The Helpless Zone

I can be a lot of things. I’m frequently grateful. Often thankful. Sometimes controversial. Occasionally prideful and always humble. I’m accomplished at all of them and have mastered the often smooth transition from one to another. They are my comfort zones.

One thing that takes me right out of that zone is being helpless.

I’m a doer. A fixer. I have proven myself to be surprisingly unafraid in situations some would run from, including pulling a woman from a burning car. When I was working I was the guy who would send someone away saying “come to me with a solution, not a problem”. And I backed it up. I found a way. The “Superman” nickname is not new, while not always bestowed in a complimentary vein and was probably destined to be my blog theme. It all stems from a natural tendency to get involved. My favorite saying is “nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”

Except fix the unfixable.

Sometimes there is just nothing we can do. Hence the offers of “thoughts and prayers” after a senseless tragedy and “if there’s anything I can do” at wakes and funerals. We say these things because it’s really all we can do. Unless we possess the powers of God himself our powers end there.

I struggle greatly with this. I want to do something. Anything. It is simply beyond me to sit idly by. Even when there really is nothing. There is no greater example of this than the events of this week where I have been forced to sit idly by as someone I care deeply for suffers. She is undergoing a process deemed medically necessary and it is wreaking havoc on her and I can’t do anything except awkwardly ask “are you ok?” I hate it. It’s not even close to being about me but I would take it from her in a second to ease her pain.

The whole Superman thing lends itself to an obvious question. What’s your Superpower? I really don’t have one. But I would give everything I have present and future if I could be granted the gift of healing. To eradicate the scourge of “bad things happen to good people.” I’m not ok with it, the senselessness and attributing of “fate” and “providence.”

I might have to walk the beach. In addition to the sand therapy maybe I’ll trip over that magic lamp and meet my Genie. I would ask it to take me away from the “Helpless Zone”.

deep, lasting bruises

My shoulder is killing me. I have a large goose egg on my elbow. My hip is so sore I can barely walk. But nothing hurts as badly as my pride.

NH has a very stringent policy on Motorcycle endorsements. You can only have a learner’s permit for 45 days at which time you need to schedule a road test or complete a state run safety course that, provided you pass the skills test you are granted a license upon completion. Once the 45 days is up you had better have a license because you can’t get another permit. I set up and timed it perfectly, I took the surprisingly difficult test at the DMV exactly 45 days before I would complete the safety course with the hopes (dare I say expectation?) that I would leave the course with my license.

I then embarked on as many days of riding as I could, the weather has been terrible) and at the end of the 43rd day I felt good about my skills. I put almost 2000 miles on my bike in that time and I deliberately worked on areas of difficulty to make myself a better rider.

I showed up at the practice course ready for 2 days (8 hours each Sat and Sun) of learning. I had jumped through hoops to make it work, including rearranging my dialysis schedule which included making my extra day a 6 AM (ugh) start. Great sacrifice went into this but it was a necessary evil and I was ready.

Overall, it was a cool experience. The instructors were knowledgeable and fun. It was hot as hell but we took many breaks. At the end of the day I was tired. It probably isn’t advisable for a dialysis patient to spend 8 hours pushing and riding a motorcycle in the heat but I didn’t complain, I didn’t want any special treatment. At the end of day 1 I was exhausted. I had a hour and a half hour ride home and when I got there I was done. I woke at 5 am the next day and embarked on day 2.

Day 2 was a disaster. It was baking hot and I hated the motorcycle they assigned me. It was really small and the controls were much closer than on my own bike and I never got used to it the entire day. But I got through the day, barely. Worn from the heat, cranky and not feeling well I felt my stomach drop when they announced “evaluation time.”

I don’t test well, I have extreme test anxiety. I have a hard time performing anything in front of a group of people. It’s the main reason I had to abandon my Porn career. I was nervous and filled with dread despite their assurances that it would not be difficult. The 12 of us lined up.

The first exercise was fine. Not great but I did it. I was really struggling with the size of my bike. The second exercise not so good, on a corner I cut too sharp and the bike tipped over. I was furious, embarrassed and in pain. None of which compared to the sudden realization that I had also failed. The instructors made sure I wasn’t hurt and pushed my bike to the side. I was hurt but didn’t tell them. I went to sit in the shade and fume. One of the instructors came over and told me not to leave, no matter how mad because there was still the knowledge test and if I missed that I would have to repeat the entire course.

There I was. One of the only class members who had actually ridden before, sitting in the corner with a fucking Dunce Cap on.

For the next 30 minutes I waited inside in the AC and fumed. I was beyond myself. While I was waiting I walked over to a chart on the wall. At the beginning of the class we were asked to rate ourselves on our own skill, knowledge and awareness of motorcycle riding. I was a cocky prick and I felt safe giving myself 8’s and 9’s. After all, I had ridden in groups, highways, hills and corners with some very good riders. I erased all of my scores and changed them to Zeros across the board.

As the rest of the non-fuck-up classmates trickled in I kept my face in a book to avoid eye contact. I would have chewed my own arm off to get the fuck out of there at that point. But I didn’t. I took the test, scored 100% and waited for my exit interview. I made it easy for them, I said “yea, I screwed up and I will take the course again.” The instructor felt bad.

“Bill, you’ve got the skills, you just had a bad day.”
“If you think I have the skills, will you pass me?”?
“Sorry. No.”

That was the end for me. I got in my truck, texted Lois that I was a failure and an idiot and made the hour and a half hour drive home. I was miserable.

I spent the rest of the day in a foul mood and woke up about the same. I sulked around for a few hours and then I decided I had to take it on headfirst. I went to the DMV and enrolled for a road test. I scheduled it for next week. I am going to practice the moves that I struggled with and I am going to pass that goddamn test with the assistance of improved skills and a hopefully nice test administrator.

I hate pity parties and therefore I host as few as possible. My wounds still hurt today, but the ego feels a little better because I took some action to resolve this. I don’t feel great, but at least I don’t feel bad for myself.

Now if I can just get the remembrance of dropping a motorcycle and hitting the pavement in front of a large group of people out of my head.

Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

On Grief

She cared for her husband when he was sick and dying. He was a veteran with a pension and Medicare but he couldn’t secure a spot in a Nursing Home. For six long years she was Nurse and Caretaker until the day he left us. I never saw her cry. She claimed that she grieved his loss while he was alive.

A short six months after her beloved husband died she met another man. A man that adored her. It was a second chance for both of them and they were happy. They moved in together until they decided that their upbringings demanded that they get married. They did. 3 short months after he was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He died 10 days from diagnosis. I never saw her cry.

She went on an online dating site 2 months after he died and began dating a man soon after.

She put her beloved dog down last Friday. I saw her cry for a brief moment. That’s it. She’s already talking about getting another dog.

She is my mother, and she does not Grieve.

I have grappled with and marveled at this for many years. I am no closer to understanding it now than before. If she was a closed-off person by nature it would make more sense. But she’s a warm, caring person. She is outgoing, friendly and kind. She had a caring, if not somewhat overbearing mother who showered her with love. Her father was, in my opinion one of the nicest men ever to walk the planet. But something or someone critical in her formative years taught her that women, not just men, don’t cry.

I tried talking to her about it the other day. I asked if she grieves in private or not at all. She revealed that she has her moments when she thinks about my dad and her second husband Frank. The memories are all over the house in the form of pictures and the fact that my Dad essentially built the house we live in. T0here are the triggers, the songs and smells and random nuggets that make us think of that one special person. They make her cry…a little. But not for long, no sense wasting time on what’s already happened.

This can only be the inherited toughness from her mother. Mom’s family cab be faithfully traced back to the ages of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower and they were solid, steadfast people that frowned on weakness. Her mother was a stalwart example of that bloodline. I’m sure her mother taught her to “suck it up” and not dwell on that which is beyond our control. It worked for her when she was orphaned at a young age and was raised by her brow-beating Grandmother. I’m not sure she did her daughter right by passing this on to her.

I have no pretense of trying to change her. It simply cannot be done. I also inherited, or learned, toughness as one of our family traditions. It has served me well as my life’s buffet has been a seemingly endless supply of Shitburgers. But I do know how to let things go properly.

I wish my mother would just, for once, let it out. Grief is like a lungful of air after a deep inhale. If you let it out slowly it hurts. If you open up and let it go it leaves the body quickly and painlessly. I admire her toughness and her ability to trudge forward no matter how strong the wind is. But toughness at the risk of emotional health is the wrong way to go.

Yes, those of you that know me know that I admire and exemplify a high level of toughness and it is no exception with her. But before I tell something to Fuck Off from my life permanently I deal with it properly. I forgive once I decide that it’s good for me to do so. I cry occasionally because it’s too hard keeping it in. I admit when I’m wrong because it’s the right thing to do. I also know how to grieve, too well unfortunately. I’ve had lots of practice. My mother, on the other hand doesn’t deal with things, she just plays the waiting game in hopes that it will go away on its own. And she always wins. It’s not healthy.

Yes, let it go, but only after you have made proper peace with it.

Respect

I thought it odd yesterday when my son texted me out of the blue asking me for the date of my father’s death. I answered him anyway.
“December 3, 2013.”
“Are you sure?” he replied.
Jesus, maybe I’m not, I thought to myself. I pulled up the image on my phone of his stone. Dummy, it’s December 2nd. I always get that wrong.
“Sorry bud, it’s December 2nd. Duh.” I typed.
“Good catch.”
“May I ask why you’re asking this?” I queried.
“Nope. Tell you later.”

An hour later, I got this in my text messages.

That is the chest of my son, with his Grandfather’s date of death in memoriam on his chest. I was floored.

I’ve always said that my first tat will be in memoriam of my father. But being on a transplant list I can’t get a tat because I will be a Hepatitis risk and disqualified. My tat was to be RIP Billy Mac. A.S.N.F. I am a junior as you can see and the A.S.N.F. stands for A Son Never Forgets, from the outstanding Cuba Gooding, Deniro movie Men of Honor. A must see BTW.

I could have been upset that he beat me to the punch. I could have been dreading the shit show his mother is going to throw because she hates tattoos. But I was nothing but beaming with pride that my son chose to honor his grandfather, who loved him more than life itself, and me in the process. The kid gets it, he gets history, he gets pride, he honors family and he knows where he came from.

I asked him why he put it on his chest. He told me that one day, not any time in the near future, he would put mine on the other side. Close to his heart.

I’ve raved ad nauseum about how much I love my children and how proud I am of the amazing people and citizens they’ve grown into. Now, my dear reader I finally can offer you proof. I love that kid.

Of all of the unfortunate tattoos he could have chosen, I am just amazed at the route he took. Now, I must go. I think someone is chopping onions because my eyes are getting teary.


Goodbye faithful friend

You’ve been struggling for a while. The spring in your step wasn’t quite there. Your deep brown eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. Your playfulness had begun to wane.

We tried to call it a phase. We woke each day hoping that we would see that spark. Occasionally you showed us glimpses of your old self. But you were tired. You were in pain. Life wasn’t fun for you anymore. It eventually began clear to us that you were never going to come out of this.

This last week you provided us with no glimpses of former you. You moved slowly. Your pain was obvious. When you fell on the stairs and needed help to get up we knew that a terrible but necessary decision was made.

It was time to put you to sleep.

For 13 years you were the loyal family dog. You weren’t a pet, my heart can only be this broken for a family member or a dear friend. You were always happy to see me, even when no one else was. You were always by my side so that I never felt alone. When the house was empty, I had wonderful companionship sleeping at my feet. As only a dog could do, your friendship was omnipresent and unconditional. I was one of your pack.

As one of your pack, I vowed that when your time of need came that I would be by your side, tirelessly and unconditionally. That promise was called in today as we woke to find you listless on the kitchen floor. Your sad brown eyes said it all. You were done, you needed relief from your pain and we had to do what was right for you despite how hard it would be for us. We called the veterinarian and asked to bring you in.

I carried you in to the office. You never let me pick you up until today. The waiting room full of people knew why you were there. They avoided eye contact out of respect and the knowledge of what we were there to do. They let us right in and we placed you on a cold metal table. I put your favorite blanket under you. They gave you a sedative and fed you treats until you put your head down. We patted your head and told you what a good boy you are, and have always been. The Dr. asked us if we were ready. Mom was sobbing. I teared up a little. But I held your little paw and stroked your ears in your favorite spot as they shaved a small section of your leg and gave you an injection.

As you stood by me in life, I stood by you at the end of yours.

“He’s gone”, the Dr. gingerly uttered a few moments later. We were asked if we wanted a private moment. I left my mother alone with him. I had said my goodbyes.

He leaves a hole that can never be filled for reasons that can never be explained. I will cherish the memories, for that is all that remains of my loyal, silly, loveable little furry friend. He is in a better place, at peace and free of pain. Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge.

Unlike those of us who wish he was still here.

Bad things to great people

I woke this morning to an absolutely beautiful, cloudless day. Spring and Summer have largely evaded the Northeast so far this year so I deduced that I really had no choice but to take the iron steed to my Nephrology appointment. I saddled up for the 50 mile ride south.

As my window had suggested, it was nothing short of a glorious hour ride and I’m pretty sure I smiled the whole way. I made excellent time so I rode around a bit before I pulled into the Medical building the suggested ten minutes early. I parked Bella, wiped the dust and pollen off of her and went inside.

After I checked in I went to sit in the waiting room. Seeing the helmet, several people struck up conversation with me about riding, the weather, etc. I’m still amazed at what a conversation starter a helmet is. After several minutes of small talk, I was called in.

My doctor, who handles most of my needs including monitoring my progress on dialysis, glanced at the helmet, surveyed my jeans, boots, tanned arms and face and said “Well, I guess I don’t have to ask how you’re feeling, do I?”

“I could lie to you, Doc but I feel great.”

After a thorough 30 minute evaluation he concluded that indeed, I was feeling great. He ordered some routine tests and sent his Nurse in to do some follow-up exams. Her name was Madison.

Madison was very good at talking to patients and we immediately began talking as she breezed through her routine. It didn’t take long for her to start talking about her fiancĂ©, and how he was critically injured at work. He is a tow driver and he was hit by a car. I suggested that maybe it was the opening for him to maybe get a better, safer job someday. That’s what I do, put a posi spin on things. She agreed. Then she said something that really resonated with me,
“It seems bad things happen to the best people. As a nurse I see it every day.”
“Can I expound on that?” I asked.
“Sure.”
“It’s been my experience that the illnesses and accidents create the best people.”‘
She was visibly intriguedby what I said. I kept it as brief as I could as I told her what Chronic Illness and my experiences in the blogosphere with the many Chronically ill bloggers that I loyally follow and interact with have shown me. That illness and injury bring out the best of us. I have stopped short of calling it a blessing, but it is undeniable that when faced with unpleasantness and uncertainty many people develop a true appreciation and zest for life that “healthy” people may never achieve. We love more, fight less, forgive more easily, breathe more deeply and waste fewer moments because we don’t have the luxury of guaranteed longevity.

Madison is young, I would guess no older than 23. She was enthralled by my thoughts but I suspect she is taking my word for it to a large degree. She is too young to have seen a lot of the ugly in the world. But I know that I gave her something to think about. She is a good nurse and I’m sure she is decent and kind to all of her patients. But I hope that she will learn to treat her more hardscrabble patients not with pity or sympathy, but instead as the warriors that they are.

Every day is a beautiful day if you take the time to find the beauty. It beats waiting for a better day that you may not be around to see.