Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Would the Chief Do?

Today is Day 108 of the NFL Lockout.
Art Rooney, Sr.
I am a typical middle American forging ahead in a down economy.  I sit at this computer a few times a month and try to juggle which bill is going to get paid now, which has to wait, and I nurse a sore jaw while I do it because I really need to go to the dentist, but it's hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars for the work I need done and time away from the job, and I really can't spare either (although I started this during work hours because I couldn't log in - working from home is a truly interesting double-edged sword that deserves its own post), and I know this predicament is of my own making because I voluntarily drug us across country at a time when gas nearly tipped the $4.00/gallon mark, so I just try to hang on and hope the house back in Texas sells soon, and take some comfort in the fact that in modest little houses all over the area, many men and women are doing the same juggling act for different reasons and, all things considered, we've done pretty well.  I've still managed to start squirreling away for Christmas, we've gone to a few baseball games (the advantage to living in a market with a perennially crappy team is the cheap seats are $11), and we've got a full pantry.  Still, it's tight.  Just like it is in all those other little red brick houses where the same worries keep my neighbors awake at night.  Yet, on Saturday morning at 10 AM most of them were on their computers or on the phone doing the exact same thing I was doing:  trying to nab up individual game day tickets to the Steelers home games for 2011.  Not an expert at working the system, I made some rookie mistakes that ended up costing me, and I only got one game, and it's a lousy one at the tail end of the season when it might not matter, and starters might be sitting to ready themselves for the playoffs, and it's almost certain to be cold, maybe miserably so.  But, I took it and took it gladly.  Happy to get box office prices for a home game, I didn't hesitate.  I don't feel guilty either.  Maybe I will  in the next few days when the next round of bills is due, but for now I'm just excited I got any tickets at all, reasoning that I didn't come all this way to NOT go see my beloved team play in person.

But, I'm pretty nervous.  What if there is no season?  What if the game I just shelled out precious money for never gets played?  The rumors, a friend was quick to point out, is that owners won't refund fans for tickets to games that might not get played.  For a lot of the fans in Fox Chapel or Sewickley maybe that's just a chance they have to take and, although aggravating, is just another investment loss, and they'll move on.  For others of the Steeler Nation, just getting to a real game is a much bigger deal that involves real sacrifice.  They still scrambled to their phones and computers, just like I did, to nab up those precious limited individual game tickets, but if they just flushed money down the proverbial toilet with me, they will really feel it.  The damage will be real.  The anger will be real.  And it should be.

Tour of Heinz Field
You can't go anywhere in this town, church included, without seeing people decked out in Steeler gear. They're good hockey fans, one of the largest consistent television audiences south of Canada, and holding a 200+ home sell out run.  They even love their Pirates, doggedly determined to stand by their team, assuming that at some point there will be light at end of what has been a very long, dark tunnel and their loyalty will be rewarded.  But, above all else, this is a Steel City.  For a lot of reasons, the tough blue collar mystique of the town is personified by the tough, smash-mouth Steelers in a way the other teams cannot match.  So, at the Pirates games there are as many Polamalu jerseys being sported around as anything else.  Go to the zoo and take a poll:  more than half the patrons are wearing Pittsburgh sports gear and 70% of that is Steelers wear (I've done a little unscientific monitoring).  The Super Bowl, as I've noted before, was treated like a national holiday here, houses decked in Steeler Black and Gold.  Businesses closed early, others warned their staff not to dare call in sick.  Some probably did anyway.  When they lost, it was like a day of mourning had been pronounced.  This is all stuff I've written about before.  If you've known me for a while, you know a little about it anyway just by osmosis probably.  But, as I've watched all that merchandise wandering around, knowing full well what each item costs (because I've got plenty of it myself), I think about all the reasons we're loyal to our respective teams and love our football, but how we've paid for that loyalty.  It didn't come to us freely.  We've bought the jerseys, hats and t-shirts, gone to the games, patronized the sports bars, decorated our cars and homes, and even branded ourselves for life with tattoos.  We watch the ads that provide the revenue to the owners.  We buy their products as a result.  I may bleed black and gold, but there's some green seeping out of there as well.  As a result. I've been thinking about who the real losers in the lockout really are.  The fans.

I'm not the first to think about the economic impact of the game.  Months ago, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran the numbers and came up with $123.2 million in this area alone.  Another site estimated $160 million on average per NFL city.  That's just regular season.  What about poor little Latrobe and all the revenue that small town receives from training camp?  The economic impact is immeasurable.  To everyone but the owners.  NFLLockout.com doesn't paint a pretty picture of the owners, who it claims will make out like bandits if the season doesn't happen.  The players have done a better job of protecting their image, I personally think, during the ordeal.  But, I have spared a little ire for them as well.  The top players live pretty well off all our patronage.  They need to remember that.  It's hard to sit in my tiny little house with my throbbing jaw and feel all too sorry for Terrell Owens.  But, I do hope they hold fast to their goal of protecting the rights of former players who have sacrificed their long-term health to entertain me every Sunday.  I respect that part of this whole jumbled mess, even if sometimes wondering how much that aspect of the player's position is window dressing in the larger fight to retain their revenue sharing.

200th Military Police Command
I don't know.  Many don't.  It's big business at its biggest and ugliest.  Lost in the mighty clash of these titans are people like me and Marissa who used football as the three hours a week the burden of our sorrow was lifted from our shoulders.  It's the guy at the end of the street with the Iraqi war veteran plates and the bumper sticker that reads "My other vehicle is a Blackhawk".  He's not a Steeler fan actually, one of his other bumper stickers professes his loyalty to some inferior franchise, but he served our country, doesn't he deserve to relax now and enjoy the game?  What about the family that lives just a few houses down from him with the star banner hanging in their front door, indicating they have a family member in active service?  Haven't they earned the right to forget about the worries they must have constantly?  What about their son or daughter who tucked a Terrible Towel away in their belongings and carries it with them in Afghanistan?  Those are the more intangible losses to calculate.  There have to be millions of stories like mine.  I want football, but I need it as well.  It's important enough to me that it factored heavily into moving all the way here.  I wish I had the millions of stories to lay at the feet of the owners and could force them to remember us "little folk".  It's not all about the money.  But without us, ultimately, there is no money.

I tend to think The Chief (Art Rooney, Sr.) knew that and must be looking down on all of these proceedings, maybe a celestial cigar in hand, and shaking his head sadly.

I never wanted 18 games.  Right now, I'm just praying I get 16.  Please don't forget about us.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dumbass Jackass

Marissa came upstairs late Tuesday night to give me the news that one of the Jackass actors, Ryan Dunn, had been killed in a car crash.  Sticky with sweat from the baseball game we had just come home from and about to slink back into my office to get back to work on a report that was due the next morning, I didn't give it much thought really after she told me it wasn't related to the show/movies - he was just driving too fast.  But the next morning, there was a sizable obituary for the Pennsylvania resident that I sat down to read, and I realized he had someone in the car with him, and I got to thinking it over...and then I got mad.

They say you shouldn't speak ill of the dead, and I do feel badly for him.  I could not help but imagine what their last moment's were like, and what must have been going through their minds.  I understand the trauma to the bodies was pretty severe, so I hope they didn't feel much, that it was all too quick for real pain to set in.  And I definitely am not in agreement with the fringe Christian group that has come out with plans to protest his funeral and proclaimed that he is in hell.  But, the longer trauma and the never-ending pain now begins for his family, and that sort of pisses me off.

Here's the thing:  I've thought a lot over the last two years about the responsibility we have to one another as human-beings, particularly and most especially to our families.  At 34, Mr. Dunn was no child, but he was a son, he was a brother, and he was a friend.  I don't know if he was a husband or father, I tend to think not or the column would have said, and who could have tolerated raising a child with a daredevil like that?  But, regardless:  he was not isolated in the world.  He flirted with danger as a career.  I am sure that is a high like no other to a Type A personality.  And I am sure he rationalized that he was an adult, he wasn't hurting anybody else (besides other consenting adults who were more extreme), and he could therefore do as he pleased.  But, is that true?  Ask his family today if he was the only one hurt.  Hell, ask the family of the person riding with him.  And for what?  What possible purpose did his death serve?  (Actually, I hope it scared some crazy-ass teenager who has seen the movies a few too many times into not following in his footsteps...but who knows.)

I'm familiar with the show.  It was in its hey-day when my kids were in the target demographic.  I didn't like that they watched it, but unlike a lot of parents, I picked certain battles to fight and conceded to some others.  What I did believe is that I needed to understand the culture to pick which battles to wage.  So I would listen to the music, watch the shows, read some of the magazines and look at the websites, figure out what they were likely to sneak around to listen/watch anyway and then cast my judgments.  That's why I have Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy in my iPod - sometimes I found I liked what was popular.  I was a teenager once with difficult parental relationships - I understood the lyrics.  I was sort of fascinated that they were now directed at people like me.  Sometimes, however, what I saw and heard just made me despair for the human race (The Real World, Korn and The Spice Girls as examples).  Jackass falls into that latter group.  What purpose that show served is considerably beyond my ability to grasp.   I know young men like to pull stunts.   This is as old as time.  My dad had some stories that were actually somewhat shocking (the fact that he would tell me about them is probably more shocking still, but I was a girl, so I think he thought I was immune to the setting-things-on-fire phase and was a safe audience).  So maybe you could argue that watching other idiots do it on TV is safer than trying it yourself.  My guess: not really.  Just fuel to the adolescent fire.  I wonder how many amateur versions of Jackass-ian stunts have pimply faced boys aged 14-17 pulled without benefit of fire trucks and ambulances standing by?

But the actors survived it all and to the tune of considerable bank.  Seems like they would have wizened with age and slowed it down.  Apparently not so.  And two men are now dead as a result of that mindset.  I think, at 34,  Dunn was old enough to understand that free will is a good thing, a thing to be protected, but you have to temper that against being a member of society and realizing how your actions impact others.  Have the freewill not to be a total idiot, in other words.  He owed it to the parents who coddled him through chicken pox and his first broken heart, who paid for his skateboard shoes and tolerated what I am sure was a nightmare teenager.   I don't know that much about the man personally, but I'm sure I could go on.  He definitely owed it to whoever else might have been in his path that fateful night.

I've been on both sides of the fence here.  I've felt the yawning, black hole of loss that having a child die before you brings.  I've know the feeling, as a result, of not really caring much what happens to you.  But, I had to buck it up because I have responsibilities to my loved ones.  And, honestly, there were some days that it was the only reason I did.  This guy, which I hope is not truly hell-bound, did play cards with the devil all the time it seems.  Sometimes the devil wins the hand.   How stupid do you have to be not to realize that?  And, if he simply didn't care, then shame on him for shirking the love of his friends and family.  And maybe shame on them for not understanding what might have been underlying all that stupid stunt stuff.  Whatever it is, two people are dead today.  Two families are devastated.  What a waste.

If you can save someone from pain, you should do it in my humble opinion.   And pain comes in all manner of packages.  If you're reading this and you have a dare devil streak in you, just remember that it's not all about you.  Just walking out the door in the morning is a risk, so I'm not saying to hide in fear.  Allow yourself to experience life and have some adventures, just temper them with common sense.  Just please don't be a Jackass.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Dear Kelsey Part III

I write to you today, the second anniversary of your death, in a very different place than I did last year.  Both emotionally and physically.  Emotionally, I'm a jumble actually.  Hard to put it into words.  Words that I think you would have understood while you were alive anyway.  Or maybe accepted is the better word.  I've often wondered if, assuming there is an afterlife, we gain more insight, shed from our outer shells and the concerns of the world.  If so, then maybe I can say these things to you, and you will know what I mean without fearing your judgment.  You were hard to talk to a lot of the time, just to be honest.  The Beast did most of your talking.  I wish I had been better at reaching the girl inside.

But, anyway, that's not really how I meant to start off.  I imagine you are aware that we now are all together in Pittsburgh.  We owe this move to all the events of the last couple of years.  And the irony of that strikes me a lot.  But, the house you left was haunted for us.  No one wanted to go upstairs at all.  Even Tum-Tum rarely went there after a while.  All those horrible memories just hang around it, no matter what we did to change up the house.  That's too bad too, because I loved that house.  I looked out into our new backyard last night and remembered how the full moon used to shine onto the pool at night, bathing it in a kind of werelight that I just loved.  Now someone else will see that.

They can have it though because the whole city just carried the weight of the last several years for us.  We would be near places you had lived or worked, or places where we had fought the battle of all the demons inside you, and that is all we could think about.  There was just very little of the city that was not corrupted for us.  I hate that those are the memories we have.  Not so much the memories of Austin, but the memories of you as a young adult.  That there never was a time you could enjoy just being old enough to do things on your own and young enough to enjoy them in the carefree way only budding adults can do.

So, we came here.  The native city of one of the people you held most dear.  I see her often, you know. I love her as you did.  She is truly one of the best people I have ever met.  Marissa loves her too.  And I wonder sometimes what you do or would think of all of that.  Would it make you mad or jealous, or is all of that behind you now?  You know, you had some wonderful friends.  Some of them keep in touch with us.  I wish you had known how much they loved you.  I think The Beast clouded all of that for you.  It kept you from accepting the fact that people loved you because you didn't love yourself.

But anyway, this is an awesome city, regardless of why we are here.  I mean, it has its ugly side like anyplace.  But none of that matters as much as what is right and wonderful about it.  You would love it here, I've said so before.  So, I waffle between allowing myself to be happy because I am where I think I was always meant to be, and guilty because of what it took, what price you paid, to make it happen.

Hard to tell what your dad will think long term of living in the Iron City.  This is so vastly different from Austin, it really is like living in another country.  For me, I'm almost to the point where I feel totally at home here however.  I think if I can just find my way around a little better it would seal the deal, but gradually that is coming.   But, for your Dad, I worry.  Now he's walked away from the only things he's known all his life, and no matter where he is, you're still not there.  I think that's the big difference between us right now.  I'm looking for something, he's just running from something.  I think I said this last year, I wish you could whisper in his ear and tell him to let his sorrow go just a little.  He does not feel your presence or accept that your suffering is over.  He does not believe you are free and in a better place, so that keeps him imprisoned in his sorrow.  It's hard to watch.  It's frightening.  Even without that weight, I'm not sure what he would think of living with all these Yankees, but for right now, I'm not sure it matters to him where he is, he is just so unhappy without you.

For my part, I don't know what to think about where you are.  What happens to us when we die?  Can you tell me?  But would I really want you to?  What if the answer is horrific?  Maybe your dad has the right idea.  Maybe believing that it is just a nothingness is the kindest thing.  These are the weird things I think about these days.

And I think about whether you can forgive me.  I imagine every parent of a lost child wonders that.  But, I know we made so many mistakes as parents.  It's a wonder we did anything right at all.  I think we tried, but it took a while.  I've been thinking lately that it's time for me to start trying to forgive myself.  Allow myself some happiness here.  But, then I think that's not right.  I can't do that until you forgive me first, and how can you?  Would I be able to know if you did?

Just selfishly, these aren't the things I wanted to think about now.  I wanted to be fretting over how I was going to pay for your wedding, and if wearing black and gold as the mother of the bride is too tacky (just kidding, I would do lavender), and becoming a grandmother for the first time.  I hope that all my friends who do wrestle with all of these things know how lucky they actually are.  But, it's not my loss I really worry about.  I don't need to be a grandmother to feel whole.  I need to have both my daughters to feel whole.  But it's the loss of your potential - the amazing person I know you were somewhere beneath the disease - that keeps me weighted down personally.  How do I get past that?

At the end of the second year, things are more muted - I can't think of another word for it - than they were in the past, but not really any more clear or less painful.  I miss you.  I don't miss the disease.  Maybe above all else, I wonder if that's what you can forgive me for.  The fact that I lost sight of you and It as separate things sometimes.  Who were you?  Did I even ever really know?  I hate, just absolutely hate, that I can never find out.

All we ever want for our children is their contentment.  I pray that you are content.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Breaking the Speed Barrier (or How Darryl Hannah Caused a Crisis)

Roxanne, Columbia Pictures, 1987
Okay, in order to tell this story, I have to confess something first.  I found that I do better at my job with some chatter in the background.  Without it, I found my mind would wander, or I'd feel tired pretty quickly (tedium can wear you out).  Before Marissa was here to have some real human interaction, I also felt terribly isolated at times.  I listen to my iPod, but it is too in-the-background to be much help sometimes.  So, I experimented a little and found that if I play something spoken in the background, I can feel completely in the zone, and can hunker down and get a lot more done.  Marissa said there are actually studies to back up what I'm experiencing.  That because I have traditionally been in a chaotic, noisy work environment, my brain seeks that as the best setting for me to concentrate when I'm working.  So, I don't feel like I'm cheating, I'm just trying to get the job done and not fall asleep at my desk in the process.  To work, though, it has to fit certain criteria.  Audio books won't do:  I'd be paying attention to the story and not the work.  On Demand won't either; I'd be watching the television because it'd be something I hadn't seen, not using it as white noise.  No, it has to be something I've seen so many times, it's just comfortable buzzing somewhere in the back of my brain.  Law and Order is best.  Not only have I seen every episode a hundred times (an exaggeration, but probably not by that much) so I don't have to even glance up at it, it is actually people working.  The last half, the "Order" part of the show, is really ideal.  I almost feel as though Jack McCoy is my office mate.  But, the problem is:  it's not on 24/7.  It's on a lot, and I have some DVD's, but I have to fill in the gaps with some other things.  Action flicks are completely counter-productive.  I put in Gladiator one rainy Saturday when I needed to finish a report.  I was still working on it on Sunday.  All that glorious carnage, one just cannot look away.  So, court room dramas and romcom's are the next best because they are talk-centric, there may be some quirky visuals like the ones sprinkled throughout 500 Days of Summer, but that's not really the norm.  Problem is, romance is not really my genre, so my supply is highly limited and generally dated.  All of this is a really long way around to tell you why I had Roxanne playing the other day.  And, the reason I had to confess to watching it is because it ushered in what I would call the genuine beginning to my mid-life crisis.  They say 50 is the new 40, well then, bring it on.  Where's my sports car with the convertible top?  I'm ready to be in full freak out mode.  I know I've flirted with it before, but this is the real deal.  Everything before it was false labor, now I'm birthing a full blown "OMG!" crisis.

The reason I like that movie well enough to add it to my collection are all the reasons it triggered me into such a state.  It was filmed in British Columbia, which never failed to make me completely homesick when I would watch it.  If anything, the little town of Nelson is more picture perfect than my native neck of the woods, and the filmmakers showcase it well.  And then the carefree lifestyle of all the main characters - how they would meet up for coffee and lunches during the day and at the local hot spot at night, and their largest worry was catching the eye of someone interesting - always reminded me of the all-too-brief summer between high school and college when life had been much like that and how much fun it had been.  And then there is Darryl Hannah, who is actually a few months younger than I am in real life.  I blame it all on her.  I wondered what became of her and looked her up.  I found a recent photo and thought to myself, "Man, she looks old."  (My apologies to Ms. Hannah - keep in mind, it was just my reaction, not necessarily a point of fact.  So don't sue me or anything.)  And that's when it hit me.  If a beautiful woman like that who has undoubtedly taken care to have a little nip here and tuck there can engender a reaction like that, then what do people see when they look at me?  I shudder to think.

But, really, it was the realization that she and I were 26 when that movie came out.  Life was in full swing, most of it ahead of us.   The promise it held was boundless.  The days were full and long. I remember the movie being released.  I remember Steve Martin promoting it.  How is it that it's that old now?  How is that I am?  Where did all the time go?  And if it went that fast, how quickly will the rest of my days fly?

That's probably normal stuff everyone wrestles with on some level at some point.  My problem has always been that I ruminate a little more on certain things than most before I come to the realization that others reach more efficiently than I do:  why worry over what you can't control?  Exercise, eat right, and just live life while you can.  The days move forward for everyone, and there's no stopping it.  But, first I have to try and get my brain to catch up with my body.  Because there is still the part of me thinking I am the person I was when I would watch that movie all those years ago.  I have a mental image of me with good teeth, healthy skin, flat tummy, perky (if small) breasts and healthy hair, whose body is not her enemy yet, and I have a hard time letting that go and looking in the mirror to see what is real and embracing it.  I could still go to law school if I wanted to in my mind, then I have to stop and realize that's not all that practical or likely at this point.  The choices I made along the line have shut certain doors and made others hard to pry open.

But, I think, for those of us who have lost a child, the midlife freak out takes on another level.  It's wrestling with all those minute little choices made along the way that brought your child to the juncture she was at.  If I had stayed at school in Montana, say, or come here to Pitt like I once considered, how different would life had been?  And even if I hadn't done either of those things, but had not worked so much or enrolled Kelsey in soccer instead of figure skating (that's Greg's big one), would she have had a better shot at a healthy life?  All those little what-ifs dance around your head, taunting you and reminding you that you'll spend your golden years living with regret.  It's stupid, you know, because you can't change the past.  It does absolutely no good to anyone, but I am willing to bet quite a bit most of us do it, at least for a while.  It's like looking at the accident on the other side of the highway, you know you're not supposed to, but you just can't stop yourself.

It is just somehow incredulous that, in what seems like a blink of an eye, I went from someone whose biggest worry is flirting with the cute boy over across the room to sitting in an upstairs room in a tiny little house in Pennsylvania where I fled with my tiny little family to escape the ghost of all those bad choices that my daughter paid the ultimate price for.  Time not only flies, it crashes speed barriers.  Maybe if I'd had a little more of it to consider my options and the consequences of my choices, things would be different, but I really don't have time to think about that right now, it's back to work for me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Stephen King Character Would You Be?

I became a Stephen King fan somewhat reluctantly.  My best friend in high school more or less forced him on me.  She chided, cajoled, insisted, and all but tied me up and jammed the book down my throat, but she finally got me to read Salem's Lot.  I resisted so strongly because I have always been a little reluctant to be told what to do.  I guess that's why she's now a lawyer, and I once ran the daily operations of a company.  We are both stubborn, and she is persuasive.  Even back then, because she prevailed, and I read it, but not without a fight.  But, not only did I read it, I did it in the way she told me to:  which is to read it at night in bed with just the bedside lamp on.  I did this with some initial disdain.  The whole reason I hadn't read the book in the first place was because I was sure I was so jaded by a lifetime (all 16 years or whatever) of reading and watching horror stories that I figured nothing on the written page could scare me.  She was adamant that this could, particularly if I followed her instructions about the ambience while I read. (She did the same thing with Elton John by the way - not convince me that he was scary, but force me to listen to him until I finally acquired a taste for him.)

I confess.  She was completely right.  On both the book and Elton John.  By the time I finished the book - more like devoured it in marathon reading sessions - I was so completely terrified, I was keeping a crucifix hanging over my bed and refusing to even turn in the direction of either of my two windows, the curtains drawn very tight.  Forget about moving out of the dead center of the double sized bed to go to the bathroom, I'd wet myself first.  And, with that thrilling experience, I was hooked.  My freshman year in college The Stand was published.  I remember reading it IN French class.  It came out when Kelsey was an infant, and I was still in that you-should-be-sleeping-every-chance-you-get phase.  Instead I would stay up to read until 3:00 in the morning, then get up and have to be at work at 8:00.  Being a Stephen King fan was like being an addict.   Long before the Internet and text alerts and all the other savvy media tools used now, I knew when the next book was due to be published, and I was there at the bookstore On.That.Day.

Then Marissa came along, and then my job with my company, and even an addict couldn't get her fix as easily.  I remember reading Thinner on the plane on the way to see my dad only days before he died, grateful for the few hours of peace and quiet to be able to devour it, if you will, no matter the severity of the reason.  I finally got to the point where I couldn't keep up with his prolific writing, but I wasn't all that concerned about it after all those years.  Because, after a long, full career, the master tended to use some of the same basic parameters multiple times.  He was not a one trick pony, but he did fall back to some of the same plot devices often.  Among them, a group of New Englanders would find themselves somehow isolated and naturally split like an atom into two groups:  good v. evil while they battle to survive.  So, I would tell myself, "Been there, read that."  So, I would wait and get the books on the bargain shelf and not be in a particular hurry to read them.  As a result, I have a backlog.  Yet, every so often, I'll pick one up and immediately get sucked back in: losing sleep, working a hour or two less every day (no worries co-workers:  still putting in full-plus days), and sneaking an often over sized book in everywhere I go and reading every spare minute I have.

There is nothing particularly new about the premises he uses.  As a matter of fact, many are age old with a supernatural twist.  And even the twists are the old scary standbys:  aliens, vampires, government experiments gone awry.  But, Stephen King's genius is making you care, one way or the other, for each and every one of those characters.  None of them are one dimensional, good guys or bad guys.  The good guys have inner demons they are fighting.  Bad guys have sensitive sides and flashes of compassion or are sympathetic for some reason.  And, no matter when they meet their end, within the first 20 pages or the last, you will know something about them and you will not be reading about strangers.  These will be characters who resemble people you might know, whether you're actually in New England, or Colorado, Montana, Texas or maybe even France.  Maybe you see yourself in one of them.  It almost doesn't matter what supernatural force they're fighting, the reason you turn the pages just as fast as you can is to see what happens to people you've come to have feelings for, forgetting that they don't actually exist.  This is what has made him my favorite author - and unashamedly so.  It may be somewhat low brow, to count a contemporary best selling author as your favorite writer above all.  People who know me a little might me to at least expect me to reach for J.R.R. Tolkien, but nope, it's Stephen King.  He's laid a few eggs over the years,  but who hasn't?

So, what has that got to do with the price of rice in China, as my mother might ask?  Well, as it happens, I'm currently reading Under the Dome, and need to hurry and finish this post and then my work so I can get back to it.  I am once more totally sucked into the little fictional world he has created, hoping he won't kill off the hero, Dale Barbara, but worrying that he eventually will (and if you know, don't you dare tell me...), and I got to thinking the other night, "I'm the kind of person who would end up in a Stephen King book.  I have a complicated psyche.  I like to think I'm a good person, but I've mortally pissed off two long-term relationships (Greg's oldest sister and his best friend), my marriage is strained through the veil of grief, and I have my fair share of skeletons in my closet.  Maybe I'm not a shoe-in to be one of the good guys."  Not like I murdered someone with an axe, mind you, but suffice it to say, I highly doubt I would ever survive the vetting process if I wanted to run for public office.   Of course, I say that and then think about all the recent sex scandals, so maybe I would be considered squeaky clean by modern political standards.  Not sure that's all that much of an accomplishment though:  I'm at least not as scummy as John Edwards.  Bully for me.

So, what side of the good v. evil fence would I truly stride?  In my early Stephen King-reading days, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be in Boulder, not Las Vegas (that's a Stand reference to anyone not fortunate enough to have read it), but now I'm just not so sure.  Life is complicated.  I am complicated.  Things are rarely quite as neat and clear as they seem when you're reading about them on the clean, white pages of a book in the comfort of your living room sofa.  In a real time event, would you see things clearly enough to choose the righteous side?  Would you even want to, or would it be more fun to be the rowdy bad boys in town?  These are fun things to think about.  Less fun to ever be in a situation to actually have to make a choice like that - like people have to in times of war, for instance.  But, for now, have a little fun with it:  what kind of Stephen King character would you be?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unsettling In

I would imagine some are curious as to how it's going a week into Greg and Marissa's arrival to their brave new world.  Hard to say really.  How's that for an answer?  As I write this (Sunday morning), Marissa is sleeping in on her birthday morning.  When she's up and ready, we will begin a new birthday tradition and take her to Pamela's (yum yum yum) for breakfast, but then - not knowing the city beyond the surface touristy stuff, it was hard for her to say how she would like to spend her day.  I feel for her, stuck her with her parents with no friends here yet.  At 12, that might be cool, to be doted on by the elders and taken to do whatever you want.  At 22, probably not so much.  Yet, she is the picture of grace and patience with her situation, and by this time next year, I presume her social circle will have widened past these tiny four walls, and we will all know the city on a deeper level.

As for Greg, it's hard to judge if the heaviness he carries is a result of his overwhelming grief or his discomfiture about finding himself in such unfamiliar territory, or both.  My money is on both.  But, it's just a guess because, like a lot of males, he's not exactly forthcoming.  I think that's in part because he really doesn't know.  He just feels out of place, or that's what I believe.  And, as it turns out, navigating for him isn't all that much easier than it is for me, and that has to add to his feeling of southern fish floundering outside northern waters.

I've worried that he feels lost even within his own home.  I set the house up and know where things are, he's had to constantly ask me where this or that is and how things work.  In four months here by myself certain routines developed that are new to him.  I developed a love for pierogies and potato pancakes, and he'd prefer southern barbecue.  He's worried how he'll do in the winter - both commuting and just surviving the cold.  And, lost in a confusing city, knowing only Marissa and me, he doesn't have the activity that he's had to keep his mind off the things that brought us here in the first place.  My worry is that he's dwelling on it more now than before even when the ghost of the Beast was so close.  Maybe it's just fated to follow us around always.  Maybe we'll never be rid of it.  But, I still think we have to try.

It doesn't help that he's met at least two people in passing who have told him flat out he'll absolutely hate it here (one Texas native and one Jersey boy).  Again, that Rust Belt bluntness (that the two men clearly adopted about Pittsburgh even if they rejected everything else).  Takes some getting used to.

I know it's only been a week, so these are all just initial impressions.  I also remember going through some of these same emotions myself.  I still have them really, as much as I completely love it here.  Oddly, the house still almost feels like a rental.  It's my residence, I have my things, but I feel like it doesn't belong to me.  At first, I tried to tell myself that's because I was so worried about not doing anything that would hurt the resale value, this being the way station to a - hopefully - larger place later on (even just a larger kitchen with a full size dishwasher - that would so be heaven).  But, I think it's because I spent so many years at our other house, and this house has spent so many years housing other people, that we're still feeling one another out.  It hasn't fully accepted me as its owner, and I haven't fully taken ownership.  If that makes any sense at all.  But, for Greg, I think these feelings are more pronounced.

And, finally, in our time apart, I think we began to take divergent paths to process our grief.  It took me a day or two to figure that out, but my evidence for it is a book he read recently by the author of Helter Skelter that, in short, states that no one can prove the existence of God.  He was very impressed by this book and wants me to read it.  My own reaction surprised me.  I look at it almost like it's coated in acid. I want nothing to do with it.  Finally, it occurred to me:  he's looking for answers to the question if there is a God why did He take our child from us.  I'm hanging onto the belief that she's in a better place somewhere and her suffering is not only at an end, but she has peace now.  If you take that from me, well...let me just say, I need that belief.  In the end analysis, that's why they call it faith.  I really don't need a book to tell me there's no proof.  If there was, then we'd all worship - or protest against in some cases - one God anyway, wouldn't we?

That doesn't make Greg wrong.  Doesn't make me wrong either.  We're just trying to find our way through this unbelievable mess we find ourselves in anyway we know how.  Grief is such an individualized thing, as I've said many times before, and we have not been around one another for a while to see what it has done to each of us respectively.  This is the journey of a lifetime, let me tell you.  No one who is on it remains unchanged.  We have to learn who we are again, I guess.  That's an additional challenge to learning where you are and how to find the good movie theatre (it's on the south side, by the way - I've been there, I just can't find it again).

He actually leaves at the end of the week to go back to Austin and pick up his car, still at the old house. I wonder if, in the back of his mind the idea, even just fleetingly, of just staying once he got back there entered his mind.  If it did, it's gone now, but this isn't home for him yet.  It's just a place that's new and strange.  I hope he gives Pittsburgh a fair shot.  It takes some time, when you've tossed your entire life up in the air, to have it settle back down into place again.  I think that is true no matter when, why or where you move to.  I think for our circumstances, it is just a little further of a toss so the landing is a bit more of a jolt.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Love Story

Late in the day on Kelsey's birthday, we were finally united again as a family. Now, in the final round of chaos, Marissa and Greg work to settle in with the last of our things - mainly Marissa's things - while I work. There has been little time to worry over sightseeing and acclimating themselves to the very different world they now suddenly find themselves. Greg goes with Cheyenne and me on our daily walks, now deferred to the evenings in deference to the sudden heat that descended upon the area briefly, and in that way he gets to see the neighborhood a block or two at a time, but there is a whole city out there they have yet to experience. Like me when I first got here, my husband seems to be taking it in baby steps. Walking around the block at first, then a jaunt to the store, then a slightly longer jaunt to the Lowe's on McKnight Road (I practically lived on McKnight Road when I first got here - the commercial center of the north side where most of the mega-stores that we all know are, so there was a familiarity to it). Eventually maybe he'll want to stretch his wings a little and try something more adventurous, but for now, that seems to be where his limits are. Much like me at first. He'll move to the next step faster than I did, of that I have little doubt. For one thing, there are not winter roads to intimidate the Southern driver. For another, he's just bolder in that regard. But for now, he seems vaguely uneasy about it all, this very different world, and he stays in somewhat familiar territory. This morning, as we walked Cheyenne around the block as the day dawned around us, he asked me how long it took before I felt like I belonged. I thought about that and then decided I'm not entirely sure I feel that way still. I drawl like a Texan and can't find my way around to save my life. I'm not a full fledged 'Burgher yet, that's for sure.

But, I'll get there. And in short order, I think. The old skin is shedding off, and I'll be more comfortable in this one, I think. Trying to describe why is a bit hard. Not one to usually be at a loss for words, it's not really that I couldn't find the right words, but I couldn't be succinct enough to put it all in a reasonably short post. And, truthfully, the right words are a bit elusive. It's a sense of a place, it's sights and sounds and smells. It's things that bring back memories of childhood. It's looking out at the

giant maple in the backyard and remembering sitting under the shade of one very much like it during long ago summers reading tales of knights and round tables and realizing you might not be able to go home again, but you can find a new sense of home and rediscover once more the things that you loved. It's smelling lilac and sweet grass as you walk down the street. It's being able to actually walk down the street because the temperature is not at the century mark. It's watching ducks in your front yard and deer in your back, and realizing you didn't have to give up things green or furry to live within twenty minutes of world class museums and the sports teams you love (and I can find the stadium, thank you very much). It's having people be so friendly and accommodating that when someone isn't it actually is sort of surprising. It's waking up in the morning and looking around and thinking, "This feels right."

 Home is a feeling more than a place maybe. And feelings aren't always that easy to put into words.