Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leif & Lannay - Germany - May 1980 - Age 5

From Charlottesville, Virginia, we moved to Germany in the summer of 1977. We first lived in an army housing area in Furth, near Nurnberg, for a year. That housing area no longer exists. Peter W. was Officer in Charge of the Nurnberg Law Center at the time.

Then we moved to the village of Sachsen bei Ansbach for two years. We were fortunate that Lannay came to visit us there in May 1980, just before we moved to Japan. This photo of Lannay and Leif was taken in the living room of our house there, and they are sitting in an antique rocking chair that was from my mother's parents' house in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

Leif was so happy to see Lannay again, and he still was willing to cuddle up with her like with no one else.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Sign or a Coincidence

Life is full of strange coincidences. Sometimes we just recognize them as such, and sometimes, we make connections that might or might not really be there.

I've already posted this photo of the ring that Peter Anthony designed and had made for me in Thailand, the one with the birthstones for him and for Leif, and the three diamonds for my grandchildren.

Yesterday morning after I washed my hands, I was drying them and both that ring and Leif's wedding ring that I wear literally flew off my hand and fell to the bathroom floor. They were loose, but they had never come off before. I found them on the floor and put them back on and thought no more of it until I was having lunch with my sister at a nice restaurant and happened to look at my hand. Then I saw that Leif's birthstone was missing.

I feared I would never find it, and though I could have it replaced, of course I wanted the one that was originally in the ring. However, I had a feeling that it must have fallen out of the ring when the rings came off my finger in the bathroom, and hoped it would find it there.

When I got back, I started sweeping the bathroom floor with my hand to see if I could find the tiny stone. To my amazement, I did.

Coincidence? Probably. But if you believe in supernatural signs, maybe Leif was telling me he's here.

Leif & Lannay - April 1977 - 2 Years 2 Months

We only lived one year in Charlottesville, Virginia, from the summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977, and then we moved to Germany, so it was only for that short time that Leif was really near his Aunt Lannay, but in those months, he was so happy when she came to visit, or we went to see her. It must have made a strong and deep impression on both of them, because there was always a special affection between them.

This photo was taken April 1, 1977 on a playground. Leif loved being swung around fast, just about anything fast, as a child, and his love of speed continued all his life.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Leif & Lannay - May 1977 - Age 2 Years 4 Months

Leif had a special affection for his Aunt Lannay, my sister. He was not a very affectionate child, to me and his dad. When he was small, his favorite form of showing affection to me was to wait until I was sitting, or down on the floor and take a runnig leap at my back. But Lannay was different.

Leif got to know Lannay when we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia when he was a year-and-a-half old, and during the year we lived there, she came to see us often. Leif took to her in an instant. He loved her long blond hair and he would snuggle up with her and cuddle in ways he never did with us.

This photo was taken in Charlottesville in May 1977 when he was a two years and four months old.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Leif on Thanksgiving 1976 - Age 1 Year 10 Months

This Thanksgiving day I have much to be thankful for, a large and loving family, reasonably good health, enough money to enjoy life, a loving husband, and a nice home, to start with. I'm grateful for my sons and grandchildren. And, I'm grateful for the 33 years I had with Leif. I am glad for all the love he brought to my life, the things he taught me, the memories of all the time we spent together.

Thanksgiving hasn't been a time when we always took good family photos, but here and there I've found a photo of Leif on a Thanksgiving day. This is one of the earliest ones. It was taken at my sister Lannay's house, I think, which at that time was at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He was two months shy of two years old, and we were living in Charlottesville, Virginia at the time. He's dressed in his pajamas because it was after dinner and he was getting ready to go to sleep. Like most little kids, he was a limber little guy, and could put his toe in his mouth. We got a kick out of that, he he was showing off. We have silent old Super 8mm movies taken that day, too.

It was a good day, with my sister, and this Thanksgiving, I'll be with her and he family again. I'll be missing Leif. I'll be thinking of him, wishing he was with us, but I'll always be thankful for my son.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Leif's Cyberpunk Novel - A Few Comments

There is a lot of Leif in this Cyberpunk story, both in the character of Ramac, the injured operative who spends all his time plugged into the net looking for a carrier of the virus that can cure him, and in the character of Greye Sinclair, the twin who felt like half of a pair, grieving without being able to show it, for his brother.

Leif was physically and emotionally damaged by his military service and the end of his marriage, and came home to spend a lot of his time on the internet and playing combat games online. He was now half of a pair, having lost his wife, and felt alone and incomplete.

There are some poignant phrases in the story, such as this one from Chapter One:

"It is easier to feel for someone else than it is to grieve yourself?"

He wrote it as a statement but put a question mark at the end, probably intending to write, "Is it easier to feel . . . . " It's a revealing phrase as well.

Leif said that men were allowed only one emotion, anger, and thus he could not grieve or show his own emotions at the time he was writing this (and later), but he DID show other emotions; depression and apathy.

Although Leif talked to me quite a lot about this story in the summer of 2001, I don't know how he planned to go forward with the Greye Sinclair character and how it would eventually intersect with the story of Ramac. I wish I could remember more of what he told me, and I wish he had finished the book.

Writing can be very cathartic, and I think writing as much as he did of this story was helpful to him. When he got into school at KSU in August 2001, he began to find new contacts and reasons to live, and the novel fell by the wayside.

I urged him to finish it, and to be sure it was backed up, but he had lost the urgency of writing it as his own mind and body began to heal. Despite that, he knew the story had some power, both for him and potentially for others, and I think he was proud of it, which was one reason he posted it on the ZAON forum, but no one commented on it there, and that may have been a disappointment to him. Who knows? Perhaps if he'd had more encouragement from others who read it, he might have continued, though that would have surprised me, as writing was never one of Leif's preferred activities.

Regardless of all that, I'm glad to have this piece of his writing, and the few others I have.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leif's Cyberpunk Novel - Part 4 of 4

Chapter Two Beginning

Greye had been on the road all day. He had made it to Daytona. His ass was sore and he needed a distraction. And he could use a place to crash as well. He had been cruising the city for a while now. If he was going to be here for a while he wanted to get a feel for things. He made his way along most of the highways. He made sure he knew every means of exit, just as they had taught him. But his ass was getting raw. Xane had insisted on this damn saddle. He couldn’t argue that it did look good but he had wanted one that was a bit more plush.

“Well, Xane, you may be dead but you are still a pain in my ass.”

I felt good to say. Maybe if he could have a sense of humor about it, it would not hurt so much. Just as he was muttering to himself he saw a for sale sign. It was attached to a trailer.

“Perfect,” Greye thought.

It was almost sunset and he figured it would not be too late to call. So he pulled into the drive. It was a nice house. Not a rich man's residence but it was nice. Well maintained. Well groomed lawn and garden, sort of a Spanish style roof, a two car garage, and a half circle driveway. There were a Dodge Neon, and a VW Jetta in the drive. He wondered what was behind the garage door. They certainly don’t tow that thing with a Jetta, he thought to himself.

He walked up to the door and rang the bell. He waited for a few minutes but there was no answer. He tried again. Then the wind shifted and he caught the sent of a grill.

“Mmmm, barbeque,” he said to himself. “I hope they won’t mind a visitor.”

He walked around the path at the right of the house. There was a gate in the white picket fence that surrounded the backyard. He began to open it as he heard the playful yip of a dog. He decided to knock on the inside of the gate as he peeked his head through and coughed. Inside he saw the dog. A beautiful purebred Irish wolfhound. Staring at him with a protective but disciplined look that conveyed ferocity despite the Frisbee clasped in its teeth. The dog told Greye quite clearly that he had better behave himself.

A little ways from the dog was a girl. A young woman just out of high school. Laughing and playing with the dog 'til she noticed his presence. She must drive the Neon, he thought to himself. She was quite attractive, he was pleased to note. Soft brown hair and bigger brown eyes, with charming dimples as she smiled, wrestling the Frisbee from the dog. He could see the same eyes and dimples on what he figured was the owned of the Jetta, a lovely and vivacious woman in her forties dressed perhaps a little too chic for a backyard barbeque. She had a sultry grace to her movements as she set a picnic table with drinks and silverware, that had not been stolen by motherhood. But she was blonde. Her daughter's dark hair must have come from Daddy.

And that is what she called out when she saw me. I turned my head to intercept the object of her attention. Tending a rather elaborate grilling apparatus was a tall figure of about fifty. A strong and vital man that had not taken on any of the customary paunch that typically accompanied his age. He had broad shoulders and a square jaw. His eyes sort of squinted in concentration. He reminded Greye of his military instructors. This likeness was further supported by the neatly groomed, mostly gray haircut and the jacket he wore. It was a commercial leather jacket but it bore the subtle, subdued rank of Sergeant Major on the collar and the sleeves carried the unit patches of the 82nd airborne, 10th mountain Division, the 101st airborne, and the 3rd Ranger Battalion.

Yes this man had been around the world, and mostly likely to hell and back. His teachers had taught him to recognize these things. And he could also guess from the presence of a well-trimmed beard that this man must retired.

They looked at him expectantly. He slid his way though the gate. He knew they must be confused at his presence. And his youth would not incline them to consider him a potential buyer for the trailer. They looked at him expectantly and just as the father looked as if he was about to ask, Greye decided to speak.

“Uh Hi! Sorry to interrupt but I saw your for sale sign out front and.....”

“Oh, you interested in the trailer?” the man asked.

“Yeah, I was just riding by and I saw it so I thought I would stop and see what you wanted for it.”

The man looked at him with an intuitive but quizzical gaze that Greye felt revealed more than he cared to show. He felt as though this man could read his very thoughts. It seemed he knew everything there was to know about him even though they hadn’t yet been introduced.

“Well, that depends,” he said.

“On what?”

“On whether I like you.” He smiled with a devilish grin that was both endearing and worrisome. He sort of cocked his head, squinted his eyes and seemed to be summing up just what sort of man Greye was.

“That ride of yours sounds tired. And I am guessing you are, too. Why don’t you join us for dinner and give that hog some time to cool off.”

“Oh, I couldn’t sir. I just...”

“Horse shit! If there is one thing I could never stand is people turning down good hospitality cuz they think it is polite. Now stop hovering at my gate, get in here and grab us a beer.” He pointed at a cooler with his spatula and then beckoned him in. “That is unless you got something better to do?” He looked expectantly at Greye.

Naturally, Greye had nothing better to do.

“Well, sir, if you insist,” he said, as he pulled off his gloves and opened the cooler.

“Son, there are two things in this life that I just can’t abide. #1 is people calling me sir when I am not at a restaurant. I was a Sergeant Major in the US Army with 500 young men tougher than you under my command and they didn’t call me sir, so I damn sure ain’t gonna let you. #2 is a Corona without lime, so make sure you get me two.”

“All right ‘Sergeant Major,’ what would you like me to call you?”

He wiped his hand on his apron and extended it.

“Sergeant Major William Thomas Sinclair, retired. But you can call me Bill.”

He shook Greye’s hand with a firm but friendly grip of his right and took his beer with his left.

“That a fact?”

“Sure Is. And this is my wife Stephanie, and my daughter Daphne.”

“Greye. Greye Sinclair!”

“Come again?”

“You heard me.”

“No shit. Well don’t be putting the moves on my daughter just yet. I know she is cute but you might be our cousin for all we know.”


“Hey, wait a minute.” He leaned in close to Greye. “You ain’t the son of some long lost broken heart whose momma told you I was yer daddy are you?” He winked.

“Uh, no, not that I know of.”

“Thank god. Thought I was in trouble there for a minute. Well have a seat, Greye, and let us show you that Southern hospitality is not a dead practice. Steph, fix our guest a plate."

Greye spent the evening with them, listening to Bill’s colorful war stories and embarrassing anecdotes gleefully aired by his wife. They talked about Daphne’s first semester at college and her dad teased her about all the boys she must be fighting off.

Greye allowed himself to almost believe he belonged there. Here in this seemingly perfect family. It felt almost like they were welcoming him in a bit too much. Almost unnatural. But then it came out just, and he understood it even if it didn’t make him any more comfortable.

“You know, Greye, you must be about my son's age. I bet you two would have gotten along like two bandito’s at a Mexican whorehouse.”

“Bill, don’t be crude,” Stephanie said.

“I suppose you're right, Honey. I shouldn’t torture myself, or the two of you, but I couldn’t help but think it was almost like he was here.”

“I am sorry. Where is your son?” Greye was almost afraid of the answer.

“Oh, he was a good boy, Greye. Followed in his Pappy’s footsteps joined the army. Went special forces and got himself KIA somewhere in Afghanistan.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Well, shit happens I guess.”

Greye almost thought he saw a tear in the man's eye.

“Don’t help to think about it, I suppose. How about dessert? Steph,you got something sweet in there that can choke back these rising emotions that are bound to undermine my supreme facade of ultimate manliness?”

“Well, how does a raspberry white chocolate cheesecake sound?”

“My god, woman, I knew there was a reason I married you. Greye you got to try this. The only thing better in this world is...” he glanced at his wife, “Well, something I shouldn’t mention at the table.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Leif's Cyberpunk Novel - Part 3 of 4

Chapter Two Intro

Logan was making his rounds. He mused that he was probably the only doctor on the planet that still made house calls. But of course he was not a doctor anymore. At least not outside of the Non Enforcement Zone. Still, no matter what the law said he had always known what he was born to do. But today there was less healing to do than usual in Chi-town so he thought he would drop in on a few patients.

Sabrina’s baby was doing well and due any day now. Melinda was getting over her flu. Caesar’s gunshot had abscessed but the surgery would be minor to remove the bullet from his leg. And old Galen’s liver was still holding out despite his continuing friendship with Jack Daniels. All in all a pretty good day.

But as he approached the pitiful hovel in which Ramac had hidden himself he feared that his good spirits would be ruined. Ramac was in poor shape physically. He had no disease or ailments other that his paralysis but he seemed to spend every waking moment immersed in the net. In fact, Logan had suspicions that he even slept in full cyber-immersion from time to time. No telling what dreams he might have while his brain is plugged directly into cyberspace. Logan feared his patient was going mad.

Ramac had made arrangements with the local gang lord for protection, the closest thing to security here in the NEZ. He even had a local boy that brought him groceries. But what could have so obsessed him that he would not venture out? Ever.

From what Logan had learned over the years Ramac was a man to be feared. A “company” man before the revolution, an accomplished martial artist and a formidable soldier. He had been one of the most feared and respected freelancers in the international game. Whether it was acquisitions or assassinations, he was ruthless, brutal, and unstoppable. He was the best of the best. No matter what the cost he had never failed. Never until last October when Logan pulled him out of that alley, shot to pieces. But now he was a different man. Something was driving him but Logan could not guess what.

Logan opened the door and entered. The room was dark except for the window that looked up at the street. Its light cast dreadful shadows through the dim. Logan could barely make out Ramac’s silhouette against the backlighting of the window, but he knew what he was doing and knew that it would not bother him if he turned on the light.

The single bulb warmed the room with its light but the decor it revealed gave no comfort. This was not a home. Ramac lay were he always lay. Limp as if comatose. His beard had grown long. His muscles atrophied. As usual he was deep in the net. Only the slow rise and fall of his chest and the net dive monitor on his computer gave any sign that he was alive. Some say that the freedom of the net is like a drug to the disabled. In the net they are whole. Their virtual body or Icon may not be corporeal but its only limits were that of the mind that controls it. But there was more to this than just freedom of movement for Ramac. Logan knew that. There was something else.

There was no way to reach Ramac directly during a net dive. His brain was effectively disconnected from his body. So Logan pulled out his PDA and sent him an email.

{Hephaestus! Medicine man. Time for a check up.}

{Busy. Can’t extract for at least 2 hours}

{No need to. I am standing right next to you}

{Ah. Do what you must then. I must concentrate. I am almost there.}

{What are you looking for Ramac?}

{Please Isaac! I can’t now. I am close. I have almost found her!

Leif's Cyberpunk Novel - Part 2 of 4

Chapter One....

Thane awoke early. He hadn’t slept much that night but he thought it best that he leave before the others awoke. Thad was still sleeping. Thane had felt his eyes on him as they went to bed. Everyone so concerned for him. Perhaps that was their way of avoiding their own feelings.

Is it easier to feel for someone else than it is to grieve yourself? How long had it been now since Xane died? A day? A week? It had all been blurred. Like a bad dream. Nothing seemed real without him. The world just wasn’t right. There were supposed to be two of them. Two of him. The world just didn’t make sense with only one. Thane tried to imagine how normal people thought. The way that they talked to themselves in their heads. The way they looked at ideas from different sides. He couldn’t. At least he had never had to. Xane had always been there. He and Xane had had those conversations with each other. No thought was complete until they thought it together.

Thane went to the sink. A cold splash to wake him up. It was still dark after all. He looked up and saw the face that would haunt him. His face. Xane’s face. He wondered now. While the doctors mostly studied them, they also taught us a little of what they had already learned. Taught us psychology, about the effects of losing a twin on the survivor. Thane guessed they would be right. That he would go mad.

He didn’t know what to do or where to go, but he knew that there was little reason for him to stay. The Gemini Project existed to study twins. What use would he be to them now? What reason would they have to continue his training?

Now today was the day of the funeral. He couldn’t stand any more sympathy. It made him sick the way everyone tried to comfort him. He knew they meant well. Some he thought might even love him, the other twins. They had lived together for years now. They had become friends. Icarus, Thadeus, or Rus and Thad, had been their roommates. They split the pairs for some reason he couldn’t remember. Kari and Kali, the spicy Latin duo that were the trouble magnets of the bunch. Mira and Mia, the silver-tongued Japanese vixens that all the teachers loved. And Julie and Josie, the sweet and spunky but very temperamental redheads that he and his brother had been in love with for so long. And finally, Thane and Xane.

Why is it that parents give twins similar, even rhyming, names? Thane wondered. He thought it strange that all of them had been named like that but it seemed to fit somehow. An odd coincidence.

What a group they had made. But everything had changed. It could never be the same now. There had been ten, now only nine. Five matched pairs. But he was not a pair anymore. Four and a half.

And that is what he felt like, half.

He quietly packed his backpack. He had few possessions. Most of their things belonged to Gemini. He grabbed his music, his laptop, some clothes, a few pictures. As he left his room he turned. By the dim light he saw the names on the door across the hall. “Icarus / Xanatos.” Rus and Xane’s room. For a moment he almost went in. Was there anything in there that he might want? No. Nothing in there was of any use, and whatever he took would only remind him of pain. There was only one place left here that had any item of value. The armory.

The armory itself had no locks. The weapons were kept in individual lockers. Thane had free access to his weapons since he was over twenty-one, as did all the other twins that were of age. All the other weapons had to be released by the armorer. Thane went to his locker, put his thumb up to the lock and opened it. Inside lay his pistols. A match-grade Hammerli .22LR, and a stainless steel Heckler & Koch .45cal U.S.P. He put the Hammerli in his pack and tucked the H&K in his belt.

Then he drew the real treasure they had given him. A katana. A true Katana. Not an ancient sword, nor one of those cheap replicas that you see in catalogs. It, and it’s sister piece, were made specifically for him and his brother by a Japanese master swordsmith. What was his name? He couldn’t remember. But they were identical. Identical swords, identical pistols, identical twins.

He heard the door open. Footsteps. He sheathed the blade. It was Rick, the armorer. Was it six o’clock already?

“Thane! You okay?”

“I am fine, Rick. I couldn’t sleep. Think I need to blow off some steam. I was thinking of running the gauntlet.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll set up the program for you.”

“Thanks, Rick. Oh, and could you open Xane’s locker for me? I want to use his pistol.”

“Uh, sure Thane I don’t see why not. Gimme a second.”

“Thanks, Rick.”

Rick went into the control room and a few moments later Xane’s locker opened.

Rick’s voice came over the intercom. “I am powering up the gauntlet now, Thane. What level would you like me to set?”

“Gimme a steady progression from seven to ten. Full velocity projectiles.”

“Ouch, you sure?”

“I am sure. Gimme a few minutes to warm up before I get out there.”

“No problem. The system is cold. I won’t have all the drones on line for about 20 minutes.”

“I’ll take my time, then.”

Thane took his brother’s weapons, packed them away and left. But Thane did not go to the gauntlet. Most days he would enjoy blasting holes in drones with high caliber pistols while dodging paint balls. Today he had other plans. He went to the garage. He walked past all the vehicles. The cars, the bikes, both street and racing models. Here at the Gemini project they were schooled in many disciplines: art, music, science, sports, driving, racing, piloting, fencing, shooting, martial arts, language, literature, mechanics. Anything that might have some practical use so that they could study the affects of genetics versus training.

Thane often wondered where they got their funding. There was a hell of a lot of money floating around. Was it government, military, corporate? Did it matter? All that had mattered when they came to Thane’s parents a decade ago was the schooling. “Give us your kids and we will give them the best schooling and training in every area that you could ever hope for.” Or something like that.

It wasn’t a bad deal. The education was top notch. And what scholarship school would send you to racing school? Or teach you to shoot? They still got to see their parents plenty. Those that had parents. A few of them were orphans. A couple more were orphaned along the way. Thane and Xane were among them.

Thane wondered. His name, was it a curse? For him and his brother to be given the name for death. Thanatos Greye Sinclair. And his brother Xanatos Greye Sinclair. First his parents killed. Then his twin brother dies without explanation.

He wondered. Would he be next? Or maybe his big brother Gabriel? No. That was nonsense. Thane didn’t buy into that. He didn’t believe it. In fact he didn’t believe in much of anything anymore.

Thane walked the rows of cars and bikes. He came to the stall with his and Xane’s bikes. Twin V-twins. A pair of 2000 Ducati 996's, one red, one yellow. He and Xane used to trade. Neither really owned either bike and they enjoyed the confusion it caused when people tried to guess which of them was on each bike. Which one should he take? Which one should he leave behind? Neither.

He went into the shop where they learned mechanics. There in the corner where they had spent countless hours was their project. A Harley-Davidson clone built from scratch, straight from the pages of the S&S catalog. It was low in the tail, had long wide forks, drag bars, tons of deep chrome, and was bathed in a gorgeous dark chameleon blue that changed color with the lighting and looked like you could reach right into it.

They hadn’t even finished it yet. Thane had just airbrushed the tank with the twin skulls that had become their mark. The grim reapers that had been their namesakes. Xane had put the last of the clear coat on it the day of the seizure. The paint was still wet when he died. They had never even started it.

Thane threw his leg over and caught the kick pedal. He paused and realized that his brother would never know if it ran. Would never know what sound that ram air butterfly carburetor, and straight pipes would make when they came alive for the first time. He kicked the pedal. Nothing. Again, a pop. Again. A sputter. A twist of the choke and a little gas and he had it. It roared to life with a visceral vibration. Thane was both excited and sad. This was now his alone. There would never be a fight over who would ride it.

But now twenty minutes had passed. The gauntlet was online by now. He was expected at the range, and the noise of the unmuffled bike would attract attention. It was time to go. He threw on his backpack and cinched the straps tight. Took a firm grip on the bars, squeezed the clutch, dropped it into first, and twisted the throttle wide open. When the deafening roar of the big twin peaked he let the clutch lever snap forward. The back tire spun instantly, squealing loudly and leaving a thick black line. Thane fishtailed around the corner out of the shop.

He was about to shift to second when he saw a slender figure silhouetted in a window. It was Julie. Or Josie. He couldn’t tell from this distance. It didn’t matter. He loved them both. But this was the front of the building, which meant it had to be Josie’s room. Julie’s roomed faced the courtyard.

He let the bike glide to a halt in front of the gates. He lifted his sunglasses to look at her as the sun broke over the trees. The sun hit Josie’s face and for an instant lit up her eyes. Then she squinted and held up her hand to shield them. Thane stared at her for a long moment. There were so many thoughts he would like to tell her, but he hadn’t the words nor the strength right now. Even from this distance he could feel the warmth of her gaze. Her eyes seemed to plead with him not to leave but understood at the same time. With her other hand she made a sort of impotent gesture, putting her hand to the glass as if either to plead him to stay or to wave him goodbye.

Thane reached out his hand to her. He mouthed the words goodbye. He saw a tear roll down Josie’s face and he could see her lips move. He wasn’t sure but he thought she said, “I love you.” He tried to pretend she had only said goodbye. He had to leave and it only made it harder to think that there was such a powerful reason to stay. He had avoided them both the past few days. He didn’t know how to act around them now. And he didn’t think they knew what to do either.

He and Xane had dated them both. And both pairs had swapped for fun to she if they could tell the difference. Most times they couldn’t. At least not until afterwards when they slipped up. He really couldn’t have chosen between them. Neither could Xane. They had even talked once about whether they could date both together without jealousy. Now more than ever Thane didn’t know what to do. Among the most painful feelings was the thought that now Xane could not get in the way if he were to pursue them both. He hated himself for thinking that. Hated himself for having the Harley to himself. Hated himself for thinking that he could have them both for himself.

Thane tilted his head and they had a short moment of understanding. Then he pushed his shades back down over his eyes, squeezed the clutch, and gave her one last glance. He put his foot on the shifter and felt the tranny drop heavily into gear. He decided that was the last step. He would not look back. He let the bike idle for short but endless moment while he gathered his strength. Then he snapped the throttle and eased out the clutch. As he sped away his vision blurred and he could feel the salt of his tears drying in the wind as they trailed back to his ears.

"Just the cold morning wind," he told himself. "I need to get better sunglasses."

Thane came to an intersection. North or South? He would head south he thought. To Miami perhaps. But first he needed money and he was hungry. So he drove north into town. The banks would not be open for a while yet so he pulled into Denny’s. He sat down ordered a colorfully named platter of saturated fat, and tried to think what to do. He didn’t know what he would do but he had plenty of marketable skills and even at 21 his education was equivalent to a master's degree. He would simply ride until he felt like stopping and see where the road took him.

On second thought, Miami might not be such a good idea. He wanted to disappear for a while and the city might be good for that. But he thought it better to avoid the cities for a while. He also thought about his name. He wasn’t a criminal. They had no right to follow him. But he knew that someone would come looking for him. Either the staff or one of the twins. Investigation was also among the skills they had learned.

He would not go so far as to create a new identity. That would likely cause more problems than it would solve. But he would not make it easy on them. He needed time alone, and if he was to make contact with them ever again he would be the one to initiate it. So, he thought, he would not use his first name. He wasn’t comfortable with it anymore, neither for its mythological significance nor for its similarity to his lost brother's.

As he thought about it he glanced down at the table. He saw his reflection in the lenses of his sunglasses. His face was distorted in the lenses. He hadn’t shaved this morning and his beard had formed a dark shadow. He was only twenty-one but he had been going gray since he was seventeen. It showed the most in his beard.

That was it. Simple, legal, and easy to remember. He would just use his middle name. Greye. It seemed appropriate. Both he and Xane had had the same middle name. Now that there was one the one of him it seemed to make sense. He decided that would be his name from now on. Greye Sinclair. He felt a little better now. He hated to be just one but if that was his fate he needed to have a singular identity. Greye Sinclair would be it. Satisfied, he finished his breakfast, left a fair tip and was on his way.

The Bank was open now. He parked the bike in front, walked in. He went to the teller and pulled out Xane’s drivers license. With proper ID and the right face he had no difficulty accessing Xane’s bank accounts. What startled him were the amounts. Xane had over $5000 in his checking account alone and his various other assets totaled nearly $100,000. Where the hell did Xane get that kind of money? And why hadn’t he known about it? What had Xane been into? There was no way he could have gotten ahold of that kind of money living the life they did. It just didn’t make sense.

Greye considered the worst. Had Xane acquired it through criminal means? Even if that were true, when would he have had the time? It was a mystery but one that would have to wait. Greye transferred the funds into new accounts at a new bank. He cleaned out the checking account and pocketed the cash. Then he went to his bank and transferred his assets to the new account. His pockets and his belly were full. There was nothing left to do.

He took two coins from his pocket. A dime and a quarter. He dropped the dime on the sidewalk stood behind it and flipped the quarter. He was facing east. The quarter came to rest left of the dime so he decided he would go north. Daytona, maybe. Bike week was coming. Xane had hoped that they would have the bike ready in time. Seemed like a good place to start.

He picked up the coins and climbed aboard his bike. His bike! It would be a while before he got used to that thought. He kicked the starter and headed for the highway.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Leif's Cyberpunk Novel - Part 1 of 4

When Leif posted the beginning of his Cyberpunk novel on the ZAON forum in December 2002, about a year and a half after he wrote it, he prefaced it with this:

It started as a concept for a Cyberpunk game that I thought was really cool. Unfortunately I did not have any players, or at least any worthwhile players, to run the game with, so I took the advice of one person and I started writing it as a novel.

The people that have read it said it was pretty good but I thought I would post it here to see what others thought.

It follows two groups of characters though a complicated maze of perception and reality as they try to unfold the truth about their 2 worlds in a setting that takes inspiration from "The Matrix" and "The 13th Floor."

The "one person" who gave him the advice to write it as a novel was me.


Chapter One Intro.....

Ramac awoke slowly. The room had a the familiar glow of dim blue light on stainless steel. The smell antiseptic. Ramac had seen these rooms many times. It was an O.R. And the smell that crept beneath the sterile facade was his own blood. He remembered why he was here.

How long had he been out? What had gone wrong? Was the job a total loss? And where was Logan?

No time for that. He had to get on the net. He had work to do. The wound seemed to be healing nicely. Logan was the best flesh mechanic on the continent, and those nanites were earning the 55000 Euro they had cost him to implant. The pain chip was working perfectly. Not so much as an uncomfortable itch.

He pulled the IV from his arm and swung himself out of bed. As usual the pain chip perfectly edited the unpleasant sensation of smashing his head into the steel cabinet. However the shock of falling rather clumsily to the floor took him off his guard.

Why couldn’t he stand? Why couldn’t he feel his legs.

Logan came quickly when he heard the noise. He lifted his patient back into bed and assessed the damage.

“What, you didn’t think I had enough work? Had to break your nose for good measure?”

“It’s a good thing you lost your licence, Logan. With your bedside manner you would make a lousy pediatrician.”

“Well, you don’t pay me for my sunny disposition,” Logan said, as he set Ramac’s nose.

“So, how bad is it?”

“Well, you never were all that pretty. I don’t think this will make much difference.”

“No, how bad is the rest of me?”

“You took 3 ten mils to the back, man. If I hadn’t been right around the corner you’d be dead. As it is, one of 'em cut your spinal cord and you are paralyzed from the waist down.”

“That your idea of breaking it to me gently?”

“Bedside manner, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re still a f----- prick, Logan.”

“Maybe so, but I figured you probably got a clue when you tried to stand up and put your face through my medicine cabinet.”

“Is it permanent?”

“I am afraid so.”

“What about nanosurgery?”

“That would be a possibility if you had just broken it, but with a gunshot there is too much trauma. There wasn’t enough tissue left to repair the gap before the nerve endings died. Cyber replacement isn’t an option either because the nerves are severed to high.”

“What about full Cyber conversion?”

“Sorry same problem. Besides, I don’t really think you have the temperament that would go well with a titanium body.”

Ramac was silent.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah, a cyberterminal. And a bottle of Scotch.”

“I thought alcohol dulled your reflexes.”

“No, it just makes me walk funny.”

“Ah point taken. I’ll go get some then.”

As he turned to go Logan felt a stab of irony. He would never have to worry about such an injury. For the blood that flowed through his veins was Genor. He could regenerate, and had he still carried the virus that had saved him from a similar fate years ago, he could cure Ramac as well. Now the virus was all but dead. Only a few of the Genor still carried it. It could only be created though direct and creative cloning of new Genor. And the formula had long since been lost. Ramac wasn’t going anywhere. His career was over.

But Ramac wasn’t so easily discouraged. He had been on top of the game for almost 30 years. He was smart and he was patient. And most of all he was determined. He would walk again and if the Genor virus was the only way, then he would find a way to get it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Leif Back in Civilian Life - The Cyberpunk Novel - Summer 2001

When Leif came back to Manhattan from Fort Drum, New York, at that time temporarily retired from the army for medical reasons and a 30% disability rating due to his asthma, and also from shin splints that developed from carrying such heavy loads, he was a very depressed man, given to dark moods and apathy. That summer, he lived with us again, in the back bedroom of the old stone house. He didn't have many belongings there, just what he had brought in his car. He couldn't get his household goods delivered until he got his own place and had room for them, and they hadn't arrived in Kansas yet.

He had a fancy black backpack that carried his laptop, important paperwork, and some other things. Mail was coming to our house, mostly bills that he left on the table unopened. He wasn't making any effort to find a job, pay his bills, or anything else but seemed to be in a black hole of depression. I finally asked him whether I could open his mail. I was shocked at the bills that needed to be paid, the same sort of situation we had saved him from before he went into the army. I asked him whether he wanted my help to straighten out his life, and told him that if he did, the condition was that I had to have a power of attorney to make it legal for me to open his mail and help him deal with his affairs, and that he had to cooperate with me in doing what needed to be done, and that he should apply for unemployment, for which he was eligible, but hadn't done. He agreed.

He was surprised that unemployment actually paid him a reasonable amount. While he was staying with us, he could have saved a good bit of that money, but he didn't. Meanwhile, I told him that rather than just paying his bills off as we had before, this time he was going to have to do it himself, using a bill consolidation service. I went with him to Consumer Credit Counseling and had him make up a budget. They helped get his bills consolidated into one payment a month, with reduced interest. Leif was to give me a lump sum each month and I would see to it that the official check was sent in on time. Leif did this faithfully, and he did manage to pay off those bills and repair his credit rating, and keep it reasonably good until the year before he died, even thought he was often scraping the barrel to pay his bills or even eat or put gas in his car because he didn't do well at curbing his spending on electronic "toys," guns, and alcohol.

He was going to go back to school at Kansas State University in August, to finish the degree he had started before going into the army when he couldn't keep working and going to school, and couldn't pay his bills. I told him that we would keep our bargain to pay for his education, but this time, rather than paying for it up front, he would have to get educational loans on his own, and that we would pay them off if and when he graduated, but that if he didn't, he would be stuck with them himself. We thought this would provide him with more incentive to stay with it and graduate.

Meanwhile, I was very worried about his mental and emotional state and it was clear he needed some outlet for his feelings. He didn't want to show his inner feelings to us and there wasn't anyone else for him at that point.

Leif had loved playing Cyberpunk role playing games before he went into the army. I don't know whether he played with people at Fort Drum or not, but I do know that this had absorbed a great deal of his time when he was in college before. He also loved science fiction movies and television shows. He started telling me about some story ideas he had, and it was clear to me that they had some possibilities, not only as Cyberpunk game scenarios, but as a possible novel. Leif had excellent storytelling abilities, but he had never been interested in doing sustained writing. Even so, I suggested that he write a novel.

To my surprise, with a bit of coaxing, Leif decided to try it. He spent a lot of time on it, and he did allow me to read it. The story wasn't polished, more like the first draft, but it definitely had some good possibilities and I wanted him to finish it. I could also tell that a lot of his pain and heartache, as well as things he loved and experienced, were going into the story. I not only insisted he should finish it, but begged him to be sure it was backed up so it wouldn't be lost. I should have insisted that he give me a copy to keep on my computer, but unfortunately, I didn't.

When Leif died and his brother, cousin and a friend and I went over his computers carefully, and I did repeatedly, we never found the Cyberpunk novel. The only conclusion I could come to was that it must have been on the laptop that was stolen in July 2006. That wasn't the one he originally wrote it on, but if he kept it, he may have transferred it to that one. I feared it was completely lost forever.

However, in looking all over the ZAON forums for things Leif had posted, again looking for insights into his life and death, I discovered that in December 2002, he had posted the beginning parts of his novel there. It wasn't all he had written, but at least it was a part. I copied them and corrected things like capitalization and punctuation he had done hastily and not checked, but otherwise, I am going to post what he wrote just as he wrote it the summer of 2001.

I looked for a photo taken at that time and found I had hardly any. I think that was because he wasn't around for photo taking opportunities much that summer, preferring to stay up late into the night, sleep late during the day, and go out as much as possible. The photo posted here was taken August 19, 2001, and was actually part of a family portrait I insisted we have taken. He is actually smiling his "Mona Lisa" smile here, the result of some cajoling. Leif was 26 in this photo.

I will post what he wrote in four parts beginning tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Infantryman

This is the little statue of the infantryman and the brass plaque Leif's dad had made for him that I talked about in previous posts. I thought I was done with the military saga, but then I found this photo. It also reminded me that part of the army story is the aftermath of what Leif went through after he was boarded out and the effort he made at healing and going on with his life. More about that as I get my thoughts (and his) organized.

Is He Here?

People tell me that Leif sees us, knows how we feel, that he's here. They believe this, but how can they know? Isn't that wishful thinking? Or have we somehow been taught that even though there supposedly aren't any such thing as ghosts, there really are . . . given that a large percentage of people believe in them?

Or, they tell me he's gone "to a better place," or that he's "in heaven." That, too, is a matter of belief, but depending upon which dogma you believe, Leif might be somewhere other than heaven, as a nonbeliever.

Tonight a funny thing happened. Peter W. was saying something about Leif and a small blue and white decorative plate fell off the wall. I jokingly said that I guessed Leif didn't like what he said, but I think some people would take that seriously. Personally, I think that if Leif were around and wanted us to know it, he'd pick something far more technically savvy and dramatic than knocking a plate off the wall.

And if he is here, is he here ALL the time? Like Santa Claus who "sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good, for goodness sake"? Think what THAT would really be like?

I talk to Leif a lot, but he doesn't talk to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leif - An Award from Dad & Retirement from the Army - 2002 & 2004

Leif seldom wrote anything long, letters or email, unless it was something about which he felt a sudden and gripping passion. One evening in February 2001, when he was alone and depressed at Fort Drum, he called home and he and his dad had a misunderstanding. He broke down, the only time I ever heard him do that as an adult, hung up the phone and wrote a passionate statement about his military service. In that email, we learned for the first time about his awards, the difficulty he had experienced, and the humiliation he experienced not only from the treatment he got from some of his superiors, but from experiencing the breakdown of his health and body.

Although Leif ultimately was boarded out of the army due to medical reasons, his asthma, which became so severe that he could not keep up on marches when carrying his incredibly heavy load, and for which he was punished instead of being treated, he did not want to leave his chosen military career and felt his body had betrayed him.

The ultimate humiliation came when the army tried, as they have tried with so many vets (just tonight we heard on the news that all these years later they are finally admitting that those who had "Gulf War Syndrome" from the first Gulf War weren't making it up; they are really sick!) to insist that he didn't contract the asthma as the result of his military service, but must have had it before he entered. Luckily for him, he had his entire life's health record from military facilities from the day he was born, with no trace of asthma in any of it until after he was sent to Fort Drum. He had to appeal their decision to board him out without benefits, and appear before a board at Fort Lewis, Washington.

The final result was that the board agreed that his asthma was service-related, caused a 30% disability (which also meant that the law enforcement careers he would have liked to go into instead of the army were now barred to him as well), and permanently retired him from the army in August 2004 after being on a temporary retirement list since May of 2001.

Leif was denied promotions he deserved and denied medals he earned because of his asthma and disability, regardless of the outstanding job he did. He came home demoralized, depressed and lonely.

In July 2002, when his brother, Peter Anthony, and his family were visiting us in Manhattan, Kansas at the old stone house, Peter W. made an award for Leif, hoping to show that he honored Leif's service to his country. He put a brass plaque on a wooden base, used a branch of wood from one of our trees, decorated it with Leif's insignia and medals, and topped it with the statue of a infantryman. He presented it to Leif in front of the family, saying that if the Army didn't properly honor him, his dad would.

Leif was touched, and also bemused. This surely was one of the most unusual and personal awards a soldier ever got. The photo above is of that occasion.

At Leif's Memorial Service, the base of this award, with the brass plaque and the infantryman that had been on the top, were displayed, and some of the insignia were placed on the wooden urn that held Leif's ashes.

Here are Leif's own words:

I am an infantryman. There is a reason we get to wear the blue cord. We do what others would not, what others could not. I have done things that you could not imagine. Carried more, fought harder, endured more pain, pressed on for the mission. You have no idea what I have done. You have no idea what I have endured, what I have carried, how far I have carried it, or how little thanks I have gotten for my efforts. I would challenge you to do the same. I doubt you could.

I have served my country to the best of my ability and then some. I DID serve with honor and distinction. You have no idea what I have done or how hard it was to do it. I may have joined the wrong Service or the wrong MOS but I did my best to fulfill that job. I have suffered more pain, more humiliation, because of that choice, than you can imagine. I am now asthmatic because I would not give up. I am being thown out because my body would not abide with my will.

But I was proud to serve my country, because even if the institution was flawed at least I was one of those that volunteered to be part of it. I have served with honor and distinction. I was the top gunner at Dragon School straight out of Basic, for which I received a Certificate of Achievement. I was the best of the Guard in Bosnia on several occasions, for which I received several more COA's. I was among the best in the Catamout truck challenge, receiving another COA from my LTC.

I was the best gunner in our battalion and had the best gun team in the battalion, and probably the division, for which I also received a COA. I completed many road marches from 12 to 25 miles with full gear. I completed the 7 month rotation to Bosnia with a mission every day that could have meant life or death. These are just a few of the things that I have done in my service.

His Certificate of Retirement reads:

Certificate of Retirement
From the Armed Forces of the United States of America
To all who shall see these presents, greeting:
This is to certify that
Specialist Leif A. Garretson
having served faithfully and honorably,
was retired from the
United States Army
on the Fifth Day of August 2004

Here I will end my account of Leif's military service, which is fragmented and sketchy. We will never know all he could have told us about it, and there are some things he did tell us that I am not recounting online because they are about other individuals whose permission I do not have, or who would not be portrayed in a flattering light.

Although Leif's military service harmed him in body and soul, and I think it quite likely that he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, it also formed a major part of his identity, which is one reason his inability to continue because of his health was such a terrible blow to him.

The rest of his life, Leif would identify with his fellow soldiers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leif - Unit Armorer and Expert Infantryman Badge Certificates - 2000

When Leif returned to Fort Drum, New York from Bosnia, he and Nikko experienced the problems many young couples face after months of separation, and they weren't happy together, despite still loving one another. They still had financial problems, too, and Leif was not at all happy with things in his unit and was depressed. Both of those issues impacted their relationship, too.

Two bright spots during the summer of 2000 were Leif's selection for training as the Unit Armorer and his achievements during the expert infantryman training. We have no photos of him during this period at Fort Drum, but I found these two certificates in his belongings after his death . . . more that he had never shown to us. They read:

2d "Commando" Brigade
Certificate of Achievement
is Presented to
SPC Leif Garretson
In recognition of exceptional service during the 2nd "Commando" Brigade's Expert Infantryman Bad (EIB) Testing from 1 September to 22 September 2000. Your technical experience, professionalism, and dedication contributed greatly to the "Commando" Brigade's FY2000 EIB Test. This reflects great credit upon yourself, the 2nd "Commando" Bridage, the 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army.
Given this 22nd Day of September 2000

Department of the Army
Certificate of Training
This is to certify that
SPC Leif A. Garretson
C Co., 2nd - 87th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division (LI)
has successfully completed
Unit Armorer Certification Course 00-11
80 Course Hours
Given at Fort Drum, N.Y.
19-30 June 2000

Leif was very proud of both of these, for although he didn't show us the certificates, he did talk about the training. The Unit Armorer course made him a specialist in all of the kinds of armaments available to the unit, and he demonstrated them, trained others in their use, and was called upon to demonstrate and explain new weapons to brigade officers. The skills he learned he also later used heavily in his role with the developers of the ZAON game.

I know Leif was very proud of his infantry skills, but I don't know whether he actually earned the EIB. It looks very familiar to me, but I don't think we found it among his military insignia, and I have a vague memory of him telling me about the testing. It is a distinguished honor that only a small percentage achieve. If he was "on profile" for his asthma and unable to carry the requisite heavy pack and run with it, that would have prevented him getting it. I wish I knew the story and whether he got the badge or not, but I can't remember.

So many things I can't remember. We always thought we had the time to go back to him and find out the details. Now we never will.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Leif - Bosnia - Fall 1999 - Spring 2000 - Age 25

If you compare this photo of Leif with one taken just a year or two earlier when he joined the army, I think you can clearly see the decline in his both his mental and physical health. It's a dramatic and shocking change to me. He has gained weight, lost his hair, and no longer has that vital, energetic look he had before. I don't know how much of it was caused by the asthma, how much by being separated from Nikko and knowing they had marital problems exacerbated by the long months apart, or other factors of his army service such as the humiliating treatment he had sometimes endured.

We visited Leif and Nikko just a couple of months before he went to Bosnia, in July 1999. He had gained some weight after basic training and seemed subdued at times, but wasn't the depressed and unhappy man he was by the summer of 2000. We didn't see these photos until after he died, and we didn't see Leif until he and Nikko came back to Kansas in the summer of 2000, just before Nikko left him. I wonder if the changes in him were as much of a shock to her as they were to me, when he returned to her at Fort Drum that spring.

Leif spent Christmas 1999 and his 25th birthday on January 28, 2000 in Bosnia. We never heard how he celebrated either one, or if he did.

In the photo, he is in the gun turret of the patrol vehicle, but relaxing with a soft drink. You can see a bit of the area behind him, with the damage he told of clearly visible. Note he is wearing a flack jacket. The position Leif had on patrol was totally exposed. Luckily, he was never fired upon, but if he had been, he would have been a big target.

The certificate is for the NATO medal. It reads (in both English and French):

North Atlantic Treaty Organization
This is to certify that
PFC Leif Garretson
Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry
Has been awarded the NATO Medal for Service with NATO on Operations in relation to the Former Yugoslavia During the Period 20 September 1999 to 28 March 2000.

The actual medal looks like the bronze medallions at the top of the page and the ribbon, which he would have worn on his uniform was the navy blue bar with silver stripes that is in the middle. This was yet another thing Leif didn't tell us about, and I found the medal in the box it came in among his things.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Leif - Bosnia - Fall 1999 - Spring 2000 - Age 25

Leif was deployed for duty in Bosnia Herzegovina from Fall 1999 - Spring 2000. He was on sentry duty and on patrol in the machine gun turret of a vehicle, and was stationed in (I believe) three different camps during the period he was there.

Leif had a receding hairline which kept getting worse, and while he was in Bosnia, he decided to just shave his head. He never went back to having hair and said that when it started to grow, it felt "dirty" to him once he was used to the clean-shaven head.

Seeing Bosnia and what hatred for another religion or ethnic group had caused there had a profound effect on Leif. As a student of history, he already had opinions about religion causing so many problems and wars in the world, but when he saw the damage first hand, it solidified his belief that religion was too often a force of terrible evils.

Leif said there was no home or building that wasn't damaged by the war there, that many were in shambles, completely destroyed, and those that were standing and in use were marked by bullet holes and other damage. He said that Bosnia was a beautiful country, and would have been a delightful place to visit had it not been for the circumstances of the war and the peacekeeping effort.

The American troops were not supposed to have anything to do with the local populace, which he also thought was a shame, but he understood the reason for it. He recounted a story in which some of his unit managed to go to a local place for a pizza, and really enjoyed it, but said they could have gotten into a lot of trouble.

He also told a story about a time when he was on patrol when they nearly shot at other Americans who were in a restricted area and hadn't let the patrols know they were there.

Leif made some videos of the camps there, explaining where things were, a kind of tour, but so far, I don't have anything to play them with, because of the format.

Leif had been very unhappy at Fort Drum, partly because he felt that soldiers in his unit were not being treated well (and sometimes very cruelly and humiliatingly) by a particular sergeant, partly because he felt they were wasting a lot of time, were kept past retreat (time to go home) without reason (just waiting in the day room for dismissal), and because he had developed cold weather asthma the previous winter at Fort Drum after having been to Uzbekistan and "eating and breathing sand for two weeks." However, he found his time in Bosnia to be far more interesting and rewarding because, as he put it, "we finally had a mission."

Leif contended that it is hard to be an infantry soldier in peacetime because there is no real mission. Yes, they have to train and be prepared to fight, but that training doesn't go on eight hours a day, five or more days a week, so there are "make work" projects and a lot of wasted time. Leif hated boredom and hated having his time wasted.

But in Bosnia, he could see a clear reason for their mission. Leif said that he felt that if the US and NATO troops left, the war would resume and people would start killing each other again. Despite the fact that he knew the USA could not police the world, he did feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at his service in Bosnia, and a sense of comradeship in arms that was much more pronounced that he had felt in the USA.

The photo of Leif above was taken while he was on patrol in Bosnia but I don't know the date. I found it in an album he had. He had never shown those photos to us.

The three certificates are from his time in Bosnia.

Certificate of Appreciation
This Certificate is Presented to
SPC Leif A. Garretson
C Col, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment
For dedication to duty, and service to the
2nd Brigade Task Force, while assigned
as part of SFOR-6 in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Comanche Base
Operation Joint Forge
Certificate of Achievement
Presented to SPC Leif A. Garretson
3rd Platton, C Co., 2/87 Infantry Regiment
For exemplary performance of duty while assigned as a Sentry at Comanche Base, Bosnia-Herzegovina during Operation Joint Forge from 26 December 1999 to 26 January 2000. Your dedication and willingness to put forth the extra effort in all that you do is indicative of your professionalism and desire to be the best. This achievement is in keeping with the highest traditions of military service. Fly to Glory!

The third certificate is in the language used in Bosnia. It came with a small badge or lapel pin that looks like the one on the certificate, oval, red, with crossed rifles. It reads, as nearly as I can translate it:

SPC Garretson
has earned
The Military Sharpshooter Medallion
In Bronse
Bosnia, 3 December 1999

I wish I knew how that kind of competition took place. Leif's normal weapon was the machine gun, but this was evidently for a rifle competition or qualification.

I found these certificates and the Bosnian sharpshooter medallion in Leif's things.

Leif was promoted from Private First Class to Specialist sometime between when we saw him in July 1999 and December 1999 when he got the sharpshooter award, but I don't recall that he told us about it.

We had limited contact with Leif while he was in Bosnia, just a few emails. I'm going to try to see whether they are still on my computer and whether there are any interesting details in them. It would be unusual, since Leif didn't often write much.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Silent Sisterhood Grows

Not long ago I wrote about what I called the Silent Sisterhood of women who have experienced the death of one of their children. That sisterhood circles many heartaches brought by death. Those of us who have dealt with and grieved over the suicide of a family member have yet another sisterhood, yet another thing we keep silent about until we find another of our own.

Today I met two more women who are suicide survivors, which seems like an odd term to me. It sounds as though the person tried to commit suicide and survived, rather than a person who is left surviving after the suicide death of a family member.

Meeting these women brought home to me yet again that we can never know how many of the people around us every day have suffered some terrible emotional blow. Most of them cope, "soldier on," and don't show us their private grief.

The women I met today are dealing with not only the aftermath of suicide in their families, but the continuing depression of other family members and the family ignorance about it, fear of "being crazy" or having a "mental illness" that prevents them from recognizing or learning about depression. It's sad that in our day there are still people who hide in shame, whose loved ones may make matters worse by misunderstanding both depression and suicide, who are ashamed to talk about it.

There are so many awful things that can happen to us. I have been most fortunate in my life in many ways, yet I have experienced the tragedy of the suicides of both my father and my son. Both hid their depression well. Both men probably thought that, like the carefully cultivated public persona they presented, they could (and should) handle it themselves. Isn't that what "real" men do?

But they did not handle it, in the end, just as those I heard about today are not handling depression well, or understanding the suicide of their family members. In the end, their pride or their lack of recognition of depression kept them from getting medical help. And we are left to live our lives without them now, missing them, wishing we could have done something to help . . . when we didn't even really know help was needed at the time. Feeling somehow guilty that we didn't know, even though they hid their need.

Speak out. Don't hide. Don't hide either your need for help, or lie about how a loved one died. If we don't begin to acknowledge the truth, if we don't start to educate, if we don't let the world around us know how many suicides there really are, how destructive depression is, many more will die without help, thinking they have to keep their misery secret.

I am thankful for every photo I see with a real, happy smile on Leif's face, not a false smile he obligingly "put on" for a camera. I am thankful there were happy moments and happy times.

But I will always lament the deep, deep sadness we never fully knew or understood.

Leif - Catamount Battalion Awards - Summer 1999 - Fort Drum

Leif participated in battalion challenges at Fort Drum, New York, a year after he had arrived there and before going to Bosnia that fall. The two award certificates read, in part:

Catamount Certificate of Achievement
is awarded to
Private First Class Leif Garretson
for exceptional achievement as a participant in the 2-87 Catamount Truck Challenge. Your superior technical knowledge of the M998 and unparalleled driving ability set you apart as an outstanding example for all soldiers. Your ability to master a variety of skills make you an asset to the Catamount Batallion . . . 23 June 1999

Catamount Certificate of Achievement
is awarded to Private First Class Leif Garretson
PFC Garretson's machine gun team qualified as the highest in the battalion. His experience and expertise with the M240B machine gun are a credit to his team, platoon, Charlie Company, the Catamount Battalion, and the U.S. Army. 12 August 1999

The photo of him was taken about the same period. I think it was taken by Nikko, in their quarters at Fort Drum, and he is holding one of their cats.

Leif told me about the competitions he participated in for these awards, but unfortunately, I didn't write down the details. They were getting ready for their deployment to Bosnia.

Leif did not like infantry life on base when they were not training and "had no mission." He felt they wasted a lot of time and were required to do menial tasks like mopping floors instead of honing their skills as professional soldiers. He was happiest when they were training or on a mission, as they were in Bosnia. He could expound at length on how he thought things ought to be done differently in order to make better use of enlisted soldiers' time, and he resented it when they were kept late with nothing to do because higher ups weren't ready to dismiss them.

However, he had a fierce dedication to his own skills and mission, and to his comrades in arms.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Leif's Infantry Training Certificate & Supernumerary Awards

Leif talked a lot about his military service, but he never showed us any of the award certificates he received. I found them in his apartment after he died.

The top certificate is his Infantry Training Diploma, which he received for completing infantry basic training from January 22 - April 23, 1998.

The following three are awards for serving three times as a Task Force Guard Mount Supernumerary in October 1999 in Bosnia. I wish Leif were here to clarify what it meant to be a supernumerary, but as near as I can find from researching it, that would be when he was detailed to another unit (not the one in which he normally served and to which he was assigned) to either fill in for a vacancy or to provide extra support and leadership.

The third certificate reads,
Iron Rangers
1st Battalion, 16th Infantry
Presents this
Certificate of Achievement
Awarded to
Specialist Leif A. Garretson
Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry
For meritorious service from 1 September 1999 to 1 November 1999 while deployed to Bosnia, SPC Garretson demonstrated superior basic soldier skills by being selected for supernumerary three times. His performance has brought great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

I wish I had written down all the stories Leif told us about his service in Bosnia. I never knew he wouldn't be there to ask about them again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day - Honor, Pride and Tears

Our family has so much to be proud of on Veteran's Day. Leif's father served our country for 24 years in the army. His brother, Peter Anthony, is in his 17th year of service in the Air Force (21st if you count his four years as a cadet at the Air Force Academy). My brother,Donovan, served in the army in the late 1960s. His son Rick served in the navy and his son Timothy served in the army. My brother-in-law DeWayne served in the army.

And Leif served as an infantry machine gunner, from January 1998 until May 2001, when he was medically boarded out of the service due to asthma that was somehow caused by his service and exacerbated by it when he was required to be out in freezing temperatures or to overexert carrying his incredibly heavy gear and gun. This was a terrible blow to him, but he was proud of his service and identified with it, considered himself a warrior, and was fiercely dedicated to his oath to uphold the United States Constitution.

Today was a day of honor, pride and tears, honor for Leif and all the military members of our family and nation, pride for their service, and tears for those who have fallen, whether in battle, because of their service, or otherwise.

Yesterday there was a piece on television about servicemembers and veterans committing suicide, and how the rate has climbed precipitously. Leif could be counted among those numbers, a medically retired, disabled veteran who never found his place in the civilian world.

Today we went to Bay Pines National Cemetery where Leif is inurned. I wore one of his dog tags, which you can see in the photo above. I knew I would break down, and I did. Peter and I both cried our hearts out for our lost son. I kept saying, "I want him back!"

I know that's impossible. I know the truth. But that's how I feel, and I'll never stop feeling that way. I miss him so!

I suppose that a grief counselor would say that I'm in the denial stage, but I would deny that. I know Leif is dead. I know he isn't coming back. I don't say it can't be so. But I also don't want to let him go.

I ran my hands over the stone, over his niche. I leaned against it and cried and cried.

Leif's friend and former girlfriend, Donna, came there today, too. She placed a single red rose for him and cried with us. Thank you, Donna, for caring and for honoring him.

The photo of Leif at the top of this post was probably taken in 1998, before he was promoted to Specialist 4, before the problems with asthma set in.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leif in Camouflage Gear - Fall 1998

From his training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Private First Class Leif Garretson was sent to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, after stopping in Kansas to get his household goods packed up and transported, and his old Ford truck loaded up. He and Nikko headed for upstate New York and were assigned quarters in an off base army housing complex in Watertown, New York.

That summer and fall seemed to go fairly well for Leif. He was fit and liked being a machine gunner. He had an assistant gunner that became his close friend, James Mayo. Nikko and Jim's wife, Jaime, also became friend.

I'm not sure I have the timing all correct, but Leif's unit participated in training cadets at West Point, and then were sent to Uzbekistan for joint war games and maneuvers with other NATO troops. I posted some photos of him in Uzbekistan when I first started the blog back in April.

I haven't found any photos of Leif in full battle gear, but when he was carrying his full infantry pack, his machine gun, and body armor, he was carrying about the total of his own weight. He told me how much weight he carried several times, but I unfortunately didn't write it down, don't accurately remember it, and never dreamed I wouldn't have him there to ask if I forgot.

I can't imagine being strong enough to walk carrying that amount of weight (probably some 200 pounds), let alone being able to move swiftly for military maneuvers.

Although I am pretty sure these photos were taken in the fall of 1998, I don't know whether they were for some field exercise, when they were training the West Point cadets, or whether they were on their way to Uzbekistan. I think they spent several weeks there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Seven Months Since Leif Died

The months continue to pass. Today (Sunday, November 9th) it has been seven months since Leif died. Tomorrow it will be seven months since we found him. He wasn't supposed to die that way, my proud, brilliant son. I always believed in him, always believed that something good would come into his life, that he would find a goal, find his way. Why couldn't my faith have been rewarded? For him, not for me, though I would have rejoiced for both of us.

Not a day goes by that we don't talk about him, try to fathom why he did it, why he made such a terrible decision. We know all the factors. Or at least we think we do, but perhaps there's more we can't discover. And yet we still can't truly fathom it, why he felt there was no other way out, at least for him.

We spent a lovely weekend in Inverness, Homosassa and Crystal River, walking in the state parks, seeing two dolphins and a manatee in the river, an armadillo walking right by us on the path in the park. We enjoyed an arts and crafts fair, a seafood festival, all in the lovely "fall" air. Walked beside a lake, beside the river. We enjoyed being together, and visiting Leif's friend Michael and seeing his screen printing equipment, meeting Karen, and all the while, Leif was there with us, in our minds.

Peter and I were having dinner at the Outback on Saturday night and he took my hands and felt the ring that Peter A. designed for me and had made in Thailand. I always wear it. Peter Anthony designed it with the birthstones for him and Leif pointing toward the center, which he envisioned as pointing toward the ring that symbolized our love for each other. There are three diamonds set in the middle and to the two sides, symbolizing Peter Anthony's children, our three grandchildren. The ring is a treasure.

When Peter W. took my hand, he said, "here are your two sons, and now one of them is gone." How quickly the mood changed. How fast my eyes teared up.

And as we drove home, past Tampa, Peter W. said, "If Leif were still alive, we'd be driving by, close to him now. It doesn't seem right that he isn't there. He wasn't supposed to die like that. No way would have been good, but this way, how could he?"

That's the never-ending question of the suicide survivor, the why?

That's the never-ending obsession that we must somehow get past, but perhaps never will.

We love him. We miss him. Always.


The birthstones are the garnet, for Leif's birthday on January 28th (red) and the blue topaz for Peter Anthony's birthday on December 25th.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Leif Selected as Top Gunner of the Basic Antiarmor Course - 1998

In the extra training Leif was selected to take after infantry basic at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Basic Antiarmor Course, he was selected as the Top Gunner. That was the reason he was the one who got to fire the incredibly expensive round to destroy a tank.

This is the Certificate of Achievement he received that May 1998. He was very proud of having been selected for that course, and of having been the top student in the class. Leif liked blowing things up, and he liked shooting guns. He admired them as fine weapons and pieces of engineering and design. When he started purchasing his own guns, he chose carefully. As his friend Michael said, "Leif always had the best."

He was trained as a machine gunner, and got orders to be stationed with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leif - Graduation from Infantry Basic Training - April 1998 - Fort Benning, Georgia

Leif chose infantry as his army MOS (occupational specialty) and that made his training that much harder physically, but it was made even harder by having to do it with a broken bone in his foot. Ironically, during first aid and medical training, another recruit tripped and fell on Leif's foot, breaking a bone. Leif was determined to complete basic with his unit and managed to walk and run on that broken foot to do it.

We went to Fort Benning with Nikko for the graduation ceremony, and watched the demonstrations and marching with pride. Leif was the tallest man in his unit, and his military bearing was outstanding. The first photo was taken right after the graduation ceremony, on the parade field.

The second one was taken a day or so later, when we had to take Leif back to his barracks and say goodbye. Most of the class was leaving that day, but he had been selected for further training in armaments and had to stay another couple of weeks. That training also included learning to use and fire a new, very expensive weapon. I don't know the name of it, but he was the only man in the training who actually got to fire a live round and blow up a tank. That was a big thrill for him, and he calculated the cost to the government of that one round he got to fire. It was many thousands of dollars.

Leif had also been selected to be a machine gunner, which pleased him immensely. More about that later.

It was beautiful, warm spring weather in Georgia, and we had a very nice time while there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Tragic Seeker

I wasn't going to interrupt the photos and account of Leif's military career but I have to. Last night we went to the Phantom of the Opera production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. We had never been there before, and I couldn't help thinking that if Leif were alive, we might well have taken him with us. I wish he could have seen it. We saw Phantom years ago in Kansas City, but other than the music, it's amazing how much of it we had forgotten.

In the past year, the two choruses I sing with each have selected Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, and as with other music, I've found that the words and music speak to me of Leif, especially "Think of Me," "All I Ask of You," and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again."

"Think of Me," I can imagine in Leif's mind, as he would think of his past loves, his family. I can also imagine it in my mind, hoping that he would think of me. It's a beautiful song, but I see it so differently now.

"All I Ask of You," has a double poignancy, sung by Christine and Raoul, the two lovers, and by the Phantom, who loves and needs Christine. Phantom, the tragic musical genius and seeker of love, shunned by society because of his looks, an outsider who can never have what he truly needs.

Leif was an attractive man, but his blemish was of another kind, his introversion, his penchant for getting into financial trouble, but like Phantom, he sought a love to make him whole, and like Phantom, he wanted to shape his love into the perfect object of his love.

Leif in some sense belongs in the group of literary men who want to take a "damsel in distress" or poverty (think of Shaw's "Pygmalion," the inspiration for "My Fair Lady," as well as the Phantom and Christine, a chorus girl pining for her dead father) and make her into a fine lady.

"Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," which Christine sings in front of her father's grave, brought tears to my eyes. How I wish Leif were somehow here again! She sang it with such longing and grief, feeling from the soul, and I know just what Christine felt.

The staging was spectacular. Just the engineering of it would have engaged Leif's mind. He would have loved this show. I wonder if he would have seen any of the things I saw in it. Perhaps not, if he were still alive.

It was a magical, beautiful evening for us, but Leif was there, if only in my mind.

He was a tragic seeker of love, my lonely son, a seeker of his place in the world, a place he never found.

The photo above was taken in May 1998 when Leif came back to Kansas from infantry basic training to pack up and move to Fort Drum, New York. He was 23.