Sunday, December 17, 2006


We're holding a memorial for Kirk on January 14th. Kirk would probably think of it as his party. Friends who want to come, please email me at for details.

Friday, December 15, 2006

End of the Story

I've been struggling over where to end the story.

There's an argument for going on, for writing about what happened next: the phone call, the move and all the rest. After all, things did go on for us...

... but I started this as Kirk's story, and now we know that there is an end to it.

The difficulty is to place the punctuation, to put the full stop at the right point.

It's hard because it seems utterly obvious that the story is a tragedy. But I think part of the point of all of this is that his story is much more than that - that the tragedy (real, valid, true) is a part, but not the seminal part.

Kirk was (and that past tense is still not easy to use) a man of such life, such joy, that I would hate to think the tragedy of the end of the story overwhelms the enormous passion of the rest of his life.

I'm tempted to end it where it is - with a small Iraqi girl, and Kirk's delight in a new challenge.

After all, the rest of the story isn't his, and that wasn't the point, was it?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One More Story

It was months after Kirk went missing, and there were CID agents in our livingroom. We were all sitting around the table, two dark-suited men, my mother and I. It had been a long and strange conversation. There are any number of stories that could come out of it, but there's just one I want to tell right now.

It was nearly the end of the whole interview. They had been kind, calm, reserved but suddenly they were uncomfortable. They shifted in their chairs and exchanged a look. Finally one cleared his throat.

There was one more thing, something that might be hard...

I didn't know what to think. If they knew what had happened to Kirk surely they would have said something at the start, not waited until the very end of a couple of hours of talk. Months of horrible imagined scenes came quickly to mind.

... there was talk (he said) ... someone had mentioned ... a Russian woman that Kirk might have become friends with.

And I think we shocked those poor CID men, my mother and I, because we burst out laughing. Real laughter, honest, genuine, true laughter.

It was utterly ridiculous to imagine Kirk, six weeks away from home, suddenly starting a torrid affair with a Russian seductress and... no, not Kirk. Not that I doubt the story - there probably was a Russian out there somewhere, and Kirk being Kirk would have delighted in talking to her. But unfaithful? No.

So why tell this piece of that afternoon? Because of the story. Just one of Kirk's many little moments captured, only this was the last one, during one of the very last phone calls, just before the last trip.

I have a confession to make, he said, there's... another woman.

Excellent, I answered, and how old is she?

He laughed. You didn't ask what she looked like!

I know you too well.

She was six, the daughter of the man who owned the house Kirk was staying in somewhere in Iraq. They had asked him in for dinner, and as he sat in their warm house, happily trying to communicate with broken English, Russian, Arabic and German, he felt a small hand on his arm, and turned to see a pair of enormous brown eyes. She was fascinated with this stranger, this American, and once she overcame her shyness she refused to leave his side for the rest of the night. He talked to her father about his own children, and they agreed that this was what was really important. The little girl finally went to sleep sitting with him.

Sorry, he said, he was in love.

No Russian woman, just one small Iraqi girl. One last story.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

We spent hours on Instant Messaging that last time in Turkey. Kirk had spent a lot of time talking to all sorts of people about his guard shack design, and there was enough genuine interest that the company wanted to move forward. They arranged for Kirk to meet with a Turkish guy - the owner of a large construction company. He offered to go into business with Kirk, set up something just to make these guard units.

Meanwhile things were moving in the company. C was making a move for more control, J was talking about striking out on his own and both were asking Kirk to be involved. Nothing like being wanted I suppose.

What Kirk wanted was simple - he wanted the chance to make his design, to go through the whole process from concept to conclusion. He wanted to spend more time in Iraq, time with people he was just getting to know. But he was also loyal.

He liked J, he was flattered by the Turkish guy, he would stay with C and the company. They were going to send him to Switzerland to meet with some people who made reinforced steel. C promised he would have the company structure figured out, and Kirk would actually have a contract to sign, formalizing his position with the company. Everything was going to get started, just soon as he got back from Iraq.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Coming back from that second trip into Iraq Kirk made up his mind. Before that, we hadn't told more than a handful of people what he was doing. He hadn't officially quit his job, so we just said he was out of town for a bit and left it at that. But coming back that time, he was sure - this was what he wanted to do.

So we told some friends, and started to plan the move. I only had two real ground rules: we were to be done with the move before Christmas, and I would not move alone, not again, not this time. He was going to have to come back from Turkey to help.

He promised. We would leave together, in November.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wealth is Relative

On that second trip in, Kirk was finishing up a number of contracts - delivering the buildings and collecting payments. To complicate matters, the payments were all made in cash. It sounds utterly insane, but I think a lot of small contractors worked that way. It meant they could pay employees easily... or something... nope, it still sounds utterly insane.

By the end of the trip Kirk found himself driving north to the Turkish border carrying something a little over a million dollars. A. Million. Dollars. Cash.

He was supposed to drive through the border, head on to the airport and fly back to Istanbul. But things went a little wrong. Kirk had to declare the money he was bringing in to the country, which was fair enough, but the border official then insisted on publically, slowly, LOUDLY counting the money out. Then he looked around the roomful of men and carefully spelled out the make,model, color, and registration number of Kirk's car. Now, Kirk was a highly trained intelligence officer with experience in dangerous situations, so he was able to figure out fairly easily that this was not a good thing.

I have no idea how he got back to Istanbul, but I know it didn't involve that car, or the plane ticket the border agent had examined. He called me that night from the office. He was sleeping, he said, with his head about two feet from a million dollars.

'Wow,' I said, 'vicariously wealthy.'

'Yeah... Hey, did I tell you what C said to me? He said I look like I've dropped ten years since I got here.'

'You're doing what you want to do, aren't you.'

'Yup. It's a little crazy, but it's what I want to do.'

'okay then. We'll settle for vicariously wealthy and ten years younger.'

'Goodnight. I love you.'

'Me too.'

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Back To Iraq

The second trip to Iraq was a sort of watershed. The first time in the country Kirk was trying to get a feel for things. He still wasn't totally committed to the company; he had the option to return to his old job if he wanted. He wasn't exactly looking for reasons to say no - he wanted this to work - but he didn't want to blindly dive in either.

He came back to Turkey with a fistful of contacts and a lot of enthusiasm. He had talked to local Iraqis and to military commanders. He had figured out some of the delivery problems, renegotiated a few deals that were in crisis, and run his guard shack design ideas past a few people who had been unanimously enthusiastic.

He also had driven the roads and walked the street. Before he went in I know he had been nervous - excited and challenged of course, but understandably edgy about heading into a war zone. When he came back he had real experience to lay against those fears, and perhaps he felt he understood them at least a little bit.

What I know about that second trip in is anecdotal as usual - Kirk once again telling the story, sketching out the most exciting or interesting pieces of his adventure. Like the afternoon he spent as a German eye doctor.

There was a road block apparently, tying up dozens of local Iraqis, and Kirk. I don't know if he was alone - I got the impression that he had an Iraqi employee with him - but I do know the cars were being searched, and Kirk had no desire to produce his American passport and id in front of a mixed group of Iraqi men. He was already in a bit of difficulty because he had a hand-gun with him, and the guards were talking about confiscating it. Apparently this was a positive thing for him though, because it roused the sympathy of the men around him.

Still, when asked for his name and nationality he didn't want to trot out his US background. So he said he was German. It can't have been the hardest sell in the world, to convince a group of bored American guards and a mixed lot of Iraqi nationals that you are actually Herr von Ackermann from Germany. Ah, but why was Herr von Ackermann there? Well... it's really Herr Doktor von Ackermann sir... and I'm a ... doctor... an eye doctor. Yup, I'm here in a humanitarian effort to see that the fine Iraqi people do not go another day without opthamalogical help.

It was a brilliant ruse, and worked beautifully. He was allowed to keep the gun, he was not asked for papers, and the guards stopped searching the car.

However he had to spend the next hour solemnly examining the eyes of every last Iraqi man at that roadblock.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Value of Education

While travelling to the Superior Aunt and Uncle's for Superior Turkey, I overheard a security guard administering a sobriety test:

Guard: Okay sir, why don't you recite the alphabet from D to T for me.

Man: Okay... um... EFGRLMN... wait, starting where?

Guard: D. D to T

Man: Right... D... EF... RSPQ... See, you're making me really tense here, I'm really nervous which is why I'm having trouble sir!

Guard: I understand, that's okay. Tell you what, why don't you count backwards for me, from thirty?

Man: Yes sir, no problem! 30, 29, 28, 27, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26....

Guard: I get a little mixed up in the twenties too, don't worry about it. Let's see, can you tell me what time it is without consulting a clock?

Man: Six? No, wait! Eight!!

Guard: Well, we've established that you don't know your alphabet, you can't count, and you have no idea what time it is. Can you tell me how much education you have?

Man: A lot! I have a college degree sir.

Guard: What in?

Man: Business.

Guard: Ah. Well, that explains it then!

And he let him on the plane.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Definitely taking a blog break for the holidays! Time for family and lots of it. Much love to all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


There was an Iraqi Kirk met on his first trip in - Kirk described him as a leader of some sort, but with the convoluted way of things over there that could have meant anything from a locally important guy to a man with three goats and an inflated sense of importance. Still, as always Kirk fell to talking.

He asked the man about his view of the American presence. The man admitted that he was fighting America, that he would continue to fight America. To what purpose, Kirk wanted to know. Do you want America to leave Iraq?

No, the man replied firmly. Oh no, if America leaves there are ten thousand Kurds to the north, and they will sweep down and they will kill us.

But you fight America.

Oh yes, the man said. We will fight, and we will lose, and then we will rebuild together.

You realize that's ridiculous, Kirk said.

Yes, he said serenely, it is stupid and many will be killed. But we are warriors. And we are stubborn bastards.

Monday, November 20, 2006


When Kirk left I moved to the couch. Not permanently or anything, just for the nights. I did the same thing when he went to Italy a couple of years before. It wasn't the best thing on the back, but our couch was friendly and squashy and not-too-large while our bed was king-sized and distinctly empty.

Actually, there was a more practical reason when he was in Italy. He would call when he got a free moment, and that free moment was often in the very-unsocial hours of the night. If I slept on the couch I could keep the cordless phone on the floor and answer it before I was even awake.

Kirk didn't call from Turkey. He emailed a lot, and used IM all the time, but he didn't really call except for the first 'I'm here, I'm fine' one.

Still, I moved onto the couch, and spent the quiet hours of the night almost, but not quite, awake and listening for the phone to ring.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm sorry. Just now, just at the moment, I can't write. I'm sure you understand.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Kirk called from Germany. It was the first time he had been there since we left in the 90's. It was sort of a watershed place - the last time he could call on his cell phone. We had gone into the store a few days before he left to ask them if they covered Turkey. I think it probably livened up the afternoon for the twelve year old covering the floor. He did some 'research' (his word - he called his next higher-up) and discovered that the 'can you hear me now?' people apparently can't hear you from Istanbul. But Germany was covered, so from Frankfurt he called for a few minutes, and laughed about the baby on the plane that flirted with him over the back of the seat.

C met him at the Istanbul airport and took him to the company headquarters. Kirk had no apartment of course, so he would just sleep there - headquarters was a Turkish house - and look for a place to stay later on.

It's ridiculous that only now I find myself wondering where this place was, what it looked like, where Kirk spent his time. I only know one thing about it - the very pious dog.

Kirk loved dogs (see Sophie, story of, referenced earlier. If I weren't so lazy, I'd probably go and get a link. Luckily I was raised in a culture of righteous pressure - otherwise known as guilt - so I'll doubtless go fish it out soon*) and was always aware of things canine wherever we went. Actually that awareness has spread to the whole family, so any one of us will happily drop whatever we're doing to fawn over stray dogs that cross our path (we are discerning though - no little monsters in handbags thanks - remind me to tell you a funny Kirk story about that sometime. My kids were honestly offended several years ago when a toupee on wheels won the Krups cup over a clearly superior large breed of some sort). This dog didn't belong to the company, but lived in a house nearby. Kirk was charmed to find that twice a day, as the call to prayers went out over the city, the dog would dutifully lift its muzzle and chime in.

I love that image. I love the thought of Kirk sitting there, excited by the new place, the new challenge, but for the moment caught by the sound of a Turkish dog joining in the evening prayers.

*Never underestimate the power of guilt.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Day

By coincidence the day Kirk left was the first day of school. Our kids were going in two different directions by then - the oldest two went south to Half Moon Bay, Child 3 went north to Montara. California was in the middle of its financial woes at that point (one of those little ironies - massive amounts of tax money coming in, yet somehow the state was near bankruptcy. It's okay though, it led to one of the most amusing gubernatorial races I've ever seen) so we had no school buses. Last year we had made the habit of having me take the morning trip to Montara, while Kirk dropped off a full load of mid-school aged neighborhood teens in Half Moon Bay. This morning was no different.

Kirk loved dropping the kids off. It was like those fishing trips he took with just one or two kids. I never asked what they talked about, what they did. Sometimes they told a story or two, but mostly it was their time, and it was priceless. So that morning, just as though it were any other morning, he dropped the oldest two off at school.

Then we put his luggage in the car. He was going to buy whatever clothes he ended up needing in Turkey. It made more sense to get at least semi-local clothes when he was actually there. He only had a small suitcase and his passport.

On the way we dropped by Home Depot. Banal, isn't it? It was those darn outlets, the ones that didn't play well with American electronics. C had asked Kirk to bring a case of outlets with him when he came to Turkey, a last minute request.

These post 9-11 farewells don't have quite the romantic setting they used to. Ours was at the curb - Kirk drove up, we both got out and unloaded the luggage, then hugged, and kissed. He would call from Frankfurt, he said - the last place his cell phone would work.

Then we said good bye. And I drove away.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Last Day

It's absurd. I can't remember what we did that day. I think most likely we spent it doing errands and getting last little things done, but I have no clear memory of it. I can't even say positively that Kirk didn't go to work.

I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it's a deep refusal to think about him leaving. Maybe it shows that at the time I was very comfortable with his going, and so there was no strong emotion to firmly pin a memory to the time. I'm inclined to think the latter, because it's quite true that I was calm about it, that we were both confident in the decision. But as with so many things over the last three years, I find myself questioning and second guessing. Perhaps I just think I should be somehow refusing to remember that day.

Second guessing, and third guessing until there's no finding reality any more. It's a pointless exercise.

I do know what we did that evening. There were two choices to find a place to watch the ocean if you were leaving from our house. We could head west down our street and end up at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. When we wanted to go star watching (when it was clear enough) we would choose this way. But that night we went north, and walked carefully through the fields - dodging the dual hazards of gopher holes and dog poop - and chose one of the less precarious benches.

The cliffs are fairly high there, and the benches far enough back from the friable edge that you can't really see the waves crash into the rocks at the base. Instead, in the dark you can see the ghost light of white crests rolling in, and hear the roar as the water pounds into the hollows below.

And we talked, for over an hour. Comfortable talk, happy talk, warm and loving talk about the future, and our plans.

It was a good night.

Monday, November 13, 2006


We went out a couple of nights before Kirk left. The preparations had all been made. He had his tickets, he had signed a general power of attorney, gotten a last physical, made his arrangements. There is an Italian restaurant in El Granada, to the west of Highway 1, called Mezza Luna. It's not a terribly original name - half the restaurants in the area have something to do with half moon in their title. But it is a pretty good restaurant, and the head waiter always calls me 'bella donna,' so we liked it.

That day C had sent an email asking Kirk to do something for him. The company had been asked by the local military commanders if they had anything like a guard shack. They didn't, but C smelled an opportunity and he asked Kirk to design one.

So that evening we ate our fish and brain-stormed on the perfect design for a guard shack. It needed to be pretty simple to put up - a squad would have to be able to do it fairly quickly. There should be good armoring, and the openings needed to be sealable somehow. I argued for a panic button that would drop down shutters over doors and windows - gravity driven of course, simple was best. Kirk wanted gun slits, and thought about visibility and defense, and he penciled in an escape route so the guys wouldn't get trapped.

It was fun, dreaming up the perfect plan. I don't know how practical that first design was. The fact that it was sketched out on a few scraps of paper Kirk dug out of his pocket didn't help. There was the usual synergy there though - that energy that comes from spinning ideas with someone whose mind works with yours. Over the years we had done it about all sorts of things - crazy ideas in Germany, history projects in school, unnamed and vague things in the Air Force. It was part of the fun of being married to Kirk.

One more day.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Veteran's Day

I was talking to a friend of Kirk's once, one of the veterans of the first Gulf War. I asked what he had planned for Veteran's Day that year. I knew he and his family went to the nearest national cemetery on Memorial Day, and wondered if they did the same on Veteran's.

Memorial Day, he said, that's for the soldiers who never came back. So he takes his family every year to a place where they lie, and they walk the long rows and read the names incised on the marble markers.

But Veteran's Day, he said, that's ours. It belongs to the living vets, the ones who have served and returned. On that day he and his family spend time with other vets. They don't necessarily talk war - they just spend the day with other people who know something of what they know. They have a barbecue, the kids play ball and set up elaborate stepping-stone games with the hay bales, and a local band plays nothing newer than twenty years old.

It's a good distinction to keep in mind. For most of us, both days are marked more by picnics or sales events. I suppose that's okay. Because these aren't our days, they belong to someone else.

It's just... we might want to keep that in mind.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Kirk and I worked together a lot. With the obvious exception of his military stuff of course - although he did talk through things with me, in a non-specific, carefully unclassified way - we did most things as a team. When Kirk took on the coaching of our son's soccer team, I refused the post of 'team mom,' but helped write drills, warmed up the boys, made the team sign (see crap, making of, as discussed earlier) etc. When he and C were talking about making a company, I designed the website and helped write articles.

So C was well aware that he was getting two for the price of one. Being a bright guy he decided to harness this rather than resent it. While Kirk was getting himself organized and ready, getting advice, doing his preparation, C set me a job.

You see, although this company had a sister unit that had successfully operated in Afghanistan, they were still getting a few kinks worked out. There was a part, it turns out, a small but rather vital piece, that hadn't been sourced properly. C asked me, as a favor, to find a good vendor for this item.

It seems that the buildings were doing just fine... until the people using them tried to plug anything in.

Somehow no one had realized European outlets are not compatible with US electronics.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Passport application. C was already buying plane tickets to Turkey so we had to hustle to get things done in time. Lucky San Francisco is big enough so Kirk could go in person.

Things get frozen into relics sometimes, things that aren't important or valuable in themselves, physical moments in time. After we moved I found a dark blue folder - the simple kind, matte, with pockets inside. There were a handful of Air Force documents - officer evaluations I think, and a copy of his discharge papers. Actually I think none of those are useful for the application. And there was a mapquest printout of the directions to the passport office. I didn't empty out that folder and it still sits in the file cabinet intact - a snapshot of that moment.

The only thing I don't have is the passport itself. That was never recovered. I wonder what the picture was like. I've seen the one for the ID that got him onto bases in Iraq, and it was horrible. He looked like a dazed, 20-years-too-old frat boy after a two week bender.

I didn't ask to see it at the time - too many other things to do, too many to think about. I just remember that he got it with only a day or two to spare. One more essential checked off before he left.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I wonder if there are people who are naturally gifted shopping choosers. Not picking out products actually, but the far more delicate choices that go into a shopping experience. I was pondering this in Costco the other day (a place of much ponderance for me... and ponderous people as well, but that's not related to this).

There can be dozens of apparently identical carts lined up just begging a shopper to grab the handle and set off into over-sized consumerland. To make things interesting, just one of these carts will be one of Those carts - you know, the ones with the tendency to veer constantly to one side or another so you have to lean heavily on the handle and misalign your spine in order to avoid running down the ambling elderly in the aisles (oh, what lovely alliteration... I think I'll write a sonnet after this...). I have an uncanny attraction to those carts. I'll pick 'em out every single time. I even went to special effort at Costco, rejecting the ones with slimy substances on the surfaces (more alliteration, possibly this isn't skill but a symptom of something more sinister... good heavens, there it goes again), and those with wadded bits of paper or empty food containers.

The one I opted for looked just fine, but once I started shoving it around the concrete floor it was impossible to ignore the loud, rattling, irritating, whiny screech it made. No problem, I thought, I'm secure enough in myself to rise above a noisy cart. I'll hold my head high as I wheel my obnoxious way around the store. Maybe once I would have been bothered, but not now, not me, oh no.

I think the cart took this as a challenge, because the volume definitely increased as we went through the store, until it was clearly audible several aisles away. People were looking at me in concern, and making efforts to avoid me. But I was well past the point of no cart return. Sure, I could have gone to get a new cart and then transferred my things into it, but that would be admitting defeat. Besides, it was almost certain I'd pick one just as bad as this one.

I do think it was overdoing things though when the front right wheel jammed up, sending the cart and me into a frantic salsa around the chip aisle. I admit, it's just possible I kicked that cart quite hard, right in the wheels.

It's okay though, we had lots of time to make up in the checkout line. I can't choose those, either.

Friday, November 03, 2006


For Kirk it was like winning the lottery when C asked him to join the company. It was a chance to do something meaningful again, to do the sort of thing that had meant so much to him in the Air Force. Dorothy Sayers has a useful analogy - in one of her books she says after talking to a character about her life the heroine had the uncomfortable feeling she had seen a racehorse pulling a cart. That was Kirk. His experience and skills were almost unique, but he was doing a job thousands of people could have handled just as well, a job that (in the larger scale) meant nothing.

He had to choose quickly, and we both knew what he wanted to do, but we also knew it wasn't something to do lightly. I keep wanting to say that - we didn't choose this easily or simply. We didn't look at eachother and say 'This sounds like fun! Let's head off into a combat zone and wander around for a while!'

In particular, Kirk talked at length to his best friend in California - a co-worker at his company who was a Gulf War veteran, a former helicopter pilot. Our families were extremely close - his wife was one of my dear friends, we were the first babysitters his small daughter ever had. For the past several months they had been going through an incredible crisis (it's not my story - it's theirs. I won't tell it here) and we had done what little we could to help and support them. Now he and Kirk discussed this offer, and ultimately S said to go. In fact, they agreed that (if circumstances allowed) he would join Kirk there himself.

There was one last person Kirk wanted to talk to - his closest friend from the counter-terrorism days. He did call I know, but I think J was out of town. I don't believe he got the call before the decision was made, before Kirk had already left for Turkey. I don't know what he would have said.

Kirk was out of time - C needed him to make his choice quickly. So we decided.

He would go.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


C found chaos in Turkey. I don't know his entire work history, but he had spent some time in a Fortune 500 company, with all the bureaucracy that entails. He did do some stuff with a start-up in Nevada, but I would imagine that was a luxury of support and infrastructure compared with this.

This company had three American employees overseas. Three. C was one, Ryan Manelick was another, and the third was J, the guy who drove in and out of country negotiating contracts and delivering goods. When C showed up, delivery timelines, prices, everything was based on what J had figured out on the spot with whatever local military guy he could find. Contracts were signed on the fly; payments were in cash.

Kirk described J to me as a cowboy - almost a Hollywood type maverick who has the guts to drop into a combat zone and start making deals on a handshake and a scrap of paper. He was, Kirk said, the sort of guy who would make things happen, make a success of things, because he would be the first one there. The problem was, it was a few months into the war now; being the first one there wasn't enough anymore.

C found contracts that were signed with unreasonable delivery dates - and serious penalties for lateness. He found not broken processes, but a complete lack of process.

I can't avoid the cliche. They were flying by the seat of their pants. They were operating on adrenaline. It worked... barely. But the climate was changing. This sort of stuff wasn't going to work much longer, not if the company wanted to survive in the Haliburton environment.

C saw the challenge, he saw the potential. He needed help.

He called Kirk.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hind sight is betraying me. I'm trying to remember what it was like in those weeks when we made the choice for Kirk to go to Iraq. I'm trying to put myself back in that mindset, but I can't do it. I know too much - it has been too hard. I can't dissociate enough to present this honestly. I can't give you what I want to give you - a real feeling for why we chose what we did.

Kirk wasn't happy. There is that - although it sounds so small and meaningless now. He had gained some weight, and for him that was a sign of something more. He was sleeping badly, his chronic stomach trouble had started up again, he was distracted and uneasy. It started with 9/11, but it was getting worse. Because of who he was it was unspoken, unexpressed. He played with the kids, coached the soccer team, went on nightly runs with me, and walked out to the ocean every night to talk and watch the surf. But the man who had always looked 10 years younger than he really was suddenly looked old, tired, beaten. So this was more than simple unhappiness, more fundamental, more important.

And then C went to Turkey. Kirk had been thinking of going to Kosovo, talking of making a major change, and then C got this incredible chance. And Kirk was envious. He was happy that C would be able to do this, but oh... he wanted to go as well. And I knew that.

I try and remember as well that this was the early days after the initial war. No contractors had yet been hurt or killed. Things had gone well, things seemed to be stable.

Keep all of that in mind when you read the rest of this story. It's important. It's important to remember the time, and important to remember who Kirk was.

That's what I'm trying to do.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

Note: Edited for Clarity. And also logic. Not that this makes the post any better, but it's less horrible than it was!

I might not have the most standard Halloween background. My childhood neighborhood, according to my mother (which makes this following statistic NON BIASED and therefore RELIABLE) gets about 400 trick or treaters on Halloween night. Everyone who just dropped by Target for a last minute bag of candy should take note of this because it seriously increases the number of mini-snickers bags you have to pick up. We get the usual heart-rendingly darling small fry, but also a huge number of surly, un-costumed enormous types who are a. far too large to be doing this and b. sometimes bringing their GRANDCHILDREN around with them and still holding out their pillowcase crammed with sugar.

This means I have an in-bred tendency to over-prepare for Halloween. If you add that up with a previous admitted crap-making tendency we're talking problem territory.

So yes, I admit the year we were in Virginia I made about a hundred felt bags (four designs: skull, bat, ghost and pumpkin. Personally, I rather liked the skull and the ghosts). That's a hundred little bags with hand-appliqued designs on them people. These were filled with sticky hands (don't ask), holiday bubble-blowers, and candy. We got... hmmm....maybe 10 kids ringing our bell? But our kids were thrilled since they got to enjoy the left-overs. We had sticky hands to play with for the next two years. Thinking of this episode makes me cringe from remembered craftiness. It's a very sad thing.

But the costumes that year were the best we ever did. Child 1 wanted to be a ghost, which sounds a bit dull, but we dressed it up with layer on layer of cheese cloth goulishness (my contribution) and then added those glow-stick chemical things underneath - the ones that you have to snap to create several hours of green eerie light (Kirk's brilliant concept, and may I say that was the coolest ghost ever?). Child 3 was a robot with glow-in-the-dark paint on its costume buttons (again, my contribution), and a tap light on its helmet (paint plus plastic plant pot - Kirk's brilliance again, darn him). Child 2 though was all me, and Child 2, it was a person being eaten by a shark (full marks to Child 2 for the best costume concept in history). This was, without doubt, the coolest costume we ever made. I sewed up the top half of a shark, with glow-in-the-dark teeth rimmed with gore (oh my gosh, this was an INCREDIBLE shark... You can tell how awesome the whole thing was by the unrestricted use of parentheses) and Child 2 wore its swim suit and a pair of goggles. I have to say, our neighbors were probably not nearly fabulous enough to appreciate our creative costuming. The only problem was this was our first post-Alaska trick or treating, and I was very fussed over the thought of poor little Child 2 freezing in its bathing suit. I worried and bothered, and reminded them several times that should Child 2 get cold it must be hustled straight home so I could cuddle it properly and give it hot chocolate. Naturally Child 2 nearly suffocated in its very impressive, but extremely well insulated shark, and had to flip the head over to dangle down its back just to get enough fresh air between houses.

In California the trick-or-treating was prime - lots of great houses, lots of friendly people, lots of insane types who handed out FULL SIZED candy bars thank you very much, and the good kind too! The problem was our house. We lived in a house that had a long driveway flanked by dark and looming hedges. The intrepid trick-or-treater would have to creeeeeaaak open the slightly rusty gate, thread its way past our attractive-but-threatening landscaping, around the corner, and then pound on our dark gee-we'd-love-to-carve-you-up-with-a-cut-rate-home-improvement-tool front door just to score a tiny bag of Skittles or something. Now, for the older kids this was just extra stuff, but the tiny types were too shy to even get to the gate. So Kirk and I just set ourselves at the end of the drive in our watching-soccer-games chairs with a bottle of red wine and a large bowl full of over-prepared treats. Sure, I was still begging small children to take several handfuls of foam dinosaur gliders and a slide whistle, but there were lots of other people around to join in the fun which made me community spirited and not faintly disturbing.

The year Kirk disappeared I set up my chair, poured a single glass of wine, and handed out handfuls of toys and candy. And I smiled at the older kids, and talked to the little ones about who they were, and why they chose that costume, and how Belle is the prettiest princess but Cinderella is nice too. I counted four dalmation puppies and seven Harry Potters. And my kids came and kept me company, and I did not cry.

This year I'm firmly esconced in the basement, refusing to partake of the greed-fest that is my neighborhood's trick-or-treat tradition. I can't enjoy watching three generations of people shake down the people around me for five dollars' worth of sugar-rush (oh dear. I think my prejudice is showing. Golly... I feel rotten) But I'm thinking of Kirk, laughing at our kid's fantastic costumes and the tiny little kids tottering around with the wonder of their first trick-or-treat, and that's enough holiday tradition for me. At least this year.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Kirk worried about C taking that job. He worried because C didn't have any real-world experience with any of that stuff - the military (well, a bit of family history, but that's not the same by any stretch), combat zones, the middle east - any of it. C was a bright guy, an extremely bright guy, and very capable, but this was not something to take lightly.

But C wouldn't be going to Iraq, it turned out. He was going to run things in Turkey, managing the operations there, while another guy would negotiate contracts, deliver orders, work with the locals etc. This guy was already over there in fact, but things were moving quickly and they needed someone to bring some order to everything.

Kirk talked to some of his contacts, talked seriously to C, and then said it was an amazing opportunity. There were risks, of course, but since C wouldn't be in the combat zone those risks were mostly related to dealing with a new company in a chaotic environment - and of course the potential gains were as great as the risks.

It helped that this company was not entirely new to the business. It was actually a spin off of a group that had done the same thing in Afghanistan. They already had the product, they had the procedures, they should have had everything they needed to make things work.

Under the circumstances, and knowing C and his tolerance for risk, Kirk said he should go ahead. I don't know the details of what he said to C - but I would imagine he told him honestly what he thought about the risks and the problems.

I also imagine he said quite truthfully that he, Kirk, would go in an instant.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Personality Traits

Broke is when the underwire thingy in your bra decides to make an unwanted appearance outside of it's happy little (padded, protective) underwire home, and you think - once this fact has made itself apparent by all the highly personal poking that's going on - gee, I'll bet I can fix that once I get home and thus not have to buy a new bra.

Lazy is when you neglect to do so.

Forgetful is when you go through this series of events more than three times, hence finding yourself in your office trying to slide the darn wire thingy back into its little wire home and looking like you're really unsuccessfully groping yourself.

Fortunately my office has a window that gazes out on a blank wall, and a nice solid door that can be shut firmly. Because I am broke, lazy, and forgetful.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I Swear

Friend: So, I was looking at that post you made…

Me: Yup?

Friend: And I have a question.

Me: Yes…?

Friend: What in the world is double dog swear with cherries on?

Me: Did I say that?

Friend: You did.

Me: Really? Where?

Friend: Here.

Me: Hang on… oh.

Friend: Yes?

Me: Doesn’t everyone say that?

Friend: No.

Friend: No one says that. No one. Except you. Where did you learn it?

Me: Um…. I have a feeling it was spontaneous creation.

Friend: Athena springing from the head of Zeus?

Me: Well, yes! Exactly like that! Very godlike and impressive.

Friend: Right. So this is going to solve world hunger?

Me: Probably. Once it takes off. It just needs proper marketing.

Friend: The Double Dog Dare Brand?

Me: Tagline – Dare to Swear! Because only really really cool and edgy people will use it.

Friend: You’re thinking about t-shirt designs aren’t you?

Me: High fashion version: Swear With Flair!

Friend: You can stop now

Me: Mare… hare… hair to swear for the hirsute… lair… share…. fair…

Friend: Stop, just stop

Me: Wait! Wait! Once it takes off, then the charity angle kicks in and…

Friend: O...M...G…

Me: “Care to Swear?”

Friend: *pounding head*

Me: Do you see how clever that is? Care?? Swear??

Friend: You’re going to blog this, aren’t you?

Me: Of course not!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shifting Sands

Kirk began to talk about Kosovo more and more - not about what happened during the war, but about what was going on now. We have such a short attention span sometimes - and of course there is always the next crisis looming to draw the world's eyes. Hardly anyone stops to wonder what a country does after the planes have stopped dropping bombs, after the troops have (mostly) gone home.

It's messy of course. There is all the physical damage from years of smaller scale destruction as well as the shorter, more efficient demolition efforts of the NATO forces. But there is also the problem of living with a community that has been violently divided, of finding places in the new world for the things said and done, for the people everyone has become.

All of that was on his mind, and we began to talk about it. He talked about the beauty of the Balkans, about the people he had met and seen, and about rebuilding. He had done so much that was destructive - important, yes, vital even, but destructive. Now, in the post 9-11 world, he urgently wanted to build instead.

So we began to look around, to put out feelers. He started to contact friends in Europe who might know someone contracting in the Balkans. But it was all very nebulous and undefined.

At the same time he and C were talking about starting a company together. They went through a few ideas, once meeting with a mentor of C's from Stanford. I was there that night, and remember the guy listening to their business model, then bluntly turning to C and saying 'well, it sounds like a viable model, I just don't see what this guy needs you for.'

Kirk knew he needed C though - Kirk had the expertise, C had the contacts and the business sense. So they talked and planned and mulled things over for several weeks, never really finalizing anything beyond the desire to work together, to do something that they cared about, to make something for themselves.

Eventually C got a job out of town and moved away, but he and Kirk kept very close contact, still trying to find just the right thing to do. C was restless and ambitious, and even in the new job he wasn't happy. Finally one day he gave Kirk a call. He'd been offered a job by a friend, he said, something risky but with a lot of possibilities. It was a very small company, American, but headquartered in Turkey. They built temporary buildings for the military and for reconstruction in post-war zones, and they were going into Iraq.

He wanted Kirk's advice.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Jiggy Factor

Kirk brought a friend home from work - a young single guy who had become a close friend. So we invited him for dinner one night.

He was an extremely bright guy, very charming, very confident. While we did last minute stuff in the kitchen and set up the dining room he outlined for me a theory of his - the Jiggy Theory.

Everyone has a jiggy factor he said seriously. In fact (he produced pen and paper) it can be charted, because if you plot it over time it forms a jiggy curve. There is one curve for women (draws in curve), and another for men (opposite curve). As I recall, jigginess was a complicated function involving age, intelligence, physical attractiveness, and material wealth. The important thing for real success in a relationship apparently, was to make sure your jiggy curve intersected with your partner's. The trouble is everyone is looking for a higher jiggy factor than their own place on the curve actually merits.

I looked at him firmly and pointed out that the female jiggy curve had a distinctly depressing downward slope to it, while the male curve went up and up. And where, I asked would he place me on said curve?

At that moment the fresh shrimp came out of the steamer, the homebaked bread was sitting, warm and fragrant, waiting to be sliced, and a large corn and bean salad was placed on the table. He looked at these things, then looked back at me and plotted a large black dot very firmly quite high on the jiggy curve.

Very wise, C, I said, and passed his plate.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Tried to think of a clever and original way of saying 'I'm back!' but... well, that's already obvious isn't it?

Also obvious is that The Story is nearing the end... or the middle... and it's sort of looming out there. I can feel it when I try and write things and the words get very strained and stilted. But I'll do my best, bear with me, we're nearly there.


I don't much like sea gulls. They're quite nice from a distance I suppose - particularly in flight or when the sunset catches them in just the right light. But up close they're bold, usually fairly grubby, and very, very rude. They're base survivors are gulls - if there's food to be gotten they'll find it, and no niceties about please and thank you. I know for some people they really symbolize the ocean, but to me it's more the parking-lot dumpster of the beach-side Taco Bell.

But there is a little shore bird I absolutely love. We saw them first in Oregon. They're quite small, little white things with brown markings and terribly fragile little legs - extremely pretty.

They make their living right at the boundary between water and land. As each wave comes in they dash frantically up the sand ahead of the foam, and then turn and chase just as hard after it when it rushes out again. In the tiny interval in-between they dip their beaks down and rummage busily for whatever tasty scrap they can find. I have no idea what they look for - tiny crabs maybe, or little shell fish. It's the constant motion of their little legs as they race back and forth with every wave that I like so much.

Maybe that's where we were - too used to constant motion, used to the rush and the scrabble of chaos. But it wasn't only that.

There were other people at Kirk's job who were unhappy. It was the end of the dot com era. The culture of extreme reward for extreme effort was over - at least half of it was. There had been... let me see now... three major lay-offs while Kirk was there, and that left everyone feeling edgy and uncertain. You were aware that people watched to see when you came in and when you left - aware that looking busy and productive was more important than anything, even than actually being productive. It wasn't a place that inspired great loyalty because during the boom time it didn't have to. Now people worked out of fear rather than passion or belief.

Most of our friends were at least thinking about finding other work - it was stupid not to really given the circumstances. So Kirk wasn't alone. He was just alone in looking for work in the Balkans.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hiatus (possibly) and A Water Tale

Be duly warned that for the next week I might possibly have only sketchy internet access and therefore there could maybe be a bit of a lull here. How's that for conditional grammar?

Meanwhile I am off to contemplate the large lake that has appeared across the street. It started as one neatly excised hole which was tutted over by a crew of workmen for a day or so, then filled in and left. Except bright and observnt neighbor noticed that next to the repaired hole the street was developing a large bulge, which tarmac doesn't normally do, even here. So crew of workmen returned and excised a much larger but still neat hole next to the original. They worked on that one for a couple of days, blocking anywhere from one to four driveways (mine included) and showing a frightening lack of expertise with their various large pieces of equipment. Then they filled in the hole and tamped the dirt down VERY firmly. That was yesterday. Said observant neighbor did mention he thought there was still a leak... but was told quite sternly that it was fixed.

So yesterday evening we all went out to admire the bubble fountain in the road. The six by eight foot hole (or larger? I don't do estimates well, particularly from memory) was filled to the brim and a nice little brook was running down the gutter. Since this is a desert, the sight of water just running away to the drain without cleaning anything, refreshing anything, or watering anything is intensely irritating. Bright observant neighbor declined to call the city though, apparently he's had enough of the city and they've probably had enough of him.

I've made the suggestion that we go with what works and turn it into a neighborhood swimming hole. It's a bit small for a pool, but at a pinch we could stack all the local kids inside and get them thoroughly wet. It's a pity it's not the season. My father suggests a wetland - showing he's less selfish and more conservation minded than I. I figure within a week we could have a couple of ducks and probably a turtle or two. If we play our cards right we might attract some endangered silvery minnows, and then we could apply for grant money and get ourselves declared protected.

In fact... I wonder what the procedure is for having oneself listed as a species? I'm pretty sure I'm threatened (I know my kids are - I do it myself) and I'm positive my habitat needs restoring. I think I'll go write a letter to my local representative. She's running for reelection - she needs to keep an eye on the vital swing votes of special interest species like me.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dueling Artistes

Hari Krishna guy has a rival! He has been ousted from his spot beneath the 'art' on the way to work. The poor man has set himself up temporarily 20 yards away, and upped the volume. I'm not sure if Hari Krishnas are allowed resentment, but if so he's absolutely seething with it.

Meanwhile beneath the 'art' is an enthusiastic but unfortunately unwashed type who bangs away on his guitar and sings what must be his own compositions. Friday's song was a soulful tune about the evils of modern travel.

'Mr. Customs maaaaaaaan
Doooooon't you cheeeeck mah bags'

And I caught something about a steely jet in the blue, blue, skaaaaaaaah.

Today his strumming was too violent to understand his lyrics - a great shame I think. Still, it made for an interesting walk as I went from the (volume increased) heartfelt and gentle 'krishna krishnaaaaaaaa' to THUMP strum strum strum THUMP THUMP. I'm not sure if the sound wars will escalate any further. I sort of hope they come to an armed truce and just settle down together, because I've become fond of Krishna guy, and Unwashed Man has a dog of infinite charm and incredible patience.

Maybe they could be a beautiful example of musical sectarianism living in...

... sorry about this ...



I started to wonder if we were chronically nomadic - if we had moved so often that mentally we would always be looking ahead to the next place.

Before California we had never in our 12 year marriage spent Christmas in the same house two years in a row. The kids were slightly proud of this statistic and repeated it to their friends. By Christmas 2001 we all felt as though we had accomplished something - two Christmases, one house... just barely.

But we talked about moving all the time. Partly it was a poor mental framework that started when we took the job in California. We knew we weren't going to get back to Alaska (AKA The Promised Land, or if Kirk were feeling Norse, Valhalla), but West Coast was mandatory, and the farther north the better. Moss Beach was barely within our tolerance zone and we moved with that in mind. Sure it was beautiful, sure the people were great, but it wasn't perfect it wasn't ideal, it wasn't home.

Looking at it now I think the problem wasn't geographic at all. Kirk was unhappy with his work - he was underused and unchallenged, and deeply disatisfied. He had felt he had nothing left to prove after the Air Force - he said as much to me - but post 9-11 I think somewhere was the feeling that he did have something left to give.

But all of that was so tenuous that the only thing we knew was something wasn't right with where we were.

So we talked about moving, all the time putting down deeper and firmer roots without realizing it. Maybe that's the problem with being a nomad - when you do find home, you don't recognize it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Puzzle Box

When I was little there were wonderful things in our livingroom. On a marble-topped table there was a small brass plate filled with arrowheads and odd bits of rock. My father said the strange, smooth ones were dinosaur gizzard stones, and when I held them I could feel the odd oiliness that he said was how you knew what they were.

In a niche by the archway were a series of shelves that held a whole variety of knicknacks. There was a carved wooden bear who had a large salmon slung over his back. There was a New Zealand Tiki with mother-of-pearl eyes and an enigmatic grin. There was a glass pig that once belonged to my grandmother. She had been given the nickname 'Piglet' I think, and people kept giving her pigs. In my memory she didn't actually like the pigs all that much, but she displayed them all the same.

And there was the puzzle box.

It was small, and one top corner had a gap where the maker had misjudged the cut of the wood. Green parquetry decorated the sides, and filled the top panel except for a diamond that held two goggle-eyed scotty dogs. When you picked it up there was a loud rattle, and you could feel several little hard objects sliding around. But the top was firmly glued down, and there were no hinges.

I don't remember anyone showing me how to open it - I think I must have just poked around enough to figure it out. It's not a terribly puzzling puzzle box. The front panel is a drawer, and if you push at it you can move it backwards against a spring. On the left hand side a piece of the parquetry slides back just enough to show a little wooden trigger; press that down and the drawer springs open.

And inside there is a treasure.

My mother got utterly fed up one day with endlessly dusting all the little things (along with the miles of bookshelves) and bundled them all up and put them away. But the other day we opened up a drawer at the bottom of a glass fronted bookcase and there they all were - the gizzard stones, the arrowheads, and dozens of other things I had forgotten about. There's a peculiar familirity to things you knew as a child, something that gives importance and stature to even trivial little bits and pieces. Why did we still have a small matchbox carefully covered in blue diamond patterned tissue paper? Neither of us knew, but it still went back into the drawer with the other things.

Except the puzzle box. My mother gave that to me, and it's sitting on my desk now. The spring is still strong, and when I press down the trigger the drawer almost leaps out, shooting as far as the stops will let it.

There are six crystals inside - a little scratched now from rattling against eachother all these years. I didn't see the scratches when I was little, didn't see the dirt that still crusts two of them. I saw six diamonds hidden in a magic box.

Still, it's good to know the treasure is still there, if I can remember how to find it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

No, Honestly, We Really Do Rock Birthday Parties

I intended to go on with The Story at this point, but yesterday's post made me start thinking about other birthday parties and... well, in justification I'm going to say that telling this is an important part of telling about Kirk.

Two of our children are female, which since Kirk spent his adolescence in a male-only household, did cause a bit of confusion for him. One of the girls, for example, was exceptionally pretty-princessy when very small. She wanted to dress in fluffy, twirly things at all times. Her favorite movie was Mary Poppins, and she would skip exultantly through the house singing 'Yet's go Fyie a Kite!' at the top of her piercing little voice. She slept at night with her hands classically tucked beneath one cheek, and woke up in the morning with a stretch, and a Cindy-Loo-Who type girly little sigh (Mmmmmm-aaaaah!). She was obsessed with her own reflection ('Oh! I have tears! I go see....') to the point where we honestly considered strictly limiting her mirror time. At one point Kirk turned to me with confusion and said, quite seriously, 'I think there's something wrong - look at her!' pointing to our prancing, dancing, ruffly pink child. 'She's not broken, Kirk, she's a girl.'

The latter girl birthdays were, therefore, something of a trial to him. He loved parties, loved having the kids over and getting into the fun, but.... ew... He listened patiently, if a little glumly, while I planned one: 'And then we'll have a maze and the girls will have to rescue these little unicorns from the center of the maze...' then brightened up - 'well, what if there's a dragon? And they have to kill it or something? We could do spears maybe...' Even worse was the teenager one with really horrible music, and truth-or-dare make overs. He listened to those plans and then just announced that his only role in all of this would be to mock them all. And he did.

But in Alaska the male child did have a birthday that let Kirk really shine. It was pirate themed. We started with a treasure hunt (great way to deal with the piece-meal arrival of guests btw) and the handful of small boys ransacked the garden looking for their loot - in this case a make-yourself-a-pirate kit with eye patch, cutlass, and cut out felt to glue up into a nice pirate hat.

Then Kirk lined them up and gave them pirate lessons.

'Right! Backs straight! Let's see your sneeeeeer.'

Five-year-old grimaces were inspected.

'Oh come on now, that wouldn't frighten a rowboat full of grandmothers! Think scary men, think terrifying, what do you look like when your mom says you have to kiss your sister? That's it!'

Then he taught them a piratical vocabulary (edited for age of course) including a classic 'AAARRRRRRGGGHHHHH' and a growled 'Scurvey Scallawag!'

At the end of the day one blond pirate came solemnly up to Kirk. 'Mister [Child]? I don't want to be a piwate.'

Kirk smiled down at him, 'that's okay, it was pretty fun just to be one for an afternoon though, wasn't it?'

'Well.... I guess. But I don't want to be a piwate anymore.'

'What do you want to be?'

'I want to be what you are. I want to be a King Piwate!' and he hugged Kirk around the knees, stabbed him with his cutlass, and ran home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How We Totally Rock Birthday Parties

The birthday person in question was Child 2, who, on being asked, said it wanted an 'Alaska' birthday party. When it comes to things like this there is generally a strict division of labor. I, as a rule, come up with the design for invitations, with the party favors, and most of the games. Kirk would tweak the games, adding refinements that made them either more dangerous or more difficult - usually both. I then spend two months hand crafting game supplies, and the aformentioned favors and invitations. That's because I'm insane. Kirk runs everything else.

So for the Alaska party we decided to hold the thing outdoors at a local park - nice flat area that used to be a quarry. Luckily this was the slightly less rainy season (note, Moss Beach has two seasons - slightly less rainy, and constantly rainy) so while we had the emergency contingency plan that involved more insanity and our living room we weren't called upon to make the sacrifice. It meant that decorations could be minimal, and all we had to do was pack all the gear from the parking area to the party site.

On the day itself, we met the party-goers down by the car, and Kirk began hiking them up the trail. He told them most of his favorite bear jokes (yes, the one with the poop and the bear bells was a big hit) and had the whole crew ready to prove themselves real Alaskans by the time they arrived.

First, he said, they had to provide themselves with shelter. Theoretically this should have taken ten minutes since it just meant pitching a couple of very simple tents. But this was a whole herd of pre-teens so with intense concentration and a certain amount of lively discussion (and adult interference) they managed to get both tents up and nearly stable in a mere half hour.

They foraged for food as well - berry shaped candies hung in green paper cones around the site (each child assigned its own ribbon color so we didn't break out into sugar-induced violence or anything).

Next up was fishing. I'd made some bright foam fish (and an octopus or two because I like octopi, and I was bored with fish and besides you never know) and fixed them with magnets. Kirk had rigged very long fishing poles with string and more magnets and the kids had to 'hook' themselves a fish while Child 3 made things more interesting by agitating the 'water' and generally making a nuisance of itself.

Meanwhile, and this is the bit I thought was the most genius, Child 1 was established as the proprietor of the local general store, who would buy the fish with gold (spray painted rocks - cheap and amazingly effective). The party goers could then use their gold to buy favors of their choice - 'moose poop' (those little round versions of candy bars, like Butterfinger B-B's and things), small toys, little journals and other things. Child 1 added its own refinement by randomly changing its prices. A fish that brought in two large nuggets one round would barely get a small bit of gravel the next - Child 1 claimed a glut on the market, it wasn't its fault it said.

It took them ages to tire of fishing out the fish, selling them off, flinging them back in and starting all over again. The whole time Kirk was right in the middle, egging on Child 1, telling outrageous fish tales - somehow managing to keep the fun going without tipping things over into chaos.

Finally, thoroughly stocked with moose-poop, the whole crew vanished into the tents. Except for the tell-tale wobbling and the explosive whispers the camp site seemed deserted. Kirk joined me on the picnic-table bench and stretched his legs out.

'Well, I think that went pretty well,' he said, in satisfaction. 'Not one meltdown the whole afternoon.'

'Which do you think was easier - entertaining those kids for three hours or briefing a roomful of generals?'

He thought for a moment. 'Well like I said, not one meltdown the whole afternoon, so I'd have to choose the kids every time.' He paused, admiring his hiking boots. 'But they both like my bear poop story!'

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keeping Busy - The Telephone

I've mentioned that Kirk found ways to keep himself entertained at his new job. He had an accomplice in this - they had one of those synergistic relationships where the whole is entirely greater than the sum of its parts. When you think about the mayhem that only one part was capable of, this is a frightening thing.

A favorite pastime was creating phone messages. They started fairly small and innocuous, but when a couple of colleagues went out of town for several days both of them branched out into real genius. Kirk's series of recordings is legend. I have had four people stop me (two of them I didn't know) and act out various parts. Unfortunately it is completely impossible to translate to text - honestly, I'm very sorry about this. The best I can say is that 'Birthday Baba Ganouj' has become a household catch phrase, and I have been given several boxes of Baba Ganouj mix on the strength of the whole thing.

However the friend's effort was pretty good too. The following messages (as near as I can reconstruct) were left on K's phone while she was away for a week:

The first day away: 'Miz X? This is Wayne from Triple A Cold Storage. We've got a shipment for you, says came in two, three weeks ago but my guys say it's been sittin' here a while. Anyway if you could call us back, arrange tah pick this thing up I'd sure appreciate it.'

Day three: 'Miz X? This is Wayne from Triple A Cold Storage. That shipment of yours - by policy we gotta open this thing up, see what's in here if we don't hear from you. Give us a call by the end of the day ma'am.'

Day four: 'Miz X? This here is Wayne from Triple A Cold Storage. We're gonna whoah! Whoah Bruce you open that thing up? My god... damn man that's... Miz X? We [cough, oh MAN] we got your... um... your meat delivery here and it's [cough, cough] oh, man. Okay, we're gonna hafta...'

Return day, knowing she was coming straight to work: 'Miz X? Triple A Cold Storage. We found your home address here on the... on the... on the um package... paperwork, so we're just gonna [no man! You put that in triple bags I'm tellin' you, and you take that truck right out and hose it down after or we're gonna be smellin' like that for weeks], we're gonna just deliver this for you, no charge.'


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Parenting Skillage

Child 2 reads. No, Child 2 inhales books, breathes books, is never happy unless surrounded by piles and mounds of books. It taught itself to read at the age of 3 (well, 3 and 8 months) because Child 1 learned to read that day and there was no reason not to. Since then, well it's been all about the books. If there were a 12 step program for literature abuse, Child 2 would be in it.

'Hi, I'm Child,' it would say, 'and I'm a compulsive reader.'

I'm not saying this to hint smugly at relative brain power or anything - I'm confessing to a problem. In the past Child 2 has chosen reading over sleeping, eating, hygiene, and (it was VERY young) certain vital functions of a delicate nature. It has (recently too) been found in the morning with not one, but four or more large bulky books distributed in its bedclothes - not just soft cover either, but nasty, pointy edged hard bound monsters, sometimes beneath its tender young body. Child 2 literally rolls in books.

There is, I admit, a certain amount of family history here. My mother used to tell with enormous satisfaction about the time Aunt 1 and Aunt 2 were sprinting for the one bathroom in the house. Aunt 1 won the race, but Aunt 2 shouted triumphantly 'but I have my BOOK!' and Aunt 1 let her go first. That is a book sickness right there, the whole darn thing.

So Kirk and I were hardly suprised when Mr. D pulled us over to look at Child 2's desk during parent-teacher conferences. He had saved it for us, so we could wonder along with him. There were the expected crumpled papers, pens, crayons, scissors and possible fossil evidence of lunches long departed, but in addition there were 13 books. THIRTEEN books. In a small, 4th grade desk. Kirk said the compression in that thing was so significant we were probably lucky to have escaped spontaneous combustion. We marveled together at this evidence that physics knows nothing when faced with a book-obsessed child.

Mr. D told us gently that while Child 2 was great fun in the classroom the tendency of its desk to discharge drifts of detritus onto the floor was slightly disruptive. Right, we said, leave it to us. We'll sort this out.

Long talk with Child 2 who agreed that maybe things were slightly out of control. It would choose a book, you see, for reading, and then read it and then carefully put it away... in its desk... and then choose another... sort of the compost approach to literacy. But it just got so interested in the books...

Not to worry, Kirk said, the problem is you have too many books to choose from. We can see that. We'll make it easy on you. For the next two weeks, you will read only the books of our choosing. You'll take one with you to school, and read the other here at home. And because you read rather quickly, we'll make sure they'll last you the entire time.

And he presented the poor child with two massive tomes. At school it would be delighting in a dense and thorougly researched life of Saladin. At home it would learn what a fairly dusty Oxford Don thought about Roman Britain.

If the desk stayed clean for two weeks, the reading ban was lifted. If not...

Two weeks later Mr. D showed us a pristine and shining desk. A slightly grim Child 2 listened as we joked about how effective the treatment had been.

'But I'll bet you learned a lot,' I said. 'Saladin was an important guy, one of the most influential characters of his time.'

'Well,' it said viciously, 'I know how he died!'

Every day it had been flipping to the same page and reading with satisfaction about how the great Saladin had met his end.

To this day it can quote every word.

Monday, October 09, 2006

3 Years

Three years today.

Someone called me last year to offer their condolences, to tell me they were thinking of us. And I told them that I don't pay a lot of attention to anniversaries and things. I miss him today, but I missed him yesterday. It was hard today, but it will be hard tomorrow.

So today it's three years, and tomorrow it will be three years and a day... and the day after...

And while that's true, today was a sad day, a hard day. Partly because for no real reason several things needed to get done - Social Security still isn't resolved; there's a claim we filed ages ago with the labor department which will probably never come to anything but which needs to be pursued anyway - so the bureaucratic tedium of the situation was all over today. Very tiring, very wearing, very... well, very sad. Particularly as after getting everything organized and getting ready to call and write and do what I had to do (because it takes a bit of mental courage each time. Shouldn't this be getting easier?) I realized it's Columbus day and nothing is open. Just like three years ago.

Three years ago I was trying to contact representatives, senators, anyone at all. I called all morning, frantic, and didn't realize for hours that no one was going to answer because all the offices were closed.

So yes, today is hard. Sometimes the difficulties of things feel particularly heavy, and today is one of those days.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


It's balloon fiesta time. The streets are filled with tourists and with chase teams - both a bit dangerous on the road since their eyes are glued to the skies.

There are fiesta lovers here, people who go every year, who collect pins to display on hats they would never otherwise consider wearing. We have known people who own ballons, people who volunteer for chase teams, and even for a while a brave man who striped his head in black and white and helped deal with organizing launches.

I am not one of those people. I don't much like huge crowds, and it seems insane to get up ungodly early, struggle with traffic and parking and then pay a ridiculous amount for the privilege of standing around in a cold field watching large bags of silk slowly fill with air.

A friend of Child 2 took us all up once for a birthday treat - not for the enormous Fiesta, just for a smaller gathering of 30 or so, but at least I can say I've done it. Makes me feel slightly less of an outsider for never once having gone to the real thing.

It's not like I feel I've missed out on anything. The balloons can be seen from all over the city - clustering at first in their hundreds, then thinning out and spreading across the sky as they climb to catch different gusts of wind.

Yellow leaves, the smell of roasting green chiles, and the loud whoosh of a heater overhead as someone looks for an open field to land. It must be fall in New Mexico.

Friday, October 06, 2006


It would be easy at this point to say - and then nothing much happened. Two years, and I've been trying to think of the best way to sum it up. I could talk about the burst of the dot com bubble, and track the time by the number of lay-offs Kirk survived at his company. I could tell more mountain bike stories, riding 20 miles or more down the coast with Kirk shouting 'fall left!' over his shoulder as we rode along the steep cliffs.

But the thing that comes to my mind is soccer, yes cliche and all.

Kirk was not a man of casual interests. If he liked something, if he wanted to do it, it became a passion. In our marriage this had included photography, camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, archery and now soccer. Blame children 2 and 3 - it's all their fault.

Soccer hadn't been a big deal in Alaska. I think there is an AYSO up there somewhere, but with only one season suitable for outdoor games, and that taken up utterly with the aforementioned camping, hiking fishing etc, it never even crossed our lives. Virginia was entirely devoted to mountain biking with hardly time for the odd trip into DC. If I thought about soccer at all I think I would have announced that I couldn't be a soccer mom, I didn't have a minivan.

But for some reason one day as we drove up Highway 1 we both noticed a small sign announcing sign ups for 'Little Kickers' (which gave me a vague impression of small but potent drinks for some reason) and Kirk decided to look into it. Maybe it was part of trying to do the standard civilian thing? At any rate at the end of the day children 2 and 3 had 'uniform' t-shirts in green and yellow and were assigned to their new teams.

Of course it couldn't stay that simple. In the fall all three kids were on teams, the male child sporting green hair to match its jersey (and to help its parents pick it out among the identical small boys on the field). The next season the male was on two teams (and did, for a weekend, have half its head green, half red) just to make things more interesting. Finally all three kids and Kirk took ref classes and became certified (and all four of them had stripey ref jerseys as well), children 2 and 3 were playing on teams, and Kirk was coaching. Me, I learned what offside meant, could throw around phrases like 'give and go' and 'off side trap,' and was reasonably confident about what position went where. I also pointed out to my manic family that anyone volunteering to take a five hour class starting at 8 am on a Saturday for the simple joy of standing in a herd of small children wearing cleats and kicking like maniacs was... well I love my family and I was in a strong minority so we'll say was dedicated beyond my own capacity.

The boy demonstrated he was his father's child by never going a game without at least one major catastrophe. At one point, having been seriously whalloped in the face by the ball, he announced defiantly if stuffily to the ref that, 'I don't need my face to play soccer!' In another game his coach asked him to stop throwing his body in the path of the charging opposite team: 'but it's my strategy!' But our visiting friend's favorite moment was when the boy, on the far side of one field, crashed violently to the ground (under several other people) and from far, far away came the clear tones of his loving sister: 'Man up, [Child]!'

We drilled and played together as a family, we watched English Premier League (Child 3 and Kirk were Arsenal fans in particular - Thierry Henri was a favorite) and European soccer (Real Madrid of course), and the pungent, musty smell of shin guards became a constant in the car.

Kirk loved it. In particular he loved coaching, and the boys loved him.

And those people, the soccer families, became wonderful friends. Amazing people - generous, loving, and unquestioningly supportive. I have good reason to know. In the military there's always a community waiting for you wherever you go. Geography changes, but the culture is the same. In California, it was all those people we stood on the sidelines and shouted with, people who were willing to be known as J's mom, and R's dad, people who like us cheered as our kids hurdled gopher holes and sploshed through mud puddles every Saturday, cheered whether we won (sometimes) or lost (frequently).

And we still miss them. So to all of you guys, we're trying to get back out there, we hope to see you soon, and we think about you all the time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mean Old Nasty Nature

Behind the children's school there are trails that snake through the hills. It's very unlike single track in Virginia, where the technical challenge comes from the tricky turns, the tight clearances or the sharp drops. Here there aren't tall trees or nifty series of drops and rises, but long grinding climbs and stretches of bumpy dried out mud where horses, joggers, dogs and bikes have all left their mark during the rainy season. But if you wind back far enough you come to some brushy bits, and every few yards or so (with luck) there will be a garter snake out trying to catch the elusive sun.

We spent a long afternoon biking around, leaping off and trekking through the undergrowth and generally getting grimy and hot but having a lovely time.

I think it was the next day that I discovered the grim practical joke California pulls on the unwary - poison oak. I had it. And good. Both arms, my neck, belly, legs... and it was getting worse by the moment. I had gotten this once before - in Monterey when we were out doing archery. That time it was on my face, and it was during the trip to the emergency room that I discovered I was pregnant so they couldn't give me any medication for it. This time I was determined to have whatever drugs they had, extra strong, and worry about side effects some other time.

They prescribed something lethal - steroids I think - probably talked to Kirk about topical treatments, and then announced calmly that even with the meds I was looking at a good week to recover. A week.

At this point readers are probably divided into two camps - those with experience of poison oak (or its slightly less horrific cousin poison ivy), and those without. So you're either writhing in sympathetic agony at the moment or you simply have no idea. Yes, as I told a friend at the time, it's just an itch. But it's an itch so intense it goes beyond pain into some strange uber-sensory dimension. This is the Mother Of All Sensations. It is indescribable.

I don't really remember much of the rest of that week. There are at least three days that I completely missed because every moment (you don't sleep with poison oak) was consumed with Itch. Kirk called frantically around the neighborhood, around work, asking for advise, searching the internet. Finally a friend of a friend gave him a phone number for a botanist who knew someone. There was a woman in El Grenada who made a mixture that he swore by. He would give up his personal stash seeing it was an emergency, but Kirk really should go see this woman. It all sounded a bit dodgy by this time, but he could have been suggesting I go downtown San Francisco to buy crack to rub into the open blisters by this point and I would eagerly have done it.

Kirk came back with a mentholly brown powder which he mixed up into a sludge to smear over my oak spots and... sweet relief. For maybe ten minutes. Then it started to dry up and flake away. Still, ten minutes was pretty darn good, so for the next several days I spent all my time on the couch in very little other than Kirk's enormous bathrobe, busily painting myself with mud and then (because it's impossible to not do it) picking off the mud flakes as they cracked and pulled away. Food, sleep, kids - I don't remember any of that. I was nothing but the mud. It's entirely possible that if Kirk had allowed my mud supply to run out I would have garotted him right there and then.

It was horrible, miserable, nasty and nearly put me off California for good. At the end of it all, when I could finally shower without getting dizzy from the sensory overload, I vaccuumed up the endless flakes of minty mud and decontaminated the couch.

Why, I asked Kirk, had it just been me? Everyone else had tramped through the bushes. We had all been practically rolling around in there chasing the snakes.

Turns out Child 3 had a small spot on one leg which, because the little insect wouldn't stop scratching it, had been pretty nasty for several days. And Kirk?

Oh, he said vaguely, looking at a small pink smudge on one arm. I think I got some, but I don't think it does anything to me. I didn't even notice it for a few days until one of the kids pointed it out. Funny, isn't it?

Oh yeah. Funny.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What Now

I don't remember a moment when the choice was absolutely made - when Kirk said definitively that he would not go back to intelligence. Maybe he wasn't comfortable with the decision; maybe he didn't want it to be a decision but a postponed possibility. But somewhere along the line we stopped talking about it as a viable option. Somewhere it just faded into the background, and we took up what we had been doing before 9/11 - learning to live in a civilian world.

There was one small thing he did though. One of the children came home talking about a friend at school whose parents were not letting her trick-or-treat that year. They felt it was too dangerous, that the children might somehow be targeted. This child (Child 2) chose some of its own candy haul, and we augmented with some leftover treats and toys, and it put together a goodie bag for the little girl. But Kirk worried about this irrational fear that was so much in the air at the time. Most particularly he worried about the kids and how the adult terror was being transferred to their children.

So Kirk contacted Child 2's teacher* and suggested he come in and give a short presentation about terrorism and the threat the US was facing. He wanted to give the kids a little perspective about this strange world - to put things in context for them.

He started by telling them a little about the real intelligence world - not the one seen in movies or on television. He told them about a CIA agent who gave a briefing once in Virginia, an overweight, over-blown, overly pretentious type. 'I,' he had said dramatically, rubbing his hands down his round little front, 'am a spy.' The kids marched up to eachother with great delight over the next several weeks puffing out their bellies and declaring themselves spies.

Then Kirk talked about why the terrorists were doing what they were doing. He talked a little about the real Islam, the Islam that the majority practices, and he talked about the differences. He did his best to give the children information, believing that if they understood they would not be afraid.

Then he gave them just a little perspective. There was, he said, very little chance any of them would ever be injured by a terrorist attack. That unreal charicature - turban wearing, bearded, extreme - would almost certainly never come anywhere near them. Far more Americans would be injured this year by an urban terrorist stalking the streets each evening. Then he flashed a picture up of this horror:

And the children laughed, and they asked questions, and the fear was, for one small group at least, punctured and reduced to something they could cope with.

*This teacher deserves a post of his own. Child 2 and Child 3 both got him and he was terrific. Mr. D, if you're out there anywhere, I'd like you to know you're something of a legend in our family and we're doing our best to spread the myth. Hope you're still teaching - and of course still surfing.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


[Note - sorry, I was out of town for a few days and my internet connection went inconveniently missing! Produced an utterly unintentional (but hopefully tantalising) break]

When Kirk worked counter-terrorism he was a captain - a quite low ranked officer. Further, he was an Air Force captain at a navy unit, and worse he was working in Virginia where you can't spit without hitting a senior officer. So he had access to information that only a handful of people even knew existed, and was given enormous responsibility, but actually had very little real clout. Rank matters, and it matters to civilians as well as military.

So if Kirk had stayed in, and if he had managed to piece together what was going to happen on 9/11, there's a chance that even then no one would have listened.

But then... they did listen over Y2K. And if he had been there for those few months, already thinking along the lines of a hijacking, maybe he could have made the connections and seen the signs that could have stopped it.


Kirk wasn't someone to spend endless time agonizing about the if's of life, but he also wasn't able to forget it. He did regret, he did wonder, and he did feel terrible grief and pain, and yes anger over what happened. But his response was to try and find something to do now. What happened can't be changed, and all the guilt in the world won't reset things. So figure out what needs to happen next.

And that was the question. He was approached about going back - not into the military, but as a civilian. There were a couple of offers, and he did seriously think about it. It would mean uprooting again, returning to the East Coast and taking the kids out of school yet again. And it would mean accepting the counter-terrorism world as his world for the rest of his career; there would be no going back from this one.

It was a long, and drawn out decision. We talked endlessly, he called friends for advice, talked to people still in the world, tried to get a feel for what was happening. There was chaos of course. This hit the intel world hard, and people were still trying to sort out the aftermath. Much of it sounded good though - many of the people who were most blind, most hidebound and obstructionist were gone. Change was happening, change that had been needed for years. What sort of useful role Kirk could play, however, wasn't clear. In the end he was afraid that once again he would be drawn into a dark and horrible world and still be unable to make a difference.

And then a chance came up to play a small part right where he was. His company made software that could, with a little tweaking, be incredibly useful if applied to intel work. Homeland security was a brand new phrase, but it was obvious that some major needs were recognized, and Kirk's company could fill some of them. They quickly set up a unit to make a pitch for a government contract, and Kirk was unofficially approached to advise these guys on the marketing plan they had in mind - PowerPoint, naturally.

He came home late the day they showed him their presentation.


He looked at me.

'I don't think they liked what I had to say.'

'Why not?'

'Because I told them the truth.'

'Which was...'

'They gave a ten minute presentation, with a couple of scenarios laid out demonstrating how the product could be used.'


'What wasn't laughable, was illegal.'

'Ah. And you said this?'


'So I suppose they don't want you on their team.'

'Not really. Then I told them that they missed the main point.'


'The military is there to break things and kill people. I don't think they see themselves in that sort of business.'

'But they still want to sell to the government?'

'Oh yeah. They just want it to be giving the rest of the world a stern lecture and sending everyone home with a cookie. That and doing a whole lot of things that are completely unconstitutional'

The company hired an outside consultant for a huge fee. They spent several months on their pitch, and devoted a group of highly paid people to put the whole thing together. The basic structure and message, however didn't change.

They did not get the contract.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Atmospheric Pressure

Right after 9/11 there was a huge thunderstorm in the Bay Area. I come from a monsoon area - most summers we get really remarkable electric storms; it's one of the few things I like about the weather here. Virginia got storms that put the New Mexico type to shame - real window-rattlers that made at least one child laugh unconvincingly and announce that it 'wasn't really scared much at all thanks and maybe we should have a camp out together please and thank you?' But in the three years we lived in California we had one storm, just one - this one.

Kirk watched the sky. I watched Kirk. I watched him think about crop dusters and the local airport. I watched him check the temperature and the local humidity, and I wondered about what the range was for keeping small pox virulent for air delivery. We listened for the high-flying military planes that were patrolling the coast, and I considered rumors I had heard about cloud seeding, triggering sudden and violent storms that could, maybe, wash things clean.

But I didn't ask.

We walked to the crumbling cliff north of our house, a place where there are precarious benches anchored in concrete. The ground erodes away beneath them, and you end up swinging your legs like small children at a cafeteria lunch table. Underneath, the tide pounds into hollows, making echoey booms and sending spray shooting up every fourth or fifth wave. The rain came steaming down, and lightning flashed over the water.

A friend said the next day that it felt like the whole world was raging, a natural catharsis. It helped, she said, it cleared the air.

Yes, I answered. I hope so.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dies Irae

Morning routine was well established. Kirk always got up first so I could get that most blissful kind of sleep - the few minutes snatched after the alarm goes off. He would start the three-stage process of actually prying the children out of bed by thumping on doors and giving fair warning before he started his shower. By the time I got up the thumping had been followed by open doors and overly cheery greetings (because he was evil that way in the mornings). The rest of us eventually staggered out into the kitchen to start breakfast and pack lunches to the constant background noise of the news.

Kirk never lost the need to check the news - it was the first thing on in the morning, the last thing at night. At work he always had a news site ticking away somewhere on his computer, and throughout the day I could expect IM's updating me if anything happened that he felt was important.

That day almost all shoes had been found and put on, nearly all lunches finished and dumped to the bottom of backpacks to be squashed by notebooks. Kirk was a couple of minutes from going out the door to work. And the first plane flew into the World Trade Center.

I was the one who saw it - everyone else was bustling around getting ready to go. I called to Kirk and he ran in and froze.

'Is it...?' I asked, but he didn't answer. I could see the color drain from his face, literally washing down and leaving him totally grey. He was utterly still.

'Kirk, do you think...?'

And the second plane hit.

I know the kids were asking questions, I know the television commentor was talking, but my memory is of total silence. His silence.

Then the Pentagon - and Kirk knew people who worked there, had gone there himself for briefings I believe. Black smoke. And our phone began to ring.

'Hello? Yes. I saw. Yes. No - no, absolutely not. Of course I'm sure. You'll be fine, he'll be fine. No. Okay, I'll see you there.'

It rang again, and again - five or six times and always the same conversation. Did you see what happened? Should we go out? Can we drive on the Bridge?

He turned to me.

'It's happened.'

'I know Kaj, I know, I'm sorry. Do you... '

But I didn't even know what to ask.

He reassured the kids then - don't worry, you'll be fine. These guys, their religion forbids killing children, it's one of the worst things they can do. They believed him, trusted him, went off to school.

'I'll try and call J, see what's happening.' J was his close friend and partner from the counter-terrorism unit. 'I need to know... I'd better go.'

And he drove to work.

I don't remember most of the rest of that day. In the afternoon I took the kids to Half Moon Bay to soccer practice, and remember having a parent ask in a totally normal way 'so, how are you?' and I couldn't think what to answer. Kirk met us there at the middle school field, and we sat together on a worn wooden porch outside one of the barracks.

'You okay?'

He hunched over in his black suit and studied the ground. Silence again.

He had written it. He had suggested that a terrorist could use a commercial plane, one loaded wtih fuel, as an effective bomb. What if, he had written, what would we do if... and they had laughed. No one would do that. No one had ever done that. It has never happened before.

There are buildings that will be targeted, he said. Bin Laden failed once with the Trade Center - he's going to try again. And there are others, and he listed them. The Pentagon. The White House.

He wasn't the only one of course, and it wasn't that he sat as a Cassandra spouting true prophecy and ignored by the Powers that Be. It might have made no difference even if someone had listened. After all, the terrorists have the advantage - they only need to succeed once. But maybe, maybe this time like Y2K, things could have been averted.

Across the field the boys' team scrimmaged in the fading light; the evening fog began to roll over the grass. Parents were gathering in small groups, talking quietly. I felt removed from them and from Kirk. I knew too much to feel quite a part of their reaction, too little to be part of Kirk's private pain. He stood up, held out his hand.

'I'll have to see if there's anything I can do.'

'I know.'

'There probably isn't, but I have to see.'

'I know.'

'Okay. Let's go home.'

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


And that was it. We unpacked, the kids started school and began to make friends, we learned the routines of another new place, began to place ourselves in the new spaces.

Children 2 and 3 took up soccer over the summer (Child 1 was too old for the fledgling program) and launched yet another family interest.

We tried to remember that we were here for a longer time - that this was meant to be home for a while. It wasn't easy; the nomad mentality was part of us, and we weren't used to viewing any place as permanent. The house itself didn't feel like it - all 1970's dark wood panelling, 1980's dusty rose paint in the master bath, 19 whoever-thought-this-was-a-good-idea aging elephant grey carpet. But the beach was two blocks away, and every night we could walk down and watch the tide come in. On the rare clear evenings we could even see the milky way, and we would take the binoculars down to show the kids the fuzzy blob of Saturn, and the small cluster that made up the Pleiades. That was home. That and the warmth of the people we met.

So we took up the pattern - work, school, play.

It was Autumn, 2001.

Monday, September 25, 2006


When I was dating Kirk he once showed me a new years' resolution he had made that January - "I will not injure myself for the entire year of 19--." It was March when he showed me and he had already broken it several times. He was, to be honest, not the most graceful of beings. Athletic, yes, capable, definitely, but without that basic sense of his own body space that would stop him bashing into solid objects. Well, also there was the small problem with common sense.

He broke an ankle one night when we were in a park - they had recently watered the grass so it was a bit slick and he was goofing around somehow. But typically he insisted on hobbling painfully back, casually inspecting the swollen, discolered thing, and announcing he was just fine, done this lots before, definitely just a sprain. He didn't go in for an xray for several days to learn it was actually cracked.

In Virginia he took a mogul a little wrong - not an earth one, but a stacked log beast with a sharp lip you had to pop your front tire over at just the right moment. He was going too fast, took the corner and forgot it was there. I kind of wish I had seen that one because he said it was pretty funny the way he rotated slowly forward. Less funny was landing wrong on top of the logs. He rode out, and then rode again the next day (moaning a bit), insisting it was "simply bruised" until he finally got himself checked out and was told he had broken four ribs. His contention was that the treatment was the same either way, so why worry? My feeling was tearing over rough single track with broken ribs wasn't either intelligent or a reasonable therapy. Didn't stop him though.

The pattern was the same in California. He managed to do some utterly bizarre thing to his toe (quite impressed the ortho doctor) that apparently happens only to professional atheletes, and then only on the fingers. Kirk happily messed around with splints, gauze, and tape until he finally worked out a complicated strapping solution. His doctor was delighted and, I think, actually presented the whole thing at a conference somewhere, dubbing the taping method as the "von Ackermann technique" or something. Since Kirk was the only person who had managed to do this to himself, it's probably not ever going to become a household term. Still - moderate fame and glory!

One of the funnier (yes, I do have a slightly dark sense of humor) happened when we were biking up in the local hills. Kirk was ahead as always and disappeared around a corner where we heard:

SPLASH... THUMP!... "I'm all right!"

We came around to find him staggering on the far side of a steep-banked stream, covered in mud, his helmet completely bashed in. The muddy water had masked the very deep ravine - just the right size to trap a front wheel. Kirk had gone arse over tea-kettle, landing headfirst in the mud. Well, I told him, at least he hadn't damaged anything he used. Again, he insisted he was just fine, although I did make him let me drive us home. Only after he was sure he was healed up did he admit he couldn't really remember much of the rest of that day.

I got used to it. I stocked the house with wraps and knee braces, ace bandages and instant cold packs. Our freezer always had one or two ice packs ready to go, and we had several stashes of medical tape, disinfectant and gauze. Bandaids hardly got a look-in.

There is a great deal my kids have inherited from Kirk. They have his sense of humor, his quick mind - they certainly have more his nose than mine (probably for the best). And from the time they were tiny the house has echoed to.... *crash*.... "don't worry! I'm all right!"