Zebra Boyfriend, Esq.

9 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write since cancer came knockin’ and while I’ve been processing all that’s changed in our lives, I’ve yet to come up with a coherent thought. Yet, there are a few things worth noting:

1. The “Girlfriend” Problem

I feel awkward when explaining Colleen’s illness on several levels, but for people who don’t know who Colleen is in relation to me I am forced to use the word “girlfriend,” as in: “My girlfriend has cancer.” As an aside, the word girlfriend immediately reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke: “I don’t have a girlfriend but I do know a woman who would be mad at me for saying that.” The word girlfriend has always bothered me mainly because it doesn’t match the feelings I have for Colleen, and yet I struggle to find a better word. “Partner” is more fitting, but confuses people because we’re not gay. In addition to not being gay, we’re not married nor engaged so neither “wife” nor “fiancée” work. So I’m stuck with a word that almost trivializes our relationship and begs a response from Liz Lemon a la “Deal Breakers:” “Not married after six years? That’s a Dealbreaker!” So I’ve been brainstorming some other options:

  • “Intimate Life Partner”
  • “Future Spouse”
  • “My Lady Friend”
  • “My Special Lady Friend”
  • “My Consort”

Recommendations welcomed.

2. Babies make me sad (and then angry, and then sad).

As time has passed, the fear and uncertainty surrounding Colleen’s mortality has subsided. But it has given way to a fear about the reality that Colleen is unable to get pregnant. The two of us contemplated and talked about adoption pre-Cancer. But there is  a lingering sadness, more for Colleen than for myself, that we may never have a child that is “ours” in the biological sense. There is of course what I refer to as the “Sci-Fi Option:” a surrogate pregnancy using eggs from the frozen strip of ovary in storage in some lab with the help of Doctor Cool and sponsorship, oddly enough, from Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation. This isn’t so much of a long shot as it once was especially given how rapidly the technology needed is changing (is it not weird to associate technology with reproduction?), but it’s no certainty. In essence, I have a visceral response to young children lately but maybe more significantly, I’m anticipating Colleen’s response to children in the reality we inhabit now. I don’t begrudge the fertile or the child-rearing among us nor have I become self righteous about how adoption is so much better anyway. But I’ve contemplated these responses and kept them to myself (which is, of course, for the best). I’m sure at some point clarity will emerge, or some semblance of it, but for now, I’ll be satisfied to muddle through. So it goes.

3. The Young and the Hairless

There is a theme of hairlessness in our family and by family I mean me, Colleen and the dog. I am, if only slightly, balding. Colleen is losing her hair as a result of chemotherapy, and our dog Penny has had oddly naked armpits and stomach for as long as we have known her. In solidarity with Colleen (and to lessen the effect of my own balding) I have cut my hair very short and Penny has agreed not to grow any more hair on her stomach for the time being. We plan to buzz Colleen’s hair before it starts coming out in massive clumps and we’ll put up some pictures of this process as soon as it happens. For now I’ve been telling her, “enjoy your hair while you still can.”

Before her hair disappears, I have this to share: Colleen, with her new-ish glasses, and current hair style looks A LOT like Michael Douglas in the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel “Wonder Boys.”


Totally looking for levity,



4 Responses to “Zebra Boyfriend, Esq.”

  1. Jonathan November 10, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    Very nice post Chris, it’s great to hear (that is, read) from you on here.

    In response to the semantics muddling your & Colleen’s title, I humbly offer my immediate visceral impressions on your new suggestions:
    Intimate Life Partner – Still gay
    Future Spouse – Equivalent to “fiance,” and thus confusing
    My Lady Friend – Someone you are sleeping with
    My *Special* Lady Friend – Someone you are really pumped to be sleeping with
    My Consort – Strangely formal and businesslike, while simultaneously calling to mind underground rap group Antipop Consortium

    In conclusion, I think you may be stuck with “girlfriend.” However, if it’s any solace, I often feel that the word “wife,” is insufficient to encapsulate my relationship with, and feelings toward, Emily (consider, after all, how many people speak disparagingly about their wives). I suspect that whatever label you guys choose and/or end up with, you would quickly feel that it inherently has the same deficiencies. Thus is the problem with language as a whole (I quote the character Puff from the film “Human Nature”: “Words–words words words. Words are evil! Are they not evil, these words we use?”). Anyway, be comforted in the fact that anybody who knows you and Colleen, and has been fortunate enough to send some time in your company, is already well aware of how special you two are together, and the privileged nature of your love. As for Liz Lemon et al., who really gives a fuck what they think anyway?

    Glad to see Penny is playing along with the hair policy. And, since you’ve now eternally etched in my mind the juxtaposition of Colleen with an old, burned-out Michael Douglas, maybe the new hairdo won’t be so bad after all. Here’s hoping, anyway.

    As for the babies…whoever they come from biologically, they would/will be lucky to have the two of you as parents. If I had a crystal ball, I trust it would show me an image of you guys as a very happy family several years from now.

  2. Marisa November 10, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    lady friend is cute but reminds me of what seniors call their signif others haha. if it is any consolation my boyfriend hates the word girlfriend too and i hate both words (bf & gf) but as aforementioned in your post all the alternatives are somewhat awkward. girlfriend is just what society has come up with so i am afraid that’s what ya gotta go with (or propose! haha jokes… well kinda).

    the wonder boys comparison is so spot on! well played.

    also, as someone who is adopted, i must echo the comment above me and say that regardless of where your future kids might come from they will be in amazing hands with you two; however, i can’t lie… when meg told me about colleen’s hysterectomy my heart broke for her simply because when that is not your own choice it somehow seems remarkably unfair!

  3. Mama-Zebra November 10, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    I call you, and others in the family with similar status, a “Sig”. This is short for “significant”, not just to each other, but to your mutual families and friends. You are individuals who by virtue of the commitment and love shared between one of us, and you: has opinions and feelings that carry weight; must be considered in plans and decisions; and we love. This status is very different from that of a Boyfriend, who in our world, does not merit much more than an affectionately deprecating nickname. We are not an easy group to ingratiate oneself into.
    The night after the day I found out about the cancer, I told my brother how amazing and wonderful you are with my daughter. I told him how comforting it is for me to know that “He loves her as much as I do”. This knowledge is so much more than any mother can ask of a “sig”, by any name. I thank you.

  4. Barbara Call November 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi Chris: while I life Bobbi’s moniker of Sig, I would like to add some possibilities: ” My Sweet Baboo, “Lovebug”, which I use for favorite family members and my favorite: “my colleen” as in my pretty irish girl. Your hair looks great!

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