So Mark’s car was back, shiny and pristine, and drenched, inside, with that patented new car scent. We took it on a road trip on Sunday, and then, of course, he drove it to work on Monday. It rode, as they say, real good.
That night we grabbed a quick dinner, and then Mark took off for a 7:00 meeting. James and I settled in to watch some episodes of ER; I left my phone, muted, on the dining room table. Jim left his upstairs.
I pulled my knitting out of its bag and settled in to see if Carter and Susan were really going to make this relationship work, and if Mark and Elizabeth’s baby would be okay, and how they were going to handle the whole thing with Rachel. We weren’t even halfway through the episode when the back door swung open and Mark stomped in.
“Don’t you people EVER answer your phones?” he barked. Turned out he’d blown a tire about a quarter mile from the house and had spent the last half hour waiting, pulled off to the side of a snowy, busy street, for Triple A to come pull off the flat and put on the doughnut.
I grabbed my phone to find no fewer than 12 texts and voice mails…11 of them from Mark.
Sorry, Bubba, I said. This was unexpected.
In the quiet pause of Tuesday morning, after Mark had gone off to take his car to the tire place and get a new tire put on, I made my to-do list. I had a writing project to finish, and some planning to do for the last weeks of a lit class I’m teaching on-line. I wanted to do a little research for a grant possibility, and the kitchen floor was bugging me…the dragging in of salty snow had left cloudy tracks all over. So I needed to get that mopped, and then I wanted to finish spackling the dining room walls.
A good day’s list, I thought, and I finished my nutty nuggets, did the required morning word puzzle, washed up the dishes, and headed to the computer. And then my phone buzzed.
It was Mark.
“I’m going to have to leave the car here,” he said, a trifle grimly. “Can you pick me up?”
I scuffed into my duckies and threw on my jacket and drove to the tire store. Mark climbed in, scowling. Not ONE tire, but two, and they needed to be aligned. And the tie rod was broken. The bill was going to be a wee bit more than anticipated. We shared a moment of stunned silence.
Geez, we agreed. Didn’t see that coming.
So I dropped Mark off at work, and we agreed he’d call when the tire place let him know the car was ready. He thought it might be 10:30 or so. I went back to the computer with the phone at hand; at 11:00 I still hadn’t heard, and finally, about 11:45, I called to see if he wanted to come home for lunch, regardless. Jim thought he’d go for a ride to get his dad, just to get out of the house, so we took the Hyundai downtown. Mark was waiting outside his office.
“The car’s ready,” he said. “They just called.”
We took him back to the dealership and headed home to heat up some beef stew for lunch.
After lunch, Mark headed off for work and Jim reminded me that our library books were due, so we headed back out. We returned books and DVD’s and browsed a bit, and then we headed back home. As we were getting out of the car, Jim said, gesturing at the back seat, “Hey; is that your phone?”
“What?” I said. “No. My phone’s in the phone place in my purse.”
Just then Jim got a message, sent from his dad’s IPad. “Did I happen to leave my phone home?” he texted.
“Why, yes,” Jim replied. “Yes you did.”
“Do you think you guys could bring it to me?” Mark asked.
By the time we got back from that trip downtown, it was 2:30. My classwork, at least, was done, and I figured I’d jump in and get some spackling done before I started dinner. When 5:30 rolled around and Mark was pulling into the driveway, I only had two things checked off my to-do list.
This is NOT how I pictured this day rolling out, I thought. But at least we’ll have an adventure tomorrow. Mark was taking Wednesday off; we were going to the city to a gallery that has a quilt exhibit. To my surprise, it was something both Mark and Jim were interested in seeing, and so we planned a road trip, complete with a gallery browse, lunch, and maybe even a stop at the Apple store to get new batteries in our phones.
I woke in the middle of the night to a tap-tap-tapping on the windows. Freezing, sleety rain was falling in sheets. The world was glazed. When we woke up, the neighborhood looked like it was glass-coated, and it was clear we weren’t going anywhere that day.
So we made a big breakfast and I did mop the floor and that afternoon we lit a fire in the fireplace and brought clean fluffy throws up from the dryer and wrapped up in cozy chairs and read.
It was not the way Mark pictured his vacation day shaping up, but it turned out to be a nice day, nonetheless.
And then little things kept coming up. I mixed up the crust to make apple pie bars but found the apples had turned beyond redemption. I froze the crust and made trifle for dessert instead.
I went to print the papers I needed for a meeting, and suddenly my printer had developed dire problems; I had to shut it off and run out to get my printing done.
The book I’d reserved turned out to be an audio CD. The program I had been watching sporadically disappeared from the Netflix line up. Unexpected glitches seemed to pop up at every turn.
The unpredictability simmered, brewing. I was feeling a little persecuted, frankly.
And on Friday night I went to a gathering of people—people who have loved ones with mental illness. And one man told the story of his son, who’d been a bright boy, a shining boy, a boy with friends and skills and hopes and glorious, golden promise. And all that wonderful promise came crashing down when the boy went to college, when the voices started taunting him, when the world outside became too much for the boy to bear alone.
That was almost twenty years ago. The boy left college, came home, and stayed in his room, and the family writhed and changed. They went from shock to disbelief to action, to helping that once-glowing boy find the help he needed. Years passed without much progress, and then slowly, slowly, in tiny, terribly painstaking stages, things began to happen.
The boy learned to drive again. A new medication started to have a profoundly good effect. He decided to work with a job counselor, and he took a part-time job at a print shop. It wasn’t all clear sailing; there were a lot of adjustments, but he worked it out.
Then he met a young woman who knew what he’d been going through; she’d been on a similar journey. They circled each other warily for months, and finally decided to give dating a try. Slowly, cautiously, they built a steady relationship, not rushing, just putting out tentative feelers, seeing how this would go. And it turned out to be pretty good.
And just this year, the father said, the boy—now a 37-year old man—had accepted a full-time job at the print shop. For the first time, he had benefits. For the first time since his college life crashed around him, he was earning his own way.
The father leaned back in his chair and there was a deep and profound silence. Hands were still and eyes glistened.
And then the father continued.
“Sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect them to,” he said. “Things happen that you don’t ever see coming, and you just have to deal with that. And it’s not the way you expected things to work out.
“But,” he said, and his voice crackled, “they do work out. You have to hang in there. You might not get what you expected, but what you get can be pretty damned good.”
A flat tire.
A lost phone.
A dirty floor.
An ice storm in the night.
A man who thought his life was going to look one way, but whose life, because of mental illness, and because he persevered, and because people cared and helped him, looked very different indeed.
A chance to gain perspective on a week that, though unexpected, wasn’t really a bad week at all.