Book Ends

It started with a picture, and a kind note, and I was reminded of a drawing, tucked away in a box, sleeping in its frame. “Don’t forget the note.” A 15 year old version of me repeated.  When I’d framed the drawing  – one of a young woman resting contentedly in the arms of her lover – I had worried that I would forget the dedication on the back. “Don’t forget the note.”

I had forgotten the note along with the picture decades ago. I suppose it was a form of self-defense – a way of flipping the coffee tables within my mind, and storming off to help push down the memories.

If you knew me well in high school, you knew I was a quiet but horribly sarcastic nerd. You probably knew that I was the president of our orchestra, I was reasonably smart, my best friend was Julie, and that I was completely obsessed with a guy named John. This guy was beautiful, vibrant, funny, completely aware of who he was, and was able to see through the layers upon layers of walls I’d built up to protect myself from people seeing any shadow of the real me. (I build a great wall. It’s the best wall. Just saying.) He consumed my thoughts almost every waking minute from 15-18, and probably a couple of years beyond. Being around him was like dancing too close to a bonfire, but I could never quite resist that flame (much to the chagrin of my best friend, who had to tend to each tear-filled wound every time I was scorched); I made for a beautiful and perfect moth.

John was my first kiss. I was a freshman, and it was minutes before my final exam in Mr. Casarez’s Algebra 2 class while we stood in the drama hall.  I was so giddy, I could barely focus the rest of the day, and it’s a small wonder I actually passed that final. It’s also a small wonder I didn’t jump up and down, clap, or do an interpretive dance. My heart sang with such tremendous joy that I can only imagine how obnoxious I was for the days, weeks (and years to follow – sorry, Ju).  Thus began my personal angsty teen girl saga.

As a teen, adults (not in my close circle) viewed me as polite, smart, and reserved, and they usually felt that my parents had won a sort of teen lottery, because I did not have any noticeable streaks of rebellion. I was a rules follower, I was quite studious, and I was seemingly above all the typical teen drama.  In truth, when it came to John, I was your average teenage girl. I could waver from super dramatic highs to super dramatic lows, and sometimes those occurred within hours of each other.

When I think of him, I remember silly things like him riding his bike from Wm. Cannon to Barton Springs (roughly seven miles), then we’d walk down to Zilker to go swimming or watch the kid’s train wind around the park while singing When Doves Cry. I remember his best friend, Carlos, the worst teen driver in the history of teen drivers whom I was forbidden to ride with, so of course I got in his car all the time. I remember John carrying me on his shoulders across Wm. Cannon while I held a gallon of milk and just laughing. Now, when I imagine how that would look, the daydream ends with two people in traction (and a smile). I remember the song he dedicated to me, Duran Duran’s The Chauffeur (which when I’ve listened to it as an adult, it has given me a tad bit of pause – though I find I’m still drawn to it).  I remember him saying the movie Purple Rain was very “him” and me agreeing. (Watch that as an adult, and see if that wouldn’t make you want to put your teen daughter in an convent or move the family to another town.) I remember the notes passed in the hallway,  the cards (all of which I do still have), and of course the crushing heartbreak when he and a close friend destroyed my teen heart. So much aftermath – thoughts and feelings that ripple into today and form the tapestry of my soul, affecting how I feel about certain people in my life – creating its rough template of who I tend to fall for. John was my foundation.

We stopped speaking sometime in college.  Encounters with him, though pleasant, would leave me temporarily wrecked and withdrawn, and at some point I had to cry “uncle.” And then I received a picture, with words meant for the back, and remembered another picture from a long time ago with a note I was never supposed to forget.

I went looking for him, willing to risk the flame, only to find that he had gone.  The 17 year old that lives in my heart fell apart, and then the one friend who remembers my 17 year old, and accepts that’s sometimes who I am,  stepped in like she always did to remind 17 year old me that she was ok. That dealing with death is challenging.

John 11/7/1966 – 12/25/2014

John

He had passed away on my birthday a few years ago. I read his tributes, since I really never knew him as an adult, and he was loved dearly by his friends; I’d expect no less. He had grown into quite a beautiful human being who pursued his passions.

Two things I learned from him: 1) Live passionately. 2) Don’t rely as much on words, as on what your heart and senses tell you is right. People will say things to protect themselves, but your heart knows the truth if you’ll listen. You just have to have faith in what it’s telling you.

And now the bookends of my life… my first and last love have left, and I sit a little more broken.

John Kelso

Yesterday, my phone lit up with messages – John Kelso, an Austin icon, had passed away.  If you in any way claim to be a true Austinite, separating yourself from the throngs who appear adding condos along Town Lake and driving up real estate prices, then you love a few things: Barton Springs, Zilker hillside musicals, Chuy’s  jalapeño ranch, ACL, and of course John Kelso.

I could recount some of my favorite articles, but y’all have Google and a curious mind, so I’ll let you enjoy the thrill of discovery.  That said, the time he shamed the city into re-thinking their stance on a goat’s living situation near “So-Co” (don’t get me started; I was here before South Congress started putting on airs) made me proud. Hey, sometimes gentrifiers need friendly reminders. (Chin up, guys you’ll eventually drive the goat family out thanks to increased property taxes. Every cloud, right?)

I was going to link to a blog piece where I’d written about my encounters with Kelso, but I did a search and discovered I kind of love talking about him. You see, he’s the kind of guy that one story would never do.  I can tell you that my adoration started when he joined my high school for a week posing as an 11th grade student named Clarence Frick (my year), then proceeded to write a series of articles about his experience. That led me to eventually inviting him to our 20 year reunion at Opal Divine’s where he accepted, showed up, and kept our school elite entertained.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to have my writing style compared to his. It even once inspired me to contact him, and see if he might have some advice for the likes of me. He encouraged me to give him a call, which took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to do. I mean, I write like me, not like him, and it seemed a bit uppity on my part to say “hello sir, people say I’m like you, how do I get better – how do I become you? What brands do you buy? Would you call your hair shade salt and pepper? How much salt to pepper would you say?” (I would have left off descriptions of said friends – their questionable tastes, their TBIs, etc.) When I finally did call, I got his voice mail, and didn’t hear anything back. I can’t attest to what my message said, but I suspect it was a bit rambly, and full of fan girl blithering.  The kind of stuff that sets off warning bells, and causes one to invest in a personal bodyguard or five.) He’s always had a lot going on, as one of Austin’s patron saints, so I suspect he was busy (contacting the APD).  Still, I held onto hope he’d one day share some pearls of writing wisdom.  Sorry guys, without those pearls this is what you get. Hey, you decided to follow this blog. That’s on you.

All of that to say, we will miss him and his humor – the way he influenced all of us to laugh a bit, and to inspire us. I hope he’s somewhere now having a beer with Molly Ivins, and Ann Richards, and that Leslie pops by to offer a lick of his “knob” (a story for another day, and not what you think so get your mind out of the gutter).

RIP John Kelso, and my favorite classmate, Clarence Frick.

Jay Anthony Utz: 2/25/1976 – 7/9/2016

There wasn’t an official obituary announcing to the world the loss of my husband. Of all the things we had to deal with that day, and for the days that followed, this was one we pushed to the side. If you planned well, or worked with any funeral service, someone will likely handle this detail. We did not. We were reeling.

I learned that in trying to settle Jay’s affairs that there are companies who really would like one to prove a death has occurred by means of an obituary. I suppose a medical examiner’s report or a death certificate doesn’t carry the weight that an obituary posted in the newspaper does.

So, I give you this – for all the people who need one…

Jay Anthony Utz

Jay Anthony Utz of Pflugerville, TX passed away on Saturday, July 9, 2016.

A memorial was held at 10am on Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at Restoration Covenant Church in Round Rock with Jay’s aunt, the Rev. Marsha Emery officiating.

Jay was born in San Antonio, Texas to Lois and Samuel Utz on February 25, 1976. He married Beth Doughty on May 21, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jay is survived by his wife, Beth Doughty; his sister and brothers Enid Celeste Kowalik, Joel Samuel Utz, and Dale Eldon Utz; his parents, Lois Margaret and Samuel Franklin Utz; and his nephews and niece, Everett, Zachary and Katy Kowalik.

Beth’s aunt, Philis Goodwin read the following on Beth’s behalf:

Today we say goodbye to a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, and a friend who left us all too soon with so many words left unsaid, so many adventures left to do, so many wry/sardonic laughs left un-chortled, and so much love left unexpressed. For me I’m saying goodbye to my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my teacher, my hero, my voice of reason, and the only adult in the house.  And today and for all the days to come, I’m also saying goodbye to my very favorite person in this world.  The best person I know.

Monday was our 202nd Monthiversary which celebrates the day we started dating – it’s a ridiculous holiday unless you’re us. It also happens to be my very favorite.  This was the day I’d try my level best to wish him a Happy Monthiversary first.  I never really told him we were in competition, but still he almost always managed to win.  

And this is also one of the thousands of things I’ll miss.

Jay was the person who stayed with me each night until I fell asleep.  Then he’d be there when I’d wake in the middle of the night to ask important questions like: What’s the difference between alternating and direct current? Tell me about stationary objects in motion.  And he’d patiently answer until I was satisfied I completely understood and I’d wander off to fall back asleep. I suspect he shook his head when my back was turned, but I have no proof.

On the plane Saturday I realized I didn’t completely understand how planes generated lift, so I made a mental note to discover this information on our ride home.

There wasn’t a ride home – not with Jay, not on this Saturday when my best friend felt he had to leave.

Someone suggested I might be angry, and if I’m angry about anything it’s at this faceless disease called depression.  I’m angry that it took away the best person I know.  I’m angry it made him feel worthless and that it blinded him to being able to realize how amazing he truly was.  I’m angry that he tried and didn’t get the help he needed to fight it.  I’m angry it made him see so much bad about himself when all I could ever see was good and kind and beautiful, and he was absolutely beautiful. It robbed me of laughs, of the one person who understood me, of a thousand inside jokes, and a thousand more kisses.  It took away our ridiculous Monthiversaries, and it took away my favorite person.

I love you, Jay. You said I deserved better, but there will never be better than you.  You are the love of my life, and I miss you so much.

Jay’s brother Dale also spoke and shared personal stories that helped further bring to life a person whom we will all miss dearly – with whom we’ll never get to share another laugh, nor enjoy another character like “Laguardia”.

December 25, 2017: My -0 Birthday

Tomorrow we’ll be six months away from my -0 birthday.  You know that birthday where I finally turn ummm… another year older-ish-esque! Happy Birthday to Me?

You’re probably wondering: 1) Why do I need to worry about it now, and 2) wait, if she’s writing about it, does that mean it’s another present grab? Dear Lord, is she three? I get it. You were born on Christmas. Bummer for you. I’ve got a family to think of! I’m out of town!

Well, 1) if Hobby Lobby can have Christmas stuff out already, then I’m actually a little behind in mentioning it, and 2) YES! You guessed it! It IS a present grab. You’re a good guesser! Also, I’d like to point out that you can see your family any time. I only turn -0 once! (…a decade. Err… bygones.) Go ahead and book your flights. No, book them to Austin. Why do you have to act this way?

So, remember 10 years ago? That other -0 birthday? There was you, me, some other people, and someone MAY have had a dramatic boo-hoo? Then someone’s friend had to hold up each subsequent present and grill the giver with a, “is this going to make her cry?” only handing the gift over only if she was assured, “ummm no? I don’t think so?” Remember? The birthday girl then gave that amazing speech (ok, that was a test – if you’re claiming there was a speech, then you’re now just pretending to have been there, and the bobbing of your head in agreement with all of my words right now is kind of hurtful. Way to be hurtful. This is why I actually cried.)

So, this birthday will be a repeat of the one held 10 years ago – same restaurant (maybe) – same rules. I’m going to ask for something that represents you. If you’ll recall the previous -0 birthday, I received an assortment of stories, photos, poems, comics, drawings, homemade bread, and CDs. I loved all of them, and I’ve saved each item, because it’s a tiny time capsule of who you all were 10 years ago. Ok, I lied. I didn’t save all of them. I totally ate the bread. Hey, it’s not fruitcake people. It wouldn’t have lasted. Don’t judge me. What if I “promise” (no reason for the quotes, nope – move along) not to devour any more presents (well, unless that’s what they’re intended for)? Fine. What if I just promise to try? We good?

Loot

Anyway, back to the present grab. This can be anything at all as long as it’s an expression of you.  It should be something that when I look at it, I see my amazing friend, or my beautiful family member – an item that says something about you in this moment in time.

The reason I’m announcing my request so early is to give you plenty of time to think. You guys are rather think-y sorts.

A quick note: There will be only one person whom I’ll ask for something very specific – the rest of you can go nuts – for that person it’s an idea I want them to play with (see quote below). (Anyone else is welcome to play off of this, too if you really want – create a picture of you? you in warrior garb? a sketch? a puppet? finger paints? whatever inspires you when you read it, but that also represents you).

Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’
The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’

I’m going to shoot for the weekend of December 16th (which is also my beautiful niece’s birthday, and I will be mindful of that so it may  be Sunday the 17th).

Oh, and before I run off. This blog post also serves as the even earlier announcement for my upcoming reverse quinceañera in a year and a half – so, start thinking about your hoop skirted dresses, your perfect tiara, and of course your sari, because Bollywood style dance, y’all! (I feel the “y’all” really sets that sentence off. Wow, I think my Dallas is showing.) I already have a fabulous stylist I’ll be coordinating with (thank you, Mere!), and think Beth + hair extensions. I KNOW! FABULOUS! (That was the adjective you chose, right? RIGHT?!?!?! Again, HURTFUL!)

I look forward to seeing you guys there. Here’s to another decade with you amazing people. I’m looking forward to many more!

 

Shaking the Branches

Originally posted: 4/6/2014 – not sure why it re-posted in 2017.

Sooo… I haven’t received the response I hoped for in my family tree search or really any response and it occurred to me, I have a blog. Then another thought occurred to me, search engines index blogs (and well, the whole internet). I know this because I am one of the top spots for people who hate Houston. Again, Houston haters, I don’t actually hate Houston. SPOILER ALERT: the post was really to address a friend who had told another friend, “Beth hates Houston”. Sure you had to read between the lines, but there you have it. Anyway, back to the indexing and my thought pattern. My final thought, a lot of genealogists use the internet to research their families. Since there is a fee associated with Ancestry.com, which to me is 100% worth it, some researchers don’t have the resources or simply haven’t chosen to invest in that particular tool.

I have been lucky on my quest for information, as least on my Dad’s side of the family. I have met two amazing cousins who I never would have known if I hadn’t been doing genealogy research. One on my Dad’s father’s side, whose every email brings a gigantic smile to my face. She is truly the best treasure to have come out of shaking the branches of my family tree. The other cousin is on my Dad’s mother’s side where she is just waiting for me to start working on that branch so she can share all she knows. Through both of them, I’ve received stories I’ve never heard and seen pictures I’ve never seen. It’s amazing! The experience has made me quite giddy.

My mother’s side is a different story until I get back to my great-great-great grandfather and talk to the descendants of my great-great grandmother’s half siblings’ descendants – truly lovely people who are exactly where I am when it comes to the giant gap in their trees between this common ancestor of ours and me. We don’t have stories or photos or in some cases full names.

This brings me back to internet searches. I’m going to go ahead and list the people I’m searching for in the hopes someone will take a chance that I am not an internet stalker or identity thief or whatever nefarious thing they might think when I ask “can you tell me my great-grandmother’s full name?”

I actually want this to stand out, so I am going to put all of this in the post that follows.

UPDATE: Since this post moved, the “post that follows” no longer follows it, so here is a link to that call-out of relatives: Calling All Swinsons

An Anniversary


Anniversary Card 2016

How long were you married?
Nine years.
Oh.
But we were together almost 17…
OH!

As if the length of time is a measurement of how much sympathy a person should garner. “She only knew him 1/5 of her life – one can hardly form attachments in such a short span. Oh, about 1/3 you say? How very sad. That explains the tears.”

Just a friendly reminder that when dealing with the bereaved, empathize if you can, sympathize if you’re not a sociopath and have an IQ over 30, but don’t ask how long the deceased was known. In fact, don’t ask about the relationship. Loss for a first cousin once removed may be just as sad as an aunt, a nephew, or a brother. I’ll also throw in, don’t ask how it happened, because you’re not a ghoul and this isn’t your wreck to rubber neck. You’ll know if you need to know.

This has been your latest installment of: How to Deal with Death

Today is my anniversary. My first anniversary without Jay.

Ten years ago today we were in Las Vegas – me in an overly feathered top, and Jay dressed like he walked off the set of Miami Vice. Hey, it was Vegas, baby! We’d dressed for the occasion. A few friends had joined us – Kendra, Jeff, Lynn (Ravenhex), Jen (Aunt Mahgs), Harry (Uncle Fel) and he who shall not be named out of fear of one of my guests. April had been headed that way, but the car gods were apparently angered. It was one of those beautiful and great days. A ridiculous day, as we started out at Quark’s being teased by a Klingon and were carried off to some Elvis chapel where apparently some of our other friends have been married (forget Bon Jovi – who cares? Meredith and Jerin where there once! I think Brandi and Ed were, too!).

Jay’s family weren’t told about the wedding where mine were. Jay had said he wanted to “elope”. I asked him about that decision at the time, and then later. It’s something I still don’t understand and can only offer that I think he liked the idea of “eloping” despite us having my friends there and despite my family also knowing.

Jay kept many things to himself, and he didn’t always explain himself. You just had to accept that it was a Jay thing.

Just a few thoughts I wanted to share on this day – my take away from being with Jay for nine or 17 years, depending on how you want to consider it…

Love isn’t always neat. It’s not a movie. It’s sometimes inconvenient and hard. Sometimes you have to fight for it. You have to take risks. Sometimes you have to yell when you’re being told your relationship isn’t ok in someone else’s eyes. Always keep in mind it’s not about them; it’s about the two of you. When you know it’s right, it’s something to fight for – to strive towards.

I met Jay at the worst time, but he was worth every risk I took, the sacrifices I made, and the lines in the sand I drew. He was worth every verbal scrap I got into. I knew he was the one. That he would love me absolutely despite a mountain of flaws, which he did.

Today I want to challenge you that when it comes to love take risks where you can. Remember, you only have one life. Live it deliberately. Worry less about the noise from others around you especially if they’re holding you back. You get to decide. If what you want is inconvenient for someone else, isn’t harming anyone, and they’re preventing you from moving forward, well too bad – screw them and screw that. Your life isn’t about them. Your happiness is not about them. Live for you. You only get this one life, this one shot. You are responsible for your happiness. Know and believe that you absolutely deserve to love and to be loved. Who cares what other people thing? What do you think?

Today I challenge you to love someone. Let them love you back.

Happy Anniversary to my best-friend, my love, and my favorite person. You were worth it.

(Disclaimer: Relationship risk advice excludes taking those risks with anyone who is related by blood, anyone whose spouse might have an uncontrolled anger issue and who also possesses firearms or is related to/belongs to a “club” with anyone like that (unless you can counter with court orders/law enforcement), anyone who dresses in a onesie whose last name ends (begins) in “Kim”, and anything involving animals. Basically, if you can be arrested for it, you shouldn’t do it. However, mirrors are ok. Go on and freely love yourself, you narcissistic little monkey!)