12.16.2014

Exactly ten years ago right now, Baxter Newland Young (Gallagher) was born

Exactly ten years ago right now, Baxter Newland Young (Gallagher) was born.  

9:30 pm on December 16, 2004.  

For most folks, I think their children's birthdays are a combination of joy, pride, and nostalgia.  For me it is all of those things, though the nostalgia is tinged with such sadness, since the person by my side as Baxter entered the world would be gone just 18 short months later.  And we had no fucking idea.  (I mean... thank GOD we didn't know, right? But we had no. fucking. idea.)

When I think back to that day, I remember feeling so ill all of a sudden and saying to Mike at 4 am "Great.  I'm 40 weeks pregnant and now I have a stomach flu."  He suggested perhaps it was labor.  I scoffed, "No. Way.  This is a stomach flu.  Or food poisoning."

He calmly read to me from the pregnancy book through the bathroom door:  "Umm... smoosher? It says "many women's first signs of labor mimic the symptoms of a stomach flu ... or food poisoning."  As my "stomach flu" came and went in 20, 15, and then 10 minute intervals, Mike and I walked the snowy streets of Queen Village and Old City.  I labored my way through the cobblestone all day, with Mike holding my hand and humming "My Phone is on Vibrate for You" by Rufus Wainwright (until one particularly bad labor pain came and I stopped him and said, "if you don't stop humming, I'm going to punch you in the face.") 

After vacuuming the house (twice) and watching the then-new movie Elf on all fours in cat and cow positions, it was off to Pennsylvania Hospital we went.  Our dear friend and trusted PA, Michaela Murphy met us there and they both held my hands and stroked my head and Baxter very quickly decided to join the party.  

Mike was so happy.  He was glowing.  Yes. Like a pregnant lady... glowing.  He loved his little man.  He called him "Mister B" or "Baxman." Even in those really terrible first weeks when Baxter just cried from 3 pm until.... eternity, Mike would swaddle him up, jiggle him according to the strict rules in "Happiest Baby on the Block," and shhhhhh in his ear until he would momentarily rest.  

The night Baxter cried all night long, Mike jokingly swaddled him up, opened the closet door, and raised his eyebrows to me with an inquisitive, "Eh?" like "Can't we just.... toss him in here for a bit?"  I laughed so hard I cried.  It was like 3 am and I was delirious, sleepless, anxious, and suffering from severe postpartum.

I have a lot of sadness and regrets about those early months.  I was so depressed.  Like deep dark depressed.  I couldn't find my way out.  I should have been medicated, but I wasn't.  When Mike was diagnosed with a "benign" brain tumor in October of the following year, I think I was only just starting to see the light.  And then the bottom dropped out.  

****

Each night, before bed, I sing a song for each child, Baxter (10) and Edie (4).  They choose the topic and I sing a made-up song.  I do my best to rhyme and tell a good story.  It's great improv practice for ComedySportz.  And man, Baxter is quite a thoughtful critic.  Sometimes he'll say "That one was ok... not your best though."  or occasionally, "Mom.  THAT one was GREAT!"

Last night, Baxter requested a song about his birthday.  We were all snuggling in our king size bed.  Me, PJ, Edie, Baxter.  

In the lyrics, I went year by year, chronicling things Baxter had done.  "When Baxter was a little guy, he turned the age of one.  He crawled around and chased the cat and liked to suck his thumb...." 

(Not the most sophisticated of rhymes... but you get it...)

I got to age three:  "Soon Baxter ran around and suddenly was three.  That's the year we met his dad and became a fa-mi-ly!" 

Baxter's face lit up and he reached over to Peej and gave him a high five.

When I finished, I got " Best song yet, mom."

Mike, PJ and I have made an amazing little dude.  He's smart, funny, kind, and a total dreamer. He shares so many traits with PJ at this point, that it's eerie.  The notion that there is no actual shared genetic material between them seems utterly implausible.  Cat allergies?  check. check.  Asthma? check. check.  Walking into things while reading a book?  check. check. A love of all things video game / super hero / ninja / kung fu / greek myth / star wars?  CHECK CHECK.  Would eat pizza for every meal from now until the end of time if given the opportunity? Check check.

I love these guys. All of these guys. I am sad that Mike didn't get to see this young man grow up.  That is extremely unfair.  PJ and I both get emotional at the thought that Mike didn't get to share in the joy that is parenting this boy.  About once a year or so, Peej and I both get this aching feeling that it's just so fucking shitty that Mike doesn't get to see all this.  No, we don't dwell in this space.  We acknowledge it, and eventually are brought back to the fucked up incongruity that says "if Mike were here, PJ wouldn't be... and neither would Edie"  and then we laugh at how fucked up it all is - and go on with this life we're creating for ourselves.

And what a beautiful life it is. 

10.24.2014



I can tell myself I live my life so packed full of stuff to do because “I have to.”  I can convince myself that every single one of these “tasks” is necessary.   That these deadlines – which I have set for myself – are somehow real or fixed.  

But I think we all know that’s a crock of shit.

We fill our  lives up with work and jobs and social media addiction, to avoid …this.  What Louis CK would call “That empty.  That forever empty.”

To be fair, it’s not really “empty.”  There’s something there.  It’s a terrifying something and it’s different for everyone, but it’s there.  Loneliness, Fear of failure, Self-loathing… and, of course, memories.  

Recently, I was teaching a group of students from the Middle East through a State Department program at the University of Delaware.  I was teaching them some basic concepts from cognitive psychology – about memory.  I explained that memories have to be “reactivated” or rehearsed for us to continue to actively remember them.  

An Egyptian student in her mid-20s with sad eyes raised her hand:  “But, what if we want to forget something.  Can we make a memory disappear?”

Well, shit.  There’s a beast of a question.

“Sadly, no.  Not really. And the more you try, the higher the likelihood that it will remain salient in memory.  And if you actively choose not to engage that thought or memory, it is just as likely to come out in your dreams.”

Unfortunately, the things we want to forget are things that have emotional resonance attached to them – usually fear, anger, or grief.  Events and constructs that are experienced with emotion are privileged in memory.  I like to call emotions our brains’ “special sauce.” Our brain loves to feel. It treats emotion-laden experiences as special – which makes them, by definition, more prominent.  

And the trap of unpleasant memories is that even the act of thinking ‘I don’t want to think about this,” we are activating and rehearsing that very thing. Agh!

The student appeared disappointed and fatigued by my response, but also nodded, as if she knew this truth all too well.

What I did not concede, is that I live this reality, too.  Most of us do.  

My forever empty is always the same.  And I have been pushing my forever empty so far into the corners of my mind lately that it has finally started to fight back.  My forever empty is showing up in dreams.  It is even making itself known when I’m awake – in the form of debilitating headaches.  Throbbing dull headaches that make it impossible to teach, to write, or to get out of bed.  From the moment I wake up, I anticipate how it will feel to be able to climb back in bed in just 16 long hours. And I fill those hours with distractions: distractions in the form of work, housework, news, research, and social media bullshit.

But, finally, my forever empty has pitched such a fucking fit – that it is demanding to be acknowledged.  So, here I am, dedicating my afternoon not to grading, not to writing my manuscripts, not to article reviews or data analysis… but to my forever empty.  Are you happy now, you stupid fucking forever empty?

I think my forever empty started knocking at the door and demanding attention two weeks ago.  I was in Tucson, Arizona at a meeting of researchers for the National Institute for Civil Discourse.  The director had the thirty or so participants introduce ourselves individually in a novel way, inspired by Native American traditions.  We were asked to tell our names, the waters of our birth, a geographical feature of the land of our birth, and then to share our “spirit guide.”  That is – who or what guides us.  

I was fine with the first questions:  Merrimack River  in New Hampshire.  Geographical feature?  The watershed surrounding Newfound Lake, NH.  


Then came the question of the Spirit Guide.  People listed animals (the wolf, the cat, the bear), celestial bodies (the sun, the stars), and deceased scholars (Hannah Arendt). 

As I listened, I became paralyzed.  How am I going to tell this room – largely filled with respected colleagues whom I’ve never met in person– that my spirit guide is my dead husband?  

Hello, buzzkill.

Plus, I’m a pretty lighthearted, happy person.  I study political comedy for fuck’s sake.  And now I’m going to introduce myself as the chick who is guided by her dead husband. 

The more I tried to think of a different “spirit guide,” the more I thought of Mike.  His smile, his floppy red hair, his artistic director face while he watched an improv comedy scene.  Him singing at the top of his lungs to Stevie Wonder in his 96 Saturn. Him scooting me out of the kitchen so he could bake his homemade pecan pie in peace while listening to the Clash.  Mike Mike Mike.  The more I tried to force it out, the bigger his face got in my head.

After blinking back tears and swallowing the knot that had formed just at the back of my throat, I had a brainstorm.  

The moon.  The moon is where we told Baxter that Daddy Mike would always be:  “In heaven on the moon.”  

It was my turn:

“My spirit guide is the moon,” I said, taking a deep breath as the other scholars in the room nodded and smiled politely.  


…but really it’s my best friend and dead husband, Mike Young, whose illness and death rattled my whole world and left me feeling that this – all of this – is so fucking fleeting that we better live like we mean it.  That means saying yes to things, being open and vulnerable, being kind to people, embracing the imminent prospect of your own death  as though it could happen right fucking now.  That means making the world better, fixing our broken political system, forging relationships that count, experiencing love and loss with all of our hearts because that is living. 

But… I didn’t say any of this.  Instead I told my “Spirit Guide” to shut the fuck up and just sat down and sipped on my bottle of water.

And, that’s when my headache started.

Fucking spirit guide.

I often think about that young woman from Egypt who wanted to know “how to forget” something.  I’ve been trying to forget the darkest hours of Mike’s illness and death for over eight years.  Unsuccessfully.  The brain tumor that killed him destroyed his body from the inside out.  First stealing his vision and his short term memory and continence.  Then, after several months, and multiple surgeries, the pressure in the midbrain was too great. In his final days, he was unrecognizable: swollen to twice his normal size, skin blotched purple with lesions, eyes swollen open, bleeding from the mouth.  

Death is grotesque.  People don’t talk too much about this, but it is.  When our bodies - these complex organisms – begin to fail, the results are horrific.  I often feel that the salience of this horrible image in my mind is a betrayal of Mike.  He was brilliant, funny, content, passionate, and kind.  The image of this dying shell that once contained his spirit… that wasn’t Mike.

But, emotions are the brain’s “special sauce,” and never have I felt … so strongly as I did during those days.  I mean felt anything so strongly.  I felt anger – at him and the world.  I felt grief – in anticipation of life without him in it.  I felt fear –how was I going to raise our baby alone? How was I going to pay bills, shop, cook – all the things Mike had done?  But I also felt gratitude – surrounded by dozens of our closest friends who had come to be with us in the hospital.  I felt love – for Mike, for my friends and family, and for Baxter who I knew was going to be the key to my survival.  

It seems that pushing this memory into the corner of my mental basement is a fool’s errand. Given the intense and complex emotions that coat every nook and cranny of this memory?  
There is no way it is ever going to go away.

The great irony is that one way to defang traumatic memories is to deliberately activate them in a controlled or safe environment.  Yes, it’s the last thing you would ever want to do.  The problem is, if you do not deliberately activate and reconcile these memories, the trauma will work its way up again (hence my headaches).   For instance, over the past month, every time I have heard a report about the Ebola virus and the toll that the disease takes on the human body, I am triggered.  I know what multisystem organ failure and sepsis look like – and I know what they look like when they are killing my best friend  - who I just started my life with. 

Sometimes, you have to clear out all the noise… all the distractions. You have to admit that all this “busyness” is self-manifested – and is likely symptomatic of other, deeper shit.  You have to create a safe space, take a deep breath and go in… and visit your “forever empty.”

I just did it right here on these pages.  And it was scary as shit.  

But… for the moment at least, my headache is gone.

7.18.2014


Dear Mike,

It’s a beautiful morning here in our New Jersey home.  The humidity finally broke and the air is crisp, like a New Hampshire morning.  And, as coincidentally happens every year at this time, your crepe myrtle – the tree planted with your ashes in the soil, nourishing its roots (along with lots of my snot mixed in from sobbing so hard while we planted it) is in full bloom.
 
We miss you, Smoosher.  

I say “we” because friends always tell me that they have been thinking of you – your laugh, your sense of humor, your face.  They’ve had a dream about you, or recalled a memory of you.  Your absence is so salient when we get together with old friends – and whenever I’m at Comedysportz.  

So… We miss you.

I always say there are several different pieces of the pain I feel over losing you.  One is just missing you.  Just the aching sad feeling that I’ll never get to hold your hand again or see you ref a ComedySportz show.  Never get to see your floppy red hair bounce up and down as you run onstage. Never get to laugh with you about something stupid or watch a new show together on the couch.  It's been eight years and this feeling is the same as it was the day you died.  I am more used to it now, but the emptiness you left is still here.  Still empty.

Another piece of the pain is less about you, though, and more about me.  It’s the trauma of your loss.  Cause, dude, you didn’t just die.  You were on a ride from hell that lasted months.  And the fucked up part is that you don’t even remember this.  That Stupid Fucking Tumor (SFT) prevented you from housing any incoming information in longterm memory, so as far as you were concerned it was March… for months… and months.  But it wasn’t March.  It was April, then May, then June, and then July.  Months of you tied down to beds in the neuro-intensive care unit so you’d stop pulling the lines out of your arms.  Months of you not knowing if you had eaten a meal or taken your meds that day.  Months of you not being able to see, and being emotionally flat because of swelling in the emotional centers of your brain.  

Day after day, I would drop Bax at daycare, train into Jefferson and pray that a miracle had happened overnight and you’d look at me as I entered the room and say, “Smoosher!  I’m all better!  They’re discharging me today!”  But that didn’t happen.  Most times when I entered your room, you barely said anything to me because you didn’t know if I had been there all morning and just left to go use the bathroom.  Fucking short –term memory loss.    

I made the neurosurgeons nuts with my questions – especially early on.. .like April and May cause I just didn’t get it.  When will you be better?  Will you be able to come home?  How will you be able to work with no vision or short term memory?  

 Finally, one particularly humorless surgeon – who I came to like quite a bit – looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mrs. Young. You’re asking the wrong questions.  Right now, we are trying to make sure your husband stays alive through the night.  The rest is irrelevant.”

Point taken.  

The final piece of pain is about Baxter.  I miss you in a whole different way when I think of Bax.  I feel like he has been robbed of his opportunity to know how fucking good, funny and talented you were.  And you were robbed of your opportunity to know him.  To really know him and what an incredible little dude we made.

Bax and Edie this morning.  Bax doesn't know that today is the day you died, but he just happened to wear your ComedySportz wristband to summer camp today. 
So… let me see if I can paint a picture for you of this hilarious, brilliant, red-headed spazz-matazz.  He is becoming a quasi-adolescent before our eyes, I tell you.  He wants to wear certain style shoes and shorts.  He wants his hair a certain way.  Oy.  He is also super bright -  reads like a machine.  He’s always reading.  And he has that book/tv face like you.  I swear he literally cannot see/hear anything else that’s going on when he’s reading or watching tv.  Like nothing else exists.  I could call his name 40 times and he wouldn’t hear me.  Sound familiar?

His piano skills are kicking ass.  This year, he played the Daft Punk song, Get Lucky, in the talent show and at the end, the crowd erupted.  You should have seen his face afterwards.  He took off his homemade “robot head” (aka:  Cardboard box covered in aluminum foil) and was beaming from ear to ear.

He played baseball again this spring.  I think his favorite aspects of baseball are 1) stealing bases  2) eating sunflower seeds and 3) shooting the shit with his teammates in the dugout.   He’s mostly into the “scene” of baseball, you see…

He finds Edie simultaneously hilarious and totally intolerable.  They have the typical brother/sister relationship.  She drives him fucking nuts, then he drives her fucking nuts.  They take turns like this until PJ or I yells, “ENOUGH!!!”  Typical stuff really.

They have a door that connects their two bedrooms and they sleep with that door open.  Sometimes, after lights out, we hear the soft murmurs of their voices engaged in late-night conversation, followed by giggles.  In those moments, I realize that we’ve got it pretty effing good.

Hilarious Baxter-ism that you’ll appreciate.  Bax told Crazy Susan Murphy the joke about the Insomniac Atheist Dyslexic who was up all night questioning the existence of DOG.  Susan laughed and said, “Do you even know what an Atheist is?”  

“Yeah.  Someone who doesn’t believe in God.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“I don’t know.” He said flippantly.  

So I chime in, “Do you feel like there is some powerful being… something bigger than us who is overseeing things?”

“Nope.”

I add, “Do you believe in heaven?”

Baxter says without hesitation, “I believe that when we die our souls go into newborn babies.  They’re recycled.”  

“Really..?” Susan says, amused and surprised.

“Yeah,” he continues. “I think I was probably a plumber.”

Susan laughs, “A plumber? Why a plumber?”

He gestures with his hands, “Everyone wants to believe they were like someone really important, like George Washington or something, but the actual chances of that are quite rare.  So, I think I was probably a plumber.” And with that, he left the room and went on to other things.

So… THAT is our amazing son.

Thank you for giving me that great gift.  He is … well, ok... he drives me bonkers at times…Cause he's a 9 year old boy.  But he is also so loving and funny and good.  

You gave me another gift, too.  You gave me the gift of knowing that you would be totally supportive of my having remarried and moved forward to make a wonderful life for myself.  You didn’t say this explicitly, obviously.  But your pragmatism in how you lived your life tells me that you would be 100% psyched for how I have moved forward.  

You would also be a huge fan of one PJ Gallagher.  The two of you are very different in many ways, but you’re both brilliant, inquisitive, and hilarious.  You would have so much respect for him.  He’s one of those guys about whom you’d say, “He’s good people, that PJ.”  You’d appreciate his loyalty to family and friends and most of all, the importance he places on his roles as husband and father.  The fact that he is so comfortable with my love and grief for you?  Who is like that?  He jokes, “It’s not like I have to worry about him stealing you…”  True.  But I think what enables PJ to be so confident in our love for each other, and simultaneously so comfortable with my expressions of grief for you is his super-stable upbringing.

I remember you telling me about a family that you loved growing up.  You were always over their house.  I think you were friends with their son.  The “Romanos,” maybe?  It seems like you got something from them that was quite meaningful to you.  A feeling of support and love from a large family.  

Honestly, this is what I married.  I fell in love with this empathetic, good man who has this amazing family, Mike.  His mom and dad are funny, kind, giving… so giving.  Theirs was the house that all the friends hung out at.  They were the parents that all the kids loved and talked to.  His family IS the “Romanos.”  His two sisters and two brothers are all fun and friendly and there’s no weird family shit.  They all live close by and get together all the time. His sisters have become two of my closest friends.  They are so much fun I cannot tell you how much you’d love them.  They’re silly and self-deprecating… and gorgeous. And his brothers (who are equally fun and hilarious and who each moved a mile away from us in either direction!) married two more awesome women.  It’s nuts!  

It’s one of those families that you hear about and you’re like… “nah… there’s got to be some shit there.  They can’t really get along that well.”  BUT NO.  Smoosher, as fucked up as it is to say this, I am just so sad that you can’t be here to be friends with PJ and his family.  I recognize that that would throw the universe into a tail-spin and cause all kinds of polygamy issues… but to see you having fun with these amazing people… it would be worth it.

It’s funny, in those moments when Baxter witnesses me expressing sadness or grief for you, he has such an interesting response.  He’ll say that he misses you, too.  He’ll say that it’s not fair that he doesn’t really remember you, but… his immediate inclination is to turn it around into the present.  

“But mom, if that hadn’t happened, we would never have met dad.  We wouldn’t have all my cousins and aunts and uncles.  And mom - we wouldn’t have Edie!  So, good comes from bad.”

He says this almost verbatim each time it comes up.

I see this as the sign of a healthy, emotionally honest, and well-adjusted kid.  After all the shit we’ve been through, how wonderful is that?

And you know what he sounds like to me?  A pragmatist.  Like his dear ol’ Dad… 

We miss you, Mike Young.  Until next year at this time.  I love you.

PS:  ComedySportz has a new branding strategy and a new set of logos and they're sexy!
PPS:  I got tenure and a teaching award.  It’s been a good year. 
PPPS:  I don’t want to stop writing this letter, cause when I do, you’ll be gone again.  But, it’s time to go back to the now and try to anchor myself back in the present.  So… bye, Smoosher.




3.13.2014

"What gives dignity to death is the dignity of the life that preceded it."

8 years ago,  in March 2006, Mike and I had just returned from a short vacation to Charleston, SC.

Within days of our return, he would be hospitalized and would remain that way through July.

I used to blame his insistence on taking the Charleston trip for his death, since he put off radiation treatment so that we could go.  But, you know what? As far as options go, all of Mike's options sucked. And at least we got 4 days of warm sunshine, delicious food, horse-drawn carriage rides... and we even signed up for a time share while we were there (I should have known he wasn't quite in his right mind).


I rarely revisit the dirty details of the hell that was Oct 2005 - July 2006.  I recorded some of it in this blog.  I also wrote a book-length manuscript which some publishers were interested in, provided I was willing to go back and make some changes.  I wasn't.  Once it was written, I couldn't even bring myself to open the documentBut today, for some reason - curiosity, i guess - I went back to the part of the manuscript about that Charleston trip.

Sure enough, I had forgotten most of it.  The brain is a brilliant creature.  If you leave a memory untouched - if you choose to not access it - it's like it was never there, like it never even happened.

But, I'm starting to wonder if, instead of seeing this trip as a harbinger of the dreadful things to come, I should think of it as Mike exercising his right to live - and die - the way he wanted.

Let's face it:  If Mike had survived this, he would never be the same.  Not only would he not be able to do the things he loved (improv, design, cooking), he would never be able to live unassisted.  He would be blind and would need constant medical care.  He would require massive amounts of medication: massive steroids, testosterone supplements, as well as synthetic forms of EVERY hormone and chemical that is governed by the pituitary gland.  He would suffer from electrolyte imbalances, would continue to have lapses in short-term memory, and would likely need to live in a nursing home.

I know I've written this dozens of times over the last 8 years, but, I need to remind myself:  Mike would have wanted to die rather than live through that - and he would have wanted to die rather than putting all his friends and loved ones through that.

A few days ago, I was listening to a rebroadcast of Terri Gross' interview with Sherwin Nuland, the author of "How we Die."  Nuland is one of the fathers of the hospice and palliative care movement.  He confessed the guilt he had about urging his cancer-stricken brother to try an excruciating new cancer treatment - one that was unlikely to work - but at least would give his brother a "chance".  His brother died anyway, and Nuland regrets that by his own urging, his brother spent his last months going through this awful treatment, instead of just being with his family and dying in peace. Through this experience, he gained clarity and perspective on what it means to die with dignity.  Nuland writes:

One of the points I try to make in this book - and I make it a number of times and a number of different ways - is that what gives dignity to death is the dignity of the life that preceded it. When we have brought about a situation where we are loved and we love, where our lives have been lives - not necessarily of great accomplishment, but of a sense of having given something to others - whether those others are as close to us as our children or parents or whether those others are as far away as a radio or a television audience. When we have done that, our deaths have dignity. Our deaths become a part of our lives in the sense that with our deaths we give something to those who are left behind as we have given our lives to them.


So, in addition to all the joy that Mike brought to people through his friendship, his improv talents, and his infectious laughter, in the spirit of Nuland's quote, the dignity of Mike's life was also enhanced but the way he chose to live in those last months.  By insisting on taking this trip, Mike may have hastened his death, but that, in and of itself, might have been the best possible outcome.

*******


March 8, 2006.  Mike and I left for Charleston.  Bax was in good hands with Deke and Aunt Victoria and Mike and I were both excited to simply get away.  Mike had planned a relaxing trip with reservations at the Andrew Pinckney Inn – a BnB just off of the market in Charleston.

When we got to the airport, Mike realized he had forgotten one of his medications.  His Desmopressin (DDAVP) nasal spray.  This was the medicine that he used to supplement a hormone that his body didn’t make anymore since the surgery.  It is the hormone that our bodies release that tells us not to urinate out all the fluids in our body.  Without this medication, Mike would pee and pee and pee and then become dehydrated.  His sodium would elevate and he would get tired and slightly whacky.  This is the condition that we would battle for months, Diabetes Insipidus.

He convinced me that it wasn’t a big deal.  He had refills on his prescription and we would simply get it filled once we arrived in Charleston. 

Once on the plane, Mike had to pee.  Not like you and I have to go pee – but like a desperate need to go pee – n.o.w.  He got up while the “fasten seat belt” light was on, received a reprimand from a flight attendant, and proceeded to the bathroom anyway – twice.

That afternoon, we checked into our room and immediately went in search of a pharmacy.  We walked the streets of Charleston and Mike had to stop several times to pee – behind a bush and in a parking lot.  He was so embarrassed, but there was nothing he could do.  He needed to get his medicine.  We got to the pharmacy, got his refill prescription for DDAVP transferred and waited for it to be filled. 

Once we got it, I was relieved.  He took two puffs of the magic pee-inhibiting nasal spray and we headed out – ready to actually start our vacation.  About ten minutes into our walk back to the Bed and Breakfast, Mike realized his palm pilot was missing.  He had been playing some games on it while waiting for the prescription to be filled, but now it was gone.  We retraced our steps to the pharmacy and found Mike’s pile of maps – which he had also forgotten – but no palm pilot.  It seems that someone took it. 

In typical Mike fashion, he sighed a quick sigh, shrugged, and said, “No big deal.  I have everything saved on my computer at work.  I’ll just have to get a new palm.  That one was outdated anyway.”

I felt so angry.  Not at Mike for forgetting the medicine or the palm pilot.  But at Mike for not acknowledging how weird this all was – how unlike himself he was.  We walked in silence.  Finally I stopped him, “Smoosher, do you feel like yourself?  Cause you certainly don’t seem like it.”

He looked hurt.

“No,” I backpedaled, “I just mean… you seem distracted or absent-minded.  Less able to remember things than your usual self.”

“Hmm,” he said quietly, pausing to think for a moment, “Maybe you’re right.”

And that was it.  End of discussion.

The rest of our vacation in Charleston was a combination of smooshiness and total dread.  Mike was smooshy.  I, in contrast, was watching my world fall apart before me. 

Mike slept about fourteen hours a night and napped for another 2 or 3 in the afternoons.  In the night, when he got up to use the bathroom, each time he would struggle to open the door to the hallway.

“Smoosher, what are you doing?” I would ask.

“I’m trying to go to the bathroom, but it’s all locked up,” he said.

“That’s cause that’s the door to the hallway.”

“Oooh,” he would say in a jovial exaggerated tone, “Doh!  Silly Smoosher!”

Our first night there, we went to the ATM to take out money.  Our account was overdrawn.  Not by a little – but by several thousand.  The entire trip we charged everything and agreed to figure out what was wrong with our finances when we returned to Philly. Instead of transferring money from savings to checking, as planned, Mike had done the opposite - leaving us in the red. 

Our second day there, while poking around in the market, we found ourselves roped in to an upscale time-share pitch.  In exchange for an hour and a half of our time, we would receive free tickets to two attractions (that we planned on seeing anyway) along with a four-day three-night vacation package. 

“We don’t have anything planned…” Mike suggested.  “Maybe we should do it.”

Why not? 

One hour later we were inside the sales office of “Bluegreen Resorts” at the Lodge Valley Inn in Charleston.  After touring the Inn, we sat down with Valerie, our charming sales agent, and talked about how much we loved vacationing. 

Valerie used a questionnaire as a guide in our Q&A:

  • Describe your ideal vacation.
  • Looking ahead to the next year, how many trips do you think you’ll take?
  • What kinds of trips do you see yourself doing?
  • What about the next five years? 
  • What was your favorite vacation destination thus far? 

While the questionnaire was designed as a sales pitch, it provided Mike and me a rare opportunity to reflect on all of our past travel experiences.  Are there were many:  Kawai, Honolulu, Disney World, Shenandoah Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, Lake Placid, The Poconos, Islands of Adventure, San Francisco, Miami, Lake Tahoe, Monterey Bay, The Florida Keys, New Hampshire, Cape May, Bethany Beach, Maine…

After three hours, Mike and I agreed to discuss the time-share package over lunch and return with our verdict.  We returned to Valerie and told her that we wouldn’t be comfortable buying in completely, but would love a trial package (about $1000).  As we filled out the paperwork, Mike began to fall asleep at the desk – repeatedly. 

“Mike, are you ok?” Valerie asked.

“I’m fine,” he replied, not realizing he had been nodding off. 

Valerie then brought in Justin, the young man in charge of finalizing sales.  We gave handsome young Justin our IDs, signed the forms, and shook hands.  Mike and I left the bluegreen sales office that afternoon smooshy and excited – smooshy from all the reminiscing about our wonderful lives together and excited about the future. 

Ten days later, watching Michael unravel in our kitchen back home and packing up his things to rush him to the Emergency Room, I would place a call to Justin in Charleston, SC. 

“Hello.  Bluegreen.  Justin speaking.”

“Justin.  My name is Danna Young.  My husband Michael and I signed up for your trial package a week ago.  My husband is very ill and I need to cancel our enrollment.”

“Ok.  That’s fine,” he said impassively. “We can’t refund the initial deposit, but we’ll cancel your enrollment.”

“Thank you,” I hung up.

Why did I choose that moment to make that call?  How did I know that this was a big enough deal to warrant my canceling this timeshare?  I have no fucking idea.  It was an insane – though shockingly logical – thing to do. 

The morning following our enrollment in the bluegreen sampler’s package, still in Charleston, Mike left to go for a jog by the water – three blocks from our bed and breakfast.  Fifteen minutes later, he was back in the room – smoothie in hand.

I laughed, “Some jog!”

He grinned a bit.  “Eh,” he shrugged, “I couldn’t find the waterfront, so I grabbed a smoothie instead.”  I looked at him quizzically, but he didn’t seem to register my concern.  I watched as he emptied his pockets onto the nightstand.  There, in the pocket of his shorts, was a map.

That afternoon, we shopped in small boutiques along Market Street, holding hands, sipping on lattes.  In one shop, Metropolitan Deluxe, we laughed at quirky gifts, magnets, and cute tableware. 

“These scream ‘Danna!’” Mike said, pointing to some throw pillows with bright pink and yellow gerbera daisies embroidered on them.  So true.

We browsed for about fifteen minutes.  “You about done, smoosher?”  I asked.

“Yup,” he replied and walked decisively towards the back of the store. 

I just watched, horrified.

I stood stunned as he looked around him, turned back and looked at me briefly.  I didn’t move.  He put his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker and nonchalantly walked back towards me, past me and out the door – as though nothing had happened.


Between our return home on March 11 and that Friday, March 17, I watched as Michael fell apart.  I saw him having difficulty getting organized enough to feed Baxter dinner.  He put the wrong lid on Bax’s sippy cup and struggled to use a can opener. 

On Wednesday morning before work, he stood at the kitchen counter, looking concerned. 

“What day is it?  It’s Monday, right?” 

My brow furrowed, “Does it feel like Monday?”  convinced that the Socratic method could get him reoriented.  He didn’t answer.  Instead he asked again.

“It is Monday, isn’t it?”

“Smoosher, what did we do last night?  What show did we watch that we love?”  He had to be able to get that.

“24?” 

We hadn’t watched 24 in months.

“Are you serious?”

“Smoosher,” he began to get frustrated. “What day of the week is it?”

“It’s Wednesday, Michael.  Remember?  We watched American Idol last night?”

He closed his eyes for a brief second, palms of his hands on the counter, squinting.  He began to nod, “Right, right.  Yes.  I remember.  It’s Wednesday.”