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Yesterday, I changed my maiden name to my legal married surname, just like that.  With one simple stroke of a pen, I went from Miss to Missus.

Yesterday, Danica Roem changed the political landscape of our entire country. With one simple election day, she went from Miss to State Assemblywoman.

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I remember when Danica legally changed her name from Dan Roem to Danica Roem. Her task was not so simple. She encountered loads of leading questions from state offices, misidentifying her gender AND her name. The process took months. Pronouns became paramount–and evidently too difficult for people to manage. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Two summers ago, Danica came to visit me in Petersburg, VA, presenting for the first time (at least in my presence) as female. True to form,  she flashed me almost immediately. I felt an instant pang of jealousy: this bitch was prettier AND bustier than I was. We spent a couple of hours catching up, uncovering the fact that according to my endocrinologist and hers, I actually had more testosterone coursing through my blood than she did. She also joined me for a 12-step meeting to support my recovery. In a predominately conservative crowd, I felt protective of her, yet she was the one who made me feel comforted. She joked that during the circle-up at the end of the meeting, she was wondering if anyone noticed her jangling male parts protruding under her skirt. No one did. Since then, the Serenity Prayer circle-up makes me laugh every time. Throughout our visit, she was more amped to hear about my recovery than she was concerned about touting her own transformation. I guess you could say I was presenting as a sober woman for the first time, and she was THERE. FOR. IT.

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Danica and I met in college at Saint Bonaventure University. She sat next to me in my junior year (her senior year) Government class. People gave her shit for constantly raising her hand. I thought she was brilliant. At the time, she was Dan. Not many people knew what to do when this metal head vocalist in a band called Cab Ride Home schooled pretentious co-eds about parliamentary procedure. Dan had long hair and a wide range of opinions on literally everything. I’ve never told her this, but I actually took notes on what SHE had to say, not our professor. I felt like Dan knew more about the issues that mattered to me.

I don’t know the exact moment we became friends. I think it was after class one day when I had finally mustered the guts to raise my hand and participate in the discussion. I was, of course, extremely insecure and self-conscious. She approached me after class to tell me she liked what I had to say. I felt so flattered; here was this loquacious and learned journalism student who knew more about legislation than most Congresspeople with paid legislative staff could ever pay to know. How did I catch the attention of such a special person?

We kept in touch after she graduated. We texted each other with a couple of emails sprinkled into our communications. Then Facebook messenger came around, and we became closer. In 2009, a year after I graduated, Danica and I reconnected. We met at a bar in Richmond to share a few beers. She was back from touring with her band in Germany. I will never forget when she sheepishly reported that she had something to tell me: she was gay. I was thrilled to hear this news, as my best and most entertaining experiences in friendship life were almost exclusively with gay men. It was at this bar where she recounted a story I will never forget. She described hooking up with a dude while masterfully inserting the infamous Mortal Combat catchphrase “FINISH HIM!!!” into the anecdote. It had been a long time since I laughed that hard.

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In 2013, I received a major phonecall. I was visiting with a friend in San Diego. We had just gone swimming while drinking, one of my most favorite ill-advised activities at the time. I saw that “Dan” was calling, so I immediately answered. Dan was on the line to tell me that she would be transitioning to Danica. I remember squealing so loudly that I thought we might get busted for waking up the apartment complex. We talked for over an hour about what this meant for her identity, her livelihood and her politics. She was candid and eloquent about her transition process. Counseling, hormone therapy, gender identification, fears, hopes and ambitions. I felt so lucky. It took me a few fumbles with the pronouns “she” and “her,” yet she made the effort to make me comfortable. Her selflessness has never wavered.

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On Christmas Eve 2016, I got engaged. Danica was one of the first people I told. She called me almost immediately. She was thrilled, lovely, gracious and adoring. A couple of months passed, and Danica had some news for me, too. She would be running to unseat Bob Marshall. After a few minutes of gushing settled our excited shrieks, she asked me to be her campaign manager. I nearly lost my shit.

But it wasn’t the time.

Danica offered me the most precious of campaign positions, short of being someone’s spouse. She believed in my abilities when I had long since abandoned my political organizer status. Her faith in our friendship was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I gave her proposition a lot of thought, but I realized that finishing school, waitressing and preparing for a wedding had me by the proverbial balls. I would not do her extraordinary candidacy the justice it deserved. She understood–of course she did–and she continued forward.

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As most of us in the campaign world accept with a blistering resignation, the two weeks before E-day are the hardest of all. With that intimate knowledge, I stood awestruck when I glanced up from my fateful walk down the aisle to see her smiling face among the guests at my wedding ceremony. Danica had battled the rush hour DC Beltway traffic to witness the marriage of me to my husband. In essence, she suspended her campaign for one afternoon–an action considered incomprehensible to campaigners and candidates alike–to watch one of her very own friends have her day. She sacrificed a crucial weekend day on her campaign to be there for my E-day, with her signature rainbow bandanna adorning her head like a crown.

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Danica, you are one of my very best friends. I am honored to know you, because to know you is to love you. In mine, and now the world’s eyes, you are love.

And with that, I will sign off as Danica always does, reminding us to rock on. Go forth and prosper, my Queen.

 

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Los Reci√©n Casados (The Honeymooners)

We started our¬†luna de miel¬†with a missed connection in Atlanta. There were tears–there were many tears. But they dried when the dude at Delta’s customer service counter upgraded our seats to First Class on the last flight of the day leaving for San Jose, Costa Rica. The subsequent eight-hour layover resulted in our first Atlanta 12-step meeting. My husband insisted on getting a good start on our photo-journalism tour of Central America with an airport picture for posterity:

Corn on the ceiling
I don’t get it. Was the peach bad company?

We made it to San Jose in roughly five hours. The internet did not come with us. Though Waze was available every now and again, we felt supremely confident that we could mesh our Rosetta Stone and Kitchen Spanish-speaking skills to ask for directions if we needed them–WHEN we needed them. I’ll spare you the details of our trip from Hertz rental cars to the phantom toll booth peaje de fantasma¬†where we were forced to drive backward on a one-way highway. I don’t know why I didn’t hit “avoid tolls” on Waze, because here in Los Estados Unidos, I firmly believe highway tolls are unconstitutional. I refuse to pay them in dollars or colones. My stubborn streak forced us to learn the word and deeper meaning of “change” in Spanish: cambio. We had to, considering we only had a $100 bill to pay a $2 toll. Lady Luck would have come to visit the teller if we chose to surrender to our own ignorance.

The policia took pity on us, too. Our language barrier resulted in a telephone call to the b&b bungalow we reserved for the night. Two ex pats from Germany–a retired couple–answered the call in sleepy tones, asking if it was John on the line. The officers thought this whole thing was hilarious, but neither we nor the Germans found a phone call from the police in the middle of the night amusing. We followed the police van for a few minutes through Altenas, arriving at Apartmentos Altenas. The couple showed us to our bungalow, all the while explaining our late-night intrusion gave them no time to prepare for us as they typically would have. All things considered, it was perfect.

Apartamentos Atenas

When I asked the husband proprietor how long he and his bride have been married, he replied, “150 years.” I knew right then that my being a directionless wonder, leading my new husband down one-way highways to avoid tolls at all costs, got us exactly where we needed to be. This humble and intelligent couple not only cooked us desayuno the next morning, they told us all about their journey from Germany to Costa Rica while giving us a tour of the property. They showed us this elaborate garden with a homemade irrigation/mini-drip mechanism, where they grew vegetables alongside exotic herbs. The only word I remembered was¬†Bohnenkraut,¬†meaning Summer Savory. Smells like oregano, taste bitter like something else (I’m not the cook here, John is). Evidently it’s a German must-have, akin to cilantro for Costa Rica. An herb I despise but also wish I loved because IT IS¬† IN MF EVERYTHING.

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We were sad to say goodbye to this place. But we had three-point-something hours more to drive through weaving mountain roads with the ever-present possibility of mudslides and/or detours. Not to mention the abundance of stray dogs who don’t seem to mind oncoming traffic. We learned the hard way that stopping for puppies is not welcomed, though hazard lights are; that motorcyclists care little for their own safety or for ours.

The best part of our trip was the free coffee with a view. Another impossibly generous couple offered us coffee and dulce de leche on a mountaintop perch. We literally sat with our heads in the clouds watching the winds take shape … bosque nuboso.

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PerchedOur first resort stay was one of the prettiest and loneliest places I’ve ever visited. We stayed at El Establo, where the Pizotes outnumbered humans 2:1. The Hydrangeas everywhere balanced the flora and fauna considerably, though.

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Pizote

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Monteverde, turns out, is a city/town/province that is enormously influenced by Quakers. We were psyched to know this mini-colony has a Friends Meeting House. Too bad we showed up for a scheduled meeting that Wednesday to an empty wooden play house. Empty of 12-steppers, that is. We read to each other from the literature out loud while two actors practiced stage direction and lighting for an upcoming Halloween-themed production. It was weird, but it was enough to keep us sober and pleasant enough.

The Monteverde leg of our trip was designed for us to “explore” the area. We got lost a lot. That’s what helped us transmute our sense of panic and doom to wanderlust and an electrical humility. John drove us using 4-wheel drive down and up every calle. The roads were rife with pendejos, but the locals were incredibly gracious and warm. We ate olla de carne and casado at places like Sabor Tico and Tico y Rico; drank coffee at Cafe Besos, Stella’s Bakery and Choco Cafe. The air smelled like chocolate and coffee. The rain was barely chilly or obstructive. The nights were clear and quiet. We may have stumbled over our spanish words a bit, but the locals continued to speak to us in the most charming and calming way. Not much was lost in translation.

There were many frijoles, but not much touristy activity on our part. If one more effing person asked us if we were going zip lining, puede haber perdido mi mierda. We opted for hiking at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, instead. CR39

I think our hike(s) amounted to about five miles. At one point, we paused to take a picture of this giant tree that seemed to sneeze out a glorious flurry of butterflies. Seeing sanctuaries for all of the¬†mariposas made me remember the nickname one of the cooks at my old restaurant job gave to me,¬†mariposa traicionera,¬†roughly translated as “treacherous butterfly.” I still am not sure what to make of that one. Alas, the hike was brilliant.

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So brilliant by design, this hike was, that we ended it at the mouth of las cascadas.

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There were besos–there were many besos.

But as is our way, the fun didn’t stop at the cascades. There would be more driving. Lots more driving.

We spent four nights at El Establo, with awesome service and spotty internet. The channels were all in spanish, so we did our best to reckon with Netflix, taking it as an opportunity to watch Mindhunters (give the series a chance, it gets really good midway through the first season).

We off-roaded for our third hours-long trip, heading toward Guanacaste. The rain never stopped falling because we were in the rainy season for the region, but we kind of enjoyed it. Never were there more appropriate circumstances than these to continuously hum “I’m Only Happy When it Rains,” by Garbage. And we got miserably lost, this time to an excellent soundtrack. We anticipated no connection while driving, so I downloaded one of my favorites, The President’s Summer Playlist 2016 (PRESIDENT OBAMA IS THE ONLY PRESIDENT FROM WHOM I’D TAKE MUSICAL RECOMMENDATIONS). We stopped to ask for help reading un mapa, got some fried pork rinds and unwittingly used someone’s home toilet, mistaking their storefront for a¬†tienda¬†rather than a casa.¬†We took the Pan American Highway/Route 1, where instead of stopping for stray dogs, we were halted by giant livestock.

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This leg of our journey marked the first time we truly stopped taking ourselves so seriously. Up until this point, we were so wrecked from all of the travel and lost-ness. It felt wonderful to laugh at how clueless we are as a unit. We solidified what I so lovingly refer to as our travel trauma bond. In spite of the chaos that unrelentingly ratcheted up our stress levels, we have never been more kind to each other throughout our entire relationship. If we got nothing else out of our honeymoon, that alone would have been worth it.

But we did. We got massages, aromatherapy, home-cooked meals, enormous surf at la playa El Jobo, poolside beds and coconut virgin daiquiris. We felt like royals at Dreams Las Mareas. That ish was fancy.

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We arrived at night, skidding into the parking lot breathless from the insane roads and parrots in our periphery. The staff greeted us with two full champagne glasses, which we promptly insisted they (kindly) get the fuck out of our faces. They didn’t really understand, and we didn’t need them to. We simply can’t afford that kind of luxury.

We ate seafood, steaks, salads and plantains aplenty. The fruit at breakfast was unlike anything I’d ever seen or tasted. There were tourists from all walks of life on their honey moons, birthday vacations and retirement trips. We felt happy, but the continuous service and attention felt uncomfortable. Not too uncomfortable, as we stayed for three nights, walking the grounds for hours and returning to our suite each night to wear our swanky plush bathrobes. We ordered room service and watched the ID channel in English. There simply is nothing better. We gifted the room service guy with our free bottle of wine. We spent too much money on getting our clothes laundered and we used the balcony Jacuzzi, but not before we thought we broke it. This was opulence at its finest.

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We ended our stay with the gift of a gorgeous sunset. The next day, we schlepped through our final road trip. When we arrived at Liberia airport, I realized we left all of the beautiful souvenirs purchased at Don Juan coffee/chocolate tours in the trunk of our Kia rental. THERE WERE TEARS. Those tears quickly turned to anger then defeat. We hugged each other, then shut up. There was nothing more we could do to change the situation while lining up in zone 2 to board our plane. I cried and prayed until we were seated then greeted with Starbuck’s coffee on the flight. It’s like they knew what would settle me down.

Our trip to Costa Rica changed me. I am a little less fearful, and a little more willing to trust the person I am. My husband was the real MVP of the trip, thank god. If you’ve made it this far through the blog post, you’re probably almost as exhausted (if not more) than we were when we arrived home this past Monday. Thank you for reading. There is more to come, there always is.

Pura Vida,

The Honeymooners

xx