Saturday, May 06, 2006

Happy Birthday

Today, some 38 years ago, a baby boy came into the world - kicking and screaming in a US Army hospital in Germany. He would share this birthday with the likes of Sigmund Freud, Robert E. Peary, Willie Mays, Orson Welles and George Clooney. Perhaps of more significant social importance, porn star and B movie actress Traci Lords was born the following day.

The boy was backpacked around Europe within the first year and a half of his life, and returned "home" to the San Francisco Bay Area before the birth of his little brother. At only 19 months apart, these brothers had a rivalry like no other. The older brother would build a world wonder in wooden blocks, and the younger would run up and, Godzilla-like, destroy it all with a shriek of glee. The older brother would experience major loss just before his 4th birthday, when the younger managed to get into a bottle of adult iron supplements (in an upper cabinet) and poison himself. The last time the older brother saw the younger brother was in a hospital room, surrounded by a crash team.

The next couple years would unfortunately include molestation by his paternal grandmother, a terrible secret he would carry for twenty years.

If the first lessons in the cycle of life had been tragic, the next few lessons were from the other end of the spectrum. The family cat had a litter of kittens, some of which were born on a towel on the boy's lap. Then a baby sister came along just after his 5th birthday. More growing and learning, then another baby brother when he was 8. In that same year, the family would move into a KOA campground to await the finished construction of a home in the Aptos hills in Santa Cruz, CA. The move to Rio Del Mar Elementary School opened new doors, and ushered in new friends, including David Beach and his older brother Adam.

At age 11, more tragedy hit when the boy's father moved out of the family home and divorced his mother. The mother, who had been the traditional stay-at-home mom, was suddenly faced with supporting two schoolchildren and a preschooler. During one particularly bad rainfall, the mother stood hip-deep in mud, fending off the collapsing hillside with a single shovel as wet muck poured in through his sister's bedroom window. It is a powerful image and a very apt symbol for the circumstances at the time. The house was eventually sold and the mother moved her children into a series of rentals in Aptos and Santa Cruz, always attempting to keep the kids in their schools.

At age 12, the boy met a fellow hiker nine years his senior on a camping trip in Nicene Marks, and latched onto him as the older brother he never had. 26 years later, they would still refer to each other as brothers.

During the next few years, the boy and his siblings were shuttled between their mother's home in Santa Cruz and their father's boat in the harbor (and later, the father's home in Palo Alto - which belonged to his new girlfriend). Both parents remarried in the same year, the father to an old acquaintence of the boy's kindergarten teacher, and the mother to a man who tagged along as the third wheel on a date. Both of these marriages would outlast the original.

The boy had assumed the chief male role in the household, sleeping with a baseball bat by his bed to protect the family. When the new stepfather moved in, however, a power struggle occurred. More rules and chores with less allowance and no acknowledgement of his prior status in the family unit. Fortunately, in 1984 (shortly after the death of his paternal grandfather), custody was changed and the three siblings went to live in Palo Alto with their father and stepmother, where the self-induced pressure to be "the man of the house" would be gone. With the exception of a few family dynamics that needed to be worked out, it was a positive arrangement for the boy, and he enjoyed meeting new friends and fell in love with a cute actress/cheerleader.

At 17, the boy wrote and directed his first film, a 70-minute supernatural thriller that, while primitive looking now, impressed the adults and professional videographers he showed it to at the time. It ended up in a PBS young directors' series.

At 18, he drove to Vancouver, Canada with his actress/cheerleader girlfriend for World Expo '86. On the long, scenic drive up the Olympic Peninsula, they fell in love with Washington.

At 21, he went on a life-altering bareboat charter cruise of the Virgin Islands, which rekindled a love of travel. It also gave him clarity on his feelings for a certain actress/cheerleader, and they would marry the following year - a beautiful ceremony in a beautiful stone church in Portola Valley, with friends and family in attendance. They spent the better part of the following month driving through England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland on a wonderful honeymoon.

In 1991, the young married couple realized that they needed to leave the Bay Area and make a home someplace that actually felt like home. That place was Seattle, at the beginning of the "grunge" movement and before the real estate craziness. At first, she worked as an administrator in a state technical college while he freelanced as a graphic artist and writer. But when she became pregnant with their first child, he went to work in the videogame industry as a concept artist and art director while she became a stay-at-home mom. It was an arrangement they agreed upon, to give their children the home that was taken from the boy at 11 when his parents split.

Although the son had a traumatic birth and went into distress, and the wife hemorrhaged and started bleeding out, everyone recovered and the experience didn't sway the wife from eventually wanting to have one more. They studied the Shettles Method of conception, and put it into practice for conceiving a girl. Three years after the birth of their son, a little girl was added to the family and their family unit was complete.

At 34, the boy received the news that his wife had a rare form of cancer. Over the next two and a half years, they would fight together, hoping for everything from a medical breakthrough to a supernatural miracle.

At 36, the boy held his wife in his arms as she died. At 36, he was a widower. At 36, he was a single father.

The memorial service was held just prior to his 37th birthday. And not long after that, the boy lost his father, the lynchpin of his own support system, to a different cancer. He felt the world rip apart around him. Then his house flooded with sewage. Then it burned down.

The end.

Actually just the opposite.

Today the boy is 38. He is a different person at the most primal level. He has earned perspective at a prohibitive cost. He has paid what many would call some of the highest dues possible. He is facing the future with a positive attitude and his children at his side.

Today the boy is the same age his father was when he remarried and started his life over. Today the boy is the same age his wife was when she died. If anything can make one perceive life and death as circular, that's certainly it.

Today the boy is 38, and the circle begins anew. Happy birthday, boy. Step forward and seize your future.

5 comments:

Karyn Ann Bosso (Karyn Ann in San Fran) said...

Oh,Todd, you write so well! No, it is not the end - but, hopefully another new beginning. Blessed Birthday to you - May the next years of your life hold many good things for you - and your kids. With all you've been through, God knows, you deserve it! Thank you for sharing the story of your life and your life with Samantha. And, Todd, thank you for being the kind of man who has been there for his wife and family when they needed him most. Peace.

tbone said...

Thank you, Karyn Ann. It's good to know my net friends get something out of what I write.

Peace to you as well, and a fine Irish "Slainte!" I will be sharing a few pints at the Celtic Swell tonight and will raise a toast to my friends, absent in body but present in spirit.

Matt Forbeck said...

Happy birthday, Todd! Your attitude is inspiring.

Ryan Potter said...

Happy birthday my man, and keep on keepin' on, as you are so want to do. Sorry i haven't kept in touch as much as I should, especially with all the technological venues I have at my disposal. My number hasn't changed and I assume you have a new one.

-Ryan "The Accidentally Elusive" Potter

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Todd, and many more to come! May life overflow with the blessings of family, friends, health, and the joy of loving with abandon and completely, and surviving anyway.
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