Carlos State Park
Last summer I went up to Alexandria, Minn., to stay with my new friend Deb, who took one of my Saturday classes a few years back at the College of Visual Arts (CVA). Deb was on a quest to write a picture book. She drove three hours into Minneapolis each Saturday for six weeks in a row. This soon-to-be-retired kindergarten teacher was very motivated — even though big city driving really scared her. Since then, Deb has written and illustrated a few stories and has even published her first picture book. Quite an accomplishment!
As I look back at those few years when I taught Saturday classes at CVA, I wonder how I did it with all that was going on in my life at the time. The first class I taught there was intended for college students and met until 9:45 at night. I remember saying yes to the teaching gig even though I am not a night person. But we really needed the money. I had no idea yet that Barry had frontotemporal dementia (FTD), but I knew I was getting irritated with him and that any money-making was on me alone.
Did you pay the rent?
Barry, still in control of all my royalties at the time, always pestered me about when I would get a check for teaching or speaking. I was working very hard, but we were getting nowhere financially. Once during this period, I got to the mailbox before Barry did and discovered that he had not paid our rent. I began to realize then just how broke we were. But I didn’t think about it much because I was working all the time.
That spring, I got the big idea that we should move and become caretakers. Sounded good to me — cheap rent and Barry could do most of the work. We applied to a great apartment management company and got the job starting in October. All that summer I planned for the move out of the Carriage house we were renting. Barry worked pretty hard during that time, driving our things out to my sister’s farm for storage.
I noticed, however, that he had a hard time organizing and packing boxes. He would just dump anything he could find around him into a box so everything was all mixed up. We had a yard sale where he barely helped beyond lifting and hauling. Nevertheless, I remained hopeful. I remember saying to him one day that I had faith that we would stick together and get out of debt. I suggested that when we got out of debt that we each get a tattoo that read: “We did it!” With a total lack of emotion, Barry just replied, “Okay.”
That same fall, I was asked to teach adult Saturday classes at CVA from 9 a.m. to noon. I was already teaching at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) on Mondays, but I had to say yes to this new offer. We needed the money. I am so glad I did because that first class had some really amazing people in it. As I look back now, this journey helped me meet all sorts of new and interesting people. I was exhausted but looked forward to my Saturday morning classes.
Teaching and moving again
On my first Saturday teaching, we also moved. Family and friends helped us all afternoon as we moved into our new place and new jobs in Minnetonka. Then I taught all Monday afternoon at MCAD. As you know from reading this blog, I could see that there was something really wrong with Barry, but a year into our caretaking job, I still had no idea what was making him behave so oddly. All I knew was that I was going to leave him and move in with my parents. I had also quit the caretaking job.
Barry found a smaller place for him and our son Mike to live in the same complex so he could continue working as the caretaker. I was asked to teach a second year of Saturday classes at CVA and had another great group of students — including my new friend Deb. But once again, I found myself moving on the same day as teaching. I taught until noon, rushed back, borrowed a friend’s truck and moved my stuff to my parent’s house, with help from family and friends. Then I helped Barry partially unpack in his new place. He did nothing to help. I left his place that day with him just sitting in his chair, surrounded by boxes and trying to watch TV. I didn’t hold out any hope that he could keep the caretaking job. I was right. He was fired a month later – just a few weeks after his diagnosis of FTD.
That time in our lives was extremely hard. I can hardly think about it now without getting stressed out. But I learned that I can handle much more than I ever thought I could. I also wouldn’t have met new friends like Deb.
Back to last summer. Deb and I stayed at the lake in Alexandria for a few days and had a ball. We hiked at Carlos State Park, and I discovered that she is as bad at directions as I am. We were lost a lot but that was okay because we had a lot to talk about on that beautiful day, in that beautiful park. We also attended a summer theatre production, enjoyed good meals, paddle boarded on the lake and walked Norm, her big, gentle black lab.
I am in awe of where I find myself on this journey — and some of the places are pretty darn nice!
For more information on Carlos State Park, go to: