Age is purely mind over matter. If you don’t mind – who gives a shit!
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I stood alone in the darkness of the den last night and wondered how it got to this point. My mother had a mild stroke one week ago today; paralyzing her entire left side and essentially rendering her immobile. She is now in a rehabilitation facility. With dementia clouding her judgment and comprehension, I almost felt like I was abandoning her to a bedridden life.
Both of my parents were among the roughly 100% of the population declaring they would never end up in a nursing home. In the months before he died, my father insisted on returning to this modest suburban home to pass away. He did not want to be in a hospital or any other facility hooked up to machinery, barely surviving off IV drips. I was able to grant him that wish. Who wants to die in a hospital anyway? I believe only a workplace is the least desirable place to expire.
But here my mother is in a place filled with elderly and disabled people. I got a bad feeling from the moment I stepped into the building. The representative I had spoken to on the phone earlier on Friday told me the structure was older. Indeed, it is! With severely off-white walls and ceiling light fixtures the color of Neosporin, the place looks like it’s witnessed every national event since the Vietnam War. I didn’t expect the rooms to be equivalent to 5-star Bahamian resorts. But they’re Spartan appearance is just one step above a prison cell.
Aging building features aside, I have to concede the staff seems nice – at least the ones I’ve met so far. That, of course, is far more important than cosmetics. The facility has a high rating from business and health associations. I’m concerned mainly because the state of Texas has become a critical focal point in elder abuse within nursing home facilities.
I’m also worried because I’ve never been put in this situation before. I had promised my parents I’d never let this happen – being placed in a…facility. But how does one prepare for such an event?
Life takes such a strangely circuitous route. When we’re born, we’re totally helpless; dependent on others to ensure our survival. As we reach the end of our lives – hopefully many years later – we enter another stage of fragility. The human body winds down and shows its age. Like a building.
So how did we end up here? It’s just what happens to many people. My primary hope right now is that my mother can endure proper physical therapy to get her ambulatory enough to return home. If she could walk – even with an aid – that would make a world of difference. Besides, I’d promised my father years ago that – should he die first – I’d take care of my mother. And I feel if I violate that oath, he’ll return to cripple my hands where I can’t tap on a keyboard to write my stories and make snarky comments on this blog.
Shortly after moving here in December of 1972, I stopped my father amidst the unpacking and asked if he’d noticed something unique: silence. We’d moved from a garage apartment near downtown Dallas to this newly-developed area. It had been mostly ranchland and, for years, a large pasture stretched out behind our house. We’d often see cows grazing, along with the occasional bull. But relocating from a heavily-trafficked urban neighborhood to here was utopian.
I kept asking myself last night – having downed plenty of vodka and orange juice – how we got to this point. Things happen, I finally realized, and people get old and disabled. The alternative is not too pleasant. But this is the way it is. And it’s not infinite. It’s this anomaly called life.
As of 1:15 a.m. Central Standard Time U.S. this past Tuesday, November 5, the Chief turned 56. It’s not necessarily as big a deal as, say, turning 55. And I remember years ago thinking that, once somebody reaches the half century mark on life’s odometer, ensuing birthdays don’t really matter. But I’ve learned every birthday matters. It’s another year forward and another chance to improve oneself. I feel I’m doing that with my writing, as well as more practical moves, such as joining a new gym.
This year’s birthday was rougher than expected. I got sick – again. Allergies that usually plague me with the change of seasons (the summer to autumn transition is generally the worst) hit me harder this time around; thus prompting a visit to my doctor for a trio of anti-microbial, germ-phobic medications. My eyes showed the wrath of the usual culprits: ragweed and mountain cedar. I confirmed my sensitivity to them some 15 years ago with an appointment to an allergy specialist. Visits to the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets and local stores had long proven ineffective. Ragweed and mountain cedar ranked at the top of my allergy reaction list, along with other suspected villains – oak and cat dander. I’m also allergic to stupid people, but aside from working outside the home and driving, there’s no definite test for that.
But my eyes looked as if I’d been ambushed by a swarm of killer bees or came out on the wrong end of a boxing match. Still, the drug cocktail – which did include the ubiquitous screwdriver – eased my angst. And then, the little microbial fuckers resurfaced, like dental appointments and property taxes. They assaulted me with their ecological mainstays: watery eyes, congestion, coughing and the tendency not to use Spellcheck. Misery! Misery, I tell you, dear readers! Joining that gym last month was a much-needed lifestyle change. Since the late 1980s, I’ve pretty much been a gym rat. I even wrote about it six years ago. However, when I signed up to this new place, it had been roughly eleven months since I’d been to a gym to lift weights. Note to the wise and health-conscious: do NOT take nearly a year off from lifting weights and expect to be back to normal in a single session. But, at that last gym a year ago around this time, one of the senior staff apparently had an issue with my attire. I wore an old sweat jacket – one I only wear to the gym. Admittedly, I’ve had it since high school. Some 35+ years ago. Okay, it’s a man thing! You wouldn’t understand, unless you bear that rare Y chromosome! The zipper is twisted, and it’s shrunk. I often keep it unzipped during workouts. No one had ever had a problem with that. Until November 2018.
The man – either a lost Viking or an intense Grateful Dead fan – literally got up in my face and ordered me to “zip it up.” He then walked away. And so did I. I re-racked a curl bar and left; canceling the membership once I got home.
This new gym has no such qualms about ratty, decades-old sweat jackets. It doesn’t cater to GQ cover models or suburban soccer moms – no offense to suburban soccer moms! It’s an old-school gym – where men can go shirtless, women can wear sports bras, and dogs run around the front office. Literally, the owners have 2 massive and very friendly canines practically greeting people when they enter. As a certified Wolfman and canid aficionado, I love the idea of dogs almost anywhere!
I was determined to visit the gym on my birthday, as I’ve done with just about every birthday for as long as I can remember. I even did so last year – before the Sweat Jacket Incident. But I just couldn’t make it this past Tuesday. Again, those allergies. Or maybe the flu. Or I’m being punished for not completing my second novel by now, as promised. Perhaps internalizing all those angry sentiments from work and driving had finally caught up to me. But then again, I never was too keen on the idea of being a serial killer. That doesn’t look good on your Linked In profile.
But other distractions arose, particularly with this aging house. Bathroom and kitchen sinks, roofs, foundations and various and sundry attributes boast large repair price tags. I relish the thought of living in the house where I grew up. I don’t have to fight for parking space, deal with noisy upstairs neighbors and getting rent paid on time. I have the joy of dealing with aging bathroom and kitchen sinks, roofs and foundations. Aaah – suburban life!
So this birthday wasn’t the best. But I made it to another year! I’m always thankful for that. The alternative is not pleasant.
The other day a friend posted a drawing on Facebook of someone hugging what looked like Jesus Christ with the verbiage: “The best part of going to Heaven.” I thought, if there is such a place, the first person I’d want to see is my father, who passed away 3 years ago and who I think of and pray to every day and night. Nearly 5 months later, when my dog died, I fell into a mortal depression. When I marked my 53rd birthday that year, I honestly felt I wasn’t going to make it much longer. I was ready to give up. I still truly believe my father returned to get my dog; in part, because he absolutely loved that pint-sized, four-legged monstrosity, but also because he simply wanted the dog to be with him. I could understand my 83-year-old father’s demise; he had been sick off and on for years with gastrointestinal problems. His body could no longer take the punishment. But then, he came back to take the dog?! Oh well…such mysteries are not for this world to understand.
Yet, as morose as I felt at the end of that year, I realized I had so much I wanted to do. I still hadn’t published my first novel and I have other stories I want to write. I realized I couldn’t give up. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to the people who care about me, but it wouldn’t even be fair to me. I’ll die, and the sun will still rise in the east the next morning. Some people I’ve known actually think it won’t, if they die!
So, here I am at the ripe slightly-passed-middle-age of 56! I’m still writing and still fighting! Now, I just need to find a new way to assassinate these allergens and get back into the gym.
On December 31, 1985, I gathered with one of my best friends, his then-girlfriend and her older sister at the girls’ house to ring in the New Year. In my 22 years of life at the time, I had never been so glad to see a single year fade away as 1985. Just about everything had gone wrong for me. I was placed on academic probation in college because of my dismal grades for the fall 1984 semester; then got suspended for the fall 1985 term because I still couldn’t get it right. That prevented me from becoming a full member of a fraternity I so desperately wanted to join. In April my parents and I had to put our German shepherd, Joshua, to sleep. That fall I had my first sexual experience, which proved embarrassing and depressing. In October I fell into a police trap and was arrested for drunk driving. (My blood alcohol level ultimately proved I wasn’t legally intoxicated.) By Christmas, I was an emotional and psychological wreck. I’d come as close to committing suicide as I ever had that year. But, as New Year’s rolled around, I’d settled down my troubled mind and realized my life could continue.
I realized 1985 was the worst single year of my brief existence and hoped I’d never see another one like it. For more than three decades that pretty much held true. For the longest time almost anything related to 1985 made me tremble with anxiety. Nineteen ninety-five turned out to be almost as bad; instilling a phobia in me about years ending in the number 5. Ironically, though, 2005 was a pretty good one for me, and last year was okay.
Then came 2016.
People all around me are waiting for this year to die, like a pack of hyenas loitering near a dying zebra. Aside from a raucous political campaign – with a finale that seems to have set back more than two centuries worth of progress – we’re wondering why this year has taken so many great public figures and left us with clowns like the Kardashians. I could care less. This year has also taken my father and my dog and is slowly taking my mother.
Over these last six months, I’ve experienced emotional pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I’ve never endured this kind of agony. It’s dropped me into an endless abyss of despair. Early in November, strange red spots began appearing all over my body. It brought with it chronic itching sensations. I wondered if small pox had been reintroduced into society and I was one of its unwitting earliest victims. The rashes and the itching would come and go, like million-dollar windfalls to an oil company executive.
It all shoved me back to the spring of 1985 and the odd little sores that sprung up on either side of my midsection. They were painful pustules of fluid that I tried to eliminate with calamine lotion, ice cubes and prayer. They finally vanished, and only afterwards did someone tell me what they were: shingles. I had to look up that one in a medical reference. For us cretins aged 40 and over, WebMD was a fool’s dream. But I knew that’s what I had, and its cause was just as apparent – personal stress. My poor academic performance, Joshua’s death, thinking my failure to join that stupid fraternity was a reflection of my failure as a human being – all of it had piled onto me.
In November of 1995 – about a week after my birthday – I woke up early one Saturday morning, stepped into the front room of my apartment and repeatedly banged my fists against the sliding glass door. I was aware of it, but I felt I was compelled to do it. As I lay back onto my bed, my hands already aching from pounding on the glass, I asked why I had done something so bizarre at that hour of the morning. Then, almost as quickly, I answered myself. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and I was having even more problems at work. My father had just experienced a major health scare. One of my best friends was sick with HIV and had been hospitalize with a severe case of bronchitis, and I’d just had a heated telephonic argument with another guy I thought was a close friend over…some stupid shit I can’t recall after all these years. So, after weeks of dealing with that soap-opera-esque drama, my mind cracked. Stress of any kind wreaks havoc on one’s mind and body. It’s several steps up from a bad day at the office. This is why U.S. presidents always look light-years older when they leave office.
So, as I smothered my body with cocoa butter lotion and anti-itch cream, I harkened back to 1985 and thought, ‘Goddamn! History repeats itself too conveniently.’ The death of another dog and more subconscious trauma. This time, though, events have been more critical than not being able to join a fucking fraternity or falling into a drunk driving trap.
But something else has changed. While my body reacted in such a volatile manner, my soul has been able to handle it better. I’m older and wiser now, and with that, comes the understanding that life is filled with such awful and unpredictable events. Yes, I’ve fallen into fits of depression. But I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to harm myself in any way. In fact, I want to heal and keep going. I didn’t kill myself in 1985 or in 1995 or in any other stressful period since then. I really just want to keep going.
I keep a list of story ideas; a Word document amidst my electronic collection of cerebral curiosities. When I peruse that list, I realize I may not be able to bring all of those ideas to life. But, if I didn’t try, why should I even bother with it? Why bother even with getting up every morning?
Something has kept me alive all these years. Something has kept me going. Earlier this month I noticed a cluster of irises had bloomed unexpectedly in the back yard. My father had planted them a while back. With Texas weather being so schizophrenic, warmer-than-usual temperatures must have confused the flowers, and they jutted their blossoms upward into the swirling air. I had to gather a few before temperatures cooled, which they did. They languished on the kitchen counter for the next couple of weeks, longer than usual. And I realized their presence is coyly symbolic. My father was telling me that, despite the heartache of this past year, life continues, and things will get better.
I still miss my father and my dog, but I care for my mother as best I can, even as her memory keeps her thoughts muddled from one day to the next. And I continue writing because that’s who I am and what I love to do. I can’t change what happened years ago, but it brought me to where I am now. I couldn’t alter the events of this past year. But it’ll all carry me into the following years.
Happy New Year’s 2017 to all of you, my followers, and to all of my fellow bloggers!