CHAPTER 5: Nightscape
Well, it worked once before, maybe it could work again: a personal ad. Except this time, the world had moved onto the Internet, and dating sites were becoming plentiful. And it didn't cost any more to write a novella than a two-sentence blurb. So I got honest and more detailed.
Five responses. Three dates. Zero hits.
Then I received a very lengthy reply from Carol. Newly separated, three kids, just moved out on her own. Also lived over an hour away. The kids and distance parts were off-putting, but she otherwise seemed interesting. What the hell...
Our first date started around 6. Ended around 8. That's 6 PM to 8 AM the following day. Something to be said for that. I still hadn't totally bought into the relationship when, out of the blue, she lost her job, and a few weeks later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Both of my exes' mothers died of that, so it hit awfully close to home. What was I to do?
I committed to being her caregiver. It meant accelerating certain things considerably, starting with introductions to her kids. I had to make arrangements with work to take time off. I had to move from my condo to hers. And from there, things exploded in a frenzy of activity. Research. Doctor appointments. Tests. More tests. Specialist interviews. More research. More tests. Not to mention fights with crooked-as-shit insurance companies. We barely had time to forge a relationship—we were on a lifesaving mission.
It was imperative that I keep my head on straight, and to help with that I started a live blog feed. I blogged every day after the diagnosis. I blogged live from the hospital during surgery. During recovery. Back home. It was all there. It not only helped both of us immensely, but it became quite popular on the Internet. Men and women were lining up to congratulate me on providing a detailed account of the caregiver's role, which was sadly lacking up until then. I also learned firsthand why cancer is often considered harder on the caregiver than the patient. It's grueling. Heart wrenching. Seemingly never-ending. Worst of all: a perfectly unsolvable problem. Caregivers are helpless to help with anything to do with the disease itself. Some days it was a struggle just to lift my head off the pillow in the morning.
The blog was called Nightscape, and now it's gone, because in the years to follow, Carol suffered a gradual emotional transformation that tested me in ways nothing ever had. I was desperate to leave. But I'd dug myself in too deep. I'd become the owner of two condos. I had two mortgages. Significant business investments. Bills out the ass.
Then my knee imploded, and it was my turn to go under the knife. The surgery was botched: nerve damage. Three years of excruciating, unrelenting pain, with no opportunity for a malpractice lawsuit due to complications—naturally. I lost my medical coverage. For the first time in my life, I asked my parents for financial help. My father offered a tiny fraction of what I needed; my mother utterly devastated me by saying, "Try a walker." Those three words are forever seared into my long-term memory, along with my mental reply of "FUCK! YOU! BITCH!" How could any mother say that to their child? Mine did.
This was after my father casually mentioned that they'd sold our summer cabin in New Hampshire (above)—which I would have killed to own. "Why?" I cried. "You never said you were interested," he replied. "Why didn't you at least ask first? I would have bought it in an instant." He didn't answer. He didn't care. It was just business. He was incapable of accepting, let alone understanding, the feelings of others. When I'd mentioned I was in therapy a few years back, he scoffed; he didn't believe in "any of that crap."
I was despondent. I'd wanted so much to have that little cabin that I ached. Imagine living in a place that helped save your life.
Then, just to pile it on, by chance I discovered that Carol was having an affair. At that point I realized I was totally alone. I was Atlas, carrying the world on my shoulders and being kicked in the balls by everyone I'd trusted.
I had to get out. Just had to. I'd die otherwise. But it wasn't time yet; I had no financial backup. Plus, I was a complete mental wreck. I spent the next few years living in the condo basement. Then my parents' health finally began to fail; they'd both suffered strokes. That was (to the utter horror of most "normal" people) good news to me. I gambled: I retired early, tapped my pension and 401K to survive, and waited.
When the inevitable finally happened, I immediately withdrew a significant portion of my inheritance so as to purchase raw land where I'd build my own home, away from the toxic turmoil in which I'd been immersed for years. I also invested in a piece of commercial property for a business venture I was pursuing. Then I bought a camper, parked it on my future home property, and escaped.
I'd done it. I was free. I was designing and building my own home—a lifelong dream I thought I'd never be able to pursue. My plan was to finish my home and use my business for retirement income.
Then everything started circling the drain. The business venture fell through, and I had to sell the commercial land in order to finish my home. That's when my whole life was put on hold: the buyers of the land engaged in a perfectly legal period of due process, which they stretched out for Three. Unending. Infuriating. Agonizing. Tortuous. Years. I became destitute, at times living on a can of beans every other day, because I used whatever money I could scrape together to buy cat food. I could go for a few days without; they could not. (All of this is documented in painful detail on a website devoted to my homebuilding effort.)
Without income, I couldn't pay property taxes. I'd asked my lawyer for suggestions, and he arranged with the buyers to help. They agreed. But they never paid a dime. My home property went up for sheriff's sale, while the business property was seized by a third party. But because of the open sales contract, they couldn't take possession. So they sued me... for seven million dollars. Huh? They did a search on my name, and because it's so goddamn common, they came up with dozens of people owing massive amounts of money to various agencies across the state, and rolled them all into one summons. This is a fairly typical thing to do—sort of like shoving a stick of dynamite up someone's ass as a legal means of motivation. And at that precise moment, a close friend betrayed me, ruining the prospect of a potentially lucrative new business arrangement.
I was on the verge of another nervous breakdown. The only thing that kept me breathing was my cats. They got me out of bed every morning—otherwise, I'd have no reason to get up.
After an intense flurry of activity not unlike a tornado, the matter was at long last resolved. That was the good news. The bad news? I'd lost half of what I'd expected to make from the sale. And it wouldn't be enough to finish my home. So I filed for Social Security two years early just so I could continue to eat. And with the help of some new friends, I'd begun finding ways to make a little extra money so the house-building could continue, albeit very slowly. Eventually I was able to move into the house.
Nothing ever goes smoothly, though. When I applied for a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, the County Health Department threw up an enormous road block. Between them and the septic contractor, I was thrust into a year-plus-long battle for paperwork, with the prospect of having to move out of the house while the septic system was torn out and completely rebuilt. It was an unbelievable cluster-fuck that had me imagining myself going postal and showing up at various offices with a machine gun.
In the midst of this battle, I started feeling quite poorly. I thought it was Sarcoidosis, which I've had for decades. Or maybe it was Lyme Disease, which I'd contracted just a few years ago. I described my symptoms to my GP, and he told me to go to the ER right away. Whereupon I learned that I had congestive heart failure. It was quite far along; unless I got a heart transplant (which I wouldn't want even if I was eligible), I was looking at a year, maybe two at most, before I'd be dead. I needed my friends more than ever—so naturally that's when COVID hit, and I was barred from seeing anyone.
Oftentimes, people like me who have a perpetual black cloud hanging over them are thought to have created many of their circumstances themselves. Sometimes I can buy into this theory, but when something like a global pandemic hits, there's no way I caused it just so I could keep that black cloud around. This is well and truly a case of really, really fucking bad luck.
Now, given that I've suffered from depression virtually my entire life, and that I've had a really rough time of it up to now, and I've been deeply disturbed by the state of the planet at the hands of short-sighted, ignorant, greedy humans hell-bent on destroying it, I never wanted to live forever anyway. The prospect of death wasn't the slightest bit frightening; indeed, it was somewhat comforting. But having a time bomb in your chest, and knowing it can go off at any minute, can really mess with your head. Now I'm prone to wild emotional swings. I'll spend the better part of some random day sobbing uncontrollably—and not because I'm especially sad or something, it just happens.
This is where I'm at this very minute: staring squarely at my mortality. I hadn't planned on writing a memoir, but a long-distance friend indirectly inspired me to give it a shot, so someone who has never met me can get a vague idea of what my life was like, which might shed some light on this admittedly strange creature. I've managed to hit most of the major highlights/lowlights, but for the sake of brevity, I've naturally left out tons and tons of details, some of which I may fill in from time to time during the last months/weeks/days I have left on planet Earth.
Copyright © 2020 by David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved