by Bluedolphin Crow
I forced my tired aching body out from under the warmth of my blue-green Amish quilt as the arthritis in my joints, bursitis in my shoulders, and bronchitis in my lungs worked against me. I’ve become the queen of old age itisville, I thought, a decade before I can officially order a senior meal.
To distract my mind from the pain and stiffness, I pulled on my favorite summer skirt; a long yellowy- orange cotton mix that touches the top of my feet. Maybe this will cheer me up, I thought, as I gazed out at the pristine glistening blanket of newly fallen snow.
These days I protect myself from the onslaught of holiday madness in a secret hideaway; a little 1906 cabin nestled deep in the forest where wild animals don’t even go. My forced seclusion is a haven that protects my sensitive nerves while the modern world revolves all around the so called holiday cheer. Nancy, my best friend calls it “Chirstmasitis.” I pretend not to be offended.
As Nancy and my other friends busy themselves with their families, I secretly shop a month before the Christmas season for food and other daily essentials. An ingenious plan created to rescue me from crowded stores, parking space fights, and being embarrassed by tears cascading down my face in public.
Yanking my Frigidaire open I reach for eggs. I forget eggs? I think. I can live without eggs, I tell myself. The sweet smell of fresh melons soothes my growling stomach as I inventory my stockade of supplies.
Water. Where’s the water? The only thing I can’t live without, I think. Frustrated, I plop down on the edge of my bed pondering ways to get around this mess, but to no avail. Camille, Prince, and Miss Daisy lunge onto the bed pushing each other out of the way to see who can get closest to me. Camille, a sleek three-year old calico usually wins. Am I getting dementia? I ask my menagerie out loud. Total indifference from Prince a two-year old, long-haired Flame Point Siamese. Miss Daisy, my spoiled rotten four-year old Labradoodle races to the front door to retrieve her leash, while Camille proudly tries to snuggle in my lap as I wrestle with my winter socks.
Six inches of newly fallen snow distracts my attention as I pull into the supermarket parking lot. Not one space free? I think. Exasperated, I continue to the back-forty for all intents and purposes where I see a small VW bug pulling out. Slamming my foot on the accelerator, I make a slide into the parking space with ample room for a slight skid. You can do this, I think. Cold tears trickle down my red cheeks. I hate shopping before Christmas! I cry out loud. I inhale as much brisk air as I can, steady my nerves, as I pull the door handle holding my breath against the wintery cold. Snowflakes dot my wire rimmed glasses as a brisk wind takes my breath away. Great, now I can’t see, I think.
Salvation Army’s volunteer wrapped up tighter than a secret Santa gift rings his bell faster and faster as I scurry by pretending not to notice. A voice of an older woman now behind me calls out, “Happy Holidays,” as if not saying the words “Christmas” or “Merry” takes the sting out of the holiday mess.
To my astonishment, but not my surprise, a cart came up behind me and rode over my heels. “Ouch.” I bit my cheeks to keep the split-second temper the holidays conjured up at bay. Within seconds, cold drops of blood ran down my left heel. Be calm, it’s an accident, I thought.
I intentionally took my time turning around. As I did, a young woman dressed in high heels, a white winter sweater, and gold dangling around her neck was desperately trying to console one of her five children. Her back toward me, she was totally oblivious. As I opened my mouth to say something her youngest child, a small, curly blond-haired boy in the front of her cart glanced toward me. In an instant his whole body lit up like a thousand Christmas candles as his toes shot straight out in his green and white stripped jumpsuit. Time stood still for me as he fixed his dark blue eyes on mine and let out the most precious belly-laugh I had ever heard. It seemed as though he was a toddler version of Old Saint Nick himself. Then everything went dark. I heard nothing…nothing at all.
Cold stiff sheets rubbed against my legs as the stench of antiseptics irritated my nose. “I’m Doctor Mathews, Mrs. Jenkins,” he said. His brown circular eyes were magnified by the thick lenses in his silver rimmed glasses. Deep creases beneath his eyes gave away his advancing age. I’m the head of vascular surgery. Tell me what happened,” he said.
I wanted to tell him…to let the pain escape through my lips. In the middle of an unsuspecting day, I turned around and saw a glimpse of this innocent child; a small boy who was the spitting image of my son at that age. My only child had been abruptly ripped out of my life in an instant; like an eagle swooping down stealing its prey. I felt my lungs collapse inside of me as steely cold, merciless memories, slithered through my mind, and riveting pain shot through my heart making every breath I took excruciatingly real.
Vivid replays of four years earlier as I listened to a stranger try to console me over the phone replayed over and over in my mind. “I’m so sorry Mrs. Jenkins; Jake was ten seconds away from winning the marathon when he fell over. The paramedics said he was gone before he hit the ground.” The pain so swift and deep I was sure I would die that very second, but death refused to take me.
I shook my head and watched the sun radiate through the windows. “I don’t remember.”
A renegade tear escaped his stern gaze. “I read your son’s records. 32-years old is way too young to die of a heart attack. He had a condition we call the widow maker,” he said.
Hearing that term “widow maker” again pommelled me back into the in-between world I had been living in where my mind worked on autopilot, my body fulfilled its vital functions, but somehow I always felt numb from head to toe with my mind hidden in a deep haze. The world continued about its everyday affairs oblivious to my crushing emotional pain.
“You had the same condition,” he said.
“I’ve never felt seriously ill.”
His cold hands gave way to a slight tremble as he placed them over mine. “No one feels ill from this condition. There are no symptoms, it hits like a thief in the night. Without your son’s history we would have lost you too. Your son saved your life.”
As quickly as the memories of the death of my son overcame me they withered and vanished away. My body suddenly calm from the inside out. I felt my arms and legs tingle for the first time in years as I realized the full body numbness had disappeared, like an unexpected rain storm that melts the heat of the day away.
I looked away from the doctor’s gaze when I saw it. A momentary glimpse, a figment of my imagination, I thought. Then my son’s Allspice permeated the air. Half shimmering, bathed in bright white light, he stood a few feet in front of me in the open doorway. He had the biggest, brightest smile I had ever seen on his glowing face. No words were exchanged. His love surrounded me like a thick winter blanket gently comforting my internal pain. A deep seated peacefulness soothed my mind, smoothly glissading throughout the molecules of my body.
A voice startled me back to reality. “Have a Merry Christmas Mrs. Jenkins,” he said.
“Merry Christmas to you Doctor,” I said.
One minute I’m wreathing in inconsolable pain, the next, words of holiday cheer that had become so foreign to me gently glided off my tongue. I can’t explain it. One minute a deep seething scar held me captive without my awareness. My life irrevocably changed as I struggled to stop my relentless thoughts of what my son could have done with his life had he not been taken away. The next minute a soothing salve from the unknown realms healed my aching heart from within.