For the first time in my life, I felt anxiety. At times I felt unsteady, a little bit off-balance, especially in the mornings. One night, when I woke up and turned around, the room started spinning. It scared me. For a couple of seconds, it felt like my eyes were rotating as well. What was happening to me?
We had lost our health insurance, now was not a good time to be sick. I got carpal tunnel on both hands and swallowed an insane amount of Ibuprophen so I could work the next day. “It’s the knitting, it was a dumb idea,” I told myself like I wasn’t lifting 50-pound boxes of meat and sausages all day long. I had no Christmas present for my husband, which irritated me. I decided to knit him a scarf. More of our money was spent on cheap wool and inexpensive needles. I bought only two balls of yarn, which I turned into a beautiful, very short, scratchy scarf.
He still wears it to this day, which makes me shake my head every time I see it. He was always special, the best husband of all possible husbands but the way he grew, changed, and adjusted during that time -and after- was a bit mindblowing.
While we talked about everything open and honest, we both hid our health issues, tried not to worry the other one. He had quit his blood pressure medication and his cholesterol medicine, he didn’t even call the doctor and asked for more refills. No more OTC heartburn pills either. I didn’t notice, I didn’t even ask. What kind of wife doesn’t notice when her husband quits taking his medications?
I am the watchdog when it comes to his health. I turn into the nagging wife we all have to become when our better half doesn’t take his health seriously. In the past, I have threatened him with everything I could come up with when he refused to see a doctor. I made his appointments, called in his medications for a refill. I was always on top of things. When did I stop?
Christmas would be different this year and I was fine with it. I didn’t have a choice. Moping around didn’t do me any good. We had so much work to do, I would probably go to bed early anyway.
We smoked turkeys, stuffed them, packed them, loaded the trunk of my friend’s car, so she could bring them to her co-workers. We prepared jerky, sausages, and the biggest hit, our sample boxes. We sold so much, we hardly could keep up making more. We made a few thousand bucks with ease. When the utility bill came my friend lost it. $600 electricity for the house and the sausage kitchen. Why was she surprised? We had so many freezers, so many machines were running. December 2009 was a cold one. The heater in the kitchen was running during the day, and we had an extra space heater running during the night to keep the pipes from freezing. It all added up. The water bills were a shock to her as well. All the dishes in the sausage kitchen, sanitizing everything in our three-department sink. We were mopping the floors every day, we cleaned the kitchen from top to button every evening. My friend was upset.
We knew the house bills were higher because of us. Under normal circumstances, we would have offered to pay half but nothing was normal anymore. We felt terrible!
The kitchen made money, but not enough. Our profit margins were off. Why did we sell all the sausages for the same price? I started to write down the cost for each and every kind of sausage we made. Some margins were alright, others were ridiculously small. My husband started an inventory list and we contacted wholesalers. Our meat still came from Cosco and Sam’s, which we needed to change. WE needed more structure. Did you notice that I wrote ‘we’? Somehow the kitchen became our problem as well. Strange? Yes, perhaps.
My friend, my amazing friend could be so stubborn. You had to tell her something at the right time and make sure she was not stoned, or in a hurry. Whatever I suggested, I had to be careful not to hurt her feelings. By then I knew that she was on antidepressants, a medication her doctor had put her originally on when she wanted to quit smoking years earlier. She still smoked cigarettes, she was still on the medication. Why don’t doctor’s ask more questions?
Antidepressants, alcohol every night, getting high every day, and not eating enough -because of her gastric bypass surgery. She was a ticking timebomb. I worried about her. I have always been a social drinker, never had to have a drink or a glass of wine at home. I had switched to hot tea or milk with honey in the evening. I was exhausted, needed to unwind. Still, she opened a bottle of wine every night and it continued to be empty the next morning. I didn’t pay too much attention, just assumed Ben and Steve and their wives were drinking too.
We needed more customers, not just the restaurants, the Hilton, and the people from my friend’s workplace. Mardi Grass was just around the corner.
The website for the Smokehouse and its products was up and running, but nobody looked at it. Twenty clicks a week was not enough. How do you get the word out if you don’t want to spend money on advertisements? How do you get people to look at a website? How do you get people talking about a business? Steve, the nerd showed me how to do it, and it was simple enough.
We went online, looked at the yellow pages and different food sites where people could post questions. Sure enough, someone was asking for Cajun meats and sausages. Steve created an official email address for the Sausage Kitchen and set up around fifty other email addresses for me. Then he showed me how to use a proxy server, so my IP address could not be traced.
I answered when people were asking for sausages, and if nobody was asking the right questions, I became the customer who wanted to know.
Email address 1: I wish I could find Cajun sausages here somewhere.
Email address 2: Oh, you have to try The Smoke House, their products are wonderful.
Email address 3: I heard about them, always wanted to go there. Where are they?
Email address 2: Gives out the address. It’s a bit hidden but worth the drive.
Email address 2: I buy there all the time. They have a webpage, here is the link.
Email address 3: Hold on there is a new Smokehouse in town?
And so on…
That’s how it’s done. That’s how you manipulate potential customers. We got many 5-star ratings from all the email addresses because without five-star ratings you were toast in 2010 as well. The first ratings were written by me, soon the real ones followed, written by genuine customers.
Steve assured me everybody was doing it and today I know he was right. Amazon and their purchased ratings come to mind, to name just one of many. At least we were smarter back then, we didn’t spend any money. I thought it was downright wrong and dishonest but at the same time, it fascinated me how easy it was to trick people online. I learned things I didn’t want to know.
Every evening there was alcohol on the table, every evening they smoked pot, every evening I went to the living room, so I didn’t have to smell it. My husband joined them, had a few hits himself. I knew he needed it, I didn’t say anything. There were no more drug tests for him to pass, there was no interview lined up. I felt like an outsider sometimes.
Ben was still around but busy with other things. He didn’t spend much time in the kitchen anymore. He showed up, grinned, and left. I tried talking to him, he listened but never changed his way. He didn’t want anything to do with the ‘turkeys.’ “I am not a cook,” he said. Neither was I.
“I invited someone over for dinner,” my friend told me one the morning. “I met him in summer when we built the kitchen.
I almost fell off my chair. My friend never dated and didn’t have a boyfriend, or potential boyfriend in all the time I knew her. I can only imagine how lonely she must have been ever since her husband died so young, so many years ago. One year for her birthday I had talked her into joining an online dating site, the membership fee had been a gift to her. We took her pictures, wrote her profile. She got a new haircut and soon she was off to her first date.
It didn’t work out, no HARMONY whatsoever, she gave up. She is the most loveable person I know, but also very independent. How else would she have survived all these years as a widow? She loved her freedom. She traveled a lot and had good friends who visited her. She joined us during most of the Holidays or visited her family in Louisiana. She didn’t want to change. Like so many of us, at a certain age, she was set in her ways.
I could not wait to meet THE GUY. He worked out of town most of the time, had found work cleaning up after a drywall crew. He lived down the road in a trailer, had rented a room but didn’t spend much time there, came only home once or twice a month.
She didn’t say much about him but I saw the sparkles in her eyes. I could not believe it. Finally, there was someone who she liked. It was about time.
He would join us for dinner. We set the table nicely. She had baked a tremendous cake she could not eat. Dinner was ready, we were just waiting for the guest to arrive. She had shown me how to make Gumbo that day, had me standing on the stove making Roux for hours. It was her newest plan for the kitchen. We would make gumbo every day and sell it to the customers and restaurants in one or five-gallon buckets. She thought me how to make a mean gumbo. To this day I cook it every winter but I adjusted it a bit to our liking. Austria meet Louisiana! Out with the chicken, in with the duck and the okra had to go.
We were sitting at the table, my friend got up when it knocked at the door. She greeted THE GUY and when she introduced us my eyes widened. My husband later told me that I got pale. For the rest of the evening, I stared at our guest and looked at my friend in disbelieve. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we talked about.
His name was Kurt and he looked exactly like her dead husband. The figure, the hair, the hair color, the smile, the face -everything, like a clone. I know people can look alike but this was downright creepy.
I had never met her husband, knew him only from the picture she had in her bedroom. I had looked at it so often, loved how happy they both had been. Newlyweds on a bike, their whole life ahead of them, smiling into the camera.
When Kurt left I turned to my friend. “Are you serious?” I had waited for over two hours to ask that question.
“I know,” my friend said and she looked confused.
My husband had no idea what we were talking about. I don’t think he had ever seen a picture of her husband and if he did, then it had been years ago. “Can he see the picture?” I asked. My friend got up and came back with the picture frame, when she handed it to my husband his eyes widened as well.
“Holy Shit,” was all he could come up with.