A Blush, a Crush, and a Sympathetic Rush

A Blush

I have promised myself that this week I will post more than I did last week.  Which shouldn’t be hard, as I didn’t post at all last week, and this will be post number two in as many days this week…so “yay for me!”

First off, to all my new readers from [name obscured non-denominational Christian Church in the mid-west], let me say “welcome.”

Pastor Joe sent me a very nice email explaining how he used “One Bite From the Apple” as the basis for his sermon last week; and I must say I’m both touched and honored.  Pastor Joe also explained his decision NOT to include the url to the source in the Bulletin because, and I quote, “several of my older members would be uncomfortable with the frank, but accurate, words of wisdom you share in your “Confessions of a Normal Guy” essay; and I didn’t want to direct them there from the pulpit.”

That’s right…I’m “not elderly church lady safe” or just NECLS…which I pronounce like measles but with an “N” instead of an “M.”  Now I can introduce myself by saying “Hi, I’m Neasles!”  That’s just AWESOME!

This seems amusing now, but I have to say that the vision of the little old ladies on the front row of my hometown church logging on to the Internet (with the help of their accommodating grandkids) and reading some of my sexuality related thoughts left me a little pink in the cheeks…

Then I realized they’d all lived through the seventies, and if CBS Television Programming has taught me anything this season, it’s that if my parent’s generation couldn’t “drag America down the path of Sodom and Gomorra”…then no one ever will.  Obviously, nothing I can say is gonna top that kind of life experience; AND, maybe some of those accommodating grandkids might accidentally learn a thing or two.

A Crush

Alright, so my next little item of business is more about “full disclosure” than any specific need to say the things I’m about to say openly and at large.  I’m going to reference something this person has written, and it would be disingenuous for me not to be completely open about where my point of perspective is coming from.

I’ve been reading Lara of “Life, the Ongoing Education” for something like a little over a year now.  I’ve read with interest and concern as she described her life’s ups and downs, shared her deepest thoughts and her most difficult fears, and I was captivated by the honesty in her writing…and the beauty in her personality.

It would be very fair to say I have harbored a “secret crush” for her for a while now.  It’s the kind of crush that lies somewhere between my admiration of Keira Knightly’s beauty and my love for Regina Spektor’s lyrical intelligence.  Lara’s a woman with both remarkable external beauty and an incredible internal voice.

This is NOT to say that my crush for Lara really compares to real world “love”…one is a one-sided admiration and the other will be a mutual relationship with someone who can simply fill my very soul with happiness…but my crush for Lara does effect how I react to her writing and her photographs.  It affects how I think of her family, and the people that are important in her life.

A Sympathetic Rush

So with all of that said, I’m going to do something now that I NEVER EVER do: I’m going to link to someone else’s writing and then toss in my own unsolicited two cents afterwards.

First, please read “The Coming Out Post” and enjoy what I consider to be some of the most beautiful words and photos about love ever published on the blog-o-sphere.

Back?  Good.

So, why is that post so important to me?  Because I have a seven-year-old daughter, and it goes right to the heart of what I want for her…a better world than the one I grew up in.

Four years ago, my family held our bi-annual reunion in central Oregon.  Nothing particularly exciting happened that year with the minor exception of my cousin bringing her partner to the gathering.  Not because her partner was a woman, but mostly because no one had ever really had any inkling that she was anything but a confirmed heterosexual.  Sort of a case where it wasn’t the big bomb that got dropped making any impact, but the little secondary explosions surprising everyone.

I will never forget the completely blasé reaction from my late-sixties, life-long conservative Christian aunt, “Well who cares if they’re gay?  They sure look happy, and they smile a lot.  Good for them.”

The most news-worthy aspect of the whole thing seemed to be how un-news-worthy it was.  The two of them spent the entire long weekend looking like at any moment they expected one of the older members of the family to turn around and condemn the to hell for their immoral, hedonistic heresy.

They were constantly waiting to be judged, even in a place and among people who had NO intention of judging them.  That was the moment I realized that sexuality discrimination would be my generation’s equivalent to the long battle over racial discrimination that my parents lived through.

Racial discrimination wasn’t something I REALLY understood until I was old enough to comprehend mainstream media.  In my family circle, race and background had absolutely zero bearing on anything.  My mom’s family was Norwegian, so they were fish-belly white and couldn’t get a tan if they wanted…just a darker and more distinct case of skin mottling as they freckled.  My dad’s family was of old American English and French descent…with some Italian and other miscellaneous European heritages tossed in from here and there (and they can tan like nobodies business after 2.3 minutes thinking about sunshine in the dead of winter).

I had an uncle who was full blooded Greek with poor English and GREAT cooking; and I have an aunt (who is closer to a second mother than anyone else in my life) who is full blooded Portuguese, olive-skinned and radiantly beautiful.

We saw these people every day, different skin tones, different accents, one big family.  No one ever explained that we didn’t care about race…we just didn’t care about race.  It didn’t make the radar.  It wasn’t something we discussed, because we didn’t have any reason to discuss it.

When I was nine-years-old I learned that my family wasn’t always like that.  In my parents wedding album is a photograph of a friend of theirs who sang at their wedding.  He was a tall, attractive man with brilliant green eyes and ebony black skin.  And in the margins of the photo were the faces of people who CLEARLY didn’t approve.  I asked my mom why people didn’t like his song, and she broke down crying.

That moment, her explanation, the reality of skin and race and prejudice…it’s crystal clear in my mind, decades later.  She told me about Martin Luther King Jr. and about “I Have A Dream” and about nine kids in Little Rock, Arkansas who just wanted to go to school.  She explained growing up in the fifties and sixties, and what it was like to watch the world change.  And she told me how important it was to her that her children had a chance to grow up in a world without racism.

Now, as an adult, as someone who recognizes the realities of race and color and discrimination in my world (whether I want those realities to exist or not), I find people expressing racism to be jarring.  It’s something I just don’t imagine existing in my daughter’s world.  I would HATE for her to believe that the amount of melanin in a person’s skin dictates ANYTHING about them.

And I’m FAR from alone in that.  I’d guess 90% of the people of child baring age in this country want their children to grow up in a nation where race and history are celebrated for their cultural value, but where race and history have NO bearing on opportunity or place in society.

When my daughter was a baby, one of my in-laws was discussing her future life, and the woes of being a father to a beautiful girl…namely, that I needed a gun.  Maybe several.  If not to use, then at least for intimidation.  I laughed, and then, inexplicably, this person asked “What would you do if she came home with a BLACK boy as a boyfriend?”  The horror in her voice and the expression on her face actually knocked the wind out of me.

To be honest, I couldn’t come up with a clear answer.  I was so OFFENDED that they would even insinuate that it would matter to me…that I would care…I couldn’t find words to respond with.

Let me make this clear, on the record, and out in front of the whole world:  If you want to date my daughter the only requirements I have are that you a) treat her with respect and b) know how to keep your pants up.

I swear to God on High, if you come to my home, dating my daughter, with your pants hanging around your mid-thigh and your boxers hanging out, I WILL pull your pants up for you.  Forcefully.  You will NOT enjoy it.

Black, red, yellow or as white as I am…I don’t care.

And here’s the real kicker, if I don’t care what genetics has given you in the way of skin color, why oh WHY would I care what genetics has given you in the way of sexual equipment?

If you love my daughter, treat her well, make her happy and fill her life…then I don’t care what color, race or gender you happen to be.  And I’m horrified that anyone else would be.

I will admit, that ten years ago, I didn’t see the world in the same light.  I still felt that somehow “God” had decided what was “good” and what was “bad” for people to do.  That a rulebook from one time and one place was somehow universally applicable today.  I blame it on the Adventist upbringing.

I remember listening as someone explained how gay-marriage would be the undoing of traditional society and not really letting it penetrate my mind.  I was happily married, decidedly heterosexual and the thought of two guys kissing kinda made my tummy flop (in a bad way) so hey…if they want to “ban homo’s getting hitched” then why did I care?

Now’s the part of the story where you expect me to have some kind of epiphany after meeting a nice gay couple…and you’d be wrong.  I had my epiphany slowly after close friends were afraid to come out of the closet, or were utterly shunned if they did. After watching people rejoice in Massachusetts and San Francisco and Portland when marriage certificates were no longer locked away from consenting adults who loved each other.

And I had an epiphany when John Stewart pointed out that in America in 2004, the thought of two guy’s kissing was still a more powerful negative motivator then Abu Ghraib or an American run concentration camp on the tip of Cuba or extraordinary rendition beyond the reach of the powers of justice and liberty and a fair and reasonable court.

Really?  Two guys kissing?  WHY DO WE CARE???

And so, we come to today.  In the last three years I’ve been to two gay weddings.  One for a couple of guys I worked with and never knew either one was gay, and one for a nice couple of ladies that just want to raise their kids, live quietly and be happy.

Why shouldn’t these people have the right to stand up before friends and family, declare their love and receive the same obligations and benefits from a legal union that they’d receive if they’d have fallen in love with people with slightly different chromosomes?  Is gender really that much different from race?  Is one kind of bigotry really “better” than another?

I say no.  I want my daughter to grow up in a world where love isn’t about race or gender; it’s about connection, and commitment and finding something in the world that makes life better when everything else seeks to make it worse.

Sexuality Discrimination isn’t just wrong, it’s disappointing.  A constitutional ban on gay marriage isn’t just wrong-headed, it’s damaging to the future.  Our children and our children’s children won’t understand the arguments we’re making today.  They simply won’t comprehend a world where people refused to tolerate one another based on genetics or ideology or really old books.

So in that spirit, in that sense that the world needs to get better and love more, accept more and celebrate more…I present a photo used utterly without with graciously given permission (but still copyright Lara David of Life, The Ongoing Education):


I submit to you that it is not “two girls kissing,” but, in fact, it is much more than that.  It is two human beings kissing.  It is two human beings in love.

Regardless of race, class, creed or gender…this is what I hope for my daughter, simply to find love.

Congratulations to Seeser and Stoops.  Love is so very hard to find in this world, we should all celebrate more when two people find it.


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Gelato, Salman Rushdie, Phad Thai, and Pushing Through

[EDIT: Several people were curious why I would be so depressed this weekend, so I will direct you back to the final paragraphs of "He Knows the Hour and the Day" where I discuss my daughter moving away with her mother.  On Friday evening, I dropped my daughter off, gave her a hug and a kiss, and then cried with the kind of grief I can't put into words once I was out of sight. The following morning, before the sun came up, my daughter flew out of my day-to-day life for the foreseeable future.]

Twice in the last seventy-two hours I’ve started writing up a new post, only to eventually discard and DELETE them because they were so friggin’ depressing that unleashing them on the internet-at-large would very likely cause a depression singularity, collapsing all happiness in the universe in on itself, thus creating an actual swirling black-hole-OF-SUCK right here in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.

As I don’t want to be remembered as the man who stole the smiles from all the children in the world and made all the chocolate taste like charcoal…I’ll do my best to keep this a bit less doom-and-gloomy.

It’s funny, when I know something really suck-worthy is coming up, I never actually plan for the time period when things are actually sucking.  Somehow I think I expected to just get up on Saturday morning, throw open the curtains, smile at my neighbors, realize that I was naked, and spend the morning laughing about the whole thing with the nice policemen that showed up to explain “decency laws” in the Municipality of Keizer…

I did NOT wake up on Saturday with a smile.  In fact, I gave serious thought to just not waking up on Saturday at all.  Fuck Saturday.  Hell, fuck any day that ends in “y” or is recognized as a state or national holiday (because I don’t want to give Thanksgiving or Christmas a free ride here).  Father Time can go shove sharp objects in his favorite orifice and call it macaroni for all I care.

I know depression.  I can smell it on my skin and in my clothes.  I can taste it in my mouth.  I can hear it’s trademark absence of sound everywhere and nowhere.  I know this dragon.  I know him well.

At first I was almost incapable of acknowledging him.  I almost just turned my back and went back to sleep.  “Let him have me” I said, “I. DO. NOT. CARE.”

“Really?” he asked.  “Not even a little?”

“NO” I replied, squeezing my eyes shut.

“That’s too bad.  You’ve always been too tough to really devour easily and you’re a bit too bitter for my tastes anyway…but a job’s a job and a meal’s a meal I suppose.” And with that the gloomy thing wrapped it’s cold coils around my throat.

I didn’t really fight it.  I just slowly, gaspingly, stumblingly lurched from menial task to menial task as the weekend wore on.  Slowly suffocating under the thing’s horrible weight.

Until today.  Today, I went to work.  And at lunch time, I decided to get lunch.  This is noteworthy because I NEVER get lunch.  Unless there’s a team activity or a customer engagement, I never eat lunch.

I drove down to Bridgeport Village, which is a sort of open air shopping center where people with six-figure salaries (and more often the spouses of people with six-figure salaries) go shopping for the books, baobabs, over-priced designer label clothes, even MORE overpriced one-of-a-kind designs, tech toys (an Oregon Scientific AND an Apple store, natch…), and everything else that the upper-upper-middle and lower-upper classes waste spend bestow their ridiculous amounts of discretionary income on.

As I qualify for the Bridgeport Village’s target audience, I guess it’s just natural that I gravitate to a place where the open air piazza and the surrounding architecture look like the Disney interpretation of an Italian village populated entirely by people who drive Range Rovers, Hummers, Mercedes Benz’s, Porsches, and more pristine late-model Harley Davidson Fatboys than you can possibly believe.

Hollywood would never include a place like this in a movie about semi-rich people.  They’d assume everyone would think it was just too fucking pretentious to exist.

I love it. I don’t know why, but I love it.

It has shops I just can’t find anywhere else within driving distance.  For example, there’s a paper store that carries the largest selection of fountain pens ON EARTH.  Ok, probably not ON EARTH…but for at least 300 miles in any direction from here.  AND THEY LET YOU TRY THEM OUT!!!!!

COME ON PEOPLE!  You know you want to use a $400 fountain pen on $12 a sheet paper with ink that’s sold BY THE GRAM.  OMG…squeeeeee…ahem…anyway…

So, I start my adventure with a trip to Zao Noodles, the best noodle bar in Oregon.  Period. And I ordered my favorite, Phad Thai with Shrimp and Deep Fried Tofu.

While my order was being prepared I wandered over to Borders and found two things that simply HAD to be purchased.  First was “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie and second was “The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt.

People, if you title a book “The Enchantress of Florence” I’m gonna buy it.  If it’s by Salman Rushdie and it won the Booker Prize, I’m gonna pay full price in hardback.

If you write a book in the style of Dickens but use steampunk and gloom-fantasy tropes…I’m gonna buy that too.  If it’s from TOR and I know who the editor was, I’ll pay full price in hardback for that too.

Eight minutes (six of them in line) and fifty bucks later…I’m now really excited to read something.  Excited is good.

After fetching my lunch, I decide to grab something to wash it down with and some dessert at Tutto Bene.  They had my Orgina beverage and “Chocolate Birthday Cake” flavored gelato.  OMFG.  Chocolate.  Cake.  Gelato….Oh HELL yeah.

So now, I’m sitting at my desk, stuffed full of Phad Thai, consuming frothy ice cream flavored like cake batter with the smallest spoon EVER and reading the first few pages of the first good book Salman Rushdie ever wrote (oops…did I say that out loud???).

“Turn the page,” the dragon says to me, “I want to know what she says next!”

“Fine, but I need you to lighten your grip a little, you’re making it hard to swallow.”

“Deal.” he says as he readjusts on my shoulders. “You were always too bitter to taste any good anyway.  So, does that really taste like Birthday Cake?”

As a little aside, to those of you who sent emails over the weekend out of concern that I jumped off a bridge or just needed a shoulder…your emails were sometimes the difference between my giving a shit and my just not giving a shit anymore.  Ever.

You will never know how much that meant to me.  I love you guys.


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Radio Silence

Starting a blog isn’t supposed to leave you feeling MORE stressed then you felt before you started it…but such is not the case for me recently.  I currently have five posts in my Live Writer queue (all of them about 80% done) and the mental outlines for at least two more rattling around in my head.

The problem for me right now is two-fold.  First, it’s been a busy time at work.  Simply stated, earning a paycheck > writing for free.  Yet, I still feel like I’m falling more and more behind on the things in life that I LIKE to do, and just keeping up with the things that I NEED to do.

And second, Sarah and her mom fly away in just four more days.  About ninety-four hours from the moment I write this actually.  It’s the kind of dreaded moment that just seems to drag down my very existence.  It makes my blood run thicker and my mind dull out whenever I think about it.

So I have some Wii games to play, some pictures to draw, some stories to write down and some favorite foods to cook…all with a little girl who means the world to me.  Everything else is kinda secondary for the time being.

As a teaser, I’ll leave you with the titles of the posts to come in the near future:

  • “A Blush, a Crush, and a Sympathetic Rush”
  • “How Sweet Life Is”
  • “My Last 50 Dates”
  • “The Lesser Angles of my Nature”
  • “Always Late to the Party”

I hope to at least finish the first one, as it’s semi time-sensitive and I’d like it to see the light of day.

I’m also putting together a few posts on the process I go through when I write fiction “for money” and highlight what an anal-retentive self-editor I really am.  I’ll probably use something I was thinking about “workshoping” this year.

I would love to go to Clarion West or Viable Paradise someday, but the money or the time never seem to present themselves when needed.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, “more will come, please bear with me.”


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Random Thoughts

So, rather than finish any of the three drafts currently sitting in my Live Writer queue, I’ve decided to post some random observations from my weekend:

1 ) If a four-foot-tall seven-year-old is swinging a three-foot-long stick at a piñata, the appropriate amount of clearance to give her is roughly 50 feet.  I was guessing something more like ten to fifteen.  I was wrong.

2 ) (directly correlated to no. 1) A kid swinging a stick at a piñata will be able to strike you precisely within an invisible one-inch-diameter target directly over your temple, even if she can’t get within five feet of the piñata.

3 ) After about the age of 20 “the limbo” isn’t fun anymore.  Just painful.

4 ) Unfortunately a seven-year-old’s birthday party isn’t the time or place to discover if there is a high enough level of alcohol consumption to overcome no. 3. (my guess is “no”)

5 ) Cake with dark blue frosting and seven-year-olds is a bad combination.  This could be restated as “dark blue food coloring can even stain linoleum and formica, your couch and carpets stand NO chance.”

6 ) As the Mt. Dew ad states, yo-yo’s were invented as weapons.  Weapons shouldn’t be distributed as party favors.

7 ) If your child has an exaggerated reaction to sugar (because she never gets ANY at home maybe?) and you don’t plan to accompany her to a birthday party…perhaps you should WARN the parents hosting said party???

8 ) Hearing your seven-year-old daughter correctly sing ALL the lyrics to “Oops, I Did It Again” by Brittany Spears while playing “Boogie” on the Wii will leave you very VERY concerned about the future.  The kind of concerned that robs you of sleep.

9 ) Watching your daughter correctly DANCE all the moves to “Oops, I Did It Again” by Brittany Spears and THEN watching “Juno” is not something I would recommend to any parent.  Conversely, it would make an EXCELLENT marketing campaign for the NRA and Viverin.

10 ) The satisfaction of having thrown the “coolest birthday luau EVER!” really can’t be put into words.

Sunday was Father’s Day, and my Father’s Day treat was to get to watch all the sports I wanted with NO interruptions.  This, was awesome.  I got to watch Turkey shock the pants off the Czech Republic (not to mention their country out of the Euro 2008), Team USA freakin’ CRUSH Barbados in a World Cup qualifier, The Washington Nationals defeat my lowly and forlorn Seattle Mariners in interleague play, and the insides of my eyelids defeat consciousness in a battle for the ages.

I also got to have my all time favorite food:  A Ground Buffalo Burger.  Because we all know that ground meats are better when they come from nearly extinct species.

Oh, and just a casual observation, being utterly smitten with someone who is a continent away is perhaps the most exquisite torture possible.


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He Knows the Hour and the Day

During job interviews and on internet quiz memes there’s a question that comes up more often than I think most people really want to hear the answer.  I’ve avoided it many times before, but tonight I guess I’m finally ready to talk about it at large…to try and explain how, exactly, a reasonably normal white-child-of-privilege ends up in his early thirties, struggling emotionally just to climb out of bed every morning.

[edit: This post is about the saddest and most challenging personal experiences of my life.  Many people have gone through far worse, and I'm certainly not trying to claim some kind of prize for a hard knock life, because I've had it INCREDIBLY easy...but to my surprise, this made a couple of people cry; and I'd never seen one of them cry before...so take that as a warning of sorts...or something.  If you only come here for "the funny" (and who could blame you?) please be warned that there will be little to no funny here.  Come back tomorrow and I'll be back with "the funny."  I promise.]

I’ve probably been asked “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?” about two dozen times that I can think of since July 24th 1999. I think I might have answered it honestly twice.

So, what follows is the most full and complete answer to that question I can compose with almost a decade of distance since the events began to transpire.

On Thanksgiving weekend, 1998 the air was still warm in the evenings even though the mornings were starting to take on a crisp bite that warned of the winter that was just days away.  My wife and I were well past the three year anniversary mark and life had settled into a pretty comfortable schedule:  same jobs for more than a year, the same cute townhouse, same daily routines.

Then, all those routines, all that sameness, died to the sound of pee cascading off of an EPT test.

Oddly enough, the test was negative.  But the discussions that it sparked led to the end of birth control pills, starting to watch our diets a bit closer, and planning for a future for three instead of two.

One month later, another stream of pee, and the test was positive.

We wanted to keep the conception a secret at first, after all, these things can go badly early on and there was no reason to get our families all worked up if it didn’t “stick.”  Which was the plan we stuck with for almost an hour…if, by “almost” you mean “less than twenty minutes.”

I will remember the sound of that squealing, screaming, hyper-jump-up-and-down enthusiasm that my wife and my mother-in-law shared across hundreds of miles for the rest of my life.  If pure joy and excitement has a sound all its own, that was it.

We had excellent heath insurance, plenty of ob-gyn options in town, several great hospitals in the area and a nice local hospital just a few miles away.  My wife took all her pre-natal vitamins, every necessary precaution  at work and went for her regular appointments with excitement.  I didn’t miss a single office visit either.  I was an ENGAGED father-to-be.  We were excited.

And things were going great.  The heartbeat was perfect (and awesome to hear), the weight gain was happening at a very positive rate, and the utrasound went well.  We saw our son reclining in all his glory safe and sound inside his mother.  In fact, except for baby being uncooperative for an image showing his heart development, everything in the ultrasound images was perfectly normal.

Days turned into weeks, weeks slowly expanded out into months and after what felt like the longest winter and the shortest spring in the history of the world, summer and Lamaze classes were finally both upon us.  Almost eight months of waiting had brought us to the point where the end was finally in sight.  We decided to take the day off before our first class, go to her regular monthly checkup and then go up to Portland and do some shopping for mommy and baby.

The doctor’s appointment went well.  We listened to the heartbeat again, weight was good, everything was good…except my wife’s blood pressure was a bit elevated.  Which might not seem all that important for most people, but for her that was shockingly unusual.

After a long discussion, the ob-gyn on duty decided to send my wife over to the local hospital for a non-stress test.  Basically, it’s just heart rate and blood pressure testing over time while sitting in a chair.  We got to the hospital at about noon, and the test was started before 12:30…hey, it’s a small local hospital.

At 3:00 in the afternoon we realized we weren’t going to go shopping.  We also realized we hadn’t seen anyone in more than an hour, so I went off to find a nurse who could tell us how much longer this was going to take.  We had class that night after all.

By 6:00 we realized that we weren’t going to make it to class either.  At that point we decided I should go grab some dinner for us and potty the dogs at home.  When I got back, they had made it clear that she wasn’t going home that night, instead she had an ultrasound scheduled for 5:00am the next morning.  So, after calling her mom to let her know what was going on, we ate our sandwiches and I slept in the semi-reclining chair next to her bed.

When the 5:00am ultrasound came around, it became clear that everything was NOT well.  What had, up to that point, been a “mostly routine” observation process turned into an ambulance ride 55 miles north to the largest neo-natal ICU hospital in the area.  Through morning rush hour traffic.

I had to pick up her mom from our home (her sister had driven her up EARLY that morning) and we tried to follow behind.  We ended up getting there a good two hours behind the ambulance; and by the time we got to the hospital I was nearly unhinged from the process of trying to get through some of the worst traffic congestion and road construction delays in Portland area history.

Then next two weeks were like one moment of crisis stretched out over thirteen days.  Both my wife and our baby were in serious, but not immanent danger.  My wife had “significantly dangerous” preeclampsia, and there were some significant issues complicating the baby’s health as well.  The first concern was that even after a four hour attempt, no ultrasound could show a fully formed heart structure.

The doctor’s wanted to prolong the pregnancy as long as was safely possible and so we settled in to wait.  My Mother-In-Law slept on the sleeping bench, and for twelve nights, I slept on a thin hospital blanket on the tile hospital room floor.

The only time I left the room was either to go off and purchase some supplies to entertain us and keep our spirits up, or to drive down to the Olive Garden a few miles away to bring back something special for my family to eat together.

If there’s one thing my Mother-In-Law mentions any time these events are talked about, it’s that I was a rock.  My job, my focus, my only purpose in life, was to be there for my wife.  Be supportive.  Be calm.  Be there.

Then, after thirteen long days of waiting and hoping to wait longer, on a warm Sunday night, my wife’s health began to decline and the baby’s health began to decline faster. A little after midnight, the doctors decided they couldn’t wait any longer and an emergency c-section was scheduled for 5:00 am “or sooner if we need to.”

I’ll never forget getting ready for that.  The uncomfortableness of “the bunny suit” and the hair net, the smell of the mask mixing with my own dry breath, and the way the little booties on my shoes made walking to the surgery suite feel like ice skating in summer.

When I walked into the room, my wife was strapped down to the table with a brave smile on her face covering a look in her eyes like a trapped animal tied down to be a sacrifice. I went to stand next to her and I put her hand in mine.  I watched the entire surgery over the screen, describing anything she wanted to know.

I don’t think it took three minutes from the first incision until our son was born.  They held him up over the screen for a moment so mommy could see him, and then immediately whisked him away to the NICU next door to the surgery suite.

My wife looked at me, squeezed my hand and told me to go next door and see what was happening. I looked into her eyes, filled with tears, and bent down and gave her a kiss.  As our lips parted her tears began to run down her face.

When I went through the doorway my son had disappeared through, I could only see one corner of his exam table between the ten or twelve doctors and nurses clustered around him, working with a calm intensity that still bordered on frantically.

I stood there and listened for any clue as to what was wrong.  Any words that might sound like “getting better” or “improving” or even “stable”.  I waited a long time.  They never said anything like that.

After an hour, the lead doctor stepped away from the table and removed his mask. He introduced himself to me as the head of the Neo-Natal department and explained that my son was very sick.  They needed to run many tests and there wouldn’t be any answers soon.

Then they bundled up my son and placed him on an incubator table, attached him to hoses and pumps and wires and every manner of device and gizmo, and asked me if I wanted to see him again.

He was so tiny.  His little fingers could barely grip my pinky.  There were tubes connected to his nose, and IVs in one of his arms and one of his legs.  He was connected to a monitor that showed his heart-rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation, and his breathing rate.

I didn’t need a medical degree to see that things were very wrong.

I went out to the recovery room and held my wife.  She asked for details and I told her as much as I had grasped from the doctor.  I repeated what he said word-for-word at least a half dozen times over the rest of the day as family and friends came up to speed on the story.

July 13, 1999.  It was hot in Portland.  Hot by even Phoenix standards.  Windows were uncomfortably warm to the touch, and stepping out of the climate controlled lobby of the hospital and into the brutal heat of the day was almost physically crushing.  But I needed to find something for my wife.  Something that said “good job, I’m proud of you.”  Something that said “I’m here, and we’ll get through this.”

I found balloons and a card with a cartoon mommy giraffe with her legs all tangled up, but her neck still upright, and the inside read “way to keep your head up!”  It wasn’t perfect, but there’s a limited selection at Fred Meyer’s when you’re in a hurry and it’s more than a hundred degrees outside.

It was a long recovery for my wife.  She couldn’t even keep Jello down for a couple of days.  And what was worse was that she could only stand short trips up to the NICU to see our son before she needed to return to her room to rest.

As the week wore on things started to become clearer on what exactly was wrong with our son.  His heart had both ventral and septal defects, his kidneys weren’t functioning and his lung development was significantly delayed.  By the end of the third day of his life, he was no longer breathing on his own.  Instead, a machine next to his bed quietly and methodically wheezed and clacked air into his body and expelled out his tiny, nearly unused breaths.

By the fourth day, mommy was able to spend much longer holding her son.  And all the wires and tubes and needles that went with him.  We changed his clothes, and adjusted his hat, and read Dr. Seuss books to him as he slept.  Oh, The Places You’ll Go…

And then, after a week, his genetic results finally came back, and all the answers were given to us.  He had Complete-Trisomy 9.  An extra ninth chromosome in his cells.

If Down Syndrom is a Trisomy of the 21st Chromosome (and by extension, of the 21st SHORTEST chromosome), and causes that many complications…well, one can begin to understand why having a Trisomy of the 9th chromosome would be truly catastrophic.

As far as the medical staff knew, he was the first Complete-Trisomy 9 baby to survive to childbirth since at least the 1970′s.  When genetic testing began.  Placing the odds of having a child with that specific genetic defect at something approaching  one in ten or twelve billion.  With a B.

Worse, it meant that he would never be a candidate for the heart or kidney transplants he would need to live a somewhat normal life.  Of course, he was also unlikely to be able to ever lead a normal life of any kind.  Even a limited one.

It was late afternoon, and even though things were being explained, and we were finally getting answers…nothing was feeling any clearer.  He was still laying there, filled with tubes and medicines and needing a machine to breathe for him.

We had waited for and hoped for and counted on getting “The Answers” and yet…yet nothing.  No real answers.  No solutions.  No one was making it better!

We had a choice.  We could keep doing this, keep waiting, and running tests, and praying for a miracle to make it better…

Or we could turn off the IVs, and unplug the tubes, and turn off the machines, and we could hold our child…just our child…for a few moments in a private room.

I remember going into the private room that was just off the NICU…I remember calling my parents…I remember howling like a wounded animal as I cried while I talked it over with my dad.  I remember trying to make someone tell me what to do.  I wanted someone else to make it better…that’s what parents do!

A Twenty-five-year-old child shouldn’t have to decide life-or-death for their own seven-day-old son…it’s unimaginable.  I never dreamed even in my worst nightmares that I would be sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, crying on the phone as I tried to explain to my parents that we were going to turn off the respirator keeping their only grandchild alive.

I remember walking down to the chapel at the end of the second floor hallway and prostrating myself before the alter.  I remember pleading with God to make my son healthy, to take my life instead.  I remember screaming at the alter at the top of my lungs.  I remember that all that met my heart’s purest outcry, was silence.

I don’t remember walking back to the NICU.

I do remember holding my wife close as we told the neo-nateologist our decision to hold our son and not keep him hooked to machines any longer.  I remember watching them administer the morphine to keep him comfortable with the smallest needle I have ever seen.  I remember my wife singing softly to our son.  I remember holding him for a moment without tubes, or wires, or beeping machines, or whirring respirators.  I remember the small sigh he let out as he died in my arms.

I held it together.  I cried…I wept from the bottom of my soul…but I held reality together.  I put my arms around my wife and we walked to the elevator, out through the lobby and into the evening sunshine.  But it was ultimately the heat.  It slammed into me like a mallet against a gong.

Before I could walk across the parking lot and get into the car, I could feel reality flex and warp like a plate glass window in a hurricane.  And I felt it shatter.  Little shards of reality blew out away from me…everything I’d ever known, or wanted, or felt, or believed…raining down around me like starfall as we walked back to the little green civic parked in the parking garage.  I couldn’t hear anything.  I couldn’t process anything.  All my senses were going numb as the sun was setting.

As a defense mechanism my body reverted to automatic pilot.  I’d driven this route so many times it was second nature…no thought, no analysis, no words.  Just grief.  Like an overwhelming haze that steals time, grief filled every molecule of my existence.  Choking out air, choking out thought, choking out time itself.

But even in grief, things had to get done.  My wife was far from healthy, and she needed rest, but the next day we found ourselves planning a funeral.  For a baby.  We picked out a casket, and a cemetery plot, and program cards, and called our pastor and invited him to speak.

Sitting in the funeral home, I composed a poem to go on the program:

A moment in our arms,
Forever in our hearts.
We’ll see you again,
In the arms of an Angel.

I think at the time I even still believed it.

The day of the funeral was probably the most beautiful Saturday that year.  Perfect temperatures, just a hint of breeze, not a cloud in the sky.  I was surprised at the number of people that showed up for a funeral for a baby that all but five of them had never seen.  More than twenty people from my and my wife’s offices were there, and probably fifty people from my extended family, some from hundreds of miles away, on what was a normal weekend for the rest of the world.  Just another Saturday in July.  I really couldn’t balance the two concepts together in my head.

I remember all the flowers were beautiful, and we donated them all to the church for that Saturday’s service.  I remember staring for the entire service at the little white coffin.  Hardly more than two shoeboxes laid end-to-end.  We laid yellow roses on it, and they lowered it into the ground after we drove away.  Eventually they covered it with a grave marker made of granite, polished mirror smooth, that read:

Kristopher Karl Charming
July 13, 1999 – July 20, 1999

Our neighbors had gathered together to provide food, and family and friends stayed with us for a long time to talk and try to make life a little bit closer to normal.  And for that I will always be thankful.

The worst was when everyone went home.  In a quiet house, my wife and I couldn’t make our separate grief align enough to grieve together.  I was afraid to truly grab the pieces of reality that I could still see scattered in front of me.  They were sharp, and it would hurt to pick them up…if I could just make it through without touching them…if we could just go on with life and leave them alone…maybe they’d get better on their own.

After that day, if anyone asked me, “What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?” I’d duck the question.  No one wants to hear an answer like “chose to let my son die in peace rather than leave him hooked to life support machines waiting for a miracle,” or “planned a funeral for my seven day old son without jumping off a bridge.”

Also near the top of the list is “not punching out the self-righteous Christians who tell us that we should have prayed harder and trusted God more, rather than kill our son.”  I’ve been told that by well meaning people who never faced anything like the scenario they are so quick to talk about.  Telling me that my son would have gotten better, would have lived, if I’d prayed more, trusted more, wanted it more…that’s just a way to say that God didn’t love me enough…that he didn’t love my son enough to save him…that I must have done something wrong to deserve it.

People who believe in a God like that frighten me.

I wish that was the end of the story.  I wish that was the most difficult thing in my life.  But it’s not even close.

The advice that everyone gave us was that once we were given the ok, we should try again.  That the joy of a new life would make the pain of losing the last one more bearable.

And so, as soon as we were allowed, we tried again.  And it took a year.  In some ways it was the longest, most stressful year of my life.  I changed jobs, we moved to a new home in a new neighborhood, and it was proving FAR more difficult to conceive than we had expected.

Finally, FINALLY, we were successful again.  Almost two years after that first EPT test, we had another peed-on-stick with good news.  This time we were in the “high risk” category and we had TOP NOTCH care from the first day.  We drove 55 miles one way every two weeks to see her doctor from the start.  We had 8 different ultrasounds, including one of the first 3-D ultrasounds given at OHSU.

My wife was sick pretty much from the first day of pregnancy.  Nausea, cramps, sore muscles, everything.  The exact opposite of the last pregnancy.  And the baby kicked like she was practicing for the hacky-sack world championships ALL DAY LONG.

But her blood pressure stayed good, and on June 13, 2001 our daughter was born.  It was a great surgery, and other than getting stuck in traffic (in the same place as two years earlier) everything went like clockwork.

Slowly I was picking up the pieces of reality again.  They cut, and sometimes I’d bleed, and sometimes I’d cut my wife…but I was holding them again.  I was able to grasp them and not let go.

In my world, my daughter was important…but so was my wife.  So was my job.  So was making life go on.  For my wife, nothing was more important.  With our daughter she saw redemption for failing with our son.  Nothing could EVER be more important.

Somewhere between our different grief and the difference in our daughter’s importance in our hearts…things began to change in our marriage.  There’s a lot to that story that can’t be covered here…but five years later I knew I was going to lose my daughter.  Not the way I’d lost my son…but I would ultimately lose her all the same.

My wife wanted a divorce, and I knew from the first moment she said it, that someday my daughter would leave my daily life.  Someday I would become as distant in her world as my wife’s father had been in her’s.

I’d have given anything, and everything, to keep our family together.  I didn’t want to lose even one day with my daughter…but there was nothing I could have ever done to change her mind…by the time she told me it was long past done for her.

We’ve done our best over the last couple of years to keep our daughter equally between us…but my ex-wife has found love again with a man in Oklahoma.

I could fight her for our daughter…try to keep her here, or something…but I can’t do that to her.  In my world she is my beloved daughter.  In her world, she is everything, air and water, light and dark…everything.  My ex simply couldn’t live without her.  And I can’t be the one to hold her here, hold her back from finding love.  True love is wanting what’s best for the ones we love, even when it hurts more than anything.

I believe that I’ll be able to keep my relationship with my daughter strong enough that she’ll always know me…always know that I love her…always be able to call on me when she needs me…

But in just over a month she boards a plane and flies away.  She will always come back and visit, but she’ll never “live” with me again.

And every day between now and then I have to hold on to the pieces of reality still in my hand…no matter how much they cut me, no matter how much of my own blood slicks their surface, I have to hold on.

Every morning when I wake up I can feel the pain as reality cuts me a little deeper, as it severs one more strand of my soul.  And I have to open my eyes and carry on.  But if anyone asked me “what’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done?”  Well, I’d have to admit it’s imagining a moment when my daughter’s flight has taxied down the runway and lifted slowly into the sky…away from reality as best I can grab a hold of it.

When I talk about my dragons, my demons and the things that evilly stalk my dreams in the night…the one that frightens me the most is that someone will see exactly what I am:  Just a boy in a man’s body clutching the shards of his reality like a bouquet of splintered glass that’s dripping with the last drops of blood from his shredded grip.

What woman would accept such a gift?  When I admit that I’m afraid I’m “too damaged” to find true love, I mean that even if I found it, I’m afraid I’m so cut up I couldn’t grab it and hold on.

As a bit of a postlude, I thought I would mention that I recognize that there are many MANY people who’s troubles in life FAR exceed my own.  Sexual abuse, personal violence, witnessing murder, there are SO many things that exceed anything that I’ve ever had to go through.  And I have some tiny clue as to how they get through the day, they just grab hold, squeeze hard and do it.

When I was younger, a writing teacher told me that before I could write, I needed to go out and live life.  I couldn’t write about it until I’d lived it first.  I didn’t really believe her at the time.  Now, I’d give back that lesson if I could.

In the words of the great Baz Lhurman, “It’s not things that you think are important in life that will get you.  It’s the things that blind-side you on some idle Tuesday.”

If I could ever give one piece of advice, it’s to cherish your idle Tuesdays, but never trust them.  Live your life like the next Tuesday will change everything you hold dear.


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Visions of a Better World

Lat Thursday, one of my favorite bloggers talked about being more open and less anonymous on the blog-o-sphere, and I’ve thought about that a LOT over the weekend. So I thought I’d share a little story from last week and end with a very personal revelation.

Last Thursday, I had an evening of revelry scheduled. I was off to go see the pod-person (i.e. the beautiful little girl that burst fourth from my ex-wife innards seven years ago) perform in her end-of-the-year musical performance.

As I had for several performances past, I brought along the Olympus point-and-shoot digital camera and settled in for an evening of excruciating-audio-torture and intense-parental-pride as my daughter’s private school attempted to demonstrate just what five hundred dollars a month is buying these days (and let me tell you, musically, not much).

As intense-parental-pride overwhelmed the excruciating-audio-torture and moved me to my feet, I pointed the little Olympus POS at the stage and clicked the shutter. A lot.

I got 28 of the BEST blurry images I could have possibly hoped for in this lifetime, or the next.  As photos of my daughter, a performance, or…hell, even just a stage with humans on it, they sucked fetid dingo kidneys.

Blurry ones at that.

It was the last straw.  I’ve had “take great pictures” on my personal goals list since some time in the early 90s.  So on Friday morning I hit craigslist at work and hunted for a deal across every distinct area in three states.

That night, after three emails and a slew of phone calls, I secured a Canon EOS 10D with Battery Grip, two batteries, and all the caps, chargers, software and manuals it had when it rolled off the assembly line in 2004.

I then went to Fry’s Electronics and paid more for a 75-300mm EF lens and a 2GB CF II card then I did for the camera.  FUN TIMES!!!

I spent all weekend shooting photos of the cats.  Because everyone needs 302 RAW-format images (at 8MB a piece) of uncooperative felines.  Seriously.  It’s not even negotiable…people NEED this.

Things I’ve learned in the last three days:

1) A decent camera and a good lens really are worth every penny.
2) I need more lenses.  At a minimum a good wide angle and a macro.
3) Downloading off a cardreader as opposed to directly off the camera is MUCH faster.  Like AN HOUR faster.  That should be printed somewhere in the manual.  In RED.
4) I need two more batteries, and a 16GB CF II card.
5) Sleeping cats are surprisingly good test subjects.  Awake cats are HORRIBLE test subjects.
6) Taking just one good picture of my daughter with her beloved pet is worth more than just money and time.

And so, in a spirit of less anonymity on the blog-o-sphere, I present the pod-person and her beloved Moe.  You will never see a more loving and devoted cat EVER.

Pod-Person and Moe...Feel the LOVE

Just LOOK at that face.  That’s his HAPPY face.  If I held him like that I’d need more stitches than all the baseballs used in the major leagues.  EVER. But I know why he lets her maul him…

…no matter what comes in life, she will always be “my brown eyed girl.”


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What is my quest?

So, what exactly is this prince’s quest?  Why, to find love of course.  But, as with any quest, it’s far more complicated than that.

First off, let me be very clear, I have already loved deeply and with my whole heart.  She was the beautiful princess from far away and I truly believed that if I loved her enough everything would work out.  Happily Ever After was just about believing hard enough, wanting it bad enough, and letting it happen.

It didn’t happen.

On Valentines’s day I got her chocolate dipped strawberries instead of flowers…and that was the moment she decided that it was over.  It took a lot longer then that (exactly a year in fact), but that was the moment the end began.

To this day, and probably until the day I die, the fact that the connection I believed we had was merely a mirage just shatters my faith in love.  Eleven years of marriage and more than fourteen as a couple…my entire adult life was wrapped up in her.  But I wasn’t worth the effort to keep trying.  “We” weren’t worth the effort to keep trying.

I grew up believing in all the romantic ideals, the fairytale endings, the happily ever afters; I grew up believing that I could be the fairytale prince.  That I could be “Charming” and win the maiden.

The problem with that, is that I wasn’t attracted to the kind of woman that could be “won” like a trophy.  I like intelligence, and creativity, and partnership.  I like to be with a woman and not have a girlfriend/wife/trophy.  It’s that paradox that ultimately undid us.

Now, she is moving to Oklahoma.  She is marrying “Mr. Oklahoma” (we’ll go in to that more when and if I ever feel like explaining the details of our divorce) and I wish her happiness.  True love is hoping that the ones you love are happy, no matter what.

So that lead to the question “do I pine for her?”  And the answer is “no.”

With a couple of years of dirty water swamping the bridge behind us, I can also say that we no longer fit as a couple.  If we woke up tomorrow and decided to try again, it would be a LONG and UPHILL climb.  The people we are in our early thirties are NOT the people we were in our late teens.  And we’re both ok with that.

Which is something we try very hard to communicate to our daughter. She’s seven and she’s moving with her mom to Oklahoma.  I am ok with this, we have worked it out between us, and I’ll explain that decision more as the day she moves gets closer.

So here I am, in my early thirties, I’ve got a daughter who turns seven in just a few days and I’ve been married twice.  Not exactly the profile of Prince Charming.  In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that I am NOT most women’s dream catch.

So as “dating” blogs go, I’d not count on this one much for salacious details.  First, I’m not one for salacious details, and second, I’m not much for dating.

But I do believe my princess is out there.  That is my quest…to find her.


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