by Laurie Naugle
I had a 1pm doctor’s appointment yesterday, and it was my first appointment with this particular doc. So I made sure to set aside a nice-ish / non-tennis outfit and arrive 15 minutes early– and with my paperwork already filled out. I was a little pleased with myself for being all Type-A (not a natural state for me). And so we begin.
The waiting room was small and unfortunately intimate. Large,cushion-y upholstered chairs pushed close together, and gathered around small, fake mahogany coffee tables. The receptionist didn’t even need to raise her voice to announce to the waiting room, from behind her window, that I was an hour early. She claimed that my appointment was scheduled for 2pm, not 1pm. ALLEGEDLY. But the last thing I need is another medical receptionist that has it out for me. So I decided to put my best foot forward and not tick off the the list of reasons/cell phone screen shots that would prove that the fault lay squarely on their shoulders. I uncharacteristically kept my mouth shut and picked up an old Entertainment Weekly magazine that was an awesome Game of Thrones issue. Okay! Honey attracts more flies than vinegar, lemons into lemonade and all that.
I had barely opened the page to Tyrion Lannister’s grimace when an older couple sitting across from me decided it was the perfect time to engage me in conversation. They looked to be in their late 70’s or so. The lady had frosted blonde hair and a walker.
“Oh, dear. Do you have children to pick up?”
“Yes, maam. But luckily I have a friend picking up my son, so it will work out. Then I think I can make it in time to pick up my daughter.”
“Where do you live, honey?”
“Oh, did that terrible storm get you last weekend?!”
“No, we were lucky and didn’t have any damage. A few blocks away they got it pretty bad, though.”
The husband perked up. “There was a damn tornado in San Marco!!”
“Yes, sir, that’s what I heard.”
A door opened, and the receptionist called the lady back to see her doc. He helped her get up, and she disappeared behind the mystery door.
The husband continued, “Talk about tornadoes. We lived in Alabama for 7 years, and we lived about a mile away from when that terrible tornado tore everything up a couple of years ago. You never seen nothing like it. My neighbor saw his horse flying around in the air. Our house was okay, though. But I hated Alabama, had to get out. I am from Westchester, New York for God’s sake. I told my wife, you can stay or you can go, but I am getting the hell out of Alabama.” He gave me a stern look. “It is an awful, godforsaken place.”
I started to tell him that some of my favorite people were from Alabama, but decided wisdom dictated that I let this one go.
He continued. “Told her I would stay in the South, but NOT Alabama. So we moved to Jacksonville. Anyways, you get some bad tornadoes out there, but Jacksonville just get hurricanes mostly.”
“Yeah, we get the emergency warnings every now and then, but usually nothing happens. Last fall the Emergency Broadcast System scared the bajeezus out of me. They took control of my television and my cell phone at the same time, buzzing and beeping telling me to take shelter immediately, that there was a tornado in San Marco. My first thought was the kids, but I knew they were a lot safer in their big, brick school buildings than they were with me. So I grabbed a mattress off my son’s bed, propped it against the bathroom sink. I figured if I heard a tornado coming, I would lie down in the tub and hold the mattress on top of me for protection.”
The man gave me a strange look, and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then, “You know, your husband is very lucky to have a strong woman like you. That one back there (he waved in the general direction that his wife had gone), she would have panicked and ran into the streets, screaming and waving her arms around like a damn maniac. Except that she’s hard of hearing, so she probably wouldn’t even hear it coming. She would get sucked up in that tornado and be thrown to Mississippi before she even knew what hit her.”
Okay, the imagery of his whole tornado scenario almost cracked me up. Was he trying to be funny? He wasn’t smiling. In fact, he seemed irritated by this imagined event. I bit my lip trying not to smile.
“My first wife was strong, too, like you. She could do anything. We didn’t have any tornadoes in New York, but she would have known what to do if there were a damn tornado. She was calm and collected. Smart. But she died.”
Ohhh no. Here we go. My close friends know that I have been struggling with the idea of dying and death, and illness. Certainly, nobody enjoys those topics. But lately, I can hardly broach the topic without tears being shed. (Silent tears, though, not the heaving ugly sobbing tears. Hey, don’t judge me!) I think, please, old man, don’t go there don’t go there don’t go there
“She had a heart attack. Outta nowhere. No warning or nothing.”
He looked down at his huge, black Fila orthopaedic shoes. It felt kind of strange, sitting with a man who was clearly still grieving his dead wife while his current wife– whose lack of tornado survival skills annoyed him– was seeing a doctor in the other room. But I haven’t been there, so what do I know. I took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry you lost her.”
“Yeah, me too. We were married 37 years.”
I go into emergency emotional survival mode, in which I frantically force myself to visualize things that crack me up in order stop up the tears. Except that I do not want to actually start laughing at this point in our conversation, as it would be super insensitive. But sometimes I can’t control that impulse and the inappropriate laughter sneaks out. It is a very fine line to walk, I tell you! Think think think. Will Farrell impersonating Janet Reno on SNL. My husband sneezing so incredibly loudly on the Vegas Strip that a foreign tourist jumped into the street in some kind of martial arts defensive stance. Chris Farley auditioning for Chippendales. Oh, God, what else? Nasty lady screaming the C-word at me from her truck–
“I found her at home, she was already dead. It was Christmas Eve, and I had come home late because I was picking up a few extra gifts for her.”
Oh, shit. You will not cry with this man you will not cry with this man–
And just as the first tear started to spill over, his newest wife returned to the waiting room. Thank the Lawd. Now I loved his second wife more than his first wife.
The man helped her shuffle around the chairs to the checkout desk. They wrapped up their business, and turned to leave. Then the man starts like he forgot his wallet or his driver’s license.
“Oy! Did you get your xanax? I told you that you were almost out, remember?? Hey, Miss, we gotta get her xanax refilled!!!” Ahhhh, I recalled his distaste for his wife’s coping abilities. But who’s panicking now, buddy?
They walked out, prescription clutched tightly in hand. I gave a little wave as they pass by, and thought, lady, you better stay the hell away from Alabama and its freaky weather.
I picked up the blessed Entertainment Weekly, but before I could return to the land of dragon queens and Westeros, the mystery door swung open and a voice called out, “Laurie Naugle!”