By the time he was ready to apply to college, he only wanted to visit one. He had narrowed down all the possibilities to one. Of course, teachers, coaches, and parents suggested having a few secondary options.
Nope. Runner knew what degree we wanted, the level of college sports he wanted and what region he wanted to further his education. He applied to one school, tried out for one team and graduated with his Bachelors and Masters from one University.
He finished the race.
Next came job seeking. Again, Runner held a laser focus toward the type of job he wanted with his psychology degree in industrial organization. He worked as a bartender and restaurant manager for the interim and then moved to a place called Baraboo when his girlfriend found her dream job. He didn’t give up, and yesterday he texted to tell me he got his first entry-level job with a company that will use his degree. I texted back my excitement.
Runner has been on my mind this week because of all my three children he was the one to take to the kitchen. In high school, we called him Betty Crocker because every Sunday night he’d get out my cookbook and bake — pies, cookies, quick bread. One pie he’d give to his dad with the instructions to stay out of the remaining desserts. Those were for his cross-country and track friends. While Runner always finishes the race, he also makes sure everyone on his team does, too.
He has a gifted social intelligence; a strength called “woo.”
Perhaps it was his gift of woo that also made him adept at sales when he was still just a teen. He worked as a sales rep for a Minneapolis office supply store and one day he met a customer who returned with an offer for Runner — to sell Cutco Knives. For a year, he did. The knives are gorgeous and high quality, but high priced, too. As a gift, when Runner left for college, he gave me his demo set.
Of course, they are wickedly sharp knives. After a prolific pumpkin harvest in our backyard (to the annoyance of my suburban neighbors, I grew food and pollinator plants all over our lawn and flower beds), Runner nearly cut off his thumb. The bone stopped the knife. After that, we all developed respect for the Cutco set.
Throughout wandering, a few of the Cutco Knives have traveled with me. One is an eight-inch chef knife. I’m not sure how it wrangled its way into my small box of kitchen gear. Perhaps it had been too big to plant safely in a storage box. But it is with us yet, and the Hub likes to use it to cut ham and cheese slices. I avoid the monstrous straight edge.
This past weekend, we received sad news that our cat of 15 years had died. She had gone to a new home after we had lost ours.
Both the Hub and I cried when we received the text. It was early afternoon, and I decided to cook a vegetable stir-fry. Solar Man and Radio Geek had left for Minneapolis to spend the birthday weekend with his mom. After all we’ve been through, it was a vulnerable moment. We were in the kitchen together, me prepping veggies and him slicing ham because I was cooking vegan.
The Hub dropped the knife. The Cutco Chef blade. Stainless steel, heavy duty, forever sharp. Guaranteed.
He was barefooted. The knife — as he has since described — spun a perfect pirouette and fell point-down, bouncing off his bare foot. I didn’t see it happen, so much as I realized he dropped the monstrosity of a knife, and automatically, I grabbed the roll of paper towels with one hand and shut off the gas burner with the other, and sunk to my knees.
The first glimpse was not good. The Hub’s foot split open like a ripe plum. When shock first hits, the body does not bleed. Did you know that? Maybe you didn’t want to know that, but it’s a fascinating scientific fact. No blood is a bad sign. Shock can be fatal. Bleeding out can be fatal, too. And blood arrived in a torrent. He cut a vein.
I was thirteen years old when I signed up for my initial first responder’s class. My father served as volunteer fire captain, and when the Red Cross trained the volunteers, I was one. Growing up in a remote mountain town where the nearest hospital was an hour away in good weather, I not only knew first-aid, I had ample practice. I can shut off any emotions of fear or squeamishness. It’s like going into a soundproof room — everything slows down, noise cancels, and I breathe rhythmically.
That’s what I did, kneeling with paper towels, compressing the Hub’s foot. I became hyper-aware, noting where each dog was, assessing the stove was off, planning our trip to ER. The Hub reacted the same way — his Ranger training kicked in, and without a passing word between us we knew the plan. He slid his foot toward the front door, and I crawled and compressed.
At the edge of the kitchen, I told him to stop. With one hand on the third wad of red-soaked paper towels, I reached with the other to open the junk drawer, hoping to find…packing tape! Grabbing it and a fresh wad of towels, I wrapped the Hub’s foot tight. We grabbed jackets, and I made sure he had his VA card for insurance purposes.
We discovered the Hancock Emergency Room to be a friendly and quiet place. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to an ER where they had to turn on the lights and heat because it the room with all its beds sat empty. Our nurse shared a good sense of humor, and when she asked the Hub if he felt safe at home, she glanced my way and laughed.
The Doc irrigated the wound and delivered the good news that no tendons suffered a slice. But the vein was a concern, and she sewed up the wound. The next day his toes and foot turned purple from bruising. We met with his therapist that day and had a good story for her. She is working with us to get the Hub’s knee fixed, too, recognizing that his mental health issues stem from the crisis this long-overlooked war wound causes him. She told us, “It’s about quality of life.”
I didn’t cry once, seeing all the blood, but I wept for a cat I gave up six years ago, and I sobbed at the thought that someone in the VA system gave a damn about my husband’s quality of life. It’s good to have someone who cares.
So that brings me to cake. Carrot cake, of course. Cake is my all-time favorite celebratory and comfort food. I’m celebrating Runner’s new job, the Hub’s continued care with the VA, sharp knives and sharp wit. With all of you, I’m celebrating four years of literary art we all get to share. I’m passing around the cake.
March 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about carrot cake. It can be classic or unusual. Why is there cake? How does it feature in the story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by March 20, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published March 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
An Unexpected Exchange (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Mary McCanles set the carrot cake in the window sill to cool. Several Otoe boys hunkered beneath the window, and Sarah watched them from the shade of the horse-barn. One boy reached toward the cake. From inside the house, a man’s large hand grasped the boy’s wrist. Instead of squeals of terror, they all laughed at the one who got caught. A flour sack of carrots passed from the man’s hands to the boy’s and the Otoe ran off toward their family holdings. Sarah shook her head. Leave it to Cobb to be generous to those others feared.