I haven’t done one of these in a while. I spent the better part of tonight writing this. I hit some tough topics on this one. A way to purge and look back on my life and remember. Memories, good and bad, they are what make us who we are. Continue reading
Yesterday, comic book creator extraordinaire Stan Lee passed away at the age of 95.
I met Stan Lee once. It was at the 1992 San Diego Comic-Con. He was hanging out with Spider-Man and I got to introduce myself and tell him how much a fan I was. Something he must have heard millions of times in his long career in comic books. For many, Stan Lee was Marvel. But for me, Stan was a creator. Along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, he created characters and storylines that will never be repeated.
The first time I ever heard of Stan Lee was 1977. I just began collecting comics. For me, they were an escape. My favorite was Spider-Man. Followed by the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and all the rest. Stan created all of them. He was the writer who put the words behind the pictures.
The face of Marvel comics was present in everything you see in the Marvel movies. For me, he was a presence in my education foundation. You see, I didn’t read many books as a kid. I read comics. Tons of them! How many kids really got into reading because of Stan’s words? The number is probably higher than any of us can imagine.
Some of us are visual thinkers. I know I am. I see pictures in my minds and words form out of them. A comic book is the same thing but seen in physical form. Stan took that already existing format and rewrote the rules. He created characters that will live long past his 95 year-old life.
Stan wasn’t without controversy in his life. The artist of many of his creations, Jack Kirby, fought long and hard to get his original art back. It was something that was never fixed by the time he died in 1994. Steve Ditko, the artist of The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, had a frosty relationship with Stan. Stan’s finances at the end were a hot mess as vultures took advantage of him.
I choose to remember the Stan Lee who kept fans guessing for 25 issues on the identity of the Green Goblin. The guy who created the concept of mutants and tackled issues of discrimination. The man who said screw it to the Comics Code Authority, the authoritarian censorship association, and showed the very real results of drug use in Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. The writer who wasn’t afraid to create African-American characters, like the Black Panther. The creator who turned the team concept into something to be modeled for generations to come in the form of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men. Stan even used disabilities as the basis of a character in the form of the blind Daredevil. For Stan, it wasn’t the costume but the person that was behind the costume. It was the character that mattered, not the powers. It was how they used those powers for the common good. Before Stan, it was the hero first and the person second.
Like I said, my favorite was always Spider-Man. His Peter Parker was a bullied teenager who never quite fit in. His tagline of “with great power there must also come great responsibility” showed the inner and constant battle Parker faced on a daily basis. It is the heart of a hero. The ironic part is I loathe spiders but Spidey was my favorite. But I digress. Spider-Man is the story of every single awkward teenager who just wants to belong and fit in. I remember buying these paperback reprint editions of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-20. There were three of them. I think I still have one of them packed away somewhere. This was the gold of my childhood. There was also a trade paperback called “Origins of Marvel Comics” which showcased the first appearances and origins of many of Stan’s creations. These stories were the foundation of Marvel Comics.
Comic books taught me a lot. The most important was to always try to do the right thing. Yes, we fail miserably at that concept in all our lives. None of us are perfect. But if that is your cornerstone, your life as a human being will be better for it. Sometimes the right thing comes at great personal sacrifice. And it hurts. But you have to keep going, keep plugging along. That was Stan Lee’s legacy for me. Rest in peace Stan. You are joining all the other comic book greats that passed before you and paving the way for those to come.
I got an unexpected message from an old friend today at 7am this morning- “Do you want to meet for lunch at Firefly”? I told my friend I wasn’t going this year. He said he could get me comp passes for my son and I. He was driving the tour bus for one of the singers appearing at Firefly. Lewis Capaldi. I heard the name before but couldn’t place him. I went to Youtube and found some great stuff.
My son and I went to the will call and after some confusion we got our passes. The first musical act we saw was Capaldi. Absolutely amazing singer. One of those voices that just sings out of the soul! My son got very dehydrated after the first hour so I brought him to the medical station. After half an hour or so in there, I made sure he was feeling okay and we left. Since I knew it was going to be scorching hot the rest of the day, he agreed to go back home. He insisted I go back to Firefly. I asked if him if was certain a few times and he said yes.
I went back and saw Capaldi again but during an acoustic set with just him and his pianist. I was right up front for that. I swung over to The Lawn to catch Lord Huron. They rocked the house! Because they overlapped with MGMT, I missed the first part of their set but they played their staple songs at the end so it was all good. After that, my 47 year-old body was exhausted so I left. Had I known I was going today, I would have slept in this morning. Oh well!
A woman died in one of the Firefly campgrounds today. Very sad. No cause of death has been released. That wasn’t the only bad news to come out of the festival. I saw many Facebook posts about cell phone thefts. Thieves were just reaching into people’s pockets stealing their cell phones. A couple of well-known Delawareans’ kids had their cell phones stolen. When I was waiting at the will call, I was speaking with a young woman who said her cell was stolen last night along with all her money. She was waiting on her father from New Jersey to come pick her up. What is wrong with people? Not that stealing from anyone is cool but stealing from kids is just plain evil!
This was my first time back to Firefly since the opening year in 2012. That time I saw tons of bands in one day from 12 noon until 11pm. There wasn’t any lapse between bands I wanted to see that year. I did write about Firefly extensively in 2015 when I chronicled the adventures of Burger Girl! That was fun! Right BG?
I’m about to eat my WaWa dinner. I refused to pay $10.00 for a hot dog and I haven’t eaten since before noon so I’m starving! I’m going to watch Westworld and go to bed. Good night Delaware. And Happy Father’s Day!
Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security lost one of their own yesterday. Mark Giansanti, a history teacher at the New Castle charter school, passed away. The school released the following post on their Facebook account today.
To the Parents and Guardians of Academy Cadets:
The entire Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security staff and cadet body experienced a sudden and shocking loss on Monday, February 12th 2018. We were all saddened to learn of the death of one of our own, Staff Member Mark Giansanti. Mr. Giansanti passed away after a brief illness. Mr. G. as he was commonly known, was an exceptional teacher, colleague, mentor and friend who lived and loved all things history, especially military history. He will always be remembered as a man who valued education and expected the very best from all of his students in the classroom and in life. Mark was especially fond of the bond that he had with the members of the Tactical Operations Command for which he was an advisor.
The Academy will pull together and provide one another with support, guidance and an opportunity to grieve. At this moment of loss, we need to be here for each other and ask that everyone be considerate and supportive of one another as we deal with our loss. Grief counselors are being provided during Academy hours for cadets and staff members alike, providing emotional support and guidance. The Academy requests that our entire body keep Mark Giansanti, his children, his family, his loved ones and friends in their thoughts.
July 5th 1963 – February 12th 2018
The charter school, currently under formal review, has a public hearing this evening as part of that review. It would be my hope the Delaware Dept. of Education reschedules this in light of the passing of this much-loved teacher.
The entire Providence Creek Academy went through a major shock as news trickled out that Physical Education teacher Mike Rice passed away unexpectedly last night. While official details are not being released at this point in time, it is definitely a tragedy for Rice’s family, friends, co-workers, and the students and families of PCA.
Students arriving at school (already two hours late due to icy roads) were told there was no school today. Parents were called with news that an emergency occurred at the school. Providence Creek Academy will reopen tomorrow at 10am. Counselors will be there to help students from the school and the Delaware Department of Education.
My heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Providence Creek community and Mike’s family and friends. I spoke with Mike briefly last summer and I could tell he was very passionate about teaching and cared about his students.
Rest in peace Mike Rice…
PCA released the following on their website today:
Dear PCA Family,
We regret to inform you that Michael Rice our Physical Education teacher has passed away unexpectedly, therefore school was closed today. We will resume classes tomorrow at 10:00 AM with support staff from Providence Creek Academy and the Delaware Department of Education. We will post additional information as it becomes available.
Chuck Taylor, Head of School
Melissa Rhoads, Board President
Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Amy Joyner-Francis. Students around the state are enjoying their last day of Spring Break before the weekend kicks in and they go back to school on Monday. The leaves are popping out and flowers are in bloom. It’s a foggy and overcast morning, just like the one on April 21st, 2016. Those who contributed to Amy’s death have gone through the legal sentence and two out of three await sentencing.
I still think about Amy’s death quite a bit. It was a shock to all of us in Delaware that students could be so vicious. We learned the details of Amy’s death after. We know there was a sharp increase in the number of fights at Howard High School of Technology. We know social media played a huge role in the events leading to her death. We know the perpetrators planned the fight ahead of time. But nothing prevented Amy’s death. It should have.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Amy’s family. No parent should ever lose a child. But this case was very public.
I look at it this way, based on my beliefs. Amy has spent a year in Heaven with God our Father. She doesn’t know pain or suffering and I have no doubt she has shared her love with her family and friends. Her grace could be the feeling of calm and peace some of them felt in odd moments over the past year.
I hope we have learned some lessons from Amy’s death. I hope her death meant something and it contributed to something bigger. I hope we have learned to be a little bit kinder to people and to be a little more forgiving. I hope we have learned that sometimes words of healing are better than hands of violence. It won’t take away the heartache and grief so many still feel for her, but we all get a lifetime.
As the News Journal reported today, Howard High School experienced more than double the amount of fights between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
During cross-examination of Ursula McCoy, an 8-year faculty veteran at Howard who had worked in the discipline office, Deckers established that violent incidents more than doubled at Howard between the 2014-2015 school year and the 2015-2016 year. There were 46 reports of violence last year, compared with 20 the year before.
Upon questioning from Deckers, McCoy said “there may be times when (fights) are not reported.”
Sorry Ms. McCoy, when it comes to fighting, all of them should be reported. It is the law. It is NOT let’s cherry-pick what is and isn’t a fight. If the school determines it is a fight, it is a fight. By failing to report that information to the state, YOU are breaking the law. Notice the article said she “had worked in the discipline office”. Why doesn’t she anymore?
I still don’t buy Trinity Carr’s excuse that she couldn’t have known the fight could lead to Amy Joyner-Francis’ death. She and her friends beat her senseless. At the very least, they should have known it would cause some type of trauma to her. But no, we get her attorney defending someone who killed a girl. I know, it is his job to defend her, but come on! This was a planned fight. Kids and teenagers say dumb things, no doubt about it. I don’t know if that was the case with all this and it really doesn’t matter. You don’t beat someone until they die because of it.
As for the school not reporting all their fights, I really hope they have learned their lesson and the state makes sure they did. There is no reason not to report fighting no matter what the reasoning might be. Some folks say get rid of the Delaware Department of Education, but I believe they are a necessary entity to make sure things like this are reported. As well with special education issues and things of that sort. There needs to be ramifications when a school admits in a major trial they didn’t report incidents of violence. That will bring little solace to the family of Amy Joyner-Francis, but it should be a wake-up call to every single school in this state. Perhaps if all the fighting were reported it would bring more interventions into a school if the reporting is done with fidelity.
Music. It reverberates the soul. It brings back memories of good and bad times. When I listen to music, every song brings back something for me. It could be sadness, anger, hope, triumph, or happiness. It can remind me of a time period in my life or a specific person. One of my favorite things to do is put music on shuffle and see what comes up. I love the shuffle cause you never know what is going to come up. Anything goes. I thought I would write a post about what songs come up and what those songs mean to me. Something a little different.
“Where’s The Ocean”, Toni Childs: The album came out a few years earlier but I first heard this song in 1990. It was a very difficult time for me. I was in college, taking six classes after switching my major from business to psychology. I was working part-time, had a girlfriend, and was cast in a play at college. It was too much and I fell apart for a while. I was only 20 and it felt like I was spinning my wheels in ice. As a result, I wound up switching my major the next semester to communications. It was a tough time but the lessons I learned from it still help me now.
“Sounds Like A Melody”, Alphaville: Like the last song, I didn’t get into Alphaville until a couple of years after their debut album came out. But 1987 heralded many changes in my life. Especially once I became a senior in high school. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I had already decided to skip a year after high school instead of going to college. In the meantime, I partied and partied hard. I used to go to a nightclub called Kryptons back then. I was, of course, under age, but having a friend as a bartender helped a lot! They would play this song there and my friends and I would attempt to dance and probably looked like idiots. I have lots of memories at Kryptons and most of them are fun times. I have no clue if the old club is still there. It changed owners and names a lot in the decade after that.
“Absolutely Still”, Better Than Ezra: Better Than Ezra is one of my favorite bands of all time. Most people know them by their biggest hits, “Good” or “Desperately Wanting”. But for me, all their albums are a gold-mine. This song came out in 2009. I remember the first time I heard this song. I was driving my son to daycare and the words just hit a chord inside me. It made me think of family and the blessings we take for granted.
“I Won’t Let You Go”, Switchfoot: This band is a Christian band. Most people don’t know that. They hit the mainstream back in the early 2000s. This song came out this fall but I just heard it last month. When you really listen to the words, it can be confusing. At first I thought it was about a guy swearing not to give up his woman. But I soon realized the singer is actually singing through God’s viewpoint.
“Selling The Drama”, Live: 1994. Senior Year of College. Senior Week. I can’t remember for the life of me if I was sober at any point that week. Live hit it big with this song. Ed Kowalcyzk has an amazing voice. This was in the middle of the grunge movement and Live was right up there with Nirvana and Pearl Jam that year.
“In Your Eyes”, Peter Gabriel: Most people know this song from the movie “Say Anything” from 1989. But the song came out in 1986. I remember going up to Cape Cod with my cousin Liz one weekend to see our grandparents. We listened to this album on the way up along with a few others. I remember walking on the jetty at the beach one night. I spent many summer days growing up on that jetty. It was before my junior year of high school. My life changed a lot during my sophomore year. New friends, new hang-outs.
“San Diego”, Blink 182: This is from their album that came out last year. This band is from San Diego. I lived north of San Diego for a few years back in 2001 to 2004. My future wife and I moved out there. We actually lived in a small suburb of San Diego called Rancho Bernardo for about eight months before we bought a house in Riverside County. But I worked in Rancho Bernardo the entire time I lived there. California is an awesome place to live. And no place is better than San Diego. You can go to the beach and then to Julian about an hour away if you want to see snow in the winter. I did that one day. It was awesome!
“My Fault”, Imagine Dragons: I always think of the first year of the Firefly Music Festival when I hear any song from Imagine Dragons first album. I also think of my mom, who was very sick at that time. It was 2012. I felt massive change coming on the horizon. I knew my Mom wouldn’t last much longer (she passed away in May, 2013). My son’s disabilities were growing. Things weren’t good. But I tried to hang on to hope as best I could.
“Hey Jude”, The Beatles: There will never be another band like The Beatles. My earliest musical memories involved The Beatles. They broke up the year I was born but my parents had many of their albums. I remember listening to them all the time. But it would be years until I got “Hey Jude”. This is one of McCartney’s best songs in my opinion. I saw him in concert back in 1990 up in Philly and the crowd went nuts when this song began.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends”, Green Day: While this song came out in 2004, 9/11 was still very fresh in my mind. I don’t know if this song is about that tragic day, but I always think about it when I hear this song. No event in my lifetime left a scar like that day did. I still remember every single second of that day and the night before. We had just bought a large screen TV but there were issues with the first one we got. The screen would get blurry and we couldn’t see anything. This was when I lived in California. I got up for work at about 5am, which would have been 8am on the east coast. I had a horrible dream the night before. Guerilla soldiers were cutting people with knives at some camp. That wasn’t something I normally dreamed about at all. I remember taking a shower and remembering the dream. It disturbed me on many levels. The day before I read something in the local newspaper about two nuns who had been freed by the Taliban. They were recounting their experience with the Taliban. One of them remembered seeing an office. On the wall was a calendar of planes. After I got ready for work, I was drinking a cup of coffee. My wife and I drove together to work since we both worked in San Diego and we lived an hour north. I heard something on the tv (with no visible screen) about a plane flying into a building. I assumed it was in the Mid-East. I went outside for a smoke and when I came back in the reporter said “another plane has flown into the World Trade Center.” I sat there with my jaw wide open. I yelled to my wife what happened.
“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)”, The Byrds: When I was about seven or eight, my family and I were driving to church one day. I had heard this song before. But for some reason I can’t remember, my mother began explaining how this song came from Ecclesiastes in The Bible. I remember thinking it was really cool that such a popular song came from The Bible. It is one of my favorite parts of The Bible. “There is a time for every purpose under Heaven.” I actually try to hold on to that when things get rough. How there is a reason for everything. We may not know it at the time but sometimes we understand why and what it led to later on.
“Sleepwalker”, The Wallflowers: In October of 2000, my future wife and I moved to California. We packed up a U-Haul and drove across the country. I drove the U-Haul and towed my car behind it. My wife drove her car behind me. It took about five days. On the fourth day, we left our hotel in Amarillo, Texas. From there we hit New Mexico and then Arizona. We stopped by a mall in Flagstaff, Arizona. I heard “Sleepwalker” a few times in the weeks before we moved. As I passed a record store, I saw the album it was on just came out. I instantly bought the CD. From Flagstaff, we drove through mountains that take your breath away. All the way down to Phoenix. I replayed “Sleepwalker” a lot during that long winding journey through Arizona. I saw the sun set to the west as I drove through terrain I had never seen before in my life. Majestic doesn’t even describe what I felt during this ride.
“Sold Me Down The River”, The Alarm: I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989. Remember how I said I was taking a year off after high school? That year was up. My parents moved from New York and I went with them. I decided to start college at Bucks County Community College. A new friend of mine introduced me to The Alarm. This song had just come out and I heard it on a Philly radio station called WMMR. I used to take drives up and down the Delaware River back in those days. This song was on a lot back then!
“The Space Between”, Dave Matthews Band: This song reminds me of my fiancé. Who is now my wife! This song came out shortly after we became engaged. The lyrics don’t match what was going on with us, but it reminds me of that time.
“Communication”, The Cardigans: Shortly after my son Jacob was born in 2004, my wife and I made the decision to move back east. She was off work for maternity leave for six weeks and then it was my turn. When I wasn’t spending the day with my son, in those rare moments when he consistently slept, I was packing things up for the big move. I bought the album “Long Gone Before Daylight” one day and it became my soundtrack for that time. I remember playing this song as Jacob was sleeping in his aquarium swing. He looked so peaceful, just rocking back and forth. When our children are babies, we can remember these moments. To this day when I see him sleeping, I have that same feeling. Peaceful.
“Human”, The Killers: Fall 2008. No one knew what the heck Brandon Flowers was talking about with this song. “Are we human or are we dancer?” It didn’t matter. I loved this song and still do. I was in the midst of some adult growing pains when this song came out. Without going into details, it is something we all go through at one period in our lives. When we mistake confidence as hubris and we become arrogant.
“Take It All Back”, Judah and the Lion: Right now, this is probably my favorite song. Ever since Mumford & Sons came out, banjos have become a bigger part of music. At least the music I like to listen to. This song actually mentions the word banjo. And then slides into one of the best banjo riffs I’ve ever heard.
“The Tide Is High”, Blondie: If you were alive in December 1980, you know this song. I lived in Roanoke, Virginia at the time. I knew we would be moving to New York the next Spring. But life was good when you are ten. I remember roller skating to this song at Olympic Skating Rink in Vinton, VA. I had been a big Blondie fan ever since “Heart of Glass” came out. Still love this song!
“Let Go”, Frou Frou: In January of 2005, we had been in Delaware for a few months. I was working at the Bank of America call center in Dover. I remember a lot of snow. I had just watched the DVD of “Garden State” and bought the soundtrack. I remember leaving work one night. The snow was coming down. There weren’t many cars on Route 13 in Dover. This song came on. I hate driving in snow. It gives me this weird agita I don’t like at all. I remember hearing this song and saying to myself “Let Go” as I drove through the snowy roads back home.
“Strangelove”, Depeche Mode: Remember that night club Kryptons I talked about earlier? This is another one of those 1987 songs that always reminds me of Kryptons. My friend Pete and my second cousin Krista who was visiting from Oregon decided to go out one night and we wound up there. I remember having too much Cranberry and Vodka that night. My bartender friend used to hook me up!
“Come Original”, 311: 1999: Autumn. I had just turned 29. My twenties were crazy. Maybe it was because I knew I would be turning thirty soon. I felt my need to party diminish greatly that fall. Going out three to four nights a week was starting to show. I wanted, no, needed something more. After a while, I felt like I was just playing the same record over and over again, every week. I began dating my future wife that December.
“Blessed”, Elton John: This song reminds me of November of 1995. Before I moved to Sweden in 1996, I spent about a week there visiting someone. As she drove me to the airport that snowy, cold, and dark November morning, I already knew I would be moving there. So did she. This song was playing as she pulled out of her driveway. It was 5:30 in the morning. Flash forward to last week. I hadn’t heard this song in years. Whenever I heard it in the past, it reminded me of that person. For a long time. I put all that behind me a long time ago, well before I got married. But when I heard it, I actually listened to the words. It is about a man getting ready to have a child. I couldn’t help but think of Jacob and how blessed I feel to have him in my life and proud I am of him.
“Smoky Mountain Rain”, Ronnie Milsap: Yes, you will find me listening to a little bit of country. Not the modern-day country music, but music from when I lived in Roanoke as a small boy. This was one of those songs. I believe it is another 1980 song. A lot of the songs from that time period I would hear listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 every Sunday night. I used to tape them on my tape recorder. I think I may still have one of those cassette tapes lying around somewhere!
“City Of Blinding Lights”, U2: This is in my top five favorite U2 songs. Easily. Everything just flows, the piano, the guitar, the bass, the drums. But Bono’s words hit home with me the first time I heard it. “Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily.” When Bono sings “I’m getting ready to leave the ground”, The Edge takes off with this swirling riff that leads to the main chorus. Aside from being a great song, it also reminds me of one dark night in my life. I got into a terrible fight with someone in my life and it led to a very strained relationship between the two of us that has never quite been the same since. It was stupid and silly stuff that started it. I lacked the patience at the time to deal with that stupid and silly stuff and it is something I regret to this day.
“Take It Easy”, The Eagles: Glenn Frey passed away last year. It bummed me out for a while. Probably more than David Bowie who passed a week earlier. When I lived in Roanoke as a child, I considered this my golden years. When life was innocent and pure. Not tainted by politics and real-life issues. Just being a kid. Playing with friends. Taking long walks for hours without worrying about someone kidnapping me like we tend to think nowadays with our own kids. Exploring the world I lived in every chance I had. Making all those kid mistakes and just bouncing right back. I miss those days. Not days I could or would live in again, but with a fondness that brightens my soul. And The Eagles were right there the whole time!
“When You’re Falling”, Afro-Celt Sound System and Peter Gabriel: This reminds me of the move from that suburb of San Diego to Riverside County in May of 2001. To a little town called Menifee. To our beautiful two-story home with the small back-yard. Watching the sun set over Mount San Jacinto those first times. Fixing up our home. Buying a lawn mower for the first time. Painting rooms. Sitting on the patio on those warm nights. It all seemed so simple and easy back then.
“I Will Follow”, U2: back again! I saw them in 1985 during their Unforgetable Fire Tour. In New Haven, Connecticut. It was the first concert I ever went to. Bono would just grab someone from the audience and let them play his guitar or dance with them. As the band has aged over the past thirty-five plus years, it can be hard to imagine them back in those younger days. How many bands stick around for this long with the same line-up from when they first started?
“Still The One”, Orleans: This reminds me of the summer of 1978. I was eight years old. We belonged to this swim club called Aquanet. My brothers and I spent many of our summer days there. Swimming, shooting pool, buying candy from the food court, running around, the life guard telling me not to run, listening to the songs of the summer. Those were the days!
“Since You’ve Been Gone”, The Outfield: This song has a specific story and meaning. I was in a fight with a friend and I stopped myself from picking up the phone for a long time. I heard this song in August of 1987. Right after, I picked up the phone and just said “Let’s meet.” Sometimes when we let go of our stubbornness it can be a good thing!
“Reunion”, Collective Soul: May 1995. A transition. Letting go and letting in. “Change has been what change will be. Time will tell then time will ease. Now my curtain has been drawn and my heart can go where my heart does belong. I’m goin’ home.”
“Rock The Casbah”, The Clash: Once upon a time, The Clash was the best band in the world. During their latter days, they hit it big when “Combat Rock” came out in 1982. There was no more tubular song that fall then “Rock The Casbah”. This is one of those songs that never seems to come off my MP3 player!
“I Will Follow You Into The Dark”, Death Cab For Cutie: As we get older, we tend to lose people we love more and more. Sometimes it happens unexpectedly and others it is a long road to travel. This song reminds me of the fear the dying must have. A terrifying feeling of an ending. I believe in Heaven and eternal life. I believe our souls embark to a life greater than one we can ever imagine. But that one moment scares me. I pray I don’t die alone. I can think of nothing more miserable. I want those I love to be around me so I can hopefully say goodbye.
“The Sound of Sunshine”, Michael Franti & Spearhead: Another Firefly song. When this band played, the sun came out after a morning of rain. Soon, the band played this song. Beach balls started flying through the crowd. Everyone was singing along. People were smiling and dancing. Enjoying life. It was the sound of sunshine.
“Times Like These”, The Foo Fighters: In the fall of 2002, I remember driving down the 15 (yes, on the West Coast people put “the” before major highways) and hearing this song on 91x. That journey from Menifee to Rancho Bernardo. Menifee to Murietta to Temecula to Fallbrook to Escondido to Rancho Bernardo. Through the mountains. The endless line of stopped cars no matter what road you think will be a short cut. Road rage all around you. Motorcycles whizzing by as you sit there forever. Sometimes you just crank the volume all the way to the top and sing your ass off.
“Rain In The Summertime”, The Alarm: Another Alarm song. But this is my all-time fave of the Welsh band. “And then I run ’til the breath tears my throat and the pain hits my side. As if I run fast enough, I can leave all the pain and the sadness behind.” I’ve run a lot in my life. I’ve run towards things and away from things. I’ve physically run. Away from bullies. For exercise. For work. I’ve run after my dog when she got out of the house a few times. What has always fascinated me about long-distance runners is the wall. That moment when they go past that point of exertion and get that extra shot of adrenaline and keep going. Lately I’ve been looking for that wall. I want to tear it down and go to that next level.
“What You Need”, INXS: It is hard for me to think of any INXS song without thinking of Michael Hutchence. He was the lead singer and he died twenty years ago. He killed himself. He couldn’t hold on for just one more day. As Bono from U2 said, he was “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”. A decade before that, INXS was on top. Before “Kick” shot them through the stratosphere, they came out with “Listen Like Thieves”. “What You Need” was the lead single and it showcased INXS at their musical peak. Hutchence wailing, the horns blowing, building up to the crescendo. Some music is just about the band.
“One More Time”, The Cure: In the fall of 1987, my paternal grandmother passed away from cancer. It hurt, a lot. She was the first major family member I lost. My first grandparent to leave this earth. We were close. A few years before, I spent a week with her and my grandfather up at Cape Cod. It wasn’t really on the Cape, but we always called it that. It wasn’t far from the Cape though. A beach town called Mattapoisett in Buzzards Bay. They lived in this enclave called Antossawamock. I remember one evening during that week, my grandmother and I just sat there talking on the couch, for hours. She understood me in ways others didn’t. I tell people the best way to build a relationship with my son is to make that connection. Once you have that, you are golden. I had that with my grandmother. After her memorial service, I walked along the beach listening to this song. I just wanted one more time.
“Swing Life Away”, Rise Against: Another song from 2004 that reminds me of my son’s first few months. Wondering what his life would be like. All the hope and promise. Watching him during those May and June days sleeping in that aquarium swing. Taking him for walks to Lake Menifee. Waiting for his Mommy to get home from work. Changing his diapers. Just holding him for what seemed like forever. Rocking him in the rocking chair listening to a Reggae nursery rhyme CD. Reading tons of books to him. Days I cherish. Days I wouldn’t trade for any other day in the world.
“Ordinary World”, Duran Duran: I wasn’t expecting a great Duran Duran song driving back to college in January 1993. But there it was. Driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike back to Cabrini College. For months after, I would pop this song on. I remember working on the school newspaper, The Loquitur. I was the Associate News Editor. On Tuesday evenings, you could count on myself and the other staff toiling away until way after midnight putting the paper together to send to the printer the next morning for a Thursday release. We were a team. We disagreed, we fought, we argued. But when it came time to getting it done every week, we laughed, we joked, and we worked. We made it happen. And we never failed. This was in the days before the internet changed journalism by leaps and bounds. So we literally cut and pasted. We cropped photos by scissors. And then scanned them in. It was fun!
“Don’t Ask The Reason Why”, Restless Heart: Growing up is tough enough. Trying to cross that bridge between your teenage years and adulthood can be very tough. It always helps when you have a friend to travel with. I like to look back now and realize that I once had a best friend and we helped each other on that journey. Through the laughter and the pain, we both made it to adulthood. We all have those people where things get so bad you don’t talk to them anymore. Far too much scar tissue. But as the years have gone by, I recognize that place and time in my life with purpose. How it wasn’t as bad as I once thought it was. That time led to my carefree and reckless twenties. Which led to settling down from that. Which led to meeting Deb. Which led to my incredible and awesome son. Which led me to now. I let go of the angst from that time period a long time ago. Sometimes I want to say hi to my old friend. But I understand the distance has a reason. I hope you are well.
“Red Skies”, The Fixx: Back in 1982, the Cold War was in full swing. We were all scared of the bomb. Both the USA and Russia continued their nuclear buildup and we lived on the razor’s edge. No one could have foreseen the collapse of the Soviet Union years later at that time. It was the most important world event of the time. After seeing “The Day After” in 1983, the horror of nuclear war came home on the TV screen. People vaporized in an instant. I tried to understand how two countries were hell bent on destroying each other. It never made sense to me.
“Next Generation”, Alphaville: I found this song as a b-side on a 45. For those who may be too young to understand what the hell I’m talking about, back then songs from albums had singles. You could get them as a smaller vinyl record called a 45 or as a cassingle (a cassette single). This dovetails with the last song somewhat. Alphaville is a German band. At that time, Berlin was still divided by a wall. An East and West Berlin existed along with West Germany and East Germany. It was the settlement Germany had to give to make peace after World War II. The Russians got part of the country resulting in two different countries, a democratic and free state and a communist one. Alphaville sang about that dynamic in a lot of their earlier songs. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many folks in the world were terrified of a reunified Germany. They thought they would go back to their old habits of the earlier 2oth century. But the next generation made sure that didn’t happen.
“You Are Not Alone”, The Eagles: In 2007, after 27 years, the Eagles were reunited and it felt so good! One of the songs on their new album, “You Are Not Alone”, was sung by the late Glenn Frey. I wrote earlier about that moment of death and the horrifying feeling it must be. I like to think of this song as that next step as our spirit soars to Heaven. Into the loving arms of Our Father. Death is very tough for the living. But it is life for the dying. That can be a hard concept to grasp for some people. In the years since my mom passed, I’ve tried explaining this to my son who still has tough moments with it. But I tell him she is happy now and she wouldn’t want him to cry about it anymore. And that she wants nothing more than for him to be happy.
“Forever Young”, Alphaville: The first Alphaville song I ever heard. The one that made me understand things on that cold and snowy Tuesday morning in December back in 1986. The song that made me see a different world where we can be whatever we make of ourselves.
“We’ve Got Tonight”, Bob Seger: When we are young, we so desperately want to love and be loved. We make so many mistakes trying to find that one person. We stumble down that tricky road. We dream and hope. We cry and yell. We fall and rise. We find new loves in the wake of the old ones. Love can take a long time to discover the central mystery to it all. That defining moment when you realize what life is really about. When you put away the toys of youth and see life in a new way. I won’t tell you what it is. If you don’t know, you aren’t there yet. And that is a journey we all must make ourselves.
Okay, enough for one night. I’ll have to do this again sometime!
I painted this cause I felt like the play was about life, you know, and life is about color. And we each get to come along and we add our own color to the painting. And even though it’s not very big, the painting, you still have to figure that it goes on forever, you know, you still have to figure that it goes on forever, you know, in each direction, to like infinity, cause that’s kind of like life. It’s really crazy if you think about it, a hundred years ago some guy that I never met came to this country with a suitcase. He has a son, who has a son, who has me. So at first, when I was painting, I was thinking, up here, maybe that was that guy’s part of the painting, and down here, that’s my part of the painting. And then I started to think, what if we’re all in the painting everywhere? What if we’re in the painting before we’re born, what if we’re in it after we die? And these colors we keep adding, what if they keep getting added on top of one another until eventually we’re not different colors anymore, we’re just… one thing, just one painting? My dad isn’t with us anymore. He’s not alive, but he’s with us. He’s with me every day. It all just sort of fits somehow. Even if you don’t understand how yet. And people will die in our lives, people that we love. In the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. It’s kind of beautiful, right, if you think about it. Just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. I think that’s maybe the point of the whole thing. There’s no dying. There’s no you, or me, or them, it’s just us. And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, has no end, it’s right here. I think it’s us.
*Special thanks to Liz and John…
When I was running for the Capital School Board, one of the questions my two other candidates and I received at a debate was “Do black lives matter.” It threw me off. I prepared myself for a lot of questions beforehand. That one threw me for a loop. My two opponents, who happened to be African-American, almost seemed offended at the question. One of them said “Of course black lives matter. All lives matter.”
This is how I answered. It isn’t verbatim, but this is the essence of what I said. I agreed with my opponents that all lives matter. But we need to understand where those words are coming from. I explained how there has been an inequity and disproportionality in respect to how African-Americans have been treated in this country for centuries. I said we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. We have a school to prison pipeline in many places in America. Too many African-Americans don’t have the same opportunities white people do. I concluded with the statement that the Capital Board would be remiss not to understand where those words are coming from. I meant every single word of it.
Afterwards, a gentleman in the audience clapped. He happened to be African-American. I thought it was a bizarre question for a school board debate, but it was important to him. I later found out he asked that question in an attempt to trip me up. Why? Would the wrong answer have given him the impression I would have been a bad school board candidate? Did the answers my opponents gave matter? Given what happened yesterday, I can no longer support the idea of black lives matter if it brings more death.
We are at a crossroads today. The situation got very serious in Dallas when snipers decided to shoot eleven police officers, four of which have died at this time. The police officers were assigned to a protest where people were speaking out against the police shootings of two black men on Wednesday, one in Louisiana and one in Minnesota. I can’t process death well. Especially deaths that don’t have to happen. I don’t know enough about law enforcement procedures to say if what they did was within their authority. I can’t even figure out my own state, Delaware, and events that have happened here. Some believe that our cops have the authority to do whatever they want based on court rulings and attorney general opinions. Some say the cops were justified with their actions.
This is what I do know. I am seeing a lot of crazy talk on Facebook. I’m seeing people talking about how they have their guns ready when “they” come for them. I’m seeing a lot of sadness too. From all sides of diversity. The hopeful side of me wants to believe this is a wake-up moment for all of us. The fearful side says this is just the beginning. I want to believe we can find peace out of all this. I really do. But that is going to take a monumental shift in thinking. It takes both sides to listen.
I was in McDonalds a couple months ago. I had just gotten off work and I was starving. I just wanted a quick bite to eat and go home. I work long days at my job and it is very physically demanding. As I sat there, peacefully eating a cheeseburger, I see two African-American teenagers laughing at me. I asked if everything was alright. They said I had food around my mouth. I thanked them for letting me know. They kept standing there, laughing at me, talking about the food around my mouth. Meanwhile, an adult, who I presumed was their mother or caregiver watched them do this. She didn’t say a single word. I asked them to stop. They kept laughing. Finally, and with a bit more assertiveness in my voice, I asked them to show some respect. Only at this point did the adult intervene by saying “Come on boys,” and she gave me a nasty look. The boys walked out with their mother. This wasn’t the first time this kind of situation has happened to me, and something similar happened another time since. I can say I have never treated a human being like that before. It made me angry. Not because they were black. But the fact that they felt they could treat another human being like that and think it was okay. That an adult, someone who should be teaching these young men the difference between kindness and cruelty, stood there and did nothing. I could let situations like these harden my soul. I could let it change my thoughts and apply the actions of a few to an entire group of people. I could make false labels about black people based on this. But I choose not to. I understand, at the end of the day, that for some reason they don’t trust me. They don’t know who I am and by taking the offensive they are actually being defensive to whatever happened to them to make them think that was okay. Discrimination and racism goes both ways. We may not be allowed to talk about that, but I am talking about it. It’s real, and it happens. We all know it.
This is my plea to African-Americans like the two teenagers and their mother in McDonalds that day: stop blaming white people. Stop thinking it is okay to taunt us, to intimidate us, to bully us. Stop thinking we aren’t worthy of the same respect you want for yourselves. Stop telling us there is no way we could possibly understand unless we’ve lived it. Stop saying that’s just how we are when one on one you talk to me just fine but when you are around your friends it is something completely different. You are whatever you choose to be. It isn’t the situation that makes you who you are. It’s how you deal with the situation. And to the adults who are too wrapped in years of hatred over their own circumstances, you need to turn those bad memories into something positive. Don’t let what hardened your soul mold the life of your children. Teach your children right from wrong. Let them know that whatever happened to you was horrible, but they have the power to embrace the future and practice forgiveness.
This is my plea to white people with obvious race issues: Stop thinking it is okay to refer to black people as animals when something bad happens. Stop looking down on them as if they are from another planet. Stop with the twitchy fingers if you are a cop and don’t fully understand a situation. Stop using black people for your own political ambition or warped sense of greed. Stop thinking every time a killing happens it will be the advent of martial law in our country and President Obama will finally take away all our rights. I’m pretty sure if this was Obama’s plan, he wouldn’t wait until his eighth and final year to get that going or he is paving the way for Hillary to do it. Stop putting up pray for Dallas pictures on Facebook unless you are prepared to put up a “Pray for…” every single time someone dies in this world. I will pray for Dallas along with every other city and town in America until this stops.
This my plea to all Americans: stop the hating. Stop the killing. Stop the labeling and false accusations and the paranoia. Take responsibility for your own life, for your own actions. Don’t put the weight of history on your shoulders and think you have to live it. Be someone new. Every day is a new day. Every day is an opportunity to be better than the one before. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work. What I am saying is this: if you don’t have love, for your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, your enemies, or anyone you encounter in life, but most of all yourself, you won’t ever be able to see the light in each and every heart. Some shine bright while others are turned off. But you can make a difference. You can help others to turn their light on. It may just be a smile, or a hello, or a helping hand, or saying “I care. I understand.” Teach your children. Let them know that our differences are what makes us unique. None of us are the same. We all have one thing in common though. We are all children of God. In times like this, and in times of happiness, I pray. I pray to God that we can do what He wants for us. We can go through the Bible and pick apart this verse and that verse and apply it to every situation possible. Many do. But I believe the message is very simple. Love each other.
It comes down to respect when you really think about it. Respect for others. For their circumstances, their situations. Words have power. But only as much power as we choose to give them. But words really don’t mean anything if the tone behind it is hostile. Which is ironic given the very nature of this blog and what I write about. Something I have been guilty of on more occasions than I can think of. I can sit here and say it is all out of love. But I let my anger get the best of me. We all do. But I can change that, and so can you. Before a hand-held device was smaller than our hands (they were bigger than a toddler’s head). There were race issues, and most of them probably weren’t talked about the way they are today. We glossed over them in the face of the Russian threat and the fear of nuclear war. We honored Martin Luther King Jr. and made a national holiday.
Back in 1986, something called Hands Across America happened. The goal was to create a line across America of people holding hands. I don’t remember what is was for or if they accomplished the goal. I would like to think it would have been impossible with the presence of rivers and high mountains and whatnot. But the spirit was there. We had issues back then, but not like today. This was in the days before a gangster lifestyle was glorified in our culture. Before the internet and social media took over our lives and gave us all transparency beyond what we could have dreamed of. We need to somehow incorporate what we now know, what is talked about everyday with very real statistics, and stop talking about it and start acting. We need to come together, lay down our walls of mistrust, hatred, fear, and suspicion, and work it out. Our future, our children’s future, depends on it.
I’ve heard a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement over the past two years. They are right. Black Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. Hispanic Lives Matter. Oriental Lives Matter. Criminal Lives Matter. Baby’s Lives Matter. Children’s Lives Matter. Muslim Lives Matter. Christian Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. Lesbian Lives Matter. Disabled Lives Matter. Jewish Lives Matter. Native American Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Your life matters. But do you want to know what doesn’t matter? Hate doesn’t matter. In the end, only love matters.
I updated my last post yesterday with information from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District concerning the change of time and venue for their board meeting this month. During my communication with the district, I asked them if they just wanted me to make the change or post their information verbatim. I didn’t hear back from them until late last night but I already made the change earlier. This was their communication to me:
I am writing this email to you instead of using your blog as a forum.
On behalf of the NCC Vo-Tech school district, it is disappointing that you presumed that we decided to change the school board meeting time and location in order to prevent access to the public. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you can imagine, or perhaps you cannot, the first two days were spent doing everything that could be done to support Amy’s family, to provide supports for our Howard students and staff, and to communicate with students, parents, and the greater community the details as we knew them, while this horrible tragedy was evolving.
We scheduled a Saturday morning conference call so we could schedule and plan Howard parent meetings as soon as possible. We knew we already had a regular monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday evening, and were already considering changing it so that Monday could be a parent meeting option.
We were informed late Friday by an elected city official that a Town Hall meeting for Howard parents and community had been scheduled for Monday night at Stubbs Elementary School. As we were unaware of that plan, and in order to accommodate that meeting, our Board of Education determined to move up their meeting Monday from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to hold it at District Office.
We have scheduled to hold the Howard parent meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, both meetings beginning at 7 p.m., and both in the Howard auditorium. We had to schedule two meetings in order to accommodate as many parents who may wish to attend. Howard has a student body of over 900.
The Tuesday meeting is for parents of 10th and 11th grade students; Wednesday is for parents of students in grades 9 and 12.
It was certainly disheartening to see your post, when all are trying to make the best decisions possible during this unspeakable and evolving personal crisis for the Joyner-Francis family, and a school-wide crisis for the Howard community. Perhaps you should have asked before you presumed the worst.
Please keep Amy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers. This will be a most difficult week for all.
Kathy K. Demarest
Public Information Officer
NCC Vo-Tech School District
I responded with the following:
From: Kevin Ohlandt
Reply-To: Kevin Ohlandt
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 6:47 PM
To: Demarest Kathy
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware
I do appreciate you reaching out to me. I apologize about not reaching out. I used to reach out, many times, and I am usually ignored. So I stopped doing so a while ago. I get information from a lot of people, and while you were disheartened with my article, that was the impression many folks had prior to my writing it. As well, many people, including staff in the district, were extremely upset that Dr. Gehrt referred to Howard as a safe school when an innocent girl was killed there. There was a whole other part to that article you didn’t address. I understand this is a very tough situation, but parents and community members are counting on all of you to change the environment there. The bottom line is Howard is not safe. It hasn’t been, and I know many of our schools aren’t either. Sadly, we learned what happens when things are sugar-coated and we hyper obsess over student outcomes.
I write what I do, not to be heartless, but to draw attention to what is really going on out there. I know that underneath the shiny veneer so many of our schools coat themselves with, that there are children suffering. I also know a lot of that suffering is due to events from outside our schools, but a lot of it does take place in schools. Let me be the first to tell you: I hate writing so much about our schools and DOE in Delaware. I truly do. There is no benefit to myself, and it takes a huge amount of time.
I will happily change the article with the information you provided to me. I can do so verbatim or just paraphrase. I will leave that up to you.
I know this is a horrifying time for the district, but as a parent myself, I would want to attend this board meeting if I were a Howard parent. Town Halls in this situation are absolutely necessary, but board meetings are too. I know many people don’t take advantage of them, but that is where things happen with our districts. I do apologize the way I wrote the article, and like I said, I am more than happy to change it.
I received the following response late last night:
From: Demarest Kathy
To: Kevin Ohlandt
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:27 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware
Thank you for your apology and for the offer to post. I’d prefer you post my email in its entirety.
Updated, 8:32am: I have just heard from a few sources that the district has changed their meeting to their district office at 4pm. And the meeting will be held in a conference room that holds a maximum of 15 people. Apparently there is a Town Hall at Stubbs Elementary School tomorrow night which is being led by Wilmington Councilman Darius Brown, which precipitated the time change for the board meeting. The district did reach out to advise me this is the reason for the board meeting change. Several folks were upset about this, and I did suggest to the district they might want to change the board meeting to another night when parents and members of the community are more easily able to attend. There is another Town Hall this week for parents to talk about the situation. I will update that information when I know when and where. One thing I would remind everyone to do is think of Amy and her family and friends. And please continue praying for all of them.
Howard High School of Technology belongs to the New Castle County Vocational-Technical School District. The district has a board meeting Monday night, 4/25, at St. George’s Technical High School in their Media Center at 7pm. Howard was the high school where Amy died last Thursday. I believe the district has a lot to answer for. While I don’t believe the district is directly responsible for what happened to Amy, there were circumstances that allowed the situation to happen in the first place.
Why are students allowed to enter the school at 7:15am in the morning to gather and do what they please. I’m hearing hall monitors are sparse, when they do come, and when they arrive on time. I’ve heard many who want to blame the teachers for what happened. Nope. They are in district mandated professional development during some of these mornings. To accommodate this, the district changed the start time for the first classes a couple days a week. Let’s make one thing clear right off the get-go: teachers hate professional development. I don’t care how many surveys the Delaware Dept. of Education dredges out. The abuse of Delaware teachers doesn’t begin and end with their evaluations.
Our school districts have become so enamored with the Delaware Way, that horrible situation where all tables must come to the table and compromise while the more powerful of the parties ends up getting their way (in most cases the state DOE/Rodel Foundation for education).
Could Amy’s death have been prevented? I would like to think it could have. One thing is crystal clear. The discipline and fighting figures we see are not honest. There may be a few out there, but I think a lot is going unreported. There are things our schools are trying to hide which is making problems worse, not better. In many of our schools, students hit teachers all the time. They curse and roam the halls in some schools. Some students are expelled or sent to alternative schools in the hopes they will become better students. But the class sizes in these schools now make it impossible for a teacher there to get anything done. There is also this absurd culture where students have no authoritative role models anymore. Some of them don’t get it at home or school. A school should not be the Band-Aid to cure what ails so many of our students. But this seems to be what our state and the corporate education reform companies want.
Don’t get me wrong: students should not encourage fighting, nor should they build a blockade so teachers or other adults can’t stop what is going on. The students involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In my opinion, those who stood and watched while filming the tragedy should be held accountable as well. They are just as guilty. But the schools, districts and administrators who stand back and let these things happen time and time again need to realize how serious these things can get. A student died in one of our schools in Delaware. She was murdered. We can’t forget that and it would dishonor Amy’s life to think otherwise.
The parents of students at Howard High School of Technology have every right to voice their concerns. I strongly encourage all of them to attend the board meeting Monday night in Middletown. If they are unable to get there, other parents should offer a ride or perhaps the district should arrange busing for them so they can make their voices heard. This meeting could get very real and the district may be forced to hear things they would rather not hear. But I’m sure Amy’s parents heard something they never wanted to hear the day she died.
One friend. Just one. Sometimes that’s all we need. Just one, in a lifetime of people that pass through.
In 1981, I moved from Roanoke, VA to South Salem, NY. Entering 6th grade, I was scared and nervous. I was an okay student, but I had some minor disabilities in the form of attention deficit with a touch of hyperactivity. When we moved that May, our new house wasn’t finished yet, but we sold the prior house so we had to rent a home for about three months. For a month and a half, I went to an elementary school in Chappaqua, NY. For about three weeks in July, we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle in Brookfield, CT, on the shores of Candlewood Lake. Finally, in the beginning of August we moved to our new home in a small residential neighborhood in the bottom southwest corner of NY state. If you walked through the woods about 1/2 a mile, you would be in Connecticut.
Within days of moving in, I met the Eds. Two boys, my age and in the same grade, both named Ed. All three of us had a love of comic books, so the first day we met, we were trading comics left and right. Both of them played soccer, but I wasn’t interested in the game having done horrible a year prior.
I had a very difficult time making friends at my new school. I had a southern accent, and it quickly became apparent I was a little different. As well, I stupidly asked a question in 6th grade math when talking about rocks. “Are rocks alive?” branded me for a few months as the village idiot. And a month into school, when we could run for town positions, I decided to run for town clerk. I had to give a speech at an assembly, and after uttering the words “My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I’m running for town clerk”, most of the school was heard repeating these words when I would walk by. My reaction was fierce! I started talking back to those who taunted and teased me, and threats of “kicking my ass” soon followed. It became a vicious cycle of taunt & tease, react, threats, and then me backing down and often crying or running away from the situation.
The two Eds though, they never joined the crowd. After school, I would often hang out with them, usually exploring the vast amount of woods behind our houses. Sometimes a bunch of neighborhood kids would play football or baseball, or in the summer, very large games of Flashlight Tag at night. We would ride our bikes, go to new houses being built, or throw rocks on a frozen pond in the winter. Eddie and I would walk to the bus stop almost every day.
As sixth grade led to junior high school, things got progressively worse for me. Instead of battling one school, it was now four rolled into one. More enemies. Fights happened, usually with my “ass getting kicked”, but I still reacted without thinking. Before too long, I was the one starting things. But through it all, every day, I would sit at lunch eating with the two Eds and some other kids. After school, more of the same.
During 7th and 8th grade, with my obnoxious big mouth and instigating tactics, I was often told to sit at the front of the bus. Usually one of the Eds would sit with me. He was called Eddie by most. Eddie was the tallest of the three of us. He was a gentle soul, always smiling. He could be quiet and reserved at times, but for the most part we would talk and joke around. I nicknamed him Smiley the Terrible. I can’t for the life of me remember the context of the nickname, but terrible is the last adjective I would ever use to think of Eddie.
In 9th grade, still in Junior High School in our district, Eddie would share stories he wrote. For a 14-15 year old, he wrote some very intelligent, well thought-out stories. It was better than a lot of the stuff I had to read at school! His imagination knew no bounds, even getting into some physics stuff before our time.
Things started to change when we entered high school. Our interests changed. The two Eds were heavily involved in soccer or other sports, and our four years of shared CCD classes ended after we were all confirmed. I was still into comic books, even working at a comic book store over the border in Connecticut on Saturdays. As friends tend to do at different points in our lives, we drifted apart. I was very involved in youth groups and church activities, but that was in Connecticut. We still talked, all three of us, but the conversations were more about what was going on or what girls we liked.
When I was in 11th grade, in 1987, I participated in a large church retreat called Emmaus. For first-time participants, we were called candidates. Emmaus was essentially an unconditional love fest retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Prior attendees, both teenagers and adults, would work the retreat. As part of Emmaus, parents were encouraged to reach out to their teenager’s friends to write letters to the candidates. I received letters from the two Eds. Eddie wrote the following:
Many people used to ask me why I was your friend. “Why not?” was my usual response. Perhaps they understood, perhaps they didn’t.
Eddie went on to write about some other things, but he concluded with this:
I’m glad you are my friend just because you are.
I received many letters from friends and family that weekend, but this was one of the ones that touched me the most. No matter what, even if I embarrassed him with my actions, Eddie was committed to being my friend. I had other friends, but it’s rare to have a friend that goes back years as a kid with disabilities.
Towards the end of our Senior year, Eddie and I talked a bit more. Perhaps it was nostalgia creeping in as we prepared to embark on the next chapter of our sheltered lives, or maybe we found common ground. Whatever it was, it culminated at a party at my house a month after graduation. My parents were away, and my two older brothers and I had a huge party. The two Eds came, and I remember the three of us talking in my backyard. We made a toast to the past and to the future. To my recollection, it was the last time all three of us were together.
After a year of trying to “find myself”, I moved to Pennsylvania with my parents and attended community college. The first few years there were very rough for me. Transition and I have never been good friends. In the Fall of 1992 I would transfer to Cabrini College in Radnor, PA as a junior. The summer before, I had the coolest job ever. I was an editor for a magazine called Comics Values Monthly. The owner of the comic book store I worked for back in 1985 started this magazine a year later after he closed the shop. I continued to work for him throughout high school. In 1991, his magazine was really taking off, and I offered to help. Once a month, I would go up to Connecticut and New York during weekends and submit freelance work I did for the magazine throughout the month. I went over to Eddie’s house one night during the summer, and we chatted a bit. He was attending Washington College in Chestertown, MD.
On October 16th, 1992, a friend was driving me to a party. A wicked storm came in, thunder and lightning all over the place. As we were driving, I felt something. I knew something happened. My heart felt a sudden emptiness, a vacancy. I didn’t know what it was, and it scared the hell out of me. All I knew was that someone, somewhere, that I was once close to died. I knew it in my conscious mind and I was sad. By the time we got to the party, I put it out of my mind and had the kind of fun you can only have in college!
The next day, I felt a need to go home. I was at Cabrini for a month and a half, and it was a whirlwind of studies, partying, working on the school newspaper, and working for the magazine. I needed a break. My parents had gone away that weekend, so I had the house to myself. Early that Sunday morning, I received a phone call. It was the other Ed’s mother. I will never forget the words. “I hate to tell you this, Eddie died Friday night.”
Eddie became involved in theater at Washington College. While working on lighting for an upcoming play, he was electrocuted. He died instantly. The horrible loss I felt that Friday evening, over 100 miles away from Chestertown, MD, was Eddie passing away. I found out later it was the exact same time of his death.
The next few days were a blur. The following Wednesday was Eddie’s funeral. I was unable to attend the wake the night before. In Pennsylvania, it was raining non-stop. I left very early, at 5:30am in the morning. As I drove along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, I put a tape on of U2’s Unforgettable Fire. The title track of the album was playing and I felt Eddie’s loss more than I had at any other moment. After the song finished, I put on a tape by a singer called Michael W. Smith. He is a Christian singer who had some moderate mainstream success in the early 1990s. He had just come out with a new album, and one of the songs was called “Friends”. Another singer released this song years prior, and the first time I heard it was on my Emmaus weekend back in 1987. As the song played driving up to Eddie’s funeral, I thought of his letter and the words he wrote.
Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you. Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted, means a chapter in your life is through. But we’ll keep you close as always. It won’t even seem you’ve gone. Cause our hearts, in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong. And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them. And a friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end. Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”
While the words gave me comfort, I was also angry. How could God strike someone down in the prime of his youth. 22 years old. He had a whole lifetime ahead of him. I regretted losing touch with him over the years. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he inspired me to write. He got me to take a journalism class in high school, and his many stories spurred my own creativity. But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted between us. When I was in high school, I was very involved in theater, whether it was bit parts in plays, or helping to be stage manager during our high school’s variety shows. This extended into community college for many years as well. Even after college, I still got parts at my old community college. But this evolved into writing. Eddie went from writing to theater. He was one of those guys who really didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.
As I was writing this, I decided to Google Eddie and Washington College. I knew he had been electrocuted while working on lighting. But I didn’t realize he was working on a particular chandelier in the auditorium as part of his drama thesis. Something about this gnawed at me. Being the packrat I am, I tend to keep everything. When I pulled out Eddie’s old Emmaus letter, I remembered he wrote me a letter when he was at Washington College. There was something about a light in the letter. I pulled it out of the dusty bin, and read it…
There’s a neat light in the theater that I was shown my freshman year here, it’s kinda like a night light, but it isn’t. It’s really peaceful though and if you ever get a chance to get down here, I’ll show you it.
I wish I would have taken him up on his offer. It’s been 23 years since Eddie died. Whenever I used to go up to our old town, I would always make it a point to visit him at his grave. In the year after he passed, sometimes I would spend hours there, talking to him, or just thinking, or praying. I haven’t been up in that area in a long, long time. The last time I was there, I was married and had my son for quite a while. Gone were the days of my youth. This was before I knew of my son’s disabilities and the battles ahead. Before a blog even entered my mind. I was just a dad, struggling with myself during those transition years.
A couple years after I moved to Delaware, I played hookie from work one day. I went for a long drive, not sure where I was going. I just went where my car took me. I found myself in Maryland, in a place called Chestertown. I drove past an old college, but I didn’t make the connection. This was where Eddie breathed his last. Even after I left this town and the beautiful river that went into the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t know. It wasn’t until years later when Facebook took off and I reconnected with old friends, that I found out. Someone said Washington College when talking about Eddie, and my answer about why I found myself at Washington College was answered. I suppose my subconscious knew.
I think about Eddie from time to time. If I hear mention of Chestertown or Washington College, his smiling face appears in my mind. Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how her daughter goes to Washington College, and I started thinking about Eddie again. I wanted to write about him, and honor my friend. My friend who was there for me when so many others weren’t. When peers were saying why and he didn’t care. Everyone needs a friend like that. Everyone needs that one person they can turn to, no matter how bad it is, and just knowing they care makes all the difference.
Sometimes I wonder about how I find the things I do with this blog. How I find the strength to keep going, to put something up on here every day. The little things, like looking for an answer to a question, never finding it, but the seeking opens up a door to something else. I’ve written before about how another person in my life gave me inspiration when I first started this journey. We have no idea how much the departed can impact us, how they push us in certain directions if we are open to it. If we listen. Sometimes, when I write, I go back and read it months later and wonder where I got those words. I like to think Eddie, and others gone before and since, are guiding me under the watchful eye of God, who I have never given enough credit for the wonderful things in my life: my wife, my son, my friends, my family. The sunset that stretches across the sky at night on my way home from work. The moments of absolute stillness when you feel like you are one with the world. The nights when you are alone with nothing but the stars and you get lost in the vastness of it all. That’s all God. Something I need to remember.
It was so long ago, when my friend was in my life. But he is still here, in my heart and even in my words. He reminds me that God is still a part of my life, even when I don’t think He is there. Part of the reason I stand up for children with disabilities is because long ago, Eddie stood up for me. Eddie may be gone from this world, but he still burns brightly in my mind. A light that he found, an unforgettable fire.
Flashback: September, 1986. The three of us go to a movie in New Canaan, CT. It’s a movie about a group of friends who have a moment in their lives when they have to make a journey to find a dead body. But like most things in life, it doesn’t go the way they planned.
I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
I cry every time I see the end of Stand By Me now. Every single time. I think of Eddie, and what he meant to me, and still does. Thank you Stephen King, for writing those words in your original short story called “The Body”, adapted into Stand By Me. Just seventeen words to encapsulate a time when one person made a difference.
Hi. My name is Jacob. My dad writes this blog about special education, but today I wanted to write an article about my friend Ray.
Ray was my pet fish. He was a Beta. That’s why we named him Ray. He was with us for a year and a half, but he died this morning. He was a good fish, and I loved him very much. I miss him. He never had anything against me. My cat Boots always wanted to eat him, but I think they were best friends. I drew a picture of Ray today and I cried a lot.