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Because I Want to Pick Out China Patterns Like Straight People Do

So Kaiser pulled out my chest tubes, packed me up, and sent me home, where I promptly slept for eleven hours, greedily devouring all of that precious REM time that had been interrupted all week by well-meaning nurses checking my vitals all through the night.

The next day I flushed my Percocet because, honestly, my pain was at an ibuprofen level, and I was thinking a little too much about them. A short-lived but powerfully blue mood settled over me, but by last night I was back at the bar, slinging drinks, and feeling fine.

Spontaneous, as a human descriptive, can often be good. A boyfriend who acts out of spontaneity can be a lot of fun. You know, the sudden and romantic idea of a last-minute trip to Paris, in the unlikely event that your boyfriend also has money.

When it comes to medical conditions, however, spontaneous lacks charm. Spontaneous combustion, for example. Take my recent diagnosis: spontaneous pneumothorax. When I tell people about my collapsed lung, they panic. “What do you mean spontaneous!?!” they demand. “What happened, what did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” I say. “There was no underlying cause.”

“I know,” they invariably say, “but what caused it?!?”

We’re all a little terrified by how little control we wield in this life, and I have to admit, I get a sadistic pleasure in watching these people emotionally flail about as they picture their own poor lungs collapsing for no good reason, if only because I resent the implication that I brought it upon myself.

The Manly Fireplug is, like me, a planner. He has me beat by the planner gene so thoroughly that it’s a relief to sit back and watch as he makes all of our travel plans, prints out itineraries and maps, and arranges for lodging. Spontaneity strikes him rarely.

As it turned out, he really did propose to me, and we are settling in for a nice slow engagement, as we don’t even live together yet. There may have been an element of spontaneity in his gesture, but then spontaneous medical conditions have a tendency to quickly clarify one’s life and relations. He later told me that within the first few minutes of bringing me to the ER, before we even knew my diagnosis, as I lay on the hospital bed hooked up to a couple of machines, wheezing, he knew that he wanted to spend his life with me.

Whether we will have this option next week remains to be seen, as California voters will choose whether or not to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.” Support for the measure is running about 50-50, so nobody really knows what will happen come Tuesday. I’ve had the privilege to attend two gay weddings since we earned the right, a few months ago, and naturally I spent all of each ceremony wiping tears from my eyes, because the power of the legal ceremony, and the palpable love between each couple, was immense. Thankfully the Fireplug cried his eyes out as well, which means our own ceremony, if and when it finally happens, will be a waterworks.

But the emphasis on the ceremony itself ignores many of the legal rights that go along with marriage, and I wonder if support for this proposition wouldn’t be running so high if people really looked at the big picture, at what attendant rights would also be eliminated. And in my own life, with my own parents, I’ve seen these legal abstractions rendered with depressing clarity.

My fathers, each of whom worked for the U.S. government for thirty years, both qualified for their full pensions. They’ve been together for over twenty-five years. But unlike their heterosexual counterparts, they were not able to leave their pensions to each other in the event of their deaths. They’ve had to engage in a letter-writing campaign with the government to secure this right for each other.

When my mother died, her partner of over twenty years was not eligible to collect my mother’s Social Security payments, as straight couples can.  Instead of her partner receiving a check for a few hundred dollars every month, I was sent a check for $800 total, because I was considered her next of kin. I signed the check over to her partner, who donated it to charity.

And when my mother died, at home, where her partner had been taking care of her for the past few years, the Hennepin County coroner in Minnesota would not release my mother’s body to her partner, who had made arrangements with the cremation society.  Again, her partner was not considered next of kin.  Since I was already on the plane on my way to Minnesota, the Minneapolis cops posted a patrol vehicle outside of their house until I, the legal next of kin, arrived.

Those are just a few examples from one family. No doubt I’m preaching to the choir here, and all of you who read this would, if you lived in California, vote to preserve our right to marry. Because you are sensible that way, and recognize that without rights, we are merely second-class citizens. And we’re first class around here, all the way.

A Can of Red Bull and a Case of Denial

So here’s what happened over the last week:

  • Worked until three a.m. Saturday at one of the two bars where I now sling drinks. Had to turn around and come back eleven hours later to work happy hour
  • Saturday morning felt a sharp pain in my chest followed by some weird breathing patterns
  • Decided that the above was due to drinking a Red Bull on top of two cups of coffee, and went to work
  • Worked one hell of a slow shift. Every time I bent over to get a beer out of the cooler, I’d cough
  • Worked until nine pm when the Manly Fireplug came by and took me down the street for Indian Food, where he noticed me acting even stranger than usual
  • Walked back to my car after dinner and realized that I couldn’t catch my breath
  • Long story a bit shorter: the Fireplug drove me to the ER
  • A couple of hours later, following some blood tests, an EKG, and a chest x-ray, they diagnose me with a spontaneous pneumothorax. In other words, my right lung had collapsed that morning, from no discernible cause
  • Given a drug that rendered me loopy, but not loopy enough to forget the part where they stuck a tube through my chest and suctioned out the air around my lung, nor could the Fireplug escape the noises I made even though he left the room
  • Sent home with a valve sticking out of my chest. Various old tire jokes ensue.
  • Come back on Monday to get the valve removed, only to discover, via x-ray, that my lung had collapsed again
  • Given a stronger drug so as to forget the part where they remove the first valve and stick in a different kind of valve, through a new hole in my chest
  • Admitted to the hospital for observation, where I’ve remained, since my lung continues to collapse when left to its own devices. We’re hoping it heals up by Friday and I can go home.
  • Reduced by pain meds to writing nothing but bullet-point lists
  • Surrounded by bags of cashews, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Brownie Bites
  • Tethered to a machine that sounds like my own personal aquarium
  • Woke up this morning trying to remember if the sight of the Manly Fireplug getting down on one knee and proposing to me in the hospital room last night was real or a drug-induced hallucination
  • Realized that, either way, I’m glad I said “yes”