Category Archives: Me

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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Unforgettable Jane Dutton

Bob Jane

I went to my friend Jane Dutton’s memorial service today to say goodbye. But somehow, I don’t think she is really gone from my life. Jane enabled me to talk with my children. I’ve had a different – and better – and happier life because of that. And for at least one of my kids, it probably saved her life. Thank you, Jane.

It all had to do with reading aloud to my children – even after they were old enough to read on their own – something Jane taught me was possible – even though not enough parents continue to do so. After reading tens of thousands of pages and hundreds of books together, once you’ve read the Funeral Oration of Pericles out loud to your eight-year-old, you can talk about anything – even the kinds of things no one wants to discuss.

I’m so happy for Jane and the courageous decision she had to make to move to the Netherlands a few years ago. But in doing so, Jane also pulled off something incredible: and that was that she didn’t abandon us – she was still here – and in many ways closer – from her new home so many miles away. And I was blessed to have a front row seat witnessing her having that same kind of different – and better – and happier life. I miss my friend: Unforgettable Jane.

Bob

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Active Shooter

As I came out of my late movie last night, the guy behind the concession counter warned me to be vigilant: there was an active shooter a couple of blocks over near MIT. So I went home a different way, not my usual route across Main and down Vassar to Mass Ave.

Here is a list of resources for children exposed to traumatic events. Adults might need them sometimes, too.

Bob

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I Be Irie

The DVD came out this week of a movie I particularly enjoy. I appreciate its moments of real living — despite whatever calamity is transpiring at the same time. It’s filled with a number of great quotes. Most people will remember the one about how, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.” But my favorite is Muriel’s retort to the complaint that, “Nothing here has worked out quite as expected,” when she says, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.”

For me, things don’t usually work out as expected. However, I know I have the choice to be miserable or to search for some joy wherever I am. I try to choose the latter. This reminds me of the story Welcome to Holland. My family spends their time in that Holland. We’ve all moved in and have our resident visas.

I learned a new word this week, “irie.” But before I tell you what it means, we need to learn how to pronounce it … because it doesn’t work if you say it wrong. It’s pronounced “eye-REE,” just like the beginning of the name “Irene.” And it means to be at peace with your current state of being; the ultimate positive.

Here it is in a sentence:

I be in Holland. I be irie.

Bob

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The “Author Picture”

There is no better way to get to see yourself than to have your own caricature done. Keelan did a great job. What a dweeb. (Me, not him.)

Bob

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The First Draft

I finished the first draft of my book today. It’s been in the works for quite some time. It was only recently that we made it to an appropriate place to give it a hopeful ending.

This means that I’m no longer a pseudonym, but a pen name.

Bob

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I’m Bob

Hi. I’m Bob. I’m the proud father of Patricia, my no longer quite so suicidal daughter who still isn’t dead. Bob isn’t my real name, but then again, neither is Patricia’s. For those of you who know us, we ask that you respect our privacy. Please don’t post our true identities on the Internet. It’s not like we are superheros — we’re more like pack mules with some extra baggage that doesn’t need to be shared with everybody.

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1st Post

… create … d.

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