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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Southern Fried Anger

It's almost deafening; the sound of a million cicadas buzzing in the trees overhead.  Their sole purpose to eat/breed/die drives the mind-numbing drone that cuts through radio channels and rattles your fillings. The mercury outside the window begins to bubble by 7 in the morning.  When it's hotter outside than inside your cup of coffee, you know it's going to be one of those days.  The kind of day when it feels like you stepped into a sauna when you walk outside and stepped out of a shower with your clothes on when you come back inside.  It's the kind of day that make people lose their cool very quickly.  When people stop being civil and choose to offer up heaping portions of Southern Fried Anger.

 The weather man in his flashy suit shimmies and shakes on the screen. Trying to make his message of suffocating heat and humidity more tolerable to bear.  Showing us grade-school like graphics of a smiling Mr. Sun and the Lazy South Wind fanning themselves to get through the day.  Mr. Reynolds pays no real mind to the din in the background; the t.v. and Cicadas droning on in synchronicity.   Instead he is focused on the spoon in his coffee. While the spoon itself is nothing more than a standard, run of the mill spoon it is the action of the spoon that has him enthralled.   For while he stopped stirring his coffee several seconds ago; after being drawn into a newspaper editorial about lawn watering restrictions in Shelby County, the spoon seemed to have other ideas.  In this continue spinning of its own volition.

Mr. Reynolds is well aware of the laws of physics surrounding a body in motion tending to stay in motion but he has yet to find the law that allows a spoon to stand perfectly straight up in a cup of coffee while continuing to stir as if steered by a hand.  To his knowledge, he is witnessing something against the laws of physics. Something.....unnatural. He reaches out to stop the spoon from continuing it's whirling dervish around the cup but before he gets the chance, the motion stops and the spoon comes to rest.

A tiny object flits across his face and darts madly in every direction possible.  He swats sluggishly at the fly in a vain effort to show the tiny creature that it's presence is not appreciated. But much like man ignores an ant that scurries at his feet, so too does the fly pay no heed to Mr. Reynolds.  It continues its Kamikaze like behaviour diving aggressively towards his breakfast, his coffee and his face.  Mr. Reynolds can't help but take notice this time. He swings his arms ineffectively at this tiny nuisance to no avail.  He quickly grabs the newspaper in front of him and rolls it into a blunt weapon.  But this fly is wise to the ways of man and quickly retreats to the far end of the kitchen table; knowing the man will more than likely give up the chase if it requires leaving the comfort of his chair.  The fly's gamble pays off as Mr. Reynolds drops the paper back to the table.

"You got lucky this time." he says.  The fly rubs his legs together; unimpressed by the threat.
Mr. Reynolds points his finger at the fly and cocks his thumb like a gun.  He drops the hammer and the fly suddenly bursts into flames at the other end of the table.  Instant ash.  A small wisp of smoke curls up from the end of his glowing fingertip.  Mr. Reynolds is losing his mind.

He doesn't blink for what seems like an eternity.  The smoke dissipates and the finger throbs back to its normal peachy tone as if nothing so strange as firing imaginary incendiary rounds has just happened at the breakfast table.  The fly is nothing more than a smudge at this point; simply ceasing to be.  His heart is hammering the walls of his chest and he can hear the blood rushing through his veins.  It makes a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound in his ears.

A repetitive beeping noise calls out in the distance and Mr. Reynolds starts to bend back into reality.  The smoke alarm is going off; set in motion but the fly's spontaneous combustion.  He jumps up and uses the paper to swat at it until it stops squawking.  It is only then that he realizes that the noise may have been a blessing in disguise; functioning as both smoke alarm and alarm clock.  He's going to be late for work.  Already catching hell twice this week, he can nary afford another incident lest he wish to receive the stink eye and disapproving grimace of Jonathon, his new fresh-out-of business-school-dating-the-owner's-daughter-district-manager.

The two had butted heads since day one when Jonathon first came in to perform a productivity audit at the Owner's request.  Mr. Reynolds it seems, had been found lacking in a few key areas and was flagged immediately as 'dead weight'.  He received a tap on the shoulder while sitting at his little 4x4 cubicle and asked to follow a man in an impeccably expensive suit.  The man held the door open to the small meeting room and ushered Mr. Reynolds inside with a wolfish grin.

"Mr......Reynold's is it?" Jonathon said glancing over some papers on a clipboard.
"Last time I checked." Mr. Reynolds replied.  That got him a cocked eyebrow glance.  At least it was something he supposed.
"Mr. Reynolds, my name is Jonathon Beauchamp and I've been contracted to identify areas within the business that are not working up to snuff so to speak.  I've been asked to identify these gaps and then fix them.  Mr. are a gap."
Mr. Reynolds sat motionless across the small conference table.  He stared at the man in the suit but made no effort to respond or even truly acknowledge that he was being called out as unproductive.  This earned him a tie shift and throat clear.

"Mr. Reynolds the company has concerns that the input of money, training and time it has sunk into you has not yielded a sufficient enough return on investment.  They are concerned that they're losing revenue because you're not productive enough.  You've been seen on several occasions staring blankly at your desk or 'doodling' in your workbook.  One of your coworkers said they saw you staring into your briefcase for 20 full minutes! This is now my concern and I'm not fond of having concerns.  So....what are we going to do to fix this concern?  What are we going to do to make you more productive?"

"Well for starters" Mr. Reynolds said "taking me away from my desk and my work to ask me rhetorical questions is probably not a good start.  Wouldn't you agree Mr....Beauchamp was it?"

Silence crept across the table as the two occupants of the room locked eyes.  Neither one was willing to back down on this matter; the young up-and-coming business man with everything to prove and the middle-aged tenured desk-jockey with nothing to his name but his job.  Mr. Reynolds understood the drill.  He knew the company had been struggling financially for the last few months.  Most businesses had.  But as hard times fell, so too did the job chopping axe.  Jonathon was a hired gun.  Mercilessly sent in to find the employees with the most tenure, the most pay or with the jobs that could be easily automated or forgotten.  Mr. Reynolds fit two of those three categories.

"Mr. Reynolds, truth be told...I don't appreciate your tone.  I know what you must think of me...."

"Actually, you have no idea." He calmly remarked.

"Well, regardless of hurt feelings you and I both have a job to do.  In this case, the ownership for improvement lands squarely on both our shoulders.  So here's what's going to happen.  You're going home for the rest of the day.  For the rest of the afternoon I want to you to write out an action plan as to the steps you are going to take to start being more productive while here at work.  We're going to meet tomorrow morning and go through your action plan to see how applicable your points are.  And believe me Mr. Reynolds, I have no qualms about scrapping all of your ideas for my own.  I'm simply entertaining this idea because the nice lady in Human Resources told me that I'm required to by law.  However, she also mentioned that the next steps we take after today's little meeting....are at my discretion.  So!  Let's be productive this afternoon and start fresh tomorrow shall we?"

Back in his kitchen, Mr. Reynolds stares at the blank page on his table.  There is no header or footer; no footnotes or end notes.  He hasn't even written his name or the date.  This pristine virgin page will not be sullied by ink meant to sign his death certificate.  He knows full well that Jonathon has no intention of even considering his recommendations.  Furthermore, he sees no need to write an action plan for things he doesn't even recall happening in the first place.  He squints at the paper and it crumbles into a tiny ball.  A slight smile crosses his face.  He grabs his keys and heads to the car.

He makes the drive to the office in the usual time.  The ride is uneventful except for the radio not coming in clearly.  Mr. Reynolds makes a mental note to get that looked into.  He pulls into his spot and walks across the lot to the front doors.  In his haste out of the house this morning, he realizes that he's forgotten his access card.  As he's typically one of the last employees into the office each morning, he knows that he might be stuck outside waiting for someone to let him in.  Imagine the joy it would bring to Jonathon if he showed up late to their meeting.  He glances at the doors and his vision trembles slightly.  The doors grind open against the hydraulic arm and the lights in the entrance way flicker violently.  Mr. Reynolds may be losing his mind....but he's enjoying the process.

Jonathon is waiting at his desk when he gets upstairs.  He looks at his watch and mutters something under his breath.  He impatiently twirls his fingers in the 'let's get a move on hoss' movement at Mr. Reynolds and then walks to the small conference room.  Reynolds takes off his coat and sets his briefcase down at his desk.  He notices his keyboard is slightly askew; most likely from the Cleaner.  He moves his hand as if to straighten it and it glides back into place.  He looks at his coworker across from him; sitting bug-eyed and disbelieving that he's just seen what he's seen.

Mr. Reynold's smiles.  "Magic." he whispers as he walks past the desk and towards the conference room.

Jonathon is waiting in his usual spot; across the table in the windowless room.  He has all his necessary papers fanned out and his 2 pens are clicked and ready for deployment.  What a good little soldier he is.

"Mr. Reynolds, I truly hope you used yesterday to think about your actions.  The business world can be a strange mistress some times.  One day you're sharing her bed, the next day you're out on the curb looking for a new place to sleep because she's found a new partner.  That being said, I believe you have something for me?  An action plan if I'm not mistaken?  Let's take a look please."

Mr. Reynolds looks down at the empty table in front of him.  "Well Jonathon.  There's a slight problem with your request."

"And that is?" Jonathon asks.

"I wasn't sure how to write something using bullshit.  So I just didn't do it."

"I see." Jonathon remarks.  He slides a manila folder across the table.  "You'll find all the pertinent information regarding your dismissal in the folder in front of you."

Mr. Reynolds opens the folder and begins perusing the contents.  Standard letter, final pay stub, business cards for Councillors.  Run of the mill.  Amazing at how your life can be summed up in half an inch worth of paper he thinks to himself.  The word 'legacy' seems offensive if applied to this sad display.

"On a more personal note Mr. Reynolds" Jonathon begins "if you want to survive in the new business world, you'll need to be ruthless.  Focused.  Nobody's going to want to hire a tired old man with no drive or ambition.  Take my advice....if you want to ever work in this field again, you better be willing to destroy your competition.  Because people want to be amazed....and you sir, certainly aren't blowing anybody's mind."

"Are you saying I need to 'wow' you?  That I need to blow your mind Jonathon?" Mr. Reynolds whispers.

"I think we're passed that point now Mr. Reynolds.  I just don't see that happening quite frankly."

"Well then..." Mr. Reynolds chuckles ".....allow me to entertain you."

The lights in the conference room begin to dim and sputter out.  A hollow hum begins to the fill the room around the two of them.  The table begins to vibrate ever so slightly and the papers start to singe and smoke at their corners.  Jonathon shifts uncomfortably in his chair as Mr. Reynolds stares him down.  The hum is deafening now but no one outside the room take notice.  That is because the humming is emanating from Jonathon's skull.  He tries to stand up.  He knows something is horribly wrong.  The man across from him makes no effort to help him even as he gurgles out a desperate plea.  There is a small pop behind his right eye and then the room goes dark.

Mr. Reynolds is losing his mind.  But at least he still has his. Unfortunately.....the same can't be said for Jonathon.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The storm that came rolling in last night was easily one of the worst the city had seen that summer.  Downed power lines, backed up sewers and trash cluttered the streets and alleys.  Filth from every conceivable corner clung to the sides of buildings, side walk curbs and news paper boxes.  The air was oppressive; much like it is after a storm whispers false promises of cool relief, only to cruelly withdraw this bliss at the last possible moment.  Suffer the children one might say. And the children of the city do. Man, woman and infant bake in the summer steam.  The night is still and angry.

He looks over at his alarm clock and focuses on the blurry numbers.  It's the deepest part of the night when all should be still, but through his window and past his fire escape, he hears the beasts of the unsettled jungle below.   He knows that sleep will never come to him...not at this late hour.  Instead he rolls out of bed, slips on his second skin and decides to take the fire escape to the streets below.  He's not normally nocturnal, but tonight he makes the exception.

He follows the well worn trail to his local watering hole.  He could find it by scent alone if the need arose but tonight he calmly plods towards his destination.  With any luck, he'll be able to have a drink in a quiet corner without being run off by some angry drunk; looking to strike up a fight with anyone who happens to stray too far into his territory.  He wets his lips in anticipation and checks his blind spots before crossing the street.

He senses something off before he sees it. A strong smell of copper fills his nostrils and instantly the hair on the back of his neck stands on end.  He stops dead in his tracks and listens.  There's the hum of  an engine around the corner and the chirp and squawk of a radio.  He begins to walk again, more cautiously this time and rounds the side of the building.  Bright yellow tape assaults his eyes as he takes in as much of the scene as possible.  Bright lights pulse red and blue in a rhythmic motion.  Once a hub of activity, the scene has now calmed to dull chaos as only a handful of necessary personnel remain behind.  Scavengers hang back on the edge of shadow and light hoping to snag one scrap; one meaty morsel that they can brag about to their friends.  "Did you see the blood?"  "...saw the gunman...." "....guy died right their on the pavement...."  Watering hole is closed.  Time to head back to the den.

Dawn breaks over the city as he washes the dirt and sweat off from the night before.  Today he starts the long journey again.  To move away from this place of comfort and back into the grinding slow burn of office life.  He's done this dance so many times before today.  He has the routine down to an art form. Wake, shower, shave, eat, preen, leave. Today should be no different but after last night's waking sleepwalk, he needs caffeine to get on track.  Leaving his apartment he drifts down the stairs and out onto the street.  The Diner at the end of the street  is percolating pure Colombian gold right now and he plans to take it.  And he will....even if he has to tear someone's throat out to get it.  This is his street. His Diner. His coffee.

The bell over the door signals his entrance as he saunters in to this familiar haunt.  Eyes turn to meet his from a half a dozen different directions.  Indifference, interest, annoyance, anger.  Emotions run high in the room as  the city's weary citizens jockey for position to get a table or grab take out. He waits his turn as he understands that that there is a pecking order to respect right now lest he want his hide tanned.  The line moves along without incident and he eventually finds himself at the counter.

"Coffee please. 2 Sugar."

The counter attendant grunts something relatively indifferent and shuffles off to fill the order.  His focus drifts as he waits for his morning jolt and he glosses over the the inhabitants of the Diner.  People in power suits speaking lou dly into phones; loudly enough to announce how important this conversation must be. Blue Collar Workers either coming off shift or on shift.  Rugged hands and tired eyes move together under leathery skin laughing and gesturing with a sense of ease that the Power Suits could never truly appreciate.  They speak of quitting time and the hot day ahead. Of cold beer and mediocre sex. They move through this place with their hopes and dreams in their back-pockets and their loose change left on the table.  A family quarrels in a booth near the door; wiping spilled milk off of a city map. The child has tears welling up in his eyes....lower lip blubbering slightly. Both parents are annoyed but whether it's at the kid or one another---that remains to be seen. But it's not his fight.

The counter attendant returns with a steaming Styrofoam cup and rings up the total without ever really making eye contact. Just another customer. Just another order. Just another 6 hours before the shift is done. He pays the bill with exact change and turns for the door. The bell jingles again and She walks in. 'DREAM' ---from across the alley. The stolen moment between them still fresh in his mind. The heat from that look she offered him.....the heat from his Fire Escape. He begins to raise his hand to say hello when he notices the swelling around her eye. The bruising high on her cheek. The look of a broken woman. This time, she doesn't meet his gaze. This time she sweeps her hair over her eye and looks through him on her way to the counter. She drifts within inches of him and he can smell her hair; jasmine and lavender. Crushing. The hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up and he realizes for one split second.....he has stopped breathing. He knows nothing about her save where she lives. But on this humid the belly of this city, he silently promises her that she will never feel the sting of another blow.

There's a city bench across from the Diner. He decides there's time before work and so he sits. Taking the lid off the coffee to let it cool he's not 100% sure what he's going to do. But he knows he needs to do something. This woman; this mystery deserves 5 minutes of his time. He owes her nothing yet feels a pull of something deeper and more primal than just pure chivalry. He feels a wanting to be there for her. To offer her shelter, a shoulder and perhaps a bed. So he waits silently on the bench as the world crashes around him. The trees are still this morning as nary a breeze ruffles their branches. They stand like silent sentinels; watching over the city. In some way, he takes comfort in this thought. His own personal armada. Vigilantly backing his decision.

She leaves the Diner a few minutes later and steps into a waiting car on the corner. The windows offer little insight as to who is behind the wheel, but with little effort one could imagine that this person is the same person who drew her back into the shadows of her apartment the other day what? Beat her? Terrorize her? He realizes that his speculations could be completely off base. He has no grounds, no reason to be doing any of this. The heat must be getting to him he tells himself. He looks at his watch and curses under his breath. He's not late....yet. But he knows that if he doesn't get out of the city now, he'll be stuck. Cornered in with the rest of the Herd.

He heads for his car and prepares himself for the migration. He knows the city like the back of his hand. Which streets to take and when. Which on-ramps to avoid. Which exits to steer clear of. He navigates the road with the expertise of a Formula 1 Racer. Today is the exception. Traffic is moving at a crawl when he enters the hi-way. He knows he missed his window by only about 5 minutes, but normally that's all it takes to either be leading the pack or sniffing the tailpipes of the vehicles in front of you. He snarls out a string of words that would make his Mother blush and hunkers down in his seat for a low slow march. From the look on the faces of the drivers around him, they've resigned themselves to this fact too.

The Gods of the Commute must have been slighted by some unfortunate traveller that day as they let loose their full wrath on the hapless commuters traversing this stretch of asphalt. 2 miles into the drive he notices the sky clouding over rapidly.  It's a fast moving cell; more than likely left over from the night before. The sky   roils and begins to bleed into a sickly greenish hue.  A good sign for bad weather if ever there was one.  The air begins to smell of ozone and the thermometer on the building beside the hi-way starts showing the steady drop in temperature as the storm begins to swell. Maybe the motorists around him sense the change too. The flow of the traffic becomes more aggressive; erratic.  Engines rev a little harder while idling and feet become ever-so-slightly-more lined with lead when braking. The first drops start to fall. It comes down in sheets lashing the cars around him. At times it comes down so strong it hits the pavement and bounces back up towards the sky. Drains begin to clog and soon the road is an adult slip and slide. Only the kids playing on this one are wrapped up in 3 tonnes of steel and glass.

The hole forms a few cars up. It's like a giant hand reached down and scooped up a line of cars to part the way for the rest of these humble people wading through this mess. The advantage is taken by as many as possible. Cars peel out of a dead stop as if chased by some unseen predator. Their tires squeal as they bite into the wet road trying to gain traction; kicking up water and debris. Brake lights flash and just as soon as it opened, the hole has closed once again. The thunder explodes overhead.....and the herd rumbles in discontent.

As the people of the city fall back into complacence, waiting for the next continental shift to move the mass a foot or two further, one lone soul reaches his breaking point. A car breaks loose from the pack and lurches onto the shoulder. Horns blare in anger or appreciation as he dashes away to freedom. This will not end well he thinks out loud. And he is right. The police cruiser sitting three rows back tends to agree as well as it fires up its lights and hits the shoulder running. Like a cheetah hitting stride before it catches it's prey, the cruiser quickly starts to close the distance. The runaway vehicle knowing full well it's about to be laid low, panics and flees. It sprints faster; losing traction and swerving wildly out of control. Up ahead, a large truck is stalled on the shoulder----engine failure, out of gas----doesn't matter. For all intents and purposes, this truck is a granite wall whose only purpose is to remain an immovable object in the face of an unstoppable force.

He hears the impact from half a mile back.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fire Escape

The beat of a thousand shoes rumble up through the pavement and reverberate off my fire escape. I watch the mad throng of people shuffle up and down the avenue like the red blood cells moving through my veins. They stream past one another; heads down, eyes focused on the next several feet of pavement. It is 5:25 p.m. on a Thursday, and the world is waking up.
Smells waft up amongst the buildings peppering my senses in a cacophony of sweat, gasoline, street meat and flowers. They say you have to get above the haze to truly appreciate the air in the city. My fire escape doesn't climb that high. I inhale the breath of the denizens below and exhale slowly. The air is hot. My breath is hot. I look at the pack of half empty cigarettes on my window sill and give it the finger.

I rest my forehead against the railing of my fire escape but it offers little relief from the humidity. Even the metal seems to be sweating. Looking across the alley something in a window catches my eye. Curtains waft in the ripple of an incessantly turning fan; the blades beating out a constant rhythm. On the window ledge above I make out the word DREAM in large block letters and this makes me smile. The smile is cold though. It might just be the only cold thing around on this steamy evening. Perhaps this word offers hope to the occupant of this lone apartment. I wonder what thing must have caused this person that much despair that they needed to purchase a reminder of how to simply live life?

Something moves across my field of vision. I refocus my gaze and meet a pair of eyes staring back at me. The owner of the DREAM I suppose. She looks across the alley at me and sees me without seeing me. Her focus is distant; foggy almost as if a thought has latched onto her and won't let her go until she plays it through. Perhaps DREAM has taken hold. Perhaps she's allowed it to take hold and perhaps-----she hopes it refuses to let her go. Lost in a lucid state. Lost in a dream scape ripe with equal parts wonder and terror.

I study her face from the safety of my fire escape. The round cheeks, the smooth lines on her forehead and around her eyes. She has laughed a great deal in her time---or cried. To this point I can't attest. The freckles across the bridge of her nose gives her a look of pure summer and it breaks my god damn heart to look at her for too long. Her skin, bronzed now from this deep summer bake, glistens as she stands at the window. The tiny fan pounding out hot air in a vain attempt to cool this heavy beast that has fallen over the city is not enough to cool her skin. A bead of sweat rolls down the back of her neck and she paws at it absent-mindedly. Her focus shifts ever so slightly and I realize she is looking directly at me-----and I am terrified.

There are moments in life when you know you have been caught. Whether it is stealing something out of a cash register or stealing a look from across an alleyway. Either way, when you're caught you're caught. 'Fight or flight' I think. Meet the gaze head on or break for cover and always ask yourself what if? She gives me no choice. The look is met with equal curiosity and perhaps longing. I raise my hand to wave; a friendly neighbour just saying 'Hello'. Yet I feel the pull of something much greater----more primal. She remains still; the curtains the only object moving in her tiny room across the alley. Then her lips part and she breathes out the world 'Hello'.

The belch of the street below is enough to drown out most noise even this high up. But on this day, I hear her words resound like Gabriel's Trumpet across this chasm that separates us. An old Arab proverb springs to my mind:

"The whisper of a pretty girl can be heard further than the roar of a lion."

We share an innocent smile but far too quickly her's fades. Her eyes become dark pools once again and she listlessly drifts back into some world other than this. I've lost her before I've even met her.

I see a figure slide behind her and an arm wraps it's way across her chest. A face blanketed in shadow whispers something in her ear and she allows herself to be lead away from the window----from me. In an instant, my world bleeds grey and blue as the colour washes out of the day. Every sound now becomes an inconvenience; a violation of the quiet solace we shared for that brief moment. An air conditioner buzzes incessantly below me and sirens wail in the distance.

Overhead angry clouds begin their slow march towards an ancient battlefield; where skyscrapers stand tall in defiance of the Gods above. The city watches with a cautious eye and wonders what will break first? The heat, or the people below. Another siren begins it's cry, but from much closer than the last. I look at my pack of smokes beside me on the window sill. The crumpled Camel stares back at me and wants to remind me "More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette". I bet.

The first growl of thunder rolls over my head tenuously announcing its arrival. Below me a woman screams and shots ring out. I open my copy of Tropic of Cancer and put my feet up against the railing. I still have time, on my fire escape-----at the edge of the world.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Shade of my Ancient Branches

Come sit with me under the darkness of my ancient branches.  These long limbs that bend and sway to no master but the Wind.  That which commands me; pushes me absent-mindedly, violently shakes me and twists my limbs in anger.  That which caresses me like a tender lover; my master the wind.

These ancient branches that have warmed to the rays of a hundred year of suns. That have drank from unending torrents of rain and that have been stripped bare by the cruel hands of a merciless killer called Winter.  My branches are unyielding and will offer you solace.  Come sit with me under the shade of my ancient branches.

Take your shoes off as you walk towards your resting place.  Leave behind these trappings of modern man against the curb; against the threshold where man and nature are divided.  Where business and commerce and industry fade to a boorish roar and where the blades of grass bend and bow in your wake.  Where ants tremble at your approaching footsteps and your soles sink ever so softly into the warm earth.  Take off your shoes and feel what your forefathers felt in ageless times before you.  When beast and man collided in a dance of fear and desperation and fire.

Lay your weight against my scarred and sacred pillar; this lifeline that connects earth and sky.  Feel my coarse skin dig unapologetically into your back. Know that I do this without malice. Rather, it serves as a reminder that while the world around you changes, I remain steadfast in my beautiful simplicity.  For while I move and sway when currents blow, I will not move for you.....for man.  I am shelter; I am resolute.

Listen as I whisper to you in the shade of my ancient branches.  Do you hear what I share with you?  Do you understand a language that was spoken millennia before you and will be sung still when the next epoch comes?  It is wisdom I share with you in these whispers.  Whispers of days gone by; of secrets and sins, of a changing landscape that continues to pitch and roll around you as you sit in the shade of my ancient branches; unmoved.

Will you allow yourself to travel farther away from the world you come from? Will your fingers find their way into the rich earth beneath you?  Where death is imminent yet life springs eternal?  Do you feel it?  The pulse of something much older than you.  The movement of things largely unseen; the sliding of bodies, the frantic push of tissue through dirt?  I am a part of all that moves below. Your fingers straddle the threshold of this world underneath yet I plunge into it's ether; into obsidian pitch. Perhaps reaching for a returned touch that I will never truly find.

Our time draws to a close. Perhaps you will carry some of my world back into yours.  As you wish movement back into your limbs, I whisper sage advice down to you from my highest reaches.  I leave you with dirt under your fingernails as a reminder of days gone by when your ancestors worked the lands.  I leave you with furrows in your clothing as a reminder that these lines have been earned not from a hard days work, but from allowing your inhibitions to run rampant for a time.  I leave you.

As you walk back to the sidewalk; to the threshold where man and nature are divided, look back upon this Titan.  Look back upon these ancient branches and know that you may return to the shade when the weight of the world becomes to much to bear.  As time drags on and the call of the world outside your window beckons, come sit with me under the darkness of my ancient branches.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello. My name is "I have no social skills." Wanna be friends?

So it's been far too long since my last post.  I've been lazy.  I've been unmotivated and quite frankly, I've been a little deflated.  Work has been tough and my mood has been shaky.  But that all started to change last week.  I saw something that snapped me out of my funk and decided to write about it.  So here goes.

My boy has a diagnosed case of Aspergers.  In short, he has little comprehension of the required social skills necessary to make it through most situations that many of us take for granted.  He doesn't pick up on social cues. He barges into conversations. He gets really upset when his routine is thrown out of whack.  He is a challenge. But he's also my boy and he's a great kid!

Yep...that's my boy!
His challenges can; at times, filter across into the playground and classroom.  He has struggled for years to find friends and have them put up with his 'nuances'.  Teachers either love him (as he really is quite endearing) or; as it is in this case, barely tolerate him and treat him as a burden rather than a brilliant mind that should be moulded and crafted.  Unlike many other 'normal' kids, he has the capacity to do amazing intellectual things.  He picks up on small details that many of us would take for granted.  At times, on a microscopic level.  He can be brilliant.  Think,"evil-genius-level" brilliant minus the sharks with laser beams on their heads.  And he doesn't really have a fortress of doom.....yet.

Any ways, as I was mentioning, his challenges often cause conflict out on the playground as he is a constant source of teasing and ridicule. His ticks making him visibly vulnerable and his mannerisms make him odd.  It's a constant uphill battle.

About 10 Weeks ago we were contacted by a local organization here in town called Children at Risk; they work with kids that fall within the Autism Spectrum helping them adapt to situations and learn how to "be" more effectively in the world.  They wanted to meet with us (including my son) to see if he would be a fit for one of their programs.  8 Weeks ago he started in to a weekly program with 6 other boys that all had some form or mild Autism, Aspergers or ADHD.  The goal was to get them to work together in social situations and learn how to manage their challenges more effectively.

While this was all well and good, we'd read the books before and tried different approaches and met with mixed results.  As this was costing us, I was a little sceptical about the outcome.  "One more cash grab" was the message floating around in the back of my head.  I needed to see some serious results to feel that these classes were working.

Each Wednesday night became routine.  The wife and kids would pick me up after work, we'd go for dinner, drop my son off at class, shop for an hour and a half, go back and get him, get the dog from Doggy Day Jail (Petsmart Day Camp) and then wrestle the kids into bed after an exhausting 15 hour day.  The first few Wednesdays came and went without so much as a whisper about how the sessions were going.  We'd ask my son how the class went and generally were met with one or two words. "Good.  Ok."  Yep, these courses were really paying for themselves......FML.

Then about 4 weeks in I started watching the other parents as they brought their kids to the class and subsequently picked them up later that evening.  I watched how they interacted with their boys.  I watched the look of frustration or apathy melt away from their faces when the door to the classroom closed and they realized they were free for even a minimal amount of time.

Before you judge though and think that we're all terrible parents that hate their kids, hear me out.  As much as I saw these parents go through the motions each Wednesday and systematically cut and run on their kids, I watched their faces when they picked their kids up after each session.  It wasn't exhaustion that showed back up, but joy.  Seeing their boy come bounding out of the class full of energy and smiles brought smiles to their faces; if even for only a few minutes before the weight of life came floating back down.

As the sessions progressed, I had more people mention to me that they had noticed improvement in my son's disposition.  He was calmer, more focussed....happier.  The sessions seemed to be working.  At times it seemed difficult to see the progress.  Sometimes you're too far into the situation to appreciate the changes that are happening.

It wasn't until the second last session that the full weight of it actually hit me.  I was in the classroom getting my son or at least, trying to get him!.  He was fully focused on a game of to-the-death air hockey with the other boys.  It was do or die overtime and the play was fast and frantic.  Tongues hanging out of mouths in concentration, eyes focused on the puck and smiles as wide as the Grand Canyon on all of their faces.  They were having FUN.

As a Dad, you hope that your kids will grow up healthy, happy and yes.....even popular.  For any Parent that has a child that is afflicted by a physical, mental or emotional disorder, you never truly lose site of those hopes, but you learn to adjust your outlook slightly.  You learn to be more realistic.  You learn to accept certain truths even if those truths smudge your ability to live vicariously through your child.   You learn to be a more realistic parent.

Mines the one on the left.
Seeing the boys playing together quickly changed my outlook on things.  Yes my son was not part of that percentage of "normal kids".  He was an anomaly; an outcast; a misfit.  But he wasn't alone.  Here before me  stood 7 lost boys.  The children that couldn't be children because they didn't always understand how to BE a kid.  But over these 8 weeks together, they had come to find out that they weren't alone.  They had brothers-in-arms that would stand beside them in their oddity because to wasn't odd at all.  What we considered anti-social, they considered the norm.  They weren't 7 boys with Autism spectrum.....they were just 7 boys.

Although the group has broken for the Summer the bond formed between these 7 ruffians has not even been bent.  Phone numbers have been exchanged, tips and tricks have been shared and plans have been laid that will carry them through until Fall.  My boy walks with his head a little higher now as does his Dad who now knows that when he meets a new potential friend, it's OK if he says
"Hello.  My name is 'I have no social skills.' Wanna be friends?"

It's OK, because somewhere in this city, there are 6 other boys doing the exact same thing.  And their triumphs and tragedies will fuel their stories for the next time they meet.....and play another killer game of air hockey.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

This is how the weekend sighs to a close.

I sit at the dining room table; the bright pastels of the table cloth beginning to soften as the sun lowers in the sky. I stare distantly across to the kitchen and watch the shadows dance across the pictures on the fridge in the failing light. My coffee has grown cold on the counter. Forgotten in mid-sip as something more pressing made it's presence known. The Gin Blossoms are on the radio. I have a pure moment of nostalgia and it makes me smile.

This is how the weekend sighs to a close.

I hear a bird sing high up in the tree; triumphantly challenging Mother Nature to throw one more fierce wintery blast its way. It is resolved in believing Spring is finally here. The sounds I hear out my back window would truly lead one to believe it is back. A dog barks a block away, announcing to all that this is his square of sidewalk and all passers-by must pay heed.

The house is quiet. The normal stomping of little feet and mad rush of animals; tails, fur and toys-----all are silent. The day has quieted them all away to various corners of the house where they lay curled up on beds and couches, lazily dreaming out the rest of the day.

I hear children playing games in the distance. They will undoubtly fight the inevitable dusk with every last ounce of wonder they can muster. But the time will come. The lights will yawn awake and the shadows will lurk back into our world. Sounds will dim as the smell of any number of wonderful meals draws these young adventerers back to familiar doorsteps and into the welcome warmth of a home.

The sun has burned its eternal ark across the sky; chasing its long lost love in the futile hope that their paths will cross if for only a few fleeting minutes. The constant chase that measures out our time on this blue marble.

A harmonica plays on the radio and I'm brought back to The Beatles. I can think of worse ways to end this perfect day.

This is how the weekend sighs to a close.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why are the hot ones always crazy?

It usually starts sometime in the mid afternoon. She's in the kitchen keeping herself busy. She never really stops actually; doing dishes, making cookies, milling around. The music is playing on the stereo. Sometimes it's a familiar song, sometime it's not. But it doesn't really matter. She's dancing anyways. Well, not dancing in the pirouette, scissor-kicking across the floor type of way, but she still moves.

Suck it Crayola!
It's generally the same rhythm; left, right, left-left. Right, left, right, right go her hips in time to the music. When she's really into it, the mixing spoon sometimes becomes her microphone. She sings regardless of whether or not she knows the lyrics. She sings regardless of whether it's totally out of her range or not. She sings because it's who she is. Unabashedly unashamed. She is my wife and I love her for all of her subtle intricacies and full out bat-shit crazy moments.

I will never look at crayons the same way again thanks to her. Crayons; those simple little colourful sticks that kids use to scribble pictures. The ones that restaurants give out to shut your kids up for the 30 minutes of time it takes for your food to come and How-the-hell-can-kids-be-expected-to-colour-a-decent-picture-when-you-only-give-them-3-colours-crayons? Seriously. I will never look at crayons the same way again thanks to her.

Thanks to her flights of fancy and her 'crafty-eye' she decided that these crayons; the ones that are already moulded, formed and wrapped in a paper casing, should be unwrapped, broken into bits, melted down and remoulded in the shape of hearts. 50+ of them. Why? Why because it's Valentine's Day of course. Why else? To hell with you Walmart and your dime a dozen made in China cardboard Valentine's Day cards. She is Uber-Mom....hear her ROAR! Seriously....she will occasionally roar if it helps to emphasize her point.

She often talks to herself. I don't know if this is because she thinks that I don't listen to her or if it's because she legitimately hears voices. At least she laughs at her own jokes....or the ones the voices in her head tell her. Put it this way....she's never the only one in the room. On that note, she has conversations with our animals. Full out, "Can I offer you some tea and cookies while we chat" kind of conversations. Maybe the animals talk back. I'm not 100% sure but rest assured....the conversation never gets stale.

That's fear in my eyes as she points the musket at my head. Notice the smile.
I'm partially convinced that she is part cyborg. Not only because she had one child ripped out of her stomach and the other pushed out naturally without any drugs but because she often comes close to lopping off her fingers when cooking and she seems able to just shrug off knife wounds while arterial spray hits the roof. I'm not sure if she can take small arms fire. I'm not going to try and find out. She hasn't asked me where she can find John Connor so I guess I'm safe.....for now.

I will never meet another woman that can turn my head and then turn my stomach seconds apart from one another. On our wedding day I toasted her and exclaimed that I have never met a woman that can out drink, out burp and out fart me. She has still not let me down in any of these 3 categories. And yet I find myself staring at her during quiet moments of the day and marveling at how graciously and beautifully she is aging.

She doesn't often wear make-up, nor go out of her way to tease and tussle her hair and yet I'm drawn to her natural simplicity. Why are the hot ones always crazy? I know she's not a supermodel by society's standard and I wouldn't want her to be. I'm totally cool with girl-next-door sweetness. I'm taken by the freckles on her shoulders and her strawberry blond hair. You can't manufacture that stuff. It's just pure.

This is a woman that has driven to and from California to be with me in my quest for work. She has trusted me to travel from continent to continent even when the risks seemed high and the rewards were low. She puts up with my family-----that's says a lot for those who know me. She puts up with me. she a dancer? An artistic genius? An animal psychic? Perhaps a Terminator or a Super-model? I say put a check mark in "All of the above". She is my wife and I love her for all of her subtle intricacies and full out bat-shit crazy moments.

Love this shot.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”-Mike Tyson

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”-Mike Tyson. I think Iron Mike clearly nailed it when he said those eleven words. They speak volumes in life as they do in business. Even the best strategists have to be prepared for the unexpected. When tasked with a project or challenge, you spend time prepping, researching and scouring facts and figures.  You analyze, speculate and coordinate your plan of attack; your masterpiece---your Magnum Opus. You step into that ring to show off your skills……

Then that left-hook comes out of nowhere and lands squarely on your jaw; leaving you punch-drunk and reeling.  ‘Where did it come from?  Who threw it?’  You stagger around the ring boardroom looking to regain your footing.  You start swinging wildly at your foe while frantically looking doe-eyed back to your team in the corner hoping desperately that someone will throw in the towel and call the fight.  Then you’re hit in the solar plexus with a flurry of jabs.

The wind rushes out of your body and stars start forming in the corner of your vision.  The room is quickly growing dim and your knees take on the consistency of cooked noodles.  You list dangerously to one side; hitting the ropes.  Then the canvass rushes up to slap your cheek as the ref gives you the 10 count.  That’s it.  You’re done.

Your Manager stands over you shaking their head.  “Next time you bring me a report on A,B,C you better bring you’re ‘A-Game’.”

Once the crowd has cleared, the blood has been washed from your face and the tape removed from your hands you start to really question what happened?   ‘How did I not see that coming? I’ve fought in this very same ring a countless number of times and I’ve always won.  How did my boss know about that gap in my report?  How did they know that I didn’t have the most up to date numbers from Marketing?’

In business, much like in boxing, practice and preparation will only take you so far.  You will learn to duck and weave, hook and jab with scary precision but once you step into that ring, anything could happen.  Your preparation only gets you so far before instinct and timing become your guides.

So how do you prepare for future fights so you don’t end up getting ‘rope-a-doped’?

1.      Get in the ring and start learning. If you’re not willing to look back over older presentations you’ve done or notes you taken to see where improvements could’ve/should’ve been made, then you might as well hang up your gloves.  You’ll get knocked around every time you get back in the ring and your opponent won’t need to make much of an effort to get you back on the ropes.  Make it a habit to review previous comments and edits to ensure you’re not simply rehashing old content or mistakes. Learn from your mistakes.

2.      Change up your sparring partners. Sometimes you need to break from routine in order to see what you’re capable of.  When you’re ready to get back into the ring pick a more difficult partner to spar with.  Take a few shots to your ego to see what your limit is.  Run your work past tougher critics within your organization.  Ask them to be ruthless and scrutinize every phrase, word and syllable.  In doing so, you’ll widen your view of what might happen when in the midst of a real bout.  You’ll quickly identify which punches will be thrown to simply ‘test your mettle’ versus those punches that are meant to knock you flat on your backside.  Watch and learn.

3.      Expect to get hit. If you go into that ring thinking that you’re untouchable, the shock of getting nailed in the face may be much more than you were initially prepared for.  Be ready to take a few shots.  Use this as a learning technique to gauge the strength and strategy of your opponent.  Use objection handling techniques such as rebuttals and redirection to keep your opponent on the defensive.  Use well mapped out facts and data points as your left hook and right cross to keep them on the ropes.

4.      Use your head as much as your fists. Learn how your opponent fights. Talk to colleagues or better yet to the fighter themselves and ask them what they expect to get out of your match. While it might seem odd to bring the fight to your opponent outside of the ring, good strategists will take every opportunity they can to learn from the best. When you get to fight night, watch your opponent.  Watch their body language as it’s one of the best indicators as to when they’re going to throw a punch. Listen to their tone, their phrasing and their intonation.  Subtle changes in the dialogue can be a warning sign. Remember their approach and their demeanor.  Chances are they won’t change their approach drastically during the fight. If you can anticipate their ‘swing’ then you can duck, dodge and deck ‘em with information before they even know what hit them.

For those of us in the business world I’m certain you’ve nursed more than a few black eyes and split lips in your time.  But chances are you were back in the gym the next day prepping for the next match. We take our lumps from time to time with a wry smile and the knowledge that these hits will eventually make us better fighters.  If not…..we can always take up Golf.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Veni, Vidi, Vici. Or more aptly: Bang-o-rang

I sat staring at myself in the bathroom mirror today.  More specifically, I was looking at all the grey hairs that have been springing up all over my head with as much gusto as you'd find emanating out of a High School Cheerleader.  "Yep....they're multiplying." I thought.

Soon enough, my George Clooney-esque salt and pepper look would make way for a full Ted Danson-like coif.  Don't get me wrong...the look works for him.  He is a powerful and attractive man and I have much respect for his follicles.

You see, I was beginning to feel my age.  At that particular moment, my mind chose that opportunity to wander away from work, responsibility and reality.  At that particular moment; standing amongst the soft whooshing noises echoing from the Urinals; I drifted.  My thoughts turned towards that gnawing question that never really goes answered:  Have I done enough?
At the end of the day, when I'm ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, have I done enough?

 I know...I know. You're saying 'Buddy, you're in the can. Not the best spot to have a crisis moment.' But I wholeheartedly disagree. The bathroom offers solace.

As my eyes wandered over the outline of my face, I took notice of the wrinkles that had slowly begun forming around the corners of my mouth, my eyes, my forehead. I saw my skin; sickly sallow (could've been the halogen lights above me) and I sighed.

'You're getting old.' my reflection said.

'So are you.' I snidely retorted.

'So what do you have to show for it old man?'

'I brought my bang-o-rang. Every chance I got.'

Now, for those of you that had a childhood and an imagination, the term Bang-o-Rang might hold some meaning for you. It does for me. Essentially, it's what the Lost Boys screamed out when they had amazing adventures with Peter Pan. Whether it be fighting the evil Captain Hook, or rescuing Tiger Lily from the Braves....Bang-o-Rang. Childish....but I love it. Bang-o-rang. Say it. Respect it.

As the seconds ticked by and my reflection decided to hang around until I provided him with sufficient explanation to validate my ridiculous claim, I started my response with an apology.

"I'm sorry I'm fat. Sorry I've always been and always will be a fat guy. Even if I lose the gut, I will still be jumbo size; the kind of guy that needs 'circus-tent' large when he shops for shirts. I'm sorry that my idea of working on getting a six pack involves me getting in my car and driving to the beer store rather than doing sit ups and crunches.

My weight has prevented you/me/us from doing many of the adventurous things that western society tells us we must do like climb mountains, run a marathon and go cliff diving. Magazines, TV, the Internet all push us to believe that unless we are active and dashing and rugged 24 hours a day, then we have failed....miserably. But I refuse to believe that I must accomplish these things to be happy. To do what I love. To be Bang-o-rang.

You see, these people they want you to be aren't real. The man standing in front of the mirror is. With all his faults and flaws and inconsistencies....he is R-E-A-L. He takes the last cold drink out of the fridge and doesn't replace it. He clogs the toilet from time to time. He makes his wife and kids sad when he loses his temper. But he is R-E-A-L.

And here you stand across from me.....asking me what I have to show for my years on this planet? I have grey hair. Each one represents an accomplishment in my inconsequential life. These hairs represent the countless hours I've spent helping businesses stay afloat. These hairs represent the people that I have influenced, angered, educated and loved. These hairs represent thousands of miles traveled; from the steps of the Taj Mahal to the shores of Malibu. These hairs represent the stolen moments between my wife and I when the kids are sleeping and the exhausting yet rewarding backaches, skinned knees and snotty noses that come with raising two wonderful children. They represent lust and hate and regret and redemption.

They represent me.

So what have I got to show for it? Bang-o-Rang. That's what.

So for those of you that have those quiet in-front-of-the-mirror moments where you find yourself critiquing the ever-aging landscape of your face and asking yourself "What have I got to show for it?" Run your fingers through your hair and smile at all those greys. They are what make you. Find your Bang-o-Rang.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I totally caught that snowflake on my tongue

Dear Old Man Winter,

  when did you officially start sucking?  I mean really?  At what stage in my life did I stop looking at you with fond wonderment and slight amazement and start looking at you like a blight on my life?  When was it that you started making my bones ache and my skin crack?

I look back on our time together as a child and I think of all the good times we had.  Remember that one time when you and I built that huge snow fort in front of the house?  It had tunnels and small windows for whipping snow balls at the enemy.  Man......we must've hung out in that thing for hours.  It had to have been hours 'cause I remember digging out a 'whiz hole' so we could take a leak out the side without ever breaking cover.  Nobody could find us in least as long as they didn't track us back to that patch of yellow snow.

I remember snow days.  No, not just snow days but "You can't go outside because your eyeballs will literally freeze in their sockets" kind of snow day.  Those were the days that the car refused to start.  I can remember my Dad sitting behind the frosty wheel of the old Buick silently cursing you under his breath....the car sputtering and coughing; refusing to turn over.  I knew that if that old beast of a vehicle wouldn't come to life, then there was no chance I would be turned out into the cold to walk to school.  Thank you for that.

I remember snowball fights, and snow angels and finding the biggest snow bank I could possibly find and flipping off it head first into piles of soft, cushiony snow.  Growing up in the North, you really were a good friend.  After all, we really did spend a lot of time together.

But as I grew older, something changed between you and I.    While there were days that I enjoyed hanging out with you, I found that you started becoming more of an inconvenience and annoying more than anything else.  Like a dinner guest that just hasn't quite taken the hint that it's time to go....even as the host is standing there in their pyjamas looking longingly at the clock.

I'm totally kickin' your ass Winter!
 I think things really started to get awkward for us when you stopped helping me and started acting more as a hindrance.  Like that time you dropped 20+ centimetres on us and you brought along a huge dose of freezing rain for good measure?  Ya....pretty impressive.  Except you did this the day I had a major meeting at work and I was hours late for it.  Not cool dude.  In fact, that was pretty downright 'douchee'.

You see....I grew up.  You didn't.  My priorities shifted....yours didn't.  I guess to some extent I should've seen it coming.  I mean, over the years you've always been into the same things.  Every year it was all about cold and snow and sleet and freezing rain.  Sure you'd mix it up every now and then with a good ol' dose of frostbite.  But c'mon man.  Things got real boring real quick.  Our visits eventually always followed the same routine.
Me: "Hey Winter!  How have you been?  It's been about a year since we last talked."
You: "Hey dude!  Ya things have been awesome man!  You know.  Freezing people out.  Making cars slide into ditches....totally cool stuff."
Me: "Huh.  Isn't that what you did last time we talked?  And the year before that?"
You: "Well ya.  It's kind of my thing."

.............and so on and so forth for the rest of time........

Fat Kid + Momentum+ Slippery Hill=AWESOME!!!

Look, I'll admit that I still enjoy your company every now and then.  Summer's awesome to lounge around with and all.  But somedays, you just really need to jump on a crazy carpet and fly down a snowy hill at breakneck speeds.  Truth be told, I can't do that with the rest of your family.  So there's that I guess.

I hate the fact that you make me buy snow tires, and add more driving time to my commute and cause my gas bill to go up.  I hate that you freeze snot to my mustache and cause my lungs to burn when I walk outside in the morning.  It's not cool that you make me chisel my car out of a block of ice or break my back having to shovel tons of snow out of my driveway.

But I will admit that I still giggle like a little school girl when I catch that perfect snowflake on my tongue (I totally caught that snowflake on my tongue).  I still love the way my heart races when I jump on a toboggan and power slide down a huge hill.  And that bully inside of me still gets a kick when I land that perfect snowball across someone's face!  Especially when it's my kids.  Shhhh.....don't tell the wife.

Maybe we'll never get back what we once had.  I'm willing to accept that.  I willing to accept that we may need to change the rules of our relationship so that we're not at odds for the rest of my life.  I know I left your completely for 4 years.  California offered me an escape from you and your abusive tendencies but I came back.  I always come back.

Contrary to popular belief...I didn't have a gun to my head when choosing to leave this behind.
So let's do this right.  I don't like you anymore on a personal level but I respect you on a professional level.  My recommendation is as follows:

  1. We will have contact with one another during the months of November through March.  Any correspondence outside of that range will result in cursing and swearing and shaking my fist at the sky.
  2. You will give these dunder-head weathermen ample warning before you drop ass on us.  These guys seem to have trouble tying their own shoes most days let along predicting the weather.  They might as well "Consult the bones" rather than watching the Doppler radar.  It'd probably more accurate.
  3. You'll keep your tantrums down to no more than 5 over the course of the season.  I don't mind an occasional flurry here or there....but 30+ centimetres and 6 feet of sleet and ice don't cut it anymore.
These are my terms.  You will accept them.   Only in doing so will you suck less and regain some of that wonder and amazement you lost when you refused to grow up along with me.  If our friendship meant anything to'll take those next steps to make amends.

I'm not crying....I'm sweating tears from my eyeballs.


The Can-eh-dian Kid.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I'd like to introduce you to my new friend SARAH

I'd like to introduce you to my new friend SARAH.  She's going to be staying for a while.  She's moved on in to my house and now has her feet up on the coffee table as I write this.  It doesn't look like she's going anywhere anytime soon.  That's what she thinks.

Funny thing about SARAH is the longer she stays, the better the visit ends off.  But while she comes in raging like a bull in a China shop, she often leaves with hugs and kisses and a sense that all will be well.  But we're not at that part of the visit just yet.  My wife and I knew SARAH was planning on making an appearance sometime in the New Year.  In fact, we've been anticipating her visit for about 10 years now.  Her plans though really didn't solidify until about a year ago.  At that point, we started mentally getting ourselves ready for her stay.  But no matter how prepped we were, her arrival was still a kick to the gut.
Five days ago, my 10 year old son was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome; a mild form of autism.  In brief: 
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a 'spectrum disorder' because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.

Asperger syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas. They are:
While my wife and I had our suspicions; she much earlier than I, it was still a slap in the face when those words spilled out of the Psychologist's mouth.  "Your son has Asperger's Syndrome."  Somewhere in my mind an imaginary phone began ringing.
'That's SARAH calling.  She's finalized her travel plans and should be here later this afternoon.'

"Your son has Asperger's Syndrome."

'I'm not sure if we can handle having her visit.  There's too much to do.  She'll only get in the way of things!'

"Your son has Asperger's Syndrome."

Driving to work after the diagnosis was an odd experience.  My wife was on the phone with her Mom.  The radio was playing but I can't remember what was on.  I remember gliding through traffic and eventually showing up in the parking lot.  It was freezing outside that day and regardless of how hot the car heater was blowing, I felt cold....numb.  There weren't really any tears shed nor many words spoken in the car that day.  How do you react to something that you saw coming from 10 miles away?  Nope.  There'd be plenty of time for all of that once SARAH got here.

I finished work and was in the process of driving home with the family (they had picked me up after work) when SARAH showed up. I had stopped to pump gas when she tapped me on the shoulder to say Hi.  An overwhelming sense of sadness came flooding in; like a weight had been dropped into the pit of my stomach.  The first phase had begun.

I should clarify.  SARAH is not a person.  She is not even a She.  She is an it.  A concept.  An idea.  SARAH is what I use to classify the 5 stages people go through when dealing with a traumatic event or loss on some level.  Sadness, Anger, Rejection, Acceptance and Healing.  The time needed to move from phase to phase is as unique as the person who is going through the process.  Needless to say, SARAH has so far been able to manifest in her first two phases.  It really comes out of nowhere and there's nothing you can do but roll with it.

I've been waking up late at night (I'm not sleeping terribly well these last few nights) and ask myself....'What's next for our boy?' The long and short of it is that he will never be "cured" in the traditional sense.  There's no magic pill that makes it all go away.  At least that's what the experts say.  But I have hope.  Maybe that's SARAH making her presence known and showing me her "Rejection" side.  I denounce the possibility that there's no possibility for my son to wake up and snap out of it.  I think I'll probably always reject that idea on some level.

My wife and I are doing our best to begin to adapt our lifestyle, routines and household to this new and strange disorder.  While nothing drastic has changed, the diagnosis; the stigma around the word has us looking at the world through slightly different glasses than before.  We're taking steps to help him more with school, chores and social interaction in general, but it's an uphill battle.

Imagine a typical 10 year old boy; full of questions, mischief, humour and heart.  Think about how they thrive on social interaction; hanging with their buddies, playing sports.  Imagine them collapsing into bed exhausted at night to dream the night away after a hard day of playing.  Now imagine a child that has no 'off switch'; no ability to recharge because their mind never stops working….ever.  A child with all the hopes and ambitions as other typical 10 year olds but with an inability to read social cues; to understand why their behaviour and actions come across as odd or weird or disruptive.  An inability to make and maintain friendships.  There's no happy ending right now....only adapting and coping.

There's a whole community of Parents with Asperger children out there.  They affectionately refer to their children as "Aspies".  Cute.  But at this stage I find the name offensive and not much classier than calling someone a Retard.  They speak about the uniqueness of their child and how they will grow up to be Professors or Rocket Scientists or something else amazing.  But truth be told, not every child will be so lucky.  Some will never be able to live an independent life. 

We're extremely lucky that Evan will more than likely fall into the first category; able to utilize his amazing visual/memory talents for the greater good. This is a kid who at age 4 could memorize where all the objects were on a seek and find picture book.  With the proper social coaching and care he’ll not just be able to cope but thrive.  They say 1 in every 150 children in North American is affected by the Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Our boy just happens to be one of them.

My hope is that SARAH will eventually pack her stuff and move on to some other poor bastard family.  She's not really welcome here anymore.  In the meantime, we'll continue to learn and love as best as we can.