Sunday, December 16, 2007

So Long, Dad

My dad died Friday. He was 80. I miss him terribly.

His adventure started late at night on Friday, September 28. He knew he was having a heart attack, and while I slept, he drove himself to the hospital after taking two doses of outdated nitroglycerin. He waited until 5 a.m. the next day before letting the nurse call me. He didn’t want to wake me. The hospital was a half-hour away and when I got there he was stable, but not well. Still, I scolded him for not calling me and for not calling 9-1-1. He just smiled.

A few days later, the heart doctors did a cardio catheterization on him. More bad news. The bypass he had back in 1984 had run its course, he had a leaky valve and the arteries surrounding the heart were almost all clogged. They could operate, they said, but the operation and subsequent recovery made it a risky endeavor. You see, Dad was also diabetic, which – in case you don’t know – wreaks havoc with complications when the body is invaded with scalpels and dyes.

It was the dye used during the heart cath procedure that began the two-and-a-half month battle between Dad’s kidneys and heart. He was discharged from the hospital October 3rd. My sister from Connecticut (God bless her) flew out to stay with the cranky old man. My brother flew out, too. In a day or two, they had to take Dad back in. His blood sugar was going crazy. He was discharged a few days later, but my sister and I were back in the emergency room within a week. Congestive heart failure and pneumonia, they said. This hospital stay was longer, but he eventually got out. When it came time for my sister to fly back home, a nursing agency came to stay with my Dad round the clock. He didn’t want a nursing home and there was no way he’d impose on my family by living with us.

He went into the hospital for the final time on October 30. His nurse was with him when I got there. Congestive heart failure again. He was released a week and a half later. One day as I sat with him working on a jigsaw puzzle, I asked him if the doctor has ever told him if he thought he was going to die.

“Nope,” he said, “And I don’t wanna know.”

But I knew. I’d seen congestive heart failure before and the seesaw battle between a man and his failing organs. Docs prescribe heart drugs to pump harder, increase blood pressure in an effort to clear the body of fluid. Meanwhile, the kidneys – often the victims of diabetes - can’t keep up with things, and they wear down, too. Fluid builds up, the heart works harder, the heart gets bigger, and, well, something’s gotta give.

On Friday, December 14, 2007, something gave. My sister called, letting me know that my dad gained three pounds overnight. When I called Dad’s house, the nurse answered. She was keeping the line clear for the doctor to call back. A trip to the ER was imminent. I asked her if I should go, too, and she said, “No, it’s just the fluid retention. I’ll call you if it gets bad.” I didn't get to talk to him.

I’ll never get that moment back. I’ll never get a do-over.

She called me back around 11:30 a.m. to let me know the doc told them to head to the hospital. I called my sister to let her know. A half hour later, the nurse called back. She was hysterical and I knew Dad was dying if not dead.

I was right.

He died like he wanted to, though. He wasn’t wasting away in a nursing home. He was on his feet, walking to the nurse’s car when it happened. And he never saw it coming. The doctors think he died immediately.

At the hospital, I kissed him goodbye, knowing he couldn’t feel it. Knowing he was too busy reuniting with Mom. Or, playing catch with my brother Tommy. I stood there, eyes closed as I ran my fingers through his gray hair. “See ya soon, Dad,” I whispered.

Ever since Mom died, I made it a point to try to talk to Dad every night. Sunday nights were special because he and I (along with my brother and cousin) would bet on each football game played, and on Sundays, Dad would pick up the phone and either say, “Hello Winner” or “Hello Loser”. Ha. He loved it, and we’d go through the remaining games, scenarios, etc, and assess which teams needed to win and who would be the big loser for the week. We always hoped it would be my cousin.

When I talked to my Dad the night before he died, he asked me what I had going on for the weekend. When I told him my son actually had no soccer games on Sunday, I cringed, because I knew it was my last weekend day to Christmas shop and I thought he was going to invite the family over. Instead, he said, “Great! This’ll be the first Sunday all season where you can watch football all day and not go to soccer!” Not a sniff about me coming over. Typical Dad. Selfless. Thinking about me. How can it be that I am his son?

I called so many of his friends yesterday. I didn't want them to find out by reading the newspaper. Many cried. Many didn't know what to say. I had to stop after every two or three calls, just to get my bearings. I have a few more out-of-state people to call and I'll be done. Maybe I was putting myself through unnecessary stress, but this is my way of honoring my father. Tom Henshaw was too loved by too many to have an unheralded death.

Today will be hard. But it won't be the phone calls. Instead, it’s the first Sunday I have ever known without my father. Something tells me I won’t be able to watch much football.

So long, Dad.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How to get a Wii

So my nine-year-old son, Nick, has completed his Christmas list. What's he want? An X-BOX 360. And a PlayStation3. Oh, and throw in a Wii, too. He finally understands that since all gifts flow from Santa, you may as well ask for the world. Hell, it's free, isn't it?

After explaining to him that we just got our X-BOX a couple years ago and that there are kids in Africa dying because they couldn't pay twenty cents for proper immunizations, he narrowed his list down to the X-BOX 360. Since some of our X-BOX games are upwards compatible on the X-BOX 360, I applauded his choice. Until, that is, I saw my twelve-year-old daughter's list. Amanda wants a Wii. Making matters worse? After doing a little research, I determined the PlayStation3 made the most sense. After all, it's got a built-in BluRay DVD player - a $200 add-on if you go with the X-BOX 360.

But really, how much better can a 360 or PS3 be over the XBOX we have today? Is it worth plunking down enough money that could otherwise save 2500 African lives? Probably not. And for half the cost of a 360 or PS3, we could buy a Wii which offers a totally different gaming experience.

Thing is, how do you get one? Aside from there being a huge shortage of them, consumers far savvier than I know when to camp out and where.

Enter Google. The other day I googled "How to get a Wii" and the search returned with twenty-eight gazillion hits. I found a couple links that I think will help.

Here's one:

Here's another:

Long story short, if you want to buy one online, you need to sign up for email alerts through a service like the one offered on which will also let you know when your local stores stock a Wii on their shelves. Be warned though. I got an email alert today at 1:37pm that had the Wii in stock. By the time I clicked on it at 1:45, guess what? Sold out. Ya gotta be quick.

As for snagging one at a local store, here's what I gleaned:
* WalMart receives shipments at 3pm each day. Call them at 3 (or shortly after) and ask them if they got any Wii's. If the answer is 'yes', be prepared to get down there within 15 minutes.
* Target receives shipments on Sunday mornings. Get there when the store opens.
* BestBuy receives their Wii's before the store opens on Sundays. You almost need to camp out to get these since most people think of BestBuy & Circuit City when it comes to stuff like this.
* Don't overlook stores like GameStop. They get 'em too. Call them often.

How much trouble will I go to? I dunno. But I'll make these two predictions: It'll probably be a PS3 under the tree and the names of both my kids will be on it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What's it all taught me?

In the two and a half years it took me to conceive, write and polish Healing Chiron, here's what I've learned:

1) Any bumbleskin can write a book. The hard part is crafting it into a story that contains not only good, fluid prose, but also the essential elements of a tale. Things like voice, stakes, bridging conflict - I never totally comprehended the importance of these things three years ago.

2) Don't tell anyone you're writing a book until it's at Borders. Avoiding this mistake is SO hard, but, dang, I want to vomit whenever I see certain people coming who know what I'm doing. "So how come I don't see your book at Walden's?" "What's taking so long? Do you need some addresses of publishers?" The absolute worst came when a relative pointed out that writing books is an excellent source of "Passive Income". Passive as in 'no effort required'....just sit back and collect the residuals. Gak. This, after I've poured over a thousand hours of effort into Healing Chiron. No discounted copies for him.

3) Patience reigns supreme. If writing it didn't take long, marketing it will. I got my first request for a full on July 24, and I remember hoping to hear back in a week. And why not? She only took a few weeks to say she liked the first 100 pages, and surely she goes through her fulls faster than her partials. Fortunately, three more 'request for fulls' have staggered in since and the days are moving faster.

4) Believe in yourself. Once your collection of rejection slips causes your manilla folder to bulge, it's easy to believe you've been delusioned about your writing. But don't let the bastards get you down. There's a reason you were put on this ball of dirt and if you think it's because of your writing, then you're probably right. And if that's true, then have's only a matter of time.

5) Know your inner motivations. The fantasy of seeing your book in print is a siren's call that leads to failure. As you craft your novel, if your focus is more upon being published and quitting your day job than it is upon creating something beautiful, well, guess what? You'll probably never be published...unless lulu counts. It's okay to dream, but stay focused on making your story the best it can be.

I'm sure I'll have more once I get a better taste of the publishing world.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

As Promised...Chapter One of Healing Chiron

Chapter 1
Wednesday, July 6th, 2005 – 3:18 am.

“Danny says he can still smell Mom.”

It’s been almost two years since she told me, but I still remember the quiver in Nat’s voice. I haven’t heard it since.

“Really?” I asked. “How so?”

But I already knew. A few mornings after Sharon died I spied Danny lingering in the silence of my bedroom. Only six years old, he climbed onto my bed and scurried toward Sharon’s pillow. He hovered above the pillowcase’s cool surface, moving back and forth - sniffing where his mother once slept. At some point he froze, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. Then he set his head down near the source of the scent and whimpered.

Grief is only unbearable until you watch your own child mourn.

Six hundred and twenty-two days have passed since the all-knowing, ever-loving strangers in heaven stole Sharon from us. An hour doesn’t pass that I don’t think of her. On the nights I allow sleep to take hold, I curse myself in the morning if I haven’t dreamt of her. And if she visits my dreams? Well, then those dreams are of ordinary times and places in which I’ve forgotten she’s even gone. Once there were mornings when we would laugh, each with faint memories of talking to the other in our sleep. To this day, I still wake thinking she’s next to me. Sometimes it’s because one of the kids has crawled into my bed. Other times I’m not so sure. I’ll never tell Danny this, but on the nights I don’t try hard, I can smell her, too.

But not this night. This night it is only the sound of one of my children, thinking she is quiet as she makes her way to my room.




Then, the soft squeak of the bedroom door. Nat, indeed, because Danny bursts in as if the house is on fire. Nat, though, listens before saying anything. If I pretended to snore, I’d hear the unmistakable click of the closing door.

I held my breath.


Duh-dee? My twelve-year-old daughter only uses this sleepy moniker when she feels the need to regress into the little girl she once was, is still embarrassed by, and yet secretly longs to be again.


No answer. Maybe she’d forgotten how to converse. Over two weeks had passed since she initiated a conversation with me. In fact, over the past two months - a stretch of time when my introverted daughter became increasingly withdrawn from even me – I tried various approaches to open her up. None worked. So when I hear the echoes of the Nat who once loved me, my Pavlovian grey matter takes notice.

“What’s the matter, Ignats?” It was the softest voice I could muster.

For a few seconds, only more silence.

“I think I’m sick.”

Four words I’d often heard before, yet this time her voice wasn’t polluted by the frustration of a headache, the fear of vomiting, or the throbbing pain of an earache. Instead, Nat’s ‘I think I’m sick’ sounded like my ‘Kids, there’s been an accident.’ Of course, it didn’t help that I’d been thinking of my brother Jimmy so much lately. But, seriously, how sick could she be? A girl doesn’t realize in the middle of the night she has a chronic and fatal condition. You don’t wake up thinking you have leukemia or bone cancer.

Do you?

“What do you mean, Honey?”

At first, more silence. Then, the strained exhaling that comes only with tears. I felt her forehead. Dry and hot - one of those fevers you feel before your hand even makes contact.

“Oh, Honey. You’re burning up.”

She continued to cry. I sat up and pulled her to me. After calming her, I took an inventory of her symptoms. A slight headache, she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.

Probably a virus.

I gave her some Tylenol, and though she weighed far too much for me, I carried her back to bed knowing this closeness would be gone by sunrise.

“Don’t worry. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”


Did I know even then it wasn't true?

“Absolutely. And if you don’t, we can go see Dr. Matt. It’s not like either one of us has classes to go to, right?”

“Yeah. Right.”

My lips lingered on her warm cheek. For now, my baby was back.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

First Post!

Welcome to Slave, Free Thyself.

What's that, you say? Weird name for a blog? Not really. We're all slaves to something, and usually by our own choosing. Me? In the land of slaves, I'm an IT Project Manager, leading software development projects week after week, month after month, too often ignoring the crazy little dying man inside me who's begging to create, counsel and inspire.

In the land of my dreams, though? After finding an agent, and then a publisher for Healing Chiron, I become a full-time novelist who runs a combination driving range/goat farm/drive-thru BBQ Rib, Chicken & Brisket stand. Get it? I could start the smokers after getting the kids on the school bus, and write all day until the rush-hour folks start driving up to pick up their dinner. Dunno where the goats come in, but the idea of selling milk to some local store sounds like a daily chore that would keep my blood pressure down.

Plus, I wouldn't need to mow the driving range.

The crows of this world put the odds of this ever happening at one in uhhhh two million. Whatever the odds, I'm not buying what they're selling. Instead, the key is this: Focus on creating something beautiful, and - sooner or later - the right person will take notice. Til that day comes, I'll move forward with my work-in-progress, The Killing Stones, and get started on Take Out - a fictional (and much more interesting) account of my day job. The goal? To be so fully invested in my writing that I can never abandon my dream. Otherwise, I work for the Darth Vaders of the world until I'm sixty.

Yech. Did I just say that?

If I'm posting on this site, it probably means I need a break from The Killing Stones. In all likelihood, though, posts here will be few and far between ("quality, not quantity") since I'm also busy marketing my work of supernatural/urban fantastic/inspirational fiction, Healing Chiron. Its first chapter will be Post #2 and remain front and center (for marketing purposes) until I sell the manuscript. Otherwise, material I post on this site will most likely be related to writing, religion, and philosophy.

Another purpose of this blog? I need to make some connections in the writing community. I'm looking for critique partners and a mentor (preferably a published author in my genre).