Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to School: Lessons in Life

I started this four days ago:
Marissa and her dad just left in the rain to drive her off to school.  I stayed behind, with strongly mixed emotions about that, to work.  As it turns out, I cannot log into my company's software, so I can't work currently, which is horribly bad since I am very far behind after two days straight of having my butt chewed by various sources over various things.  Awesome.  Noticing that my teeth were clenched tight and my breath was shallow, I realized I was on the verge of a horrible hissy fit, so I decided to blog instead of sitting and stewing because that reaction is fairly germane to the topic at hand.  So here goes...

Wow, what a long, strange summer it's been.  You know, everyone makes so much fun of the well worn Dickens line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,..." but how often has it applied to someplace you are or something you are experiencing?  The sweet and sour of life has been evident throughout our first summer here.  We've had some amazing experiences - being extras in The Dark Knight Rises, joining a friend who speaks Chinese at a Chinese restaurant where the owner's wife kept us heartily entertained for hours, swapping stories and asking questions about the cultural differences between the two countries.  I've never had so much fun eating a meal.  We've gone to the museum, the zoo, Pirates games back when they were actually winning, which had an energy that was palatable, and training camp for my beloved Steelers, not once, but twice.  We've seen fireworks from Point State Park and been there for art festivals.  I've eaten cheese fries from Primanti Brothers and potato pancakes from the Hoffbrau Haus on the Southside.  I've discovered that Yuengling beer is better than IC Light in and of itself, but IC Light has a summer beer with mango that cannot be beat.  While that last part is hardly life changing, it is sort of fun.  We've endeavored to experience this new place we now call home and haven't even scratched the surface, which in and of itself is exciting because there is so much more to look forward to.

On the flip side, there are the things I've blogged about before:  the crushing worries about income that make being fussed at by my bosses nearly heart attack material because I get so freaked out that I'm on the chopping block.  I have no idea how much of that is healthy worry and how much is just wild paranoia.  Of course, as they add more things onto my plate, our world closes in, as I am constantly attached to this computer - so things remain undone, like our taxes, and dusting, and poop scooping.  Greg, not knowing anyone besides Marissa and me, finds himself stuck in the house and a gradual resentment grows between us.  I would like him to help more, but he's tired, working part-time now in the middle of the night.  He would like me to detach from the computer once in a while and go back out into the city and explore more.  We find ourselves angry at one another over stupid little stuff.  And that brings me to what I actually sat down the blog about.

At one point last night, desperately far behind at work and tired, I walked downstairs to a wet carpet.  This is the second time the basement has flooded.  This time it was because of AC condensation.  I was immediately over-the-top pissed and remained that way for hours.  Greg and I started barking at one another.  Why exactly?  I have no idea.  It is not anyone's fault.  It was just that it was probably the last thing I needed at the moment.  Later, as the storm currently harassing the area woke me up in the middle of the night, I realized that

I got that far before I got back into my system and have been working ever since except for a block of time yesterday when Marissa and spent some time looking for dorm room stuff and watching the Steelers all get injured (or so it seems).  So, let me regroup here a bit...

The area is now calm, sort of ironic when a hurricane is on the other side of a relatively small state creating havoc.  And I seem calmer as well.  The AC is fixed with only a relatively minor expense compared to what I worried it would be, and we learned how to care for a system that is radically different than what we are used to.  The lesson to take away from this is that if you get your panties in a wad over every little thing, all you get is wrinkled panties.  If you take a breath and deal with it, you get results.  Which brings me back to the point...

Marissa made the observation a few days before she took off for dorm life that she didn't think her dad wanted her to leave.  I was a little surprised by that, because I feel a sense of excitement that she is getting a chance to finally get out in the New World and actually meet some people and thought he would feel the same, but upon some independent observation, I think she was right.  I found myself wondering if part of that reason is he didn't want to be stuck here alone with me.  We found ourselves snapping at one another so often I almost wanted to instinctively cringe when I walked past him, and when I wasn't snapping directly at him, I was fuming over something, and I could tell he often was too.  Marissa was the calming influence; we tried, with mixed success, to tone it down around her.  In the couple of days she was gone - to return to spend the night so we could watch the game together - we did fine.  Somehow, not having to maintain our tempers helped us not really have any.  People are funny.

But, the real puzzle was why we were so irritable to begin with - it's not like I can blame it on the heat.  The days are uneven now - still hot and miserably humid some days, crisp and simply gorgeous on others, but hardly unbearable on any of them.  It's not like we can blame it on money.  We will spend months digging out from the hole this move dropped us into, but with the sale of the house in Texas behind us, that goal seems realistic now.  The hole certainly has stopped getting deeper.  The answer is found in that night when I spent hours stewing because of the AC.  I was tired, granted, but my reaction was still extreme, and I found myself at one point, laundry listing all the deficiencies I perceived  in my life and realized I was mad at Kelsey in part.  I'm not saying it was rational, I am just saying that is how I felt.  Then I thought about what she would say to me at that moment.  She would say that even in death, we confuse her with the disease, and that would hurt her because she didn't want to be the disease.

Later, when that storm woke me, I had made the journey back to reality and realized something that is important to understand.  I've looked up the stages of grief before - it's sort of interesting in a non-helpful kind of way.  Some will tell you there are five stages, some will tell you there are seven.  They are inconsistent on what they are, but they generally will tell you what you will feel going through them and not much else.  I guess that is helpful to an outside observer, but I, of course, was looking to jump over all of that, and I at least wanted to understand WHY.  I know what I'm feeling, you idiots, now tell me why I feel it.  I guess you can't really answer either of those questions, you have to work your way through all the stages - however many there really are - and it's just how it works.  One thing that seems consistent is that anger is part of the package.  Maybe one would have expected us to get past that part already. Maybe we did, and we're coming back around for another pass at it.  All I know is we've been suffering from a consistent case of the irritables since July.  But one thing struck me as I poked around again the other night on the various websites.  A couple of places mentioned/cautioned to make sure you're mad at the right thing.  There was an example of a person lashing out at an innocent bystander - I've done that actually.  But, it struck me how true that really is.  So, what am I really mad at?  Not Kelsey surely.  The real victim in this whole horrible story.  It's the Beast.  I'm angry at the monster that literally ate away at my daughter.  I need to attack it and stop attacking my husband, my daughter's memory and everything else that has caught my wrath in the last six weeks.

Now that I know that, I have to figure out what to do about it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paradise Lost

Wednesday afternoon I heard the mournful wail of the fire station about a half mile up the road from my house.  I had learned over time it's a forewarning to any vehicles on the busy, winding street that it fronts that an emergency vehicle is about to come bounding forth.  But, it's an eerie sound that almost sounds like the harbinger of the end of the world.  And, sure enough, a couple of minutes after the siren from the station house itself stopped, I could hear the higher pitched wail of the fire truck as it rushed out onto the street.  After a number of months here, I hear these sounds as just part of the noise of the city, they barely give me pause.  But, this seemed different because sirens kept on coming, one after another, rushing up the main street of our area.  And then the same mournful wail of the other fire station, about a mile and a half down the road going the other way as it belched forth its engines.  Whatever was happening was big.  Then I heard a helicopter, and I finally went outside to look.  Black smoke was visible over the roof line of the same house where the eagle had perched many months ago now, and my eyes and nose were stung by the smell of burning.  Boy, I think to myself, that seems really close.  As it turns out, it was three blocks away.  A house was completely destroyed when fire fighters were prevented from getting too close due to the excessive number of firearms kept there and the potential for explosion.  No people were hurt, but two dogs inside the house perished.  Marissa tried to keep that last part from me.  She knew it would upset me.  It does:  I hope those ignorant, gun toting bastards spend their eternity, when they finally meet it, feeling the fright and agony of their poor pets in their last moments.

Death did not seem satiated however with the sacrifice of two helpless canines.  Friday saw storms roll into the area, which is nothing unusual.  Systems will generate out over Lake Erie and then make their way through Pittsburgh routinely.  Also not unusual is that they will pass through, seem to double back around and take another shot at it.  So, the skies darkened to almost black mid-morning, the rumble of thunder a constant soundtrack to my work and some rain fell.  Not a lot, not a little, just a late summer shower.  Then the clouds cleared, the sun came out and the humidity hit the roof.  Late afternoon, the clouds decided we'd had enough sunshine, so they rolled back in, casting the house in such deep shadow, I had to turn all the lights on in my little office to see what I was working on.  Once more, thunder rumbled and a steady rain fell for about twenty minutes when it seemingly decided this was not fun anymore and the clouds broke up once more, this time leaving us for good.  I was glad for the rain, and I like stormy days, so - aside from the miserable humidity of the midday - I was pretty satisfied.  Little did I know that less than six miles from me along a roadway I've traveled many times before, a deluge was happening, causing the designed drainage to fail and resulting in flash floods that would take the lives of four individuals: a mother and her two young daughters and an older woman.  A number of others had to be rescued from the tops of their cars, completely submerged in water.  I read an account in this morning's paper of a young woman rescuing another older cancer patient who would have otherwise drowned.  The paper began the article pondering the question how a flash flood of that magnitude could happen in a major American city.  I am sure the father of those two lost girls must be wondering the same thing.  I can only imagine the lawsuits that will be filed over this, as it apparently is not the first time that street has flooded, and this is an area where a lot of rain is not unusual.  For my family, this is the roadway most logically traveled back and forth to Marissa's college and many other areas of the city we frequent.  Now I'm afraid for her to use it, already a little paranoid anytime she's out of my sight.

So, you realize that there is no such thing as a perfect place to live.  And aside from the petty little complaints one could have - I can't seem to win the mildew battle in my bathroom during the heavy humidity of the summer, and oh, the fleas(!) that love the warm bodies I brought them and seem resistant to every type of remedy we've spent hundreds of dollars and hours of time fighting, only to have just picked one off Tum-Tum's face - I realize I have probably spent a number of months idealizing this city.     Well, it's far from perfect.  There are areas of the city I dare not go.  It's not necessarily because I'm white, it's because anyone, including those individuals who live there, spend time there at their peril.  There are other areas of town I'd love to go to more, but fighting traffic gridlock to get there is hardly worth it.  There is real poverty, crime, idiocy and infrastructure issues here.  Pittsburgh is not another name for Paradise.

Another thing Pittsburgh cannot do is bring an end to our sense of grief, and heal the wounds our little family has endured.  Only time can do that.  Maybe I over sold this place.  Maybe, when I brought us here, I presented it as a place where all our sorrows would not be able to find us.  But they can, and they have.  But, as I sit here, watching a shower of golden leaves fall outside my window, as summer begins to give way to fall, I personally think I have found my home.  This is where I will stake my claim and hopefully live out my days.  I accept this place, with all its flaws, so now it is perhaps time to begin to dive in and figure out ways to help alleviate some of those flaws.  In the meantime, I hope my family, shaken a little by the events of the week, and realizing the weight of missing Kelsey remains just as heavy here as anywhere, will join me in that quest.  In the meantime, I am off to try and clean mildew off my bathroom ceiling as rain clouds begin to gather outside, and I can hear a siren not far off racing to some unknown encounter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meeting the Beast Again

When I got to Pittsburgh, my lovely Philly friend sent me a link to a site that lists volunteer opportunities. I scanned it for two things:  eating disorder groups and animal causes.  I found plenty of the latter, none of the former.  After considering my options, I concluded that might be okay.  Perhaps I needed to take a break from a disease that I had lived with for the past decade.  (Because make no mistake about it, ED is a disease that impacts every family member in some way.)  I had been constantly conflicted when I served with AFED.  I felt a draw to be involved in the work to eradicate the disease that took my daughter and impacted all of our lives forever, but I lived with it night and day for so long that I was exhausted and wanted to shed it like a snake sheds its skin, slithering away from anything that contained the words bulimia, anorexia, ED, Ana, treatment and/or recovery in a sentence.  Discussing it with a couple of my friends and my daughter, I decided allowing myself to work with four legged beasts was something I had earned.  Of course, as I pointed out in the last post, working at least some of most weekends has delayed me even doing that much.  Then again, I look around at my feet, crowded by lounging dogs, and I think that's probably best for now too - I'd be too tempted to bring a warm, fuzzy beast home.  So, for now, I spend my spare time in selfish pursuits - a little bit of baseball, a lot of preseason football, a museum visit here and there.  And so it was on a glorious late summer Sunday that my husband and I drove the hour and change to Steeler training camp.  And there it was that I was confronted with the disease again, which has got me thinking about it ever since.

I am not sure I can tell you definitively how someone like me knows an ED sufferer on sight as opposed to the number of other things that will emaciate a body:  another kind of illness such as cancer, drug addiction, or even just a extremely high metabolism.  Some of it is in the skin, drawn and taut like parchment.  Some of it is in how the individual carries herself (or himself).  Some of it is the fact that they aren't dressing to cover any needle marks maybe.  But, somehow there is a series of telltale signs that you have seen intimately in your own family that allows you to know it beyond a reasonable doubt to be able to label it occasionally.  And that's what my husband and I were confronted with not long after arriving at camp.

Among the crowd lining up to watch the players come down to practice was a young woman who was dressed in a Steeler-logo halter top and very short white shorts with a bandanna tied around them and not much else.  So it was easy to see the vertebrae in her back protruding and the bones in her shoulders standing above her skin.  She had raven colored hair, which accentuated her pale tone, not white exactly, more like a slightly yellowish tinged shade of pale, like dying skin.  She was tall, so her long, thin legs were hard to miss although it was hard to see how they were managing to hold her up, let alone allow her to sprint around as she was doing - constantly, like a frenzied bee.  There was no missing her; she really didn't want anyone to.  Unlike most of the individuals I have come across before in the ED community, who at least understand they have the disease even if they are not at the point where they can actively try and fight it, this young woman was in full denial.  She was not only proud of her looks, she was flaunting them.  I thought of taking a photo to try and illustrate what I saw - she would have liked that actually, because she at one point jumped onto the steps where the players would soon be coming down, waving her thin arms and posing for anyone who would look.  But there was no way I was going to indulge her.  Once the players began trickling out, she really went into high gear, trying desperately for their attention.  The ones that spared her a glance were polite, but you could see it in their faces - I've seen those looks before.  They may not have really understood the disease that envelopes her, but they saw her far differently than she sees herself.  For me, that remains an oddity that I do not understand:  how does that young woman not see how they look at her?  Granted, everyone else in the crowd around us with the exception of her friends was clearly uncomfortable with her as well, but she wasn't worried about them.  She was there to catch the attention of the virile young men in black and gold.  But, she couldn't read them.  She couldn't see their discomfort with her appearance.  To me, it was obvious.  Is she really that self absorbed?  Greg at one point said he wanted to take her and shake some sense into her.  For my part, I was just glad that once the crowd broke up to move down to the practice fields I lost sight of her and didn't see her again while we were there.  I managed to put her out of my mind as I considered the practice, concentrating on trying to read my coach's reactions to the players and trying to guess which rookies were making the team and which ones weren't.  Football:  the great salve for heartache.

Maybe all of this sounds cruel and harsh, like I hold this individual in disdain.  That's not the case.  Quite the opposite. What I hold in disdain is the Beast that possesses her, but I do marvel at her inability to see it.  The person I saw on Sunday is very ill.   The fact that she had energy enough to prance around like she did was belying her true condition; it doesn't take an expert to know that.  And she won't have that energy long-term.  Whatever zest for life she has will be zapped in short order and sometimes looking at that straight on and honestly seems ugly and mean.

Yet, back home, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this unknown young woman.  Honestly, I have rarely met her personality type in the ED world.  Most of the individuals I know afflicted with the disease are more introspective, and their personalities come across differently - less brash, I guess.  But, it is a disease that strikes all manner of people with all manner of personalities, and the one thing I can say for sure, I know what I saw.   She, on the other hand, has no idea what she has done to her body.  And what I was left with is wondering about her family and friends.  Do they see what I saw?  Or do they see what she does when she looks in a mirror?  How do her parents interact with her?  Do they even?  Bottom line, I cannot get this individual out of my head.  Was I somehow meant to see her to remind myself that I cannot extricate myself from this disease?  Were we meant to briefly collide so that I put myself back on a course to do something about it?  To keep others from sharing the same fate as Kelsey?  And, if that is the case, can I somehow begin to atone for my inability to recognize it for the beast that it is early on?

Or was it just the law of averages that, in a crowded city, eventually someone actively anorexic is going to end up in the same place as someone who has lost a daughter to ED and it means no more than that?

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I got caught a little off guard the other day when a co-worker who was clearly trying to gather evidence for her case to be allowed to work from home asked me about my work situation during a meeting.  I caught what she was doing, and I learned that her supervisor had already told her she needed to be in the office, so how do I answer her honestly without placing myself in the middle of a situation I want no part in?  I understand her situation - she told me that when they move their offices soon she will have more than an hour commute each way.  But I get her boss's position too, and that likely would be the same stance I would take in his place.  So I rattled off the downsides of my situation, which I can do fairly easily, and downplayed the upsides.   Then I immediately told my bosses about the conversation in my post-meeting summary report and hope the matter will die there.  But, I've often thought the subject would make an interesting post, so it seemed timely, and here goes...

As I told my co-worker I am rather uniquely suited to a work situation like mine as an only child.  I was used to spending long hours playing by myself as a child, so I can work that way now as an adult.  However, it keeps me socially isolated to a large extent, which, new to the city and having my relatives at least an hour away, has not been ideal.  Think about it:  who are your friends and how did you meet them?  Not the people you keep in contact through Facebook who are scattered all over the country that you've known since high school or college.  I mean the people you meet for happy hour and go to movies with, and gossip about this or that with?  The people you have real face time with.  You met most of them at work, right?  I meant to combat that by doing volunteer work, but I work most weekends (more on that later) so that has not come to pass.  I'm friendly with some of my neighbors, but none of us are at the true friend stage yet.  If I hadn't had the unique upbringing I did, that would be far more oppressive than it is.  To most people, that lack of social connection would be completely stifling.

On the upside, on the couple of occasions I have had to drive into the downtown area during the work day, I thank everything holy that I don't have to do that on a daily basis.  The bizarre twisting roadways around here that I've often lamented are no better in the heart of the city and whoever timed the streetlights down there had a horrid, sick sense of humor and should probably be slapped.  There is mass transportation as an alternative.  Sort of.  Some of the people around the neighborhood use the bus.  I see them hurrying to make it at 6:30 in the morning when I'm walking Cheyenne.  For the females among us, think about getting dressed and ready to make that bus to be on it for an hour to travel the six miles downtown for a 8:00 work day.  Then remember everything is an hour later here (than what I'm used to anyway), so Monday Night Football isn't finishing until after midnight and those people are faced with getting up a scant five hours later.  There is a subway into downtown, but not that runs north of the city.  For those of living north, it's an hour long bus ride before the sun comes up or brave the traffic snarl.  Yeah, having my car sitting in the garage all week long is a big upside all right!

Of course a lot of supervisors are worried about the trust issue.  There is no Big Brother watching to make sure you do your work.  We have "dashboards" on our system that help track to a certain extent what someone is doing, and some of the individuals who work from home are paid based on their production.  But some positions, like mine, are too open ended to handle that way, so there has to be a leap of faith on someone's part that I will do what I am supposed to do.  For my part, I know myself pretty well.  My attention will wander if I let it, so I set my deliverables on a tight schedule.  I force myself to keep to a calendar that my boss's have access to.  It actually makes for some pretty long days that stretch into the weekends, but it keeps me focused on the task at hand.  I've already written about having to have background noise.  Now with football back on the horizon and hockey not far behind, I've rediscovered sports talk radio.  So, with the two morning DJ idiots droning on and on (I disagree with them about half the time and occasionally I know things about the team hours before they do, so I am NOT listening to it for the news value), I can have my talking buzz in the background.  Talk radio:  a helpful workplace tool.

I did some research on working from home successfully and talked to people who had done it.  The key is to tell yourself you are "at work".  One man told me he literally left the house every morning and drove around to simulate the commute experience to trick his head into getting geared up for work.  I had read about that; leaving the house to get coffee or driving around the block is an oft-suggested mind trick.  I get it, but at nearly $4.00 a gallon for the gas and the hole in the ozone layer getting bigger, not smaller, I prefer just to take my office assistant, Cheyenne, around the block on foot every morning, watching people make a run for the bus.  I had also read dressing like one normally would for an office setting was advisable.  I tried that.  For about a week.  The first time I had to walk Cheyenne in the snow in a dress was the last time.  I read recently that Pittsburgh was named the third worst dressed city by GQ Magazine, citing its population as consistently dressing "game day casual".  Guilty as charged.  I will give you 14 hours at the computer if you give me shorts and an oversized Troy Polamalu t-shirt as an acceptable attire to do so in.  And maybe that's the biggest advantage of all:  no make-up, no torturing of the hair with a flat iron, no pantyhose to rip at a horribly inopportune time.  I didn't even open the ironing board I bought for the first four months I was here.  And when I did it was to get ready for a social occasion.  We use a virtual meeting program to hold most of our meetings.  If they ever add a video component so we can see one another not just our computer screens, I'm screwed.  But, until that day comes, I am single-handedly keeping the city on that worst dressed list (actually, that's not true - as I was out this weekend, I paid attention:  the label is well deserved, I am sorry to say).

I do, however, maintain a formal office setting and, for the most part, I stay there during the day.  That segregated space helps keep your mind on the fact that you're at work, not "at home".  I come downstairs to grab lunch or a snack, but not much else.  On the flip side, when I'm not working, that room is generally vacant.  That is the one thing I would tell someone else about to start working from home that is critical:  keep a separate space.  There does have to be that sense that you are at the workplace to be able to get your head in the right place.

But, on the negative side once more, it makes your world shrink down to your own four walls and not much more.  Sometimes I will suddenly realize that the only time I've left the house for days on end is for Cheyenne's daily walk.  And when that happens, it's time to go somewhere.  Today we venture back out to Latrobe for my last chance to see training camp before the four walls close back in again.

Bottom line, for every upside, there is a countering downside.  Much like work itself.  My work situation is not for everyone.  More people would like to try it than would be good at it.  More people think they would like it than actually really would.  For my part, I do like it.  A lot.  Downsides and all. So, hopefully I work hard enough to continue to earn the right to keep doing it.  Otherwise, I guess I'll be jogging for that bus before the sun comes up...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Postcards from the Road

I talk a lot about being on the road or the "journey" of grief.  Probably because I am not clever enough to come up with a more original analogy, but it seems to fit.  It feels like trudging along on foot on a gradual uphill climb.  You sort of wonder if there is an end to the road sometimes, or if it just keeps on going until you're so utterly exhausted you just drop dead.  The funny thing is, somewhere along the line I realized that I can have entire days where I'm not bogged down by that grief now.  The Dark Knight Rises set was an example.  I thought about Kelsey during that long, hot day - I think about her everyday - but it wasn't the same as it would have been a year ago.  I felt free to just to savor the experience.  Later, a few days later, I got hit with this wave of guilt that I got to have that experience and she didn't, but even that was different than it would have been a year ago.  A year ago I got the same guilty feeling if I laughed at a joke, and it would devastate me for hours.  The other day, it was a few hard minutes and a panic attack, and I was able to move on.  It is in this way that you measure the mile markers, I guess.

But the other thing I wear out is my analogy that you are on the road alone.  Again, not particularly clever, but pretty apt.  Every one of us is an individual and every one of us had a different relationship with the one we've lost, so to an extent there just isn't a way to share our grief.  And that is part, I realize, of why the first book on grief I read talked about so many families breaking apart.  As I've often said, that terrified me, so I set the book aside and vowed to beat those odds.  But you realize after some time has past that it is harder than you think it is going to be.  I would be interested to take a look at the twenty percent or so that make it.  I would be willing to wager one or the other of the partners is a nurturer by nature and managed their own grief by caring for their spouse.

I am not a particularly nurturing individual.  No surprise - it is a part of what got us to this place to begin with.  My dad's military stance of "snap out of" is pretty ingrained in me.  It made me drive my kids, and it made me slow to take what was happening with them as something more than a rebellious teenage phase.  The irony (another word I use too much) is that this attitude has seen me through.  Like a bull crashing through a loaded china shop, I've just powered my way through the past two years, which if you think about it have been pretty jam packed with obstacles:  caring for Mother in her dementia, losing Mother, losing four dogs, having a husband walk away from his job, buying one house, selling another, dragging all of us literally across the country (with the help of some very supportive friends), and then going through the culture shock of learning a very different place (although that's a bit of a cheat, because I love it here, so that part has been more intriguing than hard).  I have no doubt it is the legacy my dad left me that allowed me to do all that and remain standing in the process.

The downside is it does not allow me a lot of sympathy for someone who is traveling at a different pace.  I found myself wondering yesterday if I was not that different from the woman who told me to "just get over it" one day.  Am I just as monstrous because I'm losing patience with someone else who is lagging behind?  Or am I justified because it leaves me trying to pick up all these pieces on my own (or so I perceive anyway)?  And then you truly come to the realization why the statistics are what they are:  we need, each of us, support, patience and love to successfully travel the road of grief.  The problem is that the people that we would turn to naturally to get it are in the same spot and are the least able to provide it.  I can't care for someone else the way I need to because I'm grieving too, so it is my nature to eventually lose patience with the situation like a petulant child.

I am thinking about all of this because I had this moment last night where I just lost it.  In a way I really haven't in a long time (but am ashamed to say I certainly have done before).  I took one of our plates that I was trying unsuccessfully to put in the dishwasher and just smashed it against the counter sending it into hundreds of pieces scattered all across the kitchen (which isn't that far in that tiny little space).  The tipping point is that I couldn't get the dishwasher open.  The handle is broken.  Marissa is the only one who can successfully open it, and she's a couple of weeks away from moving to the dorm.  This ended a long day of frustration, with one little thing adding on top of another, and all of it just culminated in that pent up annoyance needing some sort of outlet.  I'm not proud of it.  Furthermore, I really love my dishes, so now I get to add to my laundry list of woes that I'm down one plate.  But, the best way I know to handle it because it's done and can't be undone, is to examine it and understand what exactly I was trying to smash, because it wasn't really my plate.

Actually, if the truth be told, it was someone's head that I probably wanted to bop.  If you had asked me yesterday, I would have self righteously told you that was because I feel like I am in this alone and then I would have rattled off a long list of wrongs I feel I've been dealt.  I'll skip to the end:  I'm trying to work some pretty intense hours and care for an older house that requires more work now because, with three humans, four dogs and two cats living in it, that's a lot of wear and tear.  I'm tired, I'm financially strung out with the last of the bills from the Texas house still just rolling in, and I could use a little help around the house.  Today, with a little time to consider it, I can see the other side.  I've got this other grieving person who's just trying to get through each day to see the next day and that takes all his energy.  He needs a support he's not getting from his spouse (yes, that would be me), and all his friends are 1,400 miles away thanks to me.  It's small wonder he can't manage to help around the house more.  He's concentrating just on existing and finding that hard enough.  So, the logic would be to do the best I can and if things are a little less than perfect here or there, just let it go and not worry about it.  Problem is, that just adds to my stress.  And that all just leads me back to those dire statistics I read about.  It's damn hard to reconcile all these competing needs.  It's small wonder most people just stop trying after a while.

What is the right thing to do here?  I don't know exactly.  All I can say right now is that I need to channel that sense of purpose my dad instilled in me once more because he would not have turned away and given up.  That is not how wars are won.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dark Knights and Dog Days

I became a Batman fan by accident.  I don't read comic books.  I've never seen any of the previous Batman movies all the way through - I came close with the one Val Kilmer was in - but in the summer of 2005 Marissa and I would use movies as the port in the storm so I convinced her to go try this new version I'd read good reviews about, Batman Begins.  It took a little coaxing, as I recall, it wasn't our kind of super hero movie, and it starred Katie Holmes.  No offense to the young lady, but we're not fans.  And, if I remember it correctly, the movie came out just days before Tom Cruise proposed to her in what has to be one of the more bizarre Hollywood couplings, and it sort of cast an additional pall over our already lackluster opinion of her as a serious actress.  But, there was so much good buzz about it, and we had seen everything else below an R rating (Marissa had just turned 16), so she gave in.  Probably more to get a quiet two hours in the dark than to really expect anything decent to watch in the process.  What we saw pleasantly surprised us and reeled me in.  Katie Holmes was not even much of a distraction, which I credited to good directing.  So, when The Dark Knight came out, this time with a lead actress we do both like, I was excited enough to score us tickets to an opening night Imax viewing.  I would end up seeing that movie five more times in the theatre, even closing down my group's office for the afternoon so we could all go see it.  It resides on my computer, my iPod, and I have it on an oft-used Blu Ray.  I was blown away, pardon the pun, by the film.  I could spend paragraphs telling you why, but it works on all levels for me, from the set direction, to the subtle concepts about Big Brother government and good v. evil being espoused throughout the film, to the brilliance of the acting, to the simple fact that lots of stuff blows up.    Film can be art and this is, in this layman's opinion, a masterpiece.

So, one Sunday spring morning I sat in my rocking chair in the sun room of my new home, reading over the paper and what do I see but the announcement that The Dark Knight Rises would be filming in Pittsburgh.  I hyperventilated.  Seriously, I did.  I knew I wanted to be a part of it.  Just to see what a genius looks like when he's working.  Well, thanks to my Lovely Philly Friend tipping me off, Marissa and I were.

Watch closely when the movie comes out, we'll be the two little black and gold dots in with all the other black and gold dots during the football scene.  That's all I can tell you really.  We all signed non-disclosures, and I wouldn't violate it anyway, because I have way too much respect for this film franchise to do that, plus what fun would that be?  And, truth be told, I actually don't know how the scene ends up.  It's a fragmented process, so our part was just a slice of an overall scene that will take days to film.

What I can tell you is that there are approximately 15,000 people, not all of them from here (we spent a large part of a very long day sitting next to a mother and son from Michigan and in front of a group of young men from Ohio), who are today a little worse for wear.  Marissa and I both have horrible sunburns despite taking an umbrella for shade.  The only black coat I had without a Steeler logo, a vintage wool affair that is very heavy, will need the lining repaired because it pulled when it stuck to my sweating skin as I pulled it on and off dozens of times to simulate a winter scene in what was in fact shot during the height of the summer heat.  For my part, I have a dehydration headache (for a while they ran out of water for our section), but that's probably the least of it for some people who were getting sick and requiring medical treatment right there.  We were up at 4:30 yesterday morning and got home about 8:30 that night, so we're tired with a full agenda today.  And it combined some of the worse things about Pittsburgh summers:  downtown traffic gridlock and random rain showers that lead to stifling heat and humidity when the clouds burn off.  By the end of the day, tempers were short and body odor was long.  But, for the rest of our lives, we can say we were a small part of Christopher Nolan's vision.  And that makes it all worthwhile for me.

However, as the day wore down, the company that coordinated our group for the film, was taking names and contact information for opportunities in other films.  Marissa and I declined to submit ours.  I may submit to one long, hot day of being drug around from one place to another carrying ten pounds of winter clothing for the sake of Gotham.  I'm not doing it for The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh II.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Good Morning, Myrna Loy. Goodbye Dear House. Hello New Home.

Myrna Loy and William Powell

Once again, I reach the anniversary of Myrna Loy's birth date.  As you know if you've been reading this for a while, I adore Myrna Loy.  Not only did she star in one of the greatest movies of all time, in my humble opinion, The Best Years of Our Lives, she starred in one of my favorite movie series to-date, The Thin Man series, but she and I share some things in common, so I've always felt drawn to her.  So, today, lovely Myrna, I will tip a glass to you and watch one or two of my favorites from your extensive body of work, and I will ask that you, in your turn, check in and say hello to the new residents of wherever it is that you are:  heaven or simply the cosmos somewhere, because, unfortunately, once more this has been a year that has seen the loss of good people too soon.

But there is reason to hope for a brighter year to come.  For me, personally, the biggest accomplishment to celebrate on this occasion is the fact that we are no longer encumbered by a home in Texas.  As of yesterday, that obligation belongs to someone else.  I am both overjoyed by that and a little sad.  I am overjoyed that we no longer have to pay two sets of bills and can maybe begin a long road back to some semblance of financial stability.  But, of course, we did a lot of living in that house, good and bad, and so the emotions are a little more complex than that.  And, despite it becoming the symbol of our great failure to save our daughter, it was not the house that did all that, it just sat as silent witness to the tragedy that unfolded within its walls and therefore, somewhere along the way, became the temple from which our unhappiness grew.  I hope, for the new owners' sakes, that the aura of all of that time was washed away in the gallons of new paint and varnish.  I hope it shelters them well and they have a happy life there.   Hard to say, as hard times befall us all at some point.  But, one can hope.

I think back to the days when we first moved in, and how amazing the house seemed, and how optimistic we were about our lives there.  That first summer, the kids still young and fascinated by having a big house with a pool, was magical.  I remember coming down the stairs our first night there, and noticing that Greg's brother had turned the light on in the pool and seeing that inviting body of water (still too cold too actually swim in at that point in the year) and feeling so amazingly fortunate to be there.  I remember, not long after we moved in, Kelsey asking me if I were to get rich whether I would still want to live in that house.  I said without hesitation that I would, and she seemed to be satisfied with that answer.   I remember the first time a deer came up to me and ate from my hand.  I remember watching the Steelers beat all odds and become Super Bowl champions again, not once, but twice, from that living room.  I remember family gatherings on Memorial Day where all the Veldman kids were together and laughing.   It's the moments like those that I feel emotional about.  But those moments I packed away and brought with me.  They are in my heart.  And my heart is here, in Pittsburgh.  Where it belongs.

Preparing for Super Bowl XLIII
And so we begin anew, my little family and me.  For better, maybe for worse.  But here is where we take our stand, and here is where I will always stay.  And, I greet this day with the knowledge that we are getting ready for some football!  For, if anything, Myrna Loy's birthday is the gateway to the end of the summer offseason and the beginning of the football preseason, now post-lockout, and can the real season be far behind?  No, boys and girls, it cannot.  So, on this very momentous of days, I will celebrate not only Myrna Loy's life, but that fact as well, and I will be grateful I saw the dark days of July through to their end.  I will not be mournful of what could have been in the house I leave behind.  I am going to try and make new and treasured memories in the one I have here (tiny kitchen and all).  I am going to make this home.