In my world, manufactured holidays are like nails on a chalkboard. Kudos to Hallmark for inflicting us with this guilt and excuse for reckless spending and eating, but that’s where my appreciation of such things ends. More hearts are broken on Valentine’s Day than made happy from what I’ve seen.
Even the big holidays the world stands still for don’t trip my trigger. This year our family celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas in February, coming together with airfare the price of popcorn, exchanging a few small gifts we bought at after-holiday blow-out sales, and hanging out together nice and easy like old friends instead of relatives we were obligated to be with. Nobody had to do dishes afterwards.
As soon as the merchant’s shelves were cleared of Christmas goo-gawds, out came the Valentines. I told my husband if he gave me flowers on February 14, they’d better be the flowers he wanted on his grave. Yesterday he came home with one perfect rose, handed it to me and said, “I’ve decided on a single red rose below my tombstone.” I looked at it and thought of Dorothy Parker, wondering when I’d get my single, perfect limousine.
Romance, hot sex, rubbery knees, and that state of stupid psychologists call “luminance” is great stuff, and I dig it, but it’s not the stuff of great partnerships in the business of life. After my first marriage, my resolve was if I ever married again, it would be to a man small enough so I could “take” him if he dared hit me (yeah, the first one was beautiful and rich and big and had a mean left hook), and he’d have to take me as I am, which is moody and tempestuous on my best days. I knew the man I’m married to now would be my partner the night we were watching TV and I stood up for no particular reason, grabbed my car keys and headed for the door. He asked where I was going, I said, “Out,” and he told me to be careful, then turned back to watching TV. I waited for the questions to come, the suspicions and neediness, but they didn’t. He was steady enough in his own skin to let me have mine. I headed out for my drive down dark and dangerous valleys on my own, nodding my head now and again as I determined he was the one. Maybe. If it ever got that far.
During our 35 years of marriage, we’ve never volleyed terms of endearment at each other, but we’ve locked arms through every storm and shared the same spot of shelter without crowding each other. It’s been a good journey, and I can say without being maudlin or hokey that he’s won my heart. That SOB has gotten into my heart and changed me forever.
The economic crisis of ’07-’08 hit us like a meteor falling from the sky, as the one over Russia did this morning. I was knocked out of my mid-six-figure job without the door ever hitting me in the ass. There was no door. Like so many other doors in this shifting world, it had evaporated. For the next three years, my full-time job was searching for a job, with a second full-time job of squeezing a dollar out of a quarter. I kind of liked it. It fit with my belief if it’s not impossible, why bother. But after three years, it was getting boring. I wanted a job, so I learned to dumb down my CV and find gainful employment any way I could get it. When the manager of WalMart asked if I could start working in the photo department the following Monday, you would have thought I’d just been handed keys to a castle of gold. I was there the following Monday in starched khaki and blue, with a grin that pushed my ears to the back of my head.
Within a month of working the photo lab and electronics and selling cameras and carrying 50″ TVs down ladders and loading 300 lb. swimming pools on dollys and working shifts without a full 10 hours of rest in between, something inside me melted as I walked out the door one night, and I felt myself slipping away. I told myself I was just tired, maybe dehydrated, and started the long drive home. I made it two blocks before I knew I was a danger to others on the road and pulled into the hospital that was conveniently on my right. My chest hurt and I was struggling for breath, and I assume I was pale because without saying a word I felt a wheelchair hit me behind the knees and off I went past the haggard faces of those with bellyaches and coughs and flu and broken bones that filled the crowded ER.
It was after a blast of nitro under the tongue that I felt my Self ascend from the floor and reconnect with my body. Good God, but they had me hooked up to a multitude of machinery, and at the crook of my arm was a vampire draining my blood. I heard the words “rest” and “cardiac event,” then drifted in an out of sleep for the next 16 hours. The ER was on overload, and the sickest of the sick were stacked in hallways like holiday floats waiting their turn to enter the parade. The first normal feeling I had was hunger, the second was panic. My husband. Shit, he was probably freaking out wondering where I was.
I had to get to him and let him know everything was OK. I felt fine. I had to let him know so he wouldn’t worry.
I started tearing off needles and tape and plastic thingies that monitored my heart when a bulldog of a nurse pulled aside the curtain and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on there a minute. Where do you think you’re going?” I told her I had to get to my husband, I was worried about him. She said just one word — “Understandable” — then placed her open palm on the middle of my chest and pushed me back on the bed.
“I’m Amy, a nurse practitioner,” she said, pulling up a chair next to my bed. “They called in back-up from other hospitals, and I called your husband when I read your chart and saw you were married. He’s in the waiting room. Now, let’s talk about you.”
On a blank piece of paper she drew a crude picture of the human heart and the nerves leading to it, explaining that I had something called Right Bundle Branch Blockage that stopped normal nerve conduction to the right half of my heart. She was quick to explain it wasn’t a big deal, very common and benign in most people because the left half of the heart nicely compensates. She showed me my EKG and ran her finger along the line where there should have been a bomp, then she pointed to the bomp-bomp where my left ventricle compensated. “For some reason,” she said, “the left bundle branch got overwhelmed for an extended time and couldn’t handle it. Have you been under unusual physical or emotional stress lately?”
I said, “WalMart,” and we both laughed, then got down to the business of me getting out AMA (Against Medical Advice), which I was determined to do because I knew how my husband would be cracking with so much distance between us and nobody there to tell him I was OK. My chest was starting to hurt again worrying about him worrying about me. I had to get out of there. I was also in desperate need of a bean burrito (extra onions and hot sauce, please) and maybe a big jug of orange juice to wash it all down, if he didn’t mind stopping at the grocery store, once he knew I was OK.
He cursed his allergies as he drove me home, dabbing at his watery eyes and swiping his dripping nose. I let him get away with the ruse. He cursed his allergies again the next day when we visited our long-time family doctor for a follow-up visit. Doc reviewed what the ER had sent, cursed the damned money-grabbers as he read off my normal cardiac enzymes, then grew red in the face when he saw they’d been holding me for a chemical stress test. “Was I right not feeling comfortable waiting for that,” I asked. “Damned straight,” he said, slamming closed the file. “No telling how they would have botched it and given you a major cardiac event.” He filled out a form for my employer that insisted I not return to the job for a week, then told me if this ever happened again I should quit.
“You’re fine,” he said, giving me a reassuring pat on the knee as he stood up. “It’s these damned employers running people into the ground and the medical system grabbing bucks wherever they can that’s sick, not you.” He gave me a friendly kiss on the cheek, left the room, then came skidding back in like Kramer on “Seinfeld.”
“Stay right there,” he said. “I want to check something,” and was gone.
My husband and I looked at each other with mirrored expressions of confusion and shrugged as if we’d rehearsed the move. Then we waited.
Doc skidded back into the room and threw two hefty files on his desk, sat down and looked them over quickly, page by flying page.
“You,” he said, pointing at my husband without looking up from the chart, “have had congenital Right Bundle Branch Blockage all along. It’s noted here from the first physical I gave you over 25 years ago.” He flipped through the other chart, my chart, checking and double checking something, then said, “But you, you never showed any sign of it until, yep, right here, your physical last year. Last year it turned up, barely perceptible, but I can see it now.” He looked up at me through thick glasses, turned and looked at my husband.
“How long have you two been married?”
He let the question hang on the fish hook he’d strung on the air in the room, looking back and forth between us until we bit the dopey, sentimental, heart-shaped candy-coated bait and groaned in perfect harmony.
“Ha-ha,” he said, picking up our files and hitting us on the head with them– just a friendly, gentle whack of affection. “You crazy kids,” he said, waving our files as he made his exit.
We sat in our places, me on the edge of the examination table, my husband in a chair by my side, as together we endured hearing Doc in the hallway call to his nurse and say, “You ever heard that old phrase, ‘Two hearts beating as one?’ Well, you’re not going to believe this one.”
photo credit: Foxtongue via photopin cc