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“You should be dead.”

I was finally awake and interacting with the world once more, after having my chest opened up, my heart and lungs detailed to clean out blood clots and repair cardiac birth defects, and then spending nearly two weeks unconscious while machines breathed for me.

As I slowly began my recovery, both mental and physical, I encountered many, many employees in the hospital who would greet me by name and tell me how glad they were to see me awake and moving around.

This was always followed by some variation of, “You should have died. We’re glad you didn’t!”

Even my surgeon told me he could hardly believe I lived.

(Not to put any pressure on me to get completely well again, or anything.)

I was extremely weak, and there was a lot of pain. And even though I had spent so much time unconscious, I was exhausted.

So the hospital staff began to torture me.

No, it wasn’t real torture; it just felt like it. I did breathing exercises to help my lungs recover. I was given special instructions on how to move and how to lift in such a manner as to protect my sternum while it healed. I learned how incredibly difficult it is to get out of bed without using one’s arms.

All I wanted to do was rest in bed and grimace; all the staff seemed to want me to do was sit in a chair, or walk around the care unit. Which I did, grudgingly and grimacingly. I wasn’t allowed to do the things I wanted; I didn’t want to do what I was allowed.

Even so, when I’d run into yet another nurse or orderly or x-ray technician who would smile, genuinely smile, when they saw that I was alive and kicking, it wasn’t difficult to smile back. While I still didn’t comprehend how dire my situation had been, I also was glad I was alive, pain and everything. I spoke so often to so many different caregivers during my recovery I became convinced that every employee at the hospital had taken care of me at some point.

I had a lot of thinking time. It was difficult for me to accept what had happened to me. While I could understand it, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the facts. To me, it seemed like I went to the hospital with a chest cold and woke up broken. The cognitive damage I was dealing with, combined with the memories of things that hadn’t happened, and the lack of memories of what did happen, made my experience feel like it had happened to someone else.

Except when I’d sneeze, or cough. That brought it all home when it felt like my chest was being torn in two.

A hematologist told me the clots had formed after the antibodies in my blood started attacking the walls of my blood vessels, roughening them and causing the blood to stick. What triggered this, however, is something we’ll probably never know.

He then told me I should have died (sigh) and that I had the worst case of blood clots he’d ever seen.

I told him I wasn’t sure if that should make me happy, or not.

My condition frustrated me. I expected to bounce back as quickly as I had from previous surgeries in my life, never mind how incongruent they were in comparison. My body was weak; more disturbingly, my mind was weak as well.

I tried to write with some paper and a pen one of my close friends brought me (among other things – between her and my roommate I was extremely well cared for on the civilian side of my hospital needs).

I managed to cover about a fourth of a page before my strength gave out. My disappointment escalated when I realized I couldn’t read back what I wrote.

Chickens wouldn’t be able to read what I had managed to scratch out. The only part I’ve ever been able to discern reads “Ha ha ha!”

The universe apparently laughed at my efforts.

Crafting a sentence was nearly beyond me as well. I confused words frequently. Homonyms were beyond me. Clarity was difficult to achieve. I started to believe that my writing career was at an end.

A small worry, however, compared to other matters I suffered through.

As humans, we’re constantly learning, gaining wisdom and insight where we can. For instance, while I was hospitalized, a quote from the show MASH came back to me time and time again: “No one ever died of embarrassment during a sponge bath.”

It feels like it though.

Slowly, my condition improved. I was a little stronger each day; I hurt a little less each day; I made a little more sense a little more each day. A month after my surgery, I was sent home with a cane to continue my recovery.

The cats were happy to see me.

Writing online updates for friends and family helped my mental recovery. Daily walks helped my physical recovery. But often it felt like I’d never be better again.

I spent my time reading, watching TV, and wondering how many gummy worms it would take to equal one serving of fruit. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than five pounds or a jug of milk. My jugs far outweighed both, as did practically everything else I encountered during the day.

The holidays came, feeling different than they had in the past. At Thanksgiving, I knew I had plenty for which to be thankful.

(Like my ability to not end a sentence with a preposition.)

Christmas was different, too. I felt more festive. I even put up a small artificial tree, with lights and ornaments, marking the first time in over a decade I hadn’t hung a drawing on the wall labelled “Tree”.

There were complications, of course. An e.coli infection at the end of my hospital stay had knocked back my progress. While I’d hoped to return to work at the beginning of the new year, in December it was discovered the wires holding my sternum together had pulled through the bone, leaving my chest in pieces that would require further surgery in January and delay my return to work.

I felt more medical anomaly than medical miracle.

The second surgery was smoother than the first, keeping me hospitalized for only five days. My sternum recovery time was reset to eight weeks again, but tempered by the joy I felt from having a solid rib cage once more.

Ribs aren’t meant to move independently any more than one should be able to see his heart throbbing underneath the skin where there should be breastbone instead.

This time, there were no chances taken. My sternum was reconstructed using heavy gauge wire and three titanium plates.

(I had secretly hoped for stainless steel plates so I could hang refrigerator magnets on my chest.)

Finally, I started back to my job at the beginning of March, five months after the adventure began.

(It seems my ability to write has returned, but as for quality … that’s really not for me to judge.)

An old friend mentioned online that he couldn’t imagine going through what I did.

I can easily imagine other people going through what I did because it wasn’t anything special, I told him. I dealt with it because I had to. That’s not bravery. That’s human spirit.

The heroes in my story are the surgeons and the doctors and the nurses and the respiratory therapists and the janitors and all the other healthcare workers involved in saving my life.

My roommate and my friends and my family and my coworkers and acquaintances and celebrities and everyone who gave me encouragement and kept me in their thoughts played big, heroic roles, too.

Heck, even my cats were more heroic than me, sticking right by me once I finally made it home with barely enough strength to shoo them to the side when they tried to sleep on my chest.

All I had to do was get better. And really, in comparison, I think I had the easy job.

Because I can’t imagine the helpless horror of watching any of my friends go through something similar. That takes a strength that I’m not sure I have.

Looking back, my recovery was slow and steady, with no real momentous breakthroughs.

Well, except for one …

When I was being discharged after the second surgery, the nurse bundled me into a wheelchair to take me to my ride home. The elevator was crowded with people. One family looked down at me, beaming smiles, and said just how happy I must be now that I was being discharged. Others nodded and murmured their agreement.

I looked back up at them all, and managed a tired, yet hopefully brave, smile.

“They’re sending me home to die,” I said.

The elevator fell instantly silent. The smiles froze on their faces as they tried to process and respond to what I had said.

I let the silence hang for a few uncomfortable seconds before I told them I was joking. Secretly, I was proud of myself for coming up with that joke on the spot.

It was that moment, right then, that I knew for sure.

I was going to be okay.

 

By Timothy H. Kepple

Life can be funny, with a strange sense of humor to boot, throwing events and situations at us just to see what sticks. The rate at which fortunes and follies change can make anyone’s head spin faster than a carnival side show exhibit.

A lot has happened in the past six months, and personally, I’m ready for a break from side-shows slinging life events.

(I say this as if I have any say in the matter.)

2014 was going well at the halfway mark. My long-suffering roommate and I moved into our own house in May; we adopted another cat in June; settling into a new position at work was going well for me; home improvements were being made – it was a happy time.

I had my yearly physical in September, and all was well. The pain in my left calf I felt a few days later was really the only sickness I’d had all year. When it went away after a week,  I simply chalked it up to muscle strain from work-related activity and life went on.

The new position at work was much busier and breakneck, but I did my best to adjust. I took a pillow to my office so I could take a nap under my desk during my lunch break. I was working hard, and I was exhausted by the middle of the day. The catnap helped.

As September was coming to an end, suddenly just walking a short distance took so much out of me I struggled to breathe. It hit me on a Friday evening. Increasingly, I was short of breath. Lying down left me feeling like I was suffocating, forcing air into my lungs by conscious effort of will.

By Monday morning, I did something I hadn’t done since being hired over a year ago: I called in sick to work.

I felt bad for doing so; I hated to miss a day of work and let down those counting on me.

When I didn’t feel better the next day, I called in sick one more time and headed off to the clinic to find out what was going on.

I explained my symptoms to the staff. To be honest, I felt silly even bothering them for what I assumed was the beginning of a case of bronchitis, or maybe walking pneumonia at the very worst. I expected a prescription for antibiotics and orders to sleep until I felt better.

So I was surprised by the grave looks and oxygen mask given to me. Bewildered, I answered their many questions as well as I could. Trouble breathing? Yes. Shortness of breath? Most of the time, yes. Chest pain? Mmm … four days ago when it started, but nothing since then. Any other pain? None. Headache? Nope. Fever?

That one they answered themselves. Apparently 104 degrees is worrisome. I knew I had some fever, but it was only then that I began to seriously think I had pneumonia. I was poked and prodded and wired and tested and fussed over. I was getting tired, but lying down still made it much more difficult to breathe.

I felt embarrassed for surely wasting their time. They must have been having a boring day, and now were jumping at the chance to run tests just to have something to do.

My second surprise came when the staff told me in their grave voices that they were having me transferred to the emergency room downtown via ambulance. I was sternly rebuked when I said I’d drive myself.

I was greatly disappointed when the ambulance didn’t even use its siren.

I was wheeled into the ER and parallel parked along a wall, hugging an oxygen cylinder. My memories tend to run together after that, as test after test was thrown at me in hopes that a diagnosis would stick.

I have memories of getting ultrasound scans on my body, and joking about handsome firemen in compromising situations with the woman doing the scans. Vague glimpses of trying to make a friend borrow my car. Discussions with a doctor about things I can’t quite remember, but which involved having my heart and lungs removed and replaced with mechanical devices. Selling strawberry banana sherbet that pumped from a pipe coming out of my stomach. Waking up in a recovery room in a local hotel that was making money by hosting surgeries in the off season.

Time passed slowly. I was taken in for multiple surgeries. During one surgery, I some how managed to wander off into the hospital, where I found a room to rest in for a few days before the surgeon’s assistants finally tracked me down and took me back.

I was cared for in a number of different facilities, all of which had wildly different decor and a television hung on the wall in the same spot, playing the same show, over and over.

So much time passed it was hard to keep track. I was awake during the day and sometimes at night. Winter came; and I was always cold. I could see workers outside plowing and removing snow. The TV added a new show to its endless rotation, a Christmas special of some sort. At least now I had a vague idea of what month it must be. I was visited by friends and family.

I was helpless as things happened around me and to me and there was very little I could do to be an active part of the world. I spent my time laying down in my hospital bed, unable to get up. I witnessed terrible things happening around me, shady staff making drug deals and holding dance parties after pushing patients to the side, knowing I was helpless to do anything to stop them. I simmered in my anger.

Through an unlikely course of events that wasn’t even my fault, I managed to get myself and my roommate fired from our jobs, after which I burnt our ID badges. I sternly told an orderly that I wanted to go home; he laughed at me and pointed out that I couldn’t even get out of bed.

(That kind of made me hate him a little, I’ll admit.)

Finally my last surgery was finished. I woke up once again, this time in a hospital room and in great pain.

It was nearly three weeks after I had been taken to the emergency room.

My friends explained to me time and time again with great patience what had happened.

More importantly, my friends also helped me understand what hadn’t happened to me: there was only one surgery and I’d never disappeared for three days. My best friend was neither dead, nor had he married my close friend’s 16 year-old daughter. One nurse I had argued with; another suffered with the patience of a saint as I called him terrible names over and over; yet two other nurses I had enjoyed long conversations with actually never existed.

There had been no dance parties, no illicit drug deals, and my roommate had never lost his job, while mine was waiting for me once I was well. Sadly, I’d also not won the betting pool when one of my coworkers became a father- by giving birth himself.

So much surreality filled my head; but in many ways, the truth that my friends told me was stranger and more unexpected than my internal fiction.

After arriving at the emergency room at the end of September, I had been admitted to the hospital and given a whirlwind of tests and x-rays and EKGs and CT scans.

It was discovered I was riddled with blood clots, as if one day my blood up and decided it wanted to be sausage.

If only I had known what to look for, I would have realized that I never pulled a muscle in my leg, but had actually developed deep vein thrombosis – two in my left leg, and one in my right.

Three days after being admitted to the hospital, I was taken in for surgery. My chest was opened, my heart and lungs were stopped, and in a four hour process a surgeon removed half a cup of blood clots.

One clot nearly a foot long was removed from the saddle of my pulmonary artery, where it dangled, just waiting to break free and kill me. Others were removed from both my lungs where they were developing the heaviest.

A large clot was removed from the atriums of my heart, where it stretched between the two through a hole that I’d had since birth but which had never been detected. The hole was also repaired. Blood thinners were used to destroy the clots in my legs and the unreachable clots in my lungs.

After the surgery, I was moved to the cardiac critical care ward, where the nurses worked on me for an hour before my anxious friends were finally able to visit me. I was heavily sedated and on a respirator; I was no longer able to breathe on my own due to the trauma to my lungs.

The nurses reassured my worried friends that I’d only need to be on the respirator for a few days.

They said this daily for the next two weeks.

Even though I was sedated and restrained, I thrashed around in bed, trying to break the straps holding me, reaching for the tubes coming out of my nose and mouth, pulling off any blanket covering me and any gown dressing me.

(I’m not sure why my angry unconscious mind decided that the best way to lash out was to give everyone a free show … actually, I do understand. I have a body built for clothes and placing it on display was definitely punishing for anyone in the room.)

Herculean effort was taken to keep me alive, and I didn’t help matters. I was considered “extremely sensitive”, reacting poorly and dangerously to sound, movement and touch. Multiple struggling machines were breathing for me. Visitors were cautioned to look but not touch or speak to prevent my vitals from dropping.

(Apparently, even my body is curmudgeonly.)

My health was touch-and-go; some nights staff considered the possible necessity of removing life support and letting nature take its course.

Numerous tubes drained viscous, unsightly fluids from my chest. A tracheotomy was considered. Gentle hands shaved me; fed me through a tube in my nose; cared for my bottom and did all the other things I wasn’t able to do for myself.

I was given “sedation vacations”, where I was allowed to begin to wake; but reacted terribly and was sent back into deep sedation. I remember none of this.

And then, rather suddenly, I started attempting to breathe on my own, even though I was unable to keep my lungs inflated, continuing the need for the respirator.

And then a few days later, again rather suddenly, the tubes came out, no tracheotomy was needed, and I was allowed to wake up.

I wish I could say that I remember it like waking up from a dream in a movie-screen scene, but mostly it was slowly coming to awareness of my surroundings as the fake weaved around the real.

Not only was there cognitive damage, but the powerful drugs I was given during surgery and while on the respirator caused amnesia and confusion. I still have no clear memories after arriving at the hospital, as well as a few days after I was brought out of sedation and extubated.

I was diagnosed with delirium.

A lot of information was thrown at me; very little would stick.

I was distraught by all that had happened; it had really interrupted the well-ordered flow of my life that I had developed.

I wanted to know why everyone was so worried about me. I wanted to understand what had happened to me. I wanted to know why I hurt so much.

I really, REALLY wanted to go home.

It would be a lot longer before any of that happened.

At least the dangerous part was over.

But annoyingly, the hard part had just begun.

Hello all,

I feel I should apologize. There hasn’t been a new post for awhile, and I honestly don’t know when a new post will be made.

At the beginning of October, I underwent emergency open heart surgery, and I’ve been working on recovery ever since, which takes up most of my time. There was also some cognitive damage done, which prevented me from writing at all at first, although I’ve definitely improved.

I do plan on writing columns again in the future, and when I do, you’ll be the first to know!

Labor Day.

Of all the holidays I pretend to ignore, Labor Day is not one of them. Frequently as an adult, I’ve had to work on holidays, and so a day off is a wonderful thing, let alone a three-day weekend.

(Those themselves were sparse for a number of years as well when I worked on weekends.)

In 1887, Grover Cleveland established the first Monday of September as the official celebration of hardworking everyones everywhere. This was deemed of such great historical importance that a muppet was named after him.

(I made that up. Check their pictures; they don’t really look anything alike: Grover Monster is blue, and Grover Cleveland is black and white.)

I tend to celebrate Labor Day by doing a lot of work that needs done around the house that I put off because of being too busy at work away from the house. So far, I’ve done two loads of laundry, sprayed the yard for weeds, trimmed the things in the yards that aren’t weeds, built a circular little stone wall around something in the yard that might be a weed but I’m hoping is a burgeoning tree, replaced an electrical outlet that the previous owner had cleverly painted over, preventing its use and increasing energy savings; and bought a filing cabinet for five dollars that I need to now find a place for in my office.

Like most people, I’ve been working most of my life. Growing up on a farm required it. I didn’t like farm work, and couldn’t wait to get away from it. Even if it was only for a few hours on weekends at a part-time job.

(Granted, a job was work that needed to be done as well as farm work, but somehow it felt different.)

I landed my first job when I turned 16, working weekends at a radio station. I don’t remember my interview or being hired. All I really remember is that it was my first time being allowed to drive alone, and on the way home I accidentally hit and killed a dog while it was being walked when it jumped out in front of my car.

(The owners said it wasn’t my fault, and that the dog was old, and had never done anything like that before … but I didn’t feel any better.)

Radio work was not nearly as glamorous as I had envisioned, but still had a certain charm, mainly because none of my friends in school worked at a radio station. For a long time, I wasn’t allowed to talk on the air, but eventually I was given the task of reading the obituaries on Sunday morning.

Glamorous, indeed. I was paid minimum wage, which was $3.35 at the time. But I enjoyed it, and I kept that job until I left for college.

After a few years at college, circumstances let to me needing to work again to help pay my way to a diploma. Once again, I found myself working at a radio station. This time, it was the most popular station in the area, and I was working full-time.

Five days a week. Eight hours overnight. Going to school in the day time.

I think both the job and my school work suffered. But I was suffering as well, because the country-western format of the station was really not to my liking, and at night I was only allowed to have one light on, no fans, and could only use headphones, because the owner of the station lived in an apartment above and if it was too loud or bright or breezy he’d stomp on the floor.

I worked there for two years, until I decided I really needed to concentrate on my school work if I wanted to graduate at the end of my six years at the university. I haven’t worked in radio since.

I’ve had many different jobs over the years. My first job after earning my degree was dishwashing at a restaurant. My second  job out of college was dishwashing at a restaurant.

My third job out of college was cooking at a restaurant.

(When you end up with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and photography when you’re not exceptionally good at either of them, like me, there wasn’t any job that I would have turned down.)

I’ve done practically every job there is at a number of different newspapers; I’ve worked in print shops; I’ve worked in hotels doing everything from housekeeping to desk clerk and beyond; I’ve worked doing computer repair; I’ve been a paid actor; I answered phones at a catalog store taking orders; I’ve been a paid songwriter; I’ve even worked as a bouncer at a dive bar.

(In retrospect, that was one of the most amusing jobs I’ve had, mainly because of the number of times I was threatened with bodily harm by a hooker. But those stories are for another time, and probably a different audience.)

I’ve heard the saying that one should work to live, not live to work. But I’m not good at being an idle person, and I think a lot of people feel that their career is actually a big part of who they are – there are reasons we are good at what we do, because we tend to leave jobs that we’re not good at or dislike, and like it or not, the work we do often heavily influences the life we lead and the people we are.

(For instance, some people are good at coming up with silly little sayings (“Work to live”, etc.) that end up superimposed on pictures of mountains and sunsets, printed on posters that hang around other people’s places of employment where they’re generally ignored. Or defaced.)

But no matter how much a person loves the work they do, an extra day away on a weekend is a wonderful thing. Even if that person ends up doing some sort of other work at home.

Somehow, most of this three-day weekend has managed to get away from me. Probably because I like to block yard work from my memory. But there’s still one day left.

I think I’ll celebrate this year by trying not to think about working or work that needs to be done.

I’m hoping to make both Grovers proud.

 

Pigeon.

It’s a word I can’t hear without it reverberating in my head in the voice of a former coworker who apparently believed pigeons were responsible for all the ill in the world, or at the very least all the illness in the office.

“Pigeons,” she’d spit, in a tone some people reserve only for mentions of Hitler. Or liberals.

There’s a pigeon in a nest on the roof of my house.

(I don’t know if it’s a liberal, but it’s certainly not Hitler.)

I don’t think this pigeon is causing any ill. Mostly, I think she just wants to raise a family and bring more pigeons into the world. Granted, she didn’t get off to a great start- it took her two months to build a nest, because for two months all the twigs she put on the roof slid to the ground. Eventually, she got it right, and about two weeks ago there were eggshells on the ground that lead me to believe there may now be chicks in the nest.

Mostly, I just like hearing her coo.

It’s a simple sound. Full of simple happiness. And while it may be enough to drive others to craziness, I am not one of them.

I think the cats can hear her, though. It’s the only reason I can think of for their craziness. Meowing at things that aren’t there. Staring at walls, or the ceiling. Jumping on the toilet a split second before I start to use it, causing a painful sudden failure to void.

Lying on my keyboard when I’m trying to get work done.

I have to blame the pigeons, because the only other option is to believe that cats, in general, are neurotic.

Or that my antiavarian coworker was equally neurotic. Granted, that would explain a few things about her as well, but at least she never surprised me when I was trying to use the bathroom. Thank goodness – because the only thing worse than having the pee scared out of you is to have it scared back in to you.

To me, pigeons are simply one of the least frightening things there are in the world. In small numbers, of course. Practically anything is scary in large enough quantities. Which makes me shudder when I think about large quantities of things that are frightening in small quantities.

It only takes one rat to ruin my day. Actually, half a rat can ruin my day. Because then I don’t know where the other half is, whether it’s inside the cat, or if the cat left it somewhere for me to find.

Or, even more deviously, the cat wants me to think there’s half a rat somewhere to find. The more I don’t find it, the worse it gets, until eventually I’m sitting in the corner cooing to myself like a secretly-psychotic pigeon.

There aren’t many tangible things of which I’m unrealistically afraid. Rodents are one of the few. (Ok, clowns as well, sure – but who isn’t?) It kind of makes me sad for beavers. And capybaras. They’re the cool rodents that shake their heads at the rest of the family giving them all a bad name, and they really don’t deserve the negativity.

Sometimes, intangible fears are the worst, which is why nightmares are so terrible. It’s one thing to dream about being chased by uncountable numbers of rats … it’s another to dream about being chased by uncountable numbers of rats while you’re in your underwear trying to find the room where the math test is being given that you have to pass or else your university will take back the diploma you earned over 20 years ago just because they made a mistake counting up your credit hours, and everyone you know is watching.

(Deadlines are an intangible fear. But deadlines don’t frighten me so much as they startle me – jumping out at me from the dark once I’ve forgotten that they’re there, which is how I find myself furiously typing away at 10 pm on the last day of the month.)

Children are a tangible fear. Especially when they stare up at you, head lowered, gazing at you with their beady little eyes, like they have some sort of secret mental ability to make you feel uncomfortable …

(If I’m dead tomorrow, blame the children and their need for revenge after I exposed their secret.)

It all comes back, improbably, to the cooing.

Rats don’t coo.

Deadlines don’t coo.

Math tests don’t coo, either.

It’s hard to think of anything that coos as being an evil threat …

Oh dear.

I may have just exposed another secret.

If I’m dead tomorrow, my maybe-not-so-neurotic coworker was right.

It wasn’t the children.

It was the pigeons all along.

I’m afraid that I’m cursed.

Well, perhaps ‘tragically flawed’ is a better description. Or even ‘lacking in character’, although that’s more of a stretch.

But I’m not sure what else to call a man who not only has a strong affinity for black clothing, but has an equally strong affinity for pets with yellow hair. This is obvious to anyone who looks closely enough (and it doesn’t require great closeness) at my black clothes.

Because yellow pets shed.

First there was Ike, a yellow labrador who loved nothing more than to be as close to me as possible as frequently as possible, and tended to shed heavily, usually when I was wearing black.

And in a true case of opposites attracting, yellow hair is nigh impossible to entirely remove from clothing.

After Ike died, there was a period of nearly a year where his hair still hung around, a reminder of him that I had mixed feelings about.

(Because there’s unfortunately only one way to find yellow pet hair in your scrambled eggs.)

Then came Akoya.

Akoya is the newest addition to our household – a yellow/orange tabby.

We weren’t planning on adopting a cat when we went to the adoption center at the mall. Really, we only intended to window shop, maybe have a few cuddles, judge a few personalities, etc.

Realistically, we were only kidding ourselves. We were less likely to walk out of there with a cat than we were to walk in with a shopping cart yelling, “Fill ‘er up!”

(We also convinced ourselves that our black cat Jinx was lonely. Honestly though, it’s hard to tell, since his normal emotive state is ‘grouchy’ with a touch of claws.)

First we spent some time with a yellow kitten. That was probably not the best place to start, as any resolve we had melted away at the first tiny little cuddle. After 15 minutes, we sadly handed him back and moved down the line.

I was looking to adopt an older cat anyway, since they frequently are harder to home. We next looked at Goldie, a long-haired yellow and white kitty who obviously loved her food. Picking her up was an exercise in commitment all on its own, as she easily weighed 18 pounds and seemed to flow into the contours of my body. She was also friendly, while still being independent enough to entertain herself when we set her down.

But then, we met Akoya.

I’d spotted Akoya when I looked at the adoption center’s website, and I kept coming back to her profile. There was something about the way she looked in her picture, scared and trying to press herself into a corner, that I just couldn’t put aside. She was hiding under her bed when we first looked in her kennel at the center, and the assistant who helped us had a difficult time coaxing her out.

She immediately took a liking to my roommate, a cat magnet of remarkable skill. She didn’t even mind being in the playroom while Goldie was there. But she was also thin, her bones poking out under her skin, looking like a drop cloth over a xylophone. Her eyes were as wide as they could go, and she was obviously terrified, even when soothed by the powers of Catman.

What really captured and simultaneously broke my heart was when the assistant tried to put her back in her little kennel, and Akoya fought back, locking her legs on the opening and refusing to go. She was also loudly vocal, and what little resistance I had to adopting a new cat disappeared.

Because Akoya needed a home.

My roommate and I went to eat, promising we would return. Over dinner I revealed that the decision I thought we now needed to make was not whether we were adopting a cat, but whether we were adopting one of them, or both.

Not an easy decision to make.

Considering we weren’t really sure how well introducing a new cat to our home was going to go, let alone two cats, we reluctantly agreed to just adopt one. And while Goldie was a fine, lovable kitty … I couldn’t bear to leave Akoya behind.

And so the adoption process proceeded, along with a promise that if Goldie wasn’t adopted in a month, we’d consider her as well.

(Apparently, somewhere deep underneath my crusty exterior, I do have a heart. This is as surprising to me as it is to anyone.)

When we brought Akoya home, she immediately disappeared into the box springs of my bed, where she would remain for the next 24 hours. I had provided her with her own food and water, but afraid she wasn’t eating, I finally dismantled my bed and ‘coaxed’ her out. She sniffed at the food, glanced at the water, and in an orange blur disappeared into my closet. I figured that was a better home than my bed, so her dishes and litter box moved into my closet as well. She was hiding on one of the shelves; I put a cardboard box there for her to sleep in, hidden behind my hanging shirts.

That night, I was surprised to be awakened by a face-full of fur, as Akoya decided the night was the best time to come out and explore.  I also found out, face first, not only does she purr like a locomotive, but she headbutts like one, too.

Over the next few weeks, she slowly became more brave and has been exploring more of the house, still mostly at night. And while she and Jinx have yet to become friends, they’re not enemies either, which I think is a good sign.

(Unexpectedly, it turns out she likes me more than my roommate. That’s a first. It must be the clothes.)

She still lives in the closet, probably because that’s where my clothes are. My black clothes. Which are now my black and yellow clothes.

(It’s definitely the clothes.)

(I should invest in a company that makes lint rollers.)

I can’t say I mind though. To me, pet hair may be the perfect accessory to any outfit.

I’ve already given up on keeping my black comforter cat-hair free, especially since now it looks like I sleep under a bumblebee hide. That’s not going to change, as Akoya has become attached enough to sleep with me through the night. Which is fine; my bed is not lacking for space.

(Judge me how you will.)

She’s put on weight and has started to fill out. Happily, when I checked the adoption website, Goldie was no longer listed, and I hope she’s found a new happy home herself.

Surprisingly, the adoption center has a 30-day return policy. It took me less than 30 hours to know I’d never use it.

All that was needed was one scared little cat with big, wide eyes brave enough to rub up against my stoney skin.

(The purring didn’t hurt, either.)

(The headbutts do a little though.)

It’s good to have pets.

Welcome home, Akoya.

There are so many wonderful, exciting things about moving into a new house!

This is about none of them.

After finally finding the right house, making an offer, having the offer accepted, waiting 30 days while all the proper procedures needed to buy a house were completed, signing enough papers to give me writer’s cramp, and finally receiving the keys, I reached the conclusion that essentially every step in buying a house can be considered “the hard part”.

Moving in has been no different.

The first night in the new house I started noticing all the things that tend to be taken for granted in an established home were missing. Soap. Sheets. Towels. Toilet paper. Preparing to spend the night in a new house is just as complicated as planning a camping trip, except that there’s no tent or fire to worry about, if everything goes well.

The next morning wasn’t much better. Sure, while the house came with a lovely refrigerator, it sadly was not stocked with food. Nor were the cupboards full of dishes on which to eat the non-existent food. Luckily, it turns out that there are some pizza joints that make early morning deliveries.

The plan of the day was to move all the boxes that had patiently waited in a rented storage locker into the new house. Oddly, it seemed that during their year of solitary confinement, the boxes somehow managed to double in number, as well as weight. Which led to a further conundrumistical discovery – when unpacking twice as many boxes as I originally packed, how is it that so many things seem to be missing?

The answer, it appears, lies in simple misdirection. For packed boxes take up space. A lot of space. Unpacking and sorting out a new house is like trying to solve a puzzle while you’re stuck in the box and buried in the pieces. Frequently, boxes need to be shifted around to get them to the proper place to be unpacked, but this involves moving other boxes to other places, and usually there is only one available space at any given time that will hold a single box, turning the entire process into a demented life-sized sliding puzzle.

To my credit, I made a strong effort to label boxes as I packed them, for which I am eternally grateful to past-me for doing. What I’m not so grateful for is the number of boxes that contain miscellaneous items or random stuff, which I helpfully labelled “Miscellaneous Items” and “Random Stuff”.

I’ve lost count of the number of things I found while looking for something else, which I may or may not have eventually found. Then, when trying to find the object I had spotted fifteen minutes ago when I didn’t need it, the new object of my search had completely vanished. It’s hard enough trying to remember which box I spotted it in without now also trying to remember exactly where that box ended up, what boxes I need to move to get to it, and eventually I just gave up trying to find the kitchen spatula, using instead the slotted spoon that turned up during the search to serve a morning breakfast of scrambled pancakes.

(I’ve quickly come to envy my roommate, who has collected far less detritus over his life than have I and managed to move in and unpack in the span of roughly 30 minutes, the time it took to set up his bed and unpack two boxes and a duffle bag.)

(And the cat.)

A lack of furniture seriously has hindered my homemaker activities as well. Unpacking a box of books is pointless when there are no bookshelves upon which to put them. While a I dream of ceiling-high, solid walnut shelves with handsome glass doors, my wallet shrieks in agony at the thought of buying the cheapest pressed wood laminated bookshelves available at the department store. But sacrifices must be made so three were purchased and an area was cleared (outside)  to assemble them.

(Now I know why antiques are so popular- they’ve already been assembled, and have most likely outlived the curses placed upon them by the person assembling them.)

Even in the first grade I had trouble following directions, especially those that were made up solely of black and white illustrations. Furniture assembly directions are nigh-completely nonsensical to me.

A number of hours, curses and minor bodily injuries later (somehow, I managed to open a gash on the top of my foot. While assembling a night stand. While wearing shoes. I don’t know how I did it, either), I had three bookshelves into which none of my books would fit comfortably. I’ve now added “must hold books in the upright position” to the requirements of my dream library furnishings.

(And as you probably expect, I wasn’t able to find the box the antiseptic was packed in. But I did find some cotton balls and a roll of duct tape, so my foot is doing okay.)

Moving, unpacking, assembling and all the other activities involved led me to yet another discovery: a house that was perfectly clean upon opening the door becomes exponentially more dirty with every box carried in and opened. Cleaning one area doesn’t seem to help: the dirt doesn’t disappear, it merely moves to a new area when my back is turned. I’ve gone through two cans of furniture polish just trying to keep my new furnishings clean and shiny.

Now my books keep slipping off the shelves.

Still, I like to think that the harder I work the more I will appreciate my house once all is said and done. Once all the hardest parts are completed, I’m expecting to be living in a rewarding dream come true. Owning a real house is something I never expected to be able to accomplish in my life, but now that I have, all of the pain-in-the-butt occurrences (like finding the cat box in an unexpected place in the middle of the night by stepping in it) are relatively easy to take, because they’re my pain-in-the-butts.

In the end, I know it’s all going to be worthwhile. Because already, whenever I open the door to the house, I know I’m coming home.

I was an inquisitive child.

Why?

Exactly.

This isn’t so unusual, I know. Most children are inquisitive and ask questions to learn, usually followed by the infinite asking of “Why?” I’m sure I asked many why questions myself. I remember one incident of loudly asking why I had lines on my hand which resulted in not being taken back to church for years.

I just wanted to know.

But mostly, my questions were prefixed with, “What if?” I can’t remember any of the exact “what if” questions I asked, although I’m sure they were along the lines of “What if the moon crashed,” or “What if I wore my shirts as pants.”

It got so bad, that eventually I was no longer allowed to ask “what if” questions. Cleverly, (I thought), I began instead to start my sentences with the much-similar “suppose”. “Suppose the dog had kittens?” or “Suppose my belly button came undone?”

My inquisitional nature did not just lead to asking questions of questionable veracity. I also took things apart. Literally. One of my earliest memories is of dragging a kitchen chair over to the old thermostat, taking off the cover, and pulling out any of the gears I found inside. I remember doing this more than once.

Oddly, I have no memory of putting the thermostat back together again.

I also remember wondering if the electric heating elements on the stove were hot when they turned red.

Yes, yes they were. I don’t remember the pain but I do remember the blister on my finger. That investigation also required a chair. I’m sure at some point I started asking, “What if I didn’t use a chair? Suppose I’d still get hurt?”

Probably.

I always asked a lot of questions. But once I had the answer I wanted, I frequently refused to change my mind. In first grade, when I was learning to read, I was convinced that ‘frog’ spelled ‘flamingo’. I don’t even know where that came from, but it led to a number of arguments with my classmates, some of whom were possibly smarter than I. Not that I would have believed that.

Even earlier, when in kindergarten, I not only had trouble pronouncing words such as ‘inner tube’ (inneringtube) or ‘living room’ (liverering room), but I was definitely impeded by words with a “grr” sound, such as ‘grill’ (girl). Pronouncing ‘three’ was also especially difficult for me, no matter how helpful my classmates tried to explain it to me. It always came out as ‘tree’. One friend tried to tell me there was an ‘h’ in there. I smugly replied that if there was an ‘h’ (for I could not yet read) then it would be pronounced ‘thee’. And I was fully convinced I was right, evidence to the existence of the sound of the letter ‘r’ notwithstanding.

Eventually, I must have worked it out on my own, probably convinced I had been right all along. Learning to read was a big factor; I found that many of the questions I had could be answered by reading the right things. Like science fiction. I’m not sure what answers I was searching for, but science became an early love of mine. Once again, I was convinced that I knew all there was to know, and what I didn’t know I could discover through experiments.

I conveniently left out the scientific method, of course. But then, how could I have found out that running with a daisy wind decoration wouldn’t let me fly like a plane, or that magnetism couldn’t be destroyed by applying a mixture made up of all the liquids I could find in the bathroom? Or how much trouble I’d get into when I secretly put the mixture back into the shampoo bottle?

Maybe I should have used a chair from the kitchen.

I did learn some interesting things, even if I didn’t really know what they were until later, like when I covered a record with baby powder and then watched fascinated by the way water drops acted when put on top. Or when I learned that dry baking soda doesn’t make a good shampoo. Or that grapefruit omelets are terrible.

(I never said I learned smart things, just interesting things.)

I even went so far as to draw a picture of myself as a scientist when the class was asked to draw pictures of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I even helpfully labelled mine as ‘scientist’ for whatever foolhardy and unknowledgable classmates I might have at the time in the third grade, especially the ones who did not realize that ‘atmosphere’ was obviously pronounced ‘a-possed-teh-meer”.

Even so, I did learn some valuable things along the way, even if it did take awhile. Things like the importance of listening instead of talking, and of only talking when I am absolutely positively sure I am right. And of making sure before hand. And that observation and carefully reproduced results is more educational than slapping together whatever is at hand (like all the chemicals in my chemistry set) just to see what would happen (especially if I added spray deodorant.)

(Answer: a mess.)

And that telling my sixth-grade science teacher that I already knew everything that was in the book was a bad way to start the new year. (I only knew most of what was in the book, it turned out. Or at least thought I did.)

I wonder about the current new generation, and how having instant answers available online will affect them. Maybe they’ll just find new questions to answer. I’m sure they’ll still find a way to aggravate their parents. Who knows what they’ll grow up to be; it’s impossible to predict.

I didn’t grow up to be a scientist, although I still love science and I can take apart and put together a computer with my eyes closed (maybe even a thermostat, but it’s been years since I touched one of those.) I’m not entirely sure what I grew up to be, or even sure at times that I have grown up. But I’m now more likely to use a kitchen chair to sit and listen than I am to get myself in trouble (Unless I serve raisin bran pancakes or grapefruit omelets.)

But my questions remain. And if it wasn’t for my inquisitive nature, I wouldn’t be who I am and who I continue to be. Because two of the most powerful questions that can be asked are “Why?” and “What if?”. I’ve learned a lot with those two questions I never stop asking.

Because the one question I hope to never ask is, “Suppose I stopped searching for answers?”

Not all answers can be found online, you know.

“Pujols! It’s funny!”

By Timothy H Kepple

April 2014

 

Deep down inside, I’m just an average guy.

 

Because deep down inside, the average guy is just an average 12-year-old boy.

 

So the average guy never stops being amused by the same things the average 12-year-old boy thinks is funny. Like things that come from deep down inside.

 

Which is why fart jokes are so popular. With boys, at least.

 

Granted, there are those who neither find fart jokes funny, nor understand why they are funny. (Mostly girls.) Here’s the secret: fart jokes are funny because farts are funny, hands down.

 

One of the greatest joys a young boy discovers is that his body can make funny sounds, like burps. But farts trump burps because not only do they sound funny, they smell bad, too. And make people go “ewwwwww!”

 

(Mostly girls.)

 

Sadly, it’s difficult for most boys to fart on command. Which is why we learn how to make the sound with our hands and our armpits.

 

Of course, people (mostly girls) tend to think that boys will grow out of the fart-is-funny stage. What actually happens, however, is that boys pretend to grow out of it. Yes, most men are still amused by farting. And even moreso, we’re proud of it.

 

Get a group of men together. Depending on how formal the gathering is, eventually, one of the men will finally feel comfortable enough to break the ice by breaking wind. But it’s not just an expression of the man’s comfort level. No ma’am- it is a challenge. Every group of men needs a leader, an alpha male, the one man all the other men respect and will follow.

 

But each group of men can have different alpha males for different things. The man who can fart the loudest, the stinkiest, the most enthusiastically, is definitely an alpha male.

 

An aggressive display of flatulence not only is a means of showing superiority, it’s also a way of building camaraderie and of having fun. For from where else would come the expression, “Having a rip-roaring good time”? The right gut-buster earns a man respect, awe and the occasional high-five from his peers. It almost always earns a good laugh. While we may not enjoy the smell of another man’s fart, we secretly enjoy our own, feeling an astonishingly high sense of pride when we rip a real paint-peeler. Especially if it out-stinks another man’s.

 

This secret tradition of male dominance does not end at the end, however. For there is the bigger matter, the source of all farts and the daddy of all fart jokes as well:

 

Poop.

 

Heck, ‘poop’ itself is a funny word. It sounds funny in the best sense of onomatopoeia. It feels funny when it’s pronounced, and a person looks funny when they say it. There’s a reason why the silly “poop” is rarely said in anger; that’s when we push forth with its stronger, more powerful synonym, which I’ll just leave here as “s*%$#”.

 

Men are fascinated as well as repulsed by poop. We’ll look at it, but we don’t want to touch it. We don’t want to step in it, but we enjoy making it in large quantities. Large, smelly quantities.

 

(In the appropriate place, of course.)

 

Bathroom time is important to men. It is a time for peaceful reflection on our life; a time for pondering the universe; a time to catch up on our reading; a time where we can let our guard down and hopefully not get caught with our pants around our ankles.

 

And it is a time to make the air smell bad.

 

See, one of the goals of manhood young boys strive for is to make the bathroom smell just as badly as their father could. Achieving this is to cross a manly line just as important as the need to shave.

 

It is a challenge, however. There is frequently a process that is followed, one of nearly ritualistic nature. Each man has his own preferred method of undertaking a porcelain download. Some may squat. Some may sit. Some may tuck and some may hold. Some may grunt and some may groan. We each have our own preferred utilization of the provided paper, whether we count out squares or use it by the crumpled fistfull.

 

The end result is always the same. Men take time in the bathroom. We don’t always have too, but it’s just not natural to rush matters.

 

We are accused by some (mostly girls) of taking too much time. But it’s not just because we like to; but because it’s necessary. Men need to reach a certain zen-like state of relaxation to prepare themselves for the coaxing that is sometimes required before the performance is begun. We often start with a building thunderclap crescendo before delivering the bulk of the performance, the very fiber, so to speak, until ending with an even larger boom in a grand finale. Even T. S. Eliot realized that sometimes, things do end with a bang. Why else would he name his poem ‘The Hollow Men’?

 

Many times, when we think the show is over, we’re even called back for an encore.

 

Using the bathroom is not just about the satisfaction of making a boomer; it’s about making a statement: I am a man, and I was here! Look at that paint peel!

 

Not everyone understands this.

 

(Mostly girls)

 

Mostly … but not all girls. I once had a female boss who found fart and poop jokes just as funny as your average man. In fact, I can easily pinpoint just when it was that I knew I wouldn’t have trouble working with her; the day she told me about baseball player Albert Pujols. She didn’t tell me about how good or bad of a player he is (not that I’d understand that anyway.) No, she told me about his name, and more importantly, how it is pronounced. She said, “It’s pronounced ‘poo holes’! It’s funny!” We got along great from then on, secretly and not so secretly making fart jokes.

 

Poo holes. It is funny.

 

Rip-roaringly funny.

 

Just like April Fools Day.

I’m buying a house.

 

Well, I’m trying to buy a house. Well, we are trying to buy a house, my long-suffering roommate and I.

 

And we’re not having much luck. It’s turning out to be a lot harder than I thought, and in ways I hadn’t even expected.

 

I always expected the difficult part of the path to home ownership would be getting the mortgage loan. I imagined deep investigations into the financial history of my entire adult life, with additional inquiries into the dreaded Permanent Record I’d been threatened with in grade school to see how I spent the birthday money I got on my 12th birthday (I used it to buy a record of science fiction movie soundtracks, which I still have, so I think I’m safe.)

 

Turns out, getting a mortgage is not too difficult of a process, especially with a good credit score. I spent about 15 minutes filling out a form online and was surprised to hear back the very next day that we had been pre-approved for a mortgage loan. It happened so fast that I was suspicious. Very suspicious.

 

But a second application at a different lender went nearly as quickly, and nearly as quickly informed us of the same results. It was about then that I figured it was safe to stop trying to find my tax record from 1996.

 

But then, the hard part started.

 

Considering how many houses are purportedly up for sale, and how many houses have been foreclosed on by banks in recent years, I always thought finding a house would be the easy part of the entire process, essentially coming down to spinning in a circle with my eyes closed and one arm outstretched, then picking the house I was pointing at when I stopped, like a game of American Dream Spin-the-Bottle.

 

I could not have been more wrong.

 

Finding a house for sale is easy; there are definitely many on the market. Finding the right house, however …

 

We’ve looked at many, many houses. Nearly 60 now. We’ve eliminated houses just from pictures. We’ve found houses that we knew were not right for us as soon as we turned on to the street of the house. Some we didn’t even need to go into. Many of the houses we looked at were almost right, except for a few things that couldn’t be changed by a new coat of paint or new carpeting.

 

Such as the house with the washer and dryer hook-ups in the kitchen. Or the laundry room that I think must have been built into a closet, because the dryer and washer were on opposite ends and the only way to move clothes between the two of them was to back out into the living room and turn around.

 

Some houses had a living room that had to have been designed by a contortionist. That’s really the only explanation for the various wall angles that broke the laws of Euclidean space without even leaving a spot to put the TV where it could be easily viewed from the couch hanging from the wall in an Escher-like living environment.

 

I’m obviously exaggerating, but it’s only to make my point of how bizarre some of these houses are. One house listed as having a fourth bedroom that we were unable to find until we closed the open front door and found the missing room behind there.

 

Some houses have been older, but nicely kept. Some houses have been newer and obviously were used to house livestock. Some houses housed people who apparently thought they were livestock, as made evident by the shudder-inducing stains left behind on the stain-resistant carpet.

 

We’ve looked at houses that were absolutely perfect, but the lot was too small, or had a fence that was too short, or not the right material, or didn’t block the view of the less-than-desirable neighborhood that surrounds it. Conversely, we’ve seen a lot of perfect lots with the right fence and the right (or no) neighbors and a view that doesn’t include the backside of a three story apartment complex, but the house was not right, leading me to wish that houses and lots could simply be mixed and matched, a thought with which I’m sure many previous house hunters can empathize.

 

We’ve looked at tiny houses with big price tags and large houses with smaller price tags. Usually because they have termites. Or missing appliances and the occasional wall. Or were used to house feral children lost at birth and raised in the wild by wolf packs before being rediscovered and reintegrated into society via the process of moving into progressively nicer houses as they learned that it’s not okay to urinate in the corner even if they are picking and eating the termites out of the walls.

 

We’ve reached the point that our first question about a house with a low price listing is, “Wonder what’s wrong with it?”

 

Sometimes, the worst are the houses that matched all our requirements that we discarded simply because I couldn’t picture us living there for the next year, let alone 10 or 15. Afraid that we were being too picky, I even asked our realtor if we are terrible clients. She assured us that, as long as we don’t break her record of 129 houses shown to one buyer, we are not.

 

Searching for a house is frustrating, time consuming, and on occasion discouraging. Out of all the houses we’ve seen, there have actually been three that we liked well enough to put in an offer. Each time, we’ve been told there were other offers made as well. Each time, we’ve increased our offer to the maximum we thought we could do, trying to follow my rule of “Make an offer that looks strong without making us look stupid.”

 

Each time, we’ve lost the house. It’s like every rejection ever received when asking someone out happening all at once.

 

Regardless, I have hope. Given that we’ve found three houses that we liked, basic extrapolation dictates that there will come along more houses that we like as well. It just takes patience. I’d much rather wait to find the right house than settle for a home that is almost right as long as I overlook the need to carry my laundry backwards across upside-down stairs.

 

Buying a house is a definite learning experience, even when not brushing up on the feng shui of non-Euclidean geometry. Aside from the fundamentals, I’ve learned a lot about myself as well, especially about the sort of things I like (turns out I really like cathedral ceilings) and dislike (Such as concrete lawns. What kind of person does this?), as well as where I can be flexible (whether the front door is on the front or side of the house) and where I cannot (whether the front door has been broken down or not).

 

This house is going to be my shell; my curmudgeon-cave where I can shut out the world at large and grumble without repercussions. I need to have a room I can finally set up an office dedicated to writing; I’ve always considered myself a half-assed writer, and I want to give myself the opportunity to become a complete ass. It doesn’t matter if I end up living there for one year or 30, I want and need it to be the right space for us. I don’t want to buy a house; we need to buy a home.

 

It’s out there somewhere. We just need to find it.

 

Maybe we’ll hire a feral wolf-child to sniff it out for us.

 

Or not. I prefer my territory unmarked and my carpet stain-free.