April 18, 2016
Last Thursday morning, April 14, I wrote “7:25/35° — the best coffee I’ve made in weeks” in my journal. I meditated on the story of doubting Thomas (Where was he that he was absent at Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit to his disciples? Had his grief led him to isolate himself?), and then read more in Michelle Hoover’s elegiac novel of loss and disappearance, Bottomland. C&C and a bit of fiction — a thoroughly good way to start any day.
But by the time I poured my Second Cup of that wonder brew, I was writing “Helpless Helpless Helpless” and wondering why I was having trouble discarding a book that I think “is full of New Age Self-Empowering Clap Trap, ‘wise’ words that are really only words.” I know I’ve moved it into a discard pile more than once. Why was it still here, in my kitchen? At least, I thought, the book was still around to be the top of a stack supporting the nebulizer we’d just acquired for Ron’s four-a-day breathing treatments. It helped bring the device high enough for him to just lean in to the mouthpiece without hunching over, and I didn’t care if it got wet from condensation or an accidental spill.
At 9:30 I went out to the first meeting in almost a month of Faith with Friends, my Thursday morning spiritual study group. It was good to do something “normal” again, something that was a fixture of the life I was beginning to think of as my “old” life, the one before the cancer treatment, and the attack of pneumonia and flu that put Ron in the hospital for ten days and that weakened him substantially. After F/F I went home to check that Ron didn’t need anything, and then out again for more errands.
At about 1:45 I was headed east on the parking lot of the Linglestown Road Giant, in the lane closest to the building. I was proceeding at a normal rate of speed. The driver of a small hatchback car was proceeding at a very fast rate in a lane between two parking rows, at right angles to me. I saw him, and perceived his reckless pace, and became alert to what he might do, because as my father always said about driving, and right-of-way issues, and defensive self-protection decisions, “You could be right. You could be dead right.” The driver then BLEW RIGHT THROUGH THE STOP SIGN at the end of his lane before turning left directly into my path. I, being the brilliant alert defensive driver that I am, avoided being hit because I had anticipated this recklessness and slowed my already slow pace.
After I parked my car and was walking into the store, I noticed that the hatchback car was parked under the delivery canopy, so I walked over to see what it said on the side of the vehicle. It was the logo, phone number, and web address of a local delivery service. I was maneuvering to take a picture of the information when the driver, an ordinary shlubby guy in his mid-thirties or thereabouts, came out.
“You blew right through that stop sign,” I said.
“Yeah, well I didn’t see you,” he said.
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “You had a STOP SIGN.”
“Yeah, well go ahead and call my boss, Honey. I don’t care.”
So I did. The boss’s name was Dave. I told him it was the “Honey” that set me off more than anything else. He took my complaint, said he knew who was driving in that area, and promised to take care of it. I was rattled enough that I posted about the exchange on Facebook, naming the business and including a link to their website, and also following up with a message on their contact page.
After the supermarket, where all I had to do was pick up more medication, I made my last stop of the day, at the public library. A book on reserve by a long line of folks interested in it was due, and I was coming to the end of the audio version of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’d misjudged just how much was left, and I wound up riding around in the neighborhood near the library for about ten minutes listening to the last chapters, and then sitting in the parking lot of the library sobbing — SOBBING, I tell you — while I listened to a brief interview with the author. I was weeping because this mesmerizing book was over, because Henrietta Lacks’s daughter didn’t live to read it herself, because Rebecca Skloot got married and divorced during the time she was writing Immortal Life, because her second book, announced in 2011, has yet to be published, and because a shlubby guy had called me Honey and I had retaliated, forgetting that just over a year ago I was a much nicer person than that. We’re all just strangers on a bus, tryin’ to make our way home.
I heard by email from Shlubby Reckless Driver’s boss the next day. He has been counseled about traffic safety and professional behavior, and will have today without pay to ponder these things.
I hope he enjoys the sunshine. Me? I’m trying to get back to where I once belonged. The audiobook I exchanged Henrietta Lacks for on Thursday is Ann Packer’s novel Songs Without Words. It is, by sheer coincidence, narrated by the same reader who did the Skloot book, Cassandra Campbell. It’s like having my lost friend back in the car with me. As we try to make our way home.