Once, when I was very young, I remember watching my dad work. The image of him sawing wood and measuring where that wood would go is clear and vivid in my mind, as though I just saw it yesterday. I don’t remember what prompted it, but I do remember saying
“I want to be just like you.”
He seemed confused by the statement. I suppose because it seemingly came from nowhere. He lit a cigarette. He looked so cool.
“Not just like me. Don’t start smoking these.” he said. I nodded, thinking I probably would anyway. I never did. The occasional cigarillo with my alcohol, but I never became addicted to it.
Road trips were always a fun experience, whether we were going from California to Arizona to visit my sister, or just a couple of hours on the freeway to visit a family friend. The best music blaring from the speakers. Beatles, Clapton, Tom Petty. The windows down, wind blowing through your air as the California sun tried its damnedest to get into your eyes.
I was always in the back seat, which sometimes meant I had the luxury of laying down and taking a nap until we were at our destination. I wish now that I had done that less. That I cherished those moments while I was in them, because looking back now, they are some of my fondest family memories. My father driving, my mother the co-pilot, and me bouncing around in the back seat.
Sometimes we would drive to the woods, just to do it. Just to breathe that air and feel the dirt beneath our feet. Sometimes we would drive to the desert, just to escape the city lights and hustle and bustle. Nothing better than setting off fire works in the sand, with what felt like a whole galaxy of stars laid out above you.
My father always had a story ready. Always had some kind of crazy past adventure that he went on, usually when he was around my age at the time of telling the story. I think this is why I write. I think this is why I love stories to much. Not the countless books I’ve read over the years, or watching narrative play out in TV shows or movies. No, the stories my father told me.
When I was in my teens and discovered marijuana, I didn’t want to try and hide it from my parents. I was always honest with them and felt this should be no different. I would bite the bullet and take whatever came my way. My mother was folding laundry when I first approached her.
“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.” I said. She stopped folding the clothes and looked at me, her eyes were afraid.
“I smoke pot.”
She put down the article of clothing she was folding, took a deep breath, and said “Come with me.”
She took me into the bedroom, where my father was watching TV, and told me to repeat what I had told her to him.
“Dad, I smoke pot.” I said. He turned off the TV and exchanged looks with my mother.
“Do you do anything else? Anything stronger than pot?” He finally asked. I shook my head no, and I meant it. I had never had any interest in trying anything stronger than marijuana. I had been to parties where a plethora of drugs were available, but I never even wanted to try any of them.
“That’s good. Pot can be fine, if you’re careful about it. But I better not catch you doing anything else.” He looked at me, concern awash over his face, and I realized he was waiting for me to agree. I nodded. He went back to his TV show and I went out with some friends.
I never did anything stronger than marijuana or alcohol, and I haven’t smoked marijuana since those days.
Religion was a weird thing for me, growing up. Still is, I guess. But going to my grandparent’s house as a kid was always an odd experience, as they were Catholic and my grandmother had a bunch of paintings of Jesus hanging through her house. Not nice ones, where he’s holding a lamb or feeding starving children, but ones during and post crucifixion. Crown of thorns, blood everywhere. Really scary stuff, as a kid.
My grandma always made it her mission to bring me into the Catholic fold, but I still remember something my father said to me.
“Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should be. I’m not religious, but I’ve made my peace with God. I don’t need to go to church, I don’t need to read the bible. You don’t need to do either of those things, either, if they feel wrong to you. Read about religion and figure it out for yourself, whatever feels right is what’s right.”
That struck a chord with me, even at that young age, and I’ve carried those words with me ever since.
For as far back as I can remember, my father always had long hair and a beard. His appearance was such that a lot of people mistook him for a biker. This happened so often, that he had a stock answer at the ready for when people would ask him “What kinda bike you got?”
That answer was “Schwinn.”
At the end of March, I got a phone call from my mother. She was letting me know that my father was unresponsive. That he was laying in his bed, his eyes would not open, and that his time to go was soon. The nurses and Hospice people all assured us that he could still hear us, that he wasn’t gone yet. My mother held the phone up to my father’s ear. I told him I loved him, I thanked him for all he’d done for me, and I said goodbye. His mouth and eyebrows twitched, so my mother said.
On Saturday, April 2nd 2016, in the early morning hours, my father passed away.
I can say, with absolutely no exaggeration, with no hyperbole, with no dramatics at all, that it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It feels like a piece of my soul has been torn away.
I have since returned to work. I have a pretty good circle of friends who are looking out for me, always checking in and making sure I’m pulling through.
“It gets easier.” they say. “There will be good days and bad days.”
I wonder when the good days will start. I wonder when this horrible weight on my heart will feel lighter. I wonder when the dark will pass and I will feel the light again.
I’m going to end this post with the last picture taken of me and my father. It was during a trip out to California to visit, a mere few weeks before his passing. I am forever grateful that I had the chance to hug my father one last time, to hear his laughter, and to be at a point where I could tell him things and know that, at least on some level, he understood them.
It’s fitting that we’re both laughing in the photo, as I will always remember my father for his compassion and sense of humor.
I love you, Dad.
In January, I received a phone call. That phone call was to let me know that my grandfather did not have much longer to live and that a second phone call would soon come to let me know when he was gone. It was a very difficult and strange stretch of time between those phone calls. My mind raced, my heart felt as though a dagger had been plunged into it, I couldn’t sleep, I barely ate.
Then the second call came. And I grieved. Still am.
Now, once again, I find myself pressed by the weight of the space between two horrible phone calls. On Easter Sunday, I received word that my father has gotten worse. Much worse. When the hospice nurse came to check my father, when she had a moment to go over the hospice handbook with my mother and sister, she turned to one of the last pages in that book. One marked “From Days to Hours”. Another nurse called this stage “a walk through the strawberry field”.
This is where we find ourselves. My mind is again racing, my heart brings pain with every beat, I have barely slept the last two nights and have only eaten when I have been reminded to do so.
I hate this. I hate this so much. I feel lost. I feel numb, though not numb enough.
My father, my hero, my friend. He is half a country away, soon to be further than I or anyone else can reach, and there is nothing I can do.
The tears are blurring this as I type and I need to dress for work. Not even sure why I’ve written this, other than to get it somewhere outside my own head.
Hug your family. Tell them you love them.
A lot has happened in the brief two months since my last post.
The weather has begun its shift from icy winds licking at your skin and the skies tearing open to blanket the world in fresh snow, to assorted peeks at the tans and muted greens of what was once and will again be grass. Shorts, t-shirts, ice cream cones. Signs of Spring show themselves, reminding us that things move forward. Time marches on, ever and ever and without you, whether you wish it to or not.
Over the course of a single week in January, the following events transpired. In order:
1: My father entered hospice care.
2: My grandfather was hospitalized, a total of two times.
3: My grandfather entered hospice care.
And 4: On January 25th, my grandfather, Charles Gustav Kaas, passed away at the age of 96.
It has all felt like a whirlwind from hell and it has all weighed on my soul in ways I never knew were possible.
My father’s health has continued to deteriorate and now we’re simply being told no one knows how much longer he’ll be here.
Through the kindness of both loved ones and people I barely know, Danielle and I are able to fly out to California. This will not be a fun-filled vacation, it will not be catching up and reminiscing with old faces or partying at the old stomping grounds.
This trip, put as simply as I can put it, will be me saying goodbye to my father.
We leave in a few days. This weekend will be devoted to housecleaning and preparing for the trip. We want to make sure Ben is comfortable while he graciously plays housesitter for us. We’ll return one week later and will have a day to process and decompress, both physically and, I’m sure, emotionally. Then it’s a return for what has passed for normalcy in recent time, which disguises itself as my spending afternoons making pizzas.
My grandfather and I had a strained relationship for many years, the reasons for which I will not divulge here. But when I was a very young boy, my grandfather was my best friend. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve spending time with my grandparents. We’d hop into my grandpa’s maroon Oldsmobile and go up to the corner Thrifty drug store to buy scratch-off lottery tickets (I’d pick them out and if he or I won on any of them, I’d get to keep some of the money) and pineapple ice cream cones. We’d watch boxing until it was time to pick up my grandmother from bingo. It really is the simplest things that stand out.
A lot changed in our relationship between those days and where he left us, but I’ve never forgotten how close we were. I’ll never forget pineapple ice cream and scratch-off lottery tickets.
I turned 32 three days ago.
The world is an upside down place that makes little sense.
Well, here it is. The obligatory first blog entry of the new year. 2015 came crashing down around me in spectacular fashion and now 2016 lay, all shiny and new, at my feet. Full of fresh starts and brimming with potential. Will this year be better than the last? Will I be happier and healthier and more at peace with the world?
Right now, I can’t be certain.
So much happened in 2015, but the problem is too much of it felt as though it all happened to me. 2015 attacked me, tore at my heart in ways I’ve never experienced before, and even as I type this I feel a sense of waning numbness.
The biggest attack, the one that has cut me the deepest and wet its claws in almost every aspect of my life, is that my father is not getting better. I might write a post about it, go into it at greater length, when I am able to tackle the situation without it crippling me. Maybe I won’t. Maybe this will be my only mention of it on this blog from here on out. I have a feeling I won’t have any choice but to write about it, in one form or another, for any of it to make something resembling sense.
I don’t want to continue to bring this up, as I don’t want to burden those reading this with the heaviness of the situation, the heaviness I feel inside every time I think of it.
I am here for my mother, as she is understandably closest to ground zero of the slowly burning disaster that is currently at the forefront of the collective mind of my family. I am here for my sister, who is handling all of this as well as one might expect; bravely, compassionately, and with healthy fear and frustration. I love them both and am happy to be their sounding board, their crying shoulder, their helping hand, in all of this going forward.
But one thing must be understood: I am not okay. I’m sure that, with time, I will be. But for now, though I am here, though I am smiling and laughing and putting on my best face for the crowd… I am not okay.
There it is, the line has been reached. Quite enough of such sadness in this post, one that started with such hope and promise. Let us hope the new year in question is not a reflection of how this post has gone so far.
Star Wars. That’s a good thing that happened in 2015, a new Star Wars movie happened and most people agree it was pretty good.
I’m very tired. I think I’ll go get some sleep. A longer, perhaps happier, post will come soon.
Current Proof of Life:
Post office, bills to pay. Bought lunch. Sun was shining, but the humidity had finally broke. All was well.
Mostly sleep. Started watching Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. I’m four episodes into the eight episode season and loving every minute. Entire cast firing on all comedic cylinders. Now watching anime with Danielle. Shielding self from heat outside by remaining inside air conditioned house.
Plans include grocery shopping, more anime, more Wet Hot American Summer, more sleep.
Risk. Not the strategy board game that made your cousin cry that one time, but real risk. It’s something that I feel isn’t seen much in the mainstream comic book landscape. Even some of what could be seen as the biggest risks taken by the big comic book publishers in recent years feel too carefully calculated. Like they boiled their risky idea down to a series of charts and graphs and then ran those through a few too many focus groups before deciding it was just risky enough to capture the imagination of their audience. One company who was built on risk taking is Image Comics. I have to say that a lot of my favorite comics in recent years, not all, but a lot, have been Image books. I’m not saying that charts and graphs and focus groups aren’t a part of their process, because it probably is. The creation of comic books is still a business, after all. But when the origin of your company, the very genesis of your entire business model, came from ditching the mainstream and focusing on giving true control of the art back to the artists, you kind of gain a certain level of street cred. Even when the company you created to rival “The Big Two” becomes one of “The Big Three”.
There are a lot of truly interesting things out there, if you look hard enough, great stories and some fantastic art. The independent comics scene has flourished in the digital age, even if the term “underground comics” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. In a world where more and more people are reading their comics on screens rather than on the page, and whether you view that as a good or bad direction is another discussion for another time, it’s obvious that what is considered “mainstream” isn’t what it once was. While Marvel, DC, and Image Comics continue to split a majority of the business in the comics industry, the little guy/girl isn’t as little as he/she once was, either. A good social media presence can make that number of followers translate to a number of paying readers, no matter what your clout in the industry is. Whether you work in the Marvel Bullpen, or you’re just someone with artistic talent and a regularly updated webcomic on Patreon, you can find yourself on almost equal footing in readership. Which is why the big publishers can be seen, in recent years, as less of an endgame for creators and more of another showcase for their work. One that can serve a much larger audience than they might be used to.
Image Comics can hardly be considered an independent publisher anymore, but they still have much of that independent spirit that made them such trailblazers in the early 90’s. And even though they might now be seen as part of the big comics machine, chugging away, they always strive to showcase talent and know when to take risks.
Island #1 feels very much like one of those risks for a couple of reasons. First of which, the $7.99 price tag might be enough to make casual readers and those of us who have a limited monthly comics budget keep walking. That risk pays off, however, when one realizes that they receive 112 pages of comic goodness for their money. The second risk is that not a lot of publishers make comic anthologies anymore. I’m not talking about trade paperbacks collecting story arcs, but anthologies that exist with the purpose of showcasing several different stories all beholden to a specific theme or even similar vibe. Heavy Metal is, of course, one of the first that comes to mind. A few others. But in terms of print anthology comic book magazines, the the field isn’t exactly cluttered.
As far as anthologies go, Island handles the format perfectly. Each of the five entries in this issue are great for different reasons, and their creators really let their creative juices flow.
I.D., as written and drawn by Emma Rios (who serves as co-editor with Brandon Graham), is a unique and captivating look at the concepts of identity and body image. The art is stunning, the story is a fresh look at important issues, though the dialogue stands out as the only real weak point of the piece. The imagery is what shines in this first (damn those “To Be Continued…”‘s!) installment of I.D.
Kelly Sue DeConnick contributes not a comic but an illustrated essay entitled Railbirds and it serves as a beautiful tribute to the late poet and author Maggie Estep. DeConnick draws on her personal experiences with addiction and self-doubt to encapsulate how deeply Estep touched her life and the effect her friendship had on her own personality and world/self view. It’s beautiful and stays with you long after you finish it.
Brandon Graham, the creative co-mastermind of this whole affair, delivers a visually amazing comic entitled “Multiple Warheads 2: Ghosttown“. As the title would suggest, this is a part of a larger story told elsewhere, so it can be a bit hard to follow at times, but the beauty of Graham’s art is enough for anyone to enjoy taking their time with.
Dagger Proof Mummy, by Ludroe, is just a blast. It’s fun and frenetic and really makes you want to ride a skateboard.
The issue wraps up with Polaris 1, in which Brandon Graham addresses us, the readers, and gives us an inside perspective into his process.
Image Comics has a very special thing on their hands with Island. After receiving my copy, I immediately checked to see if pre-order was available for any further issues. Island #2 through #5 are already spoken for and will arrive in my mailbox as they’re released, and I can honestly say that I’m very much looking forward to watching this project grow.
Even at $7.99, and even though it’s by no means flawless, Island #1 definitely offers a return on your investment. I highly recommend you take a risk of your own and check this out.
If you’re interested in seeing more from the creators of Island, check out:
There’s also this great interview over at AV Club.
Just a friendly reminder that no matter how badly your day has gone (today has not been a good one for me) so far, just another twirl around of this tiny rock, and a new day will dawn. Fresh beginnings, every twenty-four hours.
We sit upon a rock, within a bubble of air and gas, in the middle of an endless sea of black, which itself is peppered with tiny specks of light. Some of those countless specks of light have rocks of their own, circling and circling. On and on this all goes, forever and ever into eternity. Ever expanding, ever growing. We are so small and it is easy to feel an overwhelming sense of insignificance when faced with this knowledge.
But we are made of the same materials as the rest of the universe. We are stardust and the infinite cosmos and we are all in this together.
Don’t forget. We are nothing, yet we are all.
Tomorrow will be better.