I’m here

Our first date, revisited


We went on our first date together almost nine years ago today.

Went on other dates that week, but I don’t remember them. I remember Alison’s in particular because she was late.

She emailed me to tell me she was going to be late because she was working to get a generator for a village in Africa – which wasn’t an excuse I’d ever heard before.

She worked at Helen Keller, you see. She spent almost her entire professional career trying to help other people.

She set herself apart from the beginning.

With her education, she coulda gone anywhere. But instead she worked long hours for little pay trying to help others. She was always flying to Africa or Washington to try and make a difference.

She made such a difference in my life as well.

Just one of a million reasons why the world and I are better because she was in it.

That night…

Her: Hey, I’m here.
Me: (laughing) You were getting a generator?
Her: Yes – I was waiting for the donor to confirm.
Me: Did you get it?
Her: (beaming) Yep!
Me: Great, let’s drink to that.
Her: You’ll drink to anything.
Me: (nodding) This is true.

Last week…

Me: (waking up in the dark) Are you ok?
Her: (weakly opens and closes her right hand)
Me: (takes her right hand and sits beside her) I’m here.
Her: (squeezes my hand)
Me: I’m here.
Her: (squeezes my hand again)

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: numb
Music: Don’t like reality, it’s way too clear to me
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Fancy meeting you here

It was supposed to be someone else

When I ran into my wife outside years ago and asked if I could take her picture.

Years ago…

Her: (smiling) Hey!
Me: Hey, pretty lady! Fancy meeting you here.

Every once in a while, I’ll see someone that looks a little like Alison walking outside. She was always perfectly put together.

Some of the happiest moments in my entire life was when I bumped into her and she’d smile the most beautiful smile at me.

That that will never happen again is enough to make me cry in a subway station by my lonesome. It’s so goddamn painful.


Alison’s been sleeping all day and night. She’s only awake for a few minutes a day now.

On the other hand, I’ve not been getting any sleep. The unfairness of it all keeps me up.

The thing is that horrifies me is what should horrify you: It wasn’t supposed to be us.

It’s never supposed to be us. It’s always supposed to be someone else.

  • I wanted three kids, she wanted two.
  • I wanted to stay in Manhattan, she wanted to live with green grass and shade.

That was pretty much the extent of our major disagreements.

We were supposed to have time to work those things out, to have a life together. She was supposed to finally be able to have her own family.

She was athletic. She ran almost every day. Played soccer for years. She ate healthfully. Took care of herself. Didn’t smoke. Rarely drank.

It’s never supposed to be us.

It’s always supposed to be someone else.

And now – like that story Button, Button – we’ve become your someone else.

Me: (quietly, by her bed) Hey, pretty lady. Fancy meeting you here.
Her: …
Me: (nodding)

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: still broken
Music: been searching a long time for someone exactly like you
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Mother’s Day 2017

Thank you Mrs. McCarthy


Went to yet another hospital ER room this past weekend – and it wasn’t even for Alison. One of my other two atomic bombs went off again.

This was on top of another indescribable weekend. There’s not much to do but bear it.

I’d like to say that this was Alison’s second Mother’s Day as a mother but it really wasn’t. She barely registered anything.

Bought her this card months ago, hoping to give it to her. Never got a chance to. Doesn’t make it any less true though.

Alison is nothing if not extra-ordinary. Sometimes, though, I wish she was just ordinary. Perhaps then, she’d be able to stay with me.

I’d give anything if she could just stay.

Speaking of extra-ordinary – I haven’t really mentioned it because I try to keep as much of the lives of those around me as private as possible – I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that, during the past 18 months, Alison’s mother has been here with me almost every single day and night to take care of her and the kid.

She came here with four days worth of clothes right when Alison gave birth so that she could help out for the first few days. And then everything went to hell.

And she just stayed. There is no way that I could have possibly taken care of Alison and Nate without her. And she has been far stronger than I, which humbles me.

Whereas my pain is deep, I cannot imagine the pain of a mother watching his/her child go through what Alison has gone through. Wouldn’t want to. But she has, somehow. Stoically.

Alison’s parents are a major reason I married her.

Cause, when you marry someone, you don’t just marry them, you marry their family. And these are people I’m truly honored to call family.

Despite my losing so much money and being as old and broken as I am, they have never been anything but wonderful to me.

While this may reflect badly on their own parenting skills, I’ll take what I can get.

When Alison and I got married, I promised them that she would be safe. Part of why I’m so heartbroken is because I feel I’ve failed them. Yet they never say anything negative about anything I’ve done, even though I constantly doubt every decision I’ve made.

Alison’s mother asked if I would keep them in Nate’s life in the future, a question I found very strange.

Me: Are you serious? You’re the only family he’s known for the past 18 months.
Her mother: Things change over time.
Me: (shaking head) I want Nate to know his mother. By knowing you two, he’ll know her. That’s what she’d want. That’s what I want.

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: so very broken
Music: I’m fragile. I try not to be
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Alison Music: Her Diamonds

Can’t take no more


Essentially, the entirety of this song lays out what last month has been like.

Can usually make it to the part that goes: “She tried her best and now she can’t win” before I have to stop playing it.

Everything we do now, we do with the goals of (a) providing Alison some comfort and (b) fulfilling what she would want most if she couldn’t make it.

For the latter, it’s to make sure that Nate is going to be ok.

As I mentioned to you in the last entry, between the theft, the fertility treatments, and the past 18 months of expenses, the donations you’ve provided for her will also help me raise him the way she would have wanted.

That’s all we can do now.

She’s been sleeping almost all day these days. So we – her mother and I – sit and wait with her.

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: dazed
Music: I sit down and I cry too, but don’t let her see
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Cary, Carey, Kari

Some more of the story

A shocking number of my friends and family have never met Alison, or met her only once.

We gave a million reasons why. But the whole story starts like this: A decade ago, a family friend stole my life savings.

When I met Alison, was still struggling to get my life back together again. But she loved me anyway.

She could have had anyone and she chose me.

That’s part of why I was so busy. Was trying to make back 30 years of savings first. But she was busy too.

After we got married, we immediately tried to start a family. And failed. Repeatedly.

Ultimately, we went to several specialists and spent a huge chunk of our savings, including what I had saved up since the theft, trying to have a kid.

She was essentially pregnant for four years straight. And she lost six pregnancies. Six.

People are often crushed with one. You cannot imagine the heartache that comes with six. In a row.

Four were miscarriages. Two were ectopics. If a miscarriage is traumatic, an ectopic is devastating. With an ectopic, you’re in the horrifying position of praying for a miscarriage.

This is after sticking herself with needles every single goddamn night for years.

But it got worse. As I said in an entry I wrote about our very last loss, there’s always room for more down. That loss almost destroyed us because we heard a strong heartbeat only to lose it a few days later.

And the close friend in this entry was Alison. She had to have surgery due to another failed pregnancy.

Whenever we did go out, people would inevitably ask, “Are you planning on having kids?” And what do you say to that? When she actually was pregnant and she didn’t drink, people would always ask annoying questions.

We were tired of it all. So we either turned down all invitations or she just stayed home and I went out. This was for four years.

It’s funny but I have three good friends named Cary, Carey, and Kari; one has never met her and the others only met her once or twice in a all these years.

We never told anyone. Because we just kept hoping that someday, we’d have a family.

When she finally gave birth to Nate, we thought it was over. All the heartbreak, fear, dashed hopes, and loneliness. What we got instead was much, much worse. So much worse than our worst nightmares.

She deserved so much better than this. Her birthday is in a few days.

You wanna know the craziest thing? That’s not even everything. There’s more. But I don’t even think our story up to now is believable.

Her: We were finally supposed to get a good Christmas.
Me: (quietly) I know. I’m so sorry.

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: Guess
Music: Go to the ends of the Earth for you
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Selene, Alison, and me

Am I being selfish?

I’ve talked about Selene a lot in the past. She was the Greek goddess of the moon. When I was single, in my late night insomnia, she was my constant companion.

Used to look up and ask: “OK, who’s our lucky contestant tonight?

Story goes that Selene loved a mortal and begged Zeus to give him everlasting life. He did, but there was a catch – there’s always a catch – the man would live forever, but only if he slept.

A report came out a week ago that said lots of thinking – essentially being awake – could lead to a spike in brain cancer for those that had it.

Anecdotally, we think that part of the reason Alison survived so long is because she slept for months after the surgery.

Always felt it was selfish of Selene to keep her love asleep to simply keep him with her.

How is that love?

Wonder if I’m being selfish now. It’s easy for me to say to Alison that she has to fight. She’s the one fighting.

And she’s been fighting for 18 months straight. That’s actually not true – she’s been fighting things for five years straight.

However brave and strong you think my wife is, you only know half the story. She is stronger – and the story, more tragic – than you know. I’ll tell you about it soon.

Because you should know how very special she is.

Back to Selene: To what kind of life did she condemn the one she loved most?

And what of me to Alison?

Her: Can I go to sleep?
Me: Yes. I’m right here.

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Location: at the foot of her bed
Mood: indescribable
Music: Everyone knows I’m in over my head
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Are you a religious man?

I’d rather it be the other way around

New York City church
Alison’s more confused and vomiting constantly. We decided to keep her home for as long as possible.

Oddly, ran into someone from the hospital the other day while I was out running an errand.

Him: Mr. McCarthy, how is your wife?
Me: The same. (thinking) Worse.
Him: (pause) I’m sorry. We talk about you two, you know.
Me: You’re all surprised she’s still alive.
Him: (sighing) Yes, that’s true. But also that you both keep fighting.
Me: She keeps fighting. I’m just support staff.
Him: I’ve been doing this over 20 years. Seen a lot of men just put their wives into hospice and move on.
Me: Why would anyone marry anyone if they weren’t in for the full deal?
Him: I dunno, people do. (later) Are you a religious man?
Me: Once thought about being a pastor. A fleeting thought. But I went to and volunteered for church for years.
Him: So you believe in God. You have that to lean on.
Me: I do believe in God, this is true. (pause) I just don’t think he likes my family very much.
Him: (long pause) I don’t know what to say about that.
Me: Nothing to say. My wife’s not even the only one dying. I had two others in my family with terminal illnesses. And that’s not even everything.
Him: (sighing) It’s like Job. (hopefully) He survived.
Me: Yeah. His family didn’t. I’d rather it be other way around. I’m sure he woulda too.

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Location: with my family
Mood: gutted
Music: Stay alive, here we go
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I already promised her

She is my person

Alison McCarthy on the Brooklyn Bridge

My birthdays have sucked lately.

We went in for an emergency MRI on Friday, despite all our plans.

The cancer is growing stronger and bigger while she’s growing weaker and sicker.

And I die a little every minute.

That picture above was taken after my buddy’s wedding years ago. Knew at that moment, she was my person.

That she loves me as deeply as she does is worth more than anything you might imagine. And I love her so. I would do anything to take this from her.

I would do anything.

For those of you that have read me for years, you know I struggle with depression and dark thoughts. I struggle now.

The people in my life know that too. So I called my mom last night.

Her: …and you? Will you be ok?
Me: No. But I’m not going to hurt myself if that’s what you’re asking.
Her: I am.
Me: I have to raise our son. I won’t let him grow up alone.
Her: Promise me.
Me: Mom, I already promised her. 

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Location: the saddest place you know
Mood: absolutely f_____g crushed
Music: And oh my love remind me, what was it that I said?
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A distinction without a difference

Living in willful ignorance

Hospital Scheduling Woman: April or May?

We had some more bad news a month ago. Didn’t tell you about it because we needed to process it all.

They found yet another spot on her MRI. The doc told us to wait and see if it’s actually cancer or if it’s the treatments doing their thing.

For those of you keeping score, that’s four spots of cancer: Two confirmed from the original cancer, one from January, and this new one they found last month.

We had the option of another MRI this past Monday but we decided to wait until May.

There are a number of things that the people that know me in real life hear me constantly say.

Such as: That’s a distinction without a difference.

This is a both a legal term and a logical fallacy where someone points something out that has no bearing on the issue at hand.

For example, right now, everyone’s talking about the United Airlines passenger that was violently dragged off a plane.

Now some news outlets are saying he had a criminal past. But this is a distinction without a difference; it has no bearing on the fact that he was violently dragged off a plane.

Suppose that’s another post for another time.

Getting back to our situation, I’m always anxious these days. I wanna know what’s going on in Alison’s head. Literally.

Yet, knowing – at this point – is worse than not knowing.

Because we might change course when we should give all the things we’re doing time to work.

And, really, we don’t have too many options right now. Knowing if it’s more cancer won’t change the job that needs to be done. So we wait and hope.

Me: May.
Hospital Scheduling Woman: OK. (pause) Are you sure?
Me: No. But that’s a distinction without a difference. We’ll come in May.

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Location: Anxiety City
Mood: anxious
Music: Every one a tragedy
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Dead reckoning

Fools and fanatics


Going back to my maritime analogy, when the nights were cloudy and sailors didn’t have stars to figure out where they were going, they used deductive reasoning to essentially say:

If I know I was there on Tuesday traveling X knots per hour, and today is Wednesday, then I must be here.

They didn’t call this deductive reasoning, though, they called it deductive reckoning, which was shortened to ded reckoning, which morphed into dead reckoning.

And it’s apt cause the problem with dead reckoning is accumulating error: If I’m wrong about any assumption, that error is magnified the further you travel in time and space. You think you’re heading to safe shores and instead you’re adrift, thousands of miles off course.

We got good news last Monday that was taken away from us on Friday – the doc missed something. Our good news never ends up being good for very long.

So we’re back to trying to figure out what to do next.

Which means that I stay up at night, thinking of all our possible pasts, trying to determine the cascading consequences of my actions. Or inaction.

This fella named Bertrand Russell said that, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

Not that I’m so wise, but it’s come to this, where I’m envious of fools and their ability to sleep. But that’s for me to deal with.

Her: Are you ok?
Me: Of course. You’re home. The kid is walking. And I had a gyro for lunch. What else could a fella want?
Her: (teasing) Me to be cancer free?
Me: Well, there is that.

 


 

Many thanks again to my friends Ricky and Kathy, who – with their friends and mine – managed to raise $12,000 for Alison with their dinner fundraiser.

Thank goodness for the good souls.

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Location: off to the gym to try and forget for a bit
Mood: tired
Music: Thank goodness for the good souls that make life better
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