Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Dose of Perspective (Ode to a Good Man)

Wow, I have spent the entire month of July throwing myself one hell of a pity party.  I knew it was going to be a trying few weeks going into it.  Trying is probably a bit of an understatement actually, it's been a real bitch.  But, then, suddenly, everything changed and some of that almighty drug Perspective got jammed downed my throat, and now I look at all of it in a somewhat different light.  Still all sucks, but a lot of the litany of whines seem like small potatoes compared to the news that someone I have known for a long time is now newly on her own journey of grief.

In the nearly ten years I knew her as a medical receptionist, we were on a first name basis, I chatted with her, watched nervously one time as she dealt with a clearly out of control patient, and had her hold me tight at my daughter's funeral.  But, in all that time, I never ever knew she was married to the man behind the office door, talking softly to one or the other of my family members, trying to elicit from them what ailed them and trying to treat it.  I never knew the woman I was casually friendly with would someday, in the not-so-distant future, be a young widow.  But here I am, 1,400 miles away from her, unable to return the favor and hold her tight as she says goodbye to her husband, one of the many doctors who tried to battle The Beast head on.  All this other shit seems sort of far away now.

Greg knew their relationship, maybe not fully, but he saw them come to Kelsey's funeral arm in arm.  I didn't notice, too shell shocked I guess to pay any attention to who did what (other than Mother telling everyone she was going to drive again, that I remember).  And, I had to realize, looking back on it, there were other signs I would have once upon a time easily picked up on.  It was a reminder how all encompassing The Beast was.  There was a level of self absorption there.  Putting blinders on to plough through the days, that seemed like the only way to survive.

But, what I didn't miss about the young doctor was the unmistakable signs that he was a good psychiatrist because he knew first hand what his patients were experiencing.  Now he's suddenly gone, dead at the age of 43.  I was trying to read between the lines to see what happened, but my theories are speculation.  I don't actually know.

So, let me tell you what I do know of the young man who leaves a kind hearted widow.  When we first found him through a referral for Kelsey, we had burned through one shrink already and had been unsuccessfully searching for a replacement for some time.  People were not accepting new patients at all or would not treat adolescents.  I would come to understand that better in time, but I was still living in my Dark Ages, far from what I hope eventually became my Enlightenment Period, and all I knew was I had a kid in crisis, was being told talk therapy wasn't enough, and I couldn't get a regular doctor to deal with it.  We tried regular family practices just to get something done. Disaster.  We had one appointment with the girls' pediatrician to try and get some initial meds  - this was at her therapist's urging.  As soon as I explained why we there, he went tense and cold and acted, quite obviously, like suddenly she was a contagion of some sort.  I shudder to think of it now.  Another GP right next door to him who showed dogs as an avocation (so I thought I'd have a great rapport with him) was so completely awful with her, it left her jaded and afraid of medical treatment for years.  Maybe there was something in the air vents of that complex that just sucked all the compassion out of these guys.  But, it wasn't just them.  We learned early on that doctors are just people, which means some of them are ignorant, biased assholes who did well in chemistry, but aren't doing well in the higher calling of being decent human beings.

So, along comes this guy.  Clearly young.  I wondered when I first laid eyes on him how many minutes he'd been out of med school.  He had a limp handshake and wouldn't meet my gaze.  I immediately didn't like him, but I was desperate, so we stayed with him.  Then, maybe two or three appointments in when he would bring me in to catch me up to speed with what he wanted to try or do, something hit me.  He suffered from something himself.  Anxiety maybe, but that's why he couldn't look me in the eye all the time.  I let my own guard down at that point, and that seemed to help.  He would gradually be able to look at me when he talked, but he would never be more than mild and soft spoken.  Later, when Marissa was a patient and he was refining an initial diagnosis, I caught him.  His eyes actually lit up when he arrived at the new label, and he slipped and said "we" instead of "patients" or "they".  He was almost excited that she was like he was, and he could clearly know what to do to help her.  I don't think he ever caught that he did that, but by then it didn't matter.  We were pretty loyal by then.

The thing about that profession is:  it's not like an episode of House where you take a list of concrete symptoms, vials of blood and bodily fluid samples that you study to see what's wrong.  You have to take what someone says about how they feel, realizing that they are not probably in full touch with themselves, and make a judgment based on the medical knowledge you possess.  And then you have to figure out biological reactions, dosage, side effects, other medications, environmental factors, etc. etc. and in the end, take a stab in the dark at what the right medication is.  If it's wrong, you go back and try something else until it's fine tuned. Now do that with a teenage brain.  Less cogent communication with the patient added to fluxing brain chemistry.  Now do that with a teenage brain who's body chemistry is whacked due to ED.  It's trial and error, and the errors can be earth shattering.  But, as Marissa said yesterday, he was the one doctor who never, not once, gave up on us.  He stuck with both my daughters, was kind to them, listened to them, treated them with respect and with genuine concern.  He understood it because he lived it himself.  They had biological issues.  That did not make them less human.  If anything, they were more human.

I realized yesterday when I got the news that I loved him for that.  We all did.  And how it just totally sucks that his lovely receptionist-bride is now deprived of that good man.  How all of us are.  So, if there's a heaven, open up and take him in.   You're getting someone who was already nearly a saint here on earth.

Monday, July 25, 2011


My parents both became adults during the height of the depression.  But even before the country was blanketed in the cloak of economic chaos, they were both being raised in blue collar families where the income was modest and earned by genuine sweat equity (my paternal grandfather worked on the railroad and my maternal grandfather did a number of jobs, among them mining coal).  They both came away from it deeply impacted, and their Depression experiences would form a blueprint for how they lived their lives for the remainder of their days.  But, perhaps ironically, they diverged in how they processed it and dealt with it.

Mother, as I've chronicled before, was a hoarder.  A habit that became decidedly worse as she got older, when it was no longer kept in check by being moved constantly from base to base, and when their income allowed she began to gather possessions at a rate that alarmed my father and would trouble my days.  While she gathered everything and anything, food stores in particular seemed to be her urgency.  Even as a widow living alone, she bought groceries as though she was preparing to cook for the 101st Airborne.  And throw anything away?  No, never.  We had to sneak it out and risk her wrath if she caught us.

Dad, on the other hand, was frugal and highly organized.  There were things he allowed himself, no doubt.  I have his custom made hunting rifle, a beautiful thing of burnished blond wood.  I remember him taking a couple of trips to Canada to hunt or fish.  They bought the cabin - hardly a resort, but still a whole second dwelling.  But, financial matters were a predominant concern of his, that was clear.  He kept careful track of their finances and worried over the bills, as I do now.  He was laid off from his job at the university when I was about 10 or 11.  I didn't really understand it at the time, but I can look back now and realize the torment he went through during that time.  And, even at my age I saw the despair in his eyes when he took a job at the downtown liquor store to keep us going while he studied for his Real Estate license.  He hated working there, I could see it even as a little girl.  But, he would rather swallow his pride and work at a job he clearly was humiliated to do rather than not pay his bills, or deprive his only daughter of a Christmas.

I can respect and love him for that now, but for a long time we butted heads on just about everything and the worst of it was  the night of my high school graduation, as we were walking back to the parking lot, when he announced to me that he would not pay for my college.  WTF?!  I had grown up believing that was a given.  To tell me now, about two and a half months before I was due to start at the college he dictated I go to, and on the night of my graduation nonetheless.  That was a blow.  I think the move to Texas began right then, just neither of us realized it at the time.  Some many years later, I decided he did it to toughen me up, and that he thought it would better prepare me for the real world.  A little bit like putting me through my own personal version of the Depression.  He had worked his way through college, I think he thought it would be a good life lesson if I did too.  But, Jeezus-Pleezus, I was a 17-year old girl who hadn't worked during her senior year because we weren't allowed to if we were on the paper or yearbook staff (I was copy editor of the yearbook).  I think I had something like $3,000 in savings.  That was probably more than a lot of my friends, but certainly not tuition for four years of college.  If you think about it, that was a defining moment for me, and a lot of the decisions that I would make that have led me to this little home office in Glenshaw, PA started in that moment, in a crowded parking lot of the Montana State University Fieldhouse.

I don't know that I can tell you that I've ever completely forgiven him for that.  Bringing me up to expect to earn my own tuition money would have been the better path, I think.  Failing that, maybe - while not in the parking lot leaving my graduation - telling me that their economic situation had changed so they could only pay for my freshman year and after that I would be on my own.  Those are things I could have swallowed easier.  I'll never know exactly what prompted that exchange at that moment; we never talked about it.

But I do know that for Dad the glass was always half empty.  He saw potential financial distress around every corner.  Mother was different.  She had grown up in a large family with a working class father, and she wanted to break from that.  She wasn't ashamed of it.  She just wanted to show how far she had come from it.  Community status was important to her.  For Mother, no matter how much was in the glass, she was going to portray that it was way more than half full.  I think that has gotten me into some trouble long after they are both gone because she wanted people - some of whom I still am associated with - to think she was very well off.

I am clearly an interesting hybrid of both personalities.  I absorbed what I saw of both of them and they both exhibit themselves in how I conduct myself.  As I've often chronicled, the ghost of my father drove my work habits, and I worry obsessively over money as he did, but, and highly unfortunately, I've had to worry over it in part because I have some of the impetuous nature of my mother.  Just look at my overflowing jewelry chest and you can tell I didn't really deny myself much at one point in my life.  I doubt Dad would have made a move like this, it's been highly expensive and financially disastrous.  Mother would have in a heartbeat.

Now I feel as though I am standing on the edge of a very steep cliff that is eroding under my feet, and I wonder how long it will be before it just all comes crashing down.  The panic attacks have lessened since I sat down and wrote about them.  Of course, that is why I did it.  No great psychology going on there:  face your fears and call them out for what they are and they lose some power over you, but the worry is still oppressive.  If we had stayed in Texas, we could have been okay for longer, but eventually that would have changed.  I made less and it costs more to live down there, but I had savings that I used on this move, and we would not have to have done all the remodeling on that house.  But, I look around me and am so glad to be here, and I think back to how horrible it was to be there - the Beast's ghost lurking around every corner - and I don't regret what I've done.  Just probably could have managed it all a little better.  But, even if I did have regrets:  what's done is done.  Now all there can be is moving forward.

However, for anyone who clings to the notion that I am some sort of Leprechaun sitting on a pot of gold, I have news for you:  there are no such thing as Leprechauns.  And while I may be Irish, there's no magic rainbow I know of to make the situation I'm in now any different.  The only thing that's going to is a little American hard work and ingenuity.
Warwick Davis, Leprechaun, 1993

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Affair

Davidson Family, Circa 1951
The Davidson Family Reunion was this past weekend.  (My mother's father was John Davidson, who had his lineage somewhere in the Scottish Davidson clan.)  Like all my encounters with my mother's side of the family, I came away with that great sense of camaraderie and shared experiences that they exhibit that both draws me to them always and makes me a little sad.  Sad because I was kept from it by distance and now always by birthright and life experience.  I've wondered in the time since I found the evidence of my adoption and placed it against some of the things Mother would say from time-to-time if she kept us as isolated from her family as she did because she was afraid someone would spill the beans about my lineage.  Because, of all the mysteries that still surround my true start in this world, the one thing I know for sure is that it was never her intent that I find out.  She fully intended me to go to my grave being none the wiser.  (Of course, here's a little life's lesson for natural born hoarders who try to keep secrets:  you can't keep documents around that incriminate you if you don't want to get caught!)

But, my trepidation around these good people is strictly mine because I'm naturally a little awkward socially around any group, and this is an odd dynamic:  family who are almost strangers.  (In some cases complete strangers.  My favorite line from the reunion was when Marissa and I were looking at one rather brawny man who appeared to be in his forties, and I was puzzling who he was.  My Aunt Ginny leaned to Marissa and asked, "You don't know who he is?"  Marissa shook her head.  My Aunt Ginny smiled that little smile I've seen on my own mother's face a million times and replied, "Good.  I don't either.")  But, aside from that man - I never did find out who he was - they've been nothing but lovely and open to me.  They seem to genuinely accept me as family.  And I always come away a little regretful that I moved so far north of them, so I'm limited in the time I can spend around them.  Then I remember I'm only twelve minutes from the zoo, and realize how bad it sucks driving through the tunnels into the city in the morning, and then return to the thought process that somehow I divinely ended up about where I should be for now.

The thing is they share stories and a common thread that I can never know.  I share a minute fraction of what they have together.  I know who some of the people are when names of older relatives are mentioned, but some I don't. Occasionally they'll strike upon a situation I either knew about or was actually present for, but that's fairly rare.  Their stories are, in short, not really my stories.  Their familiarity with one another is something I missed out on:  knowing how to tease one another without offending, what stories are embarrassing enough to be entertaining, but not so bad as to be humiliating, and the clear love and easy affection they have for one another that comes with time.

I longed for that growing up.  As I've said before, I hated being an only child, not understanding, of course, the effort it took my parents just to get me.  I've often regretted how I harangued my mother for a sibling, but I know I was just little and had no clue.  I've forgiven myself for that because at some point I could have been told the truth and understood it enough to back off (of course, I probably would have whined about how they didn't adopt more than one child; I didn't really understand my parents were older than average until high school when, of course, they suddenly seemed ancient and completely out of touch).

I had a painful, yawning ache for what I saw at the reunion this weekend growing up.  So much so, it colors what I am and do as an adult to this day.  I'm drawn to pow-wows because I see that sense of family there.  I had too many dogs because I was surrounding myself with instant, loving family members.  And, the big one:  I married into a larger, nuclear family.  I've written about that before.  And it doesn't take a genius to see it, but, as I was contemplating the reunion, I was drawn back to thinking about Greg's family, which naturally is also Marissa and my family, and realized I've now done exactly what my mother did to me:  pulled away from the extended family.  Of course, Marissa, brought up in the age of Facebook, Skype and Qwerty keyboards, probably talks to her cousins more now than she did before.  And, I strongly believe it would be a mistake for someone who is so young and with such promise to always be stuck in one place.  She needs to get out and experience life from a different perspective.  To truly learn what part of the world feels like home you have to experience it.  If she chooses, she can return to be closer to her cousins at some point.  If she doesn't, then she can text with a rapidity that would make a Nascar driver jealous.  I don't worry about her - at least not about this.  She'll find what's right for her, and she'll remain connected to her relatives in the process.  Greg, on the other hand, I don't know about.  For me, it's an hour down to this newly discovered family.  For Greg, it's two hard day's drive back to his.  He doesn't Facebook, not sure if he even knows what Skype is, and he sure doesn't text any better than I do, so, in other words, not well at all.

Problem is:  was he close to them when he was right there?  Not really.  It's not geography, in the end analysis, that matters when it comes to knitting a family together.  The pull of his grief had frayed at this family quilt long before the physical distance pulled on the strings.

Of course, at some point at the reunion the subject of my mother's famous falling out with my Aunt Merle came up.  I hated that they took that to their graves and hope that someone, St. Peter himself maybe, knocked their heads together and made them kiss and make up.  I always hated that Mother didn't relish what she had in her siblings well enough (although that is way more complicated than I can write here) and tossed part of it away with one stupid fight, but that got me to thinking that Greg needs to reconnect with his siblings while he still has them all if he is ever going to come through this loss and feel whole again.  He needs what I saw on Saturday.  It almost was like a force field of common bonding and affection.  There were plenty of people sitting out on my cousin's inviting back porch who had experienced sadness and loss.  But they were laughing easily and comfortably, secure in the love of the family around them.  Better than all the therapy and little white pills in the world maybe. So, if I'm right, what can I and should I do about helping to restore the family dynamic?  Could I if I wanted to?  These are the things I'm left still thinking about...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sky Fell While I Was at Work

Bear with me, there is a long wind up coming before I get to where I'm trying to go on this one, but I've been contemplating the work v. life balance conundrum lately.  This is what I've been thinking about it...

Falling Skies, Dark Horse Comics

There was a human interest article in the paper the other day about this guy who looks to be about my age  who hasn't taken a day off in almost 2,000 days.  He's gunning for one on day 2,001.  When asked why he does it, he said something about wanting to use it to illustrate to his grandkids that you can achieve what you set your mind to.  Wow, I thought I was read it.  What exactly should they set their mind to?  No quality of life?  A mind numbing existence?  A loss of sense of self?  A dumbing down of the senses since there would be no time to go to plays or read a book or even take in a Pirates game every now and again?  You want your grandkids to aspire to that, really?  Shame on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for glamorizing this man who apparently even worked before and after he had some minor surgery one day.  Granted it was day surgery and he runs two little cafes, not an aerospace division at Carnegie Mellon, but I can't imagine he was in top form afterwards and you've got to wonder how productive he was.  And, you've got to wonder what all of this drive has done to his prospects for a long life.  Granted, people around here are as tough as nails, so he might live to be a ripe old age, but on the other hand, if I see his obituary in five years, I'm not going to be all that surprised.  Speaking from experience, when your work ethic is that far into hyper-drive, your sense of self-preservation and well-being is on the other end of the pendulum.

And this disdain is coming from a woman who once had a reputation as a work-alcoholic.  But even at my worst, I took most Sundays off.  Of course that was generally so I could clean house and do laundry, leading me also to conclude that this man definitely does not do much around the house.  I got the impression that his wife works at the cafes too - she must be loving life.  And, yes, I am joking.

At the same time as this article comes out, the fate of Dale Barbara now known to me, I moved on to finally reading Flyboys by James Bradley, which chronicles a little known World War II story about Navy pilots captured and killed in the battle for Chichi Jima.  It's a brutal story, but what sets is apart from many other tales of the Pacific theatre, which was a brutal war, is the background James Bradley provides before he launches into a tale of the enemy doing horrible things to innocent, upstanding Americans.  That's all true, they did.  But, how did a noble, civilized people like the Japanese become so barbaric and how innocent is America as a country anyway?  The author clearly felt we needed to understand that background to fairly judge what would take place on the small island all those years ago.  It's an unflinching look, albeit brief, of brutality that will turn even a hardened stomach like mine.  So, I sat in my comfortable rocking chair reading about the Rape of Nanking and thought that working 2,000 straight days is nothing compared to the horrors that some people have endured over the span of human existence, and any of us who have jobs in a city not racked by war and brutality should be damn grateful for them and should work hard to earn that peace of mind.

Of course, then it occurs to me that if Pittsburgh was suddenly overrun by some alien hoard a la Falling Skies and we were all scrambling for our very lives, what would that man have to show for all his hard work?  As his life flashes before his eyes as some slimy, beastly alien reaches down to rip his face off, what would he conclude?  Would he like what he saw or would he regret not spending more time with his family?  (The fact that aliens are suddenly all portrayed as horrid, ooze producing monsters who speak in guttural monster noises, yet possess high enough intelligence to travel through space and conquer an entire planet is a whole other topic...)

All of this is bouncing around in my brain because I'm a little worried about my job stability currently.  There are reasons for it as rumors about some bad news reached me all the way up here this week, but if I were to get laid off, we're in deep, super deep, shit.  Hence the panic attacks which strike for a number of reasons, and sometimes no real reason at all.  I'm smart enough to know that they all stem back to that predominant fear.  No one's told me I'm in line for a layoff.  As far as I know, no one is.  It may be a totally irrational fear.  But, let's just take it on faith that there is good cause to be nervous in the current economic climate.  Remember that I've been laid off before.  So, it's not like it can't happen.  I respect who I work for.  They will do what they have to for the good of the company.  Therefore the question is:  do I do work that's valuable enough to fit that goal?  Do I work hard enough?  Can I step up so that I do?  If I can't, at my age can I reasonably go out and compete with young, hungry, attractive college graduates and find other work?  To compensate for skills and youth I don't have, can I be like that man and work 2,000 straight days?  But, if I can and if I do, is that the kind of life I moved to Pittsburgh to have?  And really, at the end of the day, if some snot-nosed alien comes looking to suck my face off, will it matter?

As I explained to a friend the other day, now I get the stress that people like my dad carried around with them as the sole breadwinners back in the day.  One more reason I was so super pissed at Hines Ward, I guess.  What does an Astin Martin sell for, do you think?  Enough to keep my bills paid for a pretty long while, I would imagine.  And there he is, out driving it like a dumbass.  If he wants to throw that kind of money away, throw it in my direction at least.

The bottom line is that I have to live life assuming that there will not be any face-sucking aliens coming along anytime soon.  I have to worry about bills and planning for the future, but I have to balance that against what my family needs emotionally from me, and I need to do to be emotionally able to provide it to them.  I've got to remember that I worked obsessively once upon a time and look where it got me.  The money I earned and saved from that period is long gone toward trying to save my children from the fallout of that neglect.  There is enough of my reputation left to have landed me this job to begin with, but it wouldn't save me if the economic best interests of the company are to cut me loose.  So, I tell myself to stop worrying, do a good and honest job, but don't buy back into the notion that the man working toward his 2,000th straight day at work is a hero because he's not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Dumbassery

Hines Ward pre-dumbass
I suppose some people are waiting for my reaction to Hines Ward's arrest.  I appreciate those of you who are Facebook friends with me for not harassing me about it there.  It was not a happy moment, only minutes away from recovering from a fairly substantial panic attack, when Greg came outside to tell me, a happy, shit-eating grin on his face, that my favorite wide receiver had been arrested for DUI.  I told him to quit smiling, it wasn't funny.  He told me to [bleep!] myself and that was pretty much the majority of our discussions about anything that day.  I doubt Hines Ward really had much to do with that actually, he was just a straw on an over-burdened camel's back.  So it goes sometimes in marriage.

However, in the wake of the news, I resisted the temptation to run in and turn on the NFL Network or jump online.  I stayed where I was, a flutter dancing around in my stomach threatening to turn into panic attack number two for the day, and just pondered how rich, powerful people sometimes forget they are still human like the rest of us, and worried how Hine's attack of hubris would impact the team.  I reasoned if he came out and did the right thing, it would all be fine.  He would survive it, the team wouldn't really be impacted by it much, and the Steeler Nation would forgive him, allow him to learn from the mistake and move on.  I had faith that's what he would do.

The flutter began to lessen a bit and finally calm down to nothingness as I read the last 20 pages of my book to at last learn the fate of Dale Barbara.  I realized, however, that I cried a little harder at the end of the book (I always get upset when animals die in books and movies, I was a wreck for days after Old Yeller) because I was agitated about the arrest.  After all, I'm not a Cincinnati fan, I'm not used to all this drama.  And it's not just some guy from the roster.  It's Hines Ward, a long time favorite of mine on and off the field.

I realize he's not up for sainthood.  I know his divorce was ugly.  It got over-shadowed by Big Ben's arrest last year and wasn't wave-worthy enough to ripple its way all the way to Texas, but it's all still floating out there on the Internet and apparently was a larger scandal around here, so I've seen little things pop up about it here and there since moving here.  And I know he was probably doing things out in L.A. while he was competing in Dancing with the Stars that someone (almost) old enough to be his mother would probably not approve of, but for the most part, he's good to the fans, he does charitable work, he's a hell of an athlete and a loyal Steeler, and he just oozes charm.  What's not to love?  Yes, I tell myself, looking around at the neighbors houses trying to make sure no one caught me sitting out there crying over a work of fiction, Hines will step up and do the right thing.

But, that would be too simple wouldn't it?  Instead of stepping forward, admitting he had made a terrible error in judgment that put others in danger, he said he was not impaired, but had been texting.  Okay and maybe he was.  But he was drunk texting is my guess.  I've read the reports, and I grant you there are still some things that need to be sorted out:  did he hit the curb, did he not?  And I haven't seen the state administered breathalyzer test results yet, but c'mon, just because I'm blindly loyal to the Steelers doesn't mean I lost all independent thought capacity.

I was insulted by his response to try and redeem his reputation.  Someone should have shut him up until he had some sleep and a chance to reflect.  His "gosh, boys and girls, I was only texting while driving, which I shouldn't have done" aw-shucks routine came out in the hours after he got home.  I understand the compulsion to get something out to his fans, but his handlers (agent, publicist, whomever) should have tempered what he said because I think to excuse it with the facts overwhelmingly against what he was saying just made him look bad.  Either like a man in severe denial, or a man so cocky he assumes he'll skate by on a serious offense.  One that could have hurt other people.  That's what always freaks me out about situations like that.  And he's not 15 and stupid.  He's 35 and hardly stupid.  He should have known better.

These guys don't get it.  Whether they want to be or not, they are role models.  Lots of 15 year old stupid kids are watching to see what happens here.  If Hines can get away with it, it can't be that bad, right?

I expected more from him is the bottom line.  I expected him to step up and actually maybe use this as an opportunity to show those 15 year old idiots what a real man does when he makes a life changing mistake.  That's not what I got.  We all make them.  I mean, c'mon, look at me, I can barely make it through an hour without making at least one.  And it stands to reason that his life is larger, his mistakes will be that way too.  It's what we do with them that defines us (and if that sounds vaguely Batman-ish, it probably is).

I'll wait to cast a final judgment.  I'll assume that with some reflection he'll do a little better with the situation.  With the lockout continuing, the owners and players raising our hopes only to dash them back on the rocks on a daily basis, he may have a long time to ponder it.

But, Hines, Mr. Rooney may be barred from contacting you, but I'm not:  quit being a dumbass!

Hines Ward and Pacman Jones in their post-dumbass pose (from The Washington Post)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Not Worth Watching

Every morning as my fellow workers and I open up the proprietary software program from which most of us navigate our work  we are greeted by a little inspirational saying for the day.  Sort of a thumbnail version of those posters you often see in countless corporate offices across the country.  Occasionally, our CFO and IT team who work together to choose them will get creative or funny.  One morning during the playoffs it was directed at me, and they had found a picture of a face painted, bewigged Steeler fan to use.  A week later, they used a Jets fan since one of the department heads is a huge fan.  But, for the most part, they are fairly standard inspirational fare.  Probably by this time most of the staff are sort of numb to their message, but it is visually something interesting to look at everyday, so your eye is drawn to it regardless.  Friday's read, "Welcome Cheryl!  One day your life will flash before your eyes.  Make sure it's worth watching."

Holy cow, you're kidding me, right?  I think to myself, realizing that this is a general message that someone pulled out of some list of inane inspirational snippets, but still somehow managing to be offended right out of the gate.  Really, I think to myself?  You really think, having watched my daughter slowly destroy herself over nearly a decade and my other daughter nearly follow her down the rabbit hole, that I can ever look back at my life and want to watch it?  To take any pride in it?  I've destroyed so much and built nothing.  But then I take a breath and realize it's just what it is:  some little saying.  Sticks and stones, right?  And this isn't even really directed at me, it's just a random saying.  Thin skin has always been an affliction from which I suffer.  So, I take another breath and the dark clouds part, and it's all good.  I can almost feel the skin grow a little thicker, at least momentarily, and take some satisfaction in it.

Then I take it a step further.  Why not?  Here's another stupid little oft-used saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  Why can't I just decide to cut the chord of the past?  Not forget it, but forgive myself for it (you've heard me mention this before) and move on to whatever is ahead of me in life.  Why can't I take what I've experienced and turn it around and do something noble with it?

Well, that sounds good in theory, but the last couple of weeks have been all about trying to keep it together.  Easier said than done suddenly, so I'm not sure I can step up to the lofty goals of making my life one that's worth watching.  People won't understand after all this time has past why I'm struggling.  My husband doesn't understand, there's no question of that.  I'm not sure I do.  It's been over two years, and I functioned fairly well, all things considered, in that time.  Sure I exploded my relationship with my sister-in-law.  Sure I uprooted us and pulled us across country.  Sure I lost it a time or two at work when people looked at me wrong or did something off track.  Sure I cried plenty and have poured my heart out in this blog many a time.  But, I did what I needed to do and kept things going.  Now suddenly, just existing is a little too hard.  I wonder how my dad, witness to horrors far worse than anything I will ever know, would react to such weakness.  I think about the woman who told me a year ago to "get over it" and how pitiful she would think me.  Yet, here I am, panicked, exhausted and very alone.  Not the stuff greatness is made of.

I don't know if this is typical of the grief process or not.  Maybe it's a delayed reaction in my case because there was so much to push toward initially:  caring for Mother, then plotting and deploying the move.  Now that I'm here, ironically in a place where I find great joy, my body finally is taking its time to freak out.  Maybe the genetics that pushed my daughter toward an eating disorder and surely lives somewhere inside of me is finally bubbling to the surface.  Maybe the weight of the financial burden is what's crushing my chest and causing the problem.  Maybe it's all of it.  Whatever the cause, I'm struggling at the moment.  Panic attacks swell up easily, a few times a day minimum.  And not just a flutter.  The full blown kind.  One knocked me off my feet the other day.  And I mean that literally.  It hit me like a punch, knocking the breath out of me and then it felt like an ogre was standing on top of me, not allowing any air to get through.  I was so oxygen deprived for a minute, my brain was exploding in white hot flashes of pain.  Lovely.  About ten minutes later it was done.  And that was when I realized what it was.  They start out in the stomach and seem to rise up into the chest, crushing the air out of it and not allowing any more in.  I can feel them when they start and sometimes stop them from taking completely over, but if something triggers one - like bad news on the pending Texas house sale, or a work issue - all I can do is hang on for dear life.

I can't tell you honestly that I'm a total stranger to panic attacks.  I'm not.  I had a bad period about nine years ago when we finally caught on that Kelsey's crisis was not "just a phase".  My husband and I were not in sync yet, Marissa was beginning to act out in reaction to the trauma, and Kelsey...well, she was most likely scared to death, but it was manifesting as anger, and that's all I saw, not the pain underneath it.  Think Linda Blair in The Exorcist and you've got a pretty good picture of what family therapy sessions were like initially.  Having your own flesh and blood be so angry and hateful toward you is hard as a parent, especially at first when you don't see it for what it is.  Realizing that they are in a real and genuine crisis that you don't understand or know how to fix is far, far worse.  I couldn't quite believe this was happening to us initially, and when I finally realized that yes indeed it was, I didn't take the realization all that well.  It took a couple of months, but I finally grasped what was happening to me and reasoned through what to do about it.  They dissipated after that.  The despair didn't necessarily go away, but the strong physical reaction to it did.  I'm hoping that's the case here.

Yet, I've been to this rodeo before, so you'd think I'd know how to ride it out of the gate.  Not so.  They come, they go, they come around again.  They're forever fluttering nearby, waiting for something, anything really, to go amiss to rise like a ghost from its grave and smash the air right on out of my lungs.  Nope, I realize, this is not the stuff worth watching at all.  That is, unless you like a good train wreck.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Summer of Our Discontent

I'm not sure how you'd categorize me regionally.  I'm not technically a Yankee, although when I lived in Texas I would often stubbornly claim that I was.  I grew up in the north, but Montana is not traditional Yankee territory.  I was born in New Mexico of unknown parentage, and I have some vague memories of my brief life there.  Just flashes really.  Images of the control tower on base where my father was stationed, a red stained concrete floor in base housing, a flat dessert vista.  Not much more.  Nothing to root me to a southwestern heritage.  I donned the Yankee label because of what I believed to be my Pennsylvanian ties, which I learned not-so-long-ago is not actually mine to claim.  Most of my life was spent in the Lone Star State, but if you call me a Texan, I'm likely to deck you and true Texans would rail at the offense.  So, I'm sort of lost in limbo, not really belonging anywhere.  Maybe that's why I like Ben Affleck's movies so much.  He celebrates his Bostonian ties and sense of family with such love and reverence, even the ugly side of it, that it's compelling.  I long for that.  I long to belong to something.

Why I am worrying over this, you ask?  Well, my mind was wandering yesterday morning as we took Cheyenne for her early morning walk around the block, the haze from the prolific fireworks from the night before still lingering lazily below the tree line, and I was pondering over my impressions of the summer so far and realized that I couldn't label my perceptions of summer in the northeast.  Do I look at things from a Southerner's point of view, like the man walking next to me must?  Surely not.  But, what am I then?  Does it matter?  It does, I answer to myself, because our background colors how we process the things surrounding us and happening to us, and I am not wholly objective.  None of us are.  So, I felt compelled to understand what prejudices I bring to my observations about people, places, and very confusing roadways.  And, somewhat reluctantly, I conclude that I see things mostly as an Austinite.  It's the norm for which everything around me is now judged.  I moved there when I was barely 19.  My entire adult experience was forged in Austin.  So, like it or not, as I go around town now and watch people, a favorite pastime, it's through the eyes of Austin that I see things.  By this time next year, however, I vow to myself, I want my thoughts of "these people" from Pittsburgh to be "we".  And I'm getting there.  Gradually, I no longer see Pittsburghers as a collective group, but am able to have the people I meet stand out as individuals, both good and bad, the way I did in Austin.  Of course, you do that and you don't always like what you see, but it's more real that way.  And I want for the only real math I need to know is Pittsburgh = Home (and what the tax and handling fees on Steeler tickets is).  That is gradually beginning to happen too.  The house and I have come to an understanding, and it's now home.  I feel comfortable here, not like I'm living in someone else's house.  The area around it seems familiar, and increasingly we can find things and are beginning to find better routes than Google shows us.  That's a big one:  I have longed for the day when I am confident enough of my surroundings to venture off the Google Map app.

Yet, for now, I'm still gathering data.  As we rounded the quiet block in the aftermath of the raucous Independence Day, and I looked around at the green lawns laden with summer flowers and smelling of lavender, it struck me that I'm now in my third season here.  How is that possible?  It seems as though I just got here.  But, I moved here in the heart of winter, stayed afloat during the heavy rains of spring and now am on the downhill roll of summer.  I've long thought of July 4th as the tipping point in the summer season.  After that point, back in Austin, parents begin turning their attention to getting ready for back-to-school.  Kids who could hardly wait to spend time in the pool tire of it and the long, hot days.  Things slow down.  It's too hot to be outside in Texas, and being outside during the day is like living in a blast furnace, so tempers wear a little short.  But here, I don't know what it's going to be like.  Here this morning I was a little bit chilly and debated whether I should have worn long sleeves.  School is still two months away.  In other words, for an elementary school child, light years away.  (Probably seems that way for some of the mothers too.)  The dog days are still ahead of us, but close enough that we're all nervously watching the news of the lockout to see if we'll be making the trek to Latrobe for training camp or not or having to find another way to amuse ourselves.  But, aside from the familiar call of training camp and Pirates baseball, what do people around here do to spend their late summer days?  They go to Kennywood I guess, take hikes along the park trails or ride bikes, and have cook outs or go boating.  All outdoorsy things that it's way too hot to consider back in Austin.  But, I don't know for sure.  Those observations are still ahead of me.

Of course, you're wondering what the point of any of this is.  Well, as I ponder all of this silently as we finally round the last bend home for the morning, I conclude there isn't one really.  It's just the processing of data.  Casual mind traveling as I try and shake off the sleepies.  Then last night, as Greg and I cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge toward PNC Park, he shakes his head somewhat incredulously and says something about not being able to get used to the fact that he lives here, then motions to all the people on the bridge surrounding us and says, "It's their city, not my city."  And it strikes me how oddly timed the comment was, given my morning deliberations.  Then I realize all those fears I had when Greg first came to stay were about moments like that.  Moments when he feels so foreign and lost.  And, if I still feel that way occasionally when I love it here so much, how must it be for him?  And then I realize it's not a matter of him wondering what he's doing here, but many times in a day he must wonder it.

And at last I come to the point:  can Pittsburgh and I win this man over and make him feel at home and, more importantly, at peace with this destination?  Or did I just move his grieving heart from one place to the next and remove the only life support for it that he had?  Time will tell, surely.  And maybe if I just leave it be, he will be gradually enfolded into the pulse of the town much like I was with Austin.  Maybe not ever quite feeling like he truly belongs, but comfortable enough to proceed with life.  Yet, I worry, and worry nearly constantly, about his state of mind in the meantime.  I worry, but have no answers.  And how much responsibility should I shoulder if he cannot acclimate here?  Would that be my fault, or is it just the fallout I've read about in the books about grieving?  I am just so constantly struck by how hard it has been to regain some semblance of normalcy since that fateful day two years ago.  Have I made it harder by jerking us so violently away from what we knew?  When I think about being twelve minutes from the zoo and twenty from Heinz Field, I know the answer for me is "Oh hell no I didn't!", but Greg has no siren's call to any of this.

Maybe, at long last, I come to the real point:  does worrying over these things really accomplish anything?  Should I just try and accept where we all are at the moment, let time do its job and relax, enjoy the balance of the summer, the urgent blinking of fireflies in the trees at night, and the smell of lavender in the air in the morning for now and take the rest as it comes?

Friday, July 1, 2011

And the Road Goes Ever On

"My dear Sam, you can not always be torn in two: you will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy, and to be, and to do. Your part in this story will go on."
- Frodo Baggins, The Return of the King (film)

Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood
I made a huge step onto the road back to normalcy Tuesday night.  I went to a movie.  Now, I've been to dozens of movies in the last two years.  I've always loved movies, so when football is in short supply and thoughts are long and hard, it is the natural diversion, and this was true long before The Beast came to live with us.  There's nothing like a Jerry Bruckheimer blow-'em-up thin-plotted cinema extravaganza to calm one's nerves.  It went to another level when The Beast left.  I was digging pretty deep into the movie queue last summer trying to find anything that would distract me.  But, there were certain movies that I just couldn't do.  Movies that I loved and are part of the very fabric of our lives.

First some background:  I am not the biggest LOTR/Star Wars Fangirl on the face of the planet.  Not even close.  As a matter of fact, gather up a random sampling of say 100 professed Superfans, and I probably wouldn't even rank in the top 50.  I count myself a lesser member of a deeply dedicated group with memories for things like what the name of Grima Wormtongue's father is.  (Like, who cares, but in case you're curious, it's Gálmód.) But, I'm admittedly pretty far out there if you stack me up against the general public.  And I took my kids along with me.  They almost couldn't help but become steeped in the ways of the Force living with me as their mother.  As a matter of fact, Marissa is the only person to have beat me at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (I was having an off day).  But, as much as Marissa may like them, Kelsey bordered on being in the top 50 in that room with both franchises.  They were a Big Deal for her.  She stopped short of reading the Star Wars novels like I do, but I probably could have brought her around to them at some point, because some of them are genuinely good fiction.

Silly as it may sound, it was some semblance of the glue that kept us bonded when there wasn't much else between us.  Some of my best memories as a mother and some of my worst have either Star Wars or Lord of the Rings somewhere in the telling.  Willow probably is in there somewhere too.  That held a pretty high place in our collective esteem as well.  And, of course, without her here, those memories still linger.  So, I hadn't watched any of either movie series since before Kelsey's death.

At first, I wasn't really conscious of what was happening.  I knew, in the immediate days following her death, when every moment was an agony and you'd do anything to pull yourself out of your own head, that, despite there being a lot of hours worth of material there, I couldn't do it.  I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring in those first few days, looked at the box, then tucked it safely back on the shelf.  But, after that, as Mother's situation worsened and I went back to work, I didn't think too much about it.   There wasn't enough time to watch any of those films anyway.  Then Mother died, and time opened up just a bit.  I still didn't opt for a LOTR movie night.

I picked through my toys and collectibles, gave away some things, but kept most (currently sitting patiently in their boxes in my attic, waiting for a larger house with a dedicated Nerd-room), but it still didn't prompt me to pull out one of the DVD's and watch it.  But, I didn't really think about it as a decision.  I just didn't watch them.  Then I moved here, my boxes and boxes of Star Wars and LOTR toys along with me, and I had the time if I wanted it.  And that's when I realized:  I couldn't watch them.  They were too steeped in the memory of my daughter and my life with her.

And that's also when I determined that I needed to work to get that part of my life back at some point.  I couldn't let The Beast take that from me too.  I needed to celebrate that connection with Kelsey, not lose it.  I was ready to fight for it, but it wasn't that easy really.  Spike TV seems to be an All-Star-Wars-all-the-time network lately, so I'd watch maybe a half hour (most of which is commercials) here and there, or catch bits and pieces of the LOTR on TNT, but that's all I could handle.  I no longer get the email alerts I used to.  I don't visit the fan sites anymore.  I miss all that.  I revel in being a dork when it comes to stuff like that.  There has been such joy from it.  But, I just couldn't do it.  However, both franchises are releasing Blu-Ray versions (LOTR came out on Tuesday and Star Wars will follow in September), so it's been on my mind a lot more than usual lately and, as often happens, Fate took my hand.

We found another good movie theater quite by accident one day when we were lost.  That's our default now, so as we were there to see Super 8 not too long ago I saw the poster for the one night release of each of the Lord of the Rings films.  We had missed the first one already, but The Two Towers (my personal favorite) was coming up in a few days.  I discussed it with Marissa and debated what to do.  I chickened out and we opted for a baseball game instead.  That left The Return of the King.  My last chance.  Only showing on one screen that one night.  We decided to take the plunge.  And I did it.  I sat through all four hours and 25 minutes (no potty breaks, thank you very much), cried at the end like I always do, and enjoyed it when Marissa told me I wasn't close to the only one in the theater doing so.  Kelsey was on my mind through much of it, but I like to think she was happy that we were there, not mad that she wasn't.  I like to think she wants me to be one and whole for however many years and wants the Force to be with me.  I hope so anyway.

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins

The Fellowship of the Ring, NewLine Cinema