Bram told me he tried to never make me sad enough to cry because my crying broke his heart. I cry in silence. Tears stream down my face like small rivers, my nose runs, but I don’t sob or wail. I even hold my breath to prevent sobs. I didn’t cry when I broke my ankle, I didn’t cry when Bram broke up with me or when we got back together. I leaked tears when Richie died and I realized I couldn’t go to his funeral. I cried when Tonia died, but only when Bram and I were alone, and I never sobbed or wailed for Tonia.
One winter Saturday, instead of eating out after shopping, we came home instead. It was dark and Bram was tired. We carried the groceries in through the wet snow, Bram griping because Monica had won the race for the garage again. Once the groceries were put away, I started supper while Bram played on the computer. The kids were in their rooms. We’d had to train Puppy to NOT come in the kitchen unless she was invited because she whined for food and dug in the garbage.
I got all the ingredients ready, lit the burner under the pan of oil, and stepped over to the fridge to grab something. When I turned back to the stove, the oil was on fire. I grabbed the handle of the pan, intending to move it off the flame before finding the lid to put over it. As I took the handle, I stepped backwards, into a puddle of melting snow. I slipped, and the burning oli sloshed out of the pan up onto my forearm.
The next thing I remember is standing over the sink, with Bram telling me to let him see what I’d done. The cold water was running and my burned right arm was under the water, but my left fist was clenched around the burn on my right wrist. When I opened my fist to let Bram see the wound, my skin peeled away with my fingers. I clamped my hand shut again and Bram started shouting for Nick and Monica. He told them to get my coat and help me put it on while he went and started the car to take me to the ER. There was an urgent care down the street, so they didn’t need to come with us. Nick filled a gallon pitcher with cold water and some ice cubes for my arm, Monica draped my coat over my shoulders, and Bram helped me out to the car.
The urgent care was closed and for the first and only time, I saw Bram completely lose his zen. He peeled out of the parking lot hard enough to make the tires squeal on the wet pavement and took the corner to the highway hard enough to swing me toward him–without a seatbelt, I would’ve rolled into his lap. I started shouting at him and he screeched to a stop. I told him I’d never seen him so worked up and it was upsetting me more than the burn was. I asked him to take a few deep breaths and center himself before we got out onto the highway to head for Reno. He did just that, then kissed me and told me he loved me and we went to find the ER.
I never cried about the burn. But the doctor asked if I wanted another dose of painkiller before they released me. Absolutely I did. It was a very happy ride home. Bram took off work for a few days to take care of me.
Bram fell in love with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and we watched them all often. He decided he needed a pirate outfit so I ordered boots and a hat for him and made him a pirate costume. He wore it to work one day, walking all over downtown Reno dressed as a pirate in the hot Nevada sun. His new doctor put him on new medications and he was allowed to drink alcohol again for the first time in almost a decade. He and Nick started trying different beers, instead of the cheap college beers Bram used to drink.
It worried me. But I’m not a doctor; I didn’t pretend to know what was best for Bram.
Bram got a job as the lighting person at Harrah’s casino. He hung and ran the lights for the topless show that performed nightly. Bram said at first it was awkward, talking to topless ladies–he didn’t know where his eyes should be. But then he said it was amazing how quickly the lack of a shirt became a non issue. The issue was that Bram was having bouts of vertigo which made him leery of climbing on ladders to get to the lights. His doctor told him to make sure his blood sugar was at the right level; having low blood sugar can make you dizzy.
After years of trying to control his blood sugar, Bram thought it was a joke to think he could regulate it enough to make him safe on ladders. He asked his boss at the Waste Management company if he could come back. They all loved him there and welcomed him back with open arms.
Monica made friends with people at work and moved into an apartment with them. She was never there; she was always falling asleep at our house. She had a new boyfriend, someone I again didn’t like. I wondered if it was me–was I going to be one of those mothers-in-law that thought my child was too good for their partner? I just wanted someone who respected the strong, opinionated woman I’d raised instead of trying to control her or steal her energy.
Bram’s family came to visit. Conrad spent a lot of time standing out back looking at the mountains. We spent days traveling all over Reno trying to find metal zippers for Karen’s art. I actually know where to buy metal zippers by the yard, but I didn’t share because I’m not an artist. I am also not bitter, nor do I hold grudges.
We visited Lake Tahoe, where Monica and I found some very very cool fiber art. Fiber art is fine art made of fiber such as fabric or yarn, and other components. It focuses on the labor of creating the materials as part of the significance of the work and on the material itself, while prioritizing aeshetics over utility. Just beautiful, tactile art, expressing outside-the-box creativity. But we couldn’t stay and admire it for long because Karen was looking for zippers instead of looking at other artists’ work. Surprisingly, except not at all, used zippers are not to be found at Lake Tahoe.
The person who was the costumer at UNR before me had refused to do her job for 5 years, which I guess is something you can get away with when you’re tenured. She’s refused to use her office because it was on a lower floor than everyone else’s offices. She didn’t produce renderings or make costumes; she hadn’t set so much as a toe in the costume shop for 5 years. Her costume students had zero practical experience in making costumes, instead they pulled costumes out of the literal pile on the floor in costume storage.
There were also no patterns in the costume shop; the former costumer had decided all the patterns in the shop were historical documents and hid them away. My first summer I spent sorting and organizing and storing costumes so you could actually find what you needed. Then I went into the hidden closet and we started organizing and storing patterns. It made me sad that the shop had fallen into such disarray. But even worse than that, people who wanted to be costume designers weren’t being given the tools they needed to pursue their degree. I started assigning designs to students (taking care to keep them away from Crazy Director Who Thinks Costumers Don’t Need To Attend Dress Rehearsals).
Emily was assigned to design “The Trojan Women,” which was to be the next semester’s first production, giving her the whole summer to work on the design. But Emily mentioned some things about her health that worried the rest of us and we nagged her into going to a doctor. They discovered she had a brain tumor. Emily wanted to withdraw from the design, but I told her I’d be her assistant designer and step in if I was needed. I wanted her to have the design; I wanted her to have something to continue with during her illness.
UNR was where I started learning about the politics of Academia and how unprepared I am to play those politics. I’m perfectly happy being ‘only’ the costumer, as long as we are truly working collaboratively, and our budgets are equal, and we’re giving the same amount of crewmembers and time. UNR’s summer program schedule was: the entire company works on the set from 9-4 with an hour for lunch, break for dinner, then from 6-10, whoever is scheduled to rehearse, rehearses, and everyone else works in the costume shop. Unless they are on light crew or props crew. So I would have half the time the set crew had with less than a quarter of the crew.
My male colleagues seemed surprised when I pointed out that this was not only unfair; it was ridiculous. But I got it changed. I thought it was equally ridiculous that the former costumer had refused to do her job for 5 years and never got fired because she had tenure. In fact, she was still employed by the University; she worked for the music department now. When we hired a new professor, he insisted he’d only accept the appointment if they gave him 4 years toward tenure, to be tenured after one year with us. I objected–everyone can behave for a year. How would we get rid of him if he had tenure after a year and turned out to not be who or what we needed?
The new person was hired with four years toward tenure as he’d requested, leaving New Sue and me, the only women on the faculty, as the only non-tenured professors in the department. The new guy immediately began consolidating his imagined power, shutting down the student production program, the Japanese exchange student production program, and the children’s theatre traveling show. He also loved gossip and intrigue. He’s still there; New Sue and I are not.
I also learned that no matter how burned-out or exhausted a non-tenured professor might be, they cannot take sabbaticals. If a non-tenured professor needs to take a semester off for whatever reason and the university has to pay for someone to cover for them, the non-tenured professor may lose their job. Non-tenured professors are also paid less, and their raise scale is lower. So even though New Sue and I had the same degree as everyone else on our faculty, and we carried the same workload as our male colleagues, we could never earn as much as they did.
This situation is not unique to UNR; it is the expectation in academia. It’s interesting to note that Scenic Designers, who are usually men, are almost always tenure-track and Costume Designers, who are usually women or gay men, are almost never tenure-track. I’m not suggesting either theatre or academia is inherently sexist.
But I’m also not NOT suggesting that.
I also don’t want you to think I am ever bitter about anything, ever.
But also? I may be an artist, after all.
Bram started having problems with edema. Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. His ankles and legs were swelling and so were his wrists and arms. When he’d take off his socks, they’d leave lines where the top of his socks had pushed into his skin. If you poked his foot, the poked-in place would stay poked-in. I told him to make an appointment with his doctor immediately and stress to the receptionist that it wasn’t just a little swelling; it was a lot, and he needed to be seen immediately.
I was worried, what with the vertigo, the edema, and the new medications. Bram seemed to get tired more easily than usual, and he kept complaining about heartburn. I told him if the doctor wouldn’t see him in the next week, I was taking him to the emergency room.
Bram insisted he was fine.
When we left Minot, Nick had to leave his prized car, an old land yacht he’d named Guerilla. The whole two years we’d been in Reno, he’d searched for a replacement. He finally found one near Sacramento and he had enough money saved to buy it, so one Saturday instead of our usual shopping and dinner trip, Bram and Nick drove to Sacramento to pick up this car. It was a baby blue 1981 Ford Granada. Barack Obama said it was the worst car ever made.