Four years without him

Me and Dennis

Hi Dennis. I lost you four years ago today–July 20— at 7:43 p.m., I can’t forget. I’ll never forget.
It hurts to miss you and it hurts to know all moments you’ve missed.

You would have loved being in the White House the first day photos were allowed in 40 years. You would have driven the Secret Service crazy with all of your camera gear.
You would still be talking about the river trip to Europe and both of us would have eaten too many German pastries.

I would have called you hundreds of times at work about something trivial that the dogs did. Cleo wouldn’t eat her pill. Jackie was squeaking while she was asleep. And you would stop what you were doing and we would talk about our silly pets.

Your nephew Steve got married on my 59th birthday. I was there, alone, but I was there. Remember when I first met him? He and his twin were just a year old, with drooley smiles.

You would have been there among our friends for my 60th birthday. And my 59th, my 58th, my 57th…
Instead, on my 60th, a kind, funny, compassionate, devoted man asked me to spend my life with him and I said yes.
I wondered if that was OK with you, as I always do when I laugh or enjoy a summer sky or a cup of coffee. I wonder if it’s OK not just to live, but to live in happiness, and to love again.

I think of the night a week ago..on my Jeff and I walked to the parking lot after his proposal and my party.
Jeff pointed up into the dome of stars and said “Look! Do you see that?”
I looked up.
Just then, a star blazed across the horizon and exploded in a bright shower.
And I thought, maybe you are missing nothing at all.

Wheelchair in the sand

Hello Dennis, my dear love.

Three years now since the nurse led me back behind the swinging doors and I wondered why we were passing the emergency room. I wanted to see you. I wanted to to touch you and talk to you. It’s been three years since they led me into the chapel instead.

You were declared gone at 7:43 p.m. July 20, 2011. One more year I feel I leave you behind and it hurts so much.

Something that feels like terror jolts me out of my sleep about twice a week. Ever since you died. It’s that feeling you get when you’re not quite awake, but you know something terrible is waiting for you that day. It’s always one more day without you.

But  I think you would be proud of me. I am living. I am living with as much joy and meaning as I can. It’s the best I can do to honor you and keep those moments of stony emptiness at bay.

I had my birthday last week. I made it a point to celebrate all week. I gathered up every sparkly moment. I went to Las Vegas. I’m seeing my dad and Carolyn now in Rancho Mirage. I had brunch in Santa Barbara with my mom and Jeff, the man in my life, while we drank champagne by the ocean. We had dinner with Mike and Colleen at the Lazy Dog, a place we loved.

I am collecting moments because I know that’s all we have. Frozen moments.

Remember how we walked on a trail through the woods onto a grainy beach in Juneau? Above it was the mighty Mendenhall glacier. It was another birthday. My 50th birthday cruise to Alaska, in 2005.

I went back to Alaska again two years ago. I retraced our steps.

While I was admiring the glacier, I saw a man pushing a frail woman–probably his wife–along the path in a wheelchair, until the wheelchair hit the beach. She kept her eyes straight ahead, on the blue sky and the spill of ancient glacier. She was smiling, her eyes bright.

With her wheelchair ground into the sand, the man knelt, and looped her arm over his shoulder. Then he lifted her shuddering body out of the wheelchair and half-carried her to the very edge of the glacier. Her face was a wash of delight.

They looked together at centuries locked into cobalt blues and turquoise layers of the ice.

Time locked in those layers, moments frozen.

On those days when the terror of life without you rips at my peace, I can feel you lift me and walk me to something I could not see without you.

Please don’t ever leave me Dennis. Lift me and help me. Meet me in those moments.

Wheelchair in the sand



Second born

When Jim was about three, he had a terrible stutter. “Snake” was “hnake” and every sentence had three false starts.

After three speech therapists, one finally pointed to the problem: His five-year-old sister.

“He can’t get a word in edgewise,” she said.

I had been speaking in full sentences since I was 18 months old, so it was pretty noisy when he arrived. My second brother, Bret, born almost three years later, had it even tougher.

The pattern continued through our childhood and teen years, with me prancing around onstage and Jim growing pot in his bedroom.

If ever there were  siblings that proved the birth order theory, it would be the three of us. All of the astronauts are either first-borns or onlies. Last-borns tend to be the world’s entertainers. And the second-borns? They tend to start revolutions.

I made As, Jim made Ds. Bret made everybody laugh.

Bret went on to become a teacher, and earn his master’s degree. He still makes everybody laugh.

Jim and I both went into communications, but, as I often say, we were like a photographic negative and a print. We had the same interests, but pursued them along classic first-born, second-born channels.

I went into TV journalism, then print. Jim was a DJ for an FM station, and ran the camera for the very same TV station I worked for, KKTV.

He finally ran for city council in Breckenridge. Colorado, where he lives, and won. Today he sits on the Planning Commission.

Years of being adults, getting married and working meant months, even years, in which we didn’t see each other.

This trip across country gave us an opportunity that makes me so grateful, tears just came to my eyes.

I got to know my brother, Jim.

Bret couldn’t make it, but I’d love the same opportunity with him someday, and I hope Gussie can join us.

My mother insisted on sitting in the back seat with Gussie, talking to him and sleeping, now and then joining in the conversation. But with Jim and me trading off driving in the front seat, most of the conversation was between us.

We talked the entire time. We never turned on the radio. We just got to know each other as adults, now and then regressing into being 12 year and 14 years old again with fart jokes. Which was also awesome.

All that talking he didn’t get to do as a toddler was now coming out. This time, I shut up and listened.

I learned things I never knew. My brother is a philosopher. He has a marvelous sense of wonder that drives him to read. Aeronautics, evolution, politics, science.

We still have our first-born, second-born differences. I go to writing conferences. He goes to Burning Man.

I learned he built a cabin at the top of Hoosier Pass. He loves to share beers with his buddies at Fatty’s in downtown Breckenridge.

We had both run into the same type of quirky personalities at my work in journalism and his at Colorado Mountain College.

We both hate corporate-speak.

Jim talked about his Vietnamese-American family, which he gained when he married his wife, Yen in 2003.

He talked about “his boys” Eddie and Petris, nephews aged 14 and 6.

Eddie is brilliant, plays piano, does martial arts, takes advanced placement classes and tries to keep his aunts from force-feeding him.

“This counts as dinner,” he told Yen one time as he ate a burger at Fatty’s with Jim.

Jim once took Petris to a scuba diving spot in a hot springs in Utah. Jim pointed down into the hot springs and said to Petris, who loves whales, “Petris, there’s a whale down there.”

Petris’ eyes grew huge and he backed up from the hot springs.

Yen felt so bad that Uncle Jim had told Petris a fib that she said “Petris, there’s not really a whale down there,” to which Petris shot back: “No, I SAW the bubbles!”

Many, many stories like this swept us across the country.

We crossed into California and are settling my mom and Gussie into their new home in Leisure Village. Gussie is hiding in the bathroom cabinet for now and Jim and I are running errands. He’s helping me get my own house in order. Today we install a toilet and discard some scrap metal in the yard. One more remnant of Dennis’ time on earth that I must let go of. And Jim is helping me.

The night we arrived, we sat at my dining room table and Jim poured us both a shot of his favorite tequila, El Patron.

We clicked our blue plastic cups and Jim said: “We did it. We just did Cannonball Run with our 84-year-old mom and a fat cat.”

Nobody puts Gussie in the corner

Gussie has had it with this nonsense.

It’s Saturday morning in Casa Grande, Arizona. Gussie is under the bed and he won’t come out.

Usually he comes out in the middle of the night and climbs up on the bed with me and my mom.

Not last night.

It began yesterday when he climbed out of his crate in the back seat (we keep the door open) and pooped in the litter box. He’s about as clean as the Downton Abbey dowager and saves the stinky stuff for the hotel room, but no longer.

He balanced himself on his tiny backseat litter box as we rocketed down the highway and relieved himself.

“We need to get that out of here,” Jim said.

“There’s not a rest stop for 30 miles,” I said.

We rolled down a few windows and coughed while Gussie settled back on his blanket in his crate, looking oddly pleased with himself.

We checked into our hotel in Casa Grande and Gussie shot under the bed immediately.

The night went as it usually does on the road trip, with two of us going out for dinner and bringing the Gussie sitter dinner in a doggie bag.

No Gussie. His water, litter box and food were untouched. His new home was under the bed.

My mom and I watched “Say Yes to the Dress” while Jim hid in the other room (we got a suite so he got a man cave and was not subjected to our fashion commentary for the evening.)

We went to bed, dimmed the lights, and waited for Gussie to join us.

But he was NEVER coming out from under the bed.

In the middle of the night, my mom saw him trying to crawl into the toilet. He had plenty of water, so we figure he was looking for a water route out of here.

We woke up this morning to find his dry food strewn all over the floor and his litter box plastic liner shredded.

We decided to pull out the big guns.

“Use the tuna,” my mom said, with a solemn nod.

We peeled off the foil from his tuna and placed it by the bed. Nothing.

We all began to pack and get ready. The tuna sat untouched.

Then, when all our backs were turned, Gussie poked his nose out. Then half of a head and ears. He glared at us. Was this a trick?

We all acted like we didn’t see him and he inched out from under his bunker, but only half of him, and began devouring his tuna.

He’s back under the the bed now and we are drawing straws to see who has to crawl under there and get him.

And then it’s off to Palm Springs…with a lot of long, open road ahead of us..and to0 few rest stops.

Gussie pulls half of his body out from under the bed for tuna.

Gussie pulls half of his body out from under the bed for tuna.


Sibling Day

Neither my brother nor I was aware it was “Sibling Day” as we sped down 400 miles of flat West Texas highway Thursday from Sonora to El Paso.

Our styrofoam cups of Dairy Queen ice tea sat in two of the cup holders with Gussie’s tuna in the third cup holder. I dropped my elbow into the tuna several times. My mom and Gussie slept in the back seat.

We rolled into an El Paso I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Not since I drove out in January of 1989, leaving a job as an anchor for KVIA-TV toward my new job at KUAT-TV in Tucson, Az.

Gussie is never alone so we eat in shifts. Jim and I had prime rib at a delicious barbecue place called Stateline. I remembered it from the five years I lived here from 1984 to 1989. Then, I had coffee and dessert there while my mom ate dinner.

After we ate, we were channel flipping and  my mom and I squealed when we came across “Project Runway.”

Jim groaned.

“You’ll live,” I said. “It’s just an hour.”

“Then I need another beer,” he said, then did an elaborate sashay to the refrigerator in his baggy Denver Bronco pajama pants.

Then he blocked the TV and wiggled his butt.

“MOVE!” my mother and I said.

He minced over to his bed with his beer. He threatened to fart if we didn’t change the channel.

“I ate the same place you did,” I warned him. “Don’t throw down the gauntlet.”

Jim suffered through an hour of my mother and I cooing and booing over each fashion design.

“Oh I love that. Look how it moves.” And “Why did he put lace on the back? How can you wear a bra with that?” And “Not in that color. It looks like the inside of a coffin.”

The show finally ended and Jim reached for the remote. Then we realized the finale was being run next, back to back with the episode he just endured.

“If I have to watch another one of these, I’m breaking out the hard liquor from the trunk,” he said.

He wandered in again a few minutes later with airline-sized liquor bottles bristling through his fingers.

One of the designers on TV was gushing over her collection:

“It’s my ‘Nefertiti was reincarnated and lives in Harlem’ collection.”

Jim shook his head and emptied a bottle of bourbon into a cup of ice.

“We need to watch Nascar after this,” Jim said.


Jim plopped on his bed, watching the  “Project Runway” models strut down the runway.

“She’s hot,” Jim said.

“Shhh!” we said. “The judges don’t care about that kind of thing.”

“I do,” he said. “I’ve got to add some heterosexuality to this.”

Jim took a gulp of his bourbon concoction.

“That one’s a single-tracker,” he said, pointing to a model walking down the runway.

“A what?” I asked.

“Dog sled huskies. Some of them are single=trackers. One foot in front of the other.”

We ignored him. He kept talking.

“It makes their butts wiggle,” he said. “Looks better on the models. With the dogs, they’re just wiggling that curly tail.”

“Project Runway” finally ended with kisses and hugs and shrieks of joy onscreen. Jim wanted to change the channel .We wanted to watch all the way through the credits.

“We watched the climax,” my mom explained to him. “This is the smoking part.”

Jim shoved himself under the covers, turned over and buried his head under the pillows. Then, he issued a thunderous fart.

“I’m from a high altitude,” Jim said. “I’m equalizing.”

Happy Sibling Day.


The Volvo salesman

“Not the cigarette lighter again,” my mother moaned.

We were driving out of Houston on our way to San Antonio and I was driving her nuts.

“I’m just saying that if your cigarette lighter was working, I could plug in the GPS and we’d know where we were,” I said for the zillionth time.

My brother agreed with me. Gussie didn’t care one way or the other. He just wanted his morning tuna. We had run out and he was pissed.

Gussie who hasn't had his morning tuna.

Gussie who hasn’t had his morning tuna.

We had one goal as we drove into the outskirts of San Antonio: Find a Volvo dealer and get the damn cigarette lighter fuse replaced, for everybody’s sake.

Finding a dealer was chaotic old school with outdated maps and an iPhone I couldn’t charge so I couldn’t use the GPS on my iPhone either.

“I’m just saying that if the cigarette lighter was working, I could charge my iPhone,” I said again.

I’m sure both my mother and Jim wanted to fling themselves out of the car door, tuck and roll, and run. I just wanted to fix the damn cigarette lighter.

We finally wove through a tangle of San Antonio highway, dodging monster trucks with faded Romney Ryan stickers to find the Volvo dealer.

We entered the air conditioned Volvo service department with Jim carrying Gussie’s crate. We had no choice. We couldn’t leave him in the Volvo while we waited our turn to get the 50 cent fuse replaced.

So we sat in the waiting room with Gussie on the carpet, glaring at us and everybody else in the waiting room. We could be here one hour, we could be here eight. We had to wait our turn.

Gussie waits in the San Antonio Volvo dealership and he hasn't had his morning tuna.

Gussie waits in the San Antonio Volvo dealership and he hasn’t had his morning tuna.

While we waited, a young Volvo salesman walked over and we started to talk. It was a slow day and he seemed to want to talk about anything but Volvos.

He had on pressed slacks, a long-sleeved white shirt and the hopeful smile of a young married man with two kids and one more on the way.

His wife was a school psychologist. His daughter was four, and his little son was one.

“I made him a bat cave,” he said, and pulled out his phone.

“Like a man cave?” I asked.

Gussie continued to scowl at us from his own man cave on the waiting room floor.

My mom, brother and I looked at the photo on the phone. This young car salesman, who probably lived on a tight budget, had turned his son’s room into a young boy’s paradise with the bat signal painted on the wall, stalagmites and stalactites and a little control panel on a tiny desk that would take years for the little guy to grow into.

“I also painted my daughter’s room with all her Sesame Street characters,” he said.

Pink and yellow and happy and bright.

A buzzer overhead summoned him to the showroom and he put his cell phone and his heart back into his pocket.

“Nice talking to you…Manuel,” I said, looking at his plastic name tag.

Our car was ready a few minutes later and we loaded a watchful and suspicious Gussie back into the backseat of his chariot.

I plugged the GPS into the cigarette lighter and it lit up like a bat signal, calling us back to the road.





A taste for larceny

We got in late to The Big Easy, rolling into a hotel in the French Quarter then taking Gussie’s crate on a trolley up to the 10th floor.

My mom wanted to stay with Gussie and have Jim and me bring her dinner.

Jim and I went down to the bar and watched U Conn beat Kentucky in the NCAA Championship on a big screen TV. Neither of us had a dog in the fight, so we shrugged and wandered over to Canal Street to eat at 5 Fifty 5. A fabulous steak, great red wine.

Jim at 5 Fifty 5 on Canal Street.

Jim at 5 Fifty 5 on Canal Street.

I’m coming back to New Orleans when I’ve got more time to spend a few days with the chicory and the beignets.

Gaslamp in the French Quarter

Gaslamp in the French Quarter

On Tuesday, we drove the length of the Atchafalaya causeway through muddy lakes and skeletal trees draped with moss. 

We hit Houston right at rush hour which is like hitting a brick wall of shiny bumpers. Jim said the cars moved like molasses out of a jar at 30 below zero.

After an hour and a half of inching through Houston to a little suburb called Katy, Texas, all four of us had to pee and we wanted to pack it in for the night but we weren’t at all sure the hotel accepted pets. We were past caring.

I went in and got us a room. Two queen beds. My mom, Gussie and I bunk on one and my brother bunks on the other. No pets allowed.

That’s when I realized how easily criminal activity comes to me.

What cat?

My brother is not the felon I seem to be. We parked the car alongside the back of the building and my brother hurried to the door, looking this way, then that, then motioning to us.

My mom stayed in the Volvo, I stood watch at the glass door leading into the hallway and Jim slunk over to the car, grabbed Gussie’s cage and ran as fast as he could through the door. I held open the room door for him.

Just then, somebody in the hallway opened a door. Somebody who couldn’t have cared less what we were carrying.

“Wow this amplifier is heavy,” Jim said, a bit too loudly.

Even more loudly, I said: “Yeah, we’ve got a gig tonight.”

Not lame at all.

We struggled into the room, nearly tripping over Gussie’s crate.

My brother ran over to the window, peered outside and gave me a terse: “OK, she’s going to make a break for it with the litter box,” he said, pointing to my mom making a slow exit from the car.

I stuck my head into the hallway looking up and down, then back again, Ocean’s 11 style.

What cat?

My brother looked wild-eyed and my heart pounded while my mother slo-o-o-o-wly strolled into the glass doorway and into the hall, holding the litterbox. Which looked like a litterbox and could not be mistaken for anything else.

My mother finally made it into the room and placed the litterbox on the floor. My brother moved it so it was out of eyesight from anybody walking by our door.

“Oh, don’t worry,” my mother said, her outdoor voice ringing through the hall. “Nobody will think we have a cat in here.”



Panama Beach Spring Break

We went to bed Sunday night in our oceanfront room in Panama City Beach Monday night to a pounding surf, bar music and Spring Break. My mom and I were walking back from dinner Sunday night and passed a group of about six college-age boys staying in a room a few doors down from us.

“I need more weed,” one guy said,then spotted me and my mother. “I mean, pass me the Bible.”

“Enjoy Leviticus,” I called out.

The night passed with lots of hooting and howling coming through the walls that woke Gussie up, caused him to twitch his ears, and burrow farther under the bed.

The next morning, the three of us woke up and began packing up the car. I passed the room containing the six young Bible students and saw a half-empty jug of Hawaiian Punch and a lot of wet bathing suits, socks, and crumpled up potato chip bags strewn around the room and on the unmade beds.

“Dude, you totally yakked last night,” one of them said. “That wasn’t me!”

“Dude, it was you. I opened up the bathroom door and there’s yak all over the floor.”

The maid was standing outside, putting on her rubber gloves. I hoped English was her second language.

After a dreadful breakfast at Applebee’s—Applebee’s doesn’t do breakfast—or any meal, if you ask me–we drove up toward the parcel of land my brother bought years ago for about $19,000, sight unseen, on the advice of his brother-in-law. Jim’s brother-in-law is a land speculator and said it was a good deal. They were building an international airport nearby, and the area would grow, he said.

“The airport is the size of a 7-11,” Jim said.

It began to rain, then pour as we followed a narrow road through pine trees and thick fog. When the rain was coming down in sheets, my mother decided she had to have potato chips. She was hungry. The only business we saw was a windowless bar.

“You really want potato chips from a strip club?” my brother asked her.

Of course, she did. My mom got out of the car in the rain and returned with a bag of Cheetos. Her hair hung in wet ringlets and her shirt was sticking to her skin. We began to drive the final four miles to Jim’s land and I turned around to see she had taken her shirt off and was riding along in the back seat in her bra.

“Oh God,” my brother said.

“Don’t turn around,” I warned him.

“Don’t worry,” he said.

“I’m drying out my shirt,” my mom explained, munching her Cheetos.

Soon, we arrived at a calm and deserted lake surrounded with a few cabins and a clubhouse. Jim’s land was less than half a mile from the clubhouse, rich with trees. A blue Prius with “US Mail” on it edged past our Volvo. Jim got out of the car and inspected the land. Very pretty, and exactly what he expected, but after getting a load of the Panama City Beach crowd, he made a decision. It goes on the market as soon as he gets home.

“There was a Trans Am with the hood off that had been there for at least five years,” he said of his nearest neighbor. “These are not my people. These are Dukes of Hazzard.”

Jim on his property

Jim has arrived

Finding a hotel along the Panama City Beach that allowed pets was more difficult than we thought, but fortunately, my brother Jim arrived today.

My mom and I carried Gussie’s crate into the Panama City airport to meet Jim’s plane Sunday afternoon. He had flown in from Denver, driving through the snow and a herd of elk to land in 80 degrees and white sand.

We had agreed to pick him up in Panama City because he bought some land here a long, long time ago, sight unseen, and wanted to take a look at it. His brother-in-law talked him into it.

“Never listen to your brother-in-law,” Jim said.

We were tired—especially Gussie– so we headed right to the beach area to find a hotel. We would look at the property tomorrow, we decided.

No pets, no pets, no pets. We kept driving from hotel to hotel to motel to motel.

Jim, being from frigid Breckenridge, Colorado, had his heart set on a hotel right on the beach. Not a high-rise, just an old-school Panama City Beach motel. Nice, clean, and pet-friendly for Gussie.

Finally we found the perfect hotel. We could afford it, and its doors opened right out onto the beach.

Jim went inside while my mom and I waited in the car. It was then that I saw the sign in the lobby window that said, clearly: “No animals, except service animals.”

We couldn’t figure out what was taking Jim so long. The “no pets” was a deal breaker.

He walked out after about 10 minutes with three hotel keys. “Did you tell them about Gussie?” my mom asked.

“Well,” Jim said. “They said no animals were allowed except service animals. Then he looked me straight in the eye and asked ‘Is it a service animal?’”

And Jim replied: “Yes, my mom is totally blind and the cat is a seeing eye cat.”

And the clerk said: “OK, you’re good.”

Jim has arrived.

Gussie Goes Commando

Gussie bolted under the bed the minute we unlatched his crate at the Hilton in Melbourne. Well, he tried, but was too fat, so he rammed his head under the bed and gradually stuffed himself into his hiding place.

In the middle of the night, we heard scratching in the litter box. Two visits, lots of scratching. He ate and drank and ran back under the bed.

We figured we had outsmarted him because we attached his leash to his harness. So when it came time to leave for our next stop in Tallahassee, I pulled on the leash. And pulled, hoping to pull him out from under the bed.

I pulled and pulled…..and out came the leash with the empty harness dangling on the end.

“Uh oh…” my mom and I chorused.

I tried to reach under the bed and tried not to think of all of the people who had slept in that bed and all of the various things that might still be under the bed. That were probably now sticking to Gussie.

We called the bellman. In a few minutes, there was a rap on the door and a linebacker in a black Hilton bellman uniform with a gold curli-Q “H” on the pocket answered. He smiled. He had a space between his teeth and tattoos peeking out from under the sleeve.

We explained our predicament and the bellman got down on his hands and knees and said “Here kitty, kitty.”

And to us: “Got any catnip?”

Gussie didn’t budge. He was out of his harness–going commando. And nobody was telling him what to do.

“I think we need a broom,” my mom said.

So the bellhop/linebacker/probably former convict went to get a broom, returned, and got back on his hands and knees, poking the broom under the bed while Gussie dodged it.

“We’re going to have to pick up the bed,” he said.

My mom and I looked at him. We?

He pulled all the bedclothes off the bed and pulled up the mattress and the box spring with one powerful lift. Once again, I tried not to think of bedbugs and lintballs from the 1990s and grabbed a cowering Gussie.

Who slipped through my grasp and shot under the other bed.

So the bellman put down one of the beds with a thump and pulled up the other bed. I didn’t care anymore about lintballs from the 1990s and fossilized condoms. I grabbed the little bastard and hung on. (The cat, not the bellman.)

Gussie’s feet hung down, claws and furry white tummy exposed. I launched him into his carrier as quickly as I could and shut the door. We all breathed and I thanked the bellman.

The bellman in the dusty coat started to load the suitcases onto the metal dolly. Then he said:

“He made another break for it.”

Gussie had worked open the cage latch and had once again shot under one of the beds. The bellhop prepared for yet a third bench press of a queen-sized bed, but Gussie scurried behind the curtain, sealing himself into a corner.

I gathered him up one more time, he gave me a swipe on the hand that drew some blood, and this time I locked the crate more securely.

Then I said to my mom, “Hand me my purse. I need to give this gentleman a much bigger tip.”

Gussie was a good boy all day, sleeping in his crate until we reached Tallahassee and wheeled him up to the hotel room on a dolly. We let him out of his crate and once again, he rocketed under the bed.

Here’s hoping for another bellhop who works out.