Dreaming Out Loud

So last week, I went to Vancouver, British Columbia in the beautiful Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada to see the first two shows on U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour which were on Thursday May 14th and Friday May 15th. I took a week off, arriving on Monday, because I had the additional hope/dream/goal of meeting the band or getting invited into a rehearsal, neither of which is a far stretch as the band has been known to greet fans and invite them into rehearsals from time to time. I wasn’t counting on either of these things happening, mind you; I’m a realist. But I felt like there was nothing wrong at all with giving it a shot. Why not? Life is too short for regrets. I’ve learned that well.

Over the last few days, I’ve struggled with blogging about this because I don’t want to come off as a braggart. A lot of U2 fans can be like that. It’s the first thing they will say about themselves in an introduction. In my fandom, I’ve met some people who have deluded themselves into thinking they have some sort of connection with a band member because of their encounters. I don’t want people to associate me with those kind of fans. I’m just a girl who feels passionately about a band and the wonderful music its members create. I love Bono especially, but when I say that, I mean that I admire him for the humanitarian he is, his intelligence, the work he does in the world, and the beautiful lyrics he pens (sometimes with The Edge). Those words, along with the sonic experience of the music, have inspired me, lifted me up when I was low, and made the best moments of my life feel even grander. U2’s music has been a part of my DNA since I was 15 or so, when Achtung Baby came out, and it has never left me. I guess a part of me just really wanted to let the band know that. And that is why I wanted to try to meet them (especially Bono). I suffer no delusions that to any band member, I’m anything more than a stranger. Which is what makes my encounter with Bono so much more awesome.

Anyway, I’m telling the story because some of my friends have asked me to. If you feel I’m bragging, you can just stop reading now.

The entire goal of my meeting any of the band was just to express my appreciation. I had nothing for a band member to sign. I don’t know why; I just don’t have anything in my possession at the moment that feels special enough to have signed. I didn’t want to lug vinyl around for days. In 2011, the last time I made an effort to meet U2, I carried around an envelope that contained a print-out of the sermon I gave as a layman at my church (Unitarian Universalist) called “Spiritual Journeys Through The Music of U2.” I wanted to give it to Bono because I was proud of it and it was the best, rational explanation my love for U2’s music. Part of me wanted Bono to see that from his creations have sprung inspired writing. I wanted him to know that I get what they are doing.

I still have that envelope, and it’s still sealed, but since 2011, I’ve felt rather silly about it. Why would he read it? It seemed kind of like I was pushing something on him and I really didn’t want it to go that way. A lot of fans also try to push stuff on the band–some documentary they are trying to complete or some written work about being a fan. I just didn’t want to use that meeting as self-promotion. I didn’t want the band to think I wanted anything from them. Because all I want is for them to create more music.

So I went to Vancouver with nothing in hand for the band to sign and no agenda. I just had a rough idea of what I wanted to say if given the opportunity. I went into every attempt assuming that I would strike out (I’m a pessimist) but that it would be great if I happened to meet the band.

As soon as my friends, Kristy and Shawn, and I arrived in Vancouver on Monday, we began to check out the scene around the arena. We scoped out possible entry points for the band and found a spot around a side of the area that was low traffic and mostly used by pedestrians. It seemed like the best spot because there was a lot of activity with recognizable U2 techs hanging around the entrance smoking. Some other fans were hanging around there so we hung around too. Someone claimed to have seen Bono go into the arena earlier for rehearsals.

It was kind of a crazy evening as groups of fans waited there and another garage opening on the next side of the arena that faced a busy street. I guess occasionally the garage door would open on that side and fans would run over there and we followed those false alarms several times. I’m not going to admit how long we stood out there that night… But we left at 1am… And apparently The Edge came out to greet fans shortly thereafter. Oaf.

Tuesday was more of the same. We waited around the arena for a very long time. The hope at first was that we would get invited into the iHeartRadio full dress rehearsal that had been also a prize for some contest winners. Brian Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, had come out earlier in the day and neither confirmed or denied this as a possibility. By 9pm, we figured we’d lost out on that opportunity. There was some activity of people exiting at one point, but rehearsals continued for several hours. We heard through some of the fan websites that the band had run through two full rehearsals. We couldn’t hear a thing because the traffic around Rogers arena was so incredibly noisy.

The group of waiting fans eventually moved to the garage door next to the busy street, convinced after last night’s encounter with The Edge that this was actually the entrance/exit the band was using. At around 1:20 am, the garage door opened. A black sedan pulls up and a security guy steps out. He says, “I know you all are waiting to see U2. We have a member of U2, Adam Clayton, in the car right here. But I need you to form a line.”

So we chaotically formed a line on the sidewalk. People were bunching up so Shawn, Kristy, and I took the initiative to spread out away from the car. The security guy opened the door to the sedan and Adam Clayton, U2’s bassist, stepped out. He immediately walked to our end of the line which, unfortunately left us a bit unprepared on how to handle the situation.

Shawn asked, “Can we get a picture?”

Adam, Mr. Literal, replied, “Sure, just take them as I go.” He moved to the next people in line who had items for him to autograph.

People further down the line just jumped forward as he passed and he paused to pose for them while they took selfies with him. Duh. We moved back to the end of the line and I did get a picture of him and Kristy together but he had to leave before I could get a turn. It was a fast and disappointing encounter. Which kind of sucks because Adam is my second favorite member of U2. In concert, he’s flirty and attentive to fans so I was a little surprised he was so brief with fans. He wasn’t unpleasant. I just suspected that he is less of an extrovert than Bono. (Everyone in the world is probably less of an extrovert than Bono!)

Next, Brian Murphy came by and told us that Bono was tired from rehearsals and needed to rest his voice, so he would not be stopping. He said, “Come back tomorrow.”

That baffled us because we thought the band were going to be flying to Ireland. Through the many news sources, we learned that drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s father had died on Sunday and was currently in Ireland for the funeral that would take place the next day. But, we later learned, the other members of U2 would remain in town the following day.

A few minutes later, a black SUV rolled slowly out of the garage. Through an open window in the back, Bono waved at the crowd. I noticed he was wearing some kind of hat. It was nice that his vehicle didn’t peel out of there quickly, which he could have easily done. Obviously Bono still wanted to acknowledge his fans.

“You’ll come out tomorrow?” someone shouted. Bono nodded. People applauded and the SUV continued down the street and out of sight.

It was still thrilling to see Bono drive by like that. I left feeling as though that might be as close to meeting the band as I ever got.

The next day, we decided that since the band had been out so late two nights in a row, we were not even going to go to the arena until around 5pm or later to spare us another long day of waiting. (I hate to admit it, but we waited outside the arena on Tuesday for about 10 hours. Yes, I’m that determined.)

So we took it easy, hanging around town. We had planned to go do something touristy in Vancouver, but never really got our stuff together enough to go anywhere. We, who aren’t used to the rock star schedule, slept in the next morning. We took a trip in the late afternoon to an ice cream shop and on our way back to our hotel, we passed the door from which the band had exited the night before.

Several people were brazenly milling about next to the driveway and garage door. We looked at each other in confusion and went to join them. No one seemed to have any direct information about what was going on. It was about 7:30pm and a lot of diehard fans were at a party hosted by one of the big fan websites. We did not see some of the usual people waiting.

About 10 minutes later, Brian Murphy appeared, coming around the building from the side of the arena–the side on which we’d spent several hours waiting on Monday night. He said that Bono might come out soon and he asked us to line up single file on each side of the driveway to wait. Once again, there was some chaos as fans shuffled to find a position. We took the lead to go start the line on the other side of the driveway. Others followed us. Brian looked wearily at the group.

“Don’t go into the street,” he said several times. “I don’t want anyone to get hit.”

He then nodded and started back in the direction from which he’d come. I was at the end of the line on the right side of the driveway and before he disappeared behind me, Brian put his hand on my shoulder. “Be careful,” he said to me.

Everyone was tense. We stared at the garage door. I took deep breaths, my stomach turned. Was this really going to happen? Was I actually about to meet Bono? It seemed unreal. As we waited, more people began to appear. We were starting to get nervous because if too many people showed up, it would ruin our chances of getting to meet Bono. The group was pretty small at the moment, but the more time ticked by, the more people would find out who we were waiting for, especially given the fact that word spreads like wildfire on social media.

I think we waited about 40 minutes or so. Time continued to tick by slowly. My friend Margaret appeared with her mother and I told her excitedly to get in line and filled her in. Then two friends of hers arrived. People were starting to spill into the street. Crap. I kept repeating Brian’s words of warning about the street so people started to line up behind me. I couldn’t believe how oblivious some people were behaving with the speeding traffic so close.

Suddenly the garage door began to rise, inch-by-inch revealing Bono from the feet up. He looked incredibly handsome, dressed in a black shirt with a dark suit top and black pants. He wore a pair of aviator glasses with purple tinted lenses. Just as quickly as turning on a light, the front man surveyed the crowd and beamed. All theatrics, he made swimming motions with his arms. Then he walked to the first people on my side of the driveway and began working the crowd. As he signed autographs, he talked to each person personally. He answered questions in an easy manner, laughing and responding cleverly.

Bono greeting fans.

Bono greeting fans.

More fan greeting.

More fan greeting.

Brian told us that Bono did not have time to take pictures with each of us personally, foiling our plans to each get a picture with him. In my head, I practiced what I wanted to say to him. I pictured shaking his hand and saying the simple words. That was all I needed to do. I repeated it in my head over and over as he moved down the line.

When he got to Kristy, who stood beside me, she said, “I want you to sign my iPhone case.” She  turned her iPhone over, revealing the custom case that featured a concert photo of Bono from circa around 2005 and offered it to him. She continued, “It’s you!”

Bono flashed a smile and said with patient amusement, “Yes, it is!”

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy's iPhone case.

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy’s iPhone case.

He signed her phone and they may have exchanged a few words. It was my turn, but before I could say anything, my friend Margaret got his attention and he moved on to her. Damn, I got passed by! I was fine with my friend having a moment with our hero, but I was about to miss my chance. This is not going to go down like Adam, I thought quickly. You need to stand up for yourself and say something!

I looked at Brian Murphy who stood to Bono’s side in front of me.

“Brian,” I said calmly. “He missed me here.”

Brian raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t get a chance?”

“No,” I replied.

“Okay, step around to the end of the line,” he said. He looked at the iPhone set to camera mode in my hand. “No pictures!” he reminded me.

“I know, I just want to tell him something,” I said as I moved behind the last five people to the end of the line. The other security guy looked over at me, (rightfully) ready to stop me from getting what appeared to him as an attempt to get more attention from Bono.

“Brian told me to go to the end of the line,” I said.

The security guy got Brian’s attention and Brian told him that it was okay. The unnamed security guy moved aside to let me come forward. Bono was still talking to the people next to me. A girl was telling him she was a doctor working on AIDS research.

“You have the real job,” he said to her with the most charming of smiles. He pointed to his chest. “What I do, that’s not a job.”

I couldn’t believe how humble he was. Here he was, the biggest rock star on the planet, someone everyone in this group admired, and he was telling this girl how much he admired her. I was stunned.

Bono signs a fan's shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

Bono signs a fan’s shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

And then the next thing I knew, he was standing right before me, looking right at me with those intense blue eyes behind purple lenses. All thoughts left my head. I had his full attention and for the life of me, my mind was completely blank.

“I forgot what I wanted to say,” I said out loud. Oh my god, I have this moment and now I’m going to blow it! my mind screamed. Think, Heidi, think!! Think!

Seconds passed away in silence. I knew I didn’t have much time to get it out. I swallowed. Then it came to me.

“I just wanted to say thanks for all the years of great music,” I blurted, hoping I sounded coherent. “It helped me through some really rough times.”

I always thought I’d tell him about Mike specifically, how the song “Walk On” had become my anthem for recovery all those years ago. But since realizing early on in the week that if I’d get any moment with any band member, it would be short, I made a quicker, less specific version of the speech in my head. I just wanted U2–especially Bono–to know that their music made a difference to individuals like me. I think if I’d ever written anything that inspired or helped someone, I’d want to know that I affected them in some way. To me, it was like speaking artist to artist, even if Bono had no idea that I too am an artist; or, at least, I aspire to be.

Bono smiled and replied, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ve helped us through some rough times as well.”

And then he reached his arm back inviting me into a hug. I immediately slid into his arm and hugged him back. In my mind, I’d always imagined he’d hug me after I’d told him some version of my practiced speech, so it was truly a dream come true. The scent of some wonderful cologne filled my nose. (Girls always ask how he smells and I can testify that he smells wonderful.) I was vaguely aware that I was hugging Bono. Wow. We both pulled away naturally and he moved on.

Words cannot even describe the elation I felt at that moment. Ever since meeting him and watching him interact with his fans (not just me), I can only come up with one way to describe him: “amazing grace.” He is honestly not like any other celebrity I’ve ever met. He has an aura around him that exudes a calm patience. He cares about giving each of his fans a special moment and he listens. He is the complete opposite of the egomaniac that his haters like to paint him as.

They say that meeting your idol can really ruin your love of his work. He might not live up to the expectations you have of him, or he might say something that makes you realize he’s not the man you imagined him to be from his work. But this is not the case with Bono. If it is at all possible, I feel like I love U2 more because of this experience.

It should also be mentioned here that U2’s security is just as accommodating as the band appears to be. They want you to meet the band too. I can think of dozens of rock stars who totally blow off their fans and their security treats fans with a disconnected callousness as though they are the enemy. But U2 surrounds themselves with good people too. The fact that Brian didn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well,” when I told him that Bono had passed me up just speaks volumes.

Shawn took the following sequence of pictures which pretty much tell the story of my meeting Bono perfectly. Note that in each photo, Brian Murphy even looks like he is happy for me that I got to have a moment with Bono. (Thanks for not using video mode. I sound like a dork under normal circumstances and I likely would have sounded worse in this case. I would die of embarrassment if I had to watch this interchange take place. It sounds better in my head.)

1. Waiting my turn.

1. Waiting my turn.

2. "Uh oh, it's my turn."

2. “Uh oh, it’s my turn.”

3. "I forgot what I was going to say!"

3. “I forgot what I was going to say! Aren’t I stupid?”

4. "Oh, yeah, you're awesome."

4. “Oh, yeah, you’re awesome.”

5. "Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!"

5. “Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!”

6. "This is the best moment of my life!"

6. The hug. (Brian is meanwhile relieved I’m not a freaky fan.)

"I'll never forget that. Thanks, Bono."

7. “I’ll never forget that. Thanks, Bono.”

Heeeeheee....

8. “Heeeeheee….”

7. "OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!" *SQUEE!*

9. “OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!” *SQUEE!*

Tiggers Don’t Always Bounce

Posted in memory of Michael R. Fronheiser who died on 4-14-2001. I always wanted to get this published… But I never really knew where to submit it. So here it is on my blog. At least it didn’t go to waste.

It happened while we were making love. Being newlyweds, we were always making love. My husband’s last moments were spent expressing his love for me, knowing that I loved him. People tell me that I should be happy about that. At least he didn’t die alone, right? We knew exactly where we stood with each other at that moment in time. No questions. It’s more than a lot of people ever get with their dead loved ones. But I find no comfort in it.

The fact that it happened while we were making love makes the betrayal even more bitter. It makes levity of his death, turning it into a scene from some stupid Hollywood comedy. It’s everyone’s favorite joke when facing the thought of their own mortality. “I want to die while having sex,” they pompously announce as though they were the first person to ever come up with the idea. “That’s the best way to go.”

My husband said it once too. A few weeks before he died, in fact. Not that there’s anything to that. People say that kind of stuff all the time. He’d probably said it before, but I had tuned it out. The last time stands out in retrospect because of its timing.

For some reason, I’ve never found this joke funny. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’d rather imagine my death as occurring in silence, away from the sight of those I love. I always thought I’d die when I was old, which was worlds away from the twenty-six year old I was then. I had fallen into the invincibility trap of youth. Though I had a fair idea of how life really worked, I never honestly believed either of us could die.

When people ask me how my husband died, I am usually vague in order to avoid the snickers and facetious grins that are sure to follow. Each jeer pierces my heart. That even one person could dare to find humor in what was possibly the worst day—the worst event—of my life drives me absolutely mad. But then, most of the people my age also believe the invincibility lie.

It was the Saturday morning before Easter. The forecast had predicted unseasonably warm weather for Northeastern Ohio. Mike and I were planning to meet up with a friend later to go bike riding along the towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was just about ten miles from our house. We were both training for the MS 150, an annual two-day 150-mile bike ride to raise donations for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mike traveled during the week for his job as a software trainer. He usually came home on Fridays and left on Sundays. So Saturdays were generally our day, our time to spend together. As usual, he was scheduled to fly out the following day.

We woke that morning to yellow sunlight flooding our bedroom despite the blinds over the windows. Almost immediately, Mike slid his hands under my t-shirt and caressed my back. I leaned into his touch. His hands were always warm, but his gentle touch made me shiver. He’d taught me the sheer pleasure of skin against skin.

“You always wear too many clothes to bed,” he teased in my ear, impatiently tugging my shirt up.

Sex was always the last thing on my mind when I first woke up. I usually wanted more sleep or food or at least some mouth wash. I was more of the spontaneous mid-day sort of seductress. Yet he always managed to persuade me, however groggy I was, because eventually I would forget being hungry or having stinky breath. He knew how to awaken my inner vixen.

This morning, the tone of our love-making was gentle, sweet. Amidst the passion, our hands sought each other as if to find every possible way our bodies could connect. As our hands clenched, our wedding rings struck together with a small melodious ring. The sound thundered in my ears.

You better remember that sound, some omniscient voice cut into my thoughts. It is the last time you will ever hear it.

I tried to dismiss this utterly ridiculous thought, drown it in some dark spot in my subconscious where all my randomly fearful, insecure thoughts lingered. I had probably heard that noise a million times before when our hands clenched during our intimate moments together. But this morning, I noticed.

A moment later I had almost forgotten the thought when Mike stopped. He slumped against the head board, a dazed look in his eyes.

“Oh, no,” he said rather evenly. There wasn’t much surprise there, just calm recognition.

“What?” I asked, half a giggle still ringing in my voice.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he stated. Again, nonplused. But yet, far away too.

I felt my smile fade, my own heart thumped in my ears. “Are you okay?” I asked tentatively.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he repeated in a whisper. There was a note of panic this time.

Shock is paralyzing. All I could do was look at him, speechless. For moments, I waited for him to say more, to give me some instructions that told me what he wanted me to do. I couldn’t tell what was going on, nor how badly he hurt. Surely, it couldn’t be that serious, I rationalized. I thought he was okay. Maybe he had heart burn, indigestion, I didn’t know. I was dumb with fear, helpless.

I did the only thing I could think to do at the moment: I leaned down and tried to listen to his heart myself. But my ears were roaring with the sound of a raging river. My own blood rushing through the veins in my ears? His blood desperately trying to push through his own veins in search of oxygen? I don’t know. I will never know. Unable to determine what was going on, I looked back up into Mike’s face.

His face was blue—literally blue. Like how they described asphyxiation in health class. I had always thought that “blue” was some sort of metaphor for the condition; I had no idea that it was an actual description.

I jumped out of the bed. But I was naked. I had to find clothes. More time passed as I fumbled for my nightshirt and shorts. I don’t know why I did this. My mind could only force one thought through at a time and I was determined to get my nightshirt on before calling 911. In retrospect, it seemed like I wrestled with my clothes for an hour; in truth, it was probably no more than two minutes. Regardless, I would curse myself over these actions in the days and years that followed. I would always feel—and still feel to this day—that my delay cost precious seconds that could have saved Mike’s life.

My hands fumbled with the phone as though I’d never handled one before. I was like the main character in a horror movie, struggling to complete a menial task while the killer sharpened his knife in the next room. You always think that if it happened to you, surely, you’d move much faster. My brain was frozen dumb in shock. I was no better than the mocked horror movie character.

I don’t remember how the call was answered. The line clicked twice and suddenly someone else was with me in this nightmare.

“Something’s wrong with my husband,” I fumbled, my tongue huge and bloated in my mouth. The panicked sound that emitted from my throat revealed much more fear than I felt. “He was complaining about his heart.”

“Is he conscious?” the all-too-calm voice droned in my ear. The female dispatch operator sounded far too deadpan. I got no comfort from it. Why did they always sound much more sympathetic on television?

I forced my eyes to return to the bed and my husband. I didn’t want to look, but I did. His face was so dark—not blue anymore, but a dark, dark red. Like dried blood. His chest was jerking up and down, erratically punctuated by deep, gasping wheezes. It was the worse sound I’ve ever heard. It didn’t sound human at all. Suffocation.

“No,” I croaked. I felt like I should be crying, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to over-react. At the same time, I vaguely worried that the operator would think me completely unmoved. Crying was like admitting the seriousness of the situation and I didn’t want to do that. It was going to be okay. I kept telling myself that it would be okay.

“Is he responsive?” that other voice pressed.

“I don’t think so. He hasn’t said anything since it began.”

Passive as ever, she asked me to confirm my address. I gave the information to her, waiting for her to give me some sort of instructions like they did on Rescue 911. Isn’t that what they do? Wasn’t there something I could do?

“Okay, a crew is on the way. Are you somewhere where you can let them in?”

“Yes,” I replied impatiently. Where were words of reassurance?

“Good. Just hang tight. They’ll be there as soon as possible.”

As soon as possible? How soon was that?, I wanted to scream. I wanted something more consoling than a vague assurance that an ambulance was on the way. There was a click on the line as the operator hung up. Weren’t they supposed to keep me on the line until the ambulance arrived? This didn’t seem like how it was supposed to work.

Feeling let down, I set the phone on the night stand and let my eyes wonder to Mike’s convulsing body again. He was naked, as I had been, and it occurred to me that I should get his boxers back on. I found them in the bed sheets, towards the footboard, wadded up as carelessly as they had been tossed off. I slid his legs through the pant legs.

When I got to his waist, the task became much harder. I never realized how heavy he was. Not that he was a heavy guy; quite the contrary, Mike was very trim, healthy. But in all my previous experiences, I was dealing with a conscious Mike. When you are conscious, there’s always some part of you still holding your own weight. Unconscious, I found, there was nothing preventing his weight from bearing full force against the mattress.

“Misha,” I crooned, using my nickname for him. “I need to get your boxers on.”

I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I said it anyway. Hearing my own voice out loud brought me comfort somehow, made me feel real.

“Mike, the ambulance will be here soon,” I promised.

There was no response, but I felt a little less alone. I yanked on the boxers, pulling them up as close to his waist as I could get them.

In those next torturous moments of waiting, I paced. I bit my nails. I reassured Mike that help was on the way even though I wasn’t all that sure. I paced some more. How long had I been off the phone? Mike’s chest movements slowed, and then stopped all together. Our bedroom fell utterly silent.

“It’ll be okay,” I chanted over and over again to cut the silence of the room. My eyes were still dry. “It’ll be okay.”

I began to hear the distant whine of sirens, almost imperceptible. It was 9:30am on a Saturday so there wasn’t the usual murmur of cars moving on the busy road outside the window. Like thunder in an advancing storm, the wail of the sirens grew louder as the seconds passed. Soon they were on my street. Then just outside the front door. The sickening toll of salvation.

I left the bedroom when the paramedics began to resuscitate Mike. I saw them pull out the defibrillator paddles. I couldn’t bear to watch. I just hoped they would do their job and he’d be okay. I busied myself with gathering all the medication Mike had been on. Having asthma and severe allergies, he required a daily regimen of medications. It was really his only physical weakness, and he didn’t like to admit it to himself.

I was the fastest white guy on the track team, he had boasted to me on several occasions, a proud gleam in his eye. He ardently took care of his ailments, but he didn’t let them prevent him from doing the things he loved the most. Like the pole-vaulting he’d done in high school and college.

I thought that maybe he’d had an asthma attack. I’d never witnessed an asthma attack before, even though my own mother had asthma. I hoped it was something as simple as that. People survived asthma attacks.

It was a long time before they carried Mike down the stairs on a gurney and wheeled him out the back door. By that time, I’d managed to think clearly enough to grab my address book. Some logical part of my mind, almost rational now that I had left the reality of the bedroom, told me that we would need the numbers to contact family. It was probably my smartest move all morning.

One of the paramedics hung back to walk me out the door. He didn’t seem too communicative, but I kept waiting for him to tell me something about what was going on. He only said, “Where do we take him? County or City?”

“City,” I replied immediately, remembering my bout with food poisoning a few years back. Mike had said to me back then that the county hospital was closer, but a “chop shop.” Of course, a hospital is a hospital, and taking him to County probably wouldn’t have made any difference. But my mind, in its frozen state, could only make decisions from habit and learned mantras. We never went to County. It had to be City.

I followed the paramedic team as they rolled Mike’s stretcher across the strip of lawn that was our backyard and into the back of the ambulance. Dave, the neighbor from two doors down, stood outside the gate to our porch, shirtless as usual despite the chill of the April morning.

“What happened?” asked Dave as I passed him. This was the first of many times I’d be asked this very question.

“I don’t know!” I snapped and pushed ahead. I was afraid he’d try to engage me in a conversation. It felt as though he were intruding on some private moment. I focused on my goal of the ambulance without looking at him.

I started to walk towards the back of the ambulance. My paramedic tugged me by the elbow and directed me towards the cab. I looked back, confused. On television, the spouse gets to ride in the back of the ambulance.

“Listen,” my paramedic said. “You have an important job. You need to watch the traffic and make sure we’re clear. Let me know if you see someone who isn’t pulling over.”

At the time, those directions somehow made sense. Looking back, I realize how ridiculous they are. I was being treated like a child, given a meaningless distraction to occupy my mind from the situation. And it worked. My eyes stayed on the road, though I did not say a thing to my paramedic as he drove.

One of the guys working on Mike in the back opened the curtain between the two compartments.

“Ask her if he’s taken any drugs we should know about,” he shouted over the loud rumble of the ambulance as it and all the equipment bounced with the grooves of the road. I’d never realized ambulances were so bouncy.

My paramedic, not missing a beat in his battle with driving, repeated the question as though I hadn’t heard.

“Drugs? Just his allergy medications. The ones I gave you.”

“No,” my paramedic said. “Not those kind.”

“No!” I was shocked at the suggestion. “He doesn’t do stuff like that. He doesn’t even smoke cigarettes.”

I glanced down at the paramedic peeking through the curtain. He looked back at me incredulously. Then, he slid the curtain shut again. I was left with a feeling of guilt not unlike the time I told my dad that the pack of cigarettes he found in the glove compartment of my college car belonged to my best friend. In this case, however, I’d told the paramedic the truth. He just didn’t seem to believe me. Maybe I was just paranoid, maybe the question was just standard. Yet I felt as though I were being blamed. Maybe I was to blame. Could he tell that I hadn’t called 911 the instant the attack began?

The ambulance was noisy and I couldn’t hear what was going on in the back. I didn’t know what they were doing to Mike. I kept picturing him waking to those austere men, hoping he wasn’t scared. I just wanted to hold his hand so he’d know I was there, that he wasn’t alone. Though just a few feet and a curtain separated us, it felt as though he were on another one of his business trips. I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t comfort him. I felt completely and utterly useless. Whatever was happening to him was beyond my meager first aid knowledge and my ability to do anything to help.

Dammit, Misha, I silently screamed. I was on the verge of tears I still wouldn’t let come. Crying wouldn’t help. I had to keep myself in check, though my insides were twisting into knots. Dammit, Misha, don’t you leave me here. I’m too young to be a widow.

I felt myself blush with guilt at the thought. Why was I always jumping to the worst case scenario? It was going to be all right, I told myself. They’d fix him. That was their job. He’d be fine.

Regardless, the thoughts continued to form words in my head.

Dammit, Misha. I love you. Don’t leave me here. Fight. It was the silent prayer I repeated over and over all the way to the hospital. It was probably the first—and only time—I had prayed in my entire life.

***

At the emergency entrance to the hospital, I was again immediately diverted from following the Mike’s gurney to its destination. About a year prior, I’d taken a different ambulance trip to this very emergency room when Mike threw his back out. That time, I’d been allowed to follow him to one of the segmented rooms where I’d waited with him for several hours until a doctor finally got the chance to examine him. The contrast between this trip and that one blared before my eyes. Everything was familiar, yet wrong.

I was escorted to the intake desk where I gave the all-too-cheerful secretary Mike’s insurance information. Her manner, a stark contrast to my turmoil, confused my senses. I wanted to be calmed by her demeanor because I thought perhaps she knew something I didn’t, and that I was, as I suspected, being a bit irrational. My stomach was tossing itself into knots.

Another attendant entered the room and looked right at me. “I’ve got good news,” she said.

My heart jumped into my throat. I knew it!, I thought with relief.

“He’s going to be fine,” she said with a smile. But before I could respond, she wrinkled her brow in thought. “You’re the mother, right?”

“Huh?” My heart drummed a single, loud thud that popped in my ears.

“You came in with the 13-year old boy…?” she continued.

The secretary interjected, “Oh, no. This is Mrs. Fronheiser. She’s in here with her husband.”

“Oh.” The attendant blushed. “I am sorry. I thought you were the mother.”

With that, she was off, leaving the chaos she’d created behind.

I tried to bury my disappointment by making light of the situation. “Do I look old enough to have a 13-year old?” I asked in mock disgust.

“Well, no,” admitted the secretary with a chuckle.

“I’m only 26,” I stated. Too young to be a widow.

Stop! chastised the voice on the other side of my mind. Everything is okay.

Between my inner dialog and the urgent need for information about my husband, I could barely concentrate on the terse conversation with the intake secretary. I distractedly gave her the information she needed while anchoring my eyes on the green and black glow of her computer monitor. I just wanted to get through this paperwork so that I could join Mike at his bedside, hold his hand, feel the reality of him. Even if he were unconscious, just the connection of our two hands would bring me comfort. And I didn’t want him to wake up alone.

As we finished up, I began to move in my seat. I was hoping they’d take me to him now, but I suspected I was going to have to wait in the gloomy room beyond the intake desk where all the people with less immediate illnesses and injuries waited their turn for treatment. However, before I could gather my things and move on to the next room, I was intercepted by a lady in a casual pantsuit.

“I’ve got it from here,” the newcomer said to the secretary. She then turned her eyes to me and extended her hand.

To this day, I don’t remember what her name was. I am not good with names and my brain was already in a sort of meltdown. The only word I retained from her introduction was her title: the chaplain. And that is the name I have always used to refer to her in my memory.

“We’re going to go to a quieter room,” she said as though this were the most normal thing to do in a hospital.

But I knew better. I’d been to the emergency room enough in my life—both as a patient and in support of someone else who was a patient—and I’d never been taken to a separate room. I didn’t even know the hospital had separate rooms, besides the rooms for the patients. People in movies weren’t taken to separate rooms. I started to feel light-headed.

“So, what’s going on with my husband?” I asked tentatively. “Do you know?”

“I don’t know. They are working on him, but I couldn’t see what was happening,” she replied. She was lying. I knew it instantly. I could just feel it. She didn’t even bother to try to make it sound convincing.

The room to where I was lead wasn’t any more impressive than the waiting room. It was the typical dully lit white-walled room for which hospitals are famous. Bright, uncomfortable furniture left over from the 70s lined with the walls, leaving the middle of the room completely bare. An old, pea green, dial telephone with a worn number pad sat on a cheap end table made of particle board and wobbly metal legs. I immediately took a seat on the couch next to the phone, folded my arms across my chest protectively, and put my feet on the beat-up coffee table in front of the couch. My eyes fell on the door the Chaplain closed behind her.

“It’s been a busy morning,” she commented. “Some days are like that.”

I didn’t respond. I had nothing to say to that. Something about my husband being a part of an abnormal influx of patients into the hospital bothered me.

I felt the Chaplain’s eyes scanning me up and down. “How long have you been married?”

I knew it was a tactic to distract me. Yet I fed into it. I needed to talk.

“A little over a year,” I replied.

“You have any kids?”

“No,” I said somewhat defensively. “We’re waiting.”

“Well, that’s a good idea,” the Chaplain said. “You’re still young.”

“We like to travel,” I said as if that explained everything.

The door opened and a pudgy woman slipped in. She glanced around the room nervous, didn’t meet my eyes. I can’t remember her name either, but she introduced herself as a social worker (which I had trouble believing given her state). I suddenly felt as though my head was being pushed under water.

The Social Worker didn’t say much. She occasionally added a comment or two, but she seemed more uncomfortable in the room than I did. The Chaplin quickly filled her in on the situation: wife is young, newly married, no kids.

“I’m not religious,” I stated evenly to the Chaplain. It was a warning to her that I didn’t need her to start in on any Bible-thumping. I also just wished she and her social worker friend would leave the room.

“That’s all right,” she said with the typical happily-Godified smile all religious people seemed to have. “I’m just here for support.”

“Well, I don’t believe in any of that stuff.”

“That’s fine,” she affirmed.

Silence.

The Social Worker picked up the conversation. “So what do you do?”

“I’m a technical writer,” I replied.

“And your husband?” prompted the Chaplain.

“He is a software trainer,” I replied. Is? Was? I suddenly couldn’t figure out what verb tense to use. Again, I felt bad for thinking that.

The Chaplain again. “You like to travel. Where have you been?”

“A lot of places. The Virgin Islands. Mexico on our honeymoon…” I said, slightly distracted by the mental image of the cruise to the western Mexican ports. “We want to go to Europe sometime.”

We want? We wanted…? I want…

The drowning feeling was getting worse, pressure was building in my ears as I sunk deeper. At the same time, I could see the faint shimmer of the surface light ahead of me. I wanted to swim towards it, but I couldn’t move.

“I hope he’s okay,” I said, looking helplessly at the door.

The Chaplain nodded to the Social Worker. “Why don’t you check up on him.”

The Social Worker slid quickly out of the room, seemingly grateful.

“Where do you live?” the Chaplain continued to press.

“Stow,” I said. “But we want to move to Colorado. We like to climb mountains and ski.”

I just couldn’t stop myself. I felt like the more I said about my life with Mike, the more I could keep him in it. If I just kept talking, kept affirming all of our plans and ideas for the future, everything would be okay. I could submerge that pessimistic voice in the back of my head, the one that kept spouting false prophecies. It was a twisted nightmare I was having with myself. I just had to talk myself through it.

“That’s really exciting,” the Chaplain said, smiling encouragingly. “My son moved to Alaska—just up and left, after graduating from college. He loves it there. He says he’d never move back.”

“Too cold.” I even mustered a slight smile. “I couldn’t take it.”

“But it’s beautiful country up there, I hear. Probably like Colorado. But I’ve never been there either.”

And the small talk went on a few more minutes. I felt like I was being torn in two directions between utter calm and complete fear. My patience was wearing thin. I kept picturing someone of authority bursting into the room, telling me it was a close call but my husband was all right and I could go and see him now. I saw myself walking into the large, partitioned area of the emergency room towards a bed on which Mike lay, his eyes grinning up at me even if the rest of him looked worn.

It’s okay, he’d whisper hoarsely. It was a close call, but I am okay.

Misha, don’t ever scare me like that again, I’d reply with relief. I love you.

He would give me a tired, but assuring smile. I would take his hand and squeeze it. What did I tell you, Fritzy? Tiggers always bounce.

He identified with the character Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. It was his typical response to anything that happened which might appear troubling to someone else. His training as a pole-vaulter made him capable of surviving falls that could seriously have injured most people. He consciously applied the same principles to survive the emotional falls he’d taken in his life. In truth, he did have the amazing ability to bounce where others would belly-flop. I guess I believed, like he did, that he was unbreakable.

I kept focusing on that scene, knowing it would come. I kept telling myself that I was being completely irrational in thinking that something was really wrong. We were young. We still had plenty of chances. Bad stuff like this never happened to me. It would turn out okay. I always found ways to cheat the rules of life. I would cheat this out too. I was smart, a hard worker; only good things could come to me.

I tried desperately to convince myself that everything was normal, despite what it looked like. I tried to rationalize being in a separate room from the rest of the emergency room clientele. It’s just precautionary because it’s a serious problem, I explained to myself. But he’s fine. You’ll see.

I tried to find a reason, other than a solemn one, why a chaplain and a social worker had been sent to babysit me. It’s because they think it’s a domestic dispute, I thought. They want to make sure I didn’t hurt him.

None of these explanations added up. I didn’t want to see the facts in front of my nose. My mind kept finding ways to explain around them:

They’re offering prayer services just in case I think it will help.

They’re just making sure I am not alone.

It’s just someone to talk to so that I don’t have to be alone in a hospital when my husband is unconscious.

I rationalized until I could rationalize no more. And then I waited, vaguely stumbling through polite and meaningless conversation with the Chaplain. Waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to give me some piece of information about my husband. It was a continual game of “beat around the bush.” Why couldn’t one person just be frank with me?

The door opened. I don’t know how long it had been since the Social Worker left, or even how long I’d been in that room.

A middle-aged balding man dressed in sea green scrubs entered the room. The Social Worker, worn and broken-down, followed close behind. A second woman followed at her heels and closed the door behind them.

The man nodded nervously, didn’t meet my eyes. “Mrs. Fronheiser?”

I nodded affirmation.

The man introduced himself as the doctor who was working on Mike. He asked, “Can you tell me what happened this morning?”

I sighed, confused. I summarized the ordeal as best as I could.

The doctor thought to himself for a moment, and then he asked, “How much time passed between your husband’s loss of consciousness and when the ambulance arrived?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know… five minutes? Fifteen? It seemed like a long time.”

He shifted in his chair. Still no eye contact. “I am not sure, but he may have had a brain aneurism.”

But he’s okay, right? I wanted to ask. I just waited in silence for the doctor to continue.

More silence. More waiting. All eyes in the room were on our conversation. Seconds ticked away as my mind soared. I knew what was coming, I could feel it. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the truth of the words.

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor uttered quietly, staring at his own feet, “your husband died.”

The world came to a grinding halt around me. Or so it seemed, as I sat there, just waiting to hear the next beat of my heart. Motion blurs obscured the walls like the background of Munch’s painting, The Scream. A dirty shade of yellow just passed over my eyes like someone pulling down a shade. The lights seemed dimmer. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

No, I thought defiantly. This is a dream. It’s not real. You’re still sleeping.

“No,” I moaned as if making a sound could tell me where reality lie. I can fix this. Just let me start the day over again. My mind was full of illogical thoughts. I kept thinking that I could change the outcome if given the chance to run through the morning again. Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn, selected the wrong choice. My thoughts raced to every detail of that morning.

Dead. Mike couldn’t be dead. We’d been in bed just an hour ago, making love. I could still feel his lips warming mine and his fingers running through my hair. Our hands had been intertwined. I’d felt his breath on my face. He couldn’t be dead. Not so quick, not without warning. He’d just been here, alive as ever. And now, they told me, he was no longer here. How could things change like that so suddenly?

This is not my life, I told myself. This is some other reality. I am not here.

The room truly seemed to dissolve around me simply out of the mere suggestion. I may have closed my eyes—I am not sure—but I lost visual image. Static pounded in my ears, matching the heartbeat I couldn’t feel in my chest, and dizzying me. I knew I should cry, but I couldn’t. It was like wanting to vomit because you felt sick, but only getting dry-heaves.

I wanted to be left alone. I was aware of the people in the room, though they were silent. I wanted to run away, go some place where I could think without an audience, where I could beg the Fates to rewind the morning and let me start over.

Someone touched both my shoulders and I yanked away. “Don’t touch me!” I yelled. “I am not like that.” The last thing I wanted was to be hugged by some strangers who did not know me or Mike or anything about my life other than what I told them.

“Okay, okay,” a voice came back. The Chaplain.

I open my eyes against the waves of static crashing in my head. I was curled sideways on the couch. I didn’t even remember moving. The room still looked dim and off-color in my eyes.

“Now, Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor—he was still there?—said. “The nurse here has some things to go over with you. I know you don’t want to do this now, but you have to.”

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nameless nurse interjected, “do you want to donate his organs? If so, we need to know quickly.”

“Donate his organs,” I again echoed dumbly. I was so confused. What if they just thought he was dead and they were wrong, and they started cutting up his body….?

“Mrs. Fronheiser?” someone prompted.

I blinked. “Can you… use… anything?” Everyone sounded like they were speaking to me through a phone made of tin cans and wire.

“Some bones, some ligament tissue… his eyes…” she stated. “Stuff like that. Not any major organs, though. We can’t use those.”

I couldn’t imagine it. I always thought it was a good thing to be an organ donor, but I never knew I would have to make the call. I didn’t know what Mike would have wanted. He wasn’t an organ donor on his driver’s license out of an irrational fear that a hospital would harvest his organs while he was still alive. For a moment, I entertained this fear too, wondering if he really were all right and I was being lied to in order to use his body for someone else’s life.

I thought about it all for a moment. We’d never discussed organ donation. Or funerals, burials, or anything else related to death. I think I’d told him once that I wanted to be cremated. He probably would have known that much. He’d never told me what he wanted, except that once he said he wanted to be released to wander in a backwoods wilderness when he ceased to be “useful to society.” Romantic ideas of the young. I had pictured wandering the wilderness with him when we were both old and grey. What was I supposed to do?

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nurse prodded. “We are also going to need to release his body to the coroner since we don’t know how he died. You need to sign this release.”

The nurse shoved a clipboard into my hands. I stared blankly at the paper, unable read it. This was happening too fast. I was feeling smaller and smaller by the second. I fumbled with the pen, managing to scrawl my name on the designated line.

“Are you going to donate?” pressed the nurse.

My mouth was dry, speechless.

“Perhaps,” interjected the Chaplain, “she’d like to see her husband.”

“Would you like to see your husband, Mrs. Fronheiser?” asked the nurse.

I didn’t want to really. But I knew I had to, or none of this would be real to me at all. I would keep thinking that it was a big mistake, that there had been a mix up and they had the wrong man, the wrong wife. I didn’t want to believe any of it.

I nodded numbly. It was all I could do. Coroner, donating organs, stroke—this is was all too much. Static continued to undulate in my ears. Little did I know, but this dizzying noise would continue to plague my brain from that moment forward whenever I was experiencing stress. Three years later, the static still pounds my ears from time to time, a harbinger of an arising situation I can’t control.

***

I slowly entered the small, empty, and isolated room. The only light in the room streamed from the hall through the window on the door, and Mike’s shirtless body lay on a gurney in the shadows. Lifeless, he was neglected there, his would-be saviors having moved on to the next patient in need.

He would have looked like he was sleeping, except I could see that his chest wasn’t moving. His body and his face were randomly splotched with red patches—his blood, no longer moving, pooled. Someone must have closed his eyes. He couldn’t have been like that.

The tears I’d sought so desperately suddenly pushed themselves out of my eye sockets. These tears were not driven by sadness, but instead a rage like none I’d ever felt before. I felt the rage climb like fire through my legs and push up my body to my head.

“YOU BASTARD!” I shouted, feeling and welcoming the anger that bubbled in my veins. It felt really good to scream. Even if my anger was directed at the person I loved most in my life. “How could you do this?! How COULD you!”

I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kick the walls and stomp my feet. I wanted to pull all my hair out. I wanted to punch those stupid, useless, glowing panels on the wall.

I continued, “Dammit, Misha! You’re a fighter! You were always a fighter. You said we could beat anything. Why didn’t you beat this?!”

I glared hard at the unmoving body on the bed, demanding it to tell me why it had let go. What had I done to make him give up? The naivety of my age led me to believe that we could conquer anything, even death itself, if we held onto life with all of our strength and refused to let go. Therefore, I reasoned that something I had done had made him want to leave.

“What did I do?” I demanded aloud. “What did I do to make you leave me? I know I was a horrible wife. I could have been a better wife! I am SORRY.”

Another incongruent belief I’ve always held: The word “sorry” could erase all mistakes.

My shouting echoed off the walls, probably reverberated out of the room and into the halls for all to hear; yet, my shouting stirred no reaction from the body on the gurney. The anger gave way to sadness; the sadness to self-defamation. I began to helplessly list all the things I was sorry about in our marriage—any fights we’d ever had, all the times I’d worked late when he wanted me to come home, the several times I neglected to call him when I was staying out late with friends. I was begging, bargaining my apology for his life. I kept thinking I could get him back if I just said the right things. Someone was trying to teach me a lesson, I reasoned. And now I knew how important he was to me. Lesson learned.

I approached his bed and threw myself against his chest. His body felt cold and stiff. How soon the body lost its temperature. His skin still smelled vaguely like the man I’d slept next to for the past three years, though with the stale odor of a hospital melded in it.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My tears made puddles on his unmoving chest.

“What am I going to do now?” I whispered. “What am I going to do?”

For the first time in my life that I could remember, I felt completely and utterly helpless. The unconquerable faith I had in myself to surmount all of life’s obstacles drained from my veins and oozed onto the white-washed floor of the hospital room. I watched my dreams—the dreams I had of my life with Mike—evaporate into the air. There would be no trip to Europe, no Colorado, no daughter named Sabine Patrice and no son named Korbin Michael; there would only be me and the fading memory of a dream I had once when everything seemed possible.

At that moment, I passed from whimsical youth to the reality of adulthood.

All That I Can’t Leave Behind

(Posting this entry to enter into a contest on U2.com contest. I know some of my readers have heard this story before. Just hang tight!)

Though I had been a U2 fan since high school, my first concert was May 3, 2001 at the then Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. I almost didn’t go to the show, for less than a month earlier, on April 14th, my first husband, Mike, died at the age of 32. I’d bought the ticket with three other friends many months earlier. Like many of the other commitments I’d made prior to this major shock in my life, I tried to bail out from going to this show. Thankfully, my friends refused to let me back out. I don’t remember many details of 2001—I suffer a kind of grief-shock black-out from that year—but that U2 concert was one of the bright spots of happiness that stand out for me in that year  after Mike’s death.

We originally had bought the cheapest tickets, which gave us nosebleed seats in almost the very last row at the top of the arena. My friend, Kamill, however, knew one of the people who worked at the Gund, and he asked him if we could get our seats upgraded. His friend told us that he would see what he could do, that he’d come get us at our assigned seats if he could help us out. From our seats in the nosebleeds on the side of the arena completely opposite of the stage, we watched PJ Harvey jump around, a tiny dot on the stage, and we were depressed. We’d hear the music, sure. But we wouldn’t see much of the emotional delivery and showmanship for which U2 is known. The arena was filling up fast and it didn’t seem possible to us that any better seats would be available to us.

We were waiting impatiently after PJ Harvey’s set when Kamill’s friend appeared and motioned us to follow him. We got up, excited, following him down past all the rows of the upper level; down further into the lower level. And then down again into the last section before the floor. With each step, the details of the stage came into focus. I could see the crew and techs running about preparing the equipment for U2. I would have been happy if he had given us seats at any point on that lower level, but he just kept moving us closer and closer and closer. Until we were just left of the stage, in the second row from the floor of the arena. Right next to the stage on The Edge’s side.

Throughout the show, we were close enough to see every expression on The Edge, Bono, Adam, and Larry’s faces. I forgot about my pain and my sadness. My spirit was lifted up by the freedom of sound, of Bono’s warm voice and his passionate delivery of each song, particularly during “Walk On.” I know that this song was written for Aung San Suu Kyi; however, I’ve always felt the words spoke to my particular turmoil that year:

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong …

Walk on, walk on …
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it

Those words reminded me that though my husband and I were separated by the darkness between life and death, the love we had felt for each other was something extraordinary, something we had that could never be taken away from me. From that moment on, the song became my anthem. It helped me to forgive my friends and family for not understanding what I was going through, to forgive all the people who had said thoughtless, insensitive things to me about grief and my husband’s death. Most importantly, it helped me to let go of my anger. To walk on.

Being at that U2 concert was better than any medicine I could have been prescribed for my grief. Being given the gift of the best seats I’d ever had at any concert, let alone my favorite band, U2, at that moment, was the answer to a prayer I’d never vocalized. For just one night in that very long year, I was the same girl I’d always been. It felt good to not be a widow for just a few hours. I’m forever grateful to U2 for helping me to fight off the darkness that threatened to engulf me that year.

U2ElevationTicket

Upgraded ticket.

U2 Continues to Surprise and Deliver

U2

U2 reinvent themselves with Songs of Innocence.

As any reader of my blog knows, I’m a HUGE U2 fan. The kind of fan who follows the band on tour to multiple shows, waits hours in a general admission line so to get the best spot possible to see the band, and who once, admittedly, stayed overnight at a posh hotel I thought the band would stay at in hopes of catching them for a picture, autograph and quick spewing of praise (it didn’t work out as I’d hoped). It’s true that Bono is probably the celebrity I most long to meet. I love everything about this band, including Bono’s activism. Their music is the soundtrack of my life from childhood through adulthood, even before I knew who they were. Their music means so much to me on a personal level–it grabs me right in the heart and says all the things I feel without words.

So, of course, when it was leaked and later somewhat revealed that U2 would be a part of Apple’s new iPhone 6 presentation, I dutifully plugged myself into the presentation, half-watching on my own iPhone at work. I listened through the hour long presentation, waiting with baited breath for some word of U2. Bleh bleh, iPhone 6.. Bleh, bleh cool AppleWatch (which would only be cool if it were an actual phone and not an accessory to your phone). What I was expecting was that U2 would play single from their forthcoming album, announce the new album’s release date, and then enable the new single for purchase. Which, of course, I’d dutifully download because new U2 songs have been few and far between (I downloaded “Invisible” for free when it was offered and I bought the “Ordinary Love” single when it was released as a limited edition vinyl last November). I’ve been waiting at least four years for a new album so I was pretty excited that they might finally have something ready for release. They’ve teased us fans since 2010 about a new album they were working on… and I’ve grown rather antsy in anticipation.

I totally did NOT EXPECT that a new album was about to get dropped into my lap. I could not believe my ears when Bono asked Tim Cook if the new album could be dropped to all iTunes users’ accounts at that moment. Oh, the utter surprise was well worth the four year wait! Forget about work the rest of the day, my mind was blown. Leave it to U2 to blow my–and everyone else’s–mind.

Being a huge fan, I admit that I’m probably not the most unbiased person to write a review of the album. I even liked the rather unfavored No Line On The Horizon (2009). How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005) was a long-time favorite of mine because it sounded old-school (whereas most fans did not like it because it was seen as more of the same) and because at that time in my life, after moving back to Ohio from Colorado, songs like “Miracle Drug” spoke to me. My favorite U2 album is the often ridiculed October (1981) because it is raw, emotional, full of spirit and bold, brave musical experimentation. In fact, I don’t honestly think that there is a U2 album that I dislike. Some albums resonate with me more than others. But I listen to them all.

In the recent years, U2 has struggled internally with themselves in a quest to stay “relevant” in the music scene, which has absolutely driven me–and a lot of other fans–insane. I don’t feel like relevancy is something you lose once gained. U2 will always be relevant because they have left a mark on musical history that is in line with the greats like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, even the Rolling Stones.  Their performance at Live Aid in the early 80s made the world take notice, The Joshua Tree (1987) sealed their relevancy in musical history, and ZooTV, the tour that supported Achtung Baby (1991), was revolutionary.

What U2 seeks is a continued place in the current musical scene. They want new fans, not just us old time devotees. I think when a band has reached the age they are at, when possibly the best years of their musical life is behind them, they still want to feel “loved.” On some level I understand as an artist myself (who has yet to write her own The Joshua Tree), I can imagine how it must be like for them to have written such great “best sellers” as The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and then have to move beyond that. How can you top the greatest music you ever wrote? It’s the same as living down a best selling novel, I’m sure, and the world at large is ever the critic, comparing your latest work to the old masterpieces, and evermore predicting–and almost relishing in–your “downward slide.”

I understand U2’s desire for their former glory, but it really has worn my patience thin at times. It’s like listening to your lover berate himself over and over. I’ve wanted to shake Bono myself and scream, “You’ll always be relevant to me! I still love you!” After awhile, you even get worn out from telling your lover that he’s wonderful when all he continues to see is failure.

I’m also a huge fan of Greg Dulli (lead singer/songwriter of The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers). What I’ve always loved and respected about Dulli is the fact that he produces what he feels like writing at the time and he doesn’t given a crap (or at least he does not appear to) what the public or the reviewers say. He cow-tows to no one’s desires. He’s never been in a band that has seen the fame of U2 and maybe that’s what keeps him going. But I respect the fact that he does not try to reproduce Gentlemen or Black Love (which are probably the albums for which The Afghan Whigs are most known). He just evolves musically without appearing to try too hard. I have often wished U2 would share a similar attitude–that they would just produce what they wanted to create and ignore what the general public has to say. I think that is probably the most freeing way to create music and art.

With all these thoughts in mind, I had some serious concerns about the new album U2 was rumored to be making. Forced art often feels forced. I was afraid they might be trying a bit too hard. They were deliberately using new record producers, straying from their usual go-to men–Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite–to look for a new sound. They started sessions with Rick Ruben and aborted those. They brought in Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) who then seemed, most recently, frustrated by the project in an article I read. And lastly, Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic front man) and Paul Epworth were brought in. Too many cooks?

Needless to say, I was very, very nervous as U2 stepped out on stage at the Apple release. What was I about to hear? Within the first couple notes of “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” I glanced down at my phone to see Adam Clayton really rocking his bass. Woah. I’m a huge fan of bass–my favorite songs always have a prominent bass line. I don’t remember the last time Adam looked so alive playing a song.

Of course, I downloaded my copy of the album and immediately began playing it. Since then, according to my iTunes play count, I’ve played the entire album 7 times and some of the songs over 10 (“Volcano,” currently has 25 plays).

Songs of Innocence is undoubtedly the most directly personal album that U2 has written since October. The lyrics cover some of the themes Bono has grappled with his whole life in many songs–the death of his mother, religion/faith, terrorism, growing up–but are backed by fresh music and some of the tightest lyrics Bono and The Edge have written in a long time. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), “California (There Is No End To Love),” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” are homages to the music that woke Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry to the music scene in their youth–The Ramones, The Beach Boys, and The Clash respectively. The album is surprisingly cohesive given the multiple producers credited in the liner notes. The bass and drums have come alive again with the band, which has been a quality sorely lacking in previous releases, and they sound daring like U2’s early catalog.

My thoughts on the individual tracks:

“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” – Catchy and bold. Played live at the Apple premier, I could see joyfulness on the faces of all the band members. Leading off the album, “The Miracle” heralds a change in musical style for the band. After a few listens, this song became one of my favorites on the album.

“Every Breaking Wave” –  To be honest, I was in love with the stripped down acoustic version of this song that U2 played during some shows on the 360 tour. I’m struggling to get over the very cheap rock riff in the background to the song. The lyrics are still beautiful, but I wish they applied a little less production to this song. I hope that when they play it live, they return to the acoustic format. This is the most bland sounding song on the entire album to me and may end up as the track I skip most often once I really get tired of its newness. A part of me cries inside to say that. I wanted so badly to hear this original version of this song live, but I was never at a show where they played it.

“California (There Is No End To Love)” – My first impression of this song was, “Oh my God, how hokey. My favorite band has turned hokey.” The “Santa Barbaras” were very off-putting and I thought the song was kind of a strange direction for the band. However, after a few more listens, and reading the liner notes, I realized that the song is homage to The Beach Boys. Taken in that context, the song is much more palatable; shutting off indignant fan within me, I grew to enjoy the song. It’s pleasant and a bit of a dare for them to use a cheesy hook like chanting  “Santa Barbara” and get away with it. Once the chorus cuts off, there’s a nice summery melody that is hard not to like.

“Song For Someone” – I really love the chorus. This is one of those ballads where The Edge’s backing vocals compliment Bono’s lead vocals so well. I feel compelled to sing the chorus: “This is a song… for someone!” The line “From where I was and where I need to be” makes me think of “North Star,” an unreleased song played on the 360 tour, which makes me wonder if “Song for Someone” is the final evolution of the song. In “North Star,” the similar lyric is “Is where you are and where I want to be.” Some part of the melody of both songs seem to be somewhat similar.

“Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono calls his mother by name in this wistful song of loss and longing. While October‘s “Tomorrow”‘s lyrics haunt with the plea, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?”,  “Iris”‘s lyrics beg, “Hold me close and don’t let me go / Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know.” Bono’s mother died when he was 14–she would never know the man he became. Some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album are wrapped up in this song, single one-lining punches that convey so much: “The universe is beautiful but cold,” “Iris says that I will be the death of her / It was not me.” Never has Bono been so straightforward in a song with his emotions about his feelings about his mother. There is no doubt that I will cry if this song is played live.

“Volcano” – This is the track on U2’s new album that, I think, harkens most to their early music. That bass line — bold, upfront, in your face. I’m so happy to hear the bass again in U2’s music. In Boy (1980) and especially October, Adam had a carefree, “I’ll play whatever the flip I like” approach to his bass playing (because back then, I suppose, he didn’t really know how to play bass so he just didn’t care). Bono’s “Vol-CANE-oh” chorus with the falsetto sounds so retro 1980s, yet at the same time, the sound is very fresh because U2 was never one to use cliché 1980s sound. “Volcano” is a modern ode to early 1980s U2 and that whole decade of music without sounding hokey. My absolute favorite song on the entire album. (It currently has 26 plays in iTunes.)

“Raised By Wolves” – Classic riffs by The Edge in the background mixed with interesting new electronic mixes. Love the eerie echo-y keyboard effect.

“Cedarwood Road” – Instantly a favorite on the first listen. I have had this song stuck in my head all weekend. I love everything about this song, from the really thumping, hard guitar riff to the melodic refrain, to what I feel are the best lyrics on the whole album. “Sometimes fear is the only place / That we can call our home.” Bono is best at painting pictures with simple language. Threaded throughout the song is the image of a cherry blossom tree as a symbol of freedom and escape from the rough reality of his childhood. (I read somewhere on the internet that this tree was actually in the yard of his childhood best friend Guggi and that he spent a lot of time there as a teen. I’m cheating a little in my interpretation.)

“Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – This song is intentionally creepy. In the liner notes, Bono seems to indicate that the song is about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church. I absolutely love the verse where Bono sings falsetto, “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” It seems appropriate at that moment in the song, pleading and desperate and painful. I can hear notes of Danger Mouse’s influence in the keyboards and spooky electronic noises. This is perhaps the most un-U2 sounding song on the album, but it holds the promise of a darker direction that would be an interesting evolution for the band.

“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” – I think this song sounds the most like a Broken Bells song out of all of them–especially at the 1:19 mark where that whistling synthesizer noise comes in. Bono credits this song to Joe Strummer of The Clash. I can’t speak too much to the interpretation of this song or its specific references to The Clash. It’s a great tune, though, and flows well with the second half of the album.

“The Troubles” – A typical quiet closer for a U2 album with backing vocals by Swedish singer Lykke Li. A haunting reflection on grief, Bono states in the liner notes, “There is no end to grief… that’s how I know there is no end to love.”

Overall, a really surprisingly solid album. I feel like U2 is back on the music scene and I’m really hopeful that this one helps fulfill their desires for “relevancy.” Despite all the backlash from them “foisting” their album on iTunes users, several of U2’s albums have risen to the top 200 sold on iTunes since the release of Songs of Innocence on Tuesday; before Tuesday, these albums were not on the top 200 list at all. So I have to applaud the bold act U2 took in releasing this album the way they did. Once again, they found a way to get the world to pay attention. Even negative publicity is publicity. I look forward to the rumored second release of Songs of Experience and the lately mentioned Songs of Ascent. Could it really be 3 releases by U2 in the next two years?

Though I have to admit that I can’t help but feel that a triple release from a band that takes years to release albums may be their swan song to the world. Bono has stated numerous times that he wasn’t going to be an old, dried out rock act like The Rolling Stones, holding it out until the bitter, sad end. If this is U2’s last big kick before departing the music scene for good, I’m going to make sure I enjoy every second of it. Time to save that money for concert tickets…

On and Off the Road

On August 9-10, Crow and I completed our forth Roscoe Ramble together, marking three years that we have been together as a couple. We trace the beginning of our relationship back to the ride in 2011 when sparks flew between us as we conversed over beers at Uncorked in Roscoe Village. We actually had our real first date earlier in May; however, I got cold feet and kind of nipped the possibility of a relationship in the bud by blowing him off after that date. (It was easier for me to avoid relationships than deal with the emotional messiness of getting involved in one. I’ve since seen the error of my ways.)

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

So since Roscoe Ramble marks the length of our relationship, we really can’t help ourselves in signing up for the ride every year. I thought we might take the year off to instead watch the Civil War reenactment at Hale Farm, which always falls on the same weekend as Roscoe, but then around July, I felt a void in our schedule and we decided to go anyway. We even fit this ride in last year after returning from our three-week honeymoon the weekend before the ride! (Fortunately, next year’s Roscoe Ramble is set for a weekend later, so Crow and I might be able to see the Civil War reenactment and do Roscoe Ramble. Hopefully, Hale Farm won’t push the Civil War reenactment out a week!)

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together.

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together. (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

Since we started doing Roscoe regularly, we’ve ridden the 75 mile once (2012) and the 50 mile once (2013). This year, we chose to do the 75 mile route again, which was a little bit of a stretch being neither of us have gotten the riding in this year that we wanted to. With all the chaos that was our life in the spring, this is only the second two-day ride of significant miles we’ve done… and, actually, only the second organized ride we did this year. I felt a little out-of-shape, but I still managed to get up all the hills. The weather was perfect all weekend, too–warm, sunny, in the 70-80s.

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

For the last two years, we’ve been enjoying the pool at the campground. There are two waterslides–one for inner tubes and one body slide–and we really have fun going down those. We’ve become quite the fans of water slides since our adventure at Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA in 2012. Because it was so warm during the climbs on Roscoe this year, it felt totally refreshing to cool off in the pool!

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

On Day 2 of Roscoe, we decided to go rogue and taking the bike path to Fredericksburg from the first rest stop in Kilbuck. Not so much to avoid the small climbing on the roads between Kilbuck and Fredericksburg, but because, honestly, the route is really not that exciting. I’ve done that Day 2 route now about four times and it’s all right. A lot of bumps on some of the roads, a lot of traffic, and really not all that scenic. Day 2’s highlights are really all in the ride out of Coshocton which are long, climby steep county roads with little traffic. And it always seems to be foggy, which lends a certain ambiance to the ride. After Kilbuck–and it’s not the fault of the ride planners, I’m sure there aren’t that many routes in that part of Ohio–it just gets kind of bland for awhile. At least on the bike path, you can enjoy a nice fast-paced push back to Fredericksburg along tree-lined pavement and you get a reprieve from cars.

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong!

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong! (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

The trail is shared use with bikes, hikers, and Amish buggies. So there are some “road apples” to avoid. One of the Roscoe Ramble routes used to use this 15-mile stretch of bike path. I heard that people complained because one time the trail was wet after a rain and there was lots of poop-splashing going on. I did that ride and I don’t really remember it being all that bad. I guess maybe I wasn’t thinking about it too much, that what I thought was mud was actually horse poop. Eh. Whatever. It all washes off with soap and water. I also heard that the reason the trail is no longer on route is because it’s hard to SAG support that section.

Either way, we both kind of prefer the bike trail. So, we did it. And it was a good thing, too, because honestly with as little as I’ve rode this year, I was toast by the end of the ride. Which really shouldn’t be the case for a 75 mile ride in August. But… well… maybe I’ll do much better next year! (Pray for no more water issues in the Woods’ basement.)

The weekend after Roscoe Ramble, Crow and I took off for some camping and mountain biking in Michigan. My first mountain biking trip! I was so stoked! I also like that many mountain biking trips involve car camping. Yay! I love life in a tent! Campfires! Fun!! I can totally get into this mountain biking lifestyle!

We left on Friday for a three-day weekend. Crow had a lot more trails planned for us to do than we were actually able to get to–the downside of riding with a slow poke beginner. But I felt I got my first taste of what mountain biking is truly about. At this point, I was still leery about using clipless pedals so I was on flat pedals.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

On Friday, we hit Maybury State Park, where I gained a false sense of confidence about Michigan trails. Maybury was pretty moderate–not much harder than anything I’ve ridden in Ohio–so I incorrectly assumed that the rest of the trails in Michigan were going to be right up my alley.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Additionally, the trail was running in the opposite direction that it normally does because there was going to be a race there on the following day. I don’t know if the trail usually runs faster or if it’s more difficult in the normal direction.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

The next day, we planned to take a long ride. We went to Holdridge and started on the East Loop trail. We intended to do the whole 18 miles but as we got further into this trail, I felt a little in over my head. For me, the short, steep hills were challenging. After several failed attempts at climbs I should have been able to do (would have been able to do on the road), I realized that my method for getting up hills road bi

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

king would not work for mountain biking. On the road, the surface is smooth so momentum is less important (unless, of course, you have no momentum at all). So when I’m making a climb on the road, I always use the most difficult gear I can handle (in the granny ring, of course), and then I drop to the next lower gear as the hill gets tougher. This is a psychological game I play with myself so that I do not bottom out to my lowest gear too quickly; that way, if the hill gets steeper, I still have  lower gear to switch into. Once I run out of gears, all I have left is standing on the pedals, which I prefer not to do, and there’s only so much power you an get for so long out of standing. Being in a tougher gear makes you go slower, but since the pavement is pretty smooth, you won’t lose momentum.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

This technique does not work mountain biking because of the many obstacles on the trail–primarily tree roots and rocks. Not to mention the fact that the dirt itself is already tougher to spin on than pavement. Every time I’d get into a climb, I was in too high a gear, moving slowly. As soon as my tire hit a tree root or a rock, the bike would pretty much stop. I also had a problem where my tire would lift or bounce off the trail while I was climbing because I did not have enough momentum. Most of the time when I looked at my gears after failing at a climb, I was in way too high of a gear.

A "rest stop" along the Lake Loop.

A “rest stop” along the Lake Loop.

One of the problems with getting into the right gear mountain biking is that you often come up on a steep hill when you’re going pretty fast in a high gear. So I have to learn to change quickly from a high gear down to a low enough gear to climb.

I still had fun, though. After a few mental break-downs and fits of frustration. We ended up cutting off the East Loop using the return at the 7 mile mark. We still ended up completing about 14 miles of the East Loop. After a short break for lunch, we hit the West Loop, including the 1-mile Lake Loop, for another 4 miles. For the most part, this trail was less difficult; however, it did involve one horribly steep climb that I didn’t even attempt. (The horribly steep climb was the new bi-pass for an even more terrible climb… Seriously, they weren’t much different.) The Lake Loop had some long stretches of flexible mat–basically, a long boardwalk–that made me a little nervous. One spot had two trees on either side of the flexible mat right on a turn. I almost rode off the mat on that turn and crashed. As it was, I ended up getting off my bike to prevent falling off the mat and ended up getting a handlebar jabbed into my abdomen. Ouch.

We finished at Holdridge with the North Loop which was totally flat and easy. It’s just a few miles long. I ended the day with about 20 miles, a lot of bruised confidence, and feeling completely beat up. But good thing you can drink alcohol in Michigan State Parks! Crow and I sipped beers in the parking lot before heading back to camp.

 

Beer drinking selfie.

Beer drinking selfie.

Crow’s friend, Dick, joined us at camp for the evening as he was returning home from visiting family in Michigan. We had a really great time sitting by the campfire (once we painstakingly got it started) until midnight. We cooked our meal over the campfire and, for the first time in ages, I had a hobo pie with blueberry pie filling. I forgot how good those damned things are. When I was a camp counselor one summer, we had our campers making entire meals using hobo pie irons. For dinner, we made pizza–two pieces of bread with pizza cause, cheese, and usually pepperoni; for dessert, two more pieces of bread with any number of pie fillings (it was different every week). The kids could cook them themselves without much supervision and even the pickiest kid enjoyed eating them. I think that was probably the last time I had a hobo pie… and I’ve had these hobo pie irons for over 10 years (I got them from my former father-in-law for Christmas or something). I’d been lugging those things along with my camping gear through multiple moves, but never once managed to remember them when I had a campfire going… It took Crow discovering them to lug them out. I’m so glad he did!

The next day, I was feeling pretty shot and a lot less confident after the previous day’s failures. So we decided to go to Lakeshore instead of Pontiac Lake since it was technically supposed to be easier. Crow had wanted to do both trails, but I honestly was not feeling up to it at that point. During the previous evening, it had rained some at the campground, but it never got very heavy. However, the trails at Lakeshore were damp so it must have rained a bit more. Add damp to my dying confidence and it was really not my best day.

More Lakeshore Park riding.

Mountain biking at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore is a neat trail, though. Unlike Holdridge (which is more typical of Michigan), the brush is sparse and you can see most of the trail and switchbacks ahead of you. It’s kind of weird because you can see people winding parallel down the trail who are way ahead of you. I was extra careful going over the wet roots, bridges, and rocks. There were several log piles and I tried a few of the smaller ones. I also had fun riding my bike over the pump track (I did not do it like a proper pump track, however; I pedaled).

Mars Girl riding at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore Park has great sight lines.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Overall, the weekend was really fun! Since returning from the trip, Crow and I rode Royalview in Strongsville and I went on a group ride with CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) at Bedford. I’m getting better at it and having some fun. It will be awhile before I feel like a decent mountain biker, though. After the Michigan trip, however, I did decide to put clipless pedals on my mountain bike. It will help me with momentum up those steep hills. I’m still getting used to being in the clips on a mountain bike… So it almost felt like starting over. I’d hoped after Michigan that I’d feel more confident on the easier Ohio trails… that hasn’t happened yet! But at least I haven’t given up! We’ll see how much I improve over the next year….

Pelee Island, Revisited

Crow and I had to cancel our plans for a self-contained bike tour on the Maine coast this year due to The Flood and all the ensuing issues with the house that it caused, thus relinquishing us of our normal surplus of cash. We weren’t about to let The Flood ruin our whole summer, however; we decided to take a few small weekend trips now that we have some breathing room for fun. Of course, the Roscoe Ramble bike ride was already in our plans since that is kind of a special ride for us because it’s where our romantic relationship started in 2011. But we wanted to plan a few other get-aways. So we decided to each plan a trip. Crow came up with a mountain biking trip near Ann Arbor that we’re going to go on in a few weeks. I chose Pelee Island.

I’d been to Pelee Island once before–seven years ago–and I’d been meaning to go back every since. One of several islands located on Lake Erie, Pelee is located in Canadian waters. Unlike the US islands of South Bass (Put-in-Bay) and Kelley’s Island, Pelee is pretty primitive. There are two campgrounds, four restaurants, a winery, a bakery, the “co-op” (a very minimal grocery store), a post office (located in the co-op), two marinas, a few gift shops an airport, and plethora of B&Bs. Only a few roads are paved, the rest are dirt and gravel. Because the island does not have the population of the other islands, nor does it have a thriving nightlife, it is very laid back and quiet. The perfect place to get away and forget about the world.

For people who enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty to do on Pelee. Originally when I planned the trip, I figured Crow and I would have a lot of down time in which we’d just lounge on the beach, swimming and relaxing. I brought my Kindle and a journal for jotting down stuff for my novel, figuring that I would have a lot of time to read and write. I remembered that there were only really a few things specifically to see on Pelee and I guess I thought we’d do see and do everything on one day. Still, I booked a four day weekend because I figured that two full days at Pelee would give us a chance to experience everything.

Friday

Total miles biked: 20.69

We took the first ferry running to Pelee out of the Sandusky. The 3:30pm departure time gave us a leisurely start to the day (we did all our fretting the night before with last-minute packing!). We arrived in Sandusky at around 1:00 which allowed us time to have lunch at a nearby Irish pub called Daly’s. We then loaded our bikes and walked across the street to the dock to get our ticket and board the ferry.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander--the ferry to Pelee Island.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander–the ferry to Pelee Island.

The ferry takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to cross the 26 miles of lake to get to Pelee. Along the way, passengers are treated to a lakeside view of Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky) and the US islands.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

The view of Pelee Island’s West Dock from the ferry was exactly as I remembered it. Not much had changed on the island, apparently, in the last six years since I’d last visited, except for a new Customs building that I was pretty sure had not been there before (I later confirmed in looking at my old photos from the first trip that I was right.)

Put-in-Bay's Perry's Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Put-in-Bay’s Perry’s Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Arrived at Pelee's West Dock.

Arrived at Pelee’s West Dock.

I made reservations for East Park Campground. The first time I went to Pelee, I stayed at the campground at the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I was not really impressed with this site as it was not very private and, being part of the busier area of the island (I’m not sure if this is considered “downtown” on Pelee), it tended to be a bit more noisy. The “campground” was basically a field outside of the restaurant.  The only advantage to this location is that you can bring and consume alcohol on the premises, which you cannot do at East Park Campground–Pelee’s other campground. Not really a big deal as there are plenty of places to consume alcohol on the island; I certainly wasn’t going to miss not being able to drink at my actual campsite.

The only other downside to the East Park Campground is that the water has not been cleared for drinking. It’s fine as long as you boil it, though, so between that and buying very reasonably priced jugs of water from the camp store, we were fine all weekend. Turns out there are no public places on the island that have potable water you can get for free. I didn’t remember this detail from my last trip out.  According to the Pelee island website, the water at the “majority” of the local establishments is cleared for drinking. However, we found that almost all the restaurant (except for Scudder Bar & Grill) serve you (and charge you for) bottled water when you request water. I’m not sure if this is because of the water situation or if Canada is more similar to the countries in Europe who won’t serve you tap water no matter how nicely you ask.

East Campground is located approximately four miles from the West Dock, obviously on the other side of the island. With our loaded bikes, it took us about fifteen minutes to arrive. Right away, I liked this campground so much better. There were several private sites surrounded by trees. After checking in, we chose site 12 and it became our happy home for three nights.

Site #12 upon arrival.

Site #12 upon arrival.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

We did discover, however, that we were being monitored by a strange alien creature….

Strange alien mushroom being.

Great Mushroom Being

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I cower in fear of the Great Mushroom Being.

By the time we got all set up and unpacked, it was about 7pm. Excited to start exploring, we decided to head off back down the main road to find food and libations. I originally thought we’d hit the winery, but it turns out close every day at 8. Even Fridays. So we ended up going to the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I learned that Lake Erie walleye is called “pickerel” in Canada. Whatever you happened to call it, it was delicious and fresh at Anchor & Wheel. Especially washed down with a wine spritzer.

Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we headed back to camp despite the predicted 0% chance of rain for the day. Go figure. This set the precedent for the remainder of the weekend.

Saturday

Total miles biked: 28.67

Establishments Patronized: Pelee Island Winery, Scudder Bar & Grill

We woke Saturday morning to sun and warm temperatures. I could almost forget that a 40% chance of rain had been predicted for the day. Before we could begin any exploring, we needed to ride to the co-op to pick up some more oatmeal (we hadn’t had time to shop before leaving and we were short of breakfast food). The co-op is closed on Sundays and only open until 2 on Saturday so we had to make it our first stop. But we decided to try a new route north up East Road, and then crossing one of the intersecting westward roads so that we could see new scenery.

Pelee’s farms are located in the middle of the island while all the summer beachside cottages dot the outside. It’s like two different worlds–the scenery along the outer roads beachlike and tropical, harkening to images of the Florida coast sans palm trees, while the scenery on the inner part of the island looks like any old road in Northwestern Ohio.

The co-op is located on the northwest side of the island next to the marina where private boats dock at the island. The co-op also serves as the island post office. In addition to the co-op, we discovered the bakery, the Scudder Bar & Grill, and a small ice cream/hot dog shack. We stopped for ice cream (shame on me), and then took the roads we’d just used back to the east side of the island where we had decided to ride to the trailhead for the lighthouse.

The road leading to the trailhead goes along the side of Lake Henry–one of Pelee’s only remaining marshes. As I learned later, the island was once actually three islands separated by marshes. In the 1880’s, the island was drained by the colonists to make more of the land useable for farming since the weather at Pelee is moderate and, as it turns out, perfect for growing crops, especially grapes due a longer growing season.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

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A heron fishes nearby.

Path to the lighthouse.

Path to the lighthouse.

The hike to the old lighthouse starts in the woods and then ends, as all trails on Pelee seem to, on a beach. I’m always amazed by the beauty of a Lake Erie beach, especially this far away from the mainland. The water is clear and the waves lap softly on the more-pebbles-than-sand shore. We stuck our feet in the water. At first, it seemed a tad chilly, but after a little bit, it seemed perfect and refreshing. We walked together in the water along the shore. Right away, the lighthouse began to peak through the trees ahead.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

Whoop, there it is!

Whoop, there it is!

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse, which is kind of a bummer. But I suppose hasn’t been kept up and is probably unsafe. We took some pictures and tried to keep moving because when you stand still, the beach flies land on your flesh… and then they BITE you. It stings. We also kept running into clouds of mayflies.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

While circling the lighthouse to admire it, we noticed another trail heading off into the woods. There is apparently another loop trail we could take, probably offering additional views of Lake Henry. We decided we would come back to it at a later time. We never did get a chance to do it on this trip, but we will definitely have to walk this trail the next time we’re on Pelee.

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

We headed next to the Pelee Island Winery, but slowly because no one is in a hurry on Pelee. We stopped took Henderson, the north-south running road in the middle of the island, a dirt road between fields of soy beans. We stopped at the Pelee Island Art Works to look at the handcrafted souvenirs (I bought a pair of beach glass earrings!).

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

When we arrived at the winery, a tour was just starting. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to jump on it, so indecision led us to just get our three (or so) samples at the tasting area. Crow and I tried between each other (and our three samples each) about six wines (give or take a few since the bartender was feeling generous). I didn’t remember the winery’s list being so extensive–there were over 20 wines on the list! We decided to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc. We bought a bread and cheese plant and snacked at one of the picnic tables in the wine garden listening to the live music. It was pretty relaxing… but the sky was starting to get a little dark.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

By the time we finished our bottle, new winery tour was beginning, so we decided to go on it after all. Which turned out to be kind of convenient because the skies let loose and a rather loud thunderstorm began to rage. During an abbreviated section of the tour outside right before the rain began, we learned that they plant rose bushes serve as the proverbial canary at the end of every row of grapes. Apparently, roses will exhibit signs of a disease several days before the grapes will so it gives the gardeners a chance to take action to save the grapes before the disease takes them as well.

 

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

We're all smiles now!

We’re all smiles now!

Anyway, we drank way too much wine between our samples, the bottle, and the additional samples (6) on the wine tour. We were with a fun group of Canadians, though, who gently chided us about being American and also persuaded our tour guide to more generously fill our tasting glasses. Haha.

By the time the tour was over, the rain had stopped. We were able to bike over to dinner (despite apparent states of inebriation). Unfortunately, Crow got a flat tire and, in our haste to get to dinner, neither of us inspected the tire well for the culprit…. So later, on the way home from dinner, at 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of the complete darkness of the middle of the island along some farm road, he got a second flat. We both had bright LED lights and after about forty-five minutes of fiddling, while thunder rumbled in the background (no lightening and no rain, though), Crow found a small shard of glass in his tire. He removed it, replaced the tube a second time, and we made it back to the campground unscathed.

Sunday

Total miles biked: 16.22

Establishments Patronized: Westview Tavern,  Pelee Island Coneheads

Once again, we woke to sun, but now the temperature was quite steamy–hot and humid. After taking showers, we both were sweaty again just preparing breakfast. The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain for the day so after a quick stop at the bike shop in front of the West Dock, we headed straight towards my absolute favorite thing about Pelee: Fish Point Nature Preserve.

Fish Point is a long sandbar that extends out from the southwest part of the island. People like to walk to its furthest point because it used to be the southernmost point in Canada. Recently Canada bought Middle Island–a deserted island a little more south and close to US-Canada border–from the US. Apparently, this island has changed hands many times. Since you can only get to Middle Island by private boat, most people consider walking along Fish Point close enough to claim having stood on Canada’s southernmost point.

 

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

For me, though, Fish Point is just the coolest feature ever. It was the one thing I remembered very clearly from my last visit to Pelee and I just couldn’t wait to walk it again. The water is so clear and I loved just walking along it to the end of the peninsula.

On my way out there, I was examining the various rocks that are rounded and smooth from the water’s relentless tumbling and weathering. The original rock tumbler–the sea. My eyes fell upon something white among the rocks and I picked it up. Beach glass! I’d never really heard about beach glass until I’d visited the Art Works shop and admired some of the items made from it. And now I had unwittingly found a piece myself. It was so cool that I began to actively look for more. I found a green piece next. I showed Crow and he too began to look for some beach glass. He eventually found the biggest piece I collected.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

I also picked up a few of the intact small shells… I immediately began to think about the jewelry I  might make from these treasures. Even after we’d walked out to the point and took pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the shore looking for beach glass. Unfortunately, our moment of tranquil appreciation of Fish Point’s beauty was interrupted by some approaching rumbles of thunder. By the time we made it back to the trail in the woods, the sky to the west was growing dark, hastening my steps.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further....

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further….

When we got back to our bikes, it was still sunny. I slipped a rain cover over my back pannier and we headed back to town. It was extremely weird because to the north, it was partly sunny and did not look like it would rain; looking back to the south, it was dark.

We decided to go check out the Pelee Island Heritage Museum which is located in the old townhall. The museum is only one room, but displays and artifacts fill ever available space not used for walking paths. It would take hours to read it all, but I did enjoy reading about Lake Erie shipwrecks, the draining of Pelee’s marshes, and the founding of the township. And, uh-oh, I started getting that feeling that I get when I read about the Erie Canal–that thirst for more information as I try to imagine what it must have been like or even what life is like now on the island. When I find myself fascinated by places, and I start digging into research, it almost always manifests itself into an idea for a story… So far, I’ve got ideas for novels that take place in Ancient Rome, along the Erie Canal, and now this… I will file it away for future use!

For the evening, we planned to attend an outdoor concert that I read about when we were planning the trip. After a lunch, we rode over tot he quarry where they were having the event. The quarry is located across the street from the winery–a small non-descript driveway leads down to this natural amplitheatre. I loved the location right away. Tucked below the ground level of the surrounding area, it felt like a tiny little hide away.

Concert in the quarry.

Concert in the quarry.

It seems we were probably the only tourists at the event, which made me feel a little out-of-place, but everyone was welcoming and nice. It was kind of neat to listen to the pleasantries and chatter exchanged between the locals. I felt a little out-of-place, but stuck to my seat and observed. I thought about how cool it would be to live on this island, at least in the summer.

Before the show began, a local woman read some poetry she’d written. I gathered from her poetry that she was an American who grew up in Michigan, lived some time in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d been a high school English teacher and now she was living on the island (at least part time) with her husband and a beloved dog. With all the For Sale signs up around the island, her story was not helping me to cease from daydreaming about buying a house on the island. (Crow and I did check out the prices of some of the places at board posted outside the local real estate office. Just for fun. Some of the places were more affordable than you would think…)

The jazz ensemble started up shortly after and I was immediately impressed. There was one man who played a saxophone–one of my favorite instruments–and some Japanese version of a soprano saxophone that he was careful to state was not actually a saxophone… I’m not good with remembering the names of thing like this…. He said it was a challenging instrument to play which is what lead him to learn to play it.

Master saxophonist mid-performance.

Master saxophonist, mid-performance.

The music was great. But all the while, I could see dark clouds circling the quarry with some. I kept hoping it would pass over. The storm hit at the last part of the last song. The saxophonist powered through the rest of the song to complete it so that we were not left wanting. I was kind of left wanting, though, because an encore might have been nice.

People started ducking under umbrellas and packing their stuff away. The rain started to pound harder. Crow and I ran to the overhang of the “dollhouse”–as the locals called it–the one and only structure, used for storage, at the quarry.

The aftermath of the storm was unsettling as it turned Lake Erie into a raging sea. We rode back to the West Dock before going back to the campground to view the craziness. A brisk, forceful wind was now coming from the north. We stopped to take some pictures and video. It was a little off-putting, to say the least, and I wondered vaguely if this were anything like how a hurricane might feel (to much lesser degree, of course).

Here is just a few of the many awesome pictures I got:

The sun sets over a raging sea.

The sun sets over a raging sea.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

The static sound of angry waters was the background soundtrack for the remainder of our stay. It was kind of eerie (no pun intended).

As we rode back to the campground, we noticed downed tree limbs in yards and on the side of the road. The storm had been short but vigorous. Apparently, several households had also lost power, we learned later. Not a problem for two campers, however.

When we returned to camp, we decided to use the firewood we’d purchased on Friday but had never gotten around to using. We’d stashed it underneath the picnic table for protection, but of course, it still got wet. Crow spent awhile trying to start the fire using paper but he couldn’t get it to catch to the damp firewood.

One of our neighbors had a raging fire going so Crow walked over and asked to warm a few pieces of our wood in theirs. With some additional coaxing once we returned our own fire pit, Crow was able to get a nice warm fire going.

The clouds had moved off and, for the first time since our arrival, I could see the stars. I quickly identified the arm of the Milky Way, which I have not seen in way too long of a time. I’d forgot how beautiful it was. I wish I could still easily identify the location of other celestial objects. I wanted to show Crow the Andromeda Galaxy, which is very visible in a dark sky, but I couldn’t recall where to look. Oh how easily a person forgets things!

We both walked away from the fire to get a better view of the sky, when, to our surprise, we both saw a meteor! And then another! Within a few minutes of each other. So cool. Another thing I miss about dark skies — the frequency of meteors, not necessarily associated to a particular shower (but this might have been a Perseid). We continued to watch and saw a few more.

After working so hard to get a fire going, we went to bed before the fire died down. We wanted to make sure we would get camp broken down with enough time to hit the bakery for breakfast before the 1pm ferry (and we are both not morning people).

Monday

Total miles biked: 11.05

Even though we’d been there for three nights, we hadn’t had a chance to do everything we would have liked. Next time, for example, we would like to rent kayakes 9whichs is an option on the island). We never got a chance to lay out on the beach either. But I suppose the great thing about a vacation is that you don’t “have” to do anything. Crow and I travel well together because we, for the most part, play it by ear.

So we packed up our gear and moved out to enjoy the rest of our morning and early noon on the island. It was a bit chilly–the storm had cooled things down–and the waves still rolled and crashed on the shore. We had breakfast at the only place in town we had not yet patronized–the bakery–and we dawdled there for awhile, sitting inside (I warmed myself with a coffee).

We then headed towards the dock, stopping to take some final photographs.

The Stone Man

The Stone Man

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

Perry's Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee's west shore.

Perry’s Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee’s west shore.

No trip is complete without stopping at the local liquor store for souvenirs before you leave! Because that’s how we roll. Literally.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

It was sad to leave. But we decided we’d make a once a year trip of going to Pelee Island. It’s a great escape from it all. I was even forced to put my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid paying the absorbent roaming charges for data. So I even went off the grid for four days. It was kind of nice. I’d almost forgotten that it doesn’t feel that weird to be disconnected from the world. No wi-fi to speak of on the island either. It may my last place to escape from technology!

Like Being a Kid Again

On the street where I grew up, there was a lines of trees that seemed we called The Woods and an empty field beyond that we called The Baja. Motorized dirt bikes made tracks through The Woods and Baja, leaving behind a narrow dirt path. We used to take our bikes onto these paths, riding through the trees, even up and down some little bumps. We didn’t wear helmets back then (who did?). My bike was a single speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I also used to jump homemade ramps we made in our driveways.

Youth and fearlessness go hand-in-hand. I never gave these activities a second thought.  Years later, as an adult, I took a bike to these dirt paths through woods again–“singletrack”–at my then-boyfriend now husband’s prodding. Not entirely surprisingly, I found this activity to be utterly frightening. I could envision all the accidents I could have a bit too well. In fact, the second time I went out, I tried to ride through a huge dip in a trail, panicked halfway through it, found myself heading for a tree, and then I bailed off the bike, resulting in a skinned knee and a bruised confidence.

But I kept at it anyway. If all these people I knew–including my husband–found this activity fun, it must be and I was determined to figure it out. People kept telling me that since I enjoyed the thrill of downhill skiing, surely I would love to mountain bike too. I didn’t immediately see the connection between these two activities since I’m not entirely sure I downhill ski for the thrill so much as for the pure enjoyment of winter’s beauty. But I guess if I wasn’t looking for thrill, and just into the enjoyment of nature part, I’d be a cross-country skier.

It wasn’t until my first ride on my new mountain bike yesterday that I fully got the connection between the two sports. In downhill skiing, I’m actively thinking about the next turn I need to make and scanning for dangers ahead that I might need to avoid (e.g., snowboarders, other skiers, moguls, sudden changes in pitch). I do enjoy the nature and the beauty of the outdoors and I’m actively also aware of the sound of my skis on the snow, the smell of trees or wet snow, and the tingling cold on my cheeks. When I’m at the top of a mountain (out west) or hill (here in the east), I take in the scenery. As I’m going down a slope, I notice the changes in altitude, the new scenes revealed. There are times when skiing an easier run out west that I’ve felt like I was dancing on the snow.

As with downhill skiing, mountain biking requires being fully present. I have to look ahead on the trail to anticipate my next move, whether it be a sharp turn, an upcoming bridge, a fast downhill, a sharp uphill, roots or rocks. Unlike road biking, you cannot just zone out. At the same time, I notice the sights and smells of the world around me. When we went mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park near Moab on our honeymoon, I marveled at the wide-open rocky landscape and the view of the Canyonlands. When I mountain bike in Ohio, I notice the smell of pine trees and the blurred shades of green leaves.

I had a rough start to mountain biking and I thought I would never like it. But yesterday, finally, with my new bike (a Scott Genius 740, by the way) and 9 miles on the new Bedford (Cleveland Metroparks) mountain bike trail, I really finally–and excitingly–enjoyed it. The new Bedford trail is so good for beginners with nothing very technical and small loops that bring you back to the paved bike-n-hike trail if you feel the need to bail at any point (which I didn’t!). The Mars Quarry trail is probably the hardest and even though it is the only section that had spots where I had to walk, I felt I could eventually grow into being able to get through it. Mars Quarry is probably the most scenic trail, though, if you stop to take it in. (And why would you be in a hurry on bike through the woods?)

I feel like a little kid again, bumping along the dirt paths of The Baja. Except now I have full suspension and bigger tires. I’m looking forward to new adventures in mountain biking. At least on the trail, there are no cars and angry motorists…

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Mars Quarry Trail heading down.

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Me at Mars Quarry Trailhead. Taken cuz… hello, MARS!

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Starting off on the Bedford mountain bike trail. So excited to be on my new bike!

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Crow at Mars Quarry.

 

The Money Pit

Oh my god. I’ve massively forgotten about this blog. I’ve neglected it for so long that I fear no one is reading it or even checking any more. But my life has been crazy the last several months. And this isn’t the typical “Oh, she got married so now she’s happy and has nothing interesting to say anymore” deal. I haven’t had time to do any writing. Any. None. Not even my novel. Sadly. Or letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid (my high school English teacher with whom I’ve been corresponding since I graduated high school).

Our house has become the Money Pit in a big, big way. First, it was the plague of mice. We–that is to say my cat, Nicki–found one mouse climbing out of a space underneath the master bathroom cabinet. We set out some traps and caught 18 overnight. We broke down and called Orkin to assist, which put us on an overly-priced plan where they basically set glue traps and poison out, which we could have done on our own for much less. But we panicked, having never been plagued with mice before.

Then, came the Great Flood in May. The storm that came through and wreaked havoc on the Cuyahoga Valley and most of the surrounding area, turned a leaking problem we were aware of in the basement into a much more serious problem. During the storm, a literal waterfall formed on the hill behind our house, dumping into the walls of our basement. A hole formed on the wall out of which spouted water like a fountain. While we were finding buckets, the basement filled to our ankles with water and then sewage as our septic tank backed up into the basement as well. The storm rain had flooded the side of the yard where our septic tank is, filling the tank from its access points. Of course, the sewage water had nowhere else to go but back through the pipes and into our basement.

When all was said and done, there was 16″ of water and sewage in our basement. We tried to rescue some of the stuff on the floor as the water quickly filled but we did not get to everything. We had a room filled with items in Rubbermaid tubs, since we knew that we had a problem with water in the basement, and the tubs were on boards held by bricks about 6 inches off the floor.

Throughout the night, I could hear crashing noises. The Rubbermaid tubs had become buoyant, since the water was higher than our makeshift shelves, and they tipped. The next morning, after we had drained the basement with an extra sump pump, that room was filled with tipped tubs. A lot of our personal items were damaged. It was a mess.

It’s taken us weeks to clean up the basement as well as go through all the damaged items. We’ve had to rip out all the dry wall (we found black mold in several places, some of it could be older than this flood) and some of the lumber in the walls. We removed the vinyl floor (which contained asbestos and had to be removed while damp) and we’re still cleaning up the glue goo (which also has to be wet because it may also contain asbestos). Our basement looks like a war zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not hate my house for all the financial stress and problems it’s caused us since we bought it. There have been many issues–heating oil costs over the winter, new windows it desperately needed, a leak in the water line. And, on top of everything, our upstairs refrigerator quit working that same week. I feel like the honeymoon period with this house is over and I no longer see it as I once did. Now it feels like a burden sucking the life out of me. We’ve had to cancel our vacation for this year. I’m not going to meet the deadline to complete my novel by October 31st. I’m just so depressed.

But then, this past weekend we took the time out to go to Canal Park to see the Akron Rubber Ducks play. The towpath, which is not even a mile from our house, goes directly to downtown Akron. So we took our bikes down to the park and met my parents there. It’s only 10 miles from our house and a very enjoyable ride through the woods, away from all the roads and craziness of traffic, until you get to Akron. It was such a beautiful day and I had to remind myself that was the reason why living in the valley is so great: all the access to resources we have. The weekly farmer’s market is only 2 miles from our house, also a bike ride away. A new nano-brewery opened up in the Merrimen Valley, just a few miles from our house as well. I could spend the whole summer down here and never have to leave.

I keep thinking that one day Crow and I will get this house all fixed and perfect. And then it will be a happy place to be. I try to remind myself that all that house needs is a little TLC. It is in an ideal location with an admittedly beautiful yard. We have bird feeders and every day I see all these colorful birds of many kinds. I see hummingbirds at the feeder I made for them all the time. Every night, we hear owls and coyotes. We have a huge garden. This place could be paradise.

I just hate having to sacrifice a lot of my time to get the house to that perfect place. I’m not someone who enjoys fixing things up. I’ve found a love of gardening and flowers since moving here, but I still have no desire to do any construction. My motto in life has always been, “Why do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it.” Except, well, there’s not always the money to pay someone else to do it.

People always tell me that I will have time for writing my novel later. As a widow, I have a really hard time accepting this comment. I know that I’m alive today. So whatever I want to do today should be done TODAY. I could get Alzheimer’s  (my grandma had it) and then I won’t have the capacity to tell my stories. There are a lot of random accidents that could occur. You just don’t know. So it makes no sense to me to ever put something on your list of things to do when you retire because you just don’t know that you will live long enough to get there. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m being realistic.

Ever since I lost Mike, my life has been filled with a very urgent need to fulfill my dreams. If I want to go somewhere, I just go. No time like the present! I’m young now and I’m healthy. Live for the moment!

The house just feels like a waste of my time and energy, even though I know it’s an investment for the future of my and Crow’s life together. I’m impatient. I can’t wait. I want to go places, see things, experience life, and then I want to write it all down. I don’t have time for fixing up a house full of problems.

I guess the lesson learned here is that you should buy something huge like a house with your logic instead of your emotion. The house seemed so perfect for us, located right along a road used frequently by cyclists and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we love so much. It had the screened in porch I’d always dreamed of having. Sadly, both Crow and I admit that had we known we would have this many problems with the house, we’d have not bought it. Hindsight is always 20/20. We had some warning signs, though, of the problems we have had and we should have listened. But like star-struck lovers, we overlooked the glaring issues because we fell in love with the idea instead of the reality…

Avoidance

Writing-wise, it’s been a tough winter. It probably started with my second attempt at NaNoWriMo which completely failed. I gave up sometime during the middle of the month, and then spent the rest of the month hating myself as I read the success stories of my fellow Akronites. Then, I got swept into the craziness of the holiday season and I allowed myself to forget about writing for awhile. I picked up some books and completed probably more novels over a span of two months than I have in a single year recently. I told myself this was okay–it was research, trying to understand my craft better.

I kept trying to reset. I said that January 1st, I would start writing. The month of January came and went. Now it’s almost the end of February and I still haven’t started writing again. I’ve pretty much dropped out of my writing group. I start to pick up one of my novels and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a severe case of self-doubt surrounding me right now. I heard someone say recently that writer’s block is just allowing yourself to give into your self-doubt and fears. I totally agree with this. When you let go of the doubt and the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous and meaningless or stupid, it’s a lot easier to write. It’s when we second-guess ourselves that the creative juices stop flowing.

I know this and yet I still can’t bring myself to write. I’ve avoided this blog (having nothing really interesting to say anyway), I’ve avoided personal journaling. I’ve spent a great deal of time distracting myself with binge-watching various television series. I’m feeling down in the dumps the way I felt several winters ago when I binge-watched all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I keep calling it a funk. But in truth, it’s a full-blown depression.

I’m having a lot of trouble staying fully in the moment of just about everything I’m doing. I’m always thinking that instead of what I’m doing, I should be writing. The writing guilt follows me everywhere. But when I have the time and the option to write, I avoid it. I sit down to look at my work and all those doubts come rolling back in. I feel like a failure. Well, I am a failure because I’ve failed to do anything in the last couple months. I’ve failed before I’ve even done a single thing.

I feel the weight of time on my shoulders. I’m turning 39 this March and I know that’s young. I never used to have a problem with age. I used to say that it was just a number and no big deal. Yet the thought of me turning 40 is freaking me out. I don’t think 40 is old. I just feel like it’s an awful long time to have lived and not done what I set out to do.

My journals stretching the last 10 years are filled with the same desperate plea. Why can’t I write? Why don’t I have time to write? Why am I so afraid to write?

It’s frustrating because I know that when I’m in the zone, I’m so in love with my writing. When I let go of the fears and the self-doubt, I get high off of the pleasure of putting together a good story.

I think joining the writing group was too soon. Because they were so critical of my writing–of everyone’s writing–my growth as a writer is stunted because I don’t feel uninhibited enough to just write. Now instead of writing what comes from my heart, I hear twenty voices in my head picking apart every sentence. Yes, I know a writer needs to face criticism. But I think that I need to complete something first, uninhibited and without the fear of critical commentary, before I can face an audience with what I’ve done.

With all this avoidance, it sounds as if I don’t like to write. I do like to write. I love to write. I just don’t love myself or believe in my abilities enough right now to get anywhere. Ironically, the only way to start loving myself and believing in my abilities is to actually start writing. To push past this wall of self-loathing and just write.

Well, I did pick up this blog entry so I guess that’s a start.

I guess I aim for March 1st and try to reset again. The last year until 40. It’s now or give up the dream forever because if I haven’t moved in all these years, I have to wonder if I ever will. Maybe I just like to talk about writing and pretend that it’s my salvation from a career I’ve never loved. I don’t know. But I feel like this is the year that I have to prove to myself that I’m really the writer I think that I am or move on to something else. I’ve still got a lot of years left and I need to find my bliss in something I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s not writing. Maybe it’s something I don’t even know I have the ability to do yet.

Only time will tell.

And we’re off…

I’ve already signed up for Calvin’s Challenge again this year… I guess I like the punishment. Last year, I nearly quit as I was recovering from the flu. I still felt sick and could barely stomach to eat anything.

Yet, I got onto my bike and rode 70 miles, half of which was in the wind, and I felt pretty horrible most of the time. At the half way point of the second 50 mile loop, I stopped for about an hour at the rest area. I forced myself to eat and I sat out the sweats and sick feeling in my stomach. I almost asked to be sagged out.

Then my friend Sue came along and I spent some more time at the rest stop with her. By the time she was ready to go, I felt much better. I figured I could at least finish the loop because it was all with the wind, meaning I wouldn’t have to do much work to propel myself forward. As I rode, I felt gradually better. By the time I got back to the starting spot at the school, I felt like I could continue the ride.

And so I did with the 7 mile loops. I completed 12 hours with 120 miles. And somehow won a silver medal for my efforts (only two women competing in my age category). I feel I deserved something after completing the ride with the flu.

Anyway, I’m subjecting myself to that torture again. What are the chances of getting the flu a second time? (I guess I should go get my flu shot!) I’d like to beat my previous best of 154 miles… 160 would make me happy… We’ll see.

Also, Crow and I both signed up for the MS 150 in Holland, Michigan (a ride we enjoyed in 2012) on June 7-8th. (I had started a blog entry about our 2012 adventure, but I never finished it… I might post what I have later this week… )

So, I’m of course looking for donations… The money goes to MS research and assisting those people in need of assistance in handling MS. This has always been a very important cause for me as my grandpa H had MS.

We will be doing the MS 150 on our brand NEW tandem! We ordered our tandem in December and expect to get it soon. We will probably do a lot of rides this summer on our new wheels. We can’t wait to take it everywhere with us!

Crow and I may do TOSRV on the tandem, in fact. But we’ve decided to be weather weenies and wait to see what the outlook is for that weekend. Thank goodness some rides still have day-of registration.

Having no wedding to take up all of our time, I think we’ll be ramping up our cycling this summer. Also, I’m in the market for a mountain bike… Stay tuned for my adventures trying to ride a bike on a dirt trail through the woods!