Category Archives: Love

The Annual Mom Post, or ‘How I learned that you’re always going to cry about your mom on Mother’s Day, and that’s OK, because grief is good for you’

I’d like to dedicate this to everyone who’s lost their mother (or father, though the peg on this is Mother’s Day) fairly recently, or if you’re grieving all over again and just want to know you’re not alone. This is based on a conversation I had with Fran Rotella, a good friend of mine who used to work with me at ESPN who is also a member of our misfortunate “missing moms” club. We were talking one night about how every crying fit ultimately leads back to HER. That conversation has never left my mind. But to all the other club members, I hope this gives you a bit of comfort knowing you’re not alone.

***

roseI could be crying about something silly – a commercial, a moment in a ballgame that stoked by emotions, a random memory — that started out as a funny and turned serious.

I could be missing an ex-boyfriend and crying about how it ended. (OK that’s not likely, but still.)

I could be crying about something stupid that happened at work.

It doesn’t matter how the crying starts – it always leads the same place.

I am not a sad person by nature. In fact, the subject of this writing, my mom, used to ask me why “I was so damned happy all the time.” She always had a smile on her face when she said it, but I knew very young that we were so very different, my mama and I. But we were more alike than I knew, and as I live on without her, I hear and sound and look more like her than ever before. She’s more alive in me – and that’s OK. It’s a blessing, actually.

In the midst of a million crying jags, I’ve found the common thing I see that can both accentuate the tears and quell them, is my mom. All emotions lead back to the missing parent. They say you get used to it, but it’s not true. Every time I’ve had a major situation in my life since 2003, I have quashed the urge to pick up the phone and say, “MOM, GUESS WHAT!”

All roads lead to her.

I’ve written about her more than just about anything else, sans music, since July 11, 2003, the day she died. And all the tears I’ve spilled since then always lead down the primrose path to Mama. Not once in a tantrum – be it boy-related or whatever – has my mom’s face not gone through my mind. Sometimes, it’s just that I want to see her so bad in that moment, I can’t stand it. Sometimes it’s that I hear what she would advise me in that moment, in her voice, in my head.

Sometimes I just hear her laugh, go to my mama happy place (she’s wearing a white NSU sweatshirt and I’m laying my head on her shoulder, in the kitchen of her house in Weleetka and she smells like Tide and Bounce, cigarettes, wood smoke, food and MOM, a smell I would give anything in the world to smell again.)

Sometimes I wish more than anything I could find those emails she sent me years ago, or hear her voice on the answering machine messages I saved. But it’s not like my memory doesn’t play them all back when I need them to. It’s like every joke she ever made has come to my mind’s fore at least once since her death.

It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter if you were young or old when it happened. It doesn’t matter if you got along or not. Your mother’s death will never, ever feel good. It’s not supposed to – the scientific bond that we all feel toward our parents is so entrenched in DNA and science magic that we can’t escape it.

Those whose mothers weren’t good to them can’t get over it – see every narcissist and serial killer ever – and they don’t have the same chemical makeup, so they don’t understand. But they’re the rare exception.

Mothers who tried really hard, but weren’t able to turn their kids into functioning members of society, have children who regret not being able to live the lives their moms wanted — see Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”

Those who try to distance themselves from family often have a deep part of themselves missing, have been through untold trauma, or are just broken. That may work for them – but it comes from a place of grief. And I feel for them.

Face it – your mom is YOU. And Mother’s Day is hell after she’s gone. I’d like to say it gets easier year after year – it does not. Every commercial, Facebook post, church event – it’s like every one of them is conspiring against you, and your eye makeup/bravado, in an attempt to make you to cry. And that grief can be as fresh as the day it happened in a millisecond. Nothing else comes close to it, at least not for me. My mom’s death was the first “big death” of my life that wasn’t a grandparent. It’s changed the way I handle grief about everything. Other things seems small compared to her death.

Mother’s day will never be fun, except for the fact that I have the best stepmother on the planet. But when grieving my mom, grief can happen ANY day, grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking you, reminding you that it’s there, and you just THOUGHT you escaped it.

Last week, I was talking to a dear colleague of mine. I was telling her how I’d had a bad few days and all I wanted was my mom. She looked at me, tears springing to life in her eyes, and I knew I’d touched a nerve. She’s a club member – more recent than me. We then talked for 30 minutes about how sometimes all we want is Mama, and nothing can fix that.

But in those moments, we don’t often stop to think about the fact that we’re FEELING. And that’s what our moms left us in their wake. That means they MATTERED.

To feel the grief, to miss her, to know what she left behind – that is the joy of grieving. And though I keep myself out of certain situations that I know will stoke that grief, I don’t run from it. And I never will.

To everyone who’s recently lost a motherly figure, or just needs to hear this — NEVER stop talking about her. My mom’s wisdom inserts itself into my day when I least expect it, and I’m forever grateful. I think that’s because I’ve opened my ears up enough to listen and understand that though she’s no longer walking this heavenly plane, her work here is still being done.

She was a force – and her impact still ripples the water around us. Because I have worked to remember all of our life together, I’ve pieced together some of her teachings that I would have otherwise forgotten.

My mom, at one point in her life, raised two wolf cubs. Yes. You read that right.

My mom could sew, cook, plumb, do electric work and build a house.

Once I came home and there were gunshots in the floor – like pellet-gun shots, but still. I said, “Mom, what happened?” “There was a snake in here,” she calmly replied.

That was my mom.

That IS me – and though I’ll miss her like I always do on the second Sunday in May, I am more thankful than ever to have had the mom I did, and to have the grief that she left behind. Because that, my friends, means she lived. And will live on forever.

 

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2016: A Spaced Elegy

So many low points.

So many illnesses, deaths, heartaches, heartbreaks and stabs to my soul. So many slaps across the face, tears in their wake, shouts thrown into the night. A few bad decisions, a few good ones that turned out to be bad, and a few too many days alone… that was 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

But I don’t want to talk about those, as I’m not even close to alone on that. Most people appear to have had a shite 2016. Most people were so glad that the calendar turned to 2017 that they expected some sort of magic moment on Jan. 1, like they’d turn on their phones and all the pains and woes of the world would have been eradicated by Prince and David Bowie, who came back to fix the world aboard the Resurrectium Falcon piloted by Carrie Fisher with Leon Russell riding shotgun.

They expected Donald Trump to tweet something benevolent on New Year’s Day. WRONG.

They expected all 25 pounds they’ve gained to just magically shake off Sunday morning.

They expected their wishes — people to grow a soul and do the right thing – would come true.

Reminds me of that horrible phrase my stepdad used (may he rest in peace… thanks 2016) – “wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up fastest.”

So yeah, let’s leave the wishes in the dust. Let’s leave 2016 in the dust too, but first, the miracles of 2016… yes, they were there, just fewer and far between.

mountaopI climbed this mountain this year. My heart was broken, wrung out, on the 60-day DL for repeated fractures. I wanted to see Dr. James Andrews and have him put me on the exempt list. (Sports humor, y’all…)

It was the first warmish day of an incredibly long, warm , beautiful Connecticut summer, and I climbed this mountain. Me, who used to weigh 315 pounds. Me, who had never shown much interest in hiking before… me, who found that it was life-saving.

Me, who a few months before was in “the best relationship of my life” only to have it disappear in a few short months. Me, who had it “all together.” I was not OK on that mountain that day, not on the inside.

But I was much better when I left. After I had gotten to the top, laid down and spaced out for an hour or so, listening to the world teach me lesson after lesson, dripping with the time-honed wisdom of the trees and breeze.

I had a staredown with a buck, keeping my quiet while he and a fawn behind him traipsed through low underbrush.

buckstaredownI watched as tender new June leaves danced in the intense mountaintop wind, and as the sun beat down on glittering quartz-filled rocks. I heard crows everywhere – Connecticut is home to enormous, beautiful crows – and the warblers were out at every treetop. Mountain laurel was blooming and the forest floor carpeted with moss and new grass. But the higher I got up the mountain, the quieter it got and the flora and fauna more scarce. It also got more peaceful. A peace I’d never really felt.

I lay on that mountainside and felt the elements underneath me and around me. I felt the heat of the rocks below me. I gazed into the abyss and realized how close I could be to violent death should I amble too far and tumble off. I nearly fell asleep in the peace, though my heart was racing. I looked up at the brilliant sky and I cried out at the top of my lungs, saying aloud to everything that could hear: “THANK YOU.” I meant it. I still do.

ontopofoldsmokyThe mountaintop brings gratefulness. I had to climb it to find that out. And though I’m not anywhere near fitness perfection, I’ve climbed two mountains in my short hiking career, and multiple trails have welcomed me for their miles of glory. I have come to find solace and strength in the quiet brilliance of a mountain trail, and I don’t question anymore why that is – especially after that day.

I was broken. Broken by a man who I still don’t understand, and probably never will. Broken by life and its many foibles. Broken by death, grief and misunderstanding. I was fixed when I came down the mountain. I’d be dinged again later, but at that moment, I was OK. I spent the weekend camping and the rest of the summer planning to do what would make me happy.

Maddie. My heart.

Maddie. My heart.

Part of that happiness, I didn’t realize, would be adding to my family in the form of Maddie, my senior citizen Golden Retriever who makes me so very happy. Going to get her was an adventure – a first date (and there would be no second) in the car to gather her up from Maryland. Once she was in the car, it’s like the guy didn’t exist. Kevin Durant left the Thunder the next day and all I could think about was the joyful red girl lying on my living room floor. She’s been about the best thing to happen to me in a long time. And her owners wanted her to be put down. How lucky can I be?

So a few months later, I moved to a place that’s not far from the mountain I hiked that day – Washington, Ct. – to be closer to nature and the people who appreciate it. I am a mile from hiking now, living in a tiny village with real people who do real things and make real memories.  There are family farms out here that are 300 years old. There are places I can walk in, pick up fresh produce and leave cash in an “honesty basket” without ever seeing the farmers. There are memories to be made here by the boatload, and I will make them, I can tell. It was a whim that I moved here, but it was rooted in a need to be where the peace is. I felt something, and I don’t think I’ll be leaving here anytime soon.

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game... or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game… or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I traveled a ton this year as well… and realized that city life is just what I have to tolerate when I travel. I spent a few days in Nashville (sick) to cover the SEC Tournament in March, and then spent several at Disney World (sick) with people I love. I took two trips to Oklahoma and Texas (sick), went to Los Angeles (healthy, but exhausted) to celebrate my BFF’s birthday, and finally moved out to where I really wanted to be (and got sick almost immediately. For two weeks.) Since I’ve moved out here, traveling is about the last thing I want to do. Long weekends at home are spent, with me hardly ever leaving, and not feeling like I’ve missed out.

I spent quality time with family and friends, and have already had my parental figures, one sister and one brother over to the new house. Considering I live far away from everyone, that’s a big thing. This year, I’ll spend more time with friends, if I can pull myself away from my haven out here.

Oh, and I should mention — my career, bracing for all the change of the coming wave of technology — is ever-changing, as usual,but still one of the most important things ever for me. I’m just glad that I now have something that can shut off the work voice on my way home — my new scenery. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still count my lucky stars and pinch myself every now and again. FIVE YEARS AT ESPN. What the hell.

So yeah, the year that started off beautifully quickly landed in a heap on the ground — wings broken off, smoke and ash blocking the fresh air and taking hunks of my humanity with it. But I rebounded. I made some mistakes along the way, I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I spent a few months in a dark place. But it went away. And now there is light. There may be no answers for why it went the way it did, but I’m not going to worry about that anymore. Not everything has a reason. Sometimes, life is just bullshit.

But you gotta find a trail to get over the mountain of bullshit to get to the mountain of peace. It’s there. Just look.

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Filed under Birds!, Connecticut, Hiking, Kevin Durant, Love, Moving, NBA, Personal musings, Politics?, Relationships, Sports, Thunder, Women

My new happy home: (Slowly) sowing on the mountain

It is Oct. 1, and I live in New England.

That means the tapestry is unfolding – red and yellow leaves dot my new surroundings, still a minority to the green, and that’s good. I want this to move slowly.

Something within me has slowed down these last few months. Not in an unhealthy, geriatric sort of way – I turned 42 last week, not 92 – but I’ve felt myself walking slower, moving slower, being more deliberate, thinking more. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but I like it.

So many things have changed in the last year. Hell, so many things have changed in the last five years, but the last year has been a doozy. There are days I don’t understand how I got here. After a long week of the routine of work (which has changed a ton too), adding in my new commute (42 minutes on a normal day, closer to 50 when following behind an ever-present farm or trash truck), my weekends are spent in my house, puttering around at my own pace, feeling out the place, getting used to it. Driving to “town” for groceries. Working in the yard. Walking Miss Maddie. It’s new, but it oddly feels more like home than I’ve felt since I moved to New England.

Home, of course, is Muskogee, Oklahoma. Also Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I spent a decade of some of the best times of my life. But this place… how did I get here? It’s heaven, it’s soul-satisfying, and it feels like forever. I drive with the windows down even when it’s cold because it smells like rural Oklahoma mixed with the damp, autumnal glory of Connecticut. This place where I’ve only lived a month but can’t wait to come home to each night? This place where my dear, dear stepmother said, “It’s like you’re on vacation every weekend.” How did I get here?

Well, here’s the short answer. I had my heart broken earlier this year and I kind of went on a “finding myself again” mission. How did I allow this to happen? Why did I react so meanly when it abruptly ended? Why was I missing him when I knew he wasn’t right for me? Why did it take so long for me to recover? Why was he so awful to me and how did I let that happen in the first place?

I sought out answers by going on a few dates. And again, I found nothing. I was interested in a guy who, again, said all the right things, but disappointed me. I also met a nice guy who wanted to change me – No. I don’t think so. Rather than wallow and wish for the best, I cut it all short. I wasn’t heartbroken at all, just frustrated and glad I hadn’t formed any real connections. Dating sucks, and as it turns out, I wasn’t lonely. Just in need of a change. I had to remember that I am fine single – that romance, while desired and lovely, isn’t what made me who I am.

So I redeployed the “finding myself” mission, but in overdrive. I very quickly evaluated my life and the one thing I was missing in this super-blessed, super-fruitful life of mine was tranquility. I had been seeking serenity on the weekends, leaving behind bustling Bristol for mountainous Western CT, where I would hike, drive or just daydream about living there. I realized I wanted to return to something like where I grew up, in rural Muskogee. Somewhere where, as my mom used to say, “You don’t have to put on a prom dress to get the mail.” Somewhere I could start over. Again.

The timing was there. My brother and his now-fiancee were moving back to Oklahoma, so one day, tired of all the bullshit and seeking some sort of break, I looked at Craigslist for rent houses in the area where I like to hike. It’s pretty fancy out here, so I wasn’t optimistic about finding a rental.

But I did. I found a house about 15 minutes from the hiking routes that gave me solace and comfort when I was getting over a heartbreak coupled with the death of a family member. A place where I could lie on my back after climbing a mountain and forget all the pain, all the questions, all the regrets. Somehow, I got the place. And in a matter of weeks, I was on the road to my new home.

Turns out this house is also less than five minutes from some pretty great hiking grounds, and it’s a town that has a community of people who seem to like each other and appreciate life. I will make new memories. I will hike new grounds. Ones where, hopefully, I won’t have to go to get over sadness, but where I can go to feel the sun on my face, listen to the birds and overcome obstacles just for fun, like when I first started hiking. A place I can memorize and forget, a place that will always be new and magical.

This is such a far cry from where I was when I moved to Connecticut from Oklahoma. I don’t bemoan anything from my past, and I have few regrets, but I just don’t understand how I was basically an indoors person who became an outdoors person. The lack of Oklahoma heat has a lot to do with it, I’m sure. But that joy I feel when I go outside – that “The hills are alive with the sound of music” moment I experience every time I’m in the woods—where did it come from?

I’ve also been living differently since I moved here. I go to bed early and get up early, which, for those who know me well, is SHOCKING. I get my chores done. I am more organized, while still living by the seat of my pants. I cook dinner nearly every night and take my lunch every day. Fast food dinners are a thing of the past, though I do enjoy a good Taco Bell run every once in a while.

I don’t know where this all is coming from, and I’m not going to question it anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it. I also am no longer questioning why my past romances have failed, why I haven’t met “the one” yet and why I am still alone. I used to say I wouldn’t do this or that until I was in a good relationship, because I wanted someone to share it with. That seems so silly to me now. I am no longer waiting for something to happen. I will go it alone – and maybe that’s the plan that was picked for me. Maybe I should just really live a day at a time, and if I meet someone, great. If not, I’m still happy.

Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.

In the meantime, I’ve got the best golden retriever on the planet, the best job a person could ask for – with bosses and co-workers who (mostly) get me — a wonderful house surrounded by a community of interesting people, and all of life’s necessities. I have family and friends who I cannot believe put up with me. I have satisfaction in my soul, a smile on my face, food in my belly and a joy I didn’t know I could find.

I am happy. I could have saved a lot of words and led with that, but that’s not my writing style. I am moving more slowly – not because of age or pain, but because I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t feel like I’m running to something anymore.

I feel like I’m here.

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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.

20160228_142849

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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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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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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My ‘Seven Bridges Road’ weekend

‘Sometimes, there’s a part of me…
has to turn from here and go’ 

It was a dark time in my life on all fronts – love, friends, money, comfort – all of it seemingly gone. It was 2008-2010. Those years blend together for me as the worst of my life.

I lost friends, had no money, hadn’t found my strength yet – my job was tiring and thankless, my future dark and agonizing. I was a few years removed from my mother’s death, and still not OK with it (probably never will be). Friends I’d had for more than 20 years were falling by the wayside. Everyone I knew was getting married or in committed relationships, including my roommate, who moved out amid all this. He owed me tons of money, money I desperately needed to keep my house from being foreclosed on and my car from getting repossessed. I often wrote one check on payday to Reasor’s, the big grocery store chain in Oklahoma, writing the check as much over for cash as they’d allow. That way, I had food and a little bit of cash for whatever. I’d pay my bills after that, and usually, my money for those next two weeks would be gone.

I didn’t have money for going out much. Fortunately, I had a cool job that let me go to concerts for free sometimes. Or I’d get tickets to something through the newspaper or friends. Looking back, I got by on the kindness of strangers many times.

Near the beginning of my dark period, a messy relationship had ended, much to my angst and chagrin, and I just kind of gave up on everything. It’s like I went into hibernation for three years, only emerging to go to work or a Drillers baseball game (tickets were around $6 – good, cheap entertainment and usually cheap beer too… there was healing at those games too, but that’s another blog.)

But one weekend, after feeling like all I wanted to do was run away and join a band of itinerant welders, I had a bit of free cash and some credit left on plastic. So I rented a small travel-trailer in Tahlequah, my exodus spot for the last 25 years. I went alone and told no one I was going except my brother, who still lived in Tahlequah, should I need reinforcements or a bear-trapper. I made a CD, packed a notebook and books, and drove to Tahlequah for a secluded weekend – it was pre-summer, so no one was at the lodge where I stayed. I was hopeless, which was a new feeling for me.

But then I drove to Tahlequah.

I’m not going to say it was like some elixir that magically cured what ailed me. That took time. But that day – that trip down Highway 10, a sacred place in my heart – will stay with me forever. Now I know it was a trip filled with magic, one I reflect back on often.

That CD I’d burned was full of wistful, melodic masterpieces to make me think. I didn’t even know at that time what those songs would become in my heart – a lot of Jimmy Buffett, Beck, Jackie Wilson and one surprise song that I still believe has healing powers: “Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles.

As I topped a big hill along Highway 10, the CD player in my Corolla ticked to that song. (I’m not a huge Eagles fan, but had realized I liked that song and included it on that mix for some reason.) It starts slowly: “There are stars in the southern sky…southward as you go.” Then that speedy acoustic guitar kicks in, and then Don Henley starts singing.

The money line for me is “Sometimes there’s a part of me… has to turn from here and go… Running like a child from these warm stars, down the Seven Bridges Road.”

That line played as I crested a final hill before Arrowhead Resort in Cherokee County. And it felt like God was patting me on the back. It felt like all the forces in the world were saying, “Welcome to the country. We’ve been waiting for you. Leave your sorrows on the shore and don’t bother to pick them up when you leave.”

That weekend, I listened to that song about 300 times. I stayed in my little travel-trailer and wrote hot garbage that I wouldn’t try to publish even if it meant $1 million guaranteed. (I hate my emo-laden writing. I feel like a wuss after I read it.) I cried, ate a lot, wallowed, rectified, rationalized, drank a lot, slept a lot – and listened to a ton of music, all looking for meaning.

I got over my pain and suffering on that Sunday. I left my BS on the shore, where it belonged. I returned to work on Monday, not completely healed, but wrung out. I felt stripped down, but ready to start building again.

It was the hardest three years of my life. And 2011 wasn’t that great either, but it was the year I finally got angry enough at my situation to look for something else. It was the year ESPN hired me and I loaded up the truck and moved to Bristol-eeeee…

But every time I hear that song now, like I did first thing this morning, I’m back in my Toyota, cresting that hill, listening to “Seven Bridges Road” like it was going to save my life.

I think, in a way, it did.

It will always be a favorite song. And that weekend, though I spent it alone and sad, was a time of great independence and healing – condensed to one weekend, of course. I don’t know why I need to go to the hills when my heart is lonely, but that Julie Andrews was on to something.

I’ve got other places here in Connecticut that fill the void of my nirvana in Cherokee County. The Farmington Trails are glorious, and even paved so I can ride my bike. But nothing can top that weekend in the boggy banks of the pre-summer Illinois River. I think my weekend alone was the beginning of my fearlessness period, one I hope I never exit.

Oh, and one more thing – I still hate “Hotel California.”

 

 

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