Tag Archives: dad

TWO FRIENDS, part 1 & 2: CHAPTER 38

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PART 1: ROB

 During the summer between my eighth- and ninth-grade years, I ended up meeting a boy my same age named Rob who lived across town from me. He is a mental fixture in my childhood and was a very important part of my adolescence, and although I wrack my brain over and over, I can’t seem to recall how the two of us first met. Presently, as a thirty-year-old man, this makes me very sad as I know that things I hold dear to me are beginning to slowly evaporate while I’m not looking.

His parents had divorced long before I knew him, and he was mostly left alone throughout the day during summer break. His mom’s small house became our kingdom; its four walls were ours. We could crank the stereo and listen to our music as loud as we wanted. It was that summer that Rob introduced me to Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, and rock and roll.

He would date a girl, I would date a girl, we’d break up with them and date each other’s ex-girlfriends; once we even made out with the same girl at the same time, both of us feeling her up while awkwardly trying to avoid each other’s hands. That encounter finally ended with the three of us all giving a collective, “This is weird, yeah?” and then driving to Burger King for lunch.

A few years later, Rob and I began to change and grow apart (as people do). He began spending countless hours at the library (pre Internet) researching Buddhism and Hinduism and various forms of monkhood. He claimed to spend hours each day in his room meditating on nothing but clearing his mind and disconnecting from the world.

We’d spend endless hours bickering wildly over the existence and nature of God, me with all of my “hard facts” he was ignorantly overlooking. I would point and condemn, using fear as a weapon. It makes me grimace to remember the things I’d say; the way I’d try to shove a very specific brand of American Christianity down his throat like a horse pill. “Just take two of these and you’ll be fine!”

Religion was a drug to me. It lifted me up and made me feel good and certain and right. I couldn’t get enough – I mean, who doesn’t want to feel absolute certainty in the unknown? Certainty gives us a sense of superiority. And superiority damages relationships. And eventually, as most drugs do, it devoured me and alienated my friend. It’s funny how religion – a supposedly cosmic belief system based in love, unity and the divine – can separate and isolate human beings so harshly if we allow it to.

Years passed and Rob and I grew further and further apart, only seeing each other randomly in the high-school parking lots. We became involved with different groups of friends but still nodded silently to each other when we passed by happenstance in the halls.

Then, sometime during our junior year, I heard from a mutual friend that he had suddenly taken a bus to California. It wasn’t until years and years later that the two of us would meet again, this time at his new home, a Hare Krishna community in Santa Monica he’d been living in since he left South Dakota. We were different people—both of us half a country away from our hometown, both of us half a decade older, me a bit balder from genetics, he with a purposefully shaved head save for a sprout of hair in the back. I wear a T-shirt and ripped jeans, he an orange robe.

We’ve both matured as men and are able to discuss our cosmic curiosities in a more social manner, taking the time to learn from one another rather than attempting merely to teach and talk. He asks me to stay for lunch and we walk through a veritable buffet of vegetarian Indian cuisine and he purchases my meal for me. We say grace together and dig in, reminiscing about people we once knew.

He tells me that he had discovered this temple during one of his various faith studies, contacted them, and they’d sent him an invite along with the bus fare. At seventeen years old he had packed a single bag, got on the Greyhound, and never returned.

Once I was diagnosed with cancer, he and his new wife were one of the very first and very few to come visit us in the hospital. Then, six months later, toward the end of my treatment, he invited my family to his temple for a small lunch. It could not have come at a better time as I was truly feeling as though I needed to unload a minivan of emotional baggage. There were dark things happening deep down in my soul and they were going to come out; Pandora’s box was going to crack open. I was feeling very bad things and I needed to say them. I needed to get them into the air around me and I needed someone I trusted to hit them all like Whack-A-Moles when they appeared.

Looking back, I hope to God that these emotions were simply my renegade hormones speaking; my lack of AndroGel and imbalance of testosterone. But even today, years later, I can’t say with any absolute clarity. I can’t say for certain that I wasn’t on the brink of something darker.

Rob, who was now going by the name of Haladhara, and I sat down at a small table while, at my request, our wives and my mother sat down separately. We both say our customary blessing and then I thank him for buying me lunch yet again. He says, “Dude . . . dude . . . c’mon. It’s the least I can do.”

I look at my large plate with my meager portions and remember the last time I ate here—I had heaping stacks of food. He asks, “How is everything? How are you doing?” and I reach out and pick up a biscuit that might be made out of potatoes and spinach and I take a bite. I say, “I’m not very good, man. I’m not doing very good,” and my voice cracks on that last word and he says, “What’s wrong?”

I look around the restaurant and see people seated at different tables. My initial fear when we walked in the door had been that I would throw up and make a scene. My new fear is that I was about to start crying uncontrollably with an audience.

I say, “I’m . . . so . . . I don’t know. Just inside. Everything feels all weird. It feels all sick,” and he says, “But it’s gone, yeah? It’s all—you’re out of it?” and I say, “The cancer is gone . . . but the cancer—it’s never been the problem. It’s the chemo. The chemotherapy is the monster, and I’ve got one round left. I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I have it in me,” and Rob, or Haladhara, puts down his food and puts his fingertips together and just listens to me talk. I ramble.

“It hurts so much. I can’t walk. I can’t talk. I’m . . . pain . . . everything is fuzzy. The ice-cream truck made me cry. Jade is giving me baths. I can’t take care of myself. Can’t walk. Can barely think, talk . . . . I can’t eat. I don’t know. If I had to do this again, I can’t say, I can’t say, I don’t know that I wouldn’t just . . . kill myself. I don’t think I can do it again.”

These are the darkest words I’ve ever spoken and I consider this moment to be my darkest hour. I glance around the small room and find that no one is looking at me but everyone is paying attention. I try to stifle my gasps but I have no control over anything. I put my face into my hands and try to hold back visceral wails that seem to be clawing their way out of my very soul. Thinking these monstrous and loathing thoughts is evil and poisonous toxicity—thinking about suicide. Speaking the words out loud feels so much more tangible and dangerous. It feels as though I’m speaking some kind of taboo truth into them that I hate, bringing it to life or somehow birthing it into our world. I don’t want to say it, don’t want to admit it but I want to get in front of the problem, get it into the air, out in the open; murder it before it murders me.

I am broken.

Rob reaches across the table and puts his hand on mine and says, “You’re going to be all right. You’re so strong. Everything you’re going through is difficult. But you will get through it. You are inspiring.”

This moment between two people. This compassion. This empathy. This kindness. This is what God looks like.

 

PART 2: LUCY

At some point in the early 2000s, my brother-in-law, Jarod, moved to Bozeman, Montana, where he began work as a bartender while attending college. It was at this bar he met a girl and fellow employee named Lucy.

The two hit it off well enough, and when Jarod discovered that she was moving to Los Angeles, he volunteered to connect her with my wife and myself.

So one extremely windy day, we all met at a Starbucks and drank overpriced burnt coffee and chatted about our plans to “take over this town.” She was one of the nicest people I’d ever met; she wore a constant smile, made well-timed jokes, and laughed when expected. All that aside, we were living in different parts of the city, and the three of us were simply too preoccupied with other things to navigate a new and strange friendship.

It would be years before either Jade or I saw her again.

Fast forward several tax seasons until I’d finally found myself working as the lead editor at a start-up post-production company in Studio City. The owner, an enormously tall Dutchman named Radu, had a weakness for cheeses, Entourage, and loose women. He had a constant interest in “The Dakotas,” a cowboy land filled with bars, gunfights, and no electricity that I had apparently somehow escaped, presumably on the back of a wild stallion.

He’d wander around the office, ducking through doorways, moving from edit bay to edit bay proclaiming, “Rah-DO-IT!” if he agreed with something you were creating.

A year into my job there, he decided to bring on our very first assistant editor; a young lady named Amber who had just finished college up north and was now trying to get her foot into some steady work.

One Wednesday, Radu called a meeting (which usually just entailed Amber and I sitting at a table in the front lobby while he showed us his favorite moments from Entourage and splurged on exotic cheeses) to tell us about a new client we had coming in; some foreign documentary that needed editing. “I know neither of you speaks Spanish—hell, Brookbank barely speaks English—but we’re going to just Rah-do-it. You got it?” Honestly, he was like a character out of a TV show.

I reach out for a piece of cheese, and he slaps my hand away. “This ain’t no soup kitchen! You pay for that cheese? Were you born in a barn, Dakota? You probably were born in a barn—go buy your own Velveeta cheddar slices, whatever. This is good cheese. Fine, here’s one piece, just to try. Savor it because you’ll probably not get anymore again. How much you think this cheese platter cost? Forty bucks.”

I say, “This cheese tastes like a jock strap,” and Radu says, “You have the etiquette of a possum. Shut your mouth when you eat, you rat bastard. Now, listen, the client is Such and Such—” except he actually names the client and doesn’t say such and such and Amber says, “Such and Such on Miracle Mile?” and Radu says, “Yes; you know them?” and Amber says, “Yeah, my best friend Lucy works there—we graduated from Bozeman together,” and I say, “You went to Bozeman? Lucy who?” and Amber says, “Lucy Such and Such!” and I say, “Black hair? Thin? Laughs when she’s supposed to?” and Amber says, “Yes!” and I say, “My brother-in-law is Jarod. Do you know him?” and she says, “I know Jarod!” and Radu says, “I ain’t got time for this. I’m going to take a shit. Nobody touch my cheese,” and then he leaves the room.

This is how I met Lucy for the second time.

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There are people that you meet from time to time and you can just tell that karma is out to get them, or is, at the very least, lying dormant and waiting for the perfect time to strike. Then there are people who, conversely, you meet and you just think that even their dandruff should be considered good luck powder in most circles.

Lucy was one of these latter. Although, it should be stated that she does not, so far as I am aware, have dandruff. When you meet her, you immediately think to yourself, “You’re a wonderful person. You’re happy and you know what happiness is and I can simply tell that you are a good friend with a trustworthy personality.”

Over the course of the following years, Lucy and my wife and myself all keep up, fighting through the weirdness that is LA friendships in order to get together for the odd and random dinner. Our friendship matures and Lucy ultimately becomes a close friend of both my wife and myself.

Then, one day, years later, I’m sitting in My Yellow Chair with my blanket when my phone rings and it’s Lucy and she’s asking if she can come over to visit. Of course, we say and when my wife shouts, “Come in!” a few hours later, Lucy hobbles into my living room wearing a full blown please-sign-here leg cast.

After the initial, “What-the-what?!” and “Is that fer real?!” questions out of the way, she regales us with her tale of woe.

Two nights ago, she says, she was coming home with her roommate. It was about 11 p.m. and she had to park about a block away from her house. “It’s a good neighborhood though so not a big deal.”

She and her roommate exit the car, begin the track back up the block and—someone punches her in the back of the head, knocking her 110-pound frame to the ground. She rolls over in time to see two young men begin to stomp, literally stomp on her leg until it is cracked and broken, only stopping when porch lights begin to turn on from her wretched screaming. The two boys take her purse and disappeared into the darkness while her roommate fumbles with 911.

I say, “They . . . stomped . . . on your leg . . . until it snapped?” and she says, “Yes, with their feet. They just jumped up and down on it. They shattered my leg. And, yes, I’m moving to New York City.”

There is silence between us when my wife says, “New York? Isn’t that dangerous?” and Lucy says, “I don’t know. Probably. Maybe. Certain neighborhoods. I just can’t—every day I think they’ll be there. Every day, no matter where I am, I’m afraid they’ll be there. If I’m in a parking garage at nine p.m. or a Target parking lot at eleven a.m. I think they’re following me—I mean, I know they’re not following me, but I’m waiting for them to come back. I was mugged and I’m afraid it’s going to happen again. I’m afraid of them returning. Do you know what I mean?”

I look at her and I say, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.” I know what it’s like to have them return again and again and again. Mine doesn’t come in the form of two cowardly men; mine comes in the form of bad news over and over and over. Testicular cancer, surgery, heart cancer, lung cancer, grand mal seizure, fainting, puking, RLS, blood vomiting, insomnia, constipation, atrophy, platelets, blood transfusions, lockjaw.

The process has a way of getting under your skin, into your soul and making you not trust The Good News. Cancer wasn’t done with me; it was going to come and find me in some parking lot and finish the job. Lately I’d just been spending my days waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I say, “New York will be awesome. Be safe,” and Lucy leaves for her new life where she will find success in producing. I love Lucy’s story because it shows that goodness and opportunity can come from anywhere. Two bottom feeders break your leg, steal your purse, and re-route your train for New York where you find more happiness and success than you ever had in Los Angeles. It’s a high price to pay, but the even higher price is a life lived in mediocrity.

Feeling suddenly inspired to make moves and to get out there and to feel the hustle that I heard Lucy talking about, I decide to e-mail my boss. I’ve been in correspondence with him over the last few months, and he, to his great credit, has been nothing short of compassionate. When I had to leave he said, “Go, take as much time as you want. Whatever you need. We’ll work with you,” and for an employee, that inspires comfort and safety. In an industry where everyone is flaky, it was a breath of fresh air; while dealing with a disease that was unpredictable, it was wonderful to have predictability. It was nice to know that, at the end, my job was there.

I’d hit him up every three to four weeks just to touch base and say hi, let him know I was still alive. He writes back with, “No problem! Just beat that cancer! Quit worrying about the job! It’s here! It’s yours! Just get better! Good luck!”

So it is upon this day that I write him one final time to give him the good news, “My cancer is gone and it looks like I’m going to wander the Earth for a few more years after all. I should be able to return in about six weeks and I just want to say thank you so much for keeping it open for me.”

Our medical bills were now into the hundreds of thousands and we needed a financial Band-Aid soon. This job was the only rope I could see that would pull us to safety.

I send the e-mail and I hear the whoosh indicating that the digital file is flying through cyber space and I imagine Phil’s e-mail giving him a little bing notification. I imagine him reading it and smiling and feeling warm and fuzzy that he is such a huge part in helping me to gather the shattered pieces of my life and glue them back together. He can sleep easy tonight knowing that he and he alone was the boat that sailed my job through the storm. He was the captain at sea while I was in the infirmary. I stare at my blank computer monitor and I think, “I hope he knows how much that means to me. I hope I was articulate enough.”

BING.

I receive an email. From Phil. Wonderful! I quickly open it up, excited for the warm words of encouragement from o captain, my captain. I smile and begin to read, paraphrased as, “Johnny. I’m so glad to hear you’re better. Unfortunately, I gave your job away two weeks after you left and didn’t have the heart to tell you. I’ll put out a couple feelers. Be well. Phil.”

I reach over and sip my hot tea, fold my hands and purse my lips as I try to decide what my emotional response should be to this terse letter.

I look toward the door and, nodding, I see our collection of footwear. It appears the other shoe has finally fallen.

 

 

 

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SURGERY: CHAPTER 13

 

 

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We drive to the hospital on a Friday morning for my out-patient surgery. I always assumed that, when the time finally came, I would be considerably more depressed or mournful. But instead, there is a freedom that is both liberating and intoxicating in the air. I’m just happy that this will soon be over. Today.

Take my nut. Just save my life. Take the poison before it spreads.

As I sit in the waiting room, no thoughts of hormone supplements cross my mind. The word eunuch never enters my brain. The only thing I can think about right now, the only impending doom I can imagine, the enormous, inevitable snowball that’s rushing toward the small village that is my psyche, is the thought of the IV.

But, thankfully, I tell myself, it’s the last one for a long, long time. “Just get through this one and you’re good. You’re gold. You can do it.”

On the television in the waiting room is a talk show where the special guest is a young musician speaking about coffee enemas. I stand up and turn the TV off just as a nurse calls my name.

My testicle leaps nervously into my stomach and it feels like it’s trying to give me one last hug. I say, “I hate goodbyes,” but it won’t let go.

The nurse leads my wife and I into a cream-colored room and instructs me to put on The Gown. When I come out of the bathroom, dressed for surgery, she’s ready to stick me with the IV and for some reason I feel like this is The Line. I feel as though, at any point before the IV, I was free to turn around and run away and lead a life anyway I chose, but the IV . . . . It represents a kind of umbilical cord to the hospital. Like red vests at Wal-Mart—they make it very easy to differentiate between who belongs here and who doesn’t.

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I tell the nurse that I’m afraid of needles and she just laughs and I lean forward and say, “No, listen. I’m afraid. Do you have a numbing shot? I’ve heard that such a thing exists.” And she says, “A shot before the shot?” and I say, “ . . . Yes,” and she says,

“ . . . Sure.”

The nurse excuses herself to get the pre-numbing needle and returns with a freaking golden retriever! Bedside manner, ladies and gentlemen. The extra mile.

I say, “What the H-E-C-K is this!?” and the nurse says, “This is Samantha. She’s our therapy dog. We let children pet her before they get shots—I mean patients—we let all patients of every age pet her before they get shots.”

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I say, “I see,” and stare into Samantha’s eyes while I lie back. They’re a beautiful brown, almost golden color, and I hand my arm to The Extra Mile Nurse and Samantha pants and smells my right hand and The Extra Mile nurse taps my left forearm. Samantha says, “Don’t worry, kid, everything is going to be all right because I love you just for being you,” and I say to The Extra Mile Nurse, “Don’t forget the numbing needle,” and she says, “Of course,” and I feel a poke and I look deep down into Samantha’s eyes while I hold my breath and I wonder how many hundreds and thousands of children this dog has been loved by, how many eyes have stared directly into hers. I wonder where she sleeps at night and how she’s treated.

“All done,” The Extra Mile Nurse says and I say, “I only felt one poke,” and she says, “I know; the numbing shot worked!” and I look over on the table and only see the remains of a single syringe.

The Extra Mile Nurse turns to leave and pats her leg and takes Samantha with her, and I feel my hand run down her head, down her back, down her tail, and she’s gone.

I never see either of them again.

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Later, another, younger nurse comes in and tells me that she’s here to give me a “cocktail.” She says it will help take the edge off and make me a little sleepy. I ask her where she was twenty minutes ago.

She plugs a bag into my IV and I . . . take . . . a nap . . . .

Minutes or hours or days have passed. I wake up, and I’m still in the same room. I feel my crotch. My testicle is still there. My tumor is still there. For a true moment, I was hoping they had pulled a quick one on me and had it all done with.

The Young Nurse comes back in, tells me that it’s time to go, and takes me away. Two more nurses meet her in the hallway and the three of them navigate me through wide, bright, green corridors. I watch the overhead lights wash over me and try to remember every movie I’ve ever seen that uses that shot. I listen to the wheel on my gurney squeak.

This is it.

They push me around a corner, and I sit up and look over my shoulder and wave to my wife. She waves back and shouts, “Good luck! I love you! I love you!” and then I’m all alone, surrounded by scrubs.

They push me through a set of double doors and into a large room that smells like rubbing alcohol. Two women help me slide from my bed onto another bed. No—this isn’t a bed. This is an operating table. I’m on The Slab.

I lie back and stare at the ceiling, where a gigantic light on a rotating arm hangs above me. A pretty young lady with red hair leans down over me and says, “Are you comfortable?” and I adjust my shoulders and say, “Yes,” and she says, “Good.” She says, “I’m going to inject you with something. Is that all right?” and I say, “Is this—is this the stuff that’s going to put me down?” and she laughs as her thumb slowly pushes on the plunger, and there is an explosion in my chest that rises into my mouth that tastes like copper. I lick my lips and say, “See you on the—”

Other side.

When I wake up moments later I find myself sick and wanting to vomit. An oxygen mask covers my face. I try to sit up and look around because I have this feeling of complete nakedness. Not of nudeness, not the sensation of being unclothed, but of being exposed and out of place. I can only equate it to the feeling I get when I suddenly find myself walking through the young teen’s bra section at Target. What—how did I get here? I hope no one sees me—where’s the exit? Run! No, don’t run, you’ll look suspicious. Walk slowly—no, not that slowly, you’ll look like you’re perusing. Just keep moving.

I look to my right and see a row of hospital gurneys that are all empty and I suddenly feel a sense of impending doom, like I’m the next and final victim in some mad science experiment.

Why do I taste pennies?

My throat hurts fiercely. I bring up my hand to rub my trachea and see that there’s a tube taped to my forearm. Oh, yeah. Everything hits me in a quick wave: Cancer. Hospital. Testicle. I remember why I’m here, what I’m doing. I lie down and hold back my gag reflex. The only thing worse than being in the bra section at Target is puking there.

Suddenly, a nurse is standing above me but I don’t remember what she looks like or how old she was. She asks how I’m doing, and I tell her that it feels like I’m burping up pennies. She laughs and asks if she can touch my beard. I have to pause and reflect if she’s having a bad day and needs a therapy dog like Samantha to help her through it. I willingly tilt up my chin and she runs her fingers through my face pubes.

She tells me that she thinks I might be Amish—a remark I get often thanks to the pattern in which my beard naturally grows; two long side burns into a neck beard thing I call The Hanging Tomato Plant. Hair simply refuses to grow on my cheeks or upper lip.

I tell her I’m not Amish, as far as I know, but secretly wish I were, which is true. I tell her my throat really is sore and she tells me it’s because they stuck a tube down it and I ask if they used a hammer to get the job done.

I shift my eyes to the left and have a quick daydream. I suddenly see my naked, flaccid body on a slab. I see a tube shoved down my throat. I see eight people standing around me, cutting me, sucking my blood into machines, moving my penis and pulling my testicle out through a hole in my abdomen; a male C-section. I see the tumor, a big black pulsating alien brain connected to veins leading back into my cavity. I see them cauterize the wound. I see scissors and sutures. And I see this nurse, standing next to me, holding my penis up with a gloved hand to keep it out of the way of danger.

My eyes shift back to the right.

After what The Faceless Nurse deemed an acceptable length of time, someone wheels me downstairs to a second recovery room where they prop me into a recliner that I swear was the softest chair I’d ever, ever been in.

A new nurse, a chubby blonde woman in her late fifties, gives me some crackers and apple juice, and I’m certain she was probably a kindergarten teacher at some point and is just role-playing with me.

I tell her I feel sick, hoping to get some kind of high-powered-hospital-quality medicine that is going to take away these waves of nausea, but instead, she brings me a bed pan shaped liked an old man’s kidney.

Gee, thanks. You shouldn’t have.

She takes one step back and I puke three times; acidy strings of yellow and white saliva get stuck in my beard. The Teacher Nurse says, “Are you Amish?” and I wipe my chin on my sleeve and hand her the kidney. She says, “You should probably just keep that.”

Over her shoulder, I see my wife enter the room and, thank you, thank you, thank you, I’m no longer alone. I’m no longer scared or afraid. It’s just her and me and that’s it. She says, “Gross! You puked! In front of everyone!” and I laugh.

She hands me a real life cactus that has been decorated with construction paper flowers and adorned with various Game Boy cartridges. At my heart, I am a stupid little vomiting boy.

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I say, “Thank you. This is very nice. I’m going to puke again,” and she says, “OK,” and takes the flowers from me. I grab the defiled bedpan and hold the rank and frothy mixture up to my mouth. I heave once, twice, and then puke doesn’t come up but instead some kind of salty cracker concoction. When I look up I see both my wife and The Teacher Nurse staring at me. I look to my left and see another older nurse that I hadn’t registered before watching me, as well. Where were these people coming from? Did they hear there was going to be a show? I politely ask them all why they’re staring at me and each of them, in turn, looks down at their feet.

I stare back into my bedpan and can feel all three sets of eyes slowly rise up, waiting, watching, anticipating me, each of them so excited to watch me erupt. “Oh, yes,” they are surely thinking, “Here he goes—his breathing is getting heavy! This is going to be amazing!”

Nothing comes out and there is a collective sigh. Sorry to disappoint. I tell The Teacher Nurse that I have to go to the bathroom and she says, “Number one or number two?” and then I’m positive that I’m stuck in some weird role-play with her. I say, “Uh, I just sort of have to pee,” and she says, “OK, that’s number one. Let me help you up, sweetie.”

I hobble across the floor with a 4-foot, 2-inch, fifty-something year old woman “supporting” me. Her perfume is pungent. She opens a door, and I mumble my thanks before shutting it and opening my robe and this is the first time that I realize I’m wearing some kind of—I don’t really know the best way to describe it—a nut-sack diaper, I guess.

It’s like a jock strap with no cup.

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I exit the bathroom and excitedly ask the nurse if I get to keep my new accessory and she says, with an air of English dignity, “It’s called a scrotal support. And yes, it’s yours to keep.” The best gift a boy could ask for. I say, “It’s perfect. You’re so sweet. You shouldn’t have.”

The Teacher Nurse helps me back to my chair where I find a doctor handing a folder to my wife. He says, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with them, but we took ’em,” and Jade smiles and says, “Thanks,” and the doctor says, “From what I could tell, we got it in time and it hasn’t spread.” My heart leaps in my chest. It’s over. “But,” the Doctor Guy continues, “check in with your urologist next week. I’m sure he’s going to want to follow up with you.”

Sure, sure, whatever. I. Am. Healed! Hallelujah! I hear a chorus of angels playing the mambo. I want to dance with them but my scrotal support is simply too constricting.

A nurse pulls out my IV and wheels me to the hospital exit. My wife pulls up in the car, and I feel like a woman having just been released from childbirth. Except I have no baby.

I have no baby.

And my balls are . . . completely gone . . . every chance of children I have rests on the shoulders of others.

Jade honks the horn, and I saunter over to the car and crawl into the passenger seat. She hands me the manila folder and says, “One last surprise.” I open the file and find three digital photos that have been printed out on high gloss paper, each one more gruesome than the last.

She says, “I figured that little bastard has given you so many problems in the last month you’d at least want to see his face.”

Inside are three pictures of my bloody testicle sitting on a blue rag with a small gray tumor stuck to its side. We go home, frame one, and put it on a shelf in our living room.

Jade says, “We made it. We survived cancer.”

 

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Well, that’s the very end of the story. Thanks for reading!

Just kidding. There’s still an awful lot of shit heading right towards this fan.

Tune back in next Monday for THE BLACK TENDRILS: CHAPTER 14 as Cancer reaches out from the grave.

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DR. CHAPLIPS: CHAPTER 9

Cancer Monday. Another chapter. If you’re caught up, keep reading. If you’re new – welcome! We’re reading one chapter a week from my book Cancer? But I’m a Virgo? A dark comedy that chronicles the absolutely hilarious time I had cancer. And, of course, when I say “hilarious”, I actually mean that I’ve never been more depressed in my entire life. But potato / potahto, am I right? No. I’m wrong. Nobody says potahto. Nobody.

If you’d like to start from the beginning, click here!

This chapter is, for me, so far, the most exposing. This is the beginning of our IVF cycle. The doctor’s are gearing up to take my single remaining testicle and so we’ll need to do some sperm banking if we want to have kids.

In case you’ve ever wondered what that world looks like. Gaze your eyes upon . . .

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Another doctor’s office. Another Georgia O’Keeffe painting. The sun beats in through a west-facing window, and I think the AC must be broken. My wife holds my hand. Am I sweaty? Is she clammy? I can’t tell. The thumb of my free hand rubs the denim of my jeans. I try to concentrate on the fabric to pass the time until—

The door opens and a man in a knee-length lab coat enters. He sits down across from us and the very first thing I take in about him (after the lab coat) is that his lips are incredibly chappy. Not just Chapstick chappy but I’ve-been-lost-in-the-desert-for-two- weeks-was-rescued-and-came-right-to-work chappy. White, dead skin juts at all angles like shards of milky, broken glass. His little pink tongue keeps darting out and licking them like a weasel gathering eggs, and I’m fairly confident that he’s simply eating the dusty flakes.

Oh my goodness, I can’t stop staring. It’s like a woman with her cleavage exposed. I want to look you in the eyes. I genuinely do. But your tig ol’ bitties are boring directly into my soul.

He shakes my hand, and I make a note to wash it the first chance I get. He welcomes us to the clinic. He explains to us what The Process will look like.

IVF.

In vitro fertilization.

Or . . . How To Make Babies With Science. Petri dishes, egg retrievals, frozen sperm. That sort of thing.

 

“The first step,” he says, “is to do a semen analysis. We need to see where your numbers are,” and I look at Jade and then back at his incredibly disgusting lips. I say, “Uh . . . OK. What does that . . . entail?” and he explains that I simply have to masturbate into a cup. Simply right now. Simply in public. It’s all very simple.

I cough into my hand but quickly pull it back, realizing that’s the one I shook his with and now most likely contains some sort of lip contagion. I look at my wife and I look at my feet and I look at the Georgia O’Keeffe vagina painting and I say to the doctor in the most, “Liiiiiiiiisten,” type of way possible, “I, uh . . . actually. I actually just, uh . . . masturbated . . . this morning and I’m not sure . . . I’m not sure I’m going to be able to really, frankly, hammer another one out today,” and he says, “You’ll be fine,” and my wife says, “You’ll be fine,” and the doctor says, “She can help,” and my exit strategies have all been blocked off. These two perverts are going to force me at gunpoint to tug my leather tether.

He escorts us into another, larger room, filled with worker bees buzzing around with papers and folders. The three of us approach a desk together and the doctor tells the young woman sitting in her swivel chair that I need a semen analysis done and she is just so very, very, professional. She just says, “OK,” and he says, “It might be slightly lower than usual because he just masturbated this morning,” and no one even acknowledges how bizarre this statement is. What a strange place this must be to work! I just look down at my hands. My dirty, dirty, masturbating hands.

The doctor shakes my hand (gross) and tells me, “Good luck,” and he walks away, probably to eat an aloe vera plant.

The woman behind the desk hands me a cup and says, “Back through that door on the right. No lubrication. No spit,” and she looks directly at my wife and I say, “Oh . . . Ooooooh . . . . ”

 

We walk through the appropriate door and find ourselves in a room roughly the size of a hotel conference hall. Everything is white. Everything is sterile. The fluorescents buzz in the ceiling. On the walls: Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course.

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ABOVE: Georgia O’Keefe paintings of flowers and / or vaginas.

Sitting next to the door is a small table cluttered with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions. Motivation. In the center of the room is a chair that can only be described as something you would get a root canal in. It’s black, leather, and constantly at a slight recline. I sit in it and assume that this specific posture has been scientifically proven to help nervous men climax in public places.

“How do we . . . ” I begin to say and my wife laughs at the sudden and absolute absurdity of our lives. She says, “I don’t know!” as she unzips my pants and gives, what can only be considered, her best. As long as that little power ring is on her third finger, I know that she is my sidekick through everything.

I stare at the ceiling, at the fluorescent lights. Everything is so bright. To my left are Venetian blinds leading outside where I can see passersby meandering to and fro. I look at the door 25 feet away from me and ask Jade if it’s locked. She says yes and continues with her medical chore. Tug-yank-jerk.

The lights buzz. The receptionists chat. Phones ring. People pass by. My tumor throbs. I ask Jade to stop and she says, “Why? Are you close?” and I say, “No. I think my dick skin is starting to look like that doctor’s lips,” and she laughs and says, “Oh, my gosh! I couldn’t stop staring! They were so flakey! Did he just come from the desert?” and then I laugh and she squeezes into the chair with me.

 

We kiss and try to be cute and romantic but then I say, “I’m telling you . . . this morning . . . ” and Jade says, “NO!” like it’s a personal challenge to milk venom from the snake. She goes back to town, and I bite my bottom lip but not in that sexy way that girls do it but more in that way where I’m trying to focus through the pain. Where is my power animal? I picture a lamb screaming.

I shut my eyes and imagine any number of perverse sexual acts but they all end with my dick being shoved into a meat grinder and lit on fire.

Finally, in a mode of complete desperation, I grab the wheel in one hand and her tit in the other. I put my mind into Zen mode and focus on success and focus on success and focus on suck sex.

I’ll skip the rest of the details but suffice it to say that this tale ends with me spraying a pathetic amount of jizz into a plastic cup. There is no clean way to say that. Romance of the twenty-first century, baby.

Covered in sweat and shame, we exit the room and approach the receptionist from earlier.

She knows. Oh, she knows.

“Everything go OK?” she asks, and I tell her that a little mood lighting could go a long way. She smiles and hands me a receipt. She asks me to sign and I say, “You need the ol’ John Hancock, huh?” and she laughs and the woman next to her laughs and a guy a couple yards away laughs and suddenly everything is all right. We’re all humans and we all know how awkward this is and we all try our best to be professional.

I sign my name and limp away.

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PLAGUED BY PLAGUES: CHAPTER 3

 

Welcome back for Chapter 3, which is the final chapter before everything starts to slide out of control. Take a deep breath with me and enjoy this last bite. Chew slowly. It’s going to be a full year before we come out the other side together. Next Monday we’re going to receive some very bad news.

But we’re not supposed to know about that yet, are we?

If you’re new, click HERE to go to the beginning. As you can see, we’re only 3 chapters in (and they’re very, very short!) so jump in with us and read a chapter a week all year long as we explore what it looks like to have dick cancer at 26.

 

See you all at the bottom of the slide!

 

 

 

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Eczema. Ring worms. Food poisoning. Poison poisoning. West Nile. Airborne toxins. Flu, cold, constipation, diarrhea. I have suffered from it all, both real and imaginary. My wife points an accusing finger at me and says, “You’re a hypochondriac!” and I casually walk into the other room, get online, and look up the disease to see if I am actually exhibiting symptoms.

 

Illnesses are my passion and I collect them like stickers in a book. In elementary school, I had ulcers. In junior high, insomnia. In high school, I became convinced that I had acquired early onset Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember any of the mathematical equations that help you solve endless rows of meaningless problems. It seemed to come so easily to everyone else. . . .

Years later, a friend will tell me that his son can’t seem to get a grasp on numeric sequences. More than just a few in a row and “Poof,” he says, “they’re gone.” He tells me the disease is called dyscalculia and it simply sounds too similar to Dracula for me to pass up. I’m positive I have it. I wear it on my sleeve, displaying the fact proudly. I won’t let my handicap hold me back. I won’t box it up in some closet. Plus, I’ve always been a bit more of a words guy and less of a digits person anyway so I feel like there is something strangely poetic in my illness, my disease, my burden.

My wife says, “You don’t have dyscalculia. You’re just an idiot.” I look up the term idiot on Web MD betting that she’s right but no results return. Further research is required.

 

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My stomach rolls over, and I vomit into a toilet, beads of sweat dripping down my forehead. My knees are raw from kneeling on the bathroom tiles. My wife circles the door frame, blocking the light shining dramatically on my face and says, uncaringly, “You’re going to be late for work.”

“I can’t go to work! Look at me! I’m sick!” I plead, desperately trying to make her understand. It’s not cancer, not yet (this is still years and years earlier), but it’s definitely something.

“You’re not sick.” I puke again just to reinforce my point and then elaborately throw myself onto the bathroom floor, the back of my hand pressed against my sort-of-hot forehead. Not sick? Not sick? Has she heard of the norovirus?! Because I have it on good account (my friend’s friend is pre-med) that it’s making rounds this year. A couple people died in Missouri. Didn’t my wife hear about this? Doesn’t she watch the news on Comedy Central? Doesn’t she read The Onion?

She tells me that I don’t have the norovirus. She tells me that I have the moron virus and then she laughs at her own dumb little joke while I just dry heave twice in a row. I tell her to look away. I tell her that the norovirus is really taking its toll on me when suddenly my chest is racked with a pinching suffocation. It feels like someone is pulling the membrane off my lungs every time I inhale. Jade raises an eyebrow and says, “Pleurisy again?”

I just hold up a hand for her to “be silent” while I bare my cross. She says, “Oh, geeeeez.” After the pain passes I explain that, “I have pleurisy,” and she says, “I know you think you do,” and I say, “It’s an inflammation of the lining on the lungs,” and she says, “You’ve told me the definition,” and I say, “My mom has it too,” and my wife says, “I’m sure she believes she does.”

Is there nothing I can do to convince her of my various conditions? Is it my fault I have an immune system that is susceptible to such attacks? Someday, I tell myself, someday I’ll get something and she’ll believe me.

Jade says, “Are you day dreaming about your illnesses?” and I say, “Huh? What?” and she says, “Wishing someone would believe that your fake thing was real?” and I say, “My fake thing is real. Remember The Blood Shit Incident?”

Jade says, “I remember The Blood Shit Incident. I wonder if you remember it.” I say, “Of course I remember it. I was there. I wrote it.” And she says, “Every piece of good fiction needs an author.”

 

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I’m sitting on the toilet in my mom’s house and I’m staring at a piece of toilet paper covered in brown and red. I’m shitting blood. It’s been happening for a couple days. Not a lot. Just a little. Just a few drops. Just enough to fill a vile. Or two.

I’m nineteen and I try to weigh my options—the possibilities, the probabilities, the causes, the outcomes. “Why would my ass be bleeding?” I ask myself. “I don’t stick things up it. I swear.”

Who do I approach? Who do I ask for advice? Not my dad. Definitely not my mother; I don’t want to see the sequel to The Nut Sack Situation. No, I’ll handle this one myself. How to proceed, how to proceed. The Internet? Too traceable. The search engines all have a way of remembering things I type in, and I’m no good with PCs. I don’t understand how to clear the cash or eat the cookies or whatever. The library? Absolutely not. The idea of checking out a book about anal fissures will certainly get me on some Pervert of the Week list.

Finally, after meditating on the rhythmic drip-drip-drip, the answer comes to me clearly, like a comet in the night sky. It is a moment of what some may call divine clarity. It is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

I will simply ignore the problem and hope it fixes itself.

I am a human body! I get scratches and cuts all the time and what happens? Blood clotting, scabbing . . . something . . . something else, science, etc., and there you have it, back to normal! My inner ass cavern will be the same! I just need to leave it be and give it some time to heal. I’ll eat soft foods. I’ll push very, very gently. Or maybe not at all. I’ll practice Zen meditation and just let the fecal matter slither from my rectum like a snake shedding skin.

This could work. This could definitely work.

Two weeks later, I’m still shitting blood. It’s not slowing down. What was I thinking?! Scabs?! Inside my ass?! What if there are ruptures and the blood ruptures are being infected by feces? Don’t people die when their shit and blood begin to mix?

My stomach hurts. My head hurts. IT’S HAPPENING!

Could I bring this to my girlfriend? Could I ask Jade about this? Yeah! She’s really smart. A grade-A student through and through, she was studying to become a neonatologist and you know anyone with the suffix -ologist in their job title is legit.

She knows things I don’t know. She understands things about blood and bile and positrons and neutrons and Klingons and she pretty much just knows everything! She’ll know . . . she’ll know. But how do I breach the topic? This is touchy stuff, and it’s important not to make it weird. Then the answer comes to me clearly, like a comet in the night sky. It is a moment of what some may call divine clarity. It is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. The words come to me with such smooth precision it is as though a greater entity is speaking directly through me.

We’re sitting at the table, alone, at my house, eating jam-covered waffles. She smiles at me and I say, “I’ve been shitting blood for three weeks now. What do you suppose this—“ she drops her fork, but I finish my thought anyway, “—could mean?”

Coming from a world where it took eight years to get my missing testicle examined by a doctor, I was made strangely uncomfortable by the speed at which Jade scheduled an appointment for me later that same day. Neither of us knew it then, me nineteen, she just turning eighteen, but we were being given a small glimpse into our future, more than a decade away: The Caretaker and The Ass Bleeder.

I love her. I am nineteen and I know this. I love her for all of the fantastic things she is, says, and does, but I love her because I can tell her that I’m shitting blood and she is willing to get her hands (figuratively) dirty to solve it. She’s had commitment from day one. She’s a barnacle. She’s not letting go.

The next day, sitting again in the stagnant, falsely fresh smelling waiting room of my local clinic, I find myself staring at those same Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and wondering, “Where do they come from? Who is Georgia O’Keeffe? Why do all hospitals and clinics insist on using her work?”

I lean over to Jade and I ask (since she knows everything), “What do you think they’ll do? Do you think I’ll just get some pills or cream?” and Jade answers, “He’s probably going to take a speculum—” and I cut her off.

“Sorry. A what?”

“A speculum.”

“What’s a speculum?”

“Oh, it’s like this thing they put in your vagina and they turn this crank and it opens you up so they can get a really good view. They’ll probably do that to your ass.”

My face goes white. My blood turns to ice. She knows everything.

I say to her, “They’ve done this to you?” and she says, “Yeah. Couple times,” and I say, “And you think they’re going to—are you messing with me?” and she says, “No. They’re checking to see if you have blood fissures. They need to look. So they need to spread.”

I stand up. I am done. I will go with Plan B: The Scabbing Over Plan. But Jade grabs my hand before I can run and tells me to sit down. I think she’s going to say she’s just joking but instead she says, “Bleeding from your butt can mean colon cancer and men eighteen and up need to be getting checked regularly.”[*]

I say, “But the speculum . . . ?” and she finishes with, “Oh yeah, they’re shoving that thing way up there and parting you like the Red Sea.”

I stand up and begin heading toward the door when the nurse calls me, “Johnny . . . Buh . . . rookbag?” Every eye in the room lands on me, the guy standing up, looking like a deer in headlights. The nurse speaks softly, over the shuffle of papers and various weekly literature, “Right this way.”

Before disappearing into the halls, I turn back and take one last look at Jade who is sitting in her chair, a gossip magazine on her lap, spreading her hands open, miming a speculum.

I hate her.

But not the kind of hate that means I’m going to burn her house down. I mean the kind where you know they know better and they’re making you do something that’s necessary even though you don’t want to.

Inside the doctor’s office there is no cancer, there are no fissures or ruptures and there is, thankfully, no speculum. There is only a man with a rubber glove, a bunch of lube and a strange eagerness to examine me. In the end he gives me some pills and some cream and says to eat soft foods and to not press so hard. He tells me that the human body is an amazing thing and that I’ll be just fine.

It’ll heal itself.

I shrug and shake my head and walk back to the lobby, where I eyebrow beat Jade to death. We hold hands and walk out into the sunlight while Fate sits back and laughs, waiting eagerly for us to return on this path sooner rather than later. It watches our backs as we fade out with the glossy luster of blissful ignorance protecting us like armor.

We are still young, only nineteen. And neither of us have ever been struck with the harsh reality of true tragedy. We just don’t know anything yet.

But we very soon will.

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[*] Fact. So if you find the dirty death star dripping darkness, dash to the doc and have your derriere dissected.

 

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Alright, guys. Listen. That’s it for now. Next week is FIRST CONTACT: CHAPTER 4. And this is when the walls all begin to crumble. I’ve included a little excerpt below if you’d like to peak at it.

JB.

 

FIRST CONTACT: CHAPTER 4: EXCERPT

My left hand feels something that does not belong. A foreign object on my body, a second tongue, a third nipple, a fourth knuckle—it’s not right, not normal, not standard. It’s the size of a pea and rests casually on my single remaining testicle.

And this is the moment where my life breaks in two. I don’t know it yet but this is the moment of impact. Nothing will ever be as it was. Nothing will ever be the same.

 

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Cancer? But I’m a Virgo.

Alright, folks! This is it.

A few years back, I had cancer. Spoiler alert, I lived. A couple years after coming out the other side of the dark tunnel that is doctors, drugs and disease, I wrote everything down and compiled it into what is sitting before you now – the prologue to, what most of us today would call, a “book”.

I’d like to be able to release a new chapter every week for the duration of the novel so, if you’ll stay with me, together we can relive this treacherous, life-altering, reality bending experience together over the next 42 weeks. Yeah, that’s a serious commitment but if you’re down, I’m down.

Actually, even if you’re not down, I will probably just blindly and stubbornly press on on because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want here. My house, my rules, baby!

However, on the off chance that you are into it, please click the follow button in the bottom right corner and we’ll slowly mosey down this little rosy road together.

Let’s begin.

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It’s my twenty-sixth birthday and I’m standing in front of a rotund Indian man with my pants around my ankles, my wiener hanging limply between us like a sad-faced emoticon. He gently pats the paper-covered exam table with his meaty hand and in his thick accent says, “Please sit up here.”

I pull myself onto the table, no easy feat with my pants bunched on top of my sneakers and my hands cupped neatly around my genitals for the sake of modesty. The ultrasound technician takes a seat on a low stool next to me, pinches my noodle between his thumb and forefinger and says, “Hold this, but don’t pull on it.” First, this is everything nightmares are made of. Second, I can’t help but stop to wonder what kinds of patients typically find themselves in this room. Men who, when confronted with a white-robed stranger, posters of bisected colons, and the aroma of cleaning supplies, are suddenly thrown into such an erotic frenzy that they simply must begin to “pull on it.”

I lie back and hear the sound of two rubber gloves being stretched and adjusted over as many large hands, the latex squeaking against itself. The noise sends a shiver up my spine, and the sterile smell in the air turns my stomach.

I just want this over. I just want an answer.

The Indian Man says, “I’m going to apply the jelly now,” and I’m thankful for the heads up because, lying here today, I have no idea what to expect anymore. Things have been spiraling quickly out of control for about a month. There are too many questions cropping up without near enough answers. My life has become a really terrible episode of LOST, except there are no polar bears or time travel or bad CG smoke monsters . . . .

He begins to gently rub the cold gel on my nut sack when, making a desperate stab at comedy, I nervously blurt out, “Hey, man, you’ve got the best seat in the house!” I say it as a joke. I say it to lighten the mood. I say it because I’m afraid I’m going to die, and I need to laugh.

The Indian Man completely disregards my comment and instead pulls out an ultrasound gun that he places against the taut skin of my scrotum (the room feels like a brisk 64 degrees and my body is adjusting accordingly). As he snaps several high-contrast black and white photos of my testicle, I shut my eyes and pretend that I am somewhere else; in the parking lot, at work, at home, in outer space. I attempt to force myself to have an out-of-body experience. I want to step away and come back when this is all over and hopefully “all over” is in just a few moments and not several months or years from now.

I open my eyes and see, on the ceiling directly above me, a little sign that reads, I’D RATHER BE FISHING. I begin to count the dots in the tiles, one hundred, one thousand, one million little pinholes above me, and I place my mind inside each one. The Indian Man takes his time and is very thorough in, what is for him, a routine scanning procedure. For me it is everything.

The silence is palpable. I can feel it in every pore of my body. I can sense the electric buzz from the machine where, as I glance over, I can actually see my testicle for the first time in my life. It just rests there like an enormous black and white egg filled with hope and desperation and anxiety and sperm. The quiet resting too heavy on my shoulders, I break it with, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The Indian Man doesn’t smile at the joke. Instead, he simply states, “It’s a tumor.”

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That’s it!

Next week let’s meet up right here again for CHAPTER 1: THE DESERT. And if you think you might miss it, hit that follow button in the bottom right corner and we’ll speak soon!

 

 

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(The Father of) The Mother of Dragons

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My friend Jack and I are standing in my front yard talking about The Big W’s – Weather, Work and Wives – when Quinn runs up and slams into my legs, a big smile painted across her face. I assume that she probably wants to tell me about a bug she saw, a rock she found or a bird she heard – these are the ecstatic ramblings of children long before the boring gray fuzz of adulthood has tainted their world view.

Jack bends at the waist and slaps his hands onto the tops of his knees and, in a sing-song voice says, “Why, hello there, princess!” Quinn looks up at him with a furrowed brow then looks over at me and I can hear her thoughts, Why is this guy talking to me like I’m a baby animal?

How are you doing, Princess?”

“I’m, uh, fine?” and she says it like a question.

“You are beautiful, Princess! You are just beautiful, aren’t you?”

I cringe at the buttery compliments.

Quinn looks up at me. “Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Are, uh, princesses… uh, real?”

“Yes.”

“Like… on this planet?”

“Yes.”

“And they’re alive right now?”

“Yes.”

These are the three qualifiers Quinn uses in order to distinguish when and where a thing took place. She understands that things could have existed BEFORE now but exist no longer – like dinosaurs – or that things could exist outside of this country – like things in Africa – or that things could exist outside of this planet – like the sun and the moon. What she’s really asking is, “How accessible are these things to my reach?” How accessible are princesses to me? That’s the real question.

Can I be one?

Jack answers for me. “Of course they’re real! There’s one standing in front of me right now! A pretty princess! That’s you!” I cringe again. The last thing I want is my daughters to associate with characters who get trapped in towers, are afraid of spiders, and constantly require some form of assistance.

That is no one to make into a role model.

These ideas of “princess” are not inherent from birth. These ideas are fed into our daughters. We show them the pictures. We show them the movies. We glamourize the idea and the lifestyle. They are magical and beautiful and they don’t have bad hair and they never wet the bed and they don’t have to have jobs or work and everything is wonderful and their lives are perfect and how does it always end for a princess?

Happily Ever After.

And in all fairness, why would you not want that? I’m half tempted to throw a dress on myself and march around a castle while tethered to the sexual whims of some hunky prince in order to forego a few of the greater responsibilities of my standard adult life. Don’t judge.

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We may not intentionally give our children this idea that they should actually dream to be a princess (I would never!). We may not intentionally feed this lie to them (They’re just movies!). We may not intentionally form them to believe this (Do you want to be a princess for your birthday?) but there are lessons in repetition and our culture helps shape that which we are.

It shapes girls through childhood with fun movies. It shapes ladies through their teen years, which we then couple with beauty magazines. It shapes women through adulthood, which we then couple with pornography. And they take all this baggage into the work force, which we then couple with an antiquated and slowly dying cultural idea that men work and women stay home and then we wonder why women make, across the board, slightly less in the workforce.

Perhaps we’ve spent decades telling girls that they deserve slightly less. Perhaps we’ve spent decades convincing ourselves that they deserve slightly less.

And maybe we all, on some level, believe it… even if we say we don’t. Perhaps there is a part of us all that still believes they are the fairer sex.

How do we know if we believe this? Well, if a man tells you that his wife works full time and he is a stay-at-home dad, what is your first, internal, gut, emotional reaction?

Your very first reaction is probably, like mine. “Wow, that is a-typical. I wonder what that’s like?”

I have full acceptance of it – no judgment – but there is this part of me that acknowledges that it is somehow out of the realm of what we typically understand to be true.

And herein lies the problem. Because we, as individuals or as an entire culture, can simultaneously acknowledge that it is okay and “progressive” for a woman to work and a man to stay home while also understanding that part of us finds it to be outside the norm.

And so if you also think it to be outside the norm, it is because you believe (or have been told to believe) that, like me, women have a specific place and men have a specific place. If your first thought is “That is unique,” then you too are trapped in this way of thinking even though you don’t think you’re trapped in a way of thinking.

Culture has also made you and I, as men, believe certain things without our knowing that we believe them.

Scary.

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Perhaps we re-educate our daughters on what it means to be a woman. Perhaps we re-educate our girls on what it means to be a princess.

Perhaps we put Jack’s princess to rest.

Or better yet, perhaps we kill her completely. Perhaps we just let her starve to death in the tower as a lesson for not having the get-up-and-go to rescue herself. Rapunzel, you had hair. You could have crawled down yourself. Cinderella, you could have left. There was NOTHING tying you to that house. Those people hated you. Ariel, you doctored your birth form and gave up your entire world for a guy you just met simply on the hope of Happily Ever After.

These. Are. The. Lessons.

Settle for less.

Wait for help.

Change who you are.

And if you make twenty cents an hour less than men doing the same job, maybe that’s just your place. After all, that’s what we’ve taught you.

Perhaps feminism wouldn’t have to exist if we raised our daughters believing they were bad asses from the very beginning. Perhaps our daughters would never ask, “Am I good enough?” if we stopped telling them stories that highlight all the reasons why women aren’t good enough / pretty enough / strong enough.

Perhaps we start telling them stories about women that are leaders instead of women that wait for leaders.

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Quinn looks up at me, a revelation dawning across her face, “Dad, am I a princess? Is this true?” Jack has planted the seed.

And now I must garden.

“Well, let’s see… do you have a crown?” “No.” “Do you have a scepter?” “No.” “Do you have a castle?” “Uh, no.” “Do you own any lands? Is your mother a queen? Do you have servants? Do you settle disputes amongst your countrymen?”

“Uh, no. I don’t do those things.”

“Then you probably aren’t a princess.”

Jack says, “Why would you tell her that?” and I say, “The same reason I tell her that she is not God nor an earthworm.”

“Dad? Is, uh, Cinderella a princess?”

“Yes, she is.”

And in that moment I see the light in her eye. I see the draw of The Princess. I see that my daughter wants it because, at her core, I think most little girls do. And that’s okay too. But how do we separate all the terrible trash from the good stuff? How do we tell them that it’s okay to be a princess and it’s okay to be pretty and it’s okay to dance and fall in love but… there is more. That is not all. The princess you know is an incomplete story. Because she is an incomplete character.

She is flat and brainless and you are not.

In her question I see an entire culture of beauty pressures and weight problems and negative encouragement and impossible goals and cosmetic surgery and feminism and macho bullshit swirling in a tornado, trying to rear its head, trying to sneak into Quinn’s ears and her head and her psyche, trying to poison the vision of who she is. Trying to mold her (and I mean “mold” both in the sense of “forming shape” and also as “an organism that slowly eats away and decays”).

Maybe that voice in our culture is impossible to stop. Maybe it’s a hopeless battle and all of the body image shit that bathes and berates our females is impossible to hide from.

But maybe not.

Maybe we just need to alter the messaging a bit.

I squat down onto one knee, proposing an idea.

“Quinn, you know what? Princesses are real. There are princesses on this planet right now. On this Earth. And you know who the best one is?”

“Uh, Cinderella?”

Me, “Nope.”

“GREAT GUESS, PRINCESS!” That’s Jack.

“The greatest princess of them all is a woman just like you named Daenerys Stormborn. And she is the Mother of Dragons.”

“DRAGONS!? SHE HAS DRAGONS!?”

“Oh, yes. Three of them.”

Jack, “I don’t think you can tell her that.”

Me, “You think I should stick to Cinderella and her transforming pumpkin-carriage as the barometer for reality?”

Jack shifts his eyes, “Uh, what?”

“THREE DRAGONS!?” that’s Quinn in full excitement.

“Yeah. And you know what else? She flies around on them.”

“WHAT!?”

“And they breathe fire.”

WHAAAAAT!? FROM THEIR MOUTHS?!

“Bingo.”

Can I see a picture?!”

I pull out my phone and, thanks to Google and the wonderful CG team at HBO, I show her a picture of a very real looking Daenerys riding a very real looking dragon that is breathing very real looking fire.

“OH. MY. GOODNESS.”

“Can I tell you something else? She is a very. Powerful. Warrior. She is strong and she is brave and she stands up for people that are weak and she stands up for people that don’t have a voice. She is a hero. What do you think about that?”

“THAT IS REALLY KEWWWL!”

“Yes, it is. I agree. Now then, what do you think? Would you rather be Cinderella with her glass slippers going to the dance or Daenerys Stormborn with her dragons, breathing fire and battling the wicked?”

“I want to be Dan Harris!”

“I thought so. Remember, being pretty is nice. But being smart, brave and kind – being a leader – this is who you are. This is what’s really inside of you. Capiche?”

Capiche!

Quinn smiles and runs away. I stand up and smile at Jack, “Sugar and spice and everything nice only goes so far. Sometimes you’ve gotta pour a little whiskey in the soda if you want it to bite back.” Jack smiles in a way that makes me think he does not agree.

And that too is okay.

I acknowledge that someday Quinn will grow up and will most likely seek a spouse. And when she does, I want her to choose someone that she wants to be with. Someone that accentuates her happiness and helps to highlight her charm.

Our culture has a loud voice. And that voice tells us that spouses complete us. The voice tells us that our spouse is our other half.

But I say no.

I say we are complete people before we meet one another. A person does not complete another person. A person adds their brew to the mix. They bring their own ingredients and they help create a spicier dish but they do not complete the recipe.

Marriage does not complete you anymore than having children completes you anymore than having the proper job completes you anymore than having the right pair of pants completes you.

You are you.

You are you regardless of who you’re with.

Quinn doesn’t need someone to complete her. She can choose to be with someone because she loves being with them. Because their company is delightful. Because they find happiness in the other’s presence. Not because they will give her Happily Ever After.

Quinn comes running back, wrapping her arms around my leg.

“Daddy?”

I place my hand on her forehead. “Yes, Breaker of Chains?” Quinn squints at me. “Uh, those dragons… are they real?”

Ah, I knew that one was going to come around.

Sometimes, as a parent, it is our job to build up our children and raise them to be the best version of themselves that we believe they can be. Sometimes it’s our job to protect them from all the flying bullshit in the world – at least for as long as we can. Sometimes it’s our job to remind them to think for themselves and to question the status quo. Sometimes it’s our job to tell them the very hard truths of life.

And sometimes.

Sometimes.

It is our job to lie.

“Yes. The dragons are real. They are the last three in the world. And Daenerys has them and she flies around on them, fighting evil. And you, Quinn. You can fight evil as well.”

“I’M GOING TO!” and she turns and runs off into the yard, where I hear Rory and Bryce laughing.

Sometimes lying is good.

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Discovering Rainbows: When your children turn to memories

Sometimes, when we speak to children, specifically those under the age of 3, we find that there is something of a communication barrier.

Sometimes it’s because the words they use contain different meanings than the words we use. For example, when my children say “yesterday” they don’t mean “the day directly previous to today.” Instead they mean “any period of time that came before my last sleep.”

Dinosaurs were yesterday.

Sometimes Rory says that I’m being a bully. But he doesn’t mean “someone that pushes smaller people around” he means… well, he actually means exactly that but the heart of the matter is quite different. He doesn’t like being disciplined. So when I give him a time-out for hitting his sisters, I am, effectively, being a bully.

And then there are times where things are not understood because they are taken out of context.

One day I’m at a friend’s house and Rory turns to one of the girls there and says, “My dad says that we should eat blood.”

And then all eyes slowly shift towards me and I smile sheepishly and stupidly because, well, yes. Actually, as a matter of fact, I did say that.

But my context… was a little different.

Jade and I had recently visited Ireland where they have black pudding. Black pudding is made by taking animal blood, mixing it with oats and spices, forming them into patties and then frying them. Ultimately they look and taste a little like breakfast sausages. So I was telling the kids about this. I was telling them about the time daddy ate blood. And I was telling them that people do this. And I was telling them that they could do it as well.

So yes, I was telling them that they could eat blood.

Conversations and words are strange things because ultimately, words are just empty containers – empty cups – and each of us gets to choose what we’re going to fill them with. Knucklehead can be aggressive or endearing. It’s just an empty cup until I fill it with intent.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Sometimes, however, we can’t understand children of that age because, well, we just literally can’t understand them. Their lips and tongues and brains aren’t quite functioning at full capacity yet. Their words sound mushy and drunk.

Like today when Bryce said, “Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I hear these words escape her mouth and they’re said with such conviction that I’m certain they mean something. Certainly she’s saying something. For Bryce it seems that she has full intent but no cup and her words, rather than being neatly contained, are just splashing all over the place.

And so we try to interpret.

“Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I’m sitting in a chair reading a book when she says this. I’m in the other room. There’s a wall separating us and my location in space has my back positioned to her. Ironically, you’ll just love this, my book is about finding happiness in the minutia of life. So it makes sense that, reading this book, I turn my head a quarter of an inch in my daughter’s direction and I say, “Oh, yeah. Neat. Okay,” and then go back to reading.

Rather than finding joy in my daughter, who is discovering and interacting with the exciting world around her – rather than connecting with a human, a child that came from me, no less – I choose to bury myself further in my own thoughts.

Because that’s what kind of person I am, I guess.

Because actions do speak louder than words.

Because even if we say, “I’m not like that,” our actions show us who we are. It’s so funny how, more often than not, our thoughts and our actions do not align. Our thoughts speak to ourselves (no one else can hear them) and our actions speak to others. So if we think one thing but do another, it creates a rift in our reality. We begin to think that we are someone that we are not. Or, worse yet, the world thinks we are one way while we think we are another.

There grows a haunting disconnect between that which we think we are and that which we actually are.

If I think I am the guy that gets up and engages with my children but when my children speak out to me, I pay them lip service in order to make them go away so that I can indulge in whatever it is I’m doing… who am I?

I give her just the absolute most minimal attention possible to hopefully satiate whatever want she has in this moment. Because I’m sure it’s nothing.

And then Bryce says, a little more enthusiastically, ““Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Look! I’m paying attention to you, Bryce! I’m giving you words.

I am giving Bryce empty cups. My words are cups but I have filled them with no intent at all. She is asking to be fed with attention and I’m just pushing empty plates at her.

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Whatever, whatever. Please leave me be. I’m reading a book. You are a babbling child who is almost certainly making a mess out of chocolate cereal at my dining room table. What do I have to say to appease you?

Or… what do I have to say to silence you?

Or… best yet… what do I have to say to make you go away?

Because you are bothering me and I want to be left alone.

What are we really saying when we say the words we are saying.

Sometimes I don’t understand what my daughter says because she’s three.

Sometimes I’m thankful my daughter can’t fully understand what I’m saying because she’s only three. Thank you, Bryce, for not understanding that I’m pushing you off.

Daddy. Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

Alright. So this problem is not going away. I’m actually going to have to engage. I shut my book and I set it down and I stand up and I walk around the corner and I see Bryce sitting at the table with, wouldn’t you know it, a mess of chocolate cereal in front of her. Wonderful. Guess whose cleaning that up?

“What is it, Little Ohm?” This is a character from a movie I saw once and for some reason I started administering the name to Bryce.

“Look. Darezah aimbow,” and she points. And I look. And I see nothing. I see nothing and I just think to myself, of course.

“What are you saying?”

“Darezah aimbow. Dare.”

“There’s a rainbow?”

“Yah.”

“In our house?”

“Yah.”

Where is this rainbow?”

“Dare.” She points. I still see nothing.

I sit down next to her at the table. I lower myself several feet. I squint. I lower myself further. I try to relax my eyes. Still nothing.

“Are you a freaking psychic medium?”

“Yah. Dare.”

I squat down lower. I bring my eyes to her level. I tilt my head like hers. And I follow her finger and I see… a rainbow.

In our house.

And it is a simple thing. But it is also a beautiful thing.

“There is a rainbow. Look at that.” I sit in silence and stare at the thing for a moment. “It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yah. Vewy pwetty.”

“Yes. It is vewy pwetty, isn’t it?” And then the two of us just sit and watch it. We just… enjoy it together. Like a piece of art in a gallery. We just sit and watch the rainbow, the silence periodically broken by the sound of dry, crunching cereal next to me.

“I wuv you, Daddy.”

It’s out of nowhere. Out of the blue. It has no greater purpose. No shadow intent. She isn’t trying to get something out of me. She isn’t trying to do anything. It is a cup that is filled with cold and refreshing water. The perfect amount. At the perfect time.

Where do I fit in this picture? How did I help create a being like this? They arrive here perfect and then we just start to slowly mess them up.

“May I have a hug, Bruce?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, Daddy.”

She puts down her spoon, delicately and intentionally balancing it inside the bowl, steps forward and hugs me. And she holds it. And she squeezes. And I can feel her smiling. When she pulls back she gives me a kiss on the cheek and says, “I love you, Daddy.”

Oh, it’s funny what a little perspective will do to your life. It’s funny that if we stop looking at things the way we see them and start looking at them the way someone else sees them, we actually get to experience life in a richer capacity.

If we open our ears and hearts to others, we get to see the world in a multitude of ways.

We can be both here and there. We can see things as adults. We can see things as children. And if we join together and sit down, we can somehow see the world as both. It’s like the 3-D glasses. You get to see through two lenses at once. And everything pops. Everything is brighter. More intense. More saturated.

I glance back at the rainbow and see that it’s fading – almost a gray color now. And I think about how fleeting all things are. The sun, nearly 100 thousand miles away, cast its light in just this way, to reflect just perfectly through that window, that someone built in that way. All of that coupled with my daughter standing in this room at this time (making a mess from her chocolate cereal), facing the proper direction as she was the exact height at this time of her life to see this miniature spectrum.

And she saw it in this tiny little window of time where it was available to her. Just a few moments in the late afternoon.

This special thing happened.

And then it was gone.

And we couldn’t get it back. So hopefully we enjoyed it.

“You want some cereal, Daddy?”

I nod. “Yes, please.” And she feeds me one small piece of chocolate cereal at a time. She drops a marshmallow on the floor, says, “Oops,” and then picks it up. It’s now covered in dust and hair. She balances it back on the spoon and says, “Here.”

I reach out, dust it off and bite.

The rainbow in our house is gone.

And then the cereal was gone.

And then Bryce left the table.

And then years passed.

And then Bryce left the house.

And then it was just me sitting in a chair with a book, remembering the time that I got to share a rainbow with her. Hoping that I enjoyed it.

Because this memory is all I have left.

 

 

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THE CAVE: Getting lost in the darkness of a failing marriage

“You’ve been married for eleven years?” someone asks me.

“Yeah. Eleven years. It’s a long time. We’ve been together for fifteen.”

What? Did you get married when you were twelve? How old are you? You’ve been married fifteen years? What’s that like?”

I suspect that they anticipate me to tell them that marriage is beautiful and wonderful and that I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.

But I don’t.

Instead I tell them the truth.

“What’s it like? It’s, uh… Marriage is like this dark cave. And when you get married you both go into the cave together. You take hands and you step into the darkness. That’s the unknown – this new part of life. You walk next to each other for a while and then one day your hands get sweaty and so you let go of each other but it’s all good because you can still hear them next to you. You’re still talking and you know that they’re there. It’s dark. It’s black. But you know they’re next to you.

And then one day you’ve talked about everything and so you get kind of quiet and you decide that just spending time in one another’s company is enough. And so you just keep walking in the dark, next to each other, in silence. And it’s okay because you know that they’re still there. You can still hear their footsteps.

And then one day you ask them a question. And you get no response. And you realize that they are gone. You realize that you’ve gotten separated. You’ve drifted apart. And you are alone. And somewhere, they are alone as well.

You call out to them. You shout their name and you get no response. And so you go looking for them because you know that they’re there… somewhere. You know that somewhere in this cave they’re wandering around. They’re doing their thing and you’re doing yours.

You call for them and in the distance you hear them. And you keep shouting and you keep calling and you keep walking and you try to get back to them.

And you hope that you find them.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Some people are walking in the cave and they’re like, ‘I’m done walking in the dark with you.’ And those people turn around and they walk back towards the light. Sometimes they walk back towards the light and out of the cave together. And sometimes they do it alone.

And sometimes that’s okay.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

One day you wake up and you’re thinking, ‘This is not the person that I married. This is not the person that was standing next to me at the altar.’ And, if you’re self-aware enough you may realize that you are also not the same person that was standing at the altar and that your spouse is experiencing you in an entirely new way.

You’ve both changed. You’re both completely different people. And then you wonder if you can keep making it work. Because those other versions could do it… but you’re not sure these new versions are a fit.

How do you put together a puzzle when the pieces keep changing shape?

Now drop kids into the mix. Oh, shit. Things are getting complicated.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

You have a dream of having a career. A specific career. And so you educate yourself in that field. Maybe you go to college. Maybe you go to a tech school. Maybe you read books and watch YouTube videos. However you prepare for it, it is, at its core, a preparation. An education of self.

So then you get that job and then the industry changes – new technologies or practices emerge. So your boss sends you to receive additional training. You learn new ways to process information. You learn new techniques. The career field changes and so you must adjust.

So we apply hours and weeks and sometimes even years and sometimes even decades of preparation to a job (say hello, doctors!) and yet, when we discuss marriage, when we prepare to live with another person full time and make life changing decisions with them… we… do… nothing…

The church that married Jade and I encouraged us to take three 30-minute classes.

90 minutes of training for the task at hand is not enough.

I’ve been married for just over a decade and the training I’ve received on-the-job has not been nearly enough.

But marriage is not like a job. You just get thrown in first day with no idea what you’re doing and nobody encourages serious training. Nobody tells you to re-educate yourselves after five years or ten years. Nobody tells you that your marriage career is going to change and you’re going to have to make it work or get fired. And if you suggest education – if you suggest marriage counseling you get this taboo sense that something is wrong with you.

You know that feeling I’m talking about. That unspoken weirdness that everyone thinks but does not speak. This idea that is perpetrated in our culture that marriage counseling is for the weak and broken and… my personal favorite…

If you have to go to marriage counseling you weren’t meant to be.

Because if you have to ask for help it is because you are stupid. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that everyone else knows how to do this? Don’t you know that it comes easily and naturally to everyone else? Marriage is simple and straight-forward and if you need advice it is because the pieces do not work together and there is no hope anyways. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that it’s better to live miserable little lives than it is to seek counsel? Don’t you know that?

What if we applied that logic to other areas of our lives? Son, if you need to ask a question in class, you probably just aren’t smart enough to begin with.

If you need to look at the recipe for how to make chili, you probably weren’t made for chili. Sorry. It’s delicious but you don’t get any. Shoo-shoo, Oliver Twist.

Listen. Seeking education does not make you stupid or wrong. Seeking education makes you self-aware. Education and intellect craft a stronger individual, crafts a stronger family, crafts a stronger culture, crafts a stronger world.

Do not allow the uninformed to inform your thinking.

Do not be engaged and dissuaded by a society that has a 50% failure rate in marriage.

Set your own rules. Live by your own standards.

Education is not a swear word.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I’m broken.

That’s a fact.

I’ve got a bunch of baggage that I carry around with me everywhere I go. I’ve got baggage about my family. I’ve got baggage about my parents. I’ve got baggage about my faith. I’ve got baggage about my body. I’ve got baggage about my personality. I’ve got baggage about my grades and my IQ and my creative abilities. I’ve got pride issues. I’ve got insecurity issues.

And my wife gets to adopt them.

And I get to adopt all of her bullshit.

And then we have to figure that stuff out together.

We say things we don’t mean. We do things we know we shouldn’t. We raise our voices and we walk away from conversations and sometimes we hurt each other with nothing more than our intent.

Thank GOD people have not heard some of the stuff I’ve said to my wife in the heat of an argument. Shit has come out of my mouth that I think about today and cringe. I have said things to her for no other reason than to hurt her. And that speaks to who I am (or hopefully was) as a person, at my core. At the time I would have said it was her fault. It’s her fault for being a specific way and I was just bringing it all to light and if it hurt her it’s because it was true.

These are the words and thoughts of someone that is selfish and arrogant.

The vows tell us that we’re going to be together through sickness and health, for better or worse but what they don’t tell us is that it’s sometimes going to feel like you’re dragging along a dead marriage, fighting uphill to make it work. They don’t tell you that there will be periods of time – not just days and weeks but entire months – that drag on through the gray drizzle of time and you’ll wonder just what is wrong with your spouse because it’s not you. It’s not you. It’s never you. It’s always them. Making mistakes.

“I’m trying. You’re not.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Getting married is like a light to all of your shortcomings as a human being. Your spouse will illuminate all the problem areas. It’s painful and it’s terrible and it hurts to look at yourself and see all the flaws. And it’s just so much easier to turn your face to one side and not look at that pile of problems that create you, as a person, and it’s so much easier to deflect blame to the other.

It is so much easier to look at someone’s shortcomings and it is so much easier to nurture resentment for a million little things and a handful of big things.

It is so much easier to judge others.

And it is simple to judge our spouse.

And so you choose.

Those three thirty minute classes didn’t prepare us for cancer at 26. They didn’t prepare us for lay-offs. They didn’t prepare us for invitro-fertilization. They didn’t prepare us for twins. They didn’t prepare us for a miscarriage. They didn’t prepare us for the day-in-day-out minutia of life and they didn’t prepare us for the fact that Jade likes things done a certain way and I like things done a certain way and those ways typically are not the same but are, more often than not, quite opposite.

Those classes didn’t prepare us for anything.

I wish I could say that everyday Jade and I choose to hang onto each other in the darkness of the cave but the reality is that we don’t.

Sometimes we are cold and calculating.

And sometimes we are terrible.

And cruel.

But we try.

We choose.

We choose to continue to stumble blindly through the dark, seeking each other.

And sometimes we choose to talk about walking back into the light. Sometimes we talk about what a divorce looks like.

And sometimes we have fun together and we find each other and we remember why we do this. We remember why the search is worth it.

We remember that we love each other and that our family is amazing and that we’re very lucky and it is only our own selfish shortcomings that are destroying us and we realize that if we can choose to be better people, we can choose to be the best for each other.

And when our spouse shines a light on our problem areas – our selfishness, our arrogance, our pride – we can choose to get angry that someone noticed our darkness… or we can thank them for being close enough to us to point out our flaws. And then we fix them together.

“But, man…” I conclude. “Marriage is really hard.”

The guy across the table looks at me. I notice he doesn’t have a ring on his hand. I wonder if he’s thinking about proposing.

“But it’s also amazing. Marriage is beautiful and wonderful and I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.”

 

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HUG CONTEST

I’ve got this thing that I do.

At night, after I’ve got the kids in bed and settled down, books read, conversations had, questions answered, minds settled, I announce a Hug Contest.

One by one, they each get to give me a hug and then, at the end, I announce a winner. And yes, I announce an actual winner. I tell one of them that they gave the best hug. I try to mix it up but I also try to be fair because, honestly, not all hugs are created equal.

When we started doing this, Rory was more of a quantity over quality type of guy. He would jump at me, throw his arms around my neck and squeeze so hard that I would begin to see black dots in front of my eyes. I would fall to the ground, he would wrap his legs around me and wheeze into my ear while straining, “Is… this… a… good… hug?” Instead of answering, I would tap out.

Bryce is always a welcome competitor afterward as she likes to gently but firmly wrap her arms around my neck and squeeze. It is as though she often times actually embodies the hug. Becomes the hug. Her hair nuzzles up against my cheek and tickles my nose.

Quinn likes to mix it up – she’s kind of a mixed martial artist in that capacity. Little bit of technique from here, little bit from there, put em all together and what have you got? I never know what’s going to come at me. Sometimes it’s quite nice. Sometimes it is exceptionally painful. Sometimes she takes the Rory route, sometimes she takes the Bryce route and sometimes she just gives me a quick squeeze, almost an accidental brush-by and says, “How was that?” like she’s gaging my reaction in order to perfect the technique.

But here’s the thing about naming a winner in a Hug Contest… more important than the execution of the hugger is the need of the huggee.

Sometimes I want a warm hug. Sometimes I want it to linger. Sometimes I want Rory to put me in a rear chokehold until I black out. The kids are aiming at a moving target but they don’t know it. Which is great because they just try their best every single night.

And every night there is a new winner.

And the winner is always so happy. The winner always goes to bed smiling. Because the winner won.

And the best thing? Even when you lose, you’ve still gotten a hug.

I started by just rotating winners and that worked for a bit. Rory, Quinn, Bryce, Rory, Quinn, Bryce. But it quickly became too predictable, even for a three year old. I wanted to keep them on their toes. I didn’t want them to think that they were trapped in a thankless system where they just won every third day.

So then I started actually judging them. And then I told them why. I would tell them why they won.

So then. Quinn had proven herself victorious in the Hug Contest two nights in a row and then Bryce had won the following evening which ended with Rory saying, “I never win!” and then on the fourth night, just as I was getting Quinn into bed, she says, “Can we do the Hug Contest tonight?” and I say, “Sure! Let’s do it,” and then Rory says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to be the judge in a hug contest that you’re competing in? Do you know what conflict of interest means?” and he says, “No.”

So I tell him that he can’t be the judge and I tell him this because I know. I know. I know what this little scoundrel is thinking. He’s thinking that if he is the judge then tonight he could rig the competition in his favor. He will nominate himself as best hug giver. He will reap the plunder.

But I’m a parent.

I’m smarter than that.

I’m smarter than him.

And so I say, “No. Sorry, man. You can’t be the judge. You can’t do it. Not if you’re in the contest. It wouldn’t be fair,” and he says, “PLEASE!?” and I say, “No, dude. It isn’t fair,” and he says, “Ug, doood.”

And so we round robin this thing and at the end I’m feeling quite loved and quite wonderful and I tell them all, their six eyes staring at me, “You guys… this is a first time ever, history making event, in the annals of Hug Contest history…”

They wait with baited breath.

We have a three way tie!”

I applaud and then Quinn says, “Yippie!” and Bryce echoes her and Rory moans. “But who won?” he asks and I say, “You all did!” and he says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to judge?” and he says, “Yes. I want there to be a winner. Not a tie,” and I say, “Alright. Let’s all give Rory a hug and he can decide who wins. A second Hug Contest in one evening! Another history making event!”

And Rory gets serious and he says, “No. No dad. I don’t want to,” and I say, “You don’t need any hugs?” and in my head I think, How convenient. You don’t even need to see the competitors. You already know who the winner is. You’ve got a lot to learn about being shady, bub.

And so I say, “Okay. Let’s hear it, Rory. Who’s the winner? Who is the winner of your Hug Contest? Who… have you named winner?”

And Quinn and Bryce and I sit and stare at him as he holds a finger to his lips. He says, “Hmmmm…” and really mulls over the options. Decent form, I think. He’s obviously fooling the little ones but not me. I’ve got your number, pal. You think you’re being shady? I invented shade. I am the tree that casts it.

And then he smiles, completely aware that now is the moment he is unveiling his master plan. He looks at me and says, “You are the winner, dad! You give the best hugs!”

And then my heart breaks. And then my stomach turns inside out. And then my eyes begin to fill with tears.

Ah, shame. Guilt. Stupidity. Give me your best because I deserve them all. I am insignificant and putrid and vile. I am disgusting and full of loathing. I am selfish and stupid and, worst of all, obtuse and ignorant.

Aren’t I a humble parent? Aren’t I a humble person? No. Not at all. You think you know so much but you know nothing, Johnny Snow. You see the worst in people. You expect people to act selfishly. You anticipate people to act in a specific way. You think you are better. And this is one of your greatest faults.

The mirror is a painful place to look. Oh, there’s a shortcoming. And another. And another. And another.

It is one thing to look at yourself, examine yourself, and come to terms with certain facets of your personality, slowly turning them over and slowly revealing them. There is something soothing in that process – the process of growth, which we are all on over many, many years.

Oh, but the pain of having a child reveal the entire ugly picture of yourself to yourself, all at once. It’s like the coroner pulling back the blanket on the corpse of a loved one and seeing them diseased and rotting. But it is not a loved one. It is me. And it is not my rotting skin but my heart.

I leave their room with my head down, the weight of my pride dragging me to the ground.

 

 

 

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Code 5 Quinn-pocalypse

I’m walking out of my house – I need to run to the grocery store to pick up some waters. It’s a quick in and out job. Super basic. I’ll be gone ten minutes. Max.

I hit the door and drop down the porch steps and I’m almost to my car when I hear Quinn behind me. She does this whine – it’s full of panic and concern. This tone that is like eeeeeeehhhhh! It’s a noise that sounds like she’s on the edge of a full nervous breakdown. Her voice wobbles and quivers. “Daddy! Wait! Wait! I didn’t give you a hug and kiss!

I can hear her shouting this from the living room. “Yeah! I’ll be back in just a minute! One minute! I will be right back, I promise!”

NO! HUG AND KISS! EEEHHHHH! PLEASE!

I keep walking. She’s on the porch now. Squealing. Now she’s running down the steps. Running towards me. I keep walking. “I will be right back, Quinn! You will see me in two minutes. I’m just buying a water.” And then my internal monologue kicks in, which goes something like this: What is wrong with this kid? What have we done to this child to give her such separation anxieties? This noise that she makes is killing me. It is driving me up the flipping wall. I wish she would just relax. Her panic is so dumb. And so senseless. I’m going to be right back. Why isn’t she listening to me? If she would just stop making these stupid whining noises and listen to me, she would know that I’m going to be right back. Why is she wasting my time?

This is the routine whenever either Jade or I leave the house. Every time. Every single time there is a fantastic meltdown over hugs and kisses. If you do not properly connect your lips with Quinn’s lips and give her a very proper hug that has a fairly specific form to it, then you are dealing with a Code 5 Quinn-pocalypse.

This is not, like, a thing. This is A Thing.

I’ve driven away before. I’ve been like F it. This is ridiculous. I’m leaving. This must stop. I get in my car and drive away. In my rearview mirror I see her standing at the very edge of our yard, waving her arms and jumping up and down and screaming, “HUG AND KISS! HUG AND KISS! DADDY! PLEASE! HUG AND KISS!” and I have no idea how long she stands there and does it for.

To remove all sugar coating and to be as primitive about it as possible – it is annoying and it gets under my skin and it drives me crazy because it doesn’t make any sense to me and, if I’m being completely honest, the vast majority of the time that I give her a hug and kiss, I do it as quickly as I can and just roll through the motions so that I can get to wherever it is that I’m going.

I brush her off.

And I’m not just brushing her off like she’s blathering on about how she wants mac and cheese for lunch but we just ate breakfast so please give me a second to finish doing the dishes but I’m actually brushing off her affection.

And so I’m standing on my front sidewalk and I say, “Quinn, yes. Hurry. Please. Hi. Hug and kiss. Okay. We’re done. Thank you. Go back inside. I’ll see you in a hundred and twenty seconds. Goodbye. Finally.”

And she says, “Okay! See you in a minute! I love you!” and then she runs back into the house.

And then I’m standing on my sidewalk and this feeling of… it was a light bulb turning on over my head. It was a feeling of illumination. I had a moment wherein I saw the darkness and I saw that I was swimming in it.

I was engulfed by it.

And I didn’t know it.

What has happened to me? What am I doing? What is wrong with me?

My child. She has come to me to see me off. To show me affection and admiration. She has come to me, small and powerless, to say I love you and I will miss you while you are away. You will only be gone for two minutes. But in those two minutes, I will think of you and I will wish that you were here. And I want you to know that.

And this is, apparently, just too fucking insignificant for me to waste my time with.

Sometimes I catch sight of myself and, for all the good I like to think that I do, I realize that I am still just a selfish piece of shit that knows nothing about humility.

 

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