A story about life
Dan Lewis was not having the best day of his life. He sat there, his right knee bouncing in what he called his “knock around” khakis. The day hard started casually, as any day off from work might, and he threw on some comfortable pants and a slightly faded polo shirt he’d had for years. The knee was bouncing, though, in the familiar way it did when he was either excited or uncomfortable, but today was not really a day for either of those feelings. Today was different and it was worse.
He listened intently to Doctor Rasmussen (Leo to his friends and even a few patients who knew him outside of the office) as he described what the next 6-12 months of Dan’s life was most likely going to be like. He was missing every other word or so because of the shock. No one is ever ready to be told they are dying, but for Dan, it was the timing of the conversation that made it harder to bear.
As if anyone is ever truly ready for this kind of news, he and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Annie, had spent the morning talking about college and marriage and all the things that he wanted so desperately to be there for as she became an adult. Every other word Dr. Rasmussen said was intertwining with the words of Annie in his head. It was almost like they were fighting to see which ones would be heard.
Cancer was not on the agenda even though he had known it was a possibility since he started dropping weight a few months back for no apparent reason. When the lower back pain got to the point where Dan knew it was worth talking to his GP, it was probably already too late. Grandpa Ron had died of pancreatic cancer when Dan was just a boy and, Dan thought, it was just his turn to perpetuate the cycle.
He had asked Dr. Rasmussen about this possibility during his first visit. You know the one, right, where the doctor assures you they just want to rule out the worst? Well, so much for assurances, Dan thought. So much for plans and so much for the future. Dan realized, at that moment, that what he had to go on was right now.
“Do it now,” he said aloud.
Dr. Rasmussen stopped talking and looked at Dan with a mix of compassion, understanding, and a sort of steely professionalism. Dan found it comforting in that moment as he repeated himself.
“Do it now. I’ve got to do it all right now,” he said before trailing off when he heard his own voice rattling around in his head.
Dan and the doctor talked a while longer but there was not much else to say. Dan apologized for not catching everything Dr. Rasmussen had told him and the only slightly older gentlemen walked him through next steps. There would be more tests (Dan nodded, looking down) and there were new protocols available all the time.
“You’ve been coming to me for a long time, and I know you’re a fighter, Dan. That’s not just some doctor bullshit, either, but you’re going to have to want to fight. This is not the time to do anything halfway. Do it now, like you said.”
The men stood up. Rasmussen was a few inches taller than Dan on a good day, but the lower back pain Dan had been experiencing made it hard for him to reach his full 5’11”. For the first time, Dan noticed the Doc had a few inches on him. He always told people, when he was younger that he was six feet tall, but for a second, Dan felt really, really small.
Dan banished that thought from his mind, though, and shook Dr. Rasmussen’s hand slowly, making sure to make eye contact like his father had taught him. Then he turned and walked out of the office.
On the walk to his dark gray Yukon XL parked in the lot, the one with the failing transmission, and more miles than you could walk in twenty lifetimes, Dan remembered an old episode of Seinfeld where the gang is all trying to meet up to see a film called, “Prognosis Negative” and he laughed aloud. It might have been the last time he laughed that day.
What would he tell his family? They would all be home when he got there with the kids home from school this week for spring break and his wife, Jan, who worked from home finishing up her day just before he would arrive. She had been so positive that morning, chiding him about wasting a day off over nothing.
“It’s probably just the mattress,” She said.
She’d been pushing for a new mattress for months and neither of them had been sleeping well. Dan now wished it were that easy. Would a new mattress from one of those ads he heard all the time cure cancer, too? Would it buy him an extra 100 days if he tried it out?
His thoughts drifted back to his family. How would he look at them? As much as he didn’t know what to say, the need to see them was stronger than he could have imagined. He wanted to see them all so badly at that moment.
Ever the planner, he knew Jan would dive right in and start figuring out what they would do. That was her thing. Planning. Figuring things out. She would clamp down her feelings, take charge, and throw herself into working this out.
He was the one who saw how these things would work out. Without thinking about the streetlights, or anything, for that matter, that he was passing in the Yukon, he saw what would come over the next few weeks and months. Eventually his cancer, no, the reality of his death, would consume her completely and she would break down in his arms and this would be wasted time that he couldn’t spare.
The kids were another thing. How could he tell them? How would he share all the things he wanted to share with them?
When he arrived home, Jan knew the news wasn’t good just by looking at Dan. She knew him as well as anyone on earth, at least she thought at the time, and she was not fooled by his “I have something to tell you and it’s not good” smile.
Dan was used to giving people bad news. It was part of his job. As a partner in a call center, he had to give people bad news on a regular basis, although usually he was telling them to go share it with someone else. He hated letting go of things, people, ideas, but sometimes you had to do it.
In the previous six months, he had been the bearer of bad news for just shy of three dozen employees due to the ebb and flow of the sales world. While they had a lot of great clients at work, it was always a revolving door. Selling technology, well, conversations about technology, was a business that moved quickly.
Dan had worked his way up in the business and knew that even the worst callers could sometimes turn it around if they just got on the right campaign. Dan preferred to move his people around until they found the right fit, but some people just never fit. You have to want to be good on the phones and Dan knew this to be true, even if he hated to lose people.
Dan loved to say, “Phone work is hard.” It was even written on a plaque in Dan’s office, and he put it there for a reason. He wanted people to know this from the minute they came to work for him, and he insisted that his onboarding trainers started off every new hire session with this quote.
His partner and friend, John Rawls, didn’t think this was a good idea at first, but it grew on him. Dan had a way of explaining things to people that helped them believe in themselves. He knew, instinctively it seemed, how to get people on the same page and how to get past whatever challenge people were having that stopped them from believing they could be successful.
Layoffs were part of the game, though, and Dan had gotten used to using his “I have something to tell you and it’s not good” smile.
Jan was often the one who helped him work through the feelings of frustration that would go home with him on these days. The tough days. She would help him believe that he could carry on and be successful, even when it felt like he was failing.
Dressed in her exercise clothes, Jan must have just gotten home from a walk in the neighborhood when Dan walked through the door off the carport. She was in the long, rectangular kitchen drinking water from her favorite glass. It was a 70s style glass with different colored rings going up and down the glass. She loved it and he loved that she loved it.
The Lewis family lived in an older, somewhat affluent section of Phoenix near a historic hotel called The Biltmore. It was a comfortable house, old, but they had done some updates over the years to make it fit their family better, although space was not an issue. For the five Lewis’s, it was plenty of room.
The house itself was kind of a maze. You could walk a hallway that basically a square if you included the screened in patio on the north side of the house. There were five bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, a large den, and an office. The front of the house faced a quiet cul-de-sac with neighbors on the right and left, but no one’s front door was particularly close to theirs.
The backyard was large. In typical Phoenix fashion there was a swimming pool, but there was also room enough next to the pool for a good game of whiffle ball or badminton. Along the back of the fence, there were lots of mature trees. A couple of pine trees flanked several eucalyptuses and the obligatory citrus.
The trees were what made Dan fall in love with the house when he and Jan were looking to buy in the early 1990s. There was something so peaceful about them and it made you forget there was no neighbor directly behind the house, the canal that split their neighborhood from the one just to the north.
The fence line was set about ten feet into the edge of the property, so there were trees on either side of the block wall. The previous owners had valued their privacy, so this area of the yard was thick with foliage and trees creating a layer of seclusion to the Lewis family would learn to appreciate over the years. There was a gate, but most of the bikers, dog walkers, neighbors, and joggers probably never noticed it.
Hidden among the creeping fig, wisteria, and honeysuckle that lined the block wall was a gate. It was blocked to the northwest and to the east by trees, so unless it was opened as someone was passing by at the perfect angle, you would never know it was there. The latch was on the inside and there was a thin chain that laid under the creeping fig to get back in if you needed to do so.
Sometimes Dan and Jan (the rhyme was not lost on them, ever) would slip out the gate that was almost hidden in their fence and walk the canal together after work or on the weekends. This was time for them to unwind and talk about their days. Sometimes it was a just a quiet walk and people watching, but lately, Dan had begged off when Jan invited him.
Dan knew that their sons, Cole, who was 17, and J.R. (Short for John Randall), who was 22, would slip out that back gate to meet girls, smoke weed, drink, etc., but he never let on. The neighborhood was safe, and everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids. He hoped Annie hadn’t figured this out yet, but she was the smartest of the kids, so she probably had.
Today, though, as Dan measured the look on Jan’s face as he walked in the door, all he wanted to do was hold her hand and slip through the back gate one more time without anyone noticing. They needed to talk.
It wasn’t as bad as he thought.
As he and Jan walked along the canal, Dan laid out what Dr. Rasmussen had shared with him. Jan was quiet for a long time. A single tear was perched outside her tear duct, ready to fall at any time, but it held on for the quarter mile it took Dan to get through what he had to say.
They stopped when they got to 32nd Street and looked at each other like they had done many times before. Usually this is where they would decide whether to cross the busy Phoenix street and head into the land of the rich and famous or turn back and make the loop between 32nd and 40th Street.
Today was different.
Today they couldn’t hear the cars rushing by or the footsteps of the joggers passing them. Jan looked into his eyes and the tear fell. Seeing this made Dan’s own tear ducts kick into overdrive as well. They stood there, crying, looking into each other’s eyes, saying the first of many goodbyes.
When they got home, they decided to call Cole and Annie into the den to talk about the news. With J.R. down in Tucson at University of Arizona, they decided to drive down over the weekend and let him know in person. There was little chance of him reaching out to anyone before that as he was busy with work and school.
Dan sat in his favorite place. The brown corduroy lazy boy had seen better days, but it was still comfortable, and everybody knew it was “Dad’s chair.” It was adjacent to the L shaped couch so that everyone could watch a movie together, play Scrabble or Monopoly, or have one of the many family meetings the Lewis family tended to have.
As Jan went to collect the kids, Dan thought about how to start the conversation. While they were walking, he just blurted it out.
“Rasmussen says I have a large mass in my pancreas and my options are very limited.”
From that point, he had just talked and talked and gotten everything he had been thinking about for the previous hour or so off his chest. This was not the way to go with the kids. He knew he would have to be gentle, but not give any false hope. He knew that was a bridge they would have to cross on their own all too well.
He fumbled in his pocket for his iPhone and pulled up his browser to look up how to tell you kids you were dying.
He saw a ton of results and started scanning the first few things that popped up. It was overwhelming and Dan instantly wished he would not have looked at this. There was no way he would remember all the things on these lists. One article from an Irish website caught his eye, though, and he scanned it quickly.
It said to give out the information gradually and do this in a comfortable place. Dan was glad he had gotten one thing right. They were definitely in a comfortable place. There had been many celebrations in this room.
Some of the celebrations were immortalized and on the walls around him. Jan was something of a photographer and their home was a showcase for her pictures. Most of these were of family and shots from various vacations. Dan often lamented that Jan was not in many of the photographs because she was the one behind the camera, and it really sunk in today.
He wanted to see her face, as much as possible, and preferably with the kids there and smiling, too.
Dan looked at one of the pictures on the mantle above their fireplace. It was of himself and the kids at their cabin in Strawberry. Next to it was a picture of he and Jan that J.R. had taken when he was about 14. She was laughing at him because he had just said something really dumb.
J.R. always told his friends that he took the picture. He would say something like, “This is my parents in their natural environment. He’s an idiot but she’s entertained.”
Jan did often say that she was entertained by him, but now she was gathering their kids to tell them the worst news they could share.
Dan had tried to go the gentle route the Irish writer had shared. He started off by saying that he had just come from an appointment with Dr. Rasmussen and that the news was “not very good.”
Both Jan and Dan had expected Cole to say something sarcastic like, “When’s the funeral?” but he didn’t. It would have been just like Cole, though. Sarcasm was his sword and shield lately. He was a senior in high school and the only one of the kids remotely interested in what his dad did for a living.
Cole talked about taking a gap year and working on the phones to learn the business all the time, but that was not what his parents wanted. He was a natural and would be great, Dan thought, but he also wanted Cole to have the college experience he never got to have. Watching J.R. bloom from a distance was one of Dan’s favorite things.
Cole was silent now, though, and it was Annie who broke the ice.
She asked what was wrong. Dan said that he had pancreatic cancer and he would probably not have as much time with them as he would have liked. Dan was always as precise as he could be with his language, so hearing the word “probably” from their Dad’s mouth did not sit well with the kids.
There were tears. Lots of tears. Anger, too. Cole continued to be quiet. He got up abruptly and left the living room. When Dan got up to follow him, Jan touched his arm and quietly asked him to sit back down. Jan always knew when to give the kids some space.
Annie sobbed and shook her head from side to side as if to say, “No, that can’t be true.”
Dan stood up and moved over to the couch and sat between his wife and daughter and put his arms around them both. All their stories on the walls around him. All the stories he got to be in before…
Sleep did not come easy for Dan that night. He was restless. When he did eventually talk to Cole later that evening, the two of them spent more time sitting in silence than actually speaking. Dan assured Cole that he was going to fight and get as much out of life as he could. He also let Cole know that his reaction earlier had not hurt his feelings at all.
Cole was the most like Dan in a lot of ways. He was business-like and direct when he was uncomfortable, but also had a way of seeing things that showed real empathy for others. He just wasn’t always sure how to share it and, like his dad, he often kept things to himself.
When Cole apologized for walking out of the room earlier, Dan told him he understood. He shared with Cole that he had felt the same way when he was younger and found out his grandfather, Ron, had died.
Ronald Everett Lewis, aka Grandpa Ron, was 61 years old when he died in 1972. Dan was eight years old at the time his father, Rob, had told him and refused to believe that his grandfather was dead. He had run from the room, looking for his grandmother, Laura, who was known only as “Gramma” to Dan. Gramma would tell him it wasn’t true, and everything would be okay.
Cole listened intently. There were so many things about his dad’s life he didn’t know. Cole had often wondered why Dan rarely talked about Grandpa Ron because his picture was on his desk at the office. When Cole would ask about him, Dan would just say something like, “He was a great guy” or “He would have loved you.”
Cole could see the pain on his dad’s face as he talked about his grandfather. He had been close to Grandpa Rob before he had died a few years earlier, but he had started to get sick well after Cole was the age Dan was and Cole had a stronger understanding of the situation. He also had J.R. there to explain what was going on, too, but Grandpa Rob had talked about Great Grampa Ron even less.
Even a glimpse into what his dad was thinking, or feeling, for that matter, was always like a gift for Cole. It’s not that Dan wasn’t there for him or present in his life. Quite the contrary as Dan was a great father in many aspects, but he wasn’t always the best at sharing the quieter parts of himself.
This seemed different, but as Cole and Dan did their dance of talking and sitting quietly together, it was becoming clear to Dan it was helping Cole to put things in perspective. He loved watching Cole’s brain work. You could almost see the different thoughts crossing his mind as the expression changed on his face. Dan hoped Cole knew how much he loved him.
Words couldn’t express it, Dan thought. The words never seemed to come out right, but he couldn’t help but be encouraged by the measured countenance on his son’s face.
Cole looked more like his mother than he did Dan, but they had the same chin. This was a topic of conversation, a lot because Dan had a good chin. It was strong and it fit nicely with the features he got from Jan’s side of the DNA tree.
Like many high school seniors, Cole was rapidly shedding the look of a boy and was turning into a young man before his parents’ eyes. Like his physical presence, Cole’s room had also transformed a lot of the last couple of years. If they had needed to have this conversation a few years before, Dan would have been hard pressed to find a place to sit, but not anymore.
Cole kept his room neat and tidy now. Dan had pulled the chair from Cole’s desk and had plenty of room to turn it around to face Cole’s bed when he came in to talk. Two years prior, he would have been kicking clothes and shoes and video game debris to either side to make even the shortest path.
Dan got lost in this thought. He wondered what Cole’s room would look after he was gone. What would his first apartment look like? Where would it be? Who would he marry? Would it be Jill?
Cole’s girlfriend, Jill, was often a fixture at the Lewis home. Jan and Dan made it a point to make sure all their kid’s friends were welcome and felt comfortable when they visited. Jan’s parents, Dottie and Bill Wallace, had started this trend and Jan was hell bent on keeping it going. It was “subtle parent trick #2” in Jan’s vernacular which meant, if the kids like being at home, they will be safe and we will know what is going on.
Dan wasn’t sure what was going on in Cole’s mind, but he knew when Cole figured out what he needed, he would let him know. Dan thought Cole needed some time to think and work through it. The two of them had a strong and evolving bond and even more importantly, there was a mutual respect, too.
For the past year, Cole had been working Evolve Solutions after school and during the summer. Cole got to see a side of his father that the rest of the family was not privy to except at the company picnic or when they would visit the building. As part of the cleaning crew, Cole liked that he got to observe what was going on without anyone really noticing him.
Joining the cleaning crew had been Cole’s idea. He didn’t want any special favors, being the son of a partner, but he wanted to learn the business, and more importantly, he wanted to be part of it. Cole also liked Ferdie Ruiz a lot. Ferdie oversaw building maintenance and was Cole’s boss. He was also someone Dan respected entirely.
Both Cole and Dan were not sure what they would say at work the following day, but there was every chance that Tuesday, November 8, 2016, would be an interesting day.
Jan woke up before Dan. Seeing him lay there, sleeping soundly, almost made it seem like the previous day had just been a bad dream. Then she noticed Annie sleeping on her reading lounge which was kitty corner to their bed, and it all came back.
When Annie was younger, she looked for any excuse to crawl into bed with them. A storm, a barking dog, a scary movie … you name it. Most days, Annie just liked snuggling up to her dad, Jan always thought, but she would snuggle with her, too. Jan replayed Annie’s reaction to Dan’s news as she stared at her sleeping daughter.
Annie’s reaction was what Jan thought it would be.
“She’s the fighter in the family,” Jan told Dan while Annie was in the bathroom washing her face and doing her best to calm down.
“Annie will push you the hardest of all of us. You know that, right?”
Jan had searched Dan’s face to see how he was going to react to that. Did he have fight in him? Jan would have never let him know that she had her doubts, but she did. She was scared.
When it came to work or hell, even playing basketball with the boys in the driveway, Dan was a competitor. He was steady and would outlast anybody, but when it came to things at home, he often let Jan bear the heavy load. He was going to have to fight for his life because she couldn’t do it for him.
Annie, though. Jan was afraid Annie was going to try to take Dan’s fight on all by herself. While Cole was steady and stoic, like his dad, and J.R. was all heart and quick to jump in without thinking, Annie was a spitfire. She should have been a redhead, Jan often thought, but she had Dan’s dark brown hair and blue eyes.
In seventh grade she had taken on the campus bully at her school after going through a bullying prevention workshop put on by a local non-profit. Annie had taken on other bullies before, but now she had the right language and strategy behind her. It was no wonder when she was class President in 8th grade. Everybody loved Annie and she loved to lead.
Jan thought about keeping Annie home today from school. She was a freshman at Camelback High School. The first few months had been tough, going from being a big fish in a small pond to a guppy in an ocean, but she had emerged, as usual, on top.
Over the summer, Annie’s friend, Margot, had convinced Annie to go to a weeklong summer camp called Anytown Junior. It was all about celebrating diversity and understanding different perspectives. When Annie got home, she was invigorated to go out and fight for racial equality and social justice.
During the first few weeks of school, Annie often came home and complained about how little the other students listened to each other.
“How can you learn about anyone if you won’t even listen to them?” she would say, over and over.
Jan thought about one particular exchange between Annie and Dan about this a few months earlier as she looked from her sleeping daughter to her sleeping husband in their darkened room.
“Dad! This is serious.”
“Promise me you will never hire someone because of the color their skin.”
“What? Why would I do that? I hire people based on the size of their breasts, honey.” Dan winked at Jan as he said this.
Dan loved teasing Annie about things like that. It was probably inappropriate, but it would get her so exasperated.
“You’re a jerk, Dad. You know what I mean. Promise me.”
“Okay, my love. I will never hire someone based on the color of their skin.”
“You didn’t promise.”
“I promise. I would never do that. I hire the best person for the job, no matter what. I don’t care what color a person is or how old they are or where they live. If they can do the job, come to work every day, and work hard for our clients, that’s what I am worried about.
I hired Nel to run HR because she was the best candidate, not because of anything to do with how she looked or what color she was. She knows what Uncle John and I are looking for and we trust her to always make the right decision for ES and our clients … “
“But what? Did I do something you don’t agree with, Annie?”
Annie was exasperated at this point.
“You hired Cole!! He doesn’t neeeeed a job.”
Jan remembered that Dan just laughed and laughed for a minute. Annie pretended to storm out of the kitchen but came back quickly.
“When I turn 16, can I get a job, too?”
“Only if you’re the best candidate. No one cleans a bathroom like your brother.”
“Good answer, Dad. Can Cole clean my bathroom?”
Jan’s smile was barely noticeable in the dark. She shifted to the side of the bed and slipped out of the bedroom and into the bathroom as quietly as possible. Annie and Dan didn’t have to get up for over an hour. This would be a tough enough day for each of them without a lack of sleep getting in the way.
She knew Dan had a tough go of it after talking to Cole. She wondered how it would go with J.R. this weekend and thought she should probably call him in a few hours to set something up for them. It would be good to drive down to Tucson, but it was also a holiday weekend, and he might have plans.
Jan crept out of the bathroom and walked down the hall to her office. If she buried herself in work for the next hour, she would be able to face everyone for a quick breakfast, she hoped. Dan was so much better than she was in the mornings. Could he teach her how to wake up like he did before it was too late?
Another tear perched on her eyelid as she turned her computer on.
On his way to Evolve, Dan thought, once again, about a conversation he was about to have. Tuesday mornings were always the time for he and his partner, John, to meet for coffee and talk about the week ahead. People always asked, “Why don’t you guys meet on Monday?” and they would just laugh. There was way too much to do on a Monday to have meetings in the call center.
Dan saw that John was already in his office and gave his quick tap on the door.
“What’s up, slacker? Enjoy your three-day weekend?” John’s voice said from behind his monitors.
The two friends had been calling each other “Slacker” since the term became popular in the 90s. It was an office joke, at this point, and always got a laugh out of any employee within earshot of the two.
“I’m dying, John.”
With John, it was best to get right to the point. A serious techie, John was not one to ease into anything. When they decided to start Evolve, John took charge of each strategy session. Dan loved this about him because Dan could stop and think about things forever if allowed to do so.
In fact, the night after their first conversation about going out on their own, Dan sat on the couch at home thinking incessantly over just how to bring the idea up to Jan. He did through an entire slate of primetime Thursday night comedies on NBC which would have been considered sacrilege in their house in those days.
John, on the other hand, had laid out their idea to his wife, Hettie, before dinner had a chance to cool off enough to eat. John and Hattie did not watch television very often, either so there were no Thursday night comedies to get to for them. John would often finish his dinner and putter around with his computer and Hettie would curl up with a good book or do something with the kids.
The two partners complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. While John was the tech guru and understood or wanted to understand how everything worked with some software or operating system, Dan could sell anyone on it without understanding anything more than it worked.
They met while working at Advanced Technology Solutions (or ATS as most of the employees called it) in 1989. Sometimes Dan would joke that it really stood for Always Telling Stories) in 1989. ATS sold office computer hardware and software systems. Dan was about to turn 25 and John was 34 at the time.
Dan had gotten his start in sales working on a car lot in Phoenix after deciding to leave college in the middle of his second year. He didn’t see the point of going into a ton of debt when what he was really good at was talking to people. He was a quick thinker and a good storyteller.
In high school, Dan worked for Sears in the hardware department and was constantly getting people to add a little something here and there to what they needed to buy. His manager, Ted, would always say, “Boy, you got the gift. It’s a good thing I don’t have to pay you commission.”
This had stuck with Dan, so when he got the opportunity to get a job that paid commission, he made it work for him. He got a job at a used car lot and followed his manager, Roy Lemmon (yes, that was his real name and he used it to his advantage), around every day until Lemmon got so frustrated, he said, “Just go sell a damn car.”
Dan was good at it, too, but lacked one key attribute that separates a great car salesman from a good one. Dan had a heart. He and Roy Lemmon would go around and around about it, too. When Dan realized a person probably couldn’t really the car they were looking at, he’d direct them to something less expensive.
This was a thorn in Lemmon’s side, but Dan just couldn’t justify getting somebody to sign off on payments that would end up breaking them. His boss let it slide because Dan quickly became his best salesman but still.
“Think of what your bonuses could be,” Lemmon would say at least three out of every four pay days.
Dan’s paycheck, though, on the day before he turned 21 in September of 1985 was over $10,000. That was a lot of money, in those days and way more than any of his friends were making.
After four years on the car lot, Dan started looking around for something better. Something where he wouldn’t be standing outside in the Phoenix heat as often as he was on the lot. Eventually, he stumbled across an ad for “High End Phone Work” in the Arizona Republic and thought he would check it out.
It turned out to be ATS and he got the job, even though he barely knew anything about computers. At first, he was doing lead generation for a few different sales campaigns. He liked this because he could ease into his new role without the pressure of closing a sale. He just had to get them warmed up and ready to talk to the expert.
Within six months, Dan was the top “lead genner” as they called his team and was again hitting some great bonus numbers. For tele sales, in those days, it was still almost like the wild west and clients were willing to pay handsomely for great leads. ATS did have an inhouse sales team, though, and that’s where Dan wanted to be. Those folks were making great money and Dan wanted a slice of that pie.
When Dan made the jump in mid-1989 to sales, he got to have his first real conversation with John and their friendship (and eventual partnership) began.
“What did you say?” John asked, his voice unsure of itself. He remembered later thinking that Dan was messing around with him or just hungover from an extra day of fun, but sadly, that was not the case. He said it again.
It was John’s “puttering” that would be the start of the conversation that led to the formation of Evolve. He had been working on a database specific to their business, which was tele sales, that could track the stages of the conversations being had with clients in a more effective way.
“Kinda like excel on steroids,” Dan had asked.
“No,” had been John’s reply.
John methodically explained to Dan exactly how the software would work. He had learned that Dan sometimes needed to be led exactly to the water before he could take a drink, so he took his time spelling it out. Dan’s smile got bigger and bigger until John had told him he was planning on sharing it with his boss in the next week.
“Don’t do that!” Dan had exclaimed before explaining why they should start their own thing and use John’s database to fuel sales for their own clients.
“Worst case scenario, I can sell your software and make you a rich man.”
John smiled at Dan when he said this. It wasn’t because Dan said he could make him rich. It was because Dan believed in him. He would later explain that what he had made was not earthshattering or going to change the way business was done, but it would help the sales force focus their efforts a bit better and give them access to information more quickly than what they were using at the time.
“I’m going to need about six months or so to have it up and running. That gives us time to plan,” John had said.
With a handshake, the partnership had been born.
During that time, Dan began looking at potential clients to reach out to as well as locations for an office. His initial talk with Jan had gone well and she was supportive of the idea, especially after they had joined Hettie and John and their children for dinner at their home.
Jan hit it off with John and Hettie right away and Dan was relieved. John and Jan’s brains worked in similar ways. At the time, Jan was in her third year of teaching science at Central High School and her curiosity about the world of computers led to question after question which John handled like a pro.
As John and Jan talked shop, Dan got to know Hettie and two of the Rawls’ eventual four children, Alice (or Allie) and Peter. Allie was about to turn nine, which she said at least ten times in the first hour they were there, and Peter had just celebrated his sixth birthday. Allie and Peter thought Dan was the best and he immediately liked them.
Allie loved that Jan was a teacher and shifted over to the conversation John and Jan were having pretty quickly, but she came back and forth to check on her new friend, Dan, as well. Dan was being a good sport and having quite a time with Peter, who enjoyed crawling all over Dan while he and Hettie talked about whether the Lewises were planning on having children or not.
Dan assured her they were looking forward to building their family but not just yet. Jan was enjoying her teaching career and thinking about a master’s degree, and he was intent on building a business. He noticed, though, that Hettie was smiling at him as Peter, who was small for his age but nimble and quick, crawled over his shoulders and kind of laid across Dan’s head while they talked.
Hettie was a few years older than Dan and Jan, but Dan instantly developed a small, innocent crush on her. She looked a bit like Dr. Lilith Sternin (who was wonderfully played by the actress Bebe Neuwirth) on Cheers, but it was more the way she seemed to instantly love Jan and himself that drew him towards her. Dan also admired the grace Hettie showed with her family.
John and Hettie had met in college in 1977 during their junior year and married quickly. John got his degree in Computer Science from their alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Hettie got her degree in Nursing. After graduation, the couple moved to Phoenix when John got a job with IBM.
Hettie told Dan about all of this and how, when Allie came along in 1981, she had left her job at Good Samaritan Hospital to focus on Allie and had not regretted it one bit. She did work part-time now at Phoenix College in their school of nursing as adjunct faculty, which she liked, but she was happiest tending to her family.
By the end of their first meal together, the Lewis and Rawls family had bonded. When Jan and Dan finally headed home a little after midnight, Jan said, “I like them. Can we keep’em?”
He assured Jan they were most certainly going to keep them, and the two families made it a regular thing to have dinner together on the weekends. Most of the time, early on, they would gather at the Rawls’ house, but every so often they would get together at Dan and Jan’s small condominium. This was usually when Hettie would allow one of the neighborhood teens who could pass Allie’s interview questions to babysit.
Dan ended up finding office space in an area called mid-town in Phoenix just off Central Avenue. Jan didn’t bat an eye when he told her he would have cough up a pretty penny to secure the lease for two years and the two celebrated by christening what they thought would become his new office with some something that straddled the line between R- and X-rated fun.
When the room ended up being a conference room, Dan decided he would just keep what happened between him and Jan in there to himself, but the two of them laughed about it for a long time and it was often asked, in times of romance or just good ol’ marital fun, “Conference time?”
Jan spilled the beans to Hettie over margaritas when the families were vacationing together on Mission Beach in 1996. She had half expected Hettie to be shocked, but Hettie just laughed and said, “you guys only fucked in there once? Amateurs.” Jan knew Hettie was feeling good because she only said “Fuck” when she was buzzed. The rest of the time, it was always, “Fudge.”
That trip was to celebrate the fifth-year anniversary of Evolve opening its doors.
“I’m dying, John.”
“I’ve told you a thousand times you’re getting too old to drink on a school night. What was it? IPA’s or one too many old fashioned’s?”
John backed up in his chair and looked up at Dan over his monitors. He had three large monitors on his desk and sometimes liked that he could hide behind them if he wanted to do so. Dan had told him to get a bigger desk many times, but John liked the one he had and was not a guy to waste money on something he didn’t feel he absolutely needed.
He looked at Dan in a way that Dan had not anticipated.
It was a mixture of confusion, anger, and profound sadness. The two men looked at each other for what seemed like a small eternity before Dan broke the silence and filled John in on the events of the previous day. While Dan was talking, John buried his head in his hands for thirty seconds or so before steeling himself.
He moved around the desk to the second chair and sat facing Dan.
“How did Jan take it? Does she need anything?”
Dan was not surprised that John asked about Jan first. They were close and kindred spirits. It would be easiest for John to see this situation through Jan’s eyes.
“You know, I’m not really sure what to say, John. Jan … “he paused and had to look away because tears were filling his eyes. “Jan was Jan. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. By the time I get home today, she’ll have a plan, I know, and so will you.”
Dan was right about that last part. John was already thinking about next steps. They would have to tell Hettie and the kids, of course. Maybe even Allie today, but would that hurt Hettie if Allie knew before she did? Hettie was practical and tough, but she loved Dan deeply. The four of them and their families had a wonderful bond that John cherished.
Before their conversation continued, Dan and John sat and looked at each other again.
“I know we have a lot to talk about, but … “
Dan trailed off again. John put his hand on his friend’s hand and said, “Don’t worry about anything. We will get through this. No matter what you need, I’m here.”
“Thank you” was all Dan could get out. He hugged John fiercely and the two men embraced like they had many times before, but this time felt very different.
Dan got up to head to his office which was just down the hall. As he opened John’s office door, he looked at his partner. John was sitting, looking at a picture of his son, Peter. He had taken it off his desk. To Dan, it looked like John was studying the picture as he held it in his hands.
John didn’t even notice that Dan had slipped out. He held the picture of Peter and was thinking about what Peter would have said in a time like this.
Taken on a trip to Yosemite in 2002 when Peter was 19, it was the only picture John had on his desk. There were many other pictures on the walls and on his cabinets but over the last ten years, it was the only one John had made room for on his busy desk.
Peter was killed in a one car accident in 2006. The police reports stated that he had lost control of his car, a Toyota Camry, on his way back down to Phoenix from Flagstaff where he went to school. He was twenty-three-years-old and in his first year of graduate school. Prior to his death, he had been working on a master’s in counseling.
As Dan’s news started to sink in, John was taken back to the day Peter died. In a few weeks, it would be the tenth anniversary of his death. John was on his way home from Evolve when he got a call from the Coconino County sheriff’s department on his cell phone. The deputy calmly explained what had happened and that Peter had been airlifted back to Flagstaff where he was in critical condition.
The events of that day began to play like a movie reel in his head.
John had immediately called Hettie, told her to grab a bag and he would explain it all when he got there, but they had to get to Flagstaff because Peter had been in an accident. He then called Allie, who was probably still at her desk, calling for a client on the west coast. He got through, though, and asked Allie to head to home to be with Anthony, who was 13 at the time, and Brynn, who was 11.
Then he had called Dan.
Dan had insisted on driving them up to Flagstaff. He had said, “Peter doesn’t need you guys getting into an accident, too.”
By the time John had gotten home, Dan and Jan were at his house and Hettie had their overnight bag ready. JR, Cole, and Annie had come along to stay with Allie, who was on her way.
Hettie had called a former student of hers who worked at Flagstaff Medical Center after talking to John and she confirmed that Peter was there and in the ER. He had been thrown from his car, she said, and was in critical condition. She told Hettie to hurry, but he was fighting. There was swelling in his brain from the head trauma, internal bleeding, and multiple broken bones.
The four of them had set off to Flagstaff feeling scared, but hopeful.
John looked at Peter’s face in the picture. He was so happy in the woods. No matter where they went in Northern Arizona or on the many camping trips they took as a family, Peter was always happiest among the tall trees. The irony had never been lost on him that it was one of those trees that ended up taking his life.
The sheriff’s deputy had explained later that it seemed like Peter had swerved to possibly miss a deer or some other animal as he rounded a curve on Interstate 17 heading south bound about 25 miles from Flagstaff. He had been heading down to Phoenix for the weekend.
Dan and Jan were there for all of it. They were family. Dan was like an uncle to Peter and was, in some ways, closer to him than John had been through his teenage years. John often wondered why it was easier for Peter to open up to Dan, but Hettie had explained to him that it was because Peter wasn’t afraid to disappoint Dan in the same way he was afraid to disappoint John.
Peter was quick to understand people, like Dan was, and John wished he was there in his office with him that day after learning that his partner was dying. He would have known what to say when it was time to talk and when it was time to shut up. John felt like he had let Dan down, although that was the farthest thing from the truth.
Dan, Jan, and the kids were family kept going through John’s mind. He needed to talk to Dan about how and when to tell Hettie and the kids. He needed a plan.
***** (start of part 9 – 8572)
After talking to John, Dan sat in his office with the door closed. He almost never did this. He believed strongly in having an open-door policy and would often work from the middle of one of the call centers, if possible. He had grown to like sitting out there, listening to half of a conversation, here and there, or seeing how the teams were working together.
In twenty-five years of being a company, Evolve had grown from six employees to almost two hundred full-time employees and another 80 or so parttime people. Opportunities had come and gone to go even larger, but Dan and John both agreed that this was as big as they wanted to get. They were able to pay their people well and make sure the company was in good shape for any unforeseen market changes or challenges.
Early on, John and Dan had a long talk about getting to the point where they could turn away business if it didn’t feel right. They decided to get to know their clients and their products. John handled the technical aspects and liked to get in their and use a product, if possible, before signing off on a client and Dan liked to get to know the people they would be working with to make sure there was a fit.
It was a practice that cost them some money on both ends of the deal, but it also meant that many clients felt like they were partners with Dan and John and the team at Evolve. Over time, Dan began taking other employees along when it was time to go visit potential clients and when Allie moved into a managerial role, she began to shadow Dan on these “missions” as he called them.
There were a few clients Dan needed to reach out to sooner than later. He wanted them to hear his news from him and not from another member of the team. He thought of Rob Grant at VSI. They were one of Evolve’s first clients and Dan had made thousands of calls on behalf of Variable Speed Industries. Sometimes, Jan would wake him up in the middle of the night because he was talking about their products in his sleep.
In the mid-1990’s, Rob and his team at VSI created a platform for digital video recording, storage, and transfer that became the industry leader. Rob often told Dan that his efforts in spreading the word about their products were integral in VSI’s success. He even allowed Dan and John to buy a small piece of VSI, two and a half percent each, so they became more than just service providers. They became partners.
At the time of their investment, VSI was still a relatively small company, but it grew rapidly. Rob and John would talk for hours about different tech that was out there and a few weeks later, he would let John and Dan know they might have a new product to call about soon. Rob would buy small companies with good tech and fold it into what VSI was doing. The DVR money helped VSI grow and grow over the first decade they were a client of Evolve.
When VSI expanded into other forms of data storage in the early 2000s, the value of VSI grew to over a billion dollars, making Dan and John comfortably wealthy men on paper and it made Rob “filthy fucking rich” as he liked to say. To look at the guy, though, you wouldn’t know he was worth more than about fifty bucks.
Rob preferred to wear a comfortable pair of beat-up Levi’s and a black t-shirt with the name of some band or another. A lifelong music fan, Rob had started a small record label in 2010 and put out a few records a year. He told Dan once, “You know, you would have been a great lead singer. You could still start a band, you know. I’d put out your records.”
This had made Dan laugh at the time, but he often wished he had that kind of talent or even more so, balls. Dan didn’t mind getting up in front of a group of people and talking. He loved doing training for the staff, too, but the idea of being in a band or singing in front of people made him shudder.
Dan was needing to call Rob, anyway. They hadn’t talked for a bit and he wanted to check on how he was doing. Rob’s daughter, Vivian, had died unexpectedly in February of 2015. The Rawls and Lewis families had both gone out to Costa Mesa, where the Grant family lived, to support them.
Vivian had been twenty-nine when she went to sleep one night and did not wake up the next day. She had a massive heart attack in her sleep brought on by a congenital condition she wasn’t even aware of. In her honor, Rob named a new product VSI was working on after her.
“Vivian” was a software package that was going to revolutionize the personal data storage realm, according to Rob, but it was clear when he spoke to John and Dan about it that it was something more. John knew all too well what it felt like to lose a child and Dan had hoped their shared experience would help them both heal. He didn’t need to encourage John to reach out to Rob about the new product, but he had anyway. Dan thought he might see if John wanted to take a trip out to the coast in a week or so to see Rob in person. They always had a lot to talk about and Dan thought that Rob might just be able to help him see his new situation in a different light.
Dan thought about opening his office door but decided to sit just a little bit longer. He needed to get to work, but he was struggling to wrap his head around the “why” of it all. Soon enough, Evolve would have to evolve, too, just like he was evolving. The work would continue, Dan thought, even if he did not.
The rest of the week was a blur.
Everyone was thankful for that. Dan and John had decided to share the news with the leadership team at their next meeting. These happened every other week, so he had some time to prepare. They had also decided to get the two families together for dinner on Sunday after Dan and Jan returned from Tucson.
Jan had reached out to J.R. and let him know that she and Dan would be coming down after work on Friday. J.R. was off on Saturday and could meet them for lunch at Café Poca Cosa, which was the Lewis family’s favorite place to eat in Tucson. Well, that and La Indita, but their spectacular calabacitas would have to wait.
They would take Jan’s Subaru down after work on Friday and get a room at Ventana Canyon. Dan thought it would be nice for the two of them to have a quiet evening together, maybe even order some room service. They had a lot to talk about and the drive across the desert in the afternoon would give them a chance to start.
Dan didn’t even put up a fight when Jan suggested taking her car. He knew the Yukon probably wouldn’t make it. It’s days of being anything more than a back and forth to work vehicle were over. He was half convinced it was a good idea to put a new transmission in it and keep driving it because he loved it and couldn’t bare to put it out of its misery.
Even though they were far from hurting for money, Jan knew better than to suggest a new vehicle, but maybe now, she thought Dan might spoil himself a bit. She had been hoping all week he might decide to splurge and get something nice to drive around but it had also occurred to her to add while he still can to this thought, as well.
Thoughts like this summed up that first week of knowing how sick he was for Jan. Luckily, she hadn’t had any clients to face. One good thing about doing training and consulting for clients in the educational software world was that she often had very light weeks and had plenty of time to prepare for any upcoming presentations she might have.
After teaching for so long, it was nice to be able to help teachers use the tools that were available to them. She also liked the idea of making three time what she did as a teacher working about 15 hours per week and occasionally getting to travel around the country. Jan had always liked to roam around and explore the world.
She loved that Dan was not a car guy, but she didn’t love that he was a pack rat. He never threw anything away. Case in point, he still had socks in his drawer from when they were dating. He said they were lucky. They had been a forest green at one point but were now faded and threadbare, but he refused to throw them away. He was wearing them the first time he and Jan slept together.
Dan was often sentimental. Jan loved this about him, too, although she could never quite wrap her brain around why things meant so much to him. For Jan, things were things. Even her wedding ring was just a thing. She loved it and loved what it symbolized, but it was just a thing. If she were to lose it, she would just get another one.
Jan loved people, though, and places, and experiences. She loved teaching and learning. While Dan was at work telling John his news, Jan was at home reading about fatal diagnoses on the internet. She realized this situation, as horrible as it may be, was also a chance for her to learn about life and love and loss. She could accept that Dan was dying if she could learn from it and grow, she thought.
Dan could talk at length, though, about why his holey socks or his tired, sun beaten Yukon still had value. If there was some sort of need involved, Dan could convince himself, and usually anyone else to buy or keep something. In Jan’s estimation, this was both a talent and a curse. It had afforded them a very nice life, but it had also meant that Dan was always tethered to things more than people, at least in her eyes.
She wasn’t religious, but during what she would later refer to as “the week her life changed,” she had been talking to God a lot. She prayed that Dan would be able to let go of his things so that he could let go of his life when the time came. He held onto the objects in his life so dearly that she feared he would not know how to let go when it was time to die. She did not want that pain for him. There would be enough physical pain to go around that emotional pain should not be part of the equation.
Jan wasn’t sure how J.R. was going to take this news. The one thing she did know was that she and Dan would not come back to Phoenix with any inkling of what J.R. needed or was thinking. He internalized important, emotional moments, just like his dad, and needed time to process things like she did. He would react, though, and it would be the raw feelings that would come out first. The true feelings would make their way to the surface in time.
Jan needed this conversation as badly as Dan did, but only because she was still trying to figure out what to feel and what to think. How J.R. took it would allow her to figure out what was best for the Lewis family because then she could start to see it from all sides. There was a hole in her thought process all week leading up to the conversation with their oldest son.
Being a philosopher, J.R. would look at this in a way that neither Jan nor Dan could accurately predict, although she was sure the two of them would talk about it on the way down to Tucson. She loved the drive and wished they were leaving a little later in the day. That stretch of I-10 is wonderful at sunset, but it didn’t matter. This time around, she might only have eyes for Dan.
Jan was thankful, too, for John and Hettie. Their conversation on Sunday would be hard, but it would also set things in motion. She knew Dan would be happier and, hopefully, healthier once everyone was on the same page. Jan could see that it was eating Dan alive to not be able to get it off his chest.
Dan could endure a lot. Jan was sure he would face his cancer with dignity and do whatever he could to keep his family comfortable and happy around him. It was just who he was. He helped people and this was why she fell in love with him in the first place.
Jan’s friend, Molly Blohm, was looking for a car during their first year of teaching and had met Dan on the lot one late November afternoon while perusing the lots on Camelback Road after school had gotten out for the day. Molly liked Dan immediately and thought he and Jan would hit it off. The next day at lunch, Molly talked Jan into going back to the lot with her to test drive a couple of cars.
At the end of the first test drive, Molly blurted out:
“Dude, if you’re single, you should totally ask her out.”
Dan responded without missing a beat.
“Well, Jan? Are you in the market for a new date?”
The two agreed to see a new movie that was coming out the next week with Steve Martin and John Candy called Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and exchanged phone numbers. Dan almost invited Jan to his parent’s house for Thanksgiving but decided that might be coming on a bit too strong. Molly was cute, and he’d even thought about asking her out the day before if the deal went south, but Jan was a beauty.
Tall, light brown almost caramel colored hair, and striking blue eyes, Dan was smitten from the moment Molly had introduced Jan. He also appreciated that Jan immediately stated that she was not interested in buying a car. He liked it when people were upfront with him, especially a beautiful woman. From that day forward, Dan knew he could just be himself with her.
Jan felt similarly, especially after she noticed how well Dan treated Molly. In typical Dan fashion, he steered Molly towards the best car for her and not the one at the top of her price range. Initially, Molly had eyes on an older Mercedes that was on the lot. It was in wonderful shape, but Dan knew it would end up costing Molly a bit more than she could probably afford over the next few years and had her drive a newer Honda Accord with far fewer miles.
If Jan admired anything in a man, it was integrity. It didn’t hurt that she found Dan’s easygoing nature and casual, yet serious half-preppy, half California-casual style, replete with black Van’s quite charming. Dan also had a wonderful smile, too, that seemed genuinely kind.
He would make a great teacher, she had thought.
Dan called her the next day to go over the details of their movie date.
“Hello, Miss Wallace. This is Dan Lewis,” was his opener.
Jan laughed at this and blushed as she held her phone. With a grin on her face, she said, “You really don’t have to call me, Miss Wallace, Dan… And, hello.”
They decided that they would meet at Town and Country, which was an outdoor mall with a few shops and a movie theater about a mile and a half from Dan’s dealership. He had to work in the morning on Black Friday but would be off by 3pm or so. The conversation was fairly short, but Jan did end with a bit of flirtation that made Dan blush a little, too.
“If the movie goes well, I may even let you take me to dinner. See you Friday, Dan, and Happy Thanksgiving.”
The movie did, in fact, go well, and the two had gone to Ed Debevic’s, which was on the South side of Town and Country for dinner. They were both in a great mood after seeing such an entertaining film. Due to it being a holiday weekend, Ed Debevic’s was fairly busy when they arrived, and they had to wait for a table.
“Why eat leftovers when you can have a burger and a shake,” Dan quipped.
“Don’t threaten me with a good time, Dan. There is nothing better than a good burger,” Jan replied.
“Darn, my Diner’s Club card got burned up in the rental car. You have any cash?” asked Dan, trying to quote the movie they had just seen, albeit badly.
Dan had barely been able to focus on the film. He enjoyed it, yes, but he wanted to talk to the woman sitting next to him. He wanted to know her. He loved that she laughed heartily at the funny parts and she didn’t even seem to notice when he got a little teary at the end, although he thought he had played it off okay.
The two were finally seated and talked about their careers for a while. Dan was impressed that Jan was already teaching, and she was just about to turn 22 years old. Jan, on the other hand, was intrigued by the fact that a car salesman didn’t really care about cars. When she had said to him, “You must really love cars,” he just shook his head and smiled at her.
“No, I actually don’t. I love helping people get something they feel good about. Cars are something almost every adult in this town needs. I could care less what kind of car anyone drives. I’m way more interested in why they drive it,” he said.
Jan considered this for a moment.
“Why do you drive your car?” she asked.
At this point, Jan didn’t even know what kind of car Dan had. They had met at the theater entrance and walked over to the restaurant after the movie. He could have taken the bus to Town and Country for all she knew.
“Well…hmmm….” Dan paused for a second. “I drive my car because I need to go places. It’s a relatively safe way to get where I need to go. I also get good gas mileage.”
“That’s it,” he replied.
After dinner, Dan walked Jan back to her car. It was a small, silver Toyota hatchback. Too small, in Dan’s mind for such long legs, but he kept that to himself. “There’s no way she’s comfortable in that,” he thought.
On their walk, he pointed his own car out to her, which was a Nissan pickup. It looked dark gray in the dim light of the chilly November parking lot, but it was a bit lighter in the daylight. Dan had gotten a deal from a friend at the Nissan dealership down the street and paid cash for it after saving a couple of his bonus checks earlier in the year.
“Would I be safe in that thing?” Jan asked.
“You’ll always be safe with me,” he replied and slid his hand into hers.
In the almost thirty years that had passed since they first met, Dan and Jan learned to lean on each other when they needed to lean on someone. Even though they had been blessed with amazing children and friends and a truly supportive family, it was each other’s counsel they needed most.
The drive to Tucson was one of those moments.
Dan had talked to Ferdie Ruiz about giving Cole some extra things to do on Friday night. He trusted Cole, but with everything that had happened, he was a bit worried that Cole might see having the house to himself that night as an opportunity to make a couple of bad decisions. The house wouldn’t get burned down, but Cole might want to have his buddies and their girlfriends over for a party.
He wouldn’t have blamed Cole for blowing off some steam, but he also wanted him safe. It was bad enough that Jill would undoubtedly spend the night. He and Cole had many talks about “protection” and making good choices, but they were almost certainly sexually active. The idea of being a grandfather before his days were done was a happy thought, on one hand, but Cole and Jill were a long way from being ready and it would kill Jan.
Annie was spending the night at Margot’s, so everybody was all taken care of, and Dan could focus on talking to Jan. He didn’t want to spring his news on J.R. at a restaurant. That idea had been eating at him and he knew they could work it out on the drive down.
Since Dan had a few things to take care of at Evolve before they left, Jan got everything ready to go and even had the car packed by the time Dan got home. After hitting the Chevron on Indian School Road, they headed for I-10 early enough to beat the Friday rush hour traffic. With any luck, they would be to their hotel by 4:30 or so in the afternoon and they could take in the sunset from there.
“I spoke to Rasmussen this morning,” Dan said.
“I didn’t know you were talking to him today.”
“Neither did I.”
“Well, what did he say?”
Jan knew the dance they were about to start. For someone who could tell you every detail of what a client or prospective customer said, including their body language, tone of voice, and general demeanor, he was terrible at talking about things that were important in his own life. She thought she might have to get out the conversation crowbar.
“He just wanted to go over a few options for treatment and pain management,” replied Dan.
“I thought there wasn’t any treatment?”
“Well … “Dan paused.
“What is it, Dan?”
“It won’t save my life, my love, but I can maybe get six months to a year or more if I do a combination of chemo and radiation. Rasmussen did say, though, it wouldn’t be the highest quality of life I had ever had.”
Jan chewed on her bottom lip for several seconds.
“What do you think?”
“Jesus! Look at this clown!”
Dan accelerated and passed a huge maroon Ford truck barely going the speed limit. Jan wished she were driving. She could handle two things at once, even three or four, but like most men she knew, Dan was better when he was focused on one thing.
Once safely passed the truck, Dan was ready to continue talking.
“What do I think,” he stammered a bit. “I think I will do whatever I can to get as much time with you guys as I can. I think I’ll know when it will be time to give up or you or the kids will tell me it’s okay.”
He glanced over to see that Jan was staring at him with a faint smile on her face and he continued:
“I’m not afraid of feeling bad. Rasmussen said the pain will be worse and I can handle that. He said the treatments will make me feel even worse and I’m okay with that. There are things he can give me to deal with the pain and he suggested I get my medical marijuana card. John’s going to get a kick out of that. He’ll probably have me buying weed for him.”
Jan laughed out loud at the thought of this.
Dan had never been averse to an occasional toke off one of John’s numerous joints, but it mainly put him to sleep. There had been plenty of get togethers at the Rawls’ house or among other mutual friends where Dan slept through the end of the party thanks to John’s pot. Growing up in California, Jan’s tolerance was pretty good, but Dan had never smoked anything before meeting John.
She pictured Dan going into one of the dispensaries that had sprouted up around town since medical marijuana had become legal in Arizona. The image of Dan buying weed made her smile and she thought, “Who knows? Maybe it really can help him.” She would be sure to do some reading about it next week.
When she stopped laughing, Jan said, “I love you” and put her hand on his shoulder. She was so pleased he was opening himself up to figuring out how to make the best of this situation. It didn’t surprise her, but she knew this was not the way he thought his life was going to turn out.
Jan shared with Dan that she had invited J.R. to come up to the hotel in the morning so they could go for a walk around the grounds before heading to lunch. Ventana Canyon had some nice paths around the hotel and Jan had thought Dan and J.R. would be more comfortable walking and talking.
Dan was relieved to hear about this plan and he eased into the rest of the drive. Jan popped a Pretenders CD into the stereo and before long, they were singing “Back On The Chain Gang” together with gusto.
J.R. Lewis lived alone in an old house on 4th Avenue in Tucson that had been turned into a duplex at some point. He had the top floor, which was small, but had everything he needed. At 22, he was in his senior year at the University of Arizona finishing up a degree in Philosophy.
It was odd that his parents were coming down to have lunch with him, but he had too much on his mind to worry about it. He was working on a paper for his Moral and Political Theory class, and it was taking up all his time and thoughts. The more he dug in, the more contempt he felt for one Thomas Hobbes. J.R. could simply not abide by the idea that humans should be willing to give up their rights in order to seek peace.
There had definitely been times this year where he questioned his choice of doing Philosophy for his undergraduate degree. It had seemed like such a good idea three years ago when he decided he was eventually going to law school. This had made his grandfather, Bill, so happy.
Bill Wallace, Jan’s dad, was hoping J.R. would eventually join the firm he started with his partner, Ted Thurman, in San Diego and had even pulled a string or two to get J.R. accepted into the University of San Diego where he had attended law school. Even though Grandpa Bill was getting close to ninety, he would still spend at least one day a week in the firm’s offices in San Diego if he and his wife, Dottie, weren’t traveling. They did spend a fare amount of time in Phoenix during the winter months.
Grandpa Bill had served in the U.S. Navy after high school and fell in love with the area. When the law college opened in 1954, he was in the first graduating class. J.R. loved hearing Grandpa Bill’s stories about those days and had fallen in love with San Diego, like his grandfather, at an early age. He loved visiting his grandparents as often as possible.
If his high school girlfriend, Natalie, hadn’t been going to U of A, he would have headed west but love got the better of him. It often did. While J.R. was often as pragmatic as Jan and looked at everything from every possible angle before deciding, on a course of action, if an attractive lady was involved, logic often flew out the window.
Natalie had dumped him about a month into their second semester in Tucson, but by that point, J.R. had found his niche in the new town. He had joined a garage band with a couple of his PHI101 classmates and gotten a job at Hotel Congress bussing tables. J.R. loved working at the old hotel. The most interesting people worked there.
Jan and Dan had been opposed to the job at first, but when he explained how much he loved being able to pay his own way, at least for his food and entertainment, they relented as long J.R. promised to continue to make school his number one priority, which he did. J.R. believed deeply in being a man of his word. As a devout and vocal follower of Immanuel Kant, it would be hypocritical to not keep his word.
After J.R. and Natalie broke up, he had been despondent for a time, but Brynn Rawls, who he had known his whole life, had come to visit for a weekend to cheer him up. One of her favorite bands, Lenguas Largas, were playing a show at Club Congress, which was a music venue inside the hotel, that weekend and she needed a break from Tempe. Being the same age, Brynn and J.R. spent a lot of time hanging out when their families would get together.
While there had been a lot of innocent flirtation over the years, J.R. and Brynn had developed a wonderful friendship based on respect and trust. J.R. was often the first person Brynn would call if she had a tough day and J.R. would do likewise. Their closeness had bothered a few of their respective boyfriends and girlfriends in high school, but they didn’t care and had learned to only give their opinion about the other person’s significant other if asked.
Because of his job, J.R. was able to get Brynn and her friend, Emily, into the show for free. When he got done at the Cup Café that night, he joined them for the show. Brynn took after her mom, Hettie, in the looks department and people had been buying her and Emily drinks all night even though neither of them were 21 yet. By the end of the evening, they were both feeling no pain.
J.R. gave the girls a ride back to the house where they were staying with a few girls Brynn knew from high school. As they were saying goodbye, Brynn threw her arms around J.R.’s neck and gave him a kiss that was a lot more than friendly. When he recoiled a bit, she just looked at him and said, “You and I have been doing this dance for a long time. If you don’t want to kiss me, that’s fine. But if you do, that’s fine, too.”
From that point forward, J.R. and Brynn spent as much time together as they could without drawing attention to themselves. Neither of them wanted to have that conversation with their parents, although J.R. told Brynn on a regular basis that if he was asked about it, he wasn’t going to lie, especially not with Kant in his ear telling him how to achieve the highest form of happiness.
By the end of the summer of 2014, Natalie was a distant memory, and J.R. and Brynn had fallen into a pattern of being together when they could be together and concentrating on school when they were not. J.R. even let Brynn come to a band practice in August of 2014 and she was not exactly impressed, but she was also not repulsed.
When J.R. got to their room around 10am on Saturday morning, he gave his mom a quick hug and a kiss and hugged his dad as well. Something felt strange about the way his dad hugged him, but he dismissed it without a thought.
“Tell me about you,” Dan said as he and his son broke their hug.
“Well…” J.R. paused. There was something about the way his dad was looking at him that made him uneasy. “What’s going on, Dad?” he asked.
Dan had been concerned this would happen. J.R. read people well and always had. When he was younger, Dan thought he might do well in sales one day. J.R. was so quick to connect and after even one conversation, he often had a friend for life. He and Jan had talked about this happening the night before and she told him to just go with it.
“J.R. will see sides of this we haven’t seen yet,” she said.
“H-h-have a seat, son. I have something to tell you,” stammered Dan.
The three of them were in the small sitting room that was off the bedroom of their suite. J.R. sat on the couch next to his mom and Dan sat in a chair facing them. Dan looked up at the picture of a desert landscape above their heads as he shared his news with his son.
J.R. listened intently, nodding his head on occasion to let Dan know he was listening or that he understood. Jan put her hand on his shoulder as he started to cry and before long, there were tears in all of their eyes.
Jan got up to grab a box of Kleenex from the bathroom and heard J.R. ask, “What can I do, Dad?”
“I just need you to take care of you, J.R. I’m going to fight like hell to get as much time with you all as I can. I’ll be down here as much as possible and if you get a weekend off, c’mon home if you want.”
J.R. looked at Jan as she sat back down after handing a tissue to each of her men.
“Mom. What do you need? I can come home for a while if you want,” he asked plaintively.
“No, honey. I need the same thing your dad needs. You take care of you, and we’ll all be together when we can. No one is giving up here. We’re going to John and Hettie’s tomorrow night to start making a plan and we’ll fill you in on everything we are doing,” Jan shared.
J.R. wondered if Brynn would be there.
“I can come up. I don’t have class on Monday, and I don’t work until 4. I can probably get someone to cover my shift, too. We’re pretty dead on Mondays usually.”
Dan looked at Jan and offered a slight grin.
“That sounds great,” Dan said as he got up. “Let’s take a walk. It seems like a beautiful day and we need to work up an appetite.”
The three of them walked and talked for the rest of the morning until they headed to Little Café Poca Cosa for lunch. J.R. had tons of questions and his parents answered them as best they could. Dan had an appetite for the first time in a few days and couldn’t decide between the chicken mole and the chile relleno so he got one of each and decided he would take whatever he couldn’t eat home.
Before they said their goodbye until the next afternoon, J.R. offered Dan some wisdom.
“I’ve been reading a lot of Plato for one of my classes, Dad. There is something interesting that he said that I’ve been turning over and over in my mind for the last few weeks, but I wasn’t sure why. At least until now.”
“What did he say?” Dan asked.
“He said, ‘Humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.’ I think you are going to find your other half in all of this.”
Dan hugged his son again.
“Where is your other half, J.R.? Have you found it?”
“My other half is a writer, I think. He’s living on the coast somewhere in a cabin with a typewriter and boxes of books. Every night he sits by the fire and drinks whisky,” said J.R. with a sly grin.
Dan grinned back at J.R. He loved his son’s writing and had often wished he could write half as well. Writing was not Dan’s forte, but he could tell a good story. It had made him a lot of money over the years. At that moment, Dan thought maybe J.R. would make a better writer than a lawyer, but he knew he would be okay no matter what direction he chose.
After the sadness of the morning, all three Lewis’s were feeling better. Dan was full and ready to head home. Jan was relieved that J.R. had not been discouraged that there really wasn’t a plan yet, and J.R. felt like he had been given a chance to help his parents, although he didn’t know what kind of help they needed just yet.
The three of them said goodbye in front of Jan’s Subaru which was parked on Stone across the street from the Café. Dan and Jan were heading back to Phoenix and J.R. was heading to Hotel Congress. He was going to work as a bar back that night for Barb. She had been at Congress for a long time and she was a great listener if he needed to talk but he couldn’t help but think about how the events of the day had unfolded as he walked to work.
J.R. wondered if he should have been sadder at the news but instead, it made him feel almost determined. He knew that feeling sorry for himself or his parents would not change the situation. Kant said, “If justice perishes, then it is no longer worthwhile for men to live upon the earth.” While this didn’t feel like justice to him, it was more of an injustice to sit back and feel sorry than to move forward. He picked up his pace and got to work a few minutes early.
By the end of dinner on Sunday night, the entire Lewis and Rawl’s clan were ready to talk about anything other than Dan’s cancer. As expected, Allie took it the hardest and she and Dan had to go for a walk to talk. He was her mentor, in addition to being a surrogate uncle and a fixture in her life.
Allie had always looked up to Dan. When her own father was not able to be there for her, Dan always was. After she started at Evolve in 2004, she was like a sponge when it came to any information, tips, advice, Dan had to offer and it was Dan who figured out that she and her future husband, Ron, were perfect for each other before she did.
As they rounded their way back up Hettie and John’s street, Dan told Allie, “You’re the reason I don’t worry about what will happen at Evolve after I’m gone at all.”
Allie didn’t respond but hooked her arm into his and they walked back to the house in silence.
Hettie was the next one to corner Dan as he and Allie slipped into the side door off the kitchen. After Allie walked out to call Ron to share the news and check on how he and the kids were fairing, Hettie placed both hands on either side of Dan’s face and gave him a sisterly kiss.
“You know,” she started to say before he stopped her.
“I do know, Hettie. Thank you.”
“Are you having much pain?”
“No, not really. It’s bad sometimes, but I’m getting used to it. My doc wants me to start smoking pot.”
Dan felt immediately guilty because he hadn’t even talked to John about this development yet.
“You know you can eat it, too, right? That might be easier for you, big guy.”
Hettie grabbed a couple of glasses from the cupboard and poured them each two fingers of Glenlivet. While John liked a good IPA and hit of weed, Hettie preferred a nice 18-year-old Scotch.
“I’m supposed to be cutting down on this stuff,” Dan said as he took the scotch from her.
“To cutting down but not giving up,” Hettie replied and the two took a swig of the good stuff.
Hettie walked back out to the den where Jan and John were talking on one couch and J.R. and Brynn were sitting on the other which was on the far side of the room. Dan loved that J.R. and Brynn were close, and he took a moment to watch them talk.
So many good times in this room over the years.
John had been so excited when told Dan about the plans to remodel this side of their house, doubling the size of the den. Dan was almost as giddy as John had been when he heard that they were installing an entire wall of large glass windows to take advantage of their view of Piestewa Peak. The mountain loomed over them and at sunset it would often turn yellow, then orange, pink, and purple.
On a night like this one, you could sometimes even make out the flashlights of nighttime hikers going up to the top, which took about half an hour for someone in decent shape moving at a brisk pace. On previous evenings at the Rawls’ house, Dan would have gotten lost in watching them and possibly dropped entirely out of the conversation, secretly wishing he had one of the head lamps like the spelunkers used. Tonight, though, Dan could have cared less about watching for hikers.
He sat down next to Jan.
“What are you guys talking about,” he asked.
“John was telling me how you guys are going out to see Rob this week. Did that slip your mind?” Jan replied.
John shot Dan a quick “Sorry, man” look that Hettie picked up on.
“He needs to know. I think we are just going for the day. We’ll be home for dinner,” said Dan.
“Are you sure Rob isn’t going to kidnap you guys?” Hettie asked.
There had been plenty of day trips to see Rob that ended up being more like two or three days. Sometimes Hettie or Jan or both would join in, but usually it was just the guys when it came to business discussions. Rob had a way of turning business into pleasure by coaxing the guys into seeing a band play or heading out on his boat.
“How is Rob doing?” Jan asked.
She had not seen Rob since Vivian had died and as she asked the question, she was reminded of the events of the year before. Lately all her emotions had been on a hair trigger. Luckily, John broke the short silence.
“He’s healing, I think.”
“I don’t want to bring him down,” Dan said before continuing, “but he’s our partner in so many thing…”
“He’s also your friend,” said Brynn.
No one had realized that she and J.R. had joined the conversation. They seemed like they were only paying attention to each other, as was typical.
Brynn was always very matter of fact. If it was on her mind, she would usually say it and her statement made the older members of the group pause for a second.
“You’re right, Brynn,” Dan replied.
“She’s usually right, Dad,” J.R. added.
Dan gave J.R. a wink that made his blood go cold for a split second.
“Does he know?” J.R. thought but his father’s next comment allowed the air to go back into his body.
“Someday she’ll have a nice fella to boss around,” Dan said, smiling at Brynn.
Brynn took a nervous step backward and shoved J.R. playfully.
“C’mon, dude. Let’s go see what the others are doing,” before leading him out of the room.
For a second, Dan wished that J.R. would be that fella that Brynn got to boss around, but he dismissed the thought quickly. A year from now, J.R. would be in San Diego working his fingers to the bone and Brynn would be off to Tufts in Boston to start her own path.