Saturday, November 28, 2015

Time Marches On...

Today is going to be another rambling post... I'm going to write without proof-reading...

Yesterday marks the one month anniversary since my best friend took his own life.  Time is marching on, and time seems a surreal way to mark the event.  It seems like yesterday that he did it, and it seems like an eternity since I've seen him.  Part of me feels like time should stop so that I can come to grips with things, but I know that's not possible, so another piece of me wishes that time would fast forward to the point where I've come to grips with what's happened.  But I also know that if time were to fast forward, I'd miss out on all kinds of good things that would happen along the way, so I mostly wish for time to stop while I process shit.

I know that my last several blog posts have focused on Greg's suicide.  I know it's depressing as shit.  I'm sorry for that.  For those of you who read my shit regularly... well, psyche... I don't write regularly any more, but you know what I mean... anyway, please know that I'm sad but not depressed.  I miss Greg, but I'm at least trying to enjoy life.  I think of him every day, but am to the point where I remember the good shit.

I've been going over to his house a lot... to make sure that his wife and kids are okay... and to feel close to him.  His wife and I share memories, and we tell a lot of jokes at his expense.  It's only fair... the fucker's not going to get the last word.  We both miss him terribly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Small Measure of Comfort

It's been a bit over three weeks since my best friend did the unthinkable and took his own life.  Kind of hard to believe... it seems like forever since I saw him last.  For the most part, I've moved past the crushing, debilitating, profound grief that I experienced for the first week or two, but I still miss him terribly.  I'm beginning to return to life and have good experiences, but when I wake up, when I'm alone, and when I go to sleep, my thoughts invariably return to him.  Generally speaking, I feel hollow... empty... more than sad, but less than depressed.  Last night, though, I learned that things could be worse.

You see, I had a dream about my friend last night.  In this dream, I was in a hospital, sitting across the table from my friend, who was completely catatonic.  There was no expression on his face, no life in his eyes.  I spoke to him, trying desperately to get through to the man I knew was in there somewhere, but I was having no success.  I heard the doctor say "He's dead.  His mind is completely gone, but his body doesn't know it yet."

That's when my brain reminded me that my friend is indeed dead, and awakened me from the dream.  When I returned to consciousness, I immediately realized that things could be worse.  Yes, my friend took his own life.  But at least he succeeded.  It would have been far worse if things had dragged on, with his mind gone, but his body present.  This is a cold comfort, but it is, nonetheless, some measure of peace.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Attention MCHS Class of 1986

In approximately six months, we will mark the 30th anniversary of our graduation from MCHS, which means the time for another class reunion is quickly approaching.  I, for one, am looking forward to it, but it wasn't always this way.  I'd like to take a couple of minutes to explain why I skipped the early reunions, why I changed my mind, and throw out some ideas for making our 30th reunion a success.

Most of you know that I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school.  In the winter of 1990-1991, I ran into someone from my graduating class and asked her if we would be having a 5 year reunion.  Her response was something like "Well, some of us got together and talked about it.  We all kind of realized that none of us have our lives together, and we came to the conclusion that nobody else did either, so we decided to not have a 5 year reunion."  I was instantly pissed, and replied "Well, that's pretty fucking arrogant, don't you think?"  When it was time for our ten year reunion, that quote stuck with me, and I boycotted the reunion.  In essence, I took the comment of one classmate, applied it to my entire graduating class, and decided that I wanted nothing to do with any of them, with the exception of the few I kept close after high school.

When it was time for our 20th reunion, I had matured a bit and thought it would be fun to find out how my classmates had fared over time.  Unfortunately, I missed it.  I think I had a last-minute work conflict.  Over the next year or two after that, I started getting in touch with my classmates through Facebook.  Oddly enough, most of them reached out to me.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of them weren't the punk kids I knew as a teenager.  (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that many of them were punk adults with attitudes quite similar to my own.)  I was happy to discover that most of us had grown up and moved past our petty high school selves.  I attended the 25th anniversary, had a great time, and connected with a few more classmates.

What I'm coming to, is that none of us are the same person we were in high school, and I suspect that a lot of our classmates didn't attend previous reunions because they erroneously assumed that it would be just like going back to MCHS.  If that's the case with you, I ask that you reconsider, and plan to attend our 30th reunion.  I'm not exactly sure when it will be, or what we'll do, but I can promise that, if it's anything like the 25th was, you will have fun.  You will see at least one person you didn't expect to see.  You'll experience at least one instance where you're surprised how much fun you had catching up with someone.  You'll be delighted to see how unlike high school it is.

To those organizing the event, (not sure who you are) I'd like to propose the following:

-Please don't hold the reunion over Memorial Day weekend, or the last week in July.  (Previous commitments would prevent me from attending.)

-Please send out as much notice as possible, so that our classmates can make vacation plans, travel plans, etc.

-I think another tour of the high school would be a blast!

-There is a bar in town owned by one of our own, and another bar in town owned by one of our relatives.  It would be really cool if we could hold an event at one of these places to show some love.

-If we do something upscale, please make sure to remind people that you need a head count, commitment and money well in advance.  Last time, the upscale plan fell through because people didn't commit and/or pay in a timely manner.

-Consider offering several alternatives and letting those who plan to attend help choose what we do.  This will help ensure maximum participation.

To those thinking about attending the event, I'd like to propose the following:
-Please speak up.  Let the organizers know if there's something specific you'd like to do, and/or if there's a specific time that's bad for you to attend.

-Please commit early and pay early if needed.  There were several people who said "I'm in," for one event last time, only to cancel at the last minute.  Some of these people stated money shortages.  We understand that life occurs, but with the advanced notice, people could have saved $0.50 per week and have been able to attend the big party.  Instead, organizers scrambled at the last second to come up with alternate activities.

To everyone:  We've reached the point in our lives where some of us are no longer around.  This is only going to get worse as we age.  Please don't let another reunion pass you by.  If you do so, you may miss your only chance to catch up with someone...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For My Best Friend

I should be working, but I can't concentrate.  I can't concentrate, partially because I couldn't sleep.  That tends to happen when you find out that you're never again going to see a loved one.  My best friend took his own life yesterday morning.  He took his own life, and all I can do is sit here and stare at the blank page... stare at the page because the words won't flow.  Well, that's not exactly correct.  Words are flowing, but they're not really coherent thoughts... they're pieces and fragments of notions, floating through the fog in my mind, just out of reach of my consciousness.  With this in mind, I hope you'll bear with me, because I'm going to write just to keep going.  I suspect this will be a bit directionless.

One thing I won't do is ask why.  I know why.  He's been very depressed for a very long time.  He battled with alcohol for years.  He was having problems with his marriage.  It all just became too much for him to bear.

One thing I won't do is blame myself.  I've known for years that this was a possibility, and I acted accordingly.  When he wanted to discuss his depression, I listened.  When he expressed hopelessness, I encouraged him to seek treatment (which he did) and told him that he was loved and needed.  When he wanted to focus on enjoying life, we lived.  I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.  In the end, the decision to check out was his, and his alone.  There was nothing I could to do stop him, and there was nothing anyone else could have done.

I will allow myself to be angry at him.  What he did was horrific and selfish.  He had no right to do this... to leave the utter devastation that his parents, brother, wife and two young girls are suffering.  He took the coward's way out.

I will allow myself to grieve for and forgive him.  I know that his brain wasn't working.  I know that he was suffering as much as any cancer patient or trauma victim.  In the end, it really doesn't matter how he died.  What matters is that I will never see my best friend again.

I will carry on through the grief and do my best to  help lighten the burden of those who love him as much as I do.  I do this partially because I share and understand their grief, partially because I believe that he would want me to help them, and partially to honor his memory.

I will carry on with life.  Life is for the living.  I cannot and will not fail to appreciate God's beauty.  I will try to remember that you must experience despair and grief in order to fully appreciate joy.

I will try to bring some sort of meaning to his death.  If you are suffering from depression, I beg you to seek help.  My friend came to the mistaken conclusion that the world would be better without his presence.  I promise you this is not the case.  The world right now matches my mood... cold, gray and rainy.  It's as if God himself cast a pall on the world to express His sadness at a soul's needless passing.  If you know someone suffering from depression, I ask that you urge that person to seek help.  It may or may not help, but at least you will know that you tried.  That knowledge may make all the difference if they follow the path of my friend.

I will pray that he finally knows the peace that sought all these years.  I will pray for his parents, brother, wife and girls, asking that He provide them with the strength to get through this.

I will eventually remember the good times.

I will miss my best friend.  That will never stop.

I'm now going to cry some more.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Pilgrimage to Sturgis Part VI

“My Pilgrimage to Sturgis” is a multi-part story chronicling my trip to the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Week.

Part VI – Heading Home and Final Notes:
After three glorious days in The Black Hills, it was time to head home.  As we did on the way out, we split the return trip in half, stopping at Badlands National Park on the way.  The Badlands is another area I visited on my family trips as a kid, and it is probably the one area that made an impact during my childhood visits.  The Badlands is a gorgeous, harsh environment, full of prairieland, and sharp, desolate desert mountains.  It’s also a geologist’s paradise, full of fossils, giving a rich history of the Earth’s evolution.  And contrary as it may sound, it’s also a tribute to God’s design.

We paused at many roadside stops, which provided tremendous scenic views and gave brief historical stories of the area.  We walked around and climbed some of the hills in areas where tourists are welcome to explore.  This is another instance where words can’t quite do justice to the experience.  In a small geographic region, we transitioned from rich mountains to plains to a stark relatively desert-like environment.  The Badlands are worth a full day of exploration, but if you do so, please make sure to bring plenty of water.  You can spend an entire day adventuring, but you need to plan ahead.
The Badlands

Overall, the trip was wonderful.  It was a trip down memory lane.  My wife and I forged some great memories.  I tested my skill and endurance as a motorcycle rider.  I also learned to appreciate well-maintained roads.  (The roads in Iowa SUCK compared to Minnesota and South Dakota.)  I soaked in the sights and smells in a way that you can only experience on a motorcycle.  I appreciated the fact that it didn’t rain at all while I was riding.  I experienced wildlife that I may never see again.  I was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of fellow riders seeking the same memories.  I learned that I, while technically could do this type of ride on a Sportster, I would probably have enjoyed things more on a touring bike.  I was reminded that life isn’t about things; it’s about relationships and experiences.

My Pilgrimage to Sturgis Part V

“My Pilgrimage to Sturgis” is a multi-part story chronicling my trip to the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Week.

Part V – Wildlife Loop and Wind Cave National Park:
For our third and final day in The Black Hills, we took the Wildlife Loop of Custer State Park, and visited Wind Cave National Park.  Our previous two days had shown us the wisdom of starting the day early.  This, coupled with the fact that camping means getting up at sunrise, meant that we once again started our journey around 7:00 AM.  The journey began with the Wildlife Loop.

The wildlife loop was a treat unto itself.  Shortly after entering the loop, we found our vehicle surrounded by a large herd of wild buffalo.  For a full fifteen minutes, we were effectively part of the herd, with a huge bull standing on the road less than 20 feet from the van, a calf feeding from mom’s teat a stone’s throw away, and countless bison grazing, meandering and playing on and around the road.  I knew from previous visits that buffalo were large, but 30-odd years of time allowed me to forget just how big they can get.  The largest of them were fully two-thirds the size of the van, and probably weighed half as much as our transport.  The wife had never seen bison in real life, and instantly became a buffalo fan.  (This may present some gift opportunities in the future, but that’s another story.)  After working our way through the herd, we meandered through the rest of the park, seeing a few deer, a wild burro, and a few prairie dogs.  From there, we headed to Wind Cave National Park.
Buffalo on Wildlife Loop

The drive to the park took 45 minutes or so… another leisurely, winding drive, rife with prairies, pine-covered hills, prairie dogs, antelope and other wildlife.  After arriving at the cave, we signed up for a tour, which is guided by Park Rangers.  The guide was incredibly personable and knowledgeable about the cave.  We took the longer tour, which lasted roughly 90 minutes.  Our guide informed us about the boxwork formations, which are apparently very rare, and showed us popcorn formations… small mineral deposits that resemble popcorn.  Beyond this, there’s not much I can really say to relay the experience… either you like the idea of caves, and find them cool, or you don’t.  I’m in the former camp.  If you like caves, then Wind Cave National Park is worth the visit.  If you don’t then I don’t recommend it.
 Wind Cave

After the cave, we stopped in the town of Custer and had lunch.  One thing I really wanted to do while I was in South Dakota was eat buffalo.  (I had buffalo burgers as a kid, and remember liking them, which made me want to revisit the experience as an adult.)  I actually did this twice… on the first day, I had a bison burger.  But the stop in Custer allowed me to eat a buffalo steak, which in my opinion gives a far better idea of what bison tastes like.  The best way to explain bison’s flavor is to compare it to beef.  The texture and flavor are very similar, except that bison is far leaner, and has a very mild gamey taste, similar to young venison.

Once we finished our lunch, we headed back to camp for a day of relaxation and watching the throngs of bikes pass by.  Sometime around mid-afternoon, we were treated with an unexpected visit of several female bighorn sheep.  This visit also brought throngs of tourists, who stopped along the side of the road to take some pictures.  In fact, a pair of bikers from Mexico stopped to view the picture.  They spoke little English, and I speak little Spanish, but we bonded over the wildlife spectacle and our mutual journey to Sturgis.  We communicated for a few precious minutes, gave man hugs as we parted ways, and bid one another “Vaya Con Dios.”  That brief international encounter gave me warm fuzzies, and reinforced the notion that we really are all one race.

My Pilgrimage to Sturgis Part IV

“My Pilgrimage to Sturgis” is a multi-part story chronicling my trip to the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Week.

Part IV - Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway:
Our second day in The Black Hills started with a trip from our campground in Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore.  Once again expecting that an early start would allow us to beat the crowds, we departed camp around 7:00 AM.  We took Highway 16A, which is also known as Iron Mountain Road.  It’s a fun, scenic road full of twists, turns, pigtail, split roads, and one-lane tunnels.  There are three points along the way where you can clearly make out Mount Rushmore… about a quarter of the way up, if you look across a huge meadow, you can just see the fact that the mountain had been altered… around the halfway point, you go around a bend and see Rushmore as you look through the one-lane tunnel… and the final time is also as you look through a one-lane tunnel.  This well-thought road does a wonderful job of building anticipation for how truly magnificent Rushmore will be when you finally arrive.

Once you get to Mount Rushmore, the thing that’s most striking is that pictures don’t do it justice.  It’s huge.  Each face is approximately 60 feet high.  The monument features a brief movie that discusses the making of the monument, which advances the sense of awe you feel as you gaze upon the faces of the Presidents.  There, of course, is a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs, and on the day we were there, a man who actually helped build Mount Rushmore was there for a book signing/Q&A session.  He had a sign on his desk that said “No, it wasn’t scary.  No, it wasn’t fun.  It was hard work.”  He talked about periods where he wasn’t paid on time, but also pointed out the fact that he was working during The Great Depression, and he got fed, so he wasn’t upset about delayed paychecks.

The Mandatory Mount Rushmore Picture

In total, we spent about three hours at Mount Rushmore.  By the time we left, the biker horde of bikers was descending on the monument.  We drove back to camp, and I informed the wife that I needed to go for a ride.  She understood and said that she was going to drive around the countryside while I rode.

My ride lasted about three hours.  I started by hitting Needles Highway, a road famous for its granite spires and its twists and turns.  Like Iron Mountain Road, there are one-lane tunnels and plenty of pull-outs that allow for scenic stops.  Since I did the ride later in the day, I shared the experience with thousands of my fellow bikers.  At one stop, I was asked by a group to take their picture with them all in the background, and they gladly returned the favor.  If you ever get to The Black Hills, I highly suggest hitting Needles Highway, especially if you’re visiting on a bike.

 Needles Highway

After Needles, I still wanted to ride some more, so I rode Iron Mountain Road.  (My first trip was in the van with the wife.)  This ride also was later in the day, so it too was heavily populated with bikers.  This prevented me from riding as aggressively as I wanted, but the slower ride allowed me to enjoy the journey.  In all honesty, I like Iron Mountain Road better than I like Needles Highway.  This statement isn’t implying that Needles wasn’t fun… it’s just that I enjoyed riding Iron Mountain Road more.  It’s more challenging… it’s longer, and it’s more technical.

Once I finished riding Iron Mountain Road, I met the wife back at our campsite, and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying each other’s company.  We made a lot of memories that day, and expressed to one another how much we were enjoying our time together.

My Pilgrimage to Sturgis Part III

“My Pilgrimage to Sturgis” is a multi-part story chronicling my trip to the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Week.

Part III - A Day in Sturgis:
On our first full day in The Black Hills, the wife and I forayed into Sturgis, SD.  Sturgis, after all, was the official reason for the trip.  It stood to reason that it’s the first place we’d go.  We left Custer State Park somewhere between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM. On our way out of Custer, there was a light fog rising from the roadside creek and fields, and we passed a small group of Pronghorn Antelope standing on the shoulder of the road.  After the hour-long ride, we arrived in Sturgis between 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM.  We were on vacation, so we didn’t keep close track of the time.

Despite the fact that we got to Sturgis early in the morning, Main Street was completely filled with motorcycles, and it took us about 30 minutes to find a parking space.  In the end, we decided that it was more convenient to pay for a parking spot a couple of blocks away from the main drag than it was to search for free parking.  No big deal.  In fact, I kind of expected it.

After parking, we walked to the aforementioned Main Street.  This is the point where I should mention that Sturgis was effectively another tourist trap.  I expected this, but not to the extent I experienced.  Even the Sturgis Harley dealership was nothing but T-shirts.  It didn’t have a single bike on display.  Main Street was nothing but souvenir shops, with nothing to really differentiate one from another, and the occasional bar thrown in for good measure.  Strips of road that served as alleys during the off season were converted into temporary stores for the rally.  The streets were lined with awesome, beautiful, ugly, abused motorcycles.  (This part I expected.)  But the bikes did not appear to be owned by biker gang members or hot biker chicks.  Judging by the people walking the streets and flooding the shops, these bikes were owned by 40-something and 50-something middle-aged men and women, like my wife and me, who were also there to see what the fuss was about, and to check an item off of their respective bucket lists.  I stopped into one of the bars to drown my disillusionment.

My wife and I spent the next couple of hours fulfilling our duty as tourists, looking for just the right memorabilia for ourselves and to take home to our family.  I bought a sleeveless button down shirt that demonstrated that I was, indeed, in Sturgis for the 75th Annual Bike Week, and a patch for my biker jacket proclaiming “I rode mine.”  It took several hours for us to find everything we were looking for.

I don’t want to paint this as strictly a tourist trap, or as a disappointment.  That’s not the case.  As I mentioned, there were thousands of bikes on the main drag.  Many of these bikes were remarkable.  There was one that was completely covered in cow hide and leather.  (By cow hide, I mean that it still had the fur.)  There was another (trike) that looked like a Cadillac.  Another one was decked out to pay homage to John Deere.  Alas, though, there were no bare titties bouncing their way down Main Street.  The closest we came to seeing that was a young woman in a lingerie store who wore a G-string and pasties for her work clothes, and another young woman who was scantily dressed as a she-devil.  But it wasn’t a drunken free-for-all.  In fact it was pretty sedate.

But after four or five hours, we decided that we’d had enough, and we headed back to camp.  On the way out, we discovered that our decision to go to Sturgis early was the right one.  As we left, we saw that traffic was backed up from Main Street all the way to the I-90 freeway exit.  Those poor bastards had a long wait in store to get to Downtown Sturgis.

A few pics from Sturgis...