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How to be an Amazing Volunteer Overseas

How to be an Amazing Volunteer Overseas

Rules of the Road, Stories from the Field
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Letter to a Stranger

Letter to a Stranger

Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us
edited by Colleen Kinder
foreword by Leslie Jamison
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The Ninth Wave

The Ninth Wave

Love and Food on the Isle of Mull
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Ready to Come About

Chapter One

Winter 1981, in our second-floor apartment of an old brick house in downtown Ottawa, I sat at the drop-leaf table David had set with a faded chintz tablecloth, a pair of candlesticks, and the sparkling cutlery we had been given as wedding presents, while he prepared dinner. There were blizzard-like conditions beyond the frosty panes of glass, but the kitchen’s baby-blue radiator kept us warm.

“What’s cookin’?” I asked, watching him turn stove dials up and down, lift and lower pot lids, and open and close the oven door like a one-man band.

“My own recipe.” He stirred a dollop of butter into a steaming pot. “Pork Shake ’n Bake, except on chicken,” he divulged with pride.

Gotta love ’im. I giggled to myself.

After serving up two plates of his concoction with Minute Rice, mixed vegetables, and sprigs of parsley placed just so, he sat down, uncorked a bottle of Mateus, and poured us each a glass.

“Happy anniversary, my dear,” he said.

“Happy anniversary,” I said, smiling.

We had been married seven weeks. He thought that was cause enough for celebration. My heart swelled as our glasses clinked.

We ate at a leisurely pace, but chatted with passion about our new life together.

Ottawa, with its green spaces and vibrant arts scene, had a lot to offer. Perhaps we’d even make it home. Kids? Absolutely. When? Soon, was my thinking.

“Well then …” David said with a glint, and we laughed.

And workwise, we were off to an auspicious start. He had been promoted to permanent status as an entry-level accounting clerk in a high-tech firm. The pay was good, his colleagues were collegial, and he could bike to work — perfect for the time being.

I had just completed a week of orientation as staff occupational therapist in the rehabilitation wing of a nearby hospital. The department was a beehive of optimism: an amputee being trained to feed himself using prosthetic arms in one area, a quadriplegic learning to drive a power wheelchair in another. “The OT mission is function with dignity. The vision is possibility,” I explained to David.

“You’ll be so great at it,” he said, his soft blue eyes moist.

I scooped up a forkful of veggies and considered that he was absolutely right.

“It feels like what I was meant to do. And to grow old and ugly with you,” I joked. “Seriously, everything’s just so perfect right now.” My eyes welled as I took a bite.

That’s when he said, “The only thing I regret about being married is I won’t ever sail an ocean.”

I stopped chewing — and, momentarily, breathing — and studied his face.

He was serious.

“Didn’t even know you sail,” I said as evenly as possible.

“Oh yeah. I did. My Aunt Caroline gave me a small sailboat my grandfather had built. I used to sail it on Lake Yosemite, an irrigation lake about seven miles from our house. My mom would drop me off there on her way to work. I”d sail back and forth all day long and imagine I was crossing an ocean, even though it was only a mile wide. Silly.”

Why was I just hearing about this for the first time now?

Why did he presume I’d be unsupportive?

And just how regretful was he and would he be with the passage of time? Would he become one of those bitter old men who look back on their lives with despair? Worse, would he blame me?

“More chicken?” he asked.

“God! I can hear it already; you introducing me as ‘my wife, Sue, the dream wrecker’ to our tablemates in the nursing home!”

“Whoaaaa! What the —”

“Don”t you whoa me!” I said, determined to nip any notion I might be overreacting in the bud.

David backtracked as best he could: it was a poor choice of words; he even surprised himself with the comment; he couldn’t be happier. “It was a childhood fantasy, nothing more,” he insisted.

But as he told the story, his face lit up in such a way I wasn’t entirely convinced he had left this fantasy behind. So, determined to seem open to the preposterous idea, I remarked with as much conviction as I could muster, “You know, anything’s possible.”

And we finished our meal listening to the radiator gurgle and ping.

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