A Stone Heart – Prologue

STONE

As we earnestly begin the task of pursuing publishers of the novel I have written, A Stone Heart, I’ve decided to periodically share excepts from the book. Besides, it’s also a cheap and lazy way to submit posts when the idea well is somewhat barren, like it is now. This is the story’s Prologue.

The trouble started when he increased the treadmill’s speed past the warm-up stage. His right leg mysteriously stopped working. It couldn’t maintain the normal left-right, left-right rhythm one normally takes for granted, unexpectedly became dead weight, and couldn’t function independently. Unable to lift or control the limb, his foot, lower leg and ankle all had the strength of overcooked spaghetti.

This was the first time in years Stone Summers had used his treadmill, and until that moment, he had felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.

In what felt like a previous life, Stone exercised regularly, but the accident had robbed him of the desire to care about anything. This apathy faded with the passage of time however, and he eventually emerged from the emotional quicksand, ate more regularly, resumed a healthy diet, and took occasional walks. The notion of working out periodically resurfaced, and eventually became a goal.

Every Sunday, Stone vowed this would be the week he’d hit the gym, but the subsequent days provided a reason to put it off, and he’d half-heartedly scold himself for procrastinating. A creature of habit, Stone knew from experience that committing to something was always his Achilles’ heel. Once the plunge was taken, however, it became part of his DNA and he was all in.

A few minutes earlier, Stone had seized upon the thought and marched down the cellar stairs. He was ten minutes into his workout, and with each passing minute he became more content, confident and invigorated. As he began to perspire, he felt as if he was finally purging the personal demons he had painstakingly nurtured since that fateful day, when his life had been turned inside-out.

Now, Stone couldn’t keep pace with the machine. The weakness became worse with each step and, without warning, he lost his balance. Clumsily tumbling off the treadmill, he landed awkwardly on the side of his foot, and unceremoniously flopped onto a nearby sofa that fortuitously provided a soft landing. The rhythm of an escalating heartbeat pounded in his chest and thumped in his temples as he propped himself into a sitting position, alarmed and confused.

“What the hell?” he muttered aloud. Pondering his predicament, the only audible sound in the room was his breathing, the treadmill, which was still running, and the tick, tick, tick of a wall clock. He calmed himself and, after a few moments, flexed the uncooperative leg without any impediment. He curled his toes and moved the foot in a circular motion, testing the ankle, then rose from the couch, stood upright, turned off the machine, and strode purposely back and forth across the room before running in place, lifting his knees high off the ground like a sprinter warming up for an event. Everything worked, and the leg that a few moments earlier felt like a lifeless piece of meat had complete sensation, strength and range of motion.

“It only lasted a few minutes,” he rationalized, but Stone instinctively knew that whatever had just occurred, it wasn’t good. Climbing the stairs back to the main floor of his house without incident, Stone walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed a Sam Adams Lite, before settling onto the leather rocker-recliner, where he scratched his head, sighed, and wondered what he should do.

“You’re going to pretend it never happened, aren’t you?” he heard Stella’s voice say. “Don’t ignore this, Stone. Please be smart about this.”

“Oh, Stella,” he wistfully answered to the empty room. “I wish you were here. I need you more than ever.”

Poetry or Prose?

Prose or Poetry

Prose or Poetry

Which to choose?

A comfortable shoe

Soft and worn

Or an alluring mistress

Fraught with peril

 

The prose terrain is safe

Predictable

Instinctive

But so plowed and harrowed

The soil has degraded

Infertile from overuse

 

The poetry pasture is robust

Fertile

Alien

Virgin territory

Bursting with potential

Yearning to be sown

 

I’m a stranger to this land

Left abandoned

By the fear of failure

A bitter taste

But the prose well is dry

And a deadline beckons

 

Enchanted yet wary

With racing pulse

I delicately wade

Into the poetry pool

And fervently hope

I don’t drown

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Checks The Body Can’t Cash

scream

A couple of weeks ago, pain invaded my world, but MS was not the culprit. No, this was purely self-inflicted. I apparently have a short memory because every time this occurs, I swear to everything I hold dear it will be the last time. But there is always a next time, and this one was a doozy.

I’ve known for a while that any kind of stoop labor will, within twenty four hours, result in my lower back becoming sore and stiff. The discomfort isn’t too bad when I sit, but when I stand or walk, it radiates from my back and shoots down the front of my bad leg, which makes walking exponentially more difficult.

These episodes often can’t be avoided during the winter when snow removal is required, and the truth is that the fallout has generally been something I can tolerate and manage fairly well. But there is one spring and summer chore that I should avoid like the plague because it sets me back more than snow removal ever has, and I once again failed to take this into account two weekends ago when I instructed Shodan to weed the slope around the pool in our back yard.

As we walked together to inspect what needed to be done, I was aghast at how overgrown the area had become. Clumps of weeds that extended two feet into the air had bloomed between the plantings we set many years ago when we needed something to hold the earthen platform our pool sat upon. There were also sections of low, creeping kudzoo-type growth that stretched along the ground and were beginning to strangle some of the bushes. In retrospect, I wish I took a picture to show you how ugly and overgrown it had become.

It was obvious that this was going to be a very long and tedious job, and it was hot an humid to boot. I can say I took pity on Shodan and decided to lend a hand so he didn’t have to spend hours getting it done, but that is only partially true. The other truths are: 1) I am a little bit of a control freak, and the overgrowth was so vast and widespread that I wanted to make sure the job was done thoroughly, and 2) I steadfastly refuse to give into the disability and keep doing shit I know I’m going to regret later.

It took about 90 minutes for both of us to complete the task, and it was hot, nasty work. Balance is always an issue with me, and since the work that needed to be done was on a hill, I was hunched over at the waist and hips most of the time instead of crawling around on my hands and knees, which would have been the smart thing to do. Our arms, hands and legs were caked in dirt when we were done.

My back also felt like an alligator was gnawing on it, my legs were weak from having to support all my weight as the job was getting done, I could barely lift my foot, and I was totally sapped of energy. Shodan had to stop once or twice during the job to put his head between his knees to ward off some dizziness because of the heat and humidity, and because he was proceeding at his typical 150 mph and did not hydrate.

So we hosed off the dirt, jumped into the pool, and cooled down. I trudged back into the house, found my way to the recliner, grabbed a beer, turned on the Red Sox game, and waited for rigor mortis to set in. Oddly enough, that didn’t happen.

It didn’t happen the next day either, when I rose from bed and expected my back to feel like it was replaced by a electrified, inflexible steel rod. I had taken Monday and Tuesday off so K and I could go to various places looking at stuff for the new house, and spent the better part of the next two days sitting in the car. I was no worse on Monday evening, and still limber Tuesday morning, but that quickly changed after another day in the car. By afternoon, the stiffness came, and I could barely move.

But something was different this time. The discomfort wasn’t localized in the lower back region, where it normally torments me. This time it settled more into my right hip, which was infinitely worse. The pain radiated not only down the front of my bad leg every time I moved it but also down my ass and the back of the same leg. It hurt every time I put weight on my foot, and for the first time, I not only needed the cane to walk but to literally keep me upright.

For the next three days, the only time I felt comfortable was when I was laying down. I’d feel halfway decent getting out of bed in the morning, but that would change after sitting in the car during the drive to work and sitting in an office chair for most of the day. I walked around like an inchworm with each painful step.

Historically, it normally takes a couple of days after the stiffness sets in before I begin to get loose and the pain starts to subside. This time around, I was still walking like an inchworm five days later.  Every time I rose from a sitting position and put weight on the bad leg, I’d see stars.

It took six days before I could walk freely, but not without some discomfort, and an additional three days before I was loose and pain free. Nine freaking days of misery!

You’d figure that by now I’d know better than to allow my mind to write checks my body can no longer cash.  You would also think that after this episode, I have learned my lesson, and finally acknowledge that there are certain things I simply shouldn’t do. I’d like to believe it myself, but I wouldn’t bet on it. You see, I have turned into my father.

This was a man who was active well into his eighties. It was only once he reached his nineties that the chinks in his body armor began to appear, and he became unsteady on his feet. Having said that, he would still climb on a ladder with nobody around to assist or watch in the dead of winter to clear ice dams from the gutters, which drove my Mom nuts. She became so frustrated at him for doing these kinds of things that she sternly chastised him on more than one occasion, declaring in her typically blunt way that if he ever fell and broke his hip, she would let him lay there and let fate settle things. He’d respond by saying that at least that way he would never have to worry about dying in a nursing home.

So even though I understand there are tasks I should simply defer to Shodan from now on, I also know it won’t happen unless or until I lose all my strength or mobility.

After all, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

Web Site Launch

web site construction

Back in March, I lamented about the process of trying to get published.  One of the unexpected tasks on a checklist of odious chores I needed to complete to get the process going in earnest was to create my own web site. Keep in mind that I am technically illiterate and didn’t have a clue about web site construction.

Well, I am happy to announce that finally, more than three months after beginning the construction process, and with a lot of help from Josh Lavallee of Mod MDCL, the web site is completed and ready for prime time.

Please take a few minutes to visit the site: stevemarkesich.com and let me know what you think. I would be interested in knowing what you don’t like or what is cumbersome than your unadulterated praise, although that’s welcome too.

I’d also like to thank Grace and Susan for generously donating their time to read the novel and offer their thoughts, which you can find on the site. I won’t tell you however where on the site you can find their reviews. I’d rather have you work to locate them, which means you will have had to look at all the tabs and do some navigation. I hope to add a few more in the ensuing weeks from some faithful followers.

Now that the site is built, query letters to prospective publishers are supposed to go out next month. Wish me luck!

 

The Next Big Project

BW6

Last summer, I mused about needing a new house. At the time, the sentiment was real, and the motivation was there, but the desire was more wish than reality. Our list of requirements was long, you see. We wanted to either build something new, or completely gut a run down house in a good location. We also wanted to remain in our current town, have access to city water and sewer, and to own a relatively flat piece of property, but finding any land that checked off all the boxes AND not cost an insane amount of coin turned out to be like trying to eat soup with a fork.

K had doggedly turned over over every rock, and called anyone she could think of who might know somebody or something, but every promising turn resulted in a dead end. It was getting to the point where we began to wonder if we needed to revisit our requirements because at the rate we were going, there was no possible way we would move in 2019, which was the goal.

While this hand-wringing was going on, a new option presented itself almost by accident. We discovered an opportunity that was not yet public knowledge, and K ran with it. Lo and behold, after several months of back and forth, we reached and signed an agreement and forked over a deposit, which was necessary because the owner’s development plan for the property and not yet been submitted to or approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning committee. We had confidence it would, but timing was important because our desire is to break ground before winter, and move during the spring or early summer.

The town approved the plan on August 2nd, and we are currently in the waiting period where the requested changes P&Z made have to be submitted. The period in question also allows anyone who wishes to dispute the committee’s decision to file a complaint and gum up the process. Assuming the changes are made and nobody raises a fuss, we should formally close and own the property by the end of the month.

Now the fun begins really begins. We’ve been working with an architect for almost a month to create a plan that pleases K’s aesthetics in addition to being ADA compliant. We’ve also been looking at things like windows, doors, flooring and material of that nature so we can begin pricing this out.  We’ve had preliminary discussions with our bank to discuss financing options that are going to be predicated on whether we are going to serve as the general contractors for this project or hire a builder to oversee everything, which is another decision that needs to be made soon.

Actually, there is no “we” as far as being our own contractor is concerned. K will serve in that capacity. We’re familiar with the drill because we assumed that responsibility with house number one after we fired our general contractor before it was completely under roof, and hired all the subcontractors after that. Her father, a retired carpenter who knew how to build  a house in its entirety once a foundation was poured, was alive at the time and served as the on-site general foreman.

House number two was done by a local contractor, who built a decent house, but there were issues along the way. K has always been ahead of the curve in terms of healthy house construction. Much of what contractors thought was crazy twenty years ago is code these days. This wasn’t much of an issue with house number one because we subbed out most of it and paid the subcontractors ourselves, but it was on the second house. The contractor’s primary interest for that job was to get the thing up quickly with little deviation from his normal process, and he was therefore reluctant try anything new or different. Still, with K riding his butt, sticking firm to what she wanted, and making sure everything the subs needed was on-site so they didn’t wander off to another job, we moved into the place less than six months after ground was broken.

K has been and will continue to be the driving force behind this project. Of course, she will want to pull out her hair during the construction process, and repeatedly lament what possessed her to take this on, but the truth is she loves this stuff. The other truth is we can save a lot of money by doing this ourselves.  In retrospect, she and her Mom missed their calling. They have the eye and talent as far as house design and layout are concerned, and her Dad had the skills to make their visions a reality. They could have created one hell of a successful business flipping houses long before it became the rage, and maybe I’d be comfortably retired by now.

So, assuming there are no blips within the next two weeks, the thought of a new homestead has transformed from a conceptual idea to something very real over a relatively short period of time, and some anxiety comes with it.

Why? Well, it didn’t take long for sticker shock to set in. Building materials and costs have increased dramatically since 2000, the last time we did this. We know what we want this project to look like when we are finished. The great unknown right now is whether the cost is going to force us lower our expectations. I hope not.

We also know nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to building a house, so there will be many stressful and aggravating moments along the way, especially if this drags well into next summer. Managing stress is going to become paramount, especially for me since I know it exacerbates my symptoms. I may not be on the front lines while this is going on, but if K gest stressed, I get stressed.

It is going to be quite the challenge for her to pull this off, maintain her writing schedule, and keep up with the current house. I will do as much as I can, but we’ve long established the fact that my physical limitations prevent me from picking up my fair share of the slack. But I will try to approach things methodically as this develops, and address one item at a time. It is easier not to become overwhelmed that way.

I’ll post periodic updates as this process unfolds, and share more of the specifics of what our plans entail. Meanwhile, I have to dust off the calculator, figure out how to pay for the damn thing without mortgaging our future, and hope/pray that Mr. MS doesn’t decide to up the ante and create a host of debilitating problems before the job is done. What a shit-storm that would be.

 

 

 

Our Era of Intolerance

intolerance

I follow some of the social networking groups for people with MS, and a lot of what I read is sad, but not in the way you might think. Yes, it’s hard to read the about the plight of others who deal with physical pain, but it’s reading about those with emotional pain and scars that is especially rough.

I’m referring to the torment men and women feel about not being the kind of spouse or parent they think they should be. Then there are the single people who are alone and lonely, lamenting the bleak prospect that their disability might make them a social pariah for eternity. I’m also talking about people who lose the ability to sustain a job because their physical limitations prevent it, or their employers put so much pressure on them regarding unscheduled absences and lack of dependability that it isn’t worth the relentless emotional strain.

What I find incredibly sad, however, is reading posts from people whose friends and family question their integrity by suggesting or implying that they aren’t really sick, and that their symptoms are psychological.

Is this kind of callousness the exception or the rule? I’d like to think it is the former, but am afraid it is becoming or has become the latter.

For some of us, our disability is obvious. All you have to do is see the way we walk, or how we navigate our walkers or wheelchairs to recognize we are dealing with something that prevents us from being whole. Your senses provide proof that something is wrong, which makes our condition understandable and acceptable.

But for many, the symptoms are less obvious. You can’t see pain. You can’t see crushing fatigue. You can’t see cognitive fog. You can’t see depression or the general malaise that can emerge from constantly fighting a losing battle. These are not tangible things, so it’s easy and convenient for able-bodied people to be derisive and dismissive.

While I think it’s bullshit, I understand how people who are unrelated and unconnected to us can make those kinds of judgements. After all, we live in an intolerant age, at least in this country, where the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue practices and promotes this kind of thinking. What I can never understand or accept is how family and supposed friends can be so unsupportive and cruel.

Perhaps these attitudes have always existed, and I was blind to them until MS opened my eyes to the plight of others. After all, people who have been living with mental illness or who are not neuro-typical have been dealing with this kind of prejudice for ages.

Still, why is it so hard for people to accept what their eyes can’t see? What makes individuals so dismissive about anyone who is less than whole, who may be odd or quirky, or who simply beats to their own drum? Why is someone who struggles with a physical or mental/emotional illness considered flawed, damaged, and therefore less of a person. Don’t we all deserve a little respect?

Is it insecurity? Do individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened by what they don’t understand? Or do people have the need to prop themselves up by tearing others down?

It’s sad to think that people are more supportive if you are stricken with something like cancer than dealing with a condition that isn’t as obvious, as easily understood, or curable. I hope I’m wrong about this, and am allowing the grim scenarios some of these posts describe to color my judgement about the world we live in. That would be ironic, because I don’t watch news programming of any kind for that very reason. The news is so negative, and paints such a bleak picture of society today, how could anyone who constantly exposes themselves to that message not be pessimistic about the future?

Maybe I should take a respite from these sites.

I was a child during the turbulent 1960’s, so I didn’t understand or feel the civil unrest that existed during that decade. After watching a recent documentary on the year of 1968, I concluded that I would have thought society was coming apart at the seams had I been an adult back then. I also would have feared for my child’s future.

I don’t think we have bottomed out to that degree yet, but it does feel like we are experiencing a renaissance of the 1960’s and heading in that direction. Our current level of social discord permeates everything, and perhaps feeds the point of views that allow people to conclude that our symptoms are all in our head, and all we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves, suck it up, and get with the program. Kindness and empathy still exist, perhaps more than we think, but it is drowned out by all the other noise, and seems harder to find.

Whatever it is that is driving this mean-spiritedness, I hope it dissolves in the not so distant furture, and we all emerge relatively unscathed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell The Scale to Shut Up

Scale

My weight didn’t vary a lot in my thirties and forties. There was a brief period of time around the turn of the century when I was consulting, which meant I lived on the road and ate out and drank more than usual, where I puffed up like a blowfish. When that gig ended and I got a job in Connecticut, I got on the scale and was aghast that I was thirty pounds heavier and exceeded two hundred pounds for the first time in my life. Around that same time, K asked how I would feel about going on a diet together, which was fortuitous timing. I lost seven pounds the first week (she lost 2 and hated me), and within three months I lost all the weight I had gained, and then some.

Since then, I have been able to maintain that weight for the most part. There might have been an occasion where my work clothes felt snugger than I liked, but I would fetch my diet crutch (WW) and get back to where I wanted to be in a reasonably short period of time.

My battle of the bulge took a different turn when MS dug it’s hooks into me. During the summer and warm weather months, I could still work in the yard and generally not sit around as much, which meant I was more active and ate less. Winter was a different story, where other than snow removal, I would come home from work, get into my sweats, plop myself in from of the television, and snack. Thus began the viscous cycle of gaining ten to fifteen pounds of winter fat, and losing most of it between April and October. Keep in mind I said most of it, which means that each year I was a little heavier than the year before.

This past winter was no different, and by the time April rolled around, buttoning my slacks and the collar of my shirts became a struggle, so back onto WW I went. The only problem is once I shed about half the amount I wanted, my clothes became comfortable again. I lost my mojo, decided that counting points and weighing food was more of a pain in the ass than it was worth, and started to wing it, which never works.

So I am currently in no-man’s land. I have not reached my weight goal, but am not invested in the process of getting there. Meanwhile the scale has become my enemy.

While K would argue this point, it isn’t that I eat badly. Other than coffee, I don’t eat breakfast, and lunch usually consists of a large Tupperware container of cut up vegetables, sunflower seeds and cheese, followed by a piece of fruit. I also don’t pig out at dinner. My problem is I like to snack at night. So it is not necessarily what I eat, but when.

Part of this struggle I’m sure is age. As the stench of 60 gets closer, my metabolism is slower, and my energy isn’t what it used to be. It’s getting to the point where since it is so hard to shed the weight and so easy to put it back on, part of me that thinks, why bother anymore? I’ve reached a stage of my life where I shouldn’t have to worry about this kind of stuff. It’s not like I have to get leaner because I’m on the prowl to find a partner in life, or want to get naked with some chickie to get my rocks off. So what if I’m a little heavier. I wear it well. All I have to do is buy some new clothes and not get huge.

If it were only that simple. First of all, I’m self conscious about the way I look, and am harsh on myself in that regard. If you saw me I am sure you would ask what the big deal was, and tell me I’m being too hard on myself. And you would be correct. The problem is I think I should have the body I had in my thirties and forties. Hey, I never said I was rationale.

Secondly, I have a hard enough time dragging this carcass around, with the MS. Having to carry excess weight makes it that much harder, so it behooves me to find a happy medium. As sedentary as I have become, I know that eating well, and maintaining a healthy weight is important for my overall health, MS not withstanding. The problem is that what medical professionals consider a healthy weight for someone my age and height is simply not going to happen.

Lastly, I am cheap when it comes to spending money on myself. The idea of buying new clothes because I don’t have the discipline to lose weight and consistently maintain it so I don’t feel like I am putting ten pounds of sugar into a five pound bag pisses me off.

So, I’m not going to say fuck it and let the weight chips fall where they may. I will try to be a good boy at night and eat healthy snacks. Perhaps I need to listen to what K has long been preaching, which is to eat more during the day so I am not as ravenous at night. I’ll also stick to water and seltzer for weeknight beverages.

I can be a real stubborn guy when I set my mind of something, so I’ll try to keep my weight within a range I can live with. I know there will be rough patches where that is easier said than done, but if those will become fewer and fewer if I follow this plan.

Meanwhile, I will continue to scream at the scale when I don’t.