If so, I love to hear about it! 🙂
Those of us who have been in long-term relationships and/or marriages know well the ups and downs that occur. Some are more challenging than others. My marriage to Jay is no different.
Jay comes from a dysfunctional family. His Dad, a Vietnam vet (served in the 101st Airborne) who came back a changed man, became an alcoholic and abuser of his Mom (of which he witnessed several times). They divorced by the time he was six (his younger sister Marcy was a year old); but then became mired in vicious child snatching schemes (before it was ruled illegal) that went on for a few years. His father remarried, and Jay and Marcy went to live with him in another state, and Jay wouldn’t see his mother again for many years.
Jay’s step-mother was a drug-addict (addicted to pain meds) who was physically abusive to his sister, and vindictive towards him (at times she tried to have him arrested for stealing his own stuff). His half-brother, Walter, was born during this time.
By the time I first met him in college, his father and step-mother was in the midst of a nasty divorce. He wanted to help and protect his little brother, Walter, but in the end would lose and never see the kid again for a number of years when the step-mother split with more than half of his father’s earnings.
Right from the start, Jay and I had a connection even though at that time I didn’t quite understand it. He had a girlfriend, Heather and I was dating his best friend, Shaun. But, he and I became close friends. When Heather suddenly broadsided him with vicious lies when he refused to sleep with her, he became depressed and well, lost. I tried to be there for him, but in the end, he left college at the close of our freshman year to join the Navy.
The year was 1990.
I returned for my Sophomore (and final) year at that college for the fall semester. It was either late November or early December, Jay came to the campus to visit his friends. He stopped at my dormitory and we visited for a few minutes. He had on his Naval uniform under a dark gray long coat. I can remember thinking how handsome he looked. At this time, there were rumors circulating of a possible war in the Persian Gulf, and they were anticipating high casualty counts. Knowing this, Jay wanted to see as many people as he could before heading overseas.
I wouldn’t hear from him again for the next eight years.
The training he chose while in the Navy was in the Meteorology and Oceanography field, and he was placed on an aviation crew on board a battleship. Since he also had combat training (was in the Army Reserve prior), once he reached the Gulf, he was assigned to a Marine unit that headed to land (to participate in the land assault called Operation Desert Shield/Sabre) after a period of air assaults. To this day, Jay doesn’t talk in detail about what went on during these days. All I know was that he was with the Marines on Highway 80 (aka Highway of Death), and was responsible for calling in airstrikes on the trapped Iraqis on that road. I also know that he went with the Marines after the airstrikes on a reconnaissance mission, and saw first hand of the carnage he had a hand in creating.
He was only 19. Still just a kid.
Not too long after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Jay was sent to a Naval base on the Philippine Islands. As “luck” would have it, he experienced the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. He and along with others participated in the search and rescue efforts, and then in the recovery. From there he went on to Guam, and then to Alaska.
In Alaska he found solace in the rugged landscape of the Aleutian Islands where the base was once located. Now fully entrenched in his military career as a Meteorologist for the aviation crews, he felt he’d found his true calling.
In October 1993, all that changed when his sister, Marcy (at 17 years of age) was involved in a serious single car accident where she sustained major brain injury, and was in a coma near death. For this reason, he left behind his blossoming military career and went home to help his family and to be there for his sister.
Between 1995 and 1999, he came close several times to re-enlisting in the military (Navy and Army), but certain life events always interceded.
In June of 1999, we reunited, and then in September, we were married.
I encouraged him to return to the military; but he felt that I would not be happy living a military life. So, he decided against it.
Marcy survived, but has permanent brain damage, and must live in a group home setting.
I’ve always regretted not pushing him to go back to the military as he has never truly re-acclimated to the civilian life. He was also a different man than I knew when we were freshmen in college.
More serious. Cautious
It’s no wonder though given what he’s gone through.
Also given his family background, he was always considered by certain family members (as well as old high school and college mates) as the “loser” who would never amount to anything.
Instead of allowing this and all the past dark experiences break him, he fought back.
One of the things he did was to go back to the same college where we first met, and finished what he began in 1989. He graduated with double degrees in Psychology and Therapeutic Recreation with a GPA over 3.0 in December 1998.
He worked in the Therapeutic Rec field the first years we were married, but being a relatively young field that no one took seriously, he decided to get out of it. After working odd jobs for a few years, he went in to the Banking industry which he hated (Corporation ideology). From there, he was a middle school teacher teaching all things Science which he absolutely enjoyed in the beginning. Then everything became so bureaucratic where the teachers ended up spending more time working paper works than actual teaching, plus the salary went no where, so he opted to get out.
Jay tried working at a credit union for over one year before being laid off due to the recession.
Enough was enough, he said. He decided to go back to college, and earned another double degree in Bio-pharmaceutical and Environmental Science Technology, and graduated with high honors in 2014.
This guy never ceased to amaze me.
Everything he tried, he’d master it, and then excel. It doesn’t matter how much he struggled, he just never gave up. He’d had this “prove them all wrong” mentality that blows me away. I so admired his spirit, and tenacity, and secretly wished I could be the same way.
I mean, this guy basically came from nothing, and became a someone.
He’s my inspiration to never giving up on myself. The reason why I decided to keep trying no matter what obstacle stands in my way.
So, here we are, living up in North Dakota, on a small farmstead in a rural community full of great people. Jay now working in the USDA, but is getting ready to make a major move to an entirely new direction that excites the heck out of me, in a direction that pulls all his past life, work, college and military experiences together in to one package.
Life works in mysterious ways. Never count yourself out.
After Jay and I married, we moved to a small town near Buffalo. There I worked in retail (cashier at a local grocery store) which was just a short walking distance from our apartment. I didn’t care for the job; however, I liked the fact that I could still get myself to and from work. A year later, we moved back to the Ithaca area (in a hamlet just outside the town); the apartment we lived in was located on a bus route into Ithaca. Handy for me 🙂 Jay worked for a short time at Cornell University, and I got a job in the banking industry (I felt I needed to get out of retail into something more “professional”). I could have went back into the fitness/sports area, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t minimum wage or part-time. I continued to run/bike when I could; but eventually gave up on them. Jay kept fretting over me going out on my own and insisted that he come and watch as I work out. I became more and more limited to where I could go and such, so I just gave up altogether.
A few months later, Jay was laid off and couldn’t find work so he headed down to the Raleigh NC area to look for work. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of moving out-of-state, and so far from my family; but if we couldn’t afford to make it then we needed to go to a place where we could.
The move enabled us to buy a home and some land (something we wouldn’t be able to do back in New York with taxes being so ridiculously high). Those years here have been challenging to say the least. I stayed in the banking industry; but Jay moved from one job to another (it seemed like he changed jobs once every three to four years). I’ve wanted to make the move back to the fitness/sports industry, but the opportunity never came for me, or the transportation logistic was impossible for it to be feasible. Our house was also far enough away from everything which made it not possible for me to come and go as I needed or wanted. If I need to grocery shop, or anything, I relied on someone to get me there. Even though I had my home, if anything were to happen to Jay, I’d be home-bound as a shut-in who’d be completely dependent on others.
I’m so fiercely independent, the mere thought of relying on others in order to meet my needs frustrated and scared me. It seemed to grow worse the older I got. This was a daily battle for me. I’ve been left alone once when my first husband died. A few years after we first moved down south, I nearly lost Jay.
Two months after we moved to our house, we learned I was expecting. The pregnancy went without any issues…until the last two months. I was almost 8-month pregnant when Jay began to have difficulty breathing. He dropped me off at work one morning, and then went to see his doctor, Dr. Salerno. It was mid-morning when I received a call from Dr. Salerno who calmly told me that Jay had been admitted to one of the local hospitals. X-rays shown that there was fluid building up around his heart-Pericarditis. They couldn’t determine if it was bacterial or viral (if viral, he may fully recover; bacterial, he may need a heart transplant). The immediate danger was that there was so much fluid around the heart, it had enlarged to at least twice its normal size. They were in the process of prepping him for an emergency surgery to drain some of the fluid from the heart. Before we hung up, she strongly recommended that I do not come to the ER until after the surgery because of the added stress since I was so far along with the pregnancy. She would call me once Jay was out of surgery. I said, okay.
I felt quite thankful to be working as it kept my mind from wandering too much to certain negative implications of Jay’s sudden illness. I wasn’t completely alone in the city, thankfully, as I had my brother and his family nearby. They picked me up after work (and once I received the “green light” from Dr. Salerno) and took me to the hospital. Jay was in the recovery room, just coming out of being under anesthesia. I was told that they managed to drain as much fluid as they could, but twice his heart stopped and they had to resuscitate him. There was a hole left in his chest just under the sternum where a tube had been placed to continue to drain the fluid from the heart. The doctors planned to aggressively treat him with various antibiotics in case the pericarditis was bacterial in hope to limit the damage to the heart while they ran multiple tests to determine whether this was truly bacterial or viral.
For the next week, we waited on the final result. In the end, it was determined that Jay had the viral kind. Thank goodness.
Jay remained in the hospital for a total of two weeks. I spent some of the nights at the hospital (just so I could be near him), and other nights with my brother. I worked every day throughout this ordeal just to keep myself from completely stressing out. Finally, both he and I were able to go home. Jay was quite weak so I had to help him dress, eat, and shower. I was just thankful to have him back with me.
It wasn’t too long after he came home that I noticed my feet and hands were swollen. The doctor kept tab of my blood pressure which stayed below the dangerous level; until my water broke two days past the due date.
After I was admitted to the hospital’s birthing center, the doctor quickly realized that I was showing signs of pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was all over the place (soaring high then crashing and then soaring high again). My contractions weren’t consistent as well. They gave me an IV to control the blood pressure as well as to force the contractions. I was not a happy camper. Seventeen hours in, it was time to push. I pushed for three hours but the baby couldn’t get beyond my pelvic area. The doctor tried both the suction cup and clamps to no avail. Then I began to hemorrhage. By this point, I was so exhausted and barely lucid. I remember the doctor pushing the baby back into the birthing canal, and then they literally ran me to the ER. After that, everything went blank.
Karl was born over twenty hours after my water broke. A beautiful, healthy boy. Jay was there to hear him howl as they pulled him from my belly. He told me it was the most precious sound he’d ever heard. I woke up two hours later and then wheeled into a recovery room where I held my son for the first time. I’d suffered severe blood loss, but they decided not to give me a blood transfusion. My vision for the next few days were out of sync because of the blood loss. When I looked at anything, in one eye it looked normal while in the other eye it was grossly enlarged and distorted. By the time I was released (four days later), my vision improved.
For the next few months, Karl had two parents recovering from their hospital experiences. Before my maternity leave ended though I learned that I lost my job with a particular bank. During this time, I struggled as a mother and as a wife. I grew more and more emotional (weepy), and uncontrollable anxiety seized me. I literally felt like I was losing it. Jay made me go to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Jay’s mother came and spent a few months with us to help me with taking care of Karl-bless her heart. My condition slowly improved; it was even better when I was re-hired back to the same bank that previously laid me off. I gladly accepted the offer as by this time I was quite ready to get out of the house!
To say that I was happy to see that year come to a close was a gross understatement!
I never thought I’d use my Physical Education degree, but I did. I enjoyed being a fitness trainer at the YMCA. I worked there for about a year, but it became increasingly difficult to maneuver around the equipments and exercising bodies as my peripheral vision decreased. The bouts with depression increased, and I began to call in sick.
The problem was I still refused to accept the fact that I was going blind, and my waning vision angered me. I was afraid to ask for help as this would mean I had to acknowledge the fact that I had a disability, and I didn’t want people to think me as a liability. I wanted to be an asset. Not a burden.
It grew more difficult to make ends meet, so in come a room-mate…my brother. At first, it was great; but, he had his own demons to battle. Being an adopted child, he’d always sought to be accepted. He’d always felt like an outsider, I believe. While he stayed with me, I noticed he hung around with several less than favorable individuals. When they started to hang around at our apartment, I got fed up and threw them out. I told my brother, no more. Soon after, he moved out and began to date an older lady from Louisiana.
A short time later, I received an unexpected call from someone I knew from college.
Jay and I met as freshmen in college; several years before I met and married my late husband. He had a girlfriend, and I dated his best friend. After our first year in college, he needed to leave the area for a while. He came from a very broken and dysfunctional family life, and felt the need to start a new one for himself. By this time, we’re both single. He enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, he paid me a visit. It was a brief one as he was getting ready to go over seas to Kuwait to fight in the imminent war in the gulf there. He wanted to see me one more time as they were predicting that the rate of casualties were going to be high. I remember thinking how handsome he was in the military uniform.
He survived the first Gulf War. I saw him twice afterwards before we eventually lost contact with one another. I figured he’d gone on with his life, and I met and married my husband.
Eight years later, he was calling me to ask if he could come and see me. He’d found out that I was a widow, and wanted to check up on how I was doing. Sure, I replied. I’d loved to see him again.
Then, I started to think back to that day he paid me a visit before he headed overseas. Did he like me more than just a friend?
We reunited in a mall, and ate lunch at a local restaurant. That was in early June. I can’t explain it, but things just clicked between the two of us, and the next thing I knew we were dating, and then engaged. That September, we were married.
Before the wedding, he gave me a gift. A journal. A beautiful book full of blank pages. By this time, I hadn’t written in years. Somehow, he knew I needed this. I took the journal, and started to put words in it. The more I wrote, the better I felt. I poured out all the anger and resentment on to those pages. Writing in that journal became therapeutic as it began to sooth the pain and emptiness that I’ve held on for so long.
Writing enabled me to start letting them go.
After Aaron’s death, I pretty much became a hermit, retreating to my tiny, one-bedroom apartment for the next three years. I slowly withdrew from his family as their daily pain in losing a son and a brother was too painful to witness. The only thing I accomplished during this period was graduate with a B.S. in Physical Education which, as I’ve said earlier, I had no intentions of using.
I spent my days watching romance-comedy movies, and cried. I didn’t give up on my running or biking though. I bought a mountain bike and rode that all around the town. Other times I’d ride eight miles to the nearby walking/running trail and ran three miles, and then bike back home. Exercise was pretty much my only outlet.
At least, it was something.
By the end of the three years, I decided that I had enough of being alone. I felt ready to return to the “world.” I’d been living in an apartment complex for the elderly where they accepted me because of my disabilities, charging me only a small percentage of what I received in my monthly social security benefits. But at the age of 27, I felt that I still had enough of my vision remaining to go back to work, and not rely solely on them.
So, I took a big leap of faith and moved out, and into a regular apartment in the nearby city of Ithaca. I got two part-time jobs; one as a clerk at a video rental store, and the other as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA. I struggled financially, but the bills still got paid and I had some food in the pantries. I slowly weaned myself off of social security. I regained my independence as I now was in a place where I could either take a bus or walk to pretty much anyplace I needed.
For the first time in a long time, I felt content. Happiness still eluded me though. I still had the gaping hole in my heart, and my chest would ache so, especially at nights as I lied in my bed. I couldn’t escape the loneliness. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was missing something.
Okay, I was partially deaf and going blind. I’d given up on my athletic dreams. I hadn’t written in years so why start now. Life dealt me the bad deal. How could it get worse than this?
The worse was yet to come.
I was declared “legally blind” by Social Security and began to receive disability benefits. I did continue to work towards my P.E. degree even though I really had no intentions of using it.
Then, I met Aaron and fell in love. We were married within a year after our first meeting (through a church’s function). We had so many things in common. We loved rock n’ roll especially the 80’s rock and early 90’s alternative music. We both loved sports. He was a soccer fanatic. He not only played in various local leagues, he also coached boys’ soccer teams in the town we’d lived. His dreams were to not only coach kids, he also wanted to be a teacher. He began college to pursue both.
I like to say I was the good wife. I can’t.
I was manipulative. Verbally abusive to him. Why?
Jealous because he was able to play soccer? Resentful because he took me away from my family to live with his own? Bitter because he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and was able to do them? Envious because he made friends wherever he went and I couldn’t?
Name it, and I felt it. Then, I punished him.
I became the psycho-bitch that mothers would warn theirs sons against. And I hated myself for being that way.
I wanted to change. For him.
But, it was too late.
One cold day in March, Aaron was killed in a car accident. He was on his way to pick up our pastor to take to the hospital because he didn’t want to take the ambulance. I decided not to go at the last-minute. Aaron was going too fast when he lost control of the car, and crashed into a dumpster truck. The truck struck the passenger door, and because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt…well, you get the idea.
The heartache I felt that day was unlike I had ever felt before. It was unbearable. And the guilt…
That night I attempted to take my life by overdosing on certain pills, but something stopped me.
How could I be this selfish? To take my life after what Aaron’s and my family have just gone through with his sudden death? I hated myself for the way I’d treated Aaron, but I could not do this to them.
So, I decided to live with the pain and the guilt.
I thought living with a hearing disability would be difficult enough.
I was wrong.
By the time I was twenty, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. So I pursued a degree in Physical Education with the hopes of going on to earn a masters in Exercise Science. I wanted to work with college and professional athletes. Being an athlete myself, I competed in cross-country, softball, as well as soccer. Sports became my passion, and I’d wanted to make it my life. Around this time I learned (finally) how to drive, and attained my driver’s license.
I was ready for the world. To pursue my dreams at full speed.
Then, everything changed.
At first to me, it seemed pretty minor. Getting around in the dark was growing more difficult. I kept bumping into things (and people). Stairs became more of a challenge. Okay, so I needed glasses. No big deal, right?
I went to see an ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa; a degenerative retinal disease which could result in complete blindness.
Being devastated was probably an understatement.
The next month my parents took me to Boston to see a RP specialist, Dr. Elliot Berson, at the Eye and Ear Infirmary. He put me through several intensive tests over the course of two days, and confirmed that I did indeed have Usher’s Syndrome type II which meant that my deteriorating eyesight and hearing loss went together.
My dreams…my career aspirations…
I felt so distraught I gave up on them all.
I did, though, finish college and earned a Bachelor in Physical Education, but that was the extent of it. I never went on. Never moved forward. I allowed my disabilities to destroy my confidence. I’d withdrew within myself, and allowed everything else to vanish.
ONE FINAL GIFT
Scatter me not to the restless winds
Nor toss my ashes to the sea.
Remember now those years gone by
When loving gifts I gave to thee.
Remember now the happy times
The family ties are shared.
Don’t leave my resting place unmarked
As though you never cared.
Deny me not one final gift
For all who came to see.
A simple lasting proof that says
I loved and you loved me.
Not many days pass that I don’t think of my grandmother. I’ve always considered her a kind of matriarch for the maternal side of my family. Geraldine Anna May Hart Furnia was a slight woman, but her size was quite deceiving because underneath that smallish frame was tremendous strength and courage.
She was born on December 20, 1920. Her young life was hard as I’ve been told. She married my grandfather, Paul Furnia who was six years older, when she was sixteen. She married young so she could get out of an abusive family situation. I never learned what went on though. Life with my grandfather wasn’t much better, but she loved him and the family they made together. Early in the marriage they had four children; then World War II began and he enlisted in the Army and spent part of the war up in Alaska (Kodiak Island). She was left to care for the four children in a home that wasn’t much more than a shack. After the war, three more children were born; one of them my mother. Grandfather became a logger which he worked till his retirement at the age 67.
They bought a house on Grove Rd next to the Ausable River. For many years, they grew their own food and didn’t have plumbing until my mother was a girl. They still lived in the same house while I grew up.
I spent much of my childhood with my grandmother. I often considered her my surrogate mother as my own worked full-time. They didn’t have daycare centers during the seventies so family members or friends were often the ones called upon to help watch me (and eventually my brother and sister).
Most of my fondest memories as a girl involved my grandmother.
She was a great storyteller and a self-taught musician. I literally spent countless hours listening to tales of the past or to the tunes of the banjo or accordion.
She was a devout Catholic and would take me to the Saturday mass each week.
She loved spending time outdoors tending to her large garden, or filling buckets of juicy blueberries.
Most of all, she loved having her house full of family members. No matter how scattered her children or grandchildren were, we always found our way back to her house a few times a year for huge gatherings. Storytelling, music and games were the highlights, and each time she was the center of them all.
She was the magnet that kept drawing us back, the glue that bonded us close together, and the heart that continued to beat in all of us while we were apart.
It was heartbreaking to see her pass away on February 22, 1988. She was only sixty-seven. Her body gave out long before her spirit wanted to let go. Emphysema may have claimed her life, but the memories of her will always live on. Even though we don’t gather together as often as a family, we will always be linked no matter where we are because her heart still beats within us.
At the age of ten, I discovered there was another way of intermingling with my imaginary friends, and that was through writing. A new world was suddenly opened to me where I can create and bring things to life on paper. Because of my hearing impairment, my overall understanding of grammar was a bit lacking to say the least, and I knew this. And because of this, I kept whatever I wrote hidden away. I wasn’t ready to share with the world.
In the meantime, I struggled with insecurities, and with the belief that I was inferior to the other kids. I felt I wasn’t good enough in anything. As a result, I stayed pretty much a loner with perhaps one or two good friends.
Later on in the same school year, one of the school’s teachers, Mr. Hathaway, announced that the school was going to compete in its first (and only) track meet with other private schools in the area. I signed up for three events: 100 yard dash, 200 yard dash, and 400 yard relay.
I’ll need to clarify that my school’s sport program when compared to the area public schools was more intramural at best; especially given the fact that my entire school population had only seventy students in all (grades Kindergarten through 12th)! And because of the small size, most of our sports were played with co-ed teams.
You get the idea.
I was excited, and I was also nervous. I’ve never done track before. We had no coach, or any training. I wondered just how bad I was going to be.
The track meet was held on a warm spring day at another private school (almost as small as my school); the school’s parking lot was converted into a track. For my first event, the 100 yard dash, I found myself competing against girls who were two and three years older than me, but age or size didn’t matter as I flew past them and finished in 1st place. The same thing happened in the next event, the 200 yard dash, where I again finished in 1st place. In my last event, 400 yard relay, I was put in as the last runner, and as a team, we placed 2nd.
I never thought that running and competing could be so much fun.
Summer came and my parents placed me in a summer day camp which was sponsored by one of the local public schools. None of the kids from my school were there, but that really didn’t bother me. The kids that were there were from other public schools, ages that ranged from five all the way up to sixteen. I kept to myself as always while occasionally conversing with a few who were close to my age. One whom I do remember was Kari Lynn Nixon. She was a few months younger than me, but I was amazed by her. She was pretty, outgoing, and popular. I can remember one particular day when she involved me in one of the activities she led: how to put on makeups.
Here I was, eleven years old at the time, a tomboy learning how to apply lipstick and blush to my sweaty and dirty face. I must have been a comical sight when I got home later that day.
I remember one specific day over any others though. It was late morning when one of the camp leaders announced that there was going to be a race. Anyone who was interested was to come to the baseball field and stand in a line next to the home base. I didn’t think. I just went. As soon as I stood in that line with at least twenty other kids, doubts filled my mind and butterflies jumped in my stomach.
What was I doing?
Most of these kids were athletes. A few of whom I actually knew were star baseball and softball athletes. What kind of chance would I have against them? A girl like me who went to a small private school against these other kids who went to schools that were at least ten times larger.
I must be insane.
I seriously considered stepping out and away from the line, but that would mean the entire camp would see me chickening out. There had to have been about one hundred kids sitting in the bleachers behind me.
I had no choice, but to compete.
Must of the race was a blur to me. I remember running as fast as I could. I remember this one boy athlete racing right along beside me. Then I remember seeing the home base ahead of me as we rounded the last section of the field. I could hear the kids cheering in the bleachers. I can remember my legs feeling like rubbery leads. You know what was amazing about that race?
I finished first.
I finally found something that I was good at. Something that apparently I was better than many of the kids from the local public schools.
It all felt quite surreal. I never had so many people cheering for me. Congratulating me.
It felt good.
I almost felt…normal.
Run With the Wind
Cool breeze sweeping by
the landscape all but a blur
my feet take me home