• entries
  • comments
  • views

About this blog

A nostalgic and whimsical look at a love story 23 years in the making.

Entries in this blog



I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you. ~ Walt Whitman


So tomorrow will mark one full year without Jessica in my life. A little over a year ago tonight was our last real conversation before she drifted off for the last time. I recounted some of that conversation in my blog about her death here. It was basically a pep talk meant to lift my spirits. Her last action was to give me a call to action that would help motivate me through what would be an impossible time. It's been almost a year, and ... wow. She was right when she said I could handle it, but it wasn't the straight shot of a path that they write in movies and books. 

Before I start this, that blog I linked above is poetic, and was massaged and cultivated over a period of time as I started to work things through my head. Basically, it was far more nuanced and eloquent than what this will be. This is going to be a bit more ... normal speak. A tad more raw. I'm going to cover some shit that I've gone through in my life and that my family has endured this year. Some of it is going to be challenging to read if you are sensitive to trauma. I also had both my kids permission to talk about their experiences, so that should clue you in. This won't start out fun, but I want to make a point to myself and to others about something that is critical. Don't worry, it ends uplighting. This is me we are talking about, right? 

So following my wife's death, shit sucked hard. That goes without saying. It's hard to convey what it feels like without feeling like you are grabbing a Wal-Mart metaphor. It just sucked. It got so much worse. The year has been an emotional gauntlet with one impossible challenge after another. Let's recap. 

My oldest deals with significant anxiety and PTSD from an event that happened a few years back. This isn't your garden variety anxiety. My straight A student was unable to go to public school because being around anyone that was not family would send the kid into a physiological shock that would require emergency care. When I say PTSD, I mean it. Jessica was a damn great Psychologists and between her, me, and many colleagues we made tremendous progress with my oldest. Then .... no more Jess. The events that my kid witnessed with losing his mother was almost like hitting a reset button on all that hard work. At home he would be fine ... outside it was a different story. 

Then in April, my daughter, the liveliest and happiest teen I've ever met, had her first birthday without her mom. It hit her hard. In response to her overwhelming pain, she attempted to sever her femoral artery. She attempted suicide and came frighteningly close to succeeding. After hospitalization and wound care and some healing she was placed in crisis care for a week until they determined she could continue with outpatient therapy. Problem is, the kid is kinda brilliant and had a mother with advanced mental health training. She knew what to say to get released. In May she tried again, this time with some prescription pills. Like last time, luck and luck alone played a role in me catching it in time. Rinse, wash, repeat. 

Every time I thought we were through the worst of it, something else hit and hit harder than before. By the time summer came ... I couldn't help but feel like a complete failure. A failure to Jess, to my kids, and as a parent. I stopped paying attention to myself. I didn't see the signs. I kept dragging the kids on little missions of remembering their Mom. A road trip to places from out past to scatter some of her ashes. I was going through motions that I had heard worked for others trying desperately to fix what felt like my family shattering into a million pieces. Yet I kept up the act. The illusion that I was ok. Read that blog. How many times that I have to say "I'm good". I stopped eating and sleeping normally. I didn't want to dream of her. I didn't want to sleep in our bed. I actually started to manically redecorate the house to change things thinking that would work. All the while, I had a smile and joke for most. Most. I did find myself snapping at good people for almost nothing. A side of myself I only let out for people who acted like legitimate assholes. Not mean, just a smartass with a verbal scalpel. But most times ... I put on a happy face. 

You see, There was a hubris and arrogance I possessed after Jess died. I thought I could be the rock that my family would lean on. I was no stranger to personal tragedy and complications. Since 1995 I lost my father to suicide, a child in still birth, and another infant after four months old when she could no longer continue fighting a poorly formed heart. Each tragedy I was the rock in the family. It hit me, sure. Yet, I picked everyone else up. I endured with a resilient spirit that became one of my calling cards. It's what my wife referenced before her death. There is nothing that this world could toss at me that could break me .... 

2017 arrived and laughed it's ass off at me and my assumptions. 

I assumed I could do what I did before ... process my pain and move forward ... slowly but with absolute certainty that everything will be fine. Focus on others and it will be fine. I was always a that person, and figured that I could bear her death with grace and poise.

Boy what a big fat dumb idea that was. By the time October rolled around, the effects of the entire year broke through me like a pressure hose through toilet paper. The facade and veneer of a composed mourning widower crumbled and ... left me emotionally drained and bitter in a manner that could have very well become my new normal. It came very very close. My mind went to some dark places when the kids were asleep. I was failing my family. If something happened to them, and I was certain that it was a matter of time ... could I deal with that? Would that be what broke me? 

Then, it happened. Nothing in particular, and  not in some instant, but it happened. Instead of the kids leaning on me, I found us three leaning on each other. My kids saw I was breaking. My kids caught some of the subtle hints of my private hell. I didn't have to be their rock, we could be each other's. Working through the loss of our Boss Lady and our other demons we were starting to heal together. That said, it wasn't enough. I also had a few close friends that kept on me and they certainly helped. You all know who you are. But as the saying goes, "I needed an adult." 

I'm not embarrassed one damn bit to say that I found myself seeking a Psychiatrist and someone impartial to talk to. Hell, we lost one amazing woman, soul mate, mother. In a sense ... it's absurd to think I wouldn't need a professional mind miner. You miss someone like Jess in a way that makes everything that came before seem like a minor bump in the road. I sought therapy. I've lived most of my adult life trying to be a ray of light for everyone else, coaching and giving advice. Being that ear and shoulder when it was needed. Each of my own personal tragedies handled and minimized because others were far more important. Shit, I'm nothing special. I'm just an average guy who is the product of a decent parent, a solid upbringing, and a lot of patience. Even my insight and intelligence is simply the product of a natural love for reading. I'm not the star of my own show, I'm the guy that wants to make others shine. Why focus on myself when others are dealing with their own problems. It always felt selfish to me. And that's my biggest flaw. My own personal hamartia. I finally stepped up for myself and said I need to talk to someone. Holy hell it worked. A stranger with a piece of paper and some ephemeral medication helped. No matter how diamond tough you are, anyone can reach a moment they need to hit the pause button. I finally practiced what I preached. Go figure.  

It's been a long ass road, and even though tomorrow is going to piss me off something wicked, at some point in December everything started to get better. The world started to make sense again. The anxiety, anger, guilt, and bitterness started to ebb away more and more. I was able to think clearly for the first time in a long while. I had almost forgotten what that felt like. And I was recently tested in a pretty dramatic and horror show sort of way. 

The other day I laid down not feeling great at all. I knew something wasn't right but I didn't want to worry the kids (old habits die hard). I woke up and proceeded to redecorate my bathroom with more red stuff than I thought I had room for in my stomach. A fun present courtesy of (according to a gastroenterologist) years of stress, some unfriendly bacteria, and recently chasing headaches away with aspirin. 

Had I just gone back to sleep, or didn't successfully fight through passing out due to losing over two pints of blood in a short period, I wouldn't be here. What was a simple duodenum ulcer became a larger wound. Pretty bad situation all around. Anyway, the good doc burnt and sutured the bad hole shut, dropped some meds to kill the H. Pylori, and situation fixed. 

I'm still woozy at times, completely sworn off aspirin, and have some of the must horrible tasting pills that I have to endure ... but none of that is bothering me. I survived one really bad year and sometime in December ... started to feel like me again. Started to feel like .... I got this. Actually started to feel like 'we got this'. 

My kids in the last few months have all made amazing progress. The oldest is prepping for college and is as close to normal as I have seen him in a long while. My youngest found her step too and is staring in a local musical. Madison, Faith, and myself ... we found strength as a family, in ourselves, and I like to think that we had one hell of a teacher in Jess. It was a longer and more difficult path for all of us than I expected, but we pulled clear. The house feels alive. I have that old bounce in my step, and it's genuine. 

I miss the fuck out of her, but I know she would approve of the fact that we are making it through this after all. I know I mention her a lot. I did that when she was alive. When you have a family as great as I have, you talk about them. I say that because recently it's been intimated by someone that I am seeking pity from others. No. Even though I've been through hell and back, I'm lucky. I had and have love. I don't seek pity. But Jess was that kind of awesome, and I'll be dipped in shit if I don't carry her memory with me where I go right there on my sleeve. That's what love can do to you. 

No pity ... just a whole lot of pride for my wife, my kids, and for the first time ... myself. What is broken can be fixed. If we can make it with help and family and friends, so can you. 

Sorry for the long stream of consciousness. Felt like it was needed. ;)

A Personal Year of Hell - Jan 21, 2017 - Jan 21, 2018 ... RIP



Bloggers note: This was originally planned to go up in August of last year. There were some things that transpired at that time that made me feel that telling this specific story would be inappropriately timed, as it would have hit too close to home for some people I knew. I am going to dance around some things here do to the subject matter, and I hope you catch the drift because I won't have a direct conversation regarding this moment. I almost deleted this entry entirely, but Jess herself wanted this to be published, though she thought that I was too subtle with it. Her point was that this specific moment in time is probably one of the most important ones for how our relationship evolved, as you will see. I wrote this as a narrative directed at her, so it will be a departure from how I typically write these. I think moments like these require a personal approach, and this was the best way I could think to do this type of narrative. 



" .. in despair can come a seed of hope, planted through deeds of love."


Winter 1993


Clarity of memory is a strange phenomenon. There are moments that I can recall every detail with remarkable vividness, hell there are days that seem to be have every facet of them permanently etched in my mind. I can't remember what I did that day before seeing you on the payphone, and try as I might, I cannot remember what I did after our conversation - outside of the general feeling that I was actually worried about you. The cloud of that day remains persistent and immovable, but from the moment I walked up to the entryway of one of our old haunts, I can pick out every detail from what would become a seminal moment in our life together. I saw you there, dialing on an old Bell South payphone. The familiarity of your posture was there. You know how you stood at times, right? A ever so slight forward lean, made more pronounced due to your left arm resting on the bottom shelf of the phone box. Your right foot was slightly behind your left, and your toes pointed downward nervously tapping the cement floor. You gave off the impression of a balletic posture - a dancer preparing to be lifted. Your attire (tights with flats) probably furthered that visual. If your hair didn't slightly obscure your face, I may have noticed that the nervous tapping and tight posture of your body was a soothing technique. I may have noticed the tears. 


I waved at you as I entered the building, greeted by the pleasing sounds of the arcade and the smell of concessions. I found the rest of the group and noticed immediately that Geoff and Brett were absent. I was immediately asked if I had run into you. Apparently you showed up after skipping school - with them in tow. Not unusual as they often ditched class. This was also where we congregated on specific days, so all of this felt normal. Apparently there was a bit of a verbal fight that broke out, and the two guys were asked to leave. At some point you left to use the payphone, and from the way everyone was talking about it, they think you dumped your boyfriend, but you were apparently dealing with something. I suspected a simple high school relationship issue, and almost shrugged it off, except ... you don't make a public issue of things. That is not like you at all. When I found out that none of our mutual friends had followed you outside or even checked on you, I may have snapped at them. I know you have always said that I should go easy on them, but that was a dick move to just stand there with their thumbs up their ass. Yes, I am biased as hell, sue me. I decided to go chase you down and see if you were okay. I fully expected you to launch into a sarcastic tirade about boys and bullshit high school drama, and part of me welcomed that. You were always a blast to verbally spar with, especial when I was winning. *wink* 



Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be

Exiting the building into a parking lot bathed in a Florida winter's sunset, I still wasn't used to the fact that it was almost Christmas and I could comfortably wear a short sleeved shirt, but I had to admit that the sunsets in Florida seemed more captivating. I turned and saw you weren't on the payphone anymore. I almost didn't see you. You were sitting against the outside wall of building across the way, a bit out of sight. I recall sighing internally and being a bit annoyed that I had to walk a little longer. I weighed the possibility that just being seen with you may be taken as me 'moving in' if you and Geoff had broken up. As I closed the distance between you and I, trying to come up with a joke or something to break the ice, I started to notice something felt out of sort. The way you were sitting, almost as if you were folded into yourself, and the slight bobbing of your shoulders - this had bad written all over it. It made me stop for a second or three. You know I've told you in that moment I considered just turning around and even went so far as to try and guess whether or not you had seen me. You lifted your head up and looked at the fading daylight, and ... when I saw your face any chance of me going back shattered. 


I casually walked up to you and said your name. You didn't acknowledge me. No matter. It didn't stop me from sitting down next to you. Still nothing. Silence. You did not move other than to move your hair out of your face. It wasn't that I wasn't sure what to say, its that I was starting to become vaguely aware that this wasn't mere high school romantic drama. There was a severity about you that did not feel ... like you. Something happened, and at this point the only concern I had was to make sure you were okay, or that you weren't alone. So I sat. Only a minute or two passed before I realized I may be creeping you out. I broke the silence. 


"Do you want me to go?"


There wasn't even a slight hesitation on your part. I swear before I finished the word go, you were shaking your head. I nodded mine. We sat. 


"Waiting for your parents?"


A pause and a slight nod as you kept looking up. Here is where I started to see some things that ... bothered me. You had a laceration on your hand, your tights had a slight pull to them, your white shirt had tell tale signs of dirt as did your shoes. I'm not Sherlock, but I put shit together real fast. 


"So is our little group going be be down two people? Do we hate them?"


At this you turned to look at me. Your eyes were almost pleading as they teared up. At this moment if I would have given anything to be able to you wrap you up in a blanket of 'nice and happy' to smother whatever the hell happened to you. You opened your mouth to say something, but instead ... you broke. Before I knew what was happening you were leaning on me, in a half-hug buried-head sort of way. I must have gone on autopilot at this point because I vaguely remember putting my arm around you and you grabbed my hand. I sat there and let you break, saying nothing. My mind was in panic mode. I wasn't the person I am now. I have been told that I have a way with people. You have told me that countless times. Me circa teen years, not so much. My mind raced through a million possible things to say, and everything was either Hallmark card garbage, or inappropriate humor. I felt completely and utterly useless at that moment. You recovered enough to sit up again ... though you forgot to get the tears a break. You looked at me and I said something that to this day I am still unsure if it came from empathy or as an admission of not knowing what to say. 


"Jess ... I'm sorry."


To my surprise you started to open up a little at that. We both remember this part of the conversation differently, but you pulled a 'you'. 


"No. Don't. You can't apologize for any of anything. You can't. I swear to God if you apologize for what happened it ... you are the only decent guy in that black hole of a school. Don't own any of this. If you do, then I won't have anyone."  You said that with an almost fluidity ... conveying more emotional states in one packed sentence than I thought possible. You continued, "Why did you come looking for me?"


Still a little taken aback I thought back to when you showed empathy for my father's illness. A moment that caused me to act like a rat bastard about. Funny, I don't recall you ever suggesting that I did act inappropriately. You were always weird like that. You were slow to point out my flaws in most instances. Anyway, me being me, I sidestepped the question, and mentioned, honestly I might add, that I was concerned. There was a pregnant pause that I felt extreme discomfort at. I broke it and told you that regardless of our bickering, you were the most 'real' person I've met in a long time, and if there was something wrong it was probably not something to take lightly. I thought that compliment, again honest, would have turned the discussion away from me a little. I didn't like it, especially in light of my suspicions and anger at what I thought happened. You shouldn't have been focused on me. I never understood that about you. You could be dealing with your world collapsing and you take an effort to make other people feel better. I closed that little piece with something remarkably cheesy - along the lines of ... 'its what friends do, right?' At some point during this exchange your tears slowed. You weren't shaking as much. 



As a friend, as a friend, as and old enemy

Also, your pregnant pause turned into something ... else. Your look became puzzled and then you relaxed and very audibly sighed. There was the weight of the world powering that sigh. I know, I made it myself from time to time. We sat in silence for a few beats as you turned to look away. You said a few other things, apologizing for your appearance which I waved off. You then started to talk about your family, some issues at home, and somehow that segued into your intentions for the future, college, career aspirations. I remember being vaguely embarrassed that in all of our arguments I didn't know you wanted to be a Psychiatrist. I didn't know that you would be the first one in your family to have collegiate hopes as your parents were both high school drop-outs. I also wasn't aware how modestly you lived, and found it admirable to know that the reason for you working so hard after school was for your family.


I recall thinking all of this, because my next move was to add some levity based on all of that. I stuck out my hand and laughed internally when you almost reached for it. Almost. That brief flicker of "awuh" that crossed your face was adorable. 


"I realized that I thought I knew you, but I really know almost nothing about you. Not your favorite film, book, music, or pizza topping. You really can tell a lot by what flavors a person prefers on their pizza. I suspect that you may not know me either. The facade of our teen lives tend to hide the better ... and worst ... parts of us. I don't think that most people our age open up to the luxury of getting to know each other. Basically, Miss Smith, name's Joe. Pleased to meet you."


I would have preferred the pregnant pause to the look I received from you. You were staring at me. No ... not staring. It's closer to say that I think you were studying me. There was something weird about the moment, and I hoped it was just my odd humor that made you replay what I said in your head trying to make sense of it, but it was a few years before I found out what you were thinking at this moment. You finally took my hand and smiled, and ... you briefly had this look that was a mix of confusion, exhaustion, relief, and the melting pot of the shit you suffered through earlier. You then hugged me and softly said "Thank you."  You withdrew and I asked if you were going to be okay. You said you thought so. I also found a few awkward words floating in my brain and combined them to create a few sentences about not hiding whatever happened, if it was bad, I said you need to say something to someone. You nodded. We simply smiled at each other ... for a surprisingly long time. You made some stray comment about how you found me oddly easy to talk to. I came back with a crack about just being easily odd. Your parents pulled up to where the payphone was at this point and we both started to stand up. I walked you to the Supra your dad was driving, again wondering if you would be alright. Your dad opened the passenger side door and before you got in you turned to me and said, "Ham and pineapple."  To which I replied, "Well, we can always work on that, right?"


Your, 'shut the heck up dork', look cemented in my mind that you were definitely a person who I could easily call a friend. You were genuine. One of your favorite novels is the first Harry Potter book. There is a line in the book where Harry, Ron, and Hermione survive a troll attack. Afterward there is a line of narrative that says the three became best friends - inseparable is how I think it is put in the novel. From my perspective our friendship started at this point. Your perspective was a little different. I have always wondered what would happen if you acted sooner. I know you said that you were a bit confused by how you felt the beginnings of something, and were worried that it was just an artifact of someone being supportive during what was a impossibly difficult tragedy for you. You wanted to be sure it was real. Regardless, From this moment on - we became inseparable. 



Afterword - Take a rest as a friend as an old memoria


Jessica actually had a reply typed up for this blog. This was planned to go up in July of last year, and she wrote a few paragraphs from her perspective that she was going to use a response for this one, adding a bit of color. After reading them, I have decided to incorporate them elsewhere, as they actually work better when you see them when things finally start coming together.


In the years that followed this conversation, I finally got the whole story about what happened that day. That day altered lives forever. It laid the foundation of a strong bond, yes. It also made Jessica a focused advocate for appropriate crisis counseling. Her concentration in college and beyond was due to her inaction. As far as the other guys, karma happened. Let's leave it at that. For me, I found that it became easier to drop pretenses and social masks after this. I talk about being an ass in my youth, having a scalpel precision in going after a persons pain points. Jess used to say it was because I have an innate gift for empathy, and she would almost always thank God I used my powers for good. I don't know about that. I did start to soften at the edges though. I credit Jessica for that. Just being near her made you want to put your best self out there. I digress, this was the moment she saw something in me. It would eventually evolve ... faster on her end than on mine as it turns out. 


That brings me to another point - contingency is something we rarely consider when looking back at our lives. We tend to see things as a series of causes and effects, but we also imbue purpose in that equation. It can lead us to assume something along the lines of destiny and pre-ordination. I am not here to suggest there is no such thing, but I firmly believe in and am at times guided by a similar concept called serendipity. I know where this story is going, and now so do you. Writing the first articles in this blog, I tried not to give an indication that there was a sense of destiny or fate in any of the prior entries, but its hard not to feel like there was something bigger at work pushing us together. Honestly, if you didn't know how this worked out, it would be hard to derive something grander had started from spilled drinks and me arguing with a girl constantly. I sure as heck wouldn't. If I turned back or someone else had spoken with her, it all likely ends here. I easily could have done just that. 


You as the reader of this may see 'signs' and 'clues' in these stories, helped along by knowing full well that we end up married and happy for a long time. As these events happened in real time, I didn't expect anything would happen. At no time during the next few years in this story, did I have any inkling that we would fall in love, get married, and start a family. I never thought that a romantic relationship would be an option, and I certainly didn't see Jessica that way at all. Jessica is a different story though, as I would find out early in college. 


I know the last two entries in this blog about us have been light on the silly moments, considering the weighty material. I promise that will change when I get to the next entry. 







Story of Us (Chronological Order)

All Apologies - Summer 1993

Ordinary World - Fall 1993

Come As You Are - Winter 1993

For Good - Jessica's Passing - Jan 2017



Jessica Rice ~ Just Jessi

February 26, 1977 - January 21, 2017


"I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one.

I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when the day is done.

I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways

of happier times and laughing days.

I'd like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun

of happy memories that I leave behind when day is done





I want to be upfront about something, and that is the purpose of this blog entry. This is not solely to eulogize my wife. I did that already at her memorial and on my Facebook page, and from what people have told me ... I did her proud. This isn't that exactly, though I suspect that there will be passages that will invoke her memory in a way that will feel like a eulogy. In truth, this is more about my personal observations and thoughts over the last few months, and some thanks. Musings about the randomness of life and death, its inherent unfairness will abound. This blog's emotional theme, if I were to suggest it has one, would be sanguine ... with a heart shaped cherry on top.


The Story Ends

Two months ago today, my wife Jessica passed away. Her journey ended in peace as she took her last breath at out home, surrounded by her family, cradled in my arms. She had the faintest hint of a smile, but perhaps that is just in my head. I'm not completely sure what the rules are, but I think I am allowed a little leeway to believe that was the case. This all happened as the the window she lay next to highlighted a gorgeous beginning of a sunset. All day there had been a gentle breeze, a perfect temperature, and blue clear skies. I say this, because it seemed poetic. A little sentimental, I know, but it was something that many of us pointed out later as something we noticed. It sounds absurd to me when I say it, but her last moments were ... well ... beautiful. It was as radiant as the life she led.

My wife and I met in the early 90's. Started off as practical adversaries with common friends, and eventually grew to be friends, and later in college ... much more. I touch on our beginnings here and here. Before we started college we were best friends. She saw me through the sickness and death of my father, the realization that I would need to take my kid sister across the finish line of adulthood, and the ensuing fallout. We grew even closer after I transferred to a university in Orlando, one that she attended. I would come to find out that she harbored a desire for a relationship since high school, but never acted on it. Eventually she got tired of waiting for me to come to the same conclusion, so she took the initiative during what I thought was going to be us simply decompressing before finals. This was one of the few times I can say that Jess truly came across as nervous, but there was this endearing and adorable quality to it. I said yes, obviously.

Looking back a few years later as we were married, started careers, had kids ... it all felt like destiny. There was a fairy tale element to how we met, became besties, dated, and fell in love. Some of the moments we experienced seemed that magical. If you were to ask me today, I would say our story has a definite Nicholas Sparks quality to it. We were living a romance novel bathed in a dream. The odd thing about that is that even through the fairy tale nature of it all, it seemed natural somehow. I often remarked in those first few years that we must have started our relationship on easy mode, because we were so much in tune and synced to each other. It never felt hard. When arguments came, they were rarely dramatic. In fashion, the holy grail of clothing is finding that perfect fit for your body. That was us. We just ... fit. She was my 'perfect'. I was her 'perfect'.

23 years, 7 months, 8 days, 22 hours, 16 minutes. I had to pull out an old box with things I saved to confirm this, and even had to go to the library to look at theater showtimes to be certain, but from the moment of our first interaction at the movie theater to her poetic last breath, we had known each other for 23 over years. I look at that figure, and even though the clock stopped the love doesn't, I find myself reassured by a simple inescapable thought ... I would rather a limited slice of magic, than a lifetime of mediocrity. What we had was ... well ... a living dream of the heart, soul, and mind.Jess was my guide, my partner, my lover, my collaborator, my greatest friend, my staunchest ally, and one half of the strong parental powerhouse that was Jess and Joe. I was blessed to have her by my side, and honored that she picked me for this unbelievable ride. I have to laugh, as I type this, I can almost hear her voice in my head, refusing to accept these accolades with a simple redirection, "You weren't a passenger in our relationship Joe, just remember that."

When, several years ago, we found out that she was sick, we were told it would be manageable and that it would not be a real issue until she was in her 50's. We went forward with our lives, made long term plans, and ... expected the best. In the midst of this, I rediscovered MLP, joined this forum, talked to what seemed to be an endless supply of diverse and interesting people, grew close with a goodish amount of them, and even found the opportunity to pitch in as a member of the staff. As the months wore on we came to find that her liver was anything but manageable. In April 2015 she was in decline and was eventually hospitalized, but recovered. It was a preview of what was to come. 2016 proved to be a nightmare. It started with my wife receiving a procedure and shunt to prevent a build up of ammonia (hepatic encephalopathy). That failed by May and it caused her brain to swell. She recovered mostly and found herself listed for a liver transplant. It was short lived as they found malignant carcinoma on her liver and had to remove her from the transplant list. It was at this time that her team re-managed our expectations. They prepared us for the possibility that she would not be a candidate again, and if that happened they gave her through the end of the year and even though they rarely hang their hat on prognosis ratios ... they estimated 20% odds of her beating cancer and getting a transplant.

We reset our expectations, but that woman refused to give up. Following the aggressive cancer treatment the tumors shrunk allowing her to be relisted. We finally received the call that they had a liver and she underwent liver transplant surgery which was successful. Her recovery was grueling, but still going amazingly well. She nailed every single benchmark, and her prognosis was very good. Months went by and everything was coming up Jessica. At this time we started allowing ourselves to make plans again. She was even looking at the possibility of a loan for a clinic and preparing to get back to work. She beat every major obstacle, and was going to live. For the few people who were in a Skype and later Discord group with me during this time ... my optimism and joy was palpable. It was short lived.


She caught an infection, likely during a routine outpatient procedure. She was on immunosuppressive drugs... required to ensure her body doesn't reject the new liver. If they fought the infection, they lose the liver. If they don't she could die anyway. The medical staff worked for days trying to fight the infection without impacting the liver. The infection became dangerous and required an aggressive approach. Left with little choice they stopped her liver meds and fought the infection with a vengeance. It worked ... it worked too well. The treatment fought the infection and her liver started to enter acute failure. It was being rejected. They tried to restore function, but at this time her other systems started to fail. It became a matter of stabilizing her. We spent Christmas in the hospital, and as the New Year approached, we were made aware that there were no more options. No emergency status liver transplant as her body was now too weak to survive the operation. No miracles. Instead of speaking and game-planing with her medical team, I was now making arrangements with home hospice. Jessica was dying ... and decided to do so in grace and within the place she most loved ... our home.

In her last weeks, Jessica seemingly had boundless optimism and surprising energy. She went to work immediately recording messages, writing letters for family to read after she was gone, talking to old friends, putting affairs in order, and spending as much personal time with family. There were countless personal moments and touches. Conversations over simple activities like building a puzzle, or constructing famous buildings out of Play Doh were typical fare. Looking back at these conversations, I found validation in the truth that the world was soon to lose an irreplaceable person. She dedicated her life to helping people cope with trauma, tragedy, and pain. It seemed every waking moment in the last weeks and days followed that philosophy of hers. She was helping us prepare mentally and emotionally. She even made arrangements for upcoming birthday gifts, and little touches that would serve as reminders of our shared love. She tried to tie up as many loose ends as possible, even making certain that she could talk with people she recently found a kinship with, like a particularly generous Texan and her husband.

The vividness of her last waking day is remarkable. I will save most of that for myself. Some moments are so blessedly personal and perfect. I will share this though - after we finished a long and poignant conversation she called the kids over for a hug goodnight, whispering something in each of their ears. Tearful goodnight's followed. She commented that she was tired and asked me to sit next to her for a few minutes. I leaned over her in my chair to kiss her goodnight, something I had done countless times before. As I did this she pulled her signature move - her palm placed flat upon my chest over my heart - the origin of that slight gesture made this instance far more emotional for description. After our embrace, she looked at me tears in her eyes, smiled, and mustered one last exchange.


"You know when your life was worth it, that the people in your life were worth it, when you realize you have said everything that needs to be said."

"Kitten, you never had to tell me anything. I just needed to see your face to know how much we all meant."

She welled up, and nodded. Her palm was still over my heart.

"I love you. Thank you, Smiley."


She gracefully lowered her hand, closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep. She would not wake up.


A Family Says Goodbye




The memorial was a small personal affair. We tried to keep it down to 100 people, but at last count some 250 found their way to the house and paid their respects. It was more of a celebration than a sad affair, though tears weren't uncommon. There were a lot of planned moments that Jessica secretly set up for other family members and friends. Two moments showcase the type of person she was - a sentimental and a clever troll.




I linked that above in this overlong document, but it's important enough to do it again, besides you would have to scroll up. :P

That is my sister-in-law on that recording. Jessica asked her sister to sing this during the gathering at an appropriate time. It was one of our songs, and contains a extremely personal line that invokes how we felt about each other, and the fact that we started out as ... well ... rivals of sorts. She asked her sister for another reason though. You see, Jessica and her youngest sister sound identical. I can't tell you how many times that they have screwed with family using that uncanny vocal likeness over the phone. This time, it seems that Jess and her sister used their powers for good.

As her sister started to sing during a outdoor balloon release, you couldn't help imagining Jessica singing it herself. If I closed my eyes, it isn't just the message that felt personal. It was Jessica's way of telling me and the kids ... she is still with us. I think it took me 30 minutes to stop feeling goosebumps. It was one of many such moments.

Then there came an impromptu musical moment or a different sort. About 60 minutes into the party (I can call it that, because it certainly felt more like a party than not), a familiar song came on .... the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Many of her friends, myself, and my kids rushed into place ... we knew what this was about. I don't know who was responsible for this little gem, but for the next few minutes all of her high school and college friends started to do the Time Warp. The look on the older crowd (what Jessica and I would amusingly call 'the adults') was priceless. Here we were, in the middle of a memorial party, gyrating and stepping and having a blast. Gg Jess. Gg.

I've been to post funeral gatherings, and rarely did they feel as festive and emotionally healing as this. People will be talking about it for a while, that's for sure. The whole affair seemed fitting, and it was as perfect a sendoff as you can have.


On Grief and Grieving

So I intend to answer the question that I field at least once per day: "How are you doing?"

You know all of those clichés you have heard about? What it feels like when you go through the pain of losing someone close to you? The weird thing is that they they are all accurate, yet ... they are laughably insufficient. If you ever want to a rather accurate description of grief, check out Patton Oswalt's Facebook post on his view regarding the turmoil one can face. Since this is already a huge ass blog, I'll quote the part that seems the most descriptive below.



Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.

But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully's head in a toilet and then fucking the teacher you've got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick.

Yeah, that is our very own Daring Do loving pony, Quibblepants. It may be a tad over descriptive to some, but the thing is, he isn't entirely wrong. Everyone has heard that saying right? "Each person's grief and grieving process is unique"? At least something to that effect. I would have to agree, but even though dealing with the loss of a loved one seems like a 'custom made' experience, Mr. Oswalt's rather expressive and revealing detailing of his journey does at least do justice to what one can go through. Yeah, this sucks ... so ... bad. So bad. This sucks for reasons that are obvious to all, and it sucks for the less obvious reasons.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I thought pretty highly of my wife. ;)

We lived a fairy tale story, and I couldn't imagine how we could have done any better with our marriage and relationship in general. It all felt perfect. With her by my side, I felt like I was living in paradise. It was that kind of good. The more luminous the light, the greater the blackness feels in the light's sudden absence. She had been sick before, had been battling declining odds for so long, it was hard not to try and mentally prepare you for the possibility she wouldn't be around. As my wife and I discussed the home hospice option, I accepted that my wife was going to die. I prepared myself. Well, I thought I did. I had faced death before. I lost my father to suddenly when I was 18. Years later, Jessica and I had to bury our third child. I thought those experiences prepared me well enough. My God what a fool I was to think that. Not all grief is the same.

Grief is potent. When you think of emotional suffering and loss, it's easy to treat it differently than physical pain. Well, the emotional pain certainly feels physical, and also so completely engulfing. There are times that it feels as you have a physical weight in your chest. I think I can empathize with those that have described a panic attack or anxiety to me. I thought I could imagine this pain, but the truth is you really can't. Grief is suffocating in nature, and can be downright paralyzing. John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars writes that 'Some pain demands to be felt'. I have to agree.

Grief is a sneaky bastard. Yes, there are obvious things that I miss, namely Jessica's presence. The big things hit you. For example, mornings and evenings were rather difficult as my wife was no longer the last person I saw at night and the first person I laid eyes on in the morning. She passed away weeks before her favorite holiday, my birthday, Valentines Day, and even her birthday. Her absence was almost its own presence, holding a flashing neon sign declaring, "She's not here." Then little things hit you. I caught a wiff of jasmine and ... bam. I get a letter in the mail addressed to her ... bam. A check box on an IRS tax form asking if my spouse is now deceased ... bam. I start cleaning out the fridge and I find sauces that only she liked. I went grocery shopping and as I grab something that I always have on these trips, I realize that Jess was the only one who ate it. These little things have the devious ability to break through any defense you have, simply because you can't account for them.

Grief makes you do odd things. I talk to her. Meaning that I will make an aside as if she was right there in the room. I would tell a joke when I am alone that I know she would react too. I know that speaking out loud to a deceased love one is common, and it does help, but it in't me. Or, I should say it wasn't me. The night she passed away, after the kids finally went to bed, I started to purge the house of any and all prescriptions and items specific to her illness. I called the medical equipment supplier the day after begging them to prioritize a pick up of things like her oxygen tank, medical bed, etc. I wanted it out of our house. Looking back, it have no doubt you would have seen the eyes of desperation. And yes, I have listened to saved voicemail, watched home movies, and gone through more photo's than I ever knew we even had.

I can tell you that every single day that Jess has not been here, not been by my side, that it has felt like I have stumbled into an alternate reality. A bit like I have stepped into a life that isn't mine but has many of the trappings of my reality. It is disquieting sensation going about the day feeling that the world is off, askew ever so slightly. I remember reading that Stephen King's favorite description of horror is walking into a room that is exactly the same as it always was, but feeling that everything was replaced. That. That is what I feel like most days, it doesn't always last long, but it is there nonetheless.

There is an inherent selfishness about grieving that doesn't exactly agree with me. I'm not a selfish person in general, yet there is no escaping that ... well ... I miss her. I miss everything she was and what we had. I miss all the moments we had and I mourn the memories that we will never create. Yet, with each of these thoughts, part of me feels a bit like a selfish prick. She is the one whose journey was prematurely cut short, not me. There is a strange guilt in that. Not survivors guilt, but finding myself focusing on how I was impacted. I absolutely hate that part of this process. I know what she would likely say. Something along the lines of, "Mourning what you miss about me is just proving how much you loved me you dork." She would be a bit on the mark, though it doesn't make hat icky feeling go away. Turns out, the perfect remedy for that is actually the worst aspect of grieving.

I have kids. I know I am not even coming close to doing it justice, but the weight of what you feel ... it can be soul shattering. The scary thing, and perhaps the real horror for me, is that I am not alone in bearing this torment. Our kids are amazing and as much as I talk about her as a phenomenal wife, she was just as successful as a mother. Our kids are kickass ... plain and simple. (This is objective of course ... not at all biased. ). Each time I feel the weight of Jess no longer being here, I am reminded that they bear that pain, likely to an even greater degree. She will not be there for their graduation, for college, for weddings, and should they decide they want kids. I feel my loss, and I think of them ... and I imagine theirs. it all feels overwhelming. You can easily feel helpless against the torrential onslaught of it all. Even though you feel as if your kids are coping well, you don't trust your instincts. I put every ounce of energy into them, and it still feels like it is not good enough. I admire their bravery and their strength. I can't take away their pain though ... it demands to be felt ... but God damn it they don't have to feel it alone. So we do the only thing we can, we talk, we cry, we mourn, we remember, we love.

One final thing on grieving. You know that "stages of grief" thing. Guess what? It is really accurate ... except it doesn't quite work the way you think. It isn't sequential or ordered. You can feel them in any order, and they can come back with a fun little angle when you feel you have already dealt with it. Nope. Grief does not have stages or levels. It works far more like Chutes and Ladders. You climb up to Acceptance and two hours later you spin a 'five' and ... down the chute to denial. I always hated Chutes and Ladders. Stupid game!


We lost someone who was our fulcrum, center, and heart. No denying it, this is what a shit storm feels like. So, the answer to "How am I doing?" is simple ... I'm here. No. That is not an answer. That is the blasted answer I give that people expect to hear. No. The truth of the matter is that I am ... well ... I am OK.


Gratitude and Moments of Peace

I'm OK. As impossibly hard as this is, somehow I find the strength to find my motivation to move forward. I actually did a dumb and answered a question Jessica asked me in early January with honesty. I must have had a look on my face, but she knew there was something bugging the shit out of me. She was good like that. She asked me what was on my mind. I said, "I'm worried how I am going to react ... how I am going to cope. I'm scared Jess. I'm worried I won't be able to deal with this." She laughed. It was a forceful enough laugh to actually cause her pain. I thought she was reacting to the fact that I was focusing on me when she was the one dying. I'm going to be paraphrasing a little here but when she caught a second wind she finally said,


"I'm not worried one bit, not about you. My parents, yes. My sisters, yes. The kids, well, of course I am worried about them, but then I know that they have you. You aren't built to self-destruct. You don't know how to quit on people you love, it's a skill you never learned, thank God. I know the kids will be fine because you are you. You don't even need to pretend strength for them. Shit, do you know how much that is used by people. They don't face what they feel because they need to be strong for someone else. They sacrifice. You don't even need to worry about that. You don't bottle-up. Some people are diamonds. They are impervious to life's challenges. You are different. You aren't a diamond. You allow yourself to be affected and to feel it as strongly as anyone else, but you are not broken by it. Joe, you call people a rock all the damn time it is like a cliche with you. Look in the mirror, you are a mountain. You see the world and people as inherently good, and you use that optimism to keep you strong. If there is something that could break you, I can't imagine it. I'm not worried, you got this honey."


Damn I miss the fuck out of her. That was one hell of a pep talk. I don't know if she is right, but I do know that ... I'm OK. The hurt of her absence and its impact on those who were closest to her is still there, and frankly, I don't think it will ever completely go away. I smile and laugh at jokes, I make jokes, I am making plans for tomorrow, looking forward to future events, I am going about the day to day aspects of life. I am there for my kids propping them up, helping them through this, and being their lantern holder so they aren't enveloped by the darkness of this shadow. What I don't know is how much is really me. I almost think Jess missed something in that little ego boost she gave me, a few little somethings actually -- how much she will play a role in my healing.

I still feel immense sorrow when I am reminded of her. It isn't strange when the tears start to well up or come freely. However, the tears don't come alone, they bring a date. You see, every overwhelmingly sad moment, comes with a smile. One of our songs comes on, I feel like crying, but he memories behind the song jump right out and blunt the sadness. In death, her memory is what helps me bear it all. Perhaps there is some innate or learned strength I have, but when it comes down to it to this strength seems to come from her, at least in part. Jessica is still inspiring me. My strength is partly what we built together. At her memorial I talked about living on through our actions after we are deceased. The lives we touch will have influence when we are gone, both profound and subtle. Our lives are tapestries of moments built from threads of memories, but as we weave ours, we also help each other weave theirs. Jessica's life is how I help cope with her death. Each moment of bliss is a thread she helped me weave - a thread I helped her weave. This life we experienced together, the tapestry, insulates me from the dreariness. For that I am eternally grateful.

My kids have been phenomenal sources of inspiration. I do see some of their mother in them, but mostly I see two independent young adults who will carry her torch through their own active virtues. They lean on each other and comfort each other. They carry on. Their mother would be immensely proud. I sure as hell am. I think about their sibling bond and I am reminded of Jessica and her sisters, and even my relationship with my own sister. I don't think that I could have weathered this without my sister, who was instrumental in taking some of the lead with the minutia that comes with the passing on a loved one in the hours and days that follow. Her help allowed me to be with the kids, and to process this whole thing.

Old friends of Jessica, old clients, and family made their condolences known. The steady parade of support never was tiring, it was a reminder of how impact a life can be, even one that is shorter. Then there were my online friends. People that my late wife would affectionately call my "Pony People". As news spread of her passing among a few, many reached out to me, usually with condolences and an offer of an ear. I may not have responded timely, or even at all, but these meant the world to me as they came. I was hesitant to name anyone specifically, but there were some people who Jess interacted with directly, and others she developed a strong admiration for.

Troblems, I know that you aware of how much Jess liked you. What started out as a great amount of respect for how my kids had taken to you became a deeper affection. You and your husband are that couple that every couple wants as friends, and should try their damned hardest to emulate, and one of my many regrets is that we didn't have the time or health to all get together. I said this before, and I'll say it again, your husband is insanely generous (or generously insane ... perhaps both ... snrk!). You knew what Jess meant to me, and you got a front row seat during this ordeal. You were always there, and I would be obtuse if I thought that this didn't effect you. I can't thank you enough for your friendship, but I suspect you and your husband horse already know that you rock.

Pirate, I'm known for talking about serendipity ... all the time. There is a weird sense of it here because your handling of the MCM is what brought me back to MLPF. That and Jessica promising to actually join in. She had a blast, mostly at my expense but she was a fun troll to contend with. I wouldn't be typing this if it wasn't for you. You have heard some of this before, and like Trobs ... you were there as a friend when things got bad. You even caught me at what may have been my near breaking point.

Spoon. I may not be a diamond, but you sure as hell are. I'll leave this one short and sweet, the thoughtfulness behind each and every thing you do ... runs deep. I didn't want to burden you with the emotional fallout of everything, even though I have no doubt it would have helped tremendously. Instead, our discussions seemed to run the gamut of the geek universe helped me feel normal at a time when the world feels a little askew.

So many names. Hugs, Batbrony and your constant Rariart, SFyr and your skill at nailing a moment in pony form, Eloquence, Tai, DQ, Yozer, Path, Shaun and Kiwoy for all your support as well even though some of you won't read this. Thank you. I know there were more. I'm sincerely sorry if I left anyone out. I just want you all to know how much your care meant.


The Story Never Ends




"You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart, And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend..." ~ For Good - Wicked


Its been a long tiring and tear filled eternity pretending to be a year. I started this thing over a month ago, and as you can probably tell, there are tonal, POV, and tense inconsistencies throughout it. I want to be raw. I didn't want this to be my magnum opus, polished and pretty. Basically, this isn't well written and I am not going to pretend otherwise. It's genuine, and possibly inspirational. Depends on what you take from this whole thing i suppose.

I know each day will feel easier than the last (most days) and some days will suck hard. My wife is right about me when she says I will not let this break me. I love life. I love its surprises (most of the time), and wallowing on sorrow just isn't ... well ... me. That isn't how our story ends, how my story ends. I move forward, keeping my love as a shield, blanket, or any other handy metaphor. I'm ok, and I am both amazed and blessed that she chose me and I carry that proudly. Like I said, I would rather 20 years of paradise for a lifetime of ordinary. Wherever this road leads may now open up to a mystery, but I'm ready. Let's do this!

Jess always liked the whimsical way I would tell some of the sillier moments of our lives together. I'll likely continue this blog since its purpose was as an outlet to help me talk about her when she was sick. A coping mechanism. She got a kick out of this and actually wanted me to finish. Hell, I have enough material for a damn sitcom. Unfortunately for you all ... Jess was the funny one. You get stuck with me. :P


So closing this out ... it's been two months. I love my wife. I always have and I always will. Hoof print on my heart ... achieved.


I love you Kitten <3




January 2015



December 2016


Ordinary World



"You see there 'Queeny', you stopped making sense two sentences ago!"
"That's because you aren't nearly as smart as you think you are."


Introduction > Read Part 1 Here


FALL 1993

Much Ado About Nothing

The infamous splash hear round the world actually didn't turn into a bigger war. Anticlimactic, I know. It was just a thing that she got over with the same grace that would become her signature calling card. In fact, we started to have some conversations during breaks and lunches. We started talking to each other in group settings as coworkers are want to do. And after a handful of conversations with each we were fine. She was surprisingly funny and seemed to genuinely have a decent heart. Something I secretly admired in people. I would come to find out Jess saw me as someone that people seemed to automatically like, though she admitted she never understood why as I didn't have a presence to me. Neither of us every shared this to each other of course. We weren't exactly close friends, but associated with each other enough due to sharing the same group of friends.


Where is the life that I recognize?

That lasted until I had briefly left at the end of summer to visit my pops. Before I left I had told one of my friends there about my father and his illness. Part of me was hoping I would not return, but I did feel like I needed to tell someone. Geoff got to be the guy. You see, things weren't looking great. My sister wasn't going to be making this trip as she was a bit younger and my father was adamant that his little girl not see him weak. And he was weak. He looked ... not like my father. The rounds of chemo and radiation ... those that have seen it know ... those that haven't consider yourself blessed. I left for Florida with a sickening feeling. Last time I didn't want to go there, but this time I couldn't shake the thought that the man who taught me how to live and see the world as an amazing gift ... may not be around much longer. I worried that my kid sister would not be able to handle this. My father had taught me so much in just the last few years about how to be a human being, a good person, that my heart broke at what the absence of him would mean for her. I was not in a good place, though I tried to hide things well.


Jeric is a bastard!

After arriving home and taking a few days to decompress, I called up Geoff and Joe from the theater. We all went out to a local miniature golf/arcade place. I was informed that Jess would likely be joining us. Turns out that Geoff and Jess had started seeing each other. My curiosity at this change turned into horror later that evening, when Jess and I found ourselves near a Mortal Kombat cabinet. After I lost a match with someone and stepped away to let the owner of the reserved quarter replace me, I noticed Geoff was looking at both of us. No. Not at us ... around us. Like he was embarrassed. Then I heard the question that set me off.

Jessica put her arm on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. Compassion ... genuine and honest compassion. I knew what was about to happen before she asked, and as she asked it every muscle in my body tensed. She knows.

"Look, I heard about your father ..."


I was already on my way to losing it before she said those words. I had the forethought to remove her hand and walk away. I actually started to walk outside. I should have kept going. I didn't. I turned around to say something and ... there she was. She was following me. She was actually going to follow me outside! I didn't want other people to know!

I will spare you what I said exactly. I have a gift for being a people person. I pay attention, and I notice things. What peoples weakness are so I can avoid them, what they like so I can make them feel better. I used to consider this just a thing I did because I was expected to be a master of industry or something. I tell you this, because I knew just what to say to Jess to make her back away. I took out my mental scalpel ... and carved her apart. Imagine the worst thing someone can say to you. Words that would break you. That. Like I said, I have a gift. It only took about a minute she stood there shaking and saying nothing ... I try and tell myself that I had already turned around by the time she was crying ... but I heard the tears. I also heard her say, "Joe ... ". The way she said it ... even then I wanted to turn around ... but I couldn't. I did notice something else before I left. Jess was still alone. Geoff and the rest of the guys ... disappeared.

There are a few things in this world I wish I could take back. This is one of them. There was an arrogant side to me. I actually considered myself better intellectually than most, and even morally. When you mix that with rage ... bad things happen. I was ... snarky and sarcastic most of the time. I had an air of being superior when I wanted to. Jess would tell you as much, but in high school ... such an attitude breeds success.


Where is my friend when I need you most?

As the school year continued with my friend dating Jess, I couldn't exactly avoid her. I can say that any budding friendship we had was over. At least that was how I viewed it. She constantly challenged me. We debated and argued about everything! Some of these debates actually became heated, though never to the point where I took out the scalpel. At first I could tell she was angry at me ... but it wasn't genuine fury. Disappointment? If I actually cared I would have paid closer attention and wouldn't have had to wait until later to ask her. I did notice she would hold herself back ... and I also noticed something else ... this I recognized ... concern. It was subtle. Even when she wouldn't hide her annoyance at my derision of the educational system in the backwater State I was forced to reside in, I saw that she didn't want to fight.

That quote under the picture, during this era, I took to calling her Queeny. It was not a term of endearment. I came to the conclusion that she was hopelessly naive, and she believed me to be a black hole from which no positivity could escape. She also said that self-interest was my calling card and arrogance my currency. That girl could be salty!

As Fall came to an end, and this is the weirdest thing to explain just right, I felt like I should argue with her, that it was safe to argue with her. She denies this, but .... I swear I saw her smile once or twice. My friends thought we were hilarious together, especially Geoff. As fall came to the end, and I puzzled about this bizarre and complex creature of a girl who could hold her own against me ... her boyfriend Geoff decided that he preferred a less complex puzzle of a girlfriend.


All Apologies

Read this primer for an explanation of this blog series.


"... and this kids is how I met your mother."


Summer 1993

The long passage of time tends to dull memories, relegating them to a sepia toned imprint that favors emotion more than fine detail. These evasive portraits of ephemeral moments are recalled and tease greatness, only to deny their full truth. Most old memories are odd like that. There are some, however, that defy the rules. They play through your thoughts substituting vividness in lieu of trickery and the conjured history of your imagination. This is how I can see the precise moment and nuance of my first significant encounter with a girl named Jessica.


Enter Florida - AKA Discount Dagobah

So I feel that it is crucial to set this up properly. Perspective and background are fairly important with this story, as these elements will become crucial in just a few short years. My father had been recently diagnosed with cancer, and was undergoing chemo, radiation, and even surgery. He worked it out so that my sister and I would live with my estranged mother and her new husband while he fought his illness. So in the summer of 1993 I was sent from Philadelphia to a place in Florida that felt like Green Acres in comparison. Not necessarily a bad thing, as I always favored the country over the city, but the events that led me to traverse the east coast for Florida left me bitter. I always had a slightly confident side to me, but this move set my general mood up in a way that that my confident side come across as ... arrogant.

Upon arriving, it became painfully obvious to everyone that I did not want to be there. I wanted to be at home by my father's side. Being 'cast away' like a child during a time I felt my father needed me was something that weighed on me constantly. I will give my mother some credit, she tried to be supportive, but there was a bit of baggage there, so it didn't exactly work the way she probably intended it. Half measures didn't impress me at the time. Enter plan 'B'. Within a week of moving, my mother's husband set me up with a part time summer job at a local movie theater. I accepted only because I didn't want to accept my fathers money, my mothers money, and I wanted to get out of the house.


Free movies! Free popcorn! What could possibly go wrong?

So shortly after arriving in Florida, I started my first 'official' job. New place and new job meant new people. Since the theater hired a lot of high school students, I would actually get to know a few better in school over the course of the years. There was Geoff, a guy who gave me a run for my money in the sarcastic humor department. We became pretty close friends in high school. There was Wayne, who went by the name Lee for some reason. He was the music guy of the group and I remember he introduced me to Sublime and several other bands. There was Joe, the unapologetic nerd ... and I say that with great affection. Joe and I have actually maintained communicate to this very day, and have attended various cons together. One was my best man and Godfather to my oldest kid.



There were a few others. Background characters mostly, but two are fairly important to this tale. A effervescent and vain girl named Brianna with penciled in eyebrows. Brianna had a close friend from school, who she pressured into applying for a summer job with her. This other girl was shorter, had blonde hair that was always tied back in a scrunchie. Don't laugh this was the 90's. I would love to be able to say that laying eyes on her for the first time yielded some sort of angelic choir, slow motion fan on hair action, or something equally poetic ... but the truth is ... that just isn't my reality. I did notice her though. This one was quiet. She rarely spoke ... but carried herself with confidence and purpose. To me, that was an curious combination. People that walked and stood the way she did always tried to own the room. They loved to talk, and usually talk about themselves, or about things that related to them. Not this girl. I remember thinking that she was comfortable in her own skin. She also seemed to be perpetually appraising or studying her environment. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time. It is an amusing thing when I think back to this day. I can think back and recall her gait, how she exuded confidence, and her observing the world with rapt attention. I noticed all of that, but I could never remember her name. Not that surprising as we said all of one sentence to each other ... until one day in June.

June hit and hit hard with a big new film. Jurassic Park was out and DTS and CGI Dinosaurs were sucking in the bodies. I was scheduled to work front concession with three other people. The concession stand was an octagon shape with the popcorn kettle in the center. I was set up at the register directly in the back. Remember that Brianna girl with the penciled in eyebrows? Somehow her eyebrows got smudged and she took a bee-line to the bathroom with five patrons waiting in her line. Nameless jumped on to help run the register and move the line. The problem here is that she was running both registers now. Nameless was actually working two registers at once. That caught my attention, and as I was considering how to help out ... right on cue, one of the soda fountain lines ran our of syrup. She called out to a Manager standing in the lobby to switch out the Coke box. Her voice sounded stressed. Pencil brows was nowhere to be found.


Murphy's Law

She was getting overwhelmed. At least that is what I had suspected. She had an order for a large popcorn and what was a 64 oz. drink called the Cobbster. I quickly yelled, "I got your drinks". I heard her say thanks. The cup filled up and I lidded it. What happened next felt like I was living through a Three Stooges slapstick shot. I turn and start making a quick sprint to Nameless who happens to have her back turned. At the same time, Briana was coming in through the swinging door into the concession stand just as I am passing by. To prevent a collision with her I spun. This is probably where I should mention that Brianna had spilled coconut oil or butter on the tiled floor earlier in the day. You can probably see where this is heading. I slid and an an attempt to steady myself I grabbed the edge the counter. The Double Gulp sized drink decided that this was not its day to break the laws of physics and ... well ... just as Nameless turned around the cup stayed in my hand, but not the lid and the liquid.

There she stood, looking like she was in shock, her hair and face the beneficiary of my attempt to help. Her bangs hung weighed down by the wet. I remember trying to see if she was wearing makeup and if her makeup was running. I remember letting the cup drop, its dull 'plut' sound louder in my memory than it likely was. Most importantly, I wanted to remember her name without having to look at her name tag. I searched my mind desperately. It began with a 'J'. Jennifer? No that wasn't it. As she stood there dripping, I wanted to say I was sorry, to somehow make it right. Before I could, Brianna made herself known ... by laughing. Big mistake.


Clever Girl

Nameless snapped out of it. I suspect the hyena like howling from her friend did the trick. She gave me a look that said, 'I'll deal with you later' and walked past me with a surprisingly nice 'Excuse me'. As she passed the still laughing Brianna, she stuck our her thumb and wiped it over her newly fixed eyebrows and said over her shoulder that she will be back after she towels off. Brianna, looking quite amusing but not amused, muttered something under her breath. I didn't catch most of it, but I was smiling regardless. Brianna said the nameless girls name and I caught it. I would not forget it again. The nameless quiet girl had a name. I also would quickly find out ... she wasn't shy ... and wasn't as quiet as I thought. June was going to be a long month.


Read Part 2


The Story of Us


My wife now has a Ponyosa, courtesy of SFyr.



So what is this blog about? First, let me get the hard part out of the way. Some on staff know of this, two of them know the entire extent. My apologies if I come across as too clinical.


The best laid plans ...


My wife has always had a rather difficult medical history. For the last few years we have been fighting a losing battle with dual illnesses that have slowly robbed her of her liver function and at times her rather robust mental acuity. One was genetic and depending on its severity will slowly wreak havoc on the liver, which is the biliary and hepatic organ that works to filter toxins. One was a congenital malformation. Presently, for someone who doesn't drink, her liver looks like a 60's year old alcoholic's would. She was recently hospitalized for cranial edema as a complication to an incident of hepatic encephalopathy. That incident was what precipitated my postponing MCAT's and Med School plans, along with my immediate departure from staff. She never fully recovered from this.


For someone with rapidly advancing cirrhosis, you are hoping for not just a transplant, but also trying to dodge something called hepatocellular carcinoma. Unfortunately, a scarred liver is a high risk factor for cancer. A blood test less than a month after being hospitalized showed concerns that led to a few tests that confirmed the presence of several tumors, the largest of which is situated directly on her portal vein. She was removed from UNOS, and her oncologist and team are doing everything that they can to shrink the tumors in time for being added to the list again. The reality is that she is fighting a clock and the odds are not in her favor. Her specialists have been supportive, but honest. There is a heightened focus on palliative care.


The curse of serendipity


At present, we are all finally in a good place mentally. The last few years seemed to prepare us for the possibility of this situation. Looking back there is a part of me that is glad for the lesser obstacles we had to tackle. That said, while I am at peace with the fact that I may lose my wife and soul mate, and their kids may lose their mother, I am not immune to moments of sanguine thoughts. As a generally nostalgic person, I discovered that going through old photos helped bring up the spirits. Which brings me to this blog's purpose. I seek no pity or comfort. I am in a good place. That said, the sense of helplessness persists, and for this who know me ... I am quick to jump in to help when I feel it is needed. Being unable to do that weighs on me. Then there is the idle life - something I am unaccustomed to. I have more time to myself than I have ever had. My wife sleeps much of the time, and there is only so much you can do to fill the time. I will seek no employment, nor will I press on with my plans at entering the scientific community, as long as I am needed by the side of my wife.


The story of us


My wife suggested that, as a therapeutic measure, I start committing some of our memories we made together to a simple narrative. Self-indulgent, but she is the PsyD. So ... tales of spilled soda, intricate chalk messages, marshmallow face, and setting my yard on fire will finally be told in all their whimsical glory. It has been a long ass journey from high school in 1993 to today, and every moment mattered, seamlessly building on each other to create a shared experience of ecstasy, trials, joyous absurdity, and mundane normalcy. Oh who am I kidding, there is nothing normal about us. That is how we like it. If any one wanted to know what goes into a long and lasting relationship, and how to juggle everything in your life (college, work, kids, wife, hobbies, and illness) ... stay tuned.


Just us. Just Jeric and @Just Jessi.