Russians Sergei Grinkov, 28, and Katerina Gordeeva, 24, were an unbeatable Olympic pairs skating team in the 80’s and 90’s. They eventually fell in love, married, and had a baby girl, Daria. Daria was only 3 years old when Sergei, in the middle of a routine skating practice, suffered a severe heart attack and died instantly. In an interview shortly after this horrible tragedy, Katerina said she should have known that something bad was going to happen. She said life had been too perfect and happy for it to have ever lasted.
I don’t pretend that my story is in any way comparable to what Katerina endured, but the image of that tearful interview over a decade ago came racing back to me at the end of the day on March 19th, The Worst Day Ever.
Like Katerina, my life is really perfect. I’m married to a man whom I love more intensely with every passing day. We own pets that induce nothing but joyous contentment. Although my job won’t win me any Tony Awards, it’s perfectly suited for my “repetition-is-comfort” and “set-schedule” personality, allowing me to work with talented, funny people I truly enjoy. Long before March 19th, Alan and I would frequently gaze at each other over a couple of beers being enjoyed on our pool deck and agree, “We’re so blessed.”
The day started a bit off my regular schedule. I was training two new girls in my role that evening, so I didn’t have to be at work until after noon. I still woke up early and got my run out of the way so I could enjoy a few hours reading my book and relaxing before I had to leave.
Alan’s boss called while I was on the couch with Trixie and my book. They spoke only a few minutes before his boss got called away and told Alan he’d call right back. Alan hung up and joked, “Well, I guess I’m not getting fired today!” However, when the phone rang again, Alan took the phone in his office and closed the door. I wasn’t paying attention until I distinctly heard Alan saying something about “turning in his laptop.” My blood went cold. No way. There’s no way. I got up and poked my head in, and when Alan saw me he tipped the receiver away from his mouth and casually said, “I’m being let go – it’s OK though. Really. Don’t worry – it’s OK.” It must be exhausting to have to be that brave all the time. I knew he was being cheery for my sake, I knew this had to hurt deeply. My reaction was anger. What IDIOTS! Alan is brilliant. Inconceivable.
I drove to work in silence. The radio seemed too invasive, too loud. I spent the fifty-minute drive trying to prepare myself for change. I wasn’t worried about Alan getting another job, I knew he was a stud and would be snatched-up immediately. But we both knew that at his level, area manager, it would probably require relocating. I prayed out-loud as I drove, reminding God how much I feared change and how much Alan and I loved our life in Florida. I asked for His guidance and help in dealing with where He was leading us.
I told a few people at work about our situation, but soon I was doing shows and focusing on training, pushing it all to the back of my mind. After several shows, I checked my phone and listened to two frantic messages from Alan. Call Dr. Dobradin. The surgeon? I was going to see him in a few days – why call? But I called. He’s with a patient, can he call me right back? Why couldn’t the nurse just tell me what’s going on? It didn’t sound very encouraging. But, I had the next show to do, I’d have to call back after that.
I tried to focus during the show, but I felt like a zombie. When I got offstage, I sprinted back upstairs to the Kimberley “booth” to call the doc again. He was on the other line. Crap! Would I like to hold? Yes. Sigh. The booth that Kimberley (my stage character) sits in backstage is literally the size of a small closet. There’s one bare bulb that weakly illuminates the black walls and one chair. At best, it would be described as “bleak.” I’ve never really minded it before, but as I sat there, on hold, staring ant those depressing black walls, they appeared to be closing in on me.
Just then my friend, our head tech Richie walked by. Boy, was I glad to see him. His happy expression dropped when he looked at me. I blurted out something incoherent like, “Surgeon…called...I’m on hold.” Somehow he understood and quickly stepped into that tiny booth and grabbed my hand. Dr. Dobradin’s words, spoken in his thick Polish accent, were, “Well, the third time’s a charm. We finally figured out what’s wrong with you. The lab work came back positive for lymphoma.” Did I mention Doc Dobradin has the worst bedside manner of anyone in the entire medical profession? He said more, something about how I’d be seeing him again to get something called a “port” surgically inserted for my chemotherapy (!!!), but I had stopped listening by then.
Richie hugged me then went searching for Kleenex as I dialed Alan. I think his response to my news was, “You’re kidding.” It seemed too unbelievable. Then he told me to come home. But I had training! It never occurred to me that my boss would probably excuse me. Once again, in the T2 office, I explained the situation in fragmented sentences and told them I had to go. They couldn’t have been nicer. Ironically, my fellow cast members later told me that when they saw me abruptly and tearfully leaving, they thought it was because I was still upset about Alan’s bad news.
Alan met me at the door when I arrived home. He was so strong and calm. As we held onto each other, he gently said, “When this is all over, we’re going to write a book together about today. We’re going to call it, “Worst Day Ever.”
Katerina Gordeeva went on to perform solo in the “Stars on Ice” tours and eventually married and had a baby girl with another fellow skater. She landed several endorsement deals, launched her own fragrance line, and published two books, one of them in memory of her late husband. She says her greatest joy is the time she spends in her kitchen cooking with her two daughters. I don’t know her personally, but I bet if you were to ask her, she’d tell you that her life is pretty perfect, despite all that happened.
The single thought on my mind as I drove home to Alan that day was that my blessings had officially run out. I had somehow drained my lifetime’s allotment of happiness in a mere 43 years – now it would be all about hardship and disease. But in truth, Worst Day Ever has only served as a giant magnifier for the abundance of blessings still being bestowed. In the days that followed, Alan got an offer for an awesome job right here in Orlando in which he continues to thrive. After more tests and scans, we learned my lymphoma is low-grade, I’m not going to die and I am probably not even going to lose my hair when and if chemo is required. Sure, I still have some “poor me” days, but they always seem to get upstaged by the unavoidable positives; my creative and hilarious husband who diligently keeps up this amazing blog, my friends and family who’s collective prayer power could crumble walls, and a loving Almighty Father who is in complete control. Now if I could just win big on the penny slots…
So sorry Worst Day Ever, you have no power here…..