Archive for the ‘long-lasting relationships’ tag
My wedding to mi querido amor, Oscar Avellaneda, is in 3 ½ weeks. In about 2 weeks I am officiating the wedding of my two good friends, Garret and Mystie. In light of these VERY serious events, I have been asking for relationship/marriage advice from everyone I know who has been happily married for a long time—my parents, colleagues, Garrett’s stepmom, my boss, whomever, and from those who are divorced as well. I also ask it of my best friend who has been with her wife for 6 happy years now. Here is some of the advice I’ve gotten:
1.) You are responsible for your happiness. Take care of your own happiness.
-everyone I’ve asked
My mom adds, “Your partner can only fulfil, I don’t know, maybe 50% of your needs. Of course they have to be the most important needs, and then there are some needs you can’t get outside of the marriage, like sex. But you have to find ways to fulfil your own needs. You have to take care of yourself.”
2.) Let your partner be him/herself and you be yourself.
– Connie at work, many more people
3.) “Commitment is what drives the engine, not love.”
-Garrett’s stepmom, Amy
4.) The secret to a good, long-lasting marriage? Hard work and every once in a while a good therapist.
5.) Don’t sweep things under the rug. They won’t go away; they will fester and grow.
6.) Let your partner grow and learn their lessons at their own pace.
6.) Touch each other a lot. Gentle, loving touch bonds people and diffuses anger.
7.) You choose your partner to be your primary healer because there are some lessons and types of healing you can do only with them. There are lessons to be learned from the difficulties. Take the time and have the faith to learn them.
-Doris, our LCSW
8.) Have fun together.
-Doris & Oscar’s sister, Erika.
So, commitment and work.
Honesty and communication.
Patience and compassion.
Nurturing one another and yourself.
Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.
I presume that’s why Jessica Laura and her wife Julia said, in their marriage vows, “I surrender myself to who you really are.” Because as hard as it can be, you have to be willing to do that, to truly accept, to surrender your hang-ups and fears to that true acceptance.
I am willing, but I will need the support of teachers and friends to know how to do that at all times. I guess that’s why we get married in communities of loved ones.
For that support, for this advice.
I am counting on your help, community.
Thank you for all you’ve already done.
And Oscar, I can’t wait. I am so excited.
(photo by Oscar Avellaneda)
In kindergarten, Ms. Clutz asked us to write an “I love my mother because…” paper with a drawing for Mother’s Day. In the big open space on top of that newsprint paper with the lines, I drew a ferris wheel and wrote: “I love my mother because shez gona tak me to the Dixn May Fare,” or some such partially-invented spelling. (Oh how I wish I had the paper with me to scan and post here!) When I found this piece of writing as a wisened 5th grader, I thought, “How shallow I was! I thought love was just about her doing little things for me!”
But tonight, I began a little list in my head of reasons I loved my parents, and they were all small things like that. Of course I love them for big, giant reasons—reasons as big as the lessons and patterns of my life, reasons like the way they’ve helped form my character as a strong woman with integrity or the way they accept me. But I find that little things are powerful in themselves, and powerful as symbols of something larger.
So here goes a very short list of the little reasons that came into my head tonight.
I love my parents because:
- We share fruit and cheese from Costco. One of us goes to Costco and then we split up the food and the receipts. They have the money to buy excess fruit & such, but they don’t like to waste. And they know that I hate to waste food and loathe spending more money than I need to, so they agree to sharing food from Costco runs, as inconvenient as it may be. It’s kind of cute and communitarian of them.
- My dad helped me move furniture on Friday night even with his thumb in a brace. Half-way through, I fed him green curry which he said looked like second-hand food, but smelled good. We ate in silence as he read, with rapt attention, this book I have on foods from the African diaspora. Then we carried more furniture, using my shawl as a sling to make up for the un-opposability of his thumb. My dad, and both my parents, are so tough and adaptable, so curious, and ready all the time with wry, sometimes caustic, sometimes obscene humor.
- My mom and I just went and saw “The Kids are All Right” and then talked about it over beer and dinner. To me, the message of the film was about how marriage is hard and it takes work and you can’t let problems pile up without addressing them consciously and compassionately. It was a message shared poignantly in the film. But I was grateful that it was also a message I grew up hearing, grew up understanding from my parents. I love them for demonstrating that you can’t sweep problems under the rug and that the work of love is worth it.
- I love them for being reticent with their support when I was in the wrong relationships and generous with it now. I love my dad’s enthusiasm for making beer (“Hoppiness is Wedded Bliss Brown Ale,” as he has already named it) and black currant wine for Oscar and my wedding and my mom’s eagerness to help cash in miles to get me to Bogotá to see my amor.
There’s more, there’s always more, and it’s good to stop and note it at times. My kindergarten self, as egocentric as I may have been at five years old, recognized love in the little things, and wrote it down.
(Left, at a District K forum with legislators. My photo.)
(Right, playing Pictionary on Christmas 2009. Photo by Oscar Avellaneda)
We are in Guadalajara, the sprawling city of 7 million that is the capital of Jalisco, México, staying at our friend Arqui’s house upstairs from his little brother Moises (Arqui’s in Anchorage, where he lives and works now). We are stuck here for Oscar’s 30 day rabies vaccine series. Well, I extended my ticket an extra week anyway, but will eventually have to get back to work and leave him here by himself, el pobrecito. It is hot, the air is filled with dust and pollution and the smell of people burning their trash, and the whole place overwhelms us, the whole experience overwhelms us.
I will back up and tell the story of why we are here.
Erika flew home to Anchorage to be with her beaux and I flew to Puerto Vallarta to be with mine. We spent a beautiful anniversary weekend in the isolated village of Yelapa that has not a single car or street, but is built over ocean cliffs with stone and cement paths. I am anxious to see my photos of the people we met there, the parents making sand sculptures of their children’s bodies in the sand, the mother playing games with her children during the water taxi ride. Then we spent a day in PV to deal with the dental visit from hell (note to others who prolong needed dental work in order to wait and do it in a country with cheaper dental care: DON’T wait if you really need it because it gets worse and more expensive), and the next morning took off on our ride over the mountains to Guadalajara (me on Erika’s bike).
The Bike Ride Over the Mountains
[At our first campsite]
The first night we stayed by a beautiful little stream outside of Las Palmas under a giant tree, which, as very romantic as it was, was accompanied by about 70 nasty bug bites on my legs. This was followed by a hot and dehydrated day of climbing about 3,000 feet and feeling more exhausted than I have since running Crow Pass 13 years ago. Then a night of sleeping in the plaza of the pueblito of Estancia after the teenagers that had gathered there to sing and joke and play Norteños on their cell phones and the middle aged men who had gathered to drink Coronas had all gone off to their homes and the dogs began their caucaphony of discussing whatever it is that rural dogs want to discuss all night…needless to say, it was not the best night of sleep. The following day we climbed about 3,000 feet more, but with better food and drink and earlier in the morning and with good conversation and humor. We then descended and rode a long time into the beautiful little colonial town of Mascota with its cobblestone streets and clay tile roofs. In Mascota we met curious young men and women at the carníceria and a kind old woman in the comedor, and I was finally able to take better care of the nasty blisters that had been forming on my butt from the unfamiliar seat. Then a heartbreakingly long and hot and steep ride up to the damn/lake where we were to camp, a delicious sopa de res, and a night of feeling angry and agitated by the pendejo restaurant owners on the lakeshore who decided to get drunk and blare the jukebox late into the night, after it had already been blaring all afternoon and evening. We took a rest day in which we decided in late afternoon to ride down the hill and camp by the river to avoid the late night party scene at the lake. This led to an evening spent playing in the river with and teaching two curious little grade school aged “chayoteros” (farmers/vendors of the vegetable chayote, photos of whom are on the link) about camping gear, and another night of sleep interrupted every hour or so by Norteños playing loudly from someone’s big truck, some borrachos, somewhere.
[Oscar's photo with my little half-broken Canon of the full moon rising over the lake. Peaceful view, not peaceful music blaring.]
Not Just Another Mexican-Hating Gringa, Really
So, there are some themes here, right? Men drinking and (mostly) men playing music–specifically, Norteños–at all hours, often with big trucks involved. See, I love Norteños, love their springy polka rhythms and funny lyrics, and especially corridos, the story songs, but I was getting worried for a while that their constant presence, their being pushed into our every waking (and potentially sleeping) moment would spoil me on them. I also love México and was getting worried that this would spoil me on México. I kept telling Oscar that it’s not like this in the South–he’ll see–, that it’s more sensilla and indigenous and that when I heard music in the streets in Oaxaca it was most often a funeral or wedding parade with lots of brass instruments. And of course, I told him about Gil and Cynthia and Claudia, my dear friends from Oaxaca who questioned gender norms and machismo, anti-indigenist sentiment, materialism, the worship of US Americanism, etc. But I said these things most of all to remind myself, to assure myself that I’m not just another Mexican-hating gringa, another First Worlder afraid of the Third World (or Second? Where does Mexico fit in this scheme?)
I’m not just another gringa, but I find myself critical as always of machismo and more critical of the Mexican government and the ways in which corruption and inefficacy seems to trickle down into even the smallest institutions and businesses than I was when I lived in Southern Mexico 7 years ago–maybe because I’m farther North, maybe because I’m older and understand systems better, maybe also because I never had to deal with the medical system before, having never had rabies exposure…so, on to that story:
Love in the Time of Rabies
On Saturday, Oscar’s mother’s birthday, after a 5:30 am morning and a really hard 4 1/2 hours of riding, mostly climbing, we stopped at a shack covered by a roof of wood and straw where an old woman was making tortillas. She prepared us food over the fire as I cleaned my wounds and then we sat down to eat the most amazing meal of cow heart in a guisado of tomato with beans and freshly-made tortillas. As I think back on it, the Carolyn Forché poem keeps running through my head in which she writes, about revolutionary El Salvador, something like “You can’t eat heart in times like these.” I don’t think it quite fits, but there is something to the gravity of it that I like in this situation.
We had stopped at the shack to eat rather than eating our previous night’s leftovers like usual, because we intended to break for a few hours in the shade to sleep and repack. However, this plan was quickly interrupted by the family’s dog biting Oscar out of nowhere, us realizing that there were potential rabies-related behaviors in the dog and that the family had never vaccinated it, cleaning the wounds, and quickly getting on our bikes to ride the 15 K down the mountain to Anteguilla where we hopped a bus to Guadalajara. Once in the city, we checked into the first hotel we found and adventured out on the buses to 5 hours of walking and calling around from hospital to hospital and chatting with women in pharmacies (where, by the way, the women wear peach-colored dresses with collars and double buttons up the front, which I thought was interesting and old-fashioned) only to be told that the Cruz Verde should have the rabies treatment/vaccine but they don’t…and no one else does. We asked each other, “How is it that everyone points their fingers at an institution responsible for toxicology that acts as though they’d never even considered treating rabies?” and, the next day, upon making dozens more phone calls “How is it that even the medical emergency line doesn’t have a working number for the Secretary of Health that is responsible for rabies?”…and we don’t know the answers. We know only that the giant holes in communication between institutions is something we see reproduced between business people and clients and, we would find on Monday and also in my follow-up dental apt. on Thursday, between patients and medical providers.
Upon returning to our hotel, my earlier suspicion that there were fleas was confirmed by many little bites and Oscar squishing one open, and so we spent the next hour or so re-packing, demanding my money back, and calling Arqui, who got his kind friend Enrique to come pick us and our bikes up in his little sedan to go to Arqui’s house, where I left all of my clothing on the patio outside for fear of fleas. And so, it was while undressed for fear of fleas, on the dark cement porch at 1:30 in the morning, that Oscar knelt down and told me how strong and wonderful I was and asked me to marry him, slipping onto my finger the beautiful ring he had had made for me in Puerto Vallarta while tears slipped out of his eyes and down his cheeks. Of course I said yes. How could I not want to marry this man who proceeds with so much strength and grace after being bitten by a dog, this man who rubbed ointment in little circulitos on my aching bug bites with the intention of calming me down while Norteños blared around us at the lake, who is so strong and competent and curious and kind and smart, who has talked sweetly on the phone about our future for months now despite what I now see are incredibly trying days?
¡Viva Public Health!
So, the sleepy now-fiancés slept on a bed (a bed! a bed with an absolutely perfect mattress!) and woke up to a morning of laundering the fleas out of the clothing and cleaning the dusty house (dust from the streets coats everything in only a day or so). We proceeded on to phone calls all day, and finally a plan to proceed to the Secretaria de Salud in the morning…because, being government, they were closed on the weekend. Just as my dad telling me over the phone that the rates of rabies in Jalisco had dropped almost off the charts since 2000 had calmed us down, so too did walking into the Secretaria de Salud and seeing signs over the doors with the words “epidemiología” and “estadistica.” I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that por fin we were in the hands of people/an institution with a public health perspective. Maybe that’s just grad school heady Laura needing to grasp something in terms she could be comfortable with, but I think it’s also that a public health perspective is so qualitatively different than the “It’s not my problem” perspective we had gotten from the hospitals and the profit motive from businesses and vendors that often means cheating people outright.
[Mi Osquitar in the waiting area of the Secretaria de Salud, waiting for his consultation, nervous.]
After a visit with an oldish doctor who could stand to improve in clarity of communication and some extremely young nurses who forgot tell Oscar the side effects and contraindications of the vaccination, Oscar began his first of five injections of rabies vaccine. (After his fever and weakness started, we went back to ask about side effects.) In the US, this vaccine would have cost thousands of dollars. Here, they’re giving it to him for free. This is, indeed, a public health approach. Despite everything else, ¡Viva México! ¡Viva la salud pública!
We have until Tuesday to make sure Oscar isn’t showing any symptoms of rabies to then fully relax, but we’re confident he’ll be fine and we want to get the hell out of the city this weekend and go to Arqui’s mom’s house. We are such country bumpkins, such Alaskans. I don’t know about Oscar, but I don’t think if I’ve ever missed Alaska as much as I did a few nights ago while suffering from food poisoning and smelling the neighbors burn trash and being hot and dirty because the house didn’t have enough water left in the tank to shower or wash dishes…all I could do was try to imagine the mountains and clean glacial lakes, the snow and the air and the trees, and imagine us there, try to dream about home.
But we’re here, not in Alaska, and it’s not all bad. We are eating lots of delicious fruits and vegetables for cheap and trying new ones. Guadalajara seems to be a queer-friendly city; or if it’s not outwardly friendly, at least lesbians, gay men and trans individuals seem to feel safe enough being out because we’ve met and seen a number of them. And there’s certainly more options for women and girls to wear their gender than in the campo, with the roqueras opting for baggy t-shirts and jeans and less makeup. Plus, Oscar and I often get to exchange those looks of joy when we watch multiple generations of family members enjoying their children and when we notice the casualness with which men touch one another, not always avoiding one another so as to not look gay, like American men do. We love the way buses stop wherever people put out their hand and how people pass their money forward to the driver from the back of the bus when it’s crowded. And we loved the simple kindness of the people in the pueblitos and of the women in the corner store in this neighborhood.
Plus, we are learning! Living in this house that didn’t have water for a few days and so learning how to catch water at every opportunity, siphon water from the bit that remained, use gray water to flush the toilet, wash dishes with as little as possible, and begin our nightly ritual of washing one another’s feet in a bucket before bed has made us way more conscious of how to conserve water and how much even we, little environmentalists, waste when we are in the US. Now, we are not going to use gray water like this back home because it stinks, but we will take these lessons with us. In general, scarcity like this makes one aware both of how much government services are important for quality of life (and grateful that we have them) and of privilege and waste, how imperative it is that those of us in the First World don’t continue to consume resources at the same devastatingly quick level. Catching and reusing water, walking or riding a bike or taking the bus, not languishing in the shower, buying produce from local markets that don’t use extensive packaging are all little things that México will remind me of when I return. I am grateful for this.
And most of all, I am grateful to be problem-solving and working and cooking and sleeping next to the love of my life, the very good and beautiful man who I will marry. Who will not have rabies.
[My engagement ring! Mexican silver and turquoise, crafted esp. by a local jeweler in Puerto Vallarta, per Oscar's instructions. Now I have to find him something fitting and beautiful and local as well. No luck yet, but I'm searching. This photo is from the not-so-romantic location of the Secretaria de Salud.]
p.s. Next installment I want to reflect on diet, overweight and obesity here. I am astounded by how like the US it is.
Update 7/10/10: Here are Oscar and my engagement rings together. I found him one a week or so later. He has never been used to wearing jewelry, but now he loves it & wears it & kisses it before bed. It makes me so happy that we both, from afar, have these symbols on our body of our committment:
On last weekend’s “This American Life,” which was actually an old show, the theme was “Somewhere Out There.” It was about finding the one. There was a great story about a young white American man named Eric doing an exchange in China and singing Chinese opera. He fell for a musician there named Yuen Yuen, lost touch with her when he came back to the states, and then, years later, upon returning to China, tried against all odds to find her in Beijing with very few leads. It was a fairytale story of how they found one another and came to be in love. But then it became less fairytale like–she came to the US on a fiancé visa, so they had to get marry sooner than they were ready to. It was rough for a few years. They had to rely on their falling in love story to convince themselves they were worth the work, that their relationship was too magical to let end. But they got through it…and this is the quote at the end of that story that made me bawl when I heard it and choke up later when I recounted it to my own amor:
Narrator: The story of how they met began to feel less and less important. And they didn’t talk about it as much. Now, they have a different story.
Eric: Which is the story of struggle and pain that we, uh, sort of passed through and fought through and overcame. And, y’know, that’s a story that you don’t tell in public. Because no one ever asks, “How did you two stay together?” Everyone always asks, “How did you two meet?”
I love this quote. I love this lesson. I love stories of how people stay together. I guess that’s why I love cheesy Brad Paisley country songs–because they’re about his wife; they’re about pregnancy and daily life. They’re about staying in love. I’ve seen enough in my little 27 years to know that a lot of the falling in love songs and movies don’t last long, that they don’t just live happily ever after. I think we do children a great disservice when the majority of their stories end with only the beginning of the beauty and work of real relationships. (Side note: we also do them a great disservice with the myth that everyone already knows how to have sex so you don’t have to talk about it. I hate that one.)
We all need help holding our relationships–with partners, with friends, colleagues, sisters and brothers and parents–together. We all need help communicating and giving and negotiating respect. We need more stories about this. So thank you, This American Life, for that brief and beautiful articulation and I hope that we create space for more such stories.
p.s. My parents have been together for 30.5 years. Oscar’s parents have been together for about that long. Another family I grew up with, the Blouws, have been together 40-some years. I have access to some stories.
(A collage I made for the cover of my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary mix CD of love songs)
I have been meaning, for the last few weeks, to sit down and write an essay of some sort about love. I’ve been writing it in my head as I drive, and saying, “Once I finish Christmas presents and this program plan and this research summary and lesson planning for the math unit in the after school program, then I’ll sit down and write the essay.” But I haven’t finished anything except Christmas presents, and I may be forgetting the words that I intended for the subject.
When I write this essay, it will be about mature love. It will talk about how fluttery dramatic and unreal love songs don’t move me, but songs about families and long-term loves do. My best friend and her wife’s wedding vows did. Old couples do. It will talk about the way I’ve learned to love more maturely and how relationships are about so much more than that love rush and those emotions and the hasty commitments that might arise from taking emotions as enough. It might reveal the way that Oscar and I show our love for one another lately by talking about house design and interior decoration and what we mean by it is, “I am committed to building a life with you.” It’ll be way more eloquent than this.
I’ll write it and I hope you’ll read it. In the meanwhile, it is Oscar’s last 10 days in our shared city, and then he takes off on his bike journey from Bellingham, WA to his home city of Bogotá, Colombia (check out the trip site: www.quehubo.info). I won’t see him again until April or so, so our mature love will be put to all sorts of tests. And I have faith in it.