Sunday, October 07, 2012

Like no one is watching

I was feeling overwhelmed by the crush of political news on my way to work the other day, and "Love Shack" comes on the radio.

I associate that song with Deb for two reasons. First, I took her to a friend's friend's birthday party early in our relationship, and there was a karaoke machine. Deb was a karaoke fiend and grabbed the mike. Being in the stage where you'll do anything to impress your date, I joined in on "Love Shack," doing the guy's part. I was starting to wonder what I was getting into when she really let loose on "Tin roof, rusted!" even though we were in someone's apartment, not a bar.

The other reason is one day after we moved in together we were unpacking her stuff and found a videotape without a label. I asked her what it was and she said she didn't know. I popped it in the machine, joking it was homemade porn. Instead, it was a tape made one night when she and a couple of friends went out to karaoke. There she was, singing "Believe" by Cher, "Mickey" by Toni Basil and, of course, "Love Shack." She told me to record over it. You bet your butt I didn't do that. And I'm glad I did, because it's the only video I have of her.

Anyway, "Love Shack" is on the radio, and I think of Deb. And I think of how she was in the video, singing and dancing, uninhibited in that way she was when she was having a good time. The first concert we went to, I was a little embarrassed to see her get up and do that full body dance of hers. Then I realized she was having fun and I had no right to stop her, and why would I want to? Just because I'm more inhibited? Clearly, she was having fun, and who was it hurting?

The memory of her dancing like no one was watching made me smile, and my mood lifted immediately.

The next song on the radio was "Rock Steady" by the Whispers, which I hadn't heard in years. I forgot how catchy that song is.

First I tapped my fingers along. Then the head bob. Then the Jay and Silent Bob head weave. Then the car seat butt wiggle.

I'm sure the people in the other cars got a good giggle. I didn't care. It was like no one was watching.

OK, maybe one person was, but I know she was dancing right along.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Six years on

Hey, you.

Every year would seem to bring up farther apart, but when I hear a song that reminds me of you, or I go someplace we've been, or I notice at a picture of you that I see every day but pay no real attention to, and it's like it was yesterday since we talked.

You're still a part of me, as much as my arm or my lungs. You're the thought that reminds me that your life can change for the better in a second so the problems of now don't seem so bad. You're the realization that I can be a better person than I often let myself be.

But you're also far from me, and my heart aches when I realize that you're a part of my life that's not happening now and isn't likely to happen again.

And no day do I feel that more than on Sept. 11, the day we said goodbye, and the day we last said I love you.

But this isn't a letter of mourning. It's just to thank you again for saying yes. For showing me the things I was wrong about and the things I was right. For giving me the best time of my life.

P.S. Sorry about forgetting your birthday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy anniversary

It's much easier to arrange a wedding than you might think.

Print out your own invitations.

Order a cake from the supermarket.

Have your uncle perform the service.

Hold it in your mother's living room.

Have your nephew play the keyboard and your niece to be the flower girl.

Say "I do" when prompted.

Then embark on the most important and satisfying experience you're ever going to be a part of.


Happy anniversary, sweetie.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The gift that was not to be

While gathering up things for the Memory Vault, I came across these:

These are the movie stubs and other tickets from the first years we dated. I was going to put them in a frame and give them to her on our tenth anniversary.

There are advantages to being a packrat.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tales from the Memory Vault

This is the box I keep the mementos from my life with Deb in. I call it the Memory Vault.

Deb was a packrat, and so am I. It was hard to part with her things, but I eventually decided to be sensible and keep just enough to fill one bin.

I'm going to share some of those memories here through some of the things inside of it.

These are the Tigger ears she bought when we went to Disneyland on our first trip together. Every time I get on the Winnie the Pooh ride, I think of her singing the Tigger theme song. If her ghost haunts any place on this earth, it's that ride.

These are seashells I brought back to her from a trip I made to St. Petersburg. Little did we know that a couple of years later we would actually move to Florida and she could've gotten her own shells.

This is the stuffed animal I won for her at Six Flags in Denver. She couldn't make the trip, so I brought it back for her, like a good boyfriend should.

This was her hairbrush. It still has strands of her hair in it.

This is her wedding dress, her bouquet, the cake topper, the wedding cake service set and the Minnie and Mickey dolls we got on our honeymoon to Disney World.

The things in the Memory Vault mean a lot to me, but not as much as the memories they bring back, of course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


My older sister Doris died last Sunday. It wasn't really a surprise; she had been sick for a long time. But she had always bounced back, so it wasn't really something I was prepared for.

The most embarrassing part is Deb and Doris knew each other, and now there's someone on there's someone on the other side who can tell baby stories about me.

I made my plans to go back to Yuma on Thursday, so I could either sit around and mope for a couple of days or I could try to carry on as usual. I chose the latter. It worked out OK, because I feel better when I have something to occupy my mind. But I did ask the few people I told to keep it to themselves because I wanted things to be as normal as possible. I knew the emotional stuff would hit me when I got back there. And so it did.

I volunteered to say a few things during her service. I knew our mother wouldn't be able to make the trip, and even if she had she wouldn't have wanted to speak publicly, so I felt I was acting as her representative, as well as being there for myself. I'm not fond of public speaking, but I figured I could tell a story or two off the top of my head; get on fast, get off fast, before my nerves took over. I saw it as a mission.

So I get there, and I see the program for the service.


Opening prayer.

Eulogy - Tim Chong.

You know that sinking feeling when you get the restaurant bill and instead of it being $15 it's $50? Multiply that by a thousand.

Somehow between Monday and Friday, my story or two off the top of my head had become a full eulogy! I'd never done a eulogy; I wasn't even sure I'd ever seen one. I tried to hide my terror as best I could, but I knew I was going to have to come up with something very good, very fast.

I messaged my sister Sandy, who hunted up a couple of websites for me. I found one of those very useful. Plus once I started thinking about Doris, the words just flowed. I was up late writing it and ironing it out, but finally I came up with something I was satisfied with. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had any sleep that night.

After the service, people told me I did a good job. I didn't care about that. I just cared about doing Doris justice. And I hope I did.

Here's what I wrote.

Good morning, I'm Tim, and I'm here to talk about my sister Doris.

Please forgive me if my voice wavers or I lose my place, because microphones make me nervous. You know they're always pointing at you, and I think it's rude to point.

First, allow me on behalf of my family to express our gratitude for all of you coming out today for this service. Never in my wildest dreams did I thought this would ever happen. Doris was on death's doorstep so often, death thought she was the pizza delivery guy.

When I heard she was sick again and was going into hospice, I thought, as I'm sure most of you did, that this was just another time when she was going to ignore the doctor's advice and instead of dying, she was going to get better and live.

If there is one word that describes Doris, it is stubborn.

She got her stubbornness from our mother, who couldn't be with us today because, like Doris, she has her own health problems that should have killed her years ago, but, like Doris, she ignored the doctors and lived.

But I still half expect Mom to come down the aisle on her electric scooter any second now, having ridden here from Missouri, saying, "Sorry I'm late, the interstate was backed up." And Doris would pop up and say, "That's no excuse, Ma, you should've called. I'd have come and gotten you."

Mom didn't play favorites among us kids, but it's clear Doris was closest to our mother than any of us. They were so much alike. They both got married young. In 1965, they both had charming, intelligent sons. Thirteen months after I was born, they both had daughters who ... well, they're sort of OK. No, I'm just kidding; they both are beautiful women who had beautiful children.

When they would go out together, sometimes they would be mistaken for twin sisters. I know Mom was tickled whenever it happened, but I never had the courage to ask Doris what she thought about it. But they were so close, I imagine Doris was proud to be compared to our mother anytime.

Their bond was the purest example of family love I've ever seen, and it's one everyone should strive for. It's the kind of strong bonds that can carry a family through any crisis, like losing a brother to leukemia in his early 20s. Or a bad auto accident that sends you into a windshield, making people wonder if you will even speak again. Or caring for your mother as she fights an aggressive cancer and wins. These are challenges Doris faced and conquered, and it's this kind of family love that will have to carry us through this difficult time as we try to adjust to life without this sweet woman who affected our lives in so many ways, and always for the best.

I said before this isn't the first time Doris had been close to death. In 1995, she had her liver replaced. After it was over, she asked me to write a letter to the family of the donor, and I was proud to. In one part of the letter, I described Doris this way:

She is the mother of three, and a grandmother. She has an excellent sense of humor and has a laugh you must join in with whenever you hear it. She is incredibly strong willed (I didn't want to call her stubborn) and is the type of person who gives to others, sometimes at expense of her own comfort, and through this ordeal she has shown nothing but strength and optimism for the future. I admire her a great deal.

It's 17 years later, and all of those words are true.

Earlier I said that if there was one word for Doris, it would be stubborn. Of course, one word isn't enough for her. You need so many others - loving, funny, caring, mother, Christian. Of all those words, though, I think the most important is caring.

Doris was always caring for someone or wishing she was caring for someone. I was told when she ended up having to use a walker, she'd grab the walker with one hand and have a dustpan in the other, still trying to clean.

Doris was always telling our mom that she was going to go to Missouri and take care of her. My mother was amazed, telling me, "How is she going to take care of me? She needs to take care of herself!" But it wouldn't have surprised me if I called Mom one day and she said, "Guess who just showed up at my door."

Toward the end, I'm told Doris was restless and agitated. The hospice nurse asked if there was anyone Doris might be waiting to talk to before she left this life, and someone said maybe it was our mother. They got Mom on the phone, and even though Doris couldn't talk, Mom told her that it was OK, she would be fine, and that it was OK for Doris to go and that she loved her. I'm told Doris calmed down after the call, and a few hours later she died peacefully. I firmly believe that even at the end Doris was wanting to take care of Mom and she wouldn't leave this world until she was certain Mom was going to be OK without her.

Doris was always caring for someone. She cared for her children, then her grandchildren, then her great grandchildren. She cared for me and my sister when we were young. She cared for other people's children as a babysitter. And she cared for her husband.

Now she's in a position to care for all of us, without the body that betrayed her in this life. And I bet she's excited about that job and already getting started on it, rushing around heaven, and if she sees our guardian angel taking a nap on a cloud, she's nudging him, going, "Hey, get back to work. They need you down there!"

Let me end with this story, and please forgive me if I have trouble getting through it without tearing up. My wife Debra died of breast cancer in 2006. We had been married for a little over two years, and she was everything to me. With her gone, I was completely lost. I didn't know who I was and didn't care if I was alive or not. The funeral was in Missouri, far from our home and the few people we knew in Florida. And even though my relatives were around, I felt completely alone. In the middle of the service, it hit me, like it's hitting me now, that I was really saying goodby, that this is really happening. I broke down completely. I was at the lowest point of my life and I thought I would never be happy again. I thought no one would ever care for me that much ever again.

Then I felt someone grab my hand.

Doris held on to my hand through the rest of the ceremony and pulled me through. It was like she was a lifeguard, and she kept me from drowning in my grief.

It would take me years to crawl back to being able to enjoy life again, but the one who started me back on the path was my sister Doris. And I thank God that she was a part of my life, and I will miss her.

I love you, sis, and thanks for everything.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

That's my girl

Considering how many times she told this story to me, I can't believe I've never blogged about this one before, but here goes.

Deb was in the market for a new car, and after a lot of research she decided she wanted a Toyota Camry. So she goes to a dealership and tries to get one, knowing the list price. She told the salesman she knew what she wanted to pay and wasn't going to pay any more. The salesguy told her she'd never get one for that price. She leaves.

She goes to another dealership and gets the car at her price.

Her first trip was back to the first dealership. She finds the salesguy and says, "Do you remember me? You told me I'd never get a car at my price. Well, that's my car over there, and you lost a commission."