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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Undecided Voters and my Mother-in-Law

This week the news cycle has been pretty one-note. Obama is ahead, and Romney is imploding. The Republicans are counting on the first debate as a major game-changer, hoping the undecided voters will tune in and break towards Romney.

Who are these undecided voters? Do they even exist, and if so, what are they like? Are they incapable of forming opinions? Or, do they have so many opinions that they can’t commit to just one? I would pontificate about this more, but I don't have the time or the patience.

My mother-in-law, Natalie, has been staying with me for the last week. I say “me” instead of “us” because my husband, Monty, is still in Ghana for two more weeks. Right now, that’s probably the safer place to be. I emailed Monty and told him that Abby had been kicked out of daycare for biting, and that his mother has swooped in to save the day.

            This was his response:

            The views and opinions expressed by Natalie Bricker are solely those of the individual, and are not the views of Montgomery Bricker, or any of his subsidiaries or affiliates.

            The use of Natalie Bricker for childcare services naturally involves the risk of hurt feelings, extreme annoyance, injury, or even death (her death, not yours). As such, Lucy Jones Bricker understands and voluntarily accepts these risks, and will not find Montgomery Bricker liable for any hurt feelings, extreme annoyance, injury or death, including and without limitation to personal, bodily, emotional or mental injury, loss of sanity, any physical or property damage, or jail time.

            Ha ha! I think my trip has just been extended by a couple more weeks…

            His attempt at lawyerly humor.

            But he’s not completely off-base.

            On Monday I came home after work to find that my kitchen had been completely reorganized.

            “You had sharp things where Abby and Noah could reach them!” Natalie scolded me. By “sharp” she meant butter knives and plastic forks. Nonetheless, she took it upon herself to change around EVERYTHING, so that I can no longer find, or reach, most of my kitchen utensils. (I’m only 5’1”, and I keep things down low so I won’t need a stool.) In addition, she went grocery shopping and bought all-natural peanut butter, dense whole wheat bread, and Kashi granola. She threw out our Skippy, oatmeal bread, whole-grain cheerios, and anything that contained preservatives or more than eight grams of sugar per serving.

            “I can’t believe you’ve been feeding my grandchildren hotdogs and fruit snacks! Don’t you know that they cause cancer?” Natalie was fixing dinner as she said this, lentil beans with cheese sauce. “It’s like mac & cheese, only with lentils instead of pasta. They’ll love it.”

            They hated it. And Natalie gave me the evil eye when I gave them milk and bananas instead.

            On Tuesday I found out that Abby had been sent to her room for most of the afternoon, on a time-out. “She’s just engaging in a power struggle,” Natalie said. “This will pass.”

            When I talked to Abby, her side of the story was a little different. “Gramma wouldn’t let me color with markers because they’re messy. But I wouldn’t make a mess! So I used the markers and when she caught me I got sent to my room.”

            I took this up with Natalie. “Don’t you think you were a little harsh?”

            Natalie squared her shoulders in defense. “I sent her to her room, that’s all. And Abby needs to learn a little discipline. If she had understood that she’s not in charge, maybe she wouldn’t have been kicked out of daycare in the first place.”

            On Wednesday morning Natalie complained about her back at breakfast. By the time I got home in the evening, she refused to bend over. “I think it’s that futon in the guest room. Women my age just can’t sleep on futons. You’ll understand, some day. But if you want me to be able to pick Noah up, I’m afraid we’re going to have to trade beds.”

            What could I do? Natalie is now sleeping in the master bedroom, and I’m on the futon in the guest room. On Thursday morning, when I walked in to shower and dress before getting the kids up and leaving for work, Natalie complained about that too.

            Thursday evening at dinner she wouldn’t stop talking about this new virus that’s making the rounds in the Congo. It’s like a combination of Ebola and Rabies, and once you get it, you’re dead in a matter of days. Abby was listening and she started to freak out.

            “Is Daddy sick?” she asked.

            “No,” I said. “Daddy is fine. He’s not going to get sick.”

            Natalie snorted. “Don’t humor her, Lucy.”

            “I’m not! Monty’s in Ghana, not the Congo. And he’s taking every precaution.”

            She shook her head and pursed her lips. “If he was taking every precaution, he would be home! Why you let him go off when he ought to be taking care of his family, instead of running around in the most dangerous part of the world…”

            “It’s hardly the most dangerous part of the world! And it’s his job. I’m not supposed to let him do his job?”

            She sighed deeply. “Let’s get real. Suppose all his efforts work, and Malaria is cured. Africa is still plagued with a million other problems, between poverty, oppression, terrorism, and ignorance. He’s not there to make a difference. He’s there because he’s incapable of sitting still for more than six months at a time. Why you put up with it is completely beyond me.”

            Abby probably didn’t understand the full meaning of what Natalie had said, but she understood the contempt, so she burst into tears. Then Noah started crying too. Natalie and I spent the rest of the meal ignoring each other and calming the kids down.

            On Friday evening I was watching television downstairs after the kids had gone to bed. I would have watched in my bedroom, but since I’ve been kicked out, that wasn’t a possibility. Natalie came down to make some tea and decided to join me.

            “What are you watching?” she asked.

            “Rachel Maddow.”

            Natalie sat down and listened to what Rachel had to say. Then it went to commercial, and Natalie said, “I don’t understand why you watch that.”

            “I think she’s clever, and funny.”

            “But she’s so one-sided,” Natalie responded.

            “Of course. That’s sort of the point.”

            “But then you don’t get both sides of the issue. How are you going to make an informed decision if you don’t get all the facts?”

            I regarded her, in her bathrobe, short gray hair combed back after a shower, and glasses on. “I’ve already made my decision.”

            “I can’t imagine how. They’re both flawed, if you ask me. Romney is a phony, and Obama has broken most of his promises. They’re more alike than they are different.”

            With that she got up, and went upstairs to bed.

            So there you have it. Turns out I have an undecided voter living under my roof, controlling my life and undermining my marriage.

            If only she was without opinions.
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Richard Nixon, Mitt Romney, and Me

What is the worst that could happen? If you have to ask yourself this, you are already in a dangerous place. However, failing to consider all the possibilities is even more dangerous. If you don’t believe me, look at history, the news, or my life.

Richard Nixon. Before his first televised debate with John Kennedy, Nixon failed to consider what a catastrophe it might be. The result? Kennedy looked young, vibrant, and relaxed while Nixon looked sweaty and ill. Kennedy was good at speaking in exhilarating generalities, with just enough specifics to silence his critics, and he looked directly at the camera and made eye contact with the vast television audience. Nixon appeared argumentative and distant, and he forgot to look at anyone other than the moderator. His campaign would never fully recover from this incident, at least not enough to negate the power of Kennedy’s wealth and charisma.

 Mitt Romney. In a year when pundits are claiming that, due to the economy, it should be an easy win against Obama, Romney has been negligent in his thinking. Otherwise, it would have occurred to him that the Obama camp could easily paint him as a wealthy, out-of-touch elitist who looks down on the American everyman, all the while bending the rules by jumping through loopholes afforded to him only through wealth and privilege.  Romney would have watched his back, and checked for hidden cameras before making claims about the irresponsible 47% who don’t pay taxes. He would have found a way to silence the issue of his own taxes, without looking like a potential liar or hypocrite. It remains to be seen if Romney can or will recover from his misstep, but it will take a lot.

 Me. Before my husband left for an extensive work trip to Ghana, I should have asked myself, what’s the worst that could happen? Not to him, but to me. If I had, I would have realized that a daycare crisis was imminent.

Abby, my three-and-a-half-year-old, was KICKED OUT of daycare on Friday. And by kicked out, I mean permanently. No notice, no warning. She got into a fight with another child, and this child happens to be the daycare’s owner son.  Abby bit him. Hard. To be fair, they do have an upfront, no-biting policy. But kicking her out seems awfully extreme, and dare I say, political.

My son, Noah (who is 15 months old) gets to stay. That’s of little consolation, however, until I find a place for Abby. Besides, I’m so angry at this point, I don’t particularly want to keep Noah there.

But that still isn’t the worst that could happen.

Friday evening I was home, the kids were watching Sesame Street, and I was making dinner. I was also battling a fierce headache brought on by the adrenaline from arguing and pleading with the daycare people. Then my phone rang. It was Natalie, my mother-in-law. I answered it only because I knew she’d call back until she got me. Natalie and I get along okay, but she has a very strong personality, and even stronger opinions, which she is never afraid to voice. (For example, she made her doubts about Monty’s and my marriage known, because I got pregnant first and we got married second. Then, when it was clear I was sticking around, she pressured us repeatedly to have another baby before I was “too old.” This was while I suffered through a miscarriage and then fertility problems. But we’re past all that now.)

“Lucy,” she said, without even saying hello, “have you been following the news? They’re saying it was a terrorist attack in Libya. Possibly Al Qaeda. Those things have a way of spreading. I really think Monty should come home.”

I squeezed the can opener that I had clenched in my hand, tightly, and the can of Chef Boyardee raviolis opened with a burst. I held back my annoyed sigh and tried to answer her in an even tone.

“Natalie, I understand how you feel, believe me, I do. But he’s there for work, it’s important, and terrorist attacks in Ghana have been pretty nonexistent.”

“I know, but…”

I snapped. “But nothing.” We’d had this conversation already, several times, and I just wasn’t in the mood. “I can’t worry about this right now. Abby just got kicked out of daycare, okay? So I need to worry about what I’m going to do, because starting Monday morning,  I have nobody to take care of her.”

There was a long silence, and I worried that I offended her. I was just about to apologize, when she spoke.

“Lucy, say no more. I’ll come to Seattle and help you.”


“I was a working mom. I completely understand what you’re going through. And David, bless his soul, was never any help. Tell you what, I’ll hang up right now and see if I can get a weekend flight.”

“Natalie, that’s sweet, but I can’t ask you to do that.”

“I’m offering. And I want to. I’ll call you right back.” Click. The line went dead.

And there I was, standing in my kitchen, scooping cold ravioli into a microwave-safe dish and reeling from what just happened.

This could be the salvation I need. Or, it could be a unique passport to hell. Nevertheless, Natalie is getting in this evening and staying for an undetermined amount of time. And like Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney, I have been left wondering if it’s already too late to be asking myself: What’s the worst that could happen?
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

47% Sure that Everything Will Be Fine

In the space of a few days so much can change. Last week at this time, all any newscaster talked about was the crisis in the Mideast and Northern Africa. One disparaging film is released and it’s like the world is coming to an end.

            Now it’s like Mitt Romney’s world is coming to an end, and it’s also due to a different film being released from an anonymous source. (Although Carter's grandson admitted to helping.) Mitt Romney was caught on tape saying unkind things about 47% of the country’s population not paying income tax, and not taking responsibility for their lives. This has caused more than one pundit to declare Romney’s campaign dead in the water. I’m not convinced. It couldn’t be that easy. Still, Romney’s unauthorized comments were the best thing to happen in over a week.

            The second best thing to happen? I did finally get to speak, live, with Monty. He’s fine. He says there is no reason for him to come home, which is exactly what I knew he’d say.

            “Well, you’re in charge of calling your mother,” I said. “And tell her you wouldn’t listen to me even if I did tell you to come home.”

            “I’m not telling her that,” he said. “I’d listen. But it’s not like I’m on a pleasure cruise. This is my job. And there’s no threat to my safety.”

            Then Abby interrupted with a story about a cat we saw on a walk the other day, so the conversation switched focus. (It was a family Skype session.)

            This means I didn’t exactly get a chance to mention the unauthorized ten thousand dollars I took upon myself to lend to Monty’s brother, Jack.

            But if following the news has taught me anything, it’s this: There is only so long you can avert conflict. And important news has a way of making itself known.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Murder, Mirrors and Money (and Jimmy Carter)

“How do you balance the budget, cut taxes and increase defense spending at the same time?... you do it with mirrors.” One of my favorite politicians of all time, John B. Anderson, said that back during the 1980 election. He was referring to Ronald Reagan’s voo-doo economic policies.
It just goes to show how little things have changed.
Lately I may as well be living in the 1980s. Economic recession? Check. Violence and instability? Check. I’m alone? Check. The only difference is now I’m alone with a baby and a three-year-old.
Okay, so I’m indulging in a little bit of self-pity here, but it’s been a rough week. Noah has been teething, which meant sleepless nights for both of us. Then, Wednesday morning I checked my cell phone, and saw that my mother-in-law, Natalie, left me a message during the night.
“Lucy, it’s Natalie. Have you seen the news? Did you hear about the murdered ambassador in Libya? Has Monty called you yet? Please let me know THE MINUTE you hear from him. Better yet, tell him to call me. I’m very, very worried.”
So I looked at the news to try and understand what she was talking about. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, but I’m still a little confused. Apparently a film by an unknown, supposedly American film maker, one that depicts Prophet Muhammad as both a womanizer and a homosexual child-molesting pervert, has sparked extreme outrage that led to the storming of a U.S embassy in Libya, the murder of an American ambassador and three other Americans, and now tons more protests and violence all over the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Monty’s not in Northern Africa, he’s in Ghana, which was in no way part of the Arab Spring, and he’s many, many miles away from the violence. Still, even his being on the same continent as all the conflict is a little unnerving, especially since it’s about anti-American hatred. But I’m trying to stay calm.
Wednesday morning I needed to drop the kids off at daycare and get to campus in time for my 8:30 lecture, so I texted Natalie and told her I’d keep her posted. Then I called Monty’s voice mail, because presently that’s the only way I can hear the sound of his voice.
“Hi,” I said. “Your mom’s worried about what’s going on in Libya, so please call her and let her know you’re safe. Then call me and let me know the same. Love you.”
It would be Friday afternoon before I heard back. In the meantime I heard all sorts of reports about how the violence was spreading, but hearing from my husband? Nope.
I heard other stuff. I heard about Mitt Romney’s misstep. I heard criticisms of Obama’s handling of the crisis, and his handling of the Arab Spring in general. I heard comparisons by the Republicans of Obama to Jimmy Carter. That one really gets me.
            Whenever the Republicans want to diminish Obama, they compare him to Jimmy Carter. But let’s understand something. Carter’s approval ratings were once as low as 21%. He almost didn’t get the nomination in 1980, and he certainly didn’t get the post-convention “bounce” that Obama seems to be enjoying.  In 1979 Carter did execute a rescue-mission for the hostages, but it was both unlucky and poorly planned, unlike Obama’s successful efforts to kill Osama Bin Laden. And, according to a recent poll by Esquire magazine, Obama would win in a fist-fight against Mitt Romney. Do you think anyone has ever favored Jimmy Carter to win a fist fight against anyone, except maybe Gerald Ford?
Anyway, the comparisons of Obama to Carter just do not hold up. I like Jimmy Carter. I DON’T like it when people rewrite history.
I’m also not a fan of trying to forecast the future, especially in alarmist mode. That’s what Natalie is doing. I talked to her several times on Wednesday and Thursday, and each time she told me how bad things are over there, how concerned she is, and that she really thinks Monty ought to just come home. I’d always answer that I haven’t heard from him yet, but I had no real reason to believe that he wasn’t okay.
Then on Thursday evening, Jack called me.
Before he could say hello I started in. “Your mother is getting on my last nerve. I don’t know if Monty’s okay. I haven’t heard from him, and he hasn’t returned my call. But even if he did, and if even I told him to come home, he wouldn’t unless he wanted to himself. I hold no sway. Why doesn’t she get that?”
“You hold sway,” Jack said. “At least more sway than anyone else has ever had. He might listen to you.”
I shook my head even though Jack couldn’t see me. “No. He’ll tell me that he’s safe in Ghana and that we’re all over-reacting.”
Jack sighed. “I know. But I bet Mom has called me twice for every one time she’s called you, so stop whining.”
For a moment neither of us spoke, but Jack broke the silence. “That was supposed to sound like a gently sarcastic teasing.”
“Oh. Well, you failed.”
I rubbed my temples. “I think we’re both stressed out and crabby. Let’s just erase this conversation from our memories, okay?”
“I wish I could. But actually…” and here his voice cracked a little, “I have a favor to ask you.”
“I need to borrow ten thousand dollars.”
I swallowed hard.
“Lucy,” Jack said. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t super-important. But Petra is all lawyered-up. I stand to lose both Mikey and the restaurant. And times have been rough lately, financially speaking. I’d pay you back…” his voice trailed off.
Monty and I are a dual-income couple, and he doesn’t exactly make peanuts at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Still, we have house payments, car payments, daycare bills, and all the other expenses that come with having two small children.
But Jack is closer to me than most real brothers are to their sisters, and having grown up an only child, that’s huge. Besides, I guess you don’t get a divorce, save your business, and keep custody of your child all at the same time simply with mirrors, either. So I said yes.
But doing so cost me more than just ten thousand dollars. Now, on top of everything else, I have that bomb to drop when I finally get to speak to Monty. I’m supposed to implore him to come home, and tell him I gave away our savings to his brother, all in one conversation. Like I said, I’ve had better weeks.
But as it turned out, I never got the chance to tell him anything. On Friday afternoon I left work early, and went to the gym to swim laps before I picked the kids up. When I got out, wouldn’t you know, there was a voice mail from Monty.
“Hey, Lucy. I’ve been travelling around to different villages all week and I just got your message. And all of my mom’s messages. I’ll call her now.” He paused for a moment, and I could hear the sound of traffic in the background. “I actually borrowed a car and drove for two hours just so I could find cell phone reception. I was really hoping to get you.” With that comment he lowered his voice, taking on a more intimate tone. “Isn’t it Friday afternoon where you are? Please tell me you’re not out for happy hour with some hot grad student who’s reciting for you the constitution, by heart.” He sort of half chuckled, half sighed. “Anyway, I’m fine, so please don’t worry. I’m nowhere near the protests. Tell the kids I love them.” He took a deep breath. “Tell yourself that I love you. Because I do. I’ll call again as soon as I can.”
I tried calling him back, but it went straight to voice mail. And those tears of frustration, the ones I had been holding back all week, started to fall. At least I had the cover of red-eyes from the chlorine, but the stinging only intensified.
How do you balance your life, locate your husband, and quell your anxiety all at the same time? Definitely not with mirrors.
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ann Romney and Creating Spin

This week we’ve been bombarded with spin, and I’m having trouble assessing what to believe. But I’ve been guilty of spin myself (more on that later.)

            I watched little of the convention. I heard Michelle Obama gave a great speech, but I didn’t see it. Between single-parenting and adjusting to a new semester of teaching, I collapsed into bed every night as soon as the kids were down. I did see Bill Clinton’s address and the ensuing bro-hug between him and Obama, on YouTube. But I had already heard what a wonderful speech it was, so the spin had been spun. This is why I stayed up past my bedtime to watch Obama on Thursday night; I wanted to form my own opinions before the news media got a chance to tell me what to think.

            And I thought it was a brilliant speech. No, it wasn’t as specific as Clinton’s, or as inspirational as Obama’s own convention speeches were in ’04 and ’08. However, I thought he answered to his critics, was hard on Romney without attacking his character, and he still inserted his unique brand of passionate rhetoric and patriotism.

            But the spin was this; it was a fine speech, not his best, and not as good as Clinton, Michelle, or Joe Biden’s. And the job report the next day tampered any fervor of positivity it may have inspired anyway, so we’re back to where we were before the conventions, more or less.

            Sometimes I wonder what’s more important: the actual event, or how the media reports it. In this age of tweets, 24-hour news cycles, and constant access to any and all sorts of information, we’re never asked to actually digest what’s happening. It’s all done for us.

            Unless we refuse the offer. This is where my own spin comes in, and my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Abby, who is too smart for me.

            “When’s Daddy coming home?” She asked me this over and over, all week, sometimes in a petulant voice, sometimes in an angry one, and sometimes (and this was the worst) she just sounded defeated.

            Each time I’d say, “Not for a long time. Remember, he’s far away right now. For work. But he loves you and he’ll be home before you know it.”

            It was my attempt to put a positive spin on the situation that got me into trouble. After she asked me the same question for the zillioneth time, I lost my patience and I snapped at her. “Abby! Enough! He won’t be back for a long, long time. So stop asking!”

Her response?

            “But you said he’d back before I know it. When is that?

            Who does this girl think she is? Here she was, asking for specifics when she ought to just accept the feel-good half-truth I was offering up. Monty and I explained his trip to her many times, but she obviously didn’t understand that he was really leaving until after he was gone.

            I shouldn’t be surprised. Since she was around two, Abby prefers me over Monty only when she’s sick or needs someone to comb her hair. She lights up every time Monty walks into the room, and the two of them only have eyes for each other. It used to bother me. I wanted to sit her down and explain; I was the one who suffered through pregnancy and child-birth to bring her into this world, so show me some respect already.

            She’s not buying my spin. It would help if we could Skype with Monty, and we will eventually, but between the seven hour time difference and the poor phone reception in Northern Ghana, opportunities are limited. But Abby blames me, and acts as if I’m forcibly keeping her father from her.

My situation actually makes me feel bad for Ann Romney. This week she was being interviewed by a reporter in Iowa, and although she was adamantly only talking about the economy, the reporter kept inserting questions about women’s issues and same-sex marriage. As reported by the Huffington Post, when pressed, Ann Romney said this: “You're asking me questions that are not about what this election is going to be about. This election is going to be about the economy and jobs,” and "You know, again, I'm going to talk to you about the economy and about job creation, and about how my husband is the right person for the right time. This is going to be an election that is very important for women, and we are going to make sure that their economic prosperity is more certain under a President Romney."

I don’t agree with her. The election is about the economy, but it’s not only about the economy. However, I don’t think it’s okay for that reporter to hound her. Ann Romney isn’t running for president, and why should she be criticized, when all she’s trying to do is support her husband?

However, as good as reporters are at creating spin, they’re terrible at accepting it from others. Perhaps Abby has a future in journalism.



Monday, September 3, 2012

Eastwooding For Eden

I tried to watch Mitt Romney’s speech, but like Chick-Fil-A’s efforts this summer to quell a PR disaster, it just didn’t work out. The week of the Republican convention is never a good one for me; every four years I dig my nails into my palm and wait five straight days for it to be over. This year the convention coincided with the beginning of a new term of teaching, and also with Monty preparing to leave for Ghana. Maybe it was better that way. I was so busy and distracted I could barely focus, so I didn’t watch Rick Santorum make a speech that included the word “hands” twenty-two times (a work friend counted) or Paul Ryan address the crowd with what even Fox News reported to be a bunch of lies.

            But Thursday night I decided I really should tune in. After all, what if Mitt Romney exceeded expectations, and inspired the crowd so brilliantly that his speech was a legendary game-changer? Or, what if he fumbled it? The second scenario is obviously what I was hoping for, and if it happened I didn’t want to miss out. So I put the kids to bed and turned the television on in our bedroom.

            Monty was packing and trying not to throw up. His nausea wasn’t a side-effect of hearing Republican strategist Alex Castellanos say “You didn’t build that” was a damaging and revealing political gaffe, although I’m sure it didn’t help. (For more on my opinions about this supposed “gaffe” click here. ). No, Monty had already started his anti-malarial drug regimen, and unfortunately one of the side effects is nausea. By the time the film biography began, Monty’s forehead was beaded with sweat and his face was both pale and a tad green.

            “Have you seen my blue sweat shirt?” He asked me in a strained voice, just as the film began. Behind him the television played soft music, with a shot of snow falling on an Olympic torch, and Ann Romney saying, “If you want to know how someone will be as president, look at how they lived their life.”

            “I think it’s in your dresser,” I replied.

            He grimaced. “Why? I always put it in my closet.”

            “Do you want me to look?”

            Monty shook his head, straightened himself up, moved towards his dresser, but quickly veered course, and rushed to the bathroom instead. Soon I could hear the steady sound of his retching, and honestly, it was the perfect accompaniment to what was on TV. Between heart-felt testimonials about what an honest, salt-of-the-earth, family/business man Mitt Romney is, my husband was loudly heaving up his dinner.

            Eventually I did the right thing. First I found his blue sweatshirt and put it on top of his bag, and then I went to check on him. He was shirtless, lying on the bathroom floor. The toilet was flushed, but the seat was up, ready to be used again.

            “Sweetheart, do you need anything?” I asked.

            He answered with his eyes closed.  “No. The floor tile feels good. It’s nice and cool.”

            I went to the sink and filled a glass with water, and then I sat down next to him and placed it by his side. When I reached over to brush a lock of hair off his clammy forehead, he weakly swatted me away.

            “I just need to be alone,” he croaked. “Go watch the speech.”

            “It’s going to be a while before it starts,” I replied. “Rubio still needs to introduce Romney, but I guess Clint Eastwood is coming on first. They’re on commercial right now.”

            Monty opened one eye and gave me a skeptical squint. “You waited for a commercial to check on me?”

            I replied very matter-of-factly. “I almost didn’t check on you at all. I know how you are.”

            With that I got up and moved back into our bedroom.

            Now, before you make an assumption that I am uncaring or unsympathetic, let me clarify. Monty hates to be coddled. When he’s sick in any way, shape or form, he’s like a cat. All he wants to do his find a cool, dry place to hide and nurse his wounds. I know his mother struggled with this while he was growing up. He wouldn’t even let her tuck him in when he had the stomach flu.

            Now I was listening to the convention with one ear. I sort of got that Clint Eastwood was talking to an empty chair that was supposed to be Obama, and that at one point “Obama” told him to shut up and go f*!$ himself.  But part of me was too filled with worry to care. How would Monty handle the trip if the drugs make him this nauseous? What if he doesn’t adjust and just stops taking them? He could contract Malaria again, and his recovery may not be so complete as it was before.

            I was chewing on my thumbnail when Monty crawled into bed halfway through Eastwood’s speech.

            “Why’s he talking to an empty chair?” Monty asked.

            “He’s pretending it’s Obama, and he’s arguing with him about policy decisions.”

            “Huh.” Monty propped himself up on a pillow so he could see. “Is Clint Eastwood winning the argument?”

            “As far as I can tell.”
            We watched silently for a little while, until Eastwood made his quip that a lawyer who argues and sees both sides of an issue makes a bad president, but a business man makes a good one. “Doesn’t he realize that Romney has a law degree too?” Monty said. “Why isn’t empty chair Obama telling him that?”

            “Maybe he is and we just can’t hear him.”

            Monty grabbed my hand and gave it a weak squeeze. “Now I know what I’ll do when I miss you. I’ll just find an empty chair and pretend it’s you. We can have heated conversations, and I’ll always win.”

            “That’s great, Sweetheart. I’m flattered.”

            Then he let go of my hand, rolled onto his side, and closed his eyes.

            “Aren’t you going to finish packing?” I asked.

            “Morning,” he mumbled. “Almost done anyway. Really tired.”

            “I found your sweatshirt. It’s on top of your bag.”

            He murmured thanks and fell asleep.

When Rubio came on I turned the volume down, but not so low that I couldn’t hear him say that the greatest American trait was a belief in God. I grunted in disgust and Monty stirred.

            “Sorry,” I said. “Do you want me to watch downstairs?”

            “Do you mind?” said Monty. “I need sleep if I’m going to be in good shape for the flight tomorrow.”

            That’s right. He was leaving the next day. This was to be our last night together for six weeks, as he and his beautiful co-worker Brook (short for Brooklyn) were joining several others from the Roll Back Malaria partnership on a research trip. For much of the time he won’t even be reachable by phone. They don’t have too many cell towers in Ghana.

            I had already ruled out the possibility of a romantic final night together. But I didn’t want to leave his side, since soon he’d be leaving mine. So I turned both the television and the lights off, and let the sound of his breathing lull me to sleep.

            The next day I drove Monty to the airport, and he kissed me goodbye before he joined Brook in the check-in area.

            “I love you, Lucy.” He whispered this in my ear before he pulled away. 

            I told him I loved him too, and then I let go.

            Now I’m taking inventory of all our empty chairs. Which one should be my pretend-husband for the next month and a half? Maybe I’ll just grit my teeth and go it alone.  Because the one positive from the last few days? Eastwooding is now another word for acting eccentrically, and who wants that?  Mitt Romney doesn’t, and right now, neither do I.