“They went through my things,” I could hear the disappointment and the frustration in my husband’s voice. His brother’s oldest son, back then in his late 20’s, had borrowed his leather jacket without asking. “It has a tear in it now,” he continued and the sadness in his voice made me cringe. I had bought the jacket for him, it had been a very special anniversary gift.
“I am cold at night,” he continued and we talked for a long time that day. Soon we would have to buy more minutes, something we couldn’t afford. “I try to stay in the car all day long,” he finally confessed, and I had to hold back tears. It was so much colder in the mid-west. Only two weeks before Thanksgiving and he stayed in his car, tried not to be too much of a burden.
Friends are the family you choose. I had chosen wisely.
“I am glad you are here,” my friend made sure I knew I was welcome in her home. This little sentence made all the difference in the world. She said it every day, and I cannot find the right words to describe how it made me feel. She made it almost sound like I did her a favor. “It’s nice to have company, it gets lonely alone.” All my belongings were safe in her house. Not in her wildest dreams would she have snooped through my things -and I never went through hers. Isn’t there an unwritten law that tells you to respect other people’s things? If there isn’t one, we need one. An honor code to respect what isn’t yours. If you don’t have much left, the few things you still call your own become sacred ground. Priceless possessions, relicts of better times.
I am glad you are here, is the most used sentence in my vocabulary now. I make sure everybody visiting our home knows that I am happy they came to see us. I even let my customers and students know that I appreciate their presence in my life -even though they pay me.
I spent the Sunday in the kitchen and gave my friend the space and me-time she didn’t ask for. I went through all the cabinets, cleaned and scrubbed walls and floors. I got familiar with everything there was, got myself ready for Monday when my official teaching job with Ben would begin.
I had gotten up early, had started the fire in the smoking bin. The sausage links were hanging on a rack. Every two hours I opened the large wooden door and rolled the fire bin in the opposite corner. I respect fire as a power of nature. I fear it, which is good. You don’t get reckless if you respect something.
I had the smokehouse going from 6 am to 6 pm. I sat on one of the barstools in the kitchen and my mind started to wander off. I still had so many questions about the sausage kitchen, and there was one I could no longer avoid. Who would buy the sausages?
I made a list of questions I wanted to ask and a list with suggestions. Then another list with things I thought were needed. A list of sausages I knew how to make.
My iPod was playing classical music, I almost felt normal. Writing lists always gives my mind the peace it needs. A list means I am organized, it gives me the illusion to be in control. I needed the feeling to still have some control when so much of what had happened had been out of my control.
When I run out of things to do I decided to make some calls. I had to contact friends and neighbors. I could no longer avoid it without having my picture shown on a milk carton. I had just disappeared, and by now most of them most must have figured out what had happened. I am sure there was a FOR SALE sign in our former yard, or perhaps even a sign mentioning FORECLOSURE so the world would know that we could no longer pay our bills.
I had avoided calling people, had not answered any of the messages that had been left on my old blackberry. It was time to let people know I was still alive -that we were still alive. Maybe I didn’t have to go into details.
The first call went well. “You are such an asshole,” my friend, a woman who never cursed let me have it. Her way of greeting me was so unexpected, I laughed out loud. She was mad with me and made sure I knew. Her anger was mixed with concern. “I was worried about you. Do you need anything?” “Where are you?” “What are you going to do?” “Don’t The call ended with “I love you too.”
How neighbors and friends reacted was so different. Some wanted to know all the details about what had happened, while others were only concerned about my well-being. Our STORY would be told for many weeks, we were gossip for many months. We were just another loser couple who couldn’t make it for some, for others we were still special.
I stayed in contact with the three who asked about us and the dogs. The three who weren’t interested in the details, but showed relief when they knew we were alright were the better friends, the ones who were worth keeping. The rest of them I left behind -just like I had been forced to leave so many things behind.
When it got dark, I got all the sausages out of the smokehouse and I spread them on the kitchen island to cool off. It had been a good day. I was proud of myself.
Back at the house, dinner was waiting for me. I showed her the sausages, we cut into them, tried them and both smiled. After dinner, she got up and prepared her lunch for the next day. Soon she would sit back down and she would take a hit from the pipe she had waiting for her in an ashtray. With her back toward me, I finally had the nerve to ask her.
“Who is going to buy all the sausages we make?”
There was silence.
She had a few hits and I made her talk. I needed to know her plan to be able to help her. Turned out there was none.
She, Ben, and Steve had thought just opening a kitchen would be enough. A kitchen in the backyard, hidden behind a mobile home on a gravel road, with approximately ten neighbors close by. She had bought large wood letters which spelled the name of her sausage kitchen, they had been painted red and now they hung in the front and back of the kitchen for the world to see -but the world was too far away.
It was Sunday evening. I watched her getting stoned and I listened, tried to puzzle the pieces together.
My friend was childless like me. Her husband, the love of her life, had been killed in a car accident when they were in their early 30’s. She never had a relationship after him, instead had tried to get her life together. She too had once lost a home when she couldn’t pay the bills anymore without his income.
She worked in the accounting department of an oil company. She had worked her way up as high as she could without a degree. She knew she couldn’t afford a real house on her own, so she bought a brand-new mobile home as soon as she could afford one. She had it built for her needs. One big bedroom on each side of the home, each one with a nice large bathroom with garden tub and shower. She wanted to be ready to take her parents in, in case they ever couldn’t care for themselves anymore.
That’s how we had met. We had bought a double-wide mobile home when we were young. We lived in a brand-new park that had just opened, had no neighbors. Just our home and fields left and right. One afternoon they came and put a single-wide mobile home right behind us. We weren’t thrilled. A woman in a white pickup truck parked on the street, she watched them, setting up her ‘house.’ I watched from the kitchen window.
A few days later she came back, inspected the home, sat down on the temporary steps they had left her. I walked outside and introduced myself. She was waiting to have electricity and water hooked up. She asked me where the next gas station was. “Knock on our door when you need something or when you have to use the bathroom,” I told her. I was translating books back then, didn’t have to go to the office, could work from home.
We were far away from the next city. The area where we lived had one very small, and very dirty grocery store, a pizza store where people could rent videotapes at night, and a Mexican restaurant with food they liked to call authentic. The next decent grocery store was 10 miles down the road, the next subdivision with real houses and stores about 15 miles away.
She knocked a few times, and I invited her in. She was a heavy woman, weighing 355 pounds. She loved to cook and she loved to eat. After she had moved in, she invited us over to dinner. We became friends that night. My husband became ‘the brother’ she never had. We spent holidays together, we were involved in other’s lives.
All was good, until the day when there was a tornado warning. I had been fine living in a mobile home until it started shaking when heavy winds hit our area. When they patrolled the ‘houses’ asking us to evacuate, I was done with mobile homes. I am from Austria. I can handle ice and snow and I don’t mind avalanches. I climb like a goat and I ski like a mad person. I don’t to tornadoes, that’s something out of the Wizard of Oz.
We sold our mobile home and bought our first real house. While we weren’t neighbors anymore, we stayed in close contact and our friendship continued. One day she told me she would have gastric bypass surgery. I tried to talk her out of it, offered to help her to lose weight. She went with the surgery and it was life-changing. She lost 200 pounds in 2 years and every time I watched her cook and eat I cried inside. Her love for food was still there, but she couldn’t eat much. She cooked for ten and only ate a very small plate of food, a few bites of a steak or cake, then her stomach started hurting.
The surgery had solved her weight problem, but the problems and emotions deep inside her that made her overeat and overindulge were still existing. Overeating to numb herself was no longer an option and so she started to smoke pot excessively. She also started to drink too much -something I had never noticed. She fought many demons and I would get to meet them all.
When she bought her own land and had her mobile home moved, she was happy. Her dream to own a piece of land had finally come true.
The dream of the sausage kitchen became reality when her young neighbors Ben and Steve started to visit her in the evenings. At the weekends she cooked for them and their families, she bought presents for their kids, and when they smoked pot together they made plans about the kitchen.
A hidden kitchen building, sausages, and no buyers. If her dream would not work out, where would it leave me?