I keep waiting until I have a) time and b) something coherent to say, but maybe those two things are never going to happen so the most important thing is to just get all the garbeldygook out of my head, and however it comes out is how it comes out, like toothpaste squished violently out of a toothpaste tube. So, what have I done?
1. Went to visit my friend in Bellingham who’s also just lost her mom. And not as in “misplaced.” It was a great visit—I’ve known Shoshana since I was a senior in college and she was a freshman – although we also went to the same high school, so we at least knew about each other then. Anyhow, she’s now a defense attorney in Bellingham who hopefully won’t mind me using her real name. While I was visiting her we stayed for a couple days at her friend’s lake house. We had a good dinner, I had a pint of Newcastle Brown, and it suddenly seemed like a brilliant idea to take the canoe out onto the twilit lake.
And it WAS a good idea. It was 100% marvelous. It was exhilarating to be out in the middle of Lake Whatcom, just me and a paddle and a canoe. I felt simultaneously at home and free. I was so excited I texted and Facebooked everyone I knew, accompanied by a fuzzy picture of the canoe’s bow against a backdrop of pine trees and golden-windowed lakeside chalets. Woo-hoo!
But by the time I’d pressed my last “send” or “post” and come out of my reverie, I could see that I’d drifted far to the south of the dock, the wind was whipping the lake’s surface into forceful wavelets, a light rain was falling, and I had no idea what the house looked like from the middle of the lake. I tried to paddle against the wind, but the Newkie Brown had turned my arms into noodles. I called Shoshana and told her I was possibly lost and definitely scared. I hurled myself in what I hoped was the right direction, but I was shaking so hard that I could barely pull the paddle through the water.
My situation was not especially dangerous—even if the canoe capsized, I’m a strong swimmer, and I was hardly 10 yards from shore and an array of boathouses and docks and lit-up houses. And it wasn’t even completely dark yet. The worst thing would have been that I’d probably have lost my cellphone. Nevertheless, I lost my nerve and decided to beach the canoe in a stranger’s yard and come back for it in the morning. I tried to make my way along the shore back to Shoshana, but I had to crawl through a lot of back yards and there was one black lab in particular that kept giving me the evil eye.
Finally I just walked up to the street and Shoshana drove down and picked me up, standing maybe 12 houses away from Shoshana’s friend’s house. She was sort of laughing and clearly exasperated and said she should have told me not to go out and I said I wouldn’t have listened to her anyway and she didn’t say anything else after that because she’s a good friend.
The next morning I went back to get the canoe, slipped it into the water, and spent probably the most healing hour of the whole last year paddling around with the ducks and watching morning clouds reflected in the lake.
2. Almost got in a car accident. Well, I DID get in a car accident. I took Annika to get a birthday present for my friend’s son. I was wheeling Annika around the store—she’d asked to get into the cart and I just couldn’t manage, at that moment, to argue with her about it—when I heard my license plate number over the loudspeaker and thought, “Well, crap, I’ve left the lights on.”
When I rolled Annika back out into the parking lot, I saw that it was much, much worse than that—’d forgotten to put the handbrake on and my car had rolled backward out of the space and smack dab into a big pearly white sedan. I started to panic—a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances—and stepped forward to examine the damage, imagining the lawsuit and the incredible insurance bills we were about to have.
And that’s when the truly astonishing thing happened. There WAS no damage. My rear bumper had come to rest neatly on the other car’s rear tire. A half inch to the left or right would have inflicted thousands of dollars of damage.
Neverthess, the owner of the other car wasn’t amused. She ranted and raved and yelled that she’d been in the ER all morning with a friend. I said, “Yeah? Well, my mom just died from cancer, so things are tough all over!” and she said, “Yeah? Well I HAD cancer, and I survived!” and I said, “Yeah? Well, at least you survived, so what are you whining about?” Meanwhile attendants from the grocery store were standing around and perhaps hoping for a catfight as they “oohed” and “aahed” over our attempts to top each other with tragedy.
Eventually the attendants left, as nothing was to be done, and the other woman and I exchanged insurance information, since she apparently was still going to file a suit, even though there was no damage to report. I asked her to at least wait until my husband got there so that he could take photographs, ‘cuz I’d forgotten my phone. While we were waiting we ended up chatting. She lit up a cigarette and explained that the car was a gift from her boyfriend when she’d had her last chemo. I didn’t say anything about the smoking, but told her about the time I got drunk before meeting my mom for chemo and threw up in the hospital bathroom. The other lady thawed a bit and by the time Simon arrived she acknowledged that there wasn’t any damage so she wasn’t going to file a claim. We shook hands and I told her I was glad she’d survived cancer because I’d had a good laugh talking to her. She didn’t exactly agree but at least we haven’t been served with a subpoena yet.
3. In a delightfully uplifting surprise, Shoshana drove down from Bellingham— about six hours—to spend Thanksgiving day with us. I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving gift. Just having her there was comforting, and we talked and laughed and played charades and ate and ate and ate. So far so good. The morning after Thanksgiving we’re deciding what to do, when Simon says he’s seeing funny shapes and weird squiggles and zig zags, and he’s got kind of a headache and one side of his face is numb, and – no, wait – his arm and leg are numb, too. It sounded to me like a pre-migraine aura, but Simon’s never had a migraine and he was particularly disturbed by the numb and tingly extremities, especially since he has atrial fibrillation, a heard condition for which he takes daily medication and which increases his risk of stroke, like, a millionfold.
I couldn’t get my head around going to the hospital or Simon having a stroke—I was like: GOD, YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS, HERE—so instead I started doing the dishes and complaining about how if we had to go to the ER if would totally mess up our day. I KNOW. TOTAL SELFISH BITCH, but denial and anger are two sure signs that I’m terrified. Besides, Shoshana was looking at me like, DUDE, YOUR HUSBAND COULD BE HAVING A STROKE, SO WHAT GIVES? GET HIM THE HELL TO THE HOSPITAL, LADY! Which was reasonable. Anyhow Shoshana offered to stay with Annika while I drove Simon to the urgent care clinic (cheaper than the ER).
On the way there, I was going on and on about how this was just totally lame and it was probably a migraine and we could be having fun with Shoshana, and Simon said, quite gently, “Sometimes you are a horrible person,” which didn’t surprise me in the least because it’s true. But then he said, “Monika, I’m really scared, and this is happening to ME!” and I was like, “Oh, yeah. Other people get scared, too.” And then I was OK and suddenly developed some compassion. ‘BOUT TIME, CRUELLA de VIL.
At the urgent care clinic, they examined Simon promptly and told him he was probably having a migraine, but because of the atrial fibrillation, he should probably go to the ER for an EKG and CAT scan or further tests, with a reminder that if you think you’re having a stoke, JUST GO STRAIGHT TO THE HOSPITAL, FOR PETE’S SAKE. And Simon looked at me, because I was the one who wanted to save money by going to urgent care. Yes, I really AM a horrible person!
So I drove him to the ER, where they led us immediately to the same room where my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I burst into sobs and began hyperventillating. The nurse changed rooms, but I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t seem to regulate my breathing. I couldn’t blink, I was so terrified. I knew I was in the hospital with Simon and I wasn’t really worried about Simon, but all I could think about was Mom and that this was where one of the worst moments of my life happened, the moment that preceded all of the other worst moments. The doctor dealt with Simon and the nurses tried to deal with me and told me that I needed to get my breathing under control or I’d faint. She said, “Simon’s going to be just fine!” and I said “I’m not worried about him,” (more proof I’m a horrible person).
She tried to get me to talk about various random stuff but I only calmed down when she told me that her mom had cancer, too, and it was really bad. For some reason, the idea that a terrible thing was happening to her, too, brought me out of myself and allowed me to feel normal again. She recommended that I read It’s Always Something, by Gilda Radner—who also died of ovarian cancer—and then she got me a cup of icewater with a straw.
Three hours later, after an EKG and a CAT scan and an eternity waiting for test results, the conclusion was that it was definitely not a stroke and was probably just a migraine aura. Yup. Hooray! Simon’s not dead! So we gathered up our clothes and went straight out to celebrate with Shoshana and Annika at a local German restaurant with exceptionally good fondue and beer. Because if beer and cheese don’t heal, I don’t know what does.