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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Short Story Sunday: Night Song



Every Sunday (okay...most Sundays), I will post a short story for your enjoyment and/or derision. All feedback is welcome and appreciated.


For Madeline, there was no better therapy after a long day than running through her neighborhood’s nature trail, especially at night. A moonlit sky, soft earth beneath her shoes, and the chorus of insects and swamp creatures filling the crisp autumn air calmed her nerves better than any glass of wine ever could.
She knew that jogging alone after dark wasn’t the safest activity she could choose, but it was something she'd never felt safe doing back in the city. Now that she’d made enough money to move out to the suburbs, however, the risk of being mugged was significantly less. In fact, the only other people she ever seemed to encounter were neighborhood teenagers clumsily making out with each other by the dock.
Madeline still kept her eyes and ears open, though, as much for her own protection as to take in the beautiful night song that nature seemed to be singing just for her. The harsher chills of fall didn’t hit the coast of South Carolina until much later than most areas, meaning that the insects and creatures normally driven into hibernation or death by winter’s preamble were still alive and well. Frogs croaked, crickets chirped, and cicadas did…whatever they did…all coming together to create a symphony far more beautiful than anything on her iPod. The only sound bold enough to intrude upon their performance was the rhythmic crunching of her shoes over the gravel-lined trail.
The mix of endorphins and natural beauty had made her nightly runs a ritual of serenity she rarely missed. But now, with the southern-tempered fall season, it was like a full recharge for her soul. The pulse of the forested swamp and the perfectly cool-but-not-too-cold air breathed much needed life into her spirit after hours of staring at a computer screen.
So when the night creatures’ performance came to a sudden and jarring halt, the silence caused Madeline to freeze in the middle of the trail.
“What the hell?” she whispered, peering back into forest.
Madeline waited a moment before gingerly moving her left foot in front of her right. As if in response, a lone cicada called out before quickly going silent again. She waited for another chirp to signal that everything was back to how it should be, but the only rival to the alien and unsettling silence was the beating of her own heart inside her ears.
After waiting a few more seconds, Madeline began to move forward again, measuring each step while shifting her eyes from one side of the trail to the other.
“This is stupid,” she thought, painfully aware of how loud the crunching gravel beneath her shoes had become. “Just because the critters went mute doesn’t mean I have to be quiet.”
Madeline stooped over, picked up a nearby rock, and tossed it back in the direction from which she’d come. After the stone skipped into the woods, she was answered by nothing more than continued silence.
“Okay, I’m not the damn Orkin Man!” Madeline bellowed at the empty path behind her. “You guys don’t have to stop your conversations on account of me walking through your turf!”
Madeline chuckled to herself, amused and a bit embarrassed at her attempt to engage insects and amphibians in confrontational dialogue.
“Guess it’s going to be a few cold ones and a movie tonight,” she whispered. “This stroll through the woods just went from relaxing to all types of creepy.”
After throwing another rock down the path for good measure, Madeline began jogging at a much brisker pace in the opposite direction. Before the inexplicable silence had descended upon her, she’d nearly made it to the end of the trail. Fortunately, it still wouldn’t take very long for her to get back home from there. The path led through more wooded areas before opening onto a bridge that crossed a large creek running through the neighborhood. After that, it was less than a mile of well-lit and unwooded lawns to reach the welcome safety of her home. It was strange to think of her nightly jogging path as something to be scared of, but the purposeful silence in the air that evening was more than a little unsettling.
As she neared one of the trail’s intersections, the sudden chirping of a lone cricket caught Madeline by surprise. She attempted to turn towards where the sound came from, but more chirping immediately added to the first one, this time from all directions. Before she could turn back to where she’d been facing, the cicadas and frogs joined in, as well.
At first, the returning sounds brought a welcome wave of reassurance. The night song of the swamp creatures had begun again, reducing their brief silence to an inexplicable anomaly. But as their song continued, it grew much louder than she’d ever heard before. After a few moments, the familiar, soothing cadence morphed into an almost physical presence, pushing in on her so hard that it became difficult to breathe.
Madeline clutched her hands to her head and continued jogging, then sprinting towards the creek bridge. Behind her, the ground felt as if it were actually shaking from massive wave of sound, turning into something much more tactile and close. The crunching gravel under Madeline’s feet was muted now, its rhythmic grinding washed away in a sea of agitated croaks and chirps. The night song's volume became so powerful that even the sound of her heart beating inside her ears disappeared. All Madeline could hear now was the relentless buzz of life that seemed to be closing in on her with every passing second.
Realizing that her hands were doing nothing to dissipate the noise, Madeline pulled them away from her ears and focused all of her attention on running. The shaking ground beneath her feet was making it difficult to keep her balance. When she stumbled and nearly fell into the dirt, something that looked like a long, hair-covered arm flashed by her right shoulder. Madeline's brain didn’t have time to process what the appendage had been connected to, but something primal and terrified inside of her instantly concluded that the entity was not human. Perhaps it was the abnormally fast speed with which it shot towards her shoulder—or maybe it was because the hand which she momentarily glimpsed had only three fingers, each with a thin black claw extending out from it. But Madeline did not have the current capacity or focus to process what was chasing her. All that mattered was getting out of the woods and back towards in the light.
As she rounded the last turn before the bridge, the chirping and croaking became so oppressive that it felt made her ears feel as if they were bleeding. Something warm and hungry began to breath down her neck. The night song was in sync with whatever it was pursing her, pulsating in time with the hot gusts of air that rhythmically blew her hair forward and in front of her face.
For the briefest of moments, Madeline decided to give up. The hot breath on the back of her neck was joined by something tacky and wet, dotting her elbows and stringing onto her waist. It burned, but not like fire or acid. The heat enveloping her was fatigue, radiating over her entire body like a drug that wanted to pull her mind under her fear and into a starless abyss. 
Just when Madeline legs began to give out, the crunching gravel beneath her feet was replaced by loud clacks as her shoes smacked across a wooden bridge. The sudden change in noise awoke something inside her. She was so close--just a few yards from being out of the woods and into the neighborhood. Madeline pushed towards the brightly lit street ahead. She wasn’t sure why her mind had convinced itself that being among the other houses would lead to safety, but her legs refused to entertain the debate, pumping with all their might in a desperate bid to flee the woods.
As she neared the end of the bridge, something wet snapped against the side of Madeline’s left cheek while an insect-like appendage began to wrap itself around her stomach. Bristling fibers grazed back and forth along her back, moving in manic synchronicity with the night song that now dominated the air. As the fibers got closer, something with the texture of moist leather clamped onto Madeline’s shoulder, pushing her down while simultaneously pulling with all its might to pull her back. Madeline gritted her teeth, closed her eyes, and pushed even harder towards the tree line.
The sound of wooden bridge gave way once again to gravel, the trail finally depositing her between two houses that ran up against the property line next to the neighborhood club house. As the nearby refuge of street lights blurred in a wash of sweat and tears, the sensation of countless tiny legs exploded across Madeline's back. After letting out a desperate gasp, she pushed the sensation to the back of her mind and sprinted past the final tree before diving toward the first street light. After a hard landing onto a freshly cut lawn, she immediately jumped back up and prepared to scream with whatever voice she had left--or to fight. But when Madeline whipped around to face the trail , there was nothing there but empty woods and deafening silence. No cicadas, no crickets, no frogs, and nothing trying to run her down. All that remained of her horrifying pursuit was the beautiful fall night and the manic beating of her heart.
Madeline immediately pulled out her phone and dialed 911. She breathlessly explained to the dispatcher that “someone was chasing me through the Hamlin Subdivision nature trail,” even though her description didn’t come to close to portraying what she’d actually experienced. After giving the dispatcher the address of the house in front of her, Madeline hung up and ran towards it. Despite being more scared than she’d ever been in her life, a small part of her was still embarrassed about knocking on a neighbor’s door (and one she had never met, no less) a little after 10:00 PM.
But when a kind and concerned looking woman greeted her, Madeline instantly burst into tears. This brought the woman’s husband and two children rushing to the door, as well. The entire family took her into the kitchen, where she was provided with a blanket and a glass of water. Through violent sobs and sips, she told them with the most believable version of her story that she could come up with on the spot. There was no mention of the night creature’s cacophony of angry sounds, nor did she mention how the thing that had been chasing her was almost assuredly not human. 
As the evening wore on, Madeline’s confusion over what she’d experienced slowly turned into genuine skepticism. She knew that something had been chasing her, but maybe it really was just ‘some psycho drugged out of his mind’ like the father had suggested. When the police arrived, she gave them the same story she’d told to the family, once again omitting any mention of night creatures or an inhuman pursuer. She stayed up with the family a while, telling them about herself and where she was from. The children instantly latched on to her, their adoration laser focused on the person who’d given them an excuse to stay up late on a school night. Once the police left and she’d calmed down a bit, the mother gave Madeline a ride home along with her phone number, earnestly requesting that she call if any sort of threat (or even simply the specter of fear) made her unable to remain inside her own home.
After giving the woman and hug and heading inside, Madeline began to feel the full emotional and physical toll of that night’s events. She decided to forgo her nightly shower, figuring that having to wake up a few minutes earlier for work and washing her current bed sheets was a perfectly fair price to pay for immediate rest.
Before allowing her eyes to close and letting the world to fade, however, she decided to call her best friend, Mandy.  She wasn’t sure why; it wasn’t like she could explain to her what happened any better than she’d be able to for the family or the police. But the desire to reach out to someone she could trust was urgent enough that even her extreme exhaustion couldn’t fight it.
“Maddy?” Mandy asked after picking up the phone on the second ring. “Why the hell are you calling me at 1:15 in the morning?”
“Cause I knew you’d be up,” Madeline responded, much more tersely than she’d intended.
“Well excuse me for not having a job like yours where I’d have to be there at 7:00 AM,” Mandy shot back. “And it’s not like I go out drinking every night. Sometimes it’s fun to just stay in and binge some Netflix.”
“I got attacked tonight, Mandy,” Madeline blurted out.
“Holy crap Mads, are you alright?” Mandy asked, her voice now filled with concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Some psycho chased me through the nature trail during my nightly walk. I got away from him though.”
“Why didn’t you just kick his ass like that one guy downtown from a few years ago?”
Madeline paused for a moment, considering the possibility of telling her most trusted friend in the world what she’d been through that evening—and if she would even be willing to believe her. “My mind just wasn’t in that mode. I think he might have had a weapon on him or something, anyway, so I just got the hell out of there as fast as I could.”
The rest of the conversation involved more questions (“What did he look like?”, “Did he say anything?”, etc.) that Madeline quickly deflected. It made her feel terrible to lie like that, but even if telling the truth was an option, she only had a vague idea of what the “truth” actually was, anyway.
“Hey Mandy, I’ve got a weird question,” Madeline said before hanging up for the night. “Did the insects and frogs tonight sound really loud to you?”
“I guess,” Mandy replied. “No louder than usual, though. Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Madeline said after a moment. “I guess everything just seems louder when you’re running for your life from a maniac.”
After promising to call Mandy first thing when she got up in the morning, Madeline put the phone down and peeled off her sweat soaked clothes. After tossing them haphazardly onto the floor, she climbed into bed and pulled the sheets up around her, letting the sound of them sliding against her skin melt her consciousness into a blissful state of exhaustion-fueled slumber. But just before her eyes could flutter into a deep sleep, something outside her bedroom window grabbed what little of her waking attention remained. The street light that stood on the corner of her street had gone out, plunging the world around her into night’s natural darkness. The augmented blackness was almost immediately followed by a small chirping sound.
Madeline’s eyes popped open as a multitude of croaks and chirps grew in volume, slowly surrounding her home…

Embed from Getty Images


Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Dad is Awesome




As some of you know (or have inferred), the last couple months have been pretty rough. Thankfully, God blessed me with a wonderful mother and father who’ve both put me on their shoulders while helping me to push through it.

As bad as the timing of my life implosion was (i.e. the week before State Concert Festival), it did give me the benefit of having both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to reflect and publically thank them on this here blog page.

I’ve already gushed about how awesome my mom is. Today, it’s all about Dad.

***

Going through elementary, middle, and high school, I played on a team in my church’s youth basketball league. This was for a couple reasons:

- I loved basketball.
- I wasn’t good enough to make the high school team.

That being said, there were quite a few good players in the league every year, including kids who actually DID make the JV/Varsity school teams. We also had a head coach and assistant coach who were fairly knowledgeable about player development and X’s and O’s…

…and then there was my dad, who once described his primary coaching duties as “grabbing rebounds and passing the ball back out.” He’d played neighborhood basketball as a kid, but didn’t have any formal/organized background with the game. His only reason for signing on as a second assistant was to be involved in something I was doing.

Then, one fateful day, both coaches above him realized they had to be out of town for one of our practices along with game that followed it. When they told my dad about this, he politely explained that he had absolutely no idea how to coach a basketball team or draw up plays (never mind the fact that the team in question was filled with hormonal/unruly preteen boys). The coaches responded by informing him that if he didn’t at least step in as coach for the game, we would forfeit.

As you can probably guess, Dad wasn’t about to let that happen.

That night, he went home, popped in our VHS tape of Hoosiers, and proceeded to take copious notes as Gene Hackman ran a bunch of actors through 1950’s era basketball drills. The night of our practice, he ran us through those same drills at a blistering pace. When one of the players complained that doing drills wasn’t as fun as scrimmaging (which normally took up the the bulk of our time), my dad gave the exact the same response Gene Hackman did to the little snot who made the same complaint in Hoosiers.




He didn’t scream (like Hackman did). He also didn’t cuss or insult anyone (also like Hackman did). What he did do was refuse to let us devolve into our usual half-assed shenanigans. It was by far the hardest—and best—practice of the year. Parents sitting in the stands actually put down their books and watched in disbelief as their children showed remarkable mental and physical focus long after their respective medicines had worn off.

That weekend, we played one of the best teams in the league...and absolutely wiped the floor with them. Our group of mediocre ballplayers knifed through our opponent with cold, near-surgical efficiency (as much as can be expected from 12-year-olds, anyway).

When the other coaches returned, they couldn’t believe how well things had gone. They also joked that my dad had been holding out on them about his secret coaching skills. In reality, he was simply doing what he’d done his entire life: Relentlessly adjust to any obstacle until success is achieved. It’s a mentality he's always tried to impart on me—not through shouting or pushing too hard, but by never losing faith in what’s possible if you care about something enough to put your heart into it.

***

When my father was little, his mother (my yia yia) sent him to school without being able to speak any English. When the school called to inform her that this would be a major issue, her response was “I taught him to speak Greek, you teach him to speak English” followed by the click of the phone hanging up.

From there, my father somehow managed to successfully master both the English language and the American school system. After graduating high school, he went on to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. From graduating from there, he attended George Washington University for law school, which he graduated from with honors. This led him into a career as a legendary prosecuting attorney for the now defunct Interstate Commerce Commission.

In his “spare” time, he also ran a large portion of a family real estate business and managed his own stock portfolio along with those of many of our family members. He’s one of those no nonsense type of people who is objectively smarter than most and will handily outwork the rest.

And then there was me—his slightly neurotic, definitively right brained son.

The left side is grey because its dead from lack of use.


In addition to being the poster child for why Attention Deficient Disorder is a real thing, I could be (and still often am) frustratingly disorganized. I was also the type of kid who didn’t enjoy subjects like math, preferring instead to focus my academic efforts on writing stories or learning to play an instrument. And when it came to time management, I would often fail to realize the folly of focusing on one minor/shiny detail until it was at least fifteen minutes too late.

If this were a Hallmark movie, my dad and I would have been written to be comically tragic antagonists with each other. But to my great benefit and enjoyment, we’ve always had a great relationship. Part of this is due to our many shared interests that I talked about in my last blog post.

If it’s scary or features some type of grotesque monster, we’re all in. If it’s food that can be grilled and/or a breakfast buffet, we will devour it. Give us a heavily modified paintball gun and a wooded battled field and we’re in heaven*

*Side note: At almost 70 years old, my dad takes out opponents on the paintball field at a level that is simultaneously impressive, inspiring, and disturbing.


Even when he was still using rental equipment and rocking a
purple sweatshirt, my dad's opponents were dropping like flies.


And pray you are never in the room when he and I decide to start ragging on someone. My mom can attest to this. One time, she made the mistake of describing our shared behavior/immaturity at dinner one night with one of her fancy psychology terms.

Our response:

Me: “Mom, I believe you are exhibiting symptoms of the disorder known as badus moodus.”

 Dad: “Actually son, the correct way to say that disorder’s Latin name would be moodus badus.”

That was almost 20 years ago and we still haven’t let it die.

But aside from all that fun stuff, my dad also utilized his ‘Adjust Until Success is Achieved’ mentally on my varied/artistic interests--along with being a great father.

When it became clear that I loved high school band—something my dad had virtually no knowledge of or experience with—it wasn’t enough for him to simply go to concerts/games and support me with silent observation. If I was all in on this, then he going to be, too. In addition to his constant support and encouragement, he also joined the equipment crew, going from “just a grunt” to heading up the team. In fact, he ended up staying on a year after I graduated to help guide and train a large incoming class of new equipment crew parents.

When I fell in love with writing, he helped provide feedback on my short stories while also proving to be an amazing/knowledgable source of various horror media I should be reading and watching.

When I was offered a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, (a school neither my family nor me had on the radar until halfway through my senior year of high school), he drove me straight from an honor band concert through the night (in the snow) to my scholarship audition. When I got the scholarship (and subsequently decided to go to school 360 miles away from home), he became a full-fledged UK Wildcat, living and dying with the sports teams right along with me. 


Being a Kentucky Football fan isn't
a calling that everyone can take.

He also provided constant support and encouragement, especially during the first year when homesicknesses often made me want to give up.

When I was offered a band director position in Charleston, which would have me moving away from home for good, he definitely wasn’t happy about it. But he also knew how good an opportunity this was and how important it was to me. A few days after I arrived in the Holy City, my father came to help me buy/build furniture and set up for the beginning of a new phase in my life.

Throughout these moments—and many others—my dad managed to be both a best friend and a wonderful mentor. In between watching the Atlanta Braves during their miracle 1991 worst-to-first season, he made sure I understood that a commitment to hard work can not only supplement talent, but also help overcome a lack of interest/inspiration. When we weren’t binge watching episodes of Angel, he would patiently explain how to properly invest and save money for the future. And on our many long drives between Kentucky, Atlanta, and Charleston, he spoke to me about the importance being kind, being honest, and cherishing the people you love.

That last one might sound redundant, but my dad is the type of guy who has no qualms about randomly (and often) telling my mom or me how much he loves us. I guess that might seem weird to some folks, but it wasn’t odd to us. It’s exactly what you’d expect from man who goes all out on everything—including how he loves and cares for his family.

A few weeks ago, my father came down to be here with me during Nick's Life Implosion 2017 after my mom had to leave. In between watching our favorite movies/TV shows and debating the potential direction of the Alien film franchise, he also made sure I stayed focused and didn't give up.

***

…but back to basketball.

After the game mentioned at the beginning of this post, my dad took on a bigger role coaching our team, which made us start to play significantly better. The next year, he was talked into being a head coach. Despite his initial reluctance, my dad went on to be the most successful coach in the league. His teams consistently finished in first place despite often not being the most talented.

He even managed to use another great Gene Hackman line. One year, we had a game that took place during a church youth group trip, which left us with only five players…and we were playing the best team in the league…and they had their full roster.

In the fourth quarter, our best player fouled out, leaving us with 4 players on the court (as opposed to the five we were supposed to have). The ref came over and asked my dad if he wanted to forfeit. He responded in one of the most awesome ways imaginable.





Despite being shorthanded against formidable competition, we somehow took the lead after that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep it. When the final buzzer sounded, my dad called us over and said “Don’t worry. We’ll get them next time.”

Sure enough, our full roster demolished the supposedly unbeatable first place team at our next meeting, cementing my dad’s status as a legend in our church’s youth basketball program.

More important than wins and losses, he made the players he coached believe in themselves no matter what their talent level was. Players who hadn’t been on one of his teams in years would still make time to see and thank him for their time under his command. They even still called him coach.

And I am so, so lucky to get to call him Dad.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Mom is Awesome



Normally on Mother’s Day, I like to repost the story about the time she and I managed to clog the entire plumbing system of a Greek island.

This year, however, has been a different sort of crapfest—one I would not and could not have survived without her. I figure she deserves a little more of a write up this time than an embarrassing bathroom story (no matter how epic and hilarious it may be). 

***

When I was little, the prospect of going underwater for any amount of time terrified me. This wasn’t due to an inherent fear of drowning or anything normal like that. It was because I thought that Monstro, the whale from the 1940’s Pinocchio animated movie, would eat me.

Considering all the childhood nightmare fuel that film contains, I’m not sure why I latched onto the whale like I did. Perhaps it was because the story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the first stories used to introduce kids to the Bible. There’s plenty of debate about whether or not stories from the Old Testament are to be interpreted literally. But to my four-year-old mind, the tale was church sanctioned confirmation that a whale could in fact be an evil, man-eating creature…and this one had an appetite for children.



In an effort to help me overcome my cetaphobia (a fear of whales…and yes it’s real thing), my mom said that if I managed to go underwater at a YMCA swim lesson, she would reward me with a Bossk action figure.

At the time, I had no idea I would eventually become obsessed with both the Star Wars movies and the tiny pieces of plastic that went along with them, which now adorn multiple shelves and wall areas in my office. I didn’t even know who Bossk was back then besides being “the cool lizard man” that showed up onscreen for a few seconds in The Empire Strikes Back.


“Didn’t he have elbows in the movie?”

I also knew there was no way my mom would let me go underwater at the YMCA if it wasn’t safe. Still, the prospect of Monstro showing up to devour me continued to wage war with my desire to own a real life piece of my favorite film. Then, as we got in the car to leave for the pool, my mom played the ultimate trump card: She took Bossk out of her purse and showed him to me.

She’d already bought the toy. That meant that as soon as I conquered my fears, the action figure would immediately be mine.

When my turn at the pool came, I took a deep breath, submerged myself under the water, and discreetly went ballistic. I say “discreetly” because I was still under the illusion that the space beneath the pool’s surface constituted a different world. As far as I was concerned, the only thing that could hear or see me screaming into the chlorine-filled abyss was a giant two-dimensional whale. The poor girl running the swim lesson probably thought the geyser of bubbles I’d created was from my bowels emptying.

Fortunately, both my sphincter and my mom’s assurances of safety remained true. I’d gone underwater and survived.

I don’t actually remember the moment my mom gave me that cherished Bossk action figure. You’d think such a momentous occasion would be burned into my memory, but what really stuck with me from that ordeal was the fact that my mom believed in me. Despite my crippling fear of a cartoon whale, I wasn’t oblivious enough to think she would buy and show me a toy if my success wasn’t a safe bet. She not only knew I could do it, but she knew I would do it, too.

In the grand scheme of things, that terrifying dive into a highly controlled environment constituted an exceptionally small victory in my life. My mom’s faith, however, would end up being more valuable than I could possibly imagine.


***


If the world ever becomes boring enough that the story of my life is written, it will be severely lacking in the absent and/or abusive parent portion that makes for a more compelling narrative. I’ve been extremely lucky to have two loving parents who were both heavily interested and involved in my life.

As far as interests go, I definitely take after my dad. If there’s a good story/franchise involving monsters, aliens, malevolent spirits, or anything can just plain scare the crap out of you, we’re 100% on board.


You think Mom would let us keep this in the house?

We like to suit up in our customized paintball gear and hunt each other on various playing fields in Georgia and South Carolina (which sometimes ends with us squealing like terrified kittens after we ambush one another at the exact same time).

Together, we can wonder the hallways of a large comic con or watch financial news shows and become equally enthralled.

Despite my father having no affiliation to the University of Kentucky (besides the fact that I attend school there and graduated from it), he reacts to the athletic programs’ results with the same elation or despair that I do.

We call each other to complain about how bad The Walking Dead was this past season or how Stranger Things might be the greatest television show ever made.

Mom’s interests, on the other hand, do not often align with ours. When Dad and I react favorably to a promo or trailer for some new action/horror movie, she will usually roll her eyes and say “You guys can see that one without me.”

Where I do take after my her, however, is in my personality—particularly with regard to my sense of humor. We are both the type of people who will walk onto an airplane wearing neck pillows on our heads like hats, smiling and waving to the strangers around us as if we’re greeting a throng of adoring fans. We can also laugh at one another’s embarrassing-yet-harmless misfortunes—like when I forget what the safety key on a treadmill is for.

One area where I strive to take after my mom (but cannot possibly match her) is her ability to nurture people’s hearts. I know lots of folks think their mom is the most loving and caring person on the planet, but my mom’s so good that she’s made a volunteer career out of it as a Stephen Minister.

In addition to her uncanny knack for showing love and empathy to an unfathomable degree, she’s also great at helping people find strength and potential within themselves that they didn’t know they had. While I was growing up, Mom never allowed me to retreat into my introverted shell for unhealthy amounts of time. Despite my general (and often severe) lack of self confidence, she still managed to convince me that I needed to try new things—and that I could actually be good at some of them.

Sometimes, she was right…like with band, which started as something I had to be convinced was worth sticking to and soon grew into a passion that eventually become a beloved career.

Other times, she wasn’t…like with soccer.


The kid playing goalie in the gif isn’t me.
I was actually much worse.


This wasn’t some helicopter parent demanding her kid try things until they succeeded at something so she could brag to other moms at the PTA meetings. When my mom got the sense I really didn’t like something (like soccer…and tennis), she didn’t push it. But when she saw me struggling or losing hope in something I loved, she refused to let me give up. Instead, she would gently but firmly push me to face down whatever new Monstro I’d concocted inside my head.

If I succeeded, we’d celebrate. If I failed, she would pick me back up and help me try again. No matter what happened, though, I knew that if my mom was supporting me and refusing to let me give up, then at least one person in the world truly believed I could do it.

***

On March 19, 2017, my life took a substantially drastic and severe turn. I won’t get into it here (yet), but let’s just say that it was a shock I was in no way, shape, or form, prepared for. What started out as a relaxing day watching Kentucky win an NCAA tournament game turned into arguably the worst night of my entire life.

                                                                                           (freepik) 




When it happened, part of me didn’t want to call my parents. I was so embarrassed that my life could implode so spectacularly without me having a clue it was coming. But my parents had always been there for me when I needed them—and now I would need them more than ever. I also knew that my mom wouldn’t let me drown even though all I wanted to do was sink and let this new Monstro, which bigger and more terrifying than any of the others before it, swallow me whole.

Despite both my parents being similarly shocked and heartbroken over the news, Mom immediately shifted into warrior mode, packing her bags and preparing to tear asphalt from Atlanta to Charleston. In one of the very few moments of levity from that evening, my dad nervously described her as having gone “full mama grizzly bear.”

“It’s actually pretty scary,” he said.

If we’d both been thinking more clearly at the time, we probably would’ve said that mom had actually gone “full Ripley.” Like the badass hero from one of my dad and I’s favorite movies, mom was ready and willing to combat any danger to her child’s wellbeing…




…except instead of going to rescue Newt, a plucky pint-sized survivor with an adorably weird way of saying the word “mostly,” she was going to a son in the midst of a full-blown, Hudson-level meltdown.


My face was locked in this expression for 24 hours before she got here.


When my mom arrived, she hit hard with love and support. Lots of hugging, lots of holding me while I cried, and plenty of reassurances that I would make it through this. She also assured me that she would be here as long as I needed and make sure the dogs were okay when I wasn’t home.

Then she got to work.

Sometimes it was little things, like making me promise to open the blinds every morning to let sunlight into the house…which actually made a much bigger difference than I would’ve expected. Or insisting I eat healthy meals—together—instead of going off by myself to gorge on comfort food. She helped me get the house clean and keep it that way (although my resistance to properly folding t-shirts remains a hill I’m willing to die on).

Other times, it was simply having someone there to talk to and joke around with. Laughing and smiling were not actions I’d expected to do for a very long time. Now it was my general state of being before I turned in most nights.

Most importantly, my mom refused to let me to wallow in my own despair. This wasn’t a simple matter of cheerleading or steady positive messaging, either. There were plenty of times I really did just want to give up. No day has been worse than March 19, but I’ve had a couple since that came close. Each time I started to sink, my mom was there with all the love and support I could ask for along with a firm resolve to not let me drown. No matter how much I wanted to give in and let the depression swallow me into a void isolation and defeat, she refused to let me to do it.

She didn’t plead or cajole. She didn’t offer me an action figure, either (in case you were wondering). Instead, she would give some variation of “I love you and you are not worthless. Now get back up off the mat and fight.”

I think she might’ve also called me “Rock” and
forced me to chase a chicken around the yard a couple times, too.

I realize that the “fight” part of all this might not seem like much, especially since it’s mostly inside my own head. But as someone who already suffers from clinical depression, dealing with the sudden and unexpected implosion of my life on top of it has been by far the hardest battle I’ve ever fought…one I couldn’t still be fighting and surviving right now if it wasn’t for my mom.

***

Sometimes, heroics are erroneously linked to physical or lethal force. One reason I love the movie Aliens so much is because its protagonist, Ellen Ripley, completely turns this common trope on its head. She’s not at all like the heavily armed, gun-ho soldiers surrounding her at the start of the film. But when the poop starts hitting the fan, and when the life of her surrogate daughter Newt is directly threatened, Ripley’s motherly instincts kick in, turning her into one of the most badass characters in movie history.

Chances are that my mom doesn’t see any sort of connection between her and the characters from a lot of the movies and TV shows my dad and I like. She can’t wield a katana blade like Michonne or fire a pair of pistols like Black Widow. She doesn’t have super powers like Jessica Jones or Eleven (I think).

But I hope she knows that to me and Dad—along with the countless others my mom has counseled over the year—she’s one hell of a warrior. The type of person you can depends on not only for comfort and protection, but to be a source of strength, as well. When it comes to the wars waged by the human soul, there’s no person I’d rather follow into battle than her.

And if monsters like the Alien Queen did exist—and ever threatened to harm me or my dad—I have no doubt that my mom would find a way to step into a power loader, utter some variation of Ripley’s most famous line, and smash the creature into submission. It wouldn’t matter that she was scared out of her mind (like anyone else would be). My mom is the type of person who does whatever is necessary to protect and defend the people she loves, especially her family. I consider myself incalculably lucky to be considered part of both those groups.

Thank you for everything, Mom. I’ve always known you were a great parent, but these last two months have proven it once again. I love you and appreciate you so, so much…even when you get mad at me for how I put my clothes away.




PS: Because it’s too good not to share—and a bit of a tradition at this point—here’s the story about us clogging the entire plumbing system on the island of Naxos.