Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chapter Two

I originally published this on my blog on June 2nd.

As it was in the beginning…

I was divorced in 1975, it was a ‘dissolution,’ or better, I was disillusioned. As a single mom I was attempting to make a living and raise my daughter. I learned of available jobs and went to make application for something, anything that paid better than the minimum wage nursing assistant position I was working. I was frightened, but determined.

A coworker saved her coins in a glass water jug. She provided the money to me so I could get a telephone – at no obligation. I went to the telephone company to get everything set up and was told I could not, as “I” owed for a past due account. I left and returned in short order with a copy of the divorce decree that showed the “Ex” was responsible for all debts incurred during the marriage. The same employee told me it did not matter. I informed her as I had a minor child, it did indeed matter and asked to speak with her supervisor. I presented all the information to the supervisor and informed them both if I did not leave with a work order for a telephone that day, they could expect to hear from my attorney. I left with that order. What I didn’t have were funds for an attorney!

What I didn’t know was that to secure a job at one place of employ I would have to cross a picket line.

What to do? What to do? After much deliberation I did cross that picket line and apply for a job. More than my safety, it was the care of my daughter that was the driving force. I stood there and explained as best I could to the protesters that either I cross the picket line and make application or they support me with their tax dollars. A way opened and I went through the line. I was employed at a bio-medical manufacturing plant.

For me, it was a miracle, I was hired. Secure employment, regular hours, and I became a Quality Control Technician. Think what you may about my crossing a picket line. I did what I had to do and I have no regrets. In fact, I worked for the company eight years before moving away.

History taught the importance of unions during the industrialization of this nation. Sweat shops had destroyed women’s and children’s lives. Like all good things, politics included, things often go bad. As they progressed, unions were rife with racketeering; mafia influence and government kick backs, not to mention political scandal and support.

It was difficult for a while being called a Scab, cursed at, people “bumping” into you hard enough to cause bruising. All in all, when payday came, it all faded away. I could afford an apartment, food, a car, clothing, and the utilities. It was by no means Easy Street, but it was sufficiency. Eventually the animosity settled down and we all worked together to accomplish the J.O.B.

I and other “new” persons worked for a number of months when a lay-off was announced. We newbies were of course, last in, first out. It was as if someone had thrown a pitcher of ice water on me. I was able to make do with the unemployment benefits, but not having medical insurance for my daughter or me was frightening. Especially since it appeared I had another thyroid issue. I’d had my first thyroid surgery at the age of 19, and now, here at the age of 24 is appeared to have “come back” with a vengeance.

I saw the physician who referred me to a surgeon. I explained I did not have insurance and would not until I returned to work. After all, The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), was not first enacted until 1985. It is a federal law that requires most employers to provide continuing health insurance coverage to employees and their dependents who are no longer eligible for the company's health insurance program.

So we waited. We waited until such time as I was recalled to work and covered by insurance once again. Once that happened, tests were run and were inconclusive. Due to my age, the surgeon and physician were sure this was thyroid cancer.

That was a frightening prospect. A single mom with a child, cancer… What was I to do with my child during surgery and recuperation? Her father was basically non existent, not visiting, not providing support. At a loss of what could be done, I contacted my attorney and suggested a family member. He suggested he would write a letter to the ex-husband and see if he would be willing to take her for the period of the school year, prior to doing that. As we talked through the prospect, I offered to pay child support IF it would be set aside for her. He said, “Let’s do the letter first and see what happens.”

Wonder of wonder, the Ex agreed to take our daughter for the period of the school year and all with no mention of child support. I was to have every other weekend visitation. He was remarried by this time and they had their own child. It was a difficult solution, but one I hoped would be workable.

It was the hardest decision I ever made. I cannot begin to tell you the tears that were shed. To add insult to injury, the family member I had considered for custody decided to have contact with the Ex and make plans to have custody transferred to her by attempting to prove me an “unfit” mother. Truly, I thought I would die… I wanted to die. I could not imagine life without my daughter. I could not imagine this betrayal by a family member. As it happened, the surgery was successful and it was not cancer.

All this I kept to myself, not sharing it with my young daughter. By this time, working full time, any overtime I could and all this extra stress, I weighed a mere 106 pounds. I wore a size two. Yes, I dated men, but what I didn’t want was marriage. I felt I could never trust a man again. The pain was too much.

That’s when I met him… He was bar-tending at the VFW as a part time job. I was attending the company Christmas Party. One of the older, single women considered herself something of a matchmaker. One by one she led every single female out to the bar to perform a walk around and introduction. This was Ohio. It was not unlike the County Fair’s 4-H cattle show. Indeed, heifers on parade! Well, maybe not heifers.

I was mortified that Pat, my co-worker, my “friend” would do this! It was humiliating! Nothing became of that first meeting, but a month later, in January of 1978 Ohio was enveloped in one of the worst blizzards I have memory of.

At the factory, I was working the graveyard shift. The news had cautioned about an impending storm, but we were young… and ignorant. We arrived at work on Wednesday evening to begin our shift at 10:00 p.m. Even though it was Wednesday, by record keeping it was considered Thursday, January 26th. Our shift would end at 6:00 a.m.

At every break, my friend and co-worker Theresa and I would go outside and check the weather. We could not believe the doomsday predictions of the weatherman! It was temperate, in the very high 40’s and clear at midnight. At 2:00 a.m. it was still warm, but now raining. We returned to work. By 4:00 a.m. it was a disaster! A monster storm with hurricane-force winds slammed into Northeast Ohio early Jan. 26, 1978, spreading an icy coat of death and destruction. You couldn’t see at all with the horizontal snow blowing into your face at gale force.

The Blizzard of 1978, often called the Storm of the Century, killed more than 50 people in Ohio and caused at least $100 million in damage.

The factory was closed down, radio stations were called cancelling the next day’s work, and all who could, piled into vehicles and attempted to leave and return to their homes. Six of us piled into the front of a pickup truck and attempted to leave. We traveled a quarter of a mile east to the first stop sign and turned south. The gale force winds literally blew the pickup truck into the snow covered ditch on the east side. We had no alternative but to “walk” out.

We must have looked like a chain of paper dolls as we held hands and attempted to remain upright. The chain would break and one or another was blown into a deep ditch. Back the quarter of a mile we traversed and added yet another quarter mile to it until we found a home with lights on. The woman was reluctant to let us in, but after seeing our predicament, she did. We set up a triage of sorts to help those with frostbite and called the local fire department. They were making emergency pickups and delivering the stranded to the Methodist Church in town.

We waited and waited. Finally we called back. The truck sent to get us had rolled and they would be for us later. When they finally arrived and were taking us to the church, we told them we wanted to go elsewhere, as one of our other co-workers has an apartment on the way so we were all dropped there.

I called my roommate – another female coworker and explained what was happening and that I wouldn’t be home until much later. She said she would send “Denny Swerline” to get us! I said not to, as the weather was horrific. She didn’t listen, and sent him to pick us up. He would be picking my friend Theresa and I up and delivering us to our residences.

With this information, my dear friend said she needed to be left off first, even though she lived on the other side of town where he lived. You see, her sister had been trying to fix her up with “Denny” and she wanted no part of it. Her guise was to say she was giving me a pack of cigarettes to “pay me back” for saving her frostbite fingers. REALLY?

Nonetheless, that’s what this guy did. We took her home, and then he took me to my place. Once we got there, I invited him in for a glass of wine as a thank you. Since we were out of groceries and I had received my paycheck that evening, he offered to take me to the grocery store. He then helped me carry all those groceries up the frozen stair steps and into the apartment.

We talked for a substantial period of time and made a date to see a movie about the afterlife. Life After Life, I think it was called. That was our first date.

We were married in May of 1979. He adopted my daughter as his own.

This life, not unlike your life, has not been a ‘happily ever after’ event. It has been one of blood, sweat and tears. Yes, tears, lots of tears.

Tears are magnificent. They have a baptismal quality.

Tears can miraculously transform into the oil of joy, and wash away the ashes of mourning. Words that comfort me are these from Psalm 56:8, via the Message

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights,Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.

I have cried. He has cried.

We have cried individually and corporately.

We have cried in anger.

We have cried in love.

We have cried through prayer.

We have cried in pain and sickness.

We have cried through the pain of loved ones making catastrophic choices.

What we have determined is this: Life is tough.

I want the light to overcome the darkness and some days are very dark.

We have determined that love is a choice.

When I open my eyes from sleep, I roll over and look at him sleeping. I make an active decision to love him this day. And only for this day. Tomorrow, I will do this again. And the next day, too.

We don’t always agree. Our lives combine and run over each other and we have debates that spill over at our dinner table. We both believe that even with God’s Word as the final authority, our individual thoughts and beliefs are wholly sanctified, even if not holy.

I believe in Eucharist Theology.

I believe like the Eucharist, our hearts, like the bread are made to be broken and yet loved in all that brokenness.

We should live our lives as the spilled wine, allowing ourselves and our lives to overflow, spill out and come into contact with those who desperately are thirsting.

I feel the pull, an actual pull to become involved in community justice issues. To pour the oil, to bind up the wound. To quell the brokenness of our community.

Yes… brokenness… and I am so filled with broken hallelujahs.

In some ways I think my cancer diagnosis has been more difficult on him than it has on me. He has become my care giver and drives me to each appointment. He sits in on them with me as an extra pair of ears and asking questions I don’t think of.

After the surgery, he bowed his head and in tears said, “You were supposed to outlive me. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” I held his hand and told him that none of this was a surprise to God. Not one bit. How could I argue with God about this? I am the one who did not take good care of herself. The outcome thus far looks good as well as the prognosis.

I am having extreme tiredness from the chemo, some nausea but all in all, the side effects are minimal compared to some of my Sisters’ of Circumstance. I have determined that ginger ale is a miracle drug. Soda crackers too, are healing. Isn’t that a strange Eucharist mix - broken soda crackers and flat ginger ale? Yet the nausea stops.

Today is eight weeks since the VATS surgery and I’ve had the first chemo. Three more chemo sessions are scheduled, and anticipated to be over the end of July. There are other appointments and blood work scheduled at various times.

I am optimistic. I am confidant. Philippians 1:6 in the New International Version reads, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I choose life.

In the face of what seems insurmountable, I choose life. I choose to live with my husband and grow old. With that being said, if this does not happen as I anticipate, I still choose life. Eternal life.

Until the next installment of Love In the Time of Chemo...

Chapter Twenty-Two

I began attending a weekly Cancer Support Group. I don't always make the meeting, but I am generally blessed when I do attend. I hav...

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