It’s How Big? by Alexa Martinez

I WAS PREPARING for another several months out at sea, and with that preparation comes extensive medicals.

I was due for a pap smear and gynecological check as well, so I was knocking all the birds with one stone, so to speak. The only thing is that I was in South Africa.

Shouldn’t be a problem though, I “lived” there. I had just decorated and furnished a beautiful home, I was getting to ride around in a recently purchased Range Rover, and a little pup named Jeffrey was waiting for me nearby. I was adjusting and adapting to a new life very, very far away from my comfort zone.

The reason the majority of this occurred in the first place was because the person I was engaged to was denied entry into the states.

And when that happened for a second time, we just succumbed to the fact that the majority of our lives and time would be spent in this location.

I never minded doing anything medically or dentally in South Africa, because it is MUCH easier and cheaper to get things done there compared to the States.

I went to the OBGYN for my tests and check ups, as per usual, and he begins to ask me about my sex life.

I immediately scoff to myself, what sex life?

In my youth, getting asked this question made me uncomfortable, because I was either having pre-marital sex or because I was being probed (no pun intended) to speak openly about it in the first place.

This time I was embarrassed for completely different reasons.

I looked down at my engagement ring, and did my best to remember any good thing I could about my decision to put it on in the first place.

I met the doctor’s gaze and told him that even though I had one partner and have had the same partner for over 3 years, we didn’t have much sex at all.

There was always some reason: “I’m too tired”, “Let’s wait until we get married”, “You’re not on birth control”, “Maybe if you lose weight, I’ll be attracted to you” or… we’d have to be drunk. And I hated what would typically play out when he drank, so we weren’t often drunk at the same time.

The doctor’s response was very doctorly: “Well, if you’re doing it at all, even if it’s not frequent, you should be protected from unwanted pregnancy.”

At that time, I had already made the decision not to procreate.

When I mentioned that any pregnancy would be unwanted at any point in my life, he suggested an IUD. An IUD is a form of contraception that is physically inserted past the cervix and can prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years.

I told him that I would think about it.

Which I did.

And even with the wasteland of intimacy and the deserted sex life I had, I still decided to go for it.

Really, I was miserable in my relationship. I knew it then and I’d known it for a long time. Unfortunately, I kept thinking of those early moments of incredible passion and connection, thinking that they would come back someday, and when they did, our sex life would be reinvigorated, and I wanted to be prepared for that.

A week or so later, I had the procedure to have the IUD inserted.

Two weeks later, I was due for a check up, so the doctor can ensure that it settled in the right position and that my body wasn’t attempting to reject the device.

I undress, robe up and lay on the cold, paper covered table.

A few minutes later, the doctor comes in, instructs me to do the usual “ankles in the stirrups” move while he and the nurse get the vaginal ultrasound machine ready for action.

Frigid lube to hard plastic contraption. . . insert and voila. . .

“Oh, well, that wasn’t there before.”

*doctor snaps picture and asks nurse, “Do you see what that is?”*

I wait patiently, knowing that when it is my turn to know, he will tell me.

“Okay, Ms. Martinez, have a look at the screen. Do you see this mass here?”

He digitally draws a skinny red line across the circular image.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, Ms. Martinez, that wasn’t there during your last ultrasound two weeks ago. It is more than likely an ovarian cyst that was already present before the insertion of the IUD, but due to the increase or change in your hormones, it’s now 6cm wide.”

“I’m sorry, it’s how big?” I say, clearly not registering the foreign metric unit.

“It’s about the size of a softball,” he clarifies.

“Wow. Um…. okay. So, what does that mean?”

“Well, due to the size of the mass and how quickly it has grown, I recommend you have it removed as soon as possible.”

“I am flying to join a cruise ship in 10 days. I don’t think there will be enough time to take care of everything in that time frame. Is it possible to do the procedure later?”

“Ms. Martinez, if it has grown to this size in such a short amount of time, you run the risk of rupture. With the pressurization that occurs during flying, that risk is increased. If you do not go into surgery soon, you run the greater risk of it becoming lethal.”

LETHAL. Okay, that registered. Lethal. . . Not good. Must fix.

“I have surgeries scheduled on Tuesdays. That is as early as I can get you in. Recovery should be pretty easy, since we will be the least invasive we can be with the laparoscopy procedure.”

“I’m familiar. I had my gallbladder removed when I was 17,” I say on autopilot.

“Okay, well then. Let’s get you taken care of so you can resume your work and travels”, he says definitively.

We finish the rest of the consultation and I head down the narrow hallway back to the waiting area, attempting to process the information I’ve just been given.

I shake my head out of the fog and realize – I have to tell my fiancé. For some reason that eludes me, he was not the one to bring me to my doctor appointment and when I am in South Africa, I rely on others to drive me where I need to go. They drive on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road to what I have learned, and automatics aren’t really a thing here either. That means this American abroad has gotten used to being “stuck” in places.

The lucky chauffer of the day was his sweet grandfather. He was a weathered, yet jolly old man who walked with a limp, yet still towered over most, and whose love for Al Jolson might match his delight over Frank Sinatra. He’s made me watch “Mammie” and listen to “My Way” more times than I can count.

I went out to the car to meet him, gave him the news and told him that I was just going back in to make another appointment.

He doesn’t say audibly what I know he is thinking. “He should be here with you for this.” He may have said something similar under his breath.

The most remarkable thing about this warm and caring man is his absolute devotion to his wife, who goes by Nanny. He leaves her side only when necessary and not for a moment longer. They argue like a cat and dog, but they are committed and they love each other hard. They are very humble people who have always put family first.

I have to give my “husband to be” the news over the phone.

It’s funny that he thinks I still buy his garbage excuse for compassion, but I’m used to it by now and just roll with the punches.

I go back to the receptionist to receive the remaining information for surgery prep. The usual, no solid food after this time, bring this with you, don’t worry about that, same day surgery, times blah blah. . . and it will cost approximately R51,000.”

I quickly do the conversion to USD and gulp. “That’s $3,000”.

But I don’t have a choice.

Fuck, no one tells you shit can get this complicated. I hand over my credit card.


The entire day of the surgery was a bit of a blur, but at least my significant other was there this time.

If you’ve ever experienced a surgery like this before, you’ll know that yes, the procedure itself is quick enough and recovery is swift, but it still hurts like hell after. Why wouldn’t it? Someone has just gone into your abdominal wall with metal tools to extract something. You’re out of commission for at least a week or more.

Here is where things get interesting – and for me, slightly heart wrenching.

I’ll go on a limb here and tell you that as much as I have healed and moved on to a magical life that is only possible because of this time in my life, recalling this story in particular can bring me to my knees.

He stays with me the initial day of surgery. Makes a store run for anything I may need. Supports how he can.

The next day, I spend most of my day either in the bed or on the couch of our newly purchased, newly furnished home that we moved his grandparents into, and where we reside when we are on vacations.

He is around most of the day, leaving only for little bits at a time until early evening. He says he wants to go somewhere to meet some friend to do some thing.

He is gone for nearly 3 days.

As I type that, tears well and fall as I remember the feeling of complete and total abandonment, of fear, of physical pain, of despair, of panic, of tiredness, of being so fucking fed up.

These were all feelings I had felt before. It was a situation only made unique because of the recent surgical circumstances.

I remember being hunched over, holding my abdomen tight where I’d just been opened, as I sobbed uncontrollably, snot and tears pouring with no sign of ceasing. I was staring at the phone, willing it to just fucking ring.

“God, if you’re really there, please make him call. Save me from the pain and let me know he’s okay. Let me know that I have nothing to worry about.”

Then, replace God with the name of my betrothed and sobbing with…

“You motherfucker, how could you? How could you do this to me – again? And like this! Where the fuck are you? I swear I hate you for this. Fuck, but I hope you’re okay. Shit, what if you’re hurt? Damnit, asshole, why won’t you just call!?” Sobbing again.

It’s in these moments where your emotions take complete control.

Mom wouldn’t leave you.

Mom would take care of you.

Mom would take your side.

Mom would love you unconditionally, hold your hand and kiss it better.

Sister would come to visit.

Sister would crawl in the bed and make you laugh.

Sister would check your meds and make sure everything is properly prescribed.

Nieces would bring you a card and give you love.

Friends would call and check in, they’d visit.

But. . . do any of them even know that you lay here, crying more from pain of the heart than the pain of wounds. No, they don’t, Alexa. Because you refuse to tell them how bad it is. You refuse to tell them that he cheats. You refuse to tell them that he lies. You refuse to tell them about the drugs. You refuse to tell them that he is manipulative. You refuse to tell them that life is not the perfect fairytale you wish for it to appear. You refuse to let them see anything other than a façade of happiness and nice things. And you have refused to let them see that for years.

I could feel the discomfort in my mother’s voice when I told her I had to have the surgery. I played it off like it was no big deal. I was even trying to fool myself into thinking that it would all go over smoothly, but she had known something wasn’t right for a long time. Moms have that power.

I remember the talks I had with myself during this time.

Have you even thought that you must certainly be going crazy?

Like… there are no ifs, ands or buts… you’re losing your fucking mind.

That was me during his time of absence.

I teetered back and forth from thinking about my life, how hard I worked to keep shit together. I thought about leaving.

What would I have if I did?

I was 22 when I joined my “prince charming” to travel the world on luxury cruise liners. That was nearly 4 years ago.

I found my “twin flame” more than my soul mate. That’s what I thought even after I caught him cheating the first time.

“Naïve, pathetic little girl”, I told myself. “Look what the fuck you did. You trusted a stranger. Now, you know that stranger like the back of your hand. You know what he does and you stay. When will you learn? But if you leave, Alexa, where will you go? What will you do? You have a degree that means jack shit unless you go back to school, you have no real bank account of your own to even take the money and run.

Not that we even have any at this point. We do have a house, with furniture, a beautiful, newly purchased Range Rover (my dream car that I can’t even fucking drive!) and a puppy named Jeffrey. Oh fuck, Jeffrey, our dog.”

More tears.

“Fuck, Alexa. How’d you paint yourself into this corner? If you leave, all you have is a credit card full of debt and access to nothing. You stupid girl.”

What happens after a brutal self sabotage like that?

“Well, he does have good qualities. Maybe we’re just going through some overly rough times right now and some overly amazing times are in the near future? Yeah, remember when he took you to meet his friends? Remember when he proposed with his great-grandmother’s engagement ring? Remember when he did it a second time in the butterfly garden because he remembered how much butterflies meant to you? Remember all of the conversations with his family members thanking you for being in his life? That you are the best thing that has ever happened to him? Remember when he brought you to get your first pair of Christian Loboutin’s after that big cruise? Remember when he brought you to Louis Vuitton to get the “big one” after a successful takeover on the new cruise line? Monogramed strap and all. With my soon to be initials “ANW”. Remember all the countries you visited? See, Alexa. Breathe. There is good in there somewhere. It will all make sense soon.”

“He has a good reason to be gone, right? It can’t be that bad. You are overreacting. No wonder he leaves and acts out when you freak out over everything. Maybe he isn’t as guilty as you think he is? Maybe it’s not your intuition; maybe it’s just your crazy coming out. So, calm down. It will be fine.”

Give that about an hour or so to set in, let another several hours go by with no phone call. . . and then start the vicious emotional rollercoaster over again. Endlessly.

When he finally came back, I’d spent 3 days at the house, trapped to a large extent, with only his grandparents to take care of me, fresh out of surgery.

I remember overhearing a conversation between his grandfather and his mother. “But he should BE HERE. She NEEDS him. I just don’t understand. Where is this boy?”

It dawned on me. I’m the newest one in this game.

I’ve made it nearly 4 years, but these people have been dealing with him for his entire life.

I must say, I have the utmost respect and adoration for those beautiful people. They have the strongest unconditional love muscles I have ever seen. And they put up with me on a variety of occasions when I was in the midst of panic.

If any of them follow me now, or read what I write, I hope they know that I do what I do from a place of love and a desire to help others.

I also hope they know how much I appreciate them, for all they did, and for all they do for a person I once thought was my forever. In some ways, I still feel connected to them. I think about how they are doing often. I will forever be grateful for their compassion and love over the short period of time that I was embraced as a part of their family.

I wanted to kill him when he finally walked into the room after all that I’d felt and gone through over the last few days. . . and over the last several years.

But he walked in, like he always did after he knew he’d done wrong, with a sad puppy face. It was a face I knew well, and had once thought was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen, but now? That face yielded only one emotion – disgust.

Even so, the talks (all 2,454,509,867 of them) led to us taking a big deep breath, looking at all we’d built, and heading out to our next contract anyway.

We’d fought for this ship. It was the biggest and highest profile vessel we’d ever been given, and we both knew that we needed each other to make it a successful take out.

I remember pulling out my stitches in the bathroom of our tiny cabin because I didn’t want to doctor to know that I’d just had surgery the week before joining. I remember running around like a crazy person, while still in recovery, because even if our relationship was a hot fucking mess, there was one place where we were performed like a well-oiled machine, and that was our job.

I lasted about a month before I put my request in for a transfer.

I left.


It occurred to me that the “what I have to lose” beat the “what I have to gain” by a long shot. I got to a point where I said, “This is the last fucking time”, and I actually meant it. I just had to get out of there.

On this particular day, he was drunk when we got back onboard.

He showered, changed and left the cabin without saying a word to me.

I sat at the desk, opened the laptop, and found the phone numbers for shore side management.

I looked for the women, because I knew that mixing emotions and business was not professional by any means, but at least the women might understand on a better level.

I didn’t shed a tear. I stayed calm as I spoke about my options.

The one tear that I did let fall was when the voice on the other side said, “Don’t worry, Alexa. We will take care of you.”

He came back late that night, as usual. I was sitting awake. I looked at him and told him that I was leaving in 3 days.

For the first time, a real registered emotion appeared on his face. Shock.

I finally had the balls to stand up for myself, regardless of what I expected to lose.

We gave “time apart” a chance for about two weeks when I got to my new vessel, which coincidentally was the sister ship to the one we’d just arrived on a month before, before I called and said, “I can’t do any of it any more. It’s over.”

He knew that my biggest concerns were leaving without any real money, along with all of the debt from furnishing the new house sitting on my credit cards. He promised to make things right, told me not to worry, that he’d make sure I got what I had earned and deserved financially.

I am sure you can guess how that turned out.

He also knew that the reputation we’d created as a unit was very difficult to walk away from too, because in my eyes, who was I without him? He was the real talent… he was the seller and the on-stage personality. What did I really have to offer? I had never done the job by myself before.

It took just two weeks before I began to recognize myself again. A light shone through. I reminded myself of my general resilience. I was so focused on doing the job right that letting go of the remaining threads of the relationship became much easier.

People were proud of me. More importantly, I was proud of me, for the first time in a long time.

I went on to take over as manager and director of the ship I went to and embarked on a journey of self-discovery that led me to heights I’d never experienced while being one half to a whole.

I am grateful to the people who believed in me, my teams for putting up with my volatile and fluctuating emotions, and my family members who are still having to exercise patience as portions of this story and time in my life come out through my newest life love – writing.

Like a phoenix, I rose from ashes. As many of us do at certain times in our lives.

We realize, in hindsight, that those times of struggle, despair, anguish and confusion, the times when life is falling the fuck apart, are some of the greatest blessings we can ever have bestowed on us.

It is difficult to make sense of it while it is happening, but it is possible to get really good at recognizing that:

  1. You are more in control than you give yourself credit for.
  2. You have every tool you need to get you through any darkness sitting between your ears.
  3. You have the ability to revel in the pain, knowing that something magical is on the horizon.
  4. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It happens because of the choices you make. Whether it’s a choice to “keep staying”, to start over, or a choice in emotion, like choosing love over fear.
  5. You need the contrast. It makes you who you are. It has the ability to show you your lowest low and your highest high… if you allow it to.

My wish for you as you come to the end of my story is for you to not feel alone.

Whether my story resonates in deeply familiar ways, or just generally, there is a certain solace you can find in knowing that your problems and feelings are not unique to you. They are felt in some way by each and every soul on the planet. You can go to slums in Brazil, shantytowns in Africa, penthouses in Manhattan, or mansions in Beverly Hills and the feelings are all the same. And while we know this is widespread, unifying, and extremely relatable, we insist on either keeping it all to ourselves, hiding the pain, or we insist on telling it to the world as a part of our story of victimhood.

There is one more choice, however, and that is the greatest choice of all.

To choose openness. To choose release. To choose growth. To choose submission and still prevail. To choose to share in the hopes that at least one other soul will be able to see the light sooner in their moments of darkness.

Sharing is a release for me. In a way, I suppose it’s an additional means for closure.

I don’t do it to paint a terrible picture of the person I was with, even though I think retelling the stories from my perspective does that regardless.

In reality, I received exactly what I was attracting to myself at that time.

I was at a desperate time in my life. I was out all the time. I mean, I met the person I was engaged to while drunk in the “disco” of a cruise ship as a passenger. I saw him as a savior from a rapidly developing mundane life. We used each other, but even saying that, it does not excuse some of the things that were said and done.

I thank this person and that time in my life every single day. People look at me like I’ve totally lost my mind when I tell them that I’d kiss the ground he walks on if I were to ever see him again.


Because I am becoming the absolute best version of myself because of it. How could I not be grateful? I am literally making love to my keyboard right now on a flight to Europe to see someone who loves and supports me in a mutually beneficial way. I would never have been able to recognize what is right or wrong for me without that time.

I will always love the man who, putting it mildly, put me through the ringer.

He could die tomorrow, and I’d probably feel nothing, but I will always love him. Not in a romantic way, but because through the heartache and temporary self-imprisonment he imposed, I found my ultimate freedom.

I keep those memories as gems in my pocket – reminders that jewels are in the rough before they shine.

Resiliently yours,



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