I can make a colorable argument that I once defended my life with a shotgun.
I was still a newlywed, and John and I had purchased a house in the woods north of Wasilla, Alaska. I was home alone, out in the yard splitting wood, when a car came down our cul de sac, turned around, and left. This wasn’t completely unusual; we were one of only two houses out that far, but people sometimes take a wrong turn. I noticed them come back around, driving more slowly this time. Maybe they were looking for a different street.
The third time they came around, they stopped, blocking my driveway, and sat there staring at me.
It was two men, but I couldn’t see any details beyond that, the driveway being about a seventy-five feet long and the car dappled with sun and shadow. I was suddenly aware that there was no one else within half a mile of me. I stood there with the splitting maul in my hands, looking at them and making sure they knew that I knew they were there.
When they didn’t budge, I walked in the back door, picked up the shotgun, and walked out onto the front deck, ostentatiously ratcheting a shell into the chamber and taking a wide, alert stance.
They took off, not to be seen again.
Maybe they never would have worked up the nerve to get out of the car. Maybe their intentions weren’t actually dangerous. But the maybe balancing the other end of that scale is quite dire. And I never again chopped wood on my own without that shotgun sitting within arm’s reach.
From that, you might assume that I am a great advocate of guns as home defense. But let’s unpack the incident just a little bit more.
If those men had been motivated victim-seekers, I would never have stood a chance. They could have driven right up the driveway, gotten out of their car with a friendly greeting, and I wouldn’t have even moved toward the house until it was too late. A gun is rarely an effective deterrent–it’s far more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.
Furthermore, my gun was a Winchester Defender repeating shotgun. I had five slugs in that thing, which would do plenty of damage to any would-be assailants. I was not in need of a semi-automatic weapon to protect my life and property. The notion that anyone does need such a weapon is ridiculous and one more straw man in the attempt to intelligently discuss gun control.
I do not fear guns. Living in Alaska, they were tools, protection against wild animals and a method by which meat came home for many. I do not believe that we should confiscate all guns. They do have their place.
But I strongly believe that we can and should regulate the hell out of guns. There are weapons that should be illegal and should be confiscated or bought back. There should be registration and insurance requirements. Background checks without loopholes. If a gun I own is used in a crime, the police should be showing up at my door and asking some pretty tough questions: if it was stolen, why didn’t I report it? If I sold it, why didn’t I do a title change? If I don’t have good answers, then the claim for damages goes against my insurance.
Yes, there are millions of guns in the wild that will be hard to track. But there are thousands of meth labs in the back woods that police can’t locate and no one throws up their hands and says, “Oh well, I guess there’s no point in laws against them.” Laws we make now won’t pay off this year or this decade. But they will pay off for our grand children.
It’s time to get real about the future.
We have been a house of virus this part weekend. I can’t say “flu,” because while Ferrett had a bad cough and sore throat, I’m not 100% sure it was actual influenza and not just some other nastiness going around (yes, we have had flu shots).
In an unusual turn of events, Ferrett was sicker than I. I am usually the one to go down hard. Instead, this course of viral misery has been much more like parenting a three-year-old: if I sat still and quiet, it pretty much ignored me, but if I tried to do anything it was hanging off my arms and demanding my attention.
Nevertheless, life is filled with Things That Need Doing. So Saturday I set out in the morning to run errands–dropping off a package at FedEx, taking boxes of books to the used bookstore, making a quick Costco run, stopping by the comic book store to pick up our “pull” order.
In hindsight, none of those things seem like the kind of rush items demanding me to leave the house while feeling dreadful. Why, at the time, did they all seem imperative?
The problem with illness that isn’t all-consuming is that it’s boring. But it also impairs my ability to make good decisions. This is not new. When I was fourteen and recovering from viral meningitis, I baked my brother a cake from scratch because it was his birthday. I literally had to drag the mixer and the ingredients off the counter and down onto the floor because I was too weak to stand up. Nevertheless, I made him a nice chocolate cake. Frosted, too.
Running these errands? Why not? I got to sit in the car and recover between each one, right? Costco was a bit of a challenge, but I only needed a few things.
I was wiped out by the time I arrived home. Those three-year-olds were having a temper tantrum at me. I needed a nap.
Of course, within half an hour of lying down, I felt not-so-terrible again. And bored. Clearly it was time to sew.
I got a fair amount done, but it reminded me very much of sewing when the girls was little. Feeling sick was this continual nag of middling misery, trying to get my attention. Unlike the girls, illness can’t be distracted by being allowed to pull all the fabric off the shelves, or preoccupied with a project of its own. No, illness is focused and undeterred. It was definitely going to outlast me.
But I knew that stopping was only going to make me feel marginally better, and continuing (within reason) wasn’t going to harm me. So I pressed on. Not for too long, and I went to bed early and got a decent night’s sleep, like a person who’s fighting a virus should. And knowing that I spent a little time making progress on a project makes me feel better about a rather glum weekend.
A lot of life is like that. There’s something nagging, a small stumbling block that makes accomplishing something just enough tougher that it’s easy to give up. I’m not talking about the serious things, just the little ones: I’m tired and don’t want to cook; I’m sore and don’t want to work out. I’m preoccupied and don’t want to take a moment to pick up after myself. And yet everything about my life works better when I press through those little things. Sometimes when those things come up, I become the cranky three-year-old. I don’t WANNA! It’s not FAIR!
It’s not always fun, having to adult my own inner child. I’m usually happier, though, when I do.
I went to the cardiologist the other day, and my numbers all look good. LDL cholesterol is still a wee bit high, but trending in the right direction. I’m exercising, eating right, doing all the things I’m supposed to be doing.
But I had an odd thought. I turn 60 this spring. Ferrett and I have lived in this house for almost 20 years. Going by average lifespans, I can really only bet that I will continue living here going forward for as long as I’ve lived here thus far.
And wow have those years gone fast. I really felt my mortality in that moment; this is all going to be over with in a blink of the eye.
So I’m going to do what it takes to try and extend those 20 years into 30 or 35. But I’m thinking about how best to spend my final stretch. Several things come to mind.
- I’m done with reading “important” books that just make me depressed. I’ve read some amazing books over the years thanks to lists like The Big Read. But I’ve also slogged through books that I felt I should read. And now I wonder if there is any point other than bragging rights. So when The God of Small Things was just making me sad, I thought, “Nope. ” This may mean I read a lot more fluffy romance, or urban fantasy, or fantasy from the pre-everything-is-gritty era. And the world will not crumble.
- I have too much sentimental stuff, and my kids shouldn’t have to deal with it. Without a doubt, when they carry me out of here toes-first my girls will have a ton of junk to dispose of. But right now there is a cedar chest in the basement that contains my mother’s wedding dress (unwearably awful 1050s waltz-length dress that she always regretted her mother talking her into), and albums of birthday cards from when she was a child, and all kinds of other stuff that means almost nothing to me and will mean far less to my girls. They are going to have enough to deal with deciding what to keep from the things I cherish (mostly quilts, I suspect); they shouldn’t have to deal with my parent’s and grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s things–at least not the ones to which I’m not terribly attached. Great Grandma’s tea set and music box definitely stay, but I need to make some of the wrenching decisions, instead of leaving them all to the kids.
- I have too much stuff, and it’s time to get lighten the load. Our stuff really does own us. And I have way too much of it. This is a continual source of tension here–vacant is restful to me and stressful to Ferrett. We both make compromises, and we mostly make it work. But I’m going through my stuff and paring down. I did this a couple years ago, and we are still much better organized. But it’s a constant war against atrophy.
- I’m allowed to walk away from the news for a while. One of the best ways to get depressed these days is to read the news. Even better? Read the comments sections of articles. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, the bile and vitriol is unhealthy, but it’s also a train wreck that’s hard to ignore. I get to turn away. My participation isn’t going to change the dialogue, and my absence for a day or two won’t change the course of history.
- I have to fight against content isolationism. I love my house. I love my sewing room. I love reading and quilting, and can happily stay in the house for days and days. We used to have people over a lot, and we don’t these days. We used to go visit a lot, and that’s slowed down, too. Any one day is fine, but too many of them and some day I will be lonely and sad. So I must remember to fight inertia and get my butt out the door.
- I have so much to be grateful for. I love my husband. I love my job. I love my house. My kids are amazing. My extended family is fabulous. My friends are the best. I’m white and financially secure and have a safety net. That’s a lot to be grateful for. It’s easy to become cynical these days, and fearful as well. Everything can look very dark. But there is light, too. And it’s beautiful.
- I’m going to pay attention. All of us have a limited number of days, evenings, weekends. I’m more aware of that fact now. It’s super easy to lose entire weekends to staring at the TV or a computer monitor. Sometimes that’s fun and intentional–a movie marathon, for example. A lot of times, it’s, once again, inertia. I can choose to watch ten episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress” and another seven of “Tiny House Nation,” but I want to make it a choice. Would I rather be sewing? Reading? Am I content, or just bored? The dog would appreciate a walk; wouldn’t that be better time spent? I’m going to check in on myself.
- Ultimately, I don’t matter. And that’s okay. I will leave very little mark on the world–a few people will remember me fondly while they live; someone might stumble across my journal now and again. But I’m going to be one of the masses of anonymous people who lived their lives and left no mark. I’m comfortable with that. It means I get to choose my level of happy, choose my own adventure, if you will. And I like the adventure I’m on.
All in all, it’s not a bad way to start the final third of my life.
On Thursday our goddaughter Rebecca will have yet another MRI to determine whether the toxic chemicals being poured into her system are successfully keeping her brain cancer at bay.
Rebecca is 5 years old.
She was diagnosed in August. Ferrett and I were there in Philadelphia with her and her family while she underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. We were there to see the x-rays and hear the discussion of the diagnosis and the treatment plan and the prognosis. We cared for and cuddled her siblings, and hugged her parents and did what we could to help care for them. We have been along for every MRI results meeting since they were able to return home permanently after proton radiation treatment. We have walked for cancer in Rebecca’s honor, donated to and helped raise money for her sister having her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s just yesterday.
I still can’t quite believe that Rebecca has cancer. Because the Meyers aren’t supposed to be a family that goes through this. They are wonderful and amazing and I consider it one of the greatest gifts that I am part of their lives. In my mind, this can’t be happening because they are simply “not those people.”
The thing is, “those people” is not a derogatory designation in my mind. My extended family? TOTALLY “those people.” If one of my siblings or cousins was diagnosed with cancer, I would be saddened and shocked, but I would be able to accept it. It wouldn’t feel so impossible. When Ferrett’s stepdad contracted ALS, it was awful, and that he died so quickly from it was terrible and tragic. But while I felt like it was unfair and I was grief-stricken, I never went through this ongoing sense of, “but…this just can’t be!”
I’m not quite sure why Rebecca’s cancer feels so different from so many other illnesses and tragedies, but I do remember the one other person I felt this way about: my friend Annie, who died of inflammatory breast cancer when she was just 36, the mother of four small children. Annie and Grant were also a family was wonderful and amazing, and the notion that Annie, who worked so hard to feed her family fresh, organic food and lived such a green lifestyle, could have this genetic timebomb within her that mowed through all those good decisions? It just wasn’t right! It’s been at least 14 years since Annie died, and I still get moments when it pulls me up short.
Because the fact of the matter is, there is no magic that protects any of us. There is no magical good fortune that keeps illness and accident and tragedy at bay. We are, each of us, vulnerable.
I don’t know how to end this. It’s not a happy entry. I have no deep insight that leads to a positive outlook right now. Do I just fall back on platitudes: hug your loved ones; appreciate life’s every moment? The truth is that this is a dark and scary place, and I’m not in a good headspace about it right now. I spent yesterday afternoon cheering on Carolyn and her friends as they got their heads shaved, getting snuggles from Rebecca, and visiting with friends as we all hang on together trying to feel like we are making a difference. And we are, overall. The money raised goes to research that will help kids in the future, just as the money raised a decade ago and more went to the research that has led to developments that are giving Rebecca a good chance of beating this.
But each of us, in the moment, is just clinging to each other against the cold, howling winds of chance. We stick together for comfort and support. And right now all I can think about is Thursday, when we will be there with Rebecca’s parents to hear the verdict once again. I believe right now that it will be fine, that the MRI will be clear. But believing it and knowing it are two different things, and we won’t know until then.
Ferrett and I are passionate people who get along wonderfully until that unfortunate moment when we aren’t getting along. We will never be one of those couples who says, “Oh, we never argue about anything!” We are both stubborn and convinced that we are right.
But one of the things we have tried to do over the years is to learn to fight fairly. To use “I” language, to step back when discussion turns into yelling, to trust that if one of us says, “I need a minute to calm down” that doesn’t mean “I’m going to stomp off and fume and not speak to you anymore.”
And to deal with “always” and “never” language. We are both given to hyperbole. And high emotion in our worst moments. And so at one point we would readily throw around those two words: “You always assume I’m trying to control you!” “You never show me any respect!” These statements had nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with the mental state we were in at that moment, where the world narrows down to the grievance at hand.
But once the disagreement at hand was resolved, there would be a secondary tension based on the accused hurt at being told that he or she was “always” or “never” doing something that they knew was unfair. And that lower-key tension could be carried as a deep hurt for hours or even days, waiting its moment to erupt into an echoing argument, leaving the other person–who had generally forgotten entirely about the moment–suddenly blindsided with hurt that felt like it was coming out of nowhere. And, frankly, ridiculous to the one party while monumental to the other.
So we reached an agreement. We would both do our best to stay away from “always” and “never.”
And you know what? We both fail at it dismally.
In the midst of a disagreement, those terrible words still erupt from our mouths on occasion. But there is a big difference now. Usually, we are aware enough to catch ourselves doing it. And if the other of us points out what we’ve said, we take a step back, acknowledge that we are in error, and start again with calmer, more realistic language.
But even if we don’t manage that, we each know that the other didn’t mean it and we don’t carry it around with us for days. Our dialogue is healthier for it.
And now? I’m working at removing those dreaded words from my internal dialogue. We are our own harshest critics, and we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to our friends. Example: last night at the Oscar party I ate WAY too much junk food. I woke up this morning feeling bloated and logy. In my head, I started scolding myself: you always do this. You never have any self-control around snack food.
And then I made me stop. It was a party. I had fun. I have plenty of self-control, in that these snack foods only enter my house about 4 times a year, but I’m at the grocery store every week and I don’t buy them. I am, in fact, a competent person who is capable of taking good care of myself. I deserve my own love and respect.
Here’s the one always I need to internalize: I am always worthy.