In the Afterlife

About seven years ago this summer, my architect husband, Mickey, and I went to my friend Natalia’s son’s first birthday party. Needless to say, as cute as those little kids are, they are walking petri dishes and we both caught a terrible flu. After three weeks, I improved but Mickey kept getting worse and worse.

I came home one day and he was laying on the sofa, gray as an extra-terrestrial and short of breath. Like most Serbs, Mickey would rather die than go to the doctor but even he could see that it was time for the emergency room.

As they admitted him, the nurse, a kind black lady, asked, ‘This be his natural color?’

‘Um, no, he’s usually greenish,’ I replied.

Well reader, doctors must be getting more demented by the day because without the aid of technology, they don’t seem to be able to bring about an accurate diagnosis and began treating Mickey for pneumonia. Even with my limited medical knowledge I could see that they were way off. Mickey too, kept saying, ‘I think I have what my cat had – heart failure.’ He almost died before anyone read his CT scan, and then they set into action, since the diagnosis was changed to a leaking mitral valve. Needless to say, they had been killing him with hydration up until then. Surgery was immediately scheduled and everything went well, or so I thought, until I met with the surgeon, who proclaimed his work, repairing the natural valve, a masterpiece, only adding as an aside that Mickey had died on the table but that they manged to bring him back after ten minutes.

Wonderful, I thought, I spent a decade watching my first husband’s mental and emotional health decline, now I’m going to be married to someone with brain damage.

Well to make a long story short, Mickey, though plenty weird, was undamaged and manged to fully recover. About a year afterward he told me an amazing story. He said as he was being wheeled downstairs to the operating room he had a vision of himself as a knight lying outdoors in a field. A group of bearded men, wearing tunics over their chain mail gathered around him in a semi-circle while their leader held his sword to Mickey’s heart.

I didn’t know if this was a past life flashback to where Mickster was about to be dispatched by the enemy or not. So I put a positive spin on it and told him those were his guardians, helping to heal him. Afterward, when I was gossiping about this with my sister, Mickey overheard and commented, ‘I think I imagined all of it.’

‘Don’t be absurd,’ my sister said, ‘if you had imagined it, you would have seen Frank Lloyd Wright and the apprentices, twirling their protractors on a compass.’

The Condor Took My Baby

The wonderful thing about courting is that you are basically reliving your childhood by going out doing super fun things. I estimate that most men can keep up this round of activities for about three months before they revert to type, either in front of televised sports or the computer.

One day when Mickey and I were in about month three, we went to the zoo on a weekday, took in the dolphin show and were wandering around, when we spotted an empty stroller in front of the condor cage. We looked around, but there was no one in sight. We then bought ice cream cones and sat on a nearby bench, waiting, but no one returned to claim the stroller. After a while, Mickey turned to me and said, ‘I think you should start screaming, the condor took my baby!’

Now birdwatching readers, you’ll know that in the Balkans, we have no condors but we do have golden eagles which are sizable and have been known to take newborn lambs. So as a little girl, when I was sent to the countryside to visit relatives, I would live in fear that one of these monsters would swoop down from the skies and make off with a cute baby animal or attack me and peck out my eyes.

One winter when I was about four years old, my mother came down with a severe flu. There was a heavy snowfall on the ground, and I was feeling housebound, so I begged my father to take me with him when he went to the pharmacy to pick up her medicine. So like a typical Balkan parent, whose children have to be bundled up against the elements even if it’s summer, he put so many layers of clothing on me that when my little white ‘fur’ coat went on, I couldn’t even lower my arms. Of course, he wrapped a scarf around my mouth, so the cold wouldn’t get in. Needless to say, I was already sweating by the time we got downstairs, and he realized that as short and encumbered as I was, I would be unable to walk very fast, so he got out my sled and decided to pull me along to the store.

Now readers, my father was a horse crazy man and would tell anyone who would listen that my sister and I looked like roan fillies with white stars on our foreheads when we were born, which indicates to me that he perceived himself as the great stallion, Man o’War. Anyway, we picked up the medicine and as he was running home across a field, playing at being a horse, neighing and snorting, I fell off the sled. Man o’ War didn’t notice a thing, and I was left lying there,watching him fade into the distance, unable to cry out because the scarf was tied tightly around my mouth and unable to get up because I was so overdressed. I was reconciled to certain death ,waiting for an eagle to swoop me up since I looked like a baby lamb in my white coat, when my father noticed I was missing and came back to save me.

Sam’s Turtle

Today I got an email from my sister-in-law, Nely. Attached were photographs of a giant turtle and the cryptic message, Sam thinks I am so mean.

I immediately telephoned and asked, ‘What is this? Did you make turtle soup today?’

Nely replied that she needed to start the story from the beginning, and so do I. Nely has two dogs and two cats, plus a senile mother, and a live in fiancĂ©e, Sam, to take care of. Shaggy, the poodle has diabetes, but as her Serbian veterinarian says, he’s not fat, he just has big bones.

Now, I’ve written about Sam before, but reader, I must share with you what a kind and delightful man he really is. A few months ago Nely told him, ‘Sam, I’m just not that happy any more.’ Sam was crushed by this and wanted to know what she meant. Nely replied, and gentleman readers take note, ‘You never hold my hand any more, or tell me that I’m pretty or bring me flowers.’

Sam silently ruminated on this all evening long. In the morning, Nely, hair in disarray, mascara raccooned around her eyes [ she was too tired to wash her face the night before], wearing a giant t-shirt that the cat managed to puke on during the night, staggered downstairs for a cup of coffee. Sam looking up from his paper, said with gusto, ‘Nely, you’re looking beautiful this morning.’ What can I say other than, you have to love him for trying!

A few days ago, Sam took Shaggy to the vet for a check-up. When Sam got back, he led Nely out to the patio, poured her a glass of wine and announced, ‘I have fantastic news!’

Nely asked, ‘Did we win the lottery?’

‘No, It’s better than that,’ Sam explained. ‘I got us a fantastic deal on two German Shepard puppies.’

Reader, I don’t know what the economy is like in your neck of the woods, but in Illinois you can’t give horses, dogs or cats away.

‘What is he thinking, Nely? You already have four animals,’ I say.

‘I don’t know, Lily, but he comes from a household with two mastiffs, an alligator, a snapping turtle, a huge lizard, a cat and two sons, so it must be too quiet for him here,’ Nely explains.

‘What did you say,’ I ask.

‘I started shouting, no, No, NO, so loudly the neighbors came out to see what was going on,’ she says.

Sam, needless to say, was devastated. For two days he pouted, nagged, said he would scoop all the poop and do all the dog walking. He even promised to eat all his vegetables.

The second evening, while the two of them were sitting out under the gazebo, he said, ‘I have an idea. We’ll just take the biggest one. She weighs four pounds more than the other puppies in the litter.’

Just as Nely was finished shouting, ‘The answer is still no!’ they both saw something coming down the street. At first they thought it was a raccoon, but as it got nearer, they realized it was a very large turtle.

‘That’s it,’ Sam yelled, throwing up his arms, ‘God heard me and sent a pet!’ He then ran out of the yard to take the turtle off the road.

‘You can’t keep that turtle, Sam,’ Nely warned him, ‘it’s got huge claws and jaws, what if it bites the cats?’

‘We’ll build a fence around the pond,’ Sam promised, ‘I’ll keep him in the garage in winter.’

The answer was still no, and Sam was bitterly disappointed, though Nely did agree to take the turtle off the streets and keep it while she asked the kids in the neighborhood if anyone they knew had lost it. When nobody claimed it, she called Animal Rescue which sent over a woman with a cooler.

‘Oh, you’ll need a bigger container than that,’ Nely told the woman.

‘How big was that turtle?’ I ask.

‘Bigger than my feet, Nely explains.

‘That’s not so big, ‘ I say.

‘Twelve and a half inches. I measured,’ Nely says, referring to her feet.

By now I am howling with laughter. Well reader, the turtle turned out to be an endangered species, about thirty to forty years old, male and apparently can walk up to two miles a day which according to my calculations considering its puny stride, would be equal to thirty-six miles for the average human, not to mention the fact that it’s carrying its house on its back. In any case, the turtle was removed to an appropriate habitat, and Sam is still whining about the puppies.