At The Crossroads

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have regrets. I know I have my share.

Some are little. Small things done poorly. People I hurt or wounded with words or deeds. Things I did that brought pain either directly or indirectly that I still carry around today.

But none weigh on me like the one that has shaped my life and put me on a course that I never would have predicted. Or chosen.

What if? What if you could change that decision? What if you could undo an action that sent your life careening down a path you didn’t really choose but nevertheless is yours. Would you change it? Could you change it?

I write personal interest stories for my town paper. It’s clear that with advances in technology, economic upheaval and increasingly short attention spans that the future for a small town newspaper reporter is an uncertain one at best.

But I like my job for the most part. I get to meet interesting people. I get to tell their stories and, if I do my job well, I can represent them well and hopefully not as eccentrics who are disconnected from the world. My fear is that if I don’t do my job well I just become the guy who tells stories about crazy people doing crazy things, telling the stories to entertain folks who can then feel better about themselves as long as there is someone out there who is more messed up than they are.

I’m divorced now. Have been for more than a decade. It wasn’t a good marriage. We were too young and dumb to see the truth of where we were broken and lacked the tools to do anything about it at that age.

But, out of that marriage came two wonderful kids who I am immensely proud of. My son and daughter turned out better people than I am. They have careers that will support them, partners that love them and they are people I would be proud to know as friends. I am proud to be a part of their lives. Sometimes it feels as though they are the only thing I truly did right.

My job affords me the opportunity to meet a variety of people. Not just the interesting people who I usually end up profiling. I get to meet folks going through hard times, folks who behaved heroically in demanding conditions, folks who did the right thing when no one was watching. I really enjoy meeting people like that and I enjoy telling their stories, giving them attention they might not otherwise get.

But I also get to meet the occasional crackpot. Or hoarder. Or survivalist. Or entrepreneurs with ideas that haven’t yet been smacked down by reality. Those folks can be pretty interesting as well.

I believed the latter group included Joshua Brandon.

Joshua didn’t have any advanced degrees. He had to drop out of college – a good college back East – when his father’s health began to fail and he came back to care for his parents and their small electronics business. But it was clear from school records that Joshua had been something of a star. He was a standout through all his years in school and his nearly three years in college. He had top marks and had been invited to participate in research with one of his Professors as an undergraduate, something that doesn’t happen very often.

Joshua’s field of interest was Advanced Physics and his work with his Professor was related to quantum mechanics. If you look up his name you’ll find his name attached to several papers that I couldn’t understand. Perhaps you can and more power to you if you can.

Joshua reached out to me a few months ago after he read one of my profiles about a Librarian who with little support had started a local program which had successfully introduced a Maker Space in the local library and drew in lots of kids and introduced 3-D printing and electronics to the library.

Joshua contacted me and said he’d been working on something which he thought he might be ready to talk about. He said he believed that I might give him a fair shake when he started to explain his work.

I got Joshua’s address. He had a space in a commercial area on the outskirts of town. His space was located between a motorcycle repair shop and a small Korean church.

I left a message for my editor letting him know where I was going – a good practice when you’re visiting the more colorful of our local denizens – and headed out in my 10-year old Toyota.

It was a short drive – our town isn’t that big – so roughly 20 minutes later I was pulling up before an unmarked door with only the space number (15A) over the door. There was no business name or other markings on the space.

I pulled the door and found it open. I went inside to find a man who looked to be in his mid-30s. He was average height but looked to be in good shape. He wore work boots, jeans and a flannel shirt.

As I came in he walked towards me and said “Mr. Andrews?”

I nodded my head and shook his hand, he had a firm grip, but not overpowering.

“You must be Joshua Brandon.”

“It’s nice to meet you, sir. Thanks for making time to talk with me.”

“Well, I don’t usually make a habit of taking meetings in unfamiliar locations, but you sounded like you might have an interesting story to tell.

I did a bit of checking on you before I came over here. You were quite the rising star back in college. It was a shame you had leave college. Why didn’t you go back and finish?”

“Well, when my father passed, the store was my mother’s only source of income and she couldn’t run it on her own. By the time she passed it just seemed easiest to keep running it. It allows me a fair bit of freedom to work on my own projects.”

“What kind of projects?” I pulled out my notebook and turned to a fresh page to start taking notes.

“I’m going to tell you, Mr. Andrews, but before I do can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I replied, “call me Jim”.

“Jim, do you have any regrets in your life?”

“Of course. We all have regrets. Things that we can’t change. Choices we made that can’t be unmade.”

Joshua was watching my face closely. Tentatively and with some hesitation he asked, “what if you could? Could make different choices. Unmake those choices and go down a different path. Would you do it?”

Before I responded, I thought for a moment.

I didn’t think I would be where I am in my life. I was pretty smart in school. Near the top of my class. I loved science and math. I was going to be an engineer. That all changed during my senior year.

In the fall of my senior year of high school, I’d gone to a football game. I wasn’t a big fan of football but I went with my best friend Sam. There was talk of meeting up with some of our friends and one of those friends was a girl that I liked but had been too shy to pursue. I thought maybe this might be a good place to spend some time with her and perhaps I could overcome my difficulty with the fairer sex. Or so I hoped.

The night went well. We hung out with friends and rooted for our team and yelled till we were hoarse. It was a great evening. I even talked to the girl and it seemed as if we hit it off. I was pretty sure I was going to ask her out on a date the following Monday.

High on the adrenaline of the evening and the success of nearly maybe having a date with a pretty girl, Sam and I headed out from the stadium back towards town. I was driving my crappy yellow Pinto, but at least it was my car. It was never a fast car and never would be, but it got me from place to place.

As we exited the stadium we had to stop at a traffic light. Next to us another car pulled up and it turned out it was full of our friends. I heard a revving engine and looked to my right. Our friend Ben was grinning like a maniac and continued to rev his engine. My car was never going to win any kind of a race but we were feeling silly and so I revved my engine and all four cylinders whined like a pack of maddened squirrels that might live under my hood, powering my car.

The light turned green and we both stepped on the accelerators of our cars and took off laughing.

The other car was much faster than mine but I managed to catch up and pace him and in just a short period of time we were flying down the road at more than 70 miles per hour, faster than I thought my car could even go.

Ben started to fall back, more out of common sense than anything else.

Sam and I continued to laugh and cheer as we slowly pulled ahead thinking we were winning.

Ahead of us was the only other light before we got back in to town in another mile or so. And it was red.

To this day I don’t know why. Maybe it was that we were winning. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the hormones of a 17-year old boy but whatever the reason it never really was an option to slow down and stop for the red light.

As we entered the intersection, the last thing I remember was a bright light and a loud crash. Four days later I woke up in a hospital bed and was told that I had killed my best friend.

“Yes. Yes, Joshua. I have regrets. There are things I wish I could undo. But I can’t. I have to live with those choices for the rest of my life.”

Joshua replied, “What if you didn’t?”

I shook my head uncomprehendingly.

Joshua turned and walked through an open door to the back of the space. As he entered that space he flipped a light switch to one side.

I entered behind him, accepting his exit and the open door as a tacit invitation to join him in the other room.

As I entered I saw … I don’t know what I saw. There was some sort of contraption. There was lots of steel, lots of thick cables which I guessed carried power. If Doctor Frankenstein were rebuilding his lab in the early 21st century, he might have been very happy if it had turned out looking like what I saw before me.

Joshua looked over at me, bowed his head a bit and said quietly “It’s a time machine.”

I couldn’t hide my initial reaction so Joshua could tell this wasn’t going well so he was began speaking quickly.

“It’s a time machine. But it only goes back. Because you can’t go forward because the future is not there to go to yet. But you can go back. There are still some issues, but you can go back in time for up to two hours. Almost. 105 minutes. Roughly.”

“Mr. Brandon. I’m sorry. I think I’m wasting your time as well as my own. I don’t write fiction. I didn’t write about the guy who claimed to have been probed by the UFO. Or the lady who said she’d managed to cross her cats with her goats. I think I should go.”

“Wait, Mr. Andrews! Jim! Please. Can I show you what it can do? It’ll take 10 minutes. Please!”

“Mr. Brandon, I’m not a patient man and I don’t appreciate being part of this. I’ll give you 10 minutes and then we’ll part and I don’t want to hear from you again. Deal?”

“Sure. Okay. You can watch from there. I won’t waste your time.”

Joshua walked by a central dais that most of the machinery surrounded and made some adjustments on a keyboard and some machinery nearby and turned to me.

“Here’s what’s going to happen.”

He walked over to an open area about 10 feet from the machinery and pointed at a small X painted on the empty concrete floor.

“This is where it’s going to happen. Please watch this spot very closely for the next minute. What time do you have?”

I looked on my phone and told him “2:13pm. No, 2:14pm right now.”

“Okay, exactly one minute from right now I want you to watch that area very closely.”

“What am I going to see?”

“Time travel,” he replied quietly.

We stood looking at each other, neither moving, neither saying anything.

I asked him “Don’t you need to do anything?”

He said “I will. But not yet.”

I glanced down at my phone again. “I don’t undersand, but you have about 15 seconds before 2:15pm”

“Watch that space closely.”

I turned slightly and watched where he had earlier indicated. Mentally I began to count down. 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 …

Before I reached zero it happened. One moment there was nothing and in the next there was a small crate with a white rabbit on it where before there had been nothing.

There was no flash. No noise. One moment there was nothing and the next there was a white rabbit. On a small crate.

“What the hell! What just happened?”

I walked over to the box, walked around it. I touched the box. It was solid. I reached down and picked up the rabbit. The rabbit looked at me with his (or her) pink eyes and wiggling nose as if nothing more interesting than our meeting had just happened. Around his neck was a small collar. Affixed to the collar was what looked to be the body of a small digital watch. Where the rabbit had been sitting was a small yellow envelope which had been taped shut.

“Jim, would you take the rabbit over there and grab that envelope but don’t open it yet”, indicating where I’d been standing previously, “and what time does it say on the watch on the rabbit?”

Confused and with some hesitation I looked at the watch on the side of the collar and read it out loud “2:30pm. It’s got today’s date. Are you trying to tell me this rabbit traveled through time?”

“Yes, Jim. But please hold on a bit, I have a few things to do and only 15 minutes to do them in.”

Joshua moved quickly to the crate in the center of the room, picking it up and moving it to the center of the dais.

He next came over to me and indicated a small table which held some 3×5 cards, a marker, some tape and an envelope identical to the one in my hand but this one was not sealed with tape.

“Jim, I’m going to ask you to suspend your disbelief and do something. I’d like you to write something on this 3×5 card that only you know. Some small detail that I couldn’t know. It might be a birthday, some detail of your life, something unique to you.”

I handed him the rabbit, transferred the envelope to my back pocket and grabbed the marker. I thought for a moment and wrote down a date and a time. That date and time are embedded in my head more firmly than nearly any. The was when I killed Sam back in high school. I recall the time because it was on the police reports and it stuck with me the rest of my life. I could more easily have forgotten my own birthday.

“Now put the card in the envelope and tape it shut. After that, would you please hand it to me.”

Feeling more than a little skeptical about what was going on, before I put the card in the envelope I folded it in to quarters, more or less. Then I taped the envelope shut and gave it to Joshua.

He moved briskly to the dais, envelope in one hand, rabbit in the other. He set the envelope in the middle of the crate. He looked over to me and said “I’m going to set the watch to the current time. Right now it’s showing 15 minutes fast. What time is it now?”

“2:24pm”, I replied.

He fiddled with the collar, presumably adjusting the watch. He then set the rabbit down on top of the envelope and stroked a few times to calm it. He seemed to whisper something to the rabbit. The rabbit sat placidly with his little nose twitching as if all this was the most normal thing imaginable.

Next, Joshua walked to the computer keyboard and started typing while occasionally looking at some dials on the console in front of him. He looked again at his watch, looked over to the crate and back over to the spot on the floor as if determining that all was as it should be.

He looked over to me and said “We have three minutes left. In exactly three minutes you need to watch where the rabbit is sitting on the crate. There will be some humming and the noise level will rise a bit but not painfully.”

As we waited, I felt my back pocket to be sure the envelope I had earlier removed from the crate was still in place. I fingered it nervously wondering momentarily if what I was being told could possibly be true.

What if Joshua had really created a way to go back in time? How far could it go? He had said you could only stay for less than two hours. What could you do in that time? Could someone kill Hitler? I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be me. I had received a C in high school German. And someone like me was very unlikely to blend in with the locals.

Could I go back to the birth of Jesus to see what was going on in Bethlehem? Could I see Jackie Robinson play his first game in the major leagues? Could I march with Dr. King?

“Ten Seconds!”

I stopped thinking about impossible things and watched the dais.

Exactly ten seconds later, with the noise rising as Joshua had said to a noticeably but not painful level, there was an almost visible *pop* and the dais was suddenly empty again.

The machinery wound down, the noise abated and Joshua started walking towards me again.

“What do you think?”

“I think you are, at the very least, a very impressive magician, Joshua.”

“It’s not a trick! Do you still have that envelope? Can you open it, please?”

I reached again to my back pocket and opened the envelope. Removing the tape and reaching inside I found what felt like a folded up card.

With shaking fingers I unfolded the card I took out of the envelope. On it was the date I had written earlier. It was clearly written in my hand writing exactly as I had written it just minutes before.

“Joshua,” I said quietly, “Where’s the rabbit?”

“The rabbit is now fifteen minutes in the past. It, along with the crate and the envelope were transported there just now. The earlier version of you just saw it appear right on that X on the concrete over there, exactly as you remember.”

“But how? Why?” I couldn’t seem to put together a sentence. This was impossible.

“With my machine I can move anything in the target area back in time. So far I can only get go back about 35 years. I don’t know why, yet. And only for about 105 minutes. Any longer than that and whatever I send back snaps back to the time and place it was sent from. Again, not entirely sure why but I have some theories. The amount of energy required seems to be a function of the amount of time and the distance I am transporting the target. In fact, the distance is a real issue right now. I can’t seem to get more than 8 to 10 miles without burning out my machine and the components are not cheap to replace.

“Jim, this is real. I’ve sent back cameras. I’ve gone back myself and collected newspapers. You can go back in time.”

I thought about this for a few minutes. I asked him, “Why did you ask me if I had regrets”.

Joshua replied, “Because you can change the past! Do you recall reading stories about going back in time and changing things? Where you go back and keep your grandfather from meeting your grandmother and you aren’t born as a result? It’s all wrong! You can change the past.”

“I don’t understand. If you go back and keep yourself from being born, don’t you disappear, never having been created?”

“No! It’s not that simple. There will be one time track where you did go back and you aren’t born but the track where you WERE born still exists. You can change the past! Well, I guess really you’re creating a new time track. The one where you were born still exists but now you’ve also created a track where you were not!”

I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with what I was being told, unable to accept the possibility that what I was seeing could be true.

“Could you send me back? Could you send me back in time?”

“When? And where?”

I handed him the card. The date on the card was about 27 years in the past.

“The date on that card, but one hour earlier. And right here in town.”

“How much time do you need?”

“An hour. No more. Can you get me out to the football stadium outside town?”

Joshua did some quick calculations on his computer.

“No, but I can get you within a couple of miles.”

“You need to send me to that time.”

“So, you believe me?”

“If you can send me to that time and bring me back, I will believe you. I’ll help you find support for your work. I’ll tell your story.”

I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth. It was as if my brain had split. Part of me was watching in disbelief as the other half behaved in a way that was reckless and dangerous and entirely out of character for me.

“Let’s do this now. Before I lose my nerve.”

Joshua looked at me with concern. “Are you sure about this?”

“No, but if what you say is right, I need to see it for myself.”

“Alright. Please stand in the middle of the dais with your hands at your sides.” Joshua turned his head from me and began clattering away on his keyboard.

I moved over to the dais. There were bright lights mounted on the machine that illuminated the dais. I squinted as I entered the glare of those lights. I put my hands at my side and asked “Will it hurt?”

“You won’t feel anything. One moment you’ll be here, the next you’ll be somewhere else. Bend your knees a bit. I’ve calculated the location I want to send you to but to be safe, you’ll appear roughly a foot above ground. If I transport you right to the ground level and I’m off even by a few inches – well, the results are not good. So, you’ll drop a foot or so down to the ground on the other side. Are you ready?”

“No! I’m not ready but do it before I change my mind. Where am I going?”

“You will be transported along route 10 outside town. You’ll be shy of the stadium by just under two miles and roughly 200 yards from the road. One last thing. I’m sending you for one hour. At the end of the hour your link to that time will destabilize and you will be yanked back to this time no matter what you are doing at the time. So, try to not be in the middle of the football field or, preferably, where anyone can see you. Is that clear? Okay, here we go! Ten seconds… Five, Four, Three, Two, One!”

His last syllable was cut off and suddenly I was falling!

Very quickly I hit the ground and barely caught myself from falling to my knees.

There had been no feeling at all! One moment I was in the lab and the next I was in a field. It was cold and felt like fall. The fields had been harvested and nothing remained but stubble. I looked around and not far away could see what I presumed was Route 10 and began moving to the road.

As I walked it began to sink in. I was clearly somewhere else so at a minimum Joshua had invented something that moved me from one place to another. If he was not lying about the time travel, then not only had I moved in space, I had moved in time!

If Joshua was correct, I was back in time the night that I was in the car accident. The accident that occurred because of my stupidity. The night Sam was killed.

If Joshua was telling the truth, especially about changing the past, I could give Sam his life. He could live the life I had taken from him. I could change the single biggest regret of my life.

I made my way to the road and walked away from the lights of town towards where the stadium was just down the road.

Joshua had said that I could change the past. Sam could live. And my life, at least the life of the 17-year old me, would change as well.

I would never be found guilty of vehicular homicide. I would be able to go to college. I could be the person I was supposed to be.

It would be simple. I felt in my pocket where I keep a small folding knife. All I would have to do is puncture the tires on my Pinto. No tires means no racing. No racing means no accident. Everything would be made right.

I thought about the possibility of the younger version of me walking a different path, not having to experience all the guilt, the stares of my peers, the broken bones. There would be no funeral for Sam, which I had missed anyway, as I was still laid up in the hospital. He could go live whatever life I had robbed him of because of my poor decisions. I could make it all right.

I was approaching the intersection where that accident occurred all those years ago. Where the accident would happen once again just an hour from now if I didn’t do something to change it.

As I entered that intersection where my life had taken the wrong turn, I had a thought. For all the horrible things that happened, not everything in my life was bad. I had two wonderful children. They are everything a parent could ask for in children. They make the world a better place for being in it. They make me proud.

My kids are one of the products of the life that followed from that accident.

I met their mother. I fell in love or what I thought was love at the time. We had kids we loved. There were vacations and school sports and school concerts. There were times of laughter mixed in with times of sadness and anger. It wasn’t all bad.

I became a part of my community again. I learned to write. I told stories about the folks who we don’t hear enough about. I worked hard and I think I bring more good in to the world than bad.

The stadium was getting close. I could see the lights in the distance. I glanced at my phone. It wasn’t getting a signal. No big surprise there. But it still worked as a clock. Based on when I left I still had about 35 minutes left. I picked up my pace.

I thought back to when my kids were born. Learning to walk and talk. Turning from babies to small people. People I enjoyed and loved spending time with. People who would grow up and live their own lives. Eventually, they would have families and kids of their own.

That would all change for the younger me. I wouldn’t meet my wife. There would be no kids. My kids would never exist. That thought filled me with a palpable sense of regret that caused to stop walking for a moment.

I was in the parking lot now. I knew more or less where I had left my car so started wandering in that direction. There were not many yellow Pintos in the world, let alone in the parking lot of the stadium, so it was pretty easy to find.

I reached out and touched the hood of my car. I looked in the window and it was just as I recalled it down to the tear in the seat of the passenger side where Sam had accidentally ripped it when something in his back pocket had caught in the fabric and tore the cover of the seat. We had “fixed” it with duct tape.

It would be simple. All I had to do was plunge my knife in to a tire. Two tires, actually, since I knew I had a spare in the back. Just two small cuts and there would be no accident. So easy to set things right again. Two cuts and walk away. In twenty minutes I will return to my time and my younger self and Sam can continue down a new road filled with possibilities.

But it came to me again, harder this time, that while the younger version of my self would have a different life, and Sam would simply HAVE a life that he hadn’t had, that life would not include the friends I counted on and who counted on me. I wouldn’t be the person who I am today, for all my faults, not a bad person. But the thing that kept coming up in my head, stronger each time, is that my children would never be in that new world.

While I wanted to right the wrong that haunted me the most in my life, was I willing to do that at the cost of who I became and the lives of my children?

I reached in to my pocket and pulled out the knife. I opened the blade. I put it against the rubber of the front right tire near where I stood. Just one easy motion and everything would be different.

There was a brief feeling of vertigo and suddenly I was back in the room with Joshua looking at me from behind the consoles of his computers.

He looked at me with concern. “How did it go?”

I walked to a chair nearby and sat down.

I told Joshua why I went back. What had happened and what my intentions had been.

I told him about the car and the knife and the tires of that old Pinto.

I told him about my kids and how changing my past would mean a future that didn’t include two of the people I am most proud of in the world.

I paused.

He asked, “So, what did you do?”

I looked back at him and asked, “What would you do?”

 

 

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What’s in a Name?

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers meet and fall in love. At one point Juliet says: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.”

I grew up not liking my name. Never really enjoyed any part of it, truth be told.

My full name is Darrin Lee Mossor.

Obviously I took no part in the decision surrounding my name but oh, boy do I wish I could have.

Let’s break it down.

My last name which was the part least up in the air, comes to me from my father and my father’s side of the family. My beef with my last name really only comes from the fact that folks find it hard to pronounce and/or hard to spell.

If they see it written down without knowing me it’s pretty inevitably pronounced “Moe’-zer” or “Moe’-zher” and sometimes “Moe’-sir”. For the record, at least the record I’m privy to, it’s pronounced exactly like it looks (to me). Moss like the fuzzy green stuff. Or like what you have left over at that point. Moss’-Or. Okay, actually, it’s probably closer to Moss’-er.

I’d hoped for years that there might be some interesting family story around my last name in terms of what it means or where we came from. As best I can tell, it likely means nothing more than “from the place where there’s moss”. That’s pretty literal. And uninteresting. And German.

The spelling has always been an issue. I have actually seen folks misspell my last name, as I spell it out loud for them! It’s as if while I am spelling out M-O-S-S-O-R their brain gets in the way and says “No, I’m pretty sure that ought to be E-R”.

Interestingly, it turns out that where my dad’s family comes from back in West Virginia and Ohio there’s a mix of Mossor/Mosser. It’s roughly one third/two thirds.

Here’s how deep the rabbit hole goes. Apparently when my father recently got his passport some years ago he had to provide his birth certificate as partial proof of identity. Much to his surprise, his birth certificate, which is the official document identifying who he is from birth, has his last name spelled MOSSER. Now, mind you, his father is MOSSOR. According to him, his sisters both had birth certificates that say MOSSOR. Additionally, all other identification that my father had has his last name as MOSSOR.

As a result, in a slightly bizarre twist of fate, I don’t actually have the same last name as my Dad. Close. But not the same as what he has on his birth certificate.

So my last name has always been a bit of a challenge for me.

My middle name is short but apparently carries no real meaning from a family perspective and it never really felt like part of me. I stopped listing it in documentation and identification once I became an adult. I just never felt in any way a Lee.

Which brings us to my first name. Darrin. Not Darren. Nor Darin. Nor Darron. Nor any of the umpty other variations. It’s Darrin. Two r’s and an i. Just like it sounds. In my head.

The story I heard when I asked my mom why I ended up a Darrin is that a friend of hers from when she was pregnant with me was planning on naming her kid Darrin when he was born. But when the time came, he was a she and suddenly the name my mom liked when she heard it became the name I was going to have when I was born.

So, when the fateful day came, Darrin Lee Mossor entered in to the world.

My mother told me a story once about when she was in the hospital that I’ve never been able to verify and because I like the story so much I’m not sure I want to try hard to verify it in case it’s not a true story.

She said that when she was in the hospital in the nearby bed was a lady who was also getting ready to have her baby. As they talked it came out that she was the wife of a doctor. As it turns out, she was a bit further along and had her baby before I decided to make a showing. Once her baby was born (a daughter) my mother found out that they named her Heidi. That’s nice but the part of the story that I love, the part that makes this a story that I SO want to be true is that supposedly the family name, the name of the doctor who how had a daughter named Heidi was … wait for it … Jekyll (or maybe some close spelling variant). Now THAT’S a name to be proud of. At least until your kid grows up enough to hate you for it. Of course, if SHE grew up to be a doctor, it would be the best name EVER!

Anyway, as I was saying, I came out a Darrin. If you happen to look up the popularity of Darrin in terms of boys names (as I did) it has what I find to be an interesting profile which you can see below.

nameDarrin

Prior to 1959 there were no more than 30 Darrins born in the entire country in a given year. In that year it jumped to 103. Between 1959 and 1963 it climbed from 103 to 311 in 1963 then 862 in 1964. Then it leapt from 862 to the all time peak in the history of Darrins to 3255 in 1965.

Now I’m not cultural historian, but I don’t think you have to be one to figure out what happened here.

On 9/17/1964 the pilot for a show that would run until 1972 aired. That pilot was Bewitched. For those who did not grow up with television in the 70s and in to the early 80’s where it was on pretty much every afternoon after school, Bewitched was a show about a young witch named Samantha (played by the very attractive Elizabeth Montgomery) who meets and marries a mortal named Darrin Stephens and the show was about their wacky adventures.

It’s an open question to me where the writers grabbed the name Darrin from. There were probably less than a couple hundred Darrins over 20 in the entire country in the early 60s.

At any rate, Darrin peaked as a name for a boy at 3255 in 1965 and proceeded to slump back in to relative obscurity after the show left the air. I suspect it was re-runs that kept Darrin in circulation through the mid-70s and 80s. By 1990 we were back to 376 Darrins born and the latest numbers have Darrins down to less than a hundred in 2011.

So, the high point for my given name is based on the popularity of a 60s sit-com. Yay.

My issue with Bewitched doesn’t stop there. If you’ve watched the show you know that Samantha had a mother named Endora. Endora loved to show up and butcher Darrin’s name to show that she didn’t like the fact that her daughter had married a mortal. There is quite a list but they include gems like: “Durwood”, “What’s-his-name”, “Darwin”, “Dum-Dum”. Kids being kids, of course, I got called those names as well growing up. No one likes being called names. I really didn’t like being called those names. It made me angry.

As I get older I don’t find myself any more attached to my middle name than I ever was, so I have effectively disowned that part.

I’m pretty sure only my mother ever called my be all three names and that was only when I was in BIG trouble. So, if I go the rest of my life not being called all three names, that’s fine.

As an upside, as far as I know and can tell, I’m the only Darrin Mossor in the world today. The combination of both an obscure last name and first name will do that.

In and Internet world, a unique name can be a good and a bad thing.

I work with a guy with the last name Smith and a common first name. Googling his name just results in noise. Googling my name you pretty much get me.

Given that things live forever on the Internet, I’ve always tried to remember that and behave (at least to the Internet) accordingly.

I’ve tried to pass the same caution on to my kids.

A name is a funny thing. It identifies us. It can become a short-cut for folks. When they hear a name they have a reaction, positive or negative, to that combination of sounds in association with how that name makes them feel.

Mine is unique whether I loved it or hated it growing up, at this point I own whatever it means to anyone out in the world.

I think Kermit the Frog said it best:


When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder, why wonder?
I am green and it’ll do fine
It’s beautiful
And I think it’s what I want to be

 

 

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The Importance of Stories

Years ago I recall hearing something on NPR from Story Corps. I’ve heard several of these over the years, but while I don’t recall the specifics, I recall being riveted by one person telling a story that was relevant to the other person. Might have been a father talking to a son or perhaps it was a grandparent, but they were telling a personal story and you could hear how personal that story was in the storytellers voice. I recall that I stopped wherever it was I was driving to and turned off the engine and waited there until the story was over. It was that interesting, that engaging, that impactful. It was that good.

Storytelling, it seems to me, is largely either a lost art or, at least, one that’s not practiced as much as I choose to imagine it was once upon a time.

It’s easy for me to imagine that sitting around a fire, sitting around the fireplace, sitting around at the end of a long day and someone telling a story to the rest of the gathered listeners. Maybe it was a personal story. Maybe it was a story that they had been told in a similar situation when the were younger.

We don’t really do that much anymore.

The Story Corps program tries to facilitate that. You can find them at www.storycorps.org. One of the many things they offer to help get things started is a list of Great Questions which you can use to help get things going.

What was the happiest moment of your life?
What are you most proud of?
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
What is your earliest memory?
How would you like to be remembered?

This is just a sampling but they are the kind of great open ended questions that seem like they would result in a story that, perhaps, you haven’t heard before from someone in your life.

Back when my kids were little, I think my son was maybe six and my daughter was three, I decided to take my video camera and sit them down and interview them.

In my head I wanted to capture them at that age. Ask them questions, see how they thought about things, what they thought about. My attempt wasn’t long. Maybe 10 minutes for my son and somewhat less for my daughter, but I’ve gone back to that video a few times to remember what my kids sounded like, what they looked like, how they behaved when they were little and still very young children.

I think I’d like to create an opportunity to do the same with them now as young adults. I think there is much I could learn from them and I suspect it would help me understand them better.

The reality is, now that they are out of the house and starting their lives separate from me, the bulk of our communication is around checking in. How are you doing? Is everything going alright? What’s next? How goes the dating life? Are you doing well? Fairly surface queries intended to elicit a quick read on how they’re doing and whether there is anything I can do or that they need.

I know my kids have their own stories and I think I’d like to help them capture those stories, mostly for themselves but also for them to pass on to their families as representative of who they are, what they look like, what they sound like at their current ages.

My mother passed a few years back. One of my big regrets is that I never sat down with her and interviewed her to try and learn more about her. If she wasn’t comfortable being on video, to at least capture her voice as we talked about things. I miss hearing her voice. If I concentrate and try to remember very hard, I can hear her voice in my head. But, as time goes by, I suspect it’s more like chasing phantoms as I remember remembering her voice and I become more and more distant from the actual sound of her voice.

I wish that I’d had a chance to ask her more about what her life was before me. In my very self-centered world view, I really only know about my mom in terms of how she impacted my life. I don’t really know that much about her from when she was young.

I know she had secrets she didn’t want to tell us. Either because she was embarrassed or because they weren’t appropriate stories to tell us as kids. I know there are things I don’t want to tell my kids. Events or stories or interactions that, while formative, are embarrassing or don’t show me in the light in which I would like them to think of me.

I never got to hear those stories from my Mom and perhaps she wouldn’t have wanted to tell me even as an adult. We all edit our stories. We all present a version of ourselves to our family and to the world that involves a certain amount of self-editing, I suspect.

I still have the opportunity to interview my dad and I’ve given it a great deal of thought but I haven’t pulled the trigger on that. No great reason I can of but time continues to pass so I’m kind of curious as to my reticence.

And, at the root of all of this, since this is me telling my story, is me.

That same time I interviewed my kids, I did my own, talking a bit about who I was, what was important to me. That’s hard video to go back and watch, but I still think it’s valuable maybe only to my kids to see who I was, what I looked like, what I sounded like at an earlier time in my life.

There are fairly obvious and mundane reasons for this year of writing: that I set a goal, that I practice a craft with the goal of trying to improve. In addition to those I have a semi-secret goal. That goal is to write something that captures some of the stories about me from when I was growing up. Some I’ve shared with my kids, but probably not all. These stories, I hope, shed some light on who I was and how I got to be the person my kids know, because I want them to know not only who I am but who I was and how those versions of me connect.

I want them to hear my “voice” in my writing. Hear what I care about, what I believe, what I feel strongly. Things that I hopefully have passed along to them, but perhaps not. We don’t spend a lot of time with me sitting around telling stories because, as is the way of the world, rather than sitting around listening to stories, my kids are out making their own. This is the way of things.

But, that having been said, I want them to have this to look back on as a snapshot of who I am today because I know I will not always be this person. And I know that stories that seem fresh (albeit self-edited, no doubt) will not always remain so.

One of the realities of my life is that I have Alzheimer’s coming at me from both sides of my family. Both of my grandmothers suffer or suffered from it for a long time. One of my favorite Aunt’s suffered with it for years. I believe my mother may have started to show signs of it before she passed.

I wasn’t around to see if affect my Aunt, but I was around as it took my grandmother. Slowly it took away her memory and her personality until all that was left was the husk of the person I remembered. When she passed and I was one of the pallbearers at her funeral, I recall looking at her and thinking that she seemed so shrunken and small from the dynamic woman I remembered. I remember thinking that it was as if the Alzheimer’s had sucked all of what made my grandmother out of her leaving this husk as the final reminder.

I fear Alzheimer’s. Perhaps irrationally. I don’t know. But I fear it’s ability to rob me of my own memory. And as I get older, those memories are what give us a sense of self that is contiguous and fill our timeline and help keep us grounded with who we were when we were younger. If that disease robs me of that, who am I?

It’s terrifying to think that a time would come when I don’t even know to care that I don’t recall those details. Know to care about what I’ve forgotten.

That brings me back to the original intention of this piece which is the importance of stories.

I want to capture these stories for all the reasons that I’ve covered. For my kids, certainly. But also for myself. Because a time my come when I can’t write these stories down. When I don’t recall these stories, when I can’t tell my kids about my happiest moment or what I’m most proud of.

Before that time comes I want to spend some time capturing some of that. Maybe in writing, maybe in video, hopefully in conversation with my kids and with the other people who are most important to me in my life.

There’s always the possibility that I’m being over dramatic. Science progresses and we understand Alzheimer’s better every year. We may have a treatment in the next 10 years, hopefully before I ever have to deal with it IF I need to deal with it. But even if that’s the case, I hope my kids will have this to look back on to see and read about a version of me that they don’t have access to anymore.

I hope it encourages them and others to think about their stories and how they can capture them and how they can pass them on to later generations so it’s not lost as my mother’s stories are now lost, aside from the bits and pieces that float amongst the family.

Stories are important. They ground us. They tell us where we come from, who we are and where we’re going. I don’t know what the digital equivalent of telling stories around the fire is, but I hope we find it and I hope we find value in it and I hope it helps us grow closer and stay closer with those we love.

 

 

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What can we learn from an ounce of spit?

Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going?

Past. Present. Future.

Seems like those are the questions we often ask ourselves but are often hard to answer.

Where do I come from is both hard and it’s easy.

I come from Spokane, Washington. I come from the Northwest. I am some of my mother and bits of my father.

I know a little bit about my family back a generation, maybe a bit about the prior generation.

I knew my maternal grandmother but not my maternal grandfather. They were divorced and he passed before I was old enough to know him.

I knew my paternal grandmother just a little bit because she and my father have had a strained relationship and my paternal grandfather passed before I was five. They both lived back east, so the opportunities to know them were few and far between.

Both of my parents are children of divorce and families broken in subtle and obvious ways. So, figuring out where I came from quickly ran aground on the shoals of not enough information.

My mom was born and raised in Spokane. She was a child of divorce and the youngest in a family with older sisters and brothers. When she stumbled in to her teen years, she didn’t have enough time from either parent and started getting in to trouble. She started smoking early, hanging out with troubled kids, drinking and occasionally shoplifting something she probably didn’t need but wanted. So, probably pretty typical for Spokane in the early 60s.

My dad is from the West Virginia and Ohio and, for the most part, seems happy to no longer be there. He met my mother when he was stationed at Fairchild Air Force base outside Spokane. His job wasn’t as important as his apparent habit of getting a promotion then acting out and getting it taken away. He didn’t take well, as he told the stories, to being told what to do. Issues with authority.

They met and married, these two kids from broken homes, because kids they most certainly were. My Dad had left home early and joined the Air Force at 17 with the permission of his Dad. My mom married at 16 with her mother’s permission because I don’t think my grandmother knew what else to do.

These two kids from broken homes and difficult backgrounds decided to get married and have kids.

That’s about as far back as I know. I know a little bit back to my grandparents and that’s about it. I know stories of difficult upbringings, divorce, not enough money, not enough love, not enough attention. That’s what I know about where I come from.

And that’s important and it’s part of my story but it’s not all of the story. Before my parents and my grandparents came generations of folks before them. Probably with stories much like theirs, filled with difficulty and challenges and, hopefully, love and happiness in some measure.

That’s as far as the stories I know go back.

I want to know more about where I came from *before* my parents. Before my grandparents.

The typical answer to that is to research the family tree. And I might do that. I just reached out recently to some family that I think may have done some of the groundwork before me. That might be interesting to peruse.

That will help me fill in some of the details of where I come from, at least as far as a family tree can be informative.

But I wondered about further back. Where do I come from on a larger scale of time?

With a few ounces of spit and science that’s come leaps and bounds in the last few decades, I will find out some of this and then may share some portion of it.

As it turns out, getting your DNA sequenced is getting increasingly inexpensive. Years ago, this would have cost thousands of dollars and taken large chunks of time. Now, for a hundred bucks I can spit in a tube and get my DNA sequenced!

The site that I’m using (www.23andme.com) promises to help “Connect to your past” “Learn from the present” and “Participate in the future”.

As part of the results, I’m supposed to receive some information about my “ancestry composition”. I’ll just put it down here: 100% European mutt.

What I’ve been told by various family members is that on my mother’s side we’re Irish (my grandmother’s family came over from Ireland during the Potato Famine which took place during the mid to late 1800’s. I thought I recalled that it was actually closer to the late 1800’s but now I don’t recall the source. I should probably try and track that down… So, we have Irish (and, I’m told, some Welsh and English) on my mother’s side.

On my father’s side, it’s mostly German (my surname supposedly means nothing more interesting than “from the Mossy place”).

German and Irish. Or, as my step daughter said, I’m Germ-ish! That’ll work. But, end of day, I’m going with European mutt. But, it’d be great to find out that there was something more interesting going on there.

Apparently I might even find out how much of my DNA is shared with Neanderthals! That would be good cocktail conversation.

Additionally, the results might help me determine the odds of getting various diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. In the example on their site, they show someone’s odds as being as low as 8% and high as 52% for Type 2 Diabetes. I’m not quite sure what to do with that data. That approaches a flip of the coin and, it seems, totally ignores the impact of lifestyle on whether that’s something I’d have to worry about.

It claims to also inform me about my status as a carrier for various things like Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell Anemia. Additionally, there are apparently some genetic markers which would indicate that I might have issues with certain drug responses.

And then, optionally, I can let them use my DNA as a way to further genetic research. Sure, why not.

I’ve been interested in finding out more about my background for a while so being able to do this for a reasonable price seems interesting.

My wife has indicated she’s not interested and that the info is largely statistical so there’s not much to act on and I get that. But I’m very interested! Probably to the point where I’ll likely be disappointed with the specificity of the information, but that’s the risk, I guess.

The process is pretty simple. You send them money. They send you a small box. Inside the small box is a mouthpiece attached to a small tube. You wait a half hour after you’ve eaten or drank anything then you spit in to the tube. You close the top which adds what I’m guessing is a preservative, shake up the results, cap the tube and drop it in a biological sample bag and it goes back in the box to be sent back. A few weeks later they will supposedly tell me the results!

Soon I’ll have some insight in to what I can learn from my genes!

 

 

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