4.16.12

Sights: while my dad rested yesterday, I went exploring. Apollo Beach is a fairly small town, surrounded by even smaller ones. I wish I had something better than my iPhone to shoot with, but I'm grateful for the distraction, the sunshine, and the fact that my father was even able to get some rest at all (some days are better than others).





Sounds: one word: Bonnaroo, to which I've just made plans to go with A. Radiohead. Foster the People. Two Door Cinema Club. Young the Giant. The Temper Trap. Ben Folds Five. The Kooks. Trampled By Turtles. City and Colour. Those are just my favorites from the lineup; there are many more. And there are some awesome Bonnaroo paylists up on Spotify. I have a lot of music to get acquainted with in the next couple of months!

my father's yard

Wild things grow in my father's yard.

Things lush in texture, riotous in color. Things unnamed and unknown to him. He couldn't tell you the species or genus of the plants, the trees, or the flowers that bloom outside his windows, or how best to care for them. But bloom they do, because in spite of his inattention they've managed to get what they need to survive. Sunlight. Soil. Water.

Which is not to say they couldn't do with a little help. Some pruning, some pollarding to clear the way for new growth.

If he brushed away the fallen, dried leaves that crunch in clusters along the walkway, it would be easier to reach his front door. If he tended to the weeds that threaten to choke the more delicate flowers, he could better see their blossoms. But he doesn't think to do it, and they live on in pretty, if precarious, complacence.

If he watered the roots of the tree that dominates the very center of his yard, it might bear fruit. But though its bark is brittle, its limbs are sturdy enough for anyone wishing to climb them.

Unsupervised, unmanaged and unchallenged, these growing things have become defiant, unruly. They thicken and thrive with a tenacity that their well-watched cousins in other yards needn't have.

Wild things live in my father's yard. He protects them, from a distance.

A duck has taken refuge against the west wall, under the spare bedroom window. She must feel safe, nearly shrouded from view behind fronds the size of dinner plates. Her white face, red rimmed eyes, and green-black body are exotic, and they captivate me. But when I try to creep closer to examine her nest, to look for eggs and take pictures, I am scolded and shooed away. Just leave her be, my father says. She aint bothering anybody. The duck has a frantic look about her. She meets my intruding gaze head on, and I have the feeling that even one step closer would move her to aggression.

My father doesn't seem to mind the downy white feathers that litter the landscaping and stick to his doormat. In fact, I suspect he takes a certain pride in the fact that she chose his yard to make her home, of the dozens that line his quiet street. At night I can hear her plaintive cry, and I wonder what need she's communicating. My father, on the other side of the house, sleeps through her call.

When, months ago, a kingsnake took up temporary residence in the lanai, my father chose retreat over confrontation. Rather than try and run the snake off or have it professionally removed, he recused himself and declared the patio off limits until the snake was done with it. He'll go when he's ready. He got in there; he can get back out.

Around the yard is a tall wooden fence, long since sun-bleached of whatever rich brown color it once must have boasted. It's dry and splintered, and while the grooves in the grain draw my eye in, I know better than to run my fingers down them. Rusty nails and jagged knots poke from it in irregular intervals. The fence was there when he moved into this house years ago, and he never so much as weatherproofed it.

But it keeps his yard safe enough.

My father doesn't spend a lot of time in his yard, or, I imagine, thinking about it. Inside, his house is a testament to his own interests, carefully curated with the furniture, the curios, and the decorating touches it took him decades to collect and perfect. But the things that grow and bloom and drop and die beyond his immediate sight don't trouble him much. When I show him close-up pictures I've taken, showcasing the glorious pinks and reds and purples of the wild things that flourish, right under his nose, he nods dismissively. He's unimpressed.

The wild things will keep growing, anyway. They'll keep coming to his yard for shelter, shade, and safety. And he'll help them find it, in his way.




half sister

And as she was several states away (and always had been) the dog never knew of the cat's existence, much less the fact that she was providing furry solace to his beloved master, whom he missed so much it made his jowls quiver. He never had to bear witness to the cuddles, to the intolerable sights and sounds of dangling string, of jingling balls that constituted this strange creature's "playtime." And good thing - it would have destroyed him.



For her part, the cat could smell the foul beast on this otherwise pleasant-enough human. She took pity on the girl, for who ever would want to be besmirched with such a scent? Who ever would want her clothes to be marked with the vile, crusted drool of a dog (which her pants bore signs of)? So she did her best to rub her lovely, fragrant fur all over the human's vestments and valise, as a gesture of kindness and kinship. She only hoped the girl appreciated the gift.

departure/arrival

I spent the last few hours before I left LA with A. I stress-ate my way through buttered bread, onion soup, and meatball sliders at Bottega Louie, so I had plenty of room for the chocolate/raspberry tart he surprised me with for desert. When our waiter brought the small pink box to the table, A. smacked my hand away before I could open it. "Not yet," he said. "You can't have it until you come back home." I asked if it was a puppy or a pony, or what I'd really always wanted - a puppy/pony hybrid. "Excuse me," he said to the server. "Is there a pony in there? The lady would like a pony."

He hung out while I packed, and put some things on my iPod for me: a chapter of an audio book he wanted me to hear, and a few variations of a cheesy 80s love song we'd been singing all week. He played them one by one while I was getting ready, saying each time, "This is it, baby. This is the song." Each time I'd laugh and say, "No! This is not it!" and beg him to play the right one - the original version. He refused every time, pretending not to know what I meant.

When we got in his car to go to the airport, he had the correct version of the song all cued up and ready to go. It started playing as we drove out of the parking garage. It was meant to make me laugh, which it did after a few moments, but at first I lost it a little bit. He'd even cut the song down to the refrain we'd been tossing back and forth; he had that bit in the playlist as a separate track, as well. At the airport, he parked and walked me in, taking over the check-in process for me at the digital kiosk when I froze up. When we reached security, he pulled me aside, tapping at his phone as if responding to a text. "Hang on, one sec, just gotta answer this..." He held the phone up and pulled me to him. The song we'd been listening to in the car - the inside joke of the week - began to play, tinny but loud enough to be heard by nearby travelers and the TSA agent, who smiled at us. "It's your going away song," he said. "Dance with me."

Waiting at the gate a bit later, I texted him. Don't you dare answer this because you're driving, but I want you to know that you astound me with your ability to make every moment I spend with you exciting, fun, romantic, or all of the above and more. He answered, You make me want to be a better person. I love who I am with you. I love how we are. I texted once more before takeoff. You picked a great seat for me, I said. It's extra roomy and I'm pretty sure my blanket is cashmere.

Baby, the last time that I smiled as much as I do with you was when I discovered the upside to puberty. "You mean there's a plus here? That thing does something fun?"

During the flight, I made him a reference tool, so there'd be no question while I was away:



His is personalized with both of our names (and a different color), so I thought I'd throw this neutral version up for anyone who wants to pin it or send it to her boyfriend (it's perfectly sized for iPhone screens).

----

There's not much to say yet, about my father. We're on hold, waiting to talk to his doctor and hopefully at least one specialist early next week. I've done everything I can to get him organized, comfortable, and ready for whatever comes next. I feel helpless in the face of the bigger picture, but the small things I can do - clean out his refrigerator, help compile questions for the doctors, pick up prescriptions, mail his taxes, run errants - at least make me feel useful.

Until we know exactly what he's facing, we can't make any plans. So the rest of this weekend is just wheel-spinning and distraction. There's more to say, I know, about what this is like, but I'm blocked on it. Weirdly detached, and floating above all of it. Not sure where to draw the boundary, as far as sharing. Is this even my story to share?

He's in a pretty good state of mind, I'd say, considering. He's in pain, depressed, scared, and overwhelmed. Who wouldn't be? And he's ready for me to take charge, consumed as he is with trying to navigate his way to a place of physical and emotional comfort (acceptance?). But he hasn't been particularly emotional. Not in front of me, anyway.

My own worst moment was when I was filling his prescriptions, and the pharmacist explained the difference between his twice-daily pain med and the one for when it's "really, really intolerably bad." That was a big acid splash of reality in my face. Here we go, I thought. That's what's ahead.

Also: I had a really weird reaction to the Easter clearance "section" at the local grocery store. It was just some shopping carts filled with stuffed animals and candy, but it depressed the shit out of me for some reason. Where Easter Goes to Die. A three am Netflix viewing of Melancholia didn't help. Brutal. Watching it was like being beaten with a silk pillowcase filled with Fabergé eggs. Fabergé eggs in a Xanax omelet.

It's hard to make this more interesting than it is. Pain. Fear. Sadness. Cancer. Just a bunch of ugly words that don't deserve a pretty treatment, anyway.

blake

I spent most of yesterday afternoon curled up in bed, trying to keep (find?) perspective and rehearsing cheery-sounding greetings/encouragements in my head, for when I see my father tomorrow morning. At some point, A. knocked softly on my door, but I had nothing, nothing, nothing, so I didn't move from where I lay. When I didn't answer, he duct-taped some flowers to my door, and texted. I stole some flowers from downstairs but you're out. Just to be clear, I fully agree that I was an underachiever in just grabbing one stem. In the future, I'll steal for you in bulk.

I told him to come back, and he crawled into bed with me and lay on his side, watching me talk. "I have some good news," he said. "I have business in Florida, in about a week and a half. I'll get to come see you." His family has a home in southern Florida (about three hours from where my dad lives), and he's done some networking with galleries down there, so at first I believed this. Of course, it was a lie, and he admitted it. "I can't come out with you tomorrow, that'd be overkill and you have to get your bearings. But I can come out in about a week and a half. We'll go to Disneyworld." he said. "You shouldn't be alone out there. You don't need to be." I asked if we could go to the aquarium, where there was a really cool jellyfish tank with ultraviolet lights. "Whatever you want," he said, and touched my cheek.

I warned him that my father's house is...eclectically decorated. That it has multicolor walls. Orange. Sherbet green. That they're hung with a random assortment of tapestries, cheap tribal masks, and maps. That any cabinet not crammed with books is filled with horrifying tchotchkes. "The place is sort of insane," I explained. "In fact, I haven't been there since he got that cat last year. I'm worried for the cat's sanity." A. said it sounded fabulous and he was looking forward to meeting my father. We talked about not knowing how long I'd be gone. When I started to get anxious, he told me to relax. "We'll figure it out. You don't know anything yet. What's important is that we love each other and we want to be together." For the dozenth time, he made promise not to move to Florida permanently. And he reminded me that there was no reason for me to stop writing while I was gone, or to stop looking for work.

Around nine, we walked to the grocery store for dinner supplies. Before I could stop him, he marched straight to the seafood counter and asked the butcher (fishmonger?) for a live lobster. My protestations were, predictably enough, ignored. "Can you take off the bands now, too?" he said to the guy. "We like to live dangerously." The counter guy pulled a fat, maroon-colored lobster from the tank and held it up for our inspection. When it started to thrash its claws about, he announced it was a good choice. "They're supposed to be lively," he explained. "That's what Martha says."

So we named her Blake.

We carried Blake home and I popped into the bathroom while A. unloaded the groceries. When I came out, he asked me to check on her. "Is she still in the bag? I put her in the bottom right drawer of the refrigerator." When I opened the fridge to look, the drawer was empty. I peered around for minute, frowning, before I saw him grinning at me.

Blake spent her last minutes of life in A.'s kitchen sink (having first suffered the indignity of being sniffed and rebuffed by Sydney), after which I was given a chance to a) leave or b) at least avert my gaze for The Killing. I chose to watch, fascinated, as he butchered the beast up. We stuck her in the oven along with some asparagus that we dressed in soy sauce, and A. showed me how to clarify butter. He kneeled down and looked at our dinner. "Is it supposed to still be moving?" he asked. I sat on the floor, indian-style, to watch the lobster steam and twitch. Fifteen minutes later, we feasted straight from the trays, using our fingers to tear meat from shell, and feeding one another drippy, buttery bites of animal and vegetable.

Afterwards, he made me wait on my favorite lounge chair while he sprinted across the street to Famima for a surprise. When he came back, he unloaded a bag with four tiny containers of Haagen Dazs (chocolate and vanilla), milk, and various kinds of cookies, candy, and my favorite cereal. He pulled out Hershey's syrup, peanut butter, and a banana from his pantry, and a Magic Bullet from his cabinet. I stared at the bounty, terrified, and he lifted me by my waist onto his kitchen island, to watch. "Shakes," he explained. "Endless varieties. Anything you want." "You're making me a shake sampler?" I asked. "A shake flight," he corrected.

Under my direction, he made two shakes before we had to let Sydney out for a pee. I borrowed a huge hooded sweatshirt and a pair of his Converse, and shuffled down the hall with him and his dog, sucking my cookies-and-cream shake through a bendy straw. When we got downstairs and he saw that it was raining, he ordered me to wait inside. "If she opens that door," he said to our doorman, "tackle her."

I let him get two steps out in the pouring rain before carefully stepping out after him. The sidewalk was slick and I had to slide my feet along so as not to slip in his oversized shoes. When I caught up with him, unsuccessfully trying to convince his dog to step into a puddle-filled tree well, he shook his head at me.

Back upstairs, he showed me something he'd spent the day working on: an idea he had for a new line of work he'd been experimenting with - one that would be both labor and technically intensive, but really interesting, and hugely marketable. I told him how much he impresses me, and he dropped his eyes and stepped away, smiling, in the way he always does when my praise pleases but embarrasses him.

We debated several movie choices before I realized I really wasn't up for anything, that I wanted to be done thinking, and to just sleep. I thanked him for being a spectacular boyfriend, for spending the day taking care of me, doing things to distract me. I pointed out that over the past days he'd spent several hours helping me in some way: cooking for me, doing work on my apartment (a panel/rod of my curtains came out of he wall), doing thoughtful, fun things to make me happy.

"I'd do anything to make you smile," he said.

I didn't sleep well, but that had nothing to do with him. Or Blake.

wordless, full of words

It's just past seven in the morning when my father calls. I'm asleep - we both are. It's the first night A. and I have spent together where I've really, actually slept, and well.

The night before: running together in south central LA, then wandering around the Arts District, shivering and holding on to one another in the late night cold, clad only in t-shirts and sweat pants. "Ok, we've got a budget of $20," he says, peering into his wallet. It becomes an adventure, and we weigh our options carefully: hot soup, to warm us up; bubble tea, in Little Tokyo; Pinkberry; drinks at a lounge where jazz singers are having an open mic session (our first choice, but the menu prices force us back on our way). We choose a tiny sushi joint, ordering the most food we can for $10 - shrimp and vegetable tempura, and soup.

"If you don't charge us a split plate fee, we'll have more to tip you," A. tells the server, with a smile. We're not charged for the split, and the sushi chef even prepares a couple of complimentary tasting dishes for us: savory chicken meatballs that crumble in our chopsticks, and thinly sliced Kobe beef of which A. feeds me the lion's share. Everything tastes scrumptious to me, starving and cold from our long walk, though I refuse to eat the shrimp tails. "Come on, they're fried," he cajoles, but I'm having none of it.

Afterward, we amble back through Little Tokyo, talking about work, career options for me, the who-knows-maybe possibility of living together someday down the line. I tell him how fun and exciting it is to have an artist for a boyfriend. He tells me he's in it - our relationship - for the long haul. I tell him I am, too. He says the thing he's been saying for weeks now, and the way he says it - with that soft, happy smile and slight shaking of his head - makes me believe it: We're so great, baby. We're so great together. He tells me there are no "buts" with me. No problems, or issues, or exclusionary clauses to loving me. Later, I'll tell him how easy it is to love him. That I've never known a man so easy to love, in fact, or who's made it so easy. You cleared out all the obstacles. You made a path for me, I'll say.

We take our remaining $7 and go to Yogurtland, where we guesstimate serving sizes by the ounce, trying to squeeze out every last dime. I'm a novice at self-serve fro-yo, and make my selections cautiously. "There are no rules here, you know." His eyes are bright. "You can even put toppings between layers."

We nearly nail it, coming in at $6.36. "We can still afford another cherry," A. says, half seriously. "Grab one." I push him away from the counter, and we sit and gorge on nearly identical choices in flavors and toppings: dulce de leche, cookie dough, vanilla, cookies and cream, caramel syrup.

On the walk home, I'm asthmatic from the cold. A. wraps his arms around me from behind, lifting my arms above my head and pressing his chest to my back. He instructs me to take slow, deep breaths, holding and exhaling with me while I try to fill my lungs.

Back at his apartment, he tends to his sick dog while I play my favorite numbers from American Idols past, and make him watch Johann Hari's speech about religious fundamentalism. When he takes issue with part of the speech and I get defensive/attacking, he calls me on it. "Don't steamroll me," he says. "Just because I can't formulate my arguments as quickly as you doesn't mean I don't have something worthwhile to say. Someday you're going to talk right over someone who has some great, Christopher Hitchens-esque point to make, and you'll never even get to hear it."

Later, we get silly, looking up the words to the diarrhea song (the condition of which is affecting his dog, terribly) and watching funny YouTube videos. When I nearly fall out of his lap, hysterical, during my favorite Quiznos commercial, he shakes his head in wonder, staring at me. "Who are you," he asks, not for the first time. He shows me a mock-up of four versions of his latest piece, and we're in agreement on which one is the best. We don't go to bed until past two am.

When the early morning call comes, I send it to voicemail without much thought. My dad knows the chances of me being awake at that hour are slim to none; he'll be expecting me not to return the call until later. We sleep until 11, and A. makes us breakfast: eggs, bacon, broiled tomatoes, hummus. I hand grind coffee beans, which he then carefully brews in a pour over, using a drip kettle; he explains how the process keeps the grounds from becoming too bitter. When I help him unload/load the dishwasher, he comments on it, appreciative, and gets excited when he sees I've made his bed for him.

It isn't until after noon that I listen to the message my dad has left. His voice is hoarse, strained. He's in the hospital. Pneumonia. It's nothing to worry about, he says. He's going be sent home within the next day, barring any unforeseen complications. He doesn't leave the name of the hospital in his voicemail, and when I call his cell phone back, he doesn't answer.

I get online and start calling hospitals near the small city where he lives, outside of Tampa. The second one I try affirms he's checked in, and connects me to his room. His room number is the same as my apartment number. His voice sounds strong when he answers, and when he hears it's me, he exclaims excitedly, the phrase he always says when I call, his New York accent still thick and comforting to me: How ya doing, child?

He tells me he's about to be discharged. He tells me he's had three days of tests, at the hospital. He tells me he's just spoken to the doctor, an hour ago, and just gotten his diagnosis.

He tells me he has small cell lung cancer.

He tells me that the prognosis is not good.

He tells me that they want to start treatment immediately. That he told the doctor no one was laying a finger on him until he spoke with his daughter. He tells me he'd like to see me, and my heart splits, to think he thinks he needs to say it. Of course, I mumble, biting my tongue to not cry. I'll be there tomorrow.

Everything after that gets blurry.

He says something about making decisions. I hear the phrases "end of life" and "quality of life", but they sound as if they're coming from far, far away, or through water.

After we say goodbye, I go upstairs. A. tries to hold me, but I'm too angry to stay still. So, so, so angry. There's no correlation, there's no point in tying the two things together, but I do it anyway: I've just lost my mother, less than three years ago. It's juvenile and self-indulgent and I know better than to think there's some force of judgment at work anywhere in the universe, but all I can think, over and over, is it's not fair. Both my parents, before I'm even forty?? It's not fair.

I clench my fists and yell and run to A.'s bathroom where I clutch at towels and cry out in rage. When I come back out, I apologize, and A. shakes his head. "What are you sorry for? You have nothing to be sorry for. You wanna scream? Scream. You want to cry? Cry. You want to hit me? Hit me."

I feel stupid, useless, helpless, self-conscious. I don't know what behavior is appropriate. I'm angry at myself, because my tears feel like they're for myself. Like self-pity, which I have no business feeling. "Let's be productive," A. says. He books me a flight, using his own miles, and necessarily paying for it because he's done so. When I ask him to, he reads to me from his laptop about small cell lung cancer. He doesn't say much, but I can see what he's not saying, in the way he glosses over paragraphs. He finally just looks at me and shakes his head. "Is that enough?" he asks gently, meaningfully. "It's cancer. Even if it's toe cancer, it's never good."

When I break down, he holds me tightly and tells me that it isn't necessarily a death sentence. Options. Treatment. But I know my father. He's the man who always swore he'd put a bullet in his own head when he started to feel his vitality slipping away.

I can't imagine the ways this is hitting him.

A. tells me not to worry about us, but he makes me pinky promise I'll not stay in Florida forever, that I'll be back. I look him in the eye and tell him I may have to stay for a while, that I don't know what my father is going to want to do, or what to expect. He understands, he says. "We'll figure it out." He puts his forehead against mine. "I'm so sorry. No one should have to deal with this. Not you, not him. But you don't need to worry about us. Take that off your plate." He reminds me that I have good friends who love me, who'll help me (W. has already agreed to take care of Chaucer while I'm gone) - that I have a new boyfriend who'll do whatever he can to support me.

He walks me back downstairs, not turning or walking away until I've shut the door in front of him. "There's no reason for you to be alone right now," he says, but that's all I want. I want to write and eat and hold my dog and catch my breath. He doesn't let me go until I promise to have dinner with him tonight, again tomorrow before my red eye, and to let him drive me to the airport. When I object, saying how much I love the Flyaway, he gets genuinely upset. "If you take the Flyaway, I'll never talk to you again. Do you understand? I'm driving you to the airport. That's not open to negotiation."

Once alone, I don't write or eat or do anything until I type the words into the search engine.

small cell lung cancer

Crash course. There are two stages: limited and extensive. I read: The median survival rate (the time at which 50% of people have died and 50% are still alive) is 16-24 months, with a 2-year survival rate of 40-50% -- though only 10% of people with limited stage disease show no evidence of cancer 2 years after diagnosis. The survival rate at 5 years is 14% with treatment.

For extensive stage small cell lung cancer the median survival with treatment is 6 to 12 months with treatment, and only 2 to 4 months without treatment.


I read more: Only about 6% of people with this type of cancer are still alive 5 years after diagnosis.

I stop reading. I hold my dog. I write. I catch my breath, and take a deep one for what lays ahead.

4.8.12

Puppies at the dog park today - a Chihuahua and a Pit, who was far too squirrelly to stay still long enough for a good pic:



Sounds: My Head is An Animal, the new album by Of Monsters and Men. Check it out on Spotify. What's that? You're not listening to a massive catalog of entire albums for free, on Spotify? Do yourself a favor and get on that.

Also, I Wish I Knew, by Years and Years. Heard a clip of it on the Johann Hari podcast and looked it up - I've only found it so far on Reverb Nation, and not for download, but it's worth a listen or four.

fully unemployed

Last night I rode up to work and was faced with this:



An empty parking lot and a closed-until-further-notice sign on the door. I can't say I'm all that surprised. Things like this are not exactly uncommon in the industry, and I know this particular club was closed down for a brief time last year. It is a little odd considering that management had told the girls that we were on the cusp of a grand re-opening, with a new name and some major staff changes.

I texted a few people, trying to get answers. Got none. Then turned my ass around, biked home, and went upstairs to A.'s, where he was a champ distractor. He sat me in a chair, gave me a lap dance of my own (blame Chromeo), bought me an ice cream bar at Famima, then watched Unthinkable with me because, as I told him, I wanted to watch the darkest, most dystopic movie I could. One that would make me forget about my first world problems.

Such is my news, this Saturday afternoon.

And yes, I Instagrammed pictures of an empty strip club parking lot and a closure notice. I'm ridiculous.

prom night '12

I'm finishing up getting ready when he knocks on my door and pops his head in, peering down to the bathroom where I stand primping. "Are you decent?" I hear two more voices, and before I know what's happening, the snap and flash of a camera catch me off guard.

"It's prom," A. says, grinning. "We have to have a prom photographer, right?" My jaw falls open as he steps over to greet me with a hug and kiss and the coyest what? face I've ever seen. More snaps, more flashes. He's brought his best friend (who brought along his girlfriend) to document the scene, to photograph us greeting one another, getting ready, and leaving together. He's been planning this for days, as a fun surprise to start off the night.

I'm still processing this information when I realize he's holding a small wooden planter with three orchid stems. "I didn't think you'd want to be encumbered by a corsage, but I still wanted to give you flowers." He holds up the base, turning it to show me what he's written in marker at the bottom. "See? I inscribed it." I read: Prom Night '12.

I quickly run out of ways to exclaim my surprise and delight, and just keep repeating "You're ridiculous," while shaking my head. We pose for several classic, cheesy prom shots, but his friend keeps snapping even while we properly greet one another, taking in each other's formal wear. It's the first time I've seen him in a suit, and I'm so impressed I'm actually a bit intimidated. I'll spend all night fingering the crisp, smooth fabric of his shirt, which is impeccably tailored and perfectly pressed. His pants and jacket are slim fitting, luxe, well chosen. I'll tell him later that when, in the past, the men in my life have wanted help assembling stylish, polished outfits (and I've faltered, because WTF do I know about men's clothes?), that his ensemble - and the way he wears it - is what they had in mind.

His friend continues to shoot nonstop until we're outside the building, encouraging us to mug and ham for the camera. A., who normally hates to have his photo taken, is fully committed and goofy, kissing my cheek, popping the corner of his glasses into his mouth, kicking up his heels. Out on the street, we say goodbye to his friends and grab a taxi.

The event itself is much smaller and less formal than I'd anticipated, but the DJs are fantastic and we have a great time talking, dancing, and shamelessly flirting with one another. He says things I never expected to hear from anyone, much less him. He says things I hope I never forget. It's easy and comfortable to be with him. The more time we spend together, the more we realize how alike we are, in our personality quirks (read: neuroses); this amuses us greatly (probably because we both are neurotic).

I do have a mini meltdown when a very lovely, very young female friend of his pulls my jealousy trigger. But he's incredibly patient and goes above and beyond to make sure I know how completely I have his heart. I know I'm being stupid, I know he adores me, but I'm human. When my I'm only human moment passes, I actually end up clicking very well with the girl, who's interesting and sweet and fun. We exchange numbers and make tentative plans to go dancing next weekend. Go figure.

Afterwards, we get breakfast at The Pantry, feeding one another bites of pancake, of egg-soaked sourdough and bacon. Back outside, we head towards our street before realizing it's too cold and my legs are too sore to hoof it all the way home. He jumps onto a low wall adjacent to the sidewalk and moons the street while I wave down a cab. I climb inside the car and he comes skipping to join me, tucking in his shirt and zipping up his pants while he runs.

We sleep fitfully, tangled up in our limbs, the sheets, and a half-drunken desire to make love. In the morning, we lounge for hours and talk. I notice that I'm starting to mimic his speaking cadence - even his accent when it comes out after a few drinks. He plays Moxy Fruvous for me and rubs my calves (brutally sore from racing him three blocks home a few nights prior). Without accompaniment, I sing Suzanne Vega's Gypsy in his ear, though I forget the third verse. I'm aware as I sing them how well the lyrics fit him. Distracted by the women with the dimples, and the curls. He shows me two of his favorite short films, and listens thoughtfully, smiling, when I deconstruct Cashback. "It's problematical," I say, and he encourages me to explain. He understands what I mean by "male gaze" (he's used the phrase himself before), and he doesn't get defensive when I criticize the film both from a feminist perspective and my own personal one.

We finally tear ourselves out of bed to walk the dogs and get coffee across the street. When I spill my caramel macchiato down the front of my favorite Free City t-shirt, we both laugh at me.

The sun is strong and it's a pretty day.

good deeds

Bit of news: starting in a few weeks, I'll be volunteering as an adult literacy tutor. There's an all-day training class held once a month at the library; and the end of it, I'll be immediately matched with a student. He or she will have a list of goals to work toward (getting a driver's license, filling out employment applications, etc.), and we'll work directly on those while also following a lesson plan geared to improve general literacy.

I'm really, really looking forward to this experience. It's a long-term program; I'll work one-on-one with a single student, for a six-month stretch. We'll meet twice a week, for an hour or so at a time, either at the library or any public place of our choosing. It's no small commitment, and I know it's going to test me. But the greater the investment, the great the payoff.

I love my life, I really do. But I need something that will regularly take me out of my own head for a few hours a week. I want to put my thoughts into someone else's well being for a change. And what's the quote? You can't help someone else get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself.

In other philanthropic news, tonight I'm going to the prom. A. donated some of his prints to be auctioned off at a prom-themed charity event sponsored by a local cancer center. So it's Prom Redux for your blogmistress, who will probably be the only one wearing a short dress, because that's all I've got. Huzzah.

smitten

I wait until I know he's out for a few hours, then I grab the two down pillows I've bought in the fabric district, a tape dispenser, and the three page invitation I've drawn. I take the stairs up to his apartment, just in case, so I don't bump into him.

I prop the pillows in the corner by his door, and tape the pages to the wall.

You are invited to be my partner in feathery violence on International Pillow Fight Day, Saturday, April 7.

Itinerary as follows: 1pm - pillow decorating session (markers will be provided). 1:30pm - caloric fortification (known to some as "lunch"). 2pm - journey to battle field. 3pm - THE BATTLE BEGINS (and lo, destruction was wrought, verily). Please RSVP.


The response choices I gave:

Yes! I'm in! And I seriously can't think of a more fabulous way to spend a Saturday. / Regrets! The first Saturday of every month is reserved for ball-shaving and I missed last month, so the situation is DIRE. / Other (please indicate).

An hour later, he texts. You're the funnest girl ever invented.

He comes down for a bit, and we talk and listen to music. I'm feeling a bit stressed about being unproductive, so I pull a Classic Ellie and displace some of my anxiety on to him. He calls me on it. It's your responsibility to take care of your own shit. Don't sleep all day. Get up and do what you need to do. I feel ridiculous. I'm supposed to be the more mature one. Are you sure you have room in your life for this? It takes a lot of energy to be in a relationship, to care about someone else and their feelings. I absolutely do, and tell him as much, but there's still some tension between us. He's internalizing the crap I've just dumped on him, and I hate myself for it.

When he gets up to go, I stand on the bed and wrap my arms around him. I make him repeat after me. My girlfriend is perfect for me....My girlfriend sometimes gets behind on sleep and gets cranky and starts saying stupid shit...

I don't let him leave until he's smiling again. When he turns at the edge of my hall to wave bye, I run and slide to him, sock-footed. He catches me and scoops me up. I wrap my legs around his waist and he pins me to the wall. His eyes break my heart, they're so full and sweet. He buries his face in my hair and says "I'm in love with you," then tells me to say it back. I say it softly first, then louder. Then I throw my head back and yell it, using his full name. "I'm in love with you, _____!!!"

He goes to work out, and I head out for a run. He texts when he leaves the gym. You're crazy. And lovely. Yelling in the hallway made me blush. And now I'm smiling about it.

He stops by later, on his way to dinner with a friend, as I'm getting ready for work. While I chat up his friend, he stands close to me, his hand on my hip. As they're leaving, he leans in and in a low voice against my cheek, tells me again that he loves me. I cannot get enough - of the words, of the way he always puts his mouth close to my ear say them. The best secret never kept.

At work, I receive this: Sorry for getting a little touchy before, you're my favorite person/activity/cohort and I really love that/lover/provacateur/evacateur/promiscumistress/BFF/sex kitten/neighbor/cookmate. I read it several times, my eyes circling back to the BFF bit again and again. Your sign is the best thing ever created on paper, he says. I'm pretty sure Martin Luther scooped me with his proclamations, I reply. He tells me he'd love to see me before I go to bed, when I'm done with work. Your creativity is so sexy, he adds.

When I get home, I go straight to his place, sweaty and flushed from my twenty minute bike ride. He's left the door open, so I let myself in. He's sitting at his new workstation, atop a bar stool under the Edison lights he's just hung. His laptop is open in front of him; I can see he's working in Illustrator.

While I lounge in an overstuffed chair and regale him with work anecdotes, he finishes up his project. It's for me - his reply to my pillow fight invitation. All the while he's working, printing, writing, spray-painting (all out of my view), he tells me how much he loves this, what we're doing - the creative, artistic, silly, playful exchange. I don't know how to tell him how one in a million he is, that he feels this way. I don't know how to tell him that guys don't do this stuff, and it means the world to me, too.

Finally, he's done, and he presents his work to me. I'm speechless. He's designed, written, printed, and mounted a multi-media RSVP, complete with gold-leaf feathers on it. It's ridiculous and beautiful and over the top in the best possible way. He's checked boxes that say Hell Yeah! and Other!, and written I'd love to. I've become smitten, enamored, and generally taken aback in the loveliest of ways by the loveliest of girls, Elizabeth Baker. If she goes, I will most certainly be in attendance, in the best form, with the finest and cleanest down pillow that I can find.

I play him some music he's never heard, while he cooks me an omelette. Freelance Whales, The National. He's meticulous about how he serves me, plating it beautifully and adding garnish to the hummus he's put on the side. A fervid love of hummus is the latest culinary commonality we've discovered between us: we could both eat it by the spoonful, and do. We marvel for the dozenth time at how well we "synch up", as he puts it.

He shows me some of the early work he's done on his next round of paintings. He plays his film school thesis project for me, and I read some of his shorter writings - pieces I'd skimmed on his portfolio site before, but never looked at closely. He wants to share these things with me, needs to even - but gets uncomfortable the minute I start to compliment his work, which is thorough, thoughtful, and exciting.

I leave to crash back at home; I'm utterly exhausted, and he has an 8am TV installation. As I'm collapsing into bed, the phone rings. He's calling just to tell me how much he cares about me, how happy he is we've gotten together.

I sleep harder than I have in ages.