Tuesday, November 24

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 4 comments
Sunday morning. I made my coffee palatable with ice cream, because we ran out of milk Saturday. A milk run was not top priority after a tiring day helping prep an apartment for a refugee family and trying to capture a stray kitten friends want to adopt. My husband returned from his jog. I finalized the "quick grocery run" list, called out my goodbyes.

"Don't go to the store," came a thin voice from upstairs. "I don't feel well."

I jogged up the steps. "Are you nauseous or something?"

My husband laid in bed with the laptop open, looking at cartoon chests. "It's my...I think it's my heart." He pointed to an image labeled "angina" and described the radiating pain, the sense of suffocation. I thought my eyeballs just might pop their sockets. He's only 40! I ran for the phone, called his doctor's office, worked through the endless menus until we got a live human, then handed over the phone. My husband described his symptoms to the doc-on-call and she urged him to take an aspirin and go to the ER.

After hustling our slow-moving 7-yo to dress and pack something to keep her occupied, we headed off to the hospital. In the next anxious hours, while my husband endured countless tests, I sat in the waiting room being as boringly normal as I could. I put finishing touches on my lesson for youth group that evening, admired C's drawing efforts and doled out snacks. I pushed the mute groans of prayer into the back of my head, off my face where they would terrify my child.

As the day progressed, we learned little of what had actually happened inside my husband's chest that morning. The "event" remained unlabeled. Cause, unknown. They would keep him overnight for observation. Run more and more and more tests.

Lunchtime was approaching. The milkless fridge at home called. My hubby would need an overnight bag packed and more things to read. So off we went, my daughter and I, to tend to the mundane. Food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

I'd forgotten how grueling the ordinary can seem. How anxiety can come not only from a health scare, but also from competing obligations and desires. How can I be the wife my husband needs and the mom my kid needs and the youth leader my teen girls need? And what of the lean, hungry lamb in me with her own needs, like hearing the voice of her shepherd, eating from his table every single week?

This strange mishmash of feelings I had to process opened my eyes to the many faces of courage. That at times it looks like asking the produce guy to check the storeroom for pomegranates because your kid needs to know you hear her, are for her, even though taking the time meant forgoing something I wanted (i.e. being with the youth group kids I adore). Later that evening, as we ate a quick bite in the hospital cafeteria, my daughter sang to herself as she assembled her tuna on rye. She felt safe. Wasn't worried.

And it hit me: this is what it feels like to walk in the shoes of my novel's antagonist, the mother my protagonist misreads again and again. Just because she won't publicly break down, it doesn't mean she doesn't feel every "barb and arrow of outrageous fortune." She has courage that looks like affect. Courage that's food in the belly, groceries, clean socks and pajamas and toothpaste.

Has life ever given you insight into your story's "bad guy"? How did it feel for you?


  1. I'm still very concerned about what was wrong w/ your hubby.

    I hope they find a reason and everything turns out okay!

  2. Thanks, Tamara, for your kind words and concern. Joel finally got discharged tonight after Monday's echocardiogram (normal) and today's stress test (normal). The docs aren't entirely sure what happened to him Sunday morning, but all the tests show he's healthy. We are exceptionally thankful this Thanksgiving!

  3. I'm glad the docs gave Joel a clean bill o' health. I'm going to go ahead and assume it's an isolated incident (since it makes me feel better to do so).

    But I find it curious that even in the midst of a miserable day, your mind was drawing parallels between your situation and your novel. It's not something we can turn off, is it? And would we want to?

  4. Simon: I hope you're right about Joel's health. The mystery aspect of the whole thing is still quite unnerving.

    I'm sure a therapist would have a field day with my thinking about a fictional character in the midst of a high-stress situation. But as you say, you can't temporarily shut down the corner of your brain where art is gestating. Besides, insights come most often when not directly sought.