Tuesday wasn’t good.

I should explain.

Monday was a visit to an ENT. I kept saying I was hoping for an answer to the question of the non-stop pressure behind my ears–going on three months now of “am I starting an ear infection” and “why won’t my tinnitus quit.” What I was really hoping for was to be dismissed, to be told I had nothing wrong and no reason to be concerned. I wanted to be told that I could forget about the pressure behind my ears…just get used to it as my new normal.

Instead I likely have a third diagnosis: Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, ocular melanoma, and now possibly Meniere’s disease.

I don’t want a third disease. I don’t need a third disease. I really really don’t want to waste more time on basic maintenance of the everyday fact of breathing. After all, I’ll keep breathing til I die. 

Why should so much of my day be taken up with nothing more than the basics? Isn’t there something better I can and should be doing? Something only I can do, something uniquely me?

Any poor bastard can die ugly.

To hear the mainstream American mythos tell it, I should be out there sounding off in my unique voice, making my unique vision happen. Instead, I’m wasting my time in doctors’ offices, as if giving them much of my days will somehow help me hoard whatever time I have left.

I cry bullshit.

I want to wriggle out of this medical life and drop it all–as if it were a suit of armor and I were an exhausted swimmer in deep water. I want to undo those fucking clasps and watch that steel weight drop into the abyss, while I kick hard for the surface.

But that vision of myself as a capable body trapped in a bad illness cycle is also, at the moment, a lie. I can’t kick hard for the surface right now. I found that out this last Saturday.

I should explain.

I participated in an in-house taekwondo tournament at my dojang on Saturday. I did well at forms (I usually do). I didn’t spar, because though I still feel a twinge about having given away my pads, I’m no dummy. (Sparring at my age, even in perfect health, is dangerous.) And, after much careful thought, I decided to participate in board breaking. Yes, it has its own dangers, but it’s hugely fun, and I’m good at it. I thought it would be good to get back in the saddle. I chose a simple, no-fail break, and carefully dialed back the number of boards to account for the muscle mass I’ve lost.

Any person who’s ever done board-breaking can tell you that, while it’s not difficult to start, it becomes exponentially so. The difference between one board and two is the difference between “child” and “adult.” The difference between two boards and three is the difference between “adult” and “black belt.” To go from three to four is to make the leap from “black belt”–already a commitment of years of sweat and pain–to “specialist.” (And five boards deserves the term “artist.” I know many black belts who have never managed four, let alone five. It’s that damned hard.)

The biggest break I’ve yet attempted was four boards. Even to go back to three would’ve meant a small failure for me. But I was being honest with myself and everyone else there, so I dialed back to two boards–effectively surrendering my black belt to cancer–and let fly.

And stopped. On two measly boards. I even injured myself on the stack. It was nothing more than knicked knuckles, but that tiny insult to the skin that required nothing more than Band-Aids suddenly felt like an injury the size of a year-long battle with cancer.

The shock in the room was palpable.

My second attempt stopped even harder. (Five days later, I still hurt.)

Everyone agreed quickly–too quickly–with my decision to go back to a single board. And when the breaking competition largely finished without me (as I patched up my knuckles), my master found me to ask whether I wanted to finish the breaks I’d planned. I said no. She accepted that answer without even a breath of debate.

This, from the woman who has pushed me all the way through to my black belt on the force of her personality and high expectations, single-handed.

Even though I hadn’t broken enough boards to qualify for a medal of any kind, I was shoved into the middle of the lineup and given a silver. I’ve never felt so unhappy to wear a medal.

I spent all day Tuesday in a downward emotional spiral. I kept feeling like I’m in the fight of my life–too many opponents on actively hostile terrain, bad men and bad circumstances conspiring to kill me–and that I’ve just discovered that the hit I took at the beginning of the fight (that I thought was minor) was actually bleeding me out.

Even today, I feel I could finish the fight if only I could stop the bleeding, or I could stop the bleeding if only I could finish the fight.

But am I going to get either?



  1. I wish I had words of wisdom.

    We’re all in a fight for our lives, and it’s one we’re all destined to lose . . . some people more quickly, some more tragically, some more senselessly.

    But, to me, the important thing is the fight. In a macro sense, it’s an act of extreme bravery to show up to a fight you know you’re going to lose . . . which is what living is.

    In the micro sense, every element associated with the fight is a worthy pursuit: having the desire to show up, tapping your inner perseverance, probing your limits, trying to push to the edge of those limits, realizing that — no, really — that might just be the limit, for now.

    I’ve had to console my kiddo for many a less-than-stellar result. His failure to win a ribbon at the science fair, his failure to place in Math Pentathlon competitions, his failure to win awards from his acting. And what I’ve tried to instill in him — with mixed results — is that he’s not (say) eighth place out of 11 kids in the science fair. He’s eighth place out of the hundred-plus kids in his class who didn’t even bother to show up.

    You’re a badass, having advanced in a discipline of physical and mental fortitude that eclipses literally anyone else I know. And even if your body betrays the reality of that situation, I certainly know the truth, and I hope you do as well. You’re not however-many out of however-many in one event; even amid your current troubles, you’re a rarified master who towers above huge swaths of the chip-eating masses.

    Keep on fighting, as best you feel comfortable, and may your body, mind, and spirit grow ever closer to an essential truth of the universe: You’re a badass.

    1. Now I’m crying. But it’s for good reasons. Thanks, dude. I needed that–both the pep talk and the cry. As my sister once said in the Army, “It’s not crying, Drill Sergeant, it’s regrouping.” 😀❤️

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