chapter 74: Home

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toward the end of first grade…as the weather warmed, giving way to spring and summer…i knew what wonder lay ahead of me.  it was a place i’d been before, and a time i’d be having again; but at 7 years old, i was still at an age where every experience appreciated in value–

so you went there when you were 5?  just WAIT ‘til you go at 7.

you tried it when you were 4 ½?  6 will KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF.

at nearly three-quarters of a decade old, i was right in the sweet spot of all things being better than before.  and there was no end to that escalation in sight.  my first-grader point on the matrix of childhood geared me up with gleeful excitement for one of my favorite activities, and one for which the summer was a perfect time:  going to my grandparents’ place.

any dedicated student of English knows that an apostrophe after an S indicates the possessive form of a plural; and if said S-apostrophe combination is found at the end of the word “grandparent,” one may usually and safely assume this references a quantity of two, particularly when it concerns a residential visit.  however, like a Kennedy, i grew up with an aristocratic privilege:  my family had a compound.

or at least, that’s what i call it.  see, my grandparents AND my GREAT grandparents lived on the same piece of land.  the Haynes Compound.  welcome to Hay-annis Port.

and what a compound it was.

my father’s parents lived beside Raimund Elementary School–with which they shared a driveway–in a building that was the original Raimund Heights Baptist Church.  it was a red brick, two story Traditional built in 1952, renovated in 1961 by my great grandfather, Thurman Parker, and procured through a trade for his services building the new church a few hundred yards further up Elrie Boulevard in 1960.  my grandparents bought the newly remodeled home from him, and after several moves around town and in Mississippi, my great grandmother, Berta, and he planted their flag behind the former church in a white, single-level hybrid:  the home had initially been a trailer, but my great grandfather—Daddy Pop, as we called him—had added on until he and Grandmother lived in a proper house, complete with a carport in the back.

the school would close in ’81, and Daddy Pop would buy it in ’85; but even before then, in a fenceless era, Raimund Elementary was every bit a summertime Compound component.  it was an old, white, wooden structure, with a big antenna tower behind it, which was installed in 1967 for closed circuit programming.  in addition to being the alma mater of Bo Jackson, the school had a unique draw once it became officially ours, though i didn’t explore it ‘til a much later age:  even after its purchase, it was still, inside, a school—the classrooms were inhabited by desks; the lunchroom was completely intact; filing cabinets were stocked full of students’ records.  it looked as if the world had ended, and here lay the remains of civilization, just as it was before human beings went the way of the Dodo bird.  how many people can say their family owns a completely preserved school?  Take that, Kennedys.

The Haynes Compound was a wonderland for me.  the property was immense, and on weekends or weekday afternoons—or any day in the summer—the entire spread was mine for the exploring:

there was the long, declining driveway, leading to the trifecta of two residences and the schoolhouse; the driveway and carport at my grandparents’ house, around the corner from which was a giant barbeque pit for 4th of July feasts and a big plum tree for tasty summer snacks; the sidewalk from their carport to my Daddy Pop and Grandmother’s front door; the cement path that wrapped around the trailer-house; the gravel lot on either side of the school; the grassy area between the two houses, lined by a tall cinder block retaining wall on one side and adorned by pecan trees, and flanked on the other side by a giant, endlessly compelling holly bush which i always wanted to reach the hollow center of…but i could never figure out how to bypass the spider webs; the street-paved main driveway to my great grandparents’ driveway…which led to the back of Grandmother and Daddy Pop’s, past a fig tree and grapevine, to the carport and half wall where a large apple tree stood; the great expanse of hilly grass going back farther than far to my pre-second-grade eyes; the garden down in the valley of that back yard, yielding beans, peas, okra, and corn; the asphalted lot behind Raimund Elementary—where classmates played dodgeball, kickball, basketball, and four square—and the giant acreage behind it where honeysuckle grew; and the front yard of the school—perfect for football or more earthy bike riding—and the sidewalk that encircled it.  it was an incredible maze; a laid-out obstacle course; an adventure park; a home and a home and a school and a yard and a track and a forest and a field and a path and a foreign land and a familiar place and a discovery of things i’d never dreamed of and things i dreamed to do again.  and with all my heart, i loved it dearly.

as a child, i would take my bike to the Compound:  my two-wheeled choice mode of transpo was a tan, Western-style Huffy, sporting a stylishly engraved banana seat and tire guards with a flare for the dramatic.  think cowboy, if cowboys wore striped knee socks and played Pac-Man.  my cool ride was nearly an exact copy of Jason’s, in the same way that identical twins compare almost precisely but not quite.  [in fact, the incidental slightness in design difference was such that the existence of two so-similar models always puzzled me].  and there was nothing i loved more than carrying that spoked, top-tube-padded fraternal beast of a dual-hooped machine to my favorite place to explore.  i’d put my bike in the back of my dad’s 1966 Ford Pickup, and when my tires touched down at the Compound, it was Game On. 

but a bike wasn’t necessary—

my playtime ran the gamut—  from watching tv at my grandparents’ house or catching classics on my great grandparents’ large-consoled screen, to playing my 17-year-old uncle Larry’s Head-to-Head Football game, to reading comics or coloring at the coffee table at Grandmother and Daddy Pop’s.  if i was feeling particularly constructive, i’d work with Larry’s 60’s-era American Plastic Bricks—a more serious predecessor to Lego—or the rustic Lincoln Logs, in the floor in front of that table or in my hideout behind Daddy Pop’s recliner.  i might also go for a little pigskin with my dad’s vintage Tudor Electric Football game—  i loved to hear and watch the metal “field” vibrate as the miniature characters blitzed according to the tremors, one carrying a tiny, white felt football tucked under his diminutive plastic arm.  or if the indoors were too confining, i may find myself riding with Uncle Larry in the old red Radio Flyer wagon, in bobsled formation as we raced down the steep main driveway and past the crepe myrtles.  sometimes, he’d pull me around the property in it.  or perhaps i’d look for colored eggs that’d survived the previous annual Easter hunt.  or just maybe, i’d grind up and down the driveway and sidewalks in my metal-wheeled roller skates.  my options were wide open, and no matter WHAT i was doing, i just might be wearing a towel as a cape.

and playtime was always on a tight schedule:  Daddy Pop worked every day in the yard—  shoveling, picking, collecting pecans…or doing the thing that fascinated me the most:  building things.  he’d retired from Woodward Coal after 27 years, but he’d spent his whole life working on houses.  Daddy Pop always wore Liberty overalls, and his hammer loop got plenty of use.  he had a varied collection of tools and lumber in a shed by the apple tree; i was mesmerized by that mysterious building and its contents, and i truly believed he could build anything in the world from the magical materials therein.  the shed served an additional purpose, as an obstacle for bike circling or hiding behind, if i had a friend with me; and it led to an elevated part of the property, filled with soft soil where Daddy Pop grew peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, corn, and the biggest fishing worms i’ve ever seen.  as i played and ventured in the great outdoors, he was always in my view—going back and forth, tending to the land and residence.  he oftentimes was moving dirt from one place to another, for reasons which i imagined were as vital to national security as they were enigmatic.  and i was never less than amazed that, every single day of every week—except Sunday, his day of rest—he had lots of work to do.

–lots of work.–  

but no matter what he was doing, when mealtime came, it was time to head inside. 

and we ate like KINGS.  the property’s fertile supply worked in tandem with Grandmother’s loving hands:  she’d slice peaches and apples from her trees, and freeze them and confect cobblers all year long, complete with thin strips of dough she called crackers.  on saturdays, she’d bake all day.  she often made teacakes, and i loved her fresh fig preserves.  she cooked vegetables from her garden, and corn of her own as well as from my Uncle C.W.’s; and we always had cornbread.  Grandmother prepared Daddy Pop a raw onion on a separate saucer, which he ate with every lunch and dinner.  one of my favorite things was Grandmother’s fried creamed corn; and i was ecstatic when i could make Mash on Cornbread, a concoction of Larry’s which consisted of soupy stewed potatoes, cornbread, and a little bit of mayonnaise.  Larry would sometimes eat with us, and i loved to see my plate full of the same thing he was having.

sometimes at the Compound, i’d go into the waving, lush area behind Grandmother and Daddy Pop’s house, and just tumble downhill toward the blackberry bushes, feeling the soft and scratchy, centipede-patched grass both cushion and itch me as i rolled—  there, where the dogwoods and two pecan trees towered above me, and the sky looked like the bluest water whereupon floated the most unusual branch-shaped boats.  other times, i’d go just a wee bit into the woods at the back of the property.  but my favorite thing to do was ride my bike.  fast, down the slope from the cement wall near Grandmother and Daddy Pop’s house.  and all over the incredible expanse of that world i loved so much.  me, with my little hands and little feet.  and little bike.  set out into a great big world of excitement.  it was my heaven.  a place where i was safe.  a place that Daddy Pop built.  with his hands and his tools and his work.  a place where i knew who i was.  it taught me what it meant to have a family.  to have a name.  to be a part of something.  to come from somewhere.  Daddy Pop built a church.  and he built a house.  and he built a family.  and he built a life.  and for me, he built a foundation.  a place where my feet were on solid ground.  just like the hard plastic, reflector’d pedals of my Huffy.  i would ride, and ride, and ride.  pedaling as fast as i could.  on the sidewalk.  in the dirt.  on the pavement.  in the grass.  around the yard.  around the school. 

do you remember that feeling?—

being on your bike, nothing but you and the wind and as fast as you could move your feet?

there was a time when the world was filled with those people.

the people who knew.

–what it was like to ride their bike, as a child who belonged.

in a place that was safe.

we rode.

we raced.

i hurried, with nowhere to be.  except the next foot of ground, the next patch of grass, the next turn to make.  when life was nothing more or less than that.  and i’m there.  now.  and other times, too.  when life hurts so bad.  when things just aren’t right.  all the pain, all the uncertainty, the fear, all that we feel in our heart…all of the hurt…can be replaced in an instant by the place we come from.  the good place.  the good world.  there on our bike.  our little hands and our little feet.  in a big world.  much bigger than now.  and if we can traverse that big world, we can navigate this one.  with our hands, and feet, the wind in our face, the home in our hearts.  where we come from.  a much more important destination than where we’re going.  there is no pain that can take us from there.  and no life that can outlive that joy.  we are children, we are free, we are reckless and watching and exhilarated and curious.  we are there.  with Grandmother in the doorway.  and Daddy Pop in the field.  or whatever your best home was.  i can see them.  and hear them.  and feel there.  and touch then.  and no matter the tears that touch my cheeks, they are nothing compared to my watery eyes, feeling the wind as i race through it.  they are nothing against my family.  my childhood.  my home.  in the good ways.  the good place.  i am what it means to have a name.  i have this name because of others before me.  and that is my foundation.  that is my house.  that is my church.  that is my home.  and i will ride.  until dark.  until dinner.  until night.  until i’m called in.  until time to sleep.  and dream.  of a new day to ride again.  i am there.  and so are you.  if you want to be.  life is a day in the sun.  a time to ride.  pedal.  turn.  go.  live.  and as we turn back to that place, time and again, we are at the sweet spot, where all things are better than before.  this is our home.  this is our life.  and we will ride.  i’m there tonight.  i was there this morning.  and no matter what bad the future holds, the good past will be there, too.  as it is now.  for me.  for you.  forever.

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chapter 73: junior High

i recently saw an anonymous quote:  “would the child you once were look up to the man you have now become?”

i don’t know that i could answer “yes” to that question.  at least, not yet.  because the child i was wanted to reach the world.  with ideas.  with art.  and i haven’t yet done that.  but my desire to do so began very long ago; it’s been the main constant in my life.  and it was definitely already present when i began First Grade, at Greenwood Jr. High School.

yes, that’s right–  Greenwood JUNIOR HIGH School.  during my entire time at the brick and green (metal, not wood) state institution, i wondered why it was called “Jr. High School”–  the school started at kindergarten.  so…”Jr. High School?”

“my daughter attends Greenwood Jr. High School.  she’s five and a half.”

why not go all out and call it Greenwood UNIVERSITY?

“you know, my son goes to Greenwood U.”

“oh, he’s in college?”

“no, he’s in second grade.”

nevertheless, i was never bothered by the name, even though i thought it sounded like i was bragging to say i went to junior high when i was still missing teeth.  but hey, i was moving up.  to the big leagues.  at six years old, all summer i’d been chomping at the bit for school to start.

SO thrilled…

after kindergarten, i knew that elementary school loomed in the distance; and i was excited.  i couldn’t fathom a place full of so many kids, of all different ages.  but as imposing as it seemed, i liked the idea.  and i knew my world was about to broaden, about to be more interesting than ever before.  i was ready.  i was a child, on the brink of the future.  and the future seemed bright.  it was 1979, and i was a still-blonde little bright-eyed wanderer, entering the hallowed sanctuary of a perplexing dichotomy of books, tests, projections, assignments, and lectures—and kids who had no interest in any of them.  to say that my first grade class was advanced would be like saying the Hindenburg was a triumph.  and unfortunately, as the years progressed—like peers on the Hindenburg–i would lose many of my classmates.  not to illness, accidents, relocation, or flaming hydrogen; but rather, to F’s.  many of my cohorts would love the grade we were in so much, they would choose to stay there; and as we few stepped onto the next rung of our elementary ladder, our old compadres would be replaced by the kids who’d stayed in the grade ahead to welcome us and show us the ropes, until the next year came and even fewer of us advanced forward.  the kids at Greenwood were nice; they were moreso hosts than students, gracious and accommodating enough to pick a grade and just remain there.  perhaps they weren’t bad students, so much as spirit guides, wise and willing to help us on our way.  “welcome to My Grade.  the room is approximately 23 and a quarter feet by 32 feet and 17 inches.  there are 276 tiles in the ceiling, plus two quarter-squares in the southeast corner.  summers are beautiful here; during the winter, the 2nd to last desk in the 4th row gets a little extra sunshine between 2:32 and 3:17; we’re in a great little location for fire drills, and only 38 steps from the water fountain.”  i half expected the veteran students who returned each year to show up in white suits, with Mexican accents, joined by Tatoo and welcoming us to Fantasy Island.  and looking back, it seems like a fantasy.

my First Grade teacher was Deanie Stephens.  she had long hair, and she always seemed upbeat to me.  once my mom went to her house, and i was along for the ride.  i couldn’t BELIEVE i was inside my teacher’s HOUSE.  i couldn’t believe a teacher even HAD a house.  just like i did, just like my family.  teachers lived in houses?  not in trees?  they didn’t burrow?  and you could visit them?  it just didn’t seem possible.  even though Mrs. Sharp had a house in my church’s neighborhood of Raimund Heights, this was First Grade—this was the Big Time.  but there i was, on Mrs. Stephens’s couch.  it might accurately be compared to sitting in the Oval Office as an adult.  and yet, as amazing as the fact remained, the experience was surprisingly mundane.  i’m sure the Oval Office, even with its vast and powerful history, is a little underwhelming.  walls, a desk, chairs…it’s just a room.  and to see Mrs. Stephens’s home was sort of like seeing behind the Wizard’s curtain.  this is where she goes when she isn’t at school?  just a normal house??  it was as if i’d made my way to the center of the universe, only to find out it was just a shopping center, with a Starbucks and a Super Wal-Mart.  the next day at school, i felt that i knew a secret no one else had ever suspected, no one else had ever fathomed, and no one else would ever believe:  Mrs. Stephens…was a PERSON.

and speaking of persons, some of my Parsons Kindergarten chums had followed me to elementary school.  two of my closest friends–Andy Grimes and Jimmy Bunn–began Greenwood alongside me.  Jimmy lived in my neighborhood of Eastern Valley, and Andy lived in Greenwood.  his mom knew Mrs. Stephens, so he too had been to her house.  Andy and i were the Chosen Ones, the only two to be let into the Circle of Trust.  and we would quietly keep her secret safe.

Greenwood was a great place, with great lunchroom ladies.  Mrs. Hill usually took our money at the end of the line.  and so, for some reason, i took her to be the leader.  She seemed like the head of a gang of white-coated old ladies, who were running some scam that involved giving kids food and taking their money.  i never figured out their angle, but i just knew there was a greater purpose, maybe moonshining, maybe gambling in the back.  these ladies just seemed too important to devote their lives to peanut butter balls and chicken tetrazzini; they were doing something else.  something bigger.  but nothing sinister–  i adored the lunchroom ladies.  i knew there was love in every small bowl of apple sauce, in every cheese sandwich beside my chili.  these ladies were a dynamite team, like an old quartet from the Motown era.  in my eyes, they were strong, smart, cool, and right.  or maybe i just really liked the tater tots.

and so, with my delicious, crispy cylindrical spuds, and my new friends, and my First Grade Junior High status, i flourished.  i became the artist of the class, the best at drawing.  and an A student, thanks to Mrs. Sharp’s advanced curriculum.  i killed at being a First Grader.  i loved every moment of it, and i hoped it would never end.  but as my seventh birthday approached, i knew my days in class were numbered.  and i would soon have my very first real summer, my very first school break.  my very first big sense of time passing, of a hallmark that would continue for years, the changing of seasons to mark advancement, improvement, change, growth, and the aging inherent to life in a linear existence.  i would put away my pencils, and get ready for a summer of shorts and iron-on t-shirts.  it was 1980; i had finally made it to a decade i could call my own…being born in ’73, i’d only inherited some other peoples’ decade–weird people with wacky clothes, mustaches, and bad haircuts.  but 1980 was all mine.  and so was summer.  and so was life.

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Chapter 72: Happy Anniversary

on sunday, april 22, 2012, i stood atop Mulholland Drive, above Bel Air, in southern california.  looking out over the city, there was nothing.  no hills.  no homes.  no trees.  no city.  no landscape.  there was only white.  a thick fog had descended, and what normally is an inspiring view had been masked by moisture.  the lush, green portrait of possibilities to my aspiring mind had been replaced by a blank canvass.  the whole world from my vantage point had become a question mark.  if i’d never stood there before, never seen for miles into that distance, i would’ve had no clue as to what extended beyond me.  and i thought–  this is how the future looks.  there is a destiny, a destination, there are choices, things, circumstances, places, people; but we can see none of them.  tomorrow is a fog.  so is an hour from now.  when you’re having brain surgery.  when you’re feeling fine but only an hour away from a hemorrhage.  when you’re sitting on the couch.  when you’re in your car.  when you’re sad.  when you’re not.  when your world seems bleak but there is goodness waiting.  we are constantly about to turn the page, never knowing what will unfold in the story of our lives.  for better or worse.

early in my life, i had no idea i’d end up living in california.  i never dreamed i’d be writing over a network that reaches every corner of the globe.  but here i am.  and here you are, reading it.  who knew we’d be right here, right now?

and right now, for me, is april 29th, 2012.  exactly one year since my brain surgery.  as i continue to look into my past, my life, starting from the beginning, i’m also struck by my bizarre existence over the last little while, and by the recent whirlwind of life experiences which have carried me to this moment, on this anniversary.  i didn’t know if i would make it this far.  one year ago, i lay on a table, as vulnerable as anyone can possibly be.  a knife awaited me.  my head would be punctured and explored.  a portion of my skull would be cut out, removed.  my brain would be exposed.  my life would be in the balance.  hanging.

i posted this today on my facebook page, as a commemoration:

today is april 29th, 2012. exactly one year ago today, i entered a hospital in phoenix, arizona, for a complicated and high-risk brain surgery. i had no idea whether i would ever awake from the operation. i had no idea whether my tumor would be found to be cancerous. i had no idea whether i would suffer a stroke, be left blind, or paralyzed, or worse. that was one year ago. and whether my tumor is still growing, whether i have another year ahead of me, i am endlessly thankful for this year of recovery, this year that i wasn’t guaranteed. and i am thankful to everyone who has reached out to me. i invite you all to read my story, at wadeferro.wordpress.com. if you visit me there, please begin at chapter 1 and go forward; i am writing it as a narrative, like a book, as opposed to a collection of disjointed blog entries. i am behind in my writing, but i will update it soon. 
thank you. life is a stroke of luck for all of us. so far, we are all incredibly lucky, whether things are very easy or extremely difficult. whether we feel as if we’re winning, or losing with flying colors. as the saying goes, “the graveyard is full of indispensable people.” we are here, not because we are needed, but because we are blessed.



wade  

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chapter 71: High Five


in 1978, my life ramped up to a whole new kind of interesting.  i entered an amazing world, one that broadened me in more ways than i will probably ever fully realize.  i made the move, changed my scenery, bravely ventured into that world of information, socialization, inspiration, and absorption.  in the fall of the same year that Alicia Bridges belted out “I Love the Nightlife (Disco ‘Round)” to adoring crowds, i found my own adoring crowd:  i started kindergarten.

Parsons Kindergarten sat on Eastern Valley Road, not far from the Volunteer Fire Department, and just nextdoor to that bastion of academic prowess, Parsons High School.  the tiny, fenced-in private high school for the school-less baffled me from the beginning, and that bewilderment continued throughout my knowledge of its existence.  so far as i could ever tell, the entire school consisted of a roadside, outdoor, full court cement basketball setup; a coke machine; and a tiny strip of a building that looked like the shacky provision for getting your skates, your putt-putt gear, or maybe a life vest for your waiting pedal boat.  whenever i passed Parsons High School in my parents’ giant car, on the other side of half-court were always four or five shaggy teenagers slinking on their butts, bottles in hand, with faces that said, “i have nowhere to be, and nothing to do.  except this.”

but Parsons Kindergarten was different.  as much as the high school seemed to be on the underside of primary education, the kindergarten was a shining bastion of excellence.  the kids who attended were lucky, as those of us who fell into that fortunate group were stimulated creatively, challenged intellectually, and given a fast pass to head-of-the-class First Grade status.  and there was a reason for this; one single reason.  one single determinate of our fate, one single advantage that put us ahead of the rest.  and that advantage, was Mrs. Sharp.  Adelaide Alabama Aravanna Camilia Ann Sharp was kind and encouraging, the grey haired savior of our 5 year-old, drifting minds.  she focused us.  she engaged us.  and she did it with the ease of someone who was made for it.  gifted.  she was our ticket to the kickstarted thinking that would take us out into the world, guide us, be our map as well as its navigator.  we learned so many things, about the world, about places and things and history and math, of magic not thought of and facts not imagined.  she taught us things that other schools didn’t.  her curriculum was advanced, and creative.  we learned about dinosaurs.  we learned about phonics.  we learned about ourselves.  and best of all, we learned how to read.  actually read.  it changed our lives.  she singlehandedly opened up a world of simple words, leading to simple sentences, leading me to comics which i read at my great grandmother’s house, leading me to books, leading me to writing, leading me to this.  these words.  the words i type, right now, are because of Mrs. Sharp.  and she had even more of a presence for me in particular, because she was one of my great grandmother’s best friends.  they sang duets in church.  like “Suppertime” and “Mansion Over the Hilltop.”  Mrs. Sharp was a part of my world.  at Raimund Heights Baptist.  and at school.

Mrs. Sharp had a machine that she would put slides into, and it would display them, project them, in a way i’d never seen before.  just as with Jason’s Star Wars projector, the images inspired me.  they were pictures of dinosaurs.  and we learned all the different types, and even a song about them.  i thought that machine was pure magic.  and really, i guess it was.  it made me dream.  of things less mundane than my table or chair, than the walls and the floor, than any physical thing that surrounded me.  it made me feel the existence of something bigger, and more spectacular, than anything i’d yet found to exist.  something that could exist.  and had.  something i could believe.  out there.  somewhere.  i thought about those dinosaurs.  they were like the great creatures of Star Wars, but they lived here.  on earth.  where i walked.  and ran.  and pretended.  they weren’t part of a movie, brought to life by special effects.  they were animals, as real as the dogs and cats around the neighborhood, but as fantastic as the sci-fi movie monsters that wrested my attention and astounded me.  i loved them all:  the magnificent Tyrannasaurus Rex, the triangular-plated Stegasaurus, the friendly-looking Brontosaurus, the shady Triceratops.  i knew not to trust a Triceratops; he just looked a little skeezy.  when i was in my bed at night, i’d imagine seeing the dinosaurs in real life, imagine being in that prehistoric place.  it filled my thoughts when i shut my eyes.

and i thought about Mrs. Sharp.  and her husband.  one time during recess, i was playing on the monkey bars.  i slipped, and as i fell, my body brushed against the metal of one of the vertical posts.  it had a sharp nub, which scraped me all the way up my side.  the very next day, Mr. Sharp was on the playground, sanding it down.  That left an indelible impression on my mind.  because of it, i knew Mr. and Mrs. Sharp would take good care of us.  i knew we were in good hands.  i will never forget seeing him there, saving me from any future injury.  i knew he’d come just for me, just because i’d been hurt.  to my 5 year old senses, that meant everything.  i felt special.  and i guess i was.  we all were.  and most of all, Mrs. Sharp was.

not only did i learn more about the world around me; i also discovered things about myself:  Mrs. Sharp had each of us lie down on our backs, while she traced us with a marker.  we then filled in the rest, and colored our self portraits.  our child-drawn images hung in the room until graduation.  i looked at those cutouts quite a bit, and i considered how different we all were.  and seeing all of us there, i thought that if we were all that unique, then we must all be important.

of all the things we did during our year with Mrs. Sharp, one stands out as especially exciting…

thirty-two years later, i still remember my crowning achievement in kindergarten, the further beginning of a trajectory toward the arts, toward independent thinking, toward following my love of all things creative.  it was the play.  THE play.  the end-of-the-year class theatrical production.  each of us was cast as a character from children’s books and fairy tales.  my good friend Russ Patterson was one of the Three Bears, as were Jason Allred and Billy Miller.  my buddy Andy Grimes was Jack, of Beanstalk fame.  my pal Jimmy Bunn was a Toy Soldier.  LeAnn Blankensopp and Angela Clevenger were Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, respectively.  and Shane Templeton was the villain, the dangerous and scary Calico Cat.  who was i?  i was in the spotlight.  i was important.  just like on the monkey bars.  i had a great responsibility:  i was Little Boy Blue; and at the end of the play, wearing Liberty overalls, i had to take my sword and slay the Calico Cat.  i was the hero.  at centerstage.  Mrs. Sharp had entrusted me with this significant task.  and i didn’t want to let her down.  so i gripped the painted-silver, wooden sword, raised it above my straw hat, spoke a few meaningful words, and then i brought it down onto the shoulder of the Cat.  and there i was.  the victor.  in dark blue denim, with a zipper pocket on my chest and a flannel shirt.  i still have the sword.  and the feeling that night gave me:  i could do something great.  i could change things.  i could stand up and do what others might not.  i could be…important.

–even with my weaknesses, my faults.  even with a brain tumor.  even now, as my brain is scaring me with what feels like a blockage, and the resulting pressure in my head; even now, as i sit in Starbucks with my pupils a different size from one another, a sign of a neurological anomaly.  right now, tonight, despite a left eye that still wants to go too far to the left.  i am still in blue.  with my blue hoodie.  and my blue eyes.  and i am still holding a sword, a willingness to believe i am capable of overcoming my problems.  thank you, Mrs. Sharp.

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chapter 70: the beginning

from the very beginning, all i ever wanted to be was an artist.  art comes in many forms, and my earliest conscious focus was visual; but my imagination, and my instinctive need to create, ran the gamut.  i was inspired by the world around me, and captivated by the world which could exist, versus the world which did.  i suppose, in that regard, i was an idealist.  but really, take out the “L.”  i had a passion for original ideas, be it mine or someone else’s.  whether it was a cartoon on a page, a movie i was watching, a dream i had, or a fantasy which took place in my mind, with monsters or wizards, superpowers or spaceships; i was keenly aware of what the mind could do, and if the body could follow suit, that was even better.  but either way, bringing into existence what did not previously exist–which is what all art is–was really the only thing i cared about.  anything imaginative, be it physical manifestations or even mere ideas, including new information–knowledge which changed my world or gave me a new perspective regarding it–compelled and mesmerized me.

one of my earliest memories takes me to a dark movie theater at 4 years old, watching Star Wars on the big screen.  It was the scene where everything came together in a perfect culmination of sci-fi fantasy heaven.  han, luke, leia and chewie end up in the garbage compactor, faced with the imminent closing of the walls, which spell certain doom.  C-3PO and R2-D2 frantically attempt an override of the system, as luke shouts commands via his super cool, space-age walkie talkie.  add to the mix laser guns, the princess’s brash wit, and han solo’s cocky give-and-take with her, then top it off with chewbacca’s growls and wookieness and–GASP–a mysterious and dangerous monster swimming in the water, and you’ve got enough dramatic tension, excitement, comedy, exhilaration, and other-worldliness to make a mark that 34 years can’t erase.  that scene, as well as the rest of the movie, stayed with me.  Star Wars became my obsession, as did the characters, the gadgets, and the prospect of unprecedented adventure.

after seeing Star Wars, i could hardly think of anything else.  i wanted to live in that universe.  i wanted to be in that adventure, fighting, running, flying, saving, winning…i wanted to know Leia, Han, Chewbacca…and Luke.  but moreso, i wanted to BE Luke.  in retrospect, Han was perhaps a more entertaining character.  but Han was a foreigner to my childhood frame of reference; he was a man–an experienced, confident smuggler.  a rich character, to be sure, but it wasn’t possible for a kid to be that, well, solo.  and therein lay the brilliance of Luke’s disposition.  he was an outsider to the struggle of the galaxy.  he was an innocent.  he was a nobody.  and compared to the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire, and all of its politics, history, intricacies and involvement, he was a kid.  and so was i.  i could relate to him.  my existence was mundane, compared to space battles and epic ramifications of multiplanetary attempts at independence from an evil galactic stronghold.  i WAS luke.  in my mind.  not a jedi.  not a Rebel.  just a kid.  and then, in a moment of destined greatness, i was turned into a key figure in the journey to peace, a hero in the making, a future master of a lightsaber and the all-powerful FORCE.

because of my desire to be in and around the incredible space opera i’d witnessed on the silver screen, i quickly latched onto the Star Wars merchandise mania.  i wanted it ALL.  the action figures allowed me to tell my own story, to live through the characters as they convened and colluded, plotted and ployed.  and most of all, FOUGHT.  the romantic element of Star Wars made perfect sense to my young mind– there was good and evil; there was a clear distinction of who should win.  and so, in my hands, the good guys did just that, over and over and over.  but perhaps even more important than the action figures, were the toys.  plastic replicas of the real things allowed my imagination to put me in the places and situations which only great star warriors know.  i was Luke.  AND Han.  and sometimes, i was MYSELF, a character in my own right, a hero aiding heroes.  gripping my black blaster, i shot at storm troopers.  wielding my flashlighted saber, i fought Darth Vader.  i ran around our house in rural Eastern Valley, claiming victories for the Rebel Alliance.

Eastern Valley was a galaxy all its own.  rows of streets and rows of houses meant legions of kids.  it was a paradise for a young Rebel.  i’d moved there early on, having lived previously just a mile or so from our newly built brick house with blue shutters.  a house, thankfully, that kept me close to another warrior.  as a collector of everything Star Wars, i had as much as my parents and Santa Claus had allowed, but i needed more.  equipment; weapons; atmosphere.  and a teammate– reinforcement in the fight.  fortunately, i wasn’t alone.  my Star Wars curtains and toys weren’t the only ones in the neighborhood; there were others, in other bedrooms, in other houses, all over the movie-going universe.  and most luckily for me, some of those were less than 30 yards away, in the bedroom of my very best friend, my nextdoor neighbor, Jason Handley.  my family had moved beside Jason’s in Eastern Valley when i was only 2 years old.  before that, we’d lived in a small area known as Jonesboro.  Bessemer, Alabama wasn’t a very big place; it was where i’d been born, shortly after my parents moved back from Oahu, Hawaii.  my father had gotten out of the military, and after being employed at U. S. Steel, he’d managed to purchase a lot and build a house, at 1003 Ferro Avenue.  this was the place i would forever think of as home.  it was where my imagination would develop, where i would be a child forever in my memory.  and living so close to another kid my age, i would join forces with a partner in every kind of adventure; in addition to Star Wars characters, we were superheroes; the A Team; rappers; and every other thing we could possibly think of.  we wore capes made of towels in the summers; we set traps in the woods and claimed an opening in the middle of the miniature forest as our clubhouse.  we pretended to be witches, stirring a magical brew in the rain-filled tree that held the tire swing in Jason’s backyard.  we were best friends, from the time we were old enough to play in the floor with cars and his mini city playset, complete with a gas station that went “ding.”

my family’s first meeting with Jason’s occurred abruptly:  while my parents were working on their newly acquired empty lot, my mother met with a swarm of bees.  she ran frantically to escape the stings of an angry, flying mob; and with nowhere else to go, she ran…right to the Handleys’ front door.  and let herself in immediately.  right into their living room.  unannounced.  uninvited.  unknown.  they were watching television in their living room, and all of a sudden, a 20-year old girl opened their sliding glass door and jumped in.  that wasn’t the last time someone from my family would open that door; Jason and i became the best of friends, and our front doors were forever revolving.  we spent the night with each other, played outside and in my basement, and when Star Wars came out, we plunged headfirst into a galaxy far, far away.  i had han solo’s gun.  Jason had a Star Wars projector.  we would go into his bathroom and shut the door, and in the dark watch a miracle–a Star Wars movie, all our own, before the days of big screen televisions or home theaters; before the era of the VCR.  we had our own movie theater, with the movie screen placed somewhere above the toilet.

my friendship with Jason influenced my life in more ways than i will ever know.  having someone there, just nextdoor, meant that i was never alone.  i had a partner, in any activity that interested me; and so did he.  my sister wasn’t so lucky.

when i was 4 years old, in january of 1977, i was staying temporarily at my grandmother’s house in the community of Raimund, just a few doors down from our church, Raimund Heights Baptist.  i can still remember being downstairs with my mother, who’d just arrived, as she held the new bundle in her arms.  that bundle was my first and only sibling.  my mother tells me that, when i saw Dana, i ran and hid.  i guess i didn’t want to play second fiddle.  but those feelings went away, and i accepted my plight as the older brother.  there were no kids Dana’s age within the cluster of houses around ours, and so all she had was me and Jason.  i wonder who and where she would be right now, had the Handleys had a daughter her age.  i was extremely fortunate to have Jason, but i lucked out in other ways, too.  and one of my life’s most important strokes of luck occured when i was 5 years old.

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chapter 69: a great run

in los angeles, there is a standing army.  it is thousands strong, and it is a foreign one.  it is comprised of those who cross our southern border illegally, hide in the bottoms of cars and sleep in the desert, all for the sake of joining the brigade.  it is a mighty force.  it is, indeed, an army.  its soldiers can be seen from nearly every intersection, on virtually every street.  they storm homes, apartment complexes, and business centers alike.  they take to the yards, streets, alleyways and courtyards.  they are in the middle of everything, and in the corners of all things.  they roam the walkways and breezeways.  they are everywhere.  and they appear to be taking over.  they stand tall.  they work hard and long.  they are mobile.  they are a penetrable force.

and they are armed.

but unfortunately for me, they are armed, not with guns, but rather, with leaf blowers.

———————

a couple years ago, i decided to take a run.  touching my sliding glass door from the inside, i could feel that the weather was warm.  looking up from my balcony, the golden sun blazing out of the clear blue sky invited my skin and my lungs, to get out of my dark abode and venture through the neighborhood, breathing in the fresh air, and basking in the glowing orb that would light my way through a refreshing workout.  i would take in the beauty of Toluca Lake, while being raptured by the fragrance of flowers gracing nearly every yard along the way.

i put on my running shoes.  and my exercise shorts.  i chose the perfect running shirt:  loose fitting; thin; and sleeveless, for optimal movement.  i stretched.  hamstrings, calves, back…  i couldn’t wait to enjoy the revitalizing energy of an afternoon jog.

i jetted out of my door, and waited for the elevator.  today was a good day.  like every day.  but it was about to get even better.  the elevator carried me to the ground floor, and i soon found myself in front of the big double doors.  the sun was breaking through the glass.  my asthmatic lungs waited; i took a few deep breaths, as i prepared to burst out of those doors, into the sunshine, running down the sidewalk to turn left onto picturesque Sarah Street.  home to Alan Thicke.  and Joe Mantegna.  and Garry Marshall.  and on down, Dawn Wells, who played Maryanne on Giligan’s Island; and Kat Dennings; and Tone Loc.  it’s great to live in a great place, with great weather.  and now, for a great run.

i indulged myself into a last deep bronchial expansion, and then, like a pipe bomb, i exploded out of the building.  immediately, the heat kissed my skin.  the air whisked me away.

for about six feet.

i leaped down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk.

as my feet hit the cement, my mouth opened for a significant, Nature’s Euphoria breath.  but in the middle of the uptake, i was hit.

struck.

whacked.

in the face.

in the the nose.

in my open eyes.

in my gaping mouth.

it was a meteorological attack.  a storm of dirt, grit, and filth attacked my face.  all of the grime–from the overpass, from curbs, from cars, from cement drainage cavities–all of the nastiness, the funk, the refuse, from the 4-lane Cahuenga Boulevard, from the nearby California State Route 134, from every building, yard, and gutter….  all of the grainy garbage, the sandy soot, had risen into a tornado of trash, gathered and wound by a multitude of gas-powered leaf blowers lurking around and in front of my building.  thanks to the Leaf Blower Brigade, a putrid swirl of smut had been waiting.  waiting, for me.  and my face.  my nose.  my eyes.  my mouth.

tiny particles lodged themselves between my teeth.  draped my lips.  stuck to my tongue.  clung to the back of my throat.  innumerable pieces of only-God-knows-what filled my nose, resting inside my nostrils and sinuses.  and dived deep into my lungs.  a flurry of septic sand hit my eye balls, planted itself into my lashes, and quickly made its way inside my lids.  my head was wrapped in a dark cloud of disgust.

still, i continued to run.

i was determined to shake it off.

i bounded down the sidewalk, toward Sarah Street.  according to plan, i would make a left.  and slowly clear my lungs and the cavities of my skull.  i would wipe my eyes.  and continue on.

but with each step, my symptoms grew.  wheezing gave way to coughing; coughing gave way to wheezing.  my obstructed eyes began to water.  by the time i reached the 3/4 mark toward Sarah Street,  i had tears in my ears.  and down my cheeks.  both clear and brown snot streamed out and wrapped around my face like wings.  my footwork became clumsier.  and somewhere in my missteps, in my attempt to nonetheless fly on wings of mucus, somewhere in my blinded efforts to stay on the sidewalk, to pick the rocks out of my incisors while still moving forward, somewhere in my muted, tongue-covered-with-grime stab at enunciating “i think i can,” i slowed down, and i realized this was a no-go.

i stopped.

i turned around.  i decided it was time to go upstairs, take a shower, flush my eyes, blow the pound of soil out of my nose, rinse my mouth, and see if i had any floss specifically designed for granulated insect parts and excrement.

my aborted run is a lot like life:  you never know what you’re going to get.

like a brain tumor.

or something else.

you can put on your shoes, burst through the doors, filled with expectations.  but what happens on the other side–good or bad–is anyone’s guess.

will my tumor grow?  it may.  will i experience more misery because of it?  could it one day kill me?  i am still hurting from the surgery; and i’m having problems…some, similar to those i had prior to my operation.  in addition, my pupil will not dilate; a sign of neurological problems…

but despite the problem with my eye, i’m still looking forward.  who knows what will happen next.  in my brain.  in my life.

it may throw me for a loop.

one night a few years ago, on Sunset Boulevard, i was standing with two friends.  nobody else was near.  then suddenly, doors opened and a crowd formed.  i felt someone’s shoulder against mine; i turned my head to the right to find Hugh Hefner standing beside me.  around me in every direction, stood at least 30 Playmates, very, very scantily clad.  i couldn’t believe it.  i was surrounded by Centerfolds.  showing almost everything they had.  Playboy had thrown a private party, and it had just let out of the club behind me.  i’d never dreamed i’d be the creamy center in a Playmate Oreo.  but there i was.  and what was most surprising of all, was that i didn’t find the girls attractive.  they looked…phony.  “i see better looking girls at the mall.”  again, a surprise.

and such is life.  things come out of nowhere.

a box of surprises.  some less than optimal, some awesome.  and some, in between.  so many surprises.  but my life has been set on a particular trajectory from the start, aimed at staying on course amongst the unexpected gifts and detours along the way.  i was born with hopes, and i still have them.

technically, my life started in Oahu, Hawaii.  but before i could be born into a tropical utopia of Hula girls and surfer glory, i was transported.  to Bessemer, a city just outside of Birmingham, in Jefferson County, Alabama.

and so, my life in the world began.

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chapter 68– AND NOW, BACK TO MY STORY…

AND SO, FINALLY, I PICK UP WHERE I LEFT OFF.  BEFORE I HEADED FOR PHOENIX.  BEFORE MY SURGERY, WHICH TOOK PLACE ON APRIL 28TH, 2011.  I’M GOING BACK TO CHAPTER 49, BACK BEFORE I RAN OUT OF TIME TO CONTINUE THE NARRATIVE OF MY PRE-SURGERY JOURNEY.  BACK TO 49.  BACK TO USC.  BACK TO MY DEALINGS WITH CARDIOLOGY.  AND DOCTOR Y.  I AM WRITING THIS, POST-SURGERY, IN THE LATTER STAGES OF RECOVERY.  I AM RETURNING NOW, TO MY STORY.  THE STORY I BEGAN WITH CHAPTER 1.  AND SO, FROM CHAPTER 49, NOW CONTINUING ON, AND GOING…FORWARD…

after my vulgar, accidental “f” word threat of a texting mishap to Dr. Y, i tried to smoothe things over, via 2 SMS messages and one phone call.  he didn’t seem to know what i was talking about; “i’ll have to check my messages,” he said.  “NO, NO, NO, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT!”  i hoped he wouldn’t.  i don’t know if he ever did.

anyway…

on april 18th, monday morning, i showed up at USC after only 2 hours’ sleep.  to my surprise, despite the allegedly full schedule in Radiology, the guy at the desk told me the MRI machine was free all day.  a few conversations later, i was set for a cardiac MRI at 2:00.  i went home and took an hour nap, then came back and promptly put on the ol’ fashionable gown.

it’s a strange thing, to be a guy wearing a gown.  if you’re a girl in the hospital, do you feel like curling up with your teddy bear and watching a movie?  i have no memories of gowns; it’s like wearing a gorilla suit…i have no point of personal reference.  except, there’s something masculine about a gorilla.  for a guy, “put on this gown” is like “put on this sundress.”  “put on this lipstick.”  …”put on this panty liner.”

anyway, i suited up, but with hesitation:  should the gown be open-back or open-front?  i’m getting my chest scanned, but these machines go through skin, bone, and muscle; surely it can see through thin cotton.

in the MRI room, i was laid out like catering at a royal wedding.  positioning was adjusted carefully, a few inches up, a little to the left…until i was primed for the claustrophobic nightmare i was about to endure.  my old girl diane–and a chick and dude in pajamas–began piling blankets and all kinds of crazy stuff on me.  they plugged my IV into a machine, and it was soon realized that…

my gown was on backwards.

um…  COULDN’T YOU HAVE TOLD ME THAT WHEN I FIRST WALKED IN?

they unearthed me like layers of cheese in a nacho casserole.

taking off the gown was proven impossible due to the tube stretching forth from my vein to the machine containing the contrast dye.  the man in scrubs, whose name was ramón, grabbed the plastic piece which was securely snapped into the needle dug deep into my huge vessel.  soon ramón’s vessels were huge, too–they were protruding out of his neck and forehead like dolly parton out of shrink wrap.  his jaw was clenched as he tried with all his might to pull the plastic apparatus out of the back of the needle, just an eighth of an inch away from my skin.  after exhausting his strength, diane gave it a shot, one pale and constricted hand on the needle and the other bony claw on the end of the tubing.  then back to ramón, who was standing with knees bent to prevent a back injury.  he may have feared a hernia, but watching him strain his guts out at the insertion point of the needle embedded into my median cubital vein, i imagined him slipping and jerking out not just my vein, but my entire circulatory system, heart included.  i pictured my aortic valve bouncing off the wall like a new basketball, as i squirted out every pint of life like a stomped Capri-Sun.

and so i asked the obvious…

“can you not do that?  can’t you just unplug it from the machine?”

“no, this is the better way.”

the better way was to strip me like a wire in a junction box?

finally, they were able to disconnect the coiled tube which would soon enough fill me with iodine.  i left my nightgown off this time, and they stacked me with covers and coverings.  and then, like coal into a furnace, they shoved me in.

but first:

it hit me right before my entrance that every past MRI had been for my head.  this meant i only had to go partially in, about waist deep.  however, this time, they needed images of my heart.  i slid in, all the way to the middle of my shins.  the only thing hanging out were my feet and the coiled tube, which was basically my string for what felt like several days, as i was inserted into the machine wholly, like a giant tampon.  an abused and abandoned, forgotten step-nephew of Aunt Flow.  and toxic shock syndrome was a risk run, because it seemed like a forever that i was in there.  and in fact, it basically WAS.  an outrageously long…period.  i was in the machine for THREE HOURS.

THREE HOURS.

THREE HOURS.

THREE.

HOURS.

THREE HOURS!

i lay there, having slept very little the night before, and desperate to fall into a deep slumber…

but–

i cannot sleep on my back:  if i doze off, i stop breathing.

but–

sleep wasn’t possible, regardless of my position, because, for the entire time, i had to do three things, at the tech’s urging:  1)  “okay, deep breath.”  2)  “hold it in.”  3)  “let it out; let it out and relax.”  i heard these words over, and over, and over, and over.

and over.

“okay, deep breath.”  ahhhhuhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  the air fills me.  and then…

“hold it in.”  waiting…waiting…waiting…my lungs are full.  i’m a balloon in a cubby hole.  a wine bottle in a rack, my cork about to pop off…  the pressure is antagonizing my torso.  i’m still.  and under pressure.  a living, (not) breathing, bloated moment in time.

“let it out; let it out and relax.”  whooooohhhhhh….*sigh*…..

this pattern repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated.  and repeated…

…and some of the scans required very long periods of held breath, which was incredibly tiring.  the physical taxation of the process was enough to wear me out, regardless of my pre-bake, pre-menstruation energy level (remember the tampon analogy?).  but add no sleep to the breathing exercises, and then factor in the deafening noise encircling my head.

–and–

now consider the fact that, for the entire time, i can’t MOVE.  not a muscle.  or we have to do the same scan AGAIN.

insanity isn’t that far away.  from you.  from me.  it only takes the right stimulus.  the perfect blend of time and frustration.  of weariness and wear and tear.  of noise, perceived eons, physical exasperation, repeated mantras, forced frozenness, and claustrophobic torment.

my mind turned to mush.  was i still in the machine?  or suffering drops of forehead-puddled water from the Viet Cong?  or was i running for my life in a game of hide and seek, on a planet far away?  my mind wanted to sleep, as did my body.  but unable to do so, my thoughts drifted in and out of the netherlands of my psyche.  in between breaths and breaks, somewhere north of bedtime and south of bearings, i relived the past, created the future, and existed both fully and not at all in the present.

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

“okay, deep breath.”  …  “hold it in.”  …  “let it out; let it out and relax.”

ad infinitum.

but, like all things, even loops have an end.  there is no eternal circle…  the human experience has a way of bending even the most stubborn orb, changing up the monotony, and, in my case, freeing me.  but only physically, at first.

at the end of the three hours, when they pulled me out, i thought i was going to punch everyone in the face and run like Forrest Gump crossing the continent.  it never felt so good to be on my feet.  and crazy.  i wanted to fire through the wall like Wile E. Coyote.  smack everyone i saw.  in the head.  with a broom.  run out into traffic, drag everyone out of their cars, and kick them like footballs fated for field goal glory in a tie-broken Iron Bowl.  i was absolutely CRAZED beyond belief, ready to rip coat hangers off of bathroom stalls with my bare hands, like an AWOL renegade from the Guild of Vandals; take my newly gained, curved metal grapplers into the Mall of America; and hook every set of nostrils in sight.  nasally drag everyone into the food court, and then fry up shoes for an Elvis-movie style Clambake, with dancing, leather eating, and maybe a talking piranha.  with bowlegs.  and then laugh all the way to TimbukTHREE, because “TU” seemed entirely too sane.

i felt like a PSYCHO.

……..

once i was just rational enough to put on my clothes, i dressed and walked the property a bit, my head trying to pop off like a July 4th bottle rocket, my legs attempting long distance runs in opposite directions.  my entire being felt like john ritter after electro-shock in Skin Deep.  but in the medical building, the parking garage, and eventually my parked car, i slowly melted back into a more common state of mind, like black ice into white snow.  once the transformation was near complete, i went to McDonald’s.  nothing like a cheesburger after a heart test.

as it turned out, despite my sense of liberation once my MRI was finished, there was one more rapid to be braved…  not only did ramón foul up on my IV/gown situation; he also had forgotten to…shave…my CHEST.  BEFORE placing the largest, stickiest tabs imaginable on my left pectoral.  i’m not tom selleck, but i’m also not 11.  as i was dressing after my test, i realized what he’d done, and i knew there was hell awaiting me.  i got home, grabbed a friend, and showed them my situation.  their face lit up IMMEDIATELY.  i laid down, took deep breaths, prepared myself, and yelled, “MESS ME UP!!!!!!!!!”  but in a more colorful phrase.  i told them–  “you have to RIP THIS WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.  otherwise, it won’t come off all the way.”

i took a deep breath.  with each tear, my screams rang out across the San Fernando Valley.  and then, it was done.  and so was i.  i’d like to someday dip ramón in Crazy Glue.  and then pieces of burlap.  and then…THANK HIM.

a few days later, i got my test results.  my heart was in great condition.  my body was well.  my time was near.  i was primed and approved for surgery.  it would be coming soon.  and so i had my period of ponderance, my time for the Green Mile, just me and my considerations.  to look back.  to reflect.  to think about my life.  where had i come from?  where had i ended up, so far?  if this was the end, what difference had i made?  this was my time–maybe my last time.  but at least, my time to remember.  to relish the life i’d been able to live.  to look at my successes.  and also my failures.  to take an account of my life, good and bad, and to ready myself for that operating room, with the full scope of my years on this earth, clear and complete in my mind.  if this was to be my last week on earth, i wanted to end it with the full knowledge of the beginning and middle.  the first and second act.  if this was to be the end of the third, there was certainly a lack of dramatic tension; my life was at best nearing the end of act 2.  but, i’m not the sole author.  or the director.  i’m simply trying to assert what control i have, for my part, and my character’s choices…our lives are dramatic works of art, which veer to and fro, running the gamut of genres.  comedy, both light and dark; melodrama; satire; we are contract players without the luxury of choosing each project on its own merit.  each turn of the plot takes us into a new direction, whether we are willing or not.

and so, having thus far lived a life in and out of good control, i paused.  i thought.  i weighed my experiences, my choices, pitting good vs. bad, intention versus accident, mine versus that intangible friend and foe of happenstance.  fate.  God.  clumsy circumstance and the indelicate thrustings of a cosmic force.  how had i overcome obstacles?  how had i folded to adversity?  how much of my life had i chosen?  and how many choices had been right?  why?  how?  when?  and where was i, then and now, in relation to where i’d hoped to be?  i took an inventory.  but more simply, really, i told myself a story.

i told myself a story.

the story of my life.

i went back.  all the way to the beginning.  back to Bessemer, Alabama.  back to childhood.  i took a look, at the 37 years i’d had.  and i looked…slowly.  this was my time to stop living my life for a few moments, and to instead recount those moments already passed.  as so i did.  just like in the MRI machine–  “deep breath; hold it in…”

i looked back.  who was i?  what had been my dreams?  my loves?  my passions?  and what had i done, toward and away from attaining my goals?  who had been important to me?  and why?  what had my life been?  i took my time.  and pondered.  and wondered.  and most of all, remembered…  my life…

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