Jilly D.

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Moving meditation in a hall of mirrors

In Health, Mourning on January 31, 2011 at 2:41 am

Yesterday I attended an Open House for the Ithaca Chapter of the International Taoist Tai Chi Society and today I took my first beginners lesson.

The open house provided welcome arms as I found old friends and new ones there. I saw Jane Edwards teach and Gundy Lee and Theresa Orzeck demonstrate some of the moves of Tai Chi. Hearing testimonials from members about building core strength, focus, and deep relaxation had me interested.

I watched my friends who were all mature women perform so gracefully and simply that I was amazed. Research shows fibromyalgia patients experience relief from many symptoms. Gave it a try this afternoon.

Such elegant gestures. Simple. Fluid. Tai Chi is described as moving meditation. It does help with the mind racing and shuts off the interior voices and noise.

It doesn’t help that I am a klutz and fell on the skating rink the beginning of this month. Just standing made me extremely aware of being out of alignment. Not just my knee, but my hip.

The Tai Chi studio has a wall of mirrors. You watch the instructor as she faces the mirrors and she performs the move three times. Then you do the moves together three times. The instructor then faces the beginning students as they make the move three times.

All this in front of mirrors.

I have always avoided mirrors. They make me extremely self conscious. I don’t wear makeup and you don’t really need to look at a mirror when you brush your teeth. Above the sink in the bathroom is the only place I’ve ever hung a mirror.

My reflection makes me uncomfortable in the same way as hearing your own recorded voice for the first time.

But now I look in the mirror and see someone I don’t recognize; middle aged with mostly a middle. That frown seems planted on my face almost like a sad clown. Frumpy frowner. Geesh; not a good reflection.

Reality check. Tai Chi is about humility and modesty and compassion.

I am humiliated by the reflection of my bodily image. Deeply humbled by its inadequacies. Not being my best but not being my worst either. The incredible struggle to follow the simply guided movement is painful in my knees and hips and I suddenly am in touch with my deep emotional suffering and begin to feel overwhelmed; the tears begin to well up and my neck and throat become tense.

Humiliation, pain, suffering. I brought them in the door with me and I need to leave them aside with my shoes.

Commencement is the first move. How fitting.

So much to pay attention to that I concentrate only on the teacher and her reflection in the wall of mirrors. I can ignore my own image yet still see it in the periphery of my vision as I mimic the moves. I can tell out of the corner of my eye that I am not in sync.

Do it again. Feet shoulder width apart. Raise both arms with palms up and then lower your elbows and turn your palms to your face. Take your right foot and turn right on the heel of your foot firmly planted on earth. Turn your torso to face your right foot and lean onto your right leg and take your right arm with hand at a ninety degree angle and push forward WHILE you swivel your left leg by standing on the ball of your left foot  so you are at a 45 degree angle from your right foot and your left arm pushes down alongside your left thigh. Okay, it’s hard to even describe in words much less do. And yet it looks so simple. 

I feel like my body should perform like it was a mechanical robot I can program to behave from my brain; I know this was one of my disco era dance moves if I can only get the steps and the hand movements to jive. Humility big time.

The next moves were called something like left bird feather and plucking the tail feather. I don’t know. I was so engaged in trying to follow the simple movements. Hands, arms, shoulders, feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, head, neck and mind to control all in a focused movement.

These moves looked so simple and yet I found them so difficult I found myself getting frustrated. I knew the pain and physical discomfort in my knees and hips had to do with my discumbobulated efforts to make the move; but my execution was way off. I had to laugh for how hard it was for me to perform such simple gestures.

Tai Chi is so very graceful. I am not.

Neither were my compatriots. Both of them arrived late thinking the Open House was today not yesterday. Sam was a young white dude with dred locks and physically resembled a wrestler or weight lifter. Maybe he was a college student; I gave him brownie points for showing up, being interested and giving it his best. Tony arrived even later and had once been a practitioner in California and was thinking of joining after all these years. He stood over six feet tall and was ready to take a lesson.

We’d already started learning the first move when Tony arrived. So I was relieved when our instructor asked us to review. Review is good. Maybe I would improve and gain some muscle memory. Tony leaned back too far and Sam’s shoulders were too high. So my frumpy frown fit in just fine. None of us were immediately filled with grace this afternoon.

I did leave the Tai Chi studio and the sun was out and it was almost warm enough to reach the freezing point. I came home and walked the dogs. I found myself focused on completing the most important items on my very long to-do list.

Miracles don’t happen overnight. One day at a time. One step at a time. One movement at a time.

I didn’t join the Tai Chi Society today. Tomorrow my knees and hips will consult on the matter.

For now, I’m on the Tao.

The journey is the destination.

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The bitterness of Winter

In Mourning, Time and seasons on January 24, 2011 at 4:12 am

1992 I moved from Athens, Georgia, to Enfield, New York. That first winter was the worst. Until now. The blizzard of 1993 is the big one local metereologists refer to; six feet of snow fell in one day.

mind of his own

I’d befriended an elderly neighbor down Enfield Center Road at the intersection with Buck Hill. He lived in one of three trailer homes on the corner plot of the corn field. The old man had a dog; mutt with true devotion. 

 Nobody came to visit him. I walked my dog past his trailer several times a day and struck up a friendship.

Told him one day that October I was driving up to Fulton, New York, to do some field research on newspapers and the communities they serve. He wanted to ride along on my daytrip and show me the town. He’d lived there many years.

I picked him up in my red Nissan pickup and he brought a long shotgun that he wanted to trade at a gun shop in Fulton that would be along our route. Not what I had expected. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. He was adamant about going. Said he also had to get new batteries for his hearing aids at the place where he bought them; nobody else carried them anymore.

He talked almost all the way there. Wild stories about his early life and the woman he loved, his wife. And that she had loved others. He said his son-in-law put him up in the trailer as though he were nothing. He’d been a big man at one time, he assured me. He didn’t deserve living like a dog with his dog.

I dropped him off at the gun shop while I went to interview the editor and publisher of a small weekly newspaper.

I came back around for the old man at the strip mall where he’d found his hearing aid batteries. He got back in the truck, but he had the same old gun. It wasn’t the Winchester 30-30 he’d talked about getting in trade. I didn’t know much about guns but when I asked why he needed a different kind of gun he said the handle on this one was just too long. I was glad to get the gun out of my vehicle when we returned to Enfield Center Road.

It got cold and colder that winter. I didn’t see much of the old man outdoors that fall or over the holidays. The snow got so deep the town had to bring in backhoes to dig out the roads and haul the snow away in dump trucks.

Enfield Center Road was a tunnel through snow walls as January went on and on.

The ambulance threw its red lights and siren out into the cold air and my heart came up through my throat when the EMTs arrived down on the corner. I strained to see out the second story window down the road.  The sirens went silent. More than an hour later, they drove away without any emergency lights on.

The old man was gone. He shot his dog first. Then he shot himself.

It was a cold winter in 1993. He’d had enough. He’d lived until he couldn’t take it anymore. Planned it that way.

Bleak midwinter

In Health, Mourning, Time and seasons on January 21, 2011 at 2:16 am

Deerly missed

There are days so dark sometimes it scares me. Blue grey cloud cover matches my interior mood. I know it is midwinter but to need a light to read midmorning seems ridiculous. This ain’t Sweden. 

I put on a chipper Skipper persona and try to face another day. Another snow day. Struggling to keep myself clear of long dog leads and twisted, contorted positions, I shiver and shake in the dank coldness of mid-January morning walk with the dogs.

After my Lucy and Scooby have done their duty at dawn and walked me as far as I’m willing to be dragged, I set about to my errands and clean the car off of snow and ice; only occasionally having time to shovel the walkway.

Once on State Route 79 west into Ithaca, I relax as the driving becomes monotonous. I look at myself in the rear-view mirror and am shocked to see a deep frown. I think my face is just relaxed but it’s so sad. I need to get my smile muscles back.

I’m on my way to a work-out. Me in my gym clothes reminds me Sue on Glee…the cheerleading coach who is always so glum?

I look back and remember clearing off the solar panels last year in this kind of weather. I burned more calories last winter just trying to stay warm. Hauling in firewood and trying to keep the cabin warm enough to survive got my internal metabolism going as I completed these tasks. No more.

Now I can take a hot shower at any hour of the day or night. The on-demand hot water heater doesn’t care what time it is. It’s on-demand. The steam from the shower fills the bathroom and my sinuses and skin begin to contract and relax muscles I didn’t know I had before I started lifting weights.

The luxuries afforded by this new everyday life are gifts for which I am most grateful. I know I pay for hot water and electricity and heat in a way that isn’t generated independently, but the convenience is appreciated.

And there are so many magical  conveniences I’ve discovered by going back “on the grid.” I don’t burn the popcorn anymore because I have an electrical appliance dedicated to the perfection of popping it perfectly if only you follow the instructions.

The fruit smoothie is a recipe which requires an electric blender. The hand-cranked versions are an entirely separate category. The blender makes fresh pesto possible; also lemon-tahini salad dressing. Oh my. The blender is my new best friend.

The reading lamp is required for reading! Hello?  I do not need to read by the glow of my laptop. Nor candlelight, moonlight or the old oil lamps. It’s as easy as the flick of a switch. And lordy I’m guilty of leaving a light or two on; including the outdoor porch light so I can see where to put the key when I come into my cottage after dark.

Smiling still hurts.

I can’t forget driving down Deer Run Lane and looking with such deep intention to see the land and what had changed at home. Was there a fire going; in which fireplace? Were the deer, elk and bison where they were supposed to be? Where’s Sam’s truck? The tractor is in the machine shed? Where is the old golf cart? Who let the dogs out? Sam did. 

Winter has left its mark on the farm and I can’t drive down and repeat the old mantra. The dogs are with me. The snow is too deep to make it down and back out without plowing. I can’t get to the pond and commune with Sam. He’s here with me in my heart; the ripped apart still open wound. Broken hearts never split even. Jagged and rough.

My Oasis at Ithaca’s Island Health & Fitness

In Health on January 17, 2011 at 12:35 am

Swimming like it's summer

Having never before had a membership to a health spa, I am awed by the experiences at Island Health & Fitness. You walk in and are transported to a different biosphere than out the front doors where snow, ice and cold temperatures keep your body in a constant shiver state.

Joining feels a bit self-indulgent because of its lush spa atmosphere. In my 50s I now live a more sedentary lifestyle since leaving the farm in September. Taking care of myself in this way is something strange. Different could be good. I yearn for the luxury of good health this place in Ithaca offers me.

Two-story walls of windows let in warm sunshine and bathe the members in a workout glow. Another wall of mirrors creates the illusion of the body and the building as steel machines in motion. The whirring, clinking, huffing and grunts sound like I’m in the factory production line.

For a newbie, it’s all quite new and a bit disorienting. I finally found a large coat rack outside the locker rooms. And as I turned around and began to enter the locker room, a lady crossed in front of me and smiled. She looked at the sign outside and pointed to it.

“Heh, you going in there?” she laughed.

I had just started walking into the men’s locker room. Definitely the Men’s. Oops. I backed right out and looked at the sign. Oops.

One of my goals I listed on the membership form was “meet new people,” but I didn’t think it would happen this way.

In the women’s locker room there are showers, a steam room, and a sauna. The perfect transition in and out of this Los Angeles biosphere.

The swimming pool has walls of windows and on a sunny day the blinding light fools me enough to feel like summer. Lap after lap it becomes a meditation.

Swimming isn’t a new practice. I’ve always been a swimmer. Though most of my swimming is seasonal and in a pond rather than a pool. Other than the pool, the rest of Island Health & Fitness feels foreign like when I’ve strolled into an adult video arcade.

I learned how to ride a bicycle in a whole new way. I put my feet onto the pedals and sat down and gripped the handlebars. In front of my eyes is a computer screen with some kind of video game or slot machine dimension.

My personal trainer, Audra, showed me how to program the computer to simulate riding through the Redwood Forest. I couldn’t pay attention for her long fingernails with square cornered extensions. Really, how hard could it be?

Holding both hands on the handlebar, the machine monitors my heart rate while my legs pedal. I look at the screen and try to steer and stay on the trail. Watching my speed, power, and heart rate gauges I forget to look at the trail. Turning the handles to correct the wheels back onto the trail has me feeling vertigo. I catching myself swaying off the bicycle seat and have nearly fallen off on more than one occasion.

When there are other animated bikers on my side and in front of me on the screen, it is eerie. I’ve jumped down the rabbit hole and into an animated universe. If I speed up the result on the screen when I pass another bike is total annihilation of my competitor. Poof; gone.

The minutes pass by quickly as I try to stay alert to the video game in front of me and forget the burning sensation in my thighs. I am not looking at anyone else. This dang game requires all my attention to coordinate hands and eyes and brain with legs, balance and posture.

The stationary recumbent bicycle is more my style. There are only a couple of these contraptions at Island Health and Fitness and they face a wall of silent television monitors with closed captioning offering a quiet visual distraction. I’ve never observed this bizarre cultural ritual of running the treadmill and watching television. The people-watching is more entertaining than what is on those screens.

And I’m sure I’m quite entertaining to watch as I navigate this alien space ship building with new kinds of tools and equipment. When it comes to the weight lifting and strength building exercises I take refuge in the Oasis Room reserved for women.

Here I champion my cause by lifting weights and using the bizarre set of adult playground equipment. I can hardly believe the legs, chest, knee, arm and back presses I can do in my contortionist way. Granted I’m not lifting or pressing much weight, but I’m doing it every 48 hours. All my reps.

Repetitions. Rote learning. Doing. Practicing. Relearn. Repeat. Again.

When I’m done with my new work-out routine I get that wibblywobbly feeling; like when you get off roller skates or sit down after cross country skiing. I seem to be lighter on this earth. My feet bounce off the floor.

Goal one accomplished. I’m walking. Goal two is to rebuild core strength. Goal three is to dance. Zumba classes?

Let there be MORE Lefse

In Holidays, Pictures and memories, Time and seasons on January 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm

The Ithaca Post just published my story about lefse. Potatoes are my favorite food category.

http://theithacapost.com/2011/01/14/let-there-be-lefse/

Wake up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed

In Mourning, Pictures and memories on January 14, 2011 at 2:13 am

Letting the dogs out

He couldn’t tell her about his pain. The incredibly blood-curdling, gut-wrenching, intestine-tying, horrifying pain. Instead he’d swear she was cranky before her feet hit the floor in the morning to let the dogs out.

“Why can’t you wake up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed?” he’d grumpily groan. She looked shocked. She didn’t realize how her moans and groans had turned into bitching and complaining. She loved him so. She did hate having to leave the comfort zone of quilts and blankets, pillows and dogs. The dogs woke her up and she was always feet to the floor to let them out at dawn.

“Come back to bed.”

“Okay, just a second. Let me get them back indoors and out of harm’s way,” she said. She skirted out the front door to make sure there was no canine disobedience beyond chasing rabbits out of the garden. Within seconds the dogs were ready to relax in the warmth of their sleeping spots, still comfortable as the morning beckoned.

He’d gotten up to pee while she was out with the canine kids and he quickly snuggled back into bed without the benefit of all the pets and extra pillows. He would look at her. Their eyes would meet across the span of a pillow. She could tell the kind of day it would be by the color of his eyes. Blue is sunshine and rainbows. Hazel means he needs her, keep her mouth shut and do what he asks. The day could go either way. Grey meant his mood matched the grey weather. Grey. Grey days when she longed to spend the entire day in bed with him, he turned into Grumpy. Even when they made love at the break of day, when his eyes were grey, it was a grey day.

She didn’t care what color his eyes were on any particular day; what she wanted everyday was to love him in every way. She’d waited her entire life to meet someone as spectacular. He made the earth move. She couldn’t get enough of him. He was the reason she got up in the morning. And let his dogs out. And came back to bed.

Sourpuss lemon chicken

In Grief, Mourning, Time and seasons on January 9, 2011 at 1:58 am

Sam walking down the lane

That describes me pretty good. It’s January, cold, and I struggle with pain issues and more. Lost my sense of humor just like my sense of balance.

No, this isn’t a recipe blog. It’s a remembrance of the best of things and griefwords over its passing. Though check back for my soul food.

One winter it was so cold that when I finally broke through the ice on the pond and filled the bucket for the chickens in the barn I noticed one or two had frozen their toes right off. That’s right, nothing but stubs to hobble around on.

Sam could endure more pain than anyone I ever met. He had all his teeth pulled out at one time. True story. Felt fine the next day. The deer, elk and bison used to bash him around quite a bit. He weighed less than 140 pounds and every bit of it was muscle on his 5’9″ frame.

Arms scarred by antlers as badly as his corneas by welding. When in his early twenties Sam burned half his face off in a bad under-the-hood fire (explosion!) Pain is something he always knew intimately.

Farming is a dangerous business and there were lots of injuries between the two of us. I stepped on a rake and gave myself a shiner in the middle of my forehead once. It hurt. Learned finally what Sam had told me dozens of times. Never leave a rake on the ground tines up. That meant even when the phone was ringing inside and I had to run to catch it.

He broke his foot I don’t know exactly how many times. He told me about the one time when  he was trucking and walking his dog Buddy at a rest stop and put his foot into a groundhog hole and fell. He got back to his 18 wheeler and crawled in. Spent three days there and had a couple who were truckers parked next to him walk his dachshund. Eventually got inside the truckstop on the fourth day and showered and cleaned up and got back on the road. It healed. Not properly, he broke it again. Doc asked who fixed it the first time?

When his wrist was broken I came home one day from town and he asked me to make up some of my papier mache. I’d been experimenting with decoupage and mask-making and he’d watched me mix up flour and water into a paste and create with newspaper strips some hard casts.

I prepared the artist of pain his palette for orthopedics and assisted like a dental hygenist; only when asked to do a technical task in the proper execution of his wrist cast. Carefully he laid wet strips of newspaper on his strawberry-blonde hairy forearm. I dipped the strips in the sloppy paste of flour and water and handed each one to him as he built up a cast around his hand, wrist and forearm.

He never let it quite dry enough before he started using his hand. Simple things like turning the door knob and you could hear the bones crack. Flushing the toilet. Thank you. But it hurt. The sparks from welding flew inside and sizzled his skin. The cast didn’t last long.

He never complained about pain. The weather, yes. But he’d never be wuss enough to let on that he was hurting. Physical pain beyond my low threshold capacity.

When I first met him I noticed a deep crease in his brow. Where his eyebrows came together and his forehead met his nose, a set of wrinkles dug in deep, even when he slept. He worried.

When he’d fall asleep I liked to touch his face and massage his temples and brow. Slowly but surely he let me rub his skin with unscented cream and those deep lines disappeared overnight. He’d smile and the only lines in his face were those laughter ones at the corner of his blue eyes.

Massaging away that furrowed look of pain and worry I believed things were getting better and better. And he made me feel as though we were getting better and better. The year before he died I remember a million firsts for him that I thought were incredible breakthroughs in our intense love relationship. One example I can share is he opened the door to his sister’s house on Easter when my hands were full of a plate of devilled eggs.  It was not customary for him to open doors for me. He even installed an outdoor entry that had a weight to close the door behind me. That he acted like such a gentleman after all these years of bachelor farmer behavior levelled me and I let him know with gratitude how much such small things still mattered to me.

Never complained about the pain. He manned up. He was the ultimate manly man.

Me? I am a wuss. A girly girl. Actually an old widow in pain and that is not how I want to live out the rest of my remaining years. I had the best years of my life with Sam. Everything I am today is because of him. And I am not 39 anymore.

He used to tell me he wished he were 20 again but with all the wisdom he’d gained since. I waited all my life to meet someone like him. I wasn’t ready and neither was he before that magical moment in the intersection of our life stories. He sure made my daily life an adventure.

I don’t regret a thing. I fell head over heels with a most incredible man. I spent as much time with him as he could possibly endure! We shared everything and worked side by side and enjoyed all the sweetness the good life had to offer us living off the grid and living off the land.

I simply miss being with him at home On Warren Pond Farm. We had a good life.

Health club membership and personal trainer, oh my!

In Mourning on January 7, 2011 at 4:32 am

On Warren Pond

Exercise, sleep, diet and massage therapy are my pain management tools. Exercise isn’t getting dragged by Dalmatians on leashes. Having two off leash dogs run at us yesterday afternoon resulted in me again dragged to the ground only to injure my right knee. Like the skating incident and my left knee wasn’t enough this week.

So I meet my new personal trainer at Island Health and Fitness in Ithaca’s west end at 12:30 p.m. Her name is Audra.

I need to be able to walk. Goal number one. I can swim. Did that tonight.

Then I need a trainer for this crochety old bucket of bones I call a body. Mourning weighs on me. Audra has her work cut out for her. Six free sessions with club membership.

Maybe I’ll try Pilates. Balance. Breathe.

Maybe I’ll take more naps.

I am going to swim like it’s summer.

Pain speaks to me

In Anniversary and memorials, Grief on January 7, 2011 at 2:09 am

I am a crab apple today

Pain speaks to me. But I haven’t been listening. Trying to put mind over matter only works if your mind is right. My head is pounding in pain. My physical being shakes uncontrollably. I choke down the sobs and feel the tears stream down my face.

My knees are swollen and I feel like someone knocked me over, cut me off at the knees, pushed me backwards and I am mangled, twisted, and broken. The pain pounds loud in my ears.

What is it saying? I am hurt. I can’t take the stress anymore. Stop please. Just stop this unbearable force weighing me down, pushing me under. I’m torn, ripped, wounded, bleeding, weak, crippled, old, and dying. I don’t want to hear what it tells me about myself.

The pain is inside of me, a part of me. Ignoring the pain doesn’t make it go away. Doesn’t make it any better. So today I sit with pain.

Rumi, the great Sufi poet, wrote something about when the demons are at the door, invite them in for tea.

On the 14th anniversary of Sam and I, Pain came a knockin’ today. Didn’t want to invite Pain in, but Pain was being a pain. So I’ve been sitting with Pain today. I’ve listened with tea and sympathy, in pain, with pain.

Took Pain with me to the health club and took a Jacuzzi this evening. Pain started to quiet down. Steam bath and sauna and a swim and Pain stopped screaming at me. Still talking, but now I’m listening better. Pain almost used a whisper voice when I got home and made some supper; but pain is more patient than I am. Pain is still talking at me, trying to tell me something important.

I’ve lost my center. I cannot find balance. No matter what move I make, pain speaks up. Pain’s mumbling keeps me awake, tossing and turning.  I want to kick Pain out of the bed so I can get some rest. But this pain isn’t going anywhere. It found its home in my heart. It’s my pain. I have to take ownership of it.

Standing with my feet shoulder width apart I take a deep breath. Slowly I shift my weight onto my right leg. I can feel the weightedness of myself and my right foot firmly on the ground. I feel the tense muscles running up and down my leg. My knee cracks, my ankle cracks. Then I slowly shift my weight from my right to my left leg. Pain sings to me. From my ankle to my hip and into my lower back, pain tells me exactly where he is. I shift my weight from right to left again.

I rock forward and backwards on my feet. The muscles in my thighs spasm as pain yodels down my Achilles heel. In between left and right I rock back and forth, forward and backwards, but nowhere in between is a place where I can stand firmly on the ground and feel myself centered. Pain is in the way.

My Epiphany: 14 years ago

In Anniversary and memorials, Holidays on January 6, 2011 at 3:11 am

My physician diagnosed me with a chronic condition of the connective tissue (fascia) and put me on a medical leave for fall semester 1997. I spent that autumn resting and reassessing how I would manage the pain and fatigue that was part of my everyday life and future prognosis. Thinking I’d never be able to dance again or swim for miles or hike the hills made me determined not to be defined by illness.

The day I got my diagnosis from my doctor I came home. I laid down on the floor. I stretched my legs longer another couple inches. I put my arms out to my sides. I sighed. Tears ran from the corners of my eyes onto the floor beneath my head.

I laid there. The tears kept coming. I didn’t sob. My breathing was calm. I breathed in. I breathed out.

My hair and ears got wet. I laid there on the floor and wept. Everything hurt. Now it hurt for a reason. I knew why. I found too little relief in that fact. The doc told me the diagnosis was not terminal; although I was going to have days when I wished it was. Pain and fatigue are the most debilitating symptoms.  For me, it was the morning fibro fog, loss of night vision, the butterfly rash, swelling of joints, and dysfunction of digestive organs. But the worst of it was the inability to follow my own train of thought suddenly in mid-sentence, the short term memory lapses, the wixing of mords and overall irritability. The brain farts finally had a reason.

 My bones sank deep into the floor and the tears of salty water poured from the corners of my eyes. I stared at the beautiful pine boards above and merged with their knots and grains and golden beams. The tears streamed down my temples, into my scalp, down my neck and onto the floor. I laid there.

And cried. I woke up the next morning; lying on the floor, on my back, with my eyelids sealed shut from the Sandman. I cleared the sleep from my face and dealt with it.

I walked the country roads near my rented house every day to give myself and my dog, Bob, some exercise. Even when I hurt like hell, it didn’t hurt any more exercising.  So I walked. I walked through the pain. The more I walked, the less it hurt. Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward was its own reward.

One day while out walking I noticed a new barricade appeared across the end of an unpaved driveway on Buck Hill Road, around the corner. “No Trespassing” signs went up and a couple sawhorses blocked vehicular traffic from turning down this lane I had never even noticed before.

I was a news junkie and suspicious this could be where a Unabomber could be staked out and hiding. I lived alone with my ragamuffin mutt, Bob, as my sole source of protection. We kept our eyes open for suspicious activity. Nobody went in or out; the snow piled up in the long drive.

For Christmas 1997 I made plans to be alone. The stress of traveling to see family in Minnesota was too much if I wanted to return to work next semester. I prayed for a sign that life had more in store for me than working myself to death.

My gift to myself was to relax and recover with a private celebration. If I could feel good enough to open my heart, mind, and soul, perhaps I would discover the joy of the season.  

Christmas Eve Day I spent in the kitchen slowly preparing my favorite holiday meal. I cooked myself a traditional turkey dinner. As the turkey roasted, snow fell outside. I called my neighbor Nancy to see if I could ride along to the carol sing at the Cayutaville Methodist Church. We arrived at the white chapel in gentle snow flurries. Before we entered the service, I stopped dead in my tracks. I had been here before. I felt certain, but I knew different. No I hadn’t.  

Nancy and I slipped in the back and sat down in a pew on the aisle. Disoriented somewhat, I sensed a sign I was waiting for; but it passed without knowing what it was or meant.

The service began with the piano banging out the simple tune “Away in a Manger,” with the congregation singing along. I looked around the small sanctuary. Twelve rows of wooden pews, each sat four to six congregants on the right; and twelve rows on the left. I recognized many of the faces as neighbors, people I passed in the grocery, at the gas station, in the bank. The choir came up out of the congregation and stood up in front of the pulpit to sing. The collection plates were passed down the rows and across the aisles. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we sang.

The minister took the pulpit and preached an unusual sermon. “The pain of childbirth goes unnoticed in the gospel story,” the lady pastor began. Mary’s story of giving birth was the focus of this Christmas Eve.

“Can you imagine how it was for Mary? She’s pregnant. She’s traveling and there is no place for her to spend the night. The shame and humiliation of an unexplainable pregnancy, the discomfort of riding on a donkey, the exhaustion… Can you imagine?” she asked her parishioners.

 As I sat in the pew listening politely, my hands cramped up and they suddenly were so swollen I could hardly interweave my fingers together in prayer. My neck at the base of the spine pounded with pain. I swallowed my screams into the silent night. My ankles and knees felt swollen and achy. I couldn’t move without more discomfort. I wasn’t even sure I would even be able to get up from that pew.

“Labor pains remind us nothing good comes without struggle,” the minister said. My focus was on the pain and struggle. Nothing good.

I went home and crawled into bed and slept late into Christmas Day. Foraging leftovers and lingering in my flannels all day long, I felt worse not better. What kind of a sign is this?

Fascia gets inflamed and irritated. Fascia is what holds our organs in place inside our bodies and connects the skin to the bones and tendons. It’s the goo between our organs and skeleton and skin. When the fascia is chronically stressed the feeling is pain and fatigue and an overwhelming sense of not being able to keep it all together.

I spent the next week doing nothing. Wiped out, I slept, ate, stared out the window into the whiteness and fell back to sleep again. Snow kept falling and I couldn’t muster the strength to shovel the driveway. I didn’t need to go anywhere anyway.

My neighbors, Nancy and Jack McKittrick invited me over for New Year’s Eve since a blizzard was expected. Nancy called all the neighbors within walking distance over for a stay-at-home celebration. Around 8 p.m. I bundled up in my wool coat, hat, mittens and boots. Just breaking the drifted snow from the door to the road was hard work. Once I got out onto the road, the plows had gone by and I skated along in my boots on the icy sheen under the moonlight. I brought a bottle of wine and my Scrabble board.

Sam Warren stomped into the McKittrick’s house on New Year’s Eve. The orange snow pants, big snowmobile boots, hat with ear flaps and those smiling, twinkling blue eyes mesmerized me. Flirtatious and funny for 40 minutes, Sam left the neighborhood gathering by 10 p.m. He had a wood fire going in the cabin and goats to check on in the storm.  It wasn’t any Unabomber who lived down that lane; it was a sexy, wild, backwoodsman.

I waited all New Year’s Day 1998 for a sign that this was a sign. There wasn’t any.

My dog, Bob, and I strolled down the lane to find his cabin. We quickly discovered Sam wasn’t there when I riled his dachshund who would not stop barking. Bob and I scurried home.

Despite the “No Trespassing” signs, I continued to walk down the lane to his cabin by the pond. The unpaved road had a canopy of trees and winter stillness. Several times a day for the next three days I tried to create an opportunity to meet by walking down to his cabin by the pond.

I wrote him letters. Long letters. I tore them up.

The letters were really written for me, trying to clarify what I was feeling and what that might mean. After the third day of my obsession, I realized he wouldn’t be interested in a 10 page handwritten love note from a strange middle aged woman. Neither was I.

I wanted to see Sam. I had walked around the entire farm during daylight hours. This was the most beautiful place on planet Earth even in the midst of bitter winter. I knew enough about what I felt and what I wanted. I knocked on his front door in the middle of the afternoon on January 6, 1998.  

Today was the Twelfth Day of Christmas. When he didn’t answer the door, I tacked three condoms in an envelope with my phone number on his front door.

I waited all afternoon by the phone. It was 5:30 p.m. and getting dark fast.  I was desperate and crazy and more dangerous than the Unabomber. I had never done anything so bold before.

***

Sam’s version of how we met differs from mine. As he retells this story, he returned home to his cabin at dusk, found tacked to his front door an envelope containing three condoms and a phone number with a hand scribbled name; looked like Jim.

Bachelor farmers are pranksters and Sam figured he was made the fool by one or another friend named Jim. He called the phone number.

“Hi. This is Sam,” he said.

“Hi Sam. This is Jill” I replied. My heart was pounding so hard I was afraid he would hear it.

It was Jill. Jill. Not Jim. Jill. It took Sam a few seconds to comprehend. Sam had seen her last at the McKittrick’s house at their New Year’s Eve gathering. Six days ago.

Sam had been so busy restoring an antique tractor the past few days he hadn’t had time to think about their chance meeting. He knew she rented Bird and Annie’s house. She walked up and down the roads everyday with a scruffy old mutt. Sometimes she’d wave. And smile. Some high society college professor would never have anything to do with the likes of him, Sam thought.

“Hello? Sam? Would you like to come up and talk sometime?” My voice filled the dead silence.

 “Yes, but I need to let my dog out, have some supper and take a bath. I’ve been painting a tractor all day and I am covered in John Deere green,” he said.

“Great. I’ll see you around 8 p.m.”

 At 6 p.m. his pickup truck pulled into my driveway. He’d let his dog out and wondered if I didn’t have a tub he could take a bath in; if I wouldn’t mind making him dinner.

The rest is history.