Put the “Human” in Humanity

Humanity is a word. As with any other word, it lumps everything into one category. But our society is anything but one anything. We are wildly different in a myriad of ways. In this country in particular we are hopelessly divided. Politics and self-interest are everywhere. In many cases people are angry and hostile. I posted a meme about people hoarding supplies and one of my friends commented “Fucking Democrats” as a response. I told him that there is no room for that on my page, he’s a Freemason like myself. Inappropriate, unacceptable and unnecessary. But very common these days.

I was mortified…then inspired.

I re-watched Schindler’s List today.You may think it is an odd choice given its horrific content but it was exactly what I needed on a day otherwise filled with doom and gloom, stories of people behaving badly and charts showing rapidly spreading red spots on the maps of our country and the world. I needed a dose of Humanity. Is there a better movie or topic to remind us of what we are and what we can be if left to our own devices?

There a lot of people doing a lot of good things. People helping their neighbors, donating vital supplies to medical professionals, donating their time. But there are a lot of people behaving badly and they put me in the mood for a refresher.

Right now there are people with a 6 month to a year’s supply of toilet paper and disinfecting supplies. More milk and bread than they can ever consume. Vital supplies have been hoarded to “stock up” or sell at tremendous markups for personal gain. All while others, especially the elderly who aren’t fast enough to race in the store and strong enough to fight the mobs, go without. Many now have too much while others have none at all.

Enter Schindler’s List. A critical scene (one of many) is of a boy selling caramels in a crowd of people who are fairly aware that they are going to either die or suffer tremendously. The boy sells the tiny candies at a tremendous profit and one of the people remarks “What is he going to do with the money?”

Is it worth it to take a “Fuck everyone” mentality? Was it really the first instinct of a LOT of people to hoard and deny? Are we ok with the most vulnerable among us going without?

Bad situations bring out the best and the worst of us. Schindler’s List is a sobering and wonderful reminder of what we are capable of doing and also what we are capable of not doing. The German people were capable of being spectators as murder on a inconceivable scale occurred. The Jews were capable of banding together under horrific circumstances to save each other. If you have seen the movie there is a scene in which some women, pre-physical by the Nazi’s, cut their fingers and shared their blood to wipe on each others face to look healthy. To avoid execution. Some shared tiny hiding spaces in walls and floors.

And some didn’t

Some had room and turned people away. Many Jews sold their souls to save themselves. They took jobs to help the Nazi’s in the form of liaisons. Under the guise of “helping” with lists and other horrific housekeeping they were complicit in sending their own people to their deaths as they stood and watched. I always wondered how they lived with themselves. Even though I know the answer. When faced with terrible times, sometimes people make the wrong decision.

Oskar Schindler made the right one. He tried to help. He is an extreme example because he gave his actual everything to save as many people as he could but the fact is that he thought of others when he could have easily only thought of and protected himself.

I am as high risk as humanly possible in the face of this virus. I’m immunosuppressed and on dialysis. I shouldn’t even leave the house but I will if I find that there is someone who needs assistance in shopping, getting medications or other needs. My first instinct is of course to protect myself, but not so powerful as to forget other people. We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re not gay or straight. We’re not Millenials, Gen X or Z’ers. We’re not those who believe Pineapple belongs on pizza vs. those who don’t. We are all people and we have to come to one critical realization.

We’re all in this together.

Humanity. It’s not just a word. Let’s be human.

political toxicity and the great epiphany

About a week ago I read a FB post of a dear friend. This particular guy is a fellow blogger whom I have a lot of respect for. As I prepared to read his post I braced myself for about 800 words that I would only agree with about 100. And that’s OK, I believe it’s good to expose yourself to material you don’t agree with. It’s called being open-minded and I really, truly strive to be just that

Or so I thought.

As it turns out…my self-proclaimed open-mindedness needs some work.

He brilliantly wrote about the Democratic field, his take on who he thinks is his favorite (s) and why. I bristled and bit my tongue as I read it but I kept reading. I disagreed so vehemently, with him and with the candidates and policies in general, that I reacted. I acted hatefully, intolerant and totally out of character. I surprised and embarrassed myself.

In fairness, my response was along the lines of being surprised at his left-leaning tendencies because I have always, mistakenly, thought that he was a moderate. But in the process of composing my response I attacked the candidates he supports. I even made a very unfair gay comment about Mayor Pete. Well, he called me on it. Not just the gay comment but my attacks on the candidates. I was surprised at the fury of his response because, as I said, my overall intent was to question how far left his beliefs were. Having said that, I got what I deserved and more.

I was told that my gay comment was out of line. He was right.

I was told that I was wrong in my assessment of the candidates he endorsed. We’re both right because this is still America.

He told me that I didn’t understand Democratic Socialism, Socialism or Communism. I didn’t agree at all, if nothing else I never speak of something that I don’t know of. I called him on that.

Then came the one thing that I strongly disagreed with, a topic that I didn’t challenge him on, a topic that is instead the topic of this post…he said that I didn’t understand people.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Here’s the deal. We live in a toxic political environment, one that has permeated almost every crack and crevice in society and we have devolved from disagreement with civil discourse to digging trenches and taking sides. These sides have divided friends, couples and society in general. Now, if you hold a viewpoint that someone disagrees with it is personal and in some cases you are attacked.

As a conservative I have formulated a defensive attitude about my politics because I and people who share my beliefs are being attacked. Daily. It is an absolute true statement that if you support our president than you are believed to be one step away from shaving your head and donning a white hood. When your beliefs are constantly attacked, it is almost impossible not to be defensive. It feels personal and when we are personally attacked we lash out.

Unless we have the ability to control our initial, knee jerk reaction and take a deep breath. I needed to do that and I didn’t. I regret it.

I can’t change today’s political environment but I can change how I react to it.

My friend, if you’re reading this please accept my apology for my unwanted sentiments and I hope you read and appreciate my rebuttal.

I disagree with but respect your opinions. Above all else I respect any informed opinion and deeply believe that our political process requires, dare I say demands differences and a consequent civil exchange of ideas with tolerance of different viewpoints. I truly and profoundly dislike the entire pool of Democratic candidates because they don’t share my vision for my country. For you, they do and I need to respect that. But is it wrong to ask the same of you?

If I may circle back to the comment you made about my not understanding people…I want to thank you for that because it gave me something to think about. My question, after days of pondering it is as follows; is it possible, despite being on exact opposites of the spectrum politically, that in the end we want the same things?

Democrats and Liberals, there was once a distinction but not anymore (change my mind), have always held a grip on being the champions of the poor, the marginalized and downtrodden. I have always disagreed with that, I believe many people of my ilk, the dreaded “conservative” also care deeply about the same demographic.

I know I do.
I want an end to poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
I wish for a stop to endless wars.
I wish everyone had health care
I want a balanced budget and to eliminate the burgeoning deficit.
I wish for an end to institutional racism.

I understand and care about people more than you will ever know.

There are so many issues that our current administration is not addressing but overall, I supported the candidate that most shares my beliefs. This doesn’t, and shouldn’t, disqualify me as a compassionate person. I volunteer at food banks, I help old ladies with their shopping carts, I donate money I don’t have and I am always on the lookout for an opportunity to commit a Random Act of Kindness. So I am curious why my behavior didn’t reflect that. Fortunately, I had an epiphany and I learned once and for all that I need to do and be better.

My friend, I do care about people and I hope that my future behavior supports that. Thank you for putting me in my place. With the exception of the lectures questioning my education level, I got a lot out of it.

At the end of the day, everything is about people. And my, let’s face it, everyone’s politics should be ultimately about people. Regardless of who you support, no one, including myself has the right to tell you that you are wrong. We’re both right, we’re both wrong but we’re all brothers and sisters.

That is one thing that will always be a wonderful thing about this country that we both call home.

3,2,1…Hope

I have again been invited to participate in a quote challenge. My participation in such challenges is spotty at best but I want to introduce you to Lisa @ All About Life. She has a great blog. She’s very positive in her posts, interesting, a loyal follower, great commenter and a all-around cool chick. If you read her, you will want to follow her. Thank you Lisa for the challenge.

Today’s topic is Hope. A perfect topic for me to discuss. My entire life centers around it. I walk this earth with the belief that things are one way or the other. I have been called “Black and White” many times in my life and it wasn’t a compliment. I never backed down from it. I believe in absolutes, especially in matters of attitude. One thing that has always sustained me, that has drawn the respect and admiration of my peers, is my optimism.

When you are chronically ill you really have only 2 choices in how you approach life. Negative or positive. You either dwell on your situation and ask “why me”? or you deal with it by getting through the hard days, rejoicing in the good days and always, always look forward to the time when you will feel better every day. Even if that day never comes…live life as if it will.

I can think of no better way to discuss hope than to showcase my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption. If you haven’t seen it, the nuts and bolts of it is a innocent man sentenced to life in a brutal prison. Can you imagine being innocent, jailed for life and screaming with all of your being that you don’t belong there? How long must a day be, what motivates you to get up and live with that crushing weight on you?

To start things off, the best quote of the movie is
Quote # 1

Andy Dufesne

Doesn’t this say it all? While it doesn’t explicitly have the word hope in it, it is the true essence of hope itself. This is my philosophy in a nutshell. Negative vs positive, backwards vs forward. Optimism, hope itself is a choice. The choice you make will determine your path and how others perceive you. I choose to get busy living because, even if I was in prison, I would always believe that I would be vindicated eventually. The truth always reveals itself and I would want to be there when it does. I choose to get busy living.

“Red”


This is the flip side of hope. When you look at your situation and determine that it is indeed going to define you and therefore hope is fruitless. In this case Red has resigned himself to being institutionalized for life. The walls he used to challenge had begun to give him security. The idea of a life outside of those walls became a fantasy, one that became dangerous. It challenged his reality. My only challenge to this, and again I have never been faced with such circumstances, is that one never knows the future. If you aren’t open to the possibility that tomorrow may hold a surprise then you reduce the likelihood of it happening. In this case, Red was paroled and he was suddenly faced with a whole new set of “hopes”. Ones that were once impossibilities became his new reality.

“Hope springs eternal” is a popular saying. There is a caveat…you need to be open to it. Choose hope. Don’t complain. Noone needs to hear it, it accomplishes nothing, and at the end of the day that may be how you are remembered. 

You don’t want that.

I’m not going to nominate anyone, but feel free to play along. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Sold!

“Would anyone else like to speak?” the moderator asked as she peered around the room.
I raised my hand, she acknowledged me and I went to the podium.
“Hi I’m Bill.”
“Hi Bill!” the many members in attendance roared in unison.
I paused to collect myself. “I’m addicted to American Pickers.”

Of course, this hasn’t happened in real life, I just wanted to get your attention. But if such a group exists, I may have to grab a meeting someday. I am completely and utterly captivated by the show. Ok, addicted.

Mike and Frank are “the pickers”, antique enthusiasts that cross the country in their signature white van chasing the next great “pick” based on leads from Nicole, who holds the fort down at the shop and fields calls from people who want Mike and Frank to check out their collections of all things old, retro and vanishing from the American landscape.

There is so much for me to love about this show. I love old things, I am a history buff, a seasoned negotiator and I love a good story. I think I am a lot like Mike and Frank. Where most see junk, we see memories and a glimpse of days gone by. We live by the mantra “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. “

Mike and Steve go to houses, museums, warehouses, barns, storage containers and open fields in search of the next old/new thing. They get to know the owners, they get the backstory of why they collect or how they came across their forgotten treasures. Cars, toys, signs, shoes, juke boxes, photographs, truly anything can be found. When others open a barn door and retreat when greeted by the smell of mold and decay, Mike and Frank roll up their sleeves, put on gloves and climb over heaps of clutter in search of unique items that they can sell for a modest profit. As they do, I find myself captivated at what they may come up with.
pickerspickers4

I love the stuff. Seeing old Gas Station signs, board games, a rotting “Bob’s Big Boy” statue, a ’37 Harley Knucklehead with a sidecar, Flintstones lunchbox or a vintage Coca Cola sign really brings out the nostalgic side of me. And I get off on the enthusiasm, knowledge and respect Mike and Frank show the objects and owners alike.

It’s fun to find out who is a seller and who isn’t. Who is willing to let their stuff go and who will cling to it. The Pickers are wholesalers, they need to pay wholesale in order to sell for a profit. Some people are so sentimentally attached to their items they just won’t sell. The Pickers don’t get mad if they don’t get their item. They understand and respect it. They may leave just happy to have held that vintage GI Joe doll or Easy Bake oven. They love the process.

Maybe it’s the old auction guy in me but I so enjoy the negotiating process. They know what stuff is worth but never try to underbid and take advantage of the seller, and most know exactly what their stuff is worth. The Pickers offer a fair price and the real treat is when they tell someone that an item that they thought was worthless is actually worth serious money. And the Pickers pay it, if they agree to sell. You still have that guy, like on Pawn Stars, that wants 50 bucks for something, gets offered 10,000 and then counters at 11,000. You originally wanted 500! But, that’s human nature. Most items start at a fair bid, a chin scratch from the collector, a high counter offer and then a concession from the pickers. I’ve been around such transactions for decades in my career but I still watch in fascination. More often than not it ends up as a sale and the trademark handshake and verbal exclamation of “SOLD.” If they but 50 items, they shake on it each and every time. An old fashioned-gesture in a modern world.

All of the above are solid motivators to make me come back to the show week after week. But there is a much greater draw for me and that is the people behind the junk. It is the backstory behind the item and the tales of the collector. I have seen people that I would give anything to meet, to sit in their glorious, dusty personal museums and listen to their stories.

Oh, the stories. There is the man who finally agreed to open his late father’s garage to reveal a collection of all that is the motorcycle and talks fondly about his dad. There is the couple that once ran with Andy Warhol and have hundreds of pictures to prove it. There’s the elderly man selling rusty, abandoned pieces of his old amusement park who tells with a tear in his eye of the joys of seeing the smiles of the children as they rode in the Rocket Ship cars and miniature trains so many years ago.

Almost all of the collectors have one thing in common, they are middle aged to elderly and are connected to their treasures in a way that most in our throw-away society cannot relate. They come from or have a deep respect for the generation that knew how to build things that lasted. The generation that fixed things instead of discarding them. These collectors, as well as Mike and Frank, recognize that their belongings serve as a time capsule and a representation of a generation gone by. They hold onto their belongings until the right guy comes by, and it feels like the right time to let it go. Not to a junkyard or a landfill, but instead to someone who loves it as much as they and will promise to share it with the world so that the magical memories will live on. That someone is The Pickers. They are the Archeologists of Antiques, the enthusiasts of other’s crap, the curators of curiosities, and they are dedicated to preserving yesterday for the sake of tomorrow.

The show stirs up a wonderful memory of my Grandfather’s garage. It was a converted barn and I spent hours fishing through it when I was a child. He had so many old coffee and oil cans, tools, posters and auto parts to fit cars that weren’t made anymore. He never threw any of it away. I still have a license plate of his from 1929 on my wall. It was on his first car. I wish he was still around, so that we could drive the back roads of NH and Maine. We would drive by barn after barn and nod at each other, because we would be thinking the same thought…what treasures are behind those doors?

hipster

I see you there
with the skinny jeans
your Che Guevera shirt
surplus military jacket
and silly wool hat
In the summer heat
You’re so delightfully ironic
Take another selfie
The world is waiting
Holding its breath
To LIKE your pic

You reject all that is
the status quo
Just one thing?
Do you know
what it is that you don’t?
You talk the talk
You’ve learned your lines
Your indoctrination complete
but can you speak for yourself?
You challenge
Rebel and dispel
Then expel
the lies you are fed
As easily as you reject
Those that know the world
Yet it would be odd
If the young had wisdom

Free thought is still free
But you join the sheep
grazing on the grass
that was planted for you
yonder meadow calls
if you have the goddamn balls
to put down the phone
and try some of its own
different
controversial
unpleasant
real grass

Youth is wasted on the young

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 End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

Faith. Many of us have struggled with it our entire lives. Many of us will never truly reconcile the notion of a higher power. Unfortunately, we also fall terribly short in being able to discuss our differences on this complex and polarizing subject.

And then Tom of Tom Being Tom wrote this. Which I will now share for your reading pleasure. Do you follow Tom? If not I only have one question…why wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe in gods. Those of you who know me know that well, and those of you with even a passing sense of who I am probably understand that, too. 38 more words

via The End of Faith? — Tom Being Tom

My week thus far…

Friday I received a call from my new Nephrologist. He had spoken to my Transplant team and it was decided that dialysis was needed immediately, despite the fact that the fistula I had recently had installed was not mature yet. He had made arrangements for me to report to a local hospital on Monday morning at 10 to have a temporary “port” installed. It was also scheduled that I would have my first dialysis treatment the next day. They clearly weren’t playing around.

I spent the weekend in a bit of a funk. Despite knowing that dialysis was inevitable, I still dreaded it. Despite all accounts that it would make me feel better, I had this horrible picture in my head of what it would be like. I was also dreading the surgery.

I reported at 9:45 to registration and was immediately led by the charming and matronly Alicia to the surgical prep area. I dutifully removed my clothes and signed all of the paperwork that I commonly refer to as the “I will not sue your ass if you fuck me up on the table” forms. Alicia was great, very comforting as she explained the process to me. It sounded rather unpleasant but hell, I would be knocked out, right?
“So, who is driving you home?” Alicia asked me.
“Ummmm….I am.”
“Oh dear.” Alicia replied.
“Oh dear, what?” I asked incredulously.
“If you drive yourself home after anesthesia you will be driving under the influence of a narcotic. Your surgery will have to be done with a local only.”
“When I talked to Doc on Friday he gave me the choice of driving myself or getting a ride. Not to be a bother I didn’t ask my mother. The info you just gave me would have been helpful.”
“Sorry, hun.”

I was wheeled into the Surgical room. I was injected with a local and a numbing agent. A tent was put over my face and I was told to lean my head as far to the left as possible. I was then told to relax. Yeah, right. My surgeon then, with the assistance of a radiologist, snaked a tube through my neck, into a major vein stemming from my heart and then pulled it back out my chest. A tube was then attached to my chest. It’s there until my fistula is ready. I felt everything. I can only describe it as having a giant fish hook inserted into my neck and pulled through my chest. My head was screaming, my neck was killing me and the entry point at my neck was excruciating.

Then I was told that it was all over.

“Good job.” I said to the surgeon.
“I should say the same to you.” She replied. “I’ve never done this surgery without full anasthesia. You did great. I’d want to be knocked out until Christmas to do what you just did.”
“Thanks. But remember that there is a fine difference between brave and stupid.”

I was sent home with no painkillers but Tylenol. I was up all night in excruciating pain.

The next morning I arrived at Dialysis. When I pulled into the parking lot part of me wanted to put it in reverse and explore other options. Then I went in anyways.

A sign at the door said ring bell for assistance. As soon as I did a tiny nurse wrapped in scrubs and a mask opened the door and greeted me by name. She was expecting me. To break the ice I said “Hi, I’m here for my oil and filter change.” My tiny nurse laughed.

I went inside. My first reaction was that everyone looked so sick. Yes, I know that I am sick but I really don’t look it. That’s no accident. The patients in this room were fragile, thin, asleep. Not one person was anywhere close to my age. The gentleman next to me looked just like my father…a month before he died.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad. I have painted a terrible picture of dialysis when in fact I did feel a little better when I left. In a 2 1/2 hour session I lost 3 lbs of fluid. That’s a good thing. I’m easily carrying 20 lbs of fluid that is doing nothing but putting a strain on my heart. The only thing I don’t like is I’ve never sat in a chair for 4 hours before. By Saturday I will be up to 4 hour sessions. But I’ll manage. I had a TV, headphones. a blanket and a fucking great book written by a fellow blogger that I am almost done with.

I can do this.

Now if I can only get used to this turkey baster sticking out of my shirt and the constant bleeding at the surgical site I will be just fine.

Everyone has been treating me like I’m going somewhere. Allow me to take this opportunity to tell you that I’m not. I still have a lot of shit to do.

Home sweet home…a Mike Valentine tale

Mike Valentine pulled into his driveway a bit too fast. He heard the scraping of the undercarriage as it met the small dip at the end of his driveway. It was just another moment in his 15-minute drive that he was reminded of how reckless it was for him to have driven home. He was half in the wrapper. It occurred to him that he was driving a company vehicle, a DUI would equal no job and no car. Smart. He put the car in park, popped an Altoid in his mouth, took a deep breath and walked to his front door. Every night he tried to ignore the crumbling masonry adorning the walkway and the ugly door that desperately needed a coat of paint. It was his daily reminder that he lived in a house that he couldn’t afford to maintain. He was in over his head. He went in the house.

Right on schedule, his hyperactive Springer Spaniel tore around the corner and jumped all over him. He enjoyed this part of the day. A dog always loves you unconditionally. If only other people in my life were this happy to see me he mused. After Lady (named after the Disney dog of course) calmed down a bit Mark took off his shoes, stumbling slightly and went into the kitchen. His wife was sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of envelopes before her. Her face said it all. He was about to have the money talk. Mark reevaluated his condition and decided that he may not have drank enough.
“You could say hi, you know. You must have heard me come in” he said.
“We need to talk” she replied.
“Not now”, Mike said with a defeated tone. “I know where this is going. Talking about it isn’t going to make a money tree grow in the back yard.” He regretted his snarky tone as it left his lips.
“If not now, when?!” she yelled. He knew what was coming, She was boiling and she wasn’t in the mood for the verbal foreplay. She wanted to fight.
“I’m doing the best I can.” He knew she didn’t believe it and he wasn’t sure if he did either. “You don’t know what it’s like out there right now.” He tried to change the subject. “Anything for dinner?”
“We went out.”
“Of course, you did. After all, why would you eat any of the food that is in our fridge, we only spend $200 a week on groceries after all.” He immediately realized that he was a raging hypocrite, he was just out himself. And she hasn’t asked where he was and why he was late. Is it possible she doesn’t care? Yeah, he didn’t want the answer to that one.
“Fuck you.”
“Nice. Where are the kids?”
“In their rooms doing their homework. Report cards came out today and with the exception of Britt, the boys are looking at a long time in their rooms. Don’t bother them.”

Mike dutifully obeyed and left the room. He walked into the family room, plopped down on the plush cushion of his chair and turned the TV on. He peeled off his socks and put his feet up. His swollen ankles hurt like hell and without rolling up his pant legs he knew that his legs were swollen as well. As if he didn’t have enough shit to worry about, his condition was getting worse.

He noticed a change of light in the room and he looked to see his oldest boy D, in the doorway with a Miller Lite in his hand.
“I got you a ‘water bottle’ Dad” he said as he tucked the can under his arm and did his famous quotation fingers.
“Don’t you have homework to finish?”
“I’m done. Did mom tell you about the report card?”
“No specifics but she didn’t paint a rosy picture.”
“It wasn’t that bad. Mine, I mean. I can’t say the same for Ry.” He sat down next to his father, handed him the beer and said “The Sox lost.”
“Yeah, I saw.”
“Weren’t you at work?” Mike hated lying to his son.
“Between you and me I knocked off a little early.” He and D were close. D rarely told mom much of what he said when she wasn’t around. He wasn’t proud of that, he didn’t encourage it. The kid just favored his dad and somehow knew the politics of the household. Mike wished he didn’t. He also wished his kids didn’t bring him alcohol and joke that they were water bottles. He was some fucking example of a father. Yet his children loved him. Despite the fights they witnessed between he and their mother, all of the hurtful words that can’t be taken back, they seemed to understand him. He hoped the same for his wife, he didn’t want to be the favorite, he just wanted their love.

to be continued…

Hope

If I could pick one thing that I have always had an abundance of, I would say it is hope. I have left many impressions on those around me, some good and some not so much, but most everyone saw me as optimistic. As life kicked me to the ground repeatedly, often at my own request through stupidity, ignorance and drunkenness, I got up and dusted myself off and looked to tomorrow to be a better day. It wasn’t forced, it was just how I was. My glass, usually containing beer or scotch, was usually half-full and always refillable.

I came to rely on my optimistic nature as I became sick. Despite being diagnosed with a potentially life-altering (and possibly ending) disease in my early twenties I refused to let it define me. I cruised through my twenties at a frenetic, often drunken state and really never gave it a thought. When I had a “episode” of peeing coca-cola colored urine, searing lower back pain, severe fatigue and bedrest I was of course reminded in the starkest of ways. But when the symptoms went away I pushed it to the back of my mind again.

In my thirties my disease progressed. My “outbreaks” were more frequent. I was forced to face up to it more often. In the interest of protecting my family from worry and my employers from firing me, I tucked it deep down inside. I then added denial to the mix, because “not thinking about it” wasn’t doing the trick. I still had so many things to accomplish.

Despite being in crushing debt I was hopeful that a big break would come so I worked crazy hours to make more money. All that I achieved was higher blood pressure and the knowledge that no matter how much I made my wife was spending it as if she was a drunken sailor with a fist full of Viagra.

My higher objective was to make the best possible life for my family. The hours, the career changes, the constant worrying about money was in the interest of making sure that my family had everything they needed. My larger hope would be that I could somehow save something for their future. Alas, that was not to be either.

I cruised through my thirties on my rocket ship of denial, fueled by hope. I even entered my forties with just a few outbreaks. Then, at age 41 I was told that a transplant was definitely in my future, there were no other options. I was initially floored. I will admit that there was a emotional breakdown involved. When you avoid crying most of your adult life you are only sticking your finger in the dyke. Eventually the dyke will burst, and this one did. But just like that, I was over it and I was overcome by a powerful and inexplicable sense that this it work out. I had a deadline, and that was to avoid dialysis at all costs. It was my father’s influence on me, he always, to a fault, said that “everything will work out, it always does.” My Dad had a shit life, but he had an abundance of hope.

In my late 40’s, teetering on the edge of dialysis and in the hospital again with a renal-related infection, I was told by my boss that in my absence from work a co-worker had stepped up and offered to be tested for donation. A girl that I barely knew. I had hope. I was told that the odds of her, my only donation offer at this point, being a match were slim.
She was a perfect match. Hope wins. Despite the odds.
We did the surgery 4 months later. I came out of the surgery like a bull out of the gates. I was full of energy, the desire to be better at what I knew, and to tackle those things that I didn’t. I committed myself to recovery. I was back at work in 33 days, that has to be a record. My doctors told me to take it easy. I told them to get lost.

I mountain-biked with the big boys. I set a personal best on the bench press. I lost weight.  I joined a charitable fraternity and paid it forward. I got propositioned by a smoking hot 27 year old Latina at work. Things were great. Well, my marriage was still a train wreck and my finances were in a shambles but I felt great. This continued for 5 years. Then one night, while serving a charity dinner, I suddenly cramped up and was unable to stand. I knew what it was. The next day my doctor confirmed that my new kidney was failing.

I was crushed. I felt betrayed. How could they have not told me that my disease could return? I felt that I had been given false hope. It was only later that I realized that if I was told the potential of failure I may not have tackled life post-transplant as I had. I may have just sat on my ass and waited for it to happen.

When I got divorced, moved in with my mother and applied for disability I pretty much lost hope. The last year has been a year of hibernation. I miss my family, I miss my friends and I miss working. I miss tackling each day like a warrior.

Then, last month I was fortunate to be offered the prospect of another transplant. Again, I have hope. Yet I am cautious. I am nervous. I find myself withdrawing from my friends and family. I am haunted by the prospect of it not happening, or not working out. Every day, every Dr visit is part of the waiting game. I am deathly afraid of false hope.

That’s why I have been posting poetry and dabbling with my “Jack Valentine” saga. I am dabbling in the fantasy world to avoid reality. Writing about my real life, as I have always done with a modicum of success, seems out of reach.

Maybe I need more of the one thing I have always lacked.

Patience