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The Birthday Brothers

4 Jun

In his kitchen, the ice snaps as he pours a substantial swallow of vodka into a glass and squeezes in an orange. Sipping, he gathers more ice from the freezer, drops it onto a washcloth on the counter, folds it and presses it against his neck, which is stiff. And he smiles.

He sits alone at his kitchen table in the evening cool, taking a moment, organizing his impressions of the day. But after barely a minute, A looks up to see his brothers standing in the doorway. His face falls and he finishes his drink.

“I didn’t think it was so late. The day went too quickly,” he says.

“Yes,” says C, “we felt the same.”

“Please,” says A, “sit. Can I fix you a drink?”

“I wouldn’t mind. Whatever you’re having,” says C.

“I’m not sure I’m old enough,” says B.

A opens a cabinet and grabs two more glasses. “If we are, you are,” he says. He pours drinks for his brothers, refills his own: vodka, ice, orange squeeze. The brothers clink cheers and drink.

“It’s good,” says C.

“I don’t like mine,” says B.

A nods. “Like Daddy,” he says. “I don’t think he liked vodka either.”

“Tell us about your day, Brother,” says C. “What’s with the ice on the neck?”

A reclines and massages his own shoulder. “Oh, my daughter. Today I taught her to drive. She’s 19, but she’s avoided it until now. ‘I’ll never use this, Dad. It’s all autonomous now. It’s not like when you were a kid.’ Anyhow, she’s jumpy on the brake and my neck is paying the price.”

“A daughter!” says C. “What’s her name?”

“Gertrude. ‘Gertie.’ I have a son too. Five years old. He cried when I brushed his teeth too hard.”

C grasps A’s hand and smiles. “Yes, continue! What else?”

“What else. Well, the day was chilly, but in the afternoon, the sun shined and it was hot on my head and on my arms. When I first saw my daughter, she hugged me and my nose and eyes filled with the smell of her shampoo. It was very pleasant. There was a leaf on my car’s windshield before I drove to my job. The color of the leaf was a very deep, dark green. I suppose it made me a little sad. Maybe it seemed as if it belonged back in the tree with its brothers.”

“Yes, maybe,” says C. “What’s something that made you happy?”

“My shoes made a sound as I walked on a stretch of gravel in a parking lot. That made me happy, the crunch-crunch. I think you would love it if you heard it. Also, this morning I drank coffee, which I enjoyed very much. It was sort of bitter. But a good bitter. My coffee had milk in it and that helped. I hope I can have it again next year.”

“Coffee,” says B. “That’s a beverage, I think. A drink.”

A removes the washcloth from his neck and drops the ice into the sink. He fixes his eyes on a slate sky on the other side of the window, light sinking lower. Across the street, a house blinks out of existence along with a lemon tree in the front yard. “Yes, it’s popular with other grown-ups like me. At least I think so. My thoughts on it are already fading, so I’m not sure.”

“And your age?” asks C. “Which birthday is it?”

A thinks. “Oh. Forty-eight? I want to say forty-eight.”

C turns to B and says, “What about you, brother? Which birthday was it for you?”

B beams. “Thirteen. I watched television programs on my tablet. Most of them were funny. I ate breakfast with Mommy and Daddy. Mommy made my favorite: strawberries and French toast.”

A winces. “I miss Mommy.”

“I miss Mommy too,” says C.

“Yes. There was a picnic,” B continues. “The school year is over and there was a picnic to celebrate the start of summer and uh. My, you know, friend. Aron. He told me he had gotten me a birthday present, but he wanted me to open it down on the beach. So we left the group and walked toward the water. Our feet were in the ocean a little bit and Aron started talking about how he liked how brave I am and how I’m not afraid to take chances and then he held my arms with his hands and he kissed me.”

“Was the water cold?” asks A.

“A little. I guess it was cold.”

“Did you like being kissed by Aron? Did it make you happy?” asks C.

“I don’t know. I keep thinking about it. It’s a partly happy and partly nervous thing for me to think about.”

“What are strawberries like?” asks A. “I didn’t have any today.”

“They’re sweet but also a little tart. They’re very red. With sort of seeds on the outside. Mommy slices them.”

At that moment, three vodka oranges with ice disappear from the kitchen table.

“And what about you, Brother?” A says to C. “Which birthday? What happened?”

“Fifty-nine,” says C. “I took a shower this morning, which is when the water comes out of the little holes and there’s soap and it makes you clean.”

“I know showers,” says B, raising a hand.

“I know showers too,” agrees A.

“I rode on a train for awhile,” says C. “It was very fast and didn’t seem to touch the ground. There were screens and lights and a VR harness to keep me occupied in my seat, but mostly I looked out the window. I saw deserts and trees and two different rivers. My wife slept on my shoulder. A thing was on my lap. An urn.”

A and B nod.

“I spent part of the day with both of you and our wives and husband. We walked to the end of a long pier to p-pour ashes into the sea. Thuh-that’s, that’s what grown-ups do sometimes when, hnn, when p-people die and…” C’s throat knots, his face grows hot and tears swell in his eyes. He buries his head in his hands.

A and B exchange looks. The refrigerator disappears.

A says, “Brother?”

“It’s Mommy!” cries C. “Mommy died months ago!”

And the triplet brothers begin to wail. Wracking, spine-shaking sobs as the kitchen sink faucet pops away to nothing, causing tap water to shoot from the plumbing and onto the counter and floor.

“NO!” bawls B. “NOT MOMMY!”

A crumples to the ground, holding his knees to his chest. “MOMMY WAS THE BEST! SHE LOVED US! SHE FOUGHT FOR US!”

The chair beneath C evaporates, sending him sprawling. “THAT’S RIGHT, SHE DID! MOMMY FOUGHT FOR US!”

“OH MOMMY!” wail the brothers.

The cabinets dissolve, smashing the dishes they contained onto the counter. Floor tiles and cutlery, glasses and Tupperware, oven racks and skillets blip away as if they were never there to begin with.

Through tears and snot and saliva bubbles, C rakes his fingers through his hair: “Shuh-shuh-she, shuh-she was so sad. We talked about how sad Mommy was at the end, how she w-wanted to go to Heaven be with D-D-Daddy and she, and she…”

“I DON’T WANT THIS!” cries B. “I WANT ANOTHER DAY WITH MOMMY!”

“Those aren’t the r-rules, though,” says A. “You know the rules.”

“I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!”

“Maybe say the rules, Brother. It’s best,” croaks A, face wet.

“NO!”

Once a year…’” says C.

“NO!”

The kitchen table and remaining chairs disappear. C and A right themselves and sit cross-legged, joining hands with B and with each other, swallowing sobs. B shakes his head as, more and more, memories of the day blink from his brain. B bows his head and whispers.

“Once a year,
the children too soon gone
are granted a day
to experience a taste
of a life they never lived.”

And bit by bit, item by item, the remainder of the kitchen is uncreated. Dish fragments and glass, sink water and silverware. The oven. The ceiling. The walls and windows. The floor. All vanishes to still and infinite white.

The triplet brothers who shared a womb, fingers interlocked, hang in the center of The Fluidity, The Peace, The AllNow, The Grand Everything.

“Day good,” says B, as best he can. “Pretty and beauty and want more.”

“Miss warm and Mommy. Day good, but miss Mommy,” says A.

“Happy share brothers,” says C. “Happy always with brothers.”

The three drift, soon bodiless. Baby A, Baby B and Baby C, held safe by an umbilical as big as the universe. They travel to where the other children are waiting. And not just children, but grown-ups too. Friends and loved ones and neighbors and strangers and animals and even Mommy. And everything that ever was and ever could be.

There they ruminate and speculate and confer.

And they begin the wait for their next birthday.


 

Dedicated to the fighting Mommies of children too-soon-gone. 

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Back to One

4 Jun

ME: Days off are hard to come by. I was hoping for a little more fun and relaxation when I put in to take today off for my birthday a couple of weeks ago.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick and can’t go to school. That’s the way it goes.

ME: I’m not trying to complain, it’s just a bummer. Stuck at a Pediatrician’s office.

CAREY: Well, maybe later this evening we can do something fun.

ME: Really?

CAREY: Yeah. We can all watch a kid’s movie together. Then we can play that owl board game he likes so much.

ME: …

CAREY: What.

ME: Nothing.

CAREY: What.

ME: Well, those things aren’t fun.

CAREY: I know, but Little Man is sick. That’s the way it goes.

 

She’s right. That’s the way it goes these days. When you have a four-year-old living under your roof, your schedule is more or less spoken for.

You know? I should rewind a little.

My triplet blog has become a reliably annual affair. It’s not that I don’t think about it throughout the rest of the year. It comes to mind often. Six years ago today, we met and lost our triplet sons Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar. I think of them every day and even now I’m occasionally hit with a surprise pain, almost no warning. Gut shot in the middle of a meeting or during my morning commute. You grit your teeth and ride the red wave. You get through it.

And even though grief is never really, truly over, a few years ago we made the decision to move ahead to the next thing. We’d try again. We weren’t, as they say, getting any younger.

Admittedly, my heart was only half in it. And maybe nature knew, because, after about a year and a half, it became clear that our prime fertility years were behind us. Specialists assured us we were ideal candidates for all manner of treatments and procedures and Just say the word, you’ll be in Healthy White Baby Country lickety split.

But on that issue I was firm. My personal philosophy was such that expensive, medically heroic measures in the name of fertility were difficult to justify in these troubled times. Literal millions of children are in desperate need of loving homes inside our own borders, not to mention the profound need overseas. Understand, that sentiment isn’t meant to indict or alienate my good friends who have participated in fertility treatments (all great, loving parents). In fact, the vast majority of triplet parents in the world partly owe their full quiver to advancements in fertility science. But for me, personally, I couldn’t do it.

So, then… what? Overseas adoption? Foster care? Maintain our DINK status and run out the clock, insulated by disposable income?

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the months and years of vacillation, the tears, the arguments, the starts and stops. In November, we completed our certification and became foster parents to the coolest kid I’ve ever met, a tow-headed four-year-old. I wish I could share his name, his face and his story, but alas. Here’s the best I can do:

Christopher back of head

Carey and I love him. Truly and honestly. When I looked at the remains of my boys six years ago, I remember my own heartbreak about the fact that they’d never grow to become strong, healthy men with big hearts and wise souls. But I look at this kid each morning and it’s my continual prayer for him. “Create in him a clean heart and renew his spirit.” My biggest priority is helping him become the sincere, confident adult my own boys never had the chance to be.

But here’s the thing, and this shouldn’t go unsaid: when we mention our Foster Parent Adventure to people who know about our story, they’ll often give us a satisfied smile and a knowing nod that seems to say, “Yes. That makes sense.”

I promise. It doesn’t.

This journey is the exact opposite of intuitive. Take two reasonably intelligent adults who met and lost their three children on the same day and offer them the chance to involve themselves in a situation that will almost certainly end in tears and heartbreak. A situation fraught with added stressors in the form of court dates, mysterious behavior issues and government accountability. And that’s not even mentioning the surreal experience of saying the word “yes” on a phone call and, two days later, having a four-year-old you’ve never met with issues and traumas and stories you have no idea about dropped off at your house.

“Thanks for parenting him. We’ll let you know when it’s time to give him back.”

It’s a beautiful and difficult thing. I always wondered what sort of a father I would be and I’m finally finding out.

(On a scale of Awful to Awesome, I’d rank my current dad skills at an “Iffy” with signs of slow improvement.)

Again, though, this kid is amazing. I could go into detail, but to sum up: his life is difficult, but he loves it anyway.

Six years ago, I wondered what my future life would be. Could we find or build a situation that would replace what’s lost, that would fill the hole?

Nope. No dice. But maybe that’s okay. This is a whole other thing. A scary, weird, unnatural, fun, frustrating, exhausting, hilarious, ridiculous other thing.

Places, everyone. Back to one. Let’s change things up a bit, try some improv. Everybody set? Still rolling? Sound speeding. Quiet, please. And:

Action.

An Actual Tip

4 Jun

It’s not inconceivable that part of the modest traffic that this blog manages to attract are new and expectant triplet parents. Maybe, like me years ago, you’re trawling the internet, looking for wisdom and advice about how to handle the task of having and raising three individuals at the same time. Well, today I’m going to try something I haven’t attempted in an awful long while: an actual tip, as it were, on triplets.

But since this is TipsOnTriplets and nothing’s easy-breezy, before I get to the advice, I’ll start with a story. I like to call it My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent.

Triplet pregnancies are fraught enough, but Carey’s had the added peril of Lupus, a condition she’s lived with since college. Every moment of our boys’ gestation would need close monitoring, which is what took us to Long Beach’s Magella Medical Group, specialists in high-risk pregnancies.

As you might expect, I had a jones to document everything with an eye toward eventually cutting together a highlight video of the pregnancy and eventual birth of the boys. I was on the lookout for odd moments, hopeful moments, important moments… anything that could communicate the nervous frenzy of the time, assuming we’d one day appreciate the look back.

So we arrived at Magella Medical Group for our initial consult and tests, a situation ripe for the video reel. And since the idea of producing a video had only occurred to me a few days prior, this was going to be one of the very first moments of the eventual edited piece. So I got to work grabbing b-roll of the building, the sign, the elevator ride up to the office. I imagined all of this cut together montage-style atop a heart-swelling music bed.

magella-sign

elevator

We entered and I was getting footage of everything, no matter how mundane. Carey signing in. Carey’s blood pressure being taken. No moment too small.

sign-in

We entered an exam room and an office supervisor told us to have a seat. I pulled out my phone to grab a shot or two of Carey getting situated. The office supervisor said, “Just so you know, we unfortunately can’t allow any video taken here in the office.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s one of our rules. I could explain all of the liabilities behind it, but suffice it to say it’s our policy here.”

“What about photos?”

She hesitated. “Photos are ok, maybe just a couple. It’s video we can’t allow. It looked like you were about to record with your phone, so I have to mention it.”

I thought about it for maybe two seconds. It made sense: an office specializing in high-risk pregnancies meant they’d likely seen quite a few pregnancies go badly. Failed pregnancies = angry parents = looking for someone to blame = “evidence” gathering, however legit, however spurious = legal battles = headaches the Magella Medical Group would just as soon avoid. I should also point out that the good people at Magella are as smart and conscientious as they come. It’s a wonderful place and we were lucky to be there. “I get it,” I said.

And that’s when My Greatest Moment As A Triplet Parent happened:

I lied.

“No problem, I won’t take any video. Maybe just a couple of photos.”

As reasonable as the Magella Medical Group’s policy on video capture was, it was a rule I just wasn’t going to follow. Sure, I thought, I could respect the wishes of the office. It’s their space, they get to decide what’s allowed. On the other hand, I pictured myself a decade in the future, me and three 9-year-olds huddled around a laptop. I would play the video their dad shot when they were still in the womb, showing how excited their parents were to meet them, how committed we were to taking every precaution to keep them safe and healthy.

Or I could tell them the story of why we didn’t have any video because we followed a lame f&%#ing liabilities rule.

The office manager left the room and I started shooting. And that’s how the rest of the morning went. I caught some great moments: The doctor telling us how the placentas work. Our hearing their heartbeats for the first time. Poring over ultrasound prints, relating to the camera what we’d just found out about our then-healthy three.

doctor

ultrasound

And stern looks from the staff. “Nope, just lining up a great photo moment,” I’d tell them, video rolling.

Of course, the video I really wanted to make was never made. But I did use the Magella footage in the memorial video I cut together after the boys passed. And you know? It’s not only my favorite moment in the whole memorial video, it’s footage I wouldn’t trade for all the riches in the whole wide world. While it was the postmortem footage of the boys (4:40) that caught the interest of The Daily Beast, BBC World Update and Good Morning America, it’s the Magella material (1:01) that makes my heart the happiest. Because there it is, in full-color, living, breathing, 24 fps shaky glory: two expectant parents who love their children more than anything, full to the eyeballs with excited, terrified, nervous anticipation. That’s the real stuff. That’s where life is.


Ok, that was quite a wind-up to get to the point of this post and the reason we’re all here: a Tip on Triplets. So here it is.

As a triplet parent, nature has already decided to chuck your special ideas about the traditional way of doing things right out the window. You have to wing it, you have to make it up as you go along. And the world is loaded with rules and philosophies about how you’re supposed to handle these three little aberrations.

These triplet children of yours are a messy, imperfect miracle. Listen to what the critics and the experts have to say. Take it in. Consider carefully. But keep in mind:

These children are yours. You make the rules.

That’s really it. You get to decide. If you need to go rogue, man, go rogue. This isn’t twin parenting and lord knows it sure as hell isn’t singleton parenting. It’s a whole other thing that demands reserves that John and Jane Q. Public don’t fully understand.

If you need to shoot the video, god’s sake, SHOOT THE VIDEO.

Go nuts. It’s up to you. The status quo was miles back, do your own thing.

That’s all.

(But, you know, within reason. Vaccinate your kids. I mean what are you, a bunch of toothless hill people?)

Fire, Glass, OH MY GOD

4 Jun

broken_glass

I had a loose mental sketch of this year’s entry. It was going to be called “#braveface” and it was going to be about a new sort of grief (new to us anyway) that we’ve only recently begun to understand and that’s the grief surrounding infertility and miscarriage. Take my word for it: it was going to be a really sensitive and stirring post with fat, salty tears in both the telling and the reading. Boy, were you in for some kind of treat.

But forget all that. I’d rather talk about something that happened a couple of hours ago.

TOT readers will recall that, a year ago, I wrote something to fellow grieving parents who are, like us, trying to figure out how to navigate the unique pain of losing a child or children. I mentioned some of the things we do on June 4. Nothing exotic, but we take time for our boys. We take the day off work. We try to get out of the house. And on the minute of each of their births, we light a candle and say a word or two.

And that happened. We’re blessed to have friends and family who remember three little men who would’ve been four years old today. People are kind and thoughtful with texts, comments, cards and even the occasional gift. “We love you.” “We’re thinking of you and RDO today.” “We remember.”

It genuinely makes the day easier. And in a strange way, I’ve almost begun looking forward to June 4. It’s painful remembering, but it’s also good. It’s a relief. And it fills my heart to hear from people who love us and love children they never got a chance to meet.

Anyhow: a couple of hours ago.

We were doing our thing. Rudyard was born at 6:28 AM, so we lit a candle on our mantle near his urn and said a word or two. Through the years, the mantle has gotten pretty busy with gifts, art and mementos. There’s a lot going on and most of it’s dedicated to the boys, so it makes sense to pick that as our Remembering Place.

7:03. Desmond. We lit a candle, took a moment or two. Oscar wasn’t until 8:40, so after Desmond’s candle, we took some time to do morning things, like brewing tea and replying to a few texts and emails on our phones. My sisters had gone out of their way this year to purchase memorial gifts and we were in the process of thanking them when I discovered our wifi was out. Specifically, our living room wifi extender wasn’t giving a signal.

The wifi extender, I should add, that’s plugged in just above the mantle.

Best thing for that is the old unplug/replug, so, careful as you please, I reached around the artwork, knickknacks, cards, mementos and flaming candles and grabbed the wifi extender. I pulled. It stuck. I worked it back and forth, harder, harder.

If you can see where this is headed, you’re smarter than I was.

One final tug and the extender came flying out of the wall, crashing into our meticulously manicured memorial. The objects of our solemnity flew through the air and exploded onto the ground. Rudyard’s candle burst into a million pieces, with glass, flames and hot wax ricocheting through our living room.

Carey was screaming her head off (they haven’t invented a font big enough):

“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!!”

We flew into action, isolating the cat from the scene, sweeping glass, vacuuming rugs, chipping solidified wax from the floor and walls. In the end, we had to move couches and impromptu-redesign the Memorial Area. There was swearing and bickering. At one point, Carey cut her hand. Our Mourning Morning was a mini Roland Emmerich film, a cacophony of injuries and destruction.

We replaced candles and put the room back together in time for Oscar’s moment (whose candle Carey lit, as I can no longer be trusted).

But, you know, as we were in the backyard, beating glass shards from the rug, I told Carey, “I’m glad this happened.”

“What?”

“I’m serious! I am!”

“Well that’s dumb.”

And she’s probably right. But, man, that’s life and that’s grief. You can meticulously plan all you want. You can manufacture all the solemnity in the world, but in the end, you’re gambling against the reality of the chaos curve and you’re going to find that the curve usually wins. Life, grief, whatever you want to call it isn’t as pretty as we’d like it to be. It’s not a Fellini film, it’s a 2nd grade play. The music tends to swell at the wrong time and the actors will likely trip over their costumes, get distracted, flub their lines. Forget all about grace and majesty. Just get through the performance without burning down the stage and call it a win.

Grief sucks. Death is bullshit. Really: it’s a bonafide pile of glistening, sun-kissed bullshit.

And what can you do? My sons are gone, but I get to say I met them. So maybe it was under the messiest possible circumstances. Maybe that’s better than not meeting them at all.

Since that’s pretty weak as a wrap-up, here’s one last thing: my wife has, in the past, had the good taste to post music that reminds her of our triplet sons and I think I’d like to do the same before I go. About a year and change ago, I discovered three songs, all covers, that I found myself playing over and over and I realized each one made me happy because each reminded me of one of my boys.


Rudyard’s song is the last thing anyone would expect me to post, but, man, Josh Weathers destroys it. The big, salty tears I promised earlier are all here and when I hear this, I remember my brave boy:


Desmond’s song is the least surprising thing in the world. It’s his namesake and it’s as fun as he would have been. I think, when the Beatles wrote it, this is what they were going for:


Oscar’s song is how I like to think of Oscar: clever, strange, innovative, funny. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, performed in a way The King never intended:


Today, boys, you would have been 4.

Love you. Miss you.

Best Possible

23 Jul

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, but I’ve thought of my blog and those who read it often. This post isn’t so much an update as a, well, a Something. A couple of weeks after the boys were born and passed, I began writing a short piece without any sort of idea where it was going or who would be likely to read it. Maybe it would be just for me.

Tonight finds me at an open mic night at Seka Coffee House in Long Beach. I’ve been given 5 minutes to do whatever I want with a captive audience and I’ve decided to read what I wrote. Due to time, I’m only doing an excerpt, but the full text is below, if you’re interested.

It’s called Best Possible and it was inspired by my sons.

It’s after sundown. I’m in my car and I’m driving somewhere, only I don’t know exactly where because that’s up to my passenger, who’s giving directions, calling out the turns and the exits, the merges and the yields. I ask him about the destination and he says “trust me” and I’m not altogether sure I do, but I will.

He’s in his 40s, maybe even 50, and his hair’s starting in with the gray, but mostly he’s pretty thin up top. He’s paunchy and pale, with a voice like my father’s, only a little deeper, and a profile like my mother’s, only a little more beaky and it’s been a few days since he’s shaved.

Point of fact, he looks exactly like me. Or anyway, exactly how I’ll look in 10 or 15 years. Truth is, he’s my future self and he’s returned to his past, my present, to tell me to stay on the 710 south.

“How many kids do you have?” he asks me and I tell him he already knows and he says, “humor me, would you?” and I tell him the truth, which is to say I had 3 boys, but now they’re dead.

He shakes his head and winces. “I’m sorry,” he tells me. “You’re one of those. Two of my sons also passed, but the third, Oscar, he made it. He starts high school in the fall.”

The place we arrive, it’s sort of a little studio, the kind where they teach children karate, only it seems to be closed. My passenger, the future me, says, “go ahead in.” I cut the engine, undo my seatbelt and hesitate. Finally, I ask him if he has any, I don’t know, advice or something. He itches his nose and rakes his fingers through his hair the same way I’ve done since I was a toddler and eventually says, “oh, sure. You should exercise more.”

I leave Future Me in the car and head inside. The door’s unlocked and the lights are off, except for a little desk lamp on a tiny, wooden table in the center of the room, between a couple of chairs. In one of them sits Future Me, who I could’ve sworn was in the car just a second ago. He’s slightly older, or maybe younger. Something’s different and it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what, but he’s focused on his paperback copy of The Brothers Karamazov, the one collecting dust at home on my shelf in my office, and if he notices me, he doesn’t say anything.

I sit in the opposite chair and eventually break the tension by telling him I’ve tried to make it through Karamazov three times and I always fail miserably. He looks up and chuckles and says, “this is attempt number five for me and it’s a real climb. Would it kill these people to have a regular conversation once in awhile? Page 170 and I’m ready to murder all three brothers.”

We spend a few minutes talking about books we like and books we don’t and he mentions Ayn Rand and I tell him she’s one of Carey’s favorites and he says “who’s Carey?” I’m not sure if he’s joking, but I say, you know, she’s my wife and he closes his eyes and smiles. “Carey, right. From college.”

I’m for mystery as much as the next man (and in this particular case, that’s me too), but I eventually ask him who he is, what this is. He points to a little door in the back of the studio that reads STAFF and says, “you’re going to have to go in there, sooner or later.” Then he hands me a raffle ticket with a number hand-written on it and says, “I’m you. The you that gets you ready.”

I open the door.

The STAFF room is less of a room and more of an indoor arena. Not exactly a stadium, but it’s in the neighborhood. There seems to be a big event going on in the center, on some kind of red platform, complete with concert-style lighting.

Also, the place is, well, packed. Old men, young men, everything in between. Some in outrageous outfits, some in understated suits. A handful seem to be drunk or high and others still are handicapped. But the big thing they all have in common is they all look exactly like me.

“We’re waiting,” says a voice next to me, who turns out to be a very pained-looking, mid-twenties me, propped against a wall, clutching his sides. “You’ll want to get comfortable, most of us have been here awhile.” I ask what we’re waiting for and he says, through gritted teeth, “we’re all waiting for some one-on-one time with the guy on stage. The one in the center.” I ask who’s in the center and he says, “it’s me. You. All of us. But he’s the Best Possible Version.”

I thank him and begin making my way down the aisles. But before I do, I ask him if he’s having kidney stone trouble. “How’d you guess,” he says and I tell him to try a shot of lemon juice each morning. He says, “no kidding?”

Every 10 or 20 minutes, the sound system barks out a number. I take a look at my raffle ticket and it looks like I have a few thousand ahead of me. I do my best to get situated.

Hours turn into days turn into months. I spend a lot of time talking to other me’s, listening to my life story over and over, sometimes with only slight variations from my own experience, sometimes wildly different. Since we all have the same name, we refer to each other by our numbers, which is kind of cool and makes us all feel like Patrick McGoohan.

It’s the old versions of myself, the guys who are 80+, that really flip my shit. They don’t seem in any hurry to convince any of their younger selves of anything and they’re mostly short on words of wisdom. It’s all Que Sera Sera, which is the opposite of the frantic teens and reckless 20s.

I hear stories of me’s that were and others that weren’t and others still that were, but maybe not quite in the way I remember. For example, I attended Samford University, met and married a girl named Molly, and began art directing video games. I also sold my first play when I was 18, which was called Whatever Gets You Through The Night and divided my 20s between trying to get stage shows off the ground in New York and living with my dad in Hartville when money was tight.

I had an affair with a coworker when I was 31, divorced Carey for her, and turned to getting high when that ended in tears. In high school, I was screwing around with Matt Brainard and wound up getting hit by an icicle, which took off my left leg. At 52, I published a book on 15th century Spain that less than 100 people bought and at 25, I lost my life to a drunk driver.

There are a few trending themes. Carey’s in a lot of the stories, the lives, maybe even half of them. Art and writing, in some form or another, are in nearly all of them. I tend to wind up with at least one child. I’m typically either Christian or agnostic, but sometimes Buddhist and in one case, I’m even a Scientologist, if you can believe that.

The only thing I’m consistently sure of, with each story I hear, is that I’m simultaneously inspired and disgusted by what I’m capable of.

Finally, my number’s up.

I head up the stairs to the red platform, head buzzing with all the conversations of recent weeks and months, trying to keep straight which me I am. At the top, on a small, tan couch, sits the Best Possible Version of me. He’s older than I am, significantly older, with silver-crazed eyebrows and leather suspenders. He looks tired. Ready for whatever I have to throw at him, but still tired.

He stands when I approach and shakes my hand. “It’s your time,” he tells me. “What would you like to talk about?”

We sit. I tell him I’ve been thinking about that parable where everybody puts all their problems in a big pile and winds up taking back their own problems for themselves when given the choice. I tell him the story’s bullshit, as I see it. I’ve met a lot of me’s recently and there were quite a few of them whose life I’d choose over mine. I miss my sons. I want a life where I get to see them grow into men.

Best Possible nods. “What do you want to ask me?” he says.

I tell him I want to know what he did so differently from the rest of us. Was it faith that made him better? Or adversity? Or was he just born with a better soul? How did he avoid all the mistakes the rest of us seem to make?

“I avoided nothing,” he says. “I’ve probably made more bad choices than anyone here. Not just because I’ve had time to make them, but because I’ve been terribly, terribly stupid with my talents and my relationships. If there was something to screw up, I screwed it up. I could tell you my story, but you’ll have to take my word for it: it’s a real heartbreaker.”

I ask him what makes him the Best. Did he cure cancer or something?

“No,” he says, “you need to listen to me, here. I haven’t led a good life and I spend my time choking on regret. But I look around and I see all these versions of myself and I ask every single one the same question: how do you feel about the men assembled here?”

I say I love them.

“Yes,” he says. “So do I. And they all love you, too. They’d do anything for you, because they know you from the inside. Isn’t that the perfect way to feel about someone else?”

I say Yes it is.

“I doubt any reasonable person would call me the best version of anything,” he says, “but I sit up here because one of us has to and I thought it might ease the burden of a life that didn’t turn out how I’d planned. You already know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?”

I nod and say You’re going to offer me your seat.

The old me slings an arm over my shoulder: “Yours if you want it.”

And if this is a dream, here’s where I wake up.

And if this is what it’s like to be dead, here’s where I find out What’s Next.

And if this is just a story, here’s where I clue you in about the sort of story you’ve been taking in.

And no matter what I decide, the numbers will continue to bark from the sound system and the long procession of me will continue up and down the stairs, maybe some staying in the Best seat, others not wanting to bear the weight. The artists, the husbands, the leaders, the abusers, the addicts, the fathers, the heroes, the professionals and the basket cases, everything I ever could have been and ever could be are waiting their turn.

Like Patrick McGoohan, though, I’m not a number. I’m a free man.

And while I may not be the one who decides how my life turns out, how my story goes, I do have a say.

Today I say Continue.

Memorial Video: The Bear Triplets

28 Jun

Below is the video produced for the June 25th, 2011 memorial service for Rudyard, Desmond and Oscar Bear, our triplet sons.

Please be warned: while this video contains a handful of images from their brief lives, it also contains some imagery captured shortly after their passing. If you’re disturbed or offended by this sort of thing, please don’t feel any obligation to watch.

Thanks for celebrating them with us.

Faces

25 Jun

Today was our boys’ memorial, which was shared with a few dear friends and family.  It’s another example of something I’d like to talk more about later, but suffice it to say it was a really tremendous time.  If you were there in person or in spirit, thank you.

It probably hasn’t escaped you that Carey and I have been very precious about sharing photos of the boys.  Only a very few people have seen them and that may change eventually, but to commemorate the day, it seemed a good time to share my drawings of our sons, produced for the memorial.


Rudyard


Desmond


Oscar

Good night and God bless.