Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cry Baby

Last week, very, very early, a fire alarm went off at our place in Winnipeg. Since we live on the 20th floor and Clarence had just had surgery, this was worrying.  What if it wasn't a drill? The elevators were locked so I started down the stairwell to check things out.

I had reached the 3rd floor when a voice came over the intercom. 'Please stay in your suite,' it said firmly.  'Remain in your suite until further notice.' Oh, the timing. My legs were shaking from leaping out of bed and rushing down 17 flights of stairs. My heart was tight from lack of exercise and panic. There could be a fire. And the 20th floor is unreachable by ladder.

I headed back up the stairs, holding onto the rail and feeling like a ninety year old. At the sixth floor it became apparent that a cooking fire had set off the alarm.  My sense of relief morphed into bitter self pity. Pulling myself upward, I cursed my ill luck with some colorful language and small bird like sounds of exhaustion.  Clarence was still awake when I stumbled into the bedroom.

He said,  'I told you not to go.' While technically true, this is exactly what a person who has taken one for the team does not want to hear. But the words, ' I told you so,' are an unavoidable part of most relationships. That does not mean I took them in the right spirit.

'But there was a fire,' I said. 'On a stove in an apartment on the sixth floor.' I was on the defensive, presenting my own version of, 'No, I told YOU so.' I went back to bed, feeling very hard done by. 

A few days later, one of my sisters had an accident, breaking her wrist and bruising herself badly. Later, when I was in the middle of retelling my story, "I can't believe I climbed ALL those stairs," it suddenly hit me. I'm a cry baby. There was my husband, the staples in his stomach catching on the fabric of his shirt. My sister, her small wrist wrapped in a cast, supporting herself with the help of a cane while gazing at me sympathetically.

'Fine,' I muttered to myself, feeling the weight of my own shame. It was time to re-embrace the gratitude mantra. After all, Clarence had had a successful surgery. My sister would get better. And I would take my physical fitness more seriously. Especially since, part of the time, we lived on the 20th floor.

This small life lesson is like a mirror. Instead of good intentions, it revealed me as a self indulgent mini martyr. And if I'm too thick minded to see the error of my ways, I suspect another lesson might come round again. It may not involve twenty flights of stairs, up and down. It may be something even more formidable. So I'm saying right here and now that I get it. There are a lot of people having a tough time. Most of them are stoic individuals silently bearing all that life throws at them, and still greeting the day with a smile.

They are my heroes. And I will run up and down many flights of stairs if I can help them in any way. I just might have to duct tape my mouth shut afterward.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Way Station

I went for a walk the other evening in our Osborne Village neighborhood, heading down Nassau and turning left at the corner of Wellington Crescent. There is a building right there that I have always admired. Impulsively I headed up the driveway, and wouldn't you know it, the door swung open like it was expecting me. The small foyer inside showed beautiful and wonderfully clean glass doors. Through the doors there were statues tastefully placed around the room. On my left was a man seated in a cubicle. He had one hand hovering over a phone, and seemed frozen by indecision.

"Is this an apartment building?" I asked excitedly.
"It's private,'' he said, like he was going to the bathroom and I was  being rude enough to watch. Which reminded me. I really had to go.
"Can I come in and look around? I've always wanted to see this place."
"You'll have to leave."
"May I use your bathroom?" In retrospect, I can't believe I asked this, except that my bladder was overtaking my brain.
"Absolutely not," he said, as if a simple no would lead to some persuasive arguing that would wear him down.

Continuing on my journey, I passed an Anglican church that rings actual bells on Sunday morning. They play 'Ode to Joy,' making me feel like I'm in the movie 'Sound of Music,' and have just gotten married in a beautiful cathedral. It inspires me to sing, 'How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?' I can get away with that kind of thing in Winnipeg, because no one knows me and anyway, Clarence is impossible to embarrass. 

But back to my bladder. Since it's the size of a soy nut, I decided to stop at the Safeway across from our building. The small bathroom at the back is tucked between the egg fridge and the meat counter. A strong odor of cigar met my nose when I stepped inside. As I exited, a guy in an apron was standing there with a frown on his face.

'Someone's been smoking a cigar,' I tattled helpfully.
"It's not allowed," he said, glaring at me.
"I know. I'm just reporting it."
"Especially cigars. They stink up the whole place."
"I know. I..." He walked away, leaving me feeling as if I really had smoked a cigar in the bathroom. As if I'd just forgotten it. His certainty was very unsettling.

Feeling disoriented, I headed home. Why, I wondered, can't we have real way stations? Ones with helpful attendants, convenient bathrooms and guides willing to satisfy one's curiosity? Wouldn't life be wonderful if, every day, we were met with snacks, hot towels and comfy chairs wherever we went? I'd like that. For now, though, I'll settle for my friendly apartment building, where nobody knows my name, but where people will hold the elevator and even say hello. It's a start.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

While You Were Sleeping

At four in the morning, there is not much to do around my place. Especially when the house is full of people, including a toddler who wakes at the slightest sound. Exhausted, bored, and fearing the appearance of a rambunctious one year old, I hid out in the bathroom.

After styling my hair in a variety of fashions I would never wear publicly, I decided to try on my youngest daughter's discarded make-up.  Sleepless night lesson number one:

 I can never use a black eyebrow pencil.

My eyebrows bec0me exaggerated question marks, as if pondering the fate of the world during a zombie apocalypse. I look like Joan Crawford, the later years. Much, much later.  Or someone creeping through a darkened hallway in a horror movie. Possibly a zombie movie.

Red lipstick is also a mistake. The bold color on pale, tired skin says crazed prostitute with a chainsaw behind her back.

There should be a hotline installed in bathrooms for people who can't sleep. It would connect us to others suffering the same problem. A therapist could be on hand to answer the questions one ponders in the darkness of the night. Overblown, fueled by sleeplessness, they weigh on you like an anchor from the Titanic.

It's not even the serious things that occupy my mind at three am. It's my deceased in-law's slide collection, at least thirty carousels worth, that sits in our back garage. Or the fact that I live in Manitoba and winter is coming.   And I don't know how to use our snow blower, and my husband spends part of his time in Winnipeg. And won't teach me because he thinks I'm going to cut off my foot. It's all completely ridiculous. But that's the working of an illogical, sleep deprived mind.   

Does a sense of aloneness creates a feeling of desperation? Or is it the fear of tiredness, that next-day-ache that settles into your bones? Whatever it is, while you were sleeping, I came to terms with a few things. Like, it is better to try on make-up in the middle of the night than lie there cursing the darkness. Or my messy garage. Or snow.

I hear the babbling of little voices. Time to creep back to bed.