This story is by Susan Hughes and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I stared woefully at the beautifully done invitation from VINES&GRAPES. “Now what the hell am I going to do about this? Shit.”
Sex, drugs and definitely rock’n’roll. They were all in my repertoire, not all at the same time. But I was in that playground for many years, and loved it. I could usually be found during my leisure time having a drink, with family, out for a beer with my cousin Sarah, at a party dancing up a storm, at concerts maybe smoking a joint, travelling to New York City to collect an award, all starting around 1970. I worked in television news, the perfect job for me. But the ‘newsroom’ of the good old days. My best friend Mary managed Edgeworth Park, ‘the’ venue at the time for Canadian music. So we always had great access to interviews and lots of fun. Everyone worked hard and played hard. I was no saint, but for me and my friends, life was about embracing it and enjoying it for all it was worth. And, did I mention? I am no slouch in the dancing department.
A large gregarious family who reveres music, that’s where I come from. A very generous and social family we’ve been called, ‘charming and smart.’ Driven by copious amounts of enthusiasm and downright ‘chutzpa” sometimes, we didn’t lack stamina in the ‘if life gets you down, you get right back up’ department. We had to.
My next perfect job came when I produced and directed video programs in the not-for-profit sector. Programs about cancer, brain death and teen suicide. Years later I would utilize, in my own life, the extraordinary lessons I learned from working with these phenomenal doctors and everyday survivors of earth shattering illness.
But people have dreams and I always wanted to be a film critic because in between all the other stuff, I was a film aficionado. From childhood, I have loved films. I escaped. As a young girl of 12 I had to take responsibility for running the household, changing shitty diapers, cleaning, making sure my brothers and sisters were safe. Every night, I would do ‘The Yell’ as my brothers called it, from the front porch. “Okay you guys. Get home now or you’ll be in trouble.” Many of them didn’t understand that I felt responsible for their safety. My love for them was fierce. One of the most significant moments in my life happened recently when my brother Greg said “Emma, thank you for looking after us all those years.” I cried.
I couldn’t have asked for a better life. I have travelled, lived in France for a year. I have had four fabulous jobs, met tons of people, including two Prime Ministers and my heroes of Canadian broadcasting. And I was doing something I loved. What more could I ask for? Like the screeching of the needle on an LP record, which I know all too well, it ended. This is why I have problems with my current status. Up until I turned 60, I was having a blast with life. But I knew big trouble was brewing.
“Someone asked me recently ‘What have you been doing? I haven’t seen you for years.’” “Breathing, mostly,” I said.
A big crossroads. That’s where I’m at. Imagine me if you will, this woman, a bit of a scoundrel, having had escapades far and wide, an active, interested participant in life, now being impaled by it all. I am hung up by health issues. I only want simple pleasures but even those elude me. What’s worse, my five brothers and the twins are all fit as a fiddle. I have gained weight. As my brothers get older they get fitter, but I get bigger. The ringtone on my phone, ‘Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls.’
One thing goes away and another one pops right up like a game of Whackamole at the midway. Only I am living it. I am the mole. Chronic diarrhea, crippling arthritis, leaky bladder. I have, embedded in my nether region, a ‘mesh sling’; something my former OBGYN thought would be good for the leaky bladder. My new OBGYN said it must come out sooner than later.
All I really want is a bath, a long intoxicating one. Even though I have had Total Knee Replacement, it’s hard to totally bend your knees. So having a bath is impossible. Many friends have offered to help me up out of the tub. Are you kidding? I could never have anyone look at my body, especially now at my age. No way, I tell them. Even the shower is an ordeal. I’ve just started. Before I leave the bathroom I put on my underwear and line it with ‘light’ pads, help for the leaky bladder. I am going out today, so I look in the mirror and then cringe. Oh god! I remember when everybody said I was young for my age. Healthy and not bad looking either. Now, I have to pencil in my eyebrows because they are white, my pubes went white years ago. Now white hair is fashionable, at least the stuff on your head.
I settle into my favorite chair, an IKEA job I’ve dragged around for years. I insert gel pads between my toes; get the right slipper on the deformed left foot. I neatly fold paper towels and put them underneath my breasts. I am ready for a nap. I can’t. I have to get dressed. I have many physical issues; ones you wouldn’t think would be a problem. Like chronic diarrhea. It hinders my life. I can’t go anywhere. Except I go to the doctor a lot. As I wait, I am determined to have it out with him. “I am so sick of this, isn’t there a cure? They have a cure for everything else. What about it, Dr Merali?” My gastroenterologist. “Sometimes I am on the toilet every 10 minutes.” “I am working on it for you,” he says.
Vines&Grapes is my cousin Sarah’s winery in Picton. Located on Lake Ontario, Vines&Grapes is not large, but they make the best wine. And I want to go, badly. It’s Terroir, for Pete’s sake. I opened that white envelope and read the invitation. Sarah and I have had a wonderful lifelong friendship. I was desperate. “Sarah, what am I going to do? It’s a five hour trip on the train. I have horrors that everyone will be staring at me when I come out of the tiny washroom. And how could I drive? Having to stop right then and there to poop!”
That’s not all. Like that T-Fal ad, ‘hold on, there’s more.’ Chronic arthritis has set in from head to toe. “You’re loaded”, said Dr. Stevens, my newest doctor. “Tell me something I don’t know.” Dr Stevens has a reputation as a great foot surgeon. I knew he had a wonderful manner because I listened to him talking with other patients as I waited in the Fracture Clinic. I am seeing Dr Stevens about surgery on my left foot. It’s only a day-surgery but the recuperation sucks. 6-8 weeks in a cast. “Foot up, your big toe cannot even touch the ground!”
“Big toe, eh? This is a big decision.”
My left foot feels like a steel plate when I walk and it hurts. Dr Stevens wanted me to buy Birkenstocks to give me some support. Birkenstocks! Absolutely not, I said. I remembered that card I bought one time. The woman is holding her new Birkenstocks in the background. The man is sitting in the chair in the foreground. The caption: ‘Birth control at the Smith’s’. I loved that card and we laughed. We agreed on Naots. They do help some. I do my errands but it’s hard for me to go for a walk. I think about the emails I get from brothers who say “We went on a 5-mile hike today.” Shut up! I am just trying to get up and down the stairs with my groceries. As an old woman who still grooves to The Rolling Stones, I am not used to this. I had a life once.
One of my favorite films is called ‘Things Change.’ Part of the terrific cast was that wonderful actor, Don Ameche. They are on the run from the Mafia. As things go wrong, Don is the coolest of them all. “Things change”, he always said. When I’m all wound up in my troubles, I forget that simple fact. Things change. Life is boundless.
I can hardly believe it. I was out when I got a message to call Dr Merali. I waited impatiently wondering ‘what the hell does he want?’ I almost dropped the phone. “I think I have something that will help your diarrhea. Wanna give it a try?”
“Terroir! I am going to Sarah’s to drink limitless bottles of their yumalicious wine!”