I was attacked so savagely that I had bleeding wounds. My best girl was so frightened that her bladder gave way. She did it to me, and I did it to her. That's how I spent my Christmas.
Boy, if that isn't the ending that makes you want to know the beginning, just like they taught us in writing school, I don't know what is.
Saturday before last, I did a column for the editorial page about the ice storm we all woke up to on Friday. Every year about this time, I wrote, more than a little cavalierly, "people stop talking about everything else when they realize winter is actually here again and won't go away for a few months." That was when I still thought I was taking Monday and Tuesday off in order to ease into the holiday, wrapping presents at a leisurely pace and chopping vegetables for my made-to-order Christmas omelets. That was before I became one of the 100,000-plus who lost electricity to the storm.
I joined that not-so-elite group about 4 a.m. Sunday, a time I can swear to because I had been suffering a bout of insomnia and was in the middle of watching "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" on cable when the WORLD AS I HAD KNOWN IT ended. Raymond Massey/Abe had just humiliated himself by asking Ruth Gordon/Mary a second time to marry him, after running out on the wedding the first time because he wanted to be a lazy, shiftless lawyer instead of the great role model Barack Obama would need to compare himself to, when, without a whisper of warning, the house abruptly went quiet and dark. (The two things I had been thinking just before that moment: 1. Behind every great man is a pushy broad; 2. Ruth Gordon was not even close to pretty on the best day of her youth.)
After a few hours of shivering on the couch, I went to Hall's across the bridge on Bluffton Road for some bright lights and a hot breakfast. At first, I thought the people huddled there over steaming cups of coffee were far too calm for such a catastrophe. Then I realized they were probably among the ones who'd been without power since early Friday morning. They weren't calm, they were just too beaten down to care anymore.
Fortified, I ventured to the Do It Best store at Southgate, finding to my great surprise that they still had some kerosine-powered heaters left -- guaranteed to warm a 20 by 20 space without sucking all the air out of the room if your house is as drafty and poorly insulated as mine. Well, it didn't actually say that about my house, but it's what I believed, so I snapped one up, along with a kerosene can (not to be confused with a gas can; apparently, you will blow the city up or something if you put one of the liquids in the wrong carrier, so just watch it, OK?). It turned out to be a useless purchase, though. After hitting half a dozen gas stations, I realized there was no kerosene to be had in Fort Wayne, at least not without devoting all day to finding it. So I now have a kerosene heater ready to go to the basement and a kerosene can to fill up and put in the shed; I will be prepared for the next 100-year ice storm!
But I was woefully unprepared for this one, I decided as I returned to my rapidly cooling house that would probably be unbearable by nightfall. This called for something drastic and clever and befitting my status as the descendent of hardy Appalachians who braved the wildnerness of rural Kentucky. I must be courageous and resourceful in order to survive the coming nights. A full restoration of power to all was not promised until Wednesday, and at least two nights were forecast to be at zero or below. There was only one answer -- get a hotel room! I started making calls and after about 45 minutes of "sorry, we're fullly booked for tonight" finally found a vacancy at Candlewood Rooms and Suites out on Lima Road just this side of I-69. I secured a reservation for one night -- this was going to be a one-day-at-a-time, play-it-by-ear experience.
I need to point out here that I had also been in touch with my friend (frequently referred to here, so "my friend" is getting pretty tiresome to write, but she treasures the privacy my use of her real name would deprive her of, so let's just call her K from now on, 'K? You don't need to know why). She had been trying to get her parents (in the powerless-since-Friday bunch) to go someplace warm for the duration, but K-Daddy and K-Mama, 83 and 79 respectively, are of hardy German stock, which means they will not budge once they have decided it is charming to be stubborn about something. I told K I had gotten a suite instead of a room. She could tell Mom and Pop that Leo had already paid for the thing, and would have to pay the same rate whether they showed up or he ended up there alone. I meant she should be a pushy broad and work on their guilt, but I didn't come right out and say it. (She's one of the people whose persistence forced me to come up with a rule for all those who keep trying to improve me; you get a pass the first two times, but the third time is nagging). She did my suggestion one better, though. Her parents had finally gone out for a hot lunch somewhere, and while they were out, she packed a bag for them. When they got back, she thrust the bag at them and said, "Guess where you're going?"
The first night passed uneventfully, with K-Daddy and K-Mama in the bedroom and me on the couch. We each had our own TVs, and the kitchenette had a refrigerator for keeping soft drinks cold and a microwave with which to reheat Mig Macs. Ah, wilderness! I slept fitfully, mostly from worrying about my cats Dutch and Maggie. They would be cold and, perhaps, frightenend. I always leave at least a light or two on overnight -- this would be their first time in total darkness in years. I left the hotel about 10 a.m. Monday, mentioning to the clerk that I was going to check on house and kitties. "You know, we allow pets," she said. No, I didn't. "It's just $12 a day extra, and you can't leave them in the room alone without putting them in carriers."
It turned out I was glad she had mentioned it. The first thing I noticed about the house, other than the immediately apparent continuing lack of electricity, was that I could see my breath. Not a good sign. Neither was the fact that the dripping water I had left on at the kitchen sink and in the downstairs bathroom had turned into icicles. Sure enough, the cats' water had frozen in the bowls. Luckily, neither cat was on the main floor. I found their carriers, upended them and opened the doors so the cats could be dropped straight in. Maggie was the first one to wander by, so I scooped her up. Usually, she's the feisty one, and she still has all four claws, but, happily, I got her safely encarriered (brand-new word; feel free to use it anytime) in quick order. But Dutch must have sensed the upcoming trauma (they normally get caged and carted off only for their yearly trips to the vet), so he was not to be seen. So I spent some time putting together their traveling kit of bowls, cat food, litter, extra litter box -- it all fit in one big plastic garbage bag. I left Maggie in her carrier and took the kit to the car. I finally had to hunt Dutch down and drag him up from the basement, howling in misery. He is declawed, which means he has to use his back paws to do any damage, which he did, a very nice puncture wound just above my left wrist -- another shirt with blood-soaked sleeve ready for the rag bin. Finally, it was off to Candlewood, with barely enough room in the car for me, the cat carriers, the garbage bag, the kerosene heater and the kerosene can.
If you have stuck with me so far, bless you, but don't feel guilty if you want to bail. It should be obvious by now that this is more a cathartic exercise than an attempt to communicate anything meaningful. But I'm getting pretty sick of the story myself, so I won't give you a play-by-play of my four days at the hotel. Besides, when the temperature went above 60 degrees (!) on Saturday, it seemed to almost erase the whole experience from memory. Had I really been trapped in a bitterly cold, electricity-less world, or was it just a bad dream? (Why are we such wusses? K wondered at one point. How come our ancestors seemed to handle such adversity so much better? Well, they didn't have all our toys, for one thing. Just consider old Abe, before he hooked up with Mary. He studied by the light of the fireplace, sitting on a dirt floor. There was probably an animal skin hung over the lone window to keep out the insects and cold. What they had every day was just one step up from our worst weather nightmare.)
Sunday night at the hotel, I worried about the cats. On Monday night, I worried about whether the pipes at my house would freeze. On Tuesday, with the K family's house back online and the cats and I more or less on our own, I worried about how I would manage to get to work if my house were still frozen and I had to leave the cats at Candlewood. Through it all, I worried about how I could fit in Christmas on Thursday since I had to work on Wednesday and I hadn't even bought stuff for my omelets and everybody's presents were strewn across my cold, cold, couch, still unwrapped. I worried about the weather and my sister driving up from Indianapolis and maybe sliding off the road somewhere (also frequently referred to here, so let's call her "Judy," since that is her name). And did I mention that Maggie was a perfect lady in her new surroundings, happy to be warm and safe, but that the normally placid Dutch periodically turned psychotic on me, pacing the suite's living room and howling at the top of his voice? I think he thought I could snap my fingers if I wanted to and make his familiar surroundings magically and instantly appear.
It all worked out pretty well, actually -- so well that I don't think I can buy a lottery ticket for a week for two; I've used up all my luck. K-Mama, the pushy broad, suggested we postpone Christmas for a week and volunteered to stay with Dutch and Maggie while I worked on Wednesday. My anxiety level immediately dropped by half. When I checked on the house at lunch on Wedesday, the electricity was back on, the furnace was working, and the water flowed through my thawed and unburst pipes. I could have gathered up the cats and taken them home that evening, but I'd already paid for the night at the hotel, and we weren't having Christmas anyway. Screw it, I thought, I'll just finally have a relaxing night and take the cats home on Thursday. So that's what I did. K helped with cat-management -- scooping up Dutch and holding him while I got Maggie in her carrier. But Dutch was the angel this time -- I think he must have howled himself into an "OK, whatever" zen-like state. It was Maggie, with all four claws, who fought and scratched and screeched and peed on the floor and left both my arms dripping blood.
But we got home by 11:30 a.m. The cats went off to sulk and think about forgiving me, and by noon on Christmas day, I was snoozing on my own couch. I have my omelet fixings, as well as hash browns and pancake mix. My presents are all wrapped. Judy is coming on Wedesday evening, and the weather forecast is favorable. Christmas, I learned this past week, is about what and why, not when. Part of the celebration is thinking about it and planning for it in the days just before the actual day. I've had a chance to do that now, and I'm starting to feel the spirit. While you're bringing in the new year (or recovering from the night before), I'll finally be having my Christmas story. So I guess I lied at the very beginning when I said I was giving the end of the story.
And to all a good night!