March 26, 2008

La vida loca

I have come, again, to Mexico.

This time, I am sharing a hillside villa overlooking the Pacific.

My fellow travelers are a retired professor and his French wife, newlyweds en route to a stint as house guests in the U.S.; a retired artist, who lives downtown in Soho, age 80; a 70-ish Englishwoman with U.S. citizenship who is a legal assistant in the Connecticut countryside; and a whiz-bang management consultant in her 40s who thinks traveling for a four-month stint to work in Atlanta is a good time.

What we have in common is our absent hostess: my travel companion from Africa and Eastern Europe, who was felled by arythemia last week and forced to stay near her doctor in New York. If she were here, the villa might take on another, friendlier tone.

The French woman has taken charge of the kitchen and is starving us to death under the guise of feeding us healthy food: she is the kind of French housewife who can look in a bare cupboard and a refrigerator containing leftovers I would have thrown out, then produce what she calls a meal.

Last night she used carrots, ginger, and potatoes to make a soup, which she deemed "dinner." Personally, I go for more calories and a protein, a starch, a vegetable, perhaps something chocolate for dessert.

Nutritionally, we don't see eye to eye. She was miffed when I made grilled cheese for lunch in lieu of her salade Nicoise, made of leftover mahi-mahi added to tomatoes, peppers, hard boiled egg, and brown rice. That was her idea of a big, "heavy" meal. Another main meal consisted of two mangy pieces of cooked chicken with reheated spaghetti.

Neither combination fits my definition of a snack, let alone a meal, much less something to replicate an American dinner.

The management consultant and the Englishwoman spent an hour yesterday walking the beach, picking up five bags of trash. I suppose it gives them a goal, a plan. Today, they went to a time-share presentation. (Having already bought a time-share in a fit of middle-aged, menopausal impulse, I didn't care to join them on their excursion.)

Besides, the consultant was here last year: she and I inhabit different worlds, and without our hostess, she barely makes an effort to speak to me. Hey, I'm trying, but our first point of departure is that she wears two- to- three-inch heels as a matter of preference, and I am a flat-shoe person. This in itself separates us in a way I hadn't anticipated.

The whiz-bang consultant has glommed onto the Englishwoman and instead of going out to dinner in town at the two restaurants where she had originally invited us to join her, she has lunched at both with the Englishwoman, leaving me here with French soup. I am growing increasingly less enamored of her presence. Passive-aggressive for $100, anyone?

The entire crew think it odd that I don't drink, even with the explanation that I am on a new medication, and I don't care to experiment. (Finally, tremor-stopping pills that work!) They think it odder, and more ominous, that I smoke cigarettes, no matter how few, and that I am happy to do so.

They get up at 6 am, where as I am content to start the day at 9:30 or so. The only reason I don't consider 9:30 the middle of the night is that we are on Pacific time, 3 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight. (In my real world, this 9:30 would be 12:30.)

Am I stranded on a Mexican version of Gilligan's Island? If so, I am either the ingenue or the movie star. I don't have a WASPy husband at hand, but I do have a different life than the rest of this entourage. I make different demands.

I do not care if we waste electricity my friend the villa owner has already paid for, not when our landscape would be pure desert were it not for an overabundance of water desalination plants to keep terra firma green. Why should we try to save water ore electricity when they are used in such grand excess all about the grounds?

Call me semi-retired, and I see what I have in common with the elders of this tribe. Call me a working woman, and I have a few traits in common with the younger members. Still, I am neither one nor the other.

I am sure they find me as peculiar as I find them. Sarcasm is not appreciated here, which limits my conversational forays, even as commentary to the evening news we view on CNN International.

Irony is another area in which I find this crew deficient. Too, I am puzzled why one would want to see what's on HBO each evening. The conversation lags. Time-share life grows in surreality.

Next year, regardless of my friend's health and love for this mountainside villa, I shall decline her invitation. She has hundreds of friends, gathered over the years, and I don't think it occurred to her how this particular mix would play out, what alliances would form, what would leave me by the wayside.

Again, we are part of an English-speaking compound. Without our town trips, we could be in Any Resort, USA, while we struggle to deal with a staff that speaks a language not our own. I did finally get to use more of my limited Spanish vocabulary while I held up the bed linens to demonstrate. Limpea means "to clean." I do not know the words for "change the sheets."

I managed to convey to the maid which beds needed to be changed, not without feeling victorious that the communication succeeded. Si necessito, por favor, and quisiera (I would like) constitute the other relevant phrases I know. My French is coming back to me in leaps and bounds, not that it is any help aqui.

While I am happy to be away from Wonderland for 10 days, I cannot help thinking that the next time I depart, I want to arrive in a location that is what it is, not an American enclave outside of the U.S.

If Alice leaves Wonderland, she wants to be damn sure she has left the building.

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March 16, 2008

The Wonder Years are over

The day I sought medical help for my blurring eyes, I also saw my new internist. (There is little consistency in that part of my health care that involves insurance: every few years, I have to seek another gatekeeper to the magic kingdom.)

Body examined, hearing test performed, blood taken -- an ordinary annual check-up. This one, however, had a twist. Three pages of results, with everything from cholesterol to thyroid to liver enzymes to reproductive hormones tested, and, with a word, the world changes.

It seems I have reached menopause.

The tale of My Reproductive Years has effectively ended. My eggs have called it a day. I am somehow proud that I escaped those 35 years without an abortion, particularly because those years included some far from my finest.

My Reproductive Years completely coincided with the years abortion was legal: Roe v. Wade came into effect in December 1973, shortly before I got my period. The right to choose, as it's now called, is under grave scrutiny in the current administration, now that I am fertile no longer. It is a curious sociological serendipity.

(Would anyone on eBay care to buy Tampax by the hundred? I am considerably better stocked in the feminine hygiene department than I need to be. I would consider a trade, for a gift certificate for the expensive underwear I never wore when I knew it would be prone to getting stained.

That is one good thing: I don't have to wear cheap underwear purchased at the drugstore anymore. Say good-bye to Hanes; au revoir to Fruit of the Loom. From now on, I can wear more precious, pricey imported underwear: hello, Hanro.

Another good thing: the older I got, the less I bothered with birth control, which turned out to be a safe bet. My affairs with women obviated the need; in my affairs with men, I gambled and won.)

I never felt becoming a mother was part of my destiny. Any maternal urge I may have had has been absorbed in the parenting of my parents: when I was in my 20s, my dad needed parenting. These days, I feel my mother is a 71-year-old child, a naive in the so-called real world.

She doesn't know how, and won't learn, how to deal with a computer. I manage her money, make all her travel reservations, send and receive email on her behalf. She is disinterested in politics and much that is personal. In fact, she has appointed me to the role of grandmother where I am actually Kayanna's aunt.

I never experienced a need for a child of my own. Actually, I couldn't imagine inflicting my gene pool on another human being. A child with tendencies to depression, migraine, and addiction would replicate the child I was, and no one should have to feel that bad for reasons that escape her.

But I digress: at 47, I still consider myself young. Menopause makes me reconsider where exactly my place in the world is. While I am grateful not to be a teenager, or a girl of 30, I choke on the idea I am middle-aged.

The middle-aged are grown-ups: they have careers; they have families; they have responsibilities. I wouldn't call my work a career; my family is more by friends than my blood relatives, and, since I am single, I am relatively free of responsibilities.

When my mother was 47, both of her children had been launched: one had graduated from college; the other, from high school, she had yet to earn a paycheck, and she was married. My father, at 52, owned his own company and supported a family in a style to which we, alas, were accustomed. Clearly the resemblance is lacking.

Yet I have shown much maternal instinct, acted as parent to my parents, who rarely acted as one might expect given the roles each theoretically had.

When I got out of school, my father was reliving his adolescence. While our boat was docked, he would get high with my brother, and each confided in me, with the request that I not tell my mother. When I was in college and had a friend come to stay at my home, my dad supplied her with pot.

The year my favorite grandmother -- my father's mother -- was dying, my father came to my apartment one day after a hospital visit and asked, "Can I have a joint?" I replied, "Sorry. Wrong offspring." The generations were twisted: I was the responsible one and my dad the adolescent. I was in charge of paying my grandmother's nurses, because my father couldn't bring himself to do so.

I was the one preaching "just say no," and I'm a far cry from Nancy Reagan. In college, my Quaalude dealer took personal checks, and so did all the coke dealers. I knew my way around drugs -- for my generation.

Then came visiting my dad in rehab: in 1985, Hallmark made no greeting cards to mark the occasion. I remember the building was stone, and large, and on the Hudson River, where the sunset was beautiful. My father's room resembled a dorm room in size and decoration. What I felt, I don't know.

It was a weird twist on camp visiting days. Emotionally, I disconnected; to this day, I don't think I've processed that episode. The visuals are strong, the context a blank.

So it's not as if I haven't experienced parental-type care-taking. It's just that I've done it with the generation above mine, not the one below it.

Our society makes a huge fuss over girls starting to menstruate: I've never known a mother not to explain the process to her daughter. There's sex education in school. Some cultures celebrate the day a girl "becomes a woman."

What about the day the hormone tests say, we've had enough. Throw out the tampons. Time to research hormone replacement therapy. Have a bone density test. Take calcium and Fosomex to keep yourself from crumbling. Does this change the kind of woman you are? Do you celebrate or mourn?

For my part, I went straight from the doctor's to visit The Boy Next Door, whom I have known since I was 22 and he was 35. We've been having an on-again, off-again affair for 7 years or so, and like me, he's not tied up 9 to 5. These days the affair is on again. In The Boy Next Door's eyes, I will always be 22; in mine, he is 35. We are young and in amazing physical shape.

A former tri-athlete, he's still in incredible shape, while I am just starting a routine that involves weight-bearing exercise. Neither of us had much interest in My Reproductive Years. Still, it feels weird to me that they are gone, and I missed (probably due to my meds) any signs of their passing.

March 05, 2008

Tremble and blur

My hands have been stuttering wildly these past few days. Sure, I was used to the occasional med-related hand tremor, but waking up in a full-body tremor that won't go away....not so much. If I had a hard time focusing before, not being able to hold a pen and read my own writing hasn't helped.

The neurologist today said, since my meds haven't changed in at least 6 months, that the tremor was "idiopathic." That's doctor-ese for, "fucked-if-we-know." At least he was impressed by my vast pharmaceutical knowledge. (Hmmm: I take the meds; I'm going to be damn sure someone does her homework about them, since I've had to explain one combination twice in one week.)

My corneas are irritated, so everything I see is through a haze. At first, I was scared I was going blind, for no conceivable reason. Then I went to the opthamologist, got a diagnosis, and eye drops. Why did this happen? Once again, fucked if we know.

Makes me wonder what the hell they do teach in med school. Why is it considered so challenging to be admitted? After four years of school, plus years of residency, you're not going to ever diagnose any ailment I have and be able to determine its origin. I can play doctor without having had to stay awake in a hospital helping sick people for a 36-hour shift. Pass me the prescription pad, please.

You haven't lived until you've tried to put drops in your eyes when your hands won't stay still.

It has been one hell of a week chez Alice.