Doctor Four and the Great Fainter


We have wandered down the road of infertility for nearly three years.

The stages of our path mimicked those of grief and we have emerged from those dark early days with hope. I’ve learned to be more open when folks ask those once painful questions.

Plus, we see ourselves as future foster/ adoptive parents, with a particular organization in mind. We just need a schedule to coincide with the classes.

But sometimes, I still get a gentle shoulder pat or a look of pity. But it rarely bothers me anymore. I know mostly what others struggle with in knowing we’re childless has more to do with them than me.

When I quit my job at the County of San Diego a few months back, Brian added me to his Navy health care plan which allowed me to keep my dentist and optometrist (woohoo!), but lose my longtime family doctor, Dr. Roth (boo!).

The process of finding a new doctor gives me hives.

It’s one more person who knows all about my medical history; truly, the most intimate nonsexual relationship we have. I had the same family doctor until I was 23 when I moved to California 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had three.

But what I found behind doctor door number four has been a pleasant surprise so far.

“You’re 33, healthy and no babies,” Dr. Deckert began. “Let’s talk about that.”

I thought back to my early dark days struggling with depression at discussing this very topic.

“I wish my therapist had been this warm,” I thought.

She asked about all the testing I had been through, which had all come back suggesting on paper I was a Fertile Myrtle. One test, somehow, had escaped me and she wanted to eliminate that factor straight away.

I was game. My heart and mind was ready for whatever this final progesterone test revealed.

Over drinks with two of my close girlfriends, I told them I was going through another test. Their mouths dropped open.

“I thought this was all done,” one said.

Yep, me too.

The morning of my lab appointment, Brian sent me a text message: “Good luck, this morning, Pica.”

I’m notoriously bad at giving blood. The American Red Cross would not take me in a million years; I’m a faint risk. But I find if I tell the nurse I’m a baby upfront, breath slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on, I can get through it fine.

I sat in the chair while the nurse reviewed all the testing my doctor ordered for me. I felt fine and calm until I saw her pull five tubes.

“A lot of testing this morning, huh?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a gift from God; I’m the best at this.”

Turns out, God was off-duty during my visit.

First, I nearly fainted followed by an embarrassing bout of shock. She pinned me back in the chair until help arrived. By the time she and another nurse virtually dragged me to a table to elevate my legs, I had sweat through my clothes, my pupils looked like pin tips and all the blood drained from my face.

Eventually, all five tubes were filled while I lay limp and soggy on the table. I sat up very slowly to find three nurses peering in at me from the hall. Like a good little girl, my nurse rewarded me with a chocolate chip cookie and a can of Pepsi.

The next day, I was driving to meet Brian for dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered my silly earbuds headset and it was my cheerful doctor.

“So, I like to see a 10 or better for progesterone levels,” she said, getting right down to business. I took a deep breath. “You’re at 18.5. You have the fertility of a 20-year-old girl.”

I was silent.

“Erica?”

“I’m here,” I said, and smiled. “Thank you for calling.”

She was right. It was good to know. And amazingly, I felt not one ounce of regret at how it all played out over the years.

I called Brian, emailed my girlfriends and then talked to my mom, who had her youngest child at 42.

Later at dinner, a cloud came across Brian’s face. He had been through his share of testing too and this meant more was likely on his horizon.

“So, it’s definitely me,” he said, sounding resigned. My heart broke.

I could see his wheels turning the information over in his mind. Then, the eternal optimist smiled.

“Well, if it has to be one of us, I’m glad it’s me,” he said.

“Oh? And why is that?”

“Well, for one, I can handle needles.”

Not Quite Dickens: Part III


Part III in my series on adoption.

When I burst into the adoption orientation, my heart was pounding.

Mostly because I was late, late, late. Seems I’m late to everything these days, especially to the finish line of the mommy race.

Suddenly, I realized that unlike the four other couples seated around the conference table, I was wearing a business suit. The facilitator Sarah greeted me with a smile.

“Barry called the other day,” she said, almost before I sat down beside Brian. “Thought I might have already met you, but I’m glad to meet you now.”

I quickly scanned the room and felt burning questioning eyes upon me.

“Yes, well, it seems we know a lot of the same people,” I said.

After learning about the process from the outside through the trusting eyes of my friends, Barry and Mindy, I sat in the room they once sat in looking across a long conference table at other people like us – childless. 

Sarah opened up the meeting by asking us to speak to one other person and share our story. It was a way for us to feel connected, maybe not feel so alone or odd in a world dominated by the happily fertile.

I turned to my right and met Jeff. He and his wife, a slight woman, went through Hell to get pregnant with their first daughter six years ago. Then, they faced the assisted reproduction process all over again. Finally, they were exhausted and decided it was time for another option.

He spoke softly and looked defenseless, raw. He and his wife wore their stress, their sadness, their longing like soaked heavy blankets from their thin frames.

We soon moved on to a topic he more enjoyed: his landscaping business.

The couple on the end seemed the youngest of the group. They were perky, cheerful and unlike the other couples, were eager to start the process without knowing a single thing more than what they knew when they arrived. 

“Can we start tomorrow?” he asked at one point.

A third couple diagonal from me were slightly older than Jeff and his wife. In their household, she was the one who resisted adoption.

“She’s a school teacher,” it was explained, as rivers of tears flowed from her eyes. “She sees kids all day and for her, it was important to have a baby of her own.”

The couple directly across from us met later in life at a sporting event. He seemed gregarious and she, a quiet wallflower. She looked at once hurt and relieved when Sarah explained that she has limits on the age of her couples, which we all qualified to meet. Whew!

Sarah detailed the various forms of adoption for both international and domestic.

Her nonprofit, Adoption Center of San Diego, offers independent adoption. She facilitates the adoption between birthparents and adoptive parents, suggests though doesn’t mandate any particular adoption attorney to handle the legal matters, offers counseling both to birthparents and adoptive parents, and makes the connection with the county for the home study visit after the baby is born and home with the adoptive parents.

In theory, any couple could arrange such an adoption with a willing birthparent, an attorney, and a home study appointment. However, Sarah’s 17 years of adoption matching does seem to suggest she knows what she’s doing. That, and I had seen the results of her successful matching for my friends.

She showed us a video of some of her matched birthparents and adoptive parents with the children. I had watched it online before the meeting, but the school teacher clearly had not. In a few minutes, the tissues on the table of hardly touched food was passed her way.

I recognized several of the interviewed adoptive families, and one new one that I somehow overlooked before. I learned forward, looked at Sarah and she mouthed: “I thought you would know them too.”

Most of the birthparents were actually single birthmoms. The ages ranged from 16 to 36. Sarah said her oldest birthmother was 44. In each instance, the reasons to place for adoption was different.

One 20-year-old single mom already had a baby and was unable to care for another. Another 36-year-old single birthmom always wanted to be a mom, but her partner left her alone without means to care for her baby.

One of the birthmoms sat beside her adoptive mom and explained why she felt good about her decision: “She told me that I gave her this great gift, but she was the gift. I don’t have to worry that my baby will grow up in a good home.”

The rounds of questions began post video.

The number of birthmothers who change their minds? In nearly two decades, less than 10.

How close are you with birthmoms after the birth? Really up to you and the birthmom, but communication before the adoption can deliniate your path.

Then, the school teacher’s husband asked: “How many of the birth dads have contested custody?”

Sarah looked around at the men: “None.”

Silence.

“You’re surprised?” she asked. “I’m not sure why they don’t, but I’ve thought about this over the years. I think if they had other options, I probably wouldn’t get a phone call.”

Then, Sarah explained her “funnel” theory.

You take all the potential qualities of a child: race, sex, mental/ emotional/ physical disabilities, fetal drug or alcohol exposure. From that, you determine the width of your funnel. The less restrictions, the wider your funnel and the more likely you’ll be matched sooner than those with a more narrow funnel.

I considered my funnel as we wrapped up the three-hour session. Could I care for a disabled child? What about a child exposed to alcohol or drugs? Would a child of a different race face social problems?

I realized that I wasn’t prepared to define my funnel.

A funnel. Not something I dreamed about when I wanted to be a mom.

I did dream of how I could deliver the news: a romantic card to my mate asking what they were doing on the due date. I even imagined the dinner scene and maybe I’d even tape the positive testing stick inside the card (cleaned, of course).

Then, just as we were about done, Sarah passed out her fee sheet.

And that’s when I almost passed out.

Based on our income, her new fees could be $20,000 to $25,000 depending on the additional cost I had not considered (care of the mother). That was roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more than we expected and even then, we would be tight.

The federal government allows for an adoption tax credit of nearly $14,000 and the Navy reimburses costs up to $2,000 for Brian. But much like my college years, the feds just don’t quite get me there.

Still in the fog of sticker shock, Brian and I discussed the matter over a beer. We were excited to be parents and we wanted a baby. But like the rest of America, we have to be financially smart during the economic downturn. Neither of us expected income increases anytime soon and our safety net funds would need to grow by leaps and bounds to swing it.

As the weeks wore on after orientation, our hope peaked and valleyed.

We continued to save as much as possible and reviewed the after-orientation meeting letter from Sarah. The next step would be to sit down with her for an in-depth meeting to discuss our path. 

What to do? Continue saving and hope for a windfall? Reconsider that path and attempt to navigate the County adoption process hoping its less than the average 2 year wait? Go back to fertility treatments and roll the dice while Brian’s Navy care could pick up those heavy costs?

Two weekends ago, I went to my third baby shower of the year (a fourth happened last weekend out-of-state). I tooled around the Babies ‘R Us seeking out registry items, something I’m becoming more proficient at than wedding registries, when I saw this young pregnant woman with her little girl in the shopping cart.

As they passed by, the little girl smiled and waved at me. I returned the gesture.

The next day, I sat besides my girlfriend Erin H. at our girlfriend’s baby shower while she breastfed her newborn, Lily. She, like our many other friends, asked about our adoption plans. I told her where we were and from the outside, it sounded like I had it all figured out.

Really, I still felt like Alice dashing through limbo asking the Cheshire Cat for directions with the clock-ticking White Rabbit ushering me to hurry, hurry, hurry.

Two days later, a fifth friend announced her pregnancy. I congratulated her and then, I checked my watch.

“I have to go. I’m late for a meeting.”

Not Quite Dickens: Part II


After the press conference promoting San Diego County Adoptions concluded, my boss asked to see a picture of the adoptive mom’s children.

The pictures of beautiful waiting children through the county’s Heart Gallery program surrounded us. The pictures would tour the county’s libraries to promote the county’s adoption program. One picture of a young boy captivated me (above).

Kim, the adoptive mom, reached into a bag and pulled out – not a wallet – but a 8 x 10 framed picture of sisters, 7-year-old Melody and 6-year-old Valina, with her and her husband.

She beamed with pride as Pam asked about the little girls. The new mom shared their personality differences and her 2 1/2 year process to complete the adoption.

“They’re beautiful,” Pam said, showing the picture around to the library director and others.

“They’re my whole life,” the new mom responded.

I turned to my co-worker Jill, who knew of my infertility struggles: “I’m going to adopt.”

A few weeks later, I found myself on my fourth jury duty and unable to locate a parking space at the El Cajon Courthouse.

Luckily, as a county employee, I could park at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency building nearby, which just happened to be the child services office.

After the court released me and the remaining jurors, I marched right into the child services office.

“Do you want to foster a child?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I could give a child back.”

The idea of mothering a child that could be returned to birth parents or extended family seemed too difficult.

I came home with information for Brian. A letter would soon come in the mail with some upcoming adoption/ foster care orientation meetings. We would simply pick one, attend and the process would begin.

When the letter arrived, I felt some dread. The adoptive mom at the press conference said it took 2 1/2 years and in some cases, adoptive parents foster a child first. We had already been trying for more than 2 years and I was eager to move forward.

A light bulb went off and I recalled that my dear friend, Barry, told me years earlier that he adopted his daughter after I said how much she resembled his wife (I still think she does).

I fired off an email and asked how he adopted: through the public county agency, a private agency, an adoption attorney? Was it open, closed, semi-open?

He soon wrote back and offered to speak with me. He and his wife went through open adoption through an independent facilitator at Adoption Center of San Diego. Little did I know, it was the very same organization that fasciliated the adoptions of five other couples I knew.

I immediately took his offer and explored the company’s website.

Open adoption seemed weird.

All the parties know each other, they meet before the child is born and essentially, select each other. Though I longed to adopt, a birth mother carrying a child for nine months knowing someone else would parent it felt odd to me.

The day I was to speak to Barry, I had my questions written out. A million butterflies clanged around inside.

“Do you know what open adoption is?” he began.

I gave a very basic response that all parties know each other and disclose pertinent details (medical history, racial and ancestral information, etc.).

Correct.

But, as he explained it, the relationship could vary from the vary basic (meet before the birth, relinquish rights, occassional correspondence) to very close (meet and become friends, stay friends with the birthmom after the birth, visit in person regularly).

His experience tended to swing more to the “very close” with his birthmother. But as his birthmother grew up and had a family of her own, the relationship loosened up some and visits over 10 years became less frequent.

Along with all the other open adoption aspects come the standard legal requirements for the signing over of parental rights to the adoptive parents, background checks, character references and the home study, when the county performs an inspection of the home.

It all begins with the orientation, a follow-up one-on-one with the fascilitator and then, the Dear Birthmother letter introducing yourself to potential birthmoms.

While its a much faster process, its also a much more costly option than public county adoptions. The nonprofit bases all the possible associated costs on a sliding scale according to income – anywhere from $15,000 to $22,000.

Gulp. That’s a sizeable bite.

While most of the birth parents are just birth moms, there are some couples and not always the stereotypical teenagers. The reasons they seek to place their children through adoption are as varied as adoptive couples’ reasons to adopt.

“Don’t think for a second they’re ‘giving up’ their children,” Barry said. “It’s a tough decision and they are trying to find the best possible couples to parent their child.”

From start to finish, his adoption took a few months (not years).

I grew very excited and took all my notes home for Brian.

The range of the relationship spectrum with the birthmother concerned Brian. There’s no way of knowing how close the relationship might be and what constitutes sufficient contact (birthday parties, Christmas, or the annual picnic hosted by the organization).

I shared my plans with my current and former bosses, both of whom responded to my emails in mere seconds with the kind of loving support you would expect from your parents. Very touching.

I reached out to another Adoption Center couple and this time, I spoke to the mom. She’s also a friend whose first adoption fell through; a possibility that gave me pause despite knowing it worked out well in the end.

Mindy immediately agreed and we met a week before our orientation meeting for coffee.

After catching up on the latest political happenings, we dove into the topic she and I had been discussing for years: motherhood.

We first met nearly six years ago when the baby itch hit her hard. She spoke at a club I presided over and during a meeting break, I asked how her job with the governor was treating her.

“Some days, I just want to give it up, stay home and have babies,” she said very matter-of-factly.

Months later, her husband told me they were having a hard time conceiving. I was heartbroken for them.

She felt she waited too long and devoted too many years to her career. She even toyed with writing a book on the subject (which I still think is a good idea).

A few years later, here we were in the same boat.

I remember when their first adoption fell through. An email popped into my mailbox explaining to their friends and family what had transpired to handle all questions at once.

Then, just a few months before the Presidential Election, another email arrived.

They were the proud parents of a baby boy! A few days later, I met tiny Zach at a Cindy McCain event in Coronado. Love at first sight.

The successful adoption match took place in a matter of days.

“We met on a Thursday, we liked each other and the process was under way,” she said. “Zach was born the next week.”

My mouth hung open.

“I know,” she said. “But we already had much of the other requirements done.”

Her relationship with the birth mother also contrasted Barry’s and has been nearly non-existant since the birth.

She pulled out a picture book of Zach. At 2 years old, he was quite the charmer.

Mindy sits on a board for a foster care organization that tries to reunite children removed from the home with biological parents, if possible.

“In the middle of all this fertility and adoption stuff, here I am reading cases of parents putting out cigarettes on their babies,” she said. “Some of those babies never attach, never get held and feel loved. They grow up dysfunctional.

“The world needs good mommies,” she said.

I looked forward to my orientation the next week and felt like I belonged for the first time in a few years.

As you grow up, you find ways to feel connected to those around you – learning to drive, turning 18 and 21, graduating college, traveling, weddings and marriage and finally, parenthood.

My girlfriends who conceived spontaneously will luckily never knew the pain of my struggles. As a result, they can’t relate to my experiences anymore than I can relate to theirs.

Mindy and I laughed about knowing more than anyone should about conception, drawers filled with testing sticks and that day when you find an old birth-control pill packet and toss it away.

When she decided to adopt, she said it felt like a weight lifted off her shoulder and knew then it was right.

Like magic. Like love. Like faith.

As my girlfriend Erin W. keeps reminding me, no one way to become a mom is easier than any other. 

You have to take risks, and you have to be brave. 

Learn more about foster and adoption services:

*Not Quite Dickens: Part III will examine our orientation meeting.

The Blonde Princess


When my baby sister, Whitney, turned 5-years-old – my mom threw her a birthday party. Being about three years older, I knew my sister and her friends would stalk me around the house and want to be in all my “big girl” stuff.

I lamented this to my mom who said flatly: “Erica, if you’re the big girl – act like it.” Within a few hours, I had filled the house with big pink balloons and girls in cute little party dresses showed up to celebrate my little sister.

But one little girl stood out like a princess among paupers. Becky walked into the house wearing a pink dress with flaxen blonde, curly hair and the brightest, biggest blue eyes cut like glass orbs from the ocean’s surface. And when she giggled, she lit up the room with her fearless embrace of happiness. She loved life with her whole body.

Whitney and Becky became friends in pre-school and stayed best friends throughout school. They talked about boys, borrowed my dresses, shared their deepest secrets, rescued a stray cat and pulled a series of toilet-paper pranks on each other’s houses that live in infamy.

After high school, Whitney joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. Becky stayed behind in Fenton, moved in with a high school sweetheart and putzed around our hometown working and sometimes attending college.

One day, she was in her bathroom when one of her bright blue eyes closed shut on its own. When it flickered back open, she ignored it. But as the weeks wore on, the strange occurrence happened again and again.

The following month, Whitney went home for a reunion at our lakefront home. All their friends came to enjoy a beautiful Michigan summer day drinking, eating, telling stories and reminiscing about days gone by.

“So, I think something’s wrong with my eye,” Becky told Whitney. “I have an appointment with the eye doctor tomorrow.”

The next day, the optometrist examined Becky’s beautiful lense. He sighed: “Becky, nothing is wrong with your eye. I believe its neurological.”

She began doing research into what might cause something like uncontrolled muscle movements in her eye.

“I think I may have muscular dystrophy,” she told Whitney. “At least, that’s why I’m hoping.”

Weeks later, a neurologist examined scans of Becky’s 22-year-old brain and found a small tumor. The type of brain cancer was typical in juveniles and rarely seen in adults. It was possible she had the mass for many years and it just laid low. She began radiation right away.

The following month, I came home to visit my parents for a family reunion at the house. Becky stopped in for a visit while the house was momentarily quiet. The size-zero petite beauty showed some signs of the radiation: puffy face and dark under eye circles. But she spoke very matter-of-fact about the situation.

“I hate the puffiness,” she said. “I’m really tired too. I can’t imagine how exhausting chemo will be.”

That night, I went to a dive bar in Fenton (though I think they all qualify as such) and ran into so many fellow high school graduates. One girl graduated in the same year as Whitney and Becky; she asked if I knew about her diagnosis.

“Yes, she stopped by today and we talked,” I said. “Her spirits seem really high.”

She looked at me with a steady gaze: “It’s really bad, Erica.”

Six months later, I planned to come home for Christmas. While on the phone chatting with my mom about the details, she interrupted and said she visited Becky.

“I wouldn’t recognize her in a store,” she said. I felt dread wash over me and it returned as Whitney and I pulled up to her mother’s mobile home in Holly. The sharp winter air hit my face and froze my lungs with each breath. We stood outside listening to the sounds of Christmas music from within.

Becky’s mom, Gina, answered the door and immediately laid into Whitney for taking her “sweet, damn time getting over here. It’s not easy keeping Becky up.”

We walked into the living room and saw Becky laying helplessly in a hospital bed. Most of her blond curls were gone, her eye that kept closing had gone blind and her other eye could hardly focus on objects. She appeared to be about a size 16 and memories of her cute fashion sense became replaced by a sweat suit. Her breathing labored as she struggled to speak and fight against the urge to give in to her exhaustion.

Though we kept conversation light, the sadness hung in the room. A boy Whitney and Becky went to school with popped in for a visit and lifted the mood considerable. After an hour, we took a group picture – propping her up with our hands – and drove home to pick up the family for church.

The following winter, I planned to come home for the holidays and squeeze in my bridal shower with family. Updates of Becky’s progress changed every time I talked with my mom. The tumor shrunk, the tumor grew, the tumor’s almost gone – the tumor’s bigger than ever.

And while Whitney was deployed to Iraq, Becky asked us to keep information to her about her progress vague so she wouldn’t worry. We respected her wishes, but we knew Whitney may hate us later for not being more forthcoming.

The day of the shower proved to be the coldest day that winter in Michigan and being in California for six years – my blood thinned out to ocean mist. But family and friends showed up in fine fashion – even Becky. Gina wheeled her into the party, parked her at a table and I sat down for a good chat. Her giggle lit me up.

“I was thinking about making blankets for needy kids,” she said. “I sit all day anyway.”

Her mobility had returned some and she was going through physical therapy to regain her motor skills. She sat up, could stand at times, had lost some weight and spoke far better than the year before.

The next day, Gina and Becky came over for a visit at the house and exchange Christmas presents. She gave me a pink hat box filled with potpourri and a lottery ticket. I kept them both. We talked about the wedding in August and how they planned on attending. It filled me with such hope.

“I’m going to dance at your wedding,” she said. “That’s what I think about at physical therapy.”

Months later, Whitney called from Iraq in the middle of the night. I answered in a groggy state.

“Why won’t Becky talk with me long on the phone when I call?” she asked. “Gina jumps on and I never get to talk to her.”

The tumor grew to the point of pinching off her verbal abilities. Sometimes, her voice cut out on her.

Whitney hoped to be home by the beginning of August and had already bought a plane ticket to Michigan departing immediately after the wedding. The day of the wedding, I thought about my little blonde princess and how she wanted to be there.

The day we returned from our honeymoon, I called Whitney to pick us up as planned.

“I’m in Michigan,” she said. “Becky’s dying.”

A couple of days later, I popped into the office to pick something up and my cell phone rang. Brian handed it to me. It was Whitney; I didn’t want to answer.

“Becky’s gone,” she said. “It’s OK, Erica. She was in terrible pain at the end. She couldn’t speak, lost all her functions … she just shut down. I stayed with her until she was gone and waited for the authorities.”

Becky approved all her funeral arrangements and made one request that spoke to her quirky sense of humor.

“She made us play ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen,” Whitney said. “She made me so mad. I’ll never be able to listen to that song again.”

She never has.

Losing her best friend at 24 changed Whitney immeasurably. She remains fairly broken-hearted and misses her everyday. A framed picture of them before Becky was sick still sits on Whitney’s desk – it’s the only framed picture of any friend she has.

Years after Becky died, Whitney faced some tough times and had a hard go of things when she left the Navy.

“You know, when I’m afraid – I think about all the things Becky never got to do and then I do them for her,” I told her. “She’d probably give anything to have your problems.”

Whitney thought for a moment and said: “You’re right. I never thought about it like that.”

Next month, I will visit my childhood home for the last time as my parents pack up what they want and discard the rest to live in Texas near my brother. It will be my first visit since I married, first visit since Becky died.

It’s hard to imagine home without her and that silly, chittering laugh. Of all the memories of her, I cherish my first of her most. I think of her as an eternal little girl – happy, healthy and living an inspiring life that would leave the world a better place.

The Strip Show


After a long, dusty drive into Las Vegas, Erin W. and I parked my Honda in the Mandalay Bay parking garage and then tried to find one of Erin M.’s bridesmaids, Brooke, in the “lobby.” However, the Bay doesn’t have a lobby – it has many lobbies, along with a shopping mall, a chapel, and two pools – one topless and one complete with sand and waves.

Basically, it’s Sin City within Sin City.

Our plush room overlooked the pools and the sunny city in the desert. Brooke waited for us to change into swimsuits and join the bachelorette party already in progress since the night before.

“Too bad you girls couldn’t get here yesterday,” Brooke said. “Last night was pretty wild.”

Evidentially, a bachelorette had crossed the booze threshold and lost her spa salad in a club on the Las Vegas strip. Throwing up is a no-no in Vegas clubs. The girls managed to drag themselves up not long before we arrived to recover by the pool in order to make another night of it.

The packed pool area allowed me to unwind after what had been a whirlwind few months. After nearly seven years in newspapers, I cashed in my chips for a new career at the state Senate. Unfortunately, the state budget didn’t pass (historically typical) and as a new employee, I had not established a long enough history with my bank at my new job. So, I was neither getting paid by the Senate nor reimbursed by my bank.

However, when your girlfriend has a bachelorette party in Vegas – you go to Vegas. I just had to be careful with my cash and not eat or drink too much. In other words, I couldn’t go full tilt which killed some of my enthusiasm.

After a restful nap at the pool, the entire group piled into the other suite to dress up Erin M. in ridiculous and customary attire complete with cheesy wedding themes – a veil, plastic ring and other doo-dads signifying that she’s the bride out for her last weekend of freedom. However, she drew the line on certain items: “I can’t wear that. I’m sorry, it has penises on it.”

After dinner, the party headed to the male review Thunder Down Under. Surveying the room, the women ranged in every age, race and creed and upon surveying the dancers, they ranged from gay to really gay. You gotta love women who get all spun up about greased men who wax their nether-regions. You’d be lucky if a straight man took the time for a moderate amount of “manscaping.”

Hours later, Katherine arrived with all her loud, wild fun and legendary dry sense of humor. We began the night with some drinks and played “never have I ever.” By the end of the game, Katherine and I had drunk quite a bit. Apparently, we had – ever.

We tumbled into Studio 54 – a revisit of the infamous New York Club. By that point, I was done drinking and fairly tired from a long week. I had hoped to rally, as I usually do, but I couldn’t manage it. I told Erin W. and she was also ready to call it a night after a rough week at the newspaper. As we said our good-nights to the hold outs and the bride, we grabbed Katherine to head back to our suite so she could drive back with us in the morning.

On the train, Erin W. and I realized she was drunk – very drunk. She spoke to everyone, stumbled, talked loudly and was generally not in control of her lanky limbs. Being that we’re shorter than Katherine, it took dedicated teamwork to get her into the room. We sat her on the second bed by the window and walked into the bathroom to brush our teeth.

When I turned around, she wasn’t there.

“Katherine?” I asked. Erin turned around. “Where’d she go?”

We walked around the bed to see her laying on the floor between the two beds. Her dress was off her shoulders, down around her waist and not a bra in sight.

“Katherine? Are you OK?” I asked. We bent down to pull her up. She fumbled with her hands clumsily over her breasts.

“Can you see my boobies?” she asked. I held back a laugh and Erin, without missing a beat, said deadpan: “Oooh, sexy.”

We got her back up on the bed, pulled her dress up and laid her down. Suddenly, she sprung up and ran to the water closet. I got her a cool washcloth for the back of her neck and face, washing her off between episodes. When she had a break, she walked back to the bed and we finished brushing our teeth.

“You were going to sleep with her,” I said to Erin, in a half-whisper.

“Well, I’m not now,” she said, spitting out toothpaste.

From the suite, Katherine said: “I heard that, bitch. I’m drunk, not deaf.”

She was sick the entire night into the morning. We took turns checking on her until we all finally fell asleep. In the morning, I opened my eyes to see Katherine sitting ramrod straight up in the bed beside us. I sat up on my left elbow to look at her, Erin stirred and sat up to look at her as well.

She turned toward us, her hair disheveled and makeup melted down her face.

“Katherine, what’s up with your dress?” I asked. She looked down. Her dress was on backwards.

“Who did that?” she asked.