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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Christmas, 2011

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/21/2023
Posted: 12/30/2011
Page Views: 4647
Topics: #Christmas
In which I review the past, tumultuous year.

This is the first year, since I started sending Christmas letters in 1976, that I am doing so while living alone. Nevertheless, here is my annual Christmas letter for 2011.

As last year came to a close, my partner of over 12 years, Michael, and I agreed to break up but to not make an issue of it until January, so as not to cast complications on Christmas. It was amicable, Michael moved into a guest room and my new love, Jason, moved in with us. My daughter, Jenny, and grandson Zach, on the other hand, moved out into a condo they rented nearby.

Jason and I spent a lovely New Years' Eve together at El Dorado Hot Spring in Tonopah, Arizona. And a week later, Jason and I went sledding at Wing Mountain just outside Flagstaff, along with Zach and two of his friends, Josh and Chris. And the next weekend, Jason and I planned a weekend at a cottage on the rim of Grand Canyon. The place was, in fact, pre-paid. But I turned out to be occupied by something far more crucial when that next weekend came around.

Jason and Paul at Wing Mountain.

On the morning of January 14, I awoke with a high fever and extreme chills. Michael, a medical student, guessed flu which sounded believable to me. So he went to school, and Jason went to work, and I called in sick to my work.

But as the day progressed, I got sicker…so sick, that when I tried to call for help, my cellphone slipped from my grasp and dropped to the floor, where the battery popped out. I was so sick, I couldn't even reach for it to put the battery back in.

So, when Jason finally did get home, we went straight to the emergency room. However, they took twelve hours before I was seen by a doctor. And by then, what should have been a simple case of cellulitis had become necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the "flesh-eating bacteria". I was taken into surgery where the dead flesh of my left calf was removed down to the muscle. The doctor gave my family a 20% chance of my surviving. My daughters Dottie and Karen flew in from Virginia to say goodbye, along of course with my son John and his fiancée Rachel, and daughter Jenny (and Zach) and their mother, Mary, and Michael. Jason spent every single night with me, in the hospital, in my hospital bed. Subsequent skin grafts from my thighs were transplanted onto my calf. Altogether I had six surgeries and four skin grafts.

I was released from the hospital in March, and though still heavily bandaged, was able to visit Sedona with Jason and my dear high school friend, Nancy Alexander DuPont. Nancy had never been to Sedona and showing it off to her definitely gave me a lift I so needed.

Paul, Jason, Nancy at Cathedral Rock.

However, as I recovered, I began to realize something was wrong with Jason. My illness had traumatized him, as well as me, and he'd begun drinking to deal with it…something he'd quit doing when we met, but had been an ongoing problem for him. Finally, in mid-April, he asked to be admitted to RiverSource, a recovery center in Case Grande that happens to be run by my daughter, Jennifer.

That was a 30-day program. I couldn't see him at all the first week, but was able to visit each day after that. It was during this time that my sister, Louise, and her husband Mikey came to visit with their camper and two little dogs, Rummy and Mae Mae. I took them to visit the Superstition mountains, and then they took me to visit their son, Timmy, in California.

Mikey and Louise in the Superstitions.

I was also able to take Louise and Mikey to Sedona. Of course, I had to make all these trips with my bad leg hoisted onto the dashboard so it would be higher than my heart, as the doctor had advised.

Jason got far enough in his recovery to be allowed off the RiverSource grounds on weekends. I took him to see the 700-year-old Casa Grande ruins, which he'd never visited, despite having been born in the Phoenix area and having lived here all his life.

Paul and Jason at Casa Grande Ruins.

What Jason didn't know, until a few weeks into his recovery, was that I had lost my job at Toyota Financial Services. They fired me at the end of what would have been my first full-time week back, The whole time I was in the hospital, I was assured by my boss that my job was safe and I shouldn't worry about it. Then they fired me. It was supposed to be "downsizing" but apparently I was the only one they downsized.

Still, I've been out of work before and there's always another job around the corner…or at least there was, before the disastrous economical policies of the Bush Administration changed the rules for the next decade. Nevertheless, when Jason got out of recovery, we decided to celebrate by spending a week in Hawaii, or more specifically, the island of Maui.

Jason and Paul on Maui.

I was determined to do everything I used to do before my illness . Unfortunately, I still wasn't completely able to. I wasn't able to join Jason snorkeling, for example, for fear of picking up an infection. As it turned out, I could have—because I got an infection anyway, from no obvious source. When we returned, I was readmitted to the hospital where I stayed another week receiving IV antibiotics. I was there while Jason, his ex Mike, and Mike's boyfriend Charles moved us into an apartment in Chandler, at the same time Michael moved into an apartment in central Mesa.

The trip to Maui was wonderful, but I was presented with a new concern. Jason seemed unreasonably concerned that I was being unfaithful to him, constantly accusing me of "looking" at other men, and refusing to let it go even when I assured him I had no interest in anyone but him. We blamed this behavior on his continued recovery; we were told by many members at AA meetings that it can take six months for behavior to return to "normal" after a long-term drinker gets on the wagon. I hoped it would get better; but instead it got worse as months went by.

Moving into an apartment happened because I could no longer afford the mortgage payment. (And no, the trip to Hawaii didn't impact that!) Jenny got the idea to turn Natal house into a Sober Living home, which would have allowed us to keep it. However, the neighbors and the HOA put their feet down and the Sober Living home didn't work out.

In May, Zach graduated from elementary school!

Jason, Zach, and Paul with Zach's diploma.

I had, of course, been looking for work. But for some reason no one wanted to hire a 60-year-old who had to spend half the day with his foot elevated, no matter how much experience I had. I applied for Social Security Disability, but was told it would be months before I got it…if I got it. (Apparently almost no one gets accepted on the first go-round.) I was getting unemployment payments, but they barely covered my food and share of utilities.

In June, my Ford Expedition was repossessed.

Jason and I had planned to have a commitment ceremony on November 11, 2011. However, as his anxiety over the idea of losing me somehow increased, he began pushing for an earlier date. I went along with it in hopes it would convince him of my dedication to us as a couple. So we bought rings and went to Grand Canyon for a simple, private (just us two) ceremony.

Paul & Jason's ceremony.

We celebrated the Fourth of July by shooting fireworks with Zach.

Zach and Jason shooting fireworks.

At the end of July, my doctor said it would be okay if I went swimming, as long as I didn't have any open wounds (which came and went as my leg healed) and the water was reasonably clean. I was very excited to be able to camp again, as well. So Jason and I camped overnight and swam at Fossil Creek, located between the Arizona towns of Camp Verde and Strawberry.

Paul jumping into clean water.

Nothing bad happened at Fossil Creek. But we were having so much fun we decided to drive over to Sedona and play in Oak Creek at a spot called Grasshopper point. The water in Oak Creek is not as clean as the crystal pure flow from Fossil Spring. And my calf, which was still numb (with no promise that sensation would ever return where the skin had been grafted) bumped against a rock without my knowing it, resulting in a small cut. By the next day, I had developed a fever and my foot was horribly swollen. So, back to the hospital for another week, with more surgery, this time on my foot. When they sent me home, it was with a Wound Vac (a portable pump) and my very own IV pole. I spent another month at home, recovering from that.

In September I was finally pronounced healthy enough to go for short walks. Jason and I made more trips to Sedona to hike among the red rocks, never going far from the car.

Jason and Paul in Sedona.

Meanwhile, Jason became more and more confining, motivated perhaps by my continuing health problems. He admitted to being terrified of losing me; yet his restrictions, which grew to include when I could shower or swim and who I could talk to on the phone, became unbearable. Yet I was too weak to fight back, and my own morale dropped. Jason and I both knew he had a problem that went beyond recovery from alcoholism, but I began to wonder if I had the strength to help him. After all he'd done for me, he certainly deserved everything I could do for him!

After seeing a therapist for a few months, and reading everything I could on the subject while Jason was at work, we discovered that he had a severe form of OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) in which I was his obsession…or, rather, the idea of losing me was. Every time he demanded an explanation for something he imagined had happened or was going to happen, I was inadvertently exacerbating his condition. Not only could I not help him; I was literally making him worse.

And so, in late October, I left Jason, with the help of Jenny and Michael. We cleared my stuff out of the apartment, finishing almost before Jason got home from work. He was devastated, but so was I. It felt like surgery again. I loved the "real" Jason with all my heart; but I couldn't live with the "bad" Jason when the OCD took over, which by now was practically all the time.

I moved into Michael's living room temporarily. The whole extended family took me on a hike that weekend to show their support.

That's John, Rachel, Michael, Barbara, Peter, Mary, Zach and me, from left to right..

That's John, Rachel, Michael, Barbara, Peter, Mary, Zach and me, from left to right..

Jenny and Zach left their condo for a larger, rented house, also in the area. However, Jenny still had two months' lease left on the condo; so she invited me to stay there until the end of the year.

My son, John, and his fiancée, Rachel, hosted Thanksgiving…the first year in over a decade that I didn't. The younger generation was taking over! And in style, too—the food was never better.

Thanksgiving at John and Rachel's.

It was around this time that Jason and I began talking again. I insisted we keep our distance for awhile, knowing that if we moved too fast we'd risk falling back into the same patterns of behavior. Jason was seeing a therapist and I was reviewing books on codependency, which was my part in the dysfunctional aspects of our relationship.

Finally, we took a chance and spent an evening with each other. It worked out well, so we scheduled another one. And then another. Jason had accepted my leaving him as a wakeup call and redoubled his efforts to fight his OCD urges.

Still, as well as that was going, I was hesitant to jump right back in…much as I wanted to. I had to decide where I would live the next year. I would have to move out of Jenny's condo by the end of December. I chose to apply for an apartment in Michael's complex. However, they turned me down—because I had broken my lease at the Chandler apartment Jason and I had shared.

By this time, Jason was staying with me almost every night anyway; and he was a changed man…and so was I. Jason was back to his normal, sunny, caring self, his OCD under complete control. But I was stronger, too, ready to stand up for myself if I had to.

Jason had been planning to move into a larger apartment with Mike and Charles at the end of the year. Jason and Mike invited me to join them, which would make rent for each of the four of us very affordable.

I said yes.

My leg in August.

We are both aware that we still have work to do; that we can't let up our guard and fall into old patterns. On the plus side, Jason's been doing so well that I have been able to simply enjoy his company without any problems. So, we'll see what the coming year brings.

And my leg continues to heal. It no longer looks like a scene from Saw III. I still have to be very careful about infections—in fact, I just spent three nights in the hospital with one on my ankle—but overall my leg's doing much better, even if it does still require me to spend hours a day with it elevated.

I hope your year went more smoothly, and that this coming year brings only good things to you and yours!