the story continues

*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 now had a job offer on the table. For a guy on disability, bored out of my frickin’ mind, and in need of money, this was both a Godsend and what I then deemed a pattern. After the remarkable and unlikely series of events that got me a new kidney and consequent new chance at having an actual life, I began to believe that shit was falling in my lap for once and not on my head. I really believed that the Universe was giving me back some of the good energy that I had always tried to put out. Karma may be a bitch but it’s my bitch. Things were going my way.

The deal was that I would be available, on retainer if you will, to help Vince get the project off the ground. He needed help setting up the kitchen, a menu, purchasing supplies etc. I was very up-front in managing his expectations. While I was a qualified Kitchen manager, it was many years ago (20 plus) and I didn’t want that much responsibility at this point. I wasn’t even sure at that point that my health would allow such work.

At first, the work was slow. It wasn’t supposed to be full-time or even regular. Vince is a part-time resident in town, he is a CT resident and owns a huge plumbing company that required a lot of attention back home. We talked on the phone a lot. I made myself available only to not hear from him for days. I asked him what his expectations were. Without being snarky, was I supposed to be available for free? He responded by offering me a weekly cash retainer for my trouble. I was giving up a lot already, most notably I passed on a chance to go to FL with mom to stay at her brand new Condo. It was something, but until the work got regular it still wasn’t ideal and my promise to be available was biting me in the ass a bit. The opening was still many months away and I was lacking a purpose. Most of what he was giving me was manual labor, cleaning and clearing out things while the store was under construction. I did it, against my better judgment and my Dr.’s advice. I was playing with fire, considering I was still in a lot of pain.

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.

It’s been how long?

When I was in High School I had an awesome car. Not awesome in the vernacular of the day; I didn’t have anything expensive, exotic, or muscular but instead vintage and uncommon. My Great Uncle, who I had only met a few times, willed me his 1965 Ford Falcon when he passed in 1981. It was a fun car and I wish I still had it. Me and the Falcon, which my father’s “folksy racist” best friend referred to as “The ‘Coon” (my apologies) could be seen bombing around town on any given day. It was a joy to drive because it was a standard transmission with the shifter on the column, commonly referred to as a “three on the tree”. I’ll always be thankful that I was able to experience that, it was an unusual setup to have in the 80’s. The only drawback was that I couldn’t take advantage of the bench seats by wrapping my arm around my girlfriend because I needed it to shift. Like a dumbass, I got rid of the car to remedy this unfortunate situation. We soon broke up. I was left without the car and the girl. It was a unique situation that would never replicate itself.

Or so I thought. Should you tune in tomorrow you can join me as I tell you what I have been up to since I last posted. In April. Holy crap how did I get away from blogging for so long?

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.

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.