Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A visit to Pleasant Valley

As I flew home from New York yesterday, my head resting against the window, looking down at the carpet of clouds and listening to Patty Griffin, I thought and thought.  I thought about how twelve years ago, I was flying over a similar cloud cover and leaving my 24 year old life in Milwaukee to join the Peace Corps.  And the day I left, I was so full of fear and apprehension and longing to be back in the safety of my Milwaukee apartment and easy job and parties and friends all around.  But I knew that something needed to change and that I needed something...something real to challenge me.  In the Peace Corps I would make friends with people that I will know for the rest of my life. People that are now on the list of those I don't really want to do without. 

I was with many of those people this weekend.  We gathered together from west coast to east and went to see Harald.  You can read about Harald here.

Hannah drove from Chicago to my house and played with my kids and ate dinner with my family.  After the children were tucked into bed Hannah made cookies that she has been sending to Harald and that he loves. I made brownies from scratch which he requested.  Later on Rebecca and Jenny came and we all chatted until bedtime. 

Saturday morning the four of us flew to Albany where we met Steff and rented a red minivan and drove to meet Ryan in Argyle N.Y. at Lant Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast.  We stayed here for the weekend and it was the perfect place for our little group.

The farm was lovely and the breakfasts were all made from delicious home grown foods.  Being together was like a magical kind of therapy, bringing me back to my basest self--the self that is not mother, nor partner, nor defined by what I do or where I work.  I met these people when I was just searching for whatever it was that I wanted my life to be, becoming the self that I am now...  The best part was laughing together. 

Before we went to see Harald, we ordered a pizza for takeout (his request).  I called to place the order and my conversation with the pizza guy went something like this:

Me: Hello. I'd like to place an order for carryout.
Pizza Guy: Okay, what would you like.
Me: I'd like three large pizzas...
Pizza Guy: (Sounding alarmed) Twenty-four cut?
Me: What?
Pizza Guy: You want three twenty-four cut?
Me: Twenty four what?
Pizza Guy: Twenty four cut.
Me: I dont' know what that means
Pizza Guy: The large pizza has twenty-four pieces
Me: Oh!!!!  Well, are they twenty four big triangle pieces or twenty four small rectangle pieces?
Pizza Guy: Rectangle
At this point I look up and everyone is watching me have this conversation, including our B & B hosts.
Me: Okay, we'll do that.
Pizza guy: Are you having a party? Can I come?

Harald is staying in a nursing facility called Pleasant Valley. 

Each of us give him a long hug and he readjusts his bed so he's sitting up.  We talk, in whispers, so it won't hurt his head and we laugh and make jokes and eat pizza together.   Harald takes a bite of one of Hannah's cookies and holds it up.
"These saved me during chemo."
After awhile it appears that Harald has gone to sleep. 
"Should we go?" Steff whispers. 
"I don't know..." I whisper back. 
"I know..." Steff says, "Let's just hang out twenty more minutes and then we'll see if he wakes up again." 
"What if he is still sleeping in twenty minutes?" Rebecca asks. "Well..." Steff says, "then we'll reassess at that point."
We all kind of giggle, quietly.  Then we notice that Harald, who's eyes are still closed, is grinning. "I can hear you." he says. 
We all laugh.

On Sunday, we spend the entire day with Harald.  We talk and laugh quietly and we take turns, in pairs, leaving the room to lessen the population.  That night we return to our B & B and eat leftover pizza (The guy was right, there was enough to feed a large party of people).  We play catch phrase and talk and laugh. And laugh. 

Monday is the day we leave and we all head back to Pleasant Valley. We say goodbye to Harald one by one.  There are lots of tears.  I tell Harald that I will come back in summer to see him again.  We both cry. Harald doesn't want to cry, but I tell him, "Come on! It's okay! I even cry at tampon commercials!"

The trip back is filled with more laughter and joking. 

And on that flight home, I felt so pleased and lucky to have these incredible friends in my life.  And happy that we could all see Harald together.  And I looked at the passengers in the plane, reading their books and listening to music and working on their laptops and I thought about how each person on that plane might be as loved as we all love Harald.  And as we all love the people that we love.  It makes me want to be kinder and more patient with everyone.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful description of our time together. I love all of you so much.