Originally posted 7/29/15
*An ugly grey fleece
* One of those tall glass water bottles with the rubbery blue covering over it
*A large cooler on wheels with water trapped in the lid
It amazes me, how a bland, over-used inanimate object can trigger powerful emotions. When our lives exploded last September, any semblance of normalcy was suspended for the four months that Pat spent in ICU’s, hospital rooms, and the inpatient rehab. It’s difficult to describe this kind of existence. Every moment is the same, yet in no way mundane—every moment is moment-ous. Life and death. Future determining. Big stuff, while all the little stuff never stops—people need to eat, trash goes out, pets need food, schools expect homework turned in. Everything has changed. Nothing changes.
10 months later, things have evolved. They certainly aren’t “back to normal”, and I still can’t picture what the new normal might eventually look like, but life goes on and my eyes can focus now and then. As I went about my life today, some items made themselves known to me.
*The ugly gray fleece
When I packed to head to karate the morning of the stroke, I had no idea that I would be away for days, in a cold hospital, in shock. I sat in that ICU room at Jefferson and shook and shook. Finally I took a walk with friends. We walked to the closest store—Macy’s—and bought a fleece. I remember that on the way there I stepped into traffic against the light and my friend grabbed me and pulled me back onto the sidewalk. I was dangerously out of it, yet I remember every bit of that excursion. Where I found the fleece. Other fleece candidates. Deciding it was the one. I hate this fleece. It is ugly and was ridiculously overpriced. And yet I love it. It helped me to stop shaking, that day and in the months of cold hospital rooms that followed. If you happen upon me, that fleece is nearby, just in case. It may be hiding in the car, but trust me--it's there. I hate to be cold.
*The glass water bottle
My girlfriend came to visit me at the hospital, the second or third time Pat was in the ICU. She said, "I didn’t know what to bring you but I got this.” It’s the kind of water bottle that’s way too posh for me; more often than not I’m being teased for drinking from my little guy’s old Angry Birds bottle. This bottle is pretty. It’s also big and heavy and cumbersome. I love my friend and I liked the idea of having her with me so I gave it a go. I figured out that I could put hot water into the glass without breaking it and that the rubbery stuff created the perfect insulated sleeve. When Pat was at the rehab for 10 weeks, that bottle went with me every day. Every couple hours I would go down to the cafeteria and top off my hot water supply from the machine that is set to “surface of the sun” temperature. I got to stretch my legs. And talk to the cafeteria staff. And clear my head a bit.
When I use that bottle today, I think of my girlfriend and how she kept me warm and hydrated for months. I also remember the cafeteria manager who always put a hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. I think of the lady at the register who more often than not wouldn’t take my money when I got myself a little snack. And I remember the young man with the hairnet over his beard who found me whipped cream when I forgot to bring it for the Thanksgiving dinner that we held in a conference room on the 4th floor.
The rightful owner of the cooler asked me about it this week. It’s July, after all. Pat has been home for 7 months. “Hey, can I get that cooler back?” Appropriate. I’ve been embarrassed about hoarding it, to be honest. “Of course!” I said. Of course. It’s been here since just a couple days after Pat’s stroke, when she organized an online sign-up so that people could bring us meals and snacks. She left it on my porch and asked that people bring ice to keep the food cool so it would be ready whenever we straggled home. It was September, and the weather was hot. People brought food for three months, until I I couldn’t let myself continue imposing. It was now December. The cooler no longer required ice.
I hung up with her, went into the garage and looked at the cooler and cried. It represents so many meals, so many people who went out of their way to bring us sustenance, to show us that that they care. I have no use for the cooler, but I just can’t give it up. It feels like my friends. It feels like a talisman.
I think I need to get her a new one.