All That Would Fall Apart
I celebrated my sixty-second birthday yesterday and spent it canning tomatoes, about the most enjoyable thing I can think of to do on one’s birthday, because I was surrounded by family and we did a lot of laughing. The contrast between yesterday, one of the best birthdays I have ever experienced, and my birthday two years ago, without question the lowest point of my life, is stark.
Two years ago in August is when our family was rocked with the knowledge that Annie had kidney cancer, she had a tumor the size of a softball that had to be removed, along with one of her kidneys, and she needed to get a place in Willits to be near her health-care provider. The surgery was scheduled, she was leaving after dinner on my birthday for San Francisco, in the company of her daughters-in-law, and I had to stay at home to tend the home fires.
I had never felt so desolate in my life. Even spending sixteen months, 7,000 miles away from home while in the army, did not compare. As is the custom in our home, I got to choose my birthday dinner, but it was like being a condemned prisoner eating his last meal. I had no interest in food but I did not want to hurt Annie’s feelings. So I ate.
I felt as though I were a high-rise and that a good portion of my substructure had crumbled, allowing me to move about sluggishly, as if in a daze, but unwilling to show on the exterior that I was not up to handling my end of the arrangement. I would be maintaining the home front, including critters, garden and all that would fall apart if no one were there to care for it.
And I would be trying not to fall apart myself, after having spent from earlier that year in March, through August, undergoing intense cognitive therapy, to try and get a handle on my mood spectrum disorder. Annie was my coach and my mentor, having done her homework and guided me through the process. Now, when I needed my coach the most to help me cope with this life crisis, not only was she not there, she was in critical danger of never returning.
I would love to say that I have little memory of that bleak period of time during which Annie was in the hospital in San Francisco and then recuperating and trying to get back on her feet, but unfortunately, I remember it vividly. I still shudder to think of it. I remember cleaning the house from top to bottom, and then doing it again, more deeply and thoroughly. And when I finally finished the second time, I started on it again.
I did not write; I did not feel. I just functioned, operating on automatic pilot, going through the motions, waiting. Annie, who had never been sick in her life, who walked for exercise daily all those years we lived on the ridge and who was so health-conscious, had cancer.
Now, two years later, battling not only kidney cancer but thyroid cancer as well, Annie never stops. She is preserving her relishes, salsas, sauces, peppers et al; she is cooking for the farm crew’s big midday meal, two or three times a week; she is working endlessly on all matters pertaining to Relay for Life, all-year-round; and she is fighting the battle of her life and holding her own.
We traveled down to San Francisco on Wednesday, the day before my birthday, so Annie could see her thyroid doctor. It was a two-thirty in the afternoon appointment, and we were reasonably certain that it would be a long ride home. We were an hour and fifteen minutes early because we always leave early to account for traffic and road construction delays so we checked into the office.
Amazingly, Annie’s doctor, knowing we come from Mendo, whisked her in, conducted the consultation, and got us out of there by two. The commute home was a breeze, we stopped at Star’s in Ukiah for a pleasant meal and we were home by six. Talk about lucky.
Well, yesterday’s birthday dinner of barbecued tri-tip, with corn on the cob, still in the husks, string beans and zucchini also on the barbie, a green salad, and the two biggest rainbow tomatoes I have ever seen, was stellar. My productivity yesterday, plowing through eight heaping lugs of tomatoes, coming up with a forty-quart stockpot filled to the max with sauce and enjoying the company of Annie and the family is what yesterday was all about.
Sure, I’ll talk about lucky. Anyone who has ever spent two minutes with Annie knows, that I am the luckiest man in the world.