We received this email a few weeks ago from a silent follower of our blog. After reading our requirements for being a guest blogger, this was his response. It was a unanimous decision by the four of us to publish it (with his permission, of course.) As you will see, Barry Willdorf is a witty man with a great attitude. He's also a fantastic writer. His novel, The Flight of the Sorceress, is a gripping, historical novel about two very strong women of the ancient Roman empire. (Something we admire here on our blog. g) If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. (g)
My Qualifications for your blog.
Dear Four Strong Sisters, please accept my application to guest blog with you. My qualifications, in addition to being published by Marci Baun at Wild Child Publishing are many, but what I believe most qualifies me is that I have no Y chromosomes - no Y guys. I, like you, assuming you are really sisters in some sense of the word, am a Dos Equis.
How, you may well ask did this come about? I mean, guys have Ys. And I did too. For most of my life. I wore the pants in the family. At least one pair of them at a time. My wife of long standing prefers pants as well. We are easy that way. So for a long time we've been a kind of two pair of pants family. Perhaps that made it easier.
This transformation, if you can call it that, because I am not a tranny, came about most unexpectedly. We'd just returned from a vigorous excursion in New Zealand. Four days of ocean kayaking and a 33 mile hike on the Milford Track. I took an annual physical shortly after. Feeling great. The doc calls with the results a few days later and wants to see me. Uh Oh.
"Barry, you've got an elevated B count in your blood."
"What's that mean?"
"Could be an infection. Could be leukemia."
We check again in another month and I'm off to an oncologist with a diagnosis of some kind of leukemia. Yikes. "So how long've I got doc?"
Most of these are slow growing, he tells me. He's got patients out fourteen years or so with it. I'm a lawyer by trade. I want to make a deal. "Get me twenty." Same as a new roof warranty or maybe a mortgage payoff. Seemed reasonable.
So we "negotiate" around with different drugs. Three months later, he looks at me glumly. "Barry, you ain't got the fourteen year kind. You got the three year kind."
He sends me down to Stanford to see the big wigs. A doc, who I've come to admire, respect and really like, tells me "he's going to sound like a used car salesman. But the fact is that there is only one chance you've got to beat those odds, and that's a stem cell transplant. But I have to warn you, we call it the 'heroes cure.'"
"Because six percent die going into it. Another 30-40% die on the way out of it. And about 50% of the rest need to be on steroids for the rest of their lives. But it's the only cure, if such a word is appropriate."
Okay, doc. I'll go hero in your face.
Miraculously, a few months later, and after a close pass with death, I get a donor -- a twenty-four year old half-Mexican, half-Jewish woman, who I've since befriended. She's beautiful, by the way. A married teacher. Still I start calling her my inner trophy wife.
"Anything else you want to tell me about this transplant?" I ask.
"Well," he said, scratching his chin and grinning devilishly. "If it works, you'll have all her blood and none of your own. You won't have any more Y chromosomes."
"Does this me that if I rob a bank and leave a spot of blood as evidence, they'll think a girl pulled the stickup?"
"Could be," he nods, "If they don't follow up with DNA."
"So doc, will I become all ....girly?"
"I mean, will I start asking for directions? Listening intently to conversations about relationships. Will I develop . . . empathy? Stop watching war movies. You know, things like that?"
"We've got no data on that. If that happens, check back with me. I'll make a note of it."
"And what about sex? Kind of an important issue. Am I, um, going to change, let's say preferences?"
"We've seen no problem there, Barry. But don't expect to feel so up for it. This treatment is going to kick the shit out of you. Believe me, you'll want to sleep more than make love. Think of it like road repair. When that happens, you're forced to slow down."
Well, I go through with the transplant. Nearly die one more time. I'm about eighty percent engrafted. It's looking good. And then, the Y guys counter-attack. They ain't going easily. In a bizarre way, I'm feeling a little proud that the Ys stayed in the fight. They took a beating from the chemo and radiation but their like, fighting back from the trenches and beaches and mountain strongholds. Little guerilla warriors. And I don't have leukemia. Yippee.
So over the next two and a half years, the Y guys re-conquer the turf. Good? Bad? None of us are sure. Then, after I go to a conference in D.C. I get another of those calls. You know the ones. Every TV soap has them. "Got some bad news, and some good news."
I'm in a glass half-empty mood. You get that way with the Big C. You hear the phone ring and wonder. Will this be the call? "Okay, doc. Bad news first."
Bad news: "Cancer's showed up."
"CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) like I had before?"
"Nope, worse. Now it's T-Cell leukemia."
I knew about that. During the first pre-transplant prep, they thought that I might have that one. It's got a seven-month life expectancy, untreated. I thought I'd dodged that bullet, but the good old Y guys not only made a comeback but they decided to go nuclear on my ass. See what you get for trying.
I sighed. "I suppose I should ask. So, what's the good news?"
"Your donor's willing to give it up for you again. We can take a second shot at it if you're game. And this time I promise you we'll put up a better fight."
Oh G-d. "Another round of crappy prep. Another sex percent shot at quick death."
"No, on redos it's up to fifteen percent," Doc interrupted. "And a fifty percent failure rate."
"That's good news?"
"Well, the games not over, unless you want it to be."
I look at my wife. Can we go through this again? Her 24/7 care giving. Stuck in semi-solitary for a hundred days straight. Limited social life for a year. Drugs. Drugs and drugs for the drugs and drugs for those drugs and drugs for the drugs for the drugs.
"Sounds good to me," I finally say.
"Great, I'll get right on it," says Doc.
So last May, it happened again. And now, I'm pushing Marci. Let's get it on. Let's get Flight of the Sorceress published already. I'd like to see it out there. I'd like it in print sure, but I'm not going to be in any condition to sell books for a year anyway. So, E-book is okay for now. But she's a stickler, she is. She wants her stuff to look good. She's got this nitty-picky thing about POV. I know the type. My wife's a librarian. And anyway, either I'm going to be a stiff or a Dos Equis, so I might as well play ball.
And now they tell me, they can't find any more Y guys. I've got med problems, sure. I'll probably always have them and Old Damocles's sword still hangs right over my head. But I've calmed down a lot. I do tend to ask for directions more. I find myself listening to conversations about relationships and even contributing. I know a little more about empathy. But I still kinda like old war movies too. I've paid a big price to qualify as a Dos Equis. So what do you say X-girls. Cut me some slack?
We are more than willing to cut you some slack Barry. We are delighted that you wrote us and agreed to be one of our guest bloggers. You are welcome back any time.
More about Barry Willdorf:
The Flight of the Sorceress blurb:
As the Roman Empire crumbles, the Catholic Church fills the power vacuum by launching attacks on classical culture. Books are burned. Women are restricted from traditional occupations. The lives of pagans and Jews are imperiled. The Dark Ages loom.
But two women, Glenys, a Celtic herbalist and healer, and Hypatia, teacher, philosopher, mathematician and the last librarian of the great library at Alexandria, resist. Though one is branded a sorceress and the other an idolator, they refuse to submit to the demands of the state-sanctioned religious leaders. Their struggle culminates in the cataclysmic events of Lenten week in 415 A.D.
Can anything be preserved?
Aquae Sulis (Bath), Britannia: Spring 410 A.D.
Glenys was roused from sleep by pounding at the door. It was well past midnight. Concerned that the tumult would awaken the old woman in her care, she gathered her bedclothes about her and stumbled barefoot across the drafty hut with only the light of stars and a waning crescent moon through an open window to guide her. Reaching the door, she pushed aside the hide that covered its peephole to spy the face of a man who had always viewed her with contempt. His ruddy nose glowed by the flickering light of the torch he held. Dank hair matted his forehead. Great beads of sweat clung to his eyebrows and moustache, like raindrops on the eaves of a hut.
His sour odor seeped through the cracks in the door, making her gasp. “What do you want?” she hissed. “It’s late and you’re waking the whole town.”
He was panting heavily and obviously had been running. “Are you Glenys? Glenys, who is the healer?”
“What if I am?”
“I hoped to find you at the baths but Ceallaigh told me to try here.”
“You’re breaching the peace, you know. What is it you want?”
“It’s me, the thatcher. My w…wife,” he sputtered. “Come quickly. She cannot…the baby…is stuck… Please, Lady Glenys, come. We need you.”
Glenys cautiously pulled back the bolt.
The thatcher pushed aside the door and clamped a powerful hand around her wrist. Instinctively, Glenys pulled back but was unable to free herself.
“We do not live far from here,” he blurted before she could protest. “We need your help right away.” Without awaiting her reply, he pulled Glenys down the alley and then through a maze of passages until the shrieks of the mother became audible. Women were standing in doorways, their hands over their mouths, shaking their heads and choking back tears. Men, bleary-eyed, peered over their wives’ shoulders looking worried.
“It’s just right over…here,” the thatcher stuttered, pointing with his torch to a cottage that boasted a door of polished planking and matching shutters, in distinction from those around it—signs of his prosperity. He set the torch in an iron cradle, pulled clumsily at the latch and burst in, Glenys still tightly within his grasp.
A circle of flaming torches illuminated a young girl lying naked on a bed of soiled sheepskins. Shading her eyes from the glare with her free hand, Glenys gazed into terrified blue eyes desperately pleading for succor. She gulped a breath, gagging on the acrid black smoke that hung in the low rafters like a prescient storm cloud and sniffed the sobering odors of urine and of broken water.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Glenys observed that the girl’s tongue had become swollen, likely from dehydration, and now drooped to the side of her contorted mouth as if she were a shipwrecked sailor expiring of thirst.
Her thin child’s legs were splayed wide, knees fully bent, soles flat on the sheepskin. She shivered frightfully.
The image of her mother, who had lovingly taught her the contraceptive secrets of Queen Anne’s Lace and pennyroyal danced before Glenys’ eyes. Glenys unconsciously ran a hand over her mature hip. She’s no more than fourteen years of age. Hardly five years separates us, but it is all the difference.
A gray-haired crone with a misshapen skull and a face as deeply crevassed as the bark on an ancient oak ceased daubing the girl with a wet cloth and squinted at the newcomer. Licking her barren gums with a colorless tongue, she cocked her head and with a gnarled finger gestured at the girl’s vulva. “She’s a small one, she is.”
The girl shrieked.
A second woman, younger than the crone, the girl’s mother, Glenys guessed, put her hands to her temples and began to cry out, “Dear God, dear God.”
Glenys bit hard into her lip to keep from chuckling. The woman’s face appeared to her as an exaggerated pair of pendulous cheeks like sacks of the flour hung from the rump of the miller’s ass. Glenys felt a hot blush of guilt. I am a healer, and this is a matter of life and death. She regained her composure and plucked a torch from the circle.
Holding the fire as close as she dared, she knelt down to examine the girl closely, running educated fingers first along the cervix and then probing further inside. To no one in particular, she reported, “She is ready to deliver but the head’s not engaged. I’m feeling the baby’s rear. It’s breached, and the feet are caught. I’ll try to push the baby back and free its feet.”
The girl screamed again and the muscles of her abdomen tensed.
Glenys pushed away from the child and stretched to relieve her own cramping. She accepted a damp cloth from the old woman, wiped her hands and turned to the thatcher. “Your wife is very young and very small,” she explained. “Unless I’m able to relax her sufficiently so I can free the baby’s feet, they both will surely die.” Failing to make eye contact, she shook her head and addressed the mother. “Even then, I can’t promise success. The baby’s head will come out last. It may be too large for her. If that’s the case, the only thing to do is to cut the baby free.” Again she turned to the husband. “Your wife will certainly die if cutting must be done, but I cannot do it. Just three weeks ago, the vortigern prohibited all women from performing surgery. Perhaps you saw the edict nailed to the door of the old temple? You must summon the physician at once.”
The thatcher’s mouth opened and shut like a netted salmon. Balling his fleshy hands into ham hock fists, he pounded his temples. “The physician . . . cannot . . . be found,” he sputtered. “We looked for him before I came to you.” He fell to his knees and, looking up at the woman towering above, clasped his hands at his chest. “She is only fourteen, Lady Glenys. Only fourteen. Please help her, I beg of you.” The mother too was praying now, her hands pressed together, mouthing the words of a psalm.
Glenys had little hope. She wiped the perspiration from her brow with the sleeve of her nightgown and attended once more to the screaming girl, whose feeble attempts to writhe were being foiled by exhaustion. Absent a miracle, the young girl and her baby were both going to die. Taking an iron key that hung from a cord around her neck, she dangled it and addressed the thatcher, hardly sparing him another look. “How well do you know the baths?”
The thatcher glanced briefly at his mother-in-law before averting his gaze toward the rafters. “Not…”
“…well.” Glenys ventured. “But I am certain you will find it without difficulty. Be quick. This key will open the gate. Go to the great pool. At the far end there’s a hall. The first door you come to will be my treatment chamber. Inside you’ll see shelves. Upon the top shelf, in a blue basket, there you’ll find herbs. The one you are looking for has leaves of dark blue-green and the smell will remind you of a skunk. Bring me that basket in all haste!”
The thatcher snatched the key and rushed from the cottage.
“What herb is that?” asked the old crone.
“A rare herb,” said Glenys. “I obtained it from a Jew in Clausentium who trades with Palestinia. It should relax the girl so that I can manipulate her baby.”
The old woman fussed with the wattle beneath her chin. “From Palestinia, you say? I’ve heard of this herb. You will burn it, yes? The girl will breathe the smoke and lose her senses? Is this the herb?”
Glenys scrutinized the woman before responding. “Perhaps, I’ve not used it before. But this is an emergency and I’ve been told that in Egypt they use this herb for difficult childbirths.”
I hope it’s still there, Glenys prayed silently. With luck, Ceallaigh’s not gotten round to dismantling my chamber yet. But he’s become so erratic... Could it have been just three weeks? So much has changed since that night.