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BIG AND UGLY ENOUGH
The Story of Linda Schector

By Linda Schector

CHAPTER ONE

It was a Saturday morning when I first outran Pa.  I was only 10 years old.   Pa had sired 20 kids.  Except for Mikey, I was the only one he couldn’t intimidate.  In 10 years, he’d never caused me to shed a tear; it made him furious.

“It’s too hard!  I’m not gonna!  Bully!” I shouted over my shoulder.  I crashed through the back screen door at a dead run and sent it flying against the clapboard house with a sharp crack.

“Come back here!” Pa yelled.  I heard the rapid thudding of his shoes on the back steps.  He was right behind me.  I could count on a beating if he caught me, and I was still sore from the last one.

My bare, calloused feet pounded across bare earth and mowed weeds in the field behind the house. My yellow flowered dress, ingeniously sewn from a chicken feed sack, flew up to my hips as my browned knees pumped even more furiously.  Pa was over 60 by this time and not quite the same man he was 20 years ago; if I could just outlast him. Finally, his footsteps faded behind me.   When I reached the woods beyond the field, I felt brave enough to look back over my shoulder.   He’d stopped, red-faced and gasping for air.   It was over.  I’d won.  But there were no long-term victories around our house.   I knew I’d have to answer for it sooner or later.   Still, that fleeting moment of success whet my appetite for winning, and it would serve me well throughout my 72 years.

We’d moved to Long Island from the Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1931.   I was three months old, the 19th of 20 children.   We settled in Elmont, an empty tract of land west of Franklin Square and north of Valley Stream and just beyond the line from Queens.    Pa and my brothers build a two-story house in an open field that ten years later would be dotted with homes.

Pa opened a grocery store not a stone’s throw away from the house.   Behind the store, they threw up four whitewashed walls and called it a barn.   We raised chickens.  Every Saturday morning without fail all the little, old Italian women from the neighborhood would gather around the chicken coop to pick out the perfect hen for their Sunday dinners.   They’d stand around the chicken-wire pen, resting their chipped enamel dishpans against the hips of calico housedresses, and point out the birds they wanted.

“That brown one there,” one of them would shout to me.

“The fat one with the crooked feathers,” another would call.

Now, I had 11 older siblings and one younger one, but for reasons known only to him, Pa made it my job to catch the chickens and haul them over to the fence so the women could pinch their breasts and study their thighs to see if they were suitable fare for their dinner table.

“Nope, not that one.  Too skinny.  Let me see that one over there.   The feisty one.”  They barked out orders like jealous roosters and then cackled to each other in Italian under their breath.

I’d throw one chicken back and race around until I caught another one.  Did you ever try to catch a chicken when it’s scared or angry or both?   In clouds of dung dust and feathers?  In mud or slush?  Or worse, in snow?   There’s only one word to describe it: Miserable.

Once the little old ladies were satisfied with their selections, yours truly would take each chicken to the chopping block and slit its throat; if someone were to ask me to do that today, I’d probably keel over.  Pa had one very strict rule: the second that chicken’s throat was slit, hang it by its feet and let the blood drain out; if you didn’t, the blood would settle in the chicken’s joints and the meat would be ruined.   That was not a rule any sane 10-year-old would break, not if she feared for her life.   It was also likely that if you didn’t get the chicken hung up right away, it would end up running around the coup with its head cut off.   You’ve heard the saying, ‘Like a chicken with its head cut off.’   I always wondered if this was true, so naturally I had to see for myself.  One day, I let one of those chickens jump off the cutting block after I’d slit its throat, and sure enough the poor thing raced around the coup with its head dangling to the side for the better part of a minute.   Comic and strange at the same time, I just sat there wide-eyed and laughing.  I cost Pa a chicken that day, and it cost me a serious beating.  But watching that chicken zigzagging from one side of the coup to the next, well, at least in this 10-year-old’s estimate, it was worth it.

So after the blood had sufficiently drained out, you’d dip the bird in a pail of near-boiling water and pluck its feathers; not much fun.   When this was done, you’d hang what was left over an open fire pit and pick out whatever feathers you weren’t able to get the first time around.  That done, you’d gut the chicken using a paring knife that probably hadn’t been sharpened since the discovery of iron; it was a nasty bit of business that we all took for granted back then.   Finally, you’d wrap what was left in a sheet of wax paper and deliver it to the customer.  All Pa did was take their money.

I hated those little, old Italian ladies and their bossy ways.  I hated Saturday mornings when most kids were out playing kick-the-can or climbing trees.  I especially hated dodging after those chickens.  When I’d say, “Pa, I can’t do that!” he would just look at me and grunt, “You’re big and ugly enough.  You can do it.”

You’re big and ugly enough!   I must have heard that a thousand times.   You’re big and ugly enough.    My father was a very tough man; he didn’t worry about your feelings, and he didn’t worry about how his brutal ways would affect your life down the road.   Get it done, stay out of his hair, and don’t cause trouble.  I wasn’t very good at any of the three.

So when Pa and I weren’t screaming at one another, I was trying to out run him.  The upside was that I became a very fast runner.   A further upside was that I used that particular talent to win a million blue ribbons in school and to get myself out of several very spooky situations.

Seventy-one years later, I turned a two-person business with one desk and a typewriter into a $41 million dollar enterprise with 110 employees and a 10,000 square foot building, but for the life of me I don’t know what happened to my cache of blue ribbons.  I probably threw them away one day without really thinking.   Now I wish I’d kept them.

Growing up in a large Italian family on Long Island, New York during the Great Depression could be hard on a girl’s self confidence.  I needed every boost I could get.  The blue ribbons helped.  Much to my Mama’s dismay, I was blessed with more energy and less common sense than any two girls my age.  Sports were a good place to spend some of that extra energy, though not necessarily the best place to expand one’s reservoir of common sense.   I also channeled some of the energy into my love of music.   I could sit around with my brothers and sister singing the songs of Cole Porter or Irving Berlin or Johnny Mercer and never know where the time went.   You never heard such an energetic version of Jeepers Creepers or I’ve Got You Under My Skin until you sat around the DiNapoli kitchen on a Saturday night.   I could dance with an old broom in my hands for hours, hearing Frank Sinatra or Judy Garland running through my head; at a wedding or funeral, you couldn’t get me off the dance for with a team of wild horses.  I spent hours daydreaming about my life as a famous actor or a world-renowned dancer, but deep down inside I didn’t feel like I was pretty enough.

WOW MOMENTS!

Turning Experiences into Extraordinary Events

By Mark Kent

CHAPTER ONE: Leaving the World a Better Place

What is a Wow Moment?

A Wow Moment makes an experience extraordinary. A Wow Moment takes what we expect from a situation, event, or interaction and elevates it to the unexpected. A Wow Moment provides an unanticipated, lasting spark to a relationship and creates a memorable experience.

While our primary focus in the pages to come will be to explore creating Wow Moments for your customers, clients, and associates – moments that elevate the stature of your business in their eyes – we will also explore Wow Moments that infuse meaning and wonder into our relationships, our community, and our world outside of work.

I’ve spent most of my career in the medical profession. I run medical centers. Providing an exceptional healthcare experience is the bottom line to everything I do; making that experience extraordinary in the eyes of our patients is what separates us from our competitors down the street, across town, and all the ones trying emulate our success. It will do the same for your business, regardless of your industry.

It was a Wow Moment that pointed me in the direction of the healthcare industry in the first place. I was 13 when I lost my grandmother. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life. Grandma was the pillar of our family. She was the glue. Her name was Dorothy Kent, and I spent a large part of my childhood sharing her love and learning from her. Losing her was a Wow Moment that changed my life.

Grandma Kent died of diabetes. This was 30 years ago. Today it would never have happened. Advances in modern medicine and our understanding today of how diet and exercise help to manage diabetes might have given her another 25 years. But the education and the understanding we have today of such diseases didn’t exist then. For a 13-year-old, it was devastating. All I wanted to do was save her in some way.  It was this event, as negative as it may have been, that sparked my interest in healthcare, a spark that has never died. Her death and the disease that killed her were the impetus and the catalyst for who I am today.


Wow Moments come in all shapes and sizes. As you can see from my experience with my grandma, not all of them are pleasant. Some are painful. Some are inspiring. Some are life changing. Some just make for a better day.


Educating patients so they have a better understanding of their disease is a huge part of what we do in my medical centers every day. Back in my grandmother’s day, for example, we didn’t know how significant diet and exercise were in the life of a diabetic. Now we can explain the cause and effect of the choices they make and help them to make the right choices for a healthier life.

I began my career working in direct patient care as a registered nurse, but I also studied business because I knew early on that I wanted to have more control over the administration of healthcare.  The Wow Moment for me in this respect was not that accountants, lawyers, and C-level managers ran most clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals, but that these people actually had no experience in truly touching a patient. They had no understanding of what motivates the men, women, or children in their care or how their behaviors influence health. Most importantly, they had no clue as to how to fundamentally assist and help the people being treated in their facilities.

That was the Wow Moment that made me realize how much greater my impact could be if I combined a knowledge of patient care with an understanding of the business of healthcare. Instead of impacting one person at a time, I could actually impact hundreds if not thousands of people towards bettering their lives.

Two generations ago my family came to the United States via Jamaica. Our journey took us through Florida to New York and finally to Indiana.  Education was the number one priority in our family. The message I got from both my grandparents and my parents was simple: the best way to a better life is through education.  If you keep pushing, you can always get better, and the moment you’re satisfied is the moment you stop growing.


There’s always an opportunity to get better. There is always an occasion, as my grandma liked to say, to advance the ball down the field.


There are no age limits on Wow Moments. Age has no bearing on creating Wow Moments or experiencing them. I remember coming home from school one day complaining about how much I hated my teacher and how sick I was of homework; I figured my grandma to be the perfect person with whom to air these complaints. In one sense, this proved to be true. But instead of sympathizing, she pulled me aside and gave me some of the best advice I was ever to hear. She said, “Mark, every day that the sun rises and sets and you haven’t done something to move the ball forward for yourself or your family or your community, then you’ve wasted that day.”

I was 10 years old, and I will never forget the absolutely sincere look on her face. And I never forgot her words either. They became a fundamental part of my core being.  I believe that we’re here to leave the world better than we found it, and I’ve told my own son this a hundred times.  


WOW Moments can work in mysterious ways and come from the most unexpected sources.


I remember how moved I was when I heard the story of a 4-year-old foster child named Rilya Wilson. Rilya went missing while living in the home of her caretaker here in Florida.  Her disappearance went unnoticed by the state for nearly two years, and she was never found.

The incident left such an indelible impression on me that I began researching the foster care system in Florida and found that the state was charged with the care and oversight of more than 4,000 children, a near impossible task. What I found was that most lived at or below the poverty line and that their educational prospects were dire at best. This was the same system that had so thoroughly failed Rilya Wilson.

I knew I couldn’t stand by and do nothing, so I created a not-for-profit foundation called FOCUS Foundation for Foster Children. The foundation’s aim was to provide backpacks and school supplies for as many of these foster kids as we could. Our first year, we reached out to more than 400 children and made certain they had the supplies they needed to face the school day. It was a good start. I remember what moved me the most was the overwhelming reaction these small contributions produced: a grateful smile on a child’s face; a look of gratitude in a school coordinator’s eyes when we delivered a load of backpacks; a hug and a thank you from a foster mom.

Still, I knew we could do more.

Yet the more I got involved, the more I realized that neither the local foster families taking in these kids, as big as their hearts may have been, nor the state had enough resources to deal with the crisis.

Many times I would go home angry and mentally exhausted. The roadblocks and obstacles standing in the way of changing a situation society had created and allowed to fester was daunting.


The turning point for me – my personal WOW Moment – occurred one rainy afternoon as I was driving home after a long day.


I pulled up to a red light and caught sight of a teenaged girl sitting at a bus stop rocking back and forth and looking completely lost.  I rolled down my window and asked her if she needed help.  She shook her head “no,” but I could see that she was crying and shaking from the cold. I pulled over and got out.  I crouched down next to her and asked again what I could do for her. Was there someplace I could take her? Someone I could call? Sarah, not her real name, could barely respond through the tears.  When I offered to call the police, she said that wouldn’t help.  Then she dried her eyes and looked me. She said, “I’m just so tired of trying. Life just seems so unfair.”

She told me how she’d been accepted to a local college but couldn’t afford it. She’d been living in foster homes her entire life, but now that she was 18, there were no longer benefits or assistance available. She was homeless.

Amazingly, my phone rang at that very moment. Call it providence if you will, but it was a mother from one of the foster families I’d visited that day calling to thank me for the supplies I’d provided for her children.  Not one to ignore the hand of fate, I told her about the young lady and asked if I might bring her by. The foster mother agreed. When we arrived, the foster mother told me that there were, in fact, no transitional services available for foster kids aging out of the system.

I went home that evening determined to help this young lady. Here was someone trying to positively impact her own life and couldn’t seem to catch a break.  It wasn’t right. How could I help? There had to be a way.

I woke up the next morning with an idea that, if done right, would expand the scope of our foundation and provide scholarships for foster children who had been accepted to colleges, universities, and trade schools in the Florida area. I enlisted the help of friends and donors, and our first scholarship was awarded less than six months later. The recipient? You guessed it. The very young lady I had met that rainy day. As I write this today, she is a college graduate who recently graduated from law school and aspires to be a judge someday.

Yes, our charity still provides backpacks and schools supplies to foster kids throughout Florida, but it also provides scholarships and transition services to assist young adults aging out of the system and facing the uncertainty of life on their own.


All life is made of experiences. It is when we determine to make those experiences into extraordinary events that we enter the world of WOW Moments.


Legacy of Wisdom

By Gabrielle V. Taylor

Preface

Whatever we do in our lives, I have found that most people want to make an impact, be known for something, or leave their mark on the world. It can be called leaving a legacy.  Something of value a person leaves behind for those who follow. Many of those who have come before us, whether family or friends, have left a legacy of some kind.

It is a family belief for my husband and me that we are accountable to those who came before us, and we let our daughters know this as well. The best gift I can bequeath to my daughters is the knowledge of who they are, where they came from, how their mother came to value the world and the people in it, and ultimately, how I seem to “know so much about everything.”

Discussing such thoughts with children is important, but in order to protect those valuable nuggets that may be forgotten over time or misunderstood due to their age, I have put together this book about the development of wisdom to help them remember who they are and how some of their values evolved. They may not read this book until their twenties, when they have children of their own, or even later in their lives, but it is my goal to give them a tool from which greatness can emerge.

The impetus, therefore, for this book was to leave something of value behind for my daughters, who are the most precious beings in my world besides my husband. One can leave money, personal effects, and valuable property behind, but the gift of wisdom, love, and a sense of where we come from is something that cannot be taxed away, burned in a fire, or lost on an investment that goes belly-up.

One of the most interesting items left behind in my deceased paternal grandmother’s belongings was a paper she had written for her college philosophy class. It was a fascinating journey into how she thought and how she expressed herself. Because she was a private person, I did not know her as well as I knew my maternal grandma. I would consistently enter conversations with her in search of more information, but she would redirect me. Finding the philosophy paper allowed me to see who she was as a person, through her intimate thoughts on various abstract topics.

The stories our ancestors pass down through generations paint pictures of them as real, living, breathing people, so we can better understand our own origins. I understand the importance of our ancestors, even the brief glimpse my paternal grandmother provided into her personal wisdom. We also are inspired and impacted by people in our lives who are not our relations. I want to give my daughters a legacy of my own that captures the value of being a better person in the world, a gift I hope will also benefit all those people whom we and this book come in contact with, as well as generations to come. That is why I wrote this book. My hope is that you will find some wisdom for yourself, your family, and your friends within these pages.

One: A Word Before You Go, Grandma


“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran


The Wisdom of Grandmothers

What is wisdom? Here are a few answers from Merriam-Webster:

  • accumulated philosophic or scientific learning
  • ability to discern inner qualities and relationships
  • good sense
  • the teachings of the ancient wise men

I prefer my Grandma Valentine’s answer, but that one takes a bit more time to explain:

Grandma liked the word keen, and for me that word still conjures up some of the qualities that made her my mentor: the shine of affection in her eyes whenever we talked, her sharp perception of why people behaved the way they did, her ability to pierce to the heart of a matter whenever I needed advice. Grandma was keen on me, and I was keen on her. Grandma was a thinker, and I was always interested to know her conclusions. I’m still keen on Grandma’s wisdom, though she has been gone for more than twelve years.

Lately I find myself thinking a lot about wisdom: what it is and what it isn’t, why it’s both constant and ever-changing, where it comes from and where it goes, and why some people collect it while others never grasp it. Grandma and I could have talked about this for hours, leaning toward each other in her tiny kitchen, or pressing earnest ears and lips to the phone.


“People will show you what they know through how they act. Just watch them, listen to them.” – Grandma Valentine


The things my grandma taught me might not sound new to you. But that’s what amazes me. Maybe your grandma said similar things to help you navigate a difficult situation with a colleague, friend, spouse, or child. But where did the first grandma learn it? How do people solve life’s challenges? How do they decide which ideas to keep and which to throw away?

I believe we gather wisdom because we’re curious about life and yearn for connection. I believe we hold onto wisdom because we cherish the ability to apply knowledge and experience to new situations. I believe we pass wisdom on as a gift because we love people, so we want to save them pain and help them find their path to joy. Grandma knew this, so she passed on her gift to the most willing pupil she could find, the baby of the family: me.

When I think about Grandma, I feel happy. Not that she was a fluffy, hearts-and-flowers, huggy-kissy little old lady. She was a hardworking, sharp-thinking, no-nonsense powerhouse. But working hard and thinking hard made her happy, and she taught me to feel the same way.

When I think about myself—and Grandma taught me the importance of reflection—I feel proud of this: I know how to ask people questions. I often see patterns in human behavior, and those patterns help me understand what to ask. When I make a decision, I truly want what’s right for the other person. I believe there’s a way to find out what someone else wants and what I want and come up with an answer that lets us both win. I don’t need people to think my way. Whether I’m helping someone solve a problem or create an idea, putting that other person in the driver’s seat engenders trust. On the other hand, I’m not in true service to others if I merely stroke their egos. I can speak truth to power. At the end of the day, I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, only to ask what I can do. I learned that from Grandma…and Socrates.


“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” – Socrates


At some point, after I’ve asked all the questions I can ask, I still have to come to a conclusion. I previously served as chair for the board of trustees at the school my two young daughters attend. The school underwent an outdoor renovation in which the process was bumpy. The project brought together people with disparate personalities and values, people who had never worked together before, including people outside of the school community who needed to approve the planned improvements. I had contact with many generous people who donated time and money, but I still witnessed the uncertainty and complications that come when people react before they have all the facts. Grandma’s wisdom guided me as I simply listened and asked questions. During this process, one of Grandma’s favorite words became my guiding light: humility.


“Humility allows you to hear and listen while making you pleasant and genuinely gracious.” – Grandma Valentine


By the end of the project, the committees spearheading the effort had produced results well beyond what the board expected, and our donors had been more generous than anyone could have imagined. My letter to all who participated was filled with gratitude—and my grandma’s wisdom.

SIX YEARS ON A BOARD

A Different Kind of Vietnam P.O.W. Story

A memoir

by Robert Wideman

One: Shoot-Down

North Vietnam’s thick green coast and slender white beaches looked peaceful from ten-thousand feet. Glancing behind me I could still see the aircraft carrier’s wake a hundred miles away, cutting a perfect white line through the sun-struck blue of the Tonkin Gulf. It was a beautiful, cloudless day with unlimited visibility, the kind of day when you can see so far in every direction that you might almost find the past behind you, almost find the future ahead.

The navy had trained me not to look quite that far back or ahead, but to stay on task, on mission, on target. If I had dared to look into the past, I would have glimpsed my new wife, Patricia, her Marilyn Monroe silhouette flickering in the candles she liked to light for dinner even when she was only making lasagna. I might have tasted the melt-in-my-mouth meringue, cake, and ice cream of that Baked Alaska she made even though I would have been happy with Thrifty’s rocky road. During our brief five months of marriage in Lemoore, California, Patty’s delicious cooking had added fifteen pounds to my small frame. When I had boarded the U.S.S. Hancock in San Francisco, the guys had teased me that if I gained any more weight I wouldn’t fit in the cockpit. It had been four months since I’d seen my young bride in the flesh, but if I thought about it, I could still hear her giggles the night we broke one of the legs on our bed and wondered if the crash woke our neighbor in the downstairs apartment.

If I had spared a moment to think about the future, I would have seen myself flying something much bigger than this Navy A-4 Skyhawk, a jet full of airline passengers bound for vacation or home. That was my plan, and if anyone had asked me I would have told them I was almost there. I had already put in three and a half years of service. Just twenty-seven more months, and I’d be back over American skies. On a day like this, that future seemed clear and certain. Our flight squadron spotted no enemy aircraft, no surface to air missiles, no anti-aircraft artillery. No enemy radar. I was almost there.

I glanced at the clock in the control panel. It read 1:00. Another flight would start the next run at 2:30. This was all standard routine. It did not occur to me then to question the clocklike regularity of our daily missions. After all, the U.S. military was a precision machine. I was twenty-three years old and glad such decisions were not up to me. In a few moments, I would fire my rockets on our assigned target and then turn back for the carrier. Landing on that narrow floating island without overshooting the mark would be the scariest part of my day. Still, it too would be routine.

The date was May 6, 1967.

There were just two planes in our flight, two pilots, each alone in our separate machines, and neither of us said a word during those final moments. The only sound was that of our engines as we rolled in on a small barge that was headed up a waterway about two miles inland from the coast. Then, as we lined up on the target, I felt but did not hear a small metallic click. In that moment, my clear view of the world changed.

My aircraft rolled uncontrollably to the left and began to plummet. I tried to move the stick back to center, but it was off to the left about 45 degrees, and it wouldn’t budge. Relying on the muscle-memory of my training to keep me alive, I turned off the auto-pilot, dumped all my ordinance from the wing racks, and pulled the emergency generator. No luck! At about eight thousand feet, I saw a large hut rushing toward me, getting bigger pretty quick. When I saw six thousand feet spin by on the altimeter, I thought If I don’t get out now, I’m going to die in that hut in a ball of flaming metal. I had to eject. If I did, I was going to come down on land, not the ocean as I might have hoped, but there was nothing I could do about that.

The plane must have been diving at more than 500 knots when I reached overhead to the top of the seat behind me and pulled the face curtain. I heard the wind shriek as the canopy flung itself from the aircraft. It felt as if someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat, and for a split second everything went black before I saw bright white stars, just the way a cartoon cat might after an enemy mouse hits him with a mallet. I struggled to hold my arms and legs together so they wouldn’t flail in the wind, but G-forces kept trying to pry me apart. As the ejection seat tumbled me through the air, I saw earth, then sky, then earth, then sky, flashing in and out of sight between my legs. Work, damn it, work! I willed the parachute to open. It seemed as if twenty seconds passed, but in reality it must have been fewer than two seconds before the chute deployed. I didn’t feel the hammer-blow I had expected. I didn’t feel anything. Must have been the adrenaline. Then I realized I was falling too fast.

I looked up at the parachute, which was streaming like a scarf in the wind. The risers were tangled, so I reached up and pulled them apart, which caused intense pain to shoot through my fingers. I noticed two of them were bloody and crooked. Broken. Looking up past them, I saw that at least the chute opened completely. It still looked much too tiny to me, but my descent slowed to a survivable rate. Thank God, I thought, and was surprised that part of me hoped someone was listening. Unlike my mother, I had never been religious before. Dad had worked hard to make me suspicious of religion. Too bad. Praying might have made me feel better about now.

As my descent slowed, my thoughts sped up. I did a quick mental inventory: two arms, two feet, a head. I was alive! I looked out over the Tonkin Gulf, a tantalizing two miles away, yearned for the haven of those gentle coastal hills, those safe white beaches, those welcoming blue waves. That was where I needed to be for rescuers to have a chance of getting to me before the North Vietnamese Army did. Still, for one brief breath, trouble seemed far away. Floating high above the war, I held onto the illusion of peace for an instant longer, stunned by the intimate hush of the air after the rude rumble of the plane.

What a hell of a place to be! I thought with awe and regret. And then, Poor Patty! I had broken the promise I made to her the day she saw me off at the Cleveland airport. I never saw a woman cry so hard, didn’t know what to say. So I said, “I’ll be back,” though I knew I couldn’t guarantee any such thing. Now I could see the Navy’s casualty assistance team knocking on the door to her parent’s place in Cleveland, Patty answering, her stunned expression as she realized I had broken my promise. We had met just six weeks before we married, had spent almost as much of our marriage apart as together. I didn’t know what was more cruel: that she might lose me so soon, or that she might therefore get over it quickly. I pictured my mother, father, and brother getting the news, my mother lighting a candle in church, her face a mask of shock.

I could not yet feel sorry for myself, neither scared, nor angry, nor worried. I was too overwhelmed to identify any emotion. I only knew that what I had always known could happen, but had never imagined happening to me, was now happening. I was no longer in control. For the first time in my life it occurred to me that maybe I never had been. Yes, prayer would have been nice, but action was the only thing I had to rely on.

ETERNAL
A Novel

By H.G. Nadel

Prologue

She sprinted through the dark, stumbling on sharp rocks that bit into her feet, ignoring the shooting pain from the deep gash in her right hip. A freshet of blood ran down her torn knee to mingle with her sweat. A woman’s body holds about eight to ten pints of blood. How much could she lose before she blacked out? Her heart beat uncontrollably, she was on the verge of hyperventilation, and blood loss was making her dizzy. But she could not stop—she must not stop. She had to get there. Sweat dripped into her eyes, but she couldn’t spare the energy to wipe it away. Every extremity throbbed. She wanted nothing more than to sink into oblivion, to succumb to the weariness in her bones.

But she didn’t dare stop.

Ocean waves crashed at her feet, urging her to pick up her pace. Almost there. As her legs pumped harder, the blood that oozed from both her hip and her knee pulsed faster, leaving a distinct trail in the sand. Big splotch, little splotch, big splotch, little splotch. With luck, they’d be able to follow it to find her body. Don’t you dare pass out before you get there! The moonlight blurred and faded—or was that her dimming sight? She could just make out the rough outline of the pier in the darkness. Her final destination.

In desperation, she cried out, “Nadia!” Her voice was so cracked with fear and fatigue that she almost didn’t recognize it as her own. She stumbled and fell. She’d lost too much blood. She couldn’t go any further. The world started to turn gray.

ONE

Julia kept looking at her watch. She was eager to see her dad, despite the reason for tonight’s visit. She was glad the long day was almost over. That thought was followed by guilt, survivor’s guilt. At least she still had long days to contend with, unlike her mother, who used to wear this watch, which hung more like a gold bracelet, making it hard to see the time.

What was taking Dr. Bertel so long? She didn’t want to take off and leave the lab unlocked, but also didn’t want to lock it while he was down the hall in the supply closet. A light bulb had blown in his office. She’d offered to replace it, but he’d been oddly defensive about doing it himself. “We geniuses aren’t all bumbling incompetents! It’s not like I’ll electrocute myself changing a bulb.” He’d laughed harder than the joke had merited. She’d shrugged it off and turned back to labeling test tubes. She was getting used to working for an eccentric.

She sighed, rubbed her burning eyes, and tugged open the top button of her white lab coat. The extra layer felt hot over her Beatles t-shirt, one of a slew of shapeless shirts she wore to hide the over-amped breasts that made her feel awkward. She plucked a hair from the test tube tray and dropped it on the floor. It matched the haphazard brown locks around her face, escapees from the utility clamp that held back the rest. She caught her distorted reflection in the chrome table and wrinkled her nose at the green eyes she’d always thought too far apart and the lips she thought of as fat. Her mom’s pretty features didn’t come together quite right on Julia’s face. She assumed the only reason boys stared at her was because she was such a geek.

She wasn’t sorry to be a geek. Her science smarts had landed her this summer job straight out of high school, in Dr. Caleb Bertel’s forensic pathology lab at the University of California, Irvine, no less. Bertel had tapped Julia as his research assistant after a single interview, much to her surprise. She’d taken a slew of AP science classes and graduated top of her class, but still felt lucky to be here. There must be more-qualified college girls who’d kill for this opportunity—not just because Bertel was a genius, but because he was a hottie, even if he was over thirty.

Bertel’s wounded gray eyes and touchable wavy hair aside, his reputation wasn’t what it once was. He’d been retired from his position with the FBI. All Julia knew about the reason was a vague rumor that he’d been caught working on unauthorized research. To Julia it seemed like a minor blemish on an otherwise successful career. Bertel had done breakthrough research in the use of DNA to solve cold cases, and he’d published three books, one of which sat on the shelves of almost every serious forensic scientist in America. Yet many of those same scientists would prefer to forget the book for which he was better known: The Devil Takes a Body: When Science Can’t Explain Superhuman Behavior, a tome on demonic possession.

The criticism didn’t bother Bertel. In fact, Julia suspected he took pleasure in it. In her eyes, it made him more interesting. If a man of science, an expert on the medical evidence left by death, believed that people could be possessed by spirits, maybe there was something to it. In any case, she was eager to develop a close working relationship with such a brilliant researcher. This apprenticeship would look good on her application to med school. She’d already been accepted at UC Irvine, a top research campus, but she had some deficits to overcome. She wrinkled her nose again, at the thought of her senior year fiasco at the science fair. But when she’d blurted a confession of that deadly incident during her interview, it hadn’t put Bertel off. Instead, it had seemed to clinch the job. He liked that Julia took risks, particularly the crazy ones.

What was taking him so long? Probably couldn’t find the light bulbs even though they were right at the front of the utility closet. Probably didn’t know what the boxes looked like.

Just as she was beginning to think she should check on him, he walked past, struggling to carry a ladder and a carton of bulbs. She found his clumsiness endearing—something they had in common. Soon a confusion of rattling and mumbling drifted to her. How many scientists does it take to change a light bulb? She chuckled and grabbed her purse. On her way outside to meet her dad, she walked past Bertel’s office to remind him to lock up.

His door was ajar. They worked in the basement of the research facility and, although the sun stayed up late on summer evenings, the corridors languished in a perpetual bluish glow made creepier by the insect hum of the few working fluorescent tubes. Before she could grab the doorknob, the lights flickered and went black just as she heard an explosive sizzle and bang, like a large firecracker, maybe an M-80, the kind Tyler bought last Fourth of July—he was such a pyro. She heard a loud clatter and thump in the office.

Julia’s heart raced as she tried to fling open the door, but something was in the way. She shoved as hard as she could and, as the shadowy object gave way in the dark, she realized it was Bertel’s body. Then the lights turned back on and she could see everything. It seemed he’d been thrown across the office. The ladder was lying across his legs, and glass shards were scattered everywhere. The track lighting over his desk was ringed in black. The room smelled like a cross between barbecued ribs and burnt metal. Bertel’s face and hands were split open with splotches of charred black skin and blood red flesh. What freaked her out the most were his eyes, wide open and unblinking. He was dead, the victim of an electrical shock. But how?

Her widening eyes mirrored his, as she whispered, “What did you do?”

Julia quickly dropped to Bertel’s side to verify what she already knew. “Dr. Bertel! Dr. Bertel!” she shouted as she shook him. She put her hand to his mouth. Nothing. She laid her head atop his chest—a position she’d often fantasized about, but which now just seemed gross. Nothing. He wasn’t breathing, and his heart had stopped. She ran to the closet just outside his office, where he kept the defibrillator they’d ordered just a few weeks ago.

She grabbed the defibrillator, ran back into the room, and turned it on. She ripped open Bertel’s shirt and stared for a moment at his chest hair wondering if the defib paddles would make good enough contact with his skin. Oh well, she wasn’t about to waste time trying to shave it. She applied gel to the defib paddles, and then took them in both hands. The paddles shook. Then she realized it was her hands that were shaking. She took a shuddering breath, pressed the paddles against his chest, leaning into them, muttering “twenty-five pounds of pressure.” Then, even though she knew no one was in the room with them, she looked around, shouted, “Clear!” just as Bertel had taught her, and pressed the discharge button. She felt the shock vibrate through her arms as his chest rose toward her, making her think, “Walking Dead! Walking Dead! Ew, ew, ew!” She sat back and watched the cardiac monitor. Still no heartbeat.

Tears streamed from her eyes as she pressed the paddles to his chest and shouted again, in a choked voice, “Clear!” On the fifth or sixth try, the cardiac monitor finally emitted a series of beeps, and she turned to watch the jagged little lightning bolts rise and fall across the screen.

She heard a sudden gasp, like a swimmer coming up for air, and when she turned back to Bertel, she received another surprise. His eyes fluttered, but instead of closing or blinking or looking at her, they seemed to be staring up at some faraway place beyond the ceiling. At the same time, his eyeballs seemed to fill with blood, turning a darker and darker crimson, until the crimson turned into a deep black that engulfed his entire iris. She wondered if he had broken blood vessels in his eyes. Then the phenomenon disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, as his eyes returned to their normal gray and fell closed.

Still on the floor, Julia reached up, fumbled the office phone’s receiver from the cradle and dialed the emergency room. Luckily, their research facility was on the same campus as the hospital. Still, Bertel had been without a heartbeat—dead, he was dead, Julia—for at least five minutes, maybe longer. “I need emergency medical assistance in Research Building Three, basement level, Room 24. I think Dr. Bertel was electrocuted.”

“Is he breathing?” asked the woman on the other end of the line.

Before she could answer, a hand clutched her arm. She shrieked and dropped the phone as Bertel took hold of her other arm, too. This was not the flailing grasp of a man who had just died and been revived. It felt like the grip of a trained killer eager to break her arms in two. His nails broke through her skin. “You’re hurting me, Dr. Bertel! Dr. Bertel, stop!” She tried to pull back, but instead he pulled her toward him until they were close enough to kiss. Again, she’d often fantasized about such a moment, but, again, she was hardly in the mood. His eyes, usually so shy and sexy, were wild and bulging and bloodshot, the eyes of a friggin’ mad scientist.

He pressed his cheek against hers and whispered in her ear in a voice that didn’t sound like his at all, “Tu m’appartiens!” Then he lapsed back into unconsciousness, his head falling back to the floor, and his hands letting go of her arms so suddenly that she fell on her ass.

She rubbed her arms, which were sticky with the blood he’d drawn with his nails. But she didn’t notice that just yet. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. “Tu m’appartiens!” Her mother had spoken French to her since she was a baby, she had taken French all through school, and her family had spent many a summer with relatives in France, so Julia was fluent. But even a first-year French student would have understood what he’d said to her:

“You belong to me!

Survive Your Cancer

By Barbara Brandon

Chapter One: Diagnosis—Cancer


“…Fear is a great accelerator of disease…Hope, faith, confidence and the will to live set an auspicious stage for…recovery.” —Norman Cousins, Former Editor, Saturday Review of Literature.


Of all the words that can strike fear in the heart, none come close to the impact of C A N C E R. You are gripped with fright. In one swift moment you are no longer who you were seconds ago; you have cancer. Your world has suddenly come to a standstill. Nothing will ever be the same again: not the way you see yourself, not the way others see you, not the risk for your children. It’s a staggering blow that takes your breath away and sets your mind awhirl with thoughts that race out of control.

You may try to put on a calm and composed exterior, if only for the sake of others around you. Yet, you pay dearly for the façade with inner rage and turmoil. You feel suddenly powerless, paralyzed with fear. You are angry. You feel hopeless, and your mind churns a torrent of questions that you are too scared to voice.

Ask most anyone what goes through their mind when they hear the word cancer, and the immediate response is death. It is the biggest hurdle to overcome after discovering you have cancer. For me, after the initial shock of learning that I had cancer, I became so caught up in the momentum of doing my own research, scheduling appointments, seeing doctors, and challenging the “system” that I stopped thinking of myself as having the disease. Instead, I focused on taking charge. I wanted to learn all I could about my illness, to see the doctors I wanted to see, to have the tests I wanted to have, and to plan my own calendar for surgery and follow up treatment. I was in a race against time to accelerate treatment and get past this episode in my life. Death was not an option.

Was I fearful? Yes. Did I have anxious moments? You bet. Each time I waited for test results I was apprehensive. One of my biggest fears was how to tell my children about my condition without alarming them. And the medical profession can be quite complicit. They use words like “mass” and “malignancy” and give your particular kind of cancer clinical terms. In fact, I don’t think I ever heard the word “cancer” from any of my doctors, but the word was there, emblazoned over the door of the Lombardi Cancer Center, plain as day.

I had cancer, period. End of sentence.

The “Out of Body” Experience

Unlike some, after the initial shock, I was not afraid to face my cancer. Instead, I was more afraid of the consequences that might arise from having cancer and having it go undiagnosed and untreated. Waiting any period of time for lumps to grow, for additional symptoms to appear, or for the cancer to metastasize was out of the question. If I had cancer, then I wanted to know as soon as possible and I wanted the best treatment possible. Because I wasn’t afraid to face up to my cancer, I could remain fairly objective about my diagnosis and treatment. This objectivity is what I call the “out of body” experience. This is not a form of denial, but a depersonalization of the disease that helps you to overcome the trap of embracing a victim mentality. It allows you to detach yourself from the disease growing inside your body and enables you to focus on your treatment. By taking a clinical approach, you are able to discuss your diagnosis, research your disease, and actively participate in your treatment.

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