Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Those who weep lose more energy than they lose during any other act.

--Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

This morning, for the second day in a row, I woke up exhausted. I took my heparin and went right back to sleep, then woke up again to the Poet climbing into my bed and wrapping his big body around me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep sleeping, but I needed the physical contact more than I even needed sleep, so I didn’t move, even though I wasn’t quite comfortable. We sleep next to each other, but in different beds, since he kicks and I often wake up several times per night with insomnia. So time lying in bed together is precious.

We had been fighting the night before, and this was his way of comforting me.

We fight about lots of things, last night the subject was real estate. I want to buy something and move, and he wants to stay in our rental apartment until the cows call it a day, or, as I have pointed out, until our landlady decides to sell the property and rents are sky high.

“Maybe I am sticking my head in the sand,” he admitted, “but I don’t want to move, I would feel trapped if I went into that much debt right now.”

That’s OK, I know he has good reasons to feel that way. I can make a down payment with the money from selling my house in Mexico, if he will move with me and pay an equivalent of rent then I can make the mortgage payments.

But no, he doesn’t want to move with me either. We are already living together in a rented apartment, but moving to somewhere I own is too frightening for him.

“If we fought there, and you decided you wanted to end things, then I would have to leave because you own the place, so I wouldn’t feel secure.”

I can understand. After three years together, we still have huge arguments about once a month. Neither one wants to fight, but things escalate. Without meaning to, I say things that set him off, and he starts shouting and cursing, and he says he wants to break up.

Or I get frustrated because he won’t listen to me, nothing I say gets through to him, and without meaning to I raise my voice, soon enough I sound hysterical.

Almost every time we argue, he tells me he wants to break up with me. Later he will say he never meant it, but at the time I believe him. We spend an hour or two thinking we have broken up, before he turns to me and tells me passionately that he doesn’t want to lose me, that he only threatened to break up because he is afraid I will break up with him first.

These fights leave me trembling and exhausted, my mind feeling as though an atomic bomb had just gone off and I am now sweeping up the debris.

In fact, one of these fights led me to think about buying real estate in the first place. I thought we were breaking up, and I decided that if I had to move again it made sense to buy something.

Meanwhile, the Poet and I patched things back together and he agreed I could go with him to his therapist so we could work on what makes the fights get so out of hand. His therapist is very good, and wise. He has given us several suggestions to keep our fights from escalating and to improve communications. Now it’s a matter of managing to think clearly in the heat of the moment and remember the constructive things to say and do instead of the destructive ones.

But the more I thought about real estate, the more I realized now is a good time for me to buy. So we have another thing to fight about now. Another chance to practice keeping an argument within comfort level.

I think last night we improved a little. He didn’t threaten to break up with me, and I tried to keep the discussion as positive as I could so the fighting wouldn’t escalate. When he said things that hurt my feelings, I said “you are hurting my feelings. I feel terrible now,” instead of lashing back at him. When we started to get worked up, I called for breaks and I went to the other room to calm down.

Finally, I said it had to stop. It was late and I hadn’t slept much the night before. He had said some things that made me feel terrible and I was exhausted. If I didn’t get to bed soon, I would be a wreck the next day.

Before we went to sleep I asked him to hold me. I climbed into his lap and he told me that he wanted us to stay living together. That made me feel better.

I was so exhausted I got into bed without taking my vitamin C and salt. I thought I would sleep without it. Big mistake. At 1:30 I was still awake. I got up and took my vitamin C with the small scoop of salt, and then went to sleep. At 2:15 I was awake again, and had to get up for more vitamin C. After that I slept.

When I can’t sleep I usually feel very down about things. After The Poet left work this morning I was shaky, feeling that I can’t go on, why was I trying to buy a house when I can’t even handle getting through the day? Talking to the mortgage broker and the real estate agent were going to be too much for me to handle.

I also despaired for the relationship. I know we are working on fighting, and I have faith that if we persevere we can change the destructive pattern we fall into. But when you have an infectious disease and you’ve lost half a night’s sleep due to fighting, it’s hard to keep up that faith-- even if this last argument went quite a bit better than previous arguments.

So why, you might be asking, do I stay?

I know the answer. He is kind and smart and funny, and I like spending time with him. He his always understanding about my illness, never impatient when I can’t do things, have to say no, have to stay home. I understand he has been through terrible things before he met me, and that makes it hard for him to trust me and open up to me. Despite that, he is going to therapy, he is admitting, when he sees it, how he contributes to our fighting. He is willing to work on things and to try to change.

And I know that I am contributing, too. I know that the Lyme disease makes my emotions raw, too close to the surface. When I am exhausted, I can’t let things roll off my back. When we fight at night, I know I won’t sleep, and I get afraid, so I keep pushing the argument, instead of putting it on hold and going to bed.

The Poet has told me flat out that he won’t give me a commitment. He doesn’t believe marriage lasts, and says that promises are just empty words. Fine, but that means both of us are living with the idea that the other could walk out at any minute.

So do we fight because we haven’t committed to each other and that leads to insecurity? Or is it that he can’t commit because we fight so much?

And here is where the Greek Chorus comes in, chanting out the conventional wisdom that when the guy won’t commit to you, it’s time to tell him gently but firmly that you need a commitment to be happy in the relationship, and if he still won’t commit, it’s time to leave.

Of course it’s not that simple. Not just because I love him and it would break my heart to end it over this issue, although those things are true.

If our roles were reversed, and he was the one wanting me to commit, I don’t think I could do it either. Not now, not with this arguing. But this is what I do want, what I am working towards. And I have told him that at some point I will ask it of him.

“Don’t come to me in a year,” he said, “and tell me that you wasted the best years of your life with me, and that it’s my fault, because I am telling you now that I don’t know if I can make a commitment, not to you or to anyone.”

“I won’t say it,” I told him, crying. “Because I know these are in fact the most difficult years, and even if it ends, I will thank you for helping me get better from this illness.”

God, I hope it doesn’t come to that.

In the meantime, I try all I can to make things work. I go with him to the therapist, I read John Gottman’s books, I try to say “that hurt my feelings,” instead of “stop insulting me you, you bastard.” I call for time out, and I make amends.

And I try to focus on what’s good, because there are many, many good things. Like laughing and wrestling, sharing food and reading side by side. Like The Poet climbing into my bed this morning and holding me, and him telling me, once I was awake, that he appreciated how I had brought only positive things to the discussion the night before.


When I haven’t slept and the world seems like it might end, cooking is very comforting. It brings me a sense of productivity and purpose. It’s good to make something with your hands, and it’s good to have healthy food to eat at the end of it.

I took two naps after the Poet went to work, and after the second one I thought I could handle walking down to the grocery store. I needed garlic to make chimichurri.

Chimichurri is supposedly an Argentine sauce. I say ‘supposedly’ because I lived in Buenos Aires for a year and a half, and I never saw chimichuri when I was there. When I moved to Mexico, I encountered chimichurri. It’s the sauce Mexicans eat when they go to an Argentine restaurant, and it’s wonderful.

I learned this recipe in a superb cooking class I took from Jennifer Adler at PCC. Making this sauce is as close as I have ever gotten to alchemy. How a blender can turn these few simple ingredients into something so delicious amazes me.

CHIMICHURRI (thanks to Jennifer Adler)

4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¾ teaspoon sea salt (or less if you don't like salt)
½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, including stalks
1 bay leaf, broken in half

Peel the garlic, crush it with a garlic press and throw it in the blender, then add all the other ingredients except the parsley and blend. Wash the parsley and divide into four or five smaller bunches. Add to blender, including stems, one bunch at a time. (this makes the blending easier.)

Once everything is blended, transfer to a bowl, add the bay leaf and let it sit in the sauce to infuse its flavor. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Chimichurri is great on beef, lamb, chicken, or anything you want. Parsley, garlic and olive oil are wonderful detoxifiers and all high on the list of alkalizing foods.

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