I was always a back sleeper. Flat on my back, middle of the bed, arms and legs spread out. I never woke up like that and to this day I am not a “still” sleeper. Generally, by morning, the bed looks like I was trying out a new Cirque du Soleil routine. Making the bed is something I am loath to do. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s more akin to changing the sheets. Almost everything needs to be taken off the bed and re-assembled.
Since May 2007 I fall asleep on my side. The Cirque du Soleil performances still take place, but now instead of starting out with me on my back, a human “X” if you will, I now resemble more of an “S”. I have three carefully chosen and arranged pillows. The more firm and thicker pillow under my head and neck, the fluffiest between my arms, and the thinnest of the three between my legs from the knee to my ankles. I am now such a confirmed side sleeper that, when recently volunteering in Haiti, I made it a point to take 5 small inflatable travel pillows to be arranged like my 3 standard pillows at home. Imagine, sleeping on your side, on a canvas cot that would make a twin bed seem spacious. There I lay, on my side, with three pillowcases stuffed with inflated pillows. It’s about 95 degrees; I’m coated in insect repellant and sweat. The thin pillowcase is no match for my sweat and the plastic of one of my larger travel pillows that sticks to my skin like wet Velcro. Not exactly cool, but I know it just won’t work any other way.
In May of 2007 I was consulting for a few months at a boutique hotel in Mexico City. The first weekend in town I met a guy. His name was Federico (I called him “Fedy”) and we were inseparable. He worked at a private club and restaurant in a skyscraper in the Reforma. If we weren’t at work, we were together. In Mexico City, it’s generally cool at night in the summer time. We had no problem snuggling off to sleep, on our sides, facing each other. A pillow under my head, arms around him, legs intertwined. After almost 3 months, every night, and every nap in this position, the habit was set.
I had to go back to the United States eventually. I needed to be back in my own culture. I needed to make more money. I needed to see my friends and family. I had a million reasons. Looking back, I am not so sure why any of them mattered. From the moment I landed I was depressed. It got so bad that I ended up on anti-depressants. I’d have to make due with three well-placed pillows for a few months until I could return for a visit. I missed Fedy terribly.
I got to work on how we would be together. What would it take to legally get him across the border? He wanted to learn to speak English well. He wanted to see the Grand Canyon and New York and Hollywood. I wanted to be his guide. I wanted to show him the joys of potable tap water, of cars that actually stop at intersections for pedestrians, and of sidewalks that didn’t require you to stare downward with every step to avoid tripping. We had plans and dreams. I had a list of things to show him. But none of it mattered until he was able to enter the country.
I was unwilling to allow him to enter illegally or under circumstances that could come under scrutiny. He applied for a tourist visa but was denied immediately. Since my first name is gender neutral, I even considered ticking an incorrect gender box on an Alien Fiancé Visa application – even under “penalty of perjury”, fines of $10,000 and up to 5 years imprisonment. I figured out very quickly that there was no way that would work.
At great expense I made the fight to Mexico City from Los Angeles every 2-3 months for a week or a long weekend. I used every hotel connection I ever had for free and reduced cost stays. I racked up Mexicana, AeroMexico, and United frequent flyer miles.
During a visit one night in the summer of 2009 while laying in my hotel room, Federico’s appendix burst. I carried him to the curb and we got in a taxi to the nearest hospital. I learned more than I wanted to about Mexico’s health care system. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t exactly up to my standards. Over the next few months he had a few more health issues. He was certain he was on the mend. I was not very worried. He was surrounded by friends, family, and good doctors. There are worse things than appendix surgery. I had to get him a visa.
I visited again in August 2009. The plan was that I would come down for the month of December. I would rent an apartment in the affordable but very trendy Roma Norte neighborhood and he would move in for the month. If it went well, I was going to stay. I had no idea how I would make it work or what I would do for a living. I just knew that I was out of debt and didn’t need much. I always said that I lead a charmed life. It has always worked out and I knew it would all come together. Why would it stop now? Eventually there would be a nicer apartment, a puppy or two, trips to the beach, or even Europe, and parties with expats and new Mexican friends. Eventually the papers would come through and we could go to the United States and be together there. It was exciting and we dreamed big.
A friend of his called me one Saturday morning that October. Federico had died. To this day, I’m not sure what happened exactly. I just know his heart couldn’t handle it. I’m not sure if it was an improper dose of medicine, or infection, or something congenital that had gone undiagnosed. It didn’t matter. At 31 years, he was gone and as far as I was concerned, my world had ended. Our plans, our new life in Mexico City, and for then, my happiness was over. The next few weeks were the hardest of my life. I’ve lost a sister, and a few good friends along the way, but nothing could have prepared me for this. I thought I was strong. I thought nothing could really ever hurt me again. I was so very wrong.
There’s a song called “Crazy Faith” by Alison Krauss, in which she sings, “Love is lightning, love is ice. Love only strikes the lucky twice, once so you will know the price. . . .” I was driving my car the first time I heard that song just a few months ago. I was thankful for the red light. It took me by surprise. Tears came to the surface. I had never asked to know “the price.” I would give anything for my former ignorance.
Now, I am not all knowing. I cannot predict the future, nor can I predict a trajectory had the past taken a different path. But I cannot help but wonder. Perhaps, just maybe, if I had been able to marry the love of my life in the fall of 2007, then, perhaps the events of the fall of 2009 would have been very different. Maybe DOMA killed him.
Maybe, were it not for DOMA, just maybe I would have been home when his heart stopped beating and gotten him help in time. Or maybe the circumstances that lead to his appendix bursting would have been avoided. Maybe he would have been on my employer’s health plan, and maybe a routine check-up would have caught something. Because of DOMA, I will never know. I will never know the joy of showing Fedy the Grand Canyon or New York or Hollywood.
The Supreme Court has struck down DOMA. I will continue sleep on my side. I will lie down tonight with 3 pillows and I may even dream of what might have been. I’m devastated that it’s taken this long, that it’s too late for Federico and me. But I pray that this will be the beginning of a new era. I pray that my pain will be avoided by the thousands of binational couples waiting for a solution to their problem. And though many others may be sleeping on their sides, at least they will find the one they love next to them and not a handful of pillows.