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that solid touch of flesh and bone
april 19, 2003
This past Thursday, April 17, was the one-year anniversary of Mary's stroke.
When Mary was first rushed by ambulance to the emergency room, unable to talk, or even to respond to words spoken to her by the emergency room physicians, or by me, her right side completely paralyzed, to where she couldn't move her fingers, the neurologist in the critical care unit told me, that first horrible day, she might not survive the weekend. It all depended on how much her brain swelled in response to the stroke, and the degree to which hemorrhaging occurred within the brain.
Once she improved, to where she could eat solid food, walk with assistance, and give simple Yes and No answers, even though the questions often had to be repeated several times, I knew she would live.
At first, she and I sincerely believed she would recover, be back to her old self, doing everything she had done before-talking, driving, going to work, continuing with her own website, one of her favorite activities-within a matter of months.
We now know that although Mary will fully recover, it's going to take longer. But that's all right.
This is the reality of recovering from a stroke of the magnitude Mary suffered. She has been brave and uncomplaining throughout it all, and as I have often said, has never lost her sense of humor.
The stroke definitely changed our lives, both as individuals, and as a couple. There's no way something that monumental wouldn't.
Our lives are simpler now. We both worked in offices for years, and were subject to the stress all of us living or working in large cities go through. Unreasonable deadlines at work, sitting in rush hour traffic every morning, every evening, feeling our free time get pissed away in the inching forward, the highway exhaust. Now, with me working from home, and Mary without a job, we wake without an alarm clock, sometimes don't leave our home for days. It's very peaceful. It's retirement, sort of, even with me working in an alcove of our bedroom eight hours a day, and Mary's therapy sessions, and the ever-abiding hassles of straightening out doctor and hospital bills.
We used to argue occasionally, always over something stupid, but now we never do. As close as we were before, there's an even greater kindness we now extend towards each other. We put a hand on the other's shoulder during the day, at odd moments, and I know we both do it for the same reassurance of that solid touch of the flesh and bone of the other. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to Mary's fingers fumbling in the darkness onto my face, to make sure I'm beside her, much as I, waking, lie in the darkness, listening for her exhale.
I mentioned a few weeks ago we had to put our cat Rudo to sleep. When we put Elf to sleep, three years ago, before Mary's stroke, her death was devastating to us. We weeped for days. Just hearing a song on the radio, or seeing, in our freezer, the small (like her) bags of hamburger chunks we'd feed her, which to us looked like little brains, the only food she would eat the last years, would cripple us with sorrow. But when Rudo had to die, although we were sad, and wished this were a better world, we accepted his death. Our eyes got red. There were no crying jags.
About a week later, while we were talking in the Baylor Rehab parking lot, having got there earlier than Mary's session time, Mary mentioned our lower-key reaction to Rudo's death. We both agreed it was caused in part by the events of the last year. A 'putting everything in perspective'.
There was a little supernatural dread as the first anniversary of Mary's stroke approached, but we dispelled it by doing what we love most, working in our garden together.
We went outside both days last weekend, Saturday and Sunday, driving to the local Calloway's, a flower nursery chain, Saturday morning, picking up two Mr. Lincoln roses to plant in back on either side of our bedroom's bay window. The Mr. Lincoln rose, if you're unfamiliar with it, is a tall bush with large, old-fashioned, deep red, almost black, blooms, with, to my nose, the best scent of all the roses (I'd put it up there with hyacinths and gardenia blooms).
We have a large rock garden on the east front side of our garden, and used to have a crab apple growing in it, but the tree died a year ago. We thought we'd have to take a chain saw to it, because of its size and height, but Saturday, examining it, we discovered it was so dried-out it was ready to be pulled apart. I reached up, grabbed a thick, vertical limb that extended up past the first floor roofline, and was able, with just a little muscle, to pull the whole, huge limb off the trunk. Mary, watching, started pulling limbs down herself, so that it turned into a 'loves me, loves me not' game. We felt like Superman and Superwoman.
After that, we got a charcoal fire started on the patio grill, sat at the back of our property, under the trees, enjoying a couple of well-deserved cold beers, waiting for the coals to turn orange. We barbecued a package of chicken pieces, 'Pick of the Chick' as it's called, and it must be an odd chick, because we've noticed over the years each such package comes for some reason with three of everything, legs, thighs, breasts, wings.
We came inside with our cooked food, watched Iron Chef, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under.
This morning, the Saturday after the anniversary, we went out into the garden again, although this time much earlier, just as the sky was getting light, and for a briefer time, half an hour, because a storm was moving in.
The wind was strong, waving the treetops, and cool enough that if you were waiting for a bus it would be uncomfortable, but fine for just walking around. Mary took some pictures of our iris beds, using a flash, odd to see a flash go off outside. I just wandered around the trails, pleased with how everything was returning, all the color coming out of the ground. At one point, on top of a slight knoll near a rising stand of cannas, I felt myself being observed. I looked around, took another step on the path, heard the rapid dash of a rabbit across the dried leaves behind our red-tipped photinia hedges.
The first rain drops were huge, pleasantly cold. We met by the back door, grinning at each other, looking up at how dark the morning sky had gotten, like night.
It was perfect.
A while before Mary's stroke, maybe a month or more before, I started getting an odd sense of dread sometimes, and I always associated with the light being on in our utility room. The room is a small one, our washer and dryer in it, a red-striped clothes hamper. It's right off our kitchen. A door in the opposite wall opens into our garage.
I haven't spoken about this before, because I didn't know how to explain it, or if I really wanted to mention it. But at different times of the day that month or so before, if I'd notice the overhead light in the utility room was on, I'd feel worried, and would reach in, flick down the light switch on the wall. For some reason, I didn't like having that light on, and associated it with something bad.
I realized at the time it was odd behavior on my part, and since I'm not usually given to compulsive behavior, it did bother me why I had suddenly started feeling dread with the light, and felt a need to keep turning it off.
Was I being sent a warning? If it were a warning, it certainly was an unusually obscure one, impossible to connect with a stroke. Did I have some subconscious sense of impending danger, and for whatever reason projected that onto the light? I don't know. I sincerely believe, in the absence of anything to the contrary, that it was just coincidence, although the light being on hasn't bothered me at all since Mary's stroke.
After we came in from the storm this morning though, I went through the kitchen into our bedroom (which is on the first floor, just off the kitchen), and there, lying on the white carpet, was my black leather belt, undoubtedly knocked off a cabinet by the kittens.
It was lying twisted around on the carpet into two equal-sized loops, the symbol for infinity.
I'm sure, again, it was just a coincidence, and it's probably landed that way dozens of times before and I just never noticed, but it was a nice thing to see, nonetheless.
I've added three new reviews to Dallas Restaurant Reviews, for Gennie's Bishop Street Grill, Mercado Juarez, and eatZi's.