June 2008


I’ve spent the last week struggling to finish ANY of the four drafts I now have in Live Writer.  At some point earlier today I finally gave up and decided to go a COMPLETELY different direction.  My Love has been running images from the random places in her life, and I decided to follow her lead and post up something I’m sure ALL of you are dying to see: my home office.

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As you can see…I like my workspaces BUSY.

Equally important to a writing and drawing environment is a great source of reference material…so I also have a bookshelf full of some of my favorite things:

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I also have two 6′ x 5′ bookshelves full of history, fiction, literature and reference works…but they aren’t out of storage yet so the books are sitting in boxes just out of sight to the right of this picture.  Eleven of them.  They look exactly like the one to the left of my desk:

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Yes, I am a geek.  Yes, that’s a Sun workstation.  Yes, it’s running Solaris 10.  Yes, I am a BIG geek.

Alright, so what exactly IS all this crap on my desk???

First, we have my favorite books from the last century.  At least the ones that aren’t by Robert Jordan or L.E. Modesitt Jr. or Daniel Keys Moran or…

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Starting up the left-hand side we have “The Oz Tales” in two volumes and “Wonder Tales” in one volume by L. Frank Baum.  Then we have “The Works of Jules Verne” and “The Works of H.G. Wells”; and then “The Looking Glass Wars” and “Seeing Redd” by Frank Beddor.  Those two aren’t really on my “Favorites” list…they’re just recent reads.  Then we have “The Gormenghast Novels” by Mervyn Peake, “The Lord of the Rings” by Tolkien, Hassain Hadaway’s translation of “The Arabian Nights”, “The Call of Cathulhu and Other Stories” by H. P. Lovecraft, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, and the venerable “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.

Then from left to right I have the exceptional “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” and the utter magnificence called “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke.  Then two big omnibus collections by Glenn Cook in “Chronicles of the Black Company” and “A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire” which were both very dark and yet surprisingly entertaining.

Then we get to two of the utter high points of my library…my ENTIRE 5000+ book library…the delightful “In the Night Garden” and the sheer pleasure that is “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” which comprise the two books in “The Orphan’s Tales” collection by Catherynne M. Valente.  Mrs. Valente has a very entertaining blog and a few wonderful short stories here and there, as well as a couple of other books that I haven’t yet found, but have every intention of owning simply as soon as possible.  I really can’t recommend these two books with mere words that do them justice.  The language, the imagery, the very tone and texture of her expression of thought…it’s simply transcendent literature.

From there we progress into my “pulp classics” horde…First we have four collections of stories by Robert E. Howard in “The Coming of CONAN The Cimmerian”, “The Bloody Crown of CONAN”, “The Conquering Sword of CONAN” and “The Savage Tales of SOLOMON KANE”…which really cover so much of Howard’s work.  I need to get the collections that cover Brand Mac Morn and Kull of Atlantis, but there are always more books to buy.  Next we have three volumes collecting several books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  “Under the Moons of Mars” collects the first three books in the Barsoom/John Carter of Mars series.  “The Moon Maid” collects all of the books in that series and “Pirates of Venus” collects the first two books in that series.  I have every book by Edgar Rice Burroughs in electronic format, and they are readily available from Project Gutenberg…but as with so many books, there’s something visceral about holding a book in your hand.  I have to admit I greatly prefer these particular reprintings by Bison Press, and I wish I’d bought more of the books in the series when they were available.

Next we get some short story collections by one of my more recent discoveries, Charles de Lint.  They all revolve around his remarkable city of Newford, and I’m utterly entranced by some of the recurring themes and storylines. “Dreams Underfoot”, “The Ivory and the Horn”, and “Moonlight & Vines” are the only ones I’ve picked up so far, but I’m sure I’ll have spent at least a hundred bucks on his books by the end of the year.

Finally, we get to my favorite author who isn’t a British woman or a dead southern gentleman.  Neil Gaiman is, in my opinion at least, the greatest living mind in fiction; prose, poetry or script.  As far as I know I have all of his readily available prose and poetry on this shelf.  “Stardust” is perhaps as beautiful a novel as it is as an illustrated story (which is over on the bookshelf), “Neverwhere” was a BBC miniseries before it was a novel, “American Gods” and it’s semi-sequel “Anansi Boys” topped the NYT and are mind-bending perfection, “Smoke and Mirrors” was his first short fiction collection and “Fragile Things” was his second. I have to point out that “Fragile Things” is probably my favorite collection of words in print.  It includes his poem “Instructions” which I consider to be the most moving words ever strung together.  The final book in the lineup is “Good Omens” which was co-written with Terry Pratchett.

You can also see the two sourcebooks for the Tactical Strategy RPG “Cadwallon” which I will admit I bought totally for the artwork.  The setting is a sort of dark fantasy Napoleonic Europe meets Robert Howard on a bad acid trip.  Did I mention the artwork is friggen STUNNING???  Sadly, there won’t be any further output from the creator (Rackham) as the company has gone through an executive and artistic “reorganization”…i.e. they fired all the people that made their products worth buying so they can drift into the obscurity of being just another Games Workshop/Warhammer wanna-be.

Also sitting on my desk is the leather-bound journal I bought last year, my Schaeffer fountain pen and a bottle of Schaeffer “Azure” blue ink.  All three of these were acquired when I was considering a road trip from Tumwatter, Washington at the start of US 101 and then out along the coast all the way to the Mexican border and from there take Mex-1 to Land’s End at the southern tip of Baja California near Cabo San Lucas.  I haven’t given up on the trip, but I haven’t decided if I’m gonna save the journal for that or re-purpose it for something more likely to happen in the next year.

OH!  Also visible in that picture are my four fuzzy friends:

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From left to right we have my Mariners Rally Monkey (which is apparently utterly and completely exhausted of rally mojo), my Pink Ichiro Bear (It’s actually my daughter’s) wearing my shark tooth necklace (which helped me win more than $200 at the craps tables in Vegas), my daughter’s Dragon “Fantasy” who is keeping my bookworm “Munchums” (which I actually had to argue for in the divorce) company.

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Moving left we have my PSP, twenty one PSP games (wow, looks like I have a couple RPGs…) and two PSP movies (they were two dollars each), two bottles of Knappogue Castle Irish Whisky 1994 hiding behind the speakers, my BlackBerry, wallet, passport, keys and a stack of CDs I just imported into iTunes (I think I see White Stripes, Raconteurs, Alanis Morrisette, Dave Matthews Band, Cake, Pearl Jam and The Goo Goo Dolls), and below that the notebooks and sketchbooks related to my fiction.  Yep, my deep dark secret is that I draft all my fiction longhand.  The old fashioned way…with a pen on paper.  I realize that costs me all my geek cred, but oh well, now you know.

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Here you can see the Mac Mini (iTunes and iPhoto and Photoshop and Painter X), my Wacom Intuos 3 6×8, three Hotoi figures and a Fu Dragon.  The Keyboard and the Griffen Powermate are for the Mini.

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This is the “vice” side of my desk.  You have my green tea-set hiding behind the speaker, my Eddie Izzard DVD, my Train concert DVD, and every DVD of Sting that money can buy.  Next to that is my Nintendo DS (my daughter picked the pink alligator case) and 13 games.  My Painter X manual and a book that should have been entitled “Painter 8 for dummies” and “How to Paint People in Painter”…but they went with the much less descriptive “Digital Character Design and Painting” just to confuse people.

Below that is my cigar box for my all time favorite cigar, the Playboy by Don Diego Double Corona (sadly the box holds my pipes and pipe tools and NOT the 25 tubes of tobacco heaven) and on top is my pipe/cigar lighter and a couple of cans of butane and my “pipe boot”.  Next to that is my humidor, which currently has less then twenty cigars and about 4 oz.’s of pipe tobacco.  On top of my humidor is my bronze reproduction of “Pan Consoling Psyche” which I LOVE.  And behind that is my bottle of Glenmorange Quanta Ruban Single Malt Scotch Whisky, still in the box.

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This is the semi-random side of my desk.  Ordinarily my drawing desk is somewhere close by and my sketch pads and sketchbooks have their own home, and my drawing pencils and inking pens are over there.  Right now the Drawing Table is in storage, so I’m “making do” with what I’ve got.  You can see my three html/css reference books next to my humidor and my drawing stuff next to them.

From there you have my Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition, two marginal books on writing and submitting fiction, and then Lynn Truss’ marvelous “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” which should be mandatory reading for every English speaking child on earth.

Next to that are three photography books, “Lyrics by Sting” (by Sting obviously), a leather-bound and silver-leaf copy of “The Complete Frank Miller Batman” (by Frank Miller), and my birthday gift to myself, Volume One of “The Absolute Sandman” by Neil Gaiman.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that I haven’t yet even unwrapped the plastic.  I have this desire to pour myself a glass of scotch, light my favorite pipe, and experience the Magnum Opus of my favorite author from beginning to end on a perfect evening.

Lastly I have my “art bookcase” which is supposed to hold most of my art related books.  It doesn’t actually hold ANY of my Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Baroque, Renaissance, Second Empire, Romanesque, Romanticist, Realist or Impressionist books.

So basically, this is my “Fantasy Art” and “Comic/Manga Art” bookshelf.

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Charles Vess, Roy Krenkle, Rodney Matthews, Frank Frazetta, Windsor McKay, Masamune Shirow, J. Scott Campbell, Ben Dunn, Jeff Smith and Kazu Kibushi would be the highlights here.

Well, that’s it.  If you made it this far, I’m very impressed…or a little worried…

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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.

I wrote this about six months ago and it was posted on my “first” blog.  I’m pretty sure that no one I don’t “know about” has followed from there to here, so I’m going to go ahead and post it up again.  It’s about my first love and just how sad it is to never take a chance.

I was in the same classroom with Miss V from the second grade until we graduated together from academy. Eleven years. She basically encapsulates my childhood and the journey to whatever was supposed to be beyond.

Assuming 40 weeks in a school year, at least eight hours a day, and add in time for Pathfinders camp-outs, church events, and the various non-school things we did together; I’d guesstimate that we spent about 20,000 hours together over the course of our lives. Of that, I hated her for roughly 10 hours; and I was completely in love with her for every minute of the remaining 19,990.

Number of times we talked on the phone: I’d guess over 100

Number of times we rode the ski-lift together: more than I can count

Number of times we “held hands” while ice skating: 8 (I only know this because I recently found one of my childhood journals)

Number of times we “officially” dated: 0

Number of times we kissed: 0

Number of times I saw her undressed: 2; number of times she knew: 0 (maybe 1, I’m not completely clear on all the details of the second time. I might have been “supposed” to see her that time, we were about thirteen…I’ll probably never know.)

Number of times she wrapped her arms around me in a swimming pool, grazed my neck with her lips and let me slide my hand under the “fun” part of her bikini bottoms: 1; age of participants: 18; number of significant-other’s that were CLEARLY cheated on during that event: 2

Moments of regret that I touched her while dating someone else: a few, but they’re fading every day.

Minutes of regret that we never really talked about how we felt about each other: exactly 7,058,880 and counting.

There are so many memories about Miss V that trying to explain everything starts to whorl together in some kind of mental tornado of images and sounds and tastes and smells…and then her face, smiling at me like it did as a thirteen-year-old girl washes over everything. For a moment, I’m back to being that skinny, unconfident outsider I always felt like as a kid. And I’m comfortable, because we were always outsiders together.

In the summer before the second grade, my parents completed the process of moving me away from my friends and a school where I was comfortable in a class of dozens spread out into several classrooms; and off to a tiny little outpost of humanity and a school where I was one of six kids in my grade. There were three grades to a classroom…so my overall class size was about twenty, but my direct peer group was six kids. Three boys and three girls.

I will never forget the first day of school, the cliques had already been established, and I wasn’t a part of them. And let’s be honest, I didn’t want to be there, and they didn’t want me there because I didn’t want to be there…ah, vicious circles, aren’t they fun. I was the outsider. I didn’t fit in.

I didn’t fit in at all. I ate meat, I watched movies, my parents had cable and let me watch HBO, I was allowed to read fantasy stories (the teacher confiscated my copy of “The Black Cauldron” because it was EVIL!!!). I was WEIRD. Because I was different.

At lunch on the second day of school I opened my brown paper bag and discovered I had three Oreo cookies. REAL Oreo cookies, not the fake sunshine versions that weren’t made with lard. Miss V was sitting at the desk next to me, she took one look and asked if she “could have an Oreo.” There was an audible gasp in the room. Real Oreo’s were evil. NO ONE should eat real Oreos! They’re MADE WITH LARD!!! (another classmate actually said that out loud). I reluctantly gave her one, waiting for her to use it to make fun of me. She smiled at me and said “thanks,” and then turned back to her friends and kept talking like nothing was out of the ordinary. She ate the Oreo. I loved her from that moment on.

As time went on, things got better. I made friends, I found my place, I tried to become a normal part of the school/group/place I was in; but I never quite made it. I was never the “best friend,” I was never completely at ease, I was never totally a part of the clique. I never felt just like everyone else. I always felt just a little bit like an outsider.

It would be many years before I realized that half of the people in that room felt the same way. Like something was off, like the picture was just a little bit crooked. But I knew instinctively that Miss V shared that feeling with me. We didn’t talk about it for another twenty years, but from that first day, it bound us just a little bit together. Just a little.

The two of us were competitive. VERY competitive. If you could compete at it, we did. If you couldn’t compete at it, we still found a way. We always pushed each other, if not physically then figuratively. There were people who thought we hated each other because we never let up.

Only once did it ever cross the line from pushing to hurting; and though it tares me up, I was the one that hurt her. In the fourth grade girls are very sensitive to anything that might draw attention to ANYTHING about their bodies or their physical cycles. Using that knowledge I said one of the things I regret most in my life.

In small classrooms with few students, collective punishment is probably pretty common. In this case conflict that had cropped up between “the boys” and “the girls” had spilled over into some heated exchanges between several classmates during recess and the ultimate resolution was to sit all of us down in our desks and have us talk it out. There were only six of us after all.

The teacher left the room and instantly the arguments resumed. I have NO idea what we were arguing about. Trivial couldn’t possibly begin to describe it. All I know is that the two sharpest tongues in the room went into combat like a pair of fencers…mine and Miss V. I remember she told me that if I was “going to be a stupid child” that I “should just shut up.” To which I replied calmly that she should “shut up and take a Midol.” The guys both gave me a hearty “YEAH”…as though congratulating me on the power of my counter attack. Miss V recoiled like I had physically hit her, and then broke down into sobs and fled the room.

For the record, I was pretty hazy on what a Midol was actually USED for, but that wouldn’t have been any consolation to a young girl who had just had her first menstruation start the day before. Obviously, I didn’t know that…

I’d say it was about a month before she spoke to me again. I never got a chance to apologize, even though I felt terrible about it. It wasn’t until the first ski-day of the year that things started going back to normal. I rode up in the car with her, and by the time we got to the lodge, things were better. We competed on the slopes, and we rode the chairlift together all afternoon. We were back to pushing each other, and helping the other one up again.

A couple of years later she was doing children’s theater and she would call me after rehearsals. She told me they were doing “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and I was excited because it was one of my favorite fairy tails from an old book my mom had given me. She wanted to know if it was any different from the story they were putting on, so I read it to her. Over the phone. As I’m writing this, I realize I have NO idea why I didn’t go see her perform, my parents certainly would have taken me…I was just too dumb to think of it I guess.

In the eighth grade I made another foolish comment that I would desperately like to take back. For whatever reason boys will pick on other boys about the girls they like. And no matter how much they like the girl, the boy will deny it. Why? I have NO idea. It was a small social circle, and maybe that was just exposing too much that was too personal…I don’t know.

I do know that after PE my friends were giving me a hard time about how much time I spent with Miss V, and teasing me that I liked her (which was painfully obvious to anyone) and for reasons I still can’t explain I said (with too much volume and intensity) “No I don’t! I like Emily you idiots!” Which was a lie. But since every single girl in our class heard it, I was pretty much stuck. I remember seeing the look in Miss V’s eyes as she walked out of the hallway where she’d heard me deny her. It still makes me physically sick, almost twenty years later.

Another thing we did together was Pathfinders. It’s a co-ed denominational version of Boyscouts with all of the expected issues of hauling a dozen boys and girls ranging in age from eight to fourteen out into the woods. Hazing, tent raiding, ghost stores, sneaking off into the woods together…all that stuff. Miss V’s mom was a leader and that meant she didn’t miss a campout, no matter how uncool it was to head off to the woods. Somehow we always ended up spending about ninety percent of the time walking off together talking and laughing and ignoring the rest of the world.

All those hours together, all those hours alone with her, and not once did I tell her how I felt about her. Not once did I just take her hand and look her in the eyes and tell her I liked her. I was always afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid she’d tell me I was just a friend, just blah. That I was just the uncool, unattractive little boy I was afraid I was. She was the only one who would call me on my shit, and it scared me too much to tell her how special I thought she was, how beautiful I thought she was, how wonderful every word she shared with me was.

Towards the end of eight-grade four of us went to a youth-rally in Portland. It was a long drive and we were leaving early in the morning, so her mom (who was the chaperone) decided all of us should spend the night at her house and leave together in the morning. The four of us spent about eight hours sitting on Miss V’s bed talking silly, laughing and enjoying time together. I came within a hair’s breadth of telling her everything, but there were other people there…it was both heaven and hell at the same time…I wanted to tell her, but I was too scared to do it in front of our friends.

Later that weekend, she bought an ice-cream sandwich. Sitting next to me in the front of the truck, practically on my lap, she finished half of it…licking the end of the ice-cream out of the cookie…and then asked me if I wanted to finish it. As stupid as it sounds, it was as close to a kiss as I ever got from her. I could taste her lip gloss on the cookie, and I can still smell her hair in my face.

I started high-school a week late. It’s a long story, but lets just say that once again, I managed to be the outsider. The first person I saw on campus was Miss V. It was the first moment of relief in a long uphill climb. High school sucks. High school where you live on campus with the entire student body (of about two hundred), shower in front of every guy you know, eat institutional vegetarian food, and can’t have caffeine in any form is just BRUTAL.

No matter what might have passed between us in the past, our circle of friends wasn’t particularly close at first. But we did work together for four hours every morning. She was the Boy’s Dean’s secretary and I was the desk monitor. I sat about ten feet away from her and as there was NOTHING else to do, once again, we spent many hours talking. And a few fighting, but mostly it was pretty relaxed. I heard about her boyfriend, about her girlfriends, about life away from home…and I pined for her silently. I smiled, we talked, same as always.

Our Sophomore year she tried going to a public high school near her mom, and I moved on and tried not to think about her as much as I had the year before. I had a couple of girlfriends, an absolutely crazy roommate, a better haircut, and a chance to realize that “cool” was as subjective as everything else. I found my footing, ran for class president, started working for the radio station, drank a WHOLE LOT of shitty beer, and discovered that life is good.

I don’t remember exactly when she came back…I’d guess it was around Christmas, but it might have been sooner. Regardless, neither of us was the same person by the time she returned. I think I caught her eye a couple of times, but I never knew at the time.

My junior year I met the girl who I would eventually marry and have children with, Miss H. We started a long distance relationship and for an entire year I was happily “off the market” and writing letters and making multi-hour phone calls every night. So much of that year is caught up with her that nothing else really penetrates. I know Miss V was there, and a friend, but everything is washed out in my memories with Miss H.

As a senior Miss H joined me at academy. I’ll talk about all that in other posts…what is relevant here is the last week before graduation. The senior class takes a trip together for a long weekend. As a group we went to central Oregon and stayed at a resort. Six to a condo, we really had the run of the place.

The last evening of the trip about half of us were in the pool, and Miss H was off with her friends enjoying some girl time. I was against the wall of the pool with one my close friends when Miss V and her best friend swam up and joined us. My friend had always been interested in Miss V’s friend, and they paired off as best they could. Miss V and I began reminiscing about all the years together. We talked for about an hour, and at one point she put her arms around me. For balance or support or…whatever.

Our friends got cold and hopped out of the pool to head off for the Sauna. Miss V and I climbed out and went off to the empty hot tub. After a few minutes sitting next to each other she climbed up over me a few inches to look over the wall and see if anyone was watching us. As she slid back down against me she grazed her lips over my neck and intentionally straddled my hand as it was resting on my leg. She looked into my eyes as my hand slid under her bikini bottom. As I touched her, her eyes half closed and she began to lean towards me…and seconds later we heard the voice of one of the class sponsors and she slid away and sat down next to me.

I don’t write this part of our story to expose what was a really personal moment between us, but to highlight just how big of a dork I really was (and probably still am). The next day Miss H (who didn’t suspect ANYTHING was between Miss V and I) sat on the bus home with her best friend and I ended up sitting with Miss V. We shared buffalo jerky, a couple of Dr. Peppers, and talked the whole way home. We talked of old times, funny things we remembered from grade school and honestly, we were saying goodbye. We just didn’t know it. In a week we would graduate, and we didn’t know when we might see each other again. This was goodbye.

That night I gave Miss V a ride home. She asked if she could smoke and I said I didn’t care. I drove her back to her mom’s apartment and we stood outside for a few more minutes talking. Right at the end, I leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled back. I’ve never known why. I never had the strength to ask. The moment wasn’t right, and it didn’t happen. We were both dating other people. I never told her how I had always felt about her. I was still afraid I wasn’t good enough for her. Still afraid she’d reject me. And that was that. I will never forget the sound of the door closing behind her.

I saw her once, a year later. Miss H and I were on our Honeymoon at Disneyland and out of nowhere Miss V was calling our names. We stood and talked with her and her roommate for about ten minutes. When she found out it was our honeymoon she was clearly surprised. I was afraid she was going to say something about that moment in the pool…but she just smiled and politely found a reason for her and her friend to go.

As she walked away, I saw her give me a look…a look I hadn’t seen since the eighth grade. When I said I like Emily more than her.

Since then it’s been 7,058,900 minutes. And counting.

Ok, so I read a lot of blogs. My blogroll has some of the best of them, but my bookmark bar has quite a few more. For reasons I can’t really explain, I’d say the blog-authorship-gender ratio is something like 90:10 female authors to male authors. Perhaps I just like having some kind of insight into the minds of women, perhaps I’m still too busy reflecting on my own stuff to read about another guy’s too (nah), or maybe there is just a larger percentage of interesting women on the internet than men. Maybe it’s a bit of all three.

I also suspect that the majority of my readers are women. I base this SOLELY on the comments and emails I’ve received so far, but for that reason, the remainder of this post is directed primarily at the women of the internet.

A lot of blogs out there have some very personal dating and relationship experiences. In reading a lot of these I see a few recurring themes. Themes about guys, about what guys might be thinking (or NOT thinking), about the stupid things guys do, and worst of all about the things stupid guys do whether they were thinking or not.

I’m a guy, and I would say that on the general spectrum of guys, I’m a pretty normal guy. I know lots of other normal guys and I can comfortably say I understand how normal guys think. So I would like to address some of these recurring themes from a normal guy’s perspective.

The reason I actually started this post is the recurring theme of guys who make fun of a woman’s “skills” in the bedroom. At first, I couldn’t honestly believe this actually happened in real life. It’s like finding out that Cthulhu rose from the depths thirty-two years ago and now has a theme park in Sheboygan. It’s both too surreal and too horrible to imagine.

Ladies, I realize this sounds painfully obvious, but just to be totally clear: if a guy EVER makes fun of your “skills,” run away. If he does this semi-publicly in front of either his or your friends, slap him and then run far away. If he does this openly in public (say a bar or sporting event) slap him, run away, and hire someone to have him whacked. Most guys I know (myself included) would do this for you free-of-charge just to try and redeem the rest of our gender.

Bedroom time isn’t a skills test. Normal guys don’t go into the bedroom with a grading sheet. Laughter is sexy, and if something funny happens during a sexual encounter, normal guys just hope they didn’t embarrass themselves too badly.

Now, I’m not saying every moment in bed is going to be straight out of a romance novel or have direct-from-porn production values…but this isn’t comparison time. Ever. This is non-negotiable. Any guy who uses the following phrases in or about the bedroom should be publicly executed after you drop him on his ass:

– “That’s not how [ex-lover’s name] did [sex-act], I really miss that.”
– “Have you ever done this before?”
– “You need to watch more porn. It’s educational.”
– “Now, I’m not calling you a prude, but some guys would.”
– “You stopped going to the gym, didn’t you?”
– “If you loved me, you’d try it.”

(Obviously this list isn’t all-inclusive, and I will gladly take suggestions and add them to the list with credit).

No group of guys sits around making fun of the women they’ve been with. If guys get together, the guy who did that would be stared at and then shunned. If, somewhere in this universe, there IS a group of guys that do this (and some blog posts lead me to believe that there might be), please believe me when I say that they are minions of Satan. They ARE NOT HUMAN. They cast no reflection in a mirror, no matter how many times their vain little heartless-voids look. Please drive a wooden stake through them as your duty to humanity. No jury of your peers will convict you; we will, however, probably give you a medal.

Seriously though, do NOT tolerate this. Do NOT give it even one millisecond of thought. No woman is “bad at sex” even if she’s not gifted at stroking some particular infantile jackass’s…ego.

I realize that seems counter-intuitive. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of an example from their own past and say “ah ha! You don’t know what you’re talking about! I KNOW better!” But you’re missing my point. A sexual encounter can go badly, be unsatisfying or just not “work” for a lot of reasons; but NONE of them are due to a woman’s “skills” because it just doesn’t work that way. Period.

The primary reason a sexual encounter goes badly, based on my experience and the collective experiences of my friends (male and female), is miscommunication. Not skills, not stamina, not flexibility, not size/shape/color, just simple miscommunication.

Let me share a not-very-well-kept secret about guys: we all still have that pubescent man-child in the back of our heads that’s completely terrified that we don’t know what we’re doing or if we’re doing it right. All of us. It never shuts up.

Where women have intuition and logic, we have a squeaky twelve-year-old constantly second guessing every little thing we say or do. Doesn’t matter if we’re sixteen or ninety-six, it never goes away. I know some guys who have “notched a couple hundred up on the bedpost,” and some guys who’s confidence and ease with women confounds their peers; and all of them admit that the voice is still there…they just got better at drowning him out.

Now, that voice is a two edge sword…

On the one hand, that voice is the reason that no matter what, no matter when or where or how or even why, if you take off your shirt, we’re excited. Somewhere inside every guy is a voice that shouts out “Boobies!” every time we see them. Twenty years, three kids, and a second-mortgage into a marriage, and a husband will still have a voice in his head that shouts “Boobies!” if you walk out of the bathroom after a shower with the robe untied.

On the other hand, the voice is completely ignorant of relationships or commitment. If it sees the next door neighbor walking from room to room with the blinds open while changing her bra, it WILL shout “Boobies!” then too. It is TOTALLY unreliable for making good decisions. Period.

Do you want to know what drives a man during sex? That pubescent man-child in the back of our heads. You are the gatekeeper, he is the keymaster, and the only things guys have to steer the squeaky twelve-year-old with are the psychological equivalents of a laser pointer and a squirt gun.

Do you want to know the ONE thing that overcomes the man-child’s inherent fear and doubt? The ONE thing that will make him worship even the most naive virgin as a sexual goddess? Enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is the only gauge we use. And this is where miscommunication becomes so dangerous. If you have reservations or personal issues with a specific act, a certain level of intimacy or even sexual intimacy at all, or just aren’t sure that the time/place/partner is right, it is very likely that any attempted sexual session will not be as fulfilling as you or he want.

If you aren’t sure whether or not to go to bed with a guy, let me give you some advice that neither I nor any other guy would actually admit to giving: don’t. If you aren’t sure, it’s unlikely that you will be very enthusiastic about the encounter. If you aren’t enthusiastic, it’s pretty unlikely that it will be any good for either of you.

Notice how at NO point did I say it would affect your skills. Because that’s just bullshit. The kind of bullshit that the man-child would spew out to try and make himself feel better. To convince himself and other’s that it wasn’t his fault. Because, honestly, that’s his greatest fear: to be told he’s as bad at it as he thinks he is.

Now, I’m NOT advocating abstinence. I’m all for people having as much enthusiastic sex as they want under just about whatever circumstances they’re comfortable having it. But if you aren’t sure if you want to go to bed with a guy, don’t.

If you’ve been hurt before, and you’re not sure if you’re ready to get back into that particular arena, I would suggest a simple test, “can you be enthusiastic with [name of potential partner]?” If the answer is yes, then maybe you should take a chance, bang his brains out with gusto and leave him weak and spent with a huge grin on his face. If the answer is no, then save yourself and your potential partner an uncomfortable exit, averted glances, and quick changes of direction on the sidewalk in the weeks to come.

So far most of the advice has been sort of focused on “first time” issues, but the basics here apply to every stage of a relationship. If something is bothering you or affecting your enthusiasm for sexual play, communicate it clearly. Normal guys WON’T hold this against you…in fact we’ll be relieved. See, the thing guys are most afraid of is doing something “wrong” in the bedroom…and anything that leads us to think that something IS wrong will be agonized over endlessly in a vicious circle of doubt and bravado until our heads explode. Because no matter what is actually affecting you, we will always blame ourselves and our abilities. Always.

Also be advised that the vicious circle of doubt generally renders us powerless to the man-child. This is bad, because he’s an infantile little ass-hole. Always.

If it IS something we’re doing wrong; bumping your cervix, forgetting the foreplay, doing it like a bull rider (lasting for eight seconds), or just making funny faces at inopportune times; whatever it is, just break it to us gently. Then, be willing to work on it with us. Try some extra enthusiasm if we get it right, Pavlov’s dogs have NOTHING over on a guy in bed.

1) Guys actually like foreplay. Guys are intimidated by feminine complexity. These two factors epitomize the opposing forces in a guy’s brain. There’s an old example of this where male sexuality is illustrated with a picture of a single large red push-button. Female sexuality is illustrated with a picture of the cockpit of a 747 Jumbo Jet. The intimidation factor tends to lead to “video-game” syndrome for guys. If we can push all the right buttons, and make all the right movements, we “win” the game (foreplay accomplished). The next phase of “video-game” syndrome is trying to push the buttons and make the movements faster…to win sooner…which is actually the opposite of how foreplay works, but we don’t instinctively know that. We just want to “win” as fast as possible. It becomes more about how fast and how many times we can win, and NOT about how well we play the game.

Addressing “video-game” syndrome can be tricky. One the one hand you don’t want to tell the man-child he’s not doing it right, but on the other hand the adult mind wants to know that everything is working as intended. If you find yourself down the “video-game” syndrome path, all I can say is be gentle, but be through. Explain what will make the experience better (longer flight time) and then be willing to engage in practice. It’s probably pretty rare that a guy wouldn’t take you up on an opportunity to spend quality time with your girl parts.

And remember what I said about enthusiasm.

2) There is no such thing as a “good” or a “bad” blow-job. Generally, we prefer that you cover your teeth with your lips…but we’re not dumb enough to complain if you don’t. Guys with an IQ below 20 are still smart enough not to complain. Guys that ARE dumb enough to complain shouldn’t be afforded an opportunity to pass on their genes, even by accident. Please take that into account.

3) Guys experience sexual sensations in very general ways. The penis is not, in fact, a precision tool. It’s a blunt instrument. Small changes in pace, sensation, angle or pressure are pretty much indeterminable. The male is generally designed to “do things,” not differentiate different things “done” to him.

4) PHYSICALLY, different sexual positions are really for you, not us. SEEING you in different sexual positions is TOTALLY for us. By and large we think we want to be porn stars. Porn LOOKS exciting, we like to be excited, vis-à-vis sex should LOOK like porn. Yes, we really are that stupid.

5) According to Douglas Adams, 42 is the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything”…but the questions are different for men and women. I have no idea what the question is for women, but for men it’s usually “how many states and capitals can you name before crossing the point of no return?” Sometimes we don’t get all the way to Rhode Island. Sometimes YOU won’t get to Rhode Island. Sometimes we won’t be able to drive you to Rhode Island before…well, before the wheels go flat. Remember enthusiasm. Remember practice. Remember that we probably DO care if you’re happy, and we’d like nothing more than to know what makes you enthusiastic.

We know you don’t like the man-child. He comes out when we get drunk, or just stupid, and he says things and does things that you hate. But we hate him too, and we’re afraid of him. Any guy who isn’t is probably exactly the kind of ass-hole who talks about a woman’s “skills” in the bedroom.  And we all know what should happen to him…

Normal guys really do want to be about the romance, about the emotion, about the connection…but we share space with an infantile little ass-hole in our heads. The best we can usually do is a compromise somewhere between shouting “Boobies!” out-loud, and being in the emotional and romantic moment.

The next time you’re in your guy’s arms, sharing a passionate kiss…look deep into his eyes. You just might be able to see the adult chasing the adolescent with a laser pointer and a squirt gun.

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-three-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
“Peanut”
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.

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.”