Sit And Spin

So, on a lark, since I’ve got literally nothing better to do than lay here on my back and never, ever move my head, lest I go into a vomitous heaving frenzy into the polished chrome bowl beside me, I will sit upright and tap out a rant on my smartphone. (Oh, the future…) Seriously though, I have no idea how bulimic people can do it so often.

It started this morning when I woke and sat up to a spinning room that sent a creeping feeling into my guts. Initially chalking it up to sitting up too fast, I got up with intentions of taking care of your standard morning bathroom duties  (Right?!) and instead ended up puking up the remains of the previous night’s meal. After voiding the contents of my stomach, I sat up, expecting the relief that usually comes with a good barf sesh, before the room started spinning off its axis again and sent me back into another fit of heaves. I ended up laying on the cool floor of the bathroom for a good 20 minutes, fully intended on staying there until I sweated this whole thing out, but eventually, laying on a hard tile floor start to take a toll on the neck, back, and ass and I made my way back to the bed with the bowl and a big bottle of water in tow to sleep it off.

I woke up again around 4 PM feeling refreshed and rather level-headed. I also hadn’t been to the bathroom since last night, so I decided to risk a venture across the 10 feet of room space from my bed to the toilet. The second I got up was the second things got all “fun house mirror” again. I luckily had the foresight to bring my phone and my trusty metal purging bowl, which I used 3 times along my journey. After puking a few more times, I finally managed to pass out, being mindful to lay myself on my side, lest I go out like the late Jimi Hendricks. I’ve woke up several times in between, and after getting far more sleep than I need, I’ve found a position where I can comfortably prop myself up to type out this rant.

I really hate politics. It’s just absolutely fucking disgusting to feel the need to sit and wait it out in bed next to this reeking bowl, wanting desperately to go down stairs and eat all three of the daily meals I’ve missed at once, since being an American citizen with a pre-existing medical condition can deem me “uninsurable”. I’ve spent seven years of my life praying that nothing too bad would go wrong with my health in the time before I could get a career up and running. Working as a freelance writer, fun as it is, does not come with health and dental.

Seven years. Now with the passage and now constant contention surrounding healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act, I feel more on edge about this crap than usual. Laying here as I spin inside my own head makes it even worse. A man shouldn’t have to wait until the worst case scenario before he goes to a doctor. He shouldn’t have to feel overwhelmingly compelled not to seek treatment due to the possibility of financial strife, even when feeling his worst. The fact that this is common place is horrendous. The fact that so many people who don’t have to worry about these problems have the authority to try and contest giving it to those who need it is deplorable.Of course, I have a whole long argument that I’d like to throw in here, but instead, I think I’m going to go pass out again.

The moral of the story: Don’t get sick.

Like, EVER!

The Unspectacular Exploits Of The Immobile, Hyphenated Squid-Boy

It didn’t take long before my chest had healed enough for it to be unbandaged, I got the real shock of getting to see and be able to assess the stark changes that would now be a permanent fixture of my bodily landscape. Not only was the old, faded scar beneath my left breast now accompanied by a long, puckering, scabbed over wound with prickly translucent sutures running up and down the full length of my sternum, but I also had a series of four long rubber hoses jammed two by two into either of my sides to drain the fluid that had been accumulated in my lungs while I began to recover. Those creeped me out far more than the fact that some guy had cleaved open my chest and proceeded to root around with my organs while I slept it off. As cool as a kid might think looking like Doctor Octopus would be for a little while, it’s a whole ‘nother bit of unpleasantness to feel bits of sharp, hard plastic shifting around just beneath your skin whenever you try and move or turn around even slightly.

You get to have that much constant discomfort as a consistent part of your daily routine, and you learn to adapt yourself. Making mental note of how which degrees of movement would cause the tubes to shift or grind against my innards, and doing my damnedest to avoid them, which was easier said than done. The level of mobility that lent me was exactly the level of mobility of spending most parts of my day playing Nintendo with my feet and urinating into a medical-grade jug. I guess that’s a fine lifestyle, if you’re into living like a semi-functional beached whale. Eight year old boys however, are a peculiar breed who are typically hyped up on sugar and a special form of cooties. Even in my weakened state, I wasn’t having with any of that noise.

One day, I made the cocky mistake of rejoicing aloud in triumph to my mom and a nurse at my unexpected emancipation when one of the tubes fell out of my side and hit the floor with a wet thump. Unfortunately, this sense of newly liberated freedom was short-lived as the nurse walked over, knelt down and grabbed the tube and took it away for a moment before coming back with a new, sterile one. She muttered an apology to me and told me to try and stay calm as she inserted the new tube where the old one had been. Not much warning, no anesthetic, I just felt a quick, hard push accompanied by a lot of screaming on my part. My young mind may have exaggerated the pain of it, but the way I’ve recalled it ever since, I can’t think of any physical pain I’ve encountered in my life that was worse or more disturbing than being awake for my “stabbing”.

From there, the road to recovery was slow. I spent over a week in a hospital bed at Mayo with my Mom and Grandmother staying in the room with me for as long as the doctors would allow visitors and periodic calls from my Dad back home while he worked to keep the bills paid. The time I spent at Mayo after the surgery was finished and I woke up added up to about a week, but I remember the time passing as if it were a month. Fortunately, I had a huge stack of comics, video games, and cartoons to help pass the time.

Then came the nightly blood tests. Nurses, entering the room quietly at night with needles and prickers and menacing, snarling nurse fangs, drooling for their nightly fix on my sweet, sweet O negative. These nightly acts of aggression were neither appreciated nor enjoyed. The repeated assaults built a level of aggression into me that would fill more and more with each encounter. Incensed with rage, I became a scourge to every nurse in the place. I didn’t trust them and I made it a happen to tell every single one of them as much when they walked through the door. Turning towards the inner darkness that kept me immobile in my bed and frustrated in the world around me as these four tubes in my chest held me into place, looking like some eight-armed octopi, I resigned to my fate.

I would become the Squid!

The toys I had accumulated from friends, family, and mystery donors had become the weapons in Squid Boy’s arsenal for this great battle. Come at a guy twice daily to prod him with needles, and I don’t care how good your intentions are, there will be hard feelings. Having had enough, I made my intentions known to this poor woman, with as much venom as a seven year old boy could muster.

“Come any closer with that needle, and I will shoot you in the head.”

Fortunately, the only shooting taking place would be from the barrel of a spring-loaded accessory that came with a Batman action figure (Circa the first Michael Keaton flick) that would launch little plastic projectiles as far as maybe three or four feet with the ballistic power of a beetle crashing repeatedly into the face of a lit lightbulb. The nurse, feeling sorry for me, played along in the interest of humoring me and getting her job done, allowed me to “shoot her in the head” while acting like it really hurt before I let her go at me with the needle again. It wasn’t the last of the blood tests in my time at Mayo or beyond, but the nurse’s willingness to play along with exorcising my frustration was enough to get me over a certain degree of the frustration that had been plaguing me. After that point, I swore I’d never get touched by another needle as long as I lived. Despite this, my do-gooder nature coupled with my universal donor blood type make me a frequent target of the Red Cross’ Vampire Call List and I got my first tattoo on my 30th birthday with intentions on probably getting a couple more before too long. (Again, sorry Mom…)

So much for that, Squid-Boy.

A Badly Drawn Boy Presents: The Sunday Night Sketch Dump (Vol. 2)

Aaaaand we’re back!

As many may have noticed from the previous entry, things kind of got thrown into upheaval here in Casa de Wallace with the unexpected loss of my father. First of all, I want to thank everyone for the gigantic outpouring of support and kind words over what I wrote about Dad. Overall, it was the blog’s most viewed entry so far. It’s hard to believe it’s already been two weeks since I woke up to that phone call, but the older I get, the more I find that time gets away from me at times. I’ll have a lot to write about on the subject of my father, our relationship, and how I plan to move forward in light of what’s happened in the coming weeks, but I figured I’d spend my first entry back in the saddle keeping things light and fun with a  new installment of The Sunday Night Sketch Dump.

If you know me well or follow my exploits on Facebook or Twitter, you know I’ve had a borderline unhealthy fixation on AMC’s rapidly concluding drama Breaking Bad since almost the first day it aired. As the ongoing saga of high school chemistry teacher turned crystal meth kingpin Walter White winds to it’s dark and twisted conclusion, I find myself increasingly panicked about what new show I’ll be able to use to fill the void that this one will leave, like The Shield and The Wire before it. With only two episodes left as of tonight, and the absolute barnburner of an episode that went down last Sunday night, I figured now would be a good time to bust out another BB-centric sketch for the hell of it. This one of the only character on the entire show who could be considered a “good guy”, full-time DEA Agent and part-time cheeseball and mineral enthusiast, Hank Schrader, as played by actor Dean Norris. After the performance he’s put forth this season, if Norris doesn’t get an Emmy, I’ll be a very sad man.

Next week’s sketch dump will more than likely be an all Breaking Bad retrospective in honor of the show’s grand finale, so stay tuned for that!

Early last month also saw the passing of one of my all-time favorite authors, crime writer Elmore Leonard. The wordsmith behind books (which spun off countless movies) like Get Shorty, Rum Punch, (renamed Jackie Brown for Quentin Tarentino’s stellar adaptation) and most recently, Raylan, the lead character on the FX series, Justified.

Born in 1925 and died in 2013, Elmore kept the train rolling until the day he died, having put out his last book 2 years before his passing and being a writer and producer on Justified. Anyone working in a creative field should consider themselves lucky to live to be 90 years old and still kicking the shit out of most of their younger competition.

Here’s a fun little portrait I did for a friend of mine whom I’ve known for years. Jessica Smilie and I knew each other back in high school, and over the course of 2012, when my life was going through a lot of personal turbulence, we reconnected through Facebook and got to talking on an almost daily basis. If I had to describe her sense of humor in a manner that most people might best understand, it would be to say that she’s basically a real life version of Pam Poovey from Archer. The woman loves a well-placed poop joke, as noted above. She’s become one of my best friends and ever since I’ve come back to Louisville for my periodic stay, I try to hang with her and her boyfriend at any given chance. I drew this picture for her months ago when she was going through a small health scare and needed some cheering up.

Last but not least, a little teaser image for an upcoming project of my own concoction. Quite possibly the most

It will also be the first comic that I will fully attempt to do on my own, for better or worse.

I won’t give pretty much anything away for you plot-wise, since the project is in it’s formative stages, but a little hint of the kind of story we have to tell, in the all too popular way of comparing it to other existing works, I’d have to say…

If you took My Little Pony, mixed in the addiction story of Hubert Selby Jr‘s Requiem For A Dream or the recent Steve McQueen/Michael Fassbender film Shame, with the morbid sense of humor of the FX Network’s Louie, you would get Ponyboy Harry Hates His Life.

I’m hoping to have the first couple installments in the can before I launch in early 2014. If we do well enough with it, I’ve got enough ideas in my twisted brain to keep the story running for at least five years. Most of the jokes practically write themselves. 

As always, thanks for visiting, folks!

The Things I’ll Never Get To Say…

I just sat on the front porch of my brother’s apartment listening to the white noise buzzing and chirps of insects and birds as life just kind of stood still. It’s been about two hours since I was informed that my dad, Allen Ward, had passed due to complications from a major surgery on his heart to replace his aortic valve and perform a triple bypass caused in part by his chronic problem with rheumatoid arthritis. I went out yesterday to celebrate my birthday while the surgery was being performed and clung to my phone waiting for texts from my uncles to give me the news on what was going on. Around 3 o’ clock, I got a text that they were closing him up and sending him to recover in the CCU of Memorial Hospital in Savannah, GA. I went to bed happy, figuring I’d hear from him or someone from our extended family again this morning that he was on the mend. What I got instead was another type of phone call entirely. I’m still sorting out the details of what exactly happened, and I don’t plan on going into them here, suffice to say, all of this comes as a complete shock to my brother and I. I know when I picked up the phone this morning to answer my uncle’s call and Alex saw the look that came across my face of what had happened, he felt it too. Right now, I’m just numb and I haven’t even begun to get into the real grief yet. It’s coming though, that much I’m sure of, but I would like to hold it together a little bit longer, in the interest of taking care of the remaining business of such an utterly brutal day.

There were two versions of Allen Ward I met in the span of my life. The loving dad who raised my brother and I in the opening years of our lives, and in the period between his divorce from our mom and subsequent decade of little to no contact with us, there was the man who came back. Perhaps part of my perception of him in the early years and the stark difference in the man I knew ever since is due in part to my being so young and the different outlooks on life that can come with youth, or maybe our dad really did change into someone else over that time period.

The previous statement may come off as somewhat harsh, and I’m not here to bash him by any means. My father had demons that he needed to fight on his own, and when he left our family altogether, he gave up all custody without a fight and just went away. Because of that, I spent a lot of my youth being intensely angry and having a lot of the confusion that comes as part of the stock of having a parent just fuck off one day from your life one day and not tell you why. In hindsight, I know now that my dad left and didn’t come back because of the demons he wrestled relating to alcoholism. In his own way,  he left and didn’t put up a fight because he figured we would be better off not having to see him in such a state. It’s not the way any parent should go about something like this, it’s surely not the way I would go with any child of mine, but at the end of the day, I understand what he believed he was doing. I think my brother and I were better off not having to watch him implode in those years, and in a weird way, I’ve become somewhat grateful for his decision to leave.

Ten years later I met the man who came back. Altogether different from the person I remembered from my early life, and someone who clearly had traveled a rough road and while he may not have conquered it, had gotten himself back to a place of control over the problems that had consumed him over those years he was gone. When he came back, he was ready to be part of the family again in whatever way we chose to allow. My brother was younger when he left, so he didn’t remember much about dad. In the beginning of his return and pretty much ever since, Alex had less trouble reconciling the man who came back, because I think his recollections of the one who left were few and far between. For myself, it was another story. I spent a lot of time emotionally stonewalling my dad in those early days. I let him in on occasion and we slowly got a bit more comfortable with one another and around the time I graduated high school, we were on better terms. We went on fishing trips together and briefly ran a rock-climbing wall at a mall in our old home town of Macon, Georgia. The time that passed, my father and I got to build a different kind of bond together. To me, it didn’t often feel like father and son, so much as younger guy and older drinking buddy who enjoyed filthy jokes and ogling women with you. That was what our relationship became for the majority of his returned period. He spent his time driving semi-trucks cross country and calling or texting us dirty jokes he’d heard on the XM Satellite Comedy channels. He would stop into town on some occasions when his truck route passed him through and we would meet him for dinner or go see a movie or ride go-karts in what little time we had off. There was definitely still a bit of “dad” in there at times. While our conversations rarely got serious in nature before deviating back to toilet humor and whether one of us had seen the latest episode of South Park, there was always an apologetic sweetness to Allen. It was very clear to me from the beginning that he wanted to be back in the good graces of his sons and was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

Allen was sweet and liked having fun although he kind of relished in being a needling annoyance and have a lot of fun doing it when he knew he was grinding on your nerves just right. Over the years, I’ve noticed the same sort of tendencies in myself when it comes to certain social interactions. If I really like you, I’m going to give you shit sometimes in only the most loving ways possible. You might get aggravated, but I’m going to make it as clear as I can that it’s not coming from a place of any sort of animosity. Sometimes, it can go a little too far and hurt some feelings, in which case, I’ll quickly be the first person to spring into an apology. My dad, it turns out, was very much the same way. As I spent the years of my late teens and twenties getting to know him all over again, it turned out I had inherited a lot of personality traits from him that I had figured were just things I’d picked up from some unknown origin.

He had a knack for trying to call at the worst possible times in the day, (when I’m at work, when I’m taking a test, when I’m on a date, when I’m in the middle of personal life drama, etc.) and frequently, my time in getting back to him wasn’t always prompt. If I’m being totally honest right now, I’m feeling like a downright asshole about that. I have two unchecked voicemails sitting on my phone from days ago that I know are from him, that I just haven’t had the heart or stomach to listen to yet. If I could tell him I was sorry for that, I would, because I’m sure he might have thought that deep down it was a symptom of me not liking him when that couldn’t have been more untrue.

And now, I sit here, wishing I could go back and tell him that I’d forgiven him a long time ago. I don’t know if I ever said the words to him out loud. Our the communications of our relationship had long ago become a series phone tag calls where when we would get a hold of one another, a “how have you been?” conversation would ensue, punctuated by a series of dirty jokes, and innuendos. Some of our conversations involved a lot of over-sharing at times. Things that sons and fathers with normal relationships never talk about. A great example, last year, my dad and I got into a conversation about my current research work on a writing project about the methamphetamine trade. Dad proceeded to tell me about the really shitty time he’d had the one time he had tried meth during his “dark period”. It’s shocking to hear a father figure telling you about something with such a sense of brutal honesty, and at the time, I was pretty taken aback by what I was hearing, but in the end, I realized that in Dad’s weird way, he was trying to take part in what I was doing and encourage me in my career. It took him years before he got onboard with my being a writer, and the very second I held a first copy of Love Buzz in my hands back in 2009, he finally saw that I might not be chasing something so pointless or foolish after all. From there on, he was onboard with it in his own way.

It took me years to realize how alike my Dad and I were in ways I hadn’t seen before when he was gone. People want to know where I get my foul mouth and borderline deviant sense of humor, that’d be from my old man. I’ve worn it proudly and mostly unapologetically ever since, and now I plan on wearing it twice as As complex and fractured of a relationship as we had, I always loved him, and more recently we’d gotten back into the habit of saying it more frequently. We were back on our way to a more normal sense of relationship to what we were used to.

People might feel like this is all a case of that aforementioned over-sharing, but… That’s just the Ward in my blood. I may be known by a different name for years since and for years moving forward, but blood doesn’t change with a name. If I had a moment to tell my dad what I truly needed to tell him again, I would tell him every word of this and end it by saying “I love you.”

I’m going to miss you Dad.

My only hope that on some level, you knew that.

Birthday Boy

A birthday for me has taken on a few extra layers of context for the majority of my life. The special twist of appropriate fate that the day my life kicked off its second shot would from then on, forever be shared with the same day as my first. You could refer to this as something of a rebirth, but aside from the underlying hokey religious connotations, that would just come off as corny.

It was 24 years ago today when I woke up in the Mayo Clinic Intensive Care unit on the day of my seventh birthday, September 5th, 1990. I recall regaining consciousness in the dark, the only light in the room was the green glow and eerily accompanying beep emitting from of the heart monitor to my side, and a little bit of light slipping in from under the door outside the room. I’m sure this combined with waking up alone in this crazy place would’ve terrified the living hell out of me of I weren’t on a slew of drugs at that point, but as I remember it, (probably one of my most vivid memories of my young life to this day) all I was was tired, a little confused, and felt too weak to speak or call out to anyone. In all likelihood, the idea of waking up at seven years old, in the dark, surrounded by creepy, Frankenstein machinery with tubes coming out of you would probably be traumatic, but my brain didn’t seem to be conscious enough to form anything close to that thought. All I recall doing was lying in bed watching the green glow of the monitors and let the repetitive beeps and clicks of the machinery lull me back to sleep.

When morning came and someone realized I was awake, my grandmother and parents were brought in for a little reunion. While my father had been called away for his day job, my mom and grandmother had stuck around and been in and out of the hospital on every iteration of visiting hours in the days where I had been sleeping it off in a medicated coma. My grandparents on my dad’s side, who in their early days of retirement, had taken to traveling the country in an RV and drove all the way down from Alaska to visit for a couple of days. I think the combination of being over 20 years removed from the experience and being doped out of my gourd can account for most of why I don’t remember much beyond this.

In this time period, I had apparently begun to accumulate a large collection of awesome gifts from random people. Everything from video games for my old, faithful Nintendo Entertainment Set to stacks of comics, toys, and other random knick knacks. I’ve only gotten to thank some of them over the years and others my family and I are unsure of their identities to this day. Someone was nice enough to send me one of those NES Advantage Joysticks, which provided me with hours of extra fun as I trained myself to play Super Mario Bros. with my feet.

My mom wrote letters and started calling around to various places that she knew I liked and told my story in the interest of possibly getting free shwag. The good thing about the “sick kid” card is that it usually works. DC Comics sent us a free pair of first print editions of their DC Archive Edition hardcovers of the first Superman adventures by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster and the first Batman adventures by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. As far as things from my childhood go, those two books might be the only things I still own that haven’t been torn apart or awkwardly manhandled into dust. The cool thing about those DC Archive editions are that they still print them now. Walk into a random comic shop today and you’ll see volumes upon volumes of these old tomes collecting the earliest adventures of every DC character from Adam Strange to Wonder Woman, and the cover designs have remained uniform to those first editions up to today. Holding those books in young hands almost felt like holding a piece of history akin to the original US Constitution or the Bill Of Rights.

Better still, the now defunct New Line Studios production company who at the time held the license of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which at the time, had generated the popular cartoon, the blockbuster movie, and was just generally continuing to tear young minds asunder with awesomeness offered to send out a person in a Ninja Turtle costume to visit me in the hospital. The idea was quickly overruled, as mind blowing as it would’ve been, in the interest of not overstimulating my healing ticker too early in the process. Instead, they elected to try and get us the next best thing. Within the next week, we received via mail, a TMNT coloring and activity book, signed by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (AKA: the two dudes who created the Ninja Turtles) themselves. This piece of memorabilia has since been colored in to death and any sense of collectible value gone long ago, but I’ve never really been one of those types who was incredibly anal about his comics. If you’re not gonna have fun with something, what’s the point?

Not many people get a significant extension on their life-span for their birthday, but at 7 years old, I wasn’t expected to live into my double digits. I’ve jokingly begun referring to my life past my seventh birthday as my “borrowed time”, which slowly keeps ticking upward for over twenty years and counting. I’m thankful for the mountains moved by my parents and doctors that have gotten me to the point I am today. Thanks to them, I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving in the best shape of my life with a career doing what I love that’s just beginning to truly succeed. I couldn’t ask for more on any birthday (Although, if you really want to get me something, here’s my Amazon Wishlist. 😉 ). You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve called or run into in the process of trying to research for this blog or for The Zipper Club who are flat out shocked that I’m alive now at 31 years old and counting. It’s gotten to the point where I kinda get off on defying expectations.

Lessons Learned In Young Love

Nyckole Hannoonah would have turned 30 today.

A little journey back into my past love life which fans of my first book, Love Buzz might find somewhat familiar. In a time just after high school, when I had moved off to Atlanta, Georgia in the interest of furthering my education, I met Nycki and fell hard for her. We were young, broke college kids, just naive enough to think that the love we felt in that short period of time we’d known each other was some sort of sign that we were meant to spend the rest of our lives together.

Like most relationships of this nature are want to do when we’re young and “just figuring it out”, the life plans I’d made with Nycki never got around to taking off. I touched upon my relationship with Nycki in a short portion of Love Buzz, in which our protagonist, (and not so subtle “me” analog) Norm Raymer, in between one of his break up/make up cycles with Maggie Gunther, found himself in a romantic interlude with a young girl named Gwen Watson (Way lame Spider-Man reference!) that lasted for about two of the book’s sixteen chapters. Like the rest of the story of Norm and Maggie, the story of Norm and Gwen is equal parts fact and fiction. Where those differences lie though, is for you to wonder, dear reader. Whenever anyone asks me questions about the fact and the fiction behind Love Buzz, I prefer to lean to the age old writerly cop-out of “letting the work speak for itself”.

Suffice to say, to those who’ve read the book and seen how Norm’s relationship with Gwen ended, the relationship between Nycki and myself ended in very much the same manner. The story of Love Buzz being the story of Norm and Maggie though, meant that the story between Norm and Gwen, and by extension, myself and Nycki got sold short in the interest of concise storytelling. The story of Nycki and I didn’t actually end with our parting of ways. It actually became an opening to one of the darker chapters in my young adulthood. All of this was something I had been saving with intentions over the years since her passing to turn into a book of it’s own. As of now, I’ve kind of lost the motivation and the stomach to finish the project, but it sits on my hard drive in a series of files in a folder marked “The Grieving Process”. Perhaps one day, I’ll get the nerve back to tackle it but as time has passed and different projects have come up, I’ve not had the stomach to begin dredging up all of those old feelings.

I spent six months after crashing and burning my educational career in Atlanta and incurring student loan debt on an unfulfilled degree biting back on anger and resentment at Nycki that sat in the pit of my guts like a cancer.  Six months of cursing and brooding and listening to the most godawful depressing music I could find. The same period of time that our relationship lasted. Then I got an email that made things all worse. One night in 2003, a cousin of Nycki’s who I had briefly met in the time I spent with her had written to dump all of the following information on me in under three hundred words. 1) Nycki had gotten married to another guy. 2) she had since been in and out of the hospital due to the an amplified intensity in same headaches that she would frequently get when we were together, and 3) two months previous, according to the cousin, one of Nycki’s frequent headaches had somehow caused her brain to swell to the point that it pushed into her brain stem and killed her.

After a brief exchange of emails, i got her cousin’s phone number and we had a long talk over the phone over everything that had gone down for the sake of my own sense of clarity. The cousin went out of her way to track down my contact information because, as she said just before we hung up, she “thought I would want to know, because you were really good to her.”

I let those last words ring in my ears as I hung up the phone and began to process all of what had happened. This girl I intended on marrying had, in a short time since we broke up, married someone else and then died shortly thereafter. Furthermore, all that rage I had held onto over our relationship’s end had been something which, in my mind, was something I was holding in strategically, for whenever she might decide to try and contact me again, so that when I eventually plucked up the nerve to pick up the phone and tell her every inch of how I felt, it would be in such a righteous manner that it would solve all my problems from there on out.

Now I knew that phone call was never going to come and I had left every bit of that anger sit in waiting for nothing. With Nycki gone, I now had no place to direct those feelings other than inward. These unresolved feelings just retreated to a deeper part of me where I held onto them and for a while, became a truly reckless person who did some regrettable things that I’m not proud of.

But while there may be mysterious quantities of bullshit to sift through, I will say that the essence of Gwen was Nycki all over, from her style of dressing to her dirty mouth. The one thing I’ve always liked most in a woman has been a similarly horrible sense of humor to my own. Nycki had that in spades. That girl could make me laugh on some of my worst days living in Georgia.

I learned of Nycki’s passing six months after the fact, just around the same time that Love Buzz was starting to gel inside my head. Because of this, I decided that despite my inclination to not dictate to my artists how each character should look, beyond a couple of broad strokes, the character of Gwen should resemble Nycki’s own personal look as closely as possible. As mixed up as my feelings for her were, I wanted at least for this small section of the book to pay some kind of tribute to her.  This meant that several different incarnations were drawn of her as the book changed artists a couple of times, but each one nailed her likeness.

Her old Angelfire site still exists as something of a somber digital graveyard rittled with pop-up ads and , which I’ll go searching for about once a year just to see if it’s inevitably disappeared into the electronic void from never being touched or maintained. I’m sure it will probably happen one of these days.

Nycki taught me a lot about romance and relationships in our brief time together. I held onto the regret of never getting to say goodbye to her, or never getting to truly speak my mind against how things ultimately went down with us. The thing she taught me most of all was the importance of closure for the sake of your own sanity. Years and miles have passed since this time period and I’ve been out the other end of that dark period for quite some time. I’ve had other relationships come and go. The good ones and the bad ones, none of them ever really completely leaves us, and the majority of the time, we come out better for it and the little piece of them that we carry around with us as we move forward and they all leave us with their fair share of baggage to carry on after they end, whether we choose to deal with it quickly or carry it around for long after it’s done. When relationships end, be they through the gradual deterioration of a couple growing distant after years and years together or the naivety of two stupid kids running on an equal mix of hormones and impulse before burning out quickly, I can look back at many of the people I’ve known in the past whose behaviors and motivations are clearly guided by the thick callous that can grow over our emotional selves in effort to as a form of self-defense over falling into the same traps again. It would be easy for me to write out every angry thing I ever wanted to say to Nycki but didn’t get the chance to here and now, but I honestly I forgave all of that crap a long time ago.

So, for her birthday, I’ve chosen to reflect on the good parts of our brief experiences passing through one another’s lives. Instead of remembering her as the first girl who really squashed me flat, I’m choosing to remember the girl who was impulsive enough that she proposed to me with a cheap little fashion ring that couldn’t have cost more than a twenty bucks, and me, the guy who accepted without a second thought and promised to get her a real one the second my broke ass could afford it. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 whole years.

Happy birthday, Nycki.

T’was The Night Before Major Invasive Surgery…

The ages of 0 to around 6 years old, I have very little recollection of. The time my memory really kicked in and I consider my life to have truly “begun” oddly enough happened at the time when it was looking very likely that it was closer to it’s end. When the time finally came for my second surgery, my parents were, needless to say, on pins and needles. One of my first vivid memories was of the days that lead up to my surgery in Rochester Minnesota at the world renowned Mayo Clinic. We showed up a few days early to see some of the sights in the area and hopefully do a few things to lighten the mood and have some fun before the inevitable came up. The stress was compounded by the fact that my dad was unable to come with us when we first went to Minnesota because of work, so our trip consisted of myself, my Mom, and my Grandmother. Our stay was taken care of by the local Ronald McDonald House, (which means I will refrain from any McDonald’s bashing for this particular post as a sign of good will.)  consisted of all the “fun” my mom could cram into the time period before we hit the zero hour and I would go back under the knife for the first time in nearly seven years.

It was a couple  of weeks before my seventh birthday and by the time my birthday was going to hit, I would have, in the best case scenario, been laid up in a bed on an entire slew of drugs. We spent our time going from activity to activity which I’m sure must have cost them a fortune. A trip to the Minnesota Zoo, which I honestly don’t remember a damn bit of, no matter how hard I try.

The night before my surgery, and one of the most fun experiences of my early life that I remember to this day was spending several hours in a local arcade playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game with my mom.

We died.

We died a lot.

All said and done, my mom stuck it out like a trooper and kept us in quarters until we beat every level of that game from beginning to end. By the end of that couple of hours, we had ended up pumping about fifteen bucks into that machine together, which, in the days where playing a game on an arcade machine only cost a single quarter meant we died at least sixty times before we were done.

I had a lot of fear looming over my little head as the days before my surgery edged closer. It became a point of dread for me, even though I remained blissfully ignorant to how much was truly at stake once they put me to sleep. I was just worried it would hurt. I was worried I might wake up in the middle of it and panic when I saw my chest laid open like Freddy Kruger had gotten a hold of me. I worried about what the scars would look like. Practically every exaggerated, childish nightmare scenario that could have sprung from something like this came into my head at the time.

For that night though, all those bad thoughts just sort of went away without acknowledgement. All I remember from the days leading up to my long hospital stay were happy ones, spent with my parents, doing fun things and feeling extremely loved. The fact that my parent’s marriage was in the final stages of unraveling and the sense of fear that they clearly must have had about what was going to happen to me remained completely undetected in my eyes. My mom and dad had extremely good poker faces and the fact that they were able to keep me so positive more than likely had a lot to do with how I recovered later on.

If I ever have a child with a health problem like my own, I only hope that I’m able to do the same for them that Betsy and Allen did for me. I can only imagine the horrible thoughts that were coursing through their heads.