Mike and I spent his second evening out of the hospital sitting on dinette chairs outside our apartment door, talking about his accident—the injuries, the intense pain in his shoulder and rib cage, and the upcoming therapy and doctor visits.
"We'll have to get me a haircut tomorrow," he said, running a hand over his two-tiered coiffure. He didn't seem to be aware that I had to work the next day, or interested in how I had coped with everything up to now—work, hospital, finances, family, new apartment, moving and worry. Three weeks of worry. How was I to find a barber for him, let alone get him there and back?
"Think they work on Mondays down here?" I waited for his reply, trying not to laugh out loud at the inch and a half growth standing upright across the top of his head immediately behind the half inch sprouts in front. Combined with the large, lumpy, purple, horseshoe-shaped scar on his forehead and that toothless grin, he more resembled a Halloween trickster than his former self.
"Oh. Monday." he echoed. "Probably not."
"Let's work on it tomorrow." I offered, trying to assuage his disappointment. "I'll ask the guys at work, and maybe you can check the phone book and call a couple. Then we'll figure out how to get you there and back."
"Okay," he said, resigning himself to reality.
"We'll have to find a place to get new dentures for you too," I added. "Ones we can afford." I thought back to when we were dating, before we got married, when I had asked if he wore his dentures all the time.
"That's one thing I can promise you," he had said. "You'll never see me without my teeth!"
"While you're at it, tomorrow, " I added, "see if you can locate two or three denture places that aren't too far away." I knew he preferred that I make all the information-gathering phone calls, but I hoped that giving him a project to do would keep him awake enough to eat on time and not slip into an insulin reaction while I was at work.
We didn't sleep much that night. Mike due to the relentless pain from his injuries, and me because of his constant tossing and turning and the too-hot California night.
I cooked our last two eggs and a piece of sausage for Mike's breakfast in the morning before striking out on my mile walk to work. Hurriedly I strode along the cement sidewalks toward town, my worry interrupted sporadically by the aerial antics and songs of a pair of mockingbirds. They followed me along, flitting from phone wire to post, singing out sweet melodies of various other birds, including that of a robin, familiar to me. I had heard of their uncanny repertoires, but to finally witness it in person made me smile. Thank you, God, for the cheerful company.
I made it to work with ten minutes to spare and immediately swapped my walking shoes for a dressier pair I'd carried with me. The work-week started smoothly. I called Mike on my lunch hour and again before I left for home. He sounded fine. I stopped at the grocery store for a carton of milk, a can of tuna and a loaf of bread. Once outside the store I changed into my walking shoes and headed for home.
By the time I reached the back stairway to the apartment building, the paper bag was so heavy I wasn't sure my wobbly legs would carry us both to the top. But they did.
Mike was asleep in front of the TV—at least until the screen door banged shut behind me.
"Oh, hi." His eyebrows raised. "What's in the bag?"
"Tomorrow's lunch." I stomped to the kitchen, slammed the bag onto the table and kicked off my shoes. My feet hurt. My head ached. My arms itched with the red rash of prickly heat.
"Have a bad day?" He asked, a bewildered look on his face.
"Not really bad, I guess," I answered. "I'm just so tired. And I can't take this heat."
"You never could."
"I know. I need to change clothes, then I'll fix some dinner."
"Thank you," he murmured, sounding nearly apologetic.
I wrestled out of my uncomfortable work dress and climbed into my favorite pair of loose-fitting cotton pants and a button-front blouse. We ate a light dinner in quiet consideration of one another and, as the evening cooled and dimmed, my tolerance returned.
"Guess what?" Mike broke the silent spell.
"I met the landlord today."
"You did? Bob?"
"Yep. Nice guy. He's going to take me to his barber tomorrow."
"No. Seriously. He seems like a really nice guy."
"I think he is," I said. "He certainly was nice to me when I found this place."
"He's picking me up around eleven, so don't expect me to answer the phone if you call at noon."
"Okay. Call me when you get home?"
"You'll need some money." I went to get my purse. I didn't want to forget to give him some cash in the morning. "I guess God does work in mysterious ways . . ." Thank you once again.
I had survived my first back-at-work day with Mike at home, but there was a summer-full to come. Our landlord, Bob, continued to shuttle Mike around—to the barber, to a denture office where he was fitted with new dentures that we could pay off at ten dollars a month, and to his appointments with the orthopedic doctor at the hospital. Two or three times they spent an afternoon at Bay Meadows in San Mateo watching the horses race. Often Bob would just stop by the apartment and keep Mike company for a few hours. God bless him. The days of summer would not be stress-free, however.
There was the lunch hour I called home and got no answer. My inner radar sensed trouble. I called thirty minutes later to hear the receiver lifted from the phone and a slurring, moaning sound. I excused myself from work to walk and run the mile home to find Mike lying in bed, sucking on an aspirin bottle and uttering nonsensical sounds. I got some sugar-loaded juice into him and after he came around, fed him some protein and hurried back to work. I thanked God that he wasn't able to get the cap off of that bottle.
The next few times I had to rush home midday to help him, Ethel loaned me her car. I waited for the axe to fall, to be fired from my job for having to urgently leave as many times as I did that summer, but it never happened. Fortune had indeed smiled upon me in that regard, surrounding me with kind and helpful souls.
On my next payday, I purchased a folding wire-basket at the 88¢ Store. It had wheels attached and a handle, ready to load and pull home behind me on the days I had to buy groceries. I continued to walk the mile to work and back again. I stretched my paychecks as far as they'd go, appeasing creditors with a few dollars here, a few dollars there, including the hospital bills that arrived monthly as well as billings from the insurance company for the truck Mike hit. My payment list began with rent, followed by gas, electricity, phone, food, insulin, needles, prescriptions, dentures, haircuts, hospital, truck damage, and sundry. When the money didn't meet the demands, I cut back on the food budget, a risk in itself because Mike needed a certain amount of food to cover his insulin, especially when he exerted himself, like walking downtown to surprise me at lunchtime. We'd eat at a small Chinese Restaurant, where we got to know the owner-chef to a point where he told me the secret to making good egg foo young. It was a welcome treat to eat out, but the budget didn't often allow it.
When the coffer was empty, I prayed. I'll not forget the evening I came home from work wondering what on earth I could fix for dinner. The cupboards were empty. A letter from my sister was waiting in the mail box. When I opened it, two dollar bills fell out onto the floor. I almost cried. Mike and I walked to the neighborhood store that evening and came back with milk and bread and eggs. That saw us through to my next payday. It was one of multiple godsends that came upon us that summer—always in the nick of time—like our landlord, Bob, continuing to drive Mike to his doctor appointments and back.
After one such trip, when I asked what the doctor had to say, Mike answered, "he said I'll be lucky to have twenty-five percent use of this arm. I have to do exercises." He stepped over to a dinette chair and grabbed it under the backrest with his left hand. "Like this . . ." he lifted the chair an inch off the floor, grimacing in determination, spilling tears of pain. "I won't settle for twenty-five percent," he insisted, and set the chair down. "I'm going to get more. Way more." The man was gutsy, and I admired him for that.
"Well, next time you see that doctor, please ask him to look at your ankle. It's been swollen way too long."
He did. I came home that day to find his left foot in a cast. Oh great, more expense. He'd been walking on a broken ankle for three weeks, with no complaints.
The summer passed quickly, filled with happenings beyond our control—the riots at Kent State with the National Guard killing four students, the unrest at Palo Alto Stanford University, where students burned their draft cards in bonfires on campus, the death of Namu, the first Orca ever captured, right in our own Puget Sound. Ted Griffin had made the capture and made history years before, by proving that man could swim with a killer whale and not be injured. I cried for Namu.
As September approached, we had survived the summer and it's duress, and made the decision to move home to Seattle rather than be sued by the bank over the Volvo payments. I had given a month's notice at work, and scraped together enough money to purchase one way tickets on United Airlines. I packed all but the most necessary household goods in preparation for shipping. A cousin promised we could rent her house, which would be vacant by September because they were moving into a new one. My sister would pick us up at Sea-Tac Airport. Everything was in place.
As our flight day drew closer, I became more and more frightened of traveling by airplane, something I had never done. I psyched myself up for it by repeatedly thinking, It'll be fine. We'll get on a Seattle-built Boeing 707 and we'll be safe.
Bob drove us to the airport that morning, then returned to our apartment to oversee the loading of our belongings onto the moving van later that day. What a blessing he had been in our lives.
I was apprehensive about boarding the plane, still convincing myself it would be an uneventful flight on a solid Boeing 707. We flowed with the line of passengers through the portable tunnel to the plane, step by slow step. I glanced out the single little window half way through the tunnel to read, in big letters painted on the plane we were about to board, "Douglas DC-8."
My heart sank. My anxiety soared. I swallowed hard and smiled at the flight attendant who pointed out our seats. I sat next to the window in a row three seats wide, with Mike next to me. I fastened the seat belt, pulling it as tight as it would go. Likewise for my finger grip on the ends of the armrests. The engines whined louder and louder into a deafening roar as the ground below the window began to slide—faster and faster, beyond racecar speed into a forceful thrust that pushed my body backwards into the seat as the big silver bird lifted off the ground and climbed into the clouds. I loved its sheer power, its determination to win, its confidence in its success. I was flying!
I spent the entire ninety-minute flight looking out that window at the earth below. How perfect a world—the patchwork of farms, the masses of forests, the snowcapped mountains, the deep blue of Oregon's Crater Lake and the huge Columbia River. How small mankind must be in the grand scheme of things; how shameful his petty bickering, fighting, killing.
Next thing I knew we were gliding over the houses on the south end of Sea-Tac . Larger and larger they loomed until abruptly replaced by the runway pavement. The giant bird bounced gently as its tires met the surface. It slowed and turned toward the terminal. Finally, after an arduous five months, we were back where we belonged. Home.
My sister met us with a wide grin. "Welcome back." She hugged us both, and we headed for the parking garage.
"Thanks." I asked if she had the key to our cousin's house that we had arranged to rent.
"Ah ... no." She spoke softly. "There's been a change of plans."