Thursday, February 23, 2012

8. Sharing a Cat’s Nine Lives (Medical Marvel?)

Not many people have the privilege of being chosen as a bed partner by a cat who survived being hit by a car twice, not to mention numerous other minor scrapes during his nine lives.   I’m not especially fond of felines but I was happy to be the recipient of his friendship.   I hoped the cat’s good luck might rub off on me as I underwent treatment for a rare cancer.
            I had already been through testing and diagnosis in Chicago but the tumor in my eye (ocular melanoma) was too large for their radiation equipment.  I made plans to go to a world famous ophthalmologist in Boston who would oversee my treatment at one of the only two proton beam radiation facilities then available.  After an earlier preliminary visit and minor surgery, I was back on a Boston bound plane to start the curative therapy.  I had waiting for me a custom made hockey mask to hold my head while the radiation hit the right spot.  It reminded me of the monster in “Friday the 13th.”
Flying to Boston for medical treatment was unnerving.  Sitting on a plane while mechanics fiddled around with a mechanical problem preventing take off did not make me feel better.  And of course it wasn’t at all relaxing to be told the reason for the delay was only one of the three toilets was working.  After 30 minutes of failure to repair, the captain’s calm, authoritative voice announced, “Sorry about the delay.  We’ve decided to get you good people out to Boston as soon as we can.  But since we’re flying on only one toilet, we advise everyone to get off the plane, use the facilities, and please come back on.  You will be able to go through a special security check point to get back on.”  This did not bode well for my future. 
            Our plane eventually took off and arrived, a little late, at Logan airport.  On the flight I tried not to think of needing a bathroom break which I never thought about on flights before.  At the baggage carousel I had another surprise.  My suitcase had not arrived with us.  For some reason it would be on the next flight.  Did my suitcase have a bathroom problem I didn’t know about?
“We’re very sorry Ms. Tippett, you can either wait for your luggage to arrive in the next couple of hours or it will be delivered tomorrow morning to your hotel.” 
Hmm, wait hours so I can schlep it out to a cab and then heft it out of the cab and up to the Maple Inn’s front door or have door to door delivery service.  One of the easiest decisions of the last few weeks.  And not to worry.  My carry on always has a change of underwear and a toothbrush. 
The 10 day treatment plan was a short blast every other morning of proton beam radiation skipping the weekend.  Fortunately, the radiation didn’t make me sick, but the March weather was cold and rainy so there wasn’t much incentive to walk around Cambridge, a nice college town.  There were lots of book stores for browsing that helped pass some time.  Otherwise, it was chatting with the other residents.  Most of us were going through the same treatment so we had lots in common.
            The inn had a resident cat.  Gus, an orange marmalade, barrel of a cat made the rounds of us arranged on various chairs and settees in the sitting room.  Sniffing at our feet and looking up into our faces for what?  The first night after a complete circle, he made a wandering walk back to my feet, meowed and jumped up landing like a bomb in my lap.  “Oof,” I wheezed.
            From that moment, he seemed to belong to me, or more likely, he had staked me out as his possession.  When I came back from treatment he’d run up to greet me, meowing furiously.  As I sat, sipping tea and crunching the oatmeal cookies left out for afternoon snacking, he’d sit by my side, purring peacefully.   When I gathered my belongings to head up to my room, he scampered up the stairs ahead of  me and waited patiently by the door until I opened it.
            The room was small with a double bed covered in a brown and rose colored quit.  A peach club chair next to the bed was just wide enough for me to sit reading while Gus cuddled up to me.  Sometimes if I was feeling tired, I stretched out on the bed to read.  Again Gus stretched out next to me, one paw resting on my hip as if to assure himself that I would not leave without him knowing about it. 
            The second day, Martha the manager had explained his remarkable history.  “Oh, that Gus.  He’s quite a cat.  He’s been hit twice by cars and I think the cars were worse off than he was.”
             I laughed.  “I can believe it.  He’s sure a healthy looking cat.  He must weigh, what, about 20 pounds?” 
She corrected me. “25 ½ pounds at his last checkup.  The owners try to keep him in at nights now.  He’s not happy about it, but when he finds someone he likes, like he seems to have with you, he’s better about staying in.”
“I’ve never been a cat lover, but it is comforting to have him around me.  His purring is very soothing.”
           “Good enough then.  It seems you’re both helping each other.”
            Gus stayed with me when he could until I finished my treatment plan and got ready to fly back to Chicago.  I had been assured that the treatment should completely destroy the malignant tumor but of course I had worries.
           As I checked out of the Inn, Martha was on duty again.  “I hope everything goes well with you now.  We don’t hear too much of what happens to our residents after they go back home.  But usually we always get an update from the ones that Gus chose as a special friend.  They always seem to believe his good luck rubbed off on them as they never had a recurrence of whatever problem they had.”
         “Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it happens to me too.”
          And I guess it did because it’s now been 7 years since I was at the Inn and I’m still in Chicago and Gus is still at the Inn.
                                                       The End

Thursday, February 16, 2012

7. Kindness Lasts (another Valentine's Day story)

I was working as a file clerk in a small insurance company in Indio.   The work was fairly easy, once you learned their system, but boring.  However, boring was just what I wanted at that point in my life.  I had just gotten out of a very exciting marriage to Joe, a good looking man who had been a great date but a bad husband.  Exciting is not always good.  A roller coaster is exciting but you don’t want to be riding on one all day, every day.  My external bruises had healed, but my internal bruises would take longer.  I was back living with my Mom and Dad, where I felt safe and comfortable.  My mother had just hugged me and said, “At least you weren’t married in the church.”
           After the highs and lows of my previous life, I was beginning to get my equilibrium back.  I enjoyed going out to lunch with the other women workers, talking about their dates, their clothes, and their problems with their mothers.  Most of the office staff were young--a company policy to keep our salaries barely above minimum wage.   I was just 23 and the only one who had been married.  After the divorce I cut my brown hair really short, stopped adding highlights, and dressed as boring as I could.  I was not interested in being sexy ever again. 
            Diane was a special friend that I got to know really well since we shared the same desk.  Yes, we shared the same desk.  The company was so small no one at our level actually had their own desk.   Fortunately, we got along really well.  Some of the desk partners had problems when one was excessively neat or excessively sloppy.  But Diane and I were like sisters.  She knew about my unhappy marriage, but still would kid me about getting back on the saddle again. I laughed and shook my head, “I’m not interested in men, not now and maybe never.” 
            She would flip her long dark hair and argue back, “Oh, Rita, you wait and see.  Someday some man is going to knock you right off your feet and into his bed.  You just haven’t met him yet.”
            “No man is ever going to do that to me again.  I’ve been vaccinated by Joe.  I’m immune to love and good looking men.”
            Diane’s boyfriend, Max, was in the Marines and had been deployed overseas.  She had a large calendar on our desk where she crossed off the days until he would be home again.  Although she missed him a lot, she kept busy trying to help others be happy.  She also lived at home with her parents and younger brothers and sisters.  She invited me to as many of her family events as I would attend.  I think she just wanted me to get out of the house.
            Most of her after work socializing was with office staff or her cousin, Georgio.  He was from Ecuador but had a student visa to go to Coachella Valley Community College.  He was older, about 30, having worked to save money to come to the states.  He continued to save money by living with Diane’s parents and in return, doing odd jobs for them.  His two year course in air conditioning and heating technology was almost over. 
            I went out with the two of them a few times for beer and pizza.  Although Diane tried to get me interested in other men she knew, she treated Georgio affectionately as an annoying older brother.  She didn’t think he was very good looking.  And he wasn’t.  He was short and stocky and had a swarthy complexion.  His thick black hair wouldn’t stay down and looked like it had never seen a comb.  But he had a sweet smile and shining black eyes like olives.  He was OK, but as I said, I was not looking for romance.
            Although I wasn’t interested in the guy, I couldn’t help but notice how kind he was.  If Diane had forgotten something back in the office, he would always go back and get it for her.  Once a homeless person was yelling and cursing.  Diane and I were cringing and trying to ignore the man.  Georgio walked right up to him, looked him in the eyes and said, “It’s hard man, ain’t it?  I know it’s hard, very hard.”  He reached out to give the man a handshake.  The man was stunned, but then shook his head quietly and walked away.   I thought to myself if all men acted like Georgio, women wouldn’t have any problems.
            A few weeks later, Diane came to work with red, tear stained eyes.  I asked, “What’s the matter, chica?  Can I help you?”
            “Oh, it’s just terrible.  Georgio’s student visa has run out and he has to leave the country or he’ll be arrested as an illegal immigrant.  The visa was only until his two year program was done.  And they won’t extend it any further because of the quotas.  He doesn’t want to go back to Ecuador and we don’t want him to leave.”
            That morning I kept thinking about their problem and how this super nice, super kind guy had to leave.  Finally, on our break I looked at Diane and surprised myself by saying, “You know, I wouldn’t mind marrying him, but just so he can stay in the country.  He’s a nice guy and I think he deserves a break.  But I don’t want any hanky-panky stuff.”
            Well, it may not have been the most romantic wedding in history and there certainly wasn’t any honeymoon.  However, we did have to share an apartment because of the INS.  Georgio had gotten a job at a small HVAC firm, so we could afford to split the costs.  Every day, he was nicer than the day before.  Of course, I knew he was grateful for what I had done for him, but you can tell when actions come from the heart. 
            After 3 months of living like roommates, he hesitantly asked me to go out on a real date, “Miss Rita, I would like to thank you for what you’ve done for me.  If you don’t mind I could take you out to dinner to a nice restaurant I know”. 
            I was worried this might mean a change in our relationship, so I explained, “’I’d like to go with you as long you know, we are going just as friends.”  He said, “Of course, of course.  It’s just a thank you.”
           He was a perfect gentleman and treated me like the most special person in the world.  That dinner led to more outings.  We continued to just date and get to know each other better for several months. I was still worried about opening my heart again.
            Even though living in the same small apartment, I continued to sleep in the bedroom and he on the hide a bed in the living room.  And then one night six months later we were eating tacos.  Sauce was dripping all over my mouth and hands.  He looked at me and said, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met.” 
            I stopped eating, wiped my hands on a paper napkin and really looked at him.  I no longer saw the awkward young student who wasn’t very handsome.  I felt I could look into his soul and see the beauty that came from his true nature.  After a long conversation, we decided to make our relationship become a  real marriage.  This time it was a church wedding.
            We’ve been married 27 years and have quite a story to tell our grandchildren.  Looks may attract, but kindness lasts.
                                                               The End

Thursday, February 9, 2012

6. The Miracle at San Miguel de Allende (A love story for Valentine's Day) a little longer than usual.

The miracle at San Miguel was not a religious miracle.  It wasn’t even a medical miracle.  Perhaps some people may not even consider it a miracle, but I did.  Let me tell you what happened and you decide.
My husband, Jack, and I walked through the flower filled and tiled courtyard to the outside dining room.  We smiled at each other as we smelled the inn’s famous cheese tortillas being prepared for breakfast.  Mexican leather chairs surrounded tables covered with red, green, and yellow flower printed oil cloth.  One large table in the center was set for the six guests that were here this weekend.  It was August and not too many people came at this time of year, but we were celebrating our 5th anniversary in this ancient, Mexican Colonial town of San Miguel de Allende which we had first happily explored on our honeymoon.
We had been told the other guests were a young honeymoon couple and a much older couple.   The younger guests hadn’t shown for breakfast yet, which was not surprising.  The older couple were already starting in on their fresh-squeezed orange juice and flavorful Mexican coffee.  They seemed to be in their 70s, well dressed, and both wearing glasses which made their eyes look enormous. 
“Hi, I’m Jack.” My husband reached out to shake their hands.   “And this is my wife, Pat.” 
The older man stood, smiled and said, “I’m Tom and my beautiful bride is Andrea.  We’re here to visit this charming little town on a belated honeymoon.”
Andrea, her blue eyes sparkling, cut in to add, “We’ve only been married for 3 months.”
          Tom explained, “We have lots of friends here even though this is our first trip.  People we knew up in the Bay area of California are now living down here full-time.”
Andrea chimed in, “Yes, they like the low prices.  But I’m not so sure the quality of things down here is good enough.”
“Now, now, Andrea, we can’t expect everything to be like it is at home.”  Tom patted her arm.  She pulled it away angrily. “Don’t patronize me, you old fool.”   He flinched and muttered something under his breath.
Oh, Oh, I thought to myself.  It doesn’t look like this honeymoon is boding well for the longevity of this marriage.  The other couple, Kyle and Kay, made their appearance looking tired, but smiling delightedly at each other.  I hoped they would give Tom and Andrea a good example.  The older couple did stop squabbling at breakfast, and being agreeable, we all planned to meet at a well-known and inexpensive restaurant for dinner.
            That day Jack and I had a great time walking over the narrow, cobble stoned streets.  There seemed to be an old stone angel set into a building niche at every corner intersection and I prayed that they would look over us during this trip, and also over the other couples at the inn.  Viewing the town again brought back wonderful memories, and after a quick trip to our room to rest and refresh ourselves, we were looking forward to the evening get-together.
As soon as we got to O'Leary’s Irish Pub—yes it is owned by two Irish brothers who immigrated to Mexico about 20 years ago—we could hear Tom and Andrea fussing at each other.   Andrea had picked a table back near the wall, while Tom had wanted a table further in.  He said her choice was near the bathrooms and would smell.  She said his was too close to the stage and would be noisy.
Jack laughed and said, “Come on you guys.  Let’s compromise and sit in the middle.”  So we did and then we found out that the younger honeymoon couple had decided not to meet with us.  Tom said that Kyle had picked up a stomach bug and he and Kay were staying at the inn for the evening.
I thought to myself, I guess they had enough of Tom and Andrea’s squabbling and didn’t want it to spoil their enjoyment of this once in a lifetime trip.  After all you only have one honeymoon—although I guess with today’s divorce statistics I should say you only have one ‘first’ honeymoon.
In spite of Tom and Andrea’s fussing with each other, Jack and I had a good time.  The older couple actually was very interesting.  He was a retired podiatrist and she a retired librarian and they told lots of funny stories about the patients and patrons they had met during their careers.   He explained that he first saw her when she was volunteering at her library. He was trying to find a book on sailing, which he was thinking about taking up in his retirement.  Andrea was very helpful with pointing him towards appropriate books, but as they talked he lost interest in sailing and became more interested in her.  As he finished this charming story, they smiled at each other and I thought, Good.  Now maybe we can have some peace and quiet with them.
But it was not to be.  When we left the restaurant it had started raining and they both berated each other for forgetting their umbrella.  I always carried one of those ugly plastic hoods and offered it to Andrea, but she refused and said Tom would just have to look at her tonight looking like a drowned rat.
 Back at the inn, Jack and I crept quietly to our room and collapsed on our bed.  “What a night.  I can’t figure out what’s wrong with those two,” Jack groaned. 
“I know.  If this is their honeymoon, what will the marriage be like?”  I quickly pulled off my clothes and got into the new, lacy nightgown I had bought for the trip.  Jack put his arms around me, hugging me gently, murmuring, “It’s for sure they’re not going to have one like us.” 
The next morning at breakfast they were still arguing about the missing umbrella and the table choices.  I couldn’t believe it.  Tom kept trying to shush her and she kept saying she would not be shushed. 
I laughed and trying to make a joke out of it said, “Andrea, if you don’t get off this subject, I’m gong to bop you one.”  I don’t know if she believed me or was just shocked by what I said but she did start talking about how good the breakfast was.
We begged off getting together for dinner with them, but as luck would have it we did see them again during the day.  The American ex-patriots run a wonderful bi-lingual library which has a pleasant courtyard café with several trees shading the tables and chairs.  We remembered it as a delightful place for an afternoon pick me up, and I guess Tom and Andrea had found out about it, too.
They waved us over to join them and we did reluctantly.  But they seemed on their best behavior, telling funny stories and patting each other hands.  Until they got up to leave and Andrea objected to the size of the tip Tom was leaving, complaining, “Do you think we’re made of money?” 
He said abruptly, “Don’t worry about it.  You certainly didn’t worry about it when you bought that expensive silver necklace today.”  And they were off and running.  Fortunately, they kept on walking out of the café as they continued wrangling.
We were left in blissful peace.  Jack commented, “Well, we don’t have to spend any more time with them than we have to.  It’s too bad because they can be interesting and even nice, but sometimes it’s like striking a match in a gas filled room.”
The inn was buzzing when we got back from our long walk.  Staff members were bustling in and out of Tom and Andrea’s room.  We were curious but thought we’d just let it go and went directly to our room.  While we were reading over a list of possible restaurants for that night’s dinner, there was a knock on our door.  It was Tom.  He seemed upset.
“You probably wondered what all the commotion was about.  Andrea wasn’t paying attention and she was knocked down by a bus turning one of those narrow, sharp corners.”
“Oh my gosh,” I exclaimed.  “Was she run over?” 
“No, thank God.  She’s just a little bruised and shaken up.  She’s resting now.  I just felt I had to talk to someone about this.  I hope you don’t mind listening to me.”
“Of course we don’t.  Come on in.”  And then we learned one of the reasons for their strange relationship.  
Tom explained, “I just don’t know what I’d do if I lost Andrea.  I know it sounds like we quarrel a lot, but we’ve really been married for 50 years.  This trip is to celebrate our 50th anniversary.  But we thought it would sound more romantic if we made up that story about being honeymooners.  How we met is the truth but it was more than 50 years ago and I wasn’t thinking about retiring—just looking for a possible hobby.  We’ve really had a great life together but lately Andrea’s personality started changing and her doctor told me privately that she was in an early stage of Alzheimer’s.  I was devastated of course, but I decided not to let her know it until she had to.  So we’ve been muddling along the best we can.  It breaks my heart but after 50 years, she is my heart.”
After that long speech, he just started crying.  Jack and I just looked at each other.  We hadn’t even thought of that as a reason for her behavior. 
I asked, “Would it be all right if I just stepped in to see how she is and if she needs anything?”  I could tell he was exhausted and needed a break.
Jerry said, “Yes, yes.  Go on in.  If she’s not asleep I’m sure she’d like some company.”
When I quietly slipped into their room, I knew she was awake as her bright, blue eyes were looking at me.  It was hard to believe that this alert woman was slowly losing her mind.  What a waste.
“Hi Pat, I guess Tom told you what happened.  Those buses-- they just aren’t careful enough, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention either.”
I sat on the chair next to her.  “How are you doing?” I asked. 
“Oh, I’m fine.  I think Tom’s more upset than I am.  But then, as you probably noticed, he takes things very seriously these days.  I have to admit that we told you a little fib.  He thought it would be more romantic if we pretended to be honeymooners—more interesting he said.  But we’ve really been married 50 years and he has been my sweetheart every day of that time.  I don’t think I could go on without him.  He is the love of my life.  But I noticed that he started getting upset with me a lot, so when he had his last check-up I talked privately with the doctor.  I thought I would faint when I found out Tom is in the early stages of Alzheimer.  I was devastated but I vowed to keep on with our lives as long as possible, keeping the truth from him until he had to know.  You just don’t give up on 50 years of love and devotion.”
And that’s what I call a miracle.  In this age of throw-away marriages, there still exists the miracle of love.
                                      The End

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

5. The Flower Garden (Surprise Ending)

Jack had loved his job.  He enjoyed the challenge of writing new programs to analyze cancer data.  He happily worked so many hours of unpaid overtime his only social life was with his colleagues at work.   Fortunately, or unfortunately, his wife Shirley was gone, so she no longer complained about his hours away from home.  But he was getting older and although inside he still felt like a 30 year old dude, outside he was definitely 70 years old.  His knees ached, his vision was getting worse, and the winters were slowly killing him.  He needed to move south to a warmer place that would soothe his painful bones and perhaps put a spring back in his step.  Seemed like Milwaukee was getting too cold for him.  No matter what the pundits said about global warming.            So he had reluctantly retired, was given a nice retirement party, and a $100 Barnes & Noble gift certificate, “to help you get through your days without us,” Larry, his best friend at work had laughingly explained.
            Jack had a few thoughts about what his retirement would be like if Shirley was still around.  Constant nagging.  He cringed. Thank heavens, she was long gone.  To California—to seek her fortune.  He grinned to himself.  “At least that’s what everyone thinks.”
            But now he was free.  Free of her, free of a daily job, and soon free of his house and winter.  He had put the house on the market before he retired figuring it might take a while to sell.  It sold surprisingly fast.  The realtor told him the beautiful back yard flower garden had helped to sell it.  Shirley hadn’t liked flowers, too much work, she complained.  But once she was gone he was able to spend the little free time he had developing a showplace filled with every Midwestern flower.   He would probably miss their colors and scents in humid Florida. 
            The young couple who bought the house were coming for a final walk through before all the papers were signed and he turned over the keys.  He thought the wife looked pregnant and he could picture them in the backyard with a baby enjoying the fruits of his labor.  When they were all standing in the garden, his heart stopped as the wife said, “Your flowers are so beautiful, we will try to move as many as possible before we have the foundation for the extension dug out.”
            Jack stammered, “’
            The husband explained, “Didn’t the realtor tell you?  We want to add on to your house to make room for the new addition to our family.”  He smiled at his little joke and patted his wife’s belly.
            Jack felt his heart start up again, hammering faster and faster.  He didn’t say anything to them, but as soon as they left he called the realtor, telling her something had happened and he couldn’t go through with the sale.  She was mad, but he agreed to pay her part of her lost commission and she calmed down.  Jack could not calm down.  Now he knew the truth.  He was stuck in the snow and ice for the rest of his life.  His job was gone, his friends were gone, his dream of warm weather was gone.  All because his wife was not gone.  Shirley lay undisturbed—under the flowers, quietly fertilizing them.  And please God, Jack prayed, that’s where she would stay until he died.

                                                                             The End