Something went wrong. Horribly wrong. Life-altering and not for the better. It was all very public and very publicized. If you lived in the area at that time, you’ve probably heard about me and my family. The search parties even got some national coverage, though that didn’t help. My wife and daughter are still missing. It’s been long enough, though, that the investigation isn’t open anymore, and the file has been relegated to the bottom of someone’s drawer.
Basically, they’re not going to spend any more time on the investigation unless some big new evidence is introduced. Even then, it would have to be some pretty strong evidence.
I got a long look from the police, from the media. I don’t blame any of them for that. A woman goes missing, you look to the husband. You look hard, even past the time when he looks to be in the clear. No, I don’t blame the police or the papers for doing their jobs. But I could have done without the public or their Johnny Sleuth act. More than once I was stopped on the street and confronted with what the person was sure was a damning piece of evidence or a supposed hole in my story. The only problem with that was the story they were countering was hearsay and not part of my alibi, and as for the evidence, it obviously wasn’t damning, or it wasn’t real, because I had nothing to do with the disappearance of my daughter or my wife.
I cooperated with the police, even though my heart really wasn’t in it. I coordinated search parties even though I knew there wasn’t anything they could do. A guy has to be realistic in situations like this or he risks going insane. And it wasn’t the despondency of the depressed or the resignation that of course this would happen to me. It was a knowledge, a fact-based certainty that Deb and Ella weren’t coming back. They were gone for good and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing anybody could do about it.
I didn’t have them declared legally dead, because I knew they weren’t dead, not in any normal sense of the word, and I didn’t move on with my life -- get remarried or start a new family. I’m not really sure why on that score, beyond maybe a feeling that I didn’t deserve it. Well, that and the hope that fools reach for -- the hope that while there’s life -- a life of a sort, anyway -- there’s hope.
Yes, hope for the hopeless. Hours of research into how I could... I don’t know... make something happen and bring them back, which always turned up the same goddamned dead ends.
Lucid dreams where I would be reunited with them only to have my isolation, my loneliness, my depression shoved into my face like the dream was the taunt of a bully who knew that there was no way I could touch him, tha there was nothing I could ever do to turn these desperate dreams into reality.
And so, my life continued even as it stood still, hovering over that one event, that one period in my life, waiting for some impossible resolution before the scene could change. A pause, pregnant with the hopes of an enrapt audience, one year, two, five, seven, and still I continued, in my job, in my desperate research, knowing it was hopeless.
Until I met the man who told me I could be reunited with my wife and daughter and told me how it might be accomplished. tHis peddler of hope, this snake oil salesman, who would be my salvation, my retribution, but at what cost?
I’m leaping ahead. Let me start at the beginning.
Wherein the protagonist offers to fist-fight the narrator for the rest of his fries
Because fries, you see, are the economy that drives the majority of this story, it is important that you know that John, upon waking, had none of the fries in his possession any longer. In the parlance of the time, John was flat busted broke.
Fortunately for him, though unfortunate for this humble voice in the darkness, on the previous page, John had acquired the Fourth Wall Buster, pulling it off of the corpse of the troll that he'd wrestled to the ground. In desperation, and in hopes of recovering some of his currency, John set off the Fourth Wall Buster and broke through the front panel of the scene.
"What was that?" he asked, staring at yours truly. "Why are you repeating what I say in a fake voice then describing - Cut it out!"
"I am the narrator, the humble thespian provided to guide the reader through this story."
"You have fries. I'd totally fight you for those," he offered, squinting menacingly at the narrator's continued antics. In an effort to stave off the impending pugilism, the narrator extended a fry-encumbered hand toward the protagonist. John took the proffered container of fried goods and returned to his scene, resetting the Fourth Wall Buster and setting the story, once more, upon its correct path.
As the rift sealed, John winced at the narrator's next words:
"Page 3, wherein the protagonist faces certain d-"
So, here we are, at the end of this blog series. I didn't want to be writing this last post on my birthday, but hey, it's getting written, and that's what counts.
It should go without saying, but if I don't say it, I'll always wonder if I should have. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are so many things to be grateful for that I could spend the rest of my life and not reach the bottom of the list. If you're reading this, chances are that you've impacted my life and I owe you my gratitude.
I wasn't planning on posting about my mom and dad together (hence the two different parts) but to me, they are a team, inseparable, so maybe it's better that it end this way.
Mom had charge over a lot of my life, particularly early on. She made sure I had my hair brushed, particularly the back. I couldn't see that in a mirror, so I never thought to run a brush through it. She's the one I went to with my scrapes and bruises, of which there were a lot. I told her before I told anyone else. What, you ask? What did I tell her? Everything. She gave more of her time, attention, and love to me than I could ever repay.
Don't get me wrong, mom could be a hard-ass. If I stepped out of line, it was usually her that put me back on task. I tried to stay on the right side of her because, as with a lot of sons of mothers, I was terrified of her at the same time that I loved her.
I've told a lot of stories about my mom. About how I miss her, about things that have happened to her. Funny stories. I think most of my friends when I was a teenager were scared of her, too.
There is simultaneously not a lot and too much that I can say about what my mom gave to me and did for me. Words feel completely inadequate in the face of that. But they are what I have, so I will keep it simple: Thanks, Mom. Miss you every day.
Dad and I have the kind of relationship that you would expect a father and son to have. Straightforward on the surface, but filled with nuance and subtlety just underneath that.
From my dad, I learned first about how to provide. He didn't tell me outright that it was important for a husband and a father to hold down a job and to do that job well in order to provide for his family. He didn't tell me that because he never had to. I saw it every day, growing up. We never went without. We never missed out. Mom was able to stay home with us until we were in school because Dad provided. Which I also appreciate.
I don't think I would have ever played baseball if it weren't for my dad. My first experience with it was not so good. I was a pretty uncoordinated kid and I would have probably hidden from it after that if it weren't for playing catch with dad and learning the fundamental skills.
Dad also introduced me to golf. I've walked away from the game, but I remember summers with Dad, golfing at least once a week.
There were also other typical father-son things: He took me into Wetaskiwin on his motorbike to get burgers. He taught me how to drive a standard. He supported me in going to university. He steered me away from jobs and careers he thought would be bad for me, essentially guiding me into the life I have now.
I never received differing messages from mom and dad. As a parental team, they were united, or at least that's what I saw. As an older kid and a grown-up, I saw at last how different they were from one another, but taking that long to see it is an indication of how committed they were to raising me without constant conflict between them. That's something that I've striven for as a parent too.
Mom & Dad, I can't really ever repay you for the sacrifices you made to get me to where I am. I can only hope to do as much for my children.
Thank you both so much.
Ok, so like every other one of my #20toX blog series, I’ve fallen behind. How far, you ask? Well, thank you for asking. I really appreciate your concern. The truth is, the blog challenge is supposed to be over by Saturday night. It’s supposed to be 20 TO 40, not 20 while I’m both 39 and 40. So I’m left with a bit of a conundrum. 8 posts. Two days. How to do this? Well, I could bail. That’s always been an option to me, and it’s one that I’ve been more than willing to take when things got more than a little bit uncomfortable. Thing is, I’ve really enjoyed this gratitudes series. I think it’s important to recognize the things I appreciate so I don’t get caught in negativity spirals. Or, I could cut it down to 2 more gratitudes. Those two are incredibly obvious, if you’ve been paying attention. If you haven’t, well, maybe you should search this site for 20to40 and figure it out. That thought is more than a little tempting to me. I have a lot to say about the two people who are the last low-hanging fruit on the list. Or. and I’m guessing you know that this is the way I’m going to go because I’ve left it for last. Yes, that’s right. Two posts. But eight gratitudes spread out over those two posts. Because I’ve got a thought about those six gratitudes, and the idea of banging them out here, with you, on a Thursday night/Friday morning, with the grainy feeling just starting behind my eyes, is filling me with some inspiration.
So, here they are, the best of the rest. I’m going to avoid individual people in this post, so some of these things might seem a little esoteric or a little (or more) out there. Bear with me. Or don’t. I’m sure there’s more Instagram pictures in your feed now than there were when you started reading this. But without any further ado, here is:
It’s beyond obvious to say that, without my body, I wouldn’t even be here. But my appreciation for my body goes far beyond just my presence. Here’s why:
I am the king of bad decisions when it comes to exercise. Kim’ll tell you, I never ease into anything. If I’m going to run, I’m going to go from sitting on the couch seven days a week to 10k runs on a whim. Not a good idea, right? And as I get older, I’m going to seriously have to start thinking about maybe planning these things out better.
I occasionally like to help people move. Or, you know, there is the odd time that a couch has to go from here to there, or a tree needs to be pulled out of the way or something.
And don’t even get me started on sports. Or do get me started on sports. That sounds like fun. So much fun that I’ll go from a complete stop to a full-out sprint down the field/gym/tennis court with no warning.
Yes, I’ve had my share (and probably more) of injuries. A hernia operation has taught me that, while I can probably lift it, it’s not always the best idea to try. And yes, my knees have been known to fill with fluid if I’m less than smart about what I do to recover from punishing them in whatever way I deem appropriate.
But what it boils down to is, my slacker fitness level is high enough so that I don’t pay an extremely high toll to get back in the game. And I really appreciate that.
Sure, this one is a little bit obvious. I mean, I went with body, how could I not go with mind? I’ll accept that criticism, but you have to also accept that this appreciation is as genuine as any other on this list.
Between the years 1994 and 1997, I worked a number of so-called brain-dead jobs. I packaged bleach, I worked an oilfield pipeyard, unloaded uncounted trucks, cut leather, baked donuts, and that’s just some of it. The point is, after high school, I ran from the idea of academics and intellect, hiding from it in a world where I was paid for the strength of my back.
Something, some dissatisfaction, some part of me that cried out against imbalance, drew me, first to writing, then to programming. And hey, guess what. Despite my slightly less-than-average achievements in high school, it turned out that my mind was suited to academics. Don’t let my grade-point average fool you. (Not that I’ll tell it to you.) I learned a whole pile of things in University. It’s funny how little of programming that I use in my job I learned there, but so many critical thinking skills, logic, problem-solving, I soaked it in when I was down south, and, low grades or no, I got what I wanted out of my time in post-secondary, and it’s far more than just that piece of paper I’ve never quite managed to hang on the wall.
The fact is, my mind is the reason I was able to buy a home. It’s been the instrument I’ve used to make my living for more than thirteen years, and, along with all the other wonderful things my mind has for me, including story ideas, mid-nineties NFL quarterbacks, basically the entirety of the Wheel of Time series, I can’t rightly say how much I appreciate my mind.
Edmonton and Lethbridge, I’ve had my share of roommates. No, I don’t mean you, James. You’re a roommate in a totally different way. Jake, Sean, Daryl, Brad, Dylan, the Surbers. All of them put up with my habits, my tics, my musical choices, my odd hours, my less-than-stellar track record for picking up after myself, and the creaking of my omnipresent wicker chair. Thank you all for the gift of your company, your friendship, your forbearance, and, in a couple of occasions, your family and your home. Though my heart was not always wholly with me (usually, it was in Leduc), you all made it a little easier to bear.
What can I say about music that you don’t already know? I grew up with music. There’s a soundtrack to my life, and at any time, a song can start up, and I’m rewound to a different scene in my life, just whisked away there in my mind, usually back to my parents’ house in Leduc, or the bleach factory, or Lethbridge. There are so many memories tinged with nostalgia that all tie back to music. The song, the one song I can’t seem to remember for the life of me, that my mom used to practice at the piano while I sat beside her because I couldn’t fall asleep and I was keeping my brother awake. God, how that infuriates me, the one time my memory fails me. Fur Elise, and how Lily hammered away on that song to perfect it for her recital in December, while I worked at the desk on the other side of the room. I’m sure that song will pull me back into this very room, poof, just like magic.
I won’t necessarily always remember where the music took me, when I get older, and my faculties start to fade, but the music will be there.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’ll try again. I wasn’t what you would call popular back in the day. I had some friends, usually Rob, and I had some activities, but from the time I read The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis, The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, and The Source of Magic by Piers Anthony, my course was set. Now, I have friends. I have more activities than I have time for. I have a million little distractions through my days that seem to conspire to rob me of any free time, but I am true to my course. I still read as much as I can, and my love affair with books in general, and two of those three books in particular, remains undimmed.
Family, extended and otherwise, friends, acquaintances, social media connections. I’m not going to lie. I am a very rough slab of granite. I mean to say that I have a lot to learn and some very rough edges to smooth out. If I’m a work in progress, let’s just say that I’m still early in the process. But through my earnest desire to improve, and the sometimes less-than-subtle efforts of My Village, I’d say I’m coming around. Social issues, parenting, feminism (which is starting to feel like it shouldn’t even be a term, just the way that people are), privilege, labeling - both good and bad - I’m learning.
I won’t pretend that I understand why some things are more right than others, but I’ve learned to trust people who have been there. I’ve learned that when something someone says makes me feel bad, it’s more likely to be because, oh shit, I’ve been doing that or, oh shit, I haven’t been preventing that, rather than the idea that someone is lying to make me feel bad.
I know that I’ve got it good. Probably just about as good as it gets. I have food, a house, money, influence, and all the privilege of a white boy in Canada. Which, by the way, should be a saying. But I understand that I have it as good as I have it because of people who help me to be accountable, who are probably more patient than I have a right to expect.
I appreciate all of you, even (and maybe especially) when I feel like an idiot. Life’s a process, and when I finally feel like I’ve got it all figured out, I’m guessing that’ll be the time when I have to look a little harder.
I don’t have any memory of a life when I didn’t know Robert Leddy. Playing with him was fun before I even had a concept of friendship. Hell, he helped me DEFINE friendship.
Years of calling his house to see if he was home before sprinting out the door and knocking on his door, probably before the phone was all the way hung up. I think he lived a six-second sprint from my house, though I never officially timed it.
It started out with just playing, imagining, doing the things that little kids did. Then it grew. Cards in his parents’ motorhome. Intellivision, trampoline wrestling, miniature painting, nintendo, dungeons and dragons. You name it, and we did it.
I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I was the nerd, picked-on, left-out. Except for a very small circle of friends, which always included Rob.
We haven’t spent a lot of time together, recently. The end of Scouts for my family definitely put a halt to that. But I do think about him a lot. And I want him to know how much I have appreciated his friendship -- A friendship that is well into its fourth decade.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I'm guessing that old chestnut came from somewhere more poignant than the Zorro movie with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins, but that's where I know it from.
Gustavo came onto the online banking team a couple months after I joined it. He was flashy. He commanded attention. My boss had brought him over from another company because he trusted that Gustavo could do the job.
On a team very top-heavy with experienced developers, Gustavo still managed to stand out. He had incredibly strong opinions about code quality, and he helped me to pay attention to things like that. He helped me understand that coding isn't just guessing and then testing. That it was possible to understand the language enough so that you would know what happened even before you coded it. I didn't reach that level of mastery until after my Java training in the spring of 2008, but I saw that it was possible, and I saw the kind of developer I wanted to be.
I haven't seen Gustavo since 2008, though I've been reminded of him by some very passionate developers. I hope he's doing well out on the West Coast.
I haven't thought about Rex Forsyth in probably more than ten years. I mean, it's reasonable to expect he might have floated to the back of my mind on occasion. After all, I do sit like him, leaned all the way back in my chair.
But the impact that Rex had on my life is measured less in the things that he did for me or the windows that he opened than it was for his confidence.
First year of university ended in a whimper (much like the blog series I was writing about it last year). I sucked at all my courses in the second semester, and I figured that if I was going to spend my time being brainless and wasting my time, I could do it without paying for the privilege.
During my year off, I had a lot to think about. I thought about time-wasting, I hated myself for a good portion of it, and I worked my tail off to try and understand what had been my nemesis in that semester: object-oriented programming. Polymorphism, multi-inheritance, inheritance at all, for that matter. They all stymied me. But one thing kept me thinking southward, and that was the quiet confidence that Rex had shown in me.
He never said anything as outrageous as, "Liam, you were born to be a programmer." That would have been cheesy, and it was even hard to type. But he aggressively recruited me to join the programming contest -- I wouldn't participate in my first year, but he made darn sure I was helping out, running back and forth between the programmers' room and the judges. He wanted me to see how the contest worked, I think, because he had confidence that I could be a contributing member of the team. And he always had nice things to say, like, "See, I knew you'd come up with that solution." I figured that if someone like Rex could have that much faith in me, could think I was a programmer that was worth recruiting, maybe it wasn't such a mistake to pursue Computer Science after all.
My career, which nearly ended before it began, thanks you, Rex, as do I.
I know I've mentioned Coach Campbell on this blog before. I'm not sure if it was before the holocaust of 2012 or not, but even if his name is still kicking around here somewhere, it bears repeating.
Coach Campbell single-handedly destroyed my scouting career with promises that I'd be allowed to strap on the football pads and hit some people. I've never been much driven to violence, with a few exceptions, but the idea of a sport where my size wouldn't be a liability, but instead an asset, was sufficiently compelling for me to drop any ideas I'd been formulating about asking my parents to let me back into Scouts in favour of begging them to let me play football.
I think pre-football me was a little perplexing to my parents. I mean, I was okay at some things. I was reasonably intelligent. But I never really tried at anything. Physically, I was a lump. I avoided physical activity in my pre-teen-hood as much as I'd embraced it before. I'd tried out karate, but it hadn't stuck. I did a lot of swimming until some bullies at the pool curbed my enthusiasm for that. So, what to do with a kid that is just kind of there, taking up space?
Well, when he asks, quivering with wanting it so bad, to play football, I suppose you go and sign the boy up.
And I did want it. I mean, I wanted to learn karate, too, but I was mostly just going along because my friend Rob was signed up. But with football, I didn't have any friends going in, I didn't even know anyone involved. And when I got there, everyone seemed a lot bigger, and a lot less friendly than me. I was the last one in line, and all the bags for equipment were used up. Coach Campbell, probably thinking he was looking at some kid who'd give up in a week, gave me a partially-full garbage bag and told me to empty it into the dumpster. I could take my equipment home in that and then put it into a new bag when I got home.
I felt like an idiot, but I did it. I spent a lot of that first week or two feeling like an idiot, but doing as I was told. A lot of team mates weren't friendly, and I had a really hard time separating out football hitting from my suspicions that they didn't really care for me. Probably they didn't care for me. I found out later that most of them went to the same school, and were friends. They probably didn't like the idea of some fat kid they didn't know potentially taking away a position from someone they did know.
But I persisted. I think Coach Campbell liked that I was willing to work. I know he liked my hands because he made me the starting centre. I didn't think about that much at the time, and haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it in the interim, but it was a pretty big deal to be trusted with the starting job at arguably the most important position on the line. Maybe not in college or the pros, where you trust your centre like you trust your bike chain -- it works until it doesn't then you replace it -- but a twelve-year-old being trusted to handle the ball on every play isn't a cut-and-dried proposition. For that first year, though, all the way up until my rookie season was cut short by a car accident, I played every play on offense, never fumbled a snap, and got the ball into the punter and holder's hands every time.
I appreciate Coach Campbell for more than just giving me a shot, for more than just giving me the ball on game day and saying, "Don't fuck this up." Because of Coach Campbell, I have a love of sports that took a fat, lazy kid and put muscle on his frame, taught him about the joy of competition, and instilled in me a love of sports that has stuck with me to this day.
I think Coach had a hard life, though he never talked about it. I won't pretend to know all the details, and I won't make any up. I won't do a disservice to Coach like that. But I think he got real joy out of watching us play the game that he planned for us, that he, in his time, played so well, and that he loved as purely as I've ever seen anyone love anything.
Rest in peace, Coach, and thank you.
Sunday was Sibling Day. I figured I would play catch-up by showing my appreciation for my brother and my sister.
Meghan does a lot for the family. There's just too much to list. She took care of my mom when she got sick, she kicks my ass when I'm an idiot, and so much more.
Since I shared a story about my brother, I figured I'd do the same with my sister. I didn't have anything prepared, so I'm kinda throwing this together on the fly.
The thing I remember most fondly with Meghan -- and this is probably fitting because it's in the same vein as jumping ramps with my brother -- is throwing the ball around. Meghan and I played on a slow-pitch team with my dad, but even before that, we used to spend time throwing the football back and forth.
I don't know why this is such a great memory for me, but it was uncomplicated. You throw, you catch. You throw, you drop it, or the other person throws it over your head, you go get it, you throw it back. there never really was any room for fighting. No pointing fingers. No "You threw that over my head on purpose." We would just do it, and it was fun.
Meghan had (probably still has) a heck of an arm. I think she liked throwing it more than catching it. Catching always involves a certain measure of pain, and until your hands toughen up and you learn not to point anything at the ball that you don't want broken off, it can suck. But with Meghan, I never had to throw the ball underhand or anything like that. I could throw it - not full force, but a regular throw - and she would catch it. Sometimes it would hurt, sometimes she'd swear, but she wouldn't shy away from the next catch. She'd just put her hands there and catch the thing.
As much as she was willing to catch the ball, though, she was more interested in throwing it, I think. And in that, she was more consistent than I was. Even though I practiced more, I'd throw wide more often than she would.
I miss throwing the ball with my little sister.
Sunday was Sibling Day. I figured I would play catch-up by showing my appreciation for my brother and my sister. There's a lot I could say about my brother, how he helps my not burn my house down with electrical advice, how he gave me a car when mine died, how he destroyed a crib board to avenge the untimely death of my first copy of A Game of Thrones. But I won't embarrass him by enumerating his many virtues. Instead, I'll share something I wrote a couple of weeks ago:
When we were kids, my impossibly older and cooler brother and I used to practically live on our bikes. Everyone in our neighbourhood did, from the creep who moved in down the street and used to pester my sister to the head banger across the street who sang ina band and ended up hitting me with his car. There wasn’t really much else to do and mom promoted the bicycle way of life because it got us out of the house and out of her hair.
Maybe Sean and I were a rarity, or maybe everyone’s dad had short pieces of lumber and small pieces of plywood hanging around. I don’t know. All I know is Sean sure knew how to build a kick-ass ramp. Hour after hour, in the early-80s-polaroid Instagram filter of my youth, we’d launch ourselves, trying to catch the most air. Trying to settle on if it was better to land on both tires at once or the back tire first. It was clear that landing on the front tire first was for amateurs. And we got good at it. No, we weren’t pining for the X-Games or whatever came before the X-Games because I don’t think they existed back then. And there was no sibling politics, no rivalry. Back then, that was one of the few activities where Sean and I actually got along, because it was just the bike and the ramp, and landing both tires at the same time.
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