Tag Archives: coping

No Spaghetti

spaghettiI don’t think I’ve ever made reference to this before, but my children may not be perfect in all ways.  And I sometimes worry that I’m not the Best Mother Ever.

I KNOW.  I’ll give you a second to regroup.  Put your head between your knees if you start to see sparkles.  

So I was blowing off to my friend Nicole yesterday about my worries regarding my kids and she said, “Hey, this is no spaghetti.”  

There’s nothing like having your own advice quoted back to you.  Here’s the story behind “no spaghetti.”  

Back in 2004 when Richard was sick, I spent 10 months traveling back and forth every other week between home and work in Athens and Baltimore where he was getting his treatments.  On a typical week, I would leave at lunch on Wednesday, take the dogs to Griffin, drive to the airport and fly to Baltimore that night.  Stay for a few days with him, marking hours in the hospital, running errands, waiting.  Then back home on the Sunday 7 p.m. flight.  Drive from the airport to Griffin where Daddy and Big Gay would have my puppies and a big Diet Coke waiting on me.  Then a two hour drive to Athens.  Hit the bed about 2 a.m. and get up for work Monday morning.  

One Monday morning was particularly hard.  That weekend, Richard had gotten bad news about his response to the latest treatment.  It was getting really hard to believe that he was ever going to get better.  He had been readmitted to the Oncology unit with pneumonia on Saturday.  After all that and the long journey home, I was used up by the time I got to work on Monday.  

At lunchtime, I dragged down to the cafeteria.  The line snaked all the way to the entrance because it was Spaghetti Day.  Our cafeteria makes some kickass spaghetti–tasty, cheap, and healthyish with turkey.  I got in line to wait my turn.  I was so tired I leaned up against the counter by the dessert case.  The line crept along.  

After a while, only one woman remained in front of me.  She automatically said, “Spaghetti for here.”  The steam tray that had been filled with spaghetti was scraped clean.  The woman behind the counter answered, “I’m sorry, we’re out of spaghetti.  Can I get you something else?”  

WHAM!  The disgruntled employee slammed her plastic tray down on the serving counter so hard that her silverware bounced into the air and scattered.  She snarled, “I’ve been waiting half my 30 minute lunch and y’all are out?  This is UNBELIEVABLE!!”  She turned to me like it was time to rise up in rebellion and asked, “Is this not unbelievable???”

The sudden noise and her ridiculously infantile behavior sent me over the edge.  I burst out in maniacal laughter.  “My fiance is 38 years old and DYING.  THAT is unbelievable.  THIS?  THIS IS NO SPAGHETTI!  NO SPAGHETTI!  GET OVER IT!”

She scooted over to the sandwich line without another peep.  

No spaghetti.  It’s good to have friends remind you of your own advice sometimes.  Pump the brakes, Ash, this is no spaghetti.  Thanks, Nicole!


Oh, For Flux Sake…

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I packed up my office for the first time in 5 years.  And honestly, some of that stuff had been with me for the 16 years that I’ve been in my previous job.  I started in the summer of 1996, when the torch was coming through Athens.

I moved the necessary stuff to my new office.  The furniture is awkard.  There are too many drawers.  The light is strange.  I’m going to park in a different lot.  The computer didn’t work.

Then I took a week off to spend time with my daughter as she turned six.  In a week, she grew up right in front of my eyes.  Now she can read on her own.  She can take better care of herself than I remember and it makes my heart tighten up.

My son looked at me last night with his dear baby face.  I asked, “Do you want to go swimming?” and out of the blue he replied, “Yes.”  It was our first give and take conversation. Now the week is drawing to a close and I’m feeling a huge wave of anxiety because everything is changing at once.  Job.  Kids.  Home.  It’s all gotten different and I’m feeling swimmy-headed.

Oh, for flux sake.  Flux is that state of flow, always moving, like a river. After Richard died and I faced that crushing grief, my therapist suggested that I view it as a river.  If you swim against a river, you tire quickly.  But if you bob and float, taking deep breaths, you conserve your energy.  The river is going to go where it goes.  You are along for the ride.

What the flux is up with you today?

The River at Night

"A Moonlit Scene with a Winding River" by Samuel Palmer. Watercolor, circa 1827

“A Moonlit Scene with a Winding River” by Samuel Palmer. Watercolor, circa 1827

The river is running high tonight, in such a swirling rush that I can hear it from the deck.  When it gets this swollen, after many days of rain, it can jump the bank and come all the way up to my fence.  It’s no worry to me, way up on this hill, but when the water comes all the way to the fence, it blocks the path of the coyotes who sneak through our backyards.  It blocks the urban deer, too, but they don’t complain.  On a few nights like this, I’ve heard the urgent, confused yipping of the coyotes and it shudders my skin.  A wild thing that had been invisible and hard to imagine so close to my home–and suddenly, it’s right here and it’s always been here.  That’s the kind of thing I think about when the river runs high.  The quiet things that reveal themselves, shaken loose by the ominous roar and rush of the river.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about Tripp Halstead but his mother is on my mind tonight.  Tripp was hit by a falling tree branch back in October and he’s been fighting his way back to life since then.  He’s two.  Like Carlos, who’s asleep in his bed with Boop right now.  Tonight, his mother, Stacy Halstead, posted about how she can’t turn on the news because all they talk about is the rain and the trees that are falling from loosened roots.   She’s been without the internet to distract her while she listens to her only child moan in pain.  She mentioned the claustrophobia of passing the day in an 8 x 8 darkened room–and BAM, I was back there, in the end of February 2005.

I spent a lot of days sitting in a darkened room.  Richard was suffering incapacitating headaches and any amount of light drove him out of his mind.  I honestly can’t remember what was causing them (apart from the cancer); it embarrasses me to admit that I don’t remember that detail, like I wasn’t really doing my best, like I have let down my guard and forgotten something, even something terrible.  But it’s OK to forget some things.

After about a week of the headaches, they started giving him radiation to his brain and it helped some.  But before that, there was the room.  We were staying at the guest house on the campus at Johns Hopkins and I was taking care of him.  I hung blankets over our one window and didn’t turn on the bathroom light until I was inside.  He wore sunglasses in the dark and tried not to move at all.  I couldn’t touch him or sit on the same bed for fear of jarring his brain around.  I sat in the dark around the clock.  I’ve never felt so helpless and now that I’ve typed that I need to stop and cry for a bit.

Because here’s the other thing that shook loose tonight.  My friend, Catie, shared a quote from Jack Kerouac:

the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. 

Those misery-filled days in late February?  When I was sitting so still and helpless in that darkened room?  I was reading On the Road.  I had a tiny book light that I kept pointed down the page and I barely cracked the book open so the light wouldn’t escape to bother Richard.  I read it if he slept.  Sometimes I read it under a towel.  When Richard wasn’t able to sleep but he wanted some oblivion, he would ask me to talk, to keep telling stories to distract him from what was happening.  I just kept talking.  I told him all about the book and Neal Cassady and the road trip and everything I could remember about the Beats and San Francisco and….anything.  I talked about hubcaps and chickens and Irish wolfhounds and sewing.  I recalled adventures we had had on our own travels.  Anything that popped into my head (except food, no talking about food, and no making him laugh).  I was mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of just one impossible thing.

I read to him from the book.  This man, this fearless man who had taught me how to step out into the world and follow my own star.  I sat across from him as he was dying and read On the Road.

These are the things I remember when the river runs high.