I’m Not a Psychic But…
There are a few things I know with utmost certainty. Most of this knowledge has been revealed to me during the last decade or so of my life.
It’s amazing how clarity flows forth at the onset of age forty — give or take a few years. This is also true when you hit the benchmark of twenty-plus years of marriage.
For instance, I now instinctively know nothing good can happen when my husband is left alone within the great expanse of our half-acre estate.
Case in point: The summer day I arrived home from work to find all three of my sons gathered in the hall right inside the front door.
Surprised to see them waiting to greet me, I smile — and quickly ask, “What’s wrong?”
They all contribute to the story. It seems dad climbed the 8-foot ladder to power wash the boys’ clubhouse — and the force of the gushing water knocked him to the ground where, thankfully, our calmest child, happened to find him.
I hear moaning upstairs.
“It’s not good,” reports my oldest, shaking his head. “He was laying there a while. I didn’t know what to do — he couldn’t move right away.”
“I think someone should have held the ladder,” offers my youngest, looking worried.
“Geez… who knew what he was doing out there. He didn’t even tell us anything. He just goes out and does stuff,” says the middleman, the son who discovered the body. Often the voice of reason (like me), his matter-of-fact assessment annoys the eavesdropping patient.
“That’s not it…” a strange, groaning voice tries to shout at us. Apparently, father-knows-best is reclining within earshot of our conversation—and is not sleeping, like I was told.
Upstairs lies my other half, prone on the bed, hands folded across his chest, still in his “work” clothes. I often ask him not to go out in public in those cast-off outfits — for fear someone will see him and think we are on skid row and stop to slip the kids a few bucks. This time, worse yet, he was almost caught dead in the tattered “Folkfest tee” and buttonless Dickies salvaged from a time long before they became a fashion statement. In this moment, I am distracted by his choice of attire before I am struck by the paleness of his face.
First, I ask him what hurts — and get him extra-strength Tylenol.
Next, I chide him for not listening to me.
“I told you not to do that when I wasn’t here.”
I offer to help make him more comfortable.
“What do you want me to do? Maybe I should help you up and get you to the doctor or the emergency room to be checked.”
“No,” he gasps. “I’m all right.”
Suddenly, he jerks around and extends his arm. I take it, assuming he wants me to help him sit up. Instead, he slides his legs over the side of the bed and tries to get up himself.
“You changed your mind. You want to get checked out?”
He’s on his feet, obviously in mid-spasm. He says one word: “No.”
“No? Where are we going then? Where am I taking you?”
He places his right arm around my neck — and is leaning on me, attempting to shuffle to the bedroom doorway. He can barely get the words out, talking through his teeth slowly—in what appears to be a quiet agony.
“I just want to… go… to…”
“The hospital?” I assume.
“… the … China Buffet.”
Positive I heard him correctly, I can only consider the source. He does have a healthy appetite; I just didn’t realize he was a “stress eater.” I always figured he was too thin for that dysfunction. How you can be hungry at a time like this, I’m not sure. He sure has stamina if nothing else, I rationalize.
I secretly marvel at his persistence. (Did I mention he has a head like a brick?)
Within thirty minutes the whole family is gazing through glass dividers, feasting our eyes on pans of General Tso ’s chicken, fried chicken wings, Singapore chicken, peppers and beef, and wonton soup at the China Buffet.
I think he ate five platefuls that day, a plate less than usual. He did not, however, skip the soup or the ice cream. Actually, he almost forgot the shrimp because he wasn’t on top of his game, due to the fall and all.
He even self-served.
On the way home, I was careful not to make any sudden stops or hit bumps in the road. If his body didn’t give out yet, I was afraid his stomach might.
He saw me glance at him at the first traffic light and, reading my mind, told me he felt “much better.”
And… he wanted to finish up in the yard.
This didn’t surprise me. For years I watched my husband engaged in unrelenting pursuit of voles. He would banish the slick rodents from our front lawn, only to have them claim the yard as their habitat. It was like a scene from the movie Caddyshack; my normally level-headed spouse would no sooner claim victory over these maddening, bulb-eating critters and, lo and behold, they would reappear somewhere else nearby — and sneer at him.
The entire perimeter of our home was fair game for the voles, leaving our landscape beds totally devoid of anything perennial or pretty.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” he said pathetically, holding the aluminum sonar cylinder designed to chase away the voles with high-pitched sound waves.
I guess this new technology made the voles go deaf, because my husband would holler for them to show their faces, but they never did. Apparently, he had given them pet names, too — all beginning with a particular expletive.
“I replaced the batteries in this thing,” he continued, “and plugged up the holes. See, I dug up the top layer of mulch, but it looks like they’re back.”
“Have you actually seen one?” I ask, sensing his frustration.
A stupid question, I realize, deserves a stupid answer. So, I get one.
“I can see the holes, Lorraine…”
I sigh. I know where this is going — and this time I’m not falling for it. I don’t want to have to yet again witness the process this man-turned-chemist must undergo to wage war against the voles: mixing equal parts of urine (his, not mine), liquid soap and castor oil.
On several occasions, I watched him spray this toxic concoction at the exit holes and surrounding areas, saturating the mulch. A few days later, he would announce his triumph.
“Haven’t seen any voles in… (insert three, four or five) days. Think I got them.”
ONE WEEK LATER
“Those damn voles are back. Almost chopped one up with the lawn mower.”
I don’t say anything, though I swear I detect a glint in his eye.
“Next time, I’m going to catch that sucker. Run it right over.”
It’s disconcerting. This is a guy who contracted with an exterminator to humanely catch a groundhog — $285 and one whole family of opossums later; we still have a burly groundhog living a few yards from our rear deck.
As our oldest would say, “This isn’t good.”
THAT EVENING AROUND DUSK
Mounds of greenery and straggly, rootless plants are strewn all over our flowerless beds. It’s the spoils of war; the voles are winning.
“Just mulch the beds in,” I say decisively, “I have no desire to throw more money away on flowers and plants for the voles to destroy.”
There’s no response. I’m not sure he heard me. He’s bending over and spraying a recently discovered stretch of vole territory. I see his flushed face has a grimace.
I try again, noting sweat is now forming on his brow.
“Besides, what they don’t get, the rabbits will finish off. It’s less work for you anyway.”
“Maybe that’s not a vole hole. It could be something else,” he mutters, leaning closer to the hole to get a better look.
“Just forget it, Joe,” I implore. This is more of a directive than a request. He does nothing to indicate he notices my change of tone.
Just then, the groundhog lummoxes passed us. I look around to confirm we are not being slyly filmed for an episode of a new reality show Punked! on Animal Planet.
Where are the show’s co-hosts Ashton Kutcher and Austin Stevens, I wonder?
The sound of the spade pounding the ground brings me back. The digging drowns out my suggestion to forget about it for now. There’s no point in talking. He’s a man with a mission — and I have no place in this drama except as a spectator witnessing it all unfold. It’s man versus voles—and they’re going down.
I feel bad my significant other is unable to come to terms with these pests, albeit they are God’s creatures.
I turn to go inside, yelling over my shoulder, as a last attempt to inject some reason, “They were probably here long before we were.”
“Nah, I think they were brought in with that last batch of mulch.”
This is news to me. These rodents could be transients, new to the neighborhood. I mull that over for a moment, realizing this problem is likely to be never-ending.
I recall a stranger once telling us how voles eventually ran her father off his farm — he couldn’t battle them anymore and decided to sell his land. It seemed a preposterous story at the time, an exaggeration that seemed horrible, although fairly meaningless to me. It no longer felt that way.
Instead, I picture my forlorn family loading up the moving van—the voles, lined up on the path from our front door to the driveway, staring with dark, beady eyes on us. My husband, defeated, dejectedly hands over the spray bottle to the new owners…
From the garage, I watch my husband, trying to figure out what he’s doing on his hands and knees.
“Do you see one?” I yell, praying the answer is “yes” so we can put at least this one little fellow behind us.
It sounds like he’s saying something about a cat. I can’t tell for sure. His head is no longer visible. There’s silence.
I know I need to distract him. Short of hurricane-force winds or a medical emergency, I don’t know how to get his mind off the voles.
I’m considering my options, a successful call to attention that won’t alarm him.
“Hey, Hon when you’re done there,” I inquire diplomatically, “want to go to the China Buffet?”
“I’ll be done in a minute.”
Lorraine Sciuto-Ballasy has had a love affair with the written word ever since she can remember. She has worked as a columnist, news writer, features reporter, editor, and publications director since graduating Temple University with a journalism degree. Lorraine has lived by the mantra “Never waste a moment” — a likely explanation for the manic balancing act that is her life shared with her high school sweetheart, Joe, and their three sons, Nicholas 20, Lucas 16, and Justin 10 — her greatest sources of inspiration. She believes immense joy is found in daily living — and discovers immeasurable humor in even seemingly mundane occurrences.