Archive for July, 2010

November At The Beach

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

November at the beach. Swimming with dolphins. Driving on Christmas Morning. They are the pictures of our life and they wallpaper the hallway to our bedrooms – just the way I want it. Replaced by glass, frames and smiles, our bare walls tell the story of the lessons that Elena left behind and the memories that Gracie still creates today.

Last week I was asked how we survive after losing Elena. I didn’t have an answer. In truth, even we still don’t know. As I wander through the house I see the pictures she painted, the coffee cup she created, the coasters bearing her smile and the book to capture her lessons for Gracie. I have a dog she renamed, a charity she inspired and friends I never would have met if it weren’t for Elena. Still, I don’t have her. And in the end, I would give it all up just for another minute with her.

Some days are easier; most are still hard. The scar from her loss will always remain, but thankfully our mind now returns to the happier memories instead of the sad. But sometimes even these memories bring the most tears. I force myself to relive it all, up until the very last minute as I carried her to the ambulance after her passing, afraid that if I don’t I’ll forget something as the years pass. There never was a smiling picture to capture that moment – just a feeling that I never want to relive. Still, I pick, like a scab that you just can’t let go, watching the blood pulse once again from the scar. And somehow it makes it feel better if only because it gives you control over the very last memory.

I think the answer to how we survive is that we just live. In the end, I think it’s the same answer everyone has after losing a loved one. With Gracie we have no choice. When we awake we count yet another day without Elena. When we say goodnight we give thanks for another day with Gracie. And so it begins again – starting with the memories and ending with new ones. I guess that’s the promise of life and the lesson of religion. Each day is a new opportunity as we are reborn anew.

This week Gracie is with her grandparents. I hate these weeks. Ignoring the obvious, both Brooke and I run away to work to avoid the memories that we share but dare don’t repeat to each other. This week is also the week that I realized that Gracie is now older than Elena ever was when we lost her. Elena’s hand-me-downs no longer fit, her personality has matured and I, as a father, must now learn all over again. Time for new memories, new experiences and new challenges. Time for a rebirth – for all of us.

As I walk to our bedroom tonight, only half of the walls are covered. The other half remain bare, as testament to still what remains. In many ways they are Gracie’s memories now, but they are also lessons from Elena. Without her I doubt there would be pictures at all, instead remaining undeveloped in a hard drive or never taken at all. And for this lesson I am thankful.

This is how you survive. You remember, you learn and you live. And I am learning myself only now.

It’s a Small World

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

I’m convinced that Yellowstone is nothing more than an amusement park. Sure there’s a few more trees, plenty more RVs and a little more than a chance of permanently maiming yourself or getting gorged to death by a buffalo, but at heart, not many other differences remain. And somehow I imagine if I dug deep enough I’d even find that Disney owned the park from the beginning.

Take the international appeal for example. Yellowstone National Park attracts everyone – no matter what language and no matter what background. As a matter of fact, people watching becomes an art as you watch tourists battle over right versus left on the boardwalk trying to pass each other. The Americans push towards the right side, keeping the left only to pass. The foreign tourists start on the left, then the right, and finally back to the left – as if questioning if walking is like driving. And in the end, the battle is nothing short of spectacular as each realizes that one step off the boardwalk may land them in a pool of boiling geyser water.

Then there’s the map. Much like Epcot, the Magic Kingdom or that animal place I can’t exactly remember the name of, the map is laid out not so much according to efficiency but according to themes. Just as there is Tomorrowland, Yellowstone has Geyserland. Just as there is Fantasyland, Yellowstone has Lake Village. Just as Disney has Pioneer Land, Yellowstone has…well… Pioneerland. Of course, they also might have had a little help from the Creator Himself, but that never stopped Walt either. And don’t expect to finish it in a day. No, no,no – Yellowstone is a five day adventure as well. Spread 20 miles apart, each land is carefully arranged so that no matter how fast you drive and no matter how cheap you bought your “Magic Your Way” Yellowstone pass, you’ll never see all nine lands unless you upgrade to a premier pass and plunk down your money on a night or two at the Yellowstone branded resort and choose from the Yellowstone branded cuisine. Just the way Walt himself planned it.

Then there are the characters. Only this time, instead of Mickey the Mouse, you have Biff the Buffalo. Of course he’s joined by his other 10,000 or so buffalo friends (probably named Bertha, Billy, Buffy and Bob) that you’ll meet over the next three days. In our case, it was a meeting over the hood of our car as Billy the Buffalo helped fog our windshield with just one huff – guess who was boss then? At first you think it’s a novelty, but then on day two, it becomes a bit tedious. Somehow I imagine that in a year or two the nightly buffalo report will resemble the LA traffic report (“There’s another buffalo broke down on the big loop – don’t hold up dinner.”)

Of course, there’s always the wolves, the foxes, the deer, the elk, the moose (is it “meese” or “mooses”) and the bear. But then again, just like a Disney resort, they are held back for special occasions. Sure you may see Pluto twenty times at a Walt Disney Resort, but did you ever see Arial or Peter Pan? No, these are the special ones – the ones reserved for the parade. And even if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse, its not long before they are quickly ushered out of sight by the “Animal Care Wardens” that roam the park desperately trying to keep those over anxious fathers out of harm’s way while they get the perfect photograph to bore the extended family with. Assigned orange gloves and neon green vests, they help direct traffic, tell people to get back in their car and politely inform the guests that it’s time for Greg the Grizzly to say goodbye and go backstage where the sign says “Cast Members Only” behind the big pine tree on the side of the road. “But don’t worry”, they tell you, “he’ll be back out in another 15 minutes to sign autographs.”

And the rides. Take any ride at Disney and you’ll quickly find a match at Yellowstone. The “Jungle Cruise” quickly becomes the Forest Cruise as a ranger drives you throughout Pioneerland in a yellow truck telling you to “watch out for the charging buffalo”. The fountains at Epcot become the Old Faithful Geyser of Yellowstone (is it just me, or does it seem strange for 400 people to gather to watch a glorified sprinkler). The Jamboree Bear Show at the Magic Kingdom becomes…well…OK, there was always something disconcerting about a bear that played the harmonica.

Then there’s the gift shops. More plentiful than restrooms, they carry everything you could never need including a personalized ranger badge (Gracie’s favorite – “Dad – I really need one of these!”), a collection of bear ornaments (which Brooke quickly snatched up), and Yellowstone wine (direct from California). Forgot something for the family back home? Don’t worry, every ride ends with a stop at the gift shop just in case you forgot.

Yes, Yellowstone was in many ways much like a trip to Disneyworld. But just like a trip to Disneyworld, it was a trip of a lifetime. For the next few months I’ll recount our trip through the hundred of buffalo pictures and mountain landscape shots I took throughout the park. Because, of course, I was also one of those anxious fathers standing 20 ft. from a 2,000 buffalo coaching him to say cheese. And in the end, I’m glad we went. Just be forewarned, if you come to my house, be prepared for a slideshow.