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BY suzy

02/01 Direct Link
“I don’t know why you can still walk,” the surgeon says calmly. “If you tripped over a tree root, you could be paralyzed for life.” As the couple slowly absorbs the implications of these seemingly casual remarks, the surgeon goes on to say that the husband must be admitted to the hospital at once on complete bed rest until surgery can take place. That statement sets a flurry of events in motion: phone calls, paperwork, whispered conversations, a drive across town following an ambulance instead of driving it. Within an hour, he’s lying in a hospital bed awaiting his fate.
02/02 Direct Link
Although it’s a different city, different hospital, I can’t help being reminded of the long vigil at our mother’s bedside as her life slowly, painfully ebbed away. The unique mixture of ennui and fear, the smell of strong disinfectant and stale cafeteria food, the beeps of the machines and moans of the patients are so similar that it’s as if the past is somehow transparently overlaid on the present. I know my sister is thinking the same thing as we sit beside her beloved husband’s bed, anxiously watching for signs of pain or something, anything, we can do to help.
02/03 Direct Link
The surgery is set for 7:30 on Sunday morning. My sister and I stumble out of our fitful sleep in the cold, pre-dawn darkness. As we drive across the eerily deserted Bay Bridge to San Francisco, the sun is beginning to rise. Golden light touches the pale buildings tumbling across the hills. The Bay reflects the sky’s violet and pink in its deep waters. Despite our worries, we both remark on the beauty of the day and the city we both lived in for so long. Our hope that the dawn is a good omen remains unspoken but strongly felt.
02/04 Direct Link
At times like this, my sister’s knowledge of what can happen in the operating room is a definite liability. She’s been a paramedic for many years, driving the ambulance, working in the emergency room during her long twelve hour shifts, and she has seen and learned a lot. This tall, beautiful woman whom I cared for as a baby has comforted the sick and dying, brought people back to life, and closed the eyes of the dead. I don’t know what’s worse: seeing her husband’s frail body, so small on the gurney, or seeing her watch him be wheeled away.
02/05 Direct Link
My sister and I go and have breakfast while the surgeon works his magic. It may sound heartless, but my sister is a very practical person and we knew we had to get through at least two hours before we’d get any news. The hospital is in my old neighborhood, and it’s still early enough to get into the most popular weekend breakfast spot without waiting in line. After breakfast, we run into a friend I’ve known since high school, who gives us hugs and encouragement. At the hospital, the surgeon is striding out of the doors as we arrive.
02/06 Direct Link
"Can he move all his fingers and toes?” she asks without preamble.

“Yes.”

We pepper the stoic surgeon with questions, and he says that although the surgery went well, the patient’s back is not in good shape and he may well require more surgery in the future. The fact that he had surgery last year as well doesn’t bode well for the future. “He’ll be lucky if he can do sedentary work,” says the departing surgeon of a man who has been a carpenter most of his adult life.

The future can wait as we rush to the recovery room.

02/07 Direct Link
The thing is, he didn’t have an accident. His vertebrae calcified, causing them to press on his spinal cord so no fluid was getting through. The surgeon cleaned it out, took bone from his hip to reinforce it, and fused the vertebrae. The three vertebrae involved are directly below the ones operated on last year. He’ll have to wear a collar and be extremely careful for the next six weeks. It’s hard not to fear the future, but at the same time, we are all so thankful that he is safe and recovering that everything else can wait. For now.
02/08 Direct Link
My sister and her husband have been married for eighteen years. She had been twenty for less than two months when they married. He was seven years older, an insulin dependent diabetic with a long history of health problems, and I have to admit that I was concerned. But he has also been our brother’s friend since they were nine years old, so he was already part of the family, in a way. Their marriage has lasted and withstood more trials than any of us could ever have imagined. I truly believe they love each other more now than ever.
02/09 Direct Link
My brother-in-law’s release from the hospital was as sudden as his admission to it. He called us one morning to say the surgeon had signed the paperwork so he could go home. My sister and I hastily bought some button front shirts (his customary t-shirts being out of the question for the next few weeks), stopped at Trader Joe’s so we wouldn’t have to cook that night, and hurried to the hospital. Our hearts leapt at the sight of him sitting up in the waiting room. Just a few formalities and they were in their car, on the way home.
02/10 Direct Link
The long trek to and from the hospital and the stress of watching, worrying, and waiting took a toll on me. I wake up exhausted the day after my sister and brother-in-law returned home, the cold which was threatening me during the past few days firmly in residence. But there’s no time to rest and recover, because I’m due at an important conference in Sacramento. I decide to take the train rather than drive, and I’m glad I did. The train is so much more relaxing and civilized than the horrors of air travel or the nightmare of freeway driving.
02/11 Direct Link
It’s peaceful and quiet on the train. I fold down the little tray table in front of me and catch up on my emails, which I’ll send when I arrive at the hotel. When I’m finished with that and have finished reading all the wonderful John Updike excerpts in the latest “New Yorker”, I give my attention to the passing scenery. The train follows the path of the deltas, dotted with seabirds, egrets, ducks, even a lone majestic swan. Near Martinez, the water hides behind a field, and the huge container ships seem to float on the dry winter grass.
02/12 Direct Link
Sacramento is the end of the line. As I walk along the sunny platform toward the grand old station, I hear the conductor call out, “This train is going nowhere!”

It’s a short taxi ride to the elegant hotel. My room has a sweeping view of the historic downtown, and a window seat with cushions to enjoy it from. I call room service for my traditional club sandwich (I always order it when I arrive at any hotel, just like I always drink ginger ale on planes) and unpack while I wait. After I eat, it’s time for a nap!

02/13 Direct Link
The conference was much better than these things very often are, maybe because it was especially for women in my field and addressed our challenges and strengths. I made some good contacts, met some interesting people, and collected a lot of business cards. The highlight had to be the keynote speech by Madeleine Albright, who was even more impressive than I expected, and delightfully funny and charming, which I didn’t. She answered questions wisely and gracefully, and was showered with applause when she left the room. If it had been a concert, she would have had to give an encore!
02/14 Direct Link
My delight in my Valentine’s Day flowers was tempered by my annoyance at keeping the cats away from them. I remembered why I rarely have flowers in the house and allow my roses to wither on the vine. I’m constantly chasing them from the vases, finding mangled blooms on the floor. Yelling at my beloved girls and being mad at them makes me feel terrible and definitely mars the pleasure of the beautiful flowers and the joy of the gift. I’m hoping they’ll soon get as tired of it as I am and leave them alone. A girl can hope.
02/15 Direct Link
“I’m all in love with you again,” he says plaintively.

She laughs with surprise and delight. They are walking hand in hand down a sunny summer street in the Hamptons after a late, leisurely breakfast. She looks up at him and sees he is looking at her seriously, awaiting an answer to his unexpected confession. She kisses him and says, “I love you, too.” She does. They were apart for many years and found each other again. Now, older and wiser, their love is deeper and sweeter than it ever was, and they know they will never be apart again.

02/16 Direct Link
Quince’s daughters walk with their tails straight up, but curled at the top, like a candy cane. Quince’s daughters are brave and beautiful. Quince’s daughters look like her, but in different ways. Quince’s daughters are curious and playful. Quince’s daughters curl up together like they did before they were born, and the way they always have since. Quince’s daughters are together and apart. Quince’s daughters say “I missed you.” Quince’s daughters watch the stray cat their girl takes care of and think. Quince’s daughters need their people – sometimes. Quince’s daughters need each other – always. Quince’s daughters love and are loved.
02/17 Direct Link
I am loved. I was loved. I was beautiful. I was a bride. I hoped. I dreamed. Songs were written about me. I broke hearts. My heart was broken. I healed. I learned what love is. I still don’t know who I am – the woman who inspired love, or the woman who is without it. The woman who was never late, or the one who always is. I know less than I did those years ago. Have learned too much and not enough. I’m too far away and too close. I will never know. Myself or anyone else. Now, never.
02/18 Direct Link
My sister has to turn her back on her passion. What she loves? The full out call, driving the ambulance, lights and sirens screaming. She tells me, who raised her, there’s nothing like bringing someone back to life. Until the rush ends and you think, Why this person? Why me? Why? How can you do this and just go home and forget about it? But some stay in your head, as you drive home on the dark roads, as you beg any God to let you sleep at night. There are no atheists among insomniacs who close the dead’s eyes.
02/19 Direct Link
I dreamed that Jacques Pépin was coming over to make me lunch. I was afraid he’d cancel since it was raining so hard, but when he arrived, the rain had stopped. “It never rains on me,” he said in his charming accent. He set about getting ready in the kitchen, and gave me a glass of champagne. I can still feel the tingle of the bubbles on my tongue. Oddly, my parents were there, too. Dad was helping and Mom was getting in the way. Just as he served the first course of langoustines in puff pastry, I woke up.
02/20 Direct Link
My beau had jury duty. For two days, he reported to the courthouse and listened to other potential jurors being questioned. No reading is allowed in the courtroom, so that was pretty much the only entertainment. He was surprised by how many of the people interviewed had advanced degrees. Many had worked or did work at the University of California, Berkeley, and nearly everyone had been the victim of some kind of crime at some point in their lives. That makes me a little nervous and I wonder if it’s a case of “them that has and them that will”.
02/21 Direct Link
My boss calls and says the SEC is going to audit us. My heart beats a little faster, though I know we have nothing to worry about. We’ve been in business for five years now, and I guess our number just came up. My boss says it’s “routine”, but it’s hard to think of something like an audit as being routine. Bernie Madoff got away with defrauding people for two decades or more, so possibly the SEC isn’t the most efficient watchdog in the world. Maybe the auditors just want to be in San Francisco in the depths of winter.
02/22 Direct Link
I wake to dark skies and soft rain. When I open the bedroom blinds, it gladdens my heart to see Henry the stray-ish cat curled up in a little ball on the couch on the porch. I’m happy knowing that he feels safe enough to sleep there outside my window, safe from the cold and the rain that was his lot for so long. When I bring him food and water, he greets me at the door with his characteristic sounds. Though he will never be a house cat, I can still sneak in a few pets while he eats.
02/23 Direct Link
It’s a moment caught in time: a sunny summer day in the country. A mother holds her youngest son, not much more than a baby. He is laughing, the sun making his bright hair a halo. He is utterly happy and secure. He looks at this picture now, more than four decades later, and can’t remember ever feeling like that. He does remember that day, or at least many days like that, but the feelings are long gone and he can’t recapture them. He puts the picture back in the faded envelope, and puts the memories away, too. For now.
02/24 Direct Link
He looked around, curiously. He hadn’t been in his wife’s bedroom for – how long? Months? Surely it couldn’t be years. Her bedside table was awash in books, magazines, an overflowing ashtray and a crumpled, half-empty pack of cigarettes. A n elaborate perfume bottle lay on its side in a sticky pool beside a lipstick in a gold case, a kissed Kleenex. Though she wasn’t here, her presence was still strong, and as mysterious as if she stood amid the characteristic chaos she created. He sighed and closed the door as he left her room. Would he ever see her again?
02/25 Direct Link
The much-dreaded audit went fine. Most of the things they were looking for related to services that we don’t provide, and in fact, we had even more documentation than they requested. They left us with a few loose ends to tie up, but it was a big relief when we escorted them to the elevators and the doors slid shut. As we walked back to our offices together, my boss and I laughed and chatted, feeling like we dodged a bullet. It’s funny how going through a process like that makes you feel guilty, even though you know you’re not.
02/26 Direct Link
He always hated his birthday, and this one promised to be an especially bad one. His estranged mother was in town, and he waited all day for her call. When it came, it was late in the day, and he had to rush to get ready to meet her for dinner. It was a dark, rainy night, so driving across the bay to the city was more difficult than usual. He was late and anxious when he arrived at the restaurant. He could see his mother through the rain-streaked window, and his fear lifted. He stepped through the door bravely.
02/27 Direct Link
She looks out the conference room window, which has a panoramic view of downtown San Francisco. But that’s not what she sees. Pressing her hands together, her long, lacquered nails click. “I worked next to the Twin Towers,” she says slowly. “I was waiting for my boss outside when the first plane hit.” She pauses, then continues softly, “I saw the bodies fall. I saw them hit the sidewalk where I stood. My apartment faced south and I could see the smoke for days.” She looks straight at me, back in the present, saying, “That’s when I left New York.”
02/28 Direct Link
Too much of the huddled masses yearning to be free this week. First at the DMV, where the lines snaked so far back that they looped back beside the original lines, filled with dejected people, despairing mothers of crying children (expressing what all the adults couldn’t), herded into some semblance of order by the bored security guard; Then at the farmacia, where one can (theoretically) see a doctor for about $60, if you’re willing to brave yet another line that may take hours, and usually does. I have no insurance, and no choice, so I wait. And wish for insurance.