4: Following My Nephew’s Dream

4: Following My Nephew’s Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Following My Nephew’s Dream

Commitment leads to action. Action brings your dream closer.

~Marcia Wieder

I’m not sure why I took the selfie, but I did. Sitting on my back porch in upstate New York in the late-winter thaw, I raised my iPhone and snapped a picture of a very glum individual. But why was I unhappy? I’d always been adept at figuring out internal discord, so I mentally started taking note of all the good things in my life. I was in love with my adoring wife, and we were raising our beautiful baby girl. In a down economy, I had a good-paying job that allowed my family to travel, which we enjoyed.

I eyed the forty-two-year-old man in the picture. Bottom line, I was dissatisfied with that successful job and didn’t want to leave the following morning for South Carolina where I would be overseeing a construction project. Another tedious undertaking of walking behind carpenters, electricians, and drywall installers, telling them what to do, and, like the man without the eyes in Cool Hand Luke, snapping the whip when it was time to push them faster.

What I really wanted as my dream job was what I was already doing on the side: writing and publishing fiction with my wife. We had started a little online magazine in 2008 devoted to short stories of any genre. It was a labor of love in the beginning, but a couple of years later during the eBook boom, we decided to try making some money from the publishing. It became a joke at my day job when I would say, “This assignment is my last.” Five years later, our bags were packed for our trip to The Palmetto State. It seemed like I would never have a last assignment.

I was leaving my home in the care of my nephew Kyle, who would watch over it while taking classes at the local community college. Like me, Kyle wanted to be a writer, and I had published his first poetry collection the previous year. He and I had been great buddies. I was the zany uncle, a close confidant. When I went away to the military, we lost touch, and when I came back, he was going through typical teenage strife with the added troubles of drugs and alcohol. Our relationship had changed. We struggled to find our lost common ground. We eventually found it in books and movies, though our relationship remained strained. I could see, despite his continued tribulations, that he was still an intelligent, loyal young man who was trying. When he said he would care for my house, I knew he’d do his best. And I would continue to help publish his work when I had time.

Charleston turned out to be a rewarding city with a rich history and beautiful parks and beaches, but the job itself was taking a toll on me. Unexpected delays cropped up at every turn. What was supposed to be a six-week assignment was going to take months. I didn’t want to stay that long. I had a writing and publishing venture calling me.

Back in New York, Kyle’s troubles were mounting once again as well. He was having a relapse from sobriety. On June 18, 2013, while I was getting ready for another stressful day of work, my wife burst into the bathroom to tell me my niece had called. Our house was on fire and they couldn’t find Kyle. I reeled from the shock.

I went into work as usual, anxiously awaiting news from home. Two hours later, the call came from my sister with the heart-wrenching words… they found Kyle’s remains by the back door; he didn’t make it out.

I left work, unable to focus or control the tears.

I took my little family back to New York for the service and spoke at the funeral. I stumbled around in shock. When I returned to work in Charleston, it was even harder than before as I tried to balance a job I already disliked with the loss of my nephew. I cried hard every day for the following month and searched for meaning wherever I could find it. Nothing seemed to help ease the pain. While our family had banded together and found strength, I needed something more. I strived relentlessly to get Kyle’s second poetry collection in print. I delved deep into his words. Still, no solace. And then one day, it happened.

After the assignment ended, and we returned to New York — again — I had the opportunity to read through Kyle’s dream journals that had been found in his parents’ house. Among the usual assortment of flights of fantasy and distorted meanderings of daily events, this chestnut popped up: “David had ended his career to write short stories and wear sweatpants and grow a beard ([Allen] Ginsberg) and write and I was ardent with admiration.”

That dream reassured me that my nephew cared for my happiness and me. The date in the journal entry showed he had dreamed this at a time when we were still somewhat at odds, long before I had published his first poetry. I cried again but with tears of joy.

I leafed further through his journals and found an entry about abstract time travel, an adventure where he went into the past to save me from a work-related danger. At the end, he wrote, “The dream was also about how proud and reverent I am of my uncle, or how much I look up to him.”

Kyle’s words gave me strength for my next step. I knew it was time to use all of my vacation (two months’ worth) to just write… a thought that no doubt goes through the mind of every wannabe author with a day job. My wife and I had talked it over before, and we had been saving for several years, waiting for the right time to take the chance on writing and publishing. It hadn’t happened because there’s never a right time to throw caution to the wind and strike out across the desolate plain where there’s no certain income, no insurance, no security.

While the vacation days dwindled away, the passages from Kyle’s journals preoccupied me. My thoughts lingered on the poet, who had so much to offer, running out of time. The nephew who imagined his uncle a writer. His words, “I was ardent with admiration,” came back to me. I needed more time, and I was delaying the inevitable.

I wrote my boss and told him I wanted to go on intermittent status indefinitely. If they wanted to let me go, fine. I needed to follow not just my dream, but Kyle’s too.

And here I am, working from home. Mostly seven days a week. Watching what I spend. Some months enough comes in to pay the bills and other months I’m scrambling. But you know what? Now I’m smiling in all my pictures because I know Kyle is out there, proud of me. Just as I am of him.

~David Cranmer

More stories from our partners