Sunday, August 31, 2008
The Movie "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial" came out in the summer of 1982 when Leif was seven years old and he, like all of us, loved it. But for him, it went far beyond simple entertainment value. He deeply felt the loneliness and pathos of the creature and was fascinated by the concepts.
On one of Peter W's TDY (temporary duty for you civilians) trips to Korea, he brought back two E.T. dolls for Leif, knowing how much the movie had affected him. They were made of a very soft vinyl that felt close enough to skin to be nearly cuddly.
Those dolls became his treasured companions and he took them everywhere. He slept with them. He did his homework with them. He "dressed them up" with goggles and socks for shirts, and set them up with pencils. They were a part of much of his play during that period (as much as the GI Joes, but much more emotionally beloved), and were evidently a comfort to him at all times.
This went on for at least two years, perhaps longer. But there was a tragedy involved. At some point he wanted to take them to school. I told him that wasn't wise, that someone might take them, or harm them. He simply couldn't believe me, that anyone would be cruel to E.T. So, one day, without my knowledge, he took them. Knowing Leif, I doubt he took them to show them off. More likely he just wanted his companions with him.
But his faith in other children was not rewarded. Some older boys teased him about his "dolls" and tried to take them away from him. He hung on tight to one, and they ripped its arms off. They got away with the other. He came home utterly heartbroken. I was able to sew the arms back on, and somehow, we did manage to get the other one back, but it was a hard lesson for Leif.
We kept so many of his childhood things, all the GI Joe toys and the Japanese robots and toys, and many other things, but I don't remember what happened to the E.T.s.
These photos were taken in 1984 and 1985 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Until Leif started playing video games for hours on end or working at a call center where he was stuck on a phone in a cubicle, it was hard for him to sit still for long. If he was on the phone, he would pace. If he was doing homework or drawing, he would change positions constantly. This is a series of photos I took of him while he was thinking and drawing in one of his favored spiral notebooks. We were living in Honolulu, Hawaii at the time.
In these small photos, you can't tell what he was drawing, but in the original photo, you can clearly see that the drawings are of space ships, some rather "technical" drawings, and some shown in motion with a battle going on, weapons firing. Most of what he drew was either space ships, weapons, or robots, the same things we began drawing again in the late 1990s when he got into gaming with Cyberpunk.
In Hawaii (summer 1983 to summer 1986), Leif, like his friends Joey and Michael, was also a big fan of GI Joe. He had quite a collection of GI Joe figures and vehicles. They played with them, and also got into their own gear and went out into the brush to pretend they were GI Joes themselves. Joey and Michael actually know how to play imaginatively, but there were other kids that got Leif so disgusted because theyd didn't know how to play and didn't know how to cooperate. They would decide to get together to "play GI Joe" but all they would do was set up all their figures and argue. No actual playing took place. Leif soon learned to avoid those kids.
Michael was quite a talented artist and I think he inspired Leif's to draw. Maybe if he'd had more encouragement at school and with friends after he moved from Hawaii to Chicago, he would have had more interest in continuing with art.
I saved Leif's large GI Joe collection to give to a son of Leif's someday. Last year, he said to give them to his nephew, Marcus, along with his collection of Japanese robot toys, but I don't think Marcus has taken the interest in GI Joe that Leif did.
Leif would get some money, as a gift, or earn a little, and he would want to go to either Long's Drug Store in Pearl City or to the post exchange and buy a new GI Joe figure. Then he would stand and stare at the huge selection and be paralyzed by the necessity of making a choice. Invariably, he would want at least two or three different ones, but only have enough money for one. If he bought one, it meant giving up the others. He couldn't decide.
I would try to help him by asking which one he liked best. That was the problem. He didn't know. Then I would tell him that if he liked all of them equally, it didn't matter which one he chose, that he would enjoy is choice equally, and could get another of them next time. That didn't help. He sometimes was so paralyzed by having to make that choice that he would go home in tears without any of them, though usually he did choose one after much consternation and didn't seem very happy about it at the time, as you would think a kid would when getting a new toy.
The GI Joes and their vehicles were some drawing inspiration as well, though instead of trying to draw them as they were, as usual with Leif, they were a springboard for new ideas and designs.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Somewhere in an earlier post I mentioned that Leif showed considerable artistic talent as a child. I think this is the earliest photo we have of him creating something artistic. He was just over two years old and was attending Rocking Horse Country Day School in Charlottesville, Virginia. You can see how intent he is on what he is doing. Leif was like that from the beginning. He could concentrate intensely on whatever interested him for long, long periods.
Leif was not left-handed, yet he's using his left hand to make this painting. I suspect that was an experiment, too.
Most children aren't attending a school at the age of two, even a preschool, but Leif needed it. Have you ever seen the movie, "Short Circuit"? If not, look it up and watch it. It's great! It came out in 1986 when Leif was 11 and our whole family enjoyed it. There is a scene in which the robot that has come to life, Number 5, is trying to learn everything he can at lightning speed, and the priceless line is, "Input, more input!"
That's how Leif was. He wanted more input. His mind was so brilliant that without new and interesting input, he was miserable and frustrated. I can't remember whether I've written about this already or not, but if so, here it comes again.
When he was just short of two years old and we were living in a townhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, he started exhibiting some very strange behavior. He would go off by himself and bang his head against the wall, sometimes until he bruised his forehead. This behavior greatly alarmed me. With my background in clinical psychology, I was afraid he had a serious neurological problem. We had him throughly checked out medically, but nothing was found to explain the behavior. He wasn't doing it to get attention, either, since he went off by himself, and would shove anyone away who tried to comfort him.
After awhile, by trying to observe whether there was any pattern to the behavior, I discovered that he never did anything like this anywhere but at home, and then only if we were at home all day. If we were, no matter how much time I spent with him, trying to teach or entertain him, he seemed to get frustrated, and that's when the head banging would happen. If we went out somewhere during the day, there was no head banging.
I developed a theory that he was bored out of his skull and didn't know what to do out it at that tender age. I guess we were lucky he wasn't the kind of kid who would be destructive, or he might have tried damaging something beside his head.
At any rate, I started looking for a place to provide him with "more input," and found the new Rocking Horse Country Day School run by Linda Jurlando. She was willing to take Leif, still in diapers and not yet two years old, as an experiment, in her Montessori day school.
Leif started going two mornings a week for 4 hours. When I came to get him, he would run kicking and screaming in the opposite direction. We increased it to three mornings a week, and he still didn't want to go home. Then five. I feared people would think I was a terrible mother. The other kids ran TO their mothers when it was time to go home, not away from them.
When another teacher at the school became ill and left, Linda offered the position to me. I had been substituting, and discovered that Leif paid absolutely no attention to me while I was there, so I wasn't concerned about him just hanging on to me. Now he was there 40 hours a week, and he STILL didn't want to go home at 5 PM! He kept himself busy the entire time.
But the head banging stopped!
Leif continued to need enormous amounts of new input, and he also continued to show frustration by taking it out on himself or inanimate objects, like the time he was so upset at something that happened in high school in Puerto Rico that he came home and smashed his fist into the concrete block wall in his bedroom. I probably never would have found out about it except I found the watch that flew off his wrist and broke when he did it, and asked him what happened. Then I got to see the bruised and scraped knuckles. Good thing he didn't break them.
Or the times he would get furious at something he drew and crumple it up and throw it. Or, as a small child before he was six, turn his room upside down . . . taken the drawers out and dump them, pull the mattress off the bed, upend chairs. But he never took it out on people.
Somewhere on the ZAON forums after 2002, Leif mentions why he didn't continue to draw or paint, though he did do some drawing at the end of the 1990s. I understand exactly what he meant. He said that he could see perfectly in his mind what he wanted to create, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not make it look as it did in his mind. That discouraged him and he dropped it. I suspect that if he had had the "fire in the belly" to be an artist, he could have developed his abilities to the point where he could have produced what was in his head, but Leif was used to having things come fairly easy to him, and he wasn't interested in pursuing something that he felt was too much effort for the result. It's shame, though, because I think he had a fine artistic sense, and his interest in science fiction would most likely have led him to create some fantastic art.
Most small children are uninhibited about their drawing and painting. The haven't yet really learned to compare it with art created by others, and they haven't yet learned to judge themselves harshly. I think Leif reached that point when he was about nine or ten, when we were living in Hawaii, and began to develop other talents.
I'm a night owl, so for me, it's still the historic night that Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party. I wish Leif had been here to see that, to watch his speech.
Leif was an Obama man. On February 19, 2008, he sent this text message to me:
"I am gonna bet that Obama is going to win and beat McCain by the biggest landslide since Nixon."
It's sad he won't be here to find out if his prediction comes true.
He was caught up in the campaign. It was one of the reasons I had begun to worry about him a little less. I liked to see him fired up about it, passionate. He loved to discuss it. He actually voted in the primary, something I had never known him to do before.
When Hillary Clinton was still ahead in the polls, he even wrote a long letter to her, explaining why she and Obama needed to stay civil and not begrudge each other, because he saw the dream ticket as the two of them.
This photo was taken in December 2007 when he was with us for Christmas. I wanted to post a photo taken close to when he sent his opinion about the race to us.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The days when my boys were small enough that I could hug them both at the same time are long gone, but oh, how I loved all those hugs! This photo was taken at Thanksgiving time in Virginia. The kids were ready for bed, and it turned out nicely because we were all wearing virtually the same shade of blue. We look happy . . . we were happy. That's something to be thankful for!
Look what a little blondie Leif was. Both my sons were blond as young boys, and so was their Dad, and all of their hair turned dark as they grew. By the time Leif and Peter A. were in high school, their hair was a nice medium brown. Their dad's was dark brown. I wonder why it is that children's hair is often lighter like that.
Leif had beautiful hair until he was in his mid-twenties and in the army. Then his hairline started receding badly. It's a family trait, unfortunately, on my side. He decided he'd rather shave his head than just look like he was going bald.
The year that we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia was a very good one for us. We loved it there.
It's hard to believe that this small boy became that big, strapping man in the last picture. He was small and vulnerable . . . yet really always very big for his age.
This photo was taken in our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas around Christmas time when he was 11 months old, and I think all the decorations and lights had him completely mesmerized. As a child, he loved Christmas, but as an adult, he didn't seem to enjoy it all that much except as a time to get together with family. Although he loved music and had a great singing voice, he didn't want to sing Christmas carols.
Last December, he came to the Christmas concert that my German-American chorus gave, more to make me happy than to enjoy the music, I think.
This boy was a darling rascal. He grew up to be a rascally man, too, with a great sense of humor.
It's amazing to me that my hair was ever that dark! I'm getting old. :( Sixty-one.
Monday, August 25, 2008
I am still finding things on Leif's computers that I haven't read before and today I came across this. He had saved it as his "old" Match.com profile statement, and it was written between March and December 2004. He saved this in January 2005, right before he moved with us to Florida.
DATING SUCKS!!! Yeah, that's right. I must say that I really don't like being single. I think most people, especially men, go through a period where they like to sample as many women as possible for fun and to see what they like. For some that is a few years for others it is a few decades. One way or another I know mine is over. I know what I want and even thought I had found it once but it didn't work out.
I have the sort of parents that seem so scarce today, the ones that have been together for 40 years and are still cute together and very much in love. I want the same sort of romantic fairy tale that they seem to have.
Moving on, I guess I will go down the 'tips' list and tell you about me. My friends would describe me as funny, extremely intelligent, sometimes aloof, and while I don't try to push others around I have been told, "there is no getting you to do anything you don't want to do." I am a big guy, fairly muscular and strong, and some say I am "scary looking" like a bouncer, though I am probably one of the nicest and least aggressive people there are.
Fun in Kansas is limited to online video games and motorcycle rides. Thus, why I want to move. I am happiest and most at peace when enjoying something simple with someone special, which I am obviously not getting enough of.
What makes me proud? Two things: the time I spent in the Army and the fact that every one of my ex's, including my Ex Wife, will tell you themselves that even though it did not work out, that I am a great guy and I never mistreated them.
If I could have a super power it would be the "Jedi Mind Trick." That way when I get pulled over for doing 151 mph in a 45 mph zone I can say, "This isn't the bike you are looking for. I can go about my business." And it will work.
My perfect date cannot be done in the Midwest as we would need an ocean and a sunset and a beach front restaurant. But in Florida I know a place that would be perfect. And YES, I do believe in love at first sight.
I want a woman who is fun, that smiles a lot, that will lift me up not drag me down. I am attracted to all types of physical descriptions but I am a total sucker for redheads, natural or not. A flaw in match.com's system keeps saying I don't like redheads.
I like strong intelligent women that can take care of themselves but like to lean on someone now and then. I love innocence, but she must be mature as well. She should be sensual and affectionate. And she has got to have beautiful eyes and a pretty smile that I could stare at for decades to come. I want a woman that is loyal and committed that I can count on as much as she will be able to count on me.
Being an Army brat I have traveled a lot but at the cost of never having a lasting friendship. I want that sort of friendship that lasts forever. I want a woman that compliments me by being strong where I am weak and weak where I am strong. A Yin to my Yang that can make us both complete. Opposite, but with enough in common to understand each other. Different enough to always be fascinated by each other.
I tend to like women that are a bit Naive and hopeful and idealistic to balance my deep seeded cynical realism. Someone to be emotional and passionate to balance my logical reason. Someone that is outgoing and extroverted to offset my own shyness. Someone that will drag me out to do something crazy I would never do on my own. Someone who will cry in my arms after her delicate heart gets stepped on. I want someone that likes to be touched and is sensual and sexual. I want a woman that is feminine and considers herself a lady.
Loneliness is a terrible thing. I wish he had found that woman.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
When I look at all the photos of Leif's life, there seem to be three predominant moods; joyful, pensive and serious. Each has its own charms. When Leif was joyful, the photos are so full of it that they make me smile, and I'll bet they make you smile, too. He had a wonderful, infectious smile, but the joyful photos aren't just smiling. They portray a child, or a man, who was truly happy in that moment.
This photo was taken when we were living in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 1976. Leif was a year and a half old. If I remember correctly, we were at a park, where had been playing on swings and other playground equipment and having a blast.
I think he experienced this kind of joy less and less as an adult, as problems with his health, relationships and jobs robbed him of it, and he became more and more introverted, avoiding people rather than seeking out new companions or friends. He did look hard for female companionship, but did not find what he needed.
This little boy was not always joyful. He could be pouty or obstinate, thoughtful and questioning, rascally and mischievous. He was always loved.
Friday, August 22, 2008
This is a photo that reminds me of what I'm doing now, looking at photos and choosing one to post and comment on. Our family has always loved photos. We all take pictures, many, many of them. My mother-in-law once asked me what I was going to do with all those photos. I found the question incomprensible. How glad I am that I have all these photos of Leif now.
This picture was taken when Leif was 11 months old, on a morning when his dad wasn't dressed or shaved yet. They were looking at a photo album together and Peter W. is wearing a bathrobe I made for him. I did a lot of sewing in those days, days when you could still save money by making your own clothes. I saw them having a good time together and grabbed my camera.
So many people still only think of taking photos on special occasions, but I like documenting everyday life. There are still many photos I wish I had taken that I somethow missed.
Even as a small child Leif had an incredible memory, for all kinds of things, and visual and auditory memories were acute. He loved looking at pictures and although he didn't, at that age, have a way to communicate this to us, I think he actually studied them.
I made photo albums for each of my sons, with the best photos of their childhoods. I've given Peter A. his, though I doubt he or his family look at them. He and his family are products of the computer age, and unless the photos are digitized, I doubt they'll see the light of day much . . . though with so many digital photos, those photos from years gone by probably would't be looked at much anyway.
Sadly, I never gave Leif his album. I still have it. The reason I didn't give it to him was that once he grew up, he no longer showed an interest in photos from his childhood. He wasn't good at taking care of things, other than his computers, gadgets and guns, and seeing how he lived and what happened to things, I thought it would mst likely end up junked in a box, damp and moldy, or wrecked. I had put in too much time and expense in making the album to let that happen.
I kept it, thinking that if he ever got married again and had a family, that would be the time to give it to him. Now I have no one to give it to. Sadly, there is no one to pass it on to, along with his writings, his school records, his military awards, his uniform. I can keep and treasure them for now, but someday, where will they go?
I used to wonder about the old family photos from the 19th century that you see in antique shops, why the family didn't keep them. Now I know at least one reason. Maybe there was no one left who knew the people in those photos, no one who wanted them any more.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
When Leif was a year-and-a-half old and we had moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for a year, we took a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This was Leif's first trip to the beach, but from then throughout his childhood, we had at least one trip to a beach each year.
I had a particular fondness for Myrtle Beach, because I had spent two summers there as a young teen as the guest of my best friend Betsy's family. They were wonderful summers and I will treasure those memories all my life. When Peter A. was a baby, we visted Betsy's parents at their beach house in what was then called Ocean Drive Beach, later North Myrtle Beach, and that was Peter A's first beach visit, too.
Leif loved the beach. You can see the exhiliaration on his face as he felt the waves. He wasn't a bit frightened. I think even then he enjoyed the rush of adrenaline that came with facing something with a hint of danger in it.
He loved playing with the sand, too, and could entertain himself for a long time figuring out what he could do with it. I think he was experimenting, even though he was only a year-and-a-half old.
Yesterday was a tough day for Peter W. and me, a sad day, and I didn't post anything here. I don't know why one day seems to be sadder than another. It wasn't that anything in particular happened to make it so, but we both felt it, and both shed tears. We looked at photos of Leif as a child, marveling at how beautiful he was, seeing how sensitive he was, regretting how unhappy his adult life turned out to be. We had so much hope for him. Life can be cruel.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
We lived in Hawaii from the summer of 1983 to August 1986. It was a good time for our family. Leif went to Red Hill Elementary School and his brother, Peter Anthony, was in high school at Moanalua High School. We did so many things together as a family, often going to the beach, to movies, out to dinner and to play video games in video game parlors. I remember those days with great fondness, even though I was chronically exhausted because I was studying for my master's degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and working on a graduate fellowship.
I don't know what occasion this was that had us draped with leis, but it's one of my favorite photos of Leif and me together. Unfortunately, I don't have many of us together. I have many photo of him (and of the others in our family) because I loved taking their pictures. This photo was at a happy time when I had little reason to worry about Leif or his future. How I wish he could have beamed that glorious smile for a long and happy life.
I think this photo was taken in the summmer of 1983 when Leif was 8 years old.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Leif's Dad and I have worried about him for years, particularly since he was so unhappy living alone, in the army in upstate New York, depressed after coming back from service in Bosnia to find his health destroyed by asthma, his marriage over, and his army career in shambles, also from the asthma, and the final blow, his finances ruined. Leif considered suicide then but overcame his despondency, decided to fight for his future, and ended up getting medically retired from the army due to the asthma.
When he came back to Kansas from the army, he was a depressed, morose and broken man. We worried about him immensely. I tried to help him find something to engage his mind, since he seemed to be drowning in misery, by suggesting he start writing a book. He had become so engrossed in science fiction like the Ender series of books and shows like Battlestar Galactica and the movie "The Matrix" that he had some good ideas.
He did start writing a novel about a badly injured veteran of the war in Afghanistan who tried to plug himself neurally into the internet in order to be able to experience directly. It was a first draft and a first try at writing, but it had some real possibilities, and beyond that, it was therapeutic, as I had hoped. I am sad that I can't find the computer files for that book on his computers. I know he had it on an old Gateway laptop that he sold several years ago, but I thought he had transferred it to another computer. He had a laptop stolen in July 2006, and I wonder if the files were on that. To my knowledge, he hadn't printed them out, and I didn't find any printed copies in his things. If there is anyone reading this blog to whom he might have emailed this story for their opinion, and they still have it, I would be grateful to have a copy.
I also got Leif to start working on consolidating his debts and paying them off, and get back into college. Over time, he began to heal and his mood improved immensely. By the time he graduated from Kansas State University, he had a sparkle in his eye and seemed to be enjoying life again, was involved in SCA, spent time with friends, and had hope in finding a good job. How different his life might have been if he had found a good career and a woman to love who would have stayed with him and made a home for him instead of breaking his heart. He had terrible luck in so many ways.
I had been talking for years about the possibility of creating a "worriersanonymous.com" website and finally actually reserved the domain name. Partly it was a joke, and partly it was because I am a worrier, particularly about Leif. I worried about him through his first periods of financial and emotional difficulty as an adult, through his heartbreaking experiences with military service, through his depression at the end of it. When things got better for him, I rejoiced, but there were still many things in our lives for me to worry about.
After he went through the heartbreak of his failed romance in Kansas and moved to Florida, he again seemed to be pulling out of his depression, only to be knocked down over and over again. In the three years he lived in Florida, he had many disappointments at work, three accidents (one that totalled his Dodge Stratus, one minor fender bender with his Suzuki motorcycle, and one with his Honda motorcycle that badly damaged his collarbone last July), was robbed twice (his apartment once, his Suzuki motorcycle stolen another time, endured a painful surgery, and went through another painful relationship. He insisted he was "fine" but I could see in his eyes that he was not.
I didn't start the worriersanonymous.com website, because I couldn't figure out how to make it pay for itself, but in May 2007 I created a CafePress site with a crying-frowning face logo that was a parody of the smiley face and a "Worrier's Manifesto" that was way over the top. It was partly for fun, and partly it was a reflection of my own worries, not only about Leif, but primarily so. I ordered the pink "Worrier's Manifesto" t-shirt above and got a kick out of wearing it. I showed it to Leif and told him why I did it. He laughed.
Last summer, I hoped he was on the way to a better life. He had made some decisions I hoped would have good results. Then in July 2007 came the motorcycle accident that put him in the hospital for the surgery to screw a 9 inch steel plate to his collarbone with many screws. He had no idea how painful it was going to be.
I remember wearing the t-shirt and with tears in my eyes begging him not to ride a motorcycle any more, because I did not want to either bury my son or face taking care of him as an invalid. I could see that my plea affected him, but not enough to stop him from riding. We also had IM discussions about it, and he told me that when he was riding was the only time he felt completely alive, happy and free. I finally told him that I didn't want to take that away from him, but that I still worried. Leif liked to ride like a demon, exceeding any reasonble limits on speed. I worried about him every single day. I kept my cell phone near me at all times, in case I needed to go to him if he were injured.
Meanwhile, I also worried about all of his firearms. He pooh-poohed those fears, too, accumulating more of them and getting a concealed carry license. In the July 2006 robbery, his guns were stolen, but he replaced them.
In November 2007, he told me in email that he was feeling purposeless, searching for a reason to exist. I continued to worry, tried to stay in touch every day, take him out to dinner, find things to discuss. I had more reason to wear my Worrier's Manifesto t-shirt.
He still seemed depressed at Christmas and his birthday in January, but as always, insisted he was "okay." I should pressed him more, insisted he needed help, but he probably would have denied it as he always did.
In February he seemed to be happier, fascinated with the Obama campaign, predicting the Obama would win, and taking an interest in other new things. I was so happy to see him seeming happier that I created another CafePress shop I had been thinking about for months, "Find Joy" (which is on CafePress as FindJoyInspired) and ordered the second t-shirt above. Peter W. liked seeing me in that shirt, partly because it was pink (he likes me in pink), partly because he liked the rose, and partly because he liked the sentiment.
We had two really great last evenings with Leif. In February we met him in Brandon at Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse for dinner. He rode his bike over from his Tampa apartment. We had a good meal and a lively discussion. I remember feeling so glad to see him happier.
He had a setback at the end of February when the VA GI Bill program at the University of South Florida, where he was a part time student using his GI Bill benefits, said the classes he had enrolled in were not the ones he needed for a degree program and cut his benefits, too late for him to withdraw and get his tuition back. He was angry about it, but we didn't realize how much he had counted on that money to stay afloat.
The last time we saw him was at our house for dinner on Easter, March 23rd. He had been a bit reluctant to come because of the cost of gasoline, and I told him I'd pay for it. Little did I know how bad his finances were, and he wasn't about to admit it to us. Since we had rescued him from debt twice before, I'm sure he didn't want us to know he was in over his head again . . . again from purchasing things he couldn't afford to make himself feel better when he was depressed.
We had a nice dinner on Easter, but we had no idea that he had applied for personal loans to try to pay his bills, since he was deeply in debt and couldn't manage. That day we saw him, he was still hoping he would get a loan and be able to somehow make it all work. We had a good visit, a really happy one. I'm grateful that we had good times together at Christmas, New Years, his birthday, and these last two times for dinner, but I'm sad we didn't know what was really going on.
These two shirts are emotionally intertwined with this whole story. They represent my worries about Leif and my hopes for him, and by extension, for me, to find a new hope and joy in life.
On April 10th when we went to Tampa to his apartment because no one could get an answer from him and he had not showed up for work, I was terrified that something had happened to him. I was afraid he was dead, but I tried to hope it wasn't so. I chose to wear the Worrier's Manifesto t-shirt, partly because I WAS that worried, and partly so that, if I were somehow to find him alive and well, I could tease him about my worries. That was not to be. My fears were all too true.
I have not worn either of these shirts since the day Leif died. I don't know whether I will ever wear them again. The Worrier's Manifesto t-shirt is too inextricably associated with finding Leif dead. The Find Joy t-shirt seems to be a mockery. Perhaps someday I will find joy in my life again, but that is a long way off, and this shirt was created too specifically because I felt, on the day I created it and first wore it, that Leif was finding joy, too. Perhaps he was . . . but like every time in his adult life, it did not last.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Leif claimed he didn't like to read but that was misleading. Given a choice of things to do with his leisure time, reading would not usually have been high on Leif's list of choices, and yet, if someone managed to get him started reading a good book, comic book or magazine, he couldn't put it down. Like many children, most particularly boys taught by women teachers, he was turned off to reading by being required to read books and material he didn't have any interest in or found boring, in school.
Most of the kinds of books that appeal to girls (and thus to women teachers, who were girls) don't appeal to boys, and in my experience (as a children's librarian), very little effort is made in schools to provide boys with reading material they will find gripping and fun to read. Thus, they get turned off.
Leif certainly experienced this. I remember him hating books he was forced to read, such as the Newbery Award winning "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," a fine book, but not fine for him at that age, in junior high.
However, Leif did find many books he loved, and spent money on books. His favorite series of books was the Ender series by Orson Scott Card. He was introduced to the first book, "Ender's Game," by his older brother, Peter A. Garretson, who had read it in a class on science fiction literature at the Air Force Academy. Leif was in junior high at the time, and he was so engrossed in reading it that when we took a trip to Hawaii he would hardly leave the beach cottage to go to the beach.
The Ender series is a challenging one, dealing with deep philosophical questions, exciting action and superb examination of the qualities of leadership and strategy. Leif found this immensely intriguing. He read all of the books over many years and could talk about them endlessly.
When he was younger, like in this photo, he loved comic books such as the Richie Rich series, and continued to enjoy the more adult comics as a teen and adult, such as the X-Men series.
He had to do book reports for school, like most kids, and he hated that, especially when he had to choose books off a list of books he didn't care for. However, I could usually "trick" him into reading a book I knew he would enjoy if I picked it out and read the first chapter aloud at the dinner table. Since I read to my sons until they were in junior high, and to the family all along, this wasn't anything unusual. Then I would leave the book in the bathroom. Best place to find a "captive audience." He'd pick it up and start reading and then he couldn't quit.
That was one of my specialties as a children's librarian -- finding books to captivate reluctant reader boys.
This photo of Leif was taken on a Navy PT boat in Subic Bay in the Philippines during our ill-fated vacation at Grande Island in August 1982. Leif was 7 years old.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Music was always a hugely important part of Leif's life. He had an enormous music collection which he had spent enormous amounts of money on. Once he got his Mac computers, he had the entire collection on iTunes, and it ranged over the entire music spectrum, from Bach organ music to techno, from pop to acid rock, and many more genres, a large number of which I don't even know. There were rock songs from his junior high and high school days from the likes of Guns 'N Roses and even songs by Johnny Cash and Mariah Carey.
During the last months or year of his life, he increasingly gravitated toward music I would consider dark and depressing, undoubtedly a reflection of his mood and mental state.
We can choose music to reflect the way we are feeling, but we can also choose music to set a mood or change the way we feel. Music has such profound emotional impact, if it is music that speaks to us. I wish he had chosen music that would have lift4ed his mood and not deepened his despair.
I've been listening to some of Leif's music, and some of it I can't listen to without tears, partly because of the emotion of the music itself, and some because I can feel his mood through it. At Leif's memorial service, one of the songs we played was "Who Wants to Live Forever" by Queen. I can't listen to that song without tears. It is so quintessentially Leif. The words are about his life, the music is poignant and sad. I was caught unawares by it today, listening to music on his iPhone while working out, and had to try to control my reaction because others were around. It is an unbearably sad and beautiful song.
I wish that Leif had continued to play his guitars. Music could have been for him, as it was for me for many years, a deep emotional outlet.
The photo above was taken while we were living in Japan, but I don't have the location recorded. We were on an outing somewhere outside the Tokyo area and hiking. Peter A. and Leif were sharing a Walkman, which was something new and cool at the time. Peter A. was 13 and Leif was 7 years old.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
One of the things we enjoyed and did a lot of while living in Germany was Volksmarching. Hiking clubs in towns all over Germany organize annual hikes on trails that range from 10-30 kilometers through villages, fields and woods. Participants sign up and pay a nominal fee to walk the course (noncompetitively) and receive a patch, medal, or other token for completing the walk. It's a great way to get some exercise, see the countryside, and collect souvenirs, as well as recording all the hikes in a record book. We also took a lot of photos.
We participated in many Volksmarches in all kinds of weather. Leif was very young when we were doing this, from 2-5 years old, and although he walked a lot, we also took along an umbrella stroller for when he got tired, and even carried him on our backs.
We all amassed a lot of medals, and each of our sons had a large cannister of them. When they were young, we displayed them on black velvet hangings on their bedroom walls. They also had German hats with enamel pins from locations we visited, on hikes or otherwise.
This photo was taken in July 1978 during the Welden Volksmarch. Peter Anthony (9 and a half years old) again has a protective arm around Leif, who was three and half years old.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
How can one predict what a child will become, or what will happen to him? Of course, we can't. Leif was always tall, strong, and could have easily intimidated other children or been a bully, but he never did, and he never was. He took all of the things he saw in movies, cartoons and fairy tales and wanted to mold himself into a hero. He made himself into the strong man with the weapons, the warrior.
But that was only one side of Leif. He also was a dreamer, a soul who searched for love, a man who felt vulnerable and unable to show it. He had an introspective, sensitive side and he used it to observe the world and analyze it.
As a child, he had strong moods that he learned to temper and hide when he was very young, but he still felt things deeply and strongly. He knew joys and frustration, hurts and pain.
He loved to climb things, test himself. He always had that infectious smile.
This photo was taken at a small castle in the southern German town of Lichtenau, not far from where we lived in the town of Sachsen bei Ansbach. He was three-and-a-half years old when this photo was taken in July 1978, and had climbed into this "window" to show off. There was a long, steep drop on the other side, but he was unconcerned as usual.
We did a lot of traveling all the years of his childhood, and saw many castles in Germany and other European countries. There's no way of knowing whether those experiences had any influence on his later interest in the Society for Creative Anachronism.
Although I have other photos of Leif with weapons (guns, swords) that I'll probably post at some point, I thought I'd finish this series with the photo he took of himself in Manhattan, Kansas in 2003, looking down the sight of one of his pistols, handsome, confident and mesmerizing. This was the photo he chose as his avatar picture on the ZAON forums, though Justin changed it to a photo I particularly liked after he died.
This seems to me to be one of the photos that is clearly part of Leif's identity. It's not the identity I would have wished for him, and he knew that, but I accepted it, and understood that's who he was. I wish he had been able to keep this identity, that sparkle in his eye, that hope.
2003 was a particularly pivotal year for Leif. He graduated from Kansas State University in May, and began working for Sykes that fall. It was there he met the love of his life, and I never saw him as happy as he was during those few short months, just five months, during which he proposed and she accepted, then left and went over a thousand miles away. For a long time, Leif hoped it was a temporary separation, and it was a major blow to him to find that it was not. He never really recovered from that.
Although I wish he hadn't had guns, because he might still be alive if he hadn't been able to so easily carry out a suicide, I still will treasure this photo because it portrays the Leif I loved, vital, rascally, full of life. I miss that man.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
It's been a difficult three days, leading up to the four month anniversary of Leif's death. I haven't posted in a couple of days, partly because I'm very involved and busy with Peter A's family, with my three grandchildren visiting us, and there's been little time. But I realize now, it's also been because I was posting photos of Leif as a child posing with his beloved toy guns and leading up to this date, wondering how I was going to deal with the subject, wondering how I was going to face the fact that his life clearly had been going downhill for a year before he died, and precipitously so since his motorcycle accident in July 2007. I had thought of posting the photos of him in the hospital a year ago, but the anniversary of his surgery was during our family reunion and I had neither the time nor the heart to post those photos, knowing that in some sense, the event they portrayed was in some measure a part of a death sentence.
Four months ago, on April 9th, he died, and on April 10th, we found him. And he had pointed the gun not at someone he was going to apprehend, not to be the hero he wanted to be, but to end his life. I have looked again and again at the photos of his life and seen the vitality, the infectious and joyous smile, the rascally, happy eyes, the humor, and yes, the vulnerability. I've seen the weaponry and the SCA armor, all the trappings of strength and heroic manliness.
And I will always ask why. I will always wonder why the boy who loved guns but never had a real one felt compelled to have a collection of powerful guns as an adult and that one of the last things he did in this life was to purchase another one.
I remember the incredible mind, the piercing intellect, the brilliant insights. I remember the desire to find people smart enough to understand and engage him.
Two days ago we went to the cemetery and visited his grave, though in truth, it isn't a grave, it's a niche in a columbarium. They have put the new marker on it, with the notation of Bosnia as his service in an area of combat. It's all I can do to honor his service, his brotherhood of arms.
It was hard to go there. It's not that I need any reminder. I think of him every day, many, many times. In my mind I see him as he was, tall, imposing, kind brown eyes, a great smile, and masculine but musical laugh. I see him on his cycle, wishing he would come riding up on it. I see him in his Mazda RX-8, and wish he would drive up in that. I see him at his computer desk, with his multiple monitors that he was so proud of and photographed so often. I see him as I found him, dead and cold, and I mourn.
I remember how badly I wanted him, how he felt in my arms as a baby, what an interesting and intelligent child he was.
He lived. Why is he not living still? I know why, but not WHY. That is the endless question that will never go away.
Four months. One third of a year. I'm surviving. I'm coping. But every day brings tears and I want to scream, "I want him back." I know I can't have him, but I still want to scream it.
Thep photo above was taken on November 25, 1985, when we were living in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Here's another photo that was taken at the same time as the last one, May 23, 1987, with Peter W. and Leif posing with the "toy" guns from Japan. That was a fun time for them, and I had a good time taking the pictures. I can see how how much Leif wanted to be the hero. In recent times here in Florida, he had a concealed carry license and told us many times how if someone like him had been in various situations, criminals could be stopped.
I remember the night last year he sent me a text message saying he had just called the cops on a shoplifter at Walgreens and said it was "interesting" being questioned by the officer while "carrying." We communicated a lot by text messaging, which he started me on a couple of years earlier by sending me one and challenging me to figure out how to answer it. I wasn't about to fail that test. :) Anyway, I sent him one back saying I was glad he hadn't tried to apprehend the shoplifter or use his weapon and he said something to the effect of, "Hell, no, not over shoplifting!"
I wish he had had the chance to be the hero he wanted to be, and was capable of being. Chance did not favor him in his adult life.
Monday, August 4, 2008
In my last post about Leif, I mentioned that Leif loved the cool hero persona and tried to become that person. As parents, it's hard to know what will become of a child's interests and fancies. Often they are short-lived or phases they go through, and have little or no effect on the child's adult life, but there are other things that, looking back, develop into a lifelong pattern and interest. In Leif's case, three things intersected into a big part of his adult persona; the hero who saved others or the world, the weapons that made that hero larger than life along with the courage to act, and the cool guy with the cool weapons, cars and gadgets. James Bond was in several ways a strong role model.
The interest in James Bond movies was one he shared with his dad, and although Peter never had real guns in our house, they both enjoyed dressing up and posing for photos as "James." This photo was taken when we were living at Fort Sheridan, Illinois north of Chicago on May 23, 1987 when Leif was 12 years old. Little did we know how significant these poses were.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
In my last post, I mentioned that I thought it was in Hawaii that Leif got the idea of being "Mr. Cool" and wanting to be a hero. All the movies he loved, from James Bond movies to Star Wars and Star Trek, fostered the idea of a hero with a weapon (gun or light sabre). From the time he was very small he was fascinated with guns and weapons, and despite the fact that our family never allowed real guns in the house, he showed a clear preference for them.
This photo was taken on our lanai (balcony porch) in Hawaii, with him wearing his beloved black leather Members Only jacket, cool sunglasses (another thing that became a trademark of his) and a toy gun. He and his dad liked to pose in "James Bond" or other cool clothing, with toy guns. He was nine or ten years old in this photo.
Little did we know that his interest in guns would become nearly an obsession as an adult, or that he would finally use one to end his life.
Leif and his brother loved Star Wars and Star Trek all their lives. Those movies and television shows influenced their views of the world, the future, morality, and more. They were significant far beyond their entertainment value.
When Leif was 9 years old, he wanted to make a giant R2D2 cookie. I helped him to figure out how to make the cookie shape and we rolled it out. Then he decorated it in amazing detail with frosting. He was so cute and earnest about it.
We were living in Hawaii at that time and Leif spent a lot of this time with big imaginative things from Star Wars to GI Joe figurines and vehicles, from his black Members Only jacket to toy guns. More about that later. I think it was in Hawaii that he first began to get the idea of being "Mr. Cool," though you can't really tell that in these photos when he's wearing his pajamas.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Leif was always an especially strong boy and man. Here he is only 21 months old, pushing his brother, who was 6 years older, nearly 8 in this photo, in his own stroller at Busch Gardens in Virginia. He had a great time at the park and finally fell asleep on a swing ride that went around in a circle.
We lived in Charlottesville, Virginia from the summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977. It was a great place to live and our boys enjoyed it, from the pond behind our house to the woods across the street I've mentioned before and posted some photos taken there.
He was a darling and beloved child.