Archive | December, 2014

A New Year’s Fantasy

30 Dec

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”

                             –Lloyd Alexander, Author

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A couple of years ago, when I strolled through the Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan before Christmas, I came upon the latest Stephen King novel entitled “11/22/63”, which was the date JFK was struck down by Lee Harvey Oswald. On the book’s front cover was a newspaper containing the familiar headline: “JFK Slain In Dallas, LBJ Takes Oath,” but shockingly on the back cover, a completely different newspaper is pictured. That headline reads: “JFK Escapes Assassination, First Lady Also OK! Americans Breathe Sigh Of Relief.” WOW ! I stood there stunned by the whole concept, and I knew I had to have that book.

jfk cover

jfk back cover

The book’s premise is that a Maine school teacher, Jake Epping, learns from his friend, the owner of a diner, that the pantry in the back of his diner is actually a portal for time travel back to a specific date in the past, September 9, 1958. Step into the pantry, and you can travel back 53 years. Jake’s friend had been using the portal to buy ground beef at 1958 prices, but he offers Jake the opportunity to go back there for a deeper purpose—to stalk Oswald for five years and then prevent one of history’s most infamous events from happening.

The combination of a subject that fascinates me and the sheer concept of going back in time to prevent a senseless tragedy sent my mind into an absolute frenzy that day at Barnes & Noble. I had to sit down in the store’s Starbucks to compose myself. It was because I’ve had recurring fantasies since Jeff died that I actually stopped him before it was too late. These aren’t dreams I’ve had while sleeping. These are wide awake, sitting-at-my-desk-with-the-door-closed fantasies that I can’t stop visualizing.

The Los Angeles Times review of King’s book says:

“This is the conundrum of any time travel story…Every action taken in the past has an effect on the future, which means even the best intentions often have unintended consequences. Jake learns this early in the novel, when he tries to save a man he knows from a childhood catastrophe, only to learn, upon returning to the present, that in the new world he’s created, his acquaintance was killed in Vietnam.”

I don’t see the conundrum. Was it better that Jake’s friend died in childhood, or 15+ years later in Vietnam? My view is that every day of life is a blessing, and I’d have taken another 15 years with my beautiful son in a heartbeat, if that’s all I could have. No brainer. The future is always uncertain, but all senseless tragedies should be reversed if the power exists to do so. I do understand the horrors that people endured serving in Vietnam, and I don’t mean to make light of those. But to have 15 extra years with my son, almost under any circumstances, would be my choice.

I have two very distinct fantasies, one simple and one dramatic. The simple one has me coming home early on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, and I pull up to the house just as Jeff is backing out of the garage. I say “hey, where are you headed, I came home early so we could grab an early dinner at Michael’s and then watch the Knicks-Bucks game at the bar afterward.”

And Jeff, not knowing what to say, kind of stammers and says, “Oh, sure, ok, great” and he pulls back into the garage. I wonder why he says he needs to go back into the house to get his wallet, while I stare at a $1 bill and his loose driver’s license in his car’s cup holder. There are also a few sheets of paper on the passenger’s seat. I assume he just forgot the wallet while rushing out of the house.

He seems surprised and definitely out of sorts, but he pulls himself together, and we drive over to Michael’s. We then have our typical great time together, talking about a plan for him to regroup and to figure out how to channel his true passions into a career that he will love. And after a few beers, we start screaming at the TV as the Knicks proceeded to get blown out by 27 in Milwaukee.

But in the real world that night, Brett sat between Carey and me on our bed, and we mindlessly stared at that Knicks game on TV, not knowing what to do or say. And we spent at least two hours trying to summon the courage to call Drew at college to tell him his big brother was gone forever. How do you tell a 19 year old middle son that, in the blink of an eye, he had become our eldest ?

In my dramatic fantasy, I also come home early. I don’t know how or why, but somehow I’ve been tipped off to what Jeff was on his way to do, and I speed toward the bridge. I get there in time, and as he gets out of his car, I pull up behind him. I get out, lunge toward him, and wrestle him to the ground, all the while telling him how much I love him and that everything will be ok. I usher him into my car and drive him home.

I tell him that we’ll just tell the police later that his abandoned car had broken down. The next day, I take him to the behavioral therapist he was supposed to see on this day. It goes well, as we expected, and the session gives Jeff the motivation to move forward in a positive way. The meds he had been on the month before completely leave his system by the end of the year, and he feels back to himself again. He is ready to embrace 2011.

The Associated Press’ book review says:

“Revealing how ‘11/22/63’ ends would, of course, spoil the book. But it kind of doesn’t matter, because the lesson is clarion: Don’t mess with yesterday. It may bite. Pulling at the threads of time’s tapestry is done at our own peril, and the conventional assumption that changing one thing about the past would make today better is simplistic. Besides, King writes, ‘The past doesn’t want to be changed.’”

That may be true–the past may not want to be changed—but I would do anything including selling my soul if that’s what it took to bring Jeff back. And changing that one thing absolutely WOULD make today better. It would make the world a better place, brighten the days of many people who have been deeply hurt by losing Jeff as part of their lives , and it would erase the devastation that our family has endured and make us whole again.

There would be no peril in changing the past to prevent what Jeff did. There would only be goodness, beauty and hope. There could be no negative repercussions to bringing back a young man who truly touched people’s lives and who had so much potential to do great things someday. And since his death was an isolated incident that didn’t involve anyone else, reversing it would not alter the natural order of the universe.

The New York Times book review says:

“There is a darker what-if. What if history is too forceful to redirect? What if jiggering the engine produces no favorable outcome — merely a postponement of the inevitable? If he had lived, Kennedy might not have escalated the war in Vietnam, and might have kept America out of a bloody mire. But we don’t know. What if we were headed there anyway? Then our tampering might only make things worse. It is not historical inevitability, but something close.”

I disagree with this passage. I don’t believe there is anything inevitable about any of our fates. We shape them through our actions and our approach to life. If Jeff had gone to his appointment that day instead of to the bridge, he wouldn’t have simply been postponing the inevitable. He would have been embarking on a new path, the right path, to getting his life back on track after the detour he took by leaving his job. And every day that each of us is out there in the world battling it out is a day that brings us new hope and promise. If our destinies were inevitable, why bother trying to shape them? Why bother striving for anything? Of course, that is ludicrous.

In mid-August 2010, we left for East Hampton for what would be our final family vacation with Jeff. The first day there, I got pretty sick, and by the time we went out to dinner that night, my temperature had spiked to over 102. I almost never get sick, and I guess it unnerved Jeff to see me in that state.

He asked to me to get up from the table so he could speak with me privately. He brought me to the vestibule by the restaurant entrance and said, “Hey, I see what my whole job situation has done to you, and I don’t want you to worry. I’m gonna step up and go to law school.”  He broke into a big smile as he said that.

He was clearly concerned about me and was making a very loving gesture, and I responded by embracing him right there and telling him how much I loved him. But I corrected two things about what he said. First, I told him I just happened to get sick- his leaving a job had nothing to do with it. And second, while I appreciated the sentiment, I told him I only wanted him to go to law school if HE wanted to go. I said I’d rather him step up and strive for WHATEVER he wanted to do. Either way, it was an amazing moment.

Less than three months later, though, medication-induced thoughts led Jeff to commit an irrevocable act. Tragically, when it comes to suicide, there are no “do-overs”.

But “11/22/63” prompted me to dream that maybe there can be a do-over after all. Maybe there really is a time-travel portal somewhere in the world, in some abandoned inner city warehouse, or some vacated farmhouse in the heartland, or maybe even in Atwater Commons at Middlebury, for all I know. I guarantee you this—if one exists, I will find it, even if it takes the rest of my days.

And when I do locate it, I will travel back to the afternoon of November 9th, 2010. If I have a choice when I get there, I will opt for the simpler fantasy of catching Jeff before he leaves our house, and then taking him to that long overdue dinner at Michael’s, so that I can eat, drink and watch basketball with him again. After setting life back on its proper course, I will return to 2015 to find Jeff blogging away about the world of sports, getting ready for a night out with the guys, and talking about his exciting new job working at ESPN.com.

The realist in me understands that I won’t likely find the portal that I seek. But my worldview is always that as long as I’m out there working hard every day to realize my dreams, there’s always a chance that I will. And while writing about Jeff in this forum has been great and therapeutic under the circumstances, I look forward to the day when, after fixing the past and returning to a beautiful present with Jeff in it, I visit and express my gratitude to Elon Rubin (this blog’s creator) for having given me the opportunity to write on the Kleinsaucer blog.

When I see the look of sheer befuddlement on his face, as he asks me what the hell a Kleinsaucer blog is, it will be the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen.

-Rich Klein

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A Christmas Eve Tale: Using Jeff’s Spirit Above To Help Find Our Missing Dog

7 Dec

“Oh, they say, she died one winter,

When there came a killing frost,

And the pony she named Wildfire,

Busted down its stall,

In a blizzard he was lost.”

        –Michael Murphey, “Wildfire”, 1975

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It’s sort of ironic that for a family to whom Christmas has been so important, both spiritually and in terms of being a wonderful time for family bonding, Christmas Eve has not always been kind to us.

On Christmas Eve 2000, the five of us went into Manhattan to go ice skating at South Street Seaport, to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and then to have dinner at Michael Jordan’s steakhouse in Grand Central Station before jumping on the train home. It was a great day and evening.

However, at about one in the morning, Drew, who was just 9 years old, came into our room in tears and in obvious pain. True to his nature, he apologized for waking us up but said that he felt extreme stomach pain. I knew immediately what it was, as it happened to me when I was 11. I asked Drew to point to the exact spot on his abdomen where he felt the pain. He did so, and it was the precise location where the scar from my appendectomy was still visible on the right side of my abdomen.

I explained that we needed to get in the car right away and get to the hospital but that everything would be fine. I told him that Santa would know and would deliver his gifts to the hospital. And so in the early hours of Christmas 2000, Drew had his appendix removed and Carey came to sleep in his hospital room while I went home to be with Jeff and Brett. Drew opened presents in Northern Westchester Hospital on Christmas morning.

I would have thought that one such dramatic Christmas Eve incident would be enough for one family, but I was mistaken. Our evening on December 24th, 2012 was all planned out. We’d have an early dinner out together and then go to Church services. Those plans changed quickly, though, when during our greyhound Dobi’s late afternoon walk, she ran off in the woods at Dogwood Park, in the same direction in which she typically wanders off for short amounts of time. She had always come back in the past within ten minutes or so. Not this time.

At the 20 minute missing mark, Carey and I started getting nervous, as darkness was quickly settling in. Dobi was wearing a bright pink coat, but not only didn’t we see anything in the distance, we didn’t hear any rustling in the leaves either. After a half hour, we started to bellow her name, beseeching this greyhound– whom we had rescued from the racetracks of Florida when our whippet Clif was diagnosed with lymphoma just three months after Jeff died– to come back to us. Dobi had comforted us greatly in the aftermath of Jeff’s death and Clif’s ultimate death in January 2012 (see “Clif’s Coming”, 1/30/12, https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/clifs-coming/ ), and now she was gone. The song Wildfire entered my mind. The forecast for that evening was for sleet and snow, and I panicked at the thought that Dobi could be lost in a storm just like Wildfire was.

DobiCoat

Dobi in her pink coat

After an hour, we had screamed ourselves hoarse with nothing to show for it. It was pitch black, and the silence was deafening. Carey and I agreed that this time she wasn’t coming back. Carey speculated that she had been attacked by a coyote or a deer that she had chased. Or maybe for some inexplicable reason, she had escaped the park onto a road. Not knowing what else to do, we drove home without our precious dog.

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 1

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 2

We had texted Drew and Brett what was happening, and when we got home, the look of disbelief on their faces broke my heart. Again. As we stood in the kitchen, that all too familiar feeling that our family had suffered yet another crushing loss permeated the room. It was surreal–there we were in a warm house while our greyhound was somewhere outside in the very cold night, hopefully still alive. She had been gone over 90 minutes. At that point, Carey verbalized what we were all feeling. We were going to go back into those woods, together as a family, and we weren’t leaving without our girl. We grabbed flashlights and got in the car, all five of us including Carey’s mom.

For a brief moment, though, I stayed behind in the kitchen while they went into the garage. I pulled Jeff’s picture out of my pocket–the one that was given out with the prayer card at his wake. He is wearing a deep blue shirt with a red tie. I keep it with me at all times. I looked him squarely in the eyes, and my rage that had boiled within me for over two years surged to the surface. I screamed at him:

“You owe us for everything you’ve put us through. YOU OWE US. Bring her back, do you hear me? As your father, I’m telling you to BRING HER BACK.”

I didn’t know if he could hear me, but I guarantee you the neighbors did.

No more death. No more tragedy. Not tonight. Not on Christmas Eve.

 2012-12-27_0

We parked the car, and Drew, Brett and I got out with our flashlights and plunged into the dark woods. We each started calling Dobi’s name as loud as we could while shining our lights every which way. Nothing. We walked a little futher in, now screaming in fear, not hope. About five minutes later, Drew called out, “I heard something up there”, and he pointed up and to our right. Brett whipped around and pointed his flashlight at the spot, and we all immediately saw a flash of pink. Instinctively, Brett sprinted toward her, and Dobi started to run away from the blinding lights. I screamed at Brett to stop, and when I called her in as calm a voice as I could muster, she ran into my arms. I had dropped her leash by the entrance, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t letting go until she was back safely in our car. It had been well over two hours since she went missing.

clif and dobi

Clif and Dobi

I don’t know exactly how Jeff got Dobi back toward the entrance to the park while we were driving back there, after Carey and I had searched futilely for over an hour, but I do know that enough things have happened over the past four years–most of which I’ve shared in this forum–to convince me that Jeff’s spirit is alive and that he is watching over everyone he loves. While I don’t think he can control everything (if he could, all his favorite sports teams would win the championship every single year), I believe that God has given him a sphere of influence within which to operate, and he has utilized this to communicate with us periodically, to turn out the lights on occasion at major sporting events, and to guide the dog he never met back to us. I shudder to think about the emotional devastation we would have felt if Dobi had not returned.

Once we returned home with Dobi and fed her, we went directly to Church. Dinner could wait until afterward. Once there, in addition to celebrating the miracle of Christmas under the leadership of our Priest, Father Elias Villis, we silently thanked God about a million times for bringing Dobi home. And I privately thanked Jeff for stepping up for the family and doing his part.

When I opened the Church doors to leave after the completion of the service, the snow was falling fairly heavily, the cars were covered with it, and I had to compose myself while thinking about how Dobi, then safe and warm in our home, could just as easily have been out in this storm with her pink coat saturated, and with her shivering and scared in the woods or elsewhere. I was instantly overtaken, right there on the Church steps, by that feeling of parental helplessness that I was introduced to so abruptly and violently in the fall of 2010, and I was deeply shaken by it.

The bottom line is that whether it’s your dog or your child, you protect them as long as you possibly can, but when it’s time to remove the leash, your parental powers significantly diminish. At that point, all you can do is hope and pray that they are equipped to move forward productively, to make decent decisions and to stay out of major trouble. I have no idea where Dobi was or what she was doing during the two hours we were separated from her, but she somehow found her way back to us. Jeff, on the other hand, who had taken one dollar with him to the bridge on November 9th, 2010, just in case he decided to pay the return toll to come back home, chose not to. And in making that decision, he devastated the family he loved so much.

The story of Dobi on that Christmas Eve was just the latest incident that has made it quite evident to me that incorporating Jeff into our lives as if he was still here is the way to move forward most productively. That is why I made sure that he was central to our search and rescue mission for Dobi. And that is why I continue to yell at him when appropriate, talk to him daily, email and text him on occasion and call him every day to hear his voicemail greeting. I also stay attuned to his signals and will always be open to communication from him.

The path to recovery for me has never been clearer. I must continue to cherish what I do have, which is an incredible amount, while battling my loss by always carrying Jeff with me everywhere I go. Given how he sprang into action the second I called upon him to bring Dobi home two years ago, he obviously still needs me to be his father, and I will never stop being that for him. I miss him dearly, but through emails, texts, photos, videos, anecdotes and special memories, he truly remains alive for all of us.

I have learned not to look too far into the future, but for now, Dobi is home, the holiday season is beautiful, my wife and sons love me, and my friends and family are amazing. 2015 is almost here, and I’m ready to take it on. Things are bound to go awry along the way, but the events of December 24, 2012 gave me a blueprint for how to approach most problems in the future.

In many cases, I’ll pull out Jeff’s picture and sternly instruct him to make things right. And if that doesn’t work, our family will once again come together to brainstorm, and as a team, we will search for and ultimately find the answer.

–Rich Klein