The Mud Kingdom

A magical place, an independent spirit.

Uranus Fudge Factory, Route 66

The Quest to Heal My Broken Heart

The Rambling Background

Near the end of 2019, after four years of dragging my body along the trail of life, my physical health had degraded once again leaving me in the waiting room of my cardiologist’s office. The usual battery of tests could only tell them that something was wrong enough to convince my health insurance to pay for increasingly invasive testing. Before long I found myself lying as still as I could on a cold cath lab table as several cardiologists stood around looking at the monitor discussing what exactly they should do with me. The complete blockage of one of my coronary arteries from my second heart attack had spontaneously and very slightly reopened, allowing some blood through which was causing my latest symptoms. The gathered cardiologists agreed that in their combined 60 years of cardiology that they had not seen something like that before. Their plan was essentially “fuck it” and they did what cardiologists like to do – they stuck a stent in it and sent me on my way. I drove myself home the next morning.

For the first time in a very long time, blood flowed freely through all three of my coronary arteries. In the first months of 2020 I had to miss quite a bit of work, but I worked hard in cardiac rehab and finished the program in the last few days of February 2020. Of course, I wasn’t 100% – broken hearts don’t heal, they scar. But, I was feeling better than I had felt in years – I was almost reminded of what it felt like to be normal. I slept long and deeply. I started to smile more without having to force the corners of my lips upward. After long years of keeping my distance with people I loved and feared suddely failing when one of the untreated widowmakers in my heart would take me in a few hours I finally felt like I had reason to reach out and connect with other people. I let myself feel the need to laugh with strangers, make friends, and connect with others.

As I walked my dog in the neighborhood and laid down to rest late at night, I could finally feel my heart breathing. I could watch the output of my ekg without feeling my heart sink as disheartening arrhythmias and p-wave anomolies constantly walking across the screen. Since 2015 I slowly went through a process to agonizingly give up on every dream I ever had. But I had reason for optimism in March of 2020. I felt like I was handed back a significant portion of my heart and I could start to have new dreams. I didn’t have to be completely alone in the world that I didn’t have to expect that I might not wake up in the morning. I was ready to bring myself into engaging with other people now that I didn’t have to drag around despair like a anchor dangling on my neck. March 2020. I had two weeks of socializing, laughing, flirting, and touching before the world turned the lights out.

The New Heartbreak

During the spring of 2020 my closest friend, whom I will refer to as Maryland, would suffer a series of serious setbacks and heartbreak. Both of her parents took ill and she would lose one of them and almost lose the other. During the height of the lockdowns she would accompany her parents to their treatments and would find herself unwelcome in the home of her romantic partner. Regardless of the risks in the pandemic and my own failing health, I refused to close my door to my friend and my home fast became her only real refuge from a devastatingly isolating world of loss and suffering. Her partner stayed with her through one funeral but left her not too long after.

I took her to the ocean to guard her broken heart. We sat on the beach watching the moon and the stars come out to dance across the sky with my dog sitting quietly by her side. She told me about her hopes and dreams she had with her ex and the fear she felt hearing about her mother’s diagnosis. I told her what I told her step-father as he was being laid to rest. We talked about the beach and the ocean and fell asleep listening to the waves breaking over the sandy beach of Assateague Island. I woke her just before sunset to introduce her to the harem of wild ponies that had the decendants of the pony I called ‘my girlfriend’ that would find me each year I came to the island to come up behind me and bite my ass. Maryland introduced herself and communed with the harem to watch the sunrise.

She became a regular visitor to my home over the summer and when I decided to make the annual trip to visit my family in Kansas, I invited her to come with me. Travel during the pandemic was very sketchy and questionable at best, but we shared a need to leave a closed up world behind. Taking a long road trip, we stopped in many places to look at Y shaped bridges, eat terrible regional food covered in plastic cheese, and take bad photographs under neary abandoned national monuments.

One night in Kansas, chatting about the rest of our lives, I told her that I had wanted to go to Colorado for as long as I could remember to take in the Rocky Mountains. Denver was a short eight hour’s drive from where we were so I half-jokingly asked her if she wanted to come with me. She told me she wanted to go and neither of us had to return to the east coast any time soon. I wanted to take her with me. I don’t remember wanting anything more than that for the both of us. But the altitude scared me – I knew that I wouldn’t react well to the thin air. That year I had already struggled on top of the 4,000′ hilltops of West Virginia, nevermind the 12,000′ mountain tops of Colorado. After talking about it with her for a while we settled on returning to the east coast on a different route to see the Great Smoky Mountains. I didn’t think too much more about it, especially once we got into the Gatlinburg area and the beauty of the Appalachians practically took my breath away.

She stayed with me for a while after we had returned from our trip. We had spent too much time in each other’s company and things happened between us after we returned home that would not let me continue to have a role in her life. I promised her that I had given her my best to put her back together and ready her for an incredible and promising life. I told her that my door was still always open to her, but I shared with her my new understanding about the serious consequences for her if she came through my doorway. I felt at least partly responsible. Her previous partner had never liked how close we were and I realized that it wasn’t going to just be him. At the end of summer in 2020, I said good bye to the closest friend I ever had. That hurt like hell, but years later, the part that hurt the most was that I chose not to chase my own dreams with her – that I didn’t take her to see Colorado.

Of course, I continued to visit with my family in Kansas a couple times a year. In Summer of 2022, I again made the drive from DC to Kansas as I normally do, but circumstance saw me stop in many of the same places I stopped on our road trip back in 2020. After a week with my family, all I could think about was that stupid state next door with the big rock piles. It felt more important than spending more time with my family, more important than my job. The calling to climb the mountains was so strong that I made the decision on the spot to just pack up and go. I told Maggie, packed our things, and westward we drove.

The Beginning

We (the mud doggo and I) roamed the state of Colorado for a little more than a week like wild children in a fever dream. We stood atop mountainous sand dunes, waded rushing mountain streams filled with rainbow trout at the base of waterfalls, climbed mountains with mountain goats suspiciously eyeing my predator dog, and camped in gorgeous meadows down unmarked forest trails. My hamburger heart beat faster at 10,000′, but it held up. I had not spoken with my friend in two years, but so much of the burden of saying good bye lifted from my shoulders as I climbed down the mountain. It was the first time I felt like something had stirred in the scar tissue of my heart.

On the long drive back to Kansas, I finally understood what I had to do. I had to go home, pack my things, sell the house, and go on a quest to heal my broken heart. I’m not like other people. If I am going to sell someone my house, it wasn’t going to be covered up in landlord specials – I wasn’t put on the earth to pass along broken things. It took me four months but I fixed everything I hated about my house, every improperly attached fixture, every hidden tree stump, every crack in the foundation. I sold it not to an investor but a family that needed quite a bit of my help to get to the final signature. After I sold the house, I drifted around for a month on the eastern shore before I found and purchased a small motorhome and drove it away.

Before Christmas I met with some friends to go skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb. I had met one of the girls in the group a year before on another ski trip, but as I bounced around in the back of her car blasting through Vancouver traffic in frustration, I realized that we had a lot more in common than I thought. I told her that my planned route to Alaska in the motorhome took me through her city and I’d make sure to stop by to say hello. I spent the Christmas holiday in Kansas with my family and decided that I had put off the ski vacation I had wanted to take for most of my lifetime for long enough. One I was physically unable to take in the many years before. I found a place to park my van down by the river high in central Colorado and took off with my dog.

The Rocky Mountains

I spent most of my time in Colorado haunting the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort. Maggie would often have to guard the RV on the days that were too cold for her to guard the car in the parking lot. Breckenridge is high, with a base altitude of 9,600′, nevermind the drive from South Park going over Hoosier Pass at 11,542′. My first day there I did the best I could to adjust, although driving over the pass I found I had to force myself to breathe deeper and faster to avoid blacking out. At this altitude the thin air itself can cause a disturbing amount of anxiety and disquiet even in healthy people, but I was so excited in anticipation to see if this was something I could actually do for the next few months.

Riding the lift to the mid-mountain lodge on Peak 8, I strapped on my now ancient skis, designed before the current era, they were flexible, highly shaped, and narrow for the eastern US ski hills and forced myself down the mountain. Two seasons before I’m not sure I would have been able to ski all the way down to the lift without stopping to take a break. I stayed on the slopes for most of the day, stopping here and there to recharge, taking it easy to hold off the cramps and exhaustion that would eventually force me down into the parking lot. On the drive back over Hoosier Pass, I remember not having the energy to experience much emotionally.

Every day I went I would step up the difficulty of the trails as well as my approach to the terrain. The first few weeks I got beaten down by the mountain. Before long I was attacking it. My big muscles found their rhythm and my smaller muscles started to get into the game. I finally fixed my approach to moguls and small jumps, which really opened up the entire mountain to me for the first time in my life. I quickly outgrew my equipment and had to find new skis – which I got as a bargain but I soon came to regret it as I outgrew even my upgrade pretty rapidly. I don’t think I can describe to you the feeling of forcing air into my lungs, feeling my heart breathe freely, pumping the mountain as I flew down its slopes in wide, graceful arcs faster than I would drive my car, knowing that I was about to try something new to me that would likely end in regrets and severe pain.

Of course, I felt badly about making Maggie wait in the car or over the pass in the RV. And the many trips to the Breckenridge dog park didn’t quite make up for it. We were on a quest and so, we were supposed to adventure together. So we started to explore the backcountry. Avalanche forecasts and forest service office calls became a regular part of our life. At first we just spent time on foot, but it was clear that Maggie had adjusted well to the altitude and wanted to go harder. Before long I found myself on cross-country skis going all night into the Rocky Mountains, going for hours without seeing or hearing even an animal larger than a bird or squirrel.

Maggie would blast through unexpected snowstorms and down dangerous cliffsides like she knew how important our quest was to me. I even found a ski resort that would allow Maggie to accompany me doing alpine (downhill) skiing. Small catch – there were no lifts, you had to skin up the mountain to “earn your turns.” At one point Maggie completely abandoned me and left me alone (with seven other skiiers) in the middle of the mountains. It turns out she had found the bacon hut (a lone hut in the middle of the resort where an employee cooks bacon for skiiers to eat) with her nose and had completely abandoned me to pursue her true desire. I caught up with her after about ten minutes to which she only looked at me to let me know that she needed me to let her into the hut. She got about three slices of bacon as everyone wanted to give her some.

By the end of February, I drove for a quick visit home and weighed whether or not to keep skiing for another month, but I heard from the friend that rage-drove me across Vancouver that her relationship with her partner had soured in a way I thought had really twisted around her heart. So I decided to pack it up a little early in Colorado and get on my way to the west coast. I’m going to refer to her as Washington for the rest of this post. I told Washington that I’d probably see her in a few weeks in Commiefornia and then in Seattle in a little over a month – to take care of herself, and not to worry about the judgment of randos without skin in the game.

The Southwest

Another factor in my decision to leave Colorado was that the weather just happened to agree with my decision. For a slim moment the roads I needed plowed were plowed and most of my escape route from the mountains was dry. The escape out of the high Rockies of central Colorado was terrifying in a 30′ motorhome trailering 5,600 lbs of trailer and SUV. There were 6 mile stretches of ice-covered roads where I had no choice but to put the hammer down and floor the accelerator the entire way, losing speed the whole time. Followed immediately by carefully white-knuckle steering 8% downhill grades and curves on packed snow. I had a series of stops planned in the American south west: New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.

Furthermore, I didn’t know it at the time, but my RV dealer had committed dealer fraud and sold me an RV that they did not yet own. My temporary tags had expired in Colorado, but when I went to the local court to see about getting another transit tag to leave the state, I met someone behind the counter that I’ve already seen around town. I connected with her and swapped some stories and she helped me secure another 60 day temporary tag, allowing me to partially continue my journey on shaky legal grounds.

Maggie and I hiked the painted desert, cursed the $10.51 Egg McMuffin meals in Arizona, and were threatened with the cops at an art museum in Santa Fe. I had recently acquired glasses which restored eagle-like clarity to my distance vision and recoiled in horror upon realizing that 1 in 3 cars on the road in Albuquerque were not registered and were thus uninsured. I finally got to stay in one of those ridiculous roadside teepee motels. Of course I stopped with my brown-eyed girl on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. Before long, it was viva Las Vegas. I was due in a week to be in Lake Tahoe to go skiing with the group.

In Vegas my excitement was for the very things that most of the visitors of the city probably don’t think about at all. The city is host to many ethnic neighborhoods and while the hispanic flavors of American southwest kept my taste buds busy, the past months living in the mountains and deserts didn’t give me a lot of opportunities to buy Asian grocery goods. I hit the restaurants and the shops, eagerly restocking my pantry and refrigerator. Char siu BBQ pork in my fridge, calrose rice in my cabinets, and Japanese grilled A5 waygu in my stomach, I was quite satisifed and took a few hours to gamble away some money.

Unfortunately, my first day in temperatures where I could try the A/C on my RV showed me that my A/C was broken. I observed the A/C to be *doing something* when I picked up the RV in November by turning it on even though it was cold outside by first heating the RV, then kicking the A/C on to observe a temperature change across the coils. It did get *colder* but there was no way to actually test the A/C at the time. It was dead. I figured the extended warranty I bought would cover the repairs (wrong, but that’s a whole story). Not more than two days after I pulled away from Las Vegas did I discover that my refrigerator had stopped working (fair, it was already six years old, so why not die on me). I felt that this was OK too as the warranty was also supposed to cover that (wrong again).

I made it to Lake Tahoe to find it buried under more than six feet of snow. Somehow I managed to pick my way through a one-lane snow valley and the RV resort had managed to dig out a channel long enough for me to park. The good news is that I could just use the vegetables tray of my fridge to scoop up snow from around my door to keep my food from spoiling. Apparently, my group had cancelled the ski trip and no one had told me! So no Washington on this trip. The ringleader, whom I’m going to refer to as Virginia, apparently had to cancel for work, whom then cancelled on her, so she ended up going almost solo anyway with some last minute additions to the group on the trip.

We skiied, had terrible luck in a casino, and sampled some top tier après-ski cuisine. The few days we spent plowing the beautiful and powdery slopes around Lake Tahoe seemed hardly enough, but made the entire trip worthwhile. Washington was orignally supposed to join us, but made other plans when our host sent out her initial cancellation that I didn’t receive. Just across the border in Carson, NV, we capped off the trip by spending a day washing away the aches and pains of non-stop skiing at a hot spring resort. I tried to get my A/C and refrigerator repaired but it was clear from the rejection of various RV dealerships that it would have to wait until I got to my next longer stop in Seattle, where I planned on spending six weeks.

The West Coast

I bid Virginia farewell as she headed west over the mountains. I headed north through Reno, then west across northern Commiefornia to visit another friend and see her farm. I left Commiefornia as soon as I could and soon crossed the border to Oregon. I dated a girl from there, which, you guessed it, I’ll refer to as Oregon. I had my heart attack back in 2015 not long after I broke things off with Oregon. One of the few decent things I did for her when we were together was that I insisted that she actually see the state she came from. We drove around the state for a couple weeks so she wouldn’t have to tell people that she had never seen Crater Lake or Mt. Hood when she’d talk to the about where she came from.

When Oregon packed her things and left our home she reconnected with a man that I had introduced to her as my brother. As I was being wheeled into my cardiac intervention in 2015, it had been a couple months since she left, and I’ll admit to texting Oregon to tell her what was happening to me. She told me that she’d come to visit me in the hospital in a couple days. Oregon didn’t come. I asked her if she would still come to see me at home. The texts soon fell off and I didn’t speak with Oregon again for a few years. I wasn’t mad and I didn’t disapprove. In all other areas of my life in those years I was already trying to be alone so it wasn’t so bad to have this part done for me.

Don’t think anything too bad. Oregon would eventually come to see me some years later to show me her baby. We walked to the park and I pushed him on the swing and answered his questions about myself and his mom. By the time I drove across the Oregon state line in 2023, Oregon and I still talk sometimes. I spent a week wading through old memories, seeing some of the sights we saw together, visiting some of the people we used to know in a previous life. I worked my way up the coast and saw the parents of the German Shephard I almost bought a decade ago. I even offered to visit with Oregon’s adoptive mother figure, but she cheekily turned down any unaccompanied gentleman callers. I found myself at the iconic Newport cafe lost in thought and contemplating staying a little longer in Oregon when I got a text from Washington.

She just asked me when I was coming. But in her text I could sense her heartbreak. I took the mud doggo to the beach one last time and we were on our way north through the thick mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest with only four hours and two hundred miles left to go. I had arrived several weeks earlier than planned and decided to wait until the summer to leave for Alaska. Just as I was about to reach out to Washington, I unexpectedly heard from Maryland, whom I had not seen in several years. She was just across the border and as discomboulated as I was, parked in a random camping spot at a state park somewhere in the Seattle area, I put Maggie in the car and we drove to Canada to see her.

The drive to Vancouver did several things. It made Maggie into an international doggo. It also landed her into Canadian doggo jail. Looking carefully at me for signs of nervousness, the border agent sent me to the station for a deep inspection of my vehicle. I was required to lock Maggie into a wire kennel for the duration of the search, where Canadian border patrol agents spent several hours throughly searching my car for contraband. Finding nothing but a sidewall bulge on the inside of my back tire, we were released to continue on our way. The reunion between the mud doggo and Maryland was bittersweet. On hearing her name in a familiar voice, she charged her, but then pretended to ignore her after smelling the new people scents on her.

Maryland and I did what we had always done: go find good food and then eat too much of it. I brought her to a little spot in Vancouver where I knew the Asian food was good, caught up on everything that I missed, and I told her a little bit about the quest to heal my broken heart. I think she just wanted me to see that she had put her heart back together and that was just everything I could have asked for. I dropped her off and said goodbye and we said we’d do this again in another three years. Maggie slept in the car on our drive back to the RV through the night.

I had plans to see Washington the next day. We walked our dogs through a park and caught up, working our way into the details about the situation she had found herself in. Like any good story there was a boy and a girl. So I sat down with her and told her about how to live with a broken heart. I asked her to value herself and to understand that how other people treat us is more about them than us. I told her that I would be around through the spring before I headed off to Alaska. We decided to make plans to do stuff before I left the area and I returned to my campsite on a hillside overlooking the city of Seattle.

The Washington (State)

I decided that if I was going to be on a quest to heal my broken heart, that I would really have to double down on it with someone like Washington around to witness it. I became enamoured with the local mountain, Mt. Rainier, which you can randomly see from all over the area, looming large in the distance. In early April, there was still snowpack in the mountains any time you were over 3,400′ in elevation. I learned the meaning of the Pacific Northwest when the spring rains started and didn’t stop for an entire month. Maggie and I would crawl, climb, and canter across creation, searching for the cure.

The rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, snowbound lakes, and endless trails of Washington state gave us no end of peaks to chase, misty sights to see, and adventures to take. I collapsed a snow bridge, getting wedged in after falling seven feet in the only ever use of this stupid ice axe I bought used a few years before and carried for hundreds of miles. I ran thorugh muddy forests in the rain with the mud doggo, living up to our muddy names washing ourselves off with a hose in the forest. I enjoyed a huckleberry milkshake in a one-road town in the mountains and I offered to share each step of my quest with the folks I met living outside Seattle. I even went on a trip with Washington to the San Juan islands, getting to take the Beast (my RV) onto a Ro-Ro (car ferry) to cross the Salish sea north of Puget Sound.

This portion of my quest wasn’t without problems, however. A bunch of the things on the RV had broken at this point: the air conditioning system, the hydraulic jacks, the refrigerator, etc. The dealership I purchased it from more than six months ago had still not actually delivered the legal ownership of my RV, which would present several additional significant issues later. As the extended temp tag I managed to snag in Colorado expired, I could no longer even drive my RV to the RV dealership to have it repaired, nevermind the RV dealership being absolutely incapable of fixing a single issue on my RV. Furthermore, the extended warranty I purchased for the RV was no better than giving my money to a scammer as they flatly refused to pay for a single repair.

Of course, as with everything else, these problems could all be fixed with money. Of course, money is not in an unlimited supply, so I resolved to find work to help plug the money issue. Eventually, the RV dealership was able to send my title to my home state, but they did not understand the titling process in my state at all and could not deliver on their promise of a tag. They really didn’t do anything to fix the issue and I ended up having to fix it myself by begging my home state for exceptions and flying back to physically pick up the tag myself. Combined, by the time this happened, I was already past due to leave for Alaska. Having picked up a new client, I decided to give up on Alaska and perhaps explore the North Cascades.

The summer came an I continued to explore western Washington. Then something happened that I wasn’t at all expecting. I met a girl. One that stirred feelings in me that I have not had in a very long time. She had a certain kindness I’ve seen in few people that without, I would never feel much attraction toward, but combined with an effortless beauty, sharpness, and for some inexplicable reason felt some attraction to me. As I have come to expect with anything in my life that was good, every obstacle was thrown in our way, but we managed to get closer. The day came that I got to hold her in my arms and I was given the strongest sign that I had ever received that she was not supposed to be mine. I woke that morning to half of my face not being able to move.

I think we both took it as a sign to move on and wrote each other a good bye. I was genuinely touched that I could feel this way about anything again. I still think about this a lot, along with the mist covered mountains at the foot of majestic waterfalls through thick northwest rain forest. I’ll admit to having rolled my eyes with Washington told me that she had gotten back together with the boy that broke her heart, but I gritted my teeth and sat through dinner with the couple, then gave him a hug at the end to give him some hope that he might live to make things work out with Washington.

The summer had come to an end and it was time for me to leave. It was during my stay in Washington state that I started to explore photo and video content creation to share my experiences and my quest. I had made some new friends and felt something stir deep in the forgotten corners of my heart. But I still had mountains to climb. I still had a heart to unbreak. I packed my things and with my dog, we left the state. The state itself was a little on fire, so we ended up having to skip the North Cascades and head directly to Montana.

The Way Home

My months in the Seattle area had quite an affect on my mood and my mind. I visited some old friends in Montana and spent some time with them exploring the wild parts of the state. On my way down to South Dakota, I joined them for their big family campout in the middle of nowhere and ruined the trip by setting up my Starlink satellite internet for all of the adults to stand around outside my RV making their video calls and playing their daily smartphone games. My dog and I hiked some wilderness and stood atop peaks out of habit. We drove across vast stretches of unused land good for neither agriculture nor parks.

I ended up in a variety of places like the Sturgis motorcycle museum, Mt. Rushmore, etc. I distinctly remember driving down a state road that it should have been illegal to call a road it was so bumpy. I had to go as slow as 35 miles per hour to avoid having my house shaken apart. You can probably tell that my heart wasn’t really into the trip anymore. At some point I stopped making plans to see or do things and just made my way back toward Kansas where my family was so I could spend some time with my niece and nephew.

The kids had been wanting to stay in the RV since I showed it to them the prior December so I took them and their other uncle on a trip to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve to catch a glimpse of the bison herd. The grass was tall and scratchy so the niece refused to trudge across it – we ended up getting to see bison dots on the horizon, but overall a nice trip with a memorable morning walk to Casey’s for breakfast pizza. Originally the kids wanted to sleep in the bunk, but upon learning that the couch and dinette converted into mini fortresses, they ended up sleeping there instead.

During the day I ran and sent blind applications for jobs in a very weak market. At nights I lay quietly with my dog and waited for sleep to come. This downtime in the great plains let me gather my thoughts about the past year and I decided to summarize my quest so far in a series of reels that showcased many of my photos along with a short retelling of my story. This is how I discovered that I didn’t make a new friend. Washington told me good bye too, something I had not expected at all. Looking back, I’ve come to realize that she never actually told me anything that should lead me to believe that she had valued our friendship.

Before she cut me out, she asked about my true feelings, something I hide even from myself for they can have a terrible effect on an already broken heart. Over the past eight years since I had shredded my hamburger heart, I have been broken – physically, spiritually, and mentally. I have come to see life as a fever dream. It has given me the most dangerous of hope: that one day I will wake from this nightmare of struggling to struggle to live this life. I’ve had to give up on every dream I’ve had: to start a family, build a business, to be who I thought I was meant to be.

It’s not that I can’t start a business or have a family. It would just be too much to put on the people I would be far too dependent upon to help me achieve my goals for me. I can’t put in the hours it takes to build a business. My greatest fear is leaving behind pennyless young children because no one will sell me life insurance. None of the paths I imagined walking as a younger man are reasonable paths that are open to me. When she cut me off, Washington told me that she felt that I was rooting for her to fail and now I’m not sure she would have ever been able to understand me.

I didn’t see this hit coming and I felt bodied. Just a few days after this jarring experience, I had some heartburn after eating a very tasty burrito and had to check into the local hospital. I mentioned it to my cardiologist at a regularly scheduled checkup a week after and was told to come back in for a nuclear stress test. The combined stress of losing Washington, a poor job search, and the health concern caused me to slow my running schedule and get a lot less done. I thought the stress test had gone well as I certainly outperformed expectations on the treadmill, but the results showed that the blood flow in my heart wasn’t what my doctor was hoping for. I had trips planned for Breckenridge and Hawaii so they scheduled a cardiac catheterization on my return and told me not to exercise beyond walking.

So I took the niece and nephew skiing, gently. I had a lot to think about on my flight to Hawaii, where I hiked Haleakala, which I call the heart of Maui. In that quiet and lonesome place I considered all of the things that had happened to me and decided that I had learned nothing, said too many good byes, and squandered so many chances to build something for tomorrow. I fell asleep in the heart of Maui holding what was left of mine in my hands, trying to make sense of the year I had traveling the country, trying to talk with as many people as would talk to me, helping anyone I thought I could help.

I woke in the middle of the night with a full bladder, so I got up and peed in a bush on the edge of my campsite. A few hours later, a pair of Nene, essentially Canadian geese that were blown off course to Hawaii some 10,000 years ago, came up to my tent and started protesting. Eventually they got me out of my tent with their noises and I realized that I had peed on their home. They watched quietly as I made the 1/12 mile trip to the local water source to fill up my bottles four times to wash out their home before they returned to it, satisfied by my work. They hung out for an hour while I cooked breakfast and packed up my tent. This was a good bye I didn’t mind saying as they moved back into their bush.

The Now

My cardiac cath was delayed due to my doc having family issues, but they managed to reschedule me to just before Christmas. Don’t worry. I made it home in time for Christmas and I even snuck in a weekend trip to Maryland (state). No great news, no good news, but no terrible news either. I get to have a ski season this winter and can continue with the exercise program I had been on since the spring. My heart is still a hamburger, but there was no call to install another stent. I have three new medications to add on to the bucket I was already swallowing. I am failing to heal my broken heart.

But for a while, I felt like I had made a friend. For a while, I could see myself having a partner to live this dream that we call life. A few years ago when Maggie’s health was failing and I was searching for surgeons to try to reconstruct a part of her head, laying her head in my lap to lavage the gaping hole through her jaw every night, I started to have a series of dreams. In these dreams, I would be out doing something with my dog – hiking, biking, etc. and she would become severely, gravely injured. A huge gash in her side, a severed limb, etc. But in my dreams as in my life, I am prepared for anything.

In my pack, a trauma kit. In the kit, a tourniquet. I’d stop the hemorraging, do CPR, whatever it took as my lungs would burn getting her off the mountain, waking up just as I parked the car and carried her into the vet. This was a series of dreams, and each time I’d have the dream, resources that I had used in previous dreams would be gone – no more trauma kit. No more bandages. The car wouldn’t be there. And so, shirtless, I’d jog down the road, my wounded dog across my shoulders, calves burning, wordlessly screaming for whatever help the dream would give, knowing I was dreaming – because I am my dog’s father not just in the waking world but in every other.

The dreams were preparing me subconsciously for the day that everything I did for Maggie would not be enough. I stopped having these dreams after her second surgery closed the gaping hole in her head, after they healed enough that I could finally throw the syringes, saline, pans, and picks in the trash. Although I see my own life as a fever dream, I am on a quest to heal my broken heart whether in this dream or the next. If there is a way, I will find it. If there is not, I will make one. When I wake from this dream, I may not remember any of the details of this life, but I hope that I will wake with the feeling that I stood until the end, that I was your friend, even if you were not mine.

Maybe one day, I’ll fall deeply enough in love that the short time I have filled with suffering will be more important to share than to keep to myself. Maybe that powerful medicine would heal my broken heart.