A Daughter’s love

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

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

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

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

She will be reading that in front of her class.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






the longer it is, the harder it gets

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

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

This is where I am now with my blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 years

 Seven years ago today at this time I awoke from Anesthesia in a tented room. The first thing I noticed was the plethora of wires and tubes sticking out of my neck and arm. A doctor soon entered the room, followed by a team of nurses. They took my vitals and the doctor then asked me a few questions to test my mental acuity

“Sir, do you know what day it is?”
“Tuesday I think, unless I slept longer than I think” I replied foggily.
“Correct. When did you work last?”
“Yesterday.”

“And your last dialysis treatment?”
“Never did it.”

“Sir, we have a number that we use to determine how due someone is for Dialysis. 10 is average. Do you know what yours was?”
I nodded my head. His snarky attitude was pissing me off.
“110. You made it, but you were foolish and took a big risk.” He then walked out of the room condescendingly shaking his head.

Of course I avoided Dialysis. I would have lost my job. Then I would have lost my house and my family. I fought it with everything in my being for the longest time. And it worked, my Angel eventually came along and I got the gift of a new Kidney. It was an amazing gesture from a remarkably down to earth, humble young woman.

She was a co-worker. The daughter of my Assistant. I knew her pretty well but not well enough to think that she would do such an amazing thing.But it turns out that it is just the way she was.

I was hospitalized one day with a kidney-related infection, My boss came to visit me. He dropped it on me that Deb was willing to be tested. I was floored. When I returned to work the next week I first gave her a giant hug and then carefully explained to her the process.I thought for sure she would flinch. She didn’t.

Within a month her testing was done. She was a perfect match. It was scheduled soon after for Dec 13th.

Word soon got out among our customer base about the situation. It was big news. A local CBS affiliate came to our office to interview us. We were on the 6 O’clock news. The interview was priceless. When Deb was asked on film why she was doing this she curtly replied “I have 2,he needs one. I don’t want him to be on dialysis and lose his job so here we are. Short and sweet. For weeks after wherever I went people came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that transplant guy I saw on the news!”

December 13 th arrived and we met at Tufts Hospital at 6 AM. My mother and father took me in, Deb was already there with hers. Our families had never met, so they exchanged pleasantries. We were all nervous but I was the only one to show it. At 6:30 the doctors called for us. I gave Deb a hug and told her that I would see her on the other side.

As you know I made it to the other side. I had a quick recovery, 33 days from surgery to return to work. Beyond my physical recovery I was tasked with reconciling with the overwhelming gratitude I felt towards Deb.

We became great friends. We made jokes. People at work were afraid to mess with either of us for fear of retribution from the other. She was tough, her famous joke was “Take care of that kidney or I’lltake it back.”
I believed her.

It’s somewhat painful to reminisce on this, given that her gift has failed and I am back to square one. I had the hardest time telling her because I was so torn that her gift hadn’t lasted longer. As if I hadn’t done my best to make it last. When I did tell her, she didn’t flinch but instead said “I hope it gave you what you were looking for, no matter how long it lasted.” A more grounded person have I never met.

Despite the physical viability being gone, her gift changed me profoundly in so many ways. Beyond giving me a new lease on life, it also transformed my attitude towards everything. It helped me to exemplify the traits that I had always wanted to dominate my life…gratitude, empathy, charity and humility. I was given the ultimate gift, that of life. I owe such a debt to Deb, her selflessness and generosity will never be forgotten.

I may have been wrong to dread Dialysis as much as I did. It’s no fun but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. And it beats the alternative. The gifted kidney may have failed but the lessons of the transplant remain intact and healthy. I am still grateful. I am stillhumble. I am still appreciative of all that I have. If attitude were currency I’d be a truly wealthy man.


Don’t let people tell you that people suck. There are some wonderful people in the world. I know because I am surrounded by them.

If you don’t know one… be one.

Happy Bird-Day

My family always had a bit of fun with me at the Thanksgiving table when it came my turn to say what I was thankful for. Maybe I waxed a bit too poetic about deployed soldiers, the homeless and the lonely. I just felt it needed to be said. Eye rolls and sarcastic cracks aside, I still do.
Recent events in my life, while debilitating in some aspects, have had a profound impact on my ability to be grateful. It is almost a superpower. I have so much for a guy with so little. The best part is that it lasts all year, not just the holiday season.
If you live with the knowledge that no matter your situation, someone always has it worse you will achieve a generous spirit that will survive more than one Thursday a year.
This time of year there is an abundance of people who show up at pantries and shelters to volunteer. Sometimes people are even turned away because too many show up. But in August they are begging for volunteers. The need doesn’t go away when the trees are taken down, neither should the spirit. Giving doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. A simple smile and a good word may be all someone needs to have their faith in humanity restored or energized.
No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
I am grateful for my family and my friends. I am thankful for all kindness and generosity, regardless of the scale. My goal is to spread that mentality like a bee spreads pollen.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. If you have a little extra spirit, I’m sure someone would love a slice.
Every day can be Thanksgiving with the right outlook.

Where you are is where you are meant to be

Today was a good day.

One year ago today I showed up at the town Food Pantry to hand out Turkeys and meal baskets to the less fortunate in our community. I was already a steady volunteer each Saturday but the Thanksgiving event was a separate, annual occasion. Our Pantry really steps it up, I think it’s the most generous around, we give absolutely everything one could ever need for a Thanksgiving feast including multiple Turkeys. We offer frozen and fresh, and I was charged with helping hand them out. As the youngest person there, charging me with manual labor made sense. I took my station on the Tailgate of Pete’s F250. Pete was a nice older guy, and as the day progressed I would learn that he had stage 4 Lung Cancer. Yet there he was, in the cold, handing out Turkeys in the cold. That day I went home feeling as if I was destined to have met him. I even wrote a post about it that nobody read. You can read it here if you would like.

Today, a year later, I worked with Pete again. I made a point of telling him how happy I was to see him. He was happy to be seen. He was one year older, much weaker and thinner. But he was there. He needed more help than last year and I was feeling good so I took the load off of him. I was proud to share a soul-warming endeavor with him. Little did I know that  today my heart would be challenged again.

I had gone to pick up a Christmas tree with another guy and when I pulled in to the pantry I parked behind a very decrepit Ford sedan. When I got out of my truck I noticed that the door was half open and the driver seemed to be struggling with it. I approached the driver and asked if she needed help. The gaunt, wrinkled face, adorned with an oxygen tube that greeted me was heartbreaking.
“Is this where the Turkeys are being given?” she asked me. She had labored to get the sentence out. The oxygen didn’t seem to help her, she was almost gasping for breath.
“Yes, in addition to a whole bunch of other goodies.” I replied. “Are you coming in?”
“I am, I’m just having a hard time getting out of my car.” Her labored breathing tugged at my heart.
I opened her door and helped her out. It was snowing and she was parked on an angle and really struggled. When she finally made it to her feet, I sized her up. 80 pounds at the very most, soaking wet. I assisted her up the driveway.

When we got inside, she claimed her allotted food. We offered her 2 turkeys, she insisted on one but we talked her into another. As I picked up her box of food I realized it weighed at least 50 pounds. There was no way that, even if I put it in the car for her (which I did for everyone) she could ever get it out. I portioned the box out into bags. When done, I concluded that she still would not be able to carry them. I knew what I had to do.

I walked with her to her car, 5 bags in one hand and 2 turkeys in the other, and loaded it into the trunk. I opened her door for her and helped her in. She thanked me for my help and said
“I’m June. I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving. You’re very kind.”
“I think I can do more” I replied. “Can I follow you home please, I would like to help you bring all of this heavy stuff in.”
“Oh, I could never. I have a friend that I can call. And my place is very messy.”
“June, may I insist? You also have a low tire. It’s snowing. I’d like to make sure you get home safe.”
She reluctantly agreed.

It was a slow ten miles. She drove very slow because of the weather and her tire. When we arrived at her apartment I knew from the humble exterior that the interior would be worse. I got out of my truck and met her at the trunk of her car. I knew she would try to grab some bags, she was very proud, so I grabbed them before she could. She laughed a little and led the way up her unshoveled walkway.

Entering her apartment I confirmed that it was indeed humble but it had a certain charm. She had plants and grow lights, some interesting décor and decent furniture. The only real clutter was about 75 feet of plastic oxygen tubing all over the floor. It was her lifeline of sorts.

After a slew of “Thank you’s”, we talked for a bit. As sad as her physical appearance was, her story was worse. June lived alone. Her youngest son is serving his 7th (yes you read that right 7th) tour in Afghanistan. Her other two sons are divorced and they moved to Kentucky. One ex-daughter in-law is still in the area with one grandson who is disabled. She has Emphysema from Asbestos exposure. When I asked her about Thanksgiving and who would be joining her she thinks that her ex-daughter in law is coming over. After hearing all of this I asked June if she had a pen.
“Why do you ask?” she replied.
“Because you are going to write down my name and my number and you are going to call me if there is ever anything I can do for you. You call and I will be here. Promise?”

She teared up a bit and she did. She said she will. I went outside and found my portable air pump and extension cord in my tool box. I found an outlet on the outside of her building and pumped her tire. Then I left.

When I got back to the Food Pantry a couple of people praised me for helping her. I personally couldn’t imagine not helping her. One lady, a regular volunteer, cautioned me about how some of our “clients” are “Sponges” and that I should be careful with my efforts. I couldn’t disagree more.

Basic kindness is the definition of a oft-misused expression…”it’s the least I can do.” Helping others, even in a small way really is the least that you can do. And you can do more.

I’m glad I met June today. In fact, just like last year, I think I was supposed to meet her. It all started by putting myself in the right place at the right time, and where I needed to be.

 

sleepless nights

He met her when she was just 18. He was 23
She was a waitress, working through School
He was a dropout line cook, working through his issues
She would later say that it was love at first sight
For her
To him, she was too young
overbearing
clingy
without boundaries
serious

She made excuses to be near him
to get him to notice her
He wasn’t ready for anything steady
but She was starting to look good

One day he noticed her
where a girl once stood there stood a woman
He weighed the situation
decided He was ready for a regular life
She would later become his wife
It was good for a time, but they soon found
There was less in common
and too many differences
but they made a go of it
they bought a house, started a family
did their best for the kids
they became civil strangers

She was unhappy, incapable of joy
He tried to please her, appease her
He thought he could fix her
but it wasn’t to be
She sought solace elsewhere
not in the arms of another
but in a friendship
an obsessive
fucking destructive
friendship

Her friend became her support
her comfort
her everything
He didn’t understand, but He knew
that He no longer mattered

One day it came to a head
that She would leave him for dead
if forced to choose
He wanted to leave
He sat down with the kids
He loved them so but hated the fighting
they loved their dad so
they asked him not to go
He wiped his tears and dug in his heels
and He stayed

This lasted for years
until His health failed
the job was gone
the money ran out
She told Him to find somewhere to live
and they went their separate ways
For a year this lasted, neither one initiated
the ugly topic of divorce
“for better or worse” indeed
the “better” was a memory
the “worse” was all that remained
completely resigned, together they signed
on the dotted line
to the end of a once great story

They now live far apart
She has 2 of his kids, the other 2 are grown
He sees them rarely
talks to her barely
He thought he would savor it
the lack of contact and newfound freedom
but he grew to miss Her

She is not well, in the head and the purse
He wants to help, but is barely able to help himself
He feels bad
obligated
wants to save Her
the bad memories aren’t enough
to set Him straight

He dreams of her at night
bad dreams of Her with another
He wakes and agonizes over why
He doesn’t want her when he’s awake
why does He care if She takes a lover
But He does care, he aches to know
Was it just him?
why were His advances rejected
his affections neglected
forced to sit outside the door
as she cried in the dark

did He drive her away?

He knows it would kill him
if She were to love another
The only answer he can live with
is that She gave up on love
and not just him

He still asks himself how
that 18 year girl of so many years ago
who loved him so much
would one day stop
and just walk away

 

 

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.