Friday, August 14, 2009

things with teeth

When we last saw Whimsy...
Part one.
Part two.
Part three.
Part four.

So Denver. Not what I expected. I was thinking John Denver with cowboy hats and turquoise jewelry and Aspen ski-fancy. I was expecting WEST and instead I got MIDwest. There's nothing wrong with that, but the fact that Colorado is a FARMING state never seemed to enter my head, even though I knew we were heading to a FARM for Part Two of the Epic Pilgrimage Journey to the Homeland Whimsyfest Extravaganza 2009 (shortened to "The Denver Trip" for my nearest and dear).

My anxiety levels were starting to peak on Friday morning, the day we were heading out to Bill's ranch. I got quiet. It's what I do. I also got Uber Control Freaky, which is also what I do. The whol
e jokey-false-teeth-removal-at-breakfast kind of tipped me off and over the edge of sanity. Chip had said that he felt really close to Buddy, and that things were going really well (we were eating EGGS at this point), but you know, it's not like he'd share Buddy's TOOTHBRUSH or anything. Which is when Buddy laughingly pulled out The Teeth and laughed that he used a different kind of toothbrush anyway.

First thought: !!!!!

Second thought: !!!!

Third thought: This simply is not happening.

Fourth thought: !!!!

Which is when I zoomed back in on the conversation and realized that I was missing some rip-roaring fantastic story about having dental work done in Juarez, Mexico.


This is when I started kicking Chip underneath the table. Hard. MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP, MAKE

That was me, silently pleading while the whole room se
emed to zoom in and out of focus like it does in those horror movies with the violin screechy soundtracks. I swear, the entire space-time continuum was in on the joke because the seconds slowed down until they weren't even ticking by and if I'd wanted, I could have made four laps around the restaurant ON MY KNEES and Buddy would have still been telling us about that horrible dentist IN JUAREZ, MEXICO. (I'm weird about the dentist anyway, but when I start to think about a DENTIST in MEXICO I can't help but picture some guy working out of the back of his pick-up truck wearing a pair of blood-stained coveralls as he wields a pair of rusty pliers, and in my mind there are wild Mexican goats standing around willy-nilly.) So I had the time to picture ALL OF THIS, IN GREAT DETAIL (with the GOATS), and also have the following conversation with Chip (TELEPATHICALLY --- BECAUSE WE HAD ENOUGH TIME TO ALSO DEVELOP SUPER-SENSORY CAPABILITIES)
Whimsy: Are you dying?

Chip: Yes, I am, a little bit at a time. Are you okay?
Whimsy: No. Of course not. I am already dead. You are speaking telep
athically to my reanimated corpse.
Chip: Do you want me to ask him to stop telling this charming story?
Whimsy: Yes. And also-- RIGHT NOW.

Which is when the record scratchy sound came blaring into my ears as I simultaneously yelled


So Buddy, he stops, waits a beat-- apologizes, "Oh! Of course!"
AND THEN HE KEEPS TELLING THE STORY. "So then this dentist..."

Which is when I pushed myself away from the EGGS and the table, threw my napkin on my plate, and said that I'd be back. I don't think I've ever walked so fast to a bathroom in my life

It took a little while for me to calm down, standing in the bathroom stall and wishing th
at they had a stall with a little couch and some kleenex for just this occasion. Wouldn't that be perfect? I mean, it's really specific and specialized, but particularly for a hotel I think it would be widely used: the non-potty stall. For crying. For feeling upset. For trying to recover from weird moments that really range up there in the Weird Moments Hall of Fame. Because such a stall does not exist, I cowered awkwardly in the corner of my stall, breathing really heavy and trying not to cry, wiling myself to calm down and keep it together.

It was later, after I'd gone back to breakfast and Buddy had apologized profusely, and we'd checked out and gone to pick up our rental car (we'd be driving in separate cars to Fort Morgan becaus
e Buddy would be later returning to the airport to get Matt, Ana, and Emilie) and we were headed to the ranch that Chip held my hand and reminded me of something lovely--- this was when I realized a very important and strangely forgotten fact:

This pilgrimage was putting me in a very confused place--- I felt scared and lost in the sheer gargantuan size of the journey. Whoever we were meeting, whoever we were getting to k
now, no matter their connection to me as a person or as a daughter or as a sister or as a cousin or as a niece, none of these people could ever question who I am. What makes me, me. What ties me to the stories I tell or the bonds I've made. Chip held my hand and looked into my eyes and patiently reminded me that no matter what happens outside of Us: me and him and Alice, we're family. We know each other. We're blood. A sense of place, a sense of belonging--- it doesn't come from the outside, even if it's being given with open hands and a sweet smile. It comes from within.

No matter where you are.

I feel like we've reached a part of the story where everything starts tumbling downhill faster and faster and there's not much I can do to stop it. It felt like we were crossing the thres
hold of the sixth circle of Hell even as everyone around us was smiling and happy and feeling just AWESOME that we were all there together.

I worry about anyone reading this recap now, especially the people who were there--- Buddy and Matt and Ana, and how they might feed bad (please don't). Actually, when I think about it, even the best trips can feel like you're entering the sixth circle of Hell. I mean, no matter what you do, bad things happen, and sometimes it's the bad things that define a trip. And even though there were all kinds of wonderful bright spots, it's those bad things that you remember later when you're thumbing through the trip in your mind. When Chip and I took our first big vacation together it was like this. We went to Florida and despite all of Chip's best efforts, our hotel was CRAP and that first night was CRAP and we actually ended up sleeping in separate beds because they'd given us a room with two double beds and the sheets were so scratchy and awful neither of us could sleep right next to each other for the itching and the bed creaking. I remember the next morning Chip was really feeling terrible. He said, "When you talk about other trips you've taken, things you did before you met me, all of your trips sound fantastic. This one SUCKS." And that's when I started to laugh. I let Chip in on the joke right after, explaining that EVERY trip I've ever been on had HORRIBLE stuff happen. Stuff that made me want to run home (most memorable: my travel partner TOTALLED OUR RENTAL CAR IN SCOTLAND BY DRIVING OVER A SMALL BOULDER--- a rental car for which we had OPTED OUT OF THE INSURANCE, because hey what could POSSIBLY happen...). The thing is, you don't turn right around and come home. And given enough time, you laugh about the awful stuff. The awful stuff mellows in your mind and sheds this funny patina over the trip, actually endearing the trip to you.

The other thing is, I would never want to hear the unabridged version of any trip my friends have made to come see me. I'm sure they could tell some WHOPPER stories about me, my house, and/or getting so sick they want to die. What I'm saying is, I'm giving you guys the very good, the very bad, and the very very ugly--- you're getting the mostly unabridged version of the story and I'm crossing my fingers that no one hates me at the end.

Whimsy is NOT a country girl.

The word we're looking for here is city slicker. Say it in the most sneery way possible because yours truly is something of a northwest dwelling brat. I mean, every summer we spent time on my Grandpa's dairy farm in Idaho. I enjoyed it - but I enjoyed it because it was quaint and different and sweet. I didn't have to milk cows or bring in alfalfa or do anything related to cow poop. Winston grew up on that dairy farm - and he was equally comfortable talking about hay and cows in the pasture and irrigation rights just as much as he was comfortable talking about the traffic in Los Angeles and the crime rates in our town and the city zoning for commercial buildings. It was all the same to him, but I never absorbed any of the country stuff.

Driving out to the ranch was like watching the last bits of safety slip by the car windows. With every fence post and every pick-up truck we passed, I felt like I was shrinking further into myself. I worried about where we'd be sleeping, what the bathroom would be like, if I would have anything to say to anyone. We were heading to see a large family of folks who don't watch TV or movies (I'll let that little nugget sink in and we can talk pop culture references and my DEPENDENCE ON THEM later).

Lucky for me, here's Chip in fine form reminding me to breathe all that beauty in, deep:
We're passing a huge cornfield with nothing but greenery and the lazy flat blue horizon off in the distance...
Chip: (motions to the corn whizzing by his window) Man, that's some REAL heartland crap, right there. You know? Awesome. (smiles, nods) Just awesome.

Which brings us to...
Whimsy is NOT up on the proper hunting terminology.

The ranch is another fifteen miles outside of Fort Morgan. So once we'd reached Small Town, we still had another fifteen miles to go. (Picture Whimsy gripping the car door with white knuckles as she marks any vestige of Civilization pass by her window.)

It was lovely. It really was--- with the softly undulating fields of wheat, and the cornflower blue sky, and the horizon stretching around us in a giant circle.

It was also peaceful. Quiet. Nothing but wind and the gentle rustle of grass and the distant call of cattle.

We pulled up to the ranch house, a big open place, but modest. A well-loved house Bill built for his wife and five children. Three of those kids are grown and living elsewhere, but they return often with spouses in tow. We ate dinner with the entire family every night we were there.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While I was busy worrying about bathroom conditions and sleeping arrangements, what I should have been concerned about what this:

That would be one of the two additional residents of our bedroom.

So yeah, they're a big hunting family. When we walked into the living room it was the first thing I noticed (how could I NOT):

Sheep and rams and elk that go Moo
Bears and snakes and mountain lions too!
Heads of every shape and size

Mounted on the walls, each one a prize!

What I was thinking: !!!!!
What I said: So, um, did you guys... like, catch all these... um, dead-animal-head-thingies? Wow.
That's... a lot of animals.

Then they told me that Bill's wife, Phyllis, actually "got that mountain lion,
there, herself". In case you were wondering, THE ENTIRE MOUNTAIN LION WAS THERE IN THE LIVING ROOM.

Alice (making the kitty sign, points excitedly): KITTY!
Me (pushing her hand down): Yes, baby, that's a KITTY. She's not going to lick your hand like Phoebe does.

After that introduction it was hard to focus on much else. I kept imagining that Phyllis was probably headed out behind the house to wrestle our dinner with her BARE HANDS and would come back in to make some cookies. SHOT A MOUNTAIN LION, indeed.

I don't have to recap a lot of conversations from the time at the ranch because there weren't many. I mean, really. This is a family that works hard. That plays hard. That laughs hard. That knows what someone means with one or two words and doesn't have to say much beyond that. They discuss the harvest, how things are going with Nathan's combine business. They talk about bringing in crops and the price they're hoping to get. They quietly walk through the living room carrying shotguns because they're going to "head on out to hopefully catch that coyote tonight" (true story). There isn't anything quaint or bashful or self-conscious about living the life they do. Because it's what they do and who they are. I loved that they welcomed me and Chip and Alice into the warp and weave of their life and didn't offer any explanations no matter how many exclamation points the city-dwelling townies might have running through their heads.

Life is life, and it's different for everybody. I could offer a thousand judgments and try to make it sound funny but ultimately under the careful scrutiny of Fairness and Understanding and Time, they'd collapse in on themselves to become what they are: judgments. There are a million things that Chip and I do here in Seattle that would be mind-bogglingly STUPID to hard-working ranc
hing farming folk. And the same is true here. I mean, there were dead animal heads on the walls. EVERYWHERE. It was a little bit freaky. But again: TOTALLY NORMAL TO THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE THAT LIFE.

In case you wondered, a dead deer's chin (FLURPS!) is soft, in a wiry sort of way.

Whimsy is NOT well-rested.

Our first dinner at the ranch? FANTASTIC. Whatever Phylis did to kill the cow WITH HER BARE HANDS (kidding!)--- she did it with some finesse. Because the food was absolutely perfect. Steak, corn, a bunch of things I can't recall. Something she called "dessert pizza" which was basically a pate sucree fruit tart. I really had to stop myself from laughing about how perfectly ironic and stuffy some people can be (Martha Stewart: pate sucree fruit tart with kiwi! Phyllis Mountain Lion Slayer: fruit pizza!). After dinner, everyone sat around the table and talked a little. It was something I mentioned to Chip later on as we were trying to sleep--- those first conversations are always so tricky. No one really knows what to say - me to them, them to me. No one wants to pry or be rude. No one wants to say the wrong thing. Instead, they don't say anything. Chip and I didn't want to intrude so we listened to the guys at the table (close family friends and farm hands that were helping with harvest).

The first night of sleeping there in that double bed was a little bit uncomfortable. See, Chip's sore throat was quickly blooming into something Otherworldly. The air conditioner treatment (thanks to yours truly!) had combined with Chip's resident (but usually mostly dormant) asthma to create a cocktail of viral loveliness. That cocktail had then mixed itself with Hay Fever of epic proportions to give Chip the worst case of breathing trouble he'd ever experienced. Of course, none of this was exactly apparent on Saturday morning. But he hadn't slept much the night before (neither had I), and he was feeling, shall we say, poorly. Alice was also a little out of sorts thanks to a continuing and nagging case of Not Getting Enough Sleep.

We woke up. We ate some breakfast. We got in our rental car and drove the twenty (!) minutes into town. I needed to make another (count 'em) Target/Walmart/Walgreen's/Random Drug Store Whatever's Handy to pick up some Claritin for Chip, something amusing for Alice, and an ample supply of infant Ibuprofen. The three of us were so ridiculously miserable. We didn't know what to do. You know what you do when you don't know what to do and you're staying outside of Fort Morgan, Colorado? You have your husband drive to a park, a park where there are some Latino people having a birthday party (complete with a pinata). You laugh until you cry when your husband exclaims, "MY PEOPLE!" Then, the three of you, ALL THREE OF YOU INCLUDING THE BABY, fall asleep. In the car. For a half hour. (Note to Buddy: that's what we were doing for so long when we went into town, we fell asleep outside some random park where a nice Latino family was trying to have a birthday party for their kid.)

We actually felt better after the napping. We stopped off at a different park with a million ducks. Then we went to the grocery store and bought some food for Alice, some milk for the family, and
headed back to the house.

Alice ran around the living room and pointed a million times at that darn mountain lion. Alice was a saving grace. When you don't know what to say to someone, an adult person, it sure is easy to bond with Alice. They were wonderfully, deliciously, adorably goofy with her. Phylis and her daughter got down on hands and knees to play peek-a-boo. Bill tickled Alice until she did her belly-laugh. The guys, every single one of them, was sweet and gentle with our little Alice Bean. She's a great ambassador.

Whimsy is NOT a good conversationalist.
By that evening, I was looking forward to the food (seriously, Phylis did not disappoint), but I was worried that things would be quiet at dinner. So with Buddy's help (he brought up the awesome incident of THE TEETH), Chip and I started to talk about us and our life together. I am not a good conversationalist when I'm feeling on the spot. But let me tell you, given the chance, I can make fun of Chip and tell Chip-related stories until the cows come home. He's a FUNNY DU
DE. And he's even FUNNIER when you're married to him. We told them about how we met, including the fact that CHIP BROUGHT HIS ROOMMATE WITH US ON OUR FIRST DATE. We told them about Fred and Wilma, the largest and most heinous spiders we've ever battled (CHIP HAS EVER BATTLED). We told them about Chip asking the diaper seminar lady how often he could expect to get "poo material" on his person while changing diapers. We told them about how, after Chip's painful knee surgery, I essentially YELLED HIM UP THE STAIRS AND INTO BED in order to avoid the humiliation of having my new in-laws see my semi-unconcious husband lying prone on the hardwood living room floor (Chip: It was the most comfortable floor I'd ever been on and I didn't want to go anywhere, anytime soon. But Whimsy scared me. She was tiny, but boy did she sound MAD.). In short, we told them every embarassing story we could muster in order to get people to laugh and be comfortable with us. We are ALL ABOUT the deep humiliation if it brings some humor into the room.

It worked. They laughed, they smiled, they shook their heads. There was this one point when I was talking and I noted that we'd been talking, just Chip and me, for the last half-hour--- and Phylis's daughter said that they didn't mind. It was fun, it was funny. It was nice to let them see us for who we are, to know that we are goofy and make dumb mistakes. But it was still hard--- it was basically the in-person version of sharing this blog with someone and asking them to know me based on what they read here. It's never the whole story. It can't be the whole story. There is editing and someone making a choice to leave something out that was particularly unfunny or painful or weird.

The actual, real, knowing of a person takes time. A lot of time.

Whimsy is NOT a nursemaid/stellar multi-tasker.

It would appear that I was a little self-involved during this time, because in between all of my stress and focus and worry about the sleeping arrangements and looking forward to Phylis' next meal, I glossed over the fact that Chip was getting increasingly, and deathly, ill. By Sunday morning Chip was wheezing so bad I could hear him across the room. His face was pale and slick with sweat. He looked terrible.

He said, "We need to go to urgent care. Now."

So that's what we did. Because now it also looked like Alice was suffering from the same allergy--- her eyes were red and watery, swelling shut as she tried to blink. She was sneezing and couldn't breathe. We packed up the car and made arrangements to meet Buddy and the rest of the clan (the whole lot of them) up at the family reunion at the YMCA of Estes Park (we will be covering this little YMCA jaunt in the next installment, because: Yes and Oh boy).

The closest Urgent Care was over 90 miles away. NINTY MILES, PEOPLE. The closest Urgent Care. Almost-triple-digits-of-miles AWAY.
Chip: I feel bad for anyone who gets sick.
Whimsy: Just drive. Don't think about how you feel like you're about to die.
Alice: **Whimper.**

It was the longest car ride of our lives. I sat in the back with Alice as she tried to literally cry her way through sleep. Chip told me later that the conscious effort he was making to actually take each breath was maddening. That he was worried he was going to simply stop breathing altogether. That he was worried he'd end up leaving Alice and I in the middle of the Colorado countryside, husbandless and fatherless. Longest car ride of our lives, I'm telling you.

What made it even longer? When we got to the Urgent Care Mecca 90 miles away and found that THEY HAD DECIDED TO UP AND CHANGE THEIR SUNDAY HOURS AND WOULDN'T BE OPEN FOR ANOTHER HOUR AND A HALF.

We drove to Walmart (Ding! Another random Target/Walmart/Walgreen's/nameless drug store visit!). Chip sat limp and lifeless on a bench near the pharmacy while Alice and I tore through the store to pick up necessary supplies (humidifier for my sick family, eucalyptus for the humidifier, pretzels for Alice, children's Benedryl in case the doctor okay'd it for Alice's allergy attack, adult Benedryl for Chip, four boxes of kleenex for the copious amounts of snot the two sickies were generating). When we returned to the Urgent Care we were the first ones in the clinic door. We got Chip and Alice checked in. And then we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. Because even though they opened at noon, apparently there were no doctors there for another HOUR.

And then, we saw a cranky nurse tech dude who made Alice VERY upset when he insisted that she put the little blood pressure finger squeegie thing on.

After the screaming, the PA seemed to appear magically, out of thin air. And then she agreed with our assessment: very bad allergies for both patients, severe bronchitis in Chip's lungs along with some other kind of nasty infection (YES, DUE TO THE AIR CONDITIONING; AGAIN: THANK YOU TO WHIMSY.). Benedryl and antibiotics all around!

So it was, finally and after many prayers and pleas that we SURVIVE THE DAY, we headed up the mountain to Estes Park (8,200 feet altitude). Exhausted, sick, and not in the least prepared for the YMCA.

Part six on Monday wherein we visit gigantor bugs, marvelous ingenuity, and the life-saving effects of adrenilin.


M said...

I'm just sitting here crying into my laptop.

I have never wanted to hug you so badly. I have never so hated the thousands of miles that divide us.

God Bless Chip. Vive El Chip!

And I LOVED my trip to see you! Yes, I was so sick I thought I would die, but if that's the price to be paid to spend 5 days with my best friend, then sign me up, I'd pay it again in a heartbeat.

Chip said...

Culture Shock anyone?

My comment about the "real heartland crap" was excitedly genuine. The words didn't come quick enough to my mouth, and what came out was crap. In the end it made Whimsy laugh, so I never corrected it.

Amy said...

You've got a good man in if you didn't already know that. The whole the three of us family thing made me cry.

KAY said...

Aaagghhh!! I can't stand it!
One minute I'm geting teary from the "we're family" story. The next I'm marvelling how cute Alice is INSIDE the wheel of what-looks-like a Tractor (of course, it's called something else because city people have no idea about specialized farm equipment). Then I start thinking about sleeping in a room with animal heads... Lastly, I'm alternately laughing and commiserating with the Urgent Care trip.

Thanks for bringing us along on the journey!

Shelly Overlook said...

That ranch looks so like my grandfather's, I'm all nostalgic. The last time we visited him, he was really sick. His wife was dying from cancer so she couldn't take care of him, so we had to load him in the car and drive FOREVER to get him to a hospital. I totally get where you're coming from.

You get all the fun adventures, don't you?