Categories
Memoir

First One’s Free

‘…Almost every adult I knew smoked. Cartoon characters smoked. To complain about smoking was almost rude, like being a vegetarian.’

The America I grew up in was dusted in ash and studded with cigarette butts. Everyone smoked everywhere, all the time: hospitals, grocery stores, movie theaters, high schools  –and no one thought a thing about it.

By the end of the 1970’s, when I was a boy, the entire country was like an over-flowing ashtray that had been filling up since Prohibition. The public spaces looked like a morning-after coffee table, and people just didn’t give a damn anymore.

They stubbed out cigarettes on shopping cart handles, on grocery store shelves, on the carpeted floors of department stores, on the tabletops at restaurants and bars. Nearly any flat surface was a socially acceptable option when it came to snuffing out your coffin-nail.

Part of it was just the times. America was grubbier then. There was a sort of gray film that coated everything and the whole nation had the feeling of being worn and lived-in, like a building that had seen too many tenants.

It was completely normal to see someone answer a telephone, pick up a pencil, and start writing on the wall as if it were a notepad. People tossed garbage from car windows without a second thought. People poured used motor oil straight on the ground.

It was like we were all just renting the place.

Categories
Memoir

The Runner

Dragline: You’re an original, that’s what you are! Them mullet-heads didn’t even know you was foolin’!
Luke: Foolin’ ’em, huh? You can’t fool ’em about somethin’ like that. They broke me…
Dragline: Aw. All that time, you was plannin’ on runnin’ again.
Luke: I never planned anything in my life.”

Cool Hand Luke

I’m not sure that I’ve ever made a truly considered decision. I don’t recall ever making a life-altering choice after careful research and deliberation. I have never faced a daunting challenge and weighed all of my options and their possible repercussions to arrive at the best course of action. I leap then look, and have all of my life.

On the day I joined the Army, I had awoken that morning with no inkling that I would do so. I was largely homeless at the time and needed a job –a job that would hire me, train me, house me, feed me, and clothe me. I just happened to be walking past the Armed Forces Recruiting Center when I realized this, so I walked on in. I had no real affinity or preference for the Army, they just happened to be the only recruiters who weren’t at lunch.

Categories
Memoir

Drowning On Air

I was twenty-nine years old when the doctor gave me three-to-five years to live. I had a rare genetic illness called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency that, in it’s worst form, caused early-onset emphysema. I had the worst form. A lung transplant could prolong my life, I was told, but it was a very risky with a mortality rate of around 80%, five years after the operation, and an eventual failure rate of 100%. Not to mention that the lung transplant was far from a cure: with the associated medications, lifestyle changes, a certainty of organ rejection, and still-present disability looming over transplant recipients, it is often described as trading one chronic illness for another.

There was no possible happy ending to my story. One way or another, my illness was going to cut my life short.

It was June, 2002 –over eighteen years ago– that I had to start trying to wrap my head around that fact. My children (now grown college students) were infants. Looking back on my twenty-nine year-old self from the perspective of the forty-seven year-old man I am today, it feels like I was not much more than an infant myself. In the time that has elapsed between then and now, I lived a life and tried to realize some dreams. I had highs and lows, successes and failures, wins and losses that I could not have imagined, sitting there in the doctor’s office, eighteen years ago.

And now it’s all coming to an end.