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The Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game

white birch clare michigan 2003
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003

white birch clare michigan 2003-001
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003
Depression Sea is roiling today, my mind is twisting, turning, and dying.

She knows, she always knows. My face and body language tell a story she’s read time and again.

She worries that this time the story might have a different ending.

I’m at the doctor’s office.

Wasn’t I here last month? I already know the answer, having made the trip eight times and the year isn’t even half over.

As we wait for the nurse to call my name, we play the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®.

Playing the game allows me to change the monotonous, deadly channel that keeps playing over and over in mind.

We look at one another, smile, and begin the game.

The game always has the same answers, but we like to play anyway.

In the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®, we take shared places and experiences and meld them into one. A fantasy, to be sure, but who knows, maybe we’ll strike it rich, rob a bank, or write a book detailing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

Spring in Ohio, with its promise of new life and flowers.

Fall in Ohio, with its crisp air and changing colors.

Winter in Arizona, no snow for us, we survived the Blizzard of 78.

Summer in the Upper Peninsula , nestled as close to our Canadian friends as possible.

Our rented  house from White Birch, Michigan, with a 1970 green Nova SS sitting in the drive.

bruce 1970 nova ss
Bruce putting water in 1970 Nova SS, March 1976, somewhere in Kentucky
Package these things together and magically move them to the eastern seaboard, to a small, out-of-the-way fishing community on the shore of the Atlantic.

Turn the house so it fronts the Ocean, allowing us to sit on our deck and watch the sunrise and the fishing boats making their way to the secret spots known only to those whose hands and face bear the weathered look of a lifetime spent fishing.

Nearby live our children and grandchildren. Not too close, yet not so far as to be beyond an invite to a Saturday night BBQ.

This is Bruce and Polly’s fantasy.

She remains worried, wondering if the slough of despondency will bury the man she loves.

All I want is for the pain to stop.

Is that too much to ask?

I already knows the answer. I always knows the answer.

The nurse calls my name and I  haltingly walk to the exam room.

No weight gain, medications the same, pulse 78, and blood pressure just a little high. Refills ordered, sure is hot, hate the humidity, how’s Bethany, he’ll be in to see you soon.

The doctor walks through the door and sits near me.  Eighteen years we’ve danced to this tune, both of us now dance much slower than we once did.

The doctor thinks I am chipper today, better than last month.  Little does he know what I’m really thinking. We talk about the Reds, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and the All Star game. I promised the nurse that we wouldn’t do our thing, our thing being shooting the breeze while other patients wait. I lied. He’s behind and I’m to blame.

We shake hands and afterward I put my hand gently on his shoulder.  I tell him, see you in two months. This sounds like a lie, a hollow promise with no hope of fulfillment.

I want to live.

I want to die.

We stop at St. John’s produce tent and buy some local strawberries. $3.50 a quart. We buy some Georgia peaches too, which will turn into pies for Sunday. The strawberries will top the angel food cake she will make in the morning; just like every other June 19th for the past thirty-seven years.

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957
June 19, 1957, in a building years ago torn down and replaced with a new one, at 9:01 AM I drew air into my lungs for the first time. A new life born into poverty in a nondescript rural Ohio community, delivered by a doctor who also worked as a veterinarian.

The path is now long and how much path remains is unknown.

Will the game be called today or will we get to play, for the nth time the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®?

I’m still betting on playing the game.


For those who struggle with chronic pain and illness, a birthday can often lead to deep depression, a reminder of all that has been lost. While the healthy focus on all they have, those in pain and who suffer from years of chronic debility can, and often do, focus on how much they have lost. Yes, it is wonderful to have a sliver of life to hold on to, to have a spouse, children, and grandchildren who love you, but nothing can ameliorate the sense of loss.

This is not a cry for help. I am just talking out loud with friends.


  1. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    I know. I’m so sorry. And yet, that picture of you as a baby! Already reaching out to the world. And your mom, I bet she loved you so much.

    What you wrote is so sad. Pain is an evil monster. (I think I’m having a hard time being coherent, what you wrote hit me.) I’m sorry. :'(

  2. Avatar

    happy birthday bruce! hope you manage to find some threads of happiness amongst the nostalgia for what was. (plus, you’ve got polly’s cooking! plus grandkids.)

    and thanks for your honest writing about your chronic pain, it’s quite descriptive and helps those of us who don’t experience it to understand it a bit better.

    lastly, in the fantasy game, are your kids always grown up? if not, what are the perfect ages and activities for your kids in the fantasy game? was the oldest the most fun at age 3, and the youngest kid most pleasant at age 12? (and that house does look like a pretty nice place too!)

  3. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    “This is not a cry for help. I am just talking out loud with friends.”

    No, this is good, this is helpful. This is painful, too, but that’s okay. What’s the line from Callahan’s? “Pain shared is diminished. Joy shared in increased.”

    My mom had polio, back when she was… I’m not sure. Eight? Nine? She’s paralyzed from the waist down. Despite that, she’s managed to walk — using crutches and braces, but still she managed to walk. They told her she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She remembers racing with the other children in her youth. She was the fastest on their block, she tells us.

    They didn’t know if children were possible. She gave birth to me, and to my younger brother — both strong, both healthy, both active. I wonder, every once in a great while, if she’s ever jealous of us — but I never, ever ask.

    And now, in her seventies, she’s… the technical term is “post-polio”. The body recovers from the initial nerve damage caused by the disease (if it does, as much as it does) by splitting off the remaining nerves to cover for the damaged ones. And that… strains the system. And after enough time — decades, in this case, a lifetime after re-learning how to walk by sheer force of will — those nerves start to give. They start to burn out under the strain. She can’t really work to strengthen herself — to build muscle in the arms and shoulders that have allowed her to walk upright all these years. That will just hasten the decay. She can only work to preserve the strength she has left. She is, slowly but surely, being forced back into that little rolling prison that she tried all her life to escape.

    She hates it. She hates the very idea of it, let alone the reality. She hasn’t quite reached the point where she’d rather die than surrender the last of her dignity, but that time is coming — slowly, incrementally, weeks or days or hours at a time. I don’t know what happens then.

    We don’t talk much about it. It’s easy for me to ignore; Mom makes it easy, deliberately I think. She doesn’t want us, or anyone, to think of her as helpless, or think of her becoming helpless. So it’s good, for me at least, to hear from someone in a comparable position who will talk about it.

    It helps.

  4. Avatar

    I don’t take this as a cry or whine. It is a realistic person sharing the truth. I’m glad you feel you can share with us. I’m sure you have many email addresses and phone numbers besides mine. Those are from people who care and want to hear about the bad and good.

    Fantasy game is good. I play it too, sometimes. When I win the lottery, I’ll make sure you are on the list of people whose fantasies will come true.

  5. Avatar

    Sharing this is good. It might help. It can’t hurt. Besides, mentioning your birthday reminds the rest of us that we have something to celebrate: having you in our lives.

    I had an unusually bad pain day today. Mine is a fraction of yours, and yet it gives me a little glimmer of insight. It isn’t pleasant insight. I wish there were something that I could do — that any of us could do — besides listening and sending virtual hugs.


  6. Avatar

    Happy Birthday Bruce! 🙂

    I find that every moment I can spend focused on anything other than physical activity is time when the my pain is delegated to the back of the bus … still there but not at the forefront. Certainly there are times when nothing can overcome pain (especially when I’m low or out of pain meds and waiting on prescription refills – like today).

    question(s): How is the book coming? Do you follow/read John Loftus books/blog? I seem to recall you have some interaction with him … I’m curious as to if you and he might collaborate, or at minimum, maybe he can offer some insight/pointers/guidance to authorship. I think yours is SUCH a compelling story and you personality through the written word is uniquely entertaining in that, beyond our personal (online) connections/interactions – your writing is just plain fun to read.

    Oh, and inquiring mind NEED to know what kind of fabulous culinary magic Polly pulled out of her “Country Heathen’s Cookbook”® to make your birthday extra special? … and when will that cookbook be available in fine bookstores everywhere?

    Happy Birthday, my friend 🙂


  7. Avatar

    Birthdays are or should be a day-off! That being said, I am sure you are working at putting together another blog-spot posting!
    I am sorry your pain is so persistent and that you sometimes think of just needing to have done with suffering…. but what a relief it is, when the pain does give you a break.
    I am grateful to share your thoughts, Bruce. Thank-you for being gutsy. (Oh, and in my klunky, old opinion, it is okay, and perfectly secularly brilliant to cry for help just as fucking often as you need to do that…. It’s the damned echo that pisses me off sometimes when I cry out! (But you know, after all the denial-of-love that spewed me out of Christianity, there is true glory and finally being able to hear myself groan my own way, however that turns out to be on this day….. I wish you some relief, and sweet peace today.)

  8. Avatar

    One of my own low-time fantasies is to “visit” houses where I spent time as a young child. In the authentic memories, I am eye level with doorknobs. Your 1957 baby snapshot brings back a thousand memories of kitchens I crawled through as a baby. Everything: the bottle, the sheet of plastic thumb-tacked to the wall behind the range, the wooden playpen an inch from the range(!!!), even the box of Sylvania Blue Dot flash bulbs!

  9. Avatar

    from a fellow sufferer of depression, I find your words eerily poetic and somehow comforting. Perhaps you are a modern day Emily Dickenson? For me your prose is lovely and meaningful. Thank you.

  10. Avatar
    Michael Alioto

    I already wished you a happy bday on FB (I know you saw it) so I will restrict my comments here to this writing.

    I’m sitting, right now, at a bar I work at as a soundman. I’m also head of security for this corporation. I’m having dinner at the bar (as opposed to a booth)…and I’m crying like a bubbering idiot. Why? Because I just read this. Because I have lost someone close to a disease. Because I’ve heard these feelings from her. And though she is 9 years in my rear view mirror, the wound feels fresh.

    I love you Bruce

  11. Avatar
    Bet Myers

    Bruce I thank you for writing and sharing this. “All I want is for the pain to stop” That line made me cry and thru the still falling tears I cannot sau how many thousands of times I have said those very words to my hubby. With deepest gratitude. hugs n luv Bet

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