PS, It’s Been Twenty-Five Years

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

As part of my annual goodreads.com reading challenges, I just finished “Postscript,” Cecilia Ahern’s followup to “PS, I Love You.” “PS, I Love You” was a story about a woman named Holly who starts receiving helpful letters from her recently-deceased husband. The letters send her on a journey where she rediscovers herself, finds a new path forward out of her grief, and so forth. It became a movie with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. The sequel picks up about seven years later, with Holly in a new relationship. When she retells the story of the letters from the first novel on a podcast, she gets pulled into helping a group of terminal patients who want to do the same thing, leaving messages behind after they die.

Ahern writes about grief with such insight that I was positive that she was writing from personal experience. As it turns out, she’s just a really gifted writer of fiction and a keen observer of humans being humans. In her own words, “when I wrote PS, I Love You, I was 21 and a lot of people asked if you hadn’t experienced grief. How can you write about it? But I do think that grief is made up of so many emotions that we do experience from the moment we’re born. We know what it’s like to feel loss, to feel alone, to feel uncertain, to lose a sense of ourselves and our identity. Grief is all of those things.”

Yesterday was twenty-five years to the day since the death of someone I loved with all my heart. I don’t talk about her as often now as I used to, but the people who have known me the longest know all about that part of my life because I wouldn’t shut up about it. Truth be told, I thought I had mentioned this countless times already on my blog, but I searched my own words tonight and I don’t see a single post talking about it.

For the three or four of you who don’t know the story, she died suddenly on February 21st, 1996. It was tragic and unfair and it really fucked me up for a long time. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve made an uneasy peace with some aspects of her passing. Twenty-five years is a long time to ponder things. I believe now that she didn’t love me as much as I loved her, but that’s not important. I know what she meant to me, and how that has shaped my life in the years since.

Which brings me back to Postscript, and the part of the novel that pushed me into writing about it here:

There is so much about me that Gerry wouldn’t recognize. I am older than Gerry ever was, I know things that he never knew, that he will never know. And it’s the little things that stop me in my tracks. He never lived to hear the word “hangry.” Every time I hear the word I think of him, he would have loved it when his belly was full and hated it when it was empty. The invention of things he would appreciate. New phones. New technologies. New political leaders, new wars. Cronuts. New Star Wars movies.

“Postscript,” Cecelia Ahern

…and this is a true thing. She would barely recognize the person I am now, despite my mostly-never-changing face. I’m more than twice as old now as I was when she died. Pre-1996 Steven was much more of a live-action Muppet than present-day Steven. I’m quieter now than I used to be, less boisterous. Her death was a catalyst for the path my life took afterward.

I’m certain that my friends have noticed in the years since that I take a truly insane number of photographs. I take pictures at family gatherings, parties, special events, and even just regular day-to-day things. (Seriously, let me show you my astonishing collection of photos of the avocado toast I’ve eaten over the years.) I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos in the last decade or so, and part of that is because of her. There are no photographs of her and me together. I have only one photograph of her, just one. It’s off to the right there. I realized years later that I needed more photographs of all the people in my life because you never know when you won’t have another chance to take their picture.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to save her. The question, “what if I’d been there that day,” is a slow-burning poison, because it’s not something that can be changed. And if it could be changed, it would unravel the fabric of the person I’ve become in the years since. Less than two years after her funeral, I made a decision to enroll at the University of Central Florida to finish my degree. In the years since then, I’ve owned a home. I’ve traveled extensively. I’ve had more than a few failed relationships. I’ve come to know my own heart more precisely than younger me did. I’m not certain that any of that would have been in my path if she was still alive. It’s a dark trade-off to consider, but it’s another true thing.

Whenever I write about her, I feel self-indulgent and mawkish, and it’s NEVER what I was trying to say. My words are never equal to the burden of my heart. I will probably delete this post after a day or so.

Here’s to you, Vanessa. You changed my world when you were alive, but you changed it even more when you died.

Would a younger you recognize the person you are today?

8/52

Rehabilitating Fahrenheit

For most of my life, I lived in Florida. Sure, I was born in New Jersey, but my family moved South when I was roughly six weeks old. Aside from a few years in Germany and my more recent translocation to Virginia, all the rest of my days were lived in Florida.

It’s for this reason that my brain is broken in a really peculiar way. The only time I’ve ever lived in a place with actual winter, the metric system was in play. The result? I don’t really understand cold temperatures in Fahrenheit. When the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, my brain short circuits and I have no frame of reference for what that feels like.

Unless you tell me it’s 16 degrees Celsius. Then I understand it completely.

Warm temperatures I completely get in Fahrenheit, but cold temps I only grok in Celsius. I have no idea how to dress for 32F, but I’m ready to go when it’s 0C outside. Intellectually I know it’s the exact same thing, but… my brain still doesn’t make that association.

Twelve degrees celcius on a sunny day is a gorgeous, perfect day in my brain, but if you tell me that it’s also 53F, I’m bound to think it’s colder than it really is.

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time flipping the weather app on my phone between Fahrenheit and Celsius whenever I leave the apartment. I’m trying to forge new associations in my brain about what each of those numbers actually feels like. I think that in time, I can rehabilitate my brain to properly understand cold weather in Fahrenheit.

Which sounds nicer to you, 18C or 64F?

7/52

On Staying In

Sometimes I don’t leave the apartment for a week at a time.

I started to think about why I’m so comfortable not going out, and I thought at first that maybe it was tied to my current sleep routine. Every night I spend time doomscrolling and obsessive news lurking, then reading on my Kindle until my eyes are bleary, then listening to music until I’m actually drowsy. Then and only then do I actually – finally – fall asleep. Most nights, that’s around 2am. When I spatula myself out of bed the next morning for work, I invariably insist to myself that I will go to sleep earlier the next night, but I never do. Hell, I even have a cron running on my computer that makes it speak aloud, “go to bed you idiot” at 10:30 each night. I guess I don’t sleep much.

Part of the problem, for me, is that I am never, ever bored at home. There’s always something to read, a video to watch, small projects to put off. All my stuff is here! There’s always something to do when I should be sleeping like a sane and normal person. (Yes, I know my sleep hygiene is garbage; that’s not what this post is about.)

In the last two weeks, I’ve left the building perhaps three times. Once to the dentist, once to the grocery store, and the other time was a walk with a friend to pick up some dinner. I recently mentioned to that same friend that I hadn’t really been out in a while and she asked why- and I didn’t have a good answer. I mean, yes, part of it was that work had been particularly contentious, including a weekend full of twelve-hour workdays.

I feel a little guilty that I’m being a bad friend by holing up in my apartment instead of trying to socialize more with my friends, but then most of them who are too skittish about Covid to actually do anything social. I don’t blame them – everyone has their own comfort level about being out and about during the pandemic. I don’t know anyone up here who would dine inside a restaurant. And it’s just cold enough to be really uncomfortable dining outside.

Switching to pandemic lock-down was easy for me because my own built-in inertia already makes me predisposed to stay in. Without social plans – a concert, a movie, a musical, pub trivia, or dinner with a friend – I’m perfectly happy to stay at home and do my own thing. Left to my own devices, I can easily stay at home for days at a time. Longer, with food delivery.

There’s really just not that much going on in the outside world lately. Honestly, though, I can’t think of a good reason for not going outside, other than “I just don’t want to.” The only real down side is that the longer I stay in, the harder it is for me to finally get up and go outside.

Do you get stir-crazy when you can’t go out for a long time?

6/52

Adulting.

All the way back on day 12 of NanoPoblano, Charlene from “The Illusion of Controlled Chaos” recounted a brief story about troubleshooting a small toilet problem, and that got me thinking. My comment at the time was specific to toilets, but my thoughts didn’t stay there.

Before long, I was thinking about all the things that being an adult involves, both the good and the bad. On the good side, I like that my time is my own, and I can make my own decisions about where to live, what to do with my free time, and the like.

I was also trying to list all the things that I really don’t like about being an adult. I’m not talking about the big obvious ones like bills and taxes and the health issues that come from getting older, I just mean the silly ones.

For example, I mentioned toilet maintenance in the comment on Charlene’s post as a thing that I don’t enjoy about being an adult. Specifically, I was talking about that little dance with the bleach tablet and the scissors and holding up the top of the toilet tank which is somehow ALWAYS DRIPPING WET while putting the cleaning stuff down into the tank. I don’t enjoy that at all, although I appreciate the effect it has on my toilet.

Another thing I don’t like about being an adult is going to sleep at a reasonable time and waking up at a reasonable time. I’m not a morning person. My chronotype is “get sleepy around 2am, naturally wake up close to 10.” My employment requires that I be a DayWalker, though, so I have to wake up earlier each day, which means I almost never really get enough sleep. I think being an adult means managing a never-ending cycle of caffeine and poor sleep.

Perhaps the thing that I dislike the most about being an adult is the never-ending march of deciding what to eat for my next meal. Some people delight in meal planning, but for me, it’s a significant chore. Ordering from restaurants doesn’t really make it any easier, either. If I let the decision-making process go too long, then I get into a cycle where I’ll look at different things whilst being very hungry, and will have trouble deciding on anything at all. I know from experience that if I’m TOO hungry, I will default to the worst possible food, but only after a very long period of indecision and waffling.

What are the things you dislike the most about being an adult?

48/52 (and 27 of 30!)

Shadows of the Past

Palimpsest.

I was reading a novel, and the author kept using this word. I remember learning the meaning of palimpsest a long time ago, but I forgot over time because it’s not the sort of word that gets used a lot in casual conversation.

pal·imp·sest | ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest | noun 

• a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. 
• something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

It’s an unfortunate and often frustrating fact of life, but things are always in motion. Entropy is the law of the land. I see it every time I return to places I used to live. I spent a large part of my life living in more or less the same area, and seeing the changes as I drive through certain parts of town makes me a little bit melancholy.

Time ate the 1980s for a snack. An ice cream shop I loved in childhood is long gone. The SupeRX pharmacy where my father worked when I was little eventually became a Rite-Aid. I don’t think many people even remember SupeRX.

I stole this image from a blog about the history of the Kroger-SupeRX drug stores. If you’re really curious, you can read the whole timeline here.

The movie theatre where I saw “Ghostbusters” and “The Goonies” and “Karate Kid Part 2” was razed and reborn as a Ross Dress For Less. The theatre where I saw “Superman 2” and “The Great Muppet Caper” was flattened and left as an ugly portion of strip-mall. The original, really awesome Chuck E Cheese was turned into a Cinema and Drafthouse until that too failed. (Which is good- I still blame them for my mistake of watching “Se7en” while eating pizza. Bad idea.)

The Candyland Arcade, a huge favorite in my high school days, is nothing at all now. The same goes for the comic book store that was a few doors down from the arcade. My father switched from SupeRX to Albertsons, but that store is gone now too, bought up by Publix.

Time went clogging on into the 90s. My mental map of Palm Beach Community College doesn’t contain all the buildings that are there now. It doesn’t even have a third of them. A big ugly fence went up around my old high school- as much to keep the kids in as to keep interlopers out, I imagine.

The Clock Family Restaurant, a big favorite haunt in the early 1990s, is long gone, replaced first by a Denny’s, and then later on by a Tijuana Flats and a Sleep Number mattress store. (There’s still a Clock in Gainesville, but it’s not the one I know.)

The Motorola factory where I earned my paycheck in 1995 has been demolished and rebuilt as fashionable condos and shopping. Dad started working for Winn Dixie Pharmacy, and he managed to retire before most of the Winn Dixie stores vanished from the area.

Four different movie theatres that I worked in have been closed or demolished. One of them is an L.A. Fitness now. The Carefree Theatre, home to so many of the best stories of my early twenties, was first abandoned, then knocked down, and is now an open field awaiting the construction of fashionable little condos. The car dealership next to it has been demolished to make way for, you guessed it, more fashionable little condos.

The places where I went to dance and love and breathe in the music in the late 1990s are almost all gone now. I already talked about the Embassy Music Hall in a previous post; it’s a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery now.

When I moved back to Orlando in 2017, after eighteen years away, the same thing happened. The places I knew in Orlando were gone, or irrevocably changed. The roads were different in places.

With all of this change, it’s no wonder that the word palimpsest resonates with me. With new names overlaid onto old places and the ghosts of all my past lives marching past with every visit, it’s a concept that I’ve been keenly aware of for a very long time.

When I go past a place that was part of my life before, I see every version of it that ever was. My memory is often absolutely terrible, but I remember the past clearly when it comes to this.

Palimpsest. The shadows of the past overlaid onto whatever crap is there now. I just wish it wasn’t such a clunky word. Palimpsest doesn’t really roll off the tongue easily, you know?

Now nostalgia… there’s a word that springs easily to the lips.

What are you nostalgic for?

46/52 (and 25 of 30!)