Ten Years After My Quintuple Bypass

I have the date 12.13.12 tattooed above my heart. That’s the date that truly changed me.

Ten years on, I can look back on that unseasonably warm Thursday in December with some vivid memories. I tell the stories, remember the beats, and can recall the players. I can now say I know what a heart attack feels like.

When you’re 35 and never had a medical issue, finding out you need a quintuple bypass immediately is incredibly tough to wrap your head around. I thought I was going to die and spent over three hours coming to grips with it. Amid flashbacks of previous near-death experiences, a voice inside kept telling me that this one day was honestly my final curtain.

It wasn’t. A decade later, I’m still here, still going, and my heart’s still beating. While the memories of the events are clear, it’s my feelings and emotions at the time that aren’t as readily accessible. Since that day, my entire world has undergone an extreme makeover.

I’m not entirely sure who that person was back in 2012. I wonder how he would have reacted if he knew all that was going to happen. How would he feel knowing that this one event would knock his entire planet off its orbit?

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This surgery proved something to me almost immediately.  There were people in my life who never had my best interests at heart. My heart attack had been caused by genetic conditions, but the catalyst was a pointless argument on the phone that felt like a tired rerun. Annoyed and angry, I hung up and that’s when the pain hit. I wish I could say that was the final straw, but there was one more straw left to snap.

The night of my bypass was rough, but the days after it were worse. Angry shouting answering machine messages and cruel comments all came through while I was trying to recover from this major surgery. None of that mattered though. Even now, when it was most important, I couldn’t have time to just be left alone. My new stress-free life was starting with the old stressful nonsense and when I finally closed the book on those particular people, I felt like I could breathe again.

Whenever I write about this, I know that it may trigger some people. They think of how sad must it be to turn away an entire family. They project themselves into the place of my antagonists and think of what they would do in that situation. Trust me. I get it. I have too. Personally, I would have camped out on my kid’s lawn until they called the cops and then come back after I served my sentence. Wild horses couldn’t have kept me away.

None of that happened in this case. My life story doesn’t end with a bag of unopened Christmas cards for my kids. No birthdays. No holidays. Nothing. Sometimes the ease with which people will go away tells you all you need to know about how they valued you to begin with. I recovered without them. I’m better than I ever was before.

Does it sting sometimes? Sure. Do I regret that it happened? Not in the least. As my Italian grandmother, used to say, “They don’t say hello. They don’t say goodbye. Eh!”

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Of course, that was just one part of my fractured circle. When my eyes opened and guests were allowed in, there were people there who came to support me. There weren’t a lot of people. I always kept my circle tight. Quality over quantity, I’d kid myself.

A handful showed up to pay respects, bring balloons, and marvel at how young I was. They’d wish me the best and profess to be overjoyed that I was still where I was needed, they’d claim. I was essential, they’d swear. What would they all ever do without me? These were my people.

Today, aside from my kids, they’re all gone.

Yes. All of them.

Why? So many reasons. Some people ran away, some I sent away, and others faded away. Regardless, everyone is where everyone should be. Every day that passes after is just further proof of that.

There are people you picture being with until the day you die. Then you almost die, and that picture goes away. They might be good people. They might be bad people. All that matters is that they’re not your people.

Mentally, I try to get back to that scruffy bearded meat eater in 2012. What would he think if he knew all that was about to unfold over the next decade? How would he handle it? What would he say when faced with the knowledge that all the strife, all the drama, all the trauma, and all the new beginnings were still left to unfold?

It sounds exhausting because it is. I am exhausted just writing it. The heart surgery was just the start. The real repairs in my life weren’t physical. There was a grueling road ahead. I have the asphalt deeply engrained in the soles of my feet.

If I did have this imagined conversation with my younger self, I’d be sure to tell him that things will be difficult on unimaginable levels. There will have moments of doubt for every decision you’ve made. There will be days that feel like you’ve just taken apart a still-working clock and now sit there staring at the pieces spread across the floor.

Why did I do this? How will I ever put this back together?

And then, you just will. Piece by piece, you’ll find your peace. You’ll make yourself complete. You’ll be whole. You’ll find happiness.

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Today, I have some tough issues to deal with. There are some real stresses and real problems that need fixing. My house isn’t in Candyland and the clouds don’t puke rainbows. As Dusty Rhodes once said, “That’s hard times, Daddy.” The American Dream is right. Real life is real hard.

And despite all that, I can say that I’m happy. I’m happy with my life and the people in it. I’m happy with the love I found. I learned that family isn’t just blood and that my kids will always be my motivation. It’s better to have a terrible day with people who love you than a great one with people who don’t.

That’s how you know. When life can be harsh and troubles pile up, yet you can still look in the mirror and know you’ve made the right choices, that’s when you’re happy. That’s when life, warts and all, is the best you can make it.

Make no mistake, those ten years have produced magical moments and brought me to places I want to be. My writing has allowed me to show my son to the world, raise autism appreciation, and help others with a similar familial situation. My daughter is growing into an amazing young woman who slowly, but surely is becoming more like me. My girlfriend Lauren and her son Christian have shown me that I’m far from broken. Lauren truly loves me for who I am. That’s never happened before and still, at times, confuses me. All I know is I love her too very much. What else matters more than all that?

Ten years ago, I would have doubted that I’d be around to write this. Today, I can say that I hope to be writing another one in another ten. My story isn’t over yet. We didn’t come this far to only come this far.

This is the life I was meant to live. I can feel it in my heart.



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