My One-Tweet War with Tyrannosaurus Rump

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

It was a glorious day in early October, 2015. It seems a lifetime ago. Or perhaps an alternate universe ago? Definitely a different reality.

Anyway, a Twitter notification popped up on my phone, letting me know that @realDonaldTrump was following me.

Really? The “real” Donald Trump was following me on Twitter?

Assuming it was a parody account, I hopped over to check it out. And Hoe-Lee Ess-Aitch-Eye-Tee—it was really the for-real real Donald Trump following me.

Okay, maybe he let his youngest kid play with his phone. Or maybe his handlers were busy following everybody that fell into his “target demographic” of middle-aged white males. Or maybe it was all a game to get a follow-back and then dump me.  Who knows?

Current events at the time were mostly swirling around the recent Umpqua Community College shooting. Tyrannosaurus Rump was tweet-defending Dr. Ben Carson’s suggestions that people hit active shooters with chairs.

Out on the campaign trail, the T. rump was getting massive amounts of free media coverage for talking about how there is no gun problem in the good ol’ U.S. of A., only a mental health problem. Here’s just one, tweet-based piece of that coverage from a Washington Post reporter:

philip-bump-on-trump

So, mere minutes after realizing I had a titan of industry as one of my Twitter followers, I sent this tweet out to my newest fan:

my-trump-tweet

I sat and waited a bit for a response from Trump or any of my fewer-than-400 followers. If only I’d known the trick of putting a period before his address. Okay, I still probably wouldn’t have gotten all that much of a reaction, but I can dream, can’t I?

The minutes turned to more minutes, and soon I went off and did something else…like took a nap, or maybe put away some laundry. The TV was on. I know this because that’s where I heard the Tyrannosaurus Rump going off about the mental health vs. guns stuff—the stuff that prompted me to send my not-all-that-clever Tweet.

I saw no further notifications. I hadn’t provoked some backlash from the T. rump’s followers, leading to a ‘blowing up’ of my phone.

I popped onto Twitter an hour or two later, and quickly realized I was down a follower from the last time I had logged on.

Could it be?

No!

Not only had the T. rump given up on following me, the man who would become the leader of the free world (barring any religious-conversion-inspiring results from election recounts) had done this:

blocked-trump

Blocked.

I was blocked.

The tweet that I had thought was a total throw-away, a barely-conceived idea that I’d bounced out into the world, because of some audio of T. rump I’d heard over the local news–had upset the Tyrannosaur (or had alarmed his handlers) to such an extent that I was no longer allowed to even view the stream-of-garbageness that flows from his fingers, into his phone, and out to the worldwide web.

To this day, I cannot even see the wit and wisdom the T. rump shares with the world…I mean, except by looking at any other media outlet anywhere, all of which seem to be obsessed with reporting on tweets from the Tyrannosaurus Rump, or by logging into my dummy Twitter account that I set up mostly for the purpose of playing along with @Midnight’s hashtag wars.

Still, it hurts to know that I caused so much strife to someone who was just reaching out, looking for a friend. How could I have been so careless as to cause so much hurt? Why did I let my mean spirit provoke an instant blockage?

Yes, the man who would unthinkably become the leader of the free world had been so traumatized by my nasty comments that he would cut himself off from me for good. Citizens be damned.

Remember–your President Elect will not tolerate disrespectful tweets.

No, really, remember it.

And if I go missing, well, I regret nothing…well, at least not where that tweet is concerned.

But, really?

That’s what got me blocked?

My friends say worse sh*t to me on a daily basis.
Daily.
I kid you not.
And he’s going to have access to nuclear weapons?
Oh, good god, I probably shouldn’t have made those Tyrannosaurus Rump comments.

Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

Shooting Our Daughters’ Boyfriends: Toyota Camry Edition

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In the race to sell cars by appealing to (the stereotype of) overprotective fathers (aka fathers who are obsessed their daughters’ sexual behavior/fathers who threaten other peoples’ sons) Toyota manages to get in maximum gross-out in minimal time with a disturbing 15-second ad for the Toyota Camry.

Dad enters the Toyota dealership, phone-gazing tween daughter in tow. He approaches Toyota spokeswoman/pretend car salesperson “Jan,” telling her “I need a safe car.” Apparently dad just up-and-decided to head out and buy a car without doing any research beforehand, and thought it was a good idea to start off his negotiation for a new car by immediately notifying the sales staff of just how ill-informed he is.

Jan’s response, “The Camry’s really safe. It has ten airbags. It even has a backup camera,” is almost as bizarre as dad’s clueless request. Is Jan implying that other cars in the Toyota line are not safe? Have fewer airbags? Don’t come with a back-up camera? Is there some reason Jan didn’t ask normal salesperson-type questions, like, “How big is your family?” Or, “What do you need the car for?”

But the strangeness of the initial exchange pales in comparison to what happens next.

Dad says, “That could come in handy.” The commercial then cuts to a scene in dad’s imagination. Dad is sitting in the Camry in a driveway, watching the image from his backup camera. It’s his daughter and a boy, standing awkwardly, leaning in to kiss each other. Dad gives two quick blasts of the horn, breaking up the kiss. Tween daughter emotes, “Da-ad!” Tween boy freezes for a second, then bolts.

Toyota what dad saw

What dad saw.

Toyota’s ad agency apparently expects everybody to take this in without question, to chuckle at dad’s stealthy intervention, and to come away with the impression that the Camry has a lot of great safety features.

The ad begs so many questions, though, not the least of which is, doesn’t dad know how to work a rearview mirror? If dad had pulled the car in facing forward, instead of backing in, wouldn’t he have been able to completely avoid this situation altogether? After all, he would have been facing the kids as they said goodnight.

But the really big question is just what the hell is going on in dad’s mind that when somebody mentions a backup camera, his first thought is that he can use it to watch his daughter as she and her date try to have a goodnight kiss? Does dad imagine a number of other situations where he can use that backup camera to watch his daughter engage in physical contact with boys?

Probably shouldn’t answer that.

Toyota dad hands

Where are your hands, dad?  Show us your hands!

We cut back to the showroom, where dad throws his arm around his daughter, and says, “Gotta keep my little girl safe.” I’m not sure what form of virulent sexually transmitted disease dad thinks is lurking on the lip of his daughter’s 12-year-old date that he concludes he is keeping his daughter safe by using his car’s backup camera and horn to break up a quick peck.  If anything, dad’s actions just convinced those two kids to be much more careful about where they engage in any physical contact in the future—and to do all they can to hide it from dad.

Still, maybe that’s all dad wants—to make a little show of what he’s done to keep his daughter safe, so that he can feel better about himself for having such disturbing fantasies. Unfortunately, dad, your daughter doesn’t need you intervening in such a way—forever causing her to associate your leering…er…watchful eye with any romantic thoughts she might have toward another person. She might benefit from you being able to speak openly with her, and to move beyond your own shame about basic biological functions, so that she knows you are a safe person to turn to, rather than a controlling jerk who is likely to blow up at her if she admits to—I don’t know—let’s just call it ‘making a mistake’—of whatever kind—in her relationships.

You can just hear dad storming around the kitchen as his daughter sobs at the results of a pregnancy test. “How did this happen?!! I bought a car for Christ’s sake! It had a backup camera and everything!!” I’ll spare you whatever other thoughts dad might be having about backup cameras and his daughter getting pregnant.

But the commercial closes out instead with Jan ‘sympathizing’ with the tween daughter, saying, “He’ll only be like this for another 10 or 15 years.”

Pervy toyota dad

I’m so sorry, dear. I had no idea your dad would go there at the mention of a backup camera.

Wait. Does Jan have any idea what dad was just thinking about?   She has to, right? Otherwise, why would she specify 10 or 15 years? She is suggesting that in 10 or 15 years, the daughter might have gotten married, or moved away from dad, or whatever it is that supposedly is going to get dad to quit pointing backup cameras at her and her boyfriends, right?

Oh, Jan. You could’ve done so much better by this girl—by all girls. Don’t just encourage her to suck it up and put up with dad’s troubling attitudes and insecurities. Don’t just let dad get away with his pervy thoughts and car-based voyeurism.

Who am I kidding, though? Jan’s just trying to sell cars, not change the world. She’s just reading the words other people scripted for her—the stupid, stupid words, in a tired, awful, and nonsensical scenario.

You can see the whole commerical here (it has a “private” setting on Toyota’s own Youtube site for whatever reason).

Toyota. Let’s go places. Like the hell away from your dad. I think he’s trying to check us out on his backup camera.

 

 

Grousing Into The Void

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’m in one of those spells where everything writing-wise is coming out all wrong. It’s not writer’s block, as such. I’ve been writing—some. But I get partway into something and it ends up sounding muddled, or just heads off in its own direction.

When writing goes off in its own direction, it can be a pretty great thing—if it works or is at least interesting. Lately, though, it’s just been frustrating and boring. And all of the recent writing that’s chosen its own direction has just walked away. As in, it’s been very pedestrian.

For instance, a few weeks back, I started in on a piece about how the Fifty Shades of Grey movie promotes gross misunderstandings of human sexuality, along with committing the possibly worse sin of being bland. But what I managed to cobble together sounded almost as ill-informed as the screenplay, and nearly as tedious. Not to mention, Fifty Shades wasn’t exactly a hot topic by the time I got around to it.

Another piece on equating authenticity with a lack of personal growth came across as snobbish—and not in an entertaining way. I set it aside.

Writing on anti-Millennial stereotyping in the media led me to make generalizations nearly as pointless as the ones I was attempting to challenge.

The politically-motivated shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood Clinic, followed shortly thereafter by the politically-motivated mass murder in San Bernardino, might normally have prompted me to write pieces challenging pro-gun-violence myths. Instead, I squandered some of my time and energy arguing online with pro-gun-violence folks, some so completely irrational that I fear they might be Trump supporters.

Grouse

Grouse…

void

…meet void.

This is not to say that the time and energy I spend writing my blog is anything other than a squandering.  It’s just one that provides me with some focus and enjoyment—or, rather, some enjoyment when I can actually focus. At some level, we all know that if we stop whatever we’re doing, the world will continue on—although we hope a part of the world might be impacted, or at least notice.

Of course, as I’m puzzling through all of this, perhaps I should mention that I got a promotion at work. I love the new role, but it came with a major upheaval in my schedule. I’m still struggling to functionally organize my time away from the job.  That said, the writing travails started to take hold before I was even offered the new position.

At base, I think it might come down to a fear that the time spent writing is wasted, or at least that its standing in the way of me getting other, more practical things done. More and more lately, the writing sessions, have ended up with frustration, leading me to move on, with the intent of doing something ‘productive.’ Unfortunately, that productivity hasn’t exactly materialized.

So for now, I’m going to go do something really productive—like stringing up Christmas lights (much later in the season than I intended) that I’ll have to take down in a few weeks’ time.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

 

Happy Birthday to Me: Camp Pooparazzi

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Mos Eisley Spaceport: You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…or a more kickass birthday present for an 11-year-old!

After a week at camp...Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina, where the droids wait outside.

After a week at camp…Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina, where the droids wait outside.

There’s probably a photo somewhere of this Mos Eisley Cantina playset (and, yes, nerds, that is a blue Snaggletooth figure in there) with me posed proudly behind it. I was going to joke that my mom took the picture of the playset without me because she got tired of waiting for me to get out of the bathroom. You see, I had been at Outdoor School for the previous week and was emptying my bowels of a week’s worth—well, five-ish days worth—of camp food, over the course of several emergency trips to the bathroom.

TMI? Well wait, there’s more.

Anyway, I was going to joke about my absence from the picture, but the truth is, my mom was really cool about letting me stage a scene with my new toy and take a picture of it. Keep in mind that this was back in the days of film rolls, which were a bit spendy to buy and to print, and with no guarantee that the pictures were going to turn out. You couldn’t just delete the file and take another. No, you snapped those precious pictures carefully, over the space of however long it took to complete a roll of 20 or so pictures, then popped the roll out of the camera, took it to the store and waited days for the lab to process them. The stamp on the back of the photo shows that it didn’t get developed until April of the following year.  And, as you can see, I didn’t quite get the focus right.

Don’t get me wrong. The story of the excessive time in the bathroom is true. As I said, it was the week of Outdoor School at Camp Yamhill—meaning I had been away from home on my actual birthday, which fell on a Thursday that year. They brought us home on Friday.

Outdoor School was ostensibly to get 6th graders out into the wild to learn about the miracles of nature all around us—although I can’t remember a single part of the curriculum, aside from a lesson on erosion.  The lesson was memorable to me for what we didn’t learn, or, perhaps for how we didn’t learn it.  the camp counselor took us out on a hike, stopped along the trail by a fairly steep embankment that rose up and away from us, and then emptied some water out of a cup onto the embankment. The small group I was with had no idea what the counselor was getting at by showing us this.  And he got really annoyed when one of our group asked if he could show us again—because the counselor had already emptied all the water out of the smallish drinking cup he’d carried all the way out to this point on the trail.

Being something of a teacher’s-pet-type, I really wanted to be able to answer the counselor’s questions. But also being of a perfectionistic bent, I didn’t want to offer up mere guesses that may have been wrong. I finally said something, in response to him asking me a direct question. That led to him asking me follow-up questions. But I just didn’t know the answers. I hadn’t read up on erosion prior to the hike, and wasn’t particularly familiar with the concerns involved. Ultimately, exasperated at our lack of inquisitiveness and inability to follow the lesson as he presented it, the counselor just told us the answers we would need to fill out the worksheet on erosion that we had brought along in our camp folders.

To be sure, I have scads of memories of the week—just not about the stuff we were sent out there to learn.

For instance, there was the terrifying moment when, during dinner one night, they announced the birthday girls and boys for the week. Those few of us were supposed to go up to the front of the dining hall and stand there while the rest of the campers sang “Happy Birthday.”

I froze, despite the heat of a deep blush rising in my face.

Painfully shy, even around most of my own classmates, we were at camp with sixth graders from multiple schools—people I had never met before, and would experience only for a few short days, and in a largely cursory manner. My tablemates urged me to go bask in the attention. One of the female counselors came around in an effort to weed out the birthday campers. But the counselor from my own cabin, who went by the name “Lightning”—a name I had previously associated with a horse from Nebraska—quietly waved her away and shot a look at my tablemates, with the message to leave me be. I was immensely grateful in that moment—until a sense of regret crept in at my deliberate avoidance of what was supposed to be a fun and kind gesture by the camp organizers.

But there were plenty of things I dove right into.  We made “hobo stoves”—unthinkably unsafe tin-snipped coffee cans, with cardboard tightly rolled into tuna cans and set ablaze—to cook hamburger patties.

There were the camp crafts, and camp games—and, hey trendsetters with more energy than me, if there aren’t already adult Capture the Flag leagues, somebody needs to get on that.

And then there was Alan—a camper from another school who landed in the same cabin I was assigned—the mighty brown pelicans (all the cabins were named after endangered species)—and who almost immediately got into an argument with one of my classmates. That escalated into a physical fight by Tuesday, which resulted in a cabin-transfer for Alan. The loyalty of sixth-grade boys being what it is, I, of course, painted Alan as the villain in the situation. But regardless of my perceived need to choose sides, it was alarming and confusing for me to see two complete strangers develop such an immediate and intense animosity for one another, over essentially nothing, and hang onto it with such energy.

There were the camp sing-alongs including the camp theme song, which, as far as I remember, consisted solely of repeating “Camp Yamhill” over and over again at varied rhythms and pitches.

In perhaps the ultimate shot at provoking horrible embarrassment in the campers, each cabin group had to take turns performing skits on different days. We, the brown pelicans, did a skit so profound and accomplished that I can’t remember a single thing about it—aside from various cabin members arguing about the details of the skit until the absolute last minute—details still undecided as we took the stage in a swirl of hushed, urgent, and contradictory orders given by multiple self-appointed artistic directors. ‘Thank God,’ I thought, ‘we are not being graded on this.’

And there were the campfires each night—where I frequently caught myself staring through the darkness at one or the other of two crushes, there faces illuminated by the yellow-orange light of the fire, as acoustic-guitar-toting counselors led us in songs. I’m guessing we sang classic rowboat songs, like “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and rounds of “Row Row Row Your Boat.” But the song we sang at camp that stuck with me most as I reached the landmark of wisdom that is age 11, was Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” A counselor or two would sing the various verses, campers joining in on the chorus:

“And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game”

…which would be a lovely and poignant place to end this post if I didn’t feel obligated to point out that, not actually knowing the title of the song, or the correct words, for years I sang that last line as “The circle again” as well as substituting “captured” for “captive.”

Also, I still haven’t explained that bathroom situation.

So, on the first day of camp, shortly after arriving and heading up the hill to get settled in our assigned cabins, I walked across the open space to the communal bathroom. Multiple other boys were cycling in and out. I procured a stall and began to relieve myself. A sudden commotion interrupted the peace of my flow, as an eruption of shouting, laughing, and the banging and slamming of the (lockless) door rocked the stall adjacent to mine.

From the various yells, I quickly discerned that a classmate—the occupant of the next stall over—was now the subject of a sneak-attack photo.  The horror!  Captured on film in the act of pooping!

At that very moment, already wary of having to use public restrooms as a general rule, and arguably allergic to the very thought of actually sitting on a public toilet, my sphincter closed itself off to business for the remainder of the week, lest any other bathroom paparazzi (pooparazzi?) turn up.

Now, the human body can do some amazing things, especially when prompted by fear. I have no recollection of feeling any ill effects over my defecation-avoidance scheme. It’s possible I may have made my way to the toilets once or twice during low-traffic times. Being a teacher’s-pet-type generally meant an absence of suspicion when requesting to use the bathroom.

Still, I was way off of any regular routine I may have had, so much so that by the time I made it back home, despite my tremendous joy and excitement at receiving the Mos Eisley Cantina playset, what may have been the best gift that year–well, for at least a few hours–was immediate access to a full bathroom, complete with a locked door, as my sphincter re-opened for business with an hours-long, albeit sporadic, inventory liquidation.

Ahh…memories.

Bed of Snakes

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Sleep fell away and I knew something was wrong.

Grogginess held me down.

Pain. Tingling pain in my feet.  I moved my legs, and the tingling turned to stabbing.

Awake enough now to see it was definitely nighttime, the nightlight somehow making things scarier—casting just enough light to intensify the shadows.

I was frozen, a panic starting to take hold. If I moved, the pain intensified. Or did it?

Try again.

Yow! Bad idea. But what? Oh good grief! Snakes! It had to be snakes! If I moved, they would bite!

I had to get away, but how to avoid more bites? If I stayed, things would certainly get worse. But I already knew I couldn’t move without provoking more bites.

I could call out, but who knew what that might provoke? Might I only draw some other family member into danger? And what if they were all similarly under siege–nobody to help?

Stay absolutely still.

With one burst of energy I could be free of the bed and flee the snakes!

This would have to happen just right.

I prepped myself, trying to control my breathing, trying to work up the courage.

I had to go.

Go now!

Pitching off the blanket, I swung my feet off the bed and rolled out, narrowly maintaining my balance as I landed and staggered forward.

The snakes, wholly imagined, the memory real?

The snakes, wholly imagined, the memory real?

Stabbing, tingling pains in my feet, uncooperative legs and rubbery knees conspired to create a lurching journey across my bedroom and out into the hallway. I had no idea if the snakes were at my heels, or if more were in wait along the path.

Afraid to look down at my feet, certain of the terrible mess they must be. I staggered on until—dad!

I huffed and sputtered an incoherent explanation, grabbing at my feet.

Startled awake, he rose slowly and turned on his bedroom light. He crouched to examine my feet briefly. Each touch was tingling torture. But, he pointed out, there were no bite marks.

Scooping me up, he carried me back to my bedroom, despite my panicked insistence that it was a death trap, teeming with snakes. He flicked on the lights, prompting only mild stirring from the siblings who shared the room with me, and who were in their own, possibly snake-infested, beds.

The light revealed no additional snakes.  Perhaps they were all confined to my bed, although there were plenty of other hiding places.

I could not believe the sense of calm dad had as he approached my bed. I wanted to be released, to escape out of there. He had no idea–just marching right into it.  With me in one arm, gravely limiting his ability to respond appropriately to threats, dad reached for the blankets, peeling them back in one grand gesture that caused them to puff out like a parachute…revealing…nothing but my sheets, my stuffed toy dog, and my Teddy bear—or, rather, my Cindy bear. Oh, the pangs of guilt at the realization I’d left them behind to be devoured by snakes.

But where were the snakes? I looked wildly about. They must have moved to other hiding places!  Were they under the bed, coiled and ready to strike away at dad’s feet?

Dad set me down on the bed, again pointing out that I hadn’t been bitten. He surmised that my legs and feet had fallen asleep. The fading of the tingling sensations bore out that conclusion.

Dad pulled my blankets back into place, tucking me in, despite my insistence that I had truly been in danger. He flicked out the lights, and before long I was out again.

I that instance, my father was like a magician, disappearing the snakes with the sweeping flip of the sheets; or perhaps like Saint Patrick, driving the snakes from the island of my bed.  How had he swept away such evil with so little effort?

***

And that, dear reader, is a rather embellished version of what is not only my first (narrative) memory of any sort, but also the only memory whatsoever that I have of my father. As with almost any memory, especially early, unclear ones, I have no idea what percentage of it, if any, is real. Assuming even some portion of it is real, I was not even three years old at the time it took place. This I know because my father died a week before my third birthday, when a young man ran a stop sign in the tiny, Nebraska town where we lived, crushing my father’s rather poorly-engineered car.

As I write this, it’s the anniversary of that day. Had my dad not been taken from us on that day, or any time in the interim, he would be in his 80s now. Earlier this year, I had intended to (finally) commemorate his birthday, rather than to remember him on this more somber occasion. But, after checking the date, I neglected to write it on the kitchen calendar, and it slipped my mind in the great wash of trivial things that are forever plaguing all of us.

Of course, when the bulk of your remembered experience of a person is the loss and absence of that person, forgetfulness isn’t all that unusual a tribute.

At any rate, the memory of the foot-biting bed-snakes–real or imagined or somewhere in between–is the one thing I’ve clung to about my father throughout the years—that I went to him in a moment of confused terror, and that he set things to right.

That’s not a bad thing to hang onto.

Happy death-day, pops.