20th Anniversary of Worcester Cold Storage Fire

The 20th anniversary of the Worcester, Massachusetts Cold Storage fire is coming up. I wrote about it in my book. Today, I live just down the street from the site of the fire. I park my car in what used to be the abandoned lot I parked in that day when I stopped by to pay my respects. I share the story here:

Worcester, Massachusetts is famous for just a few things: Triple-deckers. Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry.  And the guy who invented the smiley face.

On December 3, 1999, Worcester became famous for a horrific building fire that killed six firefighters. It took days to put it out and recover their bodies. Our community was devastated.

When it came time for a memorial service, everyone came. Even the president. I took a couple of hours off work and walked downtown to watch the funeral procession. What struck me most were the 30,000 firefighters from around the world who came to pay their respects. Some were dressed in their best uniforms—polished buttons and crisp pleats. But most just showed up in the only thing they had—their turnout gear. The sight was incredible.

When it was over, as I walked back to work, I passed by the city’s main fire station. Hanging on a chain-link fence were several hand-drawn posters. Messages from local school children to the lost firefighters. I slowed to read them.

I was struck by one:

“May your house be safe from tigers.”

I burst into tears.

A few days later, I made my way down to the fire site. A makeshift memorial had sprung up nearby. A fire truck, parked by the side of the road, was festooned with mementos left by people coming to pay their respects. Flowers. More of those notes. Flags. T-shirts.

I collect things. I’ve been doing it for years. I call it “Real Word Stuff™.” It started with sand from some of the beaches I’ve visited. It has grown into trying to collect some little something from the places I’ve been that will remind me of that special day. Some of the things are straightforward: Confetti from the millennium in Times Square. Water from The Great Salt Lake. A dining room table. Others are more esoteric: Light from a Leonid Meteor Shower. Fog from the Sargasso Sea. I keep some of the stranger stuff in little glass bottles I have for just this purpose.

As I walked up to the fire truck, I kept wondering how I could collect something that would remind me of this solemn place and time. I certainly wasn’t going to take something someone else had left—that’s not how I do it. Maybe I’d find some soot. Or maybe just a smell would be enough. As I came around the truck, in the back, amid all the flowers and the other stuff, was a baseball hat. With four letters embroidered on the front. FEMA.

It took my breath away. I burst into tears again.

I went back to my car, opened the glove compartment, took out two of my little bottles, and walked back to the fire truck. One by one, I opened each, filled it with my breath, and sealed it up again. I left one on the truck’s bumper. The other went into my pocket.

Some things are bigger than one person, or one family, or one community can handle. For Worcester, it was that fire. We needed the whole country to support us. And they came.

Mental illness, like fires, strikes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. The victims and those trying to support them aren’t always in the best position to be able to handle it themselves. And even if they don’t always know the right thing to do, sometimes, we need our government to throw its hat into the ring, too. To help us make our houses safe from tigers.

—Pages 220-221, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

My Breath

Much has changed in 20 years. But just as much remains the same: Mental health is still bigger than one person.

Bob

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Free and Almost Free Book

The Kindle version of my book, Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions, is now available FREE for Kindle Unlimited customers and only 99¢ for the rest of us at Amazon.com.

Just click on the link and join me on an incredible journey.

Witness to the Dark Cover

Read it on your Kindle or using a free app on your computer, iPad, or phone.

Bob

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Talk in Groton, Massachusetts

Patricia and I will be speaking at the First Parish Church of Groton as part of the Mental Health Working Group of the First Parish Church of Groton’s 10th Anniversary Celebration. Join us.

Where:
First Parish Church of Groton
Junction of Routes 40 and 119 · Groton, MA 01450

When:
Saturday, May 6, 2017
7:00 pm

Flyer

A free event open to the public.
Sponsored by the Mental Health Working Group of the First Parish Church of Groton

Bob

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PPAL 25th Anniversary Talk in Bellingham

Patricia and I will be speaking at the Bellingham Public Library as part of the Parent Professional Advocacy League’s 25th Anniversary celebration. Join us.

Where:
Bellingham Public Library
Community Room · 100 Blackstone Street · Bellingham, MA 01013

When:
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
5:30 – 7:00 pm

Flyer

A free event open to the public.
Sponsored by PPAL · Boston and Worcester, MA

Bob

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Boston NAMI GB-CAN

Bob and Patricia
Patricia and I are going to Boston to talk with NAMI GB-CAN.

Where:
Center Club
31 Bowker Street · Boston, MA 02114

When:
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Program will start promptly at 6:45 pm

Flyer

For information: info@namigbcan.org
A free event open to the public.
Sponsored by NAMI GB-CAN · Boston, MA 02114

Bob

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Through the Lens: Living with OCD and Anxiety

Torre Catalano says, “I Have OCD. This Is What It’s Like to Be in My Mind for 3 Minutes.”

As I was watching this, for some reason I was driven to check my blood pressure. It was OK.

Bob

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NAMI North Central Mass

Bob and Patricia
Patricia and I will be speaking tonight in Fitchburg, Massachusetts at the NAMI North Central Mass Annual Meeting.

When:
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
7:00 pm

Flyer

Bob

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Anthony Rapp is Back in Massachusetts with “Without You”

I have my ticket and I’m going back to see Anthony Rapp in “Without You.” He is doing his one-man show from September 9 to 13, 2015 at the Carling-Sorenson Theater at Babson College just outside Boston. I encourage you to go and be part of something incredible.

I went twice in 2012 when he came to Massachusetts. I wrote about it here (below). His story and his message have stuck with me ever since.

Years later, I continue my life as Mark, still trying to live, while others live and thrive around me.

Bob

Anthony Rapp in “Without You”

Posted on June 20, 2012 by bob

I went to see Anthony Rapp tonight in Boston at his one-man show, “Without You,” at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University. It was incredible. I’m going back on Sunday to experience it again.

The timing of this is a bit serendipitous. I’ve been a huge fan of “Rent” for many years, and particularly of the character played by Mr. Rapp. There is something about Mark that reminds me of my own self and the relationship I have had with my daughter Patricia as she has struggled over the years. This week, I am finishing up my book, a memoir about those difficult times. Unlike “Rent” and AIDS, mine is about mental health, another difficult, but just as taboo subject. For some reason, “Rent” and Mark have found their way into its pages. Twice.

As I was leaving for the theater tonight, the UPS guy showed up with some new uncorrected book proofs. I thought for a second about bringing one and trying to figure out how to give it to Anthony — maybe he’d like to read it — to see how his story fits into ours. But I quickly dismissed it — he’s just an actor. He’s not Mark.

But as I sat there tonight, it occurred to me that Anthony, in telling his story, was doing the same thing that Mark had done in “Rent.” He helped us live as he watched others live. And in doing so, Mark (and Anthony) got to live, too.

Anthony was alive on stage tonight. In his music and stories, he brought with him those same feelings I’m drawn to in the “Rent” experience. Thank you, Anthony, for letting me live tonight, too.

Go. Live.

Bob

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Kiva Wellness Center · June 16

Come See Bob and Patricia
A Frank Talk on Mental Health

Shining a light on mental health.

Kiva Center

Join us in Worcester as Patricia and I talk about our experiences in the mental health system and its effects on us. This talk is the first of a planned series of public conversations on mental health issues from a first-hand point of view to take place at the Kiva Center of the Central Mass Recovery Learning Community.

When:
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
6:00 pm

Where:
Kiva Wellness Center
209 Shrewsbury Street
Worcester, MA 01604

This is a free event open to the public.

Flyer

Bob

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PPAL Conference 2015

Friday, May 29, is the 2015 PPAL Conference in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Patricia and I will be presenting at a morning workshop. We hope to see you there.

This is a big deal for us. Two important milestones will be occurring. First is that continuing education credits are available for those attending the conference. Somehow this makes us all the more legitimate; maybe even more so than speaking with a class of Psychology majors at UMass Amherst in February. Second is that our talk is being translated into Spanish to make it accessible to more of the conference participants. This should be interesting. We are looking forward to a great day.

Bob

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