What happens between life and death is simply a game. And in this game, no one really wins. Because in the end, we all lose.
One of the rules in negotiation, according to Roger Dawson, is “You have to be willing to walk away.” So, if you are not willing to walk away. You should never ever try to negotiate.
But how do you negotiate with life?
You don’t. I don’t. We can’t. No one can!
Life ends, sooner or later. No matter what we do to preserve it. To take care of it. To cultivate it. It still dies. It ends. And there’s no happy ending. Life simply ends.
Marcelina died from an auto accident. She was driving to her U.S. mail delivery route that Tuesday morning when her truck swerved and fell into a deep ravine. In a small town in the state of Oklahoma. Her truck got stuck in one of the trees while her body fell down the river. She was only 35.
She had dreams. She was driven. She eventually wanted to go back home to the Philippines and open a hardware store.
She took the postal service test several times before she passed and eventually landed her the job. She liked money. She liked the security her job had to offer. And the idea of having a good retirement income when she hits retirement age. And most of all, she liked to be away from home. She had no children to ground her. To keep her home. So working for the U.S. Postal Service was an ideal job for her. It allowed her to be around other people.
Few years before, while we were still living in Jacksonville, Arkansas, we spoke on the phone several times and she was sharing with me her hilarious experience working the drive through for McDonald’s.
“Oh, Tess. You don’t want to work for McDonald. People yell at you. They’re mean! Especially when I couldn’t understand what they are saying and I had to have them repeat their orders. They’d just start yelling. So bad.”
“You what? You worked for McDonald’s? Why would you do that?”
“I was bored. And I thought maybe working for McDonald’s would be fun. You know… besides, it was a good experience.”
“Ahh, I don’t think I could do that. No way! I don’t like people yelling at me. I have thin skin. When someone yells at me, my first response is to yell back.”
And we’d laugh and laugh. Remembering our college days.
I met her during my sophomore year in college. We were in advertising and Spanish classes together.
She was married to an American man 25 years her senior. She lived a comfortable life with her husband. She drove a car, while I walked and took Jeepneys to school. She owned two large homes. She lived in one, and rented the other. And her dream was to open a hardware store. She thought she could make a lot of money with a hardware store.
One day, after class, she invited me over to her house.
“I make a really good Lasagna. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll show you how to make it. It’s good. You’ll see.” Lasagna. I’ve never had some before. I didn’t cook either. My boyfriend’s maid, Vangie, did all the cooking. I just ate and went to school.
So off we went. I hop into her her brand new, white Mitsubishi Lancer and drove to her house.
She showed me around her well decorated house. With custom draperies. The well manicured lawn. Her brother is her landscaper. And her older sister her her maid.
In the Philippines, it is a typical of Filipino-American household to employ the wife’s siblings and relatives. They become the drivers, the yard boys, and the maids.
We hang out for a few hours that day. My boyfriend (now my husband), was away that week, to another country. As he always was. He was gone 285 days out of 365 days every year. So I didn’t have to rush home. It was a good visit.
She told me more about herself and her husband.
“You know my husband is very strict. He has rules that I must follow. Like in the bedroom.”
Not sure if I was showing it, but I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. When people starts sharing their personal secrets to me, I start to feel embarrassed. I am a prude. And there’s no way you are going to hear me say personal stuff like that. But I looked her in the eyes to convey my interest and continued to listen.
“Yeah. You know… he likes for me to go to bed, every night, naked. No exception. If I have anything on. He gets mad. “What I tell you about going to bed!” He’d yank my clothes or anything I have on and throw them on the floor.”
I was thinking, OK… that’s a little bit too much information for me!
But what came out of my mouth was…
“I don’t think I could go to sleep, every night, naked. I’ll catch a cold. Or get a stomach ache. No way! I need to have my clothes on. Being naked, while trying to get a good night sleep, is never going to work for me!”
“I know. Sometimes I get so cold. But that’s how he likes me to sleep with him. So I just do it. But when he’s not here. I do what I want!” her face brightened with a light cackle.
Hmmm. I thought that is weird. I am 20 and naive. But I don’t think I could do it. That’s probably why I am a loser in life. I don’t like being subjected to rules. I don’t like being caged. I don’t like for someone to dictate my every move. As much as I like comfort and money, if I am subjected to all sorts of rules. Forget it. I will walk away. I’d rather be poor. Besides, being poor is nothing new to me. I have been poor growing up. I’m sure I can adjust back into that type of life. I won’t like it. And it’s probably going to take a while for me to get used to being very poor again.
And I might even regret it.
While living poor, I might even wish I could just put up with someone bossing me around. Subjecting me to rigid rules and disciplines. But there’s one thing know about myself, and I don’t know myself that well.
I am stupidly stubborn and pig-headed. If I don’t like something, I will not put up with it for long. I leave. I go do something else. The only thing that I committed my life to up to now, is my marriage, my husband and my son. I have dumped everything else.
“Because you never live in reality! If you do, you’d think otherwise.” My husband yells at me to reiterate his point.
“And that’s why you’re a loser. You have no sense of responsibility and commitment. You’re not willing to commit on one thing for a long period of time. And then having people know and vouch for you because they’ve known you for twenty or more years!” And he reminds me of this whenever the situation arises. Hoping that this will eventually penetrate into my rock hard head.
My response is, and always is – yeaaahhh whateeeveeer! F*ck you! Yelling back like a rebellious teenager.
But, he is right. I just don’t believe in subjecting myself against something I no longer enjoy doing. I don’t like living life like a zombie. Alive and walking but dead inside. I don’t think that’s the way to live. Though I can’t lie. There are moments when I feel like that. Alive like a zombie. Hollow inside. Confused as to why am still alive.
No, I didn’t have all the materials things Marcelina and all my other friends possessed. I blame my stupidly stubborn feelings. And I wasn’t willing to pay the price. Besides, I wasn’t wise and clever enough. I am naive about life. And don’t take too many chances.
There’s one thing I admire about Marcelina. She used her head. Not her feelings. She knows what she wanted and was willing to pay the price. Her husband is old. Much older than her. And if she plays her card right, she’ll have it all in the end. Or will she…?
I can tell that she hated some of those rules. Her husband imposed on her. But her husband provided very well for her. She liked owning two homes, and driving a brand new car. So his rules are just minor inconvenience to achieving what she wanted in life.
Her husband’s adult children did not like her. Which can be expected. She was 25 years younger. She was their own age. And they were sure of one thing – she married him for his money. Why else, right? I don’t know. Maybe. From what she told me, I can only guess that because of their age difference, she longed to be with someone younger. In fact, in one of our conversations, she was telling me of a man at work who likes her. A lot.
“Oh Tess.” Giggling like a teenager.
“I met this guy at work. He is one of the big bosses, who regularly visits our facility. He’s given me his American Express card! He said I could go shopping and buy whatever I want.”
“Wow! Really?” With shock and surprise in my voice, and thinking… but what about your husband? Does he know? Why would this guy give you his credit card and urged you to go shopping, and buy whatever you want…?
I was confused. I couldn’t understand why. Like I said. I am naive.
I don’t know the extent of their relationship. I just listened to her. I really didn’t ask a lot of questions that’s could potentially embarrass her or me.
But she stayed married to her husband until that fateful day.
Like I said. Marcelina used her head. Not her feelings.
I didn’t find out about her death until over a year later, when I received a letter from a woman, in Oklahoma. A woman I didn’t know.
Several years ago, I had a tradition of writing letters and sending out cards during the Christmas holidays. So when her husband received my letter, she passed it on to one of Marcelina’s friend. I guess it was too painful for him to sit down and write me a few lines himself. I met him once. So I never really knew him. And he probably knew me only through all the letters and cards I sent his wife. If that.
It must have been too painful to recount all over again how his beloved wife died. How sad. He was 60 when his wife died. I don’t think he’s ever imagined outliving his wife.
Marcelina. To her, life was a sport. It was a game. She was determined to become a winner of that game. But fate intervened. She couldn’t control it. It became her ultimate enemy.
I have never cooked Lasagna. Never. Not even since my friend Marcelina showed me how. I don’t know why. Maybe because most of what I cook is for my husband and son; based on what they like. They’ve never ask for Lasagna. So I never cooked it.
But my husband likes meatballs. Especially with his spaghetti sauce. And these meatballs are versatile. You could serve them with a simple tomato sauce over spaghetti noodles. But my favorite is the Classico Tomato & Basil Sauce. After baking, I allow the meatballs to simmer in the sauce. Then, they’re perfect to serve.
Oh… you could also bake several batches and freeze them. So you can have meatballs whenever you need them.
1½ pound lean ground beef
6 or 8 medium size green olives – finely diced
4 cloves garlic – smashed, peeled and finely chopped
¼ medium onion – finely diced
1 stick celery – finely diced
1 TBSPs. Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
½ cup plain bread crumbs
1 large egg
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsps. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
26 ounce Jar Classico Tomato & Basil Sauce.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a large mixing bowl… combine all the ingredients (except the Classico Tomato & Basil Sauce) and form into balls.
Place meatballs on the baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for 25 – 30 minutes.
Pour the Classico Tomato & Basil Sauce into a medium size sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until boiling. Reduce heat and add the baked meatballs. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
Serve meatballs over spaghetti noodles or over a toasted Italian bread. Also great as appetizer.
Here i sauteed one medium onion (chopped), one green bell pepper (seeded and chopped) and 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms. And then i added the a jar of Classico Tomato & Basil Sauce. Simmered it while waiting for the meatballs to get done. Once the meatballs are cooked, i add them to the sauce and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.
Tess’ Kitchen Secrets:
#1 – It is easier to form the meatballs using a rounded soup spoon. (Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into a small bowl. Deep the spoon in the oil – coating it inside and out. And shake off excess oil from the spoon.) Also, grease both your hands. It’s even better if you wear “exam gloves” to avoid your hands from getting dirty. Grease your gloved hands so the meat won’t stick.
Scope a spoonful of the meat mixture. Place it in your palm and roll counter clockwise until a ball is formed. Repeat the same process until all meat mixture are rolled into balls.
Occasionally dip the spoon into the oil, while continuing to make meatballs.
Enjoy and Happy Cooking!