Shadow on the Sidewalk

Shadow on the Sidewalk

(May 29, 2017)

I’m not sure what his real name is. The few message boards on the Internet that even mention him aren’t united on a single name. The Shadow Man is the one that suits him best, and that’s what I’ve come to know my tormentor by. He comes at night, in the darkness, and his presence makes the dark darker. It’s as if all light ceases to exist within the bubble that must surround him. Sometimes, when I squint out between the blinds or through the peephole, he appears to be smoking. Willing to life a single bright ember at the tip of a cigarette, and then it’ll fade away.

Six months of sleepless nights. Waiting, wondering and watching. My nerves are shot, my apartment locked up tight. But if I were to tell you the awful truth, I don’t think that would matter one bit should he come knocking on my door. If he ever made his way up the sidewalk to my apartment door, I believe he’d walk right in. Maybe not right through the door like a ghost, but I don’t think a lock would even stop him. There’s definitely something supernatural about this man, this Shadow Man. You don’t have to be sensitive to things like that to see it.

Six months ago he appeared. I was coming back from the bathroom, hoping I hadn’t missed the monologue to The Late Show, and as I passed the two windows that look out the front of my apartment, I saw that glow. It was like a miniature sun blazing outside in the void of darkness. His darkness. I lifted a few slats on the blinds and stared. He appeared to be in slacks, an outline of a trench coat, a fedora atop his head. Then again, he might be completely naked. The former just stood out as if it were more likely in my mind for some reason. He never moved, but I lowered the slats and took a place on my couch, nursing a fresh beer while attempting to concentrate on the talk show host and his mediocre jokes about the President.

The next night, and the next, and then the month after. It came down after the second month that I started sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. For some reason, I just felt safer that way. As if me being awake would fend off his advance. The only time I left the house during the day was to restock my beer, and after the fourth month, I ditched the beer completely for harder liquor. I’d given up job hunting. I’d brushed off the instant messages and social media posts from my friends who suddenly decided I was worth talking to again. My parents even tried to call a couple of times just a few weeks ago. I suppose they finally realized I took their demand seriously and wasn’t coming back home anytime soon. But the damage was done. It was too late, in my mind. They’d set the tone for whatever was to come.

My parents. Dan, my older brother, was serving overseas. He isn’t in any combat zones, or whatever they call them, but he has been stationed in Germany for the last couple of years. Here at home, I’ve always been the one my mom and dad called when they needed help. I was filling in for their patriotic son while he was away. Filling in, that is, until I finally decided to come out and tell them I was gay. Seven months ago I announced what I’d been hiding and holding in for several years. Since high school, at least. I had even dropped out of college a few months before because the harassment had gotten so bad. When I returned home, I figured I might as well tell them before news followed me home. Dan, of course, already knew, and had honored my request to keep it a secret. Maybe I should have honored that request myself.

“Not my son.” “Don’t know who you are anymore.” “How could you?!” “Such a disappointment!” So many hurtful things from people you’d been raised by, who had taken care of you from birth, through 12 years of school, who always said you’d be their baby boy … and then … “Never want to see you in this house again.”

So I found this apartment. I had money, but had quit my job that was closer to college when I moved back home. I also had credit cards I could fall back on. So I had a bare bones apartment in a decent enough complex. I’d attempted to fall back on some friends for support, but even a few of them were suddenly uncomfortable. Maybe I’d kept it too good a secret. The ones who said they supported me and “had an idea,” suddenly were never available to talk. But my friend alcohol was always there. I was depressed, defeated, in a hole wishing I could reach the dirt to pull it back in on myself.

Maybe. Just maybe. Could that have been the signal to my new friend to visit me? Maybe I’d brought him here myself. Maybe he fed off these feelings, these emotions. Maybe he could sniff out depression, that feeling of being lost, that desperation to be accepted. For 6 months I’d wallowed in pity, drank myself deeper into depression, and watched my savings dwindle to the point that I’d eventually have to get another job. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to do anything. And what was worse, no one else seemed to care to help me out of the pit I was in. No one cared to call or visit except … except for my new friend. My Shadow. My darkness. My new soulmate.

Daylight blinks through the blinds as a new day begins. I glance at the clock and it’s 6:45am on a Tuesday. I smile for the first time in months. A real smile. I glance out the window and see he is no longer there. He’s returned to wherever, waiting for the night to fall again. And this time, I think I’ll invite him in. Maybe have a few drinks together. My smile refuses to collapse now as I drift off to sleep thinking of how tonight, I’ll finally meet the mysterious stranger at the end of my sidewalk face to face. I’ll be at the door, waiting.

Waiting.

Grazing On Some Grass

After years of saying it was hogwash and you could pretty much do it any way that you wanted to, I’ve turned over a new leaf in my constant attempt at a healthier life. To be exact, I’ve made the following changes to my daily routine.

  1. I’ve started eating a light breakfast every morning. This is after years of not eating anything and skipping the meal completely. As a result, I stay full and satisfied longer throughout the day, it seems.
  2. I’ve replaced one meal a day (lunch or dinner) with a salad. The salad basically comes from one of the pre-bagged iceberg lettuce salad kits, and I add grilled chicken and shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese. No dressing.
  3. On top of the sodas that I’ve managed to continue avoiding (in fact, it’s to the point that if I even try to drink a soda, I feel sick and it tastes horrible), I’ve also added 99% of the breads and chips/snacks I used to eat. Once in awhile I’ll eat a couple of chips or have a snack (and by snack I mean sweet stuff), but not regularly or as often as I used to. If I eat too much sugar now, my stomach begins to hurt and I feel nauseas.
  4. To go with #3, I’m snacking on healthier stuff twice a day. I’ll have a snack after lunch, and maybe one with or before dinner. Those snack choices being fruits, veggies, or nuts of some sort. They help with the sweet tooth cravings when I get one, but are still no substitute at times for that heavenly processed sugar rush.

I’m ashamed to say, however, that I’m not exercising like I should. I walk an average of 4,000 steps a day, Monday through Friday, at work, but actually getting out and hitting the pavement for exercise is rare. As a result, I suppose, I’m not really losing any weight. I’m not eating any more than I was before I started eating healthier, but I don’t seem to be shedding the weight at all. I’m maintaining a 1,500 calorie or less goal a day, eating healthier foods, not eating junk or processed foods, walking a decent amount at work, but not seeing any results.

Most people lose 5-10 pounds just cutting sodas out of their diet, but I haven’t even had that result. Blood work and physicals all come back normal, so there doesn’t seem to be anything that’s detectable from those means that’s hindering any progress. So, is the lack of regular exercise causing my stalemate at weight loss?

Example of my daily meal:

Breakfast: 3 large eggs, scrambled, 3-4 slices of bacon

Lunch: I’m usually still full from breakfast because of my schedule, so I may skip lunch.

Snack: piece of fruit or recommended serving of nuts

Dinner: salad as described above

Snack: fruit or nuts

Once every other day, after work, I will eat a recommended service size of bran flakes because, well … to be honest it just helps me stay “regular,” if you know what I mean 🙂

Eye Openers: Heart Attacks and Diabetes

My wife is 36 years old. She is a stay-at-home mom of 2 kids (2 and 12), home schools the oldest, and babysits a couple of kids for extra money. She does the grocery shopping, attends church regularly, is stressed daily, and always seems to have 10 million things to do, and not enough time to do it all in. She’s also, as of Friday night at 9:45pm, a heart attack surviver.

For over a week, she’s been having chest pains and a heaviness in both her arms. She kept ignoring it, brushing it off as stress and anxiety. Wednesday night, when I came home, she was just sitting on the couch crying. I asked if she wanted to go to the emergency room, but she didn’t because she said, and I quote, “I don’t have time for anything to be wrong, and I’m afraid there is something wrong.”

Fast forward to Friday, I had been debating taking off work. Finally, at the last minute Thursday, I wrote my name on the calendar at work. My plan was to take her out to dinner and a movie, and just hope she could relax. I, too, had fears that she was having heart problems – heck, even our oldest son told her he thought she was having a heart attack. So I lined my mom up to watch the kids and we left the house about 7pm.

We made it to eat, but as we sat and ate, she started hurting again. We ate, she ignored it, and we finally got ready to go. By the time we got to the car, she was really hurting. She was almost in tears. I told her I was going to take her to the emergency room. No, she didn’t want to. She didn’t have time for the emergency room. I insisted, and she huffed and puffed. I started to give up and go home, but she started crying. Now, I know I shouldn’t have, but I got angry. I turned the car around and we went to the ER. She got out of the car at the door, came immediately back out and said we could leave because she didn’t want to wait. Wait time was an hour to be seen (yes, in the ER.)

I pulled away and drove around the parking lot trying to talk her into going back in. Finally I just parked the car and got out. I stood there, opened her door and told her we weren’t leaving until she went in to get checked out. She bawled the whole way in. We were there a minute, and they pulled her back immediately. within 10 minutes, she was in an ER bed and being hooked up to machines. They did an ultrasound on her chest, a cat scan, did 2 EKG’s, and told us she was being checked in to the hospital because she had fluid around her heart, her enzyme levels were elevated that signified a heart attack, and there appeared to be damage, as well as a blockage. Interesting note: the heart, being a muscle, lets off a very specific enzyme when it is damaged. It’s different from the same kind of enzyme our muscles let off when we exercise and they hurt because to build muscle, you have to tear it down by exercising, then when it heals, it’s a little stronger next time around, and you repeat.

By Saturday morning, my wife was already scheduled for an arteriogram. I’m not up to date on the procedure, but they run a tube up one of your main arteries, straight to your heart and check it out. While there, if possible, they can also repair damage by using balloons to widen arteries, and if necessary, use stents (metal mesh tubes that expand and lock in place,) to keep those arteries open for blood to flow freely. With my wife, they had to place 2 stents. The cardiologist assures us this fixed her issue, and she was good as new.

When they take the tube out that enters the artery, it requires a couple of people and several hours. One person has to hold pressure on the artery to make sure the person doesn’t bleed out. Another has to slowly pull out the catheter that is inserted into the vein. For 20 minutes the person applying pressure has to stand there trying to get the artery to clot. It’s a wild procedure to watch, and the whole time my wife wasn’t able to move or react. She had to keep her head still and flat for 2 hours after the fact. After that, she had to continue lying flat on her back and not moving an inch for 6 hours. It was horrible to experience, and she was crying, not from pain from the procedure, but from stiffness of not being able to move.

But that’s not all! The doctor also revealed that she has a “very bad” case of diabetes. She will have to contend with that, as well, when she comes home. Type 2, mind you, which can be controlled by a few different methods, and some say even eliminated with proper diet and exercise. The diabetes, he believed, was the cause of the heart attack because it had gone unchecked for so long. The reason being, if you haven’t guessed, is because my wife doesn’t believe in going to doctors for check ups and medicine and all the stuff you’re suppose to go to the doctor for. She gets that from her grandmother. The strongest medication she takes is extra strength Tylenol.

So, 36 years old, healthier than me I always assumed, and she’s lying in a hospital bed after having a heart attack. I felt that folks were looking at her, then looking at me and thinking, Wow, and yet you’re not the one laying here? It’s eye opening. It could very well be me. And all I could think was how she kept wanting to ignore the problem. What about our kids? What if she’d continued to ignore it, and I let her, and one day the kids just found her dead? I’d have so much guilt knowing that I should have done more to make her go.

Thankfully, I hope and pray this was one of those eye-opening events in one’s life that makes you reevaluate things. I’m seriously praying she’ll slow down, worry less, calm down and enjoy her time more.

And I hope it serves as a lesson for others – including myself – to pay more attention to warming signs our body gives us. They’re there for a reason, I believe, it’s just up to us to acknowledge when the “check engine” light comes on.

On a positive note, my wife says she feels amazing. She even gets to come home tomorrow, Monday. I just hope she comes home with a new mindset on her health and taking care of herself.

Of Devotionals & Men

I start my morning off with a short one-paged devotional from a 365-day book titled “Daily Wisdom for Men: 2017 Devotional of Inspiration,” that I picked up at Cracker Barrel, of all places! It was on clearance (that’s not why I picked it up,) and has been a great inspirational morning starter.

YouVersion’s Bible app also has a 2017 reading plan that I believe has been mentioned here before. The daily devotional that accompanies each day in it is much longer than the one I start my day with. It goes into detail on the Scripture you’ll be reading for the day, presents the themes and discusses briefly the history and research that might apply to a particular passage or overall theme. It’s very well done, I think, but then again, this is my first Bible-In-A-Year read through! Each day includes a Psalm or Proverb, a section of New Testament Scripture, and then a section or two of Old Testament Scripture that usually parallels or relates to the new reading. It’s become very interesting to read it like this, for me, and opens up doorways of thought that I’d never considered or even noticed before.

A co-worker and I were discussing last night how many people say that they’ve “read” the Bible, and they just don’t get it. What the big deal is. What it’s suppose to inspire in people. “It’s just a book.” I’ve had this same reaction, so I’m not going to fault anyone for that opinion, but my current outlook is clearer, in my mind, at least. To just sit down and read the Bible from front to back like a regular book … well it’s going to be dry, boring and not really satisfy you, I imagine. That was my experience the one or two times I attempted to read through it in my younger days.

What a serious and thoughtful read-through of the Bible requires is an understanding of what you’re reading. An appreciation. A … well, a true desire to read, and learn, and a willingness to study what you’re reading. I’m not going to use the Shrek onion comparison, but there are many more layers to just reading Scripture and taking anything away from it. Again, I’m just speaking from my own experience. I’m no scholar or preacher, but as a Christ follower, and believer that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that’s my take on getting any understanding out of a reading, or read through.

The thing I am appreciating about the Bible-in-a-Year readings is that comparison to how Old Testament sets up the New Testament. How the prophets of old and the events that transpired directly set up and foretold of the coming of Christ as the sacrificial lamb that would die once for all. But I believe most people who claim they find no understanding in reading the Bible are ones who initially start reading it just to read it and “see what the big deal is about.” They initially may have no real interest in learning or digging deeper, they just know what they’ve heard, or what they don’t believe to start with, and are looking to disprove it further.

So, before I get too deep into a theological hole that my inexperienced hands can’t pull me out of, I’ll just go ahead and wrap this post up. If you have no real desire at this moment in life to understand or follow God, Jesus or accept the Holy Spirit into your life, then I doubt you’ll be open to anything you read in the Bible. It’ll continue to be dry and empty in one’s mind. I’ve been there, brother, I know the feeling. I know what my life was like at that point, too. I thought I was on top of the world. I also know the feeling when everything comes crumbling down and you lose all hope. I know what it’s like to realize there is an answer, but to fight against it because it’s not something you’ve ever been open to before. But, more importantly, I know what it’s like to finally drop your shields, to let yourself be saved, to accept the sacrifice that was made for YOU by Jesus on the cross, and to go under the water to come back out, born again. It isn’t any easier on the other side of the acceptance, but with daily prayer, Bible reading and study, and just giving it all over to God, you’ll find the changes in your life happening. You’ll find the joy that peace in Jesus’ name brings. It may not all come at once, but it’ll come as long as you’re invested in it, and Him.

I was about to apologize for the preaching today, but I deleted that. I’m not sorry. I’m no expert on the subject, just a regular man who turned his life around a couple of years ago. There’s still a lot I don’t know, a lot I don’t understand, but there’s also a lot that’s happened since then that defies all logic. Some folks don’t understand. Even some other fellow Christians look at me funny because even they may not have experienced certain things, yet. So I don’t apologize. Some of you reading this may even understand what I’m saying. Others may think I’m crazy. Others may try to be sentimental and say, “Oh, I’m glad you found what works for you. There’s so many variations of responses that one can offer, even other Christians. But this is my journey, my experiences, and my sharing with you. Your milage may vary.

Have a great rest of the week!