A Month of Stuff

It’s been a hell of a month. I mean both the “hell” and the “month” literally.

Not all of it has been bad. A LOT of it has been bad. Some of it has been wonderful, though. Tonight, it feels bad. The depression is bad. The coping mechanisms aren’t working. My brain is screaming, my blood feels like it’s on fire. Tonight isn’t wonderful. So I’m writing because it’s been too long. And because I need to write.

For what it’s worth, I know what triggered the depression. It was Sunday night. A simple, innocuous Facebook post by a friend that was just a matter of fact statement of what they’d done that afternoon. Nothing too unusual. Nothing bad. “Just a little pin-prick,” as the song goes. Just a little reminder that someone I care about has a life going on without me, that I wasn’t invited to…and my brain translates that into feeling unloved, unaccepted… Soon it tells me I’m never going to find “the one” or if I have I fucked it up. It reminds me that at my age, having kids isn’t a likely outcome. That my music career is met with a shrug by most of the people who are most important to me. And why ARE they so important? They never call. Why do they never call?

…all because a friend went to a dinner party on a sunny afternoon.  That’s all it takes sometimes to make the feelings I’ve been doing okay keeping under control turn overwhelming. So we blog.

A hell of a month…

On July 13th, I took a late-afternoon shower and when I got out I saw that I’d missed a call from my Dad. Dad had been feeling poorly in recent months. I won’t go into too much detail, but he’s been sluggish and losing a lot of weight. I’ve been worried about him. In what times I find to still pray, I tend to include “please watch over those I love and keep them happy, healthy, and safe.” Since mid-May, I’ve been tagging on, “…with particular attention to my Dad–I don’t like seeing him like this.”  So I texted, saying I saw I missed a call and did he need anything. I got a new call and the voice on the other end wasn’t Dad, it was his significant other of 25 years, Susan.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t turn out to be the case but the thought in my head when I registered her voice was, “Oh, this it when I find out Dad died.” I was sure. Although I’m happy to have been wrong about it.

In reality, Dad had been rushed to the emergency room with a variety of symptoms, some of them gross, and I’m sure he’d prefer I not post the list here. It was serious, but not fatal. After something like 8-9 hours he was finally admitted somewhere around 2 or 3 on that Sunday morning. I went out to see him that day, of course, and Susan brought me up to speed, alongside my brother and sister-in-law. It didn’t sound good.  And when we walked in to see Dad, he didn’t LOOK good. For a couple of days, he was having trouble staying conscious and everything just seemed “off,” if you know what I mean. I remember thinking, “Okay…so WHEN WILL I get the news that Dad died?” It looked and felt BAD.

That Monday, I’d scheduled a day off work in advance. In true “you couldn’t have planned it that way” fashion, I had a ticket to meet one of my all-time biggest idols in Geddy Lee from Rush, who was to be in town signing his book. The Friday before I’d posted that I was looking for someone to go with me and my friend Amanda said she’d like to go–the signing happened to be the day before her birthday. So we made plans and with the blessing of those sitting at the hospital, I went to the signing and kept the plan.  Up until she arrived (she lives about an hour and a half from here) I didn’t tell Amanda about Dad because I knew she was excited about the signing and I didn’t want her to question whether or not she should still come into town for it. WE WERE GOING. I brought her up to speed once we were both standing in the mile-long (no exaggeration) line.

A sidebar about Amanda. I think it’s important to give some context for why this evening at this time meant so much–and I think she’d echo at least most of this… Amanda is one of my longest standing friends. We’ve known each other for 21 years (in a row!) and in all the things that have happened in that time, we’ve managed to remain important to each other. There’s a level of trust and understanding between us that is ineffable. When she’s around, I feel like I’m reunited with a part of myself that I forgot I liked. Amanda is the best. Everybody should have an Amanda. (And no–at least to my knowledge, we’ve never dated. I know how this might sound to some people, but…just…come on, man.)

Amanda and I have had Rush in common for almost the entire duration of our friendship. We met at a church we both were going to and I’m sure this isn’t the first conversation we ever had, but I know it was early on. I remember exactly where I was standing on the church property when Amanda came over to me and said, “So…I hear you like Rush.” And I’d like to think that from that moment on, we’ve been cosmically linked. Her dad is a guitarist and played Rush songs all the time when she was growing up. And it goes deeper than that… When Amanda’s mom was still pregnant, her parents attended a Rush show–so Amanda’s first Rush show was in utero. You can’t deny the awesome of that! I don’t always do everything right, but I was at this signing with the right person.

The signing itself was quick and simple. Not a ton of interaction, but you got to share a few seconds with a God. When I got up to Geddy, I asked if he’d sign, “Take off to the Great White North” in reference to a song he sang on the 1981 Bob & Doug McKenzie album of the same name. He declined, but said, “but I’ll write this” and wrote “Take off, eh!” I was overjoyed. (Google Bob & Doug/SCTV if you need context for that.) All told, it was probably 10 seconds with Geddy. Worth every penny and every hour of waiting. Plus…big-ass book to go with it!

Afterward, Amanda and I got dinner together and talked for a couple hours. We covered a lot of ground and I don’t think I can recall even half of it, but it was the kind of talk you only have with that kind of friend. Then we spent probably another hour(ish) at an arcade nearby. She’s really fucking good at Tekken, by the way. I’ve known that since the 90s…but damn. My ass still hurts from the kicking.

At the end of the night, we said goodbye and had a nice few moments I’ll keep for myself and not write about. (Still not dating–stop it.) And we went our separate ways. It was a perfect evening. I don’t get a lot of those. Amanda took a selfie of the two of us outside of the bookstore where the signing took place that I immediately made my phone background because I knew I’d need to hold on to a happy memory for a while. (It’s still there, by the way.) I know I’m on the borderline of saccharine here, if I haven’t already crossed over…but as cool as it was to meet Geddy Lee, he was the opening act for that evening. Again…everybody should have an Amanda.

I can’t stress enough how important and critical that night was to my sanity in the days that followed. From that point on, the past several weeks have felt like a fever dream. Dad kept getting diagnosed with more and more problems. By the time Amanda and I were saying our goodbyes, the doctors had determined that Dad had suffered a stroke at some point recently. (Unsure exactly when–but it was too recent to explain the months of declining health.) Then on Tuesday–the day after the signing–they performed a brain scan and found that his carotid artery was something like 70% clogged and they rushed him into emergency surgery. My understanding is that if they hadn’t done that, a second life-changing or ending stroke was imminent. I was home and planning on going to work when I heard “carotid artery” and dropped everything to rush to the hospital. I knew that was serious…and again it felt like we might lose Dad.

He made it through that surgery really well. He eventually got moved into rehab for the stroke and has been in one rehab program or another since. Target date to be out of it is the 23rd, from what I understand. Although there are still lingering questions and follow-up visits, and other things to address…it seems like he’s going to be okay. I’m the eternal pessimist…but I think he’s going to be okay, after feeling at least 2-3 times like I was saying goodbye. He did have a quick readmission to the hospital with pneumonia…but that seems to be going okay, too now that they’ve released him again.

In the interim, I’ve been cleaning at Dad’s condo. I don’t know if this will embarrass him or not, but one of the things that came up is that he’s got COPD/emphysema because of his smoking habit. So he CANNOT smoke anymore. And feeling helpless to address anything else, I’ve been spending a ton of time at his condo doing laundry, spraying Febreze, cleaning up, and just doing whatever I can to try to get rid of some of the smoke smell that’s sunk into fabric and wood alike. I want to make it easy for him and getting rid of the smell should help a lot. But at this point, I guess he’s been more than a month without a cigarette. So it should be out of his system. And he only got very grumpy a few times. So for two or three weeks my routine was work, hospital, condo, home, sleep, repeat…

And somewhere in there I also got sick. Actually it was right around when Dad got pneumonia. I wonder if we both caught something from the same source and it turned into pneumonia for him. I’ve still got a bit of a cough two weeks later. That hasn’t helped anything.

Things started to feel not-quite-normal, but close within the last week or so. Then this week, as I described above, the depression hit pretty hard. And then today–or I guess yesterday now, since it’s after 3 a.m.–I got word that someone I knew passed away. This after spending the past 24 hours begging God, “Can I please just get some reassurance that things are going to work out? Can I please just get some comfort?” …instead, my friend Mike let me know that Rick had died. So…a few words about Rick.

Rick was a manager at the comic book shop I used to frequent, near my house. I know. That’s a tertiary friendship…okay…but Rick was something special. He was…kind. That’s such a weak word for it. But it’s the word that comes to mind for him.  Someone else on Facebook wrote, “he had one of the most sincere ‘good to see ya’s’ I’ve ever heard in my life.” And that’s about right. He got to KNOW the people who came into the store. First and last name, interests outside of comics, interests IN comics (of course). He made TIME for people in a way a lot of us just don’t think to do.

I remember one day I walked into the store and Rick was right there, waiting specifically for me. “You’re going to love this. If you don’t, bring it back and I’ll refund you.” And he handed me issue #1 of Morning Glories, which almost immediately became my favorite title in the years where I was buying issues. And he got me into the Brubaker run on Captain America (which all you Marvel Universe fans owe a debt of gratitude). And he recommended this and that over time…  And he is to some degree responsible for the last time I seriously smoked. No, seriously.

One day, I was in the comic shop and there were some playing cards that were in a box shaped like a cigarette pack. I picked one up and said, “Wow…these make me want to start smoking again.” Without missing a beat, Rick piped up, “Then smoke.”  “Pardon?”  “If you want to smoke, then smoke. You’re a grown man and can make your own decisions. Be happy.” And he’d never led me astray before…so…….

The last time I saw Rick, he didn’t know I saw him. It was three weeks ago. I was in a grocery store and he was walking down one of the aisles, pushing a cart. And it had been a couple of years. My hair is different (and lesser–ahem) and I’m a little chubbier…  “He probably wouldn’t remember me…it’d be weird to say hello…” And I paid and left. Even in the parking lot, I was thinking to myself, “That was dumb–what’s the worst that could’ve happened?” And I figured if I saw him again, I’d say hello. Then tonight, my friend Mike–another really great guy–filled me in that Rick had suddenly passed away.

You should always say hello.

I don’t mind telling you that when the words I read from Mike tonight sunk in, I cried. Not deep sobs. Someone could’ve been five-feet away and missed it. But there were some deep breaths and tears. There are now, too. I JUST SAW HIM. And I didn’t stop… Rick would have remembered me. He would have.

And now it’s creeping up on 4 a.m., having proof-read and probably still missed things I should correct… I have work in the morning. Or I guess just later today at this point. And I can’t sleep. I didn’t sleep much last night either. Lately everything has felt so weighty. So uphill. And I’m tired. But I can’t sleep. I feel…lonely.

It will probably pass. Most things seem to. Some of them take a piece of you with them when they go though. You’ve just got to hope it isn’t one of the important ones. But I’m better equipped for these feelings than I might’ve been a year ago. I have mantras, breathing exercises, good habits to practice, a nice wallpaper on my phone, and so on.

I’m bad at ending things that I write. It feels like “You should always say hello” would’ve been the logical, climactic place to stop. Right? That was probably the one. Ah well. Thanks for staying with me on this one. It felt good to get some of it out.

Now…perchance to dream…