I’ve heard Halloween be described as a day to Come As You Aren’t. I never understood that- I always wanted to dress up as characters I liked. Sadly, Halloween hasn’t been the same since college. Once I started living in apartments, trick-or-treaters have been as visible as The Great Pumpkin. But I did inadvertently suit up in an oddly symbolic way.
I go back and forth about Halloween. On the one hand, it’s kinda fun to dress up and pretend to be something different for a change. And as a kid, who doesn’t love free candy? I always wanted to rock a costume that showed off what I loved.
That said, it’s far from my favorite holiday and in some cases, it really freaks me out (I’m looking at you, people who turn their front yard into a JUST-a-bit-too-real representation of a zombie apocalypse). I mean, for a holiday that lets kids have sugar-fueled fun…some of those lawn decorations are pure nightmare fuel that will have the tiny tots questioning what Death is a little too soon in life.
***SIDE TANGENT AHEAD***
(feel free to skip ahead a paragraph/gif to continue the Halloween-from-an-aortic-survivor-talk)
Can we just talk about how awful the parents are in the Charlie Brown universe? I’m not gonna touch the fact that Linus is left out in a pumpkin patch all night, alone, believing in some kind of twisted gourdian deity. I want to know this: what kind of neighborhood does poor old Chuck live in if he gets A ROCK FOR TRICK OR TREAT…not once, BUT MULTIPLE TIMES? Are they trying to give the poor pre-pubescent bastard a complex? God knows he had enough to deal with thanks to Lucy BEFORE they decided to send passive-aggressive messages in stone form.
***RANDOM SCHULZIAN SIDE TANGENT CONCLUDED***
Aside from the recent classic horror movie marathon I’ve been indulging in (still need to get to Gaslight and Diabolique on my DVR), my ‘spooky’ plans involved…well, nothing all that supernatural. Not even an episode of Supernatural, actually.
I did pick up my wedding license, which was exciting…I had a tiny moment of cathartic acceptance…oh, and I grabbed groceries too.
Wait, what’s that? A little bit of soul-boosting enlightenment courtesy of a holiday that is embraced by candy companies, goths and followers of ancient practices? How does that work from a lukewarm appreciator of the costumed festivities? Allow me to illuminate.
Today was my second day at physical therapy. It was weird being back in the hospital that I last really saw as I was being carted down the hallway on a gurney with a helicopter destination. I kick myself for not throwing a Venkman ‘Let’s run some red lights!’ in there as I was shuttled to the airlift pad. Alas, I was too dazed to seize that opportunity. I also realize that the reason why some of my wisecracks made some of those doctors and paramedics nervous was probably because they were afraid I was going into shock or suffering a brain injury. Nope. Just good old Coping Mechanism 101: when backed into the corner, quip your way out. That’s healthy, right? ….right….?
Anyway…I got a few confused looks from the patients that were in the PT Center and even a rather venomous look from the wife of one of the patients who I GUESS thought I was doing an elaborate prank that took away from her husband’s medical care? See, I was easily the youngest person there by at least three decades. I don’t begrudge these people their need to rehabilitate from heart surgeries and injury. Far from it! But pardon me for having a poorly formed heart that tried to literally rip itself in pieces!
For the record, my rehab has gone smoothly enough. My numbers have been around 120 over mid-to-high 80s with slight elevation during the exercise. The facility is small, with some bikes, a reclining stepper, some treadmills, an arm machine and some small free-weights. I’m not allowed to really lift (which is hilarious since I brought in the groceries, but okay then), so it’s more cardio.
One of the physical therapists apparently is a fellow Superman fan. He spotted my hoodie and the shirt I was wearing. He wanted to know if I was wearing it for Halloween. I hadn’t done it intentionally. I do firmly believe that we attach ourselves to symbols that give us strength and hope, so it’s quite possible the reason I wore those to PT was due to my subconscious trying to get me to feel stronger.
An older woman next to me was having a hard time with a move she had coming up and she felt like she had no one who would care if she died today. That was a deep fear I had for the longest time when I was younger. Her saying it kinda brought back those memories of loneliness. The team worked on comforting her as best they could one at a time, and I saw her hugging one of them as I prepared to leave. For some reason, her words wouldn’t really get out of my head. I just kept walking on the treadmill.
She caught up with me on the elevator to return to the parking lot after the session ended. We spoke a little. She had had a few heart attacks and was having trouble with it all again. She assumed I’d had a heart attack too and rather than explain, I just lowered my shirt and revealed my scar. Her jaw dropped. When I told her I was 32, she stopped walking. “But you’re so young!” she said.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times people say that. Part of me shrivels up a little. It reminds me that I have to work extra hard if I want to live to be as old as the person pointing it out. It’s only topped by my favorite reminders “you’re lucky to be alive!” and “you could have died!”.
Then she did me a solid. Three words. Three words I know others have said but until today, they didn’t sink in. Maybe it’s because they came from someone who was struggling with her own mortality in a way I understood. Somehow, they just never clicked for me til now.
“You’re a survivor.”
Not ironically. Not sarcastically. Respectfully. From someone who’d had heart attacks and stents and probably caught a glimpse of the Grim Reaper in a reflection or from the corner of her eye at one point. Someone who I knew had the same fears I did. The age gap was bridged without much else said.
She tapped the Superman logo on my hoodie. “You do whatever it takes to keep going.”
I’ve been called a lot of things since I returned from the hospital. Most are variations on lucky or blessed. I’ve felt gratitude, relief, fear, pain, panic, melancholy, joy and most seriously, sadness. Someone in one of the support groups I’ve joined suggested I mourn the life I led so I could focus on the life I had to lead still. While I haven’t really truly mourned it yet, I’ve been taking steps toward accepting my new reality as best I can. Every piece of my old life I get back brings that much more of my sanity. Each task I learn I can still do without fear of a trip in the ambulance is a relief. Every boundary I push back on to see if I can get past it is a breath of fresh air.
Because it means I’ve survived. I am still here. My old life isn’t completely gone, despite the fact that so much has changed. My mind is now balancing itself as best it can to deal with this enormous revelation that I only have so much time. So what do I want to accomplish in that time?
One of the biggest comic book arcs ever came out when I was just a kid- The Death of Superman. I don’t remember getting the issue when he died, but I have a very clear memory of buying the issue that he returned to life in. See, DC Comics was never going to kill the icon that really launched the business. They put Superman into a state where he was basically dead but in reality, healing slowly inside of a machine that kept him alive.
And then came this:
He comes back from “death” weaker, but just as determined to do the right thing. He returns, as the ad says, Better Than Ever. He survived.
And so have I. Not sure what took so long for me to realize it, but here I am, two and a half months out from surgery, and the words are sinking in a little.I may not be able to lift cars over my head or catch speeding bullets in my hand, but today I wore Superman’s shield. Halloween may be ‘Come As You Aren’t’ to some people but to me, I guess I’ll stick with ‘Come As You Wish To Be’.There’s work yet to be done to get my head on straight and get my body in a better place but Halloween felt like a step forward.
Now that’s a Treat.
Until next time,