Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Three times now I’ve developed coping mechanisms to deal with all this, and three times I’ve allowed myself to be swallowed up in them.  The first one could have easily cost me my marriage, the second one; all self-respect.  The third one nearly cost me my job and with it my mind.

What starts out as a justifiable way to deal with things that can’t be made sense of, quickly turns into a world view that commands your reason and twists your perspective.  In each instance, I find myself in places and situations that in a moment of lucidity are shocking even to myself.  “How did it come to this”? I ask myself.  Each time I wander the Good Shepherd gently nudges me back into the fold.  Other times He lets me run into the fence, still other times, He waits till the wolves have their teeth in my flesh before he picks me up, saving me from certain destruction.  I guess it’s true; He wants us to live life abundantly, why else would I be, in each instance of failure – restored to a level that I could never have imagined?

Through all of this, my wife has patiently endured. 

Steinbeck described a man’s life in his novel The Grapes of Wrath as a series of “jerks”.  He said that:

“A baby’s born, a man dies, and that’s a jerk.  He gets a farm and looses his farm, and that’s a jerk. For a woman, its all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on.” 

For my wife, this appears to be a truth although it makes it no easier for her, just different.  Perhaps that’s why I can count three and to her, it’s all just one.  Those jerks are the little epiphanies that I experience each time my coping mechanism takes control of my life, silently and predictably turning me into a jerk.

As a man, my natural ability to be a jerk has many thousands of years underpinning it.  Adam had a sweet wife and the first time he felt the heat from a bad decision; his first action was to throw her under the bus.  “Jerk”.  King David had the world at his fingertips; even had God bragging about what a great guy he was yet he had this coping mechanism that he developed which eventually moved him not only into the category of voyeur, but adulterer and later that of murderer.  “Jerk”.  More recently a rather famous couple that seemed to be the very embodiment of balance and harmony in this life had their world rocked by the admission of an affair on his part.  This poor woman was not only a marvelous mother, she’d once been crowned “Miss America”!  Jerk. 

The redeeming thought in all this is that in each instance, forgiveness was offered.  The victim proved to be greater than the transgressor; my case is no less different.  But as a “jerk”, it’s not easy!  I can accept the forgiveness and correct the deluded thinking that clouded my judgment but the problem that I needed to cope with is still there.  The elephant is still in the room breathing heavily, swaying to and fro.  Occasionally it busts out a window; frequently it stays awake through the night with fits of screaming, maniacal laughter, punched faces, and dirty shredded diapers.  

Now if I can only defy myself and learn to cope with the elephant in the same manner as a river copes with rocks; my life of and as a series of jerks will be vastly improved.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Normal People Don't Kiss Frozen Tater-Tots"

“Normal people don’t kiss frozen tater-tots,” I said to her in an even, matter-of-fact tone.   Her only response was to purse her lips, bend over and kiss the tray of evenly spaced potatoes yet again. 

This sort of delightfully rational moment is always balanced by some sort of irrationally bizarre moment that proves to be equally extreme.  I thought of the concern I held for the impression of mental stability that kissing frozen potatoes offered as I attempted to tip her stiff, 135-pound frame and horizontally insert her into the cab of the truck.  The text message from our helper was simple enough; “B had a seizure and can’t walk the rest of the way home – she’s too heavy for me to carry, help!”  I got in my truck and headed down the street looking for them.  When I found them, they’d been standing there for at least 10 minutes looking for all the world like two lawn statues embraced as one in a hug, affixed to the middle of the sidewalk. 

I parked the truck in a nearby driveway and walked over to them unsure if I’d have to drag her the rest of the way or if my voice alone would get her to move.  I lamented the thought of not having a two-wheeled cart that I could simply load her onto like a large tank of welding gas.  Fortunately, she stiffly moved in my direction when I called her name and rather than let her hug me, I held her at arms length and sashayed the rest of the way to the truck.  She blindly stumbled along.

I hoisted her up and got her started, feet-first into the pick up truck.  From there I shoved till her rump cleared the bench seat and then like a rolled oriental carpet, I gave the remaining torso a good shove till she was upright in the middle of the cab.  For this she gave me a toothy grin. Her eyes, rolled deep into the back of her head gave no indication of moving – like a toy doll with the eyes that open when you turn them upright; this doll was clearly broken.

When this sort of event happens, whatever you thought you were going to do goes immediately on an indefinite hold.  For the next three hours you’ll find yourself on one side or the other, holding the left or the right fist in an attempt to keep her from punching herself in the eye.  When she connects with her nose and the blood flows, you find yourself thankful that she didn’t hit the eye.  When she hits her head, you’re glad she missed what she was aiming for.  When after an hour or so, she begins to lessen the swinging of fists and you start to watch for the “sneaky finger”.  This is where you think she’s rubbing her eye but in reality, she’s trying to run her index finger in beneath the eyeball. 

On this particular afternoon, Sherry and I thought we were going to go for a nice drive and run a few errands.  Instead, we found ourselves resigned to the world of “un-normal”.  As a primer for the unfamiliar: Un-normal people kiss frozen tater-tots.  Un-normal people try to poke out their eyes. 

Sherry and I have found that our only indicator of what “normal” is comes when something infuriates us.  Those are things like: “you two should go away for a weekend and relax” (clearly a normal activity), or “have you seen any good movies lately” (again, a normal and rational event).  My favorite was on the Christian radio station in which the expert outlined “the best way for your marriage to fail is to live separate lives in which you do little or nothing together” (makes good, normal sense).  I guess that sitting on the sofa with your spouse for hours on end, trying to keep your daughter from blinding herself constitutes a marriage keeper in the un-normal world because that’s about all we do together.

Its not that we don’t want to do those other “normal” things, its just that we can’t!  The text for help comes when you’re out for a drive to forget.  The "evening away" is hedged by the realization that you need to be home before 9pm and the horror of both is that if you do go away and manage to relax; you’ll pay hell for it when you get home!  The all-nighters, late nighters, evening seizures; were they to happen once-in-a-while, I think we could cope.  The problem is that they happen nearly every night.

All of this frustration causes us to find a bizarre humor in all the occurrences that Bethany presents. In our chiding her for kissing frozen foods, in the way we laugh when we tell the story about “loading her horizontally into the truck”, or even recounting the story about her blind right hook missing her eye and bloodying her nose.  I never know if our laughter is an emotional shield, a pathetic cry for help, or some gift that allows us to see a divine beauty in human tragedy.  I never know if the blind stare I offer people when they explain the rough night they had because the cat kept shifting on the bed, is a tell that I managed to hold back my suggestion for dumping the cat and getting a good night’s sleep? 

I can only assume that the things I’m failing at today as a result of all this, is fodder for tomorrow’s triumph.  I’m certain that in tomorrow’s triumph, kissing frozen tater-tots will have a perfectly logical explanation.