Letters for Maggie

The Return

So the day started with a trip to a doctor about this thing that has overstayed its welcome on my person, though I’ve given it several months to politely excuse itself (rude). When the doctor took a look at the thing, she pointed to these other things that were in the same general area code and asked me, “What about these?” In my head, I said something like, “Oh, those? Old friends of mine. Been around for a long time. Don’t worry about those. I’m here to talk about this relatively new thing.” She then broadly waved her hand. “These are all the same thing,” and then said the multi-syllable, multi-word medical term for the collective thing.

“Really?” I said, taken aback.

While I was still mentally working my way back from aback, she rattled off the three options for dealing with the thing (all-encompassing hand gesture goes here), discouraged two of them, and offered her rationale for the one that remained, which evidently involves an hour long application of something followed by a shorter interval of something else, followed by a period of seven to 10 days where you really don’t want to be out in public, for fear of frightening the children.

“I see this a hundred times a week,” she told me reassuringly yet dismissively, and informed me the office would call me in 7-10 days after checking on the “pre-auth” — an abbreviation I’d never heard before, but which I’ve been liberally using ever since, because it makes me sound like I possess an understanding of how “the system” works (though I’m not clear on precisely what “system” is being referred to). Then the person at the desk told me the pre-auth would take “3 to 4 weeks” … prompting me to ask how the pre-auth grew 18 days in the 18 steps from the exam room to the front desk (a question I’d probably know the answer to, if I knew more about “the system”).  In response, the front desk person said she’d bump me to the “top of the list,” which she probably says as often in a week as the doctor sees the thing, and which meant that, at minimum, I was at the bottom of that week’s hundred.

I then headed home to work remotely for the day.

Within 20 minutes of plugging in, my house lost all internet and phone service.

I unplugged and plugged the stuff back in. Pressed the re-start buttons. Nada.

Instantly Amish, I threw work stuff into my backpack, hopped in the car and parked outside the coffee shop down the road so I could place a distress call to the demon Comcast.

Took me a good 30 minutes to ‘navigate’ their automated answering machine, the last 25 of which I spent alternating between screaming, “Representative!” into the phone and “F*ck!” into the crook of my arm.

When I finally got to a human, she was the kindest, most understanding, most compassionate, most helpful person, and should immediately be put in charge of everything in the world rather than having to troubleshoot with distressed individuals made into deranged a**holes by Comcast’s dehumanizingly inhuman automated system. She quickly diagnosed that my problems were not self-fixable and scheduled a technician to come to my house “between 12 and 2.”

So I went inside the coffee shop for a shot of caffeinated wifi and re-started my work day. I had a call at 11, by which time the shop was filling up for lunch … so I returned to my car to field the meeting in quiet. I put the call through to my bluetooth so I could take notes on my laptop. The call wrapped at noon, so I had to hustle back home to meet the Comcast tech. When I went to start my car, nothing happened. Evidently, in my haste to field the call from my car, I’d twisted my key in the ignition a half turn too far … and completely drained the battery (‘natch).

At this point I drew liberally from my surprisingly deep Bucket of F*cks left over from yelling at the automated Comcast system. By the time I was done, I’d completely fogged my front window with expletives.

A big, deep breath later, I snatched my backpack, abandoned my car and began the approximately 25-minute walk home in hopes of catching the Comcast technician in time. I’d made it to the really big hill that fronts our neighborhood when I spied the Comcast van turning onto the street. I waved my arms wildly to flag down the driver, who slowed and rolled down his window. I explained that I was his appointment, and asked for a ride up the big hill. He said he’d meet me at the house. “I’d give you a ride, but I’d get in trouble.”

I rolled up my sleeve, reached to the bottom of my Bucket of F*cks for a final fistful.

The walk up the hill is so steep that it commandeered my meager stores of energy, resulting in a detoxifying effect … which is exactly the medicine (both) I (and the Comcast technician) needed. By the time I got to the top, I came to appreciate the logic of Comcast’s ‘anti-hitchhiker’ policy. If one assumes that the majority of tech support customers are distressed individuals made into deranged a**holes by Comcast’s dehumanizingly inhuman automated system, I wouldn’t have scooped me up, either.

Arriving home, I let the tech into the house, showed him the router and the splitter, and turned him loose. He was a flurry of purpose … zooming up and down steps inside, climbing up and down a ladder outside at the pole, hopping in and out of his van. In about 15 minutes he returned to inform me … of my second completely incomprehensible diagnosis of the day. I so wish I could’ve recorded his explanation, which ran a good 3-4 minutes. It was glorious. You could tell he loved his job, and appreciated the rare opportunity to share passionately with an interested party. He said something to the effect of how “that’s a 23 value tap up there,” and I was “pulling 51” at my router, so I was “almost 10 db off,” … and “by the time, length and split, well ….” he let it hang in the air, as if to imply, “Do I even need to finish the sentence?”

Yes, yes, he did. 

“You’re right on the edge.” The problem, he kept saying, was “the return,” and, as evidence, he shared with me another category of numbers he recorded at the pole. “I’ve run all the math,” he said and then spewed the full sequence of data he had meticulously captured and logged, looking for affirmation and understanding in my face, apparently not at all distracted by the thing that has evidently been grazing, free-range-style, across my countenance for years. “So, you see … you’re right on the edge.”

Assuming he meant something other than The Edge of Comcast Hell, I asked, sheepishly … “The edge … of what?”

His face deflated. I could tell I’d let him down. A moment earlier he’d been thinking, “Finally, someone who gets me.” At my philistine question, he proceeded to cut his losses. Let me know that the problem’s outside, not inside, and that he’d already called in a line technician.

Me: How ….

Him: Within the hour.

Me: (letting it all sink in). Oh … so you called in the pre-auth?

Him: What?

Me: Never mind.

Evidently, it’s a different system.

Two hours later (‘natch) the line technician showed up.

I’d bore you with the complete technical explanation of the fix, but suffice it to say, he addressed The Return, and, you know, um, yanked me back from The Edge.

When Karry got home from work, she drove me back down to my car so we could jump the battery. When we arrived another car was parked in front of mine, preventing us from getting close enough for the cables.

“We’ll have to come back tonight,” she concluded and started to pull away.

Wait, I said. Let me see if it’ll turn over. I got out of hers, hopped into mine, pressed the brake and winced as I twisted the key. It gave a Heimlich-like cough before sluggishly returning to life.

I bowed my head on the steering wheel, humbled by the day’s turn of events. Told Karry I’d swing by McDonald’s for a couple drive-thru Cokes to give my battery (batteries?) a chance to recharge.

That night, while draining my bucket of McDonald’s Coke to a dry slurp and savoring the two grilled cheese sandwiches that I’d gratuitously buttered, perfectly griddled and then generously topped with layers (layers, I say) of sweet pickles and BBQ kettle chips (judge me at your own peril), I was mindlessly scrolling through the day’s news, when a byline by the wife of a friend of mine caught my eye. A local high school student with Ukrainian roots put together a website of a bunch of organizations providing humanitarian services in and to Ukraine. She knew a lot of people who were looking for ways to show support and wanted to honor the memory of her great-great grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. a century ago.

Struck between bites of a good grilled cheese sandwich, I finally grasped the concept of The Return.

By receiving a signal strong enough to overcome the noise of one hundred years and 4,858 miles to connect a great-great grandfather who fled his homeland and a great-great granddaughter re-connecting him from hers. A teenager cupping her hands and exhaling the name Dimetro Buriak … so the embers glow again … inviting others around their campfire. An undiminished signal between those we never met, will never meet. The signal still connected. Still connecting. A signal strong enough to connect me … us … in each other’s stories.

We receive. We respond. We return. 

I took stock of all the microscopic graces over the past 12 hours responsible for pulling me back from the edge. A straight-shooting doctor. The compassionate phone support person. The unplanned walk up the hill under the gift of a blue sky. The competent technician who loves running the math. Karry giving me a ride back down the hill to retrieve my car. Drive-thru McDonald’s Cokes. Grilled cheese sandwiches that always make me think of Mom. A local journalist, and a teenager whose heart is exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Humbled once again, I bowed my head on my metaphorical steering wheel.

Was reminded that, despite the eff bombs I may occasionally scream into the crook of my arm … my bad days are not bad days at all … and precious little of it is self-fixable. 

And we all possess the capacity to make someone else’s bad day a little bit better.

We receive. We respond. We return. 

As the good doctor might say, we are all part of the same thing.

(all-encompassing hand gesture goes here)


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