Plague Diaries #6

There is a new normal.

I say this as I am writing from the couch. We have just had “virtual cocktails” with friends of ours and my husband is now making dinner. (The husband making dinner isn’t the new normal, and for that I’m very lucky. He cleans up too.)

As of right now, Florida has 11,545 cases of Covid-19, with 221 cases in my county. The next county over, Miami-Dade, has 3,890. I know we are not the hardest hit in the nation. New York is suffering something what we can’t imagine right now. But I’m afraid Death, while not knocking on our door just yet, is definitely sharpening his scythe.

It’s coming.

My week was pretty quiet. I worked 8-5 every day, but I was blessed that I was able to stay in my office for the majority. I am damn grateful to be employed with health insurance right now.

Today Kosta and I visited our favorite French restaurant for takeout quiche and we went to the grocery store. Then we came home and took a four-mile walk. It was great to get out of doors and get some exercise. Then I did Dad’s grocery shopping and came home and de-loused. (Which means I took a long, steamy shower with lots of soap and shampoo.)

Virtual drinks with Fabiana and Fernando was fun. It was almost like being at our favorite hangout, Riptide Brewing Company. Not quite, because there was no beer for me, but it was fun to talk to them for an hour. And two vodka gimlets have left me feeling pleasantly buzzed.

In fact, I’ve been talking to lots of people online lately. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. I feel the need to connect with my friends that I can’t see right now. And it calms me down and energizes me when I do, so that’s a good thing. And I can do it all from the comfort of my couch in my jammies, so maybe I am as much of an introvert as I thought.

Life has shrunk, most definitely. Even with the Skype and the Zoom and the FaceTime I still feel like my world has diminished. There are fewer faces, fewer conversations, more solitude. I wonder how my extroverted friends are coping. Surely this can’t be easy for them.

But every day I am grateful that I wake up, and every night I am thankful for another day of health. I don’t know what the future holds and I am conscious that I am living each day more completely because of the uncertainty of what is to come.

And through it all, I have the two men who matter to me the most: my husband and my father. I’m lucky to have such fine examples of human beings with whom I spend the majority of my time. I love you both.

And that isn’t just the vodka talking, either.

The Club

I have recently become a member of an exclusive club. So exclusive, even my husband isn’t a member. I have a few friends and relatives who belong though. My friend from high school, Jenny, joined in her twenties. My cousins Michelle, Andrew and Paul have been members since 2006. And most of us, at one time or another will gain membership. It’s easy, you just have to lose a parent.

I don’t mean to be glib. In fact, I don’t want to be at all. Most of you know my mom died last Saturday. She had been sick for a long time. Her last month of life was spent in the ICU of Tampa General Hospital. And in the early hours of the morning, just five days ago, her fragile body gave out. Specifically, her lungs just couldn’t keep up anymore. She was 67 years old.

Grief is an overwhelming thing. Sometimes I am all right, I have moments of calm. But then my brain thinks, “I can’t believe this is happening,” and suddenly I feel like I have been kicked repeatedly in the solar plexus, all breath knocked from my body and the ugly crying commences. And I never know where or when it is going to happen.

The past few days I’ve been sleeping a lot. It is my one escape from reality and a blessing. While I am asleep I do not cry. I do not remember she has gone. I do not think, “I’m never going to see her again in this life.”

My own mother’s mother, Grandma Marcy, died when Mom was in her early 30’s. And Mom had told me on numerous occasions that you never stop grieving for your mother. I believe her. I will get distance and time away from that horrible day, but I will never stop wanting her near me. I’ll never stop wanting her to touch my face with her soft hand, or kiss me, or tell me to “Get home good,” when I’m on my way home.

But the club. They are part of what is keeping me going. You see, they know the hell I am in right now and they see me. I’ve had several members approach me over the past few days to let me know they know how I am feeling. And in a weird way it’s a great comfort. They have been through this and yet they are still actively living their lives. Thank you Andrew, and Julie, and April, and Beth.

Don’t believe, however, that if you aren’t in the club I’m not grateful as hell for your kindness, your sympathy, or your love. Everyone has experienced loss, and I don’t belittle it one bit. Pain is pain and you don’t have to lose your mom to feel that. My husband Kosta, has been my rock. He never gets sick of seeing me melt down. He just holds me and lets me get it out.

For everyone who has lost a mother or father, I see you. I know the grief you carry around with you every day, no matter how much time has passed since they died. I see you.

But we carry on. I am sure I will find ways to deal with my grief, and the day will come when I won’t cry once.

Just not today.

Mom

Next Friday on January 19 my Mom is having high risk surgery. She has a benign tumor in her colon that is growing aggressively fast and it must be removed before it becomes a bowel obstruction. Because of other health issues the doctors say she has a 50% chance of survival.

The surgery will be in Tampa, about two hours north of where we live. Kosta, Dad and I will be staying in a hotel for the duration.

I won’t deny it. I’m scared.

Please send us your prayers, goodwill and energy. Regardless of the outcome this is going to be an extremely difficult time for all of us. I’ll post again after the surgery to keep everyone updated.

Thanks in advance and love to you all.

 

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.

 

My Kosta

Konstantine-George  Athanasios Karras

Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras

 

Twelve years ago this morning I met the guy above. It was my first day of work at the Naples Branch Library and my supervisor David introduced me to Kosta right by the CD racks. I still remember he wore a red-checked shirt and was very nice and funny.

Did I think immediately I was going to end up married to him? Good heavens, no.

But after about six months of working together we discovered we had things in common: we had both studied archaeology, we both loved to write, we both loved history and art and travel. When he suggested we go out for a beer to talk about writing some more I agreed. We went to McCabe’s and had a beer and talked and talked and talked. We were friends.

After that we went out once a week as friends. We laughed and drank beer and ate burgers and had a great time. We did this for about six months before I was brave enough to take things to the next level. So on January 6, 2006 I invited him over to my place for a home-cooked meal. I made spaghetti and garlic bread and he brought the wine. We watched The Thing from 1951 with James Arness as the monster. I don’t really remember anything about the movie at all because I was so nervous. When the credits rolled I leaned over and kissed him.

He didn’t run screaming, which I took as a good sign. It took him a while to figure out his mind though. At the time he was 49 years old and had pretty much decided he was going to be a permanent bachelor. He was concerned that there were eighteen years between us. But by President’s Day that year he had committed and we never looked back.

Now we write together. We talk about history and art. We travel as much as we can afford. We laugh every day. And yes, there are eighteen years between us but it doesn’t make one whit of difference. We are best friends and that is that.

The only thing I would change about my relationship with my husband would be that I had met him sooner.  I love you, honey. You’re the one for me.

Wurzburg and Rothenberg ob der Tauber

The four of us only spent a morning in Wurzburg, had lunch and then went on to Rothenberg in the afternoon.  A few hours of the morning were spent at the laundromat, as we were all beginning to offend with our not so fresh clothes. Afterwards we took a look at the palace and had lunch:

Palace at Wurzburg

Palace at Wurzburg

IMG_6301

Palace at Wurzburg

Lunch

Lunch

Then we made the trek over to Rothenberg. This town was the whole reason for this trip. I had seen a famous picture of the town and said to myself, “I want to be THERE.” And so we went. Rothenberg ob der Tauber is the most well preserved medieval town in Bavaria. It was largely spared from bombing in WWII and still remains as charming as hell. Case in point:

The money shot. This was the place I saw that I wished to stand and gaze upon.

The money shot. This was the place I saw that I wished to stand and gaze upon.

Main square of town

Main square of town

There was also a tour I wished to take: the Nightwatchman’s Tour. The guy who has been giving this tour has been doing so for over 20 years. He’s got a dry delivery and is very funny. The tour itself was highly informative and massively crowded. But well worth it.

George the Nightwatchman.

George the Nightwatchman.

Rothenberg is lousy with charm and I wish we’d had more time to spend there. We did manage to eat at a restaurant that was in a garden that was lovely. Sylvain stole my camera and took some photos, one of which is a favorite snap of my husband:

My happy husband.

My happy husband.

The garden restaurant.

The garden restaurant.

It was a long day full of fun, history, shopping, picture taking, and walking everywhere. Let me leave you with this stinking cute hotel in Rothenberg:

Looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn't it?

Looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

Bad Windsheim and Nürnberg

We spent four days visiting the “bergs” of Bavaria: Nürnberg, Bamberg, Würzburg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber, with a day in Munich on either end. We traveled with our good friends Danielle and Sylvain, who flew in from France to join us.  We stayed in the charming little town of Bad Windsheim:

Bad Windsheim

Bad Windsheim

We chose to stay there because it was centrally located to what we wanted to see, and also because my friend Niki used to live there when her husband was stationed in the military nearby.

We rented a house off AirBnb and it was adorable. It had a patio where we sat every night to eat, or have a drink:

Sylvain and Kosta sample the schnapps.

Sylvain and Kosta sample the schnapps.

So. Nürnberg. It was the first city we visited and it was charming for all the notorious reputation is has received from the post WWII trials. We saw the Imperial Palace, walked the city wall, had lunch next door to Albrecht Dürer’s birthplace, and saw some beautiful churches and half-timbered houses.

On the river.

On the river.

Danielle and Sylvain

Danielle and Sylvain

My husband's herring. Ew.

My husband’s herring. Ew.

View from inside the fortified palace on the hill.

View from inside the Imperial Palace on the hill.

IMG_6260

Doofus.

Market Day.

Market Day.

Birthplace of Albrecht Durer.

Birthplace of Albrecht Durer.

One more thing we did was visit the Zepplinfield, or the Nazi Party rally grounds. Sylvian is a huge WWII buff and was intellectually interested to see the spot. We stopped there on our way out of town. The concrete risers are still there, although crumbling. I have no pictures of the spot because I did not want to honor it with a photograph. It was interesting, in a morbid way, but I definitely had the creeps being there. Kosta said he felt like he needed to wash the bottoms of his shoes after we left. I still can’t believe it hasn’t been razed.

On a lighter note to send you along your way:

I'll just leave you with this picture of a busker playing the accordion with his dog hanging out on top.

I’ll just leave you with this picture of a busker playing the accordion with his dog hanging out on top. Like you do.

 

 

 

We gotta say goodbye for the summer…

The Friday morning breakfast club met this afternoon for coffee. It was our last time together until the end of August. As early as Tuesday we all go our separate ways for the summer. It was bittersweet, because I love these people so much and yet I am raring to get on with vacation.

The weekend started out with a birthday party. Miss Tammy, my rainbow girl, turned the big 5-0 this week. There was a long table of us at Wyld’s Cafe in Bonita Springs to help her celebrate. There was great food, fantastic company and a decadent chocolate cake from Norman Love to complete the night.

Because cake is so important...

Because cake is so important…

Like I said, this afternoon we all met for coffee to say our goodbyes. Tammy is off to the Jersey shore for three weeks before she and Diane jet off to Peru to see Machu Picchu. Then later they will be joining family in Seattle and perhaps do an Alaskan cruise.

Of course, Kosta and I are set for our trip to Europe. 18 days! And dear Cary will be stuck at home, keeping the breakfast table saved for us until we return. Don’t think we’ll forget you! There will be a special present for you, our keeper of the Eternal Breakfast Flame.

Summer is going to be full-throttle, but so much fun. Before you know it the end of August will be here and everyone will be back. And I can’t wait to hear all about the adventures.

Of course, our day was marred by the horrific news out of Orlando. I don’t understand why this keeps happening. I suppose my head does, but my heart cannot fathom why. All those fallen and their families are in my prayers. Other than that I don’t have the words to convey my heavy heart.

X is for…

XXanthi’s house

Kosta’s aunt Froso has a good friend named Xanthi, and bless her that her name starts with an X! When we were staying with Froso in Nafplio we spent an afternoon at Xanthi’s house having lunch. She used to own a restaurant with her husband and is an amazing cook. Although I have yet to meet a Greek woman who wasn’t an amazing cook. We had roasted lamb, potatoes and greens in an avgolemino sauce. When my husband took his first bite he burst into tears because it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. That of course, endeared him to them even more. He was pronounced a “good boy.”

A "good boy."

A “good boy.”

Xanthi was so sweet. Even though she didn’t speak a word of English and we only had a handful of Greek words, we had a wonderful time at her house. She each gave us gifts too– a set of komboloi (Greek worry beads) even though she doesn’t have a great deal of money. What a lovely, lovely, woman.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

Make ‘Em Laugh

I'm a dish, ain't I?

I’m a dish, ain’t I?

I have this marvelous little app on my phone called Old Booth. It takes old-timey portraits and lets you impose another face on them with your camera.

Sometimes I’ll just lie in bed and make silly faces to make myself laugh. I was raised in a family with a pronounced sense of humor. We can laugh even at the most difficult times.

Case in point: my Dad had an emergency appendectomy ten years ago, and unfortunately he landed back in the hospital a week later because of an abscess. My parents were living in Orlando at the time and I drove the four hours to be with them in the emergency room. The second I got there and walked in, I looked at my Dad lying in the hospital bed, obviously in pain, and I said, “So, I hear you’re full of pus?”

Hey, you could dry dishes behind those ears.

Hey, you could dry dishes behind those ears.

We all burst out laughing but the nurse who was in the room looked at us like we were nuts. And so we were. But that’s the point, isn’t it? If we lose our sense of humor life becomes a huge chore. But if we can laugh every day we beat the system and have an easier time remaining positive.

And so I make it a point to laugh every day. It certainly helps that I married a man who fits right in with our goofy family aesthetic. And the cats (little shits that they are) are often doing something ridiculous that make us laugh too. There are too many people out there who are miserable because they were either born without a humor gene, or let the harshness of life get the best of them.  I talk to hundreds of people every week at the Reference Desk every week and I can tell you within a few seconds who laughs every day and who doesn’t.

My darling husband as the scariest bellhop you'll ever meet.

My darling husband as the scariest bellhop you’ll ever meet.

My husband befriended an old man many years ago. Henry has since passed on, but for the last ten years of his life my husband was his only friend. He was intelligent, artistic, and had plenty of money to keep him comfortable. But he was bitter, lonely, and cheap and lived a life where he used to shout at the television and rail against everything with which he found fault. Smiles from Henry were few and far between, and laughter even more rare. Kosta, bless his soul, went to dinner with him every Wednesday night for ten years and even though it was hard for him to sit and listen to the same tirade every week. But he stayed with Henry to the end because that’s what you do for people who don’t have anyone.

No sense of humor will leave you like this...

No sense of humor will leave you like this…

Sad story, right? That’s why that will never be me. I have learned over the years to amuse myself, find humor in almost everything, and never take myself too seriously. Once a person starts down that path, it becomes a slippery slope into bitterness. We all have the power within us to make our own happiness, to comfort ourselves, and to stay positive, no matter what life slings at us. If something  bad happens, I just dig out my phone and sling it right back.