Where you are is where you are meant to be

Today was a good day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

sleepless nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

did He drive her away?

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

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

 

 

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.

 

Blogoversary

1 year ago I started my blog. I was at an incredibly low point in my life and I believed that putting it to paper, putting it out to random strangers would assist me in exorcising my demons. It did so much more than that.

230 posts, not including many discarded, later I find myself in a caring, supportive community that has embraced me at best and at the very least allowed me to share my unusual, unique and perhaps inappropriate take on life, love, family, work, relationships and chronic illness.

My blog, and consequently you, have become part of me.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement, support, friendship and feedback. And of course, thank you for reading…

it’s here

Yesterday I had “the big” appointment. A meeting with the entire transplant team.

It was a huge moment if you consider that at one time I wasn’t guaranteed to be approved for transplant because of the tendency of my disease to come back and infect a new kidney. To be fair, I wasn’t in love with the idea of having another transplant and wasting the most selfless gift a person could give in a mere 5 years. I would rather die on dialysis. My youngest son became furious at me when I told him that, he said he would donate a kidney to me if it only lasted a year. That kind of love is hard to find.

The meeting was a group session to start, there were 6 patients in all, most accompanied by supportive family. I was the only one in the room on the second go-round. My doctor, a brilliant man renowned in transplantation gave a 90 minute lecture on all of the details of dialysis, patient mortality rates for dialysis vs. transplantation, and this particular hospital’s (and his own) reputation and statistics vs the rest of the country. They were very encouraging, Despite the fact that I slept through most of it. The night before I slept for a whopping 1 hour. Insomnia, a lovely side effect of end-stage renal disease, has been kicking my ass.

After the group session we broke off into individual rooms where we were all to meet one-on-one with financial coordinators (they handle insurance and offer financial assistance), social workers, the transplant surgeon himself (they only have one), a pharmacist, the transplant coordinator and then the Dr. that oversees it all.

The pharmacist, once aware that I was on round 2 had little to offer. The social worker tried to pick my brain about my relationship with my mother. I shut her down immediately when she asked me about how my illness has affected my life.
“You mean besides getting divorced, losing my house, my job and access to my family it’s been a piece of cake.”
She was not amused and within minutes she was also convinced that I had a “whatever happens happens” attitude and that I am dealing just fine. Good luck selling me therapy. Next!

I then met with my coordinator who arranges all of the testing I have to go through to make sure I’m healthy enough to undergo a transplant, as well as work with potential donors. She was young, cute and funny so I went easy on her. The transplant surgeon was informative and brief and when he left I had only to meet with my brilliant Doctor and I could then go home. I was exhausted and feeling lousy.

I waited for about 15 minutes for him and when he walked in, he took one look at me and said “you need dialysis. Yesterday.” He asked what the holdup has been with my Nephrologist and I told him that my fistula, a surgically installed dialysis port, has not matured yet. He told me that he was initiating “plan B.” He called my Nephrologist and made arrangements for me to have a temporary port.

Monday, they will insert a catheter through my neck and into my heart. I will start dialysis Tuesday at noon.

Here we go. Wheeeeeeee!