I received a phone call from Anita. It was great to hear her voice. It seemed like it had been ages since we last talked. And it had been. It had been 13 months.
How on earth did that happen? For someone I considered my best friend, how could I have been out of touch with her for so long? Well, she was working on her MBA, so that was taking some time, but still—13 months?
Always very matter of fact, she told me of her recent surgeries.
Yes, for breast cancer.
I knew she had had a lumpectomy shortly before she graduated and began her MBA. But recent tests showed some abnormalities and more lumps. This was more preventative that anything.
“So what did they do?” I asked.
There was that awkward moment of silence where I realized I was an idiot and had not been fully following the line of conversation. Probably because I was trying to calculate the last time I had spoken with her.
“They removed both breasts,” she said, just slowly enough for me to feel even dumber than I already did.
Yikes. What a lousy friend I am.
“Oh, don’t worry. Don was here and helped. And Fritz moved back in—“
“Wait—what? What do you mean he moved back in? Where did he go?”
That’s when Anita realized we hadn’t spoken in more than a year. “Ah, he rented an apartment a few miles away, near the university. We separated.”
I think she heard my jaw hit the ground. Anita and Fritz separated? They had been married for nearly 20 years!
Anita explained her whirlwind year and figured that’s why she hadn’t called me, either. Things were busy. Fritz had lost his job and went into a depression. Their son was ready to graduate next year and Anita was worried about tuition payments while Fritz decided to begin his own business and open a restaurant. She was furious at him because it was just so impractical. Restaurants rarely succeed and if they do, it wouldn’t be in time for their son to go to college. It was foolishness on his part and she told him that, over and over again. He got sick of her constant complaining and moved out.
“What do you tink?” Anita asked me. “Was I wrong to feel zhat way?”
“I don’t think so. I didn’t know he even liked to cook.”
“Oh, he doesn’t. I do all of the cooking.”
I blinked. This wasn’t making any sense.
“So … how—“ I began.
“Oh, he expecz me to do the cooking az well az keeping the books. But, Smith, what am I going to do? I am carrying a full class load—18 credit hours—plus I take my treatments in Chicago. I don’t have time to cook for a restaurant.”
I smiled in spite of myself. Ever since that first semester with Anita, we had this conversation every semester. Too many credit hours, the classes were much more difficult that the previous semester, she had no idea how she would make it through today let alone the entire semester. And her GPA was scraping the stratosphere. She was a hard worker. A very hard worker. A real dynamo. Fritz, on the other hand, was very laid back. They complimented each other completely. And after hearing Anita explain the situation, I almost had to side with Fritz—it was a lot of nagging on her part.
But isn’t that what the wife is supposed to do?
Or is that a cultural thing? Or American? Man, why do they keep asking me these questions.
Anita really didn’t need my advice this time. The situation had evolved and resolved itself. They were even seeing other people.
Note to self—call people at least once a month.
Anita was high strung, but I attributed that to the culture. OK, granted my entire experience of dealing with Argentines was listening to the soundtrack of Evita (Broadway, not London, version) ad nauseum during college, but there was a lot of history and some facts in those lyrics! Despite the fact she was Brazilian didn’t matter to me. Same difference—like Illinois and Indiana. Different places but same Midwestern values. So, I figure, the same with South America. But Anita was quick and thorough and energetic beyond belief. She never sat still. Hell, she never sat down.
Anita and Fritz reconciled in the spring, after about seven months apart. Fritz almost immediate was offered a job, but in Seattle. Since Anita was still gainfully employed here, they agreed she would stay, put the house up for sale and look for a job there, while Fritz moved west. They would visit each other when they could. She would fly to Seattle, or he would fly to Chicago.
While Anita was job hunting , she would periodically ask me if, in the event she sold the house before she got a job, she could move in with me.
“Absolutely. My casa es su casa, or whatever you call it.”
She looked at me, frowning. She spoke Spanish. And Portugese, And German. English was her fourth language. I don’t speak any of those. Well, the English part. I guess I should stick with what I know.
Finally, Fritz and Anita came to a breaking point. That house had to go. Nearly every cent Anita earned went to the mortgage. They just couldn’t afford it any more. They decided to try to rent it out. She called me on a Sunday afternoon to tell me their news.
“If we rent it out before I get a job, can I come live with you?”
“Absolutely! You’re always welcome.”
Four days later, they had a renter. “I’ll be there Sunday,” she told me.
Yikes—I had 3 days to prepare. The spare bedroom was large enough and had a huge dresser, which was full of my clothes. Those had to come out.
The hangers of slacks I left in the bathroom so I could wear them whenever would have to go into the closet where they belonged.
Now, I was raised by a long line of slobs. I never met them, but my mother told me stories about my grandmother and great-grandmother and their lack of housekeeping skills. Of all the things she inherited, this had to be it.
I knew Anita was a neat freak. After cooking a meal, she would put the food on the plates and then wash the pots and pans before eating the meal. Not only were those washed, they were dried and put away.
This really was a most perfect living situation. During the summer months, I worked straight 4 to 12s at a local newspaper as a copy editor, and while the days would vary, but the hours didn’t. She worked straight days, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We literally never saw each other until the weekend. Even though we were sharing a home, we really had the house to ourselves.
That first Friday after she moved in, she called me at home about 10 a.m. She was lonesome—she hadn’t seen me all week.
“We’ll see each other tomorrow, you know.”
“Yah, but I mizz talking to you.”
The most unusual thing that week was, I swear to God, the bathroom got cleaner every single time I went in there. I couldn’t figure this out—I thought my eyesight was really going to pot. I still don’t know how she did it. The same thing in the kitchen—that got cleaner with each usage. Even the turntable in the microwave—it had perpetual water stains on it which I could never remove.Within three days it was sparking clean.
“How the hell did you do that?” I demanded.
“What? I just washed it.”
“No, I washed it. I scrubbed it. I put it in the dishwasher even. How did you get those stains off?”
The kitchen sink seemed to be a touchstone of sorts with us. The day she moved in, I was standing at the sink washing dishes and we were talking and she said, “You wazh dishes like a German.”
“You wazh dishes like the Germans. They fill the sink up with soapy water and put them all in there.” I had seen her wash dishes, and she always washed each item under running water with a soapy scrub brush.
I returned to the sink, then stopped. What the hell? “I am German,” I announced.
Who knew this was a cultural thing? It’s the way my mother did it, and her mother, and her mother before her. The one who came from Germany.
Another great thing about Anita living with me was that she loved to work in the yard. She wanted to trim the bushes. She found an old pair of shears in the tool bucket and, with my blessings, had at the one bush. I tried to get her to use the electric hedge trimmers, because I remembered why I stopped using those shears—they needed to be oiled as they tended to stick. Which is why I never trimmed the hedges. Even with the electric trimmers. I’m lazy.
One day the lawn mower died. We went to the hardware store so I could buy a new one. She insisted we buy some mums so she could plant them. We did that and when we returned home, I told her I was going to change clothes so I could mow the lawn. She said fine, she wanted to trim that one bush before I began.
Now, I don’t move the fastest, I admit, but I came inside and just changed my slacks for a pair of jeans. I walked outside into a cartoon landscape.
You know those cartoons where the character takes like five snips and fashions something into a work of art? She had completely trimmed TWO bushes in that span of time. I was dumbfounded by the entire situation. How does she do this? Where does she get this energy? How lucky am I that she’s paying me rent a room and then throws in cleaning and yard work services! I need to bottle this! I need to find more chores for her to do!
But almost as soon as it began, it was ending. During this particular week, my days off were Wednesday and Thursday. Anita came home from work that Thursday evening, very angry. She slammed the door of her SUV and I could see a dark cloud over her. It was almost like a cartoon where the dark cloud with thunderbolts and rain were pouring over the person. I couldn’t even fathom what had happened.
“I quit,” she more growled than said as she entered the back door.
My eyes widened. Dare I ask? “Quit what?”
“My jhob.” Between her accent and her mood, the word was chopped.
“Your job?” I repeated, scarcely believing my ears. She nodded. My eyes widened even more. To have that courage! “Really?”
She was speaking so quickly and in such a low voice I was having trouble understanding most of what she was saying, but her supervisor, who wasn’t really her supervisor, was planning to transfer her to another facility, about 30 miles away, to do data entry work. The distance would be annoying, but she had traveled that far from her former home to her job and was used to it. But the advantage of living with me was that I was about six miles from her job, versus 30. It didn’t take her too many commutes to realize she was spending too much time in the car. She liked this new set up.
But the problem wasn’t the distance. The big problem was doing data entry. To my uneducated ear, I didn’t understand. But for a Certified Public Accountant to basically become a clerk to enter information someone else developed, it was a slap in the face. She liked working, being active, solving problems. She didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day not thinking.
I would. Before I knew it, I heard a voice say, “Are they hiring?”
She brushed away my comment. “Eh, Smith, you vouldn’t like thiz jhob. Too boring.”
“I could use some boring.”
She smiled, which kind of hurt my feelings. I was serious. No students, no homework, no grading—what’s not to love?
We decided to go to dinner to celebrate, I guess, for lack of a better term. She had already spoken with Fritz and he agreed with her. He would fly out on a red eye Tuesday morning.
What? Fly out to where?
She would be moving out, moving to Seattle to join her husband. Since she was no longer working, there was no need for her to be here. That makes perfect sense. And it would be easier for her to live there, in Seattle, where she wanted to work. If an employer wanted to interview her, it would be easier to schedule when you could drive there rather than trying to catch a flight from Chicago.
I was so happy she would be joining her husband, but sad to see her go. We got along very well (ok, we never saw each other, but still we got along very well) but she had to take this opportunity and it was the only logical step she could take. And, admit it, Jane, you’re just upset because you’ll have no one to clean your house or do your yard work.
Well, yeah, that, too.