The End of a Page Turning Era

So did you hear the news?  After 244 years of taking up entire bookcase shelves, Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer make print editions.  It caused me, who long since moved into the digital book world, a moment to pause and reflect. I might not have noticed except for the fact that I started reading with real life paper and leather and glue books.  I actually resisted the move from paper to plastic solely because I thought I could never get past the physical act of turning a page, breaking a spine, and dog earring a page.  I especially loved breaking the spine.

I borrowed a book from my brother Lance once and as he handed it to me, he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to break the spine.  I think it was a sci-fi/fantasy but I can’t be sure now.  To this day, I don’t know how he could have read this 1,500 page novel without cracking that spine right off the bat.  I did get to the end of the borrowed book without doing damage but I was practically twitching with the need to just have at it, especially when I was in the middle and would have to contort around the binding to read the words that fell into the center.  This ended up being the first and last book I ever borrowed from him.  I bet if I asked him today if I could borrow his Nook, he’d tell me I’m not allowed to leave fingerprints on the screen.

I was the proud owner of my own set of encyclopedias, although not Britannica.  My Mom-Mom sold World Book Encyclopedias so I had the complete set along with the Childcraft editions which showed the 7 wonders of the world and had a recipe for modeling clay.  I would spend hours thinking of random things to look up.  I looked up Jesus Christ after bible class one day and was a little disappointed in the dry factual description of someone we had been singing praises to all day.  I looked up Satan and that description was a little more lively and included a few crazy flame covered images.  Almost everything I’d look up would be followed with the statement “See also . . . . ” and I always did as instructed and would go see also.  If I got sent to my room for being naughty, I’d pout on my bed, then eventually make my way to the floor in front of my bookcase. Any thought that popped into my head would promptly get looked up.  I still am an avid looker upper but these days, I’m on a digital gadget going “Oh! Let me Google that.” or “What does Wikipedia say?”

Right up there with the tactile sensation of an actual book and looking things up was the feel of a typewriter.  Our family owned a manual typewriter and I played on it all the time.  I hadn’t learned the proper position for my fingers then so I’d poke and smack away.  Sometimes, I’d try to see how many paddles I could get to stick up by pressing as many keys as possible.  Any of our generation or older get what I’m talking about.  The younger folks will just have to see if there’s a video on Youtube.  Eventually, I learned proper fingering techniques in my typing class (which, again for you young ones, is the predecessor to keyboarding class).  We learned on IBM Selectrics and about 10 years ago I was in one of the museums at the Smithsonian and saw one proudly on display – ouch.  My typing instructor’s name was Mr. Duda.  I buckled under my own mischievous pressure and walked into class singing “camptown races 5 miles long – Duda, Duda”.  I got detention.  I wasn’t the first though.

So here I sit, typing away on my laptop, my entire library of books on the smartphone at my side wondering what we’ll fill up that empty bookshelf with now that we’re in the digital age.  What will we balance on our heads to learn proper posture? A Kindle? Where can we get a makeshift booster seat for the table? An external drive?  I was in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago and I ran across the complete works of Shakespeare in this beautifully bound leather book.  The edges of the pages were gilded in gold and a royal blue ribbon bookmark was sewn into the spine.  I bought it just for the shear beauty of it.  If the electric goes out, or the internet goes down, or the laptop battery drains, I have at least one book on the shelf that I can go to – mind you, I can only look up Shakespeare.  I’m going to hold off getting a manual typewriter though.  My mad rambles will just have to be saved in my head until the lights come back on.

So with a mixed bag of emotions, I bid adieu to the print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I wonder how many editions are sitting on shelves across the world?  Guess I’ll have to Google that, right after I sneak over to Lance’s house and break all his spines.



The Darkest Chapter

I don’t know if this is a wise choice on my part. I’m sitting here with my heart pounding in my chest, head swimming. Every time I share a piece of our story with you, I send it into the stratosphere and it brings me back to center. I hope it will be the same with this part of the story – the darkest chapter.

I should back up a little to the weeks leading up to our wedding day. With a change in jobs, we were faced with losing our ability to keep our whole blended family on health insurance because there were no domestic partnership benefits with the new position. Keith and I were discussing what we would need to do and in jest, I said that we could get married. He seriously responded with “how quick can we get that done?” So I was in the court house the next day getting the marriage license, then over to the jewelers to find a couple of wedding bands. It was a practical sensible rational thing to do and since we were practical sensible rational people, it made sense. We had been living together for a couple of years anyway.

I could not have anticipated our emotional fall out over our logical decision. We nipped at each other. We fought. We’d give each other the cold shoulder. The tension was constantly rising until a few days before we were to take our vows, we found ourselves standing in the garage in a massive knock down drag out screaming match. During the bulk of our relationship, I always felt like I was chasing him, falling in love with him, wanting him more than he wanted me. Then suddenly, the tables were turned and I wanted to run, cool it off, stop myself from a complete and total surrender to him. He was hurt, really hurt and demanded to know why he wasn’t worthy of being my husband and what did I have against making him my spouse and what was my problem anyway. He railed at me, eyes flashing, and finally, with venom in his voice, he screamed at me “I love you”. In the 5 years we had dated, this was the first time either of us had ever said it. I stopped screaming and Keith came back at me, as he usually did when I went silent, with a barrage of questions such as “what’s the matter?”, “what are you thinking?”, “why aren’t you saying anything?”, and finally, his crown jewel of statements “I don’t want to fight with you, I hate when we fight.” I wish I could tell you that I rushed into his arms and everything was all better, but ultimately we just tired ourselves out with our verbal boxing match and laid the conversation to rest. I can say that after that evening, we had vented efficiently enough to relieve the tension, which I now believe was a monster case of pre-wedding jitters brought on from the baggage of our past marriages.

Flash forward to October, when Keith was ramped up on the prednisone and turned into a raging mad man. Again, we got into a knock down drag out fight, over all things, whether or not to set up the TiVo he had bought from a friend. I left the house and drove aimlessly for two hours, crying the entire time. By the time I had returned, he was even more wound up and I threw his statement back at him – I don’t want to fight with you. Again, we tired ourselves out and it was done. He told me that he dreaded taking the mega doses of the stuff each time we had to ramp him up, because he knew it made him mean and he was scared of hurting me. I’d always reassure him that although I couldn’t always shake off the hurt, I also knew that it was the medicine talking and could deal with it.

This is where the story gets ugly so please forgive me for what follows. I’ve grappled with sharing it so often. I’ve managed to scrub the sick out of the house but this one singular moment in time is still my strongest memory of him. I have to let it go or I will never be able to find my healthy happy Keith again. I need him back.

Running parallel with the raging fits was Keith’s difficulty getting to the bathroom in time. His struggles with this actually escalated in August. I often followed along behind him, gathering up his soiled cloths, throwing them in the washing machine, or changing the sheets on the bed, or scrubbing spots out of the carpet. This was the one caregiving duty that I never took issue with, never lost my patience over, never discussed with him – – I just did it. We could fight over the TiVo, how to organize the medicine, how to cook his food, where to keep the medical records, how to pay the medical bills – – but never this. There was one brief discussion about getting disposable underwear that he initiated and I left him with my assurance that if it was what he wanted, I would stand behind the decision. Otherwise, I had no problem running the washing machine at any time. It was a matter of pride for both of us, even if it might not have been the wisest choice.

On the last night Keith spent home, we had another knock down drag out fight, and I was so furious with him that I choose to leave him sitting on the couch and went to bed. Not long after I had left him there, my cell phone rang and it was him on the other end, whispering that he had fallen trying to get to the bathroom. I was in the sunroom before I even hung up and found him on his side on the floor. My first reaction was to roll him over to get him up but he stopped me. He was soiled and didn’t want to spread it any further. We both had to puzzle out how to get him up and after several failed attempts, we managed to get him on all fours so I could bear hug him, lifting him onto the walker. He made his way down the hall to the bedroom while I started cleaning up behind him. We found ourselves in the bathroom with him on the toilet and me on my knees in front of him, wiping off his legs with a towel. I could hear my heart beating in my head and Keith put his hands over his face, elbows on his knees, and said “You must love me, because no one else would do this for me.” We didn’t speak another word. In the silence, I could feel tears on my cheeks. I couldn’t look at him and yet I knew there were tears on his face too. I wanted to wash away his pain instead, take it on myself if I could. We were both so helpless.

In the hospital, I was there each time they changed him. Often, I could tell he needed cleaning up and would find the aides, then help move him. I could wrap my arms tightly around him and pull him to me while they cleaned up the bedding. Always, I could hear him say “you must love me”. An hour before he died, he was wrapped up in my arms while they cleaned him for the last time. He started having a seizure from the stress of our moving him and in the clicking sound that traveled through his jaw, I could feel it again “you must love me”.

My mind is still frozen in that moment on the bathroom floor. Those words roll over me again and again. Our pre-wedding argument seems like trivial immature nonsense in light of that one simple statement made by a dying man to his wife on her knees before him. It had always been there, waiting to be said – he spoke what had been in my heart all along. Maybe this memory sticks to me because it took the last days we had together to fully embrace our love. So to all my friends out there – spouses, lovers, partners, soul mates, even those who are just starting to feel the promise of a blossoming love – embrace it, don’t fear it, don’t wait. Here is my anthem to you – a little country ditty called Last Day of My Life by Phil Vassar. It’s a bit mushy but the sentiment is spot on. And yes Keith, its a f**king country song.





Big Wheels, Trains, Cars, and Motorcycles

So here I am on my first set of wheels in the summer of 1970 – just a month shy of turning 2 years old.  I’m  pretty sure that the thumb in the picture belongs to my mother.  This is typical of how she would frame a shot in her younger years.  As she got older, she went with the “Off With Their Heads” method of image capturing.  Eventually, her photography skills advanced to the level of director.  She directed my father for years until he passed the sacred role of family photographer to me.  Of course, now that I charge for my photography services, I’m a horrible candidate for everyday photo taking.  I’ve become the plumber that never has time to fix his own pipes.  Its a good thing there’s a camera in my phone or there would be nothing showcasing our lives.

But I digress.  Back to the story at hand.  There I was, sporting my first set of wheels on a warm Florida day, donned only in my underpants.  I don’t know what inspired me and I can only rely on what my mother shared with me.  What I do know is that this curly headed half naked girl decided to go for a ride.  I took off to see where the side walks end, I guess.  The adults at home that day discovered that I had disappeared so they chose to split up and start the search.  Just about the time that panic was starting to set in, I came tooling around the block.  I must have been cruising at top speed.  I knew I wasn’t lost or running away from home – – I just went on a joy ride.  The first of many.

A year later, I took my first train ride.  We were living in Germany at the time and I was still without a little brother.  My parents took me on the train to go pick up their 1969 Camaro from the port.  Again, what I know was shared with me by my mother – who told me that I apparently charmed our fellow passengers who rewarded me with candy.  I ate myself sick I am sure.  Once we had our Camaro in hand, there wasn’t much that stopped the traveling Lankfords from moving about Europe and taking in the sights.  Eventually, we got ourselves a pop-out camper for the trusty Camaro to pull behind us, so that we could call any place home for the night.  When any of the Air Force buddies joined in on our travels, I had the special seat just for me over the drive shaft hump in the middle of the car.  It was always warm and I could feel the road passing by underneath me.  When we got where we were going, sometimes Dad would let me take piggy back rides on his camera case.

After we moved back to the States, we’d occasionally take road trips to Florida to visit my grandparents.  Mom and Dad would scoop my brother Lance and I out of our beds at the wee hour of 4:00 am, blankets, pajamas, pillows, and all – – and tuck us into the back seat.  We usually woke up around Richmond in time for breakfast.  Once Lance and I were up, we’d make little nests out of our pillows and blankets in the floor of the back seat then start the games – trivia pursuit, flash cards, license plates, colors of cars, mad libs.  We’d cheer every time we crossed a state border.  We’d read every billboard about South of the Border and felt like Pedro was an old friend.  We’d cheer extra loud when we crossed into Florida.  Anyone who has driven to Homestead knows what a silly cheer this is because it is another 8 hours of long boring road.

As night would settle in around the car, I was always determined to stay awake.  Mom and Lance would fall asleep but it was a matter of pride that I could hang with Dad.  As I grew up and discovered that I was a night owl by nature, I realized that it was not as big of an achievement as I believed it to be as a child.  He would play Moody Blues, Eric Clapton, and Peter Paul and Mary.  I knew every word to every song on the tapes.  As we moved down the road, I was fascinated with the reflection of the dashboard in the car window.  It would stretch out into the inky night and erase the landscape as we pushed forward.

As a preteen, I decided that when I grew up, I was going to be a truck driver just like BJ McKay, complete with a pet chimp.

As a teenager, I got my first taste of a motorcycle when my boyfriend at the time rode one.  My father started going gray about then.  I am still not sure if it was the motorcycle or the boyfriend.  I also bought my first car – a 1969 Malibu Chevelle.  It was a good thing I worked at a doughnut shop.  I’d get pulled over once in a while and the cop (who I knew on a first name basis) would say something like “please slow down Cherish or I’m going to have to write you a ticket”.  I decided that it was in my best interest to stick with a four cylinder mode of transportation when I made my next purchase – a Chevy Citation.  It got me through college and I racked up so many miles on that little car, becoming good friends with Melvin at the auto shop – who tweaked her so she could keep moving, borrowing junk yard parts for the big repairs.  For a long time, the driver’s side headlight would only work if I banged on the hood and I had a standard issue 2X4 in the back to prop open the hatchback.  She was the only car that had a name – Bessie.

When I started my senior year of college, I decided to learn how to drive stick shift.  My poor friend Tony volunteered to teach me.  He took me out to the parking lot of Easton High School and let me give it a go/stop/go/stop/go.  I am still amazed that we walked away from the experience without one of us going through the windshield or landing his transmission on the ground.  I was feeling pretty darn cocky when I bought my first manual car.  Driving out of the parking lot of the dealership, I was uphill on gravel.  Needless to say, my cocky was gone as I pulled out on the highway, freaked out when I started rolling backwards, gave the car way to much gas, and spit gravel all over the cars on display to either side of me.  The car salesman called home to make sure I got there ok.

I really fell in love with motorcycles with my first husband, Jimmy.  Feeling the wind whip around us, squeezing up against him, trying not to bang my helmet against his – – sunlight danced between the trees as we traveled under their canopy, the rush of leaning into the curves, the hum of the motor that you could feel all over you – – there is zen in the ride.  The bonus is that Dad was already completely gray by then.  When Jimmy decided to sell the bike, I was the one that took it hard.

My second husband’s Cobra was a thrilling ride.  We’d put the top down and Keith loved to crank B-52’s or Steely Dan or Led Zepplin.  He traded it in on my Mazda 3 GT, which we drove to Florida in June of 2011.  It was a glorious ride and I am convinced that it was the first road trip that he truly enjoyed.  He usually was a miserable travel companion but this one was different.  Maybe it was because he saw what joy I got from it.  Maybe it was because we were in a new car.  Maybe it was because we had escaped from our normal ol’ lives and it was just the two of us, like we were on a little romantic get-away.  We ate boiled peanuts from a Georgia road side stand, smelled the cigars in a wholesale shop, picked up some fireworks, bought him a big outback hat, and drove with the sunroof and windows wide open, smelling the Florida beach air. It was the last time we traveled together before I lost him in December.  Last month, I glued Cobra emblems to the fender panels of the car and I swear it drives faster now.  I have to watch it though – I don’t work at the doughnut shop anymore.

There is something about traveling that is kismet for me.  I am centered and happy behind the wheel.  There are days when I feel like I could drive forever.  Maybe I should reconsider being a truck driver but I am so clumsy when I parallel park, I would probably be dangerous moving the big equipment.  Maybe I need to send out an APB to all my motorcycle owning friends to let them know I need a fix.  I’m pretty sure that riding the train will not result in strangers feeding me candy.  How I travel doesn’t matter, as long as I am traveling.  I sometimes wonder what was going through my almost 2 year old brain when I took off on my first joy ride.  Feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the sound of the sidewalk rolling along under me, I imagine that there was the same pure thrill of being on the move that I still feel today.  Although, now that I’m all grown up, I tend to travel fully clothed.

What Next?

“Life’s all about moments of impact and how they change our lives forever.”   This line from the movie, “The Vow” calls to me.  I caught it with my ninja friend, Marcia.  We thought it would be sappy and were surprised at the fact that it wasn’t – no lost lovers racing across the fields into each others arms, no knights to the rescue, no deus ex machina – just an honest story with an open ending, one that hasn’t been written yet.

I haven’t written in a while. Mostly because I don’t know what I am feeling or where I am headed.  I exist in some sort of timeless place.  There is the past, and the present, but the future has fractured into two distinct timelines.  One that I will travel on and one that I imagine with Keith there – which is a dangerous place to be – one full of what if, what could have been.  I could use my own deus ex machina about now.  Actually, I think I got one in the form of a cold.  I have been on the go for two months now.  Every time I stop, Keith’s absence fills the space and I am surrounded by the silence.  So I go again.  To the movies with friends, parties, girls nights, watching bands, traveling to New York, going to my office headquarters in New Jersey . . .until yesterday when the cold I was ignoring finally landed me in bed.  Tonight, I want so much to get in my car and head out anywhere, somewhere, not here – but my body tells me that it has had enough.  I’m compounding the problem with a lack of appetite and a recent addiction to Keith’s cigars.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve been grappling with whether or not to hold on to the house, which in this real estate market, hangs on by a whisper thin equitable thread.  One day, I want to run screaming from this place and the memories swirling around me and the next day I want to cling to its very foundation as if to make it my shrine.  In the end, I’ve chosen to stay for two practical reasons.

The first being that it is financially more logical to refinance and stay with all the upgrades Keith made recently.  We just installed a new heat pump, a new stove, and it hasn’t even been 5 years since we installed new windows and built the sunroom on the back.  Cancer is a strange thing.  You have to carry with you all the optimism your spirit can muster while also preparing for what could be a finite ending.  Keith did just that.

The second reason lies in the fact that he was my loveable pack rat.  Brandon and I were standing in the garage recently, surrounded by all the EBay inventory.  Right under the opening to the garage loft hangs what we fondly refer to as “the cone of silence”.  A large plexiglass dome with wooden arms reaching into the center and input jacks for speaker cable jutting out of each arm.  It is, for lack of a better description, a directional speaker intended for use at trade shows.  The idea is that when a visitor comes to your booth, you can pipe your audio through the speakers and the dome will push it down while blocking out ambient noise.  Keith found it in a trunk on one of his auction scores and promptly hung it up as a conversation piece.  I always thought it looked like a prop from Star Trek.  We always intended to hook it up but never managed to get to it.

Brandon pointed to the loft door above the cone and said “See how that ceiling bulges”.  I certainly could see it.  “that’s where Dad put all the extra stuff when we moved in”.  Sheer panic struck.  In the deep recesses of my brain, I remembered Keith telling me that after his divorce he put everything he couldn’t fit in the house in the garage loft.  Already overwhelmed with all the things he had crammed into every inch of the house, I stood there, surrounded by boxes and bags and drawers of patches and pins and medals, staring at the bulging ceiling – well, lets just say I had a few choice thoughts that utilized most of the 7 words you can’t say on TV.

“Life’s all about moments of impact and how they change our lives forever.”  There it is again.  Sometimes when I climb into bed and roll over to fall asleep, I can almost feel Keith reaching his arm around me, pulling me towards him.  Just as we crest on that moment of complete spooning, he is gone.  I’ve heard that someone who has lost a limb still feels its presence and I imagine that this is a similar sensation.  “What if one day you could no longer remember any of them?” is the line that follows.  Would I trade in my memories of Keith to stop what I am feeling now?  What a tempting thought.  But when I think of all he gave me, all that I am because of him, and all I am capable of becoming because he was part of my life, it is worth struggling through this.  If nothing else, I can always sell the house, fully furnished – right?