Saturday, October 03, 2009

Tarot: Victim or Victor

I once told a friend who was intently pursuing a man who turned her life inside-out and upside-down and then walked away only to come back again and again that the reason he didn't stick around was because she had nothing to offer -- not to him or to herself. She couldn't make up her mind about what she wanted to do and bounced from job to job and school to school, constantly changing her major and her goals. She was scattered, uncertain and spent her life moving from one friend's house to another, watching their children in exchange for room and board and a little money. Everyone took advantage of her, but she didn't see a way out. She had to have a place to stay and couldn't hold a job long enough to earn the money to get a place of her own. She had grants for school and kept flunking out or failing to show up, always ready with excuses. "I didn't have a way to get there. I didn't have any clean clothes. I got up too late."

She had more excuses than anyone I've ever seen before, and yet she kept getting one break after another. Jobs fell into her lap and she seldom held them for more than three weeks, and it was always someone else's fault. She had nothing of her own and didn't mind living off other people -- or other men. Some guy was always ready to bail her out and she played the damsel in distress very well.

By contrast, Jason, the guy she was obsessed about, had a good job and had a place to live. Granted, it was his mother's house, but he paid the bills and kept it clean. His family had several homes and he came from a wealthy family, so where he lived was really no surprise. He was used to better. So, here comes this girl from the ghetto with no ambition and nothing she could call her own and she wanted him. He enjoyed her company and the sex, but wasn't ready to make their relationship permanent. He didn't mind helping out from time to time, rescuing her from her latest situation, but he didn't want the job full time.

I told her she needed to get herself and her life together before he would consider her as anything more than a booty call or occasional girlfriend. She needed to do it for herself more than anything else, get her life settled. She was almost 30 at that point, and being almost thirty with nothing to show for your life is a very sad situation. She wasn't the kind of girl that rich men went out of their way to wine and dine and shower with riches, but rather the girl who would do their nails. No class, no education and nothing to show for her life except a string of failures. She didn't listen. The only thing she wanted to know was how to trap him.

And trap him she did. She got pregnant. After seven abortion, because the fathers weren't him, she got pregnant. It happened under the effects of drugs and alcohol when he forgot to use a condom or pull out in time. She had him dead to rights and she let him know when she was far enough along that an abortion wouldn't be feasible that he was going to be a father. He ran away from her and refused to have anything to do with her. She pursued him and, when he wouldn't give her what she wanted, she went to his family.

She now has a son, his son, and he pays child support regularly. She still has no job and no prospects and no place to call her own. She's living with her mother for now, but time is running out, so she has made a plan to get help from Welfare and other charitable organizations to take care of her and her child. She's 31 years old and still hasn't learned.

So what does this tale have to do with today's cards? It depends on whether you see my friend as a victim or a victor.

9 of Wands

The Nine of Wands shows a soldier weary from battering against an insurmountable blockade. He has put everything into the battle and leans on his remaining support, remaining upright by will alone. When he went into the battle, he was certain he'd succeed. Everything was on his side: experience, intelligence, skill and desire. He is puzzled. Why didn't he succeed? What went wrong.

Beside him in the ivy is a scarab, symbolizing the quiet voice of the soul, the voice that says, "You need time to figure this out. Retreat and regroup."

He needs to contrast his belief in success against his worldly experience and reconcile the data, balance his experiential and emotional checkbook, so to speak. Failure has caught him napping and nothing turned out as he had planned; he is not certain why. He needs to go over the data, reflect and find the flaw in his approach, learn from his mistakes and find a way to turn defeat into victory, and then try again.

The message of the Nine of Wands is not to despair when a difficult situation seems insoluble and confusion. Nothing is impossible. Sometimes it is a matter of taking a few steps back and re-evaluating the situation, learning from the mistakes while healing and figuring out a different pathway through the barrier. Above all, don't use this setback as a reason to escape from life. Life is about struggle. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the losses can become victories if you take the time to learn from them. We often learn more from our mistakes than from our victories. Victories are easy and failure a chance to grow and expand knowledge. Don't waste it.

9 of Pentacles

Pentacles are earthly symbols, the sign of the material. In the Nine of Pentacles, a wealthy and accomplished woman stands in a flourishing garden gazing intently at the hooded falcon on her wrist. She takes pride in her surroundings and her pride is evident in the garden, a feat she has achieved alone. She is a strong woman who has chosen a solitary path and she's comfortable in it, comfortable with herself and in her own skin. She has a right to be proud and in spite of her choices she is not lonely. She needs no one.

The nines of the minor arcana are symbolic of nearing the end of a journey. There is still a little more to come and for the accomplished woman in the Nine of Pentacles what is to come is a companion, someone to share and enjoy her garden and all she has accomplished. After all, success is a dish that tastes better when shared.

It's it often the case that those who want for nothing are the ones who get the best breaks and people are always willing to do things for them? Think of movie stars and celebrities. They have more money than they can spend in 100 lifetimes, and people fall all over themselves to give them whatever they admire. For instance, Queen Elizabeth of England often goes down to the high street to shop. Whatever she admires is given to her free of charge.

I remember a story about Hedda "the Hat" Hopper, the gossip columnist. During the depression when most people had nothing, Hedda mentioned in her column that she couldn't find a decent hat to wear. Tens of thousands of readers made hats and sent them to her, many of whom had little enough for themselves.

That's the way it goes. Make your life a success so that you have everything you need or want and, when you least expect it, more will be added. In the case of the Nine of Pentacles, that more would be someone to share your life.

Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune, or Fate as some call it, turns beyond our control. It is mechanized and in perpetual motion, turning round and round, like the clockwork mechanism of the sun and planets and universe. It defines and is moved by the rhythms of nature and life, attuned to the energy and music of the spheres. The sun in the background symbolizes the mind: centered and secure, never worrying about the wheel. The mind is not at the Wheel of Fortune's mercy; it is apart, free. Everything that happens -- good or bad or indifferent -- depends on your point of view. The situation could be a blessing, a curse, a tragedy or an opportunity, or so much more or less, depending on what you see.

When the first colonists came to the New World, they viewed the natives as savages without culture or wealth, owning nothing and having no morals or society. The native viewed the colonists as children, idiots who did not see or understand the wealth around them or how they could feed and clothe and house themselves. They were over dressed, over sexed, and over here, to borrow a saying from England during World War II. The colonists saw the land as something to possess, put their fences around and set to orderly rights. The natives saw the colonists as intruders intent on forcing everyone and everything to conform to their way of life without respect for the millennia of culture and contented life that existed before them. Each saw the other as an obstacle to remove and bloodshed followed. It was all a matter of point of view who was right and who was wrong.

Out of great wrongs came The United States of America, a country hacked out of the a Garden of Eden, raped and pillaged and born in fire, bloodshed and death along a trail that extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Much great has come from America, but there has also been much harm. Which outweighs the other no one can truly tell because everyone sees things from a different point of view. What is good to one person is evil to another. And so it goes. The Wheel of Fortune turns, grinding down all in its path who fail to see that, although time and fate march on without us, as long as we understand and accept what can and cannot be controlled, life need never be a tragedy or a disaster.

See the cycles of the Wheel for what they are. Don't use fate as an excuse to avoid responsibility or a reason to blame someone else for bad luck or misfortune. Learn to control what you can and let the rest go. Accept blame only for what you did wrong. Take responsibility only for what you can control -- and didn't or wouldn't. There are enough people to take the blame for the rest. Above all, learn to find the good in a bad situation because every situation is a learning situation.

* * *

A woman owns a large piece of land on which she has built a home, tends a garden that provides herbs and food and beauty and she runs a successful business. She has it all and she is happy and content.

In her youth she spent a lot of time trying to find the right man with whom to share her life, but she had nothing to show for all those years except scars, experience and a drive to make something of her life on her own, depending on no one. She had been taught by her mother that a woman needs a man to complete her, to protect and give her everything she needs and, when she was young, she bought her mother's philosophy. When she couldn't find a man to complete her -- none of them were right and she ended up either supporting them or standing in the background -- she decided to make her own way. The result of all her hard work and effort is success, happiness and a feeling of contentment. She doesn't miss having a man around. She doesn't really need one, not with BOB, her battery operated boyfriend.

Midwinter night, December 21st, she sits in front of her fire after a pleasant meal sipping a glass of Merlot. As the full moon rises, she hears a knock on the door, a pounding really that fades into a faint scratching. She goes to the door and finds a naked man collapsed on her porch, shivering and blue with cold. She brings him inside, wraps him in warm blankets by the fire and fixes a cup of hot chocolate with a shot of rum. As he warms and begins to get back some color, she asks him who he is. He shakes his head, confused. "I don't know." He doesn't know where he was before he saw the lights in her windows or why or where he lost his clothes. The only thing he remembers is waking up, seeing her light and knowing there is where he'd find safety and warmth.

In my mind's eye, I see a different story than the one that will occur to you. Do you see a mystery or a fantasy? Is he a con man or something else? Who is he and what will happen in the days to come? Using the message and images of today's cards, how will you write this story's end?

As always, until next week, or when work slackens enough for me to be able to take the time and delve into the stories hidden in the tarot cards, keep writing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Gift

Sally Selkirk was born in the hills of West Virginia during a storm at a time when doctors still came to your house to deliver babies.

The doctor arrived in his Model T Ford and calmed the over wrought father immediately. He set him about taking care of the older children and went in to his wife who had been laboring for what seemed like days to her husband, but was a few hours by the clock. Soon after the doctor arrived he delivered a golden child whose lusty screams echoed in the still mountain air. Her hair was like golden strawberries and she soon quieted as she was put to the breast. After her screaming entry she was the quietest of children.

Sally was a tiny baby with eyes that followed everyone in a peculiarly fixed way as if, despite newborn babies' eyes being unfocused and cloudy, she could see clearly and understand what she saw.

The doctor called to Sally's father and he stumbled into the room, weary and worn as though he and not his wife had labored to bring forth the sunny and smiling child. As he marveled at his daughter's bright blue eyes and dimpled cheeks as she nursed, the doctor quietly left. He got into his car and drove down the muddy and pitted road and into a tree. The doctor never made it home. As Sally took her first breaths the doctor took his last.

Sally grew up during the Depression, that time of want and fear when jobs were scarce and families moved west, always west, to find work and enough money to lie. But Sally's father was an itinerant minister who had a green thumb. As her family moved around from church to church, the one constant in their lives was a kitchen garden. Sally's family didn't have much money but they always had food so she grew up knowing the smell and feel of the earth in all seasons. She was a happy child of sunshine and light. Clouds, earth, flowers, scents, and mountain life drew her attention, as did the strangers who invariably came to their kitchen door looking for food or odd jobs. Strangers meant new faces at the kitchen table with tales of other roads, other meals, and other people.

Everyone who came to their door fascinated Sally, but her mother, a timid soul, was not. Reverend Selkirk was usually visiting the sick or tending to the first and last rites of the lives under his care and seldom home when travelers displaced by failing crops, lack of work, or circumstance came to their door. Sally greeted them with an insatiable curiosity and her mother, Emma, greeted them with wary fear masked by politeness.

One such morning, Sally sat at the kitchen window seat gazing up at the clouds, which, to her, were a great golden frame ready to be filled by something special. She waited for the frame to be filled when a ragged man walked up the track leading to their kitchen door. He scuffed up dust. Grasshoppers bounded out of his way. The magpies scolded him from the willow tree. As he crested the rise, Sally saw him clearer.

His battered fedora, stained with sweat and summer dust, crouched on his head. His clothes were dusty and frayed around the edges, but they were clean. Fading creases marked the line of his pants and the sleeves of his shirt. Something about the man didn't seem right. His face was drawn down with heat and strain, but Sally saw something more, something undefined about him. He looked like a summer mirage shimmering to life as if he had been created the moment she saw him on the road.

"Mama, man on the road."

Emma wiped flour on her apron and pushed a sweaty ringlet off her cheek. "Where's the Reverend?"

"Down to the Millers. Bud's funeral."

Emma stood beside Sally and looked cautiously out the window. Sally reached for one floured hand. "Don't worry, Mama," she said as the man walked up to the porch and kicked the dust from his shoes. He pulled his hat off and nodded.

A quick smile quirked the corners of his mouth. "Afternoon, Ma'am." He bobbed his head. "Wouldn't have a cool drink of water and a bit of work?"
Sally squeezed her mother's hand and nodded up at her.

Emma shook her off. "Need some wood for the stove and more water drawn." She nodded toward the pump near the back step.

"I'll show you the wood pile." Sally jumped down from the window seat.

Emma grabbed for Sally's arm, but Sally was out the screen door before she could move. The screen door banged in the still, hot air. Sally skipped off the step and around the pump, glancing over her shoulder to see if the man was following. He sketched a bow and nodded before he put on his hat and followed Sally.

Grasshoppers whirred in the grass and birds called softly from the willow at the edge of the kitchen garden. Emma softly closed the door and went back to kneading bread, ears alert for one discordant sound. She paused every few seconds and listened, punched the dough and soon fell into the rhythm of pushing and pulling the dough on the floury wooden table.

Emma scored the loaves before putting them on the bread board and shoveling them into the oven as Sally raced through the screen door. It banged against the house. Emma looked up. "How many times I got to tell you..." She stopped in mid sentence as the man shuffled through the door with enough wood for a week in his arms. "Over there." Emma gestured to the wood box beside the stove and backed slowly away, her eyes alert for any sudden moves.

He seemed to sense her barely contained fear and kept to the far edge of the table. He sidled past the sink and knelt to place the wood and kindling in the box. Finished, he rose and backed away. "I'll get the water, ma'am."

Emma nodded toward the bucket by the sink. He backed toward it and picked it up then backed toward the door. Sally held the door open and followed him as he turned on the porch and stepped off toward the well. Sally's chatter burst through the open door like a shaft of sun through storm clouds. Emma's fears eased. She pushed the oven door shut and turned back to the table. She scraped the remaining flour into a mound, added more, and broke three brown eggs into the well in the middle. She scattered salt and pepper over the golden yolks and mounded the flour over them. Emma kneaded the egg-flour mixture and patted it flat. She floured the rolling pin and flattened the patty of eggy dough as Sally rushed through the door.

Emma barely looked up as the man carried the wet bucket to the sink and carefully put it down. He hadn't spilled a drop even though Sally bounced around him like a jumping jack. Sally dropped to the floor in a heap and the man quickly knelt beside her. His fingers touched her neck under her chin.

"She's all right. Just fainted."

"She has done this before. Too much heat and excitement," Emma said.

The man closed his eyes. He cupped Sally's forehead and the nape of her neck. The grasshoppers stopped whirring in the yard and the magpies didn't argue. Emma knelt beside the man. She reached for Sally's head and felt heat rising from his hands. She gingerly touched his fingers and pulled back with a hiss. His hands were hotter than the stove.

Sally blinked and sat up.

"I'll get some water," he said as Emma reached for her child. She cradled Sally in her arms and looked up at the man's back. He turned and smiled gravely as he offered the dripping cup to Emma. "She's fine."

Emma nodded and took the cup. Sally sipped noisily and pushed the rest away. "I'm all right, mama."

"You gotta keep quiet. Doc Soames said so."

Sally nodded and smiled. "I know. No skipping, no jumping, no running in this heat." She shook her head. "No fun," she said and smiled again.

Emma helped Sally up and the man offer his hand to help Emma. She took it. "Your hands were hot as Hades."

"Gets that way sometimes."

Emma glanced at Sally's forehead and the back of her neck as she hopped up on the kitchen chair and picked up a knife. She didn't seem any different. There were no burns on her forehead or her neck, but Emma was sure there would be. "Don't cut them noodles yet. Roll the dough out more."

Sally dropped the knife and picked up the rolling pin. It was nearly bigger than she was. Flour sifted over her clothes and puffed up in her face as she bent over the dough.

"I'd like to pay you for your kindness."

" You'll eat with us," Emma said.

" I have a gift for you. I can only give it to a woman."

Emma started back, her hand reaching for the cleaver on the chopping block.

"It was give to me by a woman and I have to pass it on the same way. Man to woman to man. That's how the secret goes."

"I don't want it, mister. You keep it for someone else. Your family. Your kids."

"No kids and no family. You don't have to keep it long, but when you give it away it must be to a man. No one else must be around. Tell him he has to give it to a woman and she must give it to a man. It's very important."

"No need to give it to me. I can't use it."

"Yes, you can ma'am. And you'll need it soon." He reached for Emma's hand. She let him take it. His fingers were cool as they wrapped around hers.

"Give it to me." Sally reached out her hands.

"Can't do that, Sally. You're too young."

Emma stared into the man's green eyes. Funny how she hadn't noticed how clear and bright they were. Like a forest pool sparkling beneath the sun. She dove into the cool green waters of his eyes as he moved closer and whispered in her ear. Emma shivered as his cool words washed over her. She nodded quietly as he spoke.

She was still caught in a trance when she realized he had moved away toward the steps. "I'll sit out here in the shade 'less you need something else, ma'am."

Emma shook herself and reached for the knife.

"I'll do it, mama," Sally said.

"Don't cut them too big. They have to last for dinner and supper tonight. If you cut them small enough we can have them for dinner tomorrow, too."
Emma dipped water into a big pot and strewed salt from the cellar into it. She pulled the cover off the burner and checked the fire. Still going. She'd have to put in more wood when the bread was done, but it would do for now, she thought.

Playing in the corners of her mind was the knowledge the man had whispered. She could stop bleeding, no matter how much, with his secret. She didn't want the burden, but the Reverend would. It was proper that she give the secret to him. Didn't matter that she wouldn't know it once she passed it on. She didn't need it. It was too much responsibility for Sally, but it was too much for her, too. The Reverend would know what to do.

Emma replaced the burner on the stove and set the water to boil. She turned back to the table and shook out the thin curling folds of noodle dough into strips. Sally carefully cut the rest of the dough as Emma loosely worked flour onto the strips. Yes, she thought, the Reverend would know just what to do.

Sally slowly and carefully cut the rest of the folded dough into strips. She glanced out the door when she heard her father's voice. He was greeting the man. She knew her mother would give the secret to her father, but he would tell Sally when she was old enough. It was knowledge she kept safe from her mother.

Sally’s father never denied her anything; he’d tell her because the gift was meant for her all along, except she was too young now. That was what the man told Sally when she fainted, that it would ultimately be her gift.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tropical exile

I don't like being rushed and I don't like being late, which puts me in the category of being up late nights or very early mornings or rushing when I need to slow down and take my time. That's the way it is these days. Just when I think I have things under control and have a little time for reading, I end up falling asleep -- even with really good books. Not good when I am reading a book that begs to be savored slowly and rolled around the senses and mind to get every bit of literary juice. Oh, well, now that the rush is over and I have a few minutes . . .

For some reason, John has been on my mind the past few days. John was a strange man with horn-rimmed glasses, a crew cut, loose bowling shirts (without the team name) and a penchant for decimating chicken bones for cartilage and marrow. He lived in Colon in a palatial apartment filled with neat stacks of newspapers and magazines that lined narrow aisles down which he scuttled. Although his hair and eyes were dark, his skin was almost colorless, pasty white like a cockroach deprived of sun and light. He reminded me of a cockroach, all dry rustling and skittering feet between his stacks of newspapers and magazines. He was also quite smart, although there was some talk that he had been exiled to Panama because his mother, a high-powered executive at Revlon Cosmetics, was embarrassed by him.

As a child he fascinated me even as he repulsed my mother and he fascinates me still. I've imagined all kinds of stories with him as villain and hero, an unlikely hero to be sure, with his dry cockroach rustlings and quiet encyclopedic intelligence, and I've imagined all kinds of reasons for his exile, things that never occurred to me as a child in 1963. He was unusual and very different from the rest of the crowd of adults that converged on our fourplex on stilts at the edge of the jungle.

Although he's been on my mind, and I'm not certain why, I couldn't remember his last name. His face and mannerism and presence are indelibly etched deeply in my memories, but not his last name, so I called Mom to ask her. She said she didn't remember and then, miraculously, "John Kane. Kane was his last name. I don't know how I remembered his name." She remembered because he gave her the creeps and even now she shudders when she says his name and evokes his memory like a hideous demon from the depths of some infernal hell. The moment I said, "chicken bones," she knew who I meant.

John Kane. Or maybe it's John Cain. I wonder if there was an Abel he slew back in the States and that's why he was exiled from high society and his mother's fashionable digs. She certainly wouldn't have tolerated his newspapers or magazines or his dry rustling skitter across the expensive carpets and important Italian tiles of her New York apartment or her estate in the country surrounded by wrought iron gates and guarded by men in blue collared uniforms hiding like Jacks in the box in their guard shacks outside the spiked gates. In the South, an embarrassing or eccentric relative is a sign of old money and interest, but in the North, such a relative was exiled to some poor South or Central American country where they could live in some luxury at very little expense to the family, an aberration consigned to tropical oblivion.

I've often wondered if John Kane still lives in the palatial apartment down the street from the Molotov cocktail singed Masonic Temple where my father went once a week to practice arcane rituals. That's where he met John Kane, the only man among their friends who wasn't in the Army and didn't live on base. And I wonder where John's mark of Kane would be found.

It wasn't on the high pale escarpment of his forehead or on the dark brushy plateau of his crew cut. The precipice of his nose was jutted out between the black horn-rimmed frame of his glasses in sharp relief to his smooth white cheeks where not even the shadow of a beard lurked beneath the skin of his cheeks or chin and his eyes, although stark black balls that hid the wide abyss of the pupils, were arresting, but not marked in any unusual way. Beneath the loose cotton shirts of sober color, hints of once hard muscle brushed briefly against the smooth, ironed cloth in sharp contrast to the mystery his sharply creased charcoal trousers concealed. Pasty white arms devoid of hair and thin in comparison to the solid bulk of his chest and shoulders ended in decisive and strong hands used with delicacy and grace, perhaps the hands of a one-time dancer, the nails buffed to a high gloss and his cuticles immaculate. His clothes were of good quality, but I never understood his fondness for canvas mesh shoes with gum soles, unless they gave him purchase on the marble tiles that comprised the floor of his apartment as he scurried from one towering pile of information to the next.

I imagine that when computers became household items his newspaper and magazine edifices were exchanged for desks and serried rows of computers, cursors blinking heartbeats of information waiting to be consumed the way John Kane consumed chicken bones, until even the inside of the bones were sucked clean of marrow.

It's funny, but I can't remember how John Kane smelled or if he had a smell. His apartment smelled of dust and paper and tropical breezes that fingered through the shuttered windows. Even now, he fascinates me and probably always will, the strangely intelligent and quiet albino cockroach rustling dryly among his stacks of words and pictures and ideas far from the glittering social whirl of New York and Chicago and the wealth compound of his mother's cosmetics empire, a tropical exile.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Graceful exit

The weekend was a mixed bag and work, wonder and frustration, mostly frustration.

I finally finished Dan Chaon's book, Await Your Reply and it was all right, a little confusing and the end was better than the interminable middle after a really great start, but that's what happens when you're juggling so many main characters and going back and forth in time. The writing isn't the problem (that's wonderful) and it isn't the characters (very real), but the plotting is a bit problematic. When did it become de rigueur to skip around the time line like a drunken leprechaun? Just because Quentin Tarantino does it doesn't mean writers have to following like lemmings. Whatever happened to working the back story into the flow of the novel instead of head and time hopping? Oh, well, there are worse things in novels and I'll think of them later.

In between working and trying to get some writing done, my cousin Timmy called and we talked -- for over two hours. It didn't seem that long because we spent most of the time laughing (Cruella deVille, Sr. and Jr.). He said he had always wanted to write, but what comes out on the page isn't readable. At least he likes to read. He told me about Brand, his brother-in-law who's such a big fan of my writing, and mentioned Ruthie, his wife who died recently. "I told Mom that you'd probably want to ask me questions about the last weeks of Ruthie's life and write about them."

"I wouldn't do that because it's private."

"Wouldn't it help someone else going through what I went through?"

"Yes, but I think it's too private right now."

"But it would help someone else."

Even through the tight control of his voice, I heard the tears he held back and the plea that I ask him about Ruthie's last days and write about them. He was a disappointed I didn't ask, didn't pry. Maybe later when the grief isn't so raw and bleeding. I did explain how anthologies work and that I can't just write a story for an anthology if they don't have a call out for a book with that particular theme, although with Chicken Soup I can propose a book. I may and then write about Timmy and Ruthie's story.

Timmy is an amazing man. He took compassionate leave from the Post Office (he's a mail carrier, although mail driver is closer to the truth) to tend Ruthie in her last days. Hospice had a nurse there, but it was Timmy who took her to the palliative radiation treatments for the cancerous lesions in her spine, bathed her, fed her spent every waking hour with her in her last days of life. Ruthie and Timmy had been little more than roommates for five years, married in name only.

She had left him February 2008, went bankrupt gambling online and moved back in with Timmy in December 2008. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2009 and Timmy was with her all through the chemo. As she continued to battle the cancer, Timmy stood by her, putting his life on hold. When she was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer that had settled in her spine, she lost the use of one of her legs and eventually ended up in a wheelchair, and Timmy was with her through it all, even though she didn't tell him what the doctors told her at the beginning of August when she went home from the hospital: she was terminal. Timmy thought she was going to be all right. Ruthie wouldn't have the use of her left leg and would have to wear a brace, but she would eventually be able to walk again. She didn't tell him the truth, but that was par for the course in their marriage during the last five years.

Hospice breezed in and set up the bed and commode and all the equipment Ruthie would need and Timmy kept saying that it was temporary. Hospice is temporary all right, but not the way he thought. They brought The Box and told Timmy not to open until they told him to do so. Aunt Anne called Mom and asked her what it was and Mom called me. I knew what it was -- it was the end of life box. I called and told Aunt Anne and she insisted that Ruthie was going to be fine and was making plans to get back to work, the hope in her voice fraying around the edges because Timmy didn't know. "Why would they keep scheduling radiation treatments if it won't cure her?"

"To ease the pain. It's strictly a comfort measure, not curative."

"I thought it was strange," Aunt Anne said, "because when they started there was one lesion on her spine and by the end of the week there were four."

I think Timmy knew, but he didn't want to admit it, so he clung to the fiction that Ruthie fed him as she had fed him so many other fictions in their marriage, like the one that going through menopause decreased a woman's desire for sex. (That's a big lie; menopause increases the sex drive.) Ruthie's sex drive was fed to gambling online where she spent entire paychecks and missed payments on her car that Timmy paid.

Timmy has a problem; he's a born knight in shining armor who lives to rescue damsels in distress, even when they don't deserve to be rescued. It's a failing in the men in my family. My father had it. My brother has it. Timmy and his brother Jeff have it. Perhaps the only man in our family who didn't suffer from the disease was Grandpa Cornwell, my father's dad. He was a selfish old reprobate who didn't believe in rescuing anyone if it took time away from his own pleasures and pursuits.

At any rate, the time came for The Box to be opened and used. Timmy's compassionate leave was running out and so was Ruthie's life. She died on the last day of his leave, making a more graceful exit out of Timmy's life than she made entering it.

There's more to the story and I'm sure Timmy will eventually talk me into asking about it, but one thing sticks with me. When he talked about living with Ruthie as nothing more than roommates and not having sex, he told me that caring for her in those last days made sex seem unimportant. As he watched her life trickle away and her body burn itself out, he held her in his arms to bathe and change and clothe and feed her, closer to her in her waning hours than they had ever been in their life together. "None of that mattered," he said. "She was my Ruthie."

Yes, I think his story would help someone. Death puts life into perspective and it softens the edges of the pain and anguish people inflict on each other. It's too bad people don't learn how to treat each other gently in life or exit gracefully before Death takes them, so they can give the gifts of respect and life and compassion before it's too late to enjoy them. So much suffering and anger could be avoided.