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I did not like what I saw in the bathroom mirror: slight swelling in my left cheek. I looked again, poked my finger into the spongy mass—the beginnings of moonface, no doubt about it, caused by prolonged steroid usage. I had seen this disfigurement in patients I used to work with. Other than teenage blemishes that were diet related, my oval face still appeared youthful. I worked hard to keep it that way.

Yet for decades, the leech of emotional pain had engorged my rheumatoid arthritis and split me from my body. Only approving smiles in mirrors or in reflecting doors verified my existence. Camera shots also affirmed this existence, enlivening my symmetrical body dressed to the nines. Others said “I was drop-dead gorgeous,” but I did not believe them.

Alarm led me, unawares, into the fix-it mode: I must preserve my face from further distortion. I went to work. Research showed that moonface could be reduced or eliminated if the dose were adjusted. Short of breath, my finger messed keying the number to the hospice nurse. “Yes, Liz, you can try the one-half of one milligram of the Dexamethasone. See if that makes a difference.”

It did not. Ever so slowly, I woke to the madness of preferring a comely face to breathing—all the more insane because of my homebound status. I was the only one who fretted, not my visitors. Such experience showed the entrenchment of my pride that had whipped me into days of unmanageability.

It was back to my CPA sponsor and Steps II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII. Again, the Flusher swirled out my crap and restored my breath for the essential, one day at a time.

 

 

Skeletal fingers disembowel fevered spirits, agonizing for a fix before the next holiday bash—and there are many, in the glitziest of venues. Desperation sours puke, hiccoughs frenzy the chest, joints scream in pain. Too chicken-hearted to opt for death, there seems no way out.

But there is—for those willing to change. It’s all about waking up to the full implications of our humanness, rife with loss. Within such losses that knee us before a Power greater than ourselves, we sense a faint voice emerging from our depths: so unlike the carping one with the bullwhip. We sink back on our haunches. We listen. Tears pool our eyes. Chests stop heaving. Hands fold in prayer. Something akin to peace surfaces like a fragrant lotus blossom: its glossy pink bespeaks Joy.

And then it’s over. Still on our haunches, we slip to the floor and prostate ourselves beneath the mantel of silence. We have been visited and we know it, but its memory mandates action.

Nothing left for us but to pick up our cell and call for help. It’s out there, even during the holidays.

 

Hardscrabble beginnings imprinted violence upon his psyche. He learned to fight on city streets for his needs. Never was there enough. Short, stocky, brash in speech and action, a knockabout character, he set fires and ran.

How he transmuted these behaviors and became a city fireman is unknown. Dangerous, messy, he loved his work, the camaraderie with his brothers in the firehouse, enhanced with cold beers.* Eighteen times he was revived. What are also unknown are the lives he saved and the blanketed remains he carried to waiting ambulances. The same is true of pets.

He was also a husband, a father of one daughter and three sons, a grandfather.

How he made it to the tables of Alcoholic Anonymous is also unknown. There, he retooled his firefighting skills to help others mired in alcohol and drug hell-fires for twenty-four years. A chance meeting, a chance remark changed my life in 2001. To the end, he retained his brusque manner.

His battered heart finally gave way on January 22, 2015.

We will miss his spirited blue eyes, filmed by cataracts.

His name was Earl.

*It was only in 2000 that Mayor Alfonzo Cervantes mandated drug and alcohol screening for all emergency personnel in the city of St. Louis.

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