from Arches National Park.
For once I’m speechless.
from Arches National Park.
For once I’m speechless.
Tomorrow, someone I love about as much as you can love someone is getting on a plane to fly across the globe to help her mother bring her father’s ashes home. She’s a newly initiated member of The Club, this someone. What club, you ask? The Dead Parent Club.
Most all of us will become members eventually, but like The Childbirth Club and The Cancer Club, you can’t possibly know what it feels like to join The Dead Parent Club’s ranks until you have lost one of the two people on this earth whose blood and bones made your blood and bones.
A hint for those of you non-club members wondering what it feels like: It sucks.
Thinking back on February 2011 and my own introduction to this rarefied group, I think what was hardest to reconcile for me was the feeling that I was taking a step into true – no going back now – adulthood at the same time that I was reverting to childlike instincts I hadn’t felt since, well, childhood. In those days immediately following my dad’s death I was forced to tackle a to do list that included cremation and obituaries and death certificates and probate (adulthood) when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on my bed and take a nap (childhood). Scratch that. All I really really wanted was my Daddy.
I’ve been thinking about The Club a lot in the last forty-eight hours, mostly because this someone of mine, this true and blue and very best of friends, is one of the first people close to me who’s joined the club since my own membership began. In the way that others did for me, I feel this tremendous responsibility to help her navigate the treacherous waters she’s been pushed into. Yes, pushed. Some people are lucky enough, if you can possibly call it lucky, to have a heads up before their initiation into the club. That was me and my siblings: a long and winding six year initiation that included cancer treatments and surgeries and the warm glow of hope followed, finally, by a sinking despair. For others, like my friend, it comes swiftly and shockingly and in the blink of an eye. You wake up to a phone call and the floor beneath your feet falls away. Fuck.
When that happens to you, when that call comes, the people around you are shocked, too, and they wonder how to handle this new state of affairs. How to handle your grief. Know who you must turn to then, dedicated readers? The Club. That’s why it exists, this motley assortment of people who have one sad thing in common. It exists so that someone in the world knows what to say to you when words feel so slight and empty. So that someone in the world knows to take you by the hand and show you around the clubhouse. To explain to you how the monthly dues are paid and which locker room is yours. And to walk you slowly into the common area, sit you down in a comfortable chair with a warm cup of tea, and tell you what you need to hear: That this is going to hurt for a long long time. That you should let yourself cry as much and as often as you need to. That the hole you can feel opening in your heart isn’t going to close anytime soon.
But, my friend, I promise you this. It will ease, that hurt. They’ll become less frequent, those tears. And, maybe better than anyone else, I know that heart of yours, I know it so well. And that heart is strong. It’s resilient and big and able to withstand this pain, it really truly is. And, until you know these things for yourself, you’ll always have The Club. We’re here when you need us.
The first time I ever saw snow fall, that I can remember, was at the entrance to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. I was twenty-one, a freshly minted college graduate, on a December road trip from Tallahassee, Florida to Portland, Oregon and back again with two of my best friends in the world, Dee and Jay. The Grand Canyon stop was on the “back again” leg. Tired, road weary, ready for home, we veered from our planned course and decided on a whim to pop by to see one of this land’s most majestic wonders. “Let’s stay a night! I’m treating us to a room with a view!,” Jay announced, which meant his parents’ credit card would be treating. “Hoorah!,” was the response from me and Dee. The flakes started to fall as we turned up the winding road that led to the welcome gates. By the time we reached the way-out-of-our-price-range-but-hey-Jay’s-parents-are-paying lodge perched at the very edge of the world, it seemed, the snow was coming down heavy and fast. The view from our premium room with a view and from the scenic – and icy — walkways that laced through this patch of the northern rim? Snow, snow, and more snow, with a blanket of fog mixed in. If the Grand Canyon had been a snake it would have bitten us, but we had to take the hotel staff’s word for it because, for the thirty-six or so hours we were there, we couldn’t see a thing through the pea soup.
This is all to say that I have a real soft spot for Interstate 10, the east/west corridor that Dee and Jay and I zigged and zagged our way from Florida to California on so many years ago. I-10 was the road that took me and Johnny Rocket to my freshman dorm at Florida State University. He took I-10 back home, I stayed. It’s the road that Dee and Ess and another Jay and I relied on for road trips to New Orleans when the siren’s song of Mardi Gras called our names. It’s the road that leads from Florida nearly all the way to my new home in Austin before I hang a slight right and hop on 70 West for the last seventy miles or so. And it’s the road that stays mostly straight and true through the hills and plains and tablelands of West Texas, a drive I enjoyed for the second time at the start of this month, veering north to slither along the border with Mexico as it approaches El Paso.
It was during the most recent drive, the one just two weeks ago, that I found myself flashing back to that end of college trip I took with Dee and Jay. Memories of us cruising on I-10 through West Texas at night, listening to the radio, and stopping at a rest stop to call Governor Richards to beg her to stay an execution set for the next morning (the switchboard operator wouldn’t connect us). Memories of bats at Carlsbad Caverns and a boy named Oh in LA and hanging fliers for “Chicago in ‘96” on the campuses of Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. Memories of skiing for the first time in Tahoe with Kelly and flying low and illegally over the waters of the Pacific Ocean with Uncle Bill in his tiny plane. Memories of spending three hours guest deejaying on the radio in Portland, Oregon, making jokes about “where the heck do you find a cup of coffee in this town?” to our own and not likely the listeners’ delight. And memories of arriving at the welcome gates to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon as snow flurries filled the sky.
I’ve spent many hours and days on the assorted highways of this big country of ours but all roads, throughout my life it seems, lead back to I-10. The road that trails south from the Grand Canyon leads to I-10, too, and that’s exactly where Dee and Jay and I met up with my favorite highway once again after we left the park and headed, finally, for home. Our departure was a day later than we expected, partially due to the snow fall, but mostly due to a wicked trio of hangovers after a night spent drinking tequila and listening to Bob Dylan covers in that rustic little lodge, practically empty except for us and the staff, on the canyon’s edge. Jay’s parents ended up treating us to two nights instead of one and, throughout our stay, the snow continued to fall with no canyon in sight.
Until that last morning. With our bags packed and our resolve to drive straight through until we reached Tallahassee fortified, we walked outside just after sunrise and saw, at last, what was in front of us the entire time. The Grand Canyon. Breathtaking and big and like nothing I’d ever seen before. The air was crisp and cold and the sun was bright and slowly rising into the sky and, standing on that ridge just feet from a sharp drop into the wide chasm below, I felt closer to God than I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Majestic, people. It was majestic. And as I took it all in, I knew two things for certain, knew them in my gut: I’d know these two people I was sharing this moment with, Dee and Jay, for the rest of my life. And I’d be back to this part of the world, back to this exact spot on the ground to see this awesome beauty again. Back soon and often.
Sorry to say, dedicated readers, that I was wrong about always knowing Dee and Jay. I’ve lost touch with them both – one slowly and lazily and the other swiftly and painfully – and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If anything, losing them has spurred me to accept those losses as over and done but to hold on fiercely and tightly to everyone else. No more casual casualties in this life, no way no how. But when I think back to that snow fall on our first day at the canyon and that sunrise on the last I feel grateful for the memories I have and the friendship Dee and Jay and I shared. That was a moment, a real moment, and we will always have that.
As for the other thing I knew that day, the thing about going back, well, I’m abashed that it’s taken as long as it has, but I’m happy to report that I’m headed there the week after next. I don’t know that I’ll be able to find the exact spot where I stood in 1995 – truth be told, I’m not even sure that it was the northern and not the southern rim – but I know it will be beautiful and I know it will be memorable and, for the most part, it will be just as I left it. This time it will be my big sis that I share it with, her first peek at the Grand Canyon. I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait.
Sorry to say, my mega out of control longer than my arm To Do list is back. Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of a mess of neglect where it’s concerned so I’m not sure why its tremendous size is so alarming to me now that I’ve come up for air and decided to take stock. Here I sit, at this corner desk in Santa Cruz, beautiful morning sunlight streaming in, and I’m surrounded by scraps and bits and nuggets of To Do, To Do, To Do.
Go to the post office and mail your brother’s wedding anniversary card. Seriously, the anniversary was days ago. And you used to visit the post office every 24 hours or so. What’s happened to you?
Ten points on the board for finally (finally) calling that Prudential guy back and opening an IRA to roll your WME money into. Kudos to you, but don’t rest on your laurels: Track down your Hachette money (you know, that job you left in 2007) and get those funds rolled over, too.
(An aside: The Prudential guy asked me what my income would be for this year. I replied: “Can you really put a price tag on happiness, Brian?” And then I asked him to help me secret half a million dollars.)
Watch your Yankees make a triumphant comeback in the ALCS today. Related: Send Derek Jeter flowers.
Use the word “wiseacre” at least once.
Finish the stack of magazines that’s traveled with you from Austin to Santa Cruz. Three Yoga Journals, Two Bon Appetits, and a Lucky Peach in a pear tree.
Send a Save the Date for your triumphant (albeit too brief) return to NYC.
Go to Trader Joe’s to pick up some non-dairy frozen treats for Grandma. You’ll be glad you did.
I wasn’t going to include “start thinking about your taxes,” but your accountant (she’s a real ball-buster, and your big sis) just told you to start thinking about your taxes. So: Start thinking about your taxes. Groan.
Oh, and you still need to compose that letter to the Astronomy Department Chair at UF. See if MJR will help you with this. Get it done.
Seriously, with all of this stuff To Do how am I possibly going to fit in hot-from-the-wood-burning-oven pizza, a movie (I’m thinking Seven Psychopaths), and a yoga class later (that water aerobics did a number on my calves and I need to stretttcccchhhhh)? Don’t worry, dedicated readers, I’ll make it work.
Anyone who says
water aerobics isn’t
Can I take a minute to tell you guys about my Aunt Kathy? (It’s a completely legit segue-way; we did water aerobics this morning.) It won’t take long, I promise. While I feel certain I could fill up pages and pages trying to do her justice, I’ll simply say the following: She’s one of the very best people I know. Like way at the top, tippy top of the list of quality humans I feel lucky to claim as my tribe. She talks passionately about things like the importance of taking deep breaths and about meditation and positive energy and the like and I’ve come to fully realize on this trip something that I think I knew all along: For me, Aunt Kathy is a deep breath. Whenever I’m in her presence I draw her in and fill my lungs with her and I feel some of the light and air and good bits that she’s made up of, the joyful essence of her, lift me up and somehow lighten my own load. She doesn’t just make me want to be better, she actually makes me better. I should tell her that more often.
A deep breath. A kindred spirit. A kick-ass water aerobics buddy. My Aunt Kathy.
Lots of takeaway on this simple sign, folks. “Words to live by” kindof stuff.
“First surfer on wave has right of way.
Paddle around wave not through it.
Hang on to your board.
Help other surfers.”
And a surfer-filled sunset to inspire you (each and every one following the rules, for sure):
Bidding you a goodnight from Santa Cruz, CA. Hang ten.
I don’t think I’ve told you guys anything about my cousin Kelly, have I? Truth be told, for the first twenty years or so of my life I really didn’t know her that well. Of course, I was always aware of her and I’d spent time with her on occasion (most famously when I was “fo’ years old”), but she’s one of my “California relatives,” the motley crew of family on Mrs. Johnny Rocket’s side of things, all residing on the other side of the country from where I grew up in Florida, and, as a result, for the better part of my formative years she was known to me more as a series of exciting and aspirational labels (adventurer, businesswoman, free spirit, nomad, go-getter) than as an actual concrete being. California and her inhabitants, including this cousin of mine, were a world away, it seemed. As far as Europe, by air. They were known to eat sushi, these exotic blood relations, and take showers outdoors and shop almost exclusively in thrift stores. As I said, a world away.
But not so far away these days. Starting just north of San Diego (in Cardiff-By-the-Sea, where I am now), I’m excited to spend October with my family of the West: Grandma Marian (special shout-out; she’s 96!), Aunt Kathy, Uncle Bill, Cousin Kelly and her husband Tim, Cousin Kirsten and her husband Michael and their two kids, Lauren and Lawson. Lovely, lovely people, each and every one. We’re talking serious quality humans here, dedicated readers. I can’t wait to introduce you to them in the days and weeks ahead.
We’ll start with Kelly, here in Cardiff-By-the-Sea:
She’s a sales woman, through and through. A real sweet talker. Kelly could sell a bucket of sand to a thirsty man in the desert. But she doesn’t use that power for evil, no way.
Kelly loves the sight of the ocean so much that she’ll drive an extra three blocks in rush hour San Diego traffic just to catch a glimpse. Even though she lives within spitting distance of the wide open sea and sees it at least twice a day on a slow day. She delights in it like a kid who grew up landlocked. I love that about her.
She can surf. Bad. Ass.
She has a huge heart. If you’re lucky enough to claim a space in this outsized ticker of hers, you’re there for life. She loves fiercely and loyally and for the long haul.
She’s my “California relative” that showers outdoors. In general, she’s pretty comfortable being naked in front of her houseguests. Yes, I speak from experience.
She’s a connector. She wants everyone to know everyone. Malcolm Gladwell could write an entire chapter about her and her force-of-nature connectivity. When she introduces me to someone new she almost always tells the story of when we first met when I was four-years old and she and Kirsten visited Florida. I greeted them with “Hi, ya’ll, I’m Becka and I’m fo’.” Kelly loves to share that with people.
Like me, she has really excellent skin (you guys know about my perfect skin, yes?). We discussed it the other day and have decided we have Grandma Marian to thank.
She once tried to teach me how to surf. Not so bad ass (me, not her; Kelly’s always bad ass).
She has memories of my mom and dad and their early California days that I envy, but that I love to hear her talk about. She shared a few precious years with my parents’ first born son who died young and tragically. Robin to his Batman. Stuff like that.
When she talks about you, when she mentions you to others in an introduction or even when you’re not around, she uses that gift for sales I mentioned above. She says things about you that make you blush, but that also make you feel amazing. She sells her friends and loved ones (as her friend Deb put it the other day) in such a genuine and authentic and enthusiastic way that you positively glow. She cheers you on and champions you and makes you believe the hype. It’s awesome. And it’s so Kelly.
All of this really makes you guys want to meet her, right? Well, get your rears to Cardiff-By-the-Sea. She’s just about the most welcoming hostess you could hope to have (of course, the nudity is a plus or minus depending on your proclivities) and I’ve found it hard to commit to a departure date because I’m so at home here in her charming house on this tree-lined street perched on a hill above the mighty Pacific. Did I mention she has a dog named Blue? I’m mad for him.
And, as the days unfold, I find that her infectious Kellyness is rubbing off on me, steering me in some delightful ways. Like Kelly, I’ve more than once driven blocks out of my way to glimpse the ocean this week. Like Kelly, I’ve been overtaken by a burning desire to cheer on the people in my life from this gorgeous California sideline, to make sure they know how one-of-a-kind they are. And, like Kelly, I’m conjuring up more and more avenues for connecting the people I admire, near and far, so that everyone knows everyone (NYC cocktail party invites coming soon). She’s a good influence on me, my cousin.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow I just may take a shower outdoors. Naked.
Guys, New Mexico is beautiful. Seriously. And I think I’m driving across the least beautiful slice of this beautiful state (but I can see the beautiful bits in the distance. Mesas!), so imagine how beautiful the more beautiful chunk must be when you’re actually in it. Imagine.
Oh, and there are signs on this stretch of I-10 in New Mexico, lots of helpful signs. They say things like “Dust Storms Next 15 Miles” and “Prison Facilities. Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers.” Helpful stuff like that. As my big sis said, “Definitely don’t pick up any hitchhikers near the prison facilities during a dust storm.” Solid advice.
Downside to this beautiful slice of New Mexico: My Starbucks app can’t locate any Starbucks in my area. I could blame it on the new iPhone maps debacle, but I actually think there just aren’t any Starbucks in the area. So onward I go. On the road again. Next up: Arizona!