Tag Archives: memoir

2013, a summary (part 1).

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2013 is a year I’m going to put in a box, tape up thoroughly, label “DO NOT OPEN” and toss in my attic.

Figuratively speaking, of course. Though if I could do it literally, I would.

2012 was such an amazing year that I could take my Facebook posts and pictures and organize them in such a way as to accurately describe my year. But 2013 was too dark for social networking and pictures to portray. It was kind of like 2011 in that bad things happened, but the difference was that the tragedies of 2011 created me. The tragedies of 2013 just tried, and failed, to break me.

So instead of a long list of cool stuff that I did in 2013, I’m going to reflect on it in a more abstract way about the things I’ve learned.

I’ll give it to 2013: it taught me a lot about life.

Martyrdom is overrated.

The beginning of 2013 ushered in a great many questions for me centered around, “How can I make the world a better place?” My perception of every person’s sworn duty to this world was to give relentless kindness and generosity toward others. I still believe that’s a noble endeavor, but like all goals, they need to come from a healthy place.

My drive to selflessness was spurred by the idea that I was an empty shell of a person, but I still functioned as a person, so I should thus work toward helping people who aren’t empty. That’s not really healthy reasoning, and I found that the more I gave, the more irritated I was with not being thanked and recognized. I saw myself so high and mighty as to be able to give without wanting anything in return, but what I was asking for in return was blind adoration so it would convince me that I was the saint I sought to be.

I did two acts of excessive generosity this year: one was amazing and I’m hoping to do it again this year; the other, although I don’t regret it, I wish I had handled in a different way.

Though I won’t discuss the latter (in short, do not give to the point where you can no longer help yourself), the former was my trip to Peru where I volunteered to teach English in a shantytown called Huaycan near Lima, Peru. My first experience volunteering abroad is really enough to be its own post, but to summarize, I learned that the most effective way of helping people is to instill in them a sense of community and equality. Charity is an interesting thing in that pitying people does not help them, and our perceptions of “the third world” being somehow worse than the first world are just wrong (the numbering alone implies we’re better somehow). Just because a group of people has fewer things and fewer luxuries does not make them poor. And just because a group of people live in a different way than we live does not mean they want to live like we live.

Because of this, I believe that volunteering is less about charity and is more a symbiotic relationship. Huaycan and the Light and Leadership Initiative helped me as much, if not more, than I helped them.

Family is underrated.

My family has always been my foundation. I owe every success in my life to them. But like all major influences, you only notice how powerful and important they are when they’re in jeopardy.

For years, I never understood the idea that family could ever be a bad thing. I never understood (and still have trouble understanding) the concept of individuality. Why would you be one person when you can be all the amazing people in your family put together? Why wouldn’t you want to grow up to become them? Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with them? Why wouldn’t you consider them your best friends? Why wouldn’t you listen to and apply their wisdom and respect them?

So when my family started changing, my worldview was turned upside down. It’s like the ground started moving under my feet, beginning with the passing of my father in 2011. And although the marriages and babies have been happy changes, they’re still changes nonetheless. So I’ve been adapting as best I can.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer this summer, it was like being punched in the gut, but it was the wake up call I needed to realize that I need to stop focusing on helping everybody in the whole world and start focusing on helping the people I love most. I need to become the foundation they’ve been for me.

Instead of being the best person I can be, I’ve been working very hard to be the best daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and close friend I can be.

This realization of the importance of family led me to acknowledge that what family provides is a sense of community, which is something that I’ve noticed is missing with a lot of my friends who are all in this chaotic stage of newfound independence like I am. Community is such a powerful thing, one of the most important influences in the shaping of our identities, and when I noticed that so many people I cared about lacked it, I wanted to fix it.

So I started community meal nights. It’s a really simple concept: I cook a big meal and invite anyone who wants to come, and I ask $5 toward ingredients. We sit around my dining room table and talk and drink and have a good time, and a few hours later, everyone goes home. It’s a great way to introduce people to one another and make new friends, it’s a great way to try new foods, it’s a great way to feel welcome and at home. And I hope that the people who attend the meals enjoy them as much as I do, because I think they’re amazing.

Trust is a commodity.

Because I grew up surrounded by people who had nothing but my best interests at heart, I have a kind of naive attitude toward other people. By that I mean, I trust too easily. I trust that people who aren’t like me will always accept me for who I am and won’t judge me. I trust that I won’t get mugged or hurt by a total stranger. I trust that people aren’t using me for some malicious, ulterior motive.

Well, that should all be past tense.

It has been brought to my attention, harshly and in large and many doses, that people work very hard toward self-satisfaction, and for some people that means getting it at the expense of others. 2013 has repeatedly shown me that both total strangers and the people closest to me are capable of incredibly cruel deeds.

This is a lesson I’m still having trouble with. I went from trusting everyone to trusting no one, and now I’m chewing on the idea that maybe I can give my trust to only the people who understand the gravity of the concept itself.

As it has been described to me by people older and wiser than myself, one of whom was my father, that I have to get my head in the game. Because that’s what life is: a game. One you can win if you play your cards right. In 2014, I plan to strategize my life and live more intentionally in order to protect myself. In 2012, I convinced myself I was invincible, but 2013 beat the crap out of me to show me that I’m not.

Stay tuned!

Okay! So I hope you check out my last 4ish lessons of part 2 whenever I get a chance to write them. And because I don’t want to end on a sad note, I’m going to list all the good stuff that happened in 2013:

1. I traveled a lot! I went to Vegas, Portland, Peru, Baltimore, Ann Arbor, and Indianapolis.
2. I got a big promotion at my job!
3. I met a ton of new, really great friends!
4. I learned how to cook and bake!
5. I accomplished some goals! I kept a budget all year and I lived in the same place for more than a year (the first time I’ve done this in six years). Yay!

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humans of peru

Taking a cue from Humans of New York, I thought I’d elaborate on my Peru trip in the form of portraits and mini-stories.

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Being in the desert with open windows meant that every inch of every surface was covered in dirt. We had a cleaning woman, Queta, come in daily to clean: “dust maintenance” someone called it. Everyone I met who had been at the house for long enough spoke of Queta like she was an oracle, or a best friend, or a surrogate mother, grandmother, aunt, sister. It made me incredibly sad that she and I couldn’t communicate, so I took her picture instead.

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The first time I met Mauricio, he threw a football at my head. I caught it and threw it back. An American football is an unwieldy item to throw without someone showing you how, so I ran over to him before he could throw it back and guided his fingers to the laces, made the motion to throw it overhead. I ran back to my spot and caught a perfect spiral straight to my chest. I gave a thumbs up and threw the ball back.

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Juan wouldn’t speak to me, which was fine, because I couldn’t understand what he would have been saying anyway. The great thing about three year olds is that they find ways to communicate without using words because sometimes they can’t think of the right ones. I handed him some paper and a big bucket of crayons. He stared at me blankly. I handed him a blue crayon and pointed to the paper. He started coloring meticulously, scribbling all over the page, like it was his sworn duty to color every inch of it. Like I had given him a mission. Eventually the crayon caught on the paper wrapper and he handed it back to me. I ripped some of the paper off and handed it back. “Brilliant!” the look on his face said. He squatted down and started using his stubby little fingers to pry the rest of the paper off the crayon. When he finished, he handed it back to me, beaming. I looked at my watch. We still had two hours to kill. I picked out another crayon, peeled a bit of the paper off to get it started, and handed it back. He ripped all the paper off again. This went on with about six more crayons, until he started taking crayons and exasperatedly peeling off the paper, as though he were divinely obligated to do so. It was the entire purpose of his being and it burdened him the way factory workers are burdened with manual labor in order to support their families. Finally, our time was up, and I handed him back to his mother. It was like punching his time card. He was finally off the clock.

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Most people ignore all the stray dogs in the area. They’re not like dogs in America: they’re more calm, less spoiled. There was a mangy-looking dog around the classroom, who was just looking for a bit of love and maybe some food. He wasn’t bothering anyone. However, this woman, whose name I don’t know, dressed completely in traditional Andean attire, threw rocks at the dog, all the while shouting Spanish curses at it. She didn’t throw them to hit the dog, just aimed them so that they would land near it and it would scurry away. It didn’t work, though. The dog kept coming back.

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For me, this little girl is a perfect symbol of Huaycan. Maybe at first glance, she looks dirty, and poor, and maybe we assume that we should give her charity because of that. In actuality, she’s dirty because she’s been out playing all day with her friends. She may be poor, like the rest of the community, but despite that, no one seems to want for anything.

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Jefferson was the quintessential Bad Boy of his class. Because of the language barrier, I would point to my eyes and then point to him to show him that I was keeping an eye on him. So he started doing it back to me, repeatedly, and laughing hysterically, as though my watching him had any bearing on his classroom behavior at all. Despite all this, he was one of my favorite students.

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These guys were just rocking out in Barranco. When they saw I had pulled out my camera, they started serenading me.

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my grand west adventure, pt. 1: las pegasus unicon.

From left to right: Drew Flashy, sad robots, Dr. Bob, and Crackle (at cons you go by your online/gaming alias usually)

For months, a couple of my friends insisted I come to Las Vegas with them for a brony convention. For months, I told them no, constantly reiterating that I couldn’t afford plane tickets to go out to Vegas for four days only, let alone for a brony convention when I was already committed to going to several others across the country. This did not dissuade them. Every time I saw them, they would ask, “Are you sure you don’t want to come to Las Pegasus Unicon?” and then proceed to tell me about all the cool things they’d be doing there.

About three weeks before the big convention, I was fed up with life. I had friend drama out the ass, I was depressed, and I couldn’t stand waking up in the morning. Then on a day slightly less terrible than the rest, my ex boyfriend texted me asking, “I’m going to Portland in a few weeks, do you want anything?” so, without thinking, I replied, “To go with you.” Turns out, he was planning on going to Portland right after the convention, so I put two and two together and decided to make a trip of it, if for no other reason than to clear my head.

I thought about it for all of about five seconds and bought the plane tickets.

My departure came suddenly and I was on a plane headed West for the second time within a year. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to going to Las Vegas, gambling having never really interested me, but, like Disneyland, I felt like it was a stop on the list of required things travelers must see so that they learn to appreciate better places like New Orleans. Sort of like prerequisite classes. They’re stupid and you don’t want to have to take them to get to the good stuff, but you know you need to in order to understand the material in the next class.

My perception of Las Vegas before I actually went was shaped entirely by the film The Godfather, Part II. Watching this before I had ever been to Vegas was a terrifying mistake to make, as I constantly imagined I would be shot at any moment.

I’d only ever been to a casino once, gambling being illegal in my hometown, so when I stepped off the plane to find flashing, noise-making, epilepsy-inducing slot machines in the damn terminal, I knew I was in for a mentally exhausting few days.

I met up with my friends who had a slightly later flight and we took a shuttle to our hotel, The Riviera.

I hated it the second we entered the place. It looked like it was designed by a blind drag queen circa 1979. The obnoxious carpet made me nauseous and the chrome-covered everything only served to reflect the faces of the unhappy, scowling hotel staff times a thousand. The woman who checked us into our room was shockingly rude, and I later found that the entire hotel, employees and patrons alike, were dead-set on making us feel as unwelcome as possible.

For a city whose tagline is, “What happens here stays here,” the people of Vegas are excessively judgmental. Throughout the convention, I would overhear the Normals try to make sense of the grown men dressed as cartoon characters. “It must be some kinda weird sex thing,” they would say, or, “I think it’s about My Little Pony, but I don’t know what all these guys are doing here,” and “Did you see that one guy with the wings?” and they’d laugh. Some of them would out-right ask me, “So what’s up with all of… this?” with a wave of their hand toward the colorfully-clad bronies waiting in line for their coffee. I would explain to them, as politely as I could, that these were all just normal guys who really like the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and yes, it’s a bit strange, but it’s also pretty wonderful that these men have found something that inspires them and makes them happy. I’m certainly proud to call myself a brony and to be part of this phenomenon that’s redefining our perception of masculinity and emphasizing the importance of love and tolerance.

But hey, maybe some people just think love and tolerance is stupid.

Las Pegasus Unicon overall was fun, although I spent a lot of the time wandering around the casino by myself while my friends were busy working the convention. That was fine with me: I went mostly to get away from the Dayton Doldrums anyhow, and I had a lot of mental stuff to parse out. I’m not sure if LPU will happen next year due to some misfortunes that occurred between the con heads, the hotel staff, and the celeb agents, but if not, it was a great one-time deal, and there are a growing number of brony conventions popping up across the country.

If you have heard about the aforementioned controversy, please keep in mind that a majority of the news out there is false and there are many rumors afoot. Please be wary of donating to any charity calling itself an “LPU Relief Fund” or anything of the sort. Immediately after the con, an official statement was released saying that the con heads had no affiliation with any charity organization and had no evidence of or control over where the charity money was going. I would post the official statement, but it has been redacted as well as the LPU site, leaving only the libelous reviews of the convention.

I have this thing called a Retroactive Bucket List full of items I only think of after I’ve done them. This con presented me with two:

  • Gamble in Las Vegas (I played one slot machine and hated it)
  • Travel across the country to support friends who are doing something they love

It is my personal opinion that despite the negative press, a lot of people got a chance to meet other bronies, chat with celebrities from the show, and have an all-around great time. The money and the drama behind the scenes isn’t my business, so from my perspective, it was a good convention.

Up next…

Part 2: The Las Vegas Strip

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memoir: on fathers and daughters, airports and hospitals, the best and the worst.

I should probably give a bit of insight into this piece before releasing it to the world, but there’s not much to say. It might my best written work to date (which doesn’t mean it’s any good). As always, constructive criticism is welcomed. Please let me know what you think.

Thank you to my ex-boyfriend and sister for allowing me to publish sections 1 and 3, respectively.

TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic depictions of death.

“On fathers and daughters, airports and hospitals, the best and the worst.”

Airports and hospitals are the best worst places to be. Large buildings filled with the essence of humanity; in each, you’re watching fellow beings in a state of change. In both, you say hello or goodbye; the former if you’re very lucky, the latter if you’re very not. People stray from their day-to-days in these places. The atmosphere is filled with the buzz of thoughts and emotions that others in stagnation just don’t have at 2pm on Tuesdays. These are the people embracing change, feeling apprehension, excitement, dread, joy, worry, relief, anger, happiness, irritation, loneliness, and everything in between. These are the two places that display the human condition at its best and at its worst.

The best moment of my life happened at an airport. The worst moment of my life happened at a hospital. Here are four moments, in reality just seconds apiece, in chronological order, expanded and dissected.

1

An eternity of waiting ended on this day. The level of excitement I felt shouldn’t have existed in reality. Six year olds weren’t this excited for Christmas morning. Sixteen year olds weren’t this excited to get their driver’s licenses. Sixty year olds weren’t this excited to meet their new grandchildren. For months, thinking about this moment caused me intense physical pain where my eyes would tear up and I would shake and hyperventilate until I forced myself to think of other, worse things. Papers being due, going to work at my three part time jobs, money troubles, and, in some instances, I’d bring to the forefront of my mind the unending existential crisis that most people have, that I’ve had since childhood: the why am I alive?s and is any of this worth it?s. This was the first and only time in my life my endless skepticism of reality itself actually soothed me instead of sending me into a panic at 2am during insomnia-filled nights.

That is how excited I was.

This was the day I would finally get to meet him. My love. The owner of my heart whether he wanted it or not (he didn’t). When this endeavor started, I wrote in my journal, “I love you without needing your love in return. Unconditionality of devotion.” (It’s true. It was before, it was then, and it still is now. Incredibly unfortunate given the circumstances.)

(It’s difficult writing these bittersweet moments as though only the sweet occurred, before bitter was even an option.)

Love at first sight is not something I’d ever believed in until this moment. That I could grow to love only the mind of another person, a man who personified art and bled creativity, was not something I ever expected to happen. And for him to return the love I felt for him? It could only be a dream (and it was, in fact, temporary).

I cleaned every inch of my living space, cleaned it again, sat on my bed and stared out the window, breaths shallow and glancing at the clock every ten seconds, wearing the nicest outfit I could throw together. When I thought I would explode, I drove to the airport, every red light lasting a lifetime, face inches from the windshield, wound so tight that you could shoot an arrow with me.

I got to the airport. I waited.

And I waited.

I looked at my phone.

And I waited some more.

Until finally, I looked up.

And there he was.

I remember his eyes. I’d never imagined they’d be so bright, so big, so brown, so happy to see me. Grinning from ear to ear, perfect teeth and dimples the size of moon craters, nothing between us but the quickly receding distance and air charged with love so intense that only naive nineteen year olds can feel it. No phone between us, no monitor, no written words. Just us, our unknown (dismal) future, and a week of staring at each other as though we’ve each just met divinity.

We embraced, we kissed. He smelled like leather and smoke and his hands were rough and calloused (though not as much as they are now, a symbol of his heart), fingertips stained brown from pack upon pack of unfiltered cigarettes.

We spent a week in a happy delirium, grinning at each other and wondering if any of it was even real, that someone so perfect could exist in the world and how the hell did we get lucky enough to find each other.

That week, I wrote, “We are nineteen. And he is everything I’ve ever loved.”

We would stare at each other as the sun set over a world that revolved around us.

But, like all things too good to be true, it was, and we finally drowned after several years of vainly plugging up the holes of our sinking ship. I am not part of ‘us’ now. I’m just me, Ms. Unconditionality of Devotion. And he is part of an ‘us’ with another person.

Despite the shrapnel of my heart slowly eating away at my metaphorical insides, I will always have the bittersweet moment of love at first sight.

2

I also have the endlessly tragic moment of watching a loved one die.

This was my first journal entry on the topic:

“I watched my father die.

It was Valentine’s Day, three months ago. It’s not something I ever expect to recover from.

At first, I couldn’t sleep.

Then I started dreaming of him.

The only way he would find his way into my dreams was when I dreamed I was dreaming. In my dreams, I knew my father was dead, but then I would fall asleep and he would be there waiting for me.

Now I dream of ways for him to come back. Sometimes he’s a ghost I can talk to. Once he was a clone of himself. Another time he had risen from the dead.

But during the waking hours of this nightmarish life, I can’t feel anything at all.”

My father was diagnosed with cancer just months after I graduated high school. After four years of getting better and worse and better and worse and then just worse, the disease claimed him.

Because he was not a man to sugarcoat the truth, neither will I, though it will take every ounce of willpower in me to drag the memory out of the hellish prison of my unconscious mind. The memory of his last moments is the stuff of trauma, the bits and pieces of truth that weave their way into nightmares, fevered dreams, and drunken stupors. This is the memory that trudges from the deep at my darkest moments, my biggest fear come to light and my worst nightmare manifested in reality. This is how my father died.

My relationship with my dad was a very good one. Growing up, he wasn’t the perfect father, but he was perfect in the development of who I turned out to be. Strict when he needed to be (and sometimes when he didn’t), fun and spontaneous, filled with epic stories of bar fights and worldly wisdom. My father was well-read, well-traveled, and could fix anything. He listened to blues and wore ball caps everywhere, enjoyed all sports and all beer, and had a story for every occasion.

He used to hold my hand in the car and sing “My Girl” by the Temptations, off-key and too loud until I would laugh and sing with him.

It doesn’t matter that for most of my life he had a bad temper. Or that he compulsively bought and collected random things. Or that he wasn’t very good at keeping a job.

When it comes down to it, my father was a passionate man, and he loved my mother, sister, and I more than anything in the world. He was a good man and a great dad, and his life ended far too soon.

I have this very bad habit of leaving myself in times of stress. It’s like I become a robot. I take myself, my emotions and reactions, out of my body and all I can do is observe my surroundings objectively, taking in all the details to be sorted through later, my only emotion a mild, vague pleasantness, like a giggle before it reaches your lips. It’s very childlike, this state. Oftentimes, I’m so objective that I acknowledge that I’m not feeling the correct emotions that a given situation warrants, but I can’t help it. I turn into a machine, a camera, observing the world and recording every detail, relaxed and unbiased, until I can process all the details and be haunted by them the rest of my life. It’s safe. It’s how I cope with stress.

When my father took a turn for the worse, I reverted into my robotic state. For days, my father’s mind quickly unraveled from the realization of his impending demise and the slow deterioration of his brain from the agony and being pumped with poison for years on end. It felt like he went so quickly from helping me hang up curtains in my new apartment to being unable to walk, from drinking beer and watching the Super Bowl to being unable to put words together to form a coherent sentence, instead remarking on odd things like “the spears” which he insisted filled his hospital room.

His first night in hospice was his last night of full awareness. As I bid my goodbyes to go home and sleep for the night, I didn’t realize then he would be speaking his last words to me. He held my hand and looked me in the eye, putting effort into shaping his words that were so hard for him to put together, and said, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Dad.” I hugged him and kissed his cheek, all bones and agony at this point, no more of the plump, tan man who taught me how to shuffle a deck of cards and play baseball, and, after this moment, would never be able to teach me anything again.

He spent his final days unconscious and (hopefully, dear god hopefully) pain-free, hospice having managed to procure the strongest pain medication on the planet, and surrounded by his family. All we could do was wait and be there for him, taking shifts so that someone was always there and someone was always doing other things, because although one person’s life was ending, the world was still spinning for the rest of us, as much as we didn’t want it to.

I don’t remember how many days my father was in hospice, unconscious, breathing his last shallow breaths. The call finally came at 3 o’clock in the morning from my mother. “They say he only has a little bit longer.”

I never realized how textbook death was, that it’s such a common thing that the moment it happens can be predicted by the people who see it most. Like the common cold, there are symptoms, and those of us who are blissfully unexposed to death hope it’s only a blip, that there will be one last “better” hill before the sine wave declines to zero.

We (my love from the airport, remember him?) drove to see my father in his last moments. My poor mother, the kindest, most patient and wonderful person I’ve ever known, was sitting with him in the dark. I took a seat on the opposite side of his bed. My robotic self didn’t even have the vague pleasantness it usually did, instead it was replaced by utterly blank curiosity and the realization that this is the moment we’d all been waiting for.

I reached my hand out to touch his arm. His skin was yellowed and felt like paper beneath my fingers. I would have said something to him, maybe muttered, “It’s okay, Daddy,” but logic dictated that he couldn’t hear me, that his mind had been gone for several days and this was only his body finally catching up.

His hands were curled up in an uncomfortable position, which I later realized was one of The Symptoms. Unable to look at his eyes, I stared at his hands and remembered an entire lifetime of fixing things, playing guitar, changing the channel, playing catch, turning pages. Hands that were once rough and calloused from years of physical labor, strong and deft. The hands that carried me to bed as a child and pointed at me when I did something wrong. Now they were contorted in pain, soft from months of un-use, sallow and thin.

His mouth was slack and breathing in shallow, shaky breaths, counting down to zero. The death rattle is another of The Symptoms, but I half expected him at any moment to take a deep breath in, sit up, and say, “Well that sucked. Let’s go for a beer.” But he didn’t.

His eyes were the worst. They were open in terror, an expression of agony, sightless and staring off into a distance none of us could see. His eyes were the windows of a lifetime of memories, stories of grand adventures I’d never get to hear again, knowledge and wisdom he would never be able to impart on me. His eyes were my eyes, the icy blue-gray of my family, and I thought about how unfair it was that I could continue to see and he would never be able to see, feel, think, talk, or be ever again.

The moment finally came. The rattling breath stopped, in its stead a palpable silence. One less heart in that room was beating, and we were left to say our final goodbyes.

My mental camera stopped recording then. I remember the conflicting feeling of wanting to leave that room and also stay there forever, to never leave my father’s side in case he decided to wake up and go get some breakfast. We had to leave, though, and in my childlike state, I was bewildered at the thought that he wouldn’t be coming with us, and my saddest realization was that this was the last time I would see his face, the last new memory of him I would ever make, a lifetime of rewinding and replaying memories until my internal tape finally wears out.

When I came back to myself at last, what felt like months later, after my unconscious mind had continuously berated me with nightmares every night, a cryptic plea to begin processing the recorded material of my father’s death and let loose a dam of unwelcome emotions, the first thing I felt was relief.

It’s difficult to explain, but when you hold the knowledge that someone you love is going to die soon, and you don’t know when or how or what life will be like after, and when that loved one is in the worst pain a human is capable of feeling, I realized that the anger and sadness and grief I expected to feel after it finally happened actually occurred slowly over the span of four years. My anger was at the illness itself, and death, it turns out, was a gift.

The dreams still haven’t stopped.

3

Exactly one year, ten months, and four days after my father’s death, I received an unexpected phone call late on a Friday evening. I was, as usual, in my pajamas watching a terrible movie and gorged on pizza I pretended that I split with someone else in my empty house.

It was my sister. I answered. “Hello?”

There’s that split second when you answer the phone and someone’s crying that you can’t tell if they’re maybe actually just laughing. For a split second, you hope that they’re maybe actually just laughing.

She wasn’t.

Panicked and terrified and angry, my sister struggled to say, “I just got hit by a car. You have to get Mom. She’s not answering her phone.”

And just like that, I evaporated from myself. Again. Predictable. “You what? Are you okay?”

“I got hit by a car. I don’t know. Get Mom.”

“Where are you?”

“Second and Patterson.”

“Okay. Okay I’ll be right there.”

By the time I hung up the phone, I was already in my car and starting the engine. I called my mother as I drove the mile down the road to where my sister said she’d been hit. No answer. I called my grandmother, who thankfully still had a landline. She answered. I elaborated the situation to her and asked if she could please go get Mom, putting enough urgency into my voice so that she would understand that this was a very big deal.

When I got to the site, my sister was already in the ambulance, so I followed it to the hospital.

During my drive, I tried to logic myself into expecting every possible scenario, from she’s dying (unlikely, given her capacity to call me and have a mostly coherent conversation) to her spinal cord has been severed to various limbs have been broken to the most optimistic and thus unrealistic, she’s actually perfectly fine.

In the ER, in my pajamas that still had pizza crust crumbs on them, I waited for my mother and grandmother.

The last time I was in this emergency room was when my father called 911 after forgetting how to call my mother on his cell phone. His thoroughly poisoned brain reverted to the logic that when you need something and there’s no one who can help you, you dial 911. In our modern society, it’s basic instinct.

What I found fascinating about the experience is that when a slowly dying man calls 911, the emergency room paradigm kind of breaks. We sat with him in his room waiting to get his discharge papers, and the ER doctor told us he was “fine” with the obvious unsaid caveat of, “for the moment. He’s still dying.”

Emergency room waiting areas are truly fascinating places. Every time I’m there, I think about how no one waiting had planned to be there that day, that their daily lives have been interrupted by something unexpected, potentially tragic. This is a place where the veils of public faces begin to lift, revealing emotion that we’re all usually too afraid to share with strangers, instead opting for niceties and facades, biting back our passions and anger and euphoria and grief.

As I sat there examining my pizza crumbs, mind whirling with uncertainty, I noticed a family sitting a few chairs down to my right. There was a mother, a father, and an infant daughter. The obvious gap in the bunch was an older daughter or son, who was somewhere in the ER being tended to. The family looked scared and tired, their eldest having had an asthma attack or taken a nasty fall or had epileptic seizure or any number of problems a child can have in the middle of the night.

Their clothes were rumpled, having been hastily donned over their sleeping attire. The father wore a football jersey and ball cap and the mother wore what appeared to be one of her husband’s sweaters, jeans, tennis shoes. The quintessential lower-middle class family, they probably even had a used minivan parked outside. They were the picture of the modern American Midwest.

In any other scenario, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at them. But now, in this place of unexpected evenings and potential misfortunes, we shared the same uncertainties.

The father, holding and rocking his infant daughter, in a quiet, slow, off-key baritone, began singing “Amazing Grace.”

The gears and metals of my heart warmed back into their usual aortas, and with it, the flood of emotions I tend to save for the written word. I was worried that everything would change again just as life was starting to get back to normal. I was worried for how scared my sister was, knowing her fear of needles and hospitals and generally any situation over which she didn’t have complete control. I was worried for the nurse helping my sister, who is genuinely terrifying when she’s in the aforementioned type of uncontrollable situations. I was worried for the family next to me.

Twenty years earlier, my family could have been that family next to me. Except my father never sang “Amazing Grace.” That really wasn’t his style. He would have sang “Hey Jude” or some classic rock ballad. More realistically though, he would have been yelling at the hospital staff, similarly to the way I imagined my sister was at that moment probably also yelling at the hospital staff.

Sometimes there’s respite in genetics.

(I found out later that when a nurse took my sister’s vitals down on a paper towel, she yelled, “I’m going to be paying out the ass for this hospital bill and you can’t even afford a fucking notebook?”)

Finally, after what felt like a lifetime of waiting, we found out my sister was fine but for a long-lasting concussion and some bruising.

4

In the four years since that moment in the airport and the two years since my father’s death, I’ve changed. I’ve grown. I’m not afraid of much anymore, so when an opportunity to travel presents itself, no matter what the circumstances, I’m usually willing and ready to go, no questions asked.

I found myself in an airport recently, after having spent a week hopping about the country, meeting people, having adventures, trying to get away from the day-to-day doldrums.

Heading home, I had an hour-long flight. Delirious from lack of sleep and food, all I could manage was watching the sun rise over the thick floor of clouds and counting down the moments until my next (fifth) cup of coffee. In the seat in front of me was a magazine that, during their last hasty sweep, the cleaning people had failed to take out of the little pocket where SkyMall is usually kept. It wasn’t SkyMall, though. It was an interior design magazine, dated over a year ago.

I thumbed through it and it fell open to a page that had been bookmarked with two boarding passes. I stared at them blankly for a number of minutes, disoriented from exhaustion, until I realized they were dated for today, for a time in the future. One was from Fargo to Nashville. The other was from Nashville to a city I didn’t recognize.

I created a little story about this person from the bits and pieces I’d learned from her life: a woman leaving for a week, hastily packing for an unexpected trip and grabbing the only reading material on hand before rushing out the door, a dated copy of a magazine she isn’t really interested in but keeps on her coffee table for guests to read. Getting to her next gate, she realizes she can’t find her boarding passes, must have left them on the plane, asking the clerk at her next gate to print new ones for her. She waits around during her layover, wishing she had something to read, never wondering who picked up her magazine and her boarding passes and what they were making up about her life.

This little window into the world of a total stranger I would never meet was intensely beautiful to me. It was art: a connection between two total strangers whose only commonality was seat 34A.

I kept the magazine and the boarding passes and the vivid picture of a tiny moment in this woman’s life.

During my next layover, after my seventh cup of coffee and staying awake only by sheer will, I thumbed through the woman’s interior design magazine, looking only at the pictures because I was unable to focus on any words. The airport was bustling with people rushing to the first flights of the day, all people who, like me, were in transit.

I felt the air shift to my right. Looking up from the magazine, I saw a father sit down with his daughter who looked to be about a year old. Alone, he was trying to sift through his bags to put together a snack for his daughter without setting her down. It looked to be a complicated and arduous task for him. His daughter was fussy, probably tired from the appalling hour of the day, and hungry too.

I couldn’t see either of their faces. The man was plump and tan, probably in his mid-30s. His daughter had blond wisps of hair on her oversized head and was resting it on his shoulder while wriggling around in his grasp.

Twenty-some years ago, that could have easily been my father and I.

My father always told us that he never wanted children, especially when he was angry with us. He was a man’s man, setting aside his bachelor lifestyle for wholesome domesticity.

Here was this man next to me in the same situation as my father probably was: fumbling, sometimes literally, through fatherhood, just trying his damndest to make sure we were safe and that he didn’t screw us up too bad.

I find solace in these times I see my life in others’ lives. It connects us, like the magazine connected us, like planes connect us, and it makes life seem a little less lonely if only for an instant. In a world of simply getting by, the times we come and go are the moments we remember most: the periods of change, apprehension, excitement, dread, joy, worry, relief, anger, happiness, irritation, loneliness, and everything in between.

We are connected in a circle of arrivals and departures, and as our lives flash before our eyes when we give our final goodbye, we will think only of airports and hospitals.

My zone was called just as the father next to me handed his daughter an apple slice.

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memoir: fridays in summer.

I wrote this in August, 2012. 

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“Fridays in Summer”

On Fridays, I walk over to this bar for lunch and order whatever the special is. The bartender, Barb, always wears head-to-toe denim and pink lipstick a few shades too bright. For half an hour while I eat, I split my attention between the weather channel and staring into the soulless black eyes of this stuffed dog that sits behind the bar with dozens of bottles of dusty liquor. Today, a midget in a red bandana and a goatee sat a few seats down from me and ordered a beer. We watched the weather channel together in silence until I paid my tab and left. In the square, a man was wailing on the trumpet in a way I’ve never heard from a busker in this town. He smiled at me and I waved. I listened, mesmerized, until my lunch hour died, and then I held the elevator open for an old white man in a dark gray suit.

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my grand west adventure: an introduction.

This is my first (and maybe last?) publication of my stream-of-consciousness journal writing. I’m a bit nervous posting something like this, but it’s the whole reason I made this blog. I welcome feedback so that I know if I should continue posting memoirs in this style. Enjoy (I hope)!

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“Moments”

Right now, I’m at a Denny’s on the Las Vegas strip drinking my fourth cup of burnt coffee and blogging about how awesome my life is while listening to Johnny Cash because today is his would-be 81st birthday. It’s moments like this that I want to remember when my life flashes before my eyes when I die, the random strange situations I find myself in, the realizations that I am so, so young and I have my whole life to do weird shit that I may or may not regret later and debt that I’ll hate paying down but memories that I’ll have when I can’t sleep at night. And I’ll smile because I did those cool things and I’ll have ample opportunity for more but I won’t take any of it for granted because what if I don’t.

Life isn’t my cubicle. It isn’t my salary. It isn’t my commute to work or the exasperated thoughts I have during my elevator ride up an appalling number of floors. Life isn’t my 9am cup of coffee or my 2pm cup of tea or my lunchtime turkey sandwich. Life is deciding to leave my server a massive tip for taking up one of his tables for several hours and only ordering coffee because that’s a dick move. Life is watching all these old white couples at the slot machines for hours on end being served by non-white people. It’s traveling across America to support friends who are doing something they’re passionate about. Buying a 20 oz cup of coffee and filling most of it with half-and-half so that it will get me through the day without being hungry. Being genuinely nice to hotel staff in hopes that it will make their lives slightly less awful and maybe mine too, the realization that I’m not a customer and they’re not a customer service representative: we’re both human beings with internal organs and emotions and stories to tell. Watching the business man sitting next to me on my flight playing Angry Birds and hoping I don’t accidentally fall asleep on his shoulder. Playing a game called in my head called “Bong or Beverage?” because this city is that crazy. Wishing I’d brought more band-aids because my feet are starting to blister but these hotels take up a zip code each so I’ll just have to deal. Life is gratitude for moments like these, writing and people-watching in a diner, shaking from too much caffeine, broke and far away from home. Life is being wise enough to know when you’re having these moments so that hopefully the next time you find yourself in a rut, I mean a real bad time, you can pull these moments out of your back pocket and realize that things will be okay again.

Welcome to my Grand West Adventure.

Up next.

Part 1: Las Pegasus Unicon, Part 2: The Las Vegas Strip, Part 3: Portland

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