Category Archives: LiFe
All things pertaining to our lives and how we are living.
Here we are, the final day of thanks for the month of November. I think every day, in my normal life, I say a mental and emotional thank you for something… the way my honey laughs, the excited way the pups greet me every time I walk in a room, the smiles of my grandsons, the beauty of the sky or the day or the soul of a friend. I appreciate things. Even so, this has been a lovely exercise in purposed thankfulness. Being cognizant of what I have in my life. I have a lot.
30. I am thankful for love. Love of all kinds. Love from friends, family, my pups, the grandsons, the kids, my Mom, my siblings, and most of all my honey. I am blessed to have so much love in my life. More love and more joy from that love than I could ever dream possible. I feel it like a wave sometimes, immense and overwhelming in a totally good way, and other times it’s presence is like a vast and endless calm sea supporting the weight of this tiny ship. Most importantly, I feel it. Always. I’m lucky, fortunate, grateful, thankful, honored, blessed, graced, and humbled by the magnitude of it. I am loved, and I love. It’s beautiful.
27. I’m thankful for sunsets. I was just working on my photos over at Flickr and came across several lovely sunset photos. Nothing creates a sense of awe and peace and wonder quite like a good sunset. Nature made, they are wonderful things to behold.
24. I am thankful for lined jeans. It’s cold cold cold outside. Temps well below freezing and wind chill bringing it even further down. Lined jeans, down coats, and warm hats make all the difference. I was walking the dogs tonight in the cold and the wind was blowing hard. It was cold out and I was toasty warm. Thanks to lined jeans.
21. I am thankful for the birds in our backyard. I’ve never really been a bird person. I like looking at them, am amazed by them, but haven’t ever really been into them. Until now. My honey loves birds. She loves animals of all kinds actually, but she really digs on the birds in our backyard. So much so we’ve got this whole feeding system going on back there that’s pretty spectacular. It actually involved putting in posts (with cement to anchor), stove pipe (to stop the squirrels from climbing), and then hooks on top for the feeders. We stained them and put copper post tops on. They look pretty fantastic. We have two of these posts now which means there are eight feeders. This doesn’t count the outside clothes dryer pole that used to be a drying apparatus and was cut off to now be a post with a tray feeder on top (we didn’t need to dry clothes outside anyway… we have a stand alone rack for that if we want one) or the other colored rod iron poles we have around the yard or the two bird baths. Yes, we are a veritable bird sanctuary. All because my honey loves birds. We have bird books now and binoculars for looking out to see them up close. It’s sort of awesome. I was never into them before, but now… I just went and filled up a pitcher with hot water to take out and pour over the bird bath water (which this time of year pretty much freezes every night) so they have some water to drink. I’m in it. And I’m thankful for that.
18. I’m thankful for our basement. I admit it, I’m freaked out about tornadoes. The thought of one scares me. I’m from Oregon, land of earthquakes and volcanos, not tornadoes. I’m just not used to living in a place where tornadoes can and do happen. So when we moved to east central Illinois we agreed we would get a house with a basement. It’s a peace of mind thing. When a tornado warning happens we head down, with the dogs of course, to the media room to watch what’s happening on the television and to peruse the ongoing situation on our iPad and laptop. We both feel better knowing we have that place to go. Again, it’s a peace of mind thing and I’m so thankful for it.
17. I’m thankful for laughter. The way my honey laughs with her whole body, how my brother slaps his knee when it’s a real good one, the grandsons giddy sounds, my friends smiling eyes when they laugh, strangers passing by who are cracking up, my family’s sounds of laughter at a family function, and my laugh when I’m crying because something is just so wonderful. Laughter is the music of the soul. It’s joy out loud. I’m greedy for it, in myself and in others. Nothing beats a good laugh.
16. I’m thankful for our furnace and air conditioning. It’s cold in Illinois in the winter. Cold. It’s also hot in the summer. Humid and hot. We live in a place of extremes and I’m so very grateful for the warmth and coziness of the heat on those cold winter mornings (like today) and for the cool refreshing air conditioning on those hottest of hot summer days. They both make our lives so much nicer, so much easier. And it’s not lost on me that other people in other places don’t have either, which makes me appreciate both all the more. I’m so thankful for the heat every time the temps get down to 17 and the windchill brings that down even further. So grateful for the coolness of the air every time humidity is 88 percent and it’s already 100 outside. For these things I’m thankful, everyday.
I just really listened to the lyrics of this song and it made me cry. Crying is not unusual for me, I’m emotional. It’s just that this basic message is one I want to shout from the rooftops — we are all people, all living our lives. So be kind, don’t judge, and love your fellow human for being just that, your fellow human. The end.
So much of how we see ourselves is based on how our peers, our friends, our family, and our community sees us. Yes, if you are a person with good self-esteem you can be in the world as a more confident, relaxed, grounded individual. But even the most secure person struggles, at times, with how they think other people see them. We are constantly being influenced by what our friends, family, and society think of us. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we admit it or not. We carry those opinions, thoughts, comments, with us throughout the course of our lives. Little voices of disapproval or questions about our actions, our look, and our direction pop up occasionally as annoying ghosts in our minds. It happens to me.
I’m a pretty relaxed confident person in that I don’t care much what others think of me. OK, more accurately, I may care a bit, but I don’t let that influence the decisions I make and the way I am in my every day life. Most of the time. Keyword — most. It’s strange how those little voices come up at the strangest of times. How those negative experiences, comments, criticisms, stay with us over time, no matter how hard we try to exorcise them from our heads and our lives.
When I was a kid I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandmother. She loved me so much, treated me so well. She was not a nice person. As I grew I realized she didn’t treat my brother as well as she treated me. She called him names, excluded him from activities, made comments about him. When I realized this I slowly stopped spending time with her. I loved her, but she wasn’t good to him and I loved him. It was my little way of standing up to her, and my not wanting to be around that sort of behavior and negativity. Even as a kid I felt that stuff profoundly. Negative emotion, action, etc. I can’t stomach it. No matter how many toys you buy me. My aunt, who was this same grandmother’s daughter and my dad’s sister, didn’t get along that great with her own mother because of this playing favorites type of mentality. Yet, she was her. Maybe it was to make up for how my grandmother was, but my aunt, who treated my brother like a little prince, was not nice. She was not nice to me. She called me names, excluded me from activities, and made comments about me. Once, when my brother and I were at her house we were eating a meal. She looked at me and said, “you eat like such a pig”. Bam. There it was. That moment changed me a little bit forever.
For years, and even still once in a while, that little line pops into my head. Because of that line when I was a teen and a young adult I never liked eating in front of people. I was so self-conscious, always afraid people would see the pig in me. The pig that she’d noticed and pointed out. The pig that in reality didn’t exist, but existed after her comment so much in my head and my heart.
I grew, and grew out of those feelings. My self-esteem took a long time (for not just this reason of course) to grow and blossom, but it did. I realized it was her problem and that I had never been a pig, but it informed so much of how I was in the world for so long. Perceptions. Judgements. Those ideas other people have of us and those we have of ourselves can be cruel and are often wrong. I saw myself as a pig because she’d seen me that way.
We tell ourselves internal stories. Stories about ourselves, about our world, about the people we see all around us — friends, family, strangers. We do this all the time. It’s how we explain things, people, interactions, relationships, to ourselves. These stories, told as a constant monologue in our heads, are our way of explaining our world to ourselves. This is what that means, this is what that looks like, this is how this or that person must be, and on and on. They are really just our stories, even if they are about other people, because they are based solely on our own thoughts and experiences. Our experience of ourselves, our histories, the path we’ve been on. Our experiences inform our stories. Always.
We can never, and I repeat, NEVER, know another person’s story. Not really. We think we do, we assume things and place expectations on every other person we know, see, and meet, based on what’s happened in our own lives, based on what we’ve been told, and based on what we’ve been through ourselves. But these stories and assumptions and ideas about people are false truths. We get arrogant and judgmental and place unfair expectations on others based on what we think we know of them, what we think we see, or what we think we would do in their place. Instead of really knowing what we’re talking about we often fill in the blank with our own ideas of a person or a situation. These ideas coming from, again, what our own thoughts and experiences have told us must be true. We, as humans, do this all the time. I do it all the time. I try not to. I fail.
To look at another person and automatically assume you know what they should do, how they are as a person, or how they should act, is arrogant. To hear about another person, another group, and assume things about them without having any real interaction with them is wrong and it’s sad. It’s harmful to them, to ourselves, and harmful to the world. It automatically separates us from each other instead of connecting us. Any time judgement seeps into a thought, a conversation, an opinion, we’ve lost a bit of ourselves. We’ve lost a bit of humanity.
This is not a particularly flattering story to tell on myself, but here I go none the less. Years ago I worked at a prison for kids. This particular one was called a youth correctional facility, but it was a prison. I’d just turned 23, and a few months earlier had graduated from college with a degree in psychology. I fancied myself as liberal, open, and non-judgmental. Part of the orientation were these little tours of the different units at the facility. One of those units, a place called the Secure Intensive Treatment Program, was on the tour. This particular unit, which I would end up working at three years later, after a lot more experience, was where the kids who’d committed murder and attempted murder were housed. Basically it was what would be called maximum security in an adult prison. I walked in there with expectation, pre-conceived notions, and prejudices I wasn’t even aware I had. When I walked in I thought I didn’t have any prejudice, any judgement of others. By the time I walked out I knew I was sadly and shockingly wrong about myself.
Part of the tour of this particular unit, other than a staff member telling me about what they did there, was a tour of the unit by a kid who lived there. I heard this from the staff and immediately started looking around at the kids in the unit. There were all sorts of kids there, pretty much all races and ethnic backgrounds represented. In my mind I zeroed in on this one particular kid. I’m not sure why. He was big, and gruff looking, and African-American. I was instantly afraid of him. There were other kids there that pretty much fit his same description, but I kept saying in my head, please don’t let my tour guide be that kid. Any other kid, but not him. Fate has a sense of humor. The staff couldn’t read my mind, but sure enough, he ended up being the kid the staff picked out to show me around. I introduced myself, he introduced himself, and off we went to the various parts of the program. He was soft-spoken, thoughtful, and explained the ins and outs of the place with wonderful perspective and detail. I liked him instantly.
My experience, which was non-existent with criminals, very limited with African-Americans, on the fringe with people who were gruff looking, and nil with teen felons, filled in a story about this kid. Before I even started talking to him I thought, I assumed, I knew who he was and because of those perceptions and assumptions I was afraid of him. I was sure he would be dismissive and sarcastic and intimidating. Sure of it. I knew he would be scary to talk to and deal with. I couldn’t have been more wrong and I learned a big lesson that day. A lesson about myself and about how we see our fellow humans without even knowing them. How we judge without having any real experience, the experience which then lets us know someone and understand them. Let’s us see them honestly, and in a real way.
These are the traps, the stories, and the falsehoods we find ourselves in. We go there all the time. Intentionally or unintentionally. I know I do. I don’t mean to. I try to be my better self, but I know I don’t always succeed.
The homeless are many in Portland, where I used to live. When I was a kid visiting Portland for various activities at various times they were called bums (which speaks a lot to our judgmental nature as people). Later on, when I was an adult living in Portland there’d be the every so often news story about the homeless problem. I used to avoid them at all costs, try not to look them in the eye, and generally sort of pretend they didn’t exist. I assumed I understood them, knew things about them, without knowing them at all. Harsh, but true. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. On the other hand I was always sensitive to kids who lived on the street. I worked with teens and had (still have) a soft spot for them. I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that at risk youth population. They are tough and vulnerable and resilient and sensitive. Many are just downright amazing. I had experience with homeless teens so when I saw a homeless kid on the street I often gave them some change, said hello, acknowledged them in some way. I looked them in the eye and I saw them. Adults living on the street — that was different for me. I had no experience with them, other than what the media portrayed and what I’d heard other people say, so I’d avoid eye contact and walk quickly past to avoid any sort of interaction that might happen. I didn’t really see them at all. Where’s the humanity in that?
Things changed, my perceptions were altered, when on my second date with K we met a homeless woman. We were sitting outside at a café having coffee. The date had been going on for a while. We were having great conversation, enjoying each other. I saw this homeless woman half a block away, heading our direction. She hadn’t noticed me yet so I did what I always did, I avoided her gaze, I looked away. But as fate would have it, she approached us anyway and asked for money for coffee. I didn’t know what to say, hemming and hawing, looking around, being generally uncomfortable. But K — she rocked it out. She looked at the woman, in the eyes, and said that she wouldn’t give her money but she’d buy her a coffee. The woman said she didn’t like the coffee from the place we were sitting in front of and wanted the money so she could buy it elsewhere. K offered to walk down the street with her to buy her coffee at another place. The woman still refused and again asked for money. K then offered up her own cup of coffee to the woman, who again refused and then walked away. The point of this is I learned a great lesson that day, one of many from the woman who is now my wife. Compassion, interaction, and most importantly — acknowledgement. K saw that woman. She interacted with her. She didn’t avoid or dismiss or shun. She engaged and talked in a meaningful and genuine way. I loved her all the more for that. And I learned something from her. Now, when I see a homeless person, I see them. I look them in the eye, I say hello. I now, because of real experience, see the homeless as people. People whose stories I don’t really know. People whose experiences, the experiences that led to their homelessness in the first place, I have no way of knowing and definitely no right to judge.
I was perusing the internet the other day and came across a video of a homeless veteran who had agreed to do a little exercise with a crew of people from a ministry who have made it their mission to work with, help, and try to enrich the lives of homeless veterans. They did a time-lapse video of the exercise. In it they cut and colored his hair, trimmed his beard, and put a new set of clothes on him. He couldn’t see himself until after the transformation has happened. Finally, when they were done they brought out a huge mirror and showed him to himself. He was stunned, mouthing the word wow before he got up and hugged a member of the team.
Seeing this video started me thinking, which led to this blog post. This guy, who in the beginning looked exactly like what you’d expect a homeless person to look like, looked like a CEO of a company when they were done with him. A haircut and a change of clothes is all that really happened, but it changed the perception of him. Ours and his own.
We carry what others think of us, say about us, and the judgements they make of us around inside of ourselves. Those thoughts and judgements always end up incorporating themselves into our lives, into the framework that makes up who we think we are. It happens to each of us and when it does it makes us uncomfortable, chiseling away at our foundations, even though we try to keep those judgements at bay. Yet, we turn around and do it to others. We see people, groups, other humans and we think we know them, without knowing them. We make up stories about them without hearing their stories. We judge, without knowing anything about their real experiences.
We should know better. We obviously don’t know better. We should strive to do better.
Maybe if we think the best of the people around us, they will think the best of themselves. Maybe if we work hard at being interested and connected with people they will be interested and connected. Maybe if we treat each other with kindness and compassion instead of judgement and accusation they will be more kind and compassionate. Maybe, just maybe, if we treat people as human beings, they will be more human. And maybe just the act of being more connected, and compassionate, and kind, and human gives us each a bit more humanity. Maybe if we listen more and judge less the stories we tell ourselves will contain more fact than fiction.
11. I’m thankful for the sacrifices the men and women in the armed forces give us every day. My family has a long history of serving and I’m so proud of that history. Without our veterans we would not enjoy all the freedoms we do today. I’m thankful for what they’ve done, and for what they continue to do.
The photo is of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and my mom as a baby.
9. I’m thankful for the visual world. I am made breathless every day by something I see. It seems everywhere I look there’s beauty and magnificence. It constantly amazes, enlightens, and nourishes my soul. Leaves blowing from trees, blue sky, rain drops falling just so, structures made by man, light in all it’s forms. Everything has history and a story to tell. All of it inspires awe and is magical.
Here we are, day eight.
8. I’m thankful for my second family. When K and I got together I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be gaining a whole new set of people to call my own. People who in turn would call me their own. People who made me a part of the family and have accepted and loved me ever since. They are amazing and I’m so fortunate to have them in my life.
Day seven and these feelings of being thankful are still going strong.
7. I’m thankful for my brother, Kevin. We’ve been through so much together. No two people have the same experiences he and I share. But more than that, he’s a fantastic brother, and a gentle soul. He’s also famously the best hugger in the family. In fact, when someone gives someone else a big hug they call it giving a Kevin. Funny, but true. He’s my partner in dorkiness and has one of the best belly laughs I’ve ever heard.
I’m actually sitting here at a loss for words. Shocking. Yesterday I was jumping up and down, crying, pumping my fists in the air, and trying to mouth the words, “it passed!” to K who was on the phone in a meeting for work. It was a comedy of sorts. She involved in her meeting, me jumping and crying and trying to shout without saying a word. She mouthed the words, “what’s up?” and I just kept whispering that it passed. We had a mini failure to communicate until she just asked the person on the phone to wait a second, held her hand over the headset mic, and said, “what’s going on?”. I could then finally answer aloud. ”It passed! It passed!” She got excited, had to tell the person she was on the phone with what I’d just said. Finally, we could semi celebrate together. When she got off the phone we hugged each other. I was still crying.
I spent over two hours yesterday with headphones on, computer tabbed to the state house feed, listening and watching the debate about the Illinois marriage bill. It was infuriating, enlightening, glorious, encouraging, a tad scary at times, and ultimately wonderful. Whether people said things I agreed with, or not, it was fascinating to watch and listen to the process. When the vote finally came it happened so fast it was almost anticlimactic. They vote electronically so it took less than 10 seconds. Bam. Done.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this. After all, there are many people, who for religious reasons, feel my right to marry who I love is wrong. And, oh well. I don’t expect people to agree. It’s a divisive issue. Always has been. I see it as the civil rights issue of our time, and others see it as a religious issue. I could argue that, as I have in the past on this blog, but today I won’t. Today I guess maybe I want to write about love.
I am in love. Since April of 2003, and if I really admit it to myself it was probably a couple of months earlier, I’ve been in love. In the beginning I was scared as hell. Me being in love with a woman was not something my family would expect and at that point didn’t know anything about. So I was scared. In love, but scared. Would they accept her, would they cast me out, would they turn their backs or talk behind mine? One of the reasons I kept being gay a secret for so long was because I didn’t want to go from being Tam to being gay Tam. Because whether people mean to or not, that’s exactly what happens. You suddenly become something different from what you were to other people. Not always in a bad way, but different none the less. I didn’t want that first perceived difference, until I met her, and then I didn’t want to keep it a secret or hide her from everyone in my life. I wanted her to be a part of my family. I wanted to live a whole and authentic life and to do that I had to tell my truth. So I did. And yes, I became gay Tam. But then — then I was just Tam again.
A lot happened right after the coming out thing, as you can imagine, but what mostly happened was a whole bunch of acceptance and love. Love. I have friends who are pretty religious people, but they still loved me. One of them, a super spiritual Christian guy, came to see me in person and ended up telling me he loved me, no matter what, and that it wasn’t his job to judge or condemn me. You know, the judge not lest ye be judged thing. I love him for that. I respect him for that. And I respect his beliefs. We differ, but that’s OK. My grandmother, who my mom elected to tell (with my permission of course) said, and I quote, it was about time I came out. ha ha ha! That still makes me smile and laugh. She’d suspected, she kind of already knew, she was OK with it, and had been impatient for me to just say it already.
I think I was surprised at how well people just sort of accepted K into our family, into our lives. Friends I’d had forever accepted her as well. People treated us as if we were just like every other couple. Because, you know, we were. We are. We’re the same — mortgage, dogs, making dinner, working, pulling weeds in the garden, going for walks, taking vacations, watching dumb television shows, having the occasional argument, babysitting the grand boys, grocery shopping. Same. We love. We are loved.
I’m lucky. I know this. When I say it’s not every day people find the kind of relationship we have, I mean anyone. Gay, straight, somewhere in the middle. People strive for this, this thing we have. This absolute certainty that we are. We are more than just meant for each other or made for each other or any of that. We are. Simple. When I met her it was as if everything snapped into place, an audible click. Home. I still feel that way. Lucky.
Yes, alright — we argue and somehow she puts up with me when I get too emotional. I put up with her need to do a million things at once which sometimes leads to her not listening as well as I’d like. We do struggle at times. Of course we do. We aren’t perfect. What’s great is that no matter how much we struggle or how angry we get or how hard things sometimes feel there’s never a feeling of wanting to end it, or go, or take a break, or any of that. The tough stuff always makes us stronger as a couple if we let it. We let it. We can’t imagine our lives without each other in them.
We’ve already been married twice. To each other. This makes me smile. The first time we got married we were alone on a beach in Hawaii. We’d purchased rings and found our spot and did it ourselves. Words spoken, rings exchanged, happy tears shed, poetry, and a sand ceremony she’d surprised me with. We still have that bottle of sand. We’ve considered ourselves married since then. I think, really, we’ve considered ourselves married since that first date. I know I was. It’s why we count our anniversaries from then. But the ceremony in Hawaii was a real marriage for us. Maybe not sanctified or certified or papered in any way, but real none the less. The second time we got married Oregon had just passed a domestic partnership law. I worked for a county in Oregon at the time so during a break I walked down to the proper desk, paid the fee, we filled out the paperwork, and a week later there it was, our certificate of domestic partnership. Not really a marriage, but a legal thing, even if it seemed slightly empty in a way. We laughed, but at least that, combined with the $1600 in paperwork we’d done with an attorney, sort of protected us as a couple. Sort of. I say this because later, when at different times we were each hospitalized, we had to give the hospital with our powers of attorney, etc. so that we could make decisions for each other. It added a stress regular couples don’t have to deal with. Nothing like worrying if you’ll be kicked out of your wife’s room because she isn’t legally your wife. Luckily those strangers were kind and gentle and accepting. So much so one of the nurses mentioned to us how fantastic our relationship was and that she rarely saw a couple so devoted. It was a compliment. It was a commentary. It spoke directly to the we that is us.
We’ve never had an actual ceremony in front of people. A ceremony the kids and my mom and my brothers and sisters and K’s brother and sister and parents and our friends, etc., etc., could attend. As a young woman I never thought I’d be able to have a wedding. It was so far out of the consciousness I literally never even imagined it. Later, K and I vowed not to do it until/unless it became federally legal. Our paperwork and our own private marriage were what we’ve had. And on one hand they’ve been enough. The hand that says we don’t need anyone telling us our relationship is valid and important and real. We know it is. We live it and feel it every day. On the other hand not being able to legally wed has denied us many rights other couples who can get married enjoy and take for granted every day. Some of those rights legal, like getting the same rights for the taxes we pay, and some human, like being recognized in the same way as all other couples who love each other and last are when they are married.
And again, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here. I’m just speaking to my own personal experience. Yesterday, when marriage happened for us in Illinois, I cried. I cried because it’s another step toward being culturally real. Toward begin a part of something bigger than just us. It’s being looked at, from the outside, as legit and meaningful in the same ways as other couples who are devoted to each other, who have taken that step. It means my mom can be at my wedding, the kids can be there, our family and friends can be there. It means we can celebrate and rejoice and affirm the love we have and have had for each other for over 10 years and our families and friends can hug us and share in that moment. I means all the same protections and privileges will then apply to us. It means inclusion, not exclusion. And it means so much more than I can even put into words. Which, as I said in the beginning of this, sometimes fail me.
There is nothing more important in this life than the people we love and who love us. Period, the end. Love is beautiful and special and precious and real. Man, woman, gay or straight. Ours is. Our love for each other and our love for the people in our lives. This latest happening in Illinois is a victory for love. It’s very existence has advanced us, as a species. It’s propelled us a bit closer toward a place and time when all people will be loved and accepted and celebrated for who they are. A time and a place that’s hopefully not too far off in the future. Love always wins. Eventually. Love of our spouses, our children, our families, our friends, our fellow man and woman. I believe this.
I believe in love.
Several years ago K and I drove from Portland down to Las Vegas. You can do that drive in a day, a long one, which I’ve done before (Linda, remember the time we drove into that camp ground in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, looking for a bathroom?), but it’s much nicer to stop for a night along the way. The most obvious place to stop is Reno, which makes a nice midway point.
K and I pulled into Reno, after driving 10 hours or whatever it was, found a cheap hotel, found some cheap dinner, put our usual $20 into a slot, and were ready to hit the mattress and get a good night’s sleep before our 10 hour or so drive the next day. Until….
In our hotel room, looking out at the city, we saw a sign for The Great Reno Balloon Race, starting the next morning at like 5:00. By this point it was one in the morning and we were tired, but as we’re both always up for spontaneous adventure we decided to forgo sleep and see what we could see at the balloon fest the next morning. We are so glad we did. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and experienced in my life. We got up at 4:30, got directions from the front desk person, and headed over. There was a “glow” at 5:00 which was amazing in an of itself. Several balloons lit up in the dark, anchored, taking turns burning. Cool. Later, when the sun just started to come up 75 or so balloons took flight. It was beautiful, and hilarious, and strangely emotional. Some of the balloons were different shapes which made it fun spotting them and pointing them out to each other. We both absolutely loved it.
Since that day we’ve wanted to go to another festival, though we’ve decided it must be a big festival or we’d be sort of disappointed. The sight of five balloons taking off compared to 75 would be slightly – inadequate. Then, today, I saw a thing come across my Facebook feed from Roadtrippers. It’s a road trip website I love. They have great info about places to see, history, cool stuff wherever you happen to be driving. I use it sometimes when we travel. They have an app.
So I was perusing my feed and there it was, a time-lapse video of the recently held International Albuquerque Balloon Festival. It’s the largest in the world. 500 balloons. That’s all kinds of awesome if you ask me. I had to show it to K. We just, on the spot, decided we must go next year. I’m excited.
Here’s the video. I dare you not want to head to Albuquerque for the festival after you see it. Maybe you shouldn’t watch, it might be too tempting.
November. So many great things about it – leaves changing and falling, cooler temperatures lead to the wearing of jackets and hats, blankets and the beginnings of spending more cozy time indoors, women’s basketball, football in full swing, and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.
I’m actually not much of a holiday person. I know, bah hum bug, but it’s true. I don’t much like decorating or dressing up and I definitely don’t like the commercialism if it all. Decidedly not my thing. But Thanksgiving, that’s for me. Family time, food, conversation, and a general spirit of thankfulness.
In the last couple of years I’ve noticed more and more people doing this thing called 30 Days of Thanks on Facebook. Listing, each day of the month, something they’re thankful for. I love this idea. I’ve written a lot about being thankful, grateful, and lucky for various things in my life on this blog. Obviously I’m a big proponent of saying thank you and so jumping on the bandwagon of something as cool as taking a moment every day to give thanks for someone or something seems like a great idea to me. All this thanking is good for the world. It’s been good for me to read the thanks other people are putting down. It’s warm and fuzzy. It’s good energy. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m a bit late starting this, so I’ll be doing a little catch up, but here we go…
1. I’m thankful for my split apart. Every day I get more love, laughter, and togetherness than a person really has a right to. She’s poetry and light. She completes me.
2. I’m thankful for the wag in our pups tails. The pups add so much joy, fun, and wonder, and magic to our lives. They make our family. I love them.
3. I’m thankful for having the coolest, most wonderful, amazingly awesome Mom a person could have. Not just my Mom, she’s also my friend. And that smile — wow.
4. I’m thankful for words. They have, and continue to, inspire, transform, encourage, explain the world, and enlighten me. I’m so appreciative of their presence in my life.
And there it is… I’ve caught up. Tomorrow number 5 on the 5th.
What are you thankful for?
We love car trips. Load up the dogs, their supplies, the camera gear, the clothes, and make sure the iPod is filled with good tunes to travel by. We choose to road trip sometimes when flying might be easier, or faster, or even cheaper. We like the experience of it. So much better climbing behind the wheel, music on, countryside slipping by. We’ve seen some amazing things.
It seems no matter which route we take, its the right one. If you have a spirit of adventure, even those small county highways can be interesting. Strange, or cute, or decrepit, or gorgeous little hovels with one gas station, a strange restaurant the locals really appreciate, and sometimes even a hotel or even two. Towns have a feel about them. Some say welcome, we’re so glad you’re here. Some say get the hell out. You can instantly feel which kind of town you’re in. We like that.
We like old signs and big piles of hay and wrecked cars in lots and shiny new tractors and pretty parks and statues for local heroes and strange historical markers. We like finding coffee shops in these places and hearing the group of older dudes in the corner talking about farming or the factory or the latest business venture. Those guys are in every town. We like friendly people who love dogs and want to pet ours and we even like the people who might not understand or like the gay, but come around to at least liking and feeling comfortable around us. We like gas stations for bathrooms and bad coffee and the occasional snack. We like cuddling with the pups at hour 5 when they are sick of laying on their beds and need a little attention. We like singing along to songs we know and making up words to songs we don’t. We like telling stories to each other about things we see, making up details to describe things we don’t really know anything about. We like playing the maybe game.
The maybe game — it goes like this — we see a personalized license plate with the numbers 173 on it and the game is on. Maybe they have 173 grandchildren. Maybe this is their 173rd car. Maybe they’ve had 173 girlfriends. Maybe it’s their address, their locker combo, the address of their favorite hotel, the number of hickeys they’ve had, the number of Izod shirts they own, etc., etc. ,etc. We get outlandish. We make each other laugh.
We love stopping at strange off beat things, like the world’s largest fork, or an enormous statue of a rabbit. We wonder about these things and marvel at them and appreciate that they are there for us to experience. We love finding funky coffee shops and taking our photo outside of each one to document our coffee journey. We love beautiful countryside.
This country is beautiful. Spectacularly so. It never ceases to amaze us. I don’t know how many times we’ve said something like wow, look at this, it’s gorgeous. It happens all the time. To tell you the truth we haven’t really ever been anywhere that wasn’t pretty in its own way. You have to see it like that, but still, we find places pretty. Our favorite thing is to take smaller roads and highways, off the interstate, so we actually drive through small towns and interesting topography. It takes us a tad longer, but we don’t care. The experience is worth every extra mile and hour spent on the road.
Small day trips or longer trips that take several days, both are good. Two days ago we decided to head out on what we like to refer to as sightseeing Sunday. Pick a spot we can drive to and back from in a day and head out. This time we picked a state park not really that far from us. A stop for coffee, tunes turned up, pups and cameras in the car, and off we went. It was amazing. That park, unexpected — beautiful. Trees changing color, ponds and lakes, people canoeing and fishing, a big flock of birds making big noise, swans, reflections of gorgeous color in the water, picnic places, music playing, a nearby wind farm, a stop for burgers and shakes, a bit of hiking, and loads of photos. It was a great little adventure. So much fun. We even took a back road to get home and ended up going through some countryside we’d not seen before. Bonus.
The point is that for us there’s adventure all around. Everywhere. Close by in neighborhoods in our own town we haven’t yet explored, and far off, in small burgs and large cities we haven’t yet been to. All that fun and “new” is as close as jumping in the car and heading out. It’s all there for the seeing and experiencing. We can’t get enough of it. Can’t get enough of experiencing the “new”, together. We’re already planning our next adventure. I’m excited. I bet it’s going to be a good one.
Halloween, it’s nearly here. For me Halloween, though enjoyable (mostly for the candy and occasional small party), hasn’t been my number one holiday. I know people who live for this little snippet of time in the year and I love how they love it. I envy their enthusiasm for it. I wish I could share it. I think I’m just lazy.
Corn mazes (I finally went through one two years ago — made fun by the fact that we made it a game and had teams competing to see who could finish first — mine didn’t), costume parties, candy corn, leaves falling, spooky houses, apple bobbing, rascal ghosts and goblins, and carved pumpkins. My enjoyment of this particular holiday nowadays mostly consists of taking photos of the cute grand sons in their costumes and maybe going along to watch the trick or treating. Some years we leave our porch light on, like last year, so we can open the door multiple times and give out loads of candy to the nicely dressed munchkins, and some years we just leave the light off and hunker in. Our one Halloween decoration is a plastic pumpkin that is lit from within. We put it in the window and plug it in, then we take it back downstairs to the storage room. I know, I know — bah humbug.
When I was a kid Mom made our costumes. We were ghosts, Batman and Robin, and other regular stuff for kids of our generation. A favorite of mine was the year I wanted to be a Lucerne carton of milk. Yes, a carton of milk. Mom somehow made that happen. A box, some shoulder straps, and a nice paint job — I was milk. Quirky. It goes along with my personality I guess. When I was older, in college, I went to a party as the unknown guest. This was a play on the unknown comic, who was popular during that time. He used to wear a paper bag over his head when he did his shtick. I made a huge paper bag out of other paper bags and put it over my head. I had eye holes. The bag went to my waist. I remember it being hot in there. I hardly knew anyone at the party (big parties aren’t my thing, they make me kind of uncomfortable), and after being asked a few times “who is in there?” I took the thing off, went outside, and smoked cigarettes. Then I left. Once, when I was a kid, I think it was the year I was the milk, I went to a kid’s party. At some point during this party some girl hit me in the leg with a caramel apple. My pajamas got all sticky and gross. I ended up leaving. I guess parties and me really don’t mix. I can’t recall one I’ve been to, of a large size anyway, that was fun for me. Smallish gatherings with several friends or family, or both, no problem. Big parties with loads of people I don’t know — torture for me. Maybe it was the apple incident that threw me over the party edge. I’ll never know.
But enough of my insecurities and foibles, back to Halloween, the day of scares and dares and tricks and treats. There is a thing I loved, and love, about Halloween, other than it being in the fall, which rocks for me (I love fall), and that thing is my mom’s carved pumpkins. My mom — so creative. She has loads of creative talent, way more than she realizes. That woman can draw, play music, sew, fix most things around the house, and she can carve, or sculpt if you will. I always looked forward to what she would do and was always so proud of her creations. She didn’t think much of them, you know, just something she did, but man were they cool. We have loads of photos of them, year after year, and not one was the same. She used to do one or more every year and take them to my step-dad’s office or other places. She usually did at least one for us at the house as well. Those pumpkins had loads of personality. That’s what made them so great. Each was a definite character unto itself. They were amazing.
She doesn’t always carve them anymore, but when she does they are as spectacular as ever. I always bragged about them, and still do I must admit. My idea of carving is a very crude triangle-eyed, triangle-nose, jagged mouth sort of creation. Not very inventive or attractive. But Mom’s pumpkins — Wow. While mine appear to be some sort of freakish trick, Mom’s pumpkins were, and are, always a definite treat of the season.
Here it is folks, what you’ve been waiting for….
There’s now a personality test that will tell you if you live where you should. Apparently I should be residing in D.C. Open, yet not agreeable. That made me laugh. You?
The leaves are coming down now. We had our first city leaf pick up this week. There will be four spread over three months. First round… 18 bags. The sad thing is the bags were filled and put out and then we looked up at the trees and… what? Doesn’t even look like a single leaf had fallen off of them. Sigh.
I sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I love fall. It’s my favorite time of the year. Sure, summer is nice and all… in Oregon much more than Illinois, I’m adjusting to the humidity (not really). Fall is just… sweet. The air starts to cool, the leaves start to turn, I change from shorts and t-shirts back into jeans and sweatshirts and closed toed shoes. Coffee tastes better when it’s raining or snowing outside. The smells are better in the fall as well… fireplaces and crisper air. I start eating soup again. The outdoor furniture gets put up and the hose covers go on and the yard gets buttoned up. It’s sort of a cleansing feeling.
You could say I’m falling for fall, like I do each year.
Right now it’s raining out. Cold. We just came back from getting new sole inserts for our Keens. The Keens are like eight years old or something. Maybe only seven. Whichever it is, we’ve had them a long time. But they’re good shoes, they just needed a little updating. It’s a good thing we did because, freeze warning. With all this rain and falling temps, maybe there’ll be snow. The forecast said there was a chance. Here we are, October, and it could snow. Oh Illinois.
I feel like I should have a hot toddy or a hot apple cider or something. Maybe I’ll just settle for another cup of coffee. It’s fall, and it’s cold, I can justify that extra cup. Just another reason to love this time of year.
Ever find yourself sitting in the garage after you’ve pulled in, unwilling to get out of the car because the song that’s playing is making you feel something?
That was me just now, and damn, it is great to be alive.
Every once in awhile I find myself, because of a song, or a video, or a thought, or something my honey or the grandsons or the dogs do, just loving being alive. And not just loving it, but being so overwhelmingly grateful that I’m here, enjoying whatever it is that’s making me feel so much at the moment, I cry.
There’s a story behind this. Yeah, yeah, isn’t there always?
The story is a tad long, but it’s mine, and today I’ve decided to tell it. Here goes…
At the end of 2009, November it was, life was moving along just fine. Work, home, friends, family, dogs… a good life. Then, unexpectedly and out out of the blue, my honey got sick. Not just sick, but really sick. Sick as in we went to urgent care, they said oh, you have pneumonia, and here … have a shot in your bum, and go home. Only to be called by an emergency room doctor a couple of hours later who, after reviewing the blood work, told me to get her in immediately. He even told me all the other hospitals along my route in case she lost consciousness. Seems she was sicker than we were originally told. She went into the cardiac critical care unit. One of her lungs was completely full and the other was half full of stuff. This was effecting her heart as well, hence the cardiac critical care unit. She was delirious, literally. I didn’t know what she was saying half the time and she didn’t know much of what was going on. The nurses repeatedly told me she was the sickest person on that unit. She was there in critical condition for a week, before they were able to downgrade her and then finally send her home. I stayed with her at the hospital, never leaving. How could I? She’s my everything. It was the worst week of my life. Which, after you hear the rest of the story will mean even more than it does right now.
Fast forward to May 2010, six months after her illness, and I started not feeling that great. Looking back now I wasn’t feeling great for a little while, but by the end of May 2010 I really wasn’t feeling good. On June 1st we had yet another fateful trip to urgent care. Some blood work results, and they sent me directly from urgent care to the hospital, by ambulance. Seems I was so sick by then that if I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital from urgent care I would’ve bled to death. The EMTs took me directly to the oncology unit. A couple of transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy (my first of three) with the results a couple of days later, and what we feared had come true. I had leukemia. I was told that it was the deadliest form, but if I lived through the first month, it was also the kind that was curable. Scary, but… good? Yes. Good. If I lived, I thought, I might live.
I spent a month in the hospital… multiple transfusions, multiple tests, and my first round of major chemotherapy. I say first because though I got out of the hospital a month to the day that I went in, I had to go back in later in July for a second round. I was in for a week that time. Then again in August, for another round and another week. And then, in September, I got to do my last round, which was only two pushes (the last of which was on my birthday), outpatient. Unfortunately I ended up getting a neutropenic fever after that round and ended up in the hospital again, for another week, anyway.
By October I was done with the major chemo and starting on maintenance treatment. Which would last for two years and entailed me taking rounds of ATRA (the thing I started right in the beginning that really saved my life), low dose chemo in the form of pills, and a shot, every week. I had to go into the infusion center every week for that shot. It was my life, our lives, for two years. My first, and diagnosing, oncologist, who was an amazing guy, told me that the maintenance treatment was akin to sweeping the floor. Done to make sure we got anything that could be lurking. I was all for it. My attitude, during the whole thing, was let’s go. Whatever we have to do, let’s do it.
In November, of that first year, I had the third of my bone marrow biopsies. They did a molecular scan and I was cancer free. No aberrant cells found at all. Yay! I cried, my honey cried, my Mom cried. I think I might have breathed deeply for the first time since the ordeal started.
Here I am, three and half years later, no longer on maintenance treatment, still getting blood work and seeing an oncologist every three months. Leukemia free. I will do this for another year or so before, once again, my protocol will change and I will only have to go once every six months, and then, at some point, maybe once a year. Who knows. I’m OK with whatever the schedule is.
I chronicled part of this journey here, on this blog. Not posting during that initial time in the hospital, except maybe right in the first few days, but posting here and there during the months that followed. I posted about things that happened, but I never really posted about how I felt.
Damn, I’m so glad to be alive.
I was, as maybe you can or can’t imagine, scared as hell. Scared doesn’t even cut it really. I was terrified. When you hear the words, “your body is chalk full of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia” everything sort of freezes. Slow motion starts and you look at your honey and your Mom and your brother who are all there with you and they all start crying at once. You look back at the doctor and he’s looking at you, and you say something that seems like it comes from you, and from someone else all at the same time. You say, “OK, what do we do, let’s go”. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at all. Everyone else was crying, but I just felt this thing come alive in me. Will. An amazingly strong will. It was there, nuzzled right up against the terror. I would be so determined and yet I kept thinking about things like, oh god, if I die my honey will be alone, my Mom will lose a child (which is unthinkable), my brother will lose his sister, that my grandson won’t know me, that my honey won’t have any more adventures with me, that my dogs won’t understand if I don’t come home. I was so worried about everyone else. Interesting. I kept rehearsing the speech I would have with my Mom if it looked like I was going to take a bad turn. The speech where I tell her to be with my honey, to help her through losing me, to comfort each other. I wanted to live, I was fighting to live, but I also had to prepare myself mentally for the other thing that could happen.
I went through some awful things while I was sick. After the first round of chemo, while I was still in the hospital, I got so sick I don’t remember much, thank goodness. I had to be helped to the bathroom (by my honey or my mom), someone (my honey or my mom) had to shower me, I would throw up and have diarrhea at the same time which the nurses would have to clean up. During this time I also had to have a test (one of many), I don’t remember which one, and part of it was that I had to drink some stuff. I remember my honey, who spent only one night away from me during that entire time (working from the hospital, sleeping there, taking care of me) having to try and talk me into drinking it because I was getting so sick from it. I was sick anyway, and having to drink that stuff didn’t help. She convinced me and encouraged me to get enough of it down so I could take the test. She also had to talk me into taking my pills every day, and trying to eat, and taking a shower. She was my champion.
Everyone talks about the chemo, but no one talks about the other things… weird little side effects from basically having no immune system, like yeast that develops on parts of your body that you can’t get rid of, and other just as lovely things. I had a reaction to one of the transfusions and had to have a major dose of benadryl shot directly into me. I had neutropenic fevers followed by loads and loads of IV antibiotics (two at the same time), which didn’t help with the nausea. I had a pic line put in that was very difficult for them to get in and three weeks later an infection from that pic line which resulted in them having to take it out. I had ultrasounds because I had so much scar tissue in my veins in my arms after pushes and lines and blood draws and IVs that a couple of times they wanted to make sure I wasn’t clotting too much in there. I ended up at urgent once, during those first few months, because I got a hemorrhoid from all the laying and sitting, that started to bleed. Gross. But, so it went.
I think the worst of it though, ultimately was, and is, the anxiety. I’m a person who never had anxiety before all of this. I’m pretty laid back. Pretty care free and pretty full of joy. Anxiety was something unknown and foreign to me. But during this I developed anxiety. So much so that leaving the house, after I had been allowed to go home, was scary for me. My body would just react… feeling like I couldn’t breathe, heart pounding, panic. When I was neutropenic, which was a lot during those first months as every time I’d have a round of chemo my numbers would crash, I had to be so careful. When I was in the hospital the precautions for neutropenia were major. Gloves, masks on everyone who came in, no flowers in the room, no fresh veggies or fruits on my food tray (and if there was, even a sprig of parsley placed there accidentally, they had to remove it quickly from my room and get me a whole new tray), restricted visitation, basically creating a germ free zone. It wasn’t just that I might get sicker, it was that I could die. My body couldn’t fight anything off when I was neutropenic. An infection became life threatening, as did a cold. So I got anxious about a lot of things. When I was permitted to go home my honey had to remove all house plants from the house (there’s a fungus that can be in the soil that could kill me if I inhaled it), we couldn’t have fresh fruits or veggies, no one could see me if they had even been around someone who might have been sick. I was weak and tired and nauseous most of the time. And just when I’d start feeling better, just when the numbers would start to rise, I’d have to have another round of chemo. My life became very boxed in and small. Hospital for treatment, then home where leaving the house (I’d have to wear a mask when I was outside the house) was not worth it or even possible sometimes. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything really. My honey didn’t even sleep in our bed during this time. She slept on that same air mattress she’d used in the hospital, next to our bed, with the dogs, who couldn’t sleep with me either. It’s not just that things were dangerous to me, I was dangerous to them. I was leaking poison out of my pours most of the time. No kisses, from my honey or the dogs, no using the same toilet even, because I was toxic. All of this created anxiety in me. I still get it actually. Less and less all the time, but I do. I have pills for it. I got them a lot in the hospital, and used them a lot during those months of chemotherapy. They help. And thank goodness for them. Sometimes my mind would go and go, worrying, and worrying. A loop of worry and fear and anxiety and sometimes, panic. As I said, I’m better now, but I don’t know how many times my honey has had to look me in the eye and say to me, “it’s OK my love, you aren’t sick anymore, there’s no leukemia in you… none”. And the rational me then sort of wakes up, comes to again, and knows it’s true.
And damn, it’s amazing to be alive.
I guess I’m recounting all of this because I never have before, and it’s time. Time for me to say it aloud, as aloud as this is. But I guess it’s also because all of this is the counter point to what I was feeling just a bit ago sitting in our garage after having come home from running some errands. Nothing big happened while I was out. I just went to the library and then to the coffee roasting house and then drove home, sipping some coffee and listening to music really loud in the car. It’s sort of gray outside today and the leaves are falling. But as I drove into the garage, and shut off the car, staying in there to listen to the rest of the song (Change by Rascal Flatts, for anyone who’s wondering) I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because the leaves are falling, and the dogs were barking in the house knowing I was home, and I knew my honey was in her office working, and earlier today we’d gone swimming with our grandson, and the music was so beautiful. I started to cry. Crying from a place of overwhelming happiness and a feeling that life is so big and wonderful, and so fully felt.
Damn, it’s so so good to be alive.
I am grateful and I’m humbled by the quality of my life.
The thing I learned from my honey’s illness, and then mine, was something I already kind of knew anyway, but it got reinforced big time. It’s something, a feeling, I wish everyone could feel and something I wish everyone could know, without having to go through something so major, so awful. It’s the surety of knowing that there’s nothing important in life save for the people we have in ours. That is, period the end, the only thing that matters. Stuff, problems, annoyances, possessions… none of it matters. Not really. The time we spend having adventures and experiences with the people we love and who love us, that’s what matters. That’s what you think of, what you fear you’ll miss, if you think you could die.
It’s so damn good to be alive because I have so many fantastic people in my life. People, and dogs that is. People I love to be with, who love to be with me. People who I miss when I don’t see them, who miss me right back. Dogs who love me unconditionally and bring me so much joy I can hardly stand it sometimes. People who I laugh with, and get angry at, and cry with, and am silly with. People I have adventures with. People. There is nothing more important than our relationships and the experiences we create together. It’s the journey we’re making, with each other, that matters. It’s what matters most to me.
I am so happy, so thankful, so grateful, and so overwhelmed to be alive. Life is so beautiful.
Missing people just plain sucks.
I’m sad. I just finished watching a video about the School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington. And no, pianos themselves don’t make me sad, just in case you were wondering. What just made me sad was missing my dad.
My relationship with my dad was… complicated. My parents divorced when I was a young pup. Knee high to a grasshopper. My dad, who didn’t want it, didn’t handle it well. My mom, for her part, wishes she would’ve done the whole thing differently, but we’re human, and we handle things the way we do. Better or worse. Life is messy, and so was this.
After the divorce my brother and I lived with Mom full-time. Dad had visitation and Mom, who still thought he was a great guy, wanted us to have him in our lives. She talked kindly and fondly of him and often encouraged us to call him. Dad, who was a person filled with light and joy by nature, couldn’t handle the separation and his best defense was to ignore that it happened, and consequently, to ignore my brother and I. Simply put it was easier for him to pretend we didn’t exist than it was to actually be engaged with us on a part-time basis. The whole situation was made more difficult by the fact that he remarried and after a few short years together they moved to Montana. Being so far away just put further distance between us. My dad had a great life there. He and my step-mom had five children together and were happy. It was good for them, for him. But he was still my dad and though I loved him, and knew he loved me, he dropped the ball in the being a parent to my brother and I department. He dropped it big time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
There were hardly any calls to us, and when we did talk to him it was because Mom had asked if we wanted to call him. And when, finally, we were on the phone with him, after we’d made the call, he would cry, say he missed us so much, and ask how come we didn’t call more. We were pre-teens, he was the grown up. Who should have been responsible for keeping in touch? Apparently, according to my dad, the pre-teens. I think I only ever got one or two birthday cards from him. He never wrote a letter.
Missing people just plain sucks.
When he first moved to Montana we didn’t see him for four years. Not because Mom stopped us from going, but because Dad didn’t ask us to come. I remember our first visit there, I was 12 when he moved and 16 when we went for the first time. My brother and I went by train. It was strange suddenly being with him, with his new family, and feeling outside of it all. Feeling apart. He tried to make us feel like part of the family, but he was a tad clumsy with those things. I have memories from that visit all clouded by this feeling of us all being a bit uncomfortable. The weird thing is that when we were with him we were his everything. In person he was fantastic. Showered us with attention, talked as if nothing was off, as if we hadn’t just spent four years not really communicating at all. We were his light, when we were there with him. I’m sure that then made it strange for my step-mom and for my younger siblings. Suddenly he was all about us. Wanting to introduce us around town, spend all his time with my brother and I. He would say things to us like, take this to your mom, referring to our step-mom as our mom. It didn’t feel right, to us or to her. He wanted one big happy family when we were there. Like I said, he was awkward with things like that. Then, when we weren’t with him, when we were back in Oregon, it was as if all the lights shut off. All communication once again stopped. Like a switch. A switch I wasn’t very good at understanding for a long long time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
This happened every time we went to Montana to visit, or my dad and all came to Oregon, which wasn’t a lot. After I was a bit older I drove out for my little sister’s high school graduation and then for my younger brother’s high school graduation. Same thing. Switch on. Switch off. It’s something K saw first hand a few times after we got together and she never understood it. She always said it was so strange that he didn’t communicate at all with me and then when I was with him he couldn’t get enough of me, showered me with attention and affection. Switch on…. switch off. It was actually kind of nice to get her opinion about it. All those years feeling that way, to then have her confirm how odd it was, was comforting. Made me feel a little less off kilter where the Dad situation was concerned.
My brother and I handled this whole switch scenario very differently. When we were younger my brother had Dad on a pedestal, way up high, something porcelain and delicate and beautiful and not to be disparaged or messed with. Dad was the end all and be all to him. For me that wasn’t the case. I was angry. I remember my brother and I having big yelling matches about Dad. He defending him as I screamed about what an ass he was for not caring, for not talking, for not being there, for basically abandoning us. I wrote Dad letters I didn’t send. Made mixed tapes for Dad that, unfortunately, I think I did send. Embarrassing, and yet not embarrassing. I was a teenager who desperately wanted her father to love her. To acknowledge me when he wasn’t right there looking at me. To be my father, my dad, whether or not he was standing in the room with me. Because honestly, I adored him too. I wanted desperately to have his attention. After we were adults, my brother and I did a swap in this regard. Me, having come to grips with who Dad was as a person and who he would always be, and my brother having an experience with Dad in regards to my brother’s wife at the time that would make him so angry he didn’t see or speak to Dad for six years after. Dad didn’t really do anything, but he didn’t stand up for my brother or his wife and my brother couldn’t make excuses for him anymore. I think all the anger he hadn’t allowed himself to feel over the years came out because of this incident. And I think the amount we love and adore someone informs the amount of anger we can feel for that same person. He was bitter and enraged. For a long time. Just as I had been bitter and enraged for a long time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Later, after we got older and Dad and his second family moved back to Oregon, it was really too late. They lived not far from Mom, probably only 20 minutes or so, but I never thought of visiting him. It wasn’t a vindictive thing, it was just that it didn’t occur to me. He had made himself so absent in my life that he was absent in my thoughts. By then I would see him every couple of years and that was about all. I didn’t even think of seeing him. Didn’t think of making that effort. Strange. It’s amazing how someone can be gone from your life for so long that they are no longer a part of the every day culture of it. You think of them sometimes, and those thoughts and feelings are usually warm and tender and genuine, but during the course of a normal day they don’t even enter your mind. It’s sad, but that’s what happened with Dad.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Several years ago now I got a call from one of my younger sisters. She told me Dad had had back pain and had gone into the hospital. Everyone always teased him about how he whined about his pain or an injury, or whatever. This time he wasn’t whining. He went into the hospital and 11 days later, having gotten out and been sent home on hospice, he died in that house 20 minutes from my mom’s place. I was there. During those last few days I spent time with him at the hospital, listening to him writhe in pain as the cancer that was attached to his spine grew so quickly it broke his back. I was there telling stories from my childhood with him and our visits together over the years. I asked him questions, he asked me questions. I was there at their house, one that had never been mine, watching the stream of well wishers from their church who brought food and spoke so fondly of him. I was there to talk to him about music, which was his life’s blood, and laugh with him about some silly thing or another. I was there standing by his bedside with my brother when our dad apologized to us for not being the father he should have been. I was there to forgive him and to tell him I loved him. I was there when his breathing slowed and then stopped for the last time.
Missing people just plain sucks.
I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot after watching the piano hospital video, which made me cry and cry. I was thinking he was such a joy-filled, emotional man, and here I am, a joy-filled and emotional woman. I’m blessed to have been his daughter. He didn’t always do it well, being my dad I mean, but he did do some things right. Most especially when I was with him. In person he was awesome. He was passionate and joyful and silly and fun and so warm. He was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. Honestly himself regardless of the situation. He loved to laugh, and that laugh was so infectious anyone hearing it had to laugh right along with him. He had music in his blood. So talented and effortless, able to play pretty much any instrument, though he stuck with the pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest thing to play and he loved that about it. I loved to listen to him play. Loved it. I loved watching his face when he was playing and singing. I swear light shot out of him in all directions when he was sitting at that guitar. Getting to see he and his band play together, live, was always awesome. I loved his mis-matched outfits and his love of sweets and his gray hair and how when he walked places he moved fast. He never moseyed. He was blind, but that guy could move. I remember watching him do single axle jumps while Ice skating and can picture him floating the river with us. I can see him playing frisbee at my step-grandparent’s house, leaping in the air, and I remember fishing his glasses out of the river after he, my brother, and I went into the water when the raft ripped down the middle. I love how he loved his coffee, with loads of sugar and cream, and how he was always the first to lend a hand when someone needed it. I loved how he smiled and I loved his laugh. I remember being a tiny girl visiting him one night at the gas station he worked at at that time, and how he walked over and bought us hot chocolates at this diner next door, and then lifted me up so I could clean someone’s windshield. He made things an adventure. I remember feeling like I was having an adventure almost every time I was with him. Not many people do that, give that feeling. He did. It was a gift.
Missing people just plain sucks.
Now, thinking about him, the all of him, I’m proud to be his daughter. I had, long before he died, come to grips with who he was. The guy who wasn’t the greatest of dads, yet was. I’d wrapped my head around the fact that he was who he was, and that he would never change. He wasn’t emotionally mature where my brother and I were concerned, but that was what it was, and it was OK. I came to a place of accepting him for him and accepting and forgiving myself for putting him in the place I ended up putting him in my life, which was sort of on the side, just out of reach. And I learned a great lesson from him. I learned to be there for the people I love. I learned that the hard way from him, but I learned it. I think he’d be proud he taught me that lesson, even though I know he wasn’t proud of the way he taught me. I’m also proud that he passed on his dorky sense of humor, his ability to be light and silly, and his love of all things coffee. I’m grateful for those gifts, and for the gift of having had him in my life, even the little amount I did. I’m grateful he gave me my younger siblings; my brother from our mother, and the younger five he had with my step-mom. They are fantastic, and even though we don’t spend loads of time together, not nearly as much as I’d like, when we do it’s wonderful. They are, simply, great people. Each with a great smile. I have a great smile too. My smile came from both of my parents. They both, Mom and Dad, have and had great ones. Smiles from the inside. Smiles that light the eyes. It’s the thing most people notice about me, and it comes from them.
Missing people just plain sucks.
It just does.
I miss Dad, and I love him, and sometimes, when the light is just right or my mood is, I see him in me. Smiling.
Coffee is a good thing. Really good.
Last night, or more accurately, in the middle of the night, we woke up because one of the smoke detectors downstairs was first chirping, then talking. Anyone who has ever heard that sound knows how loud and annoying that chirping can be. Add in the voice saying, “battery low”, “battery low”, and at 2:30 in the morning it’s enough to make you lose your grip.
At first it’s disorienting. You wake up not really sure what’s happening. You notice the dogs are also sitting up, heads tilted to the side, looking at the door. What’s going on? Then you hear the first chirp. Damn. You know instantly what it is. You think to yourself, it’s loud, but not that loud. After all, it’s one of the detectors downstairs, so it’s not even on the same floor. Maybe, possibly, hopefully, we can all just go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning. You coax the dogs under the covers hoping the little extra bit of blanket buffer will help them to not hear it. They just get under, you just lay down again, and… chirp. Uhg! The dogs are back up, the little girlie is starting to shake as loud noises really bother her. Double damn. Then you think, OK, we’ll shut the door. That will help create an even greater sound barrier. Dogs calmed and back under, lay the heads back down on the pillows, close the eyes, start to drift off and… chirp… “battery low”. Oh for crying out loud! Time to get up.
We did. We got up, we went downstairs, we took the backup battery out, put a new battery in, headed back up to bed, and then… we couldn’t find the little girl. Relieved after putting in the battery we were back up stairs, Weston following, with the thought of how nice it would be to actually go back to sleep. Then, we realized Riley wasn’t with us. Weston was right there, but Riley was not. We started calling her and looking around. Something about her little personality is that when she gets frightened by noise she hides, and she shakes, and she never barks. For a dog that barks all the time in order to communicate with the people around her in all other situations, she doesn’t utter a sound when she’s scared. Not a peep. The couple of times we’ve accidentally locked her in a room she has never barked. Once, after shutting her in our room accidentally, we didn’t realize it for like three or four hours or something. We’d left the house and been gone, gotten home, and were going about our business when we realized she didn’t greet us when we got home. That was unusual because that’s when she’s normally at her loudest. We looked around and found her in the bedroom, sitting there on the floor behind the door just looking up, all tiny and cute. Not a peep out of her to let us know she was in there. So she’s very quiet when she’s scared. Meaning she’s hard to find. She’s also tiny. She can curl up in small spaces and she’s hard to see. And during a crisis, you know, a crisis to her, she usually goes downstairs to the media room or to our bedroom and curls up in a chair or on the bed next to a pillow, but she didn’t. The media room is downstairs so it was too close to the sound that was scaring her. The bedroom is where we’d been, so that was not for her either. We looked everywhere. Under couches, under beds, in closets she could get in, under tables, in corners… everywhere. She wasn’t in the house. We’d opened the doggie door since the dogs got up with us during this whole ordeal so the next logical step was to look outside. It was a bit stormy, though at that time it wasn’t raining, thank goodness, and we looked out. We couldn’t see her. Not anywhere out there. We stepped out on the deck and looked around, nothing. Then the little bits of panic and illogical thinking start in… Where is she? Did she somehow get out? If she did she doesn’t have her collar on because the pups “get naked” at night. If she did get out she’s hiding or running trying to get back to us, or… or…. or…. and on it goes in your head. We weren’t, either of us, mad at all. We started to get scared ourselves. We started to worry about her.
Finally I started to wander the yard on the periphery and found her, behind a huge tree near the back of the yard. She was hiding in the farthest point from the sound inside the house. She didn’t want to come in, even though the sound was gone. She was still shaking. And she was wet from the dripping leaves. I had to pick her up and carry her in. Luckily she calmed down pretty quickly when she realized the bad sound was gone and things were back to normal. Except by then it was nearly 3:00 in the morning and there’s nothing normal to the humans living in this house about being awake at 3:00 in the morning.
Adventures abound. Which is why coffee is such a good and lovely thing in the morning. Especially mornings after big nighttime adventures.