Well, what with the holidays and all, I haven't been traveling much at all lately. Before that, I had made a few trips, but all in boy mode for an assortment of reasons. I had intended to make a trip to Fishkill New York pretty, but I found out on my drive home from the office the night before I left, that my manager was gonna be on one of the same flights that I would be traveling on. Talk about a close call! Could you just imagine sitting there as your manager walks past, and hoping like hell that doesn’t recognize you?!
Well, as anyone who has been reading my blog for a while probably knows, I have this nasty little skin condition called Erythema Nodosum. Nasty little problem that one! Usually it results in large and swollen bruises that cover my lower legs for two or three months, but this time it decided to ramp things up to the next level or two. I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my family when I realized that I was having trouble breathing - it literally hurt to inhale. I've had asthma my whole life so I pretty much figured that it would probably go away on its own if I didn't pay it too much attention. I was wrong, because in about 45 minutes it went from discomfort to "Oh shit, that HURTS and I can't freaking breath!"
Yeah, you can play tough all you want, but when it hurts so bad to breath that the question "heart attack?" keeps flitting through your mind, those around you do tend to notice. I hadn't even finished telling her what was wrong when she started insisting that it was time to take a little trip to the emergency room to spend a little quality time with the staff there. The hospital is only about a mile away from our home and so I insisted over my wife's objections on going alone. No, it wasn't altruism on my part - it was the dread of what it was going to be like trying to ride herd on a bored 3 year old and 9 year old in a hospital for a few hours.
So in short order, I was signing in at the front desk of the ER. By the way, if you wanna be seen QUICKLY in an ER, just tell ‘em that you are having chest pain and trouble breathing. That moves you right to the top of their "Awe shit! Get that bastard a doctor and into a bed before he dies on us" list. Despite the fact that it had hurt bad enough to motivate me to go to the hospital, by the time I actually got there I wasn't feeling too bad at all, and this sort of embarrassed me. I mean here I was, hurting a bit, don't get me wrong, but not too bad, and here all of these folks were jumping through hoops. Before I knew it, there were at least four folks surrounding me, attaching things to my chest, setting up recording equipment, and getting needles together.
"Okay, we need to take some blood, so you're gonna feel a small pain as I insert the needle." One young lady said to me.
"Whoa, hold it!” I said loudly enough that everyone stopped and looked at me. “No one said anything about needles being part of this little adventure. If I'd have known that, I would have just stayed at home!"
I told her this with a wink to let her know that I was only kidding. Now that everyone knew I was just an idiot trying to get a laugh, they all went back to work on me
"Well, I'm pretty good at this and I promise to be gentle." She told me with a grin and a wink of her own.
"All right, I guess I can trust you. You know, before anyone gets too excited, I should mention that I have had pleurisy before and it felt quite a bit like this. I don't think I 'm having heart attack or anything, I just thought it was best not to take the chance.”
One young nurse who was busy gathering supplies paused long enough to give me a shit eating grin.
"Honey, we aren't at all excited. You should SEE us when we are excited! I’m pretty sure that your problem is not with your heart, because people having heart attacks don't enter the ER with a smile on their face and joking with the staff."
"We'll all right then! I'm gonna take a little nap so y'all go on about your business and let me know when you’re done would ya?" I said with a laugh.
The funny thing was, with all of the excitement and adrenalin, the pain had actually receded, but as things got calmed down and I relaxed, it was coming back in a big way. That was a good news and bad news kind of thing, because on the one hand, no one wants to be in pain, but on the other hand I was feeling like a damned fool for being in an ER when I was no longer really hurting much.
OK, so long story short, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my heart and it was in fact pleurisy again. Of course it took hours, blood tests, and x-rays to prove it, so it was a long night.
A few days later I decided that I couldn't put it off any more, and I needed to get a "touch up" laser treatment on my face. If anyone tells you that laser does not hurt, I'm gonna tell you that they are fibbing through their teeth. That shit HURTS, and so I have been putting it off. This time I had a different laser tech, and I really liked this young lady, though you might think I'm a nutter for my reason. I liked her because she was absolutely brutal with the laser. The lady that had done over a year of treatments for me was a kind woman, and she tended to kind of take her time. Not THIS woman though, nope. She went to town with that laser and though it was painful, she got it over with in less than half of the time.
Zap, zap, zap. . .
"Ouch! Damn that hurts!"
"Okay, you are all done!"
On the route back from getting my face burnt, was a DSW shoe store, and I figured I would take a look, thus giving my face time for the redness to go away before going back to the office. In just a few minutes I found an awesome pair of brown Mary Janes that just begged to go home with me, and being a soft heart that could not bear to hear their pleading, I obliged them. The joke was on me though, because when I got them home and tried them on, I almost fell flat on my face. Along with the bruises on my legs, and the pleurisy in my lungs, my wrists and ankles are ALSO swollen and painful, and when I stood up in the high heels, my left ankle hurt so bad that I yelled out in pain. I figure at this point that so much shit is wrong with me, that if I was horse, a decent owner or vet would shoot me to put me outta my misery. It turns out that the swelling and inflammation in this ankle is just perfect so that the angle of wearing heels causes extreme pain. No heels for Kimberly . . Damn it. . .
A doctor I am not, but I am pretty good at troubleshooting, and I think that it is a stretch to think that all of this inflammation is not in some way related – swollen bruises on my legs, joints swollen and painful, and also the pleurisy which is also inflammation. You would think that a good doctor could put all of those symptoms together and come up with some ideas wouldn’t ya?
It's been quite a while since I last got to be pretty and so I was getting just a bit desperate. One of many problems with the concept at this point is that every single pair of shoes that I own are high heels. I do not own a single pair of flats or even low heels for that matter. At first I figured this meant that I couldn't fly pretty, but then it struck me that all I had to do was go buy a pair of flats. I sort of hated the idea to be honest, but I hated the idea of not flying pretty even more. I was complaining about this to my wife, and told her of my plans to go and buy a pair of shoes and I invited her to join me. Before she could reply, my nine year old daughter spoke up.
"If you're going shoe shopping, you aren't going without me! Right?!" she demanded.
I didn't know if I should laugh at her precocious statement or be appalled at her somewhat rude way of inviting herself, but when she started batting her eyes at me in a seriously exaggerated fashion I couldn't help busting out laughing.
"Yes critter, you can go with me." I told her, and then looked at my wife for her response.
"You know, I could use a few minutes of peace and quiet . . . " she told me with a smile, all the while looking at my three year old, back at me, then the boy, then me. . .
"Yes dear, I'll take him with me too." I laughed. She had kind of an odd smile on her face after this, and I figured that it was probably two things conflicting with each other - on the one hand, daddy was taking both critters for the afternoon. On the other hand, he was taking them while he went to buy women's shoes. Talk about a mixed blessing for her!
Well, I did find a couple of pairs that I kind of like, but I'd have to be honest that I am never gonna be terribly excited about flat shoes - they just don't float my boat.
Much to my surprise, DSW does not carry children's shoes, and so my little fashionista was mad as hell at me.
"You told me that I could get a pair of shoes too, but they don't have any for little girls! You fibbed to me!" She accused me, with a hurt and angry look on her face.
"No ma'am, I didn't lie to you. I've never lied to you and I never will. I didn't know that DSW doesn't carry critter shoes, and that is not lying." I replied, with my feelings more than a little hurt.
"I told you that you could get something too, and I meant it. We'll find someplace that sells critters shoes, okay?"
"Okay!" She said quite a bit more cheerfully. "Can we go to the outlet mall?"
And so off to the outlet mall the three of us headed. . .
My big critter got a cute little dress that she liked, along with a pair of calf high boots that she had to talk me into because I was afraid that they might not really be appropriate for a little girl and I feared that her momma might hate them. Turned out that momma loved 'em so it's all good.
My younger critter got only a little stuffed five dollar alligator that just delighted the heck out of him, and I found myself wishing that my daughter was so easily pleased.
Just to top the day off, we all went for a train ride!
I did indeed make my trip to Denver pretty, but I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't wear my heels. Flats are okay, but just not as much fun.
As is just about typical these days, I was parking at the airport when I received an automated call from Delta airlines telling me that my flight had been delayed by 45 minutes. Since I'd only had a bit over an hour to catch my connection in Atlanta, this was more than a little bit concerning because it seemed unlikely that I would now be able to catch my connecting flight. At the Delta counter, Mona, my favorite customer service representative there, told me to go ahead and keep my original connection, and she would back me up on the next flight from Atlanta to Denver just in case I couldn't make it. That sounded like a good plan to me, so off I went to the gate area.
As I sat there waiting for my flight to board, a woman about my own age glanced at me and then spoke.
"I like your outfit," she said quietly. "It's very pretty."
"Thank you. I know it is a bit over the top, but I figured what the hell!" I replied with a grin while holding my arm up and waving my huge lace sleeves about in the air.
"Oh no, I don't agree! I think it's a great outfit and not over the top at all!" She reaffirmed kindly.
Well, I got to Atlanta with about 25 minutes to make it to my next gate, so I was kind of stepping it out as I exited the plane. Delta has a great system for showing travelers where their next connecting flight is. They have a monitor right there as you exit the plane, and they show the connecting flights and gates for everyone that is on the arriving flight. I looked down the list until I saw "Denver" and then headed out for the gate it specified. It turns out that it was clear at the other end the same concourse I had arrived in, so it could have been better and it could have been worse. When I arrived at the gate, I confirmed that Denver was indeed the next flight scheduled to leave from it, but was stunned to note the time of departure - 5:45PM! Apparently their system had already decided that I couldn't make my scheduled flight and so had shown me the gate for the next flight to Denver. Madder than hell that they had done that to me, and that I had failed to catch it before making the long walk, I made my way to the bank of monitors that display all flights and gates, and had to laugh when I found that my scheduled flight was right next to where I had landed. Needless to say, I was not amused while I hiked all of the way back up the concourse! I managed to make it there in time and was pleased to discover that my seat was still valid, and much to my surprise, my bags also managed to make the flight.
The next morning, I was awoken a bit before six by a phone call from my sister to tell me that my step father had died a couple of hours earlier. I had mixed feelings about this for a lot of reasons that would be hard to explain without writing an entire book on the subject. When we had first met him over half a century ago, he had seemed like a kind of fun person, and he clearly liked my mother. My mother was not getting any younger and having chosen to live way to hell and gone out in the Mojave desert, she didn't exactly have men standing in line to date her, so we were all fairly happy for her when they were married. That optimism was quickly called into question when it soon became abundantly clear that he had a major alcohol and drug addiction problem. He was a decorated Vietnam vet with two bronze stars and a Purple Heart to his credit, but like so many others who shared his experience, he came away from it with deep scars that are not visible to the eye. . .
I see no point to sharing all of the frightening or sad moments that come with being family with someone addicted to the hardest and nastiest of drugs. There were fun moments, there were terrifying moments, and there were moments filled with despair. . .
After many years of this, my mother at last had enough, and told him to choose - it was either the drugs or her, but he could not have both of them. After a great deal of time and effort, and the help of AA and a few fine friends that he met there, he managed to kick it all and went completely clean and straight for more than fifteen years.
My sister and her children lived only an hour or so away from him, and he became not only a decent grandfather to her children, but an exceptionally good one who made it to every single little league game and always made time to visit them and be part of their lives. He never became a man that I liked, but he did manage to earn my respect, and all of this was possible because he loved my mother enough to kick the drugs. Then came the day a few years ago when my mother died, leaving him alone in an empty home, twenty miles from a small town, and about a mile from the nearest neighbor.
The grandchildren that he had tried to be a good grandfather to were all grown now and moved far away raising their own families.
His friends from AA had both died of old age several years back.
There was no reason now for him to stay sober.
In six months he was drinking again, telling everyone not to worry, that it was just a beer or two. I told him several times that he was making a huge mistake, but as you would expect from an addict; he would not or could not listen. In a year or less he was back on hard drugs, and I again told him that he was making a horrible mistake but you cannot argue with the addiction. It does not reason and it feels no compassion or remorse for those that it chews up and spits out in its wake. I couldn't stand to watch the destruction of the man that had once made me laugh, then allowed drugs to turn that laughter to hate and fear, and then fought long and hard to become someone that I respected and so I only called him rarely, perhaps once every six months or so.
I hated to hear his speech slurred and slow.
I hated to think of how my mother would feel if she knew.
I find myself wondering even as I type this if my mother is in heaven looking down and angry that I didn't try harder to stop him?
Apparently he had had enough himself, and he told my sister a few weeks ago that he was going to eat his own gun soon. My sister had not shared this with me until after he had died, but I can't say that I was surprised to hear of it. Well, it seems that God or the universe got the last laugh on him, because he died of natural causes before he could make good on his threat.
So, did I mention that my feelings about his passing were seriously mixed? At the very least, I salute the man who served his country at great cost to his soul. I respect the man who kicked heroin and coke long enough to be a decent husband and a good grandfather, and I mourn the failure of a mere mortal to escape his demons.
As if this week had not brought enough emotional turmoil, this very evening I was to meet much of my estranged family from my father’s side. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you are probably aware that my own father was a raging alcoholic who often beat his wives, and more than once slapped his children around as well. After my mother left him, he went on to multiple other marriages and had two more children - my "half" brother "Sonny" and my "half" sister Tracy. When she was only five or six years old, in an apparent moment of clarity, my father realized that he had no business raising a daughter. In one of the few admirable things he had ever done, he allowed a couple from Georgia to adopt her. With any luck, she would have a shot at a decent life. This was nowhere near as simple and as clean as the words make it sound though, but that's another story. Suffice it to say that I never saw my little sister again, and after my father’s death, no one had any idea at all where she was or how to reach her. Using the Internet, I had been looking for her for the better part of fifteen years and had finally met with success a year or so ago. After I found her, we had spoken to each other several times by phone, but since she lived in Washington state, there was no way to meet in person, at least not until she and her daughter recently moved to Colorado! Since my half-brother had been living in Colorado for years, this gave us the first opportunity in forty years for all of us to see each other - myself, my little brother and his fiancé, his daughter and her fiancé, and my little sister and her daughter.
God I hope like hell that this next generation doesn't screw things up as badly as the last one did . . .