Sunday, September 22, 2013

Released into the Wild

 We recently returned from a lovely vacation; and while I acknowledge that Vermont is no more wild than Maine, there is something almost primal about being stripped of responsibilities – as an employee, a parent, as an adult really, for a week or so. That was one of our primary reasons for choosing Smugglers' Notch
as our destination. Nestled in the heart of the Green Mountain State, the resort offers easy access to swimming, hiking, on-site restaurants, and a number of other self-contained activities (including day camp for the kids). Though hardly in the wilderness, our condo's neighborhood did provide it's own wildlife, by way of a mascot woodchuck who must own a time share. In response to the requisite question one asks of woodchucks, he promptly flipped me off and threw five or six sticks in my general direction (an answer of sorts).

As I said, For the kids our destination offered a week of day camp and easy access to three pools, each with its own unique brand of water slide. I find that one of the most satisfying things about being a father is the opportunity to observe my children in their natural habitat. If the goal of parenting  is to create productive members of society, it's enriching to see the same people who have no apparent capability to hear my voice go out and follow the instructions  of some college student on break and socialize with peers who have nothing in common with them except perhaps an interest in Minecraft, running around crazily, and screaming at the top of their lungs. Parallel to that, our little monsters seemed to do little or no damage to other people's psychopaths. Success!

By Day 2, Gus had cemented his place as celebrity gadabout. We were periodically identified as, "Gus' parents", and he spent most of an evening magic performance perched at the edge of the stage, until he was finally asked to volunteer. If only it were on YouTube, he'd be famous (at least that's Wyatt's measure of fame).

For Jamie, the Wild provided an opportunity to hike up a mountain at whatever pace she chose, without having to follow anyone else's schedule.

For my parents – who very generously invited us to join them on this excursion – the Wild  probably came from simply being exposed to our kids for this length of time and breaking from their usual retirement routine.

For me, whenever I'm placed in a new environment, there is a need to prepare, perform reconnaissance, and adjust to my surroundings. Most of the time, this is easy enough to do, since I've had good practice over the past  three years (three years!). Upon our initial arrival at the resort, we discovered that while our condo was on the ground floor, it was down a flight of stairs from the front entrance of the building and that those stairs only had a railing  on the left side (going down). This wasn't  a huge barrier but meant I had to back down the stairs while holding the railing with my right hand. It also provided the opportunity to explore a rear entrance through a sliding door and across our back patio and the "Village Common". That was often a more efficient way for me to come and go anyway.

Another perk of the resort was an on-site miniature golf course. Wyatt and I had a good round together; and while I have to putt one-handed and swap my cane for the club, I find it's a unique and satisfying challenge. This particular course  also provided interesting obstacles for me to maneuver around and over, having nothing to do with golf. Still, it was nice to feel able to participate.

For the most part there weren't any activities I couldn't do, except running and doing cannonballs into the pool. And I did often take golf cart shuttles to avoid long, slow walks (though that was one of the boys' favorite things to do).

On our last day, Gus did wander off briefly from our patio. Seeing Jamie running around, calling his name, I admittedly did let my sense of uselessness get the better of me (some would say as useless as any man) and didn't simply walk outside and pick up my visual scanning (Star Wars geeks?), at which point I would have found him sitting two decks down from our own.

This vacation also offered the first opportunity I've taken to hike in unknown territory since my stroke. One morning my parents, Jamie, and I headed out in search of the trail to a small waterfall. As is  often the case when embarking on such adventures, we never quite found the right trail or the waterfall. What we did find was a narrow, overgrown, at-times-muddy path to nowhere in particular. For me, that was bliss, just to say I didn't let unexpected barriers impede my progress. After all, it's the journey, not the destination, right?

Being out in the Wild also affords me the opportunity to be out in public, which I don't really do that often. My regular circle is relatively small and requires little explanation. At work – in part thanks to gossip and the piece I wrote for the company intranet – I think most people know my story and don't often question the cane, the head scars, or the leg brace. But in The Wild, I get an interesting mix of inquiries, I think often misled by the spectacle of my brace. I don't know what inspires people to say anything, though I like to think it's because I somehow embody the greatest curiosity humans have -- fear of the unknown path stretching before us:
  • A few weeks ago a very nice waiter at my local watering hole asked me how I hurt my leg. I did my usual,  "Well, actually, it's my brain, not my leg". I actually felt a little bad about that, imagining I was sending this twenty-something kid home that night into an existential YOLO spiral.
  • About a year ago, I had a guy come up to me in -- of all places -- Friendly's to ask about the scars on my head. He apparently had been in a car accident years earlier and suffered severe brain damage. I refer to him as The Collector, because I had the sense he's in the habit of approaching anyone he suspects of a brain injury.  Based on his reaction to my story, I also got the impression I might've been  his first aneurysm surgery. You never forget your first.
  • Sitting by the pool  in Vermont, a very nice guy came up and asked what happened to my leg. He explained – and not everyone bothers to explain their morbid curiosity – that his son had had knee surgery and had to wear a similar brace for a while. Again, I explained that my surgery was on my brain and that the brace is really an injury prevention measure taken against post stroke muscle atrophy. His response was a very kind, "I'm sorry you've had to go through that."
  • My favorite reaction to the sight of me (so far) was from a woman I passed on a path at the resort. Somewhat accusingly, she said, "What happened to you?" She reminded me of the voice in the elevator at the rehab  – pressing the button to go from the first floor to the ground floor, "she" offers a cautionary and fatalistic, "Going down." For,  "What happened to you?", I skipped the brain surgery and went straight for the gut with, "I had a stroke a few years ago." I think I usually mention the surgery first to avoid the potential stigma of a relatively young man having a stroke "for no reason" (is there a stigma?). I don't know what sort of reaction that statement is expected to generate, but hers was, "Well, you seem to be doing pretty well." I suppose I am, though as I close in on my three-year anniversary, I am at times at a loss regarding how little change or progress I'm seen in the last year or so. Most of the time, I'm comfortable in my own skin, with my new brain, but it's bittersweet comfort.
Speaking of self reflection, staying in a different living space granted me the opportunity to take standing showers (I never realize how much I miss the sensation of warm water streaming down my back until I do it), I also got to step in front of a full-length mirror and confirm that the 20 pounds the doctor's office says I've put on are in fact attached to my body. Poolside -- shielded by my brace and my UV-protection swimming shirt -- I'm not terribly self-conscious about the weight gain  but  pay more attention to checking my leisure wear (sweatpants, sweatshorts, or a bathing suit) for Camel Nose, aka Moose Knuckle.That's not something I have to worry about in my Civilized world of business casual khakis.

Perhaps inspired by new challenges surmounted during the trip, upon our return I took it upon myself to replace a headlight bulb in Jamie's car (as useful as any man?)I'm more than a little peeved that we subsequently and unexpectedly had to trade in that car and hardly received fair compensation for the one-handed effort that went into changing the bulb without having the hood come down on my head.

But my primary goal  for the vacation – successfully achieved, by the way -- was to relax and read a book by a good friend from college.

I don't what it says about me that I have two friends who write chick lit.

Actually, I know exactly what it says and is best answered by this card given to me by friends at work just prior to my departure for surgery, payback for all my fauxtos:

Pretty much, nothing has changed since third grade when I was a Kissing Bug Helper on the playground. Basically, my job was to chase down and hold the boys so the girls could kiss them. I guess you could say my modus operandi for getting through life has always been, "If you can't beat'em, join'em."


  1. Aww, crack me up. :) A delightful read, as usual. Love to you!

  2. I enjoy reading your blog. Your humorous, self-effacing approach to a serious situation is inspiring in some strange way.
    I hope it's cathartic for you.
    It sounds like you have a great wife/family -- I'm glad.
    Keep writing!