Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Happy Birthday To Me

The following was a fun piece to write – I have chosen this particular “moment” to shock my family.  It is fictional in content, in other words the story is not true.

Here it is, the middle of December, exactly five days away from my big day.  So of course, I must now be paranoid that any time we go to a restaurant my children will blab to the waitress that it is my birthday.  At some point in the next week, my wife’s family will also insist on a birthday dinner. 

Here is how it plays out.  Dinner is done.  So far so good.  Okay, here comes the cake and the gaggle of waitresses.  They do whatever birthday chant they have done over and over and probably dread singing it almost as much as I dread listening to it.  This particular birthday wish, is a military cadence – foot marching, hands clapping.  “I don’t know but I’ve been told.  This customer is getting old.  A birthday wish from us to you, and hear you’re turning 42.”  Nice, they even got my age in on that one.

I do not ask for any gifts, for any occasion.  Decades ago, an understanding was reached with the supreme being that I believe in.  And again four years ago, I was reminded of that understanding.  As a result of my survival from cancer and heart surgery, I received the greatest gift of all:  my life.  There is no greater gift that I could ask for or need.

But this birthday will be different.  A door of opportunity is opening, and the circumstances are aligning themselves like Jupiter with Mars when the moon is in the seventh house.  Along with my wife Wendy, and our daughters, we are joined by my in-laws and Wendy’s sister and husband.  My family did not get invited to this dinner, but when they are eventually told of tonight’s news, I know the reaction will be received more positively.  But that is another story.  Tonight, I unwrap a gift from me to me.  No one has any idea what I am about to state, including Wendy.  Though the topic has come up a couple of times during our marriage, Wendy has always remained firm with her choice, which does not agree with mine.  Tonight, our lives will change.

I interrupt the conversations at the table.  I visualize standing at the bottom of a huge, snow capped mountain when just the slightest noise causes a crack in the cap.  Then it begins.  The unstoppable onslaught of an avalanche.  The path of the avalanche is unknown.  The strength of the impact is sure to change my life as the snow rushes towards me.  There is no turning back from what I am about to start.

 ”Um… Wendy and I are going to be selling the house next year.”  I know that our table had the loudest conversation (wife, sister-in-awl, mother-in-law all talking simultaneously) but it seems the entire restaurant went silent as I got our family’s attention.  In the split seconds that follow.

Continuing to look around the table for reactions, Wendy’s sister Robin seems to be taking it all in.  So before jumping into the conversation, or on Wendy and I, she methodically contemplates her comments.  On the other hand, Wendy’s mother is raring to go.  “What do you want to go and do that for?  This is just another stupid decision.  You have never been good with your money.”  This coming from someone who remodels her personal bathroom every three years.  Notice, I said her personal bathroom, no one else uses it, but it needs to be redecorated frequently.  Wendy’s father, who is nicknamed St. Ronald  is much more laid back.  After 50 years of marriage we are just as shocked when he blurts out, “Take me with you.”  Our eight year old Madison has a habit of picking up only key words of adult conversations and then kicks up the drama with the look of concern.  “We’re moving?”  Then she switches gears, “YEAH!!  Are we moving tomorrow?”  Not to be outdone is our six year old Emmalie, who routinely just blurts out nonsensical words because it amuses her, but this time it ends up being an exclaimation point to the conversation.  “BOO YAH”.  Awkward pause.

I lay under tons of crushing snow now.  The damage has been done.  All I can do now, is hope for recovery and be given a second chance.  This is clearly a situation that I did not want to be in, but that does not change the fact that it did happen.  I must dig my way, up through the snow in hopes of reaching daylight.  I rely on hearing voices to know that I have come out of the hole that I am currently in.

 The multi-voice conversation picks back up, clearly several decidbles higher.  As usual I am not included in this conversation as is custom in Wendy’s family for the men.  Our daughters have returned their attention to Daddy’s birthday cake.  I let a few minutes go by and then I interrupt them again.

 ”This is not a decision that is being made lightly because there are so many factors that have played a vital part.”  Wendy and I have worked for the same employer for fifteen years.  I continue to explain that in five months our contract at work will expire.  Over the past two contracts, resistance to signing new contracts has grown, resulting in a growing effort and support for calling a strike.  I am convinced that if our union walks the picket line, we will lose our jobs.  There are already people in place to fill company needs.  The best case scenario if this were to happen, is that at least hopefully one of us would be hired back or retained as a non-union employee.  This would result in a financially devastating 75% loss of income in our household.  This cannot be overcome.

Our only option, while we are still in good standing financially, is to sell the house before our finances fall into disastrous disarray and beyond our ability to control our financial fate.  The only way to sell the house without too much of a loss, is if the mortgage is current.  Falling behind on our mortgage gives the advantage to the buyer and works against us.  Earning one fourth of our income will make it impossible to afford real estate in this area.  This leaves only one option, to relocate.

The change in our employment status will have another major impact.  We will no longer have access to the specialized health care that we rely on.  A major factor that contributes to our health issues, though not the origin, is stress.  In order for us to survive health-wise, without the special health care, we would need to base our decision on a new residence based on the level of stress that would be cast upon us.  In other words, we will need to live in an area that will be within our means.

Where we live and what we have can no longer be based on the need of approval by others.  Where we end up will have no impact on familial events and visits.  Therefore the main factors affecting our relocation will be our daughters and their education, and what will be affordable to us.  Currently, areas that I have been looking at are Lake Erie, Vermont, and Colorado.  All have a weather climate that is comfortable to us, have jobs available, and affordable housing.  I tell everyone that they are all welcome to visit any time, just like they do now.

I end my announcement with “Anyone for some cake?”  Just like the icing on top of the cake, that was sweet.


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