happy hour a few weeks ago and have been too busy/lazy to go back and get it. (I’m annoying.) The helmet kind of didn’t fit my very large head, so it wasn’t a huge loss. But recently I explained to him how I have mild hydrocephalus, or too much water in my brain. I wasn’t allowed to play dodgeball in elementary school, one of the more fortunate consequences of my life’s circumstances. I’ve been riding around helmet-less (I know, I know), which didn’t worry him until after I gave further details of my head disease. So here are my presents: a replacement helmet along with a new DVD of Shattered Glass, because I lost my original copy, and which Jeff, until now, has been avoiding watching even though he’s never seen it. I can’t really blame him for doubting it, and I’m sure he’ll eventually apologize for resisting.

Here is me sitting on the floor in line to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX because who wants to stand?


change of plans

July 24, 2012

My brother is coming home. On Sunday, he collapsed and blacked out from a severe asthma attack while on a 15-mile run. They took him in an ambulance to the emergency room, where they coaxed his heart back to a regular rate of beating, and now they are sending him back.

He called my mother from an unknown number at the hospital. He was crying and telling her he was so sorry, that he didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in him. He begged them to let him stay. We were all so upset on Sunday; all we had were fears that he will return discouraged and depressed, more lost than not, his zipped-up plan unraveled.

I wanted to take it all away from him, a feeling I’m sure many have, in the past, felt about me. Things I could not immediately tell him but wanted to: It’s not your fault, you are 21 with a world of opportunity before you, you are so good, we are still proud of you for trying. A lot of us would never try.

Yesterday, my mother spoke to him again. “I’ve learned so much about myself,” he told her. He said he knows now that he grew up so privileged and failed to see it. “When I come home, no matter what I do, I will give it 150 percent,” he said.

And then I cried some more, because how can a person be so good? Who he is becoming continues to amaze and encourage me.


what we can handle

July 19, 2012

Last Saturday, we all gathered at my parents’ house to surprise my brother before his departure for basic military training in San Antonio. He got on the bus on Tuesday,  and I can’t stop thinking about him.


I pause in the moment I’m in and think about what he is doing exactly then. How early he had to wake up today. How hot it is there (today, a high of 95. Saturday, 100). The many dusty miles he’ll have to run.

The image in my head of my little brother is of a boy who prefers to eat food that comes frozen, or pizza, or hot dogs. Who, until he was 10 or so, refused quick showers in favor of long soaks in the tub. One who comes up behind me when I am typing at the computer to put his hands on my shoulders, reassuring me. He is so good and so sweet, which is why I have a had time imagining superiors screaming in his face.

But who am I to say what he can and cannot handle based on what I know?  I’ve never seen him do a push-up, and he is certainly able to. I know nothing of this experience and the part of him that will emerge to endure it.

Still, I can’t wait until it’s over.