My Story So Far…

“I’ve put this off for far too long” — Bilbo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring

This is something I’ve wanted to do for myself, for you all, and more importantly for my daughter whom you may hear me refer to here and elsewhere as Sonic Boom. I closed Comments on this entry as I think condolences and criticism people would express have already been made on Facebook, Twitter, and on my 5-word blogpost. If you have something to ask, something to share, or otherwise, it’s not like it’s hard to find me. I am visible on my respective networks once again, and my virtual door is open.

I’ll also tell you straight-up a motivation behind this posting has been the conjecture and criticism that others have expressed at both my expense, and at my daughter’s. As it is in a Community, there are a few that have been accusing me of not being up front, of misleading the Community, and taking advantage of the support and compassion I have been receiving over these past two months. Sure, you can’t have the positive without the negative, but this for them, too. “Put up or shut up,” you say? Gladly.

I don’t consider this blogpost “total transparency” because even with my love of Social Media I still believe some things are best kept private. This post is my perspective on a relationship spanning over ten years that took an unexpected turn and then came to a tragic end. No mudslinging. No ugly, sordid details. This will be my story, from the beginning.

I hope you will take a moment to read it.

My Love

After a significant relationship in my life, I was back on the dating scene …and failing miserably at it. I mean, when you’re ditched at dance clubs and stood up on blind dates, you’ve reached depths only Jules Verne comprehends. My roommate suggested I give America Online Personals a shot. Why not? I filled out the online profile, uploaded a picture, and waited.

In that first 24 hours I discovered a lot of lonely people. Everything just felt wrong and I was about to delete my profile, until I got an email very different from the others: it was sincere.

That was how I met Natialie. She was to be a complete and utter surprise in my life.

The irony in Nat and me as a couple was that it started off as a long-distance relationship, something I swore against after two heartbreaks I had no desire to relive. An advantage to our situation, though, was Nat’s employer at the time: Sprint. This was in my pre-Skype days, and Nat had unlimited long distance so we talked on the phone. A lot. We talked about everything and anything. We never shared an awkward silence that I can remember. The more I got to know Nat, the deeper I fell for her. We had not been dating for more than a few months when an opportunity came up for her to transfer to Reston, Virginia. She called me to ask if I was okay with it.

Within a few weeks, I was helping Nat move across the country. One of the happiest memories I have of the two of us.

I didn’t look back when we eventually moved in together. I was in for the long haul, for better or for worse. Nat was the first girlfriend I ever had that believed in me, believed in what I did, and believed in my potential. Things were far from perfect, and we had our moments where we both thought we were a mistake; but everything just felt right when we were together

It was on May 8, 1998 when we married, a new chapter in a book I was eager to write with her.

My Heartbreak

In 2000, things were beginning to change in our relationship. Of course, things always change in a relationship, it silly to assume they would not. Many of these changes I saw coming and welcomed, but there were others that I still don’t know when they happened or what triggered them; but distance started to grow between us. This was hard for me as our gift had always been open communication, something I cherished and tried never to take for granted. I would never claim that we shared perfect communication, but we did talk about everything. That was before we started to drift, before Nat couldn’t seem to talk to me like she used to.

I asked for help once.

Twice.

After a third time, I resigned to handle this on my own, and hopefully I could. Our daughter, Sonic Boom, had arrived by this point. A lot more was at stake than just us.

As I mentioned before, I won’t mudsling. I have no mind nor place to as I have my own share of faults contributing to this breakdown. Still, I fought for what we had, and what I believed we could be, until 2007 rolled around. I found myself completely and utterly alone in wanting to make things right. This meant having to make a choice. A tough one. Finally, in 2009, after hours of tears, hard words, and revelations, I left — what I thought was for the last time — the place I had called home.

There I was: 40, a dad, a rookie at the day job, and starting over in a two-bedroom apartment in Ashburn, Virginia. I thought I had been scared when I signed the papers to the house. This was a whole new kind of fear.

I was accused by those who knew of this separation as taking an “easy” out. There was nothing easy about any of this. There is nothing easy about sitting in an empty finished basement, holding your daughter and explaining to her why daddy can’t live there anymore. No, nothing easy about any of this at all.

Natalie and I were both very fortunate to have Allison Duncan, in the midst of a very ugly divorce, step in and give us sound advice: Seek mediation. That first meeting, hard as it was, was a huge step forward for both of us. We discovered we could still work together to create something positive, at the very least for Sonic Boom.

While mediation was helping us come to grips with all this, nothing had suddenly become easy about this. I remained optimistic, thought, that things would right themselves and in the long run. Natalie and I would be happier people from this point. That was essential for Sonic Boom and for everyone in our lives.

My Loss

I entered 2010 resolute that this would be the year I’d get back on track. With everything. I had already taken a huge step forward with Books & Braun. My day job (well aware of my situation) had been exceeding all expectations. I had mapped out to the summer a schedule and strategy for future projects in podcasting and writing.

And with the holidays behind us and Sonic Boom happy and smiling, Natalie and I were progressing forward. Slowly, but we were getting there.

When my Dad was knocking on my door on that Wednesday morning, I thought it was a neighbor’s door receiving this really insistent visitor. He had to call me on the phone to get me out of bed. Dad sat me down on my couch and told me Natalie was gone. Sonic Boom was okay. Nat had been sick with the flu, had been given orders by the doctor to quarantine herself, and sent her to Grandma and Grandad’s for a sleepover. Sonic Boom was at school presently. She didn’t know about mommy, but for the time being she was okay.

To this day, I remember the white noise, something like in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer when Buffy found her mom dead on the couch. If you remember that episode, people were talking to Buffy, and she sees them but doesn’t hear them. I never understood why Wheedon did that.

Now I did, and that was me. In the apartment.

I remember it being tough to breathe. I don’t know how long I was there before I started making the phone calls. The first person I contacted probably wouldn’t surprise anyone.

It would have been 1 a.m. her time, but Pip answered. Much like me, she was wide awake after I told her; and then started giving me things to do, people to call, and places to go. A priority list. Sounds simple enough, but at that moment everything was worse than slow motion. More like time lapse.

I needed to tell Sonic Boom. Holy shit. How the hell do I do that?

I was reaching for the phone when it rang. It was Sonic Boom’s school. The principal was calling a meeting at my convenience with the school councilor, Sonic Boom’s teacher, and herself.

I looked at the clock. An hour had gone by?

The meeting with Sonic Boom’s principal, councilor, and teacher later that morning was when I finally cried. Then came 4:00 p.m. when I sat down with Sonic Boom, both sets of grandparents, and my church pastor. I told Sonic Boom that mommy had died, that she was still watching over her (And yes, skeptics, I do believe that and that’s how I’m raising her. Cope.), and that I was going to take care of her. I offered to Sonic Boom that she could spend the night with Grammie and Grandpa (Nat’s parents).

“No, daddy,” Sonic Boom replied. “It’s Wednesday. I go to Ashburn with you.”

My throat tightened, but I nodded and gave her a kiss on the head. Sonic Boom then proceeded to play with the grandparents and the pastor while I packed the car for a few nights in Ashburn.

From this point, I went into auto-pilot. I had to identify Natalie. I remember touching her forehead, and remarking on how cold she felt. Then came the arrangements for her funeral, something that would not have happened had it not been for the earlier-mentioned Philippa Ballantine and my Twitter network. (More on that later.) I also began a frantic move back to Manassas, frantic nature because while I was managing funeral arrangements the tribute video offered from the funeral home fell through. This mean it was up to me to take care of it, so now I was reassembling my editing suite and planning to be attached for two days to Final Cut. I was okay editing Movements I and II of Trois.

When I hit the opening of III, everything caught up with me.

I had hit that point so hard I sent out a tweet asking for help. Within minutes, I was on the phone with a voice I’d not heard from in some time. Meghan listened to me cry, provided a calm in the storm, and helped me get back on track with the video. During the video’s production, I felt everything. I was empty by the time the memorial happened, but whatever I had to say about Natalie was in this 11-minute tribute. Still is. It had apparently been a popular assumption that as I had separated from the marriage I had stopped caring about Natalie. That could not have been farther from the truth.

Trois was (and always will be) a tribute to the woman I loved, the mother of my little girl. This is how I and Sonic Boom will remember her.

My Steps Forward…

I know this is still the beginning of a journey down an unknown road. However, even in light of banks re-enacting classic Three Stooges routines, ill-timed snowstorms, and government entities dragging feet as consummate professionals, I am still optimistic of what 2010 and the future  holds for me and my daughter. Back on my Imagine That! blog, I wrote a slightly edgy article on how Social Media will be growing up. I could hear in my own voice a bit of disdain for what started as a wonderful ways and means of keeping touch with friends old and new. When news hit Twitter of Nat’s death, I felt as if the Tribe that I remembered from the early days of Twitter had returned. In the podosphere, my peers expressed their condolences and played promos on Sonic Boom’s behalf. (Again, more on that later…) On Facebook, friends I’d not talked to in years all reached out to me. At the viewing and memorial, all aspects of my life came to show their respect and support, similar to the overwhelming day when other aspects showed up on my doorstep to help me move from Ashburn to Manassas and help reclaim my house. Sonic Boom met people she now calls her family. I discovered that while I was on my own with Serena, I was not alone.

Then Pip and Podcasting’s Rich Sigfrit launched The Boom Effect. While I wasn’t looking to have it restored, my faith in Social Media and in people received a much-needed boost. Because of the generosity of family, friends, and people I have not enjoyed the pleasure of meeting, Natalie received a tribute she deserved, Sonic Boom has possibilities afforded to her that would have been difficult to make happen, and I am able to keep things in order while the storm winds rage outside.

I now take stock of the “little wins” in my life. It is very easy to let the hang-up’s and pitfalls life throws at you to slow you down through these times; but I am working to be the best example, the best role model, for Sonic Boom. To do that, I focus on those days when things go right. Intersections Inc. where I work has been such an accomplishment. I am using my powers of Social Media for good in blogging, podcasting, and tweeting for ID Guardian. My boss has been cracking jokes with me as she did before Christmas. I’m finding myself back on a positive, productive direction. Not out of the woods, but I do see sunlight through the treetops.

And thankfully, I’m not in Phil Rossi’s woods. Again. A little triumph.

I’m also starting to write and podcast again. A recent Bird House Rules was my step back into working the microphone, the same week I wrote a column for my day job. More columns like that, listening to a few podiobooks, and a few talk with my peers are now pushing me to write again. This week, along with getting the taxes done of course, I’m carving out some time to write. Not for work, but for me.

That is what the next few weeks, months, and years will be: challenges. We don’t have instruction manuals, troubleshooting guides, or even a roadmaps through life. I can only strive to be the best dad I can be and help Sonic Boom remember her mommy the way I remember her. I know, even in light of this testimonial, people will question, draw conclusions, and criticize me; but really, is that anything new? Not really. I am now focused even more on how my kid is doing, and where I am headed in my own career choices.

This is my story of love, heartbreak, loss, and the first steps forward. I tell it to you so you can understand where I’m coming from, and where I’m going. I tell you this story in the hopes that if you ever find yourself where I’m at — and I hope you never do — that you find some insight, some inspiration. At these crossroads, some may hesitate. I encourage you to pick a path and move forward. That is what Sonic Boom and I are doing right now. There will be those times when we fall, but we know we’re not alone; and to all of you, “thank you” doesn’t really seem to be enough…but it will have to do.

Thank you. For yesterday. For today. For tomorrow.

From both of us.