The Path of Thorns

family

The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist.

by on Oct.15, 2009, under family, friends, human emotions, the mask

I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men.  I’m nearly done with the second season.  The show takes place in the early 1960′s Manhattan, at an advertising firm called Stanley Cooper.  It follows an executive there by the name of Don Draper, and the life he leads and the past he fights.

I can’t help but compare myself to characters I watch in my favorite shows.  There are qualities in each character I’ve come to love in each favorite series; I love the living-to-die, gung-ho ferocity of Jack Bauer, I love the power of Tony Soprano, I love the intelligence and leadership of President Josiah Bartlet, and I love how Hawkeye Pierce can turn dark days into light and sarcastic humor.  Each character has taken a lot of pain, and in rising from it, has developed some sort of unique strength and intrigue that keeps me watching them.  Events and life-changing experiences these characters have that you just don’t get to see in this society where everyone shuns their problems away from others.

Don Draper is different.  I like him less than most characters I’ve gotten to know, and I’ll even include all the characters in the thousands of books I’ve read over the years as well.  On the surface, if I knew the man, I’d consider him just another suit.  He’s gritty, he’s tough as nails to be around if you like to be goofy like me, and he cheats on his loving wife with several women that I can hardly stand to watch.  Maybe it’s because my own dad couldn’t stay loyal, and thus it’s hard for me to swallow, but at the very least watching unfaithfulness is tough, and hearing about it makes me subconsciously make a fist.  Not a character you can see me enjoying, clearly; yet, I’m deeply interested in him and what he does and how he lives.

I realized this is for one main reason, at least the only one I’ve thought of; unlike every other character I’ve come to love, I have a connection to him that I don’t with anyone else I’ve watched or read about.  He has no family.  He changed his identity, started fresh after coming home from the Korean War, after a childhood and adolescence where he never found his niche or real home.  So he remade himself that on one hand is a success, and in another is this mysterious and empty darkness that he probably had to assume when he shut his old life away.  After all, you can’t shun the first couple decades of your life completely without either realizing and emptiness, forming an emptiness, or even risking your own emotionality.  I do have more family than Don did, but I know that emptiness he feels.  The same things that haunt him haunt me as well.  The only difference is, I deal with mine by talking about it and making sure I surround myself with great friends and my dream of a girlfriend, and he deals with his by masking himself from everything and fighting his battles alone to the point where no one gets him.

Every emotion is a crossroads; each story is told with each decision made.  Sometimes we deal with it by throwing ourselves into the fires of war, or by making our own army to max out our power, or by joking all the way through until a fifth of liquor becomes a truth serum.  Either way, when someone you’re close to mistreats you, it brings you to this crossroads where you either uniquely build yourself back up from its frayed ends, or you end up mistreating others and never letting anyone know who you really are.  Sometimes the war doesn’t end in your head or your heart until you end the battle for good.

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I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

by on Aug.05, 2009, under death, family, human emotions

I write my best when I write either autobiographically, or when it’s about something I love, but always when it’s without fear.  I have topics in my head I want to go further about – and more of it will include baseball – but I wanted to erase the rest of the fear I have inside me to write without looking back.

I wrote the following piece when I was 16.  I wrote it before I’d forget it, and I’ve never been more grateful of my own writing than I am of this piece.  It’s allowed me to remember what I knew I wouldn’t otherwise.  It’s a personal story, and it’s about the day I died.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but I’m proud of the way I wrote it as a high schooler, and posting it publicly will allow me to prove to myself that writing without fear is a task I really am going to defeat.  Some things have changed – I don’t go to Children’s Memorial Hospital anymore due to lack of insurance, and their desire for me to go to Northwestern when I get a PPO again, and the health of my body has greatly improved, though now I have diabetes.

Nevertheless, the experience changed me more than I ever thought anything could.  And I’m thankful for that.  On this day, I’m not sure I saw Heaven, but I saw something that keeps me agnostic and not atheist.

Enjoy.


I looked at the clock with fearful eyes.  8:30 a.m.  Sitting on the uncomfortable hospital bed, with my mother, father, aunt and maternal grandfather, a moment seemed equivalent to a lifetime, and a time that would determine my future.  The coldness that crept up my back from the open hospital gown upon my shoulders matched with the sheer terror running through my veins.  As I continue to sit and wish that I’d live through the day, my name is called.

I gaze up at the nurse, as the Anesthesiologist and two other nurses take the bed and, as I am slowly wheeled away towards the room of Fate, I wave goodbye with one hand and wipe my tears with the other.  Minutes later, I would be unconscious, unaware of the instruments that would hopefully save my life.  My organs were getting eaten up by clogged toxins and my digestive tract was destroyed.  As a result, my liver is that of a sixty-five year-old alcoholic, and my pancreas, of which only two-thirds exists now, was the worst my surgeon, Dr. Superina, had ever seen, and took out my gall bladder because it was so destroyed.  A piece of my small intestine is now my digestive tract.  My Fate was uncertain and anything would have been amazed, for this has never happened before.

The next day, I gained full consciousness and was laying in a small room with about five other kids and teenagers (I was being taken care of at a children’s hospital downtown) with my family by my side.  I was told how frail and pale I was, and the IV’s and machines in me kept me from comfort along with my weaknesses.  My mother and sister fainted at my poor sight, for it was quite depressing.  I was quickly regaining my strength and got moved out of critical care, and was starting to walk and get my strength back, I probably would have gotten out in a week.

However, Fate had other plans in store for me.  The morning of October 2nd, during the usual 4:00 am X-ray, the X-ray showed that there was a black liquid in my lungs and it was causing me to breathe unevenly.  I was rushed down to intensive care, as the liquid began to come up.  Three emergency nurses shoved a large oxygen mask upon my pale face, and as it went up against the liquid, it got caught halfway in my throat and I could not breathe for about two minutes, when I finally got a rush of strength and shoved the nurses away, as I allowed myself to breathe once again.  Anger and fear overcame me and I caught myself screaming vulgar things at the resident in charge of putting the mask on me, and my father, who was there that night/morning, had no idea and tried to rationalize everything.  After about five minutes, a middle-aged woman who appeared to be a nurse calmed me down and told me to breathe into a smaller, softer mask, and within seconds I was unconscious once again, which, as I found out later, was a drug-induced coma.

Later I was told of everything that happened to me when I was in the coma, though some of the things are now mental blocks because if I was ever to repeat them, both me and the listeners would just be thrown back way too much.  Just to give a few examples, my fever hit a deathly-high 106 degrees, I had a ventilator to do my breathing for me and my body was entirely infiltrated with IV’s, pick lines and other contraptions to keep me going.  From what I have been told, it was like something you’d see in a horrific movie.  Doctors, nurses and residents alike would stand there twenty-four hours a day, in shifts of course, watching me like a stopwatch.  Days would pass, and I would not budge, or get any better at all.  In fact, for weeks I got worse every day without the success of the medical staff.  At one point my only hope was the prayers and thoughts of many throughout the country, awaiting the day where I’d wake up and be a normal teenage kid again.  Fate was cruel throughout that whole month of October.  You hear about such frightening things happening to children and adults everywhere, and you’re just lucky it isn’t you, and you figure it never will be.  The next thing you know, Fate has you on His waiting list.

Those long nights when I was on my deathbed got even longer and colder, and the days, though sunny, did not shine on us.  My entire family flew in from all over, and though it was the first time in many years they were all in the same place, the reason for this was all that was on their minds.  My uncle would hound the doctors and strongly attempt to get answers, the answers no one would ever know.  No one knew what would happen to me, or even if I would live through the hour.  It was a living nightmare for everyone, and the shock of it all evenly matched with the throbbing, hasty beats of their hearts, bleeding for my agony.  God, along with the cruelty of Fate, was all that we could all look to for a miracle.

One day, in the last week of October, that miracle came.  My parents, along with my paternal grandfather and his second wife, were all in my little ICU room, which only had two curtains as walls.  My father and grandfather were reading the paper, my grandma’s second wife was watching TV and my mother was washing my feet.  It was early in the morning, and the sun was out, doing its usual attempts to cheer my family up.  This morning the sun could take the day off and relax, for that morning, I had done more than it ever could have.  I opened my eyes, and slowly, yet fearfully, gazed around the depressing scene around me, unaware of what happened and what was presently going on.  My mom felt the strength begin to surge through me and screamed with delight, and relief at the same time.  Fate lost the fight, and Death was cheated greatly, and looking back on it, it’s amazing my family, especially me, all went through such agony and suffering to be as healthy as I am now.  It’s as if it were one horribly bad dream.

One thing will never leave me, however, and that is the one sight I saw during my coma.  Only for an instant, I remember a light.  It was a bright white light, and I am convinced it was Heaven.  Robert Plant would be let down, there was no stairway . . . there was no direction whatsoever, just a warm white light, it was very comforting and entrancing.  It was as if it were a drug; it was almost irresistible but in a good way, like something you cannot get enough of but a welcoming emotion . . . it’s out of this world, in multiple definitions.  It’s something that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life, and it’s something that changes your whole perspective of life and how you live . . . ever since then I’ve been happier, stronger and friendlier than ever, for now I know how precious life really is.  It’s a story for the ages.

That last week of October, for me because I was then conscious, were the darkest days by far.  Though the morphine numbed the agonizing pain I would otherwise feel, it kept you up all night.  The machines going off, telling you that one other thing is wrong with my already novel-long list of disabilities.  I’d lay there and watch the young residents relax and try to have a good time mingling, despite the deathly ill kids around them.  The residents couldn’t have been above thirty, and they seemed to be very good friends, maybe more.  I remember just blankly gazing at them, with weary eyes, wishing I could be just as alive and happy as them.  They were smiling and looked so colored and healthy, yet at the same time efficiently doing their jobs.  There were those few residents who just wanted to get the job done and go home, but for the most part they were great.  They didn’t talk to me, for they did not want to disturb me, though little did they know I couldn’t get more disturbed.  The ventilator covering my pale, tired face made me unable to talk anyway.

Another amazing this about all of this, was how I was completely in the hands of the doctors, nurses and residents.  Just a couple months before, I was able to walk, talk, breathe and be a normal kid.  I had everything going well for me; a good, well-paying job at the Village Market, a longtime girlfriend I loved dearly, and a group of friends who always knew how to have a good time.  Now, as I slowly looked at myself, I realize all that could be gone forever, and I could give away at any given moment.  Life can take away all your worldly possessions and your God-given abilities in an instant, without being able to do anything about it.  It makes you wonder if you’re next.

As yet another prayer had been answered, I very quickly regained my strength, and floored the doctors once more.  Just days after I woke up from my coma, Dr. Superina ordered my ventilator to be taken off, for I was able to breathe quite well on my own.  That black liquid I had the moment was disappearing just as quickly as it entered my lungs.  I was once again able to slowly feel the life in my arms and legs, and move them from the spots they would be at days at a time.  My voice, my singing voice I cherish so much, was becoming less and less hoarse and got stronger and more powerful with the rest of me.  Straining physical therapy got my blood fueling through my body like the healthy kid I was once destined never to be.  My physical trainer just happened to be a young, beautiful woman with a sweet personality and determination to get me back on my feet, which helped me all the more.

I recall walking in a circle along my entire floor, and getting the cheers from the residents and nurses, which just made my day and made me even tougher.  A day or two later, I’d be walking down to the basement to eat at McDonalds or sit in the cafeteria and talk to everyone I knew, smiling constantly, knowing how blessed I was.  I’d laugh if I saw someone I knew from ICU that would pick their jaw up from off the floor, seeing me walking and talking again.  It made me feel on top of the world, getting that warm feeling of life back in my veins and bones.  Machines and IV’s disappeared, including morphine, and I felt more of a human than a guinea pig.  Like they say, the best things in life aren’t things.

Once November came, the doctors basically said they had no use to keep me anymore, and on the 3rd of the month, I was discharged.  The anticipation and pure glee from knowing I could go home after five long, dark weeks was too much.  My mom and I would chase down doctors and residents so we could get cleared and go home, and the delighted looks on their faces to see me better again gave me the strength to continue fighting to normality again.  It is a life-changing experience to know, and see, dozens of people strive to do all they can for you, and make sure you’re alright.  I got attached to them and vice-versa, and it was hard to say goodbye and the “thank you”‘s I gave could never add up to the caring everyone had for me.

I continue to go to Children’s every couple of months for checkups from everyone, and the responses I get are better and better, for my health continues to progress.  To know that at one time they were working overtime because of me, and now just sitting back and talking to me most of the time, amazes me at how sick I really was, and how well I’m going now.  The relief is more than words, and those days last fall will never leave me.  The affection I received, blended with the white light I felt in my coma and the trauma I saw and felt in ICU, changed me forever.  I am a totally different person nowadays; I’m much happier and more social, my esteem is boosted because the gut I once had from my organs is gone, and people know how strong-willed I really am.  These days are the best I’ve ever had, and may ever have, and I’ll never forget the days where it was all almost over.

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Life is like a baseball game. When you think a fastball is coming, You gotta be ready to hit the curve.

by on Jul.30, 2009, under baseball, family, friends, human emotions, trade deadline

I write this post in the wee hours of the morning on July 31st, 2009.  For most of us, it’s just another day.  Offices are doing end-of-the-month reporting, people are tearing another page off their calendars, specials are changing at your local restaurant, and Summer’s first half is long gone as the year’s 58.3% gone as well.

For Major League Baseball players, emotions are at some of their highest, as this is one of the most emotional-driven days of their season.  Like Spring Training and the playoffs, this is a pivotal point for many lives and many paths.  Between now and 4:00pm on the east coast, hello’s and goodbye’s will ring more than at any other point in the heart-wrenching, body-killing 162 game season.  Owners, presidents, general managers, scouting directors, agents, and most importantly, the players, will hear the clocks tick, the phones ring, and the stats thrown left and right on a player as if he’s a mere sheet of paper in a hungry pennant race.

A few chosen hotels are standing by, waiting for a call from a team telling them to book a suite for their next piece of their hopeful championship puzzle.  Or for the next select piece in their farm system, where those running up the hill, and over the hill, play for a dream.  Some players know they’ll be gone, some players get a rude awakening, for better or worse for them.  Wives and girlfriends (or boyfriends) are waiting to hear the fate of their husbands and lovers by the hour, by the minute, as Father Time’s finite period for this deadline draws nearer and nearer.  July 31, the non-waiver trading deadline for Major League Baseball.

Agents speak for them, general managers speak of them as pawns in their chess game, because this day is all about what the team needs.  Their needs and moves are life-changing, as the media and the fans chew on the fat of each news story, each twit, each tidbit of new information on a trade.  Whether a player wants to leave, or whether he dreads the notion and daily reminders from the public, dozens of uniformed soldiers report to new personnel in a mass quantity all week, and for 14 more hours.  The nervousness, the anticipation, the excitement, the frustration, all show each true color as they do their best to go about their daily lives.  Or try to, anyway.

To the vast majority of the fans, players are simply components that affect the representation and winning capabilities of their hometown teams.  If they under-produce, most don’t care if they’re dumped just like that.  If they’re expendable, who cares if they’re gone, so long as they fill in a hole in the roster?  Few of us stop to think what that means to the player.  How it determines the rest of his season, his career, and the life of his family is rarely fathomed.

I got a chance to talk about this topic with a former Major League Baseball player.  I did not get a chance to ask his permission to use his name, but I will say he was once a member I valued on my beloved Cubs, and someone who has gone through this very thing.

He mentioned a few things I did not think of – the idea that if you’re performing well and get dealt, you feel secure because there’s a better chance you’ll stay with that team, and find yourself a new home and a new exciting fan-base.  But if you get traded for under-producing, as I mentioned above, you stress more because of the new equation you’re brought into; that is to say, your new role with the team.  You may have been a beloved member of team A, but to team B, you sit on their bench and watch a team you may hardly know play without needing you as much.  I can’t imagine the loneliness, or the uneasiness.  Yes, ballplayers are millionaires these days, who will be financially stable anywhere once they hit this level, but they’re also human beings who may find job relocation following a business lunch or a thirty-second phone conversation.  And all a player can do is wait.

The player I interviewed made another mention – how their children have to say goodbye to their friends, how their wives are left behind to figure out their mandatory new living situation.  Some players who are traded still have several years left under their current contract, and may not see many warm days at their current home again.  New schools, new estate, new ways of life – including a new dreary apartment or shared house to those players still unproven.  Many wives have to say goodbye to the house they made their own with the player they wedded, to the friends they’ve grown attached to, to the happy life they had where they were.  As much as a player is a mere soldier in a battalion, trudging through a million-mile season, they have to be nomadic and well-prepared if they’re to make it through a long and hard career.

For every game that has to be won, a birthday is missed.  For every RBI scored, and anniversary is missed.  For every loss taken, a player’s lover says goodnight to an empty pillow.  These players, these soldiers, these pawns, have a job to do, a talent to use, a unilateral skill to answer to, and each of the thirty teams has a vast game of chess to play without getting a checkmate.  For each piece lost, one step forward needs to be taken.  Each piece on the board needs to be in a certain place in order to win.  Only the chess you and I play have tangible and unfeeling pieces…to thirty front offices right now, they change lifelines.  And business in this old game never feels colder, or more surreal, in the heated Summer than it does today.

New friends are made, old friends hug or shake hands, promises to keep in touch are made briefly, and a bus, or plane, awaits their fate.  The fate of the player, their wives and lovers, their children, their family, their friends.  Bags are hurriedly packed, goodbye kisses are known to be salty with the tears breaking between lips, retrospect is administered, and a fresh new start shows itself as a sharp right turn.  Whether a player is meant to stay with the team for three months or three years, depending on their contract, a new significant chapter must begin.  Even if they wanted to go, they leave a whole life behind them – and maybe a teammate, wife or lover that just doesn’t want to see them go.

While a team trades for a player, they really set the course of lives before them, and all of those they love.  And in a day where baseball is making more than it ever did, with more players than they’ve ever had, with a larger media than ever before, more and more of these lives are changed as more uniforms are created.  As I sit here writing this, I can guarantee a score of our hometown heroes, our team’s lifeblood, is watching the clock right now, wondering what their future holds.  And if they have the same anxiety disorder I do, I couldn’t try to put into words what they’re going through at this moment.

Players can still be dealt after today, but not in a condensed situation like this.  Not like any other point on the battlefield they encounter 162 times in six months.

So to every player right now on the wire, whether they know they’re on it or not, and to very wife and lover of these men, as well as their children, friends and family – there’s at least one fan out there who appreciates what you must be feeling right now, joyful or melancholy as it may be, and I thank you for going through it.  This is the last night of this deadline, so breathe, get up at the same time for practice, and either await Father Time’s pendulum, or completely ignore him.

13 hours left as of the end of this entry.  You can make it.  And whether we fans are watching you go, or watching you enter, we await your fate alongside you, with or without similar feelings.

And if you find yourself in a new city at the end of today, you’ll continue to do your best to make your own fate, and the July 31st trade deadline will be 365 days away once again.

Breathe.


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The family is a haven in a heartless world.

by on Jul.27, 2009, under dad, family, friends, human emotions

This is my first update since being unemployed.  Which is funny, in a way, because of the increased amount of time I’ve had.  Part of it had to do with my trip to Boston and New York, part of it an accidental lack of inspiration.  I wasn’t sure if this site was going to continue to be my breakdown of people’s emotions, or if it would be about an interest of mine – music, baseball, comedy – but I’m starting to get centered again.  This site was getting good hits in its first two entries, so I hope to reignite the little light that was beginning to emerge.

Since I’ve been unemployed, I’ve been getting in touch with a side of me I’m familiar with – and my biggest fear – insecurity.  I’m at an age where people are forming the rest of their lives, or the next chapter in it.  Chapters where they need help lifting off, or doing what they want to, even if that just means emotional or mental support.  Most people get that from their families.  Family is what everyone rightfully puts first – blood runs deeper than anything.  Family gets you through – in the end it’s correct to actually depend on one’s self only – but for most people I’ve come across in my lifetime, few have had to truly be that extreme and be solo.

I see parents who put their kids before anything they do, and would rather die than ever wrong them or endanger them, or hurt them.  Parents who can support you with their wallet, or their home, or their friends, or at the very least, with their hearts and good will.  Those people may not always realize how good they have it to have such supportive parents.

But when you don’t have that, it’s a hole that really never gets filled.  Some say friends are family instead, family you can pick – and I agree with that, as I have many remarkable supportive friends that I’m grateful for every day – but the bond of blood will always have its unique strength that can only be self-filled.  Money is never an issue for loving parents, if they can give it.  If they turn their back on you, or let you down, it hits harder than if anyone else would.  The bonds of friendship, the bonds of confidants, in the end, never truly fills the hole left by a parent who isn’t there for you.

As a result, you overcompensate – maybe appreciating or looking to your friends more than others – or you feel lonely quicker, or less secure.  A lot of times you don’t even feel the hole – not at your busy job, or on a fun night out, and you may not on a plain old bad day either.  But you’re always reminded of that hole when you tread a rockier road, when you need all the stability and support you can get.  When they’re not there, when they can’t help or don’t care to help…it’s never something you really get over.

My mother and sister are amazing people.  A few relatives I’ve drifted apart from incidentally are as well.  Everyone else…leaves me with that gaping hole.  I am that over-compensator.  I am that of someone who needs stability in an unstable, darker world. I miss the father I thought I had, that ended up destroying so much, without looking back.

I’ve been scared to talk about myself so openly, and I debated with myself for weeks as to whether I want to get personal or not.  But I decided to let go and say what I need to say.  I don’t force anyone to know me, or understand me.  But this door’s open for those who are interested.  My blog will be about my thoughts, my ideas, my views, and as it seems, my history too.  I have decided to let go and let you all in, fearlessly.  I’m slowly stripping my walls, and letting this blog reflect the stories inside.

I write from the heart – and to be a good writer, I need to let go.  So here I am.

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