The air had grown crisp earlier than usual on this late August day in Maine. As I drove up the long campus street to my designated parking lot, I rolled down the windows to take it all in. It was one of those serene moments in which I took a step back out of my mundane day-to-day existence and marveled at the gift that was life. In these moments, I thought back to that first time I stepped outside of the hospital – holed up for over a month – and it never failed to humble. I could have been dead never to experience this faux-fall day or the first day of classes that would be the propulsion towards my career.
“This summer couldn’t have been more fun!” I thought the weekend that I was almost arrested for I was about to experience the most stressful NON-cancer related moment in my young life…
…All two days before my first days at UMaine Orono.
Aside from my orientation at the college, (which we’ll get to later) we spent the summer like it was cocaine-covered hundred dollar bills. We threw that shit everywhere and didn’t even think to balance a single checkbook.
It all began with my birthday. I made it another year. This time, I was twenty-one, the hallowed age for myriad wannabe drunk teens. Normally, those freshly minted “adults” go overboard at the bars and wind up hugging the Porcelain Gods but as a non-drinker, I just wanted to hang out with friends at my apartment. Naturally, my friends drank all the alcohol in sight on my behalf.
Sure enough, Keith and Shawn easily transferred from one Paradis Shop N Save (Fort Kent) to the other (in Brewer). I, on the other hand, had hoped to do the same with my profession as “Sandwich Artist.”
Over the next few months, I felt that Tonya had been acting differently. I couldn’t explain why and when I asked her if she was okay, she would be quick to give me the answer I was looking for. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I was confused for I knew she wasn’t fine.
Meanwhile – back up north – MBNA was preparing to close. In June of 2005, Bank of America bought the credit card giant, causing the entire branch to fear the worst; that they would be out of their jobs. The company reassured them that they wouldn’t do such a thing and our immediate managers surmised that since Bank of America didn’t have an outward telemarketing arm that we would be safe in our profession.
Clearly, it was just a matter of time (and assessment) until the branch was shut down. In fact, not only did the company buyer shut some of the offices, but all of them. The Fort Kent center was consistently one of the top branches in the country, but even stellar numbers couldn’t save us.
It was difficult for me to live so far away from “Tonya.” I had finally found a steady girlfriend and she was three hours away. My mind tinkered with ways in which we could spend more time together. I decided to use some of my time off for Christmas from MBNA so I could go down for more than just the weekend.
Taking time off from MBNA was actually rather easy to do. Since it was an outbound call center, all you had to do was to work the twenty hours that you’re required by front-loading the week with longer days. They would always advise against it, however, because it would affect your “numbers.” But I never cared about that; I sucked at selling credit cards anyway.
The distance also made me wonder what life would be like if I continued on with my plan to go to the University of Maine at Orono (the O.G. UMaine) and finish my schooling down there. It certainly would be nice to get out of town sooner rather than later and I could be closer to Tonya.
My path was set. I was ready to make films professionally and my tools to do so were falling into place. The money from the Sunshine Foundation finally came through (a cool grand) and I used it in tandem with my credit card to fund my very own laptop.
I stuck with Dell and decked it out with state-of-the-art processing power and the best graphics card and storage money can buy (in 2005). All in all, the impressive laptop cost me around twenty-five hundred dollars.
Yet, I still felt like I was missing something even as my desired career was well underway. I had spent the past two years being comforted with the fact that I remained in the vicinity of my family and friends, but I had spent the past twenty years without a single relationship.
Sure, I’d had some little childhood flings as many kids are wont to do, such as my girlfriend, Jenn, in second grade or my other girlfriend, Danielle – of one day – also in second grade, but I never had a true relationship.
I despised all of these medical sidesteps; I just wanted to live a normal life. I knew that I didn’t want to become a hypochondriac, but how can someone who personally experienced all that I did be okay with the knowledge that – at any moment – this could all come crashing down?
I had it fairly easy as a kid all things considered, but I consumed food like an opulent King every single day and luckily, my body was able to bounce back. Only until it was literally able to bounce.
Even then, I hardly exercised and my life goals were minimal. At what point would the other shoe drop? Well, it turned out that point was at age eighteen when my life had been reset. I was now left picking up the pieces of my old way of living and aimlessly looking for a new puzzle frame.
My mind pushed out tragic thoughts of the house fire and instead continued churning its gleeful slideshow of happy memories set to upbeat pop music. It was like an Aunt who returned from vacation and a shitty house DJ all rolled into one. But every so often, the lingering anxiety would rear its ugly head, penetrating the very stability I had once thought I possessed.
Late one night, I began to worry about my throat closing up and sure enough, the feeling returned. I tried to fight it off, knowing that the feeling was likely due to the thought of it, but by then, it was too late.
I had been basking in the memories of my life in real-time for the entirety of the fourteen months since treatment had ended. It was an immense feeling that I had hoped would rub off on others in the world. I was more present in interactions with my friends and loved ones than ever before and I went out of my way to make plans with them– and FOLLOWED THROUGH with said plans. I had found a cheat code in the video game of life dubbed “Extra Life.”
Cancer did all of this? Huh, maybe there’s something to near-death from which we could learn.
Luckily, many people who had experienced this ordeal with me had also found similar rejuvenation in his or her relationships. Some of my Dad’s family made more time for one another and tore open the lines of communication from a once drought-ridden trickle to a steady, flowing stream. My Mom’s side chose to spend more time with my recently widowed Memére (but that wasn’t because of my experience). Yes, the worst of times can bring out the best in people. But can that nobility and camaraderie persist?
Ever since my battle with cancer, memories were something that I was compelled to create in abundance. Those memories didn’t need to be tied intrinsically to monumental moments in my life but also derived from simple things such as melodies and quiet nights at home. This next memory, however, involved an event of middling proportions: the departure from my very first home rental… and return to living with my parents.