07 October 2007

It's Official - I'm An Orphan

The old folks have left the "home". Call it what you want, dress it up if you must, but the cold, hard facts remain the same: I have been ditched in my own house. (Photo: Maxine, Susie & Barbe, July 3rd, 2007.)

My parents left yesterday for a week-long trip to West Virginia. I had my last thermos of decent coffee yesterday morning, a parting gift from my mother. They left at around 9:45 and by 10:30, I realized I should never have approved their vacation. What was I thinking?

It's been a busy week and I must thank Celia Rivenbark for her lovely comment in my guest book - my bottom has been the subject of no small number of comments left in my guestbook - marked "private". Thanks for the props Celia but I don't think my "bottom" can live up to THAT kind of press. I still maintain the hope that you finally get a "good bingo" and dazzle your new peeps!

Forget About "Jaws", Go Ahead and Flirt With the Phytoplankton!

Where to start? Well, let's start this recap alphabetically AND chronologically and I can think of no better place to begin than the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, I know, it's fall. It's Autumn. It sucks, but still, it is what it is.

This past Monday after my 6:00 meeting, I headed over to Wrightsville Beach to take a friend up on his offer of a walk on the beach and a home-cooked dinner. He's a very good cook and, well, the Atlantic Ocean pretty much speaks for itself, so it didn't take a great deal of arm-twisting to get me over there.

We walked over to the beach from his house and it was one of those wonderful balmy, early fall evenings, about 8:30, and the waves were pretty impressive but my recommendation may be suspect because I'm not a surfer. We were walking along and at some point, I think I said, "Wow, I wish we could go in the water...". I just kind of said it in passing. I was wearing long white pants and a gray long-sleeved t-shirt and my friend was in jeans and a t-shirt and he was pretty busy trying to avoid getting his pants wet up to that point. I was already wet up to the knees of my pants which is pretty typical. I always get wet.

But something must have snapped - as soon as those words were out of my mouth, he was taking my cell phone and sunglasses which were perched precariously on my head, rather than my nose (it was dark, after all). Then he lead me not to the edge of the water but INTO the water. I mean, we marched INTO the water. I got pummeled by a few waves and then, the coolest thing happened. I wasn't just seeing stars - I was wearing them.

Thanks to the phytoplankton my friend pointed out, my shirt was adorned with flying, yellow stars. Beautiful! Just absolutely cool. I'm sure that anyone who spotted us out there, standing in the water, probably snickered and thought..."Tourists!", but not so! It's the closest I'll ever come to being resplendent in diamonds, but it's the closest I need to come. The effect was fleeting, but much cooler than hard rocks. How did I NOT know about this? I've lived here for over seven years and this is the first time I've seen this?

Now it's true, this past June as I was sailing across the Gulf Stream from the Abacos to West Palm, I saw the same stars in the wake of the sailboat, but I didn't know you could "wear" them! I remember sitting on the stern of the boat and watching the glowing wake as we sailed due West, and I thought it was the most enchanting spectacle imaginable. But apparently you can enjoy a more personal communion with phytoplankton by simply situating yourself in the breaking waves.

The water was warm, more comfortable than the air, but it wasn't really chilly. I started to remember the opening scene of "Jaws" where that poor intoxicated girl goes for an ill-advised evening swim and her remains wash in the next day in a few uneasy pieces, but I shut that off because sometimes, well, you just have to go for it. I deleted that scene and the accompanying soundtrack and enjoyed myself immensely.

We made our way back to the beach a little further down than where we went in, thanks to a strong current, and it took us a few minutes to find my cell phone and glasses. The moon wasn't helping much but my stuff eventually turned up. After that, we were quite a watery and sandy sight making our way back across the bridge. If I'd seen us, I would have guessed we'd had a little too much to drink but hey, I'd just arrived from an AA meeting and I'd only had a tea and hadn't touched a drop in almost four years! I was glad to be stone cold sober because I wouldn't have had the great memory of that moment if I'd been loopy. I wouldn't have wanted to miss wearing those "flitting, fleeting stars". It's such a caveat to remember what I've done and where I've been! Sobriety rocks! What a gift from the sea. What an even greater gift from God.

Fortunately, I had a change of clothes in my car because I'd brought some in case I got wet on my first kayaking expedition a few days earlier but didn't need them. After we rinsed the sand and salt water off, we were good to go and dinner was wonderful - chicken fried rice! There wasn't any tea to be found on the premises but, well, no one is perfect and you have to cut old surfers a break now and then, particularly if they cook well. I settled for lemonade.

The rest of the week was full of other surprises. On Thursday, I caught up with my friend Mitch who I hadn't seen in AGES! Great to see you again, buddy! We made plans to get together soon and catch up - we've both had a summer of surprises and a few war stories to share. I'm looking forward to it.

What Does a "Feast of Love" Taste Like to You?

Thursday Night, I finally saw "Feast of Love". Thank goodness my friend, the good pirate Bobbi from Raleigh, had written me of her experience seeing the movie and foretold of a slow beginning and it was. She also promised that it would be worth the tedium and confusion if I could get past the first third of it and, she was right.

Morgan Freeman was wonderful. Greg Kinnear was likable and his usual engaging self. I loved Jane Alexander and most of the rest of the cast. The film was fairly easy to relate to - that being the fact that love and relationships are complicated and unpredictable entities.

The movie was set around a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, and I must say it put the city in a nice light. It felt familiar, the chats we have with friends at our places of caffeination watering-holes. The things we talk about with those in our "inner circle", the conversations and contemplating we all do from time to time was believable and easy to relate to, for the most part. My conversations generally start out with either me saying, "What was I thinking?" or whoever I'm with inquiring, "What were you thinking??", in justifiable disbelief, but that's just me. I'm sure it's different for you.

I wasn't quite prepared for the way "Feast of Love" ended and I'll leave that out because it's worth the price of a ticket and a bag of popcorn to see the movie. I can't say it's one of those movies I "want to own" like "Stranger Than Fiction" or "French Kiss", but it was certainly a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

The Unremarkable State of Your Colon is Impressive!

Friday Morning dawned early. My Dad, Mom and I had a date. My Dad spent most of Thursday in "preparation" for his early Friday Appointment. Yes, the calendar reported that it was time for his five year colonoscopy. And who doesn't look forward to that? I mean, don't we all live for these times in our lives?

Well, Barbe Cook certainly seemed perky and ready to go! If he was dreading it, he didn't reveal an ounce of apprehension. After I dropped my parents off at Wilmington Health Associates on Medical Center Drive, I headed over to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee and a USA Today and returned to take my place in the waiting room on the third floor, where people sit and dread the announcement that it's their turn. They had taken my Dad straight back so my Mom was sitting there leafing through a copy of "Southern Living".

I took out my newspaper and turned to the challenge of the Friday Five-Star Sudoku and crossword. After I answered the few "easy" questions and found the initial glaringly obvious numbers (and I agree RE, it was not a five-star Sudoku on Friday) - I felt it was more of a four-star effort and not quite as difficult as the usual Friday fare.), my attention wandered and I looked over my paper at those waiting around me. The population of the waiting room was generally older in terms of demographics and though the reception area was staffed by preternaturally friendly and upbeat faces, let's be real - we were in the waiting room where people generally dread the proceedings and what's behind door #2.

I saw many older couples, a few patients who were alone and they just appeared so vulnerable looking. Many of them looked like they would rather be anywhere else, maybe even awaiting a root canal, and seeing the people there alone made me feel sad. I glanced over at my Mom several times and we chatted quietly, and I could imagine her thoughts as I know she was thinking of my Dad back there, under sedation and of course I'm sure she was hoping for a proclamation of good results, as was I.

But I couldn't help thinking to myself, this is where we're all headed. I mean, if we're LUCKY to live long enough, those of us not yet Gastroenterology Patients will someday find ourselves sitting in, if not this waiting room, one very similar, and it will be scary and intimidating. Most everyone pretty much kept to themselves. The couples' around us spoke quietly amongst themselves. Those alone just mindlessly turned the pages of books they'd brought along or paid scant attention to the magazines they'd picked up, but I bet they couldn't tell you what they'd read. I wouldn't have been able to. I was there just waiting on my father, and I know my mind was entangled in all sorts of thoughts.

You can't help but sit among those in a waiting room like that and not feel some of what they must be experiencing. At least, I can't. I envisioned myself in a few years and I wondered, would I be sitting in such a room all alone? Would I have a friend with me? Would I have a hand to hold? I wonder if they'd let me bring my dog?

Then, of course, in "Stinkin' Thinkin' fashion, my thoughts scanned the possibilities. What if they found something wrong in my father? Would my mother handle it well? Yes, she would. She's one of the strongest people I will ever hope to know. What about me? How will I handle it? I have to be brave and strong and I can't even entertain the thought of falling to pieces if it's really bad news. No, I reminded myself, you won't do that. Look who you're seated beside and remember her life and what she's handled with such gentle grace and steely strength. Surely some of that had to wear off, right? Oh gosh, I sure hoped so - whether by nature or nurture, whatever method incorporated, I dearly hope with the S&@t hits the fan (pardon the pun), I hope some kind of strength I'm not always aware of, kicks in, and I behave in a way that will comfort and cheer my family or, at the very least, not embarrass them traumatically.

After almost 2 1/2 hours, a nurse mercifully appeared and said, "Barbe Cook's family?"; In unison, we both rose up and followed the lady in the cranberry colored scrubs. We were lead back to find my Dad sitting in a chair, and smiling that familiar impish grin. He was already dressed and the IV had been removed and all vestiges of medical monitoring equipment had already been unhooked. He looked as if he was having a grand time! The sweet nurse offered my mother a blanket because they do these things in the confines of what feels like a HUGE refrigerator. I mean, you could nearly see your breath it was so freaking cold. She offered me something to drink and I couldn't possibly turn down the cute little 8 ounce can of coke she was wielding.

Daddy smiled and introduced me around to "the gang". "This is my daughter, Susan!". They all grinned and he was enjoying the doting attention of the staff, like the woman magnet he is. My Mom slipped into the chair beside him, visibly relieved and immediately they were holding hands, she with her blanket draped around her and him trading remarks with the medical types. He was a little loopy - courtesy of versed and demerol, but otherwise, he seemed in fine shape to me! Hey, anyone who can have fun at a colonoscopy overwhelmingly earns my admiration for the sheer imagination and moxie such a feat must require and my Dad has it in spades.

After a few minutes, the doctor walked over and handed Daddy a two-page full report (complete with three full-color photographs to accompany the text!) on the state of his colon and the state of his colon, the doctor observed, was remarkable. Dr. Payne mentioned that "Mr. Cook is much younger than his 'stated age'", and this pleased all of us to no end.

"You're in great shape, Mr. Cook. We found nothing remotely suspicious. Everything looked good."

"When do I need to do this again?", my Dad inquired.

"Well, you're 82 and the usual schedule would be when you're 87, but we don't see any reason to put people that age through this, particularly the 'prep work', so unless you're having a problem or something unexpected happens, you're good to go.".

I looked at my Dad and for a second, he looked a little disappointed. Seriously. I was still basking in the warmth of the words, "Everything looked great!", but he seemed a bit perplexed that he shouldn't have to re-up for it in five years because, as he offered, "I fully expect to be around in five years!". I swear I think he was trying to cajole the doctor to agree to another one.

I then informed the good doctor that my parents were planning to leave for a trip to West Virginia the next morning and wondered if he thought that was advisable. Clearly not my ally, Dr. Payne said he could see no reason why Daddy couldn't drive the 400 miles to the Mountain State if he was feeling well-rested. "Sure, why not? Have a great trip! Just don't do any heavy lifting today and you should be good to go.".

Thanks a lot Dr. Payne. :-) (Seriously, can you imagine what med school must have been like for a man with that name? No wonder he went into Gastroenterology. Super nice fellow, though.)

All in all, it was a convivial, cheery post-colonoscopy conference. Everyone was smiling. You'll be relieved to know I let him take off the rest of the day and no, I didn't force him to mow. I'm just way too generous, I know. Give those old people and inch and, well, you know how THAT goes. He'll be wanting the day after Thanksgiving off next.

The nurse released me to go fetch my car and drive it to the patient pick-up/drop-off and told me my Dad would be waiting for me in a wheel chair and I knew my Mom would be right beside him, probably still holding his hand in that precious way she does.

I took my marching orders and headed for the elevator and as I was waiting for it to arrive, I looked back around that cheerless waiting room and even though we had been the grateful recipient of wonderful news, I knew very well that not everyone in that room would probably receive the same glowing report and I couldn't help but scan those faces and I dearly hoped they wouldn't be alone, should it be that they received less stellar test results. Oh, how I felt for the ones who were all alone. I still see those faces and I can't help it. We will all have our chance to sit in those chairs, if we haven't already, and not all of us will have a warm hand to hold like my Daddy did, or as my Mom will when it comes her turn.

Unless you're equipped with a robotic heart, you can't miss the "humanity" in a waiting room like that. Wondering about those other patients, and many of those faces, those thoughts have clung around my mind long after I vacated the building, collected my parents and drove home. It's not maudlin, really, it's just this super-awareness that I should remember that if I'm feeling great or even just "OK" today, I need to be extra grateful for it. Hanging around the endoscopy/colonoscopy floor seems to drive home the point that life is really pretty fragile and precious.

When I got to my car before picking my parents up, I did something the nurse didn't advise me to do, but I knew it would be well-received by my Dad and he did raise me well. I spotted his pipe and can of tobacco in the floor of the passenger side and before driving over, I took his pipe and filled it up just the way he likes it (you learn a few things being Barbe Cook's daughter). As soon as he was seated and belted in, I handed him his pipe and he broke out into a huge grin and happily accepted it. Hey, who's to say that pipe hasn't added to his incredible quality of life? As my Dad is fond of reminding us, his docs tell him to keep doing what he's doing and part of what he's doing is sucking on that pipe so who am I to argue with that?

After I pulled into the driveway with my parents, my Dad was still a little unsteady on his feet and yet that didn't stop him from trying to help my Mom as she was trying to help him right back. Not only is the 61 plus years they've spent married a precious and much too rare gift to each other, but it's also a gift to those of us who are on the sidelines and see it. It is one of the most life-affirming experiences to be around that marriage of theirs. I vacillate between admiration and envy; usually both at the same time.

As soon as we hit the door, my Dad hit the kitchen and declared his previous 36 hour fast at an end and my Mother was serving up his cereal and pouring coffee in record time as he sat at the dining room table puffing on his ever-present pipe. They were home and life was good. That scene - Mom fussing over breakfast cereal piling on fruit and flakes, the aroma of fresh coffee, the smell of my Dad's pipe as he pores over the newspaper - that's home to me. That's one of the warmest images in my memory bank and it is renewed on such a regular, dependable basis and it's also what is going to make for a very LONG, quiet week!

The "heart(s)" of this home are in Southern West Virginia today, celebrating the 85th birthday of my Dad's brother, as my parents slip into his "home church" and surprise him with a visit he will only find out about when he walks in and sees them. My Dad was so excited to get the "green light" from the doctor and both of them excitedly packed and got things ready Friday Night in sweet anticipation of this visit. Good for them and God bless them both which, honestly, God truly has blessed them and the rest of us a great deal.

"Legal-Ease" and a Rogue, Unrequited Ransom

After I got back home from the clinic, I checked my e-mail and was immediately IM'd by my buddy Jimi who thought it would be a good day for me to pick him up from his law office and head out for lunch. I couldn't think of a good reason not to, so I tossed aside my plans and headed out for Mayfair, Jimi and after a nice tour of his new offices, we planted ourselves at Artisan Cafe for a wonderful lunch. Thanks Jimi! (Photo: Jimi at lunch on Friday, hatching a literary scheme to spend more time at the beach!)

During the course of lunch, we bandied about some writing ideas, as we often do, but this time, Jimi was filled with acerbic inspiration and I laughed through just about all of it, but couldn't help but confirm his brilliance. We hatched a plan and I'm rather excited by the possibilities. Bottom line - he needs more beach time and I just need some money to take me to NYC and visit with Katie - and this seemed to be a very credible portal to get both of us where we want to be! I can't speak further on it because Jimi will kill me and he knows where I live and reads this blog so I have to stop...right...now.

During the course of lunch, my phone rang and it was Katie checking in from Manhattan with her daily "only in New York" update. Jimi answered my cell phone and said, "Katie, this is Jimi - I have your Mom held hostage and the price is $100,000 if you ever want to see her again.". Katie, not missing a beat, advised Jimi just to keep me and good luck with that. She didn't feel it was a good time to try and raise that kind of cash and rather than haggle over large sums of money that she isn't in possession of, she felt it best to just turn me over. No fight, no negotiating, no muss and no fuss. "You keep her, Jimi! Are you sure you've thought this through?". (Photo: Susie & Jimi enjoying lunch at "Artisan Cafe".)

He sadly handed the phone back to me and said, "No dice and no deal.". He was disappointed and I was bereft. She didn't even try and talk him out of it! Best of luck she told him! Geez, thanks a lot Katie!

Oh well, we still came up with a good plan and when we hit it big, there will be no "check is in the mail" for you missy! Your loyalty or lack thereof speaks VOLUMES!

Later in the day when she called me back, she tried to back-pedal and suggest that she was just taking a hard-line and didn't feel like it would benefit me if she "negotiated with terrorists" or some such silliness. Obviously she had reconsidered that such inaction on her part might find her missing in the will which, of course, it would, but I'd had kind of an emotionally-charged day so I bought what she was selling, even though I knew there was nothing substantial about any of it. I surmised it would probably help me sleep better at night to imagine she cared! Ha!

The rest of the evening was spent watching my parents in a flurry of "pre-trip activity" (which was much more fun than the pre-colonoscopy activity), as they were sorting through clothes, medication, and all that goes with two pack-rats preparing to leave for a week and hang out in the wilderness of "Wild, Wonderful West Virginia".

Saturday Morning, they were off. But not before reminding me that Cassie would need extra attention. Check the water dish every day. Don't forget to feed the cats and yes, someone will have to take care of the litter box. Oh, and let Sylvester in at night. Wipe Cassie's paws off if it rains. Give her some "extra" attention because she'll be missing us... (Photo: Cassie trying to cope with the fact that her Granny & Grandpa are on "holiday".)

I finally realized, these are technically MY animals. I thought to myself, "Mom doesn't even like cats and she's advising me on them?". My gosh, what a weird galaxy I live in! Really, I think the animals will fare better than Justin and me.

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner?

Remember that episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" where Aunt Bea goes out of town for three days and Opie goes on a Boy Scout camping trip and Andy is left alone? He goes out to the grocery store and stocks up on all the things he doesn't normally eat when Aunt Bea is there to cook sensibly and tells Howard Sprague, with glee, that he's going to eat junk, watch TV and live crazy for a couple of days? Of course, everyone knows that Andy can't cook so Howard and his Mom invite Andy for dinner, and on the same night, so does Helen who is also entertaining her uncle from out of town. Goober forgets to tell Andy of the dinner invitations in advance and Andy winds up eating spaghetti two or three times in the course of the same evening...

I get the feeling I'm living THAT episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" and the town is conspiring to make sure I'm well-fed and taken care of and I'm completely grateful, but it's pretty funny. It's just so "Mayberry", so "North Carolina". I love this state. I swear I do.

I got several e-mail invitations for lunch and dinner which is well-appreciated and sweet. Last night, my friend invited me over for dinner - my favorite - spaghetti and salad, but no tea...lemonade.

I was invited by another friend for dinner tonight, but I've had a sinus headache for going on two days now...(a gift from autumn, perhaps?), and I'm going to take two benadryl sinus pills and call myself in the morning. I hated missing out on steak, but I'm also sick of this stupid headache. It's probably "separation anxiety". :-)

I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there's a basket left on my front porch with pre-cooked offerings before the week is out. All I really need is a decent cup of coffee. I can handle it, really. I "do" soup incredibly well and I've always been so gifted at "take-out". I have a few talents, no question about that.

I talked with Katie yesterday after the senior citizens left on their adventure and she listened as I told her how glaringly quiet this house was...."You know, you're going to lose weight this week. You know that, right?". This from the girl who won't pay my ransom.

Yesterday afternoon, I remarked to Justin how quiet it was here. He said, "If you ask me, it's still a little crowded. Can't you go somewhere? You love Europe - I hear it's beautiful this time of year." He did everything but offer to pack my bag and take me to the airport and I know he would probably have done that if he thought it would work. (Photo: Justin standing in Central Park last Labor Day Weekend.)

Such love! Speaking of "going somewhere", Justin is New York City bound at the end of the month. His Dad (Tim) is flying him up to NYC and meeting him there and they're going to hang out with Katie for the weekend. I bet they'll have a blast. I know Katie's looking forward to it! Also a "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" to Tim - I hope you had a great one! PLEASE remind the kids to take PICTURES when you guys are in NYC!!!!!

Click below for a preview of "Stranger Than Fiction"...even though it was released last fall, it's one of my favorite movies. Note to RE...let me know if you like what you see and if you do, you can see more. I have the DVD.

And a special note to my friend, the "good pirate" Bobbi in Raleigh, she wrote me Friday Night and her angst was apparent. I must copy and paste..., "What is wrong? We all stayed on the edge of our computer seats for months (yes, make that four months instead of "for") reading updates of the "Hook or Crook" saga...we need another screenplay to whet our appetites.". I had to break it to her gently that I didn't have any good story lines to toss her way, real or imagined. I mean, other than imminent starvation and possible caffeine deprivation, there's not that much going on 'round here. I had to diplomatically ease her into the cold, hard facts that there are no sailing adventures on the horizon, no tropical storms are forecast and hurricane season will be winding down by the end of November. I may very well close out 2007 un-engaged and unattached. I hang-out with sensible types these days. I do "coffee", "tea' and sometimes I even get "cut-off" from those. I did charge into the surf earlier in the week and the phytoplankton was lovely, but it washed away with the waves.