Have You Ever Been Close To Tragedy Or Been Close To Folks Who Have?

We stayed in Minot for one more summer and did one last Summer Theatre together with our friends. Our lease was up at the end of May, so we were going to stay with Bram’s family for two months. But we had to do something with all our belongings. Farrah was finishing her last semester in Grad School at USD, so we asked if we could take over the lease on her trailer and bring our stuff down before Summer Theatre.

Poor Farrah! None of us had any idea how much stuff we had or how much room it would take up in her house. I think she had to go stay with her boyfriend Jesse for her last few weeks in Vermillion. I felt bad. There was nothing to be done. We had no money for a storage unit and Farrah didn’t have any more money than we did.

We packed a Uhaul with our household goods and gave our trampoline to Sean for his girls. When Sean came to pick up the trampoline he unpacked and repacked the Uhaul. When we got to Vermillion, not a single thing had shifted inside. Amazing. Monica drove down with us. She was going to stay with friends in South Dakota; she took her dog, Puppy, and Bram’s cat, Kitty with her. The second day Monica was in Vermillion with the animals, Kitty escaped and Monica thought the cat might be trying to get home to Bram. Monica was sad because she knew the cat couldn’t make it back up to Minot. She didn’t want to tell Bram his cat was lost and break his heart. A few days later Kitty walked up onto the porch. Monica made sure the cat couldn’t get out again.

Moving in with Bram’s parents put Karen and I into opposition with each other again. Aili had finished her PhD and she and Derek were in Chicago. Kena and I found a way to come to terms with one another, but Karen thought everything I did was wrong. Their house was still loud and Karen continued to be upset when I removed myself. We were still living in the Before-Time with no cell phones–and I didn’t want to answer the house phone because of my hearing.

These are the results of my most recent hearing test.

A person with hearing loss like I have has a very difficult time with phones. First of all, listening to anything is a conscious act. I have to work at listening, see what you’re saying, and try to form words and ideas out of the sounds I’m hearing. It takes me a little longer to respond because it takes me a little longer to ‘hear’ what you’re saying. I need to see your face so I can read lips and get context from your expression. Sometimes I have to turn my better ear toward the person speaking while also trying to keep my eyes on their lips. All this is before we add a phone into the mix.

On the phone I can’t see your face so I have no context to help me arrange sounds into words. People are very quiet on phones and IF you can get them to speak up, their volume almost immediately lowers again. Putting the receiver against my ear makes the hearing aids squeal. So to answer the phone I have to remove my hearing aid and hold the $1500 tiny trinket in my hand while screwing my eyes shut to concentrate and hoping there is no sudden noise in my vicinity.

What hearing loss sounds like.
I have Loss Of High Frequencies and Loss Of Weak Sounds (“Recruitment”)

I avoid speaking on the phone as much as I can. Texting is a gift from heaven.  Because I didn’t want to exhaust myself speaking on the phone or worry about losing the hearing aid when I took it out, and I thought answering machine messages would be clearer than any garbled messages I could take, I didn’t answer Karen’s phone. Ever. Not when she was there and not while I was alone. This infuriated Karen. She said I should answer and take a message, and I couldn’t convince her the machine could do a better job than I could. I don’t know why it was so important to her that I answer the phone instead of letting the machine do what it was made to do. I told Bram I was sad and I was going to sit at the dining room table and eat potato chips until I was as wide as I was tall. He took the chips away. 

I also walked out of a restaurant Conrad and Karen had taken us to because there was nothing on the menu for Bram or Conrad to eat.  Conrad had been diagnosed with Celiac disease.  Celiac disease is a digestive immune disorder that damages the small intestine. It’s triggered by eating foods containing gluten and can cause long-lasting digestive problems and keep your body from getting all the nutrients it needs. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, which means it’s found in: bread, pasta, baked goods, cereal, crackers, dried spices, beer, gravy, canned soup. Sometimes it’s a hidden ingredient, like in dried spices where gluten is added to keep the spices from clumping.

The intestinal damage from Celiac disease often causes diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, vomiting, and anemia, and can lead to serious complications such as osteoporosis, osteomalacia, itchy skin rashes, mouth ulcers, hyposplenism, joint pain, and damage to tooth enamel. It can also cause neurological symptoms, like ADHD, learning disabilities, headaches, lack of muscle coordination and seizures. 

I looked at the menu of the restaurant Karen had chosen and saw that the only thing on it that Bram and Conrad could eat was House Salad: a plate of iceberg lettuce, a scattering of cheese, 3-4 slices of cucumber, 6-8 croutons, and if you’re lucky, a cherry tomato or two. And they shouldn’t eat the croutons. Vegetarians and Vegans can feel the pain. A house salad isn’t filling at all and they’re especially hard to eat when you can smell the Fettucini Al Fredo of the person eating next to you.

I pointed out there was nothing for Bram and Conrad to eat and Karen said they could eat at home. I said, let’s go home then. She didn’t want to. Well, then let’s go to a restaurant they can eat at. She didn’t want to. Karen said I was being a food Nazi and eating a little bit of forbidden food wouldn’t hurt our husbands. I said a little bit every day adds up to a lot, so yes, a little bit will hurt. I got up and left. Bram followed me out. We went home and made what I call ‘garbage salad’: toss everything that appeals to you and is safe for you to eat in a bowl, add dressing, et voila! A salad that actually fills you up.

A Garbage Salad should avoid ‘90% water’ iceberg lettuce and instead go for ‘real’ lettuce: Romaine, red leaf, green leaf, butterhead. Romaine is the most nutritious. Then add spinach, arugula, egg slices, every kind of nut you can find, bell pepper slices, diced onions, radishes, jicama bits, red cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, your favorite cheese, a protein selection of your choice (I love black beans. I used to love bacon bits, but I’m basically a vegetarian now. Save the Planet!) We had croutons, Grape Nuts cereal, and chow mein noodles to add a good, hard crunch. Bram loved oil-based dressings and vinaigrettes, I preferred Ranch or Caesar. Nick put tabasco sauce on his salads, and Monica has always been fearless about food, so she tried a little bit of a lot of different kinds of dressings.

Of course Karen would scoff and say salad is salad, but you have energy to work three hours on a Garbage Salad and about 30 minutes on a House Salad.

Nick mostly stayed with friends all summer so as to not make the loud house too loud. You know? I can’t even remember what shows we did that summer, but Nick was our sound guy, which was pretty cool.

We traveled back down to Vermillion on my birthday. It seemed like every year since Bram and I married, we were traveling somewhere on my birthday. I don’t expect big to-dos or extravagant gifts on my birthday, but I dislike traveling and I hate moving. Doing it on my birthday just made it all the more irritating.

We settled into our trailer in South Dakota and I began applying for jobs. Bram applied with me; we were hoping to get hired at the same place, or at least in 2 places close to each other. Ideally, we both wanted to work in education. We liked to teach. The schedule for most university hiring runs from February to April, with the job beginning that August. Some universities try to start the cycle sooner to fit it into their production schedule. Bram and I just began applying as jobs were posted.

Linda had needed a costume shop manager for years, decades even. USD was starting a Musical Theatre degree. It’s hard enough for one person to costume a large cast show while also teaching her crew how to do it, and teaching classes, and trying to have a home life. Musicals require so many costumes: multiple costume changes for multiple characters, some of them quick changes which require special rigging. The purpose of teaching a costume degree is to teach your students to design and make costumes, not to rent them, so most costumes are made in-shop, in a 5-week period. It’s exhausting, infuriating, a LOT of brainwork, and also very satisfying when it all gets done. But asking one person to do it all really puts a strain on that person.

Costumers I know have anxiety attacks, acid reflux, bad knees, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and something to keep their hair out of their face. The budget for educational productions is ridiculously small, adding to a costumer’s frustration. And we ARE frustrated. Calling us Costume Nazis doesn’t endear you to us. I learned almost as much in my one semester of being a costume shop manager for Linda as I did in the whole three years I was working on my degree. Added bonus: Linda and I got along much better when I wasn’t under a mountain of stress.

Unfortunately we were both dealing with a lot of grief. I had just lost my sister, my Pal, my best friend. Linda’s nephew was dying a slow and painful death from cancer. I’m glad I was there to let Linda go visit her nephew. Without a shop manager, she might not have been able to manage the time away. I also got to go sit with Bram while he programmed lights late at night. My job was to keep the ghosts away. Every theatre has a legend of its own ghost. Whether you believe or not, it can be pretty unnerving to be the only person in a dark theatre in an empty building. Every little noise is amplified. I had a booklight and would sit next to Bram reading or doing crossword puzzles while he did his degree work. It was very calm and a nice way for me to decompress after the last sad, strange year in Minot.

Toward the end of the semester, I flew to Reno to interview as Assistant Professor of Theatre; Costume Design at the University of Nevada, Reno. The shop was large, and the costumer’s office was inside the shop, with windows looking out into the shop. Too many costume shops are afterthoughts and get shoved into basements or attics, where air circulation is iffy and light is poor. This shop wasn’t in the basement or the attic and it had a wall of windows facing north so we could have lots of natural sunlight.

I wore one of Tonia’s pantsuits and a pair of her shoes and told the person picking me up at the airport to look for the shortest redhead they’ve ever seen. They walked right up to me. Sometimes I’m surprised at how easily I’m recognized and remembered. But I may well be the shortest adult redhead you’ve ever seen. We ate out three times while I was in Reno, and every meal was better than the last. I went home with the job. My start date was January. I was excited to take my family back there.

UNR Costume Shop

No one wanted me to leave Vermillion. Monica was still in high school and couldn’t come with me and she asked who was going to make her prom dress. I told her I’d do it remotely and everything would be perfect. Nick hadn’t registered for his second semester at USD, so he was coming to Reno with me. Bram still had one more semester to finish his degree and he was doing it this time, dammit. Linda didn’t want to lose her shop manager after she finally had one, and I didn’t want to leave her after her nephew died. Not to mention I was worried USD would decide she could do without a shop manager. Linda had to do without for the spring semester, but USD eventually scrounged up some money for her so she could hire a manager.

I didn’t want to leave Monica in her senior year of high school, but I was also unwilling to move her yet again. And I didn’t want to leave Bram. Since we were married, we had never been apart for more than a few hours. Now we were going to be apart for a whole semester. As the kids used to say: First World Problems. Monica promised she’d make sure Bram took his meds. Bram promised to aggravate Monica as much as he could. He also promised to come visit at Spring Break.

Bram and Monica took me and Nick to the Greyhound bus stop and saw us off. I had Nick beside me, but I cried as the bus pulled away from my daughter and husband.


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