The epiphany

I am not, nor have I ever been a “man of science”. By that, I mean that I’m not a person that has to have everything quantified and verified. But I am, to a certain degree, a person that needs to see some kind of empirical evidence in order to believe in something. This was a major influence on my failure to embrace religion as a logical pursuit. It wasn’t until I embraced the notion of “faith” would I be a bit more accepting of that which I couldn’t put my fingers on and wrap my mind around. Faith is inherently difficult, hence the reason it is often associated with a “giant leap” of it.

For most of my life my associations with the notion of faith would be in having trust that airplanes wouldn’t fall out of the sky, oncoming traffic wouldn’t cross into my lane and kill me, and those that I love wouldn’t hurt me. These are all tangible things that can and do go wrong. The notion of putting my trust in something that I can neither see nor touch never entered my mind. In addition, I openly rejected the idea of a kindly, benevolent man in a flowing white robe, pulling the strings of mankind from a puffy cloud in the sky whenever I was faced with the unacceptable instances of good people dying young and babies getting cancer.

Three distinct events in my life pushed me incrementally from open detractor to cautiously spiritual.
My Kidney Transplant in 2011.
The death of my father in 2013.
Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry in 2013.

My transplant was an incredibly formidable event in so many aspects. Obviously, it saved my life. I was very sick and on the verge of dialysis. Maybe it’s inaccurate to say I was going to die, it would be more accurate to say that any quality of life was escaping me. Then, a co-worker that I barely knew stepped forward out of nowhere and offered to donate to me. And then finding that she was a perfect match…well, that made me challenge the notions of luck and coincidence.

The death of my father initially reinforced my anger and frustration about bad things happening to good people. But my thinking evolved a little bit when I acknowledged my gratitude that he was no longer in pain. I had (I think, still not entirely sure) some unresolved issues and I talked to his stone a lot. I missed him terribly and suddenly the idea that he may be in a better place, free of pain and waiting for me, his beloved wife, friends, and every dog that ever sat at his feet to join him appealed to me. So I begrudgingly allowed the notion of an afterlife into my zeitgeist. In short, it was a nice idea.

I joined Freemasonry several months before my father passed away. I had always wanted to join it and I finally petitioned a friend for membership. It was a big move for me because I knew that Freemasonry is a faith-based organization. When it came time to interview, I pre-empted the gentleman interviewing me and asked what the parameters for belief are. I was pleased to learn that no statement of denomination or actual designation of a deity other than a higher power/driving force in the universe was required. You simply had to believe that there was something bigger than your own self. It was of short-term comfort because I still hadn’t really gotten even to that point. I was dancing with it, entertaining it even (which was a big step for me in and of itself) but not sure. This was problematic because I am not the type of person who would join a fraternity with the intention of being a better man, father, son, friend, and citizen on a lie. So I told my interviewer my concerns. The problem is that he knew my story and deftly said to me, “You happened to get a job at the one company that would connect you with the person who would one day soon save your life. A perfect match of all things. Since then you have dedicated your life to being a better person and paying forward your gift. Do you honestly think that all of that is a big coincidence or is it possible that all of this happened for a reason?” I really couldn’t argue with that logic.
I began to evolve.
But I was still spiritual at best. It was a Masonic lesson that moved the needle just a bit more. When discussing the structure of Freemasonry the Lodge itself, while it implies a building, is actually the members, the building is just that. Well, isn’t that what a church is?
The building is a building, but the members, followers, parishioners, and believers are the actual body. So according to the tenets of Bill logic (it’s a thing), Church is just a building, religion is a label, and God is everywhere. It may not sound like much, but it was quite an evolution for me, even if I really only evolved to the point of acceptance that I am not an atheist, and the person that I referred to in the first paragraph, the man who wants something tangible to see and touch, opened himself up to the possibility that there was indeed something out there and I was lucky enough to not have to define it.

Here’s what I came up with. It was church, organized religion and all that goes with it that I had a problem with. I wasn’t an Atheist. Atheists are convinced that there is nothing. They are their own church. My problem with Atheism is that I believe it is arrogant to believe that they know that there is nothing out there. This is such a uniquely arrogant human notion. I will never assume to know such a thing. Enter more Bill logic, if you reject the notion of nothing, then you therefore accept that there is something. That, my friends, was enough for me at that point in time.

It is no understatement to say that I have been looking for God everywhere and in every thing ever since. I have looked everywhere except within the walls of a church.

the Pilgrimage

I have struggled with the idea of god for most of my life. From a very early age, I was more than encouraged to attend Church. While I respect that to this day, exposing me to something that was wholesome and positive, it never really stuck. I didn’t believe in it, I didn’t understand it, and sadly I felt no need for it. In addition, I found myself highly annoyed by a good number of the people in attendance. Even as a young boy, I had a keen eye for hypocrisy and Bullshit. My church was rampant with both. For every person who dutifully stood and sat on command, recited tired and canned responsive readings, and paid respectful attention to the sermons, there were ten who were all about appearances and acting judgmental. They annoyed me to no end, but not as much as the theatrical ones who swayed during hymns and constantly yelled “Amen” for all to hear to show all in attendance what a wonderful fucking Christian they were. Add in the assholes who raised their crisp 100-dollar bills into the air to examine it and of course, make sure that everyone saw it before they dropped it into the collection plate. I never felt comfortable with any of it, the only redeeming quality was watching my Dad, who really tried to do what I always believed it was all about; cleansing his soul of the awfulness of the past week and spiritually bracing himself for the upcoming one.
As soon as my parents stopped forcing me to go, I stopped. It just wasn’t for me. My Dad was cool about it, my mother was mostly fine with it but she engaged me often over it. She told me that I was unhappy with the people in particular of our church, not religion in particular. I assured her that it was both.
Between the ages of 17 and 46, I never entered another church unless it was a wedding or a funeral.

It wasn’t enough for me to not be a churchgoer. I actually danced on the verge of outright atheism. Shamefully, not only did I not expose my own children to church, I foolishly shared my beliefs of nothingness with them. Kids are impressionable, the Dad’s influence is a powerful thing, and I did them a terrible disservice. Ideally, I should have done what my parents did. Expose them to it and let them make their own decisions. I took the asshole route. I used the bully pulpit of my position as influencer of young minds and abused it.

I know in my heart of hearts that I meant well, I was just the kind of father that taught the harsh realities of life to ensure that my children were knowledgeable about the world as it is, despite whatever hopes and dreams they may have had about what it could be. Along that vein, I felt that religion was a dangerous construct; that more war and death occurred in the name of it than I could justify, and that it was largely a waste of time. In addition, I felt that God was just a nice idea and that the Bible was just a collection of moral lectures that could easily be replaced by actual values, Good vs. bad vs. good vs. evil. I went as far as to share my belief that the afterlife is a pipe dream, that we are mortal and temporary residents of this planet and when we’re gone…that’s all folks. I could argue these points endlessly and successfully with anyone. I feel it is important to point out that I did respect the belief systems of others, but I really had no interest in it all.

Then I had an epiphany. It wasn’t God that I rejected. It was organized religion. Once I embraced that I embarked on a spiritual journey. One that I would love to tell you about if you will indulge me.

’tis the reason for the season

Ahhhhhhh….Spring. I make no bones about the fact that winter is longer and harder on me than Elementary school was. Short spans of daylight, cold weather, gray skies, and staying indoors all the time are really not for me. So Spring is my default favorite season, by the very logic that it follows my least favorite. This Spring is especially sweet because for the first time in years I am entering my favorite season healthy.

Things have been going very well for me lately. My life has completely turned around in the last 7 months. To think that I was admitted to the Wacky Shack last fall for threatening to harm myself, an all-time low, continues to amaze me. I am simply not the person I was then. I am still a bit traumatized by the whole thing, to reflect on how far I had fallen from my trademark optimistic and upbeat self is nothing less than surreal. If you had told me then that I had 6 months to live, I wouldn’t have cared. The thought of tomorrow had no appeal to me. Now, I look forward to every day and what I can do with it. Life matters to me again.

My health, and the constant comments of family and friends as to how healthy and happy I seem is of course the greatest thing going for me right now. But I can’t minimize what I can only call the additional blessings that have been bestowed on me as a result. I have a girlfriend, a beautiful, smart, and very challenging (a highly valuable attribute in my eyes) woman with whom I am sharing my life. It is yet another second chance for me. In addition to health, I now have happiness, one more thing I thought I would never experience again.

I have a job. And in the typical fashion of late, it just fell into my lap. I met a guy that was looking for someone with my exact skill set and he wants to invest in me. How many people work for an employer that says something like that? When my disability runs out, I will go full-time in an environment where I can thrive. If all goes well, I will give my mother back her beloved house and privacy and get my own place. If all goes according to plan, maybe I will get a place with my girl. Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing?

One last thing that I have to mention is my Motorcycle. My bike is not merely a piece of iron with two wheels. It represents so much more to me. It is my therapy, my escape, my conduit to my own special brand of Spirituality. When I was sick, cruising on my iron steed was the only thing that gave me hope. Now that I am healthy and free from the constraints of dialysis to go where I want when I want, it is the symbol of my new life. Yesterday, after 6 months of staring at her in my garage ( I was forbidden post-transplant to ride because of the weight of the bike), I took her out. I think she missed me more than I missed her. The ride can only be described as transcendent. It is my connection to nature, to the memory of my father, to God. It is not just an expensive toy, it is a symbol. Of freedom and rebirth. And amazingly enough, I rank the privilege of being financially and physically able to enjoy it up there among my greatest blessings.

from Me to We

Like all great stories, this one begins with a girl.

This is a story of missed opportunities. Of crossed wires. Of uncertainty and trepidation. Of missed signs and poor timing. But it also one of perseverance and dogged determination. The story takes place over 2 years, but I’ll spare you the remainder of the buildup; it has a happy ending.
I got the girl.

2 years ago I went on a first date with a wonderful and complex woman. She is the best friend of my very good friend’s new wife. I was interested in her the very first moment I saw her. Dare I say smitten. The bubble burst when she leaned in to the guy next to me at the poker table and kissed him. Oh well, I thought. I chased her out of my mind, for the most part anyway. I welcomed her back into my thoughts when I found out she had broken up with him that night. When the FB friend request came in days later, I was cautiously excited. We began to communicate regularly and I finally asked her to get dinner. It would prove to be a nice evening but that would be all it was because I didn’t realize that to her, it wasn’t a date. This confused me because it sure felt like one. We had dinner, we drank and danced. We talked a lot and we really hit it off. I read it wrong, all of it. I even blogged about it, you can read it here https://goodtobealivetoday.com/2020/03/

We continued to hang out for a few months after that but I finally had to acknowledge that I wanted something from her that she wasn’t ready to give. She really wasn’t ready. So I cut our get togethers way back and acted like we were friends. We just weren’t on the right page and I couldn’t do that to myself. I recognized that my neediness did not equal romance on her part and I resigned myself to hoping for things to change. The problem, when we saw each other it was just weird. We communicated less frequently to minimize the weird. But I always kept her in the Rolodex, as it were, of potential romance because I really liked her. So much that I compared everyone else I dated to her.

In October of 2021 we began talking regularly again. We even got together a few times. By this time I knew that her mind was changing, that she had become the aggressor, that she was finally truly interested in dating me. I was now the one resisting her. I found every reason I could to not date her, I didn’t want to get hurt again, even though I hurt myself the first time by not listening to her clearly tell me she wasn’t ready. It made it weird and got to the point that when we were together it just confused her.

One day I realized that she was what I wanted. I asked her to go to lunch. She never saw it coming. I took her hand at the table and told her I wanted to date her. She was floored. Not in a flattering way, just surprised. She still calls it “the bomb” because she never saw it coming. We have been in a torrid, fantastic whirlwind of a relationship since and I have never been happier. She is every bit of the person I thought she was, with the doubt and uncertainty removed from the picture. She is the best thing that’s happened to me in a very long time. I’m a part of a we, not just a me.

She is the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last when I go to bed. I needed this, she needed this, we needed this. So there you have it. Superman has met his Lois. God help us all.

The big prize

Bill Marshall stood at the tee on the 18th Hole. Not only had he had a decent day of business that should yield a boost in sales, he had also played the round of his life for 17 holes. There is a Cardinal rule in sales regarding Golf with clients. Always let them win. Fuck that was Bill’s answer to that. Despite his recent brushes with mediocrity, Bill was a winner at heart and firmly believed that there is no honor in laying down. He was ahead by 2 strokes and if his clients wanted to win then they were going to have to earn it. He knew people and he believed that his clients were not the types to respect laying down for the cause. They were also winners, by virtue of the success of their respective businesses. He lined up his shot and swung. He sliced it into the trees. That settles that, he thought. I didn’t fake losing, I legitimately fucked up this hole. He could live with that.
As they completed the 18th, they picked up their balls and headed to the bar. He had lost by one stroke. The Universe had settled that dilemma for him. No dishonor in that.

The cocktail lounge was full of chattering golfers. They had teed off late so it was no surprise to find cocktail hour in full swing. Bill ordered a round of drinks for the group. It was only his second drink of the day. His companions were several rounds ahead of him. Bill always imbibed carefully on company outings, there was no room for gaffes and embarrassing behavior while at work.
The day had really gone well. His three guests had enjoyed themselves and the hope of many hours of uninterrupted relationship building had come to fruition. One of his guests, Drew, was a regular customer who had been invited as a reward for his loyalty. The other two, Steve and John, were prospective clients with a lot of potential business. They seemed to like Bill and he was hopeful that their liking would convert to dollars and cents. Bill Marshall was a businessman first and foremost but in his heart of hearts he genuinely liked people. In sales, they buy you as well as your product and he believed that Steve and John were buying into him. As they sipped their drinks and made small talk with the other guests a young woman selling 50/50 tickets came around. Bill called her over and asked for 100 dollars in tickets.
“Big spender”, Drew chided.
“Hey, it’s company money, right?” His owner had given him 200 in petty cash for drinks and raffle tickets, he planned to use it.
“What will you do if you win?”, Steve inquired.
“Give it to the cause, of course”, Bill replied.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say Bullshit, Bill.”
“OK, it’s not like I’m going to win anyway.” Bill knew that he would donate it. He wasn’t on his dime for starters. And the tournament was being sponsored by one of his best customers. A local dealership owner whose passion was the Boys and Girls club of Holyoke. The owner only gave Bill some of his business, there was a lot more to be had, but he wasn’t there for that. He was there to support his client and his cause.

Dinnertime arrived and the 150 or so golfers filed into the dining room. As they ate, the host, Bill’s client grabbed the microphone and made his thank you’s and announcements. The event had been very successful and he expressed his gratitude. He then announced that he would do the drawing for the 50/50. The total take was 3000 dollars and the lucky winner would take 1500. He proceeded to announce the winning ticket, which happened to be in the hand of Bill Marshall. He was floored. He stood up and went to the podium to claim his prize. His client greeted him and announced Bill’s name and his company and acknowledged that they did business together. He then handed Bill the envelope of cash, to much applause and fanfare, and started to move on to other business. But Bill Marshall was still standing there. The host asked if there was something wrong.
“Yes”, Bill replied. “I’m here on the company dime to support a charity. So why am I leaving with an envelope of cash?” With that he handed the envelope back to the host. The room erupted. He glanced over at his table and his guests were smiling at him. He walked back to his table and sat down.
“You son of a bitch, you actually followed through,” Drew said. His other guests nodded in agreement.

Bill Marshall just smiled. Doing the right thing is easy, and it doesn’t matter who is watching.

The Tournament

It was a 3 hour drive from the house to the location of the golf tournament. Bill Marshall was in a decent mood this morning. Relatively speaking, he was at peace. Things had been quiet at home overall. The kids were doing well and the wife has been fairly calm. He knew that the next shitstorm was close by but he still welcomed the reprieve. He had decided months ago that his marriage was a lost cause and that he was there for the kids. He suspected that she would make access to his children difficult should he try to leave and he wasn’t having any of it. His kids meant everything to him and if that meant sacrificing his own happiness then so be it. Bill was raised by an old-fashioned man. He was taught that when you have family, your happiness is secondary to the welfare of those that depend on you. In that vein, it was a no-brainer. Thus, a few quiet, albeit tense evenings of silence at home was worth the quality time with the kids. As he ran those thoughts through his head, he recognized and accepted that he already knew that he was going to leave her. The only question was when. Alone in the car, with the radio volume down, he absorbed that revelation and let out an audible “holy shit”.

Traffic was heavy but moving. He turned the radio volume down and focused on the day ahead. He was excited about the tournament. It wasn’t lost on him what a luxury it was to play Golf on the company dime. He had played Golf many times under the umbrella of work, it was an excellent and effective sales tool. It was very difficult to conduct business when visiting clients at their place of work. They are constantly interrupted by coworkers, the phone or one of many crises that always come up. On the Golf course, your only real enemy to productive business talk is the cell phone. Most of his clients have the manners and common courtesy to put the phone away. If they didn’t? Well, Bill would just have to deal with it. A bad day of golf still beats a good day at work, he mused.

Bill pulled into the Country Club parking lot at 9 AM sharp. He had 30 minutes to gather up his clients/guests and check in. He walked into the clubhouse and through the doorway he could see two of his guests at the bar, Bloody Mary’s in front of them. Bill considered himself a respectable functional alcoholic but he wasn’t ready to go down that road this early. He needed to be sharp. He waved to them as he checked in and dialed his 3rd guest. He was in the parking lot. So far so good. He walked into the cleverly named lounge “The 19th hole” and greeted his clients. They were cheerful and eager to play. It felt right, he felt on top of his game. He paid for their drinks and went out to meet his other guest.
He glanced to the sky, the morning haze was burning off. It was going to be a great day all around. Little did he know how right he was.

The epileptic Carp

As they entered the Hospital Foyer, Bill made one last attempt to get his manager to leave him. He was having none of it.

The check-in process was fairly quick. It was early afternoon, the ER wasn’t busy. Being in an affluent community didn’t hurt as well. Bill’s home hospital was often flooded with drunks and victims of violent crimes. There wasn’t a lot of that in this sleepy Massachusetts town, he mused. Within 15 minutes Bill was seen by the ER physician. He was asked a bunch of questions about his health history. They did a run-up of blood work. The ER doctor was clueless regarding the episode. Bill was not surprised, no one else had ever figured out why he had these attacks either. The Doctor scribbled on his board, muttered something to his attending Nurse and went on to another patient. Bill was left to make small talk with his GM until someone came back.

To his encouragement, his manager didn’t talk about the events of the previous hours. He instead shifted gears to talking about some of the business matters that he wanted to review in the now cancelled meeting. It was a relaxed conversation and they actually accomplished something. Before long the ER Doctor poked his head in.
“Are you aware…” time stopped for Bill, he knew exactly what was coming…3,2,1 BOOM
“that you have serious kidney failure?” Bill high-fived himself mentally, just as he had called it.
“Yes, I am aware” he replied as he looked over at the furrowed brow of his boss.
“Are you being actively treated for it”? the doctor asked.
“Not as actively as I should, perhaps” Bill replied. “But here’s the thing, is it related to why I’m here?”
“Not that I know of” he replied. “I can’t identify the source of your episode.”
“Then we’re done here unless you have some suggestions.”
“See your Nephrologist. If you give me his contact information I’ll have your labs forwarded.”
He gave him what he asked for and they left.

It was a quiet car ride back to the office. Bill decided to just get it over with.
“I have Kidney Disease” he offered. “Now you know.”
“Well something has to be wrong with you, you were flopping around on the conference room floor like an epileptic Carp.”
They shared a laugh. Then Bill asked, “Does it change anything?”
“Like what, you mean your employment status?”
“No.” Bill rephrased his question. “Is this something that I should have told you when you hired me?”
His manager didn’t flinch. “That’s why we have health insurance, you dumbass. How long have you had it?”
“Since I was a teenager. It’s unpredictable in its progression. I think it’s getting worse.”
“Do you think you should have told me on the interview?”
Bill stroked his goatee, stalling.
“Yes and no. It really hasn’t affected my work that I know of. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t think about the what-if’s. When I met you, I wanted you to see the man for the job, not some sick guy. Does that make sense?”
His manager nodded. “So now we know,” he said. They drove the rest of the way in relative silence. They passed through the security gate and as a courtesy he was dropped off at the door. It was 4:30. Bill was thankful and he got out with the intention of going in, grabbing his bag and calling it a day. As he nodded a thank you for the ride his manager asked,
“Where does stress fit into all of this, you know, with the kidneys?”
“I don’t think it helps, I know that much. Why?”
“Because you’re wrapped tighter than a convenience store sandwich. You try to do too much. You’re the first one in, last one out. I’m not asking for that. Take it easy on yourself. You’re getting the job done.”
“Thanks, but you might as well tell water not to be wet. It’s how I’m wired.”
“No, that’s how Superman is wired. Your name is Bill, not Clark. Smarten up.” With that, he put the car in gear and drove to his reserved spot.

the End of the facade

Bill Marshall had just collapsed on the conference room floor in front of the entire management team. His co-workers swarmed around him anxiously barking questions. Are you alright? Where does it hurtCan I get you anythingCan you talk? Bill wanted to answer all of them but the pain in his side was excruciating and he couldn’t get the words out. The muscles below his rib cage seized, failed to relinquish their grip. He couldn’t breathe. He clenched his teeth and tried to draw breath. His GM reached down and sat him in an upright position against the wall and handed him a bottle of water. Bill leaned forward, grabbing his ankles, trying to stretch the spasm away. Finally, the pain subsided. He sat against the wall, sipped the water and tried to regain his composure. He looked up, the entire room was staring at him.
“It’s all over,” Bill said. “Let’s continue.”
“Are you nuts?” his GM said. “You’re going to the hospital.”
Someone in the background offered to call an Ambulance. Bill resisted, insisting that it was over and he was fine.
“Have you had that happen before?” the controller asked.
“Not like that.” He lied. The truth was that he had. Not as bad but similar. He had mentioned them to his Doctor and they could find no explanation. Just one more thing to deal with.

“Well, we’re driving you to the hospital then. I’m not giving you a choice.”
Bill dropped his shoulders in defeat as he was pulled upright. He allowed his coworkers to take his arms as they ascended the stairs, walked outside, and got him into a waiting van.

By the time they had reached the local hospital, Bill felt fine. He didn’t want to go in. He had been the local hospital route before. It was always the same thing, they would run some tests and send them to his own doctor. Nothing would be accomplished except the waste of a lot of time. A doctor would come out and ask if he knew that he had Kidney issues. He was aware.

There was a bigger picture here shaping up. Bill’s GM was going in with him. When he hears the words “Kidney Disease” from the Doctor, it will be the first time his company learns that he is sick. Two hours ago, he was bulletproof. That façade was about to crumble. It was his biggest fear, that his coworkers will now see him as the sick guy. Bill had done an admirable job of denying, faking and downplaying his illness to his family, friends and employers for a hell of a long time. Now his Achilles Heel is exposed.

The good stuff

Bill got up, his swollen legs screaming in protest, and moved to the sofa to sit beside his son. Lady dutifully followed and plopped down at his feet. He wrapped his arm around the boy and they watched TV. It wasn’t long before his wife appeared in the doorway and told D that it was bedtime. Bill looked at his watch. It was 9 already. He reminded himself that that’s what happens when you sit in a bar, dreading coming home. He told his wife that he would take care of bedtime. She gave him a sarcastic “thanks” and went back to the kitchen. He forced himself off of the sofa and motioned for D to follow him, telling him to brush his teeth and put his pajamas on. He didn’t put up a fuss, he reallywas a great kid.

He went upstairs with the boy and told him that he would be in shortly. He poked his head in his oldest daughter’s room. She was lost in a book. He went into her room, leaned in, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“I didn’t hear you come home,” she said.
“Next time I’ll make more noise” he joked. He kissed her again. She gave him one of her famous smiles, he loved the little gap between her front teeth front and center. It was cute and reminded him of her as a toddler, mugging for the camera. She was such a happy child. Never more than one thought away from the negative, he also observed that she would need expensive braces soon.
“Good job on your report card” he offered. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mom went ape on the boys.”
Mike could only imagine. Yet she took them out to dinner? It must have been her friend Lisa’s idea. Lisa’s kids probably got shitty report cards as well but she didn’t believe in disciplining her kids. She wanted to be their friends. Bill hated that kind of parenting. Be their friend, sure. But be a fucking parent first. This was his wife’s best friend and he hated that she and his wife were so close. He thought Lisa was a terrible influence, but his wife fucking loved her. Almost to the point that he wondered if she switched teams. He chased all of that out of his head and returned his attention to his daughter.
“Jeez,” he said. You couldn’t have saved the old man a chicken finger?”
She laughed. He kissed her again on the forehead and walked down the hall to the boy’s room where he found Ry at his desk, furiously scribbling on a notebook. He looked miserable.
“Hey bud,” he said. “That’s enough for today, nothing will change overnight.”
“Mom is pretty mad.”
“I know. I already bumped into her. See the burn marks?” he said as he showed his bare forearm. It was a bad joke but Ry laughed. He wasn’t trying to denigrate his wife. He just wanted to cheer the kid up. It seemed to work. He sat with the boys as they went through their nightly routine of procrastination. Fearful of his wife getting angry at the time, he went to the banister and listened for signs of life. She was talking to Lisa, the toxic friend. No doubt talking about what an asshole she married.

He went back into the boy’s room and said goodnight. He made a couple of silly faces, drew a laugh, and turned the light off. He went downstairs looking for his youngest daughter. He poked his head into her room, she was fast asleep. Shit, he thought. I didn’t see her at all today. He sat on the edge of her bed and just watched her breathe for a while. She looked so peaceful. She was the unplanned one but immediately shot up to I can’t imagine my life without her status. She was cuter than a duck wearing a hat. His heart swelled. He got up and closed the door behind him and headed for his comfortable chair. He had to walk through the kitchen in order to get there and he ignored the glare of contempt his wife shot at him as she babbled into the phone.

As he sat down. Britt appeared in the doorway.
“My asthma is acting up. Can I do a treatment?”
Bill got up, went to the closet for the Nebulizer and a capsule of albuterol. He set it up, placed the mask on his daughter’s face, and sat down beside her. The hum of the machine soothed him as he watched her, glued to the TV as the mist gently wafted from her breathing treatment. He had changed the channel to Nickelodeon and had found Spongebob. Perfect.
He let her stay with him for about 15 minutes after the treatment was done. He didn’t want the moment to end. He knew, whether she knew he did or not, that she wasn’t really having an asthma attack. It was her sneaky way of getting an extra half hour with her dad.
This, Bill Marshall thought to himself, this is the good stuff. The rest of it doesn’t matter. He squeezed his daughter tight and waited for her to fall asleep.

A typical night at home

Bill Marshall pulled into his driveway a bit too fast. He heard the scraping of the plastic bumper as it met the small dip at the end of his driveway. It was just another moment in his 15-minute drive that he was reminded of how reckless it was for him to have driven home, half in the proverbial wrapper in a company car. A DUI wouldn’t make his life any better right now. Real smart, dumbass, he scolded himself. He put the car in park, popped an Altoid, took a deep breath, and walked to his front door. Again, he was unable to ignore the crumbling masonry adorning the walkway and the ugly door that desperately needed a coat of paint. He shook his head and went inside.

Bill took off his shoes, stumbled slightly, and went into the kitchen. His wife was sitting at the kitchen table. She didn’t even look at him. She had “the look” on her face. A sense of dread washed over him. Because he had avoided the “money talk” the other night, he knew that it was coming now. Bill reevaluated his condition and decided that he may not have drunk enough.
“You could say hi, you know. You must have heard me come in” he said.
“We need to talk” she replied.
“Not now”, Mike said with a defeated tone. “I know where this is going. Talking about it isn’t going to make a money tree grow in the back yard.” He regretted his snarky tone as it left his lips.
“If not now, when?!” she yelled. She was boiling and she wasn’t in the mood for the verbal foreplay. She wanted to fight.
“I’m doing the best I can.” He knew she didn’t believe it and he wasn’t sure if he did either. “You don’t know what it’s like out there right now.” He tried to change the subject. “Anything for dinner?”
“We went out.”
“Of course, you did. After all, why would you eat any of the food that is in our fridge, we only spend $200 a week on groceries after all.” He immediately realized that he was a raging hypocrite, he was just out himself. And she hasn’t asked where he was and why he was late. Is it possible she doesn’t care? Yeah, he didn’t want the answer to that one.
“Fuck you,” she said.
“Nice. Right back atcha. Where are the kids?”
“In their rooms doing their homework. Report cards came out today and with the exception of Britt, the boys are going to be in their rooms until the second coming. Don’t bother them.”
“If I want to say hi to my kids I will, don’t fucking tell me I can’t.” He didn’t stick around for the rebuttal. At least he had avoided the money talk again.

He needed to sit down for a minute. He would see the kids in a few. He walked into the family room, plopped down on the plush cushion of his chair, and turned the TV on. He peeled off his socks and put his feet up. His swollen ankles hurt like hell and without rolling up his pant legs he knew that his legs were swollen as well. As if he didn’t have enough shit to worry about, his disease was getting worse.
He noticed a change of light in the room and he looked to see his oldest boy D, in the doorway with a Miller Lite in his hand.
“I got you a ‘water bottle’ Dad,” he said as he tucked the can under his arm and did his famous quotation fingers.
“Don’t you have homework to finish?”
“I’m done. Did mom tell you about the report card?”
“No specifics but she didn’t paint a rosy picture.”
“It wasn’t that bad. Mine, I mean. I can’t say the same for Ry.” He sat down next to his father, handed him the beer, and said “The Sox lost.”
“Yeah, I saw.”
“Weren’t you at work?”
Bill hated lying to his son.
“Between you and me I knocked off a little early.” He and D were close. D rarely told mom much of what he said when she wasn’t around. He was a good and loyal soldier and never betrayed his dad to his mother. Bill wasn’t proud of that, he didn’t encourage it. The kid just favored his dad and somehow knew the politics of the household. Bill wished more than anything that he didn’t. But it was hard for them not to see the antagonistic relationship their parents shared.
He also wished his kids didn’t bring him alcohol and joke that they were water bottles. He was some fucking example of a father. Yet, incredible, his children loved him. Despite the fights they witnessed between him and their mother, all of the hurtful words that couldn’t be taken back, they seemed to understand him. Above all, they really appreciated him. He wished and hoped the same for his wife. He didn’t want to be the favorite parent, he would be happy as an equal partner.
He just wanted their love.