Sunday, October 21
Hey, it’s Sue. I hope you’re doing well! Hey thank you for housing my black winter coat for the last 10 months! HA! Sorry I haven’t picked it up. Figured maybe it’s time. Will you be around next Tuesday AM? I’m going to Steinmart, then to my friend Jane’s around noon to leave for an overnight in Chicago. If you’re out and about I could meet you somewhere. What do you think?
Hey Sue! I will be working at the salon on Tuesday but you’re welcome to come there for it. It’s Maven Haven salon in Mattawan. I’ll be working 9:30 to 3.
I’ll try to swing by the salon Tues am, if you don’t mind bringing it there. Thank YOU!
Monday, October 22, 10:21 a.m.
I think anywhere you go in the gut of America people have heard the term lake effect as it relates to the snow machine that kicks up when the jet stream moves cold (mostly western) air over the still-warm water of the Great Lakes. But this weather pattern actually begins in August or September when the cooling temperatures start producing bands of indigo-bellied clouds. Then in October the chillier air over the warm lakes brings rain. When the air gets colder still it changes to snow. Then the lakes’ effects have our attention. After living east of Lake Michigan for over a decade now, I’m finally starting to understand it.
This year the summer didn’t want to go so the lake got extra warm. The hot weather stayed and then very quickly vanished in mid-October, leaving cold and clouds and bouts of heavy rain in it’s wake. Pairs of shorts were still languishing in hampers on that first winter coat morning. It is one of those cold lake effect heavy-rain days–trees throwing their fit of leaves everywhere–when I get this message from my sophomore year college roommate:
Hey! I’m in Lansing MI today with no plans and can’t remember where you are or if we are close?
How nice of you to think of me! What brings you to our lovely rainy state? Sorry to miss you but I’m a few hours from lansing and can’t quite pull off a trip on short notice today. I’ve not been to Lansing yet so can’t even recommend a good place to hang out! So sorry. Bummed to miss out.
I’m with my mom on a teeny vaca and meeting a lady to purchase “drugs”
Oh my gosh you’re adorable. Actually lansing is 1 hour 18 minutes
JK, but not really, we’re getting medical cannabis oils for my husband’s cancer pain.
So sorry that he’s in so much pain. That must be so hard for both of you.
I’m caught off guard and can’t see rearranging my whole day. How would I get home in time to get the kids off the bus if we meet up? This rain could really slow me down. I think about declining. I go out for a run and think it over. Don’t miss this implies a stirring in my thoughts that I attribute to a certain Shepherd. He doesn’t want me to miss out on this chance to serve, to engage when it comes. He has other ways of meeting his lambs’ needs. He doesn’t need me but he’s inviting me to be part of it. I’m familiar with this voiceless, visceral prompt and once I recognize it I want to kick myself upside the head for being so, well, sheepy–for keeping my grazing head down when I could be looking up, heavenward, doing Kingdom things instead. The bathrooms can get cleaned another day, I remind my not-so-bright self. You actually can change and wash sheets on a day other than Monday. And girl, casseroles are so easy to double. I get excited about the possibilities once I’ve shuffled the pieces around, once I’ve put aside the idol of my schedule.
So Roommate Marissa and her mom Susan come over. Despite only a brief conversation four years ago after her son was born and not actually seeing each other in 17 years it’s not really awkward at all. She tells me the whole story of her husband Shane’s battle with stage IV Lymphoma and Hystoplasmia and the rest of her life since 2000. I tell her about meeting the Hubs and about my kids. I update her on all my siblings (Nathan, the youngest, was born, rather traumatically, the year we were roommates). We start shredding cheese and chopping veggies for dinner and the kids come home and after being joyfully surprised with having guests, they join in on the making of quesadilla pie. The Hubs gets home and we get into one of the bottles of peach Moscato that Marissa brought for dinner. The fruit flies get into it, too. We toast Shane’s wellness and swat fruit flies as we sip.
After dinner Marissa kindly makes us a fruit fly trap. For a few days after that every time the kids come in the kitchen they count the fruit flies in the trap and update us on the death count: “Up, there’s one on the outside! He’s going in!”
“Seven, eight, nine, ten dead ones!”
“One is swimming!” (Uh, probably drowning).
“There are two on the side still alive!” Maybe we need a real pet around here if cider vinegar fly traps are this exciting, I think. But I know way better than to say this out loud.
Tuesday, October 23
Sue comes by the salon and we catch up. I give her the coat and she gives me cider and doughnuts from an orchard she must remember from when she lived in this town decades ago. Later, still at the work desk, I get a text from Marissa.
I’m so sorry to say Shane was just pronounced dead on our couch in our living room and I’m not even home
I’m floored both that it happened and that she texted me–just me–when I know she has a vast support system at home. Are we back to really good buddy status now? Maybe I was the most recent number on her phone? I try to just be grateful. I can’t call from my post at the work desk and can’t step outside because it’s still raining. Pathetically, all I can do is text back.
Oh, my sweet Marissa. I’m so sorry. And you were only away to get him relief from pain. I’m praying for you so hard. Let me know if I can do anything else.
It is not good or enough. But no texted words can be right–nothing, not even a hug is enough. Nothing short of Shane alive and well again is enough.
When I get home I go to the bathroom because I somehow didn’t manage to go pee that whole 5.5 hours I spent at the desk. While peeing eternally, I think about Marissa and Shane and Hezekiah and suddenly remember my girls bouncing around in the dark cold on the porch when we waved goodbye to Susan and Marissa the night before. “Peace!” and “Peace be with you!” they called out after them, flapping and squawking their gratefulness of the visit, like little chicks let out of a pen. “Have a good trip! Peace!” Calm down now, guys, we parents had said, time for bed now. Geez, girls, we joked, you’d think we never had company here before. But sitting there on the toilet I realize that they needed all that blessing, all those words spoken over them, covering them like a woolen blanket. They needed to be shrouded with every last good word because Shane was in his last hours of life. We didn’t know last night that the flood of grief was so close up ahead. And then, still peeing, I cry.
That night we have fried fish–a recipe we keep trying and keeping failing. The first time we made it I got the recipe from the back of the soy sauce bottle and it was nearly perfection. But I accidentally recycled the bottle before copying the recipe. I checked all the bottles at the store, no recipe. I e-mailed the company and a few months later on virtual Kikkoman letterhead they emailed back a “Skipper’s Crispy Fish Fillets” PDF. But we can’t quite get it right. We need to use fresh fish we say, not frozen. And we need to use the nonstick pan. But too much time passes between attempts and we forget what we said. But I’m not giving up. It was just too good that one time. So we have crumbly skipper’s fish fillets that night with rice and sauted homegrown kale. The Hubs and I have the second bottle of peach Moscato, with heavier hearts but fewer fruit flies this time.
Wednesday, October 24
I attend the noon eucharist service at St. Luke’s. Jan, who often reads the Prayers of the People, is there early. I ask if I can add a few names and she says of course. I tell her about Marissa and Hezekiah and Shane. Now each Wednesday the Prayers of the People include my people.
Lord, have compassion on those in any grief or trouble including Marissa, Hezekiah, James, Olivia, Sandy, Ryan. . . That they may have comfort in their time of need.
Give to the departed eternal rest including Shane, Matthew, Maria, Bill, Gordon . . . Let your Light perpetual shine upon them.
Later that afternoon the sun is out, the air brisk and still. I take the most glorious bike ride of my life, past the rolling hills of yellowing grape leaves, bright green fields of sprouting winter wheat bordered by old majestic trees. I coast downhill through canopied tunnels of blurred yellow leaves, past a (now wealthy) vintner’s recently-sold acreage. I stop and look. The abandoned vines are gnarly now, branches akimbo. It doesn’t take long for a sold vineyard to look unkempt. Rogue woody ropes of vine arch their serpentine backs through the overgrown grass. The birds feast on the untreated grapes. After turning off of Q Avenue I pass no one, see no one on this quiet ride. My humming tires, chickadees chattering “free lunch” around the post-apocoloypic vines are the only sounds I hear.
I must have gone to bed early that night because I didn’t get this text from Leah, a stylist co-worker at Maven Haven Salon:
Do you work tomorrow?
Thursday, October 26
A morning text from Leah:
Are you working today?
I think she’s asking something about the work schedule. But instead:
Can you watch Bella today?
So I put up our one remaining baby gate and chairs and cardboard barriers to keep paws off the carpet and pick Bella up at the salon. I put her in the hatchback because I’ve heard stories about her peeing in the car. She puts her paws on the top of the back seat to see me and whimpers and cries the whole way to the house.
When we get home she sniffs about the kitchen and then we leave for an hour-long walk in the autumnal sun. I love that all the best mom tricks for babies work for dogs too. After all that fresh air she curls up on a kitchen rug in the sun and naps. Then she follows me around the kitchen while I bake, staring up at me contentedly, admiringly in a way humans never do. I talk to her and she doesn’t talk back. Amazing! This must be the trait that has produced so many dog-owning families in America.
Then the kids come home and drop their jaws and backpacks at the property line. Gasping, they run straight for Bella who is leashed up with me in the front yard. “Did we get a dog?”
“No, of course not,” I say, “I’m dog sitting for Leah. This is Bella.” And they run her through the leaves around the house a dozen times. I leave to make a book with friends and the Kalamazoo Book Arts lady at a public library. When I come back (which is also when Leah comes for her dog) Bella is napping in the girls’ arms, happily exhausted, a white-frosted canine cupcake with grass-clipping sprinkles.
After those dog-crazed kids go to bed the Hubs and I watch the first half of The Big Sick. It’s my favorite kind of movie: low-budget, at ease with itself and its multicultural themes, a wry dose of cynical humor, an exploration of modern relationships.
Friday, October 27
I miss my borrowed Bella, but there is grocery shopping to do. I always stop at Earth Fare, the Whole Foods knock-off, first. I turn in the bottles and get the ticket for 20¢. The machine doesn’t accept the moscato bottles even though the label clearly says MI 10¢. I forget to redeem the deposit slip, as I often do, so I give it to the lady in the next aisle who has her cart unloaded and is ready to pay. “Here, ” I say, “have 20¢ off.” She pulls her hand away and gives me a suspicious look as if I’d asked to try on her wedding ring, or asked if I could just borrow her kidney for a minute. Seriously, what is wrong with all of us? You don’t want to save money? It’s not a trick. It’s a little gift. You just take it and let the giver feel good about paying it forward. You just have a nice little human exchange to edify your day. You take it, smile, and say thank you. This is how to be a person.
Then I go to Meijer to knock out the rest of the items on the list. I’m parking in the Meijer lot when I hear a text come in. My boss says she is sorry but has no work for me next week. This will mean I’m off the schedule for two weeks because she told me not to come in this Saturday either. This feels like a layoff. I’m so upset as I weave through the aisles that I forget a starring-role ingredient for dinner. At the back of the store by the chunk and shredded cheese I text back to ask how many hours Sheryl (the other desk worker, hired after me) is working and shouldn’t we be sharing those hours?
On the way home as I transition from I-94 west to 131 south via the on/off ramp and the tight turn gets me in a bit of a bind with a semi. Merging into the right lane at my current lower speed would require him to break so I cross in front of him to the left lane out of his way. He doesn’t interpret this as a move to help him and lays on his horn for no less than 45 seconds.
The hubs is working from home and when I unload the groceries and the story he suggests I ask Sheryl to share a few of her hours on Thursday evening. He will be back from his work trip by then and will make it a point to be here when the kids get off the bus so I can work. She’s a Christian mom. Surely she will share. But she does not. She insists she has a big bill to pay for her daughter’s wedding and can’t spare a shift (she can’t spare a square).
We eat lunch and go for a hike on a new-to-us trail so I can blow off some steam. The Hubs says being in nature relieves stress. We need to see fractals, he says, because our eyes are made of fractals or see in fractals or something; it makes our eyes happy. We hike over fallen yellow saw-tooth aspen leaves, under soaring, calling sandhill cranes and between scruffy young stands of maroon and green black oak and ruddy maple leaf viburnum. We pass a beech tree with such girth and height its smooth massive gray bark exudes grandfatherly elephantine gentleness. It wants to be patted, petted, touched. Others have interpreted this friendliness as an invitation to carve. I don’t carry knives, only arms–the limb kind. I don’t resist; I give it a hug and am surprised that it is cold. Somehow I expected it to be warm with the circulation of mammalian blood.
That night we finish watching The Big Sick and I love it more than the first time we made the Skipper’s Crunchy Fish Fillets.
Saturday, October 28
The Hubs departs for the work trip. I start reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. It’s initially hilarious and charming. Plus the author is from our very own newlywed hometown of Evanston and falls in love with someone from Kalamazoo of all things. But the writer is too blunt, too heartless, too selfish and swears excessively out of utter laziness. It’s all good though because I’m writing you a better book of essays right now.
Sunday, October 29
Daughter #2 awakens with a cold and with the Hubs gone and not sleeping well with a sick kid in my bed, I wake too late to haul us all to church. Instead I send a series of texts to my boss as my resignation letter. I’ve never ever done that but that seems to be how we do everything at Maven Haven Salon. The kids watch over my shoulder and read as I compose my closing statements. When I get to the the end the last word I write is “Peace” and daughter #1 looks and me, pauses and enfolds me in a hug.