Jilly D.

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.

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