“If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“Behind every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining.”
Don’t you just hate these little pearls of wisdom? Several years ago, when I first became a widow, I heard a lot of such well-intentioned sentiments and while still reeling from that huge life change, I found myself facing a collection of crises to rival the Perils of Pauline. Laugh with me, cry with me, I thought to myself, but please don’t tell me to look on the bright side.
Back then, I owned a two-family house so you can multiply some of these horrendous happenings by two, as was the case with the exploding water heaters. They blew six months apart, both on weekends. Upon hearing my voice on his answering machine, my plumber’s first thought was probably, “If this woman is being held hostage at gunpoint by a serial killer, why is she calling me?”
That December there was the demise of the tenant’s heating system. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” said the gas company repairman. (I hate when people say that too. Just spit it out, I want to tell them.)
“Your furnace is kaput but luckily, we are having a sale this month and you can replace it with an updated model for only $2999.” I looked at him, poker-faced, but inside I was thinking to myself, point me towards the gaming tables and just call me “Lucky.”
Then there was the clogged toilet, the weekend Aunt Thelma and Uncle Harry were visiting. Just as Harry had finished the editorial pages of The Sunday New York Times, the thing seized up like a frozen pond.
“We’re gonna have to blast her,” the plumber told me gravely, bending over to hitch a mighty nozzle to the cellar pipe. Why can’t he look more like Brad Pitt, I thought to myself, instead of Ernest Borgnine with his butt crack smiling up at me? And what the heck did Harry eat for dinner anyway? Was it those potato pancakes?
A few months later, I had my first “first date” in 35 years. I was a bit tense but I remembered all those old movies where the sultry woman turns to the man as they stand on her doorstep at evening’s end, whispering something about coming in for a nightcap. How could I have known that in my absence, my elderly Golden Retriever had suffered a stress-induced attack all over the hall carpet? Or that my date had a weak stomach and a pronounced gag reflex? “My guess is that the poor old girl had separation anxiety,” offered the vet as she tallied up my bill.
That year I also survived computer crashes, transmission troubles, an IRS audit and bald patches from an overprocessed perm. I think the only thing I may have missed was the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Remember that movie “A River Runs Through It”? (Brad Pitt was in it.) That could have been my cellar the following spring. What’s more, the porch roof started leaking. The insurance adjuster, camera in hand, informed me that the roof and ceiling damage would be covered but the skylight flashing and window frame deterioration would not.
“A pre-existing condition,” he pronounced. “It may have been exacerbated by inadequate maintenance.” Well, slap my face and call me Stoopy but I had not been hopping around up on the roof checking the seal around the skylight. And as for the window, the damage came from water which dropped from the sky, didn’t it?
“Ah,” he smirked smugly, “but it was from a previous storm.”
In late summer, a rogue tow truck slammed into my fence but I’m happy to report it was repaired by a kindly neighbor. I wondered if I was destined to live out my life as Blanche Dubois, forever relying upon the kindness of strangers, as I scanned the list of extension courses at a nearby vocational school. “Simple Home Repairs for Dummies” popped right out at me.
No. Power tools intimidated me. Instead, I thought I might sign up for ballroom dancing lessons. Despite my dog’s irritable bowel syndrome, I needed to socialize. As I tripped the light fantastic, I would try like hell to keep the conversation away from my travails.
I knew I had been the soul of control with that insurance adjuster but I started wondering — if f I had pushed him down the stairs, modeling myself after Jesus when he tipped over the tables and kicked those money-changers out of the temple, would that have qualified as an Act of God? And would I have had coverage?
I thought I should sign up for that Home Repairs course after all. It would beat seeing my face on the supermarket tabloids “WACKY WIDOW GOES BANANAS — HOLDS INSURANCE CO. EMPLOYEE HOSTAGE.”
Then again, it wouldn’t be so bad if he looked like Brad Pitt.