Thursday, March 20, 2008

A mixed bag

I am finally to the point where I can write. It has been one of the worst weeks with some of the best moments. It started two weeks ago when Richie and I cancelled plans for New Orleans and decided to come to New Mexico instead. He was scheduled to be here anyway for a couple days on TDY (temporary duty – military for ‘business trip’) and I had reconnected via the Net with an old high school friend who happens to live here. Also, we felt freer to bring Art Bell here than to New Orleans, and as he is so high maintenance in his old age, I felt better having him with me than leaving him with a friend. Lastly, I had never felt “clear” on the New Orleans trip, and it felt more right to come here. I was, therefore, unpleasantly surprised at the battles we were in for.
The small, annoying stuff started as soon as we reached our first hotel. At first glance, it was awesome: full kitchen, awesome lobby with a fireplace and delicious breakfast and coffee 24, hours a day. Problem 1: our reservation has been cancelled due to a mistake on the part of Richie’s travel agent. Fortunately, we get it back. Problem 2: Our toilet won’t flush. At all. Not even on the first try. They send a guy with a plunger. He gets it to flush. Problem 3: Once the guy with the plunger is out of sight, the toilet quits flushing again. They send another guy with a plunger. He gets it to flush. Problem 4: Toilet won’t flush again. (A cleaning lady I ran into later mentioned that they’d had that problem with our toilet before we arrived, and she was surprised they’d rented out that room. Figures.) They send a guy with a plumbing snake the next day. Ahh..finally, it is fixed. I stand and watch him flush it a couple times. He leaves. Problem 5: Toilet quits flushing again. So we switch rooms. And I have asked none too early because they have only three more available by now. By this time (which was the morning after we’d checked in) it is evident to me that Art Bell is not taking well to this trip. He is unduly stressed, and with his health already fragile, I know this isn’t good. And now I’m stressed, and now I have to stress him even more by switching rooms, thus bombarding him with even more new smells and sounds and whatever his animal radar picks up on.
Our new room is a handicap room, complete with low light switches and a big shower – no tub – with a pull down seat. The bathroom has almost no counter space (unlike the massive counter in our other bathroom) and the kitchen is smaller. But that’s all OK, until I go to open the silverware drawer and can’t GET it open because there is no handle and with the countertop directly on top of the drawer, there is no room to squeeze your finger into. I pull on the side and finally get it open…then when I shut it, my finger gets smashed between the first and second drawer. Thus my first temper flare.
My second came after my first shower, when I stepped out to find the entire bathroom floor flooded. If you’ve ever seen a handicap shower, you know it is a flat entrance from the floor to the shower, but there is supposed to be enough room or enough slope to prevent flooding. When the cleaning lady comes to clean, she mentions that ours is the only room that does that. Again...figures.
We awake the next morning to a notice on our door about our check-out. Problem is, we aren’t scheduled to check out that day, but the next. We take care of this with the front desk. Richie goes to work, and I hang out in the room with a book and coffee and an increasingly declining Art Bell. I’m feeling pretty crappy myself, winded and tired from the high altitude, and of course, stressed. Soon, a man knocks on my door. He is there to clean my room once I have checked out. I tell him we aren’t checking out today, but we still need it clean, and I ask if it is OK if I remain in the room while it is cleaned. “Oh, no check out today.” He says. I ask again, slowly, if I can still have the room cleaned while I am in it. He backs away. “No check out today.” He leaves. I call the front desk to request that our room be cleaned, as we are not checking out today. They assure me that we aren’t scheduled to check out till tomorrow. (ggrrrrr.)
I go once to the lobby for some snacks. When I return, my key won’t work. I go back to the lobby to find out that our key has been deactivated, since this is our check-out day. The guy then acknowledges that we have “extended” our check out day. I half-heartedly try to explain that we weren’t originally suppose to check out until the next day anyway, but I don’t think he hears me, and I trail off at the futility of it all
I think it was on my way back to the room that I began praying. It went something like: “God, I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and these aren’t big things, but… could you maybe let things go a little more smoothly…” Honestly, the little things were only compounding the stress I was feeling over Art Bell, dealing with my altitude sickness, and trying to balance it all with being a good companion to my husband.
Thank God for science fiction and fiction in general, because they make life bearable for me at times like this. Richie and I rented Star Trek: First Contact that night. We made a couple other stops on the way, one being Staples, and I asked to borrow a pen to write in my check ledger. The guy handed me a plastic, push-top ballpoint. I pushed the top, and it wouldn’t budge. I pushed it again. On the 3rd push, which was much harder, the point of the pen suddenly popped out far beyond its standard length, indicating a broken spring. This wasn’t a big deal, as I could still write with it, but I guess it was the culmination of the irritating things that had been plaguing our week. I started laughing, then straightened up, then laughed, then straightened, up, and this cycle continued while Richie stood laughing politely with me – having no clue what was so funny, and the clerk didn’t bother to ask.
I was so exhausted by the time we reached the room that I made a cup of black tea to get through the movie. Very, very bad idea. Not only was the caffeine coursing through my body by the time we went to bed, but I discovered the Art Bell was so much worse he was possibly dying. I lay in bed all night in a state of intense grief and anxiety, sweating and praying. It was probably the worst night I’ve ever had.
The next day we checked out (for real!!) and set course for Santa Fe where I was to meet an old friend from high school and her husband. I cried and worried over Art Bell – obviously on the downslope -- all morning, while at the same time fretting over potentially ruining mine and Richie’s vacation – yet being unable to help how I felt – and on and on my thoughts and emotions whirled. We met up with my friend Jeanette and her husband Torsten (German) and had a really special time. They took us to an gourmet pizza place, then showed us around the plaza. We got to see the chapel with the miraculous staircase, and later visited a chapel purported to have dirt with healing powers. (I had asked Richie if we could go and take Art Bell.) My friend and her husband were immediate kindred spirits: supporting me, my sudden superstition, and my ailing rat, acting as though they’d known and loved me in all my weirdness for years. Jeanette and I soon found out we had even more in common than we had remembered in high school, including the same faith in God as well as the same sense of humor.
Art Bell didn’t seem to respond to the dirt, but I was more than touched when Jeanette placed some on him herself, and Torston later bent down nose to nose to talk to Art Bell. By the time we left the chapel, the combination of friendship, faith, the scent of the beeswax candles and the reverent atmosphere had brought me a peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. I purchase a candle and a rosary just to commemorate the time there.
Richie and I said our goodbyes and drove on to Red River where we had reservations at a Bed and Breakfast. We snuck Art Bell up to our room, and by this time, my turmoil and depression was back in full swing. Somehow, the Victorian d├ęcor of the room we were in intensified my grief. It was all so cold and strange. I burst into tears, wondering how things could have taken such a miserable turn. I lay for a long time stroking Art Bell – who now hadn’t taken a thing to eat or drink all day and appeared to be already dying. Richie stroked him, too. After a long time, I straightened up long enough to have a beer with Richie and look at my new Star Trek encyclopedia. We examined the different Enterprise models and the variation of uniforms over the seasons. He showed me a Borg that would actually become an endearing character on an episode I hadn’t seen yet. It was nice for a few minutes.
But, miserably exhausted, I was ready for bed by 8:00. I slept with Art Bell’s open cage by me all night, and every so often would wake up to find him in a panic of pain or discomfort – not sure which, maybe both – and would pet him to assure him I was there. My experience with rats has taught me that they always want you there. Most of my rats have waited for me to come home to hold them before they die.
The next morning I felt just as exhausted and just as depressed. I knew I couldn’t go skiing, and I was pretty sure Art Bell would be passing today or tomorrow. I did make myself go downstairs to have breakfast and coffee with Richie. During coffee, my brother called me to inquire about Art Bell. Talking to him for a little bit unburdened me in an unexpected way, and his sympathy and concern went a longer way than I’m sure he realized. I actually felt better. During breakfast, Richie and I got to know the innkeeper and his wife, Evie and Chris, a young and incredibly delightful couple. She is from (maybe) Germany – and he is from England. It turns out they are fellow conservatives (a rare thing here where the roadside is full of angry war protestors). The lady is also an animal lover and will not watch the news for the very same reasons I won’t – primarily to avoid the animal abuse stories. Having such a specific thing in common was amazing. The appetite I did NOT have upon waking now allowed me to put down an entire breakfast burrito. The conversation took me away from my grief, as interaction with people usually does.
When I returned to my room, which suddenly seemed warm and inviting, I contemplated the ways in which God had ministered to me this week: through Jeannette and Torston, Evie and Chris, and my brother. My friend Jillian, who had prayed with me yesterday morning over the phone, had prayed that somewhere in my day Jesus would allow me to see him in something. I think that has happened three times now.
I wanted to take this time to record everything. Art Bell is still the same, lying next to me in his cage, but I feel strengthened and supported. I plan to get a shower and go out with Richie for dinner. God knows I only want two things right now: for Art Bell to pass in my arms and not to suffer. So I have to have faith that God will take care of him when I am not with him.

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