And the clouds came tumbling down
And it's bye-bye, goodbye, I tried
And I twisted it wrong just to make it right
Had to leave myself behind
I've been flying high all night
So come pick me up, I've landed…”
—Ben Folds, Landed
It's amazing how many things you can fit in a Toyota RAV4 when you're finally ready to leave. All your clothes, childhood memories, small furniture, some dishes and utensils, a George Foreman grill, a boom box, CD's and other miscellaneous items packed haphazardly in boxes with a little help from a friend.
I sneezed from all the dust motes floating in the car. I wiped my nose and could feel her watching me from the curtain, still crying, heart breaking. I almost looked back, but didn't, and instead started the car and drove away.
As I drove, I couldn't see out the rearview mirror, only the side mirrors, but it didn't matter. I would be careful driving the 35 miles over the winding highway 17 through the mountains to Santa Cruz, soon to be my new home.
I'd hit the wall of unhappy even before we were married, which is no consolation to the one who wants to stay married, unhappy or not, college sweetheart or not, who still wants children or not. Our friendship compromised by emotional codependence, obsessive instability and anxiety attacks, an affair of the heart, infidelity, and a debt so big it sunk us to the bottom of the sea -- but none of that matters to the one who's left behind, alone with the ghosts and the darkness.
At the end of July, 1997, I drove away at dusk and cried all the way to my new apartment, a mixture of oppressive guilt, painful realities and a new freedom that lifted my spirits slightly. Weeks earlier when I found the apartment, I remember looking down the end of the street at the Pacific Ocean beyond, feeling an overwhelming sense of peace, and thought, I'm going to live here. I'm going to begin again here.
The one who leaves is the monster, there's no getting around that. But leaving then was only thing I could do that was right.
Chapter 1: Today
It's not like Trump was 20, or even 30, or good God even 40, which still doesn't mean he should've gotten a pass (which we unfortunately tend to do with affluent white boys and men in this country). He was 60. And recently married. And he had two daughters.
I'm only thankful my girls aren't old enough to ask me the questions, "Dad, why would he say that? Why would he do that?" Because my answer could just as graphic (but family friendly) about how offensive this truly is. Fathers (and mothers) of daughters (and sons) can never be okay with this.
Chapter 2: The Sucker Punch
I had written that the rise in incivility and bullying is being sugarcoated as an appropriate backlash against a supposed overly political correctness.
But that's just a load of crap; it's simply lethargic ignorance to overreact and make it personal. To hurt those we don't like or agree with instead of having a productive and emotionally intelligent dialogue about agreeing to disagree. It's all about the "more" -- we let our misogynistic insults fly more in America than ever. Maybe I'm just paying more attention than ever, but it seems as though as women make more equality progress in the workplace, in public office and at home, and in leadership positions far and wide overall, the more the demeaning rhetoric flies.
I'm livid because of what I'm seeing and hearing, not only from the grand global political stage, but from friends, family and peers who seem to be forgiving this behavior as the status quo. Who add to the bullying discourse by concurring and piling on, or even worse, not speaking up and letting it slide. Who forgive our leaders (men and women alike) at all levels in business, government and in school who belittle our daughters (and sons) this way.
I'm livid and saddened because I believe we're better than that, although the Mama and I are painfully aware of what's coming for our girls as they get older. So like a superhero punch to the solar plexus, we're preparing them as best we can to be fully aware and walk away when they should, and to fight back when they must.
But then an old friend (and girlfriend) from high school sucker-punched me on Facebook after reading my article and called me a bully back then with her, saying I said things about her I never said. And it floored me.
Chapter 3: Back in the Day
Freshman year of high school. Hanging out with my friends at McDonald's after the football game, talking about what freshman boys talk about: sports, school and girls.
Another old girlfriend (not the one from Chapter 2) stormed in and confronted me. She accused me of sharing the intimate details of our relationship from over the summer, which I admittedly had done, and she berated me in front of my friends for what seemed eternity.
When she left, they teased me, but I was mortified. Not because of what she'd done in response, but because of what I had done.
That next week I apologized profusely. From that point on I learned to (mostly) keep to myself what needed keeping.
Chapter 4: No One's Ever Asking for It
No, this is about a young man who didn’t stop himself from raping when the girl lay unconscious behind a dumpster. He was the only cause. Not her. He went too far. Nobody’s asking for it. It wasn’t her fault. I remember one night early on dating my now wife, really drunk, both of us stumbling up the stairs to my apartment, making out and groping each other, and never in my most primal drunken delirium could I have forced myself on her, conscious or not.
Because the 20 minutes of Brock Turner’s rape really comes down to the seconds where he could’ve and should’ve stopped himself. Where he could’ve taken her home, no matter how inebriated, and then gone home himself and slept it off. However, like my dad always used to say (who was in law enforcement for over 32 years), “Should’ves and could’ves only count in horseshoes and hand grenades; they don’t mean shit.”
I have a wife and two daughters. Or, I could have a husband and two sons. It doesn’t matter when it comes to rape and sexual abuse. Either way I will defend their worth unconditionally, as they would defend mine.
I’m outraged. You should be as well. And he only served three months in jail for his rape. We must all give voice to victims of sexual abuse and rape. We must stop blaming the victims and start making the rapists and abusers accountable. We must be the defenders of those precious seconds prior to a life destroyed, to instill self-aware prevention in our children. We must support organizations like Kidpower, a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education, that provide positive prevention tips to help us focus on what to “DO” to handle different types of personal safety problems.
We must ultimately and definitively educate society here and abroad that no one’s ever asking for rape or sexual abuse. We're just asking for prevention and justice.
Chapter 5: Birth Story One
She was supposed to be born at home. But do to complications, that doesn't happen. We had to head to the emergency room at the birthing center.
Around 6:00 p.m. I go downstairs to get something to eat. Three minutes after I order a cheeseburger and fries and our midwife runs into the cafeteria telling me to come now. My first thought is the baby's coming. But as we're running back up the stairs, she says, "The baby crashed and they went to the OR!"
The baby crashed and they went to the OR.
The baby crashed.
I feel like my body has fallen away and I'm flying towards the room. Everyone's yelling things I can't comprehend and they tell me to get the blue scrubs on. They lead me to the operating room and a nurse lets me in.
"You're the husband? Come this way."
Stark whiteness washes over me and I'm immediately sat next to Amy. She's shaking but strong and ready to go. I'm out of my mind but not showing it. The OB is there. There are nurses and the anesthesiologist and everyone's moving around doing things I don't understand. The leg clamps don't work on the table, so two of the nurses actually hold Amy's legs up. Amy pushes and pushes and the OB coaches her along. They didn't let our midwife in so it's just me holding Amy's hand and urging her on. And praying. I even joke at one point to offer my help in doing anything to get the baby out.
The OB says we're making progress and gets the vacuum ready. Based on what she's telling us, she's only going to try to vacuum three times and then we're doing a Caesarean. But the vacuum isn't holding any suction and they have to change it two times. The OB keeps encouraging Amy to push and push. The baby's heart rate stays in the safe range.
She pushes and pushes. Two sets of labor and two different experiences in 24 hours – at home and at the hospital. Finally the OB hooks the vacuum up and pulls and pop – she looks startled, falls back and smiles.
"There we go. It was the arm. The baby's arm was up over its head."
The baby's arm was up over its head. Wow.
A second later the baby is out, umbilical cord is cut and the baby is rushed over to a side table and cleaned. Amy's still shaking but smiling. She whispers, "I'd better pay my co-pay." The baby cries. The pediatrician who was in the operating room calls me over to see the baby and identify the sex.
I'm still flying when I see that B is a girl – our little Beatrice – all 7 lbs., 14 oz., and 21 inches of her.
Chapter 6: Today Again
God bless us all for our opinions and our choices. This is what America is all about. While I could never vote for tyranny, bullying, bigotry, misogyny or sexual assault -- even if the candidate has economic and foreign policy chops, and we know that score -- everybody has a right to their opinion and choice. But that's just me, and I will continue to be vocal about it.
And by the way, it's not okay for any man (or woman) regardless of where there political affiliation stands. We unfortunately have a long list of white male business leaders and politicians that go way back on this one.
I am speaking up because it's about empowering a bully and sexual predator free life for us all regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual preference.
It's about our girls growing up.
Chapter 7: Birth Story Two
Beatrice had been up since 1:00 AM, primarily because of her cold and snotty nose, but also because she knew something was up.
Because our midwives had everything under control with Mama, it was up to me to tend to Bea if she needed it.
She did. Lots of it. She just couldn't go back to sleep and I had to stay in there so she wouldn't wail. She couldn't hear anything coming from our room; we keep a fan going in their for white noise and have been doing it since before she was born.
But she was obviously unsettled and aware of what's coming.
Mama had been in active labor since around 12:30 and the motion of the womb ocean was a series of storm-driven spindrift.
Things were moving fast and I was missing it.
I stroke Bea's arm one more time and whisper:
"I love you, baby, but I have to go help Mama."
As soon as I'm in our room, Bryce is entering the earth's atmosphere for the first time.
Of course I can't share the intimate details, but I can tell you that earlier she found her baby Zen center as contraction after contraction rolled through her.
Now I'm standing behind Mama on the side of the bed. She grabs my hand with a superhero power I remembered from the first time, pulls me down towards her on the bed and shrieks:
"Get it out of me!"
That's the final reality of birth, my friends. Guys, we have no idea. Nada. Zip. Imagine passing a hot bowling ball through your urethra.
Mother Mary of God, I think. There's a Bryce coming out of my wife.
You see, the first time with Bea I didn't see. That plan was to be at home as well. But this time we were at home and all is well.
And then it's done. We're in the moment of tearful Mama holding wet newborn to her breast, the universe expanding the heart and soul ad infinitum.
All 7 pounds, 8 1/2 ounces, and 20.5 inches of her. Welcome to the world, Baby Bryce.
Chapter 8: The Haters of Happy
I didn't expect to feel this way. To get emotional reading my own children's book to my daughter's first grade class. I'm a self-proclaimed crier, yes, but it was just supposed to be fun. To participate in the class "mystery reader" program where, leading up to my designated time to read, daily clues were presented to the kids to see if they could figure out who the reader would be.
And this time, it be me. Beatrice had no idea, even after I was the one who brought her to school that morning of my reading. I waited in the school office and then two of her classmates came to get me and escort me back to the classroom.
Beatrice beamed when she saw me. Some of her classmates recognized me since I had coached them in T-ball and soccer, whispering, "I knew it was Beatrice's dad." I sat down in the rocking chair the teacher uses for guests and reading and said good morning.
Over 20 six and seven-year-olds from various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures gazed back at me with curious smiles. This budding microcosm of the greater world around us, at least of the California Bay Area, filled me with hope that positive living without the haters of happy may just prevail someday.
Aspirational I know. Always the hopeful hoper I am. But at some point, if not already, these kids will tease and be teased because of misunderstood yet reconcilable differences. That unconditional rite of passage that so many of us experience. And not only teased, since there will be those who bully and get bullied, especially in world that gleans joy from online anonymity and trashing others. Haters gonna hate and all that crap.
A little teasing I get, and I got my share growing up all the way into elder adulthood where I'm at today. I doled out a little myself. Sometimes the teasing was palatable and I'd laugh along, and sometimes it wasn't even close.
Through it all, I survived, and those I teased survived. Never in a million years did I bully verbally or physically to the point of wanting to hurt someone purposely and spitefully because of (fill in the blank). Pushed the teasing on occasion, yes. Bullying, no.
Of course I didn't think about all these things while reading my book to Bea's class, but the emotion welled up when I read the line:
Although I can’t fly like all of the rest
I believe in myself
I’m not second best.
I really believed that when I wrote it, which was a couple of years before we had the girls. I believed it growing up, through all the family dysfunction and violence, and I still believe it today. As I read the story aloud, holding the book up with my left hand so the kids could see the pages, my peripheral vision embraced the new hope in front of me that someday would know the difference between hate and empathy and positive dissension, and could help to counter incivility, bullying and violence.
Good God, I'm surprised I don't have more haters of happy with the positive approach to life I not only write about, but try to live as well, as much as I can. I know how to change their channel, or to confront when need be. The incremental mindfulness and meditation I've been investing in is certainly paying off. Amen to that. Plus, the Mama channeling Kidpower continues to remind me that, no matter how horrible they can be, even the haters of happy should never be second best.
Chapter 9: When Gravity Triples with Sick
Daddy leaves a Toronto hotel at 4:30 AM EST. His flight is delayed for nearly 4 hours due to a maintenance issue. Daddy is unhappy because he misses his family and doesn't want to miss coaching soccer practice later that day, but safety first. A new plane is towed in and the 5-hour flight home starts shortly thereafter. Based on an average air speed of 490 miles per hour, and then the added bonus of the airport drive home during commute with an average speed of 35-45 miles per hour, what time does Daddy actually get home PST?
Gravity tripled again and I felt sick. Not only was I not going to see my girls for another six to seven hours (by the time I got home), I was going to miss soccer practice. I was going to let them all down -- my girls and the entire team -- and that really, really sucked. The Mama had to change up her schedule to get Beatrice to practice, and one of the other team parents stepped up to coach practice, and I was very thankful for both.
Let go and let Godot; the existential absurdity of it all hit rock bottom when I waited an additional painful 30 minutes for my suitcase at baggage claim. I know, I always say I hate being away from my family but love to travel -- first world problems and all that. I finally acquiesced to the fact that, no matter how long it took, I just needed to get home, safe and sound. That I would see my family soon. That I would also miss soccer practice, but would see my team at the game on Saturday. When gravity triples with sick you have to stand up straight and own it. I knew that all I had control over was my immediate actions and my reactions to this unfortunate circumstance, and although it didn't make me feel any better at the time, I just needed to get back intact.
And get back intact I did. Amen.
It was a Friday night, October 10, 1997. I don't remember exactly what I was doing, but I'm sure I was just hanging out in my apartment alone watching a little TV, maybe writing a little as well. The unraveling of my previous marriage and life had only just begun a few months earlier, and my life was only then at the beginning of a major transition that I had barely begun to understand.
Maybe that's why the late summer swell of El Niño had warmed the waters of the Pacific, to draw me to the sea below the lighthouse, to be there on that very day at that very moment...
But it was only the night before and I do remember there was an offshore flow warming the air outside on the balcony. One of the most beautiful times of the year in Santa Cruz is the month of October, at least during the years I've lived here, and especially the first one.
I had noticed her for weeks on the beach. Always alone, as was I. She was usually reading, always wearing a baseball cap, and always looking, well, quite lovely in whatever bathing suit she wore on any particular day.
But it was only the night before and I wasn't thinking of her. I was thinking of the wreck my life had become, how I had rammed myself against the rocky shore and then crawled back onto the beach half-drowned, but happy.
Chapter 11: The Day Of
Then it was the next day, October 11. We were on the beach again that afternoon as we'd been in the weeks prior.
I usually get the words wrong, but our lover lore recounts the fact that she walked up to me and asked:
"So, do you always come here alone?"
Like a fool, I almost didn't answer her; I wanted to be alone actually. Too soon, no matter how beautiful I thought she was.
But then, "Yes, I do. And you?"
And that was it. All she wrote. Only (mostly) blue sky ahead. Six years later we were married, on the same date. Five years after that we started a family.
The stark simplicity of how the universe sometimes smiles upon us was new to me. On the night before and the day of the rest of my life, I never imagined that I'd finally landed, and how happy I'd always be.
Happy Anniversary Honey.
Epilogue: For the First Time Every Time
It's like I see you then, now, every day for the first time, every time,
The lovely young lady in the baseball cap and bathing suit
Perched upright in the orange beach chair nestled against the cliff base.
Your feet massaging the sand slowly, your eyes down in a book
So immersed in story that I didn't notice your glances my way
Or didn't think you noticed mine, my head down writing all the time.
Your long blonde hair like solar flares absorbed the light of others
Who passed between us, keeping the air around you warm and soft.
The scene now reminds me of a shimmering silk tapestry, rich with color,
Seemingly unreal, a dream state, a place we've been before and
Will go to again and again, a vista by sea and sand forever in memory.
The moment we met that day on the beach became a stunning ache
That has never left me — the soft light of your moving presence,
A welcome sun that never fails to rise and lift my heart, hold it high
In the sky and remind me this is how it feels to live life with love,
To be in love, to live boldly and burn brighter with the happy ache of
Never wanting to be without, for that would mean we were never real,
that our fated meeting had never happened, that our heartmeld fusion had
Never transformed two halves into two wholes, birthing two celestial
bodies locked in each other's gravity, a brilliant sun and moon, lovers
And friends who can't look away from one another, who look out for
One another, who live life unabashed and empower their children in kind.
Two people who long to touch and hold and kiss and love one another
to burn away any darkness or doubt with feverish clasp, the hungry want,
The kind of mythical pleasure shared only by the uninhibited gods and
Goddesses of antiquity.
You are my stunning ache, Amy, and I see you then, now, every day
For the first time every time, and I am draped in the purest silken fire.