Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The phone rang. Twice before it had not been that call. This time, however, Mark somberly told me that she'd stopped breathing. Mum was gone.

She and I only had a few months to get to know one another. On the very day Mark and I reconnected, he said he wanted me to know her. I was warmly welcomed to Thanksgiving dinner, complete with hugs and come agains. On Christmas morning, a very thoughtful Santa made sure there were gifties for me along with the rest of the clan. We enjoyed a few dinners together here and there, and as Di's health started to take a turn, seeing her on the weekends Mark and I shared became a ritual. Once in nursing care, the visits were almost daily (and often included chocolate). Some days our chats were mindless -- sure is a nice day outside...lunch wasn't so tasty, huh? Others, I'd ramble about my classes, the kids, paying the bills and mowing the lawn. She'd kindly listen. And she'd share too.

Her love for microbiology was contagious. I'd enjoyed the classes before, but with this personal connection it became even more fascinating. I told her about my experimental discoveries and mishaps, and she shared some of her own.

I learned about her family -- a passionate admiration for her father, absolute love for her siblings and occasional anecdotes about her four adoring children.

But sadly, I did not get to know her. And it is clear by the outpouring of love toward her in her final months that she was nothing shy of an amazing woman. She left an impression on every life she touched. Including mine.

Her impact on Mark...immeasurable.

It's heartbreaking to witness someone lose the shoulder that was always there. Not knowing the right thing to do, I have loved and I have listened. I have cried and I have wiped his tears. I have held him so closely I thought we could be one. And I've had the strong compulsion to cup his heart in my hands and hold it tightly, protecting it from more hurt. I need to numb the deep gash that causes him to ache to the core. I want to make him whole again.

The single most influential person in my best friend's life is gone. As time passes, the sadness will ease -- but it will never disappear. His life was shaped by the love and efforts of a remarkable woman. How wonderful that she has and always will shine through him.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Darkest Hour

These are likely the final hours of Mark's Mum's life. I'm sitting quietly, tears slowly streaming down my cheeks, knowing that the short visit I paid her today was the last.

She left the hospital about a month ago and entered a nursing home. Rehab was the goal, with daily physical therapy working toward her ability to get in and out of a wheelchair so she could return home. The care facility was mere blocks from Mark's place (which is also close to mine) so we visited frequently. Many days, I'd stop by going to or from class, sometimes visiting for just a few minutes and others chatting for longer. I did get my wish to talk to her a bit about her youth, her job as a microbiologist and her courtship with her husband of more than half a century. Not much for good dirt on Mark, though...

Last Sunday, Mark and I were sitting outside of Starbuck's with his parents. Just a week later, I said farewell. She has had a rough couple of years and the past months have been especially challenging. She's expressed her readiness for the pain to end and has said her goodbyes. Now we just wait.

Letting go of my selfish wish to have her longer should be easier.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Squared Away

My charm bracelet is as precious to me as any item of jewelry I've ever owned. I began piecing it together shortly after Mr. X told me his half of our marriage was over. Cleaning out a closet one day, I found the bracelet I'd purchased more than a decade prior, only to realize that I had no idea how I would now adorn it. Not a single idea. My identity had become nothing more than wife/mother and I couldn't think of any interest I had outside couldn't think of anything.

I issued myself a personal challenge that day. I would find the Jennifer I had once been...or perhaps the one I wished to become.

It's been a couple of years, and while I have the rest of a lifetime to fill it, it's no longer the anemic chain it once was. Many of the things I cherish are symbolized -- my friends, my children, school, yoga and running, heck, even Viv is on there. And while I wanted to find something to represent Mark, I couldn't think of anything to dangle from my wrist that would be distinctly identifiable as him. Until I could come up with something just right, my birthday month charm from two years ago served as an umbrella under which he was covered.

Then it came to me...

He and I play Lexulous -- though "play" might be too weak a word. Sometimes we might have time to only take a few turns over the course of a day. Others we'll sit side-by-side, each with a laptop warming our legs, playing word after word. The competition is fierce and fun. Heck, part of the reason I bought an iPhone was so I could play while away from a computer.

I needed to find a letter tile charm. After much searching, I found an artisan on Etsy who agreed to make exactly what I had in mind. And within a few days, Mark held a permanent spot in the miniature gallery of my favorite things.

Because I can't even draw a stick figure and don't begin to understand how artists see the world, I often forget how important creative folk are to the rest of us. I'm perfectly content in my world of chemical reactions, microbes and well researched theories, but my life would most certainly be lacking without the inspired contributions of friends, family and others who march to the beat of a different drummer.

Or maybe mine is the different drummer. I mean, really, who can't draw a stick figure?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Embrace Your Inner Mrs. Diggs

Inevitably, when I tell someone about my friendship with Mrs. Diggs, they exclaim, "I want to hang out with you guys!" I mean, who doesn't love to put on a formal gown, knee socks and a wig then roller skate around the cul de sac wailing Air Supply songs? We all dream of having this friend, and as you well know, I'm livin' the dream.

Last night as I was looking for a kitschy gift or two for Mrs. Diggs' upcoming nth birthday, the saleslady offered her help. I told her a little bit about "us" so she could be of assistance, and naturally she expressed her desire to join our gang.

What I'm starting to think is that nearly everybody has a little bit of Mrs. Diggs in them. Everyone wants to let their hair down (or tuck it up into a purple wig) and let loose. And while I believe the reaction has a greater success rate with a Ms. Diggs/ethanol catalyst at 37 degrees C, we all have a preposterous someone inside, begging to be set free.

So please, embrace your inner Mrs. Diggs -- then let her run wild. The world needs more spontaneous ridiculosity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

I got kicked out of the kitchen. He said it was his turn.

I pouted a bit at first, but quickly relented. I enjoy the privilege of food prep more often than he does. On our nights together, my classes end sooner than his work. So I usually cook.

Last Saturday night he went to the store alone, secret ingredients carefully scribbled on his list. When he came back to the house, I made an attempt to help but was shooed away. For awhile I stood on the other side of the wall, trying to hold a conversation. He eventually begged, "If I make you a drink, will you go sit down? Please." So I sat. He brought me a cocktail and I quietly realized that I had found my own special version of heaven. Drink in hand. Catching up on homework. Dinner being prepared for me by the man I love. Heck, there was even a dog at my feet. This was some kind of fabulous feminist version of Norman Rockwell's idyllic illustrations.

A few pages into my microbiology studying, he presented to me the appetizer. Sauteed Brussels sprouts with pistachios and bacon. Absolutely amazing. Back to the kitchen for him, and back to the books for me. Awhile later he emerged holding two plates. "What's for dinner?" he asked.

I hadn't even bothered to try to decode the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. I was just enjoying the love he was expressing for me, and the time to study and get ahead of the curve was a bonus. Plus surprises are fun to boot.

He then presented to me a goat cheese, caramelized onion and basil flatbread. I don't think there is any meal that could have pleased me more. Bread has become such a rarity to my gluten-free world, that even rice cakes are a delight nowadays. This bread, however, was nothing shy of phenomenal. The texture was magnificent and the flavor, complex. Top it with all of the things I adore, and well, that's a meal I won't soon forget.

I offered abundant praise and thanks for the treat that tickled me to no end. He admitted that he had put a lot of thought into it and wanted the menu to convey his love for me.

So I [foolishly] asked what a meal that did not convey love for me might include.

"Wheat," he replied. "And lots of meat."

He knows me pretty well...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ginger as an Antimicrobial Agent

That was the working title of my microbiology lab report. Every time I saw it at the top of my screen, I had to giggle. I pictured myself -- well, a skinny, hot, 60s cartoonish version of myself -- with big orange hair, long colorful rubber gloves and cat-eyed lab goggles, standing tall with shoulders back and arms akimbo, waging a secret battle against pathogens that wished to harm my loved ones.

I spent a grand portion of last weekend preparing that report. Three weeks of running my own experiment was pretty cool. My hypothesis got busted all to hell within the first run, but deliberately growing microbes was nifty. Writing about it...technical, factual, emotionless text...not so much.

Watching myself make a far greater challenge out of the project was dismaying to say the least. I should have been able to turn it out in three or four hours, but instead, I hemmed and hawed, fussed and fought, wrote and re-wrote, read and re-read, and finally formatted.

Ummm....nobody warned me that Microsoft Word had changed a bit since 1991...

So this brings to light my semester in general. I have let it kick my arse. I handed over control of my time and emotions to 16 measly credit hours. Why, you ask, would a stubborn control freak allow school to infect her life? I don't so much have the answer to that.

The schedule is a little funky, I'll grant that. The classes are more challenging that previous ones, but there is nothing outrageously difficult about any of them. In these twelve weeks, I have lost track of marathon training, I have gained seven pounds, and I might very well not get an A in Organic & Biochemistry. (Do you see my New Year's Resolutions crumbling before your very eyes?)

As of right now, I'm taking back Spring '10. I'm adding a run to the week. I'm curbing the stress-eating. I'm getting ahead of the schoolwork. I won't be swayed from my mission...

...for I am Ginger: Antimicrobial Agent.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Devils Advocate

My Saturday was a mix of spinning, visiting Mark's Mum, studying, cooking, grocery shopping and lastly (after seeing my anxious boyfriend struggle through the day), watching the semi-final game of the National Championship. I relaxed on the couch, ready to be my Duke sweetheart.

As soon as the Blue Devils were on the court, he moved to the edge of the couch and became engrossed. Throughout the game, he chattered just as if he were in the arena, offering support and cheers -- I tried to throw in a silly joke now and then, but he didn't hear a word. With each commercial break he'd collapse for a couple of nervous minutes and then perked right back to the edge of his seat as the game recommenced.

It was a good game. The first half was fairly tight, but Duke came out for the 2nd and put on quite a talent show. When the buzzer sounded, Mark enjoyed the victory for about four seconds, then turned his nervous energy toward the final.

Sunday brought running and shopping and cooking and family visiting, some scooting, resting and studying too. Sprinkled throughout the day were indications of skittish excitement for the big game the following evening. In Monday morning's text message, he told me he was nervous, and when he came home from work, I made dinner...and he was nervous, then we visited Mum...and he was nervous, and finally we headed back to the couch and I sat back to watch mean the game.

And what a game it was! The play was spectacular and both coaches were class acts. It was a pleasure to watch and I while I was cheering heartily for Duke, (even found myself standing on the couch with two minutes left on the clock), I would have been (somewhat) happy for the boys from Butler had they pulled it off.

But they didn't. Mark's Blue Devils did it. And my beloved was able to go to bed with a smile on his face (although adrenaline kept him from actually sleeping).

Now, there's no photo of me just yet in a Duke shirt (though Alyssa Milano is surely my long lost twin). Don't hold your breath waiting for it, but don't be surprised to see me casually about town wearing one either. And as for Mr. X publishing embarrassing images of me...well, I do recall the divorce lawyer suggesting I put the division of photos in the decree. Perhaps he wasn't quite the dolt I thought him to be...