Monday, December 15, 2014

Diary of An Angry Left Hand

August 25, 2014: I suffered a goalie injury tonight while playing soccer......it really hurts. In fact, it hurts so badly that I even allowed a few tears to drip down my pitiful cheeks while driving solo to the emergency room. Very humiliating; there’s no crying in soccer! (or is that baseball?).

I am now there still waiting on x-rays of an immobile right hand. She is bent at an odd angle and a large bump is rising from the wrist. Left hand is getting tired of playing slots on the cell phone while we wait. I can’t believe how out of shape she is!

August 26, 2014, 7:00 am: Grrrrrr, woke feeling very grumpy today. There are so many things I do with my right hand that I’ve taken for granted. Grandpa Stone (RIP), who lost his right arm in 1945, is laughing at me right now I’m sure.

My left hand is still tired from handling the phone and everything else.

August 26, 2014 11:00 am: It has now been 13 hours since the break & I am in fear for my life. My left hand is revolting & has declared war. I caught her whispering to right hand "you little wussy! I didn't sign up for this type of work”! My right eye is furious...I think lefty maliciously rammed the mascara wand into her. I keep telling myself I must.....not.....succumb.....to.....hateful......left hand.... Please keep me in your prayers; not sure when or if I’ll be able to persusde hre to kpee tyinpg.....

August 28, 2014: Day three of "the break" & left hand's sadistic personality is becoming more pronounced. The right eye can barely see & I've decided to remove mascara from Lefty's reach permanently. She wields it like a ninja sword.

This morning Baths (short for Bathsheba, my new name for her) made a point regarding who is in charge by pouring water for the coffee pot all over the coffee filter instead of the water chamber.

She takes particular joy in soiling herself when I try to wipe after using the bathroom and I swear I heard her whisper to Righty last night "see, that's what happens when you force me to perform jobs that are beneath me".

I see the orthopedic doctor this morning & can only hope she doesn't embarrass me.

I feel possessed.

Pray for us.

August 28, 2014: The official diagnosis is a fracture of the distal radius bone. Four weeks in the hard cast and then at least another two weeks in a wrist splint but things could be so much worse. The smaller bones around it are okay and imagine the horror of an out of control left LEG if this had been an ankle or knee injury!

August 28, 2014: I began another diary entry but quickly gave up. Left hand is getting lippy again & I need to tend to her. I feel as if the Bride of Chuckie is living in my arm.

September 2, 2014: I decided to go ahead and write a serious blog in order to keep things in perspective. This was a mistake. Lefty fought me every step of the way and it took all day to type. For some strange reason her middle finger seems to be overcome with spasms that result in revolting extensions. I’m not stupid. I know what she is doing.

September 10, 2014: I feel like the little train that could.....purchased some new piano sheet music and even with the cast I can pitifully play a little (it’s actually somewhat comical to observe). Lefty is behaving herself. I’m wondering how long this will last.

September 15, 2014: Showed up for soccer tonight and proved it is possible to play with a cast (if you want to call my defense “playing”). Have missed my “Bad Ass Moms”, aka BAM, ladies and Lefty didn’t have time to act out because I was panting too hard. The field was wet, though, and within minutes of playing we had hit the deck hard. Lefty refused to cushion the fall, glaring at me and whispering “are you insane? I see what you did to the other hand. Not this girl. NOT this girl”.

September 16, 2014, 4:55 am: Pampered Chef cake tester use #33- this amazing tool fits perfectly down into a cast to hit that one spot causing maniacal & insane itching. If I were a dog my leg would be jerking. Awwwww, blessed relief! It is even worth the short stabs Lefty gleefully inflicts every so often.

September 23, 2014: The cast comes off in two days. In the meantime, Lefty has tried to behave herself but this morning it just was too much for her to overcome. After she jabbed the roof of my mouth with the Oral-B flosser or I swear I heard her whisper "sucker".

For over two weeks I have had very limited mobility with my right thumb and can't straighten it. In the interim, until the cast comes off and a proper diagnosis can be made, Lefty has been forced to provide archaic manual physical therapy to keep said right thumb in motion. This morning she snapped and I swear I heard her say "dumbass wussy thumb, I'm getting sick of taking care of you. I know pinkies with more intestinal fortitude than you. Oh, and by the way, even with "her" attempts at cleaning you still are starting to smell."

She’s just starting to be mean for the sake of being mean.

I should've seen that she was close to the breaking point when she flipped Brody's omelette this morning across the kitchen. Kona enjoyed this post-breakfast snack but I angrily reminded Lefty she is just punishing herself with these childish outbursts because she has to wipe up the mess. She just whispered “karma bitch”. Which makes no sense to me. Why would karma punish me when I’m not the one who flung the food?

Thursday can't come soon enough.

September 25, 2014: Lefty is in full blown melt down. I sympathize with her and even cried briefly after leaving the hand specialist, sniffle. I've given myself one hour for self-pity then WE IS MOVIN' ON!

In laymen’s terms the cast is gone and the fracture is healed, but the tendon from the thumb is completely severed. Righty will have to undergo surgery next Wednesday to repair the EPL and then, gulp, spend another 4-6 weeks in another cast and then a splint.

I've put off trying to blog but maybe this will teach me to be more succinct and brief (Lefty is already doing that, in spite of her motives). BAM is going to be frustrated I’m sure....none of them really like playing goalie and a tendon issue is more delicate than a bone issue so I won’t be playing, even with a cast.

A bonus is that voters seem to be nicer to me when I canvass for Amber Versola (who is running for Kansas State Representative). So there's that silver lining; nobody has threatened to shoot me like they did her the other night (aw, bloody Kansas).

Lefty applied lotion to the dry and pale right wrist and arm just now, making me believe for a brief moment that there might be hope. Then she squeezed her sister arm’s sore and achy wrist aggressively, whispering "I'm going to remember this, you weakling".

October 1, 2014: The surgery was successful but the doctor did have to transfer the tendon from my finger because the thumb tendon has retracted. A second cast, which frankly looks like a medieval monster club, will remain on my hand until next Thursday when a new and smaller one will be cast. It looks like the Shuldas are eating carry out for a week, which makes Lefty somewhat happy. Her Evil Honor seems to appreciate the new pain prescription for oxycodone. I am feeling a little loopy right now but she’s being nice so I’m looking at the narcotic as another silver lining.

October 7, 2014: Lefty got a little whiny today because her thumb and hand are getting sore from overuse. Then, after glancing at righty and the bulging mammoth monstrosity of cast she has to wield, I heard her whisper to herself "chill out; at least you aren't THAT guy!" Maybe Sibyl is starting to settle down?

October 9, 2014: Rain can't dampen my mood this morning! The sutures will be removed and this club on my hand changed out for something smaller. I'm downright giddy, even if Lefty is still lurking.

October 11, 2014: Lefty pissed me off today. I guess she really is angry about this whole "right hand in a cast for the next 5000 years" prognosis.

I was in the shower brushing my teeth while resting my right elbow on the soap dish because she gets tired after holding herself up in the air for so long (trying to avoid water flowing down into the cast). So….inevitably my right elbow knocks the soap off and in a blur Lefty ACTS like she's going for the soap but actually jabs the still toothpaste loaded toothbrush into my left eye.

I have a new weapon that will motivate terrorists to spill their secrets. Jab toothpaste into their eyes.

Don't even get me started on the fact that it is now jeans season and I'm trying to get jeans on with one hand. She just will NOT work with me on this issue and says she refuses to cooperate with getting dressed unless I agree to wear yoga pants or sweats only. She tried to add in a refusal to help with bras until I threatened to take a sledge hammer to her.

Lefty will be grounded when this is all over.

October 14, 2014: Lefty and I had a terrifying moment this morning over the litter box.

Every time I force her to clean it out she toys with me, randomly flinging the litter up towards my face.

Not only did I have to deal with Lefty while changing the litter but Hope the Cat watched me with accusatory eyes because I have not been on top of it in the manner to which she has become accustomed.

Unfortunately, the accusatory glares of Hope the Cat distracted Lefty who then decided to fling more than just litter towards my face. I keep trying to remind her that we share the same body. After a few harsh words we finally came to a truce. At least the cat is happy now.

October 21, 2014: Dn#@8BLR"P%&%^$SH*&^%!!!

Lefty did it again. I made the ignorant mistake of asking her to pull a strap up onto my right shoulder and she "slipped" and punched me in the chin.

I swear I heard a silent giggle while I was cursing and am fairly certain this was in retaliation for the sledge hammer threat. Well played, Lefty, well played.

October 30, 2014: Today is the beginning of another new journey and the final cast is gone. I can't move my thumb at all but am sure with physical therapy and a little bit of grit and determination we will be wiggling in no time! The tech who removed the cast salvaged every single Jayhawk autograph and I’m beginning to like the term “silver lining”.

I’m trying to not dwell on the fact that our very skilled hand surgeon, Dr. Lanny, said I most likely will never be 100% again. He has no idea how close Lefty came to taking him out for good after he uttered those ill-fated words. Fortunately, I’m stronger than her.

November 1, 2014: Now that the cast is off and I have a temporary splint that can be removed, we were able to have the first truly touching moment with Lefty since this all began yesterday morning.

I took the splint off and attempted to brush my teeth holding the toothbrush with fingers and not the thumb (not supposed to use the thumb with the exception of three attempts a day to touch it to my fingertips). I quickly realized that it was going to take two hours to completely finish brushing and in a moment of pure tenderness and sacrifice Lefty gently sighed and said "here, let me take care of that!" It almost brought me to tears.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when we visited the grocery store and did the first full shopping trip I've done since this happened. The cart was packed and Lefty was having to put every single item on the belt one at a time.

I was shocked when about two thirds of the way through she simply refused to pick up another grocery item and then glared at Righty yelling "I'm sick & tired and you can take over from here Miss 'I can brush my teeth all by myself' "!!!!

There was an uncomfortable pause while the clerk waited for me to cajole her back into action (I could tell she thought I was one of those crazy people who talks to herself; hater). Lefty and Righty haven't spoken since....but my family is happy to have food again.

November 20, 2014: Yesterday the cat scratched me while I was holding her (yes, the same cat who is disgusted with her litter box; I’m surrounded by demanding figures). She did it directly on the tendon surgery incision, which absolutely HAD to be deliberate.

Last night I dreamed that cats carry the Ebola virus and as a result of the scratch I started developing symptoms. In the dream I attempted to sneak into the hospital without bringing attention to myself. Nurses whisked me into an exam room and instead of using a needle to withdraw blood the nurse pulled out a huge razor and proceeded to slash my right wrist. I screamed while she put the blood on a test strip and Righty was crying “Why? Why?” Then, just before receiving the diagnosis, I woke up. Damn cats. Damn Ebola.

Clearly the stress is starting to impact my mental condition.

December 14, 2014: It is time to give Lefty her due.

I began occupational therapy two weeks ago and am making amazing progress (shout out to OT Tamara, who is amazing). Mobility on the part of Righty is exceptionally improved. Strength is at about half of what Lefty has but even so Righty is working hard and demanding action. I think Lefty respects this. She hasn’t jabbed, poked or punched me in a month now. There have been no whispered insults or name calling either. In fact, she seems to be feeling parental even, proud of Righty’s accomplishments. Just a few days ago she sat back and allowed Righty to try and twist the wine opener. When it became apparent that things would work much faster if Righty held the bottle and Lefty turned the corkscrew she simply sighed and said “come on, let me do it”. (this may have been a mind over matter issue….I REALLY needed a glass of wine and was getting impatient)

I started to believe, briefly, that she had let go of this irrational resentment.

That is, until we were at Brian’s work party Saturday evening and the white elephant gift exchange commenced. As soon as Susan (the wife of one of his co-workers) opened the electric wine bottle opener I realized Lefty hadn’t forgotten a thing. Unknown to the rest of the guests, I was literally having to hold her back from leaping across the room and grabbing the contraption out of Susan’s hands. It was then that I heard her whisper to ME, not to Righty, “you dumbass!!! Why in the HELL didn’t you buy one of those three months ago??? Do you know how much easier BOTH of our lives would have been?”

The electric wine opener now looks lovely sitting on our counter. Nobody fought me for it after I stole it from Susan. Lefty was clenched and I think made them nervous. We had wine for dinner and Lefty and Righty are now working together as a beautiful team while I quietly sit typing on our bed.

It has been one hell of an adventure, but I’ve discovered a few things.

Sometimes, no matter how much we like to think our body is ours, it can and does have a mind of its own. And if I ever break my hand again? I’m putting Lefty in a splint too. I’ve seen what she can do when she’s pissed and I’d rather air dry after going to the bathroom then go through that hell again.

Photo Journal

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Americans Who Don't Vote Suck

I've been "blog-less" for a number of months due to a wicked soccer injury that left my right hand under a surgeon's knife and, as such, useless. She (affectionately known as "righty") is finally able to type again (eh, hum, awkwardly)! As a result, I am going to jump right in and be brutally honest. I think people who don't vote suck.

Although saddened by the number of American citizens who refuse to spend just a short thirty minutes or so researching candidates before an election (my God, what good is a smart phone if you can't find just a wee bit of candidate information), I was downright horrified by the small number of people who voted here and around the country.

Just 36.4% of eligible voters bothered to visit the polls.

That means 36.4% of voters helped decide which tiny number of Americans are going to run our government.

What's that you ask? Why did I say those voters only helped to decide? Because the rest of you who didn't vote actually made the final decisions for the rest of us. Pay attention, there could be a test (or at least there should be): by NOT voting, you still voted. In fact, you determined the outcomes.

Those of us who have been sharing information, local news articles, links to candidate web sites, and trying to talk to voters in person on their front porches want to say "what happened to you?"

Before you non-voters start in with the excuses, just save your breath.

Too busy to vote? Sorry to hear that. Try taking a paltry ten minutes some time during the week preceeding election day to vote early. In my county in Kansas it's easy; you get two entire weeks. Seriously, you would've been in and out in ten minutes during the early voting period.

How about this option - vote by mail. The election office will actually send an official ballot right to your mail box and all you have to do is dig out a pen and fill in the dots.

Oh, and here's a link you might want to save. It shows individual state laws regarding employee time off to vote. Yep, many states will give employees paid time off to hit the polls.

Have more important things on your plate? Sorry, but I can't seem to summon much sympathathy. You see, this is America. We've seen the lengths Americans will go to when they really want to vote. Remember Florida a number of years ago? Ladies, remember Alice Freaking Paul being force fed with a tube crammed down her throat while she fought for YOUR right to vote? Americans are nothing if not determined, at least when something is important to us.

Let me clarify: I'm not talking about homeless people. And I'm not talking about the elderly people I met while helping Amber Versola canvass who live in an assisted living facility but who had still mapped out a plan regarding how they were going to get to the polls (those who hadn't already voted by mail). And I'm not talking about the single mothers that Amber offered to drive to the polls herself.

I'm not talking about the woman I saw while poll watching who slowly made her way into the church pushing her walker, coming to stop behind an elderly couple leaning their canes against the table so they could sign in. I'm not talking about the wheel chair bound young gentleman with cerebral palsy and all that he endured in order to arrive at his poll site and spend the four minutes it took to vote. And I'm not talking about the woman suffering from COPD hauling an oxygen tank behind her while searching desperately for a chair once she made it inside the poll building so she could rest before completing a ballot.

I'm certainly not talking about the over 20,000 Kansas voters in limbo right now because their Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, felt infringing on their rights was appropriate to do in light of the less than 0.0001% voter fraud cases that have occurred over the past ten years.

No, I'm not talking about those people.

I'm talking about the rest of you. Those of you who are registered and DIDN'T vote. Those of you should register but are too busy. Or just don't care.

I'm talking about those of you who are willing to get out of bed at 3 am on Thanksgiving day so you can stand in line in the feezing cold at Walmart trying to buy the cheapest shit made in China, at slave wages, because you have to have another television. You'll suffer that hell but aren't willing to vote?

I'm talking about those of you who are willing to ignore bills but make damn sure your new iPhone is paid up so that you can still follow the latest Vines or Instagrams. You spend hours looking at mindless pictures and videos but didn't vote?

I'm talking about those of you who spend untold hours upon hours researching your fantasy football picks. You'll write a dissertation before deciding which wide receiver to pick but can't spend thirty minutes researching who to elect to the highest office in your state?

I'm talking about those of you who used Google to search for the cheapest Royals playoff tickets, or the cheapest concert tickets, or the cheapest pair of leather boots. You know how to use search engines when shopping for merchandise (or fantasy football linemen) but can't figure out how to Google "Brownback Davis debate"?

My response to most of you who say you just didn't have time is "bullshit". (*gratuitous caveat before that ONE person says "I was in the hospital the day of the election" or "I work five jobs with only two hours of sleep a night" or....seriously, who am I kidding - if you are reading this then you most likely could have voted).

For those of you who think your vote doesn't matter? Maybe, in heavily red or blue concentrated states, it doesn't when it comes to the electoral college. I can assure you, however, that Cowley County's Ed Trimmer, who won his State Rep race by a mere seventeen votes, would disagree with you. So would Pat Sloop, also a KS State Rep candidate. She lost by 48 votes.

My response to those of you who say you just didn't have enough information is "Google/Yahoo". You know, just like you do when researching which product to buy.

Because at the end of they day, that is exactly what we are doing when we are voting. We are in charge of buying everything we, our family, and our community needs that is most important to us. More important than a television, or tickets, or a fantasy football team.

We are "buying" funding for education, highways, and rural hospitals. We are buying civil rights. We are buying what should be our voices.

So the next time there is an election, maybe take some time to research. The amount of information available, for instance, on the Kansas Governor's race was mind blowing. And voting? Well hell. You can often do that in the time it takes to put gas in your car and go through Starbucks.

Try giving a shit about our Democracy. Or our state. Try actually honoring those men and women who died for our country. Because the most extreme believers, the most radical and unyielding, NEVER miss an election. And because at the end of the day, your voice is the most powerful shopping currency you possess. That currency becomes more and more powerful when more of you care enough to use it, to pool it together, to speak out using common sense and not extreme ideology. It is your voices we need now more than ever.

Did you know that just a few short months ago, 84.6% of the Scottish population voted on their independence referendum? And across the pond from them, the most powerful Democracy in the world managed to spit out a paltry 36.4% turnout. We should all be ashamed. If watching my state crash into a massive black hole wasn't enough to get your attention maybe a little good ol' peer pressure will work.

Otherwise, most of us are out of answers.

And patience.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Broken Wrist Opens Eyes

A week ago tonight I broke my right wrist while playing soccer.

I am right handed and feel as if my eyes have been opened.

It’s only a cast and waterproof at that.

Regardless, it is a loud and frustrating barrier to life as I knew it.

Typing this is already pissing me off. I’m using my left hand as usual and my right middle finger for all right handed letters. It is deeply satisfying using that finger, by the way.

As I share some of the things I struggled to do within the past few days let me be clear about something. Even though the forearm is casted it is still very sore, meaning pressure and hard movement can be painful. In addition, the top of the cast is just high enough that it prevents me from being able to comfortably bend it when reaching for the right side of my neck, face or torso. I also can’t grip anything because, well, because there is a hard fiberglass barrier between index finger and thumb. This explains why I’m not relying on the cast itself as a tool. Because it hurts the limb INSIDE it!! Now for my complaint list:

- Pulling apart and zipping a zip-loc baggie

- Opening and closing child-proof pill bottles

- Writing and typing

- Using a can opener

- Eating with a fork and cutting with a knife (hint: accept that you will drop food and sometimes miss your mouth completely when using left hand and that you will simply eat less, which is actually a glorious silver lining)

- Steering a car

- Putting my hair up in a clip or pony tail (gives new meaning to the word “tendril”)

- Putting on makeup with your non-dominant hand… Try it tomorrow ladies, I dare you.

- Putting deodorant on your left arm pit or, for that matter, washing your left pit

- Brushing teeth and flossing (teeth just suffer with leftie but those Oral B “one hit" plastic flossers had to be designed by a one armed person….LOVE them)

- Tying anything

- Cutting watermelon (there are, like, only four chunks after my efforts and they look like Steve Buscemi’s teeth)

- Buttons

- Opening jars (hint: hold jar between ribs and right bicep and pray the jar isn’t full)

- Picking up an obnoxious, pushy, demanding and absolutely adorable cat (hint: allow her Majesty to use the cast as a seat while resting her forearms on your shoulder)

- Making a bed with a fitted sheet (curse and then threaten your children if they don’t do it for you)

- Cutting anything with scissors (buy stock in Pampered Chef because I’ll be damned if those ambidextrous kitchen shears aren’t truly multi-arm capable!! Those rank above the Oral B flossers)

- Changing out the trash (hint: whine until someone else does it for you)

- Door knobs ( hint: stop trying to open the door with casted hand while holding the phone and car keys in the other and accept that multiple trips are required)

- Using the bathroom…. I DARE you to do this for a week. You are only allowed to wipe with your non-dominant hand AND you must pull your pants up and down with one hand. I’m laughing just picturing it (a maniacal laugh, but a laugh just the same).

These are just items off the top of my head.

Bottom line? It sucks.

I didn’t mention the itching. Or the aching. Or the smell that would start to permeate were this a non-waterproof cast. Or the sleepless nights because I can’t get comfortable. Or the side effects from the pain medication I took the first few days.

Now let me tell you what would really suck.

Losing a limb permanently.

Living life bound to a wheelchair.

Being born with a debilitating disease such as Osteogenesis Imperfecta.

For Jodi Picoult lovers, this is the disease highlighted in “Handle With Care”. Better known as “brittle bones”, the genetic disorder is characterized by bones that break easily, sometimes from no obvious causes and sometimes from simply moving the wrong way.

My family is familiar with this disease because my cousin Rachael has lived with it for 35 years.

There is, quite frankly, no way to completely paint an accurate picture of the hell this disease has wreaked upon her small frame.

Rachael was born with double digit fractures to her tiny body.

Read that again. Double digit breaks of her precious infant bones. She looked as if she had been beaten before ever taking a first breath. Rachael’s skull was described by doctors as “crackling” and with more severe cases such as Rachael's some of the fractures could have occurred in-utero even.

Childhood years were spent in body casts. I repeat: BODY casts… in addition to multiple arm and leg casts. You see, Rachael could break her hip from something as simple as rolling over.

I remember accompanying Rachael and her mother to the Shriner’s Hospital in St. Louis during my sophomore year in college when the first rod was placed in her back. I never understood the amount of pain she was in and we teased her for hitting the morphine button repeatedly after the allowed doses had already been given. I’m fairly certain there was nothing funny about it to Rachael.

She still has a steel rod in her back as well as one in her leg. She broke her left tibia and actually bent the first rod (a subsequent second and third had to be inserted). The worst break she remembers, though, was the femur and all of the injuries seem to ache long after they are supposed to have healed.

Rachael has never passed the 5’0 mark in height and one leg is a full 5+ inches shorter than the other one. Imagine trying to buy shoes. She requires a specially made and very expensive lift in order to equalize the lengths of her legs.

No, insurance doesn’t cover the lifts. As a result, Rachael will wear one pair of shoes until the pair becomes old and worn out. Only then will she purchase a new pair.

Look in your closets and count. How many pairs of shoes do you own? I’m almost ashamed of my stash; I love shoes.

Attending a wedding? She wears her one pair, which have always been tennis shoes. They are, after all, pragmatic.

Let’s be real, though. Shoes are one thing but the daily pain from dozens of bone breaks has taken a harsh toll and there isn’t a single day that Rachael doesn't hurt.

Sometimes it is tolerable…other times it is all she can do to get from the bed to the couch. If the barometric pressure changes outside her bones will sound the alert. There are physical scars and body memories…phantom reminders of past fractures.

This tiny little hiccup has left me thinking about Rachael daily: each time my injury aches, I struggle with arm mobility, and when I catch myself thinking “it’s only 4-6 weeks”.

Osteogenesis Imperfecta (or “OI”) and other disabilities don’t “go away”. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

But every day those struggling with diseases we cannot even begin to fathom (the ALS Bucket Challenge has been an amazing catalyst) get up and face their monster head on. Rachael, bravely and against her doctor’s recommendation (she is affectionately and by personality and necessity fairly stubborn), is the mother of two healthy kids. She is happily married to a man who loves her and who wasn’t afraid of OI.

We can all learn from their strength and perseverance.

When you walk across a room, use both hands freely, speak without struggling to get the words out, or bend over without giving your back a second thought take the time to smile.

When you see someone with a disability give them a nod of admiration and respect.

Good health is a precious, precious gift. Cherish and nurture it.

Resources: http://www.oif.org

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This Week on Facebook: Marketing, Racism, Politics, Depression & Sharks

It has been an interesting week on Facebook.

American journalist James Foley was brutally beheaded in a live video by the terrorist organization Isis. While watching the news report on Facebook I found it bizarre and surreal when I had to wait while a diaper commercial commenced. Even in the midst of a horrific and mind defying execution we still need to get in a marketing plug. Seriously?

“That guy” (who represents an entire segment of the US population) is still at it. When Trayvon Martin was murdered he seemingly made it a personal mission to share every non-mainstream report available that painted Trayvon as a criminal monster who deserved to be shot. There were also numerous opinion pieces posted defending poor George Zimmerman and arguing for more guns. Now he’s got another target: Michael Brown. In the span of six days there have been darn near twenty articles linked that outline why Brown was a thug, why the police officer was justified in shooting Michael six times, and why black people are, in effect, animals. If THIS is a prevailing attitude among some Americans then we are truly screwed.

Here’s the thing. When you find yourself sharing article after article that belittles, berates,and impunes the character of unarmed teenagers whom you've never met and who are now DEAD, then maybe it's time to walk away from the keyboard for a breather. Or, at minimum, see a therapist. Honestly, ten articles is probably enough to get your point across.

I will never use the word “very” while writing again. At least if I can help it. This must be one of the things they teach you in creative writing grad school. I need to (proverbial)**** or get off the pot and enroll.

Everyone’s kids are adorable on their first day of school. If you don’t think so then you are grumpy. Also, single friends, keep posting your pets on the first day of school. They are just as adorable (my dog and cat are sometimes WAAAAY cuter than my children).

They Royals are winning, the Jayhawks are pre-season number 3, and it’s time to remember if you attend a Chiefs game do not, I repeat, do not leave your group to take a nap in the parking lot. Unless you want to end up on someone’s Face Book wall while people debate whether or not you deserved to die.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is marketing genius. People love to give to a good cause when they are prodded. People love to laugh at each other and themselves. People love to include their friends…in just about anything. And for those of you who think it’s stupid, self serving, or that it’s pointless? Simple: don’t do it. Donate money silently (I assume by your complaining that you already regularly donate to worthy causes). The ALS Foundation and the families fighting this nasty disease offer their profound gratitude and ask that you keep dumping ice water on your heads, challenging others to do the same, and donating.

Robin Williams did amazing things during his life. His films not only entertained the masses but they touched us, pushed us to explore places we otherwise would’ve avoided. The Captain is still moving us, even through his death, to understand and explore depression. His succumbing to a condition affecting millions of Americans has also allowed Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to show the world, once again, why they are assholes.

Many of you think Johnny Manziel is an asshole. I’ve never met the guy but maybe, just maybe, someone should break his middle finger? On the other hand, Guardians of the Galaxy has given my two children endless giggles when it comes to this particular digit.

Kansas gubernatorial challenger Paul Davis has Governor Sam Brownback on his heels. That should tell you something. In KANSAS, home of the Koch Brothers, the most conservative governor in the country is in trouble. Kansans aren’t blind Sam. The only silver lining to be found in your systematic decimation of our state budget, disability rights and education funding is that you poked the voters hard enough to wake them. And for that, we thank you.

Katy Perry was in town this week, selfies are still the rage, summer vacations have ended, football is beginning and campaign signs are lingering.

Speaking of campaign signs, Ken Selzer please, for the love of God, pick up your signs. The primary ended fifteen days ago.

And speaking of voting….the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18 1920, giving women across the country the right to vote. Many of my female friends and African American friends posted this on Monday. I don’t find it odd at all that two groups who had to fight tooth and nail for the right to vote would still honor that fight almost 100 years later.

I’ll end with one final tid-bit gleaned from Facebook this week. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is complete and utter bullshit. Yes, I called it that. What else do you call “documentaries” that include scientists and cell phone footage made up of actors? When creators have to manufacture fake newspaper articles in order to drum up viewers I draw the line. It’s one thing for cable news to make up stories; I want 35 foot shark documentaries to be true.

I mentioned silver linings earlier but here’s another one. Sharknado 3 is due out in theaters next year.

I’m betting there won’t be a Pampers commercial before THOSE trailers.

Friday, August 8, 2014

World's Tallest Water Slide

It’s official: I am insane!!

“r u Insane?” is the mantra of Schlitterbahn’s water slide, the Verruckt. The funny part? I’ve been saying “Are you freaking insane?” whenever I’ve seen footage of the slide, not realizing this was the actual mantra and not realizing I was going to ride it.

Seriously, it’s Barbara Kempf’s fault. She has no fear, none. The day she invited me and the kids to join her at the park (her daughter Gabrielle works at Schlitterbahn and we were grateful recipients of guest pass fees) I knew I was in trouble when I said “are you doing the water slide?”

Barb, in her typical no-nonsense way, responded “of course.”

There was no way in hell I could go now and not do it.

All week long I found myself mumbling “damnit Barb”. Verruckt was there, hanging out in the back of my mind, and the words “r u insane?” creeping in.

When footage was first released in the local media about this slide I promised myself I would never ride it. Nope, no one can make me.

On Thursday, I found myself in the first line at Schlitterbahn, waiting for them to open. A cute young woman, sporting a blue Schlitterbahn shirt, gathered us around and began the lecture. When the doors opened, we were directed to follow her all the way to the back of the park if we wanted to ride the slide. She was VERY firm, stating “if you move ahead of me, push forward, or pass me on the way to the back your ticket will be revoked, your arm band removed, and you will be kicked out of the park for the remainder of the day with no refund!!”

Clearly people have been serious about this ride. Sheesh.

When we reached the ride there were two additional lines. I hate lines.

Let’s just get one thing out in the open: this is the most inefficient process I’ve ever seen.

Moving on…

The first line took thirty minutes. At the end, our threesome (Verruckt requires three riders at a time) of Marah, me and Barb found ourselves on a large scale to see if our combined weight would allow us to ride together. Whew, green light.

We then had to get into a second line. Twenty minutes later we were on the schedule for 4:00 pm.

At 3:50 sharp we hopped into line with four other sets of three. The same girl who weighed us in the morning was still there (aren’t there child labor laws in Kansas?) and she weighed us again; still a green light.

She then proceeded to read through what seemed like ten pages of instructions re: our own liability so quickly that it sounded like an auctioneer. We all nodded dumbly in agreement when she said “just nod”. It is highly possible she said something like “over half of all rides have resulted in the death, dismemberment, or decapitation of participants; do you still release Schlitterbahn from any and all liability?” and we still nodded “yes”. Because we couldn’t understand a damn thing she said.

The hardest part of the ride then ensued. We hiked 168’7” up, which included 264 steps. If you have any type of physical disability, pulmonary issues, or are simply waaaaay out of shape then you might want to avoid this ride. Here’s another thing to consider: the heavier your threesome weighs the faster you will fly down the slide (and the longer it will take to make that walk to the top). We were a feather-weight crew compared to some of the groups I saw.

Honestly, it wasn’t that bad and there were plenty of landings to stop and rest along the way. The steps have nets around them and nets over the top so I felt pretty safe as long as I didn’t look down. Barb, however, took great pleasure in stopping to point out local Kansas City sites as we rose. I don’t hate heights but I don’t immerse myself in them either. She’s a sadist and, at one point, told me to cover my ears because she wanted to share something with Marah that she thought might frighten me. I still haven’t asked what it was.

Management had included emergency buttons for those experiencing nausea/dizziness/cardiac arrest and there were signs letting us know we had passed the height of The Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls….it honestly doesn’t look that high when you are standing below it!

We arrived at the top and I took comfort in the fact I couldn’t see over the edge. I pitied the young boy behind us, though. He looked about Brody’s age (9) and was, quite frankly, softly crying. His dad was leaneding down, encouraging him to go through with this insanity.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would’ve handled it if it had been Brody (who was below absolutely seething because I thought he was too short to meet the guidelines; in all honesty, knowing my kid, he would’ve had no problem going over the edge). Part of me was ticked at the dad. The other part of me felt certain this kiddo insisted on riding and then panicked at the top. For the record, he DID go down the slide and at the end was downright giddy.

Our turn came and after saying a cheery hello to my best friend’s nephew (who looked at me like I was weird; okay, I’ll accept that because I AM a little weird) we climbed into the tube.

Marah and Barb were strapped in by staff but before they could get to me the tube began to move forward. Towards the edge, like it was going to take a dive.

I panicked, yelling “I’m not strapped in, someone strap me!!!” Folks in the line started laughing at me, pointing and saying “do you see her face?”

Assholes. Easy to laugh when you aren’t the one on top of Mount Everest getting ready to fly off the edge!

I continued begging “Seriously, strap me in!! Somebody strap me in NOW!!!”

My friend’s nephew was cracking up and his partner laughed, saying “we’ve been waiting to do that to someone all day!”**

With that, our tube moved forward, the bar lifted, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

The first thing you notice is how long it takes to tip straight down. Within the first blink of an eye I knew, could FEEL, that we were literally free falling STRAIGHT DOWN. The tube wasn’t touching the slide.

Then I felt the slide and peeked. Holy shit. I was looking straight down and it must’ve been at this moment we hit 65 miles per hour.

You can’t scream. I mean, literally, you physically can’t scream. The force propelling you straight towards the ground won’t allow you to scream. If you needed to vomit, you couldn’t. So in the midst of this insanity, there was complete and total silence. Except for the wind, of course.

I squeezed my eyes shut again. Yes, I’m a coward.

The drop took three seconds. Three amazing and adrenaline inspiring seconds.

Then we hit the bottom and in that moment our voices worked again. We shrieked, hollering, as upward momentum propelled us over the five story hill. Roller coaster enthusiasts will be able to relate to the “holy cripes I’m flying out of my seat” feeling that ensued when we hit the top of the hill.

As we careened down the last slope I couldn’t believe the screaming voice shouting “THAT WAS AWESOME!!!”

Then I realized it was my own. I couldn’t quit yelling, locking eyes with the staff member at the bottom and trying to make him understand “that was so awesome!! I want to do it again!”

He just smiled, shook his head, and waited for us to get out of the tube. Guess he’s heard it before.

Getting out wasn’t quite so easy. My legs were quivering. I started to stand and had to sit back down again. Taking a deep breath, I tried it again, this time managing to stay upright. I looked at Marah, asking if her legs were quivering.

When the daredevil teenager who often looks at you as if you are the biggest weirdo dork in the world sheepishly says “um, yeah” then you KNOW you’ve done something pretty cool.

My back was a little sore and those legs remained quivering for a short while. Even so, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was that awesome.

Make plans to visit Schlitterbahn.

I dare you.

** I hereby release from liability Schlitterbahn staff members who pranked me; being a family friend let them know I was prankable and no injury or PTSD has and/or will result from said pranking. Does this legally get them off the hook if Schlitterbahn officials read this blog? Here's hoping....

Monday, August 4, 2014

Yeah, It Sucks To Lose Someone You Love

It has been 40 days. And I’m doing okay, really, I am.

Each one of you has either experienced the death of someone very close to you or, let’s face it, you will. This was my second “biggie”, so to speak. I thought I was ready.

When my grandmother Mary Jean died four years ago I was surprised when Homecare Hospice started sending me things in the mail. How in the hell did they even get my address or name? Somehow, they learned that I was one of her children (okay, most of you know the story well but for those first time readers who don’t….my maternal grandparents raised me, from the age of five).

I’ll be honest. I threw away everything Hospice sent me. Honestly, I didn’t need a pamphlet to tell me I was grieving or to give me permission to cry, be angry, or shut down. Besides, I felt “okay” then just like I feel “okay” now.

Maybe that's a little untrue. Maybe losing my Grandmother tested me as I never expected; tore my heart in ways for which I wasn't prepared. I mean, come on. Most mothers love us like no other human on the planet can love us, right? My champion, biggest fan and rock was gone. Forever. Period.

“Okay” doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell. “Okay” doesn’t mean I don’t feel the loss of them in my life every. Single. Day. Or that I don’t sometimes find myself looking up, tears in my eyes, whispering “I can’t believe you are gone; I wasn’t ready!”

“Okay” doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes gasp when remembering I will never. Ever. See them again.

Just typing those words make it hard to breathe.

“Okay” does mean that I push through the pain and have a pretty solid mental understanding of the processes and of the inevitability of loss in all of our lives. Pragmatically, I also understand that I was blessed to have had both of my (grand)parents until they were almost 90 years old. If fate were to be so unkind as to take my spouse, children, or best friends some time soon I might not see things so pragmatically. In fact, I’m not sure I could ever write about it.

So why am I writing about my Grandparents? Today I received a third mailing from Homecare Hospice since Grandpa Delbert died 40 short days ago (but who’s counting?).

Instead of throwing the papers away I decided to read them. After all, I had a small breakdown today while driving. It was prompted by the Fairway KU Med office, which we we passed while driving down Shawnee Mission Parkway. My Grandfather’s much adored sleep specialist from KU, Dr. Stevens, has relocated there and his next appointment would have been at this office.

Sometimes I forget how quickly the pain punches you in the chest.

Marah looked away. She’s seen it a few times before. Once, about six months after Mary Jean died, we pulled into the garage and a song came on the radio. The punch felt the same as today’s punch: squeezing my lungs, burning my eyes, clenching my throat. She was nine, Brody’s age, and simply looked at me and said “you are missing Grandma, aren’t you?”. Out of the mouth of babes…

The literature from Homecare Hospice talked about grief, techniques to get through it and pathways to peace and wholeness. What it has done for me today is to reaffirm that what I’m doing is healthy, at least for me personally.

Here’s the deal. I’m a talker, big time. I’m not a talker about my deep feelings, however. I don’t need to be. I write about them. So I’m doing that today.

I’m a hoarder; a hoarder of family mementos. If it’s a photo of my Grandparents, it’s been preserved. If it was an item given to me by them, I’ve saved it. Not only have I saved it, but I get it out. I touch it, hold it, close my eyes and try to imagine the item's place in their past.

Several years ago my Grandfather bequeathed me something he had made when just seventeen years old. Two pieces of wood with a hole drilled in each and a chain linked through them. On one he had carved “Mary Jean” and on the other “Chinker”. They were companion “necklaces” before the days of Claires “BFF” matching heart necklaces. These pieces of wood are so much better. Grandpa’s school nickname was Chinker. He made these during the earliest days of their love affair. I find myself holding them frequently lately, closing my hands around them while letting the grief wash over me.

The Hospice literature says to let yourself grieve. I cry when I need to but I shut it down quickly. I don’t let it consume me. Okay, that’s not true. On a few occasions, when I’m alone and have a little bit of time, I’ll let it wash over and blanket me. I’ll sob, deep, wracking sobs. And it feels good, almost like a workout. When I’m done, I quietly tell them I miss them and I move forward. I think this is okay.

I have one of her cotton bathrobes, the knee length zip up kind she used to wear while making breakfast. I hold it to my face and try to breathe in her scent. There is no smell anymore…after four years, it is gone. But my grandfather’s Dickie jump suit still smells like him and I covet it now. Mary Jean taught me that the smell will leave; I want to bottle his smell because when it goes I’ll have to experience a small amount of loss again.

It’s okay to keep these possessions, really, it is. If you are reading this, sniffling because you’ve done the same thing, KNOW THAT IT IS OKAY.

Hospice mentioned that grief can strengthen relationships when others reach out. I was blown away at the level of support provided by friends, old and new. Argue all you want about small town versus big town. I’m here to tell you both are filled with amazing people. I’m blessed to have experienced old friends who reached out, after decades, to hold me. I am also blessed to have met some of the most amazing people in my “post” small town life. Friends who made a two hour drive and showed up, unexpected, to extend their shoulders and hearts on my behalf.

Of all the things we need to get through grief, this is the most important: people who love you and who will be there for you without being asked. I’d like to name each of you, but you know who you are and, most importantly, you have my deep and abiding gratitude. You also have my promise. I will be there for you when you need me because I’ll know you need me. I’ve been on the needing end now and it humbles, teaches, wakes you.

The literature also says to create a new relationship with your deceased loved one, a non-physical one of the heart, mind and spirit. This means incorporating your loved ones values and passions into your own life and passing them on to others.

In order to do this, I’m taking a long look at my relationship with my husband and with my children. What better way to pass on their love than to start with the three most important people in my life?

Our generations are worlds apart. We are busier, less connected. When I look back on the lives of my grandparents, this is glaringly apparent.

Things weren’t perfect. My grandmother struggled with deep feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. She questioned her intelligence because she didn’t go to college. She was the quintessential housewife who never, ever, put herself first and who never experienced a “girls night out” in her life. But my Grandfather also made her the focal point of everything in his life. He didn’t engage in “boys night out” either, at least not in their middle aged years and later. Maybe they should have...who knows. What I do know, having been their child, is that my home was solid, dependable, and they were always there. Every night. Every weekend. Every time I needed them.

I don’t want to be June Cleaver, I truly don’t. But I do want to take time to reflect on how today’s values have maybe impacted how I treat my kids and husband. We are the generation of parents who have to ask two, three, four times “what did you say?” because we are reading a text and missed our child’s question. Mary Jean never had to ask me to repeat a question because she wasn’t listening.

They weren’t perfect, not at all. But the hospice literature has reminded me that they were pretty damn close.

The one thing I haven’t done yet to help conquer the grief is incorporate their values into my own life. Sure, some of those values were instilled and are a part of me without trying. If I am honest, however, I fall woefully short in other ways. I know which ways….I don’t have to write about them….I just have to work on them.

And if I do? Maybe the next 40 days will be easier.

So thanks Hospice. Keep spending the postage. Some of us can use the message.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Grandpa Delbert's Funeral Message

We were going through some of my Grandparents’ things a few days ago and Aunt Steph found a “box of memories” I had given them for Christmas some years ago. It had dozens of little slivers of paper with individual memories I carry of my childhood.

It’s no secret that I adored my Grandparents; so did the rest of their children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, their friends and community. It’s no secret the respect and admiration we have as a family & nation for the Greatest Generation. Their's was the generation who willingly and eagerly sacrificed themselves to fight in a violent and bloody war halfway across the world because it meant securing a safe and democratic future for their children and grandchildren. Their generation changed gender roles permanently when women left their domestic jobs to join the ranks of Rosie the Riveter and build airplanes and weapons. They didn’t have cell phones or computers or skype or face-time to keep in touch with each other; they had faith and grit. They got up every day and did what they had to do because, well, because they took responsibility for themselves.

When I went back through the list of memories contained in that small round wooden box I was struck by what each one really showed about Delbert and Mary Jean. The sacrifices their generation made during those five years of war were valiant and noble but it is how they lived their lives during the ensuing years that truly defines why we call them great and why these two people in particular have so completely and definitively made the lives of their family and the lives of everyone they came into contact with better. I know today is Delbert’s funeral but it is so hard to talk about him without her. They were partners. They complimented and mirrored each other. They forged a future out of poverty, sickness, & trauma together….but also out of unconditional love, commitment, laughter, understanding and support.

The small pieces of paper in the memory box included statements like : “I remember when I got really sick and you pulled me into your bed and held me close”, “I remember you supporting me in all situations”. The box held snippets such as ‘I remember Grandpa tying his shoes with one hand and finally realizing how hard it must have been to live life with only one hand” and “I remember when Grandpa told me to eat nicely or he’d make me eat out back with the dogs”.

Because of these things, I knew and felt deeply that I was never alone. There has always been this belief that physical challenges are to be met head on with fierce determination – that value was ingrained in me because of this man. I also learned to be grateful when someone offers help. I was taught to always repay a debt or kindness but to never, ever expect that in return when we were the one helping another person. I learned to use manners and always remember my Grandparents carrying themselves with class and polish.

Memories of “grandpa teaching me to use the lawn mower” and “grandpa asking me to help change the oil” taught me that being a girl didn’t make me weak but that I was equal in all ways. I cherished the times when my hands became greasy and my jeans dusty from dirt when I was outside working with him.

I discovered additional memories in that box, including “I remember eating dinner with both of you every night” and “I remember you never fighting or raising your voices in front of me”. And the most important memory of all was this: “I remember always feeling like you really did want and love me and I was and am so very grateful”.

You see, this generation valued family above all else. It is why they fought and died, why they sacrificed and gave, it is why they came home and never looked back. They understood that life is such a precious gift, something they never took for granted. They spent all of their time together, they embraced their children and grandchildren and not only loved them but enjoyed them and spent time with them. They hated it when family members quarreled and stated on many occasions that when they were both gone they wanted their family to remain close. Today, family squabbles seem petty and un-important in light of this devastating permanent loss.

My mother, children, aunts and cousins are hurting deeply because saying goodbye is so difficult. We know he is happy and exactly where he has wanted to be for over four years; we know that the pain we are feeling is for ourselves and not for him. But you see, our relationships with Delbert and Mary Jean were deep and close. Each one of us carries such intensely personal and life-shaping memories that it is hard to fully explain how intricately Delbert and Mary Jean impacted our lives.

They were the greatest generation. They are responsible for many of our best personal qualities. When we are kind, tolerant, forgiving, honest, hard working, humble, and grateful we are, in fact, living evidence of Delbert and Mary Jean’s legacy. We are products of the Greatest Generation.

I encourage each of you here today to make a commitment to wake up every morning and to honor our Grandfather’s memory or the memory of your own parents, grandparents, or other important influences in your life, by being the best person you can be and by always keeping things in perspective. I know that when life throws a curveball at me, I’m going to ask these questions to help me get through it: “compared to what they went through is it really that difficult and “what would Grandpa do?”

If we do this he can always live through us and maybe through our children and their children as we pass down those values. And then, when we see him again someday as I believe I will, I expect him to say “I’m so proud of you.” Mary Jean will be by his side saying “welcome home”.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blue Eyes

Blue Eyes

A True Story

Prologue

February 15, 2010

Manhattan, KS

His heart was breaking.

He sighed, knowing that the time had come. She wouldn’t want anyone else to see her like this. In fact, she’d be angry that he had left her in this state for over two days. She had to know, had to understand, how much strength it was taking for him to make this painful decision. He was angry; he had never planned on her being the first to go. After all that they had been through, all of the close calls, for her to simply get sick and not wake up was simply unacceptable.

He knew she was tired. She had been telling him for several years. He just hadn’t wanted to hear it, hadn’t wanted to accept that this beautiful woman who had saved him from himself and who had created a lifetime of love, warmth and memories, was going to leave him.

The old man held her hand and looked at her face closely. He wanted her to wake up so that he could see her blue eyes one final time. They had both gotten old, although he couldn’t say exactly when. Her house, the mass of skin that contained the core that was his Mollie, had become wrinkled…shrunken over the years, but there was always one consistently safe place he could lose himself and that was the blue of her eyes. He hadn’t seen those blue eyes in over two days. He knew that he wouldn’t see them again.

The old Marine felt his throat tighten and he shook his head, not wanting any of the girls to see him upset. He leaned down and kissed his bride’s hand, then grabbed his cane, stood up, and went to find the doctor.

It was time for her to meet Tuffy. He knew it wouldn’t be long before he joined them.

**********************************************************************

September, 1943

Parkerville, KS

When he saw her for the first time she was riding in a car with a group of girlfriends. She was beautiful, even from afar. He wanted to meet her.

The next time their paths crossed, she was wearing a red dress and walking in a circle during a community cake walk, performing beautifully in her role as the new teacher at Haun Country School. It was obvious to him that others attending the community picnic were equally smitten.

Deb Stone approached Mary Jean Harmison as soon as the cake walk ended and politely asked her if she would consider going out with him. Her response left him roaring with laughter.

“Sober up and then call me” she stated, shoulders back and head held high.

He knew, in that moment, she was the perfect woman for him. He also decided he liked the name Mollie better than Mary Jean. It fit her better.

**********************************************************************

Their inaugural date was a movie in Council Grove. By the end of the evening she had him in her spell. He was fairly certain he was in love for the first time in his young life.

Later that night, as he held her face in his hands and cautiously kissed her, the response from her lips told him all he needed to know. Mollie felt the same. He was ecstatic, thrilled, and delirious all at the same time. Deb hollered out loud on the drive home and to anyone listening he would’ve sounded like a mad man.

He convinced her to marry him three months later, to the horror of both their families. His parents thought she was too poor for him; her parents thought he was a no-good drinker from a family almost as destitute as they were. Deb and Mollie didn’t care.

Instead, they drove sixty miles in a wicked rain storm to the Cottonwood Falls Courthouse and refused to invite a single family member to the wedding. For the first time in his life, Deb was drunk on something other than alcohol. Mollie had that effect on him.

They were utterly, hopelessly, and passionately in love.

The world was on fire. The war was in full explosion; Deb would have to enlist or be drafted when he turned 18 in February. But none of that concerned them. All that mattered was right now. Neither doubted for a moment the wisdom of marrying so quickly or so impulsively. They already loved each other with a depth and maturity unknown to anyone in their family or circle of friends.

They were soul mates.

**********************************************************************

After Deb completed boot camp with the United States Marine Corps in San Diego (he would always maintain that if he had to fight he was going to do it with the best), he rented an apartment in Oceanside so that Mollie could join him. By day, Deb engaged in war games and ate in the Camp Pendleton chow hall. Mollie survived on the tastiest five cent egg sandwiches she’d ever eaten at the corner deli and took on ironing jobs to help cover expenses.

Deb snuck out of Pendleton every evening. He had found a hole in one of the external fences and late every night, he’d find his way into her arms. In the morning, sporting a huge smile, he’d hop onto one of the liberty buses and sneak back onto the base.

It was romantic, magical, marvelous and bewitching. During their secret late night trysts, they pretended that there was no war, no looming threat. There was just Deb and Mollie. He knew that if she were to dwell on the future and what might come she would be paralyzed with fear, unable to function. So he pretended with her and held her tight.

Deb was notified in early August that they would be shipping out. He and Mollie had prepared for this. He knew his military transport convoy would roll right by the apartment so the plan was for her to wait until the trucks finally rounded the corner. Sticking with their careful strategy, he secured an outside seat and held his laundry bag up high. As soon as the truck began to pass, he stood and gave the bag a heave, tossing it towards her. The last photo in his mind’s eye was of Mollie standing on the sidewalk next to his dirty clothes bag, one arm in the air waving and the other clutched in a tight fist against her heart.

******************************************************************

April 1, 1945

Okinawa, South Pacific

The morning arrived clear and warm. As Deb grabbed his gear and headed to the landing vehicle he looked out from the ship’s deck and was shocked. He’d never seen anything like it before. As far as his eyes could see, there were American ships, hundreds of them. Their 240mm and 155mm guns blasted the island of Okinawa. They had been shelling for days, softening up the island for the American landing. He was a little scared but more resigned than anything else. All of them understood that the Marines who had landed on Iwo Jima were butchered and they had been warned.

Today’s landing casualties would be high.

Later, as he walked up onto the beach, he shook his head in amazement. The landing had been a breeze with no enemy fire encountered. Maybe he would get out of this alive after all!

Over the course of the next six weeks, the First Division would make their way south, towards Naha, Okinawa’s capital. Caves and tunnels protected their enemy, making every day a challenge, every mile a hard fought obstacle.

Deb wrote Mollie between the violent skirmishes, but spared her any of the real details. Instead, he shared lighter stories, like the fact that the unit had given him the name “Chick” because he was the youngest. He would find out after returning home that most of the letters had large chunks cut out, courtesy of the Marine officers who censored them.

*********************************************************************

May 15 was quiet, too quiet. Regimental command had most of the First Marine Division concentrated in an area surrounding three large hills north of the old city of Shuri. The fighting had become heavier the further south they moved and these three hills were a major stronghold of Ushijima’s battle hardened forces.

Deb’s Sergeant asked for two volunteers to hike to the top of Dakeshi Ridge so that C Company could secure it. Fighting was fierce to the southeast on Sugar Loaf Hill; they needed this ridge secured quickly so that reinforcements could head to Sugar Loaf and help their brothers.

Deb still had that feeling. The one he’d had the day of the landing. The one that told him he wasn’t meant to survive this war. In defiance of that feeling, he volunteered, along with Private Stjar, whom they had nicknamed “Big Daddy” because of his size and age.

Deb saw no signs of the enemy, but still cradled his Browning automatic rifle tightly. The Japanese were surely there, deep beneath the ground. The enemy was hiding in miles of tunnels; they would enter through caves then lie in wait to ambush young American Army soldiers and Marines. As a result, the Americans had been forced to endure a painful hill by hill sweep, trying to ferret out every last enemy soldier. Once a cave entrance had been sealed, the Allies could continue heading south.

It was slow. It was painstaking. It was deadly.

As Deb neared the summit of Dakeshi, he heard a sound every Marine recognizes: incoming fire. Before he could hit the ground the force of bullets assaulted like a freight train. The blow threw him back twenty feet, leaving him mangled, lying on the ground, gasping for air, and reeling from the impact.

As he lay there, in shock and confusion, all hell broke loose around him. Bullets were flying everywhere, with dirt and rocks being blown in every direction. He felt a searing white hot pain in his knee and lower left leg and wondered if he was on fire.

Deb was lying on his right side but could not move; he feared he might be paralyzed. He squinted, trying to protect his eyes from the dust and debris, and saw a Navy corpsman crouched low, trying to reach him. At that moment, it seemed as if the entire Japanese Army began to shoot at them. The corpsman, locking eyes with the injured Marine, shook his head back and forth in apology and retreated. The barrage of bullets was too heavy. Deb was on his own until either he or the storm of gunfire died.

His ears were ringing and small pieces of the earth were blasting him from all sides. He could see his right arm but couldn’t feel it. Strange, he thought, the pain in his leg was still excruciating, but he couldn’t feel anything on the right side where he thought he had been hit.

Time passed while the madness around him continued. Eventually, after what felt like hours, the enemy seemed to take a collective breath. In those brief moments, a corpsman and two litter bearers rushed in and loaded him onto a stretcher.

He remembered reaching the makeshift field hospital and hearing the doctor tell another corpsman “take his boots, he won’t need them”. Mollie had given him those logging boots, which were sturdier than the standard Marine issue. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t yell “don’t touch those boots!”

Then the doctor looked at him. The last thing he heard before drifting off was “Son, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to take your arm.”

***********************************************************************

June 3, 1945

White City, Kansas

The baby wouldn’t come. No matter what Mary Jean did, no matter how hard she pushed, he wouldn’t come. No one had told her labor would hurt so badly and there were moments when she really thought she was going to die. During these times, she mentally held on to the letter Deb had written, letting her know he was alive. Fearing the military would send her a dreaded telegram saying he was dead or missing in action, he had spent three hours trying to pen a barely legible letter with his left hand.

His assumption had been correct; the military did send a telegram. But he wasn’t missing in action. He was alive and on his way home. She could do this. If he could do what he had done, she could do this.

Doc Bowers knew she needed a cesarean but they were literally stuck in Mary Jean’s small apartment doing the best they could. He simply couldn’t move her at this point. The baby was breach but it was more than that. This was the worst labor he’d ever witnessed and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep the baby or the patient alive.

Harriet Harmison, Mary Jean’s sister-in-law, was literally acting as a pair of human stirrups. Even though her shoulders were black and blue, Harriet felt that it was a small sacrifice; her own labor had been nothing like the horror she had witnessed over the past twenty hours. By now, it was obvious even to her that something was very wrong. There were moments when she wanted to run from the room and never look back. Mary Jean’s anguish was palpable, her pain visceral.

When Delbert Jr. finally arrived, his mother sunk into a deep sleep. A grateful Doc Bowers knew she would recover. Over the next ten days, while Mary Jean recuperated, family members only brought little Delbert to her for small amounts of time. She couldn’t nurse, which was fine by her. Only poor folks nursed and she’d been fighting to shed that moniker her entire life.

By the end of the first week, she became concerned with the way he was being wrapped so tightly during the hot Kansas summer. All she could see was his face peeking out. The blankets were ridiculous and he needed to breathe. As she pulled the covers off and cupped the back of his head in her hand to keep his neck safe, she was horrified. Why was the top of his head so large?

She gasped, had never felt anything like this. Surely….no, this couldn’t be……what was wrong with him? Why hadn’t they told her? Mary Jean held him, frozen, and looked around, silently begging for help. As Harriet stepped into the room, Mary Jean’s eyes asked her for answers, for an explanation. Harriet choked down a sob. She had to run away and simply couldn’t bear to see the agony in her sister’s blue eyes.

Mary Jean’s index and middle fingers were sunk several inches into the back of little Delbert’s skull. It was squishy, gelatinous, the way her meat loaf felt as her hands worked it together. And his head…..his head was huge, distorted, as if every piece of skin above his beautiful clear forehead was inflated and bulging.

She pulled him closely to her chest and closed her eyes. Rocking him, she whispered “this is not real. You’ll be just fine. Dad will come home and we can fix this. This just isn’t real.”

It became all too real over the next few months. As Delbert Jr’s head became more pronounced, so did his cries of distress. Mary Jean kept her own pain close, deep, and hugged it tightly like an old worn blanket.

***********************************************************************

Deb, recuperating in San Francisco, cursed and threatened, eventually going straight to the Commanding Officer of Mare Island Naval Hospital. This was the only power that could over-ride the Red Cross, which had determined he wasn’t healthy enough to travel. Deb didn’t give a damn what they thought. His wife needed him. His baby was dying. He had to get home. Fortunately, the C.O. didn’t give a damn either. He drew up the papers and by July Deb was on his way back to White City for a two week visit.

Things had changed. Deb weighed 165 pounds before the war. Now he weighed 125. Every time he stepped on a scale, he found himself wondering how much his arm had weighed. Mollie, at 5’8”, weighed a meager 115 pounds between the baby and worry. Together, they were nothing but skin and bones. Those days were fraught with raw pain, sorrow, and bewilderment.

Deb was known for bestowing nicknames and his new son immediately became “Tuffy”. Their little fighter had a sweet and happy disposition, but on far too many occasions he would just cry. His head hurt, he was in pain. Listening to this, having to hear it, was agonizing.

**********************************************************************

Deb returned to California in late July. Mary Jean, alone again, was facing enormous challenges which threatened to break and destroy her. At times, she raged against God himself. Not once did she become angry with Tuffy, though. She couldn’t. Her sweet, gentle baby was innocent. Fate was a cruel bastard.

She took him to Kansas City. Residents at the KU Medical Center poked and prodded. They looked at Tuffy as if he were a new toy for them to play with. No one could tell her how to fix him or make him better. Dr. Teachenor, the expert, described Tuffy’s condition as “enormous asymmetrical head with greatly dilated bulging fontanels and suture lines; congenital hydrocephalus”…whatever that meant. Her baby had water on the brain. According to the doctors, he could die in a few weeks or he could die in a few months. Draining the fluid that was drowning his brain wasn’t an option.

It would simply come back.

As she rode back to White City on the train, shielding the baby from curious eyes, her thoughts turned to Deb and his pain and loss. Then she looked at Tuffy. She felt, for a moment, as if she wanted to simply close her eyes and escape. Then she wouldn’t have to feel this all-consuming anguish.

*********************************************************************

During the fall of 1945, Mary Jean became sick. She couldn’t keep food down and between caring for Tuffy, worrying about Deb, and trying to keep the citizens of White City at bay when they visited for a peek at the” Stone’s freak baby”, she lost even more weight.

She was pregnant again.

Doc Bowers was worried when Mary Jean stopped by his office. “Is everything okay with Tuffy?” he asked. “Tuffy is fine,” she said, “It’s me. I can’t have the baby. What if this baby is sick too? Doc Bowers, I can’t do this again. I won’t survive it”.

As she poured her heart out to him, sharing her fears, Doc Bowers gently reassured her that there was nothing she had done, no genetic history, to cause Tuffy’s condition. She heard him, understood what he was saying, but would never reconcile why their baby had to be the one, why he had to spend his brief life in pain, and why he would have to be taken from them.

In the end, there was absolutely no way she could do anything to hurt the baby she was carrying, regardless of the fear which often paralyzed her. It was time to write Deb and let him know he was going to be a father again.

**********************************************************************

Deb walked through the front door for good on Christmas Eve, 1945. It had been a long trip from San Francisco. The shrapnel was still in his knee. His stump still hurt. He had no idea what he would find when he entered their home but as soon as he looked into her blue eyes and held her, he believed they could get through this.

Tuffy began sleeping more. The doctors had predicted this, along with seizures. They watched and waited, but their baby endured without this horrible side effect. He withdrew into longer and deeper periods of sleep, not crying as much and no longer reaching out to them with his tiny baby hands. They hoped, prayed, that this meant he was no longer in as much pain and that his death would be tranquil.

When he wasn’t sleeping, Tuffy was still an angel. His eyes were bright blue, just like his mother’s, his skin smooth and clear, and his smile sweet and contagious.

Unable to move his head because of the weight, his eyes would follow Mollie as far as they allowed him. She made it a habit to stay in front of him so he could always see her. Near the end, on a few occasions, he would reach out, longing to be held as he had before this final decline.

Deb struggled in silence. It enraged him that he couldn’t pick up the baby with one arm, couldn’t safely support the head to ensure it didn’t twist, savagely breaking Tuffy’s neck. At times, he could feel a phantom arm reaching out, trying to touch the baby.

Mollie, were she to admit it, hated almost everyone, include the doctors in Kansas City and the prying neighbors.

During those moments when the sorrow and frustration racked her soul to the core, leaving her breathless and panting, she felt that anger lashing out towards everyone else but Deb.

By early February, Doc Bowers told them Tuffy was nearing the end.

While holding vigil, Deb was more concerned with Mollie, at times persuading her to leave Tuffy’s side so she could get some rest. He stuffed his own pain, a survival skill learned on the hell that was Okinawa, keeping a tough exterior in order to support Mollie.

Late the night of February 11, 1946, at the tender age of eight months, Tuffy finally left them, quietly and in his sleep. They didn’t realize the moment had arrived and had briefly stepped out of the room. Not being with Tuffy, unable to hold him at the very end, was the final insult, the ultimate injustice.

What else, thought Mollie, had she expected?

*****************************************************************

May 19, 1946

This labor was different. It didn’t hurt as badly, didn’t make her feel as if she was being ripped apart. Surely that was a good sign? As Doc Bowers held up their new daughter, Mary Jean thanked the same God she had railed against so many times for sparing them the horror she had experienced with Tuffy, for giving her a normal delivery.

Their baby, named Mary Ann, was perfect in every way. Still, Mary Jean found herself touching the baby’s head, feeling it all over. She looked into the little girl’s eyes and they were perfect, not distended. As tears rolled down her face and sobs racked her body, she held tightly to this beautiful new life. A part of her had died with Tuffy and she would never, ever, recover that part of herself.

In spite of this, or maybe because of it, their beautiful Mary Ann would give her a reason to go on. After everything she’d been through, long absent hope had finally arrived. She promised to treasure this valuable gift every day for the rest of her life.

She and Deb would be blessed with three more healthy and beautiful daughters, but not another son. Not another Tuffy. Fate wouldn’t be that generous.

It didn’t matter, though. As long as there was light in her blue eyes and strength in his soul, together they would make it.

Epilogue

June 2, 2013

It has been three long years since Mollie left him. The pain of losing an arm, of losing Tuffy…none of it was as wrenching as losing her.

He was ready and wanted to die but his battered and weathered body kept holding on.

“I’m waiting, Mollie” he whispers softly in the night.

****************************************************************************************

June 26, 2014

Walking down the sunlit path he could see her standing in the distance holding hands with a young man. As he got closer he could see that the blue eyes of mother and son were identical.

As he wrapped them tightly in both arms, her voice spoke the words he had been longing to hear.

"Welcome home" she said, "welcome home."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thanks, But I'm Not Switching Kansas Parties

Election season is upon us. Monday was the filing deadline for Kansas State Representative candidates, meaning those of us involved in campaigns are talking. We are talking about districts and candidates. We are talking about numbers and demographics. We are talking about how we can best get rid of the extremists in Topeka by replacing them with moderate, cooperative, and intelligent citizens.

I’ve been met with a particular statement many times over the past few years, by some of my favorite Republicans in Johnson County (yes, there are many Republican friends whom I love but respectfully disagree with on some issues). They have all said to me “You should just switch parties!”

Um, no. I shouldn’t.

In fact, how would you respond if I told YOU to switch parties? Would you be insulted? The question itself implies I lack an awareness of who I am and what I believe. Actually, consider that, in light of the current state of Kansas, maybe moderate Kansas Republicans should be the ones rethinking their party affiliation.

After all, it is your extreme party members who have destroyed the legislature by such ridiculous acts as holding sonograms under the dome, sponsoring discriminatory bills (leaving Kansas the laughingstock of the country), and who single handedly removed teacher’s rights within our state.

Wasn’t it YOUR party who introduced and passed the tax bill which is directly responsible for the state’s downgraded bond rating and projected 900 million dollar+ shortfall by 2017?

Yours is the party who played host to a group of lobbyists who targeted every moderate incumbent for ouster two years ago in order to bring in patsies who would do the bidding of Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers. And these are the same Republicans now attempting to do the identical thing again during the current pending primaries. And yet not one of you who asked me to switch parties has openly denounced Brownback.

And isn’t it your party’s governor whose most beloved henchmen are now being investigated by the FBI for alleged illegal lobbying activities?

No, I think I’ll stick with the Democrats, thank you very much.

You see, there is a reason I’m a Kansas Democrat.

It is because I believe in teachers, public schools, and providing the best education possible to every single Kansas child regardless of their income or religion.

It is because I believe in equal rights for all Kansas and United States citizens, regardless of gender, race, religious belief or sexual orientation.

It is because I believe in a woman’s right to make private medical decisions without the government intruding. In fact, I believe in a man’s right to the same.

It is because I believe that taxes are vital to maintaining first world conditions within this country. To be brutally honest, I kind of enjoy our paved roads and invaluable public services.

Call me crazy, but I’m even partial to some government regulations. In fact, I kind of prefer not having raw sewage in the local ditches.

I'm even pro-business but understand that a state like Kansas lacks the necessary resources to support a zero business income tax model…and it certainly didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this simple little fact before the vote was taken on Brownback’s experimental grand tax bill. Yours is the party that has supported candidates who lack the basic ability to use pragmatism, nuance, and simple honest research before making informed decisions regarding how they will vote on a bill. They blindly follow their masters' bidding when it comes time to make those votes.

It is because I believe our elected officials should be financially supported by donations offered by average citizens versus massive and lopsided donations by the corporate elite, which is one of the ways the extremists in YOUR party have managed to wrestle control of the state away from your very own moderates.

It is because I believe that employee unions paved the way for worker’s rights and a solid middle class so that families could afford to buy a home and send their kids to college, knowing there would be a pension.

Oh, and yes. I believe in global warming and science. Call me crazy, I’ll accept that.

I believe our founding fathers would be horrified to see the push by some to turn this state into a theocracy and further horrified to see traditional Republicans who oppose this refuse to stand up to the Governor who is leading the charge.

It is because I would never, ever, associate myself with a party that refuses to purge hatred, bigotry, ignorance and discrimination from its ranks, even when it is costing the citizens of Kansas dearly.

Thanks for the advice, really. I appreciate the offer to join the reigning party in Kansas. I really do. It makes me feel humbled and wanted, kind of like hanging out in the bar during last call.

Frankly, though, I’m pretty darn comfortable with the Kansas Democrats.

They fit who I am and what I believe and I've never considered leaving. Not even to be on the state's current popular team.

But hey, we have plenty of room in the party. Our arms are open and accepting…ALL Americans and Kansans are welcome.

With one caveat: You can’t hate/malign/push to remove civil rights/or otherwise disrespect your fellow citizens because they aren't like you. If that’s your scene then stay right where you are. The majority party in Topeka seems to have a monopoly on bigotry and ignorance.

Not my party, though. They represent true Kansas values.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Losing Our Democracy: A Short Story of Fiction

Topeka, KS

year 2084

The little girl hopped onto her Great Grandfather’s lap sporting a huge grin. She loved Great Grandpa Jack, also known as G-Jack to his grandkids.

He was in town for her older brother’s high school graduation. Even though he only lived a few hours away, they didn’t get to see him as often as she would like.

Jack adored little Milley. Of all the Great Grandchildren, she alone seemed to truly enjoy spending time with him. She was typically full of questions and today was no different.

“G-Jack, do you remember when you graduated from high school?” she started out.

“Sure Milley, but just remember it’s been almost seventy years ago. It was one of the most important events in my life and, to be honest, I still think about it sometimes” he responded, swallowing hard without realizing it.

“Tell me about it Grandpa!” she asked.

“Well, Milley, it was actually quite a big deal. You kids don’t know much about this, but over a hundred years ago black children couldn’t go to the same schools as white children. In fact, they couldn’t eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels.”

“Stop lying Grandpa!!!” Milley giggled. “That’s crazy!”

“No, I’m serious honey. For many years, well after the Civil War of the 1800’s, our country remained mean and cruel to citizens who weren't white. But our government passed a law in 1954 making it legal for black children to attend the same schools as white children. It was a pretty big deal, as you can imagine.”

Milley sat quietly for a minute. Then, with a quizzical look on her face, she asked him “how could they tell who was black and who wasn’t?”

“Well, at that time not everyone’s skin was as similar as it is now. Black people were much darker and white people were pretty pale. Over the years, so many people of varied colors have fallen in love and married and had families that we look more alike, meaning we actually treat each other a little bit better now. It’s kind of hard to explain, but you’ve seen pictures in books haven’t you?” Jack said.

“Hmmm, yes, I guess I know what you mean” Milley pondered. “So why was your graduation such a big deal?”

“I graduated during the fifty year anniversary of that special law being passed. And do you know what? The fight for that law started right here in your city, Topeka! There used to be a museum downtown honoring it but once our President and public officials began being able to purchase their jobs the museum was shut down."

"When I graduated, though, we still had national elections and the majority of voters would choose our President and Governor and Senators…all of the people that big companies pay for today. You’ve learned about this in school, right Milley?” he asked.

“Sure, G-Jack, but I like hearing about it from someone old and who lived through it!”

It was one of the things he loved most about her; the fact that she was interested in his stories, in spite of the fact she forgot her manners at times and called him “old”.

“Okay little one, let me tell you some more then.”

“Because it was the 50th anniversary of this huge decision, and a major milestone in our country’s growth in terms of treating all human beings the same regardless of the color of their skin, our school district invited the First Lady of the United States to be the main speaker at our graduation ceremony. You learned about President Obama, right?” he asked her.

“Oh yes, Grandpa, he was the only black President ever in our country. Everyone knows who he was….just like we all know who the only lady President was and the only Latino President…my history teachers have taught us those things” she proudly reported. “And his wife was Michelle Obama, Grandpa. All of us know who she was!"

"That was the time when our country started fighting really badly, right?” she continued.

“Yes, sadly, it was. But at the time, well, understand that it was special when my classmates and I found out that Mrs. Obama had agreed to come speak at our graduation! It was so symbolic, because of that law I mentioned making it legal for black children to be able to go to any school they wanted, and also because it all started in Topeka and she was the first black First Lady of the United States. None of us had seen anyone quite that important in person. All of the adults I knew always joked about how they couldn’t remember who had spoken at their graduations or what was said. I know my friends and I were all pretty excited about it and we felt special.”

“Wow Grandpa, so you got to see Mrs. Obama in person?” Milley asked, eyes wide open.

“You know how I said it was a big deal? Well, it was a actually a nightmare because a group of parents became angry and started a petition to keep her from being able to speak to all of us” he continued.

“Why, Grandpa? That would be crazy! I mean, she was the First Lady and you said that was when our President was actually elected by the people, not purchased. I don’t understand. Why would people be mad over someone so famous and important coming to talk?”

“That’s a good question. I seem to recall they said it was because there would only be a limited number of family members that could go to the actual graduation and there wouldn’t have been enough seats, but that didn’t seem to make a difference when the First Lady before her, Laura Bush, spoke at a much smaller graduation in Alabama several years before. Nobody had a problem with that. And there were large schools around the country that always had to limit the number of tickets for their graduates regardless of who spoke. I also remember some really mean things being said about her by people, like calling her names and saying that Brown versus Board of Education, the law I mentioned, wasn’t important."

"No, honey, allot of people simply didn’t like the President and because they didn’t vote for him they didn’t like the First Lady and they got kind of nasty about it. “

“Oh,” said Milley. “So, does that mean people got mad when that other First Lady spoke too? Did they cancel her?”

“Not exactly. She spoke in a part of the country that liked her husband, so folks were just fine with her speaking. I guess that’s what you might call a double standard. Many folks during that time liked to talk about patriotism and honoring our military men and women. Well, our military was one of the reasons our country was free and able to have national elections; it’s why we were able to freely pick our President. So many people began to badly disrespect the office of the President over the years when the guy they wanted didn’t get the majority of votes, though, that it became easy for the billionaires in the country to simply start purchasing the job. It got really bad during President Obama’s Presidency because many people still secretly hated black people. The disrespect and mockery towards the democratically elected President became so violent that the Supreme Court and Congress just changed our constitution and allowed the guys with the most money pay to be President. Also, the people with the most money were all white men at the time and after a woman and a Latino were elected President the country almost had a second Civil War. That’s why we no longer have elections.”

Milley looked intently at her grandfather, a frown on her face.

“So is that when our country changed from being a democracy to an oligarchy?” she asked. “We learned about that in school too.”

G-Jack quietly looked out the window, not realizing that a tear had slid down his face.

Milley reached up, gently wiping it away.

“So what happened Grandpa?”

“The First Lady didn’t speak at the graduation. She spoke on a different night, for those who still wanted to hear her speech and witness her honoring the graduates and the history of education in our country. I was there that night, honey, and it was so amazing. I’ll never forget it. She gave a powerful speech, reminding us that we were all special and that we could achieve anything we wanted if we worked hard and always remembered to respect ourselves and each other.”

By now, there were more tears rolling down his face.

Impulsively, Milley threw her arms around his neck and whispered in his ear “that’s when that man shot the First Lady, isn’t it.”

He could only nod, remembering.

Finally, after a few moments, he held her away from him, forcing her to look him in the eyes.

“Milley, that is what hate, anger, and irrational thinking can cause. And eventually, it was the downfall of what what was once an amazing democracy. “

Milley, still a child, didn’t know what to say so she simply reached out and held her grandfather’s hand.

“Thank you for sharing Grandpa. I hope someday our country can become nice so that I get to vote for a President. I think I’d like that” she said.

“You would like it, Milley. It always made me feel special and privileged…and free” he said, squeezing her hand tightly.