Thursday, March 1, 2012 / 9:18 am

Life and Death and Daily Life

Thinking about things while painting a mural.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Magical Irish scene.
Magical Irish scene.

It is a clear and light morning.  I am hip-deep in painting a mural for the Pottawatomie County Democratic Club's annual St. Patrick's Day Fundraiser and Celebration.

It is 9 feet high and 21 feet long.  On brown painting contractor's paper.  The kind they put on the floor as protection against spills and spatters.

I have cut it into 3' x 3' squares and primed all 21 squares and painted 3 of them according to my graphed out photograph of a magical forest with a diaphanous rainbow over a castle, wee in the background, and a lake in the foreground.

I've already made a couple of mistakes in matching up the squares.  All correctable.

I have been at it for a day.

Normally (if I were still a third grade teacher) I would have access to those very fine huge bolts of colored butcher paper.  I used to tear off long lengths of every color to create … just about everything.  Ahhhh.  Those were the days.

But I digress.

The mural will be taped (with double-sided carpet tape) to the tile back wall of the stage in the community room at Tecumseh City Hall.

It is the second annual St. Patrick's Day Fundraiser and Celebration.  And my big fat mouth wanted to do a mural.

That was before the brush with Death that happened a couple of weeks ago, from which I am still recuperating.  No.  It wasn't I who had the brush with Death.  But, then again, yes, it was.

It was my darling daughter, Rebecca.

We all (and that includes a set of doctors and medical staff) thought she had inflammatory breast cancer.  I won't go into how horrible inflammatory breast cancer is.  Look it up if you're curious.  You'll never forget it, I guarantee.

So… it turned out she didn't have inflammatory breast cancer after all, but because it was so intensely real, I sent a plea the universe (via email to folks in my locality) for someone to come and stay in my house in the country and hang out and watch the dogs.  For an indefinite period of time.  In my secret mind it would be about 18 months which is the average life span of someone who gets this horrible thing.

The grief overwhelmed me.  Completely.  I was scared deep into my bones.  The loss of my daughter crashed into me and over me and surrounded me.

And in the middle of all this, Melissa answered my call.  Melissa who volunteers for SPAR (a local animal shelter) and is in Sustainable Shawnee and the Democratic Club, too, AND misses living in the country.

She was perfect.

So I started to put things in boxes but realized I couldn't leave quite yet because I had a date with AARP's tax preparing services the next day and needed my refund to help keep me afloat money-wise.

I drove the hour to Norman and did my taxes, which, it turned out, gave me NO refund.  Instead I ended up with (mostly Oklahoma) taxes due of $811.  Things certainly weren't going well.

I climbed into my car and my cell phone rang.


“REBECCA DOESN'T HAVE CANCER ! ! ! ” my son John hollered into the phone.

I collapsed into heaving sobs and groans and wordless but loud and long wails of …I don't know what.

John was laughing and shouting on the other end of the phone.

And I was so happy that I drove over to the Earth Cafe and had the most delicious veggie burger on a stone ground organic wheat bun with organic lettuces, tomato, and sprouts and savory condiments and a tall, frothy glass of organic carrot-ginger-orange fresh-squeezed juice.

But I still haven't shaken a pervading sense of doom.  It still sits (but fading) on the back of my neck and gives me an edginess that won't go away.

So.  Here I am with the mural lying in segments on the floor and brushes and paints and jars and spray cans and rags on the dining room table and the kitchen counters.

Here I am writing my story.  Because I am a good girl and it's time to cut the crap and get on with things.

Here I am watching the dogs are lying contentedly on the deck in the sunshine.

Here I am thinking about my children and how much I love them and how they are me and I am them and how much I love them.

Here I am.

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.


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