50/50

I was home one day and decided to see if I could find a movie on Netflix. It seemed to be a better choice than watching CNN or any of the twenty four hour news networks. Unless I know ahead of time just what I want to watch.  It can take up to an hour to find something that I feel can hold my interest for more than it’s entirety. Within a matter of seconds, I found a Seth Rogen film I had not seen or even heard of. It was even under the ‘Critically Acclaimed’ category. So, how can I refuse? Now don’t get me wrong, Seth is pretty one dimensional in his work. Throughout his career, he’s pretty much cornered the market as far as lovable losers are concerned. Still, I love his work,  and in many ways, identify with his characters.

Going in, there were two other factors that drew me to the movie. One; It’s filmed in my then current city of Seattle and much like my years as a New Yorker, where I would be able to name most of the streets and locations featured in the various franchises of Law & Order. I easily recognized many of the Seattle streets where the film was created. What I did not expect and did not bargain for was the reaction I had to Jordan-Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam being diagnosed and struggling with cancer. As someone who watched a beautiful soul succumb to leukemia and die when I was only eight and was told I had month to live due to a brain tumor when I was twelve, it fucking wrecked me.

I was seven or eight years old when my Father started dating Angie. She was like no other person I had met before and maybe until I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Angie was born in Taiwan and lived with her very strict, traditional and educated family in Queens. I’m not sure how the two met, but with Angie being was a teller at a local bank and my father still driving a bus for the city. The chances of them crossing paths was pretty high. On the nights we’d pick her up from the apartment where she lived with her parents. I’d have to hide in the back seat until they emerged and I got the signal that the coast was clear. She, along with her family had immigrated looking for a better life and like many, the chance to work towards the American dream. A recently divorced bus driver with a son was more of a nightmare than a dream.

Angie and my dad were polar opposites in almost every way. While my father stood 6’4 with a booming voice. Angie was tiny in comparison, always speaking softly in what often seemed like whispers. Her jet black hair often hung down below her knees. Often causing her peers to ask how she kept it looking so manageable and beautiful. Though my Dad was always a heavy drinker and an occasional drug user. Unlike my Father, Angie never acquired a taste for alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Such distractions or deviances never interested her. 

Her generosity and penchant for spoiling me were undeniable. However, introducing me to New York City’s Chinatown and adventures on Mott Street would impact and influence me the most. She would read the Chinese comic books I’d buy each time, teaching me a new word, phrase, or Chinese slang term. As a kid who hated the Wringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Mary would take me to each year. Angie’s taking me to the Taiwanese Circus left my mouth gaping in amazement and adoration. The experience blew my mind.

By the age of seven, I had already witnessed a friend fall to his death and been to a funeral, but seeing Angie fall to Leukemia was the hardest thing I’d witnessed  before or since. Seeing her lay in a hospital bed connected to tubes. Experiencing the process of her flowing black hair become stubble, only compared to what I saw in war movies depicting prison or concentration camps. The treatment, drastic, yet unsuccessful only seemed to make things worse. Eventually, after often brutal chemotherapy treatment that only seemed to worsen her condition, she would come home with my Dad , but it was short lived, as she would soon return to the hospital where she would pass.

Even now, when I bring her up in conversation, my Dad easily recalls detailed memories of her kindness, their time together, and what it was like sitting by her bedside at the hospital. As I write this, I try to focus on all the good and kindness that she brought us. The positive imprint she left in her twenty seven years on this planet. Maybe, writing about the suffering will help me heal enough to focus on the good things.

As for her family. I didn’t meet any of them until the day of the funeral. Like I said, they would have never let their daughter date a man who was divorced with a kid. When I think back to those days; and I often do. I didn’t like it, but I kind of understood. Looking back, I can’t help but think, that experience had a lot to do with my drive in volunteering on so many cancer related fundraisers. To think that something good came out of that tragedy is as rewarding as it is hard to believe. In the end, Angie may have been the greatest, most positive influence on my early childhood. Her presence and overall impact certainly influenced me as an adult and effected the way I’ll always want to treat people. I will always love her and appreciate the short, yet impactful life she lived. Till this day. I still have the Chinatown shirt she bought me on a trip to Mott Street. I had to be eight at the time. Though it hasn’t fit in more than forty years, I keep it as a token of her kindness and the last physical item representing our time together. Thanks Angie, you will always hold a place in my heart.

A Movie Scene Triggers a Memory

Trip-1.jpgBack in 2016 I went to the theater to see “Snowden”. The true story of an NSA agent who reveals illegal surveillance techniques used by our government to spy on its own citizens. There are a couple of scenes in the movie where the character suffers from seizures that had

him writhing uncontrollably on the floor. As someone who suffered from a serious seizure disorder from the age of eighteen to about twenty four. Those scenes freaked me the fuck out. So much so, that I could feel myself unexpectedly welling up with tears and feeling overwhelmed. You see, though I have experienced having seizures myself, countless times over. I had never seen one from the eye of the beholder. During the times people like my Father described the frightening scene that would unfold before them. My unresponsiveness and the sheer sense of helplessness that accompanies it. I completely roll up into a metaphorical ball of guilt and shame. Recalling how often I joked or made lite of my disorder and the challenges that came with them. Know what I put others through makes me want to take it all back.

Now, having a seizure disorder is nothing to joke about. Over the years I woke up many times with  the taste of concrete or soil in my mouth. I had my share of trips to the emergency room and I can remember the crazy hallucinations that often accompanied them. Yet, over time I got to know the warning signs as well as the triggers. I learned enough to consistently question my doctors upon visits and do enough research of my own to learn that the medication/medications they were prescribing and insisted I’d have to take the rest of my life were not curtailing the frequency of my seizures while giving me a pack of side effects to add to my misery. Add to that the horror stories I reading in the medical journals my Father just happened to have lying around. Through quick browsing I learned that the long term affects of the drugs were going to do more damage than good.

Trip II-1.jpg

Upon informing my family and doctors I would be ending the endless cycle of medication and doctors visits. I was met with closed minds, disbelief and a couple of dozen cases of “But, James.” Still, I went forward with my plans to take a more holistic approach. Seizures followed, but for once, I was taking responsibility for what was happening to me. I made changes to my diet and every day habits and before you knew it. I went from having up to three seizures a day to going years without them. No more Epilepsy Society, no more medication, no more visits to the doctor or even worse, the ER.

Meditation (1 of 1)

I’d feel remiss and somewhat irresponsible for not adding that my decisions and choices were mine and mine alone. Everyone’s case is different and no one in their right mind should refuse treatment. My story and road to recovery is mine alone. As painful as it might have been for me. I feel as if seeing something so jarring from a different viewpoint was an education, of sorts. I think it’s somewhat universal that seeing or experiencing both sides of the coin gives you better insight into the situation. I know it did for me.