A Toast to Jenny — and Her New Kidney

My oldest friend in the world is Jenny. I think we first had a class together in the third grade. Here’s us looking really dorky in the 5th grade, Mrs. Castro’s class. I am in the back row.


In high school, we didn’t hang out much. We attended the same college, though, and ended up taking inorganic chemistry together. For her, it became her future career. For me, I scraped by with a C, and the best thing to come out of my failed attempt at stoichiometry was our friendship.


Good times in college. Lori, me, Jenny in braces, Brent and my other close friend Kristie down in front. (The NyQuil was a joke, and I think those sunglasses were trendy at the time?)

About two years later, I transferred colleges out-of-state to try and pursue a nursing degree (and ended up switching to journalism). She was one of only two friends from “back home” who came to my graduation. She met all my new college friends, helped me pack, and rode with me in the moving van the entire 14-hour drive from Las Cruces, N.M. to Corpus Christi, Texas, where I had taken a job as a copy editor at the newspaper.


Yes, there are pictures of us not drinking, but they’re not as fun. Jenny is on the far left, I’m on the far right. This is “Y2K.”

Jenny’s always had a harder life than most of us. She was raised by her father, who was a good dad but was in a motorcycle gang and hung out with a really rough crowd. There was not much money to send her to college, but she did it.  After 7 years, she finally graduated. Like she did for me, I attended her graduation, along with our then-boyfriends, now-husbands.

I’ve since moved from Texas to New York to Mexico City, but Jenny and I have always been in touch. She got married, got a great job, bought a house, and is the proud mom to dogs Maggie and Annabel.

About a year and a half ago, during one of my trips home, Jenny pointed to her ankles, which were swollen. Her cholesterol and blood pressure were far beyond normal. A nephrologist diagnosed her with an autoimmune kidney disease known as IgA nephropathy. She started taking medicines and thought all would be well.

But each time I came home, Jenny seemed a bit more worse off. The swelling was expanding, moving upward, and hurting her. In September of last year, even her eyelids were swollen. She would press her puffy legs and it left lasting indentions in her flash. It meant two things: The medicine wasn’t working, and her kidneys were failing.

After finding a better doctor, she started more aggressive treatment in December, and promptly lost 40 pounds – all of it from fluid her kidneys were not flushing out. Since then, thrice-a-week dialysis has helped her stay healthy, but for a young woman who works a full-time job, it’s not a solution. A transplant is.

Jenny emailed me today: Her transplant is finally scheduled for June 26. A relative of hers is donating a kidney. I am ecstatic.

Through it all, she has been amazingly stoic. And optimistic. A few weeks ago, when I last visited, she even stayed up until past midnight with me, at a blues bar. As a group of us from high school caught up on recent goings-on, she shrugged off the murmurs of pity from us. But it was hard to deny: When she started sharing her struggle, I definitely felt a bit silly for whining about jet lag and traffic. As the night wore on, and we were the only two left from our group, an older woman came up to us at the bar and dragged us onto the dance floor.

Before we knew it, it was like old times again: we were dancing, in a bar. This time of age and far less reckless than our late teens/early 20s. Jenny may have been abstaining (no alcohol for her, of course), but it was as fun as it ever was.

(Yet Another) Fracking Earthquake in Mexico City

You know you live in a seismically psychotic area when this page from the U.S. Geological Survey is one of your more-visited bookmarks. Note the URL of the link — quakes_big.php.

So yeah, another month, another earthquake. Today’s was a 5.7 in the eastern state of Puebla, about two hours from here. (The temblor in April was to the west, and of a similar strength). It was deep down in the earth, which somehow lessens the damage potential of quakes, although things still sway like a drunkard at last call.

During today’s quake, it went something like this:

1. Me sitting at computer, editing an article on bipolar disorder. My 5th-floor apartment seemed to be moving — more than it usually does when heavy trucks go by. (Yes, they cause a vibrational swaying in my apartment, fun fun fun). I’m thinking: Quake, or truck? Quake, or truck? …..QUAKE.

2. I then hear a banging sound and I suddenly feel very dizzy — the world is moving. I yell “Pati?” — our housekeeper — and find her in the hallway. She takes off her headphones, stops walking, feels the more-than-usual swaying and hears the banging, and we look at each other. Sismo! our faces say. I immediately do a series of retarded things, since standing there feels useless:

  • I get my dog, who is conveniently already ready for transport in his carrier (he goes there when Pati visits).
  • I grab my purse. I put on shoes (so I can go outside, and also really bad earthquakes can cause a lot of broken glass).
  • I open our front door (I have fears of quakes causing the earth to move and all the doors/windows in house jamming shut).

3. Pati — who admittedly, as a local, is beyond acquainted with earthquakes — doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I ask her what we should do. She says it’s safer to stay in here than go downstairs. We have this conversation while the building keeps moving. I realize she’s right, although many people go outside after a quake, for fear of buildings collapsing.

4. The quake stops and that’s when my adrenaline comes rushing. I can barely speak b/c I’m now really feeling scared, but I tell her to call her kids using our phone (cell phones weren’t working). They’re OK.

5. Assessing that we’re OK, her kids are OK, and the world basically seems OK, I get back online, and precede to freak out, shaking with adrenaline. About 10 minutes later, the USGS posts the data on the quake, and Pati and I discuss how “fuerte” the quake felt.

What I still don’t understand, after experiencing approximately 5 earthquakes in under two years in Mexico is: How is it that an earthquake can feel so vividly powerful, yet not cause one thing to fall in the entire apartment? This goes without saying, but I simply can’t imagine the cataclysmic earthquake of 1985. As my friend Jonathan reminded me today, if my building, which was built in 1960, withstood that quake, it’s pretty damn strong. All the sway means it’s actually well-built — it (probably) won’t snap during the whiplashing.

I wish that were more comforting.

Random Pretty Photo: Drinks at the Beach

Drinks at Diamante K

Originally uploaded by joy.victory

As I’ve grown increasingly addicted to Facebook (my parents are on it now — yay!) I’ve let my blog slide. It’s also because I’ve been in Mexico going on two years, and over time, it gets less novel and more normal. Well, OK, it will never feel normal.

But, a quick glance at my photo archive on Flickr reveals to me that I’ve been able to experience some of the most beautiful places in Mexico, and that’s no small achievement.

Here is a shot of Brendan, my sister-in-law Suzanne, and her bf Tom, as we sip drinks on the beach at Diamante K in Tulum, Mexico. We visited in February. It was my *third* trip to Tulum (como se dice “spoiled?”) and I took fewer photos this time around, but the ones I did take, of course, show how effortlessly gorgeous the place is. Click the photo to see it in larger format.

I Hate Hotels…So, We Rented a Houseboat

During our four-night stay in San Francisco, we spent our first two nights in the city proper, at the Parc 55 Hotel. They totally screwed us over and put us in a smoking room, which reeked, making us feel like we reeked, too. No fun, especially for the price we were paying per night.

It’s a humongous hotel, fulllllllllll of foreign tourists and people visiting the city for conferences. Each trip up/down the elevator was crowded and stuffy. OK, so the location was handy, but that’s about where the charm ended.

For our last two nights, we rented a houseboat in Sausalito, California — just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Fran. (Via VRBO.com — a brilliant site for hotel haters, along with homeaway.com).

The view from inside the houseboat. At night, we had a view of the the houselights twinkling across the bay in Tiburon.

The view from inside the houseboat. At night, we had a view of the the houselights twinkling across the bay in Tiburon.

While the weather was less-than-ideal — it was always too chilly/rainy to sit on the patio — but the complete privacy, the full kitchen, the gorgeous marina views (both day and night), and the four-minute walk to downtown Sausalito made for a perfect mini-vacation. I spent a lot of time mentally patting myself on the back for coming up with this idea (or for marrying the person who came up with the idea — I can’t remember who between us originally suggested the idea).

Plus, the Redwoods (see previous post) were about a 20-minute drive from the houseboat, and Napa is allegedly only about an hour (we ran out of time for that, as much as I like wine.)

This was the entrance, after you parked.

This was the entrance, after you parked.

Even in crappy weather, Californians were out in their sailboats. Here's our view from the patio.

Even in crappy weather, Californians were out in their sailboats. Here's our view from the patio.

Sausalito is great for walking -- the drivers are gentle, and we saw a seal lion swimming around each time we were out and about.

Sausalito is great for walking -- the drivers are gentle and yield to pedestrians, and we saw a seal lion swimming around each time we were out and about.

We also found a great dive bar — Smitty’s — which was a nice contrast to uber-wealthy Sausalito. We knew we had finally found “wacky California” when a guy started playing table shuffleboard with his feet. And wow, I love good California beers! (Food there is excellent, fresh, creative and always a bit overpriced, kinda like California in general.)

Just a cool photo of me taking a photo of Brendan inside the houseboat, reflected by the bedroom mirror.

Just a cool photo of me taking a photo of Brendan inside the houseboat, reflected by the bedroom mirror and the sliding glass door.

Communing with Giant Trees, Other Tourists


It’s always been a dream of mine to see the redwood forests in California, and I finally got to do so yesterday. However, we chose to visit the forest closest to San Francisco — Muir Woods National Monument — which, even on a crappy weather day, was basically swamped with humans. It’s a mere 12 miles from the city, a fact both amazing — what a lovely treasure to have so nearby — and detracting — tour buses swarm the place by mid-morning.

So, in our effort to have a quiet moment with the trees, we rashly took a hike up and away from the main path, without a map, not much water, no food, and absolutely no rain gear. After several soggy miles (and constantly drenched eyeglasses), my love of the trees turned into grouchiness, and I demanded we go back, quickly.

So we did, but it was still worth it, and next time, I’d like to go back to the really big redwood forests on the Oregon border, and camp, well-prepared.

The trees are magical, and I couldn’t help but talk to them and even pet them. Yes, I’m crazy. Do I care? No.

The slugs are as surprisingly huge as the trees.

The slugs are as surprisingly huge as the trees.

I couldn't help but think of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

I couldn't help but think of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

I am relieved that we humans somehow managed to leave a few of these trees standing for future generations.

I am relieved that we humans somehow managed to leave a few of these trees standing for future generations.