A Month of Travel, Part 3

It is, of course, never a good thing, when a family member gets sick and needs to be cared for.  But sometimes something good can come from such a situation.  We’ve probably all seen a movie or two about a character returning home to care for a sickly parent and finally finding a way to heal a relationship or themselves.  I admit that perhaps watching some of these movies may have influenced my assumptions or expectations about what would happen when I went to Tulsa to care for my mother.  It’s true that I had an idea in my head about being there and having her being terribly ill and in need of care and therefore being completely dependent on me.  And it’s true that I imagined having a storied experience of healing with her.  And I got my healing, in a way very different from what I expected but no less valuable.

Other good resulted from this trip as well.  Due to the relationship with my mother, I hadn’t been back to Tulsa in five and a half years which means that the only chance I ever had to spend time with Heather, my dearest friend was when she came to California on her annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage out west to visit her Grandparents.  Since I was in Tulsa, to take care of my mother, I was afforded the opportunity to visit with Heather as well.

The first night we got together Heather, her fiancée, Joe, and I went to a local Tulsa eatery called Zio’s.  It’s the quaint little Italian restaurant on one of the main strips in town.  Zio’s has been in Tulsa for close to fifteen years and I used to eat their frequently before I moved away.  It was at Zio’s that I was introduced to a dish called Spaghetti Half & Half.  It’s incredibly simple being nothing more than a bowl of spaghetti pasta with both Marinara and Alfredo sauces poured side by side over the top.

This was always my favorite dish at Zio’s and I have craved it many times in the ensuing years.  (I’ve made it myself at home a couple times but it’s never the same.)  Imagine my horror, then, when we sat down at the restaurant and I opened the menu, only to find that it no longer includes “Spaghetti Half & Half.”  Fortunately, they have a “create your own” option now; select your pasta, select your sauce and if you want it, select your meat.  Let me just tell you, adding chicken to this dish does not improve it one bit.  Oh well.

After dinner, we went back to Heather’s house and watched a movie.  Joe had mentioned Borat and Heather mentioned that she’d only seen a little of it.  I had never seen it at all, and now that I have I wish I could still say that I haven’t.  That’s the problem with bad movies, you don’t know they’re bad until you’ve already seen them and try as you might, some things can not be unseen.

The next time I got to hang out with Heather, it was just the two of us.  Joe went camping, claiming he wanted a little “alone time” and then proceeded to text and e-mail Heather every half hour or so.  Heather showed me around her studio (She’s a massage therapist – something from which I’ve never benefited) and then we went to dinner at another restaurant in Tulsa called Cosmo.  It’s a cool little joint that reminded me quite a bit of some of the coffee shops and such that I hung out in when I was in college.  The menu was unique and the food was tasty.  After that we went back to Heather’s house and watched “Yes Man” (where I got my inspiration for my other blog).  Afterward we sat and talked for a couple hours.  It was so nice to sit and have a mature, rational conversation with someone who doesn’t always see things exactly the same way I do, but is interested in hearing my perspective anyway.

I really treasure these times with Heather.  They don’t happen nearly often enough.  I’m afraid now that she’s getting married they may happen even less frequently.

And then there’s this.  I wrote this post, also on my previous blog in January of this year.  When I think about it, my heart breaks just a little bit…

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radioactive-happiness-face

It was my plan to write today about happiness.  How sometimes, happiness is a choice and one that can be very hard to make and how frustrating it is to have to make that choice over and over again.  That was my plan.

I just got some news that upset that plan and, of course, me.

I’ve written in the past about my dear friend, Heather.  I met Heather when I worked in retail 12 years ago.  I liked her and enjoyed our friendship but some things happened along the way that for a time we weren’t as close as we once had been.  When I moved to California, I assumed I’d never see her again, indeed, I never thought I’d speak to her gain.  I don’t think I realized then, that her grandparents live in the bay area and she has a long-standing tradition to come to the bay area to visit her grandparents the week of Thanksgiving and when the time came for her to come visit the first year I was here, she contacted me and invited me to come hang out.

I was really glad she did, and with the trappings of our previous work relationship, and with all the rumor and hushed conversations of others out of the way we had the opportunity to really grow in our friendship and our love for each other.

Earlier today, I logged on to Facebook (evil site that it is) and found that I had been “tagged” in a note by Heather.  I looked at it to find that it was one of those “25 random things about me” lists.  (Random thing about me #1:  I’ve been dreading being asked to complete one of those!)  As I read her list, I noticed that number 15 said this, “My mother and I have an amazing relationship, I die a little inside knowing I have less than 12 months to spend with her before she moves to the west coast.

“Awesome” I thought, “Now maybe she’ll make more trips out here and I’ll get to spend more time with her.”

Heather told me years ago that her mother was planning to retire to the Bay Area so she could be close to her parents.  I always secretly hoped that Heather would move with them, or shortly after them, and we could be close again.  A few years ago Heather’s mother took a huge hit when the stock market faltered and she lost a significant amount of money.  Apparently, that’s when they decided to move west, but some place a little less expensive.  So today, I asked Heather about this:

Self:  So I didn’t realize your parents were going to move here so soon. Where are they going to live?

Heather:  In Portland, OR or Vancouver, WA.

Self:  Oh. I thought they were moving here.

Heather:  No.  And, my Grandparents are even moving up to Portland or Vancouver, too.  So this Thanksgiving will be the last time I head out that way

Self: Oh, no.

Heather: Yup.  So I’ll get to see you in Feb and in Nov and that’s that for awhile.

Self: Well, you’ve just totally bummed my day!

brokenheartThis is tragic!  My heart is absolutely breaking!  I don’t know what my life would have been like without her in it.  I don’t know if she had any real impact on my existence, other than to have been the one person I knew I could come out to and know there’d be no negative repercussions.  But I know that these brief, and few and far between, visits that we’ve shared over the last 11 years have meant the world to me, and they’ve been the life’s blood of our friendship.

I feel like our relationship is ending.  Is that silly?  I mean, in this day and age with Instant Messengers, and Facebook and iPhones with text messaging, is that silly?  The problem is, I’m doing what I always do.  I’m thinking about this a few steps ahead.  Yes, I’ll see her, however briefly, when she comes out to visit next month, and I’ll see her again very briefly in November.  The visits will be fun, but they’ll go much too fast, and there will be a cloud over them.  And in November, when she walks me to my car (if she walks me to my car) and hugs me and says good-bye.  It will be for the last time.

I haven’t been to Tulsa in five years.  My sister and her family have moved to New York.  I’ve lost touch with all of my other friends besides Heather.  I love my Mother, but I can’t stand to be around her for long.  Going back to Tulsa, really isn’t in the cards.

Ultimately, I’m only a very small part of Heather’s life and I don’t fit into the rest of it.  I’ve met her boyfriend twice, but I don’t know him, I’m not completely comfortable with him and I don’t think he’s completely comfortable with me.  I’ve never met his two children but I know they’re troublesome and I don’t really feel like I should be involved in that.  And despite the way I speak of Heather, we don’t really have the kind of connection where I would be welcome and convenient as a part of her every day life, however briefly.  Therefore, going to Tulsa, with the purpose of visiting her doesn’t seem likely.  And even if I did, I couldn’t get away with being there and not seeing/visiting/staying with my mother.

So, I’m doing what I always do.  I’m thinking about this a few steps ahead and what I see happening is, our interaction will dwindle.  Heather is never on Instant Messenger any more.  Occasionally, I talk to her via the chat function of Facebook, but it’s not very convenient and it’s very infrequent.  We exchange one line comments and topics on Facebook but it’s all very superficial.  We don’t spend much time on the telephone.  And text messaging is no way to carry on a conversation.  Soon it’ll be nothing but comments on each other’s Facebook activity.  I don’t imagine I’ll ever see her again.

funny-pictures-sad-cat-blackandwhiteIt is at a moment like this, when I’m faced with difficulties and sad things that are not within my control, which really aren’t about me, that I remember just how much of an effort it is, how much hard work it takes to be happy and at this moment, I can’t put forth the effort it requires.

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A Little Backstory

In the middle of writing a post about my recent trip, I realized I hadn’t properly introduced my readers to my dearest friend, Heather.  The post is about Heather so, I thought, rather than completely side tracking myself with an explanation of who Heather is to me, I’d pull this from the Archives of my old blog.

This post was originally written in November, 2008.  Check it out and come back around for the next installment of my Month Of Travel.

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My retarded clever gene has struck again.

I’ve tried three times to start this post in a clever way and nothing seems quite right, so I’m just going to be straight… eh’hem.   So to speak.

The love of my life is coming to town.  I’m totally stoked!  She’s bringing her boyfriend.  I could do without that.  Not that there’s anything wrong with him, he’s actually a really nice guy, but her having a boyfriend means she’s not pining away for me and I’m not loving that.  Her name is “Eve” (as in “All About… “).  OK, it’s not really, but she will be the first person to tell you that “it’s all about me”, and she won’t be kidding.   It would be annoying and a real turn-off except that part of what is all about her, is her genuine interest and care for the people in her life.  Her real name is Heather.  She has an amazing ability to turn that “it’s all about me” selfishness right on upside down into a selflessness that is completely unparalleled.

Now, if you’re a regular reader (and if you’re not, you should be!), I’m sure I can imagine what you’re probably saying to yourself right now.  “This dude is gay.  Why is he talking about a woman as the love of his life?”  And you’re probably right.  It’s a little bit odd.  But I guess you’d have to know us.

Heather has a far clearer picture of the real me, than anyone else in the world, I think.  I shudder at the thought that maybe she doesn’t know it all, and if she did, I’d finally succeed in driving her away.  Lord knows I’ve worked pretty damn hard at it over the years.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I met Heather around the middle of 1995, I think (may have been 96, I’m bad with this stuff.  But she’s not.)  I was working as an Assistant Manager at the Men’s Clothing Store that happened to carry a moniker deceptively similar to but has no affiliation with that of a former NFL Running Back but which has since gone out of business, when Heather transferred in from the Salt Lake City store.  She was a year younger than I which is to say, she moved to Tulsa, because she still lived with her mother and her mother moved to Tulsa for work so therefore Heather moved to Tulsa as well.  Heather was essentially placed in our store by the District Manager who didn’t ask the Store Manager for her opinion or an interview and therefor Heather was starting out on the losing end.

The fact is Heather had everything you want in a “sales girl” in a men’s clothing store you want to be viewed as “young and hip.”  She was young (19), beautiful and very flirtatious.  Before her mother’s job brought them to Tulsa, Heather was the strongest seller in her store.  This is the reason there was no question whether she’d be brought onto our staff when the call came in.

Heather was instantly disliked by the Store Manager, Jodi because Heather was “forced” upon us, and by the First Assistant Manager, Paul because of no reason that I can identify.  It’s possible that Paul was just loyal to Jodi and that was all it took.  I don’t know.

Heather has an amazing memory.  Stunning even.  She remembers specific events, and specific things that were said that I have no recollection of whatsoever.  She consistently blows me away with the things she pulls out.  I on the other hand, can’t seem to remember jack shit!  I don’t really remember how I came to be friends with her.  In fact, I thought things were somewhat tense between us.  I remember more than one occasion when Heather drove me to my car at the end of our shifts.  It was the holidays and the lowly mall employees were relegated to parking in the middle of BFE so that the precious patrons wouldn’t have to walk very far.  On more than one occasion we had conversations about why she was having trouble with Jodi, and what Heather could do differently to win her over.  Heather tells me, however, that there was rumor and speculation about me having had feelings for her.  Looking back, I realize that’s probably true.

Jodi quit soon after Heather joined us and we got a new Manager named Becky (Oh. My. God.)  I remember that Becky and Heather usually worked the day shift together which did not make Heather very happy because there was far less business in the day time than there was any other time, but that’s how the schedule usually came together.  I remember walking into the store one late November afternoon and finding Heather standing in the front window, waste deep in a gold leme faux gift box.  Becky felt that Heather would be fairly artistic and that she should do the holiday window display.  I have two specific memories from this day and no idea what order they come in.

Memory #1:  I’m somewhere in the store, doing something store-like, and I hear a yelp.  I look toward the front of the store as Heather slowly turns around to face me, biting her bottom lip and a glisten of fought back tears in her eyes.  When she could speak again, after the bleeding had stopped she revealed to me that she had been holding a piece of our semi-industrial strength packing tape in between her lovely lips while arranging the tissue paper she was about to tape in place and when she literally yanked the tape out of her mouth, some of the flesh from her lip came with it.  It was one of those things that we knew we’d laugh at some day, but you should have seen her face in the moment.

Memory #2:  (I’m guessing this one comes first.)  Heather is in the window up to her eyeballs in paper and gift wrap and clothes and mannequins and I hear her say, “Oh sure!  Make the Jewish girl do the Christmas display!”

That year we decided to have a “Secret Santa” gift exchange in our store.  The rule was that we would not spend more than $10.00 and there was a sheet behind the register where we were supposed to put down ideas about what our Secret Santa could get us.  I remember very little about how the whole exchange went down but I remember that I had picked Heather’s name.  Most of the staff went into the thing with limited (read: negative amounts of) gusto and most of the gifts amounted to $10.00 gift certificates (yes! Certificates, not cards!) to Blockbuster, or a music store, or McDonald’s (actually some of those college kids really appreciated the McD’s certs) or a $10.00 bill stuck into an envelope.

By this time Heather and I had become friends and there was no tension that I can recall, so I really wanted to give her a good gift.  I didn’t care about the Secret Santa.  I didn’t care about the $10.00 limit.  I wanted to give my friend a good Christmas gift.  You see, gift giving is a major weak point of mine and I’m always disappointed by my own poor gift giving acumen.  But Heather had let something slip.  “James and the Giant Peach” was coming out in the movie theaters and she wanted to see it.  She mentioned one day that “James and the Giant Peach” had been her favorite book growing up.

It was one of my good days and I was paying attention.  I made a mental note and when I got the chance I went and found a pristine, hard cover copy of “James and the Giant Peach.”  Now, as I’m writing this I’m realizing, I may even have special ordered it.  You know, it’s funny!  To me, giving a book as a Christmas gift isn’t a big deal.  That has a lot to do with the fact that my paternal Grandparents used to send us books from foreign countries, travel guides I think they were, all the time.  Every Birthday and every Christmas we could count on getting a book from the grand peeps.  And to tell the truth, it sucked!  So big deal, I thought, so I got you a book.  It’s only special ’cause it’s your favorite and I thought it’d be nice for you to have a pristine copy. But to hear Heather tell it, it was a big deal.  It seems like she’s told me it had to have been expensive.  Whatever was so special about it, it was certainly grist for the rumor mill.  I didn’t care.  I’d done something nice for my friend and she was grateful.

And then tragedy struck.  Heather decided to take up her Dead Beat Dad on an offer to come to Idaho where he lived and work in his office.  Two years earlier I had taken up my own Dead Beat Dad on a similar offer for many reasons.  I couldn’t blame her for going.  I had already done the same thing.  But as I recall it (which is admittedly probably faulty) this is the moment that it hit me.  This woman matters to me. And I was about to lose her.  I was terribly sad she was going and didn’t really know how to tell her.  I wanted to ask her not to go, but I had nothing to offer her to make her stay.  So I said nothing.  And she went.  And we lost touch.  I was never very good at long distance relationships.  Even my relationships with my various family members have suffered from distance and with one notable exception, I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.  But I digress.

Heather left me and I was devastated.  But two years in Idaho was enough for her and she moved back to be with her mother, and Heather and I were back on…  So to speak.  There was no aspect of our relationship that pointed at romance.  Heather never expressed that kind of interest in me and I certainly didn’t have the cajones to try and make something happen, so there we were, smack dab in the middle of friend central.  A few years ago I asked her in an instant message conversation if there was any chance we would have ended up  together if I had not moved to California.  She told me “I don’t know.  It’s possible.  But I’ll tell you this much.  You wouldn’t have stayed a virgin for so long.”  (You should have seen the looks on my co-workers faces when the realized that boom they heard was me falling out of my chair.)

Something unusual happens when Heather drinks alcohol.  She gets very drunk, very fast, on very little.  And then a half hour or so later she’s perfectly sober.  No doubt a breathalyzer would disagree, but for all intents and purposes she’s good.  After she moved back to Oklahoma Heather met a guy and despite his name, he did not live in a giant peach, and despite his not living in a giant peach, I’m still going to call him “the Pitts”.  (Hey my clever gene is waking up.)  The Pitts was an ex-husband and a father of two children, and a carrier of a nasty little venereal disease, none of which did he bother to mention to Heather.  So on one particular evening when they were together and Heather’s odd metabolism had done its worst, she convinced him they should have sex.  The Pitts, apparently resisted (only a little I’m sure) but she told him, “C’mon.  You know we’re gonna do it eventually, why wait?”

So they did.  Under protected.  If ya know what I mean.

The Pitts left her with two “gifts” that night.  Not long after that, he just left her.  When Heather knew she was pregnant, she told me about it.  I was a terrible friend, for I was still under the influence of my Mother and had not yet learned to form my own ideals and principles (yes, even in my early 20s).  Heather told me, “I don’t know if I can do this.  I’m not sure I can keep it.  I’m thinking of having an abortion.”  I don’t know what I said, or how I reacted, but I know something in me changed that night, at least for a time.   Abortion, I thought, how can she consider an abortion?  Abortion is wrong.  If she does that, she’ll be wrong.  I can’t be friends with someone who has an abortion! Far be it from me to just support my friend through whatever she may be going through without judging her actions.

We drifted again.  At the time that she told me this I was contemplating a change of my own.  I soon made my move to California, and while we talked some after that, we lost touch again.  The few times that we did talk after that I never asked, and she never said, what she’d decided about the baby.  It wasn’t until the following October that she made contact with me again and told me that she and her parents… and her son were coming to California the week of Thanksgiving to visit her grandparents and that if I wanted to we could get together while she was here.  It was at that moment that I realized just how much I missed her, how much she had meant to me and how I had just walked away from it. I’d like to think that I’d have felt this way regardless, but I admit that when I heard her say “my son” and I knew she had not had the abortion, my heart skipped with joy and relief.  I guess somehow that made her acceptable again.  I’m a terrible friend.

There is more to this story I haven’t the time to tell now, but suffice it to say, Heather is my dearest friend!  She means the world to me, and we have a relationship that defies explanation.  We hardly ever talk to each other, probably more my fault than hers, but when we do see each other, every year, the day after Thanksgiving, like clockwork, set your watch by it, for ten years running?  It’s like we never missed a day.  It’s awesome and I wouldn’t give it up for the world!  My Mother asked me to come “home” for Thanksgiving, the other day.  I told her, “No.  I have a prior engagement.”

The love of my life is coming to town, in 16 days.  I’m totally stoked.