Category Archives: Family

This bird has flown: The KD heartbreak from an Oklahoman’s perspective

It finally hit me the other day, and I’ve finally formulated my words so they hopefully sound less insane.

He’s gone. Really gone.

KD

A meme I built when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012. I was so damned proud of that team.

I feel like I’ve known him so long, and now, he’s just… gone. Silly to think I knew him… silly to think of this as anything beyond a “basketball decision.” But though I had no say in the matter, and didn’t deserve any say in the matter, I still hate it.

Many of you know by now that I’m into birds. And music. And sports. The three things have bumped around my head lately, all on the topic of my (former) favorite NBA player of all time, Kevin Durant. It seems only natural to my little brain that I compare the departure of KD from the Thunder to that of a bird leaving its nest, looking for something else… And, like those left behind, we just watch him go. Because we can’t stop him. He’s not ours. He never was.

 “And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

On July 4, when the news broke, I was crushed. Now that I’m over the anger, I guess I get it. He’s NOT required to make us happy. He has his own life. He can do his own thing. We’re not his bosses. We’re just fans. We’re just awestruck Oklahomans looking for a distraction from our lives.

I guess I just thought that meant something more to him. As naive as that sounds. But you have to understand where that naivety comes from – more on that in a bit.

Now, I’m in the sports business. I’ve seen people come and go on teams, people who I didn’t have any “feelings” for. People like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, James Harden – heck, even DeMarco Murray… people who are huge stars, or huge in the hearts of people who cheer for the Sooners, haha… DeMarco left the Cowboys to join the Eagles (then was traded to the Titans, thanks Rod Walton for checking my memory!) and I hated it, but I didn’t take it out on HIM. It didn’t feel personal… I didn’t love LeBron’s approach to “The Decision,” but it didn’t affect me personally. Just kind of made me roll my eyes.

So why do I take Durant’s departure so seriously?

Before I tell you, I want to set up a scenario. I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma last week. I flew first class, because I can every now and then and not feel guilty about it. Often, on my trips out of Bristol, CT., I am joined by a colleague on the plane. This time, it was a very well-known college sports anchor who, knowing my favorite teams, asked me in a very frank manner if I was OK after Durant. It’s like they’re asking me about a death in the family. Hushed tones, head down, eye contact – “Are you OK?” All he needed to do was hold my hand and pat my head.

“He’s just not who we thought he was,” I said. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t agree with that,” he said… but nicely. He doesn’t understand our naivety.

I tried to explain, as I’ll do here…

kdsonicWe thought he was ONE OF US. Oklahomans believed that, for once, someone chose us first. Someone, who wanted to play in the state of Oklahoma FOR MONEY, BY CHOICE, not just for the good ol’ football team. Not to ride Bob Stoops’ coattails to an NFL job. Someone who chose to live their life WITH US. Someone who was just doing it for the fans, and falling in love with our state, which WE all know is great, but suffers from a lot of bad press. And bad politics, but we manage to overcome that. Someone who could help us grieve our many tragedies.

Many people question why we choose to live in Oklahoma. It’s poor, there are tornadoes, there’s “nothing to do,” it’s hot, it’s broke… you name it. But hey, guess what? Many of us were born there, and realize its beauty regardless of the bad press. It’s like a huge secret to Oklahomans – we don’t get why YOU don’t like it. That’s on you!

And yes, I got out – but I left for the best job a sports journalist could have, or I’d still be there. I’d be demanding a change politically, but still. (Living up here in Yankeeland, my vote FINALLY COUNTS!)

But I chose to make Oklahoma my home for 37 years. OK, choice isn’t the right word. I was born there. But I chose to stay after I graduated college. I worked long, hard hours for the newspapers in Oklahoma. I made lifetime friends. I ALWAYS had something to do. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart… you just gotta poke around.”

My people are buried there. It’s home, and it always will be. I miss it every day, though my life path has taken an interesting turn. But I resent the notion that there’s “nothing to do” in Oklahoma. I resent the idea that we’re all stupid and unable to do anything else, so we just stay. I resent the idea that we’re all racist welfare queens with little to no ambition. Oklahoma GAVE me ambition, education, and a deep love of people. A deep respect for nature, kindness, and love. A love of the land. I left after years of hard, gratifying work with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I left after doing everything I could in Oklahoma. I left because I needed another challenge.

KD left because he wants a ring. An easier road to a title. A trinket. An accolade. He doesn’t want to be in charge anymore, and he doesn’t care how he gets there. I thought he was … tougher?

THAT’s what I meant by “He’s not who we thought he was.”

kdmoore

Kevin Durant was so kind to the people of Moore after the tornado, donating $1 million from his own pocket. That’s one of the reasons we thought he’d stay.

KD presented like a man of the people, even though he’s a Longhorn, haha. We believed, perhaps foolishly, that he LOVED US! Just the way we are. He gave us many great years. He visited the Murrah Building and took new players to the Memorial. He picked up debris left from countless tornadoes. He spoke like us, heavy on the “y’all.” He was in Sonic commercials. HE PLAYED FLAG FOOTBALL WITH US. He hit so many late-game shots, we came to count on him.  Like he could somehow solve every problem we’ve ever had as a state. Undo the race riots. Undo the stupid abortion laws and Ten Commandments debacles. Fix the teacher salaries and wage gaps.

We all got mad when a rogue copy editor used the headline “Mr. Unreliable” after KD missed a big shot in the Playoffs. REALLY mad. We took to the radio waves to tell him how sorry we were about that, to try to let him know that no, we don’t all feel that way. Please stay, we almost begged. He seemed to accept our apology, on the court at least.

We felt his physical pain. We studied his foot from every angle when he missed most of last season. We knew all the foot ailments he could have, how he may have what Yao Ming had, how he may never recover… and then, when he returned, we cheered like he was our son.

I actually called him “my son KD.” I loved his mom like she was the governor. Hell, she could have been! She’s be an improvement even with no government experience.

I sound silly, and certainly not journalistically ethical. But I didn’t care about my bias (plus, I’ve been in the biz long enough to separate myself from real bias.) My first year at ESPN, I sat in a crowded newsroom with famous TV people and watched KD sink a 3 to beat the Mavs. I heard one of our most famous anchors shout “THAT’S WHAT WINNERS DO.” He wasn’t on air. He was just watching KD work. I felt so proud of him, like the world was seeing him through our eyes, FINALLY!

When I first read his anemic Players Tribune note that he was leaving, I felt nothing for a few days. It honestly felt like a breakup. I, fortunately, was off work, so I stayed away from SportsCenter and tried to stay away from the stories. After a few days, I began to read the Internet again. Many people were laughing at us Oklahomans, making fun of us for being so “butthurt” and behaving badly.

Many people thought it was just hilarious. Especially former Sonics fans. I get that, but 1) don’t sell your team to known land thieves (Sooners) and 2) be better fans. I know you find our pain hilarious, but keep in mind, we’ve attended EVERY GAME. Even the shit ones. Where were you?

To us, it’s not funny at all, of course. Because we don’t have a lot more options. The Thunder are our only pro team, and KD was our franchise face. He was our first, our last, our everything. KD was the choice of a new generation. KD was the great lanky hope. And now, he’s gone. Just like a bird.

I’d watched him since his freshman year at Texas, just barely 18. All 6-9(ish) of him, unable to lift the bar to benchpress. Lanky, but more Dirk Nowitzki that Dirk. He always looked kinda sad, or just determined. Like there was something going on behind his eyes.

“He was no more than a baby then. well he seemed broken-hearted, something within him…
But the moment that I first laid eyes on him, all alone on the edge of 17.
Just like a white-winged dove.”

But now, he’s a full-grown man with his own life and a new start. We had to free him from the nest. But I’m not happy about it. I know that may sound weird to people NOT from Oklahoma. But we’re very proud of those we call ours. We’ll claim just about anybody, too. Because WE know what makes Oklahoma great. WE know why we stay. We don’t understand why people leave unless they have a damn good reason. And we don’t get KD’s reasoning.

I love him like a son, though I don’t know him personally, as odd as that sounds. I want the best for him. I just had hoped the best was our home. It’s not. But I get it. It’s his life. I’m not mad, just disappointed.

And he can’t expect us to be happy about it. He can’t expect us not to be disillusioned. He seems angry that we’re angry. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? And I ask, KD, that you leave the villain routine alone. It’s not your strong suit. Just be a man and take the boos. Don’t be a dick. We raised you better than that.

We thought he was an Oklahoman-in-the-making. Instead, he’s a bird that’s flown to better, easier terrain. And Oklahoma is left to clean out his nest, hoping we can make it with what we’ve got. Because we’re very, very proud of what we have. And we intend to keep it in working order.

Russell Westbrook, if you’ve got hero mode in you,  and I suspect you do, now is the time to become one. The state is yours. Please respect it. And if you leave, do so after winning. And please don’t join the enemy. We can’t take it again.

But Kevin, I wish you sorta-kinda well. I hope you realize someday how much you were loved, and what you meant to us. What you could have become to us. Josh Heupel will never forget… you were above him in the hierarchy. But still, thank you for everything. Thank you for those late-game shots that made us so sure you loved us… but we get it. It’s not us, it’s you.

Vaya con dios.

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Filed under ESPN, Family, Haters, Kevin Durant, Moving, NBA, Oklahoma, Russell Westbook, Thunder

This one goes to 11: Songs that got me through an honest-to-God rough patch

Stop me if you’ve heard this, but I went through a breakup recently. It was the first one in many years, and it was an intense relationship, so I wasn’t prepared for the emotional folly that followed. Let’s just say that it didn’t end well, and, truth be told, I never actually HEARD from my ex – he just sort of disappeared, but left me with the blame. Yay! Nothing like wading into the waters and meeting a cowardly ghost-shark first thing.

No big deal, really – I should be thankful it’s over. And despite his sharkness, I’m not afraid of the water. But it took me a lot longer to get over than I expected. I think it’s mostly because A) I’m a  journalist, and if you leave me with a thousand questions, I almost can’t recover; and B) I’m an ENFP personality type, and leaving one of us in the lurch with no closure or comeuppance is almost life-threatening.

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On a recent hike I took… I’m fine now, I swear. Hiking was also huge in getting over a lot of shite.

Couple that breakup with several rounds of sickness, the death of my stepfather and lots of traveling, and you have kind of a delayed response to “just getting the hell over it.” But the breakup – that was the biggest bee in my bonnet. It hurt. Like hell. Still does. Just less sharp, more dull now. Much easier to tolerate.

And as usual, my friends and family came through for me. As usual, my team of sisters and one brother, my parental units, my BFFs, co-worker BFFs, my cats, my backyard birds and the voice of my mother got me through it. As usual, I chose the wrong person – but hopefully there’s an end to that someday. Lord knows I haven’t been in a big hurry to return to the dating world. Not that I haven’t had offers, but every time I think I want to accept, I just haven’t. Not because I want The Jerk back, but because I don’t want to pick The Jerk again, ya know? “We won’t get fooled again” or something.

Anyway— I am especially thankful for another group of friends who helped me through one of the more awful periods of my life – my musical BFFs. In these last few months, my tastes have been all over the place. I didn’t listen to any love songs at all for the first two months — just hardcore rap, smooth hip-hop and “why don’t you just go ahead and get eaten by a bear” songs. This is a departure for a hardcore optimist like me. I kind of hated it, but I also knew it was necessary.

Some true winners emerged from that dark time, and I want to address them here.

  1. Beast, “Mr. Hurricane.”

I heard this song one morning right after the breakup. I was walking into work, sunglasses on to hide my sleepless eyes, trying to look happy and optimistic. Faking it. Completely and totally faking it – because inside I was so confused, hurt and angry, and wanted to run away from it all. I wanted answers, but my pride (and the voice of my mom from beyond the grave, not to mention all my family/friends) stopped me from calling him to get the answers, which probably wouldn’t have helped my anyway.

I was so overcome by the lyrics, I went back to my car and listened to the song on full volume. I cried. I screamed. Security was NOT called (thankfully). But, just like everyone going through a breakup or new love situation, you think the lyrics are written FOR YOU. It spoke to me. It was a big first step to healing.

“I stopped bein’ the victim

But you weren’t there to see

I never felt bitter

Till you crippled me

I felt like a refugee from the pain

I had to wear that shroud with no shame

Deceit and lies

Were your crying game

I never fell in love so deeply in vain

So I stay a while

Knife in my side

While I slowly died

Defeat from the inside

Now I scream ’til the end of the day

Never again, Mr. Hurricane”

2. Personality Crisis, New York Dolls

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. There was something magical that happened the day this song came on. It was like a life raft. It was music to my hears. (Yes, that was on purpose). Punk music in all its iterations is usually very “fuck you”-centric, and this one is no exception. And since I’m convinced that a personality crisis led to some of homeboy’s issues, it was perfect. I have since listened to this about 3 billion times. One day it’s all I listened to – over and over and over again. Perfection. Yes, I kinda lost my mind there for a bit. I don’t think most people would blame me.

“And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon

Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon, hooowww

All about that personality crisis you got it while it was hot

But now frustration and heartache is what you got…”

3. Bad Blood, Taylor Swift

Points if you knew Tay-Tay would be on this list… she was made for breakups. I get that now. Immediately after it happened, I had to go to Oklahoma for my stepdad’s funeral. (Of course it all happened at the same time!) So I downloaded a bunch of Taylor that I could listen to on the plane and try to make sense of what the hell had just happened to me. It helped, this song especially. I wanted to have one of those scenes like from a movie – I wanted to get up and sing it to the rest of the passengers, and have them sing the chorus and chant “HE’S AN ASSHOLE (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)… I wanted an audience to feel what I’d been through — me and Taylor – and it was somehow very soothing. I love you, Ms. Swift. Forever. Thank you for writing what we all feel. (And of COURSE “Shake it Off” was listened to on repeat. The whole 1989 album, really – just this one, I feel like I finally GOT, ya know?)

“Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted

Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted

Did you have to hit me, where I’m weak? Baby, I couldn’t breathe

And rub it in so deep, salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me…”

4. No Chump Love Sucker, Red Hot Chili Peppers

A song of immense pride mixed with a healthy dose of hurt. Written from a male perspective, of course, but just perfect when you’re FURIOUS. I heard this one day and basically trashed my office jumping around, throwing things (like boxes of Kleenex, nothing damaging) and scaring my cats. Looking back, I wish I’d videotaped that. Good times.

“I’m through with your bluefish

I’m through with your gash

I’m through being screwed with

By you and your whack attack

5. Eazy-Duz-It, Eazy-E

This unfortunate time coincided with me watching “Straight Outta Compton,” which was also kind of a rebellion, as he didn’t see the need to watch the movie because “he lived it.” OK. I think you missed the point of biopics and are just attempting to sound like a tough guy, but whatevs.

So after watching the movie, I was like “THIS IS WHAT I NEED.” Angry music that has nothing to do with love. Angry political music. Real people music. It led to my mind being kind of steered back to more important things, and I immersed myself in old-school rap of all sorts afterward.

Who knew Slick Rick, NWA, Public Enemy and the like could be so soothing.

“Rolling through the hood, cold tearing shit up

Stick my head out the window and I say what’s up

To the (omitted) on the corner cold bumping the box

But you know that’s an alibi for slanging the rocks…”

  1. Beyonce, “Sorry.”

This is a more recent addition, and damn I wish I’d heard it sooner. It would have been No. 1 on this list. It could have been so good for me. But I got it a few weeks ago, and it still works. I don’t care if this whole Bey-Jay thing is fake beef or not. It’s powerful, and it’s meaningful, and most people can relate. Most women, for sure. When I listened to the lyrics to this song, I felt BETTER. And I do every time I hear it. Thank you, Beyonce, for being strong. Even if it’s not real. Also, I want to be Serena when I grow up and I so wish I was on this bus with these beautiful women. They look like they’re having fun and I NEED FUN! 🙂

“Middle fingers up, put them hands high

Wave it in his face, tell him, BOY, BYE

Tell him, boy, bye, middle fingers up

I ain’t thinking ’bout you…”

  1. Fuel My Fire, The Prodigy

This one has gotten me through a few breakups. This one was no different. Pure bitterness with a great beat. Also an awesome song to take with you on the elliptical machine, when you’re running on pure fury and pain. And yes, L7 wrote it—but this version is better, I think.

“I’ve got a word of thanks

that I’d like to say

for the way that I feel today.

Got stacks, got stacks

stacks of chips on my shoulder

in everything I do cuz I made, I made

I made the mistake … the mistake of trusting you

Yeah, people like you just fuel my fire

Yeah, people like you just do

You liar… You liaaaaar”

  1. For the Time Being, Edie Brickell

After a dressing-down I received at the hands of a friend of the ex – to which I never responded, because it was all lies and bullshit anyway, and why engage? – I heard this randomly. I’ve liked the song since I saw the movie “The Way Way Back.” But it fit the moment well. And still makes me laugh when I hear it. The impassioned response I got was, looking back, pretty hilarious. (But again, I never heard from him, just her.) There’s so much more to this story, but I learned my lesson about blogging unhinged.

“It must be nice to be full of good advice to say

It must be sweet, but I’ll call you if I need it

I’m doing alright for the time,

Fine for the time being

I’ll need professional help if it does get any worse than this

I’ll be out on a ledge if it does get any worse than this

I’m doing alright for the time,

Fine for the time being

You think you know me well

You think you know me well

But you don’t know me at all.”

9. Bulletproof Soul, Sade

Ms. Adu has been a part of my life since I was a wee tot. The album “Love Deluxe” is still in my top 10. This song developed new meaning for me, 25 years or so after I’d first heard it. I was still really hurting and listening to a lot of mopey stuff. This came on one day and it was like that beautiful woman was sitting next to me, patting my hair, singing soft words of encouragement. I love you, Sade, you brilliant badass beauty. And I DID leave like a lion, TYVM!

“You were trigger happy baby

You never warned me let me free

It’s not that complicated

But you’re going to need a bullet proof soul

Think you got it but you got all the trouble you need

I came in like a lamb

But I intend to leave like a lion.”

10. Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest

Coinciding with this terrible time in my life were the deaths of some of my favorite musicians – David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, and of course, Prince. But Tribe was there for me during all this. Well before the breakup, I’d been on a huge Tribe kick. For the last year or so, it’s been on a regular rotation. The smooth, relaxing beats were medicine to me during the hard times. Dawg’s death just led me to listen to them more. It took my mind off the bitterness and gave it room to explore. It gave my brain a reprieve. And the joy – the pure, simple, melodic joy that is this song – was the best thing for me. I thank Tribe so much for this. Tribe made me chill the fuck out. Tribe led to peace. RIP, Phife.

“Relax yourself girl, please set-tle down

Stretch out your legs, let me make you bawl

Drive you insane, drive you up the wall

Staring at your dome-piece, very strong

Stronger than pride, stronger than Teflon…”

  1. 28,000 Days, Alicia Keys

I heard this in a commercial or something while I was working the SEC Tournament in Nashville. I fell in love instantaneously. It was like a lifeline. Like Alicia was shouting “HEY STUPID, GET YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER!”

I had a one-day hotel stay at the airport in Orlando after the tournament, then I would meet my Best Good Friend Renae and her son Oliver for our trip to Disney World. This was after a nine-day stretch of SEC tournament basketball and travel… a few weeks after all this mess.

That night, sick as a dog but somehow OK, I felt like myself again for the first time. I was excited about seeing my people, happy with how things had gone at the tournament, and not thinking about Mr. Hurricane. I danced around my hotel room, playing this song on my little iPad speakers, acting it out, flailing, being an idiot. I realized that life is, indeed, too short to just throw it away. I’ll leave that to him. He can be self-destructive as long as he wants. Thank God he didn’t pull me down with him. I swear to God this song fell into my lap at the exact right moment. God works in mysterious ways, huh?

“Back from hell with my angel wings

Ain’t no fear in my voice

Cause I’m making a choice

The devil ain’t no friend of me

And that clock on the wall is telling me

There’s only 28 thousand days

Who would you love? Where would you go?

What would you celebrate?

I’m telling you that life’s too short to just throw it away

So have the time of your life, so have the time of your life…”

And that’s what I intend to do from now on, Ms. Keys. Thank you.

 

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Filed under Family, Friends, Fun!, General Nonsense, Haters, Love, Mom, Movies, Music, Relationships, Travel, TV, Uncategorized, Women

Moments of grace at the Orlando airport: The long, beautiful goodbye

She asked to hold the baby one last time.

It wasn’t in English, but I put together that the older woman was saying goodbye to a grandchild.

The infant, who had no idea what was going on, was passed into the older hands for likely the 100th time that morning, cooing, eyes wildly darting to and fro. The older woman clasped the baby in her arms, held her aloft and stared into her deep brown eyes. She kissed her cheeks, cradled her, bounced her. The next time she saw the baby, she’d be walking – talking – who knows. It could be years.

The older woman’s hands were weathered, heavily veined, working hands. One of those hands gave the baby back to the younger woman, her daughter. The other hand snaked up her daughter’s back, finding her long, black braided ponytail. She worked the ponytail holder up and down, moving her fingers along the plaiting. It was as if touching her daughter — feeling her hair, running her hands up and down her back, grasping at her arms — would slow the Security line down, make the time crawl backward. They had to be the only people in line who wanted that. But my time observing the family made me hope it would last, too.

I was trying to figure out, in this crowded Orlando security line, who was leaving whom. The entire family was Indian, and after some studying of their body language, I put it together that the older couple was heading back somewhere far away. Tattered bags rested on the older man’s shoulders as he and – I’m assuming his son-in-law – made small talk while the women clutched each other and the baby.

The older woman’s eyes were filling with tears. How far was she flying away from her daughter and the baby? Likely to countries far away, where Americans don’t often go. I pictured the younger woman’s decision to leave her family in India. I picture her husband, who was standing ahead of her in line, getting a great job that would get them out of India. I pictured the younger woman’s deliberations, her pain at the decision she knew she had to make. She had to get a better life for herself, her husband and the baby that would surely come. She saw no way to that but to leave. She tortured herself at the notion. Meanwhile, her parents practically pushed her out, hoping for the American dream to take hold of her daughter and son-in-law.

The younger woman and her husband left home. And she knew these moments in the airport would be inevitable. It would never be easy.

This wasn’t the first time they’d said goodbye, but maybe it was the first time they’d said goodbye to a baby, too.  Maybe her parents had come to America for the fifth or sixth time. Maybe they went to Disney World. Maybe they ate terrible fried food, laughed and held each other’s hands, drinking in every moment. Maybe the older woman had held her grandchild for an entire week, and also done her daughter’s laundry, folded every piece, cooked her child’s favorite meal.

I dared not look at the younger woman’s eyes yet for fear of being completely emotionally overcome. How did they do this? How were they not wailing? Their silent goodbyes were a marvel to me – as American as they come, a loud, brash, obnoxious girl who cries about everything and is not shy about sharing emotions. This quiet, touching moment was something I’d give anything to have with my own mother.

The older woman wore the mark on her forehead and another in her hairline. Her Sari was wrapped perfectly, indicative of culture and practice. Her eyes were so deeply sad, yet so happy to have these moments. She tried to hide her emotions with a big smile. It didn’t work.

The daughter was almost identical to her mother in looks, hairstyle and clothing, but maybe with a touch more modernity. But not much. She clutched her mother’s fingers, tracing the bones of each digit.  When I finally braved looking at her, her eyes were looking down, trying not to look at her mother, it seemed. I imagined her train of thought. Her mom was fiddling with her braid again, and it felt so good, so normal… how she missed those hands playing with her hair, styling it, her words of praise for her appearance. How she wished those hands were constant, helping to raise the baby in her mother’s arms. How she wished this security line would go on forever. How she wished she could return home with her mother. But her husband, who turned to look at her at that moment, knew her pain. Seeing him, she was reminded of her new life, what they had to look forward to now.

The younger woman said something to her husband at that moment. Something to the effect of: “We need to go. We have to go before I completely lose it.” The younger man and older man shook hands. The women embraced for long, long minutes, clinging to each other, the baby between them. The line was moving more quickly now. They were ushering us into another line, one that would take us to another part of security. It was time to say goodbye.

I never saw long rivulets of tears. I’m not sure if they were wiped away before anyone saw them or if they actually fell. Maybe these women were capable of hiding their tears better than me.

When it was over, the young couple turned around and left. The older woman’s eyes followed for seconds. Seconds only, then averted back to the front of the line.

“Never watch out of sight,” my mom used to say. For watching someone leave until you can’t see them is bad luck. To this day, I do exactly what this older Indian woman did. I say goodbye, then avert my eyes as quickly as possible as not to invite bad luck into an already awful goodbye.

I watched as the older man presented his passport to the TSA agent. The agent was frustrated with the man’s lack of speaking much English – it was obvious – but the man patiently handed the agent his passport and ticket once barked at. His eyes trained on his wife, who had her back to me at this time. The wife moved up in line and presented her own passport. Then the two headed in a different direction from me. I passed them again later in the line, and the woman’s mind was a thousand miles away. A bemused smile sat on her face. I could almost read her mind. She was replaying the week she’d just had, the moments with her daughter and granddaughter, the fun they had, the moments she took with her… the sadness sat on standby, just under the surface, waiting to emerge.

I bet, when she was alone on the plane, the tears started falling. I bet she rested her head on her husband’s shoulder on the flight home. And though no words may have been spoken, he re-assured her everything would be OK and they would be back before they knew it.

I hope they see each other again soon. I later heard a young woman at my gate talking about the pair and the goodbye – it had to be the same scenario. It seemed that, while it was quiet and not obvious, those not bereft of emotion picked up on it. “It was just so meaningful,” I heard the young girl say to her flying partners. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.” Yes it was, my friend. Yes it was.

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Mom’s song

mom farm

Mom, pregnant with me, in 1974 on my grandparents’ farm in Henryetta, Oklahoma.

There’s so much going on in the world today that is bigger than “my feelings.” So many social injustices, so many fights to fight, so many things I should be doing instead of moping.

But I’ve lost the strength, at least for today. It’s been a disappointing few weeks for me personally, with a lot of changes happening that make me nervous, and my dating life continually in the dumps… I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say, online dating sucks, and I suck at it. And as usual, I pick the absolute worst person possible. Plus, I’m continually saddened by the awful things that people say and do to each other. I want to run away and hide, or as Jenny said to Forrest, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far away from here.” I seriously considered becoming a Mennonite and living in corn country.

When I get in these moods, which thankfully are rare, I tend to drown myself in music, not the Mystic Heated Wine that Jim Morrison loved. I tend to find songs that perfectly quench a thirst I didn’t know I had. I cry. I dance. I cry some more. I write. A lot. Then I feel better.

This particular moodiness cycle is probably on its way out, but presented itself in me today in the form of a stomachache. I worked from home, and have gradually felt better as the day wore on. Being absent from the office when the DeflateGate decision came down was just dumb luck! But I’ve been in the dumps for two whole days now, which isn’t common for me at all.

As usual, a song came along to make me re-evaluate myself. And as usual, the lessons of my mom came through. And as usual, I cried. A lot.

The day I found out my mom had been burned in a fire, I knew she would die. She lived for several months after that, but I knew she’d never be the same, and that she’d die from this. I didn’t know when, but I knew. My grieving has this strange tendency to be early-onset. I don’t know if I’m psychic or what, (haha) but I know when bad shit is going to go down.

I got a call that mom had third-degree burns over about 40 percent of her body. I put the phone down, went to my bedroom, and collapsed. I cried for hours. I cried every bit of myself out on my bedroom floor. I cried more on that day than on the day she actually died.

I did not go to work the next day, of course (though I did go the day she died, but that’s another blog). I was getting ready to head to the hospital the next morning when this song came on – and it’s forever my song TO my mother. It’s forever the song that makes me lose my shit. I only play it when I really, really need it.

Yes, Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous,” which is kind of a love song to all women and all those who do great things, is my song to my mother. When I heard it that day, I sat down on the edge of my tub and cried some more. Again, I knew she would be gone. It was like God played this song for me that day to further cement that knowledge to me, that she would die. And I moved on from fear of her dying to appreciating everything she did for me in no time flat.

Maybe it’s the journalist in me – I process emotions very quickly. It’s how we deal with all the bad shit that’s happening around us so quickly. It’s how, when kindergarten kids are shot in Newtown, we can still go on the air. It’s how, when riots break out in Baltimore during a baseball game — and you worry about the violence, but still understand and empathize with why the riots are happening — you put aside your thoughts and work. It’s how, when a reporter and photog are shot on-air, we can still report about it. Iron-clad at the time, but soft as cotton off-deadline. It spills over into the real world, clearly. Because I was able, throughout the next few months when Mom was in the hospital, to appear strong. It was all an act, of course, but somehow, Natalie Merchant’s voice, her thank-yous, her la-la-las, saved me that day.

Of course, having an older sister who’s as dear to your AS your mom, who’s named Natalie, probably meant something to me too. Plus, my mom loved Natalie Merchant dearly. So it was just a perfect song for a terrible time. And now, 12 years later, it still has the power to straighten my ass right up.

I listened to it today – something I don’t do often, as I don’t want to be a miserable heap – and now, I think I’ll be OK.

So to you, Ms. Merchant – I want to thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – I want to thank you for your song. I want to thank you for your generosity.

But mostly, I want to thank my mom. I miss you, of course. Thank you for still influencing me beyond the grave. Thank you for still being a touchstone in my heart when I know I need to buck up and deal. Thank you for reminding me, through your pithy phrases I’ve memorized, when someone needs “a good ol’ fashioned lettin’ alone” or that I “can get glad in the same pants I got mad in.” Thank you mama. You are the reason I’m here, quite literally and figuratively. I love you.

“Kind and Generous”

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
And for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
And I never could have come this far without you
So for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you
For so many gifts
You gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you
For your generosity
The love and the honesty
That you gave me

I want to thank you
Show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you
I want to thank you

I want to…

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

 

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Teach Your Children Well: Our history is important too!

THIS, friends, is Michael Jordan. ALL HAIL THE GREATEST.

THIS, friends, is Michael Jordan. ALL HAIL THE GREATEST.

The first thing I read this morning was a tweet about a fourth-grade class getting a visit from a grizzled sports reporter who covered Michael Jordan in his heyday. The kids had no idea who he was talking about, but the teacher proffered “He’s the guy who makes Air Jordans.” Everyone got it then.

While I can be accused of being a serial nostalgist, it’s ludicrous that this is happening. I don’t often get fired up and opinionated enough to blog about this, but COME ON people. We’ve got to do a better job of teaching our kids about our lives, our world, our mark on this generation. We’ve had some pretty awesome moments in pop culture, history, sports and more. It’s on us to encourage our kids to know more than what’s right in front of them.

I think it’s important because, right now, a lot of kids don’t seem to know their own parents’ history, much less what came before that – the Civil Rights Movement, women’s liberation, the holocaust, the suffrage, slavery, the Trail of Tears – it’s our job to teach them what we, and our ancestors, learned from each of those horrible things. It’s our job to teach these kids that there’s more to life than shoes – shoes inspired by a man who brought magic and majesty to a game. They’re just shoes. What led to them is what kids should know about.

Why are kids so fascinated by commercialism? Why is money, and the crap it can buy you, No. 1 in the minds of a lot of kids? Where are the artists? Where are the music lovers who, like me, hung on their parents’ every word on the subject? “Tell me about the Beatles,” I’d ask my mom. “I didn’t like them,” she’d say. “They were too popular.” (Yes, my mom was a hipster.) But I wanted to know about the 60s, and 70s, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith – I asked my parents and they told me. Then they forced me (haha – not really) to listen to their music. I learned so much from songs like “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield – songs that wrapped history in with the vibe of the time. Songs that made me want to live through that era, that gave me the willies, that mystified me. “White Rabbit” had the same effect on me – as did so many others.

How can you not look at this picture and want to know more? Grace Jones embodied cool. And I bet a lot of kids have never heard of her.

How can you not look at this picture and NOT want to know more? Grace Jones embodied cool. And I bet a lot of kids have never heard of her.

My dad bought me and my sisters each a copy of “Who’s Next” when we were kids. It’s one of his favorite albums, and now mine. My mother forced me to listen to Leon Russell and now he’s my hero. My little sister Anna knew every word (and had developed a dance) to “Closer to My Home” by Grand Funk Railroad when she was 3. All of us, along with my other siblings, learned pop culture through our parents, and it’s made us appreciative of their generation.

Someone – parents, teachers, communities – has to teach them about the past. They have to learn they aren’t the first people to inhabit this earth. They have to learn about their parents’ struggles and fights and rebellions and love lives. We have to show them why we were once cool! It makes parents relatable. It makes generations closer. My dad and I talk music a lot. He still inspires me.

There’s too much stuff out there now. We have to help our kids navigate the past, as well as the future. We have to give them an understanding of the past.

But this isn’t a new problem. A few months ago, Kanye West announced he’d be pairing with Paul McCartney for songs. Kids on Twitter went crazy saying this Paul McCartney dude was going to “blow up” when exposed to Kanye’s audience.

PAUL EFFING MCCARTNEY. The one who was more popular than Jesus fewer than 50 years ago. The one who, along with some other dude Kanye couldn’t make famous, have written some of the most well-known songs of my generation. How can they not be known by this one?

We can’t let our culture – our pre-cell phone and Internet culture – not impress the next generation. And I’m not saying they can’t be anything without us – but we should inspire them. We should guide them. We shouldn’t try to emulate them – we should try to help them.

Pop culture is spoken-word history. Songs, shows, movies, etc., are a sketchbook of our lives, and reflect what we’ve been through. Our kids need to know what we’re all about.

Don’t distance yourselves from that. Remember, you were cool once. Tell your kids about your past. They’ll love the stories. Play them some music, and tell them a story about when you first heard that song. My dad told me when I was a kid about listening to “Abraxas” by Santana as a teenager – what it felt like, the freedom he felt, what he was experiencing at the time, and how, when he hears it now, he’s back in that time. It made me listen to it, and I get it. I see my dad as a human being, someone who’s experienced things in his life – someone who had a life before me.

Teach your children well. Crosby, Stills and Nash taught us that. Now go play that song for your kids! And then play them some Led Zeppelin. Hearing “Stairway to Heaven” on my dad’s sound system at full volume when I was about 8 changed my life. There was a bustle in my hedgerow, and I was alarmed at first. But I realize now it was a spring clean for the May queen. A spring clean in which my parents planted the seeds to whom I would become. And as I wind on down the road, I am ever thankful.

Teach your children well. They need us too.

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RIP: I love you, my sweet Leon Dog

leonI can’t start any blog post about Leon without first thanking Rita Sherrow, my friend, colleague and one-time landlord, for plucking Leon off the long stretch of Highway 75 between Tulsa and Okmulgee. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing this, my dog’s obituary.

Leon Russell Lamby Honey Pie Hart (not his official name) left this earth on Friday, May 29, at roughly 5 p.m. It was a long belabored decision by me to put him to sleep, after health complication after health complication robbed him of his last twilight years. He was about 12 – I don’t know his real age, and because I’m a journalist, I don’t feel right making one up. So we’ll say he was roughly 12.

Leon came into my life when I didn’t know I needed him. I was 28, living alone in Tulsa, working nights at the Tulsa World. Rita was my landlord then, and didn’t like that I lived by myself and worked nights with only the care of a small gray cat named Piper. Piper, I should add, saved my life one night, so she was a pretty good guard cat. So Rita came by with Leon and said, “You need to take him.” I minded her because she gave me that look that my mom used to give me – just do it, her eyes said. I need you to take him, for you, for him, and for me.

Now, Leon wasn’t a normal dog, not one day of his life. He never jumped, licked, or got in my face. I always had to force my love on him, and he hated it. Even when, just an hour or so ago, he was given a sedative, he still pushed me away when I got too close. So it shouldn’t be a shock that we didn’t take to each other immediately. I was a cat person. Leon was standoffish. It took us about three months to bond fully, but once we did, he was my shadow. He may not have liked personal space invasion, but he didn’t let me go into a room alone throughout his entire life – except the bathroom. He knew the cats had me covered in there. (Nosy-ass cats!)

Leon was the perfect dog for a workaholic journalist who didn’t have time for herself, let alone him. He patiently waited for me to get home after 13-hour days. He waited for me to take him out, bladder aching, and wagged his tail nearly off his body when I finally came home. (He never had accidents until he started getting older. Not one. He was so proud of himself for that too. He was always so embarrassed when he had one later in his life. It broke his heart.) But he was always glad to see me.

Up to Leon’s last day, he wagged his tail when I came home. Even when his old bones creaked as he got up, the Cushing’s distending his liver and pulling on his spine, creating what I’m sure was an immense deal of pain, he met me at the door.

I was supposed to make a list of the five things he loves doing, and check what he could still do. The only thing Leon still did was meet me at the door. I decided it was unfair of me to keep him alive just so I wouldn’t feel lonely when I walked in the door.

The last two weeks, since I made the decision, I’ve been through every range of emotion you can imagine. I’m fine – I’m not fine – I’m happy with the decision – are you crazy, he’s fine, you’re just selfish – you’re selfish if you let him live… there was no easy answer. He’d given me his answer a few Saturdays ago, when he fell down on a short walk. He turned to look at me – the saddest look I’d ever seen on his face — shrugged off his collar and leash, and turned around to head for home. He trudged up the back steps that day, exhausted, hurting, and with that sad look, went inside and collapsed on the rug, where he stayed all day. I didn’t want to accept it. But I knew. A pit was forming in my stomach. That was one of my worst days ever. I made the decision right then that it was time.

I know I made the right decision. But it’s, of course, not an easy one.

This is the dog that eased my fears on lonely nights, the one I turned to when I was sad, the one who helped me get over my mother’s death, breakups, moves, scary new jobs and aging. He got me up and walking when I wanted to lay around.

One of the happiest days of my life was finding him after he ran away for two days. I put an ad on CraigsList and lo and behold, someone found him. He had a broken leg, but ran to me anyway. He’d been hit by a car. What followed was a dozen weeks of twice-weekly vet visits – when I was at the brokest of my life. But he was worth every penny. And he never strayed again!

He had a very vibrant life, chasing squirrels with the best of them, barking at letter carriers, barking at deliverymen, barking at any sudden movement – but never leaving my side throughout the night. As a herding dog, he knew he had one job – to keep me safe.

He did. And I hope I kept him safe today by taking away his pain.

He had the most beautiful eyes. And the sweetest, kindest face. I loved him more than I’ve loved any pet ever. I loved him more than I’ve loved a lot of people.

I’m strangely relieved at the moment. I kind of feel better. I have been living the last two weeks in this sort of denial-sadness-worried state. I’ve not felt like myself.

But today, as my brother helped his weeping sister to the car, I felt relief creep up. His ashes will come with me back to Oklahoma, and he’s going to be scattered where he came from, where my heart will always be.

I loved Leon. He loved me. It’s one of the saddest things in life that our animals don’t live as long as we do. Today is one of the saddest days of my life.

But I’m better for having known him. He taught me patience, unconditional love, and strength.

Thank you Leon. And thank you Rita, Jodi and Jason, dad and Melissa, Natalie, Lila, Katy, Anna and Nick, Megan, Randi, Holly, Renae and even Trey, who always scared Leon on purpose. Thank you all my friends who’ve helped me through this, and who will continue to help me through this. Leon might not have shown it very well, but he loved you.

And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he loved me.

 

 

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He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at “Hound Dog Nellie’s,” another inside joke.

My little brother is one of my best friends. I heard “No Rain” by Blind Melon first thing this morning, and I’m reminded of our wonderful friendship.

I’ve known he was one of my best friends since 1990, when he stopped annoying the shit out of me and started being a cool little dude who I could drag with me anywhere I went. He became my sidekick.

He’s 30 now, and to this day, we still get along great. He’s lived with me on and off many times through the years, and moved to Connecticut a year after I did. It’s been the biggest blessing I could have – someone who looks and sounds like me, and knows my history, knows my pain, knows what makes me laugh, right here in my new home,1,500 miles away from our real home.

We’ve been through terrible things together, including the death of our mother. We have so many stupid inside jokes — a lot of them came from driving back and forth to Wichita when Mom was in the hospital.  I would not have made it through that without him. I felt like I had to be there for him, and I know he felt the same.

He’s one of the first people I called when I got the job at ESPN, and he knows everything about me. And he still likes me! Now that he’s up here, he’s finding a new part of himself – the outdoorsman who appreciates life, beauty and conservation (and good Vermont beer!) He and I recreate Oklahoma in the kitchen, making biscuits and gravy, Mexican food and other things we like that people up here don’t get. How could I get too homesick when I’ve got one of my favorite parts of Oklahoma living with me?

He’s gone this weekend, and I miss him. He’s free to do whatever he wants in his life, but when he decides to leave my nest, it’s going to be hard for me to adjust.

He’s grown into this great man who can do anything, just like his dad and my mom. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have four wonderful sisters and one awesome brother, but I don’t take it for granted. Ever. (I hope.) He pushes me to do things. He saves me from myself. He believes that, yes, someday, I’ll get married, and that someone will like me enough to actually spend their life with me! 🙂 Of course I believe the same about him. But he’s much better at relationships than I am – he’s been in a steady relationship for two years now up here in New England, and the only thing I do is work. We have different priorities, but he makes me think about mine.

I remember the day Nick and I started being “friends” instead of “siblings.” He was 5, and I was “babysitting” him at our house in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I had just learned to drive and we were both sick and tired of sitting at home. He was a very picky eater then, which is hilarious now because he would eat anything you throw at him… but I dragged him to Hamlin’s East in Muskogee and forced him to try foods he wouldn’t normally. He loved it. And we laughed our heads off. I started picking him up from school. I loved that – I felt so grown-up when I would leave Muskogee High and stop by Creek Elementary to pick up the little dude. I’d force him to listen to tapes in the car, then he started actually liking the songs I played him. I made him mix tapes. I warped his precious little mind.

But I have this one moment in our childhoods that I cherish. I don’t really know why, but it’s one of my happiest memories of our time together, and my life.

We were in the gameroom of our house. He was maybe 8, and I had just completed my first year of college at Northeastern State in Tahlequah. I stayed with him over the summer, my last summer at home. We were, of course, watching MTV, and I think 120 Minutes or a show like that was on. I heard the beginnings of “No Rain” by Blind Melon, then saw the Bee Girl on stage. Now, I should mention that I deeply identify with the Bee Girl. I was a bit of a weirdo/unpopular girl, kind of a misfit, and I’d even had a bee costume I wore for Halloween as a kid. I had just started meeting my core group of friends, who were Bee People too. I’d just started feeling accepted, and just started realizing I wasn’t a complete freak. That video hit me square in the gut. It still makes me cry happy tears.

My mom never encouraged us to be like anyone else. And there was something about that song – at that time – me being 18 or so and “finding myself” and the friends and family I’d have for the rest of my life. Every day felt like a rose opening. Every day, it opened a bit more, and I felt something new and exciting, something awe-inspiring about growing up and just living. And my brother — little and cute and curly-headed – was always there with me, never judging me or trying to emulate me, but just being my brother and friend.

So on that day, in the gameroom, we watched the video. When it was over, I looked at Nick and said, “Hey, you wanna go get that CD?” Of course, these were the days before Internet radio, Spotify and the like – you actually had to haul off and buy the damn CD, with his two-foot long plastic case around it.

I was working at McDonald’s then and not making a lot of money. So in typical Sarah fashion, I blew what cash I had on music. I drove like a woman possessed to Hastings, with him in the car, and bought the first Blind Melon CD and drove home. At that time, Mom was working crazy hours as a nurse, and Nick’s dad, Pat, wasn’t home yet. So I’d started dinner when I got home. I brought my little jambox into the kitchen, put on the CD, and hit play. We danced in the kitchen to “No Rain” on repeat. It is, to this day, one of my very favorite songs.

I’m not sure why I love that memory. It felt like a moment of freedom, independence and just having fun with the people I love. Nick has never, and will never, judge me. Hopefully that works both ways. I was such a self-conscious kid, and Nick was the same way. We felt like we had to act a certain way, and couldn’t really goof off or anything, lest we get in trouble or make a “scene.” Not sure where that came from, but that day in the kitchen, we danced like idiots and sang and danced some more. We realized we had each other’s back – subconsciously of course, as I wasn’t as introspective then as I am now.

My brother is one of my best friends. I don’t want to ever think about living a day without him.

When Nick was little, our mom told me, “I wish I could be more like Nick.” She was right. He’s just a great little dude, and I’m lucky to have him. Thanks for being you, Buster Thurperson. And I miss you, Shannon Hoon. And Mom.

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