Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
“You’re going to get shot at your coffee meeting,” my oldest son, Ben, texts me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
He’s been following my dialogue with a stranger on Twitter. I fired off a snarky comment about a local news story that was getting national attention, and this guy challenged my knowledge of the situation.
“This is my hometown,” I shot back at him. “I know everyone.”
He immediately returned my volley (like any dehumanized bot). “Mine too, big deal.”
At that point, I had him. He couldn’t be a local—I just knew it!—so I called his bluff.
My family is rich with the world’s beauty. Among my loved ones, you’ll find that Native America, Europe (East and West), Asia, Africa, Central and South America are all well represented. And I LOVE that.
That’s why I was taken aback when Lin-Manuel Miranda called me out for my racism. He didn’t realize it (he wouldn’t know me from any other subway stranger), but that’s exactly what he did.
The worst part? He was right.
I was thirteen-years-old the first time I got thrown out of a Dairy Queen.
The manager came charging out from behind the counter like an angry drill sergeant. He glared at Andy and me with an iron jaw and then threw a stiff thumb over his shoulder toward the door.
“Out!” he hissed.
“What!” Andy demanded (although it came out Wh-Wh-Wh-What!). “What about them?” He motioned toward the trio of octogenarians—a balding, silver fox and his two blue-haired lady friends—seated two booths behind us. They were stifling laughs with handfuls of tattered napkins.
“Close your eyes,” I told my teenage recovery group. “Imagine yourself twenty years from now.” I gave them time to conjure up images. “You bump into somebody from this group, and they ask, ‘So, what do you do?’”
I let the question hang in the air.
“What’s your answer?”
As they opened their eyes, I saw a few glints of hope, but mostly just doubt and anxiety. Some of them had already lost the ability to dream, and that’s tragic. In all of them, however, I recognized a familiar fear—the horror of failure—twisted up with self-loathing for not measuring up to society’s standard of success.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
I had a high school history teacher who was a Vietnam vet. He once informed us, “Just so you know, I did tours in ‘Nam. Tick me off and I might pull a gun and kill every one of you. And I’d get away with it, too. Just shrug and say, ‘Sorry. Flashback. I thought they were a bunch of gooks.’” His head bobbed up and down when he spoke as if pounding the words in like nails. A matter-of-fact expression on his face. Left eye pinched into a half-wink. Just like someone taking aim through rifle sights. Continue reading
It’s taken me some time to comment on coach Jeff Walz’s rant about participation trophies because … well, to be honest, I am (as coach says) “a loser.”
I have a “participation trophy” from youth football.
My team had a perfect season, a feat few athletes at any level can celebrate. Even the worst teams screw up and win a game a two. But not my football team. The Enslow Bulldogs. Perfection. Not a single win. Never even close.
I have the trophy to prove it.
After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.
“Bert, over here.”
She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools. Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name: Paul W. Ambrose
We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed. We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud. From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype. Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General. Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.
David is dead.
If I could write that with more poetic flair, I would, but it would be no less piercing to his mother.
His obituary celebrates a theatrical whirling dervish who “loved all he met, cheered on the underdog,” and brightened the world with “an incredible smile, an infectious laugh,” and “the best bear hugs of anyone.”
On the scorecard, however, David is just another tally mark in the Overdose column. We say that addiction killed him, but that’s not true. The drugs, like most addictions, were just self-medication for deeper wounds. They always are. I heard someone say that we live in a world at war, and nobody gets out of here unscathed.
Anyway, David is dead. As Dickens proclaims, that must be acknowledged should anything wonderful come of this tale.