Back From the Dead

For several years now, just before I wrote my book, I’ve been trying to find a gentleman who was my best friend in highschool. He was also my first crush when we were twelve years old and by the time we were thirteen, he knew he was gay. I didn’t take it personally; heck, I was only kid, but he knew.

We remained dear friends through college and after graduating, went our separate ways.

He’s been on my mind a lot over the last few years and I actually ached to see him again in the way you ache for an old friend you had a unique connection with. I tried Google, facebook, everything with no success. I even caved in and went to my 30th highschool reunion ( which is something I not only swore I’d never do, but I even say so in my book!) and still no luck. Finally, last year, a mutual friend told me he had died of AIDS.

I was crushed and deep down, eventhough I knew it was possible given his lifestyle, I didn’t feel in my soul like his spirit no longer dwelled among us.

This morning, I received an email from him. Not only is he very much alive, but he has been thinking about me for several years and trying to find me as well. If it weren’t for the fact that I used my maiden name, Liz Gardner, in the title of my book, he would not have tracked me down.

Okay, I’ll share a little secret . I made the deliberate choice to use my maiden name in the title so that this man, and he alone, might find me. Not old boyfriends, not long-forgotten acquaintances, but this specific person.  Once I was erroneously told he was dead, my heart broke into a million pieces because this was the one person from my past whose opinion I really wanted. Sometimes during my writing, I would think, “Scott will get this” or “this will crack him up!”

So even though my parents and sister passed away before my book was published, the universe has restored my best childhood friend to me! I can’t wait for him to read it!

I hope he likes it.


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The Massage

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Discovering Arugula” – Book Two in the “Who Got Liz Gardner” series available on

“It’s not much but—” Eric began to apologize for his humble abode when I quickly interrupted.

“It doesn’t have to be. You’re here and that’s what matters.”

He took my hand and led me to his bathroom. “There’s a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door. Why don’t you take your clothes off while I set up the massage table? Just come out when you’re ready.” Ready? I briefly entertain the notion of emerging stark naked—an obvious invitation to skip preliminaries and cut to dessert. Then I release the notion; I really want that massage.

I appear within three minutes wearing the most unflattering, thick velour robe known to man. Thank God he had dimmed the lights! During that brief interim though, Eric had transformed the space.  The coffee table was pushed against the sofa and standing in the middle of his living room was a full length massage table adorned with clean, soft, Egyptian cotton sheets. There was transcendent new age music playing (maybe Andreas Vollenweider?) and the area was illuminated only by the iridescent glow of candles.

The mood he had produced was nothing short of sublime. I was torn between wanting to rip off that bulky robe and demand to be taken, or relax and indulge in what I knew would be the most erotic massage of my life.  No brainer there.

“Where do you want me?” I asked moving toward the massage table.

“Let’s start off with you face down. Ahh, an ass man.  Go ahead and sit on the table with your robe; I’ll hold up the top sheet so you can take it off and then lie down.”

“You know, Eric,” I suggested factually, “I’m okay if you look at my body. You don’t have to cover me up.”

“If you want a massage I do!”

Okay, he meant business which was fine by me. I appreciated his professional demeanor and grew even more eager for the delicious courses he was about to serve. Of course, I knew full well that dessert was coming up.

I removed that colossal bathrobe, threw it on the floor and settled onto his table with my face nestled in the cushioned headrest.  I was barely able to focus on the leech-shaped geometric pattern in the carpeting due to the diminished lighting, so I just closed my eyes. Eric draped my body with a warm top sheet and tucked me in on all sides like a cocoon.

In a synergistic marriage of essential oils, healing hands and body heat, Eric applied the technique of aromatherapy. I’d had limited exposure to this alternative method but enough to know it to be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience, but this masseur would surpass all others before him. He began with orange oil, awakening my pores with the vibrant extract and olfactory senses with its stimulating citrus scent. My thoughts began to evaporate into meaningless particles. Expectations of our first sexual connection, curiosity about his estimation of my nude body, or anticipation of when that therapeutic touch would cross the line from massage to foreplay – all converged like separate streams into one flowing river. I couldn’t think; I could only be. The perfume, the warmth, the music, the candlelight and his touch had conveyed me to another place. I was transported on a magic carpet to a soft cloud floating above a lush orange grove. An amorphous entity, adrift with absolute wellbeing.

“I’m going to help you turn over now,” he softly whispered.

I barely made the effort, being mush and all, but he had arranged the sheet beneath in such a way that he prepared me like a sushi roll emerging complete from the bamboo mat. For a brief instant I thought – okay, now I’m on my back – and that was the extent of my mental capacity. Eric shifted from orange oil to vanilla, saturating every inch of me in the sweet balsam. And again, there was no deliberate physical awareness of anything. I was swept away. Like Kobe beef before the slaughter.

“Lay for as long as you want and whenever you’re ready, sit up slowly.”

What? Huh? It’s over? Shit! I fell asleep!

Obviously nothing sexual happened and if it did, I slept through it. The blended scents of the orange and vanilla oils left me feeling like a melted creamsicle. Embarrassed and dopey, I cleared my throat and said groggily “I fell asleep. Um, I feel woozy. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. You still get the physical benefits while you’re sleeping. It’s normal to feel drugged; the oils have very powerful properties and you’re releasing a lot of toxins. Did you enjoy it?”

The lightness of my cloud long gone, I felt heavy just lifting up on my elbows. “It was amazing. Do a lot of people fall asleep?”

“Nearly everyone.”

I suddenly felt jealous and possessive; I imaged how many women had basked in this very same glow. Clearly he hadn’t bought that massage table just for me. Others had ridden my magic carpet and potentially, more would in the future. While Eric had proven he had restraint and was completely professional, this realization hit my competitive nerve and I had to make my move. I sat fully upright and let the sheet drop to my waist.

“Eric, can I make you feel good now?”

“No, you just need to relax. Unless you’re hungry. I could make you something here or we could go out.” His eyes never broke contact with mine. He never glimpsed my breasts nor did his attitude remotely suggest arousal.

“I’m hungry for you.”

He just smirked slightly and said in a deep timbre, “Well, that’s very tempting, but I’m exhausted. I’m going to turn in. Like I said, you can rest here as long as you want, or you can sleep on my couch if you don’t feel up to driving home.” He walked to his bathroom and closed the door.

Son of a bitch!  Here I was, horny and all oiled up like a greased pig – but smelling infinitely better. He had just run his hands all over me for an hour and could have easily looked at me for however long I slept. Three and half weeks into this – relationship – or whatever it is, and I think I’m falling in love with him. And I think, at least I thought, he was feeling something for me too!

What the fuck?

Confusion swarmed around my head like a disturbed beehive; stinging me with random and bewildered notions. Have I completely missed the mark here? I must have misread his signals somehow. Don’t most guys offer massages to get sex? Did I just make a fool out of myself? What is he waiting for? What does he think of me now?

He’s got to be gay. I know he likes me and based on how we were kissing backstage tonight, I know he’s attracted to me. The only logical explanation for this behavior is that he’s gay and I’m the first girl he’s considering, but he’s just not ready yet.

Am I ready? Is this what I want? I’ve known women who married former homosexual men only to realize down the line the alteration was temporary, like a spray-on tan. Doomed to fade.

No. It had to be something else. I wasn’t a kid anymore; I would know. I couldn’t be so easily duped at this stage in my life.  The universe wouldn’t answer my prayers and reward my diligence with false hope. It was like walking into my dream home only to discover it was a façade.

Eric emerged from the bathroom wearing only loose muslin pajama bottoms which hung down just below his navel. They hung well on him; everything did. I ogled with lust at his well-developed arms and muscular chest. The prefect amount of testosterone blessed him with sexy chest hair which blazed a happy trail, drawing my gaze to his six-pack and further south.

“It’s all yours,” he said, breaking my fixated stare. For a moment I thought he was coming around, until I realized he meant the bathroom. I didn’t bring any toiletries with me, so there wasn’t much I could do other than to splash my face with cold water and decide if I should stay or go. I would base my decision on the next move when I walked out – whatever it was.

He had laid out a sheet, blanket and pillow on the sofa before retiring to his room. Okay, I’ll lie down for a bit. I’ll give him ten minutes to call me in or come out and get me. Ten and no more.  There was no way I was going in to him and debase myself even further. Whatever his reasons were for this game, this sweet and sour tango, I was nearly ready to spit out my rose and quit.

After forty minutes, I huffed loudly, put on my clothes, and stormed out of his apartment, childishly and deliberately slamming his door. Twice.

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[This is a reprint of a short story published in a literary magazine.  Anyone who has read “Who Got Liz Gardner” will also recognize portions of it from the book. But, there are differences, so please enjoy.]

Radiance by definition:  the quality of being bright and sending out rays of light. Radiance was also my mother’s name.  Yes, her real name; christened so by my forward thinking grandmother in 1925.   Beginning life with such a spectacular label proposed challenges, but Radiance was up for them.  

       Mom was beautiful, theatrical, vivacious, creative and high-maintenance. She aspired to be an actress but her career only bloomed locally on the community stage. She was, however, magnificent.  She was my role model, my support, my fan club and my best friend. She was also my antagonist.  

      I was the final product of Mom’s fifth and last marriage. Amongst this woman’s many loves, she captured the hearts of five men who found her too irresistible not to marry.  Conversely, each one was eventually overwhelmed and blinded by her brilliant light, ultimately leaving her to shine alone.  

      But role model she was. I observed my Mom’s technique to suffer, beg compromise, negotiate and manipulate men – my father in particular. And I learned.  I watched her desperate attempts fail to produce the results she sought.  And I learned. I watched my Dad try to smother her with a pillow and I believed her when she caught her breath and calmly told me and my brother they were rehearsing a scene from a play. I watched her survive. And I learned. Radiance was nothing if not a warrior.  She had dreadful judgment regarding which battles she picked, but she fought valiantly and she survived.  

      My parents divorced when I was twelve years old and I lived with my father for the next four years.  By sixteen, I was terribly in need of maternal love, attention and guidance.  Much to my mother’s elation, I returned to the warmth of the womb. What I didn’t anticipate was the role reversal; Radiance was just as needy for the same.  She became helpless and clingy.  She displayed weakness, dependency and anxiety with regularity. I became impatient and angry with her behavior. I felt overwhelmed; not safe and secure as I had anticipated. She was forcing me to surrender my childhood to become her mother!  Ah, there’s that blinding light that drives everyone away! 

      I was a terror throughout my teens and blatantly tortured my mother. I showed her utter disrespect; I spoke harshly to her without reservation; I avoided her; I told her I hated her.  I broke her heart countless times and each tear she shed empowered my aggression. But somehow she survived my attacks and belligerence. She never gave up on me and she never stopped loving me. And I learned.  I learned what unconditional meant.  

      I didn’t lighten up on my Mom until I came home one day from high school to an ambulance parked in front of my house. There was a small crowd of neighbors all whispering that the “little lady who lived there had jumped off the roof.”  We had a two story house.  I was charged with the intense level of fear and terror that adrenalin can stimulate.  I pushed through everyone to my Mom being carried out by paramedics.  She was alive but crushed. She didn’t jump off the roof of our house, she fell. She lost her footing while – brace yourself- vacuuming leaves off the roof.  Radiance didn’t always employ the most sensible judgment when it came to certain ideas.  This was clearly not one of her smarter plans. But she survived and I learned.

      Don’t vacuum leaves off the roof! 

      Once we were past the crisis, I collapsed emotionally, rattled with the panic of how close I came to losing Mom.  Amazingly, she recovered from a collapsed lung and multiple fractures.  Eventually my fright gave way to appreciating her, but before long, the conflicts were queued up again.  

      By the age of seventeen, I was dating a thirty-two year old divorcé with two small children. I moved into his house, but Mom tried everything she could to keep me close. That summer, his eight year old daughter, Debbie, was visiting. My boyfriend had to go out of town for a business trip leaving Debbie fatherless with a teen guardian.  

      I tried to plan fun activities and called Mom for suggestions.  She had planned to drive to Atlanta to see my sister for a few days and asked if we would like to come along.  She sweetened the deal by offering to pay for a day at Six Flags over Georgia. This was ideal timing. It would be nice to see my sister too.

      I can’t remember the last time I was in a captive situation for hours with my mother. We were all going to be in a car for at least seven. I tried not to anticipate the worst, but Mom did not disappoint. Debbie and I packed a few things, swung by to pick Mom up, and began our trip to Atlanta in my Gremlin.  

      Ninety minutes out of Tampa and Mom is already languishing from the heat. I ran the air conditioning but it wasn’t freezing enough for her.  

      It starts. The more she whined and overdramatized how she was melting, the more she amused Debbie, who had never seen a grown woman bellyache so much. The hilarity would be short lived as my Mom would morph very soon into a shrike (a brown or gray songbird with a screeching call and a hooked beak that eats insects and small animals that become impaled on sharp objects such as thorns.) We pulled over and bought a bag of ice so Mom could dab a washcloth into the ice water and use it to keep her cool.  

      We had only driven as far north as Gainesville when we stopped for dinner. We’d lost an hour of drive time, so Mom decided we should stop for the day and stay at a hotel.  

      The evening was relatively uneventful. Mom was in total fantasy land as she regaled Debbie with tales of our wonderful relationship. In the morning, we had breakfast and hit the road again. No more than twenty minutes crossing the Georgia state line, Mom started to bristle her quills. We had been playing word games like Password, twenty questions, etc., and Mom decided to introduce a really fun concept…Let’s name the presidents and state capitals! I was a pretty decent student, but I couldn’t name presidents in order (still can’t), and truth be told, I’m still challenged with at least half the state capitals.  

      The game began. Mom zeroed in on Debbie and started grilling her. Debbie tried her best, but with every incorrect answer, Mom made her feel stupid and insignificant. Mom had a mean streak in her that was rarely shown, but when she was bad, she was horrible. I had grown up with her so I had the tools necessary to handle her episodes. Debbie, on the other hand, was a complete innocent. She didn’t understand what my mother was doing or why.  

      So once Radiance was on a roll, she wouldn’t stop. She criticized Debbie, her education (or lack of it), her parents, her looks, her weight… She surpassed the boundaries of tactlessness and indecency.  

      Had my dear mother completely forgotten what this little girls’ situation was? Had she forgotten the purpose of this trip was to cheer her up since her dad ditched her? 

      I drove while this assault unfolded. Debbie was weeping and Mom literally told her to suck it up. I was desperately trying to stop the attack, but Mom ignored me. She had her fangs deep into this victim and was intoxicated with the taste of blood.  

      Debbie was my responsibility and I had to protect her. Mom wouldn’t stop. It was weird—like an avalanche that couldn’t be thwarted.  Debbie was pleading with me to make her stop and kept imploring, “Why does your Mom hate me??????!!?” 

      I pulled over on Interstate 75 and stopped the car.  

      We stopped on the median. That shut her up. I demanded she apologize to Debbie. She would not. I felt like a mother tiger protecting her young. I told Mom to get out of the car. She turned pale (as did Debbie) and then started to laugh (as did Debbie). I wasn’t kidding. And she knew it. She had gone too far. At that point, I didn’t care if she apologized. I wanted this toxic troll out of the car. She had spewed her venom for the last time.  

      I was livid and even though she became penitent, I was too far gone. Again I insisted that she get out of the car. Mom gave me an adrenalized stare and then tried to get tough.  

      “You can’t do this to me. I’m your mother.” 

      “I know who you are. Get out.”  

      She wouldn’t budge. I took the keys from the ignition, got out, and walked around to the passenger side. Mom locked the door and held the handle all the while screaming, “Stop it! Lizzie, honey, PLEASE!” 

      I put the key in her door and firmly pulled the handle while turning the key. She fell back away from the open door as she clutched her purse. I grabbed her arms and literally pulled her out kicking and screaming. (My adrenalin was pumping too, but she only weighed about 90 pounds, so the extraction wasn’t too difficult.) Once she was out, I locked and slammed the passenger door shut. Walked around to the drivers’ side, got in, and drove off.  

      I’m sure Mom thought I was bluffing in order to scare her. Debbie sure thought I was. Until I picked up speed and really drove off. I briefly saw Mom in the rearview mirror, shocked and defeated. We were too far away to see the transition to fear and panic.  

      The expected thing to say now would be, “I’m not proud of what I did,” but that would be a lie. I was very proud of myself, then and to this day. At such a young age, my maternal instincts had kicked in, and I did what I believed necessary to protect my young. I will admit that tossing my mom out of a car (at least it wasn’t moving) probably didn’t set a good example for Debbie, although she idolized me as a result. She was somewhere between stunned and exhilarated from my actions. 

      Even now, I teach my teenage daughter about abusive relationships. Regardless of personal or professional, it you are in an abusive relationship (physically, emotionally, psychologically), try everything you can to heal it. If it cannot be healed and you remain in danger, remove yourself from it. Period. Both parties must be willing to do the work; you can’t do it all. Besides, you can’t heal the abuser. That’s not your job; it’s theirs. If you can’t see clearly, remove the obstacle. God, I hope my kid doesn’t throw me out of a car some day. Now that would be karma.  

*     *     * 

      Mom was fine. I never had a doubt her resourcefulness would see her through this little adventure. Someone picked her up within minutes (I can just hear her telling that story) and took her to a gas station where she called a taxi. The cab took her to the Atlanta airport; she booked a flight home and was back before dinner time.  

      Debbie and I went on to Six Flags and had the time of our lives. Being Radiance’s daughter, I was resourceful too. I had brought cash, just in case.  

      By the time we returned to Tampa, Mom had left nearly a dozen messages on my answering machine. They all said the same thing: “Please forgive me.”  

      Wow! I dumped her like garbage on the side of the road and she asks my forgiveness. I suspect this was some weird twisted reverse psychology, but I forgave her. We would talk about this episode for the rest of her life. She would continue to ask me, right up until the moment before she died, if I had really forgiven her. 

      Radiance did her best. She was the best mom she knew how to be. She had learned from her role model and hers before her.

      Mom died before my daughter was born, but the baton had been passed.  I knew what kind of a mother I hoped to be. Radiances’ legacies were her survival skills and unwavering love.  She had an insanely high pain threshold and, while she would wince, she would always rise above. In fact, even in death, she lives on. Her brilliant light did not go out when she died; it’s just shining somewhere else. 

      Whenever my daughter mouths off to me or says something hurtful, I turn to the light and I know Radiances’ granddaughter still loves me.

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PRAE for Balance



Practice, retention, application and execution. You’d think this formula would work for just about anything you want to learn or excel at. Right? I could argue, even as a mediocre student, that PRAE would insure some understanding of most subjects in school.  It certainly works in sports although I gladly concede to being a better ball girl on the tennis courts, trading in my Prince racquet for a comfy bench.  I dominated PRAE as a second rate dancer; good enough for college and community productions – except for that nasty fall during the dance in the gym in West Side Story – but never able to jeté to professional heights.  And sex. Well, come on.  Every stage in PRAE can be fun – especially the first and last.  But when it comes to getting emotionally healthy, finding the kind of balance and stability in ourselves that we crave in a mate or companion – well, the formula is fucked.

Some people won’t even consider the formula; it’s too much work to change themselves, even if you recognize your deficiencies. But the rest of us will spend extravagant amounts of money and time on therapy, self-help books, seminars, retreats, subliminal cd’s, and yoga,  only to find ourselves untwisting from the lotus and screaming at our soul mate “you asshole! Go to HELL!”  Not the most spiritually enlightened thing to say. So why doesn’t PRAE work? Why can’t we practice and learn to be a star athlete or scholar when it comes to relationships? Why? We applied PRAE for so many years to our shitty, screwed up patterns that we excel without question. It’s easier and more comfortable to default to the familiar. I can verbally castrate any man with my eyes closed.  He never saw what hit him.

By the time Eric rounded the corner into my world, I thought I was ready. Why else would he show up like the Cracker Jack prize? The Universe had to know how hard I had worked, how long I had waited and how much I deserved him.  I diligently practiced my mantras; I retained the positive beliefs to reframe any negative thought each time it leaked into my brain; I applied the visualizations, and I executed the energy by taking the high road.  In spite of all that work, old patterns rose up like curdled milk in my coffee, souring fair and balanced.  And it was such a good brew, too.

I was so sure the new and improved Liz dominated over the harpy I once was.  In many ways, she did. I will give credit where it’s due. I started coming out of the bathroom five minutes sooner following my cathartic meltdowns. I only called him “fucking asshole” two times as opposed to the bakers dozen.  And I actually listened to his side.  Sometimes, I didn’t even interrupt. Until he repeated himself.

And I stopped throwing out the “D” word as a hollow threat; especially when the lights came on and I knew losing him would confirm I was ungrateful and didn’t recognize the brilliant gift the Universe had given me when we found each other.

So I guess PRAE does work, but I can’t hit a tennis ball over the net to save my life.

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Discovering Arugula

As a child and onward toward adulthood through the 1980’s, the extent of my salad experience was iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Iceberg lettuce.  Crunchy, cool, mild flavor, if any, and watery. No nutritional value. Iceberg lettuce is to salad aficionados what vanilla is to Ben and Jerry’s.  The advent of the 1970’s introduced the salad bar which encouraged the human rabbit to adorn their lackluster greens in a self-service capacity.  Eyes and appetites would widen with the promise of unlimited quantities of garbanzos, sprouts, eggs, bacon bits, raisins, peppers, sunflower seeds and perhaps shredded cheese.  A dieter resigned to healthier habits could take pride in their wise two-pound composition. They could suspend any thoughts that this wasn’t healthy just before slathering a fat-laden dollop of Bleu cheese, Catalina French, or Thousand Island dressing over the mountain, as it ran down from the summit and blanketed all faces with only croutons scattered and perched randomly like base camps in the snows of Everest.  In all honesty, braving the conditions of Mt. Everest would be healthier than consuming these health food impersonators.

Just when it seemed like salads could aspire to no greater heights than the bar, macaroni, or egg, blessed arugula arrived on the scene with the fanfare of the Holy Grail in the 1990’s. This wasn’t like iceberg. And it was not to be confused with Swiss chard or collard greens. No, these were some sort of special, sophisticated, wild greens from Europe.  And it was good. Seductive. Dare I say…orgasmic? Can salad be orgasmic? Yes, if it makes you moan.

My palate was uncultured and unprepared for the classical tossed symphony that was about to perform. It’s rich, peppery taste danced on my tongue like a fiery tango, leaving dull memories of iceberg’s hokie pokie moves in the dust. Its tantalizing aroma tickled my nostrils with eye-rolling force.  I might have even arched my back. A little.  This stranger from overseas, this new and completely original leaf was sexy and intoxicating.  I knew I had been taken, converted. I would never go back to iceberg.

Falling in love with Eric was like discovering arugula. Every man, every relationship prior was generic.  While they provided the basics and some level of satisfaction, they were common. The relationships were ordinary.  I could enhance my perception of what I had with unusual items or exotic dressings as it were. We could take the salad bowl to fun and inspiring, even wicked locations, but after a few bites, the humble iceberg always stared up at me with puppy eyes as if to say “peek-a-boo! It’s still me!”  I found myself settling, thinking “I guess it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Eric caught me off guard.  His energy, his humor, his smile, his timing – his way – was unlike anyone I had ever encountered.  He was raw and organic. Genuine and original. And so undeniably sexy. His soul was hot.  He was spiritual but not religious. He was athletic, but not into football or baseball! OMG! Score!

Once I inhaled him, tasted him, experienced him, gave into him – there was no going back.

And he had nutritional value!


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Codependence Day!

I married my husband seventeen years ago on the 4th of July in the courtyard of the Pasadena City Hall. We weren’t trying to be clever chosing a date on which there would always be fireworks no matter how old, tired, or headachey (mine) we might be on any given anniversary. We chose Independence Day because it was the anniversary of our first kiss two years prior.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that for five years out of every seven, our anniversary falls on a week day granting the day off from work.  And the fireworks do provide built-in decorations no matter where we go to celebrate.  Thank God we love blue and red!

We used to jokingly refer to our anniversary as  our Codependence Day. The truth is, we are both whole and complete on our own.  We don’t need each other, we don’t complete each other, we aren’t nothing without the other, and we wouldn’t be lost without the other.  We love and respect each other.  We argue and debate and have heated discussions. I still revert to my mothers’ tactics and lock myself in the bathroom on occasion bemoaning how impossible he is.

But I love him more than air.

After seventeen years of marriage and nineteen years together, I am madly in love with the guy.

And for the time being, we still produce our own fireworks…

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