It doesn’t take much to bring out my antisocial tendencies. A drop in the temperature to anything below 40 is enough to keep me inside even on the best bar “holiday” of the year. Add in rain with the chance for snow and it guarantees my place on the couch, thoughtfully watching the world from the window.
So far I’ve only seen a deranged child clown leading a pack of hobos each carrying bulging bags of what I can only assume are filled with candy. As they shuffled by, I most fervently hoped that the costumed gang would pass our darkened doorway for the homes of our neighbors with carved pumpkins on the steps, orange lights outlining the porch, and giant inflatable lawn pumpkins.
I question myself at times like this when there isn’t a single place in the world I would rather be than curled up on my couch next to my sweet husband. He is ready to face the elements for a night out on the town yet willing to stay in with me. We used to be out every weekend at a party or a bar and now we stay in if the weather is bad or a good show is on tv or the cats seem extra needy.
Fortunately, we are stocked up on lunch meat, pumpkin beer, and a bowl of fun-sized candies intended for the trick-or-treaters. It’s warm and cozy inside and we have everything we need, including a sense of appreciation for the simple things like microwave popcorn and scary movies on cable.
These are the nights.
I’m pretty sure everyone has an emotional tender spot. It’s the one area that never quite healed up or formed correctly and the slightest nudge is enough to send shooting pains into the heart and wrap a web of shame around one’s brain. Some people have more tender spots than others, and some tender spots are tenderer than others.
For me, it’s the mention of my employment history. The mere suggestion at past jobs and reasons for leaving makes me shudder and the feeling of nausea rises from my stomach and into my throat. I have to swallow back bile at the thought of explaining the whole mess and hang my head low so not to meet anyone’s eyes that might carry disappointment in them.
The past is the past and this is the present. No need to dwell. We are here now in this moment and in this day and that’s all that should matter. Don’t worry about if I am going to leave but rather focus on the time that I stayed. Sort of Buddhist-like and forward thinking of me, right? As it turns out, most employers do not share this way of thinking with me.
This has come as quite a revelation to me.
It has also made me acutely aware that I may not be cut out for the working world. Yet, somehow bills keep appearing in the mailbox making it clear that I either need to start playing the lotto with the hopes of a big win or that I need to shape up and stick with a job long enough to let the tender spot toughen up.
Home, it’s an old two story farmhouse in the country with single pane windows and hardwood floors. There are as many drafts as there are spiders, and neither is under control. Winters are cold in northern Indiana, and even colder in this house with just a few baseboard heaters and a wood burning stove that mostly smokes and sparks. The summers are hot here, but we don’t mind. We’re never inside from May until September, anyways.
There is a wooden banister that leads up the stairs, worn as smooth as silk from the oil of so many hands using it. No matter how hot the summer sun heats up the house, the banister is always cool to the touch. I put my check on it some days in August when all the windows are open and the air still doesn’t move to cool down a degree.
My room is at the top of the stairs to the right. There are gnaw-marks on the corner of the door from a time when chicks were kept in an incubator and a fox tried to chew his way in one night. How did the fox get in and what happens to the chicks? It doesn’t matter, it’s my chicken-free room now.
It’s a sanctuary. There’s a big square of pink carpet salvaged from my grandparents’ home which makes the wooden floor more bearable during the cold months. My twin bed is in the corner, between two windows. I’m always planning on how to escape through these windows, just in case things get really bad. I’ll tie all my sheets together like a rope ladder and throw it out the window. Then I worry if my knots will hold and decide the best course of action is to jump out and hope to land on the bush under the window. The last wall is all shelves for my books and trinkets. There are many secrets hidden between the knickknacks and tucked into the pages of the books, like my plans for escape.
Actually, now it’s a place that doesn’t exist any further than my own mind. It’s just another place in the past that can never be revisited, a sobering reminder of the passage of time. Yet, it’s funny in a way that makes me reflect more than laugh how its memory still haunts my present, so real and clear, and so impossibly gone at the same time.
His eyes were dark like mine.
I remembered just today,
Jarred by the bright oranges and reds of the changing leaves.
There is always more to a person than a first impression allows to be known. It takes time and trust to find out what a person needs or wants and who they are, were, and want to be someday. When I first met The Chef, she called me into her bedroom where she was resting on a bedside commode, clearly occupied with the business at hand. She apologized with a toothless mouth but she needed some time before we could start. About five to ten minutes of talk show drama played out on a tiny television before The Chef’s electric wheelchair backed out of the bedroom. She zipped past me to the kitchen and yelled, “Be right there.”
After a few more minutes, she returned to the cluttered living room and was ready to start. If I had trusted my first impression of The Chef, I would have thought that she was resistant and unfocused. I had to check my feelings of frustration towards her for making me wait by remembering that this was her life. I was able to leave at anytime and return to the security of a life outside the struggles of the inner city, while she couldn’t get out of her electric wheelchair without help. This was a life in which she was trapped and I needed to get my ego out of the way. My time and life were of equal importance with hers, and it was something that I needed to remember.
By the end of our visit, I realized just how much life this woman had lived. She wasn’t always confined to a wheelchair because of her bad heart, shaky legs or obesity. In fact, she grew up spending most of her time in the kitchen, standing on two strong legs next to her grandma, where she learned to cook. This early experience turned into a career; she started in fast food and worked her way up to better restaurants. She created new menus with a soul food twist and fed hundreds with her meals. Along the way, she taught others how to not only season and spice, but to work hard and do things the right way.
Food was her passion but also her vice, leading to her multiple health problems and the eventual end of her career. She still cooks meals with enough to feed anyone who stops by her door, lured by the smell of chicken and vegetables. Although, disregarded by society due to her poor health, she remains a person of worth, deserving of respect and defining dignity. She is a person with a past and a future and infinitely more than a mere disability/health condition.
Rubbernecking is the act of gawking or staring, usually stupidly and slack-jawed, at something of interest.- wikipedia
When I see flashing red and blue lights, I can’t stop myself from trying to get close enough to see what’s the cause of the commotion. I change lanes and slow down as I pass by the nearest point, just to get a good look. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be involved in the mess. I just want to have the knowledge of what happened tucked into my mental file labeled “I’m glad it wasn’t me.”
Unfortunately, the “I’m glad it wasn’t me” file is getting to be rather bulky, filled with images of accidents, ambulances, people getting tickets or arrested, and broken down vehicles on the side of the road. Each year brings another set of things to file away that used to bolster my spirits to not be the person on a stretcher or reaching out to take a speeding ticket. Now, it does just the opposite. I feel instant sadness to realize how little control we have over these things.
A few days ago, I saw those irresistible flashing lights straight ahead of me at the end of the street. As I approached, I took in the whole scene. Two police cars were parked on either side of an old car that was slowly being destroyed by rust and neglect. A shirtless man lay on his back with his arms handcuffed behind him surrounded by several officers. They wore dark sunglasses and long faces like it was part of their uniform as they stood around the man with their arms crossed over bullet-proof protected chests.
Suddenly, the man started to jerk and twitch like he was being bitten by a thousand fire ants. I watched his skinny torso writhe in the grass without the use of his hands to brush off the antagonizers. I’ll never know if it was ants, a seizure, or the side effects of a nasty drug because I kept driving, like always.
As I drove off and left the man to his fate, I kept thinking. I wondered if that was his worst day. I wondered how many choices and random events away are any of us from our worst or best day. We can control our speed but we can’t control the truck that blows through a stop sign. We can choose happiness but can’t avoid the tragedy of life.
When I see the flashing lights, I’ll keeping looking, if only to be reminded of my own humanity and vulnerability.
Life is all about balance. The best days will certainly be followed by the worst days, and vice versa. Perhaps it’s all to keep one’s perspective fresh on what makes days good, better, and best. Maybe even to keep the attitude of gratitude alive and well. In any case, this was one of those perspective re-freshening types of days.
It all started when I woke up today and realized the water heater pilot light had blown out. I sensed that the rest of the day would follow in suit. I grimaced to think of the miserable shower in my immediate future and appreciated all of the other days of hot water. This appreciation was heightened when hypothermia inducing water started to flow from the shower head. I ended up late to work, as I had spent too long trying to bring my body temp back up to the 90’s, only after slamming the car door on my shin as I had rushed to leave.
Fortunately, I missed a very important meeting which involved the planning for a Christmas village made out of the cubicles in the office. My heart was not broken over this loss.
The day went on like that, teeter-tottering back and forth with strange events that never happen otherwise, unless the order of the Universe demands to be restored. Things like my newly fixed car window deciding to slide down on its own when I just paid for it to stop all independent decision-making and having a run-in with my supervisor.
I knew I had been too joyful, too optimistic, and filled with a sense of meaning.
It was the dropping of the other shoe, something I was certain would happen. It was only a matter of time, said the sometimes-pessimist who takes over these old puny bones from time to time.
Tomorrow, I hope to return to a world of balance with a warm shower, punctuality, and friendlier people.