Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I will tell you up front there are a few morals to this story, but to get to the moral, you have to wade through the story.

I woke up on June 21 feeling as though a weight had been lifted from me.  There, that's over, I thought to myself.  I've made it past the months of May and June.  Past Mother's Day, Kelsey's birthday, Father's Day, Greg's birthday and the anniversary we all dread the most.  Most of those days are supposed to be happy occasions, but of course now they are forever tainted, and the fact that they are all jammed so close together on the calendar is both an interesting blessing and a bit of a curse.  On the one hand, you get them over with in one big block with a few little breaks in between, but then again, I sometimes wonder if May-June will always be just a block of time to just grit my teeth and survive.  But that means I'm conceding 17% of every year and, I'm here to tell you, time flies like a rocket, so I'm not sure I want to give up 17% of the time I have left on this planet to mere existence.  The only real answer is to do the mental work to rebuild my personal psyche to withstand the assault May-June will always throw at me in much the same way I'm beginning to reclaim the rest of my life.  However, I digress.  Because, as much as I felt such an extreme amount of relief on a personal level for having gotten through the day, I couldn't escape a nagging feeling that something bad was about to happen.  I had myself half convinced that the plane home would crash or something - the feeling was that strong.  When we began the descent into Pittsburgh to choppy, cloudy skies, I thought briefly I might actually be right.  But, the plane cut through the rain clouds to reveal a gorgeous view of Heinz Field, the three rivers and Point State Park and the whole downtown as it swung around.  Long story short, we made it just fine.  My luggage was intact, even though I had to take a call from an upset client as I was trying to receive it.  I was beginning to think my overactive imagination was playing tricks on me when Greg picked me up right on time.

I spent the first half hour or more of the ride home listening to the client, but I could tell that Greg was annoyed about something.  I assumed he wasn't pleased that I didn't even say hello, already engaged in the phone conversation when he arrived.  But, finally, as soon as I hung up, he started in.  No, it wasn't my lack of greeting that was eating at him.  Something had transpired on the anniversary of Kelsey's death that had upset and worried him.  So, in he starts and that story takes up most of the rest of the ride in.  All the way through all the southern suburbs.  Through the tunnel that I love driving through so much because the cityscape explodes into view out the north end of it.   All the way up the highway to our exit.  In other words, the whole trip in I was either being bombarded by a client who was upset over something I could not possibly even check for him at the moment or being bombarded by a husband who was upset over something I had no control over.   As I listened, I realized this was the reason I had such a dreadful feeling.  But a number of other thoughts ran through my head too, vying for primary attention.  First was:  really?  You couldn't wait until we got home to hit me with this?  Second:  he didn't call me in Dallas to tell me, so he's bottled it up for two days and of course can't wait anymore.  Third:  really?  You had to lay this on me before even saying hello or asking me how the trip was?  I called you on June 20th, after all, nobody checked in with me, I notice.  And I was all by myself.  Fourth:  probably the nicest thing he could have done was not call me and let me concentrate on work.  Fifth:  who the hell voted me as the strong one who's supposed to figure all this stuff out?  Sixth:  oh look, there is a wild turkey on the side of the road.  How cool.  Seventh:  at least I'm home.  I really miss Pittsburgh when I'm away from her.

At the end of the weekend, we had more or less as a family figured some things out.  We'll have to see how it goes I guess, but in the end, the hard work will have to be done by only one of us.  But as I processed all the wild emotions of the past week or so, a few things come clear.  One thing I notice is, while I may be past the primary stages of grief, I'm certainly not as elastic as I once was.  My tolerance level for drama is pretty low.  I don't have the energy to try and face it, let alone fix it.  But, on the other hand, real life doesn't seem to really care.  It just keeps on coming, so I know that I have to get past that at some point.  But it helps to have some tools to lean on when things get tough as long as they are the right kind of tools and are not self destructive.

Now, with a few days to have processed everything, I know how traumatized Greg was, so I've more than forgiven him for hitting me with his pain the minute he had the chance.  I'm more ashamed of myself for not seeing how hard it was on him and how alone he had been, even though I was the one by myself in a hotel room that night.

So, this is what I learned from all of that:  recovery is fragile.  It can bend, maybe even break, with just a  ripple.  You have to know that going forward, accept it and have tools to deal with it and begin to rebuild it when it happens.  The next thing I learned is that I'm further along in that process because I do have those tools.  As I sat out back Friday night, watching fireflies dance in the high limbs of the trees around me and the dogs at my feet, I realized that I've done a pretty good job at finding the support system I need.  I may not have brothers or sisters to call and comfort me, but I have a furry family, I have this blog, and I have the city that I love so much.  That's why I'm the stronger one.  No one elected me for the role, I just managed to stumble on the right combination.  Now the task will be to find those tools for my husband.  My daughter, I think, is working on hers with some painful trial and error.

On Saturday, I took my heavy heart to the NHL Draft being held here and waited in line an hour and a half for my chance to see the Stanley Cup.  They not only let you see it.  They let you hug it, kiss it, stroke it, whatever.  I was amazed.  The one, the only Stanley Cup.  The most venerated trophy in all sport, in my opinion.  As I hugged this incredible piece of hardware, thinking how I was touching something that had been touched by the greatest to have ever played the game, I had a great sense of joy and calm in the sea of turmoil.  To anyone reading this who is trying to recover from trauma or grief:  you must find your Stanley Cup moments and use them to gather the strength to endure the rest of the day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dear Kelsey, Part IV

I've made a couple of false starts with this year's letter and finally decided I'd just write it as though I were having a long distance phone call to my now 26-year old daughter, and we were having an adult conversation.  I decided I'd write just like I would talk to you if you were healthy and relatively content, because one thing, and about the only thing, I know for sure is that you are finally free of your eating disorder.  With that being determined, here is what I would like to say:

I wish I had brought you here to Pittsburgh, but I confess that I'm not sure it has been the best thing for your sister.  I can't tell about your dad.  Sometimes I think he's okay here.  Other days, I wonder...   And I think I feel that way because it is that way:  somedays he likes the opportunities for things to do here, the fact it's hit 90 degrees only once so far, and the simple fact that it's quiet - meaning, there is not a lot of family dynamic drama to distress him as he works through his own personal demons.  Other days, I think he misses the old crutches that he had there.  I know being this far from his closest friends is not always easy.

Marissa likes it here, I think, but without the same support system she had in Texas I think there have been some negatives that cause me to worry.  I'd probably ask you to talk to her, maybe.  Honestly, the fact that you're not here to do just that is part of the irony of the whole thing.  She  misses you and needs you now, so she has to find an outlet for all that longing.  If you had beaten your demons, I'd ask you to help her beat hers, but of course if you had beaten them, she might not be struggling.  Around and around we go...

I'm sure we'd gossip a bit about the family.  Who knows what my relationship would have been with them if you were still around.  Chances are pretty good I would not have come completely off my nut and alienated your aunt.  I'm not really in like flint with your uncle these days for reasons we might discuss.  I know you loved your family deeply, so I have no idea actually where you would come down in that debate.  What I can tell you is that people grossly overestimated both my fiscal and emotional resources after your grandmother Bleiler died.  I couldn't be present on any level for anybody.  I'm not exactly the Rock of Gibraltar now.  I can take care of myself pretty well, but I find it hard still to be present for others, particularly if they think I "owe" them some obligation.  But, I know my estrangement hurts Marissa.  I would assume it would be problematic for you too, and I regret that.  A lot.  Like I said, who knows what the situation would be if you were just living in Seattle, let's say.  A lot of things would have happened very differently, that's for sure.  But, don't take that as a rebuke.  Different is not the same as saying better.  And my relationship, or lack of one, with your father's family is not your responsibility, in either life or death.

Of course, if we were having a conversation, I would ask you how you are.  I am sure that would be an awkward moment during the call because, try as I might to make it sound casual and light, there would be a shadow of worry and concern, maybe even suspicion, in the underlying tone.  And you would know it.  You'd likely resent it when I asked it, but you'd be pissed if I didn't.    Mother-daughter conversations are always laced with little emotional traps.  Ours probably would be a veritable minefields.  Two passionate personalities, I guess.  But, I'd both want to know the real truth and not want to know it, just to be honest.    One thing I can tell you that I know about myself:  I'm not as strong as I like to tell myself I am.  I'm not sure, if you were to come back and respond that you were struggling still with The Beast, that'd I'd have any mental resources left to throw at it.  And, while I'm not rifling through the change jar to buy groceries any more, I'm not sure how we'd tackle the extreme financial cost of ED at this point either.  I'd have to figure out how to respond in that case if the news was bad so that I didn't offend or alienate you, but that would be hard to do because you'd be sensitive and aware of all of those things.  If the answer was genuinely positive, I'm sure I throw up a silent prayer of thanks, but it would only be temporary until the next time we spoke and the question came up.  I think the reality of the situation is that I would be forever half expecting that horrible disease to reclaim you, or at least for a lot of years to come.

I can tell you I hate it as I hate very few things.  I read yesterday that a 25 year-old woman committed suicide after a long struggle with ED.  She just couldn't do it anymore.  I know you felt the same way.  So one more promising life ended abruptly at the hands of that awful disease that won't go down in the record books as being directly related to it.  But you and I both know what a killer ED is.  I should have fought it harder and better for you.  I am so sorry.  You'll just never know exactly how sorry I am.  But, even if I had, would it have been enough?  Does pondering that even matter?  It doesn't, and almost all of the days of the year I know that, but today is not one of them.  June 20 is probably always going to be the day I wonder what would have happened if I had done just a little bit more a little bit better...just so you know.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Whistling Past the Graveyard

It took five months to live up to my New Year's Resolution to resume the afternoon walk with Cheyenne, but in May we began again where we left off.  So, unless something dire is taking place at work or if a hockey/baseball game interferes with the schedule, after Cheyenne's dinner we go for the nightly "walkie-walk" and she leads the way.  She knows exactly where it is she wants to go, which is to the cemetery.

In our neighborhood, the cemetery is the focal attraction.  I'm a bad judge of spaces, but it's got to be 100 acres minimum, maybe more, definitely not less, of the most prime real estate in Shaler.  It weaves through rolling hills that overlook a breathtaking view of the Appalachian foothills that kiss the outskirts of Pittsburgh.   One section dips down into a quiet open meadow.  No matter if you are high or low, it is a lovely place and only the dead reside there.  At first I thought that a shame that bordered on the criminal, but I've since re-thought it, which brings me to the post I'm writing currently and the overall question it poses:  do the living need a physical place to come and honor the dead?

At first I wouldn't walk Cheyenne there, although I saw other people walking their dogs.  I thought it would be construed as dishonorable to allow my smelly, panting, pooping dog to slobber along the gravesides of people's loved ones.  But, gradually I noticed that people treat it like a park.  Not only do they walk their pets there, they walk their kids in strollers, jog, and take picnics there.  I have to confess, there is nothing scary or intimidating about so much death, it's beautiful and peaceful.  Almost makes me wish I would be spending my eternity tucked somewhere along its gently rolling hillsides underneath a pine tree or two.

Cheyenne loves it because it is full of delicious smells.  I sometimes do shudder to think exactly what all she can smell, but she seems particularly keen on a gopher the size of a house that lives under the Siemon family, but now has opened up a new hole in the meadow.  She can trace that animal's movements from a half mile away, I swear.  She knows exactly where to go to find the Siemon family headstone and the huge hole that betrays that something other than just the three Siemons rest there.  The funny thing is, she spends so much time with her nose pressed to the ground that she misses the actual animal she is seeking.  But I see him.  And he's huge, hence his nickname "Godzilla Gopher".  She also flushes out bunnies and the occasional deer, so I guess I retract my former statement:  a number of creatures live on the land, just none of them human.

The site is split somewhat informally into the newer and older section.  We live closer to the newer side, so that's sadly where we walk the most.  I say sadly because the sense of history one gets walking on the other side is deeper.  There is a website listing the gravesites and somewhere over there is someone who died in the 18th century.  I am determined to find him, but I haven't yet.  On "my" side, there are people who died in 1865 resting next to someone who died in 2005.  Travis Augustine rests there.

I first found Travis last September.  I was noticing the number of Steeler memorabilia placed on people's graves as the season opened and was drawn to his in particular because it was buried, if you'll allow, with stuff.  Balloons, flowers, wreaths and Terrible Towels, among other sundry things, including family photos.  Turns out it was the anniversary of his death a day or two before.  He was a year younger than Kelsey and died about a year after her.  I went home and looked up his obituary.  He was an army vet.  So, this Memorial Day I went to pay my respects.  And, with all the paraphernalia gone, I could see they had purchased a double headstone and the vase in-between says "Together Forever".  The obituary doesn't mention that he was married, so I'm not sure who that neighboring spot is for  - but he left people behind who loved him and they clearly gather there occasionally.  There is always something there to show he's been visited recently.

Tonight Cheyenne and I walked past three men who were tending to someones grave.  They were just packing up lawn equipment and a broom, and one of the men was taking photos of the grave.  Mother had photos of Dad's headstone, which struck me as macabre, but she kept it up with the family photos like it was a picture of Dad himself.  So, I was not surprised when I saw that:  I would imagine he'll share it with other family members who are not close by.  Then the three men (brothers perhaps?) stayed and were talking - they were still there when Cheyenne and I headed home.   Whoever they have buried there brought these three men together for a bonding moment, I thought as we walked back past them.

My side of the cemetery is positively littered with stuff.  There are very few rules to the cemetery.  The people here violate them all with less than no compunction and the grounds staff seem content to allow it to continue.  There are hundreds of plastic flower bouquets, wreaths, wind chimes, solar lights, little statutes of angels, an occasional coffee cup or a bottle of booze and, of course, sports stuff.  This is Pittsburgh after all.  This time of the year, all the service men and women have flags above their headstones.  There are a lot of people who serve in the military in this area - it's somewhat awe-inspiring to see all of those flags.  I wander through that section and think, "Wow, maybe it is important to have a place for people to remember their loved ones."  Then I glance to the older side and see how devoid of anything it is.  All their family is dead and gone as well.  There is no one to remember these people.  There are only us walkers looking at their fading names and wondering what they were like in life, but for the most part they are forgotten.  Their headstones are leaning and dirty.  The land around them is mowed, but no one is there to love or honor them and they are taking up space, and not much more.  Some of them have ended up like the Siemons - fodder for gophers on steroids.  And that's just sad.

I don't know, close to the anniversary of my daughter's death, if I've saved her from eventually being some random name on a sloping headstone that no one knows, or if I have robbed her friends and other family of having a place to go and connect with her memory by having her ashes here with us?  I've always figured you remember the person, not the body.  But when I watched those men tonight...

Sunday, June 10, 2012


You know, Pittsburgh is like every other city in the world in at least one respect.  There are good things about it and there are bad things.  If you like living somewhere, you focus on the good things, if you don't, then you see what's ugly about it.  I remember when I was in Junior High, our social studies teacher had us read these two stories about living in New York City.  You probably know where I'm going with this already:  the first one we read focused on a poor African American family - I can't remember what borough they lived in any more, but I think it was the Bronx - and their struggles to live safely in the projects, get the food and clothing they need, and so on.  They wrote of the grey oppression of the vast concrete jungle of the city that for all intents and purposes holds them prisoners.  Next story of course is about a wealthy white couple in a glittering high rise apartment on Central Park West who love the pace and wealth of opportunity that is open before them.  The plays, concerts, museums, and restaurants the city offers is boundless and life is a constant adventure and cornucopia of new experience.  The moral of the stories naturally was about economic diversity, particularly among racial groups in America.  You'd like to think those stories have lost relevance umpteen years later, but of course they haven't.  The same two very different versions of living a day in any large city can still be told.  However, like a lot of morality tales I was told growing up, I remember it for a different reason.  I remember it because I was so struck by two families looking at essentially the same thing (not really appreciating the difference in geography between the Bronx and Manhattan at the time) and taking away such different perceptions of it.

And so it is that I think about this as I am in my 17th month here.  I've reached a state where I'm sort of oddly familiar, yet still struck by the city.  I was driving toward town the other day on Route 28, and as I rounded the bend to where the downtown skyline comes into view it first hit me.  I realized that it's no longer this shock to the system of "Oh, that's Pittsburgh!" like I'm half surprised it actually exists and totally surprised that I'm actually here.  It has a familiar feel to it that doesn't stop me from thinking, "Wow, I really live here," followed closely by, "Oh, shit, what exit am I supposed to take again?!" I'm gradually beginning to get the sense of comfort of someplace where I belong.  Things seem familiar, comfortable even in a way I'm not sure I ever got in Austin because I can look out at the yard and see maples and fur trees like the ones I grew up with, and there are rolling hills in the background, so it couples this new and unique experience with the nostalgia I have for my old home.

This is my home now though and by extension, the citizens who I share it with are therefore my people.  I tend to cut them some slack in ways that I confess surprises even me sometimes.  Because they are like everybody else all over the world:  a hodge-podge of personalities.  The vast majority of people in the world are neither saints nor extreme sinners, no matter where they live and as such they are capable of kindness, cruelty and gross stupidity in almost equal measures.  When I encounter them acting in the latter these days, I tend to shrug it off or excuse it.  I've noticed that Greg struggles with that more, whereas for most of our lives, it has been the opposite.  He was patient, forgiving and in general sweet natured with everyone, while I was quick tempered, judgmental and undoubtedly overly hard to please.  The biggest arena I see the dichotomy now is when we're out driving around.  Greg has a litany of things Pittsburgh drivers do that make him crazy, and he'll tell you about them as he weaves wildly in and out of traffic with no turn signal and rarely a glance to either side.  I honestly cannot tell you if he has adopted the habits of these Pittsburghian drivers without realizing it or if he was always sort of a jackass driver who now scares the snot out of me because he's driving on winding, sloping roads that are always under construction, but he seems happily oblivious to the fact that he is griping about people who are doing the exact same thing he is.

Sometimes I want to put a sign on him that says, "Be good to me, I'm from Texas." because he's definitely more sensitive to bad service now, and we've definitely been victims to it.  Slow food service, bad contractors, people who are rude or simply so self involved they are oblivious.  I'll tend to wave it all away, whereas he is not so quick to forgive and forget.  The exception to the rule seems to be our neighbors, the Mikes.  I still bristle at Mrs. Mike who just the other day finally acknowledged my existence in the most perfunctory way, and only because she was right up against my fence line, technically on my property digging a drainage trench and really couldn't ignore me.  He's much more sanguine with them and actually goes out of his way to force them to converse with him.  But, for the most part, our roles and personalities have reversed a little, and I realize it's because we're looking at the exact same thing and seeing it very differently.  It's not quite like the divide between the family in the Bronx and rich Manhattanites, but the city has some work to do to win my husband completely over.  I think I'll know it has happened when he stops referring to "Pittsburgh drivers" and just cusses them out as individuals.  If he uses the term "Jag-off" when he does it, I'll consider him totally acclimated.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Negative Flux

The thing about negativity is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Once upon a time I wrote about Black Cloud People, and I still believe they exist.  I see them all the time.  The hard part is making sure I don't become one of them.  And sometimes that's actually a little harder than it seems.

But, really, this is not about me.  It's sort of a commentary about a whole lot of people I've been exposed to lately, but how I could easily fall into that category.  But to illustrate, I'll tell you briefly about me and my week last week.  What I did notice about myself in particular was that once I had a rocky start to last week, it just kept rolling in that direction.  By Friday, when I had someone so mad at me he was tearing through everyone in the company to find someone who would listen to how awful and useless I was, I was beginning to wonder why I even bothered existing.  I tallied up my personal tale of woe:  beginning with Kelsey's birthday on Monday, the fact that a wild summer storm violently passed through the area on Tuesday, causing my sunroom to leak from not only the skylight, but the side windows, and the garage flooded up to our ankles.  (The garage is where my bed frame and mattress are since they wouldn't fit up the stairs...)  Of course, the only reason the garage flooded was because I had left the door slightly lifted to allow the cat to get in and out, so it was my fault, a fact that was not lost on my husband as he had to haul everything out, sweep out the water and assess the damage.  Lovely.  And while Friday was the worst day at work, the rest of the week was no bed of roses.  Man, by the weekend, I felt battered and bruised and looked forward to a little down time from all that stress.  What happened instead is that I lost my debit card at the Three Rivers Arts Festival!  So after that, I thought to myself, "Okay, that's all over.  Begin the week with a positive attitude and everything will be fine."  Nice try.  Everything was not fine.  Hardly as bad as Friday, yesterday was still not what I would call a good day.  So, here I am on Tuesday - having gotten sick on top of everything else - feeling wholly sorry for myself and wondering how I break the cycle.

Well, the cycle will break somehow, and probably when I'm paying the least amount of attention to it.  And if I really stop to think about it, things could have been oh, so much worse.  For one thing, I had contractors here when the storm hit and they saw the water coming in the sunroom right away, so we were able to contain it before it really damaged things.  Then one of them educated me about weep holes in the windows, which had gotten clogged, which is why water was seeping in around the window frames.  Who knew?  We didn't have weep holes in Texas - it hardly ever rained!  They came back the next day and repaired the flashing around the sunroom too, which was nice of them.  When Greg cleaned out the garage, he found some things that I had been missing from the move and thought was lost, so that was fantastic!  We discovered my debit card before much time had past, so I got it canceled before any harm was done - I'm just without a debit card and have no money for 4-7 days, but, hey, it could have been so, so much worse.  And, in the middle of all the chaos of the week, I had a lovely lunch with my cousin.  It's a little harder to find the silver lining for the man I angered so thoroughly.  Life lesson learned, I guess - not sure; that situation upset me terribly.  But, for the moment, he has not gotten his wish, I am still employed, his problem is on its way to being taken care of.  Maybe even that is not fatal.  But, when you're in the middle of a bad cycle, it's so hard to see the lighter side of situations.  I had to stop and force myself to take stock of everything to realize the things I just rattled off.  My natural instinct was just to bemoan everything and look for ways to rationalize how some of it couldn't possibly be my own fault.  Well, bottom line is:  some of it wasn't, it was just circumstances, but some of it, including Mr. Angry Man, totally were a product of my own actions.  So, deal with it, Self.  You're hardly perfect!

I know people who have been caught in that sort of negative flux though for years, some stretching into decades.  Everything is awful and a crisis, but they can't break the cycle because to their mind none of it is their fault or responsibility.  My observation with some of these individuals is that yes, life has handed them some tough breaks, but the only way to break free is to take enough personal responsibility to say (and mean it) that enough is enough and you are going to do the work to change your own circumstances.  Whatever that work entails.  I think part of the process is to stop laying blame elsewhere and just accept where you are and then figure out what to do to get out of it.  It's easier to roll around in the muck and mire of despair.  That I can tell you.  But the easy path robs you of the joys you might find if you take the harder road.

During the course of the Really Rough Week, we received word that the father of a young friend of ours had passed away.  Our young friend had lost his older brother about a year and a half before Marissa lost Kelsey.  Now he's mourning his dad, and he and his mom are facing the reality of how fragile life really is.  Yesterday I got the news that the baby gorilla from the Pittsburgh zoo had died after a frantic effort to save him.  I had only Sunday been looking at a picture of him kissing his mother - I almost bought it.  As you might recall, I have strong feelings for the gorilla family at the zoo.  I know they mourn because I know they love, and it was clear in the announcement that the zoo staff felt the loss very strongly too.  In the light of those two losses, I think I can pick myself up, dust myself off and carry on because nothing I went through last week compared to that.  So, what about anyone out there with a similar black cloud hanging over us?  Time to break the cycle, folks!  Here's to a better week.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Past the Holiday

Glad that's over.  That Memorial Day holiday that everyone else in my office so looked forward to.  It seemed like a long three days to me, even though I actually attempted to work through part of it (although I spent Tuesday tearing down and re-doing what I had done - my head was clearly not on the task).   As I walked Cheyenne and Chappy around the block Tuesday morning, I noticed how absolutely quiet the neighborhood was.  Trucks I am used to still seeing parked in driveways were gone:  the hard-working blue collar plumbers, electricians and general contractors that populate my neighborhood pulled out early to make up for lost time, it would seem.  So, not having to dodge other people's dogs out for a morning pee or drag Chappy back in from the middle of the road where he inevitably seems to want to gravitate, I was left to muse on the last three days that culminated with Kelsey's birthday and the following is what I came up with.

First of all, I will acknowledge right out of the gate that for all my bravado about being mostly through the primary grieving process, that was a rough one.  Why that was puzzled me, but here's what I concluded:  the other two times we had to endure the day, there was plenty of stuff going on to distract us.  Last year, Marissa and Greg were driving the last stretch to get here, so I took myself to the zoo.  The year before that, we hosted one final Memorial Day/group birthday celebration for the Veldman relatives whose birthdays all fall so close together (May 24, June 2, 5 and 25) because we knew it would be the last time we ever could.  This year, here the three remaining of us are together, but with no particular obligation or plans.  For the first time we had to think about how to get through it.  And, like most major things the first time you try it, there was some major room for improvement.

The Pirates were in the midst of a six game home stand, so I gently coaxed Greg to go to a few, at least one or two.  But he wanted none of it, using the heat as an excuse.  While it is true that the conditions were oppressively humid and relatively hot for early summer in the 'Burgh, I knew it was a rationalization only because a) we come from Texas, this heat ain't nothin'! and b) if he really were intimidated by the weather, we can pretty much kiss the rest of the season goodbye, and I know perfectly well that he'll want to go to other games whenever I give him the nod that we can take the time and money to go.  He watched them on TV, so I also know he is actually interested.  Watching baseball on TV is one kind of boring, watching the Pirates...well, that takes some real dedication, so if you're willing to do that and your spouse offers to go to a couple actual games and you turn it down, you're either really sick or really depressed.  He didn't seem sick.  I can only conclude that doing anything that smacked of relaxation or fun seemed really wrong to him or he couldn't face crowds of happy families.  Maybe both.

Marissa struggled a lot.  She had some fairly substantial issues in her own life that happened to time out with the weekend, and her true touchstone wasn't there to discuss them with.  I could listen, but I'm not possibly going to have the kind of perspective she needed to hear at the moment.  Even above and beyond that, she seemed very intent to be away from us.  I'm not sure why; not sure she knows why.  Time will have to sort out all of the intense emotions I think before we can truly examine it and see what happened and how not to do whatever it is we did to one another again.

For my part, I know what to do for myself to get myself through times like these, which is stay really, really busy.  My struggle was not knowing how to include anyone else in the trick.  It felt awkward and tense the entire long weekend.  Greg seemed to want to wallow in his sadness, Marissa - to my eyes - seemed overwhelmed with it, I was trying just to push past it by not thinking about it so I guess you'd say I was l the one in denial, and here we all were, bumping up against our competing wants and needs.

I finally got Greg out of the house Monday night.  He agreed to go out to eat.  All the little local places we like were closed, so after driving all over the North Hills, we landed at Chili's, which was actually sort of unnerving in its own way, looking so much like all the Chili's do in Texas, and the experience isn't nearly as much fun as it is in the little hole-in-the-wall places I'm coming to love around here, but he was up and moving so that was the main thing.  While we sat there over our meals, he commented that he hadn't heard from anyone besides his oldest sister, and I couldn't help but think of my mother again and all those times I disappointed her by not taking careful note of all the milestones of my dad's passing.  And I thought to myself that he's forgotten what it is like to be on the other side of grief, busy with our lives, taking our extra day off almost like it is stolen time.  And he's not thinking about the fact that no matter what anyone would try and say to him, he's still going to be sad.  We are past the point, I think, where we can realistically think our family and friends can know what to do for us or what we need or don't need, because how can they when we sometimes don't know what to do for ourselves?

What I didn't say to him is that I think the person he probably most wanted to hear from has not moved on from us.  Tired and a little tipsy from the night before, it took a long time to come around, but at some point in the morning Kelsey's cat Tum-Tum began wailing the way she used to when Kelsey would come home until she got Kelsey's attention.  She had been going on like that for some time, I estimated a half hour or forty-five minutes, when I finally couldn't stay in the ether any longer and pulled myself up to look at the clock and call to her.  It was 4:45, which meant that I figure she started that mournful wail at around 4:00.  Kelsey was born at 4:04 in the morning.  Tum-Tum remained agitated until sunrise, then settled down as though the world was completely rosy.  Whatever she saw or whatever riled her up, I'll never know for sure, but I have my theories...