Mr. Tibbs is an eight month old tuxedo cat we adopted a month ago. Transition is a mild word for what we are going through, but I am probably exaggerating. We were used to unassuming “Sister”, our sweet, demur, but singularly unsocial, 11-year old resident cat. Mr. Tibbs is anything but unassuming. First of all, he weighs 14lbs. He just turned eight months. We think he has rabbit in him, in fact I am sure of it…clumsy rabbit, that is. Only one broken dish so far, but plenty of leveled pictures, books and memorabilia. I have cleared the tops of surfaces in hopes to preserve my collectables, and may adopt a more minimalist décor for a while.
His agile, destructive gymnastics reminds us how far removed we are from having a young cat. He’s grown on us, with his plaintive meow, (much like a toddler who wants attention) and his new behavior of covering his food before he walks away from it, something we were not familiar with, but is part of, I read, their instinctual innate behavior. Translation: more mess.
Speaking of mess. There was a few days in the first two weeks, I thought we would exercise our option and return him to the pet store. The wet bathroom rug is what almost did us (my Marine) in. Cat box crisis. We had never gone through it before now. We managed overcome the “outside the box” issue with an new, improved oversize cat box that I have aptly named the “USS Mess”. Whew!
Sister, tolerates him to a point. His early morning feedings we are still working on. I cleared off the left side of my desk because he knocked the phone and TV box off my desk onto the window sill, so he could better see “out there”. However, he has recently moved to the right side of my desk to nap.
Week five and we are settling into a peaceful co-existence…much like Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley.
I have been on the fringes of my husband’s passion for judo for years. When we met and married, he had been long retired due to a C-4 injury and was coaching at UC Irvine when his disability rating made it no longer possible for him to coach. After moving to North Carolina, he tried a couple of things. He volunteered at the local universities for a class or two and at the Children Home of North Carolina in Oxford to help the children there. He volunteered at a dojo in Durham before his former coach, Sensei Mayfield reached out and asked him to travel with him to tournaments and camps as an assistant and “coaching liaison”. More recently, he and two friends organized the El Toro Judo Club. El Toro was my husband’s original dojo. The Marine base in California has long since closed and the club in California retired with his original sensei’s passing. Given the opportunity, he wanted to honor his first dojo and first sensei. El Toro Judo Club holds classes at Bushido Karate Shotokan in Raleigh, offering two sports to the interested martial arts community. More importantly, it gave him an outlet to pass his judo along to others, to stay involved and contribute in his way, not just to the students in his classes, but to the community. The club has a fundraiser, El Toro Fall Bash, a golf tournament that I have been involved in organizing for the last three years. Which means, now I no longer live on the “fringes of Judo”.
I remember exactly how it happened, my no longer existing on the fringes. It was Sensei Mayfield’s tournament in Jacksonville, three or four years ago. I had dropped my husband off at the tournament, as was our routine, and went on my way to Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, the base PX, and back to the tournament. I was given a chair on the floor level near one of the mats where the adults were competing. There was one competitor who looked like he might be active duty personnel, who forcefully and smoothly, took his opponent down and next thing I know match was over. I had just witnessed my first choke hold, and I was done. I was a judo fan. I know it should have been more complicated than that, but it was not. It was the not an earth shattering experience, it was not a demonstration of pristine technique, it was just pure strength of one man against another.
So, imagine me, this last weekend, when some kid I don’t even know, was taken down to the floor by his opponent and the match is stopped while the first aid representative looks him over. The match resumes, the kid is taken down again and the referee stops them in their action and raises his voice and asks the kid “how old are you?” Kid yells “Thirteen”. Referee responds telling them to carry on. Kid gets choked, “taps out” and match is over. Kid gets up holding his neck, bows out after the referee signals that his opponent won, and walks to the sidelines where his dad is.
He was visibly shaken, trying to catch his breath. I looked away, because as a mom, seeing kids in distress, no matter if your own son is 36 years old, you are taken back to when he was 13 and trying not to cry after losing a baseball tournament, or your brother when he lost a Pop Warner football game and the kids from the opposing team are in the car in front of you, watching your brother breaking down in the seat next to you. Seeing this judo kid keep his composure until he got off the mat and then start to break down, took me back to those moments in time and I coward that I am, looked away.
Later in the afternoon, he competed again and after what was a long, drawn-out, tough match won. And he knew it. He knew he had won. He jumped up and screamed, fists clenched, at no one and at everyone.
Afterward, when I talked to my husband about him, he told me what had happened when he lost the first match, when I had looked away. He had gone up to the kid and his father, who was trying to calm him, help him catch his breath and regain his composure. “Excuse me, sir” my husband said to the dad, “may I try something”. The dad said “ok” and my husband told the kid, “stop breathing and count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, now breathe. Again, stop and hold your breath. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. ” The kid did it a third time, looked at my husband then looked at his dad and said “Ok, I’m good. I’m ready to fight, now.”
My mom and I were in the cocoon of our booth at the Hilton Hotel in Altamonte Springs, having a light breakfast and taking a break from driving. We were en route to the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino in Tampa. A much deserved break and weekend for us. Our waitress knew my mom from the last couple of trips to the Senior Softball Camp my dad attended over the last couple of years. She asked if I was her daughter and we laughed and said I was. Mom told her she was taking me to the Hard Rock Casino, just the two of us. Our waitress smiled a little sad smile and told us how great it was we were going together. She then told us she missed her mom. Her mom is 83 and lives in Bosnia. She had just seen her this last March, and it was hard to leave. She began to tear up, but recovered and told us that her mom was this little tiny thing, in a small house. But, she told us that her mom told her that she was old, and all that mattered at this point in her life, was that her kids and their families were ok. “I’ll be fine” she told her daughter. Our waitress cleared our table and walked away. Mom and I shared a look, understanding distance. Mom had moved from Texas to California as a young mom. Our’s was the family that always came to visit. I live across the country from my older children and grandchildren, and my youngest child is practically in the Gulf. It wasn’t an ocean and continents, but it was long enough. Each of us had spent countless hours in the air or on the road going back for long visit, or short and sweet visits. We knew distance.
When our waitress came back, she told us to enjoy our time together. She said to us, “I have this,” meaning she would get our breakfast. Then she turned to me and said “Enjoy your mom”, and walked away.
“We have government by the majority who participate.”
― Thomas Jefferson
Civic Duty. I never even knew what that meant. Growing up in a military family, I was the closet activist, the anti-war protester, civil rights, Chicano Pride…but I was really in a bubble. I never knew the inter-city struggle or even the civil rights struggle because my parents raised me so very much in mainstream America. I learned Spanish in school, not at home. I loved to discuss current affairs and my mom would get up in the night to find my father and I at the dinner table discussing the Vietnam War, civil disobedience, Nixon and Watergate. I could argue with the best of them and I had my facts, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that my mom told me I didn’t have the right to complain if I wasn’t registered to vote. So, I registered. But, it wasn’t until our President announced his candidacy did I first work on a campaign.
That was 2007/2008 and since then, I have met some amazing people in local politics. It was because of that 2008 election I decided to find out how local government works from the ground up, so I became a Precinct committee member. I am a transplant from California. I moved here in 1999 when my husband was given his disability rating from the Veteran’s Administration. His family is from Oxford, here in Granville County. What I have found, is there are a lot of transplants like me that have made Granville County home and want to make it the best home they can for their families and their community. Chairman Ed Gleason, 3rd Vice Chair Cuz Spirio, and our Treasurer Lael Pennix are transplants, as I am. I find it hard to believe that out of thousands of Granville County Democrats, we can’t get hometown folks to help the party as a member of the Executive Committee, participate in a meeting or two, volunteer on a committee, float an idea or two in an email. But, I am learning what Thomas Jefferson said, is more often true, than not…”“We have government by the majority who participate.”
This last April, at the Granville County Democratic Convention, I was elected Secretary of the Granville County Democratic Party. It’s not an election year so the participation this year has declined. When I attend meetings, I see the same people, the same concerned faces. This Board wants to change that. We don’t need every Democrat in the County to attend every meeting, but we want everyone to be engaged, to be informed about us, about the issues facing our locale, our state, our government. We suffered a set-back in the state government in 2012. We have little or no voice. Mrs. Mims said something at our first meeting on the 29th that she heard at the 13th District Convention held in Nashville, NC. The guest speaker was State Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat. She said Ms. Cowell spoke on a strategy to deal with, on the NAACP Moral Mondays going on in Raleigh, and of note “We may win, we may lose, but we are not silent”.
This could very well be our mission statement: “We may win, we may lose, but we are not silent”.
I chose to participate. Please join me. Until next time…God bless.
One moment you are in the midst of a beautifully lit late-winter day, doing what you usually do on your day off, running errands, getting groceries, enjoying a cafecito on the ride home on the back roads to the house, without a care or worry in the world. The next moment you are pushing your car to its mechanical limits getting your husband to the emergency ward of the VA, because he refuses to call 911 and have EMS come get him. Maybe because he was still conscious, could breathe and walk (but not deeply – the breathing part and for long periods of time – the walking part) or maybe because he is just a stubborn guy and to admit he needed an ambulance meant his life was threatened (which it was). To this day, I cannot tell you what logic (debatable) he used, all I know is I was able to get him to the VA without him losing consciousness. He wouldn’t let me drop him off at the entrance, while I parked, or get him one of the fifty wheelchairs that sat outside the mechanical doors, so he would not have to walk in what was becoming obviously an effort to do.
It wasn’t a heart attack, as he first thought. It was a blood clot in his lung. A pulmonary embolism. We knew first hand how serious this was. We had lost our friend two years before to a clot that traveled to her heart. When the young doctor told us what we were dealing with, we shared a look, thinking of Karen. We talked quietly as they made arrangements to transport him across the street to ICU at Duke Medical Center. I finally sat down after four hours of standing by his bedside and what he told me next really made me want to strangle him myself.
We had parted ways that morning, me to get my nails done and run errands, he to the golf course. I remember him saying he was tired when he got up from bed and started to get ready. I remember thinking he had been up late, after a night at judo practice, so it was reasonable he was tired. I knew he had been up late the last couple of nights, dealing with the onset of insomnia that comes with this time of year. I was not overly concerned. He tells me he was fine the first five holes. He had a birdie putt on the sixth hole and was walking back to his cart when one of the guys he was playing with him asked him if he was alright. He replied he was, but when he tried to get into the cart, he knew he was not. He grabbed onto the railing so he would not fall and tried to sit down, but actually slid down into the cart. He prayed for help to get through what was happening, telling God he was prepared to go if it be His will, but if it was not yet his time, to help him get through it. His golf buddies are Veterans. They call my husband “Guny”. So when my husband heard one ask “Guny, you want us to call 911?” He told them no. They wouldn’t get there in time. They were ten minutes out-of-town in the country on a golf course, he figured, they would get their too late to save him from a heart attack. Remember I mentioned logic in the beginning of this post, because what happens next certainly stretches the definition.
He continues to ride in the cart, but does not play. He gets out of the cart once or twice and realizes he cannot breathe well, so he gets back in the cart. He continues to watch his partners finish their games. Now, this particular golf course passes by the clubhouse and his car on the 9th hole and he tells me, as he is laying in front of me in the emergency room with oxygen to help his breathing. He remembers thinking for a moment, he should just call it a day and come home so I can take him to the VA, but because he was still “fine”, he squelched that thought and continued on the next NINE HOLES. At the end of the game, does he then decide to get in his car and drive home, which in itself, was risky, given he might lose consciousness and hurt himself or others? My Marine decides to give a few lessons to the young golfer who had joined them to play. Granted, from the cart, but still…Three hours after his first incident on the course and five hours since he started playing, he drives himself home. He tells me he never panicked that morning or later that day, with all that had happened until he pulled up in the driveway and realized I was not home. He called me as I was driving out of Raleigh and was on the back roads, oblivious to what he had been through.
I couldn’t be mad at him. Anyone who knows us, knows I love my husband madly. Knows the sun rises and sets with this man. Besides, how would that look, wife going off on husband in emergency room while he lay incapacitated by a blood clot? Seriously, though, I was thinking if he ever does this to me again, I will kill him myself. Not that it would matter, my being frustrated with how he handled himself, how he may have done his body more harm than good. I looked at him with all the ambivalence of emotions and just said “I don’t know what to say”, which was a lie. I had plenty to say and plenty of emotion to go with it, but I was silent. He knew it too, because his next words put out all the fire inside my heart over what he had put himself through, what could have or might have happened, all the uncertainty of what would happen from this point on. He said simply “Just say “thank you””.
Humbled, I did. I thanked God for getting him through his day without harm to anyone and further harm to himself. I thanked God for the doctors of the VA and Duke Medical Center and their staff who took such good care of my Marine. I thanked God for our family and friends who checked in with us, supported us, offered to do whatever they could to help. I thanked God for the faith that sustains us in dark and uncertain times. I thanked God for the blessing of our marriage and our life together that we both knew could have ended that beautiful sun-filled winter day.
I walked across the street from Duke after I had seen him get settled in ICU. I remember thinking how we arrived seven to eight hours before, anxious, facing the unknown, but surprisingly never panicking, never losing composure. It seemed as if in another time in our life, not just hours before. I drove up to our home and took a picture because, for some reason in the process of the moments of getting him from the house to the car and to the VA, he had remembered, or out of habit, left the porch light on. As if he had known all along he would be coming home.
Life got in the way of blogging around the holidays. I wanted to share with my readers about my adjustment in the work force again and trying to get ready for the holidays. I wanted to write about how happy I have been at my new job, learning family law, working with a great attorney and fabulous co-workers. Yes, I am writing this from the lens of “new to the job”, but it feels like a very good fit. Time will tell, but understand that recent events in my life, make me appreciate the “here and now”, because as my father is fond of saying, “tomorrow is not guaranteed”. With that in mind, I appreciate the opportunity for as long as I have it.
December came with a get -together with old friends, a couple of Christmas parties and a trip to Jacksonville to spend Christmas with my parents and my youngest daughter and her godson. Even though, I was not going to be home for the holidays, I still wanted to dress the house up in holiday decorations put the tree and lights up. Getting my husband motivated enough to do this, is always a process, since he does not “do” holidays, but our agreement, is he just has to get out the totes, I do the rest. The only thing is I forgot how much work it was to decorate the house, especially, now that I am back working. It took two weeks, but I got the house finished, enjoyed it for two weeks and then was gone to Florida.
The payoff, after we survived the parking lot nightmare that was our trip on I-95 from home to Jacksonville, was seeing how much improved my mom is doing, and how happy my dad is, now that she is doing better. My parents weren’t even home when we got there in Jacksonville, which further added to my husband’s irritation after spending almost two extra hours on the total trip because of the holiday traffic. So the payoff was not immediate, only getting there and being able to get out of the car after 10 hours on the road. The payoff came the next day. That first night, we visited with Megan and tried to get the outside lights to work. My dad had left detailed instructions, but we failed to find the reset switch to get the lights on after they had been kicked off. Now, a month later, it has become one of the things we all reminisce about when we talk about this last Christmas… how Megan and I could not figure out how to get the back yard holiday lights on and how we didn’t call my dad, because neither one of us wanted to admit we couldn’t figure it out. We just broke out a bottle of wine and toasted being together for the holidays, for the first time in years.
The bonus, was Megan’s godson, Isaia. I was trying to remember when we last had a child in the house for the holidays. Too many years . The price of being a long distance Grandmother. Which may explain why we all were touched by his anticipation. He would hang out with Chester, while he played on-line poker and watched River Monsters. He got up from a nap on Christmas Eve and asked my mom if she wanted to dance, when he heard music playing on her CD player. He invited my Dad to watch cartoons with him, moving over on the chaise lounge to give him space. He asked to help set the table for meals. Later that night, He and Megan made cookies. He helped decorate the baked cookies, then tested one to make sure they were “good”. Then helped Megan put out the plate of cookies and milk for Santa. He also helped write the note to Santa so he wouldn’t miss the treat. He also, had to make sure the fireplace was big enough for Santa to get through. All our family rituals of the holiday coming full circle with Megan’s godson. The next morning, Isaia woke up to presents Santa left under the tree. It was a treat for us, not just to see his excitement, but for me,it reinforced, what I have always felt, that Christmas is for the kids. We all watched as he opened presents, getting excited over everything, bit and small. It made our holiday memorable, sharing it with this little guy.
With the holiday trip a success (not counting the beginning) and the holidays a wrap, the end of year arrived with an invitation to an end of year party with family and one with friends. I can’t remember us being this social, but a combination of the new judo dojo Chester volunteers at, the golf tournament and my work in local politics, all raised our profile to the point, we now have a semblance of a social life. Not a bad thing, but something that required some management, since by the end of this particular year, Chester was feeling the effects of all the exposure. I have started a new blog “My PTSD Vet” to have a continuing conversation about Chester’s struggles (past and current), my observations, and his insights as he works to find a balance to stay engaged in everyday life, without compromising the gains he has made. He has worked harder than he gives himself credit for. For us to go to two parties in one night, was significant. We didn’t stay long at either party, but at the end of the second gathering, our hosts built a huge bonfire.
Of particular significance to me, the bonfire represented an end of the year as we knew it, and the beginning of the new year. The riff between the past and the future was permanent in a couple of relationships we both had. We had lost a dear friend in the first half of the year that we have still not recovered from. I drove my parents to Texas, and reunited with family I had not seen in years, renewing the ties that bind. I made memories with my kids and grand kids that I cherish more than I will could ever say. I worked behind the scenes on a local election and was amazed at the tenacity of pure will. My status as unemployed ended, and was humbled by that process. The Nation reelected the President, after a particular contentious election, reinforcing my belief in our better angels. I know without a doubt, that I love my husband more today, because of this journey we have taken on together, this journey called Life.