Today’s Lesson, Pay Attention Students!

My daughter’s name is Abigail while that has always been something I keep out of my writing, today I have a reason to share it.  But we’ll get to to my explanation, let’s talk about learning new things.

Yesterday morning I was trying to go through some work for the office.  Simple enough task and then the phone rings.  Everyone is accustomed to doctor’s offices leaving some automated message reminding you to show up for your appointment.  Only this time when I was ready to hit the #1 for “yes, I get it!” and human voice starting talking to me.  That appointment I had for the end of the week became “We have an opening this afternoon at 2:30.  And when you come, please think about bringing a bag with whatever you might need for the next few days.”

Oh, shit!

So, lots of paperwork later I’m resting comfortably in my room having spent last night reading up on tomorrow’s second attempt as evicting the former roommate from my head.  There were a few boxes left in a corner of the closet that we seemed to have missed, or maybe in my absence a new squatter has found a home?

After years of learning about economics and human behavior, I keep finding myself becoming a novice investigator into the workings of cancer.  When House, M.D. ran on television the former Mrs. Lary would joke about how I either was writing the episodes or knew someone who was inspired by my lacking attitude about human interaction.  It wasn’t in a cruel manner, just a joke about how she thought there were only one person around who was emotionally stunted but used his brain to compensate for other feelings he couldn’t express.

I’m a huge nerd!  I used to watch Star Trek and most of the iterations of spin-offs.  They start by letting people know it’s a show about exploring the farthest reaches of space to gain knowledge.  But the entire time we are reminded that at the same time they are trying to explore the inner workings of relationships, the limitations of humans to grow, basically they are telling us that we haven’t yet begun to understand the possibilities of what is possible.  My family was shocked when I picked up and left Boston after college to teach in Florida.  It was so out of character that they didn’t know how to respond.  I think they worried about the kids more than anything, but after sitting in on a class one day they got it.

There were times when I would visit with my extended family and by the end of a day, the ones who understood the value of learning were sitting in various corners reading.  Sometimes 10 people in complete silence with books propped up against their faces.  It seemed weird when I was 12, but these days I get understand.

In my family it isn’t about learning one thing, it’s about learning everything.  My dad and I can argue about Black Holes.  My mother, she wants to hear about competitive advantages people use in cooperative games.  My brother still likes his music and with an almost 7 year old, biographies of musicians are his thing.  The ex works for a large university and is surrounded by books.  Hell we met while I was managing a bookstore!

So why talk about my daughter’s name?  It came from Abigail Smith Adams, wife of the second President of the U.S. and she’s my aunt.  History is big for me.  Tying those two together was fun.  For quite some time people were afraid I was going to insist on Quincy since I was joking around about that name.  Again, a family thing and if you have ever visited Massachusetts you understand the significance.  It you haven’t, too many things in the greater Boston Area are named for that family, my family.  It was an albatross when I was younger, people knowing that about me.  Expectations of others sometimes blinding them to the fact I was a different person.  These days, I’ll wear the shirt with my family tree on it proudly.

Family is important to me.  Even the ones I can’t stand to be in a room with under any circumstances.  We all have that aunt who we hope finds other plans for the holidays.  Then you realize that even her kids are coming to your place, so you suck it up!

With everything happening to me I wanted Abby to be part of more than just my memories.  Having her name spoken or at least out in the world means that she gets to carry on in ways that I can’t provide for her.  The hardest thing is both hearing her name and not ever hearing her name.  It was a huge problem between me and the former Mrs. Lary, not talking about her in any manner.  It absolutely didn’t work for me, and talking about it absolutely didn’t work for her.  You get past something by dealing with it, not ignoring the 1,000,000 pound gorilla in the room sitting on your chest!

Buried under the tree for Abby in my yard back in Maryland is a small box of letters.  Just things I had needed to get out there.  Included is a card with the following statement –

If I had to chose between breathing and loving you, I would tell you I love you with my last breath.

I had seen the phrase and wrote it down because it was a message I wanted her mother to have, but that changed before I could deliver it.  But it also is something I want my daughter to know.  And while her father is worried about the outcome of tomorrow’s surgery, it’s an important message.

So while I’m still learning about myself, today anyone reading this got to learn a little about her.

Class Dismissed…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Lazy Learners.”

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Kid Brothers

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That my kid brother laying on the floor next to me.  I’m going to guess that I’m 4 and he’s 2?  He’s just under two years younger than me and if I could go back in time, he would be the guy I would spend the day with.  Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves, I can pick up the phone anytime and give him a call; we just don’t talk as much as we could.  Or maybe we don’t talk about what we should, that’s probably a more likely description.

My parents raised two children in the same household with the same amount of love and understanding given to each of us.  Somehow we went in different directions with those lessons.  I was taught to be so protective of the family that at times outsiders see it as me being completely in charge of the world.  People commented last spring that they weren’t sure my parents could function on a certain level because they had become accustomed to my handling people and problems.  They hand-off the problems to me and let my brother handle things like “what’s for dinner?”

I protect my brother from handling some of the nastier things in life.  I even used to handle some of the mundane things in life.  Fun fact – just the notion of someone opening National Geographic Magazine to a picture of a snake will send him into a tailspin of panic.  He took my nephew to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and stood outside the reptile pavilion while the kid went inside.  So I’ve in the past driven an hour to his place to cut the lawn!  (disclosure- he has never been bitten by a snake, never had one slither across a tent when we used to be Boy Scouts; I have no explanation for it.)

Age and just general differences in us meant we never played on the same sports teams.  I still make fun of him playing t-ball because the rules changed for the league between the times we separately starting playing.  These days people are so worried about kids getting hit, I remember getting hit in the head and being told “Walk to first base Lary!”  Times have changed.

I would have liked to play those games with my brother.  Have a different set of memories.  Playing pickup games with the neighborhood kids worked for a little while, but that age and my height advantage (he’s 5’10” and I’m 6’4″) took away some fun.  The last time we played basketball his mouth kept running and I kept blocking his shots, big brother took over for an 10 minute period.

Now when we talk, which isn’t anywhere near what it should be, we discuss my nephew or some music thing.  He’s never been able to talk to me about my daughter and what happened.  We absolutely don’t talk about the cancer because he doesn’t know how to accept a world where I can’t just show up and fix things.  I wish we had a better relationship, one where we could talk rather than just speak.

If it were 1978 again, maybe I could get him to play some video game with me.  Maybe I could have taught him how to ride that wagon down the hill in front of our house?  It’s not about regret, it is about wondering if maybe some of those differences growing up might have been better bridged if we did more things together rather than apart.

A day now where we just sat on the deck drinking a cold something talking about anything other than the mundane would be great.  I want to know that my brother will be able to handle things when I’m not able to.  I can only plan for so much in life, there are details I’m going to miss.

When that picture was taken we were crashed on the floor of my mother’s parents living room floor.  I’m glad someone thought to take it.  Might have been the most peaceful time they had with us around.  Two boys destroying the house…

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Life’s a Candy Store.”

Racing for October

October can’t get it fast enough.  I realize it is only a few days away, in cosmic terms less than a blink of the eye.  But at the moment it is a lifeboat floating just on the horizon that I’m paddling to with all of the strength and emotional fortitude I can find.  When I search the recesses of my mind, nothing has gone even remotely wrong during that month at any point in my life.  I actually can find multiple things that are worth celebrating.

Years ago October brought into my life the very essence of the person I become when I was a teenager.  Her time wasn’t long enough, but her mother has helped me over the past three decades whenever I have needed a lift.  Kathy and her family have opened their world to me and made it a point to continually remind me that they aren’t going anywhere.  For me that is important, knowing that even when I’m at my worst [and there are times when I can be quite obnoxious].  They may need to leave the room for a few minutes but they also always come back.  That all started in an October back in 1987!

The end of the month isn’t a bad place to be either.  Halloween is fun, but another person who tried to make it her goal in life to find a cure for the cancer eating away was born that day.

In between?  I can’t recall too many things that I carry forward that would cause even a moments pain.  All good memories.

The most important of them will always start, just like the month, with finding out I was going to be a father.  I’ve given lots of space to dealing with her death, but I try hard to find solace in those moments where she brought me the most joy.  I wish they weren’t so compact, like her life, but they bring me such joy that I still want to celebrate them in any way possible.

The day hadn’t even begun when the doctor’s told us about our impending addition.  4 in the morning?  But the sun rose differently that day, everything that was impossible felt possible as I drove back to the house.  The sunroof open, music going so loudly with my voice banging out a stupid tune, I wanted that feeling to never end.  In many ways I needed that feeling to never end.

I tried to concentrate at work, but I kept going from site to site looking at various toys, furniture, clothes for the as yet undetermined child.  I kept finding these really cute dresses, somehow my mind and maybe my heart really wanted a little girl.  Another person who was going to be able to round out the harshness that I sometimes brought along with me.  The fact I still keep my copy of “Vader’s Little Princess” on my tablet as a reminder of a story I could have read daily?  I wish people could have known me during that time.  I thought that everything was possible, nothing couldn’t be conquered; life even with it’s imperfect moments was perfect at every moment.

Last year I was dealing with so many other things that I later felt guilty when I couldn’t find the time or energy to do the right thing.  Not just the two minutes it took to post a picture and write some Japanese phrase on Facebook.  I was so lost in her mother having left that I couldn’t see the positive thing I should have been holding onto.  The amazing amount of guilt I carry sometimes makes me forget that for a few moments it’s okay to feel something other than pain.

So when I get up on Thursday morning and look out the window, she’ll be the only thing I think about.  She needs to be the only thing I think about.  I owe her that tiny bit of myself.  I actually owe her more than that.  She re-enforced something that I forgot about myself, that someone could make me mindlessly blissful without doing a thing.  Her mother had the same effect on me.

October can’t get here fast enough.  And when it does my heart is going to open for a little while and recall all that is possible.  I can’t say it often enough or even loudly enough, I love her to pieces.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Yin to My Yang.”

Sleeping Beauties

Last night was their turn to take care of me, but this morning is my turn to take care of them. It was just another example of one of those times when getting off the couch was too damn difficult, so we tried to make it into some “camping” trip. Marshmallows by candlestick, hot chocolate sitting in cups, and blankets pulled over us as the nights in Massachusetts are starting to reflect the season’s change.

As the night drew on, it became clear I wasn’t going to make it to my bed. It happens to everyone at some point. Crashed out on the sofa because you worked on some project and just collapse in the most convenient place. I’d like to say it was a reminder of basketball camp where I’d spend 7 hours learning some new tricks and rush home to play against my friends, only to fall asleep as soon as the dinner dishes were cleared. But this time it’s just different.

“Hey, are you sure you don’t need a little help getting to the bathroom before you call it an evening?”

“Uncle Lary, I put the pills on the table next to you. Did I forget anything?”

Simple, kind, heartbreaking statements reminding me that at times I can’t do some daily tasks without help. Without someone double checking that I am alright.

I forced myself into the kitchen so they could continue to sleep. I know they stayed up later than they should and were doing the equivalent of sticking a mirror under my nose. Sometimes they feel helpless too! But seeing the blankets stretched around them, pulled tightly up to their chins my mind is trapped in memories of the past and concerns about the future.

Sunday mornings used to be about me sneaking out of bed and going for a run. Offering to make anything she wanted for breakfast by the time I was done my thing. It was the one time during the week that I could “baby” someone without time or people getting in the way. Times change…

Today, I’m trying to just get some pancakes ready without making too much noise. But if I ducked in the room I’m sure that people have stirred and are just trying t o help by letting me make an effort. Any effort to be normal, feel normal. So I quietly have laid out some bacon on a sheet to bake. I’m not eating it, but the smell sure does mkae me want to give up the veggie lifestyle!

Yesterday I felt like a failure, some from writing and some of it came from just not being able to do the things I want to do. Knowing tomorrow I have to be able to move around, get from place to place means that today I will continue my quest for the most comfortable position the couch has to offer. Watch a football game and enjoy the sounds of life swirling around me.

Sunday’s are different now. There neither better or worse. No, I think they are worse but that’s because my mind needs to find a comfortable place to be. Holding onto the past is better than contemplating the future where Sunday’s are fewer than they were last week or last month. But holds true for everyone.

I promise that I am doing everything I can to fight. Fight the depression, fight the cancer, fight the urge to just say “Screw it!” Sometimes they win but sometimes I am able to hold my ground and not fall backward. It may not by progress, but it surely isn’t losing any more ground.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “When Childhood Ends.”

Choices, More Choices

The answer to that is simple, the thing I fear the most is living.  Or maybe it’s not living, depends on how you use it in a sentence.  When I’m out among the living, I feel like I’m not living?  Not quite the notion I’m trying to capture, but the phrase sounds about right.  There are ties when I believe it best if I did just pick up my stuff and find a place to get the medical attention I require without needing to have my family involved.  There’s some major guilt that resides behind having brought Kathy and her family along for this journey.

Those late nights when she is trying to hide her voice while talking to someone on the phone that she fears walking up one day only to find that I haven’t.  It’s a hard mindset to have when you find yourself coming to terms with that being as much a possibility as the sun rising that morning.  I don’t know who she is talking with, but I have a feeling that it is most likely my mother.

I’ve lived through the worst that life could offer, the daughter thing, the ex becoming the ex shortly after, the return of the cancer.  Not only have I dealt with those life altering facts, but somehow gotten to a point where they don’t cripple my actions.  Plenty of people go through those issues and come out damaged but living.  I’m still in that stage of my life where “walking wounded” is a better description.

I love the sunrise, but I fear the sunset.  The explanation is easy, I got through another day, but will I get through another?  Learning to make healthy decisions about the things that matter has drastically been altered by those previously mentioned ordeals.  Searching for answers while not wanting to involve any other person, fearing that it will hurt them more than it already has.  A blinding rage at myself for making choices that hurt me while protecting others, I’m still learning to figure out how to retrain my brain.

I did my wounded dog crawling into the woods routine.  Leaving my home, the support of my family, even work things just so I could hold my head up in some fashion and say “I left so the rest of you didn’t get dragged down.”  It wasn’t a healthy decision, it was made from fear of hurting.  I’m embarrassed to say that there are times when I still utter two names that just aren’t going to be there to hold my hand.  One I shouldn’t be, a perfect little girl.  The other, well she still has a power in my brain/heart I haven’t worked past.

Making choices with my “ego”, worried about how others are going to judge me has not been an issue.  The echoes of blame rest firmly in my ears, those chains wake me up shaking from the reminder of failures.  Even those I couldn’t control, events that others should have known better then to blame me for.

I used to be frightened of dying, but at times I wonder if that really is the end.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Must Not Fail.”

Kudos to My Mom!

Let’s talk about my mom for a while.  She’s been having a hard time lately dealing with the shifts in her world.  For most of my life she worked herself crazy so that she could provide everything my brother and I could possibly ever need.  She always felt that if her staff was pulling long nights trying to complete a project she should remain in the building.  Part cheerleader, part hovering mother making sure food was delivered and that they knew their every effort was appreciated.

She learned that from my grandfather who worked very hard to build something that remains until this day.  A business that I run in my “spare” time.  That same business that faltered a few years ago and started such issues between me and the ex”s family.  Now I’ve straightened the ship with help and hopefully we won’t run into the same problem.  But I also know there will be others in the future we don’t see coming!

My mother started knitting baby blankets like a maniac after my daughter died.  Twenty of them a month that go to the local hospital so that every child born has something unique and special to call their own.  She doesn’t put a label on them, never takes any credit or even acknowledges that she is the one who does them.  My mother even tries to make up for some births than there are blanket for by having someone get a new blanket to the family should they want one.

It’s an obsession born out of grief and a feeling of helplessness.  She found a way to turn her hopeless feelings into something positive.  We talk about how we feel about not having some little girl to play dress up with, and believe me my mother would have made up for two sons and a grandson by spoiling my daughter.

My mother taught me by simply watching her that women can do anything and in some cases better than any man could.  I didn’t need to hear the words, her actions created a path to understanding that.  I throw a football like a girl because of her.  That’s not an insult, just something different about the motion I use.  [this is the joke about boobs getting in the way!]

When my father was travelling for work, she jumped in wherever she could.  Even in areas she knew nothing about, or even made the situation confusing; she tried.  A lesson that I carry with me, trying is so much better than just avoiding something.

Paying forward a lifetime of love and help can only come in one manner, passing along what she taught, who she is.  I know how hard it is for her having me hundreds of miles away dealing with an incredibly hard medical situation.  She fears the next phone call will be the last.  I’ve been there, I understand that panic all too well.

Mom is taking clothes to a drive today for kids who have nothing.  She was upset because she didn’t think it was enough and wanted to do more.  She actually went to Old Navy and picked up brand new things to add to her boxes.  I wonder if the clothes and other things from my house I have asked them to donate went with her.  I doubt it, she still isn’t ready to part with those things.  [I’m not sure if I am either, but it’s easy to ask when you aren’t around to see the result.]

Tomorrow morning when the niece shows up for breakfast we’ll talk about her week.  All of those lessons my mother taught me are going to come out in small ways.  No matter what she tells me, the only thing that matters at the end of the conversation is letting her know I’m proud of her.  That she can be anything, everything all at once.  Hopefully that isn’t a burden on her shoulders?  I know it has at times been hard for me.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pay It Forward.”

Fork, Spoons, and Knives in the Road

For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, “It might have been.”

My uncle wrote those words 150 years ago, approximately.  You never really know when the idea sprang into his head and when he might have taken the opportunity to write them down.  But those New England poets of the mid-19th Century were a melancholy bunch who alternated between religion and death.  I guess when you spend too much time staring at the snow, you get a little bit of the blues.

When Yogi Berra died the other day I loved hearing the lists of catch-phrases he had coined over the years.  The ones we still use in our everyday lives without even knowing he was the one who first spoke them.  “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”  A good man on the baseball field, and a better man off of it teaching anyone he met lessons about how to live.  His impact is going to be felt well beyond the time when people still say his name.

Seizing life and making the most of any given moment is the best we can hope for.  Having the dream that at some point our reach truly can exceed our grasp is what we teach kids, teenagers and forget as the harshness hits that adulthood can bring.  Tiny victories become the engine that turn the wheels and moves me forward.  Getting up and being able to get myself dressed and functional amounts to a huge victory.  There are days when that it very hard, not just physically but emotionally as well.

I spend a lot of time, maybe too much time thinking about how just the smallest of detail might have changed the outcome with my daughter.  For a while it drove me nuts, sitting in the hospital crying kind of nuts.  Trying to identify the fork that might have me driving a kid to school rather than watching from the window as others do what to me is now a dream.  Every parent says they would trade their lives for their child, I know I would.

When I speak about it, it makes the reality of my pain that much more real.  “Living lives of quiet desperation?”  I see so many faces while getting treatments at the hospital, There are so many times when I want to get out of my own world and give a complete stranger a hug or a warm hand on their shoulder.  It isn’t being altruistic, the sense of isolation even in a crowded room makes me want to reach out for them.  I don’t because I’m more scared of getting hurt again than anything else.  A daily reminder that while I’m breathing, I’m not really living.  Praying that at some point the damage of losing people can go back to being a fact of life, but not an all-consuming fear.

In a couple of weeks I’m supposed to give a speech.  They asked knowing that even up until that day things are in flux with my ability to communicate thoughts clearly.  They have a back-up plan in case I can’t be there.  But they want me to sit in front of a room and talk about how I’m dealing with loss.  All that I have experienced, everything I know about the subject that I’m willing to share.  Ever seen someone break down on stage?  I’ll give you the address and you can come see for yourselves.

There are a few things that I would like to have done differently, but I don’t know of the eventual outcome would have changed the long term effects on my life.  There are people I want back, there are some words I would like to take back as well; but in the end my not sure.  My mother jokes about how my massive brain can be shut down with a simple picture or reminder of my daughter.  Guess what, she is the best part of anything I could have ever done.  That’s my out of reach, a dream of the future once spoken.  Now silent.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Out of Reach.”