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Unexpected Encounter

SANDRA

Falling from the hood of the Clyde’s car, Sandra lay face down and motionless in the snow packed alley. The wind blew underneath the back of her thin jacket causing it to billow, the cold piercing the bare skin of her back. In and out of consciousness Sandra heard a man’s voice. In waves of coherency, she tried to understand what he was saying, tried to move her mouth to respond. No words would come. She felt as though her head was the only thing left of her body, as if she had become detached from the rest of it. She could not feel anything besides the pain in her head. Behind the shadow of the man, she saw a blinking red light coming from a car that sat very close to her feet. The shadow hung over her, talking but making no sense. A large gust of winter wind blew her long red hair in a frenzy. Opening her eyes from the abrupt chill, she stared for an instant into the dark eyes of the talking shadow. Then he was gone.

 

CLYDE

It came out of nowhere, like a crouching animal, hiding, waiting to pounce. Moments earlier I had locked up the store, gotten into my cold car, turned the ignition and the lights on. The wipers scraped across the frozen windshield trying to remove a layer of heavy snow. As I pulled away from the store looking through a small clearing in the windshield, like a bullet something had slammed onto my hood so quick and so hard, my foot slammed the brake sending the shape flying to the ground in front of the car.

“What the…” I yelled. Peering through the window between the thumps of the wipers, I squinted hoping to see the animal run away. All I could see was more falling snow. Debating whether to go investigate the damage to my car and whether I wanted to involve myself with a possible injured or angry animal, I slowly backed the car up. If there was nothing there, I would drive away and assess my car in my warm garage. But there was something there. And it was not an animal. Lying a few feet from the car was a person. I grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and sank my head into it trying to think what to do next. Clearly I didn’t see this person who came out of nowhere. Certainly it’s not all my fault that I hit them. But what if the person is dead. Maybe I should just drive away. No one is around. No one would know. Could they prove it was me? I had just gotten my license back after 3 years of traveling by bike. AA was keeping me sober and I bought this car just a few months ago. “Christ,” I said out loud slamming my fists on the wheel. “God damn it.” I slammed the wheel again.

I shut the car off and slowly opened the door. The temperature was dropping and the wind blew tiny shards of ice into my face. I looked around me, besides my car and this person, there appeared to be no one around. Pulling my collar up, I approached the figure on the ground who was lying face down. “Hey” I called, “are you all right?” I got closer and yelled again, “Hey, you, are you okay?” I looked around me again before I knelt down. Gently grabbing the hood of the jacket on the body I lifted it up revealing a mess of red hair. The sight was like a fist in the gut because I knew then who I had just hit with my car. “Holy shit. Holy shit.”  Trying to assess her injuries, I gently rolled her body over onto her back. I pulled the hood in around her neck to keep the snow from filling in the gaps. “Sandra? Can you hear me? Are you hurt? Talk to me. Sandra!” I checked her neck and could feel a faint pulse. There was a small amount of blood at her mouth but I didn’t see any coming from anywhere else or seeping through her clothes. The police had said they couldn’t find her, yet here she is, unconscious, in the snow. I already knew I would not call the police or take her to an emergency room. I did not need any police attention. I did not know anything about this girl except that she may have lost a necklace in my store and could be the one who was asking for help.

I ran back to unlock the back door to my store, pushing the alarm code quickly before it went off. I used a door stop to keep the door open while I ran back to Sandra. Getting both my arms under her small body was easy but carrying her limp body to the store was harder as I slipped around on the fresh snow and ice. Reaching the doorway I took Sarah to the back of the store, away from the windows, and carefully laid her down on a rug on the dark floor. Her body lay limp and she still made no responses to my questions.   Running back outside, I looked over the area where Sandra had been lying on the ground, making sure I had not missed anything that belonged to her.  I drove my car back and forth over the spot where I found her then backed my car up and parked close to the back door. The snow was coming down heavy and quickly covering my tire tracks.

picture hand on window 

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The Story of a Baptism Dress

For 38 years I had kept my wedding dress handing in an ugly plastic hospital discharge clothing bag. It survived more addresses than I care to admit and many times when I almost chucked it. Nostalgia won even as the laced yellowed from age. Over the years it has been taken out of its bag a few times, hung outside to air out, and even worn as a Halloween costume (bride of something), and then put away again. I kept wondering why I kept it until I started having grandchildren. That is when the dress became a possible “bucket list” project. “Someday I am going to make a baptism dress out of my wedding dress,” I would tell my friends. “Sure you are” I would then tell myself. Six years and 4 grandsons later we were blessed with a granddaughter, Etta Sue. It’s not that a little boy’s suit couldn’t have been made from my dress, but up to that point none of the grandsons were baptized, or likely to be as babies, and a little girl’s gown would be so much more fun and frilly to make, right? Once I knew there was a date for her baptism I had two  months to get going. In my head I didn’t think I even needed a pattern but I did buy one anyway. For whatever reason, I put off and put off making that first cut into my wedding dress. I took a lot of pictures of it, spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking how it would go together and kept thinking it would be pretty simple. Finally, one night I started removing all of the lace from the entire bodice of the dress. It took a week of nights!! My eyes were cross-eyed trying to find the “right” white on white thread to pull. It was nerve wracking. Once the lace was all removed I was really disappointed that it all looked so yellow and dirty…so I spent another 1/1-2 weeks mulling over the idea of bleaching the entire dress or just the lace. I ended up bleaching the collar first since I was not going to use it on the baptism dress. Bleaching made it even MORE yellow! My mom suggested I try vinegar. After many days of “should I or shouldn’t I” and “what if the dress disintegrates?” I threw it all in the washer and soaked it in vinegar – and I prayed A LOT. Thankfully it did actually make the material look a little brighter. Whew! Thank Goodness. I took that as a good sign and began cutting out the pattern of Etta’s dress from similar areas on my dress. I wanted the back of her dress to have all of the silk covered buttons my dress did. I had intended the dress to be longer than her so that it would flow when her parents held her over the baptism font but the dress had a mind of its own. As I tried pinning the ruffle from the bottom of my dress onto her dress bodice, it was like a light bulb went off. What a cute SHORT dress this would be. And the biggest plus was NO HEMMING! She is was 9 months old after all, a wiggly little monkey who likes to “go” though she wasn’t quite walking yet. A short dress probably made more sense instead of a long dress getting caught up in her legs. So the short dress was born by using the ruffle of my dress. If I had wanted to make it more girly I could have used a lot more lace, Lord knows there was plenty, but I believe less is best. I also wanted to appeal to Etta’s mom who wasn’t a fan of frilly. After two quick try-ons with her wiggling to get out, I was pretty sure it was going to fit. Then I spent the next couple of days sewing on the 12 silk covered buttons onto the back and making a lace belt/bow as the finishing touch. I finished the baptism dress the Friday night before the Sunday morning baptism. She was so cute with her tights and bow in her hair that day. Seeing her baptized in “a part” of the dress I was married in was really special to me. I am so glad that I saved it. Now the rest of the dress will be saved, in another bag, for a time when I can make wedding ring bearer pillows that I will keep in a hope chest for my grandkids to use when they get married some day. The circle never ends.

Song Parodies – Day 2

#The100dayProject

Sing the parody to the tune of the title song.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Healthcare, Healthcare, where are you?

One that covers me and you,

Not the kind that costs an arm,

Or only covers major harm,

Healthcare, Healthcare, where are you?

Universal – that will do

 

My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean    

Their laundry lies over the footstool,

Their bedspreads lie onto the floor,

Their closet doors can’t even shut now,

So help me I’ve said it before.

Pick up, hang up, oh why is it never their job, their job,

Fold this, wash that, oh,

Help me before I implode.

 

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider  

The itsy-bitsy back pain climbed down the il-i-ac

Wham came the strain and wrenched the muscle back

Out came my feet and laid me outright flat

Now the mega-duty back pain 

Said, “How do you like that?”

 

The Trailer

The house was at the end of the dirt road, fences abutted both sides of the narrow property, and brush hung heavily over the rotting wood from years and years of neglect. There was no driveway, just the dug out ruts caused by the constant back and forth from tires over a muddy spot on the weedy grass. Parking close to the fence, I sat in the car taking in my surroundings. It was a gloomy day, rain was in the forecast. Maybe I should have come on a sunny day when things might not look so depressing. There was no sign of life, no wind, no birds singing, it was completely quiet all around me. I was miles from nowhere. I was hopeful that this clue I had been given about my daughter’s whereabouts would bring me closer to finding her. However, this trailer home looked like it had been plopped down into the middle of a thicket of trees and abandoned for a long time. It was very old, it’s original color completely covered by rust, weather and graffiti. The steps that go up to the house were made out of concrete blocks, three on the bottom, and two on the top. Weeds grew through the holes of the bricks, a single dandelion shot up out of the top. I decided to keep my car door slightly open after I got out of the car. I left my purse behind but grabbed my phone.  Stepping cautiously, I started up the brick blocks and they moved slightly under my weight. The outside aluminum door was open, hanging sloppily from one hinge against the trailer. The inside wooden door had no doorknob and was rotting from the outside in. I gently pushed the door open and the silence was broken with a loud screech of rusty hardware. Somewhere something made a quiet rustling sound. I pushed the door as far back as it would go which was just enough to allow me inside. Cigarette smoke mingled with mustiness and dust met my nostrils and I put my hand over my mouth. I pulled my jacket collar up and over my nose and tried breathing through my mouth. The open door provided some light while my eyes adjusted to the dark room.  At my feet a pile of old mail was sprawled across the floor. There were stacks of old yellowed newspapers and car magazines. I picked up an envelope that was addressed to William Trapp. It was postmarked from over a year ago. I threw it back on the pile. William Trapp didn’t mean anything to me but I will remember to check it out once I leave here. I tried the light switch by the front door. Nothing. A second switch covered with old scotch tape didn’t work either. I walked slowly to the window across from the door, hesitated a second, then opened the thin tattered curtains revealing dust encrusted blinds, their cords woven into intricate cobwebs. Thick dust flew out into the room when I moved two of the slats to peek outside. Overgrown trees, bushes and weeds seemed to hug the windows and sides of the trailer like creeping ivy which explained the room’s darkness in the middle of the day. I turned around slowly and headed for the kitchen. The sink was filled with dirty dishes, roaches slithered to their hiding places as I got closer. Dead bugs swam in half drained cups of rusty water. What looked like it had been a burnt piece of toast lay on a paper plate with one perfect bite taken out of it, its edges curled up in a state of decay as tiny bugs moved over it. The mustard colored stove was covered with thick grease that showed signs of rodents who had left their footprints and droppings behind. A pair of beer bottle shaped salt and pepper shakers sat in the middle of the oily mess. On the refrigerator I noted some greasy, dusty magnets hanging on the front, “Be Happy,” “Smile,” and a Bible verse about “Being Still.” On top of the fridge were boxes of Wheaties and Puffed Rice lying on their sides, tops open, their contents all over the floor. My shoes crunched over the cereal as I debated whether to open the refrigerator. Leaning towards it I could smell rancid, rotten food and I could see a black gel oozing out the bottom of the door and decided against it.

Since it appeared no one had been here in a very long time, I decided to check the rest of the trailer. I took my cell phone out of my pocket to see if I had any cell service in case I needed to use it. Clenching my fists and taking a deep breath of the stank air, I headed down the hall on the slanting linoleum floor. I came to the first closed door,  grabbed the handle and opened it quickly. The noise disturbed some mice that scrambled for cover. My eyes tried to adjust to the small darkened bathroom which smelled wet with mold. The floor was covered with waist high piles of what could be towels or clothes, it was too dark to tell. I closed the door shut and made my way down the rest of the hallway and came to a bedroom at the back of the trailer. Enough light made its way through the thin curtains to see that the room was sparsely furnished. A small twin bed was pushed into the farthest corner of the room, its old mattress lumpy and stained.  The closet doors were open, empty blue plastic hangers scattered on the floor. The long shelf above the rod was empty. One black sock lay in the corner covered in a blanket of dust. Could my daughter, Sandra, have been here? Had she slept here? Certainly it would have been against her will if she did.

I went back to the sagging couch, and looked around for anything that might give me a clue she had been here. A single coffee table pocketed with burn marks held an overflowing ashtray with butts cascading over the top; some had lipstick residue, others did not. Sandra never wore lipstick I noted. Scanning the room one last time, I headed for the door. I left the front door like I found it, closing it as best I could. Standing on the concrete blocks, I looked out onto the property. My car added the only color among the weeds and overgrown brush. It was quiet, very quiet. Making my way to my car, I was disappointed this trip had been so fruitless. I still had no clue of what might have happened to my daughter, Sandra, who has now been missing for 3 months. The more I search for her, the less hope I have of finding her. This had been another dead end. There was no indication Sandra has ever been here. I had been misled. I turned my car around and slowly headed back towards town. Adjusting the mirror before I left the dirt road, my eye caught a slight movement near the trailer. I slowed the car, adjusted the mirror and looked again but there was nothing. A shiver ran up my spine but I did not go back.

Decisions

Sitting in the oncology exam room, Ben shifts in his body in the small chair trying to get comfortable “So, what do you think the doctor is going to say today?” I ask him quietly trying to break the silence.

“How the hell would I know, Madge?” squirming in his chair. Sounding annoyed he lets out a big breath, “I just want to know how many days I got left.”

“What? That’s crazy, Ben. He’s not going to tell you that. You’ve got more than days left for Pete’s sake.” Lately he has been saying inappropriate things and I brush this one off, too.

Ben looked at me and waves his hand toward the door. “Go see why it’s taking so long, will ya?”

“Good grief, Ben, why? I think–.”

Dr. O’Hara walked in. He shook Ben’s hand and smiled at me. “So, Mr. Johnson, how have you been feeling?”

Ben presses back against his chair, crosses his arms and looks at the floor. “How should I feel, doc? Last time I was here you gave me a death sentence. I’m going to die, just tell me how long I’ve got. That’s all I want to hear.” He scratches his head and adjusts his glasses.

Dr. O’Hara gives a faint laugh as if Ben is joking. “I’ve got the results of your scans and biopsies. Let me explain them to you and we’ll talk about what comes next.”

“Whatever.” Ben’s right leg starts to bounce up and down slightly. He let out a big sigh and nervously lifted his baseball cap off his head and placed it back on his head two times, with a tug at the bill twice.

Dr. O’Hara explained that Ben has a large tumor in his brain and that it is cancerous. He showed us the scans of the rest of his body which showed he had lesions in the liver and pancreas. The results were not good. Ben didn’t seem to be listening and made no attempt to look at the scans. The more Dr. O’Hara said, the larger the lump grew in my throat. I heard the words “stage IV” and “metastatic”, “aggressive” and “not curable.”  I searched Ben’s face for some clue to what he must be thinking. When our eyes met I saw his eyes tear up and one lone tear let loose down his cheek.

When I first met Ben it was love at first sight. I was too starry-eyed to notice how Ben avoided public displays of affection, didn’t like to hold hands, hug or sit close together plus he didn’t like to dance – all of the things I thought part of a normal dating relationship. I expected all men to be just like my father – the protector, provider, and fixer of everything; and like my brother – sociable, funny, hard worker, and life of the party. Ben turned out to be none of these things. I always felt that eventually Ben would change. Having Sabrina, our daughter, was a dream come true until I had to work 2 and 3 jobs sometimes to make ends meet when Ben didn’t have a job. I wore my Big Girl panties more times than I wanted in our married life and eventually grew tired of making excuses for his behavior. I was the mother and the father and had to do absolutely everything. I felt embarrassed, let down, and depressed the farther away we got as a couple. Looking at him now, so sad and helpless, I wish I could hug him and tell him that I still love him.

Dr. O’Hara swings in his stool to face Ben. Quietly he says, “There are treatments to help survival but unfortunately not to cure your cancer.” He looks at me sympathetically. “I have seen different chemotherapy regimens work. Most patients tolerate this type of chemotherapy very –…“

Cutting him off, Ben said, “I don’t want any treatment,” staring into his hands.

I swung myself around in my chair to look at Ben, shocked, “What?” You can’t possibly mean that. Listen to what the doc is saying, Ben. There is treatment for this cancer.” Tears dripped in my purse as I searched for a Kleenex.

Ben looks squarely at the doctor then, “Listen, doc. I. Do. Not. Want. Any. Treatment. End of story.” Dr. O’Hara looked at me raising an eyebrow.

“Why do you want to just give up?” choking back a sob. Ben turns quickly to me, squeezes my arm and says “quit crying Madge” through clenched teeth. Ben looks back and asks Dr. O’Hara again how long he has, still squeezing me arm a little too hard.

Dr. O’Hara shuts his laptop, “Based on how much the cancer has already spread, my guess would be 6 months if you decide to have no treatment.”

Ben slowly gets up, “Thank you for being honest, doc,” and he leaves the room.

“This is a shock for both of you”, Dr. O’Hara said to me as the door closed behind Ben. “It will take time for both of you to process all of this. After he thinks it over, hopefully he will change his mind. This doesn’t have to be a 6 month death sentence for him.”

Outside I see Ben leaning against our car. I hit the key to unlock the door and he slides into the passenger seat. I start the car and head home. Neither one of us says a thing. He leans his head back on the head rest and closes his eyes. For the rest of the day, we avoid passing each other in the house. Later lying in bed, back to back, not touching, neither of us able to sleep he says, “I’ve made a decision.” I wait holding my breath for his next words.  “I don’t want treatment. I don’t want Sabrina to know I have cancer. And when things get bad enough I want you to help put me out of my misery. Can you promise me that?”

It has been a week since seeing Dr. O’Hara. Ben remains adamant about not wanting treatment and finally told me it was more about money than any other reason. He knew insurance would not cover all of the treatment and if it didn’t work, he didn’t want to leave me with a lot of medical bills. What I heard from his words was that he didn’t deserve to be treated, he wasn’t worth the money it would cost. We had discussions about living wills and funerals and he refused to make any plan. He has always been an agnostic while my strong Christian faith cannot imagine a death without some sort of service. He wanted me to promise there would be no funeral. He said no one would come anyway.  He wanted to be cremated and wanted his ashes thrown in Lake Superior up by our favorite place in Grand Marais. When I asked him to write his wishes down in a living will, he told me he didn’t have to because “I knew what he wanted.”

I see Ben from the kitchen window, standing in the garage. He is leaning against his workbench looking at all the items I have placed there over the winter months probably chastising me for not putting them away where they belong. He has always kept the garage organized, as well as his books in his office and his cherished stamp collection. I watch as he turns to stare at the wall where all of our Christmas decorations are kept. I know what he is thinking. He thinks I don’t need all that stuff for our small townhouse. He thinks it is junk and that a lot of it could be thrown away. But he knows better than to ask me to weed it out or get rid of anything. Not now. His tall, lean body moves slowly towards the car, bent slightly forward from the shoulders, his right hand on his hip as if he is holding the bones together as he walks.  He leans his back against the car.  A ray of sunshine settles across his face. I see him quickly touch his eye and then pinch his nose. He is crying. Feeling bad that I am spying on him, I consider going out to hug him and telling him everything is going to be alright.

“Geeze!” I jump as I am caught off guard from the loud ring of my phone in my pocket. I look at the caller and see that it’s Sabrina.

“Hi, how are you Sabrina?”

“Fine, mom” she sighs, taking what I can tell is a drag off of her cigarette. I imagine her sitting on her sunny porch, a coffee mug steaming next to the pack of Camels.

“What’s up?” I ask, knowing I would never be told what’s really happening in her life; it’s just what I say when she calls.

I can hear her blow the smoke from her lungs. Sounding congested from her allergies, Sabrina sniffles and asks “Mom, how is dad doing?” I still haven’t told her anything about the cancer, but she has been around lately when Ben was not acting himself. She is concerned.

I’m about to tell her he’s out in the garage, but when I turn around he’s gone. The car is not there.  My heart skips a beat at the thought of Ben driving. He was told not to. “Mom, is everything okay?”

I tell Sabrina that everything is fine. I tell her not to worry.

“Why can’t they figure out why he is acting so weird? Why doesn’t he see a different doctor?” Sarah asks blowing her nose into the phone.

“He doesn’t want to see any more doctors, Sabrina. He says he feels fine. I keep trying but you know how stubborn he is.”

“He’s so stupid,” Sabrina spits out.

“You know how he gets when it involves doctors and money.”

“Ugh, I know that whole thing word for word unfortunately,” Sabrina sighs. “But seriously, mom, what are you going to do?”

The question hit a nerve and I felt slightly dizzy. “How about if I call you later, honey? Okay? Love you,” I said as my eyes filled with water and I ended the call.

I sat alone in quiet living room and recalled Ben’s long-winded discussions he would get going with anyone who would listen about our medical system, politics and religion, too. Being agnostic he can’t understand how I could believe in a God who allows babies to die and people to suffer. He feels it is unfair that he should go to hell after being a nice person his whole life. He is angry with God and expects me to be angry with him, too. He will never listen to my reasons for believing.  Ben has dealt with undiagnosed depression most of our marriage, stemming from low self-esteem and feeling his future was robbed from him by his overbearing alcoholic father. His worst depression started after being laid off his job during the housing crash and then he became disabled from his diabetes. His days now include watching C-SPAN, political shows and right wing news shows that cause him to be argumentative, irrational and cynical. Sometimes when I’ve heard enough I sit in the bathroom and cry. Thankfully he won’t follow me into the bathroom.

“God damn door!!” My daydream ended as Ben tried to open the front door. He fumbles with his keys and I hear them fall to the ground. There is audible groaning as he bends slowly to retrieve them. Finally, the door is open and he walks in with his arms full of grocery bags. A free hand holds his tall plastic Holiday cup by the lip, the newspaper and the mail. He refuses to take two trips from the car. He is a creature of habit. He has to have 6 ice cubes in his tall plastic cup. He opens a new can of diet orange soda and pours it slowly into his cup, tapping the side of the can exactly 8 times. Then he shakes the empty can over the sink 5 times leaving the empty cans to pile up on the counter. He comes slowly to the living room now carrying his plastic cup and the paper, his jeans hanging loosely over his slim pelvic bones, his polyester golf shirt half tucked in and half out. He has lost at least 20 pounds since we saw Dr. O’Hara and his balance seems to be getting worse. He backs into his wing back chair, landing with a thud, sending the chair sliding back into the corner. His orange pop spills onto his shirt but he makes no gesture to wipe it off. He sets his cup down and turns on the TV. He lifts his baseball cap a little off his head and then puts it back on, tugs the bill of the cap two times. He sighs loudly and says with disgust like so many times before, “you will not believe what happened on that little trip to the store.” Somehow there is always a story about what happened while he was out. Whether its crazy drivers, parking space wars, the checkout line that takes forever or the cost of something he buys that never registers at the correct price – somehow he always runs into a problem that makes him angry. I wait for him to tell me what happened but when I look up from my Iphone he is quiet.  He’s sitting erect in his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Obviously tired he has already fallen asleep in his chair, his chin dropping to his chest. The paper he was holding drops quietly to the floor. I stare at him for a few minutes making sure his chest is moving up and down. He is so still and quiet. My heart twinges with a little pinch of pain as I recall the doctor saying that his brain tumor could take him quickly at any time. Watching his peacefulness now, I am wishing that he would go silently when the time comes.

Sabrina came over a couple of days later. She went to the living room to say hi to Ben. She flopped on the couch with her knees under her body and said, “Hey, dad, how’s it going” a little too cheerfully, sounding forced. Their relationship since she was a teenage has been strained, Sabrina having been disrespectful and rude to Ben most of that time. Ben, rather than confront her, would walk on egg shells whenever she was around. He had no response for her cutting words and rolling eyes. She hurt him the most, however, when she secretly married and took away his chance to be the father of the bride to his only child. Only I knew how much that hurt him because it hurt me, too. Lately she has been trying to reconcile with him. Maybe being married has caused her to see things differently. As much as she wanted to deny it, she and her dad were two peas in a pod in their stubbornness and independence. Every day I wanted to call and tell her about his cancer but I did what Ben asked. Now I hear them talking about the Twins baseball team and the humid weather. He says nothing about his cancer.

“So how are you feeling?” she asks Ben, “have you been to the doctor recently? It looks like you’re losing weight, dad. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Bri.” That was all it took for him to start a long-winded rant about our medical system, how they are stealing our money, killing people who don’t have insurance, and how drug companies should be blown up for making us guinea pigs while they rake in billions of dollars. Sabrina has heard it all before… many, many times. We both have. The only opinion you can have in this house is Ben’s.

When Ben got up to use the bathroom, Sabrina came out to the kitchen where I was making coffee. “Dad doesn’t look so good.” Without looking at her, I pour three cups and follow her back into the living room. “I know,” I said. I had decided that since Sabrina was here we should tell her about Ben’s cancer today.

Ben came back and sat down. I gave him his coffee cup. Not sure how to bring it up, I blurted out, “Sabrina, we have something to tell you.” Ben’s eyes shot daggers at me and I looked into my coffee cup hoping and praying that Ben would take my lead and tell his daughter the truth. The room was silent, the kitchen clock.. tick, tock, tick, tock. I could hear the traffic on the street outside. I looked at Ben again. “Ben, please. She needs to know.” Sabrina looked from me to Ben and back again. She shifted her legs on the sofa. “Tell me what?” Ben is staring at me now. I take a sip of my coffee. I reach for Sabrina’s hand and tell her that her father has incurable brain cancer and has only a short time to live. Sabrina takes her hand from mine and stands up slowly. “What? How long have you guys known this? What about treatment? Can’t you get chemo or something, dad? No.  No, this can’t be happening now.” Sabrina moves towards Ben and collapses at his feet. I am just about to tell her that Ben doesn’t want any treatment, when he starts to stroke her long hair. I am so struck by this poignant scene between father and daughter, I cannot speak.  Sabrina starts to cry and takes her father’s hand. “Oh, daddy, I’m so sorry. But I have something to tell you guys, too.”  She wipes her eyes and tells us that she is pregnant; that she is due in 7 months, around Ben’s 60th birthday. I’m wondering if I heard Sabrina right. My elation at the news of our first grandchild is mixed with the sadness that we could lose Ben before the baby is even born. This news is so unexpected but such great news. Sabrina continues to weep as Ben looks at me. I search his eyes hoping to see a change of heart, a new perspective, a reason for him to fight for his life. In the next moment we are all on our feet caught in an embrace full of sorrow, joy and hope.

A Stranger In the Night

True story…..

It was a normal summer night, I was dreaming of rain though I could hear it through the barely cracked bedroom window, drip, drip, drip off the roof onto the concrete outside. A light wind tried but failed to rustle the soggy fallen leaves but gave the cramped, humid room welcoming whiffs of cool air. A car door shuts across the street, two quick beeps of the alarm mix with a siren from a distant highway. Falling deeper into sleep, the neighbor kids I used to babysit when I was 20 are walking horses past me on an unfamiliar street; followed quickly by my high school typing instructor holding a baby who is crying.  I had been holding my breath longer than my body could stand it and I gasped, awoke briefly and took a deep breath. What had I been dreaming? There was a baby but… Drifting away again my dreams start to mix up people, places, and things from unknown times and places, patching them into stories I will never remember when I wake up. Had Jim come to bed? Why is my old boss wearing a women’s dress? Did any of the kids come home yet? Whose dog is barking? I turned to lie on my back trying to recall the last dream. Why is it so hard to remember? Was the car door one of the kids coming home? Whose baby was my teacher holding? Was that siren nearby? Trying to relax, barely awake I tell myself to not open my eyes because I would never fall back to sleep again. I sighed and was swept into a deep sleep.

I awoke with a start, presumably from another apneic snore, though briefly I wondered if I had heard a noise. Focusing on the sounds around me, I heard nothing but the rain outside. Thunder rolled somewhere far away, comforting and calming until I became aware of something touching my right leg. It took my breath away as adrenaline seized my chest and panic rushed through my body in split seconds raising the hair on my arms. Holding my breath, my mind was playing catch up to recall which dream this had been, the one where someone touches my leg, under the sheet, just above my ankle. Okay… okay, wait. Breathe…I lay as still as I could, paralyzed, eyes closed, telling myself that dreams can certainly feel real, but reassuring myself that someone had not just touched me. It was a dream. It had to be a dream. Keep breathing, try to relax I told myself. Good God. What the hell…

Breathe in, breathe out, slowly, that’s it, you can do it; go back to sleep, think of something nice. Remember? Where is that place again? The beach? The ocean? Waves gently slapping the shore, the sun, and the warmth? There we go. Sigh. My breathing becomes slower and my racing heart has started to slow down even though my consciousness is still asking, what was that I felt? Why did that feel so real? This is ridiculous, I tell myself. Then…it happened again. This time I was awake, very awake. My panic was so severe that I willed myself not to move, not to breathe, not to open my eyes. Something WAS touching my right leg, someone’s hand, this time on my shin slowly moving towards my knee. My mind is so confused with the scenarios, trying to come up with possibilities that seem rational. Nothing did. Was one of my kids sick? Why didn’t they shake my arm or my foot to wake me? Why haven’t they called my name? To put their hand under the covers and touch my leg? No, they wouldn’t do that. They are teenagers. Jim wouldn’t do that either, would he? Racking my brain to think of reasons why one of my kids or my husband would squeeze into the small space between my side of the bed and the wall to get my attention this way did not make any sense. There had to be a reasonable explanation but what was it? I kept my breath shallow, trying to stay silent but my throat felt like it was closing up and I felt faint. I needed to help whoever was trying to wake me, but who was it. I tried to whisper but my voice just cracked…”Eric?” I said, starting with my youngest son’s name. There was no answer. The hand on my leg remained there when I whispered, more clearly this time, “Christian?” Still no answer. The hand slipped away from leg, the blanket replacing it when I said, louder this time, “Sarah?” It had to be one of them, who else could it be? “Jim?” Something didn’t add up. One of them was sick, lying next to my bed, on the floor, not being able to respond to me. I opened my eyes. The room was pitch black. It took a minute to make out the dark shape on the floor beside the bed. When the shape started to move, I flung the covers off my body towards Jim’s side of the bed. My left arm hit his shoulder. He was sound asleep on his stomach, aware of nothing. I mentally checked him off my short list of people who could be on the floor beside me. I sat up slightly and reached my right hand out moving it slowly left and right in the darkness trying to connect with whoever needed me.  I touched what I hoped would be one of my kids’ head and that is when I screamed. “JIM” I screamed! What I felt was not the head of anyone in my family. Within seconds of feeling the short, wet curls of thick short hair I sprang to all fours on the bed and hopped away from the dark shape onto Jim’s back and screamed again. “Jim! Jim!” I yelled, shaking him violently. “There is someone in our room! Wake up! Wake up!” Jim was a very heavy sleeper and it took him what seemed like forever to figure out where he was and who was yelling at him. As he tried to roll over, I slipped off from his back onto the floor. “He’s over there”, I cried, “Someone is over there by the wall! Someone is in our room!” my voice shaking through the sobs. Jim rubbed his eyes “What? What?” he kept saying. “What are you talking about? Where?” As I pointed, the figure next to the wall was crawling on the floor at the end of the bed slowly heading for the bedroom door. I heard a quiet male voice say, “You told me to come here.”  When Jim finally realized what was happening, he reached down and grabbed the jacket of the man on the floor, lifting him easily to his feet. I sat huddled in the corner, watching and shivering. Jim, clad only in underwear, towered in height over the intruder who still insisted he had been invited but was not resisting being led out. Reaching the hallway outside our bedroom, Jim guided the man towards the apartment door which was only steps away, opened it, and gave the man a little push outside. I heard him lock the door. I let out a breath, a loud sob, uncertain how long I had been holding it in. What the hell just happened here I asked myself? Someone, a strange man, had entered our apartment, crawled right past us while we both slept without us hearing a sound and, it seemed, was preparing to crawl in beside me in our bed. Now that he was gone, I felt more scared then I had ever been in my life. He could have had a gun; he could have resisted Jim’s attempt to get him out; he could have bypassed our room and gotten into the rooms of our kids. The realization that our bedroom had been Sarah’s room until a month ago was making a huge sickening pit in my stomach. I could hardly stand to think about the “what ifs”. I was about to bring that up when Jim walked back into the bedroom. I stood up from the corner still shaking and I asked Jim whether we should call the police? He said “no, he’s gone” and he crawled back into bed, on his stomach, and covered himself with the blankets. Within minutes he was snoring. I am not sure how long I stood there staring at him in disbelief that he could just go back to sleep after what just happened. I wondered if he would even remember this in the morning. I knew I would not be able to go back to sleep. I walked down the hall and checked the lock on the apartment door again to assure it was locked. We had once again became too lax on keeping it locked, the kids were always losing their keys and with 3 of them coming and going we had started to find it easier to just keep it unlocked. I quietly opened the door to the boys’ room. Both were asleep, covers in disarray, their long lean bodies barely contained in the length of the bunk beds. They would be unhappy to learn they missed all the excitement. Before I shut their door, I noticed the baseball bats in the corner and made a mental note of them. I look into Sarah’s room, her door was rarely shut. I lean against the door frame and watched her sleep too. I thought about whether I would even tell her about what happened tonight. She definitely would be sleeping with a bat at her bedside and a knife under the mattress if I did. She hated living in this neighborhood and this would be just the ammunition she would need to try to convince us to move. I sat in the darkness of the living room the rest of the night thinking about how it had come to be that we decided to change bedrooms with Sarah. All I know is that I am so thankful we did. We never did call the police, no harm was done – except to my peace of mind – and he left peacefully. Our apartment building is identical to the building next to ours. It is probable that our intruder got the buildings mixed up and entered our apartment by mistake. Maybe he, like Jim, forgot all about the incident in the morning, too.