My Valentine

I went off to law school with two resolutions: one, I was going to succeed, contrary to the predications of family and friends that girls didn’t go to law school for any other reason than to find a lawyer husband, and two, I was not going to get involved with any men. Nope, I was going to be unattached for three years, no men to mess up my mind and play with my heart. A broken engagement, badly-ended love affair and bittersweet romance, all in the eight months preceding Labor Day and my departure for Albany Law School convinced me that men were simply not worth the effort.

I moved into my apartment on Friday. My roommate, Linda, was a nice young woman whose name I found on a bulletin board outside the law school housing office. She was a bit strait-laced but I thought we might blend nicely. Unpacking, I discovered that I had left my extra bed sheets at home in Malone. A call to Mom and she arranged for my friend Dick to bring the sheets to me on Saturday. Dick was the older brother of one of my best friends from home and would be attending Albany Law in my class, though he was two years older than me.

Saturday found the apartment in good shape: beds made, shower curtain hung, LP’s unpacked and arranged on the cinder block and 2 x 4 shelves, and Mom’s carrot cake and apple pie in the kitchen. Dick called to say that he and the two guys who were letting him share their three-bedroom apartment were going out to get cleaning supplies and would drop off my sheets and some brownies from Mom on their way to Westgate. Linda answered their knock and let them in. I was in the corner trying to get my stereo speakers hooked up. Dick’s smiling face came first, a brown paper grocery bag in his hands with the missing sheets and walnut brownies inside. Next, was a short, broad-built Asian guy with laughing brown eyes. Then, there he was. Taller than his two companions, black tightly curled hair, whiskey-colored eyes with the longest, curliest black eyelashes, perfect ears and a shy smile. Broad chest covered with a ratty grey t-shirt, narrow waist encircled by a worn brown belt holding up faded Carhart jeans. So much for resolution number two.

I didn’t finally decide until the end of the week. There were other possibilities to consider: celibacy, Chris the handsome senior and the blonde guy with the tennis racket. I sat with Mitch (gorgeous eyelashes) and his roommate Donnie (Asian guy) all week before we got seat assignments (Dick was in the other section of freshmen). Friday ended our first four days as law students and did not arrive a minute too soon. The law school threw us a beer party in the courtyard, an excellent use of our student activity fees. Donnie discovered the bar in the student lounge and began bringing me triple shots of scotch on the rocks. I can hold my liquor but nine shots of scotch later, I was sitting on a table in Lecture Hall A singing college drinking songs. Mitch stayed by my side but so did Chris, who invited us back to his apartment to continue the party. We all trooped over to the apartment he shared with David, cousin of my college roommate. My first mistake had been letting Donnie get me the scotch at the law school; my second mistake was letting him serve me a Tequila Sunrise at David’s. Mitch was still by my side but Chris was sitting very close to David now, too close to be just friends but then the tequila was doing a number on my head. Before too long, I knew a trip to the bathroom was in order.

I lurched ever so gracefully to my feet and staggered down the hall to the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. I should not have had the Tequila Sunrise. I knew better. My stomach could not tolerate fruity or carbonated mixed drinks due to a spastic something that had developed in college. A nasty round of rather violent vomiting was imminent so I leaned over the toilet. My long hair was swinging into my face and I frantically scrambled to catch it behind my ears as nausea over-took me. I didn’t hear the door open behind me so I jumped a bit in my misery when one firm hand pulled my hair into a pony tail while the other held my waist. Mortified but grateful, I realized Mitch had come to rescue me.

The embarrassing regurgitating session was finally over, but I was still hunched over the john. Mitch took care of flushing and then handed me a damp washcloth to wipe my sweaty face, neck and hands. I figured the best course of action was to brazen it out so I stood as jauntily as I could and tossed off a lame remark, “Damn cheap liquor does it every time!” He laughed as I hoped he would. I looked in the mirror over the sink to survey the damage. I was pale and my eyes were red-rimmed but at least I hadn’t gotten anything on me. Reaching for the tube of toothpaste, I spread some on my index finger and stuck it in my mouth, hoping to erase the taste of my folly. Mitch was watching my reflection in the mirror as I “brushed.” I scooped some cold water into my mouth with my hand, swished it around and spat into the sink. Straightening, I could see there was still toothpaste foam in the corners of my mouth. Before I could rinse again, Mitch spun me around and kissed me. I was shocked into motionlessness. His kiss was sweet and demanding at the same time. Adventurous, too, I thought, as his tongue slid between my teeth, kissing a girl with toothpaste still dribbling down her chin. The man knew how to kiss, his bushy moustache tickling and teasing my lips. My hands slid part way up his arms, I was grasping for support, when he pulled his mouth away from mine. The brown of his eyes is flecked with gold, I thought idly. He had a surprised look on his face, as though he could not believe that he had been kissing a woman who had lost the contents of her stomach in front of him just moments before.

He pushed me out of the room and across the hall into David’s bedroom. I was still shaky at best and sank gratefully onto the bed. He stretched out beside me and pulled my head onto his shoulder. We fit together perfectly. How long we were in there I do not know. We hugged, kissed, stroked and laughed. Eventually, he began to stir, as if to leave. Not one to let a good man slip through my fingers, I said, “I want you to come home with me.”

“Do you always get what you want?” he asked with a grin.

“Yes.” My answer was smug and certain.

“How do you do that?” He was almost laughing.

“I’m careful what I ask for.”

Bemused, he smiled and left the bedroom; I followed him back to the living room and collected my roommate. I don’t remember the drive home except Linda seemed quite taken by David, the first of her many terribly mis-guided choices in men over the next three years.

Once back in our apartment, Linda and I changed into jammies, filled big bowls of ice cream and sat down to watch Johnny Carson. The doorbell rang. Who the hell was that? our expressions said as I got up to open the door. There stood Mitch. What was he doing here?

He came inside and sat on the sofa. Linda looked at me as if I had betrayed her and went upstairs in a huff. I had no clue what he was doing in my apartment at midnight but he was so damn appealing that I wasn’t going to kick him out. I sat on the floor in front of the sofa and picked up my bowl of Rocky Road. Mitch slid down next to me and put his arm around me. When I turned to look at him, he pulled aside the front of his ratty Brooks Brothers corduroy jacket to reveal a toothbrush poking out of the inner pocket. He was planning on staying over? Where did that come from?

 He kissed me then and all I could think was I was happy I had pretty new sheets on my bed upstairs.

I gave him a key to the apartment for our first Valentine’s Day and asked him to marry me two weeks later on Sadie Hawkins Day. He said “Yeah, sure, maybe someday.” When I called all my friends to announce my “engagement,” Dick’s sister, my friend Vicky, confided in me that she had come to Albany with Dick that summer before law school to help him find an apartment. After first rejecting several potential roommates, when she met Mitch and Donnie, she pulled Dick aside and told him, “You have to room with Mitch. He’s perfect for Debbi!”

And he was.

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Grey’s Anatomy

I missed the entire season of Grey’s Anatomy last year. I was hospitalized when the season started and never caught up. A few weeks ago, I decided to watch Season 10 on Netflix. I was soon sucked back into the story of Grey, Christina, Derek and Bailey.

Sunday night, Monday morning, really, about 4:00 a.m., I couldn’t sleep. I flipped open my Kindle. Read or watch Netflix? I chose Netflix. The next episode of Grey’s was cued so that was my choice. I settled in to be lulled back to sleep by the trials and tribulations of the doctors from Seattle.

My blood froze with the opening scene. Christina and her intern were operating on “the black mambo,” the trickiest of all heart repairs. Derek arrived for a neuro consult. Surveying the patient’s X-rays, he opined, “Why are you operating? He has a C-3 and C-4 fracture, he’s paralyzed from the neck down.” The scene shifted. There was Christina explaining the surgery to the patient’s wife, while the patient lay unconscious, on a ventilator in a tilted orthopedic bed, with separate supports for each limb. Mitch’s bed. The same special, at that time experimental bed, that my husband had been strapped to for 30 days in 1988, after breaking his neck. C-1, C-2 and C-3 fractures. Paralyzed from the neck down.

Why did I wake up at 4:00 in the morning? Why did I decide to watch a show rather than read like I usually do? Why was that particular episode the one that popped up?

Monday was to be an amazing day. My first book, a memoir about dating after 15 years of widowhood, was being released on Amazon. I was excited and scared. I believe, after consulting with my “person” who had survived the loss of a beloved husband herself, that Mitch was sending me a message:  I’m still around. I know what is going on. This is a big day for you and I know it. I am always with you.

Here is an excerpt about that damn bed, from my work in progress, 32 Days: A Story of Love and Death.

July 10 – Sunday

The morning was spent organizing, setting up a base at CVPH. I was staying in the ICU waiting room so I could be available at anytime for Mitchell. I had not seen my children since Friday, although we spoke every day from the payphone in the lobby.

I had made my decision that I would stay there with Mitchell until he went home or to another facility. My kids were safe at my parents for the time being. I had enough sick, personal and vacation leave to be out of work for a month.

I begged change from everyone I saw so I could call my babies. And everyone else in our lives: our friend Susan, with whom I worked, who would take over my caseload and notify law school and work friends. Our neighbors, Kim and Al, who baby-sat the two cats, the mail, the house and kept the neighborhood posted. Our Rabbi, who offered daily blessings.

Later, I met with the doctors for a discussion about a new bed for Mitchell. The doctors wanted Mitch in a bed that was compartmentalized for his legs and arms and head, covered in nylon like a rain jacket and slowly rotated 45 degrees in each direction. It was an experimental bed and its purpose was to keep fluids from settling anywhere, especially his lungs, and to keep him from getting bed sores. Our health insurance was good insurance through my policy with the State. The experimental bed would be covered.

As always, I consulted with the patient, much to the consternation of his doctors. I kept getting the feeling that they thought his brain was paralyzed too.

He was so isolated, so alone. I was his only contact with the outside world at that point. The ICU was like a small fortress, no admittance to anyone except family and then, only with strict scrutiny from the nurses.

The unit itself was divided into cubicles around the nurses’ station, with private rooms in the corners. A window was in the wall behind his bed, high up so you could barely glimpse the sky and nothing else. There were walls on either side of his cubicle, but it was open to the centrally located nurse’s station with only a curtain to provide privacy. He was directly across from the front of the nurse’s station, where someone was always present, because he was the most high-risk patient. There was one night stand against the right-hand wall and one stool to the left of his bed.

I had already started pasting drawings from my children and my nieces and nephews on both walls. There were also cards and letters from family, friends and colleagues. Someone had made a sign that read “one day at a time.” We had thumb-tacked it to the ceiling, over his head, like a prayer to Heaven.

After a short time, I became immune to the shock of seeing Mitch motionless in bed, in that cubicle. I was living on nerves and adrenaline, grateful for each hour he was still in my life, pathetically thankful for every word he whispered to me around the tube in his throat and his paralyzed vocal chords.

Our friend, Mary, arrived late in the morning during one of my few breaks from haunting the ICU. She lied her way in, as only an experienced trial attorney can, by claiming to be Mitchell’s sister. His raised eyebrows at her appearance were met by her kiss on his cheek and her cheery “Hello, brother mine.” It was enough to fool the nurses.

I found her sitting on my stool, giving Mitch a blow-by-blow account of her latest trial. Her eyes locked with mine as if willing me to be strong at the sight of a sympathetic face. I smiled, a wobbly smile and she reached out to squeeze my hand. She was stroking Mitch’s arm, never missing a beat with her story.

“I can’t feel that, you know.”

Mary started, as Mitchell continued in that almost non-existent whisper, “I can only feel from the neck up.”

She stood and moved to his head, rubbing her fingers through his thick curls, chatting away as if we were sitting on our deck, sipping pink lemonade and gin. The nurses shooed us out after a few minutes. There was always some adjustment, some treatment, some medication to keep Mitchell going.

We left the ICU. Mary turned to me, her hand still clutching mine.

“You look like shit.”

“Yeah, I know. But I don’t look as bad as Mitch.”

“No. Jesus. It would be hard to look that bad.” Her laughter was hollow.

We grinned at each other through our tears. She got me some lunch and later some dinner. We sat together in the waiting room. Mary took notes on what I needed and strategized about what could be done by friends, colleagues and former classmates to get Mitchell admitted to AMC as soon as possible.

As darkness fell, Mary left, to go off to a hotel room, with promises to return in the morning. It had been Heaven to share the burden of my fears with someone who knew us so well,

I was alone with him once again, perched on the little stool next to his bed, catching a glimpse of the face I loved more than anything in the world.

I dragged myself out around midnight. I was exhausted. I was demoralized. I was terrified. Still awake at 2:00 a.m., I went back to the ICU and pushed open the door from the empty waiting room. I walked quietly around the back of the nurses’ station to Mitch’s cubicle. The shift had changed at 11:00 p.m. Some nurses in raspberry scrubs were sitting on high swivel chairs at patient tables, writing reports. But three were gathered around my husband’s bed. My gut clenched. What was wrong now?!

Before I could give voice to my alarm, one nurse turned to the other two and whispered,

“I told you he had the most long, curly, gorgeous eyelashes you would ever see.”

“I didn’t believe you. They’re amazing.”

“And his eyes are the most beautiful shade of brown and gold.”

“And he belongs to me,” I said as I moved to the foot of the bed. They all smiled at me. The nurse who had spoken first laid her hand on mine and squeezed. Then she said, “Yes, he does. And you are so lucky.”

Yes, I was so lucky to have him. But would I be lucky enough to keep him?

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