riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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On The Road Again

Fact: shopping for a car is a nightmare, especially if you’re car-illiterate like I am. There are so many different types of cars (within each model at least three sub-sets, basic, intermediary or “all the bells and whistles”), and so many factors, like miles per gallon, hybrid, electric or regular, 4 vs 6 cylinders, 2 vs 2.5 liter engines, financing rates (APR), and so on. You must choose between buying new or used. If the latter, from a dealership or private owner. Either way, unless you’re rich, you have to haggle, something I’m terrible at.

I purchased my first car, a 2-door hatchback, at age 24, one week after getting my driver’s license, from my mother’s mechanic, an old family friend.  Still, my older brother came with me to ask all the proper questions. I had no idea what I was doing. I barely knew how to drive. Did that stop me from driving across country to Los Angeles alone? No, it did not. In fact, that was how I really learned to drive, especially on freeways. Several years and road trips to Las Vegas and San Francisco later, the hatchback died in a junkyard on the outskirts of the city.

I bought car #2, an old, clunky, American sedan, from my L.A. mechanic. When I picked up my New York City relatives from the airport, the kids exclaimed, “It’s like riding in a car service car!” It did feel like I was driving a taxi most of the time. That car didn’t even make it to the junk yard. It died on the side of the road in North Hollywood.

After that, I got a Toyota, used but looked like new, from a dealership. I drove it all over the place and took so-so care of it, but the year Kaz was sick I didn’t do much more than gas it up. The day I finally took it to the shop (after he died), my mechanic told me it wasn’t just low on oil – it had NO oil. No wonder it sounded like a lawn mower.

To its credit, the Toyota hung in there. I don’t know how long it had no oil, but apparently not long enough to completely destroy the engine. To be on the safe side, I didn’t make any super long road trips, had it tuned up regularly and said many prayers while on the road these past two years. When I got the puppy last year, she took some of her teething frustration out on the backseat seatbelts, one day giving me the fright that she had actually swallowed a portion (she hadn’t). Needless to say, the Toyota went through a lot. 

Part of the “get my shit together” quest has been to acquire a new car before my current one ends up dead on the side of the road like its predecessors. I actually started looking a little over a month ago. I didn’t want to blog about it until the process was behind me. Well, now it is.

After five weeks, dozens of test drives with all types of car salesmen using every trick in the book to try and convince me to buy, I finally found my car – a 4-door hatchback with a sun roof! This time both my father and brother helped me. I actually called my brother from the dealership before signing the papers (waking him up on the east coast), because the salesman had just pitched me an additional warranty at the last minute for “only” an extra $1650 (he advised me to pass).

The nightmare is over. I can get back to writing on the weekends, start taking road trips, maybe even go camping. The only thing is I forgot the garage clicker in my old car, so I have to drive back to the dealership tonight to retrieve it.

Do you have a car buying story/experience?

This post is part of the the Daily Post’s “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” prompt.


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The Ghost of LA Woman

Yesterday's sunset, corner of Olympic and Arlington Ave

Yesterday’s sunset, corner of Olympic and Wilton Ave

What’s lurking in the drafts section of your dashboard?

I couldn’t resist today’s Daily Post because I only had one draft post, which was just a title: LA Woman. The idea came to me a couple of months ago while driving around, or rather stuck in traffic going nowhere fast, in Los Angeles. I heard the song LA Woman by The Doors in my head and knew I had to write a post about this place.

I first arrived in LA in August 1995, a somewhat innocent 24-year-old, eager to start her first year at graduate film school. I drove here from Philadelphia in a two-door Acura hatchback, my first car, which I had purchased one week before I left, ten days after getting my license.

First impressions of LA: it was beautiful, hot, HUGE, a labyrinth of highways and streets I was sure I would never be able to figure out. On days off I would hop in my car, which had a sunroof, and drive around listening to music, not minding if I got lost (this was before Navigation and GPS so I got lost A LOT), from Hollywood to the Valley to Beverly Hills to Route 1 by the beach. Everything seemed to sparkle and shine. I felt both as if I knew this city, which I had seen umpteen times in movies, and as if I didn’t know it at all and would never truly penetrate its mystery.

Since I didn’t know anyone, I would often go out by myself to explore the bars and clubs. It didn’t take long to figure out the best places to spot celebrities were at the fancy hotels like The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons, The Peninsula. At the former, in the same night, I once saw Dustin Hoffman eating dinner and Barbara Streisand walked by me at the bar. I couldn’t believe it!

Over the years, I would meet many actors, musicians, directors, producers and other film folks at school lectures, various jobs and industry events. The novelty factor gradually wore off, as did the fascination with the nightlife, Beverly Hills, fancy hotels, and so on. The intense loneliness I used to feel in the first few years was replaced by a fluid sense of community, film school friends, colleagues and the few regular non-industry people I know.

When I met Kaz, who was from a D.C., the city came alive in a different way. We used to joke about our mutual love/hate relationship with LA, and love sharing those “I can’t believe I live here” moments. One time he passed Snoop Dogg in the hallway at work, and went to a party where Kobe Bryant showed up in a helicopter. Another time we went to a Passover seder at a famous director’s house with the granddaughter of an American film legend seated beside us. And many more such moments.

Since his passing, I’ve tried to redefine my relationship to the city. How long do I want to live here? Should I go back East and be closer to family? Should I hold out a little longer and see if I can get the career going? LA feels like a combination of high school and metropolis, playground and work center, a series of urban facades and breathtaking natural landscapes. It rarely feels as comfortable to me as the East Coast, but it’s home nonetheless.

These days, my favorite place to hang out is the dog park, usually with natty hair, dressed in my most tattered clothing. For some reason, Ruby loves rubbing her muddy tennis ball on my leg instead of just dropping it at my feet. I’ve even started meeting people there, and the other day I invited a friend to join me even though she’s dog-less. We sat on chairs in the shade and caught up, every now and then pausing to throw the muddy ball to Ruby.

Ah, how things change.

Thanks for encouraging me to finish this post, WordPress!


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Wind Chimes in the Breeze

It’s windy out tonight. The wind chimes are singing and the trees are rustling, but the chimes are in the foreground. They remind me of Kaz. Of nights lying in bed next to him, hearing the wind chimes late at night.

On nights like this, I would sometimes close my eyes and pretend we were on a tropical island or somewhere warm (he bought these wood chimes in Costa Rica). The chimes were outside our beach bungalow, and the rustling trees were really ocean waves lapping at the shore just outside our window. If these moments happened after sex, I would picture the moon glittering on the white sand outside as we were actually sleeping under a silk canopy on the beach, not a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. With my head on his shoulder, my nostrils filled with his scent, a combination of Irish Spring and his own natural muskiness (he never wore cologne or after shave), I would smile to myself.

Such is a woman’s mind. Or at least, this woman’s overly imaginative mind. We don’t always think like this. But certain things trigger us, like the sound of wind chimes on a breezy night.

And music.

As I mentioned, I went to see CLUTCH last week. I could write several posts just on what this band meant to Kaz and our time together. They were the most-listened to, most-heard music of our three years, which is saying a lot given that he was a musical aficionado and listened to music for a living.

Last week’s concert brought back so many memories. Seeing them in DC at the 9:30 Club, hanging with the band backstage and in their tour bus afterwards, seeing them at the House of Blues in LA, listening to them on road trips, listening to them in the ICU (I would play them on my phone for him), listening to them at his memorial (his ashes were released to their song “Electric Worry”). We had some of our happiest moments at their shows, and one of our saddest too. Because Clutch was also his last concert and we both knew it when we were there.

Seeing them last week was both joyful and heartbreaking. Afterwards, I went backstage to say hi to the band. They all remembered him. They all said he was special, a good spirit, a good man. They didn’t know what else to say about what happened to him. I told them they didn’t have to say anything more, and thanked them for the kind words.

It was wonderful to see live music again. Before he was sick we would go to a show almost weekly. He would go more often than that. Part of his job was to keep up on music. We saw shows at probably every major venue in the Los Angeles area, and several smaller ones too. We rarely paid for tickets and always had VIP passes. And he always had new music before it came out, which was a treat indeed.

Now I have no idea what’s going on in the music world and hardly ever see a show unless it’s one of his favorite bands.

But I still have the wind chimes. And when the wind gets going like it is tonight, it takes me back. A couple of times the wind has blown hard and the chimes have clanged about loudly. But mostly they’ve been singing in a gentle, rolling rhythm. I don’t talk about him as much with people as I used to. But I can still remember what it feels like to lay in his arms in the dark, under the imaginary silk canopy. He would laugh at my tropical island fantasy but not be surprised. He knew I was a cornball.


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Introducing Darcy Thiel

I’d like to introduce a new blogging friend and fellow widow, Darcy Thiel. Darcy contacted me recently to say that she has been following Riding Bitch for a while and wanted to see if we could join forces because we have quite a bit in common. My response was, “Sure!” So, please welcome Darcy here and take a moment to learn about her story.

Darcy Thiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in NY State and has been a couple and family therapist in West Seneca, NY since the mid-1990’s. She is also an accomplished speaker and presenter on various topics throughout the western NY area. Most recently Darcy completed her first book, Bitter and Sweet, A Family’s Journey with Cancer, which she is releasing via her her own Baby Coop Publishing LLC (go, Darcy!).

In the next few weeks/months Darcy and I will be exchanging information and sharing our experiences as caregivers, widows and authors. We started by asking each other a few basic questions.

Q:  Hi Darcy, welcome to Riding Bitch. Can you tell me how you become a widow?

A:  In May of 2010, my husband Tim was diagnosed unexpectedly with stage IV gallbladder cancer at age 48. One of the hallmarks of this rare disease is that there are no warning signs.  It is often not discovered until late stages.  Five months and one week later, he passed away on October 14, 2010.  It was obviously a shocking whirlwind of change.  It’s hard to believe it’s already been two years.  I think I am still trying to understand that it even happened sometimes!

Q: I understand you are writing a book about this.  Had you written before?

A:  No, I have always thought about writing, but this is my first professional attempt.  Tim and I were introduced to a website called CaringBridge when he was ill.  We chose to make our situation public and both journaled our experience as it unfolded.  People often told us we should make it into a book.  It was an exciting idea, but one I never dreamed I would actually make happen.  The book contains a lot of the writing from that site.  I started writing in earnest in February of 2012.  We are hoping to release the book this March.

Q: Who do you think is the audience for such a book?

A: This book is meant to be an inspiration to many: To the person who has been diagnosed with cancer, this book can give them an option of how they might choose to deal with their illness and its progression. To the caretaker, it can help them to feel normal with all the different feelings one goes through as they are trying to care for a person with a terminal illness. To the family and friends of those who know someone struggling with a terminal illness they will not only be able to understand more fully what their loved ones are going through (both patient and caretaker), but they will be given loads of practical ideas of how to support them. Lastly, is the human being in general. It is part of the human condition to be struggling with tough issues, many of which are unfair. Perhaps people will be inspired to try and find the gift in whatever struggle they are facing, and in turn catapult their spiritual growth.

For more information about Darcy Thiel, please visit her website http://www.marriageandfamilycounseling.net and/or her blog http://www.helpforhealing.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/HelpforHealing1.

Riding Bitch thanks Darcy for reaching across the blogosphere, and is looking forward to future collaborations

Tomorrow (Saturday) Riding Bitch will be traveling to Vermont for the writer’s residency and therefore not blogging. But I’ll check in with you after the puppy and I get settled.

Happy creating!

 


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Musical Memory

Yesterday I met up with a friend who works at Scholastic, the company that publishes Young Adult and Children’s books and educational material. She was kind enough to give me a tour of their very cool building, right in the middle of SoHo. In the lobby, they have about half a dozen letters from famous authors, journalists and (for some reason) Alec Baldwin, meant to inspire children writers. The best note was from Arthur Miller, which I will have to add later (I forgot to write it down).

At lunch my friend and I got to talking about my late husband K and how music played such a big role in his life. He used to work in the music department of DreamWorks Animation, contributing to the soundtracks of some of the biggest animated films like Shrek, Madagascar, The Prince of Egypt, and many others. Later he worked at Capitol Records (in the famous Capitol Records building), licensing their catalogue to films, television shows, commercials, sports, etc.

It still amazes me how much of our relationship revolved around music. When we first started dating he would give me CDs as gifts, both music that he received at work and thought I would like, and music compilations that he put together specifically. He was an expert at hip hop, heavy metal, rock and blues, he rarely went to see a band unless he was on the list (the exception being bands he really loved like The Black Keys), and he always got the VIP treatment.

We once had an argument at a Brother Ali concert at the El Rey (Brother Ali is a white albino rapper). He surprised me with tickets to Atmosphere (another hip hop group) for my birthday in 2008. We listened to hours upon hours of music during road trips. We saw shows at venues all over Los Angeles and Gogol Bordello, Clutch, The Roots and Wu Tang Clan at the 9:30 in D.C.

When he got sick we started going to less shows, and near the end, I was choosing the music for him. After his seizures, when he was unconscious, I played his favorite band Clutch on Pandora in the ICU, hoping somehow the music would bring him back. When he woke up, he couldn’t remember what year it was, but when the doctor asked him “What’s your favorite band?” he answered without hesitation, “Clutch!”

Later, when he was on hospice, I played blues and reggae softly in the background. I was surprised to find dozens of Chopin pieces on his iPod. “I didn’t know you liked Chopin,” I told him. “Lotta things you don’t know,” he replied with a smile.

At his memorial, I asked a friend of K’s to play two Chopin pieces live, including this one (which was also played at Chopin’s funeral):

To this day, my most treasured possession is K’s iPod. I take it with me everywhere I go and listen to it almost exclusively. It used to be ahead of its time because he was always listening to music before it came out. Now, it’s frozen in time because I will never change his playlists.


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Looking Forward

Like I said in previous post, I don’t do “resolutions” anymore. Resolutions are promises I used to make, usually to better myself in some way. This was a common one: “I’m going to go on a diet and lose 20lbs this year.” Twelve months later, I was the same weight or heavier and would make the same resolution, “but this time I really mean it!”

Other resolutions I would make: “I’m going to read more books.” “I’m going to volunteer.” “I’m going to be a nicer, more thoughtful person.” “I’m going to respond to emails in a more timely fashion.” All fine sentiments but c’mon. We are who we are and we rarely change our personalities and habits due to our own volition. It’s not impossible, but I think more often, we change because of life events that cause us to change, or sometimes because we are inspired/affected by someone else’s life event.

One of my favorite quotes from Paulo Coelho’s THE ALCHEMIST: “When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”

I am a different woman now than I was when my husband was alive, less because I set out to be this way, more because the experience of loving, caregiving, losing and grieving him has caused me to learn, grow and mature.

Do I want to lose weight, read more, be a nicer, more thoughtful person and faster on email? Hell yes! But those are lifelong issues, in the background to everything else, not the focus.

All that to say… I do think of the year as a clean slate of sorts in terms of goals, and I do believe there is power in writing them down.

Last year I wrote down (among other things):
“Learn how to ride a motorcycle”
“Baby and/or dog”
“Blog”

I did those things, opting for dog instead of baby (for now).

This year I’m writing down the following:
“Get paid to write”
“Get published”
“More space” (meaning more physical space to live and work in)

And that’s it.

I hope to report back next year and say, “I did those things too.”

What’s on your list?


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Looking Back

The end of the year is traditionally a time of reflection. I gave up on making “resolutions” a long time ago but I do believe in acknowledging the accomplishments of the past year, and setting goals for the New Year.

Last year around this time, I wrote some general goals on a bunch of 3×5 index cards and pinned them to the bulletin board in my home office. When I packed for the writer residency, I looked up at these cards and thought, “Wow, I actually did what I set out to do.” In truth, I did more than what was on those cards.

In 2012, I…

– Survived the first year of grief, including the anniversary of K’s seizures, hospice, our wedding and his passing.

– Took a Caribbean dance class, stepping waaaayyyy out of my comfort zone to learn traditional dances from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Cuba, Belize and Puerto Rico.

– Wrote my first book and gave it to my mentor, closest family and friends for feedback.

– Went to my first ever writer’s conference (the first professional event since K’s passing) and pitched my book to strangers and agents, in addition to learning a heck of a lot.

– Applied to at least a dozen writer residencies and competitions, got rejected by most, accepted to one, and still waiting to hear on a couple of others.

– Learned how to ride a motorcycle and took my first ride on the streets of LA.

– “Faux quit” my job (i.e. expressed the desire to but didn’t formally quit because I realized it was a mistake).

– Started this blog.

– Adopted a puppy.

– Started writing a television pilot.

– Got a leave of absence from my job in order to attend Vermont writer’s residency.

– Sent out all the Thank You cards to people who helped me and K that I didn’t have energy to send out last year.

I did all of these things despite many tears, fears and doubts. And if I can do it, you can do it too.

To those of you still in the tightest grip of grief, I encourage you to keep processing, expressing and feeling your feelings. But please don’t give up on life. Your loved one would want you to keep going, keep pursuing your dreams and aspirations, and he/she is rooting for you to succeed.

For me personally, I feel almost an obligation to live the life my husband wanted for me, to do the things he can no longer do, things we talked about but can no longer experience together (in a physical sense). I am inspired by him every day to keep trying and to not give up. It’s been challenging to say the least, but his love and strength of character carries me through.

Tomorrow, I’ll write my goals for 2013.


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Safe and Sound

Well, the puppy and I made it to the East Coast. Flight was smooth and uneventful. The most exciting thing was that we had a female pilot, which still seems rare. I asked one of the stewards to pass her a message, “Please tell the pilot there’s a 6 month old puppy down below and this is her first flight ever.” He said he would tell her.

I was a nervous wreck during take off and landing but the puppy managed just fine. When I left her she was falling asleep. When I picked her up, she was happy to see me but not traumatized or overly anxious. I was very impressed with how United took care of her and told them so.

Now we’re in Brooklyn, visiting with family and taking care of some business before heading to Vermont. Though I’ve been here countless times, this time I’m experiencing a bit of culture shock just because the dog is with me. It’s just so weird to be so far away from home, in New York of all places, where it snowed tonight. Nothing major, just some flurries, but still, when we took a walk it was pretty surreal. Mere hours ago we were walking in Hollywood under the palm trees!

I’m amazed at how easily she’s adapted to the new surroundings, a house full of people, including two teenagers and a large German Shepherd. Does she realize we’re 3,000 miles away from home? Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Home is wherever we are.

I’ve decided to keep blogging while I’m on the writer’s residency, daily if I can manage it. Hopefully, this won’t distract from my other writing (there’s so little time). But blogging has become a bit of a lifeline. I enjoy sharing the journey,  and feel like blogging actually keeps me on my toes as a writer. I also want to get faster at it, and less attached to the outcome.

I’m going to just post and let it be. People will either read and respond, or they won’t. I can’t think about it too much. The only way to make this residency work is to be as efficient with my time as possible. This means I won’t be responding to comments or checking in on other blogs as much as usual. I promise to follow up with people when I get back to LA in early February.

The residency officially begins January 6. In the meantime, there is much to do.

I wish for everyone a good night, and hope you are safe and sound in your part of the world as well.


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Rolling with It

A friend recently said reading this blog is like “riding a rollercoaster.” I guess he’s right. There are and will be peaks and valleys as I continue to straddle the past and the future, sorrow and hope.

If you’ve ever lost anyone close, you know how hard it is to ride those waves of emotion that hit without warning and leave you breathless from impact. One such wave hit me this morning.

It was pre-dawn, the moment when the night’s darkness hasn’t yet started to lift. The past few days I’ve allowed Ruby out of her crate around this time for a bit of snuggle time before our busy day begins (I know I’m breaking crating rules). This morning, as we lay in the silence/darkness, the puppy fast asleep, a wave came out of nowhere and I started sobbing.

But I couldn’t pinpoint the trigger this time. Was it the pressure of the warm little body next to mine reminding me of the larger warm body that used to lie beside me (and she can never replace)? Was it the hour itself, the same time I used to wake him for medication when he was on hospice? Or the semi-dark lighting, in which we would sometimes wordlessly make love before our alarms went off (in happier days), after which he would rise out of bed smiling, “Good morning” and head off for the shower.  [I once asked him if he ever flashed to our morning trysts later in the work day, like during staff meetings. “Yeah, and I also whistle in the elevator on those mornings,” he answered.]

Maybe all of the above. It lasted a while this morning, until the sun came out. At one point, Ruby woke up and rolled onto her back to look at me curiously. “It’s okay. I’m okay,” I told her. She rolled over and went back to sleep.

Later, after dropping her off at daycare, I listened to his voicemails I still have saved:

May 15, 2010 Hey babe, what’s going on? I guess you’ve gone to sleep already. Just walkin’ home from the Metro, figured I’d give you a call and see how you were doing. But I guess I’ve missed you, so I will catch you tomorrow. Have a good night, sweet dreams, love you, talk to you later, bye.

February 20, 2011 Hey babe, how’s it going? Guess you might be sleeping already, it’s a little bit after 11. Give me a shout if you can tonight or gimme a call in the mornin’. Hope you’re having agood night. Love you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

March 5, 2011 Hey, I just wanted to say hi and I love you. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

March 21, 2011 Where you at woman? Where you at woman’s phone?

April 3, 2011 Hey babe, I’m home. Gimme a call when you get the chance. Bye.

March 21 was when I asked him to call my cell phone which I had once again “lost” in the apartment. On April 3 he was in the hospital recovering from seizures and on lots of medication. His voice changes from message to message but not the emotion within.

Sound waves, like  emotional waves which still reach me today.

I have learned the best way to deal with a wave is to roll with it, allow it to carry me out, making sure to stay afloat but trusting that eventually it bring me back to shore, naturally.

Are you familiar with these waves? How do you deal with them?


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Birthday Memories

On 10/11/12 I turned 42. I didn’t realize the symmetry of the date until someone pointed it out to me. I took it as a good omen, like everything is lining up.

A year ago I felt the complete opposite. My birthday was the first in a series of emotional milestones following my husband’s death.

Kaz is both the reason I am sad, and the inspiration for my happiness. He had mastered the rare art of Zen. Not the bullshit, new-agey Zen emoted by some yoga instructors and “energy healers” but the real inner peace and hardcore happiness shared by life long motorcycle riders like him.

Since his passing, I have made it my mission to try and be more like him. But last year’s birthday it was nearly impossible. All I could do was compare it to the three previous birthdays I had shared with him. He always made a point of making them special.

In Year 1 of our relationship he got us VIP tickets to Atmosphere, a hip hop group he had introduced me to and I had grown to love. A week before my birthday he heard they were coming to Los Angeles and the concert was already sold out. He had to pull a lot of strings to get us tickets, was panicked about it not working out, and when the manager responded the day before the concert he said it made his week.

This concert is where I said “I love you” for the first time. “What?” he responded, pointing at his earplugs. I yelled back at him: “I LOVE YOU!” He smiled, said something that I couldn’t hear and didn’t ask him to repeat. I turned around and kept dancing, then felt his hands on my hips.

In Year 2, he rented a Honda Goldwing and takes me on a 300-mile ride up Route 1 and into the farm country near Santa Barbara. Totally magical – and not only on the ride. When he went to return the Goldwing the next day, a man struck up a conversation with him about motorcycles at the gas station in Santa Monica. Kaz later strolled into the apartment saying, “Guess who I ran into at the gas station.” “Who?” I asked. “Christian Bale!” “What?!” I screamed. He laughed. “I know!!”

In Year 3, he asked his doctors to hold off on his second resection surgery by a few days so we could celebrate my 40th birthday together, first at a party with all of our closest friends, then two days in Joshua Tree National Park, our favorite getaway spot.

Last year, the first year without him, I spent a rainy evening at Occupy Oakland with a friend and her 4-year old daughter and had drinks with other friends. It was fun, but everything felt empty. My present to myself was shaving my legs.

This year, I went to an Eddie Izzard concert, rented a Harley Davidson and went for a 60-mile ride to Palos Verdes – my first ride since learning how to ride 2 months ago. The ride was awesome, if not a little scary.

I did have a good cry when I got home because I wished I could share this momentous day with Kaz. But at least I had fun. And if his spirit is still hanging around, then maybe he had some fun with me. The only reason I’m out there is because of him. If I can capture an ounce of his Zen, I’ll be good.