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Man in Need of an Explanation

Lend me your ears, your hearts, and your hard-won wisdom from the experience of menopause 

Something bad happened in 2010. Very bad. And the worst thing about it is that some nine months later, I still do not understand why.

So I appeal to you, members of a group brought together by something that seems so often to send us apart. Help me comprehend, if you can, if you will. 

New Years Eve. 2008 is about to become 2009. It’s also the 50th birthday of my soul-mated, live-in lover, whom we’ll call Mira. Along with the guests at our party, her diagnosis arrives that day, and after duly toasting in the new year, Mira, with me close by her side, tells our assembly of friends that it’s official - she has breast cancer. 

So begins a year of discovery, despondency and hope. A year, I will tell you now, thank God, that has a happy, and healthy ending. But what a year it was. If you’ve been through it, you know. If you haven’t, you’ve probably read or heard about it by now.  This post isn’t about cancer. I won’t trouble you with the play-by-play. 

The essential story is; biopsy - diagnosis - flawed pathology report - partial mastectomy - radiation - chemo therapy - ovariectomy - done - clear. But that’s a little like trying to understand the Civil War by reading a list of battle places and dates. There was more to it than that. Much more. America was never the same. Neither was Mira. Neither was I. 

We were older when we met. Been through it. Done our work. The recent end of my second marriage had me scouring the shelves under ‘relationship’ whereby I came to understand from the literature that there were three phases to intimate relationships, and that I had yet to get past crash-n-burn 2. I was determined to make it to the promised land of 3. before I died, but time was running out.  

I crossed swords with Mira in the lunch hall at Eslaen Institute on the Big Sur Coast over competing theories about Hamlet. What proved true then, held up thereafter - she was a worthy opponent, who, nonetheless, knew how to put down an argument and love you like your mother when the call came. 

We were ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ meets Lennon and McCartney (although we looked more like Simon and Garfunkel). We held down an archetypal place in our extended community of dancers something like Man and Woman from which we enacted the drama of relationship impaled on the spike of monogamy vs. the other thing. Out in the open for all to see. They practically sold tickets. 

There was an affair (mine). We got over it and went on, heads down, determined to reach 3. When people asked how long we’d been together, I used to quip ‘Seven years, with a year off for bad behavior’.

But when the diagnosis came we closed ranks so hard you could hear it across the bay, so hard, nothing could touch us. I let go of every lingering resistance to our relationship in an instant. I pretty much gave up the life I was living in favor of being Mira’s main man, her protector, her advisor, her driver, her cook, her everything. I went with her to every interview, appointment, and procedure. There were hundreds. I changed her bandages, and iced her wounds. I battled the bureaucrats for her. I worried with her through every crucial decision. Somewhere along the way, I looked up and saw 3. 

And then it was over, and we were clear. 

Mira is an Ashkenazi Jew, and she has the mutated gene that marks her as high risk for Ovarian cancer. Plus her cancer was the kind fueled by estrogen. The last procedure of her year of treatment removed her ovaries, consigning her to a suddenly estrogen-free future. She seemed to take it in stride, and we were both so relieved and shaky-happy to have survived, that we rushed merrily, if tentatively, to the safe ground on the other side of cancer, thinking we were done. 

As the year rolled over again we headed out to Hawaii for a much needed month of recuperation on the Big Island. Revitalized, relaxed, healthy and happy we returned home and rededicated ourselves to the lives we had left behind. 

That’s the wind-up. Here’s the pitch; 

Not long after our return I began to notice small changes in Mira that, as they accumulated, began to take on the look of a sea change. Her opinion of me was dropping. I could see it in how she looked at me. She was losing patience and appreciation. Little things loomed large. My resistance to throwing out the coated cookware was cause to question the worth of the whole relationship. It seemed unbelievable, inexplicable, even ridiculous, but I got the sense that she was considering leaving. 

Then, almost exactly three months after the end of her treatment,  I came home one Saturday and there was a wildly scrawled note on a piece of torn paper waiting for me - “GET THE FUCK OUT NOW FOREVER! IF YOU’RE STILL HERE AT 6PM, I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” 

Under that was a photo-copy of a letter addressed to Mira and the envelope that it had come in. The letter was from ‘A Sister in Shame’ and otherwise unsigned, with no return address or other way of identifying it. It said that I had tricked her into having an affair with me, and that I was having an affair with another woman (also unnamed) who was very close to Mira. 

All lies, that I later figured out had come from a jealous former lover hell bent on doing harm. But the lies found their mark in Mira. She was nowhere to be found, and chose to stay that way, rather than talk to me, while doing everything she could think of to force me out of the house. This included calling the police, an attorney, and many of our mutual friends. 

I was first amused, then as it sunk in that Mira had actually checked out and was standing off at a distance hurling things at me, amusement turned to consternation, and then to shock. I came up with a plan to negotiate my moving out in exchange for her commitment to meet me in a series of sessions with a counsellor and talk about it.

She agreed but no sooner had I moved out (leaving all my belongings behind), then she changed the locks and blew off our appointments. That caused me to call the police, who agreed that my rights were being violated, and interceded with Mira - who, when faced with the fact that she would have to let me back in, told the cop that she feared for her physical safety with me in the house - a total and calculated fabrication - but this was Berkeley, and the cop, a woman, explained to me that even if it’s not true, just speaking the words requires the police to act as if it is. 

This left me on the street with nowhere to go and no belongings, out of work, and my rent money for the up-coming month in Mira’s hands. From there it got worse. She contacted my potential dream clients of a life-time and told them I couldn’t be trusted, after which they cut off all contact with me. She spread the word amongst our friends so effectively that several who had thought of taking me in, changed their minds. Word - ‘He didn’t stand by me when I was fighting cancer.’ Word - ‘He gave me cancer’. Word - ‘He conned me out of my money’. Word - ‘I can’t believe anyting he’s ever said.’

And so on and so forth.

Within a week of the lock-changing she had moved in a new roommate, adopted a dog, joined Alanon, and began depicting herself as the victim of an abusive addict. She insisted that I join a twelve-step program as a condition of contact - any twelve step program, since she wasn’t sure what it was that I was addicted to, only that she was the victim. 

It was Sherman’s March To The Sea, Godzilla does Tokyo. She burned everything in sight. I kept thinking to myself - how could the daughter of holocaust survivors who had made a career out extoling the healing power of reconciliation be twirling the gas valve with such manic glee? 

Eventually, I got back on my feet in a material way, but inside I was, and still am, eviscerated. 

How could this have happened? How could someone so loved be so vicious?  

Well, you get the drift, oh friends with a certain interest in menopause. Was it the lack of trust generated by my earlier affair? Was it fall-out from a near death experience? Or was it getting dropped-kicked off the cliff of estrogen withdrawal? 

I could use a little help here.

 - anonymous , Oakland CA

The Men's Room: "Man in Need of an Explanation"