Archive for the 'broken and beautiful world' Category

Head above water. Most days, at least.

Usually when I piss and moan, there’s at least some humor to be found in what I am pissing and moaning about.  I usually discover it somewhere between the piss and the moan.  And then I laugh it off.  Pick up The Self.  And move on. 

That was before The Love Muscle was diagnosed with Stage IV Stomach Cancer…a blindsiding event that made 2009 the first of my 31 years in which I, not the least bit jokingly, asked God for a do-over.  (Which, not surprisingly, didn’t work.)  It’s been devastatingly sad.  If there’s anything that can make you feel helpless, it’s the sound of your mother sobbing on the other end of the phone, where you can’t reach her to hug her, hold her, and silently agree with her that, yes, it’s true, it’s absolutely not fair that her 50 year old, amazing husband, who she’s been blissfully married to for the last six years, has cancer.  I’ve been up to Oregon to see them three times (the weekend after he was diagnosed, the weekend he had a complication and ended up in the ICU, and the week of his gastrectomy) and I’ll be there again in a couple weeks, but it’s not the same as just being there.

There’s been a lot of love and support and prayer for which I, and Mamacusa & TLM, have been grateful.  And if you’ve been a part of that thus far, I thank you.  About the only thing that’s been a comfort in the last few months is the simple fact that we are surrounded by concentric circles of love that reach all the way around the globe.  And in a situation where there is nothing that can be said to solve the problem at the root of it all, love is what saves us.  So thank you for saving us. 

I’ve thought about ditching this blog.  Or going private and keeping it all to myself.  Or going back to journal writing.  And I may decide, in the end, to do one of the above.  Or none.  But for now, I’ll just write when I can.  Because never more than this precise time in my life has the name of this blog ever been more true.  And someone has to keep track of all this madness. 

I’ll try to make my way back around to writing about The Brit’s and my wedding in October, our brilliant honeymoon, and all the other big and little things that I want to remember.   But for now, I’ll end with the story behind the one tiny slice of good news I’ve had since January 6th.  The photographer who shot our amazing photographs (coming soon-ish) (or maybe not, with my track record lately) had a contest for a free photo shoot (professional hair and makeup included) for the couple with the best love story.  I wrote Mamacusa & TLM’s love story and entered it.  And it won.  Here it is, with names changed, of course…


Mamacusa will be the first to admit that she wasn’t TLM’s biggest fan when she first met him. He’d squeezed onto the plane mere minutes before takeoff and claimed the empty seat next to hers…the very one she’d been planning to put her feet up onto. Bastard! Not only did he steal her legroom but he insisted on talking to her. At first, she nodded politely and quietly plotted her escape (there are parachutes on commercial flights, right?) but then he mentioned that he’d just taken a sabbatical from his engineering job, bought an RV, and was planning on traveling around the US for a year. Now, Mamacusa’s not a camper (as there’s usually an abundance of dirt and a paucity of showering involved) but she’d always wanted to travel the US. They got to chatting and realized they had a lot in common, namely that they’d each kicked a bad habit some years back (hers: a miserable 26 year marriage, his: an 8 year tumultuous relationship with alcohol). Their different paths of loss and triumph had brought them not only to the same plane but also to similar places in life, something they continued to talk and email about for weeks after parting ways at the airport. So what if TLM was a Gringo! He was thoughtful, intelligent, funny and, perhaps most importantly, easy going and honest. He was the antithesis of Mamacusa’s Hispanic ex and a refreshing change from the few disappointing specimens she’d been on dates with lately. They discovered that they lived an hour away from each other so, after a few more weeks of chatting, they met for dinner. From then on, Mamacusa insisted that TLM take the empty seat next to hers.

To borrow an admittedly overused cliché, Mamacusa just knew it was right. TLM had a way of dealing with things (good and bad) that she’d never experienced in her Cuban upbringing. Everything was okay. And if it wasn’t, it would be eventually because he would make it so. She liked that about him. He made her feel safe and at peace. And he made her laugh. He didn’t speak any Spanish beyond the standard “yo quiero taco bell” but he’d quickly pick words up. “Besitos!” (“little kisses”) he’d started saying to her whenever they’d say goodbye. When he didn’t know the meaning of a word, he’d invent one. He once overheard Mamacusa say ‘pobresito’ (“poor little guy”) and said to her, “Poor besitos? Little kisses with no money?”

Their relationship evolved quickly. It would have happened quicker if Mamacusa’s daughter (then 24 years old and far more experienced at dating than her) hadn’t provided a reality check: “WHAT? You’re about to quit your job and run off with an unemployed engineer who lives in a Winnebago? He could be a traveling murderer for all you know!” She had a point. So instead of marrying him after three months, Mamacusa married him after six. (Because it’s a well established fact that traveling murderers declare themselves by six months!) It was a simple wedding in Monterey, California with close family and friends. Mamacusa’s daughter and son, despite their reservations about the whirlwind relationship, were there for them. It was a perfect day…sunshine, love, and tiramisu!

One month into marriage found Mamacusa and TLM packing up Mamacusa’s apartment, putting everything into storage, and readying for a year-long RV-ing honeymoon. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Mamacusa’s mother in Miami was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Any lingering concerns anyone might have had about TLM’s true character were obliterated with his next move: he put Mamacusa on the next flight to Miami and then spent the next four days driving the RV down there. They stayed and took care of her mother for the last three months of her life. TLM did this not just for Mamacusa but with her and without reservation or protest. It was an act of unconditional love that some married couples don’t share even after 50 years…and TLM shared it selflessly after one month. Mamacusa was devastated to lose her mother but blessed to have TLM there to help her through it.

They eventually got on the road and, in the end, spent two wonderful years in the RV traveling around the country. They sent postcards from their varied destinations and jokingly signed them “Your favorite trailer trash, Mamacusa & TLM!” Many thought that two years on the road would tear any couple apart, but they’d already passed a difficult test so everything else was a breeze.

They’ve spent the last few years making a happy home in Oregon. Mamacusa & TLM spend their evenings getting pruney fingers and toes in their jacuzzi and they spend their holidays contriving new Cuban/American traditions. TLM, who long ago won Mamacusa’s kids over, only solidified his standing with them when he invented the Cuban Burrito…basically the day old leftovers of a traditional Cuban Christmas meal wrapped in a tortilla. They make it every year now.

Mamacusa would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life listening to TLM butcher the Spanish language and watching him concoct the next great meal from leftovers. But, heartbreakingly, she most certainly won’t get to. In a seemingly unfair twist of fate that has blindsided the whole family, TLM has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. It’s a sobering and terrifying fact that Mamacusa’s still struggling to grasp. She knows that life is a gift and that dying is part of living, but she only just found him six years ago and she can’t imagine life without him. But the time will come when she’ll have to and when it does, she wants to remember TLM exactly as he is right now, while he still has both hair and humor, and before chemoradiation transforms their life into something different than it has been for past blissfully happy six years. They’ve never had professional photographs taken, not even on their wedding day…and I can’t imagine a better photographer to take their picture.


Mamacusa and TLM will have their photos taken on March 24th.


The best head fake ever

You know how they say that everyone in the world is only 5 to 7 degrees of separation away? Well, my former roommate, Mr. Wonderful, was one of Randy Pausch’s ETC Masters students almost a decade ago…which, on a spectrum of degrees of separation, is essentially as good as Randy being the long lost half brother (presumably fathered by the milkman…or…Kevin Bacon?? Jeez! We really ARE all related to him!) that I never knew I had. And never before have I been more simultaneously heartwarmed and heartbroken to be metaphorically half-related to a complete stranger than I am today.

Randy, a 47 year old father of 3 kids (all under the age of 5) and a beloved computer science professor, has terminal pancreatic cancer. And with an estimated “few months left to live”, he gave his very last lecture at CMU a few days ago. Mr. Wonderful was wonderful enough to send me the link. It’s a bittersweet gift to receive a lecture from a dying man who feels compelled to use his last lecture ever to tell you how to achieve your childhood dreams…but it’s a gift well worth the 90 minutes he takes to give it to you.

Fast forward through the introductory stuff at the beginning, skip the honorary stuff at the end if you want, but watch Randy’s lecture. All the way to the end. It’s funny. It’s nerdy. And it gets you in the balls (testes or ovaries, your choice!) at all the right moments. (If there ever ARE right moments for that sort of thing.) And the twist at the very end is worth the whole thing. Promise.

The embedding thingamajiggy stuff doesn’t seem to want to work at the moment, so click here for the link: Dying 47 year old Professor gives exuberant “last lecture.”


The madness featured here is mine and mine alone. It does not, in any way, reflect the madness of my employers, colleagues, patients, nutty family, or my colorful friends. The privacy of my employers, colleagues, patients, nutty family and colorful friends is sacred & deeply respected, so no names. All words Copyright © la cubana gringa, no method, just madness 2006-2010. All comments © their authors. Don't steal; it's not nice. (And my Grandfather knows people.)

worldwide madness!!

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