Minh was over the moon. "She knows how to cook Korean food!" We were standing in the kitchen as I put the kettle on for tea.
"She seems like a nice person." Ken said, level headed as usual.
”Just don't jump into anything too soon." I of course had this worry. Wasn't he going too fast? He'd just met Jean and they were already cooking together! Id seen him go though unimaginable heartache and pain, and I was scared that he was just like a moth to a buglight.
"It'll be OK, mom." He said as he ran out the door to pick her up. That was his usual answer. The one that turned on all the alarms in my mind. I watched out the window as he jogged out to his little back Honda Civic.
That car was the car of his dreams. It didn't thump like the last one, and was fully paid off, unlike the Red Cavilier that had been repossessed. This one was fast. It was low to the ground, and it was his baby. "I guess that he's doing better these days…" I said to Ken as he pulled down the driveway.
”Yup." Ken wasn't mincing words over this one. Where did all the time go? Minh had grown up, and as much as I tried, I could not protect him from pain or the harsh cruelness of this world. Even living here in Ann Arbor had not protected him from the evil that lurks in the shadow.
It was about 12:30 AM when I heard his civic pulling into the drive. "He's home, love." Mumbled Ken, barely cracking an eye open.
"I wonder if he's ok…" I said. Ken sighed and got up. "Ill check." He said and wearily went down the steps.
"Hi Dad!" It certainly didn't sound like he was any worse for the wear. I nodded back off to sleep, relatively certain things were going to be alright.
"So, apparently Minh and Jean were out having a late meal." Ken had brought me tea in bed the next morning. I glanced at the clock. Sunlight was streaming in the bedroom window. "Is he here?" I said, taking a sip. "Hah… can you believe it? He said he was leaving to go to church with Jean!" I looked over at Ken. He was chuckling as he got back into bed and picked up the paper.
"We've bed trying to get him to go to church for years!" I laughed sleepily, rolling over. I lay there for a while thinking about our life. Chandler, Broadway, our lives and our children, Minh, Anita and Sung. I remembered the first time Ken and I met Minh. Getting off that plane in the social worker's arms, smiling at us. Laughing. Accepting us for who we were in that year the trees didn't die.
I closed my eyes, and for once, I felt like everything was right with the world.
Am I as smart as person X? What about the house I live in, is it okay? What about the life I have, the job I have? On and on and on.
Not a charming habit at all. I could blame a childhood living on the wrong side of the tracks (literally) or anything else I can think of. But, in fact, it is long past time that I learn to be grateful. Just that. And, I think I am learning, at least some rudiments of it.
Today I go for a PET scan and tomorrow I consult a specialist in liver ailments for the side effects of chemo treatment, not so fun. And I am not at all a sunshiny person. Well, I like humor, sort of semi dark humor, but that’s not sunshiny. Anyway, what can I think of? Well, I can be glad that the cancer seems to be tamped down, my oncolosit’s words. So, the PET scan should I hope, I hope, provide no negative surprises. Also, I am constantly amazed at the hopes of women on the advanced breast cancer sites. They are not whiners!
...But, it is a group I have joined and see every week. There’s age range and a mix of male and female. There’s a group leader. We talk and talk and sometimes we leave uplifted and sometimes we leave feeling worse than when we came.
If it sounds like an AA meeting, it isn’t. It’s a cancer support group and the goal of every person in the group is to stick around.
Everyone wants to be walking upright on this planet of ours, to write another book, sing another song, act in a play, or knit a scarf. Cancer changes the way a person thinks about time. Cancer changes every single thing in your life. So, we sit and talk about that. The group is varied. We have a range of cancers: lung, breast, brain, prostate, you name it; we all know something about all kinds of cancer from sharing our stories. We are older and younger, male and female, and we all try very hard to help each other. Many weeks I wonder what we have in common that took us to this place. Did we all drink from too many plastic bottles of water? Did we fail to exercise enough? What, oh what, did we do to end up in this group?
Ken is a gentle person. He rarely yells.
He expects decency from people and tries to reciprocate, but he does have his quirks. He CAN get angry.
Let him see a groundhog in our yard and he goes berserk. He’ll run out of the house, waving his arms and shouting. He’ll chase it until it scuttles under the fence.
“There,” Ken says to me. I stare at him. I don’t know what to make of this. Surely he knows he can’t win?
People are taking books, magazines and DVD’s. They are leaving books and magazines and an occasional DVD. So, I am excited and happy. I have wanted to do this for at least two years since I first heard about it but I dawdled. I checked online for prices. Not so cheap.
This year, Ken said, “Do it.” We are living with gratitude. I am still here and pretty healthy for Stage Four Cancer. Ken hired our great neighbor (who will be moving) Jan to dig the post hole and our grandson, a great guy who is living with us and going to college, made and painted the post. We picked out our library on line. One summer day Dante, the live-in grandson, and Ken put it up. I was thrilled. I thought we should be dancing in the street.
But, Nooo. I was certain that once we were on our way home, life would be straightforward again. No more cringing when sirens went off. No more jumping at the sound of a blast. No more dread. Everything would be wonderful.
It’s true, the trip around southern Ireland was great, there was nothing to fuss about.
We overate on scones and soda bread and every high tea we could find. We examined The Book of Kells, sat in pubs unafraid and listened to terrific music.
Once there, we drove our car off the ferry and started the drive to London where we would drop off our car to be put on the ship and board for our dream, at least my dream trip, home.
The drive to drop off the car was not so easy. It was, in fact, horrible. Lots of roundabouts which we had not yet encountered at all. There was the London traffic, and finally a desperate searching for the right building at which to leave the car. I kept trying to find signs to help us. Usually it was too little, too late. I’d spot something, but Ken would have driven past by then. Driving with the steering wheel on the “wrong” side had been an issue ever since we imprudently took the car with us to Ireland. But on the country roads we drove on, the worst thing we encountered were sheep or cows. All we had to do was to wait until they crossed the road. So, the driving was not bad at all. London was a far cry from the country roads. At the first, pretty complicated roundabout, Ken said, “What’s that?” We had never seen one before. He managed it. What else could he do?
I reiterated the message after we endured more bombings, one in which we lost a friend.
We were LEAVING! LEAVING ! LEAVING!
Ken said he didn’t feel that afraid.
He was willing to stay on for one more year. It was Ireland after all. There was great music, Guinness, and we could get to Dublin by train.
“Bombs, dead people, guns and soldiers; that’s what there is,” I replied. “I mean it. We need to go home. I can’t take this anymore.” Ken frowned. He had accepted a two- year position. Leaving was not going to make him any friends or look great on a resume. I was hard hearted about it. I didn’t think what the consequences for his career would be, what position I was putting him in.
The week that I told Ken I was determined to leave, there was to be a general round up of all suspicious people. At least that was the rumor. Everybody was talking about it. Peter asked if we would allow him and his wife and child to stay with us. How could we say no?
Ken was busy working and I was beginning to feel antsy. I needed something to do. I decided to take a course in Irish history at the university. It was an enrichment class, not a regular university course.
We met after the regular classes were over. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the course was heavily weighted by the professor in favor of the status quo, British rule. “We’ll win,” he’d say. “ Just stay strong. We have the army on our side.” I stayed quiet, taking ideas in, trying to figure out what mattered so much. Why did the professor and most of the students (I was by far the youngest person in the class) want?...
The older women (there were a lot of them) were ready to mother me and take me to their side. They warned me against walking at night. They brought cookies to class.
They were really nice until I asked a question that suggested that maybe the minority Catholics in Ulster had a problem that was real, a problem the army couldn’t solve. (Not the smartest move on my part...
...But I was a talker by nature and I opened my mouth.)
I was busy enough shopping, stoking fires, writing letters home, but I didn’t feel I was experiencing anything of the country (aside from the scary stuff of course.) Well as it happened, Ken’s friend’s father was principal of a small country school, just outside Belfast, and I had a teaching degree. No matter that it was not for lower elementary, not matter that I had zero experience, he was willing to take me on while one of his teachers was gone to have a baby. If I wanted the job, he could pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the afternoon.
It sounded exciting. Some of my romantic ideas might materialize. I pictured myself teaching. The picture was sort of hazy as a matter of fact, because I would be teaching a mixed class, grades one through three.
But, I didn’t let something like that interfere with my fantasy. I would be gentle and inspiring both. The children would listen and learn. (What world did I live in?)
Tell me what you used to do.
Our kids and grandkids want to know what we used to be like before we were mom and dad, GranMary and GranKen.
I think about that and realize that after the kids came so much of our life was consumed by getting from one day to the next with lunches packed and notes to the teacher in their backpacks that I barely remember what we did before the kids came. Then, when the grandkids came it was all about them. What were we like?
So the next few blogs will tell the story of one of our more "iffy" adventures. This adventure was way bigger than trying to walk from Cleveland to St. Marys. You might remember that story from the book. In those early years, I was ready to do almost anything. Almost is the key word.
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