Sunday, May 06, 2018

Carl

Last week while on vacation, I received a text from my friend Jeffrey letting me know that Carl had died suddenly following a seizure of some kind.

Carl was a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix.  He was rescued by my friends Jeffrey and Michael, who were also the parents of Tucker, whom I also watched for several years when we all lived in DC the same time.  After moving to NYC, and Tucker had passed, a friend reached out to them to tell them about Carl.  At the time, they weren't sure they wanted to adopt another dog.  Tucker had been the love of their lives and the freshness of his passing was still looming large with them.  But the friend was apparently persuasive enough, and sooner than planned they adopted Carl.

Carl had been living on the streets somewhere in the Carolinas, eating pigeons and anything else he could get his paws on.  He was very thin when he moved to NYC, but within a few months of a completely changed lifestyle, he had put on a good bit of weight and much needed fur.  The guys quickly fell in love with Carl, but then so did anyone Carl ever met.

Despite how he had been living, Carl was the gentlest soul I had ever met.  I was fortunate that Jeffrey and Michael would invite me to NYC to watch Carl, just like I had watched Tucker previously.  Kevin joined me the first time we met Carl.  The guys were out and left a key with their doorman.  Kevin and I spent a few minutes fumbling with the keys in the lock, unable to get the door open. We figured the guys must be taking Carl for a walk since we didn't hear any noise from inside the apartment while we played with the lock.  After several minutes, we figured it out and opened the door to find Carl, just laying towards the door, front legs crossed, tail wagging, not making a sound - apparently entertained by our buffoonery.  He slowly stood up and crossed the floor to greet us.  For me, it was love at first sight.

During my first walk with Carl, it didn't take long to realize that he was the unofficial mayor of East Greenwich Village/SoHo.  It didn't take long for Carl to establish himself and make friends in his neighborhood.  He had a walking path that he preferred and you just kind of loose-leashed him and let him lead the way.  He knew where to go, where he would get a treat or a belly rub.  Everyone knew Carl.  I'd walk him down the street and people would ask, "Is that Carl?" and as soon as I said yes, their demeanor changed and they greeted him the way you greet an old friend.  And Carl's tail would just constantly wag.

It was as if Carl realized how good his life was compared to what it had been.  He seemed grateful for the friendships and for the life he had, going from living on the streets to being flown in private jets from one home in LA to another in NYC.  I believe he knew he had it good; he had the best temperament of any dog I've ever met.

Along with Jeffrey and Michael, I imagine the entire neighborhood is feeling Carl's loss these days.  It was as if people were just waiting to see him, or that he had the power to improve their day just by walking by them.  Even here in Chicago, I can sense him gone.

I have to laugh a bit when I think of Carl and Tucker meeting up in wherever dogs' souls go when they die.  If you really believe that all dogs go to heaven, then I am imagining the two of them comparing notes on everyone they mutually knew - which is hilarious in thought because Tucker and Carl couldn't have been more different from each other.  Tucker was as eternal puppy, always a little needy, a bit  mischievous, disobedient, and impatient.  Carl was just the opposite: an easy going old soul, steady and stable, and would stand on a street corner for hours just waiting for you to take the first step.

And so the universe claims yet another kind, tender soul from my life, one that I was lucky the universe brought to me in the first place..  I wish him peace and send my condolences to Jeffrey and Michael, who plucked Carl from an uncertain future and showed him how to love - which he spent the rest of his life giving back to everyone else. 

R.I.P., my sweet friend.


Friday, April 27, 2018

So Now It's ...VERTIGO, Part 2

So after several hours of just sitting and waiting, with the world still spinning around me in all directions, I was finally placed in an ER exam room.  By this time it was 7PM and I had not eaten since noon so I asked the nurse when I could have food and water.  She said I'd be going for a CT scan within the next few minutes so we could address that when I was done.

I had the CT scan which showed nothing:  no stroke, no brain tumor, no brain disease.  Great news!  But the doctors weren't satisfied, so they ordered an MRI.  By this time, it was 8PM on Saturday, April 7th.  They told me it would take a few hours to set up the MRI.

Sound cue: needle scratching across a record

"A few HOURS?  That will put me past midnight!"  So it didn't look like I would be going home that night.  They didn't admit me, so I guess I was just being "kept?

I phoned Kevin and told him not to expect me and not to come visit me.  The orders were that I couldn't eat or drink before the MRI and I was already in a bad mood from being dizzy and nauseous so I told him to stay home and I'd call him when I was done.

And then I waited.

As anyone who has been admitted or, in my case kept, at a hospital, you know you don't get any rest.  Between alarms going off, patients screaming, and the nursing staff congregating at the nursing station like its the student center at a college, the noises alone prevent you from getting any kind of rest.  Add to that the very physical fact that the room is spinning, my eyes are flitting back and forth, my head feels like a giant hand is trying to push me into the ground.  Mix in the fact that my mouth was arid and my stomach was grumbling and I may have been the least pleasant person to be around in Chicago that night.

Because at 12:00 midnight, I still had not gone for the MRI, I still hadn't eaten or had anything to drink, I still had no idea how long I would be there, I had no clue what was wrong with me, and it was now Sunday, April 8th - my birthday.  On my 52nd birthday, I was almost exactly where I was 52 years before:  in a hospital, barely clothed, wrapped in hospital wear, unable to walk and see straight, and with an empty stomach.

But this time - I was not one bit happy about it.

By 4AM, I had HAD it.  I called the nurse and told her to take out my IV, I was going home.  I told them I would schedule my own MRI someplace and send them the results, but that waiting 13 hours for a test was ridiculous.  She said she needed to get the doctor.  Fine, I say.  A few minutes later, the doctor came in and wanted the details, which I methodically laid out for her.  She agreed that the CT scan was clear but that the MRI would tell them more.  She believed I would have mine around 8AM.  Nope, I said.  I'm outta here.  But she played her little ER mind games on me.  And when she offered to go to Subway and get me something to eat, I caved completely.  She came back 15 minutes later with a sub, chips, and a birthday cupcake.  I ate it all and by 4:30AM, I passed out.

At 6:30AM, they took me for the MRI.  I completely passed out during the procedure.  It was the easiest test I had taken so far.  The problem now was that I needed to wait for a doctor to read the results which, they estimated, would be around noon.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record.

Apparently, it takes 6 hours or so for someone to read the results and disseminate the information to the patient.  So now, just more waiting.  I ate breakfast and just as I finished, Kevin walked into the room -- a true sight for sore eyes.  He wished me a happy birthday and suggested we delay celebrating it for a few weeks, to which I agreed.  I updated him on the situation.

A few hours later, the nursing staff came into my room with lunch.  They sang "Happy Birthday" to me and sympathized with my being stuck in the hospital on my birthday.  I even got a piece of apple pie with a little decoration on top.  I mean, they tried.  And it did make me feel a little better.

Around noon, the doctor finally came in to let me know that they had ruled out a stroke, ruled out a brain tumor, but noticed some severe blockage in my left sinuses.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record.

Left sinuses?  The sinuses on which I had three surgeries, the last one being almost exactly one year ago? Those sinuses?  YAAASSSS Queen, THOSE sinuses.  So they suggested I make an appointment with an otoneurologist soon and see my ENT about the sinus infection.  So here we go again.

I was discharged soon after and Kevin took me home.  The rest of my birthday was quiet, just him and me watching TV in the living room.  Perhaps we will celebrate it sometime later, but frankly turning 52 doesn't really mean anything to me.  But he has a big birthday coming up next month, so more to follow on that.

And this story continues as well... 

Sound cue:  sad trombone.

Monday, April 23, 2018

So Now It's . . . VERTIGO

On the morning of Wednesday, April 4th, I was sitting in a conference room at work attending a weekly leadership meeting.  At one point in the middle of the meeting, I turned my head to the right to look out the window and the room began to spin.  It was quite a sudden and jarring action.  When I turned my head back to face the room, the spinning continued.

I shook my head quickly and hard-blinked several times in a futile attempt to realign whatever had been messed up.  But that only served to make the room spin even more.  I'm not diabetic, but I wondered if my glucose levels were off and my sugar was dropping.  So I stood from my chair in an attempt to walk to the corner of the conference room where we always have a ridiculous arrangement of treats and candy, and I immediately thought I was going to fall over.  I grabbed a few pieces of chocolates and woofed them down but nothing seemed to change.  Whether, I sat, stood, or walked, I felt like I was on a shaky merry-go-round, like I was being pushed back and forth and side to side at the same time.

I walked past the candy and excused myself from the room to go to the men's room, which happens to be, of course, down the other end of the hall.  I looked like a pinball bouncing off both walls as I stumbled down.  I looked in the mirror and from what I could tell I looked completely normal.  I could speak, I had used of my appendages, I was cognitive so I figured I wasn't having a stroke.  But no matter what I did, my world seemed to be spinning and shaking uncontrollably.

I managed to walk back to my office and sit down, and as word spread that I was walking like I was still celebrating St. Patrick's Day, my co-workers quickly deduced that I had been stricken with vertigo - something I have never before experienced in my life.  I sat paralyzed, unable to function in any capacity.  My boss, who actually suffers from occasional vertigo, walked me to the local CVS Minute Clinic for diagnosis and treatment.  The diagnosis:  vertigo.  The treatment: meclizine.


Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record

Turns out I can't take meclizine because it negatively interacts with a drug I already take.  Alternative treatment?  A rub on the shoulder and the advice to see my regular doctor, who squeezed me into his schedule the following day.  I've been with my doctor for 13 years now, ever since moving to Chicago in 2005.  He was recommended by a friend and it was the best advice I've ever taken.  He put me on an antibiotic, a steroid, and told me to visit my ENT - the good one who successfully fixed my sinuses last year, not the bad one who said all my problems were dental.  Ugh, don't get me started.

So I made an appointment with my ENT for the following week.  But by Saturday afternoon (two days of being on the antibiotic), I was feeling worse, not better.  I couldn't raise my head to look up because it made me nauseous.  I had to hold on to every surface in order to move anywhere.  I had to lean against walls to walk.  I felt best when I was laying flat on the bed, just still.  But even with my eyes closed, if I moved my head even ever-so-slightly I could still feel the world spinning.  So on Saturday I posted on Facebook that I wasn't feeling any better and my doctor (who is Friends with me) ordered me to the ER for imaging.

So I had Kevin drop me off at the ER.  I knew I would probably be awhile and didn't want him just sitting and looking at me, so I sent him home and told him I'd call him later with an update.  I was put through triage pretty quickly and then I sat in a wheelchair while I waited for an exam room to open.  I sat in the wheelchair for 4 hours.

Sound cue:  needle scratching across a record

That's right, 4 hours of just sitting and waiting to be put someplace.  No tests were done, no blood was drawn, no one offered me water or anything.  I just sat in a waiting room alone.  Occasionally someone would pop her head in to apologize and tell me it would just be a little bit longer, but that was all the "care" I got for that amount of time.  I played 86 games of solitaire on my phone.

So like my heart surgery and my sinus surgery, I will be writing about my vertigo in installments.  Perhaps I should rename this blog, "View from my Hospital Bed".

Next up:  A CT scan and an MRI for my birthday

Monday, April 02, 2018

My Month Away From Facebook

On February 25th, I logged on to Facebook and posted the following:
Dear Friends - I just can't take it anymore. I'm staying off of Facebook for the entire month of March. It's doing nothing but infuriating me on a daily basis and causing me to rethink connections with some friends and certain family members. 
Facebook has become too polarizing for me and I don't like how i feel when I am on it. You can still reach me through Messenger (sending a message to me through Facebook), but I won't be posting or reading your posts for a while.

I actually started my month hiatus early.  The posting on the 25th of February was the last time I logged in to Facebook (except for a hot second on March 16th to promote a blog I had written for work) until Sunday, April 1st, when I posted the following:  

I'm ba-aack, but not for long. This is the first time in 5 weeks I have logged in to Facebook and I can tell you I haven't missed it one bit. I actually feel less stress. Over the course of the next week or so, I will be whittling my Friends List down to about 50 people. Those not on the list will still be able to send me messages through the Messenger App, email or of course by text. 
So for most of you, this is the last you'll be seeing of me on FB. Out of sight will not mean out of mind, quite the opposite. Now that I won't be seeing where you're going, what you're doing or even what you are about to eat, I hope it will spur me to reach out and actually speak to you. And vice versa. 
I am now reminded of a song about friendship: 
I guess this is good-bye old pal, you've been a perfect friend,
Don't want to see us part old pal, someday I'll buy you back
I'll see you soon again
I hope that when I do.
It won't be on a plate.

That last part is from the Stephen Sondheim musical, "Into The Woods".  It's sung by Jack, from the beanstalk fame.  He's singing it to his best friend whom he just sold for some magic beans.  The best friend was a cow.

To say that 34 days off of Facebook allowed me to be more productive would be a half-truth.  I am certain there is truth in that statement, but I have nothing to measure it against.  I was able to get a lot done both at home and at work, but I didn't have anything to compare it to.  So even through I say I was MORE productive, I have no proof of that.


I also can't say that I felt less stress in that month because both work and home life had their fair share of stressful situations.  Between being still new in my job and Kevin and I selling our old loft condo, not to mention the normal day-to-day demands on our time and energy, I have not necessarily felt less stressed out.  However I can say that I have felt less stress when it comes to our president and the current state of our Union - mostly because I am ignorant to what is going on in the world beyond my front door.  

In past days, I would wonder why someone would choose to be ignorant and irresponsible by not knowing what was going on in the world.  But today, I completely understand the NEED or DESIRE to be less in-the-know.

That all said, I still find Facebook a valuable way for me to stay in touch with a few close friends and my immediate family.  So while I have not missed spending hours on the site, I have missed being updated on what they are doing, as well as being unable to be contacted by them. So I will remain on Facebook, for now, but with a much-limited list of friends or contacts.  It will be less about who I like most, and more about who I share memories and pictures with most often.  THOSE folks will be the ones who remain.

And fortunately because I am staying on Facebook, even in a limited capacity, I am still accessible through Facebook Messenger (through the site directly and the app), so everyone else can still reach me that way too.  Again - nothing personal folks.  My decision will be based on who I share with regularly.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Backpacks On Public Transit

So I'm taking public transportation to work again.  And I'm sorry to report that not much has changed: people still crowd near the doors, young people still don't give up their seats for their elders, and the person on crutches is still not seen by people sitting in the seats marked for the mobility-challenged because they are too busy looking down at their phones.  And my biggest pet peeve has remained in full bloom: people are still NOT removing their backpacks or large purses and holding them at their sides.

It's mind-numbing that this still happens in 2018.

This morning, while sitting on my ride to work, I got smacked in the face by a backpack that easily doubled the girth of the young man wearing it.  Making us better friends was the fact that he didn't bother to apologize.  And our love was sealed when he didn't respond to my asking him to remove the backpack and hold it at his side.  He looked at me, then back down at his phone.  Nothing.  Yeah - we're best buds now.

People, apparently, are not born with an innate sense of spacial awareness.  This special ability is mostly attuned by people with larger builds who've either been made to feel self-conscious or try to shrink as much as possible in crowded situations.  Likewise, people who use wheelchairs have to immediately assess where they can fit or at least hope people move so that they can access the specifically designated areas for them.  Otherwise, the rest of the world is unaware that they may be encroaching on someone else's personal space.

All too soon, Chicagoans will put away their North Face winter coats and whipped out their North Face jackets and spring fleeces which will thankfully diminish everyone's girth, even if ever so slightly.  But the backpacks and large purses will still be worn by the clueless.  I guess I'll just have to get used to getting hit in the head with said backpacks and shoulder bags because this is apparently how it goes; it's what we do in Chicago.  Like going to the lake, and not putting ketchup on hot dogs. and "dibs". In the 23 years I've been riding subways and buses, it's never changed.

And really, why should I have expected that?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Bad Neighbors

The sidewalk in front of West House
on our block.  Ugh.
If there is any semblance of justice in the afterlife, Hell is 10 degrees hotter for those people who simply refuse to shovel the snow from the sidewalk in front of their residence(s). Because the only 2 reasons for neither doing it nor having it done are 1) laziness and/or 2) a complete lack of respect for your neighbors.

On either side of our adorable and well-maintained house are neighbors who live in variant degrees of negligence when it comes to the upkeep of their premises.  Neither neighbor lives on their actual property:  The house to the east (heretofore "East House") is a rental property with two units.  It was renovated all last summer and tenants moved into it in September.  The house to the west (heretofore "West House") is in transition from being single family to being two rental units, just like East House.  Sadly, West House is about 90% completed with its renovation, and that's where it's been since we moved in three years ago.  Since March 2015, the same bottle of Windex has sat in a window in West House without moving.  No work has been done in or on the house since we moved in next door.

While admittedly it was somewhat nice NOT having neighbors, the City of Chicago is still very clear when it comes to maintaining your property, specifically mowing the lawns in the summer and removing the snow in the winter. 

For grass that need mowing:  Any person who owns or controls property within the city must cut or otherwise control all weeds on such property so that the average height of such weeds does not exceed ten inches. Any person who violates this subsection shall be subject to a fine of not less than $600 nor more than $1,200. Each day that such violation continues shall be considered a separate offense to which a separate fine shall apply.  

And for sidewalks that need shoveling, a City of Chicagordinance makes it crystal clear that property owners are required by law to remove snow seven days a week: For daytime snowfall, sidewalks must be cleared by 10 p.m., and for nighttime snowfall, it must be removed by 10 a.m. at the latest.  Violations during both summer and winter are to be reported to your Ward Alderman.

The owner of East House has been very responsive to my requests to maintain his property once I presented my concerns.  While that house sat empty for the first two years of our living here, I mowed the grass on the parkway and kept the snow shoveled on the public sidewalk - mostly because we didn't know who actually owned the building.  The owner rents the house to tenants and now employs a service to maintain the sidewalks and lawn for the house.  But still, now and then, I need to call him because the service doesn't show up according the to regulations listed above.  But it's mostly taken care of within hours.

The neighbor for West House is a different story.  And I could easily write an entire blog about my interactions with him, and will probably do so.  We've been in a few verbal altercations.  It's a hoot.  But I digress...

Lovely, isn't it?  I am going to covertly throw
down wildflower seeds in the spring.
He's completely unresponsive when I call him to complain, so then I call the Alderman's office who then, in turn, fines him and gives him a deadline to bring his property up to snuff.  Within hours of receiving the fines and notices, he shows up.  But instead of mowing the grass in the summer, for example, he pulls it all up by the roots so that the entire yard is nothing but a giant dirt pile (see picture to the left).  In the last three winters, he's never showed up to shovel the public sidewalk or the sidewalk and stairs that lead into his house.  Looking at the property, it's glaringly obvious that no one lives there and looks, for all intents and purposes, to be abandoned.  Which it is, for the most part.

So for the 4th or 5th time this winter, it has snowed here in Chicago.  Which mean I've had to call the Alderman as many times to complain about my neighbor not doing his civic duty.  I don't know if he pays the actual fines, but according to Chester, our self-described "octogenarian pre-Stonewall 'mo" who lives on the OTHER side of West House, the neighbor is a piece of bad news who owes back taxes on more than one property in Chicago.  (Chester has lived in this neighborhood since the '60s and once operated a bookstore in the building in which he currently lives.  Chester knows.) 

The saga continues...


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: The Worst Year Of My Life

It is generally this time of year when people look back across the past 12 months to take inventory of either how good or how bad the year was in retrospect.  And I can honestly say that 2017 will go down in the books as one of the worst years - if not THE worst year - of my life.

The bad news hit me on all levels - personal, professional, emotional.  It affected my family, Kevin's family, my self-esteem and self-worth, and my future as well as the future of everyone in our country.  I guess if the setbacks have to come, they should all come at once.  2017 did not disappoint.

On a personal level, I experienced a great loss:  my father passed away in July, finally yet quickly succumbing to his 7+ year battle with Alzheimer's.  His death has left a noticeable hole in our lives that we all still struggle to fill.  And while his absence at family gatherings was something we had grown used to while he lived in the nursing home, it's all the more obvious now.  And while I rarely called home just to talk to Dad, I at least always knew he was there if I wanted to do so.  Dad was not a "phone talker".  He would answer the phone and then put Mom on, yet sat down next to her to listen to the conversation and interject his opinions.  And the more time passes, the more I realize that I very much have my Dad's personality:  overtly gregarious and onerous when we were younger but becoming taciturn introverts as we aged.  I will continue to miss him for the rest of my life.

Also in July, my best friend since the early 90's died suddenly of a heart attack after suffering from an undiagnosed illness.  Jeff was 55.  We met in a bar the summer of 1989 and I decided that night that he was going to be my new best friend.  And he was for the next 20+ years.  We drifted apart over the last few years but the memories I shared with him are countless and still fill me with laughter.

Back in February, Mom's older sister, Mary Lou, passed away.  The following month, Kevin's cousin Riley died after a courageous battle with cancer.  And earlier this month, I lost my last grandparent:  my mother-in-law's mother, Grandma Davis.  She died about a week or so after suffering a heart attack at the age of 95.  All my biological grandparents were dead by 1987, when I was 21 years old.  And I thought my days of having a grandparent were over at that point.  But then Kevin came along and brought all 4 of his grandparents with him to the relationship.  Grandpa Byrne passed away before I got the chance to meet him, but I did meet Grandad Davis a few months before he died.  I remember Harry was impressed with my size, comparing me to the Olympic weightlifters that were on TV that summer of 2008.  Grandma Byrne had come to Chicago to visit us and labeled herself "Grandma of the Future" when she created her own Facebook account.  She was accepting and loving and deeply committed to her faith, as you expect any Irish Catholic grandmother to be.  But Grandma Davis and I spent the most amount of time together.  And she made no bones about the fact that she loved me and accepted me as her grandchild.  The collective absence of these 4 people, which was completely unexpected at this point in my life, fills me with a warmth that can only come from having grandparents.  And looking back, how lucky was I to have so many of them throughout my lifetime.

At some point earlier in the year, I made a comment to Kevin that I wanted to start attending more funerals.  That statement became a bit of a punchline, but my reason for saying it was that I more often would just send a card or flowers when I heard of someone's passing, but the more meaningful thing to do was show up and offer support and a hug to the person(s) who suffered the loss.  It's the more mature, meaningful thing to do.  I certainly didn't say it because I like attending funerals, but for all the ones I ended up attending this year (several friends lost parents as well this year) it made me feel like a better person for doing so.

Add on to this the political climate we are all experiencing.  We can all see how our government is corrupt and how our country is being led by a childish, Barnumesque demagogue who proudly boasts of sexually molesting women and preys on the concerns and feeds the fears of under-educated, myopic rural Americans.  He has given permission for people to overtly express their hatred for one another while sullying the most esteemed and powerful position in the world.  His actions and inactions will ripple through the American tapestry for years to come.  And I expect the worst is still yet to come.  He will continue to amass his own wealth while somehow convincing a portion of the population that he cares about them and is doing everything for them.  This is all going to end very badly.

And while all this was going on, I suffered through two traumatic medical situations.  In April, I had my third sinus surgery to correct the mistakes made by the physician who conducted my first two surgeries in 2016.  The final outcome was great, but for the first 4 months of 2017, my health suffered.  Also during this time, I underwent extensive dental work, hoping to fix some of the sinus issue.  It was an extremely emotional time for me.  I was quite shocked at the level and amount of emotion I connected with my teeth.  Both of these processes are well-documented on my blog, but suffice is to say that they contributed in a large part to my emotional unrest at the beginning of the year.

The only saving grace through all of this, the only reason I remained as strong as I did over the last 12 months, is that my best friend was by my side through all of it.  He made all of it bearable.  How lucky that he married me 3 years ago?

But for as bad as all these events were, there was still some light this year.  Our family grew with the addition of two great-nephews, one being born just a few days ago.  We traveled with family and got to spend more time with them.  I experienced Disney with children.  I stood inside the Coliseum.  I walked Roman cobblestone streets in Pompeii.  I climbed stairs in the Sagrada Familia.  I journeyed into a cave in Slovenia.  I walked through the gate of Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg.  I ate pizza in Zagreb and goulash in  Budapest.  I drank a a few pints and snorted mentholated tobacco at Oktoberfest.  I stood in the parking lot where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.  I visited Gays, IL.

I've always been a person who relies on his calendar.  I've kept personal calendars every year for the past 35 years.  I know everyone's birthday off the top of my head.  I've consulted my calendar for start dates to projects, jobs, and diets.  I can look back at any point in the past 3+ decades and know where I was and what I was doing on any given day.  So this upcoming transition from 2017 to 2018 will be a very big deal for me.  I am looking forward to ending this horrible year and remaining open to the possibility that 2018 will bring more happiness and personal fulfillment.  Very recent events in my life are already pointing to such.

So a happy farewell to 2017, the likes of which I hope never to see again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

My Literal Sh*t Storm

It's been a while since I have posted anything here.  That is perhaps both a good thing and a bad thing.  Good, because it means that my life is uneventful and that nothing special is happening except the normal stuff.  And bad, I guess, for exactly the same reasons.  We did recently take a two-week trip to Europe, but (amazing as it was) that trip was well-documented on Facebook so I didn't see the need to rehash it on here.  And our Hallowe'en was pretty spectacular.  Between Kevin's house-decorating getting national exposure and our costumes basically killing it once again, it was another successful holiday in the books.  See for yourself:



Heat Miser and Snow Miser from "The Year Without A Santa Claus"

So life has been usual and normal.  Until last week.

It was Thursday morning.  I was taking the morning to go to the gym, come home clean the house,  and do some laundry and shopping in preparation of family visiting the following day through the weekend.  But before starting all these endeavors, I needed to take the morning "pit stop".  So I put some laundry in the washing machine and started it up, and then for some undetermined reason, I chose to use the bathroom on our main floor rather than our renovated master bathroom on the ground floor.

So I am sitting there, playing the daily game of solitaire on my phone when I heard a loud, ominous,  gurgling noise in the pipes.  I looked around quizzically. wondering what I had just heard.  And then I heard the noise again, louder this time.  A felt a wave of heat rush up my neck and into my head.  Suddenly, I felt a spray of water from underneath me while, at the same time, I'll-call-it "stuff" started flying out of the bathtub drain in the shower.  I was so overcome with shock I didn't know what to do next.  The gurgle started again so I jumped up and closed the toilet lid, only to witness another round of stuff volcanically spewing out of the tub drain. 

It was like a scene from a horror movie.

Note: I'm calling it "stuff", but I mean water and excrement.  That's right - poop was flying out of my tub.  Actual poop.  Not just dirty water, my friends.  It was like someone hooked up a hose to a Port-O-Potty and let 'er rip up through the bathtub drain.  It spasmed out of the tub drain and flew up the shower walls, some even hitting the ceiling.  And because the shower curtain was pulled open to let light in through the glass brick window, the "stuff" flew all over the bathroom - on the walls, up the window, and on the tile floor getting down into the grout.

I quickly cleaned myself up and rain downstairs to turn off the water main (which had nothing to do with anything, but I didn't know what else to do) and shut off the washing machine.  I cautiously looked in the master bathroom and was somewhat placated to find that it looked completely normal; nothing had happened there.  However, some pipes were leaking on the floor so I started pulling up carpet tiles in order to stop the leak(s) from spreading.  Shutting down the washer seemed to fix this problem.

I immediately texted our plumber, Matt, with whom we developed a friendly relationship last summer during our main bathroom renovation.  Within 1 minute, Matt called me on the phone to tell me he'd be right over. 

To speed up the story, I'll jump to the several hours later after Matt had deduced what had happened:

A blockage had formed someplace in the sewer outside of our house.  Because we had installed a pump system under the master bathroom due to its being below grade, the pump kept the master bathroom dry.  The pump collects all waste water used in the house.  Once the water reached a certain level, the system pumps the water up through the pipes and out to the sewer line with one huge gush.  On this occasion, the pump was filling quickly due to my doing laundry, so the pump kept pumping the water up and out.  But since there was a blockage, the only place for the waste water to go, then, was out of the pipes in the other bathroom - the one I was using.

Matt The Plumber ended up pulling up the toilet in the bathroom and snaking a pump down the drain to blow out the blockage, which he assured me was not caused by us.  Our pipes, according to him, were clean.  So I was at least appeased to learn that this was not our fault.  So about 4 hours after arriving, Matt left and I began the worst task I've ever had to take on:  cleaning it all up.

Here, I will admit that I lost count of the number of times I dry-heaved and/or gagged through the next few hours of my day.  Because it had been several hours between when this occurred and when I could clean it up, most of it had dried.  So when I re-hydrated it by cleaning it up, the smell seemed to intensify.  I was literally wiping shit off the walls, ceiling, window, soap, shampoo bottles, and floor.  I had to scrub the tile and the grout with a toothbrush.  I took down the shower curtains and washed them with the towels and rugs.  And even after scrubbing the bathroom, the smell still lingered - perhaps trapped inside my nose for the unforseeable future.  Later I bought a few bouquets of flowers and baked cookies in my attempt to rid the house of the smell.  Kevin said he could still smell it "a little" when he came home from work that evening.  But fortunately, the odor had dissipated before the visiting family arrived the next day.

I'm already squeamish when it comes to excrement and bathroom functions.  I am an admitted prude in that I can't even fart in front of another person.  Without doing a deep-dive into my psychoses, let's just say that, for me, bathroom stuff is very private, always has been.  So the fact that I had to spend so much time cleaning up what might not have even been my own excrement on my bathroom walls and floor . . . well it was a lot for me to handle.  And while I was cleaning, I couldn't help but consider all the "what if's":

What if I had simply turned on the washer and then left the house for the gym, which was my original plan before needing the "pit stop"?

What if I had chosen to use the other bathroom instead and left the house out the backdoor instead of coming up to the main level?  Then what if I had come back home, entered the back door, put in more laundry and jumped in the shower before ever going up to the main floor?

What if I had not been home all day and the mess would have grown, spread and possibly flooded our main floor? 

What if we didn't have such a great relationship with a plumber and I couldn't get anyone here to fix the problem for a day or more?

I've accepted that if this situation HAD to occur, it occurred at the right time and that I was in the right place despite how uncomfortable it all was.  I literally lived through one of my nightmares.  If rats had come up through the drain as well, all of my fears would have been faced at the same time.

I guess I should be thankful.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

And There He'll Wait

I think of him about the same as I did before - no more, no less.  I guess I expected that I would think of him a lot more.  But it seems to be about the same amount.  Now and then, just like before, he will pop into my head.  And now and then, unlike before, I have to stop and remind myself that he is no longer here.  But that doesn't cause me to think about him more.

It does, however, cause me to feel his absence, which I find interesting since I have been living apart from him for the past 22 years, seeing him for 3 and 4 days at a time, a few times a year.  It's not like I was used to being around him all the time or that I saw him once a week or even once a month.  But now, somehow, I definitely feel his absence from my life.  Perhaps it's the realized finality of knowing I won't see him - his physical self - again every time I go home.  He'll still be a priority, but the sense of urgency to see him is gone.  Now, he patiently waits for me to show up.  It's unfortunate that a human life that you know and love eventually becomes just a name on a piece of granite in a field surrounded by other names on other pieces of granite.  But here he will wait quietly and patiently, forever.  And eventually, so will she.  Just waiting for me every time I go home.

As for being home, I was there recently.  I made a solo trip to the cemetery and was not prepared for my reaction.  It was my first visit since the funeral back in July.  It was early in the morning; there was still some fog in the air.  The cemetery is a peaceful place on top of a hill in a town on top of a mountain.  I parked the car and walked to his plot.  And the closer I got the more overwhelmed I became.

Back in July, we had placed a decorative marker on his plot while we waited for the tombstone to be put in place.  Had we not done this, he would literally be laying in an unmarked grave.  And perhaps it was the site of this marker that got to me.  The plot next to him displays a rather large tombstone, there beside his little marker.  I knew his tombstone would come in time, but for a second - a very quick second - he seemed insignificant.  And that killed me inside because he is anything but.

Since then, his tombstone has been set in place.  Seeing it, even in a photo, makes it all too real; makes it official, I guess.  This will be my life from now on.  I used to visit him in his home, then in a nursing home, and from now on it will be here:



Friday, August 25, 2017

The Troutman Family Bible

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 26th, will mark my parents' 56th wedding anniversary.  They were just about one month shy of actually making it to this date together. Tomorrow, Mom will experience this day without Dad for the first time.  When I wrote THIS blog post last year, little did I know it would be the last one they would celebrate together.  It could be a tough day for Mom - the first celebratory event without him around.  All too soon, Thanksgiving will be here, then Christmas - two days I'm sure she is not looking forward to getting through.  But get through it, she will.  As have all of her sisters before her.  But the first event, especially a wedding anniversary, is a tough blow.

Unless it was a very private thing between them, I don't recall my parents making too much of a big deal about their anniversary.  Perhaps you don't when you have so many of them, one following another year after year.  That's not really who my parents are.  They didn't fuss over themselves, opting instead to fuss over others.  That fact didn't stop me from being the dutiful son, however.  I still sent cards and well wishes, even gift cards to restaurants so they actually would go out to dinner and celebrate.

August 6, 1981
20th Anniversary
I remember the first real gift we gave Mom and Dad for their anniversary.  It was in 1981, their 20th.  My sister, Kim, and I pulled and saved our money to buy them a family bible that we had seen in Matthew's Hallmark in LaVale Plaza shopping center (Kim was 18; I was 15).  I don't know if our parents wanted a family bible or if they had ever considered owning one before.  But for some reason, Kim and I had it in our heads that a bible would be the absolute best gift.  We could choose between a white leather or black leather cover.  We chose black, and had "The Troutman Family" engraved in gold on the front cover.  It was, quite literally, the best gift anyone could have ever given their parents.  Ever.

Since then, the bible has set in Mom's living room (my parents had separate living rooms, but that's another story). She's kept it updated over the years; inside are places to write family historical information.  So on Saturday, the Troutman Family Bible will be 36 years old.

I suppose, being the eldest Troutman son, that someday the bible will come to me, after which I will pass it down to the next Troutman generation and so on.  At least, that was the original idea 36 years ago.  Mom might "Prince Charles" me and pass me over, giving it to one of her grandsons instead.  And that's her prerogative. I had a hand in starting the tradition so, in fact, I've already taken my turn with it.

So, then, tomorrow.  I guess I can no longer wish them a "happy" anniversary, because from here on out the day probably won't be.  But I'll call Mom on that day and we'll talk.  We might not even mention that it's their anniversary.  Or that might be all we talk about.  Either way, she'll know why I'm calling.

The important thing is to talk to both of them on that day - as I always have done and will continue to do.  It's just that from now on, they will be separate conversations.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Laughter Through Tears

Dad's temporary grave marker
Frostburg Memorial Cemetery
Perhaps it's the self-preservation part of the grieving process that allows you to focus on the funny stuff when someone dies.

Despite how inappropriate it feels to laugh during a funeral, amusing things do happen during the course of one's illness and suffering  - and these are the things you (read: I) think about and recall, usually at inopportune moments, that help sustain your sanity and give credence to the expression "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013, after a series of peculiar incidents and odd behaviors.  Occasionally, Dad would say something that didn't seem to make complete sense, or he'd forget something he was supposed to do.  It all seemed to be part of the natural aging process.  Dad was just over 70 and it seemed normal for him to have bouts of forgetfulness.  I mean, I can't remember what I had for dinner last night.

Thankfully, Dad maintained a great sense of humor especially through the early days of his illness.  Many times he and Mom would share a laugh about something he said or did.  For example:
One morning, Dad came downstairs from getting dressed wearing three shirts, a pair of shorts, and ALL of his belts.  He announced to Mom that he could never find his belts so he was just going to start wearing ALL of them every day.
Another time, Mom told him to put on deodorant and shave before they left the house. She caught Dad rubbing deodorant all over his face, clearly mixing his signals. When she drew attention to what he was doing, they both laughed.

And there was the time Mom could hear Dad rifling through her jewelry box.  She yelled to him to get out of it, and he responded that he wasn't doing anything.  She asked, "Are you in my jewelry box?".  He yelled back, "No!".  And then with perfect comedic precision, all of Mom's pearls from her mother's pearl necklace came bouncing down the wooden staircase that leads to their bedroom.  At first, it was just a peck or two, and then it was as if someone simply dumped them down the stairs.  Admittedly - horrifying to Mom at the time (and probably still to this day), but I have to hand it to Dad on his timing. 
For several months, Dad went through a phase of tidying up or, perhaps in his mind, helping out.  He would constantly wipe the kitchen counters off and place items in cabinets or storage.  And he'd place them in locations one would never think to look for them.  Mom lost track of all kinds of things.  And most of the time, Mom was actually still using the items.  I was witness to one episode where both of them were in the kitchen and Mom was trying to bake something.  She'd pull pans and supplies out of the cabinets and place them on the counter, only for Dad to come behind her, notice the item(s) and put them away again.  Then Mom would reach for what she had taken out, only to wonder where it went, look for it, and eventually think she was losing her own mind.  I remember quietly saying to myself, "Just enjoy this!" because it was like having Lucy and Ethel in my parents' kitchen.

Midway through Dad's illness, Mom needed to dress him while he was still living at home.  He'd sit in a chair while she knelt down to put on his shoes.  And while she was attempting to do this, Dad would reach out and pat and rub her head.  With bad knees herself, Mom struggled to stay on balance while trying to tie Dad's shoes and there he would be, just sitting in his chair, not helping in any way, messing her hair and sometimes knocking her glasses off.  It would infuriate her.  And he'd just giggle at her. Okay - perhaps this is one of those "you had to be there" moments, but the visual of this, and the memory it invokes, still makes me chuckle to this day.
It's these memories, and I know my Mom and siblings have many more, that have helped me look back and smile a little during a period where there was little to smile about.  In her exasperation, at times, Mom would yell at Dad - a fact she regretted early on and stopped herself from doing.  But Dad's response to her anger and frustration was to simply look at her and laugh, which caused her to laugh.... sometimes.  Because you have to.  You have to laugh.

Otherwise, all you'd do is cry.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Farewell, Dad

Probably the one thing most of us think about, more than anything else - whether we realize it or not - is the impending death of our parents. It's the one topic that we probably put the most amount of thought into, and it's certainly the thought we think about for the longest period of time.  When we are children, our first question about death is the one that can never really be answered: What.  What is death?  What does it mean?  And then once we grasp that our parents' death is imminent and guaranteed, we follow up What? with Why?, then How?, and then finally the one constant thought we will ponder perhaps more than any other thing in our lifetimes: When will my parents die?

The one thing about the "when" question is that there is no good answer to it.   We certainly don't want to lose our parents when we are children.  And the older we grow, the thought of losing our parents, even when we are in our 40s, 50s and older, is still terrifying. And the odd and funny and sad truth about asking When? is that despite it being the question we will ask perhaps more than any other question - despite the amount of time we think about this question and the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves for the answer - we are never truly ready When? it happens.

Dad was diagnosed with dementia in May 2013.  Last Saturday morning, July 22nd, Dad passed away after a 5+-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.  He had turned 78 last month.

His and Mom's fight with this gut-wrenching disease has been well-documented in this blog.  I call it THEIR struggle because despite Dad being the one with the disease, Mom was with him every step of the way - from the undated beginnings of Dad asking strange questions and making odd statements, to his forgetting simple tasks and getting confused as to where he was, to his becoming incontinent and unable to dress himself, to finally being admitted to the nursing home in September 2014 where he remained until last weekend.  Eventually he became mostly non-communicative, couldn't eat solid food, and became bed-ridden, weighing less than 120 pounds.  Alzheimer's ravaged Dad; it simply didn't care.

Through it all, though, Dad remained sweet, loving, and cooperative.  There were times in the beginning when he would argue with Mom because he was confused and forgetful.  But he came to completely depend on her for his care - to bathe him, feed him, change him, and to be his advocate and fight for him when she felt he wasn't getting the care he deserved, or at least the care that she wanted him to have.  My Mom visited my Dad in the nursing home every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p, feeding him lunch and dinner every day.  And when I say "every day", it is not hyperbole.  For just shy of 3 years, she essentially gave up everything in order to sit with him and just be with him.  It was impressive to us, but normal for her.  She wanted no praise for doing what she wanted to do - spend time with her husband regardless.

Last week while dressing him for the day, the nurses saw a Kennedy Tumor Ulcer on Dad, which signified his body was beginning to shut down.  There would be no feeding tube and no rehabilitation.  The amazing nursing staff at Frostburg Village would work to keep him as comfortable as possible as his organs began to fail and his breathing would become labored.

Last Friday night, Mom called me and told me I should come home.  She explained Dad's situation and told me not to rush because the final moments could actually last weeks.  I hung up the phone and packed just about everything I own into 2 suitcases, a backpack, a suit bag, and a canvas bag - preparing for any eventuality for an unknown amount of time.  And despite it being past 9:00p in Chicago, I loaded up the car with Kevin's help and started driving the usually 9.5-hour trip to my parents' house.  I felt that I just had to leave right then and not wait to start in the morning.  About 4 hours later, just as I had crossed the Indiana/Ohio border on the turnpike, my phone rang at 1:00a - and I knew.  I pulled over and Mom gave me the news.  We hung up and I sat for a few minutes, stuck someplace between sorrow and relief.  It had been a difficult place to live for 3 years: outwardly wishing for life, but silently praying for death.  On more than one occasion, I pleaded with the universe to simply take him.  And now it had happened.  And despite knowing this day would come, and feeling I was prepared for it, I simply wasn't.  The When? happens when it happens.

My father did not deserve the death he had, but through it all he handled himself with humor, grace, and kindness.  And up until his last breath, he expressed love for us as best he could.  Everyone was in to see him in those last few hours.  But he waited until everyone had gone home, a little past midnight, to leave this world.  It was as if he wanted to spare us all the pain of watching him go.

My last interaction with Dad was back in June during my final visit with him.  As I stood to leave, I leaned over to give him several kisses on his forehead and I always had done.  This time, though, Dad grabbed my forearm.  When our eyes met, I saw an intensity in him that I had not experienced before.  I smiled and asked him what's up?  He moved his mouth as if he wanted to tell me something, but no sound and certainly no words came forth.  His stare was intense and it was obvious he was trying to get a message to me.  At the time, I simply smiled back at him and patted his hand and kissed the top of his head a few more times, telling him to behave himself and that I would see him again in a few weeks.  But I now know that Dad was telling me goodbye, that he somehow knew that this was the last time we would see each other.  I know he knew.  I know it.

It's been difficult to mourn him because to do so, quite simply, seems selfish.  I cannot feel sorry for him because he is now no longer in any pain, and his new world is once again clear, pleasant, and relaxing.  I cannot feel sorry for myself because this is not the life I wanted for him and I am relieved he is no longer trapped inside a body with a disease that's robbed him of all the joy in his life.  I do, however, feel sorry for Mom because of her obvious loss, but moreso because she is lost herself, now.  She has to reconfigure what she does every day from 10:30a-1:00p, and then again from 4:00p-8:00p.  Hopefully sooner than later, she will no longer get the panicked feeling that she needs to be someplace or that Dad needs her.  It's as if she's just been released from prison and she has to learn how to navigate life and think only of herself - something she probably has never done before in her entire life.  But Mom is conducting herself just like Dad had done, with grace, kindness, and even humor when she can.

And so I bid farewell to my Dad.  My reasons for why I will always love him are obvious and trite.  But more than tell me, he showed me how to be a good man, how to treat people, and how to appreciate the love of your life.  I wish him Godspeed and I believe that all of his memories have come back to him and that he is now reunited with Granny, Judy, Uncle Bill, Dad's parents, and his beloved grandmother.

And how on earth can I feel sorry about that?

I love you, Dad.  I'll be seeing you.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

50 Banned Words And Phrases

Because it's never too early to put the world on notice, below is the most recent list of the 50 words and/or phrases you are not permitted to utter in my presence because they either sound bad, have been overused, have been used incorrectly, or just plain annoy me.  

Our friendship may be at risk.

Consider this your warning shot.

1.   Recession
2.   Sausage grinder (re the legislative process)
3.   Gunman
4.   Bonus
5.   Teachable Moment
6.   Lockdown
7.   Too big to fail
8.   Octomom
9.   Entertain (in verb form)
10. Stress Test
11. You know what I'm sayin'?
12. Color Story
13. Green shoots (re the economy)
14. Temperament
15. The New Black
16. Twitter
17. Debt ceiling
18. Hydration
19. Empathy
20. New media, including but not limited to "Social Networking"
21. Throw me/you/him/her/them under the bus
22. Closely watched yardstick
23. Compromise/Bipartisan
24. Emboldened
25. Cougar
26. Serious
27. Walk back (As in "Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is walking back his comments about party boss Rush Limbaugh.")
28. Baby Bump (this one has simply got to stop.)
29. Arabica bean
30. Statement Jewelry
31. Pop (of color)
32. Cabal
33. Socialism
34. Digital
35. Czar/Tsar
36. Devastate/Devastated/Devastating (Perspective, please! Rejection from Harvard Law and being forced to "settle" for NYU is not "devastating." Missing a trip to Cancún because a tropical storm precluded your plane from taking off is disappointing, not "devastating". Not getting tickets for the Streisand Village Vanguard show is not "devastating." Devastate means " to bring to ruin or desolation by violent action" or "to reduce to chaos, disorder, or helplessness". Trust me: you are not devastated.)
37. Post-Racial
38. That's what I'm talking (a)bout!
39. Retarded
40. This/He/Beyonce/Whatever is EVERYTHING!!
41. On fleek
42. Post-apocalyptic 
43. Ear Candy
44. Obamacare (but you may say Affordable Care Act)
45. Liar (I just hate this word)
46. Awesome
47. FOX (News)
48. Gay marriage
49. Poop
50. President Trump (just Trump is fine, though)



Sunday, July 09, 2017

My Farewell To Jeff And Matt

This past week, the end of an era occurred upon the death of one of my closest and oldest friends, Jeff Widdows.  Jeff died unexpectedly last week of a massive heart attack while shopping in the local mall.  Attempts were made to revive him, but to no avail.  Jeff was 55 years old.

Matt, Jeff and Me at EPCOT
April 1992
Jeff was part of an inseparable trio that consisted of Jeff, me, and Matt Bittner.  Matt passed away in December 2011 due to an undisclosed illness.  At the time, Matt was 47.

This leaves just me now - certainly not how I expected it to end and most certainly not this soon.  But even more unexpected was the turn our friendships took.  As close as we once were, I was estranged from each of them at the time of their deaths:  Matt stopped communication with both Jeff and me back in 2002 or so, and Jeff and I stopped communicating in 2012.  I actually wrote about my lack of communication with Jeff in a blog post titled, Facebook Ruins Friendships.  

Perhaps the friendships had run their course.  Perhaps we each outgrew the others.  And perhaps living far apart put distance between us in more ways than one.  Maybe people really can't be friends forever, like you expect or hope.  But for one, brief, shining moment, we had Camelot.  I learned a lot about myself and life when I was with them.  And the events this week have caused me to reflect on some pretty great memories of our adventures and excursions throughout the 1990's.

From that first night in September 1989, when we all converged at Deer Park Lodge (a neighborhood gay bar outside of Hagerstown, MD), we became an instant clique and would be constant companions for the next 16 years.  All three of us were living in Allegany County, MD when we met, and the goal was for all of us to get to DC within the next year or so.  And we put MANY miles on Jeff's Audi making the 2.5 hour road trip to DC as often as we could, either in order to jump-start our move or at least start making friends and connections in our eventual home.  I couldn’t possibly count the number of hours spent in a vehicle driving back and forth from everywhere we went; countless trips to the only gay bar within 100 miles of our homes; driving 300 miles round trip just to be on a gay bowling league in the winter and a gay softball league in the summer; several journeys to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; two vacations to Disney World; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on brunches, lunches, dinners and cocktails.  And when the time came for me to move first to DC and then to Chicago, the unimaginable amount of time we spent on the telephone, talking a few times a week, waxing sentimental on days gone by and planning our next great adventure.

Our friendship worked because we were the classic trio.  We were Dorothy/Blanche/Rose, Scarecrow/TinMan/Lion and Samantha/Charlotte/Miranda.  I'll explain:

Jeff was the oldest, being five years my senior.  Of the three, he was the Scarecrow/Rose/Charlotte combination; he was the nice one.  Jeff was unselfish, being generous with his time and his finances.  Jeff liked taking care of someone and looking after people.  His was the first greeting card you received on your birthday or holiday, with certain words underlined in red.  And like the others in his combination, Jeff could be ditsy.  He had no experience with the gay scene when I met him, and I sought to change all that.  When I met Jeff, I immediately told myself, "I've just met my new best friend", and that's exactly what happened.  We needed each other in that capacity, and it worked out.
               
I actually had already known Matt, but not as a gay adult.  He was two years ahead of me throughout school and lived up the street from my family.  His older brother once dated my sister.  And I took over Matt's paper route for him when he went on vacation in the summers.  Matt was the Lion/Blanche/Samantha of the group:  full of vitality, vanity, and wind, but insecure underneath and desperate for attention and affection.  I think being with me and Jeff helped Matt's confidence.  No doubt, Matt was attractive and could easily obtain any man he wanted - and we'd see him be successful at it over and over and over again.  I called Matt the "pretty one".  And along with those looks came one of the sweetest yet troubled souls I have ever known.

Which left me as the TinMan/Dorothy/Miranda - the (figuratively) heartless person who thought with only the brain and nothing else, using snide wit as both an attraction and deflection. I'd been told that I was a pussycat in a lion's body; but I wouldn't necessarily say that my bark was worse than my bite.  I just believed in being direct and honest with people.  I neither played games nor suffered fools. And I figured if people did not want to know the truth, they would not ask my opinion -- they would simply go to Matt or Jeff instead.

These two became my first REAL friends - people to whom I could say ANYTHING.  With them, I didn't have to hide who I was or change the gender when I spoke about someone.  My conversations with them were the first honest conversations I'd ever had in my life.  Over the course of our friendship, Jeff and Matt were there with me through my college education, 5 boyfriends, 9 jobs, and 12 apartments across 5 cities – not to mention all the stuff that both goes along with and comes in-between.  I figured we would be best friends until one of us died.  And now two of us have.
               
Despite that I'd lost communication with each of them prior to their deaths, I still feel an immense sense of loss; loss of what was as well as loss of what could have been.

Back in 1991, I wrote a story about the three of us that eventually became a chapter in a book about my life - most of which has been published on this blog at some point or another during the past 12 years.  We used to get together and I would read "our story" aloud over drinks.  And we'd laugh hysterically at jokes that only we got. 

The piece I wrote about us ended with this paragraph:
Years from now, when each of us is paired with a significant other, we will leave our mates for three weeks each summer and meet at a beach house the three of us had purchased years prior.  We'll complain about the usual mundane things in life ("Andy just won't let me out of his sight for one second" or "Dan just keeps buying me the most expensive gifts" or "Frank has the highest libido of any man I have ever seen" ... ho-hum).  Our little houseboy, Pablo (one of Jeff's old tricks at that point) will make us cocktails as we lounge on the beach.  Jeff will drink his customary (and lethal) 151 and Coke, Matt will have his Canadian Club and Coke, and I will have my ever present Scarlet O'Hara.  After fending off young surfer hunks (who know us only by reputation mind you), we go into the house, eat everything in sight and talk about sex.  We then send Pablo to restock the liquor cabinet and the kitchen, we work out in the gym, relax in our jacuzzi, and prepare to party that night.  This will constitute the itinerary for the whole three weeks during the summer; also for the two weeks we'll spend in Vale during the winter, the two weeks in the mountain cabin during the spring, the two weeks at P'town during the fall, the occasional cruises to the Bahamas, the extensive shopping trips, and the lunches at Tavern on the Green (so now you see why we will need to have significant others -- to pay for all of this).
I'd like to think that they are both sitting on the lanai of that cabana, with Pablo refilling their cocktails as quickly as they can drink them, patiently waiting my arrival many years from now.  And there is comfort in knowing they have reunited.

Rest in peace, dear friends.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 
Dad did not come into this world easily.  His mother was 14 years old when she gave birth to her first child - a premature, underweight baby boy born in a throw=away place called Deal, PA.  Dad was born a “Blue Baby”, a newborn whose blood is not oxygenated enough.  I don’t think we know how much Dad actually weighed at birth, or even how long he was . . . but his first bed was a sewing machine drawer.  Against all those odds, Dad survived and grew.  But then, so did his obstacles.

He’s had more than a few scrapes in his life.  He once cut the end off of a finger with a power saw.  He once didn’t duck fast enough while running through a low doorway and tore the top of his head open.  He's had surgical eye implants.  He had two back-to-back surgeries – one quintuple bypass, the other on his intestines that had spent years turning gangrene.  Not to mention, Dad’s been a bit of a smoker for more than the better part of his life.  You see, he wasn’t supposed to live long enough to meet his first grandchild, let alone see the birth of his first great-grandchild 27 years after that  The point is, Dad has defied the odds his entire life and is here today to celebrate his 78th birthday.  

Admittedly, 78 is still not THAT old, but despite everything, Dad has outlived his father, who died at the age of 57, and has more than doubled the life span of his mother, who died at the age of 34.  He’s outlived both sets of grandparents and all 8 great-grandparents.  In Dad's family history, he is now the 5th oldest person in his lineage. 

From Dad, I have learned many things - mostly by example.  He showed me early on what it is to sacrifice for your loved ones; what it is to be dedicated and committed to either an action or a belief; what it is to give of yourself and your time to a cause you hold dear; what it means to do things that need to be done despite whether or not you know how to approach it; what it means to be quietly principled; and yes, even what it is to be the life of the party when you want to be.

When I "came out" to my Dad in 1997, I didn't know what to expect from him.  However, after I was finished speaking, his response was simply, "Well, I had NO idea".  When I pressed him on it, he said, "well I guess I thought about it at some point, but it never really seemed to matter.  It's your life; live it however you want."  And then the next morning, he woke me from bed and told me he needed help working on the deck.  If my very blue-collar, unworldly Dad had any trouble with having a gay son, he never let me know it.  From my perspective, Dad accepted me for the man I had become - a man espousing those same principles I listed above.  

Today, Dad is not where he wants to be, and certainly not where we selfishly want him to be either.  But there he is, living every day in his own, private world.  Now and then, there's a connection.  I experienced my first real connection with Dad in a few years during my most recent trip home.  For his birthday, I gave him a globe that lights up with different colors.  When he received it, he cried, which is the only emotion my Dad can express anymore.  It was a happy-cry; we've been able to learn the difference.  And as I leaned in to kiss him, he looked at me and I could tell he wanted to say something to me.  It was the first time I had experienced that with him in the years he's been living in his mental prison.  He wanted to tell me something, and I can only imagine what it was.  And that has to be good enough now.

But I know what it was.  My dad and I have a long history of unspoken words between us, knowing what the other means without really having to say it.  Two weeks after my coming out conversation, I was back visiting my parents.  My siblings and I were sitting around the picnic table on the newly finished deck and my dad came and sat by me.  There wasn't much room so he pushed into me.  When I turned to look at him, he smiled at me.  That's when I knew Dad and I were "good".  And thus is my history with him.  

Across the many miles, I send him love on his birthday today.