Thursday, February 11, 2010


Did you ever have that one friend that you lost contact with, but never really figured out why? I've been thinking some about my friend April. It's one of those thigs that makes me sort of happy, but always ends up with some sadness.

I met her during the summer I spent at the state Honors Academy. Basically, they crammed about 120 of the top students in the state into a college dorm, threw in some top-end educators, mixed in some Russians, and set us loose. I met April pretty early on, as the cliques and groups formed. In any group like that, there are going to be quite a few social misfits, though not as many as you might think; not all achievers are academic geeks.

In any case, she landed in the same group as me. I got along, as I do with most everybody, and, this being me in high school, I was in full-on "nice guy" mode. So, I tossed out the complements, held doors, etc. It was nothing special; I was doing it for everybody. April acted like no one had ever done it for her before, though. She practically tackled me with a hug when I told her she wasn't fat (she wasn't). In any case, we were friends. There was nothing even remotely romantic there, on either end; that kind of chemistry just wasn't present, and we were both all the more comfortable with each other for it. I wasn't trying, and it made familiarity easy. At one point, there was a long game of Coed Naked Hell-Bastard Mao where we each ended up in possession of the other's shorts (outer, not inner). The game was subsequently broken up by the authorities (such as they were), and in order to leave with at least a little dignity, we put on the only pant-like items we had. Exchanges were made later.

It was a good month, overall. Of course, there was a hell of a lot more going on than just us hanging out; we all had other friends, classes, and activities. There were other things going on, as well. I remember April chasing her roommate, screaming and fighting because the girl had called her a slut. April was in tears with anger, because she "was a virgin". I don't remember if she was chasing the girl with a knife, or if she simply wished she had a knife; that's a bit fuzzy.

We had a big formal dinner at the end of it all; I sat next to April and held her hand while she cried about it all being over. It was that kind of month. We wrote a few letters (not love letters, as my parents somehow assumed; it would be hard to consider the latest news about her various boyfriends to be such), and she was about 80% of the reason I was willing to attend a reunion of the Academy. Another 10% was that I only lived a couple of miles away from the place. We had a good time, and continued to stay in touch. She sent me a set of graduation pictures.

College came, as it does. I ended up at the college next door, April landed at Johns Hopkins. We continued to stay in touch, now including the wonders of email in the mix. She somehow managed to start the first fight between me and my initial roommate (not to be the last by far). We were on the phone together a lot. She was more interesting than most everyone I knew at school, and it was easier to spend money on phone charges than to meet new people. April even insisted on regularly talking to my second roommate, a fraternity brother named Jay. She loved his accent, and called him a "cowboy". That's how she'd always ask to speak to him; "Let me talk to the cowboy."

Around this time, another member of our mutual academy group transferred to my college. I put John and April back in touch, and we continued hanging and being friends. John decided to go up to Hopkins for a visit over spring break, and studiously put me off about joining him. When school was back in, April called me ranting. She thought John was her friend, but he had made the trip in an attempt to hook up. Him putting me off made more sense, then, whether he thought of me as competition or simply a third wheel.

Some more time passed, she burned out on school, and dropped out of Hopkins. She moved back home with some friends and started working. We stayed in touch, still, but things were different. April had changed. She simply wasn't as happy as she'd been before, and she started looking for things to make her happy. I sent her cassettes in the mail, and we'd sit for along time talking about the music.

April decided suddenly that she needed to come down for a visit. We talked about it for a few days, though a few things were weird. I couldn't reach her at her regular phone number, and she insisted that I not pick her up from the bus station, despite it being in the middle of nowhere. I talked to her right before she was supposed to leave, at maybe three in the morning. When the time for her to arrive came, I waited in the dorm lobby for three hours before I gave up.

After that, there was nothing. About a month later, her mother called my home number, demanding to speak to her daughter. My parents were a touch confused. It seems that April had spent days telling people (including me) she was coming to visit me, up until the very day she was supposed to arrive. At that point, she vanished. The best we could piece together is that she had probably taken some money from the till at work, panicked when it was discovered, laid a trail leading to me, and ran another direction. That hurt. A lot.

About a year later, I wrote a long letter to her old Johns Hopkins email account, trying to express what was going on inside. I never really expected or wanted her to read it. It never bounced, so there's a chance that she had some sort of remote access, but I really doubt that those words ever reached her. It was a catharsis for me; incomplete, but it gave me at least a little closure. It still left me sad.

I still carry her pictures around, though they're a bit worse for wear (especially after that dog ate most of my wallet). I don't know why I do it. She's not "the one that got away"; things were never even on that plane. I guess I'm still sort of waiting in the lobby of my dorm for my friend.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I must be doing something right

The boy has been referring to some of his toys as "NPCs” lately.

Yeah, he never stood a chance.


I’m not a morning person. While I can wake up without a lot of issue, I hate doing it. Nothing good happens that early. To sum up, the morning is not my friend, though my job often requires being out and about prior to sunrise.

The one enjoyable thing about being out early at this time of year is the sky. Despite the fact that so many of my neighbors have blazing security lights (out in the country, no less; who does that?) I can get a good view of the morning sky. In particular, I love being able to step out my door, look up and left, and see Mars, clear as anything. That amazes me; it’s large and bright enough to almost make out the disk with the naked eye. Even a basic telescope could likely pick up some detail. I can usually pick out another planet or two, depending on the time and weather. I can’t pick out my favorite constellation, Orion, though; he’s an evening rather than morning visitor.

I’ve always loved looking at space and the stars, but I never had the chance to look knowledgeably until I moved to a place where I could barely see them. It’s remarkable how much light pollution you get in this area. Admittedly, there are a couple of sizeable metro areas not so far away, but it’s the people within a quarter mile of me that drive me nuts. I was extremely happy when my mother-in-law’s security light burned out; I knew it was unlikely to ever be replaced. Her next-door neighbor later purchased a small artificial sun. I still can’t fathom why his two-car gravel parking space needed quite that much visibility. It affects my night vision so badly that my view of the sky changes noticeably just but angling so that the light is behind a house.

Now, back home in West Virginia, at least while I was growing up, light pollution was pretty sparse. It was there, but not nearly to the level of where I’m living now. I could at least see the Milky Way. One of my favorite memories of my friend Coralius is of riding in the back of a truck at night (so that the womenfolk could ride in the heated cab, of course), and talking about the stars we were looking up at.

I’ve tried to share this with my kids some, but only in a half-assed way so far. There are lots of star and space books in the house, and all are popular with the kids. We have the Here Comes Science DVD from They Might Be Giants, and we hear the songs from the kids all the time. I think they’ve got a bit of the science bug, which is good. If you don’t have it young, you may not get it. My son received a telescope for Christmas a couple of years back; it was rendered pretty much useless because he broke the stand within hours, and scattered the eyepieces in days. He got a new one this year, and it may fare better. Once the air is a bit less chilly, we’ll take a night to look at the moon. In my experience, that’s about all it takes to get a youngling started. Point it at Saturn or Mars, and it’s even better. Soon, you can explain how we are made of star stuff, and they might really get it. I’ve talked with my son before about how elements are formed in the hearts of stars (again, the TMBG DVD was a big help), but I don’t think he gets quite why that is so freakin’ awesome. I’ve got time, though.


I recently had an aunt and uncle get severely injured by a motorist. Prognoses are pretty bleak, given that both are in their seventies. It wouldn’t be good for anyone, but people in an already fragile state of health, on blood thinners, etc., are just that much less likely to pull through. It’s making me really uncomfortable, honestly, but it’s not really because of the injuries and prospects for recovery; we aren’t exactly close, though I do feel bad for them. It mostly stems from something posted online by their daughter. She mentioned that my uncle, the more likely of the two to survive and “fully” recover, is having a really hard time. He has Alzheimer’s, and his world is basically confined to his wife (who he can’t see, and might not see again), his dogs (who he can’t see), and his house (where he can’t currently go, and may not get to until a stint in a rehab facility). His entire world, everything he knows, has been stripped away, and most of it may not return for some time; some of it may never do so.

Even just considering that situation from a distance is pure, unadulterated torture for me. I have a lot of anxiety, but not a lot of real fears. My biggest, most horrible boogeyman, though, is the idea of losing my cognition to something like Alzheimer’s. I know I’ve said it here before, but the idea of looking at the world through a fog, of being unknowing of whether things are supposed to be familiar or not, or trying to interact meaningfully and failing to retain it…That is pure bowel-emptying terror for me. I generally don’t think I have a lot going for me (self-esteem issues are entirely different matter, though), but damnit, I am what I am. All those experiences, feelings, ideas, and memories are mine. I wouldn’t give up a second of it; and, while I often don’t see as much as I’d like, my world is bigger than my home. If that were stripped away, either all at once, or gradually…hell, I’m having trouble typing this, I’m shaking so hard at the thought. I’m almost in tears. It messes with me that much. If you want to torture me, don’t dunk me underwater or shock me; just describe in detail what it would be like for me to have gradually decreasing cognition.

It hits me hard me anytime that I’m reminded of the possibility that my future could be like that. There’s some family history of dementia on my mom’s side, including this uncle. It made it hard for me to be around my grandmother, sometimes. Most of the others on that side of the family have been at least a little bit nuts (ranging from “a little off” to “homicidal”), but it is hard to differentiate between physiological and psychological issues with that group. In any case, there’s no guarantee, and there are plenty of confounding factors; call it a slightly increased chance. Add to that the wide-ranging nature of that section of the family (three states away in the case of my uncle), and I can live “out-of sight, out-of-mind” on the dementia issue. But, this accident has thrust it to the forefront with me again, and I’m uncomfortable about it, though I’m hundreds of miles away.

I will say, oddly enough, that there is one person with decreased capacity that I’ve had a lot of interaction with never really bothered me for some reason. My wife has an uncle who lost a lot of his memory and function due to a series of micro-strokes; they were so small that the original scans didn’t even pick them up, though the effects were obvious. It seems like large chunks his memory, particularly after a certain point, was just shut off. For example, he knew I existed, but not my name; he could drive from a long-frequented store to his house, but not from one more recently opened. He has no memory of being a lifelong Steelers fan. I interacted with him a good amount after this happened, at least as frequently as my own immediate kin. Despite his issues, and his own depression about them (his brain/mouth filter took a hit, too, so you got a lot of what was on his mind at any given moment), I never got that raw, cringing terror from being around him. You could see the sadness in his eyes when something he knew he should remember just kept escaping his grasp. Now, sitting here, typing this, I get the fear; my chest is tightening and I’m tearing up again. I never, ever had it in his presence, though. I don’t understand it. It just is.

In the end, I just worry for my uncle. I can’t imagine having an already-small world being taken away like that. I don’t know if I could survive it. I don’t know if he will.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's like he knows me...

This would be funnier if the third panel hadn't actually happened to me. Thanks, Dad.