Just One Of Those Days

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This post is dedicated to my husband, Nick.  He is the best man who has ever been in my life.  Nick, happy anniversary.

I think most of us have one.  A day that seems to attract special occurrences – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always memorable.  July 31st, over the past few years, has become one of those days for me.  Let me explain.

I’m a teacher.  Part of being a teacher is having 2 months holiday in the summers.  Until 3 years ago, July 31st meant I was halfway through my summer vacation.  On July 31st, I was never ready to be on the back-stretch of my holidays.  July 31st also meant I still had 6 weeks left to get by on my savings for the summer.  I (and every other teacher) has heard a comment like,”Gee, it must be nice getting 2 months holiday in the summer every year.” or “Wow, what a cushy job – you only have to work 10 months a year.  Must be nice.”  (Oh dear, enough with the comments, I feel a rant coming on!).  What most people don’t realize is that teachers are not paid in the summer, so that cushy summer holiday often comes with stress over money by the time August rolls around.  So for me, this is what July 31st was all about for years.

Then three years ago, everything changed.  Three years ago my (then) boyfriend and I decided that it was time for us to make a trip to the country of his parent’s birth – Italy.  It was a wonderful, magical journey that took us from Trapani on the far west coast of Sicily, across the island and all the way up the boot to Milan.  We finished off with four days in Paris.  On our third morning there, we got an email that Nick’s father had died.  That was July 31st.  While it wasn’t really a shock, he had been declining for some time, it was still a very difficult day.  It was taken up with phone calls to Ottawa, frantic emails back and forth to our travel agent, all trying to make sure that Nick could be in Ottawa in time for the funeral.  When it was done and we knew that he could be there, Nick asked me if he could have some time alone.  My stoic Nick.  I took Miyuki and we went off to spend a few hours in Paris.

What a roller coaster of a day.  I left the hotel heartsick for my husband.  It doesn’t matter if you know that Death is on the doorstep, he still brings pain and anguish.  But I wasn’t out wandering alone – my daughter and her crazy sense of humour was with me.  We decided to go to the Moulin Rouge.  I talked about this in an earlier post so I won’t go into a lot of detail here.  That evening was, however, one of the best 1/2 days my daughter and I have spent together.  She is a wonderful girl and fills my heart every-time I am with her.

Fast forward one year.  July 31st two years ago.  Picture a white gazebo, hung with burgundy and white ribbons.  Through the ribbons, as they flutter in the breeze, you can see the sun glinting off a pristine lake.  In front of the gazebo stand two people, oblivious to everyone seated around them.  That was Nick and I on our wedding day.  We had chosen that day purposefully as a way of celebrating not just our life together, but also as a way of remembering people passed – Nick’s father and mother, and my father specifically.  It was the best of weddings; beautiful, meaningful, but most of all fun.  That day Nick and I pledged our loyalty and love to each other – to the persons we were meant to be with.  We had already been together almost 6 years, and, while I won’t say everyday had been perfect, we had been perfectly content that we were with the right person.  Since then, our lives have grown in so many ways.

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Fast forward another year.  July 31st last year.  Nick and I celebrated our anniversary with a phone call from our realtor, Joe.  The offer we had made on our house in Sicily had been accepted.  We were going to have our house in Italy!

Fast forward to this year.  Today is July 31st.  We have been in Cianciana for almost a month.  Everyday, when I walk to the bakery or the fruit and veggie store or the butcher, I am stopped by this neighbour or that, just wanting to chat or to say hello or to tell me “Il fa caldo!” (it is hot!) to which I reply “Si’, troppo caldo!” (yes, too hot!).  Last night, Nick and I went to our neighbours’ house in the country.  We sat outside on their patio, under a thick canopy of grape vines, surrounded on three sides by olive, almond and fig trees.  We ate pasta and chicken and potatoes, and they poured Nick glass after glass of their homemade red wine made from their own grapes.  We finished the end of the day sipping strong espresso coffee.  So, today Nick and I are celebrating our anniversary volunteering with the local community group that is hosting the annual harvest festa, or festival.  There will be stacks and stacks of food.  It starts after sundown and goes until 3 or 4 in the morning.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our second year as a married couple than to do so with our new community around us.

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An Unexpected Day

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What was your best day?  Of course, there never is just one best day.  There are a myriad of them because there are so many categories that these days can fit into.  When I look back, I think about the birth of my daughter, my wedding day with Nick, the convocations when I got both my B.Ed. and my M.Ed.  But this isn’t what I am talking about.  All of these days were wonderful and come galloping across my thoughts with regularity.  These days were planned for, anticipated, expected and enjoyed.  I, however, am thinking more about the unexpected day.  The one that just crept up on you, the one that just…happened.  My “just happened” day was on July 27, 2010.

Venice, Italy

On our travels through Italy, Nick, Miyuki and I stayed in a house full of students when we were in Padua.  Our main host was a brilliant young math student named Luca Lago.  Luca was a wonderful host.  He cooked for us, toured us around Padua and on our second day he took us to Venice.  Venice is an amazing, magical place.  I have described her before as the dowager Empress of the Adriatic and it is an apt description.  It is a city that should be on everyone’s bucket list and I feel blessed that I have been able to visit her twice.  

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The best way to visit anywhere is to go with a local, but in Venice this is profoundly true.  Luca took us up and down side canals and alley ways.  When we crossed the Rialto Bridge, when we stood in Piazza di San Marco, we were surrounded by tourists and Venetians alike.  Luca guided us off the main traffic routes and into alleys and across bridges that were quiet and isolated.  In spite of the bright sun, some of the canals were shadowed and reminded me of watching Donald Sutherland chasing down the alleys in the 1973 film Don’t Look Now.

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Around corners we found things to surprise us.  Musicians, people in costumes, masks in storefronts, unexpected bridges, hidden cafes.  

 

But every time we crossed by a canal with a gondola, Miyuki and I sighed wistfully.  We both wanted more than anything to ride in a gondola but we both knew that, at €100 for half an hour, a gondola ride was not going to happen on this trip.  Luca knew that we wanted the experience and that we figured we couldn’t afford it.  As we wandered into the late afternoon, Luca brought us back out onto the Grand Canal with a huge grin.  In front of us was a gondola tied to the side of the canal.  Luca pointed at the gondola and said, “Get in!”  When I began to protest, he waved my objections away.  “This gondola takes you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other and it costs just €0.50.”  €0.50?  That was less than 75¢!  We climbed into the wobbly gondola.  The gondoliers laughed at me and said in Italian, “No, sit here.” When I moved they responded with, “No, sit here!” gesturing at another seat.  I moved twice before I realized they were having me on, but it didn’t matter, I was sitting in a gondola on the Grand Canal.

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Look at the smile on my face.  For me, the trip from one side of the canal to the other is up there in the top five experiences of my life.    The canal water was only inches away from where we sat.  Motor boats sputtered past us, other gondolas crossed our paths, the sun beat down on our heads.  It lasted only ten minutes but it felt like a glorious, joyful lifetime.  

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I will never forget that moment.  And I will never forget that I shared that moment with my husband and my daughter and that our new friend, Luca, had given it to us.

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Life Lessons Learned in a Wet Bathing Suit

At English Bay at sunset

At English Bay at sunset

Last Saturday, Nick and I were expecting company for the weekend.  Typically, we don’t have much time to do more than basic housework during the week so the bulk of our cleaning is done on Saturday.  This Saturday was no different except that the previous weekend we had chosen to go through all kinds of stuff that we had been keeping in cupboards and boxes and on bookshelves and in junk drawers which meant our usual amount of cleaning didn’t happen.  You can probably imagine what our house looked like.  Sty would be a kind and generous description.  So, by 9am we had finished breakfast and our coffee and we were well on our way to putting a dent in the long list of what needed to be done.

Stop here.

Before I go any further, for you to understand the situation in its entirety, you need to know that both Nick and I hate housework.  With a passion.  With every fibre of our beings.  And the more housework there is to do, the more we both hate it.  Thus, we started to do our cleaning on opposite ends of the house so that neither of us commit murder with, oh say, a vacuum hose, or a melon baller, or a doily, because…oh yes…given the right circumstances, we could.  So Nick started to work on our bedroom.  Now, to give Nick credit, he does an amazingly thorough job of the bedroom.  It is just shining like a new – wait, it can’t be penny – they stopped making those in Canada – nickel!  Yes, just like a shiny new nickel by the time he is finished.  In the meantime, I began by putting a load in the laundry.  Then I cleaned the dining room, filing and sorting all the considerable mail that had just been tossed on the table, recycled the unread newspapers, wiped down the table, window sills and chair arms and swept the floor.  Then I hung the laundry on the line and started the second load.  Then I unloaded the dishwasher, loaded it with dirty dishes, put everything away that had been left out, scrubbed down the countertop, stovetop, and sink and swept and washed the kitchen floor.  Then I took out some frozen meat to thaw for dinner, hung more laundry on the line and started another load.  Next, I tackled the bathroom.  I cleared everything off the vanity, washed the mirror, wiped down the vanity and cleaned the sink.  I put everything back on the vanity after wiping each item down.  I scrubbed the toilet, wiped down the windowsill and scrubbed around the edge of the tub.  I took the bathmat out to shake it.  Swept the floor.  Collected all the towels for the laundry and replaced them with fresh ones.  Just as I finished the bathroom, Nick chose that moment, having finished cleaning up the bedroom, to have a shower.  I hung more laundry on the line and threw the towels in to the washer.  I started tidying the laundry room.  Just as I finished sweeping the floor, Nick walked in and says, “Do you know it’s raining?”  Shit.  I ran outside and pulled in three loads of laundry off the line and laid it all out in our sunroom to finish drying.  I went back into the main part of the house.  Nick was laying on our bed playing with his iPad.  At this point steam started to come out of my ears. Looking in the fridge, I made a list of what we still needed if I were to feed our guests…oh yes, I almost forgot, I needed to make a lasagna to take to our favoured political party’s campaign office to feed the volunteers.  I threw a frozen lasagna into the oven (I know, I know, but frozen works when you don’t have enough time).  I stomped into the bedroom and announce coldly to my supine husband that I was going to the grocery store.  He looked up from his iPad and smiled and said “Okay.”

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Now, going out to the store was probably the best thing that I could have done in that moment because that thing I said about the vacuum hose?  It was about to happen.  But getting away from the house gave me some perspective.   Had I asked him to help me?  No.  Did he even know what I had been doing while he cleaned the bedroom?  No.  Could he read my mind?  Again, no.  I laughed at myself, gave a quick moment of thanks that I hadn’t said anything that would have been hurtful or would have started a fight.

Fast forward to the next afternoon.

Our houseguests had gone out to tour the area and Nick and I decided to go to the pool for a swim.  After a nice swim Nick and I sat in the hot tub for a few minutes – not long and certainly less than the recommended ten minute maximum.  Nick excused himself to make a trip to the washroom and I sat back and enjoyed the heat soaking through my arthritic neck and shoulders.  I closed my eyes and really began to relax when I heard the lifeguard whistle blow.  Now, I spent my university years working as a lifeguard – long enough to know whenever a lifeguard blows her whistle it never means anything good.  I looked over to where the guard was crouched over a supine figure on the floor.  I couldn’t see the face of the person on the deck but I recognized Nick’s signature baggy blue swim trunks.  I rushed out of the hot tub thinking that Nick had slipped and fallen.  Once I got to his side, my anxiety rose when I saw the lifeguards strapping oxygen to his face.

“I’m his wife.”  The head guard pulled me aside to get a history.  That’s when she told me that Nick had lowered himself to the deck and then passed out.  By this point his eyes were open again but he was still dizzy, and the guards had called 911.  My anxiety abated a bit to hear him speak and answer questions coherently.  The guards got him up into a wheelchair and wheeled him to the side of the pool to wait for the EMTs.  I began to relax.  Nick’s colour was coming back.  The guards assured me his pulse was normal and he seemed to be okay.  Then everything turned on a dime.

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The lifeguard asked Nick if he felt tired and Nick said yes.  Don’t ask me why, but I thought to myself, ‘Uh-oh.  That’s not good.’  I looked at Nick’s face closely and all the colour that had returned was draining from his face.  “Look, he’s gone white.” I said to the guard.  I stared into his eyes and my stomach dropped.  His pupils had become so large that the hazel of his irises was no longer visible and they looked completely vacant.  I panicked.  “Look at his pupils, look at his pupils!”  Nick’s head lolled to one side.  I grabbed his arm and started yelling, “Nick! Nick! Wake up!!!”  Beside me the guard blew his whistle and then got down on his knees beside me and started yelling at Nick as well.  I was sure he’d had a stroke.  The other guards came running and lifted Nick out of the chair and carefully placed him back on the deck with his feet raised up above his heart.  Slowly, Nick came back.  I was holding his hand tightly.  He looked over to me and said, “I fell asleep.”  “No, sweetheart, you passed out.”  He frowned a little, and then said, “Everything went white.”  I squeezed his hand.   Someone stepped up and started checking him for signs of a stroke, which oddly, I found comforting.  Nick’s colour started to come back again but his skin was still clammy and cold.  I was so relieved when the EMT’s arrived and loaded Nick onto their gurney to take him to emergency.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital and was asked to sit in the waiting room.  It felt like I was waiting half the evening but in fact it was only 20 minutes.  The nurse ushered me in behind a closed curtain.  Nick lay on the bed shivering.  I took his hand, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine.”  “But you’re shaking!”  He gave me one of his sardonic looks, “I’m wearing a wet bathing suit.”  “But, you’re really okay?” “Yes, yes, I’m fine.”

And in fact he was.  Two days before, our doctor had changed one of Nick’s medications, which had caused his blood pressure to drop to the point that he lost consciousness.  The EMTs had put in a saline drip IV and so by the time I saw him in the hospital he was perfectly fine.

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This was one of the most terrifying moments in my life.  Just how important Nick is in my life was outlined in stark relief for me in the moment I saw the vacant look in his eyes and I was sure he’d had a stroke.  All my anger at him the day before seemed foolish and I felt ashamed that I was so angry at him over something as unimportant as housework.  As I drove him home, I was giving prayers of gratitude to the health gods that Nick was going home with me perfectly healthy.

There was another prayer of gratitude that went up from me alongside the first one.  I was so grateful, not just for the wonderful lifeguards and EMTs who were amazing, but also for all the other people who stepped forward to help – two level three First Aid workers, a nurse and a family doctor all of whom were just there to swim.  If I ever had any doubt that there is goodness amongst the people of the world, that experience wiped it all away.

So, tonight I am sitting next to my darling husband, watching our favourite talk show – Craig Ferguson, and feeling grateful every single moment.