Archive for 5th January 2007

Affaire du coeur, Part 2

In 1997, I was struggling with depression. I started to run a depression chat room on AOL. It was therapeutic helping other people. It helps to make you forget about your own condition.

I had been prescribed various meds, but they made me sick, so I discontinued them. Instead, I got trashed every night on rum and cokes, and would go online.

Part of my gig was a talent for making others laugh, drawing them into conversation, making them forget how they felt for a few hours. I did, however, continue to provide support when someone asked for it, either in the room or via IM.

I’d get IM’d a lot, and preferred to keep my focus on the chat room, so I’d hit IM’s with my one question cultural literacy test to scare them away. No one had ever answered it right, but the question was “Who was Sweeney Todd?” Finally, Tory answered, “the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Holy cow! I had never had anyone answer that question right. Okay and now it seems like every smartass knows it.

I started corresponding with Tory after that. I was thinking about a move to Portland Oregon, and she lived in Seattle, so I was hoping she could help me plan out the move, and tell me what to expect.

I say here now, in all honesty, that I never had the intent of getting romantically involved with her. She was intellectual, funny, and just a warm friend. She and I were both in relationships at the time.

In one of our conversations, she told me she had a heart transplant, and expected me to freak out. After Kathy, I was pretty immune to being startled by anyone’s cardiac condition. I told her that it didn’t bother me, but I was intrigued and asked her what it was like.

It’s not always like what you see on TV and movies. The transplanted person isn’t necessarily capable of doing handstands or backflips. Tory had limited mobility due to her oxygen intake, and was somewhat weaker than you and I, despite having the transplant back in 1991. She put it in a way I could understand. When you and I go up a flight of stairs, just thinking about it, our brains start sending chemical signals to the heart to begin pumping a little harder in preparation for it. For her, her brain was sending signals to an alien organ, and her heart wouldn’t start catching up until she was near the top of the stairs, and the heart figured it was under load. She’d be exhausted once reaching the top of the stairs.

She is a fascinating person. Not a person to pity. She’s survived so long with a transplant, that she’s an inspiration to other transplant patients. Most don’t survive as long, developing kidney or liver problems, resulting in another transplant if there’s a donor match, more than likely with or without the secondary transplant, dying. Much, much later, I was in a room of transplant patients who were all fascinated by her longevity.

Her father was an FBI agent, and her mother was really nice. I remember a phone call that she had to end because her mother had made oatmeal for her and she had to go eat it. Who was I to argue with her mom?

She came from a cultured background, growing up around the world as their father moved from place to place.

And she cracked me up. During the transplant, she got to choose the music they’d play in the operating room. She chose Wagner’s Death and Funeral March. I have a grim sense of humor, but it’s tough for me to top that.

Eventually there came an opportunity to meet her in Chicago in 1998 for a weekend. We’d meet in a public spot, Border’s Bookstore café, in case one of us was an axe murderer. I’m still not sure about her. There are a few rusty axes in the garage. Naw, just a coincidence.

Anyway, I remember walking into the café and spotting her, and the first thing that came to mind was, “I am way out of my league.” I’m a street kid who grew up to be something of a blue collar guy. She was just the opposite. Well educated, sophisticated, and beautiful. That sort of thing puts a lot of pressure on a guy. I couldn’t decide to run for my life, or just stroll up and start chatting. I chose the latter, despite my misgivings.

We had a great weekend, cruising favorite museums, restaurants, the best parts of Chicago. Hey, I’d visit Chicago, and go to Carey Street, among other dives. If you know Carey Street in Chicago, you know what I mean. But I also love the Museum of Science and Industry. We both love Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle.. See it and you’ll know what I mean. I also like the Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, and a bunch of other great places to visit.

Well, after that, like I said, I knew I was way out of my league even if I harbored any romantic fantasies, but we were great, close friends. We went back to our separate lives but we continued to correspond online. I mean, how many streghe belle do you get to meet in a lifetime?

Affaire du coeur, Part 1

Someone read a newspaper article about the day I got married in January of 2000. That person only knew what was written; not the events leading up to it, or the articles that proceeded it. I’ve thought about this story for a long time, and maybe it’s time to tell all of it.

It was 1987. Kathy had a congenital heart defect. It had hospitalized her a number of times. Finally, they decided to do a diagnostic surgery. Nowadays they’d do a biopsy of the heart by running a long needle with snippers on the end of it up the groin artery, to the heart, and take a snip of the heart for diagnosis. Back then, they didn’t have this procedure, so to evaluate the heart, they’d have to open Kathy’s chest.

The procedure was to be done in Texas. Kathy stayed at her mom’s the night before. She called me, and to be honest, I don’t know what we chatted about, but it turned to the surgery, and she told me she was scared. I flippantly told her that she’d be fine, and I’d buy her a beer when she got back. The most painful thing I remember about that conversation was that I didn’t tell her that I loved her. Just that I’d buy her a fucking beer when she got back.

 

The day of the procedure, March 22nd, 1987, I was sitting in my kitchen tinkering with a new computer. My phone rang.

I knew what it was before I even picked up the phone. It plays back in slow-motion even to this day. I stood up and walked to the phone, and picked up the receiver. It was Kathy’s mom. She told me that Kathy hadn’t survived the surgery.

 

I’m understating it, when I say I was devastated. I dropped the receiver, started to shake, and sat on the floor. I don’t remember when I stopped weeping.

 

A black hole in time passes, and I’m a pallbearer at her funeral. I tried to be strong, but still wept.

 

They tell you that with time, the hurt goes away. It never really goes away, just turns into a dull throb of pain. On her birthday, on the day that she died.

 

I never said “I love you” at the end of that phone call. Every year since, I have a rose placed in a beer bottle at her gravesite. It’s been decades, and I still turn into a mess on March 22nd.

 

There was nothing in my power to stop it from happening. I’ve had a long time to think about it. I can say I’m sorry, I can say a lot of things, but I’ll never forget what I didn’t say.

 

A few years ago, I had a dream about her. I don’t remember much of the dream, but I remembered the color of her eyes, her laugh, every part of her face that I had touched.

 

You never forget.