Sunday, August 2, 2020

Road Trip


 

Would I rather be on Delta, in a First-Class seat, tucked away with my laptop, masked and sanitized to the hilt? Hell, yes. We’ve flown Delta during Covid and I felt safe. But there is the airport, security, and all the other moving parts that, while I was diligent and constantly wiping down my things, washing my hands, etc., was still a “risk” that we didn’t need to take.

 

“I just worry,” our daughter, now in her third trimester of pregnancy, said to us as we “distanced” in our garden. “When you guys fly, I just...” Her voice lowered with emotion, her eyes teary. “Don’t want you guys to get Covid. I want you to be able to be with my baby.”

 

Our daughter has been so steady in her pregnancy during this challenging time. I think back to when I was pregnant – all those years ago. I was a mess. Worried about every little thing. Had I had a pandemic on top of it? God only knows. So, her words hit home. Her needs. I’m her mother. It’s not a big ask to drive ten hours to Park City to take any stress away for our pregnant daughter.

 

We cancelled our flights. 

 


Road trip!

 

Two hours in, I remembered what these road trips with Hank were like. It had been so long since we’d done one, I’d forgotten how carefree, in a way, they can be. Although we talk all the time, it’s different when you are gazing out a car window. Random thoughts. Things that you don’t often think about come up. What’s your favorite album? Tell me about that deal. What will life look like after this is over? One question or thought leads to ten others. 

 

Our airport routines are independent. We each do our thing as if by rote. Phone. Laptops. Plug in to charge. I’m getting some magazines, I’ll be right back, etc... There’s not a lot of chit chat. Whip, whip and we’re on the plane. A whisper now and again, then back to our reading or laptops.

 

By contrast, the car is a setting. One where there are few distractions beside the road ahead.

 

Driving trips are different now, though. Covid has changed that (and everything).  Where to find a rest stop that’s clean and safe?

 

McDonald’s. “They’re likely to have a protocol for cleaning,” I tell Hank. All good except North Las Vegas, which was a little shady, but hey, nothing’s perfect.

 

After our quick stops, all gloved and masked, Hank asks: “Where was I?” 

 

“The big conference hotels through this pandemic?  What do you think will happen to those?” I repeat.

 

“Oh, yeah, so…” 

 

I take the wheel after we leave Las Vegas. “They don’t miss a beat here in sin city,” I laugh as we pass a candy storefront touting: “Sugar. You know you want it.” 

 

As the road presses on, the heat rises outside. Hank’s tapping away on his computer next to me as I fall in line with another speeding driver. 85, 87, 92, 97…  I love to go fast.

 

“Woah,” he says, looking up.  “Heath, try to stay under 90.”

 

And, I’d been worried about his driving? I’m way more cautious, I’d thought. How was I going to survive ten hours with him at the wheel?  Who knew it would be me to be the dangerous one?  Like a bat out of hell, I sped past Winnebagos stacked deep with bicycles in back, long-haul trucks and slow-moving vans. Our black SUV whizzing by, now neck and neck with a tricked-out shiny-rimmed Ram truck all the way to the Welcome to Arizona sign - that little slice of Arizona between Nevada and Utah. I slowed only when Hank looked up from his work.

 

As the desert terrain changed, highlighting mountain ranges, Hank takes over. “Want me to drive?” he says with a pointed glance. “You know, be aware of the speed traps.”

 

“I was going with the flow of traffic,” I reply in defense.

 

“Heath…you were doing the upper 90s and a couple of 100s.”

 

“Ok. Ok,” I say and slip into the passenger side and check my text messages.  There’s one from my close friend, Wendy, responding to my earlier text after she’d asked how far we’d gotten on our drive. 

 

“So, it sounds like you are making great time!” 

 

I cringe, thinking I got lucky not to get a ticket. Or, worse. “You’re right,” I turn to Hank. “What’s the hurry? Why the lead foot?”

 

I’d slipped back into pre-Covid Heather, speeding, rushing – and, for what?

 

In Provo, the home of my mother’s ancestors, it’s 114 degrees. I scan the main road, retelling Hank about my grandfather’s parents, Mormons, who, in the first part of last century, left this town to migrate to Los Angeles.

 

Heading north, as we make our way up the mountains and the curves to the Jordanelle Reservoir, it feels different as we close in on Park City. Instead of a quick flight, a swift jolt from city to mountain, it’s been a gradual ten-hour transition and I don’t feel that same “wow, I’m here. Look at the mountains!”

 

Do I miss the summer afternoon turbulence coming up from the Salt Lake, bouncing all over the sky in the airplane? No. But, I’d gotten used to it, embraced it.  Landing was a reward. Made it!

 

Nothing is the same right now. It’s all about adjusting. Adapting. Steering clear of the virus.

 

This won’t last forever. And, I wonder, when I am back to flying, will I long for that time with Hank in the car, our long talks about things that spring from random thoughts. Will I miss balancing an iced coffee and a soggy sandwich on my lap, laughing at the adult playground that is Vegas?

 

Or, the color around the landscape near Zion, the deep reds and soft pinks that color the mountains passing the town of Nephi?

 

I don’t know. Yet, I do know that slowing down has been good for me. That going 100-miles-an-hour is no way to go through life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Back In The Saddle



Well, here I am again. On a flight. It’s comes right back to me like riding a bike.  Oh, yeah, this was my routine.  Only, it’s not. No paper boarding pass (I’m old school); no magazine stands open, formerly my ritual to go to before boarding; new signage for distancing, and we’re all dolled up in masks.

The gate agent is cheery. No shouting into the microphone: “We. Will. Be. Boarding…” No, none of that. It’s: “Good morning, so sorry for the slight delay, our plane got in a little late and we need time to thoroughly sanitize the plane before we board. We will be boarding a little differently today. From back to front, so please listen for your …”

No line mash-up with other passengers breathing down my neck and butting up against the rear of my carry-on. There is, of course, still that guy who makes a beeline to be at the front of the little red First-Class mat.  You know that person. Eager. Entitled. “Me, first!”

On board, the flight attendant is not harried, overworked, and burned out from those annoying and sometimes difficult passengers who make their job difficult. 

Nope. She’s smiling with her eyes above her mask, greeting each passenger with a little packet of Purell Sanitizing Wipes. “Welcome aboard!”

Delta is flying at a maximum of only 60 percent capacity – at least through the end of September. Passengers are spaced, and it makes me wonder if being jammed together like cattle made for angsty travelers. 

Terminal 2 at LAX was like a trip back to the seventies.  People coming and going, but no crowds. No rush. No jamming and ramming to get to a gate. Except for the sloppy dress, it could have been forty years ago.

TSA brought me back to today and the reality of post 9-11 travel, but the passenger load is light, so security is smooth. CLEAR now checks your identity through your eyes on the screen. A little green light signals that you’re good to go. And, I got a toy – free wipes! “Take two!”

I’ve lost my travel game, though, as I’d fumbled to get my small suitcase (over-packed and heavy) on the belt, whip off the scarf and throw my small handbag into the tote. I used to pack light and be able to do that in seven seconds. Today, I was all over the place. What to do with the scarf?  “Put it on,” the TSA agent said, handing it back to me as I wrenched my crossbody bag over my shoulder to make it in time with the tote before it moved through the belt. Maybe it’s the keeping the mask in place? Still, how did I used to do it so seamlessly?

I’d told the man behind me to go ahead as I wrestled with it all. “Oh, no problem. Take your time,” he’d said, muffled behind his mask, “I’ve got three hours until my flight.”

“Thank you,” I’d replied, hoping that he could see the gratitude in my eyes.

Before take-off, the safety information is kinder, gentler, too. The usual safety announcements are now mixed with we care about your health…sanitizing each surface…proud to serve you in these challenging times.

No kitschy cartoon. Passenger safety is serious business these days.

As I fasten my seat belt, I think back to previous flights. The guy last summer who resisted putting his bag under the seat for take-off, swearing the whole way down the aisle as he was escorted off.

The man behind us on our way to New York in December who hacked and coughed for five hours into my seat back. I’d known we were doomed to catch his damn cold.

Or, the flight last September to Salt Lake when I took my seat only to discover the floor beneath it was a covered in amber dog hair from the golden retriever who’d exited the previous flight with its owner. 

It’s not all sweetness and light today.  There’s no booze. No hot coffee. No tea or soda. Just a bottle of water and a bagged snack is the big treat.

Who cares? I can go without all that. We’ve had to go without a lot lately. Very few “fixes” through this Pandemic and it’s not over. Not by a long shot.

And, while there has been so much sadness, loss, unrest, illness, and high anxiety in our world lately, I realize that we’d been teetering before. Right there at the edge of taking everything for granted. Our planet, our people, our freedom. 

There will always be “that person.” The person who feels that they need not comply or play the game for the greater good. But, today, today was about feeling a little bit of normal – or, rather “the new normal.”

And, if that means smiling eyes, I’m good. I’ve seen people who want to work. To be back at it, despite all the changes. It’s a sense of purpose. 

We all need a purpose.

So, thank you to every worker at the airlines, the restaurants, and the stores, careful, masked and gloved. 

You’ve joined forces with the grocery workers, the healthcare workers, the mailpersons, those essentials that have been on the front lines.  Thank you for making such an effort to help bring us back.

Monday, April 27, 2020

It's All About The Hair

It’s easier to think about my hair than the Pandemic and all the things in the world right now that really matter.  

Worrying about my hair is an escape, really. Easier than thinking about flattening curves, human loss, and that guy talking about UV rays and disinfectant to curb the virus.

So, I turned to my roots. My grey roots. The ones illuminating along my hairline like the foam on the edge of a wave in a sea of light brown and blonde-highlights.  I brushed it this way and that, but the result was the same – a halo of grey. 

A brunette friend recently posted on Facebook that she’s embracing her grey roots. God love her. Oh, to be so open to change and growth. To embracing her natural hair. 

Screw it. I’m far from natural. I love my fake color and I’m going to keep it. 

But, how in the midst of a Pandemic shut down?

My current colorist works from her home. But, she, too, was adhering to the lockdown.

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal had a page in Saturday’s Off Duty section on Salon Care at Home. An hour later, I was on a digital, virtual chat with a colorist from Dallas working for Color&Co.

There she was on my laptop screen giving me a “consult” while I was seated at my kitchen island.  “What is your natural color?” She asked.

“Natural?” I paused not having seen it for at least thirty-five years. “Hmmm, oh, I know, my eyebrow color!”

“Ok,” she said. “How much grey do you have?”

I lowered my head toward the laptop parting my hair this way and that, reminding me of an I Love Lucy episode with Lucy, after learning that they were looking for a brunette, began digging around her hair to show her natural colored roots for an audition in one of Ricky’s shows.

“Ok,” she nodded, virtually. “You’re pretty grey.”

“Yep,” I cringed. 

My obsession with hair goes way back. As a young girl I felt that my hair was the only “good feature” I had. When you’re overweight, long lustrous hair can hide a myriad of sins. 

As a grown adult, I know better. My hair is not all that I have. But, its’ still a thing with me.

Changing hairdressers is a given. I’m always on the hunt for just the right one. And, when I find him or her, I get bored after a year and move on to find another in the line of holy grail hairdressers.  

No matter where I go, though, I love the vibe of getting my hair done. It’s where I gossip, make friends, or talk politics. In many cases, the hair house is where I get my confidence and self-esteem restored. 

For me, it’s all about the hair.

“You’re not doing this yourself,” my sister, April, said. She’s an expert at coloring her own hair. “Heath, it’s not that easy and hard to do the back.”

That didn’t stop me. What did was the hair profile on the box from Color&Co.

Wait, Amount of grey: None?

Level 9? Didn’t I once hear my hairdresser say 8?

I put a call into my colorist, who put together a kit for me and a personal video how to do my color, charging me next to nothing for it. I picked the kit up on her front porch, like a drug deal in the night.

I laid it all out on the bathroom counter, studying the video like it was a lecture from an esteemed professor. The exam, if I failed, would be really bad hair color and no way to fix it.

It’s about vanity. I admit it. 

Yet, besides my husband, Hank, who doesn’t mind the grey growth, who sees me in the real? And, where am I going other than the market? I can click that little button on Zoom to make me look a little better when I meet with people virtually. FaceTime is with my close family and friends who have seen me at my worst, so why the need to do the color?

I mean, really?

Because, I still look at me. Whether it’s a good cut, a fresh blow-out or just the right color, it makes me feel good. 

And, it’s still about the hair. Pandemic, or none. 

I picked up the application brush, and like a magic wand, I parted the sea of grey and in just 35 minutes… Poof! 

The grey was gone. 

And, now I seek out another petty worry. Another escape to move through this time of uncertainty.

Or, maybe not.  It’s twelve days in, and I’m already plotting my next “deal” on the door step.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Mom's Take On This

As the gravity of our situation sinks in more each day and as we head into this week and next - what is said to be “Our Pearl Harbor,” I think about my mother.

What would she have said about all of this?

I could count on her, even toward the end of her life at 91, to have that quick comeback. That wise, intuitive, deep-from-the-gut answer to my questions. And, always the humor. 

“Gotta have humor,” she’d tell me. “Or you’re up a creek.”

Oh, to have that daily 8:00am call…


                                    _________________________________


“Well, he’s done it, again, the fool.”

“Who?”

“Our idiot President. Won’t wear a mask.”

“Mom, you used to like him.”

“Only because we have the same birthday.”

“Now, that’s a reason to vote for him,” I laugh.

My mother would have been glued to the TV. It was her lifeline those last years of her life. 

“Now, Cuomo…I love Italians,” she’d say today. “They’re romantic, swarthy. And, this one is sexy as hell.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

After all, this was the woman who hawked the engagement ring from her first husband to go to Italy to find an Italian man. 

She’d returned home three weeks later without one. “I had a great time swinging the legs on the barstool,” she’d told me, handing me my souvenir. I’d opened the small paper bag with Italian writing. Inside, a tightly wrapped tissue revealed a rosary made up of clear blue plastic beads.  “It’s not blessed by the Pope and all that, but I got it near the Spanish Steps.” 

“Now, Trump,” she’d add, “he’s leading us up a long alley without an ashcan. Jesus, the twitting and tweeting of-it-all. And, that Dr. Whatever. You know, the broad with the scarf. What’s her deal? She’s like the matron with the bun in the back. Where’d they find her?”

“She’s very accomplished, Mom.”

“She may be smart, but she’s about as exciting as a toothache.”

“And, explain to me,” she’d add, “all the whining about staying home!  Jesus, what’s so bad about staying-at-home. I had friends who lived through the Blitz. They had goddamn bombs falling on them.”

“But they had Churchill, Mom.”

“Well, there’s that.”

“It’s weird, living isolated at home with Hank. We’re always on the go.”

“First you abhor, then you tolerate, then you embrace. That’s what happens.” 

“You’ll miss this quiet time with Hank,” she adds. “Trust me.”

“I know I will. But I miss…”

“Quit! You can stand anything that’s temporary.”

“And, then, I think about the illness. The loss of lives, Mom. The loss of jobs, the mental issues. It’s overwhelming.”

“Yeah,” she replies, “It’s a bitch. A lot of people hanging by a stem. Life’s not fun or fair.”

“C’mon, Mom, give me some words. Make me feel better.”

“Well, you have job security,” she laughs. “Hank’s not going anywhere!”

I smile as I gaze out the window of our sunroom, the room where I always took Mom’s call. 

“Pay attention,” she’s saying to me. “This is life. Tomorrow is not promised. You’re getting a taste of the whip. Everyone is right now.”

Outside, the sun is peaking out of the clouds, casting light on the leaves of the carob trees that line the fence in our yard. 

“Proceed,” Mom says, “as the way opens.”

“What do you think will happen after all of this is over, Mom?”

“If there’s no music, no candles and no flowers, you get up.”





















Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Manic In Me




“You need to calm down,” Wendy, my close friend for thirty-eight years, told me. She knows me well. 
I’m an anxious person on a good day. Bring in the coronavirus and it’s a worry-party in my head.
“I know,” I said. “I just needed to get one last thing.”
“Lemons?!”
“I need them for my chicken marinade.”
“I doubt the market will run out of lemons,” she laughed. 
“Fifteen frigging lemons. What was I thinking?”

                                                _________________________

It was last Thursday, the day the Coronavirus panic really started to hit. I’d just dropped Tucker, our puggle, at doggie day care bright and early. Hank and I kept our plan to fly to Park City that morning. I was uneasy, though. We didn’t need to go. Alerts on the phone had been hour-by-hour the past several days. Yet, I was still in that denial phase. The media is overblowing this whole thing…I take care of myself…have always wiped everything down…
A bad feeling had come over me, though, after the Oval Office speech the night before. The powers-that-be had no plan or real grasp of the pandemic at this point, or how to deal with the growing numbers of infected citizens. And, seemingly, no real designated plan to help stop the spread of it. 
“I can’t go,” I told Hank when I came through the door with Tucker’s leash in hand.
“Totally fine,” he’d said. “I’ll call Delta.”
Hank came into the bedroom some time later. “Delta’s phone line is jammed. Tells you it’s the right decision.”
I was talking to my sister, April, on the phone. “Heath, you’ve always had good intuition,” she chimed in. “Follow it.”
“I hate to be an alarmist,” I’d told her, “but this thing is mounting. Hank and I are in the 60-plus demographic. And, I don’t have enough food in this house for self-containment!”
“Heath, you only eat lettuce,” April teased. “and maybe some chicken. But, Hank. Now, he needs food.”
First stop was a market on the LA’s west-side that has the best meat in the city. I got there early, sure to be ahead of the game. Who was I kidding? I was greeted with a harried parking attendant wearing a surgical mask directing traffic in a jammed parking lot. 
Inside, mayhem. Like every market since, it was cart-to-cart in the tiny aisles, empty shelves and this one was down to two packages of chicken! Horrors! What will I do?
Next, was another market closer to home. Same scene. Shoppers scrambling as if they were on “Supermarket Sweep” filling their carts to the brim, items stacked high like building blocks.

The rain had been pouring steadily that Thursday, the 12th and I’d noticed a leak from the driver’s side window panel in my car separating the window from the windshield. Now my jeans were soaked. 
My car is less than six months old. A leak already? A call into the dealership and I got a slot and a “courtesy” rental car. 
“You mean, I don’t have to book days out like usual?”
“Right now,” she said, “it’s a ghost town in here.”  
I left the dealership at 5:45pm in my “courtesy” rental headed home. Wait, I thought. One more stop. Manic me. There’s always one more stop: the lemons! How can I make my marinade without them?
I headed to Ralph’s on Colorado Blvd. across from The Norton Simon Museum. The rain hadn’t let up and not a spot to be found in the lot except one in the annexed part against a wall on the far side of the market. I grabbed my credit card and car keys and dashed to the entrance; the hood of my raincoat soaked, dripping rain drops onto my face as I pulled it back entering the store.
I navigated my way through the crowd of shoppers to the produce department. There they were. Lemons. Beckoning me as if they were framed in Instagram hearts. 
A friend spotted me in line at check-out. “Ok,” she said, “Let me get this straight,” she laughed. “You are in thisline here for lemons?”
“It’s a thing,” I told her, only slightly embarrassed.  “Gotta have ‘em. I forgot them earlier.”
Fifteen minutes later, I returned to my rental car. The window had been smashed, glass everywhere. My handbag, gone.
Drenched in the downpour, I stood in disbelief. No way. Why the hell had I left my purse in the car?! Sh**t, I know better. The whole day had been a day where nothing seemed routine or normal. Still…
A man two cars away glanced over at the shattered window and the sea of glass at my feet. “My God, are you ok?”
“Yeah,” I lied.  “Just rattled. Did you see anyone do this?”
“No.” He was carrying two bags of groceries. “I’m so sorry.”
I reached into the car carefully, avoiding the chards framing the window to retrieve my phone which they hadn’t taken and called my husband, Hank, at home just a few miles away.
“Call the police to make a report. I’ll be right there.”
“Ma’am,” said the operator. “We’re a bit busy right now. It’ll be a while.”
It’s a rainy night at rush hour. Of course.
“At least this has made me forget about the Coronavirus,” I told Hank when he arrived. He pulled a parka for me from his car after I’d told him that I was cold.
Assessing the scene, he went back home to retrieve a long brush and a dustpan. “We’ll need it to clean up the car after the police see the damage.”
After standing under the covered entrance to the market a little over an hour, Officer Armendariz from the Pasadena PD arrived. 
 “I’m so sorry to make you wait out here,” he’d said. “Just got off a home burglary.”
He pointed his long police flashlight into the vehicle as I told him what had happened.

“My wallet had everything. My drivers license, credit cards, two debit cards,” I told him.  “Ugh, I never carry that much with me. I just switched wallets.” I stuffed my hands into my pockets to warm them, adding, “Been calling the credit card companies and the banks while I’ve been waiting.”
“Good. You have much cash?”
“Hmmm, maybe a hundred?” I told him, as he picked up the heavy-duty dustpan and brush to clean the glass after the Police report. “Losing all that. That’s not my worry. I’m scared the thief is going to rob our house now that he or she has my address.”
Officer Armendariz cleared the shards from the window frame. “Just keep an eye out for the weeks to come.”
“Scares me,” I replied.
“Look," he said, standing to face me, holding the brush. “I work the Homeless Outreach Program here in Pasadena. Most of these type thefts are for cash. You’re probable alright. Just be diligent.”
“We’ve an alarm, lighting…Heck, it’s lights, camera, action if an intruder comes to our house at night. But they have their ways…” I stopped, looking at him hunched over inside the car, broom and dustpan in hand. “Wait, Officer, you don’t need to clean all of that glass.”
He wouldn’t hear of it, as he finished up the seat and the floorboard. “It’s fine. Just doing my job.” 
A younger woman whose car was parked next to my rental, hesitated eyeing the policeman. Her cart was overflowing with bags. “Hey, what happened?” she asked me.
“Someone broke into my car.”
“What’d you have on the front seat? Toilet paper?”
I burst out laughing. “Thank you… God, needed that!”
“No, seriously,” she said, smiling. “It’s nuts in there.” 
Once the police report was complete, the glass cleaned up, I backed out and turned onto Colorado Blvd. As my headlights sliced through the early evening darkness in my now-open-air rental, I checked my rearview mirror. With no one behind me, I slowed to 25. I needed to take this all in. Something the Officer had said: “These are difficult times. Desperate people do desperate things.” “And,” he’d added, “it may get worse.”
Did I really need fifteen goddamn lemons? Had I gone that crazy? Caught up in the I’ve gotta have this! And, I need that?
I pulled into the garage and as instructed, opened the car door carefully to avoid loose glass inside the frame. Ahh, I thought. Nothing.
I closed the car door and a cascade of loosened glass fell to the garage floor. 
Once again, I stood fixed on the glass as if it were tea leaves warning me to pause.
Life is as fragile as this glass. 

Calm down, Heather. Calm the f**k down. 
Be diligent.
Be cautious.
Don’t be selfish. 
          With that, you will know that you are doing your best.


***A shout out to Officer Armendariz in the Field Operations Division of the Pasadena Police Department. Thank you, Officer, for your kindness. 
And, for your service to our community.  

Thursday, February 13, 2020

What Would You Do If You Were Dating Him?



“Just leave! Go away!” the woman skiing close by me yells at a man I think must be her husband. “Leave me alone! Stop telling me what to do!”
It’s early and the snow is piste, a European term for the smoothly groomed slopes this woman is chopping up as she snowplows through a switchback to navigate the easier intermediate blue-grade slope. This couple look to be about my age, in their early sixties. Hard to tell, though, behind a helmet and googles. The husband’s clearly an expert skier, swishing up beside her in in a perfect parallel while she, dressed to the nines in high-end Bogner, is hunched over with her skis in a pizza slice.
“Just use your edges, honey,” he tells her, calmly.
“Goddamn it!” she yells. “Leave me alone. Look at that woman,” she says, pointing to me with her pole. “No one’s telling her what to do. And she’s the same as me!”         
            Swell I think. I’m that bad? 
“Her skis are parallel,” he says. “But she is slow like you.”
Do they think that I can’t hear all this?       
“I’ll just follow her then,” she says.  “You go away!”
            I slow to let them pass as she loses control and takes a tumble, landing on her rear with the tips of her skis, fortunately, facing uphill. 
Her husband leans down to give her a hand.  
“Stop! Just let me just do this by myself! I don’t need you!”
            I cringe. I can’t believe how she talks to this guy. 
“Alright,” he says, raising his voice and withdrawing his gloved hand, leaving her seated in the snow. “See you at 3:30 then!” With that, he dashes down the slope leaving a dusting of snow in his wake.
She rights herself, brushing off her snappy red ski pants, then, jams her poles into the hard-packed snow. “Son-of-a-bitch!”
“You ok?” I call to her.           
“Fine,” she says. “He pisses me off. That’s all. I don’t want to ski with him. He finally got me back out here and I’m miserable.”     
            She skies down a few feet to me, sliding onto the front of my skis to stop. 
            I try to cheer her up. “I get it. I only do a few runs with my husband. That was your husband, right?”
            “Oh, he’s my husband, all right,” she says, inching her skis back off my tips. “And, your husband’s fine with that? He doesn’t want to ski with you?”
“Not really, to be honest. I’m too chicken to ski where he goes. He learned that time he took me down a hard blue run that stranded me, paralyzed. An instructor skied by and offered to help me down. That did it!” I laughed. “I mean, he’ll take a run or two with me on my own little slopes then, he’s off and I’m thrilled. I know he’s trying to be nice, but I can tell he’s itching to go to the more challenging slopes. We meet for lunch. It’s perfect for us.”

“My husband wants to teach me to ski better,” she says. “Where I really want to be back at the lodge. On the deck. Having a hot toddy!”
“I get it. You don’t want to be forced to do something that you’re not comfortable with,” I say as we move down the mountain. 
“It’s not that. He’s just hovers  and it makes me crazy. I like the ski clothes, though,” she adds.
“You look great, I must say.”
“I may have the outfit,” she replies, “but I feel like shit. I like the beginner slopes and that’s where I want to stay.”
“Look, you seem around my age. Here we are, out here in these clunky boots, schlepping on and off the lifts.”
“Yeah,” she says. “He should be thankful I’m up here with him.”
            “And you should be thankful he wants you up here with him.”
“I guess,” she sighs.
“You know what I discovered about skiing at 63?” I ask as we begin to move down the slope. She’s slows down behind me, hands gripped to the poles, pizza-pie skis. 
“What?” she calls. “Tell me something good about skiing.”
“On a ski lift is the only time my mind goes quiet. I’m not a nature person, but the beauty of the scenery. The wind whistling through the trees. It calms me.”
“I can get that kind of calm in the spa!” she calls out. “I’m screwed. My husband loves skiing. He wants me to love it, too.”
I slow my pace. My mind travels back to when I used to complain to my mother about Hank wanting me to go with him some place I didn’t want to go. Mostly, it was work trips. “Do I need to be there?” I asked him. 
“What would you do if you were dating him?” Mom asked.
“I’m not, Mom. We’ve been married 30 years. I don’t have to do all this.”
“Oh, really?” she said. “Well, someone out there would love to do these things with him.” My mom had been married three times, divorced twice, and had learned never to take a good man’s love for granted. It sounds old fashioned in many ways today, but it’s advice. It’s important to recognize the people in our lives who love us and cut them some slack. Mom had a way of bringing me around. “You’ve got it wired with this guy. He’s one of the good ones,” she told me. “Don’t screw it up by being complacent.  You’re lucky he still wants to be with you, you fool.”
The truth was, I wanted to be with him, too. But I’d gotten spoiled living in my little bubble, going only where it suited me. 
“Never get complacent,” my mother warned. “It’s the kiss of death.”
            “And, neither should he!” I said back to her.
“He’s not. He wants you to be with him.”    Her words always stopped me in my tracks. Now, she’s gone but her voice is with me as Hank and I move into our forty-first year of marriage. I no longer have to be reminded because I know now what I have.  That’s the great thing about aging. You’ve been around, seen a few things and know when what you ‘ve got is pretty damn good.
“Why don’t you ask him to go to the spa with you after skiing?” I call over to her. “Your turn to pick the event.”  
It’s the first time I see her crimson lips smile. “Hmmm. There’s a thought.”
            “Look, what would you do if you were dating him?”
            “What? Oh, shit,” she says, catching herself before she falls again.
            “What would you do if you were dating him? That’s what my mother always said to me when I’d complain.”
            She hunches over, concentrating on a turn. “Wow, there’s one way to look at it.”
            “Your husband seems like a nice guy.”
            “Yeah, he is. What else did your mother say?”
            “Don’t get complacent. It’s the kiss of death.”
            She laughs and I’m not sure what she’s thinking. We round the curve past the yellow sign indicating “Easier Route” when I spot her husband waiting below. So much for 3:30. We both come to a halt, the tips of her skis crossing.  
            She looks at me through mirrored goggles. “I can’t even remember when we dated. We’ve been married forever.”
“And he still wants to be with you. To do things.”
            She nods. 
“There you are!” her husband calls. “I was worried sick. I’m sorry I left like that. I shouldn’t have…”
She looks down at him and then back at me. “I’m Cheryl, by the way.”
“I’m Heather. Nice to meet you, Cheryl.”
She shoves off, making her way down to meet her husband.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Best Gift Ever



I debated taking the tree down on Christmas Eve. It was one of those holidays…
At 2:45 on Christmas Eve, I woke to the sound of my husband, Hank, coughing. When did this come on?
“You ok, Hank?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just started coughing. So weird.”
We’d gone to bed around 11:00pm, having cleaned up the kitchen after having our close friends over for our traditional December 23rd dinner. Hank had been in good form then. Wine. Food. Laughter. We’d had a great time.
But, as the sun came up on Christmas Eve, Hank was no better. In fact, worse.
“We’re going to Urgent Care as soon as it opens,” I insisted.
Once they saw him, they sent us to the ER. Hank had Pneumonia. 
“I just looked at your chart,” Marilyn, the ER nurse, told my husband. “Hey, all things considered, you look remarkably good!” she’d laughed. “Not the pneumonia patient I expected.”
“First,” she continued, pulling up a chair and taking a seat close to his bed, “I want to be steady when I put in your IV.”  She’d made us smile with her antics.
I zipped up my puffer jacket against the cold of the ER and pulled my chair closer to Hank where he lay scrolling through his phone. He actually did look pretty good for a guy with pneumonia. Looks can be deceiving, though, and he needed a strong antibiotic. I reached over to tuck the warm blanket under his feet while trying to avoid the flimsy curtain separating us in a bay next to a young woman who’d drunk two bottles of wine and needed a CT scan.
This was not our typical Christmas Eve…
Earlier, our daughter-in-law, Anna, had swung by SoulCycle and taken a picture of our granddaughter, Grace, with one of Hank’s favorite spin-class teachers and the behind-the-desk squad at that location to cheer him up. Our son, Allan, had offered to come by the hospital. 
“No way!” I’d told him.  “Your place is with Grace and Anna. We’re fine.”
Still, I worried. What if the blood test revealed something? What if the EKG…? The mind goes wild when you’re awaiting test results.
Relief flooded me at 4:45pm when Hank was released with a prescription in hand. They’d caught the pneumonia early and he wouldn’t have to stay the night. 
“He’s strong,” Dr. Vargas had said. “He just needs to be on antibiotics and ride this out.”
We headed home, our Christmas Eve plans to see our kids shelved, I dropped Hank and set off to Gelson’s for take-out soup and to fill his prescription.
I’d only driven two blocks when Hank called. “Forget Gelson’s. Allan and Anna left homemade soup on the doorstep and a couple presents to open tonight.”
I pulled over to read Allan’s text to me. “Mom, we just wanted to do something for you.”
My heart was heavy as I passed by festive houses on the way to Rite Aid. I could see people shadows against lit windows. I passed a row of sedans with backseats occupied as I waited to cross the boulevard.  A woman in velvet pants and a sparkly top hopped out of her car to grab a last-minute something at the market, her husband waiting with the car in idle. 
I felt alone. What many must feel on Christmas. I thought about the many happy Christmases I’d celebrated. Maybe, while I’d been seated at a table with family each year, someone like me, tonight, was out there. Perhaps they’d driven by a house like mine, lit up, seeing people shadows in the window. 
Remember this feeling, I thought. Remember this.
Christmas morning, we ate our breakfast at the dining room table.  The kitchen island seemed too ordinary for a Christmas morning.
We took our usual places, seated at opposite ends of the table.  “Oh my God,” I’d laughed, eyeing the Los Angeles Times by Hank’s plate. “We’re like one of those couples in a 1940’s movie at opposite ends of a dining room table.”
“With no one in-between,” he’d added.
“I know.”
Picking up my fork, I’d added with a cheery lilt: “Well, here we are!”
“I’m so sorry…” he started.
“Stop! You didn’t ask for this. I’m just sorry that you’re not feeling well. That you don’t get to see any of your children or your first grandchild on her first Christmas.”
But, by late Christmas morning I was feeling sad. 
“Hank, I’ve an idea. I’m going to deliver the gifts to the kids. Then, we can FaceTime back here while we exchange gifts. Heck, If I’d thought of that earlier, we could have had breakfast with them, too!”

Hank insisted on loading the car and alerted the kids that I was already on my way. 
Allan’s house is closest, so it was my first stop. Anna, his wife, a surgeon, wouldn't have me not hold our grandchild, Grace.
“But, Anna, I’m a human petri dish! I’ve been around really sick people. God knows what I may have.”
“Come in this house. Wash your hands and let us hug you! And you,” she’d said, “need to hold your granddaughter, Heath.”
Next stop was Hilary and Oliver’s, just minutes away. Then, I let myself feel the preciousness of the season and of my family and the tears poured. I pulled over on Canyon Drive with the Juniper trees lining the sidewalk front of Hilary’s home in full view, and called my sister, April.
“Heath, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t stop crying, Ape. I don’t know what’s wrong with me?” I took in air between the sobs.  “I can’t stop. Maybe it’s a buildup of a lot of things. I just don’t want Hilary and Oliver to see me like this.”
“You don’t know why you’re crying!? Well, let’s see…Joseph, your youngest, is half-way across the world. You spent eight hours on Christmas Eve in Urgent Care and ER worried about Hank. You go to Rite Aid and the bitch in the elf hat behind the counter there tells you it’s a minute after five, that they are closing, and you need to find a 24-hour pharmacy as she slides the window shade down in your face. Hmmm, and then you find one and there are sixteen people in line ahead of you.”
 “Yikes,” I’d interrupted, “I guess I called you a lot. I’m so sorry to have bothered you…”
“Shut up and let me finish. Then, some woman at CVS behind the counter somehow whips your prescription through in minutes.”
“Cassidy was her name,” I said. “I’d wanted to reach over the counter and hug her. I think I did!”
“Cassidy, right. Ok, then, oh, I don’t know, Heath, you finally get home and your Christmas Eve dinner is a bowl of soup in front of the TV watching Mrs. Maisel when your children are fifteen minutes away spending both nights with their in-laws and not with you.”
I wiped the tears that had gravitated to my chin. “Oh my God, you nailed it. But, April, there are so many people out there who really suffer during the holidays. The homeless, those who’ve lost a loved one. Think of those people. This is nothing.” 
“Yes, true, but this is your something this year. Quit being a martyr and policing yourself. It’s ok to feel like sh**t. Now, go to Hilary’s and call me after. Wait,” she added. One more thing. “You can tell Allan and Anna you had a meltdown. It’s ok!”

Christmas night, Hilary was hosting a gathering at her house. I sat home quietly with Hank, but, at 6:30, the doorbell rang. There she was, bathed in the porch light above. “I slipped away,” she’d said, her coat wrapped tight around dressy black pants, the cream lace of her blouse peeking above her collar of her coat.
 “You didn’t need to do this,” we told her. “You’re hosting!”
 “Traffic was so light from Hollywood,” she commented as she handed Hank a Christmas Tri-tip dinner in a bag. “Oliver cooks,” she smiled. “I just deliver.”

So, today, on this first day of 2020, we celebrate. The antibiotics have kicked in, and Hank is back to himself, having ridden out the holiday on a leather club chair in the den.
Me? 
I’d like to phone in the holiday except for one thing. I got the best gift ever: Perspective. Next year, I won’t be worried about the trivia, the d├ęcor, the gifts, the cards, and who goes where. I’ll have that ten-minute drive to Rite Aid to remind me what it felt like to be alone. I’ll remember Cassidy and Marilyn and all those who leave their own families to take care of others. Our children and their spouses, their kindness and love.  Even “the bitch in the elf hat.”