1. Bad Decisions

Bad Decisions

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.”

Genesis 15:5

My life began in Eden, minus the lush garden, bountiful natural provisions and fresh flows of the Tigris and Euphrates. Although my beginning consisted of scraggly palms, cracked asphalt, beating sun and fluoridated water, I look back on my early childhood and consider it a paradise of sorts, especially when compared to how my life unfolded after its Adamic fall. I had everything a nearly three-year-old kid needs to thrive: a stable, loving nuclear and extended family, food on the table, a roof over my head, and a friendly neighbor with a three-foot-tall stucco wall to leap from into the grass. Originally planted in the heart of southern California’s city of Woodland Hills, I sprang up for nearly three years in Pasadena. Born to Dave and Jeannie de Coup-Crank,1 I was the second of two sons, my brother Austin two and a half years my senior.

In early September of 1991, my parents decided to transplant our barely sprouting roots to a place that more closely resembled Eden. The beauty, promise and at that time, seclusion Washington state offered was more compelling to them than smog, traffic jams and inflated cost of living. Also, my dad’s good friend from California, Craig Vick, already paved the way, moving there just a few years prior. If no one else, we would at least know his family and could attend the church he pastored.

One of my earliest memories occurred when we arrived at our new home in Sammamish, Washington. My dad unbuckled me, lifting me out of the wood-paneled station wagon. While in his arms my head tilted upward. Glinting beads in the night sky caught my eye.

“Daddy, what are those lights up there?” I asked. Surprised at the realization I had never seen — or at least noticed — stars due to the LA light pollution, my dad warmly responded,

“Those are stars, Ryan.”

Days in this small suburb started off well as we acclimated to the weather and life in the Evergreen State. Work began slowly, but my parents laid a nest egg from selling their last house. My dad started woodworking at a local lumberyard as mom continued her care for us while we attended Craig’s church on Sundays.

After one Sunday service, shiny cylinders with golden haloes captured my attention. Before the sermon a man used two sticks to make steady raps on each of them, creating a rhythmic cadence and clanging noises that accompanied the singers. I slowly buzzed toward the mesmerizing items like a fly to a flickering flame; the sparkles glinting into my widening eyes.

After I made my way up the small stage, I took hold of the sticks, my parents and the remaining parishioners eying me. I was scared, but my excitement overpowered my nerves. As I sat on the stool, placed my toes on the peddle and raised one hand in the air, a beat emerged.

Doo…Dat, doo…doo Dat, doo…Dat, doo…doo Dat.

My cheeks reddened as my family and the rest cheered. From that point on my parents considered me to be their little drummer boy.

Dad was a tender man, he loved my brother and I very much. We played “Rat in a Chair,” where he would smoosh one of us against the backrest of the loveseat. As the game progressed, he would feel dull prods behind his back, followed by the sound of poorly suppressed giggles. He turned his head with each poke left and right, never finding the little rodent. When it came time for the game to end, he would stand up, our legs and arms wrapped around him as we shouted, “Rat in a chair!”

Bedtime was fun with dad. He could have been a voice actor, manifesting a plethora of accents and impressions, with witty humor and exuberant gestures. He used this talent to bring my stuffed animals to life with cute, cuddly voices. Bobby Bear and Bunny Boy were my two closest friends.

During one puppet show, a new, bigger bear joined the crew. Dad surprised me when he propped him up on my bunk. When this character spoke, I was startled and hid my face under the covers.

“Hey,” his deep, growl of a voice resembling a chain-smoking Italian mobster. “What are you doin’?” Slowly I crept up, lowering the blankets from my eyes. “You got any salmon?” he continued, “I’m hungry.” I nodded sheepishly as I offered him a handful of invisible fish. After scarfing them down he introduced himself. “I’m Vicenza,”2 “Nice to meet chya.” I warmed up to him as he visited from time to time.

Dad finished tucking me in by teaching me about God. He shared Bible stories from memory, converting the complexity of the tales into child vernacular. Before leaving, dad poured out blessings upon me by laying his right hand on my head as he offered up supplications to God.

“How does that work?” I asked.

“What?”

“God’s power. Does he give it to you and then it goes to me through your hand?”

“Yes, Ryan,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “That’s exactly what happens.”

Mom was a beautiful, loving wallflower who never let my feet hit the ground. Her strawberry blond bangs bobbed as she would bounce me up and down. Agreeable in nature, mom was an especially good caretaker. She lulled me with worship songs she stored in her heart. I always felt safe with her.

We played the game Memory together. The thick, cardboard tiles displayed fruits, shapes and animals on one side while the back looked like blue and white static. We enjoyed many rounds of this game when I was young. When the repetition started to get boring, I decided to goof things up a bit.

“How ‘bout instead of saying the name of the thing, we switch the first letter with a different one?”

“Sure Ryan, what letter would you like to start with?”

“Um, how ‘bout the letter, T.” When I flipped over two oranges I shouted, “Torange!”.

When she uncovered two matching birds, she laughed and said, “Turd!” I wondered what was so funny.

Austin was a trailblazer, a doer, and a mover. He had an independent, wandering spirit that resembled my dad’s. I, on the other hand, was content staying at home. He also was more outspoken than I, the opposite of mom and me. This defiance got him into trouble at times. I however, toed the line seeing the discipline meted out on my brother. I had been born with a more docile, compliant demeanor enhanced through osmosis from the many hours that my mother carried me.

About two years passed while in Washington before things started to get rocky. Dad couldn’t keep a job and mom kept spending on clothes and accessories. He avoided lower paying tasks seeking graphic design work at Microsoft for an exorbitant salary. With doors at Microsoft shutting in dad’s face and mom continuing her retail therapy, the pressure stressing the plumbing in dad’s mind gradually sprung leaks of hissing steam until they finally burst.  Shortly thereafter, I would come to learn first hand that, “Even good people are great at making bad decisions.”3

  1. For information regarding my last name and its origins, click here
  2. Vee – CHEN- Suh, a city in northeastern Italy
  3. Quote from the song entitled “Nate,” by NF. This song captures the essence of what is to come. Click here to listen.

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