Sunday, March 27, 2016

The best 72 hours

The 72 hours I spent with Pete in Virginia (during his final days of liberty before he departs for Afghanistan) were some of the best hours of my life, followed by some of the saddest as I returned home without him.

I arrived in Virginia on Thursday morning after 2 early flights, to signs proclaiming "Virginia is for lovers." I wonder about the meeting at which it was determined that this would be the state's motto*, but as far as places-to-see-your-husband-one-last-time-before-a-6 month-separation go, it's not bad. I met Pete at his unit's hotel, then we spent most of the day at Busch Gardens. Sometimes the military gives you insubstantial information and substancial inconveniences, sometimes they give you free tickets to amusement parks. We spent 6 hours riding roller coasters and eating soft pretzels and watching adorable dogs and cats who were rescued from shelters and trained to perform "Pet Shenanigans." Then we checked into the cabin Pete had rented for us on base. It was a pretty sweet set-up, with a kitchen, living room with fireplace, bathroom, two bedrooms and two porches, one screened and one open. We went out to dinner then watched a movie back at the cabin.

Friday we went to the gym on base, where we played some basketball, used the treadmill and these weird spin bikes that tilted from side to side, I guess to mimic the feeling of a real bike, and where I did 2 (Pete-assisted) chin-ups. Later we went to Pirate's Cove to play mini-golf and we both got a hole-in-one on the same hole! After golfing, we wanted to get ice cream so we stopped at The General Store which has a Haagen Dazs counter inside. But Pete noticed that the Haagen Dazs didn't open until 1:00 and it was only 12:30 when we arrived. Pete went outside to look up other ice cream parlors on his phone. I bought a bottle of water from The General store and asked the cashier what time the ice cream opened. She said she was new and didn't know, so she asked another employee. He said the Haagen Dazs opened at 1:00 but he could serve me some now if I wanted. Sweet! I thanked him and called Pete, who came back inside, and we got some pre-opening Dazs. After ice cream lunch, we went to the Go Ape zipline park/high ropes course. It was awesome! We got to spend 2 hours climbing up rope ladders, across cargo nets and rings and ziplining through the trees. Once we finished going ape, we went to Food Lion to buy burrito ingredients. Back at the cabin, we ate burritos and watched movies. 

Saturday morning we stopped for bagels then ran some trails at Yorktown State Park, which was peaceful and beautiful and reminded us of Ellison wetlands. We went back to the cabin to eat lunch and relax, then headed to Pete's favorite tavern (at the age of 40, he has discovered a love of calzones, which they serve at this tavern) to get dinner and watch the RIT hockey game on ESPNU. RIT lost at hockey but I won at eating pizza and crazy bread. 

On Easter Sunday, we went to Mama Steve's Pancake House for breakfast. The waitresses were wearing these weird colonial dresses and the pancakes were actually quite terrible, in the way that makes for funny memories in retrospect. And there's no one I'd rathet eat terrible pancakes with than Pete. We went back to Pete's hotel then, far too soon, it was time for me to drive to the airport. The weather had been sunny and warm for pretty much the whole trip, but it was overcast and rainy on Sunday. It was kind of comforting in a way; I felt like the sky was crying with me as I made my way back home alone. 

Well, not entirely alone. Pete had made me a copy of the dog tags he wears, one of which he'd had inscribed with "PETE AND JEN 09-06-2015 ON THE TRAIL." And whenever I look at them I think of what he said as we were hugging goodbye, "I love you and I'll be back and we're going to spend the rest of our lives together. And retire early." 

Pete also said this will make us stronger. I think that is true, even though if I could, I'd be tempted to fast forward over the next 6+ months to the day I finally get to see him again. I'd be tempted to wish that the Navy wasn't a part of our lives and our marriage. But I realize it's not that simple. Without the Navy, Pete wouldn't be the man I met and married, the man I love. Without this deployment, we wouldn't have had 72 hours of adventures and awesomeness in "the" place for lovers. Without this year of challenges and distance, we wouldn't become the people we'll be when we meet again, the Pete and Jen who can go any distance.

Lyric of the moment: "I been getting used to waking up with you. I been getting used to waking up here. Anywhere I go there you are, there you are...Everything is fine when your hand is resting next to mine..." ~Vance Joy "Fire and the Flood"

*I imagine it went something like this: "Ok guys, Virginia is for...? Elephants? Donkeys? Construction workers? No, wait, I've got it...Lovers!"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

This Is Marriage: Day 193

This morning I woke up in the house that we now own. Outright. As in, yesterday I paid off our mortgage. We put a lot of money down when we bought the house, then once I sold my old house, we were able to pay off the rest of the mortgage on our new house. During my lunch break yesterday, I went to the bank to deposit the check and pay off the rest of our mortgage. The teller asked "Do you mean pay down or pay off?" I said "Pay off. As in, the whole thing." She asked me what the big check was from. Sometimes when strangers are nosy, I am really, really tempted to say something ridiculous like "Porn. It's a really lucrative business." You know, just to see their facial expressions, which would be priceless. But instead I told her the truth, that it was from the sale of my house. As she was processing the transactions, she said "Just to let you know, we have a special right now on a home equity line of credit." Facepalm. The whole point of my visit to the bank was to pay off our debt, not accrue more.

This is the first time I have ever owned a house, like really truly owned it, debt-free. It is a fantastic feeling. And also a bit surreal. How did this happen? I could say that I worked hard and sacrificed and saved. But that's really only a small part of it. The truth is that I got lucky. Lucky that I had parents who cared about me and taught me how to be a person in the world. Lucky that I met Bill, who gave me the job I've had for the past 12 years. Lucky that I met Jeff, Stephen, Jeremy, Lucky, Mike, Mozzie, Danielle and Charlie and they came and lived with me at my house. Beyond lucky that I met Pete and he became my partner in creating an adventurous, hilarious, debt-free life. We have already done so many things together that I could never have done by myself. Somehow I am living a life that surpasses all my wildest, most impossible dreams. All because I was lucky enough to meet you.

People are awesome. Marriage is awesomeness squared.

Lyric of the moment: "Lucky I'm in love with my best friend. Lucky to have been where I have been. Lucky to be coming home again..." ~Jason Mraz "Lucky"

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Trail and road trip weekend

This has been a weekend of spontaneous adventures involving trails, roads, hills, friends and bagels, which was just what I needed to keep me busy, tired and carb-filled. Saturday morning, Alison, Bob, Linda and I piled into Gus (Pete's van, which I am supposed to be occasionally using while he's gone, so Gus doesn't get all cranky from sitting around or lose any of his Fun Gus cred from disuse. Or something like that.) and headed to Naples to run the trails at Hi-Tor. We were meeting up with a group to run the Muddy Sneaker course, which is 12ish miles of hills, hills and more freaking hills. It was a beautiful sunny day and the run was hilly and muddy and, for some people, even bloody. (No one was seriously hurt or anything, but we joked that the race should be called Bloody Sneaker. As in literal blood from scrapes and falls, but also as in bloody hell, another endless hill!). The actual race, in April, sold out before I got around to registering for it, so it was nice to have the chance to run it as a training run instead. Plus I got to run it with some of the most badass quinquagenarians I know. I really hope I'm still doing this kind of stuff in 20 years.

Saturday night I made myself lots of recovery foods (vegetables, protein, tumeric smoothie. And animal crackers, because I like to eat things that look like animals but are not made out of animals), foam rolled, relaxed and fell asleep early. Sunday morning, Chris picked me up just before 5am (really it felt like 4am due to the Daylight Savings Time change) and we headed to Rock Hill, NY to run the Celebrate Life Half Marathon. I had never heard of this race or Rock Hill, NY. But Chris had called me Wednesday night asking if I wanted to go on an adventure on Sunday and I, of course, said yes. When adventure calls, the only answer is yes. He was filling in as the 1:40 pacer. I knew there was no way I could run that fast but I decided to go along and just use the race as a training run. The course was described as having rolling hills. And I figured running some more hills on tired legs after getting up stupidly awesomely early would be good training for the whole running-around-in-circles-in-the-dark-for-12-hours thing I'm doing in July. (Signing up for that nonsense will either be one of my best decisions or one of my worst. It remains to be seen).

We arrived in Rock Hill with plenty of time before the 10am start (Chris had to be there at 9am for pacer pictures and stuff). I was feeling pretty well recovered from Saturday's shenanigans, but fifteen minutes before the start, while jogging back from the bathroom, I had two epiphanies: 1) Change into a short-sleeve shirt (it was warmer and sunnier than I was expecting) and 2) Don't be stupid. As in, there are times to test your limits. And this is not one of those times. I haven't followed a training plan in years. I just run, strength train, do yoga, have fun, and most importantly, try to avoid injury. So I decided I would run this race easy and relaxed. I told myself that under no circumstances should I ever be in front of the 1:50 pacer. If I caught up to him, which I did a couple of times, I slowed down a little and just focused on enjoying the views. It was a very scenic course, winding around Lake Louise Marie and Wolf Lake, though I did not see any Louises, Maries or wolves. I did see some cute lakeside cabins with signs out front that said things like "Dances with bears" and "This is happiness" (and spectators with a sign saying "Hey Girl, you're running a half marathon. I like that" next to a picture of Ryan Gosling. That is probably the best thing about road races; you can usually count on someone bringing the Gosling). I felt good the whole way, with the exception of the ball of my left foot, which started hurting a little towards the end. I think I'm just not used to running that far on roads, as most of my distance miles are on trails. Chris had run back out to meet me during his cooldown and ran the last half mile with me, which was downhill and awesome.

We got some food, got back on the road, and listened to the rest of the book on tape Chris had brought. I had never listened to a book on tape before. This one was totally worth it for the scene in which a security guard is being chased by a spitting llama with a spider monkey (named Frog) on its back. Hilarious! We arrived in Rochester around 5pm, making it a 12 hour adventure day!

It was a gorgeous sun and run-filled weekend. The whole time I was running, all I could think was how lucky I am. To have a body that supports all these crazy adventures. To have friends who make all the days more awesome. And even to feel so sad when Pete is away, because it means that he is such an important and irreplaceable part of my life, and I never ever imagined that I would find someone like him or be living a life like this.

That sign is right, I thought as I ran past it. This is happiness.

Lyric of the moment: "Let's dance to joy division. And celebrate the irony. Everything is going wrong. But we're so happy. Let's dance to joy division. And raise our glass to the ceiling. 'Cause this could all go so wrong. But we're just so happy. Yeah, we're so happy..." ~The Wombats "Let's Dance To Joy Division" (Because it's true. That's why it's on my Deployment Sucks playlist.)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"All good things are wild and free"

That's a quote by Henry David Thoreau. No one epitomized that spirit more than my parents' dog,
Gangsta 'Bu, decked out for a Roaring Twenties party
Wilbur. He loved to run free. He never met a fence he couldn't climb over. If someone left a gate or a door open a fraction of a second too long, he'd already snuck out of it, smiling as he ran away. To know Wilbur was to have spent time chasing him around the neighborhood.

When the vets first diagnosed the cancerous tumor on his face, they said he had only 6 months to live. That was over 6 years ago. But Wilbur finally met something from which he could not escape. The cancer grew too big and he grew too old to have any more surgeries to remove it. My dad let him loose on the beach one last time and then had to take him to the vet to be put down. I can only hope I'll be lucky enough to go out the way he did, with one last run and then a nice long sleep.

Wilbur lived a good, long doggy life doing what he loved, running, howling at squirrels and pawing at people until they pet him. He was a wanderer, an explorer through and through, sometimes running around for hours until we found him. He even went on a long road trip when my parents moved from New York to Florida (How he didn't manage to escape from the car during that trip is a miracle. He once jumped out of my mom's convertible while she was driving). Mr. Bu was all things wild and free and good. May he rest (and run) in peace.

Lyric of the moment: "Some of us are different. It's just something in our blood. There's no need for explanations. We're just dogs on the run..." ~Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers "Dogs On The Run"

Monday, March 7, 2016

This Is Marriage: Day 180

Thursday night, after catching two flights, I was sitting in traffic in a rental car. I was supposed to be meeting Pete so we could spend the weekend together and celebrate his 40th birthday. But I still had at least an hour's drive to get to the hotel. My second flight had been delayed because of a broken latch on one of the overhead luggage bins. We had to wait for a mechanic to come and tape the compartment closed and put a crooked sign on it that said "Not for passenger use." Apparently only an official plane mechanic is qualified to administer tape and crooked signs. I was tired. I was hungry. I was supposed to be seeing Pete and instead all I could see was a seemingly endless line of red tail lights. My eyes started to well up with tears of frustration. Then Less Than Jake's 867 5309 (Jenny) came on the radio and I laughed and started singing along. Then I saw a sign that said "Tunnel 3 miles. Check Gas," and I laughed and wondered how many cars ran out of gas in the tunnel before someone decided a warning sign was necessary. As a kid, I remember being so excited to drive through this tunnel. Under the water! Like some kind of magic! As an adult, crawling along in traffic at barely 25mph, the "Maintain 55mph" signs seemingly mocking me, the tunnel experience was decidedly less magical. But then I thought, I literally flew through the air and drove under the water to get here, to see Pete. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is.

The traffic eased up, I made it to the hotel and finally got to see Pete. I checked into my hotel, then we walked over to where his unit had been staying. Pete showed me all his gear and had me try on his body armor to show me how heavy it was. The vest must weigh at least 50 lbs. It's not like those Kevlar vests you see the police wearing in movies. This was like trying to walk while giving someone a piggy back and someone else a piggy front (I don't even know if that's a thing. The point is, armor is seriously heavy, man. I think there is a lesson in there, something about the things you think are protecting you may really be weighing you down and holding you back). I laid down on the bed, then tried to get up and felt like a turtle stuck on its back. We were laughing as I waved my arms and legs around, trying get enough momentum to propel myself upright again.

As I was flailing about in overturned turtle pose, I realized that I'm starting to get some idea of what it's like to walk a mile in Pete's shoes/armor, but I still don't comprehend the full magnitude of what he'll be going through this year. Whenever I think about it, I am overwhelmed with sadness and also helplessness. I want to change things, to make them better. But I don't know how.

All I know is that sometimes all you can do is show up, be present. On the phone, in a card, in person. However you can. However many planes and cars it takes. However sad it is to say goodbye afterwards.

I would take any number of planes, trains and/or automobiles
to get to this big hunk

I don't think Pete realized that marrying me would mean stopping to
take photos with every single bear we ever encounter. Mwahahaha!

I have a feeling this year is going to be a lesson. In patience. In love. In gratitude. And a reminder that our time together is uncertain and never enough. This year, sure. But all the years. We don't know how much time we get. But we can make whatever time we do have count.

It probably wasn't the way Pete would have chosen to spend his 40th birthday, but at least we got to be together, talking, watching movies, exploring a trail, checking out The North Face outlet and eating all the pizza, calzones and chocolate.

Marriage is making the most of the time you have together.

Lyric of the moment: "And everything you thought you had, has gone to shit. But we've got a lot, don't ever forget that..." ~Margot And The Nuclear So And So's "Broadripple Is Burning"