In December of 2005 I remember being, if not exactly “pumped,” certainly totally prepared for the coming year, 2006. My once and forever bride, Vera and I along with our brand new two year old Princess, Ta’Kia were settled into the South Florida lifestyle. I was comfortable at a company which was still respected and more importantly solvent. Vera had been working for a couple of months at an upscale day care, doing what she loved, taking care of and spoiling little ones. The most incredible year for tropical storms ever was fitfully coming to a close. That was the year of Katrina and the one those of us in south Florida came to be on first name basis with, Wilma. If you recall the NWS ran out of names that year and began referring to the new ones by the phonetic alphabet. There was actually a named one on New Year’s Eve.
Anyway, my sense of controlled euphoria was prompted by an event a half century in the making: my fiftieth birthday that coming summer. I know that many people begin to “lighten” the burden as the date approaches. Benjamin Kubelsky, better known as Jack Benny avoided it altogether and declared himself forever 39. Others shave a year here and there. Then there was me, or to quote Jim Croce “the fool the fool that I am and will always be,” was looking forward to the day. Little did I know.
Mother Nature, in her role as teacher, chose to educate this poor, poor, pitiful fool precisely what fifty can feel like. In the spring my back went out via the sciatic nerve. By 2006 I had over 20 years in at Merrill Lynch. I seldom, if ever missed a day. Sixteen of those years I had perfect attendance. In retrospect, this was not a good sign.
Things were going along nicely again by July. My fiftieth was a semi big deal to my coworkers since I was the oldest person in my department and they wanted to celebrate it with appropriate pomp and circumstance. The party was delayed a day as I took the actual day off so that Vera, the Princess and myself could celebrate as a family.
Beginning in early October, things began to fall apart. I noticed an alarming increase in my i/o (intake/output) of fluids. I found myself carefully planning my commute to and from work in order to allow for my inability to control my bladder. The final straw came during a visit to Cici’s Pizza. Over the course of less than an hour I had to relieve myself four separate times. It is often stated that guys are stubborn and tend to go into denial where our health is concerned. I tend to be much less macho than most males are, but I am certainly “male” when it comes to taking care of my health. Still, as Barbra and Donna sang all those years ago: “Enough is Enough.” I let Vera know that I need to go to the ER that night and I was admitted. I wound up spending a total of nine days in the hospital. I worked in a hospital for eight years in various capacities. Let me tell you, nine days as a patient is pretty much an eternity. I spent one night approximately three days into my stay in CCU. That particular night took on a bizarre resonance that it took several days to completely unravel. Vera, as she had been doing for almost two decades by that time, saved my life. I had gone to the restroom, still a frequent situation at this point in my hospitalization, and suddenly became faint and disoriented. I could not stand and was finding it impossible to call out. Vera apparently became concerned and came into the bathroom. She “brought me back” at least a couple of times. Had it not been for her I would not, not for the first time, have made it. Now, I am not Fox Mulder, but over the course of the next few days my “out of body” experience began to make sense to me. I honestly recall being urged to “go in to the light” that night. I learned later that my aunt, the one I grew up around, Mae Thelma Cannon, or Aunt Tammy as I always called her was making her transition at that same moment. Aunt Tammy was totally dedicated to her older sister, my mother, Jennie, the one person in this world who went out of her way to understand and help her baby sister. My aunt had contracted scarlet fever around 1931 when she was 13 years old. It had blinded her and left her deaf also. Her sight partially returned (though she suffered from cataracts and glaucoma for the rest of her life.but her hearing never did. My maternal grandparents had 14 children (she was number 13). They were ill equipped to deal with the needs of a teenager with medical problems. She came to live with my parents in 1948 as soon as they had an apartment of their own. As I stated, she was extremely, make that fiercely loyal to my mother. The last thing she promised my mother, prior to mom’s own transition nearly forty years earlier, was that she would always look out for me. I am certain that some of my life choices left her frustrated to say the least. The eight years prior to my meeting and marrying Vera were especially challenging. I have never doubted that Aunt Tammy had chosen to bring me along with her. Vera of course, even without being aware of the whole scope of the situation, was not having it.
I did not really intend for this to be about the circumstances surrounding my hospital stay. It is about another subject, perhaps more than one. I have joked many times over the past ten years about the events of 2006. I am, and for the most part continue to be, an optimistic person. Despite, or once again, perhaps because of being a Chicago sports fan, I have never lost my belief that tomorrow will be a better day. Fifty was the year that was. Now I stand on the precipice of another milestone birthday: 60. Vera is only with me in spirit (as has been true for almost six years now). She continues to be a very real presence in my life. She will always be my once and forever bride. The Princess is no longer a toddler and is on the threshold of becoming a teenager (though in many ways, she made that transition a few years back). My life has settled into a routine of work, home, sleep, repeat. Because of the nature of my job, there is always a certain amount of excitement in my life. You cannot be an emergency dispatcher and have much in the way of dull. I have few complaints. Things have not always worked out the way I imagined almost forty years ago as I was embarking on a job, that became a career that I sort of stumbled upon but which I became successful and respected at. My ability to adapt and learn and think outside the box served me well for almost a quarter of a century. I’ve always been a person who stayed the course. I spent eight years at Evanston Hospital concurrent to and subsequent to my first term at Merrill Lynch. In November, God willing, I will make five years at Jackson Police Department. Vera, my first, my only wife, were married five days short of 22 years. Since we wed two weeks after we met, I feel justified in stating we were married 22 years. It’s been a wonderful life. I have learned that life is many things: a box of chocolates, a bowl of cherries, a Cabaret. It is filled with Angels and Demons. Saints and Sinners. Cubs fans and Cardinal fans. Bears fans and Cheese Heads (sorry). It is ever changing, and yet somehow always the same. I have found that very often the very things that bring us our greatest joy can be an element of our most profound sorrow or sense of loss (Vera).
Sixty seems as good a time as any to look back and reflect. I like to say that I wouldn’t go back and change anything even if I could. Naive? Perhaps. Long before Back to the Future re-imagined It’s a Wonderful Life for a new generation, I had already made peace with the idea that everything happens for a reason. Everything that has happened, made the way for the next thing. Living through some things can be painful. And the fact is that we are not always around to witness the end result. When Vera and I were newlyweds, she was not the healthiest person in the world (a situation that persisted to a greater or lesser degree throughout our marriage). She was honestly troubled about how long she was going to survive. I always used to tell her that I was certain she would live to be 84 years old. When she questioned me on this I told her about my deal with the One in Charge. I had one wish left, it was a toss up between my living to see the Cubs in the World Series (not by the way, WIN a World Series, I’m not QUITE that greedy) or for her and I to make it to our Golden wedding anniversary. I like to think I had my priorities in order.During our marriage the Cubs made a couple of runs at it. Most famously, okay, most infamously in 2003. Does the Cubs never winning a Series in my lifetime (for what it’s worth 2016 is NEXT YEAR, fingers crossed, at long last) bother me? Of course it does. Does Vera not being here as a constant presence bother me? More than I can ever say. I was always a sentimental person. The last several years have made me even more so. I find myself watching television shows or movies and thinking of how Vera would have reacted to them. My obsession with musical theater has lead me, over my lifetime to discover and embrace many stage productions and movies. Years before I met Vera I wrote a poem about how my favorite entertainments were musical romantic comedies. All those years of watching Fred and Ginger, and Mickey and Judy or Gene and many but especially Leslie had worked their magic on me. I can’t dance worth a lick, and I peaked as a singer sometime between grammar school and college. So I was not likely to be the star of such a production. But I could, did, and sometimes to this day do, dream. My daughter gave me a birthday card which, as always, brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes it is enough to simply know that you are appreciated and loved. I admit that the “milestone” birthdays and anniversaries tend to resonate more deeply with me so this one is important to me. I am ever so grateful to have been blessed with sixty years of life. I am truly amazed at the changes I and the rest of my generation have been around for. For example, 47 years ago today, on my 13th birthday my dad and I were watching pre-game warm ups at Wrigley Field when Apollo 11 returned from its historic mission (to complete the baseball connection, the two of us were at the “real” White Sox park five days earlier on July 20 when the Eagle touched down at the Sea of Tranquility.
As Thornton Wilder pointed out in “Our Town” every day is special in its own way. In the future will this day stand out? Impossible to say. I can’t imagine any day for me will ever top September 24, 1988. Still, every day with Vera was special. For the moment though, on this milestone birthday, I want to take a moment to tell her once again how much she meant and continues to mean to me. Vera, I love you; forever plus one.