The neat, thick swaddling that covered my beloved’s naked back, did nothing to hide the newly stapled 9” incision under which I could visualize screws and rods and new, DNA-minted bone. Oh, my cursed imagination. I shivered and reached for my computer – the only way not to feel his pain without stealing his drugs, was to start my monthly vignette. Something happy was called for.
My 3 granddaughters popped into my mind’s eye, bringing me joy. When it was Anny’s turn to twirl in my head, I thought “Ah, the unicorn story,” and felt my heart smile. For the hell of it, I Google'd “unicorn” and found: A legendary, mythical creature; A hard lover to catch; A rare find; Symbolizes innocence; A sign of chastity; A divine presence.
Nothing quite nailed it for me, so I looked at my husband’s inert form and asked rhetorically "How'd you define a unicorn?”
To my surprise, he opened one eye as his index finger pushed down on his morphine pump and said "A white horse with two pricks," then promptly fell asleep.
Once I’d generated some healthy endorphins with a belly laugh, I realized I needed not only Anny’s unicorn but another to signify the diversity of the label. But my eyes fell again on my precious husband, and tears burned my raw eyes. The strongest man in the world was out cold with tubes, drains and pipes attached to every part of his body.
My hunky is the strongest man I know, emotionally and physically. A rugby player until he was 37, there’d never been a physical challenge that was too much for him. Just 10 years ago, without help, he hauled a piano ON HIS BACK out of a house, onto a truck and off again, for a charity auction…and now here he lay. I felt helpless and afraid.
You know how the universe miraculously gives you what you need when you need it? Well, listen to this!
Along came Nurse Cat. Not the usual bossy, condescending stereotype, Cat had a twinkle in her eye, a ready smile and more confidence than a brain surgeon. Basking in her competent aura, I felt immediately comforted, like I was listening to the All-is-right-in-the-world-voice of the tall Allstate spokesman (and the President on Jack Bauer's '24'). I knew Cat could make things better.
Her gentle efficiency was a thing to behold. I think I heard the hospital room itself sigh with relief.
Easy conversation followed between the newly-awake patient, Cat and me as she magically made my sweetheart comfortable in spite of his sucking, blowing and medicating attachments.
Cat said she nursed in this orthopedic wing of the hospital 14 hours a day, 3 days a week. As her hands smoothed and administered, her effervescent chatter made the room suddenly brighter. "The good news is I only have to watch my retired husband watching ESPN 4 days a week instead of 7. I love my work but I'm too old to do more long hours straight."
I pooh-poohed at the "old" thing, meaning it.
Cat said "Hey, I'm 64 but nursing keeps me young." And boy, did it show.
"How long have you been nursing?" I calculated quickly and expected to hear “over 40 years."
"Six years," said Cat casually.
Okay, so my math has always been a bit off but, "SIX years?" I asked incredulously. My hearing had undoubtedly been affected by my hunky's surgery.
Cat nodded. I couldn’t help myself "What the hell did you do before being a nurse?" A rocket scientist? Jack Bauer's president?
She smiled. The twinkle twinkled. "I was a bartender and a waitress". My jaw dropped but she never missed a beat: "I always wanted to be a nurse so when my kids were grown and gone, my husband (he was my third, I was his fourth) said 'Now it's your turn' so at 52 I went back to school with 19 year olds.”
At this point I was leaning back, applauding. A lover of plot twists and the unexpected, Cat was delivering – up-close and personal. She continued: "The college professors would ask 'What do YOU want to be in 20 years?’ and when it was my turn I would say 'Alive'!"
“My gosh, Cat” I said. “You’re like a fascinating trick of light that dodges in and out of reach. And the light, when you finally catch it, is so shiny, so bright, so multi-faceted and so unique it blows your mind .”
And then she left the room. All was calm. All was peaceful. And my heart was full of hope.
“By George, I think I’ve got it!” whispered the Professor Henry Higgins in me. Indeed. The universe had found me another example of exactly what I was looking for. This amazing woman, Cat: from her name to her determination to her rock star quality, was the ultimate unicorn.
And then Anny’s story came back to me and my heart smiled because I will never think of a unicorn again without thinking of my Anny.
Abby (7) and Anny (4) were enjoying acting classes. Their teacher was about to dish out roles in Old McDonald’s Farm, the musical or “E-I-E-I Oops” as it was to be billed. Tension was through the roof. Who –would-be-which-animal, was all my girls ate, drank, slept and woke-up to for weeks.
Finally the day of anointment: Abby was to be one of three delightfully camp and sassy pigs. She was over the moon.
And when Anny heard she was to be a sheep? Will my sweet little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead looked like Damien!
Anny tugged her teachers hand until she got her attention and lead her away from the joyfully twittering, newly-named animals. "I don't want to be a sheep" she said sullenly.
"Well, what DO you want to be, Anny?"
Bottomless baby-blue eyes turned beseechingly upward. "A unicorn."
The teacher attempted to muffle a giggle. "Well, Anny, I'm sorry. The farm only has real animals."
"Unicorns are real."
Silence. (Wow! I was never able to silence a teacher!)
Anny used her upper hand brilliantly. "But only special people can see unicorns. So, if you can't see one, that’s not the unicorn's fault." Anny’s logic is bequeathed by her mother aka my Girlchild, Lesley.
"Well, Anny, you may have a point. But everyone needs to see what you are, so you must wear a sheep's costume." the teacher's voice increased two octaves to suppress her mirth. "And Anny, you will have to stand with the other sheep and do what they do."
"But unicorns are E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E" Anny's arms rose in arcs high above her head and drifted slowly down to her sides, fingers wiggling as she distributed magic unicorn dust.
"Well, thing is, the special people who can see unicorns will see them everywhere, so you can stand with the sheep and sing their songs. No harm no hens...ahem...no fowl…ahem…foul" OH! Only an ACTING teacher could have such a delightful mix of wit, vinegar and sugar in her veins!
I drove two hours to the first show to take in my girls’ first performance. I spotted the cutest pig and sheep Old Mac Dee ever had the privilege of farming. They wandered around importantly, doing pre-show publicity shots. The girls saw me and a pink flash and a white whirlwind wrapped around my legs as my glowing cheeks puffed with pride. Glancing down at their beautiful faces a big horn dominated my field of vision. I looked up, catching my Girlchild's eye. We shared a knowing smile like Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting”.
But it was when I opened the program to see each animal named in order of appearance that a tear found its way down my cheek:
"Abby Wallace………………………….Pig, "
"Anny Wallace…………………………..Sheep (Unicorn).”
I assure you, Old McDonald’s farm has never been better represented. But may I say, a beautiful, melodious pink pig and a sassy sheep wearing a horn attached to a head band and heavily sprinkled with stardust, stole the show.
The moral of the story is if you can’t see a unicorn, it’s a great pity. You’ll miss out on all the magic a rare soul brings into your life. So concentrate. The only way you’ll ever see one is to want to. And when you do, celebrate, because one thing’s for sure – the only way to see one is to be one.