Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas, Mike and Looking Forward

It’s amazing how easy it is to get out of the blogging habit. I’ve been out of town or away from my computer so much in the last couple of weeks that I’d almost forgot I even had a blog. I can see why Mike forced himself to adhere to a 3-a-week schedule.

While the days and weeks leading up to Christmas were horribly draining and stressful, the actual holiday itself was pretty restful. We spent three days at the house of Suzanne's sister, her husband and our niece and nephew. While Suzanne was pretty busy cooking with her sister, I got some much-needed sleep and actually had time to read a novel (Brian Keene's DEAD SEA), something I haven't done in months. I was so excited to be reading I finished the book in two days. We also did lots of eating. It seemed like as soon as we cleaned up after one meal, Suzanne and Jennifer started preparing the next one. I contributed by cleaning off the table and washing dishes after each meal. But as soon as the crumbs settled, I was back to my book.

It was fun watching people open their presents this year. Usually, buying presents is a chore. Trying to get something cool on a budget is impossible. And usually Suzanne ends up buying stuff for her family and putting my name on it because I'm terrible at figuring out what to get. But, this year, I tried to cheer myself up by getting people gifts they'd really like, budget be damned. We got Suzanne's sister an iPod. She's runs for exercise, like me, and was carting around a big CD player in a hip-bag. I used to do the same thing and, every third stride, the damned thing would skip. So getting her something cool that she could use made my day. I couldn't wait to see her face and it was worth every penny. I also had the pleasure of giving my nephew a stack of all-ages Marvel comics, including one written by Jeff Parker. He knows Todd from TELLOS but it was neat to give him another book that one of Mike's other friends worked on. I'm never sure if Ricky like's comics or if he's just humoring me but he seemed genuinely excited about getting the books this time. And we were able to track down the Optimus Prime Transformer toy he wanted on Amazon. And, finally, I went out at 4:00 a.m. on Black Friday in November to get my Father-in-Law the Season 3 DEADWOOD DVD he needed. He's too considerate to ask for it but we know how much he loves the show and we were determined he was going to have it. He just treated himself to a 65" HDTV (believe me, the man has earned it) and I'm so glad we got him the DVD to watch on it. He's been watching and rewatching the first two seasons for months.

Christmas morning, I called my parents. They spent their first Christmas alone in about 44 years and I felt terribly guilty about it. Suzanne offered to let me off the hook and spend it with them but I hated to be away from her at Christmas. Once I spoke with them on the phone, though, I regretted my choice instantly. Mom started crying, though she swore to herself she wouldn't. We cut the conversation short because we were both unable to speak. I called back that afternoon and we were both feeling much better. Mom had opened her presents and talked to Suzanne and Jennifer and my Mother-in-Law and it really perked her up. We decided we're going to visit them over the New Year's holiday and that really made her happy.

Suzanne got our nephew a Poof! foam football like the old Nerf balls they used to make before they started adding all that stupid hard plastic crap to them that makes them impossible to throw. We went out with my brother-in-law and threw the ball for about an hour. It reminded me of when Mike and I use do the same thing with our Dad. We'd stand as far apart as we could and launch the ball as hard as we were able. That wasn't far because the Nerf was so light the wind would put up too much resistance. But we'd sail it about 50 yards on a calm day, assuming we didn't hit one of the power lines stretching diagonally from the pole to the house. I can still hear the sound of it whizzing through the air. We spent many hours in our youth doing that and we'd still do it for "old time's sake" whenever we both visited Mom and Dad's house on the same weekend. Throwing the ball with my nephew on Christmas day wasn't quite the same—he's young and can't launch it like we did—but it sure brought back bittersweet memories.

I thought about Mike a lot this past week. More than I thought I would. Thanksgiving was our holiday, so I thought the worst was over. But it seemed like just about everything I did, every comment that was made, brought back some memory of Mike. Very often, I'd get an almost uncontrollable urge to call him about something, reach for my cell phone and quickly realize there was no point. Nobody would answer. As a matter of fact, we finally had his phone disconnected last week as we've at long last finished the repairs to his house. That really deflated me. Not just the fact that disconnecting the phone was one more reminder that we've lost him but the guilty realization that it was only after his death that I was able to commit his phone number to memory.

Since things have started to calm down a bit, with the holdiays almost over and the work on the house virtually complete, I've finally got time to think. The constant distractions have had a numbing effect and I've not really had time to deal emotionally with the fact that my brother is gone. In order to function, I had to shut that part of my brain off, at times visualizing myself physically pushing thoughts of Mike to one side. After a time, it got to be second nature and I've actually been worried that something was wrong with me. That I was too calm. What kind of monster adjusts to a loss like this so easily? Didn't I love my brother? Am I that insensitive? Fortunately, this week has put those fears to rest. Mike has been with me a lot, constantly in my thoughts to varying degrees. Sometimes he makes me smile. More often, though, it's more crying.

2007 has been a weird year. I've lost the best friend I've ever had but gained several really good friends because of it. Most of all, I've realized just how wonderful the friends I already had truly are. Still, despite all the terrific people we've met and all the kindnesses we've experienced in the last four months or so, Suzanne and I have decided that we're really not sorry to see 2007 coming to a close. I know it would be foolish to expect an arbitrary date to have any effect on our fortunes but I have to say I'm looking forward to 2008. If only because it's not 2007. I'm not sure you could call that optimism, but it's something.


QATim said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matt. A lot of blogs in these circles are thinking of Mike this time of year. And your family has earned the best damn 2008 after this 2007.

Parker said...

Thanks from me too, Matt. I hope writing these posts helps you, it's important to get out what you're thinking. And I understand that strange feeling of guilt over having normal days when you're still impacted by such a big loss. I guess it's just what humans do, adapt to a situation- and our minds try to find ways to make us not dwell on the loss so much that it ruins us.
I join you in flipping off 2007 as harshly as possible! Welcome 2008! I look forward to maybe seeing more of your work find it's way onto this blog.

Brian said...

Yes, good-bye 2007 and please do not call or write.

Glad to hear you will be visiting your parents for New Year as the flipping of the Calendar can be just as hard as Christmas and I'm glad you guys will be together.

Here's to a great 2008.

Warren said...

I hope the coming year brings blessings to you and your family.

And you will get to the point where thinking of Mike will make you smile more often than make you cry. But it's not time for that yet. Hang in there. It does get better.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Matt,

I agree with what's being said here. Alot of us are certainly thinking about Mike.
The time will come when thoughts of Mike will be memories of good times, instead of the realisation of the loss.

Good bye 2007!!

Hello 2008!!

Glad you'll be spending the new year with your folks.

I wish you and your family the best for the coming year.

Adam Hutch said...

Thanks for sharing Matt. I hope getting things out helped you a little bit. It's cold comfort but over time it starts to hurt less and you find yourself just remembering the good things/times more and more.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

renecarol said...

Here's to 2008! And a wish for a wonderful year for all of us. It couldn't possibly be any worse than 2007.

The iPod is a really cool gift. A friend of mine gave my daughter an iPod for Christmas.

Craig Zablo said...

Here's to the new year being a much, much better year!

Cully Hamner said...

Thanks for writing that, Matt. I've had many of the same thoughts about adapting to this particular loss. I was a little dismayed at how quickly I got back to routine, too. I have to tell you, though, that Christmas-- a holiday I never shared with Mike, come to think of it-- was just a little more empty without him. It was mainly the thought of not having any sort of access to him anymore. I had a couple of quiet cries the last week or so when I saw something that reminded me of Mike, and that's the first time that's happened since the immediate couple of weeks after losing him. I don't know what it is about the holidays that magnifies sadness. Maybe it's that Christmas is supposedly a time for those you love, and somebody I had a lot of love for isn't here anymore.

I can't totally flip off 2007, though. I met somebody that's become really important to me. Interestingly, one of the main things that sold me on her was how THERE she was for me when I heard the news about Mikey. I guess that's how life is sometimes: You take a hard hit in the head, and wake up to a pretty face.

You can bet I'll be raising a glass to your brother on New Year's, though, and to all his loved ones.

And post more stuff! :)

rhombus said...

I too hope that all of the writing and rememberances of Mike are helpful for you Matt, and I know that 2008 will be a better year for your family.

BTW, one of my fond memories of Mike was throwing around a Nerf football with him and Randy Green in a field near the old studio, just to get a little fresh air and exercise during all the long hours we spent at Artamus.

Walking through this town and watching it change these days always makes me wonder what Mike would've thought about how its changing if he were still here... but as others have said here, we adapt and move on as best we can, and try to hold on tighter to the ones we do still have with us.

todd said...

oh, matt...
oh, everybody--

how absolutely, wonderfully written, matt. how wonderful, too, that so many of your friends here can be so comforting and eloquent in their support.

i think its true--and different in each one of us--how we have this built-in protection system that numbs us when just too much sadness comes along. we're emotionally spent and we really aren't able to take anymore and so our emotional side just takes a break, shutting us down, and letting us feel the things we need to feel without overwhelming us (too much) and at our own pace.

and in our own peace.

2007 was too much. 2008 can only be better. for all of us.

peace, matt. and suzanne.
peace to all of you and thanks for being such good friends to my good friend.

craig rousseau said...

as usual, todd took the words out of my mouth (which often comes in handy)...

here's to a better 2008.


Heywood Jablomie said...

Thanks for that Matt. There's nothing more I can add, that hasn't already been said. While 2007 has been a wild roller coaster of a ride, here's to 2008 being great, for all of us!

Cully Hamner said...

How lucky that Craig has Todd around to take things out of his mouth. ;

Matt said...

Matt -
... I haven't had the guts to post anything here until just now. Mike and I came up through the ranks together, and while I had only gotten to see him the past few years at conventions, we spent a lot of time sending sketches back and forth, talking about our childhood sooperhero characters and such. When Mike died, all I could think of was my brother, who died in '03, and I never dealt with it the way you have by writing about it. I hope it's been helpful. Thanks for hanging in there, mate. - mh