That Looks Easy….

Jeff’s penchant for home improvement shows came in handy, sort of.

If you watch enough of them, you’ll absorb some basic knowledge. Most of that will need to be supplemented by online videos, step-by-step instructions or just jumping into the deep end to see how it goes.

Basic knowledge was enough to get me through numerous post Hurricane Katrina rebuilding missions with a construction based Michigan team, and various issues at home alone, later.

If Jeff was still here, he’d be telling humorous stories about some of our least successful attempts at home repair and renovation. We’d always start out thinking, “That looks easy enough.” We’d always end up bickering, and then, laughing at our bickering.

In mid-September, we finished an attempt to ‘easily’ replace the gate at the top of the back deck stairs. We needed one that  our dog, Sadie, wouldn’t be able to plow through, wiggle through or accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) open. She’d managed to escape a few times, in all those ways.

The installation, actually, went pretty well. We had it done in a little under an hour, and tested our work. That’s when we realized we’d installed it to open the wrong way, by setting it in place upside-down.

“I thought that seemed a little harder than normal,” Jeff commented. Also, more difficult than ‘normal,’ the hardware wasn’t easily removed. Parts of screws broke off or were stripped, nuts fell between the cracks and tumbled down our long flight of stairs.

A lot of banging, two trips to the hardware store and four hours later, we were finished. To celebrate, Jeff suggested we fire up our newly repaired grill and cook-out.

The grill had been another frustrating fiasco. A 15-minute fix turned into two-hours of gentle Jeff cussing while installing a new lighter thingy.

I was inside cutting tomatoes and onions and gathering impromptu picnic supplies, when I heard Jeff shout.

“What the?”

“WHAT the?”

“Hey!”

“HEY!”

“Come here, YOU!”

As I ran to the slider, his voice volume was over-excitedly escalating.

“HEY!”

“Ouch!”

“Come HERE!”

“OUCH!”

Stupefied, I watched him pull and throw chucks of sizzling beef over the 5-foot drop at the back of our deck.

“Jeff!” Alarmingly concerned about his mental state, I slammed the screen door open. Suspecting he was having some sort of serious negative medication reaction, I blurted out, “I’m right here! What are you doing?”

Startled, he turned quickly, giving me a incredulous look, like I was the weirdo in this situation.

His stop-arm reaction time was a bit slower than his body turning time. Set in motion for an airborne release, he lobbed a glob of barely cooked ground in my direction.

I watched it wobble in a somewhat graceful arc, my mental slow-mo calculating: no – that’s not gonna happen.

It happened. Direct hit to my face.

Quote for the Week:2019 03 19 Nothing is ever fool proof jakorte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home, to You

We chose our first dance song because we loved how it represented us.

The first verse was Jeff. The fourth verse was me. Everything in the middle, was us.

The song was a reflection of our daily mutual amazement that we found each other. It was true every day, especially for me.

When we were dating, Jeff was the light at the end of my week.

When we commuted together, Jeff was the light at the end of my workday.

When he was on disability, Jeff was the light at the end of my commute. He was my home, in every sense.

I’ll be honest with you. Every evening, driving (or being driven) home from Ann Arbor to Adrian, the same thought would cross my mind. I terrified myself wondering; will today be the day that I get home and find him dead?

I would pull into the driveway frightened. I would walk into our home frightened, only to be soothed by Jeff’s voice ringing out or reassured by sonic-size snoring.

Coming home, though, meant more to me than that. Spending evenings with Jeff were what I lived for. We didn’t do that much exciting stuff, anymore, but we never lacked for conversation.

We’d talk about the news, recipes, sports, tv shows. We’d talk about the store, about the book or magazine Jeff was reading, my job or some random fascinating fact that he had just discovered.

Jeff loved the ‘who-done-it’s. Shows like Dr G Medical Examiner, the First 48 and 24. He was loyal to mystery books and tv series, such as Stephen King and House. He loved some reality and ‘reveal’ shows. American Idol, Extreme Makeover, This Old House; but had no taste for Big Brother or The Bachelor. Oh, and cooking shows!

There wasn’t a cooking show Jeff hadn’t seen at least once. Iron Chef, Alton Brown, Paula Deen, and reruns of Two Fat Ladies were a few favorites. Almost fitting into the foodie category, competitive eating and shows about farming, ranked up there, too.

It was impossible not to learn something new every day. It also wasn’t premeditated, meaning that he didn’t set out to find an interesting topic to share. All topics were interesting.

It was fun to listen to Jeff while he was on the phone with my brother, Greg. Their conversation always seemed to turn into a fact-fest in a “one thing leads to another” way, which they both enjoyed. It was also amusing that Jeff could out-talk my brother, as Greg would initiate the conversation’s end with, “Ok, well, it was nice talking to you… I’m gonna go now.”

Jeff was my home and my haven, my teacher and my mentor, my everything for such a short while. For a bit, I’d been envious of those who had him for longer; the ones with longer lists of memories than I.

I’ve come to understand time in a different way, though. It isn’t the amount of time we have, or the memories we have to hold on to.  It isn’t about how many. It’s about the important ones; it’s about the memories that hold on to us.

Quote for the Week: 2019 03 12 It isn’t the amount of time we have jakorte

Listen to:  Home To You

 

 

 

Better Late

I’d expected a card first thing in the morning, as we got ready for church. I’d waited  through the service and through our late, diner breakfast.

I was impatient, but decided not to spoil the fun. I’d over-eagerly done that, before. Most notably, by ruining Jeff’s engagement plan and proposal.

I figured there would be a surprise when we got home. Only, there wasn’t one.

Halfway through Sunday, July 23rd, 2006, I finally said it. “It’s my birthday, you know.”

“I know,” he replied casually. “I didn’t have time to get you a present.”

“You didn’t have time?” I asked.

“Besides,” he tacked on, “I could never surprise you, anyway, ‘cause you see all the bills.”

“That’s true,” I laughed. “Did you get me a card?” I was still hopeful.

Jeff’s flat answer was, “No.” Then, a half-hearted, “I never made it out.”

“Well, why didn’t you make me a card?” I wanted to know. “You used to always make me cards.”

Jeff sighed, “I was gonna bake a cake later.”

“Oh, ok.” I understood. Going out and getting around was getting more difficult, so that made sense to me. “You could have wished me a happy birthday, though.” I stressed.

“Yep.” he acknowledged, with a nod. “I probably should have.”

Just about dinner time, Jeff got up, and said he was going to go make my cake. I told him he didn’t have to, and that I’d be just as happy ordering Chinese food.

So, that’s what we did, complete with my favorite almond cookies and ritual fortune cookies. As usual, Jeff wanted to know what my fortune said. I read it to him, to which he responded the same way he had every time since we’d first met. “Mine,” he’d wiggle his substantial eyebrows and the tiny little paper slip, “Says – ‘Lucky Number –  69!’”

Three days later, I came home to a colorful Happy Birthday sign in our home-office window. Strategically hung facing the driveway, so I’d immediately see it when I pulled in.

Waiting for me inside, was a stellar dinner. Jeff made a special meatloaf concoction of ground beef, sausage and salsa baked under a cloak of ketchup and garlic. Accoutrements: hand-smashed, garlic red-potatoes with butter, Brussels sprouts drenched in butter and dinner croissants… with butter.

The butter-use was a nod to the occasion. Our frugal budget and our smidgen of health-consciousness meant margarine, in tubs. When planning special dinners, or upon getting good celebratory news, Jeff would roar, “This calls for Butter!”

After dinner, Jeff told me to close my eyes.  I opened them to a cake and a card. The double-chocolate cake was covered in neon yellow frosting and featured a black-piped beak plus google eyes to which he’d added eye-lashes using more black piping.

The card was a comic one. Amusing and strange, with an extra bit of Jeff’s handwritten humor. “Better late, than never.”

We went to bed full of cake topped with canned cherries and vanilla ice cream, holding hands, and giggling. I loved that chicken cake, and my husband, completely.

Jeff had managed to surprise me on a day I wasn’t expecting anything. I like to compare this birthday to the way I consistently and erroneously surprised him the day before his birthday; every year.

That card, though.

It was the last one.

Jeff had, unwittingly, been philosophically correct. I would gladly take always late, instead of never again.

Quote for the Week: 2019 03 05 late is always better than never again jakorte

2019 03 05 better late than never card jakorte

half-truths, whole lies, and the doubts that remain.

Reprise: The clinic visit biopsy result was clear.

Warning: You may not like what I have to say.

The container I discovered had a September expiry date. The package at the gas station,  also had a September expiration date; just a handful of days later.

The chew wasn’t old and I wasn’t angry. I was astonished and livid. I went directly to the den where the tv was blaring. Jeff was sleeping, so I startled him awake by shouting his name. “What! What?” he came awake, swiveling his head in a panic.

“Here’s what!” I slapped my evidence into Jeff’s hand. “The expiration date.” I clipped. Not completely awake, Jeff stared at me.

“Within a week of Speedway.” I continued. Jeff continued to look puzzled.

“I took it to Speedway, Jeff! It’s NOT old!”

Shaking his head from side to side, he rolled his eyes, and very rhetorically and quite dejectedly, asked, “Why’d ya have to do that?”

My reply was a throw-back, “Why’d you have to?”.

“Don’t do it again, Jeff,” I warned him. I didn’t specifically define which one he shouldn’t do – lie or chew. I assumed he knew it was both.

I have a weird sort of smile on my face as I look back at this one. My warnings were weightless, useless, and void of consequence. If he did it again, it wouldn’t result in any drastic action. I wouldn’t stop loving him. I’d never leave him. It happened. Again, and again. I’d be angry and he’d be sad. He’d be sorry. I’d be forgiving. That’s how it went. Every time.

The thing is… I can’t just leave it on that loving note. That’s not how the story ends for me.

It was a mission trip discussion that clued me in. I have no proof. I’m the only eye-witness. Everything I know, leads to an unpleasant theory.

One of the ladies I evening coffee’d with began a conversation about smoking that revolved around a male member of our team. I mentioned how I’d bugged Jeff to quit smoking way before I think he was really ready to. I shared that the next step for him, in order to avoid smelling like smoke, was a clandestine move to chewing tobacco.

I reiterated the mouth cancer biopsy story and how that’d turned out. Then, went on to share that he never did quit and that it became a sore spot between us. One of my friends asked, “Even after the doctor said it was benign? He didn’t quit?”

“Nope.” I said. “He just couldn’t do it.” I don’t think that he didn’t try. I think he truly did. It just took me a few years to recognize it for what it was; an unbreakable addiction.

Hours later, I thought about the word ‘benign,’ and the fact that I’d never heard it.

1.     Jeff went to the desk, he said, “To ask a question.” I assumed it was about the wait.

2.     He insisted on going without me. “You stay here.”

4.     Body language: as far across the room as he could get from us, arms crossed, looking at his feet, lips pursed, seemingly annoyed. 

5.     The doctor, curtly reporting, “The results were clear.”

6.      He never told us in what way, or which manner, they were ‘clear.’

6.     Those few words used did not include: cancerous, non-cancerous nor benign.

7.     The abrupt end to our meeting. One sentence, and we were dismissed.

8.     I hear the attending’s voice in my head in a different tone, now. A warningly sarcastic parting shot. “Good luck to you, Sir.”

Two years after Jeff passed, on a bunk bed in Slidell, Louisiana, I put two and two together and came up woefully short. I no longer believe we dodged a bullet.

I wonder if Jeff told the clerk that he didn’t want the doctor to say it in front of me if he did have cancer. I wonder if he maybe said, “I don’t want my wife to know the results.” I wonder if he already knew the results before we even got there. I wonder about the doctor visits he went to with his father. I wonder if he confided in anyone. I wonder if it didn’t matter anyway; if he was already too ill for treatment, or if it was just too late.

If it wasn’t for 8 years of tobacco half-truths, little lies and bigger lies, I wouldn’t wonder.

 

Quote for the Week:   (ps. yes, that’s a real onion. made a pot roast.)2019 02 26 You don't know what you dont know jakorte

 

 

Expiration Dating

Dodging the bullet didn’t seem to have much of a lasting emotional effect on Jeff. He did slow it down, but he never quit.

I’d still find an occasional bottle stuffed under the computer desk. I’d find an empty chew container on a shelf. “Oh,” Jeff’d p’shaw. “Those are old.”

One time, he even blamed it on his father. “Oh, Dad must have left that behind,” he told me.

“Does your step-mom know your Dad chews?” I snipped. “Maybe I should call her and tell her so you can both detox together!” “No, no, don’t do that,” he pleaded. “It’s mine. Dad bought it for me…. but I haven’t had any for a real long time.”

“Did you tell your dad about the biopsies?” I asked. “Yeah, he knows,” Jeff mumbled.

“Then, why the hell would he buy it for you?” Jeff answered that question slowly. “Because… I asked him to…. I just wanted a little bit…”

He held out his hand to take it from me. I didn’t give it to him.

“I’ll get rid of it for you.” I told him. “Aw, don’t throw it away,” Jeff whined. “It’s almost new. I promise… it’ll be my last one. I won’t buy anymore.”

“It’s your last one,” I agreed. I walked out to the back porch and dumped the shredded contents behind the house.

“Aw, dang it.” I heard behind me. Jeff had followed me out.

He stopped me before I walked back in. “Let’s just sit out here for a bit,” he requested. “It’s a  nice night. We haven’t done this in a while.” So, we sat, talking about non-important things: tightly holding hands until the sun went down – a settling, comfortable reminiscence of ourselves and who we were, together.

After a few more and more frequent “those are old” excuses, I embarrassingly became very belatedly suspicious.

The next tin I found, I kept to myself, having decided I would take it with me to Jeff’s regular Speedway station. I wanted to know if they were truly all old misplaced remnants or if  he was truly lying to me. How was I planning to determine that? By expiration date.

The very next day, I dropped off my last van pool passenger and drove directly to the source. I stood in line feeling angry and sneaky, betrayed and betraying: wholly conflicted.

I didn’t want to catch Jeff lying, but I didn’t want him to make a fool of me, any longer, either. I also didn’t want to cause a scene in front of other customers. So, I took deep breaths, trying to make sure my voice would be calm.

When it was my turn, I pulled the recently found Skoal container from my purse and quietly asked, “Do you carry this brand?”

The clerk quickly turned away from the register and grabbed a matching green one from the dispenser behind the counter. “Anything else?” he asked.

“Oh, no. I don’t want to buy it…” I hurriedly explained. “I just want to know the expiration date.”

The clerk stared at me. “Seriously,” I prompted. “It’s important. I just need to know the expiration date.”

He picked it up, turned the little package over and around a few times. When he finally located it, he pointed to the dot matrix printed notation.

I nodded my thanks and left without a word. I had my answer.

Quote for the Week: 2019 02 17 hold hands meet in the now jakorte

Dodge and Clear

I worried and analyzed – our finances, our budget, our life-style which already wasn’t high on the hog. I researched mouth cancer and mouth cancer treatments.

Scouring the house, I angrily purged as many wayward rounds of chew as I could find. I already knew his favorite hiding places.

Bottles of spit hid under the computer desk. If a book looked out of place, I would likely find a tin behind it. In the laundry room, behind the soap. In the pantry, behind the home-canned vegetables. Under his recliner. Under the car seat.

Two weeks later, we were back in the waiting room. Jeff had told me he didn’t think I needed to come along. I told him we were a “we” therefore “we” needed to handle this together.

It was a weekday, so we got there early and waited for a little while. Not long enough for Jeff to be antsy, but he was. He got up and started to walk away.

“Where are you going?” I asked, adding, “They could call us soon.”

“I’m gonna go ask a question,” he said.

“It’s not that late,” I commented, “Only five minutes – wait a few more.”

“Nah…” Jeff took a step backwards. “ I’m gonna go ask.”

I started to gather up our things, and he flipped his hands at me. “Why don’t you wait here? Save my seat.” he suggested.

“Did you find out anything?” I asked when he returned. “Yeah,” he said, “we’re on the list.”

About a minute later, it was our turn. Jeff was sweating bullets. I was holding his hand.

The same clinic physician met us in the exam room. He came in, abruptly dropped a file on the desk and crossed to the other side of the room. Leaning against a counter with his arms crossed, the doctor blew out a breath. We waited, holding ours.

“I’m here to tell you that the results…. were… clear.”

Jeff let go an exhale, and dropped his head. Stunned I blurted out, “Are you sure?”

“What?” Jeff looked at me. “Did you want me to have cancer?”

“Of course, I didn’t!” I smacked Jeff’s arm. “It’s just … I’m surprised. He was so sure!” I pointed, stammering on.

“Believe me,” the MD quipped. “No one…. was more surprised than me.”

“So, that’s it?” I asked.

His answer was aimed directly at Jeff. “I don’t like those spots,” he said. “I recommend you stop chewing tobacco. Immediately.”

“Ok.” Jeff said.

“What about something to help him quit?” I wanted to know.

“There’s gum and lozenges. Most stores have them.” With a short shrug, he strode across the room, shook Jeff’s hand and said, “Good luck to you, sir.”

Clearly. We’d dodged a lethal bullet.

Quote for the Week:2019 02 12 Expect the worst jakorte.jpg

 

Snapping Turtle Spots

In his mind, he’d committed a grievous crime showing unusual temper. Per usual for Jeff, though, he found a humorous way to apologize.

Despite what the cute card said, his reaction wasn’t “for no good reason,” and the real crime wasn’t losing his temper.

Before we’d reached this point, before disability, and a long while after the honeymoon backseat-bottle incident, I saw a notice for a free mouth and throat cancer screening. 

I signed Jeff up. I was thinking ‘scared straight’ and ‘this is how much I care’ combined.

I’d already given him facts and articles. I’d already cajoled and nagged. I’d already yelled and cried. I was hoping a doctor could get him to quit, and offer a way to help him do that.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go that way.

He resisted, of course.

I insisted, of course.

We drove to Ann Arbor for the weekend clinic appointment. I accompanied him into the exam. When the doctor asked Jeff why he thought he’d need a screening, Jeff pointed. “It was her idea.”

I explained the chew and the diabetes and what I knew from internet-research. The doctor concurred, and said we could certainly talk about ways to quit after the exam.

The exam was brief. I mean, very brief. He asked Jeff how long he’d had dark spots on his gums, under his tongue and inside his lower lip. Jeff said he had no idea. There were many of them, but two in particular were large and concerning.

So concerning, that the doctor immediately halted his examination. He rolled away and bluntly reported: “I’m 99.9 percent sure what I’m looking at here is mouth cancer. You’ll likely have throat cancer, as well.”

We were stunned. He went on to explain that the only question was what type, which would determine the degree of aggressiveness. 

Turning to pull some supplies, he announced, “We’re going to biopsy those.”

“Now?” Jeff asked, echoing the panicked look I was aiming his way.  The answer was a firm, curt, business-like, “Yes. Right now. Is there a reason why you don’t want to do it now?”

“Nnnooooo,” Jeff drew out his answer, shaking his head.

He was advised to immediately stop tobacco use, and we were given a return appointment in 2 weeks. At that time, we would know what type of cancer Jeff had, and would be able discuss treatment options.

The timeline, itself, was an urgency marker – a 2-week turn-around. High priority. 

I drove us to a nearby restaurant, parked, took a deep breath and turned to Jeff in tears.

“Aw, might not be anything…” he waved it off. I stared at him in disbelief. “Did you not hear him?”

“You don’t know what you don’t know.” Jeff tried to reason with me.  “99.9% sure!” I countered, crying out. “Jeff! What are we going to do?”

“No sense in worrying about it for two weeks, yet.” Jeff turned his head away and looked out the window.

“Not gonna change anything…” he softly shrugged.

Quote for the Week:2019 02 05 Sometimes pushing a person to the edge jakorte2019 02 05 snapping turtle card jakorte

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