Notes from Kansas


I am in Kansas, visiting my parents. My Dad’s radiation and chemotherapy were both supposed to start this week, but the doctors  are still trying to figure out the radiation part of his treatment. I’ve been here since Tuesday and since my Dad hasn’t started his regimen yet, it’s been kind of a lazy few days. 

I saw some friends from high school last night. We caught up at a restaurant and someone suggested we go to the park to look at the newly restored fountain. It was my third trip to the fountain in three days. We laughed and took pictures and, I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel like a bunch of middle aged friends, on escape from our adult lives, it felt more like being back home for the summer, in between semesters of college.

It’s so easy to fall into a familiar rhythm. Here I am typing this in my childhood room. My pennant collection still lines my walls. My U.S. map bulletin board still hangs above my desk. One can see the spots on the map where I wrote “Independence” in Kansas and “Sand Springs” in Oklahoma (because my church camp crush lived there) and “Guiding Light” in Springfield, Illinois. With few exceptions, the room is the same as the day I graduated high school. 

More than once this week, I’ve thought, hey, I could get used to this. I’ve even cut my antidepressant in half. There are moments when I forget why I am here, on loan from my regular life. It’s been really nice.

Before I came, my parents and I talked about getting rid of unwanted stuff while I’m home. I’ve been throwing out folders and class notebooks from my bedroom and we hope to have a garage sale next weekend. (And we hope for cooler temperatures to make that garage sale more bearable.) Tonight, my Dad and I went through three of the 4 freezers they have, tossing out anything with a date older than 2012. (Anyone want a refrigerator? We have 3.) It wasn’t too contentious though a couple things my Dad vetoed because he didn’t want to lose the Gladware the frozen items were housed in. A few years back, my parents bought themselves a food sealer. I don’t know how much they paid, but they surely got their money’s worth for the joy it brings them. 4 oz of leftover ham? Perfect, we’ll seal it! A half eaten baked potato? We can pull it out of the freezer in December and reheat it! That December comes and goes and that the 1/2 potato lives three winters in the freezer, in a way, is irrelevant. I think they just like knowing they have lots of food. If someone comes over, they can pull out homemade salsa or apple butter.

One of the things my Dad handed me to throw away was a sealed styrofoam container. I didn’t ask. A couple minutes later, he handed me another identical sealed styrofoam container. 

“Dad, this isn’t even labeled.”

“I know what it is, it’s a cinnamon roll.”

And then I remembered, yes, the cinnamon rolls. 

I always think everyone knows this, but since a complicated cancer-removing jaw surgery in 2012, food has not been his primary source of nutrition. He feeds himself through a tube in his stomach. Several times a day, he pours water and cans of an Ensure-like product into that tube. He does drink a little coffee and eats some cookies, but his relationship to food, to say the least, is not what it used to be. And I know what you are thinking, it’s what I am always wondering, would I be able to have a rich life without enjoying one of the things in this world that I love most? I’d like to think I would, but I don’t know.

The first Neewollah after his surgery, he bought a cinnamon roll downtown, at the same stand he’d bought one for the last 40 years. He couldn’t eat yet, so he sealed it and put it in the freezer. The next Neewollah, still not eating regularly but with the same hope that he would eat again, he bought another. They were the goal he gave himself of what he would eat when he could eat. And, now here we are, five years later.

Anyway, tonight, after the cinnamon rolls, my Dad handed me a few other items and I started bagging it all up to cart outside for the morning trash. He said he was going to go inside to collect more trash. And I stood there alone in our garage, this hot, sticky, familiar garage. All I could think about were those darn cinnamon rolls. I told myself that if he COULD eat a cinnamon roll, he should surely eat a fresh one instead of these old, crystallized objects.  But also, I wondered what might it mean, to him, to my Mom, to me, for those rolls not to be there. When is a baked good more than a baked good? Well, I think, maybe, it’s more than a baked good when there is some kind of hope attached to it. 

So, when my Dad came back to the garage, I told him I had put the cinnamon rolls back into the freezer. He didn’t sound surprised. 

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said.

“No, I wanted to.” I did not know how to say to him that I feared that throwing away those rolls might be like giving up hope. That I wasn’t ready for the garbage collector to pick up those rolls in the morning and fling them into their truck and cart my hope, our hope off to the county landfill. So, looking down, because I was afraid to look at him, I simply said, “It just makes me feel better knowing they are there.”

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What Price Joy?

Today is my birthday. As we do, I attempted to start celebrating my birthday weekend on Friday night, when Eric and I went to Marie Callender’s for a fancy dinner of buffalo chicken sliders and Happy Hour pepperoni pizza. A good time was had by all. 

We got home and took the dogs out for their evening walk and, long story short, Millie got stung by a bee. Actually, I’m pretty sure she got stung by a bee and then she ate it. All of this is information we have pieced together in retrospect. 

Before I go further, let me say, Millie is fine. As I type this, she is underneath the bed, chewing on her toenails. 

Anyway, it took us a few minutes to figure out what had happened. One minute on her walk she was fine, then she was chewing on something, then she seemed disoriented and couldn’t walk well. When we got inside the apartment, she threw up and then I was pretty sure she’d been stung by a bee. We called our vet, they were closing and they directed us to a 24 hour clinic. 

200 dollars and two hours later, we were at CVS, trolling the aisles, Millie happily wagging her tail as her fathers searched for Benadryl tablets.  

I guess it’s a little indelicate to talk about money, but I wasn’t super excited about spending that much money on my dog. Probably, we could have gone to CVS when it first happened and bought the Benadryl and probably she would have been fine.

As we were hurriedly leaving the apartment, a shaken Millie in my arms, unsure of what lay ahead, with as much victimized passive aggression as you can imagine, I muttered, “Happy Birthday.” And then Eric said, “What?” And I tersely said, “Nothing!”

I fretted all the way down Beverly as Eric drove and Millie burrowed her snout into a blanket and my hands trying to alleviate an itch that had developed from the bee sting. 

But like I said, she’s okay. They gave her a couple of shots, we had a fun little visit to CVS, and then we took her home. 

Update, Millie is no longer under the bed. She is now on top of the bed, inches from me, licking the sheets. 

Anyway, when we got home, Brokeback Mountain was on tv. That’s a fun movie. I felt like maybe I’d had enough sadness for one day, so I went in the other room and read a book. Ricky snuggled next to me. After a time, Millie and Eric came to bed too. 

And then this morning came, and I woke up next to Eric, Ricky between us, Millie sprawled at my feet, all of us in our assigned positions. I checked to make sure Millie was okay. She was. And, I don’t know, either you get it or you don’t, but I was so happy this morning. My little family, we had weathered another challenge, and we lived to tell, or bark, the tale (or tail). 

Update: Millie is now rooting around underneath the duvet cover, trying to settle in for the night. Actually, she just came out and rested her head on Eric’s legs. I took a picture that I’m going to use for this blog post. And now she’s licking sheets again. 

It’s crazy when you think about it, how something as mundane as a licky dog, or a morning cuddle, can bring you so much joy. I am 49 now, today, and I have gained some sense of what moments in life hold the most value.

Now she’s giving me a kiss. 

Good night, happy birthday.