How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Saturday, December 19, 2015

He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother.

It is almost Christmas and maybe I should be writing some heartrending tale of giving and the power of seasonal love, but I want to write about my first memory, so that is what I am going to do. You want Christmas sentiments go buy a Hallmark card.

My first memory is of a Japanese babysitter trying to boil my brother alive like a lobster. Or maybe a shrimp. He was pretty small back then. I bravely and heroically threw myself at the babysitter and told her to put me in the boiling water instead of her lowering him into it. I say, bravely and heroically, but I knew if the babysitter boiled my brother alive I’d somehow catch the blame for it and I’d never ever hear the end of it for the rest of my life. Every family reunion, every Thanksgiving, every Fourth of July barbecue someone would say, “Hey, what about the time Teri let her brother be boiled alive?”  I knew, even in my five-year-old little heart, that I couldn’t bear sixty years of that story being repeated and repeated and repeated ad nauseam.  Screw that. I’d rather be boiled alive.

            Fortunately Mom and Dad walked into the house just about the time the babysitter stuck my foot and leg into the water and I let out a blood curdling scream that sent my dad running into the bathroom to jerk me away from the babysitter. He yelled at her, but since she could speak no English she just stood there and smiled and nodded her head while he railed into her. Mom and Dad never used the babysitter locater service offered on Misawa Air Base again. Turns out that Japanese babysitters in 1965 didn’t know much about the hot water tap and didn’t know that they should be checking the temperature of the water before lowering a one-year child into it. You are welcome, brother. But instead of thanking me, about two months later he repaid me by pulling the string completely out of  the back of my Chatty Cathy doll and she never talked again.  My brother still owes me fucking big time. And I do mean big time.

            When we left Japan to come back to the states we almost left my brother behind because he refused to get on the plane. He kept pointing at the plane sitting on the tarmac, shaking his head no, and saying “Big bird, big bird (he predicted Sesame Street’s Big Bird long before Jim Henson came up with the idea- I think he should be getting some royalties or something).  I say we almost left him in Japan, but I know Mom and Dad wouldn’t have done that. If he hadn’t calmed down they would have just tranquilized the shit out of him and carried his comatose tiny body onto the plane. It didn’t come to that, although I think it would have made a great story for every family reunion, every Thanksgiving, and every Fourth of July barbecue. I made up for what my brother did to my Chatty Cathy by terrorizing him for years with this: “We got you in Japan, Someone just left you on our doorstep and one day your real mommy and daddy are going to come back and take you away and you won’t even be able to talk to them because they will speak Japanese and you can only speak English”. Hey, a sister has to what a sister has to do. I am still pissed about Chatty Cathy. I may need therapy for that. You think?  Oh, wait, I AM already in therapy. I’ll just have to make sure to bring it up at my next appointment. I mean, after all, what am I paying him for?

            My brother has no recollection of the day he was almost boiled alive, and his first experience with planes didn’t seem to scar him much. After all, he grew up to work in the airline industry. Go figure. I know he makes good money but not once has he offered to buy me another Chatty Cathy doll. Told you I needed therapy for that shit.

(below: base housing Misawa, Japan 1965)






Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Americans Are Assholes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year; upcoming political elections. People are yelling and screaming and disagreeing and calling one another names like “idiot” and “moron”. I’ve never really understood the name calling as part of our democratic process. If someone doesn’t agree with you I don’t think calling them names is going to magically make them see the light and come over to YOUR side.  “Wow, this person just called me a moron so I must be wrong about everything I think. I will give this person hot doughnuts for helping me see the error of my ways”.

Throw into this grand mix a few thousand refugees who are fleeing a war torn, decimated country (that WE have had a hand in creating) and you’ve really got a show to rival anything ever conceived on Broadway.  I am expecting any moment for someone to take a chisel and chip away the words engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. You know those words? That whole “Give me your tired, your huddled masses” thing?  The words to that poem for the 21st century America should read something along the lines of: 

Not like the brazen giant of capitalistic fame,
With conquering limbs astride from Wall Street to Silicon Valley;
Here at our BP-oil washed, smoggy gates shall stand
A paranoid woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Go-Away. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide scorn; her suspicious eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Stay in your war torn lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With tight lips. "Give me your Christian, your bootstrap able,
Your low wage masses yearning to breathe McDonald’s grease,
But the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to refugee camps,
I lift my lamp beside the locked door!"


Am I crazy? Do I not understand that terrorists could be hiding amongst those refugees? Do I not understand that the children of these refugees could grow up to bomb a town in Wisconsin or Ohio? Do I not understand that the refugees are going to destroy American Christian values with their Sharia law? Do I not understand that Halal law could effectively close down Big B’s BarBQ restaurants? Yes, I know, I know. Paranoia run rampant (you still thinking you’re going to end up in a FEMA camp, right?). Are we really going to keep professing that Christianity is such a great loving religion and keep harping that the U.S of A IS a Christian nation, but in the next breathe refuse to admit to our shores a small fraction of homeless, war torn, cold, hungry refugees based on unmitigated fear that we allowed to take root and bloom?

 Yeah, I know, “Why isn’t Saudi taking them?, “Why isn’t the UAE taking them?”, Why isn’t Qatar taking them?”. I used the same logic before I realized that argument isn’t logical at all but childish selfishness. As a teacher nothing drives me crazier than when I get onto a student for some misbehavior and the first thing that student utters is, “Well INSERT NAME is doing it and you’re not getting onto them”. Let me cry you a river, kiddo. WE are supposed to better than THEM, remember?

Our country was founded on taking chances. It is in our DNA. We are the ancestors of the persecuted, the slaves, the down trodden, the hungry, the stateless. We are Irish and English and Scottish and African and Cuban and Chinese and German and Egyptian and Japanese and Filipino and every other nationality one can think of.  America has long been famous for being the Melting Pot of the world. And being a melting pot is what all Americans have to thank for our advanced technology and medical research. Americans take chances and reach further into the unknown than others dare to, and the more anyone tells us we “can’t” then we somehow “do”. THAT is what being an American is all about. Or used to be. Or maybe it never was and I am living in a past that never existed because I was told over and over again while I was growing up that that is who and what Americans are.. 

Back to the refugees: If you take the time to educate yourself about the process these refugees would have to go through to even be considered for entry into this country, the whole “I want to protect my country” argument starts to fall apart.  Notice I wrote the word educate. That doesn’t mean reading one news story in one news source and then proclaiming yourself informed.  How did we come to be what we are? How did we come to look upon another group of people and hate them simply for the way they look or for their religion or for the fact that they want a better life? America has become a country of “It’s mine and you can’t have it”, all the way from the 1% down to the lowest person on the economic ladder. 

We don’t want to share. We don’t want to give. We want our 155 channels, our new cars, our specialty grocery stores, our green lawns, our new patios, and our shiny new smart phones and we could give two shits if another human being is going hungry or going without needed medication or has a decent education or a warm house in winter. Hell, we don’t even take care of our own in the U.S.A so whatever makes people like me think that America would be willing to show some human compassion towards nameless, faceless refugees from a land far away? And you think that America is still the land of The American Dream?  Take a long drive through the Mississippi Delta, the lesser known streets of Detroit and Philadelphia, and the outreaches of the Appalachian Mountains and then tell me that America is the land of opportunity and equality.  America has become the land of assholes. And I apologize to the world for that. I’m sorry we are assholes. And yes, I just resorted to name calling, but I included myself. 


Happy early holidays everyone…. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In the Shadow of Alzheimer's

I read a CNN story today of one man's battle with Alzheimer’s and his unique ways of being able to actually describe what he is going through. Mr. Sandy Halperin, like my father did in his early to moderate stages of the disease, uses his intellect and creativity to compensate for the disease. My dad did that: that is why he was able to hide what was happening to him for so long. There is such an twisted irony in the fact that Alzheimer’s often strikes people who exhibit high intellect and creativity.

Mr. Halperin talks of feeling like cotton is stuffed in the front part of his brain. He talks and then pauses, his train of thought erased in a millisecond.  All too familiar patterns I saw in my father. Dad used to refer constantly to a whisk broom in his brain literally sweeping information and brain connections away. Dad could be sitting watching t.v or eating dinner and he would suddenly say, "That broom is back."  He could hear it inside his head. The entire family knew what he was talking about because he had explained it to us so many times.  Unfortunately my dad also had Parkinson’s that affected his ability to speak. Mr. Halperin is able to articulate well what he is going through. My dad couldn’t. He would stutter and stammer and maybe finally blurt out a few words of a sentence. My family and I were always playing a sort of sad game of charades.  If I could have had anything while dad was still in the moderate stages of the disease I would have asked for his ability to speak to be restored. I missed out on so many important conversations with him that I would have liked to have had. But, in spite of, and because of, Dad’s dysphasia, he learned to talk with his facial expressions and his eyes and his body language. And sometimes that communication was louder and clearer than any words could ever have been.  Until a year and half before his death he was still able to whisper “I love you” in my ear when he hugged me. Eventually he was only able whisper the word, “love” but I knew what he meant. Then it was only the hug, but I could still hear him say “I love you”.

It has been two years and almost three months since dad died. I can actually write the word “died” now instead of referring to it as one of the many euphemisms our language supplies for death; “he passed on” or “he left us” or “we lost him”.  He died. Plain and simple, the way all of us are one day going to die.  Now I can admit that. I can look at photographs of my dad and smile, I can remember how his eyes would twinkle (I swear, they twinkled, that is not a figure of speech), I can remember him grilling his famous Fourth of July hamburgers. I can remember him sitting over his steel guitar hour after hour trying to get a portion of song to sound just right (and he always did). I can remember a lot now and not be sad. Time is taking care of that deep grief and gifting me with all the good memories. My heart still has am empty place and I still miss him so much that it is a sharp ache in the center of chest that feels like a stone, but I can work around the weight of that stone now and smile at the memories.

 Dad didn’t want us telling people that he had Alzheimer’s because he didn’t want them to treat him any differently. And he was right. After people found out he had Alzheimer’s they did treat him differently. They treated him like a child and he wasn’t a child. He was a grown man who knew that parts of his brain and his self were being slowly eaten away. Maybe with more education and knowledge and with people like Sandy Halpern coming forth the fears will be eased and others will be able to understand how vital it is to keep on relating to the person with Alzheimer’s as a person instead of a disease.

Back to Mr. Halperin and HIS story. I hope that the stories of people like Sandy Halperin can offer more insight into the disease and lead to more understanding. His story is important.

My thoughts are with the Halperin family because I truly know what it is like to watch someone you love sink into this disease. And I thank you for telling your story, Mr. Halperin. You told it with dignity, grace, and gave a peek into your daily struggles that will enable others to dispel the many fallacies about Alzheimer’s that simply are just that: fallacies.

Please take a moment to click on the link below and read Sandy Halpern's story. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Lyme Disease Story That I Wish I Didn't Have..


I believe I may have had Lyme disease for many many years, maybe as far back as 1986. In 1986 I lived in a town in rural Georgia that was overrun with ticks. I remember pulling ticks off my then two-year-old son. I don’t remember finding any on me but that was a long time ago. That same year I developed about 200 mouth ulcers that covered the inside of my mouth, down my throat, and on my gums. I also started getting very very tired and suffered from debilitating fatigue. I got pregnant in 1988 and the fatigue , paradoxically, became somewhat better. But was that the start? I'll probably never know. 

Fast forward to 2001. I received a Hep B vaccine on Feb 14, 2001. About two weeks after I received the vaccine I noticed quarter-sized bald patches on my scalp. About two weeks after that I woke up one morning with severe pain in my sternum like I had been hit with a fast pitched baseball. Over the next few weeks the pain spread and became more severe. Eleven days after the pain started I started breaking out on my hands and feet with small pustules. They would pop and then the skin would die off on sheets. My hands and feet started looking more like raw hamburger meat than human appendages.  

Meanwhile the pain in my sternum spread into my entire rib cage and into my hips. I could barely endure the mattress touching my torso and I started sleeping in a recliner. I started getting painful, crippling hips spasms that would make me scream and writhe in agony. It got to the point where my legs were so wobbly and weak it was sometimes difficult to walk. I started sleeping sixteen to twenty hours at a stretch. It took eight months for me to get a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. I started on enbrel and methotrexate.  The pain never went into my fingers, hands, feet, or toes. I never got the bone deformities that psoriatic arthritis can cause, but I did have some of the spinal issues. I often wondered if I had received the correct diagnosis.

Eventually the pain amped down a bit and my fatigue got a tiny bit better; enough for me to work. I maintained for a few years, but always had bouts of days when the pain and fatigue would hit all over again and I’d be sucked back down into periods of intense pain in my rib cage and sternum. I had about one, or maybe two (if I was lucky), good weeks a month where I wasn't in pain or just in mild pain. 

Since 2005 I have been hospitalized twice for lung infections that would not go away; cytomegalovirus, that made me extremely ill for two weeks; and I tested positive for EBV (Epstein Barr Virus). I was teaching in a juvenile justice detention facility and was exposed to TB at some point, so I also went on lsoniazid monotherapy for nine months through the local health department. I never stopped taking my Enbrel injections or my methotrexate. My rheumotologist said it was fine to keep taking auto immune suppressant drugs while I was in TB treatment. So, my body was under a great amount of physical stress from many different internal avenues. 

In 2010 the periods of pain started progressing and coming closer and closer together and I was having fewer and fewer good days. I developed a feeling like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs and I also developed anxiety and heart palpitations. I was still teaching full time though. Around this time my rheumy said I had fibro as well as PsA (psoriatic arthritis). In November 2011 I had cervical spine fusion surgery. Pain had started radiating into my skull and my neck popped all the time like a bowl Rice Kripsies. The doctor recommended surgery and I jumped at the chance to actively DO something that would make me feel better.  

It took me a long time to recuperate from the surgery. The pain in my sternum and rib cage was intensifying, so in desperation I went to the Mayo clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. as soon as I could travel in the Spring of 2012. The doctors there put me through test after test but they could no find reason for my chronic rib/sternum pain, shortness of breathe, heart palpitations, anxiety, and chronic fatigue other than  psoriatic arthritis (which there is no test for).  

I was fortunate  in that I had a very good internist doctor in my hometown and he (the most caring doctor I have ever had), at my behest, kept me working full-time with help from Ritalin for the extreme fatigue and pain meds for the bad, bad days of rib/sternum pain.  This was in addition to the weekly Enbrel injections and methotrexate (both which lowered my immune system responses) prescribed by my rheumy.  I wanted to work. I wanted to teach. I was fighting every single day to stay in the game.  When I was given the chance I even took a teaching job overseas, but two things: my father’s worsening Alzheimer’s and the very real possibility of my not being able to continue receiving my Enbrel in the Middle East, forced me to return stateside after five months. Back home I was lucky and got a teaching position in a small school in South Georgia, which I came to love. Truly a teacher’s dream job.

In June 2014 I went to Arkansas to visit my son and on June 21, 2014 I was bitten by what I thought were ticks, but then again I thought it might have been spiders. I just knew the bites were painful, red, angry looking and took weeks to heal.  I knew very little about Lyme disease. 

Looking back, I believe that I had an old Lyme infection that dates back at least as far as 2001 when I first became so deathly ill, and while in Arkansas I was re-infected which caused a major shit storm in my body. By late August, 2014 I was noticing more intense pain that was harder and harder to get under control, neuropathy in my hands, gastrointestinal problems, and some cognitive difficulties. At my doctor's appointment in late August I informed my rheumy  that something was going on and I was very concerned. Her solution was to suggest a new psoriatic arthritis drug medication, Otezla. I took the new med for four weeks and had to stop due to awful side effects. 

By October 2014 I was hearing soft music in my right ear whenever I tried to go to sleep; my brain started getting foggy like I was thinking through a wall of mist; my emotional state got to where I had a difficult time dealing with my high school students; and the pain in my rib cage was, on some days, so bad that I would sit at my desk at lunch and cry once the students left for the cafeteria. I would forget to do tasks that my admin had told me to do (it's not like I forgot and then remembered when I was told- the information was simply not retrievable). I started crying easily over nothing and I became very depressed. I have always read voraciously, but all of a sudden I was having trouble comprehending long passages of texts. Never a great typist, my typing skills became even worse. I think the depression was secondary to the fact that, by this time, I was in pain almost 24/7. Constant pain will break even the strongest person. My right leg and left arm started going numb and throbbed and burned. I was still stubbornly walking three miles about three or four times a week, and I can remember several of these late night walks where I sobbed in pain with each step as tears rolled down my face. But I kept pushing myself.

 I started seeing a chiropractor on a weekly basis, but it did little to help my pain levels. I developed left lower lid eye twitches and deep muscle twitches in my abdomen. I also started having awful stomach pain that felt like pen knives were being driven into my stomach and into my right side under my ribs. My insomnia became much worse and I was maybe sleeping four hours a night. I would find myself nodding off at my desk in the day time. I bought a broom and dust pan and started sweeping the class room in an effort to stay awake, like a mad woman, while the students did their class work. Then, like a cruel joke, when I got home in the evenings I couldn't go to sleep no matter how hard I tried.

That was my life. Now, imagine that every single day this is YOUR life from the time you wake up until long after you fitfully fall asleep. Imagine that after year and year you have no idea what is really wrong with you. No medication helps. You feel your body unraveling like a corded rope and you are helpless to stop it.  No one will listen. No one will or can help you. All that is offered are Band-Aids that don’t work. And all the time you are silently screaming, “SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH MY BODY!”, and you are scared. Very scared.

On December 4, 2014. much to my shame,  I finally completely broke down in the class room. The ongoing relentless pain and fatigue, the insomnia, the emotional stress of dealing with pain on a daily basis, and the demands of a normal high school class room, along with brain fog and memory issues slammed me face first into a proverbial brick wall.  I waved the white flag and went out on medical leave, determined to find out once and for all what in the hell was wrong with me so I could fight. It’s almost impossible to fight a faceless, nameless monster. I needed to put a face to my adversary.

 On Jan 28, 2015 I had another appointment with my longtime rheumy and she told me I was having a "spell" and I would come out of it because I had come out of them before.  I don’t even think she looked at me when she uttered the all profound "spell" pronouncement.  There I sat in her office crying my heart out while my left hip muscle spasmed painfully, and she was telling me I was having a "spell". She seemed in a hurry to get to the next patient and I left feeling as if she hadn’t heard a word I had said. I walked out of her office, demanded copies of my medical records for the past eight years, and the next week I found a rheumotologist in Cumming, Ga. I saw him for the first time on March 2, 2015. Unknown to me at the time he tested me for Lyme disease and the test came back positive on band 23 (a Lyme specific band) with a high Lyme Ab/Western Blot Reflex IgG/IgM and a high CCP antibodies IgG/IgA.  I had never, in fifteen years of being ill, been tested for Lyme disease. When he told me on March 17 that I had Lyme I was speechless, and this ole gal doesn’t do the speechless thing often. It wasn't even anything I had considered. 

Meanwhile I had been subjected to tests for nerve damage to my leg and arm (negative) and an MRI (normal) by a neurologist, and I had a CT scan on my stomach (inconclusive) ordered by my internist. In fact, three hours ago I had an ultrasound on my abdomen. Something has to be causing the awful stomach cramps I get after I eat, but all in all the stomach issues aren't the worst symptom I have and I could easily live with it if I could clear up the sternum/rib pain and the constant fatigue. Just one more piece to a puzzle that has become increasingly perplexing as the years have passed.  If anything else in my body starts going haywire I’m going to lose my shit. Literally and figuratively speaking.

After I showed positive for Lyme disease the doctor started me on doxycyline, but after five weeks it was apparent it wasn't working (I had taken doxycycline for years for acne cyst breakouts and had apparently built up an immunity to it). The doctor switched me to amoxicillin. The first two weeks on amoxicillin I thought I was dying. I mean I really thought I was dying, this is not some sort of writing-for-shock-effect hyperbole. I later found out that this process is called a “herxing” reaction and that it occurs when the Lyme bacteria start dying off. That was a helluva two weeks in which I didn't even have the energy to walk across my backyard.  I now take amoxicillin twice a day, and except for having to take a four day break recently and then going back through three more days of herxing when I started back on the antibiotic, I am really not much better off than when I started treatment in March.

 I am now able to function at about 40% to 50% of my normal level.  The extreme fatigue is often off the charts (think of how washed out you felt when you had the flu and you have an idea of how very very crippling the fatigue can be- it’s not just being “tired”) and many nights I cry myself to sleep from the constant pain in my sternum and rib cage. It hurts to breathe and I become frustrated after a few days and have to let off steam so I can keep going. No medication or pain pill or hot shower makes the pain ever go away- it only dulls it enough so I can endure.

So, after all this time I am nowhere near well and it’s going to take tweaking my treatment and medications maybe several more times in order to kill as much of the bacteria as possible, but I am determined to get my life back. I have to. This can’t be my life forever and ever, amen.

How do I feel emotionally? I am angry. I am angry at the medical community (some of the so-called best) who never thought to test me for Lyme all those years. I am angry at the doctors who tried to make me think that my being sick was somehow my fault, and at times, even insinuated that it was all in my head. I am angry at medical colleges who aren’t teaching upcoming doctors about Lyme disease and what to look for.  I now have a lot of issues with trust when it comes to the medical profession.  What is it going to take before the medical community starts listening to Lyme patients? What is it going to take before people with Lyme don’t have their entire lives stolen because the medical profession doesn’t want to admit that Lyme is as prevalent as it is?

 Doctors who specialize in Lyme disease are far and few between due to CDC and insurance restraints on treatment methods. The closet LLMD (literate Lyme doctor) I have found is a doctor who comes to Savannah from Maryland every six weeks. Then there is a LLMD in FranklinNorth Carolina

Due to the absence or presence of co-infections, how long the patient has had Lyme, and various other factors, treating Lyme disease can be extremely tricky and vary wildly from one patient to another. There is no one-size-fits-all medical protocol. I have not gotten to the point where I am quite ready to see a LLMD ( I really do like my rheumy and I can see where he is trying to help me), but if I don’t see some improvement by September I may have to consider that option.  It would mean traveling and incurring a great deal of expense, but my health, my peace of mind, and having my life back would more than balance out the inconvenience and costs that are not covered by insurance. 

What makes Lyme disease so difficult to detect and treat? Let’s look at the statistics;  they aren’t confidence inspiring: Fewer than 50% of those infected have any recollection of a tick bite. Last year there were over 300,000 new cases, more than West Nile virus, more than new HIV cases. That’s 25,000 new cases a month. Lyme has six times more new cases a year than new cases of HIV, yet Lyme research only garners 1% of funds for research and study. Lyme disease is the Great Imitator and can mimic M.S, ALS, Parkinston’s, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome, among others. (http://lymediseasechallenge.org/the-facts/ )

 I am thankful for the few doctors who have tried to help me and were compassionate, but, in the end, they weren't trained when it comes to Lyme disease and the co-infections that oftentimes come with Lyme disease. As for the doctors who plainly didn't give a shit that I was so sick and who told me there was nothing wrong with me or that it was "just" fibro, I wish for them to be visited by some health issue that will enable them to become more compassionate practitioners. I think that's fair. 

Lyme disease can carry a life time of serious implications for people affected by it, especially when the disease is not treated in a timely manner. Lab tests now available for Lyme are, at best, only about 60% reliable. That’s not good enough. Not when it’s people’s lives that are being gambled with. I was lucky, in a way. When I was finally tested my results showed Lyme immediately, but I often wonder what my life would be like if I had been tested in 2001. Would I still be teaching? Would I be this sick? Would I have so much day to day pain? Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector borne infectious disease in the United States. 40% of people with Lyme disease end up with long term health problems. (http://www.ilads.org/lyme/about-lyme.php).


I don't know if I will ever be able to go back into teaching, and I am in mourning for that part of my life. I was a good teacher and dearly loved my profession.  Now the future is murky and here I am still fighting, trying to get well, trying to find my way out of this bad dream.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright.




“Baby, don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright”. The radio is blaring Mr. Marley. I push the gas pedal just a tad with my foot, zipping around  the North Georgia mountain roads, taking the U curves much faster than I should, car windows all the way down and bits of paper- cast off receipts, forgotten grocery store lists hastily scrawled on Post It notes- float in the interior updraft like swirling flakes of snow, none of the receipts or Post Its are the same- similar, but not the same, just like real snow. Individualized.

            My veins are coursing with the latest round of steroids. I am just coming back from a two hour IV infusion. The doc is attempting to get several health hiccups under control.  I am maybe a tad bit in love with him because he takes me seriously and has discovered what most of my problems are. He may not have the answers, but he’s giving it his best shot, and that's all that matters. Things are looking brighter and full of possibilities that didn't exist even a month ago. I have hope. I am happy. My heart is like a helium balloon floating against a sky blue backdrop. Nothing exists except this moment: the music, the road, the wind, and the sun. The past few years melt away.  There has been death and sickness and hard times. There have been sleepless nights and tears and the feeling of being encased in an immovable weight. All a part of the human condition.  We all reap our share. But, for me, right now, all that is gone and there is just NOW, nothing else.

             The curves of the winding road come up sharper and I turn into them leaning and smiling, knowing that it’s moments like this that are gifts that often we don’t recognize or acknowledge. Today I acknowledge it.  I am invincible, I am free.  Who gives a shit for the big happys as I call them; its the little happys that count. The little happys are those minuscule increments we so often miss because we are so blindsided by the big happys that really don’t matter: more money, our job, debt, the squirrels digging a nest into the roof. Those matter, but then again they don’t.  Not in the grand scheme of the Great and Secret Show. When we don’t receive the big happys and we revel in our worries it knocks us off our game. Then the inevitable little things go wrong like the satellite dish screws up and we miss the new episode of Downton Abbey, or the dog pisses on the rug, or the sprinkler breaks, or some asshole weaves across four lanes of traffic to get to the exit, then little happys somehow get lost in the cosmic garbage. A new spring flower after a hard winter, the evening sun slanted through the trees all gold and red, the feel of a loved one’s hand squeezing ours in reassurance, no waiting in the checkout  line. Little happys that we miss.
            But it’s the little happys that make our hearts swell and engorge with a light so bright and pure that surely the heart will supernova. There’s not another feeling  like an unasked for, truly gifted little happy moment. 

            So, maybe when I see the woman her heart calls out to mine. My heart is open to the moment. I am living in my little happys. She stands on the side of the road in the curve of the Appalachian hiking trail parking lot. Her backpack almost dwarfs her slight frame, a look of pure hopelessness in her eyes. Her eyes find mine and my breathe catches. I  zoom by too fast and there is no where to turn around. She looks somehow beaten and defeated. But someone will pick  her up. But what if they don’t? She looked to be around my age or older. What in the hell was she doing off the Appalachian trail by herself?  She looked like one of those hard core, kick ass, serious hikers. The ones that Bryson wrote about in his book, “A Walk in the Woods”. Oh well, I can’t go back now.

             I lean into another curve. I keep seeing her eyes. Surely she’ll get a ride. I mean, she’s a woman. Yes, she’ll get a ride. Damn, that pack was freaking huge. It wouldn't fit in the backseat of an economy car. I glance in the rear view mirror and the space in my KIA Sorento seems to mock me, “Yeah, we got all this room. That backpack would go in your car easy, but you passed her, so get back to driving.” The voice gnaws at me.  Warnings about hitchhikers kick at my brain and I push them back. She is a woman. A woman about my age. What’s she going to do? Hit me over the head with her hormone replacement therapy meds, kidnap me and dye my hair an eye splitting red, steal my credit cards and max them out at Kohl’s, hold me up for my panty liners? She is a fellow woman. She must be pretty ballsy tackling the trail like that on her own. Who is she? What’s her story?  There’s a place ahead to turn around. It’s easily seven miles back to the woman now.  She’s probably gone.  Karn Evil 9 comes on the  radio. I remember the song well. “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside...” I can stay outside and keep driving. Mind my own business. Or I can turn around. 

           I turn around. 

            I take the curves back just as sharp. I don’t let up on the pedal.  Nothing can happen today. Nothing bad. This is one of those Golden Moments that Zora Neale Hurston wrote so eloquently of. Today I’m not even paying attention to prepositions at the end of sentences. 

            There she is. Her right thumb sticking out determinedly. Her shoulders are now squared, her spine in a rigid line.  She hears my tires crunching gravel and she turns and looks at me. There is hint of unbelieved relief on her face. Her pale red hair is cut blunt at chin level, wisps of gray pop out along her hairline edges like silver silken threads.  Her legs are muscular and encased in black Lycra shorts that grip her knees. There are a pair of tortoise shell glasses slipping down the sheen of sweat dripping from the bridge of her nose.  I get out of the car, walk around to the front where she is, and I ask, “You need some help?” Her eyes are blue and they widen. She gasps, her shoulders slump, and then suddenly she starts crying. The tears are sudden and they embarrass her. I hold my palms up. She sniffs, “I’m sorry. I didn't mean to cry. I twisted my ankle about two days ago on the trail. It really hurts and I am so tired.” I smile and tell her that sometimes we have to cry so we can be strong again. She tells me where she’s going. I tell her I will take her.  I tell her I am a teacher so I am safe. Teachers are almost always harmless. We struggle to get her pack and her hiking sticks into my car, but they fit easily. 

            Her sniffles drift away as we ride. I notice her right hand reaching for the “oh, shit” grip so I slow down.  I roll up the widows and blast the A/C. She says her name is Happy Side. She sees my puzzled look and laughs. Seems hikers use aliases on the trail. A way to recreate themselves. I didn’t know that. Her real name is Lorraine. She says all the trail leans-tos along the trail have been filled with younger people for the past week and she has had to sleep in the open. She says wistfully, “They always beat me to them.” She speaks of how nice it would be to talk to someone at night., She is from Florida but grew up on Long Island. She is a semi-seasoned hiker.  Her plan is to hike the trail to Maine where she expects to arrive in late September.  She says Bryson’s book and the upcoming movie have tarnished the trail; it is glutted with hikers. She voices concerns about bobcats in the area, tells me she hurt her ankle when her boot hit a large stone and her foot twisted. She says she didn’t think anything of it at the time.  She says she just needs to ice her ankle for a day or two. She is older than she appears: sixty-two. She is sweaty, obviously exhausted, and in need of a bath and a good night’s sleep in a soft bed. 

            She directs me to the Budget Inn in town. She says hikers get a special rate and the small motel even shuttles hikers back to the trail. Another fact I didn't know.  There are a group of twenty and thirty something-year-olds gathered in plastics chairs in front of one of the motel rooms. They are dressed like Lorraine; hiking shirts and faded t-shirts. The men all have several days worth of stubble on their faces, the women all have stringy, sweaty hair pulled back into red and blue bandannas. A gang of hikers, I think. She retrieves her pack. I push a Post It note into her hand with my name and phone number written on it.  I tell her I will be around until tomorrow and if she needs anything to phone.  I hug her. She resists a little saying, “I’m smelly”. I tell her, “I don’t care” and I hug her harder. I tell her I hope her hike goes smooth from here on out. I wish her well. She turns and heads towards the hotel office.  She is gone.

            I roll the car windows back down, but I shut off the radio. I take the curves sharply like a clean knife cutting through icing on a cake. I sing loudly and off key, “Baby, don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright”. And you know what? It is.

Post Script April 15: Happy Side phoned me this morning to tell me her foot is still swollen. She is heading to her sister's in North Carolina to recoup for a week or so before she hits the trail again.. Out of the many minutes in my life I spent a mere twenty minutes in her company, but I will always remember her. 
           

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Happy Fifty-Third Birthday to Me!



I have stayed awake tonight in order to witness the clock roll over to midnight and to feel myself BECOME fifty-three-years old.  But, one does not just “become” fifty-three. One travels to fifty-three, journeys to fifty-three, survives to fifty-three, lives to fifty-three. I was born on January 18, 1962. On that day Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy were still alive, man had yet to walk on the moon, MLK was in the midst of heralding in the Civil Rights movement, Coca-Cola contained real corn syrup,  The Twist by Chubby Checker was the number one Billboard song, a gallon of gasoline was twenty-five cents, Johnny Carson had yet to host his first tonight show to the introduction of  “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”, and the actor Jim Carrey was only one day old. 

            On January 18, 1962 I was a newborn baby, not even self-aware, so I didn’t have any notion that Mommy was a pretty, blue-eyed nineteen-year-old with a Southern drawl or that Daddy had black hair and soft brown eyes.  I didn’t know that in less than four years I would become a big sister or that Dad would lie to me about my dog, Tippy, running away (in reality Tippy died), or that my favorite song at the age of six would be “Harper Valley PTA”.  I didn’t know that an ocean’s waves could feel like fairy kisses on my ankles or that liver and onions tasted like wet slimy socks.  I didn’t know that I would be allowed exactly fifty-one years, seven months, and twenty-seven days with Dad. I didn’t know that at age fifty-three I would ache to hug him just one more time.   
          I didn’t know that I would one day give birth to three human beings who would change my life and the way I viewed all life forever, or that I would fall hopelessly in love with those three new people who had miraculously come from my body.  I didn’t know that spinning in circles until I became dizzy was going to be so much fun or that I would one day be able to feel the music of AC/DC down to the very roots of my teeth. I didn’t know that Southern Comfort could make a person throw up so much or that an Almond Joy candy bar could melt in the mouth like a morsel of heaven.  I didn’t know that a single glance at a rainbow would one day take my breathe away.   
           I didn’t know that at age thirty-eight I would come down with an autoimmune disease that would alter my entire life and make me aware, for the first time, of the fragility of the physical body in which I was encased. I didn't know how much physical pain would one day wear on me. I didn't know I would have my heart broken so many times and that love sometimes hurts so much that you don't think you'll ever heal.  I didn't know that it would take forty-five years to find a man that could offer me comfort, love, contentment, and the freedom to be who I was to become.

            Fifty-three years ago today I wasn’t aware of anything. I was just a sleeping blank slate dozing in a plastic bassinet in the nursery of a hospital in Portland, Oregon, while nearby my mother fought for her life.  I didn’t yet know how much I would be loved, how much I would love, or how many joys and sorrows accompany the mere act of living. I also didn't know how love so often balances out those sorrows. I have persevered, lived, and thrived.

            Bring on the next fifty-three years. I’m ready.