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December 21, 2010

When The Bubbles Dissipated

by Kristina Amelong 

(PART 2 of Kristina's personal wellness story entitled "Golden Arches")

During that first year at McDonald's, I mastered every station in the grill area: buns, regular grill, quarter pounder grill, and fish filet fryers. Working my 2- to 3-hour shift, a few times per week, I answered a need that I hadn't yet been aware enough to recognize, let alone articulate: I had purpose in my life.

We all loved working the regular and quarter pounder grills, laying the round, red, stiffly frozen beef patties, searing them tightly to the stainless steel surface, flipping them one (sometimes two) at a time, and finally, in their sizzling perfection, placing those grilled disks on their buns. The faster we worked, the higher we were held in esteem by others -- management and co-workers alike. And we had fun -- lots of it. We had mastered a set of skills and we showed off these skills in heroic fashion.

These brazen beef patties marched out of the grill area to gratify the hungry mouths that called for fulfillment, or as birthday blessings for blameless children, or simply as a mindless lunch. The pedestrians and the cars, pulling forth from all corners of the universe, weren't satisfied with only a beef patty, but also dove selfishly into French fries, large Cokes, and apple pies. In concert with the drive-through and the woman in the blue uniform, we dispatched these terrestrial treats at light speed.

It was a good year.

On May 27, 1981, a bit more than one year later, I wasn't at work. On that day -- other than chores, a bit of chemistry homework, and an episode of Gilligan's Island -- I had no plans.

I decide to tackle doing the dishes first. As the hot water poured from the faucet, I squirted soap into the sink, watching it turn to bubbles. I imagined the bubbles carrying me off, always popping before I got very far, sending me crashing to the kitchen floor. During a particularly hard fall, I caught a glimmer of light from the front yard. I pulled myself off the floor and went to investigate: it was a City of Madison police car.

As I went outside, I saw that the police vehicle's trunk was open because it contained a bicycle. It must have taken me 3 or 4 minutes to go from the front steps to the end of the driveway -- a journey that normally took no more than five seconds. As I stepped off the porch, onto the sidewalk that ran in front of our modest ranch home, the police officer set down his clipboard and opened his door. I could hear his every move -- the silence of setting down his clipboard, the chiming of his keys as he shut off his car, the shuffling of his feet as his body shifted to open the door, the creaking hinges as he pushed open the door.

I don't remember what the policeman told me. I do remember that he left me with my younger brother Jay’s crumpled bicycle, lying on the front lawn, with no Jay in sight and no information except, "There's been an accident."

Back in the kitchen, I stood at the sink. The bubbles had now dissipated, and the air seemed odd. As the phone rang, I felt unusual, thick, pregnant. I turned to answer it, wondering why I felt this way. 

Bringgggg, bringgggg, bringgggg.

As I lifted the handset off the base of the olive green, wall-mounted rotary phone, it occurred to me that my 13-year-old brother had probably been smoking pot that day after school. Is that why his bike was now strangely distorted on my front lawn? Is that why time had slowed? Is that why the phone was ringing?


"Kris, it is Jan Anderson. I am picking you up in five minutes. Your brother is at the University Hospital."



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