THOUGH I WASN’T ALWAYS

Why do I keep trying to understand

the list of many things that I do

 

not? I carry around a fifty-

one-year-old weathered scroll

 

inked with a variety of unknowns.

Some, once understood—now

 

not. Many new, others ever-

changing. The list

 

grows. If “life is what happens when you are making

other plans,” why plan?

 

Why do traits that attract

turn into reasons to leave?

 

Is life alone settling,

fate, or just giving up

 

on the game? Why use the word

forever when nothing is?

 

How can a lifestyle choice threaten

others? How is walking in rain

 

therapy to some, yet loathed by many?

How do crows know I am

 

a friend, though I wasn’t always?

How does a special animal change

 

a person’s life? What do you do

when they go? Why do tough

 

people sometimes betray the code

and cry? Why do some become monsters

 

instead of protecting

their children? Can the kindness

 

of an outsider make enough

difference? Why does the pain remain

 

when the damage is long

gone? How do butterflies

 

know to show up when you need

them? If writing can be an antidote

 

for depression, can it lead

to understanding? Is philosophy

 

a gift, or an over-thought

burden? Destiny, obligation

 

calling (words that are larger

than life) can you really

 

see them coming?

Herman Hesse wrote:

 

I have been and still am a seeker,

but I have ceased to question

stars and books; I have begun

to listen to the teaching my blood

whispers to me.

 

Was there an event that opened

his eyes to this

 

realization or is it the wisdom

of a tired traveler?

 

When is it okay to let go

of questions and simply embrace?

 

The surprises never

end. Perhaps it’d be healthier to lean

 

back: let the bad be curses

and the good, magic.

 

This poem started with my piece Why from the “Write to Understand” writing workshop taught by friend Matt Love  on December 10th 2016 in Astoria, Oregon and evolved over time thanks to the help from another writer friend of mine Tara Hardy .

 

Why

Why do I keep trying to understand the list of many things that I do not.  I carry around a fifty-one year old scroll of weathered paper inked with a variety of unknowns.  Some once understood – now not.  Many new, others ever-changing.  The list grows…

If “Life is what happens when you are making other plans” – why plan

Why do traits that attract – become reasons to leave

How is walking in rain therapy to some – yet loathed by many

How does a special animal change a person’s life – what do you do when they go

Why does pain remain when the damage is long gone

How do butterflies know to show up when you need them

If writing can be an antidote for Depression – can it help with Understanding

Destiny, Obligation, Calling (words that are larger than life) – can you really see them coming

Herman Hesse wrote, “I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”

Was there an event that opened his eyes to this realization or is it the wisdom of a tired traveler?  When is it okay to let go of questions and simply embrace?

The surprises never end.  Perhaps it’d be healthier to lean back: let the bad be curses and the good magic.

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As always I learned while enjoying my day at the “Write to Understand” writing workshop on December 10th 2016.

Matt Love lives and teaches in Astoria, Oregon.

Learning to Kill

I don’t even remember the first Time that I did it.
It was no big deal, not like forming some kind of habit.
Over Time I did it a little more often, I quietly killed some.
Sometimes it was fun, mostly just doing it out of occasional boredom.

Suddenly one day I was driven to obsession.
Murdering in mass and serial slaughtering consumed me.
Death now burned my eyes as they opened in the early hours.

Random methods to choke, smother and drown Time became routine.
Driving the need to kill Time and feed my aging Dragon.

Asking The Right Questions

I took another Writing Class at the Hugo House,

“Asking The Right Questions: Self-Inquiry in Memoir” by Suzanne Morrison.

 

She started by having us write answers to the following questions and then share our answers.

–       Write one sentence about the story we are or want to be writing. “My story is a reflection on learning about life, from living with a dog.”

–       A memoir we love.  “A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz”

–       A song we love.  “Into the Mystic by Van Morrison”

–       A word we love.  “Perhaps”

 

Then after some discussion about how to dig for questions and capturing feelings by writing about “Glimmers” (moments that cause recollection and reflection in sensory detail) we were given our first prompt.

 

1 – Write about a Glimmer that comes to mind that has occurred in 2014.

“Winter had many days shrouded in thick dense fog.  The mysterious cool wet precipitation now causes my hip to sing with searing pain, before I even go outside.  Walking in the fog makes me recall numbing pain from football hits, stinging burns from Kung Fu kicks and the flames from a car accident that I could not walk away from.

 

2 – Take one thing from your writing that links back in time, ten years or more.

“The slow motion of impacting into the side of a pickup came suddenly from the left.  Deafening explosions of glass and metal distracted enough to not anticipate running into a little house on the right.  Crunching wood replaced the sharp memory from a few seconds earlier, only to be erased by the fire where our windshield used to be.  Laying in the mud watching the burning car with my feet still in it seemed like a fitting end, at least it was quiet.”

 

3 – Write about something from the second Glimmer that embarrasses you.

“Being an only child makes it easy to be your Mother’s favorite.  A certain burden comes along with being the chosen one, one that does not allow for making bad choices.  Choices that put you in the hospital after a silent ride in an ambulance, after a noisy life-changing event.  Parents do not like life changing events in the early morning hours, on Mother’s Day.”

 

4 – Write about something that has happened to someone else that is tied to your last writing.

“My friend Dan decided not to wear his seatbelt, he never did.  Driving too fast in the foggy drizzle to get home a little sooner seemed to him like the thing to do.  The other older driver of the pickup shared that perspective and had a similar smelling breath.”

 

The next few were given as homework.

5 – Reminds you of a subject you’re interested in.

“I’ve always been drawn to cars, in particular muscle cars of the sixties.  I also have what my grandfather called “A heavy foot” after my mom asked him how I did when he taught me to drive his pickup, the summer after sixth grade, on the gravel roads near his farm in North Dakota.

 

6 – Something that you don’t understand.

“Despite several documented examples of getting into trouble and a few painful episode’s resulting from traveling fast, I still have a love affair with the nasty bitch we call Speed.  All forms of logic and punishment cannot seem to make me completely part with this mistress of blood rushing excitement and the tastes of adrenaline laced moments.

 

7 – Riff on one word or phrase that has potency.

“I still have a love affair with the nasty bitch we call Speed.  I’m not sure what to do with this one but Love is a drug and perhaps so is Speed.”

 

Every day is a Gift

Spring is a favored time of year, when warmer days grow longer bringing the season of growth.  Almost all are re-energized and happier, unless, something is wrong.  Time had made Sarrah and I a pair of aged Pals, hanging on to moments, savoring them as they slipped… away….  I figured that one way or another; this would probably be my last summer with Sarrah.

In the winter at the beginning of Two Thousand Ten, I started another prescribed pharmaceutical experiment in my quest to relieve some of the struggle with my dragon.  This drug called Gabapentin, in my understanding is supposed to block some nerve pain, was added into my plight to relieve some back pain and hopefully help with the incessant foot irritation that showed up after the car crash.

When I started with this drug the Doctor said that he wanted to draw some of my blood in order to form a base line and check it again, monthly, to “Monitor my liver”.  I asked, “Why, does this drug fry the liver?”  With a wry look, he said, “No, just want to be thorough”.  The drug worked for about a week and then the gains trailed off….  When I returned for blood work and discussion, he doubled my dosage, which achieved the same results.  And a month later he again, doubled my dosage, which would probably achieve…  This last time I held off and thought it over for a couple of days.  I decided “Screw It!” and phased myself off of this drug entirely, over the period of a week, for good.

About a month later I was back to the Doctor at which time I told him that I’d had enough of Gabapentin and had stopped taking it.  He replied that was probably good and that “My latest blood test showed an elevation in some liver enzyme numbers” and that he thought it was “Probably nothing, but that an ultra-sound test of my liver would confirm this”.  He asked me if I’d like to schedule the test.  My facial expression must have portrayed what I was thinking, but I said “Yes” to be certain and he scheduled the test.  I did not mention any of this to anyone as I figured it was probably just due to the use of the drug.

A few weeks later I had the test done, which leaves you with a nice coating of slippery stuff on your clothes to enjoy for the rest of the day, to help remind you… that something might be wrong.  While the lab tech did the test I saw something a little different on the screen and apparently so did she, as she seemed to revisit that area, a few times.  I asked her if she had found something and got the ‘matter of fact’ reply that she “Just does the testing, the Doctor would Interpret the results”.  I left semi-reassured with the understanding that “If Anything suspicious was found, they would contact me Immediately”.

Some more weeks passed and I was back to be seen by the Doctor at which time I was told that “Well, I see something in the ultrasound results.  But these tests aren’t really very good, that another test, a CT Scan would be much more accurate and conclusive.”  What he saw in the ultrasound test “Looks like a 3cm mass, but could be a shadow from a rib or something.”  Somebody forgot to call.  As always I asked him speak with blunt honesty, using words that anyone could understand.  He said, “Well, medicine sometimes speaks with a forked tongue, It could be Nothing or It could be Cancer.”  “Would I like to have a CT Scan, to be more conclusive?”  To give this smart man the benefit of the doubt, I assume that such stupid questions are borne in the legal ass-end of the vile beast we accept as our insurance industry.

I chose to continue keeping this misadventure to myself, completely, at least until after the test results.  While going through the process of having the scan done, one of the two technicians asked, “Why I was having the test done?”  With a smile I said “Could be Nothing, or Cancer”.  I’m guessing my reply wasn’t normal, from their reactions, but we all agreed and hoped for nothing.  Afterward, I walked Sarrah around their beautifully landscaped parking lot in the sunshine.  She found a few suitable flowering bushes to sniff and some manicured grass, to pee on.

During the periods of waiting, I did a lot of thinking….  I don’t see how a person could avoid over-thinking and maybe a bit of self-pity in a situation like this, mostly I found my mind racing with it all while trying to keep a chin up, poker face.  At times, maybe half a dozen, I would be in a crowd and would sort of drift off watching everyone else scurry around all caught up in the minutia of just another day.

I also did a bit of online research, while most people were busy sleeping.  I have heard that you should not surf the Internet searching for possible medical issue information, but come on, really?  How can you not?!  With the advent of smart phones, a person does not even need to get out of bed.  I did a little web surfing and found a few disturbing factoids.  Liver Cancer is: in the top five most painful, top three worst odds and does its thing quickly.  I don’t remember much else.

I maintained my silence, even as the odds shifted more against me.  Not having to talk about It was beneficial in trying to not be consumed by constantly thinking about It.  I did not discuss all of this with anyone, other than Todd, my Acupuncturist for an alternate opinion and maybe some educated friendly guidance mostly about how I was handling “the waiting game”, and keeping it to myself.  He concurred with how I was handling it, or at least claimed to, which helped a little.

I was betting on the “Could be Nothing” gift horse.  Also, I kept believing that there was Nothing to lose by keeping it to myself, except of course the probable eventual backlash for doing so.  While many may find fault with me for not sharing, many others do not.  I believe the person in the tough spot gets to decide how to play their dealt hand.  After all there was a fair, OK slim chance that it was nothing and I didn’t want to freak people out, for nothing.  I felt that I needed to spare others from this medicinal test and wait game, at least until there was actual news, for everyone’s sake.

I began keeping a Journal.  In one of those ominous clinical looking (until decorated) Black & White speckled composition books.  Journalizing seems to be something many want to do, some do and most stop.  I wanted to capture my Brain Droppings.  Some notes and reflections recorded to see how I dealt with it for short and long-term souvenirs’, something to look back on one day, maybe.  I wrote thoughts; some rambling’s, made a list, and kept a few practicing medicinal notes and a couple crappy-sketched doodles.  If nothing else, the journal would be left for others to have after, later.  I drew great strength, as always, from my speckled friend.  Sarrah was happy to do whatever I needed; walk, rest and listen to me think out loud or simply reflect in silence.  Not being a practitioner of journalizing (unless assigned or purpose specific), I now felt driven to do it.  I found that writing in my journal relieved a little of the pressure, from my mind.

Yep, in my journal I made a ‘life is short list’ page and started on with it, one that if I only had a few months left and needed to squeeze the most from each day.  I had watched the movie “The Bucket List” a couple of times before this, as noted in my journal, “Wake up, time is short reminder”.  That movie has a different vibe now, but still offers a good message for me, as before.  I have always tried to keep ‘my list’ short, by experiencing those things deemed important and seizing many opportunities, as they became available.  But now I felt an urge to make a quick short list of some things that I would be grateful for experiencing, before being too far gone, to create some fresh memories for me and others.  A favorite one on my list was to eat more Seafood!  Kind of a bittersweet goal as I had developed an “Intolerance” around my birthday ten years earlier, to my favorite food making me violently ill.  I ate a bunch of it anyway, convinced that I could “Power Through It” and did, mostly.

For whatever reason, I have the recollection of a creative writing assignment (from a class that I did not take) in which the students had to ‘write their own obituary’.  This was always a little morbidly interesting to me, but then again, after all who better to sum it up?!  This became a little more important to me, but also in an additional, different, evolving way.

About nine months earlier, I had relented to all of the invitations and joined the cult of social networking known as Facebook.  I chose to think of it a little as a self-directed montage with my directing of the world, as seen through my eyes.  I felt fortunate to have started this in the event that someday, someone, like my Granddaughter Gracey may find it interesting years from now.  I still plan to generate an ‘old school’ obit and keep it up to date, in my words.  Then again maybe enough has already been written.

I contemplated the possibility that if I did have this insidious disease, spending the last of my time, making the best of it instead of in torturous treatment (to end up essentially the same) would deserve an honest look.  In other words, I probably would have gone to a beach instead of a hospital.

At this time I decided upon a park bench for a memorial of sorts, probably somewhere along the Long Beach Peninsula, with the simple words “Bryan Goffe was Here” (in a font resembling a ‘carved with a pocket knife’ look) alongside an embedded paw print.  Instead of a tradition marker, I merely want a bench.  Leaving something useful in a nice place that’ll possibly evoke and contribute, giving those who wish a place to visit and enjoy a bit of tranquility and maybe even some occasional mischievous debauchery.

This life event also solidified a thought that I’d had prior; to have my ashes launched out of an airplane onto the sleeping volcano Mt. Rainier.  I grew up in the once small town of Enumclaw where the plateau meets the foothills with this majestic mountain for a daily view and think this would be a nice place to return to the earth.  Maybe half of’m by my bench.  I am sure there are rules against such things, but also have faith in my friends’ abilities to overlook minor issues like that.  Besides, we try to live with too many… rules.  I still want the bench, now.  I would like to select the locale and enjoy the view, myself on occasion.  Now, I usually spend a moment with each memorial bench that I come across and wonder…

One selfish motive for silence was that I wanted a normal Father’s Day, the kind that should never be taken for granted.  I never knew how much I wanted this, until it got closer to actually happening.  Perhaps I had lived too long with a touch of mental defense against the perceived improbability.  This year’s was to be my first Father’s Day celebration with my daughter, on the actual day, and Possibly my last.  The big weekend arrived; my parents, Nissa, Heather, Gracey and of course the cats and Sarrah all gathered at the Beach House.  I got what I wanted and needed, for all.  Even the weather was on its best seasonal behavior.  We had a very nice memorable family weekend, without anyone worrying about me and treating me differently.  It was my most special, gifted Father’s Day, Ever.

It was a long tough day, waiting for the afternoon Doctor appointment to learn the results of my CT Scan.  As I wrote in my journal the morning of June Twenty Eighth, Two Thousand Ten,

“Yesterday was my toughest, so far.  Probably in part because I was alone with Sarrah and the cats, working on things around the house.  Of course I meet with Dr. Marinkovich today to see/hear what the CT Scan found, which is “real pressure” not to mention a gihugous distraction of the mind.”

That day my clock went crazy.  The ticking sounded off, as if the pendulum was slowed.  But when I did look at the clock, the hours were passing quickly, faster than normal.  I cannot remember the forty-five minute blur of a drive; I must’ve been on some kind of mental autopilot.  I got to the clinic early and soon was taken to one of the rooms, to wait.  I sat there watching… their clock.  He was running late.  I was mentally trading places with him, wondering what ritualistic psych-up things I would have to do, to prepare myself to tell someone “Hey, guess what…” The later he was, the longer the clock ticked off time, the more I was convinced that “I was Doomed”.  He finally entered the room, twenty-three minutes later than I did.

The words “Your liver is Healthy” were awesome!  We wrapped up the appointment quickly and I got out of there.  To celebrate Sarrah and I walked around the parking lot and down the cut-off trail to some other clinical buildings, for the last time.  We were never coming back here, to this place, ever again.  I also called Nissa at work to give her ‘the news’.  It was an odd conversation as she was blindsided and absorbing it all must have been a little overwhelming.  I posted a brief comment on Facebook and received several relief-oriented comments and a few remarks of surprise.  The residual benefits of making the most of each day could now be even sweeter…  I would now continue to focus even more on making the best of Summer time.

I suppose this Scare Dance with Cancer and the possibility of it, was another of life’s unintended hidden gifts.  Being forced to focus on the bright side and making the best of each day, while coping with burdensome facts of mortality is something that I do not think I could have done as completely without having gone through this twist of fate.  I was deeply compelled for a few weeks to constantly feel that each moment, of each day, Is really a gift (Even the Shitty ones).  At least that how is it began appearing to me, in the rear view mirror.  Not enough people get the experiences gained from seeing the end of a road, without it ending.

As my friend Jeff’s mom Alice (she was known as Al to friends, many of whom were considered extended family) told me around twenty years ago, “We’re all Dying of Something, Make the Best of the Time you have”.  Being the oldest known person living in the United States with Scleroderma for forty two years, made her a torture humbled, overqualified advisor in such matters of perspective.  I always remembered her saying this to me, but don’t think that I actually really understood it.  Now I think that I do, or at least on a deeper level and will always hear her sharing those thoughts with me, Thank you Al. (Al passed away January Twenty Eight, Two Thousand Eleven.  I hope she’s dancing to her heart’s content!)