Tribute to an Angel From Uganda

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My mind is so much with my faraway friend, Barb Mal, as she hits her milestone 50th birthday, and the first without her sweet, charming, mother who recently passed away, I remember (as I often do) with so much appreciation, respect, and love for how our bond began.

I was “shipped away” to Quaker boarding school in Nowheresville, Ohio, my last year of high school. Apparently my penchant for good times and bad grades had hit the ceiling for my parents (LOL) and off I went, kicking & screaming. Of course, in my teen angst I was determined to hate it there (which, fortunately, did not last long) and my first day there was sheer misery. Lonely and isolated, I was a stranger in a strange land, as I watched the many returning students hugging & laughing after a long summer apart in an era where email & texting had not yet been invented and long distance phone calls were a luxury due to the cost. Witnessing all of these joyous reunions only served to make me feel more alone and so I wandered down the brick path of the grounds to a swing set that was located away from the main building but still visible. I sat there silently swinging alone and crying, throwing myself a proper and fully self-indulgent pity party, drowning in loneliness, distress, and anger, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a lone girl walking down the path towards me. I was thinking to myself, “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. PLEASE don’t talk to me!” (LOL) as my pity party only had an invitation for one and that was ME. Still she walked closer until she got to the swing set and silently sat down next to me. I did not look up, as I was crying, embarressed, awkward, and dedicated to being anti-social so as not to like anything about the place. She sat and began swinging slowly next to me in silence as I continued to stare at the ground until, after a short time went by, she quietly said, “You know, it’s not so bad here.”. OMG – I literally am choked up writing this! It truly is the sweetest, most selfless, kind thing that I think anyone has ever done for me. It’s especially notable because Barb was a returning student and so easily could have chosen (as I’m sure I would have) to have focused her attention on those happy, post-summer, reunions but she went out of her way to comfort a sad & lonely stranger. I knew from that moment that she was a very special person. 32 years later, we are still bonded. My parents referred to her as their “bonus daughter”.
She is kind, strong, intelligent, cultured, and empowered. Not only do I love her, I respect her enormously. She is an incredible single parent of a wonderful daughter, Edisa, whose father she met as we were out for my bachelorette party and whose flirtation I unapologetically interrupted as I stole her back away for the night! LOL I was with her to go home from the hospital after she gave birth, this tiny, new, adorable, creature SCREAMING in the backseat of the car with us laughing hysterically in a state of shock & awe, exlaiming to one another, “WHAT DO WE DO NOW???”. She figured it out….like a champ.
I love you, Barb Mal, and look forward to spending your next milestone birthday TOGETHER!!!
We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like her. ❤

Vegas “I Do’s” – Angels & Aftermath (Part 1 of 2)

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ANGELS

Though I’ve been to Vegas many times, you throw a wedding (your own), Halloween, and a “visit from beyond” into the mix and, well, it’s one for the books.  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”….except for this.

I remember working with a guy in my late teens that had recently gotten married in Vegas on Halloween. I also remember thinking that was the most horribly unromantic thing I’d ever heard of. In 2004 I got married the day before Halloween…in Vegas. Yes. Yes I did. And we had a BLAST!! Interesting how time and age, and planning a second wedding, changes your perspective on things.

In our own defense, my second (now 2nd “ex” though still a cherished friend) husband and I initially had more traditional if still casual plans for our nuptials. Both long term residents of Florida and “low maintenance” types, we explored our local options and ultimately put a deposit down on an outdoor, covered, picnic table laden spot at a nearby state park appropriately located along the Atlantic shoreline. Our chosen and secured venue offered corresponding access to the beach for a planned, barefoot vow exchange followed by a DJ, food, dancing, and drinks involving minimal cost and maximum fun. Alas, life does not always cooperate and my father’s diagnosis of a brain tumor, and his accompanying rapid decline, quickly converted the foreseen fun of planning our event into an overwhelming chore as my time and energy was clearly focused elsewhere. Not wishing to delay our “I Do’s” despite the situation (silver linings serving as a welcome and helpful life raft), some quick internet research provided an easy solution. For the “low, low price” of $475 (insert used car salesman voice *here*) we could secure a venue, a non-denominational minister, a video, and play our own music at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Tropicana Chapel, here we come!

Though I was from a loving family, my mother and siblings were only in an emotional and monetary position to provide a tentative “RSVP” due to my father’s failing health. As he ultimately passed away just weeks prior to my planned nuptials (his departure undoubtedly making the afterlife a much more entertaining and delightfully dorky place to be) they understandably passed on attending as we all still reeled from our loss.

My fiancé & I made our plans with no expectations regarding attendance but sent invitations to special friends near & far letting them know the ceremony locale had taken an unexpected turn. We made it clear to everyone that they were enthusiastically welcome but that their presence was requested without pressure due to the now increased expense required to join us on our special day. Imagine our delight when our wedding was attended by 22 friends from 5 states, far and beyond anything we expected or hoped for!

The wedding ceremony was brief, casual, and filled with laughter and love. Obviously, we kept things simple, opting for a single friend at each of our sides at the altar. Very early into the short ceremony our delightful officiant, whom we’d met just minutes beforehand, commented in front of the attendees that my husband’s “best man”, a very close, lesbian friend of ours, was “The best looking best man he had ever seen!”. Little did he know how much those words would haunt us as that “best (wo)man” shared his flattery with everyone within a 1,000 mile radius for the next five years! I will concede it was pretty unique and big props from someone that conducts hundreds of ceremonies a year so we’ll give her a pass.

Our personally tailored, non-traditional, “blink and you’ll miss it” ceremony ended with us singing to one another, alternately and off key, a song from “The Wedding Singer”, an 80’s based “rom-com” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. (For those that aren’t familiar consider yourself served!). As in the movie, Billy Idol’s voice came over the speaker system (this time in the Tropicana Wedding Chapel) to announce the song. Ironically, his introduction even mentions Las Vegas which, ironically, I didn’t even realize until I looked up the lyrics once again as I wrote this.

I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do is grow old with you

I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches
Build you a fire if the furnace breaks
Oh, it could be so nice, growing old with you

I’ll miss you
Kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold

Need you
Feed you
Even let you hold the remote control

So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink
Oh, I could be the man (one) who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you

Upon completion of the ceremony my new husband and I bounced together back down the aisle, wearing huge smiles and big hearts, “Silly Little Love Songs” by Paul McCartney & Wings serenading our new status. As a collective, happy, hubabaloo, everyone present piled on to the party bus we had rented, shouting and laughing until we disembarked at our uber classy reception location, the “Big Dog Saloon”. The following hours were filled with shared food and ample drink, joyous toasts and spontaneous speeches. When it was my turn to speak I acknowledged my father and his absence, the first time I’d allowed myself to tearfully touch on his loss on such a joyous day, before pushing it aside to remain focused on the happy vs. the sad, knowing he would approve.

After sucking it up and getting back in the moment it was once again time to invade the party bus and head to our next, and final, destination. Through my research I’d discovered a new nightclub in the “Old Las Vegas”, Fremont Street vicinity, that was wholly appealing for our non-chi chi and still youthful crowd.

As we piled off our party bus for the last time, the driver no doubt screaming a silent “Hallelujah!” as he pulled away, we walked into the club with a minor state of shock. Though our posse was in “full swing” apparently, at least by Vegas standards, we were WAY ahead of the game as we surveyed our barren surroundings. “Cavernous” is the word to perfectly describe the place – an enormous warehouse type venue, all concrete, incredibly high ceilings, and vast empty space. That said, our mood and celebration were not deterred, collective policy always remaining it’s “Who you’re with not where you are”. Bonus – We clearly had our choice of comfortable seating available to secure as a group. Champagne glasses half full not empty, thank you!

At this point in the tale it’s important to remember that we were in Vegas the day before Halloween. Though our primary focus was obviously on our wedding festivities it was hardly a bland and boring landscape beyond. Kinky and questionable Halloween shenanigans were already in full swing throughout the tourist zones and gaining momentum and numbers the later it got. Whether mandated by city ordinance or not it seemed that we had missed the dress code memo that did not permit wearing more than 1 square yard of fabric, preferably made of latex or fur.  It is with this in mind that as everyone in our circle chattered, laughed, and clinked glasses, I alone noticed – with unintended and uncontested tunnel vision – a solo female walking slowly yet deliberately across our path. Dance music blared while the other stray, early bird revelers traveled in hedonistic packs around the massive space on a mission for mischief yet this woman traveled alone, unnoticed and ignored by everyone but me. To me, she silently commanded the room, an anomaly in this environment holding a spiritual spotlight.

She was dressed as an angel. Not just an angel but a modest angel, simultaneously making her both invisible and glaringly obvious. She wore a floor length, white gown and huge, beautiful, majestic, white, feathered wings. Her hair and makeup were unique in the fact that they were simple. Natural. “Angelic”. The halo perched over her head served as the beautiful bow that launched the soaring arrow of immediate, deep,  recognition and understanding into my heart. Involuntarily and almost violently I elbowed my new husband as he sat at my side, snapping him out of the shared conversation. Looking at me with surprise, unsure whether to be alarmed, concerned, or annoyed, I urgently motioned for him to follow my gaze. My new husband as my only witness, the angel still slowly crossing our path, I told him with uncontrollable tears and laughter, “THAT’S MY DAD!”.

Together we watched as she disappeared into the other end of the club. We never saw her again while we were there but I only needed to see her once.

Thank you, Dad, for coming to my wedding. The soul knows.

The Karaoke King

Frank Sinatra, you’ve been served!  I imagine this Father’s Day there may be a “sing off” going down inside the pearly gates where Rat Pack crowd cigar smoke doesn’t stink and carries with crooning over the clouds.

I put Google to work early this morning to do its stuff and after a few keystrokes it quickly served up the lyrics to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.  Though appreciative of Sinatra’s music I am not a “fan” in regards to personal ownership of any of his tunes nor do I know any of them by heart.  My Dad, however, loved that song in particular and when occasions arose for him to dust off his Karaoke King crown it was one of his two favorite “go to’s”.  We played that song at his memorial and it amazed me how prolific the words were, perfect for his “swan song”.

My full family went on a short, Caribbean cruise together several years ago, generously gifted by my parents to celebrate my dad’s retirement together.  Predictably one of my dad’s favorite activities sailing with my mom on their umpteen cruises was the onboard karaoke.  I thought this was pretty hilarious.  My Dad doing karaoke – you MUST be kidding!  Can’t wait to tell my friends about this!  Ha, ha, ha, and blah, blah, blah.

Let me tell you what – he FLOORED them!  Yes, if there was no age limit, my Dad could truly have been the next American Idol!  Well, that and a makeover.  Sorry, Dad.  Your tragic wardrobe choices, most notably the shiny, silver Keds with the dark dress socks and plaid shorts, live on in infamy  But I digress.

I very begrudgingly went to see him “perform”.  Although I didn’t let my folks know that was the adjective I would have used I’m certain they were wise to it but appreciative of my attendance all the same.  I went into the lounge being used for this hokey pastime and took a seat.  The girls performing upon my arrival were tipsy, young, and giddy…..and just plain AWFUL, exactly the performance one would expect from cruise ship karaoke.  Painful to sit through.

When the warbling, drunken, trio’s song blessedly came to a close the Cruise Director called out a man’s name whose companions apparently had signed him up without his knowledge because he adamantly refused to do it while his friends caused a jolly scene, egging him on to no avail.  Dad was next in line and offered to go ahead.  Problem solved.

Here we go.  Keep a straight face.  I know I can do it.

He. Was. AMAZING!

“And nowwwwwwwwww……the time is near……”

BEAUTIFUL!!  He sounded BEAUTIFUL!

All of the sudden the attending crew member broke out these slowly spinning, multi-colored spotlights on him.  Ambiance, why thank you.

The room got quiet.  He sang like a tenor angel.

His first round of the chorus, “I did it myyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaay.”, had the audience erupting in applause & whistles.  He was a supahstah!  As he continued singing there were occasional whoops and whistles, and even one loud & enthusiastic “YEAHHHHHH, BOB!” from the back of the room (they had introduced him by his first name before he began.).

As the song and my papa songbird came to a close, I kid you not, he got a heartfelt standing ovation from everyone in the room.  There was no denying – it wasn’t just me – he was incredible.  I have never been so proud of my father as I was at that moment and I will never forget it.  It is, without a doubt, something that will make me smile in 30 years as it does now while I remember and write.

The following day I participated in some additional cruise ship fodder, some type of trivia game where I was paired with an older couple who looked to be around their 60’s.  As we chatted casually they mentioned how they were just in that same lounge the day before and I said I was too, to see my Dad sing karaoke.  Turns out that’s why they had been there too.  The woman asked what my Dad sang and I said, “My Way” and she exclaimed, “FRANK?  Your Dad is FRANK???” and began acting like a wrinkled school girl!

Again, I smile even bigger now.  I wonder if there’s groupies in heaven?

And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friend, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I’ve traveled each and every highway

But more, much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few

But then again, too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course

Each careful step along the byway

And more, much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew

When I bit off more than I could chew

But through it all, when there was doubt

I ate it up and spit it out

I faced it all and I stood tall

And did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill my share of losing

And now, as tears subside

I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that

And may I say – not in a shy way

Oh no, oh no, not me

I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got

If not himself, then he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way

Yes, it was my way

(My favorite picture of my dad, sitting inside a giant bubble maker that he made)

SACAGAWEA (A Gemini Shout Out)

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Sidestepping from humor to wonder for a moment.  Messages of love & support from “The Great Beyond” the subject of the day, for today is my O.G.’s birthday.  O.G. stands for “Other Gemini”, one of those nicknames that presents itself without thought and that sticks like glue to the degree that you no longer address one another by your real names.  My best-friend and I’s “glue” was the unintentional but funny & permanent result of his “post bitter break up phase” with his partner of 15 years.  Shortly after their break up a mutual friend was regaling his ex with a story of whatever Eric (aka: My O.G.) & I’s latest escapade was.  His ex failed to find the amusement in the shared story (though I’d bet that it was, indeed, amusing!  Heh, heh!) and sarcastically responded to this mutual friend, “Ugh!  They’re just like each other!  It’s like the other Gemini!”.
Other.
Gemini.

Really?

Ohhhhh, how we laughed!
And so “O.G.” was born.

My O.G. was only 48 years old when he passed away, an age I will be surpassing just a few days from now.  It’s a long, drawn out, sad story of terminal illness that there’s no fun in sharing but suffice it to say that it ended with him passing away on July 23rd, 2014.  Almost three years later I am grateful to now be in a place where I remember him mostly with a warm heart and triggered smirks, if not flat out laughter, ever thankful for the undeniable bond and multiple, undeniable, messages he has sent me from that “Great Beyond” previously mentioned.  This is the tale of one of those messages.

If you paid attention in U.S. history class (I plead the fifth) then Sacagawea is familiar to you, the Indian princess that assisted Lewis & Clark on their expedition.  Despite the fact that I’m sure I was “taught” this in school, I knew nothing of Sacagawea until the day that my O.G. showed me some rare coins that his grandmother had given him that featured this historical & strong female.  As best friends do, we somehow morphed this into a good luck mantra where any time we wanted something good to happen we used it as a manifesting chant: “Sacagawea!”
Fast forward to about a year later after he showed me the patinaed coins.  In ailing health but not yet aware of the true severity of it, Eric decided it was time for a change.  He was ready to head back to the western part of the U.S. where his roots were and start a new & fresh life, power washing off the bad juju, memories, & struggles of his past few years in Florida.  With a heavy but supportive heart, I bid him adieu as he loaded up his U-Haul, only to have my breath taken away when I saw the image displayed on the side of his rental truck:

Sacagawea.

There she was!  A huge profile, proud & braided, ready to accompany him as his prominent, lucky charm on the road to his new beginning.  WOW!  Never before had either of us seen this U-Haul image and, after he pulled out of the driveway, neither of us encountered it again in the years to follow.

I received the dreaded but not unexpected phone call from his brother in California mid-morning on July 23rd, roughly three years after Eric had moved away.  I knew when I talked to my O.G. last that it would be just that…the last.  He literally told me that as I cried.  I told him that wasn’t okay and he had to wait for us to get together one last time yet he firmly but gently let me know that I needed to understand that wasn’t going to happen.  With tired, peaceful, matter of fact, he made it clear that his death was imminent and that I needed to accept it.  I remember sitting on the edge of my patio crying while I talked to him that last time, pleading and telling him how much I loved him, tucking myself in under a blanket of tears and sorrow that night after our conversation ended.

The very few following days involved him being admitted, once again, to the hospital, a place that he had become all too familiar with.  Naturally, I called to speak with him there but the nurse that greeted me on the other end of the line told me that he was not taking calls.  I implored her to let him know it was *me*, which she kindly accommodated as she put me on hold to relay that information.  When she returned with the shockingly same message, “he was not taking calls”, I knew that this was, indeed, “it”, and that our last phone call was, as I had felt but tried to deny, his official “goodbye” as he embraced his fate.

I called my mother that night, distraught and devastated, and, as wonderful & wise mother’s do, she told me that the best gift I could give him was to let him go.  Upon hanging up I laid on my couch and cried & cried, speaking out loud through sobs in my living room to Eric despite the fact that it’s only occupants were my two dogs.  Urgently I hoped, and even believe(d), that he could somehow hear me – feel me – as I took my mother’s words to heart, letting him know that I understood and it was okay to “go”.

And so, the very next day, it was.
And so I crumbled.
And so he was gone.

I got the phone call that he had passed away in mid to late morning and immediately collapsed on another one of my best friend’s doorsteps, gratefully located just two doors down from my own.  What transpired from there is a blur but I know that, through the hotline, she & a small collection of other friends created a shared mission to transport me for us to gather at one of their swimming pools to lay in the sun, soak in the water, and just “be”.  No pressure to talk yet not permitting me to be alone as reality set in.  The mutual friend’s place was not far, less than a mile away, though I remember nothing of the drive.  Our arrival, however, is a crystal clear and vivid, cherished memory, now & forever.

I have a foggy recollection of the car I was riding in pulling into a parking space in the private lot.  I remember just sitting in my shotgun space, my friend telling me we were there and “let’s get out”.  Through a molasses fog I managed to open the car door, looking up as I was ready to exit…..and there was my U-Haul, O.G., angel!  As I mentioned previously, though he had been gone for three years I had never again encountered a Sacagawea U-Haul until that moment yet there it was at the end of the parking lot directly in my line of vision, this Indian princess that I firmly believe did not greet me by coincidence that day.

A finger inserted into a spiritual, emotional, light socket, I instantly snapped alert.  Liken it to having smelling salts shoved under my nose & spirit, suddenly and brought back to life, emotional & aware.  Instantaeously, I became a bubbling brew of tears and laughter, as this incredulous sight shone on my face and my sorrow with the sun.  No, this wasn’t coincidence.  This was my friend!  My O.G.  Letting me know he was still with me, always.

When we had his memorial a month & a half later I gave the eulogy and shared our background & meaning of Sacagawea, punctuated with this “day of departure” U-haul encounter.  “Sacagawea” then became the battle cry of honor & tribute, glasses clinking together, shouted at random during this farewell gathering of friends.  He would have loved it!

After his passing I contacted his brother and requested those coins, which he sent and which I am deeply grateful to have now & forever.  One is attached to the urn that I keep outdoors in my “hang out” space where I spend the majority of my free time so that he is with me most often.  Another is in my vehicle so he travels with me wherever I go.  A third Sacagawea, not made of metal but of ink, is with me every moment of every day.

As a side note, only very recently (within the past month) did I notice that the font that I selected for my scripted “Sacagawea” tattoo actually creates an unintentional “O.G.”.

Unintentional on my part.
Universally intended flair.

Happy birthday to my O.G!  Forever young.

“SACAGAWEA!”

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A Mother’s Message From “The Great Beyond”

Some things just don’t qualify as coincidence!

It was a typically warm, sunshine & blue skied filled, Florida December morning when my mother’s best friend and self described “soul sister” arrived for a quick stay with me before setting out on her first cruise since my mother had passed away. It had taken Linda over three years to be ready for her next “anchors away” moment as cruising was “their thing”and they did it with delight together multiple times a year and across the globe. This was also the first time Linda and I had seen one another since my mother’s memorial all those years ago and she had been holding on to a ring that was willed to me by my mother for safekeeping.  I remember gazing at the ring with appreciation as a child when displayed on my mother’s long, slender finger and I had always loved it. Purple, of course, (my mother & I’s shared favorite color) a simple but unique design of an amethyst with a diamond set in diagonal corners of a delicate, also diagonal, gold band. Linda had worn it for safe keeping during her flight and when she took it off and presented it to me on my patio I lovingly transferred it to my own finger, done with a shared hug & tears. Never removed since, the ring is incredibly, deeply important, special and meaningful.

But, oh, it gets better!
So unbelievably, incredibly, jaw droppingly better!

Their mutual friend, Mary Jo, was also along for the visit as she & Linda were going on this cruise together.  Shortly after Linda presented me with my Mom’s ring, Mary Jo announced that she had a birthday gift for Linda that she felt she needed to go ahead and give her while we were together even though Linda’s birthday was during their just-around-the-corner cruise. It’s was to be Linda’s 65th birthday so a milestone one and, for this reason, Mary Jo said she had wanted to get her something extra special.  Little did she know HOW incredibly and truly special it was to be!

As Linda and I sat in my living room with intrigued anticipation, Mary Jo pulled out a small box and passed it to Linda. Upon opening it her jaw immediately fell open……and remained open in, struck speechless with shock. My curiosity peaked to the highest level, Linda composed herself enough to turn the open box to reveal what it held which, upon seeing, caused me to impulsivly yell out as we once again both began to cry, this time with incredulous tears of joyful disbelief and amazement!  The delicate content of the box held an almost *exact duplicate* of my mother’s ring that Linda had JUST passed on to me! Amethyst center, diagonal diamonds, diagonal gold band setting. My immediate thought was that Mary Jo had taken my mother’s ring (or a photo of it) to a jeweler to have it custom made but, again, it gets better! In actuality, Mary Jo had never seen my mother’s ring – had never even KNOWN about it – until THAT DAY!  She excitedly and emotionally informed us that she had come across the ring two months prior at an antique shop and it had struck her as the perfect, special gift for Linda. Oh, yes, how VERY, VERY *PERFECT & SPECIAL*!  Linda & I both bordered on hysteria, a combined, beautiful, bubbling brew of laughter, tears, and incredulous exclaimanations! We all three agreed that Mom was making it known that she was here for our first reunion since her passing, for Linda’s birthday, for her first cruise without her, and for the “passing of the ring”. Seems that she wanted us both to have it!

Thank you, Mary Jo, for being the channel, purchaser, and deliverer for what spoke to you (i.e. – MOM!). Over three years later, my mother clearly and undeniably made her presence and endless love known.

As I said, some things just don’t qualify as mere coincidence.

Happy Mother’s Day, always & forever!

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