Heroes

"There are very few Hitlers in the world. Most people are just doing the best they can."
- Rich Stryker

I'm still getting used to referring to Rich in the past tense. My last entry caused a bit of a stir on Facebook. Some people got pretty uncomfortable that I would say things about a dead man that were less than high praise. And I get that emotions are high right now for everyone. But the fact that he was jealous of my other friendships and refused to discuss his mortality is as real as his phobia of sharks. 

Many commenters said that they shouldn't judge my infidelity, that my situation was more than most people could bear. And if you don't want to judge, so be it. If you do want to judge, I welcome that too. But if you are going to judge harshly, I welcome you to talk to me about it. We don't have to agree. 

The way that people behave when under pressure matters. No one gets a free pass, including me. We can be patient and understanding, but we still need to remind that person that they're kinda being unreasonable. 

Shrop (my pretty great boyfriend) and I had a huge ongoing fight while Rich was in hospice. If I talked to other people who love me, their response was largely that I was going through the hardest thing a person ever has to do and I am allowed to do whatever I'm doing so he should just deal. And while that may have felt good to hear, it didn't work. It's the same logic that says Rich had cancer and was therefore allowed to do whatever he wanted. That didn't work either.

Shrop fucked up here and there. So did I. And look at us all livin' and shit. If either of us held steadfast to the idea that one or both of us were perfect, we wouldn't be having dinner together tonight and we'd probably both be a lot more miserable.

Rich was a fantastic person. I adored him. I pined for him when he wasn't mine to have. He was one of the most clever people I've ever met. He was self-sacrificing. He was nurturing to friends, children, students, and people who he really couldn't stand. He was forthright. He positively impacted hundreds if not thousands of people on this planet, including Ian and me. 

And he was a shitty cancer patient. If cancer never happened, I believe Rich and I would still be happily married. We'd have at least another kid if not two more. We'd have vacationed in Europe. But cancer happened. And plans changed. 

However, cancer is not at fault. It's just a thing, like a flash flood. How people behave when the flash flood wipes away their house is the real issue. And there were some times that Rich let the water knock him down and wouldn't get back up. 

And I still love him to pieces. He was so amazing in so many ways. And I will keep telling you all about that. But heroes are still human, and we do best by learning from all of their actions. 

Think about your own heroes. Not people like Captain America or Spider Jerusalem. I mean real people. Your parents. Your knight. Your best friend. Your college professor. Every single one of those people is human. They all have personality wrinkles. To ignore them, in life or in death, is a disservice to all parties. 

Vegas in 2004

Look at that picture. That's the man I fell in love with. Isn't he gorgeous? I would have cut a bitch over him. I miss that man so much it hurts. I have lots of other pictures and videos and writings of that amazing man and I'm so grateful for that. 

And that gorgeous man in the picture was terrified of flying. He was a 6'4" baby about the whole thing. And that pretty girl next to him was an anxious perfectionist obsessed with her job.

And they both still had a lot of people who loved them all the same. Hopefully that's still true. 

I'm so sorry for your loss

I have been quiet online for the last few years. It was hard to talk about my life openly, particularly where it overlapped with Rich’s. I'm finding my voice again, though. Let’s do a quick recap.

June 2014 - Rich had his second major surgery. The surgeon told Genie that Rich was inoperable and had six months to live. He had a giant wound that needed packing three times a day. He had a small bowel fistula that leaked three liters of acidic fluid a day. Rich would not discuss his mortality, the cancer, or anything that might be a “hard talk.” He depended on Genie for everything medically and emotionally.

September 2014 - Genie got incredibly lonely and stressed out. Genie found a friend online to talk to. Rich got extremely jealous. He started reading her texts and emails and following her via GPS.

October 2014 - Rich accused Genie of having an affair (she wasn’t). The drama escalated. It's really hard to prove a negative repeatedly.

May 2015 - Genie started actually having an affair.

January 2016 - Rich discovered the affair during the ALA Midwinter conference after going through Genie’s bags while she was at a business dinner. All hell broke loose. Rich told many people about his heartbreak. People were devastated on his behalf. Some told Genie to put her life on hold and tend to Rich because he had cancer which trumps everything. Others were offended she didn't come to them for support instead. When Genie refused to end the affair, several people condemned her as a horrible monster hell bent on killing Rich from betrayal before the cancer could.

February 2016 - Genie and Rich began living as roommates effectively. Genie still managed the bills, the household, the kid, the pets, and Rich’s medical situation. She also left the house on occasion to date other people.

March 2016 - Rich started spending all day and night in the recliner in the living room.

April 2016 - Genie met someone else online. Ironically, this guy was someone she’s known since she was a kid but they never had a chance to date before.

May 2016 - Genie had a breakdown. She curled up in the fetal position on the concrete in front of Virginia Oncology for an hour. She told Rich, “I don’t want you to die. I just can’t be responsible for keeping you alive anymore.” Rich was ambulatory and working full time from home. A caregiver team assembled to sit at home with Rich 24/7, spearheaded by Shannon and Megan. Some of those caregivers were angry at Genie for leaving the house to "play" while they tended to Rich. Genie and her parents stopped speaking to each other.

June 2016 - Genie broke up with the guy she had the original affair with for a variety of reasons. It was unpleasant but she hopes he has a good life. Genie continued to date the guy she met online but had known since she was a kid. He was pretty great. Rich and Genie barely spoke.

July 2016 - New boyfriend who is pretty great tore his quadriceps tendon at the trampoline park and needed surgery. He was in an immobilizer brace for months.

August 2016 - Rich had a fever of 104 and a staph infection. Genie was concerned and saw him at the hospital every day. Genie was frustrated with the caregivers and vice versa.

September 2016 - Rich consulted with a few lawyers to pursue divorce on the grounds of cruelty, abandonment, and child endangerment. Nothing came of it.

October 2016 - Genie reconciled with her parents. She took her boyfriend (freshly free of his immobilizer) to an SCA event and people were nice to them. Genie’s boyfriend started building her a custom Harley Sportster motorcycle.

November 2016 - Rich needed another blood transfusion but had multiple infections. He spent two weeks in the hospital. Rich never called or texted. Genie didn't visit. Genie didn’t know Rich’s status other than through the updates provided on Team Stryker by Megan. Genie and Ian spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s house and then took the train to DC to see the museums.

December 2016 - After attending a Landmark Forum, Genie called Rich and told him she was tired of being angry and would like to be friends. Things got better if not truly resolved. Rich still wouldn’t have any hard talks. There was still someone in the house within four feet of Rich at all times. Those people still gave off toxic vibes on occasion. Christmas was nice.

January 2017 - Rich’s health declined dramatically. He continued to refuse hospice. Genie was ready to throw every mother fucker out of the house in a fit when all of a sudden Rich accepted hospice. Genie stayed home to care for her estranged but still co-habitating husband and the father of her son. It was hard. It was the right thing to do. Most people were very supportive. Some people were exceptionally shitty and/or insane. Those people got blocked from Facebook and Genie’s life. Genie hopes those people never have the opportunity to prove how much more nobly they would behave in the same situation. In many ways, those people have already proven their character tenfold. Also, they can all suck a bag of dicks.

February 2017 - Genie bought a second motorcycle and got her license. Her boyfriend took Ian to the train store for hours. After five weeks of hospice, Rich died at home.

March 2017 - Genie intends to take a chainsaw to the recliner in the backyard.

I did the best I could but I was not able to support Rich in all the ways he needed the last five years. Even a team of a dozen caregivers all working in shifts with their own families to support them could not do everything Rich desired or needed over the last nine months.

Obviously, there are many details missing from this timeline. I haven’t been perfect. I’m good to my kid. I have not developed any self-destructive habits. I kept my job. I paid the bills. I did the best I could by Rich until his dying day. Rich wasn’t perfect. He loved me and Ian until his dying day.

If you have questions, just ask me. If it’s not obvious, I live out loud.

Rich is gone now. It’s time for Ian and I to get back to the business of living life to the fullest. We have plans for motorcycles and vacations and summer camps and country line dancing and kitties and trains. I hope you can join us for the adventure.

 My new favorite term

My new favorite term

The grind

Every morning I make a pot of coffee. Over the last year, I've become a bit of a coffee snob, though, so I grind my beans with a manual burr grinder and use a French press for exactly four minutes. 

While the water is boiling in my kettle, I have to grind the beans. I use a manual grinder because it makes a far superior grind than any electric grinder I've used. Also, because I'm doing this while other people are still sleeping in my living room, I try to avoid the cacophony of an electric grinder before 8am. 

It takes almost exactly the same amount of time to grind the beans as it does for the kettle to boil. Logic would say that I should turn the kettle on and then get to grinding. But as I walk around the kitchen grinding beans, my mind thinks of everything else in the world I should be doing besides grinding beans. 

Put the dogs out. Check the weather. Check the fridge for breakfast items. Empty Rich's foley bags. Look up how to spell something. 

And when the water has boiled, I have no coffee grounds. And it screws up my whole morning routine because I have to keep going back to the grinder and end up with cold eggs, cold coffee, and a harried breakfast experience. 

My mother used to talk about getting her nails done for an hour and wishing she could just hand over her hands but still be able to do things during that hour. Apparently, I come by this naturally. 

As uncomfortable as it is, I'm forcing myself to stick to the task at hand without distraction of what comes next. I'm not so great at it, but over the last year I've seen the pros and cons of each method. 

This portion of hospice is a grind. My hands and mind and heart are busy now with the most mundane of tasks. Changing chuck pads. Dosing Ativan. Cleaning Rich's lips and teeth. Doing laundry. They have to get done. Trying to do several things at once just leads to confusion and cold eggs. 

It's hard because a dying man reverts back to infant stages but without all those features that make babies great. Newborns smell amazing because the survival of the species depends on it. Dying people do not smell amazing. They do occasionally call out "Mom" or smile, but it's not quite the same. 

I need to just keep grinding until the handle turns freely. 

burr grinder