A House Without Heat

This wasn’t going to be another post about my father. It was going to be a post about Beth’s and my anniversary and I guess it is, but it’s about my father, too. That’s just how it turned out.

On Sunday night, as I was getting ready for bed, and Beth was lying in bed with her eyes closed, I slipped an anniversary card into a zippered compartment on the front of her suitcase. She was leaving for Sacramento in the morning on a three-day business trip, the first day of which was the eighteenth anniversary of our commitment ceremony.

“I’m not as grumpy about it as I was the last time this happened,” I’d told her at dinner. I was referring to the fact that she’d been out of town on the twentieth anniversary of our first date. We have two anniversaries and she travels a lot, so it happens. Although possibly I shouldn’t have let on that I didn’t mind so much because the last time she took me to the beach for the weekend to make up for being gone on the actual day. Anyway, we decided to celebrate the following weekend. I got a babysitter for four hours on Saturday, enough time for a movie and dinner out. It was what I meant to do for her birthday back in November.

June woke me around two in the morning and I noticed it seemed cold in the house. I was too sleepy to give it much thought, however. When she woke me again around five, though, I realized it really was quite cold. I put my hand on the radiator in our room and found it stone cold. I decided I’d tell Beth about it when she woke, but she got up and checked the furnace before her usual 6:30 wake-up time and before I was awake enough to tell her. She placed a phone call to the emergency number for our heating oil company and was told the message would be forwarded to the local office when it opened at 7:30. Beth and I conferred about what to do if the heat could not be restored quickly. We’ve been having unusually cold weather for the past week or two. It’s in the twenties at night, with daytime temperatures in the thirties. (The snow that fell in mid-December is still lingering in patches here and there on our lawn. It’s still deep enough in places to make snowballs, which we do on occasion.) I thought with the use of a space heater in the kids’ bedroom we could probably stay in the house for at least another night. The house has thick walls and holds its heat pretty well. Beth was out the door on her way to the airport by 7:20, agitated about leaving us behind with no heat. I put my arms around her shortly before she left and joked, “An anniversary without you is like a house without heat.”

I took advantage of the fact that Monday is the one day of the week I pick June’s clothes to bundle her into corduroys over her pajama bottoms and a heavy sweater over a turtleneck. She’d been spending the morning at school but I wanted her to be prepared for a chilly afternoon. I decided if we had no heat tomorrow, I’d institute a no-short-dresses-with-tights rule until the heat was back on, but I didn’t tell her. No point in having an argument before its time.

I carried my cell phone with me (which I almost never do) on our way to school. Usually Beth waits for Noah’s 8:20 bus with him while I take June to school since she needs to be there at 8:30 and it’s a fifteen to twenty minute walk depending on how many acorns need to be picked up or how many frozen puddles need to be slid across. When Beth is out of town, Noah walks with us and we try to catch his bus as it passes a different stop. This usually works, and it did this day, too, but just barely. As we were approaching the busy street where the bus stops, nearly a block away, I saw it pulling up. “Run, but don’t cross the street!” I yelled to Noah, hoping the bus driver would see him waiting on the wrong side of the street. I grabbed June off the ground and ran with her. I don’t think we would have made it if it hadn’t been for other bus stop parents who saw us coming and asked the bus driver to wait. I thought that was nice of them, given that it’s not our normal stop and they don’t know us. By the time the bus pulled away, with Noah on it, I was coughing hard and struggling for breath. It turns out running uphill while sick and carrying a three year old winds me pretty quickly. I didn’t mention I’m sick on top of all this? Well, I am. I’ve had this cold for close to two weeks, and it’s moved down into my chest. It seems to happen all the time now when I get sick. It’s a disturbing pattern.

Anyway, my cell phone didn’t ring on the way to school or on the way back home. The message somehow got lost between the answering service and the local office so it was 1:00 p.m. before I was able to get anyone to tell me when someone would be coming to look at the furnace. Fortunately, they acted quickly once that was straightened out and the repairperson arrived at 2:30 and at 2:50 the furnace roared back to life. By this time the temperature in the house had dropped to 53 degrees. (We usually keep it at 64 degrees.) But soon it was climbing again and I thought the day was finally looking up.

Noah came home from school. We played out in the yard, and then he came in to do his daily reading. He’s reading my old copies of mysteries by Wylly Folk St. John. I got the idea to introduce him to them because he liked the A-Z mystery series so much and those are really formulaic and much too easy for him. I wanted to provide him with some better written mysteries. He started with The Christmas Tree Mystery last month, since it was seasonal and from then on he was hooked. He’s on his fifth one now. He watched some television and snacked and did some homework (more than half his math packet for the week actually). My only clue that something was wrong with him came right before he started to read. He and June were playing with Lincoln Logs and he was trying to make a large house with an unstable floor plan. It kept falling over. Then one of the little houses I made for June got knocked over and both kids were crying, Noah as hard as June.

I shrugged it off, since he does get like that sometimes and he calmed down pretty quickly, but when it was time for dinner he said he didn’t feel well. I was surprised because he’d seemed fine up to then. He wasn’t feverish, but he said he had a headache and a stomachache and he didn’t know if he should eat. I’d made macaroni and cheese with broccoli, a standard Beth’s-out-of-town dinner and one of the kids’ favorites. I said it was up to him. He should do what felt right. He wondered if he was hungry or sick. Or maybe he needed to go to the bathroom. (All these states can feel very similar to him because of his sensory confusion.) So he tried going to the bathroom and then he ate a little of his dinner. Go slowly, I advised him and see if it makes you feel better or worse. Worse was the answer. He left the table, went to rest in my room and was asleep on my bed by 7:00. I tried to rouse him so I could move him to his own bed and maybe get him into pajamas, but after opening his eyes, he just closed them and rolled away from me so I decided to leave him there.

Now June does not like to go to sleep in a room by herself, so she wanted to sleep in the toddler bed that’s still in the corner of our room and I let her. Then I had to decide where I would sleep. There was room in my bed, since Beth was gone, but I thought if he’s contagious maybe I’d be better off in the kids’ room. It seemed like a different illness than what I have and I didn’t want two illnesses at once, so I slept in June’s bunk.

Beth and I had been exchanging phone calls and emails all day, about the heat situation and Noah’s illness. I’d told her to look in her suitcase for her card and she couldn’t find it. Eventually, we realized I’d put it in the wrong suitcase. I checked and there it was still in her closet. “This day just keeps getting crappier,” I wrote her, before turning in.

June woke me at 2:00 and again at 3:30, and then Noah was up at 4:30, feeling fine and wanting to know if he could get up for the day. The answer was no. So I was completely exhausted when I got up for the day and read my stepmother’s email.

Once I did, none of it mattered, not missing our anniversary, not the cold house, not Noah’s passing illness. My father’s cancer is progressing much more quickly than we thought it would. He’s close to the end. It could be in as little as a month.

It was my morning to co-op at June’s school. I’d put out a call for a substitute on the class listserv the night before but it since no-one was able to sub on short notice and Noah was feeling better, I put him on a bus and hoped for the best. He does bounce back from illness with amazing rapidity most of the time and he wanted to go. He was even mad at me for not taking him to the before-school Geo-Bowl practice. (He’s participating in a geography contest for third to fifth graders next month. It’s a big deal at his school.) I didn’t think we could make it to the 8:00 a.m. practice in time, though.

I drifted through my co-oping duties, not feeling entirely there. I didn’t want to co-op that day, but once I was there it felt like a good thing to be in a busy, cheerful place full of three and four year olds. When June and I came home, we ate lunch and napped. I fell asleep quickly and slept deeply.

June’s school provided our dinner that night. It was something the membership co-ordinator had been meaning to do for us sometime to thank Beth for her work on the board and the fundraising committee, but when she’d heard about our heat troubles and Noah being sick she decided this was the day. She didn’t even know anything about my father. I can’t even really call it dinner, it was a feast: a baguette, a salad, two kinds of pasta salad, kale, beets, green beans, three kinds of candy, including a big dark chocolate bar with almonds. We could eat off this for days, and I think we will. Thanks, Jill!

That night was tidying up a little while Noah was in the bath and I realized I hadn’t gotten past the front page of the newspaper and I hadn’t ridden the exercise bike that day. It wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten around to those things or I’d decided I was too overwhelmed to do them. I’d just forgotten two of the most ingrained parts of my weekday routine. I decided I needed to be finished with this day, so soon after both kids were asleep, around 9:35, I was in bed myself. June let me sleep until almost six, for which I was deeply grateful.

I think I’m going to Florida soon. I’ve been exchanging email with my sister and stepmother about it, but I need to wait until I can talk to Beth in person to figure out what makes the most sense. And depending on when I go and for how long, she’ll need to make arrangements for childcare, either taking time off work or inviting her mother to come stay and watch the kids while I’m gone. It’s all up in the air right now. I can’t wait for her to get home this afternoon so I talk to her in person and not be alone with this grief.

But I’m also wishing I could go back to Monday when my biggest problems were a sick child and a house without heat.

  • Megan

    I’m so, so sorry, Steph. Thinking of you.

  • Kathleen G.

    I’m so very sorry, Steph.  I went through this with my father; so very little time after the diagnosis and suddenly he was gone.  You’re in my thoughts.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

  • Stephanie

    so sorry to hear this.  i’m thinking of you.

  • You are all my thoughts. I sincerely hope that you are able to get back to see him soon and that whatever time he has left is full of love and minimal pain. I wish there was something more I could offer, but aside from cyber hugs just know that I’m thinking about you. Keep us updated when possible and take care of yourself.

  • Oh, Steph.

    I am so, so sorry that this is happening. I cannot imagine how you must be feeling, especially with your other half away.

    I am thinking of you and your entire family.

    If there is anything that I can do, please, let me know.

  • Congrats on 20 years together… that is such an awesome accomplishment.

    But I am so sorry to hear about your dad. My thoughts are with you and your family during this extremely hard time.