Dream or is it a reality?

It always seems to happen when I am feeling that my life is good. No, let me rephrase, it always happens when I feel as though my life isn’t just going good or well, but great.

It sneaks in through the night using a cover of darkness and a weakness associated with slumber. Knowing the intended victim (myself) doesn’t stand a chance because there are no walls, no observance of its presence until it is too late.

Sometimes it masks itself using my family or friends as an intended target. Other times it drags up memories of the past, the atrocities associated with a long career such as mine. Either way it has a way of tearing me down, leaving me feeling spent both physically and mentally. Other days, it leaves me wrecked beyond belief and I wonder just how much more one man can take. I am confident and strong, I always have been, but there are days I want to curl up and cry for no reason at all.

Dreams of death.

Last night as I slept, Jake my second son came to me in a dream. I was fishing and he appeared in front of me from nowhere.

I said: Jake what are you doing, how did you get here?

Jake: I came to say goodbye dad

Me: Where are you going?

Jake: It’s time for me to go, just wanted you to know I love you

Me: what are talking about?

Jake: Goodbye dad (as he vanished)

The rest of the dream consisted of me doing everything I could to get home! To find my son! And as with most hectic, disorganized dreams every obstacle was put in my place! When I finally got there, he was in fact dead. Gone from this world. It was a nondescript death, a combination of every horrible thing I have witnessed over the life of my career. It was horrendous.

I haven’t been able to shake it.

Here is my problem. I know what it is, I know what these dreams manifest from, I know that it is not a reality.

But

I also knew every single thing about my first wife’s death before it happened because I had in fact dreamt about it over a several year period. I knew everything about where to go and what to do at Stanford Hospital because in my dreams I had been there even though I had never set foot on the property once.

I knew after my second wife was diagnosed with Leukemia that it wasn’t going to go well. Oh at first I believed it was my cynical side, you know that part of us that is carefully crafted from years of getting burned?

But as we went along I did my best to keep faith, to suppress my feelings of dread, to be the most important person in her life during every hiccup or stumble. All the while knowing, not guessing or having a feeling, but knowing she was in fact going to die. Why? Because I dreamt about it over time. From the hospital visits to the pharmacy runs, to her addiction to opioids. I dreamt it all. I knew she would die at home, I knew she was going to suffer and I knew she would leave a huge mark on this world. Not just because of who she was as a person, but because it always came to me in a dream. The only thing my dreams got wrong was her dying in our dining room. In my dreams she died surrounded by family at her dads.

So what is it about me that this happens too?

Is this a curse that only I can live with and if so, do I embrace the knowledge or cower from its implications?

I have so many wonderful people I talk with about my life, my emotions and how to deal with the past.

I have someone very close that I love who lets me talk openly about those last two years while watching the woman I cared for deteriorate and die. The ramifications of being alone but not alone, a caretaker, a warden, a nurse, a pharmacist and surviving nightmare after nightmare. Who listens to everything and anything that comes to mind while I am venting about these crazy notions in my head, understanding completely without thinking any less of me as a person. A beautiful safe space in my life.

But these dreams, these damn dreams, I just need them to stop! I’m weary of death, I am weary of pain, I no longer wish to carry the sufferings of so many in my head only to be replayed over and over again at the whim of nightfall’s grace.

So what do I do?

I do what I have always done.

I write about it for you.

If you are suffering in the slightest I need you to know you are not alone. I need you to understand it doesn’t feel ok, but it is and you are fine. I want you to feel as though you can talk about it, express those very same feelings without judgment or remorse.

I am blessed with the ability to write, to share, and to explain things in a way that you can understand. Everyone has a gift, a talent, something they are particularly good at, I have been told this is mine. Writing allows me to get these feelings out, to purge them from my mind, to let them go even if it’s just for a little while.

If you have something that allows you the same freedom you need to act when you feel down, you need to grab whatever gift you have been bestowed and make it your ritual. It will help I promise.

If you can’t, please find a professional to talk with, to council.

Now, I am going to try and call my son, I think he is out of class by now.

I just need to hear his voice.

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I’m seeing ghosts..

Making my way through town I have always seen ghosts. Ghosts of incidents past rattling through my brain like an unwanted house guest! You know, wearing your wife’s robe and your slippers while they drink what’s left of the milk you needed for your morning cereal.  I have written about “them” these ghosts before, remnants of some of the worst things I have seen or participated in during my career. Who they were or are, how they have affected my current reality, and my inability to let them stay, well quite simply “dead”.

Last night I went to Vacaville to pick up tickets for a popular movie two hours early so the kids and I could go see it. Now if you know me well enough, then no need to ponder the movie. The answer is elementary.

Arriving at the theater, it is very obvious the movies are the place to be after Christmas, as the lot was full and I needed to park a block away. Walking up to order tickets a very polite young man behind the glass informed me they were in fact sold out for the night. Hands in my pockets while retreating to my car I heard a couple talking about heading to Winco after the movies.

Then it began.

I looked across the freeway, Winco hides on the other side and it dawned on me that Thursday was our Winco night. I could see her walking through the aisles, grabbing things and placing them close to her face so she could make them out, never ever wanting help unless she absolutely needed it because that tore away at her independence. We would slowly make our way from aisle to aisle and I remember that as much as I hated shopping ( I am a speed shopper, I know what I need and I haul ass outta there) watching the wonderment she held to each and every item she placed near her face always made me smile. It was like watching a child, or someone who had been in a coma for 30 years and just couldn’t believe all the amazing things that now existed! Winco was always a 2 hour affair and at that very moment I couldn’t believe how much I longed to go shopping with my frail, blind wife, spending those two hours together making our way up and down each and every aisle while she beamed with delight, thanking me over and over again for taking her.

UGH!

Vowing to never take another step inside Winco, I slid into the seat of my car and texted the kids; the movie is a no go, sold out, headed home. Then as I got on the freeway and began passing the Nut Tree area it was as if every single place we ever visited from the beginning of our marriage had a giant neon sign over the top of it flashing, brightly screaming that we had fun over there, we had date night right here, do you remember the time that this happened in this street and how you both rolled around laughing for hours!!! I tried to take it as good memories, something I should be so happy about, but instead it just created a bigger void, a tunnel of darkness that began enveloping me from the inside out! I couldn’t drive fast enough to get away, the signs wouldn’t stop flashing, I started breathing really hard and my chest hurt, I began sweating and I couldn’t focus.

Then out of nowhere!

That’s right out of nowhere I found myself in the Kaiser Hospital parking lot. I was parked in my normal spot. Yeah after you have been there a while you kind of pick a row and park there out of habit. Walking towards the building I had my hoodie pulled tightly down over my brow. I must have looked like the grim reaper as I made my way into the building. Stopping at the pharmacy I stared inside for a few minutes, reciting her medical record number then turning to make my way to the fourth floor. Exiting the stairwell I walked slowly down the hall, talking to her as I always had about how long she would be, did she want me to stay, cause I would stay and watch tv with her, should I go and get chores done, is there anything she needed me to pick up for her in Vacaville? All the right questions, praying I would hear an answer. Knowing there was none to be had.

Oncology, I stood in the threshold for a minute or two, still not quite understanding why I was there; then seeing the television was still on I sat down in the same chair I would always inhabit.

And there it was, right there for me to feel, my wife.

It was as if Jacy was sitting in her wheelchair right alongside me, I could feel her, she was talking to me, we had a long conversation about meds, her health and what lay in store. I eventually snapped from the same old topics we discussed and told her how much I missed her, how very lonely I am, how she was the very best thing that ever happened in my life and I don’t like not knowing what is in store for us without her. I told her I loved her so much and how I missed the touch of her hand. I asked her if she was ok. She just smiled, looking at me with her big beautiful eyes and said it was time to go. I asked her to please not go, don’t leave me again, she said; James, its time for my treatment and turned towards the door. She was gone.

And just like that I was back, alone in the very waiting room I had spent countless hours watching other people struggle with cancer while we were waiting for treatment.  

Walking down the hallway towards the stairwell, again slowly, hands in my pockets, hoodie still pulled down tight I felt heavy. No wheel chair to push, no bags to carry, no oxygen bottle to adjust, no wife whose shoulders needed rubbing, no best friend to reassure this was temporary, she wasn’t going to die, she was Jacy Franceschi, the toughest, most badass woman I have ever known and no amount of drugs or disease could possibly kill her.

I lied.

You can’t possibly know how that feels. To have lied.

She knew the risks, she knew what the outcome could be, she knew it all and she did her best each and every day for her family.

I still lied because I loved her.

I see ghosts everywhere I go, they don’t prepare you for that when you become a firefighter, but over time you develop the coping skills to understand it, to deal with it, to accept it when they arise.

No one can prepare you for the ghost being the one you loved more than anything on this earth.

No one….

Can we talk? Please???

I wrote this piece on August 4, 2018. I could not bring myself to post it back then. But as I sit here struggling with so much guilt and pain over my wife passing away this last week on October 20. I think it speaks volumes to my mental status over these last few months. I also think that if you are reading this, struggling with how you feel you may or may not be handling adversity in your life. You will see that its ok, the pain is real, the rambling mind is real, and you need to understand you are not alone. I may feel alone right now, but know I am surrounded by love. You are too. Just reach out and ask for help. Please….

Can we talk for a minute? Please?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those talks where it ends something like; it’s not you, it’s me.

Because trust me, it’s all me.

But we need to talk none the less.

You see I am having some problems with our relationship. I recognize that I haven’t been forth coming or honest about my feelings lately. That keeping things really close to the vest as it were has been my modus operandi. It has been tough for the both of us I know as I am constantly peppered with questions when seen out and about. But the thing is, I am not doing it on purpose. I am cowering in silence.

Things are rapidly changing in my life and as much as I live to talk with you through this medium it hasn’t been a priority out of fear. Couple that with a request to stop writing about a certain main subject (my wife), exhaustion on my part and a feeling of continual inadequacy in all aspects of my life and well you can see how the information clam has sealed tight.

I hope you can forgive me, but I’m having other issues as well. My brain cannot get past the continued bad luck that keeps raining upon me and my family. It never seems to end! I swear some days I am afraid to go outside, open the mail or even take a phone call out of shear panic to what’s waiting on the other end of the line. Everyday life is scaring the hell out me, I never know what rock is waiting to fall on my head, what vice is waiting to squeeze the last ounce of compassion and care from my heart, what nerve will finally be worn raw!

I lay in bed at night thinking about you and how bad I need to talk to you but when the time comes I just cannot bring myself to open the laptop and stroke a few keys! I know if I do, maybe something I say or am going through may help you, may give you strength or tell you it’s ok! As in for example; hey, see that guy has the same problem, life isn’t so hard and isolated after all!  But for some reason I just can’t do it! I have even gone as far as staring at the screen while trying to find the right words, but only my anger at this life comes through in ugly, disturbing tones. Things written that do not show a strong man able to conquer all but a weak tired man ready to climb into a cave, never to be seen from again, and then of course I end up deleting anything I have written.

My anger is off the charts! I find more days than not I am ready to blow! Some days I pray for someone to look at me the wrong way so I can finally lose my shit! Let out all this pent up aggression, depression and frustration. But thankfully it is never to be.

I will never understand how I won this lottery of spousal death twice? The first time around was relatively speaking quick, from diagnosis to passing was just under a month. I thought that was bad, I thought what the hell, how can this be? I thought life is so fucked up when it’s taken away so quickly and harshly! But what’s happening this time is 10 times worse! We have had hope, then sadness, then hope again, then more sadness then miracle hope as in a Bone Marrow Transplant and then more sadness and then a little hope and finally being told; this is as good as it’s going to get. Maybe she will pass within a year, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

Even with all that, nothing compares to watching what all these medications in combination with GvHD are doing to the love of my life! Watching her deteriorate to the point where some days her brain is spot on and others she is almost a dementia patient. What the fuck!!! I get so freaking mad when I see her struggling and I know it comes across wrong or feels like I am taking it out on her and the kids but god damn it I am pissed!

Are you still with me? It might get a little dicey from here on out.

What fucking God would do this to a person? What God would take away a mother and wife twice from a man? What God would sit back and watch all this happen while I am supposed stand under this cloud of despair and think there is a supposed purpose to all this? Are you fucking kidding me!!

My kids hate everything! The older ones are running away, the younger ones are trapped here but for the most part staying either in their rooms or hiding behind a video game screen.

Every day is the same as we try our best to all take care of mom, while terrified to leave the house as she cannot see and struggles due to breathing issues to get from one room to the other at times! She puts on a super brave face for everyone out of fear that she is letting someone down. But in reality she is in more full body pain than any of you could ever imagine! Her ribs are broken (yea that’s right broken) from coughing all the time, her feet and legs swell up as she can no longer adequately move fluids throughout her body as I said before she is blind and don’t let her bump anything as even a pencil size eraser bump will turn into a dinner plate size bruise and sometimes those bumps will break the skin which leaves blood everywhere!! So tell me, please, what God would do that to a person??

I hate being at work, and I hate being at home! I want our life back! I want her life back! Hell I would trade places with her in a minute. But we all know how stupid that sounds because it is an impossibility!

I wake up each morning worried something is going to happen to me! Seriously, what if something happens to me? Tell me I am wrong at how scary that sounds! You can be honest, I won’t hold it against you! But think about it. You wake up every day and you are it! The sole provider, the sole parent, the sole caregiver (that she trusts) at home, and you feel as though you cannot take any more, but for some reason it just keeps fucking coming!!!!!!!!!! Just because she is sick and dying doesn’t mean the bills stop, or the debt goes away, it doesn’t mean the kids can just automatically accept that dad is now the end all be all for parenting, it doesn’t mean the ranch will just run itself! No it’s all on me! Fucking Me!!!

You know what is even funnier? Come on, guess what’s even funnier???

Through all this, I am supposed care about your emergency when I show up in my fire engine!!! Don’t get me wrong, I do, I still give it 100% when we pull in front of your house, but please forgive me if I am not as excited about your papercut, vomit, alcohol laced sickness or cancer that you thought you had but really didn’t because you were misdiagnosed during a DMV physical by a third party doctor who swore you had a pacemaker which you had no idea you needed due to a history of diabetes that runs through your entire family but missed your third cousin Billy.

Yeah……

Still here?

Sorry I know this was supposed to be a talk between you and I and it has instead turned more into a rant. I never meant to bring you any worry or discomfort, I hope you can forgive me. I am just tired, really, really tired of it all.

Deep inside, I am struggling hard. I wake up every morning and stare at her to see if she is still breathing. Somedays I am lucky and she is up, fumbling around in the kitchen making coffee, other days she looks dead to the world and I freak a little. Every day is spent in the house trying to keep up. I no longer know which way to turn.

I feel as though there is nothing positive going on in my/our lives. I have a career that has been placed on hold for 5 years now and I feel it slipping away. The horses and the ranch are barley getting by and I have other people riding our horses as I cannot even throw a leg over one. I am struggling to find joy in the little moments with our kids as those moments are few and far between plus when the times are good there is always a backhanded slap from something that goes wrong when we get home. I feel myself aging at a rapid rate and I fear death may find me soon too and that scares me the most. Eventually losing their mom then losing me not to long after. The thought of my kids having no one when this bell is finally rung is petrifying.

I have always tried to make light, be funny, show anyone that will listen that no matter what, you can get through anything. And now I feel like a hypocrite. For I have nothing positive to say, no words of wisdom, no stellar advice.

All I hear in my head is the sounds of sadness and quote from long ago.

People die every day, what are you going to do about it?

Answer: Nothing.

Thanks for taking the time to listen.

 

 

 

So? You think you know.

A smile, a laugh, a hug and some jokes, you see me as I am and you think that you know. It’s the same old ground I’m always walking, with a head held high, false face, and fading reality.

You think you know.

This shadow of mine casts a dark reflection for which carries my soul. Walking side by side, flesh, muscle and stature tells you a tale, but my shadow harbors the truth. It’s darkness and rage, horror and fear, a shadowed jail that no one sees when peering at it’s presence upon the ground but me. Yeah I see it; you only see me.

I pray for cloudy days, for rain filled with pain, pressing so very hard upon my skin like needles tearing flesh from the bone. Helping, this searing sensation creates a neural overload strengthening my resolve when ever my shadow is gone. Building up future energy and tolerance for when the sun shines around me so I may survive it’s golden rays for just one more day. I have no place to hide.

You think you know

You think you know me when we meet, my smile and kind looking eyes but it’s all an act. My laughter and tears are played for an audience, I have become a master actor at life. Doing what I can to appease my shadow, to help hold these demons within. But much like an actor I must retire into solitude, and darkness, to a place inside my head where I can safely practice my lines. It’s a moody uncomfortable place where people can and do get hurt. But regardless it must be.

What you don’t know or will never understand is the sheer context of my life. I feel like a broken glass. Shards chipped, broken, then broken again. Placed carefully inside another glass for all to see.

You think you know

You mean well and want to help, but you have no way to reach inside this jar, pick a shard to begin putting me back together without hurting yourself, without bleeding and breaking just a little each time you try. Blood mixes with pain to become rain that falls back down on me. It hurts to much to try.

It’s all there for you to see. I’m all there, confined within the very transparency of glass for all to witness, not fix. Ultimately it is my gift to you. My way of helping you to never become broken, and for those already broken to understand it is ok to accept the truth and to be seen by those who care but don’t know.

So next time you see me, please don’t act like you know.

Because you can’t……

The drive home just isn’t long enough.

In a row, our legs move fast, pushing, yearning and striving they sling  copious amounts of sweat. Some in unison, others to the beat of another distraction. All of us moving, dripping, staring, and for myself, wondering why.

It is a mental game working a machine to nowhere. The windows before us showering our sight with images of a life outside. Yet here we are, trapped in the concrete confines of metal, muscle and weights.

I am trying to keep in shape, it is important for not just my physical ability but my mental muscles as well. So much trapped upstairs, so many thoughts, painful thoughts that emerge then disappear.

One hour in the gym. One hour to myself. Ok really only to myself mentally as I am surrounded by others in search of their own mental nirvana as they too work through their own physical pain. Yet even though it is for my benefit, and even though I almost always feel better after, I wonder if it is enough.

Shaking off the urge to once again over think something I have made a very astute observation. Legs burning, climbing, pressing against an artificial resistance I cant help but notice the man next me has become, well lets just say a tad bit competitive. Yes, it seems that us men cannot help ourselves. Even though this man and I haven’t spoken nary a word, have made no eye contact or even signaled a nod or shoulder shrug it appears as though when I speed up, he speeds up. Curious.

I try a little teaser to fortify my observation. For fun I decide to alternate speeds. Moving from fast to slow within one minute intervals I am sure this will dispel what I believe to be a subconscious race. I am wrong, with each interval change my face forward, without so much as a glance my neighbor matches me step for step! I am trying my hardest not to chuckle as for fun, I turn it up a notch! Without fail he continues to matching me step for step! Like an old school drag race, or two kids racing without actually breaking stride to run it doesn’t matter what I do, my workout neighbor never misses a beat!

Just when things couldn’t get any weirder a new piece of meat jumps on the elliptical to my left!

Ha! Now I have one on either side!! There is no way they both will keep pace! Again I am wrong! Without fail both men instantly keep pace with what ever I throw at them! It is as if us men have a racing gene that we are born with! That one thing inside that says to us: Did that guy just call us chicken??? Oh I could so beat that loser! You’re going down!! Yep a real bonafide, inbred, racing gene, and us men have no control over it.

I step off the elliptical leaving my unintended racing partners behind. Smile on my face as I roll over to start some resistance training before hitting a few well needed free weights. Then just like that, as I sit on a bench, sweat pouring from my face I am back. Back into my reality. One filled with things I cant discuss, pressures I cannot relieve and images I cannot erase.

I have so much to say, but no one to listen. There are plenty who want to talk, or talk at me, but that’s not what I need. Recommendations for professional help are always the first thing offered, but the problem is, these people, these professionals, they may have education, but they haven’t lived my life, walked in my shoes, understood or even tried to accept the culture for which I thrive. You cannot help me if you don’t understand me, and you cannot understand me unless you’ve stood alongside me, in the shit or next to me as I m surrounded by my brothers and sisters as we joke and laugh about things you would never understand. I cant take it home, but I cant leave it here, it follows me everywhere.

I used to complain that I needed a longer ride home. Time to brush off a bad shift or horrific experience. Decompress, listen to good music or my favorite morning show. Just me, the truck, some distracting sounds and time to think, letting it all go before I walked in the door to a wife that hadn’t seen me in days.

I once had a semi-truck on the freeway lock up his tires because he came upon heavy smoke covering the roadway. We couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see us, the wind was blowing 60-65mph, the fire was vegetation and it was running hard. I’ll never forget that sound. I was on the pump panel, engaging two wildland lines so our guys could fight fire. The smoke shifted quickly and we screamed for everyone to get off the freeway as that sound got louder and closer. I could barley see the engine, and as I cleared the tailboard jumping down the embankment, that truck slid right on by! If I had still been standing at the pump panel well, either my life would have ended in a full bagpipe salute and some nice speeches or at the least I’d have been scared to death, left with some soiled undies.

Another time at a vehicle accident in the middle of the night, while walking towards our truck to retrieve extrication equipment, I stepped on a 50K line. Now the car had taken out several poles including a series of high voltage lines. We worked our way into the scene and as we did all lines on the ground were identified. So on the way back for more equipment I kept telling myself; self, look for the power lines. And look I did with the exception of one thing, I completely missed my line of travel. Stepping on that line was an awful moment filled with terror. I knew what it was the minute my boot made contact, and it took me a second to realize that if in fact it had still been charged I would already be long gone. Electricity through my foot and out through my head as I hit the ground. Charred deeper than a forgotten shrimp on the barbeque. But again, I was lucky, the line was dead and I was not.

There just isn’t a drive home long enough for that. There is no amount of time behind the wheel that erases those instances, and those were only two! There are ones I’ll never, and I mean ever talk about! Because if I did my family would never let me out the door to work again! Now on top of all that imagine adding death, destruction, despair and the simple added pressures of a regular life along with it. Kids, spouses, ex spouses, bills etc…

How do we turn all of that stress off before walking in the door to our families?

I don’t know, I wish I had the answer.

But what I do know is the guy across from me on the squat rack is a mean asshole when he’s drunk! It’s been a while so I don’t think he recognizes me which in a way is to bad. Maybe he’d apologize for the shitty things he said and did while we tried to help him. Or maybe he would cuss us out for ruining his evening. Oh well maybe Ill head back to the elliptical machines and find some others guys to subconsciously race taking my mind back off the darkness within.