Busting records: MS 150 2010

100 Milers Rock: A message of encouragement from the MS 150 staff.

I’ve been riding the MS 150 Bike to the Bay (from Maumee, Ohio to Port Clinton) for eight years now. I started in 2000 on a trail bike with my brother Christian. We completed the entire 75 miles of the first day, were the last riders in followed by the SAG wagons, and we did not come back to do the second day. We both returned the second year but only did 50 miles each day of the two days, which was rough enough since it was the year Mike died and he was supposed to do the ride with us. I didn’t ride in 2002 and in 2003 I’d moved to Colorado. I did Colorado’s MS 150 in 2004, completing the first day of 75 miles (with lots of long climbing), but only completing 45 miles of the second day, giving out on the second of two very long climbs. It was a steady 7% grade for several miles of out a canyon, which I’d probably be able to finish nowadays, during an hour when the sun was beating down directly into the canyon. I SAG’ed out of the canyon to the next rest stop and tried to ride from there, but was only able to make it to the next rest stop after that. I had “sewing machine legs” and knew I had to quit because I was too exhausted to  maintain control of my bike.

I returned to Ohio at the end of the summer in 2004, and returned to Bike to the Bay in 2005, where I completed 75 miles of the first day, got into a fight with my ex-boyfriend when he stayed with me at the over night, and then did not have the heart to complete the second day even though I could have. It wasn’t until 2006, on my hybrid, that I not only completed both days of the ride, but I did my first century (100-miles) ever. In 2007, with my new Giant road bike, I completed 100 miles of the first day and 75 on the traditional route the next day, which was a repeat of the previous year.  2007 also marked the year that I set the goal to complete three two-day rides–MS 150, Roscoe Ramble, PVG–and completed them all. So I was finally able to find the strength to hold myself together to complete two-day rides. (The first day is never the problem; it’s the second day in which you struggle to continue.)

When I look back at my early struggles—and my rugged determination to finally finish one of these rides—I’m really impressed with myself for how far I’ve come. The MS 150 has a big history with me because it was the ride of firsts for me. It was the ride that helped nurture a love of cycling, a love of long road rides. Even my unsuccessful completion of the MS 150 in Colorado nurtured a love of climbing hills. Even long, endless hills. Accomplishment feels good. Completing a goal you’ve set for yourself—especially when it’s hard—gives you a high like nothing synthetic can. It builds confidence and makes you stronger. The MS 150—especially Bike to the Bay—has made me stronger. Because the ride supports the National MS Society, and the cause is so near to my heart because my grandpa H had MS, this ride has inspired me throughout the years to push myself above and beyond all my limits.

This past weekend, I hit another milestone. I completed both days of the 100 mile route, which in and of itself is nothing new for me as I’ve completed TOSRV three times already. However, I made a new personal speed record, completing the first day with a 17.3 average—that’s without the aid of a paceline. Granted, there were some mighty tailwinds that helped push me whenever I turned east; however, I used my advantage to the fullest by also pushing harder so that I could go even faster. I hit some steady 21-23mph speeds for some stretches of road.  After starting the ride at about 7:30am, I completed at 2:32pm, with a total ride time just under six hours (5:53’40).

Granted, the space between Toledo and Port Clinton is Ohio’s flattest. I’m sure I could never get such a great average on a ride that offered even one or two serious hills. And though I know that I was using this ride to train for STP, which is a few weeks away now, I’m totally aware that it was hardly a fair comparison to a ride that is actually going to have a hill or two (possibly a long climb somewhere). Still, I feel that by pushing myself just a little harder on this flat ride, I’ve helped to build the strength in my leg muscles that I will need for more hilly rides.

After my victorious completion of the first day, I set up my tent, showered, and waited for Michael to arrive. He’d decided to come camp with me on the field of the elementary school* and then ride the Portage River Tour from Elmore, Ohio, which he’d done last year. Ironically, the Portage River Tour crossed paths with our first and second day’s route. I did end up running into Michael in Pemberville the next day when I, at 60 miles, was headed to lunch. That was really weird! But a pleasant surprise.

*Like TOSRV, this year’s MS 150 had a detour. Our overnight stay was at Bataan Elementary School in Port Clinton as opposed to our usual stay at the Port Clinton High School. Not that it mattered; the showers in the high school are generally just as cold as the showers we got at the track across across the street from the elementary school, except that we had no mirrors and one electrical outlet in the locker room. That was fun.

Luxurious tent - my bike fits in it with me!

Anyway, when Michael arrived on Saturday, we took the JetExpress into Put-in-Bay (I had my free ticket from the ride). I was silently on the look out for some place that served mojitos, but, alas could not find one in any of the places we visited. I assume some establishment on Put-Frakking-Bay must serve mojitos, but I just wasn’t lucky enough to encounter one. We did enjoy dinner at my favorite restaurant on the island–Mossback’s–where I had the perch basket and Michael had walleye. We drank a few glasses of pinot grigio–which was second best to having a mojito–and then headed out for Heinemen’s winery. Which happened to be closed when we got there (at 9:00 on a Saturday!?), but the owner (we think) let us in and gave us a free glass of wine. Out of a sense of gratitude, I bought a bottle of burgundy because it’s red that’s good chilled. And it will probably be gone in another week if this heat keeps up.

We didn’t hang on the island long. Our return ferry was 10:15 so that we could get some sleep. We got back to the tents at 11 and I promptly fell asleep. I was woken every few hours to the loud sound of trains–loading cars or something–which I kept mistaking for thunder, sending me into a panic. (I don’t relish being out in a tent on an open field in the middle of a t-storm.) Needless to say, I don’t think I had the most quality sleep despite my comfortable air mattress.

Still, like every cyclist camping inevitably does, I got up with the sun at around 5:30, changed and started to break down my tent. After breakfast, Michael departed and I had nothing better to do so I took off into the morning to begin my ride. Like the day before, I knew I’d have to try to beat possible thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon. None came the previous day and I had a hunch my luck was running out. It was 6:30 when I ventured out onto the course, ready for another 100-mile day.

The day started out gentle enough with little wind and a moderate temperature, though humid. My legs were stiffer, though getting on and off the bike was more difficult than actually riding–it must be a muscle memory thing. While on the main route, I saw a lot of other riders; however, as soon as I got onto the century loop, I was alone for a good 10 miles before I saw anyone. And then another 10-15 miles before I encountered a group of cyclists from the area, one of which I recognized as a member of TAB (Toledo Area Bicycles) with whom I’d started TOSRV when I met up with my friend Sue on the first day. It was a long, lonely trek on straight stretches of flat roads in the middle of Absolute Nowhere Ohio. All the rest stops were in empty, sleepy towns that made me feel as though I were a traveler in some post-apocalyptic world. I’m guessing about 1/3rd the participants of the MS 150 ride the second day; even less ride the century route. Even less ride the century route the second day than the first. I really had to make sure I didn’t miss any route arrows. Though, I will say, plenty of SAG vehicles passed me, assuring me I was on the right path.

The wind picked up steadily as each hour passed. Unfortunately, the century route took us way north of the regular route, so we had to go back south before returning to the main route. South was directly into the wind while heading west brought a difficult crosswind that was almost as hard as the dealing with the wind head on. I was finally forced to spend long stretches in my middle chain ring, spinning to make myself feel as though I were making progress, even though my speed started to drift more between 13-14mph during those legs of the ride. It was a little depressing, but given the fatigue of my legs, I just did the pace and cadence my legs could handle.

The heat became unbearable in the afternoon hours and, with the wind, it became the most unwelcome combination of discomfort. There was a great tailwind to the north, but I couldn’t enjoy it fully because in the absence of the breeze I could really feel the 90-degree heat pounding on me and coming off the pavement. I stopped at all the rest stops–which I don’t do since they are only 10 miles apart and I usually only need one every 20 or so–and filled my water bottles with more ice than water to keep the temperature of the drinkable to the next stop. On the final eastern stretch to Waterville (the last stop), I was so overheated in the push against the wind in the oppressive heat that I did something I never do: I started squirting myself with water (I usually hate being wet). It was the kind of heat you felt as though you couldn’t breath, suffocating. The water helped.

After I checked my stats at the Waterville stop, I realized I was going to be significantly short of 100 miles when I reached Maumee. I was only at 81 miles and I knew the finish line was 10-12 miles at the most. So I spent the last leg back trying to find some way to extend my route. I just couldn’t let the ride end at about 91-92 miles and still claim I did a century. You just can’t come so close–no matter how tired–and not complete. So at one of the turns in Maumee, I went the opposite direction to ride about three miles up the road along the Maumee River in what I learned was the Side Cut Metropark. We actually rode this stretch the day before when leaving Maumee. It’s quite a pretty spot–perhaps the prettiest in the area. Meanwhile, as I rode, I noticed the sky was starting to get a little dark. Rain was on its way.

I had six extra miles when I returned to the main route. When I hit the finish line, I still was two miles short so I continued through to the parking lot of the fairgrounds and followed the parking lots through the vast complex of buildings near the fairgrounds. When I got to the end of all the parking lots, I was still a mile and a half short, so I crossed the street and rode to the end of a neighborhood street. By the time I made it back to my car at the fairgrounds, I had good and honest 100 miles and it was, again, 2:30pm. I only had a 15.7 average and a ride time of 6:22’34. I can live with that, given the heat and the wind. (To be honest, most of my averages down here in “hill country” are around 14-16mph.)

Next time I do the century on the second day of this MS 150, I’m going to have to remember it comes up short and try to take a few extra miles sooner in the day. The route crosses a few bike paths that I could easily use to add on mileage in a more laid back setting. I actually did do the second day’s century once, in 2008 when I was pulled off the first day’s route at 64 miles because of the perceived threat of thunderstorms, and I knew it came up short. I was just hoping they’d changed the route or something so that it was no longer true.

It started to sprinkle a little as I was loading my gear back into the car. I stuck around the fairgrounds to enjoy the barbeque chicken dinner the MS 150 treats us with. The real rain held off until about a quarter to four when I was safely at Sue’s house taking a shower before driving home. Sue and Michael both were both stuck in it on their rides on the Portage River Tour. I was glad I managed to finish so early, but it was only because I had an usually early start.

It was a good weekend for me. I have to admit I was feeling unusually spry. My mind was full of writing and ideas and I felt as though I were turning over a new leaf in my life. I thought often of Mike and knew he’d be proud of my tenacity, especially how its grown with this ride over the last ten years. I thought about my grandfather who couldn’t ride a bike because was diagnosed with MS before I was born. I thought of the inevitable chain of events that makes up life–the joys and the sorrows. I’ve come a long way in my riding… and I’ve come here first because of the inspiration of the ride and the desire to achieve a specific goal… However, the fever of cycling took over my life as a way of dealing with and managing my grief. I don’t know where I’d be as a cyclist if Mike had not died. I might have come here, we might have come here together. But cycling most definitely became my way of managing my grief. It gave me something to live for–something to make me feel alive–in those long empty days after Mike died. It was the one thing I could do that didn’t inevitably remind me of him to the point of which it was too painful to partake in the activity.

Although, I admit, I could not help but think of that first MS 150 this year–as opposed to every other year–because it was 10 years ago that I did my first. And I remembered Mike who drove to each stop to encourage me and my brother. How we inspired him to want to do the ride the following year… (and he signed up but never did lived to do it). His ghost still lingers at the stops along the main route I still hit as a century rider.

So maybe we would have become cycling freaks together. Still, it grew into my own thing in his absence. And I’ve ridden a long, long way to get where I am today. Cycling kept me sane.

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Fly ball

“You goof!” Brenda admonished me the next day at work when I told her the details of my phone call with Mike. “You’re going pass up a date with a guy you know you like for some dumb blind date with a guy you don’t even know at all?!”

My mouth fell open in shock. This was not the reaction I anticipated at all. I was being a good friend, keeping a date I committed to at all costs. For once. I expected praise for my sacrifice. “But,” I sputtered, “I thought you’d be mad if I broke a date with you!”

Brenda gave me an acerbic look. “Please. You can meet Jupiter Boy any time. If this doesn’t work out.”

“Oh,” I replied, the sinking feeling I’d experienced on and off for the last twenty-four hours returning. “I guess if he calls me again, I can tell him I can go now…” If he’ll think I’m sane after all this fickle behavior, I added silently.

Brenda grinned. “Well, and that’s the other thing. You had another phone call this morning and I think it was him.”

Some Fridays I worked from 1pm until 9pm to help cover a higher workload over two shifts. This was one of those Fridays so I had not been at work in the early morning when he called. And, of course, I’d still failed to give him my home phone number in the email message I sent the previous night.

I sighed, defeated. “I sure hope he calls again.”

Every time the phone rang for the next few hours, I jumped compulsively and sunk back into my chair when I realized the call was for someone else. I was alternately stuck between a jittery high that rendered my concentration on my work useless and a complete post-high crash that left exhausted. As the hours ticked away, I was sure he had given up on me.

Then, at around 4:30pm, the phone rang and it was for me. I breathlessly answered.

“Mike,” I said before he could say anything else. “Look, I cleared my schedule for tomorrow. I’m available now. I’d like to go to Put-in-Bay if the offer is still out there.”

Mike chuckled–a friendly, hearty sound falling easily from his throat in rapid-fire succession. His voice, slightly amused, replied, “Okay. And what time should I pick you up?”

We spent the next few minutes making plans. I gave him the directions to my house. He would pick me up the next day in the early afternoon. We would spend the day exploring Put-in-Bay–an island off of the coast of Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, but I remembered that you could bike around the island, explore a cavern, go inside a geode, and–the one thing that I couldn’t do as a kid–drink wine at the island’s winery or hang at one of the many bars that lined the main street of the small island town. It seemed like a fun place to go for a first date. Mike assured me that he used to be a frequent visitor of the island and he knew all the fun things to do. I was completely excited.

When I got home from work that evening, I checked my home email and saw the message that I missed while commuting to work that morning. I think it’s safe to say he was interested as well; he laid down all his cards with multiple contact numbers.

Date: Fri, 29 May 98 11:25:28 EST
From: Michael F
Subject: Re: Random Acts of Weirdness

Greetings Heidi,

Well, Tonight would be fine, but you will need to call me at work to set up the logistics.  So, its [work number].  That is where I am today.

My work voice mail is [work voice mail].

Oh, and for a home number, [home phone number].  If a cat answers, it will either be Nicki or Tanya.  Goodluck interrogating them, they will never tell you where I am.  They have been told not to tell strangers if daddy is home or not.

So call me before 4:00PM  After that I will be on the road heading home.  I am in Detroit, MI.  Otherwise I might have to call you at work and fluster you some more.  :)

Mike F.

P.S.  My private e-mail address is [personal email].

That night, I went to bed with nervous, exited anticipation sizzling like electricity in my veins. When I got up the next morning, I would only have to wait a few short hours before seeing him again–this mysterious man whose gravity had drawn me into his orbit. I didn’t have any idea what I was in for, but I knew it just had to be good after all this effort to connect.

Strike One

I had pretty much written Mike off as a potential date when the community phone at the back off my office rang. I half-listened as my friend Brenda, whose desk was closest to the phone, answered it. Not having phones at our desks, I was used to the shared phone ringing throughout the day and it could be for any of the ten girls who staffed the word processing department of the law firm at which I worked. I had no reason to suspect the call was for me, yet this time I wanted to believe that it was. Wouldn’t it be neat, I thought, if one of my “potential suitors” had been ingenious enough to figure out my work phone number despite the fact that I’d not given it to any of them?

No, I concluded dejectedly. Stuff like that never happens to me. I returned my focus to the document I was working on and tried to pretend that I wasn’t distracted by thoughts of possible upcoming dates with any one of the three guys with whom I was corresponding via email. Not to mention the “Man from Jupiter” that Brenda and another co-worker had set up as a blind date for me the coming Saturday.

“Heiidddi,” Brenda purred in a teasing tone. “Phone for you.”

I jumped up. It could be anyone, I reminded myself. My best friend Melissa had my number and called me often to make plans for the evening. My mom always called with some question about a financial matter or some errand she wanted me to run on the way home. These were usually the kinds of calls I got.

“Who is it?” I tried–and failed–to sound casual in a feeble attempt to hide my all-too-ready excitement.

“Don’t know,” replied Brenda with a smirk as she handed the receiver to me. “But it was a guy…”

I took a deep breath and put the receiver to my ear.  I felt the heat rise into my cheeks even though I had no clue which man it was. “Hello?”

“Hi, Heidi, this is Michael F________.”

His voice was so calm, so self-assured. As if calling women was something he did all the time. Maybe he did call women all the time. I loved the soothing quality of his voice, even if he did use it to woo countless other women I didn’t know about yet. He could have been on the radio.

“Oh, God, HELLO!” I burst out. “I’m so glad you called!”

In my own ears, I sounded the complete opposite of his serene voice–hysterical, loud. When I was over-excited, my voice would squeak, I’d stutter. I was anything but smooth.

“I can’t believe I finally got through,” he replied. “Evidently, the operators there don’t know you work there.”

Figures. I, a lowly word pressing operator in a big law firm where I wasn’t even given my own phone, was not recognized by the same phone operators who shared the very kitchenette each day at lunch and who I could see through the glass that separated our two office spaces. Even though my name–unbolded because I wasn’t an attorney or an attorney’s secretary–was on the company phone list.

“Huh? Really?” I asked, feigning surprise. “How’d you get this number anyway?”

“Your company’s website.”

In 1998, the internet was not the advertising mecca it is today. A lot of businesses had web sites, but my guess is only about a third of the companies out there. You had to be a pretty major business to have a website. Google wasn’t in common usage; you couldn’t surf the internet to find incriminating information about a prospective date and, even if you could, most people didn’t have the trail of finger prints leading to their activities on the World Wide Web that they have now. It was a simpler time. And I thought Mike was an absolute genius for using the internet to find me. He undoubtedly deduced the firm’s web address from the domain name in my email address. In 1998, this gesture was highly romantic.

After a few moments of awkward chit-chat back and forth, he got right to the point of his call. “I was wondering,” he said, “if you were free on Saturday. I thought we could go to Put-in-Bay.”

I could barely contain my excitement. At that moment, I wanted to jump up and down in place, mute the phone, and tell all my co-workers. He wanted to go out on a date with me! A date! He was interested after all. I was about to respond with a great big, “YES” when I remembered the Man from Jupiter and my date with him on Saturday. Crushing disappointment.

“Oh, crap,” I said. “I’ve got something going on Saturday…”

“Oh,” replied Mike. There was a long pause.

“But,” I interjected quickly, “please do not take this as disinterest. I’ve really got something going on Saturday. I’d really love to go out with you. I just can’t Saturday.”

Meanwhile, my friend Diane and two other co-workers were standing a few feet away from me, waving fervently at me and pointing at their watches. It was 5pm, quitting time, and they were indicating that they were ready to leave the office. We always rode the Rapid train together from downtown Cleveland to our respective stops. I waved them off, mouthing that I’d catch up with them later. Now that I had him on the line, I wanted to keep him there until I could tack down a solid date. The co-workers turned and headed for the door, but Diane hesitated. She obviously wanted the scoop. I waved her off as well; she turned and left slowly.

My conversation with Mike already faltered and his voice now sounded a little distracted. Time was ticking away and I was fumbling for alternate dates in my head that I could offer him.

“I understand,” he said. “Maybe another time.”

I expected him to suggest another time, but he didn’t. The cold hand of disappointment gripped my heart. Was I missing my opportunity to get a date with the one guy of all the guys who I actually wanted to date? Surely if he’d taken the time to find my firm on the internet and call several times until he got an operator to find my name on the phone list and transfer his call to me, he was quipped with several alternative plans. Was he really going to take one “no” for an answer?

The second shift word processing operators were making their way into the office and I knew I’d have to get off the phone. This was not a private place to talk, anyway, and despite my desire to get a conversation going–to learn more about this mysterious guy to whom I felt so drawn–I knew I had to go. A little skeptical voice inside my head told me that it was good I had to decline his first invitation and that I had no time to talk to him at the moment–less availability makes a person more desirable, right? Wasn’t my mom always telling me that I shouldn’t always be at the beckon call of the guys I liked or dated? Maybe he would view my turning him down as playing hard to get. He would have to fight harder for a place on my social calendar.

But what if he didn’t want to fight? What if  this moment to him were nothing more than a passing curiosity in a woman he knew was interested in him? Perhaps he didn’t feel at all the synergy I felt between us. After all, he did respond to my attempt to start a conversation through email with a joke about being bored. Perhaps I seemed boring and trite to him.

“I really would like to go out with you,” I said again, feeling as though I was begging.

There was another silence. I noticed the night shift supervisor glancing down the aisle of cubes at me and my pulse raced with frustration.

“I gotta go,” I said. “Everyone’s leaving. I gotta catch a train.”

We said our goodbyes and, as I hung up the receiver in its cradle, cold panic squeezed my heart. I hadn’t given him my home phone number! Why hadn’t I given him my home phone number and told him to call me back there in a few hours!? Ugh! And I still didn’t have his phone number to call him back. The ball was completely in his court. Whether I ever heard from him again or not depended solely on his actions. And because he’s a man–and therefore less prone to the wild emotional responses that guided women–it was quite possible I may never hear from him again. What if that had been my one and only chance with him and I’d blown it?

The train ride home was absolute torture. I recalled every second of our very brief conversation, considering every misstep I had taken from the  dorky comments I’d made to all the quirky cracks and squeaks in my voice. I deconstructed every word out of my mouth and came up with all the perfect responses I should have used. By the time I’d reached my stop at the W. 150th train station, I was miserable, convinced that I’d totally turned him off and I would never hear from him again.

Plagued by this sinking feeling of loss, I made one last desperate attempt to rectify the situation upon returning home. I wrote the following email, even more desperate than my first email to him.

Subject: Random Acts of Weirdness
Author:  Heidi E
Date:    5/28/98 9:49 PM

Hey Mike,

This is Heidi, disguised in my home email address.  Look, not to sound desperate but:

PLEASE CALL ME.

I’d really like to go out with you sometime.  If I sounded shocked or anything weird on the phone, it was because I didn’t expect you to call me like that.  But that was a GOOD sort of surprise, not bad.  You just called me at a hectic time of the day and all.

I dont know where you are at (Gary says you travel a lot in your job…?)  But I am free tomorrow night after 9  (Friday May 29th), Wednesday the 3rd after 5, and Friday the 5th all day.  So if you can fit anything in… And stupid me, I forgot to ask you for your phone number.  I guess I was really flustered ;)

Always,

Heidi

[inserted work email]

OR

[inserted home email]
(I prefer to use the work email because I use it more)

It was a long, sleepless night tucked in with regret, self-deprecation, and defeat. As exciting a prospect as it had seemed at the time, I really wished I’d not agreed to a blind date with a man from Jupiter.

Wedding E-nnouncement, Jan 1999

I know this is out of order with the story I was telling, but in looking through Mike’s email folder, I came across the original message he sent to his coworkers announcing our engagement. Anyone who knew Mike’s voice would hear him loud and clear in this message. Also, I remember how proud he was, always, to tell everyone who would listen that he was getting married. He was actually worse than me, a female. We were not the traditional couple.

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/18/99 4:14 PM
Greetings All,

This e-mail is just to let you in on a little secret.  I am getting
married.  If you are interested in some details, check out this URL.

http://www.concentric.net/~Misha922/

We are trying to improve this sites format as I learn HTML. :)  I think it will be in frames some, and more interesting links should be added as we make plans.

Please copy me in if you can think of other e-mail address that I could include this announcement.

Thanks,

Mike F.

And he forwarded the replies from his coworker to me. First, his boss:

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/19/99 10:25 AM
Greetings Fritzy,

God, now it starts.

Mike F.
____________ Forward Header______________________
Subject: Re: Announcement
Author:  Sally K
Date:    1/18/99 4:48 P

Mike:

Will this end up satisfying the MJO that relates to learning HTML???????

Congratulations!  Make sure your china and silver patterns are on the site.  I have no intention of giving you and Heidi matching parachutes!!!

Best regards,

Sally

The website no longer exists, by the way. That was a long, long time ago. Regardless, I’d like to point out that we were the ground-breakers for creating wedding websites. If only we’d known there was a market for online wedding sites, we could have made our millions back when the iron was hot! Oh well, another great opportunity missed.

Next, one of his coworkers:

Subject: Announcement
Author:  Michael F
Date:    1/19/99 10:26 AM

Greetings Fritzy,

And why do you think they would think this will be on the news?

Misha

____________ Forward Header ___________________
Subject: Re: Announcement
Author:  Jim D
Date:    1/18/99 4:17 PM

Good lord, man, haven’t you paid any attention to what we told you???

Seriously, we wish you the very best. Let us know where and when, or should we just watch the news for the unusual setting?

All the best,

Jim

The beginning, May 1998

(I’m having trouble writing my memoir, particularly when it comes to the chapter about meeting Mike and our first few dates. Therefore, I thought it would be easier and less stressful if I just poured it out on my blog where I don’t have to concentrate on it being actual “good copy.” I plan to do this, maybe, for the next couple days and see where it takes me. Please bear with me; it’s all part of the writing process.)

The first thing I noticed about Mike was his legs. We were playing volleyball at a party called Woodchuck. My team had just scored a point, so it was our turn to serve. Someone tossed the ball over the net, which landed at my feet in the middle row. I leaned over to pick up the ball so that I could toss it to the server when my eyes caught sight of a sexy pair of calves–muscular, tanned, not too hairy. I’ve always been a “leg girl,” admiring the legs of the boys on the soccer fields back home so I knew good legs when I saw them.

What have we here? I thought tartly. Time seemed to stop ridiculously slow, like every cheesy movie gimmick that plays when a man meets a woman, as I raised myself back to a stand with the volleyball in my hand. My eyes followed the legs to the body they were attached to–a man who looked about my age, dressed in a polo shirt and Dockers, very handsome. He was looking back at me, our eyes momentarily locked in mutual acknowledgment. No doubt he was checking me out. A few moments longer our stare lingered. Then, he dropped his eyes away, almost shyly.  He was the next server, so I absently tossed the ball to him. The world snapped into focus. I would never be the same again.

I know it sounds melodramatic but that’s the way it was. An all-encompassing “wow-moment” that grabbed me all of the sudden out of nowhere at a party I’d attended as an indirect-invitee, a guest of my cousin Gary who knew the host. Being 23, I can’t say I wasn’t looking for potential guys to date; after all, I’d just broken up for the second time with my post-high school sweetheart, a man I’d thought I would marry back when I was 18. I was definitely on the prowl, but I was looking for fun, not love. I thought it would be my chance to date multiple guys at once, like my mom had always wished I would do. That moment at that party was not supposed to change my life. I guess all life-changing moments feel like that. Still, running into Mike at that time in my life was pure luck. Chance. Destiny?

I spent the rest of the evening trying to play cool while my eyes suspiciously followed Mike’s activities during the party. I wanted to say hi, introduce myself, but I was really too much of a coward (always have been) when it came to actually trying to talk to a guy I was interested in. Admittedly, I took to flirting with every single guy I knew at the party, except for the one lone stranger I didn’t know. It was part of my “date multiple guys” initiative. I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, could I? And, anyway, Mike did not immediately show much interest in me.

When telling the story of how we met–which is inevitably what every happy couple has to do over and over during their engagement and first few months of marriage–we always stated that we “fell in love over a rousing game of foosball.” Exactly like that–a rousing game of foosball. We liked to make it sound sexy even though it was probably about as innocent as a first meeting at a party could ever be. As evening set in on the party and people were taking to the house in the gathering darkness, one of us discovered a foosball table in the host’s garage. Immediately, those of us unwilling to settle down gathered and the games began.

Mike and I took to slinging playful insults at each other, whether we played as opponents or together on the same team. There was an energy going back and forth between us, perhaps powered by a mutual fear of following through on introductions with someone we found ourselves attracted to, and we really couldn’t resist paying attention to each other’s words, movements, reactions. I was high on adrenalin and anticipation. I teased him without a moments’ hesitation to think my words through. Somehow, I didn’t manage to stick my foot into my mouth (as is my usual modus operandi).

Whenever Mike told our story, he would add here, “She was the only girl I’d met in a while who could keep up with me!”

The foosball matches went on for hours. There were about ten of us there–hanging out while groups of four were playing, cheering each other on or jeering random opponents. It was a fun time, but around midnight I realized I had to go. It was a Saturday night and back then, I worked six days a week, Sunday through Friday. As my cousin made his rounds to say goodbye (he was quite the popular guy in his circle),  I stood in the middle of the garage, looking wearily at the five guys gathered there. Realizing it was my last chance to make any lasting connection with Mike, I tried to summon up the bravery to ask him if I could have his number. Instead, I fumbled out to the general group, “Hey, anyone want my phone number?”

Five sets of eyes blinked vacantly at me. Silence filled the garage. I felt my cheeks flush. What a moronic move. One guy chuckled slightly. Talk about an uncomfortable moment. I left the party wilted. Had I mistaken all the attention for just friendly, party-goer camaraderie? If not Mike, then I was sure at least one or two of the other guys were interested. How could it go so wrong?

The next day at work, I wrote an email to my cousin asking him if he could covertly get the contact information–preferably email since I was better at writing casually than talking–for all of the guys who’d taken part in the “foosball tournaments.” I really just wanted Mike’s contact information but I didn’t want to admit that to Gary, or myself for that matter. I was forming the new Heidi–the one who dated multiple guys and was attached to no one.

Gary got back to me relatively quickly with the information I sought. Fortunately, Mike’s best friend Jonathon–with whom Mike had come to Woodchuck–worked with my cousin and I was able to get his email. However, so as not to look suspicious, I emailed each and every guy who’s address Gary had given to me. Fishing in the days before “phishing.”

Naturally as one would expect in this sort of situation, I received a reply back from every guy except Mike–the very “fish” at whom I was attempting to cast my line. It was frustrating and I spent the next few hours going back and forth through email with two of the other guys. To be fair, I did view them as legitimate dating possibilities.

Very late in that first day, I finally got a reply from Mike. However, it wasn’t at all what I expected. It simply read:

This is a test of the emergency boredom system. If this had been a real case of boredom, it would have been followed by something like this… BBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!

I was crushed. Was he mocking me, or just expressing his complete disinterest? Despite all the responses from the other perspective dates I’d received all day, I felt undeniably sad. I tried to shrug it off as I said to my coworkers, who were anxiously following my juvenile saga, “Well, I guess Mike F isn’t interested in me!”

In searching later through Mike’s sent email archives, which he’d always saved diligently every year (thank God, as they are all I have left of his “voice”), I was unable to find his first email message to me; however, I did come across my original email to him. It’s kind of embarrassing to read back as it almost smacks of desperation amidst a pathetic pretense of nonchalance:

Subject: Fussball Madness
Date:    5/26/98 12:36 PM

Mike!

Do you remember who this is?  It’s your mad, raging FUSSBALL* opponent!  Still recovering from terrible injury done to the palms of my hands, but hey… (get your mind out of the gutter!)

So it’s my lunch hour at work, and I thought, “Hey, I’ll spasmodically send email to people!”  (This probably means I have no life.)  Anyway, feel free to drop me a line!  I’d be glad to hear from you.  This is my work address, but since I am always here, you shouldnt have any trouble reaching me at all.

Always,

Heidi

I can still feel the tingle of that adrenalin high, that unmistakable desire to be noticed by the man whose very presence had shifted my world slightly of phase. Those were magical days. Young, careless, ridiculous lust. I hesitate to say love because it seems bordering on psychotic to say that I’d fallen in love with a man I barely knew. Yet, there was something powerful there, something so very, very real. And the road on which I was about to embark would quickly lead to love… and the best three years of my life.

* = Writer’s Note: I was spelling foosball the German way–Fuß, or “Fuss” if an ess-set character is not available, means “foot” in German. The word for soccer in German is actually Fußball.

Weekend Weather Reprieve

It’s been raining a lot here, or the weather has been predicting rain a lot more than I’d like. I didn’t get to ride to work at all this past week, which kind of depresses me as I really enjoy the morning “workout” and look forward to ride home while I’m at work. I tend to pick on my weight less when I’m riding regularly, especially to work, and it just feels good to feel conditioned even if I’m still a size or two larger in pants than I’d like to be  (than I was a few years ago).

So this week, I rode Monday on my own and Wednesday with ABC. Thursday, I took a day off work–what turned out to be a very nice, comfortable 70-something degree sunny day–to hang out with my best friend from elementary school as she was visiting from Florida. Which led to some sad nostalgia (nostalgia always makes me sad)… maybe I’ll post about that later. It was a restful day, though I indulged in food and bad habits. We went to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and I got to see a panda swim in the water, my seals and sea lions, and feed some lorikeets. I felt like I was playing hooky. It was kind of nice. Relieved some work stress I was feeling.

Friday, though tired from returning home late Thursday night, I decided to jump on an ABC ride led by a girl I’ve nicknamed “Trek Madone Girl” because she rides a Trek Madone and, of course, a bike is the first thing I notice about someone, the first thing I remember before name. I know her name now, but she’s still Trek Madone Girl to me. And she is one sadistic chick. I think she likes hills as much as I do, for she put us up some of Summit and Medina County’s finest, including a slog up Ledge Road in Hinckley. Yeah, that was painful. But I liked it. Because I’m sick that way.

Afterwords, I caught up with Michael at Applebees. Enjoyed dinner, some wine. I originally had plans to ride the longer ABC ride on Saturday morning, but I just couldn’t get myself to get out of bed on Saturday morning. I needed sleep so I took it. Instead, I stupidly opted in the harsh 85-degree heat of the afternoon to go on a bike ride by myself. For some strange reason, I had the crazy idea that I needed to climb Boston Mills West. It must have been inspired by the climb up Ledge Road the night prior or something. But once I get these thoughts in my head, there’s no expelling them. This is how I finally ended up climbing Oak Hill on Memorial Day Weekend–I woke up bound and determined to bag that hill. When inspiration calls, I listen.

So, I rode into the valley and, after picking up a map clip at Century Cycles that had gotten momentarily lost when I had the handlebars replaced on my bike last week, I headed for the beast that is Boston Mills. I thought with it being shaded, the adventure wouldn’t be quite as hot. Ha. The sticky humidity grabbed ahold of me as I began my push up the hill. Just as I was getting to the hard part, however, a motorcycle was making its way up the hill behind me and, nervous about him following behind me up, I stopped to let him pass. And then I dropped about 10 feet or so to “start over” because 1) at that grade, getting back on the bike was nearly impossible and 2) I felt like I had to penalize myself for stopping anyway. I then proceeded to make the climb, not without damning myself for stopping at all. Last fall, I bagged the hill and made it all the way to the end at Black Road without stopping. Ugh! The shame and humiliation. I guess this means I need to go attempt it again in a few weeks…

So to further punish myself, I decided to climb up Everett Road next. It was another road with a lot of shade, or so I thought. Half the climb is in the shade while the other half is in direct sunlight. Oh well. I struggled this time in my ascent, which I attribute to the heat and, probably, the climb up Boston Mills West. I made it up, though, and was in fact tailed for the quarter of a mile by a rider who came up on me fast, but then never passed me up as I expected him to. I don’t see what benefit he got from tailing me like that, but I secretly suspected that I was somehow helping him up and that annoyed me. I climb for no one else but my own sorry ass! We parted ways at Revere when he went right and I went left. I chose to take Bath Road down on which I heavily applied brake and didn’t get much benefit from the twisty, turning downhill. I guess I’m still a wimp.

For my return home, I climbed Theiss out of the valley. This is one of my favorite hills. It’s quiet–not a lot of traffic and scenic–and moderately difficult. After all the other climbing, it didn’t seem so bad. I ran out of water somewhere on Steels Corners and ended up stopping at a gas station to get more. It was a hot day and I couldn’t drink enough, frankly, to feel quenched. I probably should have taken my hydropack. I sincerely hope that next week’s MS 150 is not nearly so hot. In Toledo, there are no trees to save one from the unrelenting heat of the sun…

I ended p with 43 miles–just a few miles short of the ride I would have done in the morning if I hadn’t been so lazy. Tired.

Today I met up with John (aka Bad Dog) to ride the Mill Creek and Little Beaver Creek Greenway bike trails–both paved–and an 8-mile stretch in between of slightly rolling road to Lisbon, Ohio. It was less hot and humid than yesterday so it was really a nice day to just kick back and enjoy some examples of Ohio’s contribution to the rails-to-trails initiative. I enjoyed seeing new places as of yet unexplored. Sometimes riding on a bike trail, away from the roads, you feel as though you’re someplace else all together. A special place where only bikes (and the occasion runner and dog-walker) can roam. Off the beaten path, per se, though not so much so for bicycles.

I realized about five miles into the ride that I’d been on the Mill Creek trail before: on XOBA. As we passed the little rest area at the Kirk Road trailhead, I recalled how I’d stopped to take more Tylenol for my aching knee. That was about 60 or so miles into the 75-ish mile day and I knew at that point that I’d worked through my troubles with my knee and was going to make it.  It was kind of nice to ride by there again.

We went through Leetonia for another blast from my past. My first love, Paul, whom I dated at the very young age of 18, had family living there and he’d once taken me there for Christmas. Ha. All I remember of Leetonia is sitting in the living room eating Christmas dinner with his family, listening to the jokes and the camaraderie, wishing desperately to be a part of it all. I thought I was going to marry Paul, foolish little young’un as I was. I contemplated these memories as we passed through town, secretly looking around to try to identify the house I’d once spent a Christmas in, but my memory failed there. It was probably up one of the awe-inspiring hilly streets that cropped up on the one side of the road. I even, for a fleeting moment, wondered if I would spot Paul, home for a visit or something. With the week I was having, it was not really surprising that my mind so easily slipped into nostalgic meanderings. (In fact, Paul had come up in conversation with my best friend on Thursday…. Ah, the memories…)

Anyway, the Greenway trail starts in Leetonia and ends in Lisbon. It seems even more remote than the Mill Creek trail. Like riding through the woods, you can almost pretend the trail wasn’t paved. On the way back, we went off the trail so that I could see (and ride over) the Teegarden-Centennial covered bridge. I’m really starting to appreciate the covered bridges of Ohio. They are neat to look at, like some sort of utilitarian piece of artwork.

Mars Girl, Black Beauty, and a Covered Bridge

It was really a great day overall and I feel satisfied. We covered 61 miles of mostly flat (with some minor “bumps” on the road section) riding. Which was a great relief after my fervent push on Saturday. Though I have to admit after this weekend, my legs are feeling tired. As much as I want to, I don’t think riding to work tomorrow (Monday) would be prudent. Time to give the legs a rest.

In other news, I’m about 200 miles ahead of where I was last year at this time. What does this mean? Um… I’m not trying to beat last year’s mileage. But if I do… well, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

Impossible scenarios

At a wedding reception this past Saturday, I was talking with my cousin Gary about the difficulty I experience attending weddings sometimes because I inevitably think of the outcome of my own marriage. I was having a little trouble Saturday because the reception was held at the Cleveland equivalent of the restaurant where I held both my wedding ceremony and reception. He kept wanting to know if they were good memories or bad memories and didn’t seem to understand that even though they were good, they still made me a little sad. And once again, Gary implored, “But wouldn’t you have rather had what you had with Mike than never had it at all? Wasn’t it worth it?”

I just can’t answer that question. It makes me squirm when people ask it (and Gary isn’t the only one). Why does this question demand an answer from anyone? Do they want me to provide a movie ending to a sad story? Provide a reason for a tragedy that isn’t there? Does it comfort them, more than me, to know that despite everything I went through, it was all worth it?

I guess when I break down each moment of my time with Mike, I realize I wouldn’t  trade my time with him—however short—for anything in the world. But it hurts immensely to think about it. I’d rather have him here, now. I’d trade everything I have right now for just one more day with him. One short twenty-four hour period. I’d vow a life of poverty if it meant I could touch him one more time. I guess that’s the movie ending people want to hear from me. Self-sacrifice for love sells lots of tickets.

But it’s ridiculous. Because my heart is torn in two. Sometimes, yes, I do think that I’d rather have never met him at all. Sometimes I wish I’d been spared this aching life lesson of love and loss. I just can’t say that nearly three years–though they were very full years–with the man I adored was enough love to last a lifetime. He was removed from this earth too young. No matter how you look at it, no matter how much time you invest in pointing out that the kind of love I had with him was special, it was not long enough. And nothing can replace that fact, not even the phenomenal relationship we had.

I wish I could explain it all better. I just see red when people demand of me to declare which is the best option between having him for a short time and not having him at all. If I’d never met him, I wouldn’t know what I was missing. I wouldn’t know the pain of loss. I wouldn’t have anything compare that would hinder my current attempts at relationships. I might be further in my career, I might have more goals in life, I might be inspired to take more risks. Losing him damaged parts of me that I am not sure can ever be repaired again. It’s not all bad; it just made me grow up. Maybe I didn’t need to grow up so fast.

I honestly think that if someone had told me ahead of time that I was going to meet the love of my life, but that love would end in sorrow and loss, and that I would ache for years after in the aftermath, I would have done everything I could to avoid meeting this man. I mean, seriously, who but a fool would willingly walk into the fire for an ideal? It’s like purposely burning your hand in the flame of a candle to learn that fire is hot.

Gary was determined to make me admit that I would rather have “loved and loss than never loved at all.” He pressed further, “But given the choice between what you had with Mike–three wonderful years–and 20 years with someone you don’t love, which would you take?”

This question is moot. I’d never allow myself to spend 20 years in a miserable loveless relationship. “I’ve learned,” I told my cousin, “that I’d rather be alone than miserable with someone.”

There are no imperatives. Life just is what it is. You choose your path, you walk along it, and sometimes you come to a point where a tree has fallen across it, hindering your way. You can let the obstacle stop you, you can vault over the obstacle, or you can find a different obstacle-free path. Eventually something else will interfere with your travel–a raging river, more fallen trees, a big grizzly bear–and you just have to learn to handle each new situation as it arises. You have some choice, to some extent, over the path you travel along. But you have little choice about what happens to you on that path.

I seriously don’t think anyone–no matter how much of an idealist–would purposely throw themselves down a harmful path for the simple ideal of love. Once I met Mike, it was impossible to pull myself from his orbit. However, if I’d never met him–and thus had no idea of the kind of love that was possible with him–I would surely have chosen a less painful path in life. I’m sorry I can’t give you a Hollywood ending. I’m simply not idealistic enough to truly believe that it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

I’m just not sure it’s worth it. Especially since I’ve watched, over the last ten years, my friends and family develop and mature relationships. My love was very new. It never got to mature. All my friends who have been married since–including my cousin who was married a year after me–have been married longer than me. They have more marriage experience than I got to know. And I want that. I want that with Mike. And I’ll never get that. No, it’s definitely not worth it. I’d rather have 10 long years of really getting to know Mike and test the strength of our relationship through the rigors of life than the three short–albeit adventurous–years we had together. I’m forever stuck with the image of the honeymoon period. The happiest years of my life. I’ll never know anything else.

I just wish we’d had the chance to fulfill our larger dream. I still can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy as I watch my friends and family grow in their relationships. It should have been us too.

Black Beauty gets a make-over

My friend bAD dOG gave me a new set of handlebars to try on my Giant (new to me, handed down spare part, barely used). So I had them installed today by my peeps at Century Cycles. Because changing the handlebars out required re-wrapping them, I decided to go all out and try some red handlebar tape to liven to appearance of Black Beauty–bring out the red stripes of her frame. What do you think? A little different, eh? A little wild? The guys at the shop seemed stricken. It’s definitely added some life to my nearly four-year old bike… I guess you gotta keep it interesting. It’s like my bike is rolling around with a new hat or something.

Alone at a party

Every once in a while, in the midst of a lively party going full swing, I find myself feeling alone. I’ll feel my body slip out of phase with the rest of the participants of the party, becoming invisible–a stranger looking in at the happy, energetic faces like an anthropologist watching some tribe of primitives performing an abstract ritual. I’ll feel unbearably sad. Not in the way that makes me want to cry, just a slow, longing and regret. Maybe a little jealousy. I try not to admit to the jealousy.

After attending a housewarming party for a younger cousin this past weekend, I started to realize that I become most lonely at the parties of family and friends who knew me and Mike as a couple. The parts of my life where the old me still dwells feels disconnected with the new me. I know that everyone in the room once knew Mike and they know what happened to me. They probably don’t think about it as often as I do, but I still feel awkward among them. I wonder if they are thinking–hoping–that I will arrive at their party with a new love. A new love would surely make everything feel less awkward. I’d be less of a reminder of all the things that could go wrong in life. But even if I did turn up with a new love, I also fear that they would do as I do–hold him to the impossible standard set by a beloved friend–and he would fail. In fact, I worry that my friends and family are harder judges of the people I date than I am.

When I get into these states, I try to recover quickly and snap myself out of my private pity party. I usually thrive in large groups. I like the atmosphere of a an active party. I like the group of people I’m with. But sometimes I just feel like I don’t fit anymore. Especially as I watch these friends and family mature, marry, and have kids. I feel like they are getting to successfully complete a project I started but failed. Failed–as if it was my fault for marrying a man with a genetic defect in his heart.

Sometimes I find myself morbidly wondering if there are any more people in my sphere of friends and family who are also going to experience the loss of a spouse or, worse, yet, a child. I don’t like to go there. I don’t want to wish my fate on anyone else, not even to relief the ache of loneliness in my journey through grief.  Still, sometimes the thought slips in. And I fear thinking it will make it happen. Despite the horrible implications of the thought, I sometimes wish I wasn’t the only source of an oddball statistic of tragedy.  Of course, I want everyone to lead the lives they dreamed. Like I once dreamed. Like I still dream and hope I get someday. But I can’t feel magnanimous every day–that whole “if not me, then my friends” bit is harder to truly believe. Why not me? Why me and not someone else? I know I’ve said those lines before. Despite the rhetorical nature of a question no one can answer, it still pops up in my mind during these sobering moments where I feel separated from my friends.

I seem to be more comfortable, and therefore less likely to fall into a spell of loneliness, when I’m with friends who only know post-Mike Mars Girl. Like my new friends from my bike club and my church. They have no expectations of me or who I love, they never knew me as part of the Mike-Mars Girl couple, they did not know Mike. They may know my story because I’ve told them or they read this blog, but they never felt the reality of it. So they see me as I am now. And I know them as they are now. There’s no standing memory of a happier history together. I haven’t watched them grow up as I have my younger cousins, nor have I grown up with them as I have my friends.

I work really hard on controlling the tingle of jealousy that pinches my spine. Jealousy is the ugliest of human emotions and it only leads me to behave miserably. Yet, I have to admit I feel it. Every time I’m at someone’s wedding. I see the happy sparkle in the couple’s eyes, listen to the nervously stuttered pronunciation of vows, and feel the jovial mood of the guests. I remember what it was like to be the host of such an event. That it was truly the best day of my life. Which was only topped by the first date I had with Mike when I knew within the first half hour of those first moments together that he was the man I was going to marry.

I overcompensate for my feelings of jealousy with weddings by spending more money than I should on wedding gifts. I don’t go overboard, but I have a tendency to spend a little higher than the level of friendship I have with the bride or groom probably deserves. I push myself to be over-enthusiastic about attending the wedding so that I don’t find myself wanting to run into a bathroom and cry by the end of it. Crying at this point is really the ultimate act of jealousy and selfishness. It’s not about me. This day is about the bride and groom–two people who have somehow found each other in this crazy, face-paced world. They are lucky to have each other. Just as I was lucky to have Mike for nearly three years of my life. Even if I was totally unlucky to lose him 20 months into our marriage. As I get older, I realize what I had with Mike was more special than I even knew at the time. Though we called each other “soul mates,” I don’t think we were really fully aware of how rare a soul mate is. I envy people who have found their soul mates. I can barely remember what it feels like anymore, but it was indeed wonderful.

I try really hard to show outward happiness for people as they mark new phases of their lives.  I try not to measure my life against their successes for that only leads to jealousy. These kinds of “successes” are really out of our control. It’s nobody’s fault that Mike died. It’s no one’s fault that I still miss him and the relationship I had with him while others find similar love that leads to a more fortunate outcome. I have to remind myself this constantly. Life happens; the quality of your life is measured in how you react to the things that happen to you. What you do with what you’ve been through. I’ve made the best of my life after Mike. I am doing better than I would ever have dreamed, probably better than he would have dreamed.

I have all the right thoughts when confronting these situations. But emotions are emotions, and I can’t help it that the normal rites of passage in adult life depress me. Each one that marks one more thing Mike and I have done or never got to do just tears at my insides. At least I don’t run away from them. At least I put on a happy face and I still show up. At least I keep the thoughts inside at the moment. At least I don’t burden the party’s hosts with my inner anguish. I’m a good little griever. I know how to keep my grief to myself.

A good guy friend of mine is getting married on Saturday. I’ve distracted myself with the usual preparations to keep away from those gloomy thoughts. I finally had a dress altered that I bought almost two years ago so that I could wear it to the wedding, and then I spent half the week trying to locate a slip to wear underneath it (it’s see-through otherwise and I don’t need to attract guys that badly). The week before, I agonized over the couple’s registry to figure out which item was the perfect one to come from me. As if it all mattered. As if they’ll even notice. As if anyone at the wedding will notice me in my much less glamorous gown. Somehow in trying to distract myself, I’ve made it about me again. I’m terrible about this. It’s just another wedding, right? Vows at the church, obligatory dances at the reception. DJ, speeches, crying family members, a few embarrassingly drunk family members or friends. It’s become a tired routine by this time in my life. (Back when I got married, I was one of the first in my group of friends, so the whole ritual seemed new and original.)

No. It does mean something because it’s a friend. And I’m excited to go, to hang out in a group of friends I haven’t seen in a long time. Friends who, one by one, are joining the ranks of the married.

I’m doing pretty good at weddings these days. I mostly get through them by turning my emotions off. Which makes it really hard to appreciate the moment. I used to get sappy at weddings. Mike and I would look at each other during key lines and smile knowingly. Weddings made us glow. Now those very same lines–references to a long and shared life together–often sound ironic.

I guess maybe I should have brought a friend or something, instead of increasing the possibility of feeling alone when, in fact, I am attending alone. But I didn’t really have anyone I wanted to bring as a date. And I didn’t want to give any of my usual friends the impression that I was seeing anyone seriously. I suppose I could have brought a girl friend. But weddings are so personal; people usually are bored unless they know the couple. I think it’s kind of rude, too, to bring someone to partake of free food and beverage at someone else’s expense. It’s not a free party; it’s a wedding. After having gone through one, I understand the cost.

Loneliness is the hardest emotion to work through sometimes. Jealousy, too. I work constantly on overcoming both. People wonder why I spend so much of my time out and about instead of sticking at home more often. To be honest, I keep myself busy to avoid feeling alone. But loneliness occasionally sneaks in when you least expect it–in a crowd of people right when you think you’re having a good time. Because of what happened to me, I think I’ll always feel a little outside of any group. I see the world a little differently than I used to. And maybe sometimes I’m acutely aware of the fact that even amidst a party full swing, at my happiest moment, that the world is changing beneath my feet. That a particular moment is lost as it passes and I sometimes miss it ahead of its passing. People come into our lives and then they go, whether they drift apart or our taken from life, and I think I understand it a little more than others who have not gone through the experience of loss. I feel, always, like I’m trying to hang onto a moment or a person, desperately hoping I can prevent its departure.