A blessing in disguise

A very dear friend, a fellow blogger with a chronic illness (you know who you are) once told me at length how her illness was a blessing.  She spoke of being grateful, of appreciating the small things in life and of not wasting precious time. I wholly agreed with her, but I stopped short of calling it a blessing. 

Now, I’m not so sure.

My illness has made me a better person, there is no doubt about it. I feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.

My blog has always been a labor of love. I started it as a means to tell my story and to vent my frustrations. I vowed to not dwell on the negatives, there were a ton, but to matter of factly talk about my life. Like my social media account, I made a real effort to be positive. No complaining, no placing blame for my situation and zero anger. Many have said that I have inspired them, that I am a good person. I suppose that I am a ok person now. But to be fair, I wasn’t always.

I would never go so far as to say that I was ever a bad person. Instead I would describe my former self as deeply flawed. I used to be closed off. I was angry. I often resorted to pettiness. I was jealous. I blamed others for my lack of success. I tried to be something I wasn’t and did a lot of things I am not proud of.

When I got married and started a family I genuinely wanted to curb some of my bad habits. I wanted to cut down on my drinking. Eat healthy. Be more loving and open. To lose my anger. But it wasn’t to be. Marital strife, financial issues and career challenges dominated any attempts to be a better man. My illness, particularly the hypertension that often bordered on out of control, combined with a drinking problem resulted in a horrible temper and some outbursts that I would give anything in the world to unwind them. I fought with my wife and said terrible things in front of my children. I would get mad at the kids if they took sides or interjected. My oldest daughter and I had horrible arguments. As tough as she was, I was failing her. I failed to recognize that I needed to be the adult. But my version of an adult was an angry, sick, disappointed and frustrated version of the man I wanted to be. Then one night I had a transformative moment.

After a particularly nasty argument with my oldest daughter I went to bed angry. I hated myself for the things that I said. It was truly unforgivable. Somehow, despite my raging blood pressure and self-loathing I somehow fell asleep. What happened next changed my life.

I dreamt that I was watching my daughter through a pane of one way glass. She was in jail, or a mental institution, I’m not sure. At the time of the argument my daughter was 12. But in my dream she was about 3. She was in a room, alone. I was watching her play with blocks. Her hair was pulled up in a tiny ponytail, she was wearing the cute stretch pants that I loved when she was little. She was intent on the puzzle, silent and sad. I somehow had the knowledge that she would be in that horrible, cold and loveless room forever. I pounded frantically on the unforgiving glass for her to hear me, to see me. For the opportunity to mouth the words, as late and fruitless as they were,
“I love you!”.
“I’m so sorry!”
“Please forgive me!”

She continued to listlessly play with her blocks.

I awoke in a cold sweat. I was crying. I did not fall back asleep that night.  I was haunted by it for weeks. It still bothers me. For weeks and months I hated myself. It was then that I took a long, hard and brutally honest look at myself. I acknowledged my illness and made a real commitment to address my shortcomings. I knew I had to curb my drinking, my anger and mend my relationship with my daughter. By reconciling with my mortality, true healing began. I felt urgency to work harder. Most important, I committed myself to positive change.addressing my shortcomings. 

I am happy to reveal that my commitment to repairing my tumultuous relationship with my daughter paid off. We get along wonderful now. Despite no apparent issues with my other 3, I know I formed a much better relationship with them that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t been honest with myself. It inspired me to fix the other areas of my life. 

The true catharsis occurred when I received a kidney from a co-worker. Her altruism changed my life. I received a humongous lesson in gratitude. Which resulted in a pay-it-forward attitude that I have yet to lose. I became charitable, if not with money I offered my time which is more valuable than any financial offering. By diving into charity, tapped into a well of empathy and caring I didn’t know I had. It made me a better husband, father, son, co-worker and friend to all. 

I think we all look at our lives and think that we have about 80 years on this planet, more if you are lucky. It allows us the luxury of putting off things until “later”. Chronic illness puts a serious damper on the notion of later. This realization changed how I did everything. Before my transplant failed I had one time frame on my mortality. After, I had a much different, and shorter one. Later may be too late. 

Chronic illness has caused me to be the man I always wanted to be. I owned up to the fact that it’s ok to walk away from a fight. To forgive those that wronged  me. To ask myself if I’m right before I shoot my mouth off. To be nice in place of rushing to judgement. To let things go. To be kind and open to the struggles of other. It led to my life-guiding mantra of knowing that there is no value in self pity. Someone always has it worse.

Today I walk upright, true to myself and others. I try to give as much as I can of myself to others. I think of my funeral, whenever it may be. How I will be remembered matters to me. I want to be remembered by those that matter to me as a good person. This is an attitude that is lost by many in their pursuit of wealth, power and prestige. I have lost all of those things and in the process gained a unique viewpoint.

If i were to live 100 years as the man I was, I would never achieve the clarity of mind and comfort in my own skin that I have now. I thank my illness for this. I know in my heart of hearts that my illness made me a better man. Not perfect, but better. 

That, my friends is indeed a blessing.

The Reunion

When the 5th Reunion invite arrived I immediately discarded it. Likewise with the 10th. I wasn’t ready. The scars were still fresh and sore to the touch. When I opened my mailbox to see the invitation to the 15th, I decided I would go.

I arrived, with my wife of three years on my arm and a bad attitude. I had caustically joked to her in the elevator that “the same people that didn’t talk to me in HS can have the luxury of not talking to me tonight.” I left that night not knowing if I was right or wrong, her father had a heart attack and we hurriedly left after only an hour.

I skipped the 20th. And the 25th. I was too busy, too tired, too fat, too poor, too unsuccessful…let’s face it…too full of excuses. I just wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t prepared to talk to people about my life because I felt like a failure. I had visions of regaling people with details of my remarkably mediocre life and then sit in the corner and drink until it was time to slip out the door.

I went to the 30th with a slightly better attitude. I reconnected with a few old friends and made small talk with quite a few people. But I confirmed that I was still largely a Ghost. The people that didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then, my caustic joke  of 15 years before had proved correct. It would later occurr to me that I didn’t talk to them 30 years ago either. It was a sobering, powerful lesson. You get what you put into things. I decided that I hated reunions and would likely not attend another.

My terribly negative, yet persistent view of Reunions had clearly stemmed from my HS experience, or lack of therein. I left HS unfulfilled and unhappy. I had few friends, few prospects, and few memories. I tried too hard to fit in. When I failed to, I drew within. I walked the halls looking at my feet instead of making eye contact. I worked a lot. I dropped out of clubs and quit teams when I got the slightest bit of grief from classmates. I ran Cross-Country because it was a solitary sport.  For years to come I blamed others for my lack of fulfillment because I wasn’t yet mature or aware enough to put the blame squarely where it belonged, on myself.

It was liberating to stop casting blame. Reviewing my High School years with a clear, honest eye, I realized that it was mostly a giant missed opportunity. A regrettable one at that.

When I received the invitation to the 35th Reunion I immediately decided that I would go. It was time to cast the monkey off of my back once and for all.

When I arrived at “The Shoe”, the place was full. I took a deep breath and walked in. I wasn’t concerned with “measuring up” against others, and I was genuinely interested in the lives of my peers without the burden of jealousy or envy. Fully prepared to say, if asked:

“Hi, I’m Bill. You probably don’t remember me. I was the color of the walls in HS. I went on to have a unremarkable career and a failed marriage. I’m on Disability. I lost almost everything to End Stage Renal Disease and I may not be alive for the next one of these. But I have 4 amazing children that I live for.
It’s goddamn good to see you though. Hey, where are you going?!?!?!?!?”

I never had to say that. Here is what happened instead.

Everyone looked great. Everyone was happy. Drinks flowed and conversation roared. The people that I recognized, I talked to.  I had a few conversations with people that I didn’t know so well. I saw most of the people that I had hoped to and definitely missed opportunities to chat with some that, after 35 years, were still strangers to me. I mused to myself, as I sat in the corner nursing a beer, the old proverb “A stranger is a friend you haven’t yet made.” As true as it was, it was a bit late for that with most in the room. I needed to be OK with that.

I left early. I didn’t feel well and was struggling with light-headedness and headaches all night. But I’m glad that I attended. For so many years I actually thought that I was the only one who had struggled in HS. That everyone else loved High School and would all grow to be happy, well-adjusted adults but me. It was when I realized that life maybe didn’t turn out for them as planned, that they maybe struggled in HS, and life after as well, that I finally gave myself a break. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned. All I can say is, I struggled for years to find myself, until I realized I was me all along.

It was great to see everyone. I wish I knew you all better. I wish I had made more memories to laugh and reminisce about. Alas, as the saying goes…there is no second chance to make a first impression.

 

the 2 fat Firefighters

3 AM on a Monday. I awoke to the most intense cold I’d ever experienced. I was shaking violently, uncontrollably. My teeth were chattering so badly I feared I would break a tooth. I was on the couch where I had fallen asleep watching the game. I frantically grabbed for my blanket. Covering myself, I begged aloud for it to stop. It was no relief. I somehow mustered the strength to get up and trudge up the stairs, hoping my bed would provide some relief.
I was beyond cold, I was scared.
I crawled into bed and wrapped myself in the blankets, everything had to be covered down to the last toe. The trembling continued for what seemed an eternity. I had never experienced anything like it. Finally, it stopped.

Cold. So cold. The thought of a finger or a toe escaping my cocoon absolutely terrified me. I knew this wasn’t normal, something was terribly wrong with me. I needed to yell out to my mother downstairs; I needed to reach for my phone to dial 911. I needed to do something. But I didn’t. It was just too overwhelming and so very, very cold.
You may die, a voice in my head persisted.
“I don’t care”, I fired back.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

“Bill, you need to wake up! You’re going to b e late for dialysis!” my mother said in an elevated, scared voice. I faintly recall her doing this several times. I vaguely remember sitting up once in bed, when my blanket fell off I grabbed it and fell back into bed. The next thing I remember was 2 heavy Firefighters carrying me downstairs.

The next thing I would remember was waking up in the ICU. Struggling to focus through the bright lights, I saw several nurses bustling about the room and my mother and ex-wife in the back, chins on hands.
“Where are the 2 fat Firemen?” I croaked.
My Mother joyfully exclaimed to my wife “Yup, he’s fine.”

In the 6 days I spent in ICU and the 5 spent on the Cardiac floor I had plenty of time to gather the pieces. I was haunted by the grim faces of my family, by the cautious explanations of the medical team. I had a feeling that I had been to the 9th gate of Hell and no-one was telling me how bad it really was. I knew that I had lost 2 full days and I wanted answers. Fortunately, my ex-wife stepped up to the plate.

I had gotten an infection in the dialysis port in my chest.
I had gone on 2 ambulance rides. One to the local, useless hospital that was unequipped to treat me. They iced me down to control my 104.9 degree fever and shipped me 60 miles to a better hospital. I don’t remember one second of those rides.
I had been sedated with a breathing tube and catheter as antibiotics were pumped through me.
The port in my chest had been surgically removed and I had been given dialysis through a temporary access in my groin. You would think I would remember that.
At one point I tried to rip my breathing tube out of my throat. It took a team of very strong nurses to restrain and sedate me. I did this in front of my entire family.
My wife was preparing to tell my children that I was gone. My DNR had been discussed. It was that close.
I had Sepsis, at a 104.9 fever a man my age has a high risk of brain damage. When I asked where the 2 fat Firefighters were, I had proved that I was indeed fine.
Last, and perhaps most significant, and I say this without drama…I almost died.

In my 11 day stay, I was haunted by the unknowns. When my ex filled me in on all of the unpleasant details I had more questions than answers. Sure, the doctors told me the essentials, but I’m thankful for family for telling me the truth and for their support.

____________________________________________________________________________________________
Once I was alert I began my recovery. It’s what I do. The doctor’s were astounded at how fast I bounced back. I don’t know what the expected recovery time is, but I beat it in street shoes. After 8 days in bed, I was told that I would be working with Physical Therapy to see if I needed to go to a Rehabilitation center.

The next morning I was asked to get out of bed and try to walk. It was amazing the amount of strength it took just to sit up. I was in a complete state of Atrophy. With the assistance of 2 therapists, I attempted to walk the hallway. I was weak, dizzy, unable to support my own weight. I made it 6 steps before needing a wheelchair. It is astounding how much strength I lost by being bed-ridden.
I was told that my going home was contingent upon my physical strength and ability to walk out of there.
By the end of the day I was able to walk the hallway 6 times unassisted. The PT Therapists were floored. I was sent home 2 days later.

I have been home for a week. Recovery is slow. I’m weak and still haunted by how close I came to a dirt nap and by the unknowns. I have no memory of almost 3 days and it bothers me deeply. However, nothing bothers me more than being visited by my Mom’s best friend, who was at the hospital with my Mom when I was admitted. Her first words to me were,
“I have to tell you, I never thought I’d see you again.”

Yeah, that’s not something you hear often. Nor do you want to.

 

 

The kindness of strangers

I wrote a post many, many months ago challenging those who say the lovely, always productive phrase “people suck.” You can find it Here.

I’ve always hated that expression. I believe, I want to and have to, that most people strive to be the best person they can be. I also believe that the best way to reveal character is not in the year of your car, the size of your watch, how much you have in the bank or how many Instagram followers you have but instead by your deeds towards others.

I’m less interested in whether you have stood with the great. I want to know if you’ve sat with the broken.

I received a call from a Masonic Brother last week. He was checking in to see how I was feeling. I told him the truth. Virtually sofa-ridden, fatigued and in need of dialysis. He appreciated the update. We talked for a while and he then excused himself because he had something to do. I put down the phone, put my head back and settled in for the ninth nap of the day (I may be exaggerating a bit). Several minutes later my phone starting blowing up with FB notifications. I took a look.

He had excused himself to compose FB posts on every MA FB page related to Masonry regarding my condition and my need for another donor. It was overwhelming.

The messages began to pour in. Due to my brother’s gesture I have six, yes six people who have asked to be tested in order to donate a kidney to me. 4 of them I have never met or even heard their name before.
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I am humbled, excited, honored and blessed by this outpouring of support. It has given me something that I have not experienced, nor expected to, for over a year. What is that you ask?

Hope, I now have hope.

If I ever have the privilege of speaking to any of you, please don’t ever tell me that people suck. I’m not the guy who will buy into that mentality. The good ones are out there, maybe you have to look a little harder. Just remember…

If you can’t find one, become one.

Fighting the good fight

My mother is a wonderful person. Of course I think so. But a lot of others do as well. Today, someone hurt her feelings and I decided to do something about it.

My mom and dad retired to this house in NH upon my father’s retirement in 2000. My mother, to combat the rampant boredom of the winter months began substitute teaching in the local schools. She has always enjoyed teaching, was able to work it out that she would work with kids no older than 5th grade, and she became a local legend. The kids loved her. She still does it, at age 73 and the kids still love her. She doesn’t do it for the money, she loves the kids. Many become very attached to her, it’s very heartwarming. It’s equally depressing when you see what some of these kids have for a home life.

In 2001, the first of a long line of enamored children latched onto my mother’s leg. Her heart would soon follow. Kris was a a bright girl from an awful family. Both parents were postal workers in town, so money wasn’t the issue. The issue was a drunk, misogynistic father and a absentee mother. They held down the jobs, but they weren’t there for the parenting. Kris’s two older sisters had set the standard of being fat, useless and working in outlet stores and Kris was doomed to the same fate without intervention. Enter my mother.

My mother took her under her wing and made sure that this girl got through school. She tutored her after school and at home. She reviewed all of her work, kept her attitude in check and promised to do everything she could to get through high school. Kris ended up graduating at the top of her class. Mom was at the graduation cheering louder than anyone.

Kris didn’t know about going to college, Mom helped her do all of the applications. 2 years ago she graduated college with a job offer with Fidelity Investments. My mom was a huge part of her success and they are now special friends. It’s a great story, even though she annoys the shit out of me.

She calls all the time. She prattles on like a dipshit junior high-schooler. She is incredibly opinionated on everything. And despite being a 200 lb virgin with baked bean teeth, and engaged to the first guy who ever kissed her, she is also a relationship expert. In particular, on my mom’s relationships. Recently she made it clear that she didn’t like my mother’s boyfriend. Then it came out that she doesn’t want my mother to date at all because she believes that we only get one true love in our life so stop trying for another. Mom politely dismissed this observation. When she tried to get me to come to her side, I told her I thought she was wrong and waaaaay off.

Her wedding is to take place in October. My mom received her invite several months ago. In the “plus one” section she wrote in her boyfriend’s name. Tonight Kris called her on the way home from work and told her that she didn’t want my mother bringing him to the wedding. My mother was shaken by this, I watched her as she was talking on the phone. Kris asked her if she would be upset and my mother said, “Well, I wouldn’t be happy. For starters, who am I going to dance with?” They talked for a few more minutes and then they hung up. Mom filled me in on the details I couldn’t hear. I asked her if she was ok with it, she said she wasn’t.

I told her I’d take care of it. I told her I was going to send her a FB messenger message. I promised Mom that it was coming from me and that I would assume any responsibility for damages if a shitstorm ensued. Here is what I wrote:
Kris:
I want to start by saying that I respect you. You’ve done some great things in your life and I consider you a good person. 
Which is why I must take issue with your request that Dave not be at your wedding. My mother has been by your side since you were a child, almost a second mother to you. She has never asked anything of you. Knowing this. why is she not allowed to bring the plus one of her choice to your wedding? 
I cannot imagine what benefit you find in making the person who treats you like her own daughter unhappy.
I have no influence over you and I don’t generally overstep my boundaries but I’m going to strongly request that you change your mind on this matter.

I let mom proofread it. She shook her head, said “wow” and walked away. I sent it. For three hours I did not get a response.

Mom walked in at about 11PM and asked if I had heard back. I told her that I hadn’t. She told me that Kris’s mother had just texted her that they would love to have Dave be a guest at the wedding.

Mom high-fived me and left the room. She seems happy.

Me? I feel like the right outcome was reached.

My favorite place

FB memories, the well-intentioned feature that shows you posts from years ago “on this day”, has been my Lex Luthor of late. They have been a source of great anxiety and annoyance as they remind me of the dreaded “used-to’s“. All of the memories that pop up are of better, healthier days. Days that I miss so badly.  Today, one popped up that I wrote in 2015 about my beloved hobby of Mountain Biking.

Post-Transplant in 2011, I needed a means to get my body healthy and I chose biking. Initially, I bought a street bike. I was a newbie so I rode mostly alone. Once I was able to ride 20 miles or more I began to ride with organized groups. I became strong enough to ride 55 miles in one day, while never the fastest, I took great pride in just being part of it. It was my recovery. But it created a new problem, immunosuppressant medications increase your odds of skin cancer and after 2 years of riding, I had 3 Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s removed from my face. I was told to stay out of the sun.

So I explored Mountain Biking. I bought a bike, researched trails and hit the woods. I was immediately hooked. It was challenging, the rough terrain and obstacles required skill and technique, yet I was compelled to rise to the challenge. The atmosphere was amazing, miles into the woods you weren’t observing nature, you were immersed in it. I began to take my camera to photograph the Deer, Bears and even Fisher Cats that I would encounter (from a safe distance of course). I would head out early in the AM in the hopes of seeing my favorite sights, crashing through a clearing to see a pond, the mist coming off it in the early morning heat; the owls that would buzz me as it headed to its tree to sleep the day off after a busy night of hunting; and of course the wonderful sight of nothing but me and trees. It was my Nirvana. And I was out of direct sunlight so no skin cancer.

Through FB I found a group to ride with and I made an instant group of wonderful friends. Riding with them made me happier than I had been in years. They weren’t just riding buddies, they were real friends. By 2015, I was a regular part of the group. Crazy Bill they called me. I took risks, I fell a lot, but I gave it hell and went home every day feeling accomplished and euphoric. Then I got sick in the spring of 2016 and I suppose you know the rest.

Why am I telling you this? Because despite how much today’s FB “Reminder” saddened me, I was reminded of my Buddy Tom of Tom Being Tom Fame had written a post about his favorite place and challenged his readers to write of theirs. So I turned a negative into a positive because I’m sick of being down.

Here is the FB post from 2015 that started all of this if you would care to read it:
This past fall I made a decision that I was only about 80% sure of. My new activity for the last few years is biking. It was my chosen rehab tool after my surgery to get into some semblance of shape. I got 2 bikes, a street, and a mountain bike. I upgraded once on both but I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. But last fall I traded in both bikes on a new, nicer full suspension Mtn bike. I picked one and went with it. Well, I am now 100% sure that I made the right decision. Many of my family and friends have questioned both the commitment and the hazards I have put upon myself and to be fair I have hurt myself badly a couple of times. People have questioned the wisdom of a person my age with my medical history taking such risks. They don’t understand it, and a lot of the risks I can avoid but I want to push myself, to experience adrenaline and accomplishment and I don’t give a shit about pain..it goes away a lot faster than regret over doing nothing. I love the trails, the woods, mother nature and the comradery of the new friends I have made. But it is even more than that now. Mtn biking has become a metaphor for my life. Let me explain.
When we first start the ride it is easy, you are fresh like when you wake in the morning. But you know the hills and the obstacles are coming, you either prepare for them or let them blindside you. 
When the trails are smooth and flowing it is the equivalent of your life going smoothly. Enjoy it but be in the right gear when you round that corner and see the hill.
The hill is adversity and the obstacles; exposed roots, jagged rocks, and logs are the people telling you that you can’t do it. 
When you make the decision to try that hill, to power over that rock, to push yourself you have made the decision to at least try to prove them wrong. And make it or not, at least you tried. 
Then you come to a downhill. But it’s not a smooth path it’s a steep, rocky and rooty obstacle that can send you over the handlebars if you are not careful. This is the downward spiral that we can fall into. We can plummet and crash, we can stand there and look at it, or you can carefully navigate it to safely reach the bottom with as little damage as possible. 
And if you are able to climb the next hill, stand upon it and look down at all of the obstacles that didn’t stop you. And if you do it once, you can do it again. And sometimes it is the climb that you never made, until today.
Nothing pleases me more than getting up a hill that I never thought I could; to make it through a rock garden that sent me flying a week before; to race through an opening to find the parking lot waiting for you. Knowing that the end of the ride is like the end of the day. I got through this one and I am not afraid of the next one.

I wish I still had that attitude…but at least I took a shot at retrieving it today.

 

The Garden Party…cont’d

If you would like to catch up you can find the first installment here.

When I sat down in the makeshift circle of lawn chairs at the BBQ the first person I recognized was Mark’s sister Susan. I saw her with her dog Brady (who I knew from FB) and we exchanged pleasantries. I haven’t seen her in over 30 years. I used to have the hot patooties for her. She looked great. Next, I saw Mark’s mother and father. They are really nice people. They needed a refresher on who I was, I haven’t seen them in forever. I watched a million football games at their house but I’m not sure they knew about it. After some small talk, Scott and I settled in to catch up over a cold beer.

We talked about the kids for a while. He knows about the divorce and the rest of my “situation” but wanted to know what they were up to. I was proud to tell him how great they are. His kids are college-age and doing great. Knowing he and Dana I wasn’t surprised. Then the conversation turned to my health. Scott is like me in one respect, he would rather ask than not and come across as not caring. I told him the truth, that there is very little good news. He absorbed it and we left it at that. He knows I would rather give him better news if I could.

At one point, Susan leaned in and asked what was up with my kidneys, she said she saw something on FB. I gave her the lowdown, carefully phrasing my words to not elicit a sympathetic response. This was the part I was dreading, although I did appreciate her asking.

At one point, Mark’s father, who is a little hard of hearing, started down the line asking all of us what we’ve been up to. I was 6th in line so I agonizingly waited for my turn. Sure enough, my turn came and I decided to be funny. He asked “What have you been up to Bill?”
“Well, Mr. Riley, I’m officially a burden to society.” Everyone laughed, he asked me to elaborate. Before I could Mark saved the day and said “Bill has been fighting some health issues, Dad. He lives up here now.” I sighed with relief, it sounded so much better than, Well, I’m on the verge of Dialysis, I’m out of work and broke, I live with my mother and I’m not supporting my family. Did I mention that I have one nut and haven’t been laid in about 8 years? Either way, it was over with. The conversation shifted away and I shrunk back into relative obscurity.

Scott, Mark and I talked for a while. I was starting to relax a bit. We talked politics, current events, rehashed some fun times at the market, talked about cars and of course our families. I made a few off-color but witty (not my words) cracks that gave them a good laugh. At one point, Scott remarked that it was refreshing that some things don’t change. He meant me of course, I was well-known in the day to do anything for a laugh. I appreciated the comment despite the feeling that nothing about me, with the exception of my warped humor, was the same.

At 7:30, I decided that it was time to leave. I was starting to get tired and my mind was racing. I was getting into one of those thinking zones that never ends well. I get quiet, morose and I am generally not good company. I made it a point to give Scott and Dana a proper goodbye, sought out the people that I knew and made sure I said goodbye to them as well. I ended by finding Mark and his wife to thank them. By the time I got to my truck my mind was in full-blown thinking mode and it wasn’t happy thoughts. I was bombarded by some harsh realizations that I came to that day and they needed to be processed. I  was about to, in the words of Jim Carrey in Liar Liar “kick my own ass.”

I drove home without the radio on, all I had was the hum of my tires on the winding back roads to keep me company. I was in a mood. I tried to summarize what I was feeling, to break it down into manageable parts. In short, what’s my fucking problem?
That would prove to be a question not easily answered. I had a lot of problems.

My first problem was that I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast in situations between Mark, Scott and myself. Disclaimer…I am NOT speaking out of jealousy. I am VERY happy for them. They made good choices and decisions and worked hard and they deserve everything they have. Mark is a brilliant mechanic and owns his own business. He works 6 sometimes 7 days a week. His amazing house is a monument to his work ethic. Scott works for a major investment company and has for 22 years. His wife has a great job as well and he is at a place now where he can pay for his kids college without loans, have a real nice car and look for a summer home. Not that is was ever equal when we were younger, they were doing well then also, but the disparity now in our places in life is staggering.

It would be easy to blame it on illness; my disease did take me out of the working world. But it’s so much more than that. Even when I was working, despite the size of the checks I was pulling in I never managed to save anything. I often joked that my wife could spend money like a drunk sailor with a fist full of Viagra, and in reality I can point to several financial decisions that she took the lead on that felt wrong to me but I kept quiet in the interest of “happy wife, happy life” but it’s not all on her. We simply didn’t plan for the future and we made some poor decisions. To put a Seinfeldian spin on it, yadda yadda yadda we were foreclosed upon and were forced to declare bankruptcy. I never bounced back from that. A proud moment indeed.

OK, so they’re doing great and I have approximately enough money in my checking account to drive to the end of my driveway. Yes, that’s a problem. But as I continued to navigate the back roads of Maine, radio off and mind working overtime I realized that my checkered financial history was the least of what was bothering me.

The real problem was clear, I was disgusted that I had become such a stranger to a group of people that were once my world. Where did the time go?

To be continued…