Friday, April 2, 2010

Where She and Hope part company

July 1985

Fast forward into the future. I have no posts between this and the last post. these pages are separated by a page turn. Apparently my life was recorded in baby books - maybe the years between were recorded in another way. I cannot remember. Immediately before this horrible month, I lived 6 months of pain and confusion. December 1984, Cris and I had flown to California to visit Bruce and Margret - his father and step-mother. We had had a wonderful time. One of my favorite films was "Valley Girl" with Nicholas cage. I had requested to be shown all the sites of the film - Hollywood, the Galleria mall, the "Valley", and the drive through the hills from Hollywood to the valley. I was thrilled. The children enjoyed it. I entertained Aja and Harrison on the plane home by making clothes from napkins for their new He-Man and She-Ra toys. The stewardesses remarked at how well behaved the children were.

We arrived home on Christmas eve. We drank a bottle of champagne, watched Valley Girl, got a little frisky. Enter unplanned pregnancy stage left. Unplanned like the others had been. I knew I was pregnant before I missed my next period.

We lived in a four-plex in Stillwater: 113 West Laurel Street. I think back to that time, and I remember a familiar TAP TAP TAP on the door by the woman who lived across the hall from me. Wilhelmina Osterkamp was an extremely old woman in a wheelchair who hadn't left her apartment in nine years. She would summon me by knocking on the door with the end of a broom handle. I helped her by bringing her mail, opening cans of soup, or taking out her garbage. By the time I realized I was pregnant with my third child, I was changing her bedding, treating her wounds, rubbing lotion on her nearly translucent skin as she told me the stories of her life. 

She had been born in Western Germany in 1897. She immigrated to America when she was 14 years old. She came to Minnesota to marry her second cousin, who was ten years older than she was. They homesteaded just north of Stillwater and had nine children, one of whom had died at the age of nine quite suddenly after complaining of a stomachache. Her name was Lilly. Her death had haunted Wilhelmina. It was the most painful experience in her lifetime. 

Her husband was a cruel man that treated her badly throughout their marriage. He had died in 1968 leaving her in poverty. She stayed on the farm until she suffered a stroke that affected her speech and mobility. She had been hospitalized a short while before moving into our apartment building - years before I had arrived with my little, happy family. 

When I first met Minnie, she was fairly healthy, but as the months, then years passed, her condition slowly deteriorated. The women who visited her and helped her as I did began to encourage her to move into a nursing home. I feared for her life as I heard her coughing through the walls at night. Sometimes, she would fall and pull her body to the door to call for my help. 

Everyday, I sat, cross-legged on the floor, in my doorway - she in her wheelchair - trading stories every day. She was a wonderful friend. She knew I was pregnant before I told a single soul. She saw it in me. I was shocked. She described what she saw that told the truth. I talked with her excitedly about the news.

One early afternoon, I heard her calling through the walls. I ran outside and up her porch steps. Pressing my face against the glass, I saw her on the floor, she could not move. She asked me to call her son - he had a key. He was not close to her  - he never visited - but he came that day. I waited with her, pressing against the glass, telling Minnie help was on the way, "He is coming, help is coming." He did come, but it was he that made the call that took her away from me. 

When the men came to take her away on a stretcher, undignified, strapped down, blinded by the sun, off to the nursing home, I wept for her. She was so frightened and ashamed. She did not want to leave. I visited her at the nursing home until she forgot who I was, but I have never forgotten her. She died several months later, a month shy of her ninetieth birthday.

I told Cris that I was pregnant near the end of January. He was not pleased. He grew distant. By July, I had reached the height of suspicion. I reached for his journal, something I had never done before. Journals are secret, sacred. I was sickened by what I discovered.

This is my first response...

Drowning is not so pitiful as the attempt to rise
Three times 'tis said, a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode, here hope and he, part company
For he is grasped of God.
The maker's cordial visage,
However good to see, is shunned, we must admit it,
Like an adversity.

Emily Dickenson

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