Emerging From Exile

Spring has always been my favorite season. After the long, cold dreariness of three months of winter that feels like six, it is invigorating to see green again. Sun and warmth slowly awaken as the days get longer, grass grows, and the flowers and trees begin to bloom. The air feels and smells different, and everything seems bright and new. It’s as if everything is reborn, and with that comes a sense of optimism and a feeling that the slate is wiped clean and anything is possible.

The difference between this year and years past is that it feels as if the winter we have emerged from has lasted fourteen months, and in many ways it has. Although we got to enjoy spring and summer last year, the pandemic was still surging and we, like many others, chose to exile ourselves in our homes, and communicate with family and loved ones remotely. Human contact was mininal, and as the months dragged on, we became entrenched in our routines, stayed ensconsed in the comfortable cells of our homes, and watched the world seemingly implode. Our worlds shrunk, and it was hard to be stuck with the same people day in and day out for over 426 days (I counted them) without being resentful and irratable. Anyone who says their mood didn’t change one bit during all of this is either lying or delusional.

For me, the last three months have been especially long, primarily because we could finally see a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train, but were still on the endless treadmill of keeping ourselves safe, which meant continued isolation while waiting for the vaccines to arrive. I found the process tedious, frustrating, and it sapped all of my creative juices. I couldn’t think of anything to blog about without it sounding whiny or like a broken record. I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time I had hoped to on novel number two, and have generally been unable to enjoy anything. I’ve been existing, not living, as if on automatic pilot. The daily routine always revolved around a combination of the following: Get up, work, eat, take care of the house, go out occasionally for essentials, try not to get into an argument, try to find someting new and interesting on television, sleep. It was like Groundhog’s Day on steroids.

But things have changed. We’re all vaccinated now, and within ten days all of us will have passed the two week threshold. We can get back to a sense of normalcy that has been lost, and an emotion that has long been absent is returning with a vengance: hope.

How symbolic is that this has occurred during a season that symbolizes rebirth? As I have ventured out more these last couple of weeks, I am noticing little things that I have long taken for granted, like the sight of a robin, flowers blooming, or the bright green color of the new leaves as they begin to sprout from their limbs. I notice the fresh crispness in the air, and the smell of ozone after a thunderstorm or heavy rain. It is as if I was blind to all these things, but being deprived of them for so long has allowed me to experience them as if it were the first time.

My hope is to not waste the lessons learned from this nightmare we are awakening from. Namely, make time for family and friends because they are important. Enjoy the outdoors and the wonder and beauty that Mother Nature has to offer, and do whatever you can to help sustain and protect it. Be kind to one another and not let differences of opinion become open warfare.

That last one may be wishful thinking, at least in the short term. I wish the lesson everyone could take out of this is to stop being so fucking selfish and end the dissension and polarization that has become so entrenched in our politics how we interact with one another. After all the hardship and death that has dominated life for what feels like forever, doesn’t it make sense to move past our greivances and try to find common ground? Hopefully we will get there over time, but that is a different subject for a different day.

For now, I want to bathe in a renewed sense of optimism and freedom. Even thought the experience was awful and has left scars, I want to celebrate the fact that the worst is over, and and everyone I love is still here. The new normal will be different, but the fact that we are actually visiting friends in person tomorrow for the first time in fourteen months is liberating. No masks required is the cherry on top.

It couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Who knows, if things continue to proecced in this direction, I might actually enjoy next winter for a change.

Goodbye, Old Friend

Back view of couple waving hands to the sky

 

The day I thought would never get here has come and gone. The house is sold.

I have posted 156 pieces on this blog since its inception in 2017, and housing is the subject I’ve written about the most. Starting with this one in November of 2017, I’ve written about the old place and the new place in some fashion twelve times in two years, with the latest one coming last November. I hadn’t written about it since because I was frustrated and disgusted with the process, and very concerned about our financial future.

To re-cap, we planned on selling the house last year, and reap the benefits of the energy efficiency built into the place through tax credits we’d receive this year, but it didn’t turn out that way. The new house took longer to build and we moved in October, which is not a great time to sell,  instead of August. For a variety of reasons, the place didn’t sell, winter came, and we took it off the market. Thus started our winter of discontent.

We dropped the price and placed it back on the market in late February. We were getting interest and had reason for optimism, then the virus hit and things came to a screeching halt for a little more than a month. When the surge in Connecticut came and went, we had a flurry of activity before traffic stopped dead. Starter homes were selling great, but not so much houses in our price range.

June was arriving, the weather was great, the house and yard looked great, we were entering the peak selling period, and nothing was happening. No visits, no showings, nothing. We were already nine months into owning and paying for two houses, were hemorrhaging cash, had no prospects and needed to sell the place before summer’s end because we could only sustain this for so long before we’d be broke. The outlook was bleak and so was our mood.

I learned to despise HGTV, because I believe it spoiled people and created unrealistic expectations about what a house should be. Our place was well maintained and in great shape after almost twenty years of existence. It was energy efficient, and move-in ready. But some of the feedback we received from pervious showings indicated some folks didn’t like things we thought were very nitpicky and could easily be taken care of once they moved in.  But they either weren’t interested or too lazy to do it themselves..

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we took the house off the market again and we changed real estate agents. Our new agent was passionate and enthusiastic about her work, loved the house, believed in it, and her upbeat personality was infectious. What we had been doing obviously wasn’t working, so at her suggestion we agreed to put some money into the place and repaint the downstairs and change the flooring upstairs.

I have to admit, even though I hated spending more money on the place, the changes were stunning! It made a world of difference visually, and made the entire downstairs look much larger. I was wildly optimistic that we would finally find a buyer, but the day before the house actually went back on the market, the old fears started creeping in again. What if we spent all this time, effort and money and nothing changed? What would we do then? I was scared shitless, quite frankly.

Well, the first showing was booked the same day it went on the market, and four more were confirmed within the next 48 hours. We had five showings in three days, and accepted an offer a few days later.

To make a long story short, because nothing ever comes easy for us as far as real estate is concerned,  we didn’t get what we hoped for, and had to spend a little more cash to mitigate something that came up during the inspection that came as a complete surprise, but our long ordeal is finally over. The day I feared would never come has arrived. Halle Fucking Lujah!

But, and you can’t make this shit up, our real estate luck made the last several days nerve wracking, as Tropical Storm Isaias hit Connecticut.

As the storm made its way up the coast earlier in the week, K and I joked that with our luck, something would happen to the old place. Keep in mind that the closing was scheduled for Friday, and the storm was scheduled to arrive on Tuesday. The storm actually tracked a lot further to the west than expected, so it did not last nearly as long as anticipated, but it packed a wallop. Trees and wires were down all over the state and our town was no exception. We thought we came out of it unscathed until our neighbor from the old place called to let us know that a tree was resting on the garage roof on the house we were scheduled to sell in three days.

Fortunately, the secondary branches that extended from the tree hit the ground first and cushioned the blow. There was no structural damage to the roof or building, so “all” we had to do was find a professional who could get rid of it in thirty six hours. That fortunately happened, as the tree was taken off the roof on Wednesday night and completely removed the following morning. We were thrilled it all came together, but we had to dump another $1,000 for the privilege.

The closing went as scheduled without a hitch, and occurred yesterday. The windfall we expected to bank from all the tax incentives we earned making the place as energy efficient possible went towards paying the expenses on the old place. We didn’t net anything close to what we hoped, but can live with it. With all the uncertainty going on with the virus, our economy in a freefall and the political and social unrest in this country, we are thrilled that the financial bleeding has stopped.

We are also thrilled that a nice young couple with young children, who fell in love with the place and who I believe will love it as much as we did, are the new owners.

It is a very happy day indeed, but also bittersweet, which caught me off guard because I have been yearning for this day to come for what feels like forever. In retrospect though, it shouldn’t be surprising. We lived there for twenty years. Nidan grew up in that house, arriving as a two year old toddler and left as a twenty two year old young man. There were good times, bad times, happy times and sad times. We grew together as a family, and K and I spent most of our middle age there.

The house we are in now can finally start feeling like a real “home.” We can enjoy it without worrying about something else. Hopefully will enjoy a long period of peace and harmony as we ride out our golden years in our brand new abode. Being able to start saving again will be a novel and welcome experience too.

I wrote about the new place as it was being built, and shared pictures of the outside, but held off posting pictures of the inside until this day came. So now that it is here, let me reintroduce you to the new place.

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Perception vs. Reality

reality

“I wonder what people think when they see me.”

That was a common refrain of mine once the symptoms became entrenched and my mobility became compromised. I was never one who liked to stand out in a crowd, preferring instead to blend into the background. MS made that impossible. My inability to walk in a straight line, my tendency to thrash my arms about to maintain balance before the cane became a constant companion, and the frequency in which I would stub my toe and stumble forward because I refused to slow down, made it feel like the  white hot spotlight shone on me whenever I was in the public eye.

The idea that people made assumptions because of the disability used to really bother me, and on the rare occasions where I actually fell in public, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself out of sight from those prying, judgmental eyes.

I don’t feel that way anymore. Quite frankly, I don’t care one iota what anyone who doesn’t know me thinks when they see me struggling. Having said that, not caring isn’t the same as not being curious, because I still sometimes wonder what a person’s perception is the first time they see me.

What do they see? What do they think? Are they sympathetic? Are they afraid? Do they think I’m a freak? Perhaps they are so wrapped up in their own heads they don’t notice me at all.

I try to think back of what my reaction would have been when I had an uncompromised body and was the one observing someone like me today. In all likelihood, I would have given them a casual glance and not give it a second thought. Perhaps I would have wondered what their story was, but would have spent maybe ten seconds pondering that question before focusing on the task at hand. Any thoughts I may have had would have evaporated, just like deleting an obsolete file from a computer.

I was self conscious at first because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Not wanting to appear weak or unsure of myself, I worried that the image I projected made that impossible. I was also hung up on the primary progressive label attached to my MS, which convinced me that I was going downhill fast, which only fed my insecurity.

The most intriguing aspect about having a chronic illness or disability is that you learn a lot about yourself. My self-esteem from a physical perspective was shattered, but over time I learned that physical appearances and ability are not what defines us, although it’s a pity it took something like MS for me to realize that. What I also learned is that that my priorities were wrong.

Career and money were very high on my list, you see. But of all the humbling realities something like MS forces upon you, the one true gift it provides is perspective.

In hindsight, I think family, friends and health were always important to me, but not like they are today. My career had to take a hit because I couldn’t physically handle the stress and demands of the position I was in, and with that came a loss of income, which really freaked me out because the fear of being broke had always been my Achilles heel.

But I was fortunate enough to land in a place where over time I was able to recoup that temporary loss, and the reality of not having to deal with all the crap that comes with  being a boss in a middle management position was an unexpected bonus. My ego took a hit at first, but that soon faded as the amount of stress I endured in the work place shrank to practically nothing.

Not having the work distractions I was accustomed to for over twenty years, in addition to having diminished physical abilities, made me appreciate and understand how important family, friends and health were. It’s a cliché, I know, but when your health is compromised, material things don’t matter. What matters is the love and the people in your life.

That epiphany allowed me to step back and reassess where I was and where I was going. Many of the little things that used to concern me fell by the wayside. One of those, although it took some time for me to get there, is that strangers’ perceptions of me were unimportant.

It helped that what I thought “progressive” meant in terms of how quickly my physical ability was going to deteriorate didn’t materialize. Remember, this was almost eleven years ago. I thought that by now I would be unemployed, wheelchair bound, on disability, in searing pain, and unable provide for my family the way I was accustomed to. So I am lucky in that respect.

But the not caring about what others might think evolved because I learned how mentally tough I really was. There is a line in the Shawshank Redemption, where Red talks about his future and the two choices before him: get busy living or get busy dying. I chose the former.

Self-pity wasn’t something I was going to indulge in. I was going to do whatever it took in the way of treatments, drugs, diet, and things of that nature to keep the progression at bay and live as normal a life as possible. I wasn’t going to let MS rule or define me, and a rebellious nature I never knew I had bubbled to the surface. Of course, I’ve fallen a few times, literally and figuratively, but for the most part this has served me well.

Maybe attitude has nothing to do with this. Maybe I’ve been lucky in that the progression hasn’t accelerated like I thought it would. I still think there is a very good possibility what I feared in the beginning will eventually occur, but I was planning on pulling the plug at work in five to six years anyway. I think I have that many good years left. Probably more, if I’m honest.

Having said all this, I still wonder on occasion what people think when they see me, but not for the same reasons I did eleven years ago. I’m curious because I’d love to know if their perception matches my reality.

I seriously doubt it.

 

An Attempt at Poetry

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Inspired by Tom Being Tom, and encouraged by Susan at Floweringink, here is my inaugural (and very possibly only) attempt at poetry

Adrift

In a restless void

With no compass or sextant

To guide me

Castaway

From life’s normalcy 

Without pity or remorse

Those shores are distant

Never to return

Destination

Unknown and alien

No sails unfurled 

No charted course

On an endless sea

Clouds

Angry bruises

Swallow my horizon

Foreshadow the tempest

Of a raging gale

Despair

Will capsize my ship

An indulgent luxury

Its charm seductive

Its consequences tragic

So tempting

Trust

Surrendering the rudder

I lay on the deck

Close my eyes

Let go of the fear

Yearn for the sun’s embrace

The glory of a new day

And destiny