2013: A Personal Account of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2013 got us off to a rocky start, to say the least.

Not long after Christmas 2012, our niece was hospitalized for several weeks. The New Year opened with legal troubles stemming from complications to her health that are still on-going, and will soon be approaching the one-year mark with no signs of resolution in sight. I hope to one day be able to tell the full story and not have to be so vague here, but speaking out now may only complicate things further. Suffice to say, it was an ominous beginning to the year. After having a fairly rough 2012, my wife, Maureen, and I were ready for a fresh start to the New Year.

In a few more hours, 2013 will be over with, and I am quite looking forward to putting this past year behind us.

So, there was the stuff with our niece, who will be turning two this January. We also found ourselves with a severe rodent infestation in our basement, which required us to not only hire exterminators to bait our property in the hopes of luring away the mice and chipmunks, but to remove all of the insulation we had put up in 2012. Now, let me be clear about something upfront: Maureen and I are not slobs. We keep a tidy home. We clean regularly. We'd even attempted to be proactive in eliminating the chances of creepy critters in our home by spraying foam insulation into the crevices of the garage so that they couldn't slip through the cracks and get into the walls. Still, somehow, we found ourselves with this problem. Late in 2012, we had heard an odd, loud thumping noise in the wall of our living room. We called out the Orkin man who, very quickly, did an outside inspection, assured me there was no reason to look inside the house, and determined there was no problem and left on his merry way. Still, the noise persisted, and we called out another company, who, very quickly, found quite a lot of evidence of a problem, which included droppings in the rafters of our basement ceiling and in the garage, as well as indications of tunneling along the exterior wall beneath the siding to an opening the size of a Bic pen. We had just put in fresh insulation that summer, and by the fall, we were tearing it out in order to remove the droppings and seal up the holes. We stuffed every crack and crevice that could have been allowing them entry with steel wool, then sprayed over that with foam insulation. But early in 2013, we were again finding evidence of critters, and out came the $200 worth of insulation, which conveniently became a small grave for three mice. We once again called the exterminators out, and they put down fresh bait and cages to trap whatever may be there, and we once again turned to finding any points of entry that these rodents were using to get inside. In the garage, we found that something had eaten through the foam insulation and made a large tunnel, which we had to immediately reseal. After spending nearly half the year on periodic inspections and doing a very thorough repair job over several weekends in the summer, we seem to have finally gotten the problem solved. Along the way, we had to spend another $200 on insulation and another weekend installing it. I guess the bright side of this is that Maureen and I have become a well-practiced team on putting up insulation! We'll be spending much of 2014 trying to save up for new siding, which has become a priority in our lives. We bought our 30-year-old house in 2009, but nearly everything in it is the original 30-year-old stuff that came with it, aside from things like the refrigerator, furnace, HVAC, and windows, all of which we had to replace soon after we closed. We've been busy steadily making improvements, but home ownership is expensive and time consuming. Over the summer, we had some severe storms, and the change in pressure caused one of our windows to fracture. Thankfully, it was under warranty, and we were able to replace it easily enough. In 2014, we'll be refocusing our energies on getting bills from the windows and furnace paid off, so we can make other improvements to our home, which will hopefully last a good, long while, and prevent any future problems of this sort from occurring again.

Over the summer, we lost our cat Godiva. She was a spunky little girl who died way too young. It was difficult watching her getting sick and unable to bounce back from it, and to see all of her vigor so painfully absent. We found ourselves devoid of any other choices, but the decision to put her to sleep in order to terminate any more suffering was one of the hardest decisions we've faced. I'm not sure that people who don't have pets can understand the turmoil, but it really is like losing a beloved family member. We had eight wonderful years with Godiva, and always thought there would be more time. Her sickness came out of nowhere, and recovering from her loss has not been easy. Godiva was Maureen's little baby, and she's still feeling the loss, six months later.

At the same time we were coping with that loss, I began experiencing strange, random allergic reactions that have been plaguing me on and off during the last half of this year. In the tail-end of May, while doing yard work, I noticed that my hands were becoming violently itchy, and thought I may need to see a dermatologist. The next day, I woke up with my face swollen and one eye puffed closed, and had to take a trip to the ER, where they pumped benadryl into me. I've been seeing an allergist, and took an allergy test that turned out to be inconclusive. I think the flare-ups are related to dust. The HVAC at my employer is old and they refuse to repair it, so my office is fairly dusty rather often. I'll experience mild breakouts and get hives and rashes all over. After getting a haircut a few months ago, I had a rather violent flare-up, which I think was a result of the talcum powder. I also had a break-out last month when cleaning windows, since the outside panes had a good build-up of dust and grime. My allergist has been weening me off the medications, and I go back in a few weeks to see what the next steps are, but I've been OK for the last few weeks, at least.

In the fall, we rescued an abandoned cat and brought Sasha into our home and our hearts. But even that was not meant to last nearly as long as we had hoped. Our other cat, Callie, is 12 and has severe arthritis in her hips and spine. Sasha was an exuberant one-year-old, with lots of energy. She demanded nearly constant attention and loved to play, but unfortunately she was too rough for Callie. Sasha would jump on our elder cat and we could hear the cries of pain from across the house. Sasha's attempts at play typically ended with Callie in hiding, hurting and growling. She did what she could to avoid Sasha, but once they crossed paths Callie went on the defensive and would hiss, growl, and take swipes at the younger cat. When she would run, Sasha took it as a cue to chase her and have some fun. We tried separating them and kept Sasha in the bedroom. After a month of being able to roam free, she did not like being cooped up and took to tearing apart the carpet by the door in an effort to dig her way out. Maureen and I alternated nights sleeping in the room with Sasha, in the hopes that our presence, as well as some calming spray, would help keep her cool. All it got us was sleepless nights while the cat meowed, howled, jumped on us, and tore at the carpet and banged at the door. With both of us working, we determined we couldn't keep the cats separated for nearly twelve hours a day, which was not only unfair to them, but damaging to our property. Our main concern had to be Callie's health and the impact Sasha was having on her. Callie was eating less and was stressed out, the combination of which had her quickly losing weight, and she was constantly on the defensive. She hurt too much to be able to put Sasha in her place, and we couldn't allow Callie to continue suffering. Our friend Carolyn, who had found Sasha originally, agreed to take her in. It was a hard choice, but we didn't feel there were any alternatives. We couldn't give Sasha to a shelter, where she could face extermination if not adopted quickly enough, and we know and trust Carolyn. We had to know that Sasha would be safe and cared for, and loved. Maureen and I have spent the last half of December readjusting to, once again, being a single cat household. Callie has been doing much better in the aftermath of all of this, and is eating more frequently and is less stressed out. Her weight has stabilized, and we've gotten her a few heating pads to help calm the arthritis. We've also been keeping a fire going pretty regularly while at home for the holidays, and she's been able to stretch out in front of the fireplace and relax. While we miss Sasha, we had to do what was right for Callie, and we can at least take comfort in knowing she's in a good home.

For as much emotional turmoil as we've faced in 2013, there have been some positive improvements and steps forward. My wife has recognized how much damage the stress of this year has done to her, and she's been working to reassert some control over her life. She's a very take-charge woman and likes to have control. Between our niece, the loss of the cats, the stress of our home being invaded by random critters, and the work and cost of repairing (or trying to repair) these problems, stress has been at an all-time high this year. And damn near all of it has been far outside our means of control. She's been struggling with how to cope with these changes, as well as the burden of our inability to conceive a child of our own following our miscarriage last year. I think she's been feeling too powerless, and there's no easy fix for that. It's easy for me to tell her not to worry, but it's another thing entirely for her to actually not worry. She began seeing a psychiatrist recently, and will continue to do so in 2014. We're also seeking treatments to help resolve our difficulties in getting pregnant.

I've also taken active steps in resolving some of my own mental health issues. Since adolescence, I've been silently struggling with depression. This year, things came to a head for us, and I was becoming more withdrawn and moody. I was constantly angry, tired, and prone to lashing out, perhaps as a result of my own feelings of helplessness with everything that's been happening around us, and from the aggravation of incessant itching during repeated allergy attacks. After discussing things with my doctor this past fall, I began taking Lexapro. I'm not typically an advocate for drugs in my own life, prescription or otherwise, but the medication has been good for me. I've been feeling more balanced, and have become aware of just how dangerous my previous bouts of depression were. I'm certainly in a better place now, emotionally, and hope to continue to improve in the New Year.

One of the highlights for me in 2013, though, was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I entered my novel, CONVERGENCE, into the contest in January. There were 10,000 entries, and I was quite sure my book wouldn't survive to the end. Expecting to be eliminated during the pitch round, I was pleasantly surprised to see my book outlast 9,500 other contestants as I advanced all the way to the Quarter-Finals. I was even more surprised to read a glowing review from Publisher's Weekly, who called it a "smart splice of espionage and science fiction." Although I did not win a publishing contract, I was buoyed by the fact that my book was receiving positive reviews from not only Publisher's Weekly, but Amazon editors, and readers. Furthermore, I had also entered CONVERGENCE in the Harper Voyager Digital Submissions contest in Oct. 2012. More than a year later, and with nearly 5,000 entries in that contest, my book is still under consideration, with less than 300 submissions still standing. In short, my book appears to be worthy of publication, given its ability to garner praise and withstand elimination for so long. It's been a terrific validation of my work, and I expect to be able to announce plans for this novel in 2014. So, stay tuned!

I'm certainly hoping that 2014 will be a better year for us, and that we can have more positives than negatives, more wins than losses. I'm confident that at least one good thing, maybe even two if we're lucky, will happen, and that I'll be able to speak on these things here soon.

Happy New Year!

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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