July 29, 2015

I know last time I said I would write about Ryder, but I should have written this post a very long time ago. I had intended to so many, many times, because this date is now one of the most important in my life, and it should have been acknowledged by now. Bear with me, because it’s a long one. But we wiill start with Ryder.

You all know Ryder. Ryder was about five and a half at this point, and he was very excited to become a big brother. We have a video clip somewhere of his reaction when we told him Julee was pregnant, and you should see the joy in his face. If I can ever track it down again after multiple phones and who knows how many backups, I’ll re-post it. It’s lovely.

So Ryder was onboard for a sibling. He was, however, very adamant that he did NOT want a sister. He had to share a bedroom with his new sibling, and he couldn’t handle the thought of there being anything pink in there. A man can only take so much. So, even though we kept Ryder’s own gender a secret from ourselves, we had the OB tell us this time around so we could warn him upfront. The gods showered their favor on him and blessed him with a little brother. Ryder sighed with relief, and then we got down to the business of choosing a name.

P.S.: I am totally in favor of not finding out the sex of your baby beforehand. Yes, I know, it can help you pick colors, blah blah blah, but there are very few true surprises in life, and I feel like this one is worth it. Anyway.

Julee had veto power last time due to the more than slightly harrowing circumstances of Ryder’s own birth, but the name had more or less been decided by the day, and when the time came, I was simply grateful for the good news and could care less about something as trivial as the kid’s name. Like I said, we had no idea whether we were having a boy or a girl the first time around, so we tried to be prepared either way. A girl’s name was easy, but a satisfying boy’s name was elusive. Finally, though, we settled on Ryder Quinn, Julee more than me, but again, on the day, it worked just fine. Julee graciously acknowledged her win for the first kid, so I got a little more pull with the second one. “Duncan” had been on my list for boys’ names forever, and Julee had it as a family name somewhere along the line, so that one worked pretty well. I had also always loved the name Jude, and Hey, Jude is my favorite Beatles song, so that one was my top pick. It took a little work for Julee, but eventually she came around. Ryder, however, was opposed to “Duncan” for reasons known only to him. His own personal preference was to name him “Argentina Neptune” – don’t ask where that came from. However, we won that fight by telling him that he could have Dunkin Donuts on the day of his brother’s birth. It was the perfect bribe, and “Duncan Jude” was settled on.

Duncan was due on September 5, and all preparations were made for the date. My mom and dad both planned trips out here to meet the new little guy, and we replaced Ryder’s regular bed with a massive loft bed with drawers built in so the two boys could share the tiny bedroom in our house at the time. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until July 29.

Julee was going for her final ultrasound that day, and we all went along so Ryder could hopefully see it as well and get a first glimpse at the new addition. He was super excited and felt pretty grown up. At the OB’s office, though, Julee’s blood pressure was abnormally high. It’s usually extremely low, bordering on non-existent, so this was unusual, and it wasn’t the first time during the pregnancy that it had been elevated above even the normal range. She also hadn’t felt much movement in recent days, and she’d been feeling unusually queasy lately as well. She hadn’t really had any morning sickness with Ryder, nor in the early stages of this one, but lately…. The OB was concerned, so she started searching for a fetal heartbeat.

She couldn’t find one.

Within seconds, Ryder and I were rushed back to the waiting room, where we spent the next hour or so with no idea what was happening. Finally, the OB came out and told me that we were having a baby TODAY. This was five and a half weeks before the due date, which meant that Duncan’s lungs were likely not fully formed yet. It was risky, but she knew that if we took him out that day, they could intervene in numerous ways. If we waited until he was full term… who knows? She had no idea what was going on in there, and the only way to know for sure was to deliver. NOW.

This was at 4 in the afternoon. Julee was going to deliver by C-section within the next few hours, and I had to be there at the hospital as well. So I got to work. I started making all the necessary calls. My mom immediately rescheduled her flight for the next day. Ryder ended up spending the night with one of his buddies, and I packed a bag for Julee to stay in the hospital for the next couple of days. I called all the close family and friends, and I prepared myself as best I could.

I knew more of what to expect this time around, since Ryder had also been delivered by a surprise C-section, but the stakes were much higher this time around. We wheeled into the room, and everything went as planned. And then they lifted Duncan up above the sheet, and I could see the fist-sized knot tied in his cord.

My heart dropped. I knew what oxygen deprivation usually meant for a fetus. Brain damage. I thought we could either be facing a lifetime of permanent disability or possibly planning a funeral. I was scared during Ryder’s delivery, but this was a completely new sort of dread. The OB and her team rushed him to the side table to get him breathing, which took several minutes and during that time every nightmare thought possible raced through my head. Finally, though, they got him to start breathing, but it was weak, and they knew they would have to provide support. Also, as soon as he started crying, he peed blood.

A second wave of terror washed over me. What was going on?? They rushed him out of the room and began doing the really hard work of keeping him alive. Julee was moved to recovery, and the attending doctor started interrogating me on family history of kidney issues. Those of you who know me well know that I only have one kidney – my left one was removed when I was three months old due to some serious problems I was having. Another story for another time, but right now it was relevant. The hospital Duncan was born in was small and didn’t have a NICU, so Duncan was going to have to be moved immediately. The larger hospital in nearby Pasadena had more resources. So, while Julee came down from the drugs, I made all the calls again, and they prepped him to be moved by ambulance.

This is Duncan’s first photo. I still have it on my phone to this day, and I’ll never delete it. Tube down his throat, electrodes stuck all over him, Duncan was sealed inside a plastic cocoon for his ride. We were only able to touch him once before they had to rush him away. I followed the ambulance in my car while they moved Julee to a private recovery room. Once Duncan arrived at Huntington, they had to infuse him with blood because of the loss from what he was still peeing out. If you’ve never seen this, it’s yet another parental nightmare. They had to insert a needle into his scalp. I was told his lungs hadn’t fully formed yet, and he would definitely need positive breath support for several days. Basically, a tube into his lungs to gently push air into them and help his still-developing and very weak diaphragm pull air in. Gravity would help him breathe out, but he needed help to start. He was also jaundiced and would need the bilirubin light for a while as well. I was told to go home and get some sleep. Come back in the morning, and they would update me as needed.

The fun continued the next day. When I got there, they told me that the blood in his urine was from damage to his kidneys and the adrenal glands on top of them. In fact, at that moment, they weren’t even sure his adrenals were developing at all. Plus, his kidney function was extremely low. I won’t go into the specifics, but essentially they were worried that his kidneys might never work properly.

I watched him tan under the bilirubin light for a while, and then I shared the news with all the relatives and peeps and went to the other hospital where Julee was recovering. She wasn’t gonna wait aroudn to see him. She hadn’t even held him yet. Less than a full day after having a C-section, Julee dressed and walked out of that hospital on her own two feet, and I drove her to Huntington. She walked into the NICU under her own power, and we were all together again. Except for Ryder, who would have to wait for a few more days to see him.

Preemies are usually much smaller than full-term babies, understandably. They can often have health issues their entire lives. and seeing a ward full of super tiny humans is a humbling thing. But Duncan was a MONSTER. at five and a half weeks early, this kid weighed almost SEVEN POUNDS. He dwarfed all the other babies in the NICU. Had he gone full term, he probably would have weighed around ten pounds. Julee literally would have given birth to a bowling ball with hair. He was a beast. And apparently, a strong one. They kept the breath support for about five or six days, if memory serves, but eventually the tube came out. His jaundice improved within about that same time, and all signs were good. Except that he was still peeing blood. They couldn’t figure out exactly where it was coming from.

After a week in the NICU he was moved into a private room for closer observation, and while it lessened, the blood was still there. His kidney function was low, but steadily climbing, even with the blood. But, after about nine days, they seemed to think he would be okay. We had begun to relax, thinking he would be home soon. Then, on Day Ten, the doctor on his case called me and told me they were moving him immediately to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. After another ultrasound they suspected he might have a blood clot in his inferior vena cava, which was very bad news. Huntington was good, but they weren’t as good as CHLA. CHLA is one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world, and if anyone could help him, they could.

Another ambulance ride, more waiting, more terror. Duncan got to CHLA, and within an hour he was seen by a pediatric urologist. This dude was the biggest bro I had ever met. He was one of the best, and he knew it. As we waited in terror, he strolled in and told us nonchalantly that it was probably no big deal. It could be a blockage in his urethra, it could be this, it could be that, whatever, bro. It was the most Dude-California doctor experience we’d ever had, and it wasn’t exactly comforting. Doctor Bro left, and then we saw the nephrologist, Dr. Lemley. Lemley was fantastic. We todl him about what Doctor Bro told us, and he smiled and said, “Ah, yes, Doctor Bro. He’s a great urologist. But this is a kidney issue, and I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

In a nutshell, the lack of oxygen had manifested in damage to the kidneys instead of the brain, and the blood was essentially just scabbing from where his kidneys and adrenals were healing. We had very little to worry about in terms of immediate health. He was going to be okay. OH, and it had nothing to do with my own kidney history. Just a weird coincidence.

Duncan spent another week at CHLA, and during that time the bleeding stopped, and his kidney function improved. Julee spent a couple of nights there in the most uncomfortable hospital couch-bed in existence, but we were so close that we just drove down every day. After that week, he came home.

Dr. Lemley’s diagnosis wasn’t all sunshine. He told us that, although the initial damage was healing, it probably meant that his kidney function could be impaired permanently. It all depended on the number of nephrons in his kidneys, the little filters that everyone has that do the work. Nephrons apparently vary in number – the more you have, the better your kidneys are. There was no way to predict how many nephrons his kidneys had, because they would continue to grow as he grew, and all we could do was monitor them until adulthood. Lemley told us that we could probably expect him to need a kidney transplant by the time he was an adult. But, we wouldn’t know until we knew. Not the best news, but it was better than the way we felt two weeks earlier.

We saw Dr Lemley every week, then every two weeks, then every month, then every two months, then every three months until Duncan was about eighteen months old. At that point, he told me that somehow Duncan’s kidneys had fixed themselves. He’d never seen anything like it, and all of the staff referred to him as a miracle baby. He had healed himself with no intervention from an injury that was likely to have lifelong effects. Amazing. He’ll continue to be monitored until he’s eighteen, but now it’s every two years, and so far he’s fine. We went from worrying that he might not survive the night to a perfectly healthy baby boy. SCIENCE!!!

Life with Duncan Jude continues to have its challenges. There’s plenty of work to do to help him develop and grow, but man, is he strong. He’s very big for his age, just like his brother was and just like his father was. He’s whip-smart and precocious. He’s also stubborn, and that’s probably what saved him as a baby. He’s a fighter, and that will only help him overcome whatever obstacles he’ll face as he grows. And being autistic, he’ll have them. But I think he’ll be okay.

Now, the big question: did his birth trauma cause his autism? The answer: who the fuck knows? it doesn’t really matter, except maybe from a scientific point of view. But it’s done, and all we can do is help him figure it out. And he’s still a miracle baby, even when he’s a pain in the ass.

As of this writing, he’s currently dancing to “Zombies Want Your Candy” by the inimitable Parry Gripp, a kids’ musician who is now my mortal enemy. He’s playing with the dog and splashing in the spa because it’s hot outside. He’s come a long way from the baby in the plastic bubble.

Oh, and Ryder finally got to see him and hold him after that first week in the NICU. Here’s a picture of that. And the joy is still there.

P.S.: Ryder got his donuts, as promised.

Back in the Saddle

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

Apparently, once I fall of the wagon, I fall hard. I’ve had numerous ideas for posts in the last couple years, even started banging out early drafts of a few of them, and never got around to finishing them. I’m looking at them just below the box I’m typing in, wondering if any of them are worth finishing at this point, since they’re largely dated. No idea. May go back and give each of ’em a once-over just for the sake of it, and maybe save anything promising.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

I carry a notebook around with me most of the time so I can jot down thoughts and ideas, nuggets of inspiration and whimsies, and, since most of the time my hands are full of baby these days, the notebook doesn’t get much use. The spine, stiff from lack of stretching, desperately in need of some book yoga to loosen it up, get it feeling like a BOOK again. I used to be really good at scrawling random musings in a notebook. Even had one where I played with the format of HOW I wrote all the time, writing upside-down, solely around the edges of the page, spiraling into the center. The kind of shit you do in your twenties that you think makes you “edgy”.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

I spend more time writing posts on Facebook, ranting about politics (which I did this very morning) or making amusing comments on the latest Onion article (a venerable, worthy institution, one for whom I would love to write someday if I could only remember how to be that funny). I do, apparently, make several friends’ day with my efforts, so it’s not a total loss. But I’m not really saying anything, not generating any thoughts of my own.

All that’s about to change.

Don’t worry, I’m still gonna post articles from the Onion, because they’re funny as hell and some of the most painfully accurate satire there is these days. Can’t live without that. But I’m losing my own voice, and I can’t have that. So that’s why I’m repeating this little mantra.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

That’s my challenge to myself. Whatever it is, write it. This blog. Plays. Screenplays. Prose, Poetry. My own brilliant satire, whenever I come up with some. Turn the goddamn TV off and write. Put the kids to bed and write.

Oh yeah, I have two kids now. Pretty much anyone who follows this blog is already aware of that. One’s asleep in his crib right now, and the other is outside playing with his dart guns, so I’m stealing a few minutes to get to it and write. I love my boys so much it hurts, but they’re a lot of work, and it makes it hard to do the other work that matters to me, too. But

I’ve always tended to be pretty stream-of-consciousness when I write; too much structure up front stifles me, and if I know exactly were I’m going at the end, I often lose interest in getting there. But, I live in Los Angeles now, and scripts need to be tight, well thought out, and usually of a certain length. I ain’t too old to learn new tricks. So, my professional work is gonna be tightly plotted (with room for improvisation and inspiration), and the other stuff – like this blog – is gonna wander.

But I’m still gonna talk about the things that inspired this whole blog-like thing: I’m a dad, I’m a men, I’m a lot of things, and I’m gonna continue to explore them and write about them. Fatherhood, manhood, guns, movies, fart jokes, books, Star Wars, sex, comedians, politics (once in a while, if I can keep the vitriol down). Anything and everything. and beer. DEFINITELY beer. I’m turning this blog into my little notebook that I thought was so cool. And, I’m gonna start writing in that notebook again, when my hands aren’t full of baby. Damn, he’s big.

I ALSO wanna take a moment to recognize all the new fathers I know from the past year. Whatever was in the water, we all drank it, and DAMN, there are some amazing new creatures in the world because of all of us gettin’ naughty. Congrats to Eric, Dan, Kahlil, Colin, Jonathan, Joey Bag-o-Donuts. I know there’s more, and I apologize for not being able to remember your names right now, but , as you all know, baby brain ain’t just for women anymore. Welcome to the brave new world of raising a responsible human being. You’re about to earn your grey hairs.

I ALSO wanna open up this forum to all the dads I know, new and old, and invite you post your own musings on manhood with me on this page. Basically, let’s start talking about it together. I’m happy to moderate, if anyone’s interested. If not, I feel ya, I’m tired all the time, too. But I’d love to hear from you. No rules on content, format, whatever – you wanna write a play about being a dad, bring it. I’ll post it. Whatever’s on your mind. If you’re so inclined, this is a place to let it all rip. I’m sure you’ve got something to say, so let me know if you want to say it here.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

If we keep it up, sooner or later we’ll write something worth reading.

 

P.S.: Next time, I’ll write about my new baby boy. Stay tuned….

The Flood

So I’ve been planning to restart this blog for a while now, and I was about to post this on Facebook as a status update when I realized just how long it was going to be. I figured this was a better place for it.

Fellow Nashvillians have been posting the story from the Tennessean about today being the anniversary of the 2010 flood, and I thought I’d share my own experience of that weekend. Hard to believe that was five years ago.

This is what I remember about the flood:

On Saturday, May 1, I attended a meeting of the Board if Directors for People’s Branch Theatre, the small company I was Artistic Director for, at which we voted to shut the doors on the company. We met at the offices of a board member on Nolensville Road between Antioch and Brentwood, and the rain has already begun to pour. As we wrapped up our meeting and headed out, reports were already coming in about washouts along I-24, the exact corridor I would need to use to get back home. I decided to take what I would later come to find out (after living in LA) are called surface roads, following Nolensville Road all the way back into town to the I-40/I-24 junction and Lebanon Road, which I then took to McGavock Pike and all the way into my neighborhood off of Pennington Bend. The rain never let up that entire day and most of the next.

Sunday morning, May 2, the rain finally abated, and Julee and I loaded our six-week-old son into his carseat and took a drive around our area to see what shape it was in. Keep in mind, we lived right off of the Cumberland, and we were aware that downtown was already getting dangerously high (in fact, downtown may have already suffered some of the flood damage; I can’t remember exactly). We drove down by the river behind us to the boat inlet, and at that point in time, while much higher than normal, the water level was still a good twenty feet below the surface line. Two Rivers Golf Course had been pretty much submerged, and we were in awe of what had happened. We returned home with little more thought about it, glad that the worst seemed to be over. However, we kept the news on all day as weather reports continued to come in.

As the day wore on, reporters continued to talk about rising water levels in downtown, and that there was still more to come. Julee began to ask whether or not we should consider packing a bag and heading out, but I honestly did not believe anything would happen. That evening, as it began to get dark, Julee received a phone call from another employee at the Nashville Children’s Theatre who happened to live in the subdivision next to us that they were being evacuated from their home due to rising water levels on the Cumberland. They had two small children of their own and had just moved to Nashville from Atlanta, so they had no family in town, and they wanted to know if they could possibly stay with us for the night if necessary. We said sure, expecting them to come over soon if the worst happened. I still believed we were safe in our house.

Within a few hours, police cruisers were circling thru out neighborhood advising residents to leave their homes, as the river had rested its banks and was continuing to rise. Our colleague’s neighborhood had already been evacuated, and her home was several feet under water.

Our son was six weeks old.

We quickly packed clothing and some essentials into both of our cars – computers, valuables, photo albums. I moved some other electronics upstairs into the upper bedrooms to minimize whatever damage I could, and we loaded our two dogs and our son into our cars and headed out of the neighborhood. Our next door neighbors had decided to stay, and he told me he would check in with me as the night wore on.

We lived in Donelson, and my mother lives in Hermitage off of Old Hickory Lake, so we tried our best to get to her home, but Lebanon Road was shut down due to flooding at Central Pike. We couldn’t get to her at all. I knew she was safe (thank god for cell phones), but we were suddenly stuck with no place to go. The only friend we could get in touch with lived in Madison, and he welcomed us to come for the night. The only problem: it meant driving over the Cumberland. With no choice, we headed in that direction. Thankfully, due to the large shipping traffic, the bridges over the Cumberland are very tall, so there was no chance of the bridge itself washing out. As we crossed, however, we were astounded (and rightly terrified) to see just how much the water had risen. It’s hard to describe, because it just seemed overwhelming. But you’ve seen the pictures on the news, and I have no doubt there will be stuff about it all day long. You remember it, too.

Anyway, we made it across the river and to our friend’s home without incident, and we slept poorly that night. The next morning, we went the back way along Old Hickory Blvd to my mother’s house, and we stayed there for the next several days. I was working on a project with Tennessee Repertory Theatre (now Nashville Rep – things change in five years), and since our neighborhood was on the way back to my mother’s house, I decided to stop and see what had happened. I still have the footage from that visit on my camera.

Our house was fine. Perfectly fine. It sits on a small knoll, and the ground behind us was purposely constructed as a large ditch for runoff in case of such an event, and the ground sloped away from us on the other side of the street. The water came up around our block on both sides, but the ditch and the knoll ensured that, even if the water had risen to that level, it would have run off on the other side, and the worst we would have suffered would have been flooding of our crawlspace. We got lucky. The people behind us had at least three to five feet of water in their homes. Our next door neighbor was also fine, and he was extremely good-humored about it all. From the upper bedroom window in our house, I shot footage of our backyard, only the very back corner of which had any water in it at all. Like I said, lucky.

But here’s what I remember most, and I have the footage to back it up: two men in a small fishing boat cruising up and down the streets of our neighborhood, trying to help anyone they could. Our neighborhood has a boat parking lot, and these two guys and other like them pulled their boats out and got to work. I heard they had pulled someone down from their roof and brought them out to dry land. It was incredible.

And, of course, this happened all over the city. Thousands of people got busy helping each other out, however they could – rescuing others from danger, tearing out ruined wallboard and insulation, trying to save whatever possessions they could. I helped a neighbor around the block whom I had never met do this to his house along with what seemed like every other person on the block. I loaned him my extension cords for the fans he used to try and dry out his crawlspace, and I learned later when he brought them back that he and his wife had moved into the neighborhood at the same time we did. They had, in fact, looked at our house, and since we had already beaten them to it, they had bought their current one, which had happened to be the only other home for sale in the neighborhood at that time. We had looked at that house ourselves. Had things turned out differently, he might have been helping me gut the soaked fiberglass from my floorboards. Again, lucky.

Across the city, people lived up to the idea of the Volunteer State. It was incredible. Julee went to the Red Cross emergency station set up in Donelson to see if she could help out, and she was told that, since so many people had already begun helping each other, there was very little for them to do. And of course, the T-shirts began to fly (I still have my We Are Nashville shirt), and it made me and everyone else very proud of my hometown. All of this, of course, was somehow overlooked by the national news services, a fact later made very clear about two days later by Anderson Cooper on his own show, but the one thing that was remarked upon the most by the time the story did air was that Nashville got to work and helped itself out.

I no longer live in Nashville, but it’s my hometown and always will be. I’m not particularly proud of a lot of the reason it HAS made national news in the last five years, but I am proud of the fact that everyone was impressed by the fortitude, good will, and volunteer spirit of its citizens. This was us at our best, and it’s something worth remembering.

It’s also important and relevant to this blog for another reason I’m proud to be from the South – we know how to do shit. We can get things done. There’s a large element of self-reliance that is very much a part of growing up in the South. Ironicallly, it’s something I resisted for a large part of my earlier life, but once I embraced it, I can’t believe I ever wanted to deny it. I’ve posted about this before, so I’m not gonna rehash, but I can do things with my hands, and I’m forever grateful for it. I can also use my mind, and I’m even more grateful for that. I can put the two together, and that’s the best. And it’s something I intend to pass on to my son.

Actually, to my sons.

Yeah, we’re having another baby later this year. Another boy, and it’s gonna be another thrilling adventure. But I fully intend to make sure that both of my boys know how to build things, how to fix things, how to make things. Whether it’s a table, a song, or a book, I want my boys to make things. I want them to be capable of doing things so that, if they’re ever in a situation like this, they can get to work. And even tho they’re growing up in California, they’ll always be a little bit from Tennessee.

Oh, and I also plan to keep writing this blog regularly again from this point on, so I hope you’re still with me.

http://www.tennessean.com/picture-gallery/news/local/2015/04/30/the-flood-of-2010/26518085/

 

Brothers

There’s an old saying about friendship. “Friends help you move. Good friends help you move bodies.”

And then there are the ones who will go out with you in the middle of the night with a gun and a shovel. 

My friend Harvie is one of those guys. He’s my best friend, has been since we were twelve. We met in homeroom on our first day of seventh grade. We were seated alphabetically, right next to each other, and he started talking to me. Within a few days, he’d gotten my birthday out of me, and he was elated to find out that our birthdays were three days apart. Remember when wristwatches that were also games were a big deal in junior high? He gave me one of those on my birthday. Pretty soon we were inseparable.

Harvie’s family life was pretty rotten. He never knew his father, and his mother had all kinds of health and mental issues. He grew up in East Nashville when it wasn’t cool to live in East Nashville. He started spending the night at my house, and a Friday night sleepover almost always turned into a full weekend. He even spent Christmas Eve with my family because we got “snowed in”. My mom and stepdad went out that afternoon and bought him presents so he’d have something under the tree and not feel left out. He was made to feel welcome always in our home.

He never forgot that. Any of it. By the time I graduated high school, Harvie was calling my mom “Mom” too. I can count on one hand the number of Christmas Eves he hasn’t been at my mom’s house, and only one of those was because I wasn’t in town. I’m an only child, but I’ve got a couple brothers, and Harvie is the first.

He was a born scrapper. He called me late one night when we were sixteen to tell me he’d just gotten into a fight at Shelby Bottoms because someone had called him telling him that I had been hurt and to come meet me there. After college, a fight broke out at a party I threw, and I tried to stop the two guys from going at each other. I got stuck in the middle, and without hesitation, Harvie jumped in to pull one of them off of me. If he was ever afraid, it never showed. He was tough, and I always admired that about him. 

He was also VERY good at pissing people off. Harvie was used to rejection, and he had developed a tough skin. He tended to respond aggressively to anyone who threatened him, and he managed to push a lot of people away. But I never judged him when we were kids, and that stuck with him. It got under his skin, and under there was a pretty safe place to be. Harvie’s heart was huge, vulnerable, and full. 

We had times when we didn’t talk, mainly because I had my head up my ass. I got depressed and selfish because I was going thru a rough time, and I alienated him for a while. He gave me the opportunity to walk away from our friendship instead of hurting him, and that snapped me back. We’ve been tight ever since. I know I’ve gotten sidetracked a little along the way with things that happen, because things happen, but I always knew that my brother would come running if I called. If I had ever asked, I know without any doubt that he would have been at my door with his gun and his shovel. I never had the opportunity, and sometimes I wish I had. 

As hard as his life had been, Harvie had turned it around. He grew up with nothing, and he was angry a lot of the time. In the last handful of years, all of that had started to fade. He was becoming successful, he had a beautiful house, he had been married for almost ten years (to a woman who could take his shit and turn it back on him – perfect fit for him), and he smiled a lot more than he used to. Harvie’s 40th birthday is December 1st, three days after mine, and he had been planning to come out to California to visit me and another good friend of his as a birthday trip. It was a big deal. We used to always try to celebrate our birthdays together, because they were so close. My younger brother by three days.

And now I don’t get to see him anymore. 

This weekend, Harvie was on his annual Man Trip with his regular crew of guys on Percy Priest Lake. Yesterday, around noon, he and four of his crew were either leaving or entering Four Points Marina on their small deck boat, and they collided with a much larger cabin cruiser. I still don’t know most of the details, but I’m sure the driver of the cruiser couldn’t see the tiny little boat low in the water, and boats don’t have brakes. All five passengers on the smaller boat went into the water. Harvie is the only one who didn’t come out. 

This just got a lot harder to write. 

His wife called me a little while ago to tell me he had been found, and I’ve been composing the first part of this in my own head since yesterday. I didn’t want to start going down this road until I was sure what had happened. And now it’s hard to find words to say that don’t sound trite, or cold, or meaningless. I even had to try to explain all of this to my son yesterday when he asked why we were so sad. In the gentlest possible terms I could find, I tried to tell him that Uncle Harvie was gone. My son, an optimist of the highest order, kept presenting options as to how he might be found. He even reminded me that he is Superman. I wish with all my heart that that were true right now. 

The last time I saw Harvie was in June, when we were home for our annual family visit. We saw Man of Steel together, and he spent the morning of Father’s Day with us at Mom’s house. She made breakfast like she used to for us all the time. He was approaching a million dollars in sales as a real estate agent. He played with Ryder and hugged him a lot. He was at the hospital with my family when Ryder was born. 

Harvie is my brother. It doesn’t matter if he’s gone, he will always be my brother. Oldest friend, confidant, the guy on whom I could always count, no matter what. I miss him so much already, and it’s only been a day. 

But I hope that my son has a friend, a brother like that someday. I look forward to meeting him. 

Rest in peace, Harvie. Love you, brother.

Harvie Cecil Butler

December 1, 1973 – September 1, 2013

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

I want to talk about the word “brother” and what it means to me.

I’m an only child. I’m the only child of an only child. As a result, I value my privacy and my alone time. I’m used to having my own space for at least a small part of every day. It’s one of the reasons I’m sitting out on my porch right now as I write this – I appreciate solitude and the opportunity to think, reflect, and let my mind wander. It’s when I get my best writing done. I’m uncomfortable, in fact, writing when there’s even someone else in the room – doesn’t matter what the content of whatever I’m writing may be, I just don’t like anyone looking over my shoulder while I’m doing it. It interrupts my thought process. I become hyper aware of the presence of another and it makes it hard to focus and get the job done.

That being said, I love my friends, and I love their company. I get antsy if I don’t get to spend time with the people I care about, as well. One of the things I miss about my early adulthood was the freedom just to drop in on a friend and hang out, go out, drink, talk, laugh, whatever – no plans, no intention, just dropping in on a whim and being welcomed. Those days are pretty much gone, as adult life takes over and everything has to be planned and scheduled – even spending time with those same people now can take months of coordination to actually occur. Granted, my oldest friends now live two time zones away, so it’s understandably more difficult to just pop by (in fact, not one of them has done it yet!), but even seeing my local friends usually takes a series of emails, texts, and messages thru the Face to get put into iCal and synced onto the phone. Ahh, the good old days….

But friends are important to me. Possibly moreso than some people, and this is due, I feel, to the fact that I’m an only child. My friends are my surrogate family, and I mean that in the most honest sense. I have a handful of men in my life, most of whom I’ve known for more than two decades, whom I call my brothers, and I know full well what that term implies. It means a bond as strong as blood, and in some cases, stronger. I’ve got one friend whom I’ve known longer than anyone else, and he’s my brother.  Not only does he know where the bodies are buried, but he’s the one who brought the shovel. Metaphorically speaking, yeah, but if I needed it for real, he’s the one I would call, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would come running, shovel in hand. Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, standing over the trunk of the car in the middle of the night. Brothers, man.

Male bonding is a powerful thing. I’ve been told by various women that they have a more difficult time establishing and maintaining close friendships because they’re raised to be more cautious of one another, that each of them is out for herself, and that it takes a long time for women actually to become solid true friends. I don’t know if this is a generational thing or a specifically cultural phenomenon or what, but I’ve been told this by more than one woman that I’m close to. Men, by contrast, can share a few (okay, several) beers and be fast friends by the time the tab arrives. Or by the time they pass out. I’m oversimplifying, to be honest, but it does seem that it’s a lot easier for men to open up and to trust each other.

The bond of friendship between men is sacred, is holy. Loyalty is one of the things that truly seems to matter to men of all kinds. If a man puts his trust in you, he expects it to be returned, and he can be devastated by betrayal. I know, I’ve had it happen to me. But when a friend is a true friend, it’s an amazing thing. It’s extremely intimate, and for some men, it’s the most intimate they can be with another human being. That’s a subject for another blog, but for some men, it’s true.

It’s left over from the days when men had to rely on each other to survive on a daily basis – it’s the same spirit of camraderie that exists in men who serve together in the military. When you have to depend on the man next to you to keep you alive, you get pretty close. And you tend to remain close, especially if you’ve been thru hell together. It’s a powerful, beautiful thing, and I hope that there’s a female equivalent. I really do.

My son is an only child. He may not remain one forever, but it’s possible. And in either case, I want him to learn how to trust other men and to form these bonds of friendship. They’ll carry him thru hard times and lift him even higher during great times. And it doesn’t matter if the man in whom you would entrust your life has even a shred of the same DNA as you – all that matters is that you get each other, that you’ll be there for each other, you’ll know each other’s secrets, weaknesses, strengths – all that matters is that he’s your brother.