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My Best Friend Wilma
by Lauren Schamaun
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She first started hanging around in Cincinnati. When she was with me, all of my energy disappeared. I could go to work or out to have fun for four hours and then I would be mysteriously compelled to come home. For the first time in my life, I became a homebody and I was not happy.

Having grown up on the East Coast, I thought that maybe the pollens in the Midwest were bothering my allergies. Maybe she came around and attached to flowers, grass and leaves. It could happen. People in Cincinnati claim their city as the Allergy Capital of the World. Well, I decided that if she called the Allergy Capital of the World home, then it was time for me to settle elsewhere.

We left home, family, great friends and a city we loved to move to Baltimore. Amazingly, we felt so free thinking, albeit mistakenly, that she had stayed in Ohio. She didn’t. She must have snuck onto the Uhaul in one of my husband’s random remnants from bachelorhood, like the huge Budweiser beer bottle bank. Where is that bank now? Hmmm.

Anyway, she didn’t like that I had tried to escape her. She returned with a vengeance, determined to make her presence known. Having followed me 500 miles, I should have known better than to assume she’d go quietly. So we were left with a choice. Just like the abandoned cat that adopted my family years ago and made our house its home, she squeezed her way through the door and made herself comfortable. We could continue to put up a losing fight or we could throw up the white flag and embrace our new friend.

Into our home she came. The longer she stayed the more we realized that she needed a name. We couldn’t very well keep yelling “Girl!” every time she did something wrong. Missy? Fluffy? Flopsie? Nope, too cute. She’s too annoying to carry off a cute name. She needed a name that fit her personality. She’s loyal and VERY persistent, to say the least. She’s challenging--not like one of those people that you click with immediately. And since it was obvious she wasn’t leaving, I had to find a way to live with this huge challenge.

Who do I know that’s persistent? Well, I don’t know her, but Wilma Rudolph has always been someone who inspired me. She was a persistent, determined woman who overcame what seemed like an insurmountable challenge to be great. While we’re talking about Wilmas, Wilma Flintstone was pretty great, too. She juggled a lot as she successfully cared for her crazy husband and modern stone age family. I can still hear Fred’s voice bellowing, “Willllllmaaaaaaa!” in response to something that had plagued him. Wilma. It has meaning and it’s fun to yell. And it’s not too common, so I don’t risk offending a whole lot of people that I had named my nuisance of a new friend, Wilma. Wilma, it is.

Since welcoming her into our family, we’ve had a difficult time adjusting to her. In March of 2002, doctors confirmed Wilma’s family background. Wilma is a member of the Lupus family. Although she acts like a diva, she’s no Madonna or Cher; she has a first and last name…Wilma Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can have a variety of negative effects on your body’s systems. The immune system in a healthy person attacks foreign substances and unhealthy cells that can harm your body. The immune system in a person with Lupus is in overdrive and attacks the healthy cells that your body needs to function properly. So in essence, a person with lupus is her own worst enemy. It’s hard to not get down on yourself when it’s your own body that is causing you major problems. That’s why, for the last year, I’ve found some comfort in separating Wilma Lupus from her alter ego Lauren Schamaun. Lauren Schamaun is happy, healthy, fun loving and energetic. Wilma, on the other hand, is happiest when she is completely lethargic and about as active as a dead fish. By allowing both of my personalities room to flourish, I am somehow able to retain my sanity. I’m not the problem, Wilma is.

Wilma has been scary to live with at times. She’s at least twice as old as me, but she seems to love inhabiting my otherwise healthy 27-year-old body. Lots of healthy cells to attack, I guess. She has slowed my body down so intensely that sometimes I forget that I’m not 50 years old yet. If I feel this bad when I’m 27, part of me worries that at 50 I’ll be ready for the nursing home and Willard Scott’s birthday announcements.

Wilma makes my legs numb from the knees down and my hands, too, for no reason. You know how it feels when you’ve crossed your legs too long and then as your leg “wakes up” you feel all kinds of intense pins and needles? I used to think that was pretty neat when I was a kid. Now Wilma does that trick for me at least once daily and I don’t even have to do anything to trigger it.

With Wilma around, I can’t stand up for very long. Instead of me giving up my seat for old ladies, old ladies are giving up their seats for me. I have to make decisions about where I can go and what I can do based on whether or not I’ll be able to sit. Dancing? Out of the question. Grocery shopping? Only if I can sit in the cart or ride on one of those scooters. Cooking dinner? Sure, but I’ve gotta bring a chair into the kitchen. Going to the Mall? Maybe, but only if there’s a REALLY good sale, I’ve got the energy to be a marathoner and I have a day or two to recover from the activity. Too bad Wilma didn’t come with wheels.

In all my life I’ve always tried to be more of a warrior instead of a worrier. I’d rather get up and try to fix a problem instead of sit around doing nothing but listening to the smash hit “What if?” on my inner walkman. I knew what I wanted to do with my life since when I was little and I was content to plug away getting closer to my dreams. But now that Wilma’s entered the picture, my future has gone from bright, sunny and crystal clear to really blurry. It’s like one of those Magic Eye pictures which looks like a blurry, jumbled mess of colors until you stare at it so long that something pops out at you. I always was jealous of people who could see the 3-D images, because to this day I can’t. That’s how I feel about my future. Maybe someone else can see the clear image, but all I can see right now is the blurry mess.

More than anything, I want to be a mom. A great, fun, do-everything-with-her-kids, mom. Wilma doesn’t make pregnancy and childbirth impossible, but it’s possible that the trauma your body undergoes during childbirth will make Wilma very angry and flare up. Not only do I worry about how Wilma will affect my life and well being after having a bundle of joy, but I also worry about how she will affect my kids. Will my kids end up with Wilma as a mom instead of me? Will she make it hard for me to pick them up? Will I have to miss their football games or school plays because Wilma makes me stay home? Will my little first-grader have to learn to do his own laundry and make his own lunches because mommy’s too tired? Will they have to worry if Mom will live to see them graduate from high school? Some of these fears are valid and some of them are not. Wilma may be with me for the rest of my life, she may shorten my life or, if I’m lucky, she’ll get as sick of me as I am of her and leave me in peace. Who knows?

Since I don’t know what Wilma’s got planned for the future, I guess I need to find some way to coexist peacefully. She’s a pain in my neck…elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees and ankles. She must weigh 50 pounds or so because that’s how much extra I’ve carried around since we first met. She’s a nocturnal being who would rather sleep during the day and play at night. I swear that while I’m sleeping, she must go play chicken on the highway because I frequently wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack Truck. She must think that I have too much hair because every time I shower, she likes to leave tons of hair in the drain. She’s a very jealous woman, she’d rather me be at home with just her watching Friends or sleeping than playing sports, enjoying the great outdoors, visiting friends or spending quality time with my husband. She has absolutely no conviction about punctuality.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s not inherently evil. She’s got lots of great qualities, too. How many other friends would move 500 miles for me? She is extremely loyal and with her around, I’m never alone. She even likes to be with me when I’m crazy and emotional. That’s saying a lot, because not even my husband likes that side of me. She loves to sleep, so she never gets offended when I just want to take a nap or lay around in my pajamas when we’re together. She makes a great scapegoat. “I can’t stay too long, you know how Wilma gets.” “Wilma’s running a little behind, sorry we’re late.” “Bowling on Saturday? Gee, I’m sorry—you know, Wilma.” (I hate bowling.)

Wilma has slowed me down from a fast-paced always doing something for someone lifestyle, to a calm, relaxed, stop and plant the roses then tend to them then smell them existence. And I have to tell you, it’s not all bad. Wilma has opened up all kinds of parking options with the lovely little blue placard she came with. I’m now pretty much caught up on all of the movies I’ve wanted to see. My house is now a craftily decorated tribute to TLC’s Trading Spaces.

Wilma and I have taken up all kinds of new hobbies. I am now quite the accomplished seamstress and cross stitcher. Old lady hobbies? I used to think so, but when you’re body is twice as old as your mind, your body usually wins the what do we do for entertainment vote. I’ve learned to cook desserts from scratch out of desperation for chocolate and an absence of energy to go to the store. I am a practicing yogi, and I love my dates with Rodney Yee and my yoga mat. Wilma and I are both also happy as clams when we’re swimming at the Y.

Despite all the challenges that she has brought to my life, I am grateful to her for how she has broadened my horizons. Wilma has given me a new set of eyes that has allowed me to see my life more clearly than I ever had before. For starters, Wilma has showed me a side of my husband that I never would have expected to see and yet am so grateful for. When I first met him 7 years ago, I knew he was incredible and now after nearly five years of marriage and Wilma, I know he is amazing. He does such an outstanding job of taking care of us. He has had to accept all of the changes that Wilma has brought to my life, too. He faces those changes with a resolve that gives me strength and a patience that gives me security. He never complains when I have to cancel plans, when he packs my lunch, when he cooks me dinner or when he makes an emergency 7-11 run for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. With Wilma as my biggest enemy, it is so comforting to have Brian as my strongest ally.

Wilma is no match for him. He has proven already that he won’t let her beat me down. There’s a lot that he can’t control, and I know it kills him to see me hurt, but he will do anything he can to help me even a little. He not only is my best friend, my husband, my lover and my confidante, but he has recently become my chauffeur, my pharmacist, my butler, my maid, my chef, my masseuse and my therapist. I love him even more deeply now than I ever have and I have Wilma to thank for opening my eyes to see his great love for me.

But I think that the greatest blessing that Wilma has brought into my life is not a sense of what Brian is worth, but a sense of what I am worth. All of my life I’ve exhibited the classic signs of a type A personality: obnoxiously organized, neurotically neat, absolutely ambitious and practically perfect. I wanted to be President of the United States and solve the world’s problems. Along the way, I planned to love God, love my family, get straight A’s, play sports, perform in plays and do anything else I could possibly make time for. Without realizing it, I quickly built a system of self-worth based on my resume-what I did or what I could do. When I was doing lots, I was happy. Whenever I would get sick and temporarily have to stop doing something, I would feel guilty and horrible about myself.

When Wilma and I first became acquainted, I was constantly jostling with her for control of my schedule, my life and my confidence. I quickly became unable to “do” anymore. I could barely work, never mind have the energy to do things for others or even hang out and have fun. Some of my closest friends worried about me. They thought something had to be “wrong” with me if I was no longer running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

I knew that I was having problems physically, but at first, I wasn’t convinced that there was anything else wrong. But as I fought with Wilma and fought with my friends to believe I was still me, I started to believe what my friends were saying. Had Wilma really changed who I was? Or was it possible that I was still me with just different abilities? Could I still be great even though I couldn’t do what I was used to?

It’s taken quite a bit of time for me to come up with my answer. And even now, on a daily basis, I have to remind myself of it. I am me, Lauren Schamaun. Wilma has changed me, but for the better. My family and friends loved me before I met Wilma Lupus and I could run all over town like an insecure Wonder Woman. They love me now even though I sometimes cancel plans on them, don’t get to see them as often or show up late and leave early. I am still me. But if you invite me over for dinner, expect me to be a few minutes late, expect me to show you my latest cross-stitch and make sure you have room for Wilma.

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