Sunday, July 08, 2007

Life and Death

I sat, garbed in a hospital gown, awaiting a tetanus shot, thinking about how when someone dies, you expect everyday life to remain in suspended animation for a few days afterward. It never works out that way of course. The real suspended animation happens before the death, when everyone waits with baited breath for news. You get the phone call and like a truck speeding past you on the highway, real life comes rushing back, sometimes in absurd manifestations.
Jon's father died. After a call from his mother Friday morning, he rented a car and drove like a bat out of hell to Buffalo. He arrived to sit up the night with his father, who died at 11:00 the next morning, at home, surrounded by family. He had been sick for a long time.
And so I got the call I was expecting, at work, and suddenly real life went into overdrive. After the initial shock wore off (and death is always a shock, even when expected) I became aware of the gargantuan task ahead of me of shutting up the house, packing up four children and driving nine hours to Buffalo. I remembered that I was scheduled for my nursing school physical on Monday morning. It took six weeks to get the appointment and no physical means no nursing school.
Which is why at 5:00PM on Saturday, when I ought to have been packing, or dragging the luggage carrier out of the basement, I was sitting on an exam table in an urgent care clinic awaiting a tetanus shot—the one thing that stood between me and my nursing clinicals—and musing about life and death.

Speaking of the luggage carrier. It is one of those white ones from Sears that looks like a giant whopper box. All the dorkiest cars have them.
Last night I dragged it out of the basement, its bow still encrusted with the dead bugs of last year's trip. My arm was already stiffening from the tetanus shot, but I hoisted it to the roof of the minivan by myself. There used to be locks on the side to hold it shut. These stopped functioning when they became misaligned and Jon broke the key off in the lock. I kept the broken key on my key chain for years as a reminder of what happens when I violate my father's Three Principles for Efficient Living:
  1. Always pay cash for a car.
  2. Always keep your tools clean and organized.
  3. Never buy anything at Sears.
We now keep it closed with a nylon strap. I worked today and commuted by car, which I almost never do. It is unfortunate that the ceiling in UVA hospital's parking garage is exactly the same height as my car-plus-Sears whopper box. I smacked against every single “PARKING THIS WAY” sign that hung from the ceiling, setting them swinging merrily with a loud metallic clash. At the end of each row the top of the Whopper Box scraped sickeningly against the concrete roof. I had to park near the top resulting in many, many clanging, swinging signs and sickening scraping sounds. There was a guy driving directly behind me and I could read his mind—I am superpowered that way. Every time I scraped the ceiling, he rolled his eyes and thought, “What an idiot.” We rode the elevator together in an embarrassed silence. I considered saying something, but what would I say? “I know I appear to be a very stupid sort of person but my father-in-law died and ....
On the drive out I wasn't so lucky. After the second turn the nylon strap broke and the whopper box flew open. Thus renewed reflections on the absurdity of life in the face of death.
I escaped the garage--my second instance of divine intervention in the past three days—and drove home with the whopper box top flopping sloppily. It is now secured with bungee cords. We leave for Buffalo tomorrow and let's hope there isn't another need for divine intervention.


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