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.






#SoCS & #JusJoJan 2019 Daily Prompt – Jan. 12th

The prompt for #JusJoJan and Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “art.” Talk about something that’s hanging on your wall. Add a picture, if you’d like. If you have no art on your walls, talk about something in a museum. Have fun!

Something hanging on my wall

There are many items that adorn the walls around me as I compose this post. I really can’t single one out for they share a connection. They all make me think of my father.

I am in my favorite place to write, the finished basement of my mom’s house. Originally purchased as a summer home, the small chalet was expanded and remodeled into a full house by the time they retired up here in 2001. It went from “the summer home”, to “my parents house”, and now that my dad has passed it is known as “mom’s house.”

Nothing says more about my father than this house. He dedicated time and money he didn’t have to make it perfect. A house that his wife would be proud of (her opinions mattered on every detail in every room), that his kids could bring his grandchildren, and one that he could grow old in. The finished basement was his last accomplishment. I love the entire house, his touches are everywhere. But none so much as this room, it’s my favorite place to be.

As I look around the room the first thing I notice is the curio cabinet. He built it special for mom to put her amazing collection of curios. It is a one of a kind, like him.

My attention is then drawn to the painting of his favorite view. It is a path in the woods, near here, that is entirely covered by a perfectly formed canopy of tree branches. In the summer, it is a cool respite from the heat. In the fall, it is a panorama of colors. In the winter the bent, snow-covered branches form a winter paradise. He took a photo of it once and a friend painted it for him. What a wonderful gift.

Next there is a professional photo of he and my mother. In happier times. His arm around her with a big, genuine smile. He loved her so much he didn’t have to say “cheese”. Her smile speaks volumes also. She doesn’t smile like that anymore. Her smile now is forced, a result of loss, grief and a steadfast resolve to not show how much pain she is hiding.

The next wall is a collage of dog portraits. All spaniels, his favorite. In my life we had 2 Brittany Springers and 3 Cockers. Like cars, he went with what works and Spaniels never let him down.

The last thing I see is on the mantle. A case containing a folded flag that was handed to me at his funeral, by a sharply dressed soldier on behalf of a grateful nation. He never talked about his military service, other than where he was stationed. I will never know much of what he saw. But I know that he volunteered, during the age of the Draft, and he wouldn’t imagine not doing his part for the country he loved so dearly.

The rest of the room contains a lot of cutesy décor, my mother’s touch. Porcelain and wood carved Mallards, embroidery portraits of puppies and various stuffed versions of woodland creatures adorn the room. Mom knows how to cutesy up anything.

Still, in this room I just see Dad everywhere. In the actual sense. I often sleep here, and many times I have awoke to the sensation that he is in the room.

While unlikely, I wish he was. He completed this room soon before he died. He never got to grow old here, which was his goal. He worked so very hard his entire life and never got to enjoy the spoils. It’s really not fair, but he would be the first person to tell me that life never is. He had working man’s wisdom.

What I wouldn’t give to talk to him for just 5 more minutes. If not in this realm then in the next. Until that somehow happens, I have plenty of reminders. They’re hanging on the wall.

Give a little, get a lot

There’s an old adage that states:
“You can’t help those who can’t help themselves.”

While this is largely true there is a caveat. You still need to try.

It all started with a phone call from a friend and Masonic brother after 10 PM on a Saturday night in October. Despite the bond between Masonic brothers being mighty and strong, the late hour, and that this particular brother is long-winded and hard to get off the phone, I chose to let it go to voicemail. He immediately texted me imploring me to call him. I did.

He was in jail.

It turns out my Masonic brother, who is held to a higher standard by our fraternity and by his own commitment to be a better all-around man, was pulled over for speeding and then arrested for outstanding warrants. He was unlicensed, uninsured and in violation of not paying 2 years of child support. He needed my help, in particular he needed money. His car was impounded and he needed 500 dollars.

I offered my ear, the full extent of my advice and any resources I had to offer but I had no money to give. I implored him to reach out to his family. What he then told me made me realize that I actually knew very little about my friend.

I always knew that he was under-employed. When I reconnected with him 7 years ago (we were friends in HS) he was working part time which I thought was odd for a man my age with children. What I didn’t know, and learned that night, was that he hasn’t worked at all in 2 years. His girlfriend he lives with had finally grown tired of supporting him and asked him to move out. His mother refuses to have him stay at her house. His 2 ex wives hate him. He is in a deep depression, and he is blaming his current situation on it.

The temptation to be judgmental was overwhelming. I had serious questions and opinions on how he had let himself get into this situation. In particular how just getting a damn job could have prevented all of this. But it would have been kicking a man while he is down, it’s not my style and it isn’t helpful. I needed to help him then and kick his ass later.

I implored him to reach out to anyone in his family that he can borrow from to get his car out of impound. He called me the next morning, his son had stepped up and helped him.

I have seen him regularly since then. He still has no car or license, he has been sofa-hopping every night, a hearing for his support is pending and he isn’t working. To be fair, without a car or a mailing address he really can’t work. But in my heart of heart I knew that he wasn’t trying. He was doing the one thing I hate the most…feeling bad for himself. Still, I withheld judgement.

Last night he called me. The situation was critical. He is officially completely broke, has nowhere to stay and has noone to turn to. I talked to him for hours, but after hour 3 I realized that he has a fatal character flaw. He doesn’t listen, he merely waits to talk again. I wasn’t getting through to him. I verified that he had a place to sleep that night and ended the conversation for the night. I went to bed but didn’t sleep well. I was very worried about my friend.

This morning he called me early. He was in tears. He had been a closed off rock before, not being able to ask anyone for help and not taking advice, now he had finally lost it. He cried into the receiver about how he wanted to be a better man, how he couldn’t take feeling like this anymore but he didn’t know where to turn. For the first time, he was willing to hear my thoughts. I again resisted the urge to give some tough love, some hard advice. It still wasn’t the time. He needed some stability to get his tears out, not worry about where he would lay his head that night or where his next meal will come from. I told him to hold tight, that I would call him back.

Before I go any further let me say that if I wasn’t 100 miles away I would take him in in a second. But I can’t.

But I had another idea. A mutual friend and Masonic brother of ours had a spare room and had previously offered it to me. He had also mentioned that he would offer it to our friend if it absolutely came to that. I called him and told him that it had indeed come to that and I updated him on the status of our friend. We both agreed that something had to be done. Inaction could result in something tragic and neither of us could live with it having not done something.

He was open to the idea of letting our friend stay with him but he had some genuine, legitimate concerns. He is also struggling financially. He can barely feed himself and is wary of having another mouth to feed. This is a fair assessment, our friend doesn’t have any means to support himself and would need some generosity for a while. We talked about his own situation for a while. We had concluded that it would be a temporary help for our friend and other than financial, it wouldn’t put him out. In fact, he would welcome the company. But still, there was the matter of money.

I told him that I would give him a check for $200.00 to pay for enough groceries for one month. I really don’t have it to spare but I need to do something. He was taken back by my offer but grateful. He thanked me for the offer but he would have to call me back. He recognized the urgency but needed a moment to think. Before he hung up he asked me where our friend was staying. I gave him the address.

I just received a call from my distressed friend. He was picked up an hour ago and he is enroute to his temporary shelter. He tearfully thanked me for my assistance and pledged his undying gratitude. I told him to take the reprieve to assess, recover, relax and game plan his return to being a productive citizen.

I don’t know where he will be in a month. I plan on visiting them on Sunday to get a better feel for where he is going. I want to thank my friend and Masonic brother for putting our brother up. For now, I don’t have to worry about him succumbing to his depression.

I don’t have much in the way of assets, but I am always going to be as generous as my situation allows with what I do have. Empathy, a soft shoulder, a cache of hard-earned wisdom and a meager but consistent bank account can go a long way.

No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Superman out.

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.

you don’t know

when you were young

your favorite line

was “Dad, you don’t know”

what you don’t know

there was a night

not long ago

I sat on the edge
of my bed
of the universe

one in the chamber

cursed glass of whiskey
liquid false courage

in the other hand

disgusted with yesterday

bored with today

uninterested in tomorrow

desperately seeking

a reason

to carry on

I’d lost my joy

the will to seek it

where once was strength

a cavernous

anguished

aching gash

where was the zeal?

missing the real

existing
but not living

tears of pain roll

down my unshaven cheek

one, just one

fucking reason I seek

to not end it all

the safety off

just drunk enough

sick enough

to call Bullshit

on this timed-out
worn-out
overplayed phase
I call my life

then I think of you

my precious child

your first steps
sun in your hair

your infinite

infectious smile

golden and pure soul

my heart yearns

stomach turns
my mind scolds me

at the thought
of hurting you

if I was to shed

this mortal shell

in the throes
of my selfish pain

I would crush you

my dear child

I had forgotten 

in a selfless moment

your love

ceaseless adoration

and your words

that I am

your favorite

person

in the world

 

I couldn’t pull it
the beckoning trigger

for I had vowed to myself 

in a lighter hour

I would never

cause you

a life of pain

in the name

of ending mine

Do you remember?

Do you remember
the racing heart
the angst
the fear
of making
a move
that can never
be undone?
To Hell
with everyone
they don’t
understand
what we had
and could be
Part of me
stood at the brink
of no return

I charged on
I shocked you
rocked you
knocked you
off your feet
I rolled the dice
put it all
on Red
that you
were the one
The stakes high
the timing nigh
I made my move

You later would say
it was the day
you had waited
with breath baited
it was then
that I knew
That I would
never
be good enough
for you
If it matters

I remember

Song lyric Sunday

I have chosen to share with you this Sunday a song, a well-known song that you may have heard a thousand times. Pearl Jam’s Black.I share it as an homage to a love that I never had. One that I desperately crave.  One in which I am so happy, so awe-struck, enamored and smitten that in the throes of loss, I could write a song as powerful as this.
I dedicate the last paragraph, the one that disembowels me emotionally every time I hear it to my ex-wife. Some of my anger has subsided. I have knelt at the altar of painful accountability and have found myself looking at my marriage in a different light.
I don’t like failure. My divorce is just that. I committed to put in the work, to love for better or for worse. While I can point to several formidable moments that caused me to have contempt for her, I failed to recognize that I had a few myself. I wasn’t always a saint. I made several risky career choices with good intentions and poor outcomes. There were times I could have been kinder, more nurturing. A little more present. When we began to really fight I began to come home later, often a little drunk to offset the contempt and animosity in my own home.
It’s not all her fault and while I most certainly do not want her back, too much has happened and she doesn’t love me anymore, I wish more than anything that she will someday have the life she dreamed of as a wide-eyed young woman, yet to be spoiled by the realities of wasted potential and poor decisions.
I don’t know if I failed her, if she lost faith in me, if I failed to provide her the life she deserved or if it was meant to be that we would part ways after so many years together. After seeing the 100 or so pictures she posted online the other day of the old days with our friends and family I saw an awful lot of pictures of she and I looking happy. Real happy. If I didn’t know better I would call it love. But in the wake of our tumultuous demise I had forgotten those times, when the world was bright and our futures held hope and promise.
I dedicate this to her because, despite our ruined state I still wish the best for her. I wish that things had turned out different for us. May she find balance in her life, may she overcome her demons and ultimately meet someone who makes her happy. To find the type of love that inspires a song like this. In particular I dedicate the last stanza, which I have highlighted below.
Hey, oh
Sheets of empty canvas
Untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me
As her body once did
All five horizons
Revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed
Has taken a turn
Oh and all I taught her was everything
Oh I know she gave me all that she wore
And now my bitter hands
Chafe beneath the clouds
Of what was everything
Oh the pictures have
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
I take a walk outside
I’m surrounded by
Some kids at play
I can feel their laughter
So why do I sear
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head
I’m spinning
Oh, I’m spinning
How quick the sun can, drop away
And now my bitter hands
Cradle broken glass
Of what was everything
All the pictures had
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
All the love gone bad
Turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see
All that I am
All I’ll be
Yeah
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why
Why
Why can’t it be
Why can’t it be mine