JUST WEEKS ago, my daughter’s mother moved out of state. The kid’s been having a tough time with it, and with school, and with her upcoming tenth birthday, which won’t work out the way she hoped. And then, over the weekend, her laptop and mine both broke—hers by cat-and-ginger-ale misfortune, mine by gravity abetted by my stupidity.
To lighten the mood, this morning broke grey, pounding rain. We pulled on our hoodies, scooped up our bodega umbrellas, and shrugged on our backpacks—hers heavy with school books, mine with gym clothes, a camera, and two busted laptops.
We were standing by the elevator when an apartment door burst open and Ava’s best friend in the world sprinted down the hall to hug her good morning. The two girls embraced until the elevator arrived.
The whole dark wet walk to school, my child hummed happily to herself.
WHEN my daughter was little, she used to ask me my favorite color. I was a grownup, and could only supply a grownup’s answer: “I love the way light looks in late afternoon,” I might say. Or, “Red and black can make powerful statements in graphic design.” Grownups don’t have favorite colors. But children do.
Rebecca Meyer had a favorite color. It was purple. A color that might be expressed in the hexadecimal language of web design as #663399.
As many of you know, Eric and Kat Meyer lost their daughter Rebecca to cancer on Saturday. Rebecca Alison Meyer was a ray of light. She was six years, eleven and a half hours old when she died.
Some of us know Eric through his two decades of work on behalf of web development and web standards. Some of us know Eric and Kat as friends. Some of us only know of the Meyerses because of Rebecca’s story, as her parents courageously and with unyielding clarity shared it over the internet day after day during the past year.
All the caring and all the medicine, all the prayers and all the love from friends and strangers, could not stop this cancer from claiming this child. Caught between horror and hope, all of us watched as the Meyer family fought to save their beautiful middle child’s life. They did everything that could be done to save Rebecca. Then they did more.
Now it’s time to do something for them. Some little, heartbreakingly inadequate thing for a girl who got dragged into a fight no one could win, and stayed a pure, brave spirit to the end.
Rebecca will be buried this Thursday, 12 June. On that day, let us celebrate Rebecca by calling the internet’s attention to her. In the words of Matt Robin, who came up with the idea, “let’s get #663399Becca trending for Thursday 12th.”
It’s so easy to do, there’s no reason not to. Go to Twitter on 12 June and post the hashtag #663399Becca along with any additional words or pictures you feel moved to share. Or just share the hashtag. It will not be enough. Nothing will ever be enough. But it will be something.
(The family requests that charitable donations be made in Rebecca’s name to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House or the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.)
MY DAUGHTER cries and begs me not to leave on my business trip. I hold her and tell her I will return soon.
My grandfather died in a plane crash between New York and California. My mother, who was eleven, had begged him not to leave. He lied and told her he would cancel the trip. I never lie to my daughter.
I always thought my grandfather died on a business trip. Two years ago I finally learned he was actually flying to California to divorce my grandmother. My mother never told me.
My grandmother never told her children their father was dead. They figured it out gradually.
When my mother was a young adult, her fiancée died in a plane crash.
My mother was never able to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.
One of my jobs is to help my daughter learn to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.
It is hard for any parent. Harder when you are divorced. My daughter is sensitive, creative, and has a learning disability. She feels different from other kids. Family is everything to her.
My daughter is everything to me. To support her, I do several jobs. Jobs I love, working with people I love and trust. One of my jobs requires me to travel frequently, staying away for up to a week at a time.
My father worked twelve hours a day to support his family. We grew up in his absence and long shadow.
I am grateful for my daughter’s life and my ability to spend so much time with her. She knows her parents love her and will always be there for her.
MY PHONE SHOWED three consecutive voicemails from my dad’s wife. I told myself, this can only mean one thing. Fortunately, it meant something else. You know your father is getting on in years when a fall and bleeding and a hospital stay are good news.
THE JAIL DOOR SLAMMED and I was left in a women’s holding cell with seven teenage girls. There were no benches so we sat on the floor. I was fifteen but looked twelve. With long hair on my head and not a whisker to my chin, I resembled a homely girl, although the plainclothes officer who frisked me could have verified otherwise. The cops had picked us up in Point State Park after observing us pass a joint. They’d intended to bust a big dealer named Lonnie—a white guy with long red hair. Fortunately for Lonnie but unfortunately for us, a white guy named John also had long red hair, also happened to be in the park, and also happened to possess and publicly share a joint.
I was there after trying to find a summer job selling hot dogs at Three Rivers Stadium. 10,000 other boys my age had had the same idea that day. Possibly a dozen of them landed a job. My friend Mike and I did not. It was a hot day, and after waiting in line for three hours to fill out a job application, we were ready to go home. But first we had to pick up Mike’s friend Donny, who was tripping in Point State Park.
Donny was our age but looked eighteen. His dad was in the Mob. There were guns in his house. Mike looked up to him the way I looked up to Mike.
Mike and I found Donny sitting in a circle with a bunch of teenage girls and a red-haired guy resembling Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. We were tired and they were girls so we sat with them. Someone passed a joint and I pretended to smoke it so nobody would know how uncool I was. Moments later a half-dozen men in suits and dark sunglasses burst from the bushes like clowns from tiny cars and began frisking and collaring us. Nobody tried to run away. It took a while to realize these guys were cops. A man in a hat made me stand up, then felt my balls. I asked if he was gay and he hit me in the face. After that I didn’t say anything.
We rode downtown in the back of a genuine paddy wagon. It must have been more fun, or scarier, for the kids who were actually high.
The officer who separated us by sex put me in the women’s cell, which was good with me. We were the cell’s only occupants; me and the girls hung out playing with matches, learning each other’s names, and wondering what our parents would do to us if we ever saw them again.
A few months before this, I’d been picked up for shoplifting. I hadn’t actually done the shoplifting—my friend Paul had. I didn’t even know he’d taken anything. But the sales girls at G.C. Murphy’s hated Paul and me, and the cops believed their story, so I now had a juvenile record in my parents’ suburb, and was about to get one in Pittsburgh for drug use.
I’d spent the previous year getting beaten up for moving to Pittsburgh from somewhere else, and for being Jewish, and for being small, and for having no facial hair, and for not knowing how to fight, and for not swearing, and for not stealing, and for not smoking, and for sucking at gym, and for raising my hand in class, and for knowing the answers to the teacher’s questions. Now I was a delinquent and almost nobody picked on me. Maybe there was an alternate path out of being the class punching bag, but, if so, nobody had clued me in.
There was a little window in the jail door, just like on TV. After a few hours a lady cop appeared in it and began taking everyone’s information. I was the last one to go to the window. The lady cop asked my religion and I said none. She didn’t like that, although it probably explained things in her mind. She shut the jail door window when she left.
Two minutes later she was back with a male cop—a huge black guy named Tiny, who made me leave the cell and follow him. During the jail door window interview, I’d given my name. I guess somebody had looked twice at it and realized I was a guy. Tiny escorted me to the cell where they were holding John, Mike, and Donnie. I joined them and the door closed. We all watched Donnie come down from his acid trip. It didn’t look like fun.
My father cut my hair short and grounded me for two months. He cut it himself with a hair cutting kit he’d bought at the drugstore in the town we’d lived in before Pittsburgh. The box the kit came in said “Cut Hair At Home And Save!”
We were tried as a group in juvenile court. My parents and Mike’s parents attended. Donny’s dad did not. Before the trial my lawyer instructed me not to deny I’d smoked pot because nobody would believe me. I was to plead emotional instability and request probation on the grounds of being from the suburbs. Right before our trial began, they sentenced a 14-year-old black kid to six months in a juvenile detention center for stealing chewing gum. I stood up. I don’t know what I intended to do. Yell at the judge for being racist, I think. My dad grabbed my hand and pulled me back to my seat. I could see in his eyes that he was afraid for me. My whole life, I’d never seen my dad look afraid. His eyes made everything real.
As part of a plea bargain, my parents agreed to send me to a psychiatrist. I was given a year’s detention and forbidden to enter Point State Park.
I started using drugs the next day. If I had a record, I was going to live up to it.
6:00 AM, AUSTIN. My nine-year-old vegetarian daughter just phoned from New York to inform me that matzo ball soup is made with chicken broth. She has just learned this fact, and wanted me to know so I wouldn’t accidentally eat food made from animals while I’m away. I thanked her and assured her that matzo ball soup is not a thing in Texas.
While my ex has been away this month, I’ve watched her two small dogs. And so have my two cats—especially the black alpha. Add an active eight year old girl to that menagerie and you have 34 busy but blissful days.
That time ends now.
This morning my daughter and the dogs shuffle off to her mother’s apartment, where her grandparents will take loving care of them all.
I mark the occasion by packing my bag for Boston and clearing away a last wet wee wee pad.
FOR TWO YEARS, our daughter was bullied in school. The school didn’t notice and our daughter didn’t complain so we didn’t know. Finally a mom saw and told us. After that, things happened quickly. One result is that we changed schools.
During those first two years, our daughter shut down emotionally and psychologically from the moment the bell rang in the morning until school let out at night. Maybe this shutting down was a reaction to the bullying. Maybe there were other causes. What’s certain is that she didn’t learn. She didn’t learn the kindergarten stuff. She didn’t learn the first grade stuff.
The old school noticed the learning problems and provided support programs that helped, but did not close the gap. The school warned us our daughter would probably flunk kindergarten, but in the end they passed her along to first grade. The first grade teacher worried, but in the end passed her on to second grade.
Now she is in a school where they pay attention, in second grade, lacking skills her peers learned in kindergarten.
Catching her up takes hours of extra homework a week. It takes patience and cunning as we work to cool a fear and dislike of learning that’s been baked into her soul for two years. Some days I want to cry. But for her sake I smile.
LISTENING to Coltrane. Taking a break after assembling American Girl doll bunk beds. The tuxedo cat has appropriated Ava’s American Girl doll tent as his personal summer house. Ava is making up a song about wishing on a star. End of summer. Happy.
Here is a story my daughter wrote in school today. I’ve corrected the charming first-grade spelling.
I was going to school with my Dad. I did morning meeting lunch recess and I went to Miss Vickie’s. We made stories. I wrote about Toys-R-Us. It was the end of the day. My dad picked me up from school. I played with my cats and with my Smurfs. I watched a movie. My Dad made me dinner. I rang my neighbor’s doorbell. I asked for a play date but I couldn’t ’cause she was taking a bath. So I watched the Simpsons. My Dad read me a story. I kept on wanting my water. I tried to sleep but I could not. One of my cats bit my hair. So my Dad put him in the kitchen. But I still couldn’t sleep. I got scared but my Dad held me tight. So I wasn’t. I looked at the ceiling. My Dad was snoring so I went to sleep.
MY EX-WIFE is one of my heroes. Six years ago today, during 33 hours of labor in a stiflingly hot room, she brought forth our daughter. When my body rebels in the gym, I think of her courage and push out another rep. When a lift or stretch hurts, I remember what she did and breathe through the pain. From her and those long moments, I learned mind over matter. From witnessing and helping during those 33 hours, I learned that life is blood and bone, and that we can achieve anything if we push hard enough.
Thank you, Carrie, for that lesson and for this girl. Happy sixth birthday, dearest Ava. And, by wonderful coincidence and similar courage and marvels, joyous first day on earth, Nash Thomas Hoy. Fill your lungs and holler, boy!