On the one hand I want to cry "Uncle". On the other hand, this is the first time in months, possibly a year that I've been sick. Ever since Leslie lost her ability to care for kids by herself I've been healthy. And ever since then I've lived in constant near panic..."what if I get sick?" But I haven't. Until now.
I don't know what to make of that. You can find signs anywhere and in anything if you care to look for them. I talked to Leslie about God a few times near the end. I think I asked her why she bothered with all the prayer and church. Given the circumstances I knew where God stood in my book, with one trial after the other being thrown my wife's way, and her soldiering patiently and positively forward.
She just said, "It's faith that's helped me get through all of this. God is comforting me. God is supporting me."
Religion was a sore subject with us anyway, because I'm not particularly spiritual. One of my regrets, though, is that near the end, Leslie stopped talking to me about God and her faith. She started talking to friends and family instead, because I was not a receptive audience. It makes me sad that I should have been the one person in the world she never needed to censor herself around, but she had to.
I know this because I heard a lovely story from someone (my mom? her mom?). My mother had given my wife a passage from the bible, Isaiah 41:13:
"For I am the Lord your GodAnd when Leslie would climb the stairs to go to bed at night, she struggled. She would send me ahead of her and she would slowly climb the steps, pausing about halfway up to catch her breath before resuming. The stairs in our house became a hurdle she couldn't manage in the end. Too much effort. Took too much breathing. But when she was still climbing those hated stairs, she did it with her right hand held up...so that God could take it, and help her up the stairs.
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you."
And it makes me cry even now to think that I never knew that. Never saw that. Still, it's a lovely story, and it underpins what my wife told me long before...don't blame God, he's the one helping me up the steps.
Sort of a one set of footsteps in the sand kind of thing.
I feel okay with how the subject of religion was left. After the doctors told us that the end was very near Leslie commanded, "Emma can't hate God!" and I promised that she wouldn't. My own feelings are twisted and hazy, corkscrewed with anger and doubt and loss. I need time. But Emma knows how much God helped her mother through those last days, and how much her continued belief and love for God meant to her mother.
Back to our story...
We visited Montana a few times after that first fishing/hiking adventure. We skied, we golfed (didn't we? I think we did), we even saw a hockey game there (more on that at a future date). We saw my nephew's christening. I complained about the noise level of my sister's kids.
|There was a picture of Leslie and I holding baby Gino, but my face is all oily and gross and Leslie just looks gorgeous here holding my niece Gianna. This is at the christening I mentioned. Jesus, those kids were loud.|
|Just Leslie...being game. I think that's the peace sign, or an homage to the movie "Better Off Dead".|
But we always returned to our cozy cottage house overlooking my landlord's pool. When I started writing this I thought we'd lived there a couple years at most, but the timeline says it's more like four. And that's probably about right.
I was telling a young woman at Leslie's viewing about one of our cottage house adventures. She had just finished telling me how graceful Leslie was (she was a majorette with Leslie in High School). I laughed and told her how clumsy my wife was. I'm allowed to say that. Here's why:
Leslie and I were sitting at the kitchen table in the cottage house. The house itself didn't really have a kitchen so much as a kitchen/dining room. Is that a dinette? I don't know. Anyway, we'd just finished cooking something really yummy. Maybe it was flank steak pinwheels. That's something she and I used to cook all the time. We fancied ourselves foodies...for flank steak.
Flank Steak Pinwheels:
1) buy one flank steak. Have the butcher run it through the tenderizer twice (three times and it) shreds it)
2) lay flat. season with salt and pepper.
3) place partially cooked bacon length-wise across the width of the flank steak.
4) take a thawed package of frozen spinach and cover the bacon and steak. (we didn't understand "fresh" back then...it was before food network)
5) roll up. push wooden skewers every inch or so along the length. Cut between skewers.
6) grill 5 minutes, flip, grill five more.
We would drizzle them with store-bought Bearnaise sauce, powdered McCormick's brand, I think. (foodies...pfft)
So we finished our steaks and Leslie was doing something. I don't recall exactly why, but she dropped something, maybe a knife. Maybe she danced away from it quickly to avoid getting impaled, but whatever it was I laughed and called her a klutz.
Leslie repeatedly told me about how she'd danced as a kid growing up. She was a majorette for godsake. She was no klutz.
"Okay, I'll make you a deal. If you can go two weeks without doing something clumsy I promise never to call you a klutz again."
She mulled this over. "Fine," she said, and we shook on it.
"Want some ice cream," she asked?
"Yeah, that sounds good."
She walked into the kitchen and got out the ice cream. It was really cold from the freezer. I don't know what I was doing while she was getting ice cream, but I know I was still sitting at the kitchen table. I couldn't see what she was doing. Apparently the ice cream was resisting her efforts to scoop it.
With what I can only imagine must have been a look of sheer panic, she watched helplessly as the ice cream at last yielded to her vigorous efforts...too quickly...and a dollop of it sailed across the kitchen to land on the floor. When she quickly looked at me, she saw I was unaware and moved to erase the evidence, but slipped on the ice cream, landing in an awkward near split in the middle of the floor.
That got my attention.
"What the hell?"
She told me what had happened. She tried to convince me that she deserved another chance to prove her grace, pleading that it was a flukey accident, but I wasn't having any of it. She lost the bet less than five minutes after making it. She was forever labeled clumsy by me.
But only in jest.