Category Archives: Sadness

Drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra

As far as I can tell, Carrie Fisher was basically the spiritual heir to Dorothy Parker. I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan, but through her writing and her scathing sense of humor, the actress who brought Princess Leia to life on the big screen became one of my greatest heroes. I wrote about her here last winter, and I’ll probably have more to say about her and about the seeming epidemic of celebrity deaths this year at some point in the future. In the meantime, I offer the obituary she wrote for herself in 2008:

carrie

Headcanon accepted, General Organa. May the Force be with you.

Emily

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Loss

The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.

Emily

Loss

One day about 14 years ago, the then-president of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association asked me to interview a fellow Route 66 enthusiast who had just moved from Darien, Connecticut, to Afton, Oklahoma, to restore an old D-X gas station and turn it into a sort of mini-museum and Route 66 visitors’ center.

During the interview, the station owner mentioned she’d procured the old condom machine that used to hang in the restroom at the late, great Buffalo Ranch in Afton, and she was contemplating whether to install it in the restroom at her gas-station-turned-Packard-and-postcard-museum.

I laughed, because at the time, I was in the middle of redecorating my bathroom in a gas-station theme, and among the many decorations I’d hung on the wall was a glow-in-the-dark-condom dispenser.

She was delighted and asked what else I’d put in there. I mentioned the dashboard-hula-girl shower curtain and the Texaco “Registered Rest Room” sign and told her I was planning to order a set of pink plastic Cadillac fins from Archie McPhee to install on the toilet tank.

“Oh, don’t buy those yet,” she said. “I think I’ve got a spare set in one of these boxes I haven’t unpacked yet.”

A spare set.

Not just a set. A SPARE set.

In that moment, I knew Laurel Kane and I would be friends forever.

Over the years, Laurel and I bonded over our shared fondness for good margaritas, bad kitsch and outrageously inappropriate jokes. Every time we got together, we found another strange little quirk we had in common.

We both loved sushi, papasan chairs, and mild spring evenings spent sitting on wide front porches with cold drinks in hand. She lived in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Tulsa; when we left Tulsa, I wound up living in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Cape. This house felt safe and familiar the minute I walked in — perhaps because, at some subconscious level, the wide front porch and hardwood floors reminded me of Laurel’s house.

Laurel and I have both been known to decorate with tumbleweeds collected from barbed-wire fences somewhere on Route 66. We’ve both tried our hand at vermicomposting and fungiculture at various points in our lives. We were both raised by Christian Scientists. And Laurel held the distinction of being one of the only three people Scout ever befriended at first sight.

We got word yesterday that Laurel had died a few hours earlier as the result of a fall. When Ron texted to tell me, the first thing that popped in my mind was an exuberant rat terrier barreling toward a golden gate, stubby tail wagging furiously, warbling an excited greeting to her old friend.

That thought has stuck with me all day.

I miss you already, Laurel. Save me a margarita, and don’t let Scout eat all the eel rolls before I catch up.

Love,
Emily

P.S.: The picture above was shot at Afton Station during the 2003 Hampton Inns Save-A-Landmark Caravan. The penguin is Tripper, a Route 66-themed entry in the Penguins on Parade fundraiser for the Tulsa Zoo, which Laurel ended up buying to use as a sort of mascot for Afton Station. Tripper is flanked by Laurel on the left and our friend Guy Randall on the right.

Thank God Almighty

The bad news: My beloved Mac died just before 1 o’clock Wednesday morning.

The good news: Approximately eight hours later, I learned that the Oklahoma Route 66 Association didn’t want me to do the Trip Guide this year, because the board thought it would be better to find a designer who lives a little closer to Oklahoma.

This is good for two reasons: First, the Trip Guide was the only reason I needed to own a Mac equipped with professional-grade design software, so instead of wasting my Saturday driving to St. Louis to buy a $1,200 computer tricked out with $1,300 software, I went to Target tonight and picked up a $375 laptop. I don’t like it and probably never will (I haven’t been on speaking terms with Windows since 1998), but it’s good enough for blogging and writing, and that’s all I really need to do at this point.

Second, and more importantly, I was getting tired of laying out the Trip Guide. It’s a terrific project, and its value to the road is indisputable. But I did it for nine years, and it stopped being fun about three years in. Parts of it were exhilarating, and the end result was satisfying, but the negatives were starting to outweigh the positives, and I was getting seriously burned out. I wouldn’t have said no if I’d been asked to do it again, but I’m really glad I wasn’t.

Emily

Death of a Rebel

After eight years of faithful service, my beloved Canon EOS Rebel 300D abruptly lost its memory while I was trying to shoot a Special Olympics softball practice this evening.

It was a sad moment, made sadder because A.) the players really would have enjoyed seeing themselves in the paper, and B.) I didn’t have a spare CF card, so I lost everything I’d already shot when I reformatted the card in the mistaken belief that it had corrupted.

Bad timing, but I don’t suppose the Rebel owed me anything. I bought it in 2005 and used it on a near-constant basis for most of the next eight years. It’s been to 21 states; met a Hall of Fame baseball player, a Grammy-winning folksinger, the First Lady of Country Fiddle, and the inspirations for at least three characters from the movie Cars; documented my visits with my niece and nephews; boosted my career in various directions; captured the happiest moments of several people’s lives; served a variety of charitable organizations; taken road trips on the Mother Road, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Father Road, the Loneliest Road, the Devil’s Highway and the Blues Highway; and provided literally hundreds of images to illustrate this blog.

The 300D will be missed. I intend to donate its body to science, by which I mean that sometime in the not-too-distant future, I will invite Jamie — who shares my fondness for photography and already has a better eye for composition than I do — to help me disassemble it and see how it works.

I didn’t really have the luxury of taking a few days to grieve before jumping into a relationship with a new camera, so after I filed my story tonight, I dashed out to Target and picked up a Canon EOS Rebel T3. It gets stellar reviews and cost less than half of what I paid for its predecessor. It also weighs quite a bit less, has video capabilities, and doesn’t have that excessively-hot-internal-strobe problem that the 300D had. (That last bit is a huge improvement. The flash on the 300D was so intense that it blew out everything.)

I’ve got the next two days off, so I should be able to road-test it pretty thoroughly once the battery charges. We’ll see how it does. Stay tuned….

Emily

Life, the Universe and Everything

One of my former students slipped away from us today after a long illness.

Keiyana was a senior this year. During her brief sojourn on Earth, she laughed often, fought bravely, and loved much.

I had the pleasure of being Keiyana’s sophomore English teacher. We read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams that year, and on Towel Day, I awarded bonus points to students who brought a towel to class. Keiyana never needed bonus points, but she still brought a towel, just for the fun of it. She was grinning from ear to ear as she held it up for me to see. I was grinning, too. Keiyana had that effect on people. You just couldn’t be around her without smiling.

Keiyana was, in Hitchhiker parlance, “a frood who really knows where [her] towel is.” I think she got that from her mom, who came to parent-teacher conferences, asked me what I needed for my classroom, and then sent Keiyana to class the next week with about umpteen dozen dry-erase markers. (If you know how expensive those markers are, you realize what an incredibly generous gift this was.)

Even when she was stuck in the hospital, enduring all manner of painful indignities, Keiyana maintained her sense of humor, joking about her “lil bald head” after undergoing chemo and celebrating when she felt well enough to play her favorite video game.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a supercomputer is asked to calculate “the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.” After seven and a half million years, it announces the answer: 42. The problem, of course, is that no one knows the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe and Everything, so the computer’s answer doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t know whether Keiyana has discovered the Ultimate Question yet, but it soothes my broken heart tonight to think of her hitchhiking through some uncharted part of the galaxy, towel in hand and a twinkle in her eye, on a grand quest to find it.

So long, little hitchhiker, and thanks for all the dry-erase markers. Your classmates and I miss you already, but we’ll do our best not to panic as we look up at the stars and think of you cruising through the night on the Heart of Gold.

Love,
Ms. P.

A tribute

We got word last night that a former colleague had passed away unexpectedly.

There are two kinds of people in my life: Those who have worked the copy desk on Election Night with me, and those who haven’t.

Roger was in the former category. If you aren’t, you’ll never understand why that’s important.

I met Roger near the end of my first year in the classroom. For nine months, I’d been struggling to do some good in a completely corrupt school district, to no avail, and I was exhausted. Burned out and living miles from anyone I knew, I felt alone and adrift.

Then I walked into the newsroom one May evening, and Roger — in typical Roger fashion — went out of his way to make me feel welcome. He showed me around, asked me questions, joked with me, and just generally included me. It was the first time in ages that I’d felt as if I fit in somewhere. I don’t think Roger ever knew how much I needed that.

Journalists are a different breed, and the ones who stay up past midnight, putting the paper to bed are — to paraphrase Orwell — “more different than others.” We are the grammar geeks, the designers, the adrenaline junkies. We work the hours no one else wants, and we love it. We get on each other’s nerves. We yell at each other. But between headlines and frustrations, we learn each other’s quirks, concern ourselves with each other’s lives, and entertain each other with outrageous humor that keeps us sane in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment.

It’s that last bit I’ll remember most when I think of Roger.

Some of the laughs we shared aren’t fit for public consumption. (That Monica Lewinsky emoticon we invented, for instance.) Others wouldn’t be funny to anybody outside the newsroom. But then there’s this. And this.

And most of all, this.

For better or worse, I will never, ever be able to hear “Mr. Roboto” without thinking of Roger, and I will never be able to think of Roger without hearing “Mr. Roboto” somewhere in the back of my mind.

Somewhere, Roger is enjoying that last fact way more than he’s got any right to.

Jerk.

I already miss him.

Emily