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You may not know it, but we are–right this moment–smack dab in the middle of the most glorious time of year. Well, if you happen to be in Saratoga Springs, New York, that is.

That time of year is track season, the 46 days between the end of July and Labor Day during which the Saratoga Race Course, our thoroughbred horse racing track, is open.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Tracks are skeezy. Only old people with gambling problems go to horse tracks. Or rich people once a year for the Kentucky Derby. For the love of god, why would a respectable young person with no noticeable addictions to support go to a horse racing track?” It’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? I know, horse tracks have a really bad rap, and rightfully so; a lot of them are still skeezy as shit.

But not Saratoga. Saratoga is different. For one, Saratoga Race Course is the oldest continuously operating sports venue in the country. It’s older than Churchill Downs, it’s older than Wrigley–for fuck’s sake, the Civil War was only two years deep when it opened. But Saratoga is also is a destination for both the racing world and tourists alike that people from all over the country come to experience the track. It’s a place where families come to gather and relax and no one thinks twice about bringing their kids. It’s a wonderful medley of history and beauty and food and glamour and horses and fun.

And it’s easily my favorite place to be in the summer.

 

A day at the track can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some people, it means wearing fancy dresses with elaborate hats and linen suits, sitting in your own private owners box, and walking to the paddock (and hopefully winners circle) to be with your horse. It’s mingling with other horse owners, wealthy elite, and celebrities. (Or in the case of Bobby Flay, all three.)  For others, it means drinks in the clubhouse, with its upscale bars and restaurants and dress code. It’s about seeing and being seen.

Of course, those experiences aren’t for everyone. Me? I prefer to experience my track from the backyard.

The backyard is the grassy, treed area surrounding the grandstand. You can’t actually see the track from there, but they do walk the horses right through the backyard on their way to the paddock, and a two minute walk gets you right to the rail, the winners circle, or the paddock if you so fancy.

Plus tv monitors scattered about the grounds give you a nice up-close view of the race. (My favorite? The three in the playground area. Because even the young’uns like to see if their boxed exacta came in.)  You can bring any food or beverages you like, as long as they’re not in glass, which means that people like Kyle and I can bring a cooler-backpack full of beer and forego the $13 persecco-and-orange-juice or even the $8 beers. A popular spot for reunions of both the familial and scholastic variety, people bring flags and banners to nail to the trees or hang from the roof of their pop-up tents, and friends and families gather with amounts of food and booze that might feel more appropriate at say, Thanksgiving. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of picnic tables that are available for use, as long as you get there early enough to claim one.

 

Which is why a day at the track for us begins at 6am.

That’s right, you heard me. Six. A. M.

 

See, despite the hundreds and hundreds of picnic tables available, there with be thousands and thousands of people coming to the track. Average attendance on any given day is almost 30,000 people, and at least half of them also want a table. So “early enough to claim one” means you best be in line at 7am when the gates open. You can get away with showing up right at 7a on a Monday, maybe on a day that’s shaping up to be rainy, but on a Saturday or Sunday? Not a chance.

Which is why our day begins at 6am.

Wake up, throw on clothes and brush our teeth, and we can be at the track by 6:30a. Stand in line for half an hour or so, and when the gates open at 7a, we run for our table.

Back before last year, this literally meant running for your spot. See, at 6:50a they used to open the first set of gates, at which point the line would compact into more of a crowd. If you were good, you could start weaseling your way through that crowd until you were at the front, right behind the second gate. And let me tell you, Kyle and I were good. To the frequent dismay of the people at the head of the line who’d showed up hours ago to claim their spot, we could usually–by traveling light and being willing to invade peoples’ personal space–thread our way through the crowd until we were close to the front.

And when the gates would open? Baby, it was fucking pandemonium. The entire crowd would surge forward, compressing you into the person in front of you. Someone usually knocked over the garbage can right at the gate, trapping those immediately behind them and forcing everyone else to leap over it. And once we were through the gate we would full-on sprint to our chosen spot, claiming our table as quickly as we could by leaping on top of it because to hesitate for more than a moment was to come up empty-handed. It was wild and chaotic and frankly, kinda dangerous; at least once a year someone would be injured in the fray, and more than once we walked away with interestingly shaped bruises.

They don’t let us run for tables like that anymore; now they keep the line between barriers, forcing it to stay a line, and they yell at you if you run through the backyard. It’s safer, civilized, and from a liability standpoint, an overall better idea than the chaos…and Kyle and I miss the shit out of that chaos. We loved it because…well, let’s just say that during the summer, this town is more than happy to cater to the wealthy tourist. Money can buy you entry into an entire world that Kyle and I will never be able to touch. But money can’t buy you a table in the backyard. For once, the system didn’t reward the wealthy tourist, but the cunning, the bold, the quick, and–most inportantly–the local who knew how to play the game. And sure, running through the melee often left us with banged up shins and entirely too close in proximity to our fellow human. But when I leapt up on my table and surveyed the area, I felt like I’d earned my table. Now, we have to rely on our prior knowledge of where the good spots are and where security isn’t (and thus, able to get away with a few jogged strides) to give us the upper hand. We still do just fine and always manage to snag a table or two in our chosen area.

 

It’s just…you know…less fun.

Once we’ve chosen our tables in the backyard, we arrange them to best stay in the shade later in the day, claim them by clamping down a tablecloth, and then we go home.

That’s right. We go home.

A long-standing tradition at Saratoga is the honor system pertaining to personal property, but particularly picnic tables. If you’ve claimed your table at 7am in a visible way, no one will take it. I’ve seen people leave as little as a newspaper folded on their table and it will sit untouched for hours, but a tablecloth of some variety usually does a better job. So once we’ve clamped down our tablecloth, we’re free to leave and go home for a nice breakfast, a run, or a nap (usually a nap,) knowing that it will be waiting for us when we get back.

Our day at the track resumes a few hours later.

By then, we’ve completed the reinvigorating activities of our choosing, showered and cleaned up, and are heading back to the track to make it in time for the first race at 1pm. Armed with some variety of lunch (subs from Roma are by far the tastiest choice) and a cooler full of beers, we usually make it back to our waiting table in time to look over the past performances of each horse in the first race and decide on our first bet.

After that, the day settles itself into an easy  rhythm. There’s a race about every 30 minutes or so, providing two minutes of absolute bedlam, with plenty of run up in between to study the horses and decide on our bets. Kyle and I usually bet no more than $3 or $4 each race, and they’re usually based on a combination of the horse’s past performances, the jockey, and the trainer. Once in a while I’ll bet $1 on a horse with a funny name, which almost never win but are fun to cheer for. (Past favorites? Horses named Professor Chaos, Not Fake News, and Funky Monkey Mamma.) We never bet big which means that we almost never win big (I think our record is something like $65,) but that’s okay with us. We don’t bet to make money, we just bet to have fun. Our goal for each day is to make back what we spent plus $7 for a Shake Shack Sloppy Track milkshake.

But the betting and the races aren’t really why we go to the track. The races only take a minute or two; we go for the bits around all that, when it’s sunshine and blue skies and relaxing in the shade of the giant trees of the backyard. Sometimes it’s just Kyle and I, and we’ll talk and read the paper and enjoy a lazy day outdoors. But my favorite track days are the ones when we have friends and family with us, and the more the better. On those days, everyone brings snacks to share as we talk and joke and argue about horses and laugh. Sometimes we all go to the rail to watch the race as the horses fly by, but often we just sit around our table and have a blast. Those are my favorite track days, because it brings together all my favorite people for an easy day of relaxation; anyone who wants to show up does with whatever food and drink they want and there’s no pressure to do anything but enjoy each other’s company.

Some of my favorite days–the ones that I look back upon and smile–have been with our friends and family at the track.

 

Racing usually goes until 6p or so, at which point we pack up and head for home. Sometimes that’s the end of it; we all go to our respective homes, make our respective dinners, and watch our respective tvs before going to bed. Especially if it’s a Sunday or a Monday, a day of drinking in the sun is enough to wipe a person out. More than once, however, we’ve been having such a great time with all of our friends that we’ve all gone out to dinner afterwards. And a real track day–a throw-down, things-are-fucking-serious, hang-on-to-your-tits track day–doesn’t stop there. On a weekend we’ll go home, nap (again) and sober up, eat some dinner, and head back out for a night of bar hopping and partying. Saratoga’s nightlife is at its best and grandest during track season, and to not partake in the scene is to miss out. The energy downtown is absolutely unreal, and even though we’ve usually been up since 6a at that point, it’s hard not to let yourself get swept up in it.

Track season is only about six weeks, which, if I’m being honest with myself, is probably for the better; by the time the season ends I usually feel like my liver is getting ready to slide out of my body, I’m drinking detox tea like it’s the last liquid on Earth, and the sight of a beer makes me go pale. The entire city of Saratoga Springs goes through a metaphorical hangover, during which the locals take the town back from the tourists (at least until the leafers come…) and everything is quieter. But at the same time, its relatively short duration is part of what makes track season so magical. Because it’s so short, there’s almost a frenzy to take in as much of it as possible, to soak in every moment we can before it’s gone. The house goes a little uncleaned, laundry lapses momentarily…shit, even taking the time to write this post was difficult, because it’s track season. There’s horses to be examined, races to bet upon, sunshine to soak in, beers to drink, and the company of wonderful people in which to bask.

You know where to find me.

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A Taste of Chaos or Our Trip to NYC

It was a short trip. Down for one day, back up the next night. But it was enough to get a taste of that wild, chaotic, smelly, beautiful city before disappearing back up to our haven of peace and calm upstate that we call home.

(Author’s note: You’ll notice by our wardrobes of long sleeves and winter coats that this adventure did not happen recently. It was actually sometime in March, I think. I worked on this post for about a month, (picture-heavy posts take longer because I am bonkers slow at photo-editing and formatting,) and was planning to post it around the end of April when…well, when tumor happened. And suddenly there were much more important things for me to share with you, dear reader, than our little trip to the city. So I beg you forgive me the delay in posting, and also that you remember this little speech when I inevitably post other blogs acting as if events of a few months ago happened just now. Just…pretend the last two months didn’t happen.)

It started with a train ride…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…followed by an obligatory selfie with the ceiling at Grand Central Station. (Seriously, you have to. They won’t let you leave the station until you’ve taken a picture with the ceiling. They really prefer that you throw in a peace sigh, but they let me get away without.)

We stayed at the Orchard Street Hotel, which was that perfect Lower East Side combination of super artsy-modern, and bonkers tiny. Luckily, we didn’t intend to spend that much time in our room, so the lack of square footage didn’t bother us any.

 

It also featured a very “New York” view!

(Which, if you’re wondering what constitutes a “New York” view, the answer is the skyline romantically glowing in the distance with someone’s dirty rooftop in the foreground. Extra points if there’s random garbage–like plastic coat hangers or a broken lawn chair–on aforementioned rooftop.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent the rest of the day just bopping around the Lower West Side, exploring some of the more interesting shops in SoHo and Greenwich Village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, of course, we had to go to Uniqlo, because I am physically incapable of being within twenty square miles of a Uniqlo without spending at least $50. (Seriously though, a jacket, three undershirts, three pairs of socks, and two sweaters for $60? That’s insane.)

We went back to our hotel for a quick nap, (because walking all over the Lower West Side is exhausting, yo,) before going back out for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had planned to go catch a show at a nearby venue, but then we found the bar across the street from our hotel. It had $3.50 beers during happy hour, and was just more…us.

 

After a couple rounds, we headed to St Mark’s Place to spend a little time in what is easily one of our favorite places on the island: Barcade.

Say the name out loud, at it’s exactly what it sounds like; it’s a bar that features a shitload of old school arcade video games. Their beer prices were definitely higher then the dive bar we’d been at previously, but I assure you, that dive bar did not have a Gradius console.

 

We’d found Barcade on a previous trip and immediately realized that we’d stumbled upon a gem. The beer selection is vast, the staff polite, and the arcade games nostalgic. Oh, and did I mention that most games still only cost a quarter? (A fact that we did not know the first time we went until after we’d already fed $20 into the change machine. We fucking made it rain.) It’s perfect because you can not only go there to drink, but to hangout and play games and discover that you don’t totally suck at Ms Pac-Man while you drink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, there’s another reason why we adore Barcade so much. It just so happens to be right across the street from our favorite restaurant in the entirety of the New York City metropolitan area: Yakitori Taisho. Or maybe it’s Oh! Taisho. I don’t actually know which one we ate at, as they’re right next door to each other, have identical menus, and we’re pretty sure they’re owned by the same people. We usually go into whichever one looks like it has less of a wait. But either one we go into, the food is fucking. delicious. Seriously, Kyle has made excuses to accompany me on business-related trips down to the city just so that he can get yakitori from one of these places. To even suggest that we not go for yakitori while we’re down is an inexcusable offense.

 

There’s just something about a giant plate covered in grilled meat on a stick that makes me wiggle with happiness. Kyle’s favorite skewer was the pork belly. I’m personally partial to the gizzards, but we both agree that (as long as you get to them before they re-congeal) the crispy chicken skin is the absolute shit.


Breakfast the next morning was to-go from a Greek deli who’s name I’ve already forgotten, but it was right around the corner from our hotel and had a smoked salmon that was super tasty. On a garlic bagel and teeming with capers…nothing better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(If Kyle looks at all bewildered, it’s because despite the fact that I told him that I was specifically searching for a place that would have good smoked salmon, his sleep-addled brain didn’t retain that information. So he was very, very confused as to why my choice for breakfast featured a display case filled with sides of smoked fish and endless choices of caviar.)

 

Every time we go down to the city, our goal is to explore a new neighborhood. This trip’s target of discovery?

Chinatown.

Our first stop was a tiny little place I’d read about called Aji Ichiban. It’s a small shop, no more than a few hundred square feet, and it’s teeming with Asian and Western sweets and snacks. Like most sweet shops, it has a huge selection of bulk items, but unlike most sweet shops (that I’ve been to, anyway,) they strongly encourage sampling.

Which was a very foreign concept for my Western brain. Seriously, what other snack/candy shop is okay with you tasting their bulk items before you buy them? Usually that’s how you get kicked out of a Healthy Living and told not to return. (Or something. That I would know nothing about.) I was so suspicious that this behavior was really okay that it took me a solid ten minutes of perusing before I worked up the courage to take a sample from one of the tiny bowls sitting on the top of each bin, but low and behold, no one blinked when I reached out for a tiny fragment of candied ginger.

Once we realized that tasting was kosher, Kyle and I wandered the tiny shop, tasting and trying flavors both foreign and familiar. We ended up leaving that magical little corner of snack heaven with some pocky, plum candied ginger, spicy dried squid bits, tiny rice-encrusted dried crabs, and (of course) penguin gummies. (Because I adore gummies and I adore penguins. So of course.)

We also made sure that our trip to Chinatown included a trip to a tea shop for some bubble tea. Unfortunately for us, we quickly realized that the bubble tea we’d been drinking at home (while delicious) was a cup full of liquefied crap compared to the sweet lusciousness that was that particular Chinatown bubble tea. And just like that, another scrap of my heart was left in Chinatown.

 

 

 

By lunch, we’d explored Chinatown to our satisfaction, and punctuated it with lunch of bánh mì sandwiches. After that, we found ourselves just…wandering the island of Manhattan. Without a plan, we walked to wherever our whims took us. We ended up in some surprising places, not knowing where we heading until we realized that we were there.

Battery Park…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the Financial District…

 

…the Oculus (the transportation hub of the World Trade Center)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and finally, Central Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually, we made it back to our hotel with a few hours before our late train home. We probably should have taken that last opportunity to seek out some new and exotic cuisine unavailable to us in Saratoga Springs, but after an entire day of traversing the city on foot, we were completely and absolutely exhausted. Instead, we took refuge in the geographically close and emotionally comfortable walls of the bar across the street from our hotel. It didn’t exactly take us outside of our culinary comfort-zones, but the food was good, the beer was cheap, and we didn’t have to go on an epic journey to discover and then travel to it. And that’s exactly what we needed in that moment.

A few hours later, we were back on the train home, physically drained but emotionally satiated.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle and I have never had a strong desire to live in the city. Even the simplest of tasks, like grocery shopping or going to the gym, just seem harder there. Besides, our connection to the mountains is just too strong; we need to at least be able to see the whisper of the mountains where we live and know that we could be there without too much effort.

But every once in a while, we love to dip ourselves into that fracas of humanity and life and feel the energy swirl around us. Even if we wouldn’t trade our oasis of nature and tranquility upstate for all the NYC excitement in the world, it’s nice just to get a taste of chaos.

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Heads up guys, this one is just for the ladies.

I mean, it doesn’t have to be just for the ladies. It could totally be for dudes, too. It’s really just for people who have experienced wearing a dress in the summer, and here at MonsteRawr, we don’t judge. And, I suppose, it’s not necessarily for all the ladies; just ones in dresses.

Let me try this intro again.

Heads up people who have no desire to wear a dress this summer, this one is just for people who would like to wear a dress this summer.

Anyway. There’s something I want to talk about with you guys. Something important. We’re all walking around dealing with it in silence and shame, like we’re all members of some fucked up secret society that we’re too embarrassed to admit membership. And I’m sick of it. We shouldn’t have to suffer alone, so let’s just get it out in the open and be done with it.

Let’s talk about chub rub.

Chub rub is the cutesy-ootsy name some asshole came up with to describe the rash you get when your sweaty-ass thighs rub together as you walk.

(Side rant: In case you haven’t guessed, I hate that name more than I hate the concept of Spanx. (And I really hate the concept of Spanx.) Seriously, who came up with that? Chub rub. Yeah, sure, it rhymes, which makes it sound harmless and cute instead of puffy and painful. But ‘chub’? Just because I don’t have a motherfucking thigh-gap, my legs are relegated to chub? Fuck you, person I’ve never met, my thighs aren’t chubby! I can leg press my husband with those thighs! And besides, even if that wasn’t pure muscle and awesomeness wrapped around my femurs, don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by calling them ‘chubby’. ‘Chubby’ is a word you use when you’re trying to say ‘fat’ in a passive-aggressively nice way. Babies have chubby legs. If you’re going to insult my legs, just fucking insult them without trying to pretend like you’re sparing my feelings. Asshole.)

Chub rub. I prefer to call it a power rash. (Mostly because I haven’t yet come up with anything better. Work on that for me, would you?)

So yeah, chub rub or power rash or whatever you feel comfortable calling it, it sucks. Giant unwashed balls. And for a very long time, I thought I was the only one who had to deal with it. It started becoming an issue in college, and I remember asking a friend (who was also about my size) if her thighs ever rubbed together so bad she got a rash. She looked at me like I was wearing my underoos as a beret and answered with a very  confused, “Nooooo?” 

Which sealed my shame. At that moment, I assumed that my thigh-discomfort was a result on my extra-fat thighs, and my problem alone. I mean, everyone else was walking around in dresses and skirts without a problem, so I must be the only one with a rash. For years after that, I just didn’t wear anything with a skirt in the summer. I thought I was just too fat for dresses.

Four years ago, I wrote a post about beginning to accept parts of my body for what they were, instead of what I wished they were. In that post, I wrote that I’ve always hated my legs because they’re huge and my thighs rub together when I walk. The amazingly kick-ass woman that is Kristin of Camels & Chocolate commented on that post, “Girrrrrl, every woman’s inner thighs touch in a dress. Those who don’t are airbrushed.” And that was the first time I realized I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t– couldn’t be–the only woman dealing with this problem.

For years, I let my shame and embarrassment of my body keep me from wearing what I wanted. For years, I let myself believe the lie that the ads and commercials had told me, that it’s normal to have space between your legs and anyone who doesn’t is a fat loser. If I had asked someone, anyone, even if that someone was Google, I would have found that this is a common problem that nearly everyone on the planet who enjoys not starving has to deal with, but I was too afraid of the shame. And that’s not okay.

So yeah, my thighs rub together when I walk. Yours probably do to. And that’s okay.

And so ladies dudes persons-in-skirts, what to do about it?

For a long time, I carried around a miniature bottle of baby powder in my purse and applied liberally to the inner thigh area. And that worked…okay. It was an effective, but not elegant solution. For one, if you’re doing a lot of walking and it’s particularly hot, you have to reapply frequently. Like, more frequently than is socially convenient. Frequently enough that people start to wonder if the reason you’ve had to stop at every bathroom at the St Louis Zoo is because you need your fix, not because it’s 92 fucking degrees outside and your inner thighs are starting to get tender.

But the other issue with baby powder is that the application process is messy. It’s nearly impossible to powder your thighs without spilling white powder everywhere, making it doubly difficult to convince people that you’re not harboring some kind of severe chemical dependency.  So not only was I having to make frequent stops in the restroom, I was then having to take several minutes to try and clean up spilled baby powder off a public bathroom floor by scuffing at it with my sandal until I thought it was gone. Which is annoying. And doesn’t really help with the lingering feelings of shame over this being an issue in the first place.

I’ve heard other women who just wear spandex shorts under all their dresses, but this just isn’t a solution that appeals to me. I mean, they’d have to be pretty fucking short in order to not show when you sit down in a short dress. And once you’ve invited tiny booty shorts to the party, this just sounds like one more thing that’s going to try disappear up my ass-crack. (When you have a booty as bodacious as mine, the struggle is real.) I spend enough of my life trying to find secluded corners of public places in which to delicately try and pretend that I’m not picking my wedgie, I don’t need to add 6″ of spandex to that equation. Besides, adding a pair of shorts to my outfit when it’s balls-hot outside just seems like it would make me even hotter and force me to marinate in even more of my own sweat. Ick.

I struggled with this issue for a long time. Then last year, I found the perfect solution:

Bandelettes

Image courtesy of banelettes.com.

(From whom I am receiving no compensation. I’m just…really passionate about this issue.)

Bandelettes are lacy bands about…I don’t know, 5″ wide…with thin silicone strips on each edge. You wear them on your thighs and the silicone keeps them in place. And they keep your thighs from rubbing together! No joke, I’ve worn them to many a zoo, botanical garden, and other walking-intensive outings, and I haven’t gotten a single power rash since. You do have to get them positioned just right so that they line up with each other, but a quick walk around the house usually exposes any issues on that front. They stay exactly in place, they breath beautifully, and they’re incredibly comfortable.

*Super-inclusion disclosure: I don’t know how well the silicone will do with super long leg hair. I fear they might tug. I asked Kyle to give one a test drive, for the sake of science, and he threw a stapler at me. Clearly, Kyle hates science.

But the thing I love about them the most (other than the fact that my thighs no longer chafe) is the fact that they come in bold colors and are lacy; they’re sexy. They’re not utilitarian spandex in beige, some necessary undergarment meant to be hidden in shame. Bandelettes can peek out from my hemline with the demure coyness of an old Hollywood starlet. What is that she’s hiding under her dress? Is it garters? Some incredibly complicated lingerie? Who knows? It’s certainly not some shameful undergarment that fat girls have to wear to keep from getting a rash. I never have to worry about what happens if someone sees my Bandelettes, because they’re fun and flirty. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of.

So I beg you, ye wearers of dresses, get you to Amazon and get yourself a pair of Bandelettes. Or whatever your chosen solution is; there’s lots of other ways out there to combat  power rash. Bandelettes just happen to be my personal favorite, but you may have something that jives better with you. Just, whatever you do, don’t let the shame of your thighs rubbing together keep you from wearing what makes you feel amazing. Those thighs can do incredible things, I just know it, and just because they make contact doesn’t mean that they’re unworthy of being dressed in something that makes you feel fantastic. So let’s stop hiding and pretending like this shit doesn’t happen to all of us. 

To the beskirted masses I say: no more shame and no more pain! Because our thighs are nothing to be ashamed of.

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Dissecting a Monster–The Healing

Five weeks out from surgery, I’m probably 80% healed up. I can walk with a normal gate, and I can get through a whole day without having to take a nap. I’m back at work full-time as well, though it’s another week still until I can lift anything heavier than 10lbs. And the glue fell off my incisions a couple weeks ago, and they’re healing up really well.

But I still definitely have a ways to go. I can’t bend down to pick things up off the floor yet without a struggle; it’s a good thing it’s warm enough for me to go barefoot at home, because picking up things with my toes has become my super power. And forget tying my own shoes; just reaching my feet long enough to put them on is a serious struggle. I still get tired pretty quickly, and as I tire the pain ratchets up. I have trouble getting up out of chairs without arms. And if you’re a cat who decides to walk across my stomach, prepare to be flung.

In the week after my surgery, I was surprised by how quickly I progressed. I had been imagining that I would be incapacitated for much longer, in intense pain for longer, stuck in bed for longer. In that way, recovery was much easier than I had anticipated. It seemed like only a few days before I was up and moving around quasi-normally.

But there’s a lot about the healing process that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for, and it’s that which has been much, much more difficult than I anticipated, both physically and emotionally.

For one, no one warned me about how much internal healing I was facing. See, being slightly smaller than a softball, my cyst took up quite a bit of real estate, more than was naturally available. It compressed some things and moved other to the side. And once the cyst was gone (and my body got over the initially shock of being invaded,) my organs started to…put themselves back. And otherwise rebuild themselves. And some other things that I don’t know exactly what was going on in there, but I know that it was pretty violent and caused a lot of intense cramping. And meant that for the first three weeks I was essentially on a perma-period. Which, let me tell you, is awesome  is not that bad  fucking sucks. Especially when for much of it–unlike a normal period, where my body releases blood and tissue at a slow, imperceptible rate–my body decided to wait until I stood up or shifted positions and suddenly let loose a good half-cup all at once. How’s that for terrifying? Both the spotting (splooshing?) and the cramping have pretty much disappeared (thank fucking god for that,) but while they were around, they were that perfect combination of incredibly painful, wildly frustrating, and fucking obnoxious. And definitely not something that I was emotionally prepared for.

I also wasn’t ready for how tired I would be, and for how long. I mean, I knew I had a lot of resting ahead of me, but once I started to feel better, I guess I figured that I would get stronger and require less rest. Not that five weeks out, an activity so simple as grocery shopping would require that I come home and take a nap. Or that I still wouldn’t be able to sit on a stool for more than about 15 minutes at a stretch before my core muscles start to shake. As I’ve returned to feeling more normal than not, I keep expecting my body to be able to do all the things that it used to, and being surprised (and frustrated) when it can’t. I look normal (minus the dotted line across my belly,) I feel (more or less) normal (as long as I don’t have to sneeze or cough,) so why can’t I do all the normal things I used to, like walk for more than 30 minutes at a time without needing a rest? Oh, right. The dissection.

Which leads me to the part of this whole enchilada that has been the hardest of all: the motherfucking frustration. That’s the only word that can possibly describe this whole experience. Frustration that I don’t feel like I know my body or its limits anymore. Frustrated that I don’t understand my relationship with pain anymore; before surgery, pain was a thing to be ignored and overcome in the name of getting stronger, but now, I have to decide if the pain means that I’m getting stronger or that I’m overdoing it. Frustrated that I don’t sleep well anymore, because when I toss and turn (as I always have,) the sharp pain in my side wakes me up and makes it nearly impossible for me to fall back asleep. Frustrated that my current version of exercise isn’t a 3-mile run or weight lifting at the gym, but a 30-minute walk that leaves me exhausted and sore. Frustrated that the healing process hasn’t been consistent or linear, so some days are better and some days are worse. And frustrated that even though the surgery is more than a month behind me, it still affects my life in very real ways every. single. day.

No one warned me about any of those challenges. The physical, the mental, the emotional. “Just don’t lift anything heavy for six weeks,” that was all they told me. But not how much it would take out of me. Not how much it would require of Kyle. And not for how long it would be the defining feature of my life. That’s probably the thing that’s been hardest of all.

But if the worst part has been the frustration, the best part has been the support of my friends and family. Especially Kyle. I know this is cliche and expected and bullshit, but seriously guys, he’s been amazing. I mean, for fuck’s sake, my first week at home he had to dress me. And even now that I’m mostly healed, he’s still had to take on all the (literal) heavy lifting around the house; taking out the garbage, doing all the laundry, carrying things around for me. But even more amazing to me is how supportive he’s been emotionally. No matter how much I complain about how uncomfortable I am, bitchy I get because I’m sleep deprived, or how many times I feel as if the physical and emotional load are too much to bear, he always listens without complaint and is ready to stroke my hair and tell me that the hard part is over and he’s proud of me for being strong. Especially while I was on my perma-period, there was many a rant about how much this sucked, how it was so hard having a woman’s reproductive system, how I was over it and just wanted this to be done; he never rolled his eyes or told me to suck it up or otherwise indicated that he was tired of listening to me pulverize that dead horse into dust. (Even though I’m certain he kinda was.) Kyle has always been my rock, my gravity, and my shelter when the world seems to swirl darkly around me, and my recovery from surgery has been no different.

And he wasn’t the only one. So many of my friends and family leaned in with support. Cards and hugs before surgery rained down on me from all kinds of loved ones. Karen, my mother-in-law, came out and stayed with us for almost a week to help take care of me when I first got home. All my friends who came to see me in the days after surgery, despite my pajama-ed state and the fact that I was a bit loopy from drugs. And my co-workers–who have been unflinchingly supportive– dutifully helping me move my special chair between rooms, picking things up off the floor for me, and running up to the catwalks to focus lights for me. I even had to ask our flyman to tie my shoe for me once, and he did so with only the mildest of ragging. Even something as simple as a kind word on Facebook from a high school friend, neither of us having spoken in years, sharing their own struggles with reproductive issues and offering words of support, went miles to brighten my sometimes dark mood.

Going through this experience has taught me a lot. How amazing my husband and friends are. How kind and willing to help strangers can be when you ask for assistance. How physically demanding my job really is. How many other women out there have had to go through an experience just as shitty–if not shittier–than mine. How flawed the human female reproductive system really is. Just how strong my body was before the surgery.

But I’m ready to move forward from all that. Instead of marveling at how strong my body was and how difficult recovery has been, I’m ready to direct my focus towards making my body strong again, and returning to all the things I love to do. Throw myself back into a job that I enjoy, and rejoining my co-workers in the trenches. (Or as we call it, the back of a truck.) And ensure through my actions that all of my friends and family realize that I am grateful everyday for their love and friendship.

The monster-grapefruit is gone. There’s no more grapefruit-and-me.

There’s just Monster. That’s me.

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