The Journey

I’ve loved books ever since I can remember. I vaguely remember my mother reading to me when I was very young. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is the Dick and Jane series. Even though it was about 45 years ago, I recall sitting in her lap while she read to me, encouraging me to learn those words on those beautiful pages in those wonderful books. It was comfort, happiness, and excitement, experiencing those magical books. I remember reading on my own before I started school, and reading everything I could get my hands on.

I started school when I was four years-old. My mother had to fight to get me accepted at that age. Her argument was that I was ready because of my reading ability. The years rolled by and I was always in advanced reading. My voracious appetite for the written word was never satisfied. Whether reading The Great Brain or Encyclopedia Brown series, there never seemed to be enough. I got a paper route right before my tenth birthday. Whenever I collected my earnings, I’d make a beeline to the local Snyder’s drug store book aisle. I recall the agony of having to select just a couple books when there were so many to choose from. This dilemma was repeated every couple weeks. And summer was particularly difficult because I didn’t have ready access to a library like I did during the school year.

Middle school (Junior High in my day) opened a whole new world of authors and types of fiction. The library was stocked for a whole different age group. But this was also a time when peer classes began forming. Reading wasn’t always accepted as something a kid wanted to do, but more of something you only did when you had to do it. Unless, of course, it was comics, Mad Magazine, or dirty books that you were reading. I don’t recall an exact time, date, or thought, but it was during this period that I realized how much I would love to be able to create stories like those I was reading. If reading them was so great, it must be even better to write them. So I sat down at a typewriter and tried. And tried. And tried. I succeeded at one thing; I found out that I sucked as a writer. I wrote literal garbage. (We didn’t have recycling back then.) I enjoyed it, but I really sucked. I logically relegated it to being a fantasy more than a reality.

Over the following years, the itch stayed with me, but I never had the confidence to follow through. I did not realize that besides talent, a writer needs determination and to just keep writing and writing and writing. No matter how easy somebody else makes it look, they worked hard to accomplish what they created. I continued to hide this writing fantasy from everyone. But these magical books by fantastic authors always made me dream of being able to create the same magic.

Through the years, my need to write was probably also held a bit in check by the school work I was required to write. When it came to school work, I was never lacking for words, although I always had trouble with going off on tangents with my assignments. I still suffer from that issue.

I took a couple more stabs at writing after I finished school. I have to laugh at my folly though. I tried to be a “writer” instead of just writing. I thought that in order to succeed, I had to fit a certain mold. I thought I had to sit at a desk with a typewriter or word processor, have an ashtray full of butts, and a waste basket full of crumpled paper in the corner. I’d need dim lights, hazy smoke, agony, and a half-empty bottle of cheap scotch. That’s what I thought was the list of ingredients for making me a writer. Maybe it would have worked if I had added talent, confidence, and determination. Back to the shelf went the dream, back to its comfort zone.

Lather, rinse, repeat, that’s how it continued. Through adulthood, work, marriage, and parenthood, there was always an excuse not to do anything about the itch. I kept it all safely tucked away.

In September 2010, my daughter, eight years-old at the time, was injured at school. She was struck in the eyelid by a pencil being swung around by a miscreant student. She was checked out and it was determined that it was a superficial injury, “luckily” missing her eyeball. There was broken skin, bruising, and swelling. The healing started and she appeared to be on the mend. The eyelid was drooping after the surface abrasion healed, but it was determined that it would heal over time. And it did indeed improve, although if she was overtired it drooped significantly. There was a period of improvement, followed by regression. Back and forth, repeatedly. There was consultation with a specialist, telling us that plastic surgery was an option, but that it might cause the opposite of the droop if she went through a spurt of healing after surgery. It wasn’t affecting her vision, so we were advised to wait.

In late August of 2011, the droop became really pronounced. We made an appointment to see a different doctor, because we were worried that it was going to affect her vision. The soonest they would see us was early October. Over the next few weeks, the droop got worse and then a red bump appeared on her eyelid. In a 24 hour period the bump increased about threefold in size. She could barely open her eye. We called and demanded that she be seen immediately. They took her in the next morning. It was determined that there was a foreign body in the eyelid causing an infection. She was scheduled for surgery the same day to clean it out. There was no foreign body found during the surgery, but the infection was removed. The healing started and things improved for a while. Her eyelid seemed to be almost back to normal. But then it started to droop again, and it appeared there was another infection. On November 9, 2011, she had an MRI to find out what was causing the infections. That evening, while we were all out, the surgeon left a message that we needed to call her right away on her cell phone. I got the message but decided to wait for my wife to get home to call the doctor. My wife had only been in the house a few minutes when the doctor called again.

“Hello” I answered.
“Mr. (withheld)?” the voice asked.
“This is Dr. (withheld), didn’t you get my message?” she asked.
“Yes, but I was waiting for my wife to get home” I said.
“Mr. (withheld), we have the results of the MRI, and (your daughter) has about a half-inch piece of pencil lodged in her right frontal lobe.”
I got dizzy and nauseous. I didn’t say anything. My brain could not process what I had just heard.
“Mr. (withheld), did you hear me? Do you understand what I said? It needs to be removed immediately” she said.

My brain was overloaded. I couldn’t process this on my own. I couldn’t reply. I wanted to collapse. I wanted to wake up and find it was just a bad dream. Seconds seemed like hours. I was finally able to gather myself enough to reply.
“I need to put you on speaker and have you repeat that for my wife” I said. I looked at my wife and could tell that the horror on my face was apparent. I switched the phone to speaker and the doctor repeated what she had just told me.

She continued “I have contacted a friend at the Mayo Clinic and they recommended a neurosurgeon at Gillette. You need to call immediately and make an appointment for the consultation. They promised that if you call right away, they’ll get you in this week.”
We took down the name and contact information. She answered a couple questions about the MRI results. We thanked her and hung up.

The consult appointment was made for two days later. There was a night of tears, fear, anger, and having to tell our daughter that she needed to have brain surgery. Telling her was tougher on us than it was on her. We did not hide anything from her. We asked the doctor to do the same. The kid was a trooper. She had another MRI and a CT scan the day of the consult. The surgery was scheduled for ten days later.

I felt so helpless seeing her walk off to pre-op with my wife, my brave little girl. She had asked the surgeon if she could keep the pencil fragment after the surgery. She also asked if she could see the video of the surgery afterward.

The surgery went well, and I was able to see her again in the recovery ICU. I walked in and saw my little girl. It was her, but it wasn’t. The incision across her scalp pooled coagulating blood in the puckering wound. Her usually bright and cheery face was ashen and swollen, marred by black, purple, and yellow bruising. She appeared to be sleeping with her eyes partly open. But it wasn’t restful, peaceful sleep, it was still the anesthetics.

The room twisted around me. I felt cold, yet I was sweating. My legs protested, wanting the refuge of a chair. My stomach turned and clenched while my lungs fought for air. Tears dripped from my chin, I didn’t realize I had been crying. I wanted to hug and comfort her, but I couldn’t. I wanted her to wake up and tell me that she was fine. I wanted her to sleep peacefully until she was really okay. You could torture me for years and it would never be worse than this moment. Seeing her like this, my daughter, who carries sunshine with her wherever she goes, beaming it into every life she touches, it wasn’t right.

She came home three days later. As parents, we were a wreck. Sleep before and after the surgery was elusive. As soon as I closed my eyes, I’d see her in that recovery room. As soon as I’d finally fallen asleep, mainly from pure exhaustion, the alarm would go off. Sleep was disrupted by dreams of my wife waking me telling me something was wrong with our daughter. During waking hours, the images popping into my head were inescapable. Trying to concentrate at home or at work was pretty futile.

Our daughter was recovering well. She was eager to get back to a normal life. She wanted to get back to school and see her friends, and celebrate her tenth birthday and enjoy Christmas. All of those came to pass and we moved into the New Year.

Two months had passed, and it was all still so fresh in my mind. Time was not healing the anguish. I felt embarrassed, because my daughter handled it better than I did. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function properly. I was exhausted and in decline. I needed something, but I couldn’t figure out what was going to help me.

One night, when I could not sleep, I grabbed a pen and paper. When I put that pen to paper, I didn’t stop until it all came out. I spewed my fear, my anger, my resentment, my anxiety, and my sadness. This was my therapy, my release. Everything that had built up came pouring out. I had no clue of what a relief it would be. It was just simple words on paper, but it felt like I had opened a release valve. It was also key to an awakening. I finally realized that writing wasn’t just a fantasy for me, it was a necessity. Even if I never get published, I need to die knowing that I tried, that I didn’t give up, that I didn’t let my fears rule my life.

This was a Memoir assignment for English Composition (May 2013)