Christmas Mai Tais

“15 to 35" Part 1

It’s Christmas eve on a balmy Los Angeles afternoon. We just had coffee at a lovely sidewalk café followed by some soba in little Tokyo. Now I’m watching Hulu while blogging. Ahh, the holidays!

Tomorrow around noon my mother-in-law will serve us galbi jjim for lunch. We’ll have a big family meal. Most of the conversation will be in Korean. The part that I can understand will be about soccer or the Lakers—can you believe they beat Golden State last night?

Then I’ll probably fall asleep on the couch for a while as basketball (but not the Lakers this year) plays on the television. After we’ve finished all of the orange slices and basketball fails to hold our collective attentions, we’ll shuffle out the door. And then the real Christmas tradition begins.

It started in 2011: the year I cancelled Christmas.

We had spent the better part of the year in and out of doctor’s offices: gynecologists, urologists, fertility specialists, acupuncturists, herbalists and that creepy lab they send you to to get your sperm analyzed (the last one three times).

There had been a miscarriage followed by several years of “trying,” of cleaning up our diets and chakra meditations, and so, so many failed pregnancy tests littering the bathroom trash. Finally, in the summer of 2011, the doctors told us that it was almost certain that we could not have a baby of our own.

Right on cue my sister gave birth to twins. I was happy for her—really, I was.

I wrapped a show Saturday, August 13th. That afternoon my husband and I had been arguing over something petty. He was carrying the trash in one hand and the laundry basket in the other, which was some kind of proof to me of his tireless martyrdom and the disastrously untidy state of our lives, when our dog, Bella slipped by us through the apartment door and right into the neighbors pit bull, who not surprisingly, bit her.

Monday August 15th, on my husband’s birthday, I flew out to help my sister. I didn’t want her to feel burdened by what I was going through, and honestly I wasn’t ready to say out loud, “We can’t have kids of our own.” So I just smiled and coo-ed for two weeks of non-stop baby-time. Meanwhile my husband didn’t want to burden me with the grim news about Bella, who the vet had kept for most of those same two weeks. I got back to LA the Friday before the start of a new school year, only to find out that Bella’s wound hadn’t healed and gangrene was spreading up her leg.

The vet laid her out on the metal examining table. She was shivering, weak, drugged. Her leg was cut open all the way to her shoulder in a desperate attempt to drain the infection. Her white blood cell count is too low, he said, to fight off the infection. It’s the practice of medicine, he said, we don’t always get the result we want.

It wasn’t a thought. It was just the knowledge, just a statement of truth: if Bella didn’t survive, than neither would we. This is how our marriage ends.

We had saved up a little to buy a new car. We found a veterinary surgeon that was “more affordable,” a family run business on Crenshaw. He removed her infected leg. But because of her immune deficiency, the wound would not heal. For months she hobbled around with the dreaded cone and endured our weekly, panicked trips to the vet. Sometime in November the vet told us that they’d have to try a second surgery, to shave off more of her bone, to see if her skin would more easily meet and heal. If she couldn’t heal from the first surgery, how would she handle the second in her weakened condition? And then magically the skin began to form around the wound, and within a week, it had closed.

I was used to a life lived in triage. Work had been crazier then usual that fall, and I wrapped up the last week of the semester with a dubstep-inspired 8th grade production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which ran me ragged.

Even though our doctors had agreed that our chances of having a baby was close to nill, I was still hearing “chance” and “close” louder than “nill.” I also felt guilty. I mean, am I a quitter? Just because a couple of doctors say that I can’t do something does that make it so? Anway, not convinced that we’d done everything we could, on December 22nd I dragged my husband to one more fertility specialist. The doctor was impossibly cheerful and laughed at his own genitalia jokes—his own jokes, not his own genitalia. It was our genitalia that was the butt of the joke. The whole thing was surreal—no, not surreal, just ridiculous. After this last one, the funny doctor, we had another good cry. I mean a really good cry, and decided to call it quits on the whole baby thing. “Fuck it,” we said. There’s a lot we want out of life. We’re both artists and care passionately about our work and about the communities we’re a part of. I mean, “Fuck it! Fuck ‘em all! We don’t need to live by anybody’s rules! We don’t need to live by anyone’s expectations!” Maybe we’re those rare people who actually get to do what we want in life. Maybe this is freedom.

So that was December 22, 2011. I was a mess after that.

We were planning to, as we had for the last several years, host Christmas lunch at our place. I woke up Christmas morning, with hardly any shopping done, the apartment to clean and Christmas decorations yet to go up. Chi put the slow roasting lamb in the oven, and I started frantically scrubbing the bathroom. If you are in my immediate family or have worked with me on one of our down-to-the-wire productions perhaps you can picture what “frantic scrubbing” is.

I don’t really remember what happened after that. I remember that cleaning seemed impossible. I remember collapsing on the bed sobbing. I remember saying something to my husband like, “Let’s run away.” I remember going on hotels.com and booking a cheap hotel room in a beach city and of us flying down the practically empty 110. We left a message with our family, “The lamb is in the oven. Please walk and feed Bella.”

We checked into the hotel, went straight into the room, collapsed on the king-sized bed and slept. We had lunch at the hotel restaurant. I think there were more tears and fighting that afternoon. My husband convinced me to go back home without spending the night—after all who was going to walk Bella tomorrow? As we got close to the city, I had second thoughts. I told him that I wasn’t ready yet. Could we please just do something fun?

So we parked at LA Live and walked around to see what was open. We settled on Trader Vic’s. I’d never had a mai tai. It sounded like a party. I think there were more tears over mai tais and some laughs, and some more “fuck-its!” and some “let’s-take-over-the-world’s!” Then we went home.

What happened next, I’ll cover in the next post.

So now, every Christmas we have a mai tai. We aren’t always in LA, but when we are, we go to Trader Vic’s, and we take the opportunity to feel a little sorry for ourselves. We think about all we’ve been through over the course of the year. We drink silly rum drinks. We celebrate. We say, “Fuck it! Let’s take over the world!” and we get ready for the new year.

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