italy

My Mama is Coming to Town

This here Summer will be my 3rd in our little hamlet in Alaska. As my 3rd time around the never-setting sun I’m realizing the obvious: no Summer is the same. Every year, the faces change just as fast as the scenery. You expect to see the familiarity of last year, and just like that…it’s started anew. The glacier changes, the wormholes collapse or are created, the trees leaf out and a whole new slew of faces come into your world, a world that in turn becomes theirs as well.

 

 

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This must be the place.

 

 

And this year, a new face will be joining them: my Mama’s.

From the time I flew the coop out into the big unknown at 17, I’ve lived all over the place. Yet, in every place, my Mom had either moved me in or immediately come to visit. New apartment in Berkeley? She’d help me give the place a good scrub a dub dub. Living in Italy? Well, she’ll just have to come by for Thanksgiving.

There’s never been a time in my life where my Mom hasn’t seen where I live for longer than a month.

And now it’s verging on a 3rd year.

But fret not because…

My Mama’s coming to Town.

 

 

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As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this place isn’t just some sort of pop on in location. No, the journey North requires some preparation and logistics and in the heat and hectic mess of Summer planning this hasn’t been my a strong suit and so, we sat down this Winter to plan away. And now, my Mama doesn’t have to live my life through pictures and stories. She can experience it on her own.

My Mama arrives in less than 3 weeks. Since I’ve never had a visitor out here, I didn’t know what goes along with the anticipation of a guest’s arrival but now I feel it. Every walk I take, or adventure I have, I am thinking of her.

Will she be comfortable?

Will this incline be O.K?

Will these flowers still be blooming?

Will she see a bear?

Will she think an outdoor shower is awesome or atrocious?

Will the Weather Gods smile upon us?

Will she love this place like I do?

 

 

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All of these questions swim around me constantly as I wonder what I’ve forgotten to wonder about and worry that there’s a detail I’ve left out. But the last question wrestles with my mind the most. It’s a question I’d never asked myself before.

Before it didn’t matter if she liked where I lived because I only stayed for a year or two in the far away places and the closer by places were automatically approved due to distance alone. But this place? Well it’s not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away now is it and it’s clearly not a life that everyone leads.

And so in all honesty, I was nervous that she might not like it.

This place is not for everyone and I’m fine with that (except for when it comes to my Mom). It’s why the local businesses over-hire and why we aren’t surprised when we hear of someone leaving in the night without even a note to explain why. We know why. It’s a hard life but the hard is what makes it good (“A League of their Own” reference, anyone?). Well, it’s what makes it good to me at least.

But the hard is also what makes it messy. The hard is what causes a pile of Freely Acquired Just In Case tires to sit on our property, out of use for years until the day comes when someone needs them for a garden project. The hard is what makes it so that our house doesn’t have siding but does keep us cozy and warm. The hard is what makes each challenge more challenging and thus, each success that much more rewarding.

But it isn’t always pretty.

As a tidy-upper, not quite clean-freak but definitely clean and orderly appreciating lady, the disarray of life in the woods can be overwhelming at times. I can’t tell you how many times The Chief and I have walked outside to do some tidying up and have both let out simultaneous sighs at the plethora of projects to be done.

And when I was just visiting, before living here, I didn’t totally get why all of those projects weren’t already done.

Now, I do.

But still sometimes, my tidying tendencies get the best of me. I want to just tie everything up in a pretty bow and you know where I get that from?

My Mama.

And now she’s coming to visit. To see the sometimes un-tidy life we live in the woods. The life that’s not for everyone. The life that some take one look at and run in the other direction. The life that I almost didn’t live because I too was tempted to run at first.

 

 

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It’s a big place, constantly changing, constantly surprising

 

 

Perhaps her experience will be that of love at first sight. Perhaps just the opposite. Either way, it’s her experience to have and no degree of my wanting her to love it here can effect that.

And that scared the hell out of me.

At first.

And so I called her and told her my worries. I want my Mom to love where I live, not simply because of a tendency to seek for her approval but also because I want her to want to come visit me. I want her to want to visit this place and me. It makes the very long journey fly by if the end location is somewhere you actually love to be. And to all these fears she, in her perfect Mama rationale stated this:

“I’ll love it because you are there.”

If that’s not the most quintessential Mommy-Mom-Sentence I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is. And you know what? It worked perfectly (I’m a sucker for Mommy-Mom-Sentences).

And so, since then (and especially since she bought her ticket) I’ve stopped the worry. Sure, I’m doing a faster shuffle these days trying to tidy, trying to make sure things are in order and that the hard life is as easy as it can be but I also know that she’ll love it purely because of the fact that we will be together. And so will I. Yes, there will be bug bites and slop buckets and outhouse and all the other discomforts that go along with a non-modern life but they will pale in comparison to the awesomeness that is my Mom being in our home.

Finally, I’ll be able to truly share my life with her, instead of bits and snippets and stories and my interpretations. She’ll have her own take on it all, she’ll know my friends, my work, my walks I take every time I call her and she’ll see our life as it is here, instead of our patched together life in California where we move every week and live out of suitcases.

It’s been a bizarre thing to have her not know who or where I am talking about and I can’t wait to bridge the gap.

She’ll finally know our life.

She’ll finally know and I can’t wait.

 

 

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That’s my Mama!

The Peek-a-Blues

Of the many questions I’ve gotten about living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, one of the top questions/statements is:

“How do you handle the weather? It must be so gloomy and dark. I could never live there.”

And honestly, as many times as I cheerily answered with “I’m sure it will be great!” and “Yea, but we have the Northern Lights!” and other exclamation filled rebuttals, I really had no idea what I was getting into. My true answers would have been:

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the weather.

“I think it is.”

and

“I hope I can.”

Growing up, my Mom had these bright lights installed in her bedroom. She would climb on top of her bed, (she had one of those amazingly comfortable yet still Princess in the Pea style tall, big beds that my girlfriends and I would always sneak into and cozy up in) close her eyes and turn on the lights.

Boom!

They would blast her with light meant to emulate the rays of the sun.

In California, Winter isn’t harsh in the sense of blistering cold and snowstorms and icy sidewalks. It’s harsh though in a more subtle way. We often were stranded without power for days on end during storm season and we rarely saw the sun until the storm passed through. Sometimes it would be a month before I’d see that ‘ol vitamin D provider and simply seeing that shine would remind me how much I had missed it. And so, when the storms hit and the skies clouded up and stayed grey for weeks on end, my Mama found her relief in her sunbed of sorts.

It was her happy place.

Me on the other hand, I never did the lights. I’m one of those, yes there’s a beautiful bathtub and I’m stressed to no end and someone is offering to fill it for me and still…no. No thank you. I’ll be just fine over here, just barely bearing the weight of my little world.

Well, at least I used to be like that. Now, I’m more open to relaxation and even a little more open to help from others and to helping myself.

And so, as we approached our departure date for my first Winter in Alaska and these statements (“I could never handle the dark”) kept piling on and on until I felt I was buried in a ball pit like a kid at Chuck E Cheese and I started to panic.

What if it was the most depressing place I’d ever been? What if I never saw the sun? What if I completely abandoned a schedule and ran around like a rabid animal, unaware of the day or time or place I found myself in?

Enter: La Mama.

She had the perfect solution for my fretting self: the sunlamps.

However, despite my efforts to more readily accept help, I still couldn’t budge in this arena.

I never used the lights anyways.

“Right, because you would never accept help or lay down long enough to feel their effects.”

Nonsense. Utter hullabaloo. I could do this by myself.

And so, I refused to buy the lights myself or to let my mother buy me the lights, despite her many crafty attempts to do so.

“Oh, how weird, we just happened to stop in this store together and they carry those sunlights you were talking about, Julia!”

My Mama’s never been very swift on the lies, a trait that makes us both laugh a lot and one which most definitely trickled down to me.

But no, I couldn’t be fooled. I was heading into the dark without so much as a headlamp (thankfully, the sweet guys at SBS gifted me one). I could do this on my own.

But you see, here’s the thing about the sun in Alaska, huddle closer now: she is her own. She does what she wants and because of that, she seems like that elusive person you always see at that one bookstore that feels so mysterious and obviously way cooler than you are and that you one day ask on a date and they end up to simply be a human being, just like you.

Weird, huh?

Of course, I only know that now in retrospect. Last Winter I spent my days sun chasing and when she was nowhere to be found, I felt it (or so I thought). She would peek-out for a moment and then hide away the rest of the day and I would consider her to be elusive and take it as a personal affront and then I would feel it: The Peek-a-Blues.

 

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Up for a moment, only to be engulfed by that cloud beneath minutes later

 

I did everything I was supposed to do in such conditions: I got “out”  (went for a walk or a ski or a something to be out in nature and to hopefully catch a few rays) everyday. I made sure to take my vitamins daily (a feat I’ve never been able to conquer in my life) and was even more utterly diligent with my Vitamin D (they were gummy chewables, kind of the perfect kid-like complement to my stoic attempt at adulthood). But still, at times I felt a little blue.

And so, my lifelines were my sunshine substitutes. Along with my get “out” and vitamin regiment I talked to my girlfriends and my mother almost daily. Some days I had to have a little cry (or a big one) and sometimes we only seemed to laugh. I kept busy, preserving food, revisiting old exercise routines I hadn’t had time for in years and even did my best to sit still long enough to pass it off as meditation.

 

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Yoga Jones. Put the mat down, turn away for a moment, return to dog on mat (not willing to budge).

 

I was so zen.

In reality, I was alone. A lot.

 

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Well, I did have Miss Lou. That helped a lot.

It’s not that The Chief wasn’t present in his heart, it’s that he was absent in body. He worked construction on the restaurant I came to work in during the Summer for almost the entire duration of Winter and throughout its near entirety he was very sick. In the attempt to get the restaurant open they worked almost every day. Twenty below? Bring extra coffee. We are doing this. I was both thoroughly impressed by them and thoroughly depressed by my own seemingly smaller achievements. Every morning I would kiss The Chief goodbye and as the door closed behind him, the little panic would start. The Peek-a-Blues.

What to do?

What to do?

The simple thing about Alaska, or at least living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska is that she answers this howling call tenfold with demands.

Chop some wood. Build a fire. Defrost the generator. Wash the dishes. Start dinner. Do some laundry. Organize the Bachelor Pad into Our House. Organize the recycling. Mend your clothes.

There was a never-ending laundry list (upon which laundry always had a place) of things to do and things that needed to be done but all of it seemed so small. I wanted to do more than the inside and light outside chores. I wanted to be the one who brought down a tree by myself and presented it to The Chief proudly like a cat brings its owner a mouse. I wanted to build shelves while he was away and see the surprise on his face when he came home. There was so much I didn’t know how to do and what I did know felt unimportant.

On some days, that feeling didn’t bother me, but on the third day of overcast, not snowing and not doing anything other than inciting a dismal feeling in me, on those days, it got to me.

And I would think of the lights.

Maybe I had been too stubborn. Maybe I needed them after all. And so I would call on my lights: my Mama and my girlfriends and they would somehow part the dismal sky.

This year I still can’t take a tree down by myself. I still don’t know how to build shelves. When the snowmachine has been sitting at 30 below plus temperatures for a week I still have a very hard/potentially unsuccessful time starting it. I still can’t do what The Chief can do out here but you know what? I can do more than I could last year.

No longer is chopping wood an expletive-fest for me, instead I see what The Chief was talking about when he said you get lost in the motion. Last year it was all sweat and swearing when I just couldn’t get a log to budge. Now I look at the weather and pick my logs accordingly and if I still can’t get through? I leave it for a colder day when wood snaps apart like a Kit-Kat and the axe moves through it like soft butter. No longer is driving the snowmachine as difficult. I know how to move my body to better move the machine, I’ve found my riding stance (a very strange sidesaddle-esque approach that my body somehow came up with and which fits me like a glove), even if it is a little odd and I’ve crossed the creeks I rode solely across as a passenger last year.

And you know what? I’ve been slacking. We’ve been here a month and I’ve only recently started taking a Multi-Vitamin. I consistently forget the Vitamin D and although I get outside almost every day, I’m not so stringent as I was before. I listen to my body (most of the time).

Oh, and another You Know What? It’s been a much greyer Winter this year.

And the last You Know What? It’s been blue skies and sunshine in my head. Well, more of the time at least, especially despite the dismal array of cloudy days.

 

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Looks like a black and white photo. Isn’t. Dreary skies in a beautiful land.

 

When I lived in Italy (a land that was and will always be one of my favorite places on Earth) and I ate fresh pasta and drank local wine and consumed gelato every day and still didn’t gain a pound and where I was surrounded by some of the best art the world has produced and entrenched in a language and a lifestyle that encourages a rich life and love of it…still, I felt blue.

The sun shone almost every day I was there.

And so last year, despite all the happiness of brand spankin’ new love and a new lease on life and an awaiting adventure, still I felt a little blue. And, forgetting my time in Italy, I worried it was the sun.

It’s not so much about where you are but where you’re at and it’s not just whether the sun is where you are but if sun is within to follow where you go.

Last year I was overwhelmed by the new-ness. I hardly knew anyone that was here, I knew little about the life I was embarking upon and had a stiff learning curve just to stay afloat but I looked outward for the reason why.

The sun, or lack thereof. That was it. It had to be.

It wasn’t. And it still isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. These dreary days we’ve had of late with sun-less skies of grey can be daunting or they can be an invitation: overcast might mean warmer temperatures which means more time outside before turning into a popsicle. Or, a dreary day could just be the perfect excuse you need for a movie day and some down time. Or, perhaps, it could be a day to feel a little blue, if that’s what you need to do.

I’m not saying lack of sun is a good thing. Some people are gravely affected by its shyness. I saw how happy it made my Mama to lie in that bed with the rays surrounding her and I saw later how it helped her find her inner sunshine in the days of grey. I’ve felt myself open like a bloom to the rays, not knowing I had been bundled into a bud.

But the sun isn’t the only thing to decipher how we feel.

At the time I wrote this, late last week, I had just completed a week of work that made me feel successful, I had been to a good friend’s birthday party and seen people I loved and I had also hit my head hard enough to throw my neck out (from falling down the Ramp of Doom to hitting my head to missing stairs down from our loft, I seem to be clumsy. Who knew?) I wrote from the comfy coziness of home. I was happy, in a way, to have an excuse to do nothing and sure enough, it was grey, grey, grey outside. I felt at peace as I have most of this Winter which is in stark contrast to the ups and downs of last year.

Fast forward to yesterday, a showing of sunshine we hadn’t seen in weeks and there I was, still grounded by pain. Day 3 on the couch. This day at least I could get out of bed without it taking 15 minutes of propping myself up and alligator rolling my way out so as not to use my neck. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t really feel that sunshine in my heart. And I know it’s there. I yearned for my independence that my body could no longer provide. I couldn’t haul water or chop wood or drive or ski and walking was excruciating. I was the anti-independent Level I (the Levels go up to the umpteenth but still, I’m progressing) I’ve grown accustomed to being. There were projects I wanted to do and my second attempt of an online Pilates challenge laughed in my face. I was three days from finally completing it (again, it was the second time I’m attempted it now). I needed to see a girlfriend and laugh it off or just get outside of the tiny realm of reality I had been encased in but my body couldn’t take me there. I felt desperately restless.

 

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Oh, Alaska. She must have heard me typing last week and decided to send me a lesson. And it was a good lesson. Sun or no sun, more lessons learned versus less, I am not immune to the Peak-a-Blues. I was a teary eyed mess of pent-up energy (I’m someone who needs at least an hour and preferably multiple hours outside in order to spend the rest inside). Thankfully, The Chief and I were eventually able to giggle a bit at my sobby display and extra thankfully, a friend stopped by and infused my ouch routine with something new. Still I felt the Peek-a-Blues lingering in the form of a restless Poor Me but they were softening.

They always say in Alaska “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes” because something is always changing. Clouds come in and the sun disappears and it starts to snow and the temperature goes from 30 below to 30 above in 24 hours. It’s a whirlwind sometimes and so, one has to keep hold of their sunshine and lasso it back when it tries to go.

“I could never live there” still resonates in my head and I’m so glad I pushed through to see if I could. And I can. There are ups and downs just like anywhere. Happiness on the cloudiest of days and blues on the sunniest. The joy of slowing down and the need to speed up. A lust for life and a “blah” for life. It can happen anywhere and it happens everywhere.

I’m thinking this might just be what they call Life.

Be you here or be you there, the sunshine you seek might be within.

Clearly, I’m still learning how to harness it (and occasionally getting ahead of myself at which point Alaska sends me such sweet reminders) but I can say that every year it keeps getting better and I guess that’s all we can really hope for.

That and maybe a few of those lights wouldn’t hurt either, huh Mom?

 

With love and (sometimes) sunshine,

 

From Alaska.

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A Tale of Two Tonsils (and Ten Years)

Reader beware, you are entering the FYI (For Your Information) possible TMI (Too Much Information) zone, or as my Mom called it: “Gross, gross and gross!”

She cracks me up, but she’s also right on point. It will take a moment to get there but just remember, when the moment comes, I warned you. Read on if you’re up for a good story with a gross ending.

One year ago I did one of the crazier things of my life by packing up my things and accidentally moving to Alaska and into a house with a total stranger (though I felt that I knew him immediately).

Ten years ago was one of the other most noticeably crazy, or shall we call it “free-spirited” things I got myself into:

Italy.

In both scenarios and settings, a prior break-up was involved as well as a great leap of faith. Oh, and tonsils, tonsils were also involved.

Ten years ago. I was newly 19 and had just been dumped by my high school/partial college sweetheart the night before Thanksgiving. As a girl who loves to eat, this put a real damper on the day. I was too depressed to dive in and the food just sat in front of me as a reminder of my loss all night. One of my five Fairy Godmothers, as they call themselves, noticed my devastation and started talking to me about Italy. She was a professor at the local University and was leading a group of students there.

“There’s no better cure to heartache than Italy.”

O.K. I was in, anything to get away from that feeling. I needed direction and I trusted in her, she was a Fairy, after all.

“Perfect! We leave in June. You should probably start taking some language classes and dual enroll in the local University to start getting credits so you will be accepted to go with us.”

June?!

June was 6 months away. I was in pain in that instance. It was time to leave.

Right?

No. I was so near the end of my Fall Semester and despite heartache, or any adversity, I’ve always been stubborn for school (at least since entering college). I would finish the Semester. I needed a focus, so I decided to try for all A’s to help secure my acceptance into the University’s travel abroad program with my Fairy.

I finished the semester and buckled down, working as much as possible to save for Italy.

Finally the next semester came and I was like a horse to stable just trying to get to June. I was accepted into the University program and started taking Art History classes while simultaneously carrying a full load filled with Italian and other General Education classes for my degree at the local Junior College.

That was when I met my beautiful red-headed friend. A girl in my Italian class had said that her friend too was going to Italy in June. In fact, as it turned out, she wasn’t just going to Italy. She was going to Rome. With the University. Chance? Happenstance? I think fate. It was Kismet. She put us in contact.

It was friend love at first sight.

 

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We bring out the weirdo in one another. I love you L.

 

The first day we met we decided to room together in Italy. We purchased tickets for the same flight and probably spoke some cheesy typical Italian phrases as celebration.

Pasta!

Grazie!

Buon giorno!

Yea, my lessons were paying off alright.

That was when I first made a little leap.

For some gut reason, I added two weeks onto my flight at the end of our month-long schooling in Italy. Six weeks instead of four.

“What will you do? Where will you stay?” My red-headed friend’s mother asked me.

“I don’t know. I didn’t plan on this, it just now came from my gut and…I’m doing it.”

It didn’t seem real anyways and I tucked it away to deal with later. I was sure I’d find someone to travel with and if not, I love to be alone. It just seemed right.

A few months later and we were off. School was amazing (though since Rome was also so amazing we rarely slept more than a few hours a night. We probably could have absorbed more information without the late nights but hey, we got the Roman experience. We would trade-off which of us would get to sleep longer and which of us would go order espresso, though I feel like I often ended up with the sweeter end of that deal than not, thanks L) and I saw and learned things I felt I had been destined to see.

 

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…and ate a lot of things I felt I was destined to eat.

 

A psychic before my departure had even said to me (Rome unannounced) that I had a Roman background and had fought in the Colosseum. Who knows, but I do know that the place struck me down in my bones and still everyday I feel a constant pull to return.

After a month I bid “Adieu” and “See you soon” to my fire haired friend (who is still one of my best friend’s to this day) and started traveling with a girlfriend I met in the program.

 

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Rose and I at the train station, about to board the wrong train.

 

Eventually, after a week or so she had to leave as well and I found myself alone in Amsterdam. One morning I got very lost and unbeknownst to me, found myself in the Red Light District. I sat in a window to study my map and get my bearings at which point I realized where I had stumbled. I felt a presence and looked behind me. The window was inhabited by a naked lady dancing. It was 9am.

Oops, sorry! Blocking the show.

At the end of the week I met up with two girlfriends from home who were embarking on a whole semester abroad in Florence. They had a few weeks before school started and we figured we should go to Croatia because, well, we had heard good things and why not?

On the bus/train/bus rides there I decided that I wasn’t going to make my flight back to The States in a few days. I called my Mom and made the bigger leap. If anyone would get it, it was her and so she told me to be safe and let her know when I found myself some plans.

Croatia was amazing and we stayed longer than anyone had planned but eventually school beckoned and I decided to hoof it back to Italy with them to see where it would take me.

Well, it took me to the doctor.

Our trip from Croatia was about 36 hours of straight travel. I had debated staying, had debated taking up the offer from a local to live with him but had declined. I had more to see. The moment we said goodbye and got on the bus the girl in front of me threw up all over herself. It poured onto the floor and back towards me. I was able to pick up my feet in time but the smell was overpowering. Everyone opened their windows in a symphony of shrieks as the girl just sat there with vomit from her mouth to her toes.

Maybe I should have stayed?

The rest of the journey begged that question as well. We didn’t sleep or eat much, just traveled and as the day and a half wore on I felt a sickness brewing in my throat.

The vomit girl!

By the time we reached Florence I was so weak I could barely carry my pack. I said goodbye to my girlfriends as they found their housing and went out in the early morning Florence drizzle to find accommodations of my own. Finally, hours and Carabinieri catcalls later, I found a sweet woman with one bed left in her hostel. I fell into the bed and didn’t wake until dark.

She helped me find a hospital the next day after remarking that I “no look so good”.

Thanks.

The “hospital” that I entered was in fact a church hospital.

 

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It did not look like this, it was a bit more ominous but this was my favorite church I saw and now you can see it too.

 

Nuns speaking very rapid Italian gruffly moved me towards a man in the back. I recited my rehearsed phrases:

“Ho un mal di gola, Signore.”

I have a sore throat, Sir.

He jabbed at my tonsils.

That year I had already had at least three episodes of Tonsilitis (an infection in the tonsils) and three episodes of Strep Throat. I even had a little hint of Mono! It wasn’t the best of times.

The man spoke rapidly in Italian (what other way is there?), some of which I gathered to basically mean “Hold up, buttercup. This is going to hurt”.

Just then, all of my 7th grade Science training came back to me as he produced a Bunsen Burner and a wire mesh screen attached to a small metal pole which altogether resembled a larger version of the mirrors a dentist uses to look at your teeth.

“Whatcha thinkin’ bout doin’ with that, Father?” I nervously translated into something less abbreviated and more respectful.

He gestured for me to open wide (which I couldn’t) and so he forced my mouth open a bit, enough to fit the mesh screen he had been heating (unbeknownst to me) over the Bunsen Burner into my mouth in order to burn my tonsils.

Hold up, did he just cauterise my tonsils?

Still in shock the nurses shuffled me off and lay me facedown in a chair, gesturing for me to expose my toosh a little. I gave them one cheek and before I knew it they were jabbing me with a shot (I’m guessing penicillin but I have no idea) and off I went. I was charged nothing and left with two prescription orders.

I staggered to the pharmacy in a haze, still unsure of what had happened and unsure of what medicine I was about to ingest. I crept back into my bed at the hostel to recover. All said and done I was only 10 euros (and probably some skin on my tonsils) out from the day. Oh European healthcare.

But wait. A Bunsen Burner?! I was too woozy to care and simply hoped his Medieval practices would heal me.

Within a week I was feeling better and I was back to my usual antics of late nights and days of art and history.

 

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and Sexy Pasta.

 

I even found a job on a dare at a local bar when I told the manager that I was going to work there while simultaneously hearing the base rate and asking for a raise. I got it and the next day, in I went. Ah to be very young, headstrong and obnoxious. I’m sure I only retain two out of the three today. The day after I enrolled for language school and found a house to rent. I was set.

Until another week passed and the Tonsillitis came back with a vengeance.

This time I went to the “Emergency Room”, a hollow corridor of an empty ancient building. I literally resulted to “yelling” (more of a loud talking voice in my condition) in order to find anyone to help me. They too charged me nothing but thankfully this time my tonsils were left un-singed and I went home with new antibiotics and fingers crossed.

That time did the trick and the rest of my what ended up being almost a year in Italy instead of 6 weeks was relatively sickness free.

When I returned to The States my tonsils struck again and this time I asked for them to be taken out. At that time (woah, that statement makes me feel old) doctors were hesitant to take tonsils out for fear of them bleeding without stop and because they were and are supposed to be the body’s first line of defense against infection (except some, like mine, harbor that infection instead of process it, leaving me again and again with Tonsilitis. Oh joy).

“Plus”, the doc said “we don’t really have proof that you’ve had all of these incidents, since they occurred abroad.”

Umm, I beg your Physician’s pardon? Call the strange church I went to, or the emptiest Emergency Room that’s ever existed. They will tell you (rapidly in Italian so maybe pull up Google translator. Oh how I wish I would have had that) that my tonsils looked the size of strawberries and were just as red and bumpy.

Proof my patooty. Just look at my BBQed tonsils, that seems proof enough, no?

So I gave up for the time being. The doc wasn’t budging and I certainly didn’t want someone who didn’t have faith in the operation getting near my tonsils anyway. They’d been mistreated enough for that decade.

And you know what? That was very close to true. I never had another problem with my tonsils again.

Until now. Almost one decade later.

**Warning, if you thought anything earlier was gross, you might want to get out now. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here we go:

Alaska is currently experiencing its highest pollen count on record. That being said, new to the flora about these parts I have been having some symptoms. The whole town has. Sore throats from pollen abound and a few weeks ago a sickness started to sweep through town.

My sore throat persisted but I felt I had dodged the sickness. No cough, no mucus, just a painful throat. Nothing to write home about (who am I kidding, I still call my Mom when I have even a sore throat, but you know what I mean).

Until one night, talking outside of our house with a friend who was helping us with our truck (our Jack in the Box went on the fritz two weeks ago and we haven’t been able to remedy it since) I felt something shift. The sore throat was suddenly gone but my right tonsil (consistently the worse side, if I remember ten years ago correctly) was swelling and swelling fast. We said goodbye and I immediately did a salt gargle. It hurt. I put myself to bed with get well thoughts in my head.

I awoke to something else.

My right tonsil was even more swollen than the night before and my right ear was throbbing. I felt a familiar feeling but couldn’t quite admit to myself that I might have what I thought I might have. The T word.

 

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My tonsils we pocked and craggy like the clouds in this sky. Except they were the sunset version.

 

I buttoned up and buckled down with my Ibuprofen at my side and off we went to work. The Chief had somehow re-injured his neck earlier in the week as well and so we arrived at work (now in major Go Mode as the restaurant was set to open that week) looking like Frankensteins who couldn’t turn to look at you without turning our whole bodies and one of us who could barely speak.

Sexiest couple of the year award goes to…definitely not us that day. Stiffest maybe.

As the day wore on I felt more and more dragged down. Swallowing became something I tried to avoid and then it happened:

I didn’t want to eat because it was too painful.

My girlfriend later said “I knew you were sick when you weren’t eating. That’s your favorite hobby”.

I know girl, I know.

Being the friend that she is, we made a makeshift tongue depressor and used our flashlights to look down my throat.

“Oh man, can you breathe? Your right tonsil is so swollen it looks like it’s blocking your airway”

I had tried to ignore it but when she mentioned it I couldn’t any longer. No, I couldn’t really breathe well.

I got the You Probably Should Go To The Hospital look from my co-workers and so after 8 hours, I went home to rest.

You see, the funny thing about going to the Hospital is, well, it’s twofold:

  1. Our car just broke down so I have no way to get there and there is at least 4-5 hours away.
  2. I don’t have insurance in Alaska. Apparently, MediCal only covers expenses in California, a tricky loophole I found myself diving into upon realizing I might need aid.

Add to all that the fact that even in the past with health insurance and a Hospital 15 minutes away I still have avoided going to the doctor like the plague so having these challenges just made me shy away from it even more.

The next day I woke up in excruciating pain. I could barely open my mouth and swallowing or drinking was torturous. This was beyond anything I had experienced before. When I spoke it sounded like I had a mouthful of marbles. I decided to head into work with The Chief to see if a co-worker’s husband (The Paramedic) could look and see what he thought.

Hospital.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I called around and found where I could get care if I could find a ride and just then The Paramedic said “I’m going to town tomorrow. I’m leaving early though. You should come.”

We decided to meet at the 5 mile marker of The Road at 4:30am the next morning. The last time I was up at 4:30am was probably because I was going to bed at 4:30, not rising. I thanked him and left.

I slowly walked the 3.5 miles home (since we are car-less and had driven the fire truck to Town which needed to stay in Town for that night’s training) and arrived home exhausted and in increasing pain. I knew I needed to call about my insurance but I was hurting so much and was so tired that I literally couldn’t.

A nap later and groggy as can be I got through to the Hospital and Clinic and after getting all the information I was thoroughly confused.

I could either go to the Clinic and pay out-of-pocket or go to the Emergency Room and potentially be covered. Key work: potentially. If not, I would end up with a much bigger out of pocket.

Oh health system woes.

I’ve never been much of a gambler, not with my money at least. Big life choices? Sure, roll those dice but not for money.

Overwhelmed and in ever-increasing pain I tearfully called The Chief. “Please have someone else run training tonight. I need you.”

He was home within the hour and I was calmed though not convinced that the insurance situation would be any sort of breeze the next day. A hurricane maybe but not a breeze.

It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another to be sick and to be worried about going to the doctor for fear of financial ruin. It’s a tale that’s often told and yet still persists.

The Chief tried to quiet my worries and made me a smoothie so I could eat something and we cuddled into bed to rest.

Nope.

In the potential 5 hours of sleep we could have gotten I slept a total of maybe 30 minutes. Every time I was about to fall asleep I would have to swallow and the searing pain would wake me up. Or, as I was drifting off my ear would start pulsing from the pressure. The Chief is thankfully a very good sleeper and was able to knock out a few Z’s before his big day ahead of him (opening day at The Restaurant) but we both awoke at 3:30am groggy and in pain.

I “awoke” so puffy I couldn’t even feel my jawbone and touching my neck felt like I was scorching it with fire (or wire mesh heated on a Bunsen Burner). I felt like something was growing and growing in my throat and it became harder to breathe and more awkward and painful to swallow.

The Chief drove me to meet The Paramedic and the Ibuprofen finally started to work a little since I had upped my dose. We were able to talk a bit, get to know one another, that is when I wasn’t drifting off mid-sentence.

Finally, a stop at his Brother-In-Law’s to drop off something and pet his pet donkeys later and we were in Valdez. I smelled the Ocean which I haven’t really smelled since November (and as a coastal kid, I’ve missed it) and it felt like all would be fine.

 

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I forced myself to take a walk along the pier with a girlfriend.

Eventually.

The clinic would take walk-ins from 9-11. We arrived around 9:30 and a friend of The Chief’s who happened to be working that day greeted us. He explained the different avenues I could go and so I checked in with the front desk of the clinic who sent me to the Emergency Room to see my options. Once at the Emergency Room they sent me to Billing. Once in Billing they told me I had to cancel my MediCal because it only works in California.

I hadn’t realized that of course, resident or not, your insurance needs to be where you are. I’m in Alaska more often than not these days and I need to be able to be seen there. So I spent the next hour on the phone cancelling and confirming and watching the clock for the Clinic walk-in time limit so that I wouldn’t miss that opportunity if the Emergency Room still ended up sending me away.

Nothin’ like stress to help the healing process.

Within a few minutes of me explaining my situation ((I have MediCal but through Kaiser so I apparently am in a weird situation that ended up (hopefully) being to my benefit)) the whole office was working on it. I love Alaskans. They are so quick to get in there and help to figure things out. Three ladies were making phone calls and the rest of the office were debating the pros and cons of my visiting the ER versus the clinic.

In the end, since my insurance would only cover the ER we found out, I went in.

I was already exhausted but still needed to be an advocate for myself, ask the right questions and get the help I needed.

My tonsil and ear were throbbing. I cuddled into the crinkly paper and closed my eyes to rest as I waited for the doctor.

When she arrived she asked if I was the friend my friend at the Clinic had mentioned. I immediately felt taken care of and safe.

Knowing that I live in the woods and that any need to change medication (if it didn’t start working in 72 hours and thus was for the wrong strain) would be very difficult she did all the leg work to make sure that medications could be flown out to me.

The whole staff made sure I was O.K. They were wonderful. I left about 4 hours after entering with a prescription and with hope.

I eventually found the pharmacy in town, collected my meds and hit the grocery store just in time to get picked up by The Paramedic after his awards ceremony. We then headed to The Sister Restaurant of The Restaurant to see some good friends, have some marble talk and head home.

5 hours later, we arrived at the opening party of The Restaurant. I was exhausted and in more pain than I thought I could handle but I had watched this place go up over Winter, watched my friends and my Chief work in the below zero cold, and worked with my own hands on it. I was not missing this.

Plus, that’s where my ride was going.

Everyone was so happy as was I but it was hard to show through the stabbing ache. They sent me out food and it took me over an hour to eat a small stuffed pepper. Every bit was agony (but also delicious) and I was starving so I kept on. Finally, I hit my wall and drove myself home.

 

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My tonsils felt about as calm as this swimming spot in the sea at Capri.

 

The next day I awoke not to feeling better but worse. I had started the antibiotics but felt no shift. They said to wait 48-72 hours so I tried to distract myself. All this time we’ve been working day in and day out and suddenly, I was finally home, without plans, where all of the things we’ve neglected due to busyness lived and I couldn’t do any of them.

The next day I awoke, certain I would feel better and for a little while I did. I got in the garden and the dirt in my happy place. I did some chores and then suddenly the pain came back something fierce and I was exhausted. I laid down to nap for a while and suddenly it was 6pm. Time to eat something, woman, no matter how much it hurts.

I made sweet potatoes and mashed them up like one would for a baby and then added some avocado and tomato and lemon. It looked delicious and I’d psyched myself up to deal with the pain in order to finally eat it.

I took one bite and immediately almost threw up.

(You guessed it, the grossest part is NOW).

There was a foul taste in my mouth, dingy and dark and tangy and utterly disgusting.

What is that?!

I smelled everything in the bowl. I couldn’t tell. My sense of smell was screwy. The sweet potatoes had seen better days but nothing seemed wrong with them.

The taste kept coming. I felt like a cat with tape stuck to her feet, I couldn’t get away from it. I was revolted.

I rushed to the sink and threw down the bowl of food I was so desperately excited for and grabbed my toothbrush to scrub and scrub as much as one can in a mouth that won’t really open.

I spit out the toothpaste and suddenly the white turned to brown and red.

I almost started vomiting from the taste. It’s back! That putrid taste. But how? Then, I truly did start to dry heave and the pressure on my throat produced more of the taste and more of the foul liquid.

I realized then that my tonsil had popped or more specifically, that I must have had an abscess on my tonsil and it had popped.

I had read online about abscesses of the tonsils and had asked the doc if that’s what she saw but when she said “no” I let it go, sort of. In my gut I knew this wasn’t just the normal run of Tonsillitis I was used to.

This was it, the abscess was expelling the infection inside of it.

I gagged and cried as it was by far the worst pain of the last few days. It kept coming and I was choking and gasping to get it out while still breathing. Crying only made the pressure worse but I couldn’t help it.

Finally, the waves of expulsion slowed and I knew I needed water. To be in water, specifically. I got in my robe and headed to the shower. Showers heal all when I’m sick. I checked the propane, the battery and the water level.

Good. Good. Bad.

Great.

I went to the generator, fired it up and braced the hose in the water reservoir so I could distract myself by throwing grass seed to build our lawn while the 55 gallon drum filled. Ten minutes later I finally got in the shower.

Sweet relief.

I kept coughing and spitting up bloody brown until the last few minutes of the shower when finally, it stopped.

My ear was no longer throbbing, I could swallow without excruciating pain though I still felt some and my tonsil (though it still felt misshapen) had shrunk.

It was by far the best and the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me medically.

I texted The Chief: “The grossest thing just happened to me. I can’t wait to tell you about it.” I felt like a different person. I was still exhausted and still in some pain but I was drinking water in gulps like a human. I was eating grapes by actually opening my mouth and chewing. It felt like a miracle.

A disgusting putrid miracle.

The Chief returned home and we spent the next hour catching up while I made a paper bouquet for my girlfriend on her birthday, needing to distract myself, afraid that the tonsil would somehow just fill itself up again and my freedom would be taken away.

But so far it hasn’t.

We went to the party, though I was so exhausted from the infection and the day’s events that I only could stay for a short while. In that while I spread the gospel of the disgusting tonsil explosion, thoroughly grossing out the guests as I went. What can I say though? People need to know these things.

So now (if you made it through the gross gauntlet) you know. If you live in the woods and your car breaks down, find a ride and get yourself to town. And if your tonsil suddenly feels like a rectangle instead of a ball, you might have an abscess, actually, a Peritonsillar Abscess, if we are being medically correct. Resist from Googling it, just trust me on this one.

Oh, and the doctor should drain it for you. That’s how that’s supposed to go. But hey, who knew?

Lessons learned.

Cheers to the woods and the sweet small simple world they create and cheers to help getting out of them swiftly when that world gets a little more complicated.

Cheers to you, getaway driver. I owe you one, if we can ever get our car running again.

Cheers to my tonsils, making (I hope) one last-ditch effort to get my attention before quietly calming themselves forever.

Cheers to leaps of faith, even if they get us into a little trouble here and there.

And cheers to you if you made it through this nastiness. You’re a toughie, you.

Love,

Beneath The Borealis.

 

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Nature’s ombre. She’s so fashionable.