Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Slacker* Looks At 40 (From 45) -- The Warranty Expires

It's hard for me to look back at turning forty without seeing a dead, muddy Bart Simpson, crumpled face-down next to the railroad tracks.  Oh wait - that was me, only I wasn't quite dead, and I was on the floor of our foyer.  My 40th birthday was still several months away, but I was quickly learning that my warranty had expired at 39 1/2.

Leaving out the medical details because they are tedious and boring (except to my doctors - they think I'm NEAT!), I was very sick, and the long process of trying to figure out what was wrong with me had just begun.  I was home, loaded with radioactive iodine and awaiting part two of some scan thingy.  I stood for a minute, then sat on the floor, then sprawled out on my back, breathing laboriously and scaring the hell out of poor [Maris].  Feigning confidence as best I could, I assured her that we would find out what was amiss, treat it, and get on with our awesome life together until we were so old as to be considered cute.  Inside, however, I felt as though I might not see age forty, a mere six months away.

What do you do when you think you might be facing death, and for real, this time?  I don't know about you, but I watch a mandatory internal slide show of bits of my life.  It was much shorter than I'd expected, but whatever.  It was out of my control, so with [Maris] holding my hand and worrying herself almost to the point of injury, I watched as the images scrolled past like a bad PowerPoint presentation.

Dangling happily from the rusty old ladder on the American Shoal Lighthouse, a few miles off Sugarloaf Key on our honeymoon.  (Photo by [Maris])  It seemed like only yesterday.

Back, back, back we go - to 1977.  One of those images I can see perfectly without the aid of the photograph.  Yes, that's a Fonzie t-shirt I'm wearing.  And yes, I look a little less than thrilled.  Photographers who read this will understand.  A stranger had my camera.  Rest assured, though - that was a great day.  When I got sick in 2006, my father had been gone for just over a year.  I remember thinking that my dad would have liked my boss.  On one of my really bad days, this guy came over to my cubical, looking very concerned, and quietly and very sincerely told me not to die at work because he didn't want to have to "deal with" me.

BOOM.  It's 2004, and [Maris] and I are adventuring in Maine, shooting every lighthouse and weird sign that moves, and many of the ones that don't - including the Old Cape Elizabeth Light.  That was only two years ago, I thought.  I took a few deep breaths.  I determined that I would live to again scamper along the coast with my beloved, searching for the perfect photograph.

I got worse, then better, then much worse.  One morning - and I know I make a lot of stuff up, but I'm not making this up - I had an extremely vivid dream of dying.  One of my weird symptoms was extreme joint pain, and my hands would sometimes clench up so badly that just washing them was difficult.  In my dream, I was in my parents' bathroom, struggling to wash my hands.  A voice from within told me to give up and turn off the water, and that it was okay.  I had a feeling that turning off the water would be THE END, but as quickly as I filled with dread, I was emptied of it.  It was okay - profoundly sad, but okay.  I was going to miss [Maris], but as the water stopped and my life went silent and black, I thought Well, at least my hands won't hurt anymore.


They don't.  I lived.  I turned forty.  I live.  I complain a lot, but I live.


* I'm not really a slacker.  Mostly, I just like the title.

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