The best laid plans

The last 5 days have been quite a ride.

I had a great weekend planned. There was a special dinner at my lodge on Saturday that I wanted to attend. The timing worked well because it was the weekend before our monthly Monday meeting. I had it all worked out. I changed my dialysis time to an earlier slot, I would drive down in time for the dinner at 4:30. I would stay over my best bud Jeff”s house and visit with my kids (at 3 different locations) on Sunday. I then planned on staying another night, have coffee with one guy and visit another until it was time for the meeting and then drive home.

Saturday rolled around and I was ready to go. Tux in one hand, overnight bag in the other I left the house at 8. I ran into my first wrinkle when I arrived at the dialysis center and they wanted to know why I was there so early. I explained that I had scheduled it with Lisa, but Lisa never marked the calendar, They made me wait an hour. I rolled with it, I had allowed extra time in case such an issue arose.

It was a brutal session. I had a bad reaction to a med, I cramped up horrible and the injection site hurt like hell the entire 4 hours. Somehow, I got through it. At 2:30 I was off like a Prom Dress. Straight into a traffic jam. Fortunately, I didn’t need to go home first. I barely made it on time to the dinner.

I was given a warm welcome by my friends and brothers, but the evening was mediocre because I wasn’t feeling well after my rough session of dialysis. I put on a brave face and got through it but by the end of the night I was cooked. Jeff and I had little Scotch and Cigar time that night, I went to bed early. Fortunately, I was up most of the night. Insomnia isn’t limited to your own pillow, it’s transferable.

Sunday morning I got up at the butt crack of Dawn because Jeff has young children (is it still called getting up if you never slept?) and had breakfast with his family. At 9:30 I embarked on my day of visiting the kids. Over the course of the morning and afternoon, I drove a total of 130 miles and saw my youngest 2. I spent some time with my youngest daughter hanging out at the apartment. I then went to a cigar bar with my youngest boy and enjoyed a ten dollar cigar and a good conversation. It was then back to MA to have dinner with the ex and my oldest daughter at the restaurant my oldest boy works. I wasn’t feeling great by the time dinner came but it was good to see everyone, even if my son was working. By the time I was done eating you could again stick a fork in me, because I was done.

That night, I managed to have a Scotch and a Cigar with Jeff, we went over the events of our day and I was in bed by 10.

That night I slept like a log. When I woke my stomach was a bit off. At that point it could have been the Scotch, the need for a good fart or just a bubble. I was wrong on all counts, I quickly realized as I raced to the bathroom to toss up the previous evening’s dinner. I had caught the stomach bug. I would not leave Jeff’s guest room the entire day. I spent the day alternating between sitting on the throne with runaway diarhea while simultaneously barfing into plastic shopping bags and then sleeping. The meeting I had gone to all of the effort to plan for…I never made it.

Tuesday morning I made the 2 hour drive at 75 miles per hour, plastic bag handy and butt cheeks clenched firmer than a Southern Baptist minister. Having successfully made it without an “accident” vehicular or otherwise, I made it to dialysis.

Where I had another miserable session.

It’s so absurd it only makes sense to laugh. The best laid plans, right?

A Daughter’s love

I received a text from my youngest daughter late last night. We text almost every day and I always light up when I see that it’s her.

She told me that she has an English assignment to write a 20 sentence essay about a powerful moment in her life, and would I mind if she wrote about my last hospitalization. I joked with her, which one? It was a caustic joke, making reference to the many crises I’ve been through in the last couple of years. It wasn’t funny of course, my battles have had a real impact on my kids, one that I wish they never had to deal with. The last one, I’ve heard, was particularly bad. I have to rely on what I’ve heard because I was unconscious for 2 days.

I told her I was fine with it and asked her to email it to me. Here is what I opened.

As I pulled up to the hospital, I did not know what to expect when I walked into his room. My mom and I made it into the hospital, to the elevator, and into the ICU. The nurse led us into the room and my heart dropped to my stomach as I saw my dad. I have never seen someone look so helpless, while he laid there with a tube down his throat and a machine breathing for him. The nurse was talking, but I couldn’t listen. All I could hear was my heart pounding, the machines beeping, and the sound of oxygen being shot into his lungs. The first time I saw his chest rise then fall, tears came to my eyes, but they did not stop. Tears kept pooling in my eyes and falling down my face. I could not breathe. I felt like I needed to have oxygen sent to my lungs, too, because I couldn’t seem to breathe on my own. They told me to talk to him, but what do I say? Would he be able to hear me? All I could do was hold his hand and hope he could hold mine back, but he didn’t. Even if he wanted to, he had gloves on preventing him from ripping the tubes from his mouth, which he had tried to do during the many attempts to wake him up. So I did the best I could and I held his hand and spoke soothing words to him. I told him I loved him. I told him he couldn’t leave me, and he didn’t. He stayed strong for me, for my family, and for himself, like the fighter I know and love. “He’ll be okay,” they told me. He’ll be okay.

She will be reading that in front of her class.

I was floored. I cried. I was so sad for her that she had to go through that, so proud of her ability to express herself so boldly and honestly, and so taken back by her account. Above all, I was blown away by the love this child has for me.

I told her how proud I was, how well-written it was and that I was moved by her words.
“Well, it’s all true”, she matter of factly replied.

I continue to struggle with that episode of my life. I’ve had a couple of medical close calls in my life and I sincerely remember traveling towards a tunnel of some sort before being revived. I know what I experienced and no skeptic will ever talk me out of it. But the last one was the worst. I was inches from the dirt farm, to the point where the Doctors were discussing my DNR.

Through Doctor and family accounts, I’ve been given details of the ordeal. The 2 ambulance rides, the first to a hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me. The 104.9 fever. The medically induced coma. The breathing tube and the bedside dialysis. I don’t remember any of it of course, and there lies the frustration.

The one thing I have never wrapped my head around is what my family went through during that time. The guy who always tried to act strong, through a carefully orchestrated design of denial and lying about my health was, in my daughter’s words, helpless. Helpless is not a word often associated with me.

My mother, my ex-wife (who was amazingly supportive and present throughout the ordeal), and my older children were all deeply concerned. But my youngest, she was beyond herself. We have a special bond.

As all of these thoughts ran through my sleepless mind last night, I texted her:
“That was a scary time.”

“I was more scared that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.”

Is there anything that would make a guy want to keep plugging on stronger than that? God, I love that kid.






Rest well, my Brother

“The roll of the workmen has been called, and one worker has failed to report”.

I dutifully hung my head as the familiar dialogue of a Masonic Funeral was read. I’d been in many Masonic funerals in my years as a Freemason. It is a beautiful ceremony, the same one performed for George Washington, and a show of respect for the fallen brother and a glimpse for the family into the ways of the fraternity the brother’s family never saw. They always make me sad, but this one really hurt.

This brother was also a very close friend whose loss I know I will feel for a very long time.

I first saw Adam from across the room at a meeting. The first thing I noticed about him was the absurdly round face. I observed that he was heavy, but his face was bloated beyond that. When he stood up I could see that he was in pain. This man had a story to tell.

As the room cleared at the end of the meeting I saw the small crowd gathered around him. Handshakes, hugs and greetings abounded, it was obvious that he was a beloved member of the lodge. I made a goal of getting to know him.

During cocktail hour I walked across the room and introduced myself. Never one afraid to approach a stranger, I stuck out my hand.

“Greetings, Brother. My name is Bill”. He stuck his hand out, “Adam.”
And thus began a beautiful friendship.

Adam had joined Freemasonry at the suggestion of his father. It was suggested that he would make friends, enjoy the fraternal bond, if nothing else to have something to do to get his mind off of his problems. He had many, chief among them being a Cancer survivor.

Adam was diagnosed at the age of 30 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a highly aggressive cancer with a very low survival rate. Newly married, with a flourishing career and a young son, his life came crashing down. He survived, thanks to the wonderful gift of a bone-marrow transplant from his brother. It was an agonizing, extremely painful surgery for both, but his family continued to make every sacrifice they could for him.

A year later, Adam was living with his parents, sleeping in his childhood bedroom, a mountain of prescription bottles at his bedside. Divorced and friendless because his wife couldn’t handle his illness and his friends stopped calling him. Seeing his son every other weekend was the only glimmer of hope for him, he would tell me one day, keeping him from taking his own life.

I learned part of his story from mutual friends before he and I actually spoke of his travails. As our friendship blossomed he gladly told me the rest. Over lunches, cocktail hours at the lodge (his lodge, that I joined to spend more time with him) and hanging at his house he would tell me the stories about the events that led him to this point.

He was grateful for his new friends and humbled by the support of his new brethren. His father had been correct. His father was a 50 year Mason when Adam entered the fraternity and his father was enormously proud. His mother proudly beamed at the results his new circle had created for him. I vowed to be one of the best friends he would have.

Adam didn’t just take friendship, he gave it back. When he learned of my health issues he became one of my biggest advocates. He spent time at home on his computer researching possible treatments being developed, texting me his findings and always checking in to see if I was eating right, taking my meds, or just to see how I was doing. It isn’t lost on me to this day how someone who felt like garbage almost every day could manage to check up on me, and all of his friends for that matter, to see how we are. He was a special friend.

In the course of our friendship Adam had a rollercoaster of health challenges. On a flight to St. Louis he contracted a virus that caused him to spend 7 weeks in the hospital. He almost died, but he pulled out of it. He had two knee replacements, a hip replacement, a pacemaker and was hit by two more staph infections, one that required removal of both knee replacments. At the end of all of it, there he sat with his absurdly swollen face, a result of a massive amount of steroids and other medications. He was a fighter like no other I have never met. As his Facebook announced another setback, myself and all of his friends had faith that the tough sonofabitch would bounce back and smile that huge smile again.

This past December, Adam met a foe he couldn’t overcome. Another staph infection that the Doctors, despite their Herculean efforts, could not pull him out of. He was forced into a medically induced Coma at the end of January.

I found out too late, for some reason his father’s FB wasn’t showing on my newsfeed and by the time I knew it was too late to visit him. Had I been sitting next to him he wouldn’t know I was there. All of my prayers from afar wouldn’t change it. His parents thanked me for my friendship and support, I knew in their voices they had given up this time.

He died a few days ago.

I miss my friend. I regret not being able to thank him for his unwavering friendship and his eternal optimism. His selflessness in the face of adversity that would cause so many to wallow in a pool of self-pity. He was an amazing human being.

As I stood silently in a moment of prayer, I was flanked by dozens of brothers who knew Adam as I did. We all knew his family. We all knew the efforts he made for our lodge as he took different assignments to keep himself productive, a concept that meant the world to him. We all knew what a loss we had experienced.

I waited patiently as the procession slowly entered the funeral parlor, each waiting our turn to place a sprig of evergreen, a masonic symbol of the eternity of life, on his simple coffin. A rare tear fell onto my cheek, one of many that would fall that evening.

He is resting now, his pain is gone. The irony of it is that the cure for his disease killed him. If he were here right now he would laugh at that line, we shared a morbid sense of humor. Sharing the burden of Chronic Illness, we knew that laughter is the best medicine. I want to laugh at the funny exchanges we had over the years. I can still see his big, round face that initially caught my attention. The smile that shone through some tremendous sadness, the face of a truly great person.

Rest well my friend, I hope to see you again someday in the Celestial Lodge above that we, as mere mortals hope to achieve at the end of our journey.

Basic

Jeff is the rare “3 AM friend”, if I called him at 3 AM he would be there for me (he has). When he called me last week and invited me to play Poker I jumped at the chance. The prospect of playing cards with him was worth the 2-hour drive.

I met up with him at noon on Sunday and we headed out to get snacks and drinks for the game. We arrived at our friend Justen’s place on time. Jeff and Justen were the only ones I knew, but as a believer in “a stranger is a friend I haven’t yet met” I immediately became friendly with 3 of the 4 new guys. The fourth set off my “Spidey-Sense”, I didn’t like him at first impression.

My senses were accurate, not long into the tournament I concluded that he acted and played like a Dick. But I put up with it.

As the game wore on, players began to drop off. Our Texas Hold’em tournament was 1st and 2nd winners only, once you were out you were out. It had come down to me and the Dick. After a showdown in which I bet and he made a huge raise, I was forced to fold. As I threw down my cards he laughed and talked some trash. I ignored him.

In Poker, if your opponent folds you are not required to show your cards. It is an unspoken rule. When he threw his cards in, I scooped them up in preparation to shuffle and deal the next hand. In the process I accidentally flipped his cards up. He immediately reacted, accusing me of looking at his cards. I assured him that it was an accident.

It escalated. I stood up and told him that if he didn’t stop we were going to take it outside and handle it a different way.

That is when Jeff stepped in.

“Dude”, he said to the Dick. “Bill wouldn’t do that. If he says it was an accident it was, he is one of the finest people I know. Sit down before he kicks your ass.”

The Dick sat down. He and I finished the game. He won, I took second place, doubling my buy in. He took his money and left.

Soon after, Jeff and I left also.

“Thanks for getting my back, brother” I said to him.
“No worries, bud. I meant what I said.”
“Finest people I know?”I joked.
“Bill, you are an amazing human being. One in a million, maybe a billion.”

I was floored. I was unable to offer a response other than to thank him.

Soon, I was on my way back home with 2 hours of quality “me time” ahead of me. I love to drive, I do my best thinking behind the wheel. I can’t count how many blog posts came to me while driving.

This ride, I was thinking about what Jeff had said. What about me made him say that? I’m a pretty laid back guy, I try to be honest and kind-hearted, I’m not judgmental and try to be nice… But I’m nothing special. Then a word popped into my head.
Basic.
Basic is a urban slang word, like fleek, lit, woke, bae,. Etc. Words my kids use that drive me crazy. Basic is a derogatory word denoting one’s lack of spark, of being of no particular interest. Not a nice thing to be called. But it’s a great thing to be and people seem to admire it.

In the last two years I have embarked on a spiritual journey to find myself. By applying the harsh spotlight of self-evaluation, unwavering criticism and acceptance of unwanted but necessary truths I emerged as a person who, for the first time, could look into a mirror and like what he saw. I had stripped myself of pretense, hubris, ego, pride and the conventional measures of success. Isn’t all of that a fancy way of saying that I got down to the basics?

I’ve never been happier.

I am basic. Like a child. Remember when we were children?

We loved everyone because we did not know hate.We were friendly to all because we had not learned prejudice and bigotry.
We were honest because we had no reason to lie.
We were happy because we had not been taught cynicism.
We said the “darndest things” because we were too young to be censored.
We asked questions to learn, not to make judgments.

Then the world changed us.

Fortunately, I have restored myself back to “Factory Settings”. Not amazing, not particularly noteworthy. Pretty basic overall. Some people seem to like that so I think I will run with it.




Tell your story

Steve at Msich Chronicles has passed me, as well as the incomparable Tom and Naturally Calamity Jane, the baton in the Tell the Story challenge. It’s quite simple, look at a picture and tell its story. I welcome this challenge, it may be just what I need to get going again. I hope you enjoy it, and I also hope you check out Steve, Tom and Jane’s Blogs. They really are exceptional bloggers and people.

It’s almost Spring in New Hampshire.

I survived my second winter
.

This is my home.
See that matted down spot under the tree? That’s my bed. For so long it was covered in snow and ice. I still laid there, it was the only comfort, the only normal I would have during the cold months. As it got colder, the matted leaves were replaced by snow and ice. So. Much. Snow. The dense woods were thick and shielded me a bit from the harsh winds and falling snow but it was so cold, so very cold.
My bed was lucky, for me at least.
My sister, not so much.
See all of the fallen branches? The heavy snow and high winds brought them down. She was nesting down under another tree close by and the wind blew so hard it toppled her tree. As it crashed down she got scared and frantically darted off. She was so spooked she ran into the road and was hit by one of those fast metal things with glowing eyes on its front.
The human in the metal thing stood over her as she died. He cried. I cried too, from a distance, safely in the brush and far enough away that I could run if the human came for me. I wanted to trust him because he didn’t have the long thing in his hands that shoots thunder. But I couldn’t be too careful. One of them killed my Daddy a few months ago.


Mommy was sad but strong and I trusted her to get us through the cold months. She taught us the safety of routine. Each day Mommy, me and my two remaining sisters faithfully followed our path. We walked through the same trails, leaped over the growing snowbanks, carefully walked through the clearings of the human dwellings. Mommy knew we were scared but we followed her, she was all we had.

Once in a while, we would encounter the nice human with the checkered coat. He always smiled at us. We wanted to trust him, but that whole thunderstick thing prevented it. Mommy said he looked worried about us. She said he sometimes had food in his open hand, kneeling down and gesturing for us to come closer. I wanted the food but Mommy said no. She told me she was tempted once or twice to get a little closer but couldn’t take the chance of us getting hurt. We were resigned to watch him from far away, our eyes intent, our ears up, watching for when he took a step towards us. We always bolted when he did that. I think he’s a good human, but Mommy has lost enough already.

Many humans want to feed us. They worry, they wonder how we get through the winter. We manage to eat enough to survive. See that spot on the tree that is missing bark? This is one of the things we eat, and tree bark is plentiful. Berries taste better but it works for now. It has to.
Still, I’m looking forward to the berries.
Soon, the leaves in my special little spot will dry up. Soon, I will feel the warm sun on my coat. Soon, the pond will melt and I will be able to drink the cold water. Soon, Mommy will search for a new Daddy for us.
She deserves it. We do too.

I love my special little clearing in the woods. I love my bed. I love my Mommy. I love watching humans…from a distance of course. I love feeling safe.


For now.

When the leaves start falling on my bed, in my clearing, it will be time to brace myself again for the short days, the cold nights and the Thundersticks booming in the near distance.

Until then, I will enjoy the reprieve of Springtime in New Hampshire.

I nominate BPD Bella,  JT Twissel and Dan Antion @ No Facilities to tell a story about this image.

Have fun

the longer it is, the harder it gets

Now that I’ve drawn you in with a sexually provocative and misleading title, here we go.

I’ve heard it said that Blogging is like riding a bike. You never forget how and it’s easy to get right back in the saddle. I don’t agree. I think it’s more like working out. When you are really into fitness you feel strong, vibrant and you crave more of that feeling. But once you stop, or take a break, the longer you are out of it the harder it is to go back. You know that you have lost strength. You know that it will take more effort to get back, if ever, to where you were. It is going to hurt. You fear you will never get that high again.

This is where I am now with my blog.

18 months ago I started this blog. I had no readership at first but I poured my heart and soul into it and I told my story. The readers eventually followed and I began to feel a “writer’s high” in which I was getting gratification through feedback and stimulating dialogue, I even had a follower write a blog post citing mine as the “best blog she had ever read”. I was thrilled and honored by that.

Now, I fear that most of my stories have been told. The ones that I do tell do not seem to get much readership. Most of my loyal, regular readers are gone. They have either stopped blogging or just stopped reading me. Being fond of feedback and comments, I mostly get some “likes” with no real indication that my post was actually read.

Then there is my health. I have been on dialysis for 5 months and overall it has been a positive experience. I do feel better in some ways. But the fatigue, the washout and other unpleasant side effects such as insomnia are taking a toll. I am up all night many nights a week and forced to sleep late, which I hate. And when I am awake I just don’t have the energy or mental clarity to be creative. I limp through most days.

The longer I am away from it, the harder it is to get back into it. Like exercise.

But here I am, pondering a change in format. Reviewing insights. Evaluating my tags and categories. Trying to find answers to explain why my blog isn’t giving off the spark, to my readers and to myself, that it used to.

And here is what I came up with. I still have a story to tell. If not for you, then for me. Read it, don’t read it, I can’t control that.

I do it for me and hope that someone enjoys the ride with me.