Omelets and Xanax

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It was the middle of April – Tuesday the 16th, in fact – and in the midst of rushing four kids through the  rituals of getting to school by 7:30 a.m., I was struggling to cram my own shower and make-up time into an already hectic morning. I considered bypassing doing my hair and then decided I needed to look decent, as it seemed somehow that if we looked nice, the morning would go better.

Having dropped my crew off at school, I gathered my purse and a crochet project and waited on my front porch swing. I wanted to be ready as soon as Mom’s little silver Impala pulled into my drive….I didn’t want to be the reason we were late. Picking up my yarn and hook, I worked rather nervously on the infant hat while straining my neck for a glimpse of her shiny car. Finally! She whipped in and I ran out and climbed into the passenger side. I could tell she was nervous and Mom kept telling me how she couldn’t sleep last night, even though she’d taken a sleeping pill. I understood. We were all anxious.

Mom’s cell phone rang and she answered. “Hello?…..yes, yes, we’re almost there. Don’t worry. We’ll make it on time.” It was my sister calling. She was nervous, too. Anxious to get to an appointment we’d all been dreading. Anxious for news nobody wanted to hear.

She was waiting outside when we pulled in. I got out and hugged her, and crawled my too-tall self into the too-small backseat of the car, giving my sister the passenger seat….I suppose, in some act of deference to the situation.

We talked about nonsense most of the way there. Stupid things, laughable things, repetitive things that meant nothing at all. The three of us checked our phones for the time, then double-checked the digital clock in the car to make sure. We worried aloud about arriving late, even though we had plenty of time before the 8:30 appointment. We talked about everything except what we might hear when we finally got there.

We passed the office at first, had to turn around in another drive and go back. Mom made a big deal out of it, though, because it was an easier thing to make a big deal of than the appointment we were about to walk into. At least it was a fixable subject.

Early. We were too early, and this somehow became just as big a problem as arriving late. We discussed what to do….should we go ahead in? Wait in the car? Drive somewhere, a gas station perhaps, and get everyone a pop? Talking, talking, talking about nothing. Just keeping the chatter up. It seemed important to do.

An accidental silence filled the car. The three of us immediately leapt from the vehicle. We started walking in time with one another, confidently deciding to go ahead in. After all, there would probably be forms to fill out, insurance information to sort. Might as well.

The office was cold, and my sister pulled her sweater around her slight frame and shivered. I thought, She is so thin. I said, “I love that sweater.” She gave her name at the desk: Charlotte Savage. Explained that her insurance card had not yet come in the mail….would that be a problem? She accepted the clipboard with its stack of white forms and we walked in tandem to the chairs in the waiting area. She wondered aloud about family histories of anemia and diabetes, high blood pressure and allergies.

“Charlotte?”

The nurse stood, door propped open with her foot. The three of us stood tall, daring her to question why both of us were going back with my sister. The nameless nurse sighed and flicked her hand toward the door. We followed, chins in the air, shoulders straight….a trio of anxiety.

The room was small. Charlotte sat on the examining table, Mom and I in the two chairs pushed against the wall. We waited. We waited for news we didn’t want. We waited for an explanation that would drain our worry. We waited for someone to say it was a mistake. We waited for a pulmonologist none of us had ever met.

Charlotte said, “I think it’s just an infection. Remember when I had that bad bronchitis back in January? I think I’m still sick from that…..I’m sure it’s an infection. I just need a different antibiotic.”

Mom said, “I think it could be a calcium deposit. I read about something like that in a magazine. You should probably be taking a calcium pill. I take Fosamax, myself. I only have to take it once a month. We should ask the doctor. Maybe you could take that.”

I said nothing. Nothing at all.

Three quick knocks, and the doctor was in. He shook Charlotte’s hand. He shook Mom’s hand. He shook my hand.

He sat at his little computer and looked over my sister’s chart.

“So….you are here today because you have a spot on your lung. Did you know that?”

A quick nod from Charlotte.  Her voice is suddenly stronger, her back straighter. She says, “I think it’s from an infection. I had this bad bronchitis back in January.”

The doctor is noncommittal. He makes a noise that sounds like, “Hhhmmmmmnnn.”

He runs through a quick list of questions:

“Have you been coughing blood?”

“No.”

“But you do cough?”

“Yes.”

“You smoke?”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“Pack a day. I had cut way back…lately. But then all this (she waves her hands in a useless fashion around in the air) started, and I’ve been stressed. You know.”

“Yes. So how long….how long have you been a smoker?”

“Twenty-five….thirty years, I guess.”

“I see. Night sweats? Fevers?”

“Yes.”

“Which one?”

“Both.” (Mom and I lock eyes quickly. This is new information. Why hadn’t she told us this?)

“I see. Yes. So you have this spot on your lung. We need to biopsy this spot to see what it is. You understand that?”

“Yes. I think it’s just an infection, though. Could you give me an antibiotic?”

Mom has been silent this entire time. Suddenly, she can keep her thoughts to herself no longer. She leans forward and says loudly, “I read in a magazine about calcium deposits in the lung. Don’t you think it could be that? And night sweats….she is probably just going through her change. You know….her CHANGE. (Mom looks him in the eye and nods slowly, as if to aid his understanding…after all, he is just a man….a foreign man, at that. Clearly, Mom thinks he may be a little simple-minded.)  Would Fosamax help? I take that every month, and I never have got a calcium deposit on my lung.”

The doctor blinks.

“Well….let’s see what the biopsy shows. We’ll go from there. “

My sister seems irritated. “I don’t understand why you can’t just give me an antibiotic!”

He had been poised to leave, but halts mid-rise, and sits back down on his stool.

His words are slower this time, more careful.

“Let’s just say the spot IS an infection. Until we biopsy it, we don’t know what kind of antibiotic it would need. So let’s just go ahead with scheduling the biopsy, and we’ll go from there.”

Mom pipes back up. “Could you give her some Fosamax? Or something to help with her Change? I remember those night sweats. Terrible, terrible. No wonder she is so worn out!”

The pulmonologist seems confused by our family – or perhaps disturbed by the desperation, the denial that hangs thick in the air, like a palpable humidity – and stands abruptly.

“Right. Well. We can schedule the biopsy, and we’ll talk again once we have those results. So nice to meet you! Stop at the desk for that appointment. Goodbye!”

And he is gone.

Charlotte mutters, “What a waste of time. I wish he could just let me try an antibiotic…I want to feel better.”

Mom says, “We’ll ask Dr. D. Maybe she can give you some Fosamax.”

I say nothing. I can’t think of anything to say. I just stand up quickly and grab my purse. I watch my sister move slowly, trying to fiddle with my purse so I don’t appear to be watching her halting movements, and I think, She is so thin.

Charlotte tells the receptionist that Tuesdays are good for her, Tuesdays are usually her day off.

The receptionist blinks at my thin sister, hunched and in pain, frail and sick and blurts, “You’re still working?”

“Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”

She hands my sister a card and says she will call once the biopsy has been scheduled.

We troop from the office. Mom and Charlotte have their big purses dangling from their right shoulders. My sister’s left shoulder – near where the “spot” is – hurts too much to bear the weight.

I usually carry my purse on my left shoulder. But I feel somehow awkward. So I switch it to my right as we walk to the car. I feel better once we are all the same. Mom and I slow our pace to match Charlotte’s measured steps.

None of us have eaten yet. The morning was too hurried, too frightening.

Mom informs us there is a new restaurant nearby, and she’s taking us out for breakfast.

Charlotte looks back at me and rolls her eyes and smirks a bit. It’s so typical of Mom. So normal. Any excuse to eat out.

And there we are, in a cold booth at a new restaurant, and the waitress brings us two Cokes and one Diet, then stands with her pad and pen and waits for our orders.

“Ham and cheese omelet, wheat toast.”

“Ham and cheese omelet, wheat toast.”

“Ham and cheese omelet, wheat toast.”

We slap our menus shut and hand them toward the waitress, who laughs and says we all must be related.

We laugh, too.

It doesn’t take long, and soon three hot plates filled with enormous omelets overflowing with ham and melty cheese are slid in front of us. Mom asks for extra strawberry jam.

We all breathe out, thankful for the distraction of food. It had been getting difficult to talk about nothing.

I pretend not to watch as my sister cuts her omelet in half, and slides it under the edge of her plate, then cuts up what is left so it looks as if she has eaten.

Mom pretends not to watch, too.

We exclaim over the flavor of the eggs, the thin slices of ham, and how we need refills on our drinks.

Charlotte’s eyes suddenly fill with tears, and she quickly drinks several long sips of her Coke.

“I’m really sc-sc-scared. I don’t want to have c-c-c-c-cancer. I hope….I hope it’s just an infection.”

We agree that it probably is, and we discuss the fact that this doctor reassuringly called the lung mass a “spot”, and we collectively find comfort in that. “Spot” seems a much less terrifying word than “mass”.  We hand Charlotte our napkins to dry her eyes with.

Mom digs in her giant purse, and comes up clutching a small pill bottle.

She smiles brightly.

“Isn’t this nice? Just us girls out for breakfast! We should plan another Girls Day Out like this soon! Hey…(Mom drops a half a white pill onto her tongue and swallows)…you girls want a Xanax? It’s okay….I just refilled the bottle. I have plenty….I cut them in half all the time so they last longer. Char….do you want one?”

We both shake our heads no. Mom pours the tiny white pills into her hand and holds her palm up in the middle of the table. “Go ahead….” She nods encouragingly. Her eyes seem a little frantic. She is desperate to fix something. Somehow.

Once again, we shake our heads in unison. No, Mom.

She slips the offered pills back into the bottle, screws the lid on and puts her bottle back in her purse.

The eggs suddenly taste like sawdust. I suck at my straw, welcoming the cold bubbles of carbonation in my overly dry throat.

I glance out the window, and the skies have suddenly gone gray. The dark clouds open, and hard drops of rain slap the cars in the parking lot, bouncing off the pavement, pounding at the restaurant windows.

My sister pulls her sweater around her slight frame, and shivers.

I think, She is so thin.

I say, “Did I tell you I love that sweater?”

Moments

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The morning was bright, so bright I had to squint even behind my sunglasses. Slathered in sunblock, we headed to the kayak rental booth; me, my oldest daughter (17), my two sons (11 and 13), and their buddy. My other daughter (15) had stayed behind at the travel trailer to “watch the dogs” – translation: sunbathe.

Taking four kids kayaking by myself? Crazy. But nobody ever testified in favor of my sanity.

Three yellow kayaks, and two lime green. Of course, my youngest son grabbed a lime green one. Lime green is his favorite color. Paddles in hand, we embarked on an hour-long kayak adventure toward a little island.

Right, left, right left. Paddles stabbing the water, moving along at the pace of a snail. Approximately five minutes down the lake, my youngest son, Brennan, tipped his kayak beneath a small fountain. Assuming he had done it on purpose, I gave a short lecture as we fished him from the seaweed-ish depths. Working together, we righted the green kayak, and deposited him safely back into his seat. Checked his life jacket, handed back his paddle. Off we went.

Again.

Right ,left, right, left.

“Mom?…..Mom!” My daughter, Olivia, called to me. I paddled a bit to the right, turning my little raft around to see what the problem was. “I don’t think Brennan’s kayak looks right….there’s too much water.”

I looked….there he was. My smallish son – all 68 pounds of him – frantically cupping his tiny hands in an attempt to bail the rapidly rising water from his boat. “Moooooooooooooom!” (There had to be six syllables, at least, in that one little word.) “Water, water, water!”

There was, perhaps, an inch of green still visible above the water. My heart hiccupped in my chest, and I began to paddle toward him. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring manner. “It’s fine. You’re fine. Just climb into your sister’s boat, and we’ll hook the sinking one to your brother’s, and take it back and get a new one. Careful….careful!”

He did land in the water. Fortunately, he is a great swimmer. And had his life jacket on. And the water was, at its deepest, maybe 6 feet deep. Brennan sputtered a bit and spun in the water for a second and finally made it to cling and eventually climb into his sister’s kayak.

Back we went (what a workout!) to the kayak rental booth. Exchanged the kayak. Turns out, the original kayak had a tiny little hole in the back that should have had a plug in it. The plug was missing, causing the boat to fill with water.

Got the replacement kayak, and the five of us turned around – AGAIN – and set off for the island – AGAIN.

Right, left, right, left. Paddle, paddle, paddle.

Finally! We’d made it. Tipping the noses of the kayaks up onto the muddy shore, the three boys jumped out and initiated a game of chase around the little island. Olivia sat in her boat, content to watch. Donovan and his friend ran and ran. Brennan slipped away from the game, and silently climbed back down the hill. Bending down, he quietly scooped a lump of mud into his hand. Reaching his tiny arm back as far as he could – like a Little League pitcher ready to fire – he launched the mud missile at Olivia. Squealing, she jumped from her seat and chased him down.

I just watched.

The two older boys hooted and hollered like war-bound Indians in an old black-and-white movie. Olivia screamed at the top of her lungs, laughing, slipping, falling, jumping back up as she chased the boys.

I blinked and – for just a split-second of time – time flew in reverse. My now 17-year-old daughter was a pig-tailed, freckled little girl with shining eyes, running around that same island, asking for a picnic lunch, initiating a game of hide-n-seek.

I blinked again, and saw the beautiful young woman she has become….the young woman who is still not too old to play chase with her little brothers.

Brennan came screeching around the corner. Strong, summer-scraped-up legs pumping in the sand, his small freckled face upturned, catching the tunnel of light that stretched between the glaring sun and the glistening lake water.

Laughter erupts from all the children, melting into one continuous echo.

My chest fills with….what is that feeling?  I am filled to overflowing with…..joy.  With….family. With….with belonging. With…..home.

Time freezes….for those few blissful moments, no other families, worries, or needs exist. Just my family….my heart….my everything.

Water splashes.  The kids are hopping back into their kayaks, ready to go.

The moment has passed, but my heart is still so heavy, so filled up with this bit of time, I can hardly swallow.

I smile and stab at the water with my paddle.

Right, left, right, left.

“Faire, Faire, Baby” (My Ren Faire parody of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”)

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“Faire, Faire, Baby”

(Yes, you may share this. No, not without my name and link attached to it. I would seriously LOVE it if one of my Ren Faire friends would pick this up and actually perform it! 🙂 )

STOP!! Pirate up, and listen!

Faire is back, casting auditions!

Smokin…holdin’ on tightly

Joustin’ on horses, manly and knightly!

Never gonna stop

Yo….ho, yo ho!

Pull out your swords

And let’s go!

If you got a problem

Take it to the King

Once you get it settled

Join with me and sing

Faire, Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

Let’s go to Ren Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

There’s dancers

Swingin’ on stage

Hands to yourselves, boys

(One’s underage!)

The Queen’s Court

Bow to the Crown

On hands and on knees

Get your nose to the ground!

And mermaids

Splashing their tails

Better not touch

You might end up in jail!

There’s pirates!

Sailin’ on ships

More belly dancers

Swingin’ their hips.

If you got a problem

Take it to the King

Once you get it settled

Join with me and sing

Faire, Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

Let’s go to Ren Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

There’s Scotsmen

Kilts sway in the breeze

Hitch it up higher

And give us a tease!

This days hot!

You know what we need?

Slip to the pub

And order some meade!

There’s witches!

Casting and chanting

Corseted wenches

Breathless and panting.

It’s Sunday!

Rest in the shade

Cannon’s gone off,

Time for cast to get…….

………………

Paid.

If you got a problem

Take it to the King

Once you get it settled

Join with me and sing

Faire, Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

Let’s go to Ren Faire, baby

Bum bum bum bada bum bum

(More verses may be forthcoming. Stay tuned!)

Shattered

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Around 12:45 in the morning, on Saturday, July 27th, I broke a glass. I didn’t mean to do it, but it happened all the same. I knew the glass was slick, as there had been a cold perspiration about it for days. I knew it was slippery, so I grasped it tightly in my right hand. I was very conscious of that glass, and I was so careful, so gentle when I held it.

It wasn’t a fancy glass, but it meant a lot to me. You know how when you get really thirsty, and you open the cabinet to grab a glass so you can get a drink, and the first one you look for is that one, the one cup that feels just right in your hand, the one that seems to make your drink colder on a hot day? Yeah, that one. Sometimes, that special glass isn’t in the cupboard, and you feel a silly little bit of disappointment about it, but then you go ahead and grab another. It works, you know, it does the job. But it never does feel “just right.”

Anyway.

I’ve had this glass forever. I mean really, I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there in the cupboard when I needed it. Dependable as a sunrise in the morning, it never let me down.  Sounds like a silly thing to say about something so mundane, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I enjoyed the familiarity of it, my favorite glass and I. We had our own little routine.

Lately, it had developed a bit of a crack in it. At first, the crack was just a tiny chip, and I tried to ignore it. Eventually, the chip grew to a small crack, but I found if I turned the cup just right, I could pretend it wasn’t there at all. A couple of weeks ago, though, that damn crack seemed to spread right across my glass. There was no way to turn it, no lighting trick or placement of my hand that could cover the giant crack. And do you know what was worse? Hundreds of rivers of slits, cobwebs of fractures appeared. I mean, it didn’t leak, I could still use it, but I had to be really, really gentle.  I felt in awe of this glass…to be so broken, yet so strong.

There was no way to fix it.

We had a crowd at the house that night, and even though I was careful about the frailty of my glass; even though I remembered to hold it just tightly enough to keep my grasp, but not so tightly I caused it any more harm; even though I was cautious about the perspiration dripping down the sides….even so, my glass still broke.

It broke in the darkness, the deep of the night so black the stars were barely visible. Just before 1 a.m., when the rest of the world had the audacity to be sleeping, that’s when it happened. And the world continued to slumber, just as it always had, just as if my glass, my special, perfect glass, had not just shattered all over the floor.

It happened so quickly, and it seemed that I watched it from outside myself: my grip loosening on the glass, then rapidly trying to tighten my grasp in time, Catch it!; the slow, slow descent of my glass through the air, like a penny dropping through water; the eventual crash, the wailing of my heart as I realized this was happening, really truly happening, and I couldn’t stop it.

SMASH!

Pieces were everywhere. I mean everywhere. Those tiny shards of glass scattered all over my house. I swept and swept, and still, I continued to find more sharp little triangles.

Even today, and it’s been just over a week. I get down on the floor to scrub, and feel a piercing in my knee. Where did that come from? Shoot, it’s another piece of glass. Just big enough to gouge my skin, just big enough to cause blood to dribble; streaks down my leg, bright red polka dots on my clean white floor.

I wonder how it is even possible that I can suddenly find these bits of glass clinging to my shirt, digging in to my chest, paining my heart.

I wonder if I will ever get all the pieces back together.

I just keep sweeping.

My Sister, My Best Friend

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My Sister, My Best Friend

By Valarie E. Kinney

 

When I was a little girl and

My sleep was filled with nightmares

I could run down to my sister’s room

Find peace and comfort there.

Sleepily, she’d raise her head

Pull the covers back and whisper,

“Come in, climb up, and snuggle down

Sleep well, my little sister.”

The summer that I turned sixteen

And learned to drive a car

She taught me how to drive a stick

We never drove too far.

Just up and down that old dirt road

Where we three kids grew up

Listening to Poison

And the screaming of the clutch.

The morning of my wedding day

So nervous I could hardly think

She rearranged my veil just right

And painted my nails pink.

When I became a mother

Unsure of how to do it right

She helped me calm the baby

Get her sleeping through the night.

I called her one day sobbing

And the sweetest words were spoken

When my oldest child went off to school

And I thought my heart was broken.

Four years ago, we lost our Dad

I didn’t think that I could take it

She held me and reminded me,

“We’re Savage girls, we’ll make it.”

Throughout the fails and victories

The challenges of years

The ins, the outs, the upside-downs

She kept me laughing through my tears.

My sister has been my anchor

In my life, I’ve always known

That she was just a call away

No matter the trouble life has thrown.

And now it seems just far too soon

For me to — broken hearted — whisper

“I love you to the moon and back,

Sleep well, my precious sister.”