Monday afternoon I sit with my father, tell him I love him, and lip read his soundless words, "I love you." I kiss him on the forehead and tell him to wait for me. I'll be back in 36 hours.
The Boy drives me to the airport, and as we say good-bye, I cry. I don't like flying, and this is the first time we'll be apart since well before moving in together. The Juggernaut, whose wedding I'm attending tomorrow, is like a brother to me, and this is the only thing that can justify my trip away right now. His wedding party is very small, and my visit is very short which limits who I will get to see in a city I lived in for more than a decade. I don't care. If my father dies while I'm leisurely hanging out playing Catch Up, I will never forgive myself. If it happens while I'm at this particular wedding, and ONLY this wedding, I can accept it.
The Juggernaut doesn't know this line of reasoning behind the ultra-short itinerary, but it confirms his theory that I am a Pod Person, not born from or in need of human beings. I doubt he's alone in that theory. But being with The Boy has changed all that. The Fucker. It's like when the Wizard gave the Tin Man a heart. Only this Tin Man was happy without one. Probably happier WITH one, but pretty happy without one, too.
My journey through airport security is comical. Unaware of procedure, I do like the others and remove my shoes, empty my bags into tubs, and send them through the conveyor belt. I see the kid viewing my x-rayed bin of crap scrunch his face and call over a co-worker. When they call over two more guards I feel like this might be fun.
"Are you confused by my syringes?"
"No." I'm suddenly glad I'm not smuggling contraband.
My shit passes, and I realize an announcer is telling everyone lined up for the metal detector to remove anything that may set it off. I am pleased that my practice with MRIs has taught me how to dress without wearing any metal, but I walk through and set the alarm off anyway. I forget I'm wearing the Lady of Loreto, Protect my Flight Talisman the Juggernaut gave me years ago hoping I'd visit him during his 18 month stay in Phoenix. This is a bad sign. But I take my window seat just behind the plane's wing and realize I'm about to do something I've never done when I'm scared shitless. I'm about to fall asleep. Apparently I'm not as petrified as I thought. I make it through take off just long enough to be in awe of the beauty of traveling this fast, at this upward angle, through the sky and over the ground. The turbulence that wakes me 90 minutes later and lasts through the rest of the flight should have me shitting myself, but instead I'm at inexplicable peace. Somewhere between being loved by The Boy and my MS diagnosis, the Cowardly Lion had found a little bravery. Cool.
I walk through O'Hare to meet my in-laws who are so excited to see me, they don't care that it's midnight, but as I step through the doors that release me into Chicagoland, I am Donkey Punched by the Wicked Witch of the Midwest: A heat and humidity so foul I step right back into the airport. It's midnight, Chicago. What the fuck, you dirty, nasty Whore? Bitch, this is why I left you. I head back out to hunt down my in-laws, and by the time I spot them, I can barely feel my skin. People with MS don't process heat very well. The relatively decent stride I had in the air conditioned airport is disappearing. So much for showing people that I may be "sick," but I'm okay. No 42 year old who walks like an 82 year old looks okay.
I miss The Boy terribly, but being with his parents makes me feel like he's nearby. I miss our zoo of pets too, but their German Shorthair Pointer immediately decides I am her new best friend and this also helps. I sleep through the night - a first since I don't know when - with the dog guarding my door. I don't deserve the love, but I'll take it.
Tuesday morning we breakfast at a bar where my father-in-law is always treated like Royalty. The temporary abandonment of my doctor imposed diet flew out the window at 1AM that morning when I sucked down a plate of chicken wings and ranch dressing. I'm here for a wedding dammit, and I intend to eat and drink like me and my liver are healthy so I order a Hefeweizen - a Go To beer when it's too Goddamn hot outside for a stout - and the bar's owner brings us samples of new beers he's just purchased. My doctors are going to be so mad when my next round of blood work shows them what I have been up to.
While paying the bill, the bar's owner presents me with an unopened bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout with 7.5% alcohol, a gift for me to consume sometime in the next 21 hours before I'm back at the airport. The in-laws must have told him of my love for Guinness. I'm feeling very taken care of.
The in-laws drive me to my pre-wedding destination, the home of a friend who has just had a baby and won't be at the wedding. A confirmation from Mama, the name we call each other, that her apartment has central air seals the deal. I'm given Mom and Dad Hugs and Kisses of Love good-bye and then greeted with Dear Friend I Have Missed You hellos. So this is what it feels like to be human. Good thing the Boy gave me that Heart.
We make our way into the apartment and upon seeing her baby, I start to cry. Apparently having a Heart turns you into a Pussy. She is beautiful and perfect and precious, and the first time she smiles at me, and I'm in love. I want to eat her feet. We are joined by Mama's husband and The Smiths, a couple we all met while working at the bar together. I get more love, good stories, and before I know it it's time to say good-bye again. I've always been good at Good-Byes, but they're starting to get to me, and I pretend that I'm just dreading the walk outside. As I walk down their hallway towards the door, I use the wall for support. I tell them to think of me whenever they see the dirty hand prints I've left there, and they laugh.
The Smiths drive me to the restaurant where the Juggernaut and his Lovely and Amazing Lady are to be married. They kindly walk me across the street because the Chicago heat now has me walking like an 82 year old who has pooped herself, and they place me directly into the loving arms of the Juggernaut himself. Unfortunately, all I see are chairs set up for an outdoor wedding. The Wicked Witch of the Midwest has just spread a frothy layer of icing on the Fuck Cake and placed my hand on its third rail. The Juggernaut sees this, assures me it's a short ceremony, and tells me the reception will take place indoors. Saves me the need of saying, "Gotta go, just saw the Bat Signal."
I sneak away to the bathroom to change into one of the few dresses I own. I bought it for a wedding 11 years ago and have worn it to everyone's wedding but my own ever since. I choose to wear it AGAIN because it travels well at the bottom of a bag full of medical supplies and is long enough to make shaving my legs completely unnecessary. The problem is that it's not covering my bra well, a result of having lost some weight. I am the Whore of Babylon at my brother's wedding.
While everyone mingles outside I sadly make my way through the restaurant and run into one of the Juggernaut's college friends, Terra, Earth Goddess of Motherhood. She lights up when she sees me, hugs and kisses me to death, and when I show her the sadness of my whorish ways, she drops what she is doing, takes me to the bathroom, and fixes me with double stick tape. I can't remember what it's actually called, but I'm calling it Whore Be Gone.
Everyone is mingling outside, but the thought of going back out there before it's absolutely necessary gives me the full body sensation of Not Fucking Tempting At All. I'd rather put my fist through my own teeth. I sit at the bar and have whiskey.
The Juggernaut spots me and takes the time to tell me how good it is to see me here tonight and at this weight again. For the rest of the night, he will be the only one who brings it up. Either no one notices, or they've noticed and are afraid it's a weight loss due to illness. As his Lovely and Amazing Bride walks by us, he grabs her waist, pulls her close and kisses her. The look on his face at that precise moment is heavenly and blissful and pure joy. I am thankful to have seen it. After she leaves, I smile at him and call him Juggernaut. There is a slight pause, and then I see him recall the incident 17 years earlier that placed the word on my tongue - the moment where I grabbed the secret nickname I have for him. He laughs hard and hugs me, I assume, for the trip down memory lane before he is forced to leave me for other guests. I'm a happy girl.
To avoid the pitying looks I'm getting while I try to walk, I'm staying seated right where I am until the ceremony begins. Over the course of the next hour, I will feel like I'm my own receiving line. First the father of the groom, whom I've only met once, long, long ago, will approach me and our Catch Up will end with an invitation for me and The Boy to come see him in Oregon so he can take us Ice and Sturgeon Fishing. His spot is immediately filled by the Juggernaut's childhood friend and his wife. For the life of me, I've never known why their faces light up when they see me, but it always makes me feel good. I really don't deserve this much attention. Certainly the Juggernaut has paid them all to be kind to the Neurotic New York Bitch. We are joined by the Bruiser, yet another college friend of his who I met early on. The Bruiser developed a habit of play roughing-me-up for the duration of our time together. He doesn't do it anymore, but if I had to guess, it's because he thinks I've become too fragile. I like to think I can still kick some ass, I'd just need a long nap afterwards. He doesn't know it, but it's because of him that I have made the decision to come to the wedding.
The Bruiser is a frequent flyer so I contacted him last month to see if he knew of any creative ways to get me out to Chicago cheaply. It was so late in the game the price of a ticket was cost prohibitive, but he said, "You have to go. We'll get you there." I explained that it really depended on my father and filled him in a little, but after that conversation I decided that I could handle being away If It Happened as long as I were away for just enough time to see the Juggernaut get hitched. No extra visiting time, just the wedding.
Soon my reception line fills with The Spice Boys and their WaGs. Juggernaut Spice, Arsenal Spice, Bar Spice, and Pretty Boy Spice lived together in the Den of Iniquity for a few years. Glorious times, indeed. You'd never think any of them would settle down, but here they are. After tonight's wedding, there's only one left and he is here with his fiance. How times change. I love these boys with all my heart and am thrilled to see them. I ask about their babies and pets and homes and lives and then Pretty Boy Spice unknowingly makes my day. If he had been on my right, by my ear that was robbed of some hearing ability during my last MS relapse, I never would have heard him say it.
"All the cool kids are inside. Barnum's holding Court." No, that's not my real last name. And seriously? Do these people remember what I was like? I'm an abrasive cunt. I'm a mean, little girl. And I'm in heaven. I've never cared for attention before, but I can't deny how good this feels, and I am eating it up like a hick on a Slim Jim. Someone as nasty as I have been does not deserve this, but I'll take it.
The Stage Manager calls 5 minutes, and I start to make my way outside. I will handle the 15 minutes outdoors even if I lose all feeling in my body. I have to stop after 10 feet. This isn't going to be easy. That's when an arm reaches out for me to grab. It's the Juggernaut's little cousin who is no longer little. We hug and kiss and hello all the way to the open seat he spots for me. The Wedding Officiant asks us to thank the bride and groom's parents for making it possible for us all to be together then asks for a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us. When they mention his grandmother, the only one on the list that I personally knew, I start to cry. Again. I was just thinking of her last week when I came across her last Chanukah gift to me. The consoling hand on my shoulder belongs to one of her daughters, the Juggernaut's aunt, who is seated next to me. Didn't notice her there before. I kiss her bald, chemotherapied head, and we lean against each other long enough to compose ourselves.
I dry my face and reprimand myself for not ever having the balls to stand before a room of people the way this wonderful Officiant does. The Juggernaut officiated my wedding with The Boy, and I feel like if I'd been a bolder, braver person who wasn't an asshole, I could have returned the favor.
The vows come. When a bride and groom say For Better or For Worse, they may or may not know what they are getting themselves into. But the Juggernaut knows. His Lovely and Amazing bride has recently been diagnosed with MS. He knows what he is promising her. I cry again. Not because I'm scared for her. I cry because he loves her this much. It's fucking beautiful.
The I Do's are done, and I'd race everyone to the door inside if I could. That's when the arm of the man who married Terra, Earth Goddess of Motherhood, magically appears for me to hold. Clearly the Juggernaut has paid his guests to love me and walk me all night.
I take my seat and am approached by random members of The Family, the one that took me in like one of their own. Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Bar Mitvahs. Originally the Juggernaut brought me home on special occasions because my own family was so far away. Eventually, I was just expected there.
We eat, we drink, we make merry. I happen to be seated at a table with Bar and Arsenal Spice, the two people I know who will most appreciate my special bottle of Guinness. We secretly open it and pour it into our now empty wine glasses. And it is Good. Very Fucking Good.
The evening is not winding down, but it's been a long day for me, and I will not last much longer. As I begin the process of saying my Good-Byes again, I spot the man who built a cabin often used in The Family. It was loaned out to tonight's wedding couple and me and The Boy over New Year's Eve some years ago. I thanked him for the use of it because it was in that home where The Boy and I announced our engagement to the Juggernaut and his Lovely and Amazing Lady. He said he already knew and was proud it happened there.
I say good-bye to the Juggernaut's Grandfather and there is mention of a trip to Alaska with him, myself, and The Boy. Even if it's the last time it's ever discussed, I like that we spoke about it. I say good-bye to the man who has videotaped the evening. He is a friend, who has also just had a baby, and I ask him to give my love to his wife and to please eat his baby's feet for me. I spot the only other Pod Person in the room. He will be about three hours away from our home next month and hopes The Boy and I can make a trip out to see him.
As I step into cruel Chicago air again The Bruiser's arm suddenly appears before me. He takes me to the edge of the restaurant premises where he leads me to the arm of my girlfriend who is housing me tonight and driving me to the airport tomorrow. Not 5 feet later, my other arm is held up by Pretty Boy Spice. I hate leaving so much love so soon, but if I'm not horizontal within the next 15, my Central Nervous System will surely self destruct.
I step into her home which she has been air conditioning for me all day. I call The Boy to tell him I love him and miss him and upon hearing my girlfriend's voice saying good night, he thanks her for taking care of me tonight and she tells him it is her pleasure. Cell phones are good like that. If only he could have seen the care I've received for the past 24 hours.
We hang up promising to never spend another night away from each other, and I lie down thinking about the Glorious Day when The Juggernaut married the Lovely and Amazing Lady, about going back to see my father smile at me at least one more time, about hugging and squeezing the pets, and about returning to The Boy's arms. In a few hours I will be back on a plane as the Wizard takes me Home. I don't know about you, but it my case, as long as The Boy is there, there is no place like home.
I am even looking forward to being in awe of the beauty of traveling very fast, at an upward angle, up through the sky and over the ground.