Tidy Little Boxes

This is the fifth post which chronicles my sister’s battle with cancer. You need to start at the beginning, though, with a post I called The Club. You’ll be able to link through the rest from there.

* * *

“Do you know just how incredible your sister is?”

I stared awkwardly at the nurse who had asked me this seemingly rhetorical question. And she stared right back with big brown eyes that sparkled with hope. They told me she believed–the cross hanging around her neck, their echo.

Though well aware that my sister is, indeed, incredible, I had actually been stumbling upon that very question all week. Specifically the just how incredible part. Frankly, it was difficult for me to reconcile the reports I was getting from Mom with the image that was etched in my mind — that of Holliday lying unconscious in her bed in the ICU.

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Mind Over Matter

This post is a continuation from the last three and details my sister’s brave battle with cancer. To read from the beginning, please start with the post called The Club.

* * *

I don’t think the nighttime nurse liked us very much. She had a valid reason. Generally speaking, shaking martinis in a hospital room is a no-no. But we didn’t care. Not because we’re raging alcoholics, but simply because that’s what we do. We drink two martinis before dinner. Well, I don’t. I mean I sometimes do, but only when I’m with my parents. Because that’s what they do.

With Dad withering away in his hospital bed, the task of shaking our drinks fell to yours truly. I brought in the ice needed via a large Styrofoam cup and smuggled the vodka, vermouth, olives, and glasses in my backpack. When the nurse caught me red-handed, she gave me a look of admonishment, one that all but asked me to stop. Before she could articulate her thoughts, I shot her a look of my own.

“He’s dying,” I told her with my eyes while slowly shaking my head. “So why don’t you let him live a little?”

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The Beautiful Fight

This post is the third installment of Holliday’s story. Part I is called The Club and part II is called The Class.

* * *

Within the melancholy exists miraculous beauty.

Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to see my dad in the hospital where he had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. It was his rapid turn for the worse which had prompted the phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight that very night if I ever wanted to see him alive again.

The second I walked into his room, I knew that though he was technically still with us, he was gone nonetheless. But I was wrong. He came back to us later that day.

“I died last night, Martha Lee,” he would tell my mom. She believed him.

And so did I.

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The Class

This is a continuation of my last post, The Club.

* * *

I didn’t take much. Everything fit into a small backpack, even the laptop which I carefully got out and placed inside the gray plastic tub. As I watched it glide away, I was overtaken with déjà vu. It was just like the last time.

Well, not really, I suppose. The last time I was a bachelor. That day I was the married father of four. The last time I was unemployed. That day I was a small business principal. The last time I was flying back to a home I had abandoned right after college. That day I was leaving the same home I had eventually reclaimed. The last time it was right after Halloween. That day was the Fourth of July. The last time I was lost as a bat and searching for answers. That day I knew exactly where I was, but not because I had found those answers. I just better understood where to look for them.

The last time I was going to see my dad. That day I was going to see my sister.

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The Club

I pulled up around back just past 5:30. The blanket of pre-dawn darkness concealed virtually everything, except, of course, the ivy-covered stone house of my youth. The one in which my old yet beautiful mom still lives. Nothing could ever conceal it.

That’s where the five of us grew up. Only my brother and I still call our hometown home, and neither one of us moved back until we were well into our thirties. Before that, my siblings and I were spread all over the country. Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, Dalton, GA, and Oakland, MN — geographical evidence of an undeniable fact: we were never a very cohesive unit.

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The Trail

Each year Lovie is good enough to let me abandon my family and hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail for several days. Some of her friends give me grief about my annual sojourn. They seem to consider it nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to have a three-day bender in the woods with my buddies. If they only knew.

Hours and hours are spent consulting our trusty maps as well as several guidebooks to carefully analyze topography, mileage, water sources, weather patterns, shelters, and campsites before we even decide upon our itinerary. It takes almost as long to organize our backpacks. The last thing you can afford on the trail is too much weight, which means many of the things I might have wanted to take get left behind. That’s okay, though. You get by better with only the things you need.

My friends and I temporarily trade our complicated but comfortable lives for simple, arduous ones. We hike up and down 5,000-foot inclines, covering up to 20 miles a day, armed with nothing more than 40 pounds of essentials, the clothes we’re wearing, and a desire to lead more meaningful lives.

I can’t speak for my companions, but while I’m in the woods, I feel the entire gamut of emotions—from exhilaration after cresting a two-mile incline, to wonder while witnessing the divine beauty at the top, to relief at beginning a much-needed descent, to despair when staring at yet another uphill stretch, to exaltation when I finally see the campsite I’ve dedicated the previous 11 hours to reach. It’s there I’ll rest and replenish all so I can experience another collage of emotions the very next day.

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Tiger and Kate Plus Eight

(To the rhyme of eeny, meeny, miny, mo.)

What you hear just isn’t so:
Catch a tiger by its toe?
You see, that method’s bound to fail.
You catch a Tiger chasing tail.

My mother said to pick the very best one and HE is not it.

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Dear Ben Roethlisberger

Dear Ben Roethlisberger,

Phew. You dodged another bullet, brother. Good thing you’re a football player, because if baseball were your sport, you’d have struck out by now.

Strike one? Mere months after you won the first of your two Super Bowl rings, you had a serious motorcycle accident, only a year removed from fellow NFL-er Kellen Winslow Jr’s career-threatening motorcycle accident.

In the wake of Winslow’s mishap, Coach Bill Cowher lectured you about motorcycle safety, desperately hoping you’d not be the next NFL guy to find yourself in the same situation. But that’s exactly what happened. And you weren’t wearing a helmet. Which would have come in handy when your head shattered the windshield of a car. Which necessitated a seven-hour surgery. You were lucky it wasn’t worse.

Strike two? Your 2009 run in with a young lady in Lake Tahoe who accused you of sexual assault. Though details would ultimately emerge which called the accuser’s motives into question, and though you never faced any criminal charges stemming from the incident, you still found yourself in a bad position–one which could have easily been avoided if you had made better decisions.

Strike three occurred on March 5, 2010. After a long night of partying in Milledgeville, GA (really, Ben? Milledgeville?), you were accused of sexual assault yet again, this time by a twenty-year old women whom you followed into the dingy bathroom of a local bar. The dingy women’s bathroom of a local bar.

Unlike the last time, this claim seemed to have teeth. Just like last time, you exercised incredibly poor judgment.

A Latin proverb tells us that a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

You do neither.

Which makes you a fool.

But good fortune does not discriminate against the dim-witted. On April 12  the alleged victim announced she no longer wished to pursue criminal charges, thanks to the circus of media attention she wished to avoid.

You’re a very lucky and impossibly dumb man, Ben. Yet just when I thought you couldn’t do anything to lower my estimation of your IQ, you show up at a press conference to read a one-minute apology looking like this:

image courtesy of CNN

Listen, Ben, I’m no PR expert, but it seems to me that the last thing a guy accused of sexual assault for the second time would want to do is show up at press conference looking exactly like Jesse James. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? He’s the motorcycle guy (hey, you two should ride together sometime) who left his (pregnant) porn-star girlfriend when Sandra Bullock came calling only to cheat on the Hollywood A-lister with a woman whose tattoos make Allen Iverson’s look like they came from a box of Cracker Jacks.

If I had just been accused of forcing myself on a twenty-year old girl in the women’s bathroom of a seedy bar after a six-hour bender in Milledgeville, GA mere months after my last brush with sexual assault? I probably would’ve lost the greasy mullet and dialed up an Opie Taylor look.

And what’s with your disco shirt, Ben? I mean, seriously, is it the same one you wore clubbing in M-town that night? What? Is your “Long Live Ted Bundy” tee dirty or something? At least you didn’t wear this one:

image courtesy of scrapetv.com. or a frat house. not sure which.

Consider a suit next time. Or at least a button down.

Sorry for writing you out of the blue, but I wanted to reach out and offer you my two cents because you’re clearly floundering, big fella. Feel free to take my advice, or blow it off, whichever suits you.

OH. And just one more thing. If you ever do find yourself publicly apologizing for being involved in similar matters, would you mind reading your statement in front of someone else’s locker?

Because when trying to eradicate the imagery of sexual assault, it’s probably best to distance yourself from the word “Colon,” even if it is nothing more than a teammate’s last name printed neatly on a sign above his locker. Given the circumstances, it’s just too visceral.

But look on the bright side. At least his number isn’t 69.

Dear Elmo

Back when I liked you.

Dear Elmo,

You suck.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, before I had children — back when I was merely “Uncle John” — I actually liked you. A lot. You were a funny and irresistible little monster. Plus my niece and nephew LOVED you. Remember that holiday season when you were in such high demand? Well, I was one of the lucky ones who actually managed to get his hands on your red ass, chicken suit and all. I’ll never forget what a hit you were that year. The kids played with you for hours. But what I didn’t realize then was that their parents must have hated every single minute of it.

C getting her Elmo on.

No, my furry friend, I wouldn’t learn that lesson for quite some time. But learn it I would, when I finally became a dad. I will admit, though, even after spawning the tiny trio, it took a while for the disdain to set in, likely because the triplets adored you so. It’s hard for me to dislike anything which brings such joy to my children.

But it’s not impossible, my misguided monster. Hearing your little chicken-dance song 5,412 times certainly proved that.

“Elmo wants to be a chicken. Elmo wants to be a duck. Quack, quack, quack, quack.”

Well, which is it, Elmo? Do you wanna be a chicken or do you wanna be a duck? You’re quacking, so I assume you wanna be a duck, yet you’re dressed in a chicken costume, which would indicate a poultry preference. Not to mention the fact that the package you came in? It didn’t read Duck Dance Elmo.  It read CHICKEN Dance Elmo. So why in the duck are you quacking? You’re setting a horrendous example for my kids who could very well be acquiring a sense of entitlement by witnessing such behavior. I can hear it now. “I wanna do this. No, I wanna do that. No, I wanna do this. No, I wanna do that…”

As much as I loathed you in your chicken-dance format, there was a simple solution–hiding you from the light of day. Once I did that, I figured you were behind us. Until long-ass car rides came onto the scene. That’s right. Seven-hour drives to the beach with three fussy toddlers is quite an experience. To keep the peace we tried everything. But only one thing seemed to work. Your Best of Elmo DVD.

Oh the irony, Elmo. Hiding you at home brought me great peace. Yet, on the road, from a monitor behind my head and well outside my field of vision, you still managed to wreak a hell-like havoc on the vacation commutes I haplessly executed. Back in the good old days, three hours on the road meant we were in the middle of Spartanburg. But suddenly, three hours on the road meant that we were in the middle of the SEVENTH showing of your mind-numbing collection of skits.

Do you have to use that high-pitched voice, Elmo? Or rap. Do you have to rap? You’re about as gansta as an imaginary tea party. With princesses. And do you have to rock the third person all the time? Hmm? Because John Cave Osborne doesn’t like that. It bugs him. In fact, it bugs pretty much everyone and everything on this planet.

Telephone, Elmo. It’s Fran Dresher. She wants me to tell you that her laugh thinks you’re annoying.

Speaking of annoying, Elmo, Whoopie Goldberg? REALLY? What, Star Jones all booked up? And how ’bout your deal with Julia Roberts? Just hearing the two of you trying to scare each other is enough to make me wanna throw an apple at the monitor. Don’t worry, though. Should I ever lose control like that, no one would actually get hurt. Any apple thrown anywhere near Julia Roberts would do nothing more than harmlessly lodge itself into the top row of her preposterously large teeth.

Oh, and I think it’s nice that you gave the Unhappy Honker your last drawing, but if you needed at least one to display at the Monster Art Show, why in world did you give it to him?

I smell a dumb dumb.

And then everyone’s supposed to feel all sorry for you and return the dozens of drawings you just spent the better part of thirty minutes handing out as gifts? Again, not a great example. Back to the entitlement deal.

Yes, Elmo, you do suck. But, honestly? I’ve kinda enjoyed disliking you so. The acrimonious fire you’ve set within my soul has kept me warm for nearly eighteen months now. And that’s the real reason why I’m writing you.

Sadly, it seems the fire is going out. You see, A, B, and C no longer wonder where your chicken-dance doll is. They don’t enjoy your DVDs anymore, not even the one where you selfishly insist that every day be Christmas. (You’ve GOT to work on that entitlement thing.)

 

Sorry, Elmo, but you’re yesterday’s news. In fact, you’ve already been replaced. And wouldn’t you know it–you’ve been replaced by something else that’s red. And what’s more, much like you, your replacement emits high-pitched noises capable of giving me migraines. And truth be told? I’m kinda sad about it. My new foil, though similar to you in color and sound, will be nowhere near as fun for me to hate.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t hate it. Because, rest assured, I will.

And I can also promise you this. That damn thing will NEVER be allowed in the car. EVER.

So long, Elmo.

 

Move over Elmo, for this God-awful thing.

 

The Driving Force

This blog is proud to take part in Fatherhood Friday, a little something created by the great people over at dad-blogs. To learn more about this wonderful community, click here.

We all know that I love Lovie. And how could I not? There’s just something about her. Anyone who knows Lovie would agree that she possesses an indescribable sweetness, channeled by a heart that is both pure and true. Seldom does a bad thought ever cross her mind. She’s a positive force who is filled with such earnest and good intentions that people can actually sense it. Animals, too. Birds stop chirping and squirrels take a break from their nuts just to catch a glimpse of my beautiful wife whenever she happens upon them.

Knoxville, we have a problem.

But such inter-species tranquility does not mean that my wife is without flaw. One of them? She’s among the worst drivers in the history of organized driving. Honestly? It’s astonishing. And the fact that she drives a big-ass Denali loaded with the tumultuous trio and an eight-year-old doesn’t exactly help. For not only is she driving a vehicle that rivals a Sherman Tank in bulk, but she’s also doing so while handing out passies to toddlers, helping Pookie with her homework, and rocking the occasional call on her cell–all over the deafening din emitted by that red, furry anti-Christ, Elmo, along with his gang of equally annoying and off-key-singing buddies.

If only Lovie’s enormous vehicle had an outer body constructed of nerf, and the driver/passenger seats were enclosed by a NASCAR-designed roll cage, maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t worry each and every time she hits the road. But I do worry, and so should you. So allow me to impart the following advice to those who share our local roads.

If you see Lovie barreling down the street, you must remember two things. First, it’s usually parking lots which trip her up, so you’re probably okay. But second, remain calm, and, as if Lovie were a firetruck, slow down and pull over as far as you can to the right until Lovie has lumbered on by. Then and only then should you continue along your merry way.

But if you’re in a parking lot, God help you. For like a drunk cat with no whiskers, little Lovie, in her colossal car, has no dependable spacial-sensing mechanism–her mere judgment, woefully inadequate. As such, she is not afraid to feel her way through a tight spot with a bump here or a nudge there. While not exactly life-threatening, Lovie’s parking lot shenanigans are the stuff of legend, most of said shenanigans exacting a toll just below our deductible, ultimately rendering our insurance impotent and our wallets a few-hundred dollars lighter.

But she is getting better. In fact, it’s been quite a while since her last parking-lot escapade. Until the other day, that is, when she came home with a little token of appreciation she had received from a fellow motorist.

“Can you believe this woman?” Lovie asked indignantly while showing me the note.

Um, what rhymes with “guess?”

I’m in a tough spot, here. Common sense (along with past empirical evidence) strongly suggests that Lovie parked poorly. But chivalry demands that I defend her honor.

SO, Ms. Note Writer–in the unlikely event you are reading this modest effort, please know that I am none too pleased with the sarcastic and ugly message that you left Lovie. Number one, who has the time to write such nasty remarks in the middle of a busy day? Next time you’re out, may I suggest you swing by Walmart and pick up a life? OH, and you might wanna fill that prescription for the anti-passive-aggressive meds your head doctor has undoubtedly provided you.

And number two, what we’ve got here in Lovie is really nothing more than a garden-variety shitty driver. Was she a little close to you? I’m quite certain she was. Was it difficult to get your kids in? Undoubtedly. But is that any reason to lose your marbles? Might I suggest, instead, that next time you be more prepared? A giant tub of Vaseline and an extra-large shoe horn would have made your child-loading riddle much easier to solve.

Sincerely,

The Man Who Still Loves Lovie.

PS–perhaps you’ll take solace in knowing that your communiqué has made our Wall of Shame alongside another embarassing piece of documentation.

Wall of Shame: JCO 1, Lovie 1

There. That should do it.

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