One Time, We Booty-Shook for Thousands …

(Blink) (Blink) (Blink).

For a long time, that’s all I see.

A digital cursor, on digital white.

It begs a simple summary of a complex situation; It’s so 2015, you know?

A single word, on a scrolling feed.

“Sad” or … maybe “Angry.”

“Confused,” perhaps?

Let the masses figure it out.

* * *

On Sunday morning, after a sound night tucked in the comfort of my wife’s family’s home in the mountains, I went for a run.

It has been an abnormally gorgeous late spring in Arizona. Lots of rain; unseasonably cool temperatures. Even more so in the state’s high country.

The Ponderosas are vibrant, the slopes green in a way reserved for the late monsoon season. Brittlebrush and sage and Mexican golden poppy bragging in yellows, purples and golds.

My mind was swimming in that serenity when I opened the front door.

“Nick is dead,” Heidi said.

* *  *

Nick is one of my wife’s good friends.

She adores him. Every story from work that involves something worth laughing about involves Nick.

The first time I met him, two years ago, we ended up dancing like fools in the aisles in front of 35,000 people at a Diamondbacks game – this two hours after we’d said our first hello.

Every night after work, I heard stories about the debates; the beautiful kind shared between friends. They fought over IPA versus lager; Chandler versus Tempe; the kind of girl you might call a keeper.

There are not many exclusive friends between Heidi and I. We share in almost all aspects of life.

But Nick, a few of his friends, and some other people from work, were decidedly her circle. So to delve too much into who he is is beyond my capacity and, probably, beyond my authority as a writer.

He was someone I instantly recognized as reserved for a special category in my mind. Kind, gentle, real. The kind of guy I wanted my kids around.

And now he’s gone.

* * *

My instinct is to dive into clichés. To tell you that this is another example of the mass unpredictability of life.

But that’s way too shallow to convey the hollowness of unexpected, accidental death.

We don’t know why it happened. We never will.

All we know is that it is.

And now everyone in the aftermath is left to pick up the pieces in a situation that makes absolutely no sense.

My wife and her coworkers will look at the empty desk; the empty space in the meetings; the void of happy hours when the guy who was the driving force is gone.

I’ll face what comes when the front door is closed; the workday done; in many cases, the kids put to sleep.

I don’t know what it’ll be, because I’ve never been there.

I suspect it involves listening, and patience, and the understanding that it’s a long road to recovery.

* * *

Even for me, there is a gaping hole.

Those who have grieved deeply will recognize the feeling; the hollowness of it all.

The “why” “why” “why” that beats with the regularity of the heart.

On Sunday and Monday and today, I did what I know best – I retreated to Heidi and my children.

I crouched down low and explained to Beckett that every time I raise my voice, it’s not because I hate him, or because I want to make him angry.

I do it because I’m trying to teach him something: How to be the best man possible in a world full of snark, and horror stories and sarcasm.

I watched “Planet Earth” with Brody, absorbed the coos as the elephant babies marched towards a seasonal delta alongside their momma.

I held Heidi’s hand, kissed her again and again, as she went to face her coworkers and explain what had happened.

*  *  *

I’d like there to be some neat little takeaway here.

But we’re only on the periphery.

We’re not mom, or dad, or the very closest of his friends. Though Heidi knows, and cares deeply for some of them, as well.

On Sunday, as I searched for some sort of answer, it was hard not to dive down a rabbit hole; to ask why we even bother planning when the universe has no interest in our plans.

Me, the naïve, US-bound pontificator dived deeper and wondered if people surrounded by war and chaos even bother to dream – or if they only have time to focus on survival.

I thought about the tightly spun cocoon I’ve woven around my own children – all of my own dreams I’ve sacrificed to keep them warm and fed and worry-free. Even the way I’ve shielded them from my own weaknesses. And why I’ve done it.

I fell down the hole deeper.

I questioned my job, my choices, all of it.

And every few minutes or so, I’d snap back to the kitchen, or the living room, and see my wife – on the phone, tears streaming, talking to someone else or texting condolences to someone who cared.

The heartbeat “why” “why” “why” would start again; and an old voice, borne from my own deep dive down some other rabbit holes would emerge.

“Acceptance,” is all it kept saying. This ain’t fucking Hollywood, people.

There aren’t neat story arcs to most of the things that matter; to the moments that really define our existence.

We may be mighty beings; but we can’t know all the answers.

*  *  *

A couple days before all this happened, sitting with a close friend of my own, staring the glory of a holiday weekend in the face, I shared with him a story I’d recently read about an old co-worker of mine.

She was a journalist I worked alongside in my early 20s, chasing down local government stories for the daily newspaper.

Recently, she had become a US attorney.

She shared with the writer of this story, “I use to let life control me, to take me where it may. But at some point, I decided I needed to take control of my own life.”

To make the decisions that would take her to the place she wanted to go.

Those words lingered; they still do.

But they also layered neatly atop a conversation I had with someone else a few days prior – about how the thing I look most forward to each day, no matter where I am, no matter what the circumstance, is my first cup of coffee in the morning.

“It’s wonderful you can appreciate that,” she said. “So many can’t.”

At the time, it was a simple – but true – statement.

I didn’t delve into the why.

But I have since.

It’s all about another day.

If there’s coffee brewing in the morning when I get up, it means the night before was normal enough to set the timer. If I have time to drink it, it means the morning is normal, too.

Faced with this realization, faced with the fact that I’m chasing lots of lofty goals and in the process  skipping regular phone calls to parents, conversations with friends, Sundays cuddling in front of the TV – when all I really want is a morning cup of coffee …

… the thought hangs in the air.

The “why” “why” “why” beats again.

Answers to thoughts like this never come easily.

The answers, often, are a luxury we don’t have the time to afford.



Back to Reality

IMG_4581‘Cause every single story / Is a story about love / Both the overflowing cup / And the painful lack thereof – “40 Mark Strasse,” The Shins

I keep willing the words to come, but it all feels so forced.

The ideas are swimming there, but I can’t convey them eloquently. The shift to hardcore analytical thinking – the distance from emotion that comes from immersing one’s self in the world of computer systems  – has positioned me far from expression.

The come-back to the emotional is slow. I have fits and starts of clarity, followed by exhaustion and, then, a lack of willingness to get the ideas out.

But they’re there; somewhere in the mire.

I’ve started on this attempt to post something, anything, at least three times. And every attempt has seemed like a lie.

Today, sitting in the viewing deck of my daughter’s gymnastic school, an acquaintance was also watching.

I let the thoughts out to her in waves – all I’ve been thinking; all I’ve been flailing in (arms-grasping-in-a-quicksand kind of flail) – the suddenly apparent banality of social media, the fallacy of trying to present a life well-lived to the general public, the sense that our flaws far outweigh our perfections.

I tell her about my world: about staying up until 2 a.m. listening to lectures on programming languages and a month where every waking second that wasn’t dedicated to work was given to a project, or an exam or a conference call.

She tells me about being a nurse in a major metropolitan hospital; and about a 4-year-old boy who was stabbed 40 times by his father; whose mother and sister were killed by the same man, and about watching him recover.

These stories are not told side-by-side. They ebb and flow. She’s done the be-a-parent/student thing; and it’s only eventually we come to this tale.

“Children are amazing,” she says, “their ability to recover.”

I know a variation of this tale.

I mention numbers – how I’m always chasing numbers – to put our blessings in the world in place (those of us with food and a roof and security are a global anomaly, I say). I realize she knows it from her work: the hospital, a constant exposure to both the random unfairness of life and the darker sides of humanity.

And the miracle of recovery.

She acknowledges this.

We all face our own adversity, she infers. But we only have our own point of reference.

“My mountains are my mountains to climb,” she says.

I nod.

* * *

And what of my mountains?

They seem like a load of shit to me.

Complain about the first semester of a master’s program? Puh-leeze.

Would it make any difference if I told you I wasn’t sure why I was doing it? That the hours, nay weeks, of cumulative time I’m losing with my children in the prime of their childhood make me question daily why I’m pushing down this path?

I expect no sympathy.

I have no sympathy for myself.

I see an idea at the other end. But the idea is neither clear, nor guaranteed.

The goal I’m shooting for seems both shallow and reasonable depending on the version of me that is doing the assessing.

Stability? Oh, yes, I like that.

Stability? That’s a silly (non-guarantee) for which to give up three years.

For now I press blindly onward, because I have made a choice. Consequences be damned.

* *  *

Tonight, I took a long walk.

I’m prone to these walks now. Long after the kids and Heidi go to bed.

I go when I’m looking for something, though often I don’t know what.

Tonight, it was for the words to tie all this together.

This was after I sat out on the patio and I opined to my wife, “I think I’m entering a mid-life crisis.”

I went on, “It feels like being in high school again. When I all I can break it down to is ‘being real’ or ‘being fake.’”

“I can’t get past that. I feel so childish and yet I can’t bring myself to say it to the people who read what I write. I feel like I used to speak with confidence; and in the course of five or six months, that confidence is gone.”

“Suddenly, being honest seems so hard.”

And it does.

Because I don’t know what I’ve done. And I don’t know where I’m going.

I don’t know what I want; other than the most basic things: time with my kids, time with my wife; time with a couple of key friends.

I went on to explain how, a couple years ago, awash in a rapidly expanding social circle of influential individuals, I decided to tamp it all back, mostly because socializing with people I didn’t have time for seemed a wasteful use of my most precious resource..

It was a conscious choice; and now that it’s all come to fruition, I’m left in the aftermath.

Am I better off?

It’s all first-world bull; that’s how it seems anyway. I have less social requirements, but more mental knowledge about a thing, i.e. writing advanced code.

Qualified for another job? Yes.

Soul-satisfying mornings, when I project the day ahead? Not really.

* *  *

And, so, that’s it.

If I linger over this, nothing will ever get published.

It’s a first draft, like newspapers and history.

Yes, I got a couple of A’s in my first two classes on my way to be a software engineer. Yes, that felt pretty good when it was all said and done.

I still don’t know why I’m doing it.

But I can tell you what it cost.

While I was watching my daughter from behind the glass at gymnastics class, she arched her back backwards, touched her toes, and gave me a salute – in true Brody style. I sensed the full-arch was a first.

I got warm; the joy starting at the chest and running up to my brain.

There’s been other firsts like this, I’m sure, but this was the first I’d witnessed, because it was the first time in three months I had time to go her class.

When she finished, and she came up to tell me it was time to go, I’m certain my daughter knew nothing of what it meant to me.

We grabbed her shoes. We got into the car. We drove home. We had dinner.

Life went on, my midlife introspective a distraction in the mind of just one: