Monday, December 5, 2011

The Long Goodbye

My epically awful week was capped off by a young lady running into a busy city street last night. My vehicle knocked her over, and after realizing the surreal event was indeed unfolding, I pulled onto the curb and hopped out to check on her. She laughed, assured me she was fine and continued on unfazed. I wish I'd at least gotten her name.

On a different note, apparently others shared my previously mentioned appreciation. But all things considered, every last candidate has to answer to Emily Blunt anyway, so the point is moot.

Should her path ever cross with mine, I expect it to be as equally bizarre as my other celebrity run-ins. In my early 20's, I was walking through NYC on a f-f-FREEZING winter's day wearing a ski mask. Elliott Gould strode past, looked and scowled as though he thought I was going to rob him. When I was a bouncer in D.C., I hung up Bruno Kirby's coat. I was tempted to say, "Don't @#$% with Mr. Zero." He gave me a buck, and I wish I'd told him how much I enjoyed his work. But my favorite?

Crashing the Marriott Marquis in Time's Square with my sister and a friend when I was 16. We strolled right in, went up an escalator and entered a banquet area. There was a huge spread, so we of course partook. As we were finally departing, in strode a familiar face. I knew him instantly - it was one of my favorite Mets, Rusty Staub. Le Grande Orange! I looked up at him and said, "Hello, Rusty". Without breaking stride, he nodded and replied in his regal manner, "Hello."

The hellos in life usually are so pleasant. The goodbyes, not so much:

Jose Reyes has left for good. There is no in between, no if or when or maybe so. Just gone. He looks happier than ever, and can you blame him? The Mets didn't extend even basic courtesy to him, much less a contract. I purposefully omitted the word "inexplicably", for nothing this dysfunctional organization does anymore surprises me.

What's the happiest you've ever been? I don't mean in a general sense or even the momentous events in life, like the birth of a child, graduations, etc. No, I'm talking about that one moment, those few quiet breaths where it seemed as though every last star and speck in the universe had aligned squarely with your heart. If there was never another place for you to be, it would have been just as well.

For me, it would be the summer of 2001. It's a stormy Louisiana night and I'm laying beside the lady of my dreams. We're speaking in hushed, fake foreign accents and trying to stifle our laughter, lest we wake our gracious hostess. As teenagers, we would sit in front of her parent's bay window and watch the snow dance around the porch light. We talked for hours on a diving board, felt the rush of trains and listened to summer bullfrogs on an old, stone bridge. We were here, together. We'd recite the Warren Commission Report to each other in her basement, R.E.M. blaring from an old, rabbit-eared TV. Somehow, there we were all those years later, still sharing life and laughing about it.

I first saw her in the high school library in 1989. She sat on the chair back, her combat boots or somesuch tapping the seat. I'd never laid eyes on anyone else like her. She marched to a different drum and dressed with no apparent concern for any one style. She was brilliant, and there I sat, staring in wonder at the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. It was only fitting that I was literally looking up to her, for this girl would mature into that very same lady. I proposed to her on that bridge, so nervously that I'd mumbled the entire spiel, and she would go on to become my wife and the mother of my children.

We drove to see the Binghamton Mets play the Trenton Thunder one summer night. It wasn't to see just any old game, but rather one specific player: a lightning-fast kid with a cannon, some slick leather and a dynamite bat. It was already a foregone conclusion at that point, but still I turned to my beloved and said , "That's the next shortstop of the New York Mets."

Sadly, things didn't go exactly as planned in either arena, as neither Jose or I could stay healthy. For him, it was a hamstring tearing every other Tuesday. Me? Whenever I see something cherry-red, I still feel that warm, unwelcome rush. I was a sallow, aching pin cushion gnawing on my very teeth from the steroids. I was hollowed, both physically and emotionally, with the latter actually being the more difficult of the two. No young wife and new mother deserved that. None.

The amalgamation of heartaches and havoc would ultimately destroy my marriage. But much like my faithfully soldiering through chemotherapy, radiation and the 2004 Mets, I realize now that I've been on cruise control. Head down, nose to the grindstone, always finding a way to press on. While this may indeed get one through the forest, you sadly can't see it for the trees. In short, I never properly mourned. Grief can become a pretty big gorilla, and mine finally tore up the room.

For as strange as it may sound, cancer was a walk in the park compared to divorce. For starters, I loathe that this is where our path led us. I resent it, to be more precise, and don't know if I'll ever be able to make sense of it. It's like asking for answers when you don't even know what questions to ask. Why even have the youthful dreams in the first place, if in the end you have to cut ties and let them die? Why have so many wonderful, blessed memories burned into my heart and mind? They're like a mountain of single socks now and there isn't a drawer big enough to hold them. Why do these overshadow the less-than-joyous memories, when acknowledging hurt, confusion and disappointment might speed the road to recovery?

It's probably for the same reason that I'm not inclined to think of torn hamstrings, baserunning blunders or reggaeton. Rather, I smile about having been at Shea Stadium the night Reyes rounded the bases in 14 seconds, and then I get on with my day.

Similarly, it's in my nature to recall only the goodness about the girl who'd owned my heart for 23 years. But now it's time to build that wall once and for all and get on with my life. I'll continue to honor her more in passing than some still-betrothed husbands do their brides in routine. She is the mother of my children and was my greatest hope; while I may not ever understand the Creator's purpose or plan for me, I will fulfill my obligation regardless.

As always, it's all about perspective. I'll continue to see her 4 times a week, however briefly. Heck, even the Mets get to see Jose Reyes 19 times a year. All I know is that, in either situation, it may not be grounds for cheering - and it's hardly what anyone ever wanted or envisioned - but I'll be thankful for being there, and conduct myself with appreciation and grace.

Part of me perishes, but I'm willing to bet the sun rises tomorrow. At last, the long goodbye is finally over.


  1. Dana Gibbs MacArthurDecember 12, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    When you grieve the death of a person, the memories comfort you. But when you grieve the death of an ideal, of a dream... the memories are tainted and only add to the hurt and confusion. I can only hope that time softens that hurt and we can look back on them with a (albeit bittersweet) smile, and with respect for them as part of a life fully lived.

    This was a beautiful post, my friend.

  2. Thank you, Dana. I think the only thing more important than what we do in life is *how* we do it. Having such high regard for someone is its own reward, and I know precisely where my treasure lies.