The Kt we loved

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

Temporal Dislocation

I was coming home the other night from an errand. Steely Dan Pretzel Logic was playing, and I passed a house near us that has a large, lit star up in a tree. It must be five or six feet in diameter, and they’ve put it up at Christmas for as long as I can remember—at least 15 years. I suspect they’ve replaced it at least once during that period.

Anyway, having of course just been through stores full of holiday cheer, and hearing one of Katie’s favorite songs, and seeing that familiar star—for a few seconds I thought I was heading home to my family.

Here’s hoping it guided a few folks home for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


It was 71F here yesterday, and is supposed to snow tomorrow. I know exactly what Katie would say: "On average, the weather is about normal for this time of year!"

The other day I came across a box of foil sheets from Price Club (OK, "Costco", but we still call it Price Club). Being my father's son, I had written the date we opened it on top (so we'd have some idea how long a box lasted):
Next to the date, in Kt's handwriting:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Four Years

Four years ago today I woke up to a different world. People say that all the time—after 9/11, after an election—and usually it's not really true. And it wasn't true that day for most people, but for a small set of us, it most certainly was. The day before had been a normal fall day, cool, partly cloudy, and blustery; now it was cold, dark, and menacing. I stumbled out of bed that morning and stared into the bathroom mirror, wondering whether this was real.

Well, it wasn't a dream. And here we are, 1462 days later. Thanks to Facebook, we've had the pleasure of watching most of Katie's friends go on to great things: graduation, jobs, love, marriage. And this is great to see, despite the obvious “What ifs” that arise.

My sister wrote, “It doesn’t get any easier to believe”, and that's precisely accurate. But we persist, and remember her in our hearts, now and forever.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Visiting Old Haunts

I was up in Ontario last weekend, meeting my sisters to spread my mom’s ashes in the cemetery where we spread my dad’s eight years ago. It was a good trip: I saw lots of friends, and of course spent a good amount of time with my sisters and brother-in-law.

While there, we drove around old haunts—always a fun time—including the neighborhood where we lived when we first moved to Canada in 1969. That included the ex-houses of friends I haven’t seen in decades, including that of Steve Sprung, who was my best friend in grades 3 and 4 (as they say in Canada—always “grade 3”, not “third grade”!). After grade 4, we moved across town, and while we remained good friends and had sleepovers once in a while, we didn’t move in the same circles, or go to the same Senior Public (“middle”, in U.S.-speak) or high schools, so we didn’t see each other that often. I suppose in this modren era, we’d’ve emailed and IMed and Facebooked, but this was the 1970s!

Steve’s uncle worked at the University of Waterloo, in the same department where I worked from 1980–1986. Sometime in late 1981 or early 1982, someone—I forget who—told me that Steve had died. I asked his uncle, and he said yes, that Steve was driving in the countryside alone, on a sunny day, and lost control of his car. No sign of alcohol or drugs: just a mysterious, sad accident.

A few years later—obviously before I left K-W in 1986—I was in a store and ran across Steve’s dad. He recognized me and said, “You’re Philip, right?” I confirmed that, and, realizing who he was, managed to mumble something about being sorry to have heard about Steve’s death. I remember that he kind of stared at me and didn’t say anything else. I filed that in the “incomprehensible but clearly not meaning to be nasty” file and (almost) forgot about it.

Until this past weekend, when it suddenly surfaced in my brain, and I realized that I know exactly what he was thinking: “Why are you standing there, while my son is dead?”

I looked him up on the web: he passed on in 2002, and is buried next to Steve—in the same cemetery where we spread my parents’ ashes. I know that there was nothing I could have said to him then, or now, that would have helped; I’m just glad that I had the presence of mind to have acknowledged his loss.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Found Fragments

Moved a piece of furniture in the basement that hasn't been touched in years and found a broken guitar string and a hockey shin-pad strap behind it.

And in a box of papers, I came across this:
Someday, I figure, I’ll travel the world —
Guitar on my back, shoelace wrapped ’round my wrist,
And figure out if we can ever escape
This microcosm of rhetorical answers.

But for now, I’ll hoist my backpack,
Hug my parents, take 50 to 66 to 123
And dive back into the world
Where people know my name.

And continue wondering if Pilate
Was just really unlucky.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back in California

I was at Voltage HQ this week for a sales meeting. Even though we took Katie to Anaheim (Disneyland!) at least as often as to San Francisco, being out there made me think of her even more than usual, because she so loved the Bay Area.

And that’s also where I first encountered homosexuality, which also makes me think of Katie, with her staunchly libertarian (in the “a person who believes in the doctrine of free will” sense, not the political party) passion for individual rights.

The progress toward universal acceptance of homosexuality (modulo the Russians!) is something she would have been thrilled about. This week we’re hearing about a college football player, Michael Sam, who’s openly gay and will almost certainly be drafted by the NFL, breaching one of the last homophobic strongholds. I caught a radio discussion the other day in which someone pointed out that his college team has known he was gay for months, kept it a secret, and were fiercely protective of him and his privacy—and that this should basically shut down any BS about how a team [deep, serious voice] “cannot possibly survive” with a gay player.

This change in public attitudes seems to me to be as dramatic as the race rights advances were in the 1960s. I mostly grew up in a small town in Ontario, where there “were no homosexuals”—of course there were, but they were deeply closeted. You had to go to a much larger town to find people who were open about their sexuality; “fag” was a common epithet, probably worthy of a fistfight (unless the other guy was much bigger). And I expect this was pretty typical for the era.

In 1976, when I was in high school, my dad was on sabbatical at Stanford. At some point during that year, my parents were invited to a party in San Francisco, and my sister and I went with them. A bunch of us spent time at that party playing a computer trivia game (connected via dialup to a computer all the way across the Bay, in Berkeley—hot stuff!), and I wound up driving the keyboard, because I could touch-type.

On the way home that evening, I commented to my sister that some of those folks really knew their trivia. “Yeah”, she responded, “especially that one gay guy”. My reaction was, “Gay guy?!”—and then I realized which fellow she was referring to, and had an epiphany: it didn’t matter. All the biased negative BS I’d heard couldn’t matter, if I’d spent an hour or two with this fellow poking me in the arm as he shouted out answers. I mean, he was touching me! and nothing bad happened!!!

This epiphany has obviously stuck with me for over 35 years, and I honestly believe that the war is over. Less than fifty years after Stonewall, that’s decent progress, though of course not fast enough for those who have suffered in the meantime. One can only hope that in far less than three decades, this all seems like crazy, ancient, outmoded thinking. And Katie’s generation seems determined to make that happen.

Speaking of the Russians, check this out—Canada’s response to the anti-gay stance at the Olympics!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Living in Fear

One of the things that nobody tells you when you become a parent is how goddamned scary it is. How when your child is sick—and I don’t mean the obviously bad situations, like a life-threatening injury or illness, but even just a cold—you’re seized by terror the entire time.

Lately I’ve been thinking back to 2010, much of which is a blur for me, overshadowed as it was by fear for Katie’s well-being. I was afraid for her and I was angry at the world, at the situation, because I couldn’t control it and just wanted it to stop, for her to feel better.

I recently finished reading And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, who also wrote The Kite Runner. It’s an interesting book; not my usual style, but I enjoyed it. The passage below took me by surprise with its rare clarity about the emotions involved in being a parent.

Setup: the protagonist has a young daughter, and is away from home for work. Her husband has called her at 2:30AM to tell her that the child is sick.

She wants him to stop. She wants to tell him to shut up, that she cannot bear to hear it, but she’s too late. She hears the words childhood leukemia, or maybe he says lymphoma, and what’s the difference anyway? [She] sits on the edge of the bed, sits there like a stone, head throbbing, skin drenched with sweat. She is furious with Eric for planting a thing as horrible as this in her mind in the middle of the night when she’s seven hundred kilometers away and helpless. She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you. I don’t have the heart for this. She actually says this under her breath. I don’t have the heart for this. At that moment, she cannot think of a more reckless, irrational thing than choosing to be a parent.

Of course the last line is hyperbolic, but it’s an all too realistic reaction.

This is the game you play when you become a parent, whether you realize it or not going in. And it’s not a win-lose game, though obviously some outcomes are better than others; it’s the journey, not the destination. You “win” by even having had the chance to play, by having been able to have a child and do your best, however crappy that was at times.

I of course know people who have never had kids, some by choice, some by luck of the draw. And while I would never think less of someone for having made that choice, I wasn’t wired that way. As the song says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few”, but only for certain tactical moves, not for the strategy of having played.