The Call to Adventure
arrived and vanished
only 23 with so much speed
owning the highway”
- Salvador Sanchez
(Sun Kill Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway, 2003)
Labour Day Weekend brought one of the worst illnesses I had experienced in years. It came on like food poisoning but lingered like the worst flu for almost a week. Vomiting, diarrhea, chills, sweats, dizziness….the whole shebang. Alissa didn’t get sick, so I attributed it to some Taco Salad I had eaten a few days before I became ill (OK no one else got sick from it but I never liked Taco Salad).
I felt more than a little scared as I took three sick days in a row. My growing reputation in the company as “that guy over there who can help you with that graphic” was making me feel more hopeful about staying around after the twelve week contract expired. I would have to work extra to make up for the lost usefulness.
On the third sick day, I made my way to the walk-in clinic near our apartment. I gave the doctor my symptoms and he told me I probably had a viral infection and it would go away on it’s own. Drink lots of fluids, stay in bed—the usual stuff. A few days later I was more or less back to full strength. The only thing that lingered the next Monday was this annoying hacking cough that started a few days in. I steeled myself and headed to work.
The next several weeks were a blur of work. The senior designer who handled the rest of the company’s departments suddenly quit and I found myself suddenly taking care of the entire company’s design duties. About a week before my contract was to expire I still hadn’t heard if I was going to be staying on. When I asked my manager about the situation, she seemed surprised it hadn’t been dealt with already. A few more days’ waiting and I was told my contract was extended another three months. I was determined to become a full time employee, and I had until January to make myself “indispensable” to the company.
The pressure to perform was substantial. Alissa wanted to have kids immediately, but I had sold her on me finding a job in my chosen field, us getting a car, and down payment on a house. When I wasn’t able to find a design job in Ottawa—even after a year of searching—the stress started to take its toll on my budding marriage. Getting engaged at 20 was silly, but deciding to get married at 22 was just naive. On top of student loans, credit cards we already had a consolidation loan for a previous “do-over”—20-something financial decision making at its finest.
We got married three days after Christmas. It snowed gently most of the day. In some grand effort to subvert the whole event, I had my Bachelor Party the night before. My brother and several of my closest friends made me wholly incapable of imbibing Goldschlager and Jagermeister. I was the most hungover I had ever been— I’m no doctor but I think I actually achieved mild to moderate alcohol poisoning. As if it were a Mark of the Damned, I had a boot print on the back of my white pressed shirt (we never did identify which of the people that dragged me into my bed knocked over and stepped on it). The wedding was very standard, and the buffet was quite excellent for the Chimo Hotel. It was a giant compromise at best. Having been funded entirely with credit the wedding actually put us even further from being able to get all the things married couples were supposed to have.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t quite feel like I was delivering on Sara’s fantasy of The Strong Capable Father Figure. I did the best I could to give her what she wanted, but I was just some kid from the suburbs and I felt like had no idea what I was doing most of the time. Most of the time I think she loved me, but I think she had her idea of how life was supposed to unfold, and was merely looking for the male vehicle with which to make her dreams come true. She was just never happy with anything but her ideal vision of reality, which was very hard to anticipate and fulfill. Reality was about to get…well…Real. Her Knight in Shining Armour had a chink right around his throat.
I felt that I had a responsibility to give Alissa everything she wanted, but she was starting to resent not being pregnant and living so far from her family. Our financial situation meant we couldn’t afford a car or a house yet. She had been set on having kids as soon as possible; most of her friends back home already had kids. I had convinced her to wait until “the time was right”. In my mind, kids were supposed to wait until you had housing and transport. As always, I wanted to make her happy, so— as with our wedding date—I let her reproductive activities jump the queue.
*cough cough cough … cough cough cough**
***COUGH COUGH COUGHHHHH WHEEEZEEEEE cough…cough…cough–
On…and on…and on….
Days turned into weeks….weeks turned into a month. What….the HELL.
I had never had a cough last this long. I remember having bronchitis when I was eight or nine years-old. I was coughing my guts out on a pharmacy bench while my Father filled a prescription for anti-biotics (banana flavour, but not “real” banana…the “yellow” flavour…). THAT was a bad cough. This? Was something else.
My work situation accelerated considerably, so my Health was pretty far down my list of priorities. One day I was pulled into the boardroom with the Man Upstairs and one other employee. The company was starting a new web venture, and we were the first two team members! As the only one in the building who could turn a Photoshop mock-up into website code, I became an invaluable resource overnight. I started to see permanent, full-time employment just around the corner! Things were finally starting to work out! All my hard work had finally paid off!
…except for this damn cough!
Between November and mid-December I visited three walk-in clinics. They had the following to say about my unending, hacking cough:
Nobody dug any further than a few breathing tests, some throat examination and a couple questions. I was just another young adult with a lingering infection…or allergies…
Being invincible—as most 23-year-olds are—I kept on working long hours. The new team had been moved to their own area of the building to start to develop the launch site. I felt like I was finally part of one of those big “start-ups” that everyone talks about. As the only Designer I had to create the branding and apply it across both Print and Web. I was surrounded by Developers with years of start-up experience, and I felt like a very awkward fish in a large pond. I tried my best to just put in the time to get the necessary work done on time. It didn’t leave a lot of time for waiting rooms.
As December approached, Alissa and I “made the decision” to go off birth control in the New Year with hopes of being parents by next Christmas. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to—I wanted to be a Father—but we had some serious fights, and our “sex” life wasn’t exactly conducive to procreation, if you catch my drift (…we did not have a lot of sex). We were not even a year into our marriage, and it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. What if babies just made it worse? Did I tell you my parents divorced when I was 12? No worries, everything was going according to plan. Except this damn cough…
The day of our first anniversary, I went to see another doctor near my work. I even got to borrow the company truck! Had I known where it was taking me I would have driven as fast as I could in the opposite direction.