Monday, September 26, 2011

Now What?

I should be working, and I'll pay for this later, but I'm watching leaves float by outside my window instead, fascinated by the signs of real fall.  It seems incredible to me that, with the advent of autumn, I am about to experience the last of the four seasons here as a newbie.  How can that possibly be?  It seems like yesterday that I was standing in a living room that was wall-to-wall boxes wondering how I was going to fit it all in (I didn't - as the full attic can attest).  Depending upon what lens I am trying to view my experiences here through, it seems like time has gone by in the blink of an eye or has been an incredulously slow struggle.

The house has taken on that "lived in" look that a house does when people and pets cram into a space and then don't have copious amounts of time to care for it.  Sadly, I have never had my envisioned "meet and greet" where I had planned on inviting the neighbors and my family to come see the house while everything was still fresh and new.   There are three basic reasons for that:  1) I was intent on handling some of the maintenance items I inherited first, like the shutters on the back of the house that need painted and the hideous floral wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom and both still are not done, 2) work was more intense than I had imagined it would be, and 3) I drastically under-estimated the struggle we would have to assimilate - not with the place, but with our situation and with one another.

What I mean is:  there has been a struggle to find our way in this new world that transcends geography.  I've been thinking about why that is over the last few weeks and finally decided that it might be because we made the decision to move here in the late spring of last year, and the next months were full of planning and packing.  Our days were absorbed with looking at thousands of photos of houses with other people's stuff in them in areas we knew nothing about, trying to figure out what our stuff would look like in them and how to get it here.  If you think about it - the logistics of moving three humans, what we thought would be six dogs and two cats, and a literal lifetime worth of belongings is enormous.  It took some doing and kept us occupied and distracted.  But now it's done.  Now, we find ourselves here, we know the basics about the city - where the good movie theatre is, how to get to the zoo, and if puck drop is scheduled for 7:00, you better leave for the arena at 5:30 - so we are left with trying to figure out the Now What.

Now what do we do with the rest of our lives?  Because they are here.  And now.  Not some place in the future across the country.  I underestimated the difficulty of trying to figure that out.  Or, more to the point, I didn't stop to think about it.  Maybe because I couldn't or shouldn't, but as I was packing away Mother's silver, Dad's old slides, Greg's father's books, and the girls' old school projects, I never really thought about the fact that I was just postponing the inevitable.  That someday we would just have to face the fact of a future that will forever be colored by our past.  You can't avoid it forever, and you have to make some peace with it eventually in order to carry on.  Intellectually, I was probably always aware of that, but sometimes our mind talks to our heart, sometimes it doesn't.  Looking back on it, I think this summer was about us bumping up against that reality.  Whether or not it was made easier or harder with new surroundings, I'm not sure.  And what's more:  I don't think we're done with the process yet.  But, we're getting there, that I do think is true.

Marissa and I went to see The Foo Fighters Friday night.  They rank as a Top Five favorite band for me.  Kelsey introduced me to them, buying me The Colour and The Shape several years ago for my birthday.  We saw them as a trio - Marissa, Kelsey and myself - twice.  You may recall me mentioning them playing in Salt Lake City in an earlier blog.  It was not lost on me that Marissa wore my old Asia shirt that I had given to Kelsey at one point, whereupon she proceeded to wear it nearly into the ground, much to my dismay.   That way we took a little bit of Kelsey into the arena with us.   That's what life is now:  living with what we have, but not forgetting who we lost.  I hope Kelsey was with us somewhere because Dave Grohl really rocked the house.  She would have loved it.
Courtesy of from Wembley Stadium 2008 (trust me, my pictures weren't this good)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Song on the Radio (the Nobility of the Compromise)

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day's useless energy spent,
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight,
Red is grey and yellow white,
But we decide which is right,
And which is an illusion?
- Late Lament, the Moody Blues

I was sitting in my office one night with the radio tuned to some oldie station.  Oldies as in when I was in High School, which is pretty old actually.  I normally keep it on sports talk, but the normal sportscaster mind cast around here seems to be gloom and doom all the time, like it's a reverse psychology thing - be critical of the team no matter what and they will always be better than you think they are.  So, after about a minute of listening to them bash various components of the Steelers 24-0 win the weekend before, I decided I'd had enough and went surfing.  I stopped at a Fleetwood Mac song, noticing that the reception carried a bit of static, kind of like the old transistor radio days, but I stopped there anyway because I liked that song.  The follow-up was old John Mellencamp - back when he was a Cougar - which rolled into Steely Dan's Peg.  Wow, I thought to myself, it's like this station raided my iPod.  I suddenly found myself with a really wild sense of déjà vu, sitting there listening to all these old songs that I listened to as a young girl with a hint of static as the leaves turn to shades of brown and red  signaling the end of summer outside my window, just as though I were back in my parent's home and my life was ahead of me.  As Greg called me to come downstairs to dinner Peter Frampton was asking Do You Feel Like I Do? and that weird time warp feeling was complete.

And, like I tend to do when I get triggered like that, I began to over-think things.  I wondered what happened to that girl who listened to static-ridden radio hour after hour while doing homework?  It doesn't seem like a lifetime ago, but it has been.  Aside from my horror that my older self not only listens to Rush, but nearly worships them, what would I think of the person I became?  This is the stuff of raging middle age crisis's, to be sure - questioning where you ended up in life versus where you once dreamed you would be.

Where did I dream I would be?  That's easy to answer:  I dreamed I would be a published writer.  Not to say I won't ever be, and I do get to "publish" a few times a month here, so it is not like I sold out on the dream, I just delayed it by a few decades.  And, I planned on a larger audience - envision Stephen King.  Or at least Peter Straub.  If you're going to dream, might as well dream big.  But can I accept this compromise?  Can I be okay with just writing to all of you and maybe never reaching past that?

The thing about mid-life crises:  it's your mind's way of grappling with what is, what could still be, and what never will be.  This process is undoubtedly a little more poignant for someone who lost a child along the way.  The trick is to make peace with all these aspects and be realistic about the future.  So, I want to be careful about what I'm about to say:  I don't want to make it seem as though I'm saying that people should not reach for the stars.  They should.  But, I also they should be okay if they only get to stargaze.  There is no disgrace in that.

My husband is all about the new show The X-Factor.  He pulled me out of my office today to watch this young man's audition.  He's a garbage man currently, pretty fresh out of rehab with bad teeth and less than Hollywood hunk looks.  He's got some talent, but he's not the next Justin Timberlake.  He's got a great story so that'll take him a ways in the competition.  I doubt he's the one who ends up with a $5M contract frankly, but he'll get something.  And something is more than he had before, so hopefully he will know to make the most of the chance he's getting and be able to run with that opportunity.  But, for all his co-workers who sit at home and watch, feeling bad that they collect garbage for a living, I would say, "Don't."  There is honor in working hard, no matter at what it is that you work at.  I respect the dudes who collect my trash - a lot.  Collecting my trash has got to be less than lovely - it's mostly pet poop.  Yet, they do it every week without fail.  Where would I be without them?  And by collecting my week's worth of dog and cat crap they keep a roof over their family's collective heads.  They shouldn't be ashamed of that.  That is the noblest of pursuits.  Providing for your family.

Circling back around to my own personal midlife crisis and what I would say to others in my same position, it is this:  I have to accept that my life isn't exactly what I had envisioned when Aja was a new album, and I need to make peace with that.  As do all of us in the same position.  I need to realize that I may still have a purpose to serve with my writing, but it's okay that I'm never going to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.  I compromised my dreams to make a living, there is no doubt.  But, as they say, it is what it is.  Dwelling on it won't make it three decades ago and won't make it my Mother's old radio that I'm listening to.  It won't turn me 17 again.  All I have is now.

But, for now, I'm back to listening to sports talk  - my brain can't take all the depth of classic rock...  

Monday, September 19, 2011

The All-Sports Weekend (or Six Flags Over Pittsburgh)

The logos for the six Super Bowls the Steelers have won flutter above Heinz Field on a beautiful fall day
My work-life balance had tipped the scale to all work, no real life over the last few weeks.  This is not, I should point out, because my employers were pressuring me to work harder - even though I am a long way from the worker I once was in terms of sheer hours - but because there are certain deadlines and expectations to meet, and, frankly, because I work a little scared all the time.  In a down economy, the major breadwinner has that extra little worry nipping at their heels:  finding another job isn't a given.   And, as I've oft lamented, in my case:  literally finding another job might prove to be a real challenge for me unless it is in one of about four places in the city I can now find easily through mass repetition.   But, if you go at that pace for too long you end up not doing anyone a favor, including the people you work for, because workers are like any other kind of machinery, they need to re-charge occasionally to operate at maximum efficiency.  So, I had carved out this weekend for a long time as the "re-charge" weekend.  I had envisioned it as a lazy, sit around the house, read a book and watch some football kind of an affair, but it evolved into something quite different.

For one thing, did you know that professional hockey training camp is generally NOT open to the public?  Did you ever even think about it?  No, neither had I really.  But, as it turns out, it's not.  Now, what you may know is that arguably the best hockey player on the planet, Sidney Crosby, plays for Pittsburgh and was recently cleared for non-contact workouts after months off the ice recovering from a concussion.  So, when the Penguins opened the first two practices to the public, it seemed like an event I couldn't miss.  Greg patiently packed up a book and a crossword puzzle and accompanied me to Consol Energy Center at 8:45 on a beautiful Saturday morning and sat there with me and a few thousand others in the cold arena as groups of skaters - recognizable veterans mixed in with newly drafted unknowns - took to the ice to chase pucks around until at last the final group came out, and there he was:  skating out to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Sidney Crosby.  So, I watched him skate around for about an hour, amusing myself with the wailing, screaming teenage girls who were trying to catch his attention and his single-minded resolve not to look at them or acknowledge them in anyway until finally I was satiated and told Greg we could go if he was ready.  I've never seen him move that fast.  He was more than ready.  We walked back out into the sunshine of a gorgeous fall day over four hours later, me thinking I had just had the most amazing experience, Greg surely thinking that's four hours he'd never get back.

But, the best was yet to come.  Also courtesy of the husband, who came home Thursday morning to tell me he had heard on the radio that visiting west coast teams that cannot sell all the allotted tickets the Steelers send them, will release them back and they are then made available to us at face value.  The Steelers home opener was against the Seahawks.  It doesn't get any more west coast than that.  I popped online and, lo and behold, he was right!  The seats weren't very good, but whatever:  they were in the stadium - binoculars and a jumbotron will take care of the rest.  So, Marissa and I pulled out of the house at 10:00 yesterday morning for a 1:00 kick-off and made it home at about 6:45 last night (and, yes, I did get lost coming home).  But, we had stored up in our collective experience a home shut-out on a simply beautiful fall day.  She'll have to tell you what it was like from her own viewpoint, but, for me, sitting there in those crappy seats high above the enclosed end zone, it was a little like heaven.  This is where I live now, I thought to myself at one point, I am one of those people I've spent years watching on TV.  When the announcer talks about places to go for Steeler merchandise, I know where he's referring to.  It was a bit surreal actually.  To be truly one of the home crowd.

Now on Monday morning, fifteen minutes away from logging back into the work week, I am processing what had to be close to an ideal weekend and a few thoughts come to mind:  we work to live.  When we tip that scale and live to work some things happen, and not that many of them are good.  For one thing, my brain was fried.  I was becoming tired and resentful, and I could tell my attention to the little details was slipping.  I feel more up to the task this morning, ready to get back at it and a bit more rested.  But, I also thought about people who maybe throw themselves into their work to avoid their grief.  I have signed up recently to volunteer to be like a peer counselor for others who have lost loved ones to ED.  And it occurred to me that I might very well come across someone who uses workaholism to escape from the pain of losing someone they love.  What would I say to that person?  That's complicated because on the one hand, each of us in our family have done what we had to do to get through the day in the last two plus years.  If it helps, then why knock it?  But, on the other hand, I think about all the moments like the ones I had this weekend and realize that you don't get those locked in an office 20 hours a day.  There's more to this, and I'm not done processing it all, but it's time to log back in and let the scale tip back to the work side of the equation...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I've spent what little spare time I've had in the last couple of weeks trying to get our taxes ready for the CPA.  It has for years now been a last minute ordeal for us because our taxes are incredibly complicated and because I had an interest in a commercial partnership, so I have to wait on a Schedule K-1 every year that makes an extension inevitable.  So, come late August and on into September, I sit down with a literal mountain of data, sort through it, organize it, create spreadsheets and calculate mileage allowances, etc.  It is never an easy process, and every year I tell myself next year I will do all this as I go along, and then, every year, I never do.

This year was by far the worst.  Sitting here right now, at the midway point of September, I am still chasing two critical documents I need - no doubt the originals were lost somewhere in the mail in the forwarding process.  I had receipts here, there and every where because of the move - despite trying very hard to get it all together when I packed.  And I have Mother's final return and information to deal with.  I thought I had most of it together finally Sunday as I licked my wounds from the awful season football opener (I figured I was already royally pissed off - might as well really seal the deal and finish prepping my taxes), only to realize I still had items missing Monday morning when the beer and frustration wore off a little.

At one point Sunday as I scrambled to find where I put the packet of original death certificates for Mother, I had to thumb through all our critical documents and came across Kelsey's birth and death certificates and several documents of Mom's - her nursing license, her marriage license, my doctored birth certificate and the original one where I was still listed as Baby McGuigan (no one puts Baby in a corner...or a lock box, as the case may be).  I collapsed into Greg's arms at one point sobbing, just overcome by having to touch all those documents again just to be able to file a stupid tax return.  I didn't tell him that I would have likely handled that better if the Steelers had given me a win.  My guess is he probably knows that and doesn't hold it against me.  For all the things that have tugged at our union over the last couple of years, maybe that is why it has held up:  there are things we accept about one another that no one else would understand or tolerate.

But, even as that awful Sunday dawned into a beautiful Monday and now a crisp fall Tuesday, it is like trudging through quicksand to get the last finishing touches on the packet.  I want it out of my house like it's a poison.  I mean no one likes doing taxes, but for me this year has been particularly excruciating.  Last year, with three returns to handle - Kelsey's final return and Mom's right after she died plus our own, I think I was just too numb to react.  The woman who had worked on Mom's return for years was very kind and took care of Kelsey's and Mom's without me having to do much.  Now, a year later, that numbness has worn off and I am left with reliving what tax season means to a family battling illness.  It means facing just how horribly expensive and complicated it is.  I'm remembering all of that.  And hating every second of it.

As most families battling an eating disorder can tell you, the disease has multiple tentacles that reach into all areas of your life and attach themselves there.  Because most insurance plans in most states offer very little coverage for issues directly related to its treatment, it means - as I've talked about before - you have to pay out of pocket for doctors and resources and then fight with the insurance companies to get reimbursed.  You will likely lose the fight and then be left with trying to get some relief as deductions on your tax return.  Of course, as you add all that up at the end of the year, you are faced with the reality of exactly how much you spent.  I've mentioned before, I think, raiding the change jar to be able to afford groceries at one point.  Every penny I earned went to medical expenses for a couple of years running.  Our retirement was gone, we had a second mortgage on the house to pay for expenses, and, in the end, we simply couldn't afford to help Kelsey any longer and so her death certificate sits next to her birth certificate in a strong box downstairs.  These are all the things, all the struggles, I have to relive when I touch the receipts and prep the spreadsheets I have to in order to fulfill my obligation as a taxpaying citizen of this country without getting completely screwed in the process.

One more thing to think about as I consider what role I should play in the eating disorder community.  I think about all the parents or spouses of individuals struggling with the disease now, and think about them trying to juggle just the stress of the disease with trying to find a way to pay for it.  And how alone they surely feel at times.  I get that.  I was there.  Sometimes I feel like I can't abandon them to that fate, but sometimes I feel that all I want to do is live my simple life in my little house and aspire to only have to file a 1040EZ once again...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years On: What I Remember

Growing up, all the adults I knew could tell you down to the most precise details where they were when Kennedy was shot.  It was the defining moment for that generation.  Even Mother would get a rather faraway look in her face whenever she would talk about it, as though she was reliving it again, and be able to tell you where she was, who she was with and what she was doing when she heard the news.  And, if you think about it, she was alive through the Wall Street crash in '29, Pearl Harbor, the dropping of the first atomic bomb, VE and VJ Day, and almost obliterated by total nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  So, for this single event in a string of dramatic world events in her lifetime to be the one she would talk about over and over again as I was growing up says something both about the power of the then new-ish medium of television, but also how much that single act gripped this country.

I thought my generation had that moment when the Challenger Space Shuttle blew up.  I can tell you about that day even now.  Little did I know that it would be dwarfed years later by a day so dark that it has cast a shadow on all our days since.  So, here we are, on the precipice of its tenth anniversary, and I bet there is not a single individual who will read this who cannot tell you precisely where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001.

The thing is, I can indeed remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard about the attacks, and I can remember much about the first hours.  After that, the day becomes hazy for me - the next several do actually.  I remember the natural instinct to glue oneself to the TV to watch as thousands of New Yorkers posted pictures on makeshift bulletin boards and light poles looking for loved ones.  Loved ones you knew they would never find.  I remember feeling so helpless against that.  I remember struggling to know how much I should tell my kids and trying to gauge their reactions to make sure they weren't too scared.  I read articles about it - but I'm not sure any of us got it right.  All of the parents I know were in shock and just struggling to make sense of it themselves.  Sitting here now I wonder if any of that played a small part in Kelsey's disease:  in a world gone mad, some small thing she could control.  Who knows?

I remember trying to worry over the staff I supervised who all had different reactions to 9/11 against just the ongoing rush of work.  I can't remember if we let the office close the actual afternoon of 9/11 or not - I think I probably let anyone who wanted to go home leave and kept a skeleton staff, but I honestly don't remember.  I do remember one of the managers struggling with a homeowner who called multiple times that day to complain about her neighbor's dog barking.  Clearly the caller had no idea what had happened, and her complaint felt so pitifully lame against the magnitude of the day that it was hard to handle her diplomatically.  I remember in the days that followed having to worry about Anthrax in the mail, and getting protective gear for the lovely woman who was our receptionist.  How bizarre that was.  I remember other bits and pieces of people's reactions over the days and weeks that followed - some of the more highly strung individuals had a hard time dealing with it and became disruptive.  Looking back on it now, I understand the post-traumatic stress reaction a bit better.  At the time, I was just a little incredulous.  Everyone was on edge - our sense of security had come crashing down around us, someone whining at me about observing moments of silence when I've got phones ringing and people waiting to ask me questions just made me want to silence her.  That I remember.

I remember worrying about a cousin who works in Washington.  She was fine, but in the first hours of the attacks when cell phone towers not destroyed were overloaded, no one could find her.  The first call I made was to my mother, I thought she would be scared.  I underestimated her:  all those dramatic events in her life made her stoic in the face of tragedy.  But, she immediately called her sister to ask about my cousin.  My poor aunt.  At the time, I didn't realize another cousin worked at a nuclear power plant that had immediately gone on high alert.  She had two children in harm's way that day.  I can only imagine what those first hours were like for her.

I remember at one point that first night, exhausted from watching hours of footage of the most awful images, thinking that more people would die as a direct result of this day.  Sadly, I was very right about that.

All I want to remember on this anniversary is that roughly 3,000 souls would not live to see September 12, and each of them had names and families who loved them and miss them still.  Others who did survive struggle with disease and injury as a direct result of the attacks.  Young men and women from all across the country currently are in service trying to protect us from other 9/11's and put their lives at risk every moment of every day for that purpose.  Whether or not I observed a moment of silence at work ten years ago is nothing compared to that.  My worrying over long lines at airport security checkpoints now is nothing compared to that.  Whether the Steelers beat the Ravens is nothing compared to that.   I am glad I live in the country I do:  despite all its flaws and petty bickering between political factions, we have continued on in the face of this tragedy, so I hope everyone remembers the things that I do.

Monday, September 5, 2011

So It Begins

And finally it is here.  September.  Which means one thing around here.  Football.  I knew this already:  you watch football three days a week (high school, college and Steelers), and talk about it the other four.  The Pirates must be so relieved, the spotlight suddenly and irrevocably turned off their stunning slide from first to worst.  The Penguins will get some press when training camp starts later this month, but for this brief moment, it is all about the pigskin.

And, of course, this is what I have waited for all of my life.  To be here and part of this.  I worried that I would miss being the big Black and Gold fish in a Cowboy pond, and there is no denying there is nothing whatsoever that stands out about me until I open my mouth to a Texan-like drawl.  I drive the same car about one in four people do here, it even now has a Pennsylvania plate on the back and a stunning Six Time Super Bowl decorative plate on the front, I dress like EVERYBODY else, in one of the "oldest" counties in the country I'm about the median age, and I love my team.  Nothing special here.  But, I find I am, so far anyway, happy to be a member of the herd, because at least I am close to the action.

I do feel the inner competitiveness creeping in with this strong urge to out black and gold my neighbor, however.  When I first moved in, I thought we had the potential to be great friends, as I may have mentioned before.  He had his house decked out in equal parts Steeler and Penguins, he is about my age and has an adult child that lives at home.  With so much in common, I figured we were sure to click.  Wrong.  We call them The Mikes.  Mike, Mike Jr. and Mrs. Mike.  We call them that because the husband, Mike, is the only one any of us have been truly introduced to.  Mike was cordial enough initially.  Mike Jr. can be fairly nice in passing, which he should be since we didn't call the cops on his beer pong party that got a little out of hand a few weeks ago, but Mrs. Mike?  Well, she's a stone cold [deleted].  I would put it down to them not liking the dogs, which I don't think they do, or being upset about the fence, which I think they might be, but they were like that in the four months before the fence went up and the dogs got here.  And, I understand they were not too warm and fuzzy with the woman who lived here before.  Of course everyone in the neighborhood talks about her by saying, "well, she was really old."  Or, "she really didn't want to give up the house."  I always picture someone who was pretty much like Mom in her later years - stubborn, proud and senile enough to be infuriating.  Nonetheless, I don't particularly take their snubs personally, they are just less-than-friendly people.  But, there can be no denying that the two male Mikes are big sports fans.  So, at one point during the summer they acquired wind chimes like my little Steelers ones, only theirs are about four times as big.  So, now his big ass wind chimes sit out there next to his gas grill cover that looks like a Steeler jersey and just sing to me to meet the challenge.  I am trying to fight the urge to try and outdo them in their Steeler-ishness and just accept it takes all kinds to make up a nation and his bigger wind chimes don't make me less of a fan, but I will probably lose the fight to some regard.  I already decorate the front of the house pretty elaborately on game days, and I have naturally gathered up some new swag during the off season.  My guess is that I will have enough of a chip on my shoulder that I will feel compelled to make sure that, whatever the Mikes put up as of next week, I've got one more banner flying than he does.

From the PPG Zoo and Aquarium Blog
But, for me, banners and wind chimes aside, as the fall begins to enter the area and slowly the leaves on the trees begin to turn, deciding what to do balanced out with work may be the biggest worry.  I've written about the battle of pulling myself out the door and allowing myself some fun.  As the festivities of an NFL town that loves its team ramped up this weekend, the city seemed to have answered me and made it impossible to stay cooped up.  It's like an orgy of activity:  we had the Steelers Pep Rally at the zoo on Saturday, Pitt opened its season that night,  the Steelers 5K was the next morning.   Going forward, there will be player appearances and other little charity events during the week and, of course, real, live football on Sunday.  I'm like a kid in a candy store suddenly, some of the weight of a tough summer falls away with the promise of this new season.

For Greg it is completely different.  This fall may be the true litmus test if he can make it here, or if he even really wants to.  On Saturday, as he and Marissa struggled to find a feed on the Internet of the Texas-Rice game, I think we all had a taste of how hard it will be for him to be away from what he knows and loves.  He's spent the summer telling me it doesn't matter to him, he was ready to leave.   He said it because he believed it. But, the rubber is now hitting the road.  I'm not sure he won't feel the sting of homesickness more poignantly than he thought he would.  I don't know if it is really football he will miss, but everything that has defined him for a half century, which includes Longhorn and Cowboy football.   The game, or rather the lack of it, will bring all of that cascading down on him.

I have to try and be sensitive to that as we move forward, me reveling in the newness of being at the heart of the Steeler Nation and him finding himself an outsider in a foreign land.  Maybe he'll end up relishing the role of being the Blue and Silver fish in the Steeler pond, and then my only worry is making sure no one beats him up because they really don't like the Cowboys around here.  But, for now, I think as I dress up the house for the opening weekend, I will need to remember to hang a Cowboy flag alongside my four Steeler ones.

And, Comcast, you could help a little if you'd only offer the Longhorn Network...

Courtesy of (it was better than anything I took)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Days Like These

Hard to imagine a more perfect day.  Whether sitting in the sun or in the shade, it was comfortable.  The sky was a crystal blue, only marred by the soft wisps of white clouds and the darting of song birds.  Squirrels frolicked in the trees and butterflies traveled on the breeze.  These are the days that are made to carry us through darker times.  These are the days we live for.  Hard to imagine any sorrow surviving against a day like this one.  Yet they do.

One thing that has struck me on more than one occasion is my attitude in the face of a bad day in the last two years.  We all have them.  Days when it just seems you would have been better off not getting out of bed.  And doesn't it seem that when it begins to unravel, it just keeps on going?  Like an avalanche that you are standing directly in front of.  I always used to tell myself, "Oh well, just get it all out of the way at once," not stopping to think if it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that once one negative thing happens we somehow set ourselves up for more.  If I had ever just said, "Okay, that's it for today.  The rest of the day will be great,"  maybe it actually would be.  That might work some of the time actually.  But sometimes it does just sort of seem like Life is taking a big, fat dump on your head.  And, that's just part of the gig.  I used to sort of rationalize it by telling myself it is the bad days that make you appreciate the good ones.  And, if I were particularly bad tempered over a day's worth of crap, I could work up a good case of guilt on top of it by reminding myself of all the people in the world living in squalor or imprisoned and tortured because of their religious or political beliefs, and I should just suck it up.  That one generally worked to take the edge off a little.

That was then.  Now, I tend to be almost incredulous that bad days roll my way.  I cannot believe I am having to deal with this or that, doesn't Life realize I've been through enough?  The other day was a good case in point.  It was just a standard Bad Day set against a backdrop of a gorgeous one.  Somehow that makes it worse because you breathe in the sweet morning air and feel somewhat optimistic, so when things begin to go awry, it seems so off kilter in comparison to the beauty of the day.  Without going into boring details, things just sort of took off on a downhill roll, and by about 9:00 that night, as I was locked out of my work program after it timed out when I had left it open to deal with a bill collector (long story, that involved a perfect storm of situations, including trying to switch banks so some money is here, some is over there and all of it is chaos), I reached the inevitable conclusion that I was having a Really Bad Day.  And that same resentful cry to the Karma Gods rose up from me, "Really?  I think I've given enough and you should cut me a break."

Rationally, I know that's silly.  Just as I know it's silly to feel guilt over the good days.  Because I have those too.  Particularly since coming here where any outing is an adventure because it's new and different.  But, I do very often.  Not every time, but that allowance has come with some effort.   There is a natural tendency as a surviving parent to think that you cannot possibly deserve any happiness if your child isn't around to be able to experience the same emotion.  It takes a real effort to work past that.

Yet, both good and bad days just keep on coming.  To deny them is to live a life in limbo.  I would imagine many people who experience great loss try to live in that middle ground, shut off from all real emotion good and bad.

That night, after getting off the phone with the bill collector, frustrated and in tears because I couldn't get her to waive the late fee even though it was my first time ever being late and I was exactly 20 days past due, I took Cheyenne for a long walk.  We walked up the cemetery that dominates the landscape here.  I will write more about it at some point; it actually is an amazing place, both eerie and peaceful, a little history lesson of the township set up on a hill overlooking the entire area.  The dead keeping an eye on the living.  I like walking in the older section and looking over the tombstones and imagining what the people resting below them were like in life.   One thing that strikes you as you wander amongst stones set literally a century and a half ago in many cases is what impermanent fixtures we are, all of us.  It seems a little silly to obsess over an $18 late fee and waste what time you are given over things like that. (Greg got it waived the next day, a man talking to a man, as an opposed to my conversation with a woman - there are some implications there that I'm not sure I like, but whatever...)  So, I tried to take in the glory of the day as it closed out, the crystal blue of the sky fading to a faint pink, then to dusty grey, the last of the summer fireflies blinking lazily along the way like little diamonds in the oncoming night. To deny myself some pleasure in such simple beauty won't bring my daughter back.  It will only waste the moment.  And, trying to live in limbo doesn't mean the bad days won't find me, it just means the better ones won't either.

Maybe the hardest thing of all in learning to live with loss is learning to accept that it is okay to live your own life.  Good days and bad.