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.

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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!)

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.

chasing .The Dragon’s Tail…

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          I live in a damaged body that cannot, will not, forgive the pain.  There is an ancient Asian philosophical analogy pertaining to dealing with chronic pain known as “Chasing the Dragon’s Tail”.  Basically, as therapy improves one area of a body, the pain moves on to another area (or becomes more noticeable), and another, and… therefore one is chasing the tail of a dragon.  The Dragon that followed me home primarily Lingers low in my back, Crawls… along… my spine and occasionally Jumps up, into my neck.  Through a few tough turns and some rough life choices, my body had become older than it appeared.  Then in the fall of Two Thousand Five, a few weeks before my fortieth birthday, a Car Crash due to the negligence of another became an exclamation point! at the end of that statement. This vehicular fiasco: damaged my spine, jaded my mind and changed life.  Fortunately for All, Sarrah was not along.

My daily window for working out in the morning had been broken by another, becoming a dark cold opening for my painful routine that I have referred to as “Slow Dancing with My Bitch” (Bitch as in Dragon, not Dog), turning my basement home gym into a dungeon where I now commune with my Dragon.

Around four in the morning my day slowly starts. Typically consisting of at least one pot of strong coffee, a coating of my new menthol based “signature scent” from my growing collection of varied pain ointments, balms, gels, creams or crème and stretching in attempts to break ‘the rust’ loose and prepare for yet another day.  My stretching is an evolving routine from old wrestling and martial arts prep, physical therapy, yoga and some other assorted contortions as recommended from my various therapists’ (often simply laying in repose with my back flat on the floor listening to the old mechanical clock tick, paying homage to my Dragon, while waiting for the mix to ‘kick in’).  On my worst days I’d mostly just lay on the floor, Sarrah would often forego her bed and lay next to me in a quiet kind of solidarity.  She would lie still on her side, pressing her back up against me as if to share some energy.  Whether or not Sarrah knew this would help or if she was simply bonding with me, I believe that these moments were proof that she knew that I needed her.  Then around seven o’clock, my work beckons, whether I feel up for it or not.

Shopping for and finding a replacement vehicle, one that met the needs of an injured driver (with a dragon), was not easy.  Financially times were good so affording a new Sport Utility Vehicle with a smoother ride was possible and appeared to be the best choice.  I got a better one that exceeded all needs and even came with a few luxuries.  One of the best sought out and included options being a rear area climate control feature, for Sarrah and passengers.  I could now accommodate the back by heating it without breaking a sweat up front or cool her without getting frostbite.  I added a remote start with a built in shutoff timer which allowed for bringing Sarrah on the severe weather trips, the kind that she previously couldn’t safely participate in.  These options and along with a significantly larger rear cargo area, were immediately noticed and greatly appreciated by my copilot.

Due to the damage, my new inability to sit semi-comfortably for more than an hour requires frequent stops, along the way.  When going to the beach, we utilized all of our frequent places and then some.  Sarrah unwittingly delighted in this, so I chose to think of it as making these breaks for her.

Through the first year I had three to five sessions of therapy (physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and a variety of torture treatment done by my neurologist) every week.  Each typically one hour long, with an average drive time of another hour.  In the second and third years I continued with one to three sessions of therapy per week.  From the fourth year on I typically feel best if I have one session of therapy per week.  All of this displaced work time, which in turn stole from my free time.  Sarrah’s presence and daily needs kept me getting out of bed and walking, despite how I felt, which was undoubtedly the best therapy of all.

Sarrah went to all but a few of the nastiest (where I could not drive myself) therapy sessions with me.  She was always up for “a ride in the car”; to her they were all just another potential for adventure.  My cohort would patiently wait in our vehicle, bark at those who were deemed a threat and mostly just snooze on her fixture ‘car dog bed’.  Before or afterward we always found a park, path or grounds worthy of a dog’s curiosity to check out the local ‘hood and walk off the day.

After acupuncture we would walk around Anderson Park, across the street in Redmond.  I had visited this park a few times over thirty years ago, as a kid with my Grandparents who lived in Fall City, the next town down the road.  This was a sort of hybrid gift: a stroll back in time, a therapy walk off and simply some good sniffing in return for waiting.   Now walking this park has another dimension to my mental time travels.

When Johnny Cash covered the song “Hurt” I had an instant connection with much of it, particularly the line “…I hurt myself, today, to see if I still feel…” and the somber vibe that he delivered it with.  Soon after, I started playing it on the return trips after acupuncture and any other form of therapy that hurt.

In the third or fourth year after this crash, I wrote something and kept it in my mostly semi-scientific “pain journal” (a record that I keep to track what works, what does not, et cetera), this entry was on a loose undated page.  My brain dropping was “When you’re done wrestling with all of the emotions and embrace the reality that you’ll never feel ‘good’ again, clarity returns”.  Apparently frustration from unrealistic positive thinking, gave way to acceptance of realistic thinking.  Or perhaps accepting my Dragon, instead of trying to kill it, made it become a better companion.

After almost five years of treatments and the best efforts toward “soft tissue” healing the final “Official Medical Evaluation” of my body after this misadventure was “Thirteen Percent Impairment of a Whole Person.”  As much as I wished for this to stop, for my body to bounce back, that some trained professional would have the answer, a magical cure.   Or that time would befriend me and just lead my dragon away.  This was it, the black and white summation of a chapter in my life, with an affected future shadowed between the lines.

Through the first five plus years of this “slow dancing meditation” Sarrah was always there to give me a daily boost with a cold nose and a gentle forehead nudge to my neck as if to say “Come-on Buddy”, which usually worked and eventually we would go for a walk.

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Another theft came in the form of diminished energy and tolerance, for almost anything.  It consumes a lot of energy to keep pain in check and function, trying to do what you once took for granted.  While digging for something positive in all of this and hopefully gain anything to hold onto. I suppose a small seed might be a touch of understanding and more compassion for those who live with relentless pain, like Leah’s grandmother.

It is my casual understanding that meditation comes in a variety of forms in addition to the traditional seated pose.  Walking, even cleaning, yard work and gardening are a few.  I believe the basic essential components are peaceful surroundings and a stillness of mind.  I would like to add (if it is not commonly believed already) spending mellow time with a special animal to the list of accepted forms of meditation.  Now, in Sarrah’s physical absence, I find myself drawn more to the other forms in which I participate.  My need for quiet time has significantly grown, despite the frequent hollow ache, I seem to crave silence.

          My aging Dragon is heavier and cantankerous!  It does not like the cold, loathes an erratic barometer and has become a little unpredictable.  It can actually be quiet and leave me alone or more often Grab me by the throat.  One thing is certain; she is my mine and will be with me, forever… feeding on my Qi.