Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yeah, We're Weird

We are a walking, talking, living anomaly when compared to the walking, talking, living outside world.  Inside our home, inside our family, the way we live, the things we do, our routine and rhythm are normal.  From the perspective of the outside world, from my own perspective circa 2004, not so much with the normal, from those views, our life is the opposite of the normal life.

I know Marty and I live an abnormal life because we used to be very “normal” and I recognize “normal”, for most of my life I was the very definition of “normal”. 
You know the old saw, look it up in the dictionary and you will find my portrait, my portrait from seven years ago, right next to the normal definition of “normal”.  We had two kids, two cars, a dog, a cat, a mortgage, two jobs, friends, family, conflict and resolution.  We had the typical middle-class life with the typical middle-class real and emotional junk.  

It’s amazing how fast the abnormal becomes normal.  It’s amazing how quick the adaptation process takes hold and what was once unbelievable, what was once completely and totally foreign,  becomes routine, becomes part of a new life, becomes who you are, what you are and how you live your life.

What we didn’t have seven years ago was a wheelchair, we didn’t have caregivers living in our house 24 hours a day, we didn’t worry about health insurance or the cost of health care, we didn’t worry about health in general, we didn’t have a potpourri  of medical equipment or a virtual pharmacy in our house.  None of that stuff can be classified as normal.

We didn’t have to worry about available handicap parking or if a building was accessible, we just didn’t have to do things that are now a routine part of our life, stuff that no one who understands normal would consider normal.  

Back when I was normal I didn’t like sick people, they made me really nervous.  I would never have thought that the life we now live, our new normal, would ever become everyday living for us.  I was afraid of hospitals, doctors and the people that frequented those places, you know, sick people. 
I was uncomfortable with disability; I was never comfortable with those afflicted with catastrophic, chronic illness, I never knew what to say or what to do.  I found it hard, uncomfortable to visit with clearly ill or broken people, I felt out of place reaching down to touch someone who was in a wheelchair, I was not comfortable with illness, certainly not devastating life altering chronic illness.  

The everyday things our family now experiences as normal life, checking blood pressure, monitoring oxygen levels, monitoring blood sugar, suctioning, and breathing treatments are not parts of most people’s lives.  Spending time surfing the web shopping for the right deals or the new device on the plethora of medical supply web sites becomes part of job.  Lifting Marty from her chair to help move her to another chair is not something I would have thought ever needed to be one of my skill sets.
If we are going somewhere for more than a few hours we take supplies, we take hygiene items, we take a nebulizer, we take oxygen, we take instruments and tools and the ever present wheel chair, it’s not normal, but it is what we do though, all the time.

Wheelchairs, using wheelchairs as a required means of transportation is not normal, figuring out how to maneuver a wheelchair through the maze of the world is not normal, advance reconnoitering to know if you can get a wheelchair into a restaurant, is not normal behavior.  It has become normal for us, it is now second nature, it is a part of how our whole family, me, our children, my family, her family, our friends, now have to live.

How do you get to where this is normal?  It’s really simple; you don’t think about it, you just do it.  You just haul the stuff, you do the procedures, you focus on the lifting, you let the wheelchair and all of the other pieces become vital tools of the house and eventually it all becomes part of the normal rhythm and ebb and flow of your life.

Our lives, the changes we have made, are a testament to the resilience and the ability of humans to adapt.   Marty adapted, I changed, the kids changed, Marty’s family accepted, my family accepted, we all evolved, just like other families who experience chronic illness or some other life altering event.  Human beings adapt, hundreds of thousands figure it out every day, thank God.

I can’t imagine living our life today with the eyes I had ten years ago, I couldn’t have done it, I wouldn’t have done it, we have all had our view of normal radically altered.  We couldn’t have survived without the ability to understand, to accept, to change, to evolve.  

I know our life today is not normal, it probably never was, normal probably only exists as a cultural figment of our own imagined ideals.  I know if there is a normal, we live outside the realm of what is generally accepted as normal, that used to frighten me, now, I just don’t think about it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Breasts of Vegas

Las Vegas…..Thursday night a couple of weeks ago….blackjack….I’m ahead…it’s a miracle.
I’m sitting on the right hand of the table watching the dealer.  She’s a lovely twenty something brunette with long smooth hair and dark eyes.  Her shirt is tight and low and I’m doing the best I can not to leer, I just want to be a casual, unnoticed observer.  

There’s a fine line between observing and leering and I think you hit that line at about 65, I’m 58 so I think I’m okay as long as I don’t get caught staring too long.

I get through several hands, my manly curiosity humming, the part of my DNA that makes me a daughter’s father keeping me repressed, my eyes still sharp and quick for someone of my age.  A lady in her thirties comes and sits beside me to my right; at first base for you blackjack aficionados.  She’s blond, a little plump, but not too, really quite lovely.  She’s wearing a tight white undershirt kind of thing that is very low cut.  Her ample bosoms were held tight by the miracle of modern foundation garments but they were close to bursting free. 

I am sitting in the cleavage capital of our country.  God bless America.

I am an observer of life, of life on all levels, of life of all kinds.  I love to observe the comings and goings of the people, of all people.  I watch for those things on display and for those things hidden, I am an inveterate people watcher and people lover.  I’m older, I’m married, I’m dedicated to my wife, I’m alive with really good eye sight and a real appreciation for natural beauty.  There is no better place to satiate that appreciation than Las Vegas.

Where else can you see a 60 year old man smoking a cigar while wearing bling, a bad toupee and skinny jeans?  (Someone please talk to Randy Jackson about skinny jeans) Where else can you see a somewhat overripe group of ladies from the Midwest wearing spandex and baring midriffs that really don’t need to see the light of day?  It makes me feel plumb sophisticated in my bowling shirt.

Back to the boobs – they are on display everywhere.  Skinny women, not skinny women, white, brown, sun-burned pink, cleavage is omni-present.  We went to the MGM Grand on the night before the Floyd Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight and it was amazing.  I set myself up at a cheap video poker machine just to watch the parade of underdressed, under supported women pass by and display their d├ęcolletage and other accoutrements.  I swear butt enhancement surgery is booming somewhere, those derrieres were not naturally occurring.

I don’t really know if those people dress like that on a normal basis, they certainly don’t in little ol’ Waco Texas.  I doubt if they go to their marketing job or their job in the call center dressed with a deep display of cleavage, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It really is the aura of Las Vegas, it really is about suspending reality, it really is about saying to yourself, “if not here, where?”

None of this really relates to things Marty has taught me.  Well maybe a little, on more than one occasion she poked me in the ribs with her elbow and gave me one of those quiet, yet shouting whispers, “Quit staring.”  She taught me that you can’t just gawk at stuff like Vegas cleavage; you must be much more surreptitious than a blatant stare.  She really taught me that.  

I always come back from my little mini-adventures and give Marty a full report, I always have.  She generally just laughs and enjoys my detailed descriptions of all the things I have seen and what was unseen.  

I do have to say I miss having her there to have those critical, catty and petty conversations while this parade of flesh is marching through the casino.  An occasional shot to my ribs from her was never a bad thing; it kept me in line and made me just a little bit sneaky in my observations.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fountains of Bellagio

She stood in front of me leaning against the smooth, finally finished concrete rail.  Her left elbow rested on the curved rail, a cigarette in her right hand held between her middle and index fingers, the smoke drifting and billowing up in the wind.

The music drifted through the Las Vegas night and stood out over the traffic up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.  The music of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman drifted along the pond and the water from the fountain fronting the Bellagio rose and danced across the air in time with the music.  Marty stood there entranced, immune to the people milling around her, tears on her face as she heard only the music and saw only the artistry of the dancing waters. 

She stood there for an hour and listened and watched as the music and the water came alive four more times.  If I hadn’t insisted we leave she would have stayed longer.  The music, the water, the light breeze, the night, for Marty it was intoxicating, for Marty it was her drug of choice, for Marty, it moved her, for Marty it was where she wanted to be, feeling the way she wanted to feel.

That was Marty.  The music and the water drove deep into her essence.  The sound and the sights rang within her like a tuning fork and made her feel, made her feel intensely and the tears, the emotions bubbled to the surface and she would not want to leave those emotions, she wanted the intensity to continue.

That was December of 2004, eleven months after Marty’s father died, ten months after we put her mother in a nursing home, nine months since one of our dogs died, five months since our daughter was mugged in Spain, two months after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and mere days after I had been laid off from my job of 26 years.  It had been a rough year and we had wanted to do something completely out of character, thus Vegas in December with our daughter and two of her friends
That day we had looked back on the trials of 2004 and we had decided to get a t-shirt that said, “We Will Thrive in 2005”.  This was 90 days before Marty’s first stroke.  That December trip to Vegas, that stop at the fountains at Bellagio, that sort of existential experience there, was Marty’s last trip to the fountains.  I wish I had known.

Last week I went to Las Vegas with daughter Erin and son-in-law Lyle.  For me, Las Vegas is a place of pure innocent debauchery and a way to completely disconnect from reality.  It’s always been that way for me, the people who built the town made it that way, I go there to hide from reality and taste the wine of fantasy from time to time.

I don’t win, if I tie, I win, I don’t win.  I don’t plan on winning; victory for me is losing myself in the lights, the people, the smells, and the frivolity for just a couple of days.

I never go to Las Vegas without stopping at the fountains.   I go; I stand in virtually the same spot Marty stood in eight years ago.  I put my hand on the smooth concrete rail with the music and the sight of the dancing water washing over me, filling me with what was. 

This time it was Frank Sinatra singing “Luck Be a Lady”.  The song was perfect for a beautiful night, the water danced and swayed with the rhythm and cadence of the song and I thought back to the night eight years ago.
I wanted the tears to come, I wanted to feel with the same intensity that Marty had, I wanted it to be what it was to her.  It is, yet different.  The tears were there, the memories were there, the idea and feeling of watching something unique was there, but I will never feel as Marty felt, I will never have that same intensity.  I understand that.

That December trip to Vegas eight years ago, that turn at the fountains at Bellagio, that sort of existential experience there, was Marty’s last trip to the fountains; I wish I had known it was her last time there, we would have stayed all night.