A Hard Story to Tell – Part 3

A Hard Story to Tell  is a work of creative nonfiction that recounts the most unnerving experience of my life. The story was released in serial format. This is Part 3.      

  Part 1.            Part 2.

For A.–

“Balloons and lollipops. That’s what most kids choke to death on.”

That’s what Officer James said through panted breath. A breath lost when he sprang from his squad car, sprinted the up the driveway and exploded into our little house. Our little house, remember, where only good things happen.

Like some shiny tumor, the purple Dum-Dum head sat saliva-wet and heavy on the kitchen floor.

“Did you do the heimllich?

I nodded.

My polo shirt and khakis were ringed with sweat. My hands dripped with blue ink.  The rain had stopped but the air seemed to grow hotter, soupier, weighing on the world like an unseen blanket.

“You know… I’ve been a cop for 8 years. And…those are the worst calls. I couldn’t tell you how many…”

His voice tailed away as he wiped his brow and toed the candied tumor.

I sat rocking, sweating, sizzling with that electric brittleness feeling you get when driving the wrong way down a one-way street, when Officer James, found my eyes and in a steadier voice said, “I’m a father myself. Got two kids. A boy and a girl. I couldn’t imagine….”

We–strangers, fathers– shared a quiet look, Officer James and I, both feeling sorry for each other in our own private ways.

Cindy was kneeling, stroking Chase’s head as Haley stood at the edge of the kitchen, hands still cupping her mouth still fascinated and horrified by this whole scene and my neighbor, Angel, stood shirtless in the doorway.

When my eyes moved to Angel’s big brown eyes, he broke into immediate apology for not wearing a shirt, “I’m really sorry for not wearing a shirt.”.

Two young looking EMTs arrived in the doorway. They were calm and unimpressed by the purple tumor on the floor. The taller one pointed his nose north.

“Is something burning?”

Cindy sprang up, “shit the cupcakes”, and rushed to the oven. The shorter EMT joked about calling the fire department.

No one laughed.

The EMTs looked over Chase, asked him some questions, poked around his ribs, took a few notes and left.

Officer James, lingered for a few more minutes talking to Angel.

Cindy and I began piecing together our afternoon, our lives. Officer James left. Angel apologized again, “I heard someone pounding on the door, crying. I just didn’t have time to grab a shirt.”

I smiled, thanked him and told him not to worry about it.


This is a hard story to tell because Cindy doesn’t want me to tell you. In fact, whenever this story emerges her eyes glaze and adopt this for away look. A can-we-change-the-subject look. Maybe she’s embarrassed. Maybe ashamed because she left to get help. I want to privately remind her that when Haley fell in the pool, I barely moved.

I understand. Chase choking to death on our kitchen floor was horrifying. It that does need to be replayed, repeated or even told.

But I can’t let it go.

The story has too many triggers — Dum-Dums, balloons, cupcakes, blue ink, a siren, a driving rain, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. And when the story does rise up in my memory, I’m like my daughter, I don’t want to look, but I have to look. I need to look.  And when I look into the book of memory I remember and remembering leads to writing.

And for me writing is, and always has been, easier then forgetting.

It’s a hard story to tell because, in the end, children are naturally short on memory and parents are not.

Later that day I took Chase to Party City to get a birthday pin.

Chase and I walk into the store. Balloons everywhere. Some inflated and stringed. Others flat and stretched and graced with Elmo, Elsa, and Lighting McQueen tacked high across the wall. Chase’s eyes buzz about the shinny Mylar. A bored teenage girl leans on the counter. Below the counter are rows of candy.

I scoop Chase up, kissed him on his little apple-shaped head, slip him into the shopping cart seat. We pass the bored teen, the balloons, the candy and reach the edge of the counter when Chase looks up at me with his gentle blue eyes, smiles and says, ” Dad, can I please have a lollipop?”


If you enjoyed this serial story, please share with your circle of humans!

Give a listen to my latest appearance on the “Set Lusting Bruce” podcast. In this episode I analyze the power and meaning behind the iconic “Thunder Road”– an analysis that host Jesse Jackson describes as “mind blowing”. Enjoy!

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