Grieving for Gluten (And Other Things)…

When you find out you have an allergy, autoimmune reaction, etc. to a certain food or certain compound in a given food, it’s quite saddening to say the least. Even if you do know it’s for the best, it can really fucking suck.

For me, some days are better than others. Most of the time, I can deal with it just fine. I’ve found gluten-free replacements for all of my favorite foods – Italian, Asian, sushi, pizza, you name it! I definitely do not feel at all deprived on the food spectrum. I’ve found ways to deal with it (as well as my reactions to dairy, oats, amarinth and corn) and still eat all my favorites, using various gluten/grain free breads, pastas, etc.; non-dairy cheeses and ice creams, you name it. In fact, I’d say I eat better now and I enjoy eating and cooking more than I ever have in the past.

Alas, I still find myself sometimes longing for a Bratzel from Flying Saucer (a cheese/beer brat topped giant soft pretzel), a delicious donut, a wood-fired Lucia pizza from Vagabond in my old hometown of Abilene, and above all else, a good stout beer – the last of which still aches my heart that I can’t have anymore. There have been a few times I’ve wanted one so bad I’ve fucking cried.

Last week was a prime example, and I goddamn near caved and cheated on the gluten-free thing. Due to some unfortunate events last week (which were a result of my own doing and I’ll own that – though I don’t want to discuss details), I felt so bad the only thing I wanted was a Bratzel and imperial stout, and I was “this” close to going over to Flying Saucer and getting just that. Luckily, something came up which prevented me from doing that and saved me what could have been days straight of intense pain and suffering (I guess everything does happen for a reason).

The only gluten-free beer I’ve found around here is Redbridge by Anheuser-Busch and it’s no imperial stout. Whether or not you could even brew a gluten-free beer to have the thickness of imperial stout is another question altogether – part of where it gets its thickness is from the gluten itself.

Now, some Google search results have shown some true gluten-free imperial stouts. Alas, most of them are brewed on the west coast, and all of the ones I’ve found contain oats, which lo and behold I also react to. I can’t have those either!!! EFF. EM. ELL.

I guess I should consider myself lucky because I’ve got so much great Texas hill country wine to choose from around here to fill that void, but damn, wine just ain’t the same. I love wine, don’t get me wrong, and I would often choose it over beer back in my beer drinking days, but when you crave a beer it’s just a poor substitute.

My old pipe band is having a Burns Supper in a couple of weeks. I can guarantee you nothing there will be Celiac-safe because of the nature of Scottish cuisine. I can’t even enjoy that anymore. At times it’s just too much to handle.

Alas, I know it’s for the best if I stick to it, and in due time I’ll miss these things less. Taking it one day at a time is all I can do, and I guess I’ll just trudge forward, even if a beer or Bratzel is tempting at times.

I’ll be fine, and I can triumph over my cravings, and I will enjoy better health for not giving in. A little emotional pain now is worth not having a lot more of it later (as physical and emotional pain usually go hand in hand).

December 19th, 2002 – “The Day”

December 19th is no doubt the toughest day of every year for me. For the past 17 years, I’ve kept why largely under wraps as I’ve not really felt open or comfortable discussing it with anyone. Sure, I’ve mentioned in passing the very unfortunate significance of this day, but I feel I can finally open up more about it and maybe this can help someone suffering from a similar type of feeling.

So the story actually starts a few days before when I contract some upper respiratory illness that was very much like the flu, even though I question whether or not it was actually the flu. I was a Freshman in high school and a manager for the basketball team. We had been traveling for a tournament and I swear I picked up the virus probably in the course of that travel (close quarters and all that). Well, with myself and four others living in a little trailer house, someone was bound to get it from me, and the person who did was probably the worst person it could have happened to: my 84-year-old great grandmother.

Though she was active and seemingly healthy, my great-grandmother had recently been battling early stage kidney failure. Her nephrologist actually wanted to put her on dialysis but she adamantly refused (and quite frankly I don’t blame her – that just sounds like a miserable existence).

Anyway, I digress. The evening of the 18th comes around and I get home from school and my great-grandmother is incredibly ill. Of course, this shook me hard and combined with the stress of upcoming finals in school, I was freaking out probably too much over my own situation instead of worrying about hers. I probably shot my mouth off in the process (as I often do under extreme stress) and my mother got pissed off at me and said I was being selfish because the illness could kill her (as if I didn’t already know that). What she said next are words that have repeated in my head nearly every day for the last 17 years: “and you’re probably the one who gave it to her!”

So then my dad gets in on the action, pulls me into my bedroom and told me if I didn’t shut up he was going to ram my head through a wall (yes, he had physically abusive tendencies in the earlier days and that was starting to resurface given the situation). Anyway, needless to say the evening of December 18th, 2002 was high-stress all around and my nerves were fried. How I was ever going to take a final exam the next day totally fried me.

Anyway, I wake up the morning of the 19th and go to school for finals. I actually only had one final exam – 2nd period. First period was gym and I had chosen to exempt my 3rd period final (biology).  This was good, as I just had this sick feeling within me.

So I was done that day by 10:30-ish if I remember right, came straight home and saw my great-grandmother. Her breathing was very labored and heavy, drifting in and out of consciousness. She asked me for an ice cube to suck on as her mouth was extremely dry. I gladly went to the freezer and got her one.

As the day wore on, I would frequently check back with her, and she asked for a couple of more ice cubes as the hours wore on into the afternoon. I stayed with her as much as I could (balancing that and study time, which was largely unproductive) knowing I probably didn’t have much time left with her. As time wore on, she spent more time in an unconscious state and her respiration was tainted with sounds of sloshing fluid (is that what they call “aqualung?” – I know it’s a medical term and not just a stupid song by Jethro Tull). It was at this point I held onto her hand for the last time, silently saying my goodbyes, then left the room as my dad called 911.

First responders came and wasted no time strapping her to a gurney and hauling her to the ambulance, but it was too late. She died in route to the hospital – DOA. When my parents got back, they broke the news. I was crushed to say the absolute least.

However, I didn’t have much time to dwell as I had another series of finals the next day. I had to shelve my own pain and power through my next round of finals. As such, I never really had a chance to grieve initially, but my mother’s chilling words never left my head. They stung like daggers through my heart, and on some level I came to believe she was right. I felt 100% responsible for her death. The guilt was crippling and would remain so for the next 16 and a half years of my life. Though I’ve kept it mostly under wraps, I’ve largely suffered from “complicated grief” over the loss since.

Fast-forward to Sunday, March 24th of this year. Laina and I had just gotten back from the IndyCar race in Austin and stepped out on her deck for some wine (and a cigar for me, of course). This topic came up in passing. Something I’d bottled up since that awful day. Yet somehow, I felt comfortable opening up to her about it – something I hadn’t felt with anyone else. She felt “safe” to me.

So I did just that, but out of my pain (and it was painful for me to talk about – I will admit that) the floodgates got opened. Floodgates that would spawn something beautiful out of my pain – the bond we share today. Opening up and telling my story to her set the stage for us to bond the way we have.

Between that and going on my recent health journey, I’ve begun to finally come to terms with it. It isn’t my fault. She was ready. She stuck around long enough to make sure I’d be alright before she crossed over (as I had gotten my diagnosis of Aspergers not too long prior and things with my parents were finally starting to smooth over). She made sure they understood me on the level she did before her departure. She was my rock growing up, as I’ve mentioned prior. She stuck around long enough to make sure my parents knew who they were dealing with, and for that I am eternally grateful to her.

It’s been 17 years to the day since my great-grandmother departed this world. Though gone from the physical realm of the living, she lives on in the little things – my tattoo, my peony scented soap, her old clock. As I continue to heal physically, so does my inner brokenness. I’ll always miss her. I’ll never stop thinking about her. However, I’m finally starting to come to terms with it, 17 years later. I couldn’t have written this post even last year. I feel a lot “lighter” finally being able to tell the story without the feelings of sheer guilt coming back.

Well, thanks for those of you who read this post to the end. I’ve gone on for 1,200 words now, which is probably way more than enough so I’ll shut up now, go light some candles and reflect. Have a good day everyone, and always remember to remind those who mean the most to you just how much they mean to you, for they might be gone tomorrow.

A Day For Reflection

So I’m taking today off of work, for a dual purpose. Today is a day of reflection, celebration, and mourning all rolled into one. Two major events happened on this day, 98 years apart.

First things first, my great-grandmother would have been 101 years old today. I think back to my childhood and am so relieved she lived with us growing up. She seemed to be the only person who understood me. Not even my parents understood me nor did they really try to until my high school counselor pleaded with them to have me evaluated for autism spectrum disorder. In that way, my great-grandmother was my rock growing up.

She passed away 9 days shy of 17 years ago, at the age of 84 years and 9 days. Not a day goes by I don’t think about her. It’s the little things, too – the peony scented hand soap I have in my dwelling place (her favorite flower), the tattoo I have on my left calf, her old anniversary clock that I’ve kept even though it quit working years ago, those kinds of things.

Though she’s gone from the realm of the living, I feel her presence still. Her energy is with me. Sometimes at night, when it’s really dark and quiet and I’m lying in bed, I hear her voice calling my name.

It’s been a long 17 years, and I’m still processing. So much of my deeper-seated feelings about the whole ordeal I’ve bottled up all this time as in a lot of ways I’d always felt responsible for her death (contracting a flu-like illness myself, then she contracted it – I assumed from me). Alas, it could have happened anywhere. I’ll never know for sure. All I know is I’m finally to a point I no longer blame myself and can begin to really heal from it.

Anyway, another major event today. Three years ago today I stumbled across a certain blog that seemed to catch my eye. One with a life story similar to mine, yet different in its own way.  I felt inclined so I left a comment. Little did I know what that little comment would blossom into 3 years later.

We started off by having a lovely dialog on WordPress, commenting back and forth, which then found us in the world of Facebook where we messaged each other through the blog “page.” Eventually this led to us exchanging numbers, blowing each other’s phones up by text, friending personal pages, and continuing blog dialog.

We finally met in person for the first time in April 2018 when said blogger adopted two kittens from my family (who have grown up to be quite happy and healthy I should add). We would meet again in person toward the end of March 2019, which set up my move, but something else was happening too – we were falling for each other hard.

Little did I know three years ago today I encountered who I truly believe to be the love of my life. My twin soul. Happy WordPress anniversary, Laina. You mean the world to me and then some.

Here are some pictures from this past Sunday. We went out to the Japanese tea gardens here in San Antonio, very close to the zoo. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon with a high of around 75 degrees so it was something to take advantage of. It was so serene, and though much colder today we might be heading back for a bit today.

All photos credit to Laina Eartharcher. signal-2019-12-08-180020signal-2019-12-08-175955-3signal-2019-12-08-175955-4signal-2019-12-08-175955-2signal-2019-12-08-175955signal-2019-12-08-175955-1

It’s very interesting to note how quickly my body composition has changed in just a few short months, and I haven’t counted a single calorie or struggled/toiled at a gym either. I’ve only changed the way I eat – going gluten/dairy free, more fruits/vegetables, cut processed foods. My Davy Dukes are actually kind of loose now – not loose enough to go down a size, but loose enough to need a belt. Laina swears I’ve aged backwards even.

Anyway, she just dropped in so I better jet – we’ve got some celebration and reflection to do. Have a good day everyone.

The Pain of Loss

“Many people ask me why I always sign off ‘Till we meet again.’ Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon.” – Marty Reid, ABC commentator, after the crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that took the life of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon in 2011.

I remember very vividly watching that nasty crash as it unfolded but never in a million years did I think anyone would have died in that mess. When the news broke I was actually hurt and when Marty Reid closed the broadcast with the above words it hit me hard.

Since then I’ve changed my parting line to something similar, because goodbye really is so final and I reserve it for occasions such as this.

Today, my heart hurts terribly. Yesterday a very good friend of mine lost a hard fought battle against pneumonia. She seemed to have been making a recovery but things turned for the worse.

We didn’t know each other that long but in that time I came to regard her as one of the kindest and most gentle, beautiful people I’ve ever met. She was always there giving me words of encouragement even in my darkest days. She saw in me what I didn’t see in myself at the time. I’m sure I always drove her nuts with my ramblings about what a nobody I felt like but she never got mad, only reassured me that some day things had to get better. When they did she shared in my celebration as well as my trials and tribulations even recently.

Right now I feel for her husband (also a very good friend to me), her family, friends and fur babies. We are all feeling the incredible pain of this loss. Words cannot express the pain I feel right now.

This isn’t something I’ve had to deal with much in the past few years. It still hurts when it does though. I’ll cherish the fond memories, and maybe even the tough times.

Yes, indeed, goodbye is always so final. Goodbye, dear friend. I hope you are no longer in pain and are once again one with the stars. I’ll always love you, even in death and will never forget you.