FORTITUDE

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How have you been, dear readers?  It's been a month or two or three.  Bad form on my part, true… but maybe this blogging thing gave me a bit more pressure in the run for my money than anticipated.  It's been a dream of mine for so long to write, to tell the stories that fill my brain that I am sometimes often overwhelmed.  Please, forgive me.  My forty plus journals will someday make it to the little screen, I swear. Onward.

A recent flurry of questions by various crew members give me reason to revisit the 'Living the Dream' theme.  As you all should know by now, I did NOT move to Paris for a man but I wonder this morning, as I lay in my fluffy, Courtyard Marriott bed, texting a friend during today's Bastille Day stage of the Tour de France (thanks, NBC Sports, for enabling me to watch the full replay later), maybe I did move BECAUSE of a man!  If I look back deep into my past, I could find that yes, therein lies the answer.  To know me, you must know this fundamental truth of my existence, that perhaps the life I have and the person I am now was always in the cards, but the path definitely took a turn - via one fateful encounter with (gasp!) a man - during the wee hours of December 15, 1985.

After dinner, I baked a butter cake for an elderly neighbor and her even older mother using a favorite aunt's recipe, then left it to frost the next morning since it was getting late.  In the heart of my concert-going, groupie years, my best friend, Kelly, and I went to see a band called  10,000 Maniacs play at Parody Hall in downtown Kansas City.  I'd met the band on a few previous occasions when they opened shows for R.E.M.  Natalie Merchant was nice to me and I had a crush on the bassist, John Lombardo.

I was 21.

Following the show, we all attended a huge party held by the event host.  Kelly got into an argument with her boyfriend and left the party early to patch things up.  Natalie returned to the band's hotel for a good night's sleep, while John and I stayed on late.  It was close to 5:00 am when I dropped him off and said 'good-bye'.  Their hotel faced the freeway.  I drove onto the entrance ramp and was quickly on my way home.  Less than four minutes later, I lay slumped in the passenger seat of the car.  A pool of blood formed around my head.

"Are you okay?" I heard a man yell.  "All I did was go the wrong way!"

I tried to answer, "Of course, I'm not okay," but teeth fell out of my mouth instead of words.  As my left hand reached to touch the blood, I remembered Susan Sarandon's character from 'The Hunger' in that scene where she commit vampire suicide.  The man kept shouting outside the window, but I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep.  Somehow, somewhere inside, I knew that if I did, I would never come back.

Here's the thing:

I don't know your religious beliefs, but I can tell you without certainty that in that moment when I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and go to sleep, I knew I had a choice.  And before I could consciously make that choice, I heard a thin, tinny, female voice speak to me.

"Don't close your eyes until you get to the hospital," it began, like a broken record.  "Keep your eyes open until you get to the hospital.  People can help you there."

People did come.  I sensed a commotion circled around me and assumed paramedics had arrived.  They told me it would be cold and cut off all my clothes with a pair of scissors.  Oh, yeah.  It was December.  The black coat I'd searched to find in a Tall size was shredded and ripped off me.  The sweater I'd borrowed from Tyler, trashed.  I thought he would kill me for getting it ruined.  Beads from my long strands of pearls scattered everywhere with one snip of the blade.  I felt the chill as I lay exposed and helpless.  Every bone in my body screamed for me as attendants maneuvered me out of the twisted metal.

"Don't close your eyes till you get to the hospital," the voice went on.  "People can help you there."

The pre-dawn sky.  The roof of the ambulance.  Pain but no pain.  I hurt with every roll over each crack in the road, but I kept my eyes open and stared.  Finally, the gurney lifted out of the ambulance and ceiling lights whisked by overhead.

"You're in the hospital.  People can help you here," the small voice instructed.  "You can close your eyes now."

It was the last thing I'd remember for a while.  My people, as I've come to call them, saved me that day.  It was not my time to go.  I had a lot more living to do and they made sure I did.

Tragedy is a funny thing.  It gives one great perspective, though it can turn either into woe or triumph.

"Everything happens for a reason," is a favorite quote.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," is appropriate.

"Life is about choices," gets preached a lot lately.

I chose to LIVE.  When word got out at Truman Medical Center that a young person was fighting for her life, they filed past my bed and whispered, "You should be dead."  Really?  I may not have been able to speak, but I could write a note!  Modeling jobs prospects gone in an instant, the right side of my face was crushed on impact of the head-on collision.  In the time before air bags, a clavicle and the sternum snapped.  My lungs collapsed and filled with blood, and my right pelvic bone bruised.  I also broke a leg because I wasn't drunk and braced when I realized the inevitable would happen as I saw the front end of the other car round the curve.  I found out who my friends were and my once estranged family rallied by my bed.

When the immediate danger passed, my brother Marc asked, "Is it okay if I eat the cake?"

Life went on and so did I.  Thanks to my family and friends to whom I don't express it often enough, I love you all. And to my hospital roommate, Stella, wherever you are… you are my one regret in life that I didn't keep in touch, but I love you, too.  And to the doctors and nurses, "my people"… I owe you the world.  I even thank the railroad worker who may or may not have been drunk, for he was never tested in those frantic moments by the rookie cop on duty.  I forgive you.  You are the man who changed my life forever and showed me that I have the fortitude to endure anything and nothing will stop me from finding my joy.  Now I chose to live and honor that second chance by spreading light as the Celtic meaning of my name Elaine suggests.  To name a few, I've lived in New York, Paris, and San Francisco.  I've visited the forest in Belgium, explored the volcanic beauty of Iceland (that's a blog post I owe you), and soon I can be found in the wilderness in Zambia.

In a way, yes.  I moved because of a man.  :)

 

Live well.  À la prochaine….

AUNT MARGIE'S BUTTER CAKE WITH COCONUT PECAN FROSTING

Butter Cake
  • 6 Eggs, room temperature
  • 1 pound Butter, softened
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 4 cups Cake flour, sifted
  • ⅔ cup Milk**
Family favorite!
1.Batter: In large bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until smooth and light yellow in color, approximately 6 minutes. Add one egg at a time, blending after each addition. Add one cup of flour at a time to batter until just mixed. Stir in the milk.
2.Bake: Pour batter into a lightly greased and floured flute or bundt pan, shake slightly to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for approximately 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Unmold and place upside down on wire rack to cool.
**Instead of whole milk and to add character, a great alternative is to use 1/3 cup evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed) + 1/3 cup water. Variations: include adding a dash of vanilla, lemon or almond extract with the water.
Coconut-Pecan Frosting
  • 1 cup Evaporated milk, (not sweetened condensed)
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 3 Egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • ¼ cup Butter
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 cup Coconut, shredded
  • 1 cup Pecans, chopped
Combine evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coconut and chopped nuts. Cool until thick enough to spread, beating occasionally.