Illustrating a Point– Nick Wale Interviews Publisher and Illustrator George Vega

On my wanders around the world of the Internet I find some interesting folk. Today, I want to introduce someone who really has something to offer all you talented artists out there. George Vega is a well-respected, talented illustrator. He is now a publisher and he wants to work with both new and tested talent. Let George explain…

George VegaQ) Hi, George, let me ask you to begin with, can you describe yourself in your own words? Who is George Vega?

A) Hi, Nick, I would describe myself as a nice and patient guy. It feels to me that people like being around me. I’m awesome at parties! (laughs) I work hard and believe that many have more talent than I, but few can outwork me. This may come from my Kung Fu background,

Q) Kung Fu? So you’re a martial arts expert as well?

A) I am a Black Belt in Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu. I’ve competed in forms and weapons competitions NASKA from 1999- 2002. Back in 2001, was ranked second in Chinese Open hand forms and Chinese style weapons. So, ‘expert’? I don’t know, but I truly love to practice and train. I’m always trying to push myself and understand why this martial art has lasted about 1000 years.

Q) Of course, martial arts centres around patience. Would you say that’s where you picked up your patience?

A) Yes, your right. That’s where my patience may have come from. It helps me deal with people and stand up for myself in a verbal sense.

Q) You are a talented illustrator and graphic designer. Did you have to push yourself to become so good at what you do or did it come naturally?

A) P-U-S-H!!!! Ha! I think the passion is natural. I went to F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, and my focus was not right those years. Truthfully, I had it easier with graphic design.

I studied graphic design after really not doing much with illustration for years. Graphic design did flow but did not fully satisfy me creatively.

Georges

Q) The fire was still burning to do more with your talent? Push it further?

A) Yes, I believe so, because you practice and push yourself to your limits. So, at times, when I watch a movie or stay on the couch watching TV, a little voice goes off in my head and says, “Get to work, you have to keep developing– keep pushing.”

It’s the same voice that would help me as I trained with my Coach and Sifu. However, the answer is certainly ‘yes’– I pushed myself to achieve my current abilities.

Q) Has moving into publishing dimmed the fire at all?

A) It’s tough and it does steal some creative and work time, but I’m trying to cultivate the publishing end of things and want to work with quality people and artists. If I wanted to, I would print cards and hand them to EVERYONE at Comic Con’s Artist Alley and just worry about revenue and getting sales, but I don’t. I try my best to get behind artists who are doing top-notch work, print their books, and showcase them. It would be great to have a full steam ahead publishing company like the big boys where I could also provide creative services.

Q) Are you aiming to become one of the “big boys” in the future? Is that your next goal?

A) Yes, that’s what I’m working on. I can provide publishing services to artists as well as illustration work to other companies.

Q) Are you strongly connected in the world of publishing? To other artists? Other publishing companies?

A) Artists, yes. Some are great friends, too, or we have become friends. Companies– that’s growing daily. I keep making contacts.

Q) As an up-and-coming publisher, how do you feel about the current trend of self-publishing?

A) I think it’s very cool to have that freedom because it gives a chance for that little guy to make something happen. Unfortunately, when you self-publish, you don’t really know if you have something good or if you may lose a lot of money. The kickstarter thing is awesome, but I just hope people don’t get carried away with the capital and not take the opportunity to build something significant. Either way, let people be and the cream always rises.

Vega

Q) I read about a lot of writers and artists who lose hope and think they’ll never get recognised for their talents. Did you ever feel as though your talents would never be recognised?

A) All the time…

I wonder if people actually think I’m talented or not. All I know is my whole life I loved to draw and I loved cartoons. As a kid, my favorite cartoon was Voltron. I watched the credits, wondering if I could contact one of those people to teach me. Little did I know that it was all done overseas. I would like to say that patience is key– I am not a phenomenon– I am just lucky enough to know my passion.

Q) George, what would your advice be to young artists trying to break into the business?

A) Such an important question. The first step is with yourself. Take stock of what you have talent-wise.

Talk to other artists, look for people above you or who are further along. Those conversations can be worth gold as far as understanding where you want to go. Really understand the spectrum of illustration– from comics to concept work to sketch cards, traditional to digital, and everything in between…all of it. Because you have to put your efforts in somewhere and you need to choose where they are best placed. You have to know because there it too much competition out there to muck around.

Q) I think that is some of the most important advice anyone could receive. It’s no good doing anything unless you intend to do it well. Did you always know you wanted to be an illustrator as a kid?

A) YES! I would always say I was going to be an artist. I wish I had someone in my family that new something about it, but my parents were not from the US and spoke very little English. My dad was very hardworking and my mom took care of us. Uncles and aunts were too far away, so I had to figure it out myself.

gv
Q) A story of success– George Vega: I did it my way!

A) Yes, right or wrong, I did it my way. I think anyone can make it if they just keep at it and make the mistakes as well as the successes.

I am lucky enough to have a series of interviews with George. We will be discussing his publishing company Vegamation, and his own work as an illustrator. I am pumped and ready for it, be sure to catch the next one!

Links for George Vega

Contact George here

http://www.georgevega.daportfolio.com/

http://shaotemp.deviantart.com/

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The Rose Amongst The Thorns– First Two Chapters

OK Folks,

This is it!! Based on some awesome critiques (thank you beta readers and fans!!), we lengthened and redrafted Rose Amongst the Thorns into its final permutation.

Below are the new 1st and 2nd chapters and synopsis. If you’ve already read the previously posted chapters, you’ll see some changes in Nick’s Chapter 1 but Chapter 2 is completely new material from Lori.

As always, please comment! Your feedback is welcome and invaluable!

*** Warning — adult language ***

Rose had been married to a man who beat her daily, both physically and psychologically. She became dependant on her abuser and when he dies, she has no way to cope. She falls into a deep depression fuelled by years of anger and estrangement.

When Nick is a young boy of age seven, still reeling from the death of his father, he becomes subject to Rose’s anger at the world. At first he just accepts the abuse, but then he learns to cope with it. As he grows older, Rose insists he become her constant companion and surrogate husband, to the detriment of his own development. He wants to make his mother better, and at the same time he is fighting hard to survive the race– the race for his own identity and freedom.

Lori is an older American woman who meets a young Englishman, Nick, now twenty-two, online. The two of them forge a strong and unbreakable bond, but she in unaware her lover has a dark secret.

“The Rose Amongst the Thorns” is the true story of three people and their will to survive and ultimately thrive as a family unit. What will they do when they find themselves thrown together? How will they manage?

This 60,000 word memoir details the struggle all three endure as Rose grapples with her own insecurities and jealousy; Nick attempts to assert his independence and move on from the confines of his mother’s unrealistic expectations; and Lori is caught in the middle, ultimately becoming the catalyst for healing for all of them.

“You’re never defeated, you’re never beaten down, as long as you have hope.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Chapter One

“Go on, finish me off you bastard!”

Silence briefly followed, only broken by footsteps and silent sobs.

A scream echoed as a foot connected with its target.

Silence resumed.

********
I awoke to the sound of my father making breakfast, the normal daily occurrences happening all around me. My feet crept out from under the heavy blankets to find the floor– the cold hard floor. I had forgotten what I had heard the night before. There was not much to remember, some cries and sobs. That’s all. I wandered out of my parents’ large bedroom and stepped into the small, steep stairwell that led downstairs. My father was still busy with his morning routine, but my mother wasn’t heard. I crept down the stairs, one by one and finally reached the bottom of the mountain.

Slowly, I opened the door leading to the kitchen. My father stood at the table, still placing table mats and cutlery. Humming a happy tune, probably something he had heard on a jazz record, he looked up at me. There was no smile, no storm or tempest. The look was cold and his finger pointed towards the cereal he now poured into a bowl. I looked for my mother, she sat cowered in a corner chair. Her face, I saw it in its morning glory. The black and blue bruises mingled with her pale English rose complexion. I did not ask her what happened, for I knew. My father might have forgotten but she hadn’t. She wore the scars and those same scars turned her into the person she became later on.

The village closest to our house could have been any small English town. Everyone had secrets. The drug-addicted chemist who neglected his duty, the bank manager who slowly fiddled the books to push money into his own coffers, the pious woman on the church board who was having an affair with two of her neighbour’s husbands. The village kept its secrets close to its hard boiled breast. I grew up learning that a smile was not necessarily kind and a cry of anger did not mean that a wrong had been committed. I knew that something was amiss everytime I saw an unguarded moment from the citizens. Eyes looked cold and lonely. Faces long and drawn. I could see the terror held by so many at the thought that their own problems might become the next ‘red hot’ talking point. The age of miracles and the wonders of technology had not yet made itself known to the place I grew up and called home. Dances were still popular and school was still indebted to the class system. The Labour government of 1997 had not yet swept to power. I grew up in a hive of Conservatism, and I knew of nothing else. My father was staunchly Conservative, and my mother was told how to vote. She did, however, assert herself at times; she would take pity on the Liberals. My father, always angry at this, would chide about the poor performance of the party at every election. It was not common to see a debate in our house. As in most English households of that era, my father’s word was law.

The village was beautiful, outsiders found it to be a haven from the busy cities and towns littering the country. History once had been made in the area, wars won and crowns lost. Nobility still survived in the town and the Great Hall lay monument to its impressive past. Even the secrets could not take away from the grandeur of the place. The car pulled into the car park, nestled close to the war memorial in the main square. I stared out of the window and saw its huge mass as it lay a dark shadow over the cobblestones. My mother stepped out of the vehicle to do her daily shopping. I can only imagine the embarrassment she must have felt, her face bruised and bloated from her long night. She gazed at me and tried to smile. I smiled back as best I could and stepped out of the car and stood beside her. My hand reached up for the comfort of her own.

“Let’s do the shopping, dear boy,” she said in her calm and loving way.

“Maybe Daddy will be pleased with us.”

I shrugged, knowing deep down that he wouldn’t be pleased.

We walked across the road and made for the local post office, my mother weathering the stares and hushed scorn from every citizen she met.

There was nothing said, just a general knowledge that my mother would be the next discussion point at coffee mornings. My father, generally known as a great man, would not lose any of his stature. The villagers would blame my mother and she would be seen as a failed wife and mother. Her punishment already delivered and the embarrassment of carrying the scars would be considered an apt display of a husband’s right to beat his wife. Nobody would stand up for her, she knew that. The village would stare, point and scold her for his actions. We walked into the post office and I could feel the eyes of the town glaring at us. I could hear the whispers.

“What did she do?” one woman whispered.

“She was wayward?” Another questioned.

“I would ask, but I don’t like to pry.”

“I agree.”

I could hear them muttering to themselves and I am sure my mother could, too. This had not been the first beating, and would not be the last. It was just another morning of humiliation in our fair village.

We managed to do our shopping in relative peace and headed home. The world was still turning. I looked up at my mother, her bruises still blue and ugly.

“Do they hurt?” my six year old self asked.

Silence. Then finally, “Yes.”

“Why did Daddy hit you?” I asked.

“Because you got into our bed and Daddy got angry.”

I thought to myself in silence. It’s all my fault.

The car pulled into a drive, not ours. This was the home of my mother’s adopted mother, Mrs Agatha. Her bungalow was out of town and she lived the rural way she had always known. There were no mod cons here, just a small bungalow and the land owner’s home across from her abode. The car stopped outside her house and she stepped out. I followed, the gravel under my feet crunching as I followed her into the dingy property. The décor was a mix of the old world and the older world. Clean, but smelling strongly of cheap cigarettes– I close my eyes now and still smell it. There she sat, in her small kitchen, her cup in her hand and cigarette in the ashtray balancing on her leg. My parents had lived in the bungalow across from her once. My mother had met Mrs Agatha a long time ago, and they had become fast friends. She smiled as she saw my mother walk into the room.

“Hello, Rose,” she said welcoming her adopted daughter.

“Hello,” my mother replied sitting herself down, eyes downcast.

I stood, waiting to be asked to sit down. That was the way I had been taught.

“Sit down, little man,” Mrs Agatha said with a smile. “What a nice polite boy you are.”

I smiled my most angelic smile and waited to be asked to assist with the tea making. It was always my job to fetch the biscuits, the broken biscuits that Mrs Agatha always bought from the market on Wednesdays.

Upon seeing my mother’s battered face, her eyes widened. “What happened?” she asked.

“Thomas hit me.”

“Well, I can see that, my dear,” she said with concern. “I mean, what started it?”

My mother glanced over at me.

“Nicholas, you know where the biscuits are,” Mrs. Agatha said with a knowing grin. “Be a good boy and bring some in for all of us.”

I went in the kitchen and stood by the door so I could hear the conversation.

“Oh, Agatha,” my mother sobbed. “It was horrible. The worst one yet.”

Mrs Agatha smiled no more. She sat in silence. Finally she sighed and lit another cigarette and waited for my mother to continue.

“Nicholas had a nightmare and came in wanting a cuddle. I let him get into bed with us. He was terribly shaken up,” my mother’s voice broke with emotion.

I had indeed had a nightmare. A ten-foot spider, or maybe Godzilla, had been chasing me. All I remember is that I was petrified and wanted to curl up with her and feel safe. Apparently, I had done something wrong.

“Thomas woke up and when he discovered Nicholas in bed with us, he got up and stormed out of the room. I went downstairs to follow him and he…” her voice trailed off.

“I’ve never seen him so angry, Agatha. I don’t know who he is anymore,” she was crying now. “He always wanted a child. I don’t know why he hates Nicholas so.”

“I’ve known Thomas a long time, Rose. I always thought he was incredibly selfish,” Mrs Agatha said, her voice saddened by my mother’s story. “He acts the big man, but he’s very insecure, I think.”

“I know he is, Agatha,” my mother said, her voice stronger now. “I do everything I can to please him, but nothing is enough. He doesn’t even think Nicholas is his.”

I collected the biscuits and brought them back into the lounge, sitting myself on the floor next to my mother. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to be someone different – someone my father would love and approve of. I wanted to disappear.

That night my mother was late picking up from work the man I had been encouraged to call Daddy. She had been caught behind a slow moving tractor. Edgy and tense, she tried to pass. No opportunity presented itself. I sat in the back. We watched as he walked out of work, still laughing from a joke one of his friends had told him.
“You’re late,” he said coldly, as he got in the car.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her hands trembling slightly.

“No good being sorry.”

He drove steadily back home. I didn’t utter a word. Finally, we pulled into our familiar driveway. The sky darkened as our car headed toward the house. It looked cold and uninviting, but I knew that within an hour my mother would have it warm. There would be a fire burning in the lounge fireplace and warm food would be presented to my father. The food would have to be made within half an hour of his return. That was his mandate. If she ever passed that mark then he wouldn’t eat it. If he didn’t eat, then there would be a beating.
Daddy had eaten dinner and now sat watching television. I sat still on the sofa reading a book. My mother sat silently, waiting for the next order from my father.

“I’m still hungry. I want a bacon sandwich,” he demanded. “Get me one!”

My mother did not say anything. She jumped and ran off to get him the sandwich. My father looked at me and smiled. I was too young to know how sadistic he was, but I knew I had to fear him and not to underestimate him.

“That, boy, is how you treat women.”
I said nothing. He looked at me and smiled.

“You will be a handsome man some day, and you must know to keep a woman in her place.”

I was dubious.

My mother returned with the bacon sandwich. She walked slowly towards my father who sat still. Suddenly, he pointed towards the table on the other side of his chair.

I knew what was coming next.

My mother moved in front of him and he tripped her up, she fell and the sandwich fell onto the floor. My father stood up and kicked the plate away. My mother tried to push herself up, but had winded herself.

“That is what you get for picking me up late!” my father screamed. “Now get me a sandwich!”

I watched my poor mother try to pick herself up. My father watched as she finally managed to get on her feet. I wanted to help, but fear overtook my body. I sat still and ended up staring at the ground. I hated him.

My father was in pain. We all knew that he had problems with his back. Years of hard labour had taken their toll on his body, although he was still a fine figure of a man. He was ageing quickly, however. Nobody would have thought that his ailments would be caused by a disease. My mother wanted him to go and see a doctor. He did not want to, he made that clear. His answer was to take handful after handful of paracetamol to control the pain. It worked, at first.

“Thomas, you really should see a doctor,” my mother begged of him.

“I am not going to see any fucking doctor. Now get my dinner on this table.”

That was the end of any discussion. My mother did not dare to continue the conversation.

Motor Neurone Disease is a very under-publicised condition. My father didn’t know he had it. Then when he was finally diagnosed he refuted it, but eventually, he had no choice but to give into it. The anger he felt was displayed with every punch, kick or snarly remark.

One morning, as his coordination was failing, he dropped a teapot. It shattered on the floor.

“This is your fault,” he told me. “If you hadn’t been born then I wouldn’t have this disease!”

“I didn’t do anything, Daddy,” I professed as I tried to escape a beating.

“The hell you didn’t,” he said already promising a punishment. “I had to work hard to feed you, and you’re not even my kid!”

I felt lost, abused and lonely. My own father denied that I was his. I was, I knew that I was his child. Ever since one of his friends had jokingly told him that I could be someone else’s, my father had taken it to heart that I wasn’t. My mother took several beatings over his insecurity.
“I know he isn’t mine!” he would scream. “I know it and I know you fuck behind my back!”

My mother would cry, and try to defend herself. She knew that the end result would always be the same. The beating would be systematic. I felt so sorry for her. I wished nightly I could do more for her.

The secret of his illness did not take long to infect the village. Everyone knew that he was dying. I knew it, before I was meant to know. One old woman came up to me in the middle of the village store.

“I hear your father is dying,” she said, hoping for some juicy gossip or perhaps details of his ailment. I can see her face now, she was wrinkled. So wrinkled, old and broken down.
I had nothing to say, what could I say? The only thing I knew about death was that I knew Elvis was dead, and something about Princess Diana that I had heard on the TV. I was not told what death was.

“Doesn’t matter, the world doesn’t stop turning because one person dies.”

My mother jumped in and rescued me from the old crone. I watched as we walked away from her, her face cold and wrinkled as she stared back at me.

“Mummy?” I said, waiting for her reply as we drove home.

“Yes?” she replied.

“Why did that old woman say Daddy was dying?” I asked, almost crying.

My mother sighed, “He isn’t dying.”

“How do you know?” I asked, hoping for some proof.

“I just do!” she snapped, breaking under the pressure of my questions. I knew not to push the matter any further.

We arrived home and I helped to carry the groceries inside. The house was warm and ready for a night in the cold country air. We entered the house and my father sat there in front of the fire. By this time, he was in a wheelchair. The vibes were angry. My mother tried to ignore the atmosphere. I moved too close and he lunged at me with his pick-up stick. I managed to elude its blow.

“I hate you!” he seethed as he stared at me. “Why don’t you take everything!”

I stood back and stared at him, stunned.

“Take this!” he said, as he undid the silver Timex watch I had helped my mother pick out for his birthday. “You might as well have it!”

I watched as he threw the watch at me. I dodged it. I saw it broken on the floor and ran from the room, crying.

My mother was having a hard time coping, but she managed. There was not one person in the village, the almighty village, that offered to help her. My father fell over a couple of times as his strength continued to fail, and she could not lift him. She struggled, and finally managed to get him up and onto the toilet seat. By this time, his legs were gone. The disease was taking its hardest toll. He lashed out at her and many blows found their way to her body. Yet, even with all the abuse he had thrown at her she never once stopped caring for him, looking after him. I was never once neglected, I was always fed and loved. Something inside of her died though, she became tough and uncaring. The world had shown her that she was on her own. This woman was on twenty-four hour call to look after my father.

Eventually she couldn’t take any more– it was a matter of putting my father or myself in care.

She chose to have him sent to a hospice.

He stabilized and came home for a while. Nurses and doctors came every day to see how he was doing. Never once did any of them consider the way my mother felt. She was stuck with the stress of a young boy and an ill husband. The worst times were at night. We could hear him downstairs, his breathing laboured and heavy. She would stay awake all night listening to him breathing, hoping that he would make the night. Sometimes she would try to read me a bedtime story, but he would scream up the stairs.

“Stop telling that fucking kid a story and get the fuck down here to care for me.”

She would go, but always returned to finish the story. He was trying his hardest to get me out of the picture, even going so far as to get the social services involved.

The phone rang out. It was teatime and I had been back from school for a few hours.

“Hello, we are coming to collect Nicholas in an hour.”

“Pardon?” my mother asked incredulously, glancing at my father who was throwing his food on the floor to gain attention.

“We have been informed by your husband that Nicholas is at risk. We are coming to collect him.”

“Like hell you are!” my mother responded. She found the guts to stand up to them somewhere inside herself.

“We can do what we want, madam.”

“Really?” Mother replied. “Well, he’s my son and if you want him then you’ll have to go through me.”

The conversation ended, my father smirking at the table and my mother, panicking, wondering what to do next.
She phoned her friend, a local doctor, who intervened. The problem was solved. I remained at home with my mother, and my father went back to the hospice.

Soon thereafter, I had just come back from a school trip. Surprisingly, my mother did not come to collect me from school as she normally did. She sent one of her few friends from the village.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be home soon,” she smiled at me. She was very friendly but something was odd about how she looked at me that day.

I had no idea what I was doing here. This lady was kind and comforting, but I longed to see my mother again. I wanted her to tell me that things would be alright. I felt panic rising in my gut. Hours passed, darkness fell, and I wondered what was going on. No one explained.

A knock came at the door and Wayne, Mrs Agatha’s landlord, stood there.

“I’ve come to fetch Nicholas,” he said with a grin. I liked him.

“How is his mother?” the lady asked in a hushed tone, as I collected my belongings.

“I don’t know. She phoned and asked Mrs Agatha to get me to collect him.”
I thanked the lady for giving me a home for a few hours. Wayne looked down and smiled at me. There was something odd about how he looked at me, too. Something was wrong. I didn’t know it then, but my life would be changed forever.

Chapter Two

“Lori, this is Dr. Tanner. Please call me immediately at my office.”

beeeep….

“Lori, this is Dr. Tanner again. It’s urgent that I speak with you. Please call me as soon as you receive this message!”

At the same time I was listening to the messages, I had opened my email. There was an email marked urgent, also from Dr. Tanner, giving me both her office number and cell number and asking me to contact her immediately. Whenever the doctor gives you her personal cell number, you know it’s not good.

Shit.

It was a tumor.

I knew it.

I had known it all along.

*************
During the previous year, I started noticing I was becoming somewhat unstable on my feet. I was twisting my ankles frequently and stumbling up and down stairs. I put it down to fatigue and just general klutziness, although I’d never been that way before. In September, I was in the yard after having taken care of the chickens and on my way back to the house I fell. Hard. I had my hands full with some flower pots and I stumbled and went down like a ton of bricks. At this time, I was also very heavy – 290 pounds or so – and that’s a lot of dead weight to have strike the ground. I literally landed on my face as the flower pots went flying yards away. I had gravel rash on my face and my knees and elbows were banged up. I shook it off and came into the house to sit down and ice my twisted ankle. I put it down to the general klutziness I had been experiencing more and more frequently.

A few days later, I developed a headache. I shrugged it off as a delayed reaction to the fall and I took some Tylenol. After a week or so of no relief, I made a doctor’s appointment. I had no insurance and not a lot of money coming in, so this was a big decision. My doctor suggested I had incurred whiplash from the fall and recommended a chiropractor. Again, not being covered by insurance, chiropractic visits would need to come out of my ever-shrinking bank account. I saw the chiropractor twice and had no results; in fact, my headaches were getting worse. Surely, it must have been trauma from that fall and if I was careful, it would resolve on its own. My doctor had given me a prescription for Vicodin which I was taking regularly with limited relief.

Around the same time, I received an email from an astute, young Englishman who wanted to know more about the American healthcare system. I had been commenting on a political page on the internet and something I said piqued his interest. I felt quite passionately about the subject at the time– I had suffered this persistent headache for several weeks by this time, but due to my financial circumstances, I was resisting returning to the doctor. We had several email exchanges and there was something about this guy that fascinated me. He was highly intelligent and well spoken, and he had this hunger for knowledge and general curiosity which I really appreciated. His emails frequently started, “Tell me more about….” and he eagerly absorbed the information I gave him and formulated more hypotheses and potential political solutions. Not only was he intelligent and friendly, he was incredibly respectful and polite. I liked him. I really liked him. When I discovered early on he was only twenty-two years old, I kept my feelings at arm’s length and intended to take him under my wing as an adopted younger brother. As I was to discover, my growing feelings were not to be kept at bay, however.

My headaches continued and were becoming more than just annoying. I was popping Vicodin like M&Ms especially at night to help me sleep and dull the pounding. Over several weeks, I noticed I had to stop cross stitching, my favorite hobby, because my eyes were becoming very fatigued and I couldn’t see well, even with the help of reading glasses. I put it down to the pain of the headaches causing discomfort in my eyes. What I didn’t realize is my vision was beginning to fail.

As October became November, I was chatting daily to Nick online. It became a habit and I began to anticipate seeing him sign into chat. When I saw “Nick is online” pop up on my screen and heard the ding of the notification, I always smiled and got that giddy butterfly tummy feeling. I felt like a silly high school girl again. I realized my feelings for him were deepening, but I continued to view him as a young man to whom I could impart my wisdom (such as it is) and guide on the path of life. I was still married, afterall, despite feeling it was in name only. We continued to talk politics and public policy and he educated me on British politics, of which I was completely ignorant. He slowly gave me some details about his life. He portrayed himself as a happy-go-lucky chap without a real care in the world.

November passed relatively uneventfully, except the daily headaches were starting to take a toll on my sanity and my vision continued to decline. My Vicodin use was approaching Dr. House-like levels. I looked so forward to my daily conversations with Nick. They became the bright spot in my day, and I complained to him about how badly I was feeling and my frustration as to why this damn headache wasn’t going away.

“How are you feeling today?” he would ask.

“Like dog crap that stepped in dog crap,” I typed back.

“Lori, this has been going on for too long. Why don’t you go back to the doctor? I think something might really be wrong.” I could feel his concern coming through the chat window.

“I’m sure it’s nothing, Nick,” I said, sweeping my own concern under the carpet in my denial of what I really thought was going on. “It has to go away sooner or later. Anyway, you know this isn’t England. We don’t have free NHS like you lucky buggers over there.”

“Surely, if it’s serious, there’s some type of coverage?” he asked.

“Well, I suppose Medi-Cal could help pick it up.” I replied, sounding more confident than I felt.

“See? Why don’t you look into it?” he prodded. “I hate hearing you feeling so down. It’s no fun being ill. Besides, you haven’t been yourself.” Even in a few short weeks of chatting, he could see a marked difference in me.

My most disappointing days were when I was in too much pain or my vision was too bad to actually sit at the computer. I retired to bed with a cloth over my eyes and my Vicodin bottle….and missed him. Unlike Gene, he seemed to really care.

The beginning of December came and I was still in daily, increasing pain, my vision was getting worse, and my balance was being affected. I realized it when I was walking from the computer room into the kitchen, a journey of about seventy-five feet, and I got so dizzy I walked into the wall. I thought it was because I hadn’t eaten much – afterall, I was going into the kitchen because I was hungry! The dizziness waned that day, but continued to worsen in duration and severity over the next few weeks.

About two weeks before Christmas I woke up from sleep and felt absolutely dreadful. The moment I moved from a supine position, I felt instantly and overwhelmingly nauseous. I barely made it to the toilet before wretching. Of course, the action of vomiting felt like it split my head wide open. “Great, I have the flu on top of all this,” I thought. As much as I wanted to deny it, a niggling reality would not be ignored.

A heavy cloud of depression came over me. I missed Nick because I hadn’t been able to converse with him much since I couldn’t sit at the computer for long periods; I was half-heartedly looking for work, feeling too ill to really care; my eleven-year marriage was all but broken up and I heard Gene’s abuse ringing in my ears about what a failure I had become.
“I want a divorce! I want a divorce!” he had screamed at me the night before. Things had been getting bad between us for a few years and I had let things slide the last few months due to not feeling well. The house was a mess, the laundry piling up, I didn’t cook like I used to. Sex had been out of the question. He couldn’t grasp I wasn’t just being lazy– I really felt seriously ill. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, hear it. There was no quality communication between us anymore. Perhaps there really never had been.

I felt totally hopeless. I lay that morning, tears streaming down my face, with my head on the toilet seat, asking God to either kill me or heal me.

I vomited multiple times a day for several days, each time feeling like an axe was splitting my head open, trying to eat soup and saltines and make it all go away. After a week, I knew that I had to go back to the doctor. I made an appointment for the next day, still insistent I had the flu and just needed an anti-viral and of course, more Vicodin. I couldn’t walk on my own from the car to the doctor’s office. Remember how you felt as a kid after spinning around and trying to walk? Add the worst migraine you can imagine and that was close to how it felt. Gene, whom I had requested drive me, helped me into the office.

“My GOD,” the receptionist gasped.

“Jesus, Lori, you look awful!! Go sit down. Hurry!!”

The moment my doctor saw me she knew what the problem was, although as a consummate professional, she was smiling and calm. She wrote me an order for an MRI and told me not to delay.

Ah, yes, an MRI. I knew an MRI was in the cards and I had no idea how I would afford it. The coffers were approaching empty. We were already rationing food and eating our own chickens’ eggs as a staple. How do I get an MRI? I came home and contacted a radiology center in a city about an hour away.

“Hi,” I said casually. “I suspect I may have a brain tumor and I need an MRI but I have no insurance. What is your cash payment rate for a scan?”

“A brain tumor?” the woman laughed it off. “Oh, I doubt that. Why do you think that?” she asked.

“Well, that’s kinda what the MRI is for,” I replied, a bit snarkily, “but I’ve had a splitting headache for a few months now, I can’t walk straight, and I’m puking my guts out every time I move. That doesn’t seem normal, does it?”

“Oh dear, no, no it doesn’t,” she replied, sudden concern in her voice.

“Our cash rate is seven hundred dollars, but you can apply for a hardship request. Just write a letter explaining your situation and we’ll see what we can do.”

A hardship grant! One thing I can do is write a good letter, so I sat down with my aching head, my poor vision, my puking guts, and my now weakening right hand and typed up a letter detailing the history of my symptoms and our financial situation. I pleaded for help. I faxed it off and waited.

Meanwhile, I was chatting to Nick and told him what was going on.

“I got back from the doctor a while ago,” I said. “She wants me to have an MRI.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” he said. “But, I guess that means she thinks you have a problem?” His concern and fear came through, even in a chat window.

“I sent a letter to the radiology place. They might be able to get me a reduced price on the scan,” I explained. “Otherwise, it will be a fortune.”

“I wish I could teleport you to England, Lori,” he said. “They’d do it for free here.”

“I know. I wish you could, too,” I said. I wished I were in England for more than just an MRI. “I’m sure they’ll come up with something.”

“Anyway, I know it’s probably nothing serious,” I tried to reassure both of us. “I still wonder if I just knocked something out of whack with that fall a few months ago.” I knew that was bullshit.

“I hope so, Lori,” Nick responded. “I just want you back to normal.”

“Thanks, me too!” I laughed.

“Whatever that is,” I joked.

I wanted to reassure him that I would be fine, that it would be nothing and I’d be right as rain soon. I don’t think I was too convincing, however. I felt his ((((hugs)))) through the chat window as if he was really there. I missed him. I wanted him there taking care of me since Gene was doing the bare minimum and grudgingly at that. I wanted Nick’s love.

About two hours later, I received a phone call from the director of the radiology center. My hardship request had been approved at 100% coverage. No payment required. Free!! She booked me in for an appointment the next morning.

That morning, I woke up, did my now requisite wretching, and asked Gene to help me dress as I was so off balance I couldn’t even put on my jeans. He helped me and perhaps was now just realizing how bad off I really was. He had to put on and tie my shoes also as I couldn’t bend over because of the pain. I gathered my purse and a puke bag for the car – just in case. The hour drive down winding mountain roads, in a vehicle with hard suspension, just about did me in. I vomited several times before reaching the radiology center and was so wobbly when I arrived, I needed to take the elevator to the second floor. I was holding onto Gene for dear life as I couldn’t even stand on my own.
The technician came to take me back for the MRI and fortunately he was a big guy as he needed to help me down the corridor and onto the table. As he helped me sit on the edge of the platform, I pitched forward because I was so dizzy. Thankfully, his 6’2″, very muscular frame kept me from ending up on the floor. I’m not sure I could have gotten up if I had fallen over. As sick as I was, I was feeling very positive. I knew this would show the problem and everything would be OK. The MRI lasted thirty or forty minutes as I lay there, trying not to move. I knew the importance of clear pictures and I was determined, despite my dizziness and overwhelming nausea, to have a clear scan.

It was another hour of the same winding, mountain roads on the way home, and while Gene was showing some compassion at this point and driving as gently as he could, I was still vomiting every ten minutes or so. I believe he really started to understand the gravity of my situation at this point. He became the Gene I used to know – loving and caring and concerned. It was a welcome change from the last few years of derision and belittlement I had felt from him, but I knew my heart was already elsewhere. It was too late.
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