Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015 Was A Hell Of A Year

I don’t typically write “year in review” things, but for me, 2015 was an unbelievably eventful year.  More happened during it than the last several years beforehand; that’s for sure.  So I feel like writing about it.

2015 started off about the same as 2014 ended.  It was cold, and I was writing.  January was uneventful, but February marched to a different beat.  On February 3, I logged onto Facebook and saw a message from my mother telling me that my cousin, Samantha, had died of a heroin overdose.  I mentioned this before. She’d actually died on January 23, and the funeral was held on the 27th. Samantha is a cousin from my dad’s side of my family; my (divorced) mom only found out because my (paternal) aunt still cuts her hair and can’t keep anything secret.  I wonder how long it would have been until I found out otherwise.

That aside, Sammy’s death was pretty surreal.  Death (of people) has never really fazed me much, since I know it’s inevitable, but this one was weird.  Maybe it’s because she was younger than me. Maybe it’s because if I had to pick one, she was my favorite cousin.  Either way, I spent the next few days with a definite sense of, “What the fuck?”

I didn’t really have much time to reflect on that, however, since on February 14th, our cat, Pepper, unexpectedly died. I mentioned this, too. Samantha’s death was surreal, but Pepper’s death was fucking heartbreaking.  (Relatives can go down and I won’t bat an eye, but I’ll lose it if a beloved pet goes.)  My wife and I both felt that our place seemed emptier after that.  One thing’s for sure:  We’re never celebrating Valentine’s Day again.


Then, in April, my grandmother’s health took a turn for the worst.  (I’m referring to my good grandmother here. I think I’d be happy if it was the bad one.)  For a bit there, it seemed like the possible outcomes ranged from her going home like nothing ever happened to her moving into a pine box.  That threw some new variables into my life.  For one, it left me with even less time to write, as I was going up to visit her in the hospital when I could. (I swear this post isn’t a list of excuses why I haven’t been posting as frequently as I once did.) 

As May rolled in, it became apparent that my grandmother wasn’t getting out of the hospital in any kind of a timely manner, so something had to be done with her cat, BB.  Up until then, my mother had been going to my grandmother’s house to feed him.  But on May 8, my wife and I had a new cat.  It felt a little too soon after Pepper than I would have preferred, but I’d previously agreed with my grandmother to take BB if he should outlive her.  I lived with my grandmother for part of my college years, so I already knew BB from then.  He’s great to have around. We were buddies back in my college years—two dudes looking for food and sex.  (He was unfixed and lived outside at the time.)  We used to eat from the same tuna can.  He’s older, calmer, fixed, and indoors now, but we’re still buddies. 


Later on, July showed up, and everything happened.  First off, I turned 30.  In general, being 30 doesn’t feel particularly different, even though it’s apparently supposed to be some kind of milestone.  Then again, enough things changed this year to make my thirties so far feel noticeably different from my twenties. 

My wife and I go down to El Paso every July to vacation with her family.  Some years, we all travel from there to some other place for part of the week.  This year, it was Colorado Springs, so I got to see Colorado for the first time.  That was cool.  We flew down to El Paso on the 19th.  On the morning of the 20th, I got a text from my mom telling me that my grandmother was being put on palliative care.  Talia and I had previously decided that if anything happened with my grandmother over vacation, I shouldn’t tell her since she probably wouldn’t have been able to keep acting normal.  (My grandmother always said she didn’t want everyone told when she died, and I decided that meant that Talia’s family shouldn’t know right away if she does.)

So we started driving up through New Mexico.  On I-25, north of Santa Fe, I got another text from my mother, this one saying that my grandmother had died.  While I would say that it felt a little surreal, much like with Samantha, there really wasn’t much of an immediate impact.  For one, she’d been in pain, and that was over now.  Also, she’d been declining, so it’s not like her death was an unexpected surprise.  Third, she died while I was in the Southwest with Talia’s family.  In a way, nothing ever seems real when I’m down there.  The terrain looks so different from Pennsylvania. My only real responsibility is to sit in the van and see the sights.  (I’d joke that it’s like being a kid, but that’s not much of a joke, since I’m pretty sure Talia’s parents will forever sort of see us as “kids” unless we have a kid of our own.)  July always seems like an oddly short month, since it even feels like I stop keeping track of time while on vacation, making it seem like I lost a week when I get back.

I took a picture out the window not long after I found out.

So, back on topic, the impact of my grandmother’s death was dulled, but it definitely still gave the week an odd feel, what with keeping it secret as directed, quietly being texted info about the funeral, and planning for that.  Luckily, the funeral wasn’t held until the 29th, after we were back home. I did briefly mention going to a funeral before. Thankfully, it was held on a hot, sunny day.  Seeing my grandmother’s name on the marble box which contained her ashes along with “1929—2015” finally made the whole thing seem more real. 

Given how much pain she was in near the end, I tend to see her death as an end to that pain more than anything, so I don’t know how much grief I really felt.  Nevertheless, life has definitely felt different since.  She’d been a constant in my life—a constant that is now gone.  I still occasionally find myself thinking she’s alive, simply because I’m used to her being so.  It’s a shame that she’s gone; I think she would have liked Mad Max: Fury Road. 

Consequently, another lifetime constant left my life afterward—her house.  Near the end of August, I went up there to help my mother and uncle remove what was left of her furniture and possessions that weren’t sold or inherited.  The dumpster people sent too small of a dumpster, so we had to be Tetris-y with filling it.  This meant I got to help dismantle and destroy furniture that I remember climbing around on as a kid.  The chair I used to watch her two dogs from, the other chair that had sharp bits in the arms for some damn reason, and the couch I used to share with one of the dogs—all chainsawed. I felt bad. I took pictures of every room of the house, wishing I’d thought to do so before it was emptied.  When the dumpster was full, my uncle grilled a bunch of meat, and we all ate inside the garage that I parked my car in when I lived there.  The house has since been sold, and I can’t go there anymore.

I suppose the grilling was sort of a nice final event, but I’ll miss that house; I liked it.  It was at the top of a steep driveway that itself was on top of a small mountain out in rural PA.  It was a sturdy structure made of brick and concrete and even featured a bomb shelter in the basement.  In other words, it felt like a fucking fortress.  I loved it.

The bomb shelter: It’s not a picture for the real estate listings, but it was there.

I guess my own life quieted down after August, but there’s one more aspect of 2015 that’s made it stand out, and it involves a friend of mine.  I won’t go into too much detail since it’s not my life to write about.  Basically, his marriage fell apart back in May.  Then he lost his job.  And… now he’s in jail.  The legal stuff is still ongoing, so I don’t know when he’ll get out. 

That final bit of unexpected chaos has really helped to make 2015 feel like the year where everything happened.  (I could alternatively call it the “Year of Death.”)  My life is certainly quite different than it was in January 2015, for better and worse.

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