My very first skydive.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Flu, A Marathon and Hurricane Sandy

A few days before Katie and I went down to Washington, D.C. to run the Marine Corps Marathon I sent her a text that went some thing like this:

"So how about this hurricane heading for us?"

Her reply was something like this:

"What hurricane?"

So began the adventure- what is bound the be the first of many with Miss Chisholm. We made it to DC without any issue and enjoyed a couple of days with good friends. On race day we made our way to the Pentagon with moments to spare. I knew the marathon might be out of my reach as I was still recovering from a nasty bout of the actual flu (not a cold mimicking the flu- the actual tested positive in the ED with a fever of 104 degrees kind of flu).  I made a last minute decision to run the 10k so I could at least finish a race, but it was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. Katie did an amazing job on a sore knee and finished all 26.2 miles like a champ.

We were stranded in DC for a day by the storm, and the real adventure was trying to get back to Brooklyn on Monday after Sandy hit. But we did...thanks to our travel chutzpah and some well timed pit stops. Ten hours, some pizza and a couple of excellent beers later and I was on my way home to Vermont.

But the real purpose of this post is to thank everyone who donated to TAPS in memory of Bryon Lane and in support of my run. I was overwhelmed but the number of people who honored his memory by donating to an organization that is committed to helping survivors of military losses. You all are my heroes and I am very grateful for your support.

I have many races planned for the year ahead and Katie and I are venturing into the world of triathlons but the Marine Corps Marathon will always hold special meaning for me and I hope I can make it back there next year and cross that finish line for Bry.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Several weeks ago I promised to write a few memories of Bryon if I reached a fundraising goal for my upcoming marathon. I made the goal in one day but it's been difficult to carve out the time to do the post justice. And sometimes it's hard to go down memory lane. But this race and the cause I am running for are important me so today I made the time.   

It’s hard to know where to begin when reflecting on all of the stories I have about Bryon Lane. We were friends, and then partners, for so long that I feel like I could write a book about who he was, or at least who he was to me.  I’ve picked a small collection and written them in chronological order. I hope they give you a glimpse of the loving, courageous, and funny guy I knew. 

Bryon and I knew each other superficially for years before we started dating. When you grow up in a small town, you could probably say the same thing for most of your peers. All throughout high school we knew of one another but it wasn’t until his senior year, and my post-grad year at home that we really formed a friendship. I give all the credit to Mike and Ginny Papanicolas, owners of Athena’s Pizza in White River Junction, VT. The crew that worked at this small pizza place were like a second family to me. For a long time I was one of two women who worked there and I withstood my fair share of teasing and endured endless hours of talk about football, Beavis and Butthead, the Rolling Stones and whatever else was on the boys’ minds at the time. Despite being a staunch feminist, I loved it. These were really good people, with huge hearts and healthy senses of humor. When we worked, we worked hard.  There wasn’t a break room, which was fine because we never took breaks. Bryon came to work there as a good friend of the owners’ son, Jason.  On weekends we would work Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes until 12 or 1 am. Especially during the summer, once we’d closed up shop we would gather at Ben or Jeremy’s place and drink cheap beer, and play cards or darts. If it was really warm out, we would sometimes go down to the rope swing on the river and risk life and limb swinging from a tree. It’s hard not to romanticize these times, they were some of the best in my life and even now the memories make me laugh and feel a little bit young again. Somewhere in all of these long hours and crazy nights Bryon and I became smitten with one another. It was never easy, there were other’s feelings at stake and I was full of a restless spirit that would take me to New Mexico and back. And we were young…so young.

But I digress a little bit…the point of giving you some back story to the pizza place was for this: we had one small walk-in refrigerator in the back of the restaurant. On the back wall of the walk- in we kept the trays of dough, the large containers of shredded cheese (which we shredded ourselves-a very awesome blend of mozzarella and cheddar) and the huge vats of pizza sauce. The cheese and pizza sauce were stored in these tall, heavy-duty Tupperware containers with lids that snapped on and off. When they were full, we often used them as step stools to reach the dough from the top shelf or to reach things that had been pushed to the back of the fridge. One night Bryon went in to grab a tray of dough or something and used one of the very full sauce buckets to reach it. All of sudden the door of the walk-in flew open and there was Bryon, covered from head to toe in pizza sauce. Apparently the lid had slipped while he was standing on it and he’d fallen in. I remember he was laughing so hard and then everyone else started laughing ...except for me. At the time all I saw was a huge mess and the fact that we were now one bucket o’ pizza sauce short for the night. (Don’t judge, someone had to be serious in that place!)

But stuff like that happened all of the time. Accidents and shenanigans. We threw extra dough into the trees to see who could get it to land on the highest branch. We stuck sausages on each other's car antennae. We put flour, salt and pepperoni in each other's coffee. We loved each other as only family can.  And I will forever remember Bryon, laughing out loud, standing in the door way of the walk-in drenched in red sauce.

At the end of one of these amazing Athena’s Pizza summers, Mike and Ginny took the whole crew to Canada to go camping and to Parc Safari in Quebec. Jason, Ben and Bryon and I had to stay to close up the restaurant so we were the last to arrive at the campground. (I won’t get into the story about almost dying in a horrific car crash because Ben didn’t know that ‘arrĂȘte’ is French for ‘stop’.)  Making up for lost time some of us drank a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time and that contributed to what happened next. To appreciate the humor about what happened  you need to know that Bryon was into wearing his cowboy boots, hat and long duster-we teased him about looking someone from the song Desperado or as Mike reminded me, the Marlboro Man. Anyway, we had set up a circle of lawn chairs around the campfire but it was pretty dark out and the campfire wasn’t that big. As Bryon came walking back over to where we were all sitting, he looked around for a chair. Seeing what he thought was an empty place he proceeded to put one hand on each arm and lower himself into the seat. Only it wasn’t a seat. He had tried to sit down in between two separate chairs thinking that the arms he was reaching for belonged to the same chair. With no more than a slight ‘oof’ he momentarily disappeared from view while he went back ass over tea kettle. None of us could help him up as we were laughing so hard. And all you could see were his cowboy boots kicking in the air, trying to slow his roll.
Bryon’s dad had a great big canoe and on the days we didn’t go fishing off the set-backs in Norwich, we sometimes went canoeing on the Connecticut River. One afternoon we had pulled over to a small little island to have lunch and sit in the sun.  I had been home from New Mexico for a few weeks, but hadn’t left my wanna-be hippy ways behind me yet (for further explanation see HERE ). Mostly this meant I wore Tao of Pooh t-shirts or anything else somewhat counter culture, put patches on all of my jeans, and didn’t shave. As Bryon and I sat there having lunch and being silent I turned to him and leaned over to give him a kiss. I laughed and said “I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone with this much chest hair”. And this is how I know how much he loved me: He laughed right back at me and said “That’s okay, I’ve never dated a girl with that much leg hair.”

I started shaving again very shortly thereafter.

A few other snippets about the early years:
I loved playing cribbage. Loved it. Bryon liked it too, but I wanted to play all the time. The thing of it was though, Bryon was a much better cribbage player. So I would beg him to play, he would win, and I would curse him out for beating me. Every time. It drove him nuts. But right up to the last week we spent together, I was still making him play cribbage with me.

Bryon was an incredible gift giver. I’ve never had someone give me more thoughtful gifts than he did. He listened so closely to me –and let’s face it, given the air time, I talk A LOT- and he always remembered the things that would make me happy. Hiking books, homemade butter cookies, the soundtrack to Les Miserables, tickets to a concert. The last birthday gift he got me was a beautiful set of wind chimes. It was significant not because he knew how much I liked them, but because he really didn’t like them and at the same time he gave them to me he asked me to move to North Carolina with him. And he knew those wind chimes would be coming with me.  

Bryon and I broke up somewhere in the middle of my third year of college. Though not solely because of our break-up but certainly fueled by it, he joined the Marine Corps. He had always admired his father and grandfather’s service and he LOVED to work with his hands. He was a very intelligent man and probably would have made an amazing history professor, but his heart was in the military. I saw the error in our breakup shortly after he left for boot camp and we spent the next year and half dating via the distance of Parris Island, SC, Millington, TN and finally San Diego, CA. This was before cell phones and the internet. I have a box of more than 100 letters we wrote to one another during that time. After he died, his parents were kind enough to return my letters to him that he had saved over the years.  He was a prolific letter writer and captured in those pages are much of our history as friends and lovers. I am so grateful that he gave me such a tangible way of revisiting those moments in our lives –the Marine Corps stationary, his handwriting, the stamps, it all makes it so much more real to me.

Bryon and I broke up again when the distance got to be too much. We both fell in love with and dated other people during this time so these two stories may be more legend than truth as I didn’t get to witness them first hand. But either way, to me, they are classic Bryon.
The first involves his early days in San Diego, CA at Tustin Air Station and then Camp Pendleton. He was still considered a newbie in the Corps and while he wasn’t living in Basic Training type barracks, it wasn’t far from it either. All Marines had a foot locker that they were expected to keep padlocked at all times. Once during an inspection, the Staff Sergeant (or maybe it was a Gunnery Sergeant?) found Bryon’s padlock opened, therefore his locker unsecured. Bryon got called in to the Staff Sgt.’s office and was read the riot act and told he need to turn in an essay on why leaving the footlocker open was such a breach of protocol.

Bryon, being too smart for his own good and a bit of a wise ass, wrote an essay on the fact that as Marines they had been taught to rely on one another (God, Corps, Country!) and that if everyone took that brotherhood to heart-and he was sure they had-then he had no need to worry that one of his brothers-in-arms would try to take anything from his footlocker. Therefore, the protocol to keep the footlocker padlocked must be because the USMC was concerned that some ‘unseen’ force was going to enter the barracks and take government property. He went on and on about the ‘unseen’ force and what the USMC needed to do to address it and how padlocks might not be enough to stop it from getting into their footlockers, etc., etc., etc. When he turned his essay in, he sat quietly while his superior read it. He was read the riot act again and dismissed from the office with no further consequence. Bryon swears he heard the guy laughing all the way down the hall.

On a dare, while on base, while in his uniform, he mooned an oncoming car. Turns out it was the Commandant’s wife. He didn’t get promoted for awhile after that.

About three years later, though we had stayed in touch the whole time, we ended up falling in love again. We traveled back and forth from Massachusetts and Virginia to visit one another. He proposed to me twice before he died. Once was in my kitchen in Northampton, MA and in my shock I replied “You want to marry me?!?!”  He laughed at me and said that yes he did, but maybe we’d wait until after he’d settled in North Carolina. He was transferring back to the “real” Marines. No more carting Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senators and dignitaries around-he was finally going to be on an aircraft carrier doing troop transport.

Once he settled in his new house, I went down to visit and to start thinking about moving down with him. He fretted over leaving me alone for six months, we talked about his sister coming down to stay too. He took me all over the southeastern end of North Carolina. We went to the Fort Macon, an old Civil War fort on the Bogue Sound. I made him go to the beach right across from the Fort. He lasted about 30 seconds and then asked if we could go home. Not a beach bum, my guy. 

One night I woke him up to see the amazing thunder and lightning storm. He told me our back yard abutted the artillery range and that there wasn’t a storm, Marines were just blowing things up. 

Driving back from Wilmington, NC one night he reached over and put his hand on my leg. Bryon wasn’t one for overt displays of affection, but in that moment I felt so loved and I think he just wanted to be sure I was really there, that I would really stay.

And then he proposed again. Or maybe I proposed to him. We were talking about his upcoming time at sea and he said they would be going to Albania and Macedonia. Those didn’t sound like the resort stops to me so I asked if it would be dangerous. He smirked a bit, in this way that he had, and said “Nah.” He said we could try to meet in Italy for New Year’s but he wasn’t sure was their port schedule would be so we would have to play it by ear. And then one of us said “Let’s get married.”  There wasn’t a ring (I didn’t want one), no announcement to our families (my younger sister was getting married so we agreed to wait until after her big day), there wasn’t any hurry. We just knew we wanted to stay together forever.

When he dropped me off at the airport, 16 days before he died, he sat with me until my flight was called. (This was pre 9/11 and loved ones were still allowed at the gates.) I gathered my things and we kissed good bye. He told me that he loved me and then he left. I watched him walk the whole way down the hallway until he was out of sight. He never looked back. Because that is who he was. Everything in his life was exactly in the place he wanted it to be and the only direction was forward.

To be honest, that is a big part of why I run. To keep moving forward.

Your donation to TAPS will keep other military survivors moving forward as well. Thank you for your support.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Optimism Tested

February 2012

This is all true. Every last ridiculous moment.

Wait...let me start by saying I am an optimist. Probably annoyingly so. I can always find the bright side, silver lining and see the glass as half full.

Okay, back to the story.

I returned home Monday night after a lovely long weekend visiting my dear parents in Myrtle Beach, SC. The least expensive flights were in and out of Manchester, NH so even though it is a good 3 hours from my home in Bennington, VT- the close proximity to my parents house and my younger sister's house meant that I had free lodging before and after each flight. I was due to arrive in Manchester at about 10:00 to 10:15pm. Thanks to some very militant flight attendants we boarded, stowed away our carry-ons and left Atlanta on time. And as luck would have it I was seated next to a very nice man who insisted on recounting his vacation of goose hunting to me, including the part where they were almost sprayed with pesticides by an irate crop duster.  He had a hearing aid in each ear, and clearly had no issues hearing himself as he spoke at a nice normal volume, but he couldn't hear anything I said so I had to yell over the sound of the plane much to the dismay of the passengers around me.

"Oh really? Goose-hunting?"
"A crop duster next to the decoys?"
"And after all that you didn't shoot any geese?" 

I'm not a big fan hunting for sport so I was happy to hear the geese survived his vacation, although how long they survive the pesticide is another story.

We touched down in NH at 10:05, taxied for a few minutes... and then sat. at. the. gate. for 45 minutes because something was wrong with the jetway. That should have been my first clue that the stars were not aligned. Though it probably wouldn't have mattered (see previous annoying optimism clause).

I left the airport knowing I would need to stop for gas at some point but all the re-routing they have done for entrance to and exit from the airport meant I didn't go by the anticipated gas stations-instead it dumped me right on to I-293. No worries, I thought, there would be an exit soon with an easy off/easy on access to the interstate. Except there wasn't.

Again, no problem because there is a wonderful exit off of I-89 in Warner, NH that has two gas stations, fast food, and a grocery store. It's my 'go-to' exit when I am traveling up and down that road. Two exits before my mecca my fuel light came on. In my old, lovable Ford Focus this usually meant I could drive for another 40 or 50 miles, but I learned the hard way that in my newer, still lovable but gas guzzling Ford Escape I didn't have that many miles before Big Blue became a true Ford, i.e. Found On Road Dead. The one time I ran out of gas with this car it was directly across from a gas station so I coasted into the lot and the nice men in the store pushed my car to the pumps, but I wasn't eager to repeat this somewhat embarrassing incident.

I pulled up to Exit 9 with relief, hit the off ramp knowing it would be a quick pit-stop and I could be in bed in less than an hour. As I turned down the road the lack of lights at both gas stations confused me. The Citgo on the left was clearly closed, but as I turned left into the Irving Station/McDonald's parking lot realizing that this gas station was also closed I became so momentarily disoriented that I ran over the divider and hit a sign. Nope, not kidding. Amongst the clatter of metal and the instant panic that I not only had an empty gas tank but possibly a flat tire/serious damage to my undercarriage I parked in the McDonald's lot. I hopped out and was relieved to find that there didn't appear to be any cause for concern. Except of course, that my gas tank was still almost empty.

I went through the drive-through at McDonald's, bought a Sprite and asked if they knew of any open gas stations. I was directed to a place with all night pumps, though the store would be closed. It was about 7 miles away. Weighing my options I drove off down the very dark, seemingly desolate road in search of fuel. The directions were great with the very large exception that there wasn't a gas station where there was supposed to be a gas station.

With the empty tank light on my dashboard glaring like a beacon of doom, I checked my cellphone...and no service. I used my GPS to find local gas stations, all of them a gamble now that it was 11:30pm. But I set off into the night, down an incredibly rural and winding road praying I made it to civilization and cell phone service before I ran out of gas. The alternative was to return to the interstate and see how long before my car came to a potentially damaging, screeching halt.

With high beams on and watching the "miles until destination" on my GPS, I drove as fast as the road would allow. As I came around a particularly sharp turn, out of the corner of my eye I saw of flash of black and white and before I could do anything to stop it, I heard the most unnatural thud, first on the front tires and then, stomach turning-ly, the rear tires.

Another thing you should know about me is I have an almost juvenile sensitivity to animals. I love all of them and know that they serve a purpose in the whole circle of life thing. Well, except for earwigs. I will catch and release any creature found in my home, right down to the common house fly.  Earwigs I will crush with a surprising amount of violence. But seriously, I do think all of the earth's creatures have a right to be here and I struggle with the arrogance of humans who think we have some kind of elevated status because we think we are smarter. I would think our advanced brains would lend themselves to more compassion and less superiority.

So...the inside of the car fills with the sweet stench of skunk and I know that I have committed vehicular slaughter. Fighting back the urge to vomit and cry at the same time I soldier on until I reach the first gas station on the list. Closed. I go another 4 or 5 miles to the next one. Closed. I head into New London, NH thinking that luck might be on my side as it is a college town. I found a Sunoco on the Main Street. Closed. I drove a bit further down the road and found Jake's. And wouldn't you know it? Closed.

At this point I feel like I have pushed the limits of my gas tank, with the needle on the gauge practically pointing straight down. Not daring to drive any further, I check my cell phone. I have service again, but now it is almost 1:00am and I can't think of anyone I feel comfortable disturbing at this hour. So even thought it is getting chillier (it's February, remember) I decide to hunker down in the back of my car and fill up first thing in the morning as soon as the store opens. I'm a hardy, self-reliant Vermonter, right?

Less than an hour later, the wind picks up and the temperatures drop sharply and it occurs to me that I made a terrible choice. "Hunkering down" is all well and good if you have appropriate hunkering down gear. I am FREEZING and clearly not going to sleep. The prospect of sitting there for up to four hours waiting for daylight motivates me to pick up the phone and call my dear friend Libby. She lives about 30 minutes away and is truly the only one I can think of to ask to come rescue me. Something I should have done an hour ago.

She thankfully answers her phone and without any question agrees to come get me. When she arrives, she has actually done me one better. She stopped at an all night truck stop and has brought me two full containers of gas. As we prepare to fill my tank it soon becomes apparent that the nozzle of said container is broken and every attempt to get the gas in the car results in it spilling out onto the ground. Libby, having attended Colby Sawyer College and knowing the lay of the land sets off to see if the police have anything that my help us. The Officer she speaks to has nothing to offer except to say that maybe I should call AAA. Libby candidly points out that if I had AAA, I probably wouldn't have felt the need to call her.

Back at the car we contemplate our next move. I am struck with what can only be called sleep deprived genius and announce that what we need is a funnel! We search the area for something fitting and once again, sleep deprived genius leads me to take the cup from the Sprite I bought at McDonald's, empty it, and tear out the bottom, roll it up and Voila! a funnel. It works like a charm and we fill the tank with the remaining fuel.

At 3:00am I embrace my friend, though we both reek of gasoline, and offer her my first born as a way of repaying her actions of the night. By 4:00am I arrive at my parents house, crawl into bed and think to myself:

On the bright side, I made it home safe and sound.
The silver lining is that I am once again reminded of what true friends will do for you and how grateful I am to have Libby as one of mine.
My glass isn't just half-full, it runneth over.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Big doings...and a return to blogging!

After writing a huge thesis for my Master's degree, I had to take a break from writing altogether. But I've been getting the itch to return to this blog and seeing if I can be more disciplined about updating it, because I really do enjoy it.

In celebration of my return, I am have a couple of happy announcements! The first is that I have committed to running the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon as part of the TAPS Run and Remember team. TAPS is an organization that supports families who have lost loved ones who died while serving in the military. While they did good things for me after Bryon died, I think one of their greatest contributions is to the young children who have lost a parent. They host Grief Camps and seminars to give these kids a chance to heal and meet others going through a similar experience. It's a unique loss, and they do an amazing job at helping them work through their grief and have fun. Yes, you can do both of those things at the same time! I am proud to support them, and I hope you will consider sponsoring me.Click here to donate!

I also signed up for the Leaf Peepers Half Marathon here in Vermont. It's the first weekend in October and when I finish I am headed straight to the drop zone to skydive with my brother-in-law.

For those of you who know me right now, you might be wondering how someone in my ...ahem...condition is going to pull this off in three months. No, I am not pregnant-by "condition" I meant, um, chubby. There are three things that will make this possible.

First, I am giving up alcohol and sweets until after the half marathon. It's a true sacrifice on my part, trust me, but an obvious way to make sure my body is balanced and well fueled. Don't worry, as soon as I land on the ground after that skydive, I am tossing back a Guinness.

Secondly, I'm not worrying about my finishing times. I'll be disciplined about training, I'll push myself hard, but I'm not setting up unrealistic expectations. I am going to have fun being a runner again. Because after the Marine Corps Marathon, there is always the possibility of more races and I will be in great shape to train for them. The marathon isn't the end of the journey it's just somewhere in the middle so if it takes me 6 hours, then it takes me 6 hours.

And lastly, I am embracing wabi-sabi. My friend Janice taught me this word. I love it. It is a Japanese aesthetic concept, but when applied to a life philosophy it essentially means that there is perfection in imperfection.

And I am soooooo wabi-sabi. (So are you!)