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

Mulled Wine on a Cold Day

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!

A few weeks back, I mentioned the seasonal return of eggnog and Glühwein, and while I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my nog all this time, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally had a chance to crack open the bottle of Glühwein I picked up from Trader Joe’s.

A quick refresher about the beverage: Glühwein is mulled wine, served warm. I’ve talked about it a number of times on this blog. It’s usually part of my retelling of going to a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) with friends.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about sharing Glühwein with office-mates, though. I spent three Decembers working in a German office, and it was a semi-regular occurrence during the season that someone would heat up a bottle or two of Glühwein or Glögg on the stove, and then would summon everyone to the office kitchen to share in the drink. (Glögg is also mulled wine like Glühwein, but it’s from Sweden instead of Germany.)

We would linger around the kitchen and enjoy the drink and chat about absolutely anything. Sometimes there were seasonal treats, like Stollen, which I do not like at all. Even the Muslim guy who didn’t drink alcohol would still come to the kitchen and hang out. Technically, drinking at work was against the rules. I don’t feel bad about spilling the tea though, because the company no longer exists and it’s fairly unlikely anyone will get in trouble now.

Connoisseurs of Glühwein will tell you not to heat it in the microwave, since the delicate blend of spices can be easily damaged by that much rapid heat. Instead, you should pour your preferred drink into a pot and heat it gradually over the stove. Stir it often, and don’t let it come to a boil!

Once the drink is heated, pour it into an appropriate vessel to drink it. Coffee mugs are fine, but I chose to use my glass from the 2013 Kuchlbauer Christmas Market in Abensberg. In hindsight, I wish I had thought to keep one souvenir glass from every Christkindlmarkt I attended over the years, but I only ever brought this one home.

Have you had Glühwein this year?

53/52! Goal achieved!

Happy Pepper Day!

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!

To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.

When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.

By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.

By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.

Then I learned about the Birchmere.

The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.

The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.

On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.

The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.

Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.

I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.

It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.

And Samantha Fish began very seriously to rock.

What was the last concert you saw?

43/52 (and 22 of 30!)