So, this weekend, I took a trip up North to the beautiful Texas Panhandle to see my parents. This is a pretty significant trip as it's the first time I've been home since my dad was moved to a nursing home. It was something I'd been dreading, not because I don't love my parents, but rather because I love them so immensely that to see them in pain brings about actual physical pain for me. To make a long story short, it was a worthwhile trip that I'm now ashamed to admit I had dreaded. And -- I love my parents. No matter what has happened in the last 4 years, I don't know that I'd ever wish for a different two people to have raised me. It's good to remember that all the best parts of me were inherited from them, and all those parts are important. I don't think any of us do that enough.
If you're in for the longer, and more random, version of the story, here it is -- transcribed via nursing home observations, tweets, and ramblings recorded on my trusty iPhone recorder.
10:30 AM: Just leaving the MetroMess. Where the crap are all of these people headed this morning? Get out of my way. I have painful emotional scarring to attend to!
10:35 AM: Listening to the Edge (102.1 -- not the guitarist from U2). Heard "Landslide" by the Smashing Pumpkins. Almost had to pull over to sob like a baby.
10:38 AM: Next on the Edge: Rage Against the Machine. Almost had to pull over to beat the crap out of a random stranger. I shouldn't be allowed to listen to Rage.
10:42 AM: New song by Florence and the Machine. Rolling down the window to scream the lyrics into the driving rain. Because her songs make me sing loudly, damnit!
10 seconds later: I am an idiot. The driving rain doesn't give a flip about my righteously indignant shouting of lyrics. The driving rain has only one goal -- to drown dumbasses like me. Darwin's theory at work, people.
3:15 PM: Surprise my dad in the dining room of the nursing home. Huge tears for 12 seconds and then immediate introductions to every person wheeling by his table. My parents are those furiously proud kind of parents.
3:17 PM: Whispered gossip and low down about every other person in the dining room, including how he and my mom got ousted from a table by a 102 year old woman (named Granny) on my mom's first visit. Apparently, no matter how old you get, the hierarchy of the cafeteria remains. Good thing my dad has his own table now. I made sure I quickly learned how to make that woman's coffee. I am well-versed in the art of kissing ass.
4:05 PM: Received my first (but not last) beat down at dominoes by my dad. I was then quickly beaten by my mom in the second game. In 35 years, I'm fairly certain my parents have never "let" me win at anything. My competitive streak is definitely genetic.
8:00 PM: Came home with mom. Realization that my dad is not at home fully sets in. My dad is the type of person who fills a room even when he's not trying. His empty chair is difficult to look at. The only safe place to cry is the bathroom, but I knock over my make-up bag into the sink causing my mom to shout, "What in the hell are you doing in there?"
8:01 PM: I am thankful, for the millionth time, for my mom and her ability to bring me back to normal.
My mom, by the way, has found jigsaw puzzles as a means to occupy her mind during the evenings, and she chooses the most incredibly difficult ones. You know, the ones with millions of flowers and greenery and no discernible differences within pieces. I am amazed at her ability to focus on something I find completely insane. I feel the same way about her addiction to golf and her handheld Scrabble game. When she claims to have no patience, I remind her of these things.
10:30 PM: I am sleeping under the same bedspread I used when I was in the 5th grade. That makes it a quarter of a century old. It's a verifiable polyester heirloom.
I go to my dad's room at the nursing home to get him when we arrive. His room is too small for visiting, and his roommate is a hardcore napping machine so we spend most of our time in the dining room where I endure my public beatings at dominoes. On his bedside table is a vase full of moldy stems from the flowers I sent him 2 weeks ago. He refuses to throw them away. Note to self: either send a plant or fake flowers next time. My dad is far too sentimental for things with a 3 day shelf-life. This, too, is a genetically inherited trait I have. In his bottom drawer is a stash of Little Debbie Nutty Bars and Tums. This makes me smile. Some things never change.
Additionally, everyone calls my dad "Pappy". This is a nickname an orderly gave him during a hospital stay several years ago. I didn't realize how much he liked it, and I wish I could tell that orderly that he truly did have an impact on my dad. I can't even remember that man's name, and this thought makes me incredibly ashamed. Throughout my visit, I notice how when the nurses and aides pass by my dad, they lay a hand on his shoulder even if they don't speak to him. I am grateful to these people I've only just met. I don't know how they do what they do, but I pray they continue to do so. A few days ago, my dad was voted as the Valentine King. He got a crown and a teddy bear and a chorus of "All Hail the King". The nurses told my mom that when they announced his name, he turned his baseball cap sideways, gave a big goofy face, and wheeled himself up to the front. Like I said, my dad fills up a room wherever he goes. I smile at this too.
I spent most of the afternoon trying to eek out a couple of wins at dominoes, and I did manage a few. Progress is slow but sweet. They also had church in the dining room. I realize that I don't know that I've ever been to a church service with both of my parents (unless you count funerals or weddings). It was weird to see them singing from the hymnal. Weird but comforting. My mom's singing reminded me of when I was little and she would sing along with the car radio. She always knew every word and blended perfectly with whatever singer came on that old Thunderbird radio. I still maintain that she has a beautiful voice although she will vehemently deny it. This is not a genetic trait I inherited unfortunately. The singing, not the vehement denial.
10:00 PM: Watching the local news with my mom at home. This is another comfort. No matter what you're doing, at 10:00 PM, you watch the news. I so rarely watch the local news here. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the DFW doesn't lead with stories that inspire Tweets such as this:
At the Amarillo Civic Center today, you could get a tattoo, a handgun, and an antique teapot. Texas, in a nutshell. #WTFAmarillo?
For real, the lead story was about the 3 different events all being held at the Civic Center that day: the Live Ink tour (apparently tattoo artists tour the nation and you can get inked or pick up tattoo tips or get a blue mohawk), the GUN SHOW (handguns, switchblades, brass knuckles, anyone?), and an ANTIQUE show (pick up a delicate china pattern to go with your AK-47). So, you see, my randomness is not a genetic trait. Purely environmental. Nature vs. Nurture, live and in action.
Woke up to 55 mile an hour winds this morning. It's been a while since my first question of the morning was "Is the roof still attached?" In case you've never visited, the Panhandle is the land without trees or tall buildings, therefore, the winds of Mother Nature know no boundary. If these winds happened in the metroplex, grocery store shelves would be picked clean in anticipation of the Apocalypse. And Channel 8 would have named the windstorm some ridiculously awful name. On a side note: I follow many people on Twitter who happen to live in the Raleigh-Durham area (go Duke!) where apparently they had a little snowstorm this weekend. They too, believe in weather overreaction and liberally apply sarcasm where needed. I saw many, many tweets about hiding your milk and bread from the looters. They also hashtagged the storm as #SNOMG. This never failed to make me laugh, and I found myself hoping for a snowstorm of our own so I could steal their hashtag.
After 3 days in a row of visiting, my dad was clearly tired. Whipping me at dominoes takes a lot of you apparently. But so does holding it together, so I was tired too. I was afraid of the moment when I'd have to leave. This is usually a time of many tears for all three of us, and I was terrified for the first tear to fall. because the first tear is just the precursor to the dam burst. But that tear never fell from any of us. I'm not sure why. Resignation? Acceptance? Stubbornness? All three? I just don't know.
I said my good-byes. I hit the road for my now 4 and a half hour drive home. I stopped for fuel and the customary Allsup's burrito. I felt pretty good until it got dark. There is no dark like the Texas dark, even on a fairly busy highway. And it hit just as a patch of almost non-existent cell phone coverage begins (which means no calls to friends to fill up the lonely downtime). I stopped one last time at the world's most disgusting bathroom -- which I was forced to go to because it was on the "right" side of the highway. Even though I'm a grown-up, with my own car and everything, I still follow my family's travel rules -- start 30-45 minutes later than you planned and never, ever cross over a highway just for something as trivial as food or a bathroom where you probably won't catch a third world level case of dysentary. While I was waiting in line to pay for my fried pie (stop judging me) and Diet Coke, I downloaded a podcast I'd seen on Twitter earlier in the day (from another sportswriting Duke guy), and I'm so glad I did. It was not his usual basketball podcast which I always enjoy. Instead it was basically him and a friend just talking about random and ludicrous articles they'd read. I loved it because it was the Raleigh-Durham boy version of me and my friends on any given night -- various tangents of conversation, lots of laughing, and the obligatory poop reference (although they upped the ante with crocodile dung). Shane's and Jim's voices and laughter in my ear gave me 42 minutes of peace from the tears that were waiting for the right lonely stretch of road to appear. If you have a spare 42 minutes, here's the link:
Shane's also a pretty good follow for all things sports-related (@tobaccordblues on Twitter) and a wonderful writer for Grantland. And thus my totally unsponsored plug for a total stranger. You're welcome, America.
The tears stayed away right until I began seeing the lights for Fort Worth. For some reason, that was it, the trigger. Maybe it was the nearness of the end of the journey. Maybe it was the fact that in just a relatively short time, I was suddenly a world away again. Because they are two different worlds -- There and Here. Then Green Day sang "Time of Your Life", and I was a mess.
But sure enough, 102.1 wouldn't let me down, and they followed it with good ol' Florence. And this time, there was no driving rain to drown me out. And if you watch the video, ignore the "Eyes Wide Shut" masquerade theme. At least it's not creepy clowns in the woods this time.
"It's hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off."