Kelly Dwyer



Dear Quell,

I received your email asking for stories about Quell users and their #smallvictories. I am not a visual artist or someone able to encompass how much the Quell has meant to our family in a single image or song or video. I’m a writer, and I wanted to share with you our story. It’s not something that I’m able to summarize because in order to put a value around how much the Quell has helped us, you have to understand what life was like for us when there wasn’t any hope of relief from pain.

It may be difficult to identify a pre-pain and post-pain threshold for some people. For Patrick, that dividing line is October 8, 2013, 5:13 pm, rush hour on Homestead Road in Santa Clara, CA. The sun was setting behind him as he rode his bicycle home from work on that wide boulevard and its well defined bike lanes. Just days before, he’d been forced off the road across from the library by a belligerent driver. That night, he’d mounted a GoPro video camera to the handlebars of his beautiful carbon fiber Trek Madone bicycle. Just in case, he laughed with a tinge of rage, just so I can show the cops how dangerous it is to be out here.

You can hear Patrick scream on the video of the accident from the GoPro that the police recovered from the bicycle that had been thrown 15 feet in the air and 25 feet down the road away from where his body landed. First, through the muffling of the waterproof case, you hear the squeal of tires, the crunch of the bumper hitting his left knee, and then rider and bicycle separate in the air and the camera spins and spins. Freeze frames capture still moments of a body, limbs akimbo, flying, and then the stillness of the ground. And his screams.

Some days I wonder if he’s ever stopped screaming.

Pain makes a ghost of you. It pulls you away from yourself, from every identifiable part of your soul that makes you human, slicing through your connections with the external world and consuming your every waking thought. I could watch it come over him, those first few months, like taking a brush slathered with black paint and covering over a portrait with obscuring strokes. Sometimes it was a slow onset, as the narcotic pain medications wore off, and the pain built and built. Sometimes it was precipitated by something as benign as our boys, desperate for contact, needing a Dad hug, but squeezing too hard. Sometimes it was sudden, like the chop of a cleaver severing his facial expressions, his ability to hear me, tunneling his vision and tensing every single muscle on his body. I would rub his toes (not the ones that were broken), calling his name softly, while he sat rigidly in his chair, a heat pad laying across his shoulders and his hands curled inward on his chest, shaking. Are you there, love? Can you come back to me and tell me how to help?

The likelihood of survival from that kind of impact is so infinitesimally tiny that I cannot even calculate the odds. Patrick hit the pavement tucked and rolled so that his shoulders and back took the brunt of the damage, not his head: impossibility #1. His backpack absorbed a significant amount of the impact and prevented road rash from shredding the skin and muscles of his back: #2. At the moment of impact, his C3 vertebrae dislocated off of C4 and did not sever his spinal column: impossibility #3. Four of his cervical vertebra were pulverized with facet fractures: #4. His vertebral artery was dissected, sliced open by one of the bone fragments, but he did not stroke out: #5. His spinal cord and nervous system remained intact: #6. He stayed on the ground and was immobilized by a bystander immediately: #7. The Santa Clara FD was 1/2 block away and the ambulance arrived in minutes and put him on a back board: #8. En route to Kaiser Hospital, the EMTs made the decision, in rush hour traffic, to take him to a level 1 trauma center: #9.

He should not have lived. He was conscious the entire time.

He was conscious through the air, hitting the ground and feeling his bones pulverize, bleeding all over the pavement, jostled onto a backboard and loaded into the ambulance. Conscious enough to show the police officer in the back of the ambulance how to stop and replay the recording on the GoPro. Conscious to tell me “I love you” as the sirens spun up and the EMT held his cell phone to his ear.

He was conscious through the hours of waiting for evaluation in the ER when I finally made it to see him with a screaming baby in the stroller, just as the CT and MRI results came back, and the trauma team bustled in to prep him for emergency surgery. They gave him mental tests during the closed reduction surgery to pop the dislocated C3 back onto C4, to ensure that his brain damage would be minimal, if he even survived the procedure. The drilled into his skull to attach a six point Halo harness and then tilted his bed and put successively heavier and heavier weights onto it, until failure required them to simply brace their feet on the head of his bed, grab the Halo, and pull with all of their strength.

Patrick says he has nightmares of that crunch as his spine popped back together. That all encompassing sensation of wrongness and the wrenching dissonance of bone on bone, of tissue resisting, hearing your spine’s forced realignment from the inside of your own head. Blooming pain like he had never known before that moment.

Discharged home for a week, trying to heal some of the total body trauma from the accident before surgery, the pain became so severe even through the fog of massive doses of opiates and muscle relaxants, that Patrick began having seizures. My mom, who had flown out the night of the accident, took the children to the playground when the ambulance came to get him for his surgery so that they wouldn’t be scared. And I thought, it can’t be more terrifying than watching their Dad sob and whimper, unable to move from his bed, trapped in his own mind by fear and agony. The fire fighters arrived with the EMTs after I called 911. “Is that him?” One of them asked me. “The guy we peeled off the pavement a few weeks ago?” I nodded, as Patrick walked on his own two feet out of the house in front of the awed and stunned EMTs who hadn’t been able to get a backboard up the townhouse stairs.

The double level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery fixed what we called his bobble-head problem. The very first relief that Patrick had experienced in 2 weeks was so palpable that we couldn’t help laughing our way through the discharge from the hospital. At our driveway, I stopped the car so he could get out and walk the two feet over the speed bumps because we were both sure he would likely vomit and pass out from the pain if his neck was jostled that much. Being fixed is not the same as being cured.

We like to say that recovery is never linear. It’s a meandering, circuitous pathway that you cannot control, no matter how much you sprint, or how often you sit down in the middle of your life and say no, I can’t, don’t make me, I’m not strong enough. Recovery has set backs, like getting severe bronchitis two months after the accident, or more than a year of extreme pain and numbness in his hand and arm from Ulnar nerve damage. The landscape around us for recovering from this type of injury was so foreign and unknown to anyone that we felt like we were wandering around blind for months without guidance. Is this normal? We would ask the surgeon. Just wait, he would say. I don’t know, he would mean. The medical equivalent of a shrug.

Normal is the enemy when pain is a constant. Nothing about recovery is normal. If one day Patrick found that he could eat well, and laugh at the boy’s impromptu dance parties in their PJs, and read books at bedtime, then that was normal for that day. If the next, he couldn’t get out of bed because of the gripping pain that fogged his brain, flushed through him like a fever, his stomach clenching, unable to eat, unable to move, then that was normal. Because if we clung to the hope that someday we would be able to return to something normal, something better than this moment, then we would be living in a constant state of disappointment.

At first glance, the landscape of pain management is vast and full of promise. Ask anyone what they do to manage their pain from a lingering injury or a bad back and you will begin to gather the infinite variety of choices that work or don’t work for different people. Every time we would see a new doctor, we would be asked, “Are you in the medical profession?” because of how literate we had become with the current research and scientific theories on pain and pain management. We tried everything we thought had a chance to work on Patrick’s pain, to give him even the smallest chance at relief.

You can’t talk about chronic pain and spinal injuries without addressing the first line of treatment: opiates. I used to say that they existed for this exact situation, for people like Patrick who would not be conscious or capable of surviving the levels of pain that he was experiencing without them. But opiates are a special kind of insidious fuckery, that permanently alter the way that your brain experiences pain and not-pain, and constantly increase the demand for more and more to reach a therapeutic level. There is no “pleasure” when you take Oxycontin after a traumatic injury. There is no high. There simply becomes a level of existence on Oxy that brings you closer to a slight measure of relief, closer to what you vaguely remember as normal. And here’s where normal again turns out to be a toxic concept. When you have to take more and more high dose Oxy just to get to a place where you can breathe without screaming, something’s very, very wrong in your body and brain.

At the beginning in the hospital, Dilauded barely touched Patrick’s pain. We would count down the seconds between the 15 minute pain pump intervals, desperate to stay on top of a schedule to keep him from screaming. After his surgery, we set out a plan based on his surgeon’s recommendations to help Patrick step down off of Oxycontin, and limit his use of Percocet. Patrick was utterly terrified of becoming addicted to them. We looked at them as necessary tools that he would soon be able to leave behind in his recovery. We were wrong. Making the decision to step down off of the opiates was terrifying because there is absolutely nothing that exists between narcotics and OTC pain meds. There was nothing to fill that gap to help him through not only the pain from the trauma, but the pain of mentally rewriting his brain to work without opiates. And it was hell.

Think of the worst portrayal of opiate withdrawal that you’ve seen on TV or in the movies. The shakes, sweats, nightmares, hallucinations, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, muscle cramping, agitation, and most of all, the rage. It’s not fiction. Then add an anxious caregiver and two very young children to the mix. How do I protect the kids from Dad’s suffering, his unpredictable rages and misery? How do I let him know he’s not alone, that I can be his strength and center to find his way out of the suffering and back to us? How do I keep us all safe and sane and together?

Months after the accident, after his opiate withdrawal left him weak and nearly unable to ease his daily pain, when Patrick and I were consumed by anxiety, depression and fatigue that could not be eased, we came up with our Toolbox. I liked to shout “Deploy the Toolbox” like some pirate king on the high seas summoning a kraken from the depths. Our toolbox was a jumble of techniques that we could use to raise our spirits, ease our fears, soothe his pain, connect with each other, find brightness in life, even if just for a moment. Part of coming to terms with pain being Patrick’s constant companion was relearning how to savor joy and happiness in each moment. It took exceptional mindful effort every day to compartmentalize his pain, and to look beyond it to the comfort of a hug, or the silliness of a great knock-knock joke from our eldest, or the exuberance of our adventurous toddler climbing on top of the dinner table and smashing his lentils between his toes with glee.

Some parts of the toolbox were techniques like acupuncture, which held peer-reviewed promise, worked only for a period of hours after a session, and provided no long term effects. Some approaches, like using scents to brain hack our way out of anxiety and depression, turned out to be enormously effective. Enough that our children slept with lavender buckwheat filled stuffed animals every night to ease their fears. Patrick would douse his heat pads with lavender and keep an infuser going at all times when he was in the midst of a pain spike and find that he was better able to focus his mind outward rather than inward to ease some of the intensity of the pain through mindful meditation. Sometimes we texted each other stupid cat gifs in the dark hours of the morning as I slept with the baby in the nursery, and Patrick slept downstairs because the damage to his vocal cords from the surgery and accident caused him to snore and choke awake as the fusion plates rubbed against his swollen esophagus all night.

The Toolbox is constantly evolving. What worked four years ago, does not work today (although cat gifs are always effective at raising our spirits). There have been a few constants in his life that have dramatically affected his ability to function with pain, and sometimes even lowered his pain levels: deep tissue massage, meditation, yoga, daily exercise, years of PT, a specialty mattress and supportive pillow, limiting travel or time in cars or airplanes, lowering stress, no alcohol and eating a nutrient-dense vegan diet.

Medications have also helped, but we have learned the hard way after several scares that long term use of different pain modulator drugs can cause dangerous injury to your liver or kidneys. And prolonged muscle relaxant use can cause injury or rebound pain spikes that make it difficult to consider whether they’re worth the risk. And so the farther we get from the accident, and the more that each day feels like a slightly less threatening idea of normal, the more we find space to simply live with what is, existing in this moment without expectation or desire for change. Patrick in his worst moments will say “Pain is here. Pain is present.” Not, “I am in pain.” Naming it as something outside himself is one small way to put distance between the subsumed identity of pain and self together, always.

To people looking at Patrick now, meeting him for the first time, working with him or passing him on the trail on a morning run, you wouldn’t know a thing about his accident. Nor would you have a clue about his pain unless he specifically made an effort to tell you about it. And he is a man of few words. He works a full time job, runs dozens of miles a week, makes killer pancakes for dinner, is an avid science fiction fan, adores gaming with the boys and playing tag in the backyard when the weather’s warm. He’s here, as a Dad and husband and friend and neighbor. But pain is also here. It simply is, as immutable a fact as Patrick’s strength and my boundless love for him.

I’m the data miner in the house. The person who makes the lists, gets shit done, the social secretary and researcher of all choices, options and life paths, to help us make decisions fully cogent and informed. And I am the one who can bear living with the “what if” question: What if this one works? I can look into peer-reviewed research and decide whether or not to ask Patrick if he’d like to try something. To consider his feelings with every possible cure. Because with every new treatment or doctor or medication, there is a very good chance of failure. Our rate is about 100% up until to now. And to hope is only human. And hopeless grief is what faces you on the other side of failure.

So, where Patrick is finding peace in the present, living with the presence of pain, I still keep my eyes open for the possibilities beyond. I have news alerts on dozens of keywords on my feeds to investigate any new research and products in the field of pain management. Early September, Quell popped up in my news feed. Just a brief promotional release about it’s potential benefits for chronic pain sufferers. I added it to my growing mental list of dozens of other things to investigate.

I casually asked him about the Quell one night over dinner after doing some research and talking to our physician: Do you want to try this? Sure, he shrugged, if you think it might be promising. I countered, it’s non-invasive, no doctors, no prescriptions, no major impact on your overall health or life, FDA approval, 24 hr therapy. You had moderate success with a Tens unit and this works similarly. Let’s try it for a few weeks. But, the research cautions it might take a while to work.

On September 14, 2017, Patrick put on the Quell in the early afternoon and we went about our every day business of playing tag with the kids in the back yard and helping with homework and vacuuming goldfish from under couch cushions. By dinner time, I noticed that Patrick had withdrawn into his own head, just a little. It’s not unusual when he’s having a pain spike, or just being his normal introverted self. He phoned in the bedtime rush through showers and books to read and teeth to brush, going through the motions without fully engaging. In the silence that followed Rockabye’s and Goodnights and doors closed on sleepy kids, he sat in the living room and said, “I’m not in pain.”

No pain.

After four years.

We flew to Minnesota from the East Coast for a cousin’s wedding the next day. Airplanes and extended travel are always tough on Patrick’s pain levels, as are demanding social situations where his energy has to be channeled into social niceties rather than coping with pain. Post-travel pain spikes are always expected and debilitating. In the hotel room that night, I held his hand and breathed with him through anxiety that hit him harder than any PTSD panic attack after the accident. He struggled to find the words for long moments, while the noise of the kids watching TV washed over us and grounded us.

“What if it stops working?”

What a terrifying thing it is: hope.

We talked through it all that night. Is this really what most people feel like most of the time? What do we do if it stops working? Is it okay to feel scared? How do I embrace this moment of no pain and not fear the next moment and what it brings?

The days and weeks went on and we started to settle into life with the Quell in ways we hadn’t realized would be affected. We’ve both lived with some level of sleep deprivation since the accident, since it’s uncomfortable for Patrick to lay in one position for a long time at night. He wakes, frequently, turns, stretches, aches, and I rouse to some extent, each time. Enough that our quality of sleep has been poor for years. Those first few nights with Patrick wearing the Quell hit me like a ton of bricks. I woke bleary eyed, unable to put my thoughts together, as though I had a taste of what I’d been missing and my body simply couldn’t remember what it was like. Sleep. Uninterrupted quality rest, body and mind. It felt so good.

The sundown effect has eased. Where most days Patrick has to push through pain and fatigue in the evening to get through the boys bedtimes, now, he has more focus and energy at the end of a long day. His exercise has become more frequent and beneficial, and the rebound aches of sore muscles and nerve flares is much lower. Occasionally he forgets to put the Quell on after a shower, or after exercising. And I know, just looking at his face after an hour. “Go put your Quell on.” Oh right, he says, his face bunched with ache and soreness.

It’s not a perfect solution. The pain spikes come and go with no constant trigger or pattern we can track, and the Quell is not an acute pain solution. But most days, the Quell brings those enormous sine waves of peaking and troughing pain and levels them out into tolerable background noise. Patrick’s skin is sensitive, and the electrodes will occasionally pull at skin and hair and irritate his legs. Shifting around a lot at night knocks off the connections. Sometimes the Quell won’t fit underneath dress slacks, or he forgets to charge it and needs to leave it off for longer than expected. But the relief, however much he feels it each day, is still there when he puts it back on.

I wouldn’t call this a #smallvictory. It’s like a tectonic shift in our existence as a family. The boys and I get more and more of Patrick back in our lives. And Patrick can remember that it’s possible to define himself outside of the identity of a car accident survivor, or a person with chronic pain.

Writing this all down, looking back at this history, has given me a chance to see something that I haven’t admitted to myself yet. It’s okay to hope. It’s okay to wish for and dream for a new normal. Because maybe, just maybe, you might find something that makes a difference.

Thank you.

NaNoWriMo 2017

When I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, I was facing another surgery in October, almost a year to the date after the last one that still hasn’t healed *sigh*. It seemed like a perfect time to force myself to lay in bed, recover and get some words on the page. I’ve been rather remiss recently in writing and I was looking for some way to jumpstart my brain, to get out of the depressive rut of health issues, the state of the world and parent brain-drain.

Since my littlest started Kindergarten, my days are gloriously full of every possible thing that I cannot contemplate doing with children underfoot. All those projects, renovations, fighting with insurance for coverage, going to the doctor, doing the millions of things that keep the family running and moving. Kindergarten has been beautiful and one of my favorite transitions of childhood (slightly behind weaning and sleeping through the night, and slightly ahead of not having to buckle a child into a five point harness or open and close their car door any more). 7 whole hours, just for me.

Which means that I’m not making writing a priority. I’m playing catch up for years of parenting at home where I couldn’t reasonably count on long stretches of dependable time to get something done. I’m putting my feet up and reading a book. I’m archiving all of our photos, and wiping and reinstalling software on our computers. I’m repairing water damage in the utility room, and building out ceilings in the basement. The list is epic.

I’ve never been a quantity writer – I struggle frequently to write in any measureable amount. Which is understandable, I suppose, seeing as I usually have 15 minutes to write while waiting in the parking lot at school pick up, or 45 minutes of fractured time during Ballet or Tae Kwon Do. But even when I did have more time to write when my first was very little, I often edited as I wrote rather than focus on getting new first draft words down. It was an iterative process, and I enjoyed it. I would reread, edit, and add a little every time I sat down to work on a piece. It was a ritual, retuning my busy brain into writing mode by reading and editing first, before diving into creating.

I was intrigued by Nano. Could I do it? Did I have that word count in me? Would I be well enough post-surgery to push through and succeed? Would this process work for me? Well, the kids ended up bringing home virus after virus (damn contagion vectors) September to October and into November, so my surgery kept getting bumped and bumped, until the doc finally put me on medications that have seemed to help jumpstart healing that stalled after last year’s surgery. It’s been a strange fall of unknowns and under the weather kids, and a sword of Damocles hanging over me, just waiting for surgery that I didn’t want to have. Last Wednesday my surgeon finally said that we could delay until January, and I may not need it after all. *phew*

So I plodded ahead with Nano, not sure for most of the month whether I’d been down for the count and on heavy painkillers at any point in the future. And I focused on writing each day as though I wouldn’t be able to write again tomorrow. I’m pleased to say that two days early, 11/28/17, I hit 50,000 words on a novel I’ve been plotting in my head for years.

It was a completely new experience for me. I learned I can write with significant quantity, upwards of 2,000 words in an hour, if I’m in the right mindset and I have the plot and details held and shaped in my head. I also learned that some days several hundred words will barely come, no matter how much I try to force them.

But the biggest lesson for me is that it’s okay to write crap. And hoo boy, this stuff is really, really bad. But I structured and outlined and then wrote straight up plot for 50,000 words in one month and I got it on paper (using Scrivener) and I now officially have the outline of an interesting book. It has potential. It is the scrappiest, most embarrassing, terrible first draft ever. But I can work with it now. I can find those extraordinary moments that came out of nowhere as I was writing and cultivate them. Shape them and enliven them. I can take out the millions of “he shrugged,” “she blinked,” “he groaned,” and “she woke”-s and replace them with the expansiveness of setting and emotion that I love to write. The potential is there and without those words, I would have nothing to develop.

A few things that helped me during the process:

– I used a lot of place holders for names, places and foods – literally just XXXXXX or 1111111, things that are easy to scan the text for and replace as I edit. I plan to spend a huge amount of time working on naming conventions for cultures, mapping and structuring historical and geographical information for the world. But I didn’t have to do it all before writing – just enough to get started. I had the outline of how I wanted each character to act, who they were in relation to my heroine, etc, and that won’t change no matter what their names will end up being in the final version. But I didn’t want to waste the time doing too much world building up front. I had just enough to build my mental image. The rest can be enriched as I edit.

– I didn’t write the scenes in order. Because I had outlined the entire book ahead of time and knew where I was going, I often jumped between scenes and sections, making note of areas with placeholders where I would need to reference back to a plot point or something that previously occurred that I hadn’t written yet. It let me take advantage of being motivated to write a particular scene, rather than forcing myself through a slogging part that I wasn’t ready to attack yet.

– I used to track and added several friends as buddies. I hate to admit that I was shallowly competing against friends, but I would log on and check their word counts every day before settling in to write, knowing that I needed to step up my game and keep up with the pros (friends who have both been doing this for much longer than I). It was healthy motivation, and along with the emails and posting to Twitter about my plans and progress, I had just enough external support and validation to break out of any slumps. The website also has a phenomenal word tracking tool that will predict your completion date and average rate of writing.

– I brainstormed, a huge amount. We had two long car trips together as a family for Thanksgiving, and I had written myself into a corner and needed help. With my husband and kiddos as a captive audience, I talked through ideas and issues for hours. I really should have let my husband drive so I could write it all down though.

– And the #1 thing: I did not reread anything I wrote in November. I did not edit, proof-read or check. I would occasionally skim to get back into a mindset, but if I had changes I needed to make to previous scenes (even if they were HUGE changes), I kept a separate file and made notes there so I could follow up later. There was one time I rewrote a scene in its entirety, but it turned out to be a good decision that kept most of the original writing and just added a significant plot point that was helpful for moving forward with later scenes. This idea of not rereading or editing as I went was a huge struggle for me at first. Especially cringing with how bad the writing was, and knowing editing is going to take a heck of a long time to slog through. But it was worth it to stay strong and just keep moving forward.

Things that were challenging, both expected and unexpected:

– My days were variable and unpredictable. I would surprise myself each time I sat down with either how little or how much I was writing in each session. Sometimes I got lost in a great scene for an hour or two. Sometimes I couldn’t even scrape the barrel for a few hundred words all day.

– I took a day off mid-month. I had been struggling for several days with a plot hole and my motivation and desire to write were low. I had tried forcing it out, writing different parts of the story, world building, but nothing was working. So I tried taking the whole day off. And I found that I was less reluctant to come back to the page the following day – my motivation was great, but my mind wandered. I had great ideas, fresh creativity, but I kept wanting to get out of the chair and go do laundry, or dishes, or anything else but writing. I stuck with it and the next day was back into the swing of writing large quantity. But how interesting to know that one day off of a pattern was enough to throw a wrench in my mental focus.

– I was hella crabby. Partly because my surgery kept getting pushed out and the kids kept getting sick. Partly because there was an election in VA and I spent most of the first week of November terrified of what would happen. Partly because of the holiday and all the millions of things that were vying to fracture my time, and tempt me away from this goal that felt so unattainable when I started.

Overall, I’m immensely proud of myself for doing it. For placing a priority on doing something for myself that I enjoy and and passionate about. Something that feels like a real accomplishment. Mom’s don’t get external validation for doing a good job – no raises or awards, no merit badges or stock options. My job satisfaction is kiddo laughter and unabashed joy, cuddling up and reading together on the couch, being compassionate and empathetic with each other. When strangers tell you your child is delightful, when your kids do something kind for others, when you know they’re making good decisions on their own. The intangibles of life that keep you moving forward and trying harder as a parent.

So, cheers to you all Nanoers that were there along with me. This was a HUGE deal, and be proud. Pat yourself on the back. Get a virtual high five from me. Have a cupcake. Take a breath. Now…get back to it.


This weekend I attended Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association’s annual science fiction/fantasy writing convention. Although I had attended Capclave two years ago for just one short evening, this was my first full weekend of attendance, and to be honest, my very first Con ever. A wonderful friend, Alan Smale (author of the extraordinary Clash of Eagles trilogy), recommended me to the con committee for participation in programming. I was excited, but nervous, navigating the process of scheduling and topic assignment for the first time. How would I be received on my panels? Would I make a fool of myself? Do I have anything of value to contribute?

I am not a pro. Yet. I have not made even a semi-pro sale. But I’ve had several stories published with small and independent presses, and have received a few accolades to encourage me to continue writing. I continue to approach writing with passion and professional interest, and I have long been a widely read and very passionate fan of the genre. This wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy has been undergoing a dramatic redefinition of identity in recent years, pitting the die-hard conservative-traditionalists against the growing movement to recognize the contributions of women and minorities to the field. I know that’s a rather simplistic breakdown of a very complicated topic, but I also know clearly where I fall within the conflict. I’m part of a new generation of writers who has not been very interested in spending the brief moments I get to sit down and read on Asimov or Heinlein or outdated, misogynistic, racist fiction. I’d much rather be reading anything from the wealth of beautiful, diverse fiction that is being championed nowadays: N.K. Jemisin, Alyssa Wong, Saladin Ahmed, Ken Liu, V.E. Schwab, Charlie Jane Anders – those are just the last six authors that I’ve read on my Kindle. I could go on and on and on. I am so lucky to be living and writing in a world where I can experience the boundless imaginative worlds of people so different from who I am. I crave those books. I need those books. I wish to write those books.

At the end of my last panel on Sunday, a very nice man who had been in the audience of several of my panels approached me. We’d had a lovely time chatting briefly in the hallways over the two days and his questions and historical knowledge of SF/F were fabulous and enriched the panels. He said “If you hadn’t told everyone you were a beginning writer, I wouldn’t have know. You did a great job.” It was a wonderful compliment, but I responded, “People need to know that Capclave is welcoming to beginning writers and young women in this field.” I didn’t mention that I was just starting to be published to demean or downplay my contributions, but to emphasize where my voice is coming from.

I was on three panels, Augmented Reality in SF, Technology in SF and a panel on villains and antagonists. Never once was I spoken over, put down, or mansplained. Not a single person approached me with anything but interest in who I was and a shared passion for our field. I was welcomed, encouraged, and validated. I never felt dismissed by my fellow participants. I met other writers who were mothers and fathers, people who have been writing since the 1960s, writers with their first novels on submission, writers with dozens of novels to their name, people from all backgrounds and experience levels. In this world where women are harassed and belittled and targeted everyday, where female and minority authors have to travel in protective pairs at conventions, and where harassment is a terrifying reality for many, I cannot tell you what a relief it was this weekend to feel safe and welcomed.

Alan mentioned to me that part of what makes Capclave special in this broad world of so many conventions is that it is small and intimate. The hotel is small and welcoming. The attendance is only in the few hundreds, and although I know the con committees would rather have more audience members, both of the times I have attended, the halls have felt busy but not unpassable. You have the opportunity to stop and chat with the guest of honor at the bar, or over a coffee at Starbucks in the lobby. You get to know faces quickly and smile and wave and make spontaneous plans for dinner. The panels have always had open seats, but are well attended (except for the 10 am Saturday panel – that one was rather scarce!). The programming is focused on the craft of writing. My highlights of the con were attending panels on Research, Alternate & Secret Histories, Matching your Idea with Plot and Character, Conspiracy Theories, and When to be Stubborn as a Writer. Authors had the opportunity to request time to read from their works, to sign books at a table right next to registration, and to participate in a mass signing in the evening on Saturday just before the WSFA small press awards.

It was at this large group signing event that I found myself in the enviable position of sitting between Bud Sparhawk and John G. Hemry (who writes as Jack Campbell). What new writer gets the opportunity to talk shop with authors who have collectively published more novels and stories than years I have been alive? We bemoaned the lack of good paying short fiction markets today, shared about writers blocks that often come after difficult times in ones life, chatted about the importance of critique groups and complimented talented cover artists. What extraordinary luck – what truly decent and kind gentlemen – what an evening I had, feeling bolstered and encouraged in my conviction that I can do this. I can write – I can publish – I can finish this novel – I can hold my own in this vast world of so many authors, editors, agents, publishers. What a weekend.

My crash back to reality came Sunday evening after driving home mid-afternoon; making dinner, helping with bedtime, shuffling reluctant kiddos through their evening routines, all while trying to fill Patrick in on the magnitude of how successful the weekend was. Every other sentence of my rambling excitement was interrupted by a small child needing a kiss on their knee, or not wanting to eat THIS soup, or needing to compare the character differences between ninjas and rogues in D&D, or wanting their iPad, or pouring buckets of water out of the bath tub. For the first time in nearly nine years, I finally had an experience where I was able to present and define myself as a functional adult human being, and not just a mother of young children, or the spouse of someone recovering from a devastating accident and spinal injury. It was both liberating and lopsided. I am still, first and foremost, a primary caregiver to my two boys. My definition of self is in flux, but the immutable fact is that my priorities will not change for the foreseeable future. I must find a way to make space for who I’d like to be as my children grow into their own selves, and I reclaim more and more of my independence in the process.

My daily conflict comes in how to find the time to focus on something other than parenting or managing our family. In the midst of kids activities, never-ending childhood illnesses, Patrick’s recovery, DIY house renovations, financial budgeting, health insurance fiascos, school responsibilities, and every other planning/list making/cleaning/comforting responsibility, I must write. It’s not something I can put off now, or avoid because I feel insecure or self-conscious about prioritizing my hobby over my family. I called my dear friend after the con and said “I have to do this now. I WANT this. I want to write. For me. It’s time I started thinking about how amazingly good it feels to write, and not thinking about how stressful my life is going to be because I’m writing.”

Monday was a school holiday for my boys. I found myself in a mental limbo for most of the morning, wrapped up in replaying the weekend piece by piece, codifying and processing so much of what I’d learned. I mustered my scant energy mid-day and peeled the kiddos from the TV and meandered our way around town, picking out Halloween pumpkins, going to swim lessons, and stopping by the library. As we shoveled our massive bag of almost overdue books into the return slots, a nice man approached with a resigned look on his face. “Is it closed today?” he asked. I nodded, apologetic, “It is.” He sighed, “As was the post office.” He stood on the sidewalk, taking a moment, watching my kids climb over the sculpture of books beside the parking lot. “I believe most public and government spaces are closed today, unfortunately. Thus, the children,” I gestured wearily to the kiddos. He nodded kindly and turned to leave, but looked back at me. “That would be an excellent book title. Thus, the children.”

You read my mind, sir.

That’s my name on the cover!

It’s seriously exciting to see my name on the cover of a magazine. Here’s the brand new cover art release of Trysts of Fate, August 2016 edition. Available for purchase here: Trysts of Fate, Issue 6.

Thank you Slover Library!

This past weekend, I was invited to take part in the Norfolk Slover Library’s very first science fiction convention, Get Your Geek Con. The panel that I participated in was focused on independent publishing and was organized by the editor of the Outliers of Speculative Fiction anthology that I was lucky to be a part of last year. L.A. Little and his colleague and friend, Toi Thomas, and I spoke for an hour about why we choose to publish with either small and independent presses or to self-publish, like Toi. It was an engaging conversation that covered why it’s important to work with an editor who is invested your work, how sustainable that model of submission & editing is, how we feel about the difficulties of publishing with mainstream SF/F presses, and the critical importance of a diversity of voices in our field. I spent the rest of the evening wondering if I’d said “um” too many times, and if we’d sounded as cogent and engaging as we felt. The audience was small, but had lovely questions – and given the fact that the Lightsaber academy and children’s costume contests were happening at the same time as our panel, I felt very lucky that we had anyone attend at all. There were some photos taken and a video make of the panel and I hope I’ll have a chance to share it with you soon. I even got to sign a copy of the anthology – that was the most amazing feeling for a brand new writer!

It’s surreal to have been invited to do this. I prefaced my introduction with saying I’m really just a beginning author. I can speak to the experience of having just recently started submitting and publishing, but I’m by no means an expert. I orbit around the periphery of SF/F, grabbing tiny tidbits of news and industry updates and read the twitter feeds of favorite editors and authors, but I continue to struggle to find time to write and use those brief moments efficiently to do more than just review what I’d previously written. I’ve enrolled in Mary Robinette Kowal’s upcoming “Writing on the Fast Track” workshop this Fall and I’m both nervous and excited to complete it. I understand from participants in her Short Story Writing Intensive Workshop that your brain is often reduced to quivering mush from all the fabulous practice and knowledge you acquire. I’m relieved that the schedule is less, well, intensive, than her other workshops. If I can start developing better time management habits and efficiency in my writing process, I might actually be able to produce submittable stories more than, say, 1 every year that I seem to be averaging. *sigh*

Regardless, I’m honored to have been part of the Slover Library’s inaugural convention. It really was fantastically set up and coordinated. I hope they invite us back next year. And I’m looking forward to the wonderful return of cooler weather this fall, bringing with it the glory of school days for young children and time to write for Mom. Now if we can only manage to survive this most miserable of heat domes over the DC Metro…

Every little bit

This week, on the day that I received my very first royalty check from the Outliers of Science Fiction, I also received an email inviting me to be part of another fantastic anthology: The Best of Abyss and Apex, Volume 2. Back in 2010, Wendy S. Delmater published the very first story I ever wrote, “Sunlight,” with glowing compliments and encouragement. Abyss and Apex was the first market I submitted that story to and I couldn’t believe my luck to receive an acceptance. I jumped for joy several months later to have that same story selected as an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, #28. “Sunlight” is the little story that could and it’s such a boost of confidence and encouragement to hear that it’s going to be reprinted, in a physical anthology!

Although the Indiegogo campaign for the book has already finished, Abyss and Apex is still asking for donations to help publish the anthology that will include my story, as well as fiction from Cat Rambo, Robert Silverberg, C.J. Cherryh, Marie Brennan, and Lavie Tidhar. You can donate via PayPal by clicking the DONATE button on the front page of the website: As Wendy said in the campaign video, every little bit counts.

Although, summer break is upon us and my days are filled with summer camp carpools, running through sprinklers, eating lemonade popsicles, and digging in the garden, I’m still stealing brief moments here and there to write and edit. I’m waiting on a contract for another story acceptance to a online and print magazine that will be published in August of this year. The story is my first paranormal romance, and I’m so happy it’s going to be in print soon.

I laughed at Patrick the other evening that my pieces are being published faster than I’m able to write. Well, it was less of a laugh and more of a slightly hysterical manic Kermmit-flail. I’m hoping that this imbalance will change come fall when my youngest is in preschool five mornings a week. The promise of nearly three whole uninterrupted hours to put my brain in gear, apply butt to chair and WRITE is so seductive and unheard of in my life that it feels like a dream. Like I’ll have to continue to write using my tiny keyboard and iPad balanced on the towel bag on the bleachers at the rec center for 20 minutes during swim lessons forever. Or attempt to edit on my tiny phone in the parking lot at school 5 minutes before pick up. Or put on my head phones and block out the noise of bath time and pajama melt-downs just to grab a few seconds of child-free reading time.

But really, every little bit DOES count.

Shit happens.

We were in the yard yesterday, the kids in shorts and bare feet, running through the muddy grass, delighting in the 75 degree temperatures just a few days after Christmas.

I watched Patrick tense, his body visibly tighten, and stare out at the road. “I think there’s a cyclist down.” I took off running, peeling my gardening gloves off and tossing them on our driveway. Down the block, just two houses away, there were people gathered around a woman who was crouched in the middle of the street, her head hanging over a basket, as though she was about to vomit.

I caught the eye of one of the bystanders and mouthed, “What happened?” She mimed that the woman had fallen off her bike and onto the street, hard. I stepped into the street and waved off several cars as the adults helped the woman stand and walk to the curb. A stranger had stopped his car and was helping to assess her injuries, although it became clear he had no medical expertise and was just trying to take control of the situation. The injured woman’s daughter was with her and had called her father, who was on the way.

I ran home for ice packs and water, and then sat down beside her and introduced myself. The first thing she said to me was, “I feel so stupid. I can’t believe I did that.” She tried to wave away the ice, but I gently insisted, saying that these were just used last week for a bumped knee by my two very active boys. She kept deferring discussion of how badly she was hurt. “I’m fine. I can stand. I feel so silly,” and “There’s no need for you to stay. My husband will be here in a minute.” I smiled at her and said, “But isn’t it nice to have so many people ready to help? We’re more than happy to just wait with you.” I laughed with her about the unusual weather, and got the very concerned but calm daughter to smile. I listened to her speech patterns, watched her movements, and kept her talking a little bit at at time, as the other stranger kept trying to put his hands on her injuries and insist upon a certain treatment (as a side note: people – please ask for permission before touching anyone, especially when they’re hurt).

When Dad pulled up in his car and walked Mom to the seat, I helped the daughter load their bicycles on the back of the car. “I didn’t want to worry your Mom, but my husband was in a bad bicycle accident, and I think it would be a great idea to have someone look at her injuries. It’s better to know she doesn’t have a head injury or broken bones, than to worry about it all night.” I waved at them from the sidewalk and said goodbye to the very concerned, handsy stranger, and walked home into Patrick’s arms, while we both shook, holding each other and trying not to cry.

That mom, so excited to have her daughter home from LA, so joyous at the gorgeous weather, so happy to get on her bike and head out to the trail – that mom hadn’t been wearing a helmet. Her head slammed into the pavement, but she had gotten up and walked to the curb. That could have been it for her. That moment of impact. Brains on the pavement.

I adore Christmas, but we’ve had a hard run of a few years of horrific illness, conflict, and trauma around the holidays. Christmas was so wonderful this year – we actually made it all the way until the wee hours of the morning on the 26th before Wyatt spiked a horrific fever with all the accompanying body and abdominal aches and distress. We kicked into quarantine mode and wiped every surface with bleach, got out the sick buckets and towels, made up every bed and couch with double layered blankets and pillows and hunkered down, ready for the rest of us to bite it. And we waited. And waited. And Wyatt got better exactly 24 hours later and is back to his normal perky self, and I cautiously put away the chux pads and towels and buckets. And I tried not to freak out about getting sick. Maybe this was just a normal kiddo virus that the rest of us had already been exposed to? Maybe? God, I hope. I counted small blessings that this virus didn’t have a respiratory component, and I cancelled our trip to Urgent Care to have him swabbed for the flu so that we could be ready if it took the rest of us down.

I know incubation periods for most major viral strains by heart. I can recite Tylenol and Benadryl doses by pediatric weight. I know how to get a dehydrated toddler to take Pedialyte (hint, slushy freezer pops). I refuse to let people in my house who have been exposed to something within a CDC recognized period of contagiousness. Hand sanitizer by the gallon. Rocking a sobbing, feverish child for hours until they pass out, no matter how many muscles I strain or how numb my arms get. But I don’t know how to not be anxious about getting sick.

I wasn’t feeling my best this afternoon. I was tired, the prolonged state of constant sinus infection that I harbor every winter was exhausting me and I hadn’t been eating well since Wyatt was sick. Only mild, simple foods. And my stomach was off. And then my heart rate was up. And then I started to feel warm. Too warm. And by the time Patrick got home, I was well on my way into a self-induced cycle of panic and adrenaline. Or was I getting sick? How would I know?

In the lowest of low periods of Patrick’s recovery, we started referring to all the ways to help us through difficult moments as our toolbox. I really like saying “Deploy the Toolbox!” as though I was a pirate yelling “Release the Kraken!” Our toolbox is full of strategies, some small, some significant, some silly, some quiet, some energetic. A little bit of everything we’ve found over the past 2 years to help us alleviate the panic and fear and despair that come from surviving and caring for a spinal injury (and two small children). Things like make a cup of tea, do a yoga sequence, meditate, laugh, make something with your hands (playdoh, Legos), put on music, hide in a pillow fort with the boys (or alone, that’s cool too), clean something in the house, call a friend, do something to help someone else, cry, blow bubbles, play the piano, smell lavender, repeat a positive mantra. It’s a rather long list.

I opened my toolbox tonight and yoga’d my way right out of my panic attack after about 30 minutes, kicking up that parasympathetic nervous system with every strategy I knew. I put my legs up the wall and rested in viparita karani. I flowed through peaceful digestive poses and twists. I drank some ginger ale. I focused on the feeling of my breath coming in and out of my nose. I played through some gorgeous songs from my new book of piano solos. I thppt’d my upper lip (really – this is so funny, but it’s a recognized way to stimulate your vagus nerve to release anti-stress hormones to counteract the fight or flight response). I counted my breaths (my favorite pattern is in for 4, hold for 4, out for 6, hold for 2, repeat). I meditated with Sean (we’ve been doing 10 minute Headspace sessions together). I sang Wyatt a song. I changed my internal dialogue of fear at what was coming to something more peaceful and positive. I called a dear friend and talked through it, and I heard myself saying something that I didn’t realize I was holding onto:

I feel so stupid. I feel so silly. I feel so guilty for demanding this attention for my own flaws and fears and anxieties.

I could hear it in that Mom’s voice yesterday, too.

I wish I could hug her and tell her not to feel silly or stupid. Just wear a helmet next time and know that shit happens, and we are so lucky to have people to help us when we need it most. Like the neighbors that I called on the 26th to say “if we get sick, will you be around for a pharmacy run for us?” Or my Mom who graciously stayed far away from us this Christmas as her gift to us after being sick with a gnarly cold for several weeks. Or my brother who calmly and honestly reassured my worries about his family’s health before we were going to get together. Or Patrick who doesn’t blink an eye when I say that I don’t feel well or that I’m anxious – just asks what he can do to help. Or my kids who are learning that it’s as important to care for your body as it is for your mind.

Shit happens. And if we’re lucky, we get to live through it.

A new story in Outliers of Speculative Fiction!

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming publication of my story “Liminal Hill,” in the new Outliers of Speculative Fiction anthology, edited by L.A. Little. Look for the anthology in paperback and eBook at the end of November 2015. I’m delighted to be part of this group of diverse and fantastic writers. I feel a companionable bond with these fellow Outliers who are finding their way through the many paths and countless communities of this amazingly rich world of imaginative literature. Though we may orbit around the periphery of the speculative fiction world, we are no less passionate about our works and no less eager to have you read them.

This anthology started as a reaction to the current state of editorial relationships and submissions processes in the world of speculative fiction. After reading L.A.’s philosophy on why he was seeking to change the way writers and editors work together, I knew this was a perfect chance for me to jump back into the field and start submitting stories again for the first time in years. I was terribly nervous – my first submission of a story that I wrote several years ago to a new market in a field that has recently been facing serious challenges. My sporadic experiences with submitting have been typical of what most authors face: I would submit a story several times (sometimes more than a dozen), and each time the story would be held for weeks or months and then politely declined with a form letter. I understand the need for this type of process, as editors and slush readers are often overwhelmed with the epic tasks of reading and winnowing out the right stories that fit for them. But as a young writer, working hard to improve and edit my stories, I always felt a little lost with each rejection. There are a million reasons why an editor might say no, of course. But the rejections that mean the most to me are the ones that take the time to go above and beyond the form. The ones that communicate editorial feedback with the goal of helping to improve each story to its best potential.

I was fully prepared for another typical rejection, so it was an utter shock to get a long and very thoughtful email from L.A. with enthusiasm for the story and a request for a rewrite. After I got over the initial period of jumping about and cheering until I was hoarse, I carved time out for myself from robotics camps, preschool drop off and house renovations, to sit down and really dive into the story and rip it to pieces. The emails I received from L.A. were professional, courteous, and filled with thoughtful detail. In fact, I felt confident enough in his investment in the story to disagree with several of his suggestions. As a new writer, working with a new editor, it’s terrifying to say no to an edit! But this experience helped me to learn how to defend and support my choices and how to see edits as a critical creative motivator. The story that’s come out of L.A.’s suggestions and my many hours of rewriting is a dramatically better story than the one I submitted. I can only imagine how much time this type of intensive creative back and forth must have taken, on top of providing editorial feedback to every single submission he received. Kudos to L.A. for making a commitment to change the process, and for putting so much effort and investment in trying to improve the system.

I hope you enjoy this story. I can’t wait for you to meet Liminal Hill.


A year ago was the last time I posted to this blog. I don’t think that 12 months ago I would have been able to wrap my head around life as I know it today. It feels like every time I stop to take stock of how much things have changed, there’s another monumental shift in our existence. Time feels like it passes interminably in the midst of toddlerhood, recovery, parenting. And then one day you catch yourself sitting in a warm stream of sunlight in a chair by the garden, tea in hand and the sound of chittering squirrels above you, and time to actually read a book, or think about things that require advanced critical thinking, or just sit in silence and breathe. It was nearly unheard of a year ago that I had space to just BE. And now, my cosleeping, nursing, needy, always-intense toddler in diapers has turned into a “goodnight I love you sweet dreams”-close the door and sleep for 12 hours in his own bed, preschool-bound, potty trained, weaned kiddo.

It’s amazing what sleep will do for the mind and body. It’s been 4+ years since I had an uninterrupted night of sleep (from a difficult pregnancy, through terrible night colic, and Patrick’s constant pain-filled restlessness). It’s only been 2 months of solid sleep for me, and every morning I wake up feeling like I’ve been drugged. As though my body has a taste now of what it’s been missing, and it wants MORE. Patrick feels it too, although he still tosses and turns with nightmares and near constant low level pain. He woke up rough the other morning and I said “You look like you’ve been hit by a car.” We spent the whole morning laughing. I expect that’s what 2 years of processing and recovery will do for you, return your humor. Rebuild your resilience.

I used to say my reserves had run dry. I had been running on empty for so long before the accident that when it all came crashing down, I had nothing to fall back on. So this past year has been about making deposits back into that account of resilience, independence, inner peace and confidence. Eating well, sleeping well, reconnecting with friends, being close to family, taking chances, being forgiving, filling life with gratitude. And little by little, I feel like I’m starting to be a whole person again. I’m starting to do things for enjoyment and passion, rather than the obligation or responsibility. I’m able to have conversations with people with genuine interest and a desire for connection, rather than shying away from contact because of how exhausting it could be. I just didn’t have any more to give. I know it’s not surprising that creativity is one of the first things to go dormant in a time of great anxiety and tension. But I’ve found myself starting to day dream again recently. Just a little. Enough to know that it’s still a part of me, waiting for when the time is right.

School started a few weeks ago, and I celebrated joyously by sending out two stories on submission. They were stories I wrote more than 4 years ago, but they were in relatively good shape. 7 days later, I got a wonderful and insightful response from an editor of an anthology with a rewrite request and very kind words. I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to get that email. I’ve been orbiting around the periphery of the speculative and science fiction and fantasy worlds for so many years, just dreaming about and hoping for a time when I would have more than 5 uninterrupted minutes to sit and write. Or when my passion for telling stories and writing would come back. If it ever would.

It’s been a year of starting over. We bought a house. Our very first house. And really, it was our very first HOME. This is the house that we first lived in when we moved back to Virginia. The beautiful home that we had such a hard time leaving when we moved to California. We scraped every penny and pinned every hope on the kindness of consideration of our former landlord, nearly begging her to consider selling it to us when she was ready. In our minds, being back here was the most perfect karmic return. We hadn’t dared to hope, moving back to Vienna, that buying this home would even be a possibility. We didn’t want to fall into the “grass is greener” trap of reminiscence. But we couldn’t let it go – that feeling of knowing that this was our home. Our block. Our neighborhood. The place where it all started fitting together for us as a family. Even now, sitting here at the dining room table, looking out on the sidewalk as kids walk to school and friends greet each other, it doesn’t seem quite real.

But it really happened. We are finally back home, here in this sweet little lucky house. We toasted champagne and strawberries back in May and joyfully ripped out every inch of carpet, every dust-coated ceiling tile, had every square inch of asbestos abated and took the house down to its literal bones. It’s a sweet little place, in need of just about every update imaginable in a neighborhood of multimillion dollar mansions. But we love it, just as it is. And we have time to dream about how to grow together in this little space, with so much love and friendship and happiness.

And so Patrick wakes up most morning and goes running in the woods, waving and smiling at everyone on the bike path. And the kids tumble out of bed and chatter about Minecraft or Mario or My Little Pony together at the table over fresh pumpkin bread and yogurt. And I wake up to the smell of coffee, groggy and a little sore from replacing the dishwasher, or installing a new toilet, or clambering about in the attic, or breaking up little boy disagreements, but ready for the day. I open the house wide on these first few cooler fall mornings, and let the sun and the sounds of neighborhood construction, and hollering kids stream into the house.

I know we still have a long way to go, but it feels like this year has been a year of laying the groundwork for life to move forward for all of us. Sean is in a new school for the gifted and is thriving with the challenge and a wonderful new teacher. Wyatt is back in school with a pair of very tolerant and kind teachers who are unphased by his intensity and tickled by his charisma. Patrick continues. I suppose that’s the briefest way of describing this phase in recovery. It’s not quite a plateau, not quite a stall out. It’s just a place of subtle shifts in the patterns of pain and relief. Where long weeks of interesting work both exhaust and stimulate him. Where days of jumping in the surf at the beach will hurt, a lot, but it won’t stop him from loving every minute. And I’m finding the everyday parts of life easier to manage, leaving space for rest and rejeuvenation. Writing, playing piano, planning a new bathroom, dress-up pretend with Wyatt, Wii battles with Sean, quiet evenings on the porch with Patrick.

I cannot wait for nights where my nose is chilly and the blankets are piled above me. And days where jackets and scarves are required, and leaves pile all around the house. And roasted vegetables in the oven. And the smell of apple cider on the stove. And knowing two years have passed since Patrick’s accident, and we’re okay.

An entire year

It’s October. We made it an entire year. So much has changed.

We are back in Northern Virginia. We moved in June, just after Sean finished first grade. Actually, we moved earlier in the spring within Santa Clara from the tall and awkward townhouse to a tiny and adorable mid-century modern bungalow. We unpacked everything, sat in the lovely home, visited with the neighbors, walked to the local park, and cried and cried and cried. California had become miserable for us. I like to say that it chewed us up and spit us out, but even that tired metaphor just doesn’t encompass the complexities of how difficult life had become for us in Silicon Valley. We tried so hard to find peace in that space and in that place, but we both knew that our hearts just weren’t in it. So we moved home.

It’s odd to say “home,” especially for Patrick and I. We’re nomads, self-professed. Before we had kids, when we were living relatively unrooted lives, we used to boast about the global citizens our children would become. We became itchy footed again in Minnesota after fleeing New York. But moving to Virginia was like a perfect fit. We found a home, a community, a climate, a space that gradually grew into someplace that we didn’t want to leave. My sage brother said to me, as I called him confessing homesickness and a desire to move back east this past winter, “Your roots are stronger than you realized.” Every single person we told in CA, from our dearest friends, to our school acquaintances, said, “Go home. Be well. Be loved. Be where you are happy.”

Two years ago, Sean and I stood in that lovely little house in Vienna moments after the movers had driven away with all of our worldly belongings on the truck, cross-country bound. Patrick was already in California starting at Apple, and Wyatt was cuddled in his carseat, only a few weeks old. Sean and I clapped our hands like the little girls in Our Neighbor Totoro and thanked the house for being a beautiful home. It wasn’t nearly as cheerful or peaceful as they do it in the movie – we collapsed in each others arms and sobbed and sobbed, snot covered and grief stricken. Sean has always been a sensitive soul, and postpartum was never a time of great stoicism for me. Everything had changed – a new baby, a new job, a life across the country. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but we figured if anyone could do it, it was us. We nomadic Dwyers of great fortitude. We’d get through it and thrive no matter how hard life became, right?

Initially, California cheered us greatly. We met lovely folks and gradually built a network of old friends and new. We explored the wonders of Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Monterey, Marin and beyond to the redwoods, ocean, desert and bay. But we were wearing rather thin with a exceptionally difficult infancy with Wyatt and with problems with the public schools in the area and feeling isolated amidst it all. We nestled our children close and tried to reconnect with our loved ones who supported and cared for us, but they were so far away, across the country, back in Virginia. We dreamed of being happy and independent adults again and tried and tried to even out our lives with positivity and exploration, looking to the kids for lessons on mindfulness and presence. We almost got there.

Then Patrick was hit, and the bottom fell out.

The past year has been an exercise in rebuilding everything. Recovery encompasses every part of life for everyone involved, even our kids. Especially the kids. Patrick is still recovering, but we are dramatically closer to reaching that precipice where his definition of self becomes less dependent upon his accident and more dependent upon his rebuilt sense of who he has become. His strengths, rather than his weaknesses.

Patrick’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. He’s started a new job in Virginia, and as devastated as we were to leave Apple, he is excited and challenged and surrounded by interesting and supportive people and work. Every morning he gets up with the dawn and goes running on the bike path and in the woods, with the deer and the quiet. His happy place, where he centers himself each day to face the inevitable pain and fatigue that continue to follow him. He does his PT exercises and yoga on the porch to cool down before the household stirs. He ran his very first race a few weeks ago – a 5k, at an extraordinary pace. The first of many to come. He has yet to get back on the bike, but it will come.

We’re slowly reintegrating into our community, with love and support from grandparents, siblings, cousins and friends. Sean has started school back in Vienna at the school he would have gone to a few years ago, had we not moved. He’s making friends, singing silly songs at the top of his lungs in the cafeteria at lunch, showing off his gnarly blood blisters from the playground monkey bars, and always sneaking back to play goalie during his soccer games. Wyatt starts preschool in a month at a sweet, peaceful school. Those poor folks aren’t going to know what hit them: Wyatt the riot, who is never quiet, the life of the party, precocious and persistent, confident and curious.

I’ve started writing and reading again, slowly. I’m only just now starting to see writing as less of a cathartic therapeutic process for dealing with the intensity and emotionalism of these past few years, and more of a part of who I would like to become. Many things had to line up in my life to help me see my way back to personal investment and self-care, and they’re slowly coming into focus and alignment: moving past the high demand infant/toddler years, night weaning the toddler, getting more rest, finalizing insurance and settlement details, getting the kids into school, daydreaming, reading, resting, recovering. There was no way I could justify writing fiction for fun during this past year. The only functioning brain cells that I had were dedicated to making sure that everyone in the house was wearing pants, that everyone in the house had decent food to eat, and that everyone in the house knew they were loved, every day. I actually picked up a book this week during one of Wyatt’s brief naps. I sat in a chair that has only ever been used as structural support for little boy forts, or as a command center for little boy battles, and I claimed that chair in the name of a good book, a cup of tea, a warm splash of sunshine, a blanket on my toes. It was utterly liberating and glorious. I’m even going to try to attend a writers convention this weekend to help reinvigorate my desire to put pen to paper and continue the momentum that I had going a few years ago. What luxury. Time for ME.

As of this past week we officially concluded all legal and insurance matters relating to Patrick’s accident. I don’t have any official plans to share how the negotiations went and what the outcome was, but if you have questions, please let me know and I’ll be happy to fill you in. We reached out to the person who hit Patrick after the conclusion of the legal issues and have exchanged emails with him. I think I can say that both Patrick and I have made our personal peace with this man, but we wanted to reach out to him because he expressed a great deal of confusion through his lawyer of being unaware of what had happened to Patrick after the accident. His email back to us was so sad, so genuine and compassionate. It’s a flippant thing to say, but true: Patrick couldn’t have been hit by a nicer guy. This is not a man who tried to drive away, or pass off responsibility. He stopped, he stayed, he admitted fault and he has lived with grief and fear and anxiety over his actions for the entire year. One of his strongest memories of the accident is hearing Patrick’s voice, seconds before he hit him, yelling “What the fuck are you…?” Patrick didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence before the impact, but I’ve heard the audio on the recording. I heard that voice, what he said, how he said it – a tone that I have never heard out of Patrick before. As compassionate and accepting as I am about the accident, how a moment of inattention can happen to any of us, I think it’s a VERY GOOD THING that this man drive for the rest of his life with Patrick’s fury and disbelief and VOICE, that voice you never want to hear, in his mind. But it’s done. Over. One of the last pieces of this horrific year that can get put in a box in the basement and locked away for a very long time.

Fall has arrived slowly in Virginia. This week has given us hot apple cider, warm hats and gloves on our walks to school in the mornings, breezy and crisp evenings, creamy pumpkin ales, and the crinkle of leaves underfoot. It’s my favorite season, Patrick’s too. And we’re slowly convincing the boys that Autumn brings beautiful things, and not just cold viruses and cold toes. Cuddling on the couch together in the morning with a good book, hot chocolate after an afternoon of laughter that you can see fogging the air, Dad’s birthday, Thanksgiving with family, warm meals with friends.

We made it. We survived a whole year. We came home. Imagine what we can do this next year.

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