Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Death and Taxes and Super Bowl

What I did in lieu of watching the big game... in seven movements...

1 - I'm At Home
I piddle around on Sunday afternoon. I look out the window and I'm glad to see that what was left of the snow and ice that trapped us inside the house for nearly three days last week is gone.

I try not to think about my friend.

When will the services for her be held? What is going to happen to her office down the hall from mine? What about the 120 students she would have taught this semester?

I'm almost certain I'm violating some unwritten rule of blogging.

Don't write about death.

Keep everything light and frothy. People mostly read these things to be amused. And it's Super Bowl Sunday.

I should act like a real American.

Americans don't want to cry. That's why we have "celebrations of life," not "funerals." We always look for the silver lining...or we just don't look. And we move on...

2 - I Go Shopping
At 5:25, as one team is kicking off to another in Dallas, Texas, I head to the grocery store. It is raining lightly. I look at the parking lot and I'm surprised. I'm not the only one who isn't at home watching the big game.

Attention, shoppers. It's 5:25 CST and there's
a Super Bowl on Aisle XLV...

The store isn't crowded, but it is far from empty. Of course, earlier in the day one can assume it was a madhouse of shoppers stocking up on treats for their Super Bowl parties.

I can see the evidence on key aisles [photo below].

As I am checking out, the young,  blue-eyed, red-headed clerk who has a tag that says "Hailey" asks me, "Why aren't you watching the Super Bowl?" I think, "Why are you asking me and not the 200 other people in this store?"

Before I can briefly tell her about the VWP, Hailey blurts out, "The Packers are ahead by two touchdowns."

"Actually, I'm avoiding all the news and the game as part of a year-long project I'm blogging about," I interject.

"Oh no! Then I wasn't supposed to say that." I can't tell if Hailey is apologetic or just amused. Maybe both.

"Don't worry. People say things that I can't help overhearing. Or they wear the jerseys. I'm not blind. I knew it was the Steelers vs. Green Bay. You just gave me one more thing to blog about."

I wonder how many people bought rice, corn and wheat Chex cereal
to make "Chex mix" for the big game? More than a few?

3 - I Work on My Taxes
Once the groceries are put away I begin the second part of my alternative to watching the Super Bowl.

The Van Winkle Tax Bowl.

At 7:25 CST as half-time nears, I'm loading
TurboTax and getting down to business...

I load TurboTax onto my computer which unexpectedly takes 20 minutes and then five more minutes for the program to search for and load on-line updates. But I'm not complaining.

Each year the simple Q & A format and the built-in calculators spare me the agony of puzzling over the tax forms and the impenetrable IRS instructions and then punching calculator buttons.

Without the tax software it would take me hours of work instead of 45 minutes. I would likely have some kind of breakdown and have to be hospitalized...

There it is again. I'm thinking about my friend. The last time I saw her was on Monday of Super Bowl Week. She was on pain meds and speaking softly. She was reconciled, imagining, as she put it, "Not waking up one morning," and "then I'll be in a better place." She spoke of all the people who kept coming by to express their love for her.

"You can have money in the bank or a job title," she said. "It isn't profound. Everyone knows. All that matters is love. I can't go to the bank and take dollars out, rub them on my forehead and feel love."

4 - I Look at the Numbers
Then I am done. Super Bowl XLV is likely gone into the record books. This year calculating our taxes took more time than in the past, partly because I wasted 15 minutes looking in the garage for an official DIV statement on a money market account in which we have a decent nest egg that earned a sum total of interest in 2010 of around 55 cents. Welcome to America post- financial collapse.

Still , there is the good news I hoped for: We don't owe the U.S. Government any money. Instead, we are going to get back a decent tax refund.

What I really want back is my friend.

5 - I Relive the Shock
My friend now has something in common with me. She doesn't know who won the Super Bowl either. You see, she passed away in hospice the day before the game. A few weeks ago she was like me. She stood at the photocopier and made copies of her syllabuses to hand out at the start of the new semester. New students, new names. She was ready to go!

Except she wasn't feeling well. She was in pain. Another professor took away her papers and told her to go home.

The next day they put her in the hospital for tests. Exploratory surgery would follow. Someone purchased a card and put it in the work room for everyone to sign. A cheerful card that would prove wildly inappropriate.

Someone got a get well card like this for us to sign...
After we heard the diagnosis we knew.
Such a card would never be sent.
She had Stage 3C ovarian cancer that had already spread throughout her abdomen. Because of a virus her heart was working at only 20%, and that meant they couldn't give her chemo or operate further. At that point she calmly accepted these facts and began preparing for the end.

It came little more than a week later.

And now begin the summations and orations. With words we try to hold onto a body and soul.

6 - I Grieve
She loved frogs and her office was decorated with them in every shape and form. Her students used to give her plastic frogs. She told them that f-r-o-g stood for "fully reliant on God."

She had a life-size cardboard cut-out of Spock from Star Trek standing in a corner of her office.

At home she loved her pug dog.

Even though she had strong competition from the wits and cut-ups and grown-up class clowns that populate English faculties she was, in my estimate, the funniest person around.

She audited two of my creative writing classes because she always was interested in learning. She was a darn good poet and story teller.

She wrote a story about a one-armed man who could roll cigarettes with one hand and who thought he saw a panther in a Texas alfalfa field. Years later, I still remember it.

She was middle-aged, but she sometimes dyed her hair magenta and wore jeweled glasses.

She was white, but every Sunday she attended an African-American church.

She grew up among rednecks, but from an early age she recognized racism for what it was. She spoke with horror of being in school the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The class of white children broke into applause. She would spend the rest of her life speaking out against that kind of ignorance and evil.

She died at the beginning of Black History Month. That time always held significance for her.

She came to academic late in life after a career in business. That's why she only had an M.A. and her title was "instructor." This meant that effectively she never gained the same respect as the profs who had PhDs and terminal degrees. But she had other credentials that in my mind exceeded most of those our
résumés boasted about.
7 - And Some Day Comes Acceptance?
Another year's taxes are  now done. After 13 years of knowing her, my friend is dead. Life keeps subtracting from my accounts, but I think she would remind me to look at the other side of the picture. Every day something is added into my life.

I just have to pay attention and find out what it is. - V.W.

The outside of her office.



  1. Thanks for writing about our friend so eloquently. It's been hard to be so far away right now, and your words are of great comfort.