Monday, April 20, 2015

Through Crossfire

I'd been waiting for five months for this day. Finally, it was here. The ceiling sky attempted to assure me that I was fine, and everything was normal. A large print of treetops was displayed overhead, similar to the trees I looked up at while lying on a yellow and white checked blanket in Central Park with my last boyfriend.

But I was underground, on floor B2, double below street level, just like I was when I worked in the Empire State Building three years ago. Except rather than sitting at my cubicle laughing with colleagues, I was lying down on a table, seemingly too close in shape to that of a coffin.

But I had asked for this; I had placed the request on November 16, 2014, to be rolled into an MRI machine to see if the imaging might be able to find abnormalities in my brain contributing to the health issues I've been battling since my return from Africa. A Stanford study recently revealed that there are three distinct features differentiating the brains of those who battle chronic fatigue syndrome from those who are healthy. In hearing about the study, I felt compelled to find out if my brain fit the profile of typical CFS cases. That's why I pushed for this MRI to be done.

But suddenly I was scared. And I hated that there was no one to hold my hand through all of this. While in the waiting room, I envied the couple sitting across from me. I didn't know their story - who and why they needed an MRI at University of Michigan's hospital - but by their wedding bands I knew they were married, and by their interactions, I knew whatever health issue they were up against, they were in it together.

After boxing in my head, and covering my gowned body with a blanket, the technician placed a squeeze ball in my hand. He instructed me to squeeze it as an emergency out to the MRI machine. I had been asked on a questionnaire and by the technician if I had problems with enclosed spaces or claustrophobia. I proudly answered that I had been spelunking (caving) before, and should be fine.

But suddenly I was terrified, and I feared I might have some sort of panic attack any moment. One last glance at the tree canopy overhead, and I closed my eyes as the technician rolled me into the machine.

I had been given ear plugs and headphones, yet the noise of the machine was only muffled. The shotgun sounds of the MRI suggested that I had entered a war zone, yet I couldn't move an inch to escape the crossfire.

Visualize good memories, I instructed myself.

With the squeeze ball in my right hand, I borrowed my last boyfriend, even though he was no longer mine. We walked the mall of Central Park, holding hands, the way we had last Memorial Day weekend.

The Mall

"We're going to get you better," he insisted. And suddenly we were on that same yellow and white checked blanket that we had grassed stained in Central Park, gazing at the dome of stars over my lake in Michigan.

With a shooting star, we wished together that I would get my health back. Having him there by my side, holding my hand, made everything better, even though my health wasn't.

Stop. I reprimanded myself. You can't keep thinking about him. He exited your life months ago. He's not in this health journey with you anymore. You're on your own.

Visualize good memories, again I instructed myself.

And so I visualized my day at Malibu Creek State Park, rock climbing with a great crew, and traversing the rocks around the creek with a lawyer far too young for me. We were both Michigan-raised. As we entered a cave he shared, "Sometimes I ask myself, 'am I in L.A., or am I in paradise?'"

That day we were in paradise. And as our group hiked out of the park well after the sun had set, the crescent moon smiled down on us. But that day ended, and so did my visualization and I started weeping. Mid-MRI tears streamed down my face.

It felt too near death to be thinking the way that I was. My good memories suddenly haunted me, as if I was allowing my life to flash before my eyes - the way one might as they pass from the now into eternity.

With tears still streaming, my thoughts took me back to New York, this time to Bryant Park. Sitting at a table on the north side of the green, under the shade of the trees, I told my last boyfriend, "I'm not going to let you date me until I have stuff figured out with my health." In speaking, tears well up in my eyes and escaped their holding place.

He gently wiped the tears that had slipped down my face. "You're going to get better," he assured me, speaking with a confidence that I lacked after fighting for so long already.

The crossfire suddenly stopped.

Still inside the machine, I opened my eyes and was blinded by the light shining down on me.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Journey IV

"I want to date Taylor Swift so she'll write a song about me," my friend Bryan wished aloud as we drove back to his place. Taylor wasn't playing on the radio, so I'm not exactly sure where his dream thought derived from, but we both laughed at the ridiculousness (i.e. unlikeliness) of his idea ever happening.

But his statement prompted me to deliberate: Should I admit that I had written a song about him? I mean, it wasn't exactly about him, but it involved him, and a day we spent together... titled... That One Day... with simple chords, mainly the E to A to B slide on my guitar. I wrote it 13 years ago, but I could probably still play it - maybe. Ah, no, I can't tell him. He'll insist I play it for him, and it was one of the first songs (out of a half dozen) I've written so it isn't very good. In fact, it is bad.

Instead I shared what I recalled him telling me on That One Day. "We were at Doheny Beach, putting wax on our boards, and you told that someday you wanted to invent surf wax scented perfume for women. Surfwax and campfire."

But rather than starting a perfume business, Bryan took up professional poker playing. After a stint in Vegas, he moved to Colorado where, in the warmer months, he guides white water rafting excursions down the Blue River.

Our conversation wandered as we drove along that river. "For my birthday," Bryan explained, "my girlfriend asked, 'What do you want to do? It's your birthday. You get to do whatever you want.' And I told her, 'I already do what I want every day.'"

It's true. Most days he really does do whatever he wants. He lives the adventure so most days fall in the exceptional category rather than in the mundane.

I suppose that's why I was nervous about my birthday this year. I tend to live a lot of adventure, and especially so when I'm in California, where the adventuresome life seems far more accessible than in rural Michigan. In the weeks leading up to my birthday I had several perfectly amazing days - days where I did whatever I wanted. I feared my actual birthday would be a disappointment in comparison to my beach day and volleyball at Venice Beach, exploring and rockclimbing at Malibu Creek State Park, and my hot springs getaway at the Miracle Manor.

When you're single it's up to you to figure out how to make your birthday special, and it's the only holiday you get (no anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, etc.). I had wondered in leaving CA a week early if I might be fated to spend my birthday alone. My four closest female friends in Colorado were already booked with other plans on my birthday evening. But thankfully, Bryan, wasn't. After two rather dismal birthdays in a row, this year my birthday was epic, and I couldn't be more grateful.

But as my friend Bryan pointed out, we shouldn't wait for our birthdays to embrace the goodness that life has to offer. Our time on this planet ought to be filled with friends and adventures that awaken our spirits. Perhaps it ought to feel like our birthday, where we celebrate life with others over a meal or adventuresome fun, at least once a week rather than once in 12 months.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Journey III

Today is Easter.
I was born on Easter, which made things a tad tricky for my father, who was serving as a pastor at the time of my arrival into this world. He scrambled, making phone call after phone call, until he found another man to cover the services for him at our church.

I didn't make things easy for my mother either. I was a fat newborn - 10 pounds, 4 ounces. After too many painful and unsuccessful hours of labor, a C-section was called by the doctor. And at 2:54 pm, on March 26, 1978, I entered Owosso, Michigan.

But since the Easter holiday hops around the calendar, rarely is my birthday on Easter Sunday. This is a far better set up to be born into than what Christmas babies face. I can't imagine having to compete with Jesus for attention every single birthday of my life. And isn't just Dec 25; Jesus' incarnation dominates nearly the entire month.

This year I celebrated my birthday well before the Easter holiday. Although I initially intended to stay in California through my birthday, life threw a few clues at me strongly suggesting I head back to Michigan a tad sooner. So I did, not quite knowing where and with whom I'd be spending my birthday until I arrived at my friend Bryan's and he welcomed me to stay a few days.

Secretly I had hoped this would be the case, but I had wanted to get a read on his living situation and girlfriend situation before finalizing plans prior to my arrival at his place. As it turned out he lived with three gals, so I didn't have to worry about sharing the space with any shady men; however, he did give me a heads up that two of his roommates were lesbians, so... Also, I had the chance to meet his girlfriend right when I arrived. I got the sense she wasn't the jealous type, so I figured it would be okay to hang with Bryan without creating drama between them.

After a day of recuperating from my 10-hour drive from Vegas, I woke up on my birthday pleased to discover I felt okay. No heavy fatigue. No headache. And since I felt decent enough, my birthday wish to go snowboarding came to fruition. Bryan's roommate hooked me up with a half off lift ticket, that my parents then gifted me. So Bryan and I spent the day on the slopes at Keystone. It was my first time ever to ride in Colorado and it was awesome.
Later that evening we grabbed Italian at Greco's Pastaria in downtown Frisco then ventured down the street to "The Moose Jaw" for open mic night. Earlier in the day Bryan had attempted to convince me to perform that night and to perhaps even do a duet with him, but I'm so out of practice that I passed on his encouragement to perform in front of strangers. So instead, just he played a set, and I sat chatting with a guy from Chicago as he did.