On Thursday March 27th, 2015, my mother-in-law died.
We never got a phone call from Ohio, but found out the next morning through a mass email from Mary’s uncle. We were angry about how we learned of her death. Eight brothers and sisters and not one of them cared enough for a phone call. Except, we were so busy and distracted already, and we discovered Mary’s phone wedged underneath the front car seat with several desperate voice mails.
That Friday morning, for me, was the culmination of two years of hard work coming together. My graduate cohort fought over, sweated over, and planned a weekend interdisciplinary academic conference. I believe even now a whole year later, we still harbor ill feelings toward each other concerning how that conference came together that on the outside was a complete University of Wyoming English Department success. On that Friday though, people who had grown incredibly intimate with each other as fellow academics, professionals, and friends; I don’t believe any of us would have been opposed to a gladiator stylized blood bath–bring in the hungry lions.
In addition to our academic conference, I was slated to hop a plane Monday for another academic conference in New Orleans. I had a chapter and a half left on my thesis as well, and booked an extra two days in New Orleans to madly write whilst drinking copious amounts of beer. My wife and I both felt the New Orleans conference was a kind of make-or-break career move for me–an important, vital step in our future.
So with the news of my mother-in-law’s death fresh in our minds Friday morning, pissed that no one bothered to call us, we rushed the kids off to school Mary rushed to a 9am interview for a class assignment. I rushed to the Hilton for our local conference. Mary showed to present her research on 1890s Wyoming prostitutes. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I’m sure we cried, but I don’t remember the tears until Saturday morning.
We stood outside our Wyoming University apartment sucking down cigarettes wondering what to do. I was supposed to defend my thesis in two weeks–a grueling two hour presentation over small town America and how those Main Streets were nothing more than captivity narratives, and let me tell you, if you think that description was complicated, the morass of writing I did sometimes made even littler sense to me. Mary said, “You go to New Orleans. I’ll drive to Ohio with the kids.”
“Are you sure?”
She said she was sure. I said I was sure. Neither of us was really sure. In the meantime, I had our local conference. I walked. My classmates gave me angry stares for being late, especially when the day before I had said I’d be there at seven, and it was already nine in the morning.
After my conference presentation, I called Mary. She had made progress and was holed up in a hotel on the east side of Nebraska. She seemed in a good mood, but her voice trailed lingering doubt. I got off the phone with her and called the airline. “Can I switch my flight?” They said yes. I called the New Orleans hotel and canceled my reservation. I called Mary back and told her to meet me at the Des Moines airport. I arrived sometime after midnight.