Thursday, September 21, 2023

Emissivity Revisited

Moving into 2023’s bike MS weekend, I found it necessary to review and revise a blog series from 2019. My words are stronger, my body is weaker, my message is more relevant than ever before.

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The emissivity of my MS — Chapter 01



Emissivity is the measurable release of energy (thermal radiation) from a body. In my Army Aviation days, I learned this as the fourth factor of thermal imaging in the Pilot Night Vision System. The thermal imaging system of the Apache passively translates heat—either reflected off, transmitted through, or emitted by a target.

What does this have to do with me? I’m the target, and multiple sclerosis is my heat source. What my friends and family have seen for the last 24 years is comparable to the thermal imaging scenario I described.

Reflectance: the damage from my MS constantly reflects off me—my physical impairment, the limitations placed on me, and the losses I have experienced. The physical, professional, and emotional burden is sometimes onerous for me to see beyond that reflection.

Absorbance: the amount of shift I have had to absorb because of my MS is unquantifiable. “Suck it up and drive on” is more than dumbed-down Army logic. Even if I wanted to show the world everything my MS does to me, I wouldn’t know how to start or if my reflection accurately portrays my plight. I hold back for lack of alternatives. MS has taken much from me. Still, I refuse to let it occupy more of my precious time than it already controls. I repress the suffering of my past in favor of promises my future holds. I don’t want the only image of me to be my battle with MS. I hide fear so I can show elation.

Transmittance: my writings tell me I have become proficient in this subset. Through personal examples, I often try to show multiple sclerosis’s devastating effects on our community of victims. I generalize their effects by showing you my MS, but I am describing the standard/medical/textbook definitions of MS offered through the backdrop of a target (me).

If thermal imaging ended there, with just those three factors, I might be OK. Heck, it got me this far! There are so many flaws and holes that when I read the beginning of this story, the questions outweigh any other thoughts I may have.

Where does the energy come from?

What decides the impact energy has on a target and how that target will respond?

What happens to absorb energy?

When does energy turn from absorption/generation into emission?

A combination of scientists, neurologists, and therapists spend an awful lot of time trying to understand these questions and how they relate to me, the target. My ongoing healthcare appointments often focus on where my MS issues come from. Time determines if an impact is reflected or absorbed.

I reflect. I transmit. I absorb.

But for how long?

For 24 years, I have absorbed much of the pain, loss, debilitation, and damage exacted by my MS. Time has not softened its efficacy; repression has not dulled their energy. Nor have my dirty little friends been idle, instead raging and burning with intensity. How long can this last?

Emissivity is my theme as I roll into 2023’s Bike MS we can. Good or bad…Lighthearted or somber…Positive or filled with rage, my stories this season will highlight my MS’s burden on me. I will make this personal. I will show you what MS does to one individual–me.

I will apologize one time, right now, for the topics included in my detonation of energy that has been absorbed and generated within me. I will share openly and honestly the translation of my MS through rage, fear, passion, humility, delight, horror, indifference, sarcasm, and so much more.

My non sequitur approach won’t hide behind the cover of protection provided by my family in the MS community fighting alongside me. I won’t focus on the statistics and percentages we face as a group. I need to tell you the story of what my MS has done to me and why I will ask for your help finding a cure because nobody else should live like I have for 24 years.

The Emissivity of Pain

The emissivity of my MS — Chapter 02



What are the expectations for someone who endures 24 years of pain? It’s a slippery slope for a variety of reasons. Showing pain elicits sympathy. Aring too much pain too often shifts feelings of martyrdom towards overreaction, hypochondria, and narcissism. Masking will draw connotations of bravery, getting better, or “It’s not that bad for him.” I always thought it was best to show a little bit of one, a pinch of the other, and absorb the rest.

I REFLECT the pain I struggle with in not-so-subtle, direct ways. I try to tell the world, “Because of my MS, I am in constant pain.” I usually do this in my blogs when searching for sympathy and support during fundraising season. In the same way, other MS patients’ pains TRANSMIT through me when I share examples of the common burdens we experience. My revelation hopefully draws sympathy while my smile highlights bravery as I mock the pain with a hearty smile and casual pose.

Even in those extremes, much is ABSORBED. Often forgotten are the trials of my “normal” days. Getting out of bed in the morning… Going to bed at night… Standing too long… Sitting too long… Trying to cook… Trying to eat… Dishes… Laundry… Heat/cold, reading/writing, doing too much/too little/anything at all…

Every moment of my day draws pain and discomfort. How do I draw out all I have absorbed because of my MS? What is the emissivity of my pain after 24 years?

I can’t scream. A set of muscles in your neck are responsible for producing sound and speech. These laryngeal muscles are part of the long list of damage from my MS. A while back, I was dining with a group of friends when one of them popped their chair up to scoot it closer to the table— and right onto my shoeless toes. That hurt, and my first reaction was to scream. What came out was a screeching sound akin to a bathtub full of screaming baby piglets. It did not have its intended effect.

I can’t cry but am momentarily sensitive to the slightest tug at my heartstrings. On no less than seven separate occasions, Eleanor had to ask me if I was OK yesterday. We were watching an old sitcom rerun, one of those sappy episodes. In every emotional scene, muscles constricted in my neck and chest. I don’t know why I could not contain myself; I’ve seen the original dozens of times. Although emotions are a common symptom of MS patients, my expressions are uncomfortable “choked up” feelings at insignificant times. Beyond that–I turn cold and indifferent.

I limit the emissivity of my pain to words for now. Maybe writing is my first step. In the long run, I don’t want to limit my reactions to random spurts of “Fuck,” “Ouch,” and “Help.”

I don’t want to absorb any more pain.

The Emissivity of Loss: Rejection

The emissivity of my MS — Chapter 03 of the 04

A reflection on shades of my former self…



Call it what you want. Moving on, Pushing Aside, Retiring, Replacing, Unwilling, Unable, Unsafe. Any way you slice it, my MS has led to much more loss than the sensation of my nerves and atrophy of my muscles. It swept aside promising careers as a leader in both the US Army and corporate America when I could no longer do the job for which I was once desired. Past adventures have been relegated to “back in the day” stories. I dismissed relationships and connections because of my MS—the fear of the unknown, the resentment over what I no longer offered, and attempts to reject my personal struggles. What I once loved, stood for, desired to be, or hoped to learn are now all indices in my accumulation of losses.

I write about my losses as a REFLECTION of the man I was before MS came into my life. All too often, those images are the first things many people see. Loss and rejection are often the connections I try to make between myself and the rest of my MS community, TRANSMITTING the primary, secondary, and unseen effects of sclerosis.

I ABSORB the sensation of rejection.

·         “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

·         “You cannot change the past.”

·         “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” ~by the way, Reinhold Niebuhr, thanks for your nebulous cliché.

The burning difficulty has always been my refusal to accept that which I have “been told” I cannot change. Anguish and anxiety flourish when the person I was along my journey and trials, or the person I have become, offends someone because I am not the person they feel I ought to become/remain. Anger, resentment, and anxiety remained buried for too long, scabbing my heart until almost nothing could penetrate; if nothing could reach my heart, nothing would hurt. Or so I thought…

Some connections still reached my inner core for more reasons than I’m sure you care to explore. Loving family. Caring friends. My vision of possibilities. Love. Eleanor. For my Emissivity Project, I decided to expose the hurt of loss and rejection I have absorbed. I found there was no more hurt underneath the scab I ripped away. The only reminders I had were the scars I carried.

The emissivity of my loss and rejection has only seemed to expose a heart buried under almost 24 years of scars. I think I will work to keep it that way. As I experience further loss because of the effects of my MS, which I’m sure I will, I’ll reflect on it in my blogs and conversations (my therapist will have some busy moments). For any personal rejection, I’ll address and move on; I harbor no resentment for past grievances, nor can I apologize for what I went through. I’ll transmit the pain my entire community experiences as a reminder of why we must continue to fight.

I guess Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is not as cliché as I once thought.

The Emissivity of Fear

The emissivity of my MS — Chapter 04



Fear is the worst of all the projections my MS effectively focuses on me. Any pain I experience pales compared to the fear of what I will feel tomorrow or the constant worry that my current levels will never recede. Not-yet-experienced losses always seem to exceed today’s sadness. Absolutely every physical, mental, and emotional effect of my MS clouds me in fear.

I REFLECT the fear my MS emits through a thin mask of sarcasm and bravery (stubbornness, ignorance, foolishness...). I’ll share posts of my hospital visits in hopes of eliciting sympathy or reassurance that it’ll get better. Don’t tell anyone. I will never admit this!

Through my stories, I’ll TRANSMIT the fear MS creates on “others” (translation: me) by using examples of how they could overwhelm me if I were a weaker man (they do/I am).

Most of my fear has been unsuccessfully ABSORBED for almost 24 years. Unsuccessfully, I say, because I recognize there is a trickling emissivity of fear that will kill me if I don’t get a hold of it. Isolation. Self-destructive behavior. Extremes of health, fitness, diet, alcohol. The slow leak of pent-up fear does nothing to lessen the nightmares churning within.

Writing helps, although I think it sends the wrong message when I project my fear through the characters I’ve created. I chose this blog to focus on myself and the fear that grips every moment, the fear created by my MS. My fear has held me back and redirected my energy for too long. No longer embracing disenchantment because of my MS, I will focus on strength, growth, power, and health (all mentally and physically) undeterred by my MS. In my words, I will focus on reflecting my current fears and transmitting the fears of my community. I don’t want to absorb any more.

I recognize that it exists — I know what causes it — I know the detrimental effect it has on me — I know what I’m missing out on — I want to break my cycle — I want to fight — I want to win — I will never stop — I will never quit.

Disclaimer: multiple sclerosis differs vastly from patient to patient. No two instances are the same. Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment are just some factors that lead credence to the saying, “Once you’ve met one MS patient, you’ve met one MS patient.” My experiences described are unique to me, but there is an underlying pattern in the fight each of us faces.

Because it is a fight.

The fight is not over and it won’t be over until a cure is found.

It will never stop…nor will we

It will never quit…nor will we

This is why we ride!

Never Stop… Never Quit…®


Please donate today:

100% of the royalties from my books support our fight:


Never Stop… Never Quit… Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

683 Shades of Red

Short Story

Photo by Cassi Josh on Unsplash
683 Shades of Red

“I saw another one yesterday.”

Rick started the conversation in a bored, almost indifferent tone. But before he spoke, the session began with his usual routine. Rick stared at the floor for precisely 60 seconds after his therapist opened the door and formally invited him into her office. He then darted across the room to a leather couch, sliding across its length. In time, Rick came to rest with his legs crossed at the ankles and both hands palm-down across his chest. After Dr. Gillian Polk seated herself and opened her portfolio to a clean sheet of white legal paper, he began with those words.

“I saw another one yesterday.”

Dr. Polk did not need an explanation.


“On the highway,” he said, “headed downtown. We were driving to the museum, Cindy and me. I never saw one with my daughter around.”

Dr. Polk wrote on her pad as they chatted.

“What did you do?”

Rick twisted at the accusation, eager to defend his response. “Nothing. I’m not going to kill anyone with Cindy nearby. Besides, the glow was more of a mahogany, not the bright hue that tells me they’re ready. Perhaps it was darker…

“No,” he confirmed, “it was mahogany. RGB 66, 13, 9.”

Dr. Polk wrote a note on his choice.


“Mahogany, huh? I never heard you use that shade before.” In over three years, her patient never described mahogany in his visions. Rick drew in his chin while furling his brows as if the answer lay buried beneath the folds and wrinkles of his face. Then, suddenly, he pulled upright and sat on the couch’s edge with renewed energy sparked by his discovery.

“That’s right, doc! I had never seen that shade. What do you think it means? Am I getting better?” Gazing around the room, Rick Metter looked for a place to focus and regain his composure. He showed appreciation for his doctor’s modest decor. “I like your office, doc. No red.”

Vibrant walls contrasted with the jet-black leather furniture. Pastel paint blended into countless shades of banana, bamboo, and early spring leaves in a festive display of bold colors. Dr. Polk’s library volumes were bound in almost as many shades of blue—periwinkle and powder, royal blue, even hues of ultramarine. The greens and violets countered dusty earl gray in that kaleidoscopic paradise–every color imaginable.

Except for red.

Dr. Polk avoids red. Her clients hate it—they fear it—even though they usually cannot see the color. If they might, red was best not displayed. Rick reclined back and accepted the truth. “Mahogany is still a long way off. No, it doesn’t mean I’m getting better. It just means my color wheel is more refined.”

Before continuing, Doctor Polk noted, REFINED COLOR WHEEL.

“More refined, Rick? How so?”

“I had to go online and find a new one that included that shade. It took a while. They have to be RGB. I can’t stand HEX.” Rick squirmed on the couch. Polk knows he despises talking about shades of red. But it was the reason Rick came, so the conversation continued. The goal was to talk through these issues before someone else had to die.

“Either they didn’t have that exact shade, like mahogany, or they didn’t have one other. Burgundy is so hard to find, but I finally located one with all my shades together.

“I needed to see how close it is to Pure Red. Nothing happens until they get close to Pure Red.” Rick thought he was pretty clever, tapping his index finger against his right temple to reinforce the point in case his doctor didn’t pick it up. The word VALIDATION etched into her pad indicated she did.

“Once I match my new shade, I can add it to my palette. Do you have any idea how many shades of red there are, doc?”

“No, Rick, I do not,” she responded. Her manner seemed to confirm his suspicion.

But that answer was not true.

Rick Metter was not Doctor Polk’s first patient with this unique affliction. He was, however, the only one currently under her care. She released all the others when they completed their treatment program. After 17 years, Doctor Polk was proud of her 100% success rate. Rick hoped she could keep that streak alive. The 15 months it took to find her were the scariest in his life.

Doctors diagnosed Rick as colorblind. Their assessment was clinical, but not entirely accurate. With true colorblindness, a person will only recognize shades of black and white. They suffer from a condition called complete achromatopsia. Rick was color vision deficient. He cannot see shades of one color, red. Rick was blind to anything within that visible spectrum of light. Like most with his condition, doctors diagnosed it when Rick was a toddler. Unable to find the correct crayon; losing toys or articles of clothing when they faded into pigmented background. In his case, the problem went beyond an inability to pick up different shades. His mind ignored the color as if nothing existed in its place. There wasn’t even a hazy image when the child stared in the direction of his brother’s red baseball glove. Rick’s mind did not acknowledge the empty void his eyes refused to penetrate.

Child psychologists thought it was an emotional response to his difficulty interpreting the color. “Give him time,” they said. “There’s no need to force the issue. He will grow out of it someday.” So, the Metter family learned to live without red.


Shortly after Rick’s ninth birthday, the worst snowstorm in a hundred years hit Castle Falls—a late-winter surprise for the tiny town. While the city struggled to dig itself out, its children played for days, deep within their juvenile metropolis. With drifts as high as eight feet, they built elaborate networks of connecting tunnels, some running 90 or 100 feet before a hole burrowed to the top, offering the little adventurers a much-needed air supply. Children remained buried in the intersecting web of caverns for hours. Little Ricky had been in the tunnels for over 45 minutes when he began to get nervous—quite a while had passed since he had seen or heard anyone.

“It’s got to be getting dark by now,” he whimpered, but there was no way to know. The overhead snowpack was thick. Three attempts to dig through caused mini collapses, turning his panic into a frenzy. When his flashlight dimmed, Ricky knew the battery did not have long. He picked up his pace.

Pulling a tight turn into a new route, the freighted boy stopped and froze. In front of him, Annapaola Manetti peered into his eyes. Just as scared and twice as cold, she smiled ear to ear at the sight of her quirky classmate.

“Ricky,” she sighed, “thank God. My flashlight went dead, and I can’t get out.”

“Woah!” was the only sound to escape his lips, his wide eyes scanning Annapaola’s petite frame.

“Ricky! Ricky, come on! Ricky!”

“Anna. Sorry,” Ricky said. He was alert, but not entirely out of his trance. “What are you wearing?” He was sure it was before winter recess when they were last together outside the classroom.

“The same thing I always wear, silly.” Indeed, Anna wore the same winter gear as always. At least since Christmas: her new coat, hat, scarf, gloves, and boots.

He asked Anna about their color. She shrugged her shivering shoulders.

“I don’t know. Some sort of red.”

Ricky had not noticed her for the last two months because the clothing draped her in red. In that snow tunnel, in the fading glimmer of their light, he bore witness to the most beautiful array of vibrant paints.

“Red...” Ricky’s voice trailed off again.

“I’m cold! Which way do we go, Ricky?”

Losing inhibitions, he picked a tunnel—one of three at the intersection. Flashing his light in the intended direction, he grabbed her gloved hand. “I think this is the way back,” he said, but Ricky still could not take his eyes off Anna.

“That’s a beautiful color.”

Little Ricky woke up the following day, refreshed and ready for more. With one utter, “Anna,” he bolted downstairs, eager to tell his mother he saw red.

Sitting on their battleship gray couch, John consoled Betty as she sobbed and beat her hands into his leg. Ricky stopped halfway down the steps. “Mom?” His concern was genuine–his innocence sincere.

John popped up at the sound of his son’s voice. “Rick,” he ordered, “take care of your mother.”

“Where are you going?” was an unnecessary question as his father pulled on a dusty brown parka with a silver lining. “I’m joining the others, and we’re gonna get rid of those goddamn tunnels.” Ricky wanted to ask why. He wanted to beg his father to stop, but words failed the boy. Trailing his fingers down the moss-green wall, he did what he was told. A frightened son cared for his grieving mother in silence.

They found Anna buried beneath eight feet of snow. The weight of the drift collapsed a tube she was inside. Fortunately, no other tunnels gave way–only the one. Anna died alone, cold, and frightened in the icy tomb. Somewhere, she lost one of her fiery gloves.


“I remember that outfit,” Rick continued his conversation with Dr. Polk. “It was red. Bright blood red; not a dark tone like I’m told they use in movies, but the sharp color blood boasts when it’s saturated with oxygen–full of life. I needed to see more.”

“But you never saw oxygen-saturated blood?” Dr. Polk challenged his clinical description. As if time stood still, nothing moved while the two played out the chain of events once again.

“No. When I grabbed her throat, she jumped back against the walls. I guess the tunnel was a hair away from caving in. Anna pushed it over the edge.”

“But you made it out?” Polk prodded Rick’s story forward.

“The collapse only covered my legs. I shook them free and continued down the tunnel.”

“And you never want back to check on your friend?”


“Why not?”

“I don’t know.”

“That is not true, Rick. We’ve reviewed this before. Confront the story.” Polk knew the answer, but it was her patient’s story to tell.

“I was afraid I would see her. I would see her red.”

“And if you did?”

“I would need more.”

The conversation was no longer limited to questions and answers. “You chose not to go back.” The doctor summarized the rest of Rick’s story. “You did not go back. You didn’t find red. Instead, you made it out of the tunnel and ran home. You told no one it buried Anna alive.”

“No, but the news the next morning did not surprise me.”

“Nor did it frighten you.”


“Then where does the description of oxygen-rich blood come from?”

“Doctor…,” Rick pleaded.

“The ‘mesmerizing sharp color blood boasts when it’s saturated with oxygen’ was how you described it. Where does that knowledge come from?”

“Why do I have to tell this story every single time?” The anguish on his face was far from the apathy he carried into the appointment.

“Cradle to grave, Rick. Cradle to grave.” The therapist’s tone turned instructional. “We’ve talked about this. We will only get past your mania if we visit the problem cradle to grave. There was no need for Rick to reply. It was the same direction their sessions always took. To end the nightmare, he needs to describe its lifecycle.

“I understand.”

“Where did that knowledge come from?”



Rick was a 23-year-old graduate student when he met Carmine. PMS 150, 0, 24.

The only sound heard from the corner of their world was Rick’s deep, forced exhale as he closed his textbook, Variational Methods of Applied Mathematics, and slumped against the chair.

“Dante!” Rick screamed with both eyes closed, extending the last syllable of his cry while he stroked his temples.

In an equally drawn-out wail, his roommate wasted no time firing back. “What?”

“I fucking hate math.”

“No, Rick, you don’t,” Dante reminded him. “You love it. Besides, it’s the only thing you’re good at, dumb ass.” Dante was right on both accounts. Rick loved math. It was the only subject where colors did not cloud his mind. The answers were right/wrong, one/zero; you could even say black/white. Even when forced outside of a purely numerical existence, he could still consider the statistical and mathematical modeling of real-world scenarios. Everything translates numerically–even blood.

Rick knew he was right, but wasn’t ready to give in to Dante’s argument.

“I need a break. We need a break. Beer!” It was the only solution.

“You buying?”

“As usual, you cheap bastard.”

Dante was already double-knotting his second shoe when he heard those magic words. He grabbed his jacket off the hook and bolted out of his room towards the front door. “Let’s go, geek,” he said, flicking Rick in the ear on his way past. “This nerd needs a beer.”


Grimes Pub was less than a quarter-mile walk from the apartment Rick and Dante rented—a typical college town: cheap housing and plenty of bars. Grimes was the perfect break after a long week of finals. The two boys needed a jumpstart before the last exam.

“I’m telling you, Dante,” their conversation continued, “it’s the same. You can apply the Perturbation Theory equally to both the Asymptotic Methods of Non-Linear Dynamics and Linearized Quantum Mechanics.” Rick bounced along, crafting his explanation as his fingers drew and stacked invisible boxes in front of his friend’s field of view. “All you have to do is break the problem down into smaller, solvable parts.”

Dante remained unconvinced. His “All you have to do...” response was more mocking than validating the summary. Not lost in translation, his sarcasm only egged Rick on more.

“…then, my friend, you stack the answers together.”

“I don’t even know what the problem is.”

“It’s just math, Dante.”

Both stopped when they reached the pub’s front door. With one hand on Rick’s shoulder, Dante took a deep breath and pleaded, “Stop, man. Please stop talking about math for a couple of hours, okay? I’m never going to grasp these theoretical models, not like you. I’ve never even seen you get a question wrong. That’s your world.”

Dante’s tone sharpened, “Me? I don’t give a fuck. I want to pass this class so I can crawl back into my world of AI modeling. You can stay buried in numbers and wherever they’re taking you.”

Rick nodded. It was the slightest sign he understood Dante’s words, but it was clear his mind was still deconstructing and conditioning algorithms. However, his attention snapped to Dante’s face when he felt the pressure of his friend’s hand soften and slide down his arm.

“Let’s not talk math right now. Okay?” Rick’s affirmation was more deliberate.

“There are a lot of people inside. Stick close to me. There is one step to the door. Slide your foot along until you feel it, then step up. Okay?”

Rick nodded.

“We’ve done this a thousand times before. Let’s get our drink on.

Without saying a word, Rick nodded and lifted a nervous smile. Dante turned towards the door, with his friend close behind. When Dante uttered, “Step,” Rick watched his friend’s foot rise three inches above absolutely nothing and slowly walk across an empty void. He had indeed climbed that void a thousand times before, yet fear gripped Rick as his feet slid forward until they bumped into, then stepped up onto, the bright red entranceway. He refused to look down as he walked along, only relaxing when they entered Grimes Pub.

Based on everything Rick told him about his condition, Dante often gauged how difficult a crowded place would be. He thought that day was going to be easy. Grimes Pub was a dingy spot. Dark wood bar, shiny brass rail, peppered by a few loose chairs. Black and brown. He could tell summer was right around the corner when he stepped through the front door. College kids packed the room wearing their brightest bounty of clothing–lots of whites, blues, and pastels. Dante never worried when he noticed clothes with red letters or designs. They came across as speckled images in an otherwise recognizable form—like an old-school television with poor reception. There was one exception.

“Rick,” he said while pointing. “See that big, floating bald head over there?”

Rick had to chuckle at the description. “Fat man with a red shirt?”

“Yeah. Fat man with a red shirt.” Deadpan humor worked best in some situations.

Broken images bullied Rick as a child, but they were commonplace by then. As long as his brain could recognize the larger image and understand what probably was, or should be, in the void, there was no problem. He figured that afternoon would be good with only one danger in the bar.

As he enjoyed his first sip of beer, Rick focused on movement far back in the bar. He nudged Dante with an elbow to his rib cage.

“Look at that,” he demanded, pointing at the commotion.

“Look at what?” There was nothing of the ordinary.

“Fireflies. It’s a bunch of fireflies dancing around that girl.”

“Dude, I don’t see any fireflies. Do I have to cut you off already?” Dante played along. “Which girl?”

With an agitated thrust of his finger, he poked the air in her direction again. “Her,” Rick said. “The brunette, the long straight-haired brunette. The one who hasn’t stopped talking since we walked in.

With an approving tone, Dante commented, “Ooh, she looks like a feisty one.” Dante’s description of his next moves if she took him home made Rick chuckle. He knew his friend had never picked up a woman in a bar. He probably never picked up a woman anywhere.

“But she’s definitely out of your league, Rick. Besides, those aren’t fireflies, doorknob. She’s a ‘hand talker’ going on a mile a minute. You just can’t see anything because of her nail polish.”

But he could. Rick didn’t need a moment to muster enough courage to introduce himself. Leaving his beer on the bar, he bolted towards the back. Rick never considered waiting for a pause in her conversation. Instead, he stretched his hand before closing the distance between them, softly cupping her petite palm with his.

“What color is this?”

The woman was thrown by the confrontation, unable to move and only willing to say, “Huh?”

Rick’s awareness caught up with him.

“Sorry. Hi, I’m Rick. What color is this?”

“Hi, Rick. I’m Tracy.” Tracy’s reaction was positive, but neither her friend nor Dante, who finally caught up, could understand the reason. Fear? Attraction? Curiosity? They were all reasonable possibilities. “Do you like ’em? I had my nails done this afternoon. They’re a gift to myself because,” her volume pitched to a scream, “Finals Are Over!”

The proclamation drew a resounding “Wooooooo” from three-quarters of the pub. Dante did not celebrate; he had his Applied Mathematics final in the morning. Rick remained calm as well; his fascination with Tracy’s fingers was the reason.

“But what color are they?”

“Uhm, red,” she giggled.

“That’s not any shade I’ve seen before.”

“How many shades of red have you seen?”


Tracy looked confused by the answer but never gave it a second thought. There was too much fun in store for that night—too much steam to let off after a long, grueling term. She grabbed Rick’s shirt by the midsection and pulled his body close. Only after a prolonged kiss, once her tongue savored every morsel of Rick’s mouth and lips, did Tracy pull her head back and answer the question.

“The salon lady called it Carmine. I got my toes done, too. Look!” She fell into his arms and lifted her sandaled foot to eye level. Blame it on the alcohol, the celebration, or the skinny geek with such an odd pickup line, Tracy pushed on with a wink. “I got the full salon treatment today. Want to see?”

Dante’s jaw dropped when he watched his friend scamper behind the buxom brunette with fresh Carmine–painted nails. She gulped her drink before leading Rick out of Grimes' Pub through the unpainted side door.

Dante’s friend reappeared two minutes before their exam began.

Rick aced it.

Tracy became a permanent fixture in their apartment.

She was never without Carmine.


“And do you remember how that made you feel?”

Dr. Polk knew how he felt when Tracy stopped wearing her Carmine nail polish. The story was Rick’s to detail, however. He needed to tell the entire story if there was a chance for closure.

Fighting through his sobs, Rick hid both hands inside his blazer and continued.

“I didn’t know what to do. We had been dating for three months; Tracy knew all about my issue. She couldn’t find that brand anywhere. I honestly believed her, even though it broke my heart. I lost my fireflies.”

He continued to tell the story of how Tracy and Dante hunted for a replacement for Carmine. The manufacturer had discontinued that polish for “lack of demand.” Dante broke the code when he discovered the perfect color palette online and shared it with his friend.

“He was a software engineering student, so his computer setup was nice. He called it a ‘QHD’ monitor, I think. Ultrahigh resolution. Anyway, he found a palette with Carmine on it. 150, 0, 24. I’ll never forget the smile on his face as I gazed upon the nearly empty screen.

“‘That’s it,’ I told him. ‘That’s my firefly!’ One beautiful square appeared in the middle of nothing until my eye caught a second image in the top right corner. ‘What’s that called?’ I asked.

“‘That, my friend, is red. Pure Red. 255, 0, 0.’

“And there they were. Tracy and Anna, together. It turned out to be the cruelest of scenarios.”

Dr. Polk wrote as Rick continued to talk, capturing his conversation with emotions.






Rick realized his condition was not physical. It was in his mind, perhaps his heart. He never discovered Carmine again in the real world. Carmine only reappeared as a two-dimensional image on a palette. Tracy tried but could never reconnect the color in Rick’s mind. Similar nail polish, eyeshadow, clothing…they were just empty voids. Once Carmine disappeared, it never returned.

“I remember when she came home with Crimson on her lips. 184, 15, 10. We had been playing that game for a while. We thought it was fun. Try to ‘recapture the passion’ we experienced with Carmine. I wonder if our recklessness was to blame for everything that happened.”

Dr. Polk noted his change in tone. She marked the highs he found when revisiting each of their discoveries.

#199 CRIMSON 184, 15, 10.

#415 CHILI RED 194, 24, 7.

#537 IMPERIAL 237, 41, 57.

She noted the heartache Rick described whenever a color faded to nothing, marked only as a new entry on his palette.

“The night we discovered Candy Apple 255, 8, 0 was when I first looked forward to losing the vision of that shade off Tracy’s luscious lips. If our pattern held, I was mathematically destined to reconnect with Pure Red 255, 0, 0.”

“Did you rediscover Pure Red?” Dr. Polk asked, probing for an answer she already knew existed.

“I did.” There was a certain satisfaction with the doctor when one of her patients achieved self-realization. If Rick was going to heal himself, he must confront his fears.

“And where did you find that mesmerizing sharp color blood boasts when saturated with oxygen, Rick?” Dr. Polk leaned forward and repeated the question. She closed her eyes and waited to savor her patient’s response.

“You have to hurry. The color fades from Pure Red so fast.” Rick looked around the office, but salvation was not in sight. The doctor was going to make him repeat it. He turned to catch her stare as she braced to hear the words, the tip of her tongue grazing across the Black Olive lipstick she used to conceal her temptation.

Rick laid back quietly, closing his eyes as he pulled both hands under his chin. Still clutching the fiery glove he brings to every appointment, he gave in to Gillian’s healing without reservation.

“When blood leaves the heart from the aorta, it is mesmerizingly sharp. Tracy stopped moving, but her blood continued to pour. It poured from her body until it momentarily immersed her in Pure Red.”

“And then what happened?”

“She was gone,” Rick sighed. “She faded away. There was nothing but a blank void in her room.”

“What did you discover?”

There was no more anxiety in Rick’s voice. He carefully answered his therapist’s questions. “I found Pure Red. It was inside Tracy all along. It was inside each of them all along.”

As the erotic satisfaction grew inside Dr. Polk, she had one last request.

“Tell me about each of them.”

For 45 minutes, Rick detailed every color that led him to Pure Red.

Hibiscus 180, 55, 87

Desire 234, 60, 83

Salmon 250, 128, 114

Folly 255, 0, 79

Rick sobbed and his eyes grew bloodshot from the emotion. Dr. Polk turned her chair away as she crafted her vision of each encounter that climaxed in Pure Red.

“…and I’m afraid of what will happen to Mahogany the next time we meet.” Rick collected his composure as their time ended. The session was over, beginning his dreaded wait until their next appointment. But Rick knew the routine; he knew the rules. Don’t talk, leave. As he turned back to watch his therapist writhing to absorb the enormity of his actions, he hoped she would be his salvation.

“I don’t want to live this way anymore,” he whispered.

“I promise you, Rick,” the doctor assured. “You won’t.”

A dormant sense of hope resurfaced in Dr. Polk’s patient, a faint smile forming as he closed the door behind him. The doctor gasped her first breath of air before attending to her session notes.



ASSESSMENT: #682 TORCH RED 255, 0, 1

“I promise, Rick, you won’t live like this anymore.”

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Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Suicide, 35 Years Later

I don’t remember much about you, Dad, but you are my focus in this attempt to reflect on the moment everything changed. Many of my friends and loved ones need to understand what suicide will do to a child for the rest of their life.

Snapshots of the man I knew until I turned 16 are often random, quirky moments that carry no significance beyond their proof that we were together at some point. As far as I know, relating to children was difficult for you. I just fell into your same routine, doing things you would do even when I was not around. A Yankee game blaring on the television while you cooked up a bluefish we reeled in earlier that day. Of course, we must have visited the ballpark a time or two. I don’t remember any of those trips. Our story is stuck on one random day you cooked bluefish.

You taught me how to play pinochle down at the Half Crown. I am still an excellent bad pinochle player. My strategy is solid, but I get lost trying to total the melds. I don’t remember who else played or what I drank. It was probably just soda—what else would they serve a kid as he sat at the end of a bar with his dad?

We were jogging out in Pelham Bay Park the day I first told you I started an application to West Point. You seemed proud, but I remember your reaction was somewhere along the lines of, “That’s a tough place to get into. Don’t get your hopes up too high.” I don’t remember my response, but I did not listen, instead putting all my eggs in that one basket. You would have been so proud watching every step of my journey.

Only a handful of other memories bounce around in my head. TBI from a car accident when I was 25, multiple sclerosis, and time washed most of my recall, leaving only translucent whispers.

Of course, I have pictures. Not as many as I should. Grandma died three years before you (I remember nothing about her death or funeral). In the throes of whatever demons you faced, all the history from your side of our family ended up in the trash. Those photos Mom kept after your divorce are my proof you existed, evidence that I once lived a vibrant and happy childhood.

Gaps in my memory are toxic soil where nothing grows. Surrounded by beautiful images of your granddaughter and troves of magical experiences that I struggle every day to keep is that wasteland. Its voids are peppered with arbitrary traces of times abandoned for unknown reasons. That is where you exist because we have planted nothing new since October 8, 1988.

One memory I wish would fade is seven minutes of that day. I feel like it happened this morning.

You looked so peaceful when I walked into your bedroom. Serenity was my first warning.


I called out twice in a hushed tone, hoping you overslept and forgot we were supposed to get together that Saturday morning. I don’t recall what we planned, but I remember your haunting image, face-down under the covers. Your left calf was stiff to my touch. I still see the horrifying kaleidoscope of blood and chunks splayed from your left temple when I lifted the pristine powder blue pillow used to muffle the gunshot. I never looked for the .38 nestled in your right hand. A single bullet hole in the wall was enough confirmation. I dropped the pillow and sat alongside your body. It is the single most peaceful moment I have ever experienced.

“When did you start to lose memories?”

“When did constant noise and chaos first flood your mind?”

If I had an answer to the first, I might piece together the second. The best I can say is that at some point soon after October 8, 1988, I began to run. Perhaps that was the moment I started to purge memories.

Maybe not.

My entire life is a consequence of that crisp fall morning. As much as I continue to deny any claim that I am a victim, that my poor choices and their repercussions are not the results of that first brush with horror, what you did put a silent exclamation point on everything I have been since the day you committed suicide. It took me 35 years to come to grips with this reality.

Here is the message I need to share.

I wish my curiosity had turned into questions rather than fear when I was a younger man. “Why?” would have sparked conversation. Many people offered to help me search for answers, but I rejected their outreach. Terrifying images became my nightmares that triggered a fight-or-flight response. There is nothing about your suicide that I can fight—there never was. Instead, I jumped from one life to the next with little disregard for what or who I left in my wake. For more years than I care to admit, I ran. Unfortunately, those foolish mistakes are the times my mind chose to keep.

The image I cherish is not the man who thought he had wasted his best chances for happiness. Among scattered shadows that stare back at me and say, “Hold on to that memory,” I keep photographs on my refrigerator. They serve as reminders, challenging me to recall the sights, sounds, other senses, and emotions from those days. The irony is that your picture is from over three years before I was born.

The face I see is a man I never knew, one who would become the faint image still in my mind. It is your file photograph from when you joined the NYPD, on your way to a noble career serving the people of New York City. You were young, strong, and confident. I sometimes wonder if you were excited about the future. You accomplished so much in your lifetime, achieving marks that still leave you in the superhero category of my heart. Did you think you had overcome your turbulent past? I look at your picture and smile because I want to believe it was a good day. To my friends, I say this: What memory you pick does not matter. Hold close something that was good.

The last thing I need to do is remember there were many bad days to follow. I don’t know what you could have done to change your outcome, but I don’t think you tried hard enough. The bottles left behind, the prescription meds collected in excess, and the relationships you shunned in favor of distractions did not ease your pain. They only pulled you closer to the day you left a bloody corpse in a bed for your 16-year-old son to find. We both traveled dark paths, but the image of your last bad day was a blessed reminder in 2003. It forced me to reach out to loved ones for a lifeline. It forced me to talk. I don’t know how many more bad days I could have endured, but you showed me how emotional pain only worsens when it’s not treated. I no longer have an obscene collection of discarded bottles or medications. I’m trying to not shun relationships, even if my life is still an avalanche of distractions meant to ease the agony.

Sometimes, I try to wish things were different. I wish you had a chance to meet your granddaughter, to hold all five of your grandkids. I wish my daughter knew you as “Grandpa” or “Pop-Pop” and not just “your dad.” But that is not the case, and there is nothing I can do to change the past, so I move on. I want more than lost opportunities.

October 8 is a Sunday this year. It will be a day I never wanted to describe until I discovered the power of my words. Now that I have finished our story, your memory will once again sit silent in my heart and mind.

For the first time, Rogue and I will ride together at bike MS on September 23. I’m trying to change something I don’t understand. She knows many of my demons—I never met yours. She sees my body weakened and struggling—I only remember the confidence of a man who never faltered. I will continue to be the dorky dad, showing up in her world no matter how out of place I may feel—you only invited me into your routines, unable to see life through the eyes of a child. I don’t want to kill myself—I don’t think that was your plan. Hopefully, I will be enough to end our cycle.

My reaction to your suicide, those gripping emotions that are impossible to share, turned to inspiration. “What if you could capture and re-create sensations?” I answered that question with my next story. With a smirk on my lips, I chose to release Sensations on October 8, 2023. Selfish promotion? Lemonade out of lemons? Perhaps, but stories are the only way I can illustrate my turmoil.

My favorites are those based on the utter confusion in my head that I just can’t quite accurately describe; the alternate fantasy world became a surrogate for the chaos I was unable to express otherwise. (“Chaos” 2018)

I am going to take full advantage of our mistakes and pain. I earned that.

On that Sunday, I travel home from my 30th West Point reunion, where I will have celebrated that milestone with my beloved classmates. They embrace me, though I remember very little of our time together. Two days earlier marks 24 years since I first read the words “possible multiple sclerosis” on my lonely drive back from a Korean hospital.

Just like October 8, 1988, just like October 6, 1999, my mind races today with the thought of, “What’s next?”

Many more bad days are sure to follow, but I hold on to the memories of everything good. The fear that builds in me will become questions, thoughts, and stories I share with the world.

If your story helps one person, if mine brings someone a single night of comfort, our mistakes were not in vain.

Please consider a donation of support for Rogue and Kevin, riding together in Bike MS: Oregon 2023.