How I survived the weekend...not very well, I fear

Peggy and I went for an easy (i.e. flat) six-mile hike last week, and my knees have been hurting so much ever since that I haven’t even been walking the dogs here in town. My left shoulder has also been giving me fits again, and I don’t even know what I did to bring the pain back. Yesterday, I was desperate to go to the woods for a walk, but I knew I shouldn’t go far, so I decided to use our outing to look for new places close to town (we hike abandoned logging roads, partly because they’re easier on my knees than trails, and partly because our blind dog, Bonnie, can navigate them without her leash).

I didn’t expect the area I chose to be so steep. I turned back after only 25 minutes, and Peggy and the dogs went on alone. While I waited for them, I sat in a lawn chair, and read from a geology book (geology and botany being two enduring interests of mine). I also fell into a funk over my physical problems.

Being in a funk makes everything hurt worse, so by the time we got home, I was miserable. I wanted to open a bottle of wine, but since I’m trying to lose weight so that my knee won’t bother me as much, I took a full dose of hydrocodone (a narcotic) plus two Benadryl (to alleviate the itching caused by the hydrocodone). A few hours later, I took a Neurontin for the fire in my shins that is caused by the cyst in my spinal cord (syringomyelia, it’s called), plus two more painkillers. After an hour spent lying awake in a murderous rage at the whole world but especially at my failing body, I also took a Dalmane (a strong sleeping pill). Even with all this, the pain still woke me up early, so I’m sleepy and in pain yet again, and thinking seriously of opening that bottle of wine.

I used to be wary of taking so many drugs, but I’m pretty much to the point that I don’t care anymore. If my liver or my kidneys fail, I will be extremely bummed, but death itself isn’t of much concern except for the fact that I would be leaving Peggy and the dogs.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how much more suffering and indignity I would endure. Sometimes, I feel myself slipping so deeply into depression that I wonder how I am able to bear it and still function. Sometimes, I really don’t know how much more I can take. Sometimes, my misery is so profound that I wonder how much deeper the bottom could be. That said, I know it could be a lot deeper—like if Peggy died—but I also know I probably wouldn’t survive if it were.

I try to think of thoughts with which to console myself, and there are many. I still have about 75% of my vision, most of my other senses, and 80% of my mental capacity. I’m ambulatory, financially comfortable, have a cozy home, a loving wife, adequate leisure, and two good dogs. What I don’t have is a body that will do what I want it to do, or freedom from significant pain, or friends whom I greatly value (well, maybe one or two), or the feeling that my life counts for anything, or the confidence that I’ve utilized my talents wisely. I’m 61, and the writing is on the wall that it might very well be downhill physically and mentally from here.

Peggy works 20 hours a week, and hopes to retire in five years. Then, we will travel. I used to like traveling. Whether I would still like traveling, I don’t know. When I ask myself where I would like to go, I can’t think of many places. I never tire of Oregon, and I wouldn’t mind an occasional trip to other parts of the American West, but I’ve no special interest in the rest of the world or even the rest of the country. The only person I would want to visit is my half sister. Peggy has her father and two sisters along with assorted nieces and nephews, but I’m not close enough to them to want to visit them—or to think they would consider me as anything but Peggy’s baggage.

The nearby woods, coast, and desert all bring me joy. Learning about nature brings me joy. Being with Peggy and the dogs brings me joy. Blogging brings me joy but also guilt because I never feel that I visit other people’s blogs enough. Hosting that atheist group last week brought me joy. But, clearly, I need more joy and less heartache. Even though the pain is better at times, it always comes screaming back really bad, and I’ll be damned if I know how to stay optimistic in the face of it. I have a cabinet full of liquor and a drawer full of narcotics and sleeping pills, yet I must go on living. It’s not easy, but I do have two great comforts. One is that I might get better after all. The second is that I don’t have that many years left anyway. I also have one great obligation—Peggy.

Warning: Unbearably Sexy Photo

We went camping again last week—a two nighter this time—to a 19th century gold mining area that is littered with abandoned mines and ghost towns. The valleys being warm, we camped at the mile-high level.

Peggy and I both enjoy the woods, but her real passion starts at timberline, which is around 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in Western Oregon. I think of timberline as a gray and barren area with few redeeming virtues aside from an expansive view, so I prefer to spend my time rhapsodizing over snakes, alder leaves, mountain streams, and other humble interests that only exist at lower elevations.

Peggy was a devoted climber (she’s in the middle of the photo) until arthritis forced her to give it up. She always wanted me to climb with her, but I couldn’t see the point in working that hard in the interest of recreation, and, as I said, the high country has a spiritual dimension for her that it lacks for me. The highest she ever got me to go was the 8,363-foot summit of St. Helens, and I wouldn’t have climbed it if Peggy’s friend Shirley hadn’t previously gone. Because Shirley is a known woos, I figured St. Helens just couldn’t be that bad. Well, I guess it wasn’t in one way, but in another it was pretty awful. Gray, gray, and more gray, all day long nothing but sharp gray lava under an intense mountain sun that made me feel like a cat in a microwave. When we finally returned to the world of greenery, I was as happy as if I had been away for years.

On our trip last week, I left the narcotics at home (no more night sweats, diarrhea, and hallucinations in the middle of the woods for me, thank you very much) and just took sleeping pills. I couldn’t decide which ones to take, so I just tossed some Restoril and Dalmane in with my vitamins. Well, wouldn’t you know it, with only two kinds of pills to keep straight—one orange and one blue—I still got them mixed up, and double-dosed on the Dalmane. It didn’t seem to hurt me any, and I slept better than I have in months—if not in years. The second night, I double-dosed a second time. A few minutes later, we decided to get out of bed and watch the Perseid meteor shower. All of the stars looked like shooting stars to me, but I could pick out the real ones because they moved faster. I finally just sort of fell over backwards and, it being a warm night, Peggy left me where I landed. When she got up the next day, I was still in the same position. (If I were you, I wouldn’t believe QUITE everything I read here.)

I have long been convinced that I would go insane if I couldn’t go camping regularly, and now that I haven’t been for two years prior to this summer, I think it safe to report that I was correct. Those who have only met me during those two years don’t know what my life was like for much of my adulthood, so I’ll tell you. It was hard manual labor punctuated by camping trips. I’ve long since lost the ability to do the former, but I’m regaining the latter, so maybe the other will come with it eventually.

I’ve decided that since I’m getting past the worst of the pain from my two shoulder surgeries, maybe I should develop a life other than the Internet, so I’ve joined three local atheistic groups. One of them is supposed to meet here this week to watch the movie Religulous, and it will be something of a return to the old days when groups met here all the time. I always enjoyed having people over, partly because I love my home and partly because I had rather stay here and have people come to me than for me to go out to be with them.

I know that I haven’t been visiting blogs as faithfully as I usually do, but what with it being summer, I just don’t want to spend so much time at the computer. I feel bad about that though. I can but ask that you pardon my absence, and that you let me know if anything momentous should happen in your life because, I assure you, I'm here if you need me.

How do you recognize a non-comformist?

They all look alike. In 1923 Germany, they looked like Hitler. In 2010 Oregon, they wear tattoos, nose rings, lip rings, eyebrow rings, green hair, and faded jeans with gaping holes in the knees. The Hitler look was more than a fad, of course, while the current buffoonery will soon go the way of crewcuts and bellbottoms, and dermatologists will get even richer removing indecipherable tattoos from wrinkling skin.

I’ve become absorbed in Hitler lately. No, I’m not going to become a neo-Nazi. Passing passions are just how I learn. They’re why I know a little about a lot of things, but not a lot about anything. So it is that my time of late has been devoted to Hitler documentaries, Hitler movies, and Hitler books. I even took a stab at the music of Wagner, but sixty minutes of boredom was enough.

I have a Nazi flag plus the certificate an American soldier had to get signed to bring it home as a war souvenir. I bought the flag at an estate sale in Minneapolis in 1989. $75 seemed like a good price, so I figured I would sell it and pocket the difference. Then it occurred to me that some neo-Nazi group might buy it, so I kept it. Now, I don’t even know where it is, but it’s here, probably tucked away in a box of clothes that I bought on sale but never wore (I’m forever thinking I should dress better, but I never quite work up to doing it). I once got the idea that I should burn the flag as a symbolic refutation of evil, but then I remembered that destroying history was what the Nazis did—and what the Taliban did when they blew up that statue of the Buddha.

Besides, I rather like having that flag because it’s surely the single most powerful symbol the world has ever known (there being many different Christian crosses). Even though I don’t even know where it is, the mere fact that it’s in this house somewhere gives me a connection with the billions of people whose lives it touched. Kind of, anyway. My problem is that the past seldom seems real to me. The future doesn’t either, actually, but it seems more real than the past because the past is gone, and the future hasn’t gotten here yet. The present seems real enough, but everytime I try to grasp it, it has already become the past. This makes me feel as if I’m floating, which is why I plan to re-read Sartre’s Nausea when I’m done with Hitler.

Of all I’ve read and all I’ve watched, the thing that stands out most is the execution of a Nazi war criminal by a firing squad. His was but one of scores of deaths I saw, but the rest run together. The morning on which he was marched into a large pit was cold. He wore his uniform and walked upright. When he reached the place where he was to die, his legs were tied together loosely for no good reason that I could see. Then a hood was placed over his head and his hands were tied behind a wooden post. He was standing tall with his chest out when the twelve soldiers fired. A spray appeared behind him, and, after a moment, he slumped forward. Then a dog howled piteously. I watched this execution…

I stopped writing to answer the phone, and, as I talked, I could see the words I was saying. I could even see the punctuation. It’s scarier to hallucinate when I haven’t taken anything, but it’s also more interesting.

I watched him die repeatedly in slow motion. The spray seemed to be composed of flesh and splinters, which was what I expected. But I also saw what looked like smoke rising, and it took me awhile to realize that it was condensation caused by heat from his body meeting the cold air. A few moments earlier, the heat had come from his nose; now it came from his back. Over and over, I listened to that dog, and his howl seemed to encapsulate all the misery of the war. Fifty-five million people died. Imagining their deaths is like imagining time without end or space without boundaries. Still, I can’t stop reading about the man who started it all, the man who would surely have been stillborn if the universe were benevolent.

Peggy has little tolerance for tragedy (she sees enough of it as a nurse), so last night—after having watched a little of what I had watched and hearing me talk about it for days—she insisted on watching “Charlotte’s Web” to lift her spirits. Until this moment—now—I never shed a tear about all the misery I absorbed through my study of Hitler, yet I cried over the death of a make-believe spider in “Charlotte’s Web.” I guess it was safer that way.

I can’t leave World War II alone (I’ve returned to one aspect of it or another for years) because to do so would be to imply that all that misery didn’t matter. Besides, I am desperate to understand it. I simply have to know why we are as bad as we are when it would seem so easy to be better. I write this as a citizen of a nation that is ever at war. I think it’s what our leaders do to feel important, and that was probably Hitler’s reason too, that and wanting to rule the world.

I always edit for days before I post, but this feels right without editing. I’ll probably be mortified tomorrow and spend next week editing the hell out of it, but I’ll take that chance. I’ve heard that shit happens, so I suppose spontaneity does too.