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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A Real American Hero: Why everyone should be cheering for Ronda Rousey

“Oh, I’m sorry — did you think YOU were going to win this?”

I did something in the ESPN newsroom last night that I don’t often find myself doing due to the unspoken rules of the newsroom – I clapped like an idiot over a sporting event.

Just like baseball, journalism has its own unwritten rules, especially sports departments. You don’t say “We,” as in “We (the Sooners) are going to be really good this year,” you don’t wear team colors, and you don’t show too much emotion over results of events.

There are exceptions – one of my favorites being watching Oklahoma State make it to the Final Four on the back of John Lucas III in the Tulsa World newsroom in 2003, two more coming during my ESPN years — Tim Tebow’s entire 2011 season and American Pharoah’s ride to the Triple Crown this year. In those instances, we all shook off those rules, watching and admiring from our impartial seats. It didn’t matter who you were a fan of – in those moments, you are just a sports fan, watching history being made. We crowded around TV sets and just went with it, tearing down that Fourth Wall for a few moments and living like the regular fans live.

It’s one of the most satisfying, sweetest things – and I don’t even know if there’s a word for that feeling. Joy, I guess – joy and pride, a heady combo that makes some people start fights after feeling it (looking at you, Vancouver.)

I felt it last night. And it felt like the entire world – minus a few negative ninnies – agreed with me.

Watching Ronda Rousey become the greatest at her sport — and let’s face it — the greatest draw the UFC has and the face of the brand, has been a strange and wonderful experience for me. Back in 2011 when I started at ESPN, I had no love for UFC, and certainly none for Ronda Rousey. She seemed like a bully to me then. She seemed like a one-trick, armbar-laden pony.

But after researching her and learning more about her, I realized hers is a skill and talent that is unique, precious, and deep down inside her. She channels a place that we all know – fear, resentment, aggression, extreme sadness, withdrawal from society, poverty and shame. She is the walking embodiment of turning yourself around.

I met Ronda this year at an ESPN Women event in which I sat in a room with her and about 20 other women. It was an open Q&A session moderated by Jemele Hill. All of us – Jemele included – sat in wonder as we listened to Ronda speak. It was like talking to a family member or a close friend. It was like she knew all of us and was honestly, openly talking about her life, her past, her future, her fears, her love life – she’s an open book, really. Now, despite the fact that she gracefully took a picture with me and my friend Elanna at work, she also told me she liked my necklace. She looked me in the eye. She put her arm around me and smiled for the camera. She was wearing a cool dress and house shoes.

She was possibly the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. I was in awe – and still kind of am. Her past is similar to many of ours – wild, full of things you probably wish you hadn’t done. But she realizes that you have to turn the page, move on, live your life and roll with the punches… in her case, those punches are deadly, but she can absorb them as well as dish them out. She’s been taking punches her whole life

Ronda was a bartender, drinking too much and partying too hard, and living in her car. Then she unlocked that place in her that wanted more. She has always listened to her mother’s advice, and she kept her father’s suicide in her heart, the grief slowly turning into motivation and strength. She’s tough and vulnerable at the same time.

I think that’s why I clapped like an idiot last night – I knew the 34-second beatdown of Bethe Correia was for her daddy, whose suicide Bethe – knowingly or not – made light of a few months before the fight. Bethe taunted and taunted in the buildup of the fight. Ronda stood firm, never lowering herself to such trash talk. She just gave Bethe that terrifying look that said, “You know what, keep talking. This’ll work itself out.” And it did. In 34 glorious seconds.

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-231228 ORIG FILE ID:  20150801_ads_db3_526.JPG

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena.  (Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports)

The look on Ronda’s face the second she knew she’d won was not evil. It’s pure joy. That same joy you and I feel when our team wins – the same joy you get when you do something you’ve always wanted to do professionally. That same glee you find in yourself when you know you’re really good at something. The intense pleasure of knowing people are proud of you.

Ronda Rousey is as much like you and me as you and your sister. She’s charming, funny, emotional, tough and brilliant. If you don’t believe me, read up on her reading (she’s an avid reader), read her interviews, watch her on YouTube – she carries herself in a well-spoken, introspective, genuine way. She loves animals. She has had bad boyfriends too. She’s the most “real” athlete we have right now. Every ounce of her perfect body is genuine. Every pore on her beautiful face has been filled with blood, sweat and tears. Even after movies, TV shows, countless interviews and junkets, Ronda is Ronda, and always will be.

It’s what makes her climb to the top so fabulous and fun to watch. She is creating fans. More importantly, she is creating a legion of female fans who are so glad to have another female role model who isn’t a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, a Kardashian or someone who’s thought of as beautiful first, athlete second. (Serena, Venus and the entire U.S.Women’s National Soccer Team were getting lonely.)

Between her and Serena, I don’t think I can pick. Both are dominant and both are the best in their fields. Today, I am more on the Ronda bandwagon because of her domination, pure strength and emotional vulnerability – something the sometimes-aloof Serena can seem to lack, though we know she really doesn’t – but that’ll change for me the next time Serena does something awesome. I’ll say this – they are 1 and 1A in terms of top female athletes. They may be 1 and 1a among ALL athletes. They have certainly had to dominate more, and for longer periods of time, to be thought of as such.

But that’s what women are used to doing – having to work just a little bit harder than male counterparts to prove they’re good at what they do. I am in a male-dominated field, so I speak from experience.

I read a tweet today that Ronda Rousey is “almost a household name.” I think she’s closer than that – like she already is, and once more and more people watch the (Illegal) Vine video of her beatdown of Correia, her status will just tenfold. Women and men alike are falling for her, not because she’s beautiful – that’s just a happy coincidence – but because she’s an Everyman with panda buns and boxing gloves. She’s a soldier intent on her goal, and she doesn’t need Hollywood or stardom to do it. She’s doing it IN SPITE of those things. She’s making hay(makers) while sun shines on her.

She’s a role model, pure and simple. And she made me lose my composure in the newsroom last night.

I don’t think anyone judged me too harshly. They were too busy clapping too.

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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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Filed under Family, Love

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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Filed under Connecticut, ESPN, Family, Friends, General Nonsense, Music, Oklahoma