Path of No Resistance

Fierce

I wish I had the strength to open her letter.  It’s not a physical thing, but my emotions get so far out of check about certain people and events that I have done my best to hide from them.  And now I carry this note with me wherever I go.  The joys of email that is synced to my phone and tablet.  There is only so fast you can run from something that is sitting within your grasp.

It’s been two years since I’ve spoken with her.  And that conversation didn’t go well.  It was after my daughter had died and neither of us knew what to do for each other.  So silence became the path of no resistance.  Never far from my thoughts, but distance was what we both needed.  We shared some of the same reasons and on some level knew there was pain that couldn’t be avoided for either of us.

Friends are funny things.  They can be thousands of miles away and yet right next to you all at the same time.  I ran so quickly to Boston that I didn’t leave a forwarding address.  And I didn’t try to involve others in what has become a futile attempt at life.

When  you wind down a business most people try to do it quickly and with little fanfare.  I’ve been applying that same theory to my own life.  Just a notice my parents will eventually send out letting people know the cancer did it’s job.

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it hardens it.

Even while I’m typing this all I need to do is switch over the window and there it will be, sitting in the folder with her name and a number behind it.  Some days it would blink throughout the day with updates and replies, other days silent but always a welcome diversion to whatever was happening.

Last week when it light up all I felt was panic.  Pain and anxiety, worry that something had happened to her family or someone else where she felt the need to inform me.  It took most of the day to fight off those feelings.  To hold back every desire to just click here.

If this had been a piece of paper, I could have put it in a drawer.  Waited for a time when I could emotionally handle the words.

I love the feeling of having just finished a run and the sweat is dripping so rapidly my socks are starting to cling to my feet.  Water stinging my eyes and my knees are burning from the miles of pavement left behind.  This I can’t move fast enough from.

Hopefully soon I’ll be ready to read even the couple of sentences this might contain.  I don’t know, maybe during a therapy session in case I just let my feelings for the past overcome the wall I have built in my present.

I do miss my friend.  Staying silent was the last act I could think of to let any of them live without fear.  Only now I fear a silly letter.

Ebony and mostly Ivory

Muse

There are a few chips from us being careless over the years.  Nothing that changes the sound but the keys that once where bright have faded over the years.  And for a few years no one touched it other than to sweep away the dust collected from the plant sitting on top.  Hours of my rear end sitting on that bench having a teacher actually swat my hand when I was wrong.  [She was a perfectionist, 9 year old me was not!]

When my parents sold their house during my senior year in high school, Kathy volunteered a place in her house for me to keep my piano.  By that point I was a better player and it kept us both remembering other things that were simpler.  Even after college the joke was I had to remember to make arrangements to move it to my own home.  26 years that has been a constant reminder of my place in her life.  [at least a visual, daily companion.]

Long ago I stopped playing for other people.  Trading synthesizers for an actual piano, headphones keeping the sounds to myself.  The emotions I was feeling remaining there are well.  So when Kathy got home from wherever it is she went, I didn’t bother stop playing this time.  I was caught in a loop of wanting to finish what I was doing and knowing that it was helpful for her to know I trust her enough to allow myself the release that comes from that piano.

I’ve played in bands during college and for a few years after.  Guys sitting in the basement of a frat house or in someone’s garage pretending we were Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin?  But that’s different, you blend in.

The technician at my latest poke and prod session was playing a version of Sound of Silence I hadn’t heard.  A little heavier than Simon and Garfunkel intended, but the use of strings and timpani caught my attention.  So when my ride dumped me off at home I sat down to try to mimic what I thought I heard.

It’s a very basic song for piano.  My issue is the muffled sounds in my right ear, damn seizures!  But after Kathy listened for a while, she did the one thing I have never understood, taped it.  From the backside you can’t tell I’m sick, you only see me leaned over.  Later she sent it to the family just so that they could see me the way they need to.  The only reason I even know is that I’m including in the list.  No one ever wrote me about it, they know better.

It was like seeing Bigfoot or the Lock Ness Monster, rare but seems to happen a few times in people’s lives.

What you can’t see on the screen is the picture of my daughter on the phone or how it is sitting next to the picture of Kathy’s daughter.  I’m trying to be open to the idea that somewhere in space and time they are looking out for each other.  They were the reason I felt the need to sit down.  I wanted to have an audience even if they were only in my mind’s eye.

Getting those emotions out for a little time was wonderful.  They remain locked up too often.  Those too girls made for great muses and in their own way always have.  Maybe the song was just what we all needed.

Strong Words, Stronger Feelings

Crisis

We’re going down the personal lane this morning, so if you’re not in the mood, skip ahead to someone else.  But I need this to be out there…

I’d been looking forward to watching this silly cartoon.  The latest Batman thing hit the stores and I was school boy curious about it.  Too tired, just hit pause and watch it later.  Usually these are the things I just watch on my own because rarely do others share my giddy feelings.  Last night was different.

Without getting into a movie that I ultimately didn’t like, it just destroyed a strong character for no reason other than to add length to the presentation.  Having a friend openly join me knowing the evenings plan, and to do it willing and without hesitation, normally I would question their sanity.

No cell phone watching, her attention was on the screen for most of the time and making sure I was okay the rest.  Long ago we had that talk about what we both needed from each other.  Strong shoulders from each, for each, and the rest of the world would just work its way out.

So rather than go home and just enjoy the silence of her own place, her teenage daughter at camp for the week, she was sitting on the couch?  We split some salads and I stared at the cookie but passed.  The only disagreement was her pulling on the blanket that spanned the both of us, but mostly it was a joke.

I couldn’t help but ask as we each picked up our leftovers to head our separate ways, “Could I ask why you would put yourself through that cartoon?  Not your normal viewing.”

What I expected to hear was not what I got.  I handed her the bag with tomorrow’s lunch and walked toward the door.  It was early, most nights I can’t stay up late, other times the medication just wears me out in a different way.  So 8 p.m. and I’m getting my evening ritual started.

“It’s more than being worried about you.  Some days when you are asleep and I’m awake I wonder if I’ve done enough to help.  I want to do more.  But love makes people do things for others at strange times.”  And out the door she walked.

I watched her go and never said anything in response.  She knows all of the damage, the stuff you see and the stuff she has had to hear.  That has worked both ways, I know her secrets as well.

There was never a chance to respond, she knew better than to wait.  It would have taken me forever to say the wrong thing anyway!

My assumption has always been that someone was going to get hurt.  I also knew it was going to be her, because I was the one leaving at some point.  We decided during some silent conversation we would live with that, while trying to live with the daily issues.

Her husband was a piece of work [really a piece of shit].  I don’t want her or her daughter to feel an ounce of pain because of me.  They seem to think I’m worth it, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, knowing her daughter also will at some point see this and write me a oddly worded email talking about how she doesn’t see the difference between me and the boys at school [a reference to maturity, I’m sure], let me say this as simply as possible.

The people I have surrounded myself with I love deeply.  Without reservation and without an ounce of regret.  Those not around that is for a reason.  I don’t have the time to spend with people who aren’t going to be there when  I need them.  Lived that life, it hurt.  Those scars are on the outside as well as the inside.

I could have Han Solo’d it and replied “I know!” or “Ditto”, but hopefully those words echoing into the humid air as the door closed didn’t need a reply.  I appreciate every moment, I’m lucky to have people who care.

Inevitable Probabilities…

Mask

One minute, it changed in just a simple blink of an eye.  At least from my perspective, for the people around me it went on for two days.  Caught in a moment that lasted much longer than I could have imagined.  Eventually all things catch up to you and last weeks running around pretending I can do anything I want smacked me in the back of the head as a reminder that wasn’t the case.

It took a minute to understand my surroundings and the presence of my mother.  Under the fastest of scenarios she couldn’t be in the same room with me in under six hours.  So when I last remembered Thursday and the television in the room was running a scroll that said Saturday, time had hit a pause.

The worst thing I can think of experiencing is being there one moment and not there the very next.  It happens in life and I didn’t want my family to understand it the same way I do.  Having the door slammed in your face and locked out of a portion of life for reasons you never understand.  It takes so much from you that never comes back.  Trust in yourself being the worst item on my list.

But as soon as my mother was looking at me the mask had to come out.  A subtle change that means lying to her about how I have been feeling and that I haven’t been doing more than I should be.

I’m trying to cheat death.  Rob him/her of the ability to take more than the future I wanted.  The problem has become that the faster I run the easier it is for someone to catch me.  My feet can’t move any faster.  I can’t out think this.

Death reminds me that we have been preparing for the meeting since the moment I was born.  Four and a half decades have passed but during Death’s latest meeting with the doctors they agreed.  And I want out of my bed to grab a pair of sneakers and hit the pavement.

In college I ran to Florida from Boston because I needed to find myself.  Away from expectations and the past.  It was a good experience.  I had changed my world enough to gain myself in return.

The balance between being a narcissist and having confidence in my actual abilities finally came into view.  Humility replaced being cocky.  I blame that on working with kids.

It allowed me to go back North and have a plan.

Now I worry about making it to next week.  That’s not the timeline, but when you lose a few days to physical exhaustion and drugs therapies; it might as well be.

My mother is worried.  She talks with my Landlady in a way they haven’t since I was younger and they worried I wasn’t talking about another’s death.  Add in the teenagers and one of their mothers, my life is full of strong women who are leaning on each other in ways I hadn’t seen before.  It’s not about plans but about direction.  A path that allows everyone to go at their own pace but always seeing the person in front of them.  Sometimes speeding up to catch me as I pull away.

College and Grad School helped to train me to recognize multiple needs in an organization and find a balance.  No different than family dynamics, but feelings are more pronounced within close knit groups.  As each of these women walk in and out of the room I find myself addressing them differently, knowing they compare notes later at the conference held at dinner.  But 15 isn’t 40 which isn’t 68.  The commonality is their love of me, the separation being how that love is expressed and the differences in our bonds.

Their masks are different because they play differing roles.  They are my family even though we aren’t all related by anything other than a common set of emotions.  Even the pair who actively raise their hands to run lines when they could be elsewhere.

I know I’m dying.  They know it as well.  But our play continues….

Impact

Locked

Trying to turn a negative into something positive has been a challenge.  Finding the right activity, it was almost two years to the day before it jumped into my lap and screamed “This is what you should do!”  Someone had once tried to get me to work with small children, tutoring them in reading, but it hurt too much.  It wasn’t the right thing for me.  But now I have been able to dig into something that meets my requirements and also allows for a lasting tribute to many people.

The gift this group gave me was the foundation for learning to walk again.  To be able to get out of bed without immediately wishing I had just pulled the covers back over myself.  Running on what can generously be called a shoe-string budget, they make things work for far too many people who have sought them out.

Groups for helping people deal with the loss of children don’t advertise on television or a magazine.  It’s word of mouth delivered by some therapist or nurse who has seen that look before.  A parent who overhears about a loss and offers to listen, telling them about these others who have wandered in the darkness.

So I have been writing grant proposals for them.  A couple of thousand dollars would keep them going for years.  It’s that much of a self-help approach, helping themselves by talking to others.  Possibly picking up the registration fees for some conference held where people who have experienced the same gather to offer a light to follow.

The worst part has been getting people to write about the impact this group has had on their lives.  It means sitting down and exposing a very raw nerve.  Giving details that might not have been exposed in quite some time.  Having to relive a small portion of that pain in a narrative that others are going to judge.  In some ways it feels cruel, in others cathartic.

I keep being reminded of something from the Disney Channel, about how people change people.  This is supposed to be a good thing.  Their message is that helping others makes us better in small ways.  It’s also the voice that keeps me trying to build some lasting memorial to my daughter that will benefit the most people.  And since I do have all this training in economics, plowing through flowcharts and budget projections gives me a chance to do something towards my goal.

I’ve planted trees, paid for trees in other locations, sent up Japanese lanterns because we were celebrating a birthday.  All those cute things, but none will have the outreach that this potentially could.  If even one other person gains some help from this, all the time will be worth it.

It doesn’t even matter if anyone knows that I had anything to do with it.  Having written the grant and also an impact statement seems odd.  The first company that contacted me had lots of questions and it was good to talk about my daughter in a positive light.  It’s not easy allowing yourself to use the memory of someone to raise funds for others, but it also helps the people you are asking understand.  It’s not some faceless person who is taking a cut, rather you get someone like me who gets emotional and doesn’t try to hide it.

Locking away my daughter would deprive the world of what she could accomplish.  Her life changed me and maybe she will be able to help change someone else’s world so that they can do the same for another.  One person, making tiny steps, helping another.  It’s the best I can offer.

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.

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…