Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Confessions - Part Three

As I advised in yesterday's posting, if you have not read Part One or Part Two, you might do well to read those before tackling this one. Thanks.

Resuming the story:

So Greg was not only recovering from the mental slide so unexpectedly resulting from his last drug trial, but now he was unemployed.

I began searching for something - some line of work - that we could develop and use for supplemental income in our retirement. Okay - he was a musician, but all I can do is sing. And I think I sing well (I was a soloist in my high school chorus), but to perform? I think not. However, we both had artistic tendencies, and my mind started focusing on that. Faux painting? Well, why not? So we took one of those little classes at Home Depot from a woman who was NOT an employee, but rather had been hired by HD to show customers some of the basics.

When we finished that little course, we walked to our car and I said, "Well, do you think you and I could do this?" He looked at me. "For a living?" I asked. "You know, extra income after we retire?" and he pondered that, and then nodded.

Back to my trusty friend, the internet, as I searched for classes that would give us a good footing to do this professionally. I found several, of course, in our general vicinity and then tried to weigh the pros and cons of those. Some were quite specific, and only trained for products of a given manufacturer. I thought that was a bit restrictive, and opted for a school based in Waveland, MS. And we could drive there, in about 7 hours or less. So we ponied up $1,000 apiece and enrolled.

The woman who did most of the instruction, S, was a veteran in this busines. She had been based out of California, but decided to move her school when the state of CA made it mandatory for faux painters to apprentice for a couple of years before they could strike out on their own. She knew her student enrollment would decline and possibly die. So she and her husband searched for a place to move to - and chose Waveland, an area whose residents were locals, and artists of various specialties - ceramics, painting, photography and many other areas.

Note: Waveland was virtually wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. For a while, I followed up on the rebuilding that was taking place there. Our instructors had, by coincidence, relocated their school to Missouri the year before that hurricane. S and I exchanged e-mails about Waveland. I haven't had the heart to go back there - it was such a pretty, idyllic-appearing area when we had been there. I didn't want to see the aftermath of Nature's destruction.

The Faux Finishing class: It was an intensive, hands-on course. S really knows her stuff and does her damnedest to impart the technique to others. She had limited the class to about 8 or so students. We ate lunch together each day (5 days) and sometimes dinner. On the last day, mentally overloaded by the knowledge, we took our samples with us and headed home. S was only a phone call away, still giving us support and answering (dumb) questions. Through them, we put up a small little web page. And in less than 60 days, we had our first clients! They had found us through that web page, we went to their house, gave a bid, and got the job! Wow, we thought, this was gonna be easy income.

What we painted for this couple was the entire ceiling of their very spacious family room. We had to rent a scaffolding, in fact, to do this job. We brought the pieces of the scaffold out to their house the evening before we needed it, and when we got back there the next morning, the husband (a retired engineer) had already assembled it for us! Those engineers... in fact, the rented scaffolding was missing some key parts (not unusual for rented equipment) and this fellow jerry-rigged those parts. So the scaffolding was much safer than it would have been, if we had assembled it ourselves.

This ceiling project gave me a new appreciation for Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. A few hours into each work-day, I had a headache that would not quit. I believe it came from having my head tilted back far enough so that it pinched a nerve. But we persevered, and finished the project in 2-and-a-half days. The clients were very pleased and we were happy - with the check and the fact that we finished it to their satisfaction. Upon completion, the husband broke open a bottle of wine and three of us each had a glass of wine. His wife did not drink, for she had enough challenges with the state of her health. She was already confined to one of those motorized chairs, which she could operate with one hand control. The results of her multiple sclerosis were quite evident. We enjoyed these folks, and they seemed to like us, too.

Ironically, we had "winged" this project. We had never painted a ceiling and had no experience in producing the effects that the wife wanted to see: a rather free-form painting in colors to match their draperies (pinks and sea-green). I sketched out my concept to her and she was in agreement, so off we went on this abstract effect. Wow.

Greg took over the business aspects of the faux painting, and he was very capable and organized about it all. Thank God. Because I am NOT Miss Organization. (But I am sure that I am Miss Mis-organization!) Another failing of mine. He kept the records, handled the incoming calls, etc. I only wish that we had had MORE calls, to keep him busier. Maybe then he wouldn't have fallen off the wagon numerous times over the years. Or maybe he would have.

For a period of time, he seemed to be able to drink casually, limiting himself to a glass or two of wine. And other times, I cast a jaundiced eye (what exactly does THAT mean, anyhow?) towards his consumption behaviour. I never called him out in front of others about that, but I would remark about it when it was just the two of us. Or sometimes I would caution him before we got into a social situation. Although I had gone to a few Al-Anon meetings (and did NOT like them), there were some ideas shared that I picked up on. One was that no matter how much you worry, the behavior will be what it will be. Worrying cannot, does not change anything. I know this to be true - but trusting, or just plain NOT worrying, does not come easy - especially after seeing that pattern of behavior.

We stumbled forward in our marriage. There were good times, there were bad. Greg did have several health problems, and the two most serious ones (besides the Hep C) were oral cancer and his arthritic knee. The oral cancer was discovered by our dentist - "just a little spot, probably nothing to be worried about - see your family doctor". He was still smoking at that time (and I hated that habit and I really hated the smell). When he had surgery, we did not know if he would ever be able to speak again - and he was in sales... His surgery had the best possible outcome - removed a good-sized circle from the floor of his mouth, under the tongue. I told him if he resumed smoking, he would be doing that with his NEXT wife. This took place about the time he turned 40, shortly before his mother died from cancer out in Phoenix. Because his parents were already dealing with their coming tragedy, we only shared Greg's cancer info with my family. His parents had enough stress to bear.

The knee had been injured in a plane accident in about the early 70's. He was working at a small airport and was pulling in a plane towards the hangar. He had a leg planted forward and was tugging on the aircraft - which suddenly lurched forward and ran right over his foot. It twisted his right knee pretty badly and he ended up hospitalized, where the standard surgery of that time was performed: they scraped nearly all of the cartilige out! Over the years, arthritis set in and he eventually was in a lot of pain with that knee. Before he was 50, he had that knee replaced. This came while he was still employed with a computer reseller. Besides the knee, he had flat feet (they had always been flat, from childhood on). So his "pins" were not as reliable as they should have been.

My own health was amazingly stable, considering that I had had two open heart surgeries, one at age 38 and the second at age 43. The second one was when I had my mitral valve replaced - 17 years ago and still going strong. Amazing, after all the stress over the years, ain't it? I remember the second surgery and its aftermath pretty well. It was an Olympic year, and of course (stuck at home for weeks) tv was showing the recovery of injured participants who were bound and determined to compete. So I thought (unwisely) that if they could recover from injuries more severe than what I had undergone, I could do the same. I laid down on the floor with my arms spread open wide, a small dumbbell in each hand. I tried to lift my arms. Wrong! wrong.wrong.wrong. End of initial recovery efforts. I was only at home four weeks after that surgery. I saw my cardiologist and asked for permission to return to work. Why, he wondered, was I in such a hurry to go back? And I truthfully told him, "I'm running out of vacation and sick time!" He reminded me that I should not be driving for at least 2 more weeks, and I nodded that I had heard that. And of course I ignored that directive. How else was I gonna get to work and back?

Anyway, for years, we knew the layout of St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital very well. Living in a major metropolitan area does have its pluses, and Houston's Medical Center is one of those. With so many surgeries between the two of us, we could easily fall into the routine of following the blue or yellow lines to the requisite elevators leading to those wings.

Through all these years, we never ceased telling each other, "I love you", when ending our phone conversations. I suppose, as in most marriages, it becomes a routine thing to say and do. But we persisted, anyway, even (most probably) when one or the other of us was not FEELING loving. I had a phone conversation with him the morning that he died. And then was haunted by whether we had told each other the "routine" thing. Never could remember if that happened or not.

Well, this was much lengthier than I had anticipated. So with any luck, I will wrap this up tomorrow. Thanks for hangin' in there.


The Retired One said...

It is just amazing to me that I knew none of this, being in "the family". I guess when we all grew up and then when I lost my parents, there was no way to hear about what my mom usually found out about the family. I didn't even know you had two open heart surguries until this.
When my mom was alive, and when she got a letter from your mom, she would sometimes say: "oh, if you want to read a letter I got from Tess, its on the table." Then I would read it and get somewhat caught up. But sometimes, she didn't mention you or Amy, more of things going on in her home town.
Anyway, sorry you had such challenges in your marriage and life. They do make us grow and learn, but must be very "learn-ed" from all you had to go through.
Thanks for posting this history, it fills in a lot of gaps for me, and I am sure it is very therapuetic to talk about those times now.

jessica said...

With any luck, I will wrap this up with only one more post. I was kinda amazed that it took so long to summarize this, but after all, it is over 22 years of b.s. to try to encapsulize. I tried to put in just the necessary stuff with, of course, an occasional nod to my feelings, my emotions. I am sure that many will quit reading this blog after the fourth installment!

txmomx6 said...

Wow ...... You have been through SO much. Funny how you pretty much just breezed past the whole "2 open heart surgeries" thing. Or am I the only one who noticed that?
YOU --- have been through a lot. YOU .... are a survivor, my friend.
And a very strong woman ..... thank you.

Ramblin Mama said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I know it is difficult to tell but, hopefully, just letting it all out helps you. I, for one, am looking forward to "the rest of the story." Or, should I say, the rest of THIS story as your story is continuing and you are moving forward toward a much better state of mind and being. Yes, you are a SURVIVOR and you are STRONG!!!