the dynamics of hope

“Have you ever thought of harming yourself?”
My favorite question of the Hospital admitting process by far. In the many times that I have been asked this, especially lately, I have answered with a knee-jerk and resounding “no”. Thursday, before I could stop myself I said yes.
My first reaction was to try to backpedal, but then I said Fuck it and went with it. Let’s face it, as little interest I had in talking to a hospital therapist or clergy, I hated the thoughts I had been having more.
The Social Worker entered my glass enclosed room mere moments after I said it and began asking me a million questions. I was guarded and tentative at first about answering. I wasn’t raised in a “talk about your feelings” type of household. I could better describe it as a “suck it up Buttercup” environment. Courtesy prevailed, however, and I endured. Apparently, my answers failed to raise any major red flags with her and after a declined offer of clergy or further discussion she left without incident. I closed my eyes and braced for the next shoe to drop.
“Hopeless”, the nurse exclaimed.
I opened my eyes. “What?”
“Sorry”, he said. “I couldn’t help but overhear.”
“I’m listening”, I said.
“You don’t want to end your life, you are just failing to find things that make you want to keep going.”
Wow, holy crap and WTF. He nailed it. We talked about it until he had to move on to his next patient.

I have NEVER been a suicide-minded person. I have also never considered myself a “happy” person I have perpetually danced on the edge of happiness and what I lack in joy I make up for in positivity and perseverance. I have never hated life and I have a huge problem with the selfish nature of suicide. I believe that if somebody doesn’t want to go on they don’t have to, but I also believe that it doesn’t end the pain, it only passes it on to the living.
But those dark thoughts have been creeping closer lately. The days are shorter. The sunlight is being coy. It’s cold. I’ve been in constant pain and sick more frequently. I live in a touristy area and it is the wrong season. I’ve spent many 3 AM’s sitting on the side of my bed, head in hands, looking for reasons to go on.
I’ve been in a bad place and couldn’t get out of my own head. I’d forgotten about hope.

I need to figure out how that happened and make sure it never does again. Did I just forget that I have children who love me? Friends that want me around? The good times yet to be had? The amazing and beautiful woman that has come into my life when I believed I would be alone forever? The gorgeous sceneries yet beheld behind the bars of my new Harley? Most important, have I forgotten that even if I’m not needed as badly as I, and all fathers I suppose, once was does it mean that I am not wanted around? All of these things are contingent on looking forward to tomorrow with a fresh and hopeful outlook.

I don’t know what happened to all of these things but I’m going to spend this current visit working on that list of things that await me when I get home.

I have NEVER projected hopelessness before and I don’t plan on doing it again. Hope springs eternal, pain is temporary, life is precious and death is permanent. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to refresh my outlook before it was too late.

Suck it up, Buttercup. You’re better than this.


funk

I am easily in the worst funk I have ever been in.

The cold and short windows of sunshine always affect me but this year is by far the worst with regards to being down. I think I’m clinically depressed. I’ve let my appearance go. I hate showering because the bathroom is so damn cold. I’m always tired. I don’t answer the phone when most people call. I constantly call on myself to snap the fuck out of it but I can’t. The visceral reactions I once had to my hyper self-aware moments are just not there. The days in which I feel good no longer outnumber the bad. I reach inside for the strength and it’s not there.

There are so many things that I want (ed?) to do. Bucket list stuff. Skydive. Travel in a RV cross country and embrace my inner Kerouac. Ride my motorcycle, one of the things that makes me happier than anything. At least it used to. Write a novel. Get my own place. Fall in love.

Now that one I can say happened. But to what end?

My girl is not mine. But I love her. She belongs to another man. Yes, there is a possibility that she will leave him one day. In the meantime I’m hanging around, like a cinder-block around her neck, trying not to influence her in one of the biggest decisions of her life-to leave and start anew. Hopefully with me. The whole thing really is a “hopefully”. In addition to all of her potential adjustments in her own relationship I’m sure at some point she will ask if she needs another man in her life, and more importantly is it going to be me?

The one thought that dominates my psyche is can I be enough for her? I don’t have money. I don’t have my own place. The love in my heart and my dreams of a new and fresh start don’t seem very reasonable when I can barely get out of bed some days.
Sadly, I feel I’ve led her on. Not in the sense that I am not who I say I am. Instead, I feel that in my quest for normalcy I indicated that I was ready for a relationship. I now question whether I can. I can barely take care of myself, can I be enough for her?

All of these thoughts race through my head and I barely have the energy and will to process them, never mind act on them.

I’m in a bad place.

Numb

One of my earliest memories was watching the Resignation of Richard Nixon on TV. My parents sat on the edge of their chairs and assured the eight year old me that this was a momentous occasion that I would remember for years. They were right. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
Soon after I watched the Saigon Airlift on the news and I was again assured that it would be etched in my brain. It was and is.
Then came the Pan Am 747 that was brought down by terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland. I questioned the savagery of human nature.
Then the embassy bombing, I wept for the soldiers and families.
Then there was the Challenger. I was deeply affected on so many levels.
911… Sigh…I wept for humanity.
Mixed in throughout were the years of movies and television bombarding me with gratuitous sex and violence. I saw so many bombings and shootings on TV and the movies it became difficult to distinguish it from the biggest purveyor of blood, savagery, gore and all around bad behavior…Network News.
Fast forward through horrifying after horrifying affront to my sensibilities, by the day that I sat in my office, unable to avert my eyes from the carnage of Sandy Hook unfolding before me, I was borderline numb.
After watching the events of 1/6/2021 unfold before me, the fact that I didn’t fall off my chair tells me that it’s official.

I’m numb.

The mask

People watching is my thing. Many notice how absorbed I can be when out in public. They comment that I’m not paying attention to them, that I’m distracted. Rude even. I’m not really, I’m just studying the people around me. They often wonder what I’m looking at and I know they would be surprised if I told them. If they think it’s all female and I’m studying only the things desired by the typical superficial male, then they’d be wrong. Sure, I like a nice ass as much as the next person but that’s not what I look at. I look at the face.

The human condition cannot be studied only below the neck. With the exception of body language, which is very telling, the face is the great indicator of behavior and the eyes in particular are extraordinarily telling. I’ve always been one to look them in the eye.

It is said that everyone wears a mask of sorts. The face that we put on in any given circumstance is a guise, a facade. It is the embodiment of what we want to tell the world about us on that particular day. Few people in my opinion are comfortable in their own skin enough to wear the same mask each day.

Americans in particular like to pretend. I believe it matters less to some to be happy or successful if they can at least create the illusion that they are. Clothes tell some of the story, the rest is in the eyes and I can tell volumes from them. Consequently, the use of masks everywhere and all the time hasn’t phased me much in the people-watching department. Now that the eyes are all that we see, I’m in my element.

Have you seen someone run into someone and not recognize them because they are wearing a mask? I sure have. I’ve watched people, well-known acquaintances even, not recognize each other when wearing one. It’s never happened to me. I always look people in the eyes so it’s been easy for me.

Now, the eyes are all we have. While it has been one element in making communication harder these days it has created opportunities for the People-watchers among us. Studying the eyes is more than a way of recognizing someone, it is a way of reading their emotions in the absence of other facial tells. In ones eyes we can gauge annoyance, friendliness, irritability, anxiety, fear and even flirtation. Through a mask you can genuinely tell what a person’s reaction to your presence is. It’s all in the eyes, regardless of the mask you choose to wear.

As life continues to get more difficult and society grapples with all of the ways in which to protect ourselves, masks are part of our future. Communication presents more challenges each day. Do yourself a favor while you can.

Learn to see through the mask. It’s all in the eyes.

A rare resolution

I sat down last night to write a blog. I was motivated by the usual, traditional, dreadfully cliche and tired habit we have of waxing poetic about the coming year.
I didn’t really have a plan. I had a few things I wanted to vent about but it wasn’t very linear. But I decided to plug forward and see where it went. As I was composing my tags I held back on hitting the Publish button. I went back and reread. My god, what a dismal, rambling and negative piece of shit. I was taken aback at myself. When did I become this negative?
Therein lies the topic of this blog. Knock it the Fuck off will ya Mac?

2020 was a hard year for everyone. Human beings as social creatures being forced to isolate. A hostile social environment full of civil and most uncivil disobedience. Just plain bad behavior on all sides over an election. Rampant poverty and unemployment. I could go on but you know the story. 2020 was ugly.

I got caught up in all of it. It was impossible not to. In addition, and I’m not alone here, I had to pile a lot of health issues on top of it. My health declined significantly this year and the facade I had maintained for so long began to crumble. I became the sick guy that I had avoided being for so long.

I’m not one for resolutions. Real change happens when it is needed, not when you throw away an expired calendar. But this year I have made one. Regain the positivity.
When I started this blog I was at the bottom of the deepest canyon looking up. Readers said that my story was inspiring. Motivational. Brutally and refreshingly honest. Real (my favorite). Lately I’ve been uninspiring. Morose. Depressed. Boring and uninteresting. Where did I go?

No more. I am getting my edge back even if I have to do what always worked for me. Even fake it if that’s what it takes.

Today, the nurses all said something along the lines of, “you look better today.”
Exactly what I was going for. I felt no better than I did 2 days ago but by throwing my shoulders back into my trademark “Peacock walk” I LOOKED better and felt better.

Last year was one to forget. This coming one may be better but a realistic person knows that it may not. What I forgot in all of the carnage that we call 2020 is that there are as many positives as negatives. I used to be notorious for finding those positives. I need to again.

Happy 2021. I am not only going to hope for it, I’m going to work hard to make it so.

A glimpse

He was awoken by the rain slapping the window. Reaching up to draw the shade, he felt her stir. He placed his hand on her naked shoulder and massaged it in hopes of her falling back to sleep.
“mmmm…what time is it?”, she sleepily asked.
“too early”, he said. “go back to sleep”. All he heard was an unintelligible grunt as she pulled the covers over her, taking half of his in the process.
“Gimme”, he said with a laugh as he snatched the covers, reclaiming what was rightfully his.
Before he knew it she was on top of him. “Fine”, she giggled. “I’ll share your side”. She reached between his legs and found him aroused.
“Well Merry Christmas to me!”, she joked as she kissed him hungrily.

“Well, that was a good start to the day”, he said.
“Yup”, she said. “We should do that again.”
He looked over at the dog, his head resting on the edge of the bed. “Better let him get his piss break first. Mine too, now that I think of it…,” he sprang out of bed and headed to the bathroom. She threw on a robe and let the dog out. He could hear him bark from the bathroom. “It’s a good thing we don’t have any neighbors…”

He walked into the kitchen. She was at the sink, her shoulder length blonde hair disheveled. She was dancing to a song only she could hear, in a half-open robe that she cared not if the world could see. He could smell the coffee brewing…a dog barked outside…

He sat up and looked at his phone. 7:15. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. His body ached. As he sat at the edge of the bed he pondered the dream he had been woken from. Could today possibly be any different than that?
The unpleasant knowledge that he was in the now, and had just experienced a glimpse washed over him. He had had a lot of “glimpses” lately and he hated them. Glimpses of the life he longed for vs the blah reality of the one he was living. He got out of bed and made his way downstairs to pour a cup of the waiting coffee.

Usually the glimpses came in dream form and were washed away with the morning coffee, often to be forgotten. But this one wasn’t going to go away as easy. He pondered it as the talking heads on the TV provided the forgettable background music as a backdrop.
That one could happen…
Yes, that is what was different. This time, it could happen. The glimpse could become reality! He has the girl…
Not yet.

He sat and drank his coffee, the warmth of the mug took the edge off of the dampness of the room. He pondered his situation. Nothing had changed since yesterday. She is there with a man she doesn’t love. He was alone on his sofa. There’s nothing either of them can do about it. This is the way it will have to be for a while.

For now, it was just a glimpse.

B Positive

I have to remind myself that it is just Network Television. It is not reality TV. It has to capture the viewers attention in a funny way, if you take into consideration that the modern viewer has the attention span of a Gnat. If the subject matter is too serious you also lose them. I personally see the show as a better Drama. But hey, what do I know? It’s just my opinion, but the new sitcom B Positive misses the mark in a big way. Again, just my opinion.

The show is about a therapist who finds out he needs a Kidney Transplant. He is a single Dad working through a recent separation from his wife. As luck would have it, he bumps into an old High School acquaintance at a wedding and somehow the subject of Kidney failure/transplant comes up and the ditzy girl throws it out there, “Hey, I can donate to you!”
By the end of the 2nd episode they have confirmed that she is willing, while showing more of what a mess her lifestyle really is but lo and behold, she is cleared to be a donor. The timetable escalates, as our hero “suddenly” starts dialysis.

I’ve tried to give it a chance. I really have. Multiple friends have asked me my thoughts on the show and I have tried to reserve judgment. I have to be nice knowing that most people really have no idea about the process, timetables and let’s face it, setbacks in the whole process.

To begin with, no-one “suddenly” finds that they need a transplant. Kidney disease is gradual and predictable. Any doctor can tell you after mapping the decrease in function that at a certain point you WILL need a transplant. It is not something that can sneak up on you. Renal failure is painful and it will affect every aspect of your life. The word I choose for it is Insidious. Over a long period of time you will experience an increasing level of complete garbage. You will feel washed out, which I liken to the day you start feeling flu symptoms and you know you are getting sick. But this feeling lasts for years. You can try to explain your symptoms to your friends, family, coworkers and your boss. They won’t understand. Nobody does. When your kids ask you to come play and all you can do is sit on the sofa with swollen legs and no energy it rips your heart out. This, and a million other normal functions in life that are compromised is where the Spectre of depression enters the picture. Approximately 87% of Renal patients suffer mild to serious depression. There is no medication other than hope for relief in the form of a transplant or a miracle. When you have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) a transplant and a miracle are one and the same.

The Dialysis segment of the show really, despite my efforts to be fair, annoyed me. In the second episode our hero, as I said earlier, “suddenly” starts dialysis. I’m sorry, you don’t just start dialysis. It is a last resort, akin to the fat lady singing for many people, myself included. By the time I was ready to start it I was as sick as I have ever been and I hated the whole idea of it. I always did, even before my first transplant when I pushed my luck enormously and avoided it. My Dr. scolded me as reckless and dangerous. How could I tell him that the lifestyle of dialysis appealed to me as much as eating a bullet?

So, our hero is sitting in a clinic with the recliners and machines, which they got right. The spacing of the chairs was a bit close but it is, after all, Television. But the room itself could not possibly get it more wrong. The seats are all full. The patients are all sitting up and awake. They look healthy other than having needles stuck in their arms. Ugh, so many misconceptions here. I will take them step by step:

There are always empty chairs in a clinic and you notice them immediately. I’ll be blunt, fellow patients at some point are forced to wonder if the missing patient is sick or dead. You don’t and won’t know, they can’t tell you. All you can do is hope for the best for them.
The chairs are almost always reclined. If you can’t get a nap during your session you are stuck with bad network TV or a book, which you can barely support with your left arm because of the 1 inch (yes, you read that correctly) needles in your arm that may, if you move, puncture your vein and you are done for the day if not the week. The vein is known as a fistula, a surgical vascular process that combines several veins in the arm to form a super port that enable the body to filter the blood in 4 hours. This surgery needs to be done 60 days before it is “mature” enough to use. It is very painful. If you start dialysis before they can do this surgery then you are given a port in your chest.
This is the worst scenario.
You can’t get it dirty so therefore you are not allowed baths or showers. The rest of your days with that port will be sponge bath only. Trust me, it sucks. Especially if it gets infected, despite your best efforts to keep it clean, and you end up with a staph infection. Mine caused Sepsis and I say this without exaggeration that I came millimeters from death 2 years ago because of it.
The patients in a dialysis center, with few exceptions, do not look like the patients on the show. The people in the show look as if they are going to spring out of their chairs once done. Not so in real life. We look sick. We look tired. Because we are. With rare exceptions, people get out of their chairs slowly and walk out slowly. We know that we are going to feel ok for about a day, if we’re lucky, and then we are back in that fucking chair.
The patients are all too cheery. Occasionally a comment gets tossed out that deals with the tribulations associated with a dialysis lifestyle to my satisfaction but not often. In general, people in dialysis centers are not very cheery. At age 55, I have a glimmer of hope of getting a transplant. Many patients do not and at a certain age are ruled out statistically. Their only hope would be a private donor. Many others have enough medical issues to disqualify them. These are the patients that know they will be on it until they die. Some take it into their own hands. Imagine being the nurse that hears a patient say “I can’t take the pain anymore”, to find the next morning that he ended his own life that night?

The donor. Ugh. As if the process was as simple as saying “Hey, you’re a match. It takes SO much longer to get approved as a donor and it is a complex process. While I will give them credit for including the segment about the potential donor being told to clean up her lifestyle. That is true. But there is tissue typing to do. MANY tests. Psychological examinations. They have to ensure that the donor isn’t being paid or coerced. Many do not pass all of them and it is a tremendous letdown as the patient. I say this with certainty, many people offer to be tested and many do NOT follow through. It is false hope at its finest and it is crushing the first time it happens, you begin to expect a letdown eventually.

This is dialysis. This is ESRD. To make a sitcom out of this subject is a grave mistake. This show could be an opportunity to raise awareness, and I hope it does. But I doubt it will. One thing a sitcom will never do is justice to such a depressing subject matter. Laugh tracks won’t make the pain go away and unreasonable depictions do the subject matter irreparable harm.

Sorry, there’s just nothing funny about it.

listen

It was quite an eye opener for me, the first time someone told me to shut up and listen. I’ll never forget it. At first I was angry and defensive. Then I thought about it. I wasn’t really listening to him, I was clearly waiting for my turn to speak.
That’s not listening. Listening is not waiting for your turn conversationally, it’s giving the person in front of you your full attention. And I wasn’t doing that. Fortunately, I’ve improved in that department.

Today my listening skills were really put to the test, I can’t help but feel that I did ok. Not that I’m being graded, of course. I’m just looking back and I feel that I helped a little. I wanted to do something, anything but as it turns out all she needed was an ear. So that’s what I offered. For 2 hours and 45 minutes.

She is so conflicted right now. Her marriage, her job, her friendships, her surprisingly unsupportive family, and of course her demons are all right there front and center fighting for her attention. She feels alone in a crowded room, that noone understands her and on top of everything else, she feels that she has wasted her best years being good to those who took her loyalty and trust for granted. I can’t imagine what it’s like to question everything in life that I once thought was solid.

Today, as she waited for her ride, she asked me to stay on the phone with her. It was hard for me because I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone. But it was the only way I could talk to her and once her ride showed up I would be without her for a week. At Alcohol detox, the first thing to go is the phone.

She needs it, the week at the clinic. She needs to take a hard look at everything, sort out her demons and start to work on them in a healthy way. She doesn’t really believe she is an alcoholic. Nor do I. But she knows that her recent use of alcohol to deal with the increasingly abusive and insensitive behavior from her husband is not the answer. The week of not being around him and even the conflicting influence that I provide will be good for her.

I’m ok with it. All of it. While part of me knows that the advice she gets from a trusted therapist might not go my way. I fear, yet am ready to accept it if it happens, that she may be told that I’m the variable that has to go. Maybe I’m the straw on her weighted back. She may emerge from this to tell me that I have to go. And while the thought rips the very heart from my chest, I have to be ok with it. Because I’m crazy about her and I will do anything for her to be happy. Up to and including letting her go if it is the right decision.

I don’t know what is going to happen at the end of the week. I just know that whatever she chooses to do is fine by me. It has to be. Part of loving someone is wanting what is best for them. She is my friend. My lover. My ray of sunshine on a mostly cloudy day. She has been so good for me, just knowing her has brightened my life. I see a future for us, one in which I finally have someone to really want to live for.

I hope it’s me, I really do. But more than anything I just want her to be happy.

the proud dad

I could go on forever about how amazing my children are. I suppose all parents could. But I do not gush, rave or swoon or bloviate. Instead, I do what my father did. I compare my upbringing with theirs and gauge their “success” based on the metrics that applied to me.
Character? Check.
Integrity? Check.
Compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence? Check check check.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes, based on the listed criteria I care more about the quality of the person(s) that they have become over traditional metrics of College degrees, professional status, what rank they placed in their graduation class. I suppose those things are important but I’m a bit simpler on that front. In short, I evaluate people on the Asshole Scale. I am proud to say that I raised ZERO assholes. In that light, they accomplished everything I had hoped for them already.

Once it became clear to me that my marriage and family life was a fucked-up mess and not “normal” at all, it occurred to me that the example that I needed to set was to be reactionary to my worst fears as a parent. I feared, correctly, that I would not have the ability to send them to Ivy League schools. I knew that we were setting a terrible example of what a relationship is and should be. I knew that if I didn’t work at it my children would may hit the road at 18 and I would never see them except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. I never cheated, despite how bad and sexless my marriage was, because I wanted to have the respect of my children. The spectre of my ex telling my children that their father was a dishonest man terrified me and she was certainly capable of playing that card.

Well, jumping forward to the present, I couldn’t be more proud of the results. 4 smart, motivated and happy adults who are in monogamous and long-term relationships, solid careers and are just wonderful people all around.

I struggled an awful lot as a parent. My personal demons, lack of maturity at times, financial and marital issues haunted me and I always worried that these would negatively influence my children. Yet I now realize that I have wonderful relationships with them and, while part of me sort of wonders why, I have to just roll with it. Maybe it’s something I did, maybe it isn’t.

But it doesn’t change the outcome, my offspring are great people and I am beaming with pride and purpose because of them.

that look

I was once at a black tie event. As I stood nursing a Scotch a coworker gave me a gentle nudge and she pointed to a man that I did not know.
“See?”, she said. “Look at how he looks at her? It’s like she’s the only one in the room.”
Once she pointed it out it was hard not to notice. In a sea of people, laughing and joking, Tracy’s husband was fixated on her. Every hair toss, every sip of champagne, every polite laugh and smile…he hung on it. Without saying a word, he told the entire room that she was his entire world.

I know the look. As a dedicated and professional people watcher I look for such things. It’s strictly voyeuristic you see. Noone had ever captured my fancy to such a degree. I have always craved someone that would stand out in a crowded room. Not because they are the most interesting and beautiful person in the room, just because they are to me. I never thought that guy would ever be me. Until now.

“I love the way you look at me,” she said. She didn’t elaborate. She didn’t have to, I knew exactly what she meant. I looked at her like she was the best thing to happen to me. I looked at her as if she was the only thing that mattered. I looked at her as if she was the only one in the room when in fact we were in a crowded room. It was strange and wonderfully refreshing to be the one doing it for a change, as I had resigned myself to forever be the one watching another do it. Finally, it was my turn.
I pulled her close, reveling in the surreal moment. Is it luck? Or do I dare say that I deserve her? I don’t know. Just as our relationship lacks labels, it also defies explanation. Just as I can’t explain all of the natural phenomena that go into creating a brilliant sunset on a summer evening, I don’t have to in order to enjoy it.
I can’t explain you. I can’t explain us. I’m just grateful that I have finally experienced looking across a crowded room in pure adulation, wishing I was with you but secure in the knowledge that you will be leaving with me.
They can stare all they want. You’re with me baby.