A Note To You

The post entitled End of Watch was the final one I’d queued up for the ForHofer page. Of course, I absolutely encourage everyone to keep sending me anecdotes and pictures but I expect we will have fewer posts from here on out. I know a number of Dave’s closest friends have told me it’s too soon for them to write anything for the blog right now, and I completely understand that. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see those stories in the future!

Collecting your stories, and writing some of my own, has been very important to me as I begun to make sense of this devastating new reality without my brother. It’s allowed me to glimpse some of the parts of Dave’s life that I may not have had access to, as close as we were. I hope you feel the same! It’s been so meaningful to read the letters from community members and the stories from friends and colleagues. I thank each of you for sending those to me and my family. They mean the world.

To make it easy to access the stories, I’m including links for all of them here in a kind of index (starting with the most recent). I will definitely be going back to them frequently and I hope you will to. I didn’t include the “In Memory” notes from the kids, but those can always be found easily.

MARCH 2017
A Story: Just Checking
A Thought: One Year Today

FEBRUARY 2017
A Story: Surprise
A Thought: The Euless Police Department Awards Banquet
A Thought: The Coming Days

DECEMBER 2016
A Thought: Christmas

NOVEMBER 2016
A Thought: 8 Months Gone

SEPTEMBER 2016
A Memory: On Maine Winters
A Thought: On Strength
On Your Birthday
Birthdays Without You

AUGUST 2016
A Memory: Maine Summers
A Memory: Summers in Spain
A Memory: The Best Deal Of My Life
A Memory: Bottles & Dinosaurs

JULY 2016
A Story: The Legend of Stonewall
A Thought: “Don’t fear us. Don’t hate us.”
To the Families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa
A Story: The Open Door

JUNE 2016
A Story: A NYC Coincidence
A Story: Cousin-Love
A Story: End Of Watch
A Story: First Meeting Onward
A Story: Pretty WoMAN
A Story: On Missing The Last Train Out
A Story: Making Moves
A Story: My Dear Friend Dave
A Story: A Smile
A Tribute: Official NYPD Memorial Run Pics
A Tribute: Three Months Gone (And A Slideshow)

MAY 2016
A Story: Omas And Opas
A Story: Selfies
A Story: Taking The Jump
A Tribute: A Lifetime of Light
A Story: Random Bits
A Story: Workouts, Fast Food & Zero-Calorie Beverages
A Tribute: The NYPD Memorial 5K
A Story: Jaeger
A Story: Muffin-Interrupted Gaming
A Story: Ba-Bow! [Strikes Pose]
A Story: On Cozying Up
A Story: On Avoiding Overtime
A Story: “Seriously, Bro, What Do You Do?”
A Thought: On Openness
A Thought: To Our Heroes
A Story: Making It Through The Rookie Years
A Story: Mickey’s Adoption Adventures
A Thought: On Funerals
A Story: No Drinks That Night
A Story: Walking Besides Us
A Thought: On Doing Better
A Story: A Merry Christmas

APRIL 2016
A Story: Line Of Duty Decorating Injuries
A Story: Bringing Fireball To The Big City
A Story: Political Discussions A La Hofer
A Tribute: On Valuing Bonds
Responses To “My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform”
A Story: Bar Life & Paying It Forward
A Story: How To Save A Life, Part II
My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform
A Story: #904
A Story: Chaos In The East Village
A Story: About Commitment
A Story: Stressed St. Michael
A Tribute: About Yankees & Hillbillies
A Story: Lobster Collaboration
A Story: A First Winter Getaway With The Hofers
A Tribute: A Letter
A Story: Welcome To Metropolitan Studies
A Story: A Night In Texas
A Story: On Tattoo Sleeves & Solidarity
A Tribute: From The Wife Of An Officer
A Story: On New Friendships & Squeezing Into Mustangs
A Tribute: At The Dollar Store
A Thought: Beauty & Sadness
A Story: Firsts
A Tribute: At The Car Wash
A Story: Too Fancy For A Rookie
A Story: Easiest $20 Ever
A Tribute: 9th Precinct Recognition Ceremony
A Tribute: Becoming A Superhero
A Story: You’re Done…Turn In Your Badge And Gun

MARCH 2016
A Story: A Hot Mess
A Story: How To Save A Life
A Tribute: Fort Worth Officer Down 5K
A Story: My Safety Net
A Story: You Are Euless Now!
A Story: Puppy-Love
A Tribute: Keeping On Keeping On
A Story: The Fireball Discovery
A Tribute: A Photo Story
A Story: Spotting Drugs & Eating Well
A Story: A Family’s Tragedy
A Story: Honor Guard Training
A Story: A Case of Mistaken Identity
A Thought: Changing Lives
A Story: Smoking Adventures
A Story: About Guns And Wheelchairs
A Story: Rules of Seniority & Mustaches
A Story: Mickey Takes Over
A Story: A Hobby in Common

My Brother Was Killed Because He Wore A Uniform

I know this is a longer piece than normal, but I hope you will take the time to read this to the very end. And, if you think this is an important message, PLEASE share this to your networks.
Edit: For some, perhaps, unexpected responses to this piece, please check out this post.

Just days before my brother David was murdered, we had hatched a plan. He would fly into New York City from Texas and meet me at Newark Airport to pick up our older brother Boris and niece Valerie who were arriving from Taiwan. Our goal: to surprise our dad for his 60th birthday. For the past decade one of us had always been missing from our gatherings. The surprise, awkwardly captured on an iPhone, was as wonderful as could be imagined. There is a video of David and our dad encouraging Valerie to a wild high-five-off; photos of David in a sparkling cowboy hat, holding a mug of whiskey, gleefully teasing my mom about her liberal politics; and the recollection of a serious conversation between David and me about his plans for the future.  Two days later, David was ambushed and shot in the line of duty as a police officer.

On March 1st, a deranged young man set a trap in a local Euless, Texas, park. Ignoring the park visitors and near-by school, he assumed a position in a hidden area, carefully laid out various loaded weapons and fired off a few rounds. Those shots gained the attention of community members who called 911. “Shots fired” is considered a routine call in this area of Texas, usually easily explained by fireworks or the testing of a legal gun. David was not assigned the call – he was a “rover” that shift so he could go wherever needed. Knowing my brother, he heard that his good friends were answering the call and decided to back them up. David was the first on scene, noticed movement by a drainage pipe behind a bush and directed the person to show his hands. David was shot in the head. Chaos followed. The valor on the part of other officers prevented an even more devastating tragedy. However, ultimately the details are immaterial. My brother died.

David did not die because he made a bad decision or took an unnecessary risk. He did not die because he didn’t have enough training or adequate equipment. He died because he wore a uniform.

My brother’s path to becoming a police officer was not an obvious one. Born into a liberal, academic family, David attended a private liberal arts school in Brooklyn Heights (where he was a puppeteer, poet and Chinese language student), and later New York University. He was well-traveled and had been presented with a wealth of experiences and opportunities. His decision to become a police officer stemmed from his experience during 9/11 when he was fifteen. In the midst of the tragedy unfolding in New York City, my brother focused on the people who were working to make things better: the firefighters, the police, the EMTs, the community members lining the streets with water and snacks. The experience was so powerful that he wrote a multitude of poems contemplating the sacrifices required of those brave souls who make others’ safety their calling. Years later, against all expectations and to the great confusion of those closest to him, who had expected him to grow out of these aspirations, David joined the NYPD after college. He became a police officer with the idealistic vision to help make New York City a better place.

As bits and pieces of his biography have made their way into articles and news clips these past weeks, many have been tempted to mourn his loss as an “exceptional officer” in an otherwise problematic institution. This is a mistake.

There are countless reasons why my brother should be alive today, chief among them to give lessons to us all about how to care for one another. Yet, in that regard my brother is not an exception. There are many caring police officers who do good in an incredibly challenging profession. Unfortunately, we tend not to honor these officers. Rather, what makes the news out of the millions of positive interactions officers have with people daily are the very small number of these interactions that devolve into an abuse of power.  Most officers want to and do do their jobs well. They want to keep our streets safe. They want to help those who need help. They want to solve problems in their communities. However, instead of becoming teachers or social workers or psychologists, they chose to make a difference as a first responder, navigating the acute emergencies and difficulties that crop up in each of our lives.

In the aftermath of David’s death, we’ve heard a lot of stories about him from the officers who worked most closely with him. One of his colleagues from the 9th Precinct in NYC told me about how the two of them came across a severely emotionally-disturbed woman. She was rocking and screaming in the middle of a NYC street. His friend, an ex-marine with more years on the job than David, said he would have placed the woman in cuffs, made sure she couldn’t harm anyone, and then talked to her. My brother took a different approach. He started chatting with her, trying to calm her without having to take such measures. The result was that she slapped him straight across the face. My brother, knowing that she wasn’t a true threat first turned to his fellow officer and then back to her and said: “Did she just slap me? You just slapped me! You can’t do that.” The story goes on until the woman is voluntarily strapped into the ambulance and sheepishly looks at my brother and says: “I’m sorry.”

This is what made my brother remarkable. He could create a connection to any other person. Even someone out of touch with reality could recognize his humanity. He conveyed his care and respect for people in many ways, but what the world seems to remember most fondly is his characteristic sense of humor. He could lighten any situation with a self-effacing joke, a bit of quick wit, or the adoption of an absurd German accent. He could bridge worlds. At a gathering after the memorial service in NYC, one officer made a futile attempt to understand this tragedy. He couldn’t. Confused, he could only say: “He loved everyone and everyone loved him: black or white, young or old, rich or poor. He could reach everyone.” My brother’s gift was his ease at bridging the gaps between people. He just happened to be wearing a uniform while doing this job.

We need dedicated first responders in order to help and protect our communities. If we are to promote healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve, we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by negative assumptions about what it means to wear a uniform, just as we cannot allow ourselves to be guided by assumptions about what it means to come from a certain zip code or have a certain skin color. The willingness to heal has to come from each one of us.

We are only presented with the images and stories that represent the polarizing extremes: a cop being killed; a cop behaving badly. But, life happens mostly in between and that is where the acts of kindness are, unknown to most of us.

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[Photo Credit: “The Human U.S. Shield” by 30,000 officers and men by Arthur Mole: This is a picture taken in 1918, which depicts 30,000 officers and men arranged into giant human US Shield. The photographer’s goal was to create a series of images that would help Americans feel good about themselves and boost patriotism.]

A Story: Just Checking

Below is a comment that was posted to one of the previous stories I wrote. It struck me because I’m always amazed by these little anecdotes. They make me realize that we can never know the true extent of the impact Dave had on the community, and more generally, the impact our officers have on the communities they serve every day. Thank you for sharing, Marilyn.

“My daughter remembers him checking on her once. She and her boyfriend were at a cell phone store, my daughter sat outside in her car alone with her head down looking down at her phone…she was in a sad frame of mind at the time. Then, she said she felt “that feeling” of being watched when she looked up and parked next to her was a Euless PD vehicle. He had been there for a few minutes he told her. He said he just felt concerned and wanted to make sure she was ok….It was Dave. His smile and concern for her made it all ok.

On the day he was taken away, she saw his picture and recalled that day, his big smile and kind words…We all lost a good friend that day…Maybe we didn’t know him personally but with my daughter, that one interaction, the kind hearted concern…We will forever miss that and think of him. Out hearts go out to you and to all his family.”

~ Marilyn, C.

A Thought: One Year Today

I took this photo the morning of 3/1/2016. It was a beautiful spring morning and I decided to take the 50-minute walk to my lab instead of taking the trolley. It was a perfect commute and I commemorated it with this picture. I put some appropriate hashtags with the image (#morningcommute #nofilterneeded #agooddaytovote) and went about my day. Now, I think of this picture as the picture-when-everything-was-still-good. It was a generic Tuesday after that  — I taught a stats lab, had office hours, enjoyed a talk at our division’s lunch lecture series, sat through a lab meeting, and probably did some reading. At some point, Jared and I went to vote in the Virginia primaries.

In the afternoon, I was supposed to work out with my friend, Peter. But, he’d had a rough day because he’d recently lost someone he cared about and so he suggested we have a drink at the local brewery instead. I’d had a few sips of beer and we’d just gotten an appetizer when Jared came rushing through the door and found us at the bar. He told me to come with him right now. I gave Peter a look, raising my eyebrows, jokingly indicating wonder-what-could-this-be. But then I saw Jared’s expression. I became confused. As he pulled me toward the door, I stopped him, all of the sudden in a panic. I asked him what happened. I think he just said again that I needed to come with him. I stopped walking and asked him again what happened. He uttered the words: “Your brother. He’s been shot. He’s gone.

Jared somehow got me outside of the brewery. He ran back to Peter to tell him we had to go. Somehow, he maneuvered me back to the apartment, just a few blocks walk away. I walked and collapsed, walked and collapsed towards home, crying over and over again “It can’t be! It can’t be!”

It’s odd how your mind plays tricks on you when you’re in shock. My thinking wasn’t making any sense. Somehow, I booked our flights, intermittently begging a god I don’t believe in for this to please not be true. Then, I thought about whether I could still go to the conference two weeks away. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to do any kind of work for months. Then, I realized I had to pack, but I couldn’t understand what you’re supposed to pack for your brother’s funeral. I decided to stuff a suitcase full of already-worn clothes because I figured I’d worn them already, so I knew they’d at least match. Then, I threw some black items into the suitcase as well. I realized that my grandmother was sound asleep in Switzerland, and I knew I had to lock her out of her Facebook account or she’d see what had happened online. So, I did that next. I called cousins in various parts of the world and charged them with telling their branch of the family what had happened. I called a few of my closest friends — one after the other, each started to scream or plead when I told them what happened. Jared called my advisor and arranged for neighbors and friends to take care of our pets while we traveled.

Somehow, we got on a flight. Somehow, as I sat at Philly airport waiting for the connection, alternating between total shock and sobs, Jared picked up bagels in case we wanted to eat something later. But, we wouldn’t really eat for days. We arrived in Dallas, and I ran right by the officer who had been sent to get us. I don’t know where I thought I was rushing to, just that I needed to get there. She caught up with me and directed us into a private room while our luggage was found. Soon after, I arrived wherever my family was (I still have no clue where that was) and walked in thinking: “This can’t be right. They look normal.” Well, it was right. 

Next, decisions had to be made about the service. Speeches had to be written. An urn chosen. We had to help family from abroad arrive. We had a slideshow to make for the viewings. We had to attend those viewings. I remember getting, literally, hundreds of hugs at one of the viewings. Hundreds. Tight bear-hugs, one after the other, from all the officers. I was weeping, inconsolable, and it was almost as if the tears were squeezed out of me. We were driven from one thing to the next, always with the motorcade of blue lights flashing ahead and behind us. I remember the absolute outrage in the bus when someone cut off the motorcade. None of us could eat, but we drank a lot of Fireball, because that was Dave’s favorite. Finally, there was the big service at Pennington Field. As Our bus rounded the corner, leaving Marta and Dave’s house to head to the service, two little boys stood outside of a home, quietly waving American flags. The bus fell silent. That image is seared into my mind. I will never forget those boys. Just as I will never forget the agony of Dave’s Last Call, beautifully and gut-wrenchingly done by one of the dispatchers.

Next, we had to make plans for and decisions about the service at St. Patrick’s cathedral in NYC. More family traveled to NYC, then did we, with a water cannon salute bidding us goodbye from Dallas. We were taken, by motorcade, from Newark Airport to NYC, all the roads had been blocked and we were flying though an empty Lincoln tunnel before we maneuvered empty NYC streets, and we were finally greeted by dozens of NYPD officers, some in uniform others in civilian clothing, saluting us as we entered the hotel. 

 It goes on and on. I will never be able to put down all the details of what happened in those few days. I can’t even make sense of much of the timeline. 

I’m not quite sure what made want to write this all out and put it “out there” for the world. Maybe, in a way, I’m still trying to understand what happened. Maybe, I just want the world to understand that my brother was not just a uniform. He was an amazing, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent, loving soul, and every single day, hour to hour, minute to minute, his loss lingers over everything we do. Maybe, I’m trying to figure out how to move forward. I think many of us touched by this tragedy are making it through our days, somehow, but completely unsure of how exactly we’re doing it. Finally, at least part of the reason for writing this is because I want to acknowledge the literally hundreds of people who have been there for our family over the course of the last year, and the thousands more who have sent us their thoughts and prayers every day. I learned that tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. Some friendships didn’t withstand this storm, but at the same time, total strangers have become unbelievable sources of comfort and strength. 

The moving-forward-part, though, is much harder to comprehend. I’m not sure how to do that. There’s no recipe for this. A driving force for me has been to think about how I can make an impact in a way that would make Dave proud. So, I’m thinking a lot about that. But, no matter how unclear it all still is, I think there are some lessons we can take directly from Dave. As young as he was when he was taken from us, there was a kind of wisdom to how he lived his life. We just need to look at what he did, to know what we can do too. Like him, let’s love our families. Let’s invest in our friendships. Let’s not worry too much about spending that dollar or smoking that cigar or having that drink. More than anything, let’s care for one another, and ideally, make each other smile or laugh while doing it.

Dave, I miss you beyond words. You were my best friend.

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A Story: Surprise

You know how Facebook allows you to check what happened on this date in previous years? Well, for obvious reasons, I’ve become obsessed with checking it every day. I guess, in a way, I hope to recapture a bit of my interactions with Dave. Every few days there’s something funny or inappropriate he posted to my page, or some cute K-9 video I posted to his. It’s sad, but also somehow a relief to find something that connected Dave and me.

Today is a tough one. The app showed me the video of when Dave, Boris, and I surprised our dad for his 60th birthday just a few days before Dave was killed. It’s so heart-warming, but it’s also gut-wrenching to know that mere days later, from some of the happiest times we went to the absolute worst of times. But, in case you don’t know the story, here it is.

Knowing our dad’s 60th was coming up, we started scheming about what we could do to mark the occasion. Dave always had these ideas about gifting him something really extravagant, like a Harley (or when our mom said “absolutely not” to that idea: a snowmobile). Whatever the idea of the moment, he’d send me links to what he had picked out and was always lobbying for us to start putting money aside for it. Anyways, for this birthday none of us had that kind of money, so we had to come up with something else!

I live in Virginia with my hubby, an obvious possibility was for us to drive the 6 hours for a surprise visit. From there, the surprise mushroomed. I checked with Dave if there was any way he could fly in from Texas, and with Boris to see if he could come from Taiwan — we’re talking about a 20-hour trip here. We hadn’t all been in one place for many, many years since we all live really far from each other and, naturally, someone was always missing from our gatherings. But, somehow, this all came together. So, Jared and I drove up a couple of days early, and were the first unexpected visitors. But, it’s only a 6-hour drive, so this wasn’t all too crazy. Dad was happy, but had no idea what was still in store.

The next day, we made up some story about going to have drinks with some friends who were in the area. In reality, we rushed to the airport were Dave and Boris (with our niece, Valerie) were supposed to arrive. Instead of coming straight to the Newark, Dave had flown into NYC to hang out with his friends there for a few hours. So, by the time he arrived, he’d had a few drinks and, somehow, couldn’t find the international arrival’s hall. How is that even possible?! By the time he finally found his way to where I was waiting for Boris, he had a mischievous grin on his face as I pretended to be irritated. If you know Dave, you know exactly what he looked like with his slightly-apologetic-but-you-can’t-actually-be-annoyed-at-me face.

Shortly after Dave finally found me, Boris and my niece arrived from their long journey from Taipei. We all squeezed into the car and headed back to our parents’. When we arrived, Jared and I went in first and found my dad spread out on the couch watching the news. Dave followed behind me giggling and just sat down next to dad. Then, for the coup the gras, Boris and Valerie walked in, and my dad was completely speechless. Of course, the surprise was great and totally unexpected.

I have a video of the moment everyone walked in, but I can’t bear to post it. It’s too raw, to0 painful and I want to protect that private moment for our family. But, I took a couple of screenshots of the grainy video to include here.

The days that followed the surprise were perfect. We had an amazing 60th birthday dinner. We sat outside on the terrace, chatting, Dave smoking cigars. We had animated, at times contentious, political discussions (imagine imagine for a moment, discussing Bernie vs. Hillary vs. Trump with Dave was wearing a sparkly cowboy hat, drinking whiskey out of a coffee mug). Dave and I had a heart-to-heart about his job and his plans for the future. My mom, as always, told him she was scared for him every day.

So those days were perfect not because we’re a perfect family, but because we were all together. That alone was enough.

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A Thought: The Euless Police Department Awards Banquet

Last week, my family and I traveled to Texas to spend time with Dave’s love, friends and colleagues at the Euless PD Awards Banquet. It’s always unexpected to me how much it helps my soul to be around those who loved and respected Dave most. People who have that link to Dave offer a comforting place from which to experience the range of emotions we go through everyday as we somehow try to reach a “new normal” without him.

The awards banquet was tough but also beautiful. We even met and heard about the actions of people who we didn’t even know had been involved in the tragic events following Dave’s loss. It seems to me that hundreds of people provided their assistance — besides the obvious, officers, EMT, hospital staff, nurses, doctors and more, there were so many businesses, organizations, and city administrators who made sure everything ran smoothly, or who donated their services. Our family had no clue, for the most part.

So, just to really make sure we say it again: THANK YOU.

And, thank you, most of all to everyone who loved and continues to love Dave.

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A Thought: The Coming Days

We’re inching our way closer to the looming March 1st end-of-watch anniversary, and everyone is struggling. How could it have been a year already? The weeks ahead of this date lead to constant thoughts that essentially sum up to the worst countdown ever: every day is marked by a “last” something that Dave did or said.

Not long from now, on my dad’s birthday, I’ll think of our plans to surprise him for his 60th birthday last year.

I’ll think of my mild irritation when Dave couldn’t find the international arrival’s hall at Newark Airport (to pick up our older brother and niece before the surprise) because he’d had a drink too many with friends in NYC before he came to meet us. I’ll think about how he was immediately forgiven because of the mischievous smile on his face as he found me and gave me a big bear hug hello.

I’ll  think about re-watching the video of when we all arrived in Princeton for the surprise and my dad’s stunned face when one after the next family he didn’t expect walked into the living room.

I’ll think about the last heart-to-heart conversation we had the day before he left, where he told me how tough his job could be.

I’ll think about how when he said that he would only have a day and half of work coming up when he got home, I suggested to him that he just ask for those days off and just stay in NYC to hang out. I’ll think about how I really wish I pushed him harder to change his plans.

I’ll think about the last hug I gave him around 5am February 29th to wish him a safe trip home.

A Thought: Christmas

Three years ago today I was visiting our grandma in Switzerland and Dave was at work in NYC. That evening we facetimed to wish each other a Merry Christmas and I randomly took this screenshot. Little did I know that this silly picture would become one of the most meaningful.

I miss you baby-brother…beyond anything you can imagine.

This world will never be the same for any of the us.

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A Thought: 8 Months Gone

Today marks the 8th month since that horrible day. I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems like I’ve been in a time-warp. 8 months?! How is that even possible?! The words fail me today, so I will leave you with some of Dave’s own words.

Back when we moved to NYC, and both Dave’s and my English was pretty poor (I was 14, Dave was 11), we entered a beautiful school in Brooklyn Heights that allows students to pursue whatever interests they can dream up. Dave decided he wanted to give pottery a try. Well, due to a little language mix-up, what he saw in the course listing turned out to be POETRY not pottery – a big surprise on that first day of class. Regardless, Dave must have liked it, because he ended up staying in that poetry class from 5th grade all the way through High School.

Dave wrote many, many poems during that time that we recently rediscovered. Dave kept his writing to himself, so I hesitate a bit to share this. But, just as Dave was good at getting me out of my comfort zone, I was good at doing the same for him. In his thoughts about fragility and impermanence, I see March 1st.

The trees were shaking.
Then I hear thunder.
I looked outside again.
Now the trees were shaking even more.
It was a scary sight, something so
Powerful, so big, so strong.
And yet, shaken up so easily.
Crack…
Or should I say,
Broken so easily.

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I think the poem may be from beginning of high school — so around the time of this photo

A Memory: Maine Winters

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Dave’s love for Maine extended into every season – I don’t think I ever even heard him complain of “mud season” (most of the wet spring and fall that ends up making that whole area a muddy mess). While summers were filled with fishing, boating and kayaking, winters were reserved for snowmobiling.

Our trips always started with a debate about who would ride which snowmobile. My dad ALWAYS picked the Yamaha, which was the fastest, but didn’t have a reverse. When we were younger, Dave and I usually had to share an Arctic Cat two-seater. So, if I was feeling gracious, I’d let him steer first, clinging to the back. Sometimes, I started us up. As the passenger you were pretty much at the mercy of the driver and it could get pretty turbulent back there. Dave would torture me by going too fast and hitting the snowbanks for a little air, till I maniacally slapped him on the back when I was about to fall off. I would torture Dave by taking the curves on the trails too tight, occasionally landing us in a ditch. Somehow, that was my specialty. Once we got older, a third machine was added. From then on Dave landed in a ditch with me much less often and usually just had to help me dig mine out when I got a little too wild.

Our house is right on Mooselookmeguntic lake. Sometime in November or December it begins to freeze over and a few weeks later it’s safe for passage. Earlier in the season, we would take the snow-machines straight to the trails by trailer, but once the lake was safe, we would jump on the snowmobiles in front of the house, take a little trip through the yard, carefully navigate the rocky lakefront and then we’d be free to race over the perfectly flat frozen lake for miles until we’d reach the town, buy a few snacks and finally get on the trails from there. We would ride for hours, stop somewhere with a nice vista, hang out a little, munching on chips and going back and forth about how good or bad the trails were that day or whether some maniacs were riding on the wrong side of the path. Of course, there was always a mandatory discussion about what top speed everyone reached:

— I hit 87 mph!
— Oh yea?! I hit 91!

Sometimes the numbers got a bit outrageous… as in, I’m pretty sure Dave exaggerated!

After our little break, we’d settle on a place to head to for a real meal, eating calorie-laden delicious comfort food, our dad sipping a cold beer. Then we’d gas up the snowmobiles and head right back on the trails. Sometimes we’d be on the trails long enough that we’d have to ride back in complete darkness, which was always a bit disconcerting, but also utterly beautiful with a clear night sky overhead. Sometimes, we’d be hit by an unexpected snowstorm, limiting our visibility to almost nothing and making us slow down to a few mph until the weather cleared again. No matter what, it was always a good story later!

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A Thought: On Strength

People tell us that they admire our strength. Honestly, I don’t feel strong. I don’t think my parents feel strong either. Many days we’re not quite sure how we made it through. In the early weeks after Dave was killed, my mom would say that she didn’t know how she was breathing, and we all knew exactly what she meant. Now, things are a little more manageable.

I guess.

It’s so hard to put into words what life is like now.

My life looks, mostly, “normal.” I walk my dogs. I shop for food and cook. I go to the gym. I attend classes, run data analyses, teach, have meetings and write reports. So, anyone looking in would see a busy grad student. But, mostly it feels like a facade. Just underneath the surface, more often than not I’m thinking about what happened on March 1st, about how long it’s been, about missing Dave. There are constant reminders of him everywhere I look. If I see a patrol car pass, I wish I could talk to the officer – to feel closer to Dave’s experiences, to thank the officer for doing their job, to talk to someone who knows on some level what all of this means (so far, no luck — I’m much too boring for the police to pay attention to me!). When I see a bird of prey overhead, I remember how much he loved them. He could identify the exact type of bird by their outline as he watched them from below. When someone mentions their sibling, I feel a knot in my stomach. When I see something ridiculous, I hear the joke Dave would have made. Sometimes, I manage a chuckle.

Spending time with my family and people who knew and loved Dave is the time when I have permission to let what’s under the surface come to the forefront. In those moments, with those people, I can just be in that grief – however it may express itself. Instead of pushing my thoughts and feelings to the side, I can let them come and go. The best part is, everyone understands. I think that in allowing myself that time, I can work on building myself up again.

So, whatever strength I have is coming from the love and care around me. The grand gestures aren’t what makes this easier — it’s the little reminders that you’re thinking of us: the random texts to say hi and the absurd snapchats that are best forgotten soon after opening. It’s the clever, gritty jokes that remind me so much of Dave’s sense of humor. It’s getting made fun of for being a “tree-hugger” or “super-liberal” (I imagine a cape-wearing superhero). It’s the little tributes to Dave that pop up regularly on Facebook, or just new comments on old posts. I see you think of him and of us, and I know you’re sharing our burden.

So, we may not feel strong, but I guess we’re still standing, still taking one step at a time into, hopefully, brighter days ahead. We’re doing what needs to be done, and we’re doing it with you by our side. So, thank you.

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Our table in the Texas Senate chamber for the Star of Texas ceremony on 9/12/16

On Your Birthday

Today, you would have been 30, baby bro. Today, I should have been able to call you and sing you an atrocious rendition of “happy birthday.” I should have been able to tell you that you’re officially old, and you should have been able to tell me that I’m older still. I should have been able to tease you about having to look out for those hangovers that would all of the sudden start, probably even with that night’s celebration. 

I should have been able to welcome you into one of the best years of your life: a year where you and your love would have had your beautiful wedding day with all your “best buddies” (since you could never restrict yourself to only one best man); a year filled with Mickey’s shenanigans in your newly renovated first home; a year where you FaceTime me from your fire-pit, a glass of whiskey and stogie in hand, just to show me how amazing your pool looked and to tell me that life is good; a year of constant requests to come visit again, or you know, to just move to Texas already; a year of texts to show me the newest smoker experiment and, probably, tell me there’s Fireball in the marinade; a year of super-impressive dubsmashes and wildly inappropriate, yet surprisingly artistic, snapchats; a year of random much-too-generous gifts for the people you loved; a year of ridiculous German accents and impressions; a year of gym selfies showing off your “godlike physique” and updating on the circumference of your biceps; a year of spreading only the biggest laughs and the deepest care. 

We should have been able to tell you to have an amazing day celebrating, envisioning only the most wonderful things for you. Instead, we’re left with only the memories that have already been written.

You are so, so loved. And, you are so, so missed. The amount of love you have generated in others is beyond comprehension. If we can achieve the same in our lifetime, we will have done well. 

Today, we’ll raise our glasses to you. We’ll cry for you. We’ll laugh for you. And, most of all, we’ll try to live our lives a bit more like you did, ’cause let’s face it: you had this living-thing down.