It’s funny how I’m sure I’ve learned a certain thing in life and then something (or someone) comes along to illustrate that I haven’t learned it nearly as well as I’d thought. This one is on the subject of what’s really important in life.
So, I’ve been stressed lately because we made a giant move in thirty days. I had to pack up my entire house by myself. I barely had time to say good bye to friends and colleagues who I really care about. Arriving at our destination to a house my husband has owned since before we were married, I now have to clear out my husband’s “bachelor stuff” which includes rusty, burned pots in the kitchen, piles of papers and magazines he’s hoarded since 1996, furniture he bought for no other reason than because it was cheap, and the bed he and his ex-wife used to sleep on before they got divorced, which, by the way, he did not tell me used to be theirs until after I’d been sleeping on it for ten years whenever we visited this house. (Let’s not go there.)
Stress has been exacerbated because I’m on a time crunch to get it done because I’m going to Nevada for book events in August and then overseas in September. I’ve been losing sleep and not eating very well, not writing, not exercising except for running up and down steps carrying boxes, because “it would be nice” to come back in September to “an organized house.”
Apart from that, my agent is shopping my novel, but we now need to pause in showing it around to acquisitions editors until the end of August since the NYC publishing industry closes shop for the summer. So that’s an unresolved issue that’s been niggling at me too. “Did I pick the right agent?” “Will she sell it?” “Will we get more than one offer, and if so, which should I choose?” “What are my options if she doesn’t sell it?” And “Goddammit — I have bruises on my inner arms and upper thighs from hauling heavy boxes.”
The above has been what my husband has been listening to for the past three weeks. Believe me, it’s got to be a helluva of lot more exasperating for him to be hearing that non-stop from his wife than it is for me to get rid of his old papers and rusty pots.
So, move, packing, shopping a novel, and bitching about it all. That’s been me for the past month or even more and it’s been ugly. Instead of looking at all that as though it’s really fortunate that I have a house to live in, that I have too much furniture and that I’m damned lucky to have an agent, I’m stressed.
(I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to tears by this point in this story, but hang in there.)
Some of you already know that I posted some of that furniture on Craig’s list as ‘for free’ and even made a joke about it at the expense of some of the people who came to pick up said furniture. So it wasn’t a reminder to me that many of us don’t have a house to live in or have too much stuff, it was an opportunity for me to make a sarcastic quip on Facebook about meeting the people from the Star Wars bar in person. Funny at the time, maybe, but not so funny in the following context.
And then I met someone who came to pick up the very bed I couldn’t wait to get rid of, because he doesn’t have a bed. He’s twenty-three years old, an ex-Marine and is missing three of the toes on his foot. (The other two will soon need to be amputated.) He’s in constant pain from other injuries he picked up courtesy of our involvement in Afghanistan. He was nineteen when he got married and last week his wife told him she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, so he left another state too, and drove to Colorado with whatever he could fit in his pickup. He chose Colorado not because he has any friends here, but because pot is legal and he prefers that to alleviate the constant pain rather than the pain meds the U.S. military prescribed to him that nearly made him an addict. He gets about 2,300 dollars a month from the government because he’s no longer of much use to the military, but he left everything he owned to his wife and stepdaughter, and had seven dollars left to hold him until the first of August when his monthly money comes in.
Seven dollars until the end of July. We met on July 12.
In the six days since, he’s put up two shelves for me, disassembled yet another bed, put up two ceiling light fixtures, fixed the leak that sprung in the basement that I was also bitching about just a few days ago, because I’d stored all the packed cardboard boxes down there. He’s moved heavy furniture, took every bit of “junk” that I offered him because it’s not junk to someone who isn’t a well-taken care of, well-off writer.
The whole time he’s worked, he’s talked. I learned that his mother is an addict and he blames her habit for the birth defects his brother suffers. I learned that he loves his father very much. (In fact, he called him twice during the past few days to get his expert opinion on how to fix the leak for me.) But it was his father who told him when he turned eighteen that he needed to get a job or get out, and that was the one and only reason he joined the military. I learned that his wife already had a two year old child when he met her, they got married when they were both still children in my opinion, but even so, his little stepdaughter calls him (and not her biological father) “Daddy,” because he’s been that loving to her. He wanted children of his own but can’t have them because he was exposed to radiation in the military and is now sterile.
And as he was telling me all this, he was working happily, efficiently, with no resentment whatsoever towards me or my big house full of boxes and furniture. When we shook hands yesterday, he said, “Miss, you saved my life this month. I live off my odd jobs and try to save what the military gives me, so I can buy another house. I had one, but I let my ex-wife keep it if she’d promise me that I could see my daughter.”
(By the way, this is practically word for word—I am not making any of this up or in any way embellishing it to make a better story.)
While I was listening to him talk, I was thinking about my own kids and how much we gave them, how much they have. I was thinking about my own life as a younger woman which I truly thought had been challenging, and I was realizing how pampered I’ve become that a few boxes and some daily damn lucky living could be so stressful for me.
He went on, “I’m hoping you’ll tell your friends about me, so I can get more jobs. I will do anything that I don’t need to take a piss test for, because if I can’t smoke pot, I can hardly move without pain.”
So, I’m telling my friends. But most of all, I’m telling myself.