Friday, April 21, 2017

Everyone Needs a Lift Sometimes

Today I bought a lift chair.

I’ve been preparing for my upcoming joint replacement surgeries: one shoulder, two knees and, most likely, a new ankle—all before the year’s end. Jeff and I rearranged the TV room, removing a chair and an end table in order to fit my new used stationary bike (for recovery) and my new used lift chair (for recovery from doing the stationary bike).

I had a lift chair once before, following six weeks in the intensive care unit after Clare’s dramatic and near-fatal birth. It was probably the ugliest chair I’d ever had in my possession, boasting an outdated maroon print the likes of which I’d never choose for normal furniture. But damn, I loved that chair. After awaking from a 14-to-16-hour sleep, I would, with Jeff's help, maneuver from the hospital bed in our bedroom to the living room, where I would park my broken ass in that blessed lift chair for a couple hours until I was exhausted and ready for more sleep. But the funny thing was, no matter how high the lift chair would raise me toward being upright, I still needed Jeff to boost me those last five inches to standing. When we finally got rid of that chair, I felt I had accomplished a feat greater than any of the marathons I’d run in the past. I had graduated from needing a lift, so to speak, fully capable of standing by myself.

My new lift chair is, thankfully, not as ugly as the first one. And, being used, I found it on Craigslist for a mere $50. Which is about 1/10th of what I would’ve spent if I’d bought it new. My husband and I were set to pick it up yesterday, but the seller got busy with something else and said he had to cancel. Then my husband left town for a weeklong business trip early this morning, so the seller offered to deliver the chair to my home all the way from its current location 45 minutes away. At first, I was thrilled because these things are heavy as hell and I’m not exactly in lift-chair-lifting shape (see: joint replacements, above), and I really, REALLY wanted to get my in-home recovery area set up well in advance of my first joint replacement surgery on May 9th.

I thought about the seller’s offer to bring the chair right to my home. And then I thought about a new client of mine, a real go-getter of a woman whose only hint of past trauma is the substantial scar peeking out from her neckline. Twenty-four years ago, my client tried selling her car on Craigslist and wound up with a serial killer—a literal serial killer—coming to her home, purportedly to check out the car. At night. In the rain. My client sustained a broken neck and multiple stab wounds before a neighbor heard her screaming and called 911. (My client’s attacker was later caught and charged with the deaths of several other young women and is now serving life in prison.)

So let’s just say I was a bit nervous about having a stranger deliver a used chair to my home. I tried reading into the seller’s text messages. His two young daughters were mentioned. His mother was mentioned. His work and class schedules were mentioned.  All details that indicated he wasn’t a serial killer. Then again, anyone can lie in a text, right?

But I really wanted that chair, wanted to cross one more item off my pre-surgery to-do list. So I said I’d be delighted to have him deliver it. And then I made sure someone was here with me. And I kept RuPaul home from doggie daycare—not that poodles are known for their prowess as bodyguards, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a (not so) menacing dog in my presence.

The seller—Jay—arrived this afternoon with the lift chair in the back of his run-down pickup truck. He walked with a limp, but was strong enough to handle the chair with the help of a neighbor of mine. And then, as I am wont to do, I started asking him questions about his need for the chair. What can I say? I believe everyone has a story and I was curious about his. In other words, I’m nosey.

At 30 years old, Jay began experiencing searing pain in one of his hips. He reported the pain to a doctor, who recommended an MRI. But Jay had no health insurance and couldn’t afford the MRI, so his doctor loaded him up with opioid prescriptions and sent him on his way.

More of Jay’s joints began to deteriorate and his level of pain continued to increase, as did his dependency on the pain medications. When he realized he had a problem with addiction, he worked hard to get off the meds before turning to alcohol for escape.

“Alcohol ruined my life,” he said, humbly. No whining, just a deep sadness within his voice.

“When Obamacare came along, I was finally able to get the surgeries I needed,” Jay said. To date, he has had total joint replacements in both shoulders, both knees and both hips. He still has deep pain in his hips, and his ankles are shot too. I asked if ankle replacements were coming.

“No,” he said, somewhat resigned. “The next stop for me is a wheelchair.”

Jay is only 34 years old. My heart broke when he told me this.

I paid Jay twice the price he was asking for the chair, thanking him profusely for delivering it.

And now, I’m sitting in Jay’s chair—my new used lift chair—with a greater appreciation for the hardships that so many people face, day in, day out, often with no sign of relief on the horizon. Ordinary people with extraordinary challenges. 

Despite the surgery-palooza that I'm in the midst of (1 down, 4 to go), I'm feeling pretty darn grateful about my own situation, about the people in my life who have offered support as I continue my own journey back to mobility and a less painful daily existence. 

And I’m hopeful that one day I can offer assistance to people like Jay, people who are struggling with their own medical burdens. 

Because everyone needs a lift sometimes.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I've Been Zeked!

In the fifth grade, a new girl moved to my hometown of Wenonah, New Jersey. She was tall, like me. She was goofy, like me. She had a pool, unlike me. We were instant BFFs.

Throughout middle school and high school, Mischelle—whose name was misspelled her entire life until she decided to go by “Shelly,”—and I became fairly inseparable. Except, like, that time I told her I’d be over in ten minutes to pick her up for the mall and I completely spaced and went without her. (My mother ended up driving her there when she learned from Shelly that I’d forgotten her.)

After graduating from my MBA program back in (cough, cough, mumble, mumble), I decided to spend the summer before my job started traveling the country to visit friends. I met up with Shelly and her fiancĂ©, Matt, at her parents’ home in Wenonah. After a few days there, we caravanned in two cars to Shelly and Matt’s apartment in Durham, North Carolina. At one point during the drive, Shelly and Matt pulled off the road even though we’d just had a rest stop. I pulled off too and asked them what was up. 

“Weird noise in the back of the car,” Shelly said. “I’m guessing Dad is behind this.”

Sure enough, when we opened their hatchback and unzipped one of their larger suitcases, there was a wind-up alarm clock nestled into their dirty clothes, still making a muffled clanging noise. And next to the clock was this little gem—the head of Zeke, a homemade ragdoll Shelly’s grandmother had sewn back when Shelly was still Mischelle. Time had not been kind to Zeke and he was missing his felt hat, one eye and entire body. 

“What the hell?” I said, as Shelly and Matt laughed.

“We’ve been Zeked!” Shelly exclaimed. 

She then gave me the background on this odd little doll head, telling me how Zeke had lost bits of himself over the years until one day he was nothing more than a bald one-eyed head. As kids, Shelly or one of her two sisters would often discover Zeke’s head tucked into their coat pockets—a favorite prank of their parents, who hoped to give their daughters a bit of levity on their walk to school.

I spent a week or so with Shelly and Matt in North Carolina, doing long training runs for my first marathon and lounging by the apartment complex’s pool all day while they were at work. We got into the routine of “Zeking” each other. I floated Zeke on a Tupperware lid in their toilet and shut the lid. The next morning, I awoke after they were already gone, but I found Zeke in the toe of one of my running shoes. Shortly after we went to bed one evening, I heard laughter from their bedroom. Clearly, they had just discovered Zeke tacked to the ceiling over their bed.

When I left Shelly and Matt’s to drive to New York for my new job, I stole Zeke. (Wouldn’t you?) When Shelly called me a few days later to accuse me of theft, I had my story ready. I told her I had put Zeke in an empty bag of Goldfish crackers on top of the refrigerator as my farewell Zeking. Neither could find the bag (because I’d already thrown it out), so they assumed they’d accidentally tossed it. Sadly, Zeke was gone for good. So they thought. 
Shelly and Matt’s wedding was scheduled for several months later. In speaking about the details with her a few weeks before the big event, she mentioned that they would be honeymooning in Aruba, but given the mischievous tendencies of Matt’s friends, they weren’t telling anyone where they would be staying.  

I expressed concern about no one knowing their whereabouts and promised to keep it a secret if she told me, that I’d feel better knowing that at least one of us knew where to find them in the unlikely event of an emergency. Shelly acquiesced and gave me the name of the resort. 

The day Shelly and Matt left for Aruba, I was giddy with joy over the devious plan I had hatched with the staff at their hotel. I had FedEx-ed a small box to the concierge so she could have it waiting in their room upon arrival. Zeke was tucked safely inside and the lid of the box was inscribed with a little rhyme: 

                          You tried to keep it a secret, 
                          But the locale of your honeymoon leaked.
                          Then a mysterious box arrives in your room.
                          Hey, honeymooners—you've been Zeked!

Remember, this was pre-email-and-texting days, and international telephone rates were high, so I wasn't surprised when I didn't hear from Shelly that day (though in hindsight, I'm sure she'd been dying to call me given the sheer awesomeness of this particular Zeking). Unbeknownst to me, she had her own plans.  When Shelly and Matt returned home, I phoned her immediately. 

"Well?!" I said, exasperated. 

"Well, what?" she replied, giving an Oscar-worthy performance of feigned ignorance.

When I asked her to detail every moment upon arriving at the hotel, she told me they had reserved a nice suite, but when they opened the door to their room the smell of cigarettes was so overpowering, they shut the door and demanded different accommodations. They never even set foot inside their original room according to her. I was crestfallen. And Shelly had me completely fooled. Now it was I who thought Zeke was lost for good. 

Two months later, my boyfriend decided it was time I met his parents. We both flew to Albuquerque, where we rented a car and drove to his folks’ home in Los Alamos, arriving after midnight. His mother had waited up for us and after an introductory hug, she immediately guided me to the Christmas tree to admire it. Ok, a tad weird, but what the hell. I admired the tree. But one compliment wasn’t enough apparently, and she insisted I continue to take in the tree’s beauty, her hands on my shoulders as if to hold me in place. I complied. And then--I screamed. 

Right in front of me, in a glistening hand-blown bulb, was Zeke, staring out at me through his glass confines. Shelly's dad had taken up glass blowing and she had obviously decided to put his talents to good use. Well done, Shelly. Well. Done. 

It took me years to bring myself to smash the bulb, freeing Zeke from his glass prison, but as they say in show-biz: the Zeke must go on! (or something like that). And what better time to do so than the occasion of Shelly’s first pregnancy. 

I was living in Los Angeles by then and had a good pal who worked in character licensing at Disney (read: had access to more Disney-character crap than should be legal). I bummed a half dozen miniature Winnie-the Pooh stuffed animals from her, as Shelly had already told me the baby's nursery would be decorated in Pooh motif. I then savagely cut off the face of one of the mini-Poohs, inserting Zeke in the gaping hole and stitching him in place, in effect creating a sort of FrankenPooh—cuddly body, creepy face. I stacked the Poohs in a tight box, three facing up, three facing down. FrankenPooh was facing down. I giftwrapped the box and mailed it to Shelly’s parents’ home, where she and Matt would be spending the holidays. Then, I waited. 

Unable to sleep for long stretches at that point in her pregnancy, Shelly woke up early on Christmas morning and sat in the living room killing time until the rest of the family got around. She scanned the gifts under the tree and found mine. Seeing no harm in opening a non-family gift without the rest of the gang present, she opened the package. And then--she screamed. Suffice it to say, the rest of the family was now wide awake as well. 

Um, thanks for the hat?
As the Zekings increased over the years, so too did the level of creativity involved. Zeke had been stowed inside a thick book entitled, appropriately, Zeke (the pages within having been carved out to fit his head), sewn onto a hat that was presented to me at a class reunion, and even baked into cranberry bread (a feat which required constantly pushing his head back to the bottom of the bread pan with a fork throughout the baking process, as it kept rising to the surface). 

Not even a death in the family was reason enough to put the Zeke-centric shenanigans on hold. Shortly after Shelly left town following my step-dad's memorial service, I found Zeke lurking in my refrigerator. 

Perhaps the greatest Zekecomplishment came to fruition the day Jeff and I picked up the developed photos from the thirty or so disposable cameras we’d left on the tables at our wedding reception—again, we’re talking pre-smart-phone-camera days. 

Aside from the 40 or so throw-away pictures of the ground and the sky that my four-year-old nephew had taken, there were loads of nice shots of our friends and family members. 

We flipped through hundreds of photos until we got to them—the photos of various wedding guests, each holding or kissing or cuddling Zeke. One of Zeke at the hors d’oeuvres table. One of Zeke at the urinal in the restroom. Even one of Zeke hovering over Jeff’s and my heads as we cut the nontraditional wedding pie!  

I still have no idea how Shelly pulled that one off, bringing Zeke to my own wedding without my knowledge. I'm perhaps even more impressed that none of my friends ruined the surprise. I tend to hang out with people who are as incapable of keeping a secret as I am. Bravo!

Me and Shelly's Mini-Me, Mary
When Shelly’s second child stayed with us last summer during a post-college road trip, I accused her of having Zeke with her, as surely her mother had put her up to something and we’d find him in the cupboards or dirty laundry when she left. 

I was on high alert for days after she departed, certain I’d discover him hiding in the next drawer I opened. But Zeke never materialized. 

Recently, I was thrilled to learn that Shelly and Matt themselves would be visiting. 

They showed up for a couple days last week, a stopover on a road trip from Utah back to North Carolina. I threatened Shelly that Zeke had better not be in her luggage. She swore he wasn’t with her. And she was telling the truth. Sort of.

Two days after she and Matt left, a box arrived in the mail. It was addressed to me, though now that the dog has a monthly subscription to Bark Box, he believes every package that shows up is for him. 

I tend to do a lot of online shopping, so boxes arriving are commonplace. I opened it thinking it contained vitamins or books, two things I order online with regularity. Nope. It was a red water bottle, the type I don’t use. I wondered if Amazon had made an error. I handed the bottle to my daughter, figuring she could have it. She unscrewed the lid and then--she screamed. (Are you seeing a pattern here?) Tucked inside the bottle was, of course, Zeke. 

And so the burden of Zeking Shelly rests at my feet once more, and I take this responsibility with great pleasure. Ideas? Send ‘em my way! 

And down the road, when my body is old and giving out, I will likely request an open-casket viewing at my own funeral...just to give my childhood BFF the opportunity to pull off the ultimate Zeking: tucking a creepy little doll head into my cold dead hands. I mean, come on—what are friends for, right? 

Zeke Buddies for Life