Before Sunrise

“But I promise the coffee tastes better before the sun comes up.”*

*Me, today. In an actual conversation with an actual human.

It’s been years now… three years and change, anyway… that I have been, more often than not, waking up before sunrise. If you didn’t already know, I worked about a dozen years on the graveyard shift. That means sleeping in the daytime, like a drunk vampire. Sleep-deprived. Most of the time as an on-call delivery person. Then, one final year isolated in a warehouse from 5:30 pm to 7:00 am, left to scurry home between the shadows, hoping direct sunlight couldn’t catch my hair on fire before my head hit the pillow.

In time, I convinced myself that I did my best writing, best living, between the hours of dark and light. That I got my writerly brood on after midnight. Told myself that I could barely function in the daylight, and I was just living in both worlds because I couldn’t convince enough people to come join me in the neon and fluorescence.

Then I quit that job.

And soon after, my whole life crashed.

Until I found the one thing a vampire can’t understand.

Welcoming the sunrise.

Move the calendar ahead three years. Looking where I had come from. Looking where I assumed I was headed. The loss of another, much better, job. The open-ended loss of autonomy in a pandemic. Finally, cancer. And through it all, one, and only one, thing stayed the same.

A single cup of black coffee before sunrise.

All the way back three years before, even after those dozen years in the dark, my body went from undead to alive in the daylight. Regulated itself, almost immediately, into existence at the beginning of every day, not the end. Yeah, even on weekends. Woke up without an alarm. Fell asleep without forcing myself to end each day dreading the next day, because each next day began of its own free will, with coffee in my hands and quiet outside my window. Ultimately, even after the time between August and November and the shitstorm of a dumpster fire life kinda became in The Summer of Cancer, most days were still about beginning them as I came anticipate more than any other thing.

The sound of a coffee maker. The joy in the silence before the noise to come. The beauty of a new day. And the promise of how much better the coffee tastes before sunrise.

Prove me wrong.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

The Martian

Isolation is real.

Whether in the case of astronaut Mark Watney, played in the movie by Matt Damon, stranded alone for a year-and-a-half on the surface of the planet Mars, or anyone experiencing isolation of any kind. I loved that movie BEFORE its implications meant more to me this year, when the common isolation of spring and summer gave way to another kind of isolation this fall.

In the last post, I talked about one kind of isolation. The one where you need to quiet the voices in a time of crisis. In this post, I’m talking about another kind of isolation.

Human beings make assumptions every day. A warm morning without a check of the weather app could mean not having a jacket with you when the rain hits that afternoon. A whirlwind romance without asking the newfound love of your life if they were raised by any character from season 8 of American Horror Story, and you could end up parenting the Antichrist. Or, making friends with people who are only there for you when things are good, could leave you wondering if there is some commonly held (but not by you because you make assumptions every day) belief that cancer is contagious, and that it can be spread through text messages or phone calls.

By the way, if, while reading this, you start believing the above paragraph applies to you…

*shrugs*

…maybe not. I mean, every disciple asked Jesus if THEY were the one who would betray him. And I have no friends named Judas. But really, there is no better way to know who was carrying the friendship load than for one of those people in that friendship to come down with a very socially awkward disease. And by awkward I mean, one nobody likes talking about because it makes them uncomfortable trying to navigate the feelings they get when that disease invades their comfy hi, how ya doin’ relationships.

And I guarantee you, I have done this myself in the past. I have self-preservation ghosted people before. Never explained it. Just did what I believed I needed to do for my own well-being, not even considering the feelings of that other person. Trust me, this recent revelation, the done to as well as the doing to, was eye-opening in a way that only having a potentially life-ending disease, and all the time in the world while living during a world-wide pandemic, can be.

So yeah, make that two *shrugs*.

Because everybody has their limit. Some people take the elevator. Some people take the stairs. Because not everybody can handle the stairs, and that’s okay. Some people just aren’t given a choice. So for now, this is my stairs. And anyone who wants to take the stairs with me, can. But if you feel the need to take the elevator, don’t worry. Maybe we’ll see each other when we both get to where we’re going.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

A Quiet Place

“I realized that my inability to process ‘noise’, be it dog whistles, Karens, or even hypo-manic friends, is probably a good thing, even if it brings a feeling of abandoning an aspect of myself in separating from it. I’m really only abandoning my codependency with ‘noise’ in the first place.”*

*Journal entry from Saturday, August 30th.

You ever see the movie “The Crow”? I know, TWO movie references in ONE post is unfair, I get that. Bear with me. The scene where Eric draws the morphine from the arm of Sarah’s mom. Well, in my case, if morphine was noise and Eric was cancer… okay, maybe a stretch… but my circumstances seem to play this one out.

I had become a noise junkie.

Not the kind of noise most people associate “noise” with, or relate to on any level, but the kind of noise that is often barely audible to the unaware listener. It’s analog, not digital, and therefore much harder to tune out. The noise I had become addicted to was… people.

There is a blessing… okay, a burden… alright, some might even call it a curse… with folks who intuit. Without dropping another dozen movie references and losing every reader, I’ll just say that (1) intuition on a level above most people’s ability to read tone of voice or body language in another person is real, and (2) it can become addictive. By August 30th, barely a week into my Summer of Cancer, I realized that all my blessing-burden-curse, what those who intuit (known as the “intuu”) was crushing me. Instead of that measured “receive and give” that intuition, much like breathing, something forced was happening in me. In my case, instead of a balance, it took on an edge, a jones in progress, a gift gone wrong. Instead of a feeling of well-being that can come from doing good, my recently jacked-up emotions had tuned my intuitive breath into emotional hyperventilating.

By the end of that day’s journal entry, I understood that my ability to process my own thoughts and emotions, something I desperately needed to do, had become an addiction response. I was using heightened emotional interaction with others in an attempt to make myself feel better, and I had to disconnect, immediately.

I had to find a quiet place, right fucking now.

Even writing this, five weeks after, I feel the learned behavior of steady, measured breathing take over. A deep breath in. A brief hold. A slow release of that breath. Repeat as necessary. Finding that place of internal quiet without interruption. Trusting that I have found that place in me again, more sure now than I had been… before. Knowing that recovering what was, for a time, lost, is stronger than before.

And mine again, because I know I’m going to need it.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

The Morning After

“Funny how nothing else in my life seems to matter after 5:24 pm yesterday. Women, food, to do list, job search, none of that… that’s about it except for which friend to tell.”*

*Journal entry for Friday, August 21.

This morning I read over the journal entries from those first, critical days in August, when my very ordinary isolation life became my very ordinary survival life. Besides my literary creativity in trying to best describe what a clump of dissolving-in-urine blood mass should be called, the 24 hours after First Symptom were spent repeating the phrase,

“I’m scared. Of course I’m scared.”

The fear which consumed me, and navigating those feelings, through “very ordinary” things like eating and sleeping… and at that point, having not yet told anyone… well, I can barely remember what that felt like, even while reading my words as I compose what I’m typing right now.

By the way, my chosen simile for what came out of me every time I was brave enough to pee was “hibiscus tea”. You’re welcome. Let THAT image carve its own space in your brain going forward.

“And now the questions… How long will I live? How will my quality of life be? Who will be there in my future? Seriously, will I even see the election? What comes after that? What DOES come after that?”**

**Same journal entry for Friday, August 21.

You know, it’s been 11 weeks and I still ask most of those questions. The election question just seems silly right now, but on August 21st, November 3rd seemed like one hell of a long ways off.

There is a thing said of athletes as they mature, and as experience begins to show itself greater than any ability with which an athlete plays the game. That thing said is, “The game begins to slow down” for them. It is that moment when experience and a history of being good at something, trade places, and the doing of a thing is made easier merely by having been there and done that so many times, that there is an almost unconscious take-over by the body, of the mind. Call it Gladwell’s ten-thousand hours. Call it simple muscle memory. It’s how I know I could still roller skate when I haven’t laced up a pair of roller skates in decades. How I know I can field a ground ball behind second base and, all in one motion, throw it, without looking, to first. And it is how, without ever having been this scared for my life, the game of life slows down, and I am able to make check-box decisions, one after the other, even when, in my head, I hear myself screaming louder than the crowd of spectators that surrounds me.

Call it time served on earth.

“How many times have I mentioned that I’m scared? At this time yesterday, I was peeing clear, felt fully hydrated, healthy, alive even. This morning, I feel like I need to get my affairs in order. Seriously? In 24 hours?”***

***Even later journal entry for Friday, August 21.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Projection

After more than three years, I still begin almost every day with a cup of black coffee, followed by time spent in the blank pages of my journal. Originally, this practice of self-care… at the suggestion of a dearest friend… was begun as an attempt to find my way out of a year-long “depressive episode”, that had led me down a dark emotional path.

What began as a desperate attempt to climb out of a dark hole, eventually became a road of discovery that brought me back into the light.

This is an Instagram post of a thought that came to me today, while the coffee was still warm. It stands on its own merits. But there were still more words to follow.

Continue reading “Projection”