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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.

Swiftly go the days

My siblings forget that I live in another time zone.  They start their bantering texts at seven-thirty their time, before my alarm rings.  When I remark on this intrusion, people admonish me, suggesting that I should turn off my phone or tolerate the startling blast into my dark home.  But if I don’t leave my phone active, I would never know about an emergency.  One of my siblings insists that I should be grateful to be contacted by anyone at all.  She  might be right.

The rain holds off until I get out of the house and on my way to town.  When I first peek my nose outside to check on the weather, I see a glimmer of sunrise on the trees rising above my neighbor’s house.   To the south, another glow kisses the roof of the marina slips.  I stand and watch the rise of the amber light.  The sky lightens while across its delicate expanse, a flock of sandhill cranes cuts their raucous way through the wispy clouds.  

By night the wind shakes my house.  For the hundredth time, I reflect on my desperate search for someone to get my generator running.  I can only hope that my dilatory search lands me on a competent helper.  The lights shine and the heater hums.  In a few minutes, I will clean the day’s dishes and struggle through the papers on my desk.  I’ve moved them around a hundred times.  I’m hoping that today will be the lucky hundred and first attempt to harness the rubble.  

My early entry into the conscious hours haunts me.  I feel my eyelids flutter as I listen to a news program and scroll through social media.  The month draws to a close.  The rapidity with which this year slips away startles me.  So swiftly go the days.  The need to compile a list of tasks which I long to accomplish presses itself against my psyche.  But in this moment, I listen to the wind and the rain, and the rattle of the trees against my window.  With luck, I will see another dawn.  If my siblings interrupt my sleep, I pledge to hold my tongue and let them fill my sleepy moments with their cheerful nonsense.  

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

Moonstruck

The day began two hours earlier than usual.  I woke in the ebony silence.   I closed my eyes and realized that silence had awakened me; a new and unexpected absence of sound.   The rain had stopped.

I spent an hour or so stumbling through the darkness.  I got my computer ready for the webinar at 8 and the medical appointment at 11.  Coffee dripped through the metal funnel while I cautiously stretched my failing spine.  A fragile aroma of warmed butter  wafted from the skillet.  I coaxed fluffy curds of egg onto a crisp slice of toasted sourdough and sank into my small chair.

A few hours later, I shook the dullness of the lecturer’s voice and the agitation of the tardy doctor from my mind.  Grabbing pocketbook, coat, and a sweet tangerine, I hurried outside.  Behind the wheel of my cluttered car, I skirted the levee roads toward town.  There I settled into another chair, a pseudo-leather one, with an oddly tilted back and peeling armrests.  Crammed between a monstrous fake wood desk and a bank of lateral files, I hammered at computer keys as steadily as possible for five grim hours.  Enmeshed in mangling software to produce the necessary client-specific sheaf of documents, I broke my drafting stride only a handful of times, once to eat that orange, and twice to listen to a client whose panicked tone sent daggers of tension down the numbed nerves of my compressed vertebrae.  I steeled myself to remain pleasant, even reassuring.  Don’t complain, I scolded, silently, sternly.

By five o’clock this afternoon, collapse from exhaustion loomed.  I dragged my weary bones to my car and started east.    My hands turned the wheel nearly without benefit of conscious direction. My brain barely registered the drone of a news commentator’s voice on the radio.  I scarcely noticed the river’s rippling surface as I descended  the Rio Vista Bridge and crossed into Sacramento County, a few miles from home and welcome rest.

As I rounded the western edge of the Delta Loop, a golden glow lifted itself into the sky.  I braked.  I stared across Andrus Island.  My foot hovered over the accelerator for a long minute.  When I started forward again, I kept my eyes fixed on the astonishing sight.  Without noticing, I slowly cruised beyond the entrance to my park.  I let my engine idle as I veered into a parking space outside an old abandoned restaurant. 

A pall of regret loomed.  Not a year ago, my trusty Canon would have sat beside me, always at the ready.  Somehow my sense of adventure surrendered to my conviction that I could not produce a credible image.  I let the batteries die.  I stashed the lot in one of the stairwell cubbies.  Now I could only raise the one lens at hand, a basic Samsung smart phone.  I held it as steady as I could.  I strained to memorialize the breathtaking beauty which presented itself for my astonished, bleary eyes.  I did what I could.  As with every other minute of this daunting day, my best and clumsy effort had to suffice.

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

Where there’s life

Winter in northern California means periods of mild temperatures bookended by days of torrential rain.  This wild ride continues from late December through early March.  We in the Delta slog through puddles, muck, and sheets of water as we traverse to and from our vehicles, offices, and the grocery store.  My sister asked if we would have umbrella bags in our new shop.  My brow furrowed as I contemplated whether I had ever seen anyone carry an umbrella in California.  I own several, of course; but I’m not sure they still work.  We just dash here and there wearing what passes for coats and scarves.  Natives casually stroll beneath the cold rain and grey skies with jackets flapping.  

I often stand in my tiny yard and gaze upward at a dismal expanse.  Migrating flocks head east in the morning to feed near the rivers.  At dusk they return to our island to settle in the flooded furrows of nearby fallow fields. In the six years that I’ve lived here, I’ve lost some of the bodily resilience of my Midwestern roots.  People whom I mocked during my early ex-pat days raise an eyebrow when they see me wrapped in layers of wool.  My friends in Kansas City post pictures of snow, ice, and weather widgets proclaiming the impending Armageddon.  Four degrees!  Minus ten!  Sleet, ice, closed schools!  And here I dwell, nighttime air in the mid-40s, blue skies for half the week.

But I’m still cold.  There’s a kernel of ice somewhere deep in my spirit that emanates a pervasive chill.  In my reflective moments, I suspect that I have miles to go before I could hope to restore whatever broken pieces of myself I might still salvage.  Once upon a time, I wrote a poem about a broken heart-shaped bottle that held a plant on my window sill.  In actuality and in the clumsy verse, I swept those pieces into a trashcan and continued with the mundane affairs of the day.  Such nonchalance now eludes me.  Still, I can’t say if I’m cold because I’m lonely, or because my body has grown unaccustomed to the sting of winter breezes.  

This morning I emerged from the house with my usual clumsy amble.  I stood on the steps of my porch and studied the little garden that my neighbor Bri has deftly revived.  The rain has seeped into the rich soil into which Bri transplanted my struggling succulents and the few non-succulents that I had not yet killed.  Her gentle ministration saved my neglected garden.  Here and there, little blooms unfurl.  As I descended the stairs, I stopped to admire the sturdiness of these potted gems.  In those few moments, I swear to you, I felt that hard cold nugget deep within me start to thaw.

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

Winter in the west

While my friends back home shovel snow and burrow into their blankets, I debate between a raincoat and a wool sweater.  I might still have mittens somewhere in the bottom of the little cedar chest that a carpenter in Arkansas made for my son before his birth.  I rummaged for something else the other day and saw a couple of warm hats; not the pretty boiled wool kind, but stocking caps that I knitted in the land of cold and ice.  I ought to donate them.  I shoved them further down beneath the summer shawls and my baby brother’s afghan.

The days have already started to lengthen.  We had a week of rain.  If the universe smiles on us, we’ll hit that sweet spot between barely enough water to keep us out of a drought and hopeless bogs of mud for months.  I oiled my new Blundstone boots so I’m ready.

I bought those boots to use with the leg braces that turned out, so far, to be a monumental failure.  I asked the orthotist why she recommended the exact type that now sits like deadweight beneath my twenty-inches of hanging clothes.  She gave me a long-winded explanation that amounted to evasion.  With more probing, I finally concluded that she has no regard for my decades of hard work to stay on my feet.  She figured that I needed about a half yard of hard plastic to replace what she obviously considers to be useless calves.  Sorry, friend; but I’ll keep my own muscles, spasticity and all.   I didn’t say that, of course.  I demurred and said that I would talk with her at my next appointment.  

But the boots work for me, even though they are a size bigger than my customary choice.  It seems that my feet enjoy the extra room.  I tie the laces as snug as they will go and can still wiggle my toes.  I’ve only fallen once in the last month, and that wasn’t my fault, really — the curb by the office at which I work must be a few feet high.  My muscle memory kicked into gear and I landed on my bottom.  I struggled back to vertical and took a few timid steps into the street.  Suddenly, an SUV bore down on me, closing the gap from a block away in seconds.  I screamed and the driver screeched to a stop.  She rolled down her window and hollered, I didn’t see you, why aren’t you in the crosswalk, you idiot woman!  I told her to slow down, it’s a small town, and struggled into my car.  

She was right, of course.  I’ve been hit by a car as a pedestrian twice in my life. once without injury (in a crosswalk) and once resulting in a crushed right leg (not in a crosswalk).  I drove home still shaking from the encounter, wondering if the third time might have been a charm.  I laughed as I traveled across the Rio Vista Bridge, reflecting that the third time getting married didn’t do much for me.  Except, of course, for ruining Valentine’s Day; so, maybe not.

As I rounded the hairpin turn near my home, the sun eased itself into the bank of wispy clouds on the far horizon.  A few minutes later, I sat in my cooling car, thinking about my first winter in the west.  A loose line of cranes slipped through the sky.  In the tree above my neighbor’s house, an owl called to its mate, low, mournful, deliberate.  I stepped onto the slick of damp earth and drew a breath.  To the left, a blaze through the trees announced the impending darkness.  I spent a long minute watching the glow settle beneath the levee.  When night had gathered around me, I collected my thoughts and went inside.

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

Can you see me now?

Hello, my name is Corinne.  I’m an inveterate complainer.

Hi, Corinne.

I’m standing before you, the half-dozen folks who still follow my quest to traverse an uninterrupted span of 365 days complaint-free, to confess that on 03 January 2024, I filed a grievance with my health insurance company regarding care given to me by one of its network providers.  Technically, that constitutes a complaint.  So I’ve already broken my promise.

The last act in the sequence of events happened on 20 December 2023.  I had sixty days within which to file a grievance.  I could have gotten it done before the first of the new year.   My reason for delaying relates to this very blog.  I kept asking myself, If I file a grievance, can I consider my mission once again sabotaged?

A lively debate on this topic ensued in the first months of my journey.  As an active law practitioner at the time (still fully licensed in good standing in the great state of Missouri), I had the professional obligation to advocate for my clients.  I’m also a casual protestor of buildings that pose challenges to those of us with ambulatory impairments.  Continuing both pursuits seemed acceptable, even ethically mandated if not critical for my livelihood in the first instance.  My early readers gave me a pass and I allowed those exceptions to my rules.

Thus far my journey has spanned ten years.  I have yet to meet my goal.  In this decade, I have navigated many personal challenges, though none that I consider catastrophic.  To borrow from Singer, “No little children have died from this.”  No bombs fall on my village.  Yet I’ve been strained.  While my outlook continues to improve, I still grouse at everyday annoyances though more jovially; and I still find myself shaking my proverbial fist at the possibly real divine entity who might or might not exist and who, if real, certainly has a wicked sense of humor.

So — for the last two weeks, I have reflected on whether I should pursue the situation regarding this provider, an eye care clinic in the Bay area who shall mercifully go nameless here.  I’m out some actual money and have nothing to show for it except yet another pair of incorrectly prescribed and poorly made glasses.  I’ve wasted another year trying to find effective and reliable vision care.  I endured misogynistic conduct by one of the clinic’s employees which I felt compelled to tolerate on two occasions as I tried to force the square peg of inadequacy into the round hole of necessity.  The clinic promised a refund for the glasses copay, and then demanded a full release in exchange for it which I declined to give.  We reached a stalemate.  They admitted inability; I refused to accord a full-scale waiver for the mere tender of my co-pay for the glasses, which, given my terrible prescription, amounted to five-hundred dollars even with vision insurance. 

If they had not offered the refund and then demanded the release after the offer as a condition, I might have just taken the refund and gone away.  But more seemed at stake.  I had dedicated seven months to my effort to receive the specialty care for which I had been referred to the place.  I had spent two overnights in the Bay area to be on time for early morning appointments.  I endured the arm-pats of their male employee who kept telling me that I should not ask any questions of him because he had two decades of experience.  I watched another staff member roll their eyes while I carefully articulated factual accounts of my issues.  I had a staggering moment of grim clarity when one of their doctors said, and I quote, “I’m just going to pick a prescription halfway between your [six-year-old glasses] and the second of the two different readings that I got today.”  Forget the first pair of glasses that they made from their first prescription — made incorrectly, by their admission, and not the right prescription by my judgment as I could not see with them.

Exhaustion ruled.  I strained to keep a level head, a civil voice, and a calm demeanor.  For the most part, I succeeded by keeping much of my communication via email so that I could edit before transmission and circumvent the twin bogeymen of voice tone and facial expression.  When my efforts failed on the horns of their last-minute demand for a full waiver and release in exchange for the mere tender of the copay, I found myself thinking, What would Marshall Rosenberg do?  I asked myself if their demand for a release fell into the category of reasonableness, reflecting from the dispassionate voice of an attorney.  I answered the question in the negative. 

They offered a refund for my co-pay portion of the glasses that they originally had pledged to remake.  The co-pay issue solely addressed one facet of the experience.  Had they not demanded a release, I probably would have let the entire sorry episode fall into the annals of history.  But the behavior of their staff, the dismissiveness of the head doctor in my discussions with him, and the bottom line consideration of future, less savvy patients combined to suggest that the entire situation fell into the original exceptions to the structure of this pursuit.  By filing a grievance, I might expose their conduct and protect future, less informed consumers from the same treatment.

Or so I reason.  What say you?  Can you see me now?  Am I in focus?  Or did I just deftly and implausibly justify my own failure to honor my moral undertaking?  As they say on YouTube, comment below.  I’m all ears.

It’s the fifth day of the one-hundred and twenty-first month of My [Endless] Year [Trying to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

 

Rest In Peace, Ross C. Taggart, US Army, Retired

I first met Ross Taggart outside the house to which I had just brought my then-three-year-old son to spend an evening while I went on a date.  The fellow with whom I would be having dinner stood a few feet away as Katrina introduced me to her husband.  We watched their son and mine scamper across the yard.  Ross glanced over my shoulder and said, by way of greeting, Are you sure you want to do this?

I laughed; but of course, he turned out to be correct and the man in question broke my heart a few months later.  Two marriages, two divorces, and nearly three decades later, I wonder at the prescience of that simple query.  

Over the years, Ross and I had a few clashes.  I can’t recall the substance of most of them now.  The anger that one or the other of us felt has washed away like driftwood buoyed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean making its way to and from the shore.  Ultimately, I came to have a certain possibly begrudging respect for him.  He conquered alcohol addiction and created a small and intricate world for himself centered in a well-fitted old van.  From that vehicle, on a volunteer basis, he monitored the local highways and often got to the scene of a crash before law enforcement.  He would set up a protective perimeter and, I suppose — I never saw first-hand — provide rudimentary comfort until official help arrived.  I’m sure some officers found this annoying, possibly dangerous, but many praised him.  I can only imagine that those whose lives had just been sent into a tailspin found his presence to be soothing.

Ross had strong and definite opinions and expressed them freely.  He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren without reservation.  He showed unwavering loyalty to his friends.  He took great pride in his service to the United States of America.  As with every human being, Ross Campbell Taggart cannot be said to have been perfect.    But he lived his life with intensity.  He embraced challenge in his own unique way.    And whatever might be said of him, you can at least know that Ross never did anything in a spirit of artifice.  You knew where you stood with him.  You appreciated his values.  You admired his tenacity.

One time shortly after one of my divorces, I think the third one but I cannot be sure, I drove over to the Taggart house for Sunday brunch.  Ross had been cultivating grass on the forward perimeter of the lawn closest to their house where I usually parked.  Without realizing that, I pulled my car into my customary spot.  Ross came charging from the front door, scolding me, insisting that I move the vehicle.  I did so, shaken a bit, perhaps more than the situation warranted due to my instant emotional frailty.

A few days later, I got a written apology from Ross.  He explained that he had over-reacted and he asked for my forgiveness.  My respect for him grew.  It takes courage even to silently admit that you erred, and it takes profound grace to articulate the folly of your actions to another.  Well done, sir.

I searched my computer, my old Dropbox, and Google photos for photos taken of Ross over the years.  I know I have some.  My son and I shared Christmas and Easter with the Taggarts for many years.  But I failed to find the trove that must have been shredded in print form when I moved.  So I went to his daughter Caitlin’s social media and found two that I particularly like, and added one from my meagre salvaged digital stash which I find particularly endearing.  I hope his family does not mind its slightly unflattering presentment.

After any of us dies, those left behind search for something to which we can cling to preserve them in our memory.  These photos provide that solace for me.  I had not seen Ross in several years, perhaps five.  I know that his health had declined.  I talked with Katrina from time to time.  His death did not surprise.  But it stunned.  At the dawn of 2024, there is a Ross- Taggart-shaped hole in the universe.  May his spirit, and the hearts of his family, find peace.

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