Monday, September 29, 2014

Overcoming Odds

So over the past couple of years, I've been researching heroes. Not the fictional kind -- the actual kind. I re-read Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and finally got around to The Things They Carried. Now, both of those are written by pacifists, so I had to balance that out with some hardcore fighter types, and I read Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor (and watched the movie), and Audie Murphy's To Hell and Back. I even read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, about a WWII bomber-sprinter (good book) who was sort of in-between warrior and pacifist. He simply did what needed doing. Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit, by the way, and she made a point to mention that in this other book, in a very nice cross-over. I read James Clavell's King Rat (he's the Shogun guy, which I also read). He was a POW in Japan, and Rat is pretty amazing.

And so on.

But of all these books I read, the one that's stuck with me the deepest is Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. He considered it his crowning achievement, and his most significant work. It is an amazing book, if you're into that sort of thing, and is shamelessly researched and cross-referenced and accurate. Jeanne D'Arc, as is her proper name. Pronounced in French, it sounds like Shown Dark, which is appropriate for that poor beautiful creature. She fought her fellow countrymen, the church to whom she dedicated her life, and the invading English. She fought her troops, her family, her friends, and the king she crowned. They all watched her burn alive, and even afterward she fought on, death being no match for her, until the Catholic church finally repented and elevated her to Sainthood. God, what a story that girl is. Of all the stories in our verifiable and recent history, there is no other as magnificent as that of Jeanne D'Arc. She never faltered, never wavered, never gave up. Heck, she never even questioned her heroism.

Now consider Audie Murphy. He was refused by the Marines and the Paratroopers. If you saw Captain America, the recent movie, Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII, was the size of the Captain BEFORE they juiced him up on steroids. Murph didn't need that extra Marvel / Stan Lee meat -- all he needed was a target and Garand. Well, the Army finally took pity on this poor scrawny wimp and enlisted him. They tried to make him a cook and a clerk. He had none of it, and snuck out on patrol until they gave up trying to stop him and said, Fuck it. Murph, we're going to send you into battle until you're sick of it.

He got plenty sick of it, but he fought all the way through Italy, France, and Germany, leveling up as he went. I challenge you to read his book, and note how cold and determined he was, and compare it to the baby-face little boy he seemed to be. It's frightening.

The dude was frightening.

And he was 135lbs, 5' 6" tall. And a Texan from right here in North Dallas. I had dinner at one of his old houses, before it shut down. And he killed a hell of a lot of men.

Now don't get me started on Luttrell. He's from just north of Houston, where my son and I go hunting and camping. I know those woods, and although I've never wrestled gators, I've water-skied over plenty of them in the brackish waters of the Galveston Bay.

In all these stories, the hero never gives up. They never falter. They never feel sorry for themselves. There is no pity for themselves or for others. They never question their motives, because inside exists an indestructible sense of right-and-wrong, the very core of life-and-death, and to live is win, to die is to win. A true hero (or heroine) can never be beaten. Defeated and killed, yes, but never beaten. Re-read what I said about Jeanne. She kept fighting even after they burned her. She won. Look at Christ. He did the same thing.

Read Luttrell. Read Murphy. Read Unbroken. Read Things and Slaughterhouse, about guys who had no heart for war, but went anyway because it was their duty. Heroes. Write heroes like that.

Write people who do it because it needs doing, even though they ask the cup to be taken from them.

- Eric

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Year Heart Birthday and Angelversary

So it's been two years since we lost our boy, and in some way gained a daughter. May 22, 2012, is the day we rode the elevator down to the O.R. and watched them wheel away an eighteen month old boy who looked like me but with red hair, had that hot temper of his mother's, my and his brother's eyes, and his sister's lips and all of us kludged into this tiny little body.

They declared him brain-dead on the 20th, if I recall correctly, which I may not. In any case we'd been in the hospital a couple of days already, arrived Friday, May 18, 2012 just before 10:00 P.M. That was after the transfer from a local hospital to Children's in downtown Dallas. They thought about life-flighting him because they weren't sure he'd make it, but the chopper pilot was out of flight hours. I don't know how that works, but they transported him and his momma in the ambulance, blowing through the lights and screaming. After a while, I followed with the car, the bags, all that shit that's nothing more than ~stuff~ because everything I had was in that ambulance.

I had enough piece (peace? peas? pees? shit. whatever.) of mind to stop and grab some drinks at a 7-11 along the way. I got beef jerky, snack supplies, Cokes for Momma and Red Bull for me and Dr. Pepper and Sprite for the kids. I knew what was coming and maybe that was my way of delaying my arrival at the front lines for this coming battle.

See, he'd had a seizure that grew progressively worse over the course of two hours. Imagine some invisible guy shocking your eighteen-month-old baby boy every few minutes. It was like that. At that first hospital, he seemed to be doing okay, stabilized, and we were all standing outside his room crying but still hopeful. You heard that bleep-bleep of his heart monitor, and there was this nurse in there tending to him when that bleep turned into one long tune. No warning, just bleep-bleep, bleep-bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Like that. It wasn't like in the movies, or maybe it was. The nurse was a dude hovering over Dastan, and he yelled, SHIT! I heard something crash because I think he knocked over his tool tray. Maybe he was the blood tech drawing blood. I don't know, but he yelled, knocked over something, and I mean about a dozen nurses seemed to drop from the ceiling. I'd swear some of them came over the top of that nurse station, fuck the door, slid into the room, all of them screaming for whatever it is they scream for, chaos, and Mandy and Brianna and I were standing right outside the room.

Mandy's knees gave out. I remember that because it was like someone had slugged her. She took Bri with her and they huddled outside the door wailing, mostly one long, Nooooo, interrupted by little chirping No-no-no. They were about six feet and seven thousand miles away from me. I was frozen, watching through that doorway. You know those dreams, right? Not a dream this time. I was paralyzed, and someone dragged away Amanda and Brianna, took them to the waiting room, and nurses were scrambling in there and yelling for stuff and I was at the nurse's station looking into the room, watching and recording.

They were doing CPR on him. They use two fingers for someone that little, with one hand on top of the other pressing down. They took turns every five minutes or so. Another nurse was pumping air from the top, squeezing that bag thing. They got him stabilized, but they needed to insert a breathing tube because he wasn't breathing on his own. Turns out, we'd already seen his last breath but didn't know it at the time.

He turned blue. You hear about that, but unless you've seen it in real-life, you don't fully appreciate it. His face and chest looked like a blue marble countertop. His veins popped out, and the charge nurse was standing beside me, and I looked at her and said, You know what we're seeing, right? Don't you? You know what's happening?

She just nodded.

His heart got going, bleep-bleep, but it flat-lined again when they inserted the tube. They were ready this time with curses and tools. I heard lots of cursing that night. They wanted that baby to live. We all did. He turned blue again, more two-finger heart pumps, but now at least he had a breathing tube. Stabilized. Red cheeks. He looked like a normal baby boy, healthy, no scrapes, no cuts, no bruises, just a tube in his nose with a full belly. Down for the night as usual.

After they transported him to Children's, to the big hospital, we cycled through a couple of nurses, but one of them really stuck with me. Her name was Heather. I thought that was funny, because the midwife who brought Daz into the world was named Heather, and the dear friend who watched his brother as an infant was named Heather. I think there are probably a lot of angels with that name.

Now comes that stretch of time in-between, where you wait, you pray, you cling to hope, and you eventually realize what's happening. We all had our moments. Mine was after they did one of the brain-dead tests. They swabbed his eye with a Q-tip, looked for dilation, some sort of response, among other tests that we probably should not have watched. But I am a watcher, and I wanted to see. His left eye was huge. His right eye was normal. That meant a pinched optical nerve, which meant a swelling brain, which meant things I didn't want to admit. I curled up after that in this empty room next door, under a hospital blanket, and I wailed. I knew my family needed me, but I'm not the hero I thought I was. This broke me. It humbled me. All those fantasies we as men and we as humans have of flying in with our cape flapping, armor shining, strong, bold, wise and brilliant, those were all dashed against the floor under that blanket. I was none of those things because I couldn't even stand. Hell, I could barely breathe.

Brianna said it best: He's just a baby.

Bri kept saying that over and over. It was hard to make it click, because he looked just fine, and he'd been fine a few days before, no blood, no nothing, just a little shaking and some buggy-eyes, then his heart stops a couple of times and he turns blue. But he gets his color back. No big deal.

Con was quiet. He said he'd never felt anything this painful. He's said that a few times over these past two years, and at the Children's Hospital memorial ceremony (which they host for all those who lost children), Con cried at the table.

Mandy was like me, in shock, trying to make decisions with a used-up brain, nothing but mashed potatoes.

She and I were synchronous in those moments. You see in the movies where one of the spouses, usually the wife, breaks down and attacks the husband, blames him, makes a scene and all that jazz. That never happened. Mandy was beside me beside her beside Connor and Brianna beside all our friends and family. There was a unity, because that's what this boy seemed to be made of. That was his stuff, the fluff inside the teddy bear. He's a glue that bonds people.

There was no discussion about whether to donate his organs. She and I made mention of it, almost casually, something you never think of or speak of.

We should donate his organs. That was one of us. A statement and not a question because there was no question.

Yeah, we should. That was the other. Let me get the nurse.

It was that simple. We got the nurse and we signed the papers, and on May 21, 2012, they took over Dastan's care and hospital bills. He was no longer ours, but we were welcome to stay.

Do families stay? That was what we asked them.

Some do. That was their response. Some don't.

We stayed. He'd lost his ability to regulate his body temperature by then, and they had these balloon-bags around him filled with warm air. His brain had completely ceased to function, even though he looked just fine, a little pale maybe, with Band-Aids on his heels where they'd been sticking him, on his arms and legs and tape on his chest and cheeks and this tube in his throat. But other than that, he looked ~fine~. The nurses even combed his hair, that red hair, and made him look like a little boy having a bad day and nothing worse.

Mandy and I slept on the bed that night, curled like a couple of cats. She'd been sleeping with him already, but this was my first and only night to stay in the bed. I was waiting for him to come home, I guess, and sleep in our bed. Sleeping up there with him seemed like I was admitting some sort of defeat. I had his feet, Amanda had his head, a little doll-boy whose blood was being pumped into one arm and out the other, literally, because they had to draw so much for the transplant tests.

I got a pinched nerve that night, from the way I slept, because I didn't move. It took about six months to heal.

On May 22, 2012, they came to wheel him away.

You can walk down with us, one of them said. They said that because Mandy and I were stuck to his bedside.

So we walked him out. We rode the elevator down or up or wherever it went. We got out. We went through some doors, and all the doctors and nurses were in their operating gear. We came to a set of double doors.

This is it, one of them said.

They gave us a minute, but not too many minutes. Time was not ours anymore, because there was a beautiful baby bird on the other side of those doors, barely two-and-a-half months old, waiting on Dastan's heart. There was a sixty-nine-year-old woman waiting on his kidneys. Someone else was waiting on his liver.

Okay, one of them said.

Then they wheeled him through the doors and turned to the right. The doors closed, and we were standing in a hallway that was nothing more than a hospital hallway, like any one of a thousand hallways.

I sat for a little while outside those doors. Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd be able to dislodge myself. I knew Mandy needed me because she was breaking down, too, and I knew the kids needed me, but I had nothing left. So I sat.

At some point I got up, and God bless my wife because she showed strength I do not possess. You wonder of the two of us who is stronger. It is Mandy. Hands-down she proved it.

She spoke at the funeral, spoke about organ donation, how important it is even for children. She spoke to the media, to anyone who would listen, and I stood behind her mute. After she delivered Dastan's eulogy, she moved aside and I stepped up to the microphone, looked out at the room full of people, standing-room only, full of family I'd forgotten I had. I nodded. I was silent. After a while I moved with Mandy back to our seat, and afterward, after it was finished and we were alone in the sanctuary, Mandy and Brianna and Connor and I stood over Dastan, and we admired how perfect he still looked, how well they'd dressed him, all the stuffed animals and flowers around him. We closed the casket and opened a new and magical door on our lives.

He's still with us. I feel him poke me at night sometimes. So does Mandy. Those first few weeks were full of dreams that defy reality, more real than reality, all of them wondrous and hopeful and beautiful. Vivid. I feel him and so do we all.

I feel him most when I see Aubrie, the little girl with his heart. I think how old he would be, and how he would fit into this family, and I see Aubrie and know he's exactly where he wanted to be, where he was meant to be.

He was that little streaking star. Someone made a wish, and he made the wish come true, because that was the stuff he was made of.

Happy Angelversary, Dastan. Happy Heart Birthday, Aubrie.



- Eric

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

They don't know anything

Nobody in this industry knows anything. They all tell you they're experts in this or that, they know what works, what doesn't work, what will be a hit and what won't, but they're all just living their own movie. Once you realize nobody knows anything, you can focus on your art and maybe make a difference.

That is a horribly paraphrased quote from Matt Nathanson, a singer-songwriter, that I heard on the radio yesterday and got to thinking, Yeah, that's what writing is like, too.

You have all these publishers, and agents, and writers and bloggers and experts, all of them telling you what does and does not work. Yet I find exception after exception to every last one of these assumptions.

I look at my own process and apply this to myself. I don't know anything. Make that statement about your process and see what happens. Try it with your diet, your job, your writing, your marriage, and see what happens.

Good things, I bet. Good advice. Thanks, Matt!

- Eric

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Things that sound dirty, but aren't

Just for fun, you know how some things sound dirty but aren't? Well, here are some examples.

Kum & Go. It's a gas station. (from their website)

Here's a picture of a tall skinny blonde with room for cream, to go. Who doesn't want one of these! (from their website)

How about a sea cucumber. I think this one's played out, but it's still worth mentioning. I couldn't find any youtube vids that were appropriate, so feel free to look it up yourself.

You ever thought about the term Hump Day? Meatball? Blow pop? Beef jerky?

I can think of at lease one good reason not to put a Sit-n-Spin in my rear-entry.

How'd you like to be a coxswain? (from Wiki)

What if you caught a homo erectus in your bathroom jiggling his ballcock. You might say to him, Be gentle! You'll break it!

He might jiggle it so hard he falls and breaks his coccyx.

Let's imagine the guy is an animal lover, and he has for pets a titmouse and a shih tzu.

- Eric

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Celebration of Life

So we're at this funeral. Not just ~a~ funeral, but one for a close friend. We haven't been friends for hundreds of years, but we've been dear friends, we've been near friends, we've been there-for-you-friends.

Anyway, it's a big funeral, lots of folks and oddly enough, not a lot of tears. I mean, there were tears, but it wasn't a sob-fest like you might be used to. I saw tons of smiles, shaking hands, hugs, heard laughter and chuckles, and maybe some of that was because we brought our baby boy Finn with us. He's six weeks old. Little guy. He was hard to hold because everyone wanted to hold him. Finn was good, too. He didn't cry.

You see, not even the baby cried.

Now, it wasn't for lack of sorrow that this was not the usual sob-fest. It was because of who we were celebrating. And there's a word I want you to remember -- ~celebration~.

This was less of a funeral and more of a celebration. There was no need for anyone to spin it that way, nor did he have to insist people remember him fondly or with a smile. It was a simple extension of his personality, a gentle man, a wise man, a man of mistakes who learned from those mistakes and blamed only himself when he faulted, all the while crediting his success to those around him.

So the Father, or Preacher, or Reverend, I'm not sure what you call him -- he's Episcopalian and I'm lucky to spell that word without the spell-checker (a minor miracle I spelled it correctly!), and anyway I don't know what they call the church leader. I'll just call him the Father, for sake of argument, and because I like the sound of it.

Anyway, the Father gets up and he knows the man, and he says some nice words about him, and then four people line up for the eulogy.

Yep, you read that right. Four people. Have you ever been to a funeral -- nay sayeth I, a ~celebration~ of life -- that required four people to speak? First a childhood friend. Then a son. Then a granddaughter. Then another granddaughter. All of them shared joyous moments, and it's a credit to the man that his children and his children's children spoke so eloquently, so plainly, so heartfeltedly and magnificently that you cannot help but see his influence on their hearts.

The friend goes first, and she relates his childhood, and apparently he never quite grew up. Of course we already knew that, but it was nice to have validation.

Then the son. Now his son is an atheist. The man himself was a staunch Christian, albeit a Christian scientist and engineer, a nuclear physicist for all intents and purposes. So his son apologizes for not being a man of faith, or a believer I think is how he put it. He gets up and says, and I paraphrase, horribly, so please excuse me, he says, I'm not a believer, but I'll do my best.

He then goes on about particles and the Cosmos, and he wraps it up by saying, I'm not a believer, but I really like this quote, so let me read it to you.

Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.

― Neil deGrasse Tyson

Holy crap, right! What a perfect quote for a Christian scientist.

And if that doesn't sound like God at work I don't know what to tell you. We are all connected, and we are in God and God is in us. I bastardize the poor guy's quote for my own purposes because that's how I roll.

Now the first granddaughter gets up and she goes on about how her Cap -- that's what they call him, Cap, because he was a Navy Captain -- always went on about how important math and science are. You see why that Tyson quote was so perfect, yes?

The second granddaughter shuts down the room with her speech. It was so moving and perfect that you felt the room swell with her words. She's young, barely a teenager, but those words were steeped in wisdom and understanding beyond what most people achieve in a lifetime. Everyone in the room thought the same thing I thought -- she gets it from him. He was like that, too.

She sits down and the other granddaughter and the son and the friend sit down, and the Father comes back to the front, claps his hands, smiles, and says, paraphrased horribly, I want to thank you for those words. And for the atheist, I personally believe this church was built to be filled with atheists.

We all laugh. Laughter at a funeral. You see what I mean? A celebration of life.

The whole day was like that, as was his life, as will be his afterlife and the lingering lives he touched, all of them filled with a little more laughter and a bigger smile and wiser words and maybe a little extra math and science, all of which I believe we could use a bit more of.

He will be missed and remembered fondly, and above all he will be celebrated.

Celebrate in Peace, John Marshall.

- Eric

Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.