I’ve been away for a while… But I will be back.
Cat & Mouse is nearly finished, and I should meet my early April deadline!
I’m excited for all my readers to soak this one in!
Stay tuned here where I will exclusively post the new book’s cover soon!
The holidays are upon us. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus or something else entirely, this time of year genuinely boils down to people who are more a little more forgiving, parents who are a little more patient or drivers who are more apt to let someone cut in front of them. It’s the season where our human spirit shines brightest and our hearts open widest.
A tumultuous 2017 carried heinous acts of violence, blatant bigotry, a pulling back the veil on women being subjected to sexism and demoralized by men, and a nation embroiled in an impossible schism over its leader. People rioted. Innocent people were shot for no reason. The once seemingly strong-seamed nation unraveled before our eyes and frayed at every edge; we were split by anything and everything, more than I can ever remember.
On August 2, 1909, the Lincoln penny was introduced with the Latin phrase: E Pluribus Unum. This translates to “out of many, one”. The President’s likeness that garnished the front of that penny once said, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” He went on to say, in that same quote, “I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” We are at a crossroads and the time is now.
Special interests from all sides fold their arms unwilling to budge their position. We argue for argues-sake as though four years old and refuse to admit we might be wrong. All media, social and otherwise, went from a past of reporting facts and things that happened to beguiling us with opinions (there used to be a special section of the newspaper set aside and clearly labeled for that) and reporting what might happen however infinitesimal the chance.
Each of us reads and hears a different convoluted message. Each of us has to trudge through the news swamp, buried in more information than you could ever possibly consume, to discern the news that might not only be relevant but accurate. Yes, we are swimming in a growing ocean of news, reporters who have a twenty-four hour void to fill each day and do so with anything they can get their hands on, and we are drowning in it. Thrashing to stay above enough to breathe, the attention we want to give to the important things, gets buried in the dark depths and lost to our frantic kicking.
Stepping down from my soapbox, my message is simple: the larger the group of people gathered, the harder it is to come to a consensus. We are a blend of races, creeds, economic statuses, backgrounds and interests… And that’s what makes us great. It is also what can divide us with little or no effort.
Which brings me back to my opening statement. Despite our differences, no matter how little we see eye to eye, there is one thing that can pull us back together: we are all human beings. That is our umbrella in this teeming storm.
The calendar (and my wallet) demands we cannot have this holiday year ’round. Time cites we must wait another eleven and a half months before it can find its way back into our lives. But in our hearts we can hold the torch. How we greet those who bring us to anger, how we respond to their opposing view on a topic you hold near and dear, and how we part ways with those unable to reach a consensus with – that we can carry with us everyday.
And to those bent on separating us and confusing us with fictitious facts? To those, we together as human beings, must give our undivided attention.
Happy Holidays Everyone.
In just a few days I will be forty-four years old. It’s true. I double checked my birth certificate to be sure. The gray hairs are slowly winning the war over the dark resistance on my head and in my beard. Aging is a part of life, right? A rite of passage we all must take that beats the alternative. Acceptance of that opens the internal gates to eternal serenity. Or some crap like that. The jury is still out for me and a verdict doesn’t appear likely for some time; too many jurors want a say in the outcome.
I blinked and somehow my father is approaching seventy-six. It doesn’t seem possible. My once steadfast view of his immortality now shows cracks from reality’s persistent hammer and chisel. He’s valiantly holding on with every ounce of Italian determination he can muster. Regardless, the fight he’s facing we all face and no one gets out alive.
Throughout my forty-four years, I’ve always kissed my father goodbye. Sometimes on the cheek after a hug but usually on the lips. It has never been strange or unnatural but innately welcomed. He has left my house and been backing out of the driveway and I’ve rushed out the door to catch him upon cognizance that I missed our kiss. It isn’t out of habit or ritual. I genuinely feel a love for him that is deep and powerful. He’s been there selflessly for me since I can remember. As time passes, the fact that one day our kiss will be a final goodbye weighs on me more and more often.
Our practice of open affection has propagated to my own sons and I am forever grateful for it. I hope they insist on never missing that goodbye as I have with my father. There is a comfort there you simply can’t find anywhere else, a next level bond that recurrently goes away as we get older for no reason.
So where am I going with all of this? Glad you asked!
For more than fifteen years my father has battled Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Every year might be his last. I know that and I think on some level he does as well. I religiously kissed him goodbye before his diagnosis. I faithfully continue to do so to this day. There is no real way to make up for lost time other than to begin at the moment of recognition.
Benjamin Franklin said “Lost time is never found again” and that fact comes into focus as we get older and we wake up each day on the back nine of our expected lives. And that is my point. Time waits for no one. It marches on and apathetically carries our mortality on its back with every step. I’m not a relationship expert. I’m just a man who sees the importance of showing love when you feel it, of saying it when want to and doing it without recourse.
The prophet Elisha said “let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and then I will come with you.” I’ll never know which kiss I give my father will truly be a goodbye kiss. I continue at each and every parting not because it might be our last but because I want to build a memory of all those kisses to carry with me in memory of him when he is gone. It is paramount that he know how much he meant to me and how much I loved him while he was here. Standing at a pulpit and looking over a coffin doesn’t let the person inside know how you felt.
Show them now.
I have to tell the truth. Because that’s who I am. Caitlyn Cassidy, honest to a fault. And the truth is the story I am about to share with you changed how I see the world and maybe even how the world now sees me. When I am done, it may just change yours as well.
There are a few things you should know before I begin. I don’t like drawing attention to myself. Truly. I have shoulder length brown hair. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. I have worn heels once – my mother’s funeral. If I have my way, I won’t ever again. I don’t want to be noticed. Most of the time my wish is granted.
Until they see my eyes.
Shortly after I was born, my gray pupils slowly changed into slits, leaving me with honest to goodness cat’s eyes. Sounds cool, right? It is to some extent. It has its drawbacks. More on that later. But remind me in case I forget.
I’m a 4.0 student at a small college in Vermont with only a handful of friends. And those friends I hold dear. You’ll meet them all before my story ends. They certainly are memorable.
Anyway, there are a few things you should know about me from the start.
I despise anything superficial. Friendships, politics as a whole, people – especially superficial people. If you’re going to be fake I want no part of it. Ever. And ever. I don’t watch television. It is a complete waste of time and imagination. I don’t do excuses or apologies. Keep it real to begin with, be upfront and honest, and you won’t need to say you’re sorry or formulate trumped up reasons.
Okay, now I know what you’re thinking: this girl is more negative than polyatomic anions! Not so. There are plenty of things I appreciate and enjoy. Books. Even computers. They’re an endless source of information at our fingertips vastly under-utilized by the world. Let’s see… what else? Pizza. Simple, tasty, no need for utensils, good hot or cold = brilliant!
This list feels ridiculously short.
Studying? I do like studying. Crazy right? It provides purpose; a real cost to benefit ratio that pays dividends.
Regardless – I cringe every time I hear someone say irregardless – I should have been studying the day I met Detective Roy Richardson. But I wasn’t. And this is where the tale begins; the Launchpad to which the very foundation of all my beliefs exploded into countless pieces.
August 27, 2014: the day before the first day of classes and the beginning of my junior year in college.
Professor Samuel Richardson was the head of the psychology department. An esteemed faculty member, his office overlooked the vast courtyard in the center of campus. One of the original buildings, most walls, including the interior ones, were red brick and mortar. He was an older man with more gray than black hair remaining on his head. Most days he wore a plain white shirt with a varying colored bowtie; an anachronistic symbol, he called it, that kept his head in the past while his Under Armour sneakers kept him moving to the future. Thick eyebrows and thin lips framed in a kind, oval face. He could often be found down in the courtyard on the days with nice weather, chatting with students about current events. Approachable and friendly, most students referred to him as Professor Rick to which he did not object.
Today was no different.
When I knocked on his office door he implored, “Come in, come in!” Unpacking his things, he smiled at me as I entered. “Caitlyn!” He was one of the few people who called me by my full name. “How are you? Didn’t summer feel long this year? How are you? I couldn’t wait to get back on campus and dig in!”
So many questions and comments I didn’t know where to start. Add that to my list of things I don’t like. The professor was always like that. Somehow I learned to look past it.
I only chose to address his last remark. “I didn’t have to go home. I spent the summer here taking two extra classes.”
He stopped unpacking. “That’s right. You’re a double major! I almost forgot!” Moving again he encouraged, “have a seat, have a seat! I can make some tea for us if you can stay a while?”
Something was off. I just couldn’t figure out what. Yet. I’d visited him many times before and never been invited to stay for tea. He knows I’m a double major: computer science and psych. I sat down in one of his high back leather chairs and decided to play this one out.
“I’d love some tea.”
He nodded and went immediately went to work getting the hot water from his personal water cooler; one knob got you ice cold water, the other scalding hot. He’d just handed me my cup of tea when a knock came from outside the office door.
His usual friendly beckoning ensued. “Come in! Come in!”
The door opened to reveal a man who looked tired and filled with angst.
“Roy! To what do we owe the pleasure?” The professor didn’t wait for a response. Crossing the room, he put his arm around the man. “Roy, I’d like you to meet Caitlyn Cassidy, one of our institution’s best and brightest.”
The new arrival extended his hand to which I fist bumped. I don’t like shaking hands. Add that to my list of dislikes. Sixty seconds ago he could have been going to the bathroom and forgot to wash his hands, picking his teeth, scratching some unsightly area or all three! The last thing I wanted was to hitch a ride on that germ train.
“Caitlyn,” the professor continued while the man seemed to take my greeting in jest, “I’d like you to meet my younger brother, Roy. He’s a detective on special assignment from the governor!”
The professor beamed with pride.
I sized up the newbie. His hair sported much less gray than his brother’s. His dark face had an exorbitant amount of wrinkles; crow’s feet by the eyes and horizontal lines filled his forehead. His eyes were dark like he’d seen too much.
The professor got to the point. “What brings you by, Roy?”
The grim detective reached inside his jacket to pull out a small pad of paper. “I’ve been asked to take over a high profile case and I could sure use your help.”
Professor Richardson touched his chest. “My help?” He chuckled uncomfortably. “I’m not sure how I could be of service.”
Roy flipped a few pages over in his notepad. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about the abductions in the area. Local authorities are quickly coming up empty so I was asked to take the lead on this one.”
The professor’s eyes grew large. “Oh my!” He sat down in his desk chair unable to hide his sudden nervousness. “This sounds dangerous!”
Color me intrigued.
“It gets worse,” Roy added. “Blood at last night’s abduction suggests these are not just kidnappings. These are possible murders. We’ve yet to find a body. There have been no ransom demands.”
I quietly sat sipping my tea and looking out the window, pretending not to listen.
“Oh my!” The professor repeated with jocularity. “How can I possibly help?”
Roy put the opened pad of paper in front of his brother. “This information needs to stay in this room you understand. Miss?”
My inquisitive side screamed to get out. I bit my tongue and feigned apathy. “Hmmm?”
“What I am about to share is confidential.” He repositioned his gaze from me to the professor. “Can she be trusted, Sam?”
Roy seemed satisfied with his brother’s assurance. “The assailant has been leaving behind notes. They’re cryptic. So far our experts can’t seem to tie them to the scene in anyway; not that they’ve had any luck cracking this insidious method of a calling card.”
“And you think I can crack it?” The professor’s skepticism was well founded.
“Not really,” Roy admitted. “I’d like to give you all we have on the cases. Review it and give me your best shot at a profile for the person doing this. Knowing how they think, operate and see the world could really help me find the break I’ve been looking for.”
“How many abductions have there been?” Dammit! I should stay out of this. Who am I kidding? Super Glue to the lips wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut at this point.
Roy welcomed the question. “That we know of? Last night makes two.”
“And do you have last night’s note?”
“The original is locked up in evidence, but I photocopied it this morning.” Roy dug into his other coat pocket and unfolded a mostly white piece of paper.
I held out my hand. “May I?”
“Roy!” The professor’s interjection startled us both. He stood up with a shot. “Can I see you outside please?” His voice was pleasant. His eyes said something altogether different. He didn’t wait for an answer. He left the spot behind his desk, opened his office door and waited for his brother to follow. Once outside, the usually jovial professor I knew turned terse. “Roy, what are you doing?!”
In haste, the door hadn’t completely latched. The quarter inch gap sufficed in letting their conversation slip through. Regardless – see how I used the word properly there – I put my tea on the corner of the desk and crept closer.
“You said it yourself, Sam! She’s the best and brightest! Why not give her a look?”
“She’s just a girl!”
“And you don’t want her to get involved?”
“Where is the harm in showing her last night’s note? She’s a big girl!”
I opened the door all the way and stood with my hands on my hips. “I am a big girl. Show me the note.”
“I don’t approve!” The professor continued his protest out in the hallway alone while Roy joined me inside. “This is highly unconventional! Illogical! Contemptible even!”
He placed the paper on the desk near my cup of tea. Smoothing it with his hand, he stood back. “Sam, it’s just a bunch of random dots. It isn’t that big of a deal.” He turned to his brother still pouting in the hallway. “Come inside?” When the professor acquiesced, Roy added, “If our trained experts can’t crack it, I don’t know that she will have any better luck.”
Puzzles. Add that to my list of things I love. Well, not puzzles per say. With a jigsaw puzzle you’re given all the pieces and an image to adhere them to. Time and persistence can crack something like that. Sudoku uses numeric logic. Crosswords rely on the person completing to simply memorize random facts, pop culture and otherwise, and apply them to hints turned sideways. No, I like life’s puzzles; the ones where you have no picture to assemble the pieces to, no obvious predetermined logic. They confuse you. They require real analyzation. They make you want to pull your hair out the more familiar you get with them. Kind of like me.
I snatched the paper off the desk and dropped into my chair. Challenge accepted. I could feel the eyes of the professor and the detective pressing in on me. Really? Sticking the paper in my mouth – hello, you’re worried about germs? – I grabbed the arms of the chair and noisily thumped the chair to face away from them in three tries. The detective was right about one thing: they were just dots. He was wrong about them being random.
Without turning around, I held my hand in the air. “I need a pencil and a ruler.” Some people have told me I am impatient. Opening and closing my hands in rapid succession I begged, “Come on, come on.”
The sound of a drawer opening and things of various sizes, shapes and makeup being rummaged through came next.
Roy placed the pencil and ruler into my hand. “You’ve already figured it out? Seriously?”
I looked up at his face staring down at me. “I can’t work with you hovering over me. Stand somewhere else.” I heard his parting footsteps and slid my butt forward in the chair. Leaning over to reach the mahogany side table, I put the ruler on the paper. “I can mark this up?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I drew five straight and even lines in, through and around the dots. The paper now looked like this:
I gathered the paper. I silently examined my work to be sure I was right. I hate being wrong – add that to the list – and being publicly wrong was never an option. Know how some people declare ‘never say never’? Well I can.
I left the chair and turned to face them while holding the paper to my chest. “What was the name of the person abducted?”
Befuddled, Roy stumbled in response. “Ah-eh-ah… Barb Helmsley.”
“That doesn’t correspond with what I have here.”
“What is it that you do have?”
Roy actually laughed. At me. I know the list is growing and you’re rolling your eyes right now, but please add that to my list of things I despise. Highlight it. Underline it. Move it to the top of the list. For a moment I contemplated crumpling the paper and storming out. Maybe I should have. But I was right. And the opportunity to throw it in his face was entirely too tempting.
Roy looked confused. Big surprise there. “I’m sorry. What?”
I handed him the sheet. “The dots. They’re musical notes. G-A-B-E-F-A-D-E-C-A. If he wasn’t your victim or a name matched to the previous abductions I’m pretty sure he’s the next victim.” I guess six years of piano lessons really did pay off.
Roy looked at the professor, then to the paper before finally settling on me as his focal point. “How did you? They are just dots. How did you see that?”
The professor tapped his brother on the shoulder. “Perhaps you should save the how for another time?”
The detective was completely flabbergasted. And I loved every second of it.
“Right.” Roy agreed somewhat stupefied.
He left in a hurry; half thanking me and half promising to get the rest of the file to the professor by the end of the day. While Professor Richardson said goodbye I paused to check out a picture on his bookshelf. Last winter a group of college students volunteered to feed the homeless in New York City. One night, after a long day on our feet, someone snapped this photo of the lot of us. The professor stood among us in the middle of a messy soup kitchen. I was to his left with my roommate – you’ll meet her next – and Kenmore – the closest thing I have to a friend my age – and Dexter; this boy who has asked me out on a date seven times in two years. There were others, but I never cared to know their names.
“It was a wonderful time. Wasn’t it?”
The professor stood behind me and admired the photo over my shoulder.
I nodded. For some reason I felt embarrassed that he caught me staring at the picture. “It was incredibly tiring.”
“But wonderful just the same,” he jubilantly countered. His expression changed. “Listen, Caitlyn, I know my brother appreciates your assistance. I know a large part of you enjoyed cracking that code.” He hung his head after returning to his chair. “Please promise me you will stay out of this. I don’t want you getting distracted from your studies… Or getting hurt. You understand, don’t you?”
I sipped my now cold tea and observed him over the rim of the cup. Something was off with him. And I was going to find out just what that something was.
“Yeah, I understand.”
No I am not dissuading anyone from reading fantasy novels or imagining a whole new world set in the future and steeped in science fiction. As with most of my postings here I blog with a double edged sword enabling a dance back and forth over the line to which each sentence argues for. Today will be no different.
I’ve lost time reading many novels who lose someone close to them and in two paragraphs the character has run through the gamut of emotions and is ready to move on to the next hurtle in the story faster than 24’s Jack Bauer. (Ever notice he receives bad news, stares off to some random spot for five seconds, blinks and then moves on? He DOES have only 24 hours after all…)
Maybe your character is a psychopath with an incredible emotional disconnect. Or maybe you weren’t keeping it real. That type of loss immediately cuts us deep. The hurt and anguish continue on, rearing their head at inopportune times with a burning despair that does not simply pass from distraction. Write your protagonist with flesh that bleeds and bone that breaks. It is these crucial moments in the story that pull the reader in and connect with the character.
In that same vein, ensure the way you write your own world is authentic. Look at your life with legitimate eyes; at those around you and your encounters in life. I have a propensity to say what is on my mind, announce how I see things without consideration of those around me. It’s a habit that I cannot shake. So I have learned to try and temper it but delivering my thoughts and feelings with a smile or with as much benevolence as possible.
On occasion this method has been branded passive aggressive. Because I try to tell you the choice you made mirrors that of what a two year old or a rabid red squirrel would make but do so nicely? Passive aggressive is “I really like that skirt; it hides just how big you’ve gotten”. Sharing on how you see things with a sugar coat is “You know I love you, right? The skirt is wonderful but the button is begging for a merciful execution. Try the next size up.” Did I just go off on a tangent? I believe I did. I mean this in the nicest way, but when you label me something I’m not just because I’m direct and you can’t handle it… Well, you can’t handle it. Keep it real. Admit it. Move on.
Where was I? Keeping it real.Write your life as you would type your story. Believable story lines with believable reactions. Not all readers appreciate this. (I’m looking at you, people who bought over 100 million copies of Twilight. What the wha?!) Most will. Then surround your protagonist with supporting characters that tell it like it is. “Oh my God that skirt must be from Japan! It is completely smaller than American sizes!” That doesn’t help with this particular blog’s directive.
Now maybe your story requires that type of antagonist for the story to find conflict and eventual resolution (all good stories have a resolution for the reader). But let’s leave that to our fiction. The ones we love, truly love, need the truth from people they trust. Only we can give it to them. With sugar on top. Not everyone likes cornflakes. But if you sprinkle a little sugar on top with the milk you’ll find even the pickiest four year old will enthusiastically dig in with their spoon.
This topic is broad for sure. Six hundred words in and I could easily drone on for a thousand more. The simplest summary is keep it real even when it hard to. That’s probably when it’s most important.
Hurt and angry at first, most will thank you in the end.
Bringing life into this world is not a right; it is a privilege. One that many of us take for granted. With a child comes an onslaught of responsibilities, important ones, that supersede all your wants and often your needs. Relaxation, socializing, sleep, hunger, bodily functions; all of these must take a backseat to this new breathing, sleeping, eating, crying thing thrust to the forefront of our lives. There is no timeout for us to collect ourselves. There is no do over. Everything unfolds and how you handle it comes with dire consequences for the life you now guide 24/7 for quite some time – not just when they are first born. It’s not forever. It’s not for the rest of their lives. Just the rest of yours.
You see the change in the world we want to see doesn’t start with them.
It starts with you. With me. With us.
I am not advocating spoilage, doing anything or buying everything the child wants or desires. That is not the answer nor my charge to my fellow parents everywhere. On the contrary, it is teaching them how to do everything they want and need. It is giving them the tools so that they can build a stable, comprehensive life around them and achieve their life’s dreams.
And how do we do that?
Being there. Not by proxy. It is true it takes a village to raise a child but it takes a selfless parent to raise a good one. Be involved. Not a helicopter parent, hovering and needling in. Just… there. Really there.
And if you cannot fully listen to your child’s bad day with captivated ears because you have a text to reply to? Wait… To have a child. I am not a neurosurgeon or a five star general but I have never received a text message more important than the human being I created from my flesh and my blood. We are the one safe constant in their lives, one that they trust implicitly.
Our children are born viewing us as their superhero. We are infallible. We are all powerful in their eyes. Think of starting a job and your employer already pays you as though you have solved every last one of the company’s problems before you set foot on the premises. That’s where we start. It is tempting to fall back on our laurels and know that no matter what we do we are still going to get a glowing review. They see you that way regardless of your true parenting capacity. See yourself through their eyes. Not to find complacency but to drive you to be that help they see you as.
Honestly and perhaps a little too polarizing notion, I suggest individuals who want to have a child must attend a government provided free course and pass a test. Or that child cannot be claimed on any tax return or be included in calculating any state aid. If that doesn’t spur prospective parents to do the right thing, fines and consequences for those who don’t adhere must be put in place. We fine drivers for driving above the speed limit. We give jail time for breaking and entering but cannot act proactively to avoid a child being raised by people who simply are not ready?
Extreme for sure. So is not being responsible enough to adequately prepare for the most important and complex job there is. Could it be viewed as brash and cold? Yes.
But. Is some small piece of what I suggest a step in the right direction? If anything it should give pause to anyone wanting to have a child. It is your physical right to create a living, breathing human being who will interact with others in this world. I would never endorse taking that ability away. By the same token it is that child’s right to have a set of parents ready and willing to prepare a foundation for them to face the world with confidence, care and optimism. Those things start from the first moment a newborn cradles in your arms and locks eyes with you. You are officially the coauthor of their story.
They are ready to learn, to follow.
Are you ready to teach, to lead?