Home and Almost Gone

            The last month before leaving old Langley was a bittersweet and surreal time. A large deal of this of course was the pending separation anxiety from a very intrusive life I had known for 4 years, plus the feeling of loss over Tiff and Travis, and of course the malignant oyster introduced virus that was incubating, multiplying, and conspiring to shut down most of my major organs. This final tale of my Air Force days will see me out of drama central, into my first ever place of my own, and then on to the hospital ironically right down the road from whence I had just come.

            During those last days I had given up on any ideas of pursuing Tiff as anything but a best friend. She had announced she would relocate to Buffalo when she got a year and a half later so I figured I would wait and see what would happen with that. It certainly made my life easier at the end, though only a little. Friend wise, it was down to Tiff, Travis and I with occasional welcome intrusions from Celeste and Diana. I also managed to patch things up with Bryan and even Alicia; surprising given the malignant venom I spewed their way a few months earlier. Vaughn going Drago on Bryans face and our own troubles with him united us against the great shaved ape. As a farewell gesture, I planned 3 magnificent dinners for my closest friends that if nothing else, they miss me for the free tasty meals.

The first of these was a 3 day duck that involved a very complex preparation process that coincidentally took 3 business days, the bulk of this time with the ducks drying out directly on the fridge rack, dripping juices into a pan of water beneath. Fortunately, Travis neglected to keep much food in the house, so the loss of the fridge space was not a problem. The dinner was a hit with him and Tiff. My next effort was coquille St. Jacques and rum crème Brule; a masterpiece.

My final effort was Thanksgiving; a meal which had been my goal to tackle for years. The first year I helped in preparation at Ken Browns where the disenfranchised Airmen gathered. The following year I got an invitation to Mike Hamel’s, riding on Bryan’s coat tales and enjoyed smoked turkey there. The next year was meant to be mine, but the residents of the Animal House stole it at the last minute, leaving me sputtering in rage, but cooking nonetheless; me doing the entrees and Tiff the appetizers of mushroom stuffed mushrooms. This year it was my turn and I had the pleasure of putting on a 10 dish spread. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn, scratch made biscuits, and fresh pumpkin pie. Although originally it was only going to be Tiff and Travis, but invited Celeste as well when we heard she had been left forlorn in the dorms. Despite being cursed with bad luck in my earlier attempts to impress her, this time things went off without a hitch.

My last day in the shop was the day before Thanksgiving where they presented me with a nice little plaque and customary calzone our civilian consultant, old Mr. Ben, gave to all the departing airmen for some reason. The whole experience of it was very cloudy for me as my head was already being affected by the sickness, which had the effect of slowly introducing increasing levels of ammonia in the blood; powerfully hallucinogenic as I would later find out. I mumbled some words of thanks, then turned and walked out forever, my time as an airman done for good; a glorious and frightening experience all at once.

My move back to Buffalo date was set to Dec 7th wherein my father would fly in and we would drive a U-Haul trailing my car with all my worldly possessions. The days before this were even more surreal. My gear was all packed in boxes and Travis and I whiled away the days sipping beer and reminiscing. Tiff was somewhat scarce in these last few as we had a meaningless fight at my going away party a few days prior. It was a shame as I knew I would miss her most of all.

The day finally came and I picked my father up from the airport. Earlier I had picked up the truck and a good sized contingent from the shop came by to help me load it; which was fortunate given that my strength was already at serious ebb. Fortunately Jolly showed and did the bulk of the really heavy lifting proving it’s handy to have a muscle guy around here and there. For dinner my father treated us to my last meal at Harpoon Larry’s; Travis and Tiffany who finally decided to make an appearance. It was a grim meal and I began to get the impression that they were not happy to see me go. What was so strange for me was when they made plans for the next day leaving me feeling somewhat excluded from this life I was leaving behind.

Saying goodbye to Tiff was a sad affair. She had been my constant companion for the previous 14 months. Like tearing a bandage, it was quick and painful with a few tears and a kiss goodbye before I turned and walked out for good. I was grateful for the fact that Vaughn was not home, though unhappy she still had not found another place. We dropped Travis off next and this too was an unhappy thing. He would later be moving France Miller into my old digs; a far prettier replacement though probably not nearly as fun. That in itself was strange, handing over the key to the apartment Bryan and I had acquired in a 10 minute hunt, which would now be occupied by people we didn’t even know when we moved in.

On the morning of Dec 7th, my father and I awoke at 4:00 AM and drove over to the apartment where the truck was loaded and parked. I drove my car up onto the towing thing and we were dismayed to find that the strap that was to hold one of the front wheels was broke. Too late in the game to do anything about it, we decided that one of them should probably do it, but prepared for the long drive to be on pins and needles.

The drive for the most part was fairly uneventful. I was in a glum mood leaving and my father volunteered to do the first part of the drive. A good thing as my mind was already not all there and I was starting to feel jumpy in addition to fatigued, but chalked it all up to the difficulty of leaving. In the wilds of Pennsylvania we got off the highway to get gas and managed to get the truck good and stuck in the snow when we tried to execute a turn that failed. After an hour of fruitless pushing and engine revving, and no small amount of military grade cursing, the wheels had dug in nicely and we began to despair of freedom. Luckily a truck came along that happened to have tow straps and pulled us out of the predicament. My father ended up driving the whole way as I was simply not physically capable.

Moving my gear into my apartment sucked to say the least. It was a frigid night with high winds and the snow flying in tiny icy chips in the dark as we didn’t arrive until well after nightfall. My cousin Billy had come out to help, as did my brother in law. Knaus was supposed to help out as well, but we saw neither hide nor hair from him as the heavy lifting was being done. I was a man exhausted, both emotionally and physically. My mother kept stating that there was clearly something wrong with me, but I would hear none of it. Once all my crap was safely in and everyone left, I collapsed on the couch ready to sleep, which is when I heard and knock at the door and let in a Knaus holding a bottle of So-Co. I still hold that he was probably quietly idling down the street with the lights off, waiting for the heavy work to be completed before announcing himself like a dark wraith in the hallway.

December that year for me was eerie and surreal. I was a fish out of water wandering though stores alone trying to furnish my apartment with those items I carelessly left behind for Travis. Separated from the core group of people I had been joined at the hip with, I wasn’t ready to announce my return to the area to anyone except Knaus and Dave, whom my mother had told. Most days I spent alone in my apartment attempting to refinish a coffee table and watching Red Dwarf reruns on BBC. I still spoke to Tiff every day by phone and Travis at least once a week. I had no idea of what to do without the constant demand of shop drama and the emotionally inbred community that dwelled therein. Tiff provided the gossip updates of who was fucking whom at any given time and what alliances and feuds arose and fell like tiny empires of melodrama. I didn’t miss any of that at all.

My nights became progressively stranger as the ammonia built up as my liver started to fail. My dreams became incredibly vivid paranoid things. I had one in which my loaded truck was stolen out of the parking lot in VA by neighborhood hooligans (not an unreal vision as I almost got car jacked in that same parking lot). When I awoke, I mentally could not resolve the paradox of the stolen goods being far away in a truck and yet right there in my apartment as both things in my mind were absolutely true and irrefutable. It was the kind of thing used in movies to destroy robots whose circuits cannot handle illogical paradox. Unable to self detonate, I finally arrived at the notion that both things were mutually exclusive and real.

On New Years Eve that year I was convinced I simply had a bad flu. I had been unable to eat since the previous day and spent the time watching yet more Red Dwarf as the New Year rang in. New Year’s Day I was unable to eat at all and spent most of the time curled up on the couch in a state of half sleep. That evening my stomach began to swell and rumble fiercely. I tried to take some Night Quill to put myself to sleep, but it had the surprising effect of making me rush to the bathroom sink and disgorge the contents of my stomach for the first time since March of 1992, the night of the infamous rum and coke party. I was surprised when the chicken noodle soup I had eaten two days previous came up in the same form it was swallowed in. I began to worry.

That night was horrendous. I was still enough in my right mind to understand that something serious was happening to me, but not well enough to do anything about it. All night my stomach roiled and growled, continued to swell and caused me much pain. My paranoia returned and again I was convinced that the truck was stolen. I also kept thinking that someone was breaking into the apartment and I would get up every few minutes, clutching my ailing belly and check the door. I kept the machete I bought garage saleing with Tiff next to me at all times.

The following morning I called my mother and she sent my father to take me to the VA, as technically I was still active duty AF until the 26th of Jan. I packed a bag to take with me, convinced that anything serious enough to make me throw up for probably meant an overnight stay. The VA lived up to the expectations of all who have heard of some of the treatment our Iraqi and Afghanistani forces received upon returning home. Despite my incoherence, quickly yellowing eyes and skin, they diagnosed me with gastritis and send me home with anti-vomit medicine and valium. Unbelievable. I asked to be taken back to my apartment and spent the day resting.

The following day was the last where any memories of mine were real. In the morning my mother came by and brought me groceries. I had her put them down near the couch and said I would put them away in a little bit. She would end up finding them there a few days later. For most of the day I drifted in and out of consciousness. In my hallucinatory state, people I knew kept coming by and visiting, sitting in the sofa opposite me, and I would have long conversations with them. I would swear they were really there though most were actually in Virginia. I fell asleep and woke up deeply now in the realm of the unreal.

Again with the moving truck hallucinations. I was under the impression that my father and Dave were over to move stuff from the truck (apparently now recovered) and that I was supposed to help. I was irritated because I felt they were trying to do it without me, sparing me as I was sick, so I decided to surprise them and show up to bear my share of the burden. I put on sweats and sneakers and made my way through the snow and bitter cold to the back of the apartment in the dead of night. I didn’t see them, but saw the truck a few parking lots down, so made my way down the street, checking each one and seeing it farther away each time. I fell and had a hard time getting up and the cold was getting to me to me so I made my way back. I called my mother to complain that Dave and my father had absconded with the truck. As I was making no sense whatsoever, my father sleeping beside her at 2:30 AM, she managed to keep me on the line while my father came to pick me up. My dangerous trip out was the last thing I did in real life that corresponded to my dream state.

Although I was at the VA, in my mind I was here, there, and everywhere in places not at all resembling hospitals. According to those present, I had lucid and involved conversations with people not present, introduced imaginary people to real ones, and even played poker making all the motions as if the cards, chips and table were before me. Interestingly enough, I remember all of this except I remember these people really being there and could probably pass a polygraph attesting to the truth of it all. I really chatted people up at a picnic in my mother’s backyard, introduced her to Tiff and Travis, and played a losing game of poker in my aunt’s yard at her picnic table. I can remember the feel of the chipping paint beneath my arm and the reaction when I folded, all in.

Back in the real world, I was fading fast and they decided to mercy flight me to Walter Reed, the closest government facility that would do a liver transplant. My liver had shut down and was 60% dead, my kidneys stopped working as well as my entire gastrointestinal system. My mind translated the stretcher and plane ride to me being strapped to a surf board for some reason and that I was riding in the back of a pickup to some club in Virginia Beach with AF and college friends. The paramedic on the plane was insistent on taking all kinds of measurements and hooking me up to things. I perceived him as being some annoying douche that Dan invited and not only actively resisted, but verbally assaulted him. In my mind, who was this asshole idiot Dan knew and why was he touching me?

At Walter Reed my perceptions got very strange and it was probably the closest I came to checking out for good. I was placed number one on the east coast list for liver transplant and had one become available, I would have new one now. The outlook did not look good and this was communicated to my father, who rode in the plane down with me, as was my old shop in the AF, who I technically still belonged to. They decided not to tell Tiffany that I was almost certainly a goner. A doctor, who I still feel I owe a punch in the face, tried to convince my father to give permission for them to start harvesting my unaffected organs while they were still viable. Fortunately he had an inkling of my hardiness and declined the ghoulish body snatcher.

Tiff and Travis found out because my mother called Travis as he kept my old number. Their reaction was that of panic and they immediately jumped in the car and sped up to Walter Reed and had actually arrived before me. They were allowed in to visit as Tiff was canny enough to lie and say she was my sister and Travis my brother. I remember them coming in and was overjoyed to see them, though I thought we were visiting at my apartment. I told them stories of things I had discovered, like Bryan and Alicia going undercover for the CIA and Bryan adopting the identity of Eric Wells from tech school but that I was able to tell because of his voice. They got a kick out of that fortunately as I was apparently a sight to behold. Ironic enough Bryan and Alicia also came to visit right after and I filled their heads with similar tales.

In my mind I had been kidnapped by a cult who was doing horrid experiments on me. At one point I perceived myself to being strapped to a steam pipe opening with my arms and legs over the side while a large and slow device was slowly pressing down for the purpose of crushing me. One of them, a pretty conspirator, held my attention and kept telling me to look to the left as to not see, which seemed compassionate until I noted her smirking to those really operating the life ending device. This probably corresponds to when they did my biopsy but I can’t be sure.

I think the turning point for me came when I decided to fight. I was getting fed up with the strange and invasive treatment and began to get violent. I somehow found myself in the parking lot behind a pizzeria on Kenmore Ave near Military. Suddenly the lot filled up with assailants and an all out brawl began. I remember being pressed against other bodies, punching, kicking and using all of my strength to beat every one of them down. Suddenly, covered in sweat and blood, I realized I was the last one standing and a powerful feeling of victory filled me, the triumphant champion in the brawl to end all brawls. I don’t think this corresponds to anything real, but I like to think for no other reason than it pleases me, that it was symbolic of my victory over the virus.

In the dream world, I sought out my father who tried to convince me that the cabal who was trying to hold me was really comprised of well meaning doctors and nurses. I found this ludicrous and decided to hide out in the parking garage behind Jenss at the Boulevard Mall (no such structure exists). I clearly remember driving down Brighton and pulling in. My father was beside me and I still tried to talk sense into him. Suddenly the walls of the garage dissolved and I was surrounded by the cult. I decided to try to defeat them as well, but they somehow managed to tangle my arms in the seatbelts of my car. I broke free of one of them and threw a punch before they got me restrained again. Finally one of them threw a liquid against my neck and I faded to black.

What really happened there is that my hallucinations began to come back more to reality. My father reports that the conversation really did take place, that I did try to escape the ICU, attacked the medical staff and finally had to be restrained and knocked out. They took it somewhat well understanding my condition, though I think some less than others.

When I woke up several hours later, I was very surprised to find myself in a hospital bed in the ICU. They told me where I was and I was able to answer all the questions they ask sacked quarterbacks to see if they sustained brain damage. I got them all right. By then my mother had made it down and my aunt and I was able to talk to them coherently for the first time in days. It was interesting to hear what had really happened as in my mind, all the hallucinations were dead real, and even seem so today. It took many talks before I reconciled what had been real and what had been a dream.

My recovery was astoundingly quick, although they insisted on keeping me for another long and dreary two weeks. On the first day of coherency, they still wouldn’t let me eat or drink as they expected to still have to swap out my liver. A later biopsy, however, showed it to be regenerating quickly. On the second day they moved me to a regular room, which was far more comfortable. Although they had me on an incredibly strict diet, I took some of the cash my father left me and pulled my IV unit down the hall to the vending machine and got some M&Ms. They were pure heaven, even if the doctors got pissed at me once they found out.

I finally got a good look at myself in the mirror and saw what looked like a Simpson looking back. My skin and eyes were bright yellow in color; a condition that would take a few weeks to fade. My appetite came roaring back and I have never relished food so much. In the end, it was if I had never gotten sick to begin with. The days were long and dull with many tests, but Knaus generously procured a whole box full of books I might like and over-nighted them to me. After 2 weeks and 18 books, for the first time in my life I had read about enough.

In the end, they were never able to exactly pin point what it was that I had. After doing dozens of tests, poked and prodded me endlessly, plus asked a very personal battery of questions, all of which I answered truthfully as it was not very difficult to do so. For lack of any other evidence they put together the most likely scenario that I was infected with a yet unknown strain of hepatitis probably gotten from one of the raw oysters I was so fond of. Unfortunately there are multiple strains for which there are not yet any tests for as they are somewhat rare. Interestingly enough, since that time I have read of similar cases of sudden liver failure of the exact same nature, some of which resulted in miracle recovery like mine, and others with a less happy ending. All of them were either active or former military.

I was released from the hospital just a few days prior to the final day I was considered to still be part of the AF. I went home, reacquainted with all the old friends I came home for, all of whom since departed the area I might add, began an aggressive job hunt and started my life as a civilian once again.

 

This concludes the tales of the Air Force, though more stories of the days after are to come.

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5 Responses

  1. I count on 9 items in your 10 dish spread, and this is including the gravy, Weak.

    How and when did you find that apartment in Buffalo, conveniently a block from Premier Liquor.

    Fucking Dan! Sending some freak over to helicopter you.

    I think that was the pizzeria I worked at. I never liked them anyway.

    I still feel there is a chance this is all an elaborate Mike bullshit hoax 🙂

  2. I forgot to include the appetizers, dammit!

    My parents actually found the apartment for me so that I would have somewhere to move into when I got back.

    I still blame Dan for that asshole paramedic.

    You worked at that pizzeria on Kenmore Ave near Military road? Seems quite out of your way. There used to be a seedy pool hall called Bob-B-Que’s right next store where my friends and I used to hang in 7th grade.

    I lacked the resources at the time to pull off such an elaborate hoax, though given the opportunity I would in a heartbeat!

  3. So what where the appetizers?

    Being your roommate for 5 years I have no doubt you would.

    Now that you have depressed our readership I have to finish my current post-in-the-works. It would be nice if Louis or Dan posted ever. You can’t tell me Dan does not have a lot of stories, and I know he loves to write.

  4. I can’t remember, but I’m certain they were delicious.

    It sure would be nice if someone else posted for a change! Last year alone I cranked out over 30 posts myself.

  5. You know when someone else told me of this story they claimed a cause related to excessive alcohol consumption after taking Tylenol.

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