Thursday, July 30, 2009

Leif and the Trip to Canada - Summer 1989 - Age 14

I found these photos in Leif's album. I don't think I ever saw them before and I don't know who took them, but they were taken with Leif's camera. Perhaps he put it on a picnic table or tree stump for the one of the three of us, and maybe I took the one of him running and acting silly down by the stream. I don't even remember exactly where this place is, but my, how we all changed since 1989. Twenty years, and so much has happened, and Leif is no longer here.

We had a good time with Leif on that trip, visiting Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, cities, museums, countryside. Leif was fun to travel with and he enjoyed the trip.

I see a picture like this one of the three of us and it is so typical, Peter W. always with his arms around his family, those protective loving arms. In those days, we could still protect Leif from some of the blows of life. How I wish we had been able to protect him from some of the far worse ones that happened to him once he left our care and lived on his own as a grown man.

Since the photo was taken, Leif grew his hair long, then cut it short, then had an army haircut and eventually shaved his head when his receding hairline was making him bald on top at the age of about thirty. And we have grown gray and gone from middle age to being "seniors."

I never thought I would grow old with out one of my sons. That hurts every single day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is there after death? A host of questions

Since Leif's death I've thought many times about the possibility of some kind of afterlife. I never had any firm, dogmatic beliefs about it, no particular religious teaching I subscribed to. When I was in high school, extrasensory perception and reincarnation fascinated me and I did a lot of reading about it. I was interested in comparative religion and read about many religious beliefs. In the past ten years I did more reading, research about ghosts as background for the ghost stories I was writing, but still, I did not settle on a firm belief.

And that's all it could be, belief, since we have no real proof of life, of any kind, after death. There are many experiences people have had that they claim proves the existence of ghosts, or communication with those who have passed over to the "spirit realm." There are people that claim to have measured the soul coming out of the body, but even if they have, who knows where it goes? Does it have memory and personality? Does it maintain that individual integrity or dissipate?

There's not a one of the ideas surrounding the continuation of the individual soul or personality after death that doesn't have huge problems that belie logic or even imagination. Yet, people believe. It seems to be a hallmark of just about every religion, the belief that we continue to exist in some form after death. As I wrote in the afterword to Trespassing Time, "Is belief in ghosts only superstition or gullibility? Or is it openness to an experience beyond our daily lives? A faith in the continuance of the soul after death?" How can we know?

When I was writing ghost stories and doing a lot of school and community programs, people, both adults and children, would ask me whether I believed in ghosts. I would tell them that I had "an open mind." I couldn't quite believe, yet I admitted the possibility. There are so many things in our world, our universe, that are fantastic and seemingly impossible; why couldn't this be true, too? Maybe we just don't know enough. Many of these people told me of experiences they believed were visits from the dead, though in truth, most were more like coincidences that made them think so, like the mother who saw a falling star and felt it was a message from her son. A few were harder to explain and might have really been such a visit, like the story told to me by a well-known author about a visit from a dead soldier in the barracks, in the night, asking him to tell his family what had happened to him. At the time he appeared to this man, no one yet knew this soldier was dead.

And yet . . . . since Leif's death, I find myself being less open-minded. Is it just because he has not visited or communicated with me? (Or maybe I'm just not open and sensitive enough to know it?) All of the ideas about life on another plane of existence define a barrier between the worlds. If it were easy for the dead to come back and talk to us, I'm sure many more of us would have had that experience. Maybe the dead, if they yet live, don't even remember their former existence on earth. Maybe they are not supposed to remember us. Does the butterfly remember being a caterpillar? Could death be a form of metamorphosis? It doesn't seem likely. The caterpillar's body is not found dead and decaying; it has truly changed into the new form.

Where do all the new souls keep coming from, as the population of the earth continues to rise dramatically?

Is it just wishful thinking, not only for our loved ones but for ourselves, that we persist in believing we will "live" after death? Are we just not able to comprehend and accept that death is the end?

Why should people be the only ones to go on after death? Many animals have conscious intelligence. What about them?

If there is another existence and there are ghosts, why do some peole become ghosts, ostensibly a few, and the others do not?

Then I think about Leif specifically. He did not believe in a life after death, or in God, and yet I think he hoped both might be so. If he were to be surprised after death and find himself with a new form of existence, what would he do? Our egocentric minds seem to think that our dead loved ones either spend their time hanging around watching us or waiting to welcome us into the hereafter, but why would they do that for years and years and years? Surely if they are "born" to a new form of existence, there is far more to that existence than watching their old world and waiting eternally. How utterly wasteful and boring it would be to spend eternity like that. Perhaps there would be a period of letting go, and then they'd get on with a new "life."

And someone like Leif, leaving this world of his own volition because of unhappiness, pain and debt, why would HE want to hang around and watch it? Would he WANT to watch his parents grieve? Would he WANT to come back to contact them . . . and tell them what? Why he did it?

We think we want to know, or at least know what he would have to say about it, but it could be even more painful. Maybe we would be confronted with his anger. Maybe we would learn things we don't want to know. Maybe he would find it too painful to tell us, to watch us deal with it.

Maybe he would be anxious to get on with his new life. For someone who had as his signature on the ZAON forums the Aldous Huxley quote, “Maybe this world is another planet's Hell,” this world would probably be one he would leave as far behind as he could, once he had taken that step.

If he is somewhere and still Leif, I hope he is happier, whether he comes back to "visit" or not. If I knew he were now in a happier life, I would still miss him and grieve for what he went through on earth, but I would be glad for him. I can't be that, though, because I have no way to know.

Beliefs are one thing. Actions are another. I still talk to him every day, and I probably always will . . . . whether I believe he is there to hear me or not.

The photo of Leif with the telescope, which he was probably pretending was a big gun of some kind, was taken in June 1982 in Japan. He was seven-and-a-half years old.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Leif's Photos of Scamp

Leif loved cats and he knew that I did, too. He twice got me cats for Mother's Day, once as a teen in junior high and once as a senior in high school.

The cat in these photos is Scamp, our all-time favorite cat, and the one Leif first picked out when we were living at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He went to a pet store and picked out the liveliest one he could find, the one that was climbing all over the place and virtually meowing, "look at me, look at me." Scamp was a tiny kitten when they brought him home and we all loved watching his antics. I wrote two earlier post about Scamp with photos of Leif and him together, but when I found these photos Leif took, I wanted to post them, too.

One thing Scamp enjoyed immensely was changing sheets on the beds. When he noticed that was happening, he would jump up on the bed and run around under the sheet as the new one was settling down on the bed. It looked so funny, like some kind of giant mole scooting around under the sheet. If I picked up a small part of one side I could make it like a narrow tunnel looking in at him and he would go nuts trying to rush down the small space at me, or pose in various amusing ways with just his face showing down the tube made by the sheet and the bed. It was so much fun that when I put clean sheets on the beds I would often lift the sheet up and flutter it down again and again so that he could jump under it, tunnel and scoot, and play silly games. Sometimes we would take photos.

All but one of these photos were taken in late fall or December 1989 when Leif was nearly 15 years old and Scamp was a grown cat, two-and-a-half years old. The other one is the second one from the top, taken when Scamp was still a kitten shortly after we got him in May 1987.

Scamp was a beautiful cat but he had a funny nose which was part orangey-pink and park black, giving him a kind of odd look as though something was wrong with his nose.

I don't know why Leif never took photos of other cats he had when he was older, Merlin, the second cat he gave me, or Sugar and Spice, the cats he and Nikko had when they were married. Leif always loved to cuddle something, whether it was a stuffed animal he had as a child, or a cat, or his lady love. Cats were particularly interesting to him (along with snakes, which he also had as pets at times, and birds, which he never did) and you could see how much he enjoyed having them in his arms and playing with them. It was another sad thing for him that he became allergic to them and after he contracted asthma, he couldn't have cats as they brought on asthma attacks.

Seeing these photos brought back a lot of happy memories for me. Scamp was special. Leif picked a great cat.

Leif's G.I. Joe "Bumper Car"

This is a photo Leif took in May 1987 when we were living at Fort Sheridan, Illinois on the the north side of Chicago. He was twelve years old at the time. I hadn't ever seen it before I found his albums after he died, or at least I didn't remember it. I like it because it's an amusing example of his sense of humor.

We had some "Broetchen" (German hard rolls) and at that time, like a lot of kids he didn't really care for the crunchy crust but he liked the soft interior, so he sometimes he would kind of hollow it out and eat the part he liked. Evidently this time the hole he made in the "leftover" crust made the roll remind him of a bumper car just the right size for one of his G.I Joe figures, so he plunked one into it and added a wooden skewer or pencil to be the rod at the back of the car that connects it to the electricity to run it, and there it sits on the plate full of crumbs.

It's hard to imagine anyone but Leif thinking of something quite like this. He often saw things in new and different ways than other people did, and also had that wacky and surprising sense of humor I've mentioned often.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nostalgia, Remembrance, Gratitude, Wishing

Finding Leif's photo albums, the two he actually put together (as opposed to a bunch of loose photos from his army days, mostly of people we don't know) not only brings back a lot of memories but shows me new things about Leif and what he chose to photograph. Even as a young teen he was photographing himself, though not as much as he did in the last few years of his life. I don't know for sure whether he placed his camera on something and used the timer on these two or whether he had someone there with him who took them, but I'm pretty sure neither Peter W. nor I took them, or even saw them before.

These were taken the the back yard of our house (army quarters) in Puerto Rico, and I probably should have known about them and scanned them to post when I was writing about that house and yard. Now they'll have to stand on their own.

These were taken around February 1991, or at least that's when the roll of film was developed, so Leif was sixteen years old in these photos. In the one where he is far from the camera, it looks like he is swinging the machete he used to help keep the jungle under control around there. In the one where he is posing leaning back against a palm tree, you can see the same outfit closer up. He dressed in fashion and in fashion fads in those days, with his purple shirt and deliberately ragged jeans, the kind with narrow ankles.

Tonight Peter W. and I were having dinner in Brandon and he said he felt very nostalgic for all the times we have shared, and that he wondered whether we would ever have dinner in Brandon without remembering the times we did so with Leif. I said I didn't think so, and that I think of him in every room of our house. Even the car we were driving was hand-picked for us by Leif. We talked about the years and times in so many places and how fortunate we were to have each other and our sons. He said that when we are young, we don't really appreciate what we have because we are so busy trying to get ahead, make a secure future for our family and ourselves, and that he wishes we could go back and do it over.

I suppose in a sense we don't really appreciate everyday life because it is everyday. We don't know how special it is until it's gone. I can share the nostalgia with him, and and looking at photos of Leif or photos he took, and thinking about all this every day for the blog certainly brings home to me how much we had and what a great loss we have suffered. Yet we are still fortunate to have had so many good years, to have had two brilliant and handsome sons, to have each other, to have seen so much of the world.

In another sense, though, I did know how good I had it, how special our lives were. That's why I took so many pictures, trying to save all those memories, trying to preserve something of those feelings, and I am so immensely grateful not only for the experiences and the family, but for the photos and the memories.

It is both joyous and sad to remember it all, joyous because it was so good, sad because Leif is gone. Tonight Peter said it still doesn't seem real or possible that he's dead. We know it is true, but it seems as though it just can't be so.

I wish, oh how I wish, he were still here!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Missing Leif - What Does That Mean?

It's easy to say we miss someone. It's a global statement, meaning that we miss their presence and everything that presence meant to us. I miss Leif every day. But what do I miss the most? I miss his eyes when he smiled, those rascally brown eyes that could light up a room. I miss his electric smile, not the sad half smile I saw too often in the last year of his life. I miss his sense of humor, his intellect, his ability to discuss just about any subject and add something interesting and challenging to a conversation. I miss his ability to teach me things about technology, his view of the world, history, even guns. I miss his hearty laugh. I miss his enjoyment of good food, good movies, his favorite sci-fi shows. I miss his physical presence, his height and strength. I miss his passion about politics and our country. I miss his text messages. I miss his teasing. I miss seeing him at my table or coming in my door. I miss his voice. I miss the future he will never have, the children he will never father. I miss seeing him play chess with Madeleine or making silly videos on his cell phone with Aly. I miss seeing him drive up in his RX-8. I even miss seeing him on his motorcycle, much as I wished he wouldn't ride one. I miss seeing my two sons together, brothers talking. I miss taking pictures of him. I miss meeting him for dinner in Tampa or Brandon. I miss seeing him in his SCA garb, fighting in the park. I miss seeing him making chain mail. I miss so many, many things.

And most of all, I miss hugging him.

This photo was taken July 30, 2004 when we had Peter Anthony's family and Michael there and we were all gathered around our dining room table telling stories and drinking beer. It was a great evening. How I wish we could have another like it!

Leif's Photos of Sports Cars from August 1986 in Oakland, California

Long before he got the Minolta 7000, Leif was taking pictures. The earliest ones I've found were taken the summer we moved from Hawaii to Illinois, and that's probably what got him started wanting a good camera. I no longer remember what camera he was using, but it must have been one that we had and weren't using for Peter W. or me.

These are some of the first photos he took, of sports cars he spotted in Oakland, California, which is where we stayed briefly when we got back to the US mainland. It was in a kind of warehouse district on a military facility and the surrounding area. He was particularly thrilled to spot the unusual stainless steel DeLorean and took quite a few photos of it.

Whether it was looking for them, reading about them, test driving them, making models of them, or owning and driving his own cars, Leif was completely enamored of cool cars from a very early age.

Leif was eleven and a half years old when he took these photos.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Leif the Photographer

When Leif was in junior high school in Highland Park, he started on four new interests that consumed him, learning to play the electric guitar, building and running radio controlled model cars, computers, and photography. The computer wasn't completely new, since we'd had one in Japan and Hawaii, but it was in Illinois that his interest blossomed and he also began using it for school assignments. I've already written about the RC cars and his guitars.

There was a camera shop in Highland Park that also sold used cameras. I was doing a lot of photography for publication in those days, as well as the usual family photos, and Leif was with me at times when I went to the camera shop to request special processing. My entire family seems to have the photography bug, at least in my generation, and Peter W. has it as well. I think it rubbed off on Leif. He spotted a Minolta 7000 SLR camera that he wanted and lobbied hard to get it as a gift. The set was considerably more expensive than what we usually spent for either Christmas or birthday for our sons, and I wasn't sure that expensive a camera was a good idea for a young teen. However, Leif was very technically savvy, and had some obvious artistic talent, and we wondered whether this might prove to be a really good thing for him. In the end, we made one of our many bargains with him. He would get the camera and the superb MD lens that came with it, one which went from wide angle to a short telephoto, and a flash apparatus as well, but they were for both Christmas and birthday, and he had to work off the remainder of the price that was above our gift budget.

The first couple of years he had the camera, he took quite a few rolls of film. His favorite subjects in those days were cool sports cars, whether seen on the street or at a car show, and our cat, Scamp. He also liked photographing ultramodern architecture. When we moved to Puerto Rico after his freshman year of high school, he photographed his first love, K., when they were on a date, and his friends at a party.

After that, he used the camera less and less and although he kept it, it mostly gathered dust. One reason for that was the cost of film and developing. He did take some pictures of Nikko when they were at Fort Drum, and a few with his army buddies, but after that, he acquired an inexpensive digital camera and the combination of that and his computer made it much easier to take pictures. From that time on, his main subjects were himself, his computers, his guns, his cars and motorcycles, and photos of the two women he was involved with and loved after his divorce. He also liked to take photos and video with his cell phones. I've posted quite a few of his photos on this blog already.

Eventually, when we were moving him to Florida, I asked him whether he wanted to keep the Minolta. He just shrugged. It was plain he wasn't going to use it any longer, and over the years the shoe mount for the flash had gotten cracked, so he thought it wasn't worth anything. I sold it with some camera equipment of mine and Peter W.'s and he was happy with the digital camera he had until it quit working. The last birthday gift we gave him was a new Fuji digital pocket camera he had his eye on, January 27, 2008, when he was here for dinner the day before his birthday. Sadly, in the two-and-a-half months he had it, he hardly used it.

The photos above are of Leif in Puerto Rico with his Minolta 7000 camera in 1992 when he was photographing the Tall Ships coming into San Juan during the celebration of the 500 years since Columbus discovered America, his camera, and one of the photos he took of a Ferrari in December 1986.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leif's Last and Most Beautiful Car - Mazda RX-8 - December 2005 - April 2008

When Leif wrecked the 2002 Dodge Stratus Coupe, he wasted no time looking for another car. The wreck was on December 23rd, I think, and he had a new car before the first of the year.
He said he had nearly convinced himself to buy a more practical car like a Honda Civic when he spotted his beautiful silver Mazda RX-8 in the used car lot at the dealer where he was looking at new cars. I think it was a 2003 or 2004 model and it was in mint condition, with a stunning red and black leather interior. He had promised himself that he would someday own an RX-8, and here it was, just waiting for him.

Leif had learned some bargaining from his dad and he told the dealer that if he could drive off the lot with the bottom line all-inclusive price being (I THINK it was) $23,000, he had a deal. He had already checked out the loan possibilities and secured one so he could basically just hand over a check. At that point, his credit rating was good. It was a good price, and not a terribly expensive car, and he was making enough money at the time and living with his dad, but it wasn't a practical car, and eventually the monthly payments in addition to his other bills would prove to be difficult for him.

However, at the time he bought it he was ecstatic. He took a lot of photos of the car, even up until just three weeks before he died, and he tried to keep it in pristine condition, although he wasn't much better at "housekeeping" inside his car than he was in his apartment.

He was still living with his dad for about six weeks after he bought the car, and then moved to the first of three apartments he lived in in Tampa. He loved driving that car and it was a joy to see him drive up in it when he came to visit us.

When we drove to his apartment on April 10, 2008, the day we found him dead in his apartment, seeing both his RX-8 and his silver Honda motorcycle parked outside his apartment building and knowing none of us had been able to contact him for about 31 hours, we knew something was terribly wrong.

The sheriff's deputies on the scene advised us not to leave his car or cycle in the parking lot there. They felt they would be theft targets after the neighborhood had seen him taken from his apartment in a body bag. We had the cycle towed to our house and since neither of us could drive a stick shift, were grateful to our neighbor Bill for driving it to our home about 30 miles away. We couldn't keep it, and we didn't have the title to it so we couldn't sell it. The only option was to let it get repossessed. It was towed away to an auction company on my birthday, May 24, 2008. It was both very sad and a relief to see it go. On the one hand, it was a beautiful car that Leif had treasured and while it was in our garage, I sat in it several times and thought of him, but on the other hand, it also made me sad to see it there. It brought tears to my eyes to think of all the times I watched for him to come driving up, or walked out to the car to say goodbye and saw him in it, and then think I would never see him in it again.

It was sold at auction and the money paid off most but not all of the loan Leif had on the car, one of many debts he left unsettled.

Leif, the man who loved cars, who made a hobby of going to car dealerships to see them and test drive them; Leif who drove like a race driver and had little regard for speed limits; Leif, the man who got his dream car, had left it behind, had left us behind, had gone without saying goodbye.

The photos are, from the top:
1. Leif took this self portrait on November 21, 2007, in his motorcycle jacket, with his iPhone.
2. Leif as he looked on December 24, 2005, right after he wrecked the Dodge Stratus and right before he bought the RX-8.
3. The RX-8 being towed away for auction on May 24, 2008.
4. Leif in the RX-8 showing the interesting way the doors opened on January 4, 2006, just days after he bought it.
5. Leif standing beside the RX-8 on January 4, 2006.
6. The RX-8, taken by Leif on March 1, 2008, just over a month before he died.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Leif & the 2002 Black Dodge Stratus Coupe - February 2003 to December 2005

While Leif and Nikko were at Fort Drum, they also owned a used white sports car that Nikko drove, and later Leif did manage to find and purchase another used RX-7, which was what he had when he came back from the Army in May 2001. He drove it until it "died." That is, it wasn't drivable and would have required more expensive repairs than were feasible. Leif didn't have the money to either fix it or purchase a new, or even used, car. He was in his senior year at KSU and living on his GI Bill stipend and the small amount he earned as a school crossing guard. He sold the RX-7 to a father and son who were looking for a project car they could work on together. I think he got about $600 for it.

Leif needed a car and would soon need one to get to and from another job. He was looking into trying to get a loan and finance purchasing one. We had inherited some money from Peter W's mother and we decided that rather than have Leif go further into debt (he still owed us a lot of money and was still paying off debts he also incurred while in the army), we would loan him the money to buy a car, with some limitations on what we would be willing to pay for. Leif was very appreciative and went car shopping at all the dealers in Manhattan. When he had some ideas of things he might like, we went to see them with him.

The one we all liked best was a new 2002 black Dodge Stratus Coupe. It was a very stylish car and seemed to fit Leif well. That was when Peter W. went into his best bargaining mode. He was so good at it that he had Leif really fooled that he if he didn't get the price he proposed, he was going to either go elsewhere or get something used and cheaper. However, he managed to get exactly the deal he wanted and we left the lot with the car for $19,999 including taxes and registration. Leif looked great in that car.

While he was proud of having his first new car and liked the looks of it as well as the cushy interior, he said he missed the handling and rear wheel drive of the RX-7 and still vowed that someday he would have an RX-8.

When Leif moved to Florida in March 2005, he drove the Stratus to Florida in a caravan with us and parked it in our garage. He only had the Stratus for less than three years and hadn't really even begun to pay us back much on it when he had an accident on his way to a date in Tampa. He called me from the scene. I was in Kansas at the time and about to get on a plane in a day or two to head for Florida for Christmas. I think the accident was on December 23, 2005. Luckily, he wasn't badly injured, but he did have some whiplash injury from it and his neck continued to bother him the rest of his life.

As I remember, the accident happened because another car swerved into his lane just as he was coming to a traffic light. To avoid getting hit, he hit the accelerator and shot into the intersection, but instead managed to hit another car. Since he had gone through a red light, he got a citation for that and it raised his insurance. He struggled with high insurance rates all of his adult life due to the accidents he had.

I didn't see the damage to the car, but it was totaled. He hadn't even had it long enough to pay for it and it was gone.

The photos of the car were taken by him in 2005 in Florida. The one of him by the car I took of him in front of 210 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas the spring of 2003. Since we made the loan to him as one of his graduation presents, I've included a photo of him after the Commencement ceremony at KSU on May 18, 2003, with Peter W. and me. The top photo is a self portrait of him in March 2003.

Leif and his Ford 150 Truck

By the time Leif enlisted in the army in January 1998, he had sold his beloved RX-7 and had acquired a used Ford 150 truck. It was old, but I don't know the year, and the paint was dulled in in bad shape. It may have been brown, but it looked like rust. Since I don't have a photo of it, I created this facsimile.

At one point, as a joke he decided to paint over the FORD letters on the rear tailgate with black spray paint and name it FOOD. Then, later, he tried to paint the entire thing black with spray paint, not having the money to pay for a paint job. It wasn't a particularly successful adventure.

The truck was very useful for hauling things, particularly during their moves, and when he came back to Kansas from Infantry Basic Training in May 1998 (when this photo of him was taken), and he and Nikko moved from Kansas to Fort Drum, New York, they traveled there in the truck, with a lot of belongings and his Yamaha motorcycle strapped in the bed of the truck in back.

He kept the truck during his years at Fort Drum, but at some point before he left there in May 2001, he had the idea of taking the motor out. I don't know just what shape it was in at that point. I don't think it was running. He sold it to some guy but didn't have the title to turn over to him. Once he got back to Manhattan and we located the title, we couldn't find out how to contact the guy he had sold it to. The phone number he had no longer worked and no amount of calling directory assistance or anything else turned up a way for him to get the title to the fellow.

Leif liked trucks. While he was enamored of sports cars and loved them most, he also was appreciative of the practicality of owning a truck. Periodically he would talk about buying one as his "next vehicle."

Leif was the only person I ever knew who regularly made the rounds of auto dealers and test drove cars for fun even when he hadn't a prayer of actually buying one at the time. He also did "research" (unbidden) to see what cars his relatives or friends ought to buy, in his opinion and would come and make recommendations to us.

He never did get another truck. I think he had this one about five years.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leif and the Mazda RX-7

When Leif was a senior in high school and trying to decide where to go to college, he wasn't enthused about all the application paperwork and also not very enthused about spending four more years in school, yet he wanted to go to college and knew he needed to get his degree. He didn't know what he wanted to major in, which made picking a school all the more difficult. In the end he decided to apply to only three schools, a university in Maryland he chose because it was near where his high school love from Puerto Rico (K.) was going to school, and the two Kansas flagship universities, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. We had told both our sons we would provide an in-state university education for them, but if they wanted something more expensive, they would have to figure out how to finance the remainder through scholarships or loans.

Sometime during this process, Leif discovered a used Mazda RX-7 for sale for $5000. He wanted it badly. The car connoisseur had found his dream car . . . at least the one he thought might be within reach. He was fascinated the the rotary Wankel engine and the car was stylish, rear wheel drive, and fast. When he came to us wanting this car, his dad made him a deal that if he lived at home and went to KSU, he would get him the car, since there would be a very substantial savings in having him go to school in Manhattan and live with us over paying for a dorm room, meal plan, and transportation to and from Lawrence. He would need some kind of transportation anyway. Leif agreed readily. He wasn't committed to a particular school or going away to school, and he really wanted that car.

I wasn't enamored of this deal. Although would enjoy having Leif with us longer, I felt that it would be better for his development if he left home for college. Whether that really would have been true, we will never know. We can never go back to find out whether doing something different would have resulted in a better outcome.

I think he got this car before he finished his senior year of high school, and he drove it to school. What an awesome change from the old Maxima station wagon! Leif was tall, slim, and good looking. With his long hair, he looked like a guy who should have been on the cover of romance novels. In those days, he was also a fashionable dresser, and he was fond of wearing his long brown leather coat. He also got his first job at Idleman Telemarketing, and had his own spending money, which he quickly used to get himself a cell phone, long before they were common among adults, let along high school students. He must have seemed like a very cool dude.

Leif had this car for about four and a half years, I think. During that time, he finished high school, completed nearly three years of college, got married, and managed to have an accident with the car. I think the accident happened in the first year he had it. According to him, he was out on Fort Riley Boulevard near what was then the Holiday Inn . At the traffic light there, someone got in his way and he had to swerve, resulting in him smacking the car into the pole that held the traffic light. Luckily for him, he was not hurt and the car was repairable. The insurance paid for it and he had it painted a dark green instead of the dark blue it was when he got it. The paint job was an improvement because the original had some problems on the roof, as I recall.

Leif loved that car, but as he got deeper into debt and wanted to keep the motorcycle he bought (the Yamaha) and the old Ford 150 truck he had purchased, he finally sold the RX-7 to a man who was then his brother-in-law. I don't know whether he ever got the full purchase price from B., since he sold in on a personal contract, but he did get the majority of the money. He vowed that he would have another RX-7 someday, and when the RX-8s came out, he vowed that he would get one of those, and eventually, he did. Of all Leif's cars, I don't know whether this one or the RX-8 was his favorite.

Surprisingly, I haven't found any photos of the RX-7 among our photos or Leif's. I can't imagine that we didn't take any. I managed to come up with a kind of composite photo to give an idea of what it was like, but it's not good.

The photo above show Leif as he looked in August 1993 just before he started college. It was taken on the Caribbean NCL cruise we took. The car photo is similar to his RX-7.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leif and the 1983 Nissan Maxima station wagon, 1983 - 1993

In the summer of 1983 we moved from Germany to Japan and sold the cars we had in Germany. In Japan, Peter W. bought a used Toyota Crown Super Saloon, which the boys thought was pretty snazzy, but except for one trip to Osaka and Kyoto, and some drives to Yokohama and Yokota Air Base, we didn't do much long distance traveling in it. It wasn't a sports car and I don't think Leif maintained any strong emotions about it.

However, when we were due to move from Japan to Hawaii in the summer of 1983, we had the opportunity to purchase a new car through a program where we could look at the cars there in Japan but would take possession of the US specification model in Hawaii, the transaction taking place through Guam.

We took the boys along to shop for a car with us, and I remember trying out (that is, just sitting in and looking at the gadgets) the Nissan models. The boys insisted they wanted the Nissan Maxima station wagon. Not only was it practical for us, but it TALKED. And it had a great stereo system and nice upholstery. That was what impressed them, since they were way too young to be driving and we weren't offering any sports cars as options.

We purchased a silver 1983 Nissan Maxima station wagon, which served us well for many years, In fact, we still had it when Leif learned to drive ten years later! We picked up the Maxima in Hawaii. Peter W. drove it to work at Camp smith, but around the island and to the beach we usually took the little red Toyota Tercel that I bought used from Avis Rent a Car. It had plastic upholstery so trips to the beach didn't harm it, and it was cheaper to drive. Peter A. learned to drive in that Tercel while he was in high school in Hawaii, but drove the Maxima, too.

The highlight of Leif's car experiences in Hawaii was meeting David Hasselhof when he was starring in "Knight Rider" and seeing the famous car. He also got to see a variety of other fantastic sports cars on the island, and he started building plastic model cars, chief among them a black Lamborghini.

At the end of our three years in Hawaii, we shipped the Maxima to the West Coast and sold the Tercel, flew to San Francisco and retrieved the Maxima, and after visiting Peter W's motheer in Pacific Grove, headed across the country for Chicagoland. Peter A. helped us do the driving, and one of the experiences we all remembered, and Leif wrote about when he was taking creative writing in high school, was crossing Death Valley at night. Peter A. was driving. It was a moonlit night, eerie, and Death Valley was not at all what I had expected. It was horribly hot, which we did expect, but I didn't realize it was so mountainous and rocky, that the road would be so curvy, that it was so completely desolate. We could hear coyote howling.

For reasons we never understood, Peter A. suddenly switched off the headlights. I'm not even sure he realized that's what he was doing. Perhaps he was trying to put on the high beams and forgot how, but I remember us all hollering and being scared on that curvy mountainous road with no lights. Luckily, there was enough moonlight to make it possible to see as one's eyes adjusted, and he soon switched the lights back on. We were all relieved to be safe.

In the Chicago area, we lived at Fort Sheridan. Peter W. continued to used the Maxima to commute to work at Great Lakes, and we used it for long family trips or short ones into Chicago. I bought a red used Buick Skyhawk that I used and that Peter A. drove when he needed a car.

It was there in Chicago that Leif's interest in cars really took off. We took him to the big car show and he took photos of cars on his own. By that time he was also interested in photography, and photographs of cars were his favorite subject. He was really excited when he saw a DeLorean and got a picture of it.

He started subscribing to magazines like "Car and Driver" and "Motortrend," That brought about a really funny incident. I suppose that the magazines must have sold their subscriber lists to credit card companies, in the theory that guys who read them must have money to spend. Leif started getting all kinds of ads in the mail for credit cards . . . at the age of 13! We couldn't seem to put a stop to them, so I finally told Leif to make out one of the applications in his awful handwriting and tell the truth. Occupation: junior high school student. Income: whatever his measly allowance added up to. We had a lot of fun making it out. He sent it in and that was soon the last of the credit card application.

He poured over those magazines and could tell you just about every feature and statistic of any car that might remotely be considered cool.

It was then that, lacking the required age to drive, he got interested in building radio controlled model cars. I've already written about that.

Once, in Chicago, he had to help change a flat tire on the Maxima, and once he had to dig out the garage which was buried by a snowstorm, so that we could get the car out. He was out there shoveling snow like Tarzan. He worked up such body heat shoveling that he not only took off his jacket, he took off his sweatshirt and shirt, too, and was barechested shoveling snow. By that time, he was a 6' 1" fifteen-year-old.

From the Chicago area, we moved to Puerto Rico in 1990, and again, shipped the trusty Maxima to the island, selling the Skyhawk. We didn't buy a second car in Puerto Rico as we didn't need one. I was surprised that Leif didn't lobby us to learn to dive when he became sixteen, but he didn't. Neither had his brother. They both learned to drive when they were seventeen-and-a-half. When we were moving from Puerto Rico to Kansas, we sent Leif ahead for two months to take driver's ed in the summer at Manhattan High School. Again, we shipped the now nine-year-old Maxima to Kansas. There we bought a 1992 Honda Accord, which Leif never drove, but he got to drive the Maxima. It was the first car he drove as a seventeen-year-old, and I remember taking him up to the huge Bramlage Coliseum parking lot to learn how to drive on ice and snow that winter. he was quite surprised to find out just what happened when you hit the brakes or turned hard, but in a few minutes he was testing the limits of his control. Typical Leif.

A nine-year-old Maxima station wagon is NOT a cool car for a cool high school boy, so Leif did his best to soup it up. He put in a booming stereo system and put on neon yellow and green windshield wipers. They didn't go with the car, but they did make a statement. I sure wish now that we had a photo of the car with them on it.

Leif drove the Maxima until he was eighteen and starting college, and even after that, fairly frequently, when he needed to haul things.

We had that car until February 2003 when we traded it in (it wasn't running) for $1 when we bought the Buick Rendezvous. True to form, Leif was not only part of that transaction, but he picked the car. We had had it for nineteen-and-a-half years. It had been a part of Leif's life all those years but he did not mourn it's passing.

The photos are:
1. Leif in 1993 when he was a high school student driving the Nissan Maxima station wagon in Manhattan, Kansas.
2. Leif in the summer of 1983 when he wanted us to order the Nissan Maxima during our last months in Japan.
3. What a 1983 silver Nissan Maxima station wagon looks like. Unfortunately, we didn't take any good photos of that car, and I made a composite of it from photos I found.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Boy Who Loved Cars

It's no exaggeration to say that Leif loved cars and motorcycles. He was fascinated with cars from babyhood. From a very young age, he always noticed sports cars and knew their names.

Just look at this photo of him when he was four years old in January 1979 at the wheel of his dad's Ford Taunus Coupe (a model from sometime in the 1970s). He had an eye for beautiful, sporty cars from the very beginning, and treasured his large collection of Matchbox cars of every kind and description. In those days, kids could buy Matchbox cars for about 35-50 cents at the Post Exchange, which was a satisfying way for Leif to spend his small amount of spending money. He had ships and planes, too, but cars were always in there in profusion.

At the time this photo was taken, we were living in Sachsen bei Ansbach, a small village near the cities of Ansbach and Nurnberg in Germany. Peter W. used this car to commute to work and the boys rarely got to ride in it. Partly it was because it was not a convenient car for a family, only having two doors, and partly because the car didn't have shoulder straps in the back seat and we had to get some kind of weird aftermarket harness things for the boys to wear if they were sitting back there . . . and they weren't allowed to ride in the front seat.

The other cars we had during that period in Sachsen were the blue Ford Pinto station wagon we had purchased in 1973 which was totaled in the accident I had in October 1978, a used gold Opel Diplomat, which wasn't in great condition, and a light blue used Mercedes sedan. None of those cars interested Leif much, but the Taunus did. That was partly because he didn't get to ride in it often but mostly because he perceived it to be a more sporty and stylish car, which it was. Once in awhile his dad would let him sit in the driver's seat and pretend, and he was so excited about that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Lack of a Home

It struck me as I was recounting all of the places that Leif lived in his 33 years, and came up with 24 of them, that such instability of a home wasn't a good thing, either. As a military family, we usually had three years in one place, sometimes four, and only once, two. That meant that for the first 20 years of Leif's life, he lived in 9 places with us, and one of them was the old stone house that remained a kind of rooted base for us, that he lived in two out of the nine times I'm counting. It was after her left home that he really became peripatetic, and each time he moved it was either to find a better or cheaper place. Probably the nicest place he lived in his adult life (other than the houses we owned at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan or our home here in Florida) was the apartment he and Nikko had in the army housing area in Watertown, New York, but it was also one of the places he was unhappiest.

The stability in his life was always us. Nothing else remained constant or anything he could count on. I hope he felt he could count on us, but I know as a grown man he didn't want to have to.

Living in 15 places in 13 years is too much change, even if he initiated the moves. It means there is no real home, no identity or the sense of place.

Once of the things he and I once talked about was that when I was growing up and in earlier generations, girls and young women were taught that it was their responsibility to make a house a home. I know there are those who would now say that was sexist and is outmoded, but I don't think so. I do believe that it is also a man's responsibility to be a part of that, making a house a home, and I don't think what I'm talking about has much to do with whether one sex or the other does the cooking or the laundry. Household chores ought to be divided equitably and by who does them best . . . or is most willing to do them. But making a house or apartment FEEL like a home is something I still think a woman needs to do. Otherwise, a man and a woman living together are really just roommates, regardless of whether they are married or having a sexual relationship. A home is different than just sharing living space. I don't think Leif ever felt he had that kind of home. The PLACE one calls home is less important (even with a lot of moves) than the atmosphere within it.

A part of that (not the most important part, but a part) is housekeeping. As I've mentioned, Leif was a terrible housekeeper if left on his own, but would willingly work WITH someone else to clean and straighten a place up. I have a threshhold of clutter that drives me nuts and makes me depressed if I don't do anything about it. I think Leif would pass way beyond that to the point where he was depressed and it looked like such a horrible task to try to tackle the mess that he just ignored it unless he thought a new woman in his life might be coming over and then he would clean it up.

I once gave him a certificate I made up on the computer for his birthday, which was good for eight not-necessarily-consecutive hours of housework cleaning up his place. He laughed, but he made good use of it, and he did work while I was there working. We got a lot done.

Each time he moved into a new place, he would fix it up pretty nicely and had some pride in how it looked, but it didn't take long for clutter and apathy to take over, and without a mate to either clean it up or engage him in doing it with her it just looked like to enormous a task. Leif would insist he didn't even see the mess, that he had a male "target mentality," so that he only saw what he was looking for or working with. Maybe, but I don't think so. i think he just ignored it and lived with it, but I can't believe it was the way he wanted to live or would have if he'd had the right companion.

It makes me sad to think that he never really had a home as an adult. Places to live, yes, and brief periods where he liked them and was happier, but living with someone you aren't getting along with, or living alone and being lonely, is not having a home. How I wish he had had at least that. It might have made a difference.

The photo of Leif was a self-portrait taken on April 26, 2003 at the 710 N. 9th Street house in Manhattan, Kansas.

Two Years Today Since Leif's Motorcycle Accident on July 12, 2007

I've written an account of Leif's motorcycle accident before, on April 2, 2009. If you want to read it, look at the keyword list for "accidents" and click it. You'll find it in the posts that come up. I don't want to repeat all of that now, but I'm thinking about him today, and what happened two years ago, and how looking back on the last year of his life I think that began the downward spiral that resulted in his death. I'm sorry he had to go through so much pain, physical and psychological. I miss him so.

He took the photo of himself in the hospital with his cell phone after he came out of recovery on July 27, 2007.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leif's Twenty-Fourth and Last Home - Tampa, Florida - June 2007 - April 10, 2008

In June 2008, Leif followed through on his decision to move from the two-bedroom apartment on Del Prado to a one bedroom in the same apartment complex, on Bonita Vista Way. He said it would save him $200 a month. He also cut out cable television (may have done that even earlier) in another attempt to lower his expenses. He was struggling financially and was also trying to make it possible to pay his expenses on his own, as he had decided that although he wanted to remain friends with her, his romance with Donna was not healthy or wise for the two of them. He told me they reinforced each others bad qualities.

I had been concerned about them and thought it was for the best for both of them, and hoped that he would begin a new chapter of his life. He did, but it was not a happy one. Initially, Donna was still living with him and he said I should treat them like good friends who were roommates, but he started dating again and she was hurt and moved out. It wasn't for long, because on July 12, 2007, two years ago today, Leif had a motorcycle accident on his way back to work from a late lunch. He had a badly broken collarbone, scraped up hands and head, and was bruised up. Luckily it wasn't worse. He was released from the emergency room late that night. Donna volunteered to come back to his apartment to help take care of him and he accepted rather than come to stay with us. I thought that was a mistake but neither of them would listen to me. Things did not go well for long and on September 16, 2007, it was over.

He had surgery on July 27, 2007 to repair the collarbone, but was in a lot of pain. I begged him not to ride again, and we had a long text message discussion about it, but he ultimately got his bike back, which hardly had a scratch on it and started riding again.

He decided to try to help out his financial problems by using his GI Bill benefits and going back to school, so while he was laid up for a month and couldn't work (and luckily had short-term disability insurance through his work to support him) he applied to and was admitted to the University of South Florida, which wasn't far from where he lived. He enrolled in the fall semester of 2007 as a philosophy student, taking two evening courses.

I thought he was depressed, but he denied it. I sent him some online tests for depression that fall, but he insisted he passed them with flying colors. Of course, as smart as he was, and having been a psychology student, he knew what answers to give or not give. I think, though, that it was only partly trying to fool me. i think he was also fooling himself.

He began to spend money that fall in large sums, money he claimed he had from his insurance from the accident. When I questioned how he could afford what he was doing, he said it was "wheeling and dealing" and that he had sold some of his belongings, a computer, a gun, a monitor, maybe more but those are the things I remember him talking about.

The thing was, he didn't have all of the medical bills come in for months, and when they did, they piled up on him. Even with two types of health insurance, he still had large amounts of deductibles he was responsible for. But, typical of Leif, he did not volunteer this information to us. He undoubtedly didn't want us to know he was in over his head again, and as usual, thought he could solve his problems himself. Selling things was one way to do it. In addition to the things he sold others, he also sold a computer to us and one to his grandmother.

The closest he ever came to really admitting he was depressed was in November, when he sent that email to me that he was struggling to find meaning and purpose, and that he needed to be needed by someone.

I think things might have limped along and he might have been able to get through the financial crisis if he hadn't waited until the last minute (literally) to sign up for his spring 2008 semester classes at USF. He hadn't gotten an advising appointment, thinking that since he had already been through four years of college and knew how to pick degree requirements, he didn't need help. Leif was always doing things at the last minute. I'm not even sure he would have gotten enrolled for the spring semester if I hadn't asked him what he was taking. When he told me he didn't know, I was razzing him about it and he decided to sign on that night and check. That's when he found out he had barely a half hour, or something like that, to enroll. He chose two classes that he thought were sufficient.

He had attended about six weeks of classes and already paid his tuition and was past the point where he could withdraw and get it back when he got a notice that the GI Bill stipend was going to be discontinued because according to someone at USF the classes he enrolled in did not fulfill degree requirements. He was livid and quit school. He said they would not approve the classes, but he didn't try to appeal the decision. By the time he told us about it, he had already withdrawn from school. He didn't want to continue without the monthly support. His dad had a similar problem when he was using his GI Bill at KSU but he appealed the decision to a higher office and they sided with him. Peter W. told Leif that's what he should have done, but since Leif had already withdrawn, it was too late, and he was too upset and angry to care, or so he said.

However, that was the beginning of the end, I think. This was around the first of March 2008. He had to try to come up with an alternate plan to pay his bills, but he still didn't tell us how desperate he was, or even admit that he needed a lot of money. He would talk about being broke until payday and when I asked him how bad off he was he would say he was "broke but not broke-broke."

Sometime in March he decided to apply for personal loans. Every time in his past that he got into financial difficulties, he had either figured out a way to weather them or we had come to his rescue. I don't think he realized that he had gotten so far in debt that he couldn't get a loan. After all, he had gotten loans for cars and motorcycles before. However, he was turned down for the loans. The rejections letters were dated March 22, and we found them on his desk after he died.

The last time we saw him was March 23, 2008, which was Easter Sunday. I asked him to come to dinner and he said he couldn't afford the gas money. I told him I would give him gas money, and he came. We had a really wonderful visit and evening together. He probably still had some hope then, because he hadn't gotten the loan rejections yet, and had met a woman he had virtually fallen in love with at first sight. He sounded happy and hopeful, and we were so glad for him. We had no idea what his situation really was, and I don't think he did, either. If we had, I would certainly have given him far more than the $15 I gave him for gasoline!

Two and a half weeks later, he was dead, in this apartment, on April 9, 2008. This was the last place he lived.

The photos are:
1. Leif took this photo of himself with his iPhone on March 7, 2008, almost exactly a month before he died.
2. The building where Leif lived his last ten months of life, on Bonita Vista Way in Tampa.
3. Part of Leif's living room, taken by him with his cell phone, on July 25, 2007.
4. Leif's computer desk, taken by him on November 2, 2007.

Leif was not a good housekeeper. His apartments were usually a cluttered mess. There were a few parts he kept relatively neat. this end of his living room was one, but what you can't see in front of that were the boxes of stuff heaped on the floor, clothing and towels strewn on the couch and floor, the clothes on the floor in the bedroom by the unmade bed, and the cluttered up kitchen. About the only place that he consistently kept pretty neat and nice was his computer desk. He liked to have more than one monitor because he was both an avid online gamer and a multitasker. He liked to have more than one thing going on at a time on different monitors. By the time he died, he had sold some of this equipment.

This was a fairly nice apartment, but one thing about it that I don't think was good for a man who was depressed was that it was dark. It lacked the bright light that might have been better for him. That was made worse by his work schedule which had him working late nights, so that he came home in the dark, stayed up late online, and then slept late with his bedroom window covered up so the sun couldn't shine in a wake him. He spent most of his time indoors in dimly lighted places at home or indoors at work in a call center away from natural light. I don't pretend that more natural and brilliant light would have saved his life, but it would certainly have helped his moods.

Leif's Twenty-Third Home - Tampa, Florida - October 2006 to June 2007

When Leif and Donna first moved from the apartment on East Sligh to the two bedroom apartment on Del Prado in a different apartment complex, they were ecstatic. They had far more space and it was a nicer place. Leif also was smart to get a second floor apartment, which was harder to burglarize. They lived in the apartment on the right side on the second floor of this building.

With the insurance money he got from the burglary, he purchased some new furniture, including a dinette set, which they had never had before, and replacement computers, but he also replaced his guns. We had tried to talk him into saving some of the money for emergency expenses, but he claimed that he had bills to pay and needed to replace his guns. I knew that Leif loved firearms and would buy some, and he felt he needed some for protection, but he certainly didn't need all he bought. It was one of many financial mistakes he made.

At first, he seemed happier there, but things started to go wrong all to soon. He had to switch jobs due to the restructuring of the pay plan at Alltel as he felt he couldn't live on the new wage scale, and Donna lost jobs, so they were without her income. Their relationship was getting rockier, too. You can see in the photos that he was becoming depressed and gaining weight. The earlier photos are the lower two, taken January 7, 2007. The top photo was taken just four months later. By May, he was having a lot of financial difficulties and although he didn't tell me that, I got the feeling that he was pulling away from his relationship with Donna. He decided to downsize by moving into a one bedroom apartment in the same apartment complex.

Aside from the job, financial and personal problems he was experiencing, he was hit with another theft, a big one. In May, his prize Suzuki motorcycle was stolen right out of the parking lot in front of his apartment. He bucked up and put on a a stoic front as usual, but he seemed down and laconic. He again got his insurance money and purchased the used Honda touring cycle, so at least he didn't have to take on another loan and he still had a cycle to ride.

The photos are:
1. Leif May 13, 2007
2. Leif January 7, 2007
3. Leif January 7, 2007
4. Riverview apartment building on Del Prado where Leif lived in apartment 201.