Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unexpected Winds

As much as I love the rain, and a good storm with thunder and lightning, I do not like the wind.  I suppose it is because although I can see its effect, I can’t see when it’s coming or when it’s here.  The wind often sneaks in unexpectedly. I can hear it whistling outside of my windows and watch it play with the planter pots and the lawn furniture in my yard, but otherwise it is invisible. As weather goes, that scares the hell out of me. The wind, unlike the rain, has a greater power of destruction.  I can get under an umbrella when the rains falls, but I can’t stop a strong wind from kicking up and messing up all kinds of things around me in a really bad way.

‘Fear’ is one of those words that I think people treat poorly.  We use it glibly to express deep concern, anxiety, and worry, which is natural given the way we communicate.  I don’t.  Just like I don’t use the word ‘hope’ when I am just wishing for something to happen, I don’t use the word ‘fear’ or even the word ‘afraid’ when I’m only anxious or worried about something.  “Fear” to me is a word you reserve for those times, which can happen, when you really think there is a possibility you could die, or someone you love could die, and there is nothing you can do about it.  My perspective on fear may differ from others, or be incorrect, but it is how I feel. Here is the story of the first time I genuinely felt fear.

When I was young, not even 25, I worked as an editor for a publishing company in the city, Chicago.  I had just gotten married and we lived in a small apartment in the Lakeview neighborhood.  I worked in what is now called River North, but in those days it was a pretty seedy neighborhood filled with dive bars, porn and pawn shops, and peep shows.  I used to have to step over winos in the vestibule of my building to get into our offices. 

Because in those days my drive was to establish my reputation, advance my career, and make some money, I often worked very late.  My wife was working full time too, and getting her Master’s degree at night, so there was no real reason for me to be home at what would be called a normal hour for most people. On the night in question, I worked very late, until almost ten o’clock, to finish a project I was working on. Before I left the office I took everything out of my pockets and put them into the locked, hard-sided briefcase that I carried.  It was what my father told me to do and that I always did.  I left the office and walked over to the Grand Avenue subway station.

When I got downstairs to the platform, I pulled a book out of my pocket and sat down on my briefcase to read until the train came through.  I was at the end of the platform where I always went because it was the best place to get on the train if it was crowded.  It was very quiet.  There was no one else on the platform.  I got lost in the book I was reading, one of my favorite books by William Faulkner, and so didn’t notice the two men who came down and joined me.  I wasn't even aware they were there until one of them came up to me and punched me in the face, knocking me over.  My memories of what happened next are not entirely clear. I remember the first guy hitting me over and over again, and rifling through my pockets as I lay on the cement.  I remember both of them yelling at me, asking me for the combination to my briefcase.  I remember the second guy slamming my case against the wall, trying to open it.  I remember the first guy kicking me in the side and moving me closer and closer to where I would fall on the tracks.  I remember thinking “So this is how I am going to die.”  At that moment I thought about nothing more than the fact I had no chance to say good-bye to my wife of six months, or my family and friends, or to tell them all how much I loved them.

Fortunately, two couples out on a double-date came down on the deck.  When they saw what was happening they started shouting and one of them ran up to find the police.  Right about then the train came into the station and my two assailants jumped on it and left. As soon as they were gone, the people who had rescued me came running over and did their best to take care of me.  The police also came.  They asked me lots of questions, most of which I could not answer.  “What did they look like?  Where did they come from?” 

The only thing I could say was, “I don’t know. All I know is they were cooks.”

“How do you know they were cooks?”

“They wore white jackets and checkered pants, and they smelled of cooking grease.”  

The police finished up their report and one of the officers, the younger one, said to me, “Do you want to go to the hospital?  Do you need to go to the hospital?” I said, “No.  I have nothing broken.  I just want to go home.”

The same officer started to ask me if I wanted them to drive me home, but his partner, the older one, stopped him.  He came up to me and he said, “Tom, do you think you’re OK enough to ride the train home night?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good, because I’m afraid that if you don’t, you’ll never get on it again.  Do you understand?”   I wiped my bleeding nose and nodded yes.  The policemen stayed with me until the next train came through, put me on it, found me a seat, and said good night.   As I rode home, I thought about what happened to me and how I might have done things differently.  I noticed that people were looking at me strangely.  When we were in a tunnel I caught my reflection in a window across the aisle from me.  I saw a man with messed up hair, ripped clothes, bruises and a black eye.  I also noticed I was not wearing my glasses.  I didn’t find them until I transferred at Belmont. They were in my suit coat pockets.  Someone must have tucked them in there when they put me on the train.

When I got home my wife was already in bed.  She woke up when I came in.  She asked, “Why are you so late?”  I told her what happened and she turned on the lights.  She saw me and said, “Oh my God, Thomas, what did they do to you?”  She ran and got washcloths and ice to put on me.  She laid down next me and tried to hold my hand but she couldn't, because I was clutching tightly to the two pieces of my broken glasses. 

I remember that during that night, my wife held me, rubbed my head and told me it wasn’t my fault; things like this happen all the time.  I remember being exhausted and saying over and over again, “They broke my glasses…I can’t see without my glasses….I can’t work without my glasses…they broke my glasses…”
She said, “I know… its OK. We can get you some new ones tomorrow.  Just sleep.”  
The next day I did what I always did.  I walked over to the Paulina Street station, got on the train and went to work.  I had to explain to a lot of people what happened to me.  I struggled some that day, but I didn’t care.  I would rather explain, struggle a bit, and still be alive. 

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s my family and many of my friends stepped up to offer me support and comfort.  One day a friend, who I am very close to, stood with me in the garage and asked me “Are you afraid, T.S.?”  I had to think about that for a minute and then I said, “I am worried and anxious because I don’t know what this is going to do to my life. I don’t know what impact this will have on my family, my job…but I am not afraid.  This blew into my life, and it will be a tough experience to go through, I’m sure. It will not kill me though. So, no, I am not afraid.  I’m just adjusting to a new normal.  I’ll get through.”

I still do believe that it is better to struggle a bit, explain some things, and still be alive. Unexpected winds blow through your life; you try your best not to be afraid, and you carry on.  What else can you do?