Arming students with rocks to fight off an active shooter?

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within are entirely my own, and do not in any way represent any organization that I am affiliated with.

That’s what one school superintendent has come up with in the wake of the February 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL which left 17 dead.

images-1Since this tragedy – which is officially now being called the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history – we’ve seen a lot of knee-jerk reactions by both lawmakers and private citizens alike. Some have been positive, like the students mobilizing and marching in a passionate protest of Florida’s gun control laws. Some have been negative, as lawmakers and lobbyists take to the airways and battle each other with misguided statistics on national news.

Some have been downright extremist: One side of the spectrum wants to seize all Unknownfirearms; the other side wants to arm everyone to the teeth. There have been demands to change the laws, arm the teachers and completely ban the sale of the AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz to perpetrate the mass shooting in Parkland.

And some have been downright ridiculous. Dr. David H. Helsel, superintendent of schools for the Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County, PA, as of March 24th had himself an epiphany of sorts, and decided to place buckets of river stones in each of the classrooms in his fiefdom. In a nutshell, he wants students and staff alike to throw rocks at an active shooter.

I’d like to repeat that, because it sounds vaguely important: Rocks. Against an evolving active shooter incident.

At first glance, I truly thought the deliciously witty satirists at The Onion had penned the article. Then I checked it out on five different international news outlets. The story was correct. Dr. Helsel, you see, doesn’t want students and parents to sit and wait under desks and behind classroom furniture to become the next victims. His heart is in the right place, but I’m betting those rocks came from his head.

“Protocol has been that students lie down, under desks and basically become passive targets on [sic] our classrooms,” Helsel told CNN. “We decided to empower our students with tools of self-defense if needed.” (source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/24/us/pennsylvania-school-students-armed-rocks-trnd/index.html)

images-2Rocks? Rocks. Pull up a YouTube video of anyone firing a semi-automatic rifle. Think stones are going to stop that?

The decision was made after teachers went through an intensive (albeit short) active shooter response training. They adopted the acronym ‘ALICE’ which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The intrinsic core of this class was to teach educators how to barricade the classroom doors with desks, chair and everything else they can find if safe evacuation is not an option.

Dr. Helsel urges students to throw not only those river stones but everything from pencils to staplers to books, to distract and/or wound the shooter. Helsel, incidentally, draws a salary of $146,500 yearly to make these asinine decisions. (Conversely, teachers’ median salaries range anywhere from $28,300 to $54,130 depending on tenure; I firmly believe they should get hazard pay.)

Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County by the numbers:

  • 5 schools, K-12
  • 204 teachers
  • 2,700 students
  • Population hovering around 149,000 persons
  • Covers 783 miles

And we’re giving them buckets of rocks. Maybe next we should arm our law enforcement with Nerf guns and give our fire department personnel Super-Soakers, and see how that pans out for public safety.

The State of Florida, long criticized for its relaxed policy on gun sales, stepped up to theUnknown-2 plate to make a change. Senate Bill 7026 – also known as “The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” – passed almost unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on March 9.

Here’s a gleaning of what it does:

  1. Includes provisions to teach school staff to be trained (and actually deputized) to carry guns on school campuses
  2. Raises the age requirement to 21 for ALL gun purchases with a mandated three-date waiting period
  3. Bans the sale and possession of bump firestock weapon modifications
  4. Provides funding for more mental health assistance in schools
  5. Provides funding to beef up police security on school grounds
  6. Gives our law enforcement officers more authority to seize weapons and ammunition from owners deemed mentally unstable or a threat to others

What it doesn’t include is a ban on the sale of semi-automatic rifles like the kind used in the Parkland shooting – a pain point for many. My response to that? Pick your battles.

I’m a responsible gun owner and carry concealed. And I’m good with those changes. Especially the raising of the purchasing age from 18 to 21. I’ve known some 18 year olds that I wouldn’t trust to recite the days of the week in proper order, much less handle a weapon.

As expected, the National Rifle Association has filed a challenge in court against Senate Bill 7026, calling the changes a violation of the U.S. Constitution. I’m not even going to get into that. But I digress.

636574183580750063-GettyImages-668685016Back to the rocks. Dr. Helsel, is this the best you could come up with? If you want to empower your staff, do your district a favor and educate, train and arm your teachers who are willing to carry and defend the young lives they’re responsible for in loco parentis daily. There are no more safe places. This is what we’ve become, and we are never going back to the way things used to be. Adapt and overcome, my friend. Toss the stones back into whatever river they came from, stand up and DO SOMETHING. Take a good look at the faces pictured here. If that doesn’t inspire you to make a more aggressive decision, nothing will.

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So Where Do We Go From Here?

school_shooting_floridaDisclaimer: The opinions expressed within are entirely my own, and do not in any way represent any organization that I am affiliated with.

Before I throw myself into the gun control debate, I want to say a few things about last week’s gruesome massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I let the tears come with the rest of you as I watched it unfold on the news. I felt the same anger, the same horror and asked the same questions everyone else did: “Why? Why?!”

This horrific shooting is the latest in a long line of mass shootings in the United States, all bearing the same similarities: lone gunman, mental illness and a carefully executed plan. None of which should surprise us. Our country was founded on violence, and has quite a bloody history. And for every single time one of these incidents shakes us to the core, we exhibit the same behavior: we cry, we send truckloads of prayers to the families involved and we mourn the lost. We argue vehemently over the water cooler at work on what could have been done, what should have been done. What needs to be done. We hold vigils; we picket lawmakers.

The result? Nothing changes. Both the right and the left come out swinging, using facts instead of punches, and then quickly retreat into their ideological safe places and wax philosophical about how the lawmakers need to remove their collective heads out of their asses. Extremists on one side want guns banned completely, or at least want laws in place that make it damn near impossible for responsible citizens to obtain one for protection. Extremists on the other side lose their minds at the very mention of gun control. I have news for you: There will never be a happy medium.

There is no way for anyone to sit down and have a civil dialogue about gun control. This is not a new debate. Every word, comma and semicolon of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has been argued over since its adoption in 1791. It reads verbatim: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

No amendment in the history of our nation has been so hotly debated for this many years – not the First Amendment to the Constitution, not even the Eighth Amendment (I have opinion on that, but I’ll refrain, for now). We fought, and sometimes fought bloody over it until the United States Supreme Court decided to finally throw its hat into the ring. In 2008, an unprecedented decision clearly and explicitly confirmed that an individual did indeed have the right to have and keep a gun at home for self-defense. (If you’re a little hazy on your history, I’m referring to District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned a handgun ban in the city, calling it unconstitutional.)

Right on cue, moments after this latest school shooting, the left and right came out to face off once again. Both sides have valid points. It is indeed sad that we now live in a society that necessitates carrying a firearm, or at least having access to one. I’m going to quote my wise-beyond-her-years sister Meghan Randazzo here, “It’s not about being paranoid, it’s about being prepared.” My sister, incidentally, has a concealed weapons permit and carries responsibly like I do. (And for those of you who want to throw out there that she doesn’t have a stake in this game, she has SIX school-aged children.)

I refuse to lend any more ink publicizing the shooter by even mentioning his name. I’m posting the faces of those who were murdered instead.

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But that 19-year-old kid had an AR-15 type assault rifle with multiple cartridges and a cache of ammunition, all purchased legally from a licensed dealer in Coral Springs, FL.

I heard a lawmaker this week describe Florida’s gun laws as “sick.” I wouldn’t use the same word, but I’ll definitely acknowledge that it’s very easy to get a firearm here. Florida is one of the weakest states when it comes to firearm purchase restrictions. To acquire the AR-15 assault rifle and paraphernalia that goes with it, like this shooter had, all you have to do is be 18, have no felony record, no domestic violence or other violent convictions, and can prove that you have not been committed to a mental health facility. One quick background check, no waiting, and you’re out the door, weaponry in hand.

Purchasing a handgun is a bit trickier, but not by much. There’s a three-day waiting period. If your pedigree comes back clean, you can legally buy one. Boom.

So I ask you, would stronger, tougher gun control laws have prevented this tragedy? Before you answer, let me bring up a few points. The shooter had a long list of documented mental problems and violent behavior. His social media was full of disturbing posts involving guns and killing. And only this past Friday, the FBI confirmed that it ignored and failed to follow up on credible tips that this kid was planning something. Here’s a kid with a history of killing animals, building up a cache of munitions and stating on his social media that he wanted to be a school shooter. This, from the Broward County’s public defender handling his case. Why did not one person act on these warning signs?

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Massacres are going to happen, guns or no guns. This is our world now. This is where we live. This is who we are.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols didn’t have assault rifles. On April 19, 1995, they pulled up in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma city, armed with a rental truck, more than 5,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate, 1,200 lbs of liquid nitromethane, 350 lbs of Tovex and a shitload of blasting caps. The result? There were 168 killed, and 680-plus injured.

On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers used 4 commercial airliners, the (empty) threat of bombs and box cutters and/or knives to subdue the passengers. I’m quite certain we know by heart the number of dead: 2,996, with 6,000-plus injured.

So I ask you again, would stringent gun control laws have prevented this school shooting last week?

No.

Yes, it is a fact that this is one of the six deadliest mass shootings in history. But that kid was going to carry out his plans for that massacre regardless of the access to an AR-15. That’s the thing about madmen; they find another way, another weapon, another means. You can do background checks all night and day, and still not vet the mentally disturbed.

I am a responsible gun owner. I carry proudly, partially due to the strict tutelage of my late police officer husband, who made me take the class, and forced me over and over to dismantle my gun, and put it back together again until he was satisfied that I knew what I was doing. He took me shooting often, so that I could learn respect for its power. I have a 9mm Beretta 92fs, and it’s never far from me. Why? Situational awareness, something everyone needs to practice.

I’m going to quote my sister again, since she very often nails it right on the head: “DO NOT get me wrong on this. Even 1 school shooting is too many. But, PLEASE, for the love of God, don’t believe all the headlines. The media is pushing this “18 school shootings” [hype]. My personal opinion is that they (the media) are trying to instill fear. This is NOT a gun issue. This is a mental health issue. This is a school campus security issue. We can’t go back to how things were, so we need to adapt and overcome.”

I’ve only had to pull that Beretta twice with the intention of using it. Once, after a 3 a.m. shopping trip to Walmart on Central Avenue in St. Pete, I had a man approach me from behind as I was leaning over into my trunk, piling in the bags. He asked for some money to catch a bus. I joked with him that since I’d just walked out of Walmart, I literally had no money. Then I made the mistake of turning back around to my trunk. He grabbed me.

That gun was in his face faster than I could even think. Complete muscle memory. He ran, thank God. But what if he hadn’t?

The second time I was home alone and heard someone trying to come through the front door (which had stained glass panes in it). It was almost 10 p.m. I pulled my weapon and came down the hallway to find a man I didn’t recognize shouldering the door, trying to break in. I had the gun on him with one hand, and was talking to 911 with the other. He saw the gun, and it didn’t faze him. He was drunk or high or both. But I held him off until the deputies got there (BIG shout out to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies for the rapid response).

But what if he had gotten in? Would I have been beaten, raped, killed? If he had made it through that door, I would’ve shot him. Christ, I would’ve emptied the mag.

This is why I carry. Because there is no such thing as safety anymore. Not today, at least.

I’ll close with another Meghan-ism: “Don’t like guns? Don’t f&@$ing buy one. And don’t screw with my right to own one, either.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

 

 

“Pour Yourself a Drink, Put on Some Lipstick, and Pull Yourself Together.”

Elizabeth Taylor had it partially right.IMG_5338

What she was getting at was that life is all about keeping up appearances. Never let them see you ache. To quote Shirley MacLaine in 1990’s “Postcards from the Edge, “Or was it ass? Never let them see your ass?” Nevertheless, it’s still all about keeping up appearances. And doing it with a switch in your hip, a sharp wing in your eyeliner, glass of bourbon in one hand and seemingly not a care in the world.
Like I said, Liz only had it partially right. The iconic Coco Chanel may have had the other part: “If you’re sad, put on more lipstick and attack.” I’m quite sure both Marilyn Monroe and poet Dorothy Parker filled in the rest.IMG_6116

Keeping up appearances. It’s a tough, dirty business that takes a 24/7 commitment. Think about it. Isn’t everything we do in our daily lives have something to do with keeping up appearances? All of our desperately cheerful, carefully manufactured social media personas. Where we post the tiny teaspoonfuls of happiness; the selfies, the photobombs, the dogs wearing sweaters (guilty), every “gourmet” meal we consume, the overly perfect cruise shots, the weekend throwbacks at this beach bar and that tiki hut. Raising beers in bikinis on someone’s boat. Sunday Funday.

And we all sit back and hope these brief snippets of our lives, airbrushed of course, will create in our social media crowd willing suspension of disbelief. Everything is perfect.

We all put on airs. We don’t think we do, but it’s exactly what we do to keep up appearances. Smile and simper and take another sip while the banality of social masturbation goes on all around us, and the pics will flood Facebook within the hour. Believe me, I’m standing next to you in the crowd, raising my glass.

Keeping up appearances.

Life as I know it ended for me on December 16, 2015. You all know why, no need to rehash the grief. So this is what’s left for me. This act of keeping up appearances, even though daily I only eek by, always feeling like I’m a second from complete financial ruin, and two seconds from a complete nervous breakdown, is very necessary. Can’t let the masses know you’re the weak link.

Keeping up appearances, like I said, is a 24/7 commitment. I hold down a fairly successful job, completed a graduate degree and one term into my doctorate, and am managing partner of my own writing and editing company. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m., I shower, do my hair perfectly, choose just the right outfit to suggest money way beyond my means, slather on the Sephora and Dior Show war paint, make sure my Coach bag matches my shoes, and head out to grab a Starbucks on the way.images

Keeping up appearances. The truth of it all is that I find myself hanging by a wisp everyday. Things always seem like the end if the world. I am always waiting for that pretend world to crack, for the weak link to give way, for that “everything’s-good-in-the-neighborhood” persona to give way to that nervous breakdown.

So I keep on keeping on. Put on that lipstick, wing that eyeliner, grab that big Coach bag and head out the door. I truly never thought I’d be so tired at 45 years old, but you’ll never see it. I’m fairly adept and keeping up appearances.

Aren’t we all…?

Oh, the glamour!

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When I tell people I’m a writer, they always want to know two things: “Oh! Who do you write for and what do you write?”

Well, truthfully, everyone and everything. Oh, that’s so cool! You work for yourself! And I get the look: What a life you must have …

What a life indeed. Oh, the glamour! We’ve all seen those cute little pie chart memes posted that break down what writers actually do with their days. They’re hysterical – and sad – because they nail it. Get the image out of your head of us tappa-tapping with great concentration on our MacBooks, creating the next best seller.

I’m going to break my day down for you. I’m up at 0530, thanks to the dog, and after everyone’s been fed and walked, and the coffee has been brewed, I’m in my office by around 0630 to get serious. And here’s what really happens:

Screwing around online. Googling really stupid things like ‘Game of Thrones’ fan fiction and YouTube-ing Dolph Lundgren. 2 hours gone.

Getting stuck in the weeds of Social Media Land. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, LinkedIn, Goodreads, what have you. Don’t even get me started on Pinterest. I browsed crockpot recipes once, looked up, and it was oh, like, next Wednesday. Another 2 hours gone.

Comparing my writing to everyone else’s out there. Deciding I suck, and that no one really likes me, and they never did anyway. 45 minutes.

Having a tantrum. This is when you get an idea, grab at it, lose it, and must throw things at the wall in frustration. Cracked my first iPad that way. 15 minutes.

An accidental Netflix binge. I don’t mean to click on it, it just happens. And pretty soon I’m buried in “Breaking Bad,” “Orange is the New Black,” or “Narcos.” God dammit. 2 to 3 hours.

(Here is where it dawns on me that it’s already the afternoon and I wolf down lunch in 5 minutes. Must not waste time on food.)

Tweaking my website. As if changing the SEO on my landing page will bring in 600% more business. 1 hour.

Starting a blog. Promptly killing it. Start another one. Kill that one, too. Another 90 minutes.

Sneak out to the pool. Just for an hour, to “brainstorm” while plugged into my iPod, listening to Slipknot full blast for inspiration.

Playing with the dog. Hey, he’s 14. He wants to play fetch for an hour? I’m not going to say no.

Realizing on a Thursday that I forgot to read the Sunday Times. Waste an hour rectifying that situation.

Checking back with social media. Just to see what I missed. 1 hour.

Have a panic attack over how much I didn’t get done today. And look at the bills piling up. Medicate self to calm down. 45 minutes.

Build a custom Maserati online. This is best accomplished while having a drink, crying, and swearing to do better tomorrow. 1 hour killed.

Actual writing. 45 minutes of stuff that I’m certain is pure crap, and that the client will hate.

Go to bed. Toss and turn. Get up the next day. Repeat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coping: Dark Days, Indeed

Most of you that know me also know that I am coping with the sudden,IMG_0223 recent loss of a dear friend, and the love of my life for 13 years.

His death in December, at only 48 years old, brought me to my knees. There are days when I am unable to cope with even getting out of bed, and other days where I have to set hour by hour goals for myself: Take the dog for a walk. Cook something. Take the garbage out. Write a blog. Anything past that and I crumble.

For the first time in my life, I finally had to admit that I cannot handle something on my own – a mortal sin for us paramedics – and sought out a therapist for grief counseling. Thank God for him. He is kind and gentle and listens, and isn’t afraid to dole out some tough love.

He directed me back to writing everyday … I had let it fall by the wayside when Jimmy passed away. I just didn’t have the juice anymore to put words on paper. I started small, journaling when I could. Some days, it was one sentence, and sometimes that sentence was “Fuck this.” On other occasions it was rambling pages. Sometimes, I’d go back and read what was written, and wonder who in the hell actually penned it. It’s a scary thing, when you don’t recognize yourself.

Along the way, I acquired this book: “The Writer’s Devotional: 365 Inspirational Exercises, Ideas, Tips & Motivations on Writing” by Amy Peters. She’s not kidding with that title, either. There are 365 assignments, lessons and prompts, each one of them fairly unique, quite a feat in a sea of books out there filled with dried out writing prompts.

So far I’ve written the biography of my best friend, read the abbreviated story of George Orwell, learned some editing tips and relished some motivational quotes. My favorite so far is from Ben Stein: “The indispensible first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.”

And it is structured for the days of the week, something I needed so desperately but didn’t know at the time: Mondays, writers on writing. Tuesdays, motivation. Wednesdays, writing class. Thursdays, editing. Fridays, biographies. Saturdays, books to read. Sundays, writing prompts. Amy Peters gives you no days off from tackling those assignments – something I also desperately needed. Some days, it’s the only thing I look forward to. Writing is a largely solitary activity.

So since it is Wednesday, and I am on week 3, today’s writing class has me blogging a 250-word limit on a recently released movie, and to write like I talk. No one is going to read it, so it’s the same theory as dance as if no one is watching. Complete freedom. I haven’t been taken to a movie in a long, long time. So I had to pick one recently released on Netflix. Give it a zippy headline, she advised. So I did: ‘Dolph Lundgren’s pecs steal the show in Kindergarten Cop 2.’ Ah, guilty pleasures.

Kudos, Amy Peters. You have gotten me through some dark days, and I’m sure there are more of those coming. Thanks for your guidance. I’ll keep your book close.

Consider the source

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Since we live in the nanosecond digital age, doing your homework on a subject that you want to write about should be easier than ever, right?

Research is a mere click of the keypad away, thanks to the Information Super Highway and all of its powerful search engines. Type in a keyword or two, and you have yourself a veritable smorgasbord of links to choose from. Wikipedia, so-called experts’ blogs, and promotional advertorial sites are just a few of the things that pop up.

Here’s the problem: it’s murky water out there. Unless you’re quite skilled at separating the credible from the unattributed, there’s no way to tell if the info in front of you is bogus or not. Instead of streamlining the research process, the Internet often gets us tangled in the spider webs.

In my former life, (say, oh, 20 years ago), I was a news reporter. I worked years for daily newspapers, pounding a beat for my stories, and rushing against 5 o’clock deadlines. Back then, research was research, and your details had better be credible. That meant pounding the beat and finding the truest truth.

Newspaper reporters are savvy scrappers by trade. We “save string,” collecting shiny bits of this and that like magpies. We’ve employed a few quick ways to dive deep into a subject we know nothing about to write a clear, concise piece sometimes within minutes.

Mimicking some of these methods can solidify your own research:

Use public documents. Official documents on a wide range of topics can be found on various state and federal government agency sites in PDF form, usually for free download. And they have statistics galore. (A quick note on that: Verify those stats with a couple of other sources.)

Find a local expert. Whatever your piece is on, you can usually open up the phonebook and find a working list of businesses to call or visit. It adds flavor to your writing, and educates you on your subject.

Find a government expert. I once called a contact at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration because a client needed me to do a piece on why you can’t keep soy sauce in the refrigerator.

Go to the library. Seriously. And not the online version, either. Get out of the chair, and go down to the public library, where you will have instant access to clips from papers such as The NY Times, The Washington Post and academic journals on more topics than you can think of.

Chambers of Commerce. You’d be surprised at what they know about their local area, which is pretty much everything.

Above all, stay skeptical. While I’m not suggesting you ditch the online research altogether, I do say dissect that info with a critical eye. If it’s not attributed within a couple of links, don’t risk it. Because of course, if it’s online, it’s true. Right?

I’m Fine: Thirteen Years Gone

Thirteen years ago today, God called back one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of meeting in this lifetime, or ever will, for the record: my father.

We all have events in our human existence that forever change us, change us in such swift and final ways that we have no words to articulate it to those who have not gone through it.

As such, this was mine. Thirteen years ago today, during a normal tour of duty on the old 589 medic unit, I got that phone call.

The old 589 was running true to form that night, busy even for a Tuesday. My partner and I were piling into the truck to run yet another emergency, this one for chest pain on Grey Eagle Court South (no, I will never forget these seemingly unimportant details), and my cell phone rang as I was pulling my on my seatbelt.

It was Jimmy, my K13, my other half. He wasn’t due in for patrol until 2100, so to hear from him this early meant something very bad had happened.

And he wouldn’t tell me at first. He just told me to come home. I remember every word, every breath, every detail about that very short conversation.

“Something happened to your father.”

Daddy? No, not my Daddy. He was fine. He was 56 years old. Jimmy must have gotten something mixed up.

“What happened?”

“They don’t know. Just come home.”

“Is he dead?”

Jimmy always told me things straight. “Yes.”

Fifteen hundred miles away… hadn’t seen him in four years … hadn’t talked to him since Christmas Day …

“You ok to drive home? I called Sarge and called in.”

“I’m fine.”

I don’t think I did anything on the long drive over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but concentrate on the lane markers. I called my mother to let her know, but now I don’t remember that part.

When I pulled into our driveway, Jimmy was still in uniform, standing by his SPPD K9 truck, holding a Publix bag in one hand and a box of Land O’Lakes butter in the other. (That Saturday before, I had wanted to make pancakes but we were out of butter. I was pissed at the time. Such a small, inconsequential thing in the universe.)

“I got butter,” was all he said. And I fell to my hands and knees on the pavement and started crying for the first time.

So my Daddy was gone. I was numb through those next few days, even though I had made all of the arrangements. And it was so cold, that kind of unforgiving Rhode Island winter where the wind has teeth, and every breath you take outside is full of needles.

Didn’t I want to put a coat on? People said.

“I’m fine.”

Did I want to say a few words?

“No.”

But I should have. I should have told them all that my father was just a great, genuine guy, hearty stock, neither sinner nor saint, who loved his New England Patriots, his Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, his Saturday afternoon Miller Lites, and me, his only child. He was brilliant musician, painter, photographer. A biker. When he retired, he talked about coming down to Florida to be near me and away from the cold weather

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Just 56 years old. It didn’t make sense that his heart should give out, when his mind and soul had so much left. But does it ever?

The last time I had spoken to him was Christmas Day. I had special ordered his gift, and he still hadn’t gotten it yet. No biggie, he told me. And I had tried to call New Year’s Eve, but got no answer. He used to roll up the rug pretty early, even if that ball was about to drop.

Then, on Jan. 7, 2003, that call: “You need to come home.”

And because fate works the way it does, his Christmas gift came that very day. He never got to see it. I placed it, still wrapped, in his casket and had it buried with him.

Thirteen years ago today, and I can still smell the way the funeral parlor reeked of lilies from someone else’s service. Even now they nauseate me.IMG_8718

Are you ok? People ask.

“I’m fine.”

Thirteen years ago today, and I am still crying like it just happened. I still pick up the phone to tell him things, but he’s not there anymore.

Thirteen years ago today, I learned a couple of very hard lessons, the kind after which you are never the same: Life is very short. Everything is eventual, and everything is inevitable.

I’ll add a postscript to this. Twenty-three days ago, God called back another of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of meeting in this lifetime.

Jimmy was the love of my life, my very best IMG_8538friend, my soul mate. He was 48 years old. His death also brought me to my knees; his Christmas gift also came on the day he died. This combined with Daddy’s anniversary it has created in me a superstorm of grief that I cannot put into words.IMG_8586

People have stopped asking if I’m ok. It’s because I always give them the same answer.

I’m fine.