Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Leif 40 Years Ago Today

Yesterday I was looking for something on my computer and happened across a video clip of Leif's first two years. The quality was pretty lousy, because it had been taped onto VHS tape years ago, already degrading the resolution, and then digitized from that in 2008, but even with the fuzzy focus it was so precious to see that beautiful little boy, so young, so tiny (even though a "giant"for his age) and so vulnerable. I watched it with a mixture of happy nostalgia and sadness. I want to go back and try to digitize it again from the original 8mm movies and see whether I could get a better version.

This photo was taken during that period, and almost exactly 40 years ago, September 1976, in Charlottesville, Virginia. The reason for the odd position of my arm around him was that we were playing wrestling games on the floor, and "dump truck," a game he loved, where I'd lie on the floor and have him on my lower legs, then lift him up and "dump" him on my chest.

What a beautiful child he was. I miss that little boy. I miss the man he became. It's nearly eight-and-a-half years since his death, and it still affects us every day of our lives, and it always will.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Leif the RC Car Builder Appeared in my Dream

I wonder how often I dream about Leif. Like most people, I rarely remember my dreams. When I do, it's almost always because something awakened me during the dream. That's what happened this morning. The phone rang and woke me from a dream about him.

I was talking to some man, no one I ever knew, about how Leif built his radio controlled cars, starting with the one when he was in sixth or seventh grade. That kit was made in China and had no instructions in English. I think it's quite remarkable that Leif was able to figure out how to put the whole thing together and make it work just fine. Later, he modified it to make it lighter and faster.

Leif had not been a very interested or avid reader, only reading what he absolutely HAD to for school until he discovered that there were magazines about RC cars and cool automobiles. He subscribed to them and devoured them with gusto.

Since he had a subscription to "Car and Driver" and some other adult car magazines, some list somewhere decided he was an adult male and started sending him credit card applications. He got a laugh out of that, and decided to have some fun with it.

One day, he took one of the applications and answered it all truthfully. Occupation: junior high school student. Income: $260 annually (his allowance), etc. He sent it back to them. Apparently, someone got the message, as he stopped getting credit card ads.

But back to the dream. Leif came into the room and I introduced him to this man, who was very impressed with him. In the dream, Leif was in high school, tall, handsome and very slender. He was wearing is trademark spiffy clothes (like he did at that time, not at the end of his life).

I wish I had been able to finish the dream and find out the rest of it, but if I had, I might not have ever known about it.

This photo was taken long before the Leif of the dream. It was in our garden in Sachsen bei Ansbach, Germany, in October 1979. He was four years old, and the hint of those charming dimples is showing here. He needed a haircut. I cut all the hair in our family, and it was usually overdue when it got done, usually because the boys didn't want their hair cut.

I don't know whether I ever saw this photo before. I hauled out some old slides and scanned them a few days ago. This darling picture was among them. I wonder how many more I will discover if I ever get the time to scan all of the slides we took.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Seeing an RX8 brings a flood of memories.

No matter where we go, it's startling when we come across something that is immediately associated with Leif, that hits like a blow of memories and all the expectations that come with them.

It's not common to see silver Mazda RX8s. Every time I see one in the Tampa Bay area, it's as though some area of my brain registers that it must be Leif driving along, no matter how much my conscious mind knows it can't be him.

It seems even stranger when it happens nearly half a world away. At the end of May, when we were in Cobh, Ireland, I caught this view of a silver RX8. As always, it brought a flood of emotions, all the associations...Leif's car (which of course, it wasn't), where was Leif? I missed him. Wished he were there, like he once was.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Leif and the Turtle in April 2008

There are still so many reminders of Leif all around me. Last Saturday we went for a walk and saw this big turtle making its way between ponds. The shell of this was was about 14 inches long.

On April 2, 2008, just a week before he died, Leif was sending me text messages about a turtle he rescued from the street. He said it was about the size of a large dinner plate. He didn't send me a picture of it, but I imagined it to be a lot like the one we saw.

Tonight I re-read all our text messages to each other in 2008, in the beginning because I wanted to find the ones about the turtle, but then I was hooked from the beginning. What all did we "talk" about . . . everything from the presidential political campaigns (he was for Obama) to school shootings, from computers to work, from his new-found love interest to my mother's Medicare Part D account, from his interview to work at USAA to getting lost on the USF campus. There was no hint anywhere that he would be gone, that he would shoot himself.

Leif was always self-contained and not a complainer, but still, not a hint of anything wrong.

Seeing the turtle made me think of those text messages, and when I mentioned them to his father, Peter said, "He could save a turtle, but he couldn't save himself." I've thought that, too.

This photo was a self portrait he took with his iPhone on March 7, 2008, the last photo of him I've found. It was on his phone. I'm guessing he took it to send to his new love interest.

We saw him a couple of weeks later on Easter, March 23, 2008, but I foolishly didn't take any photos. Our family sometimes overdoes it taking pictures, and I try not to be obnoxious about it. Now, I wish I had taken some.

Thanks for saving that turtle, Leif. How I wish you had saved yourself, too!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Baby Leif on the Back of my Bicycle

There are so many memories for which we have no photos. While I was riding my bike yesterday, I remembered how, during the 1975-76 school year when Leif was still a baby, I went back to school to try (again) to get my master's degree, this time in Family and Children Development. I hadn't finished my first try, back at the University of Kansas, because when Peter graduated from Law School and went into the army, I went with him, and we were sent to Germany for four years. By the time I came back to the USA, I would have had to retake or validate all my credits, and my interests had changed. The army assured us that we weren't going to move, so I decided to go back to school and try again.

It was't easy going to grad school with a six year-old and a baby, but I was determined. We also had a transportation issue. We only had one car, and Peter needed it to get to work at Fort Riley, so he put a yellow plastic child seat on the back of my blue Schwinn bicycle, and away Leif and I went. It was about 8 blocks from our house to the Child Development Center, the lab school for early childhood studies students at KSU. I was lucky to get a space there for Leif. He loved it! His first experience with a preschool learning environment was while I was in class during that school year.

I have no photos of us on the bike, and no photos of the Child Development Center except for a few B&W photos of Leif, Peter Anthony and Peter Walter at their playground one late afternoon in May 1976, which is when this one of Leif by the sandbox was taken. He looks so tiny! He was little, though always big for his age.

I didn't finish that master's degree either. Despite the army's assurance we wouldn't move for another year, we were transferred to the JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia that summer.

I don't think I'd have the courage to put a baby on the back of a bike and ride through those streets in Manhattan, Kansas now. They are too crowded and there's too much traffic. I guess I would have had to walk him in a stroller.

At that time, it was fun, and Leif loved it. I think it must have been his first experience of going somewhere on wheels with the wind in his hair. He loved that all his life.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How Could It Be Eight Years?

How could it possibly be eight years since Leif died? Today it is that long since he died. Tomorrow it will be eight years since we found him. It seems like just yesterday he was sitting at our kitchen table talking, having dinner with us on Easter Sunday. It seems like just yesterday he was texting me about saving a turtle that was crossing the road, one about as big as a dinner plate. It seems like just yesterday I was listening for his booming car stereo as he drove up to our house in his silver Mazda RX8.

Still, when I see a silver RX8 my heart skips a beat, like it wonders whether he is there. Still, when I see someone on a motorcycle, riding fast, I think of him, and feel protective of the rider.

I still miss him, every day of my life. I still think of him when I use things he got for us or left behind. I still wonder what to do with some of his things.

I still miss his laugh and his sense of humor. I still miss his hugs. I always will.

Where have eight years gone? It seems like just yesterday.

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This photo was taken in February 1981 at Kodomo no Kuni, a park near Camp Zama, Japan, shortly after Leif's sixth birthday, when he was still an eager young boy full of energy, enjoying the outdoor climbing possibilities.

Friday, April 1, 2016

He Could Play The Guitar Solo from "Sweet Child O' Mine"

We were at the pool the other day and another song Leif loved was playing, "Sweet Child O' Mine," by Guns N' Roses. He loved Slash's soaring guitar solo and worked hard to learn to play it. How I wish I had a video of him playing it, and also the "Star Spangled Banner" and other songs.

It struck me that there was something "Bach-like" about the "Sweet Child O' Mine" guitar riffs, and that made me smile, because my mother hates Bach but Leif loved his organ fugues and "stole" my CD of Bach's organ works. (I did eventually get it back.)

I no longer have any of Leif's guitars. I finally parted with them, as I wrote on this blog. His brother has the one in this photo, the one he designed and made himself in high school in Puerto Rico. It was a good instrument and very distinctive.

I hope the people who bought his Floyd Rose and bass guitars enjoy them as much as he did. His first guitar is still with his nephew, I think, though I doubt he will learn to play it.

It's amazing how music affects our memories, how many memories are tied to music. Leif loved music and had a huge collection of CDs. Since his death I have been asking family members who visit to go through them and take whatever interests them, but I still have quite a large number of them no one has chosen.

Leif liked strong stimuli, whether driving fast (or any other speeding vehicle), heavily spiced or very "hot" food, or loud driving music. Much, thought not all, of his music collection fit that description, but among it were surprising departures.

Since Leif has departed from my life, I know far less about the current music world. He kept me at least minimally educated about part of the music scene.

This photo was taken April 1991 in his room at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico. It's been posted on the blog before, but I have so few photos of him with his guitars I have to re-use it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Regrets of Bungled Communications

It's coming closer to the anniversary of Leif's death, and it's always the approach of the holidays and the anniversary that hit me. Although I think about him every day, in the days and weeks leading up to those special days, the feelings are more intense, the thoughts come more often. Even after eight years, I am still pondering and puzzling what put him over the edge, whether there were clues. I can't come to any new conclusions. The evidence hasn't changed. Yet the mind still searches.

While I was looking for something else on my computer, I came across an email exchange with him in the fall of 2001, after he had come back from the army a broken, sick man, sick in both body and soul. He was back in school at Kansas State University, and had decided to take German, hoping that the fluent German of his childhood when he attended the German Kindergarten (preschool) for two years would make it easier to learn the language.

It didn't. Although both our sons spoke fluent German after the two years we lived in Sachsen bei Ansbach, we moved from there to Japan, and my silly sons absolutely refused to speak German there, insisting that "they don't speak that here" and even holding their hands over their ears when we tried valiantly (at first) to keep up the language with them.

Leif was only five years old when we moved to Japan, and without using the language, he forgot it. It would be nice to think that it would just "come back" with some memory jogging, but apparently, like most of what happens in a five-year-old's life, the memory just wasn't there. Leif was struggling with his German class and I volunteered to help him study, just as I had helped him with algebra and Spanish when he was in high school.

One evening, he apparently came over, that fall of 2001, to have dinner with us and to study, but wasn't being cooperative. I got frustrated with him and went upstairs to calm down. While I was upstairs, he left without saying goodbye. I was very hurt, and wrote him a long and very critical email about his lack of motivation to study, how he had hurt my feelings by being uncooperative and then leaving without saying goodbye. I was pretty emotional and hard on him, and I am sure it must have hurt.

His answer said that he didn't feel like being with people, was depressed, and didn't want to stay, that he had gone somewhere by himself to study, and that at least my admonitions had gotten him to do that. He was sorry he had hurt my feelings, and said he was not good at expressing gratitude.

It hurt me to read that exchange. It reminded me of the many times when I wrote him critical email or letters about his finances, his studies, his failure to live up to some agreement (like working on the 710 N. 9th Street house painting), or failure to let us know whether he was going to show up for dinner. He didn't argue with me or tell me I was being unfair. He seemed to accept what I had to say, but I'm sure it hurt to read those things. I regret them now because although they were true, I wonder if my writing them didn't make him feel worthless.

Of course, they were not the sum total of our relationship, thank goodness, and the reasons I wrote them were twofold. First, I hoped to get him to live up to his abilities and responsibilities, and I also wanted him to see that his behavior affected others . . . me, and his father.  The trouble is, I didn't then, and I still don't now, know whether what I was doing and saying were the right way to go about it, whether they hurt more than they helped. I puzzle over what I could or should have done differently, and I can't see with any clarity what would have made the difference.

I know Leif loved us, and he knew he was loved. He claimed he had great self esteem, but I wonder about that. I think it would be hard to maintain it with all he went through.

This photo of Leif was taken in Japan when he was about six years old. It was a slide I just scanned about a year ago and hadn't seen in all those years. I don't know for sure where in Japan it was taken, though I think it was in Kyoto. It's a good example of how pensive he could be at times. I wish I could go back to that day, to that little boy, and tell him again how much I loved him. I wish I could go back to that day when he left our house without saying goodbye and write that email differently, or not at all. I wish I had understood that he left not just because he was inconsiderate (which he was), but because he was depressed and just wanted to be alone. I wish he had just told me that. So many missed chances for communication.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Leif by the Sea on the Big Island of Hawaii

It's hard to think of the sea and waves without thinking of Leif, who loved it so. Not long go, I was chatting with my sister about huge waves and the time I was watching 40 foot tall waves on the North Shore of Oahu with Leif and he ran out on the coral when the waves receded and we nearly lost him. The sea is beautiful but can be dangerous.

This photo was taken during those same years in Hawaii but on the Big Island of Hawaii on one of the lava flows. Wherever we went, Leif was always going out as far as he could get, or as high as he could climb.

I don't write blog posts about him often any more, but I am thinking so much about him these days. In less than a month it will be eight years since he died. That anniversary coming is hitting me hard. Why it should be different than any other day since he died, I don't know, but I suppose it is in our nature to mark the passage of time, and it's so difficult to grasp, even now, that he's been gone that long. Even now, when I see a car like his, or someone on a motorcycle, my heart skips a beat, as though it just might be him. Even now, when I hear a song he liked, it brings tears to my eyes.

Even now, I can picture him climbing out onto the the rugged lava to sit and watch the sea.

This photo was taken in December 1985 when he was ten years old, but just one month shy of his eleventh birthday. It was a slide and I hadn't seen it until I scanned it, but I remember that day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Did the head injuries and asthma push him over the edge?

I have always wondered whether Leif's head injuries played a part in his suicide. I don't know how many he had, but I do know at least two of them. The first was when he was a small boy in first grade. He was whacked in the head by a golf club swung by another boy. It knocked him flat.

The last time was his July 2007 motorcycle accident when he wasn't wearing a helmet and his head hit and scraped the pavement. That's the picture at left. He was lucky it wasn't a lot worse.

But that luck may have been only partial. We have been hearing a lot lately about the concussions that damage the brains of football players. Today I read an article in Scientific American that says that even mild concussions raise the risk of depression and suicide three times or more.

A Single Concussion May Triple the Long-Term Risk of Suicide

They don't know what the mechanism is, but the evidence is clear, that even mild concussions cause brain damage that has severe consequences.

Maybe in Leif's case, he might have been able to handle any combination of all the problems he faced if he hadn't had the head injuries, or the asthma, which bothered him greatly. Both head injuries and asthma are also associated with depression. Several studies have shown a link between asthma and increased suicide rates, too, particularly with severe asthma.

Too many risk factors for one man to escape.

Who knows, maybe without the injuries and the asthma, he would still be alive.