Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Within A Day...

I am so encouraged right now... and a bit nervous! But my faith in God has never been stronger. His timing is almighty. This post is largely going to be a testimony to His faithfulness, especially in the area of timing.

1) June 2004: I read a news article telling of a man going through some very difficult circumstances due to physical "deformities," things completely out of his control. It spoke of how he felt like his condition was God's judgment upon him. He was on the other side of the world, but I was moved to pray for him, to pray that God would send someone to encourage him and speak to him of Christ's acceptance of him, no matter what he looked like. 


June 2005: How often does the same newsletter carry an article about the same subject an entire year later, mentioning it no other time during the interim? I believe it was God's answer to my prayer. Same newsletter; same guy. Completely different attitude! Christians had risen up to minister to this man, he was receiving clothes, tools, even a bike and a car specially adapted to his condition! There was no other reason for such a repeat to happen, I think, but for myself and all those who perhaps felt led as I did to pray for him.

2) August 2009: I had just confirmed during an opportunity to help with a summer camp in Oklahoma how much I loved teaching little kids, and how I was actually better at it than I initially thought I would be. I returned from the camp excited to perhaps begin tutoring privately somewhere locally. Trouble was, I had no idea where to start. AND I didn't have my driver's license quite yet.


September 2009: A friend called up and asked if I was interested in tutoring her two daughters (first and third grade) in reading and writing--my two favorite subjects ever! We worked out a schedule, decided on a curriculum, and I basically started teaching about mid-month (right after acquiring my driver's license), my first tutoring job ever!

3) October 2009: After only a month, the job came to an end. She called me up and said that she appreciated what I'd done, but that she could basically "take it from here." That was on a Friday.


The next Sunday, another friend called up and asked if I was available to tutor her daughter! I might not have been able to cover both positions at the same time, but I was definitely available at this time! I started on Monday, and for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, I tutored a very bored 5th-grader, and I made learning fun for her, and kept her on track. This job continued for the entire school year, by which time my own college studies were picking up steam, so it was just in time to take a break and focus on my studies.

4) October 2008: This was the summer I almost died. (Okay, not really) But still... God is so faithful. I was having the headache/shunt trouble I posted about earlier, and was gearing up to have to forfeit being able to go to Mexico with my family. I prayed hard, asking God to please either make it possible (which seemed highly unlikely), or give me peace about staying home and living with whatever it was that I had.


We received confirmation from a neurosurgeon in Seattle (the "best of the best in the Northwest," we'd been told) that he would be able to perform the surgery on the following Monday, and I woke up feeling so much better that God in fact fulfilled my prayer and I was discharged, packed and ready in time to leave with my family to Mexico, without having to worry about headaches or constant pills!

5) February 2013: I have been jobless since the beginning of last summer. (Not counting volunteering once a week for the after-school program at the local homeless shelter) I'd been "hunting" and "trying to look for" jobs since then... off and on... discouragement and a sense of inadequacy frequently got me down... Prospects turned me down...
I'd finally landed an interview with the local school district to perhaps become a para-educator/substitute teacher, and got as far as the reference-check.... hit a snag because references were stuck in phone-tag with the hiring manager.... Finally got around to giving my references the HM's e-mail, since that seemed to be the contact avenue that worked.


Two things happened within the last hour:
1: The HM at Vancouver School District sent me an acceptance e-mail, along with the instructions to prepare for my orientation tomorrow morning at 11.

2: The same person for whom I tutored the then-5th-grader (now she's in 7th/8th grade) just called and asked if I could once again fill the position of Accountability Coach for her daughter.
Boom. My week, pretty much booked for the time being. (And not a moment too soon!)

To the year... To the month... To the Week.... To the Day... To the Hour...

There are no coincidences. There is only the Inexorable Timing of God.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

But Wait...There's More!

Okay, this is just something I threw together in the space of an hour, a couple years ago. Super-extra-randomness, kind of reminiscent of the old "Interactive Story" games on the black-and-white computers, where you could create a story with click-able hyperlinks embedded in the "story cards" to lead the reader through each one. I guess that's kind of how I envision this story... just a string of events that lead to an inevitable point, but taken as a whole, it's really point-less... 
Golly, what a way to introduce my own story... Moving on!
A man begins in a room; the man is alone in that room. There is a solid-oak table, a sturdy wooden chair, and a single hanging lamp shining on it. There are no windows, no doors—nothing to visually explain how he got there, nor why he has any reason to be there. He stands, waiting for a sign, or a noise, something to give him reason to do anything beyond what he is doing right now, but none comes. There is just the man, the floor, four walls that reach up to some dark ceiling beyond human comprehension, the table, the chair, and the lamp.
            But wait, there is more! Upon closer inspection, the man discovers a hairline crack barely visible in the surface of the table. He reasons that a hairline crack must mean a secret compartment of some sort. And a secret compartment means some hidden switch or protrusion that must be twisted, pulled, removed, or pushed to release the lid of the compartment. The man begins to inspect every inch of the table. As he investigates, the man muses to himself the possible reason for this scenario. Perhaps he had dropped into a coma staring at an M. C. Escher painting, and this was his subconscious trying to make sense of it all. Perhaps he is part of some government conspiracy, and this whole room was the extent of his inner mind. Perhaps there are one million different metaphors for the significance of the room, the chair, the lamp, and the table, and the utter absence of any other object or person in the whole of the cloister.
But wait, there is more! From underneath the table, the man sees that the back of the chair has two upright posts, and four slats. He realizes that it almost looks like a ladder. He ponders what it could mean; perhaps the escape route was somewhere near the invisible ceiling of the room, and he must use the chair as a ladder (or use the chair to find the ladder) to reach the top and climb out to freedom and fresh air. The man crawls out from under the table and turns his inspection to the chair. Pensively, he tries moving the chair from its spot on the table. It makes the same sort of noise you would expect from a chair scooting across a cement floor, but other than that, nothing happens. The man picks up the chair and carries it to the wall. He sets the chair against the wall, stands upon it, and looks around.
But wait, there is more! There is no ladder, but he is surprised to see another chair exactly like the one upon which he now stood, still behind the table in the exact same spot from which he had removed this one! Curious, the man steps off the first chair; it feels solid enough to be real. He stalks over to the new chair. It, too, feels solid and real. The man leaves the second chair where it is at, and there at the table, he stands upon the seat. It bears his weight like a real chair. Where did it come from, then? The man, intent on uncovering the mystery of the chair, picks up this second chair in his hands (it even weighed the same as the first chair), and walks backwards, slowly, staring at that spot behind the table. The minute he measures out five paces, exactly on the fifth step back from the table, a third chair appears! The man stops and takes stock of his surroundings. There are indeed three chairs: one against the wall, one in his hands, and one at the table.
What could this mean? Would the chairs multiply as he removed them? Did they need to be aligned in a specific pattern in order for him to realize his escape? Was there a specific number of times they must be multiplied before something else would happen? Could he possibly exhaust his supply of chairs? The man decides to ignore that fact for the time being, and instead the man tries to re-focus on his original goal: finding the ceiling. He had established that the back of the chair resembled a ladder; how could he use this to his advantage?
The man looks at the chair standing against the wall; he could use that one as an anchor. He removes two of the four slats on the back, so that they are far enough apart to get his feet on; now he has the first two rungs of his ladder. But with no tools, how does he expect to be able to remove the back of the second chair from its base, to use that as the next piece of his ladder? And what can he use to attach the two pieces, should he succeed in taking them apart?
But wait, there is more! The man inspects the second chair and discovers for the second time a hairline crack at the base of the posts at the back of the chair. The man pushes against the back while resting his weight on the seat, and the back breaks off cleanly at the crack, leaving him with a short ladder in his hand. Feeling the success coursing through his body like an electric current, the man breaks off two slats just as he had done the first time, and turns back to the first chair. There, he returns to the second dilemma: what to do about attaching the pieces of ladder?
The man looks down; he is wearing a collared shirt that tears easily, but holds firmly. He could use his shirt, possibly some of his pants, also the laces from his shoes, to tie as many ladders as he could together. He sets about taking off his shirt and unlacing his shoes, but leaves off tearing his pants when he discovers that he cannot do it with his bare hands, and he really has nothing else to use. Between his shirt and his laces, though, he has enough strips to tie together enough ladders to enable him to climb beyond the thick black shadows. By the time he is finished, he has split more than twenty chairs, he has splinters in his fingers, he is dripping with sweat, he is hungry, thirsty, and tired of being in the same room for who knows how long, but the thought of freedom quenches his thirst and fills his belly. The man climbs his ladder, leaving the room that could have been his prison far behind him. He looks around as he climbs, eagerly awaiting the top of the wall, or the sight of the rafters, or even so much as a gaping hole or crack in the wall behind his ladder. He reaches the top and finds none of these things.
But wait, there is more! As the man climbs down from the great height, he imagines that he saw the glint of a light on the table. This distracts him from maintaining his balance, and he falls the remaining ten feet to the floor—more specifically, to the seat of the first chair, and from there, the floor. The man lays prostrate for several minutes, holding his eyes closed, willing the situation to be over, but when he opens his eyes, he is still in the room. Only one thing has changed: the chairs have disappeared. The chairs, and also his shirt and shoelaces, the man notices.
A sense of dread descends upon the man; he slowly works himself up to a sitting position, crosses his legs, and attempts to rationalize his experiences. He found himself in the room; he had assumed there was some purpose for it. He had seen the hairline crack in the table; he had figured there was some sort of device that would open it. He had observed the resemblance of the chair to a ladder; he had attached significance to this fact and had destroyed his shirt and shoes acting upon the significance. Furthermore, any sort of hope he had that there might be more than this room, that an escape was even logical or feasible, had come crashing down as he fell from the ladder, which now did not exist. What other possible recourse did he have? The man devotes what little energy he has left to deep, intense thought.
But wait, there is more! The more he thinks, the more the man realizes that it is very possible that the walls, or even the light could hold some key to his escape. He leaps upon the table with renewed vigor; standing at the center, he can see the top of the lamp, all the way up to the cord that seems to stretch into eternity. He finds nothing of significance on the lampshade, but he discovers that if he pulls on the cord, a winch somewhere in the great, dark beyond releases more cord. The man continues to pull, and soon, he has enough cord to use the lamp as a flashlight, to inspect the walls of the room. He probes every crack, he scans even the slightest shadow, but in the end, the man collapses to the floor as he realizes that there is not even the slightest vestige of hope left in those walls.
            But wait, there is more! Wearily, the man turns back to the table. What other way out could there possibly be? Covered in bruises, sore, exhausted, shirtless, and thoroughly at his wits’ end, the man fairly drags his shattered body back to the table. He returns to the original spot in the floor where the whole adventure began. He stares at the table, and for really the first time since the very first moment he began in that room, the man at last sees what he saw. A sharp click makes him flinch, and a metal blade appears out of the secret compartment on the table. The blade is serrated with razor-sharp teeth at the top, and one end holds a large handle for easy gripping. Ready now to act upon the occurrences rather than sit and rationalize them, the man marches forward and grabs the saw to use it. Working steadily, sweat pouring from his brow, the man cuts that solid oak table in half, since there was nothing else in the room on which to use the saw.
            When he finishes, he steps back to admire his work. The rational side of his brain (not quite worn out from the ordeal) recognizes that he now has two halves to the table (plus a mound of sawdust). Two halves, mathematically speaking, are equal to one whole. Another flash of light, and the man finds himself staring at a wide, open hole where the table once stood. The hole is wide enough for him to crawl in, and the slope of the path is not overly steep. The man muses to himself as he makes his escape: is that really all there was to it? Look at the table, see what he saw, use the saw to cut the table in half, put the two halves together to make a whole, and crawl out the hole to freedom?
            And for once, there was no more.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody" Pt. 6

Alex awoke gently to sunlight spilling over his face. He had not been this relaxed since—
Alex jumped awake and glanced at his alarm clock. 8:36? He was late for work! He couldn't believe he had slept right through his alarm like that! Had he forgotten to set it? Why? Where were the Brendons? Alex kept his PJs on and warily crept around the house, peeking into every corner.
"Guys?" he called. It wasn't like them to not show up; they'd made a deal, hadn't they? Or maybe the whole ordeal had been a really long dream, and Alex was just now waking up.
His nerves were tense, still, because even if this was a dream, he could never quite forget the way Marlo would always jump out at him with a loud greeting.
He traveled all around the apartment, but there seemed to be no sign of anyone else. Next to his phone and cuffs on the desk, Alex saw a note and picked it up. The writing was a thin, spidery cursive.
"Have a great weekend, Alex!" it read, "See you on Monday."
Alex barely stumbled over to an armchair before he collapsed. Weekend! This was Saturday! He had two days off-duty!
After taking the time to let himself settle into that realization, Alex grabbed his cell phone. There was a text waiting from Addie.
"Thanx 4 the voicemail," she wrote, "I'm not doing anything this Saturday. Want to hook up?"
Alex punched the air, positively brimming with excitement. This was going to be the best weekend ever! He relaxed for a few hours, waiting until ten o'clock to call Addie back.
"Hey, baby," she purred.
"Hi, Addie," Alex fought to keep his voice from cracking. "What are you doing today?"
"You mean, what are we doing today?" she returned.
Alex smiled to himself, "Your place, or mine?" he asked her.
"Well," she mused, "we met at my place last time—so let's split the difference and meet somewhere else."
Alex thought about the various good dating spots in his area.
"There's a little coffee shop on Main Street," he offered, "I could meet you there."
"Sounds good!" Adelaide responded.
"Shall we say eleven?"
"Sure, Albert!"
Alex winced as once again, she got his name wrong.
"All right, see you then," he told her.
"Bye!" *click*
Alex grinned victoriously as he got his clothes on; all his "fishing" was finally paying off! He actually had a second date with someone he'd be interested in having as a girlfriend! He'd hooked a ringer for sure!

Alex walked out to the main road and flagged down a taxi.
"The Bean House on Main," he told the driver.
Alex arrived there just before eleven o'clock. He paid his fare and sat on a bench to wait for Addie.
The rich young brunette arrived a full quarter-hour later driven in an Audi by a chauffer. The driver opened the door for her, but Adelaide did not disembark immediately. She was busy texting someone. Finally, she looked up and spotted Alex. Addie sprang from the car with a squeal, "You're here!" She grabbed his arm and extended her cell phone out with the other. "Photo op!"
The Audi drove away.
Addie was still busy texting; Alex hesitantly tried to drop hints.
"Do you want any coffee?" he asked.
"Yeah," Addie gushed, not picking up her gaze. "I'll have a double tall nonfat soy dirty chai with whip." Finally, she picked up her head, looking around with a disappointed frown.
"So...where's your patrol car?" she wondered.
Alex shook his head, enjoying the way she leaned against him when he put his arm around her. "I can't drive it when I'm off-duty."
Addie sighed and tapped her foot, but they went into the coffee shop together.
Alex ordered a double tall caramel macchiato, and when the barista asked, "Will that be all?" he glanced over, prompting Addie to give her order.
She gave him back a glance that said she expected him to remember it.
"Also, she'll have, um—tall, chai..." he remembered something about "dirty", something "soy," and... "—with whip?" he looked at the slender brunette at his side.
Addie gazed at him with pity and shook her head. She stepped forward and announced, "I'll have a double-tall nonfat soy dirty chai with whip," she glanced coyly at Alex out of the corner of her blue doe-eyes, "and a chocolate-chip muffin."
Alex returned her smile, even as he mentally calculated that Addie's order was a bit more than twice the price of his own. Like a gentleman, though, he paid up without a murmur, and the happy couple exited the shop arm-in-arm as they had entered.
"So what is there to do around here?" Addie asked him.
"Well—" Alex paused to consider what sort of activities in the area a girl like Adelaide might enjoy. "There's always the Mall."
Addie brightened, "Oh, I love shopping!" she gushed. "I'll call Ward back and we can go in the Audi."
Alex shook his head with a grin. "Oh no you don't!" he teased. "My date, my treat."
Addie slipped an arm around his waist. "A cab, then?" she asked hopefully.
Alex couldn't stop grinning thinking of the opportunity to come. "This way, Addie," he pointed down the block.
Just around the corner was a staircase to the subway metro station. The minute that Adelaide saw it, she turned to Alex and wrinkled her nose.
"The Metro?" she shrieked, "Alex, can we at least take something with less people on it?"
Alex shrugged, "Sorry, this is the fastest way. Saturday traffic is the worst about now."
Addie huffed in exasperation. "Oh my gosh!" But she still went with him.

Lucky for them both, the tram they took was not too full. Still, it was public transportation, and Adelaide stood at the middle, refusing to touch anything or sit down until Alex sat down first and offered his knee for her, which she accepted.

Adelaide relaxed completely as soon as they entered the Mall. Instantly, she took the lead and dragged Alex to all her favorite clothing stores. Each time, he helped her carry the various outfits she wanted to try on, and he went and got different sizes when she asked. Every so often, Addie would buzz his cell phone and he would come running to the fitting room. She would meet him in front, wearing some slinky, fluffy, or skimpy number—frequently in bright colors—and ask him,
"So, what do you think?"

Alex learned to give a neutral verdict right away. If he waited to long, Addie would begin to fidget and say, "It's the hemline, isn't it?"
"Don't you think this is a good color on me?" or
"Does this dress make me look fat?"
Adelaide became self-conscious very quickly, and would often leave the store altogether when she couldn't find something to make Alex look at her appreciatively. For Alex, on the one hand, this meant they could be done with the mall faster, but on the other, this was no way to treat a date, and he knew it!
"You look amazing in those jeans! It's like they were made just for you!" he gushed when she came out after he had given the "wrong" reactions to several outfits there. Adelaide still scowled at him as they walked straight out of the store without paying for the jeans.
"That's 'cause they were made for me, brainless, these are my own jeans," she growled at him.

She was in a better mood when he convinced her to buy a few Prada tops that she didn't immediately like, but his ardent praise convinced her.
At the Coach store, he was back in her good graces. She let him sit on a small armchair while she pulled purses off the rack to try them. She put two bags on her shoulders and showed them to Alex.
"Which looks better?" she asked, "This one?" she turned to her right, "Or this one?" she turned to her left.
Alex stared; a purse was a purse. They looked almost identical to him.
Addie tapped her foot impatiently. "Well?" she pressed, "Which one? This, or this?" She twirled with the purses, completely disregarding the people around her. "This, or—oh!"
The last twirl had slipped one purse off her shoulder, smacked a salesgirl in the face and caused several purses from the rack behind her to fall as well. Addie ignored the downed brunette and the mess, and surveyed the remaining purse. "I'll take this one," she declared, grabbing Alex's hand again. "Come on."
Alex glanced back, watching the girl struggle with the bags as the small gold bracelet dangled from her wrist—
Alex blinked in surprise as he realized he recognized that bracelet. He and Addie walked out to the food court for a late lunch as Alex wondered—
Daphne. It had to be! Didn't she say she worked at the mall? One thing was certain: it was fortunate that Daphne had not noticed Alex with Adelaide...but why? Alex had never cared about girls seeing him with other girls before!
"—and anyway, I told my agent, I said, 'You better not let him get away with it or I'm leaving!' and he didn't change his mind, so guess what I did?" Adelaide slapped Alex's hand with all the glow of achievement in her beaming face. Alex realized he did not have the faintest idea what she was talking about. He decided to play along.
"You left?" he guessed.
"Yeeaahh," Addie squealed in a high pitch. She laughed, "But not really! I marched out the door of his office like I meant it but actually I just waited outside the door till I heard him and dad coming then I let him follow me a ways and then I turned around and was all like, 'Yes?'" She batted her eyelashes innocently. "And it turns out, he changed his mind, we went back into his office, he took my advice and made Daddy sign the papers, and that's how I got my townhouse in the Heights!"
Alex shook his head, "Wow, that's..."
"Incredible, right?" Addie enthused, "I'm an extremely persuasive person when I want to be!"
Adelaide picked up her cell phone and checked the text messages. While she was replying to one, she sighed to Alex, "Well, this has been really fun. Thanks for a great time, Alex."
"Leaving so soon? The day's not over yet!" Alex tried to show Addie how persuasive he could be, too.
Addie sighed contentedly. "I know; but a friend just texted me and said he wanted to meet me here, so—" she glanced up at him suggestively.
Alex nodded, "Okay, I'll give you your space. Maybe tomorrow?"
Addie smiled, "Yeah, we'll see; maybe. Bye, Alex!"
"Have fun!" Alex waved as he left, unconsciously adopting the sarcastic inflection of the dispatcher. He took the metro home, noting the irony that now there was no Addie to stand against, the tram was crowded.

Back at his apartment, Alex pulled out the insurance files from Detective Haversham. Nearly all the items bore the name "Marcus and Aurelia Staten." Searching on the Internet revealed that the Statens were one of the rich, old families in America, with roots that carried all the way back to the Dutch settlement of New York. They had four children: Jeremy Staten, Quincy Maxwell, George Staten, and Marlo Brendon.
Searching "Staten heirlooms" produced thousands of articles talking about the vast amounts of million-dollar antiques Mrs. Staten left when she died, how some Statens thought the treasures should be divided equally, or if they weren't separated, the older siblings thought they should get them; the article mentioned that the three older siblings were all living lavish lives on borrowed money, and they all had a history of bad finances. Imagine their surprise, the article continued, when the reading of the will revealed that the entirety of the heirloom collection to the youngest daughter, Marlo, who married a simple man named Theodore Brendon (Alex had to chuckle; it had never occurred to him that Ted's full name was Theodore), and lived in a nondescript neighborhood.
Alex read the various articles, talking about each of the siblings and their high-profile lives: Jeremy married an Olympic volleyball player, Quincy had several musician boyfriends before landing a proposal from TV heartthrob Tony Maxwell, and George remained a bachelor with a penchant for serial dating. Their lives were fraught with scandal and gossip. As for Marlo, with her middle-class husband and low-profile life, the only things said about her were wild speculations, none of them true. Her siblings were the darlings of the tabloids. Alex read until his eyelids dropped, and then he went to bed.

Alex awoke Sunday morning to find another note from Marlo.
"Don't have too much fun, now," she cautioned, "Tomorrow is work-day!"
Alex rolled his eyes as he tucked the note under his alarm clock. That was a fine reminder for a Sunday morning! Alex stretched leisurely and glanced outside. The skies were clear and it promised to be a beautiful day. Perhaps he could take Addie to the lake today, and they could rent one of those tandem pedal-boats. Alex got dressed and ate breakfast, and then he grabbed his cell phone and dialed Addie's number.
"Hello?" she answered it slowly.
"Hey, Gorgeous," Alex crooned through a mouthful of cereal.
"Who is this?" Addie's tone became less languid and more sharp.
Alex swallowed hastily, "This is Alex," he identified himself.
"Oh." Was it just him or did she sound disappointed, maybe even annoyed? "Hi Alex."
Alex could have kissed the receiver; she'd gotten his name right! Never mind that he'd just said it, progress was progress! "Say," he tried to revert back to his casual self, "I was wondering if you would like to go on a boating trip around the lake today."
"Mmm, that sounds like fun," Addie responded, "But...I kind of went clubbing last night and had a great time, so I was planning on sleeping a few more hours."
"Oh, that's totally fine," Alex decided to be as accommodating as possible, "I didn't mean like right away of course we could go later on today."
"All right," Adelaide murmured, "I'll call you later, let you know if I feel up to it, okay?"
"Sounds good, Addie," Alex affirmed, "Talk to you later."
"Mm-hm, bye."

Alex hung up and flipped on the television. Most of the channels were commercials, and those that weren't played infomercials or the news. Alex switched it off; he wanted to hang out with a girl, but every time he went to dial, all he could think of were the amazing dates with Addie. There was no way any other girl could measure up, whether in terms of wealth or openness. He had really struck gold with Adelaide Donahue!
Alex managed to find enough to while away the next two hours. Surely Addie would be her old self by now. It was well past the limit of a hangover. Alex checked and re-checked his phone, but there were no calls or messages from his newest girlfriend. Finally, he texted her.
He imagined her giggling as she read the message. Was she in fact sitting bored in that great big townhouse with the snooty butler, deciding what she would say to him about what she wanted to do? Would she be glad that he took the initiative, so glad that she would accept his offer?
The cell phone beeped. Alex opened it.
"Sounds fun. M rlly sick tho. Srry! Mayb l8r. <3"
Alex sat staring at the text for a long time. Sick? Really? That was too bad. He texted back, "Get well soon! <3"
Alex sighed. Apparently he would spend the day alone. He found himself almost wishing for even the Brendons to show up...almost.
Alex went for a walk, choosing to go downtown instead of to the lake. It was nearly lunchtime, anyway, and he happened to know a girl who worked at a bakery.
Alex arrived at Turnkey Avenue, but when he saw the bakery, he suddenly remembered the way his girlfriend had treated Daphne the day before. Would seeing him remind her of the same thing? She hadn't noticed he was there, had she? Could they both pretend it never happened? Alex decided to skip the drama and go to the McDonalds at the other side of the block. As he was turning the corner onto Everine Boulevard, a powder-blue Miata pulled up to the curb. Alex stopped, concealed by the corner, to see if he knew the driver. A tall blond guy got out; Alex was confused. What sort of guy would drive that kind of car? He was expecting to see—
The man walked over to the passenger side to assist none other than Adelaide Donahue out of the car. Alex felt his cheeks burn. Sick, huh? Sick of him, maybe? The pair went into the bakery. Alex couldn't stand it any longer. He continued on his way, determined to forget about her.
The trouble was, Alex couldn't stop thinking about her. All he could think about was her arm around his waist, her lips against his, the way she flipped and twisted her wavy brown hair that made him want to do whatever she asked—
Alex finished his burger and started the walk back to his apartment. Why did it bother him so much to see Addie with another guy? Alex himself had different girlfriends whom he could invite on different activities. Why couldn't he let Addie do the same? Alex shrugged. He spent the rest of the day channel-surfing. At about eight o'clock, his cell rang. It was Chief Prosser.
"Davis, Detective Jamison is doing a stakeout on a tip tonight; he needs a few extra bodies."
"I'll be there, sir."
Prosser hesitated a moment, then chuckled, "What, no lady friends to entertain or shadow tonight? That's it, you'll take the offer?"
Alex understood his reaction; the Officer Davis of the last five years never voluntarily participated in an overnight stakeout; the few he was forced to take, he managed to fall asleep while the others chased and apprehended the suspect. Now here he was volunteering immediately.
Alex replied, "Yes sir, I'll take it."
"Okay, I'll have Marnie send directions to your patrol car. This is a plainclothes job, so just get over there as soon as you can."
"Yes sir." Alex grabbed his gun and his badge and headed for the garage at the station.
Back in his own home, Police Chief Prosser laid the phone down with a shake of his head. There was something definitely strange about Davis.

Alex arrived at the stakeout, a certain house down in Peabody Court, at twenty minutes past the hour.
The Detective greeted him when he pulled up.
"Good, you're our last position," he said. "I want you to patrol the south side of this block, between those two houses. There are plenty of shadows, and not a lot of sight from anywhere else."
A short, wiry figure ran up, "Sir, just got wind of a car matching the description passing—Alex?" the voice rose in pitch, and Alex recognized the voice of Officer Barelli. "What are you doing here?"
"He's got the south side," the detective answered. "Both of you go back to your positions. I want you to know every stick and stone in your area. We're not gonna lose this guy!"
"Yes sir!" Barelli snapped out smartly, only pausing to glare suspiciously at Alex before returning to the shadows.

Alex moved his car into the shadows two blocks down, and walked back to the area. The shed looked really creepy from this angle. That pile of wood covered by the tarp almost looked like two humans huddled against it. Alex strolled leisurely across the street and climbed a low-limbed tree for a better-hidden vantage point. He pulled out his binoculars and focused on the woodpile. Now he could almost make out two people, a man and a woman. Alex dropped the binoculars. As soon as he could blink, a woman sat on the branch in front of him!
"Yipes!" Alex gasped, jumping so hard he lost his grip on the tree and fell three feet into a shrub.
"Careful," Ted Brendon called out obligingly.
Alex heard a burst of static just beside his elbow and involuntarily smacked himself.
"Davis!" the detective hissed over his radio, "What the blazes is going on over there?"
"Nothing, sir!" Alex hastily scrambled back onto the limb with the intangible assistance of Marlo, "Just a—an owl or something."
"Owl?" Marlo shrieked indignantly. "I'll give you owl—"
The detective continued, "Keep your eyes on the prize. We don't want to blow our cover!"
"Yes sir!"

Alex could barely see the ghost couple's silhouettes in the moonlight.
"What are you two doing here?" he demanded in a fierce whisper.
"You're on duty," Marlo pointed out, "aren't you?"
Alex acknowledged her point with a shrug. "I have to say, you freaked me out when I saw you over there by—"
Alex stopped talking as he pointed toward the woodpile and saw the distinct shape of another human figure against the shed!
"Is that—" he wondered aloud, too confused to say any more.
"I can check," Ted offered, and at once he disappeared. Alex peered through his binoculars and saw both the Brendons flanking the stooped form of the burglar as he stealthily attempted to break into the house.
"It's him."
Ted's announcement came so loud Alex almost fell out of the tree again.
"Would you stop that?" he hissed frantically at the ghost.
Ted ignored his consternation. "Call it in," he prompted.
Alex fumbled for his radio. "Rat's in the trap," he announced, "rat's in the trap."
"Don't let him get away, Davis!" Detective Jamison roared.
Alex dropped out of the tree. "Freeze!" he hollered. "Put your hands where I can see them!"
"Hold him till we get there," the detective ordered.
Just then, the burglar bolted.
"Grab him!" Alex shouted to no one in particular. The Brendons heeded his request, and did their best to at least impede the miscreant if they could not hold him.
"Wow," Marlo remarked, having to throw her whole body at the man, "he's really slippery."
"Well, look at it this way, honey," Ted responded, fighting to stand in the frightened burglar's trajectory, "you're a ghost; I think you're the slippery one."
They could not hold him, of course, but at least the two ghosts' assistance slowed the burglar down enough for Alex to catch up.
"Get down on your knees and put your hands on your head," Alex ordered, trying not to gasp too hard.
The man could not figure out why it was so hard to move, like walking through a dense fog. He obeyed the officer's orders.
Barelli and the others came running just when Alex was slapping cuffs on the man.
"Good work, Davis!" the Detective cried. "That must have been some sprint you gave; he didn't make it far at all!"
Alex looked toward the edge of the knot of people now surrounding him. The Brendons waved farewell and disappeared.
Jamison heaved the would-be burglar to his feet. "Chad Andrews," he addressed the man, "You're under arrest for attempted breaking and entering!" He pushed the man toward Alex. "You want to have the honors of driving him back to the station?"
Before Alex could answer, Barelli spoke up, "Let me do it, sir. I was there, too, helping him."
Alex knew good and well this was a lie, but he didn't mind that it meant less paperwork for him to do!
The detective nodded, "Have at it, Barelli. The rest of you, good work and we'll see you tomorrow!"
Alex returned his patrol car to the garage and walked over to his apartment. With a sigh he sank gratefully into bed and fell fast asleep instantly.

Next >>>>>>

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hit List: "Top 3 Little -Known Non-Disney Family-Friendly Films"

It is difficult to find those movies that are legitimate enough in terms of plot, stunts, and acting to hold the attention of a teen/young adult and their parents; even fewer in this category that the two groups would watch together--and come away feeling good about each other.
Of course, Disney's pretty much got a monopoly on "movies-that-the-family-could-and-would-watch-together"; the trouble is, the animated movies are old enough that we've all seen them a bazillion times, and the live-action films often leave much to be desired.

I present for your viewing pleasure films I've seen that are visually safe (for the most part) for younger kids (except when noted), and the story is decent enough for older siblings, and the morals are ones parents can appreciate! (All of the films listed below (except #1... for some reason I couldn't find that one on the typical Christian/family review sites... I don't know why, because it's awesome!)

3. Frequency
 I discovered this movie a little over a year ago in a Netflix "Because-you-watched-"X"-you-might-like-this-too" recommendation. Curiosity set in (I mean, Jim Caviezel's on it, how bad can it be? There are just some actors blessed with the capacity to breathe life into the most shoddy script and half-baked premise; more about that later) and I watched it.
Verdict: the premise is a little raw (not quite half-baked, but not exactly the most thorough study, either), but oh my word! I immediately wanted to watch this with my dad. Hence it's presence on this list. I am surprised how few people know about it. You must see it.
Summary: Jim Caviezel plays a young cop with little purpose in life, no motivation for relationships, and consistently making the wrong choices. His dad, a firefighter, died in a burning building when he was a young boy, which (as happens so often in the life of a boy who loses his father) sends him on a downhill slide and negatively affects every relationship, even the one with his mother. One night, he discovers his father's CB radio during a solar storm, and the premise comes into play: 30 years ago, that same day is the day before his father's death. A solar storm occurred at the same time, and (lo and behold!) father and son connect across 30 years, via solar flares on matching frequencies, and through the same CB radio.
Okay, so summed up bluntly like that, yes, I'll admit it sounds cheesy--but the writers actually make it feel natural, and the acting is so good (at least for the two lead roles) that you'll be too wrapped up in watching a father connect with his grown son, and the son get to express his struggles to a father he never knew (plus a few other scenarios, just to make the movie more interesting than a single conversation--namely this: if you had the chance to warn a loved one who "shouldn't have died" about their impending death, thereby saving their life, what would you do?).
Warnings: There is swearing and some violence... so just make sure your audience isn't too young.

2. Stardust
This is my all-time favorite fantasy-adventure (besides the 2003 live-action Peter Pan; if you haven't heard of that one you must watch it). I could watch it again and again. Can't remember when I first heard of it, but I've loved it ever since.
Verdict: Well, marvelous, obviously. The premise of this movie appealed to my sense of "What-If" that I find so inspiring when writing. Moreover, I loved the way that the movie makes no bones about "anti-villains" (who are merely "good people gone bad") or "anti-heroes" (who are so screwed up that any "good" they do is actually wrong and you really shouldn't be cheering for them) that I just find so aggravating--the "good characters" possess good morals and a strong sense of right and justice, while the "bad characters" are all liars, cheaters, back-stabbers, and they never once make "good" choices; the best that the "bad" characters can behave is fleeting, fickle, and false. Excellent for teaching kids about "end-justifies-means" and personal responsibility and the like.
Summary: There's a town called Wall, situated in England, next to (what else?) a wall. This wall supposedly separates the "real" world from the "magical" one; nobody knows, though, because this wall has been guarded, and no one cares enough to try sneaking past the guard. Until one day, a young man's curiosity gets the better of him (SPOILER: unexpected cameo by a familiar face!) and he crosses the Wall. He ends up meeting a mysterious, pretty girl, and (as inevitably happens in the beginning of any great adventure) nine months later, a bassinet arrives at his house. He raises his son, who has always dreamed of his mother, but never knew what she looked like. The son imagines himself in love with the catch-of-the-town, a self-centered beauty. To "prove his love", this young man is going to cross the Wall like his father did and bring his "true love" something fantastic from the magical land beyond. And so it begins....
Warnings: There's a surprising level of violence in this fantastic movie; it's just over 2 hours long, and the villains rack up quite the body count. I didn't notice the language so much; there are a few scenes of the "turn around I'm changing/bathing" variety, but the camera maintains a tactful angle. Oh, and there happens to be "witches" involved, so there are at least 3-4 scenes of "divination"; of course, it's only the villains who are trying to manipulate "fate" and use the predictions to their own advantage, which, as we all know, never works. (I just mention it so you're not shocked... still on my list of recommends!)

1. The Secret of Moonacre
 I'm surprised at how unknown this movie is. It takes popular elements from many different fantasy-adventure plots and combines them and re-imagines them into a wonderful adventure that is (as opposed to the other two) safe for even young children.
Summary: Basically, a young girl and her governess are left nearly poor and must turn to the nearly-non-existent charity of her crazy, reclusive uncle on Moonacre Manor (a bit reminiscent of "Beauty and the Beast") The girl discovers surprising secrets, a family curse--and the key to it's undoing.
Verdict: Absolutely marvelous. The moral overtones are abundantly clear, paving the way for some lively family discussion about selfishness, pride, and its consequences. The acting is wonderful (how could it not be, when the cast includes--but is not limited to--the likes of Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry, Juliet Stevenson, and the debut of Dakota Blue Richards?) and the story is positively enchanting.
Warnings: There aren't many. Of course, as with many fantasy stories with curses involved, there is a slight undercurrent of some sort of "magic" at work, but the moral implications far supersede the "magic" part of the story, so that it's more about what the curse teaches the characters involved about their moral choices than the actual curse itself. Violence is largely of the theatrical variety.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody" Part 5

Alex awoke slowly the next morning. He was dimly aware that, whereas he usually awoke lying on his side, he was currently still laying on his back, with the sensation of an object on his legs; what could it be? Alex shifted his legs and rolled over, feeling the weight leave his legs—
            He snapped awake and lunged forward just in time to catch his laptop before it hit the floor. He flinched at the sight of a person standing in his room, but it was only Marlo.
            “Morning,” she said gently. “Sleep well?”
            Alex laid his computer on the bedside table and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Is it eight o’clock already?” he moaned.
            Marlo smiled, “Well, technically, yes, but Ted and I—and now you—“
            Alex stood up, “Never mind, I get it,” he muttered, heading for the shower.
            When he emerged, the Brendons were waiting for him in the kitchen. Alex paused as they watched him, and he realized that this morning, he was seeing them with new eyes. They weren’t just a couple of random ghosts that had shown up to teach him a lesson any more; it was almost as if reading all the stories, eulogies, and obituaries the previous night had brought them back to life again.
            “Why are you staring?” Ted broke the silence. “Are you going to get breakfast?”
            Alex turned to the cupboard and took out a bowl and a box of cereal.
            “Where—where do you guys go when you’re not around me?” Alex asked uncertainly as he poured the cereal into the bowl and went to the refrigerator for a carton of milk.
            Ted and Marlo glanced at each other. “We just—“ Marlo began.
            “It’s like we close our eyes,” Ted tried to explain.
            “To be honest,” Marlo finished with a shrug, “we don’t understand it ourselves. But we do honor the agreement we made when we first met, Alex, don’t worry.”
            “Wait a minute,” Ted grinned, “were you hoping we didn’t see how your date went last night?”
            Marlo laid a hand on Alex’s arm sympathetically, “Oh, was it that bad? I’m so sorry!”
            Alex shrugged, “It wasn’t terrible, I just—“ he stopped, but finished in his mind, I was snooping around about you, and I kind of don’t want you to know.
            “Let me guess,” Ted supplied with a grin, “she got drunk again?” Alex nodded. “Come on, Alex; what makes you think that being in a relationship with you will make her any different? Isn’t there anyone you can think of that would be better than chasing after a spoiled, rich—“
            “Drunkard?” Marlo finished bitterly.
            Alex hung his head and extended his hands defensively, “Yeah, okay, so she is in the habit of going overboard—but I aim to change that!”
            Ted chuckled, “How are you going to get her to keep going out with you long enough to do that?”
            Alex shrugged and grabbed his cap and badge. “Forget I asked, then!” he spat.
            The young man jerked back for no apparent reason—until he noticed Ted’s hand on his shoulder. “Look,” the older ghost said, “if you’re really that worried about it, Marlo and I will stay out of your way during your off-duty hours.”
            Alex nodded, “Thanks,” he replied.
            Marlo rubbed her hands together, “Now, let’s get you to work!”

            Alex clocked in and got right on his shift. He noticed that his list of patrols was much longer than normal, taking up most of his on-duty time instead of only half or so. He chuckled to himself; word had probably gotten around that Alex Davis was accepting more duties. Did he mind? A bit, he had to admit; but with the ghosts around, they actually made his job a little easier. On domestic disturbance calls, rather than having to chase the perpetrator through the house, he could ask one of the Brendons to go ahead of him and let him know if the coast was clear. In case he needed to search a house, the two ghosts could go through every cupboard and drawer without the owner knowing, and they could let Alex know if there was anything for him to “find.” Missing persons cases were a bit trickier, but Ted or Marlo were willing to visit the time in question when the person supposedly disappeared (provided they knew approximately where to look), and verify the witnesses’ stories.
            In the late afternoon, the dispatcher called because the silent alarm at the Beautiful Sun Bakery had been triggered. Alex headed right over, reveling in his newfound sense of efficiency.
            Siren wailing, lights flashing, Alex pulled to a halt right at the curb in front of the bakery. He jumped out of the car just in time to see a man with a gun dash out the door.
            “Hold it right there, mister!” he ordered, whipping out his sidearm.
            The man whirled toward the young officer and nearly pointed the pistol in his hand at him, but thought better of it. He insisted on trying to back away. Alex clearly saw his pockets and his jacket bulging with cash.
            “Stop where you are,” Alex told him, “kneel on the ground, and put your hands behind your head.”
            The man dropped the gun and took of running down the block.
            “Dangit,” Alex muttered, taking off after him. He clutched the call button on his radio. “This is Officer Davis, I’m on Turnkey Avenue, pursuing robbery suspect on foot, heading east.” The man turned south down Everine Boulevard, which Alex called in and added, “Somebody please be waiting for us on the corner of Everine and 53rd!”
            “I’ve got your back, Davis,” Derby’s voice crackled over the radio. “I recall you did the same for me once last week.”
            Thanks, Derby, Alex thought to himself, too worried about keeping tabs on the fleeing suspect to bother replying. True to Alex’s prediction, the man turned down 53rd Street, and there was Patrol Unit 823, waiting for them. The passenger door opened and Chris stepped out, training his gun on the man with the stolen money.
            “Freeze,” he instructed calmly.
            The man stopped, gasping for breath, and dropped to his knees.
            Chris slapped cuffs on the miscreant while Alex dug all the cash out of the man’s jacket.
            “I’m going to return this to the bakery,” he told Chris.
            The junior officer shook his head. “First you take a silent alarm call, then you chase the guy down three blocks, and now you’re gonna walk all the way back to return the money?” He winked at Alex, “Who are you and what have you done with my buddy Smooth Davis?”
            Alex playfully punched Chris in the shoulder, “Hey, a guy can have a change of scenery once in a while, can’t he?”
            “I dunno,” Chris responded, guiding the guy into the back seat of the patrol car. “In your case it’s more like a paradigm shift than just a change of scenery!”
            “See you back at the station, Chris,” Alex said, walking away.

            It took him fifteen minutes to cover the distance he’d covered in about ten, running the other direction. He imagined the proprietor was a bit worried about the stolen cash, and he relished the admiring gaze he would get when he showed back up with the money.
            He stepped in the door of the Beautiful Sun Bakery. He couldn’t see anyone, but he clearly heard the sound of someone crying.
            “Hello?” he called.
            A young woman immediately stood behind the counter, wiping her face furiously. “I’m sorry; can I—oh!”
            She gasped when Alex silently laid the stolen money on the counter in front of her. Finally, she lifted her face and looked at him. Her brown eyes sparkled as a smile broke over her features, “My hero!” she exclaimed.
            Alex started, “Daphne?” he cried before he could stop himself.
            She laughed, “I must be your lucky victim or something, always getting into trouble when you’re around!” She sighed as she accepted the money and sorted it back into the register. “I was so flustered with orders from customers that I wasn’t even looking at them till he was up at the counter with the gun in my face.” She closed the drawer. “I only thought about getting the police over quick enough before he noticed, so the trick-bill was one of the first I pulled out.” She wiped a hand across her face, “It’s a good thing you got here when you did! I never expected to be in that kind of situation, and I never want to go through it again!” She moved over to the rows of bagels, cookies, doughnuts, and cakes in the display case. “So what can I get you?”
            Alex shook his head, “Oh, no, I shouldn’t—“
            “Please?” Daphne begged. “It’s the least I can do after you chased down that guy for me; pick any one, on the house!”
            Alex glanced toward the Brendons, who had joined him in the little bakery. Rather than gesturing him back out to the car, Ted nodded and said, “Go ahead and pick something, Alex; you’ve earned it. Marlo and I will make sure you don’t miss anything important.”
            Alex glanced over the choices, “I’ll take the turkey sandwich and the brownie,” he said.
            “Coming right up!” Daphne chirped. “You can have a seat at one of the tables.”
            Alex waited, fidgeting, while Daphne prepared his order.

            “Go on,” Marlo hissed in his ear, “Make conversation!”
            “So, um,” Alex fought for something to talk about, “You… like baking things?”
            Marlo rolled her eyes as Daphne laughed, bringing his sandwich and brownie and joining him at the table. “Not entirely, but it pays the rent.”
            Alex glanced around, wondering how a small place like this could generate enough of a salary to afford the rent on even a small apartment. “Really?” he queried skeptically.
            Daphne fidgeted nervously with the corner of the napkin, “Well, this and a few other jobs—but someday I’m going to own a house of my own, free and clear, and not have to worry about rent or mortgages again!” This last was said with absolute finality and infectious enthusiasm.
            Alex chuckled as he bit into the turkey sandwich. “So what other jobs do you have?” he asked.
            “Well, in the mornings I start out at the Mall,” Daphne sighed, “then I come here and work the afternoon shift. Actually, in about five minutes the dinner crew is going to get here, and I’ll move on to my next job, cleaning some of the houses in the downtown block.”
            Alex nodded out of courtesy as he finished the sandwich; inside, he nearly choked on the sandwich as he calculated how much work Daphne must do in a day to afford to live in her apartment. He always considered himself lucky to be able to live in the apartment block owned by the police station, and drive his patrol car for most of the day. He never realized until that moment just how lucky he was.
            “How can you stand it?” the question was out before he had even finished thinking it.
            Daphne cocked an eyebrow at him, “Stand what?”
            Alex shrugged, “Doing all that work!”
            The girl—who looked not much older than Alex, in fact she was probably a few years younger—shrugged, “I’m used to it, I guess,” she sighed. “I’ve had to work like this since I was eighteen years old.”
            Alex found the brownie moist and easier to swallow than the sandwich. “Parents kick you out, eh?” he guessed.
            Daphne fidgeted awkwardly, “Something like that,” she muttered.
            Instantly, Alex regretted his words. He finished his brownie and stood up quickly. “Ah, thanks for the lunch break,” he told her, “and you have a good day.”
            “Thanks for bringing my money back,” Daphne said waving to him as he left.
            Alex climbed back into the car. As he sat down, he saw the Brendons in his rearview mirror. They were both grinning like they had a secret.
            “What?” he asked suspiciously as he pulled away from the bakery.
            “Nothing,” Ted responded dismissively.
            “Turn up your scanner, dear,” Marlo informed him, and that was the end of that matter.
            They directed him through calls for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Once or twice, Alex would decide to listen to the calls carefully for himself, listening not for the kinds of calls most likely to involve beautiful women as he used to, but trying to see if he could pick out the sort of calls the Brendons would call his attention to before they in fact did so. Ted and Marlo were both impressed as Alex took this initiative near the end of his shift, never knowing that Alex was using as a guide his knowledge of the kind of people they used to be, which he had gleaned the night before.
            Before they left, when Alex returned to the station at eight o’clock, Marlo turned to him with a grin.
            “Earlier today,” she mused, “you stopped and helped that elderly lady load the bags into her trunk.”
            Alex eyed her warily while trying to hide his wariness. “Yeah,” he responded, “what about it?”
            “Did you know her?”
            Alex was able to honestly reply, “No.” The woman had been the recipient of numerous good deeds from the Brendons. He had only recognized her from the picture in the news article he read about her.
            Marlo was not convinced he was telling the truth, “It looked like you did,” she accused.
            Alex laughed and shook his head, “Nope, I don’t know who that lady was,” he slipped his hands in his pocket casually, “I just noticed she needed help.”
            “Oh, you noticed?” Ted repeated, as unconvinced as his wife. “Well, it looks like our training has done some good, Marlo!”
            “Good night, Alex,” Marlo smiled at him, a genuine, warm smile. “See you in the morning.”
            “Good night, you guys,” Alex replied.

            As soon as the ghosts left, Alex waited a few moments, then returned to the station bullpen. Hard at work at his desk was Detective Morgan Haversham. He was usually out of the station before Alex came in, and doing his deskwork when Alex returned and checked out for the night. Alex approached him cautiously. Haversham looked up.
            “Davis,” he cried with a smile, “I thought you’d left already. Did you need something?”
            Alex swallowed and tried to formulate his request as innocently as possible. “I, um, I heard you were the detective on the Brendon case.”
            Haversham snorted, “You mean the Brendon murders, don’t you?” Suddenly, his face became grave, “Where did you hear that?” he asked suspiciously.
            From the Brendons themselves, Alex thought, while he tried to remain vague, “Oh, I heard some of the other guys talking about it. Hey, I was wondering—could I possibly have a look at that file, do you think?”
            Haversham, a heavyset, balding man with a thick handlebar mustache, leaned back and grinned at the young cop. “Oh, I know what this is about!” he cried, “Next-of-kin probably called you about the loot, didn’t they?”
            This was not entirely what Alex was expecting. “Well, I sort of wanted to see the insurance list—but why would the next-of-kin have to call it in here?”
            “See, kid,” Haversham rubbed his mustache as he dug the Brendon file out of the desk drawer and laid it on the desk, “The wife, Mrs. Brendon, had a bunch of heirlooms that belonged to her family, and she had them all insured—but it was through a private company, with some really unorthodox policies.”
            Alex saw the short piece of paper he sought, just barely protruding from the file. Perhaps if he engaged the detective enough, Haversham would let him see it. “Unorthodox, how?” he asked.
            “Well,” Haversham finally opened the file and rubbed his forehead. “I called the agent who set it up, and the way I understood it, only the wife could get any money out of the policy if the loot was stolen or if she decided to sell the heirlooms.” He shook his head,
“Almost as soon as we put the word out that she was dead, she had brothers and sisters and cousins coming out of the woodwork, calling to see if they could get any money off of the insurance on those heirlooms. But the way the policy worked, they would have to get the loot back to collect the money, since Mrs. Brendon was dead. Of course, they all didn’t want to have to find the things to get the money, they just wanted the money, so they gave up after a few days.” He rubbed his chin, “Odd thing happened two days after the murder, though.”
Alex’s pulse raced briefly, “What happened?”
“Well, I’d sent the bodies off to the morgue to be claimed by family members, but I guess when the wife’s family went to claim the bodies, they were already gone.”
Alex furrowed his brow and frowned, “So the bodies were claimed two days after the murder happened, but there’s been no word on the stolen property?”
Haversham paused and closed the file. “Well, not till you came along, son. So what happened, did you or one of your buddies get a call from the family or something?”
            Alex saw that he wasn’t getting that list tonight; he would have to try something else. “Oh…no,” he replied, “I just heard about that case and I was curious about what exactly got stolen.”
            Haversham smirked, “Derby tells me all the officers think you’re gunning for a promotion to lieutenant, and I didn’t believe him, but you’re really sounding like it, Davis!”
            Alex flushed at the observation, and tried to shrug it off, “I guess you could say that,” he pretended to admit.
            Haversham chuckled, “And you think finding the stolen loot will get it for you? Not likely!” He winked and pulled a copy of the insurance list out of the file. “But have at it, for what it’s worth; I’ve got too many other cases to handle to worry about tracking down lost items on a closed murder case.”
            “Thanks, Detective.”
            “Don’t mention it,” Haversham waved his hand dismissively as Alex walked out. “Seriously, Davis,” Alex stopped as the older man continued, “The Chief will have my hide if he finds out I gave that to you. Don’t ever tell anyone.” He wagged a beefy finger. “As far as anyone knows, you’re not on this case—unless of course, something turns up; you let me know!”
            “Right, I will,” Alex promised, and left the station. On his way back to the apartment, he tried calling Adelaide, but she never answered. Alex left her a voicemail, letting her know that he was interested in a second date. He then walked home and went to bed.

Next >>>>>>

Monday, February 11, 2013

Not Your Average Ordinary: My Story.... for those who have no idea...

What is normal? Whose definition serves as a standard? Because my life has been far from what most would consider “normal,” while at the same time following exactly what others would consider “normal.”
            For starters, I had an encephalocele at birth: a small sac of fluid protruding from my skull, containing mostly fluid and a negligible amount of tissue. The protrusion happened to be situated for easy removal, and the doctors duly (because the existence of an encephalocele belies circulation and drainage problems of the cerebral fluid) installed a cerebral shunt and warned my mother (whose only experience with mental disabilities came in the form of her sister with Down’s Syndrome, and horror stories from her days as a speech pathologist) that her daughter may have developmental problems, that the presence of the encephalocele may tell of deeper, more serious and less obvious complications, that there is a chance her daughter may always need help feeding and bathing herself, and that she might never walk or talk. 
This is an attempted view of my scar from the encephalocele. Apologies that you can't see it very well, but it's now a tiny lump of bald scar tissue at the back of my head.

            Twenty years later, they still don’t know much about my condition; very few babies are born with it, and half of those who do never achieve an IQ above 83. (I looked it up, and apparently an adult with an IQ of less than 85 has just enough mental capacity for basic gardening and menial housekeeping…)
            My poor mother was on edge for the next few months. Each little sound or quirk I displayed that was the least bit unlike her three other daughters, she immediately questioned. However, I continued to develop normally. (Of course I did… how many of you mothers of multiple children understand that not one infant acts exactly like their older siblings? My mom’s problem was not knowing what a seizure looked like, poor thing!)
            As I grew, I guess the one thing that wasn’t “normal” (or at least wasn’t like my sisters) was the fact that I was very introverted, and very much into reading. My oldest sister Dena was the only one who read a lot and wrote some; Paula and Jamie just went along with her, and did what she told them. It was probably Dena who most inspired my imagination with her own. She was the one making movies all the time, the only one besides me who actually wrote a book. My proficiency with words did not run common through my family. Even before I could read (and though I did not learn to read until I was five), I distinctly remember flipping through one of Dena’s books and making up stories about the illustrations, even though I didn’t have the foggiest what the actual book was about! Years later, I returned to that same book, and had the most intense moment of deja vu ever, as I remembered the stories I had made up when I was four, which were different than the story I was actually reading then.
            I loved reading books. But I never knew why. I would far rather read a book than do anything else. When I started taking literature classes in middle/high school, all of a sudden I knew why I loved some stories and not others. Where for some people those classes would open the world of literature, they did different for me. The world of literature was already wide open; what those classes did was open for me the world of literary psychoanalysis. As if I didn’t already have enough floating through my head, what with my imagination and all, I now had the ability to mentally dissect any work, its characters, conflicts, flaws, and successes. I knew all the terminology, and I reveled in it. I loved stories for their plot elements and their denouements. I liked certain stories in a genre for their plot developments and the language chosen by the author; I disliked others for their misuse of such things. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to become a writer. What those classes also did was to help me become a better writer, too. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about my characters going where I chose, and doing what I wished I could do; suddenly, they had a purpose, which was more than I could say for myself in a lot of areas at the time.
            All this time, I lived with a tube in my head that stretched down past my collarbone and supposedly to my abdominal cavity. I could feel it on my skull, but really had no idea what it looked like. The only scan of my insides I’d ever had was when I was 2 days old. My second x-ray ever was when we began going to a new chiropractor, when I was about 16 or so. It was the first time I had ever seen my shunt, snaking its stark-white way parallel to my spine on the negative. I remember thinking it was a growth behind my ear, one that made it difficult to wear headbands. I knew I didn’t have one on my left side. I knew that when I had a headache, I could massage the “growth” and it would go away.
            When I was nine, I had a mild febrile seizure. I remember everything about that day; I remember exactly what I was wearing: my favorite outfit, because it was purple and had cats and roses on it. (Purple and cats were two favorites of mine, and what girl doesn’t like roses?) It must have been near my birthday, likely around Thanksgiving or so. I was wearing the necklace I had gotten for my eighth birthday, the one that looked like a gold cross set in a gold heart rimmed with faux pearls. I was watching my younger sister Leanne and “oldest” (but still younger) brother Joe play the Polly Pocket board game (which incidentally disappeared shortly after this...). My grandparents were visiting, but leaving then. I remember hearing my Mom call me to say goodbye to them. I remember falling into a stare that I couldn’t break. I remember falling over on the couch---
Then nothing. The next thing I remember is laying on our kitchen counter, while a navy-shirted EMT stood over me, asking for my name. I had a kitchen towel (slightly damp) under my head. I could move, but I couldn’t talk. He was so close I could feel his breath in my face. I blacked out again…
The next thing I remember is sitting on a bed in a hospital room, wearing a hospital gown, while a nurse handed me a medicine cup of orange-flavored “children’s” liquid aspirin. I’ve hated that stuff ever since. Strangely enough, I prefer cherry-flavored. I don’t mind cough syrup. But the orange-flavored stuff tastes like someone fed an orange to a cat, and the cat vomited, and they caught 1-2 teaspoons in the medicine cup.

My sisters tell me I rode an ambulance to the hospital. Of all the times to be unconscious, that had to be it. During my first and only ambulance ride. I am still disappointed.

For a while, we were careful, worried that it might happen again. I continued on with a normal life, still devouring books and such voraciously, unaware that anything was out of the ordinary.
When I was seventeen, I became the first person in my family to be away from home for more than a month. I attended the Excellence in Character, Education and Leadership (EXCEL) Program in Dallas, TX, which lasted eight weeks. I had never been somewhere without my family. Every chance I got, I called them, and even if I left a message, it was at least 2 minutes long every time. I had an amazing time, but I missed my family very much.
It was probably this experience that helped me decide that I wouldn’t be traveling anywhere to attend college; I began looking at online colleges. A program called CollegePlus! seemed to fit the bill nicely: an accelerated program that involved student responsibility and accountability, while at the same time the flexibility to take as short or long a time as I needed between tests. All I had to do was periodically drive out to a designated college to take a credit-by-exam-type test, and in this way, I earned 105 credits in 2 ½ years—the equivalent of taking 3 college courses at the same time for the duration of that time period. In fact, perhaps it was more like 4 courses at a time, because those 2 ½ years also included family vacations, a few trips to Mexico, and an intense experience that threatened to change my life forever.

The year was 2008; I was eighteen, just a month before my 19th birthday. We were hosting another family at our house, so my sisters and I all moved out to our trailer so they could use our room. Sleeping out there on little more than a narrow foam pad, I noticed after a few days that every time I lay in a certain position—normally my most comfortable position—an inexplicable pressure seemed to build in my head, rendering it very uncomfortable. I ignored it, simply avoiding that particular position. I attributed the pressure to the fact that this wasn’t a very good mattress I slept on, and reasoned that it would all go away once I returned to my normal bed. I had to remind myself of this more often, as after a few days, the discomfort increased so that there was not really a comfortable position to lie in at all.
Finally, our guests left, and I gratefully sank into my own bed. To my chagrin, the pain did not subside; it increased. The pain grew so bad, that in spite of taking ibuprofen before bed, I could not lie flat; I had to sleep propped up. Then the pain increased so that as I sat in front of the computer to study or even reading a textbook, I could not focus. It literally felt like a grown man sitting on my head. Not even walking around, closing my eyes, or any other method I tried to relieve the pressure worked. Finally, it got so bad that I threw up from the pain in my head. My mom promptly took me to see the doctor. (Which tells you how bad and mysterious the pain was; the last time I had been to the doctor was probably not since just after my seizure) The physician recommended that we see a neurologist, and the quickest way to do that was through the emergency room. We went right away.
In the ER, they gave me a room, had me change into a hospital gown (being 18, I was still in the “children’s” category; the gown they gave me just barely reached my knees), took an x-ray of my shunt, (the technicians were both guys—super awkward!) and—glory be to God!—hooked me up to an IV painkiller that completely broke my headache almost instantly. After this, we finally got to meet with the neurologist, whom we’ll call Dr. M. He did a few neurological tests on me (you know: touch your finger to your nose, walk on your heels, walk in a straight line, etc.), and—being now pain free for the first time in at least two weeks—I of course performed each test perfectly. He then proceeds to explain about what he saw on the x-ray. He informed us that in fact, my shunt was broken in 2 pieces right around the neck area. He said it had probably happened during a growth spurt some time ago. He asked me if I was in any pain, and I of course said no, right now, with the painkiller still in my system, was not experiencing any pain. From this, Dr. M concluded that he thought I might be “shunt independent”—that my brain had outgrown its need for the shunt. He gave me a promising diagnosis, told me that the pain probably would go away after a while, and sent me on my merry way. The only problem was, I still wondered, “If I am ‘shunt independent’—then why on earth did it hurt so bad all of a sudden?” Dr. M never managed to answer that question.
The painkiller at least allowed me to sleep soundly that night, and when the pain began to return the next day, I could keep it at bay with regular, maximum dosing of both ibuprofen and acetaminophen, (even Excedrin, if I really couldn’t make it 2 hours between doses!), and I tried to resume my studies. It was now only a few weeks before my birthday. In addition, we had a mission trip to Mexico scheduled in mid-October as well. My dad began to question whether this mysterious pain that kept me taking pills at all hours and sleeping propped up would prevent me from going with them. It would be the first one I’d missed (besides the one I missed while attending EXCEL). What were we going to do about this? Local neurosurgeons like Dr. M obviously didn’t really have an answer for us. Where could we turn?

I must pause here and introduce my brother, briefly. He was the first boy after five girls. More importantly, he was born after me, and since my condition, the doctors said, increased Mom’s chances of having another baby with similar defects, they watched the ultrasounds carefully. The next child after me was a girl and she was a healthy baby, but the next, a boy—the first boy—they noticed something odd.
“We can only see three chambers of the heart,” the nurses repeated to my mom. Turns out, they couldn’t see the fourth chamber because it didn’t exist. My brother was born missing his left ventricle. This meant that the oxygenated blood that was supposed to be spread throughout the rest of his body was backwashing in his heart, mixing with the de-oxygenated blood, and causing the overall quality of his blood to be much poorer than a healthy person’s blood. Medicine has progressed to the point where doctors, when they catch such a condition early enough, they can take measures to save the baby’s life, but a lot of time, it goes unnoticed. The baby is born and looks healthy for the first few hours, the parents take it home, and within the first month, it turns blue from lack of oxygen and dies. In my brother’s case, however, they were watching for encephalitis, and they caught the heart defect. So, essentially, my defect saved his life. By the time he was seven, he had undergone seven open-heart surgeries. He’s got the wickedest scars of anyone I know. And about this time he began having regular annual checkups with the doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

One of these checkups occurred shortly after I began having the headaches, around the end of September. Also this same day was a party I wanted to go to, an engagement party for one of my older sisters (and the first one to be engaged). I knew I would far rather go to the party than to Seattle, but my parents had received the opportunity to meet with the head of Pediatric Neurosurgery there at Children’s, and requested that I come. By that time, constant dosing on ibuprofen and over-the-counter pain meds kept the pain down to a dull ache, but the pressure was still such that I literally could not see straight, and every time I tried, my head would hurt worse. I did not protest much.
We met with the head neurosurgeon, a Dr. A. It was the most insightful consultation we had experienced yet. As it turned out, my condition happened to be his specialized field of study. I was not just another chapter from his textbook that he never expected to see in real life. I was a person who had a condition—albeit a rare one—who needed his help and his knowledge. He gave us three assignments to do in the following weeks: an MRI with contrast dye (to see where and how the fluid was flowing in my brain), a lumbar puncture (to check the pressure of the cerebral fluid in my spinal cord), and—strangest of all—he wanted us to see an ophthalmologist to check, he said, for something called papilledema.
I had just had my regular eye checkup in August. I had perfect vision; I had never had anything but perfect vision all my life. Every single one of my siblings has had minor variations between near- and farsightedness, but not me. So why would we need to check for papilledema, and what was it, anyway?
We worked with the local neurosurgery clinic (Dr. M’s office) to get the MRI. This meant more hospital gowns. (I hate hospital gowns now.) We went in to see our regular eye doctor. She was a little surprised to see us, more so when we tried to explain why. She sat me down in the chair, dilated my pupils, took one look in my eye, and said, “I’m going to get another pair of eyes for a second opinion.”
When your regular physician, who has basically watched you grow up, is the one to seek out a second opinion, you can pretty much bet that it is something serious. And for me, it was.
Turns out, she and the second doctor both saw beginning, early stages of papilledema in my eye. And what is papilledema? “Swelling of the tissue around the optic disc, which puts pressure on the nerves and affects the sight.” And how serious is it? The ophthalmologist put it bluntly, “If this issue is not resolved, Leslie will go blind.
I was shell-shocked; I went from perfect vision to going blind in only a month? What in the world was happening inside my head?
The next week, we went in for the lumbar puncture. They got my back numb (Note: isn’t it the height of irony that Novocain, the painkiller, stings like peroxide going in? Of course, it was effective, but—still!), and inserted the needle, testing the initial pressure of the fluid in my spinal cord.
In a normal spinal cord, the typical amount of pressure is usually somewhere around the low 20’s, like 22-23 or so, with 25 being too high to be usual. The pressure in my spinal cord? A whopping 53. I told the doctors, “Gee, no wonder my head was hurting!” I was walking around with more than twice the amount of pressure a normal person should have around the brain! They drew off enough fluid to bring the pressure down to 15, and I could literally feel the pressure leaving my head as they did so. It was such a relief!
We met with Dr. M again after the puncture. Obviously, he had by now rescinded his previous prognosis of “shunt independence.” Now we were talking surgical procedures. For the first time, he showed us the MRI scans of my brain. The four ventricles of fluid in my brain stood out like white lakes amidst the grey matter. (For reference, the ventricles of the brain are as follows: there are two ventricles in the main lobes of the brain, a third right in the middle, around the cerebellum, and situated back and below that is the fourth, which connects to the spinal cord.) Dr. M pointed to the narrow passageway (“aqueduct”) between the third and fourth ventricles, informing us that to him, the knowledgeable one, it looked a bit too narrow (“stenosed.”) I listened to him throwing around these very “textbookish” terms, and thought, “Why does he use these words? Does he expect that I will know what he is talking about?”
He informed us that, in light of the results of the lumbar puncture, he was willing to allow that, yes, we had a problem. He said we had two options, in light of the fact that my shunt was broken, he didn’t expect that it was working properly, and we needed to relieve the pressure on my brain somehow. The first option was installing a new shunt. He told us that the general failure rate for cerebral shunts was somewhere around 25%. He also said that if we chose this option, he would not feel comfortable removing the old shunt, as not only was it broken, but parts of it had calcified (fused) to my collarbone, and he did not want to risk taking it out and leaving shards of plastic in my body. They would just line the new shunt up next to it, if we chose that option, he said.
Option number two would be an endoscopy in my brain, to create a new drainage channel that would bypass the normal channels entirely. Dr. M said that maybe the “aqueduct” between my third and fourth ventricles was small from the beginning, hence the encephalocele, and that the endoscopy would create a new channel leading right from my third ventricle to the spinal cord. When my dad asked about the risks for this, Dr. M said that such a procedure ran very close to my hypothalamus—the part of the brain largely responsible for many things, including short-term memory. I thought this sounded more scary than a new shunt (even though the 25% failure rate was a wide margin!), especially since, being in college, I knew I would need my short-term memory to study for tests and such! Dr. M gave us 2 weeks to think about it. This was on a Friday, exactly one week before our trip to Mexico.
My parents brought up the trip to Mexico, and Dr. M immediately shook his head. “Oh no,” he said, “no matter what procedure we do, she is definitely not going anywhere for at least a month!” He sent us home with many worries and questions, not the least of which was voiced by my dad as we got into the car, “If the trouble is with the ventricles up in Leslie’s brain,” he queried, “Why was the pressure so high, down in the lumbar region of her spine?” Dr. M hadn’t really explained that.
When we got home that afternoon, Mom e-mailed Dr. A in Seattle and told him about it. I think she probably figured he’d be able to glance at it later that weekend, but within the hour, she receives his reply.
“The national failure rate for cerebral shunt revisions is between 8 and 11%,” he informs us, “Here at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I supervised over 200 revisions in the last year, and the failure rate was less than 5%.”
Sort of makes one wonder where Dr. M got his “25%” figure, doesn’t it? But wait, Dr. A continued,
“I am in the OR this weekend, and I would be willing to let Leslie be my first case of the day on Monday morning.

Great. So now, instead of two weeks to prepare for a surgery, I have two days. And this is no “go into a section of the body where there is lots of space and take out something small, like an appendix or something” type of surgery, nor is it the type where there are no major organs, and the doctor can just immobilize the area in a cast or something to speed recovery.
This is my brain we’re talking about, people. This is a “open the skull, take a shunt tube out of the brain, feed a new tube into the brain, down through the neck, past the ribs, and coil it in the abdominal cavity” type of operation.
Two days. That’s all I had to get physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared for this. Plus, I was still battling headaches and nausea even after my lumbar puncture, both because my body was no doubt trying to replace the fluid the doctors had removed, and because it was probably doing so at an abnormally fast rate. (In fact, even though they put me on medication that supposedly slowed the production of cerebrospinal fluid, by the time of the surgery, my pressure levels were already back in the thirties)
We went to church that Sunday morning, I lasted about an hour before I had to leave and lay down in the car because of nausea and exhaustion, we came home, my mom and I packed for a few-day trip, and we drove up to Seattle that afternoon for the pre-op stuff. (Meeting the OR team, taking a few vials of blood (which meant another hospital gown! I was getting pretty tired of those things!) Luckily, we got to stay at my mom’s brother’s house, because he lived only five minutes from the hospital.
6 AM Monday morning, we went into the hospital for my operation. The anesthesiologist “just happened” to be a Brit, which I regard as entirely God’s doing, because till now only He knew that I regard the British accent to be the single coolest accent on the planet. (Until you try to say something like, “I’m artistic”; go ahead, try saying it out loud, and you’ll realize what I mean) I also received immense comfort seeing the door of the OR plastered with a large sign proclaiming “LATEX ALLERGY.” So at Children’s Hospital, apparently they have an entire OR of non-latex equipment, meant especially for those kids with latex allergies. One less thing for me to worry about. (To all you medical professionals who are thinking, "Of course they would!" This is a legitimate fear for me, since it was my own negligence in reminding a new hygienist at the dentist office about my allergy that resulted in near-asphyxiation; since then I've been paranoid of rubber gloves)

Quite frankly, the morning of the operation, I had just one condition I was concerned about the most. You recall that the first time I went to Seattle to meet Dr. A, that my sister was having her engagement party. She was getting married in January, less than three months away. Therefore, when the surgeon asked me, “Is there anything you’re worried about?” I immediately looked up at him and asked,
“Just how much hair are you going to take off?”
I had voiced this to my dad earlier; he smiled and told me, “Don’t worry, Leslie; I’ll buy you a nice wig to wear for the wedding.” So comforting, my dad.
The surgeon smiled and promised he would take of as little hair as he needed to; he reassured me that he definitely would not need to shave the whole side of my head to perform the operation. The anesthesiologist came forward and hooked me up to a nitrous oxide mask and tried to have his assistant put an IV needle for more painkiller into my hand. She missed the vein, so he had to do it himself. Meanwhile, he’s chatting his is pleasant, British way all about the history of nitrous oxide. I take one deep breath, and feel the uncontrollable giggling welling up inside me. One more breath, and I black out completely.
            At about 1 PM, I come to in the Post-op Recovery area. My mouth is very dry, and I have new scars with stiff, black stitches in two places on my abdomen and along the side of my skull. I still have most of my hair. It’s all pulled off to the left side of my head. Only about an inch-wide strip on the right side of my head is bald.

^^Top view. The curve of this scar is
visible when I part my hair on the right.

They wheel me into a room of my own, where my mom is waiting. She’s on the phone a lot, talking to people and telling them how my surgery went. I am hooked up to an IV morphine drip, but I’m not sure if it’s doing all that much. I don’t hurt, but probably after the first hour, it wasn’t because of the morphine. The most that stuff ever did, I think, was make me feel nauseous at the sight or taste of food. It’s weird having stitches covered by large pieces of gauze all over my body. I got visits from my mom’s sister-in-law and my dad’s sisters, who also lived in Seattle. Some friends of ours who also live in Seattle paid me a visit. I got lots of presents. As the day wears on, I feel better and stronger.
            By evening, my biggest frustration is the respiration monitor I have that measures the time between breaths. The morphine drip, for its part, slows down my respiration, so I can relax for several moments between breaths. The only trouble is, when I relax like this, the respiration monitor sets off an alarm, thinking I’ve asphyxiated or something, and it goes off till a nurse comes in to turn it off. Between that and nurses coming in every four hours to take my vitals, and every six to give me Tylenol and Oxycodone to take, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

This is where the valve from the old shunt
(the "pump") was removed.
            Tuesday morning, I feel great. They take me off a constant morphine drip, and give me a button that, if I am in pain, dispenses a predetermined amount of morphine. I never pressed that button once, the reason being that I was very hungry by now, and as long as the morphine was in my system, I could not eat. Mom and I watch a lot of TV; laughing makes my stitches hurt. That morning I receive a present from the hospital gift shop: a gigantic stuffed cat the size and shape of a body pillow. Clutching that against my chest as I laugh makes it easier on the stitches. By the afternoon, I am able to walk around, and I feel completely normal. Dr. A pays us a visit.
            He was very happy at how well I’ve recovered. He said if I felt well enough in a few hours, he’d let us leave the hospital, though for safety’s sake we should probably spend one more night in Seattle, just in case something goes wrong. Then Dr. A speaks the unimaginable.
            He turns to my mom and says, “So, you mentioned that you are going to Mexico sometime soon; is that this week?”
            My mom, fully aware of what Dr. M had told us, says yes, there is a trip planned, but of course, she and I are not going.
            Dr. A: “Why not?”
            Till now I had all but given up on my chance of going to Mexico. I was ready for a lonely birthday at home with just my mom. Now, Dr. A has brought it up himself, and he didn’t have a problem with us going! He said, “If Leslie feels well enough, I don’t think it would be a problem. The stitches are secure, I don’t think they’ll fall out. Let me send you with a CD of your MRIs, just in case you run into an emergency down there.” He then shows us the post-operation MRI: where once I had large white lakes in my brain, now there are tiny white pinstripes. I thought, So THAT’s what my brain is SUPPOSED to look like! Shunt independent, my eye!
            Just to test, I tried flipping my hair over the bald spot on my right side. With my part on the left, you couldn’t even see the stitches! I had four scars from the operation. Between them, there were almost one hundred stitches, I think.

This picture was taken at the same time as the others, I promise!
Discharged from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Left Seattle on Wednesday afternoon. Packed all day on Thursday. Left with my family to Mexico on Friday. Celebrated my birthday by arriving at our host family’s house by Saturday night. What a crazy week!
So, I ask you: what is normal? Would you consider me normal? Is it because you think I look like you? Is it because I conform to your expectations? Looks can be deceiving. I am just as far from normal as the next person. Or perhaps you are the one who is not normal, having never experienced such “coincidental miracles” as I have.