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!)

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.

Time = Money

As Albert Einstein is said to have deduced, “Time = Money”.  I had a growing accumulation of funds in the traditional retirement accounts and contributed regularly, a nice chunk in an investment club that I founded and presided over, as well as other unconventional small hoards of cash for rainy days and holy crap moments.  Altogether, these investments brought a hedged, strong sense of a secure fourth quarter, in the game of my life.

Having more than enough money and the assumed promise of a financially comfortable future brings many things; the best being the most important resource, Time.  More time to do what you want and how you want, became the winner in my balance of the scales.

My favorite part of how I earned a living was the lack of time structure.  If properly managed, I was in control of it.  This control (or illusion of) my time combined with more money than was required, created opportunities to take some off, the easiest and often best escapes coming in the form of long weekends, sneaking away for mini-vacations in which to escape normal life.

Our little family took many weekend trips to explore new areas.  These short getaway escapes to smaller, quieter places, reaped big rewards and brought us closer together.  Sarrah, well, as you can imagine loved the jaunts into the unknown.  Packing the car (even) was full of pacing and squeaks of excitement.  Sarrah knew when we were loading the car for a road trip.  She would pace, pant, bark, twirl, howl and run around the yard with overflowing exuberance like a happy kid at Christmas time.

Nissa and I began to daydream, out loud.  We began to wonder about having a little place of our own, for more personal escapes.  So we tailored our long weekends toward a search for a vacation property.  We pondered over the idea of a second home for many months and found the mental exercise to be a daily life sweetener.  If nothing else, the experience of looking and dreaming was a set of nice excuses to explore our state’s rural areas.  Despite spending most of my life in Washington, there are many interesting places I do not recall hearing about, let alone visiting.  Several I had been to in my youth, some of these favorites deserved another look.

Our part-time explorations came in many forms.  Some treks were one-day whirlwinds: Lake Cushman (100 year leasehold only), Twisp (too far away), Leavenworth (a possibility) and Roslyn (recently too popular).  Others were simple stopovers’ along our way: Leavenworth (still a possibility), Astoria (more populated), Ocean Shores (too quickly populated, without a sense of soul).

The best of our adventure trips being long weekends, three to four day getaways’.  We stayed at Pacific Beach (remote possibility), Leavenworth (yet still a possibility), Moses Lake (too far East) and a few other unmemorable places.  Sarrah wasn’t really much help, as she loved going anywhere; any road trip (except over the bridge to the vet) was good and fraught with potential for greatness!  As with many worthwhile life experiences, the exploration and pursuit is valuable to setting the stage for the goal.  Our adventures were enjoyed, by all of us.

Learning

Learning when it was “OK” to chase them provided a bit of a twisted pleasure.  The first of many times when a one year old cat would ‘takeover her bed’ she’d sadly slink off.  I carefully let her know that it was OK to send a thieving cat packing… with a bark or a quick chase.

Mothering instincts kicked in with Sarrah when the siblings fought, mostly protecting Isis from the bullying of Rah.  Sarrah grew into a sort of parenting referee role, barking at them and chasing Rah off, then returning to where she’d been with a look of satisfaction.  Isis, the significantly smarter of the two, picked up on all of this and bonded with Sarrah.  She even occasionally set Rah up by starting a fight, for Sarrah to break up.  It was probably also a bit of aged preference for quiet and frustration with frequent noisy youth that motivated her.

Sarrah delighted in sending the male cat, Rah for a run.  The two of them seemed to have a bit of an understanding, a few rules with their game and played it often.  Rah, around two years old, learned how fast he was and how much head start was required for a good chase without getting caught.  He then decided to play with Sarrah’s tail, to start trouble.  Most of these neener-neener games happened in the seclusion of the backyard.  The game evolved from Sarrah looking at me to see if she would be in trouble and Rah figuring out how many swipes at her tail it took to get in a good run, becoming their regular contest.

One sunny spring day Rah pushed his luck too far, attacking her sleeping tail with full claws and the chase was on.  This time he, being a little more cocky than usual, got off to a slower start and Sarrah’s quick snap got a bit of ‘butt fur’, much to the surprise of all!  After the chase, she returned with a smug look of satisfaction, spit out the chunk of black fur and resumed her position on her bed in the sun with the trophy.  Rah returned after a few moments and all was back to ‘normal’.  Sarrah smiled, I laughed and Rah just brushed it off, playing it cool.  It was good to witness Sarrah winning one of these challenges; after all only Rah’s pride was hurt, a little.

The addition of the kittens to our family was another gift.  Sarrah inadvertently absorbed some of the youthful energy that showed up with them.  Thankfully the feline chaos that spiced our daily life actually benefitted all of us, especially my tiring friend.

Intruders

Like most dogs, Sarrah had a way with cats.  I don’t think she would actually hurt one, but these furry creatures intrigued her and she delighted in seeing them run.

Tux and Simon never wanted anything to do with Sarrah.  Tux simply disappeared when Sarrah was outside; Simon on the other hand would frequently swipe at her through gaps in the fence and occasionally sit on top of it, to taunt her.  They never bonded and never shared the same space at the same time.  Though they did share the same house and people, they never really lived together.  After they had gone, Sarrah settled into the role as our only pet.

Sarrah’s favorite trick for dealing with cats that crossed paths with her while we were out walking was a quick lunge and two to three quick pepper steps, which usually sent any cat running…. Great fun!  She always had a wide smile when watching a cat in flight, and in turn a puzzled look for the rare one tough enough to stay, crouch and Hiss.  Through the eyes of a cat, Sarrah was incorrigible.

When Sarrah was about ten years old a coworker of Nissa’s was adopted by a stray cat, and in turn ended up with a batch of genetic soup kittens, born May Twenty Eighth, Two Thousand Eight.  After some discussion we adopted two of these at least fifty percent feral, one third crazy, fearless kittens; a black male and a grey female each with faint ghost tiger stripes and a few random white chest spots.  Nissa named them after the Egyptian Gods, Rah and Isis.  Sarrah was beyond excited and very curious when these little ‘hair balls’ came home, fortunately for them being of wild origin gave them inherent coping skills for excessive sniffing and occasional chasing.  Initially Sarrah was amazed with the clumsy little kittens.  She acted like she had never seen anything like them before.  Sarrah displayed an intense curiosity and fixated on them, under closely guarded supervision.  She made no seriously aggressive moves toward the kittens, just a constant intense observation of these mini versions of the enemy.

Sarrah had an insatiable desire to sniff them; it seemed that she drew energy from their essence of new life.

Family

Sarrah also played a key role in one of the best gifts of my lifetime, the reconnection with my teenage daughter Heather, who did not know me.  The sting of realities that came with our separate lives, were a part of every day.  Volumes could be written about all that was missed and about what a person goes through, along life’s way. The quiet moments while walking the many miles with Sarrah enabled my mind to work through the unintentional slow burning process of introspection and reflection.

After a dozen plus years of hoping, waiting… dreaming and the scheming required for mental chess games, I was actually getting a second chance with Heather.  Our recycled beginning was as it should have been, when she was ready.  The next few years of watching her struggle for independence and freedom were hard; in my role I practiced painful patience while she was driven by youthful curiosity.  Like the anti-gravity nature of plants, many things worth having seem to require stubborn struggle, even thrive due to it.

I was attending college at the time and made our relationship the topic of an assignment.  In the pursuit of a little help, I stumbled into something.  At the (heavy handed, over-the-top, borderline irritating) insistence of my writing lab tutor, I entered my paper “What Happens” written for my Writing 101 class, in the Highline Community College Arcturus.  This was the last class required for me to complete my “Twenty year / Two year” AAS degree.  I understand that most people take this class early on in their collegiate pursuits, but I dreaded it enough, to save it for last.  Arcturus is an annual artistic contest for current HCC students to submit photos, drawings and writings, in which the chosen entries are published into a book.  After almost a dozen consecutive years of continuing part-time student status, I had never heard of it.

***

{From my Writing in Arcturus 2003}

(Written as it was happening… and most importantly, submitted with Heather’s approval)

“It is wonderful, exciting and a bit scary to feel our relationship slowly unfolding as if it were an old weathered document, misplaced all these years waiting to be found.  Perhaps it’ll yield a long lost treasure map, a blueprint for something timeless or maybe just an intricate drawing of a sad face clown.”

***

As Heather and I carefully, took turns, slowly… unfolding our delicate treasure map, Sarrah as always was constantly by my side, happy to listen to my ramblings and walk me through it.

As I watched them meet for the first time it was obvious that Heather adored Sarrah.  Their initial meeting was when Heather returned to our home after a surprise eighteenth birthday party dinner for her (my first ‘in person’ celebration of her birthday, in sixteen years).  She had only seen pictures of Sarrah, so the occasion was a little anticipated.  Heather had not been to my house since she was a little girl, so Sarrah helped ease any tension from the occasion.  After all, a cute Dalmatian could not hurt my appeal to a teenaged young lady.

Heather was drawn to Sarrah.  She drew two fabulous pieces of artwork in pen and ink, from photographs taken by others; one of Sarrah and me walking on the beach as the sun was setting (taken by Nissa) and the other of Sarrah peaking from behind a bush, magically enhancing these moments… capturing them in their time.  These drawings were gifts to me, from my daughter, of gifts to me, from Sarrah.

Participating in another of Heather’s artistic passions, she also photographed Sarrah, often.  I don’t think you can have too many pictures, especially those taken by people close to the memory.

Image

And… years later Sarrah got to be part of Gracey’s life, from the beginning.  In a twist of tradition, October Fourth in the year of Two Thousand Four, Heather welcomed a daughter of her own, into our world.  My granddaughter was named Gracey Jane; she instantly began further growing and gluing our family together.  Sarrah was enthralled with this little person.  She was amazed and attracted to the baby Gracey.  As time passed and less supervision was required, they formed their own bond and connected on family gatherings.