I smell.

Well, my nose does, at least.

How does it smell?


(That shouldn’t be a new joke for anyone, even those fresh from the womb.)

Of all our senses, smell tends to be given a lot less importance than others. I’m not sure anyone lives in fear of losing their sense of smell, like we may for losing any of the “major” senses, such as hearing, sight, and touch.

The way we smell is easy to take for granted.

Just like our other senses, we are bombarded daily with scents and odors. We develope favorites, and dislikes, and categories to sort them all into.

I don’t know of any personality tests based up smell, like there are for color or music. But there should be.

For instance, I like many floral scents. The sublime delicance of a daffodil. The exotic slice of a neroli blossom. The unforgettable power of a rose (and as a bonus, rose can even be a flavor!)

My favorite of all – the heady punch of a blooming lilac. For me, a deep inhale makes my head spin and my mind soar.

To base an analysis of my personality upon these favorites, however, brings a result that with I’m certain I will disagree. (I’m … earthy? Gentle? Passive?) I’ve already had far too many people tell me that I’ve the soul of an elderly woman with scented bath soaps no one is allowed to touch on the inside.

(The soaps. Don’t touch the soaps. Not that this means any of you can touch my insides, either.)

Leaving the flowers behind, there are other scents I enjoy as well, of course: baked goods. (Go away inner old lady!) Leather stores (Erm, really … go away.) The sharp stab of mothballs (farther … that should do it.) The metallic tang of electrical ozone. Burning coal. Brand new computer parts. Freshly poured asphalt on a hot day.

(I’m machine-like? Like an old lady on a motorcycle delivering cookies, maybe?)

My point being, if one tries to analyze a personality based upon favorite smells, it gets weird.


In the name of (pseudo)science, obviously the other side has to be factored in as well – those smells that are disliked.

There are universally disliked smells, of course: rotting food. Sewer gas. Bad breath. Sadly even the innate cuteness of a skunk is not enough to overcome their disastrous odor.

(Although they seem to be perfectly happy with it and its usefulness in defense from predators. And cuddlers.)

Unlike many people, I don’t mind the smell of cooking fish in a microwave. Or boiling cabbage, or frying onions, or many other food related smells. I don’t mind the aroma of gas being pumped,  cow farms, locker rooms, wet dogs … I can’t say I’m fond of them, but I’m not bothered by them.

(The cat box really gets to me sometimes, though.)

But the odor that bothers me more than anything – musty clothes.

(Maybe I fear stagnation. Or being folded up and shoved in a drawer.)

I don’t know why it bothers me so much. Perhaps it’s a sense of failure because my clothes always seem to have an underlying mustiness to them that I can’t get rid of, no matter how much fabric softener I use. I’ve always envied those people who can walk down a hall and leave behind an unmistakable April freshness in the air.

I’ve tried finding out how they do it, but as soon as I ask, “Do you ever feel … not-so-fresh?” they just look at me funny and back away.

So the mystery remains.

In the past, I’ve blamed it on the washing machine I used, or the detergent, or the fabric softener, or the dryer sheets … but the unfortunate consistency across all these variables can only lead to one conclusion:

Apparently, I stink.

I’m not sure if the smell originates from the clothes rubbing off on me, or I on the clothes. I’m all right as long as I don’t get sweaty or wet in the rain. But as soon as I do, I can begin to catch the first whiffs of the unmistakable moldy hair smell.

(I’m bitter from the number times I’ve been lied to by fabric softeners listing their scent as “fresh summer rain”.)

I haven’t given up. (Perseverance!) If the cat can smell like fresh fabric softener just from burrowing underneath the blankets on my roommate’s bed and sleeping there for a few hours, there must be hope for me as well.

(He used to be the control in my experiments, until I was firmly told I wasn’t allowed to sniff him any more. My roommate, not the cat. Although I’m not supposed to sniff the cat, either.)

My latest attempt is to eliminate fabric softener entirely. I read online to use a little distilled vinegar instead. Since it’s on the internet, it has to be true, so I figured it’s worth a shot. Maybe it will help balance my natural PH levels or some other vaguely scientific-sounding thingy. I figure the worst that can happen is I end up smelling like vinegar. Or moldy hair vinegar.

If that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll try lemon juice next. (Curiousity!)

It may end up that the only solution will be to cut off my nose.

But then how will I smell?


(Of course.)

… well, that’s it, really. The end of the story.

The beginning takes a little more explanation.

To live is to know loss; it’s inevitable. Every person has lost or will lose, either expected or not, someone of importance to them; someone they love.

While returning to my ancestral home for my sister’s funeral, I learned that my uncle had also died. His death was somewhat expected, as a week previously I had learned he was entering hospice care after kidney failure.

It was this I was expecting to learn of when my brother called me late one night, only to instead be told of my sister’s unexpected death.

I am now the oldest surviving member of my immediate family, and second oldest in my father’s bloodline. The past five years saw the deaths of my mother, my father, my dog, my paternal grandmother, my brother-in-law, and now my uncle and my sister. I very nearly became part of that list myself. (Both grandfathers and my maternal grandmother died years ago.)

That’s a lot of punches with which to roll.

I am one of many who deal with personal tragedy through attempted humor- the deeper the pain, the greater the irreverence. When asking for time off from work to fly to the homestead, I told my boss that the silver lining is that there’s not many more family members left to go, so I shouldn’t need any more time off for quite awhile.

(My irreverence is frequently matched by my tastelessness, I suppose.)

As the now eldest of my family, I wanted to speak at the memorial service for my sister, something I had managed to avoid with all previous funerals. (I’ve lost track of the number, but I’m pretty sure we can turn in our punchcard and get the next one free!)

I’ve tried to avoid this because I’m not good at writing seriously.

(Yes, I also realize many don’t think I’m good at writing humorously, either. Or writing at all. Go complain in your own column.)

During my travels from halfway across the country, I’d occasionally toss ideas into the back of my head to simmer and hopefully turn into something worth sharing. This continued into the next day as well, leaving me with little time to cobble something together before the service the following day. Never has the word “deadline” held so much meaning to me.

(This doesn’t help dismiss my claims of lacking taste at all.)

After learning of my uncle’s death, I wanted to write something that could be meaningful not only to the friends attending my sister’s memorial but the rest of my family that would be dealing with two funerals in one weekend.

Once I began writing about my sister, I tried to work in my uncle as well, thinking of the various memories I could share, like the picture of my uncle that I remember best from when he helped my father build a swingset (for my sister, coincidentally) and was captured hanging from one hand on the swingset acting like a monkey. Or of the time my sister tried to impress her boyfriend by baking him biscuits, but ended up with pastry hockey pucks when she used the wrong flour.

Frustrated with the direction and unsatisfied with the results, especially since I was trying to be thoughtful and serious, I suddenly realized I didn’t want to write about my sister and/or my uncle at all. They weren’t the ones who needed to be reminded of my memories and given whatever comfort I could muster.

Funerals are for the living, it is said, and I needed to write for the people who would be there for hers. I already knew I’d never forget her, and I hoped that I could write something that would help everyone else remember her as well, and to make them feel a little better, and in the process, maybe make myself feel a little better as well.

And so I did.

Everyone knows loss. Even though this was written for my own, I hope that what follows can also help anyone else dealing with theirs, as well.

I’m not going to talk about my sister. Instead, I’d like to talk about each one of you.

Each one of you has your own reason for being here, and each one of you knew her in your own way. Each of you feel your own individual loss.

But instead of loss, I want each of you to think about what you’ve gained from knowing her.

Think of how you met her, of the conversations you had, the things you did together, how she looked when she was happy, and how it felt to be happy around her.

Because what is important now is not that she’s gone, but that she was here, and the impact she made, in some way, on each one of you.

As long as you remember her, and what she did for you, and how your life is different because of her, and how you’ve benefited from the time you knew her, and most importantly, what she meant to you – hold on to this, each one of you, and she’ll never truly be gone.

It’s one thing to not be forgotten; it’s another thing to be remembered.

I’ve never really understood why some people say they love doing housework.

I mean, I’ve said it myself sometimes, just to keep other people from knowing what to expect from me. But usually the people I’ve encountered who say it seem to truly believe what they’re saying.

And maybe they do. But maybe it’s domicile Stockholm Syndrome. Who am I to judge what happens between an adult and a house?

Cleaning is hard. Keeping things clean is harder.

Keeping the lights dim and visitors away is easy.

Even when I ignore housework, there are some things that I can’t turn my back on if I am to be presentable in public without being arrested. Even so …

I usually do two loads of laundry once a week. On weekends. On Sunday. The day before I go back to work. Where I’m required to wear clothes. Clean clothes. Which I never have at that point, unless I want to select from the not-everyday-work-clothes drawer.

(I don’t need to describe what’s in there. Everyone has the same or similar, so you already know what I’m talking about.)

(Although I doubt I’m the first person ever to wonder if wearing a high school prom gown to work could be accomplished without anyone noticing.)

This burden of mine has become easier to deal with as I’ve matured in years, mainly because I actually learned from some of my past lessons in life, surprisingly.

Such as, it really is better to put in the effort of folding and putting away clothes once they’re dry, straight from the dryer if possible. Not only does it prevent wrinkles that need to be ironed (because ironing is even worse than doing laundry, although it smells nice), but it also eliminates the possibility of living out of a clothes basket for a week, or of piling the clean laundry on top of the bed and then sleeping on it for the next seven days.

I’ve done both.

More than once.

Leaving the clean clothes in the basket itself can lead to other issues, such as now having nowhere to put dirty clothes, except for the closet floor. Or worse, no longer knowing for sure if the clothes in the basket are still the clean clothes, or the dirty clothes. (This is especially hazardous when one’s wardrobe is remarkably similar, much in the same way that photocopies are similar.)

This can also lead to the unpleasant discovery that the clothes in the basket that you thought were clean are actually suddenly, irrevocably and irwardrobedly dirty, and damp, and the unexpected answer to “Why has the cat box stayed so clean this week?”

(At least that never happened when I was sleeping on the clothes.)

(That I know of.)

A yellow-alert situation such as this really only has one of three possible solutions:

Plan A: Calling in sick to work. (Done that.)

Plan B: Digging into the dreaded drawer mentioned above, attempting to create a passable outfit for the day out of pants that are usually too tight or meant for weddings or both; shirts that are stained in places that might not show if I’m careful not to lift my right arm above my knee; and that pair of underwear that only stays up properly once it’s been stapled on. (Done that too. All of it. And more.)

And Plan C, which relies on having a little more time than may be available in a sudden emergency wardrobe malfunction: buying new clothes just to avoid washing what is already owned.

(Yes, three for three; I’ve done that, too.)

It’s been some time since I’ve had to rely on any of these impractical solutions, because the space-age clothes dryer I use now has a steam “refresh” cycle that can be used to recycle clothing for another day, as long as there are plenty of dryer sheets available to add and a lack of ketchup upon any of the clothing.

Part of my distaste at putting away clean laundry is that I’m just not very good at folding clothes. And clothes really need to folded in some way to maximize the use of a drawer. After years of practice and trying, I’ve come to a compromise with myself: since my folded clothes are never going to look the way they do in a store, as long as they’re reasonably compact and secured and able to fit within the drawer with a minimum of forced compression, I’m happy.

(Believe me, “forced compression in the drawers” is not something anyone should ever want to deal with more than once, if ever.)

My pants are folded once so the legs are together, then twice more going down. My shirts are folded three times- once bilaterally, once to bring in the sleeves, and once more across the middle. My underpants are also folded three times. Eventually, everything ends up as squares of various sizes, except for my socks, which I fold once and then haphazardly shove into their own drawer where they end up roaming around free range anyway.

(At least I no longer force my paired socks to be wadded into each other, forming amorphous mobius blobs, after finally realizing this was why I usually had one sock that would raggedly slide down my leg and into my shoe while the other one stayed put.)


I don’t like doing laundry. While there are ways to avoid it, they usually end up being more of a hassle and hardship than just gritting my teeth and getting it over with, hoping that I haven’t missed an ink pen somewhere this time.

Because I like to look reasonably nice. More importantly, my employers like me to look reasonably nice. And at least I have some possibility of achieving this, simply by wearing clothes. This accomplishes the fundamental first step of being able to be looked at.

So once a week, usually at the last possible moment, I do my two loads of laundry.

These are the never-ending loads we must bear as responsible adults.

And we really only have ourselves (and sometimes ketchup) to blame.

I don’t like shopping.

I’ve said it before, I know … but I really don’t like shopping. It always seems the bigger the purchase, the more annoying it is to shop for the item.

Purchasing a vehicle, therefore, daunted me. Especially since I last shopped for a vehicle 14 years ago. I hoped, however, that the new tools available to me that weren’t as well-developed the last time I put metal under my pedal would ease my search.

Off I went … to the internet.

Going online is not only second nature to me these days; it’s like a second home. When I was first introduced to the online world in 1991, I was immediately drawn in without a look back.

(If I have to shop, I may as well start off where I’m most comfortable. Best of all, as long as the curtains are down and the webcam is off, I can wear (or not) whatever I like.)

I knew my price range, which helped me to narrow my search. Nearly to nothing, it seemed. I realized then the more major car dealerships would be of no use to me- I wasn’t in the market for a new car loan, just a new-to-me car.

Luckily, there were any number of smaller, used car dealerships available online as well.

(In the online world, it’s possible to find almost anything, of course. And usually even twice! The second time just tends to have a naked body involved somehow.)

I found a number of vehicles I thought would be sufficiently adequate, made a few print outs, a list of locations (oddly, a number of these dealers had the same address), grabbed my ever-suffering roommate (since he had a vehicle that was not crushed), and off we went.

As it turned out, the mysterious shared address was one large car lot shared by 16 different dealers, all of whom had offices in a row at the end of the lot. We parked and began to wander, looking for the vehicles that matched my print outs.

20 minutes and five vehicles later, we had not been approached by any salesmen. I found this remarkable- usually, when at a car lot, I’m pounced upon almost as soon as I put my foot on the ground, leading me to check to see if I negligently left a fresh porkchop hanging around my neck.

As we were just about to leave, a salesman finally appeared, produced an enormous ring of keys, and unlocked the door of the first vehicle I pointed out, a silver pickup truck.

Although on my list, as I looked through the window of the truck, I was concerned to see the steering column was damaged. It looked like an enraged gorilla had forcibly ripped the ignition switch out. As I opened the now unlocked door, the … fragrance … that blew forth confirmed that yes, a gorilla apparently had lived within the truck cabin.

It must have been for a long time. And he hadn’t washed his socks. Ever.

(I know gorillas don’t wear socks. I also know it smelled like this one had. In the sun. When it was hot.)

My head spinning, we moved on to my next choice, another truck. I liked the looks of this one; it was small and reminded me of the truck I drove in college. Most importantly, the air inside didn’t smell like gorilla.

I got into the truck, struggling to fit behind the steering wheel. I know I’ve increased in size since college, but I hadn’t before encounter such a … crushing reminder. Holding my breath, I finally managed to wedge myself into place.

My knees stuck up painfully around the sides of the steering wheel. I was afraid to move my arms.

“What do you think?” asked the salesman.

“               ,                  !” I replied.

A cloud of bats suddenly flew by overhead. In the distance, dogs began to howl.

“The seat can be slid back,” he said, indicating a lever buried somewhere underneath me and the seat.

“                   ,” I squeaked.

Not far away, there came the sound of shattering glass. Somehow, dolphins began to whistle and click near by.

I sucked in my stomach even further. With black spots beginning to appear in my vision, I managed to contortion my arm between my legs and stretched for the adjustment lever. With a final heave that felt like my shoulder was dislocating, I lifted the lever with my fingertips.

The seat slid back half an inch.

“There you go!”

The salesman looked pleased. I felt my internal organs begin to shut down.

I popped myself out of the truck, my face now matching the paint.

“Maybe you should look at something bigger,” my roommate suggested. Wearily, I shook my head in agreement.

And so the morning went. I looked at a few more vehicles, choosing two to test drive. The first one was easily ruled out, as the salesman was unable to find the keys. Considering the enormity of his key ring, we weren’t surprised.

The second vehicle was not a color I would normally choose for myself, as I’ve never believed bright yellow really reflects my personality. But as my father used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

(To be honest, that saying has never made any sense to me.)

The interior of the SUV looked nice, and smelled decidedly gorilla-free, which was a plus. The salesman pointed out the leather seats, a luxury I’ve never experienced.

The test drive was short and quick, mainly because of the leather seats. The vehicle ran well, sounded good, and fit me almost like the vehicle it was replacing. While it was slightly pricier than my budget, I would have considered it still if only the “luxurious” leather seats had not reached sub-lava surface temperatures while sitting in the direct sunlight.

Disappointed, we left the vehicle, trailing sweat and the smell of burnt leg meat. Like the prince from Cinderella, I was beginning to think I’d never find the right fit. Maybe my princess was a gorilla, and the glass slipper that was my vehicle wouldn’t fit because she was wearing socks.

(To be honest, that makes even less sense than my father’s old saying.)

We trudged back to my roommate’s car. I resigned myself to spending the rest of the day looking through more online ads, hoping for just a few more vehicles in good shape and in my price range.

“You know,” the salesman said suddenly, “there is one more vehicle you might be interested in. It just came in, and we haven’t had a chance to put up an ad for it.”

And there it was, the ship that was my prince coming in like … like a begging … horse … (I really need to work on my sayings). A dark green SUV, right in my price range, clean and simian free. I raised the hood and, just as I had on all the previous vehicle, poked around and checked the oil and hopefully looked like I knew what I was doing.

The keys were found and a test drive taken. Although I was a little rusty driving with a clutch after years of having an automatic, the ride was relatively smooth, and by the time we returned, I was sold. I’d found my next vehicle. The cloth-covered seats had sealed the deal.

I’m hopeful I’ve found a vehicle that will last me for a number of years. That would be … sufficiently adequate.

Unlike my sayings.

My right arm keeps falling down.

(We’ll come back to that.)

For 14 years, I’ve been driving a 2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara. It started out as silver, but over time the paint has faded and worn until becoming a slightly glittery gray.

It’s been relatively reliable over the years, outside of a broken rear main seal costing $15 for the part and $700 for the repair, due to the entire engine needing to be removed.

Or when three of the four oxygen sensors in its two catalytic convertors going bad, preventing it from even running. Once again, the engine needed to be removed, only this time around, no mechanic locally could do the job.

So I hauled it 270 miles to the nearest dealership at the time, left it there, drove 270 miles home, made the same trip back a week later, and returned home once more.

It didn’t cause me many big problems, but as the nursery rhyme states: when it was bad, it was horrid.

Still, it served me well over the years. While I’ve never been one to give cars pet names, it and I have been through adventures sordid and sane, earning it the name of “my Vehicle”.

(My creativity is not always there when I need it … so I settled for capitalizing the V.)

I initially purchased my Vehicle to make my first trip to Wyoming, and that 1,712 mile round trip was made a number of times throughout our history.

With greater familiarity came greater comfort. I knew innately where each bumper ended, how it would drive in varying conditions, what noises to worry about and which to disregard, the way its hood would jitter up and down when driving over a certain speed.

I adapted as my Vehicle changed, learning to live with an open window after the air conditioner died, for instance, but keeping the other windows raised so I could still hear the radio over the noise of the rushing highway air.

For 14 years, I drove with one hand on the wheel and my arm draped up and over the back of the passenger’s seat, the best cruising position my Vehicle had to offer.

It and I became one ridiculous, bionic cyborg when I got behind the wheel.

But now, my right arm keeps falling down.

(Told you.)

Vehicular collisions are a singular experience unlike other accidents. We become so accustomed to the feeling of autonomy automobiles give us, that when that autonomy is broken by another object, moving or not, the mental shock is so sudden, so powerful, that time itself splits into different velocities.

The saying “it happened so fast” is a cliché for a reason- it’s mostly true. The actual speed of a wreck is hard to measure. “In the blink of an eye,” or even, “In a split second” doesn’t really fit.

Because while my accident occurred so fast I barely was able to react, it simultaneously was happening slowly enough that I could make out details I’d otherwise have ignored: the feeling of my Vehicle’s brake pedal as I slammed it to the floor.

The tires squealing as they locked and skidded.

The tension in my arms as my elbows reflexively locked, and nearly skidding myself.

The way the invisible autonomobile zone around my Vehicle that was never to be breached suddenly filled with another SUV, and my hood crumpling, and the crash sounding its vulgar, unique tones, and the omnipresent black and white paint dominating my vision, and my seatbelt holding me back as I went from 25 miles an hour to zero, and how my first reaction was to pull out of traffic as well as I could and shut off the engine, and the policeman running up to me to see if I was all right.

And the realization that the vehicle I’d just collided with was his.


(I’d like to formally state that of all the goals I have in life, getting entangled with a policeman via car wreck has never been one of them.)

As I had approached the intersection on a green light, I heard a siren from my left through my open window, yet saw nothing, and assumed it was therefore behind me, not approaching me perpendicularly past two lanes of heavy traffic to my right.

Even if his SUV had had a light bar on top, I wouldn’t have been able to see it any better than the rest of his vehicle.

To wheel out another cliché, by the time we saw each other, there was nothing either of us could do.

He was fine, and I was (mostly) fine – my recently installed titanium chest armor held up nicely. I was shaken and sore, however. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast enough for my airbag to deploy, or I probably would have been left in worse shape.

Even though he repeatedly told me it was an accident, I still felt bad.

Tow trucks and insurance agents were called; pictures and statements taken. While his SUV suffered only from a slightly buckled and dented left passenger door, my Vehicle leaked fluids from its crushed front end.

I’m no mechanic, but I knew I’d never drive it again.

I felt an unexpected loss. I knew, of course, one day it and I would no longer be a team, but this was not the way I expected it to happen.

I was given a ride home. No citations were issued.

The next day, I rented a car, had a doctor check me over, and then went to the salvage yard to remove the rest of my belongings from my Vehicle.

Inanimate objects feel emotion even less than I do, I know; but as I took a last look at its dejected, forlorn appearance, my Vehicle looked like it felt even sadder than I unexpectedly did.

The glint in the headlights was no longer there.

My Vehicle had done its job well, even at the end when it kept me from being hurt as it was destroyed itself.

I sighed and patted it on the hood, thanking it for a job well done.

I drove off in the rental, a four-door sedan. Out of habit, I tried to drape my arm over the top of the front passenger seat.

The seats, however, leaned back further than I was used to after 14 years, and nothing was there when I lowered my arm.

I’ve used the rental for almost three weeks now.

And my right arm keeps falling down.


I don’t enjoy shopping.

Well, not exactly. I enjoy buying things. That part is fun. Comparison shopping, however, is mostly a bore.

Comparing items online is simple; doing so in real life is not a skill I have, nor do I have a real desire to do as other high-powered shoppers do: rushing around different stores in a 50 mile radius to see which outlet has the lowest price on whatever item they may be searching for in the hopes that after burning a tank of gas they can save two dollars from that store 40 miles away …

That’s just not me. In fact, I’m probably the worst shopper possible once I’m on my feet and in the door, because I tend not to care about ‘bargains’. I walk in with an item in mind and the expectation that it’s priced a fair amount that benefits both me and the seller.

Yeah, I’m an easy mark.

After closing on our house and moving in our belongings, we were faced with a literally uncomfortable situation: a distinct lack of furniture. It’s one thing to have a 50” TV sitting in the corner. It’s an entirely different thing to stand and watch it because there’s no chairs and the floor gets hard pretty quickly.

As a temporary solution, we purchased two lawn chairs and arranged them tastefully in our living room. Well, as tastefully as two beige plastic patio chairs can be placed upon wood laminate flooring.

Which is to say, not tasteful at all.

Luckily, a number of furniture stores are located near us conveniently grouped together, simplifying the process of finding the two overstuffed recliners we pictured replacing our tasteless lawn chairs.

(I’m not even convinced that the two chairs look tasteful on an actual lawn.)

I quickly discovered that freedom of choice can be a huge detriment when shopping- the greater the possibilities, the harder the decision is to make. I had an idea of what color I wanted, as well as material and features. With that in my brain, we were able to narrow down the possibilities to a much more reasonable representation our needs from which to choose.

Still, a recliner needs to pass the most difficult of tests, and there was simply no way for us to avoid sitting in many, many different chairs, trying to determine which one was a function of our requirements as well as our Goldilocks buttgroove neccesities.

It’s astonishing how tiring sitting in numerous chairs can quickly become.

Matters were not helped when my first sit-down test in the first furniture store went quickly, horribly wrong.

The first recliner we found that appeared to be all we wanted sat empty and alone, its lushly padded seat and leather-like finish practically begging me to plunk my posterior.

So I plunked.

Charmed by its warm, leathery posterioral embrace, and astonished that this very first choice could possibly be the chair that would return home with me, I relaxed, closed my eyes, and leaned back.

The back did not stop.

In cuddling slow motion, the chair continued until I lay flat back against the floor, my feet pointing towards the industrial steel roof overhead.

With heroic intent, my roommate sprang (stepped) forward and tried to help return my seatback to an upright and locked position by pushing my feet towards the ground.

The back of the chair then separated from the base of the chair, which returned to its original position, leaving me now stretched uncomfortably across the two pieces.

It was just my luck to first try an overachiever. I struggled to extract myself from this recliniest of recliners, finally managing to do so by simply sacrificing my remaining dignity.

Luckily, none had witnessed my mishap, so we casually (briskly) left the store without looking back.

It was hours later in a different store that we finally purchased our two recliners. At the end, I’m not sure if I chose the one I did because I liked it or because I was giving up or if it won for not trying to perforate my spine.

So, shopping for furniture is really not a favorite activity as a result.

During my hospitalization later that year, I learned two valuable lessons about hospital beds. First, being able to mechanically raise my upper body to an upright position was remarkably useful when I was not allowed to use my arms to raise myself.

And two, whoever invented the hospital bed obviously never needed to use one.

In addition to my inability to use my arms in a lifting manner, I was not allowed to reach or twist, either, making it nearly impossible for me to reach the bedrail and use the controls. Additionally, with the way the head of the bed lifted, simple physics decreed that as my top was raising, my bottom would be sliding towards the foot. Alleviating this by raising the feet as well nearly always resulted in a taco-shaped bed with my crumpled body as the filling.

When I decided I needed a new mattress after returning home for my lengthy recovery, I understandably dreaded returning to deathtrap filled furniture stores, and neither was I in any condition to spend lengthy spans of time shopping. I chose to forego any comparisoning and just return to the store from which we purchased our recliners months ago.

As bad as it had been to repeatedly sit and squirm to test the fit of a new recliner, testing mattresses proved even worse. Ironically, it was more tiring as well. With my cane and a paper testing pillow, I slowly shuffled around the showroom, lowering myself painfully onto different beds and trying to imagine after a few minutes how well I would feel after an entire night. Due to my condition, I wasn’t even able to test my favorite sleeping positions.

Eventually, all the mattresses began to run together, and I was no longer able to tell which I had already tested. None, however, had really slept out at me.

It didn’t help that deciding what mattress I wanted was really a decision I needed to sleep on.

But in the clearance section, I found hope once more. A pillowy dream of a mattress that felt like home to me as soon as I gently lowered (crashed) myself onto it. With my eyes closed, I blissfully felt myself swaddled in the chest hair of angels.

And then my roommate found the remote control.

First, he raised me to a comfortable acute angle.

Then the bed began to vibrate, massaging me without needing coins or a cheap motel!

I had found my new nocturnal home.

I also found the price tag marked ‘sold’.

The hirsute angels of my dreams ripped away, leaving me once again in pillowtop purgatory.

Luckily, we found another bed almost as nice, with the same features. Once again, I made my decision not really knowing if I chose the bed for its comfort, or to end my shopping ordeal.

My concerns were soon laid to rest.

At home, I quickly came to appreciate the new bed not only for ending the struggle of getting up, but as an upgrade from my old twin size to new queen dimensions, spreading out became a possibility and the cats finally had plenty of space to sleep on the bed instead of on my chest.

(Not that this has stopped them.)

While I may not have found exactly what I wanted, I certainly found the night time partner I needed, one that keeps me at just the right angle and quiets my muscles with soothing (rumbling) lullabies, no quarters required.

And hopefully, no more shopping nightmares for many years to come.

“You should be dead.”

I was finally awake and interacting with the world once more, after having my chest opened up, my heart and lungs detailed to clean out blood clots and repair cardiac birth defects, and then spending nearly two weeks unconscious while machines breathed for me.

As I slowly began my recovery, both mental and physical, I encountered many, many employees in the hospital who would greet me by name and tell me how glad they were to see me awake and moving around.

This was always followed by some variation of, “You should have died. We’re glad you didn’t!”

Even my surgeon told me he could hardly believe I lived.

(Not to put any pressure on me to get completely well again, or anything.)

I was extremely weak, and there was a lot of pain. And even though I had spent so much time unconscious, I was exhausted.

So the hospital staff began to torture me.

No, it wasn’t real torture; it just felt like it. I did breathing exercises to help my lungs recover. I was given special instructions on how to move and how to lift in such a manner as to protect my sternum while it healed. I learned how incredibly difficult it is to get out of bed without using one’s arms.

All I wanted to do was rest in bed and grimace; all the staff seemed to want me to do was sit in a chair, or walk around the care unit. Which I did, grudgingly and grimacingly. I wasn’t allowed to do the things I wanted; I didn’t want to do what I was allowed.

Even so, when I’d run into yet another nurse or orderly or x-ray technician who would smile, genuinely smile, when they saw that I was alive and kicking, it wasn’t difficult to smile back. While I still didn’t comprehend how dire my situation had been, I also was glad I was alive, pain and everything. I spoke so often to so many different caregivers during my recovery I became convinced that every employee at the hospital had taken care of me at some point.

I had a lot of thinking time. It was difficult for me to accept what had happened to me. While I could understand it, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the facts. To me, it seemed like I went to the hospital with a chest cold and woke up broken. The cognitive damage I was dealing with, combined with the memories of things that hadn’t happened, and the lack of memories of what did happen, made my experience feel like it had happened to someone else.

Except when I’d sneeze, or cough. That brought it all home when it felt like my chest was being torn in two.

A hematologist told me the clots had formed after the antibodies in my blood started attacking the walls of my blood vessels, roughening them and causing the blood to stick. What triggered this, however, is something we’ll probably never know.

He then told me I should have died (sigh) and that I had the worst case of blood clots he’d ever seen.

I told him I wasn’t sure if that should make me happy, or not.

My condition frustrated me. I expected to bounce back as quickly as I had from previous surgeries in my life, never mind how incongruent they were in comparison. My body was weak; more disturbingly, my mind was weak as well.

I tried to write with some paper and a pen one of my close friends brought me (among other things – between her and my roommate I was extremely well cared for on the civilian side of my hospital needs).

I managed to cover about a fourth of a page before my strength gave out. My disappointment escalated when I realized I couldn’t read back what I wrote.

Chickens wouldn’t be able to read what I had managed to scratch out. The only part I’ve ever been able to discern reads “Ha ha ha!”

The universe apparently laughed at my efforts.

Crafting a sentence was nearly beyond me as well. I confused words frequently. Homonyms were beyond me. Clarity was difficult to achieve. I started to believe that my writing career was at an end.

A small worry, however, compared to other matters I suffered through.

As humans, we’re constantly learning, gaining wisdom and insight where we can. For instance, while I was hospitalized, a quote from the show MASH came back to me time and time again: “No one ever died of embarrassment during a sponge bath.”

It feels like it though.

Slowly, my condition improved. I was a little stronger each day; I hurt a little less each day; I made a little more sense a little more each day. A month after my surgery, I was sent home with a cane to continue my recovery.

The cats were happy to see me.

Writing online updates for friends and family helped my mental recovery. Daily walks helped my physical recovery. But often it felt like I’d never be better again.

I spent my time reading, watching TV, and wondering how many gummy worms it would take to equal one serving of fruit. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than five pounds or a jug of milk. My jugs far outweighed both, as did practically everything else I encountered during the day.

The holidays came, feeling different than they had in the past. At Thanksgiving, I knew I had plenty for which to be thankful.

(Like my ability to not end a sentence with a preposition.)

Christmas was different, too. I felt more festive. I even put up a small artificial tree, with lights and ornaments, marking the first time in over a decade I hadn’t hung a drawing on the wall labelled “Tree”.

There were complications, of course. An e.coli infection at the end of my hospital stay had knocked back my progress. While I’d hoped to return to work at the beginning of the new year, in December it was discovered the wires holding my sternum together had pulled through the bone, leaving my chest in pieces that would require further surgery in January and delay my return to work.

I felt more medical anomaly than medical miracle.

The second surgery was smoother than the first, keeping me hospitalized for only five days. My sternum recovery time was reset to eight weeks again, but tempered by the joy I felt from having a solid rib cage once more.

Ribs aren’t meant to move independently any more than one should be able to see his heart throbbing underneath the skin where there should be breastbone instead.

This time, there were no chances taken. My sternum was reconstructed using heavy gauge wire and three titanium plates.

(I had secretly hoped for stainless steel plates so I could hang refrigerator magnets on my chest.)

Finally, I started back to my job at the beginning of March, five months after the adventure began.

(It seems my ability to write has returned, but as for quality … that’s really not for me to judge.)

An old friend mentioned online that he couldn’t imagine going through what I did.

I can easily imagine other people going through what I did because it wasn’t anything special, I told him. I dealt with it because I had to. That’s not bravery. That’s human spirit.

The heroes in my story are the surgeons and the doctors and the nurses and the respiratory therapists and the janitors and all the other healthcare workers involved in saving my life.

My roommate and my friends and my family and my coworkers and acquaintances and celebrities and everyone who gave me encouragement and kept me in their thoughts played big, heroic roles, too.

Heck, even my cats were more heroic than me, sticking right by me once I finally made it home with barely enough strength to shoo them to the side when they tried to sleep on my chest.

All I had to do was get better. And really, in comparison, I think I had the easy job.

Because I can’t imagine the helpless horror of watching any of my friends go through something similar. That takes a strength that I’m not sure I have.

Looking back, my recovery was slow and steady, with no real momentous breakthroughs.

Well, except for one …

When I was being discharged after the second surgery, the nurse bundled me into a wheelchair to take me to my ride home. The elevator was crowded with people. One family looked down at me, beaming smiles, and said just how happy I must be now that I was being discharged. Others nodded and murmured their agreement.

I looked back up at them all, and managed a tired, yet hopefully brave, smile.

“They’re sending me home to die,” I said.

The elevator fell instantly silent. The smiles froze on their faces as they tried to process and respond to what I had said.

I let the silence hang for a few uncomfortable seconds before I told them I was joking. Secretly, I was proud of myself for coming up with that joke on the spot.

It was that moment, right then, that I knew for sure.

I was going to be okay.