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Archive for February, 2016


May 23

Charlie was ensconced in the little back room he’d converted to an office. There was floor to ceiling bookshelves, a large desk, three computers and stereo equipment that made me wish we’d sound proofed before he moved in. I was itching to make it my next project, but he had me swear not to touch it when he’d first moved in. There were boxes in there whose contents hadn’t seen the light of day since he was in college, but now were off limits to me. I should never have made that promise. How long after you’re married do you have to wait before you break a promise?

It had been a little over three years since Charlie first rang my doorbell. He was the new youth minister. The youth group had been meeting in my house since my son, Logan was nine.

The attraction wasn’t instant for either of us. Whenever I was around he seemed to be explaining lawn maintenance. I had a lawn service, why did I need to marry one?

Our friends were always trying to set us up. Finally I asked him out for coffee to shut them up. We met at a little coffee shop. He was discussing black hole theories. I realized he was smarter than I thought.

He explained how that affected his theory of predestination, whether God already knows if you’ll choose Christianity. Then I realized he was smarter than me.

After that we started seeing a lot more of each other. I hadn’t intended to remarry after one failed attempt. But when I looked into his eyes, there was an intensity there I’d never seen anywhere else. I was captivated by him, his intellect and his sense of purpose.  We were married less than a year after we began dating.

I have to tell Charlie. But what am I going to say? Hey Charlie, we’ve only been married for a year and I have an illness that’s probably terminal. I need you to stop what you’re doing and play nursemaid. How’s that fair?

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May 22

I had fallen in love with my house as surely as I had with any man. It wasn’t a house of aluminum or vinyl siding and a tidy little lawn. It was a strong stone house with a large meandering lawn shrouded in the shade of old oaks and pecans. It’s strong, rugged appearance appealed to me.

The deep shade of the porches wrapped the long, low house, providing the perfect retreat from the hot Texas summers. The old tin roof had seen almost a hundred summers. Unfortunately, it was the first thing to go, replaced by a rusty red version.

The wood floors were worn smooth from generations of feet padding through the large rooms under the high ceilings. The plank and beam ceilings had been blanketed with thick white paint when I moved in. No amount of caustic chemicals or scraping was able to completely lift it. The white still clung to the pores and cracks of the silvery wood. The old owners could never be completely erased, each generation leaving something for the next. I liked that thought.

In the early morning I was alone, barefoot on the porch, looking out over the lush green carpet down to the little creek. Pink and white azaleas lined the near bank with hostas, ferns and ivy on the far side. In back was a workshop painted a paling sky blue. The tall gables and large windows beckoned to me almost as much as the house. It would be the perfect guest house. But that was a plan for someday.

The main house wasn’t in the best of shape, but I was eager to bring this country remnant from the past back to life. And now listening to the rain on the roof, relaxing on the long deep porches, or sitting within the whitewashed stone walls, under the planked ceilings it was home.

I watched the tree branches waving slowly in the early morning breeze, the play of light glinting off the creek. Sitting in the aderondike chairs, I realized this house was the only thing I’ve ever really planned in my life. I spent months and months deciding every move that would be made. I hadn’t spent half that much time, figuring out what I wanted to do with me.

Once you have a family, you have responsibility you can’t just quit work and do what you want. You still have to earn a living. With a child to put through college, I had to be practical. I should want what I’m good at, what I can make money at. That would be the easy course.

Allie found me in my contemplative state, sipping tea. Margo says I need to hydrate, to get ready.

“We did a good job out here,” she said, plopping down beside me.

“Yea, this part is mostly your work.”

Allie came by almost every day when I first bought the house, painting, scraping and scrubbing. I ran out of ideas when it came to the garden, so she took over. She put the plan together. I hardly knew the names of any of the plants. She had been the one at Grandma’s side helping in the garden.

We sat for a while in silence.

“What did you want to be when you were a child?” I finally asked.

“Malibu Barbie,” she replied without hesitating. “You?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why?”

“I’ve been thinking maybe I should start my own property management company.”

“You should, everyone says you should,” Allie agreed.

“I just don’t feel it’s enough.”

It was enough until a few weeks ago. Why doesn’t it seem to be enough anymore? So I’m sick, that doesn’t mean I still don’t have forever, does it?

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May 20

When I went in to work, everything was the same. The candy dish was still on the counter. The receptionist was still answering the phones. The coffee was bubbling away as usual. Everything was the same except me.

I normally love the dark wood paneling and the logo, a sailboat superimposed over a compass, etched in the glass doors. The etching sparkles in the morning sun, sending prisms of light across the front of the reception desk. The counters covered in dark granite with streaks of green and aqua lights are cool to the touch during the hot summers. Usually the office looked rich, successful, stable. Today it looked dark, oppressive, ominous.

I sat at my desk looking at the report I spent ten hours putting together Friday. Why did I spend that time away from my family? No one cared if that report was finished Friday, today or tomorrow.

My reports that were so important last week, helped people make decisions. Decisions about whether to buy, sell, or develop properties. That’s what we did, develop and manage properties. At least, that’s what they did. I wasn’t sure what I did anymore.

This report listed all of the vacant space that needed to be leased. There was a couple of suites in a medical building, the fourth floor in a downtown office building, and an empty retail space two thousand square feet next to an anchor tenant in one of our strip shopping centers. Good space, should lease easily. The list went on.

Taking numbers and data and turning it into pictures and graphs. That’s what I did. I spent time from my husband and son writing a report about empty space, air, nothing.

All morning my office door kept opening. People coming and going, complaining as they always do. A salesman felt his territory had been encroached on. The receptionist didn’t get her break. Someone was taking lunches out of the refrigerator again. Everyone was looking to me to mediate the complaints. They came to me expecting understanding and solutions. But like the empty report on my empty desk, today I could only looked at them with empty eyes.

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May 18

I went to see Margo today. It’s still hard for me to take her seriously. I keep forgetting that she isn’t playing doctor. I halfway expect Dr. Miller to come in and take his coat and stethoscope back. Dr. Miller, the old town doctor sold his practice to Margo when she finished her residency.

Allie and I helped her “redecorate” his office when she took over. We started by removing Dr. Miller’s physician’s brick-a-brack. The exam rooms were a sea of plastic models and three dimensional posters – hip bones, hearts, digestive systems, ulcers, arteries, and sinuses. Every wall and surface was plastered and stacked with the stuff.

We replaced it with caramel colored walls and poster size photographs Margo took on a trip to Europe her parents had given her when she graduated. Each exam room was a different country. I was in the French room with pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumph, and a bridge over a quaint little brook with flower boxes bursting with pink and purple flowers.

Margo was surprised that Charlie wasn’t with me. She admonished me for not talking to him yet.

“You have to tell Charlie,” she said, going over my labs.

Once I told them, there would be no more pretending, no more places to hide. I really would have cancer.

“And Allie too.”

“Yep,” I said, focusing the caramel colored walls.

I studied a photograph of a church, not Notre Dame, but a small country church with large arches constructed of gray stone. Climbing vines thick with pink flowers obscured the doorway. I imagined you could discover the real France, alone in the early hours of the morning before tourists were crowding the roads and countryside.

“I’m sending you to Dr. Goldschmidt. He’s the best oncologist in Dallas.”

“Did all of France look like it was just pulled from the pages of a fairytale?”

“This is serious,” Margo replied.

She didn’t seem to understand what this had done to my world.

“I was just wondering. I always thought I’d go there someday, when Logan was older and settled.”

“You’re still going.”

I wasn’t sure, though I didn’t tell Margo.

“Yep, France when I’m seventy. That’s the plan. Maybe you and Allie can come with me. Girls gone wild… with canes. We’ll trip the Frenchmen.”

I usually make her roar with laughter, but not today.

“I’m taking you out on disability. Friday’s your last day.”

Margo turned back to her medical records, trying to be all business again, but I caught sight of the tears she was blinking back.

“I was thinking I’d keep working.”

“You work fifty hours a week,” she said.

“I’ll work less hours.”

“You won’t.”

“I want to work until I can’t anymore.”

“You can’t anymore. You’ll have a lot of doctors’ appointments over the next few weeks, the oncologist, radiologist, nutritionist. Once you start treatment, you won’t feel like it anymore,” Margo replied.

I don’t remember much about Mom while she was sick, not really sick. My grandmother and father kept me away from her, especially towards the end. How did she feel? How would I feel if things don’t go well?

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May

Illness

May 17

Gardening day had arrived. The day my sister and her husband, Gordon came to help me prep my garden. Allie brought Grandma’s old tiller. It’s a wonder it still worked, but it did.

Charlie and Gordon unloaded the tiller and started strategizing the best way to till the soil. Leave it to men to turn a garden into a military campaign.

I could hear my phone, playing a lively tune in the house and ran to catch it.

I recognized the voice on the other end. It was Margo. My childhood friend turned doctor.

“Jo, I need to see you right away,” her voice cracked.

“I can’t get away from the office for at least a week,” I told her.

I couldn’t just drop everything.

“It has to be Monday,” her voice rose in desperation.

“I can’t,” mine rose in irritation.

There was a loud crash outside.

“Just tell me.”

“Stop, stop,” everyone was yelling in unison.

“Margo Lynn Johnson, tell me now or I’m hanging up and you won’t see me for a month,” I demanded.

The smell of smoke hit me. Grandma’s tiller lay on the ground in two pieces.

We’re not going to be able to fix that, I thought.

“It’s cancer,” she broke with a sob. “I didn’t want to tell you. I wanted you to come in on Monday. We’d sit in my office and I’d find a way to tell you that wouldn’t hurt you. But there isn’t really any way.”

Stunned, I watched Gordon and Charlie struggling with the tiller. Allie stood nearby shouting orders.

Had she actually said cancer? No, this has to be a dream. I don’t have cancer. Cancer doesn’t run in my family.

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giant climbed down the beanstalk stopped at jacks

Now I know how Gulliver felt.

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April 27

I went in for a biopsy today. Allie was going to go with me to the hospital until something came up with Ladies Guild. Something seemed to come up pretty frequently, but that was Allie. That was my baby sister.

“I’ll meet you by the gate,” she said, when she called early this morning.

I knew she meant she’d be waiting in my room when they brought me back.

But Charlie was with me. He was there overseeing everything, asking the pertinent questions and taking note of any instructions. In my room, waiting, I had Charlie. As they wheeled me towards a roomful of strangers, panic set in. But by the time I got to the procedure room, I realized I was holding my breath.

I need to remember to breath.

I had heard stories of my Mom, how she joked with the staff and even argued with them. Not me, I couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t breathe, barely held back tears. I don’t know how she held it all together.

People were around me preparing, talking to each other, and hooking up equipment. I tried not to think about what they were doing.

I forced myself to concentrate on something other than what was about to happen. I tried to think about Allie, when we were kids. How we walked home together. I tried to recount the path. We’d start by the big oak tree by the gate to the playground.

“I’ll meet you at the gate,” we’d call to each other, parting in the morning.

And there she was waiting every afternoon. Well, almost every afternoon, sitting among the big gnarled roots of the tree.

My back started to tremble. I tried to relax the muscles to make it stop, but couldn’t.

You’re panicking just relax.

We’d walk down the side walk, the few blocks to home. We’d talk about our day and homework.

My teeth were chattering. I tried to keep my breathing even. I was shaking all over.

I needed to think about something else. I remembered Allie’s favorite dress. She wore it almost every day in the third grade. I tried to talk her out of it. It was embarrassing having your little sister wear the same dress every day. Mom washed it every evening. She didn’t care, but I did.

I could hear instruments rattling on a metal tray. My cheeks were moist from tears.

The dress, think about the dress, it was a cotton print with strawberries and a red collar. Grandma made it for her.

Someone slipped a plastic tube in my mouth.

And what about my brother, Bryan? Why had he abandoned us when we needed him most? How had he gotten so far away? How had I let this go on for so long?

I tried to remember to breathe, tried to relax, tried to stop shaking.

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