Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amplitude

   Part II of the short story, The Appointment

     Despair coated the walls of the waiting area like Pepto-Bismol, whitewashing Peter with a familiar, nagging sense of invisibility. Luxuriating in a sensual daydream of life before Minerva's eggshells, his mind wandered over the curves of her being, once radiant with promise and tenderness beyond comprehension, resplendent in the magnificence of us. Deep within his psyche, frozen images of bliss presented themselves, cueing flash-card emotions he'd tucked away for safe-keeping. Once upon a time...Vaguely aware of the light rain that was starting outside, reminding him of the fact that neither of them had brought an umbrella, Peter lingered in the sunshine of yesterday, baptized by its warm, honeyed narrative.

     The first time he'd met Minerva was on Mr. Ernie's bus. She was the new kid in his 4th grade class, her family having moved mid-schoolyear to Birmingham, Alabama from a small town out west. Oblivious to the whispering and speculation that was going on behind her, Minerva doodled on her Big Chief tablet in the seat behind Mr. Ernie, the one that was normally reserved for poor retarded Darryl who soiled his britches daily and couldn't keep his hands to himself. When the bus stopped to pick up Darryl, Peter grabbed Minerva's hand, pulling her into his own seat. Clearly flustered, she rearranged herself, elbowing him in the ribs. "Look what you made me do!" she complained, alerting him to the jagged scrawl now transecting the elaborately detailed angel she'd been working on. "Sorry, but you were in Darryl's seat," Peter retorted, secretly marveling over her deftly-placed pencil strokes, obviating the need for an eraser. "He's...special." Defiantly whipping her blonde pigtails in his direction, Minerva looked right through him as she countered, "Well, I'm special, too."

     Fighting the return to consciousness, Peter let the snapshots keep coming. Was it the last day of sixth grade that I broke my arm on Minerva's trampoline? He could barely make out the two of them, laughing as they disregarded her parents' rule allowing only one kid to jump at a time. Bouncing asynchronously at first, they sprung higher and higher, accidentally landing together on the rebound, knocking them both into the springs, chipping one of her front teeth and fracturing his right radius. Minerva had been the first person to sign his cast: "Peter the plodding potato plummeted proudly." My God, she doesn't know how beautiful she is. Minerva had always had a peculiar way of holding her mouth and chewing on her lip while she was sketching, an endearing quirk which took on an intoxicating quality the first time they made love, when she'd insisted on drawing him naked and post-coital. "I'm capturing this moment in time," she explained, "so neither of us will ever forget it. I wanna feel this way forever." I wanna feel this way forever, too, honey. It's us against the world.

     Shifting in his padded waiting room chair, Peter struggled to remember what us felt like. We had our own little world. Summer camping trips were spent snuggling inside their pup tent, gathering blackberries for breakfast,  fishing for trout, and bathing together in the stream. He had a system for helping Minerva wash her hair, warming a pan of water over the propane stove, working the peppermint castile soap they used for washing dishes into a sudsy meringue, then rinsing it out as she held a towel around her bare shoulders. She loved having her hair combed in front of the campfire. We were open books. Everything about them still felt fresh, even their shared experiences growing up together. They literally ate each other up. In the early years of their marriage, they'd lie awake in bed, talking about everything and nothing, unable to bear the thought of being separated by sleep. If only Tyler could have joined us sooner. It amazed Peter to think that the egg which produced Tyler was born with Minerva; he'd been there all along. After two years of trying to conceive naturally, they'd consulted a fertility specialist who couldn't find anything wrong with either of them. "Stop trying so hard! Just let it happen," he'd advised. Minerva wanted to be someone's mom more than anything in the world. Crushed by the lack of control she perceived over her own body, she'd plunged into her first major depression. On the day Minerva turned 37, despite all odds and amidst a circulating neuro-chemical milieu of Prozac and Wellbutrin, their sweet Tyler was born.

     "If you can hear me, Minerva, wiggle your toes." Minerva lay motionless on the stretcher, as her anesthesiologist hyperventilated her lungs with oxygen to enhance the impending seizure. Don't worry, Mommy, I won't forget my lunchbox today. "Think I'll set her initial dose at 100 milliCoulombs to increase the amplitude; her seizure intensity was suboptimal last treatment," said her psychiatrist, talking to himself out loud. Minerva, I want to know you again. Satisfied with the degree of hyperventilation she'd achieved, her anesthesiologist confirmed, "We're ready to treat."

     Comforted in the abundance of his retrospection, stirred by the unmistakable clicking of lipstick tubes and pressed powder compacts, he opened his eyes, quietly observing the middle-aged man sitting next to him, fussing over his nearly-comatose mother's hair and makeup. Peter couldn't decide whether she resembled an overgrown china doll or a corpse. Ringlets of wavy white hair cascaded perfectly across her shoulders, and her meticulously applied eggplant-hued eye shadow matched her carefully chosen suede shoes, but her doll eyes remained glassy and lifeless. "My, don't you look lovely today, Mrs. Foster! Come on back so we can get you ready for your treatment." As the doll-corpse shuffled slowly through the door, her son gathered her makeup into an aubergine bag, while Peter found himself praying that would never be him.

Part I: The Appointment
Part III of The Appointment: Redemption
Conclusion: Insurance


Terminology
ECT: electro-convulsive (shock) therapy. A controlled seizure used to treat severe refractory depression.
milliCoulombs: unit of electrical charge in ECT, amps/sec
Amplitude: width of a waveform; capacity; copiousness or plenty.
Hyperventilation: rapid breathing that lowers CO2 in the blood and decreases seizure threshold. Used in ECT to facilitate and optimize seizures.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Appointment

     "Tyler, where's your lunch box? Did you even remember to bring it home from school yesterday? You're going to be late for the bus again, and I'm going to be late for my appointment!" Her frantic search for the lunch box exhausted, Minerva rifled through drawers and cupboards for a brown paper bag, mentally cataloguing all the things Tyler had forgotten, seemingly on purpose, over the last 48 hours. There was the brand new pair of sneakers he'd left in the sandbox, now waterlogged by Sunday's late spring rain. "Mommy, can I go outside and play in the rain? Please?!" he'd begged, just as the rain was starting. He and Bob Boxley, their three-legged beagle, stood looking at her expectantly, hardly able to contain their anticipation. "Me and Bob wanna hunt for buried treasure in the sandbox!" She relented, letting out a long sigh. "On one condition, Tyler. You take those shoes off and put them on the porch so they'll stay dry. Do you understand?" Nodding furiously, Tyler promised "Yes, Mommy!" while reaching around her thighs for a hug. "I love you, Mommy!"

     Temporarily distracted by a can of tomato soup that had somehow escaped color-coded alphabetization, Minerva busied herself with a systematic re-organization of her pantry, while Tyler imagined his shoes were projectiles, first untying and loosening them, then launching them into the sheets of rain for Bob Boxley to catch on the freefall. The shoe snafu was discovered Monday morning, along with Tyler's missing homework. And, this was only Tuesday! Exasperated, running her fingers along the bristles of his bone-dry toothbrush, she exclaimed, "Tyler, how can you be so forgetful?" Grinning as his tongue explored a budding incisor, Tyler replied matter-of-factly, "I don't know, Mommy. I guess I'm good at forgetting to remember!" She cringed, thinking to herself, "Like father, like son." The bus arrived on time at 7:20. She handed Tyler his lunch and his books as he climbed aboard. "Don't forget to bring your lunch box home today, all right? I'm all out of paper bags, and I won't be able to go to the grocery store this afternoon." Before darting into the seat directly behind ancient Mr. Ernie, who'd also been her school bus driver, Tyler said reassuringly, "OK, Mommy. I'll remember today. Don't forget, I love you!"

     Minerva had exactly thirty minutes to put herself together before the appointment. Glancing in the mirror to apply her lipstick, she briefly waded into the emotional garbage she'd spent her lifetime hoarding: festering wounds of disappointment and rejection, scabbed over with resentments as tenacious as fly-paper, simmering away neatly just below the surface. Dissatisfied, she wiped off the lipstick, and started over again. She thought of Tyler's father, how wildly attracted they were to one another when they'd first met, but how quickly the newness of marriage and childrearing had worn off. Despite all the love and affection he'd given her, she'd never felt complete. There were parts of him she hated, especially his disordered inattention to detail, and now, she was seeing the same character defects in their son. No longer intimate, they slept in separate bedrooms. She shuddered with revulsion at every stray man hair she discovered in the sink, scrubbing them down the drain with abrasive cleanser, half-wishing she could erase her dysphoria with the same ease. Years of therapy, yoga, and Buddhist meditation hadn't helped. Neither had the Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, Effexor, Wellbutrin, Xanax, or Abilify. No, she was one in a million, a real special case, someone that no one could ever hope to understand. It had to be genetic.

     "Honey, are you ready?" her husband called from the foyer downstairs. "Traffic's a mess this morning!" "How can anyone be that cheerful?" Minerva wondered as she shellacked her carefully coiffed asymmetrical bob with a final spritz of hair spray. "I'm coming," she replied, without attempting to conceal her irritation. He greeted her warmly with a kiss, disconcerted by her stiffness and thick makeup. Over the past few months, he'd seen her go from bad to worse, her bouts of near-catatonia interrupted by brief intervals of organizing canned goods and extensive primping in front of the mirror. He'd convinced himself that the girl he married was still in there somewhere. He sure did miss seeing the light in her eyes. But, her mind had always been like a steel trap, and she never missed an opportunity to dwell in negativity. It amazed him how easily she could retrieve decades of wrongs and hurts, as if they'd happened yesterday, yet remain so neglectful of the fondness he and Tyler showered upon her. In silence, they drove to her appointment.

     The schedule was running a bit behind, and the waiting area was already quite crowded. Minerva gazed ahead blankly, while her husband studied the faces in the room, half of whom were wearing the same expressionless mask as his wife. He was overwhelmed by a sudden urge to knock on their foreheads, saying, "Hello! Is anybody in there?" A woman's voice broke the silence. "Minerva? Minerva Cunningham? Hi there, Mr. Cunningham, we'll bring you back to see her as soon as we get her ready for her procedure." He watched as his wife was led through the door, wondering if all this was really necessary. "Why can't she get herself unstuck? Or, is it that she won't?" As someone who'd always just kept moving on, her inability to let go was exceptionally difficult for him to understand. "Mr. Cunningham, we're ready for you to come back now."

     An anesthesiologist was examining Minerva, inquiring about her teeth, and asking her to wiggle her toes. "We'll be inserting a bite block after you're asleep to protect your teeth, and if you don't appear to be asleep enough, you may hear us asking you to wiggle your right foot, in which case we'll give you more medicine. It's normal for your jaw to feel a little sore after this procedure." Minerva turned away as her husband leaned in to kiss her. Straightening himself to a standing position, hoping no one had noticed the air kiss, his eyes were met by the sympathetic glance of the procedure nurse who reassuringly squeezed his arm. "She's gonna do just fine. She'll get better, you'll see."

     Minerva lay on the stretcher as the nurse and anesthesiologist took off her right shoe and placed an array of monitoring devices, including blood pressure cuffs on her left arm and right ankle. "You'll feel that cuff on your left arm going up and down, Minerva. We won't inflate the one on your ankle till after you're asleep." As an oxygen mask was lowered over her face, the nurse wrapped an elastic band around her forehead, along with EEG pads on her temples and behind her jaw. Something felt wet. "Don't worry, Minerva, that's just some water-based jelly; we'll try not to mess up your hair." She could overhear the psychiatrist talking to one of his residents, something about titrating the stimulus to induce a really good bifrontal seizure. She barely felt the cuff on her right ankle being inflated, isolating it from the paralytic agent that was soon to follow. In a moment of clarity, somewhere between the methohexital and the succinylcholine, she thought of Tyler, and how unlike him, she was good at forgetting to forget.

Part II: Amplitude
Part III: Redemption
Conclusion: Insurance


Terminology
EEG: electroencephalogram. A waveform readout of the brain's electrical activity.
Bifrontal seizure: a seizure that occurs within both of the brain's frontal lobes simultaneously. A technique used in ECT.
ECT: electro-convulsive (shock) therapy. A controlled seizure used to treat refractory depression.
Methohexital: a short-acting barbiturate used to induce general anesthesia. Most commonly used in ECT.
Succinylcholine: a depolarizing paralytic agent, used in general anesthesia to prevent contraction of skeletal muscle.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Idolization That's Worth The Risk

     Even though Spartacus and I have inhabited our loft for almost a year, we've yet to hang all of our paintings, framed photos, and wall art, partly out of laziness but mostly because the preponderance of our walls are made of concrete. Yeah, it's sturdy, but it's also temperamental, a real schizoid time bomb threatening to crumble and vaporize if you aren't holding your mouth just right. Mounting a biofuel fireplace was our first foray into working with this material. After multiple trips to Home Depot, we learned that drilling into concrete requires a drill with hammer function, special masonry drill bits, medieval-looking anchors, and lots of courage, as mistakes are nearly impossible to conceal. One false move with that drill gun, and you'll be at the mercy of a clueless, orange-aproned teenager all over again. Among the items still needing a vertical home is a little plaque, given to me by my sister. Still armored in bubble wrap, waiting patiently to be liberated, it reads, "My goal in life is to be the person my dog thinks I am." As useless as goal-setting tends to be (if you don't believe me, just observe a gym in January...before your eyes, that crowd of well-intended folks who haven't broken a sweat in years will dissipate with each passing day as their New Years' resolutions melt back into oblivion), that's not a bad one to strive for.
     Strange as it may seem, I don't recall having heroes growing up. I wasn't a sports fan, nor was I particularly fascinated with history or literature, outside of school. The hours I spent sitting through Catholic mass and catechism classes were largely uninspiring, except for the iconic art and the chance to enjoy a sip of wine at communion. I certainly wasn't awed by or fearful of God. The only authority figure I remember being really afraid of back then was my piano teacher, an old woman from Siberia who'd once been an opera singer. She thought nothing of slapping my hands for making mistakes or criticizing me for being overweight. What really killed me was how she spoke so glowingly of her other students while tormenting me inside that musty house of hers; it always smelled of cabbage. In my eight year old eyes, she was the epitome of cruelty. Had I come from a family that valued competition, I might have viewed her with respect. Instead of pressuring me to be someone I wasn't, my parents encouraged me to explore my own interests, most of which were creative or artistic in nature. If anyone was a hero to me, it was the two of them.
     I haven't changed much since then. I still don't worship whoever or whatever it is that mainstream society considers extraordinary; it's a set up for disappointment. Greatness is an illusion borne of expectations. Lance Armstrong's fall from grace is as much the responsibility of those who idolized him as it is his own. In worshiping anything, you believe at your own risk. Sure, there are people whose accomplishments I admire, but I don't put them on a pedestal. They're only human, as perfectly flawed as the rest of us. Like my piano teacher, popular opinion is a cruel thing cloaked in conditional approval, a capricious wall of concrete that crushes its heroes as readily as it safeguards them. If only heroes weren't so damn human. Why not value the wisdom of nature and experience, the courage it takes to be individuals, the fragile yet durable beauty of what's ordinary and mundane, and the grounded instability of the present moment instead? Why is it so difficult for us to believe in ourselves? Why aspire to be like anyone else, when we can be the amazing superheroes our dogs think we are? Now, that's idolization that's worth the risk.



Sunday, January 13, 2013

Going Boxless

     In a boldly eccentric move, Spartacus and I have decided to leave our Christmas tree up all year long. This decision came about Friday night, as we were standing in line for some ice cream. As I perused the list of flavors, trying to decide between Maple Bacon Brittle and Pumpkin, I sighed while mentioning that we needed to dismantle the tree over the weekend, wondering aloud why we really needed to take it down in the first place. Reverberating simultaneously, "Let's leave it up!", we high-fived each other, laughing as if we were really getting away with something. "Who says every day can't be Christmas?" Pausing for a moment to revel in our joint disregard for conformity, we returned to the uber-serious business of flavor determination. Heath Butterscotch or Double Chocolate Chip? Fortunately for the people standing behind us, we were only joking about requesting to sample of each of the 20 flavors.
     As soon as we got home, I turned on the tree. The poor thing been sitting there, ignored and unilluminated for the past week, and we found ourselves admiring how flicking a switch not only restored its luminous splendor, but the warmly inviting ambience we'd both been missing. Basking in its glow, we felt like a couple of kids on Christmas morning. One doesn't have to be religious to appreciate the spirit of Christmas; in fact, our lack of religion actually seems to enhance it. Personally, I've never understood society's proscription on joy. Isn't everyday life cause enough for celebration?
     Not surprisingly, the decision to make our Christmas tree a permanent fixture has drawn a miscellany of support and criticism. After posting a funny blurb about it on Facebook, which featured a photo of our tree, I received comments ranging from "Yay!" and "Best idea I've heard all year!" to "Are you too busy to take it down?" and "Surely you jest?! Take the damn thing down!" My take on this issue is pretty simple. It's only when people believe there's a box to think inside or outside of that something as benign as a year 'round Christmas tree becomes problematic. Society seems to have a lot of things backwards. If only it condemned the "work makes one free" mentality as readily as it does the idea that "money can't buy happiness", life out of balance would be the exception, not the rule.
     Spartacus's current job in IT is a perfect example of the utter madness of convention. His company provides credit, debit and check processing for ISOs (independent sales organizations), acquirers, and merchants. About a year ago, shortly after he'd started working there, there was a catastrophic security breach, the aftermath of which the company is still attempting to recover from. Globally, millions of Visa credit cards were affected. Visa threatened to drop its account unless the company implemented various measures to increase its security, one of which mandated replacing every piece of network hardware before January of 2013. Although the networking department had no responsibility in the breach, they've gotten hammered the hardest. For the last 11 months, he and his peers have been burdened with the mind-boggling logistics of replacing network hardware across the globe, in addition to their normal 50+ hour workweeks of maintaining the network that's already in place. For months, the FBI swarmed the place, engendering an even more heightened state of job-related paranoia.
     As a tier four senior network engineer, there are three levels of support below Spartacus that should be intercepting calls and troubleshooting routine problems. He should never be called outside normal working hours unless the data center is on fire. But, "should" is now more a matter of convenience than convention, e.g. although he's not being compensated for it, Spartacus should be immediately available 24/7. At the expense of his personal life, he should make himself convenient to corporate whim. His cell phone is as intrusive as a tumor, a real sickness. We can't even walk our dogs on the weekend without being interrupted by requests for Spartacus to join a conference bridge. I'm dead serious. Yesterday, no sooner than we'd started down the street with Simon and Lilly, all of us ready to enjoy the sultry 70 degree January afternoon, he got called. I've asked him what he thought would happen if he turned off his phone. He says he'd get a warning or two, along with a flurry of uptight emails, and then, he'd get fired. The crazy thing is that the rest of his colleagues seem to love the insanity of working around the clock; there's one brown-nosing guy in the department who actually offered to cancel his family's holiday cruise, presumably so he'd be recognized by his boss as particularly industrious. How the ability to swipe one's credit card resembles a matter of life and death is just beyond me. Thank goodness, Spartacus is interviewing for a new job.
     I went to see "Les Miserables" yesterday evening with an anesthetist girlfriend of mine. Afterward, we stood outside talking about the movie's various themes, namely how the unconditional love demonstrated by the Bishop of Digne toward Jean Valjean, a misanthropic ex-convict who'd been imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread to feed his family, transformed him into the embodiment of compassion, and how his intense hatred for society, which arose from being so unjustly sentenced, was offset by his even deeper love of humanity. Our conversation turned to the years we spent, missing out on life because of work. It made me think of this quote by Victor Hugo: "A soul for a piece of bread. Misery makes the offer; society accepts." Fortunately, neither of us were shy about raging against the machine, and our much-cherished down time with those we love is proof that certain attitudes in society are battles worth fighting. Along those lines, I am really proud of Spartacus for being honest about why he couldn't participate in that conference call. "I'm out walking my dogs right now, I can't hear a thing, and I don't have access to a computer. I'll call you back when I get home." Click. Convention, neatly defied. Before hanging up, one guy kept urging Spartacus to walk him through some trouble-shooting anyway; apparently, he doesn't grasp that there is life outside of work. Jeez! Isn't it something how perennial Christmas trees and free time and even walking one's dogs can be perceived as rages against the machine or everyday expressions of holiday spirit, depending on the existence of a metaphorical box? Who says we need a box in the first place? Life is much more fun when you're going boxless.

"When you don't believe in Christmas Day, every day is Christmas Day."--Marty Rubin aka nothingprofound. Aphorism of the Day

P.S. I ended up having both the Maple Bacon Brittle AND the Pumpkin...a fabulous duo! :-)
P.P.S. We decided we'll remove the Christmas ornaments and figure out some cool decorations for the rest of the year. Or maybe, au naturale is the way to go?


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Picking Up Where Mary Left Off

     Spartacus and I are spending the weekend with my father-in-law, Bob, who lives about a six hour drive from Atlanta. The last time we came down was six weeks ago for Thanksgiving. It's a trip we've made numerous times over the last five years we've been together, the first time being Thanksgiving of 2008, when we announced our engagement. That was the first time I'd ever met Bob or his wife, Gwen. Prior to meeting me, Spartacus had been involved in an eight year relationship with a woman, ironically named Chris, that Bob and Gwen really liked and thought he might marry one day. He swears marriage never crossed his mind. After eight years of dating, Chris issued an ultimatum, "You need to figure out if you want to be my boyfriend." Spartacus was in the midst of preparing for a long drive to Michigan to help his older brother, Greg, move his girlfriend, Becky, down to Atlanta. "Think about it while you're on your trip; you can let me know when you get back." Although he waited to tell Chris, Spartacus knew his answer before he even pulled out of the driveway. "I was happier single, and I felt I was wasting her time. She was a good chick, ya know, but I wasn't giving her what she deserved. I'd just started slipping away. I couldn't give her a long term commitment, even though she wasn't asking for one." Personally, I enjoyed being single after both my divorces, so I can totally dig why giving up 46 years of bachelorhood wasn't something he took lightly. His world just hadn't been rocked by the right woman yet.
     In contrast to his perennial bachelor son, Bob spent the majority of his life as a married man, tying the knot for the first time in 1948 at the ripe old age of 23. In 1966, his wife, Mary, who bore four sons between 1950 and 1961, told Bob she felt a lump in her breast. By the time she had her mastectomy, the cancer had already metastasized extensively. Nine months later, when Spartacus was six, Mary died. This was the first intimate thing I learned about Spartacus, and it explains a lot about why he never settled down. His recollection of Mary is so poignant, conveyed through the tender heart of a little boy who adored his mom's warm hugs and laughter and bright blue eyes--how kind and loving she was, how he cried every day in kindergarten because he couldn't bear to be separated from her, and how he knew something was wrong when she was too tired to help him dig for clams on their last family trip to Nova Scotia. Although Spartacus married his stuffed yellow bunny in a secret ceremony when he was five, Mary was the first real love of his life. I can only imagine how hard it was for her to die, worrying that she was abandoning her husband and children, and how left behind they all must have felt.
     Bob's job required him to make frequent out of town trips, necessitating a series of housekeepers to care for the boys. According to Spartacus, a couple of them even fell in love with Bob. After three years of single fatherhood, Bob remarried, this time to a woman named Sue, who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic. Spartacus says living with Sue was pure hell. His brothers were much older than him, and two of them already lived away from home. His brother, Brian, was in high school at the time, and he and Sue didn't get along at all; they bickered constantly. Initially, she was on her best behavior when Bob was home, and managed to keep her drinking under control. When they moved from Michigan to Alabama, her drinking escalated to the point where she'd drive Spartacus to and from school drunk, relentlessly criticizing him, even making him eat outside on the back porch because she thought he ate too sloppily. Because Brian had stayed in Michigan to finish out his senior year, Spartacus who was now 12, was alone with Sue most of the time. He remembers how she'd pass out with a cigarette still burning between her fingers, and how terrified he was that she'd burn their house down. Eventually, she was no longer able to conceal her behavior from Bob. Despite psychotherapy, she continued to deteriorate, and during their fifth year of marriage, Bob filed for divorce. In an attempt to extort alimony, Sue contested the divorce, fabricating allegations of Bob's infidelity. It got so ugly that Bob's neighbors, and even Spartacus, were set to testify against her in court. Upon learning that her own step-son was going to serve as a witness against her, Sue recanted her accusations, collected her belongings, and drove back to Michigan in the car Bob had given her, bringing that nightmarish chapter in Spartacus's existence to a close.
     Overnight, Bob became Decatur, Alabama's most eligible bachelor. Spartacus, who's a bit more shy and introverted than Bob, recalls the next three years of their lives as being heavily punctuated by buxom women callers knocking at the door, bearing man-pleasing casseroles. Interestingly, it was the wife of Sue's psychiatrist who introduced Bob to his third (and last) wife, Gwen. They met on a blind date. "I called Gwen to ask her out, suggesting that we have a drink and get acquainted, and that if everything went well and there didn't seem to be any problems, she could come over and I'd cook her a steak." Things went so well that she took him up on his dinner invitation. "Apparently, she was hungry that day." Gwen, who was the divorced mother of two teenage boys close in age to Spartacus, was kind-hearted and cheerful, much like Mary had been. She treated all of Bob's sons as if they were her own. Bob and Gwen married when Spartacus was 16, and spent the next 34 years together. She was a terrific lady, a real steel magnolia. Although Gwen survived her bout with breast cancer, the experimental chemotherapy left one of her heart valves so badly damaged that she underwent two valve repair surgeries in the decade that followed. In December of 2009, she developed terminal congestive heart failure. She died of complications from placement of a left-ventricular assist device on August 6, 2011, and I know that every last moment of her conscious awareness was spent worrying about Bob living alone. To be honest, we were all a little concerned about that.
     Although Bob says that "living alone isn't all it's cracked up to be," he's doing surprisingly well on his own. Lucy, his Silky terrier, keeps him on his toes. He's in good shape for an 87 year old, still driving his red sports coupe, meeting friends for coffee, and swimming laps every other day. He's slowly gaining back some of the weight he lost after Gwen died, thanks to Ensure. Last night, I asked him if he'd ever consider dating again. He's already being chased by the Scotch-sipping widow who lives two doors down, but he has no interest in her mainly because "she's bossy and shaped like a spark plug." He says he'd be open to dating again, if the right woman came along. I think Gwen would approve. As for Spartacus, he's adjusting to life as a married man. I've made a conscious effort to respect and preserve as many of his bachelor habits as possible, from his occasional use of Tupperware as a drinking vessel to having three sock drawers to being glued to the TV during hockey season, the only exception being his forgetting-on-purpose to take showers on the weekends. From what I hear, he was a low-maintenance kid, and he's no different as a man. He's certainly easy to love, but making it safe for him to feel loved has been a mutual challenge. It takes courage to love and be loved after the losses and insults he's endured. I want to protect that innocent little boy. In that sense, you could say I'm picking up where Mary left off.
Mary, embracing Brad (aka Spartacus), with brothers Greg, Jeff, & Brian, circa 1965

   
Bob & Spartacus, January 5, 2013