My sister reminded me the other day that when we were young and did something that required fortitude, like pass on the Novocain (which cost extra) at Dr. Kronthal’s, Mom was likely to say, “What a trooper!”
No one has called me that since leaving home, and the minute I heard it, I wanted to be a trooper again. The requirement? That you handle something scary alone. Now gone, I hope Mom deems my resume worthy from the other side, because here on earth, she didn’t know even half of it.
I single-parented quite a bit when the kids were growing up because Mr. Oliver traveled extensively— Australia, New Zealand, England, Spain–and it never failed that as I accelerated from the BWI departures lane for home, I’d hear a whimpering, “Mommy, I’m going to be sick,” from the back seat, or inexplicable dashboard lights would begin to flash.
And you know about the sweltering summer night when the electricity failed in a thunderstorm, and a caldron of bats rode the breeze in through the open windows.
But this one was one of the worst.
Mr. Oliver was heading off to Freemantle, Australia, and I was single-parenting our four- and six-year-old son and daughter for a couple of weeks. I’d said goodbye, waved him off, then looked up to see our gray-and-white rescue cat, Puff, batting a toy about on the upper-level hallway, which overlooked the foyer via a spindled railing. With one swipe of her paw, Puff batted the toy through the railing, and before I could stop her, sailed right through the spindles after it like a ball through a croquet wicket. In a split second, she fell a full story to land with a thud on the oak foyer floor. She lay there as flat and motionless as Roadrunner.
I shrieked; the kids came running, and we stood there clutching each other. Mr. Oliver’s taillights disappeared as he turned out of the driveway, and I was staring at the deadest cat I’d ever seen. What gets me about this is how something you were cuddling one minute becomes instantly gross when it’s dead. Where did my loyalty go? My maternal instinct? (If I love you, don’t die first.)
Stunned, I ran next door to get my neighbor Tommy, a big guy, father of two boys, built like a linebacker. The kind of good-times, affable Dad who has something other than cocoa in his mug walking around with the kids on Halloween,
“Tommy,” I called out, banging on their door. “Help! Puff fell off the balcony, and she’s dead.”
He opened the door, looked at me, and said sadly. “Oh, Laura.” I thought he would continue, “I’m so sorry. I’ll take care of it,” but what he actually said was…. “Oh, Laura… gotta tell ya. Not good with dead things.”
I just stood there, waiting for that to become something else.
Which brings me to a fact I’m sure is a rule of the universe. When you have to deal with something scary, it’s less scary if you make someone just as scared as you are do it with you. They don’t have to be braver! They just have to be within clutching distance. Normally you may use your children for this. But not for family-pet tragedies.
Reluctantly, Tommy got a blanket, and we walked back across his gravel driveway to my house.
Grimacing, I opened the front door to see a three-dimensional Puff meticulously cleaning her sweet face with a white paw. “What’s with the blanket?” she seemed to say. “Oh right, you only have one life.”
Then there was the time I was awakened in the middle of the night by a noise I couldn’t identify—in my sleeping brain, I thought the armoire in the foyer and fallen over—a crash, then silence.
But the sense that the noise had really come from outside the house drew me from bed to look out onto the street. My black Honda Accord, which had been parked tucked into the curb, sat violently askew, tossed broadside into the road. In shock and disbelief, I threw on a robe and ran out of the house barefoot. My car had been totaled; pieces blown out from one curb to the other.
Scared and alone, I wanted someone by my side. So, I did the practical thing. I called Mr. Oliver who was on an America’s Cup yacht in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf, 12,000 miles away in another hemisphere. A hemisphere where it was already tomorrow. Where this disaster had already happened in a weird way. I was calling his yesterday.
“We’ve been hit. It’s 3 am here, and the Honda is in pieces all over the road. What do I do?” With the sea breeze blowing over the mic in his phone, I heard someone shout, “Ready about!”
“Call the police,” he said.
As I waited for them to arrive, red lights flashing but courteously silent, I picked up shattered pieces of my car from the pavement. The sideview mirror, shards of plastic taillight covers. Other vehicles up and down the street were unscathed. The driver who totaled my car had achieved quite a surgical strike, then had driven on.
They found him quickly, however. The force of impact to my vehicle had blown out the tires on his, but in his hurry to flee the scene, he had driven away on his rims, leaving a gouged-out trail on the pavement that led straight to his driveway three miles away.
So here’s the thing. I rarely feel competent, yet I must be. Right? In addition to this small list, I’ve also handled a car accident by myself, a lawsuit, a ruptured appendix on a plane, and have driven myself to my own emergency appendectomy. I can look back on all kinds of things and say, “Oh, cool, you handled that. You were scared senseless, but good for you, little trooper, you didn’t die.
How many times must you be brave to feel brave? To believe that what you do is who you are? To trust that even when you don’t have someone by your side, you have someone by your side?
I have a mantra—one of many, of course, “I am fully equipped for the divine plan for my life. I am more than equal to this situation.” I apply this to lab results, relationships, and dinner parties.
And that feels safe to say because I have also learned this simple truth:
It is the nature of problems that they pass. And if history is any clue, the warrior within has already won.
You’re a trooper, my beloved. Mom says so, and so do I.