Reflections On the Year Gone By Part 1

I don’t usually do a year in review type of thing. I leave that to others because sometimes reflecting can be good, while other times it can be a nightmare or a heart wrenching episode that makes you want to crawl in a hole and hide from the rest of the world. Maybe the point of reflection is so you see things the way they truly were, in perspective to how you thought they were when they were happening. Maybe some events were happier than you originally thought. Maybe they were worse than you originally thought. Maybe, just maybe, they weren’t anything near what you thought they were. 

 

I guess that’s the point of this post. Reflecting on the past year, just as I would if I looked in the mirror and saw the age creeping up in my hair and around my eyes and lips. Sometimes objects in the mirror in front of you are closer than they appear.

Where do I begin? With the good? The bad? The ugly? Okay, maybe not the ugly—you can call me pretty. Go ahead. Do it. It’s not like I will hear you. Do I start with January and work my way through the year chronologically? Do I bounce, bounce, bounce around, touching on this point or that point or those points? I don’t know, but I think the next sentence will give me some direction.

In December of 2017, I got sick one Friday evening. It carried over into Saturday. Cate and I and the kids

were heading to Rock Hill that morning for Christmasville in Rock Hill. I had been looking forward to it for a couple of months, but when we left, I had a slight fever, hadn’t slept much the night before and a blister had formed on the roof of my mouth. By lunchtime, I told Cate, “Babe, we need to go home.” I was hurting. My throat was on fire. My mouth hurt. I had a fever and the chills and my body ached. I remember getting in the back seat of the car and vaguely laying on the couch when we got home. The one thing I was aware of through it all was the blister on the roof of my mouth had tripled in size. 

I woke the next morning feeling better. The blister was mostly gone, as was the fever and the chills, though the aches still remained. 

A couple of days passed and the blister and all of the sickness was gone. However, I noticed a knot in my mouth. After a couple of weeks of it being there, I went to the doctor. 

“I’m going to send you to a specialist,” she said.

“What for?” I asked.

“I think it’s cancer.”

Wha … what?

The following week, I

Before

went to see the specialist, but not before spending the duration between doctor visits in stunned wakefulness—I slept very little. Oral cancer. Two people I knew had died of the very thing in the previous year. 

I was asked the typical questions: Do you smoke or have you ever smoked? Do you chew tobacco or have you ever chewed tobacco? Do you drink or have you ever drank? I answered ‘no’ to all of those questions. 

The doctor visit came and went. “You have a tumor,” the specialist said. “It’s rare that it is in the hard palette of the mouth, but it is there.”

The good thing is it was operable. 

Cate and I kept quiet for the most part. I only told a couple of people at work and neither of us told our families about it until the week before the surgery was to happen. Sure, our friends and family could have showed support for us, but we didn’t want them worrying, especially our kids or my father, who had his own health issues (and I didn’t want to add stress to his life).

The operation was set for March 9th. I will not lie and say I wasn’t nervous and somewhat scared as we made our way to the facility where the surgery would take place. When I got there, all the nerves faded and the fear left me. I was ready to have this thing out of my mouth and to start recovery (hopefully with no cancerous lumps anywhere in my mouth).

I got mostly naked and put on their napkin thin gown and crawled up on the gurney they would take me back to the operating room on. The nurses did their thing and poked me with needles. The anesthesiologist came in and said he wasn’t sure what type of anesthesia I was supposed to get (you know, the one that knocks me completely out or the one that puts me under but only far enough not to feel anything) and he would wait for the doctor to inform him before he doped me up.

The doctor came in and started feeling around in my mouth. 

“Hmmm,” he said and left the room. 

I looked at Cate. She looked at me. The worry and nerves that had gone away earlier came back in all of its hated glory. 

A couple of minutes later, the surgeon came back into the room with a coal miner’s light on his head. He flicked it on—yes, it was bright—and shone it into my mouth. He felt around some more, looked again, then flicked off his light. He stood straight, pulled the gloves off his hands and said, “I guess I won’t be buying that Jaguar today.”

Cate and I looked at him with what had to be obvious confusion on our faces.

“I hate when my patients heal themselves.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“The tumor is gone,” he said.

“What?”

“It’s gone. It’s no longer there. You don’t need surgery.”

“Are you serious?”

After“Yup. It’s gone. There’s not even a mark where it had been.” There had been a purple lesion where the tumor had been and from December until the night before the surgery was to take place, I could feel it with my tongue. I ran my tongue along the top of my mouth and … I couldn’t feel it. 

They discharged me and I left the hospital floating about three feet off the ground and with happy tears in my eyes. 

I thank the Lord for the major miracle He had worked. Then my wife made me get a cell phone. Yeah, I know they aren’t connected, but they really are. I had resisted cell phones for the most part during my 48 years of life. But after dealing with the doctors on her phone, she thought it best for me to have my own. To recap: there was no surgery on March 9th, but there was the purchase of a cell phone.

That afternoon, I posted on social media about it for the first time along with two pictures Cate had taken: one before I was to go into surgery and the other after we found out there would be none. 

***

Going into 2018, Cate and I decided we wanted to do more book related events, meaning more festivals and conventions. We went into 2018 treating my writing more like a business than a hobby. 

One of our two goals for the year was to break even with the amount of money we started with, or do better. We didn’t want to go into 2019 in the hole. If we were losing money then that would make putting out books an expensive hobby instead of something more sustainable. I can honestly say we did better than break even by $128. I’ll take it. That means we sold more than we spent. 

Cayce Setup 2The second goal was to do at least twelve events. We surpassed that easily, appearing at 24 events on the year (even though we had none in January, February, July or December). It was exhausting, but we learned a lot. We met a lot of good people and made some great connections. We also heard this more than we thought we would: “I don’t read.”

I don’t read. 

This is sad. I’ve said for the last several years, the reading populace is dwindling and the pieces of the pie (readership) are getting smaller and smaller. Still, hearing so many people say they don’t read is bothersome. I had one woman lament for about ten minutes how people should read more and that it is a shame that they don’t. Then when I said, “Well, can I interest you in one of the books on the table?” There were eleven books on our table that day. She promptly said, “Oh, well, I don’t read.”

I could only stare at her in disbelief as she walked away.

ReadingThis is the world authors live in today. Its not like it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago before the internet exploded and smart phones gave you access to everything around the world in your back pocket and at your fingertips. People do actually read, they just don’t read books anymore. They read on tablets and from websites and through apps, but many of those people aren’t reading books on those devices. Twenty years ago, or maybe even ten years ago, the world still liked its printed stories. 

This also leads me to believe that without a huge following, you can’t make a living in this business. That is terribly sad. 

I don’t read. It’s a mantra I will surely hear in this upcoming year, but I hope less and less so.

To be continued …

A Moment of Silent Reflection

This morning I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed out the house. I made my way down to a baseball park behind the middle school. On my days off I usually drive there and I park in the same spot and I get out and walk my dog. We do three laps and head home. It’s always so serene and beautiful. With it being spring, the morning was still somewhat cool and there was a slight breeze blowing in.

Today, I didn’t get out of the car. Not right away, at least. I sat there, staring out the window at the world just outside. There was only one other person there, a black woman walking the track around the park. I watched her go until she was out of sight. I don’t know about other folks, but I always take a notepad with me when I go somewhere. Being a storyteller, I hate getting somewhere and not having something to write on if an idea is sparked. However, I sat there, no thoughts traipsing through my mind. I wasn’t even sure why I had gone there in the first place. My dog, Josie, was at home, so I wasn’t there to walk her.

So, why was I there?

I took the pad and a pen and I stood from the car. The breeze felt nice, but folks it’s going to be a hot day here in South Carolina. I stood in the parking lot for the longest time, staring at the playground, the walking path, then turning slowly toward the baseball fields. It was so quiet and peaceful in a way my mind has never been.

Then I started walking. It was slow and I guess I probably looked like a tired person trudging across the parking lot toward the baseball fields. Once there, I sat on one of the bleachers and just looked at the baseball field. It had been used in the last couple of days. I could still see chalk lines down the third and first base lines and remnants of chalk around home plate where the batter’s box was. In my head I could see the kids playing, one team wearing black jerseys, the other one light blue. The ump was in his usual dark blue uniform, catcher’s mask covering his face for protection. There were kids in each dugout, some paying attention to the game while most of them gabbed with each other. The coaches were serious-looking guys with potbellies with their team hats and jerseys on. They were constantly barking at the kids about one thing or another. And there were people in the bleachers and in chairs along the fence and…

And it was just my imagination.

Before I knew it I was jotting words on the notepad. Those words are as follows as written on the notepad:

Scott drove to the park. It was such a familiar place, one he had spent many days at as a youth. It was—always had been, he reckoned—the one place he had always felt the happiest.

No, it wasn’t the same as when he was a kid. Back then, when Mom and Dad brought him there when he was just out of diapers, there was only the one playground. There was no play sand or wood chips to make the place look nicer. There were no plastic, twisty slides or platformed play sets to spark the imagination and appeal to the parent’s eyes. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days? Appealing to the parents?

Not back then, when the playground was nothing more than a set of monkey bars, a teeter totter (or was it two? He thought it may have been two.), a bank of four swings with the hard wooden seats (not the rubber ones they had now), a tall slide of metal that in the summer it got so hot that if you slid down with shorts on you went home with burn marks on the backs of your legs. Scott could almost feel the sting as he sat in his car.

And there was a water spigot. No, not a water fountain, where the press of a button put out a rainbow arch of cool water. What they had was a straight pipe coming up from the ground, a hose spigot with a water valve you turned to get water to come out. Sometimes it was cool. Other times it was just as hot as the summer day was. At all times, though, it was sweet relief. Whether it tasted good or not didn’t matter. It felt good going down. On more than a handful of occasions he had stomach cramps from drinking too much water and going back and playing.

That was all that was there until Scott was around ten: one playground and a slew of trees opposite from it. Then the land the trees stood on was purchased by a construction company and a year or so later, a baseball complex stood where the trees had been.

How many days did he spend at the ballpark—no longer just the park—when he was a teen wishing he could play, but knowing he sucked at it? More than he could recall. Probably just about every day there was a game. But those weren’t bad days. They were good ones, back before Mom got sick and died and Dad…well, Dad never recovered from that blow in his life, and as far as Scott was concerned, he couldn’t have cared enough for his son to keep on keeping on. If he had cared, he wouldn’t have put the bullet in his head when Scott was only sixteen.

It’s not much and it’s very rough, but it’s the beginning of what I think will end up being the novel I’ve been struggling to write for about a year now.

I left the ballpark and headed home, my thoughts no longer centered on the first few paragraphs of a story, but on how a few moments of silence often leads to a story. This is the way it is for writers. This is real life and this is what we look for before writing a story. A story idea can come from anywhere at any time. And it’s a wonderful thing.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…