Words turned into sentences. And sentences turned into paragraphs. That’s when she knew it was time to write again. It’d only been 60 hours since she published last, but it felt like a week. Yes, that’s how she always knows it’s time to free the wild beast of her brain that’s constantly moving, constantly drafting, constantly writing the inner-workings and outer-workings of life.
They arrived back home in relative peace and quiet that Saturday, long before the oldest two dazzled the doorway with energy from basketball and a birthday party. “Welcome Home Dad” strung across the mud room wall. The floors were clean. The counters pristine. A “Get Well Soon” balloon floated above the kitchen island along with Elmo and a big Valentine heart. His favorite treats – Reese’s cups, Reese’s Pieces, and Diet Coke – sat with an about-to-bloom summer yellow plant. Two Valentines’ boxes had been crafted with care, chocolate chip cookies and pink frosted cupcakes filled the countertops. Mom made the place comfortable while they’d been at the hospital. That was for sure.
Her husband went to bed, first thing. So did three-year-old babe. She sat, wrote a bit, who knows what. Her body felt slow, she wasn’t sure what to do or where she fit in this nothing’s-normal-anymore home of hers. Seven and a half weeks had passed since she wrapped up her last day of therapy, but new normal’s never set in. They had no clue, no clue, that they’d be facing cancer when they decided six months ago that she’d stop working to stay home and pursue far-fetched dreams of writing and photography. But now, yes now, she was here, in no normal land, back home after her husband’s week-long eye cancer treatment. She let herself sit. Just sit. This wasn’t normal, but it was new.
Nap time passed. Her oldest arrived back home from basketball. Her husband woke up a bit from his groggy slumber. They ate a dinner of the weeks’ leftovers and he returned to bed. He apologized to his son; he’d promised a movie together on the couch, but he just couldn’t. He needed to sleep. After a while, she tucked babe all quiet into bed and spent time with her son as best as she could. She knew she wasn’t the same as dad, but heck, one parent’s better than none.
She awoke early the next day, before the crack of dawn. Babe was awake, loud and a little needy. Dad was asleep, quiet and a little irritated with the noise and activity. So mama brought babe downstairs to play and do whatever, because that’s about all she could handle. This would’ve been a church day, but her son was being picked up for basketball and her daughter needed picking up from that overnight birthday party. So she let thoughts of church pass by, even though, even so.
She’d changed her husband’s eye patch and shield earlier that morning when babe awoke. His eye was puffy, really puffy. They weren’t sure why, but it was really itchy too, so he took his pain meds and got back into bed for a long day’s rest.
A friend brought a crock pot full of spaghetti sauce, cookies, and oranges peeled, ready to go. Thank God, she thought. She really hated to cook, and was in no mood to do so considering the circumstances. Her husband came to greet the visitor briefly, stayed long enough to eat and that’s it. He went back upstairs for more rest, and she gathered the leftovers, enough for another meal, maybe two.
The rest of the day was haphazard and semi-restful. The kids played and watched too much television. She did a little this and that, picking up laundry that had accumulated in the past 24 hours, putting dishes in the washer, and gathering piles of Polly Pockets babe had strewn across the couch. She struggled for a bit of normalcy, for a bit of new normal, so during nap time, she re-opened books for the business that’s closing slower than expected, and pushed that much closer to the finish line. She invited the kids to play Uno; even babe played most of the while. Color and number matching is soothing, even for a three year old who doesn’t have much of a clue yet.
Her husband slept, then slept some more. She kept checking and checking, but there was nothing he wanted to do but stay in bed. Occasionally, she’d enter and he’d be in bed with headphones on, listening to a podcast with his eyes closed, or catching up on Game of Thrones season three. But sleep was his activity of choice. So she let him be until 9:30 p.m. when she invited him down for a new episode of Walking Dead followed by a night cap of pain medication to ensure full rest.
Morning came again. With it came a glimpse of normal, of routine. Her husband awoke with the babe at 5:45 a.m. She put drops and healing ointment in his eye, then refreshed the patch and shield with the breathable tape she’d grown to love for some odd reason. It was a noisy, hurried morning. So he’d asked them to leave the bedroom. He couldn’t handle the volume nor the activity. So she closed the door, took the kids downstairs, and left her husband to sleep, rest and recover. She fed three kids, made cold lunches, and packed their bags tight. Off she went. Off he went. And off she went with babe to the gym in pursuit of two lifelines, exercise and music, that keep her on the straight and narrow when all else fails.
She made her way around the track, two times maybe three, then plopped on an elliptical. She needed this. Bad. She’d weighed herself this morning for the first time in a week or two. A new non-pregnancy high. When she stopped working seven and a half weeks ago, she was already at a non-pregnancy high because of all the stress and chaos of the transition. And now after an eye cancer diagnosis, trip of a lifetime with Compassion International, back to days of eye cancer appointments and a week-long hospitalization for her husband? A new high. She was officially 10 pounds higher than her (low) pre-pregnancy weight with baby #3 four years ago. Ugh. She’d worked hard with a personal trainer to get to that pre-pregnancy weight four years ago. But still. 10 pounds up from that. Ugh. Grace. Grace was in store. Today’s workout wasn’t for her weight. It was for her mental health. For the overall wellness of her being, not the perfection of her physique.
The workout was slow to start. She felt the weight of her body, her soul, her mind as she moved her feet back and forth on the elliptical. She started slow, eager to go faster as her body led. She pressed forward, next, on her iPod, letting the Spirit move to music that soothed her soul and felt in line with who she is now, right now. Let it Go. A little Adele. A Christmas song for good measure. Whatever.
In-between clicks, she noticed the woman to her right, the one she’s been watching for a year or two now, the one she waves to and says hi to, the one she’d be friends with in one fell swoop given any proper invitation. Yes, there was the woman who inspired her most in this place, the one who throws punches and kicks fierce, the one whose pain shows through, the one whose dreads fall long and fly where they may as she dances to her own beat on the treadmill and off to the side. She danced, kicked, punched, and exhaled CH, CH, CH, CH, CH, as long as her soul needed to heal, to breathe, to bring forth life and energy.
Time had passed, more than she knew. So she got off the familiarity of the elliptical and back on the track. She passed the woman throwing punches and prayed they’d become friends someday, somehow. And as she slowed to cool, she approached a man she’s been sharing workout space with for a year or two, a man who walks slowly and initiates awkwardly, but who’s always ready to chat about this and that, even for a bit. He was slower than normal, so much so that she could barely keep pace. She knew right away something was wrong. She was right. He’s been diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. They think it might have something to do with his exposure to agent orange in Vietnam War. So he’s headed back to the VA hospital later this week for more testing. He’s not sure what they’re going to do, but his daily exercise around the track has apparently improved his health and extended his life in invaluable ways. They’ve taken away his driver’s license, and for that, he’s notably disturbed and saddened. She walked slowly. And let him talk through the pain. He wants to sell everything and move south so he can walk and bike in air that’s comfortable. She heard him out. And wished him well more than once before they parted ways. Young ones passed, running as if life’s a sprint. She’s not sprinting anymore. This unpredictable snail’s pace is fine. Just fine.
She returned home with babe. The house was silent. Her husband was still sleeping.
Babe climbed up on the big bed and begged daddy for McDonald’s. He said no. “I just want to sleep today.” But before long, he was up, ready to go – for babe, she supposed.
His eyes hurt from the bright sun. He felt nauseous. He just wanted to go back home and back to bed. But he pressed on anyway. He ate the “just okay” grilled chicken sandwich she ordered him for a healthy dose of protein, and hugged his babe tight when she tucked into his side.
And when they returned home? He slept. He continued healing slowly, but surely. Babe slept. And she wrote those words that had been turning into sentences, those sentences that had been turning into paragraphs. She waited for the after school rush of loud, vibrant no normal.