After the semester ended, I found I was missing the saga of Fanta’s family. It was like my own personal soap opera. But I think I just missed having somewhere to go.
Winter in the Midwest isn’t as much fun as you’d think. People dream of a White Christmas; we shudder at the thought. The beauty of a snow-covered landscape is indeed a wondrous sight. Add to it the gently falling snow in the moonlight, the silent effect it creates is absolutely sublime. But that’s the stuff of movies. The gently falling snow is usually during rush hour, covering driveways and sidewalks that necessitate a 4 a.m. wake-up call to go out and shovel. So, for the Midwesterners, any day that does not involve shoveling is a good one. Then there is the bitter cold. Some years we have a lot of it, some years not so much. One recent winter day, we had a 40 degree temperature rise—without ever hitting the freezing mark.
But out the door we go, to work, to church, to school, to wherever. Duty calls.
I never took much stock with the phenomenon known as SAD, seasonal affective disorder. People claim they need natural light or they go into a depression. Maybe it’s because during daylight hours I’m usually in a windowless room that I don’t really notice it too much. But, judging from the behavior of others, everyone has more energy on a sunny day. Everyone seems happier.
But the melting snow reveals the mud. The brown grass. The dog poop. And everyone gets depressed again. Not to mention the slush and the black ice—do you wear boots? Can you get by with sneakers? How waterproof are the sneakers? Do you wear sneakers and cover your stocking feet with plastic bags?
And a funny thing I’ve noticed—everyone expects spring to hit the week after New Years. People tend to forget that winter began just before Christmas. Winter is great for Christmas, but then needs to give way to spring. It always reminds me of the title song to Camelot:
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
And don’t get me started on the ground hog, which makes his appearance February the second on the dot. Either way you look at it (or how Punxsutawney Phil looks at it), spring is still six weeks away.
But this particular winter break was about par for the course. Not too much snow. The days were gray, but not storm-impending gray, just this side of “not sunny.” The temps were in the 20s and 30s, which are easily bearable. In fact, the year prior when Sophia and I went on our cruise and stopped in Stockholm, we visited a vodka bar. I’m not much of a drinker, but it was interesting. The vodka is served in “cups” made out of a block of ice. We were assigned parkas with thermal-insulated, vinyl-covered mittens to wear before we entered the official bar area. We were ordered (not merely encouraged) to zip up the parkas and put the hoods on because it was so brutally cold inside. It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit! Several of us who were from the Midwest looked at each other, flipped the hood back down and unzipped the jacket. Piece of cake.
Most educators will admit that any vacations they get they usually spend decompressing. Trying to get final projects and research papers graded and returned, getting grades calculated, and then trying to prepare for the family and the holidays do take a toll. The opportunity to vegetate cannot be overrated.
Having no family near me was both a blessing and a curse. I had nowhere to really go, but I didn’t really want to go anywhere. Everyone was always inviting me to Thanksgiving, but they were busy with their own families on Christmas. And this was my choice to be single—I had no one to blame but myself. But I really don’t blame myself. As I’ve said, my life is what it is. I really don’t believe I have any control over it and once I learned that I do have control over it, I realized I am woefully unequipped to exercise control.
The workplace friendships I’ve established, and this could be said for many people, don’t really extend beyond the workplace. We’re best of buds, we’re inseparable while we’re on the clock. But we’re not the type of friends where you would go over to their house for coffee or call up and go to a movie. It’s not that we didn’t socialize outside of school, but it was usually going out for a meal almost immediately after our classes ended, while we were still in “school mode” and not “home mode.”
And I’m OK with that. And if you make people truly think about this, they realize they don’t socialize much outside of work. When people retire or quit for a new job, everyone shares contact information, swears allegiance to the end, but by Monday they’re out of sight, out of mind. It’s not intentional, it really just happens.
During this vacation from school, Anita and her family were in South America visiting her family and Greta had dragged her family to Florida. This was the last year all her kids would be home and, by God, they were going to have a friggin’ family vacation even though none of the children nor her husband wanted any part of it.
I got to the point I was predicting the type of day I would have by the first phone call of the day. I usually only received one phone call a day. But if by some miracle I received more than one, the first one set the tone for the day.
But this particular winter break fell into a definite pattern. I’ve never received so many phone calls in my life as I did during these three and a half weeks between semesters, and even for a few months following the break. The call would come about 10 a.m., out of respect for me I guess, who was sleeping in. I was usually up by 9 a.m. so I could make some use of the day, even if it was just reading the paper, falling asleep halfway through, taking a 90-minute nap before finishing it. Hey—why else do people read to fall asleep? I’m only obeying the law of nature, falling asleep while reading.
But the trend I noticed was that whoever called was the only call I received that day. They might have called two or three times during the day, but none of the others would call. The next day it might be a different person, or it may be the same person. But if Frank called first, I wouldn’t hear from Greta, Anita, or Fanta. If it was Anita, I wouldn’t hear from Frank, Greta, or Fanta. And so on.
And why am I hearing from Frank?
Frank was my co-worker at Central Heights University. He taught math. He was the mystery man in our little adjunct office. It wasn’t until he asked me to help his wife with her resume and cover letter that I even knew he was married. He left CHU about a year before I started double-dipping at GNU. While we were on friendly terms (read: not adversarial) while we spent moments in the office, he had never called me at home. I didn’t even know he had my phone number. He claims I gave it to him when I proofread his wife’s resume, in case she had questions. I never thought anything more about that gesture. Note to self: Don’t be so free to offer help!
But again, why was Frank calling me? Especially a few days after Christmas.
After we exchanged greetings and my initial shock wore off … well, that’s a lie. The initial shock segued into a larger shock.
Frank’s wife had been working at the job I “helped” her get with my editing skills. He thanked me for my “genius” and command of the English language. She was rapidly advancing in her position.
“That’s wonderful,” I said, maybe a bit too enthusiastically.
“Well, I thought so as well until she went to China.”
China! She is in China! Squeeee!
“That is so exciting!” I said, really enthusiastically. I’d love to go to China! My travel bug was still biting and needed to be scratched more.
I have no idea what he expected me to say. He was offended I was excited by his wife’s trip to China. “How can you condone that?” he asked repeatedly. “They persecute Christians.”
“No,” he said in very measured, pointed terms, “that’s not OK.”
“But, Frank, it’s China. As in not in Indiana China. If nothing else, she has bragging rights.”
Wrong thing to say. Bragging is not what a good Christian woman does.
OK, point taken. But still—it’s China!! I had often considered trying to tag along on trips to China myself. Several area music groups often opened spots to allow people to travel with them on tours to foreign locales. I was in band in high school and technically, this was a band trip. Maybe I’m not the most talented person in the world (a massive understatement if I do say so myself), but I can hold my own. Kind of. I do have my moments. Well, had my moments. Past tense. But it’s China! I could be a page turner, couldn’t I? Schlep instruments to the auditorium? Something—just to be able to be part of a group traveling to China. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Frank then began talking about his children. His daughter was now 12, his sons now high school age. They weren’t adjusting well to their mother’s absence. His daughter needed help.
Please, God—tell me this doesn’t mean what I think it means. A 12-year-old girl needing help usually means one thing—puberty hath struck. And from what little I know about men, I do know they’re really not the ones a girl would want to talk to about this. And from what little I know about Frank, and he may be a wonderful and caring father, but … maybe I should get the guest room ready and just bring her home with me. Never mind the fact we’ve never met and we’re total strangers, but I can only imagine what’s going on in her head.
That’s a lie—this is one situation where I would have no clue where to begin on anything going on in that child’s head.
“Your daughter’s not feeling well?” I gently tried to broach this subject while reaching with my foot, trying to grasp a kitchen chair and drag it to where I was standing with the phone. Yes, I still use landlines and ones that are attached to a cord. What can I say? I ’m a Luddite. (You’ll have to go look this one up yourself—it’s worth the trip to the dictionary.)
“Well, I had to take her to the emergency room last night …”
My mind began to race before he finished the statement. Shit—it is what I think it is!!!
“The ER?” I asked, trying to not let my panic come through my voice.
“Yes,” he replied, slightly exasperated that he had to repeat what he just said. “The doctors said it was most likely anxiety—“
What? Anxiety?? I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure anxiety doesn’t cause periods—wait—it’s probably the panic once it set in. Shitshitshit.
“Anxiety?” My voice began to rise in panic.
“Yes, anxiety from missing her mother.”
I have obviously missed something in translation. I tried to piece together what I thought Frank said and repeated it back to him. “You took her to the ER because she missed her mother?”
Frank became more exasperated. “No, I took her to the ER because she was hyperventilating—she was having a panic attack because she missed her mother. My sons are also missing her terribly.”
“OK, so they’re physically fine, no one’s bleeding or anything (damn, bad choice of words) but just this is new for them?”
“Right. My wife has never traveled without the children. This is their first time really being separated from her.”
My hyperventilating was easing. So no one’s bleeding, they just miss their mother. And probably panicked because Mr. Mom here—wait a sec.
And under the heading that my brain and mouth are not connected, I hear this voice coming out of my mouth:
“So no one’s bleeding, right?”
Thank God. Thank God he didn’t pick up on that reference. And thank God I never had kids so I never have to have this discussion with another human being.
“Could it be you’re just resentful of being left with the kids?”
WTF did I just say?!
There was a moment of silence on the other end. I could see his mustache and right eye twitching from here. No matter how minor a discomfort, his facial muscles began to twitch before he answered.
“No, I’m not resentful. The kids are old enough to know to do their chores while I work in my office.”
He resents it—he’s locking himself away.
“It’s just that a mother’s duty to her children doesn’t involve her traveling overseas for two weeks.”
“Well,” I began, “the world is changing. Women are expected to work these days and travel is part of the deal. Your daughter is learning a life lesson to better prepare her and your sons are learning to be more understanding about their wives’ careers in the future.”
Frank sighed. He got off his chest what he needed to say, he claimed he was feeling better about the situation, but he wasn’t convincing. Was he that chauvinistic that he truly expected his wife home to cook three meals a day and take care of their children so he didn’t have to? He claims not, but you can’t always teach an old dog a new trick. We ended the conversation and I didn’t really think anything more about it.
Until his next call a few days later.
Frank gave me an update. The children were adjusting better and, I’m sure, shipping them off to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a few days didn’t hurt any of them. He was still … “obsessed” … about his wife’s business trip to China.
“Do you know what else? She didn’t even take her Bible with!”
Wow—this came out of left field. If she’s in a hotel, what’s the problem? I’m sure the Gideons would have been there by now. I don’t travel much, but it seems like every hotel I’ve stayed at there was a Bible there, courtesy of the Gideons. But then again, China is Communist, so maybe the Gideons hadn’t been there. Again, Frank, what’s the problem?
He then related the story of their discussion about the opportunity for taking this trip, and the implications of this event of leaving her Bible home (Was it an oversight? No, this was deliberate, he insisted) and what the Communists did and did not do or believe. They were persecuting Christians—a sign of the end times.
OK, I had to give him that. I had been seeing accounts in the news of what Chinese and North Koreans were doing to Christians. One particularly nasty story involved the Communists having Christians prostrate while a steam roller was driven over their heads.
“Before they left, each person was given a list of things to pack and not pack,” Frank explained, laying out his evidence like a prosecuting attorney. “They were told not to bring a Bible but if they must, the government must register it and there were forms to fill out. And when they leave China, they again must be questioned and the Bible they brought it must be in their possession.”
“To make sure Christians aren’t leaving them behind for the Chinese to read—it’s illegal. The Chinese don’t want their people becoming Christians.”
Something isn’t adding up. If they both agreed she would take her Bible—why am I even having this discussion?—that could be open defiance of the wife to the husband. Or not.Maybe she was being overly conscious of the Chinese culture? Maybe she was trying to avoid delaying the group by having to register the Bible and fill out a lot of forms and opted to not even have it in her possession. It would save time and effort. Judging from Frank’s behavior, I have a feeling he is considering this “open defiance.” Oink.
Is this really what married couples talk about? I’ve never been married. I’ve never really been around men, so I don’t know how or what they think, or even if they’re capable of thought. I don’t know what married women think or how or if they even do. The married women I know are either too independent or too stupid to form their own coherent thoughts. Again, granted, I am ignorant on the subject of marriage, but everything you see on TV or in movies is of couples arguing about bills and in-laws, not about reading the Bible. I mean, what do most movies about married couples deal with? Infidelity?
Oh, no, not that …
Frank was also convinced that his wife’s boss, Benji, was only doing this trip to pad his resume. Taking a business trip to China is padding his resume?
Benji apparently saw a business opportunity in China. His company could expand its base overseas and Benji and a few others were there making connections to possibly further the company’s reach into other countries. I had no idea what Benji’s company made, but there were parts needed and somehow China could provide them.
It’s unethical, Frank insisted. How so? “Benji is not that smart to see such an opportunity.”
OK, I can accept that. He may not be, but he has my vote. I know less about business than I do about marriage so if he sees an opportunity, who am I to question. So? What’s the point, Frank?
Frank went into weasel mode. “I need someone (read: me) to search the internet for stories and … to prove that he’s lying.”
Oh, good God. You’re asking me, the self-proclaimed Luddite, to do internet research on a topic I know nothing about to prove someone I don’t know is lying about “something.”
And damn me if I didn’t do it. I really need to get a life.