ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg
While working on Love In Time at the ranch, in February of 2005, Dan had noticed a change in his hearing. This wasn’t surprising, considering the years of loud music and, well, the years. Seven months later, it was getting worse, though, and now there was a ringing. We’d passed by a hearing center on the way to Ellsworth many times, so that November he made an appointment. I offered to go along, but he said no, he wanted to spend time browsing in Rooster Brother, the kitchen store in Ellsworth. He really wanted the time to buy me a birthday card, to go with the car; the balloon; the roses.
When he got home later that day, he looked dejected. The diagnosis was not the age-related loss of hearing that he'd expected. It was an Acoustic Neuroma, a tumor that grows on the main nerve that runs from the inner ear to the brain. Non-cancerous and slow-growing, they can cause ringing, hearing loss, and vertigo.
The word that first popped out for me was “non-cancerous,” but the word that had popped out for Dan was “tumor.” Yet another tumor, and this one was in his head. The possibility of vertigo concerned me - Dan was on a lot of meds now, some of which were already causing some imbalance. In September of 2005, his PSA had risen from 1.3 to 3.6, so Dr. Kaufman increased the Casodex dosage to two a day. By Halloween, his PSA was 6.1, and the Casodex dosage was increased to three a day.
In December we went to my basement photography studio and took some photos to send with Christmas greetings. I made a point of trimming my hair that morning, and I wore a gray cashmere turtleneck Dan had bought me in Boston and Dan wore his favorite sport coat. It was the first time we’d taken a studio portrait together.
For each shot I would trip the shutter, then I had five seconds to get in the shot. Dan put his arms around me our hands intertwined, mine veiny and bony, his smooth and strong.
Looking at the photos later, I sensed some changes in our faces. But I couldn’t determine exactly what was different, other than a few extra pounds and fine lines.
We had a quiet Christmas. I bought Dan some clay, carving tools and a revolving stand, so he could try his hand at sculpture. He bought me a gorgeous long lens for my camera. Abbie hung out with us while we opened smaller presents, but she didn’t revel in the discarded wrapping paper like Buckaroo had. We missed the Coon Cat, and Christmas mornings at the ranch, and we toasted both over dinner. A week later, we welcomed 2006 with a kiss at Gail and Rob’s New Year’s party.
Even by Maine standards, that winter was a cold one. Every pond and marsh was frozen solid. When the tide went out, it left a layer of glassy ice on the sand, rocks, and seaweed.
While perusing a catalogue, Dan saw a new kind of ice skates that you could clamp your cross-country boots into, and he ordered them immediately. Never mind that he hadn't skated since he was a kid in Peoria, or that he had cancer in his bones, the Swede in him just couldn't resist a new winter sport experience.
UPS delivered the package after dark on January 17th. Pulling the red and silver skates from their box, he set them on the kitchen counter then hurried upstairs for socks and boots. As promised in the catalogue, the skates held the boots securely. Too excited to wait for daylight, Dan wanted to try them out right away. It was literally freezing outside and I wanted to stay home, warm and cozy, but I knew I'd be consumed with worry the whole time he was gone, so I said I’d come along.
A year and a half into our journey with cancer, I was learning to walk that fine line between supportive caregiver and smothering guardian. Sometimes Dan would take off for two or three days to sail on his own. We both needed these interludes of solitude now and then, and each time I gave his dinghy a last push toward Minstrel I had to force myself to say, “Have fun,” instead of, “Be careful.”
One day he was packing his travel bag before heading out for a couple of days. As he pulled numerous bottles of pills from the kitchen cabinet, I saw him packing the bottle of Flomax and suggested he leave a few tablets at home. Flomax relaxes the prostate muscles and makes it easier to urinate, so it was vital to his physical comfort. Dan was reticent, but I grabbed a baggie and asked him to put a few tablets in it. Just in case. He grudgingly tapped out four precious tablets then packed the bottle. As usual, I helped him carry gear and groceries to the shore and load them into the dingy. We kissed and I told him to “Have fun.”
He took the Flomax every evening, thirty minutes after dinner, and that’s when he discovered it wasn’t in his bag. He called me from the boat and said it must have fallen out while he was moving his things from the dinghy to the boat. It was Saturday night, and the doctor’s office and pharmacy would be closed the next day, so he made one last search of the boat before heading back home. Luckily, it was a calm night with a bright moon and he hadn’t gone far. He motored home and told me how wise and brilliant I was. Taking charge had been a good choice that day.
I made popcorn and Dan looked through our DVDs for a movie. We snuggled on the couch and watched Young Frankenstein together for the third time. The next day he sailed off with the three remaining pills, and on Monday I refilled the Flomax prescription. A few days later, Dan returned home. While packing up gear and leftover food to bring back to the house, he found the original Flomax bottle. It had fallen behind a seat cushion near the nav station, right where he’d looked three times.
When he told me that, we both paused and said, “Harvey!” imitating Veta Louise in the Jimmy Stewart film of the same name. It’s from the scene in the insane asylum, when Veta can’t find her coin purse to pay the taxi driver. She dumps out her whole purse, to no avail, so she goes to get some money from her brother Elwood, who’s about to be injected with a serum to “cure” him. After calling off the serum injection, she reaches into her purse for her handkerchief and finds the coin purse. She suddenly realizes it had been taken, and put back, by Elwood’s “imaginary” friend, a six-foot pooka named Harvey.
It seemed we were blaming Harvey for misplaced items with increasing frequency. In our defense, we had a lot on our minds. There were charts and lists for drugs, appointments, groceries and errands all over the house. And we both needed reading glasses now, for our dimming eyesight. These were just a few of the excuses we used for the forgetfulness that plagued us these days.
One day we were discussing what to hang on a blank wall in the kitchen. Dan mentioned how perfect that green lobster print would have been - the one we’d admired in an antique store that summer. We’d returned in the fall to see if it was still there, but the green lobster was gone and we’d berated ourselves ever since then for not buying it. Now it was winter, and most Maine antique stores were closed, so we went downstairs to rummage around in the basement “stuff” room for something to hang.
Dan began looking through some prints on the floor, stacked against the wall like albums in a record store. I was looking through a group of small paintings across the room when I heard him exclaim, “Huh!” As I turned to look, he stood and faced me, holding out the green lobster print. We burst out laughing, delighted and horrified; delighted that we’d actually bought the cool print; horrified that we’d both immediately forgotten purchasing it. We decided it must have been one of “those” days. Or, possibly it was Harvey. Somehow, we always managed to locate our sense of humors when we needed them.
Dan held the red skates in his lap like a kid with a new toy as I drove the deserted, icy roads to the outdoor rink in Stonington. I was terrified that he might fall and break something, but he was happy and excited, so what the hell. For tonight I would be Young Frankenstein’s light-hearted assistant, Inga, instead of Frau Blücher. (Cue horses neighing in the distance.)
I pulled into the ballfield across the street from the community center. A skating rink had been created by building a large frame near home plate, laying plastic tarps over it, then adding water, which quickly froze.
It was after 10pm, and no one else was crazy enough to be outside, so we had it all to ourselves. I parked the car with the headlights on the homemade rink and resisted saying, “Be careful,” as Dan got out. He threw me an exhilarated smile before closing the door, then he walked through the headlights, his long, dual shadows performing a brief pairs program on the ice and along the bleachers behind the chain link backstop. A players bench had been moved to the left edge of the rink and Dan sat there, attaching the skates to his boots.
As he stood, shakily, I held my breath and watched through my fingers. I never worried when he went skiing; he was an experienced skier, and snow is generally more forgiving than ice. But he hadn't skated in forty years, his balance was compromised by drugs, and the ice was as hard as Deer Isle granite. He was enjoying himself though, all thoughts of cancer far, far away as he worked to make his strides longer and smoother.
Zipping up my jacket, I rolled the windows down and turned the radio on, cranking classic rock into the icy air. A big smile lit Dan's face up as he continued around and around, etching circular grooves into the silver earth under a starlit sky.
A few days later we noticed a neighbor and his little boy skating near our house. Because we’d always spent winters in Colorado, we hadn't seen the salt marsh freeze over before. We didn’t even know it could do that. It seemed both fortuitous and magical. Our carpenter friend Bryan had built a sturdy little bench and set it on the ice. Later in the day, Dan sat and attached the red skates. I walked carefully over the ice, photographing the plant life below, frozen in the act of reaching for the sun.
Dan began skating, reveling in the huge natural rink. As he circled with increasing sureness and speed I bit my tongue, taking pictures and trying to just let him enjoy himself. Coming back around from a long, wide circle, he leaned forward into a racer’s stance and smiled mischievously as he picked up speed and headed right for me. I couldn't help myself, "Dan, be careful!" I pleaded from behind the camera.
With a SCRITCH of ice he pulled up in front of me and threw his arms out in a goofy "TA DA!"
Every now and then he would sit on Bryan's bench to catch his breath and then he'd be off again. As the light faded I continued shooting, my cold fingers and thick gloves making it hard to change the camera settings. I was still an inexperienced photographer, and many of the best shots came out blurry.
Dan skated until the sun set, then we walked up the hill in the dark, the lights of the house guiding us home.
Posted April 10th. 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021