You may need to Tread Water
for a very long time
Favorable Tides Return
A friend with a valuable opinion suggested that I try to write something a little Happier.
I do have Happy moments, lots of them, but apparently they don’t move me to try and write anything (lately anyway). Perhaps I get too busy simply enjoying those moments.
I don’t know much about writing, it’s rules and terminology (I took just enough classes to get by) but there is something called “Voice”.
Perhaps someday a happier voice will find this aging mind. Like hitting my head on a low beam and spilling my coffee or tripping over an uneven sidewalk and throwing everything in my hands, like lots of changes it will probably hurt.
Time may tell.
Hardly any Focus
Breathing seems Difficult
Oddly the mind makes Time seem slower…
while trying to Absorb the Surreal
Feels like my Heart no longer fits in my chest
as if somehow Bigger, but actually probably Smaller, having another piece …Broken off
an all too familiar Mental Time-Out Torture Chamber
The Monster we Simply call Loss is Beating me again
* * *
Cheers to you John Kelly
* * *
I heard that John gave someone the gift of sight. How awesome is that?!
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
The combined goal was to have a getaway. Our own place to escape from home; gather experiences to build on and collect layers of memories with family, friends (old and new), by ourselves and of course with Sarrah. We felt the need to have a destination to long for, when elsewhere and in need of a daydream. The kind where, when you close your eyes and turn off your ears, magically… you are there. A retreat in our world where time is put in its place; less measured and untracked, removing deadlines and the forces that push them, in order to simply enjoy moments. As well, to be our familial gathering site for holidays, birthdays and for the best event, no special reason at all.
One main requirement was for somewhere that had ‘enough’ so that boredom wouldn’t sneak in, but ‘much less’ than where we live and work. Another priority was for somewhere that other people would be interested in joining us, on occasion. We wanted and needed a better connection with nature and land, perhaps even where land meets water. Near enough for an after work escape and the occasional early morning return “Cannonball Runs” back to reality. A peaceful spot to let human springs unwind and recharge batteries, repair the mind, refresh the body and I suppose nurture the soul.
We frequently reviewed the pros and cons of making this kind of investment. All of the traditional points of retirement planning and age-old wisdom were mulled over. Was this a wise investment? Would there be resale value if the need came? Should the required funds be squirreled away instead for later in life? As living Life reminds us all too often, Death usually arrives uninvited and often earlier than envisioned, erasing long term plans. The constant tricky challenge of maintaining the balance between “Save for a rainy day” and “Seize the moment” will always persist, with only the benefit of time passed to judge.
As we leaned toward the decision to enjoy some of life’s rewards now and along the way, our belief that the dividends from these experiences would payoff for the rest of our lives became clearer. It felt like the right thing for us to do. We chose to enrich our lives and those important to us, Now. Who knows, a working life retreat may become a retirement haven packed with the comfort of fond memories.
After a couple of years of leisurely exploring the quiet coast, small lakes and rural mountains of Washington, we narrowed our focus to the Long Beach Peninsula. The miles of beach, quiet unlit roads and laid back locals enable this area to drip with comfortable solitude. This area is around one hundred fifty miles or more importantly measured with time, around four hours drive, each way from where we reside. This distance is greater than we had initially hoped for, but it also enabled affordability (Seattle/Distance=Price).
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.