Last Questions Part II

Last Questions Part II pic 2Part I here: https://thatsclassyfied.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/last-questions/

Last time, I came with a heavy suitcase but tonight, it’s just me and a small backpack in tow.

Last time, I had more time. We had more time.

I drop my bag next to the tubes that line the floor in all directions, keeping you captive to your oxygen tank.

I don’t know what took me so long to get here.

I think you forgive me though—in fact, it seems there isn’t anything to forgive. You act as though no time has passed at all, in spite of your thinner hair and waistline.

_______________

As we sit outside on the porch—one of your more recent pastimes—and I take in our surroundings.

There is one particular hummingbird, red-breasted, that hovers in the bushes a couple yards away from the feeders. He waits there while he isn’t drinking the sugar-water mix but the moment another bird nears the feeder, he darts out from his hiding spot to defend his watering hole.

I wonder if you see it. Your eyes, so blue, are much glassier than I last recall. I wonder what escapes your sight.

I can’t read your mind, but I’d like to think that you’re reflecting on the thought that the air you breathe in now is the same air you took in more than 30 years ago.

Trees give off oxygen, and there’s nothing but trees as far as the eye can see. I inhale it.

Did you watch these trees grow from the ground up when you first bought the property?

What made you stop the car here, on this parcel of pasture?

_______________

Last Questions 1

Supposedly my grandmother Ivy, a devout Catholic, had been considering a life in the convent before meeting Reese. Even at 19, that might’ve been an option you’d consider if you weren’t already snatched up or had at least one child on the way.

It was a Labor Day weekend, 63 years ago to this day. She and her girlfriends were headed to a dance with their beaus—or at least she would’ve been, had it not been for her lack of one.

A young, fresh-faced Air Force cadet would change that. Although any hope of dancing would quickly be fizzled out (as Reese instead opted to do maintenance on his car while making conversation with Ivy), the encounter would culminate in a dozen red roses at her doorstep just seven days later, and a proposal in November of the same year.

Do you suppose chivalry and flowers are antiquated art forms seldom practiced nowadays?

How much did a dozen roses go for in the 1940s?

What was it that she said or did or was that made you know she would be the one for you?

_______________

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There’s another story about you I remember with pride.

While stationed in Thailand, you were one of the few men in your unit that declined to partake in the “services” of the ladies working at a local brothel.

Although the other men paid for one night for you, you spent the night having conversation with the young girl, who was ever grateful that that was all you wanted.

I’d like to think it was more than the sense of duty that came with having a wife and six children at home that kept you on the straight and narrow. I’d like to think that even if that hadn’t stood in the way, something within you would have.

Did you know I went to Thailand to somehow take with me that part of your life?I only wonder how much it’s changed since your time.

_______________

Leaving this place as a young girl always took its toll on me. Until I was probably ten or so, I’d shed a few tears at the knowledge I’d soon have to go back home from what I considered the best place in the world.

“Remember the good times,” was your well-intentioned advice to me. I thought as I grew older it would be easier to follow, but it’s proven quite the opposite as time’s gone by

The words haunt me as I count the steps you take each day and trace the outline of the impression you left in your recliner.

_______________

Outside on the porch, you’re here but somewhere else at the same time.

Where are you going? Can I come with you?

You and I both know the answer to these questions.

Even though you’re the one who’s leaving, I feel as though I’m the one preparing for the journey.

Beyond the material items I’ve collected from you over the last few years of my life—a still-unspent $10 you gave me for performing chores 13 years ago, a tube of Chapstick from the winter of 2008, and various black-and-white photographs from your younger years—I also take home with me everything I can remember.

Did you know I snuck one of your flannel shirts into my luggage to somehow keep you close? It was mostly for that reason, but also because of my inability to let any part of you fade away. I slept with it on last night, your scent keeping me awake through the early morning hours.

As I stared at my ceiling in the darkness, I remember your soft whistles at nothing in particular.

I remember your hands that used to guide me through a waltz or foxtrot long before the stroke. Not long ago, they rested gently in mine as I held on to you, to this.

I finally, finally begin to fall to sleep, and my mind goes back to your gentle voice over the phone struggling to form the very last words I’d hear you say:

“I love you.”

 

 

A Work Year in Review

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Ever experience that awful moment when you suddenly realize how boring you are when someone asks what you like to do “in your free time”? Or at least how boring you might come off, depending on what you legitimately consider “fun” (apparently coffee-ing and watching “Jeopardy!” don’t count).

I’m lucky that I work in a job that is 75% comprised of what I enjoy doing anyway (because not ALL if it is actually writing). I guess in a sense my work is sort of a hobby.

It’s more than likely not the thing I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, lest I die from burnout. But what I do enjoy about my job is that I get to be a storyteller of sorts—perhaps not in the same way as fiction writer or filmmaker, but I’m always humbled and honored when I get to learn something unexpected from or about my subjects, and then piece together their stories in my own words.

Sometimes the result affects positive change. Sometimes it just brings awareness. Most of the time, it’s forgotten–but not always.

So when the person I’m talking to gets over the initial surprise of what counts as fun in my book, I’m usually asked what are some cool things I’ve gotten to write about.

Thus, purely out of boredom/my own self-interest/in an effort to not be all “Ummmm…” when prompted by the above question, I’ve narrowed down my top 5 favorite stories I’ve written in the last year or so. Bear in mind that the first few were written when I was new to the game and didn’t have as solid a grasp how to write as decently for print:

  1. Memoir Remembers “Cowboy Dad”: Melissa Broughton’s book reflects on life with an alcoholic father and learning to heal (06/16/15) http://www.independent.com/news/2015/jun/16/memoir-remembers-cowboy-dad/

Cowboy-Dad-5_t479

A fresh college grad who quickly became aware of the lack of writing jobs out there, I decided to write whatever and whenever I could for the Santa Barbara Independent last summer. It actually didn’t end up being a whole lot, as I managed to snag a paying job just a few weeks later, but it was neat writing for an arts and culture-y newsweekly.

This was one of my first assignments, one that I actually sought out. I remember meeting Melissa in a Starbucks next to a little Italian Market on State Street and hearing her story. I usually budget about 45 minutes in my in-person interviews, but I think I was there for two hours, though it didn’t feel like that much time had gone by at all. As much as writing proved therapeutic for her in the aftermath of her father’s death, writing about her experiences did something for me too.

2. Ramadan: How Santa Barbara Muslims honor their month of fasting, prayer and spiritual reflection” (06/26/15) http://www.independent.com/news/2015/jun/26/ramadan-scorching-hot-holiday/

Ramadan

This story was one of particular interest to me because as someone who attended a Christian uni, I didn’t get as exposed to other faiths as I would’ve liked. Going back and forth with a local imam and other followers of Islam proved to be a pretty educational experience.

3. Memory of artistic, musical teen inspires college scholarship (08/28/15) http://www.mpacorn.com/news/2015-08-28/Community/Memory_of_artistic_musical_teen_inspires_college_s.html

Ro Gopal

This was my first experience interviewing individuals who’d recently experienced death. I was scared and had no idea how I’d approach the interview, but I look back on the experience fondly .

Rohith “Ro” Gopal was only 18 when he tragically died in a car crash in early 2015. From what I learned from his parents and many friends, he was a talented musician, singer/songwriter, artist and selfless person. He’d been accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston—the letter, his parents received just days after he passed away.

Through my time spent at the Gopals’s home, I learned not only about their son’s life, but how short time truly can be. I only wish Ro had been allotted more of it.

4. Holocaust survivor shares story of escape and triumph (10/16/15) http://www.mpacorn.com/news/2015-10-16/Community/Holocaust_survivor_shares_story_of_escape_and_triu.html

Albert Rosa

Holocaust survivors are so few and far between these days, I consider myself lucky if I get the chance to hear from them the experiences they went through.

I believe Albert Rosa is about 91 now, but I would’ve guessed he was some years younger than that. At 15, his childhood in Salonika, Greece was ripped from him when the Nazis occupied his home country. He would be one of very few that survived the 10-day train journey to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, a death march to Dachau in Germany, and would live to serve alongside the American soldiers who freed him, as well as hunt Nazis with an underground Jewish resistance group.

5. Jogger blazes a unique path (10/30/2015) http://www.mpacorn.com/news/2015-10-30/Community/Jogger_blazes_a_unique_path.html

jogger

Fun fact: This story actually earned me a California News Press Association award this year—in the Sports Feature category (if you know me at all, you’ll understand the irony in that).

Toni Smith is probably one of the most active people I’ve come across, but does all her hiking, camping, white-water rafting and most recently, running, without her sight. And I thought I was so cool for running 7 miles that one time without passing out.