Labor of Love

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Date that was labor of love morphed to melancholy reminder,
Fifteen times celebrated birth now betrays like a grifter.
Know you see her through the years as she grew from child onward;
Little dove has flown away and with departure heart’s been rendered.

Her voice, her touch, the smell of her you’ll never feel again,
Though you know she’s no longer here swear she’s playing in near glen.
Each time you hear a mourning dove know your darling calls to you
And she waits to greet you when your earthly time is through.

From ashes to ashes and dust to dust is fate for all flesh
But to live within God’s glory is Almighty’s recompense.
Our earthly forms are mortal but our souls live on and on
and you can still hear your darling with each trilling of bird song.

January Fifth: Part 12 of 49

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abraham_lincoln_statue_in_julia_davis_park_by_battle810-d5vbqw8Before his sneakered feet hit the sidewalk it occurred to John that he was already thinking of Joni’s financial windfall as “our” money. Legally speaking, he figured this was true but as he’d done nothing to earn the dough that had transformed so beautifully into a large loaf of bread he reminded himself that while he was the bearer of great news he still had to be careful how he presented it to his beloved. He really needed to call it her money and wait for Joni to use the word “our.”

As the crow flies John had about a three-and-three-quarter-mile distance to travel. Of course, not being a crow, nor any other type of winged creature, he would get from home to the car parts dealership where Joni worked along city streets. The possible routes from A to B must have ranged in the billions what with all of the side streets that one could take but side streets implied more territoriality and the increased possibility of unwanted attention from some of the less desirable, non-inclusive and covetous inhabitants along the way. Since he wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of the myriad neighborhoods through which he would travel on his jog he decided to stick to major arteries, rightly figuring that he’d be far less likely to have any unpleasant encounters on major thoroughfares than on the backstreets.

Not that he was particularly worried about gangs or random acts of crime, especially in the middle of the day, but by deciding to keep to the major routes he was limited to two, or if one were a hairsplitter, three, straightforward ways to proceed. His choices were to head south two blocks on Indiana Avenue and then west on 138th Street until coming to South Halsted where he would honor the streets prefix and indeed head south: Halsted would dump him onto Morgan which led to the south west diagonal of Park Avenue which he’d follow down to 159th Street.

The other option was to just head due south on Indiana Avenue until it intersected with US 6, aka 162nd Street, which turned into 159th when it crossed over Vincennes.

With either route the first part of his journey entailed turning left on the 136th Street sidewalk in front of the Hagans’ home and then taking a right half a block later onto Indiana Avenue. John headed east on 136th and then south on Indiana. At first the cold air bothered his lungs but in less than three minutes he wasn’t thinking about the cold but instead just enjoying the freedom of being outside and active.

By the time he’d traversed the two blocks to 138th Street he was already regretting his decision to wear a stocking cap and gloves so he took off his hat, wrapped the gloves inside and then placed all three items in the waist band of his sweat pants, thankful for the drawstring that would help to keep them secure as he jogged onward. Because he was feeling good John looked at his wristwatch as he continued southward. By going due south on Indiana he’d have gone about one point seven miles when he reached his first of three major intersections, Sibley Boulevard. Once at Sibley he could check his watch and then again another 1.7 or so miles later at US 6 and a final time at Park Avenue, which would be mile marker five. These mile markers would allow him to get a good feel for his pace and even though speed wasn’t part of his mission he, like most folks, inevitably wanted to know how far and how fast they had just run.

Indiana wasn’t a bad street to run on. The sidewalks had slabs that had shifted and John thought, ‘Looks like I best keep one eye on the ground, another on traffic and a third one watching out for pedestrians so I don’t collide with anyone or anything.’ He inhaled deeply and then softly started singing, “I’m only pretty sure that I can’t take anymore, before you take a swing. I wonder what are we fighting for when I say out loud I want to get out of this. I wonder is there anything I’m going to miss? I wonder how it’s going to be when you don’t know me.” He laughed when he realized why that song had popped into his head.

The neighborhoods seemed nicer the farther south he went and he noted an even bigger improvement after crossing the second set of railroad tracks. He ran on the right side of the road and the houses and businesses on his near right were far more inviting than the ones on the east side of Indiana. He checked his watch at Sibley Boulevard and was pleased to see that it had taken him only about fifteen minutes to travel the first mile and three quarters or so until he remembered that he’d already been jogging for at least a minute before his initial time check. He smirked, shrugged, and stood panting while he waited for the light to turn green so that he could continue safely on his journey.

When the light turned John checked his watch and immediately started to run southward. A man in a big jeep honked at him for daring to step out into the street with the crosswalk sign illuminated WALK and John glanced at him, shrugged and then made the sign of the cross before throwing his hands into the air. He wasn’t sure if this action qualified as breaking Commandment Number Three or not but he figured it was better than flipping the guy the bird as he had been sorely tempted to do. ‘Maybe better for both us,’ he thought as he picked up the pace and began to run harder than he’d done for the first third of his run.

He replaced his comfortable pace with a more spirited one and his breathing became more labored. He checked his watch when he crossed over The Little Calumet River and was pleased to see that well under three minutes had passed during what he was certain had been a third of a mile jaunt. John dug a little deeper and increased his pace. He again looked at his watch when the baseball fields came into sight, knowing that these were just north of his right turn onto US 6/162nd Street. If his breathing up to this point had qualified as labored, then he had now gone into the equivalent of breathing childbirth. The end was near; John pushed on.

He rounded the corner onto 162nd and checked his watch. Sixteen eighteen? How was that possible? He was certain that he’d been on pace for eight-minute miles but then he realized that his distance may have been longer than his calculated 1.7 miles. He fought the temptation to stop dead in his tracks and catch his breath and instead slowed to a jog that would allow him to cover the last third of the trip in about twenty-two minutes. He’d worked hard and was tempted to throw in the towel and just walk the rest of the way but he’d promised himself to run until he reached the Park Avenue diagonal and that was by Jiminy what he was going to do!

He caught a red light at West/Center Ave and he took advantage of the light to cross from the north side of US 6 to the south side. Once the light turned he jogged the remaining block underneath the train track overpass before slowing to a planned cool down walk along the final three blocks to South Side Auto Parts where Joni worked.

He felt good. Tired, but good. He couldn’t wait to see Joni and tell her about their, he corrected himself, her windfall. He sang, “’Blue skies, I got nothing but blue skies, coming my way,’” as he walked along in the crisp, cool Chicago air.

January Fifth: Part 11 of 49

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abraham_lincoln_statue_in_julia_davis_park_by_battle810-d5vbqw8Hanging up the kitchen phone John glanced at the wall clock that hung above the sink. 12:37. Chewing on his lower lip he mused, “Joni should be home in less than hour.” He looked out the window to the backyard. The white, green and rusted storage shed stood in the far northeast corner of the tiny lot; the sliding door closed and padlocked. The lawn was littered with leaves and what grass there was was patchy and brown. Brown grass in an Illinois winter was to be expected but the lawn was a mess. “’Folks say this town don’t look good in snow. You don’t care, I know, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,’” he sang.

“Home ownership: American dream, or American nightmare? Film at eleven,” he declared in his best overblown, small town, Midwestern newscaster voice. “Can’t believe I’m wishing for snow,” he added, glancing at the tiny, mercury filled thermometer that had performed guard duty outside the kitchen window starting when Nixon had been in office. “As Vice-President,” he quipped, holding his hands up, index and middle fingers splayed in either a “V” for victory or peace sign and shaking his head quickly back and forth to make his cheeks shake. “Sock it to me, baby,” he uttered.

“Should I stay or should I go now?” he sang to himself. The temperature outside was either a frigid 32 degrees or an incredibly warm 32, depending on one’s perspective. John expressed his opinion by sing-songing, “Cold, cold, go away, Johnny K would like to go out and play.” He was tired from his twenty-hour stint on the bus the day before and lack of solid sleep but he also knew that part of his fatigue was the result of inactivity. When someone doesn’t have a car and really can’t afford a city bus then physical movement becomes part of one’s daily routine whether it’s desired or not. John wasn’t an “exerciser” but he was a mover and while his bed was calling him he knew that a little activity would refresh him even better. “I can always take a nap later,” he said aloud.

‘Hey! I’ll go see Joni,” he thought. ‘Maybe surprise her! No,’ he immediately reconsidered. ‘Let’s not surprise her. I should call her.’

Calling Joni was a little bit of a logistical problem. She had no private line at work, every call rang through to the store’s phones and the likelihood of her picking up the phone rather than someone else was infinitesimally small. She didn’t do a lot of retail work; she was more the office gal at Bill’s shop. Personal phone calls were allowed but highly discouraged. Joni’s skinflint Bohemie rant of earlier was not a new theme for her. He could call her cell with the landline phone but employee cellphones were supposed to be turned off during working hours, so in all he likely wouldn’t speak to her anyway.

John considered his options. He could call the store’s phone with the Hagans’ landline and ask for Joni. This would be effective but likely to get her at least a dirty look from Bill if not a “more in sorrow than in anger” lecture on the importance of separating work time from personal time. Or he could call her cell and leave a voicemail but she didn’t always check voicemails before heading home. At last he decided to use his phone and text her. This decision pained him as it would entail digging into his prepaid phone minutes but then he had a revelation. “We have $24,000. We’re not dirt poor anymore,” he said aloud.

He texted her a quick message: “Need fresh air. Going to jog down. Should be there @ 1:30. DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT ME!” and then ran upstairs and slipped into some old sweats before heading downstairs, locking the door and starting his trek southwestward.

The Wednesday Plan

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Plans are amazing creatures. They can be filled with such hope and optimism. I have a plan for Wednesdays that I have ingeniously dubbed The Wednesday Plan. The Wednesday Plan deals mostly with exercise and my desire to spend time with the goddess, aka my darling wife.

You see, I have committed to running two to three miles one day a week as part of my exercise regimen. I cycle and swim most days and do a little strength and stretch regimen religiously but until last week I had stopped running except in foot or triathlon races. I can run whatever day I wish but The Wednesday Plan calls for a sunrise run followed by some recuperative stretches and then a swim.

The sunrise run part is part and parcel with my predilection to run in crisp, cool air. Give me air temps in the fifties Fahrenheit range and I’m in jogging jabalie heaven. The problem is that crisp cool air is generally unavailable in central Florida in the middle of July so the best that I can hope for is to run sans sun; the closest I can get to crisp and cool at 28 degrees north latitude is a predawn jog. As Gunny Highway says, “We adapt, we improvise, we overcome.” Or at least we plan to.

How does a predawn run jibe with spending more time with my wife? In no way what-so-ever. I’m an, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” kinda dude, (or at least I go to bed and get up early) while she sees as few sunrises as is humanly possible. Spending time with my wife comes at lunchtime. On Wednesdays W.W. works from home and we have a noon bike ride scheduled. (I suppose we could call that a nooner but that name is already taken.)

Remember what I said about a preference for cool runs? The same holds true for cycling but to a lesser extent. Left to my own devices I would be off the bike before 10:00 a.m. but if I’m going to ride with my shnookiewookums then it’s either at noon or during the evening rush hour (Rush hour cycling in Florida? That’s spelled D, E, A, T, H, W, I, S, H!) so we ride at noon.

So, The Wednesday Plan is pretty straightforward, early run, early swim, and then a bike ride five hours later. Remember when I said that plans are full of optimism, hope and dreams? Well today it wasn’t even that; today it was cast aside.

I cast aside the plan because my wife left me. Again. She does it a lot. She leaves me for work, she leaves me for pleasure and sometimes (I think) she leaves me to just get away from me. In any case this Wednesday she is holidaying with her sister, a niece and four grand nieces/nephews in the shadow of Atlantic City, New Jersey so I found myself spouse free and could follow whatever plan I felt best.

You know that predawn run thing? I didn’t get out until after eight. I ran my two slow miles, stretched and then hopped into the pool for a half mile swim. My swim was accompanied by a tympani of far off thunder so I put my bike ride on hold. The rain fell, the sun dried the roads and just before one I set out for an easy 18 mile ride. (BTW- I’m pretty sure that the itsy-bitsy spider did get washed down the drain but if he didn’t then he most assuredly did during the gully whumper that fell after I was home from my ride.)  Since cycling in 100% humidity beneath shadeless skies and temps in the upper 80’s gets me about as soaked as swimming I went ahead and swam another 1/10 mile when I got home. Ain’t nobody her except us fishes anyways.

Plans are good. I plan to follow The Wednesday Plan next week when my darling, my goddess, my Wonder Woman, my par excellence is home again but in the meantime I’ll do my best to adapt, improvise and overcome, because life is what happens smack dab in the middle of all that planning.

Be sure to move it, move it, baby!

Drought

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No beauty in a sunrise that promises day of pain;
No looking for a rainbow without a trace of rain.
Gift of life is water and from it hope does spring;
When hope has dried and disappeared left with suffering.

Dry to desiccation by the drought that does endure
All my dreams evaporated, to hope I’d grown inured.
Vision distorted by vitreous fluid running dry,
I was parched to apoplectic and wanted just to die.

Gaunt and grizzled outside, inside blood was thick and congealed;
Eyes turned away from heaven fearing what they would reveal.
From milk of human-kindness long ago I had been weaned;
Human replaced by dust of golem with a soul guillotined.

Existing but not living in eternal, hot, dry night;
All my scabs had wounds, was miserable, abject sight.
Mudville post Casey’s defeat? Comparative paradise.
There was zero joy without and within all was jaundiced.

Exsiccation down to ashes that danced in the wind,
I’d given up on everything; just wanted life to end.
Then dew upon white rose petals I happened to touch;
Never has so little moisture to a man meant so much.

Fell down upon my knees and brought my lips down to the rose
My cheek touched its softness and its fragrance graced my nose.
I lapped up all the dew that had collected in the night
In that single moment began restoration of my sight.

Dark shroud that had blinded me commenced to lift away,
Drought of driest August replaced by succulence of May.
The dew that had collected was a harbinger of rain;
Heavens opened up above and washed me clean again.

The drought that was defeat was replaced by light of hope;
Barriers insurmountable felt like now I could cope.
Verdant fields and lush green vistas appeared before my eyes;
Having so long been dormant hope again began to rise.

Moses descended from Mount Sinai altered from when he rose
Cavorted with God Almighty’s how the story goes.
I’ll never be a Moses, but there’s prophet in my loss
And I thank the Lord above for washing away my holocaust.

Earth, my former tormentor, is once again my friend,
Terror of excruciating hotbox has come to an end.
Grokking deep of water, Angel Michael led me from the desert:
I’ve been reconstituted of this there is no controvert.

Gift of life is water and from it hope does spring;
Last item in Pandora’s Box; allows us to endure great suffering.
God’s Covenant’s a rainbow that appears only with rain.
Precious beauty in His sunrise I can once more see again.

January Fifth: Part 10 of 49

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abraham_lincoln_statue_in_julia_davis_park_by_battle810-d5vbqw8

The Tribune did indeed have a real estate section but the Tuesday morning version was small and literally had no listings that were what John would have called inexpensive and a real estate agent would have thought of as dirt cheap. He was deterred but not deflated by the paper’s offerings because the Trib also stated quite clearly that they had an on-line listing that was far more comprehensive than the print one. “On-line,” John said, voice rich with sarcasm. “Of course it’s on-line!”

Fortunately for him the Hagans’ had internet service. Admittedly it was DSL but for his low Gig demands DSL would prove completely acceptable. He logged into the old computer and Google searched recent home sales in the area. Prices as low as six thousand dollars for a single family home were listed and even John wondered about the practicality of buying something that undesirable.

He hopped onto a real estate web site and selected four bedrooms, two bath, stand-alone homes in the 60827 zip code area for his search criteria. Because he wasn’t really familiar with the area he simply checked the prices of recent, local home sales and found eleven that ranged in price from sixteen to one-hundred-thirty-five-thousand dollars. The median price paid was $77,000. “Seventy-seven thousand dollars,” he said aloud. “We have a third of that right here,” he added. “This is getting exciting.”

Just before he logged off from the computer he remembered Joni’s request that he cancel their Tribune subscription and he returned to the paper’s website and clicked on subscriptions. His desire to be efficient was stymied by a lack of a pass word for Joni’s account so rather than requesting another he decided to log out anyway and just call the subscriptions and circulation number listed on page A2. He walked into the kitchen, paper in hand, and took the long-corded receiver from its cradle and pushed 800-874-2863. The phone rang only once but it was a robo receptionist and John leaned against the refrigerator listening to a machine assure him how very important his phone call was and to please hold as the next available operator would be right with him.

No one was right with him but the same friendly, manufactured voice told him how easy and convenient it was to subscribe on line. In between the noxious chatter he listened to orchestrated, wordless, versions of seventies’ pop tunes. He resisted singing along until The Village People and “YMCA” came on and it was while he was blaring out his off key, out of tune rendition, singing, “Young Man! There’s no need to feel down! I say, young man-” that a human operator picked up and recited, “Thank you for holding, this is Ayesha.”

John felt embarrassed, but not very. “Hi, Ayesha. My name is John Knopick and I’d like to cancel newspaper delivery for Lottie Hagans.”

“What is your account number, sir?” Ayesha’s tone was professional and crisp and John wondered if she was a USA native or not. Upon further reflection he wondered if he was even speaking to anyone in the USA, let alone Chicago.

“Don’t know.”

“The address?”

John gave her the street address and waited for a response. “We don’t have a Lottie Hagans listed at that address. We do have a Louis Hagans.”

“Yes. That would make sense. Louis passed away but it would probably be under his name. We’d like to cancel please. I mean, after our account reaches a zero balance. How much is in there, anyway?”

“One moment. Mr. Hagans’ has a positive balance of twelve dollars and seventy-one cents.”

“Okay. How long is that good for?”

“Until the balance reaches zero, sir.”

John hesitated before answering. “Okay. Thanks. Got it. How long will that be?”

“Sunday or seven-day delivery, sir?”

“Well, we got a paper today so I’m going to go out on a limb and guess seven day. Does it say there?”

“One moment, sir. Yes, that’s correct. And you said to continue delivering until the account balance is depleted?” Upon further reflection Ayesha definitely sounded American. If he was a betting man he’d bet on African-American but a native English speaker for sure.

“Yes please.”

“Very well, sir. That calculates to Tribune delivery for another four and a quarter weeks. What would you like us to do with the remaining quarter of a week delivery?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The point two five weeks? We can’t accommodate a point two five-week delivery. Shall we mail you a check for the remainder?”

“The remainder? So, how much is delivery? Three dollars a week?”

“No, sir. Your delivery is two ninety-nine per week.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry. Did the math in my head. So this refund is for a quarter of two ninety-nine? So, like, seventy-five cents, right?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“And you can mail that to me? Would that be in the form of a check or in cash?”

“A check, sir.”

John hesitated before asking the next, wide open question. “Are there other options available for what I should do with the seventy-five cents, Ayesha?”

There was a micro pause before Ayesha answered. “We could allow it to sit dormant in your account. Or you could authorize us to place it into our charitable giving’s account. The money is used to provide area schools with print newspapers.”

“Well that sounds like a good option. Could you send me a charitable giving’s receipt? You know; for tax purposes?”

Ayesha’s professional detached demeanor had slipped not one iota until this moment. In response to John’s latest inquiry she simply said, “Fo’ real?!”

“No. That’s fine. Go ahead and donate the three quarters of a dollar. I don’t itemize my taxes anyway.”

“Yeah. Me either. Is there anything else The Chicago Tribune can do for you today?”

“No. I think we’re good. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Hagans. Have a good day,” she replied.

Next to Me

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     A wise lady sat catty-corner next to me; we were mighty close, my right brushed her left knee. She said, “Lo siento.”

     I said, “It’s all good,” looked into my sad eyes, knew she understood.

    Offered me a sonreír, I returned her smile; asked me, “Como has estado?” pondered that a while.

     “Guess I’m doing better than when we last spoke, sorrow is subsiding, seem to have found some hope.”

     “Eso es bien,” she punctuated with three nods, “every day I do pray for you; when I talk to God.”

     Mis ojos did tear up, way they do when someone’s kind; replied, “That’s mighty nice,” then our hands intertwined.

     Held hands but for an instant before we both let go, she patted my cheek, whispered, “Son, release your sorrow.” With her simple words grew a tension in my chest, wanted so to obey but this I too repressed.

    “You know she’s still there? Hasn’t left my side? She’s my anchor and my rock, she’s love personified. Don’t know why she does it, staying with a man like me? Every day I wake in terror that this day she’ll ask to be free.”

    La dama sabia shushed me with her finger to my lips, “Tu novia is a lady who loves in both good times and hardship. She will never leave you, you have been joined as man and wife. Marriage vows should last forever; forever does not end because of strife.”

     Couples pledge to stay together through bad times and good but often hardships prove sweet vows to be falsehoods. This señora antigua believed in marriage vows but I couldn’t help but doubt them in world of here and now. “Marriages should be forever but that’s not the way life works; Lotta people out there who adios with loss of perks. I know she’s a special lady but I hate to let her down; this sorrow washes over me till I fear I’m gonna drown.

     “Believe in her, muchacho. She will always have your back. There is no quit within her and her love will never crack.” We said hasta luego as we took our leave. Never been one to hide emotions, wear heart upon my sleeve. I know that though I’m hurting, a million fold I have been blessed for I have dear and loyal companion to which I glowingly attest. I pray that one day soon I’ll again be man that she deserves but until that day arrives in her I trust without reserve.

     A wise lady sat catty-corner next to me we were mighty close, my right brushed her left knee. She said, “Lo siento.” I said, “It’s all good,” looked into my sad eyes, knew she understood.

 

January Fifth: Part 9 of 49

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abraham_lincoln_statue_in_julia_davis_park_by_battle810-d5vbqw8Twenty-four plus a tick thousand dollars made John nervous. Five minutes ago he’d felt completely at ease in his in-laws’ home with neither thought nor care about the fact that he was in a crime ridden neighborhood. Though Joni had driven her late mother’s car to work this morning he knew that she regularly used city transit and he wasn’t concerned for her safety, let alone his own. After all, even though crime happens twenty-four seven, who thinks about being attacked in his own house at eleven in the morning? All of sudden the answer was John.

His eyes again swept the room of the, save for him, otherwise empty house and he placed the Muriel box underneath his tee-shirt, understanding full well how absurd his action was but allowing the overwhelming compulsion for secrecy to dictate an absurd response from him. He rose from the bed, headed back to the other bedroom and froze. Where exactly was he going?

His first response was to put the cigar box full of dollars back where he’d found it in the chiffarobe but now he couldn’t help but second guess himself. “Only thing that was disturbed, only piece of furniture that is, was a chair that done got knocked over,” he uttered in his best Brock Peters/Tom Robinson voice.

“Damn,” he muttered. “Damn, damn, damn. Now what?” he asked, looking skyward, crossing himself and adding, “Sorry,” with a wink and smile toward heaven.

“Conundrum, riddle, enigma, mystery,” he whispered to himself, shaking his head. He paced back and forth in his bedroom a bit and then bellowed, “Scooby Doo! Where are you?”  In the snap of a finger following this exclamation he snapped his fingers. “My old bag! The closet,” he said, heading directly to the tiny closet. Once there he again looked over his shoulder, opened the door and put the cigar box into his beaten and distressed vinyl valise. “I don’t know why you’ll be any safer in there than you’ve been in that dresser the last one-hundred twenty-three months but at least we’ll be sleeping in the same room,” he told the cash as he closed the closet door. “Stay safe Ben. Look after Grant and Jackson for me, okay?”

With the money stashed in his closet John tried to return to the task at hand; sifting through the collected excess that had a choke hold on the spare bedroom and segregating it into piles. His spirit was willing but his flesh was weak. After five minutes he gave up. Checking his watch, he figured that he had at least an hour and a half before Joni would return from work. He squelched the impulse to call her, knowing that his news would do nothing but add to her stress level without reducing his own. “It looks like twenty-four-thousand dollars is the $64,000 question,” he said, returning to his bedroom, opening the closet door, peeking inside the black bag, re-closing it and then returning to his bed. “What can Joni do, what can we do, with $24,000?”

An answer struck him as God is reported to have done to Saul. If John had been riding an ass he too would have fallen to the ground but his revelation emitted a hearty, “Hallelujah!” and he rushed down stairs to grab the Chicago Tribune that lay on the kitchen table. A big city newspaper had to have a real estate section, didn’t it? Twenty-four thou might go a long way towards a down payment on a house. Maybe that old cliché about renters just throwing money away would prove untrue in this one instance.

…For the Roses

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     I was a fifty-four year old man full of joy and optimism when I moved to Florida in late August of 2015. I was in a good place mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. Two months later the only leg of that chair that wasn’t broken was the financial one and that was because my parents had passed and left me and my four siblings, if not a large inheritance, then at least one that cushioned any rough edges.

     The whys and wherefores of my depression fueled downfall aren’t relevant. Suffice it to say that emotionally and mentally I’m close to my baseline of two years ago and financially I’m still able to make ends meet without any “creative bookkeeping,” illegal, or nefarious actions. I may not be the man that I was in August of 2015 but I’m a lot closer than I have been in the interim.

     I’m on the mend but 20 months of illness doesn’t allow for instantaneous rebound and physically I’m a lot weaker and fatter than the lean, keen, smooth running old man machine that thought Florida would be good for him. (Ha! As if!)

     At the bottom of my depression I felt incapable of any exercise. My wife, a robust, highly motivated, competitive, full-time corporate-cupcake and part-time group-fitness instructor, was mortified. She wondered where her life-partner, training-partner and self-starter husband had gone. We had once participated in triathlons, running and obstacle races and enjoyed being active together. My decline even made walking painful and every day I hurt physically, mentally and emotionally. My wife did her best to encourage, cajole and motivate me but I was down so GD low that it looked like up to me. (To borrow a phrase from Jim Morrison of The Doors fame.)

     I got a little better, then a lot better and now mostly better, but better and well are not synonyms. I have begun to enjoy life again and now view cycling and exercise as a pleasure rather than a necessary self-care chore. Even at my depths, when exertion brought me no pleasure, I still knew the importance of self-care so we took some of my inheritance money and built a swimming pool in the backyard so I could at least swim for exercise. (It’s 45 feet long so six laps equals a little over 1/10 mile or about 165 meters. Repeat six laps as necessary to achieve desired distance.) Pain in my shoulder that was so severe and omnipresent that even flipping from one side to the other while lying in bed had me swimming the crawl with just one arm but I persisted in an Eeyore, woe is me fashion. It wasn’t very satisfying but at least I was doing something.

     If one eats well (And I don’t. Though I love fruit and vegetables I love sweets even more.) then swimming and cycling and a little strength and stretch exercise is sufficient to keep one healthy. The problem is that my wondrous wife (Remember my description? “…robust, highly motivated, competitive, full-time corporate-cupcake, part-time group-fitness instructor…”) loves to do running races and triathlons and would like her life-partner/ training-partner to race with her. Hoo-boy.

     As I said, my physical decline included pain. Lots of pain. Run? Hell’s bells, I didn’t even want to walk! My part time work schedule had me limping home in pain at the end of my three or four weekly work-shifts and even though any activity that I did was not strenuous I still found it exhausting. I got better. My darling insisted that I see her chiropractor, a massage therapist and a podiatrist. My emotional and mental state had risen to a point where I wasn’t in a constant state of defeat and these three healers put me on the road to physical recovery.  (Another blog post that I need to write.)

     I felt so much better that on July third I told  my wife that I would beat her in the Independence Day 5-K race that we were signed up for (I didn’t beat her, but I did enjoy the race. https://keithakenel.wordpress.com/2017/07/09/glorious-loss/) and afterwards decided that perhaps I could try running again.

     Did you just go, “Huh?”

     Over a year ago I quit running except for races and the only reason I was racing was because even when almost nothing mattered to me my wife still did. I raced for her. I raced because she deserves my best and was living with my worst.

     Just in case you don’t know, even though cycling and swimming can be great aerobic exercise they do not do a great job of prepping middle-aged folks for running races. I was slow, running even 3.1 miles was difficult and I was sore for days after. Only running on race days is a terrible strategy but it was mine. From July 4, 2016 to July 4, 2017 I probably logged around sixty miles or 100-K and all of these were in races.

     But then I got better. Mentally, physically and emotionally better and life is sweet again. I made the decision to do a little running each week. My goal is to add a two to three mile weekly training run into my routine. That may not seem like much but I’m confident that the regularity of running will help me in  many different ways and reopen closed doors for me.

     I celebrated my new normal by running  two miles in a little over nineteen minutes the other day: Tiny acorns to mighty oaks. Two or three miles per week, plus the very occasional 10-K race, will double my yearly mileage and puts me in contention for being able to tell Groucho Marx, “Why, yes, I did stop beating my wife but I sure hope to take it up again soon.”

     I hope none of you ever understands the depths of despair that depression can bring but if you do then I hope you hang in there until brighter days return.

January Fifth: Part 8 of 49

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abraham_lincoln_statue_in_julia_davis_park_by_battle810-d5vbqw8John grabbed most of the smallest pile of junk and carried it downstairs. Still holding the ‘treasure’ in his arms he asked, “Now what? Living room? Dining table? TV room?” He walked the items back to the TV room, noting the thirty-six-inch television and commenting, “Well, at least something in this house is from the Twenty-first Century.”

The TV was bolted to the wall and beneath it a dresser held dozens of sympathy cards. He laid the items on the old, convertible, sleeper-bed couch and fingered through the cards. There were many from folks he didn’t know, friends of the Hagans he assumed, as well as from family and mutual acquaintances. One was from his brother Justin, though the lovely handwriting betrayed the fact that his wife Heather had been the one who had taken pen in hand. Hallmark had provided a message of condolence and on the facing page Heather had written, ‘Thinking of you in your time of sorrow. Love Justin, Heather and Isabella.’

He smiled at the card and wondered what Izzie was like. He had met her in 2014 when his brother et al had flown to New Orleans for Mardi Gras but she was nearly three times as old now as she had been then. He smiled at the thought of the cherubic one-year-old, replaced the card to its spot and went back to the couch, having decided that the TV room was more likely to be used than Lottie’s bedroom.

Sweeping up the items he crossed the hall to the master bedroom, saying, “Well, Lottie won’t be needing this room, might as well put some stuff in here,” before gracelessly allowing his double armload of items to drop to the floor next to Lottie’s old double bed. He opened and closed his dry mouth a few times, realized that the immediate impetus for his trip downstairs had been a desire for water and walked down the hall to the kitchen.

“Crap,” he uttered without inflection. “Never did do those dishes.” He smiled when he remembered why the plates and silverware sat under two inches of cold water and was grateful that Joni had thought to put them to soak before taking him upstairs for their own enjoyable soaking. “At least the egg isn’t dried on,” he said as he washed the plates, glasses, cups and silverware. “Now, I think, I can drink some water,” which, after selecting a 32-ounce plastic cup from the cupboard next to the refrigerator and filling it from the faucet, he did.

He drained the cup in one, long, breath challenging gulp, sighed heavily and said, “Back to work, sissy-boy,” and set the cup by the sink. “What am I doing?” he asked, picking up the cup and carrying it with him back upstairs. “You’re going to love your new home,” he told the glass as he set it down on the tiny bathroom vanity. “Great view from the second story,” and then diligently returned to work.

An item in the spare upstairs bedroom that had been accessible but which John had so far chosen to ignore was an old chiffarobe. He smiled at it as he walked in and asked, “Any treasure in there, Miss Mayella?”

The wardrobe section held half-a-dozen men’s suits that stretched back to the pre-World War One, Victorian Era. The suits ran in a variety of sizes, colors and materials and featured vastly differing lapel widths, decorative accoutrement including button size and colors. John pulled out the one he thought was likely the oldest and took the jacket from the hanger. It smelled of mothballs and there were at least three places where the naphthalene had proven ineffective defense against the voracious appetite of moth larvae. Despite the smell he tried it on and was pleased with the fit. The heavy wool weighed him down in a pleasant manner and he wondered if perhaps he could keep this suit for himself. Replacing the jacket on the hanger he made a mental note to ask Joni to lobby on his behalf with her siblings concerning permission to retain the regal array.

Opening the top dresser drawer, he was surprised to find a tidy space that held three boxes; a white, cardboard Muriel cigar box as well as two wooden jewelry boxes. The jewelry boxes were both small but of unequal size, the larger one proved to be stuffed chockfull with women’s jewelry while the smaller held men’s. John whistled and said aloud, “Wow, this could be worth some real money.” He set the two jewelry boxes back in the drawer and flipped the lid on the cigar box; what he saw left him speechless. The cigar box was full of cash. Lots of cash. Of its own volition his head swiveled over his shoulder to ensure that no one else was in the room watching him.

Convinced that he was indeed alone he took the cigar box back to the bedroom and sat on his bed and began to count. The box held more money than he had ever seen in his life, as much as he’d ever earned from an entire year of labor. John counted exactly twenty-four-thousand-six-hundred dollars which, all by itself, was both breathtaking and a bit disconcerting but it was the note at the bottom of the cigar box that made him blink in wondrous surprise. In Lottie’s flowing script it simply stated, “Joni’s rent money. Return to her,” and was signed Lottie Hagans. John’s trembling left hand went to his lips where it sat for ten seconds as he came to grips with what he had found.