The fish & chips that changed my life #SOL19 17/31

If I’d known that the moment was going to change my life, I might have paid more attention to the details. I was in Galway with 11 other high school teachers for a 5-week fellowship on W.B. Yeats and two of us had gone out for fish and chips. I don’t remember which chip shop we went to. The fish was firm, the fry glistened and the newspapers it came wrapped in were soon heavy with oil. You know, a standard Irish chip shop.

I’d left my boyfriend for the summer, off to learn everything I could about the poetry I loved. I had cried at the airport, but now, a few weeks in, I if I were honest with myself, well, I missed him very little. He had many strengths, but none of them were sitting around a table sharing food and passionately discussing poetry. Or, really, passionately discussing any of the things I loved. Still, he was a good man, solid and secure, and I knew he loved me. I knew he would be there when I returned and, since we were approaching 30 and our relationship was stable, I knew he would likely propose soon.

Earl and I must have been talking about this over fish and chips. I didn’t miss my boyfriend, exactly, but he was on my mind, especially since the only other single woman in my close circle of college friends had just announced her engagement. I was the only one left; I was next.

Earl, who loved music, poetry, literature and all things Irish, had white hair that rarely looked combed and a big personality that he rarely reigned in. I remember meandering talks with him as we walked from our dorms into Galway proper, sat in a pub or picked through the poetry that had moved us all across the ocean for the summer. Earl’s laughter drew everyone into the joke and his quick wit often had me choking back giggles. While those are my dominant memories of him, they are not the whole of Earl because by that point in our trip, we all knew that he had lost his daughter in an accident not many years before. His oversized love of Irish music, good beer and all things Yeats couldn’t completely mask this truth. Single, childless, not far from his daughter’s age, I had only the notion of the kind of scar that loss might leave. I knew part of him was hurting, but I also knew that being with Earl was enlivening.

That evening, over dinner, Earl put down his Guinness and paused. And this part of my memory isn’t fuzzy at all. “He has to make you laugh, Amanda. There’s no way you’ll make it if he doesn’t make you laugh.”

Our conversation continued. After we ate, we walked back to the dorm – or, more likely, we met up with others for a pint and maybe some dancing. I laughed a lot. I don’t need the concrete memories to know that I did. I laughed and talked and and read and thought for the whole five weeks. 

Though many of the details from that fellowship are fuzzy now, it changed me deeply. There are more stories I could tell from that trip, for sure, and someday I will. But this one is important because I broke up with my boyfriend – how could I not? – and have since married a man who fills my life with laughter and love. 

Thanks, Earl.

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It’s just a scratch #SOL19 9/31

Today, Humble Swede over at FiveHundredaDay wrote about a dramatic situation that ended with having to call an ambulance. Suddenly, I knew I wanted to write about one of the times I’ve placed that call.

My sister and I were living in a tiny studio apartment in Portland, OR. I was in graduate school and she was working nights as a social worker in a group home for girls. We had bought a second-hand bunk bed, pushed up against one wall and draped a dark blanket all around to make a sort of sleeping cave. Most of the time, we both slept in the bottom bunk – me at night and her in the daytime. Along with that, we used the room’s built in dresser and a tiny patio cafe table with three chairs that my friends’ grandmother had loaned us for our table. Our kitchen was mostly dinged up pots and pans that we’d found when we bought the bunk bed. We were young.

We saw each other most afternoons when I got home just before she went out. In the precious moments that we were home at the same time, my sister talked almost non-stop. Apparently even a very quiet introvert needs to talk to people sometimes, and her night job provided little interaction with others. In fact, I had threatened to hide a tape recorder and record her talking so that the rest of the world would hear how much she talked when given the space. She was not amused.

So, it wasn’t as unusual as you might expect for my sister to walk into the bathroom while I was taking a shower and start talking to me. I struggled to hear her quiet voice through the stream of water, and had only just made out the words when she fainted.

“I think I cut myself quite badly.”

The water was still running when I called 911. Water puddled and dripped on the white tile floor of the bathroom where I had glimpsed the blood leaking out between her fingers. Water soaked a trail into the old gold carpet from the bathroom door over to the cafe table where the phone perched precariously on some books. Water pooled around my feet as my naked body shivered and I said to the operator, “It’s my sister. She’s cut herself. She’s bleeding and she’s fainted and I don’t know what to do.”

The ambulance arrived in minutes. I don’t remember when I put on clothes – just sweatpants, really, just enough to be decent – but I was on the floor with my sister, holding her while she squeezed her wrist and hand and we held our breath. The EMTs took over, and I called her work to say she wouldn’t be in. I heard them in the bathroom, telling her that she had to release her hand, she had to let go so they could see. They were gentle, but she was trembling, crying.

When she finally released her hold on her wrist, lifting one finger after another, holding her breath to see what damage had been wrought, everyone let out a huge sigh. The knife she was using to cut brownies – the dinged-up, second-hand, dull old knife – had cut her, scratched her, really, a scratch so negligible that an EMT smiled, wiped the blood off and put a band-aid on her wrist.

Then the EMTs left, assuring us that we should always call 911 when we think there’s an emergency, and though we were both embarrassed and relieved, that night we slept in the bunk bed together.

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