Sunday, December 20, 2015

But it isn't just a dream. This is your life.

(The title of this post is from the lyrics of a song by local musician Uno Lady. I saw her perform at the 78th Street Studios on Friday and also enjoyed seeing some friends there. She's really good!)

To preface this, I want to say that there is a fear I have with writing or talking about things like this that if I'm too negative, it will make people less interested in interacting with or spending time with me. It is probably a fear that a lot of people who are going through hard times have. But I'm pretty sure it's not true, at least not for people who really care and who are worth having as close friends. I like writing, and I'd like to think that, like Cara, I have a fairly interesting perspective on life that's worth sharing, so I'm going to share it.

Do you ever feel like there is something fundamentally wrong about the reality you inhabit?

After Cara's mother and I picked up the Papa John's pizza that would ultimately be her last meal, I sat next to her hospital bed and watched the second half of game 3 of the Cavs' first round playoff series as the Cavs took a commanding 3-0 lead over the Boston Celtics. I had no idea at the time how imminent Cara's passing was.

Another bad thing that happened just days later, although it obviously pales in comparison, is that Kevin Love suffered a season-ending injury during the Cavs' series-clinching game four victory.

This event added to my sense that things just weren't right with the world. It was like I was in the "bad timeline." Somewhere there was a reality where Cara was still alive and where Kevin Love didn't get hurt. In that reality, I'd like to think the Cavs went on to win the NBA title and Cara and I enjoyed celebrating the long-awaited championship with the rest of our city.

This weekend sees the release of The Force Awakens, the seventh film in the Star Wars saga. I saw it with some friends on Thursday night and liked it very, very much (no significant spoilers follow, I promise). In terms of plot and world-building it might be the weakest of the movies, but the characters were easily more compelling and likable than those in the prequel trilogy. It was a fun ride and it packed an emotional punch at the same time. I'm pretty sure it packed a bigger emotional punch for me than for most people.

From about 1997 to 2005 (that is, my high school and undergraduate years), I was pretty much totally obsessed with Star Wars. I watched the movies over and over, read all the expanded universe books, and spent much of my free time on message boards and playing Star Wars computer games. I even wrote, during my later high school and early college years, two novel-length works of Star Wars fan fiction (which, if nothing else, did help me hone my writing skills). Running cross country and track was my biggest passion in life, but it's safe to say that Star Wars was in second place.

In 2005, Revenge of the Sith came out, and it appeared that the saga was complete. And before long, I just moved on to other interests. I didn't stop liking Star Wars, but it ceased to be a major part of my life. It was that same year, in fact, that I got into indie music and going to concerts, so in a way I guess that was what replaced Star Wars. In 2006, I met Cara, and my life completely changed. (I suppose it is worth mentioning that, although she wasn't particularly into Star Wars, we did watch Return of the Jedi on our first date - my suggestion because she had told me she had seen the first two movies of the original trilogy but not the third.)

In 2005, I never would have imagined that one day I would be sitting in a movie theater watching a seventh Star Wars movie. Not in the slightest. So it was a very surreal experience on Thursday night as those familiar title words appeared on the screen.

In 2005, I also never would have imagined that I would soon meet an amazing woman, fall in love, get married, and then she would die of lung cancer at the age of 36.

Cara said that after she was diagnosed with cancer, thoughts like "I can't believe this is really my life" went through her mind. Naturally, the same thing happened to me. And it has again at various points since her death.

By the way, losing your spouse can result in things making you very emotional that previously wouldn't have had such an effect. There is a scene in The Force Awakens in which Han sees Leia for the first time in quite a while, with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher reprising their old, familiar roles. And yeah, I started crying, because it made me think about how I'll never get to see Cara grow old.

This weekend I was supposed to be in Portland, Oregon seeing a very special show by one of my favorite bands. After much agonizing over the decision, I ended up canceling the trip due to a muscle strain I incurred playing basketball on Wednesday. It hurt pretty badly at first. I was using crutches to get between my parking and work. It's gotten better, though, and I now feel like my leg is probably good enough that it would have been okay to go on the trip. That doesn't mean I made the wrong decision, though. The truth is, the injury by itself wouldn't have been enough to convince me not to go. It was the combination of the injury and my ongoing chronic pain. One of the awful things about really bad chronic pain is it can turn something you are excited about into something you fear. This is because if the pain happens to be bad enough, it can ruin the experience, and the knowledge that you would have had a really great time otherwise makes you feel even worse. Actually, when I started writing my previous blog post, I was feeling severely depressed, but in the time since I had begun to do a lot better - somewhat better physically, but also a lot better emotionally (still not great, but not terrible, either). An important part of that was that I was beginning to feel I had at least a modicum of control over the situation. I couldn't make the pain go away, but I could at least usually help myself feel somewhat better with a good workout. Being injured temporarily robs me of that ability. I was already stressing out a lot about the trip (which I originally planned before the chronic pain recurrence, so at that time it was simply something to be very excited about, not something to fear). The injury increased my stress exponentially.

It's still possible that I might have had a really amazing time had I gone. It's also possible I would have had an awful time. I will never know. I do know that I made a decision based on fear, which is not something I generally do, and it's not a good feeling. That doesn't mean it was the wrong decision, but again, I'll never know. When I called to cancel my flight I again had thoughts of "I can't believe this is really happening; this isn't how my life is supposed to be." Because going on this trip was something that really, really meant a lot to me. You might notice that now I can envision a life that's supposed to be that doesn't include Cara being alive. Obviously, in my ideal world she would still be alive and she wouldn't have cancer. But there is a reality in which I have a very happy life despite her being gone. It's not the reality I currently inhabit, but it's something to strive toward.

Why am I writing all this? Besides being an outlet for me, I also want people to know what it's like to go through the things I'm going through. Much like how Cara gave people an inside look at what it's like to live with stage IV lung cancer. There are a lot of people out there going through similar things who aren't as open about it. Some people who are going through hard times, whether it be due to chronic pain or due to other emotional or mental issues, might find that some of their friends become more distant because the person with the problem is suddenly less cheery and less fun to be around. This hasn't happened to me, but I know it can happen. So don't make assumptions. Be kind to those around you.

I've found that with the hard times I've had recently, I've been clinging more tightly to my memories of Cara. So I want to share some good memories from earlier this year.

I'm currently watching the Cavs game with Kyrie Irving making his season debut after his injury in game one of the Finals (another "bad timeline" moment - his injury happened in overtime of a game one loss, and the Cavs just barely missed a shot that would have won in regulation and thus resulted in a 1-0 series lead and no fractured kneecap for Kyrie). This takes me back to his amazing performance against the Spurs on March 12 of this year, which might be my favorite basketball game I've ever watched. I was watching the game in our living room and Cara was in bed. She said that she knew something really exciting must have happened because I audibly reacted (a totally involuntary thing, in fact) when Kyrie nailed the game-tying three as regulation time expired.

Another memory of Cara was sparked yesterday when I was in the car and a radio host said something about how she liked odd numbers. Cara did not like odd numbers, something I heard many times over the years. I remembered a moment from earlier this year when I made the observation to her that in Columbus (where we both grew up) all of the main broadcast TV networks have even numbers (4, 6, 10, 28) whereas in Cleveland they are mostly odd numbers (3, 5, 8, 19). I wondered if she disliked this. She said that I was right; she did. I was glad to be reminded of this moment, which is why I wanted to write it down. It was one of those little indications of just how close a bond we had.

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