Sunday, September 25, 2016

Forty is the New Thirty: End of an Era

Back in the day, I ran this series here and at Bus Leagues called "Forty is the New Thirty." I forget how I first thought of it, but the premise was simple: call attention to the teams that experienced the longest droughts without a 40-homerun hitter.

I have two lists that I try to keep updated: the last player to hit 40 for each team and streaks of more than 10 seasons without a 40-homerun hitter. Usually I wait until the end of the season to update, so I don't get confused and miss information somewhere, but something happened a couple weeks ago that made me decide to write about it the next time I pulled out the laptop (and that happened to be tonight):

Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins hit his 40th homerun.

Now, this is noteworthy for two reasons: one, he is only the fourth second baseman to hit 40 homeruns in a season (off the top of my head: Rogers Hornsby, Davey Johnson, Ryne Sandberg...boom - assuming wherever I read that was accurate about the number? NAILED IT). That's a cool fact, but not the one I'm most excited about. I'm way more pumped about number two: he is the first Twin to hit 40 homeruns in a season since Harmon Killebrew in 1970.

The Twins had gone 45 seasons (1971-2015) without a 40-homerun hitter before Dozier took Detroit's Daniel Norris deep on September 12, the fourth longest streak of all-time. That's a fair bit of history to cast aside with one swing of the bat, but Dozier managed to do what Hrbek, Puckett, Mauer, Morneau, and others could not.

The longest active streak still belongs to the Kansas City Royals, who have never had a player hit 40 homeruns in a season in the team's 48-season history. The closest was Steve Balboni's 36 in 1985. The Pride of Brockton, Mass, had seven 30-homer seasons in his professional career, fittingly ending with 36 at the age of 36 in 1993. (He and Rob Deer were basically precursors to Russell Branyan - guys who were put on earth to hit homeruns, no matter what level of baseball they were playing). The Royals have a ways to go to catch the Chicago White Sox, who hold the all-time record with 73 consecutive 40-homerless seasons from 1920-92 (I'm not positive, but guessing I used 1920 as my start point), but are within striking distance of second-place St. Louis, who experienced a power outage for 57 seasons from 1941-97.

(My third favorite thing about the Royals' lack of power historically? The Kansas City Athletics never had a player hit 40 homeruns either, which means no one has ever done it for a Kansas City-based MLB team despite a franchise existing there since 1955 (except for a gap year in 1968). Also, for the record, my two favorite things about the Royals' situation is Steve Balboni's mustache and the fact that I used this to springboard into a small paid research opportunity for ESPN The Magazine several years ago.)

The second-longest active streak (and fifth-longest of all-time) now belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not had a 40-homerun hitter since Willie Stargell in 1973, a span of 43 seasons. The only other team without a 40-homerun hitter this millennium is Miami; the last (and only) Marlin to hit surpass 40 was Gary Sheffield in 1996. I keep waiting for Giancarlo Stanton to change that, and he keeps letting me down.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Favorite Movie Quotes, Version 2.1

I used to do a lot of posts here with quotes from my favorite movies. Stuff that spoke to me in some way. Haven't done one in a while - haven't done anything here in a while, if you haven't noticed - but I was watching "A River Runs Through" it tonight* and an exchange between Craig Sheffer's Norman and Brad Pitt's Paul (the brothers Maclean) caught my attention.

*I decided this week that I was going to work on getting to bed earlier, since my children are no longer waking up in the middle of the night and it doesn't make sense to be up so late. So of course, I fell into "A Beautiful Mind" on Monday (with mental health issues a major professional concern of late) and "River" (a longtime favorite) tonight.

Paul: I thought we were supposed to help him?

Norman: How the hell do you help that son of a bitch?

Paul: By taking him fishing.

Norman: He doesn't like fishing. Doesn't like Montana. Sure as hell doesn't like me.

Paul: Yeah. Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.

There was also an incredible, subtle moment near the end that I had never noticed before. Judt before the boys go fishing with their father (played by Tom Skerritt), Norman tells the family that he is planning on accepting a teaching position in Chicago, halfway across the country. Later, on the river, he tells Paul that he plans to ask His girlfriend to marry him, before leaving the water to sit with their father. When he sits down, his father reaches behind him to pat him on the leg, but comes up empty because NormaN is too far away. He looks, sees where his hand was, and touches his leg paternally. He leans over slightly, wanting to be closer to his son, while Norman, content, doesn't move an inch.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Failure

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility.

Ten years ago, I worked for an independent professional baseball team. I started as a public relations intern before moving up to Media Relations Manager after my first season on the job. It was hard work, with a lot of hours at the ballpark, and I wasn't very good at it. This was especially true when it came to the most important component: sales. After less than a year on the job, I was "laid off" the day after the end of the 2004 season.

I had failed before - the occasional bad grade in high school or college, relationships that didn't work out, less than stellar performance at the job that helped put me through college - but never to this magnitude. When I told my mother about the full time position, she had been thrilled. "Your son is gainfully employed!" she told my father.

It occurred to me recently that I had never figured out how to generalize failure. I never saw the loss of a job for what it was, as something on the same scale as those other issues, just bigger and therefore just as possible to overcome. I had graduated with honors despite those occasional bad grades. I had met the woman I would eventually marry despite those other failed relationships. I just needed to pick myself up again and move on.

Instead, my already fragile self-confidence broke. For the next decade, I worked at jobs that rarely required me to take risks. Back Room team member at Target. High school paraprofessional. Direct support professional. Every so often I would talk about wanting more, but it always came down to one thing: no responsibility meant no chance of failure.

Until a year or so ago when I told my boss I wanted to do more. I was a new father for the second time, soon to learn that numbers three and four were on the way, and that sparked something inside me. I was scared of failing at something again, of being proven unworthy, of having ten years of voices in my head by proven right.

But all that was outweighed, for a brief moment at least, by the thought of my children. How could I encourage them to reach high if I myself had given up the first time things got hard? How could I expect them to attempt great things - to attempt ANYTHING - if I was afraid to do the same?

My boss agreed that I was capable of more than I was doing and ultimately offered me a position despite my insistence that others would be better choices, or my descriptions of the myriad ways in which I could fail, or my outward expression of the war between No You Can't and Yes You Can taking place in my head. If you can say nothing else positive in my favor, at least say that no one else in the history of the world has ever tried so hard to talk his way out of a sure thing.

As things were starting to get set up in my workspace, my boss looked around my small office and casually noted that I could decorate however I wanted. The next day I brought in two things that had been in my car, my previous "office": a picture of my wife with all four of our kids and the prayer card from my grandmother's funeral.

The family picture was a no-brainer. My wife has always supported me and told me I'm better than I think I am, and my children are the most important people in the world to me. Those five people are the reason I do anything. I want them close to me.

And my grandmother...there's a story I've told about her many times that only recently struck me for its relevance (this is not an uncommon theme in my life). When I was nine or so, I wanted to learn to ride a bike but had no one to teach me. So the task fell to my Mum-Mum, then in her mid-60s.

We went into her driveway and worked at it, but at some point I started to fall. Though I caught myself, the bike knocked her over. She rolled across the ground and bounced to her feet, laughing and encouraging me to give it another try.

She's gone now, and I've forgotten that lesson too many times. You fall down, you pick yourself up. Something knocks you down, you pick yourself up. As many times as it takes.

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility. People are counting on me. And I am going to fail, most definitely, to varying degrees. And when it happens, I'm going to look at my wife and kids and remember that no matter how poorly I do at work on a given day, their smiling faces and excited yells will greet me when I walk in the door. And I'll look at my grandmother's card, the one with the Irish lullaby on the back, and remember that I need to laugh, pick myself up, and try again.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Best Names of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft took place a couple weeks ago. Every year, I like to look back on the players chosen and pick my favorite names. There's no clear-cut criteria for making the list; it's all about those names that amuse or interest me in some way.


1.      Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (1-35)
2.      Travis Blankenhorn, 3B, Minnesota Twins (3-80)
3.      Trey Cabbage, 3B, Minnesota Twins (4-110)
4.      Demi Orimoloye, RF, Milwaukee Brewers (4-121)
5.      Skye Bolt, CF, Oakland Athletics (4-128)
6.      Kade Skivicque, C, Detroit Tigers (4-130)
7.      Parker French, RHP, Colorado Rockies (5-137)
8.      Jagger Rusconi, CF, Boston Red Sox (5-141)
9.      Ka’Ai Tom, CF, Cleveland Indians (5-154)
10.  Tucker Tubbs, 1B, Boston Red Sox (9-261)
11.  Sarkis Ohanian, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (9-265)
12.  Seby Zavala, C, Chicago White Sox (12-352)
13.  Scooter Hightower, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (15-457)
14.  Nate Gercken, RHP, Minnesota Twins (17-500)
15.  Rock Rucker, LHP, Cincinnati Reds (20-595)
16.  Toller Boardman, LHP, Detroit Tigers (22-670)
17.  James McMahon, RHP, Colorado Rockies (24-707)
18.  Zach Morris, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies (24-714)
19.  Icezack Flemming, RHP, New York Yankees (26-783)
20.  Taylor Hicks, RHP, Detroit Tigers (26-790)
21.  Christian Turnipseed, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (28-853)
22.  Earl Burl III, CF, Toronto Blue Jays (30-902)
23.  C.D. Pelham, LHP, Texas Rangers (33-978)
24.  M.T. Minacci, RHP, Chicago Cubs (33-983)
25.  Jake Peevyhouse, LF, Arizona Diamondbacks (34-1006)
26.  Joeanthony Rivera, LHP, Texas Rangers (34-1008)
27.  Kewby Meyer, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (37-1108)
28.  Rayne Supple, RHP, Chicago Cubs (38-1133)
29.  Bucket Goldby, 3B, Miami Marlins (39-1166)

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Most Bus Leagues Game Ever



Back in 2007, my friend Eric and I started a blog called Bus Leagues Baseball. For five years we chronicled various aspects of minor league baseball: players, promotions, mascots, teams, oddities – anything that caught our attention, really.

Eric and I live several hundred miles apart, but we would get together from time to time to catch a ballgame or two, meetups that I eventually began referring to as “Bus League Summits.” (I have a vague recollection of mentioning a Bus League Summit to Someone Important. They were intrigued by the concept until I was like, “Um, yeah…it’s pretty much just two dudes watching baseball.”) There was the Hall of Fame in 2008, an Orioles game in 2009 (where he was famously harangued by an usher to return to his seat because, “This isn’t general admission – we’re close to a sellout!”, and a Phillies game in 2010. I think that was the last of the Bus League Summits before we shut the site down following the 2012 season.

The last…until now. (Cue dramatic music. No, not that one, the other one. Right. Thanks.)

Eric came up north for a visit last weekend, and after attending a Red Sox-Twins game with my wife and son on Thursday (nothing exciting happened there, unless you count Blake Swihart’s first major league home run and the extremely drunk person behind us in the eighth inning who began profanely telling his friend that he planned on killing someone who said he had poured beer on his head; THIS…IS…BOSTON!), we got down to business on Friday, heading up to Manchester to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a tilt that he ultimately labeled, “The Most ‘Bus Leagues’ Game EVAR!”

One of my professors in college told me that bullet points are lazy writing and should be avoided. Apologies, Professor Frankfurter, but a) it’s late, and b) bullet points and numbered lists are also Bus Leagues Things. So away we go.

1) Food: We were in the ballpark for roughly four minutes before hitting up the concession stands. Eric got a sausage and a beer; I went with a sausage, fries, and iced tea. After enjoying a great sausage at the Sox game I expected to be disappointed by a minor league offering that was somehow almost the same price; it was a pleasant surprise, then, when the Fisher Cats’ version delivered.

2) Prospects: When I emailed my friend and Bus Leagues fanatic Craig Forde to tell him we’d be at this game, he said he wouldn’t be able to make it due to a prior commitment but noted that we would probably get to see Tyler Beede’s first Double-A start. I didn’t know who Beede was and honestly didn’t bother to look him up (that statement would have given 2011 Brian a stroke), though it was obvious that he was somebody since Craig deemed him worthy of mention.

Turns out he was the Giants’ first round pick in last year’s draft. A righthanded pitcher originally from Auburn, Massachusetts, he was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2011 but didn’t sign and ended up attending Vanderbilt, where he won a College World Series championship in 2014. So he’s pretty good, and he just turned 22 on May 23.

Against the Fisher Cats, he was obviously nervous, surrendering hits to two of the first three batters he faced and walking another to load the bases with only one out. A double play ball got him out of the jam, though, and the Fisher Cats did not touch him again. And by “did not touch him,” I mean, “he retired eight in a row before putting a man on with a throwing error, then got seven more outs before walking a batter.” He was, as they say, as advertised (even if I didn’t pay attention to said advertising). In the end, it was seven innings of two-hit, three-walk, four strikeout baseball.

Sadly, Beede’s success meant nothing good for one of my favorite players, New Hampshire’s Ronald Torreyes. My friend Chris laughs at me for how much I love Torreyes, a non-prospect I’ve picked up and released several times in our thirty team fantasy baseball league, and he’s probably right: the Venezuelan infielder is hitting .162 this season (including .098 for the Fisher Cats) and has played for four organizations (Cincinnati, Chicago Cubs, Houston, and Toronto) in six minor league seasons.

So why do I love him so much? Because he’s listed at 5’10”, 150 pounds (but I seem to remember reading at one point that he isn’t even close to that big) and he’s played at the upper levels of every organization he’s been in since he was 20 years old. Maybe he’s a weird sort of organizational filler, a guy who can be plugged in to hit .260 and do little harm. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just like the guy.

Alas, Tyler Beede did not agree with him, to the tune of an 0-3 day at the plate, which means I don’t like Tyler Beede. Sorry, Tyler.

On the bright side, K.C. Hobson hit a home run for the Fisher Cats, which is always fun to see, and a Flying Squirrel named Rando Moreno (I couldn’t figure out how to explain my delight at the fact that his name was Rando M.) went 5-for-5.

3) Seats: At Fenway the day before, Eric and I were crammed in side-by-side (at first; the rest of the row remained empty so we were able to spread out once that became clear), which was awkward considering we hadn’t seen each other in like five years. Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (Nedd’s to its friends…okay, only Craig and I call it that) presented no such problems. When ordering tickets, I correctly assumed that location wasn’t a huge concern; with that in mind, I avoided the sun drenched bleachers in right (you’re literally staring into the sun for a couple innings) and went with the General Admission seats (take that, Biff!) in left field.

When we walked in and determined that it was, actually, first come first serve as far as where we wanted to sit, Eric looked over at me. “I assume up close is good for you?” he said. In actuality, I don’t mind sitting further back and overseeing the action from afar, but when in Rome. He led the way down the steps, to the very front row, and parked himself squarely behind the Richmond bullpen.

For several innings, the banter amongst the pitchers provided us a pleasant alternative to the game, which was quickly out of hand in favor of the visitors. The first inning largely featured commentary on Beede and his struggles. Later, family members and friends stopped by to say hello and steal a few minutes of conversation. A nearby fan inquired about a Frozen backpack on the bench and was told that it belonged to the last bullpen pitcher to surrender a homerun. Someone questioned if “Bum” (I’m assuming Madison Bumgarner) had skipped Double-A; I resisted the urge to lean forward and let them know that I had watched him pitch on that very field several years before, when several of them were likely still in high school.

Midway through the game, a good-natured argument broke out: what year was the movie “Super Troopers” released? Guesses were submitted, but no one knew for certain. Finally, one of the pitchers caught my eye.

“Hey, do you know when Super Troopers came out?”

“Actually, I was intrigued by your conversation, so I looked it up,” I said. “Don’t any of you guys have cell phones?” Eric wondered out loud.

“And…?” the pitcher said to me while another told Eric that the fines for bringing a cell phone to the bullpen is very, very large.

“2001,” I said. Cheers erupted from the pitcher who had guessed correctly, groans from those who had missed.

“This is the most Bus Leagues game ever!” Eric exclaimed.

“I wonder when Barbie Girl came out,” murmured one of the other pitchers, who I had already pegged as the sarcastic cut-up of the group. I wasn’t falling for it, though; a line must be drawn somewhere.

Around the top of the seventh, another pitcher, Stephen Johnson, asked when the weather could be expected to improve, a question that began a half-inning conversation about crowds in Richmond, losing streaks, Eric’s job, and other mindless banter. For him, I’m sure it was little more than a way to pass the time in a blowout game with a couple guys who had been sitting next to him, mostly quiet, for a couple hours. For us, it was just a cool moment in general, one that ended when Johnson realized the entire team was standing at attention and “God Bless America” was starting.

As the game drew to a close, Johnson shouldered the Frozen backpack (the current holder was already in the game, so as the youngest member of the bullpen, Johnson was tasked with bringing it back to the dugout) and wished us well. Eric and I exited the ballpark at the final pitch. The decision not to wait for fireworks, and the cool weather (it had dipped into the sixties, but felt a good ten degrees cooler), saved us plenty of time getting out of the parking lot; minutes later, we were on our way home.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Mum-Mum

1.


One morning when I was almost five, I woke up to find my parents gone. They had left in the middle of the night with my baby sister after she decided to stop breathing. My mother’s mother, who we called Mum-Mum, lived just down the street and had come to stay with me and my older siblings until the rest of our family returned.

After I found her there, probably in the living room reading a book or magazine, she covered the frightening nature of her impromptu visit by pouring me a bowl of cereal, explaining briefly and carefully what was happening, and assuring me that all would be well.  

2.

One evening when I was about eight, we were just getting ready to sit down for dinner when my older sister looked out the window and said, “What’s that?” and a massive thunderclap exploded practically inside our house. A drunk driver had flown down Central Road from the direction of Mum-Mum’s house and scored a direct hit on my parents’ bedroom, knocking it off the foundation and opening a crack in the wall through which I could look up at the ceiling and gaze upon the stars.

Soon the police were there, and the fire department, bringing with them many vehicles with many flashing lights. And, as I sat quietly amid the ruckus and ate my dinner, Mum-Mum appeared, ready to bring my younger sister and I back to her house. We stayed there for two nights while our parents dealt with the logistics of figuring out how to literally put a house back together.

3.

I got my first bike when I was nine or so. Nobody had ever taught me to ride, and our driveway was too short and steep for bike-riding anyway, so it makes sense that I ended up at Mum-Mum’s house to learn, with her large, flat, evenly paved driveway.

One moment stands out. We were out there after school, practicing, and it must have been cool but not cold out because she was wearing a light, grey, hooded sweatshirt. She grabbed the back of the bike and we started to move, but within seconds I was skidding out of control as the back tire kicked out. Somehow I kept my feet, straddling my ride as it fell to the ground beneath me. Mum-Mum wasn’t so lucky; she lost her footing, fell, and did a complete barrel-roll on the ground before springing to her feet, laughing, and getting me ready to go again.

Thirty-four years I knew her, and that’s my very favorite memory: a woman in her late-sixties laughing like a schoolgirl, demonstrating for her grandson exactly how you should respond when something knocks you down.

4.

All of this hit me tonight while I was visiting, of all places, the grocery store. I was walking through the bread aisle, a grown-ass man looking for cookie dough for his wife, when it suddenly got misty enough that I had to pull off my glasses and wipe the tears from my eyes, all the while hoping that anyone who saw me would feel sorry for that poor fellow with the severe allergies.

I found the cookie dough and set about procuring a dessert for myself. I thought about Ben & Jerry’s before eschewing the idea. Who wants to pay five bucks for a pint of ice cream, anyway?

5.

Mum-Mum died on Memorial Day, May 26, just before 9 p.m., with her children and her oldest grandson by her side. Since then I’ve told everyone who asked, and some who didn’t, that it’s okay: she lived a long life, squeezed as much value out of her time here as anyone I’ve ever known, and impacted the lives of countless people. “I’m sad,” I said, “because I loved her and I’ll miss her, but I can’t feel bad.” I told a lot of stories, laughed and smiled a lot, and tried to remember the good times.

I’m not lying when I say that stuff, or putting on some sort of act. I really do feel that way. But if we’re being honest, let me also say this: Mum-Mum’s death has left a giant fucking crater in the center of my soul. I’ve never felt this way before, can’t begin to know how to process it, and have no idea how to fill it.

I had previously lost three grandparents and assorted great-aunts and great-uncles, but no one this close to me has ever died before. That makes me lucky until the first time it happens and my emotional immune system has no way to handle it. How do you come to grips with the loss of someone who did all of those things I talked about above, who took you to the New England Aquarium and Boston Museum of Science, who showed you how to body-surf in the waves at Rye Beach, who lived down the street your entire life, who was always there, who always loved you, who was never supposed to fucking die?

6.

Mum-Mum worked until she was in her late-sixties, but retired when I was about seven or eight, so most of my memories of her are as a woman of leisure, unencumbered by the necessity of having to wake up early every morning and punch a time clock; instead, she seemed to wake up early every morning and wonder what adventures the day held for her.

She traveled the world. She painted beautiful pictures. She had coffee with friends and neighbors. She walked on the beach. She lived life the right way.

We always went to her house for the big holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, making sandwiches from leftover turkey and partaking in whatever snacks and desserts she had prepared. As I remember, she wasn’t a big drinker, but I can still remember her asking if anyone wanted a gin and tonic after dinner (even before I knew what a gin and tonic was). When one of her grandkids wanted a treat, a certain ritual followed: our parents would say no, at which point Mum-Mum would catch our eye and give a nod that said, “Go ahead and have one. I’ll take care of this.” She knew that a good grandmother should be her grandchild’s boldest co-conspirator and greatest ally (and also that she wouldn’t be the one dealing with sugared-up children later on).

We played board games on those nights, mixing it up for years before eventually going almost exclusively with Trivial Pursuit. The true joy of playing that game with Mum-Mum was knowing that no matter what, if she thought she knew the answer to a question, she was going to call it out – even if it wasn’t actually directed at her team.

There was nothing quite like hearing a question, seeing Mum-Mum get excited and start to work her way through the answer, and waiting in anticipation for someone on her team (usually one of her children) to stop her before she could give it away.

At the end of those nights, it was inevitable that she would complain about “Sheridan Long Good-Byes,” which can probably best be described as when you start off by attempting to say good-bye to everyone still remaining at the gathering and end up holding a full conversation with each person. More than once in her final years, I thought to myself that her life was turning into the ultimate Sheridan Long Good-Bye, a drawn-out farewell when all she really wanted to do was call it a night and go to bed.

7.

At her funeral, the priest basically recapped the obituary, telling everyone in the church a bunch of stuff that most of them already knew. Then my brother spoke briefly before our cousin Kate stepped up and delivered a beautiful eulogy that had the entire congregation in tears. Later on, after we went back to Mum-Mum’s house to eat, tell stories, and continue celebrating her life, someone pointed out that as Kate went on, the priest became more and more visibly displeased, apparently trying to will her with his mind to wrap it up already.

This made me think of my favorite Mum-Mum story, one I told at least twice, including shortly after arriving at the funeral home for her wake (it’s not a stretch to say that it kept me from losing my mind that day). When my wife and I were preparing to be married, we had to take a written exam, a compatibility test of sorts, to show that we were serious about the whole idea. Usually, couples take this test, the priest looks at it, they go back and review it with him and all is well. Not us. I did so poorly that we soon had a weekly appointment with Father Kelly, the priest who was to marry us.

Somehow Mum-Mum got wind of this. She had long recommended that her grandchildren forget about getting married and “live in sin”, but if we wanted to tie the knot and some stuffed shirt in a collar was standing in the way of that for no good reason…well, that didn’t sit right.

“If he doesn’t think you two ought to get married,” said my 82-year-old grandmother, “you tell that jackassy priest to come talk to me.”

It’s common knowledge in our family that one of Mum-Mum’s favorite words was jackass, usually directed at other drivers on the road. Still, this was a different level; I’d heard a lot of things, but I’d never heard anyone talk about a priest like THAT before.

I think she might have done it again in reference to the officiating religious figure at her funeral, if given the chance, simply because his behavior warranted it. I do believe I might have to do it for her from now on.

8.

So Mum-Mum is gone now, has been for ten days or so. I keep telling myself it’s for the best – really, it is – but that still doesn’t change that hole in the middle of me, the feeling that I’m now incomplete and will never be whole again. It’s an idea that I fear I don’t have the capacity to fully understand.

Walking around the grocery store, though, turning this over in my head, something occurred to me. When that driver hit our house all those years ago, it pretty much destroyed my parents’ bedroom. My dad ended up taking that room right off of the house – I can still see him and a couple other guys knocking it down with sledgehammers – but never put anything up in its place. I suppose he figured that it was so close to the road that building in that area again would just be tempting fate.

For the longest time, that hole just sat there, a reminder of the near-disaster that our family had endured. Then, over time, something interesting happened: it slowly started to fill in. I think my father would throw dirt and rocks in from time to time, and he may have put a much bigger load in at some point to speed things along, but the point is that it eventually filled up. It’s still noticeable because I know it’s there, and we’ll never forget the reason it looks like that, but there’s dirt and grass and plants and stuff where there used to just be a big hole in the ground.

Maybe I’m the same way. Mum-Mum was a beautiful person that I will never forget, and that piece that her passing carved out of me is never going to be completely filled in. It will never be the same. But gradually, it will begin to hurt less. Old memories, of her and the rest of our family, will start to fill it in; new memories will make it grow. It will never be exactly the same again, but somehow it will be okay. In the meantime, all I can do is pick myself up, laugh, and keep going.

9.

In the end, I knew what I had to do – or, more to the point, what Mum-Mum would have done were she in my shoes. I went back to the freezer section, picked out a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s that I wanted to try, and headed to the checkout.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hospital

On February 8, my wife called from her counselor's office and asked me to bring her to the emergency room. Once there, she made an incredibly brave decision, asking to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of severe depression. I wrote this in the day or two after, when I was alone and scared and had no idea how things were going to turn out. I'm pretty sure I pounded out the last couple hundred words at 4:15 one morning. I had to work in four hours, but getting the words out was important, for my sanity.

While waiting for her to come home and give the thumbs up or down on posting it, I thought about maybe doing some editing, adding more thought and detail and perspective and turning it into a more complete story, a better piece of writing. But my friend Chris, one of only two people I showed, gave me some great advice. He said, "You can't edit feelings." I thought that made sense, so I decided to leave it largely as is, an emotional outburst from a vulnerable moment.


They take her coat. They take her clothes. They take her purse, her belongings, and most of her dignity, and they lock it all in a closet.

She was lucky (or smart) enough to be wearing footwear without laces, so she gets to keep her shoes.

They give her a pair of scrubs, a bed in case she wants to lie down, and chairs that look and feel like they were pulled directly from the waiting room. They pretend to care about her comfort, but that locked closet, the security guard waiting patiently outside the open door, and the signs warning that she is under video surveillance suggest that they’re more concerned with making sure she doesn’t hurt herself.

When it comes down to a choice between taking away her self-respect and keeping her alive, they choose the latter.

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As the observer, you want to question the approach. It feels so cold. You want to explain to them that you know her better than anyone, that the fact that she’s even here means she won’t hurt herself, that she’s not nearly capable of hurting anybody else.

You want to step up and fight for her dignity with a strength that she doesn’t have.

But then you realize that this is the wrong response. Understandable, but wrong. These inconveniences are important because they keep everyone safe. You, her, the hospital staff, the other patients. They’ve seen others like her in their day. They’ve taken in people that would never hurt themselves or anybody else, and then had to stop them from doing exactly that.

And while it’s humiliating to feel like she’s being treated, at her most vulnerable moment, like less than a person, part of the reason you’re there is to remind her – while all these indignities are being imposed and freedoms compromised – that she is still a person, that she still has value, that this too shall pass.

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The hardest part is going home to pack her bag. She gave you a list of things she needs, but she always handles this sort of thing, and this is out of your league, and by the time you’re done half an hour has passed and you’ve reached for the phone at least three times to call her up and ask where things are.

The problem with that, of course, is that her phone is in your jacket pocket, where you put it when she handed it to you before they wheeled her out of the emergency room on a stretcher. They don’t allow electronics where she’s going. You’re told it’s for reasons of privacy, which makes sense, but they also want her to focus on getting better instead of worrying about the phrasing of her next status message. That makes sense too.

It’s not until you actually reach for the phone and start to run through the conversation in your mind – “Hey…where did you say that black t-shirt was? Next to the desk…are you sure, I don’t see it…” – that it sinks in. This is what it could have been like if she hadn’t had the presence of mind to get help, if you hadn’t given her that last little push to be selfish, to stop worrying about everyone else and just focus on herself, on getting better. It sucks to have to make it about yourself, but that’s what it takes to drive the point home: you’ve just walked into a version of the future, a scary version. A version without her.

You have a chance now to make sure it doesn’t happen. You hope you don’t blow it.

It occurs to you that if she dies before you someday – a long, long, long time from now – you will feel this again. And despite that, you find yourself hoping that when the time comes, many years from now, she goes first, because you never want her to feel this kind of desperate loneliness.

That’s when the tears come.

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It only takes a couple days to understand what those folks in the hospital, the ones who deal with this stuff every day, knew all along: self-respect can be rebuilt, retaught, replaced. A person can’t.

She still hasn’t slept, and the med situation is precarious at best, but the lack of stress means she already looks a little bit better. The tears that marked her days for the past two weeks are gone, at least. She’s had visitors, and made a couple of friends, and is intent on completing every puzzle this community room has to offer.

She’s in good hands. She wants to get better. She’s trying to get better. She will get better.

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In a few days, she’ll come home. And that second chance, the one you don’t want to blow?

It’s go time.

Because you have to be honest with yourself: you should have seen this coming. Maybe you did. Maybe you saw the dark clouds forming out there on the horizon, and instead of wrapping her tight in your arms and telling her everything was going to be alright, forcing everything to be alright, you closed up shop and cared only about yourself. It’s an attitude borne of the loner’s life, of a life lived just below everyone’s radar, a life where you’ve never had to be too necessary, never had to care too deeply about anyone other than yourself, because there has always been someone else to worry about it for you.

That mindset protects you, allows you to keep your anger and sadness inside. You thought it protected those around you as well, to an extent, kept them from the worst side of you, kept them from seeing too much of your unhappiness.

You were wrong.

So now, the challenge: to be there, in body, mind, and spirit. To put the computer aside more often and allow for more family time. To remember what you have and how quickly it can be lost. To give her the time and space to find herself, to figure out exactly who she is and what she wants and how she will get it.

To remember what it was like to reach for the phone and know that no matter how many times you dialed the number, there would be no answer.

Maybe you can’t stop the bad things from happening. Maybe this is your life now, dealing with the constant ebb and flow of human emotion, doing your level best to handle each day as it comes. If it is, so be it. It will be a mighty struggle, but it will be worth it.

Together, we will get better.

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