Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mr. Honey-Do

A few things to know before I really launch into this post:

1) I never NOT loved my husband.  But, the line between love and hate is a very fine one.  Razor sharp, in fact.  And the part of him that became a small piece of "Ray" in my fictional recreation of my mindset back in April is still in there somewhere.  I may love the man, but I don't love what he did when he walked away from his job.  And the trust that we worked so hard to re-establish after he walked his job when Marissa was just a few months old is very simply gone;

2) And it's not even the money so much - although, let's be real, that factors into it certainly - it's the fact that he completely rolled over me to get what he wanted, and I'm footing the bill with the simple expectation on his part that I just should happily acquiesce with no say in the matter;

3) He's not handy.  And, cards all out on the table, that actually factored into his initial appeal.  I was involved with a very Handy Man when Greg and I began seeing one another.  Greg was a violent swing from that individual, whom I shall call Darth Control Freak for the purposes of this blog.  Darth Control Freak was a very handy individual, particular when it came to cars, but he had major hang-ups in many other areas.  As did I, I must confess (although it took me probably more than a decade to be able to admit I had any role in how messed up our relationship was), which made us one Bad Relationship.  So, in a desperate attempt to move away from that kind of controlled, horrible and frightening relationship, I chose a laid back sports fan who barely knew a Phillips head screwdriver from a crescent wrench, and who valued his own time.  There have been times in the ensuing years that I've wondered if I took too violent of a swing, at least in terms of the handy man thing.

So, with that background in mind, the response to the question of what Greg is doing these days is, "Working on the house."  He's not doing it alone.  Hardly.  We have a man who is highly handy - making Darth Control Freak look positively amateurish - who is really doing the heavy lifting, and Greg is sort of like the helper bee.  I can't really tell you how helpful Greg is in the process because the contractor has always shown up after I have left for work and has left before I get home.  Apparently he joked recently that he wasn't sure I actually existed.  My retort was that I could wonder the same thing except that I knew Greg hadn't done all this work by himself.

The individual who is doing most of the work is someone Greg's known for years, but he's kept at arm's length from me.  Greg met him through another friend whom I do know, but was always leery of (if I put it mildly) because he never seemed to realize that the 60's were over, and I thought he would be a bad influence on my children (ironic, I know).  Our current and very talented contractor is cut from the same cloth.   His talent and knowledge in terms of carpentry are amazing.  His ability to hold down a traditional job is something else.  So, when he's here, everything is fine.  Great in fact.  I come home to these amazing repairs and improvements to our house, and Greg seems proud.  But, there are days when he doesn't make it.

That non-traditional work ethic comes into play more often than it should, and my non-handy, unemployed husband is left to his own devices.  And those days are not good ones.  Not for the husband anyway.  He seems sullen and lost, occasionally even combative.  There is no task to absorb him, so he is left with his own thoughts.  And that, believe it or not, this is one of the very things that I worried about the most when he announced his decision to me to quit his job on the day he actually did it.  Floundering around with no clear purpose is not what I could possibly imagine as being helpful to the grieving process.

I confess; I wanted the work done to the house.  We had neglected this poor house for so long while we struggled to repair our children.  But, with no other income than what we had set aside in savings and what I make as a collections clerk, there is only so much work Greg can supervise.  And, tell me truthfully Greg, does any of this replace what you think you've lost?

Whatever the true answer to that is, in the meantime, a lot of really cool repairs have been realized to this poor old house that has suffered along with us all these years.  That's cool.  But, it's also temporary in terms of fixing the real issue; Greg's broken heart.  When the work is finally completely done, then what?  What will fill his time?  What will occupy his thoughts other then the loss he is trying to run from?  And who will finance it?

I don't know, but I hope he does.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How's Greg?

People don't ask me all that often any more.  Mainly because when they were asking initially, they were often met with a steely glare, a significant pause, and then one of two answers, 1) "Well, I haven't killed him yet, so he could be worse." or 2) "I don't know, I don't talk to him."  Gradually, the questions tapered off.  But, I know people are still wondering.

Greg's easy to like, and I know a lot of people who know us are genuinely concerned and miss him.  And probably more than one person wonders what a nice guy like that is doing with a sour puss like me.  He's generally more affable and comfortable around people than I am, and for pretty much our entire lifetime together, he's been the more cheerful, optimistic one.  Definitely, he was the more laid back member of the family.  So, I know that it must be hard and worrisome to realize that, with all these months behind us, he is still struggling so much..  All that easy-going likability buried in a landslide of grief.  Not there is much anyone can offer to do for him, but now that the anger and hurt I felt initially has faded from red hot to smoldering orange, I accept that people want to know about him, and I am the logical person to ask.  Problem is, I don't know what to tell them.

We do speak now.  The ice finally broke on his birthday.

For the first few weeks after he left work, we had a very tenuous detente.  We could talk about the house and groceries we needed, we could discuss sports, and occasionally politics, but that was about it.  If we could bottle the chill that settled in a room when we were in it together, we could have make a fortune in summertime Texas!  Marissa would every so often insist we go to a movie together just to try and get us to re-bond, but the great thing about movie dates is you don't have to talk.  I figured this is how we would roll for some time to come, determined to keep a lid on things, but still nearly boiling mad.  But, for some reason that I completely don't recall now, he became angry with me the day before his birthday and remained so the next morning.  I was completely livid in return.  I thought to myself, "Well, you [expletive] [expletive], I'm supporting you and you dare get mad at me!"  The animosity was so bad, I spent most of the day at my desk randomly wiping away tears feeling as though I been dealt an actual blow.  So, by the time I got home that night, still being faced with the silent treatment, I exploded.  I won't detail the blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say, as far as how marital arguments go, it wasn't that bad actually.  We have definitely learned a thing or two over the years about how to bicker without leaving too many mental scars, and all that training kicked in after the initial blow up.  But, it wasn't exactly the way I think any of us wanted him to spend his birthday.  Marissa left the house for the night, not sure what was going on, but able to discern the tension.  That, for me, was the most regrettable outcome of that night.  The rest of the results were, somewhat ironically, positive.  With things out on the table at last, we could move past it.  And we could begin to make plans for the future.

However, we still live in the present.  And in the present, I don't actually know how he's doing.  Because, while we may be talking freely now, if you analyze the content of our discussions, they don't differ that much from what they were before.  Greg spent Sunday afternoon explaining soccer rules to me so I'd understand what the officials were calling in the World Cup, and we had spent the morning buying new tile for the downstairs bathrooms.  That was before he took me to the Thundercloud Subs near our house, the one managed by the Steeler fan, so we could show off the purse he surprised me with Friday night (when a friend asked me why he bought it for me, I replied, "I don't know, maybe because I haven't pulverized him yet.").  However, try and ask him how he is, and you'll be met with a non-commital shrug.  So, if you analyze the actual topics of our conversations, they don't differ that much from what they were immediately before the Birthday Brawl.  They're just friendlier.

Because, at the end of the day, he's still very typically male.  And, that's to say, his emotions are bottled up tight.  What I'm left with is my own observations about how he's doing.  More on that in my next post.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

That Stinks!

I should explain the events leading up to the anniversary of Kelsey's death.  At some point in the future, we may be able to look back at them with some humor actually.  As it is right now, we're still trying to wipe, wash and deodorize the evidence away.

The thing about creating your own personal game preserve on your little patch of land is that along with the sweet little fawns, bouncing across your grass like their legs were pogo sticks, and the snowy white owl, the blood red cardinals, the graceful hummingbirds, the bunnies, turtles and cavorting squirrels that bring you joy, you have to contend with snakes, rats, awful tree roaches that fly at you when you try and destroy them, other weird bugs that you don't even know what they're called, but they look nasty, and the skunks.

Why skunks choose to make their home on a piece of property with multiple big dogs is a bit beyond me.  They are either not very bright or extremely arrogant.  Maybe both.  But, I have known for a few years now that at least one skunk hangs out around my house - the unmistakable evidence wafting into the house from somewhere nearby more than once.  And Cheyenne has bumped into it in the past.  So, I keep skunk neutralizer as part of the normal inventory of supplies.  Despite knowing this, I continue to grow complacent and forget to clap or shout loudly when I let the dogs out at night to warn any lurking critters to steer clear.  Thursday night was no exception.

I was tired despite it only being about 10:00, so I let the pack out back for one last potty break before I trudged off to bed.  I stopped Luke on the deck, my long haired dog who hates being brushed, to try and brush out some burrs from his coat while the rest scattered into the yard.  As a result, my back was turned to the events that transpired with lightning speed, but from evidence at the scene, I have deduced the following happened:

Cheyenne, her Alpha coyote dominance overwhelming her common sense, saw a skunk in the yard and chased it under the porch to where it was cornered right under our back door.  Cornered, the critter does what they do.  Clearly hit at very close range, Cheyenne comes tearing out from under the porch and runs like Seabiscuit for the back door.  Marissa, who happens to be standing in the dining room near the door, sees her running and opens the door for her so she doesn't slam herself into it.  Cheyenne is already in the house, bee-lining it to my bed where she is rolling over everything on it trying to wipe the spray from her before I, who is standing right there mind you, straighten up and realize what is happening. Then it hits me.  That horrible almost sulphur smell that, at first, smells as though some electrical fire is raging, which then settles into a permeating, horrible and unmistakable smell of skunk.  Greg smells it when I do and runs out back, asking, wide-eyed in alarm, "What's burning?"  Nothing, dear, I should have said, just our senses.  That's when I look down at the deck right by the threshold to the back door and see what looks like spilled oil; these little splotches of something that weren't there when I came out only a few moments before.  That later became Exhibit A in my recreation of the crime.  I concluded that was actually the oily remnants of the skunk's attack.  Not a foot by the back door to my house, now wide open as Greg tries to orient himself to what was going on.

All of this happened relatively quickly, but the damage was done even more quickly.  We chased Cheyenne out, scrambled the rest of the dogs in (Luke almost grinning with delight that his grooming session had been cut short), stripped everything off the bed and immediately into the washer, stripped the couch and chair cover off from the living room just for good measure, doused Cheyenne in the neutralizer and lit every scented candle we own.  But the smell quickly settled over every inch of the house like a toxic blanket.  In the meantime, Cheyenne was either highly remorseful for the obvious consternation she was causing, or got hit in the eyes with the venom, but when I went to check on her, she was rubbing her face into my knees with a vengeance and trying almost to meld herself into me.  Always my comforter, I comforted her, which meant that I was wallowing in whatever she had been hit with, but the smell was permeating everything, so I didn't notice how I smelled per se.

We left Cheyenne out that night, which she did not protest, probably realizing that the air outside was better than inside the house and finally got the newly washed, but not particularly wonderful smelling mattress pad and clean sheets back on the bed, and I collapsed into it some time near midnight.  Greg tucked me in with the goodnight wish, "If you go to sleep, you won't smell it."

But, I did.  The strength of that smell was so strong that it woke me up over and over.  The depth of my exhaustion would pull me back down into sleep a while later, and then the smell would bring me back up.  Finally, morning came, and I scrambled to get dressed for work and out of the house as fast as I could.

Relieved to be in the office, more than happy to be in my little cubicle for once, I noticed that I still smelled it.  I dismissed it initially as just being stuck in my nostrils.  Then I held my hands to my nose.  Oh my God!  That's me!  I smell like skunk!  I picked up the canvas bag I always carry with the sundry things a cubicle working female needs (but doesn't have an office to leave them in) to pull out my lunch bag and realized that both my canvas bag and the nylon lunch bag totally reeked!

I mentally ran through my options.  I had none.  One of our team is always off on Friday and another had taken a vacation day, so we were short handed as it was.  Plus, where I would go?  Home?  NO thank you!  So, with my co-workers being kind enough not to give me too hard of a time, although acknowledging the smell, I stuck it out (or should I say "stunk" it out) until I could get home and get in the pool - hoping the chlorine would over power the skunk.

In the meantime, Greg had gotten a different neutralizing agent, several cans of Oust and more candles and waged war against the permeating smell.  But, by the time I came home Friday night, it was still pretty bad.  If you stood on our front walkway, you could begin to smell it seeping from the front door. However, it had dissipated enough, or I was tired enough, that I slept through the night.

Saturday dawned and we all basically ran away from home for the day.  Greg went off to play that video golf game he's addicted to, and Marissa and I went to run errands, making a stop first at the grocery store where I noticed, as I stood in line, that I STILL could smell myself.  So, horrified, Marissa and I sampled all the body sprays, trying to find the strongest possible one, finally settling on White Gardenia, and then dousing myself in it once we reached the car, again at the next stop, and the next, etc.  By the time we met Greg for a late matinee, I probably reeked of falsely sweet old lady smell mixed with just a hint of skunk.

Sunday morning, thankfully, it hung only in pockets of the house and clung stubbornly to some of the fabrics, but for the most part, the air was once more breathable.  Maybe even a little better than usual in some spots.  Let's face it, seven dogs and two cats does not make for a fresh smelling air space.

Cheyenne still smells less than good.  I generally like the way she smells and will bury my nose into her coat.  I love everything about her.  But, this week, I've been a little timid to touch her, which has clearly upset her, and she's reacted by clinging.  So, I've caught a slight scent on me now and again all week - up to and including a day I was called into a meeting unexpectedly, self-consciously trying to sit a little ways apart from the particpants while not seeming stand-offish.

You wonder if the cosmos somehow set this calamity upon us to help distract us. Maybe.  And, to an extent, it worked.  But, surely, having us win some sweepstakes, or having Troy Polamalu visit us because he'd heard what an awesome fan I am, or bumping into David Cook at Starbucks would have worked just as well.  In the meantime, I am remembering to clap loudly before I let the dogs out at night.  My nemesis, Darth Skunk, is still out there!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Last of the Firsts

A dear and wise friend said to me as we were parting company for the weekend to get through it however we could and reminded me this was the last of the firsts.  The Last of the Firsts.  I have considered this moment and what it would be like for a long time now.  We've been through the whole cycle.  The first moment when we received the news that our daughter was gone, the first moments without her, our first days trying to plan the memorial and not really believing that we had to do it, the first weeks still half waiting for someone to call and tell us they made a mistake, the first holiday, the first Christmas, the first birthdays, including hers, and now the first anniversary of her death.  In the ensuing year, my mother has died, we've lost a dog during a long, awful night, and my husband has walked away from his job with no plans for his future, leaving me to figure out how we can both pay the bills and care for ourselves if our paths are as long as my mom's.  I guess it's no wonder I feel so tired.

I am sure I will describe how the day itself was by and by.  But, I think what I want to say tonight is aimed at the people who may read this who have experienced similar loss, or who may stumble upon it in the future and wonder how in the hell they are supposed to carry on, hoping to find some glimmer of inspiration in my words.  Because I have wondered that a lot during the last year.

At first I got through everyday because I had to.  I had obligations.  I really had no interest in actually getting up in the morning, less in getting dressed and out the door, and still less in doing anything productive.  But, I absolutely had no choice.  So I did.  And then gradually it got to be more of a routine.  And, oh so gradually, I began to interact with people, both who knew what had happened and those that didn't, without worrying about my loss being the dominating aspect of how that interaction would go.  Somehow, without even knowing how or why it happened, I began to get through a work week almost like a normal person.  I bemoaned Mondays like everyone else, worked toward the Fridays and the evenings, and was able to concentrate on the work for longer periods of time without being interrupted by thoughts of Kelsey.  There continue to be moments, some brought on by some minor thing or other, but some just randomly pop up, and then I am overwhelmed with memories and emotions.

And I really cannot suffer fools.  I have little patience for the office politics or the inevitable presence of the individual who thinks they are better than you or that the rules don't apply to them.  My poor boss spends half her time trying to keep a tight rein on my leash lest my bark gets out of hand, and I actually try to take a bite out of someone.  But, some sense of self control is gradually returning.  I still feel the fire light inside me, but I can keep it contained a bit better.  I wondered at that reaction in myself actually.  I would have guessed that losing a daughter would have put things in a perspective to where all that superfluous stuff just rolled off my back.  But, I think it irks me that people act like jerks because they don't realize how transitory and fragile life is.  Act better, I figure, and better things will happen for you.  And then I want to smack 'em!  However, I digress.

I will admit that there were so many moments when I didn't think I wanted to draw another breath, particularly when Mother's situation was becoming particularly tricky, and I was having a hard time juggling her dementia with her iron clad desire for control.  I couldn't see any possible advantage to drawing further breath.  I knew I had to.  Mother had no one else.  But, there was no desire in it.  I have read this is fairly normal.  When she died, I wondered more than once, "Now what use is there?"

The crushing sense of loss, of failure, of utter and complete hopelessness.  I felt all of that.  What I lost for a time was any sense of joy or inner calm.  And I couldn't imagine how to get any of that back.  At the one year mark, I am still a long way from bouncing back.  I am beginning to suspect that I likely will not.  Not all the way.  Yet, as I stood on my front porch this weekend and watched the new crop of fawns, cavorting with one another in my lawn, dancing lightly around their mothers' legs, their little legs springing them from one place to another, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I never could have imagined feeling one year ago.  And when Cheyenne pressed her face into my on Sunday, seemingly aware of the import of the day, I wondered how I could ever have thought of short changing myself of that kind of unconditional love.  And then there is Marissa.  She may not really need me any longer physically, but I think we need one another to remain a part of our lives for a while emotionally.  I need to see how her life evolves.  I want to be there for her when she needs me, or when it's time for someone to call me Grandma.  I am not ready to give that up.

In short, what I would say to someone about to take the first painful steps onto the road called grief that you should do whatever you need to do to push yourself out there.  You will hate it at first.  It will be uncomfortable and unbelievably painful.  But just do it.  Do it the first day.  Then the next.  And so on.  Eventually you won't have to think about it so much.  It'll just happen.

Don't try and run from the pain.  It will find you.  There is no where it cannot go.  A David Cook concert, a U2 concert.  Yeah, it's there.  Waiting.  So meet it.  Show it you cannot be defeated by it.  I used to wonder at the wisdom of going out there again and again just to become triggered by some thing or other.  Now I think I did the right thing.  Get slapped around by the grief some.  If you hide from it, like Greg is doing, it will find you anyway.  Might as well go out swinging.

I have always believed in Fate.  I still do.  I have to believe I remain behind for a reason.  So, I am fighting to get to the point where I can see why Fate left me behind.  But, I still trust that a reason exists.  So should you, dear reader.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dear Kelsey (Part II)

Dear Kelsey,

You left us a year ago today.  I guess, technically, it won't be a year until tonight, but it's close enough to a full year that I can safely say that it has been both the fastest and the longest year of my life.  It feels so long since I've seen you, but I can't believe a whole year now separates us.  As I said so often in the first weeks, it's so weird.

I always thought I was prepared for it on some level because you had been so sick for so long.  But, you're never really prepared for something like this, and you always believe that a miracle will happen.  I always thought we would figure it out somehow.  Marissa really believed that.  She would comfort me with that idea sometimes.  She believed in you completely.  I confess, and I know you know this, I lost sight of you sometimes in The Beast.  That is one of the many things I'm left to wrestle with.

It's hard to know what to say today because I think you've been watching.  I sense you sometimes when I listen to my music, much of which you introduced me to.  Some of which I introduced you to, but I find it's really more the other way around.  I listen to the lyrics and believe, maybe because I need to, that you are communicating to me.  I have been sustained by that very often.

I would tell you, however, what you also probably know that if you're trying to reach out to your father, he's not receiving the signal.  I worry about him more than I worry about anyone else, although all the family has been impacted by this and feels the loss.  I don't know what to do for him, probably because he's not sure what to do for himself, but you know how he can be:  closed off.  If you could do anything for us from where you are, I would ask you to reach out and make sure he hears you.  I don't know what you want to say, but you'll know the right thing.  You and he had a bond that was different than ours.  He feels like he's less without you.  Make him understand that he still has you, just not in the flesh.

Do you see people you know in the afterlife?  Are you with Mother?  If so, please tell her that I hope they are letting her drive everywhere all the time.   I hope you now know that the way she acted toward us the last several years was her disease and not the real grandmother.  I know she was hard and hurtful sometimes, but her dementia was like her own Beast.  What I hope is that you both are at peace now.  I hope you can re-establish the relationship you had when you were little.  She loved you and your sister both, she just didn't understand the eating disorder so she misunderstood you as a result.  Can you blame her?  None of us really did either.  Get her to tell you the story of the party that prompted the photo of all the women crashed out in their basement that I found in their old slides.  I think Mother is the one face down on the floor.  She had a side to her that you and I never really got to see.  I would have liked to have known the free spirited Ruth, I am sure you would have too.  Now's your chance.  Neither of you need to worry about the earthly constraints any longer.
Your sister misses you so much, but I am so proud of her that she has not stopped living her life.  I think this is best way to honor you.  Somedays are hard for her.  I don't know if that will ever change.  She will never forget you, I know that for certain.  And she will, I fear, feel a pull of sorrow on days that should be her happiest; you won't be standing as her maid/matron of honor at her wedding.  You won't be there to hold her hand when she's in labor.  And, you won't be with us in the stands when she graduates college, which I sincerely hope happens before the other two.  But, while there will be some sorrow in that knowledge, I know you want her happiness, and I know, as you have done for me, you will let her know you are there in some way.  I believe you will always be there for her.  I know you loved her as much as she loved you.

Tum-Tum is doing well.  But, she's been agitated the last few days and a little demanding.  Hard to know if she's reacting to the wonderful skunk incident and the resulting smell that we still haven't quite got rid of (were you watching when that whole thing went down?!) or if she somehow senses what this weekend is.  I wonder if she still expects you to come home, and she's just using us as company in the meantime, but, sadly, I think she knows by now that we're all she's got.  She tolerates us and maybe even has some mild attachment to us by now, but I've never been greeted by her the way she used to cry for you when you came home.  You remain her one true love.

Finally, there are so many apologies I owe you.  I can't list them all here.  I'm sorry that the last words we spoke to one another were in anger.  I am so very sorry I spent so much of your childhood at work.  I am most of all sorry I couldn't figure out what it would take to make you well.  Maybe we can help someone else.  I hope so.  But, if I help a hundred people, maybe even a million, it won't make up for the one I was supposed to help.   I couldn't do it alone, you would have had to help, but I wish I had tried harder.  I wished I hadn't given in to being so tired and hopeless.  There's not much else to say about that right now.

Whatever we did, we did always love you.  I think you know that, I sense that you do.  For now, that gets me through.

Much love,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rush Hour

"Suddenly you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon"

 - Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee

I was receiving subliminal messages through my iPod to keep conversing about Rush today (it shuffled in Ghost Rider followed immediately by Ceiling Unlimited at work, and then when I went to work out, it began with Afterimage and then spit out Distant Early Warning, so I decided it was a good idea to obey the persuasive powers of the inanimate object).  Much better than dwelling on the particular anniversary we're staring into this weekend anyway.  Much more fun.

So, why don't I tell you how I became a Rush fan?  The fact that a late middle-age suburban former Disco Queen listens to a band like that is in and of itself interesting, but considering how I could not STAND them in high school, it's actually all the more so.  I wonder sometimes at the look of disbelief and horror I would have engendered if I could somehow travel back in time and tell my 17-year old self that I would one day be so utterly enamored of the band and their music that tears of joy would well up in my eyes when they took the stage.  The younger me never would have believed it.  The younger me not only did not like them, it felt an active disdain bordering on disgust.

I definitely knew who they were back then.  Bozeman is on the southwestern side of a very large state, but Canada is our northern neighbor, and we were exposed to a lot of their culture.  We had a Canadian television station (that showed uncut R rated movies, by the way) and lots of travelers back and forth.  Some Canadian passions caught on and some didn't.  Hockey, ironically enough, didn't back when I was growing up.  Not really.  But I did know and understand the game better than I do even now.  I think the Canucks just sort of radiated Hockey-ness, and we were bound to pick it up almost by osmosis.  And Rush is a Canadian product that they are very proud of.

We were also close, relatively speaking, to Seattle, which always claimed to have introduced Rush to America and really nurtured their beginnings here.  The documentary I saw over the weekend gave the credit to Cleveland, but I'm happy to believe the Seattle version for a couple of reasons.  (Yes, one of which is because Cleveland is home to the Browns, okay?)

Anyway, and however it happened, they had an early fan base in some of the kids I went to school with.  I referred to them as the Black Lit Poster Crowd.  The kind of nerdy malcontent male who is surly, ill mannered, ill kempt and consistently stoned.  The kind of guy that I had the mental image of being locked up in his room with his black lit posters and lava lamp, sneaking joimts, being anti-social.  And, to a large extent, I probably wasn't far off the mark.  There were other Black Lit Poster Acts:   Alice Cooper, Meatloaf, Black Sabbath to name a few, but to my mind Rush was the head of the pack.  That cover art - the naked man in front of the Pentagram - what was up with that?  And then that lead singer!  He sounded like he was a cat being strangled!  What a joke.  I couldn't stand them.

I remember specifically a special on Canadian television featuring Rush in their new studio.  As I mentioned, they were already Canadian icons, so they got a prime time gig to talk about what would end up being the Moving Pictures album.  The all-time definitive Rush album.  The album that gave you Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, YYZ and Limelight - and that was just on the first side.  But, at the time, all I could think of was what a waste it was that such a beautiful studio was being used by such a horrible band.

Not long after I saw that, I moved down here and began listening to the local rock station KLBJ.  By then, those songs were all getting ample radio play, and I found I didn't hate them.  As a matter of fact, that Tom Sawyer ditty was actually kind of catchy.  Then I noticed that everything they followed it up with I actually liked.  Hmmm.  Maybe they were changing, I thought to myself.  Yes, they were, but so was I.

Then it happened.  One Sunday afternoon I was at our little rent house, a newlywed, polishing a bookcase I kept in our hall that had belonged to Greg's grandfather, who was due for a visit, and a song came on the radio.  Mystic Rhythms.  And I was in love.

Hardcore and long term Rush fans scoff at the period that produced Mystic Rhythms, but that's probably also when the band picked up most of the female fans it has.  It worked on me to be sure.  I still resisted for a while.  Presto had to come out before I actually bought a CD, but I've been slavishly devoted ever since.  Mainly because they are amazingly talented musicians, but also because their lyrics speak to me.  They have touched on everything from politics, relationships, genocide, suicide, vanity, global warning and free will.  I can find a Rush song to meet any mood I am in - funny, sad, angry, introspective, you name it.  And, in the last year, I can particularly relate to some of the lyrics, particularly those Neil wrote after coming off his long time on the road.  This statement would make them uncomfortable I think, but their music is me.  And I am their music.

I love a lot of music - I was pretty ecstatic over Tears For Fears in the 80's to the point where I read about Primal Scream Therapy (what a crock!), and I love U2, the Moody Blues, the Foo Fighters, and the list could go on.  But none touch Rush.  I am never without their music.  Long before there was an iPod to send me messages through song choices (and, yes, I'm kidding - I'm not totally nuts - not totally...), I took Presto with me everywhere.  When my dad was in his last days, I found a copy of Power Windows and held it.  Not having a way to play it, just having it was comforting.

But, they're not for everybody.  And I get that.  The beauty of music is it's so individualistic.  I still think Black Sabbath sucks, for instance.  But, I have dear friends who love that crap.  They hear something completely different than I do when it comes on.  And that's cool.  It's hard to define the power of music in a blog that's already too long and rambling, but you know it when you experience it.  And you know what it means to you.  It's the soundtrack you live your life to.  It's what sustains you through hard times and makes happy times happier.  I love music.  Kelsey loved music.  She loved Rush.  How could she not?  Everything she did as a young girl was punctuated by their music.  It united us through all the horrible years.  We never lost that.  And maybe I love them most of all for that.

Whatever it is you listen to, may you always Rock On.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nelson Mandela, Neil Peart and Me

What do the champion of anti-aparatheid, the greatest drummer of all time and a clerk in a collections department have in common?  We have all lost something more dear than we can measure.  Allow me to explain.  In a round about way.

One of the places I do love about Austin is Alamo Drafthouse.  So, I was giddily excited to attend a limited showing of the documentary film called Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage at the Alamo close to our house.  There I was, surrounded by fellow Rush fans and my family, watching the story of my all-time favorite rock band in my favorite movie venue.  What could be better?  Well, maybe having Geddy, Neil and Alex actually there to narrate, but all things considered, it was pretty to close to being a perfect evening.  However, I knew at some point the film would have to deal with It.  The Thing that almost everyone in the room knew had happened because our lives as Rush fans hung by a very thin thread for a very long time.  The Thing that, at the time, I felt grave sadness over, but also a wild sense of relief when it became clear the band had emerged intact from.  The Thing that changed multiple lives forever.

The Thing is that on August 10, 1997 Neil Peart lost his 19 year old daughter (his only child) in a single car accident.  Ten months later, eerily on June 20, his wife succumbed to breast cancer.  Neil Peart stepped away from music and the life he had known for what seemed to be an eon and drove his motorcycle 55,000 miles, pretty much up and down North America, reflecting on his grief and trying to heal.  Rush was on hold during that time.  That seeming eon was in fact about four years.  I remember that time as a Rush fan as one long anxious void.  I felt bad for Neil as a person, but I didn't really understand.  I was more afraid that they wouldn't come back as a band.  Of course, at the time both my girls were young and my biggest problem was that I was working all the time.  By the time Rush's return album was released in 2002, I was a little more empathetic to personal pain because Kelsey had begun the long, slow slide, but I could never really relate until last year of course.  Yet, even now, I don't know exactly what he went through, and I hope I never know the full level of his pain.  I've lost one member of my immediate family.  I'm not looking to lose more.  Yet, I know more about his grief that I ever thought I would when I first heard about it.

He's a private person, never as comfortable in the "limelight" as his band mates, and his level of loss is extremely personal, so I was interested to see how it would be handled in the film.  I thought it was done very well.  There was no ignoring it or glossing over it; it was a extremely important chapter in the story of these men, but the assumption of the filmmakers was that the core audience would already know what had happened, and they could focus on Neil's reflections on his time on the road and how and why he decided to return.  There wasn't a lot of gory details about his family.  Unfortunately, I was also a little worried about how the treatment of the situation would impact Greg.  The idea of retiring from life for a while and just hitting the road is a romantic notion.  But Neil Peart is a highly successful musician and writer.  He could afford it.  We're not in the same tax bracket.  Yet, I was the one who had a strong reaction to the story.

Marissa was already keeping a tight leash on me throughout the film, trying to make sure I didn't mortify her completely by rocking out a little too much or maybe breaking out in song along with the actual singer.  So, she was watching me closely when I actually uttered a noise in reaction to the interview with Neil when he choked up.  I swallowed it, sinking back a little more in my seat, trying not to react too strongly and cause undue attention to myself and embarrassment to my Rush-fan-kid.  But, there it was again.  Evidence that this feeling won't go away.  That I won't ever feel like me again.  It's been over a decade for him.  He's remarried and has a young child.  The band continues to be a force with a slavish devoted following.  He is, without question, the most talented drummer going.  He is a highly intelligent, talented, published author.  He has it all.  Yet, there he sat in front of me and became emotional talking about a time over a decade ago.  He doesn't have it all, as it turns out.  If he's that way, what hope is there for me?

So, I came home, both highly excited by the fact that I just spent two solid hours bathing in the glory of being a Rush fan and thoughtful about what I had seen.  I pondered the loss suffered by Nelson Mandela a couple days before, when his great granddaughter was killed in an auto accident.  It occurred to me that these two very different, yet very great (to my adoring eyes), men and I suddenly could be locked in a room together and actually have something germane to say to one another.  We have the commonality of our grief.  Wow.  This is not the connection I ever wanted to have.  I wish, for all our sakes, that we did not.

"Stratospheric traces of our transitory flight

Trails of condensation held
in narrow paths of white
The sun is turning black
The world is turning gray
All the stars fade from the night
The oceans drain away
Horizon to Horizon
memory written on the wind
Fading away, like an hourglass, grain by grain
Swept away like voices in a hurricane

In a vapor trail

Atmospheric phases make the transitory last
Vaporize the memories that freeze the fading past
Silence all the songbirds
Stilled by the killing frost
Forests burn to ashes
Everything is lost

Washed away like footprints in the rain

In a vapor trail"

- Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Art of Doing Nothing

I sit here, at 9:47 AM on a Saturday morning, more or less where I've sat for the last hour and a half, messing around on the computer, ignoring the siren's call of the unclean bathrooms, the cabinets that need put back together after my husband and his contractor pulled everything out to repair my broken kitchen drawers, and the bedroom carpet with the distinct pee stain that really needs shampooing.  Instead, I have spent a little time on Facebook, a lot of time peeking into people's homes in the Pittsburgh area courtesy of Trulia, and now this.  Sigh.

There was a time in my life when I never would have allowed myself this kind of down time.  Or if I did, only as a rare reward for something extraordinary.  It's not that I didn't do anything fun.  It's just that I didn't do nothing at all.  But, it occurred to me yesterday, after I got home from work to an empty house, Greg off playing that video golf game he's addicted to and Marissa out of town with her boyfriend's family, and plopped down on my bed to stare somewhat mindlessly at an old Seinfeld episode that I've come full circle.  I am back to the point in my early 20's when I did my job, which carried with it no particular ongoing responsibility once I left the office, came home to only the dogs wanting/needing attention.  My time was my own in essence to do whatever I wanted within the means I had available (which wasn't much).  I could do nothing if I wanted to and there would be no one there to care.

But I rarely did back in those days.  Because I thought it was slovenly.  When I did just sort of sit around, I felt horribly guilty about it.  I felt as though I was wasting my life and my youth.  I needed to be up doing something productive.  Anything.  Of course, on the other hand, there was the lost night when the Austin area first got MTV, and I sat almost transfixed in front of my little portable TV just watching hour after hour of music videos.  I remember watching U2's Gloria over and over, fascinated by these unknown boys from Ireland.  Trust me, that totally counts as doing nothing.

What I failed to take into account back in those days was that I should have savored the ability to just laze around because once I began a true career, started a family and became responsible for my own house with more than a few tiny rooms, there would be absolutely no time at all to sit and simply reflect or watch the sunset or ponder the existence of fireflies. 

Now I'm full circle.  Back to where the dogs crowding around my feet are the only ones who truly need anything from me, and even they are more often than not fed and watered by my husband.  All they really need from me on a lot of days is affection.  The difference is that now I can accept the value of sitting and doing nothing.  (Fantasizing about bumping into Mario Lemieux at Home Depot after pulling off a move to Sewickley completely matches a lost night of MTV - maybe even trumps it.)

I know now that just contemplating the sound of the cicadas in the dark is healthy for the soul and recharges batteries worn down by the corrosion of time and experience.  I believe in and relish in the power to do nothing, absolutely nothing, but take up space in the universe for a little while every now and again.  The bathroom will be about the same amount of dirty in 30 minutes as it is right now, when the birds are chirping and the wind chimes are singing.  Right now, they seem more important.

But, wow, what a strange, hard road to get back here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shadowy Reminders

I've learned by now that we can't run from our memories.  They follow us along like shadows, disappearing for a while here or there, but always ready to return at a moment's notice.  And so it was in New York, and so it has been since coming back home.  And I have to accept that sometimes the memories will be painful.  I am beginning to wonder if the answer to surviving the loss of a child is to accept that this is the case instead of wondering when that will stop.  And maybe you don't want it to.  Maybe if they stop being painful that means you've stopped caring. I doubt that's the case, but if you feel something, even if it's bad, is that better than feeling nothing at all?

But, while you're trying to figure it all out, how are you supposed to live your life?  I've tried getting out there, jumping off the proverbial high dive and just trying to live life.  This is what happens sometimes when I've done that:

After Marissa and I finished up at the diner, where we'd talked about Kelsey a lot, we walked silently and somberly back toward our little hotel.  Alone, the two of us, in the sea of people that crowd the city streets at all hours.  Part of the crowd in these areas are hawkers whose job it is to try and get you to buy tickets to Whatever:  a tour bus, a superfluous sightseeing packet to the Empire State Building, comedy club tickets.  We had been assaulted by them all day.  I had gradually learned to ignore them like the natives do.  But, we ran into one young man on the way back to the hotel, who, with the bounce and energy of his youth, approached us, walking backwards to keep just a little in front of us and looked straight at Marissa.  "Well, hello ladies.  Why do you look so sad?  It could be worse, your sister could be here with you."  This is no joke, this is almost verbatim what he said.  As I will tend to do when stressed enough to want to kill something, I will smile.  It's been pointed out to me that I do this at inappropriate moments by victims of that ironic little smile.  I smiled at him and said, "You know, we're here because yesterday was her sister's birthday, and she's dead now.  So..."

His face fell, and I am sure he wanted the uneven city sidewalk to open up at that moment and swallow him whole.  For all his youth and brashness he didn't misread that smile for one of a joke.  He knew what I was saying was true.  Maybe it was how Marissa must have looked.  I don't know, but he was completely undone, and stuttered a number of apologies.  We merely walked past him.  We didn't talk about it.  Not that night.  Not since.  I took a bath and curled into a fetal position on the bed and watched that horrible excuse for Game One in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Marissa went downstairs to the little courtyard and wrote in her journal and smoked and drank the hotel's coffee.  We were done for the night.

The next day we shook it off and went to the museum.  I think we've gotten more elastic with time.  For that I am glad.  But, the following weekend there was no museum to throw ourselves into.

And the memories were sure to come...

This past weekend was Marissa's 21st birthday.  She was born in the middle of a cluster of Veldman family birthdays:  her father's is May 24, Kelsey's was May 28, her cousin Amy - the eldest of the Veldman grandchildren - is June 2, hers is June 5 and her uncle Randy's will fall on the anniversary of Kelsey's memorial service (which will also be the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death).  In years past, we did a group celebration on Memorial Day weekend.  This was important for Amy in particular, since she grew up in Ft. Worth, a little removed from all the intimacy of the clan, as it were.  This was her opportunity, in addition to Christmas, to spend some time with her relatives.  When Kelsey and Marissa began being absent for periods of time, it eroded and finally stopped altogether when Marissa was in Alldredge for her 18th birthday.  Somehow I got it in my head that the best idea would be to make it as much like the old gatherings as possible.

But, the old adage "You can never go home" has some merit.  Some things simply change with time, and without a magic dagger filled with mystical sand to press and roll back the clock, you have to just accept that is the truth of it.  Already a week later than the norm, and without some key components, like Amy's mom Cathy and her other two younger cousins who are in Arizona for now, it was not going to be the same.  So, we'd work with what we had.  We did the basics: swimming, Greg grilling hot dogs and burgers (turkey and veggie), cake and presents.  As much as everyone tried to keep it light, at some point in the day, the absence of one of the birthday girls became overwhelmingly apparent to every party there - except maybe to the new addition, my brother-in-law's girlfriend, who was meeting most of us for the first time and must have been thinking, "WTF?"

I managed to keep a game face on until everyone left, then I went out by the pool and sat for I'm not sure how long, drinking, until I was cried out and drunk simultaneously.  My husband tucked my inebriated butt into bed at some point, and then sat awake until 3 AM, lost in his own thoughts.  Marissa had her moment earlier, when she had to leave the party for a while and go upstairs.  Amy, I could tell, was weighed down as well, begging off on plans for an evening movie.  Problem is:  how can you have a family celebration without a key member of the family present?

And for those of you wondering where Mother was in all of this - well, she was present for several of the birthday bashes, although the heat generally kept her inside watching TV instead of on the back patio like everyone else.  But, she chose not to come sometimes as well.  This was a Veldman tradition, not a Bleiler one, and she felt a bit outside the fold.  But, I thought of how she would have been proud to see her favorite grandchild reach this milestone birthday.  And I was sad she missed it by such a narrow margin.  Yet, I have to be blunt:  there just is no comparison to losing a child versus a parent.  I feel a sense of relief that Mother is released from her failing, ill mind and body, whereas I just weep for the loss of my child and all her potential.  And I am so heavy with the regret that Marissa had this shadow cast on this particular milestone birthday.   Yet I am so proud of her.  What an odd mix of emotions.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple...I Mean Cupcake

I, like just about everybody else who ever goes to a movie or watches TV, had all these images in my head about New York City, so it was with a little trepidation that I chose to spend such a tenuous weekend there.  Was I going to find the city of Se7en, so dark, dirty and devoid of joy that a woman would despair of bringing a child into it?  Or would I find the sharply defined grids of racial enmity that Spike Lee showed us?  Or, would it be the quaint, cozy little ethnic neighborhoods, like in Moonstruck?  Or would I be lucky enough to find the robust, rich intellectually challenging world of Woody Allen?  Or the dazzling city of excess of Sex and the City?  In my brief time there, I found that it is all these things.

New York, more than any other city I've ever visited, is whatever you want it to be.  It is so large and so diverse that it can afford to have many faces, all of them equally real.  The one thing it can't seem to do is to settle down and be quiet.  From what I saw, it truly is the City That Never Sleeps.

I saw a lot of beauty there.  In the buildings, from the art deco facades of the Empire State Building to the little neighborhood church across from the hotel.  In the green spaces carved out of the concrete; I gasped at the sight of the vista across the water from me in Central Park, and I drank in the atmosphere on a sunny weekend day at Bryant Park.  In the art:  we spent an an entire day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and didn't make it all the way through.

But I saw a lot that wasn't beautiful.  I saw buildings losing the battle to the smog and grit of the city, their once lovely surfaces caked with the black decay of the city.  I saw homeless men and women with lost, empty eyes, begging for change or unabashedly digging through the trash, oblivious to the people walking past them, just as the people walking past didn't seem to be fazed by the scene they were passing.  I saw apartments set above the little shops in Chinatown and Little Italy where the windows were thrown wide to try and catch a bit of breeze, an old sheet or blanket serving as their curtain, their laundry hanging from the fire escape to dry, and you knew these people were living on the fringe, scrambling to get by.  And you know, vaguely, some miles away there are parts of the city that make these cramped little apartments seem positively luxurious.

People were either friendly or they weren't.  Some were clearly nuts.  Like the woman with a toddler in a stroller who was yelling at the poor little boy for losing his shoe in the middle of the street.  And sure enough, there was a little brown slip-on in the middle of the crosswalk on busy 8th Ave.  We all watched in fascination as cab after cab rolled by without hitting it, thinking she would run out and retrieve it when the light changed.  Marissa and I were on the other side before we realized that she was still standing on the opposite corner, yelling, "I can't believe you did that!  Now what to you expect me to do?  What do you think Mother is going to do?"  Over and over and over, her hair a bit disheveled and wild, like the look in her eyes. I don't know if she was high or just crazy, and I don't know if someone finally offered to grab the poor child's shoe or not.  I know we didn't.  But whatever personality you have, something about New York gives you free rein to express it.  I know it's cliche that New Yorkers are rude.  Some were.  The very attractive, petite woman working the front desk at our little hotel could barely be bothered with me the couple of times I interacted with her.  Yet the porter was extremely nice, polite and helpful.  The woman at the information desk at the museum was nearly horrible, but one of the staff who greeted us as we first came in, looking apparently a little lost and overwhelmed, was as warm and friendly as he was exotically handsome.   So, finally, I decided that the city allows people a measure of anonymity, which grants them the freedom to just be whoever they were born to be.  Whereas in the South, there is a certain expectation of behavior, a forced politeness that covers up the natural grump within.  I don't know which I prefer actually, but the thing about it is, if people are rude to you, then you feel no compunction to be anything but rude right back, and you can see how it takes on a life and a reputation of its own after a while.

And, speaking of cliches, they are all true.  Every thing I'd ever heard or seen about the city and its people, I heard or saw in my brief time there.  From the woman who, after coming dangerously close to being bumped by a cab as she walked against the light, yelled at the driver with great bravado, even turning around once past him to send another volley of insults back at him.  To the street vendors, selling pretzels from stainless steel carts, to cabs that careen at breakneck pace down the avenues for the brief block or two they have a lane before coming to a halt in a gridlock of other cabs and businessmen with cell phones glued to their ears (we never saw a speed limit sign anywhere we went).  To the fact that everything is referenced by cross streets.  I always thought that was a Law and Order dodge to avoid using specific addresses, sort of like the fictious "555" prefix for phone numbers.  But, when I gave a cab driver an address the first time, he looked back at me like I either had a contagious malady or was an idiot or both, and he asked what the cross street was.  I didn't know.  Thank God for cell phones with GPS, or we might be bouncing around in that cab still. 

The one thing that caught me by surprise was the cupcakes.  New Yorkers seem to love their cupcakes.  Of course, they are famous for their pizza and their bagels, but the only reference I have ever seen about cupcakes was the SNL Digital Short, Lazy Sunday.  Marissa and I always just thought they were featured because a) it was funny and b) it rhymed.  But, no, New Yorkers seem to like cupcakes.  I first caught that clue when we walked past a place called The Cupcake Cafe.  Then, a few hours later, I saw a little cafe advertising pasta and cupcakes, and looked into a glass case filled with rows of little cakes.  And, of course, there really is the Magnolia Bakery of Lazy Sunday fame in Little Italy.  Finally, I had seen enough cup cakes or signs for cupcakes that I desparately wanted one.  So, our final morning there, Marissa and I trudged down through the heat and the humidity that were already threatening to make the day an oppressive one, to the Cupcake Cafe, and I got a $5.50 cupcake from a man who seemed to embody both the stereotypical New Yorker rudeness with a sense of being helpful ("Are you going to buy one of those?" he barked after we took a couple of pictures, to "It's better if you let it warm up.").

What an interesting city.  I have to go back someday soon.  There is so much we didn't see and do that we wanted to.  But, at least I can always say that I got a New York cupcake.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Manhattan Melodrama

You may well be asking yourself, "What in the world were you doing in a New York diner when your husband is unemployed?"  Well, for one thing, the trip had been planned for a number of months.  I even met with Mother's care team to make sure they thought I could go, and what the plan would be if she took a turn while I was away.  And, I did it the way all Red Blooded American Women do things:  I charged it.   Of course, that's more about how I came to be there, not really why.

Why is more complicated.  There are a number of reasons why.  For one thing, neither Marissa nor I have ever been.  For Marissa, that's not that shocking.  She's 20.  I've got a few years on her, and it's arguably the most dynamic city in the world, situated right here in our hemisphere.  It's therefore both more shocking and shameful that I've never been there.  But, I generally have traveled for one of three reasons, a) family, b) to seek out grand vistas and woolly four legged things or c) to follow my Steelers.  As a result, New York just never really fell into my travel radar.  No family members live there, no treatment centers we considered are there.  There is the Bronx Zoo, but for the most part, it's a concrete jungle, not a natural one.  And, neither the Jets nor the Giants actually even play in the state, and it was never a practical location for an away game.  But, it's on my bucket list.  If only so I can say I've been in the place where Ed and Lennie trolled for criminals.

The larger reason is that we are in the midst of our personal Mean Season.  That period of time that began with Mother's Day and will hopefully end with Father's Day when we were faced with those dreaded series of Firsts to endure without Kelsey and now without Mother.  May saw not only Mother's Day, but Greg and Kelsey's birthdays.  June will usher in Marissa's 21st birthday, Father's Day and the anniversary of Kelsey's death (which happen to be the same day).  I told a friend today, if we can survive this gauntlet, then we can say we did it, and we can know that we can do it.  Each subsequent year will, we therefore hope, get easier.  I have worried for a while, however, how to help Marissa get through her sister's birthday, so close to her own, without a major fall.  I had the idea that I would just distract her completely.  What better way to do that than fly her into New York and take her to a Broadway play.  And so that's what I did.  I had us fly in Friday midday, check into a little boutique hotel that was a converted brownstone, then attend Wicked that night.  Then we would spend the weekend being tourists.  If Marissa had time to think of Kelsey, it would be brief and it would be muted by the activity around us.  That was the plan anyway.

And, I have to say, it's not that it didn't completely fail.  Yet, it was a trip that affirmed the saying, "Wherever you go, there you are" as much as it did anything else.  Our overloaded luggage wasn't the only baggage we dragged up there and back.  One simply cannot escape the weight in our hearts or the absence of the individual who would have loved the pulse of the city most of all.  And there were moments when her absence was brought into sharp focus, as I will relate by and by.  But, we were distracted and busy enough to get through it in one piece.  And, while I can't speak for Marissa, I can tell you that I learned a lot about the city even in the brief time I was there.  And I learned a little bit about myself in the process.

I will share my tales of the city, but for now I need to get up early, so I'll leave you with some pictures.  A very small sampling of the over 400 shots Marissa and I took between us!  Yes, we might has well have been wearing plaid shorts, we were that quite obviously tourists.