Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Just Around the Corner

My son Maxwell sang in a premier choir. When he began singing with the Maryland State Boychoir, he was a tenor, but as his voice matured, he moved into the bass section.

We are fortunate to have many of their performances on video.  A few were filmed by us, but never with a great camera.  Lots of MSB parents film the Boychoir, but again, usually with not a great camera.  The video and audio quality are never the strong points.  Jittery camera work is pretty standard.  I regret not trying harder to record more, but I am grateful for all that we have.

I can hear him. I can see him. And my heart, in the brilliant clarity of grief, fills in the spaces where his face is blurry.

When I am really missing him, I go for a virtual stroll, looking for new sightings of him.  I find other people on facebook and youtube who have uploaded pictures or videos he's in, and then look to see if I can find another one with Max in it.

I have become an expert on where to look for him.  I can tell what year the video was filmed from what choristers are in the front row.  When Max was a tenor, he was in the middle.  When he became a bass, he started singing from the back corners of the choir. Usually the far left, (stage left), but sometimes the far right.  The videos we have of Boychoir performances are a trade-off.  If they take in the entire choir, it's at such a distance that it is impossible to make out real details of individual singers.  If the camera is close, or zoomed in, Max is off-screen somewhere to the right or left.

Last week, I found a video and I knew that Max was singing with the choir. I recognized the singers, that they were his contemporaries.  Many of them were boys who sang at his memorial.

I sat through one whole song, begging the camera to turn just a little to the left to see where I hoped Max would be singing.  I resisted the urge to skip ahead.  I didn't want to miss a quick image if the camera only moved that way briefly.  And it feels ... disrespectful to truncate a performance of him.
 
After one whole song, a second one began.  The camera moved slowly to the left.

I gasped seeing Max. There he was.  Like he had walked around the corner of my home, or stepped into my office at work.

There he was.

For just a second, there he was.  Beautiful, alive, and singing.

The second passes, and I am lost in the watery embrace of mourning and memory.  The camera panned back to the right, and Max was gone.

Gone again.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Meeting Mezgeb Feb 24 2013

I can't believe it's been two years since we met Mezgeb!

I remember her being shy and pretty.  She loves her Mom.
And her sisters were used to her, liked her, loved her, too.

Games.
And food, of course!


I had forgotten that Max was with us when we went down.  Did we crowd into Grandpa's car with someone in the back?  Did we take two cars?

I miss having little kids to play with, to tickle.

Something serious.
And something silly.  I do remember Mezgeb sticking pretty close to Jen.

And John looking suave.

I am grateful for family!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Every Epic Love Story Chapter Ten; WorldCon, Atlanta 1986

Well, rats.  I meant to keep on writing this years ago when I began.  Originally, the reason I was writing this series was to inform a dialog with my absent daughter.  Away at BYU, she was dating, and I wanted her to have a record of how her Mom and I met and fell in love.

Things moved past a point where our history would be relevant to her story anymore.  She's been married almost three years now!  And events with our son Maxwell took all of our available focus these past months.

But this story, still unfinished in the telling, is part of a dialog with all of my children, not just Emma.

The things you do at the beginning matter.  I guess the trouble always is, you don't *know* it's the beginning of something.  You only realize in retrospect, "Hey, that thing mattered."  You should live every day like it matters.


When I think about the events at the end of the summer of 1986, I am baffled at the complexity of everything.  How did my parents accommodate such a weird collection of demands?  How is it possible that no one got lost or stranded?

 In July, Jennilyn spent a week in Maryland with me and my family.  In September, I was due to begin my Sophomore year at BYU.  I was eager to get back to Provo, eager to begin the process of turning in my mission paperwork, happy at the prospect of seeing Jennilyn again.  But first ...

First I wanted to see her again in Atlanta, Georgia, at the 44th World Science Fiction Convention. Now, in the last thirty years, Conventions ("Con"s) have exploded.  They have a Con for everything now.  But it was 1988, I was only 18, and it was new to me.  To me, it seemed like simple math.  I would go to Atlanta and hang out there with Jennilyn and some friends from BYU.  I would sleep on someone's floor for a few days, find food to eat, and then fly from Atlanta to Salt Lake City when it was over, and return to BYU.

I think this was the first time I'd ever rode in a glass elevator...

What makes me shake my head now is imagining one of *my* kids asking me if *they* could do something like that.

Where will you sleep?  Where will your stuff be (remember, not just a weekend's worth of stuff, a *semester's* worth of stuff)?  What will you eat?  How on earth are you going to get to Atlanta?!  How will you get from the Hotel to the Airport?  Seriously, what if you get lost?  What if your stuff gets lost?

I think my parents were *really* supportive, and they *really* liked Jennilyn.

I got in touch with someone else going to the Con who lived in the area, and we drove down to Atlanta together.  We met up with a bunch of other BYU Science Fiction fans, and spent the night at Jenni's Uncle's house in Atlanta, because the hotel rooms wouldn't be available until the following afternoon, after the Con began.  I ... have no memory of where my luggage was for those three days.  I barely remember eating, so I'm not sure where I got food.  I remember a couple of events.

I ran into William Gibson on an elevator.  He was very tall and we didn't talk.

The central event at a WorldCon is the awarding of that year's Hugos.  It was the year that Ender's Game was released, and we were all stupendously excited to have a Mormon SF author featured as a finalist for Novel of the Year.  After the awards presentation wear Scott Card won the Hugo for his Novel, I do remember sitting at a long table with a bunch of the other Provo Valley/Utah SF crew, celebrating the win with Scott Card.  Of course, Scott Card was waayyy at the other end of the table from where I was sitting, but it's one of my favorite brushes with fame, that I was at the after-party for that award with that author and my future bride.

The Con was amazing.  Jennilyn was amazing.  It was kind of a blur, the overload of far too much to do in such a short period of time, the cheating of sleep to go to one more presentation, watch one movie, attend one more event.  I do remember being irrationally jealous that I couldn't spend every single minute with Jenni.  I sometimes *still* have that feeling now.  Like I said, it's not rational.


We flew back to Salt Lake.  Somehow, I managed to hold onto all of my luggage.  Of all things, the Babcocks invited me on a camping trip to Zion's Narrows right after we got back.  So I went from one sensory overload to another!  But more time with Jenni = good.

Pro tip for camping with your girlfriend's Dad; don't be cute and sleep with your sleeping bags head-to-head with your girlfriend (so our heads were touching, but our feet stretched out in the opposite direction).  It seemed like a nice way to preserve a chaste distance, while allowing us to whisper sweet nothings and watch for shooting stars (we were camping without tents, the weather was amazing and clear).  But it ended up just being irritating.  We kept waking each other up during the night, which was disorienting and weird.



The hike up and back Zion's was amazing again. I was so in love with Jennilyn, and I adored her family. I remember over and over again, just basking in the glow of how much fun it was to be with her, to be with them, to be doing something so amazing.

The camping trip ended, we drove back to Provo, and got ready for school to start.  Jennilyn and I were getting ready to turn in our mission papers, and I was getting ready for an entire semester of dating Jennilyn.  We had a lot of interesting terrain to navigate.


Previously, on Every Epic Love Story chapter 9, A Summer Vacation in Maryland


Coming Soon, The *Absolutely True* Story of How and Why We Stopped Kissing for YEARS before we Got Married!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Superbowl

Last Thursday, I heard an advertisement for a local radio station contest.  They were giving away a "Superbowl Party" for a listener.  It transported me back to last year's superbowl, and what was going on for us then.

A year ago, my twenty-year old son Maxwell had been kicked out of a residential treatment program he'd been in for drug addiction and mental illness.  He was bi-polar.  He had lived with and been kicked out of three different family member's homes before that, and none of his friends were comfortable keeping him.  When he used, he would become psychotic.   And no matter what we did, he could not stop using.  On the coldest day of January 2014, he became homeless.

We scrambled.  We panicked.  Max's Grandpa found an organization that would pay the bill to have him placed in a sobriety house for a week, and then, as those funds were running out, Grandpa worked with the Harford Office of Drug Policy to secure funding for Max to be placed in a locked-door rehab on the Eastern Shore.

I remember the day I drove him out to Chestertown.  It was Wednesday January 22.  There had been an amazing snowstorm the day before.  Max slept most of the way there, the medicine he was taking made him really sleepy.  Snow swept across the road, great gusts of blowing white.  It was beautiful.


When I checked him in, they told us that he could have visitors in ten days, on the following Saturday.  They wanted all of the patients (the intake officer was careful to never call them inmates) to have a full week of adjustment before seeing people from the outside again.

I returned a week and half later with Jennilyn, and was surprised that the other people gathering for the visit were all bringing great big bags of food.  I mean, a LOT of food.  Chips, cans of dip for the chips, sodas, boxes with finger food, cupcakes, candy, cookies.  I believe one person was bringing a wings platter.  We had, like, part of a chicken nuggets order from Chik-fil-A, I felt totally outclassed.

After we got to see Max, he told us that the staff had made an exception, since the following day was (duh!) the Superbowl.  Usually, visitors were allowed to bring a sandwich, or a take-out order from a restaurant, but for Superbowl weekend, visitors were allowed to bring enough food for the residents to have a great big party.  Something to celebrate sobriety.

When he came back home from rehab, we thought things were going well.  The momentum of the year seemed like it was going to get better.  Then we lost Max in July.  It was a horrible shock.  We have missed him so much. I still weep whenever I hear the recordings we have of him singing, with choirs or with "The Music Man" cast.

I've been thinking of a quote lately. Elizabeth McCracken wrote, "Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving."  Last July, we were surrounded with Max's friends after his death.  Hundreds of them turned out for his memorial, and stayed for hours, hugging us and sharing stories of his life.  But in the months since, the visits have trickled to a stop.  I find myself wondering how the friends are doing, wishing they'd stop by, just to say hi.  Every time I hear from someone else who misses Max, who loves him, I can physically feel the burden lighten on my heart.  There is a huge chasm where he used to be in my heart.  All the anger I ever felt at his bad choices, all the sorrow at his pain and suffering, all the joy I ever felt when he succeeded, it's all just a deep hole now. So when I heard about that contest, it visceral transported me back to remember that drive to Chestertown, that visit, that party he was expecting the next day.  I remembered him, felt his absence, and wept.  I decided to apply.  I told them the story of Max, and then concluded, 
"If you awarded this party to us, I would invite them all over.  *ALL* of them.  The kids he sang with.  The guys he went to AA and NA with.  His housemates and caretakers in the residence program.  The people he was in "The Music Man" with.  If they'd come, I would rent out a hall to fit them all.  Just to see them again, to see Max reflected in their eyes.  I would insist they enjoy the day, that they enjoy the food, and that we celebrate the memory of Max.  I would hug them all, over and over again, look them in the eye and tell them how much I love Max.  We would enjoy the game, and the party, all in memory of Max."
 

But I remember that drive to Eastern Shore.  I remember that Superbowl, feeling sorry for Max.  Thinking of it this year, remembering it with such gravity, reassures me that I still love him.  I'm grateful for the chance to remember him, even though it makes me sad.

And seriously, if I win, you're all invited to come by and give us a hug.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2013 Trip to Poplar Island

These photos are from a field trip I took last year (18 months ago) to a facility that my Agency helps operate called Poplar Island.

Jennilyn posted about it in 2012, when I went with Jennilyn, Sam, Roxie Jane and Suzu.


Suzanna looking out the window, then looking at the photographer.

This is one of the reasons I held the photos for this long.  I was always hoping to have some good news, and then some stable good news about Max before talking about him.  Now, I've waited too long, and have only memories of him to post.  Which is a good enough reason to write.  I told him he could invite a friend, and he brought Devin (with whom Max lived for about four months last year).

Grandpa John came too.

Here, we are standing in a fully reclaimed cell; the island is divided into different zones, and built to replicate specific types of marshy or bay-oriented habitat.  It was cold and windy.



This is a photo of an old effort made to "save" Poplar island.  Erosion had reduced the island to less than the size of a 1/2 acre houselot, and the first effort to stem the erosion involved scuttling several barges around the remaining island.  The original plan was to remove them, but so many animals have moved into the barges, they've been allowed to remain in place.


There is almost nothing as heartbreaking for me now as seeing a photo of Max candidly, lucidly smiling.  I miss him so much.




I love how Suzanna is willing to put herself in interesting places. 

On the way home from the island, the transport boat got hung up on a sandbar for about fifteen minutes.  I told Devin he totally needed to phone in that excuse for being late for work.  How many times do you get to call in stranded?

It was a good day.  It's a good memory.  I guess it's bittersweet, but nearly all of my memories are bittersweet now.  That is the inevitable outcome of mortality.  We love, we serve, we hurt, but we love anyway.

I will try to clear out this backlog of photos, of memories.  It is good to revisit, retouch them.  It is good to remember.  Even if it hurts it is good to love.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vaccine Update

Ten years ago, I was involved in a Vaccine safety trial for an experimental vaccine for Ebola. It did not result in a successful vaccine.  The NIH Vaccine Research Center has begun recruiting for a new study, which I just received yesterday.


Here are the details of the Study (including the criteria for being a volunteer).

No, there is no risk of exposure to Ebola.

The total compensation is about $1750 for nine or ten visits to Bethesda.

If you can, sign up, it's worth it!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Claymores - an Elegiac Poem




People hold still after a death.  Inside of every minute, little claymores hide, waiting to detonate.

When I see a train, or hear a train horn from across the town.  When I even imagine a train, the rhythmic clatter as it goes by, my breath stops.  I think of him stepping in front of one.

When an actor pretends to be (or is) high.  When they’re accurate, it’s harrowing and tragic.  When they’re lampooning, it’s infuriating.  Same with mental illness. And suicide.

Whenever a character in a show is in AA and talks recovery, or when a parent gets a death notification from the police, or when someone sees a loved one in the morgue or at the funeral.

When someone jokes about being delusional, or quotes Han Solo from “Return of the Jedi.”

When I hear music sung.  When I sing.  I hear the echo of his magnificent voice, and sob.

When I see a 20-year old boy.  When a missionary comes home.  Or leaves.  

When the kids do a chore without complaining, because holy cow, did he complain a lot.

When we have granola (which he loved), tomato soup (hated), or cheese (loved).

When we laugh.

When another bill collector calls, so I write down their number to fax his death certificate.

When it is quiet.

When I hear the theme music to the original Mario Brothers. Remember when Max made that his ring tone? In High School, he’d forget his cell phone, I’d call it just to make it ring, and chuckle.

When we see a movie, or quote trivia, or tell a joke, or recycle that last basket of his old clothes that no one will ever wear again by taking it to Goodwill, and I leave it in my trunk so I can take it back inside to look at again, smell it again just one more time, just once.

Grenades of ache exploding in my heart.