Monthly Archives: February 2024

Lost Hours

Twice today, I napped under my dead little brother’s afghan with my feet propped on my great-grandmother’s footstool.

I have a bigger footstool but something about resting my tired feet on a round bit of wood as  the woman after whom my  father named me might have done comforts me.  I’m only imagining this scene.   My great-grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes died in 1944, two years before my parents married and eleven years before my birth.  This little stool came to me at my grandmother’s death.  I often use it when I feel poorly or sad, and crave some bit of nostalgia.

I take full responsibility for being sick today.  With all the medical issues that I strain to manage, I failed to maintain a current maintenance drug for the chronic shingles from which I suffer.  A mild fever rose on Thursday.  The familiar tingle in my left eye and along one shoulder drove me to an awkward balance of a small mirror from which I could spy my back in a bigger glass.  I stared at the angry line of pox marching in a fierce diagonal row to the base of my spine.  I couldn’t abandon my post at the shop, so I gobbled vitamin C and Tylenol for two days.  I finally succumbed at work on Monday.  I dragged myself home and slept from two p.m. until early this morning when I woke hungry and nearly  human.

My son brought my brother’s afghan to me when he visited at Christmas.  Mine lies at the bottom of my cedar chest awaiting repair.  After a hot shower this morning which substantially improved my mood, I slid into my softest cotton garments and settled in the chair that Tim Anderson gave me, planning to read.  Instead I fell into a quiet sleep until one of the park workers lumbered past my tiny house on a tractor.  The soft wool blanket had slightly fallen from my shoulders, settling around my lap.  I touched its squares, thinking about my grandmother Corley who had crocheted one for each of us so many years ago.

The second nap followed a late lunch.  I sat for a pleasant hour, dreaming of home.  I woke in the dimness of evening, glad of the warmth of Steve’s afghan.  Nothing needed my attention so I lingered until some noise outside startled me.

I count this day as a handful of lost hours, wedged between work responsibilities.  I rarely indulge myself like this.    I’ve scheduled a doctor’s appointment for next week.  She will probably order labwork to confirm that the nasty little bug still haunts me.  She’ll give me a lecture and a prescription; and remind me that I need to schedule with cardiology.  Back across the Antioch bridge I will scurry.    As I resume swallowing a fat green pill every day, the virus that I contracted in 1993 when my son gave me chickenpox will retreat back into remission.  I will gently drape my little brother’s afghan across the cozy chair and resume normal life, no worse for this quiet interlude among soothing memories of the Corley ghosts.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the one-hundred and twenty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Standard of Comparison

As I drove along the river road this evening, a story on the radio penetrated my tired brain.  The words reverberated through the car.  A young man’s voice told of shopping with his mother; of planning a meal; and of going to a friend’s house to spend the night.  To that point, he could have been my son.  But his next sentences stunned me.  An alarm sounded; he rushed home; and then spent hours sorting through dead bodies in a bombed building.  His mother’s cheek; his father’s finger; his sister’s tiny handbag — thus did he identify his slaughtered family.

I pulled my car into a turn-out and shut off the motor.  Other words rose in my mind.  Not words of desperation or joy, but a simple, short argument.  Someone chastised me for considering myself fortunate by comparison with others.  That’s not how life works, he insisted.  What others have or don’t have has no relevance to you.  You should have better; you should have more; you should have fewer struggles and less pain.  His voice quivered and his face grew red.  I touched his hand.  I accepted that he could not understand my point of view.  I even believed he considered me to be more worthy than the people who had less even than I.

As I sat in the quiet of my vehicle, the sun eased itself downward on the far horizon.  I raised my cell phone and idly captured the moment with its camera.   I glanced at the photos, taking a moment to post them on social media almost without thought.  Still I tarried, replaying the story of the boy whose family died.  Then I found myself shivering as the darkness around me deepened.    I started the motor and continued home, jumbled words playing over and over in my brain.  What is the purpose of living if I can’t recall my father’s voice, whispered the anguished young man.  Why should I complain when my life could be so much worse, I repeatedly demanded of myself.  You deserve everything, raged the man who claimed to love me, furious that I seemed willing to accept my mediocre lot.

Later, I opened the sunset photos on my laptop.  The bigger screen showed details that I had missed.  The turbines spun in sharp relief against the brilliance.  Clouds danced across the gentle glow high above the intensity of the vanishing orb.  My aging eyes beheld this splendor.  My crippled hands grasped the cell phone steady enough to record it.  My feet worked the pedals of a machine that allows me to travel 20 miles when my legs alone could never make the journey.  

When people ask me how I am, I cannot help but answer:  No bombs fell on my village today. I also lost my mother far too soon, but to the slow decline of disease.  I had a chance to say goodbye.   My house stands; it has not collapsed beneath the rage of war.   I do not dwell in luxury, yet beauty surrounds me.  I cannot help but consider myself beyond blessed.

It’s the twenty-third day of the one-hundred and twenty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Swans a-swimmin’

We rationalize rain around these parts.  As it drums on our metal roofs and the tarps that cover stuff on our decks, we remark that rain raises the water table and soaks the roots of grapevines that will bear fruit in the fall.  We wrap ourselves in wool and keep boots next to the door.  The rain shrugs off our opinions and continues its relentless barrage.

The creatures of our surroundings thrive on the winter weather except for the ducks and geese in the noisy, painful hunting seasons.  Full disclosure, I share the birds’ horror.  I stepped outside this morning to the repeated hammering of gun fire.  My stomach turned.  We haven’t seen a lot of migrating geese on our island this year because a corporation bought the biggest farm on the island.  They don’t seem to be flooding for the fowl as much as the old-line farmer had done each winter.  I loathe the thought of their slaughter.  

As the rain began, the hunting stopped.  By that time, I had driven halfway to Isleton to start my work day in the shop.  A couple of us stayed late to rearrange displays last night.  I hauled a small cabinet in my car today, which I struggled to drag from the car.  I tucked it into its spot and started the morning opening routine while the rain spattered the pavement outside. 

I moved through the suite, straightening price tags, pushing shelves into alignment, checking on the orchids that we’re selling for the son of one of our artists.  Since we’ve started this partnership, I’ve had to unearth an old inhaler.  I missed a pulmonology evaluation when the pandemic started and never established with an asthma doctor here.  As the months of lockdown slipped away, I decided to wean myself from maintenance drugs.  I haven’t had to use anything for at least three years.  I had an asthma attack waiting on our first orchid customer and now I’ve got an expired vial of Albuterol in my bag.  In similar fashion, I had to renew an Epi-pen prescription when we did a honey-tasting and I accidentally ingested a smear of the sticky stuff after washing dishes.  Ah, shop life.

The rain abated long enough for a half-dozen sales.  A few browsers stopped through, chatting about the cuteness of the store and the novelty of the artists’ creations.  By three or so, a gentle drizzle fell.  Quiet surrounded me.  I scrolled through my phone, idly looking for photographs to share on our Facebook page.  I stopped to study a series of shots taken on the levee road near my house of swans in the high winter water.  I felt a curl of tension ease deep in my gut.  Years ago, I shuddered at the thought of moving to the country, vigorously protesting the alien ways that I resisted adopting.  Now I tarry on the side of the road, leaning from my car window to gawk at passing birds.  Cars glide by without so much as slowing even though they have to change lanes to avoid collision.  The drivers understand the irresistible lure of swans a-swimming.

It’s the seventeenth day of the one-hundred and twenty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Where It All Began

I confess that I prefer to spend this day in the comfort of my home, isolated from the potential that I might again encounter a sun-blinded Iranian driving a VW.  I intended to write this passage at the exact temporal anniversary of my last such encounter but I forgot about the time difference.

So let me say it, here, now:  At 5:25 p.m. CST, on 09 February 1982, on Westport Road halfway between Broadway and Pennsylvania, in Kansas City, Missouri, I stepped off the curb and succumbed to that sun-blinded gentleman in his silver Scirroco.  He had not braked; he had not slowed.  The dazzling glare of the setting sun had completely hidden my form.  He plowed right into my left leg as though I did not exist.  I’ve written about this before now:  The catapult into the air over three stories; the curling into a ball to protect my head; the odd sensation of traveling beyond my body; the ethereal figure which gently pushed my spirit downward, the long rush until I smacked into the hood of the very car that had sent me flying.  The crash into his windshield.  The stunning vehemence of the launch forward eighty-two feet.  The thud as I hit the ground, still tightly rolled into a knot.  Film at eleven, oooo ahhhh ahhhh.

For quite a few years, I did not go anywhere on February 09th.  That superstition abated a decade or more ago.  But I did stay home today.  I had intended to go to the coast, and it would have been a good day for such a drive.  The sun warmed the air; the few chores that I’ve managed to finish could have waited another week.  I cancelled the trip because it seemed frivolous.  Now I wonder if it might have been cathartic instead.

From my 1982 experience, I formed an intense bond with the notion of angels.  Most of the time in the emergency room that day I huddled over my shattered right leg and cursed the divine entity that seemed to have brought me yet another spate of horrid luck.  Days later though, calmed by occasional spurts of morphine, I realized that an angel had saved me.  I told the story to anyone who would listen — the nurse, law school class mates, my worried mother.  They patted my arm and remarked that the mind plays tricks on us in moments of stress.  But I knew what I saw.  I stopped repeating the story but not believing it.  I had seen that same entity on a prior occasion when it had alerted me to a trespasser.  In 1984, it visited my mother to tell her about the cancer and how long she would live.  We walked in my mother’s garden and talked about the being’s comforting assurances.  My mother had forgotten about my own heavenly guide and I did not remind her.  I felt no need.  I let her have the moment.

When I decided to “go tiny”, I knew that I would name my house some variation of its ultimate  “Angel’s Haven”.  Some back-and-forth with various friends led to the singular possessive; most of them thought it should be plural possessive, but there’s always been only one angel.  She visited me twice and my mother once.  I wanted her to feel welcome in this small home.  My son gave me a metal angel that we bolted to the outside by the porch light.  I have an angel on my door, and angels peppered throughout my admittedly maximalist decor.  My affinity for the celestial being prompts many a Christmas gift and the collection continues to grow. 

As I sit typing, the quiet light of my eastern window illuminates the plastic angel that I brought from my childhood home.  She has gathered dust, to be honest.  She once hung from a satin ribbon which has long since been lost.  But she kneels on the sill beside my son’s toy turtle, a Rockin’ Rio Vista Rock, and a sign giving me a good piece of advice.  Above her, a heart sings out, twirling beneath a stained glass bird that my boy made for me in elementary school.  I cannot get my fill of the sight.  I gaze outward as the sun begins to set and the light grows dim.

It’s the ninth day of the one-hundred and twenty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.