Tag Archives: death

Roll With It

On the back of his chef coat was a design – black octagons in a line down the center of his spine.  He was laughing and smiling and everyone around him was smiling, too.  The first time I saw the design on his coat I had no idea what it was but I was still pretty green.  It was my first bartending gig and I was barely 21 years old.

By the time I saw the octagons on the back of his jacket a second time I had already gotten a few of my own on the knee of the jeans that I wore to work.  Dura_Chef_7_8_Action_Shot_2_LargeKneel down on a kitchen mat to get something off of a shelf and you, too, will have a greasy octagon on your pants.   That explained what they were.  But it didn’t tell me how they got there. Who in the hell would lie down on the floor in a kitchen?

I was working in a restaurant with an open kitchen.  From behind the bar I could see the boys in the kitchen and I would admire their fast hands and their furrowed brows as they made delicious magic happen on dinner plates.

I would look into the kitchen window often for a whole bunch of different reasons.  It was wise to take a peek into the window before you sent in a Sunday brunch ticket with a bazillion “Hold Food” special orders.  You were a fool to not check and see if the boys were busy before you ordered your favorite sandwich for your employee lunch (turkey club with boursin mayonnaise.) Eventually I would marry one of those boys on the line so I suppose I was frequently just trying to sneak a peek at that guy I had just met.

On a busy night in the middle of a dinner rush if you watched carefully you would see one of the most extraordinary things I have ever witnessed in a kitchen.  (Now you know if you have worked in the restaurant business that kitchens are like another planet and a lot of insane things go down back there.) But there is only one boy I have ever seen do a somersault on the line.  Perhaps more astounding than the somersault was that nobody ever looked irritated by this ridiculous display of bravery (stupidity?) in the midst of hot pans and high tempers.  And knives.

Nobody could roll with it like Skillet.  “My name is Skillet and I rooooolllll with it.” He would pop up from the floor with a fresh line of octagons down his chef coat and that smirk would spread across his face and no matter how slammed you were and no matter how much you hated every single person in your station or how outrageously hungover you were all of a sudden you were smiling.  And you were rolling with it, too.

In the last fifteen years I have seen Skillet less than a handful of times.  Some of those times were a little hazy and some of them were a lot hazy (I am looking at you, Urbanna Oyster Festival.) But each and every time I was laughing.

I might not have seen Skillet in ages… but I think of him when I take a deep breath and smile.  Sometimes the choice to remain calm and smiling in the midst of chaos is all it takes to make the people around you  just chill the fuck out.   So very many times I have thought to myself “My name is Skillet and I rooollll with it.”

There are times in your life when you must fight.  You must not back down and you must be willing to give every last shred of your being to a cause.  But sometimes, lots of times, you need to take a deep breath and roll with it.  Because it’s really not that bad.  And everyone around you is just way too serious.  And it will be over before you know it and you need to put a smile on your face and roll on.

Today I learned that that boy who so many of my old friends will remember is no longer with us.  To be honest, it hit me a little harder than I was expecting.  A lot harder.  But I am going to put a crooked smile on my face and roll with it, Skillet.

My deepest condolences to the Atwood family.

No jokes about whether or not I am of “sound mind”

And to my oldest daughter I leave my shoe collection.

Day 92 suggests you go ahead and write a will right there on the pages of the book.  It is silly, listing your prized possessions, your CD collection, your tupperware, your debt, your secrets…

Once again this ridiculous book is synced up with my “real life” in a way that I was not prepared to think about.  Sometimes I move through a day and I consciously choose not to think about it, not to write about it, not to process it.  This is still a step ahead from the Ignore This Necessary Part of Life Altogether method of my youth.

A few weeks ago we sat down at the kitchen table and we filled in the blanks. What will happen to our kids if something happens to us?  Our life insurance policy would cover our house, right? None of this is fun.  None of it is “best case scenario.” None of it is “happily ever after.”

I still don’t want to write about it.  It took me two weeks to open the legal envelope from the lawyer’s office and review the final draft.  I did it this morning.  With a princess pencil.  It didn’t make it any easier.


Emily Explains It All

Clarissa she is not.  But Em is in the know.

There is a lot going on in her five year old life, and she is taking it all in stride. With the impending arrival of a sibling there has been plenty of talk of babies and new life.  I let her watch The Business of Being Born not too awful long ago and she ate it up.   She is curious and occasionally worried about me.  I think she is right at the age where she can grasp just enough information to make her want more but not she is not quite ready to wrap her mind around the rest.  MQD and I are perfecting the art of simply answering the question that was posed.  Not too much information, not too little. We  will be the Goldilocks of Sex Ed by the time it is all said and done.

About half of the time Em opens her mouth it starts with “Can I tell you   something?”  So yesterday in the car when she asked that very question it didn’t prepare MQD or I for what was coming.  “Did you know you will actually have to watch your wife?  Actually have a baby out her vagina?”

This is when I started furiously typing on my phone.  Typically advice that Em dispenses is good.  But the advice she gives MQD where she refers to me as “your wife” is classic.  “And this is important to know.  It is serious.  It might hurt Mom a little bit.”

And for dramatic effect she begins to get choked up… “And it will come out of her vagina like magic.  And you might be a little nervous, Dad. And a little excited.  I’m just telling you.  It is important that you know this stuff.  You might start crying.  And maybe we can at least read my baby books.  I have two baby books.  We can read them so you will know how it is.”

I had tears running down my face from laughter.  I just want to make sure I get in the right line at the midwife’s office.  I want the magical vaginal delivery, please.

Sadly, all conversation this weekend was not about Life.

I am not counting weekends between now and the middle of January yet. I don’t need to. It won’t be long before MQD has a shared Google spreadsheet “Things to Do Before Baby” with budgeted amounts of time and money in their  own columns.    But my Cook and Clean genes have been in overdrive.  And I can feel the Becky Home-Eccy in me taking over.

My keen sense of smell had me in a frenzy again on Sunday.  I woke up early, as I always do when I don’t need to actually go anywhere.  I read in bed until  7:45 when my “Take Vitamin” alarm went off on my phone.  I realized I should probably go upstairs and make sure Em was still alive.    As I ran up the stairs I had the “I smell CAT PEE” shakes.  I hoped it was the litter box with a fresh deposit.  But as I hit the top of the stairs I knew I was wrong.  As soon as I stopped at the landing and looked towards the guest room I knew.

Before the “I smell CAT PEE” frenzy took hold I did open Em’s door.  To find her naked and cleaning her room. “What are you doing?”

“Well, I woke up really early and I figured if I cleaned my whole room right away it would make you really happy.  And then we can just do fun stuff the rest of the day.”  Girl after my 0wn heart.  Her room was damn near immaculate.  But  even a total lack of legos on the floor, even all dress up clothes in the toy box, all markers in their box WITH lids was not enough to stop the CAT PEE frenzy.

A month ago it was on our bed.  Cat pee.  But maybe one of the cats got locked in the bedroom?   Last week it was cat pee on the couch.  But it was on a quilt, and easily washed, and perhaps since I had stopped nagging MQD about the  litter box it hadn’t been dumped this week?  And now it was in the guest room.

I turned to go back down the steps and stopped two steps down to open the window at the top of the stairs.   I sniffed and dropped to my knees.  And smelled CAT PEE.  On the landing. When you are pregnant and already striking the pose of a keening old woman it is tempting to throw your arms in the air and begin to wail.  I mean, in case anyone was filming a Lifetime movie about this poor woman and the CAT PEE I really ought to give them their money shot, right?   But I’d have had to bury my head in my arms.  On the cat pee carpet.  And I just couldn’t be bothered  Lifetime movie or no.

At first I was furious.  And then I thought we’d just have to bring another litter box upstairs, if Stan can’t make it down the steps.  And then I was broken-hearted.  If you’re not following along at home, it was a mish mash of  Kübler-Ross’ Stages of Grief.  The last being acceptance.  My sixteen year old cat that bites.  That has never been particularly friendly.  But that has lived with me in every home I have had since I was 20 years old.

She is unpleasant, as she has always been.  But she has never peed in the house.  I think it might be Time.

So, hours later, after the purchase of rubber gloves and oxy-clean and Spot Shot and Arm & Hammer carpet sprinkle…. I laid down on the carpet next to that damn cat.  And then I cried like an old woman at an Irish wake.

Stanley and I reminisced.  About the late nights on Mount Vernon Avenue in Williamsburg.  And the time she scared my roommate, Greg B, so badly that he actually called out in the middle of the night for someone to rescue him from her.  I reminded her about that creepy puppet I kept in a cabinet that she hated.  She’d stare at the cabinet for hours. Switching her tail back and forth.     We laughed about how she hid for almost two weeks in our master bedroom closet when we moved to the beach and how she hid again when we brought Em home from the hospital. I apologized for letting Fish chase her when he was a pup.  But it was so damn funny to watch her big, fat ass hiss at his tiny floppy puppy face.  And I apologized for the laser pointer shenanigans. Because that’s just really not a very nice game.

As we reminisced I realized that there isn’t much in the way of memories in the last few years.  She comes out from under the bed every now and again to holler at the youngins.  Hiss at Fisher.  She jumps in bed with Em on occasion.  But that is likely all the human touch she gets.  Since we don’t tend to hang out much under the guest room bed.

I assumed she came out to eat when we weren’t home.  Or rather I’d been hoping she was eating.  But lying on the floor surrounded by the Lysol cat pee smell I knew what I was looking at was the end.  And she bit me on the face.  And it made me laugh.  God damn that cat.  I never really liked her, even as a kitten, and now she was making me cry.

So, the latter half of the weekend we talked to Em about death.  She wants to have a party for Stan.  With cat treats.  And give her extra snuggles.  The strange conversation we had about how when someone is really, really old they  can die “any minute, right before your eyes”  is perhaps worth writing down.  But I can’t now.  I need to go ahead and call the vet while I am already crying about that god damn cat.

Stan, you’ve been my “god damn cat” for almost sixteen years.  You have seen a lot. Heart break, marriages, divorce, birth.  You have not consoled me on one single occasion.  But I knew you were around.  And I guess I got used to the idea.  That you’d always be around.  I kinda thought you’d just live forever.  It’s not the first time being wrong about something has made me cry.

Sitting in my lap on the floor in the guest room, Em put her arms around my neck and kissed me. “Mommy, we can get another kitty cat, another little girl cat.”

And with big fat heavy tears of sadness rolling down my face I hugged her back and said “Oh, no, honey.  Mommy hates cats.”

I’m gonna miss you Stanley Manley.

So long… see ya around…

Ever wonder if it is “normal” or even a good thing that no one ever just drifts away anymore, given the ease with which we all maintain digital connections? I’ve had his phone number on a small piece of paper in my wallet for more than a week now and I can not just pick up the phone and say “I am really sorry to hear about your father.”

Because I’ll hear his voice and feel a familiar pang all the while knowing that in reality I am on the phone with a stranger… He is such a huge part of my heart in a strange way, taught me to love freely without reservation or fear and that became so much of who I am that I almost can’t see him as a real person… He’s a memory to me, that’s perfect and sweet and sad and wonderful. And when I hear from him, I want to reach out, to reach back and it is so hard…. because we don’t really know each other anymore. I don’t really remember anymore… being fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… I only know that he was there.   And my family was changing, my parents redefining themselves, and I held on to you because I wanted something to be my forever.  I had no idea then that nothing lasts forever.  Not your family, not you, not me, nothing.  Even those that endure, it’s not forever.  They start anew, redefine themselves, grow, evolve and change along with you, if you are lucky.

Sometimes you hear from someone and you think, “Oh, I’d love for you to meet my kids/dog/husband/present life” and have a beer and share a laugh. And sometimes you hear from someone and you think I’d love to pull up beside you in a parking lot, get out of my car, put my arms around your neck, make you sure you still smell exactly the same, confirm that your hands feel exactly the same as they always have when you wipe my tears off my cheek, whisper quietly “hello, I am here if you need me, thank you” and get back in the car and drive away and let it all remain in the past. Where it belongs. Because it was perfect there.

So, b, if you read this… I am sorry about your father.  He was a really stand-up guy.  Made me laugh and not feel awkward, which wasn’t easy to do as the fourteen year old girlfriend. And if I see my teenage self around I’ll have her call you.  Because she’d know what to say.  To you.