The Kt we loved

The Kt we loved
"I just might hurt you if you don't move that camera." — Kt

Saturday, December 24, 2011

So this is Christmas John Lennon wrote. This used to be our favorite time of year; now, not so much. We're gonna lie low this week.

I've read about soldiers coming back from war with PTSD manifesting as being unable to comprehend other people going about their everyday lives, and sort of feel the same way when I'm out in a store and see folks shopping for Christmas. Very strange: intellectually I realize that they of course have no idea how our lives are changed, but it somehow seems like they should.

But I do smile every time I see a Santa image, thinking of Katie coming home from second grade and telling us that Santa Claus wasn't real.

When we asked why she would make such an assertion, she explained that all of the books in the school library about Santa Claus were in the Fiction section.

Always was hard to put one over on that child!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steely Dan

At Trader Joe's today, I heard Rikki Don't Lose That Number on the Muzak (the real version, not a Muzak version—which is scary enough, since 30 years ago I'd've bet that nobody would EVER play Steely Dan in a store).

And it reminded me of a running joke Kt and I had: anytime we were somewhere and would hear Steely Dan, the first one to hear it would ask the other, "What's this song about?" and the answer—delivered without hesitation—was "Drugs".

OK, maybe you had to be there. But if you know Steely Dan, it's actually pretty funny...

So, in her honor, I muttered "Drugs" to myself. A lady nearby looked a bit startled, but she'll be all right.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Left Coast Again

I'm back from another quick trip to the San Francisco Bay area to visit Voltage headquarters. I arrived late at night, staying near the airport.

The next morning I got up and drove 25 miles down Interstate 280 ("the 280", in California dialect). A glorious morning: only moderate traffic, sunny and pleasant. I was treated to spectacular vistas of hills, and valleys filled with morning mist. Cows, eucalyptus trees, live oaks (I think; something gnarled like that), and sun, sun, sun! (Although at one point the mist even covered the road, slowing us to a crawl for a half-mile or so.)

The 280 was built in the 1970s through what was then—and still remains, in many parts—virgin California mountainside, and is claimed to be the "World's Most Beautiful Freeway", and I believe it. Here's a recent picture that gives some idea of what it looks like, although it doesn't do it full justice:

I listened to KFOX 98.5 Classic Rock, which seemed to be playing all of Kt's and my favorites, and wished she was there with me. She sure loved California.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It was twenty years ago today...

...that Katherine Elisabeth Hillyer Smith entered this world, to the joy of her beyond-ecstatic parents.

Missing you, little peanut girl. Today and every day.

Back last night from Detroit. In the "lattice of coincidence" department, I happen to have been in DTW on business on the day before Katie's eighth, eighteenth, and (now) twentieth birthdays. Distinct memories of each, very different moods, alas.

Grey and rainy today. Fitting.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning to Drive

I saw an MGB on the road yesterday, and it reminded me of when Katie was first learning to drive. There's an office park with a 4-lane, divided, semi-circular road (EDS Drive, off Mclearen across from Rachel Carson MS). It's busy during the week, but very quiet on weekends, so one Sunday we went over there for her first behind-the-wheel experience (not counting a little battery-powered car at LEGOLAND in California, where she merrily drove over painted houses and lawns!).

We spent an hour or so in a parking lot, so she could get the feel of the car, practicing driving straight and stopping more or less on a line. She only almost hit a couple of the curbs and parked cars; not bad (the first time I got behind the wheel as a teenager, I backed over a curb and ripped the gas tank off the car).

Eventually she convinced me that it was time to get on the road. Since there was no traffic, I consented, and she pulled out of the parking lot.

She was doing fine, keeping in the right-hand lane. Then we got near the end of the circle, and I told her to get in the left-hand lane, so she could do a U-turn and head back. No sooner had she changed lanes than an MGB came tearing up behind her. "Put your left signal on", I told her, "He can go around". She did, but he stayed on her tail.

"OK, get in the left-hand turn lane". She did—and he followed! By this point, she was shrieking, "Why is he following me?!?" But she held it together and made the U-turn, as did the MGB, at which point he roared past. Maybe he was testing out the car or something; we'll never know. But, while freaked out to some extent, she reacted appropriately.

She sure did love to drive.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cooking ...

Thanksgiving: time for a frenzy of cooking!

Katie always liked that we had two cookbooks with similar titles: "Cooking With Chicken" and "Cooking With Kids".

A friend posted this on Facebook:
I think she would have liked it!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Family Circus

From "This Is True":

THIS WEEK'S HONORARY UNSUBSCRIBE goes to Bil Keane. A cartoonist, Keane created the "Family Circus" panel, set in a circle to make the scenes feel close. (It was originally titled "Family Circle", but the magazine of the same name objected.) "Circus" is still syndicated to nearly 1,500 newspapers, making it the most-circulated syndicated comic panel, according to King Features, which distributes it. "I don't just try to be funny," Keane explained in a 1990 interview. "Many of my cartoons are not a belly laugh. I go for nostalgia, the lump in the throat, the tear in the eye, the tug in the heart." The characters were based on his own family, perhaps too closely: shortly after it started (in 19 newspapers in 1960), people would stop his wife to ask, "Aren't you the Mommy in 'Family Circus'?" Keane's son Jeff has been working with his father on the cartoon, and will continue it. Keane died November 7 from congestive heart failure. He was 89.

Katie would look at Family Circus every time she read the comics, and report, "It's still not funny". 

She would have been interested to know he didn't always MEAN it to be! (Though it often clearly was SUPPOSED to be, and still wasn't.)

Jeez, she sure would have loved this site: Dysfunctional Family Circus

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Philotic Web

I've spent a good chunk of downtime in the last year trying to write this post in my head, and kept hitting a wall. Woke up early this morning and felt I could finally start to put words on the page.

In any fiction writing, there are certain meta-problems that must be solved to make the story structure work: character motivation, for example. In science fiction, one of these is the faster-than-light (FTL) travel problem: if you don't have FTL travel, then your story has to take place entirely on a spaceship or a planet, since it will take years or centuries to travel between star systems.

Orson Scott Card is an SF writer of some note, who came to prominence through his amazing short story "Ender's Game", which you can find here. It was expanded into a full novel, which spawned a series of other books, and there's a movie in the works.

Aside from being a great story, in the series (although not explicitly in the short story), Card solved the FTL problem not through any of the traditional tropes ("warp speed" à la Star Trek; subspace; wormholes; etc.), but by positing a subatomic science called philotics. In this theory, philotes—the particles from which quarks and the like are composed—"twine up" with each other to form threads that link all objects and beings. These threads, while invisible, then combine to form the philotic web. This invisible web thus connects all objects, and strong bonds—strong connections—manifest as thicker fibers.

In doing a bit of research to refresh my memory on philotics, it appears that I there's a lot more to it than I remembered (there's a whole community of Card fans who will discuss this stuff to death, which I don't recommend), but one post reassures me that my interpretation at least isn't wrong: "[the philotic web is] the bond between two people or two objects that isn't physical. Love is a great example".

(By the way, the "phil" part of "philotic" is Greek for "love", and yes, "Philip" contains the same word; it's Greek for "lover of horses"—the -ip [or -lip, if you spell it wrong] is an elided version of "hippo", which is a Greek word for "horse". I assume this was meant to mean "a dude who rides and owns horses", not something rude; in any case, I don't trust or even like horses at all, so go figure!)

Interpersonal connections has been a topic near and dear to me for most of the last year, for obvious reasons. When you enter uncharted territory, you make some amazing discoveries. One of these, for me, has been the thickness of many of those fibers.

While I feel to some extent frozen in time—like I'm waiting for something to change that isn't going to happen—I also feel cozily cocooned by the philotic web of people who have expressed their love for Katie and for us.

I find this to be quite amazing. At the risk of sounding cliché, we're all kind of walled off to some extent: we don't say "I love you" as often as we might should (to use a Southernism I quite like), for fear of sounding weak or needy or just plain strange. Oftentimes I guess it doesn't matter—we (at least think we) know who loves us and whom we love—but I think the result is a diminishing both of the power of that emotion and of recognition of our own interconnections in the philotic web.

And of course one (of many) things Katie was good about was telling people that she loved them.

So I'm writing this (yeah, at great length) to try to say to the many folks who have helped us survive this year, although this seems woefully inadequate: we love all of you. Thank you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's FIRST LEGO League season again

I ran judging at the Ashburn regional FLL tournament yesterday, as I've done for the last several years. A good time, as always.

But we missed Kt and her friends. She'd been judging herself for the last few years since she "aged out" of competition, and always drafted a motley collection of somewhat-willing teenagers to help out, and they always had a great time.

One of the advantages of running judging is that I don't have to judge, but can sit in on judging. And I happened to catch a judging session with what was ultimately the championship team in Division 1 (under 12), Team Dynamite.

An apt name: eight fourth and fifth graders, mostly girls. A whirlwind of bright, articulate kids, who attacked the Core Values problem they were given five minutes to solve with an energy and interest  that reminded me of Katie at that age.

I'm glad I was there; I wasn't sure whether it would be too evocative and depressing, but it wasn't. But it would have been better if only...

For anyone who doesn't know what FLL is, check out FIRST LEGO League. And if you have kids 8-12, see if there's FLL in your area. It's a great program. I like to say it teaches everything you want your kids to learn: teamwork, science, engineering, adaptability, presentation skills...I could go on. And unlike any other competition kids at that age are likely to participate in, it stresses values like Gracious Professionalism. As a result, kids don't wind up in tears over "losing": in a decade of FLL, I've never seen a single such incident.

Monday, October 10, 2011

91.6% of a year

Another tenth. Eleven months. Still can't get my head around it. The other night the phone rang, and just for a second, I was sure it was Katie, calling to say she was staying at a friend's for the night. CallerID brought me back to reality in a hurry.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tony gets married

Went to a wedding yesterday, the son of a dear friend, whom Anita has known since college. I met Tony on his second birthday, just after Anita and I got engaged, and we've watched him grow from a wee bairn into a fine young man. He has found his passion in teaching, and as a bonus, met his wife while doing so—she's also a teacher!

It was a lovely wedding, and we wish them a lifetime filled with every happiness.

For me, the ceremony was somewhat of an ordeal. I had entertained illusions of one day paying for such a fête, and was all too aware of this, to the point of sitting by the door so I could escape if needed. But I made it through, and am glad to have done so.

Meanwhile, of course, the rest of the world marches on. The "We are the 99%" protests are amazing, and it will be interesting to see what comes of them. I feel some inclination to join in, tempered by both reality (time availability) and the fact that I'm comfortably employed, and would feel somewhat like a fraud. But in principle I'm with them, all 100%.

As I know Katie would be. To use the current vernacular, she was all about injustice in many ways (well, maybe not all about injustice—it was just one of the many things she was passionate about).

Coupled with her love of music, I wish I could play Katie David Mallett's Ten Men (there are several versions on YouTube; that one is live, album version is here). While he wrote it a couple of years ago, it sure sounds like what the 99%ers are on about.

Off the same album is Easier Than This, which I can't find online anywhere. "Should be easier than this by now..." indeed.
Many thanks to a long-ago colleague for pointing me at David Mallett (who is playing at the Birchmere on October 14)!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Another tough day

Yesterday was the local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention "Out of Darkness" walk at George Mason. Our friend Rita organized a group, and I went over for it.

Gotta say that I could have happily spent the rest of my time on earth never setting foot on the Mason campus again—dredged up way too many memories. But ultimately I was glad I went.

They do some neat things, like giving attendees bead necklaces in various colors, with various meanings:
Lost a Child – White
Lost a Spouse or Partner – Red
Lost a Parent – Gold
Lost a Sibling – Orange
Lost a Relative or Friend – Purple
Struggled Personally – Green
Support the Cause – Blue
Kind of interesting to look around the group and see other white beads, be reminded that we aren't the only ones. I mean, I know that, but it's easy to forget.

It was also, of course, a 10th—the 10th 10th, in fact. And now it's 9/11, with attendant media frenzy. Makes me want to crawl into a hole for a while.—there are local chapters everywhere.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bye, bye, little Kia

The Kia we bought to replace the Camry Katie loved so much is gone. A friend has been saying he wants to buy it for a while, and we finally got together and made it happen.

It was just over a year ago that some dude pulled out of Bronzedale onto Waples Mill, right in front of Katie. She swerved to avoid him, took out a mailbox, and the airbags deployed. For the ten-year-old Camry, the cost of replacing the airbags made the car a writeoff.

So we did the research, and bought a Kia Forte EX in "Titanium" (dark gray). It was cute and peppy and had lots of safety features and Bluetooth and a USB port with iPod interface, and got much better mileage than the Camry. Katie loved it, even after I told her it was equipped with a new safety feature, MAS ("Mailbox Avoidance System").

Of course, she'd loved the Camry, too. She always allowed as how it wasn't an exciting car, but she'd learned to drive in it, had put a lot of miles on it, and I'm sure it represented freedom to her.

We got rid of the Kia as kind of an experiment: with me working from home, we've had at least one car sitting in the driveway 99.9% of the time. For those rare occasions when we really, really both need to go somewhere, we can coordinate or use Enterprise. So one car will work fine. At least, that's the theory. We'll see.

Anyway, it was surprisingly painful to watch the Kia drive away. At least we know it found a good home.

The entire last month has been pretty gut-wrenching, actually. August 2010 was difficult, with Katie desperate to leave for college but having a lot that had to get done, and we keep hearing echoes of that month, with kids heading back to school this year.

And of course, while it was the only plausible thing to do, we can't help but feel that heading to college was the step over the edge and onto the slope that led to November.

Poor Anita still being laid up hasn't helped. She's soldiering on, but is really, really tired of being stuck in a hospital bed! She's been faithful about not putting any weight on her right leg. Hopefully in the next few weeks, she'll get the green light to start hobbling on it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Things I Try Not to Do Any More

Remember what I dreamed about last night.
Play the what-if game.
Feel guilty about running the dishwasher if it isn't full.
Drive a certain stretch of the Fairfax County Parkway.
Think about a bright, happy, little girl I used to know.

I'm pretty good at some of these.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Because life wasn't interesting enough...

...Anita took a nasty fall last week, breaking four metatarsals in her left foot and fracturing the right tibial plateau (the top edge of the tibia, where it meets the bottom of the kneecap). She spent four nights in hospital, and is now in a rehab hospital, since she can't walk at all (cannot put any weight on the right leg, and can only hobble on the heel of the left, with a "boot").

She will be OK, but has another six to eight weeks of being very limited in what she can do. If she'd done both injuries on the same leg, she'd be much better off!

Needless to say, I've been more than busy. This house often felt empty over the last eight months; with Anita away, it's even more so.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Katie and I used to read the comics semi-religiously. Get Fuzzy was always one of our favorites. The Liō strip can be very strange, but has its moments.

And as her friends can attest, Katie knew Jabberwocky by heart, so I think she would have appreciated this one:

That would be a fun store...

Original is here — click on the strip there to view it larger.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Real-world Science Fiction

Katie defined "voracious reader". From the age of four, when I got home from work and she sat on my lap and read The Bob Books, she read everything. On car trips, she'd sit in the back of the minivan with a stack of books and be happy — until she ran out of books, anyway. And one of the (many) lasting images we have is of her sitting in the recliner in her room, largely buried in books, reading quietly to herself.

I've been an SF reader for a long time: I remember being in the library in Croton-on-Hudson and hearing some kid about my age trying to describe a book to the librarian as "about aliens, with a metal octopus on the cover". I suggested he meant War of the Worlds, and I was right. This was before we moved to Canada when I was 8, so I must have been reading SF for a while already.

Anyway, Robert A. Heinlein was always one of my favorites. In the 1950s, he wrote a series of books known as the "juveniles", which were targeted at teenagers (or "young adult readers", as we'd call them now). While of course horribly dated in many ways now, they're still eminently readable.

So when Katie was in maybe fifth grade, I started reading them to her. Not, of course, that she couldn't read them herself, but we enjoyed the time together, and I could answer (some of!) her many questions that the books raised.

Red Planet was one of her favorites: "Willis WARM!" was something she'd say when she got cold, although I suspect I was the only one who knew what she was on about.

SF has a tremendous range, from stories in the near future to "space opera" taking place centuries and light-years from here and now, but one basic form involves making an assumption and examining the changes that would result, on society and humanity: What if the South had won the Civil War (or Germany WWII)? What if a cheap, unlimited source of power (such as safe cold fusion) were found? What if we discovered a method of faster-than-light travel, and could thus visit other stars?

It's occurred to me recently that we're seeing some things happen in the world that are true SF events. For example, if tornadoes in the midwest become the norm, that will reshape where (or at least how) a huge number of Americans live:  "tornado alley" might become largely empty, with farmers living in homes belowground, and the dispossessed squatting amongst the ruins of former towns. Or if the volcanic eruptions continue, air travel and thus our mobility will change. Railroads and steamships might return to ascendancy. And of course global warming in general may do things we can't even begin to anticipate.

My father told me many times that when he first had kids, he never realized that he would actually enjoy talking to them — that he had just kind of thought they'd always be kids and wouldn't have anything to contribute to adult conversations, and that he was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was wrong. He wasn't being rude or obnoxious; on the contrary, he was putting himself down, for having been so naïve.

I gotta say, we never felt this way about Katie. From the time she was little, she had interesting things to say and could synthesize concepts like someone far older, and we learned a lot from her.

So I keep wanting to discuss these SF events with her, because I know she'd have ideas about them that I don't, and that I'd come away with a new perspective.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Quite an evening

It's taken me several days to write this.

The Oakton Media Group banquet Wednesday night at Kt's high school was quite amazing. I have to admit that I was kind of dreading it, figuring it would be ripping the scab off the wound again. And it sort of was. I hadn't been in the school in about a year, hadn't even driven the route, so just getting there put me in a bit of a state.

But once the thing kicked off for real, it was better, albeit still very emotional. It was good to see a bunch of her friends, many of whom we knew by name but had never met.

The Katie Smith Spirit Award was presented to a student who "...exemplifies the spirit of cooperation among OHS publications...[t]he goal of the award is to recognize someone who enthusiastically offers strong journalism skills and a service-oriented spirit, exemplified through good publication relations and regular attendance at OMG events, including speaker series, car washes, conventions, and work nights".

Kt would have been very proud to know that such criteria were applied to an award in her name. Frank Driscoll created a beautiful plaque for the award, with room for 36 names, so it will be a while before it's filled!

On the way home, Anita asked me (not for the first time), "How did we manage to have such an amazing child?", to which I still have no answer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Been buried at work

This is mostly good: it's distracting and thus therapeutic. The downside is that I don't sleep enough — I wake up early thinking of things I need to do.

We've been on a forced march getting a Beta (pre-release) of a new product out the door. I'm excited about this product: it's my vision of how our technology should work on the mainframe, and customers seem to agree whole-heartedly.

Anyway, it's kept me busy. Now the Beta is out, and we're waiting for customer feedback. So things have backed off a bit, although I'll be busy handholding those customers through their installation for the next while.

It's also the end of the school year. Tonight we've been invited to the Oakton Media Group banquet at Katie's high school, where an annual award has been created in her name. The theatre department is doing something similar.

And this is, of course, profoundly depressing, even while it's also quite moving.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Dreams

I dreamed about Katie last night. Entirely too realistic: could have been a year ago, nothing out of the ordinary, just her being a testy teenager.

She was moving a couple of boxes that had some fragile things in them, and despite them being marked FRAGILE and me telling her to be careful, she picked one up sideways and the contents fell out. Didn't break, though; just kind of bounced. So, of course, in her mind that meant my ire at her carelessness was misplaced.

Then I woke up and realized the reality, and now I can't get my head straight.

Monday, May 9, 2011


So yesterday was Mother's Day, and tomorrow makes six months. Not a particularly good weekend for us, much worse for Anita than me.

When I was much younger, someone told me that there are things that I wouldn't understand without having experienced them — falling in love, having a child, etc. Whoever it was (wish I could remember!) convinced me that such things should be filed under "incomprehensible" — not in the sense of "Geez, I can't imagine why someone would be strange/foolish/whatever enough to do that", but in the true sense of "I cannot understand that and thus must not judge".

I'm not claiming to have been perfect at following this rule, but on occasion, I've managed it. People who kept a lost child's room intact as a quasi-shrine were always in this category.

Now, of course, I have had the requisite experience. And I find myself alternating between wanting to leave everything of Katie's as it is forever, and wishing that a tornado would level the house (preferably while we aren't home; for extra credit, leaving the neighbors' homes untouched). Who knows, the way the weather is going this could come true...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Biting My Tongue

More and more I find myself biting my tongue in public.

I'm sure that sounds strange, but consider this common scenario: I find myself in an elevator with a young couple and their gorgeous little child. My first inclination is to say "He/She is beautiful", but I'm afraid it's going to come out with a hitch in my voice or a weird overtone, and make the parents nervous. Worse, they might ask if I have any children, at which point what am I going to say?

So I smile and nod and try not to look like I'm fighting demons. And after an hour or two of this, I'm done: it's time to go home before I lose it.

Even worse is running into people whom I know but don't consider close friends. They ask how I'm doing, and of course they want to hear that I'm fine, but I'm not. And I don't want to unload on them, because that isn't actually going to make me feel any better, and certainly won't improve their day. So I wind up saying "We're struggling" (understatement) and changing the subject.

On the other hand, occasionally I run into someone I know who is close enough that they "get it": they understand that of course I'm not OK, and really want to know how I'm doing today. These people are lifesavers, because I don't need to explain anything to them, and they have no expectations for me to fail to live up to.

Best of all, these people remind me of Katie's goodness and impact on so many people. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I'm not a "spiritual" person, but there's an energy transfer that occurs in these situations that some would put in that category.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I keep finding things I want to show Kt...

 I guess that's normal. I've often felt the same way since my dad passed away, but in his case, I was used to communicating mostly by email, since we lived so far apart. With Kt, I keep thinking I can just yell to her.

Anyway, she would have SO approved of this graffito — right up her alley!

Larger original image is here.

Very difficult week, for no particular reason. Perhaps it's the dawning of spring, which should have me excited, but just doesn't. Or the fact that it's Easter, which we always enjoyed. Now, not so much.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mrs. Mike

Back when I was in my teens, I came across a book called "Mrs. Mike". It's about a girl from Boston in the 1800s who has (I think) pleurisy and is told to move to a cold, dry climate, so she moves to the Canadian Northwest Territories (she has an uncle there or something).

She falls in love with a Mountie, gets married, and they have a passel of kids. And then one winter, diphtheria comes along, and they all die. So they have more kids, and one winter the flu comes along and they all die. People refer to "my first family" and "my second family" when they speak of their children. A hard life.

I found it quite interesting, still do (I have a copy somewhere). So what's my point? That I think folks back then had a better sense of their insignificance in the universe. That doesn't mean she didn't love her kids any less than we do (did, still do, will continue to), just that they weren't as wrapped up in "I'm special" and "I deserve this" as we tend to be.

Even for folks who actively strive to avoid this phenomenon, I fear the general attitude informs our thinking, because others feel that way.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn't make me feel any better, here on the five-month anniversary.

Links for the Mrs. Mike book:
Fairfax County Public Library catalog entry
Amazon trade paperback
Amazon regular paperback

Thursday, April 7, 2011

General and specific failure

Back last night from a quick visit to my mom in Waterloo, Ontario. She's almost 83 and is going strong, God bless her! We should all hope to be so active and chipper at that age.

I was also able to drop in on an old friend. We're blessed with a number of wonderful friends, and he's most certainly among them. He and I have known each other since about 1972, and he's that rare friend with whom there's no loss of connection over time — we can have not seen each other for several years, but when we do get together, it's as if we'd been hanging out daily. No awkwardness, no discomfort.

There's still catching up to do, of course, and we did that, including talking a lot about Katie. He's been desperate to get together since she died, even offering to drive down and see us. Members of his family have had their own emotional troubles, and so he's quite familiar with the issues.

I noted that as her father, I feel that I failed her. He got quite stern with me, saying that's wrong. He told me about the death of a friend of his son's, who died suddenly last summer after contracting a virus — fine one day, in hospital the next, gone a few days later. "Her parents had no control over that, and neither did you", he said.

Intellectually, I understand his point. As I've thought it through since, I've come to distinguish between what I'm calling general vs. specific failure.

Specific failure is when (I know, we're supposed to say "occurs when", but this ain't English class) you do the wrong thing, either actively or by failing to take action. Had we not acknowledged Katie's problems, or not done everything we could think of to help her, we'd be guilty of specific failure. We did, and we did; and so I agree with him, we aren't.

General failure, however, still applies: in the end, we were unsuccessful. I analogize (at the risk of trivializing) this to a sports championship, where everyone has a great game, sets personal records, etc., but the team still loses. As opposed to a game where the star is sick, or several players just don't seem to play their best.

In both cases, the outcome is the same, but the nature of the failure is different. In the first case, the other team was just better; there's no "We should have beat them, but ...", and the team can and should feel OK about it (other than disappointment). In the second case, the emotions are much more mixed: the players who didn't play well may feel that they let the others down, or the others may be resentful of them.

So, in the end, I failed in my role as father and protector, by failing to save my daughter from her illness. Whether that was even possible, I'm not going to argue; intellectually I can see that it probably wasn't, but the bottom line remains the same.

And it sucks rocks.

Friday, March 25, 2011


As a parent, I've always believed that one of your jobs is to embarrass your kids. It's gonna happen to them enough when it matters, so inuring them to embarrassment deliberately at times when it doesn't matter just makes sense.

We always liked the Tigger song from Winnie the Pooh, and so when Kt and I were alone somewhere in public—like an elevator—I'd try to get strangers to sing the song with us. When she was little, she didn't mind this; as she got older, of course it was mortifying. It got to the point where I'd just mutter "The wonderful thing about Tiggers..." and she'd glare and hiss "Don't you dare!"

But I know she actually appreciated it. She never took herself too seriously, which is something else I strongly believe in. We're all just faking our way through: no reason not to try to have a good time while we're at it.

Anyway, when I came across the Savage Chickens strip below, I knew it would have appealed to her slightly warped sense of humor, as it does mine (original is here):

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Drivin' and Cryin'

I seem to be doing a lot of this. I'll be driving and something random will set me off. (Yes, I pull over until it passes.)

The other night I was returning a Redbox and drove by Baskin-Robbins. There must have been some sort of father-daughter event, because there were dozens of men in suits and little girls (7? 8?) all dolled up coming out. Reminded me of the Girl Scouts father-daughter dances, back in the day.

This on top of the fact that it was a gorgeous day for Shamrockfest, which Katie would have dragged a crew to, and I also caught part of an infomercial for a Time-Life collection called "Singers and Songwriters", containing about every great song you can think of from the 1970s. I ordered one of these collections for Anita a while ago, and seeing the infomercial again made me think of how we should be planning a family road trip, with Katie rolling her eyes at being "forced" to listen to these tunes -- but then borrowing the discs to rip 'em to her iPod.

I do want to remember my beautiful daughter for all of these things. I just wish I could control the "when" a bit better.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'

Another month passes, and I still can't believe it.

Wikipedia defines anomie as "a sociological term meaning 'personal feeling of a lack of social norms; normlessness'." And for me it perfectly characterizes the cognitive dissonance I feel when I look at pictures of our happy, gorgeous little girl.

Sometimes it's like I'm standing naked and screaming in a crowd, which rushes around me without reacting: Katie is gone, yet, incredibly, most things continue as if nothing has changed.

And in case you're wondering, there's definitely an element of rage involved, yet I have nothing to lash out at. So I continue, waiting for something to change...and listening to The Devlins...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Trying to pass the test

Growing up in Ontario, my best friend was a goalie, and he was good -- played what we in Virginia would call "Travel" hockey (it was called either "rep" or "all-star" back then). This meant that his dad spent a ton of time driving around southern Ontario to various rinks, and he often let me ride along. We'd talk about various stuff (besides hockey!), and he was an interesting guy. He taught sociology at the university, and I found it somewhat interesting.

Since November, I've often thought about him (he passed away several years ago) and what he'd have to say about how folks react to a tragedy like this. It's a test, though I don't see it as one to pass or fail: rather, I think it measures how well we're connected to our emotions and our ability to express that.

What I mean is that people's reactions run the gamut, ranging from empathetic and carefully thought out to jolly and seemingly carefree. None of of these is "wrong" -- people have to react as they are able to -- but it's fascinating to observe because it's so unpredictable.

One would think that age, experience, and how close someone was to us would be significant factors here, but they don't appear to be: some of the most heartfelt responses were from some of the youngest folks, or from people with whom we were not close. And some of the least empathetic were from older people, some of whom are almost family.

It is difficult to accept people who don't even acknowledge your loss. Near as I can tell, this comes from one of three places:

- they think it's so obvious that they care that they don't need to say anything
- they don't know what to say
- they're afraid that if they say anything, they'll "bring us down"

These are all quite understandable, but they all make me want to ask them a basic question: "If you don't say anything, why do you think we'll take your caring for granted?" That sounds harsh, but we're pretty raw here.

I want to go on to tell them, "If you don't know what to say, then say that. It tells us that you care but are at a loss." We're all at a loss. As my earlier post said, "Ain't no why".

And trust me, we're down already. We not only don't forget, but actually need to talk about our loss to heal. I'm not sure if this represents becoming inured from repeated exposure, or if we'll actually get to understanding through talking, or perhaps just that the acknowledgment and caring themselves are a balm.

I'm at a conference in sunny Anaheim this week, across the street from Disneyland. We took Katie there several times, back when she was young enough that we'd pull her out of school for a week before or after this conference and go to California as a family. It's been six years since I was here, and eleven years since we were all here together, so it's only vaguely unsettling to see familiar sights.

It is very nice to see old friends -- many of whom I only ever see once or twice a year at meetings. I just spoke with one, a guy I've actually known only since 2008. He asked after the family, so I told him the news. He was shaken, and said he cannot imagine how we're coping. He has a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, and said, "I feel a great urge to go hug my kids right now".

Amen, brother.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Road Trip

Had a solo road trip Thursday, on a route Kt and I used to frequent, north through MD and PA to NY and back. It was glorious weather, and she would have insisted on doing the driving.

Of course I thought about her an awful lot. There's a partially destroyed billboard north of Harrisburg that says:

What's missing?

I remember the first time we saw that; I said "That's weird, wonder what it means?" and she instantly replied, "It's saying YOU ARE missing -- U R, get it?". So smart, so quick.

Anyway, I loaded up a stack of CDs for the drive, as we used to do (pre-iPod!), and rediscovered some great music. I spent a lot of the time listening to my second-favorite Canadian prog-rock band, Rush. We saw them play once at Nissan Pavilion; I think that was the first live rock concert she ever went to.

One tune in particular was on heavy rotation most of the trip home, Afterimage from 1984's Grace Under Pressure:

Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon
I learned your love for life
I feel your presence
I remember
I feel the way you would
This just can't be understood...


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Three months today

I've been trying to come up with something to post all day, and just not getting anywhere.

92 days. Something over 2200 hours. And of course she's still here, in every corner of this house, in every corner of my mind. Every day I still think of things I have to tell her, things I have to make sure she knows, things I want to hear her tell me.

I sit here in the den and look at Yellow Bobby and the pictures of her and it all seems so surreal. Our beautiful, whip-smart, happy, clever, loving, funny, sweet child, in such incredible and unsustainable pain. Why???

Saga link of the day: "What do I Know?"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How 'bout dem Packers?

Well, I was actually nominally cheering for the Steelers, but I didn't really care that much, and it was a pretty good game.

Seeing all the linemen with the wild tattoos reminded me of an incident when Katie was maybe 10 or 11. We were at Macaroni Grill, and at a table of twenty-somethings,a young woman's shirt had ridden up in the back, exposing the tattoo at the base of her spine.

Seeing it, Katie asked Anita, "What is that?"

Anita explained that it was a tattoo.

"Oh", Katie said, "I would never get one of those. But if I did, it would say, 'If you can read this, you're too close'".

Classic Kt wit...

And while her attitude towards body art mellowed over time, I think Katie would have liked the graphic below; if it's too small, the original is here, on GraphJam.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Something Katie and I had in common (not the only thing!) was waking up with a song playing in our heads. Perhaps not unusual, except at least in my case, I often have no idea where it's coming from. The other day, for example, I woke up with a song from "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" playing ("The Book Report" -- jeez, everything is on YouTube!). I haven't heard it in at least thirty years (proof: what I had playing in my head wasn't even quite right).

And I don't have any metal fillings; I guess it's possible the CIA has a radio implant in my head, but I don't set off metal detectors at the airport.

Today's selection was John Waite, "Missing You", which at least makes some sense. And I did hear that on the radio a couple of days ago when I was in California.

Sure wish it was just miles that separate us like in the song, eh?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

That's my girl

Last night I was thinking about "West Side Story" for some reason, and remembered 5? 6? years ago when it came out on DVD and I bought Anita a copy for Christmas. We were opening presents, and Katie handed the package to Anita. It was obviously a DVD, and Anita looked surprised and said, "This must be for one of you -- I don't get DVDs".

Without planning, without coordination -- without even looking at each other -- Katie and I burst into song: "Oh no, Anita, no, Anita, no -- it's for you, not for me; that is your DVD" (to the tune of "A Boy Like That").

That's the Katie I want to remember.

For the benighted among you who don't get the reference, here's the original scene on YouTube. The part we were mangling starts about 1:36 into it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The boys are back

A month or so ago, we were driving down Rounding Run and a passel o' kids were out playing street hockey, with a couple of dads. We stopped and asked if they needed another net, and they said "Sure!"

So one of the kids followed us (on his rollerblades) to the house and took away Kt's net, as well as a stick. A few days later, the group showed up on our court (which is a better place to play anyway -- less traffic!), and I gave them the rest of her stick collection, including the Koho I brought from Canada in 1986.

They've been showing up every few days, and again today, and it's good to hear the cries of joy and exuberance. Kt would have been thrilled to see them out there, as are we.

Made the day a bit better, although they're gone now, and I'm sinking into the late-afternoon funk that always seems to hit me about this time. I guess it's that during the day, it's easy to pretend that Kt's at school; but about now she should be slamming through the door, or texting to say that she's doing something with friends and will see us later.

Instead I'm sitting here trying to ignore the tightness in my chest and get some work done. Without much success.

I have been working a lot on documentation the last few days, which gave me a chance to listen to a number of covers of one of my favorite songs, Talking Heads' This Must Be the Place (you can hear the original here). There are a ton of covers here on YouTube, ranging from the unlistenable to the amazing. The Numa Numa Dance guy and Justin Bieber notwithstanding, YouTube is pretty darned cool.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another non-blizzard

We've had two non-blizzards in a row: major snowstorms that missed the DC area. Both times we got under an inch -- not even enough to close the schools. Kt would have been irritated (at least pre-college).

Just before waking up this morning, I dreamed that I woke up, and as I was about to leave our bedroom, Anita rolled over and said, "Where's Katie? She's taking a long time". And I just stood there, gutted again, with absolutely no idea what to say or how to react. Then, mercifully, I woke up.

And day before yesterday I made the mistake of dropping some canned goods, hotel soaps, etc. off at a nearby church, for their food bank. Why was that a mistake? Because they have a preschool. It was bad enough seeing a rack of kids' books and hearing them in the classroom; as I was leaving after bringing in the last box, the class went somewhere, and 20 or so little faces all peered at me, probably wondering why this old guy looked like he was about to burst into tears.

Katie was such a happy child, and so interested in everything. My father once commented to me that he'd never really thought about enjoying talking to his kids, and was quite pleased to realize that this happened. We always enjoyed talking with Katie, because she was interested and interesting and made connections we'd never seen before, and damnit, just plain interested (there's that word again, I realize) in the world.

When I was a boy, I was determined that I would understand everything when I grew up. Of course I eventually realized that was unrealistic, but I never thought I'd wind up understanding so little.

Saga link of the day: Believe