In Search of a Better Life

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“In Search of a Better Life”, Color pencil on paper, 2018.

I have been a searcher all my life. I didn’t choose to be this way, it’s just who I became. Shaped, I guess, by the circumstances of life, I have become somebody who is always looking for something. What it is, I may not even know. Happiness, justice, peace…I’m not really sure.

Over the years, especially since I’ve been living in the US, I have met a lot of people who put their faith in God. Whenever life gets too hard or overwhelming, they just turn to God and somehow unload all their worries on him/her. How I wish I could do that; how I wish that I could just hand over all my worries to some strange power/force/philosophy and breath a little easier. But I just cannot.

I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in religion, especially the kind that I have seen the most of here – the politicized one. The religion where God chooses some people over others, where God picks this group as the good guys and that group as the villains.

I just don’t believe it.

Would be nice though.

I’ve been searching high and low, like some fictional character from some great novel; a wanderer, always travelling by foot to solve the great mystery of life.

When I was about to start 7th grade, I moved from my father to my mother. She had asked me if I wanted to come live with her and her husband and I said “yes”. I was curious of what that might be like. I was scared too, because it meant moving halfway across the country, starting a whole new school and leave everything I knew behind. But I went anyway. Only a year or two later, my mother fell ill and was taken to, in lack of a better word; a mental institution. This was the start of a 10 year period where she would go in and out of institutions and hospitals, on and off of medications and therapy until she finally died from an overdose of pills in the early summer of 1998.

Searching for answers and some kind of meaning, I started writing songs about her and it helped me sort out some of the questions and guilt I had. I searched for answers, traveled wide and far in my songs, went to some really dark places and some pretty happy ones too, in doing so.

I devoted my life to my music and my band and I kind of forgot everything else. When the band fell apart, so did my world. They were kind of one and the same and when I lost one, the other followed and I fell into a really dark place, the darkest place I have ever been. My wife, then girlfriend, and I came very close to breaking up, or killing each other.

There was no light.

No friends, nobody around to talk to.

Losing my band and the world of music is the hardest thing I have been through, emotionally.

Out of the darkness came a tiny, flickering light. A small flame, glowing on the horizon and though it seemed like a totally crazy and impossible thing, we decided to move to America.

My wife, a US citizen, stuck in Sweden for 20 years since moving back from Texas as a kid when her parents divorced, went through hell and high water to get me my visa to the US. She was advised to hire a lawyer, but that was a cost way out of our range, so she did everything on her own. In late spring 2009, I had passed my interview at the US embassy in Stockholm and my green card was on its way.

We were going. It was our way out of a darkness too thick to penetrate and burst out of. We put everything on one horse and off we went.

Here we are now, nine years later and things haven’t exactly turned out the way we imagined, whatever it was that we imagined, I don’t know.

I do know I didn’t imagine this.

Getting off to a rough start with finding; first a car we could afford, then a job and a place to live, eventually we had managed all those things and we had a year or two where it felt like things were going to be OK. It was rough and money was tight, but it was OK. Then my wife lost her job, got sick and could not work. Our cat died, my wife’s father died from cancer, we moved into a wonderful apartment, only to be forced out a year later after a crazy, abusive, alcoholic woman from hell moved into the apartment above us and made our life a nightmare. We moved again, into a nice, clean, well kept apartment complex and we like it there, but as Austin was growing and getting more and more crowded and expensive, we decided to move to a smaller city, close to nature so my wife could focus on trying to get better.Or so we hoped.

We came to Santa Fe. I started working at Whole Foods, but only a few months later, that store closed. I transferred to another store, but so did most other team members and any openings for supervisors etc were closed. I took a drastic pay cut leaving my old job as assistant manager. Choosing Whole Foods as a place to work was very deliberate, there are so many possibilities of advancement within the company and I wanted to make WF my career. Eventually, I was promoted to supervisor. A first step, I thought, in the right direction towards a better life, financially. Little did I know that the 2$ raise meant we would lose our food stamps. The loss of the food stamps overshadows the modest increase in pay and we’re actually struggling more now than before.

In the past year, several of my wife’s medications have gone up in price, or are not covered at all anymore and she is right now in the middle of a serious relapse. We’re more broke than we have ever been before. Today is September 4th and I am missing about $800 to be able to pay my rent. And then it’s all the other bills…our internet and our phones will be turned off in a couple of days and I have no idea how to come up with all the money needed.

We have applied over and over for financial assistance, but apparently I make too much money to be able to get any help what so ever.  My wife has been denied disability, so that’s not an option either.

So I am reduced to being a beggar. I have been asking for money online for years and it is a strange feeling, being almost 44 and not be able to take care of yourself. This constant begging for money has also pushed away most of the people I knew. Very few people are left in our lives.

There was a short period there, in Austin, where it seemed like we were making it. That little window came and left and right now we are back in a very dark place.

The constant, relentless stress of not having enough money for bills, medications, rent, clothes (when did I buy anything new for myself last?) and so on, is wearing us down and the fear of losing our home is like a big dark shadow, like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, a shadow about to take a physical form.

I dare not think about what it would mean if we lost our home. My wife is not going to get any better if all we ever have is this constant, relentless stress…

I have been searching for something my whole life. The things I have been searching for has changed over the years. It has been different things, different goals, dreams and ideas. Right now I am searching for a quiet, protected harbor where my wife and I can take care of each other without having to worry so much about everything all the time.

Some peace of mind.

Just a place to call home.

Here’s a link to our fundraiser: https://www.gofundme.com/2bbs9xfq

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Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove

“Lonesome Dove” color pencil on paper, 2018

 

The title fits the image. The lonesome dove, seemingly alone, abandoned and ready to give up where it sits, melting into the pole itself, becoming a wooden sculpture instead of a live bird, free to fly away at any point.

Lonesome Dove also happens to be the title of one of my favorite books ,by Larry McMurtry. I stumbled across this book when someone had left it in the kitchen at my old job, along with other giveaways. I picked this one up as I was eating my lunch and loved it from the first sentence.

But more than anything, this drawing reminds me of my wife. I think of her as a lonesome dove, a beautiful bird who is yet to truly spread her wings and fly and become the magnificent being I know she has inside her.

Riddled by sickness throughout her life, all her plans have come to a stop at some point. Year after year of health problems followed by other health problems; two cancers, a bicycle accident leading to a blood clot, which ruined her dance career…and now Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella, Brucellosis…and more recently an added diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Failure.

All combined an incredibly complicated cocktail of crap to deal with, and an expensive one. For over three years now, she has been continuously on a medical treatment and our days are very much determined by her current status and the medication schedule. The financial worries are eating us both up as we struggle to make ends meet (which we are not). The physical stress on her body, continuously being put through all this stress…but the one thing that is the hardest to deal with is the fact that we have become so isolated. Few people who hasn’t gone through this, truly understand the struggle. Over the past couple of years, we have found ourselves more and more isolated, misunderstood and almost outcast. Even close family doesn’t seem to understand, or want to really, fully understand.

We talk about this often and as much as I would like to change it, you can’t force people to want to hang out with you, right?

I know my wife is hanging on by the skin of her teeth and it breaks my heart. This is part of a text she sent me today:

“…I’m experiencing a free fall and it’s getting harder and harder for me to suppress. The loneliness is eating me up from inside. It feels like the loneliness is a cancer that is eating me up inside. I want to have friends and family with me . I have nobody. I shake it off, but it crawls back on me. I’m so broken that I don’t know how anyone will ever be able to put me back together again, David. I hurt so much in my body, my heart and my soul because of people’s repulsion and distance to me, that it feels like I can’t breath. Heartbreakingly lonely. Crushed. Broken…”

I have never suffered from loneliness, I quite like y own company. But then again; I’ve never gone through the kind of battle that she is. I have a good relationship with my father, I have a job to go to where I interact with people all day.

She doesn’t. She is alone from when I leave, until I come back. Nobody calls, nobody knocks on the door. Nobody.

I can only imagine what the constant loneliness, paired with the constant financial stress does to a body that is trying to heal. Nothing good will come out of it.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again; you say “cancer” and everybody comes running, everybody understands that cancer is serious. All these things Sara is treating, or trying to treat (we can’t afford half the things we should be doing) are just as serious and left untreated, it will kill her. It might take time, but eventually it would kill her.

So, there’s the dilemma.  Not only is she sick, not only is she struggling to treat all these things, but on top of it she (and I) have to deal with extreme financial stress, loneliness and the ignorance of people not wanting to really, fully understand the struggle. And the more you get ignored, the louder you scream and the louder you scream, the more you are seen as a complete nut job.

And who wants to be with a nut job?

I made this drawing of the lonesome dove and I immediately felt like it was, in a sense, a drawing of my wife; her lonely journey through this life. Close to everything and yet so sealed off from ever truly getting close to anything.

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“I Just Needed A Walk, Some Fresh Air…”

 

Sams AutoSometimes when it’s late at night and I’m tired after work and we have eaten dinner and done everything that needs to be done, I go down in the basement. Usually our cat, Max, follows me and we cuddle for a little while and then, if the mood strikes, I take out one of my drawings and I just watch it. Some of these nights, the magic happens and I can feel myself transported into the drawing; I can smell every scent in the air, I hear the traffic and the cicadas play, the humidity in the air, every street sign, every store front is right there. I am walking through the picture and somehow the door is opened to so many memories that it is almost hard to take it all in; an emotional overdose, a warm feeling, everything so familiar; things separated from me in time and distance, are suddenly close again.

I am there. I am present. I am sent back in a time machine. It’s the most amazing feeling and I am grateful for those moments.

Yesterday I was walking around in this drawing, one of my favorites. I walked all the way down South Lamar until I got to Barton Springs Road, where I took a right and continued past the Peter Pan mini golf court, which we never visited once in seven years, on past that bike store, Austin Tri-Cyclist (which I visited once), past Palmer Event Center and across South First Street and Threadgill’s, (was there only once), over South Congress and down Riverside Drive, Past that Wells Fargo where we opened our first bank accounts here in the US in 2009, past Joe’s Crab Shack and then across I35 all the way up to South Lakeshore Boulevard.

I turned down on Lakeshore until I got to a gated parking lot. I slipped through the fence and went across the parking, down the stairs, passing the pool, down some more steps and to the right. The second last unit before you get to the park is where my aunt in law lived when we first moved to Austin and I have many warm and beautiful memories from dinners at her place. Usually just her, me and my wife, but every guest we had visiting from Sweden were also invited to her place for dinner and relaxation; my two best friends David and David, my other best friend Daniel, my brother and my father, my  mother in law, sister in law and husband. All came to Pat’s place on the lake.

This unit had a little patio with a view of town lake and downtown glimmering behind it and we spent so many nights there over the years. There was life there, calm and peaceful and a lot of times I would fall asleep in the rocking chair or on the sofa. All of us have since left Austin but Austin will forever have a deep hold of my heart. If things had been different, I imagine we would have been there still.

These walks of mine through my drawings are wonderful reminders of all the things I love about being here, all the positive, all the things we have done that didn’t involve sickness and poverty and struggle. It is easy to forget when life turns into one big battle. I forget all the time, but when I am walking around there in my memory, I am reminded of why we are still struggling, why we have been fighting so hard now for almost ten years.

2019 will mark ten years since we moved from Sweden. Not once have I regretted coming here. Not once have I wanted to move back, even when things look the darkest do I think of going back.

This is home now. It was Austin for seven years. I can’t say that I ever really felt at home in Sweden, although that is where I was born and lived for 34 years.

Not once.

Thinking about how much time has passed since that day when we boarded the plane in Copenhagen made me a little sad, or maybe it was sentimental – there’s a thin line between the two. Sentimentality sometimes crosses over. But today when I thought back at my walk last night, the main feeling was that I don’t want to lose this.

I don’t want to lose this life that we have fought so hard for. We deserve a real chance at happiness, but sometimes it feels like we were never really given the chance. We kind of came in fighting and we’ve been underdogs ever since. It was only a few years in before my wife had a work related accident – nothing too serious, but enough to not keep that job – and then only a year or so until she started treatment for her Lyme and all the rest of the crap she’s been treating since. For years now we have been living on one salary and every month, every week, every day is a god damn struggle. We could have done so much more if things had been different and THAT makes me sad sometimes; wondering what we could have done if we weren’t always occupied with the struggle of health and money and more and more over time, the isolation from the world around us.

I have many dreams, hopes and wishes, many places I’d like to see and much I would like to accomplish before it’s all over and I know my wife does too, but for now until God knows when, maybe forever, we are stuck in a downward spiral of debt, isolation and a daily struggle just to make it and it breaks my heart thinking this is all that came of it, that this is it…

Therefore I take my time wandering around in the memories I have captured in these drawings from Austin and later from Santa Fe where we live now. I need those walks to remind me of all the things I love and all the things I am fighting for. I still don’t ever think about leaving this country in spite of our struggle and more recently the moral decay of our “leaders”.

This is home. I belong here and I will do everything I can to remain here. Sometimes I just need to take a walk, get some fresh air to be reminded.

 

http://www.gofundme.com/2bbs9xfq

 

 

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The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to see if the ceiling fan was still spinning. It was and that is a good thing; it means the electricity has not yet been shut off. I am behind on all my utilities, I have called and pushed the bills in hope of somehow getting some money in so I can pay them. The gas bill is due on Monday, phones on the 19th, internet…I don’t remember, but any day now, I guess…I don’t even bother with the debt collector letters I get these days…

How I dream of a life that isn’t so unforgiving, so challenging, so harsh. I know I am better than this, but I feel like there is this core around me that I can’t really break out of.  We’ve struggled for so long now, my wife and I, that all we know now is the battle. Life as a beautiful journey is not available anymore and it hasn’t been for almost a decade now. It’s all struggle.

Recently, my wife and I were on a road trip and we were talking as we drove through the amazing landscape; that long straight stretch going from Buena Vista towards Alamosa; Moffat, Hooper, the great Sand Dunes…we were talking about life and how to appreciate life for what it is and enjoy the moments, the little things…you know; all those clichés…and then suddenly I realized something;

As long as I remember, I have been unable to really feel happy about things when things are going well. When I was a celebrated musician,  I never stopped to fully embrace the success as it was happening. Whenever I released an album and the positive reviews were pouring in,  all I could think of was; “How am I going to make the next album as good as this one…?” At concerts, when there were hundreds and sometimes thousands of people cheering and loving my music, I still couldn’t feel it, really feel it in my heart. I was always thinking that it would end, that I had to live up to and be even better…and then it dawned on me where this all came from;

When I was 23 my mother committed suicide. She was sick for many years before her days ended and during all that time, all of us; my brothers and my step father were always expecting the worst; that anytime life could change and she would be gone. I guess we were all walking around with that feeling in the back of our heads, but never before, until a couple of weeks ago, when my wife and I were driving on CO-17, that long never ending straight stretch, had I ever made the connection that maybe that’s where all that came from. Maybe my inability to feel happiness and enjoy the moment came from that constant uncertainty of never knowing when it all would end. As we were talking about it, it sort of just fell over me and it all made sense. Of course that’s what it is! How did I never realize that before?

After my mother passed, I started writing songs about her and I always felt that I cleared out all my ghosts in that process, but now I’m not so sure. Remnants linger from those days of uncertainty and they are mirrored in our current life now as my wife is struggling with an illness that just seem impossible to beat. Our daily struggle to make ends meet and to be able to pay our bills and buy all the medicines, supplements and probiotic my wife needs to get by is always looming over us.

A hundred dollars in and two hundred out.

One good thing and ten bad ones.

I struggle to keep up my creativity, I always said that the day I stop being creative, I will be really scared. I wonder if that day has come? I haven’t been doing any art in almost a month. I can’t focus on it when everything is falling apart around me.

I have a responsibility to provide for my wife and I fail every day.

I feel inadequate.

I feel that I have reached the end of my abilities and it is a scary, scary feeling.

Sometimes I fantasize about being the subject of a TV show rescue mission, you know; the fab 5 will storm into our lives and help us re shape, rebuild our self esteem and take control of our lives again… but of course that is all just a ridiculous fantasy, a desperate escape into something to take the edge of reality…but that’s where I am. I open my eyes in the morning to make sure the ceiling fan is still spinning, a sign that we are still here, not yet lost in the ocean of debt and stress that comes with this chronic illness. We are surfing the wake of a sinking ship and I can only dream of some divine intervention, because nobody is coming to save us. No friends around, no family, no social interactions, no dining out, no going to the movies, no buying new clothes, no nothing, just a never ending uphill climb. This is the tallest mountain and we have no gear and no oxygen, no tents and no chopper coming to bring us home when the storm gets too intense.

https://www.gofundme.com/2bbs9xfq

 

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9/11/2016

OltorfLamar

Oltorf/South Lamar, 9/11/2016. Color pencil on paper, 2018

I don’t remember where I had been or what I had done, but I had a photo on my iphone camera from the corner of Oltorf/South Lamar in Austin, TX. I had stopped at a red light and took a picture through the window. I recently found that photo and made this drawing.

There’s something so very American about this image; the old pickup truck, the fast food billboard, the election banner…and then that evening sunlight covering everything in a golden shimmer, instantly turning it into something like a memory…

I have a weakness for these ragged spots, forgotten somehow, but still right there. Spots that we drive by and don’t think much about. They speak to me, always have, always will. I don’t care much for the polished, the correct, the “nice”. I like the forgotten, the outcast, the derelict…

 

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Burnt Out Yet, Are You?

Because I don’t have any friends or family to talk to in my life, I sometimes go on facebook to complain about the absolute nightmare of a life my wife and I are stuck in; due to her chronic illness and inability to work , we have been sinking ever deeper into a swamp of debt and isolation and it seems no matter how we try to get out, we just sink deeper down.
Most, no all of my airings of grievances, go unanswered, ignored if you will.
The few friends I had seem to have lost interest.
Nobody is in touch anymore.
And I understand.
Nobody wants to hear a story that never seems to get any better.

My wife and I have been struggling for a very long time; we have been through setback after setback and we have banged our heads against the wall for years, trying to get somewhere.
We moved to the US to start a new life.
We moved from Austin, the city we loved, because it got so expensive and crowded that we could no longer enjoy or survive there.
We came to Santa Fe and I started a new job at a lower salary but with so many more options to climb and advance than I ever could at my old job.

In 2013, our cat got sick and died. At the same time my wife’s father was diagnosed with cancer and she had an injury at work and had to leave.

Then we got mold in the bathroom. Our landlord wouldn’t fix it, so we had to move.
We moved into an awesome apartment with great neighbors, but only 6 months in, we got a new neighbor upstairs and she was an absolute nightmare; drunk, loud, constant parties, abusive…shortly before she moved in, my wife’s father passed away. Due to this new situation with our abusive neighbor and the fact that my wife had started treatment for her chronic illness, she was never able to mourn her father’s passing.

A few years ago, we rescued a dog, Nina. She went through training and certification to become my wife’s service dog. She went with her everywhere; to the store, to the IV infusions that my wife went through for six months, 5 days/week, when I couldn’t be there because I had to work. And by the way; due to a blood clotting disease, my wife went through this IV treatment without a port or picc line. She was poked and stung with needles every day for the duration of this.
Nina was the only one by her side.
Then Nina blew out her ACL and we took out a credit card to fix it. When she had healed, she blew out the other one. We fixed that too and she’s a healthy dog now, but she no longer works as a service dog.

So we came to Santa Fe and I have been working hard at advancing at work. So far I have been doing well for myself, the problem is that every time I get a raise, some other benefit is taken from us; last time I got a $1.00 increase in pay, our food stamps were cut from $135/m to $75.
Stuff like this happens all the time, so no matter how you try you can’t get out of the poverty trap.
My wife has Medicaid and she is also added to my insurance through work, but it seems like it doesn’t really cover much of anything. I am paying hundreds and hundreds every month for medications she needs to stay alive, such as Thyroid medications…

If you don’t live our life and you can’t see the chain of events happening to us, then, yeah, maybe we come off as being whiny or negative…

I saw someone’s post the other day on facebook about being burnt out. Comment after comment followed, likes and encouraging cheers from friends and family…
Burnt out, are you?
I can say 100% that I am definitely burnt out. But what good will that do me?
I am burnt out and my only option is to just keep going.
So I do.
Day after day, year after year, my wife and I keep going.
There are no options.
If we give up there is no help to get. Nobody is coming to “rescue us”.

A part of me still believe that we will get through all this and one day be able to live a normal life, but that part of me is shrinking and little by little it’s been replaced with apathy and hopelessness and I don’t like myself when I let things slip, when my procrastination gets the better of me because I am drained.

Burnt out?
Yes.

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Is It Too Late (for kindness)?

After my wife and I moved up to Santa Fe, NM, we both joined a facebook community group; a page where locals could share events and stories, reach out to each other and  communicate about our city and surroundings.

In the beginning it seemed like a good place to be to get in touch and connect with people. I have shared the fundraiser for my wife there a couple of times and I have shared my artwork there and gotten a lot of positive feedback.

Over the past year however, the comment section of this page has gotten more and more hateful and negative; every post is followed by an onslaught of negatives, personal attacks and spiteful, mean behavior.

Yesterday I decided to leave the group.

Somebody had posted an article about a criminal that had been found dead in jail. Some sad wreckage of a man who had killed and raped repeatedly had been jailed and found dead under pretty shady circumstances and in the comment section I read comment after comment about what a piece of shit he was, how they wanted to burn him, make him suffer and torment him, torture him before killing him slowly… I said I thought it was sad to read all these hateful ,angry comments and that, like it or not, every person has a story and a reason as to why they become who they become. After this, I was jumped by a bunch of strangers, regular people with public facebook profiles, jobs and families mocking me for my softness, saying I was an idiot, that I should just shut up and remove myself from the group.

Which I did.

I cannot understand how much hate people have in their hearts. I find it hard to hate even the cruelest criminal.

I hate unfairness.

I hate people that hurt animals.

I hate how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer in a world that has the potential to provide a life an abundance for everyone, if we wanted to.

These things I hate.

If you have just an ounce of empathy and clear mindedness, it’s easy to see that a person is not born evil, but shaped by his or her surroundings. I don’t know anything about this particular criminal, but I am certain his life was not a happy one and it breaks my heart and quite frankly, it scares me that this is what we’ve come to; the reactions of regular people on social media scares me more than the possibility of getting murdered by some random killer.

Being mocked for having empathy for a tortured soul, that scares me.

Is this behavior caused by the ability to speak out and still remain anonymous – an ability provided to us by the internet? Have we become desensitized by facebook and other internet platforms, or where humans always this cruel?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  I hope that there is more kindness and empathy out there in the world than what we see online, because the online world seems to have turned into one angry, hateful, screwed up mess…

Are you out there, empathic people?

 

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