The Unexpected Benefits of Magic

The cabbages have proved much more useful than I’d expected.

For one thing, they provide a great way of expressing frustration when David’s left foot won’t move or he drops his pills. “Verbascum bombyciferum!” he now exclaims wrathfully. Very satisfying.

For another, they make us feel important. When we leave or come home along the driveway, they bow low before us, salaaming so abjectly the tips of the longest spikes bump softly against the car doors. They’re actually leaning toward the western sun, but we feel like royalty.

Most important, though, a couple of weeks ago the cabbages led us to the greater magic of the Moon Carrot….

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The Magic: Curse of the Cabbages

This story begins with the cabbages.

They’re not really cabbages, but Giant Silver Mullein. Last year, I planted six under our bedroom windows, hoping to subdue the weeds that rampage over that strip of the world. It worked. They spread their fuzzy, massive leaf rosettes, and the weeds retreated.

David hated them. “They’re ugly. They look like cabbages, and the bottom leaves are rotting.”

I had to agree. “They’re supposed to bloom next year,” I said. “Let’s wait and see if we like them better. If we don’t, I’ll pull them up.”

The blooms began with soft, fat spikes poking up from the center of each rosette. The spikes branched out and stretched taller, taller, taller. One morning when I opened the bedroom curtains, I was startled to see them peering in. Then masses of yellow blossoms popped out, covering much of each spike. They were Dr Seuss plants, weird and comical.

I went looking for the ID tab that had come with them.

“They’re verbascum bombyciferum,” I told David. I wasn’t sure how it was actually pronounced, but I put the emphasis on “bas” and “cif.” The words rolled out in a deeply satisfying way.

He was fascinated. “Sounds like a curse from the Harry Potter books.” He held one hand out and ordered, “Verbascum bombyciferum!”

I went on the computer to see what else I could learn and landed on a blog called Hortophile. Scrolling down, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I read aloud, “‘If pronounced with enough fervor, it sounds like a magic spell conjured up by that wordsmith – J.K. Rowling. It kinda sounds like a spell to make you explode if you don’t stop talking.’”

The discovery of David’s online twin hit both of us as hilarious. Why does that happen with some things, and not with others that are probably much funnier? At the time, I wasn’t analyzing. And I wasn’t comparing, as I too often do (pre-accident fun vs. inferior post-accident fun). I was just laughing, buoyed up by the magic.

Maybe you had to be there.

I’m glad I was.

God’s Magic

When the magic leaves, you’re in trouble. But you may not notice for a while that it’s gone.

In the hospital, I was keenly aware of the magic. David was alive, moving his hands and feet, staying off the ventilator for longer each day. Friends and family cocooned us in love. Those who worked there took exquisite care of us both. We met heroes in wheelchairs.

Then we came home.

With no red button to push in case of emergency, I felt completely responsible and utterly inadequate. Our bedroom was a crowded cave, the bureau up on the windowseat to make floor space for my twin bed, David’s hospital bed, a hoist, and the electric wheelchair. Our bathroom became a pharmacy.

We took two hours in the morning to get ready for the day, and two in the evening before we could sink into our separate beds. Then the alarm clock howled every few hours, prying me out of bed so I could turn David for protection against bedsores. I didn’t even think about the magic until it was long gone.

Now, four years later, I’m realizing how fully it’s back.

I’ve already written about David and the songs. I’ll sort through the other stories and decide which of those to tell.

So, more later.

On the Margins

I came home one hot summer day to find a dead mailman on our front porch. As I turned into the driveway, I saw black shoes, black socks, and hairy calves sprawled on the porch floor, unmoving. Once before, I’d mistaken a raccoon falling off our roof for the mailman in distress. This time, I knew it.

Then one leg moved. The other. A face appeared. From my most selfish perspective, this was worse than a dead mailman.

One of the marginalized had chosen our shady porch for his siesta. And this was one of the scary ones.

Most of the homeless who wander our area come across as mild and self-effacing. Michael, who lives in his car and would talk about science fiction for hours, one of the few who never panhandles. Mark the Mark, who keeps an anxious eye on his less healthy friends. The man in the tattered suit, who changes his story every time he asks you for money, even if the last time was just five minutes ago.

A few are scarier. Joe, who sometimes calls me “Miss Jill” in a warm, sweet tone, but other times stares without recognition through meth-swollen eyelids. As for the man on my porch, I’d often seen him shouting obscenities and shaking his fist as he walked, eyes wild. I had crossed the street before to put space between us, just in case.

I called David at work. “I could go out and ask him to leave.”

“No way,” David said. “Don’t go near him. Call the police.”

So I did. I admitted this wasn’t a life-threatening emergency, which must have slowed their response time considerably. Two hours later, he was still on my porch. I felt beseiged. I also worried that when I left to pick up David from work, he would see my car rolling away and decide to break into our house.

A friend called, and I told him my dilemma. He immediately drove over. When he got out of his car – young, muscular, and assertive – the man on the porch hopped up and grabbed his various bags and bottles. Muttering, “I just wanted a cool place to rest,” he hustled down the steps and out the gate.

Just like that, it was over.

As I hosed the stains off our porch, I felt relieved but somehow guilty. There are no easy answers. Somewhere along the line, life turns upside-down for people like the man on our porch. And most of them will never thrive.

Putting a Name to It

Whenever David spoke my name, my heart sagged. Not much, and it took me a while to notice. When I finally did, I pulled the sensation out and examined it. Why would my name, on the lips of my beloved husband, cause what people refer to as a “sinking sensation”?

A few days ago, the answer hit me. Names are personal. They’re powerful. A good salesman will use your name repeatedly during his spiel, and he’s much more likely to make a sale that way.

“Since your accident,” I told David, “you almost never use my name unless something’s wrong or you want me to do something for you. My name isn’t a positive anymore.”

He considered this. “You’re right. I need to change that.”

Can you see why I love this man?

He’s been working on it. It’s been fun, and it’s helping. Yesterday, though, he backslid badly. Last night I said, “I don’t think you’ve used my name once today as a positive.”

He opened his mouth to argue, then stopped and thought. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I’m in the hole for at least fifteen positive name uses tomorrow.”

Okay, now you can see why I love this man.