Maze Freedom

A steep winding road drops from our plateau down around an interesting earthen grassy funnel-shaped field and on into the Kent Valley.  I drove this cut-off route many times and never stopped, over several years… I never stopped.  Until I had a speckled co-pilot, I never stopped to visit this place.

Somehow upon first glance of this site Sarrah knew that we should stop.  Pressing her moaning howling head against me and thumping her tail wildly against the truck interior until I laughed, said “OK” slowed down and turned into the lot, then whimpering filled the cab.  Excitement exploded out of the bouncing black and white blur of fur, into the sea of green.

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This former gravel pit turned into park is an aggressive walk, making it typically less crowded.  The steep stairway into the labyrinth of spiraling lateral walkways is a hip grind in and a calf burner out.  In youth Sarrah would run up and down the hillsides between the paths and with age mellowed into staying close.

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I doubt Sarrah really noticed much of the view as she was typically so excited running and sniffing, perhaps when time slowed her some of the surroundings became more apparent.  On clear days Mount Rainier can be viewed to the south, on foggy days the over-developed valley disappears.

This maze of a park became a favorite place to enjoy some freedom.

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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!)

Time is a Thief

One day at the Beach House while participating in yet another round of Jack-Assory with Roslyn, Mike and Libby’s young dog, Sarrah slipped on the smooth floor and yelped.  She got up trembling a bit, favoring her hind leg.  In an instant the mood and her life, changed.  I massaged her leg and we kept them mostly apart for the rest of the weekend.  Sunday afternoon I took her on our last walk to the beach, for the weekend.  She was a little wobbly and I sat on a log, held her and wept.  I took her leash off (in violation of the law) and let her walk on her own, with a spark of energy from the added freedom.  She enjoyed the stroll, but was in pain and dragging her feet.  Looking back I was scared, afraid that Sarrah was near the end of her life.

Back home we immediately cut back on the distance of our usual walks from over a mile per day to just few blocks, as Sarrah was dragging her toenails and was (depressingly) happy to do less.  I was looking into all options like dogcarts, surgery, and whatever might be a cure or any method of preservation for my friend.  I desperately needed to find a cure for what time had done to her, to replace what was Stolen.  Around this time Sarrah and I had bodies of approximately the same age and condition.

I decided to try Acupuncture for her, as I’ve found it to bring much relief.  In some ways it would be easier for Sarrah to gain from it, as animal’s don’t have to ‘turn off the human preconceived mental junk’ in order to have an open mind.  Over the last couple of years I had read a few news articles about the growing practice of animal acupuncture and the successes with it.  Fortunately, the progressive culture in the Pacific Northwest is open to many forms of alternative care for people and animals making these treatments readily available.  Fortunately, I found a veterinary clinic nearby that offered acupuncture and began the effort to restore what could be, for Sarrah.  Initially she was nervous, a little scared and not trusting the surroundings of this new place that had similar sounds and smells of the vet clinic that she absolutely hated.  Shortly after arriving we met the acupuncturist.  This wonderful veterinarian, Darla Rewers was the first one that I recall meeting who seemed genuinely delighted to be with the patient and openly passionate about caring for them. Sarrah picked up on this faster than I and seemed to trust her.  It was determined that hip dysplasia, common for Dalmatians’ and probably a tear of some tissue was the cause of Sarrah’s loss of stability in her leg.  The initial treatment of just a few general points and a couple specific for her hindquarters was sort of an easing into treatment with needles.

Sarrah initially trembled and hated the session, but noticed improvement almost immediately and tolerated the treatment.  We went frequently and with each session the quantity of treatment points increased, she improved with each visit.  Soon she stopped dragging her toenails and regained most of her abilities, with the exception of having a trick hip and a need to avoid slippery surfaces.  We both, through error and trial, discovered many little things that Sarrah either needed help with (such as climbing into the back of the car and rug runners for slippery floors) or had to avoid completely (no more beloved games of tug-o-war and going down stairs, so I carried her).  I used to whisper in her ear while lifting and carrying her “Us old dogs, Gotta stick together”.

I shared some of Sarrah’s acupuncture experiences with my acupuncturist.  We talked about how gains in health and pain relief with animals prove that it is not merely just in human minds.  Occasionally, I also ‘stood on my soapbox’ and preached the proof based experiences that I have witnessed with this ancient method of healing, for animals and people.  It was a miracle at least to me, that the clock was turned back a bit for Sarrah.  A huge gift!

I started playing Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” for her visits, too.

Spring

While all caught up in moments, season’s change.  We watch them through the windows of our homes, cars and places of work, but until you get outside and walk in them frequently you don’t really experience what all of the seasonal days have to offer.

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Hello!  Spring was aptly named-all of a sudden, one day, there it is!  Plants awaken with… birds singing the praises of its arrival.  Some years our spring sneaks in early, at the mercy of winter.  Bulbs defiantly peak up in various yard borders, returning the favor of past work, giving a hint of color and brighter days to come.  If looked at closely enough, buds appear on dormant trees showing signs of waking up, some flashing peaks of pink and white flowers.  Soon these trees will make a scented canopy over some sidewalks.  Lawns begin to wake up and grow erratically, with some darker green fertilized spots.  Unfortunately this growth brings about the noisy season of the obnoxious grass cutting and mechanized yard maintenance machines.

Success

Time proved to us that we had achieved success.  We found the kind of place that you dread leaving.  Where that last day starts with a quiet ache and as other people leave, a somber tone increasingly takes over.  When afternoon breaks taken from the bustle of packing and cleaning, have a sad coating.  Where your mind reflects on the latest stay, dips into the past memories and shuffles them all together.  You start to sneak looks forward, plotting the next escape.  Sarrah had a somber demeanor as she watched the ritualistic events of the last day; she quickly recognized the patterns and knew that the trip was near its end.  You know it is good, when it hurts to leave.

To me a big part of this day is the last walk; Every trip has a last walk, to the beach.  Preferably as close to departure back to reality, as possible.  Usually, taken after most people have gone, giving way to greater observation in solitude.  Along the way small things seem different.  The weathered chairs of wood, quietly stare back at you, as if waiting.  Shuttered empty houses look lonelier.  Even the sea birds seem a little forlorn.

Somehow the ocean sounds different, on the last walk.  The constant roar sounds more like a lonely, resonating hollow moan as if to be saying, “Don’t go…”, maybe “Farewell…”, or perhaps “Happy Trails…”.  I feel and absorb this more every ‘Last Time’.  On these walks, the ocean smells more like a salty tear soaked kiss.  I occasionally wonder… Does the ocean miss us when we are gone?  Will it miss me, after I have gone?

In the joy killing spirit of ‘Tomorrow is promised to No One’ you never know when the actual last walk, may be.  I do not allow myself to dwell on this heavy finality, too much.  But I do make an extra effort to savor all moments… of each, last one.

Beach House

Sarrah delighted in all aspects of going to the Peninsula.  She usually sat up and looked out the windows the entire way there, to watch the world as it went on by.  The journey from where we live starts with on average an hour of ‘freeway hell’, racing with the self absorbed rats on the paved necessary ugliness, known as Interstate 5.  Then off onto Highway 101 where it gradually devolves from too much civilization and overpopulation into a sort of peaceful time travel back through the woods and near a few old small towns, too tough to die.  This leg of the journey is packed with many little things that busy people miss or find “boring”.  These things like mountains, forested land, rivers, cattle, wildlife; deer, coyotes, porcupines, elk, eagles, hawks and even bears were all noticed and points of interest mentally noted by my road wise companion.

Another perk around this area is the constant salted air and its medicinal affects.  We knew it when we first explored Ocean Park and what remains of the historic town of Oysterville at the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula, this was the place.  We came back a couple of times and narrowed the search to a community named Surfside Estates with a few rules (Covenants, Codes & Restrictions) to protect values from individual expressions.  This little development of Two Thousand Eight Hundred subdivided lots is comprised of; about one-third with houses (mostly vacation, several retirement), one-quarter “seasonal camper lots” and the rest vacant, overgrown with dune grass and coastal pines.  The community has approximately three miles of beachfront and a small lake (pond) with long canals that run the length of it.  There are walking trails running East to West with foot bridges over the canals, creating easy access for all “members and guests” to the beach which extends as far as the eye can see… to the South and North.

We quickly found the one, close enough to the ocean to hear its methodical constant mumbling and an easy walk away.  It was new enough to not only become a dreaded nest of repair projects.  A cozy little two-bedroom house that would be greatly appreciated as-is, customized over time into “our place” and enjoyed along the journey through time.

September Two Thousand Five Nissa closed the deal, and we came out for our first three-day weekend and camped with Sarrah, in the empty one-year-old house.  On this stay we personalized it by painting the garage floor, making it into more of a warm multipurpose room.  This tan coating also has its share of the ever-present small black and white hairs permanently sealed into it.

Sarrah instantly liked the new little house and it quickly became her preferred home.  She was delighted with being able to roam the whole place and sleep closer to me.  Upon each arrival and inspection of the Beach House, her toys and the yard she would relax on her overstuffed bed and smile.

As a group we decided that the best spot for Sarrah’s bed was next to the sliding glass door, on the east end of the Great room.  This gave a comfortable vantage point to guard the front door, see all that went on in the house and watch out for wildlife trespassers as they regularly strolled through ‘her yard’.  One of the best perks of this spot was the morning sunshine, perfect for soaking up a little bright warmth.

Why do people carry books with them?

Why do people carry the same books with them?

Usually Bibles or other religious books, I assume, but why?  Is it to read, or reread when time is theirs to spare?  Could it be kept nearby so they can make notes on the pages when something comes to mind?  Perhaps to have it on hand to share with others, if so moved.  Maybe it is simply for comfort.  I’m not sure why and I’d never really thought about it, until Nissa asked me “Do you think your binder is a Security Blanket?”

I replied (after a day of contemplation) “Perhaps… It is a security blanket, but I think it’s more a need to complete it (with no rush nor deadline).  If I stop, it may never be restarted and remain unfinished.  The story is too important, at least to me (besides the time invested) and deserves to be written to some level of completion”.

This question and contemplation all came about because; from the moment that I began writing about Sarrah I kept a black pleather binder with me, at all times.  This ‘manuscript’ evolved with daily handwritten words, as they came to me.  Mainly I retyped it in the early morning hours, those when Sarrah would have been by my side, while my dragon waited and before the day cluttered my mind.  Then I updated it onto printed pages.  In the quiet, alone times often I just read and reread portions of my writings, reliving them in my mind.  Sometimes I simply kept it open to a picture.

I am lucky that I started writing about Sarrah when I did, otherwise I may have never done it. 

Equally, that it grew enough momentum to help perpetuate itself.  

I always wanted the story to progress… but did not really want it to conclude.

Gems

We continued to discover and frequent gems of common interest.  A favorite was a park, nearby.  We became regulars to Salt Water State Park, a nice mile plus round trip walk from home.  Here the small public beach is choked by privately owned beaches, sea walls, rock cliffs, logs and rules.  The semi-sandy beach is about forty yards by twenty at high tide.  Currently more than half covered by the naturally occurring, growing… log pile gifted by storms and kept in place by law.  In the summer months the tide recedes further, if lucky enough or planned you can carefully walk out another fifty yards or so, on the Barnacle covered rocks amongst the tide pools.  Here at an edge of the Puget Sound, where the ocean’s water works its way around the San Juan Islands, the small waves are more like swells.  These tired waves sort of heave themselves, splashing, thudding and pounding against the rocks.  Despite its shortcomings, Sarrah loved this place instantly.  She would often Insist on going there by taking a hard right, instead of the left turn on our usual daily trek down Marine View Drive.  I am certain that my occasional ‘giving in’ further fueled this action, but making time to enjoy small victories is good for all.  We probably hoofed that all terrain trek at least five hundred times over the years, and around one hundred shorter versioned, driven in stops.

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Sarrah loved the Puget Sound, especially all of the creatures and smells that come with it.  She happily stole bits of clam, crab and mussels from harassed crows and seagulls, who had dropped them onto the paved pathways to break them open.  We walked the beach in search of sea glass (to collect) and sand dollars (to throw back), along the gurgling creek looking for fish, around the grounds and trails for less crowded nature.