Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fantasy Island

Where to run to?  This is the stuff of fantasy and sort of fun to think about.  There were 47 states in play when the idea first hatched.  We could go any where really, at least on paper.  California was out of contention immediately not because it's not an awesome place; it's just a little too awesome.  No one can realistically afford to live there if they aren't rich and famous, and I am decidedly not rich and famous.  Texas is not in play - it's a big state, granted.  But, I've seen a lot of it over time and lived here long enough.  Just not happening.  And Kansas was not on the table.  To anyone reading this in Kansas, I would love for you to leave a comment about your state and why you love it.  But, let me just say, it's not for us.  But, let's face it, I was contemplating a major shake up of our lives, but just how major did I want to make it?  Wasn't it safer to go with what you at least know a little bit about?  That put Montana and Pennsylvania as the two primary fighters in the ring.  Still, it was sort of fun to think about living in Alaska (not because I necessarily want to see Russia from my house or have the Palins as neighbors, mind you, but polar bears and caribou seem like mighty fine neighbors to me) or Seattle maybe.  I have to confess, Coeur d' Alene was not on the short list.  Living somewhere I can't spell without looking it up is probably not the best plan!

But, in the end, it's our future, so the reality is serious business. The reality of the times we live in was smoldering outside my little fantasy bubble, waiting to pop it.  The economy hasn't exactly bounced right back, has it?  There are something like five people out of work for every open position in the United States.  I heard an estimate today that it'll be 2015 before we can realistically expect unemployment levels to get back to 2007 levels.   Yet, in Austin, the economy is holding its own.  I actually have a job.  So did my husband until he walked away from it.  Why in the world would anyone in their right mind leave here right now?  I could say a lot of things in response that would be hollow rationalizations, kind of like the ones I concocted to convince myself that I was smart to move here in the first place.  I am smart enough to see them for what they are.  I'm old enough not to really feel I have to spew them out.  If we decide to move, then we decide to move.  If I say to you that I do not want to live in the shadow of my the last decade, then that is how I feel.  Doesn't make it right.  Doesn't make it wrong.  Makes it how I feel.  Period.  Marissa feels the way she does.  And Greg?  Well, he's still just sort of lost.

Yet, on a daily basis, I question my own sanity.  I look out at my favorite deer as she gazes in our window intently, trying to catch my attention so I'll drop whatever I'm doing and come feed her (and I do too, she's completely got me wrapped around her delicate little hoof), and I wonder how I can ever leave her.  I play my nightly game with Chappy and wonder how much I will regret leaving the pool behind.  And then I drive to work the next morning and listen to the dire predictions about the economy again, and know I am not thinking straight.

But, I don't ever question my resolve.  As I went out to feed Red the Deer tonight, I thought, "Well, this certainly is a gilded cage I live in.  How soon can I break free from here?"  I find it extremely hard to put into words.  I don't know if other people who have undergone a major loss feel the same way.  As we know, the family across the street toughed it out.  But, did they ever question whether they could or should?  Maybe because I already had a case of Yankee Wanderlust, there is no doubt in my mind this is a move I feel we need to make to set us on the road to recovery.

A couple of things happened after Mother died that pushed the idea forward.  One day, I was speaking to one of the attorneys we work with.  I've known him for a lot of years so we speak fairly informally with one another.  He's a Pittsburgh native - as a matter of fact, he went to high school with Jim Haslett (non-Steeler fans:  he was a Steeler assistant coach and head coach of the Saints for a few years) - and knows I'm a fan, so as he was trying to illustrate a point to me by saying, "For instance, if you wanted to move to Pittsburgh and said, 'How can I move to Pittsburgh?' it's not likely to happen.  But if you say, 'I am going to move there' you will probably find a way to do it."  Well, that was an interestingly timed comment, I thought to myself...

Right about that time, I opened up my home page and was greeted with a headline listing the ten cities that have lost the most jobs during the last year.  Missoula was on it.  About the middle of the pack actually.  How many cities are there in the United States?  Way more than ten, that's for sure.  To make a list like that means it's really bad there.  It made my heart sink to see the city I've long thought as the place I wanted to work toward on a list basically telling me I certainly wouldn't be working if I got there.

So, on the evening of Greg's birthday, when he asked me where I wanted to go, I said, "Pittsburgh."  And he agreed to it.

And so we've done what my attorney friend said.  We've made the decision.  Now we're trying to figure out how to act on it.


Home?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Musings on the Ever After

Most nights Chappy and I spend some time in the pool.  He has this game he loves to play.  He runs round and round the pool with a tennis ball (that he has thoroughly demolished) in his mouth, and I'm supposed to swim from one side to the other and try to catch him.  Every once in a while, if it looks like my attention is wandering, or I've meandered too far away from where he wants me positioned, he'll jump in, swim towards me and, not so gently, force me back into place.  He can play this game for hours, and it's cooler for both of us than dragging his 85 pounds around on a leash to get him sufficient exercise.  Yet, it's not very taxing on the brain functions, so as I cut across the water, clear as glass that's been littered with diamonds, my thoughts bounce around.  Most of the time, I begin with the thought that this should be a good life.  I should be happy with what I have.  I don't have the nicest of homes, by it's pretty cool.  I'm not the richest person, but if Greg had remained working, we would have been comfortable enough.  My house isn't nestled in the mountains, but one lesson I've learned in traveling around taking first this daughter than that one to various treatments is that there are ups and downs to any location, and I'm finally mature enough, at this not so tender age, to realize you take your problems with you wherever you go; a place doesn't fix what's broken.

So, why did I take you on that meandering journey through Pennsylvania and back?  Because, despite all of that, I cannot wait to get away from here.  I feel an ache in my bones to begin packing boxes and get the hell away from here.  And the only questions I had left with was where and when.

Why?  Because every where I go, there are reminders of Kelsey, mingled in with reminders of Mother's last struggles, which are painful.  I knew, long ago, that I would suffer some guilt over Mother.  I knew that, after she was gone, I would feel badly for the resentment I often felt during our last three years together.  She was a challenge at times long before that (her hoarding caused some real uncomfortable moments over the years, some of which I've learned to laugh at a bit, but some I never will).  But, it was when her dementia really took over, and I was slow to understand it for what it was, that the proverbial chip on my shoulder grew to a boulder, and I have some regrets that I didn't handle that better and more compassionately.  I did more than some children, maybe even a lot of children, but less than others and less than I should have, in my own estimation, and that flashes in my mind whenever we pass her old apartment complex or, far worse, when I'm there, since Greg's mom lives there too.  But, bottom line is that she lived a long life, mainly on her own terms - particularly the years after Dad died.  And, in the end, as much as it became a horrible uphill battle, I stepped up and made sure she had the care she needed.  So, in time, I'd work through that and all would be well.

Can I ever do the same for the feelings I have over losing my daughter?  Despite my bravado in blogging about reclaiming the upper half of our house, I was working in the study to glean out some old stuff and came across a note she artfully did for me after a fight we had.  She had drawn in Calligraphy a note to say she was sorry, then matted that on a purple background that she scrolled around.  I had it in my office, so I found it packed in a box of things I had brought home from when I resigned.  I stared at the note for a long while, set it down and have only been upstairs in brief spurts when I absolutely had to since.  Greg and Amazing Handy Man have been working on the upstairs bathroom, I haven't even gone up there to look at what they've done.  But, that's just a note; it's the stains on the carpet that I can't get rid of, it's driving past the places she worked or the music venues she preferred, or just sitting in the dining room, replaying some of the horrible nights we had when she was out of control, and then playing with Chappy in the pool and remembering some of the good times we shared as a family there.  Painful counterpoints to the lives we've led in this house.

I remember what I said earlier.  You take your problems with you wherever you go.  I'm also aware that, depending upon where you go, you can make those problems worse (more on that later) or create new ones, and I'm really not trying to run from the memories.  I need them, all of them, good and bad, to try and make sense of my life and give it purpose, which I can only do I think if I can help someone, anyone, not have to relive the nightmare we went through.  But, do I really have to be slapped in the face everyday with reminders of the struggle?  Even under my own roof?

I no longer hate the house.  To the contrary, I hope this noble house forgives us.  The house gave us shelter through all those years of turmoil, and continued standing as we neglected it.  I didn't realize just how run down it had become before AMH began reclaiming it.  It gives me joy to see it respond to new tile, new counter tops, some severe tree trimming, new trim and molding here and there.  Simple enough repairs that remind me why I fell in love with the place 13 years before.  I hope we leave it better than we found it.  It deserves that.  Yet, can I ever live here and not be caught in the memories of what happened here?

I've long stopped contemplating the people in the house across the street.  Now that I know a bit about their pain, I no longer have to wonder over it.  Yet, when I began really thinking about where I want my future to be, I did turn my attention back to them briefly.  They've done a lot of work on their house, as we are now to ours, to update it and improve it.  I sort of understand that on a deeper level than I would have before.  It's not just about maintaining the home value, they've changed some things up, and I think that it was to give themselves a different perspective and a fresh start in the same place.  Neither of our children died in the home.  Thankfully.  If Kelsey had died here, this would not be a blog I would be writing, I would have long ago fled this place entirely.  But, she is every where in this house, as I'm sure my neighbor's son was in theirs.  They've pushed through it.  They had a pool party on the Fourth of July, I could hear happy voices and laughter floating over from their backyard.  They've done it.  Whatever It is.  They've stayed productive, sane, and in the same house.  So, could I do it?  I don't even want to try.

There are a million reasons not to do what we're contemplating.  There aren't nearly as many for the other side of the argument.  How, therefore, can I justify it?  Because, as selfish as this sounds, we, all three of us, deserve some happiness now.  I don't know if the complicated task of picking up and moving a household with multiple pets will give it to us, but it keeps us pushing forward and at least trying.  I want a chance to start somewhere fresh and make new memories.  If we sit stagnant, our spirits will die.  Those are the things one thinks about when swimming aimlessly around a pool pretending as though you're going to grab the ball from your dog's iron grip.

Now the decision was:  where to?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Great Road Trip Winds Down

After a week in the city, we put it in our rearview mirror.  We left a lot undone.  For everything we managed to see and do there was something else we had plotted to do when we first arrived but never got around to.  I think sometimes how much Kelsey would have loved Pittsburgh.  She would have LOVED Fallingwater and the Warhol Museum.  She would have enjoyed the other museums around the campus.  She would have appreciated the architecture of the area, older and far different than central Texas.  She would even have had fun with the football stuff.  Not quite like her sister and me, but to a degree.  Part of the pain I feel is the fact that there is so much of life she would have loved.

However, I do not feel any remorse for not having her along for the trip.  For one thing, all cards on the table, she was a pain in the ass to travel with.  But, more than that, she was home from her third and most intensive residential treatment, we had established her in her own apartment and she was working.  This was the time for her to learn to live life as an independent adult.  I always thought she would have opportunities for the other stuff later.  Even if I had somehow known her life would be so tragically short, this was not the venue for her.  This was for Marissa.  Marissa had tried to grow up in the shadow of The Beast, and it had not been easy.  She deserved some time away from it all.  This was not a perfect trip.  For one thing, two women in close quarters for three plus weeks will naturally lead to some moments of tension.  We were often treated with the odd disdain that people have for the tourists whom they rely on for their livelihood.  I had a bad tooth that abscessed toward the end of the trip, and then there was always my amazing lack of direction to keep things interesting.  And of course, the constant challenge to find vegan friendly cafes along the way.  Yet, I will always remember this trip with extreme fondness.  Those few weeks were among some of the favorite I have ever had.  I loved spending time with Marissa.  I am fortunate in that I both love and like her.  I loved where we spent it.  For a moment in time I was allowed to hope that both my children were on the right path.  And Mother was half the country away where her anger with me was muted by distance.

Before we wrapped it up, we made our way to Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast (after getting terribly lost) about 30 miles outside of Canton, Ohio where we spent a couple of nights so we could travel into Canton to view the exhibit honoring the Steelers 75th anniversary and then watch the pre-season game (in a teeming, cold rain).  Part of the appeal was to experience a bed and breakfast, but it was also the only accommodations we could find in a 50-mile radius.  Canton must love it when the Steelers are somehow involved with Hall of Fame weekend because they show up in force.  Easy driving distance, 'Burghers had poured into the city for the event.  Which was fitting since it poured and poured the whole time we there.  But I saw enough of my new coach before the rain drove us out of the stands to know I liked what I saw.  This was a time for optimism all the way around, it seemed.

The Grand Finale was the Rush concert in San Antonio.  I sang along so wildly and loudly that my bad tooth caused my face to swell up like a chipmunk by the end of the show.

And then we were home.  Hot, dusty home.  And I had a conundrum.  I had always wanted to go back to Montana when I was free to do so.  Now, I wondered if I really could find a sense of peace somewhere else, like Western Pennsylvania let's just say.

Obviously we didn't move anywhere on the time frame we once discussed.  By the time the year had elapsed, Kelsey was doing poorly, and it was clear we couldn't leave her.  Mother was still living on her own, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that moving her would be way too much of a shock to her system.  So, I settled in and put it all in the back of my mind for the time being.  But, I always had my memories of that lazy summer month.


Peppi's, home of the Roethlisburger (wonder if they still sell it)




Monday, July 19, 2010

Love, PGH Style

Here is where I confess that I had an emotionally affair while in Pittsburgh.  He is a man of few words, and he has a lot of body hair, which I'm not usually all that into.  But, I'm pretty sure he could take Greg down with one punch, and I felt a strong emotional pull toward him, and I think him to me.  I'll tell you how I met him.  We had saved the zoo for my birthday.  Unlike some of my fellow tree-hugging, animal loving liberal friends, I am not anti-zoo.  I would rather see an animal in its native environment to be sure, but I tend to believe, because of what we humans are doing to those native environments, zoos are a necessary evil.  Animals in a zoo, some of them, aren't particularly happy with their lot in life, that is sadly true.  And sometimes you can see that all too clearly on their faces.  But, I know zoo personnel do the best they can, and since they clearly exist with me or without me, I'm drawn to them and the chance to see so many magnificent creatures up close and personal.  In short, wherever I travel, if there's a zoo, you will generally find me there at least one full day.  Marissa knows this and tolerates it to a degree, so she good-naturedly agreed to make that my birthday treat, but when the day started, she did not feel well and didn't feel like leaving bed.  I was exasperated, wondering whether I should stay behind or go one without her when Mother called.  The conversation went from initially civil to poisonous very quickly.  I've managed to block out exactly what she said to me, but it was upsetting, causing me to throw the phone across the room.  So, with that, I left Marissa to sleep, locked securely in the room with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, telling her to call me when she was up and about, and I would come back, and I drove myself to the zoo.

I like the Pittsburgh zoo.  There are some amazing features to it, such as the tanks for the polar bears and sea lions so you can walk below them and watch them swim.  It's pretty amazing.  But, my heart was heavy.  Here it was my birthday, and I was by myself with my Mother's words stinging in my ear.  I wandered into the primate area, rather hang dog, but still curious to watch these amazing, intelligent creatures.  There had been a number of gorillas out in a good sized enclosure outdoors, but there was a large, lone male inside the building, sitting forlornly toward the back of the enclosure.  I stopped to take a photo, but stayed there and considered him, thinking he looked like I felt.  I was vaguely aware of the man standing next to me, watching as well.  His family was lagging behind, so he was hanging out, waiting for them to catch up.  No else was around, so I felt no particular pressure to move on.  I made eye contact with the gorilla, he looked so sad.  He watched me back, maybe thinking the same thing about me.  I had my hand on the glass, and he moved toward me, coming right up to the glass in front of me and put his hand up against mine and pressed his head to the glass (I swear to God this is a true story).  The man next to me, his family just now catching up to him, was losing it.  His eyes were so wide, I thought they might pop out of his head.  He was motioning wildly for his wife, "Did you see that?   Did you see that gorilla come right up to that lady?" he was stammering excitedly.  I was equally amazed, but remained calmer so my new friend wouldn't leave.  He let me take his photo, posing almost, but I forgot to turn the flash off!  It no doubt flashed right in his eyes.  By that time, he was drawing a crowd, so he turned away from them and eventually moved away.  Whatever moment we had was done.  I went back by before I left, but he wouldn't come back to me.  Maybe he thought I would break him out of there, and when I didn't, he was finished with me.  Maybe he knew his work was done, and he knew he had made me feel better.  I wished I could have done the same for him.  But, I did feel better.

It was late afternoon, the sun hanging low in the sky, before I pulled away from the zoo and headed back to the hotel, where Marissa still slept.  She got up and we had a late, incredibly spicy Mediterranean meal down on the Strip District, our time almost done in the city.  I would leave behind a special fellow that I will always remember.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eat, Play, Love

Eat

In 2007, Marissa was keeping a vegan diet.  I imagine individuals who have dealt with eating disorders cringing a little when reading that.  Specialized diets like that tend to allow the individual to ritualize his or her food.  But, remember, that's not what caused her to be in Alldredge.  After everything she had been through, trying to cleanse her body was not a huge surprise, but it could be a challenge.  And winging it with a vegan daughter in a city like Pittsburgh was not that easy.  One thing that is unique about that city from most others I have experienced is, even though it is a relatively major metropolitan area, it rolls up the sidewalks at night.  A true commuter city, almost everybody travels in during the day and disperses back out at night.  As a result, most of the downtown restaurants close.  And even those that don't are NOT vegan friendly.  That's different than what we're used to in the "Weird" city of Austin, where vegetarian and vegan diets are recognized and not that unusual.  Not so in Pittsburgh, at least the areas we covered.  Our searches to reach out into the neighborhoods around the downtown are when I got us into areas I was pretty sure we shouldn't have been in without an Uzi to protect us, and we still didn't find the kinds of eating establishments I was hoping for.  I'm sure they're out there, but I was too used to the hippie-dippy lifestyle of Austin and didn't anticipate the issue we would have elsewhere.  That's one thing my future travel book would include:  if you have to follow a specialty diet, do some homework first.  We didn't.  As a result, searching out food took on a sometimes uncomfortable emphasis on the time there.  Finding some place that was open was the first order of business, then worrying over its menu came next, and finally, cost came into play. Marissa ate a lot of salads.  At least in the city we could find salads without bacon in them.  Trust me, on the road in some of the smaller towns we stopped at, that was even a challenge.  (For my part, I don't eat pork or beef, and I can no longer even digest it, but I can almost always find something I can eat on any menu, but even I struggled a few times in the tiny little towns we stopped in - bacon as a garnish is just not my idea of appetizing.)

On the first night there, we found the Primanti Brothers near the PPG Tower and Marissa ordered the usual salad, only to discover it is served over a bed of french fries!  I thought that was splendid fun, but I don't think she was as amused.  We definitely did better with Leslie as our guide when we returned this past December, but by then Marissa had learned that cheese is just too good to give up, and the strict confines of a vegan diet were behind us.  The good news is Primanti Brothers serves up a mean order of cheese fries!

Play

I got to experience those cheese fries at an actual Pirates game.  I figured why not.  I saw they were playing a series against the then defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  They were so famous that I actually knew the name of one of their players, Albert Pujols.  Not that I would recognize him if he assaulted me on the street, but I figured it would be interesting to go.  People watching at a baseball game is great fun if nothing else.  Besides we were within walking distance of the ballpark, so it was no big whoop.  Being so close to the venue meant there were a lot of St. Louis fans in the hotel with us, which was sort of fun to see.  They were awfully upbeat as a rule, basking in the glow of being the current champions.  I knew that glow, the sparkle in the eye, the bounce in the walk, and the air of optimism that a repeat could be yours, despite the odds always being against it.  I had been that way not that long before with my football team, so I was amused by them.  The hotel was right next to the conference center as well, so it sure seemed crowded.  The night before, as we got back from Primanti Brothers, it took forever to get up to our room because a hoard of men in suits were making their way up to rooms in the hotel.  There were six elevators, and these men were still taking a long time to travel upstairs in shifts, filling up all the available elevators, waiting for the cars to return back down, filling them up again, and so on.  I wondered why the two policemen were there, standing around, hands folded in front of them, patiently and seriously watching this procession of men all dressed in grey or dark colored suits shuffle into the elevators.  Whatever company they were with must be pretty important to have armed escorts.  Finally, the crowd of serious young men trickled down to a handful, and we managed to squeeze into an elevator with a few of them, two of them getting off on our floor with us.  Geesh, I thought to myself, that was a pain!  I saw a couple of our young floor mates the next day, dressed more casually, but still serious faced and intent.  Clearly they were here for work, not to play.  Well, that was sort of true.  It took me a while to figure out that their work was to play.  They were the St. Louis Cardinals!  They were staying in our hotel!  Baseball celebrity is totally wasted on me, I completely confess it.  I can't remember how I figured it out, I think because the fans would line up in a gauntlet like we always do on Steeler road trips and wait for the team to come in or out, hoping for a close look at their heroes.  Looking back on it, the fact that it took me so long is pretty embarrassing.  For all I knew, I rode up the elevator with Albert Pujols at some point.  I to this day wouldn't know him if he assaulted me in the street.  I watched him play a real, live game though.  I even have a picture of him at bat.  Here it is:


Just not my sport, I'm afraid.  But, even in the heat of the summer (and it was horrendously hot the entire time we were there with oppressive humidty to boot), football rules the day in the City of Steel.  One could say you can't get away from it, but of course, we'd come a long way to get right into it.  Coach Tomlin was conducting his first training camp, so I was desperate to check him out.  I have been devastated when Coach Cowher left, although  I respected his reasons more than most probably did.  When people would ask me about it, my response always was the same, "There are only two men I want to coach my team:  Coach Cowher or Coach Dungy."  Well, the Rooneys brought in a protege of Tony Dungy, and I was cautiously optimistic, but I wanted to see for myself.  So we took a day trip to Latrobe, long time home of Steeler training camp.  I had been there twice before, but not since the team had added the coveted One for the Thumb.  Trust me, even after missing the playoffs the season before, this is not your father's training camp.  It's a spectacle.  A crowded, hot circus.  But a lot of fun.  The players must hate it.  But, for some of us, this is as close as we can get to seeing the team live.  It's free.  Western Pennsylvania, even three years ago, is not a robust economy.  There are a lot of working class families who love the team, but can't even imagine paying the cost of one ticket to a game, let alone taking the whole family.  I hope they never change allowing us the kind of access that they do.  And, I hope the players understand and are patient with the hoopla, even though their agenda is to gel and train as a team, not hobnob with the masses.  Lawrence Timmons, a rookie that year, did get it.  Somebody coached him well.  He had been injured before we got there, so he wasn't participating in drills, but he was out there, patiently and humbly signing autograph after autograph until he had to go in with the team.  I became impressed with him that day.

But, he wasn't the show for me.  His young, new coach, the one who looks like Omar Epps, was.  I kept the binoculars trained on him, as sweat rolled down my face, the back of my knees, my armpits, any place I had a pore, and I wondered why I couldn't follow a team with lighter colored uniforms because, of course, most of us were dressed in black and gold.  I liked what I saw.  I liked how he carried himself.  I like the sense of command he had on the field.  The mixture of intensity and calm.  He smoldered, not burned.  I liked it.  I would really take his measure in a few days when I saw him in Canton, but we headed back into town that late afternoon, sticky with sweat, feeling pretty good about our future.




Then there the was The Stadium.  Heinz Field.  They allow tours, smart business people that "They" are.  For a modest price, you get to see places you've only dreamed of going.  It's like setting me loose in a chocolate factory.  Awesome doesn't quite describe it.  Luxury boxes, press box, press meeting room, into the stands, onto the field, around the concourse, including their main hall where they house memorabilia from famous players and coaches.  And, the grandest vision of all, the locker room.  The place where men like Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu strip out of their dirty jockstraps eight times a year, plus pre-season.  It's like Christmas in July.  I truly felt like I was 12 again, getting to go on a great adventure.  A lovely young woman conducted us around, teaching us the rules journalists have to follow when in the press box (no rooting for either team, they have to maintain a quiet control throughout - no way I could do that job), to parceling out little tidbits of trivia (the first actual event at Heinz Field was an InSync concert that she happened to be at).  I kept thinking I could totally rock a job like hers, even though she probably gets paid peanuts.  People dress up to go on these tours, I was mildly amused to see.  I don't mean in business attire, but in Steeler attire as though they are going to a game.  Of course, I was dressed in a Hines Ward t-shirt and a Steeler purse, but that's how I'm always dressed when I'm not working, so...  Again, the thing the players and the NFL owners have to remember is that it's the little things that mean so much to us common fans.  Those moments where we feel special, those keep us loyal.  I love the management of Heinz Field for not making it pricey to meander around these hallowed grounds.  Unlike Jerry's World in Dallas where tour prices are four times as much.  Football is not inexpensive to follow, but it's a working man's game - or it should be.  Remember that when working on your collective bargaining agreements, contract negotiations and concession pricing, people.  Don't forget who really pays your salary:  people like me.  But, on that sunny, summer day, I felt like I was Queen of the World with my Princess by my side.  It was great fun, but I practically ached to come back there to see an actual game. 


Marissa in Casey Hampton's locker



The "Royal Family" in their Castle.  :)

Love

I've decided there is too much to say on this subject, it has to get it's own post.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Rivers Run Through It

After a week of almost total isolation, Marissa and I pull out of the woods of central Pennsylvania and headed for my own private Valhalla.  Pittsburgh.  Home of The Team.  My Team.  My Beloved Team.  For as long as I've been a Steeler fan, I've spent precious little time in the city they call home.  Of course, the fact that I live in Texas has a lot to do with it, but even when Mother was living a mere 25 miles outside of the city, I didn't get a chance to get there much when I visited.  Mother wasn't comfortable with the city.  She never went there on her own, and, from what I could ever tell, that hadn't changed from when she was young.  She could travel half way around the world on her own, but somehow driving into Pittsburgh just wasn't her scene.

By the summer of 2007, I had only been to one home game ten years before, and that was in old Three Rivers Stadium (which I do remember somewhat vaguely - I was more than a little tipsy, but the thing I would have liked to forget I remember all too well, Cowboys 37-Steelers 7).  I had never been to Heinz Field at all.  I almost always get to at least one actual Steeler game a year, but I follow them around on the road.  I am not alone in that.  I've met PGH natives who have to travel outside the city to be able to see the Steelers live.  They are definitely a hot commodity.  About the only silver lining I can think of for the Big-Jerk Ben suspension is that maybe, for once, tickets might be just a tad easier to come by.  But, I tend to think they won't; Steeler fans are likely to show up to games just to yell at Ben.  Sigh.

Anyway, point being:  weird as it may be, I drove into a city I felt I had a deep connection to, but I really knew very little about.  Marissa and I were yet to meet Leslie, our lovely hostess for our trip last December.  I knew I had relatives who lived in the city, but I didn't know how to reach them, and I was shy about trying to get in touch with the family I did know, so we wandered in blindly, no idea which end was up and with no set itinerary.  I set Heinz Field as my center point and charted our course for the next week around it.  Winging it like that, with no official plan I actually think is the best way to really see and learn a city.    Problem comes in when you wander into areas you shouldn't at times you shouldn't be there, which we did a time or two, so I need to polish my technique before I go out and publish any travel books.  But nothing bad came close to happening, so all in all I think we made out okay.

I've detailed the city in this blog before.  I won't belabor it again.  But, let me just say this:  Pittsburgh beyond a doubt has the most beautiful skyline in the country.  It's small wonder that a house that fronts onto that view will run around the half million mark, while a similar home a few blocks back is modestly priced.  The view is indeed priceless.  The city itself is a complex jumble of a little bit of everything.  It's got professional sports.  And then it also has the Pirates.  It has multiple institutions of higher learning, like I wrote before, but it is born of the grit and grime of the steel mills.  There is art, music and beauty. There is sadness, poverty and crime.  All of it unfolded before us during the week we were there.  I felt that we had only scratched the surface of a very deep well.

I'll share some of my stories...but, let me leave you tonight with some visuals to acquaint you with the city first.









Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Great Road Trip Gets High

After I had abandoned the idea of a rental along some trendy ocean front location, I just started surfing the web; casting a wide net and open to just about anything until I found a place called Wapiti Woods in Weedville, Pa. (Yes, that's a real place.) They had a perfect little two bedroom cabin available for exactly when I wanted it. I booked Marissa and me for a week. I had no idea what we would do once there, but who really cares, I thought to myself, just look at those beautiful elk!

Therefore, we headed out from Hagerstown on a sunny summer morning, the car loaded with fresh produce from their Farmers Market and groceries from the local store, my sense of calm restored after the hideous Beltway, and headed into north central Pennsylvania toward Route 555, the Elk Trail.

I had grown up around elk, they are magnificent creatures. According to us-parks.com, an adult male is about 600-700 pounds, a female is a dainty 500 pounds, and they stand 4 1/2 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder. If you've never seen one, to give you some perspective, as I fed the largest male in my herd last night, his shoulder came up to roughly my waist, and at his full maturity, he will probably weigh about 200 pounds, maybe 225. They are regal, elegant and not to be trifled with. The elk in the region were introduced there from the Rocky Mountain elk that I saw as a girl. The environs in the Allegheny Mountains are not exactly the same as the rougher, rugged Rockies, but they've done alright for themselves in their adopted home. They look and act as though they belong.  I look back and wonder if somehow I was meant to see that, because it was definitely the first in a long line of dominoes that have fallen that has caused me to make a life altering decision.

Probably I'm reading too much into it, but maybe not...you decide.

Anyway, the actual cabin site is outside of Weedville by a few miles along Route 555, set back off the roadway so it's isolated from the highway, but fairly easy to access from it. There are a cluster of various sized, simple wood cabins that are neat, well maintained and equipped with modern kitchens and a bathroom. Outside each one is a fire pit, and there is an ample supply of logs, split into larger, rougher pieces for outside burning and smaller ones for the iron stove inside. About 20 feet from our cabin, and down a sharp embankment, runs a little river - which one, I have no idea - and across on the other side of the bank, the mountain side raises up, a rail line cut into it. Guests park in a common lot about 100 feet from the cabins and load their belongings into large hand carts to carry into the compound. There is a common building with washing machines, a TV with videos available (there is no television reception there, just like there is no cell phone reception or Internet) and there is a common outdoor sitting area, designed if large groups are renting multiple cabins. During the time we were there, I saw people use the common cabin to do laundry, as did I, but nothing else. The crowd who generally chooses a vacation like this generally spends most of their time in the great outdoors.

The owners are a nice family who live in a very nice home just up the road from where we stayed with their son and their Airedale. The man is who I dealt with, and he learned I was a Steeler fan, so he kept me updated on the contract negotiations with Troy Polamalu that were taking place while we were there, and let me play a bit with his dog, but I could tell he keeps his distance emotionally from the guests to a degree.  I'm sure he doesn't want them showing up at dinner time trying to be best pals. That was fine by us; we weren't looking for a lot of company.

I look back on that time now and realize what we needed, I think, and what we got from it, was downtime. Pure and simple. It was a place to decompress. I remember the look on the proprietor's face when, as I turned the keys back in, he asked me what all we did.  I said not much. He was bemused by that, and it clearly was not the typical answer. There were two whole days where we didn't leave the area. I sat outside and read the entire 6th Harry Potter book. Marissa would sleep. At that point, we had been battling addictions, eating disorders and an increasingly bizarre Mother for more than half a decade. Marissa had almost died on multiple occasions, and she had just turned 18. We were tired. Pure and simple. The quiet of that week was something we hadn't had in years.

The weather was perfect, the first couple of days were rainy and chilly, even at the height of the day, so I kept a small fire burning outside and huddled around it, listening to the sounds of the birds and the chipmunks. I say it was perfect, even on those chilly, rainy days because it was a respite from the unrelenting Texas summer heat. To have to wear a sweater on a July day is beyond words for someone like me. I would probably gripe if I had to do it all the time, but it was a rare and wondrous treat under the circumstances.



I would wander down the river bank and follow it back toward Weedville, where it eventually opens up onto a meadow. Some days, a thick coating of fog would lie over the mountains on either side of me, other days it was crisp and bright. No matter which way I saw it, it was beautiful. Not quite like the Rockies of my youth, and the sweet smell of the grass wasn't as strong as it is in West Virginia, coming in waves on a breeze instead of a pervasive, constant smell, but it definitely worked in a pinch. I felt comfortable there. Sheltered, if you will.

We did venture out most days, taking little day trips here and there, like to the vineyard where I bought a bottle of wine to take back to Mother, promptly breaking it in my car a few miles later when it rolled off the seat. We wandered into Punxsutawney to see the actual famous Phil, who lives at the town library, and have a look around. (Candidly, that place creeps me out a little. That whole ground hog thing, which is that town's life blood from what I can tell, is just sort of weird, and I don’t think it’s enough to sustain it entirely. I saw too many people who looked like they were on the raggedity edge hanging out in the parks to reconcile myself with the quaint little historic fa├žade the town wants you to see. But, they do boast a decent car wash where I finally was able to shampoo the interior of my car and remove the last of the red wine stains and smell!) And, finally, toward the end of the week, we saw what had drawn me there in the first place, the elk that give the area its name.

We packed a picnic dinner and went to an elk viewing station, where several other tourists and a park ranger gathered, the ranger narrating what we were about to see and generally answering questions, trying to look casual and helpful, but I think really there to make sure nobody did anything stupid, like try to a) get close to one and b) shoot one. We were on high ground overlooking a massive meadow about a quarter mile away, watching a modest sized group of elk lazily graze as the sun set on the valley. I thought I was in hog heaven. We finally pulled away and headed back to the cabin as the last of the day's light faded. And that's when I saw the really amazing sight! Elk meandering in people's yards, up along the roadway, just like my deer back home, but five times bigger! I couldn't believe it. How lucky these people were!



I had decided I would talk to Marissa about our plans to move back home on this trip. There was a little ice cream stand just up the road from where we were, so we went up there one afternoon and got a little treat and sat on their patio and talked about it. As we discussed it, I realized for the first time I was conflicted. I was falling in love with this area too. All my life, I had looked back toward the north; now the east was showing me it had everything I had wanted, plus my Steelers too!

And that was all before we hit Pittsburgh.




Friday, July 9, 2010

The Great Road Trip Takes a Detour

The thing one has to have on a major road trip is a sense of patience.  A sense of humor doesn't hurt.  Marissa and I left Virginia Beach on a Friday after a night in an absurdly overpriced hotel on the boardwalk, and a hasty morning getting a little beach time.  I had never been there before, and I haven't been back since, so I have no idea if it is typical or not, but we got stuck in mad traffic funneling into a narrow tunnel to get out of the area.  That ate up a lot of time and caused us to end up on the DC Beltway at rush hour on a Friday night.  A few things about that:  1) I never, ever, ever wanted to drive in Washington, so it goes without saying that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever wanted to be stuck in rush hour traffic on the Beltway;  2) everyone is from somewhere else in Washington, so a bizillion people are trying to leave to get home for the weekend, even if they stay in the city during the week; 3) the metropolitan area of Washington is really big and spread out, and the Beltway loops around all of it, in a 64-mile circle, every inch of which is jammed with a mass of commuters, most of them in a mad rush and on their phone.  Insanity.  Pure and simple.  It's a true testament to how badly I wanted to be a part of the current administration that I applied for a job in the Obama White House after that single Beltway experience.  The idea of having to make that commute on a routine basis makes me shudder.

I have no idea how many of the 64 miles we actually traveled on Interstate 495, surely less than half, but it seemed like 6,400 miles in about the same amount of hours.  I was so tense, if Marissa had reached over and poked me, I probably would have shattered like glass.  My fingers were wrapped so tightly on the steering wheel, I had to peel them off when we finally did stop for the evening.  I was so traumatized by that experience, trying not to get hit by people weaving in and out of bumper-to-bumper traffic, while watching for the appropriate exits, some of which were right lane exits, some of which were left, that I finally pulled us into some quaint looking little town in Maryland that seemed very far away from anything remotely like a city with cars.  And there we stayed for the next two days until I had sufficiently recovered both my nerve and the feeling in my fingers.  That meant we did not make it for the Davidson Family Reunion, the very one I had been trying to get my mom to.

Turns out we landed in Hagerstown, MD.  Hagerstown, some of you history buffs may know, claims to be the home to the Antietam Battlefield (I say it that way because it's actually outside of town and also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg because it's also near Sharpsburg, MD).  Hagerstown also houses an outlet mall, a quaint park where they hold concerts on summer weekend evenings, a fantastic indoor Farmer's Market, and, from what I could gather from eavesdropping on some of the locals, a significant crystal meth problem amongst the teenage population.  It was a pleasant place to wile away a couple of days because we didn't know any of the local teenagers to implode the facade of Pleasant Small Town.  We explored the battlefield, stocked up for the week at the cabin, and washed away the sand from Marissa's week at the beach at the downtown laundromat, which was, as it turns out, not really the best part of town to be in.  (Some of the same naivete that kept life challenging for me as a young person in Austin still haunts me, I'm afraid.)  Whatever we did, I made sure it involved as little driving as possible.

Every where we went, Marissa was being hit on.  Both sort of disturbing and amusing.  But, her new found sobriety coupled with a week at the beach left her with a glow that seemed to draw people to her.  One rather nerdy young man at the bookstore was so intent on getting himself in her good graces, he tried to sidle up to me, as though if I found him charming, I could sell him to my daughter.  Of course, it was also a little disturbing, having total strangers come up to my then 18-year old daughter with that certain gleam in their eye.  That's my baby you're fantasizing about, mister!

Hagerstown holds a soft spot in my heart because it provided me shelter from the maddening traffic of the big city, and because, despite being less than a hundred miles from Baltimore and more than two hundred from Pittsburgh, I saw far more Steeler fans there than I did Raven faithful.  Rock on, Hagerstown.

After recalculating my timeline, we pulled out from our little haven and headed into central Pennsylvania, up into the Allegheny mountains for the next leg of our trip:  a week in a cabin along what is known as the Elk Trail.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Great Road Trip Begins

I have known for a long time that going home to Bozeman was out of the question.  My sleepy little hometown became a hot spot for celebrities some years back and land prices skyrocketed.  The biggest names were Fonda/Turner and Redford, but Glenn Close bought a business on Main Street, and there are others I can't even think of right now who came in and caused the place have a cache' that translated into high, high home prices, but didn't create more jobs.  As a result, normal folk like me could no longer realistically expect to settle back there.  Last time I was there, which was a decade ago now, I met people who were better educated than me, but working two jobs to make ends meet.  One lovely woman I met in the laundry mat when I asked to play with her dog explained that she had a business of her own, but also worked a second job to keep the bills paid.  She was happy to do so because she wanted to be there that badly, but I decided to look elsewhere.  It's a big state.  Famous people couldn't have invaded all of it.

I settled on Missoula in northern Montana.  Home of the University of Montana, it is built right up against the Bitteroot Mountains, is close to its own river (the river made famous by A River Runs Through It - even though the movie was actually filmed along my local river, the Gallatin).  It is, relatively speaking, a metropolitan area; it has its own little symphony, the university and even a mall.  It's close to Glacier National Park, my favorite place on the planet.  I figured we could make it work there.  ("It" being a sense of peace at long last after careers that involved being called "Nazi" and "evil" on a routine basis while trying to handle two teenagers in major crisis.) Even though it smelled bad in Missoula.  I don't know what it is, but every time I went there, I noticed it.  And I'm not the only one who commented on it.  Maybe it's the minerals in the river, I don't really know.  But, I more or less figured I could get over it.  My radar turned to the area around it, and Greg passively went along with it, probably because he figured when the time came he could somehow derail it.  When the summer of 2007 came along, we had discussed that this was our destination in about a year's time.  I had begun looking at real estate, trying to find a house that we could have room for Mother has well as our tribe of dogs.  Marissa would be off to college hopefully and Kelsey was living on her own by then, and we genuinely thought allowing her some space from us would be the best thing for her.

That was the plan anyway.

That was still the plan when Marissa went to Alldredge in West Virginia.  I've written about it before.  I hold that program in the highest esteem, and fully believe it saved Marissa's life, so I believed what they said to me.  The administrators of the program, like many others of its kind, warned us against allowing our children to return to the same environment they were living in before they enrolled.  Many of them went straight to boarding schools, some went to live with other relatives.  One young man I knew of went to a volunteer program in South America.  We weren't as well financed as some of the families, and Marissa was intent on finishing her senior year here at Huntington-Surrey, so she had to come back home at some point.  The question became what to do with her over the empty summer months to keep her from relapsing back into old habits with old friends.  The idea of the Great Road Trip of 2007 was born.

Marissa wanted two things out of it:  time at a beach and time with a boy she had met at Alldredge.  Of course, the fact that he was from Virginia Beach was not lost on me.  So, I looked for a beach house somewhere along the Atlantic coastline.  Well, a couple of things about that:  small third world countries could run for a year on what a beach house rental in some areas go for, and one has to make those arrangements months and months in advance, not a few weeks.  I did find some really cool places, including a dog friendly bed and breakfast near a private beach in Virginia where guests can frolic with their pets.  I definitely will be checking that place out sometime.  So, I tried to coax her west.  To Seattle maybe, or the Grand Canyon on a rail trip.  No go.  Her heart was a flutter, and that drew her to the Atlantic.  Finally, trying to work it like a puzzle, I began to piece a plan together that had a little something for everybody.  The Steelers were playing in the Hall of Fame game that year (against the Saints no less), the Davidson family reunion (Mom was a Davidson) was the latter part of July, which corresponded nicely with training camp, and I was curious about the state that, at the time, I believed to be the canvas for the portrait that was my family.  In other words, I believed my heritage was from the Keystone State, and I wanted to know more about it.

As an aside to this whole long convoluted story, I thought I could pull it off and end up making Mother happy too.  I concocted a plot where Marissa would accompany her on a plane back to Pittsburgh so she could attend the family reunion, while I drove so we would have a car to get around in.  I would pick Marissa up from the beach, and we would drive in for the reunion.  I wanted to somehow get Mother back home one last time.  I knew she didn't have many more opportunities.  What I didn't know was how much her dementia ruled her even then.  Remember how I've mentioned before how angry she became when I sent Marissa to West Virginia?  I was scared enough to take my husband with me when I pitched the idea to Mom.  And with good reason.  That was the conversation that brought out the disclosure about Aunt Merle wanting me to come live with her.  It was also the conversation where she insisted that she be taken by car to the reunion.  No freakin' way I was driving over 1,200 miles with a handicapped woman in tow.  She couldn't take that kind of trip, and I couldn't take her. All the logic in the world; 1) my Forester isn't all that large, taking three people's luggage, plus a scooter for Mother and - oh! - three whole people isn't very logical, 2) it's a grueling drive for someone decades younger, she would be massively uncomfortable, and 3) it's much faster to fly.  But, there was no reasoning with  her.  As I recall it, she nearly tossed us out on our ears and then kept talking about driving herself back east.  Of course, a couple of years later I would understand what drove (pardon the pun) that episode.  But, at the time, I felt as though I had been sucked down into a really awful Twilight Zone episode.  I can't remember exactly how we got her to settle down, but I remember it involved lying to her somehow.

Once it was clear Mother was not a reasonable part of our equation, I completed the puzzle, and it went like this:

Marissa flew out to Virginia Beach and spent a week with the Love-Interest's family.  I drove out to pick her up, where the original plan was we would drive into Washington, Pa. for the family reunion and surprise everyone and get to know our relatives, pick up groceries there and then drive to a cabin I had rented for a week in the Alleghenies, then we would come back to Pittsburgh and spend some time there, go to training camp at some point, then on the Hall of Fame game, and end up in San Antonio for the Rush concert as the Grand Finale.  All good, clean, sober fun.

That was the plan anyway.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Home is Where the Heart Is

So, there's Greg:  doing nothing really.  There's Marissa:  both boldly going where the rest of us aren't willing to go, yet also somewhat fragile.  Then there's me:  I don't know what I am.  I'm just sort of here at the moment.  I don't have a lot of energy or motivation.  The word that would best describe me is expended, but how do you re-energize and move forward?  The only answer I've come up with is:  you've got to have a plan.  You've got to move forward.  Find the answer to the question: What's Next?

The only plan I could really come up is to pull the trigger on what Greg and I talked about for years, which is moving the empty nest away from here.  To provide you some back story on that, remember first that I grew up in Montana.  Big Sky Country.  I loved it there on the one hand and hated it there on the other.  I loved the smell of the air.  I loved the majestic mountains, so close they dominated the vista outside our dining room windows.  I loved the crisp fall, the first snow, the beauty of a winter morning with the sunlight reflecting off the fresh snow in the yard, as though it was littered with millions of tiny diamonds.  I loved being at the cabin my parents owned and feeding the ground squirrels who would crawl up on your lawn chair and eat oatmeal or take popcorn kernels right from your hand.  I loved going to sleep there at night, snuggled under a quilt someone made decades before, listening to the rush of the Gallatin River below us.  I loved the night sky, crowded with thousands of stars, and I loved the summer storms most of all.  The crashing lightning that shook the house and lit it up like daylight.  I was in awe of the shadow of the Northern Lights that I could sometimes see out one of the picture windows of our house in town.  I would sit backwards on the couch, my head propped on my hands and watch that marvel of nature for hours.

But, I was 18.  I wanted to go to concerts, I wanted to shop, I wanted to be somewhere where "excitement" happened and "opportunities" abounded.  Bozeman, when I grew up there, was not the sleepiest of towns, but it was pretty drowsy.  I was in the midst of my disco craze (yes, I admit it - I'm not proud of it, but I was once in love with disco!), so I wanted to dance in clubs.  I wanted to see life outside an insulated town in a sparsely populated state.  I decided it was time to leave.  But, where to go?  My best friend was moving to Austin with plans to attend UT and was encouraging me to move with her.  My other option was Pittsburgh.  I was naive, but I wasn't entirely stupid.  I knew if I went back east, to the heart of Mother's family, there was a much better chance they would keep me on track, and I would be more likely to graduate college.  Yet, we all know which choice I made.

When people ask me how I ended up here, I have a lot of sanitized responses.  They are all true, but they're essentially regurgitating the same rationalizations I used to convince myself what I was doing was more than what it truly was:  the place I thought would anger my parents the most.  What's really comic about that was the fact that in 2007 when I was trying to work with Mother, already severely hampered by dementia, so I could get her back to Pennsylvania for the family reunion, she let it slip that my Aunt Merle had wanted me to come live with her and go to college back there.  Mother was nearly spitting mad as she yelled this out at me, as though we had been in a conspiracy against her.  Fact is, assuming it's true, Mother kept it from me.  That was the first I had heard of it.  But, had it been offered to me at the time, I probably would have opted for it.  I loved Aunt Merle, she had a great sense of life.  I would have felt comfortable with that compromise.  And how different life would have been!  There is no sense dwelling on what didn't happen.  Now is the time to just deal with what did and decide what will.

With that in mind, I moved here.  Most people say what I did was very brave.  Not really.  Brave would have been moving to Seattle, or Los Angeles or New York.  I had my BFF here, and her family was from here.  I followed her - not that she was acting like some evil Svengali - because that was safer than trekking out on my own.  Yet, once here, my little town upbringing came crashing up against the big city (relatively speaking), and I was ill-suited for what I found here.   I have lots of stories about my early days here.  Some are funny, some are not.  Some are sort of scary and funny at the same time.  Suffice it to say I got myself in some uncomfortable situations in the first few months that could have ended up very badly.  Not that I was living the Vida Loca necessarily, but more because I might as well have had "Yokel" stamped on my forehead.  I was an easy mark.  Young, horribly sheltered, far from home and far too trusting initially.

Here I am, a lot of years later.  I survived all that stupid stuff and made a life here.  Some of that life you know from these stories.  I have good friends here, which I was reminded of this past Friday when a group of us gathered to go to the latest Twilight movie.  It's not that I'm so dedicated to that franchise, but I have a lot of fun with my friends on these occasions.  This kind of camaraderie would be hard to replace.  We have a nice house on a nice tract of land, with a herd of animals that rely on me.  As I've mentioned before, it's not a bad place to be positioned as a sports fan.  NFL, NHL and Big 12 sports are within driving distance.  Yet, early on I knew I'd given up more than I gained.  I missed the mountains.  I missed the snow.  I missed the fact that no one had A/C because no one really needed it.  In short, I have what is probably the longest case of homesickness on record for someone not in prison.  I've been trying to figure out a way home without tearing my family apart for a long time.  With the kids on the verge of adulthood, I began to really dream it might happen.

Greg said he was willing.  I was always a little dubious frankly.  He was born and raised here and bleeds Burnt Orange.  He's dug in like a tick.  He would say the right thing, but then hang onto a excuse why we couldn't leave.  Yet, sometimes I sensed something in him when he saw Marissa and I off on our various travels that made me hopeful.  I would see something in his eyes that made me think he knew it was slightly sad that he had only ever lived this one place and wondered what the rest of the world was like.

Then the summer of 2007 came along and Marissa and I took our road trip. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Repairs

So, today was one of the days Amazing Handy Man did not show up.  And Greg is clearly feeling the effects of being housebound all day.  He wanted to go to a movie, but just about the only movies in wide release we haven't seen is The Last Airbender (which I do want to see, but am a little leery of with such horrible reviews) and Eclipse (which I am going to see tomorrow with a lot of women and Marissa's boyfriend - man, is he going to feel awkward).  Frankly, I don't see Greg as wanting to see either of those.  And, I'm tired and a bit dizzy tonight (sort of a problem I've had over the last week or so), so I really didn't want to trek out to the arthouse theater to see Cyrus, which I would only do to placate Greg.  I don't really want to see that one in the theater; I'm more than happy to wait for the Pay-per-View.  So, after a lot of hemming and hawing and awkward moments, we finally agreed not to go out, but I could tell he was disappointed.  Now he's watching some documentary on Johnny Cash.  He settled on it after channel surfing for what seemed like forever.  That's not really weird, I guess, but he doesn't listen to his music and never has shown any particular interest in the man.  At least he's stopped on one channel!

All night I've felt awkward and uncomfortable about picking up one of the dozen books I'm part of the way through, or surfing the computer.  I felt half obligated to amuse him.  Finally, he released me from that responsibility, and I know he didn't want me to feel uncomfortable.  But, the whole evening has put an emphasis on how doing nothing has not been the balm Greg thought or hoped it would be.  Of course, he could volunteer for things, and there are certainly things around the house he wouldn't need an Amazing Handy Man to achieve, but while he's highly motivated on the days AHM is around, he's the opposite on the days when he's not.  It's like AHM winds him up, and then takes the key with him when he goes.

This is how I see it.  I don't know if I'm right, but I would pretty much bet the farm on it.  However, I'm not sure how to talk to him about it.  When I ask how he's doing or how he's feeling, I get a dismissive "fine" or a harumph.  Fine.  Don't talk to me.  But talk to someone.  I don't think he has anyone to talk to, though.  He has a lot of friends.  Some of them are deep, abiding, long term friendships with men who would walk through fire for him and vice-versa.  But, talking about their feelings is somehow worse than walking through fire, so they don't go there.  They would probably sit and listen to Greg if he wanted to open up, although I doubt they would be particularly comfortable doing it, but Greg, I'd bet another farm and someone's ranch, wouldn't do it.

We don't go to grief counseling any longer.  It's one of the financial pull backs we had to do when he quit work (although the movie tickets we've bought since have probably about evened it out!).  But, even when we did go, I always ended up dominating the conversation.  As a result, sometimes I wouldn't go so he could have some time just for his needs.  I have no idea how that went, he wouldn't talk about it!  People encouraged us to go to support groups.  There is one that meets not too far north of here, but he's always resisted.  I've offered to go too.  I've offered not to go.  He just won't do it.  So it just festers.  All that grief, all that anger, all that horrible sense of loss he just can't reconcile.

And, I'd bet the farm, the ranch and the White House that he is not alone.  I would imagine, as men go, he is very typical.  One of the other initial appeals for me when I met young Greg was that he was emotionally open compared to other men I'd dated.  He hasn't changed that much, surely.  I think it's more likely that modern American society, with all the social upheaval that's taken place in the last half century, still expects the male of the species to be stoic and  above the fray of emotional outpourings.  Emoting is a feminine trait and a sign of weakness.  So, he may be more open than most, but that's not all that open at all compared to the likes of me - the "weaker" sex.  The problem is, they still feel what my gender feels.  They still feel pain and joy.  So, ladies, how do we get them to the point where they can feel their emotions without shame, express them, and work through them?

At some point, my savings is going to be gone, I may or may not have a house capable of putting on the market, depending upon the schedule AHM feels like keeping, and the thing that needs repaired the most, my husband's broken heart, may still be totally shattered.  It's enough to make one dizzy.