Thursday, August 18, 2022

Announcement #2 – Free Promotion

 

To celebrate the rerelease of these four published books exclusively on Amazon, I’m running a free Kindle promotion from Friday through Tuesday (August 19 – 23).

https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-Byrne/e/B01IWR8P3G

Go to my Amazon author page if you would like to own a free copy of:

My MS and E

…in abeyance

Annie Flynn – first row, second desk

Moments

Of course, you can always buy a print copy anytime through Amazon. Contact me directly if you would like a copy signed by me (and E). Kindle prices will go back to normal on Wednesday, August 24.

100% of all royalties go directly to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, a charitable organization supporting the fight against multiple sclerosis.

Never Stop… Never Quit…

Kevin

 


Please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.



100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Kevin


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Announcement #1

I'm excited to announce my rerelease of four published books exclusively on Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions). 100% of all royalties go directly to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, a charitable organization supporting the fight against multiple sclerosis.

Click on the link to my Amazon author page if you would like to purchase any of the great titles out there: https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-Byrne/e/B01IWR8P3G

This is preparation for the release of my next novel. Sensations will come out in early 2023.

April 27, 2034 – Eleanor Nickerson developed technology that records and recreates human emotion. Once labeled the 21st century’s greatest gift, a worldwide crisis places her against government attempts to control the experience and the underworld’s exploitation of our need to feel. Ellie now faces her truth when pressed for the vision of her creation:

“I am not a God.”

“But what if you were?”

Never Stop… Never Quit…

Kevin

 

Moments (novel)

Dominic Bandall is a condemned man. A once powerful attorney in New York City, he and his law partner, his wife Sharon, focused on their never-ending fight for justice. Now an aged man, his body is battered from the crippling ailments he has endured in his lifetime— his mind is burdened by the memories of the 9/11 attacks that killed Sharon and so many.

On February 28, 2019, a young law student named Angela Grant met him at his office in Honu‘apo, Hawai‘i, to conduct a series of interviews. What transpired over the next 10 days began with his first confession: “I can see moments in time, Angela.”

 

… in abeyance (a novella) and

Christopher Baxter is a man recognized for his accomplishments: West Point graduate, medical doctor, combat veteran. Chris is also a condemned man-a man who struggles with the familiarity of circumstances he has carried his entire life.

Nothing else changes; no mystical stories or tales of fantasy. What would you do if humanity stopped dying? As the world struggles to come to grips with dormancy, is one man-Chris Baxter-just another unwilling participant, the curse, or their salvation?

 

My MS and E is a children’s picture book depicting a typical interaction between Kevin and his daughter, Eleanor. They share an unbreakable father-daughter bond, even in the face of his ongoing struggles with multiple sclerosis.

 

Annie Flynn - first row, second desk (short story)

Annie Flynn knew early on where life would take her. “The northeastern region of Syrtis Major Planum. That’s where I’m going to land.”

Experience the magical life of Annie Flynn, from those early years in the first row, second desk to humankind’s first landing on the red planet.

 

 


Please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.



100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Save the Date!

 Monday, January 31, 2033

Place and Time: TBD

 

Dear Standard Insurance Company, all executives and employees,


Please save the date for my celebration of tomorrow and plan for an exciting future.

Why January 31?

Way back, in February 2022, one of your disability benefits analysts presented me with an offer regarding my long-term disability claim with your company. I was honored that he would “like to offer an opportunity to settle your claim in exchange for a lump-sum payment.”

It’s every little boy’s dream to be chosen for such an honored opportunity, especially since “The Standard does not routinely settle LTD claims for a number of reasons.” I won’t lie, I was tickled pink.

Unfortunately, after several rounds of misleading calculations and not-so-veiled threats, like “we know that you write books” and “if you do not accept the offer, you will still have to regularly validate your ongoing disability (to prevent fraud)”, I was still unable to understand how you came to the lump sum dollar amount presented. I’m pretty good at math, so it was odd that my calculation was quite different. I said it was wrong — he said it was right, showing me “the full three pages of the present value calculation you received.”

I thanked him then showed him again, this time in detail, how his calculations were wrong.

And the Truth Shall Set You Free!

Nevertheless, your determined analyst persevered, taking my question regarding the deductible income adjustment to your actuarial department.

Imagine his surprise when he found out that there was another variable not included in “the full three pages of the present value calculation!” I wonder if you can imagine my surprise; I can’t.

Apparently, “the present value calculation process incorporates actuarial mortality assumptions.”

So, since your team did so much hard work and determined the correct mortality assumptions for an individual living on disability with multiple sclerosis, I figured I would take the baton and do some more of that math I love so much.

By the calculation of your actuarial department, discounting for the time value of money, my life expectancy is 131 additional months. I will be dead by the end of January 2033, at the ripe old age of 61.

Let’s Just Pretend

I know your guys are smart, but please humor me for just a moment. What if I become a medical wonder and exceed the medical expectations of Standard Insurance Company’s actuarial department?

That would be nice. I would definitely want to celebrate.

Therefore, please save the date. When I’m not dead on January 31, 2033, I would like to celebrate with all my close family and friends, and with my advocates at The Standard. There will be food, drinks, music, and lots of celebration. I may even have a piece of cake!

In the Meantime

I have lots of party planning to do. Thank goodness I have 131 months. Formal invitations will follow as we get closer to the event.

In the meantime, here’s some wonderful reading for your actuarial department about the life expectancy of individuals living with multiple sclerosis. It was published in 2020 by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke — Wow! Say that five times fast with a mouthful of crackers.

“Multiple Sclerosis: Hope Through Research”

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Multiple-Sclerosis-Hope-Through-Research

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

The disease is rarely fatal and most people with MS have a normal life expectancy. New treatments can reduce long-term disability for many people with MS. Currently there are still no cures and no clear ways to prevent the disease from developing.

I have enough challenges to deal with daily, so please don’t try to stack the deck against me more.

Please consider this an official decline of your opportunity.

I hope you’ll still come to my party!

Kevin

 

This is not about what my life will be like when the fight is over.

I will never stop…

I will never quit…

This is my story

Never Stop… Never Quit…®

***

Please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

DONATE HERE

100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

 

 

 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Chaos–2022

Chaos – 2022

I first wrote this piece in 2018 as a preface to explain the logic behind my collection, The Ramblings of a Condemned Man. Four years later, as a new world began to take shape, I decided to dust off these digital pages and revisit my rationale for using the word.

“Chaos” is not a perfect choice, but it is the best explanation I can supply when I address the inevitable question, “What are you thinking?”

My life has always been rife with chaos. Some of the turmoil was inflicted on me — I am merely a victim. Other times, I have been guilty of instigating disarray. Of course, chaos is often a simple fact of nature. My most memorable moments occurred when all three energies combined. As to the correct proportions of responsibility, prudence would expect me to split much of the blame between nature and others. However, I can’t fault the darkened skies of nature for somber winter moods any more than I can blame her absence for summer drought. And, though others have been witnesses, partners, even agitators to my stupidity, I cannot lay blame on them for the chaos my mind wrestles with. I take ownership of it all.

I don’t believe my body experiences a greater share of hardship when compared to others. My mind, however, finds it challenging to see beyond the chaos, many times to the detriment of peace and beauty around me. Looking back on my life, images that most often come to mind are the chaotic, the horrific, and the truly burdensome. At some point in the past, my brain let go of many great recollections for some unknown reason. The memories that remain often play second fiddle to my demons.

In and of itself, confronting chaos is not bad. You can achieve a great deal of satisfaction by solving impossible challenges, overcoming overwhelming odds, or righting the wrongs around you; it’s the calling of every superhero. But, when or where does it end? At what point will our hero look beyond today’s villain, stop reminiscing over yesterday’s evil, and forgo anticipation of tomorrow’s plight?

It must be nice, taking off the cape to enjoy the win and rejoice in today’s treasures. But unfortunately, this freedom is not afforded to condemned men. My sentence is the recurring vision of chaos. The reality of my multiple sclerosis (MS) antagonizes turmoil already deep inside me. Twenty-three years later, I remain fascinated by the continuous thrashing my body has undertaken since my diagnosis. My mind constantly rattles its dedicated response to every emotion and fear I possess: “What’s next?”

I am indeed a condemned man, but not for the reasons you might assume. The chaos of my MS falls mainly into the last category: it is a simple fact of nature. I’m not a victim of my disease; MS is just another obstacle in life. Compared to other forms, one powerful difference with the chaos of MS is that an answer exists to the question, “When does it end?”

Never.

Writing is my way of soothing all forms of chaos, easing the daily wounds they inflict on my mind and body. I began this adventure in 2008, writing stories meant only for our unborn daughter. Ailish never joined her mother and me in this world. Weighted by grief, we experienced an agony once unimaginable to me. I wasn’t yet mature enough to simplify this emotion as chaos, but I was drawn to continue writing my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about life to someday share with someone. On August 28, 2010, Eleanor was born. I remember thinking, “I already have so much to tell you.” Everything I write in those pages is for her to read when she receives my journal, and it becomes hers.

Later in 2010, writing became a response to the increasing chaos caused by my MS. The blogs I still write are my way of expressing hope that someday there will be an answer to “When does it end?” By exposing everything to my readers through my blog and confronting chaos, I raise awareness in our fight against the devastating effects of multiple sclerosis. More importantly, the more I write about the chaos of my MS and share it with others, the more my fears lessen. The semi-biographical character named Kevin Byrne now carries the weight, not Kevin Byrne, the author. In 2017, I published My MS and E, a children’s picture book version of a recent blog post. It tells the story of how Ellie beautifully navigated my world MS during one magical trip that created moments so wonderful. There is no chaos in the world that could ever dampen those memories.

If writing helps me cope with my MS, why not apply it to other aspects of my life?

As it turns out, I was already doing that exact thing. In 2014, while Ellie spent the week at OMSI camp (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), I spent that time in an East Portland internet café drafting the novella …in abeyance.

So, I went back and finalized the story with this new outlet of expression. The main character, Christopher Baxter, is a personification of the chaos I carried with me for far too long. Chris is who I am, was, wanted to be, feared, struggled to overcome, and so much more, wrapped up and scripted into an entirely fictional persona who lives in a fictional world (with a heavy smattering of historical context in this alternate reality). Placing the turmoil onto Chris’ shoulders relieved the burden from my own.

I began to write stories overflowing with the anxieties of my unrest. Sometimes an entire saga addressed just one struggle I faced. My favorites are those based on the utter confusion in my head that I can’t quite accurately describe any other way. Some stories are dark and gruesome; others express a more thoughtful perspective. Alternate realities became a surrogate for the chaos I could not otherwise express.

Regardless of why I wrote the stories, sharing my chaos this way helped me sleep a bit better. Maybe it discounted my fears. Perhaps it validated them. However, I hoped that my therapeutic benefit from writing paled compared to the enjoyment you receive from reading my tales.

I gathered some of my favorite stories and, through the NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT private foundation, published The Ramblings of a Condemned Man in 2018. They were the words I wrote or revisited to help me battle a harsh struggle with MS and personal chaos that lasted nearly two years.

In the blink of an eye, it was 2022.

I got a call last month regarding the progress of my MS. It was from the insurance company that handles my long-term disability; one of their actuaries determined that my disease is now considered “total, permanent, and irreversible.” I asked them why they deemed it permanent AND irreversible, rather than just one or the other. He didn’t understand the question.

The insurance company was my final holdout, still tracking how I progressed, hoping I would get better. Now, it’s unanimous.

In the four years since I first shared “Chaos,” my body has weakened, my muscles have atrophied. I deal with the constant pain of chronic neuropathy, torn muscles and tendons, bladder diverticula, scoliosis, and a host of other symptoms. I guess permanent was not sufficient to describe just how fucked I am — my condition is permanent AND irreversible.

In the four years since I first shared “Chaos,” I am happier and more at peace with life than I have been for many, many years (my brain lost track of that last moment).

Writing became a release for so much chaos it quickly became my drug of choice. I published …in abeyance as a separate novella, followed by Annie Flynn – first row, second desk. My first novel, Moments, and a short story collection, Triune, soon followed. I was writing away the constant noise of my chaos as quickly as it built. I continued to write and share. I battled back against my physical decline by increasing my hours in the gym. I continued to reverse the effects of poor diet and nutrition by dropping the excess weight my body could no longer handle. I looked better, felt better, sounded better.

But, like any euphoric drug, addiction has a dark side. “Just to make the pain go away” became my reason for living. Healthy beneficial activities are neither healthy nor beneficial when they become an obsessive focus. My writing suffered; my body began to feel the pain of overexertion; my weight dipped far below a healthy target. I replaced one set of chaos for another — if I do that long enough, they will both rise up and crush me. As everything worked so much better on the outside, my thoughts focused on, “I don’t want to live like this.”

In October 2019, I stopped trying to fix the broken in favor of building my life. When I thought my 17-month journey was complete, I began to share “Reconstructing and Defining Kevin” with my readers. Over the next four months, the real work began. I exposed flaws in my effort to repair “something broken” in my life. I was still searching for resolution; I continued looking for closure. I found neither.

There will never be a lasting resolution of my priorities. Each concern I hold dear will require attention and care for the rest of my life, more on some days than others. Nevertheless, I embraced my discovery and their connection to the Seven Dimensions of Wellness.

But that’s another story…

What Does This Mean for My Chaos?

Though it is still there, chaos no longer controls my life. I recognize my memories, fears, and anxieties as subconscious responses to my surroundings, yet they no longer trigger. Only through my capacity to monitor then positively regulate those responses in each dimension of existence can I profoundly affect my wellness.

What Does This Mean for My Writing?

I want to breathe life into pages far beyond anything I have accomplished to date, telling tales conjured up by my constant noise. No longer will I look to put words down solely to ease my anxieties. Instead, I will write stories because sometimes I smile as my mind floods with the images I create. I may laugh, cry, or even nod my head in approval of the tale. On other occasions, the crafted images chill me to the core. I want to elicit a bounty of reactions as I breathe life into stories, narratives, reflections, and rantings.

Rebuilding and Rebranding

I have begun the process of removing my published works from distribution. After cleanup and revision, I’ll re-release my titles through these channels:

·         Books: My MS and E, …in abeyance, Annie Flynn – first row, second desk, and Moments, will republish. Publishing and distribution channels are still in negotiation. 100% of all royalties received will continue to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT in support of our fight against the damaging effects of multiple sclerosis.

·         Short Stories: the remainder of The Ramblings of a Condemned Man and Triune will publish for free on my blog site, https://neverstopneverquit.blogspot.com. I just want to share; If you enjoy the stories, please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.

On the Horizon

After these changes, my focus will revert to the stories that flood my mind.

·         My short stories will continue. I have been busy sharing tales over the last few months. I have no plan to slow down.

·         Sensations, my next novel, is tentatively planned for the end of ’22 or early ’23. More to follow.

·         My journey, documented in the raw blog series, “Reconstructing and Defining Kevin,” is currently under revision and will gain new life as a piece I hope will help others as much as it guided me on this journey.

·         I will continue to blog, sharing sometimes-too-much detail on my journey. There is so much in motion now; the days are not nearly long enough.

To those who think my disability is permanent AND irreversible, you may be correct. However, the thought doesn’t scare me. My writing is no longer an exercise based on anxiety, fear, and resistance.

I choose to focus on what my writing is — what it is for myself and what I hope it brings to the hearts and minds of my readers.

Kevin

February 2022

 

This is not about what my life will be like when the fight is over.

I will never stop

I will never quit

This is my story

 

Never Stop… Never Quit…®

Kevin Byrne

Portland, OR

www.neverstopneverquit.com


Please consider a donation to NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT.



100% of your donation will directly support our fight. We pay the cost of managing our foundation.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. You will receive a receipt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Short Story


Peanut Butter and Jelly

“Grandpa! Grandma!”

Lilly’s squeal bounced across every wall throughout the two-story home in a way that only a five-year-old’s squeal can bounce. She stood at the top of the stairs tracking every step the two made.

“Dad!” Lilly said. “Grandpa Mike and Grandma Gail are walking up the driveway.”

“What are they doing so early on a Monday morning?” Dad’s voice came from somewhere.

“I don’t know. Grandpa has a big bag in his arm,” she said. Still up on the second-floor landing, Lilly dropped to her belly to get a better look through all the front windows. “I can’t see where they went.”

Dad peeked out from the bathroom, shook his head, and smiled. Lilly was still trying to scout the positions of her visitors.

In a calm voice, he suggested, “Why don’t you go down there and see what they’re doing?”

“Good idea!” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Lilly darted down the stairs to wait by the front door. The anticipation was almost too much to contain. Was Grandpa behind the front door, waiting to surprise her with a “Gotcha!” if she got too close? Maybe he was sneaking in around the side to zap her with the tickle monster. It was quiet. Too quiet.

When Dad started to make his way down, he was not surprised to see Lilly still by the entranceway, head turned and one ear pressed against the door. “Are they here?”

“I think so. But I can’t tell.”

Dad was still amused. “What can you tell by listing to the door?”

“Not much.”

With a chuckle, Dad tussled his daughter’s hair as he urged her out of the way He unlatched the bolt and turned the handle, coming face-to-face with an all-too-familiar sight.

“Geez, Pop, Gail. Get a room, you two!”

Mike smiled and said, “Ha! Sorry about that, Brian. Love is in the air, Son. Love is in the air. Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Brian moaned just loud enough so everyone could hear him as he turned to make his way back upstairs and finish getting ready for work. On his way, he mocked his father’s happy mood.

“Love is in the air… Whatever,” he said, just quiet enough so no one could hear him.

Centerstage was now open for Grandpa Mike.

“Who’s ready for some Valentine’s Day breakfast?” Mike sang in his best, ‘Come on down!’ tone.

“Me!” squeaked the first voice.

“Me!” squealed the second.

“That sounds like a tie to me,” Mike said.

Lilly and Gail stared each other down with grimacing scowls, both thinking they should have won that round. Lilly cracked a smile first; Grandma Gail claimed her victory.

“You ready for breakfast, too, Grumpypants?” Mike called upstairs.

“Good one, Grandpa,” Lilly chuckled as she grabbed the bag her grandfather was holding and made her way to the kitchen. As she walked, a scowl returned to her face, her shoulders slumped, and she clumsily walked side to side, side to side, mumbling, “Grrr! I’m Mr. Grumpypants.”

“Good one, Lilly,” Gail chuckled as she followed Lilly’s version of Mr. Grumpypants into the kitchen.

Mike smiled, glancing upstairs to see if they got a reaction from his son. “Breakfast in ten, Brian,” he said, loud enough for anyone upstairs to hear. Mike hoped his son wasn’t alone up there and wouldn’t come down. Love is in the air.

“I’ve got a busy morning, Dad. I need to get to work,” Brian said. He was yelling from the bathroom.

“I said breakfast in ten.”

“Yes, sir.” Brian just closed his eyes and took a calm breath. “I’m never going to win this one, am I?”

“Nope.”

Mike walked into the kitchen to see his two helpers laying out the contents of his shopping bag onto the kitchen island. Two jars of peanut butter, two jars of jelly, a loaf of bread, and a pack of soft tortillas. Neither helper seemed particularly confused, but they were waiting for further instruction.

“Who wants to help me make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?” Grandpa Mike asked, looking deep into the crowd of two.

Lilly bounced up and down with her hand held high. “Ooh,” she said. “Me. Pick me!”

Gail quickly raised her right hand, placing the tip of her index finger to her nose. “Not it,” she said. Lilly claimed victory.

“Okay, munchkin, you’re up.” Grandpa Mike started barking out orders in rapid succession as Lilly scrambled to keep up with his pace.

“I need four plates,” Grandpa said. Lilly darted to the cabinet, counted off four dishes, then dashed back to the island. She placed them down and announced the completion of her mission.

“Four plates!”

“Four napkins on the table.”

The report never came in until her task was complete. “Four napkins!”

“Five spreader knives.”

“Five spreader knives!”

“I smell coffee brewing. Let’s get a cup for your dad. Black.”

“A cup for my dad. Black!”

“Two orange juices.”

“Two orange juices!”

“Pizza cutter.”

Lilly didn’t know what to do. “Pizza cutter?” she asked. A look over to Gail didn’t help. They were both confused.

“You heard me,” Grandpa Mike confirmed. “Pizza cutter.”

“Pizza cutter!”

“Cutting board.”

“Cutting board!”

When Brian turned the corner into the kitchen, he shook his head again. No, this was not a fight he was going to win. “What is your grandfather up to this morning?” he asked his daughter.

“Breakfast,” she said. Then, taking her dad by the hand, Lilly led him over to the table and motioned for him to take a seat in front of a piping hot cup of coffee. She sat down by his side.

Grandma Gail made her way over to the table and took a seat, her hands warming up around the cup of tea she made while the other commotion was going on.

“Okay, Lilly,” Mike said. “Do we have everything?”

“I guess so, Grandpa. I got everything you told me to get.”

“Then the last thing I need to get is cracking. So, let’s get cracking!” Lilly squeaked and laughed. Gail chuckled. Brian shook his head at the corny pun.

Grandpa Mike reached across the kitchen island and took the first plate off the stack. He raised it, keeping his arm straight, slowly rotated the dish in front of his family, showing both the front and back to prove it was empty.

“First up, sweet Lilly,” he said. The five-year-old bounced and clapped her hands in excitement.

Mike opened the pack of whole-grain bread, set the first two pieces from the end aside, and grabbed two fluffy slices, placing them on the cutting board. He looked back up and scanned his audience for reactions. Nothing. Next, he reached towards the peanut butter jars, then paused ever so slightly before grabbing the chunky peanut butter. Lilly gasped a sigh of relief as her grandfather opened the jar. He scooped a generous portion and lathered one slice of bread end to end with a spreader knife. Mike looked up and reached across for a jelly – the jar of raspberry preserves, to be specific. Lilly wasn’t concerned he would make the wrong choice that time. He spread an even amount across the second slice. When the crowd inched forward, waiting to see what would happen next, Grandpa Mike reached across and grabbed the pizza cutter.

“When you were a baby,” he said to Lilly, “you loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We used to eat them together every day.” As he talked, Mike started to cut into the coated slices. Three cuts up, two across. Next piece, three and two. Twelve squares each. He looked at Lilly. “One day, you grabbed the peanut butter slice while I was still spreading the jelly. So I thought, ‘If that’s the way you want it…,’ and I just put the jelly slice on your plate.”

Mike looked back down and grabbed a peanut butter corner. “You would take a bite of peanut butter,” he said as he placed the first corner on her plate before grabbing a raspberry preserves-coated version of the next piece. He continued, “then, you would take a bite of jelly. Until one day…” Grandpa Mike rebuilt the two images: peanut butter – jelly – peanut butter – jelly, for one, then jelly – peanut butter – jelly – peanut butter, for the other.

“…we did this.”

There were more giggles, bouncing, and clapping as Mike presented his checkerboard sandwich creation to Lilly.

“I remember that,” Brian said. “You always had some silly way to eat a sandwich.”

Lilly looked at her dad and giggled in agreement before picking a plate to show Grandma Gail.

“That’s a good-looking sandwich, Sweetie,” Grandma Gail said.

With approving nods from all, she put her plate down to wait for the other breakfast creations.

Mike grabbed the second plate and presented it with the same pomp and circumstance. However, he picked a tortilla and laid it directly onto the plate this time. The second jar of peanut butter, the creamy one, was his next selection. Mike reached for the unopened jelly but paused. With his arm still extended, he looked over to Lilly for a recommendation. Aghast by what he must be thinking, wondering if her grandfather had gone mad, she shook her head no – it was more of a nervous twitch – but refused to say a word.

“You’re right, my dear,” Grandpa said. “My lovely bride definitely prefers the sweet sugars of your favorite raspberry preserves.” He tapped the jar, indicating his selection. Lilly gasped a breath of relief. Gail knew he would never dare.

Mike continued. “Unlike you, however, she does not like that fancy organic 12-grain bread. She prefers…” Mike picked up the package and squinted to read its tiny lettering. “…low-calorie, low-carb, high-protein, whole-wheat tortillas, with creamy peanut butter and raspberry preserves.” Mike smeared the peanut butter in a lazy S down the middle of Gail’s tortilla before blending it with a healthy smidge of preserves. He placed the “contaminated” jelly spreader into the sink before carefully rolling the breakfast sandwich, neatly folded at one end.

Brian congratulated Gail, “that’s one fine-looking peanut butter and jelly burrito. ¡Come con gusto, Señorita!”

Lilly admired the creation. She said, “I think I might try that the next time I have a PB&J. Whenever that will be.”

“Tomorrow!” all three shouted in agreement. More giggles, more bouncing.

“Brian,” his dad said as he grabbed the third plate. “In all of your years, you have never strayed from the original.”

“I am who I am,” Brian said as his father pulled two more slices from the bag. He grabbed a spreader and applied an even layer of crunchy peanut butter, corner to corner and end to end, onto one piece before reaching for the unopened jar.

“Yep, old school grape jelly proves you are who you are. I love it!”

“No school like the old school, Dad. You taught me that.”

Mike grabbed the fourth spreader and spread the grape jelly. It was not spread on the clean slice, mind you, but directly atop the peanut butter layer. He looked up and winked at Lilly before spreading a second layer of crunchy peanut butter on the other slice.

“I started doing this for your school lunches when you were a kid,” Mike said. If you put the J in between layers of PB, it won’t bleed through the bread before lunchtime.”

“That’s what Daddy does for me,” Lilly boasted.

“You two must be the envy of your classes,” Gail said. But the task was not yet complete, so she set the stage. “What about you, Grandpa?” she asked. “Would you going to have for your Valentine’s Day breakfast?”

“It’s a tough one,” Mike said. He rubbed his forefinger and thumb across his chin as if he was deep in thought. “Grape or raspberry?” There was no anxiety this time, but Lilly was again on the edge of her seat.

“Raspberry it is!”

Gail’s hands raised in triumph once more.

Brian jerked his neck back, shattered by losing a race so close.

Lilly sighed, happy that breakfast prep was almost over.

“Sorry, Son. She got me hooked on the ’serves.” Mike grabbed the two loose end pieces and put them on his plate.

“That’s not a word, Dad,” Brian said while his father dropped and smushed a healthy serving of crunchy peanut butter on one slice. “At least you haven’t gone creamy.”

“Nope, I’m a chunky man,” Mike said, pausing to rub his belly. He then grabbed the fifth spreader (it was uncontaminated) and scooped raspberry preserves, piling them on top of his peanut butter. Then, using the second slice as a press, he pushed the preserves across both peanut buttered and un-peanut buttered portions of the sandwich.

“You never could eat your sandwich like a normal person, Pop!”

“It’s the perfect creation,” Mike explained as he walked over to the table, plate in hand, and sat next to his wife. “The pressure spreads the preserves across the bread, but not too far over the edge. See?” He traced his finger along the bottom of his sandwich, noting three different points where raspberry preserves protruded but never separated from their host. “Every time I bite into this PB&J, my mouth will enjoy a different sensation.”

He circled one corner of the bread. “Almost all grain with just a hint of raspberry sweetness. Will there be peanut butter somewhere in that bite?” He looked over at Lilly, but she just shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know either.”

“This part here,” he said, running his finger along the bread’s ridgeline, “will be a healthy mix. The bread, preserves, peanut butter, and bread again will all come together in a fantastic battle for control of my taste buds. Every next bite will be different from the last.”

Then, he pressed the middle of his creation, denting the soft slice for just a moment. “This is payday! A hefty portion of chunky peanut butter-ness. Sometimes I save the center for last, enjoying the unique combinations of every other bite my sandwich holds. Sometimes I gobble a path straight through, satisfying my urge before cleaning the bones off my prey.” Grandpa Mike’s eyes grew wide as he scanned the table, searching for a reaction. Lilly’s eyes grew wide, Gail’s formed tears of laughter, Brian’s looked down as he continued to shake his head.

“That’s still weird to me,” Brian said.

Gail looked over at Mike and shared a quick, silent conversation (one you can only have after 21 years of marriage) before tapping her hand on the table.

“Lilly, dear,” she said. “I have some Valentine’s Day presents in the car. Of course, they are no artisan peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but why don’t we get them to share over breakfast.”

“Arty who?” Lily asked.

“Come on, silly! I’ll explain on the way.” As the girls popped up to get gifts from the car, Gail looked back at Mike and winked before opening the front door.

“Thanks, Babe,” Mike’s silent reply said.

“‘Fantastic battle for control of my taste buds!’ That’s a good one, dad.” Mike leaned back and enjoyed another sip of coffee.

“Thanks,” Mike said. They enjoyed a silent moment before he decided to share a story.

“You know, Brian, I’ve made a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my life.”

“I’m sure.” Brian showed no interest in this declaration. His dad continued anyway.

“I’m talking thousands and thousands since I was a kid. I ate them all my life. I can make a good sandwich – a normal sandwich.” Mike pointed out Brian’s, and he pointed to Lilly’s. “For me, though, they were always weird. I never thought so, but everyone who has ever watched me make one thought they were weird.”

“That’s because they are, Dad,” Brian said.

“True.” Mike thought about that for a minute, but he had to reconfirm. “True.” Again, the table remained silent for a while.

“But,” Mike said, as though he realized a point to his losing argument, “I continued to make them. You know, many people think that the way you craft a PB&J is a sign of what kind of person you are.” He pointed to Lilly’s plate – “Strong, intelligent, and organized.” He swung his finger over to Brian’s plate – “Traditional, loyal, reliable.” Pulling his arm back, Mike gestured towards Gail’s plate, by his side – “This one’s confident, creative, and exciting.

“Me?” Mike looked down at his plate. “They think this says that I’m a mess. Never got my shit straight; at my age, I never will. However, even though everyone always had a comment about the poor form of my sandwich, I continued to make them.”

“Good for you, Dad,” Brian said while getting up to refill his cup. What he really wanted to do was eat his sandwich; that coffee was burning a hole in his empty stomach. But, when he heard the car door outside slam shut, he hurried back to his seat.

Mike continued, “I met Gail a few years after your mom and I divorced. Do you know what that woman said the first time she saw me make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

For the first time, Brian was curious how the story would turn out. “What’s that?” he said.

“Nothing,” Mike replied. “Since the first day we met, Gail has never commented on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

To Brian, that was interesting. “So, what does she think about them?” he asked.

Mike shrugged his shoulders, twisted his face, and threw his hands in the air. “I have no idea,” he said. “That I am confident? Creative? Don’t have my poop in a group? Maybe she thinks I am a complete loon.” Brian spat a bit of coffee while laughing. His dad piled it on. “She may be playing the long game, waiting for me to check in on the funny farm! Lilly, too. She has never said a word about Frankenstein’s sandwich.”

Both men kept laughing so hard they never heard Gail and Lilly come back into the house. Cautiously, the girls inched their way in towards the sound of bellowing laughter. Mike jumped up, tears streaming down from his face. He lifted Lilly with one arm, then wrapped the other around Gail’s waist.

Brian had to know. “Hey, you two,” he said, between snorts of laughter. How come you never said anything to Grandpa Mike about his ugly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

Not sure of what the joke was, they looked at each other curiously.

“I don’t know,” Gail said. “It’s his sandwich.”

Lilly remained clueless but could not contain herself, joining in on the laughter. “Because that’s the way Grandpa likes ’em,” she giggled.

Mike held his two treasures, unable and unwilling to dry his eyes. “Brian,” he said, “do you know what to do with someone who doesn’t share their opinion about everything?”

“What’s that, Dad?”

Mike pulled his two girls in tighter, kissing them both on their cheeks.

“You love them for the rest of your life!”



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