Saturday, October 19, 2013

This is My Superhero Face

Every day I work, I talk to a woman with no face.

When she was born, she had hydrocephaly--fluid in the brain.  She wasn't supposed to live long enough for her family to celebrate her first birthday.  As a reward for making it to age two, she took a fall that cracked her skull, and again she was supposed to die.

She's over fifty now.

She has paranoid schizophrenia, though for years she insisted that she didn't, and when she isn't taking her proper medications, she believes her face is falling off.  She doesn't call 9-1-1 anymore, most days.  She was cited for calling to often last year, so instead she spends her days on the phone, calling one administrative line after another, asking any operator who answers if there's something they can do to help her fix her face.  She doesn't just call us (fire-rescue), though.  She calls the police, the hospitals, pharmacies, the private ambulance companies, individual fire stations and even fire chiefs in the city.

Everyone talks to her, some with more compassion, and patience, than others.

I'm not always patient.  Some days we're busy, with multiple phone lines ringing, and other days I've just talked a father through the process of giving CPR to his three year-old son, who he just pulled out of the hotel swimming pool, limp and blue.

On the quiet days, though, I'll stay on the phone with her for five minutes, even ten or twenty, and I'll listen to her talk about the bone she sees where her face should be, and the flesh she sees on the floor.  She's scared, and her heart is pounding because of it.  So we talk about what she cooked for breakfast and whether her father took her to the park the day before.  We talk about her two dogs and how much attention they want from her.  We talk about her neighbors who've just been arrested, and how much she enjoyed the months she spent in the group home last year.  We didn't hear from her during those months, but the day she got back home, she called us.

She doesn't work.  She isn't a "productive" member of society, as such.  She lives with her father, and he loves having her around him.  She has siblings and nieces and nephews, a large family who comes home to celebrate her birthday, or just to have dinner with her and their father.

She is loved.

When I think about women in literature and film, I think about her.  In the battle for women's rights--an always important and still-continuing fight--people (not necessarily women) seem to have decided that female characters must be "strong."  A woman must be independent.  A woman must have a career.  A woman must punch the face of any man who dares look at her breasts instead of her face, who dares imply something about her abilities because of her gender.  A woman must be capable of rescuing herself, and she must, above all, still be the supporting character in the film, rather than the protagonist.  She must still be in the minority, a female surrounded by a cast of males.  This is especially true in action thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and the comic book genre.  Salt and Alien are the exceptions, not the rule.  The Avengers, in which the producers went so far as to actually cut the female avenger from the comics out of the script entirely, is far more common.

Women must be sassy, bold...strong.

I'm at work, and the woman with no face just called.  She's worried.  How strong is this woman who has survived so many things that should have killed her, who gets out of bed absolutely terrified to look in the mirror, knowing she won't see herself staring back at her?  She has no career.  She has no husband, no children.  She doesn't know martial arts, and she isn't an assassin, or a spy, or an archer volunteering to take her sister's place in a death trap.  She's a simple woman who walks her dogs and gives them a bath every day, who is proud of herself for cooking toast and bacon for her father in the mornings, and who is afraid she'll start to hemorrhage and we won't be able to get there fast enough if she isn't on the phone with us beforehand.  How strong is she, to still laugh and cry and enjoy life?

And she does enjoy life.  She thanks God every day for the miracle she has been given.  I know, because she tells me this on the phone every time I talk to her. 

Women are diverse, and strength comes in many forms. 

I am not a fighter.  A Syrian man I barely knew hugged me once and asked me to become his second wife, his American wife.  I laughed and shook my head, telling him I'd already gotten an offer to be someone's first wife, or I was hoping to.  Then I walked away and spent half an hour shaking in the bathroom, crying and trying to keeep the vomit down.

Does this make me weak, or strong?  Or am I right that things just aren't that simple?

There are many male protagonists who don't qualify as the strong we're focused on in women.  Sherlock Holmes, for instance, is an addict and a derelict.  House is also an addict, and a jackass as well.  The Hulk is a geek, soft spoken and socially awkward, and so is Clark Kent, considered to be one of the comic genre's biggest "strong male" heroes.  Some of that is an act, of course, but not all of it.

We've come to accept complexity in the male protagonist--to crave it, even--but not in the female.  There is as much variety in a woman as in a man, but where are the characters who reflect this?

I am not a fighter.  I've come close to killing myself on several occasions.  I've suffered flashbacks and nightmares, and sometimes I still do.  I hate confrontation.  I hate the dentist because I'm afraid he'll judge me and tell me to take better care of my teeth, and because I know he won't consider not having $400 for a crown as an excuse for not getting one.  I don't like guns, or talking on the phone.  I avoid the doctor like nobody's business and if I saw a car crash on the side of the interstate, I would be hard pressed to force myself to stop--then again, I've also been a party to a call in which a bystander did stop to help, and then got struck by a rubbernecking driver and killed.  I've hated myself and my body, my past, and the prospect of a future.  I've struggled to have a child, to carry a child, and I've been terrified during the emergency birth of my daughter, thinking I was going to lose the woman who means the most to me and the daughter I'd not yet met but had worked so, so hard to get.  I have a career, but I don't make a lot of money, and I'm terrible at saving it.  My ambitions in life are simple--have another baby (or two), adopt a child (or a pair of siblings), learn to deliver babies, become a successful novelist and buy a house in a city I haven't even dreamed up yet...maybe Seattle, or London.

I don't want to save the world, and I certainly don't want to punch people in the face.  I need my knuckles intact if I'm going to learn to deliver those babies.

I am a superhero.

I talked to a fifteen year-old girl on the phone.  She was terrified, alone and in labor.  I talked her through delivering her own baby--a boy, alive and struggling to cry.  I told her how to get the cord out from around his neck, and I rejoiced in the crackling wails he launched out onto the air after that.

I am a superhero.  I pay the rent and the power bill.  I go to work, and I make sure my daughter gets a new bike for her birthday.  I teach her how to ride it, and I take her out into the apartment complex for a bike ride whenever I can.

I am a superhero.  I bring my wife gift cards loaded with Facebook credits as a surprise on my way home, since I know how much she loves buying beautiful trees and fences for her virtual farm.

I am a woman.  I am fragile and at times egotistical.  I am impatient.  I am insufferable.  I am gentle, and I take care when brushing out a toddler's tangles to keep the pain to a minimum.  I can be weak and ridiculous, and this morning I searched for my car keys in vain only to find them in the kitchen sink (how did that happen, again?).  I am dark, and I am beautiful.  I am hatred and self-mutilation, joy and birth and tears and crooked smiles.  I listen, and sometimes I tune out.  I am calm in a crisis and broken when it's over.  I am sadness, and I am light.  I bitch and moan, but I do the dishes and sweep the floor anyway.  I talk to teddy bears and open my arms to a toddler who can't sleep because she has a headache.  I make three different dinners for three different people, none of whom can agree on what to eat.  I am a woman.  I am not the strong of women in movies, and I am a superhero.

My characters reflect this.  The woman in my novel is not white.  She is not tall.  She is not a warrior.  She is tortured and awkward.  She has nightmares and flashbacks, and she tries to kill herself.  She hears voices and sees things she's certain aren't really there.  She screams and shrinks away, but then, when she needs to, she acts.  She is protective.  She is scarred and beautiful.  She doesn't save the world, but sometimes, saving your piece of it is enough.   

She is strong, and so are the rest of us.  It's time for the media to expand their definition.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Incredible Flash

I lost my flash drive this morning, along with my car keys...well, my cousin's keys, since I've borrowed her car for the time being.  I spent twenty minutes searching for both, but when my brother finally located the keys in the kitchen sink (don't ask...I have no idea...), the flash drive was still nowhere to be found.

I searched the bedroom and the pockets of my clothes, both the ones I'd been wearing and all the others strewn around the basket.  Do people  still put laundry away these days?

I left for work (late) and searched the car.  I searched the console I was sitting at yesterday, the refrigerator (you can laugh, but I tried to put my wallet in there last week)--at home and at work--my locker, the bathrooms, and the lost and found located on the police side of the 9-1-1 center.

On this flash drive is my novel-in-progress.

Now, thankfully, I've banged some sense into my head over the years, and most of my novel, all drafts, is saved to my computer, to the flash drive, and in my email, giving me the greatest chance of never actually losing it my computer is automatically backed up to a secure online location every night, for the reasonable price of $25 a year...especially reasonable since I've needed to actually use that handy restore feature twice in the past twelve months.  The two thousand words I wrote and edited yesterday, however, are saved nowhere but on that flash drive. 

I wanted the car keys so I could get to work, and when I found them, I left...reluctantly.  Getting to work, however, means nothing to me compared to losing those two thousand words.  Rewriting something is agony, and it's never quite the same afterward.  I'm answering phones, talking to a man whose wife is behaving strangely, violently, and I'm thinking, "Yeah...I'm going to get violent in a minute, too, if I don't find this stupid chunk of metal and plastic."

It's been a busy day.  We've had breathing problems, a cardiac arrest, a child locked in a vehicle, patients vomiting blood, and some just plain acting weird, as I mentioned before.  And of course, our lady who thinks she has no face has called three times in the past two hours.  The supervisor gave in and sent a fire truck out to her house a little while ago, which I probably wouldn't have done if it were up to me.  She never goes to the hospital.  We've had fire alarms, medical alarms, fire trucks going out of service for mechanical issues and to train new drivers.  We've had traffic accidents, and people spotted lying "dead" on the side of the road.  We've run out of ALS (paramedic) ambulances downtown once already, and it's not even 11:00 yet.  Right now I have an ambulance driving across the city in the hopes of making it to the east side before another emergent call comes in.  We've had chest pain, a suicide attempt, multiple assaults, several people who just weren't alert and one woman whose water broke just before she called.  In other words, it's a typical Friday morning.

Through all of this, I keep going back to my flash drive.  Did I drop it in the sink?  Did it fall down into the garbage disposal, or into a bowl full of water that didn't get washed out yet?  Is it broken?

I can't work on my novel without having the rough draft with me, and I don't have a printed copy.  I've written two blog posts today because I have to write something and I don't have my damn flash drive.


It's a mania.

I want to know what happens when Navelle Knight (my protagonist) wakes up in the hospital after taking an intentional overdose of a mix of different pills and realizes she can manipulate the shadows outside her window.

Of course, I know what happens.  I wrote it already.

I want to know what happens when I write it better.

It's a beautiful metamorphosis, writing a novel.  From one draft to the next, names change.  New characters are born and old ones scratched from the page.  Entire sections are erased and fresh chapters breathed into existence.  Characters change ages, professions, neuroses and family histories.  I started out with a fifteen year-old high school student named Shya and ended up with a twenty-one year-old college dropout who wheels dead bodies to the morgue for a living.  Okay, that's only part of her job, and she gets fired about two chapters into the book, but still.  She developed an eighteen year-old best friend with a two year-old son.  Her new therapist became one she'd been seeing for years, and the piano-playing autistic coffee shop waiter who happens to know something about all that shadow business went from age twenty-one to thirty, from pouring coffee to owning the shop.

The past changes between different drafts of a novel in a way it doesn't in real life, and the present and future are fluid.

It's a beautiful kind of magic.

Worlds collide in novel drafts, especially in mine.  It explores the possibility of another world fitted on top of this one, like a gem in a setting.  They touch, but they don't really connect.  They are alien to one another, and it's possible the new world is nothing but the creation of a sick or drugged imagination.

What's real?

I want to know.

I need that stupid drive.

The beauty--if I have to find some--in being forced to rewrite those two thousand words that begin chapter three, if I don't find the flash drive, is in the fluidity, the magic.  I told one story yesterday--a young woman waking up from a nightmare she didn't understand, unable to see, unable to move because of the restraints on her wrists.  She drew comfort from her mother's presence, and she couldn't explain exactly why she'd taken the pills.  She'd just been tired.  And she'd hurt.  The bandages across her eyes were too tight, and she was afraid of what they meant, and afraid to ask.  Everything was dark, which was a welcome relief from the noonday sunlight she hated so much.  She didn't get to see what had happened to her face.

Maybe in the rewrite, she will.

Maybe there won't be a nightmare about light and heat and wetness, about weight pressing down on her chest.  Maybe her fear will be caused by something completely different, or maybe it will be her roommate with her when she wakes up, instead of her mother.

Maybe there will be light instead of darkness and, instead of feeling afraid, she'll be comforted.

A thousand possibilities, and I won't know which is the new reality until I know if I have to take on the task.

I'll concentrate on the beauty to be found in a new truth instead of the hours of work that might have been lost, and I'll feel hope instead of aggravation...mostly.

Most of all, I'll eat.  Because I'm hungry, and it's lunch time, and I have to pee.

So I'll see you all tomorrow when I post the other entry I wrote this morning.

 UPDATE:  The flash drive has been FOUND!!! It wasn't in the sink, after all, or the garbage disposal, and it did indeed fall from the pocket of my pants and somehow became wedged underneath the laundry basket, where I missed it in my furious early morning search of pockets.  Crisis averted.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Defying Gravity

I left for Arizona in the depths of night on September 21, 2013 so that a beautiful woman could take this picture of me on the first day of October:

In just this one photograph, she's shown me that I'm beautiful.  I haven't seen the rest of the photos yet, but I love this one.  I love the peace in my face and the cellulite in my thighs.  I love my polka dot panties and the tattoo on my arm.  I love how confident I look--a confidence I didn't feel for years, and sometimes don't feel now.  

I was sexually abused as a child.  I can say that now, though for years I didn't dare.  

If you've never been abused--physically, sexually or psychologically--you can take the entire concept and drop it into a nice, neat little box and stare into it from the outside.  From the inside of that box, though, it isn't nice.  It isn't neat.  It's hard to breathe in there, and it's even harder to peel off the duct tape and crawl out.  And when it's finally over, when you're safe again, it doesn't matter if the nightmare lasted ten minutes or ten years.  What matters is that it's not actually over.  It takes years, decades, a freaking lifetime to haul the pieces of yourself out of that box.
My early childhood wasn't perfect.  My father had problems with alcohol and gambling, and a lifelong history of depression.  Communicating was hard for him, and he had a social anxiety that I understand better now than I did then.  We didn't have much money.  I remember a lot of Angel Tree Christmases and local food drives.  I remember my mother driving clear across state lines every weekend to sell ribbons and bows at the flea market.  It wasn't perfect, and I know why my parents got divorced, but I also know I spent the years after that wishing to get back into that house we'd lived in together.

It wasn't because I wanted my parents to get back together. 

It's because I was being hurt, and when my parents were still married, I wasn't.

I drove to Arizona because one of the two women who saved my life as a teenager--the woman who's now my wife--told me I could be brave enough to put my story on paper for people to read, and she told me I was brave enough, too, to put my body out there for people to see.  I think her words were something along the lines of, "Look at it this way, Samwise.  If we take our pictures naked, it saves us the trouble of trying to find the perfect outfits."

She was right, too.  Finding clothes that fit right and are stylish is a challenge when you wear a 16/18 (or a 20, like Phoenix) and have enormous breasts.  Apparently even plus size clothes are made for small-chested women.  I have to get shirts that are two sizes too big for me just so they'll fit my chest.  They fall off everywhere else, of course, but at least I can stuff my tits into them.   I didn't have that problem in Tucson.

Getting to Tucson came with plenty of other problems, though, let me tell you.  First was coming up with enough money to get there before Jade's deadline for publication because, you know, she has to stop taking pictures sometime so she can get the whole thing ready for print.  Then the car needed new tires, an oil change, brake pads, new insurance and a new tag.  Then I got pneumonia and had to pay a couple hundred dollars to treat it, not to mention take several days off work and sacrifice the overtime pay.  It's hard to answer a 9-1-1 line when you can't breathe well enough to speak.

Then we remembered how close Arizona was to California and realized...

Proposition 8 had been struck down.

We could get married.

It was a revelation.  A giddy, terrifying, powerful, giggle-inducing revelation.

One that required money to renew Phoenix's expired driver's license, more money for a marriage license and a marriage ceremony, gas money to get from Arizona to California, and possibly even a hotel room if the drive ended up being so long we couldn't make it back to Arizona in one day.  Not to  mention clothes because we were pretty sure you needed something stylish you could actually stuff your boobs into in order to get married.  Phoenix was sure, anyway.  I was like, why do we need clothes?  We don't need them for the pictures. But since she was also pretty sure that even California frowned on being naked in courthouses, we went to the store to shop for clothes.

Getting the extra money to go to California with only a couple weeks' notice was hard, but so many people helped us.  We received over $400 in donations from family (even family we'd never met in person), friends, and from strangers I'd never heard of.  It was amazing.  I cried.  We were going to get married.

And then our car died three days before we were supposed to leave.  Like, irreparably died.  Some nerve on that car, after all the money we'd spent on tires, repairs, tune ups, insurance and new tags.  Couldn't it have died before I put all that work into it?

We were screwed.  Really, seriously screwed because we had to leave in three days, and we didn't have any money for a rental car, and there weren't any completely dead people whose pockets we could go through for loose change.  (If you don't get it, you need to expand your education on epically amazing movies, okay?)

And then my brother's boyfriend lent us three hundred dollars.  It was going to leave him with $40 to his name for the following two weeks, but he didn't care.  A friend of mine from college wrote me a check for $300, too.  And one of Phoenix's little brothers lent us $100, and so did my mother.  I cried again.  They knew I couldn't pay it back all at once, and they just handed it over anyway, no second thoughts.   

So we went to Arizona, and to California.

We got married in a sleepy little town in southern California, stuffed into the corner where the desert meets the mountains.  It was an almost five hour drive from our honeymoon casita in Phoenix, Arizona (appropriate, right?), so we spent the entire day driving there and back.

We didn't care.

After we got married, our faces looked like this:

I cropped the picture.  I hope you don't mind, Jade.  I couldn't resist the closeup for this post.  If anyone wants to share this picture, please link it from the original page on Jade Beall's website, listed here:  The Whole Picture.

Does that picture make me look short?

Oh well, I totally am. 

We don't have wedding bands yet on account of we're kind of broke now; we owe a bunch of people money, and we still have to buy a car. 

So, not much has changed since early childhood.

My life is still imperfect.

I have no patience.  I'm awkward.  I hate telephone conversations, and I'm still introverted at heart.  I don't make enough money.  I'm not sure I can go back to school.  My apartment still smells like pee from when my crazy toddler went through her I-don't-understand-why-we-moved-to-a-different-house-so-I'm-just-going-to-pee-all-over-it stage.  Yeah, I really, really need to rent a steam cleaner and go over the living room rug and the couches...again.  I work too much.  My job is stressful.  I'm fat.  Sometimes it feels like there are too many people living in my house.  My wife is autistic, and I get ridiculously annoyed at her freakouts sometimes (you know, like when she loses her chap stick), no matter how well I understand autism now, and no matter how awesome I think she is (like when she cooked me gluten-free crepes in bed a few weeks back).  I had a miscarriage while trying to have Starren.  Phoenix has had two.  My book isn't finished, and I'm wasting my time with a blog instead.  I don't get to be a vampire and live forever, and Cloud Strife will always be a fictional CG character...and so will his jaw-droppingly sexy nemesis, Sephiroth. 

I created this blog because a photographer wanted my story for her book, and she wanted me to create a blog to expand on it for her website.  I agreed because I love life and I love writing, because a few hundred words in an essay is just a snapshot, and because Jade Beall might be the most persuasively enthusiastic person I've ever met.  She makes women feel like supermodels, or--better yet--superheroes.  To her, every stretch mark, fat roll, scar and jutting bone is beautiful.  It's what she kept saying the entire time Phoenix and I were stripped down, vulnerable, in front of her and her camera.  "You guys so are beautiful, so amazing.  Just epic."  When someone tells you that, it's easy to smile, easy to feel relaxed, to enjoy yourself.  It's easy to feel beautiful.  So I started this blog for her, to tell a story about life and motherhood and this body I spent so many years hating.

Yes, hating.  I hated being fat.  I hated my brown hair and my flimsy fingernails.  Last year, I hated my body's newly discovered inability to eat something as simple and addictively delicious as bread, even though I loved not being sick all the time anymore and (I hope) not miscarrying babies because of the damn bread. What I hated the most, however, was how this body had been used to hurt me, to punish me, and to make me feel so many things I had never asked to feel.

I spent years abusing it.

 Self-mutilation comes in so many forms, and my usual path--one of the most common ones--was to further abuse injuries that had occurred naturally.  Going without eating for hours knowing I had low blood sugar, because I liked feeling sick.  Staying out in the sun all day in the summertime without sunblock knowing I burned easily, sometimes going inside only when blisters welled up on my chest.  Walking on sprained ankles, putting weight and stress on fractured thumbs, or just banging the offending hand against the wall.  Scratching myself until I bled, scratching at the scabs until they bled again.  Anything to feel pain, or sickness.

Phoenix, a longtime cutter herself, was the one who brought me out of this.

When I feel strained now, I go for a walk.  I take Starren for a bike ride (or I did, until she popped her tires...gotta go replace those.), or I just dance with her in the living room, shake your hips and jump all over the place dancing.  I do that at work too, outside by the satellite tower where no one can see me and wonder what the hell I'm doing or why I'm dancing without any music.

I do things like tell my story to complete strangers and then drive across the country to meet them and strip my clothes off so they can take my picture.

That was a one time thing, though.  I think.  Until, you know, I do something crazy like get pregnant and ask her to photograph my huge baby-carrying belly, or my lumpy postpartum one.

When I feel stressed and in pain now, I drive across the country to get married, and then I get a lightning bolt/snowflake tattoo of my wedding date on my head, ensuring that I'll never forget my anniversary (and I'll also never forget that Harry and Draco would have ended up together.  Ginny who?).  It's amazing the things a tattoo can say, if you know the story behind it--sometimes silly, sometimes far from it, sometimes both at once.

It was a hard thing, being away from my daughter for almost two weeks.  When I talked to her on the phone at night, though, for the first few days she kept asking, "Are you married yet?"

And I knew we were doing the right thing, both with the wedding and the pictures.  I don't know what stories Starren's body will tell as she grows up, but I want her to know that all women are beautiful, that all people are beautiful, and that we should never be ashamed of our bodies.  We are what we are; we are beautiful, and so is our daughter.

She really took the gravity out of telling her we were married, though, when she said, "Okay good, but when you get home I want to marry Mommy too."

I hate to disappoint her, but I'm not sharing.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Odyssey is Born

Life is an odyssey--a meandering adventure fraught with change, with good fortune and disaster, with experiences that lead to fulfillment, wisdom, and sometimes bitterness.  Within the larger journey are ten thousand smaller ones.  My most recent mini-odyssey, the one that ended with the creation of this blog, started with a picture.  No, not a picture of me.  Not a picture taken by me, and not one in a magazine spread. 

I was a mind-numbing thirteen hours into an eighteen hour shift at work, and I was searching the great black hole of the internet in an attempt to avoid finishing the rough draft of my novel.  I was on the final chapter, and for days it had been treating me to a series of face-bashing headaches.  Procrastination is a centuries-old tradition of writers, and so, metaphorically raising a glass to the frustrated men and women who had come before me, I stumbled across this photograph, taken by photographer Jade Beall:

I couldn't stop staring.  It was beautiful.  It was powerful.  It was one of the most compelling images of a mother and her children I had ever seen--the comfort and serenity of the child on the woman's right, the joy of the other one, both their hands clinging to her amazing, life-sustaining belly.  I loved it.  I looked up the photographer, found her website, A Beautiful Body Project, and clicked through a dozen more images of women, beautiful mothers and grandmothers and mothers-in-the-making--no photo-shopping, no glossing over the lines, wrinkles, curves, rolls and stretchmarks that made them who they were.

I was captivated.

I couldn't stop flipping through the pictures.

Now, looking at a near endless procession of breasts and bellies and butts at work is never the best idea, but if any of my coworkers noticed when I clicked to a new photograph and said something to the effect of, "Oooooh, look at the stretchmarks on her!" in an awed tone of voice, they never said a word.  It probably didn't phase them.  My social skills aren't exactly in the range of normal, after all, and my conversations are usually dominated by one of the following topics:  video games, gay rights, the stigma against mental illness, the unrealistic image of women in media and literature, and the fantasy novel I read last week.  Oh, and the newest Star Trek movie...that was pretty epic, too.  Flipping through naked pictures of women was probably one of the more normal things I'd done at work in the past year, all things considered.    

But then I got distracted, because somewhere in the midst of all that open-mouthed staring, I saw a link that said "8 Free Ways to Help".  Being an underpaid, overworked 9-1-1 dispatcher joyfully working for the city government, I was totally broke, so I clicked the link and found "#8:  Send me your story."  

I thought, "I can do that.  I mean, I'm a pretty decent writer, and it doesn't count as procrastinating as long as I'm still writing something, right?  Right?!  Besides, I've got five hours left here before I can go home and get some sleep!  It'll help pass the time."

That last thought made the decision for me, since eighteen hours is a really long time to talk on the phone, and something should definitely break up the monotony of unconscious diabetics, seizures, objects in various orifices and the perpetual round of people setting fire to leaves and fences.

So I wrote.

I won't post the entire essay here right now, but it started, with, "I am Sam."

Oh, I am Sam, by the way.  Raven Dayze is my pen name, or maybe my future legal name--I haven't really smacked out those details yet.  Either way, I'll always be Sam, and I'll always be beautiful.  The beauty part makes me perfect for something called the "Beautiful Body Project", doesn't it?

I didn't think any more about it after I hit the send button on the website.  It had been a fun diversion; Jade might enjoy reading it if she ever got around to checking her email, and now it was time to go home.

And sleep.

Yes, by that time sleep was the only thing on my mind.  

When I checked my email at work the following night, though, I had a message from Jade's husband Alok:

Dear Sam, 

You are a born writer. Your words dance through pain and joy with a powerful eloquence that will heal other ears and hearts.

I'll admit my ego was well-stroked, and my eyes were tearing up because it's a powerful thing, those words about my writing, about thoughts and images I struggled to put on paper, about pieces of my life, my self and my body I still had trouble coping with, trouble understanding, and definitely trouble articulating.  Still,  it was the sentence that came after that really got my attention:

What is the likelihood you could ever get to Tucson to Jade's studio?

Huh.  Good question. 

At that point, I thought it might be a good idea to mention this little exercise in procrastination to my then fiancĂ©, Phoenix Dayze (Yeah, that's not her legal name either.  Writers...yeesh.), who didn't have any idea what sorcery I'd been dabbling in at work the night before.  

And with that short, simple email from Alok Appadurai, and with me tremulously passing my computer across the bed to Phoenix so she could read my essay herself, my body odyssey began.