Trying something new.
Today isn’t much different from any other day, except I am determined to get my hair done, regardless of what my fiancé, Jack, says about me spending my money. I’ve been planning to try a salon I noticed near the cozy little apartment where we are presently living, and what the heck, I drive in.
I am pleasantly surprised by the warm and inviting atmosphere and it is what I am used to, a dark motif with soft grey tile floors, just the right lighting and grey sheers draping over the top of the product line. Oh great! An opening, what luck, something is my life is working right so I am on the right track, following my path, listening to my inner wisdom, thus my affirmations for balance within the universe are working well, today anyway. I believe in energy fields and that we can harmonize our own field with that of the TAO, or cosmic flow.
All is truly well in my world. I slip into a leather chair and shortly after that a woman my age, thank goodness, comes to greet me. She is smiling, more relief.”
“Hi, I’m Linda,” she says and I introduce myself as Beth Anne,..
“How can I help you today?” she says kindly. “Color please.”
“Certainly, come sit in my chair. We walk round the corner to another quiet spot with soft
lights, pleasant music. Jack texts me as usual, “Where are you now?” He has to keep track of my every movement.
I text back, “the salon.”
“Where? Why?” he texts back.
“Near the house, ‘cause I deserve it,” I return to Linda and try to relax. I am always taken aback by his neediness. Sometimes it’s embarrassing, the numbers of calls and texts. I put my phone away. What do I want to tell Linda today, my basic life story, my one and a half divorces? No, not those, or just keep quiet? Wearing my black cape, I’m debating with myself in the mirror. I am grateful for the dim lighting. You’re holding up pretty good, girl, I think to myself. Plus, I’ve been repeating lots of “I love you” to my reflection, and “you are beautiful,” eye-to-eye in the mirror. The thoughts are not sinking in half as much as I would like it to. But this is how you heal the inner child I’m told and I am working on my self-esteem and somehow I do not totally believe myself yet. Of course, I would like to be thirty pounds lighter and look ten years younger, but I know I’m not going to win that one.
Do I talk about Jack and our plans, or that I took early retirement from Florida Power & Light? I’m new to this city, that’s what I will tell her. But in reality I am secretly wanting to do something else, be someone else, be somewhere else, it is a feeling or thought brewing somewhere in my subconscious. No, I love Jack— we are moving into a lovely condo in the area soon. Jack and I have been working so hard to make us work and he is in the process of purchasing a condo just for us. It has been so much fun watching Jack take the initiative to find a place and at the same time, it seems surreal.
She spots my ring finger. “What a beautiful ring. When’s the wedding?”
“Oh, thank you, we haven’t set a date yet.” Living in with Jack has been wonderful, tumultuous, and fun, and terribly heartbreaking at times.
I am so excited about using my affirmations and recently learned lessons from the Foundations class at church. I took a visioning workshop and used it to create a collage of our new place and hung it on the wall with pictures of our first vacation to . Jack would ask what the heck is that hanging on the wall? Well, I tried to explain. It will help us find the right place at the right price at the right time and if we find one and it belongs to us no one else will buy it. “OK,” he would say with a strange look of disbelief in his eyes and a smirk on his face.
He talked me into moving in with him and renting out my condo in after that vacation, which I had told myself I would never do again. Ha! So much for that thought. I remember distinctly Jack said, “Move in with me and you won’t have to work.” Sounded like an offer I could not refuse.
But what is this underlying angst in my spirit? I kind of want to talk about our plans to Linda, so I do. Linda is familiar with the area we want to move to and she actually lived there before. She says how nice, she liked it and it was beautiful and centrally located. Cool, I think.
My hair is coated with color and my phone rings. Oh bother. If it is Jack he will be so pissed off if I don’t answer. But it’s my dad, unusual. I rarely hear from him.
“Hi, Dad.” He doesn’t even give me time to say, how are you doing? He angrily blurts out, “I have stage four terminal lung cancer and I need help.” I hold my breath in denial, shock, and dismay. The tone of his voice is so wired. So are my emotions now. My dad is a relatively strong healthy man for his eighty-six years and has already beaten four previous cancers. He is tough as nails.
“I am in now with my friend David,” he says, and we are trying out alternative treatments for my cancer. I don’t have time to go into it now; I’m about to board the plane for home. I am going to beat this thing, and your mom and I need live-in help. Just until August, that’s all. Do you know of anybody that could help us?” He continues desperately. “Just three months. I have had a terrible time here, I haven't been able to sleep and have lost nine pounds. I am on a strict protocol twenty-four hours a day and it takes up every minute of my day. I have to go now.” Click.
Wow. I have never heard my dad sound that distressed. I am processing all my feelings while my hair color is processing. My parents are strong, old fashioned and don’t necessarily tell their children all their problems. Still, I am shocked to my core.
Linda comes back. “Are you OK?”
I breathe a deep and awkward sigh, then say, “No, not at all. ” and proceed to tell her what just happened.
Amazingly, I am in the right place at the right time as she begins to tell me of her role as caregiver to her ill mother, all the ins and outs she has lived through, her experiences, strength, and hope. She shares her current life story with me so compassionately; she’s open and sincere. It’s like a balm of healing ointment and a cup of warm water to my soul. I take it all in.
She continues to shampoo and talk and blow-dry and talk and style and talk. It’s all soothing me down to my last nerve ending. Intuitively, as she is talking I am contemplating if this person Dad needs should be me—the helper, the caretaker.
After all, it’s only until August, three months from now. I can do anything for three months. Can’t think now, I have to talk to Jack about this. But maybe the caretaker is me, since I just got laid off from my library assistant’s job. I look in the mirror amazed at the transformation outside and inside. Beautiful job, I say. And I can’t thank her enough, mostly for the support. We hug and say our goodbyes.
I am deep in thought. I will come back here for sure. I am unsure of my plans anyway and I am in a seeking mode, wondering if it is time for me to go back to school to get that degree in counseling I had wanted since graduating from high school thirty-plus years ago.
The numbing shock is still vibrating through me— my dad’s tone, the sense of urgency, the desperation in his voice. The yelling— he was yelling! He was extremely agitated. He was scared; I was scared for him.
When I get home to talk to Jack, I tell him the story and amazingly, he is extremely supportive. “It’s your father, he says, pulling me down on the couch with him. “Go if you want to go, certainly do so. I will support you. I will be good. I’ll be here working as usual. I will wait for you. Be true to yourself, you know that. This is your family—it’s important.”
“Really?” I say, feeling surprise. Nevertheless, I reassure him, “I will come home on weekends and come home for the closing and move next month for a week to help with the packing and the unpacking.”
All he says is, “What about the gas?” He does not say, “I can’t be without you.” Who is this new person? This is not the Jack I know. “Just make sure you are here for the closing and the move,” he adds.
“It seems too easy, too fast. Jack, I still want to sleep on it. Something I learned from my father. That gives me time to pray, weigh the facts and make up my mind.”
“OK,” he says. “Hey Babe, I have a tennis match this afternoon— do you want to come and watch?”
“Sure,” I say, standing up. “The outdoors will do me good. I’ll bring my homework from the spiritual class.” I enjoy going to the park to watch Jack play tennis with his buddies. I usually walk to the nearby garden area. I love the gardens, the solitude. I enjoy watching the birds and hearing them sing, feeling the breeze, fresh air, and the sunshine, though not too much sun. This relaxes me. I have a favorite shady tree I sit under.
Soon we are on our way. I love riding in his Mini Cooper. At the park, I take my walk. I wish I could call my sister Melissa, but she isn’t talking to me anymore. After all the breakups with Jack, she could not take that I was still sticking with him. She was my confidante, she understood me, and the family dynamics and I wanted her to know about Dad, but no use in trying, she won’t answer the phone. I get to my bench and open my homework. It’s the chapter on fear versus faith. I take it all in, still confused, I am not going to kid myself. I love Jack and I love my family no matter how difficult they all are in their separate ways. I have my stuff also, my insecurities, jealousy, and the ability to bolt at the drop of a hat if my feelings get hurt and I am unable to express myself. I journal, a new and old tool I all too often forget to use, but this is part of the homework so I do it.
I close my eyes and seek, ask, and pray for guidance.
Jack comes running to get me. He won all four matches. “I still got it, Beth Anne,” he exclaims, I ruled the court. I am still the man.
“And you certainly are that,” I say, hugging him as I admire his festive mood.
“Whoopee!” he sings, I’m going to be a free man. OK, I take that in also. Man, he’s really happier than I thought he was going to be.
I don’t sleep much that night. Big decisions tend to give me insomnia. I awoke sure this needed care person should be me. There was no one else I knew of; my two sisters aren’t willing. I am. I get my coffee, meditate some more and call my mom and tell her I am willing to come help for several months until August.
“Really?” she says. “We didn’t expect that you would want to come. Let me speak with your dad and I’ll call you back.” She calls back almost immediately and boy does she sound disturbed. “Yes, come as soon as possible— your father is not well.” She doesn’t have to tell me, I can tell by the sound of frustration in her voice. He is being demanding, to say the least.
“OK, Mom, I will come tomorrow but remember I am coming home on weekends.” She doesn’t sound pleased but reluctantly agrees.
After we hang up, I take a deep breath, and a sense of relief and new purpose comes over me. They want me. Now, that I am sure of my decision to definitely go to Tampa, I text Jack.
“OK,” he says, “We’ll celebrate tonight. I’m taking you out to dinner.”
I take my time packing just what I’ll need, some shorts and shirts, nothing fancy or too flashy, very conservative. There is no romance this night, just TV, dinner the usual spot, nothing special and a quiet togetherness. I thought maybe he’d propose to do something special together on the last night. And despite the fact that he is especially warm and caring, I sense he is also distant. It’s almost as if we know we are in the eye of the storm. But it’s an unspoken storm and from its center we cannot feel the winds or the waves. We say our goodbyes quickly and I feel supported but also open-ended, as Jack doesn’t seem to entertain the idea of me coming home on weekends.
Sleep eludes both of us. I can tell he isn’t sleeping and has to get up shortly for work. Nevertheless, I wish he had initiated more intimacy. Wouldn’t that be normal before a separation, however brief? He kisses me, says his final goodbye as he heads out for work. All seems acceptable/normal, emphasis on seems. I wake early, have my coffee, and take time for meditation. As I am dressing and finishing the last-minute packing, I begin to feel the need to just go, go before I change my mind. A free-floating anxiety follows me out to the car.
I load my Acura and I am on the road feeling enlightened, privileged, and somewhat bewildered, all at the same time. But if I can help in any way, I will, that is my desire. Fort Lauderdale to Tampa is the familiar drive I’ve taken often in the past. I am feeling very much the heroine, enjoying my solitude as well as my inspirational and motivational CDs. There’s just something special about the drive and driving it alone in nostalgia and contemplation may be just what I need. Seems my love for Jack is growing stronger. I feel sure he will be waiting for me, supporting me all the way. And he texts, “I love and miss you terribly already.”
I text back, “Likewise.”
I was born in Florida and love Florida. The drive across Alligator Alley is spectacular and peaceful to my soul. The rest of the drive up I-75 is delightful too; plus I’m making good time. Every time I drive over the Skyway Bridge I am enthralled by the view of water everywhere and how the boats appear so small, especially from the top of the bridge. Almost home, I reminisce of how fond I am of St. Petersburg, passing through my memories of all the good times.
Arriving at my childhood home late in the afternoon, I am greeted by anxious, harried and truly scared parents. “Beth Anne, thank you for coming.”
“You are welcome, Dad.”
“How was the drive?”
“Good,” I respond.
“No time to waste,” he says.
Dad is the kind of man who gets a lot of things done all at the same time. He used to run the water plant and was in charge there from day one. Just because he is retired on paper doesn’t mean he doesn’t have multiple projects and plenty of them for my mom to help with, and now her helping has become part of his health protocol.
But Mom doesn’t want to do so much anymore and is very verbal about it, along with offering multiple facial expressions that more than match her words. In fact, they both do this, quite frequently communicating wordlessly with at each other. And at her age, eighty-four, I can’t blame her one bit for feeling stressed. I know this and fear it but my inner wannabe/saint adult/child rationalizes and believes denial is a beautiful thing. The Mother Teresa persona isn’t going to last very long at all.
I am shocked to see how frail and weak my father is and how angry and agitated. He needs those nine pounds back. And from what he tells me about the trip to Puerto Rico where he and his friend/cancer coach David had been trying alternative cancer treatments. It does not look as if the treatments helped, especially if he cannot sleep.
My mother is frazzled and beside herself, but is, was, and will always be, dedicated to my Dad’s wellbeing. Still, I know she doesn’t have the stamina to take this on.
I get my things into the house and sit down with my parents to review my dad’s protocol. He has to get up at midnight to take enzymes and he is taking enemas and juicing, which takes up most of his time. He eats pureed green salads, raw goat’s milk which my mom makes into cottage cheese for another cancer cure called the Budwig diet. And he takes protein drinks.
At this point I have no clue how rigorously they stick to a routine. They need breaks but take them only to rest their bodies as their age requires. The first night for dinner I help Mom prepare crab cakes and salads for us, and Dad’s Budwig diet of raw goat cottage cheese with strawberries, flaxseed oil, and crushed walnuts has to be measured exactly. I later discover Dr. Johanna Budwig, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Russian biochemist, was healing cancer in the 1930s with her research on oil and its effect on cells.
As a child I was only allowed to set the table. Mom liked doing things herself and it was her kitchen, her sanctuary for solitude. Needless to say, I occasionally felt left out then, and those old feelings return. I am not a perfectionist and Mom is. So we clashed then and still do at times. We just have different personalities and lifestyles, plus we come from different generations. I want to make life simple and easy, but Mom wants it right, and God forbid if something gets out of place . . .
You can cut the stress with a knife between my father’s strict demands for accuracy and my mother’s perfectionist ways. Everything appears to be ten times harder and there is absolutely no lightness in the air. This atmosphere is going to be so tedious for me. On top of that, I have been gone thirty-two years. We had only spent some brief time together on vacations over the years on Miami Beach, their favorite vacation spot. And of course, there were occasional trips home for me, so now for all of us this is a major, if temporary, adjustment.
I feel my mom’s resentment over having to do the extra work, her back hurts, but complaining is not her style. And I feel my dad’s anger and terror over having to fight this disease in this manner. He is a very tenacious, aggressive, and determined man.
After helping Mom with the dishes, I retire to my bedroom. It is the same room I grew up in, with the same furniture I picked out as a teenager. It needs some airing out and some TLC. I attend to putting my things away.
Before bed I talk to Jack and give him the blow-by-blow. “You are such a good person. I am so proud of you.” My little girl heart soars!!
“Aww.! “ I feel like the heroine again.”
“Good night, my love.”