12/27/12

Freedom

When I inherited my father's meager record collection, I rediscovered a few favorites that I used to listen to when I was younger.  He had the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  He had the Creedence Clearwater Revival album that had 'Fortunate Sun' on it.  I remember him giddily showing me a Steppenwolf song called, 'Earschplittenloudenboomer' and my lack of appreciation.  In fact, there were several albums I just didn't get and never really listened to.  Blood, Sweat, and Tears' self-titled album.  Ten Years Later.  Led Zeppelin III.  Classics that I didn't appreciate until much, much later.  And some I've yet to crack...but time has a way of wearing away the soil that obscures my understanding.


I saw Django Unchained this week and REALLY enjoyed it.  Among the great cast, the gorgeous cinematography, and the witty dialogue it had a fabulous soundtrack.  There were a lot of songs I'd never heard, yet they found a home instantly in my heart.  I got home and immediately bought the soundtrack.  I listened to it several times on Christmas, and several times yesterday.  Today, I realized there was a song in the movie that wasn't on the soundtrack.  That's not unusual; albums only hold so much music and rights cost money.  I was determined to find this song, though I only knew one word:  Freedom.

After some research, I discovered the song.  It was a 1969 tune by a guitar player by the name of Richie Havens, conveniently titled 'Freedom'.  The guitar soothed me and the voice haunted me.  I had to hear it again.  But every version I found on Youtube was a recent recording, and the few older recordings I found were live.  After more research, I found out why.  The version that is most well-known comes from the album cobbled together from the live recordings at Woodstock.  I discovered this, and had a moment.  Time stopped for just a second.  I paused, stood up, and walked to the living room.  I bent down to the box that holds my vinyl, both new and old, and extracted a tattered three-cover album simply titled 'Woodstock'.

I never played this when I was younger.  'Live' recordings weren't my thing for the most part of my life.  The only time this record spun on the turntable is when I wanted to let one of my friends hear 'The Fish Chant' by Country Joe and the Fish.  Otherwise, my ears were virgin to the entire Woodstock experience.  Sure enough, there it was on side one of disc one:  Freedom.

Even though the hour was late, I took out the groovy disc, put it on my player, and listened to a song that I had just fallen in love with in all its crackly glory.  A song that had existed well before I did.  And one that sat, waiting, in my living room for the past two years.

It was as if my father had grabbed my shoulder and said, 'Son, sit down a minute.  I have a song I really want you to listen to.'  It just took me a while to hear it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ0I0SRW9_U

12/25/12

Merry Christmas


It's been the best Christmas I've had in quite a long time.

I am largely a social creature; I am happiest when among others.  My giving season started on Friday the 14th.  I love to host, and I invited my closest friends over for a fancy-dressed party to celebrate the holidays.  We laughed, drank, exchanged gifts...and had a fantastic time.  The gifts I gave were well received, and my friends were generous.  We sat around and played the Wii U as well.  I looked around at one point, saw my friends enjoying themselves, and was filled with a gladness of heart that would've sustained me for the entire Christmas season.  But a week later, I had another gathering.  I met my weekly board game crew for another gift exchange and a game of 7 Wonders.  Once again, it was a group of friends sitting around and enjoying each other's company in the spirit of giving.  In the last two weeks, I not only had these two gatherings but hung out pretty regularly with other friends, too.  

This brings me to this past extended weekend.  I made a quick decision to head up to Pawhuska early and get some extra visiting time with my family.  I took my camera, too, and took my time driving up Highway 11 to reach the city of my father's family.  The next two-and-a-half days were full of the kind of family time that had only existed in distant memory.  We hadn't all been together as such since Grandma passed in late 2010.  Since that terrible winter of death and divorce, I've felt somewhat estranged from my family.  And my friends, really.  As happy and busy as I've been, I have not been able to shake this feeling that I don't fit anywhere.  Do not misunderstand me; this is not the fault of anyone but myself.  I've just felt out of step with everyone in my life, and it has cost me relationships and left me with many sleepless nights.

After a wonderful few days with the Martin clan, I came home and spent today with my family here.  Mom 'n the Gang.  Once again, it was an environment I hadn't felt I'd fit into for a very long time.  But today felt good.  We were laughing, enjoying each other's company, and there was no rush.  I felt normal, for the first time in a long time.  I wasn't trying to think of an exit strategy so I could get back home and sulk in the dark.  Everything was fine.

At the end of this busy season, I sit at home listening to music by myself and I feel FULL.  I can close my eyes, smile, and the smile is deep.  I know I still have a long way to go; the high that comes with these gatherings will wear off sooner than I expect.  But this Christmas was a big win.  I have my friends and family to thank for that.  You are all wonderful people and I am so very thankful for you.

12/15/12

A New Store


Steven Chbosky wrote, “I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.”  There are words in the English language we use to define such an emotional place.  Ambivalence.  Bittersweet.  They hardly do justice to the actual emotion; I think those moments are some of the most important we can experience on our journey through this world.

I found myself in Bixby this evening, after having a nice visit with my friends Billy and Joy.  Next to their apartment complex stood a brand-new Reasor's grocery store.  I left the Carr's apartment tired and ready to go home, but the allure of a sparkling, pristine supermarket was too much for me.  I pulled in and looked up at the fresh neon.  The glow against the night sky, positioned above the flourescent light pouring from the glass storefront, called to me as a porch light calls to a moth.  I feel the same way about a new grocery store that a lot of folks feel about new cars.  As it was, it was late and I pretty much had the store to myself.

I walked inside and was hit with something unexpected; the smell.  Growing up, I visited grand openings of grocery stores with my father many times.  There's a smell that can't be narrowed to any one thing...it's a mixture of the new product, the new fixtures, the paint, everything.  It triggered a flood of non-specific memory from childhood.  I smiled as I wandered through the produce section and took in the layout.  I will never know even half of what my Dad did about the why's behind grocery store layouts.  I know there is purpose behind everything, and some of it is rather logical.  But just because I don't fully understand something doesn't mean it I don't appreciate it.  

Walking up and down the aisles of the store, I could hear my father's voice speaking softly into a micro-cassette recorder.  He used to walk the competition and speak products and prices; afterwards, he would go home, replay his tape, and compare it to the giant green-and-white spreadsheet that represented his prices.  The shelves were full of perfectly faced product.  The freezer cases were untarnished and clear.  The lights were bright and even.  It was a gorgeous store, and I smiled genuinely as I explored.  That elation mixed with the melancholy tendrils of loss, my memories of Dad all those years ago muddying with the more recent memory of an etched stone on a hill in Pawhuska.

There's something beautiful that happens when such strong emotions come into contact.  It breathes life into those old memories, bringing appreciation for those old times to a point where, for a moment, reality takes a back seat.  I wandered those aisles not in grief, but in service.  I could've been checking the place out as a favor for him.  Maybe it was his store, and he was in the back somewhere helping the stock boys.  In any case, Dad felt alive within me.  The same thing happens when I watch an old film he loved or I experience something new I just know he would have.

Although it's not that strong on regular trips, grocery shopping always brings him back for me.  I think of the things he'd say, the teachings I've almost forgotten about the business, and the times I spent in stores with him.  I think of the way he treated people, with respect, and how much he really loved it.  I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself in one again someday, perhaps with a head of silver hair, smiling and helping strangers with a task many people consider rote and a chore.  My smile would be genuine, because I would not only be myself, but I would be my father and his father before him.  There's something so deeply comforting about that.

10/22/12

Rejection

Well, I didn't get the promotion that I interviewed for on Oct 5.  I'd like to say it was a complete surprise, but alas, it was not.  In the last week or so, I've become increasingly skeptical of my chances of success...although I can't really point to a specific reason or event that brought me to that conclusion.  As I sat in the Director's office and was given my feedback, I saw this in a long line of successive losses and setbacks.

In the last year and a half or so: I've divorced, lost two grandparents, lost my father, had several relationships fail pretty quickly, had to distance myself from people I care about deeply, and my friends in Denver turned on me severely after I got home for reasons beyond my comprehension.  It feels like anything I'm really interested in is just beyond my grasp.  My heart feels calloused, yet I feel like weeping on a regular basis.  I am a man of mixed emotion.

One of the pieces of feedback I was given was that I build great professional relationships, but I don't have much of a personal relationship with leaders at the center.  That surprised me at first, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense.  At home, I struggle with sadness and the quietness that often surrounds me.  I don't want to drag that to work with me.  Work is the place I go to be among people that care about me and a place I am appreciated.  Coupled with the fact I work late and am off for two days during the week and, well, I guess folks don't have a sense of who I am.  The Director called me a 'best kept secret'.  My shift changes to 6-3 Monday thru Friday in December, so that dilemma will solve itself partially.

Sorry to whoever reads this.  I feel like it's one long complaining session.  I'm healthy.  I have family.  I have friends.  I have a stable job.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  My reaction to this is just as important as anything else, and I'm not going to do anyone any favors by crossing my arms and grousing about it.

10/17/12

Plane Ride


It seems like I hardly sit down to write about my world anymore unless I’m either A) someplace new or B) stuck with nothing else to do.  I am sitting in a chair in the sky en route to Chicago for my employer’s annual Culture Survey meeting.  Every leader in the company flies up to learn how we’re doing and what our game plan is for the next year.  It’s a great time to reconnect with people I don’t see that often.

I thrive in a social environment.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I can feel very alone and isolated in a crowd, but if I know at least one person I am usually able to use that to catapult myself to a level of comfort and outgoingness and I have a wonderful time.  An event like this is highly enjoyable for me.  I have no problem approaching someone like the CEO of our company and talking for a few minutes.  Even on this flight, Senator Tom Coburn is sitting two seats in front of me.  If I wasn’t surrounded by coworkers (and a few folks above me) I’d really enjoy talking to him and gaining a greater understanding of the political system from his perspective, knowing how vastly different he views many social policies.  But, rather than stir up anything, I just sit quietly and type.

It’s places like this I’m once again struck by the American idea that mass transit means not talking.  One of the little cultural things I picked up on when I returned home from traveling was that people on planes, trains, and buses rarely talk to one another here.  Even on this flight, where the vast majority of the passengers are U.S. Cellular peers, people aren’t talking.  Silence is contagious.
Although I don’t think I’m going to have the time to see downtown, it’ll be nice to be traveling again.  Even on business, I am always excited to board a plane and set down in a new place.  This will be my second time in Chicago for this event and I expect it to be no less exciting than last year.  Though I did catch myself saying ‘at the Con’ when referring to this trip to a friend.  It won’t be nearly THAT exciting.

The drink cart is coming; time for my ritualistic ginger ale.  Maybe I’ll try to strike up a conversation with my neighbor again.  The airline magazine can’t be THAT interesting, after all…

10/6/12

Titanic

It's popular to hate the Titanic.  Not the ship itself or the historical account of the disaster on April 14, 1912...but the 1997 Hollywood epic motion picture.  So popular, in fact, that it's not a film I often quote when talking about my favorite movies because I know it's inviting a conversation of defense.  However, I am indeed a big fan of the picture, and there are many reasons why.

Whenever folks think about Titanic, most people think of the romantic story between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  It's a familiar construct that recalls the star-crossed story of Romeo and Juliet.  I'm not a big romantic movie fan; although I do enjoy many aspects of that piece of the film, it's not the big draw for me.  The big draw for me are all of the supporting characters, the ones that really existed in history, and the character of the ship itself.

I became fascinated by the Titanic maritime disaster when I first learned about it, which had to be around 1995.  I wrote papers and did my own studying before the Internet existed as it does today.  An adventure game was released for the computer in '96 and I devoured it.  I loved seeing the settings I'd read about and seen in the classic '50s films in fully-realized computer graphics.  I got to interact with the environment and have a part in a story that carried the foreshadowing of knowing how the story ended, but not how we got there.

The film, of course, took those emotions and my sense of wonderment to a completely new level.  I knew how historically accurate the sets were because I knew what the ship had looked like.  I knew the names of the players and, of course, I knew the ship sank.  But that's not the point of this movie.  It's knowing the ship is going to sink and having that color the story beforehand.  It's also a commentary on the social class structure of the time and a look at the world before the horrors of the first World War reached out and changed everything.

I understand why some folks don't like the movie.  That's perfectly fine; I totally get it.  But right now, I'm curled up on my couch with a cup of coffee while the new Blu-Ray plays in the background.  It's a great way to spend a cold Saturday morning.  Even if my eyes water a little just at the special features...

9/29/12

The Passage of Time

Last time I sat down and shared my thoughts, I was on the high that only Dragon*Con can provide.  Walking in the parade and enjoying 50k+ passionate fans of all sides of pop culture.  It was a good time this year, as it has been the last two years.  Less than a week after I got home, my grandmother Mary-Ann passed away.

Grandma had been ill for a long time.  I don't know how many calls or messages I've received in the past two years that have been some variation of 'This might be it.'  When the message came in on Monday the 10th of September, something about it was different.  You can't send inflection over a text message, but it read differently somehow.  I drove up to Bartlesville after work to support my Mom and brother.  I hadn't seen anyone from that side of my family in a long time, aside from brief visits with Mom.

Truth be told, I don't feel like I have a lot in common with that side of the family.  The Grim clan is a family of blue collar workers; mechanics, welders, and such.  They enjoy hunting and fishing.  And there exists drama that I want no part of.  But they are still family, and seeing my relatives after such a long hiatus did carry some nostalgia.  I stayed up there for a few hours, visiting and doing what I could for Mom.  Grandma had slipped into a coma and we were all just essentially waiting.  She passed a little after midnight.

Mary was ready.  She let me know in our last conversation that she was ready and didn't know why she was still here.  I don't know if I can think of something more wrenching.  As often happens when faced with mortality, I thought of my own life.  What am I doing?  Where am I going?  Time doesn't last forever.  It passes by whether or not we're happy, or productive, or cognizant of it.  It's easy for me to reflect and think on past mistakes or injustices and dwell on things I cannot change.  But that's not doing anyone any favors.

I didn't expect to sit down and share in this direction but I suppose that's what I get when I wake up all grumbly.  I went out to a movie last night with friends and had a great time...the flip side to a fun and eventful evening is awakening the next morning to quiet and calm.  It tends to depress me a little these days.  But I just had breakfast, and I have my coffee, and the weekend is free to make my own choices.  So I'll put my shoes on and see what I can find.

9/2/12

Dragon*Con 2012 - Walking the Parade


One of the things that excited me most about Dragon*Con this year was the fact that I was going to be in the parade.  It happened in a rather slapdash fashion:  someone on Reddit posted they had a Back to the Future group that had dropped out and his DeLorean needed some company.  I make a yelping noise at my keyboard and immediately messaged the guy to say I was interested.  A few week later, I found myself walking towards Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta for setup.



After wandering the grounds for a few minutes, snapping a few pictures of the other cars in the parade, I found the DeLorean and met up with the owner, Buddy, and his girlfriend Courtney.  He proudly showed me his car and I eagerly took some pictures.  Admittedly, Buddy's DeLorean is the very definition of a project car.  He bought it for a few thousand dollars and was building it a piece at a time.  I tried not to feel spoiled by my friend Gary's perfect car and appreciated the car for what it was: a lovingly crafted fan recreation of the greatest car in film history.

Three more parade walkers arrived shortly after I did.  Brandon, another Marty with a hoverboard, was actually my inspiration for my costume.  He's been Marty every year I've been to D*C and my friend DeeDee even snapped a pic of him in the same getup at ComicCon this year.  Two other Redditors were in the middle of their first Con and came in last-minute George McFly and Biff costumes.  They also brought candy to give out to kids, which was a wonderful touch.  Great people, all around, and soon it was time to get going.

Buddy told us shortly before the go sign that the car almost overheated on the way to the parade route.  He said it should be fine and someone cracked a joke about having to push it like last year.  I worried for a moment about what would happen of the DeLorean broke down in notorious fashion in the middle of the parade, but then realized A) it's not my car and B) we would all have a great time anyway.  The group in front of us moved forward and Buddy went to start the car.  It wouldn't start.

Buddy immediately hopped up and popped the hood; evidently, there was a cable that would come loose pretty regularly.  D*C Parade Management started yelling at us that we had to move NOW or we were out.  More scrambling and Buddy went to start;  still no joy.  We decided to give it a push, assisted by an Admiral Adama, and the car finally turned over.  The parade attendees nearby let out a raucous cheer for our success as we rolled forward.  The officials were very clear that we needed to leave the parade if the car wasn't up to it; Buddy ensured them everything was fine now.

As we turned the corner onto the main road, I was floored by the sheer amount of people.  I was walking to the front-right of the car and everyone else was behind the vehicle.  I had a birds-eye view of folks and heard their cries of 'Marty!' 'Wow, Back to the Future!' 'Is that a real DeLorean?' 'Hey McFly!' and so on.  Pictures were constantly being snapped;  I smiled, waved, and showed what a wonderful time I was having.  Every so often, I'd turn back and check on everyone else.  The radiator was dripping a little, but the car seemed to be doing okay.  Halfway through the parade, that changed.

Suddenly, the entire radiator dumped on the street and the engine started to smoke; Buddy turned off the motor.  Thankfully, we were on a downhill and coasted rather effortlessly.  Still, there were a few moments where Buddy had to restart the car to get some momentum.  When that happened, the starter screeched and it was obvious the car was having problems.  However, in true D*C fashion, as soon as it turned over, the whole crowd cheered in celebration.  As we got to the end of the route, Buddy sped off down the street to get the car someplace safe.  I laughed with my new friends and proceeded to enjoy a busy day at the Con.

It was a wonderful experience.  I hope I get to do it again next year!


8/29/12

Farewell to the Queen City of the Plains

Today is my last day in Denver.  It's been a wonderful trip and I have no reservations in saying this was a fantastic vacation destination.  Not only did I get to see a lot of amazing sights, but got to know two friends a bit better and we shared a lot with each other.  I also got to see an old friend that I haven't seen in about a decade!

On Monday, I drove up to a small town named Longmont to see my friend Tanya.  She and I worked together at my first call center in Topeka, KS back in 2000/2001.  It's amazing how so much time changes some things drastically while other things remain completely static.  When I think back on myself at the turn of the century I see a kid with unkempt hair, poor fashion sense, and zero self confidence.  As we talked about what events shaped our lives since we last sat down together, I took a moment to appreciate how far I've come.


During our late-night diner conversation, Tanya mentioned I should go take a look at the 16th Street Mall in Denver.  It's a giant outdoor shopping pavilion right in the heart of the downtown district and, though I wasn't keen on packing my suitcase with MORE stuff, drove down yesterday to look at a few of the stores that we don't have back in Tulsa and do some people watching.

Once I was satisfied with my visit, I drove down Colfax Avenue and finally got some pictures of a building we'd passed by a few times that really called to my camera:  The Bluebird Theater.  The Bluebird was built in 1913 and was originally a movie house.  It was converted to a concert venue in 1994.  Although I wasn't in a place where I could purchase tickets and see the show, I was still pleased to take a few minutes and capture the marquee.


Today, I have no plans and am using my time to rest up for the whirlwind that is Dragon*Con.  I fly out tomorrow and will be greeted in Atlanta by my friend Rose.  I met Rose the first year I came to D*C (2010) and I am thankful for her generosity.  I will be in downtown ATL until Labor Day, enjoying the festivities and sharing in the passions of thousands of fans from all sides of pop culture along with five of my good friends from home.  It's gonna be great!

8/27/12

Climbing in Colorado

Sunday started with one of the worst hangovers I've ever had.  I awoke with the sun and thought my head was collapsing from within.  Thankfully, things began to clear up as Kurt returned from the airport and the three of us set out for a trio of destinations.


Our first stop was the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.  I'd heard about the place before but didn't really know what it looked like; when we arrived, I was awed.  Think of the jagged rocks in the old Star Trek episodes and place an amazing concert venue among them.  In the distance, the city of Denver exists as a faded matte painting.  Kurt told me of a Rush concert he attended at the venue back in the early 2000s that was punctuated by a vibrant thunderstorm over the Denver Metro.  I can only imagine the beauty.  As we walked around the amphitheater, I noticed over a dozen people running and stair climbing; evidently this concert hall doubled as a scenic exercise destination.


In fact, throughout my time in Colorado I've noticed a lot of people biking, running, and engaging in other forms of exercise.  Kurt and Sophie mentioned that Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the country at about 20%.  I also noticed a lot of scooters on the roads.  I think most folks see Colorado as a pretty green state; not only does that count towards the environmentally-friendly nature of the majority of the populace but the dispensaries located on just about every street corner.  Back in 2005, Denver passed the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, which legalized possession in a variety of situations.  There are a lot of mellow people up here.

After Red Rocks, we drove to Golden, CO to visit the Mother Cabrini shrine.  Unbeknownst to me, the  shrine was atop 374 steps.  Coupled with the high altitude, I had to take a break midway through the climb and reached the top just as I felt I was going to collapse.  It was a beautiful view and, since it was Sunday, there were a lot of pilgrims there visiting and worshiping.  When we got back to the car, we headed to St. Mary's Glacier.

Located in the Arapaho National Forest, the remnants of the ice field is located 10,300 feet above sea level...the last 3/4 mile a hike up a rocky trail.  It would've been rough on my by itself, but after the stair climb at the shrine I had to take several breaks.  As we crested the plateau that held the remnants of the retreating glacier, I felt like I was transported to another world.  The small lake was clear and crisp.  The air was clean and cool.  I marveled at the sight and closed my eyes.  I could hear running water from the melting ice across the lake and the sound of a nearby dog simultaneously splashing and drinking in the water.  I walked over to the water and dipped my hands in.  It felt like holy water.  It was one of the most serene spots I've ever visited.


We celebrated our long and physically exerting day by stopping by the Tommyknockers brewery in Idaho Springs.  We had some fantastic local brews and headed back to Denver, capping the day with homemade pizza, which incidentally was the best pizza I've ever eaten, and talking boxing with Kurt into the wee hours.  I love sharing in the passion of others.  I feel tremendously blessed to be experiencing this wonderful state with some amazing people.

8/26/12

Garden of the Gods

Yesterday was a special day for me.  My 'big ticket item' for my trip to Denver was a visit south to Colorado Springs and the natural wonder that is 'Garden of the Gods'.


After my father passed last year, I was going through old photographs and noticed some rounded-edge pictures of some beautiful rock formations.  I asked Mom about them and she told me about the trip we took to Colorado when I was just a little guy.  I didn't remember it, of course, but the pictures were enough for me to know I needed to see this place with grown up eyes.

Saturday morning, Sophie gave me the keys to their Ford Focus and wished me good travels.  As I merged onto Highway 25 southbound out of Denver I was struck by the fact that not only was I heading towards a destination from way in my past, but I was driving a car very similar to my old '01 Focus.  The weather was tremendous and I drove with the windows down and the tunes up.  Seeing the mountains on the horizon grow closer made me smile, and by the time I arrived at the Visitor's Center at the Garden I was full of the same excitement I had when seeing Angkor Wat or the Colosseum.

The red rocks were jutting out of the earth, impossibly huge.  As I approached the central area, I couldn't help but gawk at their beauty.  Many climbers were up and about (including one guy dressed as Batman!) scaling the rock faces and perching atop some of the monuments.  I took one of the lesser paths and found myself in a secluded nook, higher than most of the central garden.  Looking down, I could not only see the bulk of the other tourists nearby, but I could look out over the Colorado landscape and the area near Pike's Peak.  It was easy to put myself in the mindset of settlers and seeing that this was a good land.  The warm sun and cool breeze kept me company as I sat there and listened to the sound of the earth turning.

Once I'd sufficiently explored the area, I got back into the car and headed back north, but back to Denver just yet.  Kurt had recommended a visit to the nearby United States Air Force Academy and said I really should visit the chapel.  When I arrived and saw the unique triangular construction, I sent him a text message thanking him.  The tall angular structure was stunning both inside and out.  Being on military grounds also brought an additional emotion of stoicism and respect.  The grounds were mostly quiet, but cadets in uniform were easy to find.  I sat in the chapel for a few minutes and reflected.  I'm not religious anymore, but the feeling inside that hallowed building was not unlike my recline atop the rocks back at the Garden.

Satisfied, I drove back to Denver.  Last night was a night of good conversation and old Tales from the Crypt DVDs.  Sophie is an amazing cook and has a lot of passion around hosting.  Today, Kurt returns from Pennsylvania and I think we're going to head out someplace beautiful and have a picnic.  I love this area!

8/23/12

To Denver


I love air travel.  Although it resembles public transportation more these days than the suit-and-fedora crowd of the 1930s and 40s, looking out the window at the clouds and squares of landscape is exactly the same.  Here I am, tens of thousands of feet in the air, speeding towards a destination that carried terrible risk throughout the vast majority of human history.  And I’m just going for a vacation.

I visited Colorado when I was a little boy.  I don’t remember it, but I have pictures to prove it.  I had a week of vacation that had been delayed several times and I decided just to GO.  When I told people I was taking two weeks of vacation, they typically responded with an allusion to my worldly travels of years past.  It was only then that I realized it had been nearly a year since I’d done any kind of traveling outside of my home state.  I must not let so much time lapse before I travel.  Sitting in the aipoirt, waiting on my flight in Tulsa brought back so many memories.

I’m staying with friends in the city of Denver.  Sophie and Kurt remind me of so many people I met abroad; free spirited, open minded, and generous souls.  I’m eager to experience their city with them.  Our conversations in preparation for my visit were also very familiar.  Eating habits, hobbies, interests, sights I’d like to see.  Honestly, the biggest appeal for me is the social aspect of learning more about my friends and just BEING in a new place.  There are places I’d like to see, sure, but I’d much rather experience a corner pub or local diner that isn’t “special.”  That’s what makes it important.

That being said, I do hope to take a short road trip down to ‘Garden of the Gods’.  It’s one of the places featured in classic Martin family photos that I’d like to see with adult eyes.  I wonder if I will be able to see the Rockies clearly. 

-Some Time Later-

So, it’s a little cloudy today.  I can barely see the mountains, but I can still see them.  The air is cool and the city feels relaxed.  Shortly after arrival, Kurt and Sophie took me to a favorite little Mexican food place and we went to the Denver Art Museum downtown.  I definitely appreciate museums a lot more these days and the setup here is pretty great.  There was a little interactive area and plenty of art that I didn’t mind taking in and discussing with my hosts.  After we finished there, we drove to a little place I read about called the Forney Transportation Museum.  None of us had high expectations, but the warehouse of old cars, trains, and motorcycles far exceeded them.  I got a lot of great pictures!

Anyway, this post is a little jumbled.  It’s been a while since I’ve written travel posts.  I hope to get back into the swing of it quickly. 

7/24/12

Last Breakfast at Blue Dome


Today is Tuesday, July 24th.  It has been exactly nineteen months since my father and I sat down at a table together to have a meal for the last time.  I’m at the same restaurant, sitting in the same booth, about to enjoy the same meal he did.  This is going to be the only time I’ll be able to do this, as the Blue Dome Diner closes in less than a week.

Dad came down the day before Christmas Eve in 2010 to visit and go see the new Coen Brothers film ‘True Grit’ with me.  We went to Brewburger for lunch, went to the movie, and relaxed in my one room apartment afterwards.  We ended up watching Zombieland (Dad hadn’t seen that, either, and loved it!) that night and Dad slept in the overstuffed easy chair that made up 100% of my living room seating.  The next morning, Dad expressed an interest in breakfast.

Breakfast is the meal that always brought us together as a family.  It sounds silly and cliché, but it’s the truth.  It’s the one meal the four of us could come together and chip in.  Nobody will ever be able to make eggs like he used to.  Anyway, Dad had recently started on a new diet.  His kidneys were having some serious problems and he hadn’t taken stellar care of his diabetes.  For some reason, he could have waffles but he couldn’t have pancakes.  I wanted to introduce him to a new place I’d discovered downtown and suggested we drive down to the Blue Dome to have breakfast; surely they’d have waffles. 

Well, they didn’t.  I could tell Dad was a little disappointed, but he ordered a half order of pancakes anyway.  We sat in the corner and talked of many things, shared memories of Christmas past.  My wife and I had recently separated and he encouraged me to save my marriage if I could; he told me that his divorce was the hardest thing he’d ever endured and he didn’t want me going through the same heartache.  As breakfast wrapped, Dad paid for my meal and was sure to tell me how much he enjoyed his food and coffee.  We walked back to the truck and drove home.  On the way back, I got to talking about something and nearly ran a red light.  My momentary panic as I slammed the brakes cracked him up tremendously.  We got home, Dad packed his overnight back, we hugged, and he headed home to Pawhuska.  That was Christmas Eve.  Less than a month before he was gone for good.

Sitting here in the same seat after what feels like a decade is at once comforting and wrenching.  The fact that he’s gone is foregone knowledge.  When my brother and I get together, we tell stories and laugh about him.  When I scroll past his picture in my phone, I don’t pause to contemplate his image.  His chapter is closed.  But I still have times when a memory surfaces unexpectedly or my mind settles on the memories I’ve made since he passed that would otherwise include him.  It’s like looking into a deep chasm; I get that same stomach-clenching feeling and know that I could make quick decision and plummet to the bottom.  But I haven’t fallen in a long time.

Today is my farewell to the Blue Dome Diner and not only the memory of my father here, but the meet-ups with my friends that have taken place here.  I know something new will open up here, but it won’t be the same.  Blue Dome will open somewhere else, I'm told, but that won't be the same either.  The memory embedded in these walls will stay here.  Just the same, though, nothing lasts forever/  I’m thankful for one last hurrah. 

As my food arrived, Deep Purple’s “Hush” came on the radio.  It was one of Dad’s favorites and one I selected to play at his services.  I choose to live in a world where this isn't a coincidence.  Miss you too, Dad.

6/29/12

Arbitrary Day

Maya Angelou said, "I am a human being; therefore, nothing human can be alien to me."  This is what I drew inspiration for when thinking about my Arbitrary Day gift for my random 'secret santa' giftee I had been assigned this year.

Every year, Reddit hosts a huge international Secret Santa.  People fill out basic profiles and are matched anonymously; outside of said profile, it's up to you to do your own internet research to find a gift this person would like.  Some folks just pick from an Amazon wish list and others really dig to find something special.  You might recall my participation last year involved a hand painted portrait of a recently passed dog for a college student in Austin, TX.  Needless to say, I'm more about the research method.

Not only do they do this at Christmas, but halfway through the year there's also an 'Arbitrary Day' gift exchange that is pretty self explanatory.  Being more familiar with the process, I waited eagerly in anticipation for matching, which occurred last week.  This time around, I was matched with a young lady in Maryland that had a lot of interests I could relate to, like gaming, wall art, dogs, and movies; horror movies in particular.  That's the path I looked down first.  Perhaps something related to John Carpenter's Halloween, one of my favorite horror films.  She's pretty big into Guild Wars 2 according to her posts on Reddit, maybe I could find something in that vein that would be appropriate.  Then, I found what I was looking for.

I found a mention of her sadness at Ray Bradbury passing.  A quick Google search turned up what would be her main gift:  a copy of the poem ‘Doing is Being’ by Ray Bradbury.  I felt the message was very appropriate for an event like Arbitrary Day:  the true blood of life comes from activity and giving of one’s self.  Not only that, but this particular item was the first printing of the poem, distributed on April 9, 1980 for Walt Disney Imagineering.  And it had his signature on it.  It was perfect and fit into my budget, surprisingly.


My mind returned to the horror aspect of her professed likes.  What could I add that addressed that?  It was then that Maya Angelou's quote came to me.  I needed something that represented the yin to Bradbury's yang.  I looked through my artwork and found the other gift.  It’s a picture I took inside S-21, or Tuol Sleng, a former high school turned prison in Cambodia used by the Khmer Rouge in the last half of the 1970’s.   It’s terrifying what people can be capable of, and being in a place where such atrocities were committed brought about a time of self evaluation and understanding for me.  


I wrote a letter explaining all this and shipped it off today.  She should receive it on Tuesday and I wait excitedly, hoping she will enjoy these things.
 

6/16/12

Cherished Memories

Tomorrow is Father's Day.  For the last month, advertising has been laced with reminders to remember your father and buy him something nice.  I've gone on about my daily business without paying it much mind.  I've noticed, however, that my emotions have been acting strange in the last two weeks or so.  It isn't anything specific, but just an understanding that I'm reacting differently and have a pit of anxiety in me that slightly influences everything else.  Sometimes it manifests as a desire to watch a sad movie.  Other times I just wander my house aimlessly, wondering why it's so quiet.

On Thursday, I decided to take the drive up to Pawhuska.  I don't think I've visited since last December.  I went out to my grandparents' old house in the country and took a few pictures.  Nobody was home, unfortunately, so I couldn't ask if I could get some close shots, but just the same it unearthed many memories.  I recall weekends running around the property, Fourth of July celebrations, and Christmas gatherings.  My feet crunching the gravel brought me right back to my youth and I felt 10 years old again.  I could hear the echoing sound of my hand hitting the propane tank.  I felt the flaking brick that lined the flowerbeds.  I could hear the spring in Grandpa's workshop door handle.  The feel of sliding down the storm shelter door.  I walked down to the creek where Grandpa and I fished a few times.  I was never big into fishing, but I still cherish those memories.  I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the summer countryside.  I could've just as easily been playing badminton or running around with the dogs.

Before leaving town, I drove up to the cemetery and knelt by Dad's grave.  Looking down at the marker, it was still hard to believe it was all true.  Not only that, but it was a year and a half ago.  On the way back to Tulsa, I took a few pictures along the road that brought back memories for me and wondered what I'd forgotten.  I'm thirty-one years old now and a lot of details have faded from my childhood and beyond.  I am thankful that I have the opportunity to capture my world, whether it's by camera or written word.  My brother and I had dinner on Friday and we remembered Tony Martin while we ate and laughed together.  I'm very pleased that we get along so well these days.  Dad would've liked that.


This Father's Day, I remember my Dad for his strengths, his faults, his life, and his laughter.  There isn't a day that goes by where something reminds me of him.  I strive daily to be a good man to those around me and display the same honor and integrity that he taught me.  I love my friends and family and try not to take them for granted.  I approach each day with an open heart and a hopeful spirit.

Love you, Dad.

5/8/12

A Change is Gonna Come

This past Saturday, I finally made good on my Christmas gift for my mother and took her to see Roger Waters perform 'The Wall' live in Tulsa.  I've always been a Pink Floyd fan, but I always defaulted to Dark Side of the Moon over The Wall.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the grandeur of the semi-autobiographical double album of 1979, and the bizarre animated film that it begat, but I never looked too deep into it.

Until this past weekend, that is.

Mom came over to the house at 5, dressed nicely and very excited.  We went out to dinner first at Kilkenney's on Cherry Street.  We ate there last Mother's Day.  We had a nice meal, talking about all sorts of things, and then went to the BOK Center downtown.  For Mom's big Christmas gift, I'd purchased two VIP tickets to the show.  It not only afforded us floor seats, but a nice little goody bag as well.  It came with a program, a lanyard, a t-shirt, and some other nifty items.  But the greatest part was the aforementioned floor seats; once we wandered down to the floor, we discovered we were on the eighth row.

Mom and I were both really excited and the hour wait before the show started breezed by.  We talked about music; she felt that rock and roll music is her generation's greatest contribution.  She talked of the first time she heard Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on the radio and how it completely changed what music could be.  She spoke fondly of time spent listening to records and how music is still one of her biggest loves.  As we talked, I noted that the arena music was exclusively Bob Dylan.  We talked about his major part in the industry and Mom specifically points to him as the artist that opened her eyes that singers were more than that; some of them wrote for other artists and had talents beyond their top hits.  Not long before the show started, a few non-Dylan songs played.  One of them was Imagine by John Lennon, to which the filling auditorium partially sang along.  Then a song played that I hadn't heard in over a decade:  A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke.

The beginning orchestral strings swelled, and my heart followed.  Although I didn't know the words, my heart remembered the sentiment.  Suddenly, the song personified my place in life at that very moment.  The hope from despair spoke to me about my father's death.  It spoke to me about my repairing relationship with my brother.  It spoke to me about my girlfriend, Cindy, who has been a tremendous blessing and has quickly become the center of my world.  The song settled into my soul and said that I'd slogged through the mud in the last year and a half and that a change had, indeed, come.  I got a little emotional and played it off as best I could, not being able to form words.

Shortly thereafter, the lights went down and the show started.  What followed was several hours of bombastic spectacle that I'd only read about.  Roger had a stage presence unlike anyone else and the scope of The Wall became evident quickly.  A song written about a boy whose father had died in WWII and coping with separation from loved ones/society worked in any time; pictures of veterans and civilians that had died as victims of warfare.  Giant inflatable creatures represented authority figures and a lack of trust in government showed up in lyrics and projected Wall graffiti alike.  It was nearly overwhelming; my earlier emotion was recalled throughout the presentation of this larger-than-life rock opera.

After the show, Mom surprised me.  She spoke up and said that she worried that her leaving Dad back in 2004 had disappointed her sons.  I told her I would've been disappointed if she'd stayed in a relationship that wasn't working and that I loved her for the strength it took to stand up for herself.  I pointed out that I credit Dad with a lot of things; he taught me how to be a man, how to work hard and provide for those I care about.  But my mother taught me how to treat people, and how to respect those that I care about.  I make a living because of my Dad, but I make friends because of her.

We had a wonderful time.  Mother's Day is this coming Sunday; be sure your mother knows how much she means to you.


5/3/12

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Hi Dad!

Today would have been your 58th birthday.  It's hard to believe you've been gone for over a year now.  Part of me feels like it was just yesterday; though another part of me, an almost equal part of me, feels like you've always been gone.  That part of me hurts more.

I've had an eventful few months.  In February, I was nominated and awarded 'Coach of the Month' at my job.  It was the first time the award involved a nomination process that came directly from our associates, so I take a little extra pride in that.  I just go to work every day and do what I feel would make you proud.  I work hard, complain little, and try to leave the place better than it was when I arrived.  I am honorable and perform with integrity.  I try not to emulate you too much, though, and keep a better work/life balance.  You taught me lessons even in your imperfections.  Thanks for that.  I know you meant well.

I met a really great girl in March!  Her name is Cindy.  We hit it off immediately and have been having a wonderful time together.  She has a big heart and a keen mind; she makes me laugh often and challenges me to be a better person.  I think you two would've gotten along and enjoyed giving each other a hard time.  She takes good care of me and we love each other very much.  You'd love her dogs; they're a lot of fun and mostly obedient.  I took care of one for a few weeks and we bonded pretty well.  I know your only question about Cindy would be, "Does she make you happy?"  My answer is emphatically yes.

Mom and Tyler are doing well.  I'm trying to spend more time with them; it feels like life just keeps getting in the way.  Talked to Grandma Mary yesterday, too; I don't know when the last time was we had a conversation.  Family is important, and I'm all too aware that I don't have much in the way of immediate family.  I haven't talked to anyone in Pawhuska in a while.  I should make a trip soon.  It's hard because every time I want to see you and I can't.  I can't see Grandma or Grandpa, either.  But I think of you all every time I get on Highway 11.

I'm taking good care of the Mustang.  Got it fully serviced the other day; even had the transmission fluid changed out!  You'd be proud; I changed a flat tire the other night all by myself.  I hadn't had the gumption to do that since the Explorer fell off the jack and crushed my hand.  I wanted to call you and celebrate.  Hell, I want to call you all the time.  I knew what you'd say, but that doesn't change the fact I'd still like to hear it.

I'm 31 now, Dad.  Hard to believe I started out so small and fragile.  I celebrated with friends and family last month and knew how lucky I was to be surrounded by so many people that cared about me.  There lies the true wealth of a man.

Anyway, that's about the size of it.  If you were here, I'd take you out wherever you wanted to eat.  Even though it's your birthday, you'd want me to pick where I wanted to eat.  All you cared about was the company.  We had some good laughs together and I think of those more often than the vacuum of your absence.  Still, anniversaries are hard.  Some days hit me out of nowhere.  I suppose that's to be expected.

Love you, Dad.  I miss you.

4/1/12

April 1st

April Fool's Day may be my least favorite day of the year.  I despise pranks.  The idea of people playing a joke on me fills me with the same dread and nervousness that I get when people sing Happy Birthday.  It's a fear of embarrassment at the core, really.

I remember many years ago when I was tasked by my father to help make breakfast.  I must've been 9 or 10.  Scrambling the eggs was my duty, and I set to cracking.  The first egg cracked without issue.  The second one didn't crack on the first tap.  Second tap.  I hit it harder, yet the shell didn't budge.  I was frustrated.  What in the world is going on?  It wasn't boiled.  It didn't make sense.  I hit it on the edge of the counter again and a small fragment chipped off, revealing a bit of dark brown beneath.  What is that?  I began picking the shell away from the hard interior to find a solid chocolate egg; a shell had been reconstructed around it.  Mom and Dad had watched the whole thing from a distance and found it hilarious.  I did not; I was furious.  It wasn't until many years later that I was able to look back on that and laugh, if only because my parents found it funny.  Truly, that's not something that just happens; I don't recall where the egg came from but it wasn't a corner store type of product.

At some point in the last few years, 4/1 became synonymous with internet companies pitching products and posting news that were ridiculous in nature; not so much pranks as humorous falsehoods.  Every year I'm amazed at how involved these releases are (Google tends to go all out) and also how many people are taken in by it.  It's a day I simultaneously want to avoid the internet altogether, yet admire the creativity some folks display.  There's the dark side of this trend, too; people on Facebook posting about false pregnancies and the tendency of some folks to take a joke too far and bring offense into the mix.  Like any kind of joke, it's all in good fun until someone loses an eye.  Or pride, I suppose.

It's less than a week 'til my birthday.  Last year was a success with many of my friends descending on my house for Nintendo-fueled enjoyment.  It was my first birthday without Dad, which cast a bit of a shadow, but in my memory it wasn't as bad as it could've been considering he'd been gone less than three months.  Man, time sure flies.  Every time I see my Mom, I can see the slight hint of disbelief that her boy is in his thirties now.  Hard to believe, to be sure.

Too Much Birthday

3/16/12

Early to Rise

I don't get up terrifically early.  That shouldn't be a surprise for those that are familiar with my 2-11 work schedule.  I don't sleep 'til noon anymore (usually) but I'm looking at a 9:30 or 10 awakening.  It's rare that I actually exhibit what my brother and I referred to as narcawakey:  waking up early and being instantly totally awake.  Today is one of those days.

Dad would wake up and BE up.  If we happened to be trying to wake up or something, he'd usually be sitting in his chair, hair all a'tussle, scheming some kind of harassment event to exhibit just how awake he was.  Perhaps throwing a pillow.  Maybe dancing in our direction and imploring us not to hit ourselves.  We would complain and implore the man to show mercy.  He rarely did.

Early mornings such as this bring two memories to mind.  One being our vacation times at Disney.  In order to get to the parks at opening, we had to rise and shine pretty dadgum early.  I love the feeling of being awake before the rest of the world starts spinning; I feel like I have the jump on everyone.  The other memory is the Saturday mornings I would accompany Dad to the office.  The coffee would have already brewed, and as Dad started getting ready for his day I would make his coffee.  Milk, sweetener added.  Most mornings he'd also have a large glass of Diet Coke along with it.  I'd take it upstairs and usually put it on the bathroom counter for him.

Morning time is also breakfast time.  As everyone knows, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  It's also the best meal to have any time of day.  Breakfast on Sundays was a family affair.  The four of us would work in conjunction to put the meal together.  Waking up to the smell of bacon already cooking is just about the best start to the day that can be.

I had a brief moment yesterday.  I was on my way to St. Francis Hospital to visit my friend Billy, who had just come out of brain surgery.  I sat at the stoplight in front of the hospital and was flooded with a wave of memories.  Not just of St. Francis, but of other hospitals too.  I remembered those who had passed in the sterile confines.  The last handshake I had with my Grandpa Hardy.  The downshifting cough of my Grandpa Dick.  And I wished I'd had the chance to say goodbye to my father.  The light turned green, so I composed myself and moved forward.

2/12/12

[no title]

How am I doing?

That's a difficult question to answer.  I have felt like I've fluctuated all over the board lately.  It's like there are two completely different people inhabiting my body.  There's Normal, Adjusted Rhys.  The one that smiles, that does his job, that hangs out with friends.  It's the public face.  And it's not fake.  It comes from the heart.  My smile is genuine.  My enjoyment is pure.  Those are the times I try to hold on to.  There's also Sullen, Lonely Rhys.  That's the one that creeps across Twitter or Tumblr at odd hours of the night.  It's the one that questions all of the decisions and keeps looking at the clock.

I have felt an increasing urgency around time.  I feel like I'm running out.  My logical brain tells me that's because of the sudden nature of my father's death and the very real knowledge that nobody knows the hour when their time will be up.  I don't feel that it's impacting my decisions, but it is starting to weigh on my mind.  One of the last pieces of advice that my father gave me revolved around my marriage.  My wife and I had just separated.  He told me that if there was anything I could do to keep things together, to do it.  This advice came from a man utterly broken by divorce; he'd lost everything and everyone.  This isn't the fault of my mother; Dad just simply couldn't restart.  And when my marriage ended, I knew it was for good reason.  That knowledge isn't as helpful in the cold dark of night when I hear his voice.

Thinking about it now, though, it's harder to hear his voice.  I actually broke down today, completely unexpectedly.  I was feeling a little down, but I chalked that up to the dreary, cloudy weather.  It was at work; I was heading back to my desk after getting some water.  I was walking through a room, totally by myself, and it just hit me.  I had to hold myself up using a table.  It was a sudden realization on how LONG it's been since Dad died.  It's been over a year.  From those I've talked to that have experienced this loss, it's normal for these geysers of grief to show up from time to time.  It passed about as quickly as it emerged.  But it recalled, again, that dread in my gut about my own time.

I've been thinking lately about seeing a professional.  It's been almost a year since I talked to anyone about all this, and perhaps there's a root cause behind all this.  Perhaps it's still normal.  I can't help but feel like it's abnormal and I'm broken somehow.  I keep pushing people away.

2/10/12

Weight

I eat out.  A lot.  I eat out every day for lunch, and once in awhile I'll eat out before work or after.  I have been feeling it lately, and not just in the way my clothes fit me; I've been getting increasingly sick of fast food.  It's the same thing, over and over again.  I've tried halving my portions.  I've tried cutting out sides entirely.  Nothing sticks; it's an addiction.

I went though my closet today and tried on all my t-shirts.  I folded and stored seven of about 15 because they fit me too snugly around the middle.  I don't want to look like a pear on legs.  But that doesn't fix anything.  Eating better and getting some for-real exercise will.  My neighbor, Amanda, has been pestering me (in a good way) to start running again.  Laziness is my biggest enemy, on all fronts.

I fixed a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.  It's the first time I've fixed one in YEARS.  I simply didn't want to be bothered.  A good friend suggested using Pam cooking spray on the griddle side (THANK YOU!) and it was fantastic.  Easy, tasty, and loads better than dropping by Braum's or Whataburger.  Add in a side of chips (put on a plate, not out of the bag) and it was a suitable meal.  Not just me mindlessly eating because it's there in front of me.  The next goal is figuring out a steady way to eat during the work week.  Then comes... vegetables.  And actually healthy meals.  Just because dinner tonight was better than what I've been eating doesn't mean it will continue to be counted as a success.

I want to be able to wear those clothes again.  I see pictures of myself before I left the country and know I'm halfway there from my returning weight.  I can't do that.  Not again.


1/17/12

One Year Later




I started writing this on 10 November.  Tonight I did what I do just about every Thursday, which is watch a few episodes of The West Wing with my neighbor, Amanda.  One of the episodes tonight revolved around a main character’s father battling Alzheimer’s and the feeling of loss that accompanies such a devastating illness.  When these thoughts are finally posted to the world, it will have been one year since my father passed on.  Twelve months.  Goodness.  That’s hard to believe.  The reason I started writing tonight is because tonight I realized that media (be it books, movies, what have you) that deals with father issues has a greater impact on me emotionally.  I sit there and pretend it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to.  I still haven’t watched Big Fish again.  I know it will destroy me.  Field of Dreams is a no-go for a while too, while we’re at it.

Now it’s 2 December.  After hemming and hawing, I decided to buy a six foot Christmas tree.  I’ll be hosting a few gatherings here for the holidays, and a Christmas party without a tree would be sad.  We always had fake trees growing up; I didn’t have a real tree until Indi and I started dating.  When she learned I’d never had a real tree, she went nuts and insisted.  It was nice the once, but too much of a mess to do on a regular basis for my taste.  I set the tree up last night and decided today would be good to ornament it.  I thought I had Grandma Gail’s old ornaments, but it turns out I had Dad’s.  I filled with bittersweet memories as I looked through the box and the small packages of intense memory.  Decorating the tree was always a Rhys ‘n Tyler job at Christmas, and every piece of glass and grocery-related Season’s Greetings carried dense memory.  I really miss Dad today, even though he wasn’t a big fan of Christmas.  He wasn't a big holiday guy at all, in fact.  When I stayed with him during Grandma’s funeral, he sat at home watching old home movies of Christmas Past when us boys were young.  I got the impression that happened very frequently.

18 December.  Took a road trip yesterday with a friend.  There’s an abandoned mining town in northeastern Oklahoma and I wanted to take my new camera out for a spin.  We worked in a bit of a road trip and found ourselves near Pawhuska.  I decided to stop and see Dad’s marker for the first time in person.  Kneeling there on the hillside of the cemetery, I looked at his name etched into the stone laid in front of me.  There’s something so final about that.  Something that doesn’t really hit you with a picture.  I miss him so much.  That won’t ever get better, I think.  I just grow more used to his absence.  His contact is still in my cell phone.  I’m starting to entertain thoughts of removing it.  Every time I scroll past it, I want to stop.  A drop of water on my forehead.

27 December.  Put away the Christmas decorations today.  It was a good Christmas.  Spent a day with friends, a day with family.  Nobody mentioned Dad, but we all felt his absence.  The tree was decorated with sparse ornamentation; one of his old Campbell’s Soup ornaments crashed and shattered on the floor as I was putting it away.  I saw it go.  It slowly rolled out of my grip and descended to the wood slats below.  I was powerless.  I heard it shatter and my hand flew up to my mouth.  I just stared at it, hand still covering my mouth, for a good minute.  I held my breath.  It was done.  I apologized aloud to Dad as I went to the kitchen, got a broom, and cleaned it up.  It was a resigned feeling.  I know more things will go with time.  Nothing lasts forever.  Even my memories will fade and, eventually, break in some fashion.  That’s a hard reality to face.

16 January.  Two days.  They weren't sure when Dad actually passed away and said it could have been as early as Sunday.  I'm doing the same thing this year that I did last year on this day, which is march in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade here in Tulsa.  I have some pictures from the event.  It was cold, but I enjoyed being a part of the festivities.  It's strange to look back and think that my world was about to completely change; HAD changed already, I just didn't know it.  I wish I could reach back and warn myself.  Hey, why hasn't Dad called you back?  Maybe you should have your aunt or uncle check on him.  He always returns your calls and it's been about a day since you tried calling him.  That nagging thought in your head should really be attended to; it's more important than you can ever imagine.  

17 January.  The calendar says tomorrow (as the 18th is one year) but I got the call the Tuesday after MLK Jr Day...so today feels more real.  Wherever you are, Tony, know that your son is proud to have you as a father.  As I've said before, I know how lucky I am that we were so close and we had a lot of good times together.  Still, I fight anger and bitterness that many people get twice as much time with their Dad as I did.  It's so damned unfair...but as you told me on multiple occasions there are only two kinds of fair:  state and county.  Every time I think of you, I try to smile and not dwell in sorrow.  Every time I see my brother, I try to encourage him and help give him guidance, for he had even less time with you than I did.  Every time I encounter a challenge at work, I ask myself how you would do it.  Every time I hug Mom, I hug her for both of us.  

I try to live up to the values that you instilled in me.  I work to make you proud.  I love you and miss you more than any word could express.


1/8/12

Support

It's difficult for me to accept help.

When Dad died, I had an outpouring of sympathy and offers for assistance, but I don't recall taking anyone up on it.  I remember a few phone calls, people asking how I was doing.  Fine. I'm always fine.  In the quiet moments of the night, when I let that wall down, I was inconsolable.  The depths of my sorrow were so severe I didn't know how I would ever get past them.  But who do you call at 3:00 in the morning?  All I had was an empty house to hear me, so I figured writing this blog would be a good outlet; and it was.  As the one year anniversary approaches, I can feel my emotions seeking that same stone wall I built last year.  I don't want to be around anyone.  I just want to go home and not think about it.

I don't want anybody to see me hurting.

But it's also what I want most.

It's a strange, crazy dichotomy.  I feel like it's selfish to reach out when all that I want is a shoulder to cry on or someone to hear my sorrows.  Even now, as I'm not doing as fine as I have been, when people ask I don't tell them.  Because then they'll ask more, and then I'll have to TELL more, and the problem just gets worse.  So I put on a happy face.  The reclusive beast stays in the shadows.  After all, it's been a year.  I'm sure all of my friends have read my blogs or heard me talk about these emotions; why would they want to sit through them again?  That's when I turn into a pest, 'that guy' that brings everyone down.  At least, that's what the beast tells me.

I'm very much a talker.  I prefer conversation in a coffee house than a night out at a bar, dancing or what-have-you.  I like to communicate and share with others.  It's damned unfair that I had become recently single when everything fell apart; I wanted someone I did feel like I could share with, unselfishly, and just look to for support.  For some reason, I didn't look to my friends for that.  I just did without.  People still asked, and I still told them I was okay.  I even made a list of names of the friends that expressly asked me to reach out to them if/when I wanted to talk.  I never utilized that list.  My desire for connection was trumped by my desire to burrow and share through electronic means.

I don't feel like I am 'crying out for help' or that I desperately need someone to talk to.  I recognize I'm conflicted.  In ten days, I have a monumental anniversary to get through and I don't know if I want to be surrounded by friends or isolated.  I have strong feelings both ways.  I just don't know.

1/7/12

Heroes

Like many kids, I grew up thinking my parents knew it all.  Any question I had could be answered.  Any problem I had could be solved.  No matter what was going on, I knew I could turn to them for support and assistance.  And like many kids, I remember the moment when that curtain fell.

I was living in Topeka, so this would've been in 2000.  It was wintertime, the roads covered in snow.  Dad had taken my brother to school in the Explorer and had run over something in the road that shredded his tired.  Mom got a call from my exasperated father, asking for help changing the tire.  So Mom and I got into my car and drove the few miles out to the Walgreen's parking lot Dad had pulled into.  There he was, in his long black winter coat, frustratingly fumbling about.  The truck had already been jacked up and the front right tired was almost off.  I helped take of the rest of the bolts and took the tire off the hub.

Something snapped.  Evidently, Dad had placed the ridiculously-small jack under a plastic piece of the side board instead of the proper setting and the brittle molding broke away.  The truck lurched downward on top of the tire, which was still standing next to the axle.  Unfortunately, my hand was on top of the tire when this happened and my right hand was now pinned between the shredded tire and the wheel well.  It was at that instant that my father morphed from the all-knowing strong man of the universe to a mortal being, a guy trying to do the best he could in a world he increasingly didn't understand.  Here he was, angry and upset that he was late to work because of car trouble, and suddenly his oldest son may have just lost his hand.  He panicked and tried to pull my hand free, but the truck had already settled.  I calmly told my parents to just find the jack (it shot out from underneath the truck), get it lifted somewhere stable, and free me so I could get to an urgent care facility.  After about five minutes, this was achieved and Mom drove me while Dad waited on a tow truck.  Thankfully, I had no nerve damage and I regained full use of my hand after a few months.



The real damage (if you can call it that) was that after that I saw my folks as regular people, just trying to make their way.  It's a natural thing, and my relationship with both of my parents grew stronger after that.  Even though my understanding changed, I still found myself reaching out to them when I had questions.  Sure, they didn't know everything, but they still had all the answers.  I always took that for granted.  So many of the figures I've looked up to in my life are tarnished or gone entirely.  It's part of growing up.  But no matter how human I see my parents to be, they are still Mom and Dad.  And they always understand.

1/2/12

Routine

I never quite understood the Auld Lang Syne traditional song.  May old acquaintances be forgot?  No.  I thrive on my interactions with people.  If I shed the people from my life I would be a miserable person.  I rather think it should be 'may old acquaintances be remembered' as people tend to forget others in busy times.  And that's a real shame.

I've found myself in a pretty standard routine as of late...and there's some comfort in that.  I get up in the mornings, have my coffee.  Check Facebook, the news, and a few other sites I keep up with.  Maybe put on some music.  It's a nice start to the day.  It's at my own pace.  At some point, I start getting ready for work.  At about 1:00, I head to work to prep for my day.  Work has also settled into a bit of a routine, for the most part. I am comfortable there and feel that, overall, I do a good job.  I'm thankful for those constants in my life.

I have successfully navigated my first holiday season AD.  The real test comes in a few weeks, when the one year anniversary of Dad's death hits.  It's really unbelievable that it's been that long.  Time is a funny thing, as I'm sure everyone knows.  I find myself drifting in thought, losing focus and meandering through memory.  I hope it doesn't get any worse as the day approaches, but I know it probably will.  I took the 18th off, just in case.  I don't want to show up at work and break down.  I wonder what it is about anniversaries that has such an impact.

I have my mother and brother.  I have my friends.  I have people in my life that are so tremendously special to me.  I know I have avenues should I feel like reaching out.  My problem, as it always has been, is the actual reaching.  I feel like folks don't really need me knocking on their door and dropping my repetitive problems at their feet.  As I've mentioned before, sometimes people just asking how I am changes the answer.  I look to those closest to me to check in and make sure I'm not siloing myself.  That would be bad.

Anyway, it's about that time.  Work time.  Busy time.  Good time.  I hope everyone had a fantastic New Year's and the coming 365 treat you better than the last 365.