Back To Square One (Kinda)

Well, the post-graduation euphoria was fun for about the 5 days that it lasted. I applied and got accepted to my graduate program before I was done with undergrad, so my progress bar that read 100% that filled me with the predictable pride and joy was quickly replaced by the gravity that it absolutely doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t get credit for that in this new program; I’m just another person with 0% on his progress bar. Again. I’m not nearly as intimidated now as I was when taking my undergrad seriously, but it was still jarring to see that 0% staring at me, daring me to do something about it. I just got done with the first week of my initial class, and it’s as hard as advertised and I have to write a bunch and blah, blah, blah who cares, really.

I got to go home and see Rachel for New Years, and that’s way more fun to write about. It felt so good to just hang out with my wife and do nothing in particular again. She took our dog into the airport with his service vest (Fun California Fact: People aren’t legally allowed to question why you need a service pet, nor are they allowed to ask for verification, so just buy him/her a fake vest from Amazon and take him everywhere. Not saying that we do that…but it definitely can be done.), and he had the nerve to give me the cold shoulder when he saw me! It lasted for a solid 12 seconds, but still! Gut-wrenching 12 seconds.

It felt amazing to feel our son kick the hell out of Rachel and go to her doctor appointments and feel like I’m actively participating in this whole process. We watched a Kings game on the laptop one night and our son literally kicked the laptop off Rachel’s stomach. He isn’t even born yet and already knows that the Kings aren’t worth watching. Smart kid. The only lame part of the trip was that my main circle of friends have all moved away, and I couldn’t catch any of them in town. It really drove home how much everything has changed in a year. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but it’s still strange to process sometimes.

Shawn and Rachel
Rachel, Diego (in her belly), and I. 

Oh yeah, we went to French Laundry! French Laundry. French. Fucking. Laundry. It was the first and likely only time that I thought taking food pictures in dim lighting would just be an insult to the food. The experience would have been incredible on its own, but we also got to take a tour of the kitchen and got a menu that was autographed by the head chef that I’m really tempted to frame and place on a wall. My tastebuds will never be the same, and it’s something that I would recommend for everyone, even if it’s just once. Rachel paid the tab since it was her graduation present for me, but it also doubled as a booby trap for me to pick up tabs for the obscenely expensive restaurants in Europe. She thinks she’s slick.

Of course, I had to leave again and I had to see Rachel cry because of me again and my dog is mad at me again and the whole thing sucked again and I’m counting down to see her from zero again. But it’s ok. We’re going to have our baby 8 weeks (?!?!?!??!?) from today, and that’s basically all that matters at this point.

 

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Halfway Home

Yup. Almost there. Rachel is over the 20 week mark and is showing enough that she can be classified as “pregnant” instead of “ehhh maybe pregnant…or is she just fat?” Personally, I hit the 6 month mark of my assignment last week, which already seems like a lifetime ago. It’s nice here, but I’m about ready to leave. I get to visit California in about six weeks, and it’ll take a lot for me to actually come back.

NBA League Pass has made our lives so much easier that I don’t know what to do. We just hang out after work and watch games “together” now, and it seems like she’s right there, just how it used to be. Hoops have always been our bond. We wouldn’t have met without it. We wouldn’t even have known of each other’s existence without it. It’s our thing, and being able to share it with her in any capacity is the best slice of home that I can have.

…..and that’s pretty much it. Not much new, as far as Rachel and I are concerned.

But we’re totally obsessed with the baby already. We’re naming him Diego. If I was back home, I’d be staying overnight waiting for doctor’s appointments like the new iPhone was coming out. I want to know everything. How fast he’s growing, how he compares to other babies, how long his limbs are…just everything.

We’ve been going back and forth on whether we should push him towards a particular career or to just introduce him to a wide variety of subjects and let him decide for himself. The latter option seems like the more reasonable, humane thing to do, but there has to be a reason that it doesn’t happen very often in practice. It’s probably something about parents caring about the overall well being of their child and wanting him to fit in and not suffer criticism and bullying or whatever. But what’s the point if the kid isn’t happy? Yeah, pushing Diego to be a doctor or an engineer would ensure that he’ll make a lot of money and be seen as important to strangers, but it’s not worth it if he’s miserable. Do you really want to be seen by a doctor that goes through the motions because he’s really into art or sports but it wasn’t deemed as an “honorable” profession by his parents? Probably not. So fuck that. It might be something that I won’t fully understand until the baby is here and I won’t want anything bad to ever happen to him. And that’s fine. But from where I stand (or lay in bed) now, I’ll just let the boy choose. If that means that I end up with a 6’8, 220 lb. art historian, then so be it. I’ll clown him, but so be it.

But God, am I so excited about this mini-me that kicks my wife’s uterus for fun. I wonder if he has thoughts besides “feed me, feed me, feed me” already. I heard that babies develop taste palates in the womb. What if he only eats organic, gluten-free, hand picked and squashed baby food or whatever? That would suck. I’m sure that stuff is expensive. I especially wonder how smart he’s gonna be. What if he ends up being a genius (possible, since Rachel is one) and he’s outsmarting me logically by age 6 or something? That would suck too, but at least I can still beat him up. I can’t wait to see Rachel so I can feel the baby kick and move around and just exist in general. I’m so happy that he exists. And Rachel is cool too for carrying him around.

I Needed to Go Back Home

I was pretty sure that this was the worst decision I ever made when I was waiting idly in Charleston’s airport, feeling stupefied about not being able to rent a car in the entire city due to the flooding. Five separate car rental companies, and they unanimously said there was nothing available. Now what? No way I took a week of vacation just to not get within an hour of the people who needed me most, right? Yet there I was, charging my phone while sitting in the rock hard seats near the baggage claim, wondering how my uncle would be able to find me, if a way was even  plausible at the time. A large stretch of I-95 was shut down due to the storm, so my uncle finding an alternate route to pick me up was an adventure in of itself, never mind that it was already 9pm and he’s felt the ravages of nearly 70 years of life. There’s no way I could reasonably expect him, or anyone for that matter, to pick me up from that distance on such short notice. Yet when I called, sheepishly explaining my plight, he insisted that a checking into a hotel wouldn’t be necessary, since he would be there as soon as he could. Our first extended contact in a decade, and I’m impelling him to make a 5 hour round trip drive in the aftermath of historic flooding. I never said I was a perfect child.

Over the course of the week, when I wasn’t cleaning around the area, I found myself turning into the 24 year old version of myself. I was eating like crap (literally had Zaxby’s daily with no regrets), not lifting weights, staying up until 5am, not doing homework or anything else remotely constructive until the last minute, and just…generally being lazy. And you know? It felt good. It really did. I kinda understood how people could get stuck in that mode, especially when weed and alcohol are involved. I also realized that if I didn’t take that idiotic 22 hour, drive to Houston on two days notice, I could very possibly be in that same position today. I could very well be grinding day to day in a factory without any way to go to school or any way to escape it. And that’s not to say the people there are uneducated failures either. One of my old friends was finishing up his Master’s degree, and he’s doing customer service at Sprint. The quality jobs for non-professionals just aren’t there, and while it’s easy to tell those people to just move to a better place…that’s fucking scary. It wasn’t scary for me, but that’s because I’m a moron. It’s terrifying for most normal, rational humans to break away from everything they know for something that might not even work, and even if the current situation is suboptimal, it’s something. It’s a concept that I understand a lot better now than I did at age 25.

But having the opportunity to be lazy again wasn’t the reason I need to go back. I just needed to make peace. With everyone. My uncle and cousin laughed and joked with me for the entirety of that terribly unpleasant drive back to Sumter. And my aunt and I were finally peaceful. We just talked and joked and did normal things that mothers and older sons do. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time that we’ve spent an entire week together without her yelling at me. That isn’t even satire. She literally yelled at me for something every single day for the five years I went to school there. I lived in misery, and to a degree, so did she. It was so shocking for us to be “normal.”

It also helped that people who I have seen or even contacted in a decade told me that they didn’t blame me for leaving, even if I could have done it in a better way. I figured that I would have to explain what was going on all those years ago, but they said that it was unnecessary. They knew that I was unhappy, even if I never actually said so at the time. A change of scenery was the best thing for me, and they hoped that I escaped my personal hell back then.

It took a while to get back to my normal self, whatever the hell this version of “normal” is (which explains my lack of posts lately), but I knew that I could only stay in a state of stasis for so long. I’ve grown too much in these last few years. I always have to be doing something, anything to keep my mind busy. But a few days of breaking my routine was a small price to pay for what I received in return.

Honestly, it felt like I left Sumter a whole person, which is something that I thought would never happen as recently as 20 months ago. I hugged my aunt, uncle and cousin, but it didn’t seem final. It felt much more like a  “see you later” goodbye instead of a “it was fun while it lasted” goodbye. And I agreed. I can finally go home again. It’s cool.

Can Time Just Slow Down A Slight Bit, Please?

It can’t be October tomorrow. It still feels like this whole…whatever this is supposed to be…just started in some ways. Instead, I’ll be in Honduras for 5 months next week, which means that I’m almost halfway done. My wife is officially in her second trimester. I’ll be done with my undergrad program in 12 weeks. Nothing in my life is remotely the same from this past May, yet it feels like “this past May” was last week.

It was weird saying bye to my closest friends from California. There was an awkward vibe that surrounded our good times, a kind of “this is probably never happening with us again” cloud that never quite lifted. Although I’ve moved around a great deal, I’ve never had that feeling before, and I genuinely enjoyed it, as uncomfortable as it was. I left to South Carolina from Queens at age 11 without being able to tell anyone. I left to New Jersey from South Carolina at 16 without telling anybody outside of my very best friend at the time. I didn’t even get the chance to do that much with my new college friends on my way back to South Carolina from Jersey; I was on the first Greyhound smoking after my cousin found out about my grades. That was the routine for me. I was somewhere, and then I just…wasn’t there anymore.

Looking back from the point of view of the people who cared about me back then, that shit is weird. And hurtful. Having someone you talked to daily just disappear without a trace one day, especially when Facebook wasn’t widespread and Twitter didn’t even exist, just has to feel so abrupt. Like someone rage quit your relationship. I really regret doing that, even if a couple of those instances weren’t under my control.

Last May was the first time I’ve really said goodbye to anyone close. The first time that I’ve given (or had a chance to give) any widespread notice to my departure. The first time I’ve had any finality. A going away party. Closure. All that good stuff. It was also the first time the majority of my friends and family was able to say, “Oh yeah, Shawn’s moving to _______ during ________. We should see him before he leaves.” That was really important to me. It was cool knowing that someone actually cared about me leaving.

Until I got married, I never got the feeling that people’s lives would change after I left them. I’m sure people missed me in a “that Shawn guy was cool. It’s a shame he left,” sort of way, but I never felt indispensable to someone. That’s one of the benefits of having a set of parents and/or siblings that people take for granted. You know someone genuinely cares about your whereabouts. You know that you truly matter to someone. Since my family wholly consists of cousins and aunts and uncles without actual parents or siblings, I’ve always had the sense that I could only hope to be second fiddle in anyone’s heart of hearts. I could only hope to be “like a brother” to someone or “like a son” to someone else. No matter how much someone loved me, there was always at least one human being that they loved more than me. I couldn’t pass the ultimate cliff test (if two people were hanging off a cliff and you could only save one, who would it be?) with anyone because there would always be someone more important to them. This, of course, is selfish. And terribly unfair to my aunt and uncle and cousins (their two sons) who voluntarily took care of me and loved me as much as they possibly could. But I don’t think it’s false.

I think that’s part of the reason I’m irrationally excited about having a child instead of having the nerves that normally come with it. I don’t want my child to ever have that feeling. That’s not one of the common adversities that people overcome to build character. It’s debilitating, mentally and emotionally. It makes you think that ending it all wouldn’t bother the rest of the world all that much. In short, it sucks. Fortunately, I don’t feel it much anymore. Thanks, Rachel.

I just have this feeling that time will go exponentially faster as the birth draws closer and I’m going to blink and it’ll be Halloween and I’ll know whether we’re having a son or daughter and oh my God can I just please hit the pause button to process what exactly is going on sometimes? Everything is scary. But at least I’ll get to say goodbye to the past this time.

(No, my wife hasn’t ripped my head off via Skype yet. But it’s coming. I can feel it.)

What Did I Expect, Really?

Well, I’m shocked that I wanted to spend more than four days with my wife after not seeing her for over two months. I don’t even know how else I’m supposed to feel in this stupid situation. Not like I’m going to watch her leave and think to myself, “You know? I’m totally ready to not see my pregnant wife for another three months. Those four days were justttttt enough to hold me over.” It’s the most obvious thing to write in the world. Watching her leave was sad. I’m still pretty sad about it. Watching her cry sucks. I felt like crying at the time too, but it never happens. It’s always at an airport or something. Too public.

We had a great time while she was here, though. Took her to the base the first day so she could get a sense of my daily routine (and to make sure I wasn’t hiding her existence to random women on the base, but that went unspoken). She couldn’t envision what the base looked like from my description because my description consisted of, “it’s just like any other base,” which proves that I need to write way more often. I think she wanted me to wax poetic about how the maroon tin roofs (rooves?) of the buildings defiantly reflected from the sun and gave the base an eminent glow while…I don’t know…the antiquated but reliable architecture of the offices reminded those entitled military Yankees of Central American improvisation and mettle. Whatever. She got to see my dorm room, and we got to take the twin bed for a spin like we were in our late teens. Fun stuff.

I think my favorite part of the entire visit was the both of us sitting on my bed, using the TV as background noise while we both caught up on our assignments. Silent, with the occasional exception of leaning over for a kiss or asking how far we were in our papers. Everything else in our lives is basically new and totally liquid, but none of it mattered for the 90 minutes that it lasted. It’s something we’ve done countless times while I was at home daily, and I took it for granted right up until that point.

I lied. My favorite part of the visit was definitely Rachel framing her first ultrasound for me and tracking the baby’s rapid heartbeat together. The previous paragraph is a solid runner-up, though.

The next afternoon, we took a two hour ride to a brewery when neither of us could drink alcohol (my squadron is doing prohibition since we’ve mistaken this assignment for a reality show and Rachel is pregnant) and hung out by the lake all weekend. Went birdwatching on a poorly designed boat (which was way more fun than it sounds). Took way too many pictures of the waterfall. Spent much of the evening walking through town with this older couple that teaches in different international schools in Central and South America for a living. No TV, very little wifi, no minutia, no worries.

We spent Sunday at the Intercontinental, where we exchanged nature for room service and hot showers and adequate plumbing. Football was cool too. Even had a first world issue of the room not having ESPN in English. The IC is a pretty somber experience for us both because it reminds us of the end, since the next stop is always the airport. There’s this inescapable cloud of finality that hovers over an otherwise wonderful experience. I tried Twitter for a solid 15 minutes. Gave it a real effort. Nothing. Maybe it’ll be better during basketball season. It won’t, but I can dream. Who cares?

The countdown resets. Again. I should probably look forward to seeing Rachel again in late December instead of dwelling on the fact that I won’t see her during her entire 2nd trimester. She’ll go from having a baby bump to a full grown belly. I won’t even be there to find out what the gender will be. This is supposed to get easier. I’m on month four. It’s not getting easier. Everything sucks again. Can’t wait to not do this anymore. Until then, I’ll just keep breathing.

My Wife Has a Lime in her Now

According to my handy dandy What To Expect app, our baby is growing hair follicles (pray that he/she inherits Rachel’s hairline) and fingernails. The baby also has hands and feet without webs, open nasal passages, a tongue and (hopefully picky like his/her parents) palate in the mouth, and visible nipples, which is a blessing, since we know that nipples aren’t a given for everyone.

I think I put my finger on the most difficult part of being separated from your loved ones. This doesn’t even necessarily have to apply to your spouse or kids; it can be the product of being away from your parents, relatives, close friends, people from your hometown, etc. It’s the fact that you just aren’t living the same life as anyone else you’re close to anymore. The same ties that were present to the point where you took them for granted no longer exist. You’re doing something drastically different from your loved ones the vast majority of the time you’re apart, and over time, after the initial shock of missing each other wears off and you both return to living your separate day to day lives, it gets really difficult to relate to each other.

Rachel and I have gone through this lately. My life is pretty simple out here. I work reasonable and stable hours, go to the gym, do reasonable amounts of schoolwork, read a bunch, write silly blogs on wordpress, and have fun with my friends on the weekends. Most of what I do makes me generally happy. Rachel’s life? Not so much.

She works these ridiculous, ever-changing hours as a property manager for her parents’ company while taking three (fucking three!) Master’s courses at a time, since she’s casually condensing a 18 month program into a 12 month dash to the finish line before giving birth and almost immediately moving away from everything she’s ever known for the next three years. Which is to say she doesn’t do too much outside of that. Her idea of a good time these days consists of getting our poodle to stay in the case that he’s traveling in during our flight for gradually longer periods of time. That brings her genuine joy. So when we’re on the phone and I’m talking about all the places I’m seeing and the cool things I’m doing on a regular basis, she gets…jealous? Yeah, I think she gets jealous. And I’d be pretty jealous if the roles were reversed.

If I was bogged with a never-ending burden of papers and discussion boards with the occasional 8pm-3am work shift thrown in just to ensure that my sleep cycle is never quite right, I’d probably tire of hearing about my wife’s relatively paradisal days pretty quickly. And I’m not even pregnant.

She always talks about how our lives are so different now. They were different from the moment I left for Central America, but we at least had the common tie of crying about how much this sucks and how we miss each other more than anything. Now we’re approaching the dog days of the deployment, and exchanging variations of “I miss you” for hours on end doesn’t exactly make for compelling conversation after the first month.

As much fun as I’m having out here, I’d kill to be doing the day to day grind with Rachel. I think most guys take a unique sense of pride in caring for their pregnant wives, especially if they were independent beforehand. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard my friends brag about their pregnant wives making them get pretzels and ice cream from the store at 2am or watching their walks gradually turn into waddles as the belly inflates, and I used to think to myself, “Huh? That sounds horrible. What’s so fun about that?” But now that I’m in the situation, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Massaging Rachel’s feet until my hands cramp while she threatens to kill me for impregnating her in the first place has never sounded more appealing.

She’ll be here on Thursday, and she’ll stay through the weekend. I’m sure I won’t be writing much, since I’ll be busy trying to fit two months of affection and quality time and sex (YES YES YES YES…sorry) and just getting back on the same page and generally doing the same things into those next four days. The time will go way too quickly, and I’ll be kicking myself for not doing a bunch of cool things that we didn’t have time to fit, but she’ll know that I tried my best and appreciate me for it. Then the cycle starts again.

Stop Mistaking Constant Fighting With a Normal, Healthy Relationship

My wife cursed me out Sunday morning. Being cursed out isn’t fun, but I think I earned it. It started with a phone call late Saturday night. Prior to the call, I had gone to a bar and buried myself in Jack Daniels Single Barrel (delicious stuff, by the way), so I wasn’t exactly in my right mind. Anyway, Rachel suggests that we cancel a trip that we planned in order to save money for the baby. Reasonable, I suppose. I replied by telling her that she’s overreacting about any future money issues and hanging up on her. I totally planned on calling her back after using the bathroom. I did not call her back after using the bathroom. I passed out and woke up to the aforementioned fire and brimstone. After about two hours of doing a great impression of a dog with his tail between his legs, we calmly talked everything over like the normal humans we are and we were back to ourselves soon thereafter.

This isn’t a normal occurrence. We fight about once every 5-6 weeks. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been mad at each other overnight. It’s been, by far, the most peaceful relationship I’ve ever had. It’s a constructive, loving relationship, and it’s totally fucking foreign to me.

I used to live by the adage of, “if she’s not always upset at you, she doesn’t really love you (or she’s ready to break up or she’s cheating with a real man or something else stupid),” and my previous relationships followed suit. My former girlfriends and I were always arguing with each other, always yelling about something inconsequential to the big picture. And I thought that’s what love was. My aunt always yelled at me when I was younger, and I carried that over into my relationships. Until fairly recently, I truly didn’t think that a relationship was “real” unless there was constant drama or negativity involved.

arguing-couple

Well, that viewpoint was bullshit. And poison, mentally and emotionally. If you are constantly fighting with your significant other, then something is wrong. That isn’t normal. It drains you and kills you slowly. Your lifeforce is slowly sucked away from you, and the only solace you can find is when you’re as far away from her as humanly possible. Yet, many people persist in those relationships because that’s what they think love is. Hell, I sure did.  Thought it was a badge of honor to stick with this one girl no matter how miserable she made me because that’s what real love is and that’s what real men do. There’s a reason I used to smoke so many cigarettes. I was basically eroding inside.

And it’s not like Rachel and I agree on everything. We’ve had a bunch of heavy conversations that involved politics, religion, family, money, friends of the opposite sex, and everything else that evoke the worst from otherwise rational human beings. You know what we do? We talk. And talk. And talk some more. We even listen to each other occasionally.

We rarely, if ever, devolve into screaming matches. And while it was some sort of miracle for me to actually disagree with someone I love without it turning into an argument, she said that she just took it for granted as being normal. I patiently waited for the other shoe to drop, for her to stop this facade during our honeymoon phase and turn into the crazy (but my version of normal) women that I dealt with in my past, but it never happened. It still hasn’t. With time, and a lot of reassurance, I eventually realized that it is normal too. That’s how human beings who care about each other are supposed to communicate.

I’m not an advice guy. I have no clue about the lives of strangers, so telling them ways to solve their problems, especially without context, seems disingenuous at best. But please listen. If your significant other is a source of your stress more often than a source of joy, leave. Quickly. It doesn’t get better. It doesn’t magically stop. You just die slowly. Don’t die on me. I need you to read my stuff. Finding someone who constantly makes you happy isn’t a miracle. It’s normal. But Rachel’s a miracle.