Break for Freedom – Day 3 (Spaghetti Squash)

Day 3 – Sunday, August 13, 2017

7:26 a.m. – Ugly morning. First awake moments loaded with all kinds of discomfort, emotional, physical antsiness.  You don’t plan a day’s first moments; you live them.

In the shower, a few minutes ago, I realized the isolation has separated me from my body. This new awareness, I am pleased to report, riles me up, makes it far more likely I’m getting out the door this morning. I cannot shake the images of violence from the White Nationalist/KKK/Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. I’m sure Donald Trump’s response-statement further secured his white-racist voting bloc.  If the man ever walks in front of my car I am not going to let my dislike for him have so much decision-making power it makes me to forget the brake-pedal is on the right.

8:47 a.m. – Home. God, what a beautiful word. I walked the same distance, again, without the armor of dog, walking stick, music, pepper spray.

It felt cool out. Three minutes in, I am soaked through and unable to tell if I am actually cold or not. A mishap of sorts from yesterday has me burst into laughter a few times, and that helped. I recently got on Instant Pot, a kind of pressure cooker. My friend, Annie, had suggested it as a help for someone like me whose patience mirrors the size of a gnat when it comes to preparing meals. I thought I’d begin with Spaghetti Squash.

I cut the squash in half, put some water in my new pressure cooker, saw it was set for 10 minutes, and on it went. I suppose the best way to let you know the outcome is to give you a paraphrasing of the conversation I had with Annie afterwards. I called her in Hawaii.

  • Hey, Annie. I just wanted to thank you for the Instant Pot idea. It’s great.
  • I’m so glad.
  • I had spaghetti squash!
  • Wonderful! How was it?
  • Drank it through a straw.
  • You drank – How much water did you use?
  • About three and a half cups.
  • Oh my God!
  • Too much?
  • (Laughing) Peter, maybe three-quarters of a cup.
  • I drank both halves.

Anyway, Day 3s’ walk is under my belt, next to the spaghetti squash.

Break for Freedom: Day 2 (Ha!)

Day 2 – Saturday, August 12, 2017

I’m going to have to get out of my own way if I am getting out the door again at eight today. They say, Keep it simple for a reason. As my friends, Maria and Annie like to say, Ha! They say this to me in a text or email from time to time, and at the best moments too. Maria lives in Florida and Annie lives in Hawaii. Recently, I suggested to Maria that we either have a baby boy, or adopt one, and name it Mueller, after Robert Mueller III, the man heading up the investigation in Russia-Trump and a man who, by any measure, represents all that much of our country needs to wake up and remember our country stands for.  Maria responded with a glorious, “Ha!”

The, Ha!, is loaded with humor, love for life, and the radiant, healthy defiance (playful in these instances) found in the face of one who is not about to have their love for life and equality tampered with.  Every time one of them fires off a Ha!,  I want to hug them. My life is far better off for the presence of Annie and Maria. For those who think men and women can’t be just friends, Annie’s been a friend of mine for 30 years at least, and Maria’s been a friend of mine for 40 years.

So, it is now 6:48 a.m. in the opinion of a digital clock that sits on the cluttered top of a two-tier filing cabinet. Oops! Changed its mind, it’s 6:49. Eight a.m. is coming into view. I need music and movement and a shower.

I suppose, too, if there is going to be any benefit to either of us, I’d be wise to offer a glimpse of my emotional state, which, of course, is physical and, spiritual too. I’m packed with fear and the sweat has started. Emotional, spiritual and physical equal one because they are one

7:42 a.m. – I’m out the door. (No dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray.)

9:04 a.m. and I am finally home, another soaked shirt under my belt. Same distance walk as yesterday, followed by a trip to the store. Walking outside is something like being in another world. It’s overcast today, damp out. There is a street I walk on near here with large beautiful houses. I like looking at the care and love and creativity people bestow on their property is great fun.

There are gifts to going into the world you don’t expect. I walked past a tall, older woman with a Scotty on a leash. I said, “FDR would be proud.” She laughed and we talked for a few minutes. Here face had some serious scars and skin discolorations. It gave me great joy to continue looking right at her, smiling, listening, keeping our eyes connected. The discomfort you might feel when looking at an appearance influenced by scars, discolorations or whatever has nothing to do with the person you are seeing.

I told her I used to say dogs are people too until it occurred to me I was insulting the dogs. She burst out laughing and said, “That’s a good one!” We parted smiling.

Day 3 of this effort awaits. The good news is, it ain’t here yet. I’m going to have a cup of coffee now.

Ha!

***********

For Annie & Maria

Walking through the fear; making a break for freedom

Day One – Friday, August 11, 2017

Maybe this is a kind of Break for Freedom journal. I am 63. There is no time to lose. Destroying my fear of going outside can never begin on a fear-free day. The fear will be there, like some kind of emotional fungus, and fungus is a bitch to get rid of.  I live with a brain injury and an ample dose of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of being held up and shot in the head in 1984. The bullet remains lodged in the brain.

I like to think of Nelson Mandela’s words about courage That courage a triumph over fear, not the absence of it. The exact quote is, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I love Mandela. My guiding lights? Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Geronimo, Beethoven, Helen Keller. They all dealt with fear, and they all triumphed over it. I’m good on the role-model front.

But, here I am at 7:23 in the morning, preparing to go for a walk at eight. It makes me angry that this is terrifying for me. They use the word anxiety. Fine. But fuck that word. I’m afraid. I’m scared. I’m frightened. There’s no mystery to this. I long ago learned it is not weak to admit you’re scared. Were admitting it an act of weakness, why is it so hard to do?  I need to shower and go. I know I will shower again when I get back, but I don’t care. I feels better entering the fray, fresh and ready — sharp.

8:48 a.m. — I walked about half a mile: no dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray. Just me. I came back my shirt soaked through with sweat, immediately drove to the store, picked up typing paper and a 64GB SanDisk. Now I am safe at home with Charley (my 10-year-old Black Lab mix).

Early in the walk I pressed the index, middle and ring fingers of each hand against the front of my thighs and kept them there. Feeling the muscles move and harden with every stride was comforting. I kept my fingers their most of the walk. It had not been a conscious choice. I just knew to do it; it happened; and it helped. Instinct. Perhaps the most precious gift life has to offer. It humbles me, this uncanny skill our species has for surviving, for keeping life, rather than relinquishing it, especially to a monster called fear.

Day one, under my belt. That this all occurred in under an hour blows my mind. It felt like hours. Now, Peter, breathe.

A couple of close-ups if you will. At one point, there was an inner dialogue, someone asking me, “So what are you so afraid is going to happen if you got out?”

“I’m afraid someone is going to kill me.”

“In Adams?”

To which, my unedited reply would be: “Listen, you stupid fuck. I wasn’t expecting someone to put a gun to the side of my head and blow my brains out when I was walking to work on a so-called nice block in Brooklyn. You let me know when you find a violence-free zone, you stupid shit, and I’ll move there. You think that’s strange? I met a woman who was sitting in a parked car in a nice community upstate, holding her baby, when a drunk driver crashed into her side of the car and her baby’s head was crushed right before her eyes. Like I said, you find me a violence-free zone and I’m in. In the meantime, shut the fuck up.”

I can tell you, this dialogue helped me cover a solid half block in distance. Imagination well spent. Tomorrow’s Day 2. I’ll see when it gets here.

**************** 

For Chris Albee

 

Once more into the deep!

I’ve been afraid of the water since I was a little boy. Actually, to be more precise, I’ve been afraid of the deep water since I was a little boy. I’d ask the same question when, as a family, we’d be approaching a pool, lake, river. Is it over my head? And no, I’ve not forgotten oceans.  Never mind  oceans. I know all about undertows and know they’d drag me to my doom.  Forget oceans.

My fear had nothing to do with my ability to swim. I was a fairly decent swimmer as long as I knew I could touch the bottom with my feet. The moment I couldn’t, panic set in.

My fear of the deep water has always been with me.

Looking back. Both sets of grandparents lived in New Jersey. My father’s folks lived in Ocean Grove and my mother’s lived in Rumson. Both lived near the water. In fact, my mother’s parents lived right on the water. They had a couple of boats and, hanging off the end of the dock, was a minnow trap. One of my  chores was retrieve the minnow trap every morning. One morning I fell in. I must’ve been about five or six I suppose. The water was green and I was terrified flailing and then a strong hand grabbed me and pulled me to safety. My father had saved my life. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. Although he had died long before I got shot, there is no way I would’ve got back to my feet had it not been for my father’s presence in that moment with me.

Anyway, falling in, as you might imagine, did nothing to erode my fear. My next attempt at taking on the fear occurred when we were all at a public pool. It occurred to me that if I tossed in a kick board and swam to it, and then swam back holding on to it without touching the bottom of the pool, I could work my way from the shallow end to the deep end.  This is exactly what I did. Over and over I’d toss the board into the center of the pool, swim to it, hold onto it, and swim back. I made it all the way to the deep end and then, in an act that amazed even me, I jumped off the diving board into the pool and swam like hell to the side of the pool. When I got back to where my family was they applauded. They’d been watching.

Still, my fear of the deep water persisted.

Which brings me to the present. I moved to my new home in Berkshire County, Massachusetts a few months ago. I then got a membership in the YMCA. I knew, when I did so, that I was going to give swimming another go. It is unquestionably the best all around exercise there is and there is no doubt exercise benefits all areas of life.

September fifth was my first time in the pool. I swam one lap. I got out and sat in the sauna. The sauna, as far as I’m concerned, is the pot of gold at the end of the workout rainbow. The second time I went into the pool was on the fifteenth. I swam five laps. I began to increase the number of times I swam weekly and soon made sure to be there when the pool opened at 6 a.m. It was not lost on me that the man who swam  to my left every morning is going to celebrate his 77th birthday this February. He swims 36 laps every morning, one mile to be exact. The woman who swims to my right every morning swims in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 laps. She is 86. The man who swims to her right swims a mile every morning, he’s 70. You picking up on a theme here?

Anyway, I’ve been keeping at it. I now swim a mile every time I go to the pool, which is about five times a week.

Oh, and one more thing, the fear is gone. The only way to overcome fear is to head in its direction. Sometimes, you just have to swim there.