Saturday, August 27, 2011

And Now They Are Gone


So I used to have tonsils. Now I don't.

Yesterday I had a Tonsillectomy to have my throat testes removed. I haven't had surgery since around 1992 I believe, or it might have been 1993, I am not 100% sure.

I know it was during the time I was working for IKEA in Baltimore, in between the time I attended St. Mary's College of Maryland for my B.F.A. and The Savannah College of Art and Design for my M.F.A., so that puts it in the first half of the 90's that much I know for sure. That's how I attempt to remember things, betwixt significant milestones in Life.

And although I have no immediate recollection whatsoever of the year, I could probably find it if I actually felt like spending some time looking. What's that mean? I have typically written like this most of my young adult life, just not publicly. I have kept some kind of a journal, in some form, with a few years gap, since around the age of 13 or 14.


You know...'Dear Diary, got a zit on my back today, kissed a girl for the first time, got tied up and left in the basement', that kind of thing. Just your typical average stuff that happens to you when you're livin' life in the good old U.S. of A.

What a difference 17 or so years makes though.

When I had my Appendectomy, an emergency one I might add, I had to admit to the anesthesiologist and the Doc who was going to be cutting my guts open that I was high on marijuana before I came in to the ER to be admitted. And coming out of the anesthesia was a BITCH because of that and because I was such a heavy smoker.

This time around, I had to admit to the anesthesiologist and the Doc who was going to be snipping out the smelly mouth balls that I had started taking Fish Oil supplements on Tuesday when I found out via my History and Physical that my Cholesterol and Triglycerides are high. I was terrified that my surgery might get canceled when I found out those were on the 'No Takey' list, but since it was only three days, it was cool.

And THIS time, since I have been Cancer Stick free for what will be three years this coming December 1st, I woke up from the anesthesia like I just had a quick nap, was alert and attentive and everyone in there was like 'WHOA, are you sure you are OK?' and I was as surprised as they were but not only was I fine but I wasn't nauseous I wasn't that woozy and I barely felt bad at all.


Of course, it was hard to speak, but not too bad, and I was sore in the throat. But it wasn't the horrific pain I thought it might be.

Then today happened.

I feel like I have swallowed a bowl full of crushed glass. I can barely talk at all. I guess the honeymoon is over and all those mixed drugs they gave me from yesterday have finally worn off for good.

Oh well. Not like I'm not used to a little pain. Looks like I'll have to be taking it easier than I thought I would be.

But the whole recovery scenario is WAY better than it was the last time. My Mom is here. Back then, she lived across town, and she wasn't with me 24/7, nor did I have a wife or anybody else. I was pretty much on my own and a LOT less mobile. I didn't have any Internet, no X-Box, and Cable TV sucked. I don't even think I had a cordless phone.


Though admittedly my BRAIN was probably better served at the time, because I do recall a stack of books I had purchased that I had been meaning to read and burning through every one of them and getting more. I can't remember the last time I picked UP a book unless it was to do research.

Though even with all the stuff at my disposal, my Mom wants me taking it easy, and so I am. What is most maddening to not be WORKING, because I am generally a workaholic.

In fact the second we got home from surgery there was a box here for my home business and the first thing I did on instinct was walk over and pick it up and went for my pocket knife to go examine the contents. She of course took the box and made me go sit down.

I guess that was the adult equivalent of a time out. From then on I complied. Last thing in the worlds I need my kids to see is their Dad get a spanking or something at age 43. :)

I know I promised to do the Second Trilogy this upcoming week. I still HOPE to, but we'll see how I feel. I don't want to take any unnecessary risks, and exacerbate the situation. I'll do the best I can and update you all when I get a chance.

OUT.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Dose of Spiritual Creaminess


My total bad.

I know so many of you were hoping I was going to wrap up this journey by week's end. So was I quite frankly. But a funny thing happened on the way to spiritual enlightenment. When I made the decision to go from one Massive Blog to a split-entry format, I started adding some stuff in. As that occurred, the whole process evolved.

As that evolution occurred, last night I had an epiphany and needed to add some things, it was important to me. So I had to expand the series from V chapters to VI.

OK, I admit it, I was just trying to be more like George.


BUT...I am about to get my throat gonads yanked out tomorrow, and so there is just no time to write that inserted fifth chapter in time to keep everything a-flowing properly, so I decided to save the Original Trilogy for next week. Consider this past week, Episodes I through III, sort of like a Prequel Trilogy with no Jar-Jar.

Which KINDA works, when you think about it, since it did end with a fall from grace and a fairly unhappy ending, although I did NOT get a cool black suit and a red light-saber, which ROYALLY pisses me off, since I thought that was mandatory once you start down a Dark Path.

I guess I did not read the fine print.


So, if I am still alive after the surgery I can finish this all up next week and publish it then and give it the time and the care it deserves. Besides, the painkillers may actually make me decide to toss a few Ewoks in there...and we all know that EVERYBODY LOVES EWOKS!

OUT.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meighan

(This is Part III of VI of a series of entries that chronicle my experience of Faith, from my early understanding of it as a kid and my acceptance of it as a teenager, my rejection of it as a young adult and my struggles with it as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, and what I have come to know and appreciate about it through the acts of others.)

Part I of VI: Richard
Part II of VI: Mark
Part III of VI: Meighan
Part IV of VI: Jennifer
Part V of VI: Bennett
Part VI of VI: You All, Everybody


It's very strange to write about a former relationship on a blog, especially when you are married.

You walk a very dangerous road when you do this. Very dangerous.

But I've talked it over with my better half many times, and what makes her my 'better' half is that she is cool with it, because she knows I can do it respectfully. She understands that all parts of my past have worked together as pieces of the puzzle that make up the person who sits here today. I consider that an admirable strength of character.

Back when I first started to get acquainted with the Catholic church, back when I first met Meighan, our relationship was fairly superficial. We dated, but it was always on again/off again, and she was always the one flicking the switch, which of course drove me completely crazy.

She was a good friend, and we were kids, but I loved her dearly, and she said she loved me. Though it was not 'love' in the sense that I understand love's meaning today at the age of 43.



Besides, I was one of many, many boys competing for her attention. Meighan was always the center of it all in any given situation, which was exactly how she liked it. She commanded a room when she was in it and I'm sure she had this sort of 'hold' on a lot of the boys of the St. Margaret's Youth Group.

Frankly? I was most likely fairly insignificant to her a lot of the time in those early days. She had a quiet arrogance about her, she was cocky, self-confident. She knew that she was the bomb. That's fine, to me and a lot of the guys I talked to about her, she WAS the bomb.


And like I said...we were just kids. I was a lot more focused on other things at the time too. I was very arrogant myself. I liked to date other girls and I had an Ego that was completely over-compensating for inadequate self-esteem, the shrapnel from years of being ripped to pieces by my Old Man. So while Meighan might have been one of the few people who had an ability to hold me in the palm of her hand (and crush me with it from time to time), it isn't like I didn't do my fair share of heartbreaking.

Though for a brief period of time, we did make a connection that had a lasting impression on me, and I believed it did on her. We expressed a great deal of our feelings toward each other. After that we parted ways and decided to remain good friends, and she helped me study for much of my Catechism classes and helped me achieve my goal to become a Roman Catholic.

That was 1985.

Not long after I was baptized, something happened to Meighan. Something terrible.

Something even to this day I have only received conflicting information about, and because of that I hesitate to say anything more than the fact that she had a medical problem that resulted in something very severe.



She had an 'incident', for want of a better word. Maybe a heart attack, which is what I always believed. Though I have never really known for sure.

As a result of this incident, she ended up in a coma.

I visited her in the hospital, with as much frequency as I could, then less, then less, but according to her Mom, she seemed to react when I would talk, though I could not detect it, so I did what anyone would do...I talked, or I read the newspaper. She also, in recovery, reacted to an article her Mom read read about me in the newspaper.

Some time later, after she had come out of it, we tried to see each other again. This time our relationship lasted a lot longer. She was VERY different this time. She could function normally, not disabled in any way, though she had a few memory recall issues. And she seemed a lot less self-centered.

Things were going remarkably well, and different than our typical M.O., and I actually thought we had a shot this time out. But as always happened between us, eventually, she broke my heart and dumped me.


And this time it was BRUTAL. I never saw it coming. Complete blind-side, because I really thought that her incident had changed the way she saw the world, and I hoped that the incident had changed the way she saw me. I was a fool.

Still, like I said, I kept the Faith. I mean...it's just a girl. There would always be another.

Meighan then disappeared off everybody's radar for a LONG time. Nobody seemed to know where she disappeared to, and it wasn't until the summer of 1989 that my path intersected with Meighan's again.

As was our typical Modus Operandi it was not long at all before we started to get entangled.

She was a bit more Meighan this time. Different still, but more of what I remembered. I was WAY more cautious of my feelings this time around though, that much I can promise you, because by now I was a little older, a little more 'seasoned', and I had grown to be be sick to death of always getting dumped by Meighan every time we went down this road.

Maybe I was just STARTING to learn a thing or two about myself.

When we started this round of our relationship, something was VERY different.

There was a vulnerability in her I had never seen. She was scared. Apparently some guy she was seeing was not treating her well, possibly even some physical abuse. I think she was coming to me in the hope that I might help her, because I was always there for her in the past no matter how bad things ever had become. She also was out of medication, stuff she needed for her condition.

My Mom, always generous, always the first to help anyone, out of her own pocket, bought her three months worth. My Mom also offered her the opportunity to stay at our house (I was living at home at the time...it was summer and I was home from school). Meighan declined the offer to live there full-time, but she was there often and it was a terrific summer, back when summer actually MEANT something.


One night, Meighan and I went to go see the movie 'Batman', that first one with Michael Keaton, and when we came back, as we sat in my black Nissan truck at the lake, we just talked, and she asked me something that almost made ME have a heart attack.

Meighan asked me for a commitment.

Meighan asked ME for a COMMITMENT.

This was huge simply because it had never happened before. It wasn't her style. I was always the one doing that. But I hadn't done it all summer long. I didn't want one from anyone else, and I certainly didn't want one with HER. How in the WORLD could I possibly TRUST it?

I could not believe my own ears when I declined.

So help me God, I was too stubborn and too stupid and too scared and I just said no that I wanted to wait. Wait for what? Who the FUCK knows? I was a complete and total fool.


One day soon after I woke up to discover that she had left town. I called my friend Robb to try to find out where she was, and he didn't know. I tried to find her, tried to call, but she wouldn't return my calls no matter where I thought she might be. There were no cell phones then. No Internet. And I had no way of finding out where she was, where she might be living.

After a week or two, I had to give up and go back to school.

After I was in school for around a month or two, I was seeing someone else and it was going fairly well. I was with her one Saturday morning when the phone rang. It was Robb. He was making small talk at first, but his voice sounded very weird. I asked him to tell me what was up. He said that Meighan had decided to go back to Georgia and move back in with that same dude who had been abusive to her, and that the day after she got there she had another heart attack.

'Aw shit Rob...why'd she DO that? Where is she now? How is she? Which hospital is she in? Is she in another coma?'

'No man. Ken, I'm sorry dude...She's dead.'

I asked about the services, said I'd be there, and hung up.

I laid back down. Silent. Shock. Disbelief.

My girlfriend asked me what was wrong. I told her I just found out a friend of mine had died. She said she was sorry. I said it was OK. She asked me if I needed to talk about it.


I said I did, but not right now. I just stared. Speechless.

Later, she asked me if I needed her to go with me to Meighan's funeral Mass, and I said I didn't, and she was understanding of the fact that I needed to go alone.

I did.

When I was there, I kept to myself, I didn't speak to my friends from St. Margaret's much at all. I knew that I would be unable, that if I tried to say anything, my thin veneer would shatter. I had not cried once since I had received the news, and as I sat and listened to the Mass and looked at the images of Christ and the Saints in the church, none fell still.

I just became more angry. My sorrow became darkness. My pain began to twist inside me.

I was angry for a lot of things from my childhood that remained unresolved and for many other evils unexplained. I'd had enough bullshit promises and all the hurt and the struggle. If you were supposed to be so damn good, then why was my life so FUCKING hard? And why her?

I resented God for taking Meighan away from me, from her friends, from her family. I swore that I would never have anything to do with Him or His Church or anything involving Him.

Ever again.

So I turned my back on Him. I rejected Him. I refused to accept the Eucharist. I had gone to that funeral Mass so that I could say goodbye to Meighan, and instead I said goodbye to God.

I got up, walked out of the Church, got in my car, drove the 2 hours back to school and I never voluntarily went to another Mass again.


If Richard had been there, he would have reminded me of something.

'But beware the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression. The Dark Side...are they. Easily they flow...If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will...'

It goes without saying that I have carried with me that anger and fear, that aggression, as well as shitloads of guilt over her death, and many other things, ever since. Guilt that I have never been able to purge.

What if I had said 'Yes' when she asked me for that commitment? Would she have gone to Georgia? What kind of an outcome would she have had? Would she have stayed alive? Is it ever as simple as that? No one can ever really know.


This darkness, this...beast within me, became much worse after that day. My internal rage, and the hate it was fueled by, left a lot of people, a lot of good people, unfairly confused and tattered in my wake. I can never really make up for that.

There have been some, along the way, who were spared. Some who were able to look past the scars and the anguish and the fear and even soften me a little. Maybe even get through some of those cannon and fortress I used to keep most people away. Those people know who they are and even though we may never have turned any final corners together some of us remain friends today, maybe wiser and hopefully better people from the experience.

But my Faith?

A twisted, tangled mess, left behind with a beautiful person who was taken from this world far too early, by a man whose spirit was broken.

For twenty years.

OUT.




To Be Continued...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mark

(This is Part II of VI of a series of entries that chronicle my experience of Faith, from my early understanding of it as a kid and my acceptance of it as a teenager, my rejection of it as a young adult and my struggles with it as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, and what I have come to know and appreciate about it through the acts of others.)

Part I of VI: Richard
Part II of VI: Mark
Part III of VI: Meighan
Part IV of VI: Jennifer
Part V of VI: Bennett
Part VI of VI: You All, Everybody


I had just received my temporary driver's permit, and I was at the White Marsh Mall with my parents. My Dad (this is my Step-Father...the Biological Father has LONG since split completely from my existence) tossed the keys at me and bellowed 'Why don't YOU drive!'.

I nearly shat my pants.

I had never driven on the interstate before, and White Marsh Mall was nestled right off of Interstate 95, around 17 miles from our house in Forest Hill, Maryland. I stood there in front of our family car, mouth agape.

I guess it was time to nut up or shut up. But I was only 15, and my nuts were not very mature. I don't think they had ever been 'used', if you know what I mean. But I had to accept the challenge and eventually I'm doing my very best Miss Daisy in the far right lane, and the Old Man was very far from impressed, a displeasure he expressed from the seat directly behind me by 'thunking' me in the back of the head.

'Thunking'.


My term for this form of one of his punitive torments. He had huge hands. Enormous, gigantic, meaty digits. He would take his middle finger, as if to emphasize his 'Fuck You' to me, curl it back (as if to cock it like a pistol) with his thumb, and unleash it's power into some part of Yours Truly.

This was usually into an area of my chest just above the sternum, which made a reverberating THUD. Especially in a room with just the right acoustics. In this case, since he was seated directly to my South, the back of my head was his only available target.

'Speed up! Drive straight! You're all over the place, you fuckin' idiot!'

No fuckin' shit! You try driving straight with Hammy McFingers wailing at the back of your favorite skull! Of course, I didn't say that out loud. I may be an idiot, but I'm not an idiot. I enjoyed living. Instead, I pulled over. It's then that his voice took on that icy chill, that Emperor Palpatine creepiness, as I heard 'Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey toward...'

Oh wait. That's not right.


I heard, instead, 'Either drive...or get out of the car.'

I did what any 'Thunking-weary' kid would do. I got out of the car.

He moved to the front seat, didn't even offer me a casual glance, shuffled his beefy ass into position, and drove off. My Mom, in a state of absolute shock at this point, mouth open, watched in horror as the car pulled away.

The sun had just set, and I was on a major highway...alone.

I was 17 miles from home, but only 13 from the house of my best friend, Mark. That was my destination. Why bother going home? It was way too far of a walk, and besides, Mark's house was the place I escaped to most of the time in situations like these.

I didn't cry, I was beyond tears by this point in my existence when it came to my Old Man. I put my hands in my pockets and started walking. All I could do. My plan was to keep walking until I could get off the interstate at the next exit and then take the back roads to Mark's. I could probably make it, if I kept up a decent pace, in a couple of hours.

You know, through a lot of those mid-teen years, there was Mark.


Mark, who reached out to the freaky new kid in Biology class, fresh from Texas.

Mark, who stuck by me through the darkest of the Dark Times.

Mark, who helped place more bricks on a foundation of Faith.

Mark was a member of the Episcopal Church, and his spiritual flavor was very different than Richard, which is very interesting, because these two guys both entered my life in my teens and are still two of my very best friends today. Yet as circumstances would have it, they have never met, they are total opposites, and yet they are both like brothers to me.

That by itself could be a post even longer than this entire week.

Mark's role, other than holding the other seat to the pair of Orioles season tickets we shared, or spending long nights playing computer baseball games, or playing pick-up games of tennis ball/baseball at his house, was being a guide through these types of abusive situations, nurturing me through as my friend certainly, but also showing me an alternative family life I had never really seen before.

Richard's Mom and Dad were divorced, but the Biggerman's were all still together. And while there were the usual battles that families all have, they were not the wars that were being fought on my home soil.


I often would find myself at his house, naturally, to escape the sickness that bled from my Old Man, and since I could ride my bicycle to get there, even before I was able to drive, you can imagine that I spent a great deal of time with their family.

My only regret obviously was the impression that this left on my Mom. Since she didn't really know what was going on between me and my Dad, she thought I just preferred the Biggerman's over our family, and in particularly Mark's Mom over her. Again, it was only years, decades later when truths come out that I was able to communicate with her about all of this and let her know that Mark's home was my Fortress of Solitude, I felt safe there, protected from what I was going through, and had nothing to do with how I felt about her.

Since I spent many a Saturday night at the Biggerman's, I naturally spent many a Sunday morning attending Church with the Biggerman's. I would say that this was the first time I started to attend any kind of Church services on a regular basis.

And while Richard was the kind of person who can, almost on command, recite any passage from the Bible at any time and truly has missed his calling as a Minister, Mark is, like I said, at the polar opposite.


Mark's Faith is just as solid, it is simply expressed differently. But in many ways it is also very...irreverent, more jovial, more filled with humor. Like giggling and making jokes in Church, stuff like that. It's very relaxed, it's very flexible, very 'open to interpretation'.

But I consider that to be a reflection of the Episcopal Faith overall, which I considered joining quite a bit...which is in many ways born as a response to some of the rigidities of Catholicism. And I also consider that to be some of Mark's personality coming through...because that is his nature and his expression of Faith reflects that nature.

Just as my nature would lead me, eventually, to an exploration of Catholicism.

I needed more structure, I needed more order.

Especially in my life at that time.

I like things to have a specific design and since my whole early life was lived in a rather chaotic way, moving from place to place, dodging arms and legs and belts and switches, it is absolutely no surprise whatsoever that when I finally decided that I truly believed in God and that I wanted to worship Him, officially, that I would choose Catholicism as the means by which to do it.


So when I was 17 years old, I decided to become a Roman Catholic. But making the decision is only the first step. The first formal step to becoming a Roman Catholic takes place with the rite of reception into the Order of Catechumens, in which the unbaptized express a desire/intention to become Christians. 'Catechumen' is a term the early Christians used for people preparing to be baptized.

The second formal step is the Rite of Election, where the Catechumen expresses the intention to become a Christian, and the Church determines the Catechumen is ready. Normally, that Rite occurs on the first Sunday of Lent, the forty day period of preparation for Easter.

After that, the Catechumen participates in a period of more intense reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they deepen their committment to repentance and conversion to the Christian faith. During this period the candidates, now known as the Elect, participate in further rituals.

There are three main rituals, known as 'scrutinies', and these are typically celebrated at Mass on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent. The 'scrutinies' are Rites for self-searching and repentance. They are meant to bring out qualities of our soul, to heal that which is weak or sinful, and to strengthen that which is positive and good.

During this period, the candidates are also presented with the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer, both of which will be recited on the night of Initiation.


The Initiation usually happens on Easter Vigil, the night before Easter. That night a special Mass is celebrated and the candidates are baptized, then given Confirmation, and finally they receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time. At this point the candidates become Roman Catholics and are received into full Communion with the Church.

Having just read those few paragraphs, and having read any of my previous material, do you see how, at 17, a fledgling ME would gravitate to that shit? :)

Yet, as I walked down the dark, chilly pavement of Interstate 95, headlights cutting through the night like laser beams, I only wondered if I would even MAKE it to 17. The thought of standing in front of a priest and receiving the Sacrament would be the last thing to enter my mind.

Survival was my only concern that night.

Fifteen minutes into my trek to Mark's, my first problem shows up. A car pulls over on the side of the road and unfortunately, it is NOT a police car, which was going to be the only vehicle that would alter my Mark-centric plan.


The passenger side window rolls down, and I walked over. I did a quick assessment of the guy inside.

Now granted, I was 15...I did not have the assessment skills I have today. Wish I did, but I didn't. He seemed like a very respectable, decent fellow. And I also have a vivid recollection of a strong after shave smell emanating from the car. Though this is probably just because our cars smelled like ash trays, and this was a nice change of pace.

'What are you doing out here? You do know it is illegal to hitchhike on a highway right?'

'Did I have my thumb out?'

'OK...why are you walking on an interstate?'

'It's a nice night for a walk, don't you think?'

'Yeah, but on a highway?'

'Well, that wasn't actually planned for. I got stranded.'

'Can I give you a lift?'

'Well, the off-ramp isn't very far, I can walk from here.'

'You know, if a cop comes by, you'll be arrested.'

'To be honest, that thought doesn't bother me.'

'C'mon, hop in. I'm not someone you need to be scared of, I can understand why you might be, but I promise I won't hurt you.'

I wondered if that's what victims of other predators heard right before they were killed when I said 'OK' and, for some unexplained reason, opened the door and got into this stranger's car. Or I had other, more fanciful visions of what strange fate might befall me that night.


He asked me which exit. I told him. He asked me how I ended up on the highway. I told him. He asked me where I lived. I told him. He asked me if my Dad was an alcoholic. I said no.

That was always the first question. It was so much easier for people to believe that, or want to look for that as the answer, even other people, later in life when I would tell them these stories. No, he wasn't, I told the stranger.

Is he in the military?

I have never fully understood why he asked me that. Because he was not the first, nor was he the last. I've asked other military people why, they don't know. I don't either. But it has always bugged me. Still does. Guess I'll never have an answer that satisfies me.

So this man, this complete stranger, a guy whose name I never knew, decided to drive me WELL out of his way, all the way to my front door. We skipped Mark's house completely. He was not a predator, not someone I needed to fear after all.

As I was about to get out of the car he puts his hand on my arm and stops me and asks me a fairly simple question.

'Do you pray?'

'No.'

He asked me if I would mind if he said a prayer for me. I said sure, go ahead. And when he did, I felt that 'spark' again, that same feeling I had felt years ago, on that median strip, and I was watching the two of us, our faces dimly lit by the green glow of his dashboard, from almost outside the car, as he prayed for God to watch over me and for me to be safe.


And I was safe. At least that night.

But was it because of this man and his prayer? Or was it because my Mom finally saw my Dad commit an act that was truly heinous? See, he had kept so much of this shit hidden from her, and I had kept it hidden also out of fear, that she was oblivious to all of it.

But this was different. She was THERE. And although he hadn't outright beaten me this was a fairly callous and neglectful act, and she was monumentally pissed.

Hammer One? Laid down.

Hammer Two would fall about a month or so later, when I finally found within me something I never had been able to find before. The strength of will to fight back. Shortly after my 16th birthday, he pounced on me for something, and I decided that I had finally had enough.

The ferociousness with which I counter-attacked him was not unlike that experienced by Ralphie Parker when he beat the shit out of Scut Farkus. 'He had yellow eyes! So, help me, God! Yellow eyes!' The fight was so vicious, so brutal, by the end of it I had pulled a Jim Kirk and half my shirt was hanging off of my body.


But my point had been made, and this was one beating I took that did NOT go unnoticed. It couldn't.

For years I believed that my actions of standing up to him are what stopped him from ever laying a hand on me again. YEARS later, my Mom told me that she had gone up to him and said if she ever saw him or knew of him touching me...EVER...she'd serve him his balls for breakfast, or something along those lines, and THEN divorce him and from then on she was looking for a way out. Just took a while because of some financial shenanigans on his part, and a stroke. But that's a WHOLE nutha story, people.

As I rounded the corner into the following year, two things happened that were both fairly pivotal in regards to Faith, and my life overall. At the suggestion of my friend Mike Kutcher, I attended my first event of and eventually joined the Youth Group at the St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Bel Air, MD, but in doing so I also began to reject Mark's friendship. Eventually, I shut him out of my life.

Why I did this, I will never, ever know.


I mean, I know the REASON I did it, I was a stupid kid and sat in judgment of someone else wrongfully based on trying to please someone else, and that was just idiotic. I was unable to figure out how to wear multiple hats, and I didn't know who I was half the time. That's no excuse, I'm just trying, 25 years or so later, to figure out why in the world I sucker-punched my best friend.

He didn't deserve it.

He did show me, with his actions about a year and a half later, what it means to truly BE Christian, when he forgave me, no questions asked. It was a remarkable aspect of his character that resonates even today. It's one of the many reasons why his telephone number is in my cell phone amongst so few others, and why he is the person I talk to for a few minutes almost every single day of my life.

Since that reconciliation, we have had an unrelenting commitment of friendship to each other. He stood at my side when I took my vows, and I at his. Were a bullet whizzing in his direction, I'd happily push him aside and take it instead.


Well, maybe not HAPPILY.

But when I was young, I had trouble with commitment. With girls, with friends, with groups. Holy crap I really hurt a lot of people I cared a great deal about. I bounced around...a LOT. My background was probably responsible for that. I always had trouble feeling like I fit in. Like I belonged. Anywhere.

But not at St. Margaret's.

I felt totally at peace there. For the first time. Ever. I felt whole.


So I entered the Catechumen program and decided to try to finally MAKE a commitment to something and stick with it. I made a commitment to the Catholic Church.

When my time came for my own Initiation, on Easter Vigil, my family was there as were many of my friends like Robb, Melissa, Vic, Paula, Britta, Mike, Karen, Eileen, Beth, Kim, Maureen, Teri, Mark P., Jeff, Laura and on and on and on. Seemingly an endless sea of faces, all there to celebrate my worthless ass. It was mind-boggling to someone with such low self-esteem.

Ironically the two people who had the most to do with leading me to that point were not there. Richard lived too far away, and I had pushed Mark so far away by this point we were no longer speaking to each other.

It is the only regret I have about that experience.

When I received the Sacrament that night, when I became a Neophyte, I felt that 'divine spark' again, and it was immensely powerful. It remains one of the most treasured, most memorable experiences in my entire life.

Also in attendance that night was my dear friend Meighan Grassey, a girl with whom I had been romantically linked previously but at this time in my life we were just friends.



When I was at the reception that followed, she walked up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss that probably lingered on a little longer than it should have (much to the surprise of some of the people in the room) and she hugged me again, not letting go.

'I'm so very proud of you...I'm so very proud of you.' She kept saying over and over with tears in her eyes.

I knew she meant it.

This had a lot of meaning to her, too, as she had helped me study for this, she had helped guide me through much of this, and as much as we had our difficulties with the 'dating' part of our relationship, we were, at the core, still such good friends with each other.

'I'm so very proud of you.'

I was proud of me, too. And I kept the Faith, with conviction, and fortitude, as these classes and Rites were not easy. They aren't supposed to be. You have to WANT to be Catholic to become a Catholic. And I continued to keep the Faith, even after my first year as a Neophyte.

And I kept it still, even after Life kept handing me additional struggles.


Even after being told I did not have to save money for college, that it was going to be covered, and busting my ass in high school to be in the National Honor Society and applying to 14 prestigious art schools and getting accepted to all of them, only to find out that my Dad had pissed away my College Fund on a botched business deal without telling anyone and so I found myself with no cash no time left to earn it when high school was over.

I went to Community College instead, with Mom's help, and eventually to St. Mary's College of Maryland.

And I still kept the Faith, despite watching Mom struggle with Dad and his bullshit and his stroke, and my huge amount of personal problems, an attempted suicide and a lot of other crap that to go into too much detail would only turn this already too long series of posts into a novel.

But yeah, I kept the Faith. Like any good Catholic boy should.

As long as I could.

And Meighan played a big part in that.

OUT.



To Be Continued...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Richard

(This is Part I of VI of a series of entries that chronicle my experience of Faith, from my early understanding of it as a kid and my acceptance of it as a teenager, my rejection of it as a young adult and my struggles with it as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, and what I have come to know and appreciate about it through the acts of others.)

Part I of VI: Richard
Part II of VI: Mark
Part III of VI: Meighan
Part IV of VI: Jennifer
Part V of VI: Bennett
Part VI of VI: You All, Everybody


When I sat down to write this, to attempt to put into words what I have experienced over the past several weeks and what it has meant to me personally, I didn't realize how much I wanted to say. As I began, the words kept pouring out.

As the length grew I realized that, even for me, this was a blog entry that I could not post in a single day. So I gave it some thought and decided to publish it across the span of five days. And even doing THAT, each of these entries is VERY long.

I expect only the Die Hardiest of the Die Hards to make it through, but I wrote this mainly for those people, and for myself. If you do decide to make the commitment and read through this thing all the way, I can't promise you any great epiphanies or things discovered that will change the world.

This is a personal journey, and in the end that's all this blog has ever been about.

Any discoveries are my own, though perhaps there is some Universal truth scattered amongst the anecdotal ruins. If we're lucky.

I can promise you that I don't hold back on the details. Would you expect anything else?


Many things will be happening this week as the H.M.S. Lilly sails into Saturday, which will be the 2-Year Anniversary of the removal of Bennett's brain tumor. It is so appropriate that these blogs happen to align with that event. Even more-so that I am also having surgery on Friday, a Tonsillectomy, to finally deal with some horrible Tonsil Stones that have been plaguing me for months.

Having an impending surgery, and hearing people say to you 'Yeah, it's always a lot more risky for a guy your age to have a surgery like that!' makes you stop and contemplate the What-If Scenarios...a lot, though I have been doing that these past few weeks with great abundance anyway.

But the thought of suddenly just croaking on an operating table from a standard surgery just...because...well, the thought of it plain sucks, and while the odds of that happening aren't really high, your mind can go there, and you think to yourself, what happens then?


Guess I better pack for a warm climate, huh?

I've often, in these pages, talked about my lack of Faith, but I don't know that I ever really talked much about how I lost it, and I know I never talked about how I GAINED it in the first place. Though I know most people just assume that people come to Faith when they are young naturally, because of what they are taught as kids as part of their indoctrination by their parents, but that wasn't so in my situation.

There is a very complicated back story of what originally, as a youth, led me to Faith...brought me to believe in a power greater than myself.


My Father, my real one, wasn't really an active church-going man, and thus, my family wasn't. When he left when I was around the age of 5, my Mom took an approach that I respect very much. Rather then force her beliefs on myself or my sister, she allowed us to ask questions, guided us to make moral choices and let us sort of find our own paths in life when it came to the Church.

This was not to say she did not care, she did very much. But I think a lot of it had to do with our surroundings, and the fact that we never really had a sense of community, we were on the move A LOT. I think she felt that she didn't want us plugged in anywhere too deeply, because she never knew when she'd have to pull up stakes and move us.

But I do remember, certainly, many spirited discussions about the Almighty.


And while as a youngster I can't say that I did not believe in God, I did not really worship God, and I certainly never believed that God engaged in performing miracles on Earth in a traditional sense.

By this I mean that I did not believe that Earth was God's chessboard. I never believed it. I still do not believe that, even today.

I did not think that He aligns the pieces or sets events in motion. I simply do not believe He gets that involved.

Why?

Because Earth is the domain of Man. And, sadly, Man is one messed up species. Just look at the Crusades, big corporations, reality television, and Waterworld. Let's face it, Man always has been screwing things up in a big bad way.

I've held to this belief, and continue to, because it is logical to do so, but also, partially, because of my childhood experiences.

I HAD to believe that God worked this way in order to actually be in a place, mentally, to HAVE Faith in God.


If I didn't, then I would have to blame God for all the bad shit in the world, especially all the bad shit that was happening to me, and I didn't want to do that. Because if He is a day-to-day kind of a Deity, then isn't He responsible for, like, everything?

Things like War? Bubonic Plague? Hitler? Rape? Brain Tumors? New Coke? And I did mention Waterworld, right?

So, since I wasn't interested in believing that God was the one responsible for New Coke, or for having my real Dad walk out, and his Replacement wind up putting me through all kinds of Hell and gone, I chose to believe that God was not an ever-present participant in the day-to-day goings-on that occurred on the Big Blue Marble. Certainly not on the one I was living on.

So does God ever intervene? At all?

I don't know.

I'm not God.

I try not to speak for other people or beings, particularly omnipotent ones.

My opinion was then as it is now, that He does not. At least, not for a VERY long time. Unless it really, really makes a difference, but it would have to be a HUGE deal, I'm talking like swatting-a-falling-meteor-from-the-sky type of intervention. And not even that action is guaranteed.


You ever read the Old Testament? God should have bought into a timeshare down here. Every other week he was doing something with somebody. Testing this guy, smiting that one. He was a real tough hombre. But then something happened.

I guess he switched to decaf or something, because in the New Testament we see a whole new side of God, in the form of Jesus Christ.

Now this is the version of God I totally dig on. More Brother than Father. Imagine that?

But I also see this in a very Sci-Fi kind of way (Imagine THAT!?!) and to me, the very act of transmigration of self, the act of placing part of the Divine Spirit of whatever makes God...whatever He is/was INTO Man, in order to become Christ, whatever that thing was that made God the God that he used to be...was forever changed.

For our benefit, of course, but gone was the power and might of the God of the Old Testament...transformed into something...wonderful, something we could relate to a little bit better, a sort of God/Man hybrid called Jesus who walked among us and who, because he was WAY too cool for us to handle and accept, we killed him.


See? I told you we sucked as a Species.

My point was that the Sacrifice of Jesus was way more than just an act of symbolism as far as dying for our sins...it was also a beginning of a new era of Man, an era that sets up the entire concept of why Earth kind of blows, but what needs to happen for it NOT to blow (the teachings of Christ) and what we have to do to make the world a better place is to live up to the ideals and the teachings of this Man/God who tried to tell us how beautiful our lives, our world could be if we only altered the way we lived a teeny tiny bit, all the while most of us, including some of his closest friends, were treating him like total garbage.

Still with me? Hope so, cause we have a LONG way to go.

So this is why there is no real presence of God every day, in the Modern World, like you saw in the Old Testament. No burning bushes, no Ark building and so on. God either can't do it because of the things that He sacrificed that day on the cross, or he won't because to do so negates the lessons we are supposed to learn as His children from that entire experience.

Now...here's where the exception to the rule comes in.

I do believe that you can feel a 'touch' of something holy or a 'presence' of a 'divine spark', or witness or experience the presence of God through the acts of other people, and sometimes through yourself if you are lucky, in some circumstances where you might find yourself fortunate enough to be blessed by something that is beyond the limits of yourself. Sometimes even beyond the scope of your ability to explain or understand.


But only if your heart and mind is open to it.

And this, my friends, was the basic Foundation on which I started to built my Faith.

In the life I was living, with the things I was experiencing, building a strong Faith, or ANY Faith at all, was not an easy task. But it was through the experiences of knowing many extraordinary people along the way that each new brick was able to be placed.

And the very first time, ever, I experienced that 'divine spark', or felt the touch of something that was 'holy', was in the company of my dear friend Richard.


Richard was a Christian.

Still is. A great kid and even greater man and Father. He opened doors to Christianity for me that no one else ever had, because his was the first Christian viewpoint I had ever experienced that did not judge me.

Richard accepted me at face value, something that not many people did, and not many people do still. For that he became, at the age of 12, one of my most treasured friends. Still is.

One day, we were walking home from the arcade. For those of you from The X-Box Generation, do you know what those are? This was pre-Pong, when you had to walk somewhere to actually play Video Games. We were at the Arcade (which in this case, like so many, was attached to a Putt-Putt Golf Course) and then walked home after dark, and we had to cross a very busy 6+ lane street, with a grassy median in the middle.

We were kids, so of COURSE we did not walk the 3/4 of a mile down to the crosswalk.

We just waited until the traffic got lighter and bolted like jackrabbits across the street. We stopped at the median, to catch our breath and plan the next stage of our adolescent stupidity.

For a reason that, to this day, Richard has no explanation for, he took off across the remaining stretch of street without me, without warning. Why he did not see the headlights of the oncoming car I do not know.

It was headed right for him.


I don't know how I moved with the speed of a cheetah but something took over inside me, I felt almost pushed, and I was able to reach beyond my typical abilities and I grabbed him and yanked him and pulled him backwards he landed with a thud squarely on top of me, but directly on the safety of the grassy median.

He believed I saved his life. And he believed I had some help.

I didn't know what I believed. I was far too shocked. I was honest enough to admit I did feel something, though I had no rational explanation for what it was. What I experienced I had no words for, because it felt very strange, almost as if I was outside of my own body, watching it happen as it happened. Even the recounting of it is strange...surreal.

Richard simply beamed and used metaphor, something he does quite well even today.

'I could almost see the remote.'
'That's good.You've taken you're first step into a larger world.'


I went to Church with Richard some in those days, and I learned some things, though my situation at home always kept me a little uneasy about accepting God fully into my life. I was skeptical. I mean, c'mon, seriously...my take was if the G-Man really wanted to help me out, how about giving me Invulnerability to Boot or some other more USEFUL ability?


And besides, Richard's Church simply wasn't for me. We've talked about it since, and he's not offended by that. Church's are like shoes. You need to find a pair that fits you well, and that are comfortable. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that ALL shoes help you walk on the path, know what I mean?

Eventually, as we always did when I was young, we moved again, so my time with Richard at my side was severed when we moved away from Dallas, Texas. This was before the Internet and before Facebook, before free long distance telephone service and Skype. So we stayed in touch as best as we could.

I have a Treasury of Richard in the form of some of the coolest letters and cards and notes that, while incredibly girly, are some of the most valuable things I possess. I mean...we were KIDS, fer cryin' out loud.

And he had the honor of sitting at my side at my first viewing of 'The Empire Strikes Back', before it was tainted by Prequels, or Greedo Shooting First, and all that bullshit. Not to mention being right there for pivotal screen moments like 'I dunno...I'm making this up as I go...', 'I'll be right here.' and, of course...'KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!'.

As I got older that friendship, because of time, distance and life, began to fade, as did the memory of that...whatever it was that I felt that night on the way home from the Arcade.


I did not experience anything like it again for several years, this time on a much larger road called Interstate 95.

Well, sort of.

I didn't actually feel that 'divine spark' until I was on the street in front of my house, but the whole thing started on that famous stretch of East Coast Highway, 14 miles away from the home of Mark Biggerman.

OUT.



To Be Continued...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ulnar? I Hardly Know Her!!


This weekend has been...something else.

My skull is pounding. My neck is throbbing. And my arms? Oh boy...If this were audio I would do the best Dr. Zachary Smith impression I could muster and try to make you laugh with my best 'Oh the pain! The pain!' quote. Was Jonathan Harris actually ever confirmed to be gay? Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just curious.

I said curious, not 'bi-curious'.

I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day, who also happens to be my former Physical Therapist who I first met when I discovered I have a Degenerative Disc problem in my spine. Sadly, he lives in Baltimore and I now reside in Columbus, Ohio. Or I'd be seeing HIM right now instead of typing this.

I described the symptoms I am having. Neck pain. Elbow pain in both arms. Numbness and tingling in both arms and both sets of outer fingers. Inability to pick up a cup with my right hand sometimes. Can't grip stuff with my right hand (alright...keep the 'social life' comments to yourself!). Pain in my right forearm. Pain in my hand when I close my hand, etc.


He said that while I would need to see someone and get a 'real diagnosis', but that it sounds a lot like Ulnar Neuropathy.

Well...batshit.

I need that like I need a hole in the head.

He gave me some tips of some things I could do in the meantime to help, but I have to add this to my To Do list for stuff to try to work out after my surgery next Friday.

Yeah...surgery. A Tonsillectomy. This coming Friday.

One day before Bennett's 2-Year Surgery Anniversary. That's screwy ain't it? Not half as screwy as Bennett has been acting lately. Not a tenth as screwy as the hard copy we got in of his Psychological Evaluation last week.

On August 1st he had this Psych Evaluation done. And actually, the chain reaction that this evaluation started has led to some very interesting things, things that I am in the middle of writing about. (Consider this a PRE-EMPTIVE APOLOGY for the onslaught of the next five days worth of blogs...it is INSANITY the amount of writing there is, but its a free country...you don't HAVE to read them).


But anyway...these evaluations. They evoke a visceral reaction in a parent. And the physical copy evokes an even more intense reaction than the evaluation itself, and there is no rational explanation why.

It hits you with hurricane force.

Essentially? It is almost as if the last two years have never happened. His scores were not that far above the last time he took it, prior to the surgery, and he is so significantly and profoundly delayed that it makes me question every single thing we are doing for him as parents.

The problem is...I don't know what else I CAN do for him.

That's one of the issues with a kid who has multiple disabilities. And it leads to you asking yourself shitloads of questions, none of them the 'feel-good' kind.

Which disability, or disabilities, is at the heart of his lack of ability to process the data or learn what he 'should' be learning? Is the fact that the tumor was there, forcing the removal of some of the brain tissue, the cause of the problem? Is the fact that he had CATASTROPHIC epilepsy for almost seven months straight the cause for a severely damaged brain? Is that always unexplained right-sided area on his MRI somehow a part of this? And why the fuck is it always 'UNEXPLAINED'?


And why on the Psychological Evaluation did it say on his June 2011 EEG there was a Spike but there was no mention of this from his Epileptologist? Was it just something that was considered secondary and not worth getting worked up over since he is not having any seizures? Is his diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder more the heart of the matter? Did his premature birth play a part, even though the people involved say nothing happened? Why was there that notation of a dusky color? Should I be going THAT far back for answers?

And of course, why is his behavior, which seemed to be under control, starting to worsen again? Up. Down. Up. Down. That is the nature of Life With Bennett. This weekend, particularly, has been crazy with that. The screeching is back. The biting. The self-injury. Why? Why now? Is it related AT ALL to my concerns about his swelling on his head?

This is why my head hurts. And since I cannot take any Ibuprofen this close to my surgery, I am limited to strictly Tylenol.

You don't know, as a parent, whether or not to cycle back and go crazy with analysis, or what. You don't know whether you should schedule a whole slew of new tests to see what you might be missing, what piece of the puzzle you are overlooking. You also wind up looking at your son's head and you don't know whether or not there is anything salvageable left inside there.

That's such a shitty, helpless feeling, and a thought that you hate thinking. Not long ago, I once posed a question to many of you...should I go digging back through old movies, looking for clues? I was in such a dark place then, and I'm not there anymore, and I often wonder if I should visit those movies now, and see what I can find.

Many of you might still say no, don't do it.

Jen actually would probably advise me not to. She always did. Though she STUMBLED on one that she did not mean to, and it got all of us a little weirded out. In it, pre-surgery, Bennett was mimicking me saying 'Hi Dadda!' very clearly. Your typical 16-18 month old thing to do, right? I remember those days well, he used to seize up like a mufugga all day long too. Those days SUCKED.


And here we are, over two years later. He cannot mimic 'Hi Dadda!' at all. Not anymore. He CAN say 'Daddy!'. And much more clearly DAH-DEE, not DA-DA. He CAN say 'Hi!'. He cannot, however, say the two together. And if you point to me and say 'Bennett, that's Daddy!' and he says 'Daddy!' and then you point to me again and say 'Bennett, who is that?' he says 'Keecol!'. His word for Crystal, the Home Health Aide.

It is inexplicable to me.

Things could be better. Things could be worse. It is important to always keep perspective. I realize this.

Last night, I was sitting on the sofa, and Bennett brings up a book, sits down besides me and hands it to me. This means he wants me to 'read' it to him. During this act, he doesn't learn the way 'normal' kids do. But there is an exchange, a shared experience. He does not process the words, he does not learn the letters. He is there for the moment, and nothing more. That is very cool. He USED to never do that.

This was a book about toilet training. When I got to a page that said 'I stand up to go Pee-Pee. I sit down to go Poo-Poo.' at the end of each of those sentences Bennett said 'Pee-Pee' and 'Poo-Poo'. Now, he's good at mimicking a sound, or repetitive language. I closed the book when I got to the end. I went back to the same page, pointed to the boy standing, and asked Bennett a question.

'Bennett, what is this boy doing?'

Nothing.

'Bennett, what is this boy doing?'

He starts to look away.

'Bennett, what is this boy doing?'

I put the book back in front of him and ask again.

'Bennett, what is this boy doing?'

He points and says 'Doong.'

'He's going Pee-Pee,' I said.

'Pee-Pee.'

'Bennett, what is this boy doing?'

'Doong.'

I said it again, more intensely, more annoyance in my voice, the way an arrogant American speaks to someone who does not understand English, as if repeating it for the SIXTH time, slower and louder, will make any difference at all.

'BENNETT...WHAT...IS...THIS...BOY...DOING?'

I hate the fact that I let this kind of thing really get to me at that moment. I hate the way I sounded. I hate writing about it. But it happened and I want to talk about it. It has consumed my entire weekend. I have felt like shit this entire time, all because of one lousy sentence. I just couldn't understand how a boy, nearly four, couldn't understand something so simple. And then I felt waves of guilt, because I realized that I was fucking up a moment that I should have been treasuring, moments that I know other Fathers would trade anything for to be able to experience ANYTHING like that with their loved ones.

Bennett was frustrated, because I pushed too far and it is was no longer fun, so he scurried off to go be anywhere but near me.

I went to the basement, feeling ashamed, and had a good cry. It had been almost a month, so what the Hell? What a jerky, stupid thing to do. And the thing is? Not the first, not the last.


Perspective. Gotta have it so I don't lose out on moments like that. I have to remember that there is a balance between loving my son for who he is while at the same time doing what I can to explore every option of treatment for him so that he can grow beyond any of his current limitations.

If that's even possible.

I'm his parent, and I just want what is best for him, and what makes this so difficult is not knowing what that is. But I know what isn't...and that is failing to understand that in situations like those my first role is being his Dad, my second role is being his Father.

OUT.