Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Exhale and Inhale

It's never a good thing when the phone rings in the middle of the night. Since I receive crappy cell phone signals from inside my house, I have clung to keeping my land line. It was once used as my business line but with the recession, my equissage business has once again faded away. I have my few regulars who schedule a standing monthly appointment. Almost all of them have my cell number. The only time my land line rings anymore is if is my family. Since I am speaking to so few members of the family, it was even more of a shock when the phone rang at 3:30 am.
"Can you meet me at Brandywine Hospital?" It was my uncle who was posing the question. I told him I would be right there. My aunt had been diagnosed with cancer in early July. She waited until as long as she could, to tell me. Both my aunt Jan and uncle Steve are stoic people. She told me so matter-of-fact that at first I thought I misunderstood her. When I asked her where her cancer was she finally admitted to me it had spread everywhere and was moving in to her brain. She then stated that was why she thinks her sinuses have bothered so much. I stood there in the kitchen where she had told me,stunned.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale


I know, anyone who already knows my aunt and uncle would not be shocked if either one of them had cancer. I have never seen either one of them without a cigarette. Shoe Man once had an almost meltdown when the three of us unloaded a large amount of hay bales in to the barn. As typical, my uncle had a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth as both his hands were grasping each bale down from where I was unloading from the back of the truck. He has the amazing ability to do work with both hands yet to continue to take steady drags and exhale cigarette smoke without breaking stride. I am so used to this that when Shoe started to anxiously whisper/shout at me that the barn was going to catch on fire, I had to stare Shoe down to keep his mouth shut. He hated cigarette smoke as it was. To break the cardinal rule that almost all farms have about not smoking in the barn...well, it was a lot on my part to keep Shoe from confronting my uncle. When we were riding back home after unloading the hay he asked how I could stand by and watch my uncle endangers my own horses? "Cocksucker is going to torch the whole shebang down." I had to giggle. Shebang. Only Shoe would say cocksucker and shebang in the same sentence.I pointed out that I was keeping my horses there for free, therefore, I have no right to impose rules in someone Else's barn. I figured that they have kept the barn and house (that is heated with wood burning stoves) for 30-something years without a fire. Who am I to say they shouldn't smoke in the barn? I'm pretty sure if I asked my uncle to put out his cigarette he would give me a thoughtful side glance and silently continue on smoking his cigarette, with whatever chore he was doing. My aunt would just tell him to go fuck himself. In fact, I am pretty sure she has said that to Shoe on the occasions when he would speak out about him mowing down their weeds. What Shoe didn't understand is the difference between weeds vs weed. He mowed down their stash and my aunt was pissed. I haven't smoked weed in decades but I am sure it was a hefty amount of cash that was weed whacked. After that catastrophe Shoe Man would only come out to shoe our horses and both my aunt and uncle steered clear of him. That was when I realised that they are both usually stoic because they are perpetually stoned. Hey, I'm cool with that. I keep my horses cheap and close to home. They let me basically squat there. God knows how much riding and harness equipment is stored on their property. I have five horses worth of crap that has accumulated. The most valuable I sold when I bought my house but the rest is in Rubbermaid tubs all over their house and barn.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale

When the phone rang next to my bed, my heart was pounding as I struggled without my glasses to read the caller ID. I have no memory other than being confused because I had fallen asleep with my clothes still on and the TV was blaring. I didn't even ask my uncle why they were at the hospital. I have noticed Jan's decline in a matter of two weeks.
As the gliding doors to the ER swished open I glanced to my right and standing outside,smoking a cigarette, was my uncle. I stood there with the glass doors paused open and for a second, was confused. I couldn't fathom that they rushed my aunt to the hospital with a possible heart attack, and here was my uncle, out having a smoke.
He stubbed out his cigarette and walked in to the waiting lounge with me. Even though I have known my uncle Steve since the age of 13 I realised when we were sitting there we really don't know each other. I knew he was a Vietnam Vet. He came back from the war with a raging heroin addiction. Jan's wealthy parents sent him through expensive rehab and besides the weed, I never seen any alcohol or any other kind of drug in their house. When I met him, I knew Jan's parents didn't like him much but I have the feeling she was already the black sheep on her own. My uncle Steve just sealed the deal.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale


We sat together in the waiting room with a blaring TV showing Fox News. The room was full of waiting people. For some reason people try and whisper shout at each other after three am. Just as I was feeling the urge to tell an angry woman, "just scream it, for God's sake!" a nurse came out to fetch us.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale


By six am, they had Jan settled in a room. They would keep her there to run some tests. They believed her chest pains could of been a panic attack or a reaction to the pain meds she is on. It is basically what the doctor told us. They know her cancer is spreading rapidly. It's a matter of what pain is from what? When I went in to check on her Jan said, "I was hoping to have a heart attack and just get it over with."
I silently walked out of the hospital with those words ringing in my ears. I could still hear them circling around my brain, from ear to ear. I drove to their farm to feed Romeo and Sydney. It wasn't until I had them turned back out that it finally hit me. It was at this same time,same kind of summer morning in August, three years ago, I was watching my horse being put down. She had suffered for seven hours. I just got it over with.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale



My relationship with my aunt and uncle is a tough one to explain. Technically, they are not my blood relatives. Jan's sister Judi, was my father's long-time girlfriend. They had never married and had kept separate residences.They had met through me. Judi was my first riding instructor. My divorced dad was immediately in love with her as I was. When she succumbed to cancer in 1994, it was her sister,who was holding her hand as she slipped quietly in to the other side. My father was weak. He still is. He left her in those final days not being able to handle it. I had never thought of it until Jan said those words. She already knew what she was facing. It took Judi four years to finally lose her battle with endless chemo and radiation. Every time she went in to remission we would all exclaim how blessed we were that she got through that round. In the end she was a shell of the person I knew and loved. Barely able to sit up and comatose in the end. Jan's words to me at the funeral were, "Judi would not want you crying. She held out for others and we were all selfish to ask her to do that."

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale


I sat and stared at the spot where Gwen is buried. I felt Judi was sitting next to me watching Desmond chase butterflies. She would of loved Des. He would of loved her. I willed myself not to cry. I know Judi didn't tolerate crying. If I fell off a horse I got right back on and learned quickly that if I indeed did cry, I would do so inside. She was the one who originally taught me to cowboy up. Like Major League...there is no crying in baseball! No crying in the game of life.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale


Exhaustion was starting to creep in. I wandered up to the house that has become my second home. I stumbled in to the back bedroom and lay down in Jan's bed. She has three large picture windows that look out in to the pasture. It was peaceful lying there. I could see Syd and Romeo grazing nose to nose. The cicadas were buzzing and a neighbor began mowing their pasture. It was a good hay year. Birds were chirping, cats began to slink in to the room with the dogs on the bed with me. The last thing I remember was thinking that Judi died in August of 1994. The weather was the same. The summer was ending and the days were getting shorter. I finally felt myself let go and slip in to sleep.

Breathe in breathe out
Exhale and inhale

http://youtu.be/uzvk6JeVH2M