Tom Cruise on a Couch

The audience always matters.  But the topic is important as well.

A few years back I found myself in a conversation via text message.  As much as I hate the medium for important things, it couldn’t be helped.  We were both at work and circling a topic that didn’t need prying ears to concern themselves with.

Some people in your life you listen to no matter how hard it is to hear what they have to add.  In this case I trust her so much to tell me the right thing that I gear myself up for what can be a disheartening conversation.  Words not meant to hurt but obviously meant to instruct me from a completely different view point.

As the messages passed back and forth something still sticks in my mind.  We were talking about the past, both with a negative spin on something unpleasant.  I wasn’t looking for a show me yours and I’ll show you mine moment, but it sprung up anyhow.

Those moments when you freeze and spin around trying to find the right thing to say?  Not any easier when it’s a text message.  I doubt I would have had the right thing to say had we been sitting face to face across a table.  The urge to get in my car and ask anyway completely took over.  Had miles of pavement and that obvious work issue not been in the way, off I would have gone.  I think?

Part of my education required me to take graduate level psychology classes.  Very difficult to be a behavioral economist without them.  The level of knowledge is dangerous because it isn’t enough.  Not in the ways that matter.  Seeing the signs and knowing how to deal with them can be confusing.  Times when you can’t remain absent or detached are the ones that are the most important.

[This person was the third I called after my daughter died.  My parents, my brother, her.  That’s how much I trust her to say the right things!]

When it was mentioned that something in her past still carried forward into her present and her future, I wanted to just get there as fast as possible and listen.  The explanation could have taken a few minutes or the rest of the day.  Deeply personal or just a series of events that took a life of their own?  I don’t know.

And that still worries me at times…

The last thing I openly stood on a table and shouted out was when we found out about the pregnancy.  Right in the middle of someone’s birthday party I couldn’t help myself.  The ex was not quite happy with that move, but lets call it an overly excited utterance!  Yeah, Tom Cruise on a sofa for Oprah?

It’s easier for me to be in a small group.  Two people talking, maybe three.  Again the topic is very important to the number of people.  The ability to express yourself and ask about others gets limited when their are too many voices.  Drowned out in the opinions is not a good thing.

One of those inner voices sounds like my friend.  Someday I hope to  ask if everything is okay.  But now the miles of pavement are significantly larger between us and I’m just not brave enough to call and ask how her day went.



Counting Voices

Stop Quoting Quantum Leap!

Pat on the Back

My face contorts with confusion since it’s not accustomed to having someone say “Good Job”.  Ego has long ago been replaced by expectations.  The sagging shoulders are a little more curved because they no longer can carry the weight from other people.  It once was easy, now the power of those stresses are too difficult to handle in the previous ways.

Lately my mind hasn’t been a very accurate recorder of life.  Too many seizures along with too many attempts to keep the cancer at bay has resulted in holes in the memory chip.  Things that I once recalled with ease are concepts that feel just beyond my vision.  And then they all come flooding back with the emotional response that follows the confusion.

There are details I don’t care about recalling.  Things that it might be a blessing if they remained buried somewhere and left undisturbed.  Memory doesn’t work that way though.  Eventually my brain inserts a picture at a time it doesn’t belong.

Memory of riding a bike while I’m talking to someone about work.

Holes where my brain momentarily flies back a few years and wonders if the ex will come home.

And the worst part?  Flashes of my daughter during times when I can’t stop them flooding back.

Why it picks those times I haven’t been able to understand.  The doctors tell me to be patient, rewiring synapses takes time.  But then we remind ourselves about the ticking clock in the corner.

So I keep trying to lead a normal life.  My family has never been about accolades beyond diplomas hanging on the wall.  So I grew up looking for approval rather than “Atta Boy!”.  Sports were participated in, not celebrated.  The day I received my doctorate, I went to the office afterwards and worked.

It would have been different for my kid.  I always told her mother that she was capable of anything.  Even when it failed.  Having someone doubt themselves was never an option I could live with.  Not when some simple words can help wipe that away.  All my daughter had to do was come home.  Simple concept.

The reality of still waiting for her to come home is not as simple.

I wish there weren’t any holes about her.  That swiss cheese effect is disheartening!

Missed Connection

Karma Chameleon

After being hopefully surrounded by that brilliant, white light; what’s next?

For the longest time I didn’t believe in Heaven, although I did fervently understand the existence of Hell.  All those questions about why some people and not others was too much for my brain to wrap itself around.  So I went with the easy explanation, there was nothing to see, just move along.

But as life gave me a challenge I wasn’t prepared for, couldn’t have even if I thought ahead, I found myself surrounded by more and more people who made me take a hard look at my theories.  A little different light shining on a subject and maybe a little bit of their words started to shift my thinking.

The fear of missing that person had me hoping that their was a chance that in the future we would get to spend future together.  Lots of science in my argument but it left out the obvious, a mix of faith.  I wanted when my time ended to have the most important people in my life who had left before me to be waiting.  I still feel that way, but I could be wrong.

Science says that there is a limited amount of material in the universe.  It can’t be destroyed or created, just moved around into something different.  Could we be adopting a similar view when it comes to people’s souls?  Only so many to go around and we need to at some point come back.

When I think of dying, I have to consider my experiences surrounding my daughter.  It’s a requirement in my own healing process.  And the first question is “Will she recognize me?”  The obvious answer is yes, but you can’t help wondering.  Now the idea of reincarnation has to come into play.

What happens if someone sent her soul back sooner to make up for ending her time with me much quicker?

Like driving past someone at a street corner and by the time you circle back to flag them down they’ve already moved onto the next place.  A different path than the one you are on.

Lots of existential questions go with that.  Are we always meant to have brief moments followed by absences?  Even if we got back somehow are we going to be part of each other’s new lives or complete strangers with dreams and glimpses of each other?

A long time ago I believed in the presence of ghosts.  The good kind as well as the nasty ones.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of someone grabbing you by the foot and shaking you awake during a particularly annoying case of the flu.  (I can’t explain it and don’t care to anymore.  It shook my rather rigid foundation and I only hope that I was wrong.)  Anyone who laughs at that night just hasn’t had that deep desire for it to be true.  (great, one of the defining components of a delusional state!)

Can we work out a deal where I get to spend a little time with my daughter before she gets sent back?  The good father I want to be needs her to have lived a long life having experienced more than her short time allowed.  If it means missing that connection so that it has even the smallest chance of happening, than the good man I need to be has to wish that.

I guess having dreams for your children never go away, they just need to adapt to the changing circumstances.

A Quaint Curve

Mad Libs



Last week the depression won.  The battle was over before I got into the car and started driving and almost ended with me doing something that would have been an article in the paper.  Sometimes the voices are louder than reason and once in a while they just can’t be quieted.

Getting the anger out of my life has taken work.  Hard work that needs constant care, upkeep, and a very public acknowledgement that it creeps up from beneath the surface.  It’s been suggested that writing a book about my journey would be helpful to others since the topic is usually case studies or medical journals.  Why is that?

Men rarely talk about pain in real terms.

Do you know why History Books were big sellers in the late 2000’s?  They shifted form being academic works and began to tell stories.  Not cold facts, but anecdotes filled with humor to get information across.  Make something accessible and people will flock to it.

Sitting behind a catchers mask, watching a curve ball come at you for the first time is an experience.  The gentle arc it makes catches you by surprise.  Much different from the batter who sees it from a different angle.  You need to train yourself to not jump to the left or right to line up with the ball that is coming right back to where you started.  ((I could tell you about the physics of rotational effects in regards to the seams presenting an optical illusion, but that just is boring and not as romantic.)

With work things, people have always been comfortable letting me be a little abrasive about getting things handled.  Not rude or abusive, they just know I have no issue with being the hard-ass in the room.  Anger doesn’t enter the equation unless I’m dealing with Comcast, then all bets are off!

This anger is a poison.  A chronic condition that springs up at times I don’t really need it.  And when you are feeling low and alone, it is the worst time for it to show up.  A small bump turns into a pothole that swallows the car.

Getting angry about people seemingly forgetting about my kid was necessary.  What should have been done was opening my mouth to say something about it.  Instead the silence rang in my hears like leaving a concert having sat next to the speakers.  It drowned out my only hope for that day.  Just a smile while talking about it for a few minutes.

Those gentles bends in the road that led back home looked more like hard turns.  With each passing light my urge to take the wrong one kept getting stronger.  I don’t really know why I didn’t in the end.  Home was where I sat in the car, listening to the car tick down as the power was cut.  Going inside and handing off the keys and asking they not be returned was the smartest thing I did.

Letting the anger tag-team with the depression was maybe the dumbest?


Sisyphus on Roller Skates

Evasive Action


I haven’t written for days and the thoughts in my head are so scrambled that I really don’t know where to begin my tale.  There’s obviously a beginning.  And I’d be the first to acknowledge that I would skip a few of the details that came before that since I am still hiding them from myself along with anyone else.  Some conversations just can’t pass my lips without darkening the skies for others.

Last week I couldn’t stop thinking about my daughter.  Two years have slipped by and I still have so many questions that just aren’t going to ever be satisfied.  Everyone around me kept asking if I was okay, and I just told them I was tired from a switch in medication.  It wasn’t like I spent my days like a zombie, life does continue just without any color or sound.  But my lie was going to come out and effect those around me just when they thought maybe we had gotten through the worst of it.

The saga of last Thursday is simple.  Don’t ask for even the simplest of help and everything is going to spin off axis very quickly.  Some thoughts take on such huge weight emotionally, they smash anything else.

Sisyphus on roller-skates pushing a flaming piece of lava uphill?

The trigger was simple, a stupid commercial on television.  It led to me wondering if the ex was doing okay on that day.  (to think otherwise means losing some of my humanity, and that isn’t an option.)  Since I was already in pins and needles, it didn’t take much more.  My own family didn’t mention a thing.  It was as if they wanted to forget what to me is the worst thing possible.

So by dinner I was so consumed with anger and fear that I knew it was time to get to the doctor.  Not a panic attack, those are easy to control.  I know those signs all too well.  But I couldn’t stop shaking and my inner demon was whispering nasty thoughts.

The biggest lie of my life has been that I can handle this without help.

Most times it is just something that passes as quickly as it enters my mind.  A flash of memory, some song or picture, little things that bring a moment of melancholy.

Thursday was different.

While for some people this sounds like whining, for me it is the single biggest survival technique I know.  It was hard to admit when someone used this information against me and everyone expected that I would do nothing in return.  Instead I put on my Edmond Dantes mask and went full revenge.  Some things can’t be overlooked.

Yesterday I heard so many people make fun of Rhonda Rousey for admitting that losing a fight put her in such an emotionally low place that she thought about ending her life.  They thought it was stupid that a sport could do that to someone.  It was horrible to hear people tear down someone for being honest about weakness.

A few days had passed since I ran for help as quickly as I could.  The gentle reminders from the family I stay with in Boston that they would have talked all day if that was what I needed.  The one friend I have made this past year basically just giving me a hug and whispering that she’d sit in the chair if that was okay.

Some lies can remain buried forever.  They only slowly destroy.

My lie didn’t want to wait.  I have a serious weakness and always will.  It can be easily exploited.  I guess that protecting my daughter never ends…

730 Days of Clouds

Sudden Shifts

When I sat down behind the wheel of my car the sun was bright.  The sky was clear for miles and the warmth on my face felt good.  I’d gone for a run outside at lunch because it was just one of those days you don’t pass up a few minutes outside, even when you should be in your office!

There was no sense of foreboding.  No sirens or alerts to warn anyone.  The only warning I had was the phone call that came while I was listening to some music anticipating a different conversation.

The skies hadn’t changed colors, but as I pushed the pedal further into the floor I couldn’t see through the water clouding my vision.  While everyone around me was enjoying the same sun that only moments before had felt so great, the day felt like a hurricane bearing down on me.  I was dodging things that weren’t there and as my heart raced the world was crumbling behind me.  The road surface disappearing in my mirror.

Sitting in the backseat of my father’s SUV racing towards John’s Hopkins Campus, curled up on the tile floor still not able to see anything, trying to eat a bowl of soup my mother later made while I sat not having any words; all just images that appear when I blink.  Nothing makes sense, everything about the rest of that evening is lost to me.  And I am trapped between feeling grateful my brain is trying to protect itself and angry for the same reason.

730 days have passed since the clouds took over and I haven’t seen the sun the same way.  The prism of color that used to exist is now just shades of grey, the world feels like I’m beneath the water’s surface and spinning while trying to find air.  A chance to breath without this dullness in my chest that grief and confusion has applied for permanent residence status.

It’s selfish and I make no excuses for my feelings, February 11th, 2014 changed everything in ways that I’m still recovering from.  Some times I know I never will and other times I’m afraid that I might.

I’m just a dad who doesn’t know how to stop acting like one…

Unbroken Spine

Second Time Around

It’s not a book I can go back to.  To be clear, I’ve never been able to crack open the cover without needing to put it back on a shelf.  I bought the book knowing that I was going to read it over and over again, but that never happened.  The words written are completely lost to me.


I love to read and when this book was announced, I ordered it on the spot knowing it would be months before Amazon delivered my package.  Even when I could go up and get an electronic version of the book early, I passed because it was supposed to be a shared experience.

Life changed and I didn’t think about cancelling the order.  It wasn’t even in the top hundred things on my mind.  By the time it showed up in my mailbox, I had forgotten.

I placed it on a shelf and didn’t say anything to the ex about it having arrived.  The spine was turned around and set high enough to not be in any other person’s view.  Some things you can ignore, even try to hide, but you know they are there.

This odd gift of genetics has allowed me to remember just about every page I have ever read.  Text books from college, some article in the newspaper, a short story a friend wrote about her discomfort with a work colleague that was absolutely hilarious and even contained artwork.  They are trapped inside my head.

I tried to re-read Stephen King’s IT, but I knew the details of the next page while reading the current one.  And I really like that story.  For me, I’m grateful to be able to read people’s blogs because I see something new and while some themes are familiar, their presentation is not.

Of all the things I miss about being a parent (although I’m always going to be one) is the desire to sit on a couch a read books together.  Even if those pages were shown on a screen, swiping to the left every so often; that shared time means the world to me.  There was going to be a time when the situation would have turned, years in the future, her reading to me because I couldn’t find my glasses!

The most important thing a parent can share is their time.  Nothing else matters in the end.  Even if that time is short, maybe only reading 40 pages of a children’s book while laughing at the pictures…

Maybe I should re-phrase that part, the most important thing any person can share with another is their time.

Simple Lessons

Naked with Black Socks

Sometimes I ramble…

Sometimes I know I’ve lost my audience because I’m two paragraphs ahead in my presentation, silly brain!

And other times I know that I’ve hit the right spot with people from the looks in their eyes.  Not on their faces, but you can see that cog turning when they can relate, just like a good book.

One of the things you learn early in my family is to be comfortable around people.  The kids are taught to converse with adults and not run away to hide in their bedrooms.  It helped that everyone was on a first name basis by the time I was 12.  That also might have been because I was a head taller than plenty of the people talking.  We all say we don’t judge people on appearances, but when you look like an adult you learn to act like one as well.

When we are sticking with economics, I have been fortunate enough to sit in a room with Nobel Prize winners and talk respectfully about their specific field of study.  It helps that we are all a little nerdy, so we understand that at times we can also be off-putting.

College lectures, presentations to government officials, I have done them all.  Graduate school put those kids in my world, my career the rest of them.  The one common thing is that everyone wants to feel smart about any topic.  The minute you treat them like less, you lose them faster than if you stuttered your words out.

Egos are funny things if you allow them to take over…

I also have found myself standing in front of people and hanging my head low admitting my faults.  Mistakes that have knocked the train so far off the rails it might be easier to just get a new train than try to fix the old one.  I certainly have done it in this blog.  not the same as a speech, with eyes looking upon you, but public enough.

Being able to communicate is a fundamental skill.  Telling a class what to do, telling your spouse what you need, telling the world that at times you are scared of what tomorrow might bring.  There’s no need to stand in the public square and bemoan not getting the latest iPhone, but sometimes you need to wear your thoughts on your sleeve in order for your world to get better.

I’ve never gotten up from any person’s presentation, learning something new is important to me.  Also making them feel as if they are being heard is important.  Every person has doubts about what they are saying, or at least if they are saying it the right way.  There is nothing more gut-wrenching than having someone leave while you are talking, only to not return.  (nature does call at odd times?!!)

It is the one skill that I always taught, listen as well as you speak.  All voices should be heard, even disagreeable ones.  It says more about a person who can hear than a person who needs to shout to be heard above all else.

Dr. Tyson

Voice Work

Sometimes the line between fantasy and fact has become blurred in the journal I keep.  Separate from the blog, which at times picks up on themes I’ve been working through, only I read this.  A few months back I gave a lecture on the ability to use writing as a method for healing.  In my case it was mostly limited to ideas about my daughter with some of the cancer stuff thrown in.  I could hear every note of her voice as I constructed this “new world”.  It was supposed to help.

At times I know that I have crossed into a delusion that takes some effort to come back from.  Not understanding that no matter what I write, as much as it helps me feel anything at the time, it can’t become real.  Getting drawn in, like an addict knowing that with the next fix their world will go numb, I keep writing those stories.

Pages in a notebook, reflections of diodes on a computer screen, it will some day fall into the hands of people who are going to be upset not really knowing that these thoughts occupied a space still.  Time heals certain wounds, but trying to decide how to live a life on a path I didn’t chose, good luck with that.

I tried to explain Black Holes to my nephew.  He’s seven years old and asked a question.  I ended up scaring the life out of him with my description.  That’s why I wish Neal DeGrasse Tyson had been in the room.  He would have made it so simple my nephew would have been able to recite the entire story without any gaps.  And certainly not the nightmare I might have induced.

A voice that might be able to capture what I am feeling as much as what I am writing means a lot to me.  This topic has always been deeply personal, having someone who knows when to pause at the right moments helps.  Where my voice, even the inner one, cracks with certain words or ideas; I believe his might be able to carry a strength mine lacks at times.  Not for lack of conviction, but just my own fears coming through and forcing me to relive something few understand.  (And I’m grateful my own family can’t understand.  There will be time for that in the future…)

My daughter was a ray of light in my life.  And like any ray it gets broken up by things in the atmosphere and scattered around in smaller pieces.  It’ll be ten thousand years before the light from her candle reaches some other life in the universe.  But it still shines.  Having someone offer that lesson up is more than I think I may be capable of.

I believe that the part that scares me most is finding that I no longer have any stories to write.  That my hopes have left and the stark reality of life replaces everything.