the tattoo

I recently got my first tattoo. I’m not sure why I waited so long.

When the heavily tatted and pierced young lady at the tattoo parlor learned that it was my first she was genuinely surprised. I suppose in her world; her job, her generation, etc., it may be a bit late but if she knew anything about my generation she would be less surprised. I am the last of the boomers, by that I mean I’m the cutoff age, and my generation was plagued, or blessed I suppose, with “‘cations” as I call them. Ramifications, Identifications, advocation, dedication, indication, and if your parents or peers really got fed up with your shit then you were cursed with abdication, which of course means disowned by your parents or social circles. By this somewhat pedantic rant what I am really saying is that my generation was judgmental as all hell. Tattoos were one of those things that drew criticism and scorn and had social implications (oops I did it again baby). So, in the interest of presentation and reputation, I refrained from inking my body.

But as I have aged and my concern about what people think of me has sharply declined I decided that at age 56 it was time. The question became a matter of what and not when. I decided that my passion, my driving force, the thing that has influenced my life the most in recent years has been my involvement with Freemasonry. It has been the driving force behind most of the improvements I have made in my life that have resulted in me finally liking myself. If you know me at all, that was no small feat. So I decided that the Masonic credo of “Faith, Hope, and Charity” would be my first, prominently displayed on my right forearm. It means “Faith in God, Hope for eternal life, and Charity to all mankind”. I live by it and I now wear it.

My children have been having a blast with me over the word Faith tattooed on me. You see, it was not long ago that I was a pretty strong agnostic, if not a borderline atheist. What can I say, I’ve had a change in position.

Hey, people change.

It was Freemasonry that brought about the change. One of the only requirements for membership, besides a documented history of good character, is a belief in a higher power. No particular denomination or definition of deity is required. You just have to believe in something as the driving force of the Universe. I struggled at first when I researched joining. I disliked the notion of joining a fraternity based upon good character on a falsehood. So I took a hard look at myself. I was one year out of life-saving transplant surgery. Over my lifetime I was a cancer survivor, had flatlined for 2 minutes after contracting a staph infection, walked out of the hospital after I was told I might not walk again after a motorcycle crash, and had suffered a severe head injury as a child. Yet there I was, still standing and still kicking. I had to ask myself, did I survive all of that just on my own? Or did I have help?

I had been seriously grappling with faith for many years before that, my whole life perhaps. The conclusion I was approaching is that what I really had was an aversion to organized religion. You will thank me for leaving it at that. But a deity, an unknown power, a driving force if you will is very believable and doesn’t need to be defined. Atheists believe that there is nothing, zip, zero, squat out there. I believe that nobody can say that for sure and the sheer vanity of that alarms me. So by the laws of deductive reasoning, if you don’t believe there is nothing then there has to be something. Mother Nature, the ocean, Karma, whatever strikes awe in you and demands further explanation. It opened the door for me to accept faith. Many call Spirituality a “Cop-out”. It’s not, it’s faith that lacks a precise definition. I still reject most of the tenets of traditional belief but, quite simply, what I do practice makes me feel good.

So I wear it proud. Without fear of reproach from the judgmental ones of my generation, and free from those who know my past belief system. It is just what a tattoo should be. It means something to me. That’s what matters to me. I now have faith, I would love for there to be some form of eternal life, and the goodness that I try to exemplify in my heart causes me to be charitable.

No matter how long I live I will have it. Unlike most tattoos on people today, I will never look at it one day and ask myself “what was I thinking?” At that moment, my heart, my head and my thinking had never been clearer.

the surprising reaction

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I called Cat that evening and when she asked how my day was, I replied “I’m all done at the restaurant”. It got very quiet on her end. I asked her if she had any thoughts on the matter. I got a very curt “well, that’s too bad.” I didn’t push it. We talked for a little bit and got off the phone. I was going to see her the next day.

The next day I arrived at her house and we immediately went out to get lunch. I loved having lunch with her. We would always find a place with a good view of the water and we had great conversations as a rule. That day would be an exception to the rule. She was very quiet. To offset the quiet I made the mistake of speaking openly and honestly about what I was feeling. I explained to her that I wasn’t happy with how I had conducted myself, that I wasn’t proud, that I wished it had turned out better, that I hadn’t left Vinny hanging, and that I stood behind my conviction that from a mental health perspective I just couldn’t have handled it any other way. You know how your significant other should be supportive (at least to an extent at least) and focus on what’s good for you and maybe each other? Apparently, she didn’t believe that. And she had me immediately questioning why I did. It got ugly fast. She didn’t agree with me at all and began to tell me how she would have handled it differently, went into great detail about what I should have done, and generally got opinionated as fuck on me. I took it, to a degree, acknowledging that she may have a point but then I offered, “you’re a bookkeeper. You’ve never worked in an environment similar to what I was doing, there is no possible way that you can tell me what you would have done. You weren’t there.” Her answer was. “You didn’t handle it right at all.” She may have had a point. After all, I’ve already acknowledged as much, but I didn’t appreciate her attitude. If nothing else, she could’ve respected the fact that I was upset and not consequently not attack me. I tried to salvage the lunch by changing the subject but she was so cold I could have poured water between her tits and made my own ice cubes.

The rest of the day was no better. As she got drunker (another massive red flag) she somehow found a way to be more critical. As we sat in our favorite dive bar she actually said that my problem was that nobody kissed your ass and begged you to stay. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, you will know this if you have been reading my posts. I was pissed. We got through the night but she went to bed pissed and I slept on the sofa. The next morning was no better so I left after Church. I was beginning to think that our relationship had run its course.

I stayed in NH all week. We texted a bit but there were no phone calls and when it came time to get together again I simply texted her and asked her if she wanted company that weekend. She said yes, so I went to her house. She was better but the tension was still there. I deliberately didn’t bring up anything about the job. I had other problems to deal with. My ex-wife was fighting with my youngest daughter and it was weighing on me. My ex was giving my youngest daughter, who is gay ( for context only) a hard time about her relationship with her girlfriend. She was questioning the relationship, downing her lifestyle, being a fucking wonderful mother all around ( sarcasm duly stated) and really upsetting my daughter. My daughter had been dealing with anorexia and depression and I was outraged that my ex was doing this and causing the friction that she was. I told Cat about it. Surprise, surprise she had an opinion, one that I didn’t necessarily ask for, about that as well.

Let’s just say that my weekend ended early.

A very dark place

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

There I was, a week after starting a new job, in the Hospital. It was late Friday night, and I was being processed by the Nursing staff. I hated this part, reviewing info that they already had in the system. Having to repeat my name and DOB every time I got an aspirin. I was distracted, and annoyed, I even felt bad for leaving my boss and my coworkers in a bind. I’m stupid like that. To be fair, I was scared. They were all but convinced that I was rejecting my new Kidney. That was something I just couldn’t process. I’m sure I don’t have to explain my concern, but try to grasp the emotions I was grappling with and the thoughts raging in my head. Was I going to lose what I can only describe as the biggest blessing of my life, a fucking rebirth, already? A mere 8 months previous I was on dialysis, sick and depressed with little or no interest in life and no hope for a future. The only thing stopping me from suicide was what it would do to my children. I now had a job, a possibility of a future, a girlfriend that I thought might be the one. Was I really going to lose all of that already? I was in the worst possible place.I had a sleepless night ahead.

I met with my Transplant Doctor the next morning. I really like him and I knew him well. His face said it all. He explained what was ahead. Bloodwork, Infusions of steroids over 2 or more days if needed, all hands on deck to get my creatine down. There were no guarantees that it would work, or if any changes would be permanent. I asked him how concerned he was on a scale of 1-10. He is always honest, he held up 8 fingers.

The only positive was that Cat was coming to see me. I asked her not to but she had already started the two-hour drive to my house to get my mother and then drive another 2 hours to see me. She wasn’t about to be talked out of it so I didn’t try. It warmed my heart that I had found someone that cared that much for me. They visited me, she held my hand the entire time. It was of great comfort. They stayed most of the day. When they left she whispered an “I love you” in my ear. It was a brief but profound moment of happiness. It was certainly a reason to fight, not that I didn’t still have it in me.

The people from work were all concerned. Especially Vinny. He asked about me frequently. He was concerned about me and of course he had to know if I was going to be able to continue. He did have a business to run. I posed the question to my Doctor. He wasn’t a big fan of me continuing. He felt that the heat in the kitchen and the tough working conditions were too harsh for me. But pending the outcome of my treatment, he left it up to me.

On Monday morning I tested below my normal creatine level. It was excellent news. They agreed to release me and I was told that future (immediate) retesting would tell if the damage (if at all) was temporary or permanent. As for work, my Doctor told me that it was still up to me to make the decision.

I made the wrong one.

missed chance

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

At the end of February I was informed that we had an opening date of mid-May. Not much had changed on the frequency of work or my involvement. I had done my part to be harmonious, it’s unfortunate that I felt the need to show my ability to get along, by getting to know Susanne. Susanne was the woman Vinny had hired to run the kitchen, a decision that he refused to believe I was okay with. She was still running her soon-to-be shut-down business. She was waiting until a firm start date and then she would shutter her restaurant. I visited her frequently at her shop. We would compare our backgrounds and discuss ideas for the new place. I had absolutely no problem with her and she seemed to like me as well, even going as far as to say that she looked forward to working with me. I wasn’t worried about working with her, I figured we would get along fine. My only concern was where I would fit in. Vinny of course failed to see the good in that, he still thought I had an issue with her. That was the first time that I realized that I really didn’t want to do this new venture. I had a bad feeling but I ignored it because of loyalty and the fact that it was too close to opening. I was too late.

Things with Cat were still good. But I was starting to see some potential problems. She had a terrible drinking problem and a worse memory. I was shocked and saddened to learn that some of the best moments and conversations that we shared were lost. She had absolutely no memory of them. It was if they never happened. Plus we were arguing a bit. Not a lot, but she had a nasty side when we did. Still, I believed that I loved her. She claimed to love me as well. It was moving fast, too fast, but I was feeling things that I had not felt in a long time, perhaps never. I was dreading being away from her on the weekends, which was the only time we had to be together. Once the store opened, I would be working all weekend. I HATED that thought. But I told myself that I had to wait to see what happened.

In a rare moment of confidence, I found an opening in a conversation with Vinny to mention that I was not looking forward to working all weekend every week. He said, “Well, you can either wait to see what happens. I promise that once we are established I will find time off for you. Or you can quit.” He was testing me. I was tempted. But I didn’t take the offer. I knew, with all the hype around town, that we would be busier than a one-armed hooker with two customers for the first month or so. I decided that I would try to have the patience to ride it out and see what happens. I missed my chance to do what I wanted to do most.
Walk away.

I was in love, I was thinking too much about spending time with her. I was aware of the foolishness of that. In addition, my personal code of conduct told me to follow through on my commitment. I concluded that if it was meant to be then our relationship would survive a few missed weekends.

more cracks

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

It was now February. Not much had changed. Vinny was still involving me less and less and I was growing increasingly frustrated. I wasn’t being utilized yet I made myself available. The few conversations consisted of him going on at length about the grandiose plans he had for the restaurant. I was getting anxious ( I suffer from bad anxiety) listening to these conversations; in essence my anxiety was whispering in my ear, “you can’t do this, it’s too much.” The little voice in my head was in agreement. In essence, I felt he would be really hard to work for, even in my controversial “self-inflicted minimized role”. I should have spoken up and told him my concerns. But I didn’t. Not knowing how to react, I remained quiet. This, of course, made him think that I was not into it. It was a constant and annoying process.
And I now had a girlfriend who I wanted to see and the neurotic bastard in me was already concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see her very much. While we still months away from opening.

Things with the girl were going well. I really felt that I had met “the one”. I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. At the time I thought she did also. So there I was worrying about something that hadn’t even happened yet.

I made the mistake of telling her my concerns. Of not being able to handle it. Of hating the hours. Of not being able to handle Vinny, who was increasingly showing me signs that I was making a mistake. And of course, of not being able to see her.

I now regret that

The added variable part 2

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

Cat and I began to talk regularly. We eventually hung out a couple of times. Despite the outward overtures of romantic gestures, I knew that she, not I, were stuck in the friend zone. Nothing had really had changed. Or so I thought. That would soon change. In one of our conversations, she mentioned that I “checked a lot of boxes” on what she wants in a boyfriend. That was a sign. I decided, despite a myriad 0f common-sense objections, that I wanted to give it a shot. I was fairly certain that should I ask her out she would say yes. I didn’t even care that she lived 100 miles away. She was worth the drive. Wouldn’t you know it?She said yes.

What happened after that can only be described as a romantic whirlwind. We became close immediately. While we were new to dating, we had known each other for a while so the lines were blurred. It was chaotic yet felt natural. We were together every weekend, which consisted of outside-of-my-comfort-zone activities such as musicals and trying new restaurants. The evenings consisted of amazing intimacy. Sure, it was sex but that’s too superficial for what I was feeling. I felt an actual connection that I had never felt with anyone before. We both marveled at how comfortable we were around each other. It wasn’t in the same ballpark or even universe of anything I had ever experienced. We were having fun and we were both enjoying it. Everything really was great. That would be my weekends. Monday morning I would head back up to be available for Vinny. It was a shame that he rarely needed me on those Mondays, or any other day for quite a while. Construction was delayed, it was the dead of February and he had nothing for me. Even the money stopped. I knew something was up. So I asked him about it.

He had hired someone else, which was fine because we needed more people before we opened and this woman had much more experience than I did. I was one hundred percent fine with it. I stood back and let them plan. I am a worker bee, I had no interest in more. But the first wrinkle in my relationship with Vinny had emerged. Despite the fact that it was he who had minimized my role, he gave me shit about pulling back. I called him on this logic, and emphasized that I was fine with all of it, he treated it as if I had done something wrong. I was baffled and it was the first time that I realized that he and I might not be simpatico.
My takeaway was that my little voice, which rarely misleads me, had been chirping in my ear and I now knew why. My guard was officially up.

talking to strangers

Sometimes I talk to people at random. Often they either ignore me or I may occasionally get a weak response. It’s just how I am. Last night I was in the market and there was a young man shopping with his small son. The boy was having a blast. The father, to his credit, was being very patient. As I was grabbing an item near them I remarked “this is the good stuff right here”. He asked me what I meant. I told him that this moment in time will be a great memory someday. I said to him that food shopping with my young kids was one of my favorite memories. He said, “Sometimes I wish it would go faster.”

I shook my head and politely said “Don’t wish for that, trust me.”

At that point, I knew I was verging on being the annoying old guy offering unsolicited advice. We all hate that guy, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Instead of dismissing me he stuck his hand out and thanked me for what I offered. He said, “I needed that.

It wasn’t an opinion, not a criticism, just a perspective.

I will continue to talk to strangers because I’ve always believed that sometimes we offer people exactly what they need at that moment.

Self care

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I spent the remainder of September and the better part of October focusing on my recovery. I was under a regimen of twice-weekly appointments with my transplant team, which was a 2-hour drive each way. It was exhausting because sitting up for that long was excruciating. The pain this time around was so much worse than my first transplant. You may or may not know this, but new kidneys are implanted in the abdomen. The human body is such an intricate, well let’s call it what it is, a miraculous design. Therefore, the abdomen contains everything it is supposed to with no room to spare. I now had not one but two foreign organs stuffed in there. They had to make room, for lack of a better way to put it. It’s quite an image to think of opening up an abdomen and shoving this and that aside to make room. And the kidneys aren’t small. I saw mine before they put me under. It was the size of a large boneless chicken breast. And now I had two in there. It pushed on the incision terribly and the pain was constant. Standing was difficult for the first week. Lifting was out of the question, regardless of the weight. And God forbid I should get constipated, which is common post-surgery, then the pressure on my abdomen (which was held together by 27 staples) was intense.

In addition to my visits, I was on a strict diet and fluid intake program. I was required to monitor everything that went in and out, log it and relay it to the team, when they called every damn morning at 10 AM. And they were not playing around. If I were to slack off in any way my coordinator would give me hell. I liked that, to be honest. It kept me focused. After all, they wanted the same thing I did, for the kidney to take and last as long as possible. So at the time, it seemed like an eternal pain in the ass, but I’m grateful for it in hindsight. This went on for six weeks, by the end of which I was well on my way to my own self. I was doing light weight conditioning and walking between 1 and 2 miles per day. They were thrilled with the walking, not so much about the weights. A typical patient rarely did either with any regularity. But as I was always quick to point out, and they had to reluctantly agree, I was not a typical patient.

The last week of October I drove by, on the way to the Hospital, the store where Vinny had asked me to come work for him. He had told me that when I felt better that we should talk. His truck was out front and the door was open. Work had already begun and he was wasting no time. So I went in and said hello. We discussed my health for a bit and then he showed me his progress on the store and told me his plans. They were impressive. He had some great ideas and I was convinced that he was going to do really well with this venture. As I went to leave he asked if I wanted to make a deal.
Here we go, I thought to myself, decision time.
“Talk to me”, I said. He made me a salary offer and gave a job description. It was a good one. I thought for a few minutes, and based on how I was feeling at the time I said yes. I was feeling strong, hopeful for my future, and ambitious. At the time it felt good. It felt right. On paper, it all looked good. And for a while it would be.

Driving myself

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I was home 4 days after my transplant surgery. Everything went well and the efforts that I made to keep my weight down and stay in shape paid dividends in my recovery. I have always bounced back fast from the myriad of health obstacles that I have encountered but this time I was in a lot of pain. Being released on the condition that I come back for bi-weekly appointments, I was disappointed that on my first visit I was unable to walk from the door to the transplant wing. I actually needed a wheelchair. The pain would continue to be severe for several weeks but my recovery was nothing less than stellar.

For the first week, I wasn’t permitted to drive myself. I was so relieved to not have to burden family with the long ride to the hospital twice a week so I took the long way to get to the highway. The first place I passed was the rundown convenience store that Vinny had bought. As luck would have it Vinny was outside surveying the property. I stopped, rolled the window down and said hi. He seemed very happy to see me.

We talked for a while as I brought him up to speed on all of the amazing events that led up to my surgery. I thanked him for reaching out to me. He told me that he was so happy for me, what a great story it was and how it affirmed his belief in God. It wasn’t long before he asked me if I thought that I would recover well enough and in time to come to work for him when he opened. I asked him what his time frame was for opening. He estimated 6-8 months, putting us at between March and May. I told him no promises, but I should be. He wasn’t holding me to anything, he said. He wanted me to take care of myself and we’d see where it went. He made a tentative offer of employment. No discussion of pay, hours, etc., he just wanted to gauge my interest level. I told him we’d talk soon. That was good enough for both of us. I drove off, I was on the verge of being late.

6-8 months, I thought, just the motivation I needed to make a (another) kick-ass recovery. As they say, it was on.

Prospects

Two days after discussing the possibility of working at a new business with a guy I recently met, I got the call that would change my life. There was a kidney for me. Finally. In the interest of not being redundant, instead of retelling this event, you can read the original post here. This post is about the opportunity presented and the multiple events that would form one of the most up and down periods I’ve endured in a long time.

I had my Transplant on a Sunday. Monday morning I awoke in the recovery room with tubes coming out of everywhere. I was in excruciating pain but I was exuberant. Gone was the Brain Fog, the malaise, the unexplainable but very real feeling of toxic waste running through my veins. My head was clear. I felt good and I felt hopeful. When I shook off the cobwebs and assessed my situation, it occurred to me that I needed to let my family and friends (the ones that knew I had gone in for the surgery) that I was OK. I asked the Nurse for my phone so that I could make some calls. I called family first and then opened FB to post my little miracle. The first thing I noticed was a Messenger notification. It was from Vinny of all people.
“Heard the great news. Hope you are better than ever. We need to talk when you feel up to it.”
Apparently I had made a friend as well as a prospective employer. I told him that when I got home from the hospital and was feeling up to it that we would talk. I was excited on many levels, beyond the euphoria of my new gift of life. I suddenly, for the first time in many years, felt like I had a future and some actual prospects. Obviously, I had to focus on my recovery. But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train. Excitement about things to come; good health of course was at the top of the list. But I also missed the formerly active lifestyle that I enjoyed before my first Transplant failed. I wanted to get back out there and live. To exercise. To love. And believe it or not, to work again.

That’s where Vinny came in.