Mike: I hope you saw my message

When I moved to Beijing in the summer of 2010, one of the first people to show me around my new home was a native Texan named Mike Peters.

Mike had helped me get a job at an English-language newspaper where he worked, and by the time I arrived it felt like we were already friends. We shared a small office on the second floor of the China Daily building, where we edited international news for the paper. It was my first editing job, and so I depended a lot on Mike for feedback on headlines and story selection.

Any other person probably would have grown impatient with me, but Mike was always willing to help … and honest when he didn’t agree with a choice I made.

Over the next few years, Mike and I would become good friends. After finishing a late shift at work, we’d often grab beers at a nearby restaurant and chat for hours about life and politics in one of the world’s biggest cities.

When my mother and brother visited Beijing, Mike helped organize a roast lamb dinner with other colleagues so they could meet some of the people we worked with. Anytime I had guests, Mike always met them and, after a cheap beer or two, treated them like old friends.

And, if Mike was reading this, he would probably say: “Jimmy, you’re burying the lede.”

Mike died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 62.

I found out about his illness in early July. A mutual friend sent me the news in a text: “Devastating news. Mikey Peters has terminal cancer.”

He said the doctor told him he had three to six months to live.

I hesitated to reach out to Mike. What do you say to a person who has terminal cancer?

(“How are you feeling?” Well, awful. Haven’t you heard. I’m dying.)

Everything I thought about saying just seemed disingenuous.

Then, on Aug. 2, Mike sent me a photo from his hospital bed. He was surrounded by smiling coworkers. He looked weak and pale, but still managed to crack a smile.

We exchanged a few messages, and he told me how everyone at the office was preparing food for him. “Only eating hospital food half of the time.”

You are a celebrity my man, I told him.

“Haha,” he responded.

The day before Mike died, I wrote him another message:

“Hey Mike. I just wanted to let you know that I will forever be grateful for the way you welcomed me to Beijing and taught me that Taiwan was indeed a part of China. I was pretty green when I showed up and you made that transition a lot easier. I love you man, and I know a lot of other people do, hence the outpouring of support. I hope you can feel that.”

A few hours after I sent the message, a friend texted me and said Mike had suffered some complications from the cancer and might not make it through the night. He died the next day.

Given the timing, I doubt Mike read the last message I wrote to him. But, judging by all of the people who reached out to him after the cancer diagnosis and donated money toward his medical expenses, I know he felt the support.

Postcards from Apgar Village Lodge

At $100 per night, these rustic cabins inside Glacier National are a bargain. Located at the southern tip of Lake McDonald, Apgar Village Lodge is a great place to stay a few nights while exploring the west side of the park. 

The highlight of my stay was waking up around dawn each morning, getting a free cup of coffee at the lodge office, and watching the sun rise over Lake McDonald. 

The reflections of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake would change as morning became afternoon. 

In the evening, the brilliant reflections faded to dark. With little light pollution, the stars and moon lit up the night sky. 

Here are a few photos I took while staying at the lodge. 

The entrance to our cabin.

Our room had a view of a river that ran near the lake.

The room didn’t have a TV or wifi. To me, that was one of the perks.

My heart will go on

After a lengthy attempt to lower the quality of my life, hypertension died last week. It was 1 and a half.

Hypertension was declared dead in an email I received from my doctor. “Great news. You don’t need medications now. This was a good ‘scare’, so you will have a healthy lifestyle now!” she wrote.

It is survived by the half empty boxes of blood pressure medication scattered around my apartment: 30 mg of Adalat, 12.5 mg of Carvedilol and 5 mg of a generic beta blocker.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

I met with a doctor in Beijing for a follow-up checkup earlier this year.

Hypertension was born in my body in January 2012, after a doctor in the Philippines discovered my blood pressure was dangerously high following a severe bout of lightheadedness. Its interests included wrecking havoc on my body, including heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. Continue reading

A full-time brother

Growing up, my brother Billy and I shared a bedroom. We slept on a bed that folded into a futon. When we weren’t asleep or at school, he followed me everywhere. If I locked myself in a room, he’d try to pick the lock or figure out another way to get in.

I hated it at the time, being shadowed wherever I went. I was five and a half years older than Billy, and having your younger brother around was a liability. If I was with friends and we got into trouble and needed to run, he was usually the slowest in the pack. I felt like Billy was holding me back, sometimes literally.

But I also knew he needed me, and so when my friends weren’t watching I tried to teach Billy the difference between right and wrong, helped him with homework and showed him how to field a ground ball. I had to fill the void of our dad, who died when Billy was 4 and I was 10. Continue reading

Survivor’s story of hope continues to echo

Some voices are hard to forget.

I saw a preview recently for a show on the Biography Channel called “I Survived.” The show features people who have survived near-death experiences such as a grizzly bear attack, kidnapping and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The survivors tell their stories without the help of a narrator and against a black background, giving it an intimate one-on-one feel.

One of the women in the clip looked familiar. But I didn’t make the connection until I heard her voice: “I survived that night because I had to live for my daughter.”

I first met Penny in 2006 when I was a reporter for the Evansville Courier & Press, a midsize newspaper in southern Indiana. Normally, I would go out and find people to interview for stories, but Penny found me. When she contacted the newspaper, her call was forwarded to me because I was on the police beat.

Penny told me that she had been raped and left for dead. She was upset at the way the police had treated her during the early parts of the investigation, and she wanted to share her story with the public. It was rare for a victim of a sex crime to want to speak about their case, and our newspaper had a policy of not identifying rape victims to protect their privacy. Continue reading

Gone, but still a part of the band

I played the air piano while he played the guitar. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to my father, Dave, play music with his friends. I’d pretend to be a part of the band, imagining that the invisible instrument I was banging on made the collective sound of the guitar, bass and drums a little sweeter.

When my father wasn’t playing, I liked to march around our house in a trucker hat with his instruments. Once my younger sister, Valerie, became strong enough to carry a guitar, she became a part of the act. My parents probably found it amusing because there are several pictures of us posing side-by-side with his guitars, sometimes in our underwear.

My father, Dave, (right) singing with his friend Paul. (Photo courtesy of Doug Wolgat)

I could probably remember more about those days with my father if I hadn’t spent years trying to forget them. When he died in 1989 of an abdominal aneurysm at the age of 34, my mother, Vicki, took his pictures off the wall. His instruments were put in a closet. His clothes, in a shed. The songs he had recorded onto cassette tapes were also packed away, but sometimes at night my mother would slip outside and listen to them in her car. Continue reading