Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Leif Really Wanted to Be

 From the time he was very small, Leif wanted to be a jet pilot. I suppose some of the things that influenced that desire were visiting Air Force bases, traveling on jets when we moved from one continent to another or traveled, seeing movies like "Top Gun," and all the science fiction movies he saw with incredible flying machines. Two more big components would have been his love of speed and the skies. And lastly, the glamor of it, the cool factor, appealed to him.

He wanted so badly to be a pilot. We were the kind of parents who always tried to help our boys learn more about their interests and be supportive of them. When we lived in Hawaii, Peter W. took Leif to the reserve component of Hickam Air Force Base where a pilot gave Leif a tour and took him up into the cockpit of a jet fighter. Leif was in his element. It was a very special day for an 8 or 9 year-old. This would have probably taken place in 1984. Unfortunately, the photos don't have dates on them.

Leif lived his childhood dreaming of this career and planning on it. Although we all knew he could not definitely count on being selected for AF pilot training, he assumed that was what he would be.

I've posted before his high school essay about when he found out his eyes would not pass the flight physical and what a blow it was to him to have to give up this dream. It must have been even harder on him when his brother, who didn't really want to fly, was at the Air Force Academy and was selected for pilot training. Life is full of ironies we cannot foresee.

Leif tried to capture the feeling of speed by driving his cars and motorcycles like a demon, and would have dearly loved to be a race car driver. He would have been a good one, but that career was closed to him, too, due to the financial requirements.

I read a quote, which I can no longer find, that the death of one's dreams is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person, and that unless we replace the dream we've lost with a new one, a new plan or hope for the future, we flounder.

Leif did try to find new dreams or hopes, whether as an Air Force officer (starting with ROTC), or as an army enlistee, whether with love, or with the gaming and gadgetry he enjoyed, but none of those hopes and dreams came true. It was as though the heavens had determined that nothing he tried would work. How thankful I am that I did not have to live through all the disappointments he suffered.

In the past couple of weeks, we have, as always, had so many reminders of Leif. Yesterday I drove past a Japanese restaurant where we took him to dinner one December. We watched the movie, "Thor," and talked about what Leif would have thought of it. We went out to dinner at another Japanese restaurant and parked next to a silver RX-8 like the one he used to drive. Today I used the computer he built to check how something looked and worked on a Windows machine. Every day I use phones he gave us.

When he died, we lost some of our dreams, too, dreams for his future, dreams of how our future might be with him in it. I miss him every day.

I thought yesterday, after watching an episode of House, about all the babies that die before they are even born, the miscarriages that take their tiny lives, often because they are in some way not viable. Then there are the children who never make it to adulthood because of some congenital problem or disease. And then there are those who do make it to adulthood, but are cut down by, again, some congenital problem or disease, and lead short and sometimes problematic lives.

Perhaps Leif fit into that latter category in some way we will never be able to know for certain. Perhaps that genetic heritage of depression doomed our beautiful son in a myriad terrible ways. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't beautiful, brilliant, funny, loving, generous, kind, and loved. That his meteor only burned a short time and was gone doesn't take away from all that 33 year streak brought us . . . the good and the bad, the happiness and the disappointments. The memories are ours, those we treasure and those we wish had never occurred.

We don't get to choose in life just to have the happy moments. We have to take it all, the good and the bad. Life isn't fair, it just is. It certainly wasn't fair to Leif, and it still hurts every day to think about how he reached that point where he decided to put a bullet into his head. But I'm still glad I had the chance to love him. Still glad of all I learned from him. Still glad he was mine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Today I found a surprise. In the months following Leif's death, I searched his computers in vain for all the ZAON files I knew he must have. I remembered how hard he had worked on things like weapons, landscapes, and species of alien peoples. I remembered his showing me how he was creating landscapes with a computer program and some of the planetscapes he had created. I remembered things he had showed me on his computer back in Kansas. I searched in vain.

Today I was looking through a small box of his things that was in a closet, a box I hadn't looked at in all this time. They were things someone (perhaps me) had stuck in there when we cleaned out his apartment, little stuff like a couple of pocket knives, refrigerator magnets, a big plastic drinking jug from Alltel, a company he once worked for, and the like. And among the insignificant clutter was a CD with no label. When I looked at it closely, I could see "ZAON" written on it lightly.

To my surprise and delight, it appeared that many, if not all, of his ZAON files were on the CD, at least those he had backed up when he made the CD years ago. I not only found some landscapes he had worked on, but discovered what the program was that he used to make them.

Leif was an avid player of Planetside. I've written about that here before. I didn't know (or didn't remember) that the program to generate landscapes was from Planetside and was called Terragen. There are a lot more interesting planetscapes on the CD but I can't verify that he created them. These three, I believe I can because he named them with his "thegqpirate" handle, which was his email and online name in those days. (He changed it to Graeloch when he moved to Florida to begin a new life.) They were probably created in 2003.

I am sure there are others he created, but whether they are on this CD I don't know and probably never will. Still, I am glad to have these, something of his creativity to save and savor.

The CD had a lot of photos he had downloaded from the internet to use in creating unusual looking extraterrestrial human races, but unfortunately none of those he created from the mix. Those files must either have been on another CD or lost.

I spent a lot of time online recently trying to find out what had happened to ZAON. There are old discussions on some of the science fiction gaming boards asking the same question, but there are never any answers. The domain names are still registered, but there's nothing posted and the links I once had on the blog leading to ZAON are defunct. Sadly, I had to remove all of them.

All of the posts he put on the ZAON forums are lost to me now, and having read many of them in the months following his death and hoping to go back later and save them, I find it sad that so much of what he contributed is lost. All that seems to be left now is a PDF of the ZAON test playbook, an early version of what was someday to be published. Leif is listed as the "reality tester." in the credits. That title certainly did fit. He talked to me endlessly about whether the weapons that were being designed could really work, based on his knowledge as a military armorer, whether living species could actually function, whether space ships were workable designs. Leif really cared not only about the playability of the game, but the workability of the science fiction involved. For him, those were critical questions.

I wish that game had come to fruition and been published. I know he wanted that badly, wanted to see it out there for the gamers to enjoy, and to see his name as being one of the creators, in is way. Leif had the intelligence and talent to have been a designer. He had artistic ability and the capability to learn to use complex software. However, what he didn't have was the "fire in the belly" to go that route. He did not design the ships, the weapons, the planets, the races, but he helped to shape those designs with countless hours of both research and online conversation. It was such a part of him, and the participants in the design and testing of ZAON, and the players in Planetside, truly saved his life when he came back to Kansas from the army, medically retired, an emotionally broken man. I will always be grateful for that.

And now, I am grateful to have found these designs and remember him showing me how he worked on Terragen. Good memories. We need those.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today it has been three and a half years since we found Leif lifeless on the floor of his kitchen, the gun he used laying on the kitchen counter. I will spare you the details of the scene and how hard it was to walk into that apartment and find him. 

It doesn't seem like it could possibly be that long. We still talk about him so often, it's almost as if he never left, except that too much of the time, those conversations about why he died. 

Nearly every day there is something I do, or we do, that wish he was here for advice, help, education, or just companionship.

In the past week, I've been trying to set up a new computer for my mother. Leif did that the last time she needed one, just a couple of months before he died. It was so much easier for him than for me, both physically and with his better knowledge of Windows. 

You wouldn't think I'd still be finding new uses for things he left behind, but one of his cables turned out to be needed for Mom's new system.

You wouldn't think I'd still be finding new photos or learning new things about him, either, but one of his friends recently sent me a photo of him I'd never seen before, and today I finally put an old laptop hard drive that was laying in a drawer of his into an enclosure and looked to see what was on it. Sadly, though, nothing personal except a photo I took of him standing by his beloved RX-8. 

I still wonder why that laptop hard drive was out of the laptop, where the computer itself went. I thought it was stolen in his apartment burglary, but then why is the drive here? It was an inexpensive off brand machine he got when he bought something else, but it was no longer with his things. I do remember him telling me what happened to it ... but not WHAT he told me.

There are so many questions still in our minds.

There are so many feelings that now are mostly buried, day-to-day, but it doesn't take much to bring them to the surface. I was having coffee with Peter W. at Starbucks in the Brandon Mall on Saturday, across the way from the Apple Store, a place Leif loved as much as I do, and something that came up about Leif brought tears to my eyes. It was one of the things I had come to the Apple store to find out about. Leif's old iPhone from the fall of 2007 that I've been using as an iTouch was no longer working and I wanted to find out if it could be fixed. 

No, not likely, and what brought tears to my eyes was the thought of getting rid of it, yet another thing he used that would not longer be here. That, and talking about the Nokia phone he brought me in July 2007. I'm still using it, and changing service or getting a new phone will cut me off from that. Silly? Emotional? Maybe, but it's the truth. I still have text messages from him on that phone, the last ones he ever sent to me about saving a turtle from traffic. He could save a turtle, but he couldn't save himself.

I will always, always miss him.
This photo was another he took at the same time as the angry one I posted yesterday. It, too, was taken on November 22, 2007, Thanksgiving, around 6:00 a.m. after he had been up all night. One year before that, Thanksgiving had been a happy time for him, at least for awhile that fall. How terribly life changed, and how fast.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thoughts on Leif's Anger and Hurt

Leif died three and a half years ago. It's taken me that long to be able to write this post and to face these photos on the blog rather than just on my computer. During that time, I've examined his life and his death from every angle I can find, with every bit of knowledge I have about his life. I've agonized over his death. I've cried rivers of tears.

All of us who lose loved ones to death, especially our children, have a beautiful fantasy in our minds, I think. We somehow believe that if we could just have saved them, it would have been different. Things would have turned out all right. With a second chance, they would heal and do better. They would thrive the way we always wished they would, and we would be happy together. Our dreams for their future would come true, and we would rejoice in their lives.

Perhaps for some, that fantasy is a reality, if the suicide hotline helps, if therapy succeeds, if medical intervention saves them. We always seem to think that if we had just done the right thing, been there at the right time, we might have saved them and the future would be good, maybe wonderful. 

But what if that weren't true?

What if we saved them only to have things continue to go wrong, 

continue to give them misery and pain? What if their lives did not improve? What if they were too ill, emotionally or physically or both, to ever really recover? What if life continued to deal them blow after blow of disappointment and grief? What if their anger turned outward?

At various times since Leif's death, his dad and I have said to each other how thankful we are that Leif maintained his self control, that he maintained enough moral equilibrium that he did not do as some others and turn his guns on those who hurt him, or on innocent people who happened to be in the way when he was feeling the depth of anger and despair. 

Leif certainly had the capability, both in weaponry and skills, to have created a tremendous amount of death and destruction. I am so thankful that he did not! 

What might have happened if he had lived and not gotten well, not thrived, not found love? Might he have lashed outward? Might he have deteriorated, become mentally unstable, unable to work, gone further into too much drinking or using drugs? Where might he have ended up?

In all my searching, I have had to ask myself, did he ask that question, too? Did he ask himself where he was going, how he was going to find a way forward that did not spiral further downhill?

Some people who attempt or think of committing suicide are in an acute state of depression, anger or misery and if prevented from going through with it, get beyond that low point and find a new path. Others harbor thoughts of suicide continually until one day they finally go through with it, or find another way to act out their pain.

Did Leif, in his own, inimical introspective way, take stock or himself and his life and decide that the right thing to do was to end it before it got worse? Before he felt he had created worse consequences for himself and us? While I will never know, I can conceive of that, of a rational thought process, at least rational from his point of view. That is supported by the essay he left open on his laptop that night. It fits with the philosophy he wrote, his pronouncements about happiness and moral values. If appled to his decision to kill himself, it basically says that he chose a path that others may consider wrong and immoral, but that it served a higher morality he chose.

It's very hard to look at this as a mother, a parent. It's a terrible thing to consider that your son may have really believed that suicide was the right and rational choice for him because he saw his life spiraling downward and perhaps he was ashamed.

I have thought aboout posting these photos for three and a half years, but I never had the right words to post with them, never had to courage to put them on a public blog until now. It's with this realization that I think I can see them, still with pain, but also with understanding.

The first photo was one a a series of many he took of himself with an assault rifle he owned back in Kansas,. (It was stolen in his apartment burglary here in Florida, so heaven knows who has it now.) He had just gotten out of the army and missed his M-16. He loved guns and this expensive rifle was a pride and joy of his. He was posing for the camera in the stances he learned in the army and probably fantasizing about how he could save the day or rescue someone. He did have such thoughts of being a hero.

The second photo he took with his computer camera, a series of photos of him using a variety of filters, a variety of expressions, with and without his pistols. They were taken on November 22, 20007, in the wee hours of the morning. He had been up all night, probably playing online games and drinking. It was the same time he had written email to me about how hopeless he felt, how purposeless and lonely. It was early in the morning of Thanksgiving. He would come to our house many hours later that day and share Thanksgiving with us, putting on a good front, acting as though everything were all right.

Some of the photos he took then just look like a man playing with a new camera toy. Others are striking in their pose of anger or hurt. Whether he was acting or showing his real feelings we will never know for sure, but I believe those feelings are real, and I am thankful he did not act on them against others.

I will never know whether Leif could have recovered and had the good life we wished for him. I know I want him back and miss him terribly every day of my life, but I am also realistic enough to openly say now that I don't know whether, if he had lived, it would have been a good life, whether things might not have gotten worse.

So, I am left with being grateful I had him for 33 years, that he never showed that angry, bitter side to us, that he never turned against those who hurt him or innocent others, that he kept that much of his moral compass. And, in the end, whether I like it or not, I have to accept his choice.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. Dying at 56 after revolutionizing the computer and music industries, and more, at least he knew he'd had an impact. He must have suffered, but he fought cancer as long as he could. Leif would have had a lot to stay about both his passing and his contributions to the world of technology that Leif so loved. His last computers were Macs. He had a iPod and an iPhone. If he were alive, he'd have an iPad. Leif loved both functionality and beautiful design. He loved the "cool factor," and appreciated Jobs' contributions to that in many ways. I know his family will miss Jobs, and I'm glad they had him as long as they did, though I know it was far too short in the end.


This photo of Leif talking on his iPhone was taken at his last birthday dinner on January 27, 2008. His actual birthday was January 28th but he had to work that evening. He was 33 years old. Oddly enough, that iPhone, which I have used as an iTouch (no phone service) for three years, stopped working the day that they announced the latest iPhone 4S, and the day before Steven Jobs died. On October 6, Peter W. accidentally pulled it off the bed and it cracked the glass cover when it hit the bed frame. For four years, it was a beautiful device that first Leif loved, and then I found it wonderful and mesmerizing. 

Leif and the Cover of "Griselda"

I've had so many ideas of things to write about in the last eleven days but no time to write them. It makes me a little sad to think that. The problems of the living are taking precedence over writing my memories of Leif.

I wonder what he would think of this. I created the cover of my new ebook (short story) of "Griselda" from a photo he took of Nikko and Sugar back in 1995, and a photo that one of us took of her out by our big hedge. I'm so glad she consented to let me use the photos and make her hair so long and Sugar into a Siamese. Sugar was a little tiger kitten.

When I wrote Griselda as one of the four stories in the ghost story anthology, "Trespassing Time - Ghost Stories From the Prairie," Leif was there and read them. He was one of my "advisors" about those stories, and I was glad to have his opinion. Little did we know, in 2005, that I would ever publish this one separately as an ebook using a photo he took to create the cover.

I suspect he would like this a lot, because he truly loved cats and was crazy about long, red hair! I think he would be flattered I started with a photo he took, though it is much changed through the magic of PhotoShop.

I am amazed that there have now been over 17,000 visits to this blog from many countries, and that even when I am not posting something new, visitors continue to come back and check. Yesterday there were 24 visitors, when I hadn't written anything since September 23rd. I hope I will be able to write more frequently soon. Thank you to all of you who continue to remember Leif and visit here.

The Griselda ebook, for those interested.