Monday, May 28, 2012

Nineteen Again

I've just returned from my twentieth college reunion weekend, and I have to say it was just what the doctor ordered. Not only did I successfully challenge myself physically(walking around campus much more than I expected to and never taking the wheelchair out of the trunk), but I reconnected with some of the best people I've ever known. Even though many of us were somewhat randomly thrown together 24 years ago,  it's wonderful to see how those relatively brief connections allow us to pick up right where we left off. I expected to easily win any contest of hairline comparisons (since I've got cool scars to show off), but much as I felt like the oldest 42 year old in the bunch, everyone still looks and acts like the kids we were.

I hadn't been to a reunion since my fifth, and the overarching theme has been to experience many of the typical college tropes I didn't actually experience in college. I guess I still haven't been to a frat party (no great loss as far as I'm concerned), but I did have plenty of heartfelt conversations with the help of a cocktail or two. At the fifth reunion, I bore witness (unfortunately) to someone essentially hazing himself by proving the theory that you can't drink a gallon of milk in an hour. This year, I was comically forced to streak down a dorm hallway after discovering that wrapping a post-shower towel around one's waist with one hand (especially with a towel not quite bath sized) is no easy task. Slow as I am, I did manage to do it without being spotted or having someone call campus security on me.

I know I've written at length about my desires to reclaim independence and at least a sense of  ease and carefree youth, but I can't say enough about the friends I made during my college years, the ways they've continued to support me since graduation, and the way they enriched my life this weekend simply by slowing their pace a bit, carting my food and drinks, appreciating the fact that I still exist, and encouraging me to push beyond the boundaries of my limitations. After my fifth reunion, I was compelled to take a cross-country train trip to extend the festivities. This time around, it's probably going to be more like virtual visits through Facebook and texting. But that can be real, too. Even virtual connections between random collections of people are plenty real when they're the right people.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

At a quarter to three, I metaphor

Truth be told, I started writing this in September 2010, while sitting in our friend Lori's beautiful house overlooking Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine, during my "gearing up for brain surgery" phase. I think we had plans at that point to go hiking as a family, which was our annual tradition.

You see, Jamie and I were married atop Bradbury Mountain  on May 24,  2002. I use those terms loosely, by the way. Bradbury is barely a mountain and we were barely married (though I'm pretty sure at least the latter is legal). It's a long story, but the short version is: she surprised me with a proposal in a bathtub on Valentine's Day,  and I surprised her with a wedding on top of a hill.

Every year since then, on or around our anniversary, we have climbed that hill (weather permitting and with the exception of 2011, when I simply wasn't able to make the trip. In retrospect, I actually don't know why we didn't at least go to the playground there last year.) I've long said that if there is a better metaphor for marriage (or life) -- climbing the same familiar mountain year after year, interspersed with self-inflicted and/or circumstantial challenges -- I haven't yet found it. Except for our trip whale watching yesterday (2010) -- which turned out to be post-hurricane water watching. Saw a harbor seal, a butterfly, and almost saw the gum I swallowed in 2003.

On our wedding day, as I eagerly/anxiously awaited getting to the summit, where friends were waiting to jump out and pronounce us husband and wife, as my months-long covert op was coming to its end game, it was clear that you can't plan for everything, though up until then I had planned for plenty:

  •  a surprise wedding license excursion to Portland City Hall.
  • shopping for our wedding attire (separately and in secret).
  • Buying our wedding bands and having them engraved, "double happiness may-july 2002" (that was as much either one of us knew at the time).
  • arranging for our friend Tess to become a Notary Public in order to perform the ceremony.
  • convincing Jamie to go for a hike that day without raising suspicions.
  • hiding our apartment key so our wedding party could break into our apartment and retrieve a garment bag of clothes.
  • a red-herring shopping trip to Freeport (because I "hadn't been able to find anything to wear yet").
  • a sleepless but not obviously sleepless night for me the night before, nervous I wouldn't pull it off.
  • arranging for a potluck at our apartment the evening of the wedding.
  • Booking a bed & breakfast in Jackson, New Hampshire, for the weekend following the nuptials (our "mini-moon").
  • arranging our official honeymoon in in St. John, for June.
  • curbing our parents' dissatisfaction with our decision to elope at home by "allowing" them to plan two parties for us in July (one in New Jersey, one in Maine) -- so much for keeping the spotlight off us.

That day and since then, every hike up that mountain has brought some lesson. Usually, it starts with me reminding Jamie it's our anniversary and twisting her arm to go in the first place. Which is a little odd, since she's always been much more active than I. Like I said, I think the lessons over all are that marriage is a leap of blind faith and that you can't plan for everything, such as:
  • 2002: periodically drizzly weather
  • 2002: Jamie's anti-consumerism tirade in Freeport and declaration that she, "didn't really feel like hiking!"
  • 2002:Jamie insisting on taking the longest possible route to the top, even though:
  • 2002: a call to the wedding party from the L.L. Bean bathroom had revealed that they (Best Man Jamie Boy, Maid of Honor Kristen, and Officiant Tess) were already waiting for us at the top of the mountain.
  • Any number of years:Wrong trail.
  • Any number of years: Long trail.
  • Any number of years: Right trail up, wrong trail down.
  • Any number of years: rain mixed with mosquitos.
  • 2005: hiking in the rain while Jamie was pregnant with Wyatt (many pee breaks required)
  • 2006: Hauling Wyatt in the backpack (bliss).
  • 2007: Hauling Wyatt in the backpack when he didn't want to (not so blissful).
  • 2007: Carrying a picture of Gus to the top when he was in the NICU.
  • 2008: Coaxing Wyatt to walk up when he didn't want to.
  • every year since 2007: Keeping Wyatt from running/falling down the mountain
  • 2008:Carrying Wyatt and Gus.
  • 2010: Coaxing Gus (to no avail) and splitting up (Wyatt and I went up, Jamie and Gus went back to the playground).
  • 2011:still recovering from stroke, celebrated at home.
Our vows were, not unexpectedly, nontraditional, but I think it's fair to say that over the past 10 years we've certainly had and held each other, definitely for better and worse, for richer (gainful employment!) and poorer (two spans of unemployment on my part, a year of disability payments, living off a single income); in sickness (duh); and in health (of course, taken for granted at the time). In many ways this past year has been both the most enriching and successful of our marriage and the most trying, egregious failure. At least we're coming through it without a constant desire to blame or bludgeon each other (not constant).

And now, some commemorative pictures:

2002/wedding day

Ken getting to the top with a grunt of relief.
Jamie getting to the top and lying, "I KNEW IT!"
changing clothes

We do.

Jamie and her lilacs

The precipice


1st anniversary champagne, bad hat, and rain

Pictures have frustratingly disappeared.

Jamie, pregnant with Wyatt (who was born a few weeks later)



holding picture of Gus in the NICU



Wyatt and Ken at the top


Apparently, I still haven't quite learned my lesson, since for this, our 10th anniversary, I tried  to meet Jamie Boy, Tess, and Kristen for a picnic in the park, and prepare this blog entry as a gift and expression of love, respect, and admiration for what has been the most important relationship of my life. I also hoped to hike as much of the mountain as possible. Unfortunately, only Tess was available, but at least we did hit some of the trail. And I uploaded the pictures without Jamie seeing. Maybe next year I'll climb the damn thing for real, as hard as it is to think that far ahead. Who knows what lies between now and then? It's all an adventure, right?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aneurysms in story and song

Jamie and I were talking recently about how much the endurance of my stroke has practically negated the drama over surviving my aneurysm. Prior to the discovery of my aneurysm, my knowledge of the condition was limited to what I'd seen on TV and in movies. That depiction tends to be on the dramatically horrible side, since aneurysms are usually not detected unless someone suffers a hemorrhage. I think  my first exposure to that was a 1979 TV movie about Stuart Sutcliffe (one of the "fifth Beatles"). Then there's one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files (a funny episode), during which Scully diagnoses a death as being the result of a poop-strain-induced burst aneurysm (that's stuck with me for a long time. More recently was the 2008-9 TV series Eli Stone, which portrayed a lawyer whose aneurysm provided visions of just clairvoyance. Not knowing what was going in my head at the time, I was still drawn to the show and did not hesitate to wonder -- after my diagnosis -- where my psychic blood vessel was. Given the odd sensations I experienced during aneurysm-induced seizures, at one point I remember refusing to watch a rerun of Star Trek the Next Generation – given the possibility that I may have foreseen the moment of my own death.
I honestly couldn't think of any aneurysm songs, though once I Googled it, Nirvana's Aneurysm obviously popped up. I don't think it actually has anything to do with aneurysms.

Now it seems like I can't escape references to aneurysms. It's like when you learn a new word and then start seeing it in everything you read. We were recently caught in a TBS loop of Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself, where it turns out the missing grandmother has died on a bus due to a ruptured aneurysm.

The good news is that despite feeling somewhat like my aneurysm has been neglected in deference to my stroke, I had a good conversation with my neurosurgeon a few weeks ago. He assured me that he'd been able to remove 90 percent of the aneurysm and that there is no particular probability it will re-form or that I am "prone to them"; unless I decide to start smoking.

It may seem odd for me to speak in somewhat fond terms of my aneurysm, but despite the window of fear and panic it induced, especially in retrospect, it was more benign than the results of removing it. That's not to say I wouldn't do it again, but I can't dismiss the record. There was a time I considered creating a blog just for my aneurysm, to criticize my anxieties and out my darker contemplations. For some reason I painted it as a bit of a curmudgeon, but there's no doubting it had access to my innermost thoughts in a way no other person ever has. I also set up a Twitter feed for it, where it tweeted such gems as: "I'm totally messing with his head." (7/25/10), "People keep looking at me funny. Seriously. Looking right at me. Like they know I'm there. It's weird." (7/28/10); and, "It occurs to him that they've accumulated enough chairs (folding and otherwise) for sitting Shiva." (9/17/10). Despite the fact that the fear hasn't and probably will never completely dissipate, on some level I will always miss a level of intimacy I had with that homunculus.
Now I'm just left with my usual internal monologue, which is always prattling on.