The Good Life

I have a cousin named Ashley, who is almost 14 years younger than me.  She is the daughter of My Aunt P and my ex-uncle, G.  And, no, those are not blogging nicknames that I am giving out to provide anonymity.  I actually call them P and G; I always have.  Have you begun to sense my obsession with the alphabet?

When I was young and impressionable, they were the relatives who impressed me most.  They were cool and very hip, especially because I was a teenager with nerdy parents (really, who isn’t?).  They talked to me about things like sex and drugs (same “Just Say No” and “I learned it by watching YOU!” messages, but always in a fun and funny way).  G drove (and sometimes even let me drive) a Peugeot with a Blaupunkt stereo, on which he only listened to good, classic rock.  P was an incredibly talented artist and event planner who worked at Lord & Taylor in New York City.  P was the one who took me to my very first live concert in NYC (Shaun Cassidy, circa 1978, because we are talking about coolness that knows no bounds).  We ate nothing but McDonald’s (the best remedy for an 8-year-old’s concert hangover) and slept in her teeny, tiny studio apartment and window shopped all weekend.  G got my dad into sailing and when I was 15 they let me come with them on the boys’ weekend trips up the coast to Block Island, RI.  We played Risk and drank beers and smoked cigars and they gave me all sorts of rules and advice about dating boys and those are some of my absolute favorite teenage memories.

But by the time I started college, G had left P and the kids (they also had a son, Garrett, by then) and they eventually got a divorce.  I was all teenage angst and self-centeredness and was pretty confused and angry about it all, but I never really dealt with it because I was in college being an idiot.  Things at home just kept on keeping on, except now it was only P busting it out as a single mom.  G was persona non grata in our family and it was even too much for him to stay friends with my dad, so he just stopped coming to family events because it was awkward.

Most of my mom’s extended family lived in and around South Jersey at the time.  P and my mom are sisters, so we spent time with her and the kids a lot, and even more after the divorce because they moved down to be closer to everybody.  Kettle and 3 Pops (mom and dad to my mom, P and GMP – that’s Grand Master Pud, for those of you following along with the detailed Speed family tree) were also divorced, but always around to help out as well.  We are one, big, dysfunctional family.  But isn’t everybody?

Fast forward to April of 2011.  Kettle had died the summer before, but the rest of the family was all still alive and kicking and as dysfunctional as ever.  So, when the weekend of Ashley’s wedding to her fiancé Mike came around, everybody showed up to support them and celebrate.  Even G.

I hadn’t seen him in over 20 years.  When I got to the rehearsal dinner, I realized that he was standing over in the corner by the bar (exactly where you would expect an ex who has come back into the lion’s den to walk his daughter down the aisle.  My mom especially has made no bones about how much she dislikes him, so it was undoubtedly awkward).  I went over to talk to him anyway.  We spent parts of the weekend catching up on the past two decades of each other’s lives.

Ashley and Mike’s wedding was one of the most beautiful events I have ever been to.  Remember how I said P was an incredible event planner?  Well, she totally topped herself on this one.  The day was filled with love and laughter, meaning, thoughtfulness, candles, flowers, romance, and a moving acoustic version of the Beatles’ In My Life.  And what wedding would be complete without white people rapping, Elvis, a priest, and a leprechaun?

Do yourself a favor… take 18 minutes and watch this truly joyful video of Ashley and Mike’s Wedding.  It was produced by a Philadelphia company called Lucky Productions and they did such a fantastic job conveying the vibe of that wonderful day.

After the weekend was over, I got on a plane with my sisters and flew back to Georgia.  G and I had exchanged email addresses and we said we would continue to keep in touch.  We did, but only for a little while.

I realized shortly after we started emailing that I was mad at G.  Really, really mad.  And then I called him out on his shit.  We haven’t talked again since.

I just re-read my final email to him and it was pretty harsh.  In all honesty, Sheepdog told me at the time not to send it.  But I still believe that everything in that letter needed to be said because G was a very influential person in my life and one day he was just gone.  And not only was he gone, but P was around less and much less fun when she was because she was shouldering a bunch of crap on her own.  Now, two (or twenty-two, depending on how you’re counting) years later, here’s my take on everything…

Families are always going to be dysfunctional because they are made up of dysfunctional people.  Some people grow up in broken ones and some get still-intact ones that would be best if they were broken.  And a lucky few get in-house role models who are actually happily married.  But you have to study them carefully, because that doesn’t just happen all by itself.

The truth is that anybody can grow up and make a good life for themselves, no matter what your family looked like growing up.  Ashley and Mike are a great example of that.

Video by Lucky Productions Cinematography

Video by Lucky Productions Cinematography

You just have to work hard at fixing the things that are broken simply because they are not going to fix themselves.  New things break every day, so just get to work on fixing them.  Don’t let people in your life make excuses, and don’t you make excuses either.  It is not about money or stuff or any of the superficial things.  It is all about maintaining healthy relationships with all of the dysfunctional people (including you).  Fight hard for your good life.  Everyone deserves one.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

More Than Words

It was August of 1991 and I had just driven myself in my awesome Honda CRX down I-95/ 695 around Baltimore and then Westward, Ho along the I-68 into Morgantown, West Virginia.  I had spent the past three years rebelling against my strict parents by pissing away the $16,000 a year they were spending on my private college education.  I think during my final semester I was registered for three classes totaling 9 hours and I got a C, a D and an F on my report card.  Stellar work, genius.  But I sure had fun!

Actually, I did not have that much fun.  I was lost and trying to figure out who I wanted to be.  And I had no freaking idea how to do that.

I transferred to a different, much less expensive college that accepted such impressive transfer grades (fortunately I had a decent high school transcript), and hunkered down to actually get a tertiary education.

Now, I do not know if any of you remember West Virginia University and/ or it’s reputation in the early 1990’s.  Suffice it to say that the town was just beginning to come down off the high it brought to an entire state with superstar quarterbacks (and Heisman Trophy candidates) Jeff Hostetler and Major Harris.  There were endless stories of burning couches being a staple at the end of all-night or, more commonly, all-weekend block parties on Sunnyside.  The rumors and urban legends ran wild and almost every one involved raucous partying and drinking and almost unbelievable stories of ridiculous behavior.  I may have even attended one or two events that were remnants of the good ol’ days in my first days and weeks in Morgantown, but the locals lamented that it just wasn’t quite the same.  Many reckoned it never would be again.

Fortunately for me that was true, at least during my time there.  I needed to focus on studying for and passing my classes, not partying like it was 1999 (which was still cool because it wasn’t yet).  But I still found time to attend football games just down the stadium access road that meandered past my apartment.  I was earning a liberal arts degree – not training to be a nun – for goodness’ sake.

On one such Saturday (September 14, 1991, to be exact) South Carolina was playing at West Virginia.  My roommate and I held a small pre-game gathering in our apartment and then we eased on down the road with our friends to watch some football.  The way that WVU tailgating worked back then was pretty standard… there were rows upon rows of cars and trucks and trailers and tents set up with varying degrees of food and drink awesomeness for the enjoyment of the masses.  Fans would make our way down the access road and stop whenever we saw someone we knew to exchange pleasantries, meet new friends and partake in said food and drink.  It was under these magical conditions that I met Sheepdog.

He and his friends were running a keg about halfway to the stadium.  My friend knew him from high school days so we stopped and said hello.  Sheepdog smiled and offered me a solo cup and then he introduced me to his redheaded girlfriend.  My friends and I moved on.  WVU won that game 21 – 16.

A few days later I was taking a shower in my apartment and I walked out of the bathroom, through the common living area that lead to my bedroom.  I was honestly quite surprised to find Sheepdog sitting on my couch.  I was wearing nothing but a towel, which was surprising to no one.  He claimed to be there to “reconnect” with my roommate’s boyfriend, but I was no dummy.  I put on my best jean shorts and fluffed up my Jersey hair as big as it would go and we all went out to a bar called The Underground.

Immediately after that, the redheaded girlfriend got her walking papers.  Being emotionally immature (and chronologically immature… I was only 20 years old), I kept trying to push him out of my life.  But, damn if that boy was not tenacious.  We did the most logical thing and got engaged a few months later.

Our parents were actually supportive of the union (especially since I didn’t seem so lost anymore), as long as we waited to get married until after we had graduated from college.  Our WVU Graduation was in May.  We got married one month later, on Saturday, June 19, 1993.  We were both twenty-two years old.  And I wasn’t even pregnant.

Our wedding was a super fancy fairy tale. The horse even had a bag to catch his poop.

Today marks our nineteenth wedding anniversary.  I write that with such pride and joy that I almost want to use smiley emoticons.  But not really because they are so stupid.

There were times that we almost didn’t make it.  There was even a time before we had Kids D and E, when we had decided that divorce was the right option for us and Sheepdog planned to look for an apartment just after the holidays.  Then we had the most relaxed, fun Thanksgiving and Christmas break with the girls and with each other and we decided we were even dumber than our decision and we needed to fight to make our marriage work.  So we went to more counseling and we learned how to communicate better and listen better and how to just be better to each other.  We worked hard but we were also very lucky.

We are lucky to have found each other and lucky to have so many fundamentals in common.  We are lucky that we are both so very stubborn.  We are lucky that we are yin to each other’s yang and our parts fit together well.  And we are so lucky that we still like each other after all these years.  At least most of the time.

Cheers! to the most awesome wedding song ever. And to this timeless headpiece.

But the thing that I feel luckiest about is the wedding song that we selected to dance our first dance together as man and wife.  While our contemporaries were swaying to Real Love by Mary J. Blige, Can’t Help Falling In Love by UB40, and Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang by Dr. Dre, we chose a quirky little love ballad by the heavy metal band, Extreme, called More Than Words.

Family and friends, and even the emcee/ deejay during the ceremony, made fun of our choice.  I guess they wanted us to pick something more mainstream, like Knockin’ Da Boots by H-Town.  But we went our own weird way with it and – like our marriage –  it has stood the test of time.  More Than Words has become a kind of a classic.  I hear it all the time while I am out running errands, in elevators, in doctor’s offices, in the grocery store.  Every time I stop what I am doing to bust out the best lyrics of the song… “Hold me close don’t EV-AH let me go!”  And every time it reminds me that I am a very, very lucky girl.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Sheepdog. xo