Tuesday, June 19, 2012

a losing battle

So, in 9th grade I met this chick who was ballsy and didn't care what people thought, or at least she made me think she didn't care. But she had her own drummer and I admired that. I knew I had to be her friend, because she was not the same kind of dink I'd been encountering my first year back in public school after three years of Catholic education. Fast forward through several adventures to our senior year of high school. I already had a baby and woops, another one coming. I told ONE person who I thought I could trust - woops, she told another friend in the middle of class. As more and more people came up to me asking if I was pregnant again, I denied the accusation and grew increasingly angry at the betrayal. I suddenly found myself not knowing who to trust, so to protect myself the last few months of school, I cut everyone off except the father of my children, and our families.
Life carried on for everyone, and several years later, my friend and I found each other on AIM in a chat room, lost touch, then again via MySpace. We migrated to Crackbook and Blogger. Our girls love hanging out when we finally get together anymore. We went from living 10 miles apart to 20 miles apart to 30 miles apart, as we each moved to much nicer houses. She'd get sick, so I'd give her the time and space to recuperate and not feel like she has to entertain me. I have impeccable timing and always called when she was asleep. Then I'd promise to call back, get sidetracked with other stuff and forget to call. Then weeks would go by and we'd occasionally breeze past as we waved on crackbook. And then she posted a blog saying she was dying. Well, ok, it wasn't the most personal way to learn this news, but then again, I am guilty of not being more present in her life to get a phone call. She knows I don't deal with loss well at all, and we're both not the kind to keep it depressing and boo-hoo-ey. Snark is quick to follow. So, she probably figured that it was easier to break the news en masse on her blog, and let people digest it their own way and then take the next step.
She was born with a bad heart, and to shorten it all, she's died numerous times, defied doctors, and should have expired 11 years ago by all their accounts of things. But she's allergic to all the drugs, and a transplant isn't an option. As one gung-ho cardiologist got all hard-chargin' superhero on her, the cardiologist who GETS her said to Dr Wanna-Be-A-Hero, "She won't survive the anti-rejection meds, you dumbass." She now has a 19% ejection fraction, and only one chamber of her heart is functioning. She keeps fighting every day she can for another minute, another hour, another day because her daughter has no other ally, advocate, or teacher. She's decided to homeschool the rest of the time she can because it's the only way her daughter will get an education. This brilliantly funny girl is not a vegetable, but she's not being accepted by the kids and teachers in mainstream classes either.
And I suck as a friend, so I only learn of things via blog posts and crackbook status updates, not because I've stayed connected with someone. My life is its own brand of crazy, and all my friendships have suffered for it. And I was that friend that just disappeared. That's not what I want to be, and I shouldn't have gotten to that point. Meanwhile my friend has had plenty of friends fall off the face of the earth, some flat out say "I can't lose a friend on these terms, I'd rather lose a friend on my terms" - throwing up the deuces and walking away. At least they did that much. Some folks have become that really strong velcro that refuses to let go. You know the kind that catch the waistband of your underwear and pulling them apart frays the elastic so badly you can't fathom wearing that pair anymore? Yea, that's a couple people in her life. And she's had to deal with all of it. Meanwhile, my wagon-circling over here in my neck of the woods has unfairly left her hanging, and thinking I am not going to handle losing my friend. But even when you see it coming, even 8 or 9 years long, you still hold out hope that odds will again be defied and you can at least get closer to an age where people are *supposed* to start dying off on you. So, no, I won't handle it well. I never handle death well. My mom's death was hard, but in reality, we weren't ever really close. I think it was harder dealing with my dad's mourning than it was to actually mourn my own loss of my mother. But losing a friend who has peppered your life off and on over the last 22 years is a different ball of wax. Losing a friend forces you to start looking at your own mortality in a different light.

A few years ago she gave me a plaque just like this one. It's always been a joke between us because I'm 2 weeks older than she is, which for me is funny because almost all my friends are older than I am. But the unspoken story was that we both knew what was coming, and that there was more truth to this joke than either of us ever wanted to admit.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Satin and Ripples

Devildog has a friend who is a member of the Navy League. For the last 20 years, the Navy League has marked the commemoration of the World War II battle at Midway Island. There is extensive fundraising involved to cover the costs of the event. The ticket prices don't even cover the entire cost. They rely on donations and sponsorships to make it happen. Devildog's friend sponsored a table at last year's event, and invited us to it. I got dressed up in a formal I'd worn to a Marine Corps Birthday Ball 13 years earlier (yes it still fit) and we had a great time. I was also humbled and amazed by the stories of true heroism, and real surviving at is most intense level. So, of course, this year I wanted to go again. First of all, I love dressing up and second - what better reason than honoring these heroes? I started dress shopping almost 2 months beforehand and was coming up bust. I couldn't afford much, and then there are fit issues, made worse by what has amounted to a longer recovery than I expected from a motorcycle accident. After trying on probably 50 dresses, I finally found a dress on shopgoodwill.com cheaper than anything I was finding even in the local second-hand stores. It arrived in the nick of time, but the hot pink shoes I was thinking I could wear didn't work. So I had to search for shoes that fit my paltry budget, AND my not so dainty feet. It took several days, and trying on about 30 pairs of shoes before I found something that fit both my budget and my feet, and didn't clash with the dress. I think I'm just going to start shopping now for next year's dress. I find things more easily when I'm not pressed for time and the really good deals are going to be available later in the year, more so than at the peak of prom shopping season. Then you add the task of accessories, and I was about to go crazy with my perfectionism complicated by the budget. I have found items that hopefully will be able to use for a few years. My aunt Rita accidentally left some things at my house back in 2005 when she was here for my mother's funeral, and I took the liberty of wearing a bracelet she left behind. I figured that she wouldn't mind, and it was kind of like having a connection to my family's military roots present as well. My mother's father, three half brothers, and two nephews served in some capacity. My father spent a few years as an Army orderly at the end of WWII, with his iron stomach and hardy Irish immunity, in the sick wards with guys who "drank the water" as my dad puts it. My husband, his father, grandfather, and a slew of other relatives on his side served in the military. Needless to say, there is a strong connection for us to this event, and why we feel compelled to go.
This year marked the 70th anniversary of that battle, occurring 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was promised to be a big deal, and indeed it was.
At each table is seated a veteran who fought at the battle on Midway Island, was a former Prisoner of War, or is a wounded warrior of more recent military conflict. During the evening, each branch is honored and all over the room those who have served in any military capacity rise as the Navy Band plays a service song medley. Then things move on to honoring the veterans from Midway. These guys are now in their 90s for the most part. At this year's event was a 99 year old retired Rear Admiral, plus a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam. Most of the ones in attendance are still ambulatory, have their wits about them, and will flirt with anyone they can - because they can.
This year's Midway Veterans, keynote speaker, and nearby base commanders.
(Photo: J. Vargo)

This year our Wounded Warrior was Stephen & his wife Kimberly. I didn't get much of his story, as it's still a raw and ongoing situation for them. But he was injured in "The Sandbox" as it's become known, and is now working as a funeral director. They're expecting their first child, and they can't wait to finally meet him.
Last year, the honoree at our table was Captain Richard Stratton. He was a POW for 2,551 days. This year's bio that was read to us was not nearly as interesting as last year's. As it was told to us, he and other POWs in Vietnam were forced to be part of propaganda videos stating that they were being well taken care of, when in fact, it was everything otherwise. In one of the videos the then-Lt. Commander was forced to make, he was reading the script, and out of sight of the captors but caught on film, he extended the middle fingers of both hands. At that point, I understood why a bunch of ruffians from the softball team got seated with this particular veteran. He lives near the commissary where Devildog works (too bad the leadership makes it a sucktacular experience), and Capt. Stratton makes a point to find reason to tease Devildog any time he's in the store.
Also at this year's event was photographer William "Bill" Roy. He was on the Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway. He was capturing images of the battle when the Yorktown was hit, and began to sink. The abandon ship order came, and Bill stuffed as many film canisters as he could into his life vest and jumped into the water. He was picked up by another ship, and captured images of the Yorktown as it sank in the Pacific Ocean. Those images have been used in numerous publications over the years. Mr. Roy was snapping pictures of the displays just seconds before Devildog asked to have his picture taken with Mr. Roy.
I am looking forward to going again next year, and again enjoying an evening of delicious dinner, gratitude, humility, stories of heroism, and making a new friend. I have told several other people about this event, and I'm hoping that there is some result to my efforts to get word out about the Navy League's endeavor to honor those who have served and continue to serve in the military. I didn't know about it till last year, and it was the largest-attended event last year. This year, the event had 830 in attendance, which is a new record. It is a small note in the history books, and I was able to be part of it. But those being honored are a far bigger and more important part of history. At the time though, they were just simply doing their jobs, and doing what had to be done to survive, and never imagined their actions in those single moments would carry the major impact it has. It just goes to show how in an instant, one minor decision you make could have some serious ripple effect that reaches farther than anyone ever truly knows.

So, if you can't find, or can't get to a Midway Dinner near you, find your nearest Navy League auxiliary, and consider a donation to help them make these events across the country possible. Sponsor a table, sponsor the hotel accommodations for one of the veterans, sponsor the tickets for an honoree, or any portion of the expense it takes to commemorate a battle that turned the tables on World War II, honors the aging members of The Greatest Generation and their contributions to it, as well as giving credence and honor to those who served in Vietnam, Korea, and the Middle East. These Midway Vets are around 90 years old or older, and the simplest "thank you" makes them smile. Imagine their pride swelling as a room full of people give them a standing ovation, grateful for their presence on that day in history, and in that room.  For some, this year's dinner will be their last, as their health fails, and their bodies expire in the circle of life.