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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Polls and Changing the Furnance Filter

So the debates are over, and we’ve reached the endgame. Usually by this time in elections the polls stabilize and it becomes clear who will win. But this year is like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. You think you know what he’ll do, but there’s still this unsettled feeling that anything can happen.

I find myself increasingly frustrated at the news coverage, which seems determined to repeat the same narrative again and again. Ever since Romney’s win at the first debate, the spin is on his side. Or maybe it’s just that my mother-in-law, Natalie, is on his side.

 “Obama was rude at the second debate, and you could tell he was lying. At least Romney wants to do something about gun violence.”

By something, she means get rid of abortion and have two-parent households. How that relates to gun violence, I still can’t see. About last night’s debate, she said: “Well, Obama was just condescending. I think Romney is a very smart man, and I like that he’s not so aggressive.”

Of course, if Romney had been the more aggressive one she would have said Obama was too submissive. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone who is capable of making up their mind already has, and it’s all about voter turnout at this point. Which means there’s no point in watching the polls. After all, everything is a dead heat and I’m preparing for an anxious night on November 6th.

But the days are going by slowly. I tell myself that it will all be over, for better or for worse, soon. And I have to accept that no matter how many times I obsessively check or, I can’t control or change the polls.

But at least I could change the filter in the furnace.

Or I thought I could anyway.

Yet upon further inspection, I realized I had no idea how to change it. Some part needed to be unscrewed, or there was some door, or something must slide out somewhere, but I had no idea where. I gave up and realized I would need to ask for help.

“I thought you changed it already.” Monty peered up at me from his reclined position in bed. All he’d done for a week was sleep. By now we’d concluded that he had a bad case of the flu. But he finally seemed to be rebounding, enough that he could sit up anyway. He sat up now.

“I lied.” I said without apology. “But I’ll change it. Just tell me what I need to do.”

He shook his head. He needed a haircut and a shave, and he still looked pale and wan. “I’ll do it.” He struggled out of bed, moving like an old man.

“Stay in bed. Just tell me how to change it.”

He said nothing in response, but moved past me.

I followed him down the stairs. “Monty, seriously, I can do it. I just need you to explain.”

“It’s easier for me to do it myself.”

“Well, fine. But you don’t have to do it now, do you? Can’t you wait until you’re feeling better?”

He stopped and turned to me. “No. It can’t wait. It has to be done now. And I really wish you hadn’t lied about it. If I had known, I would have changed it sooner.” He turned back around and continued on down to the basement.

I was at his heels. “Why are you so preoccupied with the stupid furnace?”

“I just am.”

“That’s not an answer. Don’t you think you ought to be more worried about yourself? About getting better? I seriously don’t understand you.”

He leaned down by the furnace and slid out the old filter, easy as pie. Why hadn’t I noticed that slot before?

“You know how it works, Lucy.”

“Obviously I don’t, or I wouldn’t have needed to ask you.”

He coughed – a hacking sort of cough – and grabbed a new filter from the box. “I don’t mean the furnace. I meant that of course I’m going to be worried something that affects you and the kids before I worry about myself.”

I crossed my arms and watched as slid the new filter in. The old one did look pretty filthy. I could understand why he wanted it changed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t replace it before,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

“Thanks for doing it now.” I hugged myself more tightly to keep from shivering. “I can clean up the rest, if you want to go back upstairs.”

In answer he moved towards me and placed his hands on my arms. He rubbed them gently. “Are you cold?”

“Aren’t you? It’s freezing down here.”

“I’m okay,” he whispered.

I struggled not to cry. “Really? Because for weeks I’ve been so worried that you’re not okay.”


I stepped back. “Tell me what’s going on. I can’t take not knowing anymore.”

He cleared his throat, looked away, and ran his fingers through his hair. “Let’s go talk upstairs, where it’s warm.”

Once back, I could tell it was a relief for him to be lying down again. When he settled in and got comfortable, this is what he told me:


·         The side effects from the anti-malarial medication really affected him this trip.  A new region, a different dosage, and a different combination of drugs meant that he was constantly nauseous, anxious and sleep deprived. He even had nightmares. (A recurring bad dream was about the dirty filter on the furnace starting a fire and burning the house down.)

·         He tried to cover up how he was feeling since everyone else on the project seemed unaffected by the drugs’ side effects. But he should have said something to someone, because as he put it, “I felt like crap and I couldn’t keep up. I tried to be nice but it didn’t work. I was a dick and they all hated me.”


            “You could have at least told me that you weren’t doing well.” I said.

            “I was going to on that day you called. Then you were so angry and sarcastic, calling me ‘Montgomery’…”

            “Because Brook called you that!” I mimicked her, making my voice sound low. “Montgomery can’t come to the phone, he’s in the shower. Can I tell him you called?”

            He sighed. “I’m so sorry. Really. But everyone on the trip called me ‘Montgomery.’ They did it to annoy me after I let it slip early on that I didn’t like my name.”

I tugged at the comforter and pulled it over my knees. “That’s pretty petty.”

“Yeah.” He exhaled and stretched his arms. “I got over it by just tuning it out. But you called me Montgomery and you sounded angry, like them, when before you’d only sound sweet and intimate, and it just set me off. Then our conversation turned into this fight, and before I knew it I was hanging up on you to keep from saying something awful.”

            My stomach lurched. “Like what?”

            “I don’t know.” He cleared his throat and coughed a little. “I couldn’t think straight and I’ve had this crushing feeling of failure, and then I get sick on the way home. I suppose it was inevitable because I was already so run down.” He gave me a piercing look. “I know I can’t go back to Africa. And I wouldn’t care if I had done a half decent job in Ghana. But I didn’t, and I can’t fix it, and now I have no idea what will happen.”

            I lay down next to him, and rested my head against his chest. He began to play with my hair, pulling my curls straight, then releasing them and letting them spring back. It was such a familiar gesture; I hadn’t realized I missed it so much.

            “I hate to think you were suffering and I didn’t even know.”

            “Yeah, I hated it too.” He let go of my hair and started stroking my back. A strong wave of desire coursed through me and I had to move away. It had been so long since we’d been together, but if he felt capable of more than cuddling, he’d have made it clear by now.

            “Well, I’m glad you finally told me.” I spoke quickly, and hoped that he didn’t notice how flushed I’d become. I grabbed his hand and kissed his palm. “Don’t worry, whatever happens, we’ll get through it. Okay?”

            He nodded. “Thanks, Luce.” He squeezed my hand, kissed it back, then let go. “I think I’m past being contagious, if you want to sleep up here.” He coughed again, as if to punctuate his statement.

            “I’m not tired yet.” I got up and left him alone to sleep. It was after 9:00. The kids were in bed, Natalie was reading in the guest room, and I had the house to myself. After taking the dirty filter out to the garbage, I made some tea, and turned my computer on. Then I scoured the internet for more news about more polls and more information about situations that I can’t control.








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