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My son, Max, turns ten at the end of the month. In December 2011, only about a week and a half after his youngest brother, Elliot, was born, we rushed Max to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri because of blood in his stool, a positive test for malicious bacteria, and some joint pain. Five days, several blood tests, a colonoscopy, and sundry medications later, Max was discharged with a diagnosis of Crohn's disease.
He's had struggles over the last four years, little Crohn's/Colitis related things that anyone familiar with this monster will know well. Things took a nose dive this past December, and between mid-December and the end of January, Max spent five weeks in the hospital. The doctors tried new meds and more meds, but in the end, my almost ten-year-old had his colon removed on January 20th. All of it.
I do not like to live in fear. Show me the monster, and I will meet it head-on. Now that Max has had a very necessary surgery, he's living with a "temporary" colostomy bag. Temporary in quotes? Yes. He's had one subsequent surgery to resection/restructure his small bowl, and we should have another to "reconnect" his "parts" down the road. Here's the fear and frustration part: his GI specialist and surgeon disagree as to the timing of this final surgery. The GI doctor is full of "what ifs" and "possible problems." Talking to him is a lesson in bodily horror, something with which I struggle, both as a writer and a human. Yes, there are possible problems if we reconnect. The surgeon is more optimistic. Neither agree--neither have even spoken to each other as of this writing--but we are faced with a decision: When to do the final surgery.
I do not like to live in fear.
I've learned all too well that life will bring tragedy regardless of what we do. I lost my father to brain cancer, my first wife to postpartum psychosis, and Max has this awful disease. None of them "asked" for it with dangerous living. This isn't another story of someone "getting what he deserves." I cannot and will not believe in a prosperity gospel when two good, caring adults and one innocent child face such monsters. Bad things happen to everyone, and we are defined by how we respond.
So what to do about Max? In two hours, I'll listen to his surgeon make a case for re-connection. Max has expressed his lack of love for the bag--something that if things do not go well after re-connection, he may have to live with, anyway. I've always been one to steer into the storm rather than trying to run. The storm is coming either way, and when we lie to ourselves about having control... well, that's a fast track to fear.
I will not live in fear.
My oldest son competed in his first middle school track meet last night. When I was in high school, we called various members of the team hogs, dogs, and frogs--throwers, runners, and jumpers. Owen decided to try a little bit of everything: shot put, long jump, and the 200 meter dash. So I guess he was a hog-dog-frog... the image is a little terrifying.
This happened during the 200:
Yes, that's my son on the ground. He's fast on the soccer field, but a straight sprint might not be his thing. After the race, he was worried I'd be upset because he didn't perform well. Think about it for a minute, especially those of you who are parents. Would you be upset?
My answer--which came in the form of a question as my answers often do**: What did you do after you fell?
Owen: I got up.
Me: And then?
Owen: I finished the race.
That's all that mattered to me. I felt for him. Going down hard in front of a stand full of parents and your peers is tough, especially in 7th grade. Maybe I broke some parenting rule when I shared this photo, but no, I don't think so. I'm much prouder of a boy who crashes hard and still finishes than one who wins all the time. No one--anywhere/anyone--wins all the time.
Life is more about what you do when the bad shit happens.
*I really, really despise the word "get," but here it feels somehow appropriate. Forgive my lazy verb choice.
**I wonder if it's difficult to have me as a father?
Chatting with a friend just now made me think: I am older than I expected to get.
When I was a teen looking forward to the millennium change in 1999 I was disappointed that I'd be an old lady, barely able to enjoy it. The millennium change was 17 years ago. I enjoyed it JUST FINE. Ahem.
What would my teen self think of me now?
She wouldn't approve of my short hair or my body, but she'd like my studio and work.
She'd want to be friends with my kids.
She would think today's Charlie is a nice old guy, and the Charlie I fell in love with in 1980 was romantic.
She'd like my dogs.
She'd think it's weird that I eat vegetables for breakfast.
She'd think it's cool but not groovy that I became friends with my siblings,
that I have so many good friends in my life today,
and that I'm this happy.
All of this makes me plan what I'll be like in 2046.
I'd better not disappoint me.
Have you entertained your 17 year old self lately?
Or your 87 year old self?
This is a page from my sketch-journal when I was 17.
I know I've written about bullying before, but recent events have hurt someone dear to me. Please forgive. I'm starting this at 4-something in the morning because I'm mad. In my neck of the woods, we sometimes say "pissed" when one is this mad. Not "pissed" drunk like our friends across the pond, but "pissed off."
I'm tried of bullies. I'm tired of them at my job as a middle school/high school guidance counselor and I'm tired of the unfortunate reality that bullies exist as adults, too. Once upon a time, I believed in some fairy tale version of adulthood in which all the bullies matured and shed their evil skin. Like all fairy tales, this one is fiction.
Bullies are everywhere and every age, and if they've shed any skin, it's only to grown a more insidious one in its place.
The bullies at school are sneaky. A teacher turns away and one boy punches another. They wait until I pass during lunch duty, and call their target names. In many ways, the girls are worst. I could relate scores of personal examples from my job, and it wouldn't take much to do a simple Google search and find stacks of digital articles on the subject.
Females--girls and grown women--like to do their bullying in different ways than boys. They often ostracize and exclude. They post hideous untruths online and laugh when their target's life falls apart. They've found ways to belittle via social media I shudder to recall. The motives are varied, but one constant keeps surfacing: if one is the bully, it steers attention to someone else. In the bully's mind, as long as someone else is the target, it's not her.
It hurts me to watch the cruelty at my job and hurts me in my neighborhood. Yes, my neighborhood lives in the shadow of a bully and I'm tried of it. Just like the girls at school, adult bullies ostracize and exclude. They manipulate and maneuver to make sure the target is not them. Sometimes the cruelty wears the most subtle cloak--for example, repeatedly leaving someone's name off a mailing list about neighborhood activities.
I was the target of bullying in middle school. The ride from my school to the high school for band class in 7th grade was especially agonizing. We would load the unsupervised bus--because let's be honest about the driver's ability to both drive and make sure passengers weren't being douche bags--and take a five minute jaunt from one school to the other. I heard "fag" and "gay" more times than I could count during those five minutes. A group of boys a year or two older than me would hound me after school during an arduous walk home. The walk was only four blocks, but it felt like four hundred.
Sometimes I feel so powerless when confronted with bullying at my job. It's especially difficult as an adult in my own neighborhood. No one--not one living creature--has the right to make anyone else feel like those ass hats made me feel in middle school. It turns my stomach that so many continue their cruelty long after the bus engine has gone cold.
So what do we do? Talk about it... write about it. Stand up and be counted among those who will not tolerate such behavior. There are more victims than bullies, and like most forms of darkness, this one cannot stand the light.
I feel another "significant" post brewing, but it will wait for another day. Today, I bring pictures from our recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and one of my favorite stories about Aimee.
National Parks were/are an obsession of ours--I still have our map of all National Parks hanging in the basement (with color-coded pins indicated which family member has been where). In 2000, Aimee and I took a road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton. We camped for five nights--four of them in Yellowstone--and enjoyed all the sights. The view of the Tetons from Jackson Lake... spectacular. We rented a boat, a small craft with an outboard motor, and headed onto the lake. The boat's owner gave us a bit of advice which caused contention:
Stay within a mile of shore.
Of course, Aimee (being the adventurous type she was), aimed the boat for the mountains and gave it the gun. My knuckles whitened as I clutched the gunnels.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Staying a mile away from shore like he said," she said.
"No. No. No." I glanced over my shoulder at the swelling waves. The tiny boat would easily capsize in the middle of Jackson Lake. "He said within a mile of shore."
She didn't agree, of course, but the look of sheer-animal-panic on my face convinced her to turn our ship around. Aimee and I weren't able to share enough National Park adventures before her death (could there ever be enough National Park adventures?), but the boys and I will keep going...
I hiked to Fern Lake early on Saturday morning, the date which would have been our 11th wedding anniversary. Aimee and I made the same hike on our 6th wedding anniversary (June 16, 2007), just over a year after Max was born. I was early enough to miss the crowd (it's a tough hike, but a popular one) and have some alone time with the lake, the trees, the mountains, and my thoughts.
Elliot was not impressed by the lack of oxygen above tree line.
Max, Owen, and I on top of the world. Okay, at least on top of a granite formation on Trail Ridge Road.
Max and Owen showed me how to scramble on the rocks near a waterfall. Going down was easier than up.
There comes a time during every vacation when I decide I'm ready to go home. Vacation is great--new adventures are great--but home... It's just home. Home brings comfort and routine; I spend less energy at home and can focus on other things. Damn I love those mountains, but until I buy my cabin, home is in Lawrence.
On Sunday night in Estes Park, while packing for home, I sank into a recliner in our rented cabin. A heavy weight pressed against me--it wasn't exactly the "grief landmine" feeling, but something close. I suddenly understood the easy comparison between losing my spouse and homesickness.
The only problem--when your partner dies, you can't go "home" again. Not to the same home.
Aimee has been gone for nearly three months now; an eternity in some ways (half of Elliot's life), but a blink in others. The first few weeks of April were muddy and slow and painful. Part of May vanished beneath "endings" (school, soccer, etc., etc., etc.). June has clipped along with my deck building project, Colorado, camps, art classes, and trips to the swimming pool. Day by day, the new normal takes root. It digs deeper. But this isn't quite home. It's a new place. A move without moving.
Yes, this is why you learned the Pythagorean Theorem in high school: so you could build a deck. It's also handy for laying tile. I'm well beyond this point (attached the joists today), but I thought my students need to know that math is real. Look--I'm doing math. Math is helping me guarantee a square corner. Yay, math!
(Somebody tell me to bend at the knees next time. My lower back is killing me.)
Purging the basement, I found several artifacts of my life. Each one could sprout several stories:
I worked at Hastings Entertainment in Lawrence back in '98. What an odd and eventful year...
Many of you remember the story about how Aimee aimed our little boat toward the Tetons despite warnings to "stay within a mile of shore"? This is my face moments before the big freak out.
My last day of work at Ray's IGA after my senior year in high school. I met some life-long friends at that job. Some of them dumped a bucket of water on me as I was leaving.
Yes, McKinley Middle School's mascot... sorry to my friends from across the pond, but in American history the Redcoats were the bad guys (at least during the Revolution). Of course the picture looks more like a minuteman. How about the Fighting Minutemen? I don't get it, either. Every school in Clay Center was named after an assasinated president, too... Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley. If the high school was build five years later, it would have been a Kennedy.
More coming. I know--you're holding your breath.
Has it been seventeen days since I last posted?
Radio silence here doesn't mean silence everywhere. In fact, I'm learning to be a better communicator than I have most of my adult life. I'm learning to say what needs to be said to those who need to hear, but doing so in ways which can deliver the message without malice or self-loathing or fear or worry or vindictiveness. I'm trying to be the best communicator I can, trying to cut away the noise and deliver the essence of the message.
Damn hard sometimes because words don't always do what you want them to. Words can't always translate emotions so others can feel you. Words are just words, simple tools, and sometimes fit like a broad-bladed screwdriver when a tiny one would do. Words can soothe a little but not take away the pain of losing a loved one, learning of tragedy, or facing your own mortality. Words are just words.
But I will take them.
Sometimes they are all I have.
The older boys and I have begun a daily ritual of taking "five minutes" one-on-one with Dad (me). I listen while they talk. Sometimes I share, too. Max, being six and a half, has his own super self-focused perspective on the days events. Once in a while he will surprise me, throwing in a big picture perspective that stretches well past his developmental age. Mostly, we talk about PE class or making a plaid pattern in art or what happened at recess. Owen has started really opening up to some "big talks" about life and our future. He surprises me a little, but then I realize he's my kid. I've never really done life halfway and don't want them to live that way either.
I wish we all (meaning everyone on the planet) had less fear when it came to communicating with one another. Maybe the fear stems from the insufficiency of language. Maybe the fear grows when we realize there really is no way to make someone we love know, really know what that love feels like inside of us.
I don't know. I will probably never have the answer, but I can live with it.
No. Not at all.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
H.P. Lovecraft, right? Fear sounds like a great topic for a horror writer's blog, especially during October. Just don't tell anyone I haven't finished a story since March, okay? Besides, I'm a human being before I'm a horror writer. And this human being has faced a lot of fear in his life. Note the past tense: faced.
Last night, someone very dear to me asked if I was "scared" of the future. I took a minute to feel the the question, weigh it a little, and try to understand my feelings before I responded.
No. Not scared. I don't fear the future anymore. While I wrestle a bit with the unknown, it's a much healthier relationship than fear. Fear paralyzes and leads to poor judgement. Fear kills dreams and clogs the pathways to achieving goals. Maybe a better word than fear is anticipation, that heightened sense of reality when expecting something important, something big. Something challenging but wholly good.
And the future is good. Life is good, even when it is a struggle. Even when awful tragedy happens, I still have the choice to focus on hope and goodness and the gifts I've been given. Yes, it may be impossible to feel hope and goodness in the midst of the tragic event. I know--I've been there. But the lesson looks different seven months later. None of us make it through life without scars, but scars become stories, and stories remind us of the preciousness of each day. Besides--when "bad things" happen, they will do so whether I allow fear to eat away my life or not. An abundance of fear makes no one safer. That is the lie that fear whispers to us.
Wasted energy, if you ask me. I'd rather save my energy for the road ahead.
So how do I feel about the future? Hopeful. Filled with a healthy level of anticipation. Ready to roll up my sleeves and go to work. It's good.
I proposed to Kim on Saturday.
I want the world to love her like I do. My best tools are these words--even when they fall short.
So how can I tell you about Kim? Where are my best words?
I hold three of my stories very close to my heart. They were autobiographical in a way (as most good fiction can be). Real events, locations, and people inspired them. I won no awards for these stories (one was nominated and made a very short list), although each has garnered a fair share of attention.
The Battered Suitcase published "Reciprocity" way back in September 2008. Yes, it's my big fish story, and yes, there might be spoilers. It's a story of struggling to fit in, a story of understanding who you are and trying to find a way for that you to fit with the rest of the world. It's a story which could have been tragic, but ends with a flash of gold.
I remember the idea for "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable" (published first at A Fly in Amber in September 2009 and later, in a slightly revised version, in Triangulation: End of the Rainbow and my collection, The Saints are Dead) coming to me while I shuttled the family to and from church one Sunday. I think we forgot our donated Christmas gift that morning and I had to run back to the house to grab it.The extra doorways and disappearing townsfolk became one of my favorites. The protagonist makes a hard decision in the end--choosing what may appear a rockier path to remain true to himself. It might be a rockier path, but it leaves the protagonist, Andy, an entire town to cover with spray-painted murals. "The World in Rubber" was a finalist for the Million Writers Award and a story which moves me each time I read it.
And finally, one of my most personal tales, "Wanting It" from Shock Totem #3 (2011). This little tale took several revisions and gallons of blood/ink. I'm proud of the way it reads, the feelings it evokes, and the lasting impression in the final lines. It's a story about losing something you hold dear--and how that loss colors the rest of the world. Like "The World in Rubber," I wrote it in first person. It's autobiographical, even if fiction. Ellen Datlow was kind enough to include "Wanting It" as an honorable mention in The Best Horror of the Year (even mentioning my name in the introduction... me=humbled).
These stories are my children born from some of the hardest years of my life. They each tell truths about love and loss, grief and hope. They're special to me. They're a part of me.
So who's Kim?
She's the magic goldfish from "Reciprocity"; she's every mural Andy paints in "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable"; she's the ghost who comes after the end of "Wanting It" and tells the narrator his dreams are true. She leans close and whispers in his ear.
Who's Kim? Read the stories when you have time and you'll understand.
Who's Kim? She's seen all my scars and called me beautiful. Everyone on the planet should be so blessed.
And by the way--she said yes.
My kids give up too easily. I'm not sure if it's their generation's epidemic or anything, but I notice it with some of the kids at school, too. The district where I work even had a school improvement plan a year or so ago focused on trying to build perseverance in our students.
We gave up. I wonder what that says...
Seriously, though, kids raised on the world at the click of a mouse quit easily. For example (I'm always armed with them): my ten-year-old and video games. I can imagine the groans. "Video games? Really? I came here for a reasonable discussion about an important topic." Work with me. Video games have been a significant part of our modern tapestry, and love them or leave them, they aren't going anywhere. Owen loves to play games. He spends a quite possibly unreasonable amount of time in front of his computer, a television, or his 3DS. Yes, he plays plenty of games. Most modern games have built in learning curves to keep kids playing at a relatively simply level until they're really good. It's one of the major advances behind the scenes--face it, graphics and sound take all the glory, but a game's artificial intelligence has taken big strides.
Where Owen stumbles, however, is when he attempts anything with a lengthy quest or story or--Zeus forbid--a retro game. He wants to love The Legend of Zelda, but it's hard. He's started several games and given in when the going is tough from "start."
Okay, I'm being a bit harsh. I remember the hours Owen spent trying to conquer various shortcuts on Mario Kart Wii... the kid will stick with something, sometimes. But you go back a little further, Zelda, Mega Man, even Earthworm Jim or Ghouls and Ghosts for Sega Genesis, and he's done. And it isn't just Owen. I do see it at school, as both a teacher and a counselor. Kids give up when any task is too hard. Instead of trying again. And again. And again.
Maybe our tools, like the AI on those new video games, are just too powerful. Why work hard when a machine will do the heavy lifting? Why think and muddle through a problem when Google can probably cough up 10,000 solutions within a fraction of a second?
What I want here is good, old-fashioned stubbornness. I crave the kind of tenacity which kept me and my buddies up all night, stumbling through Hyrule's dark dungeons without the benefit of dozens of online walk-throughs and wikis. Anyone of my generation who played the original Metal Gear on NES will remember how damn hard it was just to get Snake to the first building without dying.
As a writer, perseverance has been my greatest ally. I set out to qualify for active status in the Horror Writers Association about seven years ago. It took a few years to sell my first professional rate piece, and this summer, I've been able to finally make that third qualifying sale. Seven years. Technology has made "success" as a writer far to easy to achieve. Someone turns down your story? Simply self-publish through the miracle of ebooks or the InterwebTM. But none of these quick fixes will ever help a writer hone his or her craft. Perseverance is priceless.
I want my kids to stick with difficult tasks. I want them to ask tough questions and solve challenging problems. I want them to never, ever quit. And I'll work all the rest of my days to make sure they know the value of perseverance.
I bought one of these on eBay a few weeks ago:
LEGO 21110 Research Institute
I paid a premium, quite a bit higher than retail. The set, rather small and originally retailing for just $19.95, has made quite a few Lego resellers fat stacks of profit as they scooped them by the cart load and flipped on eBay, Amazon, and other you-sell-it sites. I'll admit I do a little Lego "investing," too, but not on the scale as major resellers. I've held onto a few Star Wars sets and made a few bucks. Kim can tell you about the Monster Fighters Haunted House on a shelf out in the garage. (Or maybe she can't... it's packed neatly in an inconspicuous brown box.)
One of the big rules of Lego investing is one should enter at a low price. It's frighteningly like the stock market, at at web sites like Brickpicker.com
, it's treated as such. Buy low and sell high. Hold for the long term or occasionally find one of those glorious penny stocks which appreciates rapidly and can be sold short term for huge profits. The cheapest Research Institute available on eBay US as of this writing will cost you $70.04 including shipping. Yes, more than triple the MSRP.
So why break such a cardinal rule to get my hands on this set? Do I see the price rising even higher?
Sure, maybe. But this one isn't for sale. I wanted to grab a RI for my granddaughter. (This is where the audience gasps, thinking something like, "Isn't your oldest kid like a freshmen in high school?")
Look, this isn't a family blog, per se
, but no one here is pregnant.
I'm looking down the road here. Waaaaay down the road. Lego's Research Institute made a huge splash largely because... look closely at the box... it features three female scientists. It garnered a lot of media attention last month, including this article
from the New York Times
, this op-ed
in the Chicago Tribune
, and an online petition
to resurrect the set after its too-short life.
So I mentioned I'm looking down the road. Waaaaay down the road, but the RI isn't about "investing" in the traditional sense. I want to gift this to my future granddaughter because her world (hopefully) will be different than the one in which we live. I want to give it to her and let her know how happy I am she is able to do whatever she wants. I want her to know how happy I am she lives in a world in which a toy set featuring female scientists is no longer a big deal because everyone knows women can kick ass at anything they do.
That's the best investment I can imagine and a world in which I want everyone to live.
This is how I met my wife, a story I've told many times but never committed to paper (or pixels).
During the fall and winter of 1998/99, I worked at an entertainment store as the book department manager. I'll stop short of calling it an actual bookstore, but with the closing of Borders, Hastings is now the biggest store which sells books in Lawrence. Spend one holiday shopping season in retail and you'll want to run away--far away. Sometime in mid-November, we hired seasonal employees to help with the crush of customers.
No, Aimee wasn't a seasonal hire, but her roommate Steve was. He thought I was cute. And nice. And gay...
After sorting out a few personal details (like the fact I wasn't playing for Steve's team, a matter I tried to explain with the best tact I could muster at twenty-three), he decided (reluctantly--still holding out hope, I guess) he should introduce me to Aimee. Several friends of Steve & Aimee's concurred, including a college buddy who was visiting from Chicago one fateful Tuesday in December.
I'd moved to Lawrence that summer to be with another woman... one who promptly kicked me to the curb for a short guy with a beard who looked a little like her father. That, I suppose, could make another interesting tale. Since the messy breakup, I'd kept odd hours. Let's blame it on a wonky retail work schedule, okay? Wonky enough I found myself at the Vermont Street post office at eleven P.M. on Tuesday, December 8th, 1998. What kind of a weirdo goes to the post at night?
Me. I still do it from time to time.
After slipping my package in the appropriate slot, I stepped out of the building for my car, and who should be passing on the street but Steve. And who was in his passenger seat? Aimee.They'd just returned to Lawrence after dropping that mutual friend from Chicago at Kansas City International Airport, the only "international" airport I've ever known with no direct international flights.
My first impression of my future wife? She was short. Very short despite standing nearly 5'10". See, Steve drove a red Honda Civic hatchback, the kind they haven't made for years. Aimee coached basketball for Free State High School in those days, and, wearing sweats and a hat, didn't want to be seen so she scrunched down in the seat. Steve pulled over--much to Aimee's horror--and invited me to a holiday party at their place that weekend.
Ever since that day, Aimee and I celebrated the second Tuesday in December as National Post Office Day, they day she tried not to be seen and I imagined she was about 5'2".
Ever since that day, Tuesdays have been a special day. Have a good one.
On our first "real" date, Aimee and I shared a pizza at Rudy's Pizzeria. On the night before she died, we had another Rudy's pizza with our boys. Our alpha and omega.
Aimee loved Rudy's--she loved pizza in just about any form. On many trips to St. Louis, we would stop at Shakespeare's Pizza in Columbia, one of her favorite undergrad hangouts. No trip home was complete without ordering Imo's--ultra-thin crust "St. Louis Style" pizza. We still have three bottles of Imo's Italian dressing in our pantry.
But Rudy's was our alpha and omega. Our first and last.
I remember so many firsts with Aimee. The first movie we saw in the theater was The Waterboy. (Yes, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it.) Our first bar hop was to the non-defunct Cabaret in Kansas City. The first trip we took together was a midnight escape to Booneville, Missouri. Yes, Booneville. (We drew it out of a hat). We scared some poor Best Western clerk when asking for a room at 2:00 AM and hiked Missouri's Katy Trail the next day.
I remember the first time I said "I love you" in the kitchen of the 1220 House, a rental on Rhode Island Street in Lawrence she shared with Steve and Erika. I remember the first time we kissed, rather old-fashioned like, on the porch of that same house after a date.
The firsts are easy to remember. The lasts, not as much. I never planned on any of them being the "last."
It's a call to appreciate as many moments as we can. Have a good Thursday. Live big.
Aimee's laughter, as many friends and family have shared, didn't just tumble from her mouth. It exploded. I've seen her drop to the floor laughing, like when she received in the mail a certain bridesmaid dress with a rather large "ass bow" on the rear. Her laughter infected everyone in the room.
We shared many private laughs, too, many laughs late at night or early in the morning, laughs to heal hurts and lift each other when life sucked.
While discussing The Things They Carried the other day, a student shared a memory which in turn sparked an Aimee memory--these little grief land mines are everywhere these days. I remembered Thanksgiving eve 1999. Coaching duties at Free State High School prevented Aimee from going home to St. Louis for the holiday, so we visited my aunt and uncle in Kansas City. On the eve, we dined at Panda Garden (still my favorite Chinese-American in Larryville), and crashed in her bed later, telling stupid stories and laughing for hours.
She had a way with the kids, too, especially when they were little. Aimee made all our babies spew fiery little baby giggles. She taught us all to lay on the floor, heads resting on each-others' laps, and laugh. (One you should try, folks. Sounds nutty, but it works.)
I still laugh, and I will keep laughing. But it stings a little. It feels hollow and cheap like the ringing of an ill-made bell. I don't know if it's exactly guilt I feel, or something else. I miss Aimee's falling-down and rolling around laughter, but I'm thankful for such rich memories.
Yesterday, I was doing okay until I staggered into a whole field of "grief landmines". More like I'd been dropped into the middle of the field with a ill-made map.
It all started with the rocking chair in Elliot's room. Made of solid wood by gnomes in upstate Vermont (or handcrafted in a factory... I forget which), it's a beautiful piece of furniture, one which Aimee and I agonized over for hours and several stops at furniture stores before Owen was born. We talked about sitting in it on the porch when we were old and grey... and eventually passing it on to our kids.
That's the part that stuck in my chest: "old and grey." Aimee and I had a lot of plans for being old and grey together--she made me promise to stroke her hair when she was an old lady.
I've been robbed of the chance to fulfill my promise.
And that sucks. Hard.
Friends and family keep asking me how I'm doing. Okay. Awful. Okay again. It comes and goes.
Lonely in a crowd.
And scared some more.
But I'm not ashamed of sharing. Aimee never was--I valued her honesty as much as any other piece of her, and I'm not about to dishonor her memory by clamming up.
Yes. And live hard, too.
A couple of pictures from the vault today: the first Aimee and I took with sunflowers nearly thirteen years ago.
Aimee surrounded by the yellow blooms wearing her Sunflower Bike Shop t-shirt. How appropriate.
Yes, that's me, baby face and all, sniffing a sunflower. Look how non-grey my hair was back then. And no, sunflowers don't really have a lovely flower fragrance. To take the picture, Aimee asked me to climb a little mound and stand in the middle of the flowers. I paid for my compliance with tiny cuts and hives on my arms and legs. She framed my picture (the one above) and kept it on her nightstand until the day she died.
After that first adventure, we took family photos with sunflowers each year. Usually, we'd pose with random "dirt mound" flowers--the small ones from the pictures above which litter Kansas in late summer. A few times we found commercial fields of sunflowers, the big, fat-headed blooms harvested for seeds or floral arrangements. Sunflowers are stubborn plants, and the wild ones crop up anywhere they can find open soil.
Sunflowers held special meaning for us. I painted an arrangement of sunflowers for Aimee's wedding gift. When we honeymooned in Ireland and I started feeling a little homesick, Aimee found a flower shop in Cork and bought me a sunflower. The boys and I made her a triptych of flowers one year for Mothers' Day.
We'll take a family photo this fall, the boys and I in a cluster of yellow, and share memories of sunflowers past.
This message is for men on Mother's Day, a message in honor of Aimee.
Guys, I'll keep it brief: if you have kids--and I don't care if you are divorced, estranged, never married--find your baby mama and go tell her how amazing she is. Now (as in as soon as you finish reading this post). Find your own mom and tell her how amazing she is, too. See a mom on the street with her kids, wish her a happy Mother's Day and tell her how amazing she is. They're all pretty damn amazing.
The truth? None of us would be here without our mothers. If you're a dad, you wouldn't be a dad without a woman who carried your kid for nine months. Anyone who has witnessed childbirth--the everyday miracle--knows women kick much ass in the toughness department.We say these things often ("you wouldn't be here without your mother"), but we seldom take the time or mental energy to really process what it means.
After you tell her how amazing she is, make sure you take care of her. Not just today, but everyday. Not in some creepy Promise Keepers kind of way, either (that's not my message). Just be good to her. Support her. Burn copies of Time Magazine's Are You Mom Enough? issue on the street just to let people know that yes, your baby mama is more than mom enough.
They all are.
A van from Nebraska Furniture Mart delivered what has come to be known as "the big brown couch" yesterday. Back in early March, Aimee, the boys, our good friend John and I spent a day at NFM shopping for just the right furniture for our remodeled basement.
Aimee said, "I want a couch we can all sit on together." The picture can't do this leviathan justice:
The forced perspective (I had to stand on the stairs to capture the whole monster) makes the ottoman look tiny--it isn't. The couch measures 11' x 8'. Yes, it's huge. A true mammoth. In Max's words, "Thank goodness it comes in pieces." Yes, Max. Thank goodness.
I had a moment of pause when I first sat on the couch. Aimee's words came to me--"I want a couch we can all sit on together."
Yesterday, I cleaned my classroom and found some CDs which I'd stashed in my desk years ago. One of them was Under the Table and Dreaming
by Dave Matthews Band. Aimee and I went to a DMB concert back in '99. I still remember what she wore. I listened on the way home while Max munched a fruit by the foot and napped.
These little moments give me pause, a little lump in my throat. Despite the sadness, I've learned to be thankful for good memories. I'm so thankful for all the wonderful memories I shared with Aimee.
*yes, the walls do look bare. I've ordered several vintage movie posters to frame and hang about the room... Clockwork Orange
, Star Wars
(that one's for me and
the boys), The Haunting
(1963), The Black Cat
(1934)... It'll be good.
Yesterday, I checked out of my classroom for the year. I put away all my materials, removed my personal items (photos, books, etc.), and carted them...
To my car.
The outgoing counselor still occupies my future office, and my "replacement" (how I hate that word) has already come to make my old classroom hers. I'm without a home at school.
The rest of my life feels the same... The last two weeks have been obscenely busy, what with end of the year/season parties for soccer, kindergarten (Max), and graduations. But even beyond that, I've felt like a bit of a vagabond since Aimee's death. I've been reeling, readjusting, redefining what my life is, how it will be, what paths I will walk now...
Our principal is retiring. He's had a wonderful impact on school, and I'll miss him especially because his philosophy aligns with my own. From day one, he's been about relationships--you can be the biggest "content expert" on the planet, but fail as a teacher because you fail to make a connection with your students. On Wednesday, he said, "We aren't a factory taking in raw materials and producing a single product... We take in unique materials and produce unique products." How true.
He also went "singer-songwriter" and played/sang a tune with guitar accompaniment. As an ex-band teacher, he's done this before. Sometimes, the songs have been tongue-in-cheek about the budget, angry parents, and government regulations. This time, it was serious--the chorus repeating, "will they [the students] remember my name when they tell their children the story of their lives." He choked up a little when he sang, and I appreciate his honesty.
Those words hit me in the chest, the biggest grief landmine I've found in the last two weeks. I thought of my own kids and how I'd share stories about their mother, and I couldn't stop my own tears. I wouldn't want to.
Here's the nice thing about being a vagabond: when you're on the road, you notice things you wouldn't standing still. A lot of people talk about the "next chapter" of their lives. I don't see the chapter breaks, just a hiking trail with me wondering what lies beyond the next corner. My boots are laced, my bag packed, and a song circling my head.
And yes, if you're keeping score at home, I'm alluding to Langston Hughes's poem, "Let America Be America Again"--read it. And yes, I did do the proper thing by adding an apostrophe and "s" to the end of Hughes. Firefox spell check be damned!
Anyway, I feel the weight of too many expectations these days. I'm "that guy," the one whose wife died in April, the one who has three kids, the one we feel sorry for but don't talk to for long in the line at the store because, quite frankly, we don't know what to say to him and it makes us uncomfortable to try. I recognize there are expectations for a grieving husband, even though every single book on grief I've touched states each individual's grief is unique, not some perfect lock-step schedule. The books started sounding like a legion of broken records, so I set them aside in late April.
I'm taking two classes at the Lawrence Arts Center. The first, Silkscreen, met on Monday for the initial session. I've always enjoyed creative outlets--and once upon a time I spent a year as an art student on my way to a career as art therapist.
Here's what I enjoyed about the class:
I was just another dude in the room. I didn't recognize anyone, and if they knew me (or Aimee), I was none the wiser. How refreshing.
I'm tired of being "that guy." Aimee and I carried each other in many ways during our 10+ years of marriage. Any relationship has a public and private side--a good friend once told me, quite directly, that I am "that guy" whether I like it or not. He's right, but I still weary of it. I know I will always be "that guy," at least in a small sense. I will always be the guy who loved Aimee and tried to do the best by her, tried to care for her in her darkest times.
No--take out the "try". There's no space for "try". I did the best I could for her; I cared for her through some dark, dark days. It's a little red badge of courage and love and commitment and I'll wear those scars with pride until I fly away one day.
But part of me must eventually move forward from here. I need to be more than that guy--I am more than him.
The dream will never be what it used to be, but it can be more. It can grow, fertilized well by my time with Aimee.
Last June, Owen had a chance to sign up for Premier soccer (sort of the top-shelf league in Kaw Valley Soccer). Coach leaned pretty heavily and Owen wanted it. Aimee and I discussed... We talked about our as-yet unborn child, the strain on the family's budget (Premier is fairly costly) and time (most games are in Overland Park--45 minutes away by car).
We decided--as a unit--to wait. Too much travel, too much stress on the family with a baby due. Owen was disappointed. Aimee and I felt like we made the right decision. Parenting is hard sometimes. Damn hard.
Tomorrow, Kaw Valley is hosting Premier tryouts. Owen isn't attending--his decision. He wants to play club at least one more year. I told him it was his choice. I'm proud of him, regardless of what he chooses and how he plays. He's a great kid. So is Max... and Elliot. (Elliot's only six-months old and just popped his first tooth--how can he not be "great"?)
But damn, it's hard doing this alone.
I need my partner.
Miss you, Ziggs.
(a vintage shot of Owen taking a shot... back when he used to play forward in recreation league)
Last Saturday, I stumbled across a picture of Aimee and me dancing at a friend's wedding. It was late 2001, only six months after our own wedding. Aimee's back was turned to the camera, but it was her, wedding hair, red bridesmaid dress and all, while I'm facing the camera. I hardly recognized the boy in the picture--me. My hair was dark and full, my face bone-thin, and my grin full of boyish wonder. I was twenty-six.
Nearly eleven years later, I'm thirty-seven, my hair is a bit more grey, my face fuller, the grin more knowing, the smile of a veteran on the eve of deployment.
There's a line from Pink Floyd's "Your Possible Pasts" (from The Final Cut, their often overlooked last album with Roger Waters) which reads, "I was just a child then, now I'm only a man." I've always liked the song, despite its bleak, rather bitter take on life, and I feel that line more now than ever. I don't know when I became a man--or the man I am--sometime between the photo from that long ago wedding and now. When I look back and think about the years in between, when I think of my journey with Aimee, the birth of our children, our ups and downs, good times and bad, and her death, I realize how much has changed for the boy of twenty-six dancing with his beautiful, newlywed wife.
What would I tell that boy now if I could go back? What could I tell him about what life brought to his stoop, about the challenges he'd face, about the heartache and all the rest?
Keep smiling, I suppose. Love your beautiful wife with as much passion as you can. Life, at its best, is far too short, so live with passion. Embrace it all--good times and bad--and love like your life depends on it.
Today, Aimee and I would have been married for eleven years.
Eleven years ago today, in my room at the Holiday Inn, I dressed in a tuxedo. I drove with a carload of groomsmen to the bed and breakfast to pick up a key, and then on to the church. I stood in the sacristy and munched on Scooby Snacks. A lump clogged my throat as I watched Aimee walk the long center aisle of St. Pius the V Catholic Church. Words swam in my mouth as I recited our vows.
It was, simply, one of my best days on Earth.
Here are three of my favorite pictures from that day eleven years ago, each scanned and coated with a tiny bit of dust. Nothing passes time without a little wear.
Two of my best friends, Aaron Ouelette and Jason Wollenberg, while I'm "faith-healing" on the dance floor at the reception.God, I look so boyish.
We thought it would be a brilliant idea to have champagne poppers instead of seeds or bubbles. Damn those little gunpowder-propelled wads of paper propelled hurt like hell.
My favorite picture from that day--maybe from any day. Give me a million bucks, and I still won't tell you what I whispered in her ear.
Miss you, Aimee. Thanks for ten + years of adventure.
By: Aaron Polson,
Blog: The Other Aaron
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And I spent it in Colorado with my sons. Owen, Max, and I climbed rocks for a beautiful waterfall view, played our third round of mini golf, and snapped photos of a bull elk outside our cabins.
Pictures forthcoming. I promise.
Many folks have already read the article in yesterday's Lawrence Journal-World, but for those who haven't, here's the link: Lawrence Father Recounts Wife's Eight Year Battle...
Thanks to Karrey Britt and Nick Krug for their professionalism and care in putting Aimee's story together.