I saw him in a dream

What the FUCK is wrong with you?!!

His sheepish smile instantly transformed to injured horror.  “What do you want me to say? I can’t DO anything about it now.”

You could say you’re sorry.  

He made a choice, took a breath, and decided.  “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

And you could tell me I’m right.

“About what?”

You remember how we used to argue – err, discuss things – and I would tell you that you ought to be more sympathetic to people who seemed from the outside like they make bad choices?

“What does that have to do with anything?”

Seriously?  Where the fuck are you now?

“There’s no need to swear.”

Bullshit there isn’t.  And fuck you.

“Okay I can see you’re really angry – “

No shit, Sherlock.

“ – so I’ll come back another time.”

No!  Please – wait! Come back.  Please stay for a bit. Please. I’ve really missed you.

“Are you ready to be nice?”

…. Yes.  Maybe. I’ll try.  I’m really angry with you, you know?

“I can see that, yes.  But I can’t do anything about it now, and being mean to me isn’t helpful.”

(Silence.  Tears drop onto my cheeks.)

“So – what were you trying to say?  About sympathy? I don’t see what that has to do with me.”

Oh yes.  You always had zero sympathy for anyone who made less-than-perfect choices.  You seemed to be incapable of empathizing for anyone’s particular difficulties that were outside of your experience.  Even difficulties that you were witness to, you never empathized if your friend / acquaintance thought about their options differently than you would, or had different priorities, or pressures that you didn’t understand.  Particularly people who (insert meaningful glare here) take their own lives. Do you understand what I’m getting at now?

That’s what you wanted to talk about?”

Is there something wrong with talking about that?

“It’s just that I thought you would be happy to see me, so I made the effort to come see you.  You look well and I’m glad you are happy.”


I miss you.  We should have been friends for a long time.  You and your wife should have grown old together.  Did you think about her?! About how you left her alone?

“She didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”

That’s bullshit and you know it.  She loves you more than you realize and misses you more than you know.

“No she doesn’t.”

Yes she fucking does –


Too fucking bad!  Yes she loves you, and she blames herself.  I called her last week and just listened for as long as I could spare while she worked on processing all this shit.  She. Misses. You. And. Feels. Like. Half. Her. Life. Is. GONE.

At this, he looks shocked, and on the verge of tears himself.

“… I had no idea …”

Of course you didn’t.  Because you have no empathy.  You know, that thing that I’ve been trying to get you to develop so that you can make the world around you a better place.  But you were resistant and dismissive, and now this particular character deficiency has come around and bitten you in the ass.  Your lack of empathy kept you blind to how much you matter to everyone else, and in your despair you did something that you can’t undo.  You fucked up big time.

“…. I … I … I don’t know what to say …”

You could go visit her next time, tell her you’re sorry, and just let her yell at you.  I would tell you that now you know for next time, but that’s a bit of a moot point now.

(He hangs his head.  I reach out.)

I miss you and I love you.  Yes I’m angry at you. I’ll be angry at you for a while, and she will be angry, too.  Please understand that we’ll forgive you eventually, but as I said – you fucked up and you’ll have to wait a while.

(He fades.  He’s gone. It feels empty.  I cry.)

Cows and Graveyards, Revised

Once upon a time, I went on a two-hour drive through rural Iowa with some classmates, and the girl who was driving taught us all how to play Cows and Graveyards.

Here’s how you play:

  • Divide the car into two teams: left side and right side. Note: It should be decided before the game begins which team gets the person sitting in the middle of the back seat.  It is recommended that they be on the “left side” team, as the “left side” team includes the driver, who cannot really commit to playing since they are, you know, in charge of driving.
  • Each team watches their side of the car.
  • When you pass cows, count them. You must count them out loud, and you must stop counting when you can no longer see the cows.  Cow totals are cumulative.  For example, if you pass a herd of 15 cows and later pass a herd of 10 cows, you have a total of 25 cows.
  • When you pass a graveyard, all your cows “die” and you have to start over.
  • The winning team is the team with the most cows when you reach your destination.

It was a lot of fun!  So naturally I taught my children how to play.

Good times, right?  Wrong.

See, the problem I run into while driving through the Chicago suburbs is that there are no cows.  There are plenty of graveyards, but no cows.  So to make sure we had a playable game while driving to my parents’ house in Iowa, I made some … minor modifications.

General rule:

If you can see it, you can count it.  All animals count – cows, horses, dogs, squirrels, birds, and even musk oxen.  However, the unit of measurement is still the cow.  So, for example, if you count five horses, two dogs, and three birds, you have ten “cows.”

Count modifiers:

Different things you see while driving will either add to or subtract from your total cow count.


Fast food: Some of your cows are hungry and stop to eat.  -15 cows.

Gas station: Your cows are more energized.  +10 cows.

Hotel: Your cows feel better after a good night’s sleep.  +10 cows.

Starbucks: Your cows are more energized.  And Mommy is in a better mood.  +2 cows.

Wal-Mart: Save money.  Live better.  +3 cows.

Optional rule:

As a practical expedient while travelling on the highway, players may elect to use logos on blue highway signs (i.e. “Lodging next exit” or “Food next exit” signs) instead of looking for businesses from the road.

Medical centers:

Secular medical center: +50% bonus cows.  Because science is awesome.

Religious medical center: +100% bonus cows.  Because science + God is even better.

Catholic medical center: +110% bonus cows.  THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU … to have more cows.


Catholic church: +6 cows.

Any other church: +5 cows.

Note: Initially, passing a Protestant church required subtracting 2 cows for embarrassingly bad theology, but my 10-year-old protested, “Mommy, you’re not being very nice to people who believe differently than you.”  Point taken.

Other landmarks:

Water tower: Some of your cows drown.  -10 cows.

Community college or university annex: Yay for smart cows!  +30% bonus cows.

Trains: +1 cow for every train car with graffiti.

Optional and proposed rules:

Optional rule:

When passing a graveyard, instead of all of your cows dying, a number of cows equal to the number of gravestones in the graveyard die.  Useful for those small country graveyards with maybe 20 stones.

Proposed rule:

“Mommy, what about auto parts stores?” asked my 12-year-old.  I don’t know – it seems like we should do something with auto parts stores, but I’m not sure what.

Proposed rule:

When crossing the Mississippi River, all your cows fall into the river and drown.


Okay, fine: when crossing state lines, your cows are confused by the new surroundings and get lost.  Lose 20% of your cows.

Proposed rule:

“Mommy, shouldn’t we get +10 cows for passing a barn because the cows are rested?”  You currently have almost 200 cows – clearly you are doing fine.  Why are you lobbying for more?  “I don’t know.  Just ‘cuz.”

The following rule is optional, but if adopted, it must be wholly adopted.  Partial adoption is disallowed.

When approaching a barn, barn-like structure, or a cluster of barns or barn-like structures, if cows are visible from the road, players may elect to either: 1) count all the cows they can see (consistent with the rest of the rules); or 2) use the 10-cows-per-structure practical expedient.  Before passing each newly-sighted barn, barn-like structure, or cluster of barns or barn-like structures, one option or the other must be verbally elected.

For each green highway sign (mile-markers and exit signs don’t count), one of your cows stops to read the sign.  Lose that cow.

(And this is how you know your mother is a CPA.)

(P.S. The above proposed rule was NOT adopted in my car.  I can’t imagine why.)


Obviously, you can do whatever you want with this.  If you’re an atheist parent, for example, you may want to flip around the bonuses for the medical centers, or subtract 5 cows for ANY type of church you pass.  Whatever makes it fun!

Holiday roundup 2014: Lives remembered

We’ve had a pretty hectic couple of months, and early January is a good time to reflect on things.  Let’s be honest – January isn’t good for much else!

Anyway, I need to get my candle out again.

Here it is

Here it is

Thanksgiving weekend, the son of a family friend died of an accidental heroin overdose.  We went to his memorial service the following Saturday.

I remember the first time I met Seth – he had come to one of my mother-in-law’s parties with his mom Joan and his sister Katlyn.  I can make polite conversation well enough, but I was struck by two things – 1) he could keep up with me intellectually.  Not to toot my own horn, but I don’t meet many people who can.  2) he just knew exactly the right thing to say all the time – what an incredible gift!

In casual conversation, I told his mother how wonderfully sweet Katlyn was and how impressed I was by Seth.  When I said that she gave me a friendly half-smile, half-smirk and chuckled, “Yeah …” and stopped.  I half-chuckled along with her, having NO idea what that was about.

At some point over the next year, I heard the rest of the story from my mother-in-law.  Seth and Katlyn’s dad had been a horrible mixture of coddling and abusive to Seth.  Not Katlyn – just Seth.  Seth got the intersection of “Oh my sweet baby boy!” and “Suck it up – don’t be a whiny little girl, be a MAN!”  That type of abuse would fuck anybody up; and fuck Seth up it did.  He started a heroin habit as a teen, got clean a couple times, but relapsed periodically.  He would work really hard at getting his life together, succumb to a desire for a momentary fix, and then start from ground zero again.  It was very frustrating for Joan to know her son was capable of so much but was being dragged down by his addiction.

Ultimately, Seth and Katlyn’s dad left their mom.  Right when Joan was going through treatment for cancer.  Great timing!  Couldn’t have been better.  After the divorce, Seth and Katlyn’s dad didn’t talk to them.  No calls, no visits, no birthday cards.  Nothing.  By the time he was 19, Seth was a work in progress.  He was attending a support group for recovering addicts, Joan and Katlyn were attending a support group for families of recovering addicts, and it was then that Joan and Katlyn began preparing themselves for the possibility that they might lose Seth if he relapsed.  Seth was gainfully employed most of the time, even though he bounced around a lot.  He started attending church, finding strength and purpose there.

It was just last October that Seth, Katlyn, and Joan just happened to drive by my mother-in-law’s house on their way out.  When they saw that the kids and I were there and that we had JUST finished raking all the leaves into a HUGE pile, Joan pulled into the driveway.  No sooner did the car doors open but my girls RAN toward the car – “SETH!!! KATIE!!! Come PLAY with us!!!”

About three nanoseconds later, Katlyn was snuggling my baby boy who was shamelessly flirting with her, and Seth was buried in the leaves.  I yelled, “GIRLS!!! Be CAREFUL!!! Seth is NOT a jungle gym! BE NICE!!! Seth, hand me your sunglasses and phone – I’ll put them somewhere safe – GIRLS!!!”

I think it’s adorable when people are so doting that don’t tell my girls no, and Seth was one of them.  He would have let them jump on him, bury him in the leaves and squish him, and he wouldn’t have complained.  Lord knows why he was so sweet with my girls, but he was.  I did my best to watch out for him, because even if he wasn’t going to say no, it still wouldn’t have been okay for them to actually HURT him.

When my girls had worn themselves out from beating up and jumping on Seth (who STILL hadn’t complained and seemed game for more!), we all exchanged hugs and Joan and her family left.

That was the last time I saw him alive.

Early Friday morning after Thanksgiving, Katlyn woke up and saw a girl in white in her room.  She had never seen anything like that before but she wasn’t scared; she checked the time on her phone – 4:40 – and then turned over and closed her eyes.  She assumed she was just dreaming.

Friday afternoon they found him, shortly before 5:00 p.m.  He had been gone about twelve hours.

A few days before the funeral, I told my girls (ages 11 and 9) that Seth had died.  Because we wanted to be honest with them, we told them how he died, and we told them that it was an accident.  We told them that unfortunately that’s one of the dangers of illegal drugs.

But honestly ALSO means that’s not who he was.  Heroin was something he did, and his accidental death was something that happened to him, but that’s not who he was.  He was the guy who played in the leaves with them that day.  He was the guy who always knew just what to say.  He was the guy who was SO bright with SO much potential.  He was the guy who was going to look back on this time in his life and laugh at how far he had come.

His soul was such a bright light and the world is a little bit darker with him gone.

That same weekend my friend lost his mom.  She was very old and had been declining for some time.  It was definitely time for her to die and he knows this, but there’s still a finality to death that takes some emotional wrangling.  Being a middle-aged man, he’s dealing with it the way he deals with everything else – with a mix of morbid, light-hearted humor.

But the great circle of life continues – that same weekend, one of my coworkers became a grandmother.  Her daughter gave birth to a perfect, healthy baby girl three weeks ahead of schedule.  Baby, parents, and grandparents are ecstatic, doing well, and adjusting to the new little being in their lives.

I have to remind myself that even as we are sad for lives lost, there continue to be new lives, new opportunities, new experiences.  It is the nature of the world to be this way.

I don’t know what to say to close this post out, but one of the benefits of being Catholic when you don’t know what to say is that there’s a pre-prepared prayer for everything.  And one of the benefits of being Catholic in the internet age is that with a quick Google search I can find any of them that I want.  So I’m just going to scroll back up to my candle and ask all of you reading this – I don’t know what your religion or spirituality is (if any), but please send prayers / thoughts / positive energy up for the people in your world who are mourning lives lost and who are marveling at new life.

8 Lies We’re Told About The “Real World”

This is so true. Couple things to add –

1. There are no labels – Ashley is definitely right. One of my conservative friends like to speak disparagingly about another friend of mine because he is a “leftist.” Understanding where this “leftist” is coming from is, of course, out of the question because he’s a “leftist.”

2. Dating becomes easier – I actually thought dating did become easier. For one thing, dating was actually possible in my 20’s. No one would give me the time of day in high school. So all the stupid dating mistakes most people make at 16? Yeah … I made those mistakes at 20. And then I decided that I didn’t give a shit about the games and I’d just go with being honest. And blunt. Amazingly, this worked pretty well.

3. You should finish college if you want to be successful – Ashley phrased this really well. I finished college with the specific objective of being employable afterward. I treated college like an investment in my future ability to provide for my family and it worked out great. It didn’t hurt that I studied accounting, a field with great job security. But I have also see too many people piss away their 20’s by switching majors 6 times, never finishing a degree of ANY sort, racking up a bunch of student loans, and then wonder why they can’t get anywhere in life except for a dead-end job with a good chunk of their wages garnished to pay back their student loans.

4. College will be the best years of your life – It was for me! But not for the reasons most people think. I was a single mom on public assistance and I lived in a family-friendly university housing complex. I had the flexibility to be the parent I wanted to be, I had great relationships with my neighbors, and we all just had this big sharing circle of kids’ clothes, advice, support, and even friendship.

5. Honesty is the best policy – I still do believe that honesty is the best policy, but there is an art to being honest. If I have to tell a client that the shit their pulling won’t fly, I don’t say, “The shit you’re pulling won’t fly.” Instead I say something like “You may want to consider X because Y. Also because we won’t sign the report if you leave it like that, but mainly because Y.”
Honesty also worked will for dating (see #2). I went on many first and only dates where I wasn’t into the guy. Instead of the usual, “Oh yeah sure I’d love to see you again, blah blah …” I said “You know, I’m not really feeling it.” Cruel? Maybe. Disarming? Definitely. But neither one of us had to waste any more time on something that clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

6. You have to choose between a career or family – I’m spoiled. I have a stay-at-home husband. I have no idea how I would be a halfway decent mom to our 3 kids without him.

7. Time heals all wounds – Over time, the new normal feels, well, normal. Over time, the work of healing begins to be effective, assuming you are in the right circumstances to heal. But no, time by itself doesn’t heal anything.

8. Success comes with hard work – nothing to add here. Ashley’s spot-on.