Teri Orr: Oh rats…
Teri Orr is still trying to measure all that the past year taught her, but she’s certain about this: “I know pretty clearly now who I want to share my dead rats with.”
When I moved here from Lake Tahoe in 1979 I left behind just a very few close friends that were … mine. And by that I mean — most all of my friends then were “couple” friends and since I had broken up my couple, the friends felt sorry for my ex. The one friend who knew about “the why” was the children’s preschool teacher. I had been the chair of our little co-op board that operated out of the basement of the Lutheran church there.
She came over to see me the day before I left by myself with my two small children. I was driving across the desert to the mountains here. She gave me a T-shirt and it showed two cartoon-looking cats sitting atop a wooden fence. One cat is leaning into the other and the cats have their backs to us. And the one cat says in a bubble, “If I had two dead rats — I’d give you one.” I wore that shirt for decades until it was simply too threadbare and the design of the cats had long since faded.
It was funny — sure. But more than that I knew what was in her heart when she gifted me with that message. We would be there for each other and we would share the good stuff. And if there was no good stuff we could just be on the fence — side by side.
A few years ago, a Park City woman, who is a friend in a different way — that allows us to transcend age and resources and just heart-speak when we are together — called me and asked if she could have two tickets to a concert. She was also a major donor to the nonprofit performing arts organization I was in charge of. And I hated to tell her no — but I had to — because the concert wasn’t mine. It was being produced by a promoter from out of the area. And for some reason I responded quickly with something like — I would have held two front row seats for you if this was my show but it isn’t and I have no pull with this jerk. Then it felt like it needed some emotional punch and I pictured that old T-shirt and I added … You know if I had two dead rats I’d give you one. She, of course, did not have the benefit of my memory. And she wrote back annoyed — What the hell do I want with a dead rat?
So then I explained the T-shirt and my dear friend I hadn’t thought about in decades and how this woman was such a friend of my heart I just assumed it would all translate. And she immediately got it. The next time she sent in a donation there was a note. I don’t have any dead rats right now — I hope this will do. And it became kind of shorthand way of saying, I care about you…
Last week I was daring myself to do something and I shared my big idea with a different dear friend who has lived in town longer than I have. She was urging me to be brave. What would it take for you to do this thing? A plane ticket out of town? I will buy it for you. She was being dramatic and silly and I responded. I would prefer gas money to drive. And whiskey and Cheetos and chocolates. And then I did The Thing. And I texted her and said I think I’m gonna need the gas money. She wrote right back — would 100s be best or 20s? And I replied that in thinking about it I had decided to just stick around to see what happens. About an hour later she was on my doorstep. She was holding a giant bottle of High West whiskey, a giant bag of Cheetos and six bars of different high-end chocolates.
I couldn’t stop laughing.
There was no time to invite her in — she turned and was quickly in her car. And I was left knowing that if I ever really did need to leave Dodge in a hurry — she would explain, firmly and gently, to her equally kind husband that she might need to drive a getaway car but she would be back as soon as it was reasonable.
I think I need to explain — the theory of the relativity of dead rats — to her.
What I am so acutely aware of, after this past year of living in such isolation, is I would have been so lost without my text pod people — and without my friends in other states who would just pop up on my phone and say is this a good time to talk? And an hour would slip away, maybe more, and we would be laughing and/or sharing our growing fears and/or making plans for — when this is over…
And now we have arrived. We are almost all double-vaxxed and ready to rumble. We are making new plans that include meals and walks and car trips and so much more. Just being together — inside a living room — sharing stories again, feels amazing. When spring happens in a town like ours, even all the years there were never pandemics, we always emerge a bit from various forms of social hibernation. After a solid year of forced hibernation I find myself overly glad to see — the staff at, say, Dolly’s Bookstore. And folks I hardly know and have hardly known for decades at the post office. I am greeting them all with crazy enthusiasm.
What will we take away for having spent an entire year in the quagmire quarantine? Will we be gentler with ourselves and others? More patient? More grateful for all the little stuff which turned out to be the big stuff after all…
I’m not certain I can yet measure all this year taught me but I know this — I know pretty clearly now who I want to share my dead rats with. And I would do so any time, any day, including a Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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