Nola started her ride home a still bit dazed from the day. But the ride home from school with Jamie helped ground her. Being mom had always been easy. James was home and cooking dinner when she arrived. He gave her grief about being nauseous, made sure she was ok and then slipped into the evening pattern. Dinner, which Nola barely touched… Star Trek DVD before Jamie did her homework… James smoking in the unfinished garage area where he spent so much of his time or watching TV or working on the script… Nola cleaning up after dinner… Jamie off to do her homework… Nola didn’t work on neighborhood issues via email or blog but instead wandered from room to room as she tried to wrap her head around the thought of leaving and what that would really mean.
Emotionally she knew she was in love; and, for the first time in a long, long time happy, really happy, as long as she was with Owen. After being emotionally numb and shut down for so long, it was practically a drug high. She seriously wondered if she was even capable of making decisions in this state. So she did was she had always done best under stress and focused on the practical. She went through the house and began to take inventory. She had done this mental exercise on more than one occasion, whenever she felt hopeless and a need to escape; but never with the possibility that it could be for real. She sighed and looked around.
For one thing, the most of the furniture had come from James family. There was literally one piece of furniture that she would take, the wooden winged table she used as a desk. It had been her grandfather’s junk table and she had rescued it, and painted it white. It had been her desk. Then it had served as Jamie’s changing table and had been safe in Jamie’s room as a desk when Katrina hit. It was now her desk again downstairs. But upstairs except for some shelves in Jamie’s room, there was literally no piece of furniture that was hers to take and nothing that was theirs she wanted. And as she realized this she strangely and suddenly felt better.
There were music CDs that she could take and James would never miss them. The cabinets they were in were rarely opened. She puffed out a small laugh noting again how little music there was a house with a musician. It would be easy to separate her music from his. The DVDs would be easy too. They had all been purchased by Nola mostly for Jamie, but Nola had a few favorites.
She looked around the living and dining rooms. Two rough wooden African masks she had bought years ago on trip for work to Nigeria. The clock on the mantle she had chosen as her 10 year anniversary gift from work. Also on the mantle was the not quite half moon section of her great aunt’s mirror that had shattered when it fell off the wall on to the floor. She had taken the remnants of the mirror to a glass shop in Arabi and they had sanded it down and she had used it on top of a mantle or bookshelf ever since. The pink glass vase she had picked up at the flea market. The other pink glass vase that her mom had gotten her when she had realized that gold added to the glass was what made it pink. Small things and all things she had gotten before she married James or completely on her own.
The mantle clock that had been her grandmother’s and had rarely worked, even after she had it repaired was hers. As was all the china in the china cabinet: a white set she had picked out when she married James and her great aunt’s that her sister in law had gotten rid of when she and her brother had finally moved out of their great aunt’s old apartment.
As she had washed the dishes that evening she realized that the only things that were hers in the kitchen were another great aunt’s 3 mixing bowls. There was the silly metal man made by her welder father. It balanced on the end of the shelf that was filled with glass that James liked but rarely used. There was some etched glassware from an ancient set her grandmother had stored away and never used. The quilts on the walls were another great aunt’s. She had rescued them from the nasty flooded remnants of the house that hurricane Camille had taken. Her grandmother had thought her crazy to want them. There were her grandmother’s old kerosene lamps and the Swiss chalet that held the weather man who came out for rain and the weather woman who was out when the sun was shining. There were trinkets on the shelves things that had been her grandmother’s or her mother’s or her grandfather’s. Ancient knick knacks, trinkets from her past, again all from her life before James.
She finished the dishes and cleaning up in the kitchen and took a cup of tea to the library. About two thirds of the books in the library were hers, Shakespeare, science fiction, history, science, archeology; even the fiction was rich with historical context, mystery, adventure, science. She smiled at how many of the authors were men. And then there were the rocks and fossils. And she smiled at the number of times she had been able to say yes to the jokingly asked question, “What’s in your suitcase? Rocks?”
She finished her tea and went into the bedroom.
She opened her closet. She had never had many clothes. And she had even less now since Katrina. She remembered working to clean up the house by herself after the flood waters had receded and the downstairs had been gutted. The clothes in the closet untouched by flood waters had still smelled like the awful horrid stench that had permeated the whole city for weeks, months actually before it fully dissipated. She had gone through every shred of clothing and eliminated anything that she didn’t really need and then made sure that everything was washed or professionally cleaned.
She snorted a laugh remembering the number of times she had Fabrezed the carpet in the upstairs bedrooms and library before she had finally given up and paid to have it replaced. It had come with the house, was 20 years old and owed them nothing. Thank god for Lowe’s interest free on large purchases. Before she replaced the carpet in the bedroom she had emptied the closets repainted everything in the bedroom. And she realized this had been yet another attempt to restart her life. She liked what she had done in the bedroom, the rich reds against the smooth whites. She stared into the antique mirror she had set on the modern built-in dresser behind closet doors that turned on the lights inside when opened. She looked down at her jewelry still packed in its Gustav evacuation ziplock bags and realized how many of the pieces she had purchased for herself. She saw the pin that James had purchased, only barely understanding why rabid dogs, the wolves of ignorance, was what you gave your wife the Christmas after you shattered her heart the second time. She looked down at the pictures she had of herself and James. There was a picture he had taken of himself in Baltimore. When she had visited Baltimore on a training trip after James had shattered her heart for the first time she had tried to capture a photo of herself in the same place. She was probably doing magic before she really even knew how. His photo faced one way. Her photo faced the other. And they faced each other in the folding frame she had placed them in years later. There was a photo taken of them together at the wedding of a now divorced, no longer friend’. She realized that this was only weeks after she had James had reconciled the first time. There was photo of her and James going to a Mardi Gras ball and she realized that this was taken not long after James thought he had reconciled with her the second time he had broken her heart. Photos of them together were few and far between and here were 2 photos taken after breakups. As her vision blurred she shook her head and looked away from the pictures and at earrings that hung from edges of crystal bowls. She managed to blink away tears as she focused on the heart shaped boxes she stored much of her jewelry in. She had waited for years for James to figure out that she collected heart shaped boxes. He’d never even noticed.
The whole process of taking inventory of her life was overwhelming. After 20 years there was so little that was tangible evidence of their life together. Except Jamie. She gave up trying to think it through and kissed Jamie goodnight and went to bed early taking the new puppy with her because… because… shutting down… sleep was what she did when things overwhelmed her. And because it had been a wild and unusual day.
She woke the next morning and could feel her blood begin that worried buzz. It started lightly under her skin and then it started to make her heart race. She took a shower to try and calm down. She got dressed quickly. She always got dressed quickly but she was literally ready to walk out of the door for 6:00AM. She blamed it on the new puppy. When he needed to be taken out, he needed to be taken out. Puppy potty training was critical. But it was only half true. She left a note for telling James truthfully that she needed to go to work because she hadn’t finished what she needed for an early Monday morning meeting. She promised to be home as soon as she was finished so she could make sure Jamie didn’t sleep all day.
She stopped at the corner of Carrollton Avenue and took a couple of deep breaths. She wasn’t sure if she could do this. She had promised Owen that she would call him on her way to work and well she was on her way to work. A car behind her blew its horn. She crossed the street and pulled under the oaks on Carrollton. She took out her phone and looked at it. She opened it and found Owen’s number and… looked at it and then she pressed the button to call him.
One ring… Two rings… she was planning on leaving a message. Three rings…she had kept her promise and called.
“Good Morning, Nola.”
“Oh you’re awake…”
“So are you.”
“Yes and on my way to work. I… promised to call and…”
She was speechless and then she thought; he had always been able to have a conversation early in the morning.
He didn’t like the way she sounded, “Where are you?”
“On Carrollton Ave.”
“Then I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
“The coffee just started brewing. See you soon.” And he hung up.
He had hung up. He had hung up. She was sitting on the side of the road. I need to pull myself together. She put her head on the steering wheel. I have to be able to function. Then she sighed, checked traffic, which was light, and pulled out. The early Saturday morning drive to Owen’s was easy but as she pulled into his driveway and stopped, she put her head on the steering wheel. Driving time was typically thinking time and this had caused the worried buzz to intensify into a rushing roar.
He heard the gate and smiled and opened the kitchen door. When he saw her head on the steering wheel he ran down the driveway and pulled the door open.
She looked up at him and her breathing was jagged and she had a dazed look and she was pale. “I think… I’m having….”
He pulled her gently out of the truck. She leaned on him like she had just run a marathon and couldn’t stand up.
He could feel her heart racing as he held her. “Nola?”
She didn’t respond. He scooped her up and took her through the front door. It was unlocked because he had just picked up the morning paper.
He put her down on the love seat.
She looked at him and sighed and gave him a weak hug because it was the only thing she could do to reassure “…Ok…”
He hugged her back “What’s wrong?”
He felt her sigh, but her heart was still racing. “I think… I had… a panic attack.”
“A panic attack?”
And she nodded and took his hand and put it on the center of her chest.
“Feel?” and she tried to take a slow breath in but it caught in her throat and the breath out was jagged.
“Yes, I feel your heart is racing.”
She swallowed but held his hand to her chest. “It’s… getting better… now.” Her hand was shaking. Oh my god she had driven here like this?!
“Is it… cold… in here?”
He started to get up to get her a blanket but she held onto his hand. “Please… just stay… here… with me... a minute. … I need… something solid to hold on to. … It felt like I was going to dematerialize.”
And it did sound like her breathing was getting less ragged.
He sat down next to her and she leaned into him but kept his hand to her chest. He could feel her heart rate slowing.
“Nola you are not going to work. You are not going home. You are staying right here with me.”
“Owen… shhhhhhhh. Please just give me a minute. I’ll be alright.”
So he held her and controlled his own version of a panic attack. And in a few minutes she was breathing normally and she lifted his hand from her chest and kissed it and released it. “I’m sorry.”
“Shhhh… Please don’t yell at me. I’m sorry. I woke up this morning thinking a million things and I couldn’t do any of them. The anxiety of all I need to do and about telling Jamie and James was overwhelming. I was able to get up. Taking a shower helped at bit and I managed to get dressed and down the driveway… And then…”
“I knew you sounded off… I should…”
“I’m ok now. I’m sorry.”
“If you say I’m sorry one more time I going to get mad.”
“Well we can’t have that.” She managed to joke and he managed to smile.
She sighed deeply and her breath wasn’t so ragged. “When I’m stressed I need to do something. What I wanted to do was start going through every room packing up. I couldn’t do that this morning. So instead my body ran away from me in a panic attack.”
“This has happened before?”
“Sort of. I do my best to control it by actively doing what is necessary to make things better. Or sometimes just by doing things: laundry, dishes, mopping… I do my best to turn flight into positive fight. But it wasn’t possible to do that this morning. I’m….” and she caught herself before she said sorry. “I didn’t mean to scare you too.” And she put her head on his chest. “I’m ok now. I just need a minute.”
“I’m taking you upstairs to bed.”
“No… I’m not quite ready for the stairs yet and I won’t let you carry me… But… I think it would be nice to stretch out on the sofa in the library.”
And before she could stand all the way up he scooped her up and carried her to the library. He put one of the pillows under her head and covered her with the throw.
She said “Thank you.” And curled on her side and closed her eyes.
And he paced toward the kitchen… “Gottdammit. I’m going to… to…”
“You have no idea what to do.”
And he stopped in his tracks, “No. No, Pop I don’t. But there has got to be something.”
“That’s only a tiny bit of what she felt.”
“Jezz, this sucks.”
“Oh, yes. Yes it does.”
“This is what Nola has felt like all along?”
“Well not like this but yes, sometimes she hasn’t quite known which way to turn and she’s occasionally been scared… to death… of you… and what you will mean in her life.”
“How does she function?’
“Strong woman. Don’t push her. Don’t pamper her. Well not too much. She’ll figure it out. You just have to let her.”
“Let her? Pop I want to scoop her up and take her far, far away.”
“Won’t work, son. She has a kid.”
“I’ll take Jamie too.”
“Won’t work. You have to let her figure it out.”
“I have to stand by and watch her struggle?!… She was having trouble breathing!!! And yesterday she fainted.”
“She’ll be fine. You have to stand by her. And do what you can to help. And not push.”
“Oh that sounds so easy.” He thought sarcastically.
And his grandfather chuckled because he too knew it would be anything but easy.
He walked back to her and sat down on the ottoman. “Nola.”
“Hmmmm???” and she took his hand.
“I’m going upstairs to shower and get dressed. Promise me that you will not leave before I come back down.”
“Promise.” And she squeezed his hand.
He nodded to himself. Her promises were better than gold.
He found her in the kitchen getting coffee. She looked ok and when she smiled at him he wrapped her in a hug.
“I’m ok. Please don’t worry about me.”
“I will worry about you if I want to.” And he grabbed a cup of coffee and then sat on the barstool, thinking: pamper her but not too much.
“But… I don’t want you to worry about me.” And she sighed as she slowly paced. “I essentially have 2 switches: on and off.” And she swallowed. “Once I’m awake, I’m on. When I am ready to go to sleep, I’m off.”
And he smiled and nodded and took a sip of his coffee. That was definitely true.
“You’ve seen me ‘go possum’.” And he smiled more broadly and nodded again. “Well that’s one end of my spectrum, total shutdown. I’m not proud but it has worked for me. The other end of the spectrum was what you saw this morning. It’s like a revving engine that can’t get in gear. It rarely, rarely happens; maybe twice in my whole life, counting today. Ok perhaps there were a few less drastic times. It’s embarrassing. My preferred on solution is to just work it out literally. Work it out. Do something. Anything productive.”
And she stopped pacing, “Do you? Really?”
“Well now I’ve definitely experienced both ends of your spectrum. Very interesting, woman.” And he smiled at her.
O god, I love this man. “Are you still sure you want to live with me?”
And he put his coffee cup down and walked to her. “Yes, I am sure.”
“Because I’m in love with you.” And he kissed her.
She managed a smile. “Ok. Good answer.”
“So what are we going to do today?” and he sat back down on the barstool taking her with him and holding her between his long legs.
And she looked at him confused. And he said, “To be productive.”
And she smiled. “I’m going to work. I have something that needs to be ready for Monday morning that I did not take care of yesterday. I’ll go home to Jamie after James leaves for work.”
“Nola…” and it sounded like he didn’t think that was a good idea.
“Son, It’s the right thing for her to do and you’re meeting clients in an hour.”
And he sighed, “Ok.”
And she looked at him. “What changed your mind?”
“Tell her son.”
“Papa Eric?” and she thought about that and said “Well then, thank you Papa Eric.” And she smiled.
“What about later today?”
“I’ll make lists, I’ll clean the house, I’ll channel the energy. I know how to do this.”
And she nodded “Yes.”
“What happened this morning?”
“I… I don’t know… You kept me busy yesterday. Jamie kept me busy last night. Then I was so overwhelmed and tired I just went to sleep, my off button. But this morning… It all came crashing down on me and…” she acknowledged silently to herself, you weren’t there to hold me and tell me it would be ok… “and when I couldn’t do what I wanted and know I need to do… I guess the engine slipped out of gear.”
She shrugged. And he hugged her.
“The engine’s ok now?”
“Yes. Fully functional on position.” And she looked at the clock which was edging to 9AM.
He looked too. “You want to go to work?”
“You’ll call me on your way home?”
“And you are coming here on Monday, early, straight from work?”
“Unless Jamie needs me, yes.”
“You’ll stay the night?”
And her brow wrinkled then she sighed and smiled and said, “Yes.”
“Ok. You will call me if you need anything. At any time day or night.”
And she hesitated. “Nola…?”
“Yes. Yes, if I need you I will call you.”
And he hugged her and then kissed her gently. “Ok, you can go to work.” And he released her. “I love you woman.”
And she rushed back into his arms. “I don’t know why you do, but thank the gods and thank you Owen. I am so in love with you it actually hurts, in the best of all possible ways.” And she moved quickly out of the kitchen door.
He stood up, “Just stay here son.” He heard the truck start and the gate move and he couldn’t do it. He opened the door and watched her pull out of the driveway. He lifted his hand and she waved back to him as she drove off. He was sure that she had brushed away tears.
“It’s a girl thing. They were happy tears. She hasn’t had those in more than a decade. It’s a good thing, son.”
“It’s a girl thing. They were happy tears. She hasn’t had those in more than a decade. It’s a good thing, son.”
“Ok, pop. I’ll take your word for it.”
“Get to work son. You have a woman to take care of.”
And he smiled, “Yes I do.”