Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When You're Home

Since the brain cancer journey started, I became more emphatic about being a simple and practical man often declaring one or the other or both. I expound on these definitions with phrases like 'home is where the house is' or quote my grandfather that 'if it's about money, don't worry about it, we don't have any.' But I know somewhere in me always lies the hopeful romantic, somewhere a wild spirit that both runs with and to his fears, to overcome them or to be overcome by them on occasion if I'm completely honest.

One of the places where the idealistic memory prone despite the memory being damaged in me is an annual tradition of hanging up an ornament representing the most important event of the year. Sometimes it is a singular event like Kiana's birth or marriage or how brain cancer was handled. Others it's a little more stretched like on a year that was the most travel we stuck an airplane ornament.

This year it was difficult. It was a heavily traveled year with 4 out of town weddings, two local ones plus a couple of cancer events, plus a couple of athletic events. It was the year we lost our dog though for whatever it's worth, no sad thing has ever made the tree (getting her once upon a time was the ornament). Nonetheless, I contend that sadness should and I hope will never be the most important part of my year. It's against my religion to have bad days and I rarely sin and I hope your faith can absorb that whether you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Festivus.

In the end, it was an ornament shaped like a piƱata representing Kiana's 2nd trip, Elaine's first and my first return in quite a while to the country of my birth, Mexico. I am an immigrant by no choice of my own since I came very young. I taught Spanish for 3 years and yet have been inadequate at sharing it with those I share a house with. Still there I walked them around neighborhoods where the houses all had protection like the poor people still had broken glass up on their fences because no matter how little you had, you protected the people inside.

But I've been expanding my definition of home to something less simple, less practical. I've been working on many relationships, some that took me too long. I've been trying to connect more with my biological father who I didn't meet till I was 15 and he didn't know I existed till then. I spent almost a quarter of a century putting almost no effort and now that we've been talking, I realize he's been keeping track of me through social media. All this time I've been sharing on there what would allow me to call some people less (yes, a cheap copout I know) and it allowed him to get me to know me more. I've been trying to do the same with phone calls. There's a possibility that my grandparents will be having their 70th wedding anniversary there next year and whether it's that or trying to get him here, I am embarrassed to admit that it will be when Kiana's also a teenager when they meet. Somehow the furthest thing on my calendar to dream/plan is a race in the state I was born so finally the place I've been running from I get to run to.

I've been actively calling my brothers more and we've traded stories that we didn't know we didn't know (some I imagine my mother is not happy that we finally shared). I moved out when I was 14 and we've never shared residence in the same city in adulthood but family is family. I'm absorbing it and sharing it more. Some people have the privilege of being born and a part of a more traditional 'nuclear' family. Neither in childhood nor in adulthood has mine paired out that way but in the modern age we say love is love eh? Turns out loving with conviction is the intimacy I'm searching for not how people will judge me. Believe you me as I hear about Kiana's first break ups and her friends ask me my pronoun and jr high shows me that karma is real with some of the things I said to my parents...

I keep letting go of fears as best as I know how, I suppose that's how we stopped being caveman. Though now I'm fairly claustrophobic and not a fan of the dark so perhaps facing caves more often would be good for me (I'm taking Kiana to a cave over the Christmas break). Maybe I can get what's damaged in my head to go to a different level than I'm used to. I am also not great with heights and still Christmas eve started with going up on a hot air balloon on the last used wedding gift that Elaine and I received. I didn't know much about it before going up it but it turns out just a small percentage of height can take you in different directions. The pilot wrapped up the flight by saying that it was like marriage you don't know where you're going but you do the best with what you've got. He concluded the lesson with letting us know that the first hot air balloon was torched because people thought it was out of the world. In order to be more recognized on future flights, they started waving champagne on their way down. I'll tell you that champagne helps me feel more human on occasion and it has this Christmas and I presume will on New Year's.

Due to all the wedding travel though, we didn't go anywhere and no one was here with us. It was Kiana's turn to be with her mother. So a fair share of Christmas eve and Christmas day were spent on the phone calling people who I could shout I love you to out of a car window if they were passing by but sometimes saying it softly and repeatedly is more effective. But I realized as I called people in different states and countries that home is spread more than just my property, more than just walls. I've left a little bit of home in many places and many people have left a little bit of feeling like home in me. I've been all over the world and I don't have much to show for it but I have a lot of heart and soul take it in. Turns out Dorothy was right about the sentiment that there is no place like home.

Christmas Day started with a run where we crashed into Santa sitting on a bench. Then we went out to traditional Chinese/Jewish food of going to an Asian restaurant. I've done Christmas in many places but life has been kind enough to where I've never been alone so turns out I've always been home for Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Live A Great Story

All around my hometown of Austin there are these big stickers plastered with a simple caption of 'live a great story.' I love the idea, that concept. I've been thinking about why I blog a whole lot less this year than I ever have before. I could make an easy joke about how I've got less time and space because I've been filling it with sex, drugs and rock n roll. I could tell you that now the worry is less cancer and the fact that I'm still alive to watch my daughter go through Jr High with its awkward ups and downs.

But just as in back in 2016, when the blog entries got to be half of what they used to be and now they're about half of that, it's that the intrusive brain tumor intrudes less and less into my life well there's less need to write here because after all it's own subtitle would be betrayed by that "An Incredibly Raw and Uncensored Blog of how a Guy copes and hopes with brain cancer and life changes." The MRI's moved to once a year. This year instead of spending December 8th wondering how the MRI or it's results or the neuro oncological appointment was going to go, I was sitting around a fire watching a sunset snacking on some mushrooms realizing that while my memory isn't all it used to be there were still some things making great impressions.

But I suppose another reason I haven't been blogging is the same reason I didn't blog a lot before brain cancer. This was that story specifically. I know we are in the sharing age where there's this platform for your thoughts (given the write number of characters) or that one for your pictures (as long as they're square) or that one for your links or that one that will self erase etc etc... But when I'm most honest, I know that many of my fun stories are not ones that I'm going to share on social media (like that crazy bachelor party, or some questionable financial decisions, or how my bed broke once, or some things from international trips which aren't super PC). There are ones that for better or worse I'll have an easier time telling my daughter than my mother and some that I'll likely never tell either.

Still, there are some relevant ones that I want to share. There was a time where I was going to a musical in the park, Hairspray, with a friend and her parents. I only downloaded one song, I know where I've been. Now I took them who were now my in laws and my daughter to see Evan Hansen where again I only downloaded one song, Only Us. Change is life's constant but some things have shifted and upgraded.

I'm 9 years into cancer and it was around this time I was deciding whether or not to have brain surgery. I put off brain surgery to run a marathon and then appreciated the people who walked with me afterwards. Now a friend of mine has a part of his skull missing temporarily and we have regularly gone on walks and outings. The universe balances itself out in the end I suppose.

The better part of 7 years ago, I was winning a marathon behind my daughter in a stroller and a lot of media would come. A lot of invites have come since then but among my favorite was the one into the obstacle world. A stranger soon to be friend Alex would lead me through that in Austin when he'd flown in from New York. This year I flew to Florida for his wedding celebration. I also had the chance to run with a friend on her first Spartan in her hometown in Chicago. It is the only race I've ever done with snow and ice to deal with.

Some of the media stuff still continues I suppose. I've been in some articles and am currently the ambassador for the biggest 10k in Texas, the cap10k. It seems appropriate I suppose because it's the distance I raced the most in 2019, 7 of them, placing in all of them and winning 2 outright, one on the road and one on the trail.

But the greatest racing story that I've gotten to live this year isn't that I finally broke a 3 hour marathon or the ones I've won but one in which at best I can be described as a pacer, really a spectator.

10 years ago, I ran the Decker Challenge as my first half marathon. I never thought I'd do it again as it was just supposed be a way to get to my one and only marathon. I mean I had a two year old daughter at home and I was 29, the body would be falling apart soon at 30. But I fell in love with the sport of long distance running and signed up for the next year. A little over a month before it, I got news of brain cancer but decided to do it anyway. Bibs are assigned at packet pick up and I randomly got bib 911, where both then and to this day in speeches I joked about how I didn't have to put the emergency number on the back, they put it on the front. It would be the first time I won my age group and PR'ed, a helpful thing as I absorbed the brain cancer diagnosis, realizing that maybe not everything goes down hill after you turn 30. They'd give it to me again upon request the next year but the year after that, a friend gave me the better bib, bib 8 for the kid born 8/8/80. I'd hit my PR out there once more and thought there would never come a day I'd stop running that race. It was so meaningful to me it would be where 5 years after my first one, 5 years ago, I'd retire the stroller. With each of those meaningful moments, I at first gave a glance to the thought that this race doesn't get better than this.

Still, the next 4 years I did not get to run it because I was now the President of the Austin Runners
Club and we put it on so it was set up and tear down. I got myself to believe that running the course a day or two before hand counted so that the streak would not break. But this year, at age 12, it would be Kiana's first half marathon. It is a tough hilly course and she had conviction on all of them. She never faltered and went from 121'st place at the first timing chip to 119th to 117 at the last one to 115th place over all and first female age 19 and under. She did this in a time of 1:40.26. I'd spotted her a minute a mile on her first half, she didn't need that. I've had so many good times out on that course and each time I thought it can't get better than this. Yet, each time does and let me be clear running besides her, telling her stories trying to encourage her while pushing her, just watching her grit, well this was by far my favorite.

If I ever get back to writing too much on here, it's likely because cancer has become a bit too disruptive again. I'll still write here on occasion, upon relevance but as long as I've got breath and love and hope and once in a while wine or tequila, I promise to live a great story.