Angetevka: Asking for It

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December 9, 2009

On the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, my cell phone rang while I was in a coffee shop in Indiana, and my son, Daniel, told me that Puppy had died. Puppy was our terrier-mix dog that Daniel had picked out from the Animal Shelter seven years ago. Daniel was 7 then and the dog, though we didn’t know it, was probably around the same age. While we were trying out names for him, we called him “Puppy” and eventually, we accepted that that was who he was – Puppy.

Hearing the news from a distance, it didn’t seem real, and I felt powerless to really say or do anything meaningful. But my husband and three kids banded together and did what they had to do and coped wonderfully.

When I returned on Tuesday, my daughter in Chicago told me her wisdom teeth hurt. I gave her my best advice – Advil. But by Wednesday morning, she texted me that one was infected and so began the flurry of phone calls to doctors and to family in Chicago to pick Anna up after the extractions. However, there was no way I was going to be away from my child again during these painful times, especially the week before finals, and so I immediately booked a flight to Chicago for Wednesday evening. Poor Daniel – I was home for a day, and my husband and older son had just left for Florida. He was left alone with a caregiver for two days.

Meanwhile, I was thinking I might be getting a sinus infection and just in case, I should have some antibiotics. Too late to call my doctor, so I called a friend whose husband is a doctor and he prescribed it for me. I landed in Chicago that evening and was picked up by our cousin who had dashed around that afternoon to be with Anna at the doctor, get her prescription filled and bring her to her home and feed her yoghurt and vegetable broth and banana pancakes. Over the next day and a half, our cousin ended up nursing both of us – I’d developed a doozy of a cold, and my chipmunk-cheeked daughter needed ice packs on her face (she’d had all four wisdom teeth pulled), as well as her medication and her soft foods. I don’t know that I was any comfort to Anna, but I was glad to be with her and not feel so powerless.

Before I boarded the plane to return to New York on Friday, I took my antibiotic and my various over-the-counter antihistamines. I was tired. I hadn’t eaten much besides a bowl of soup and a banana in the past three days. I was vain enough to be pleased that my jeans felt somewhat looser. On the plane, I was wedged between two fairly big guys, and while the plane ride was basically smooth, it was hell on my clogged ears, and as we started the descent, my stomach protested. Not loudly, only I heard it. But then, feeling more and more queasy, I reached into the seat pocket for the barf bag which in the past I’ve only used to put trash in or to let my children draw on. The guys on either side of me became somewhat still. We were descending, almost touching down: I thought I could make it, but no, dear, reader, I puked. A few times. For those who are interested, there wasn’t much to puke. Nonetheless, the guy to my right offered me his barf bag. I don’t really know why – I guess he felt helpless and wanted to give me something. I understood the feeling.

Friday, late afternoon, I arrived back in New York, and there was no food, naturally, in the house, (there was food but nothing that Daniel was interested in), and Daniel was starving, so I lumbered off to the grocery store for some victuals. Exiting the grocery story laden with a bag in each hand, I faintly heard a voice behind me calling, “Excuse me.” Now, my hearing wasn’t at all good what with the plane rides and the sinus infection so it took me probably a few times before I heard it clearly and figured out it was being directed at me. I turned around. A tall, skinny young woman in an oversized sweater came toward me and said, her voice just above a whisper, “Excuse me, I don’t want anything from you, but I’m an anorexic and I just got out of Renfrew and I was at Starbucks writing down my food log and my boyfriend locked all the doors, I don’t know why, but…”

“I can’t hear you,” I interrupted her, because I didn’t know what exactly I was hearing, maybe my hearing was severely impaired or she was speaking really quietly.

“I’m an anorexic,” she took a deep breath and started over and said it all again, a smidgen louder. I thought how funny it was that this anorexic was stopping someone outside a grocery store. I was still confused, though, about what she wanted from me. Did she just want to unburden herself? Had her boyfriend done something to her? I asked her how I could help her, and she said, “Can you call my sister? Ask her to leave money for me with the doorman?” I put my bags down on the sidewalk, pulled out my cell phone and she gave me her sister’s number and I called and the woman said, “Is it ringing?” with an eager smile.

“It’s the machine,” I answered. Her face crumpled, and she said, “Oh. Okay. That’s okay. Sorry.” So I asked her what she needed the money for and she said cab fare to her sister’s apartment. And I said, oh, well I’ll give you cab fare. I reached into my purse and she was both hesitant, and not, about taking it, but I gave it to her and she made some remark about paying me back and I said, no, no problem. I thought for only a half second that this was a scam but I figured if it was, then fine, I’ve been scammed. “What’s your name?” she asked me, and I told her and she said, politely, like a well-brought up girl, “I’m Sahrah.” She pronounced “Sarah” the way some Orthodox Jews say it. She thanked me again and took a step away then turned back to me and said, “Do I look fat?”

I said, “No, you look great.”

“Thanks!” she beamed a smile at me.

All week people have been calling and e-mailing and checking up on us because of Puppy’s death and Anna’s wisdom teeth and my cold. As grateful as I am, and I’m very grateful, I realize that I assume that my family and friends will rally around and provide comfort and help. They’ll prescribe antibiotics sight unseen, take my child in and fuss over her, pick me up from the airport, and accept me gracefully despite my coughing and nose-blowing. But I also recognize that you have to ask before they can know that you need anything. I was really impressed by this anorexic woman’s ability to ask a stranger for what she needed. It wasn’t easy. She could hardly make herself heard. But she did it.

It’ s the season of giving and receiving gifts, and after this past week, I can only say that it’s nice to have complete confidence that if you open your mouth and ask, you’ll get what you wish for.

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