In the Meantime, Carpe Diem

How better to spend whatever remaining minutes I may be allotted than to participate in an open mike night of storytelling. Since it has become apparent the apocalypse has begun, at least in part (I think we can tick the boxes for war and plague, anyway), I chose to carpe the damn diem by getting up in front of an audience of about 80 or so Friday night to tell a story – a compressed mash up of pieces of my memoir – one incident among many of my ridiculous moments during Mike’s illness. I wrote it out beforehand, memorized it and signed up as the first to brave the open mike at our local community center to “tell,” as a “teller,” which are what people who do this kind of thing are called, apparently.

I had an absolute blast – I hit a few bumps, when I didn’t realize the “ting” of the gong was just the one minute warning and not the cutoff, but the takeaway is, I could get used to this.

I decided to do it because last year at the Midwest Writer’s Conference, I pitched my book to an agent who ultimately didn’t offer representation, but told me my pitch was the best she’d heard in a long time and asked if I did spoken word performance. So, OK, pivot – I’ve always loved performing live in front of an audience and if I can’t get an agent for my book (haven’t even had time to try sending out queries, much less essays, lately – got to get back to that discipline) I might as well try packaging it for live performance.

Below is the “script” of the story I told Friday. It really is written for live “telling,” but you’ll get the idea. It’s longer than my usual posts, so I leave it to you if you choose to read through it.

I did get some compliments and expressions of astonishment that it was my first time storytelling. One woman flat out asked, “did you f–k the Bulgarian?” No. Twenty one years older, fat, husband dying – remember? Not that I didn’t fantasize about it, but come on, seriously?

Anyway, here’s the tale. I’ll definitely be signing up for the next open mike as soon as they have one, to relate another of my ridiculous incidents . Hope you enjoy.

______________________________

I told Mike, “do not, DO NOT, shovel that walk.” Mike had an extreme obsession about shoveling. He would set his alarm for every two hours during blizzards, suit up and go outside to shovel the driveway at 2 am, 4 am, 6 a.m., even during Snowmaggedon, when the wind was blowing 60 m.p.h., so hard that it would all just come right back again.

The “do not shovel” morning was in 2016, when we had three inches of snow followed by rain followed by a hard freeze. The driveway and walk were coated with a kind of heart-attack broûlée. And it all was due to melt the next day. So I told Mike, “don’t you do it.” And I hopped in the Subaru and left for work.

I worked five minutes away at the time, so I could come home for lunch. That day, when I did, I saw that Mike had shoveled the front porch and the walk to the driveway.

I was furious.

Because Mike was 13 months into the 18 to 24 months he had been given when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Exertion like that could kill him. Why would he risk dying before he had to die?

Maybe it was an Alpha Male thing.

Because a year before, when I was 54 years old and weighed 35 pounds more than I do now, I fell madly, schoolgirlishly and very obviously in love with a 35 year-old Bulgarian carpenter – right in front of my dying husband – which was reprehensible, ridiculous, sad, embarrassing – and funny.

When we were confronted with the certainty that Mike would die within the next two years, I thought, what are we going to do?

I know! LET’S REMODEL THE KITCHEN!

Mike spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking for and cleaning up after cooking for our angelic, autistic daughter. He was a stay-at-home Dad. He spent his days toiling away on hideous, multi-colored, striped, 1970’s indoor-outdoor carpeting, blackened with decades of grime. He spent hours washing dishes in a harvest-gold double sink. He cooked on a cheap department store stove with no hood that barely concealed the mouse highway running behind it. I just couldn’t let him die without ever having had a decent kitchen in our house.

So, I found a contractor and signed the checks. I hadn’t figured on falling madly in love with the crew chief. But I did. I don’t know what came over me – I couldn’t help myself. He was young and strong and he knew how to do everything, He had black hair and green eyes and a magnificent deep voice. And I didn’t care that he was getting paid for it – it still mattered to me that he listened to, and actually remembered everything I said to him . He did what I asked him to do- eventually- and he never yelled at me. Anyone who has been married for more than twenty years knows how rare that is.

The day of the Alpha Male shoveling, when I got out of the Subaru at lunchtime, I grabbed my cheap plastic grocery store shovel and tried to shovel the driveway, just to keep Mike from doing it.

And the Bulgarian appeared, and grabbed my shovel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to shovel a path, just a path on the driveway for you, Annie.”

“Oh no you’re not. You smoke. Nobody who smokes lifts a snow shovel on my property. Don’t you do it.” And I was sort of dancing around in front of him (and he’s at least 14 inches taller than me) trying to block him from shoveling the smoking-man-killing heart-attack snow with the ice on top, but he shovels right by me, and then he stops and looks at my plastic grocery store shovel and says, “Dat’s not a shovel.”

And he marches right back into my kitchen and through the door into my garage and grabs my good stainless steel garden spade and starts hacking away at the smoking-man-killing heart-attack snow with the ice on top while I’m following him down the driveway shouting at him, “please, please stop! It’s upsetting him – (meaning shoveling was meant to be Mike’s exclusive domain, even if he intended to die doing it). Please stop!”

“God Dammit! The both of you! I can’t come home from work and find the two of you face down in the driveway and neither one of you with enough strength to call 911! Jesus! Everyone wants to give Mommy something more to worry about!”

And I jumped in my Subaru and drove off, back to work, still cursing. And as I drove away I saw the Bulgarian turn around and give the strangest look, as if he didn’t understand – or as if he did, all too well.

He knew I had a crush on him. At first he was embarrassed, and then he played along, and then he just started openly making fun of me, in a subtle, Eastern European kind of way.

Like the time his drawers came off.

Three weeks after the kitchen was finished, I had loaded the heaviest pots in the middle, rather than the bottom drawer, because that’s where Mike wanted them. When the drawer fell off its rails, like I knew it would, and then the bottom one did too, the Bulgarian came to fix them.

When he squatted down to look at the drawers that had fallen off, he looked up at me with his gorgeous green eyes and he said with that magnificent voice, “Annie, what have you done to my drawers?”

Which is quite possibly the best set-up line I had ever been fed.

But did I say, “Why, my dear, as you well know, to my infinite regret, I haven’t done a damn thing to your drawers. These kitchen drawers, on the other hand, came off all by themselves.”

No, I didn’t say that. I just blurted out, “You didn’t stop smoking!!!” Because it was after New Year’s and he still smelled of cigarette smoke, even though he had told me it was his resolution to quit.

The Alpha Male incident was the last time Mike shoveled, but it wasn’t Mike’s First Last Thing. There was his last birthday, his last Thanksgiving, his last Christmas.

The first time I realized I was witnessing a last thing was before all of those, in the fall, when I came home and found Mike on the roof.

He could barely stand up for ten minutes and he had hauled the ladder out of the garage and climbed up to the roof, intending to clean out the gutters – one last time.

Mike lived long enough to cook his last pot of spaghetti sauce and his last batch of chicken soup in the new kitchen.

And now, when I rinse dishes in the big new white farm sink, before I load them into the new stainless steel dishwasher, I see Mike there, by the new stove with the new hood, doing what he loved to do – cooking something for Angelic Daughter. And I also see the Bulgarian there, puzzling over how to cope with some weird previous do-it-yourself modification from some past owner.

That kitchen is filled with memories of love, kindness, bravery, humor – and forgiveness – for, and from, two men I loved.

Yours,

Ridiculouswoman

What He Said

Here’s a different take on fasting, or giving things up for Lent. To me it’s a description of how I want to be all the time, not just in the forty days before Easter.

The quote below appeared today on the Edge of the Atlantic, one of the blogs I follow.  I’m not Catholic. I haven’t made a habit of attending church on Ash Wednesday, or “giving something up” for Lent.  So when I looked through my followed blogs on the WordPress Reader today and found this, I realized it expressed what I was going to try to express, and did it much better than I ever could:

 

via are you ready to fast this Lent? (take your pick) — Edge of Atlantic

I’ve been trying to stay in my lane, and to avoid investing my energy into worrying about things I can’t control. Instead I’m thinking about how I can control my response to both small everyday frustrations and the monumental, unrelenting shit storms that seem to have enveloped our planet. These past weeks, it just seems like it gets worse every day.

Losing Mike and living as a widow has helped me understand, “this too shall pass.” It has made me want to remain unperturbed by everyday stresses and to learn to be still and silent enough, to find sufficient serenity, to tune in to more eternal things:  love, compassion, gratitude, simplicity, patience, joy, reconciliation, hope, kindness – prayer and God.  These things don’t pass with the passing moments of each day.  I want them to reside with me in each present moment, and stay with me as that moment passes to become the next.  It’s far more difficult than it should be, and unsurprisingly, I fail at it much more often than I succeed. I succumb to petty worries and mundane stresses. I lose patience. That’s why I appreciate reminders like Bill Schulz’s post today. They help me regain my perspective.

Angelic Daughter is my guiding star. I admire her more than I can say, and I am more ashamed of succumbing to impatience with her than I am of any of my other many faults. She marks one of life’s milestones tomorrow. Today she described handling an uncomfortable situation by using a strategy we had practiced. She solved the problem of feeling anxious in one environment by asking to move to another, at a place where choices like that are available to her. She continues to assume more responsibility for the moments of her day – being on time and prepared, adapting to different types of transportation and advocating for herself if she needs accommodation, as she did today. She does all this without dimming her angelic, compassionate, loving, emotionally intelligent self one bit. The strategy she used today worked, and she’s realizing that she has more control over things that bother her sensitive, autistic self than she used to, or that she believed she could have. My pride in and boundless love for her is wrapped in hope.  May there be a future in this world for Angelic Daughter, where people choose compassion, kindness, good stewardship for the earth and all that’s in it, love and reconciliation, and where we work together to solve problems that touch us all.

I hope your present moments are infused with calming little bits of the eternal, and may those  moments bring you peace.

Yours with gratitude to God for the gift of a daughter whose spirit is far more naturally generous than mine, and who inspires me every day to try to be a better person, I remain, your one-moment-to-the-next,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

Hired

Featured Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

The other shoe has dropped: I got a job. I GOT A JOB. Not just any job, either – it’s a writing job. Full time, with benefits starting the exact day I must have them. I start mid-November. And the best part about it is that I’m not anxious about it at all. I know I can do it well and I won’t get all squirmy about it. A little of that is inevitable, of course, as it would be with any new job.  But I’ve signed the offer letter accepting the job and I have enough to do before I start that I don’t think I’ll spend any time worrying about the myriad ways I could imagine screwing it up.

Because I’m not going to screw it up. As God is my witness, I’m not going to screw this up. If I can avoid it. And if I can stop worrying about screwing it up over something I didn’t realize would screw it up. OK ENOUGH, Annie. YOU GOT IT. THEY WANT YOU (Note impressive self-restraint in not going the Sally Field quote route, here).

I wrote the below about 10 minutes after the call offering me the job. As you can see I was a bit excited. I still am, I’m just not going to scream at you in ALL CAPS. But reading it through it was kind of funny so I thought I’d go ahead and inflict it on you.

So here’s my brain on “holy crap I actually got a job I’m going to like that pays a living wage!”

I GOT THE OFFER AND THEY BUMPED UP THE PAY RATE SO IT WILL ACTUALLY BE WORTH THE COMMUTE I GOT THE JOB I GOT THE JOB I GOT THE JOB THANKS FOR ALL YOUR GOOD VIBES SORRY TO SCREAM AT YOU IN ALL CAPS BUT I’M SO EXCITED BECAUSE I’M ACTUALLY GOING TO LIKE THIS JOB IT WILL BE FUN IT IS WRITING AND I WILL GET PAID FOR WRITING HOLY CRAP WITH HEALTH INSURANCE AND EVERYTHING GOD IS GREAT FAITH WORKS HANG ON GOOD THINGS WILL COME OMG OMG OMG NOW I HAVE TO HIRE SOMEONE AS A COMPANION FOR ANGELIC DAUGHTER BUT WE CAN HANDLE IT OMG OMG OMG AN ACTUAL JOB WRITING WRITING WOWEE ZOWEE AND ON TOP OF THAT ONE OF MY LIFE’S AMBITIONS JUST CAME TRUE OF HOSTING A FAMILY MEAL IN THIS HOUSE I’VE SPENT SO MUCH MONEY AND ENERGY ON MY BROTHERS AND ONE OF MY SISTERS-IN-LAW CAME AND WE HAD SUCH A FUN MEAL IT WASN’T LONG ENOUGH AND I WAS RUSHED MAKING THE SOUP AND OH BY THE WAY I DID MAKE THE SOUP HERE’S A PICTURE IMG_20191022_141943840~2.jpg AND NOT EXACTLY PIE BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE  TIME FOR THE CRUST SO I MADE A FRENCH FRUIT TART CRUST WHICH WAS OK BUT NOT MY BEST IMG_20191022_141935304~2.jpgAND I BROWNED THE ONIONS IN THE SQUASH SOUP BUT THE BURNT-ISH FLAVOR WAS ALMOST COVERED UP BY SOME EXTRA APPLE JUICE AND BROWN SUGAR AND THEY SAID THEY LIKED IT BUT EVEN IF THEY WERE LYING I DON’T CARE BECAUSE THIS HAS BEEN A SPECTACULAR DAY EVEN THOUGH IT IS COLD AND WINDY I DON’T CARE MY GOD I ACTUALLY GOT A JOB OFFER AND BESIDES THAT ONE OF MY CNF ESSAYS HAS BEEN ACCEPTED IT’S A BLOG BUT IT IS A BLOG ASSOCIATED WITH A MAGAZINE AND IT MEANS SOMEONE WHO KNOWS ABOUT WRITING THINKS I CAN ACTUALLY WRITE THIS IS AMAZING WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I DO AM I SUPPOSED TO POST A GIF LIKE THIS

OR MAYBE THIS

THAT REMINDS ME I’VE NEVER SEEN THOSE MINIONS MOVIES I SHOULD WATCH THOSE ANGELIC DAUGHTER WANTS POPCORN SO MAYBE WE CAN HAVE MOVIE NIGHT OMG OMG OMG A WRITING JOB WITH HEALTH INSURANCE I HOPE I DON’T HAVE A HEART ATTACK WITH JOY BEFORE I EVEN START BRING IT I CAN DO IT I CAN WRITE ANYTHING TO ORDER LIKE FALLING OFF A LOG THIS IS SO AWESOME I’M JUMPING OUT OF MY SKIN WHAT DO I DO NOW I HAVE TO WAIT FOR AN EMAIL TO SIGN OFF ON THE OFFER WHICH MEANS I REALLY SHOULDN’T BE CROWING ABOUT THIS SO MUCH IN CASE I JINX IT BUT LIVE WITHOUT FEAR I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT I WILL BE AN EMPLOYED PERSON AT A JOB I ACTUALLY WILL LOVE WITH ENERGETIC FUN PEOPLE WHO LOVE WHAT THEY DO IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THIS OR MAYBE IT DOES KEEP DREAMING KEEP BELIEVING MAYBE GOOD THINGS WILL KEEP HAPPENING OK ANNIE DON’T GET GREEDY JUST BE GRATEFUL GRATEFUL GRATEFUL I AM I AM I AM WHOOP WHOOP THIS IS AWESOME

Trying to resume decorum, I remain,

Your newly hired,

Ridiculouswoman