“Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” – Part One

The response from friends, family, and strangers on the internet has been overwhelming. The impromptu eulogy I wrote to my dad the day after his passing is so far, the most views this site has had so far. I’m glad I had enough clarity to put it out there and share that little bit of the odd relationship I had with my father with people and let them get to know a little bit of him in the same was that I’ve always known him. I’m sitting here looking at the calendar and wondering how it’s already been two months since it all happened and I’m just now realizing it.

As a little follow up to that previous story, I figured in the interest of first and foremost, helping me to personally find closure, as well as to continue to honor my dad in a way that only a Ward can, I’d share a few of the highlights of the last couple months and what we’ve done since then.

Days after Dad’s passing, my brother and I made our way to Georgia, where our Dad had resided and where his brothers and his mother still live. It had been the first time I’d been back to Georgia since I dropped out of school at the Atlanta Art Institute after my “stupid-kid-end-of-the-world” scenario that came after Nycki dumped me in 2002. This was the state where I’d been born and had intended on visiting again, sooner than later, but somehow never made my way back down there under happier circumstances.

Alex and I arrived in Atlanta via plane where we met our Mom, who’d driven down from Tennessee and made our way overnight to Statesboro. The trip was meant to be a very quick one, with Alex having to be back at work in two days. The three of us made our way to our old hometown of Macon, Georgia.

The family decided the best place to hold the service was in the field outside the barn-made-house that he, his brothers, and my grandmother and grandfather had raised them. The family had moved out of there long before and it was my first time back on the property since I was a little man in short pants. Luckily, when we asked the barn’s current residents if it would be okay for us to come and hold the ceremony out there in the field next to the pond across the back yard. Mom, Alex, and I had shown up first, getting a little time to explore the old farm before the rest of the family began to roll in. I remember sitting down in the grass looking out at the lake, and having fragments of old memories come back into my head. As I’ve said before, I have a difficult time remembering the first several years or so of my life before the second surgery and my second chance, but seeing the lake again reminded me of two things. My dad trying in vain to teach Alex and I how to fish, how bored I got with it, and how my brother or I (I can’t recall which) ended up getting a big bite on our line and just as Dad was coming to help reel it in, threw the entire rod and reel into the lake.

The service was pleasant. No religion, no frills or anything like that. Just the family and a few close friends gathered up in the field where my dad grew up, listening to the music he loved, sharing the stories that we all loved about him, and just trying to bring something positive out of the unexpected bad circumstances. Lots of small touches that Dad would have probably appreciated, like my Aunt Linda, with whom Dad was constantly bickering and mutually getting on one another’s nerves as only family can, holding the urn of his ashes as the service went on. A little detail that probably would’ve irritated him to no end. The service began with a boombox being brought out, playing Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind”, a song that’s done a number on me emotionally well before the ASPCA started using it in their manipulative little TV ads. Courtney, an old girlfriend of mine, used it as one of her standards every time we went out to karaoke and it always brought the house down. Needless to say, using it in the context of a funeral for a father that I’ve had a rocky relationship with for many years was only going to lead to uncontrollable blubbering at a point where I just wasn’t ready for it. Fortunately, my Aunt Diane saw where the song was taking the amassed group and hit the next track on the CD. Something that got a laugh out of all of us and couldn’t be referred to as anything other than extremely appropriate for the kind of man my Dad was.

Dad, in his days as a truck driver, spent a lot of time on his XM Satillite radio to get him through long trips. His favorite channels were the comedy stations and Outlaw Country. He called my brother and I immediately after hearing the song and told us to look it up. We got a good laugh out of it and it became part of my regular iPod rotation for a little while, and then when it came on at Dad’s service, I couldn’t think of anything other than how well it just fit.

He’d begun attending AA meetings again. He’d spent the week leading up to his surgery attempting to earnestly quit smoking once and for all, which was something he’d never really attempted in over forty years. A couple nights before the procedure, he called me up and we talked about the operation he was about to go through. He had an honest to God sense of worry in his tone as he talked to me and in one of the most frank and honest conversations the man and I ever had, told me he was scared of the surgery. He told me that despite his fear of going under the knife, the thing that kept him going, kept him from running away from the problem as he sometimes liked to do, was me. My “for shit” memory usually forbids me from having any recollection of his words, but what he’d basically told me was that after watching me go through serious surgeries as a child at such young ages, what did he really have to be scared of. It was one of those rare moments with Dad that didn’t involve joking around, being nasty, or tap dancing around “feelings” like typical closed off cavemen. It’s a conversation that I’m now very grateful to have had with him in retrospect, although it does give me pause in thinking about how much dad may or may not have known about the riskiness of his operation. If there’s one thing Ward men are good at, it’s keeping secrets.

The night before my birthday, the night before his surgery, I saw a missed call and a message from dad on my phone soon after we had a brief last exchange of words. I didn’t return it because I was headed out for a date that night and I figured the surgery would go fine. We had talked an hour or so before and I made a point of telling him I loved him, but in retrospect, I’m honestly gonna feel bad about that one for a while to come. It’s just one of those little regrets you can’t change and need to learn to live with.

More soon, folks. Til then, I am my father’s son…

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Aaaaand We’re Back!

Man, I gotta tell ya, of all the ways I figured I could ring in my 31st year on earth, I had never expected the absolute shit show that has encased the entirety of my September.

So, the last month got particularly ugly. (If my admittedly bitchy last entry is any indication.) On top of the loss of my father at the beginning of September and all of the inherent stress that came from that just got compounded by the sickness that hit me harder than a drunk driver in a Buick. As resistant as I am to going to a doctor after seven years lacking insurance, after about four days of spinning and being unable to leave home, I finally gave in and went to one of the walk-in clinics at Walgreens. After that, I came home with a couple hundred bucks lighter with a gaggle of pills. Took those for a couple days to no real effect and broke down and made an appointment to an ENT doctor. After getting my hearing tested and being told what I already knew (I’m dizzy and pretty deaf) they prescribed me with some steroids to go on top of the rest of the pills I had. I started taking those for a couple more days, still no effect, so I went for a follow up with the ENT, who told me that they didn’t know what was wrong with me, but they had three options left for what to do to me.

1) An fMRI to check and see if I might have a brain tumor. (Which they admitted wasn’t very likely and would have cost me at least a grand without insurance)

2) They could inject steroids directly into my ear drum, which only had a 1/3rd chance of doing anything productive with my hearing loss or the vertigo.

3) Go with my original plan to stay home and wait it out like I had already planned before I dropped a thousand dollars on tests and meds that did sweet fuck all to help the problem.

My lividness with the situation aside, I stopped the medications all together, almost as an act of defiance and, under the advice of a friend, went out and got my “New Age” on, getting my first experience with acupuncture. The way I figured it, it’s a new experience, it might help my ear, and really, what’s another $80 on top of the pile of cash I already flushed down the crapper, anyway? So, I made an appointment and got my prick on. The whole experience was interesting, getting needles stuck in different areas in my back, arms, legs, hands, feet, and some centralized attention around my dead ear. I walked out of their office feeling no better from the vertigo, but my mood was amazing. All the tensions that had built up in me just went away for no discernible reason other than the fact that the turning my body into a pin cushion had unlocked something really pleasant within my mind and body. I walked around that day, still dizzy and a quarter deaf, but walking on air for several hours.

This feeling went on until a couple of hours after I got home, when I found myself thrown into the most disgusting, ugly, bile and excrement filled rage I’d felt in the last two years… And I couldn’t tell you why or what was making me feel this way to save my life. I went from the soundtrack to Singin’ In The Rain to Black Flag’s Damaged like a snap of your fingers. I paced around the apartment wanting to put my fist through the wall for ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING REASON! It was bizarre and the fact that I couldn’t figure out why I was so pissed off just served to make me angrier. I went and jumped in the shower and started doing some deep breathing, racing through my own head, trying to figure out if I was going crazy or if maybe, just maybe I did have some kind of brain tumor pressing down somewhere on my brain’s limbic system. The hypocondria began to spiral out of control when the answer finally hit me out of nowhere.

In my trademarked bullheadedness, I decided to go cold turkey off the Prednazone prescription (of which I’d been taking six pills a day of for a solid week) and it dawned on me exactly what was going on in my frezied brain.

I was having ‘roid rage!

‘Roid rage is a real fucking thing and I was experiencing it.

I’d been on steroids before as a kid when I was recovering from my second surgery. I don’t recall the dosage, and I don’t recall any incidents of irrational anger for no reason, but then, I was 7 years old and on a myriad of drugs. There’s not much from that time period that I remember. The only reason I had no desire to use them now was because they caused the small, but still massively annoying gynecomastia (AKA: “man boobs”) that I’ve had ever since and won’t go away, no matter how many push-ups or butterfly curls I do. So it was with great hesitation that I went downstairs and took a smaller dosage of the pills. I managed to ween myself off of them within the span of another four days.

It’s been about a month since labrynthitis has knocked me flat on my ass and pretty much made me useless for a couple of weeks. Luckily, the extreme dizziness and puking into a bowl until I had nothing left in my body to throw up ended within the first 12 or so hours of it happening. The unfortunate part is, the vertigo has persisted for the entirety of the last four weeks and still hasn’t completely cleared up. Worst yet, the loss of half the hearing in my left ear still hasn’t improved and it’s pretty likely that the loss will be permanent. The thing that gets my hopes up about the possibility of regaining most if not all of my hearing is the faint, tinnitus-like bit of high-pitched white noise that I hear in the ear whenever I’m sitting somewhere quiet. It’s pretty much exactly like that running gag from Archer.

Fortunately, I’m not completely deaf in that ear, I’d say I’m at about 30 to 40% of what I’m used to on my left and I’m trying to strengthen the possibility of the hearing coming back by listening to music and especially lots of audiobooks with only the left headphone going. Then there’s the unintended plus sides of the hearing loss, like having an easier time ignoring bad music blaring out of some asshole’s car when I ride around with the windows open. Also, I can (and have) used it at times as a more reasonable excuse to ignore people or requests for things I’m in no hurry to do. Furthermore, now that I’m off the drugs and not sleeping away 80% of my days, my brain is firing back up and I’m back to writing. Wrapping up production on The Zipper Club in the next couple weeks after all these setbacks, writing more entries for The Long Odds here, and preparing an outline for my first year of participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ll be writing a little more about that in the next week or so and give everyone the all the information they’ll need to follow my progress across the month of November.

Every cloud has a silver lining!

The Unspectacular Exploits Of The Immobile, Hyphenated Squid-Boy

It didn’t take long before my chest had healed enough for it to be unbandaged, I got the real shock of getting to see and be able to assess the stark changes that would now be a permanent fixture of my bodily landscape. Not only was the old, faded scar beneath my left breast now accompanied by a long, puckering, scabbed over wound with prickly translucent sutures running up and down the full length of my sternum, but I also had a series of four long rubber hoses jammed two by two into either of my sides to drain the fluid that had been accumulated in my lungs while I began to recover. Those creeped me out far more than the fact that some guy had cleaved open my chest and proceeded to root around with my organs while I slept it off. As cool as a kid might think looking like Doctor Octopus would be for a little while, it’s a whole ‘nother bit of unpleasantness to feel bits of sharp, hard plastic shifting around just beneath your skin whenever you try and move or turn around even slightly.

You get to have that much constant discomfort as a consistent part of your daily routine, and you learn to adapt yourself. Making mental note of how which degrees of movement would cause the tubes to shift or grind against my innards, and doing my damnedest to avoid them, which was easier said than done. The level of mobility that lent me was exactly the level of mobility of spending most parts of my day playing Nintendo with my feet and urinating into a medical-grade jug. I guess that’s a fine lifestyle, if you’re into living like a semi-functional beached whale. Eight year old boys however, are a peculiar breed who are typically hyped up on sugar and a special form of cooties. Even in my weakened state, I wasn’t having with any of that noise.

One day, I made the cocky mistake of rejoicing aloud in triumph to my mom and a nurse at my unexpected emancipation when one of the tubes fell out of my side and hit the floor with a wet thump. Unfortunately, this sense of newly liberated freedom was short-lived as the nurse walked over, knelt down and grabbed the tube and took it away for a moment before coming back with a new, sterile one. She muttered an apology to me and told me to try and stay calm as she inserted the new tube where the old one had been. Not much warning, no anesthetic, I just felt a quick, hard push accompanied by a lot of screaming on my part. My young mind may have exaggerated the pain of it, but the way I’ve recalled it ever since, I can’t think of any physical pain I’ve encountered in my life that was worse or more disturbing than being awake for my “stabbing”.

From there, the road to recovery was slow. I spent over a week in a hospital bed at Mayo with my Mom and Grandmother staying in the room with me for as long as the doctors would allow visitors and periodic calls from my Dad back home while he worked to keep the bills paid. The time I spent at Mayo after the surgery was finished and I woke up added up to about a week, but I remember the time passing as if it were a month. Fortunately, I had a huge stack of comics, video games, and cartoons to help pass the time.

Then came the nightly blood tests. Nurses, entering the room quietly at night with needles and prickers and menacing, snarling nurse fangs, drooling for their nightly fix on my sweet, sweet O negative. These nightly acts of aggression were neither appreciated nor enjoyed. The repeated assaults built a level of aggression into me that would fill more and more with each encounter. Incensed with rage, I became a scourge to every nurse in the place. I didn’t trust them and I made it a happen to tell every single one of them as much when they walked through the door. Turning towards the inner darkness that kept me immobile in my bed and frustrated in the world around me as these four tubes in my chest held me into place, looking like some eight-armed octopi, I resigned to my fate.

I would become the Squid!

The toys I had accumulated from friends, family, and mystery donors had become the weapons in Squid Boy’s arsenal for this great battle. Come at a guy twice daily to prod him with needles, and I don’t care how good your intentions are, there will be hard feelings. Having had enough, I made my intentions known to this poor woman, with as much venom as a seven year old boy could muster.

“Come any closer with that needle, and I will shoot you in the head.”

Fortunately, the only shooting taking place would be from the barrel of a spring-loaded accessory that came with a Batman action figure (Circa the first Michael Keaton flick) that would launch little plastic projectiles as far as maybe three or four feet with the ballistic power of a beetle crashing repeatedly into the face of a lit lightbulb. The nurse, feeling sorry for me, played along in the interest of humoring me and getting her job done, allowed me to “shoot her in the head” while acting like it really hurt before I let her go at me with the needle again. It wasn’t the last of the blood tests in my time at Mayo or beyond, but the nurse’s willingness to play along with exorcising my frustration was enough to get me over a certain degree of the frustration that had been plaguing me. After that point, I swore I’d never get touched by another needle as long as I lived. Despite this, my do-gooder nature coupled with my universal donor blood type make me a frequent target of the Red Cross’ Vampire Call List and I got my first tattoo on my 30th birthday with intentions on probably getting a couple more before too long. (Again, sorry Mom…)

So much for that, Squid-Boy.

Don’t Dump Sack The Reaper

“I went into the hospital in 1946, with advanced tuberculosis, and altogether I spent three and a half years in the hospital. By the time I got out I had had 10 ribs removed, one lung collapsed, a piece of the other one removed, and there were some severe complications from an experimental drug that was used to keep me alive. During these years I was given up for dead several times. One doctor told me that I could not live, I just didn’t have enough lung capacity, and I should just go home and sit quietly and I would soon be dead. Now, I am blessed with a rotten attitude, and my response to statements of this nature is, Fuck you, no one tells me what to do!”  – Hubert Selby Jr., February 24, 1999, LA Weekly

As we’ve previously determined, death and I have grown to have a complicated relationship.

 

Something unlocked in my head on the day that I learned the full scope of my first years and how close I came to losing it all. There’s a certain perspective that can come with the idea of coming that close to meeting your maker. I’m glad that I didn’t have a clue about it until my teenage years when I was about to become all “dark and brooding” anyway and was able to enjoy a mostly regular childhood. I have my parents, particularly my mother to thank for that. In the face of all that uncertainty and darkness, I’ve grown a pretty good sense of humor about it all. When you come from a background that limits you from certain activities like playing sports or running around rough housing for long periods of time like a normal, growing boy, you can either be depressed about it, or find a way to adapt.

My way of adapting was through humor. As I got older and grew to better understand things, gallows humor became a driving force in my personality. I can’t help it, when it comes to storytelling, I like things on the dark side, because it wouldn’t be a story if “everything stayed okay” all the time.  If you can inject some sort of humor into something horrible or sad, then you’ll make me your biggest fan. Around my teenage years, I began referring to my life past the age of eight when I had my second surgery as “my borrowed time” and it’s been a terminology I’ve stuck with ever since. I used “my borrowed time is now old enough to drink legally” in a speech to some officials of Connecticut government on behalf of the American Heart Association shortly after I turned 29.

I know that in saying things like these that I tread close to the territory of those who paint their finger nails black and expend an alarming effort to avoid contact with direct sunlight, but I assure you, this is not the case.  I have a deep love and passion for life and feel that anyone who worships the idea of dying is wasting their precious and short time here on this planet. The idea of suicide angers me to an unreasonable degree, and I understand that people who feel this way really don’t think that there’s another option for themselves, and while I’m sad for them, I just can’t bring myself to respect that kind of mentality, given my unique place in life and my relationship with defying odds and expectations.  Knowing now, how close I’ve come on repeated occasions to dying adds a degree of preciousness to my life as a whole, as well as the concept of the future for me.  Essentially, since the day I was born, I started living on borrowed time. My borrowed time began extending slowly over all these small periods of time, the time between my birth and first surgery, the matter of years between my first surgery leading up to my second surgery, the time after my second surgery as I began to not just recover, but flourish in ways no one ever expected me to. To this day, I’ve grown up to be thirty years old and counting.  I’m a successful, published writer after pursuing my dream for over a decade, I’m finally getting through college, and I’ve become a massive health nut who works out like a fiend.  All of the limitations I had had placed on me growing up, I’ve gone on to obliterate most of them as time went on.  My relationship with death has informed the way that I live my life and how I will continue to live it until the day that borrowed time finally decides to expire.

Death is not something to be feared. Everybody does it, sometimes it happens to us sooner than we would like. We never know when our time might come, so blah, blah, blah, “YOLO” this, “carpe diem” that. Death is not something to be embraced. Sitting around dwelling on the end as though it were some hot, malnourished guy or girl in skinny jeans with a pallor to their flesh not unlike egg nog, is just as much a waste of time. Have a healthy respect for it. Try not to go careening wrecklessly into it, but don’t deprive yourself of new adventures out of anxiety over it. Try and keep your personal levels of irresponsible stupidity to a minimum. Just know that there’s no reason to fear it.

Know this intimately and you may notice that you tend to care a lot less about the more trivial things in life.

A Little Piece Of Land In Georgia

      Soon after receiving the news of my health situation and rushing me to the specialists at Egleston Hospital (Now known as CHOA) in Atlanta, Georgia, my parents and I reunited for a brief matter of minutes before the decision was made to fast-tracked into a surgical suite. There, I underwent a heart catheterization which showed them the sizable hole in the wall between my two ventricles. At the time, major surgery on newborns was a mostly unheard of idea, so instead, they chose to perform a more temporary measure that commonly helped to buy children a bit more time. The procedure  that involved a small incision just below my left breast and the placement of a surgical grade rubber band around the  in my heart to keep more fluid from escaping than necessary. The hole between my ventricles was big enough that the rush of  blood that was escaping was going fast and with enough force between the two chambers that it could potentially cause a lot of damage if it were to be left to run unchecked.  The entire procedure was never meant to be any sort of remedy to the situation so much as a prophylactic measure to hopefully buy me some chance at a slightly extended future.  The idea was that hopefully with this band, I would live several more years until A) medical science advanced enough to tell doctors how to fix this problem and B) my body had matured and developed enough to withstand the type of surgery that would have entailed.

My stay at Egleston lasted for about six weeks. They performed the surgery when I was 2 days old and afterwards they kept me all that extra time to monitor my medications. I had a lot of trouble with eating at the time and ended up losing two pounds in all my time in the hospital. I went from being the biggest baby in the nursery where I was born to losing a solid 2 pounds in just my first few days. It got to the point that they began adding a special formula to the milk they fed me to give me some extra calories. My entire family remained on pins and needles for the first couple of weeks of my stay. Eventually, my dad ended up needing to go back to work while my mom stayed on maternity leave and my Grandmothers from both sides, Grandmother Foster and Grandmom Ward stayed with my mother and I at the hospital the entire time.

My parents had told me sugar-coated versions of all these facts and stories as I grew up, because I was a curious child who always knew I was different from other kids and wanted to know why.  I knew I had a heart problem and I knew that one day I would need to have another surgery to fix the problem. We just didn’t really talk much about what could happen if I didn’t get the surgery or how dire my situation had been. It’s part of why, despite my particularly extreme circumstances, I feel like I had a relatively happy childhood. I wasn’t abused, I didn’t live in poverty, (although there were some rough times in our later years, but that’s a story for another time) and I never felt unloved in those early years. Even when friction began to build in my parent’s marriage, they managed to keep my brother and I insulated from it.

As a teenager, well beyond the years of my getting through the second surgery and seeing a marked improvement in my health and well-being, I started asking more questions of my parents, who had long since divorced and become more apt to sharing some of the more darkened details of the circumstances of my formative years.  The biggest revelation I had revealed to me was that my grandmother and grandfather, who had bought a cemetery plot for themselves at Brooks Cemetary in Brooks, Georgia, had sent my Aunt Kathy, one of their older daughters out of the hospital on the day they heard the news about my defect diagnosis to buy a small piece of space for my remains to go, in the seemingly very likely event that I passed in the days that followed.  Since my grandparents have passed, we haven’t been able to find record of whether or not that space of land is still sitting there in my name. For all we know it’s been sold off a long time ago and is occupied by some other departed soul. One thing remains for sure, the idea of having a grave site waiting for you practically all of your life can have a, shall we say, dramatic effect on a young man as he grows forward into adulthood.

From The Top

It was early morning, well before the sun was supposed to rise when my grandmother, Norma Foster, awoke to the sound of the ringing phone and the panicky voice of her youngest daughter, my mother, Betsy on the other end.  Betsy was 9 months pregnant and due very soon and was having a little bit of a crisis. Having your first kid, you’re told a lot of things about what the experience will be like (i.e. PAINFUL!) When she had begun having contractions, she wasn’t sure if it was serious, because it wasn’t hurting. The thing about labor pains that no one had gotten around to telling her was that they don’t typically start until the water breaks. Mom wasn’t sure she was if she was in labor or not, so she called her Norma, the mother of five, who managed to provide her with the insight to get moving to the hospital pronto. They arrived at Colosseum Hospital in Macon Georgia and were admitted by 7 AM.

She had wanted to have a natural child birth, but Mom chickened out at the last minute and got an epidural. She describes the rest of her labor as “uneventful”, aside from squeezing my dad’s arm and yelling at him when he made mention of wanting to go out and take a smoke break in the middle. Other than that, no big problems, complications, or traumas, and I was born at 1:15 PM on September 5th, 1982, measuring in at 21.25 inches long and weighing 8.6 pounds. My parents had chosen to name me Samuel Allen Ward III after my father and his father before him.

My mother, Betsy Foster, and father, Allen Ward, had been happily married for about 3 years before I came along. Allen, named in long form after his own father, Samuel Allen Ward Sr., won the naming rights on their first born and decided to stick with tradition, thus naming me Samuel Allen Ward III. Once that was settled upon, they needed to figure out something to call me,  being that Sam and Allen had both been claimed by Samuel Allen Ward Sr. and Jr. respectively. Fortunately, my mom had the bright idea of simply splitting the “Allen” in half, where they got “Len”, the name I’ve gone by in one form or another across the span of my entire life, as opposed to making me go by something like “Lil’ Sam” or “Lil’ Allen” for the rest of my life.

By all accounts, I was born a pretty healthy looking kid, the biggest one in the nursery at the time, with wide brown eyes and an exceptionally long neck that jokingly earned me the nickname of “E.T.”. The problems didn’t start until the next day when nurses informed my parents that they had placed me into an incubator because they couldn’t regulate my temperature and had no idea what was going on. These kinds of things were common in many newborns at times and easily fixable. My parents initially thought nothing of it and just assumed to wait it out while I “cooked”.

It soon came to be found that the problem wasn’t as minor as they’d thought, thanks to the worries of a keen ears of Dr. Minor C. Vernon, (Awesomest name ever!) who noticed a faint murmur in my heart beat, I was put under another series of tests which confirmed there to be a problem in the plumbing of my heart. Dr. Vernon had been on vacation in the days previous after my birth and came into my mom’s room with a sense of alarm in his tone, telling my mother that they were going to need to take me to Egleston Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. It turned out that there was a sizable hole in between the left and right ventricles of my heart, which caused the muscles in the left ventricular chamber to pump the blood into the rest of my system at a very weak rate. The medical name for the condition is an endocardial cushion defect with a hypoplastic left ventricle, and it’s a condition that in it’s time, was so rare and dangerous that practically every child who’d been diagnosed with it had died, including a young girl named Lindsay, who ended up being my roommate at Egleston and passed away at the age of six due to her heart’s advanced damage and the fact that at the time, the medical procedures to fix the condition hadn’t been invented yet. If that Dr. Vernon hadn’t come back to work that day, if he hadn’t given my heart and my problems a second look, this story would have ended a lot differently. In a rush, I was taken from my parents and fast tracked via ambulance to the children’s hospital as my parents watched the ambulance drive away.

Welcome to The Zipper Club

One project you’ll be hearing no shortage of updates on in the coming months is my upcoming all-ages graphic novella series, The Zipper Club with artist Brenda Liz López. The Zipper Club is half the reason I started The Long Odds blogging project after the success of our Zipper Club IndieGoGo campaign provoked an increased interest in my own, personal story with heart disease.

Not long after Love Buzz‘ debut, I was approached by Andrew Goletz, the founder of Grayhaven Comics, who liked what Michelle, Dave, Tom, and myself did so much that he asked if I had any ideas for the new all-ages anthology series they wanted to put together called The Gathering. After spending several days racking my brain for ideas and coming up with a couple of rather uninspired concepts about imaginary friends and mystical adventures that I wasn’t absolutely in love with, I started getting emails about the upcoming yearly gathering of Camp Bravehearts back in my old Kentucky home. After a little bit of wistful reminiscing, I realized that I had my next great story idea.

The story of The Zipper Club, inspired by my own journey growing up with heart disease, as well as my 12 years of experience as a counselor for a congenital heart defect summer camp called Camp Bravehearts inspired me to write a comic book about the kind of kids I’ve had the great fortune of getting to know in all that time.

At age 8, Cliffy Goldfarb was the recipient of an emergency heart
transplant. At age 9, Cliffy is now struggling to cope with the
limitations his still recovering body is undergoing, and the fact that
because of this, he has trouble relating to his peers. When his mom
suggests spending his summer at Camp Bravehearts, a place for kids
living with heart defects like his own, he has some trepidations about
going this camp for “special” kids, but soon learns his worries were
all over nothing when he meets a young girl named Rosie who introduces
him to a group of new friends who encourage him by showing off their
surgical scars to one another and inducting Cliffy into The Zipper
Club.

Over the next year, Brenda and I produced a series of six separate short stories, following the different themes given to us by each subsequent issue of The Gathering‘s editors (Despair, Heroes, Romance, a two part Ghost story in subsequent horror issues, and Myth) and managed to make each theme hit the right note to tell it’s own story while still building on the continuing saga of our kids and their first summer together at Camp Bravehearts. The goal being that when read all together, the shorts would come together to read as one complete story of five kids forming a unique bond over the course of one week at summer camp. The story within the first Zipper Club book is only the beginning, too. Should it become popular enough, Brenda and I have plans to do 4 more books on a yearly basis, telling the story of the five kids, one year later in their lives and development from the ages of 8 years old to 13 by the time we’re done. Our goal is to make each annual book into something akin to the same experience of coming back to summer camp to see the smiling faces of your old friends again and see how their lives have developed. I’m currently wrist deep in scripting next years annual as Brenda finishes up art on the book for year one.

You can pre-order copies of The Zipper Club in The Long Odds’ store on bigcartel.com for just seven dollars. The book will hold 54 pages of content, including 40 pages of fully colored Zipper Club story, as well as several pages of fun back matter, such as games, puzzles, pin-up art, and so forth, all in a digest sized, prestige format package. I’m also working hard on a way to sell copies in bulk for interested retailers and more importantly, children’s hospitals and pediatric cardiac care clinics all over the nation. If anyone reading this is interested in a bulk buy, please shoot me a line through the Contact page  and we’ll see what can be worked out.

We hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE ZIPPER CLUB NOW!

DON’T FORGET TO LIKE THE ZIPPER CLUB ON FACEBOOK, TOO!