Pride Comes Before The Twilight Zone

Daniel Foster stood looking out the window. From his corner office on the 50th floor he had an amazing view of downtown Manhattan. All of this, he thought to himself. All of this I have earned from the sweat of my brow. The long evening hours. The Saturdays and Sundays in the office. All of my hard work has really paid off. And of course my incredible negotiating skills and ability to quickly conduct extensive research didn’t hurt either.

Daniel chuckled as he turned away from the window and walked across the office to his desk. He took a seat in his cushy leather chair. It was 8:30 on a Friday night. But there was nothing odd about his being in his office that late. He had worked his way from junior to senior associate in record time at the second largest law firm in NYC. And then last year he had taken that next, huge step. Partner.

But Daniel was different than most partners. Instead of taking a breath and realizing he could finally relax a bit, he continued with the 100 hour work weeks as if he was still a junior associate fresh out of college. And with a merger between two companies each worth billions currently on the line, he new this weekend would be another where he saw very little of his plush apartment overlooking Central Park.

As Daniel got back to work on his laptop, his cell phone began buzzing. He looked down at the number. Really Steven, you have already left me 6 messages, he thought as he reluctantly took the call from his older brother.

“Hey Steve, what’s up?”

“What do you mean what’s up Danny? Didn’t you listen to any of my messages?”

“Yeah, I listened. But is she really that bad? I mean, over the last six weeks you’ve had me come rushing to the hospital four times saying that ‘this was going to be it.’ Then, I get there and it’s a false alarm. I’ve missed out on a ton of billable hours from all of these ‘emergency visits.’”

“Are you serious! Come on Danny. Your billable hours are more important than being by mom’s side when she passes?”

“Of course not,” Daniel answered without much conviction as he continued reading through a document on his computer. “But if it were just more certain when it would actually happen it would make things a lot easier.”

“Well, sorry little brother. My crystal ball is in the shop right now. But she is definitely not doing well. And I really think this could be it. The nurses keep coming in and giving her more pain medication. They say that all they are trying to do now is keep her comfortable until the end comes.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

Daniel hung up before his brother could say anything else and went back to his work. I’m sure I have at least a few hours before I need to get over there.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

At 10:00 Daniel rubbed his eyes and decided to check his e-mail. He needed to quit staring at the report he had been pouring over for hours. As he scrolled down past the e-mails from associates trying to show that they were also still hard at work at this late hour and past the obligatory invitation from the partners to join their Sunday golf outing that he never went to, something caught his eye. The sender line said Thomas Foster.

Weird, thought Daniel. That was dad’s name. But, of course since his dad had been dead for over a decade now it was impossible that the e-mail was from his father. But out of curiosity Daniel clicked on the e-mail with the subject line entitled Don’t you remember?

When he opened the e-mail there was a short message: Don’t ask how or try to explain it, but your old man is checking back in with you. Click on the video link. I think there is something you need to see. Love, Dad.

And below the message, sure enough, there was a video link. What in the world? Daniel thought to himself. Is this someone’s idea of a sick joke?

Daniel scrolled the cursor over the delete button. But there was something that just wouldn’t let him do it. Something that compelled him to go down and click on the link. When he did, he couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a home video. He was about 8 years old and he was out in the garden planting flowers with his mom.

But, this was not just weird, it was impossible. His family had not even owned a video camera until he was in his teens. Daniel didn’t know how this was happening, but it was undeniable that it was he and his mother on that computer screen.

“Mom, I’m getting pretty tired. Can we call it a day?”

“Well, honey,” she answered. “It’s up to you. But I know you really want to earn that money to buy yourself a new bike. And if we don’t finish pulling weeds and watering the flowers, then next week you won’t have very pretty flowers to sell in the front yard to earn money to get that bike.”

“Okay, mom. You’re right.”

Daniel watched as he and his mom continued to pull weeds from around the flowers, sprinkle fertilizer and pour water. He smiled thinking back to that summer. He had indeed earned the $40 he needed to buy his brand new Schwinn bicycle.

And even now he could still hear mom’s words the first time he rode the bike echo in his mind, “See honey, a little extra time and effort always pays off.”

The video had stopped and his phone buzzed again. It was Steve again, but this time just a text. If you were still planning on coming, don’t bother. The doctor says she has stabilized. He said she has at least a few more days….looks like you can keep racking up those billable hours.

Daniel started to type a reply, but then decided not to. What was the use? There was nothing he could say that would make the situation any better. He logged off his computer and started to pack up his briefcase. That e-mail and video really had him on edge. He needed to go home, fix himself a stiff drink and get some sleep. After all, he planned to be back into the office by 6:00 tomorrow morning.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As Daniel was driving home, he tried to run through what he hoped to accomplish at the office tomorrow. This was his usual routine for a drive home. Silent car. No music. No phone calls. Just mentally preparing for what lay ahead the next day. But, this evening he was having trouble focusing. His mind kept replaying the video of he and his mom in the garden.

“Delilah, thanks for taking my call.”

Daniel jerked himself forward in his seat. Turned and looked in the passenger seat and the back seats of his car and then realized the voice was coming from his radio. The radio that he hadn’t turned on….

“Sure. Now tell me what’s your name and why you’re calling?”

“This is Gabriel. No last name. Just Gabriel.”

“Well, okay Gabriel,” the hostess chuckled. “I like to just go by Delilah as well.”

“My dedication is to my mom. You see, I’m a very successful corporate lawyer in New York City. I make mergers happen between billion dollar companies.”

“It does sound like you are doing quite well for yourself. And how does mom fit into all of this?”

“Well, Delilah. Back when I was in junior high I was sort of a mis-fit. Tried out for several sports teams and didn’t make them. Even went out for band and was actually asked not to come back because I couldn’t hit the right notes on my trumpet.”

“Wow! Sounds like a rough go for an adolescent.”

Daniel didn’t know what in the world was going on. But so far this Gabriel guy was giving a play by play of Daniel’s junior high experience to everyone listening to Soft Rock 104.5.

“Yeah Delilah, it was pretty rough. But then, one day when my mom was cleaning up some papers I had left lying around from school she saw one that caught her eye. It was for the debate team. And she called me over to her and said, ‘Gabe, I think this would be perfect for you. Why don’t you give it a try?’ I was hesitant at first, but eventually I agreed. I figured what have I got to lose? Well, turns out I was pretty good at it. And as I continued into high school I kept getting better. Anytime I had a debate meet coming up, mom would practice with me ahead of time. She would research the opposing view and debate me at home with my dad serving as judge.”

No! This can’t be happening. Daniel didn’t know how, but he knew for sure now that Gabriel was not telling his own story; he was telling Daniel’s!

What an amazing mom! And how were her debating skills?”

“Let me tell you. I never faced a harder debate opponent than mom. Abd since she would do such a thorough job arguing the other side, I was always so prepared for my meets, I never lost! In fact, my senior year of high school I was the state champion at the most prestigious meet in the state of New York.”

“And I bet those skills of persuasion you learned through debate sure do come in handy at the negotiating table.”

“Exactly Delilah, exactly.”

“Well thanks for calling in Gabriel and I have the perfect song for your mom.”

As Boyz II Men began to soulfully sing A Song for Momma Daniel stared straight ahead. If he hadn’t just heard it for himself he wouldn’t believe it. But, a man had just called in and just precisely described his life as an adolescent. He pushed the accelerator down a little further as the thought of that drink was becoming more and more appealing.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Daniel unlocked the door and walked into his apartment. He tossed his briefcase on the couch and immediately went over and poured his drink. He gulped it straight down like he used to do in his college days and poured a second. Usually he had only one drink and he slowly sipped it while watching a little ESPN to unwind. But tonight he had finished his second drink and he still hadn’t even taken off his shoes. He put down a third and could feel himself begin to loosen up and relax. He skipped the ESPN and went to the shower.

After a quick shower, Daniel slid in under to his silk sheets. I just need to get some sleep. My head will be clear in the morning and I can think this all through. I’m sure it will make more sense in the morning.

As he always did, Daniel fell asleep quickly. He worked hard and slept little. But when he did sleep, it was a deep sleep. From the moment his head hit the pillow until the moment his phone alarm rang at 4:30 the next morning, he was dead to the world in a deep and dreamless sleep.

Tonight, though, tonight would be different for Daniel. For as Daniel slept, he had the most vivid dream of his life. If a dream is what it could be called, for Daniel would always insist it was no more a dream than the unexplainable video on his computer or the unsolicited call-in request on the radio.

It began with Daniel standing by himself on a street corner at an intersection. He could see the street signs above hime: Senate Avenue and Campus Lane. He was back at his old stomping grounds at the university he attended for graduate school. And he was even wearing a sweatshirt with his school mascot, the Kicking Coyotes, on it.

As he stood there, a man Daniel did not recognized, dressed in all white, came up and extended his hand. Daniel shook hands with the man.

The man in white smiled a large smile and spoke first, “Hi my names Lucifer, but all my friends call me Lou. Why don’t you come and take a walk with me. I have something to show you here at your old stomping ground.”

Daniel answered, “I think I’d rather not.” But just as he had no choice in what played in the video on his computer or what was said on the radio call-in, he also seemed to have no choice but to follow Lou.

He followed Lou down Campus Lane and then they took a left onto Valley Drive where the library was located. It seemed that Lou was talking the whole time, but that Daniel could not make out his words. However, as if unable to control his own will, he just nodded and smiled walking just a few steps behind his eager guide.

As they got to library, Daniel and Lou entered and went to a table near the back of the library. “Now just sit down and watch,” Lou said as he took a seat on a bench in the corner. Daniel sat down next to him. “You will be able to see and hear everything that goes on. But, no one will be able to see or hear us.”

Just then, Daniel spotted himself, only 20 years younger, walking over to a corner table with a huge stack of books. His younger self sat down and immediately put his head down on the  table.

“That’s me.” Daniel said to Lou. “I was working on my final term paper to complete my graduate degree and I was completely stuck. It was due in just a couple of days and even though I had been working on it for weeks I was no where close to being finished.”

“Yes, I know,” Lou said with a nostalgic smile. “I really thought this would be the end of your dream to become a lawyer.” Then Lou’s smile turned into a scowl. “Until she had to show up.”

In walked Daniel’s mom. She was carrying a paper bag and travel mug. She sat down in the seat across from college-aged Daniel and he lifted his head. “Mom! What are are you doing here?”

“Well, son. I know you too well. And when we talked last night and you were saying all that stuff about being almost done with your paper and how it had turned out to be easier than you thought….I knew you were lying. So this morning I just got in the car and drove over. Now have some milk and cookies to cheer you up and then let’s get started.”

“Lou, I still remember that day so well. She told me that all that research she had done as my debate partner had taught her some shortcuts. She showed me some speed reading strategies and a great way of synthesizing information from multiple sources and in no time I was back on track. By the time she left that evening I was pretty much just putting the finishing touches on it. I still can’t believe I ended up with an B+ on a paper that I had barely even started before mom showed up.”

“I know, I know,” Lou said sulkily. “Don’t rub it in. Now, you remember this night and don’t ever let anyone tell you I never do any good deeds.” Lou got up and started to walk toward the library exit. But before he went out the door he added, “Now, on the other hand, if you choose to ignore my visit, you will have a LONG time to get to know my other side.”

Daniel sat straight up in bed. He was soaked in sweat and breathing heavy. And when he looked down, instead of his plaid pajamas he saw none other a kicking coyote on his shirt. He looked at his phone. 4:29. He quickly turned off the alarm before it could begin its intolerable chiming. He laid his head back down on his pillow. And for the first time in months slept in.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

When he awoke again and looked at his phone the time read 8:15. He couldn’t believe how good he felt. Who knew a few extra hours could  rejuvenate you so quickly?

Daniel ate a bowl of oatmeal and drank his morning coffee. He got dressed. But instead of a three piece suit, he put on a pair of jeans and a sweater. And instead of heading north toward his downtown office, he headed south.

He parked in the Metro General Hospital parking garage and made his way up the 5th floor.  He went into room 512 where his mother lay. No one else was in there. Daniel was sure Steve would be there soon, but he was glad he had made it there first. He sat down next to the bed and took his sleeping mother’s hand. She looked so frail. Her hand felt so bony. As a few tears began to run down his cheeks, she opened her eyes.

“Steve is that you?” she asked softly.

“No, mom. It’s your baby boy. It’s Danny.”

With that she seemed to perk up and opened her eyes a little wider.

“Danny. I’m so glad you came. I’ve missed you.” Her voice was beginning to sound a little stronger.

“I’m glad I’m here too mom. I’m sorry it’s been so long. I brought you a little treat.” He set a cream stick and a cup of coffee on the tray next to her. “From Don’s Donut Shack. Your favorite.”

With Danny’s help she sat up and began to enjoy her life’s one vice. “I never could resist,” she chuckled. “How are you honey? How is work? I’m surprised you’re not there now.”

“I’m doing fine mom. And work is good. Working on a huge merger. But, I’ve actually decided to cut back on my hours a bit. You know, spend some time doing some other things.”

Mom sighed. “That would be nice Danny. But I’ve heard that one before.”

“I really mean it this time. I’m gonna start coming in to see you more. And get back to exercising. And maybe even get in a round or two of golf.”

At that his mom let out roaring laugh.

“Okay, well maybe not so much with the golf. But, really mom. I mean it this time. And mom…”

“Yes, Danny?”

“I want to thank you. Thank you for making me into the attorney, and the man, I am today. I know if it weren’t for you I would never have made it.”

“Nonsense, dear. Your hard work and long hours have paid off.”

“Yes, I know mom. You don’t want any credit. That was one trait I didn’t pick up from you…humility.”

Daniel continued to chat with his mom as she enjoyed her not so healthy breakfast. When she began to get sleepy and nod off, Daniel kissed her on the forehead and promised he would be back to visit again that evening and then headed into the office.

At the office he set an alarm on his phone for 3:00. And when it went off, he got up and went to his apartment, put on some sweats and headed out for a jog.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

And Daniel did go back and visit his mother that evening. In fact, Daniel continued to go back to visit with his mom every evening around 6:00 when he left work.

About a week later, Daniel felt his phone vibrating. It was Steve. This is really it buddy. Mom’s asking for you.

Daniel stood up from the negotiating table that seated the heads of the two companies and their lawyers that would make his firm millions of dollars as soon as this deal was finalized and said, “I’m sorry gentlemen. I’m going to have to excuse myself. A family matter has just arisen that I have to attend to immediately.”

Not more than an hour later Daniel’s mother passed away peacefully with each of her two sons seated at her bedside holding her hands.

He Didn’t Watch Me Snow Blow

I wrote this a couple of years ago and came across it the other day when I was looking through some documents on my computer. I thought it would be an appropriate time to post it as my son will turn 7 this month!!

He Didn’t Watch Me Snow Blow 

It’s kinda funny, ya know

I have three kids

And I love each dearly

None more than another

But there is just something about my guy

Something that makes me realize how fast time is going by

You see, my oldest daughter, adopted at 8

Just turned 13

A young woman now, no longer a little girl

Yet for this monumental moment, no sadness did I feel

A bit of, oh my gosh, can it really be?

But no despair for days gone by

Then, there’s my baby girl… my precious baby girl!

The one who flails her arms  and calls “Dada”

before I’m even through the door

Just a month away from turning 1

My wife asked me, party is coming up, will you cry?

I don’t think so, I told her, but I’m not sure why.

Yet, my little guy, my little man

He does something to my heart

Any random night, it doesn’t take much

Just a little over tired and watching as he sleeps

I don’t want them to come

But yet the tears, they start

I don’t know what it is

What makes it seem so different

What makes it so hard to watch him grow

Could be that he’s the only boy?

Or that when I look at him,

I see myself 25 years ago

Whatever it is I realized today

That my little guy is getting older

My 4 year old little man is much different

Than my three year old Big Boy Helper or

My 2 year old Baby Victor

My little guy is changing by the day

It’s strange what made me realize it

It’s not that preschool is half complete

With Kindergarten around the corner

Not even seeing the change

from baby face to handsome boy

in the pictures I revisit much too often

It’s not that now he puts his straw

into the juice box himself

That I’ve watched the Mickey faze

turn to Cat in the Hat 

and on to Superheroes and now

currently standing firm at WildKratts

No, today what hit me like a ton of bricks

was that as I cleared the snow,

he wasn’t at the window

watching me as I snow blow

To tell the truth, I know this for sure

because I checked quite frequently

See my 2 year old guy,

he would watch the entire time

Daddy was his entire world

Whatever I was doing was the greatest thing around

Would rather watch daddy blow the snow

Than play with toys or even watch a show

Three year old V

would alternate between the window

and his imaginary play

And if I looked up twice from the snow to the window,

at least one of those times

his eyes and mine would mean meet

But my 4 year old guy

has other things to do

No longer am I the center of his universe

No longer is all I do to be worshipped

You see ,I know my guys I growing up

Because today, he didn’t watch me blow the snow