welcome to miami, part two

Unfortunately, none of what happened in this video occurred during this trip.

Renée set up renting a car so we could drive to Key West on Saturday. Both of us wanted to experience driving on the Overseas Highway. We also discussed how, technically, it isn’t quite an overseas highway.

I read Freedom in the courtyard until the car was ready. I honestly don’t like the Nissan Versa. I hoped the car they gave us wouldn’t be one.

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The ride down was atrocious. I was under the impression that the entire highway had been widened to four lanes, but there was a substantial two-lane section that nearly was at a standstill. At one point, Renée’s navigation app told her to turn off U.S. 1 and take a back road. At first, we thought it would bypass whatever the clog was further down the key.

Then we realized it essentially was sending us back the way we came. We lost our spot in the jam for nothing.

We went from planning to spend a part of the day in Key West to getting there shortly before sunset.

“At least I get to take a photo during the golden hour,” I said as we cruised down Roosevelt Boulevard.

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Cue more ’80s music.

Since we were running out of daylight, I requested a shot at the Southernmost Point. It was the only touristy thing I wanted to do on the trip. We waited in the most orderly unsupervised line as everyone traded phones to get shots.

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You can tell I’m on vacation because my shirt isn’t tucked in.

Afterward, we had Thai food that was so insultingly mediocre, I refuse to name the place.

We didn’t get back until well after 2 a.m. On my ride back I also wound up in traffic. I still don’t understand.

On Sunday, we returned the car by way of a long drive along the island in a quest for gas for less than $3 a gallon. Afterward, we had brunch at CVI.CHE 105 with Kris. Once again, I had a giant bowl of octopus bits and other cephalopods, crustaceans and bivalves. It was absolutely delicious.

There were plans to hang out with some other people that fell through so I suggested that we return to RedBar, because RedBar. I can’t wait to go back for a third time. And fourth.

While having insanely potent drinks, I would up playing an intense game of Jenga with a dudebro that I wound up losing. I owed the guy a shot for losing, and not long after, he passed out. In the bar.

I kind wish I had a Sharpie on me.

The next day was our last full day. Our recovery from the night before was part of the reason we didn’t leave the room until about 4 p.m. I still wasn’t 100 percent when we ate more Peruvian food at Chalan on the  Beach. Once again, I had the fruits of the sea.

A short nap after that restored me and we set out for the beach one last time.

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Last night in South Beach.

While we sat on that beach, a remarkable thing happened. I looked up at Renée’s face and could almost feel my writer’s block falling away. It was a beautiful moment. I was elated. I was inspired. I wanted to start writing right that very second. This trip precisely was what I needed.

We had our last dish of the trip was at Cheeseburger Baby. I didn’t have a cheeseburger, but Renée did. At some point, we lost our condiments. We both saw the waitress put them in our bag but they were nowhere to be found when we got back to our room. It was delicious all the same.

We swore we’d call it a night early, because our flight was early. It didn’t happen, partially since the hotel had a laundry facility and we didn’t want to travel home with sweaty clothes. We wound up taking what should count as a nap.

On the trip back home, I lost my license in the airport. I dropped it sometime after the TSA checkpoint when we were herded through like so much cattle. I hope some 19-year-old enjoys all the drinks.

I’m still in a state of relaxation from the trip. I’ve been so wound up and mentally battered and bruised for days, months and years, and finally feeling like myself again is just incredible.

Can someone remind me why I don’t like going on vacation?

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Vacation mode.

theresa

I love you, sis.

Theresa. May 13, 1969-May 6, 2015.

You big-headed galoot.

My eldest sister, Theresa, and I were watching Looney Tunes one day, and Yosemite Sam called Bugs Bunny a “long-eared galoot.” We thought the phrasing was hilarious for some reason.

It also sounded like a Robinson-worth insult. Before the day was over, one of us called the other a big-headed galoot. It stuck.

For years and years, we called each other that. Depending on the situation it was the beginning of the fight, the escalation of an argument or a greeting.

On Wednesday, my big-headed galoot left me. Theresa died of complications from multiple sclerosis a week before her 46th birthday.

Although we were 14 years apart, we were incredibly close. She named me while my mother was still out of it and my dad wasn’t at the hospital yet. I was almost always invited to tag along whenever she hung out with her friends. It’s part of the reason why I know so much about ’80s culture and identify more with the Xers. She loved anything that was purple and, of course, loved Prince and his “Purple Rain” — the film, album and song. I co-opted her love of Prince, because I really had no choice, and you can see me on occasion singing Theresa’s favorite song at karaoke.

I proudly crashed her prom photos to the point that, 14 years after I was born, she had a kid and, 14 years after her prom, she drove over to our mom’s house and plopped that kid front and center for one of my prom photos. For us, it never was about winning the battle, it was about winning the war.

I was an exceptional tattler, but I could play being the innocent one. I once slipped and fell into a pond. After being pulled to safety, Theresa got me somewhere to take a shower and all my clothes were washed. The entire time, I swore, I absolutely swore that it was between the two of us. As soon as we got home, I told my mom that Theresa didn’t watch me well enough so I fell in a pond.

I was grinning the entire time I wrote that previous paragraph.

Because of Theresa, I am the silent treatment champion. I can guarantee I won’t crack first because I discovered that she couldn’t bear the thought of her baby brother never speaking to her again.

Because of Theresa, I can be sneaky as all get-out. Ask me how to get down a creaky staircase, out the front door and into the car without making a sound.

Because of Theresa, I can not only keep a secret, but be loyal enough to rub it in your face all day and all night and never tell. She once told me a secret. It will go to my grave.

Because of Theresa, I always had someone there for me.

There were times that you would think we were twins because of how much we thought alike. You would think we already had 14 years of stories and adventures by the time I was 4. But, despite learning every conceivable way of annoying her in the greatest possible way, I considered her my second mom.

She not only saw me off to my first day of kindergarten, she sobbed at the bus stop because her baby brother was growing up. Whenever our parents weren’t around and something happened, she could switch gears in a flash. It was obvious when she was in Mom Mode. Sibling fun and games were definitely over.

But she was also irresponsible enough to think letting a 10-year-old drive her car because she was hungover and wanted some seafood. I promptly steered into a ditch because I didn’t realize you really, really had to turn the steering wheel.

That was another tattletale moment.

One day, Theresa met a boy and moved with him to Maryland and then got married. I was despondent for days because my sister left me. But, thanks to the wonders of 1990s technology, she was only a (short) long-distance call away. I got used to her being the disembodied voice and looked forward to every summer.

Not long after school let out, we’d pack up some of my things and we start the long, three-hour drive up U.S. 17 to U.S. 301 and then to Lexington Park, Maryland. Sometimes, we would meet halfway at the Burger King in Tappahannock to switch cars. After years and years of it at least being a food and bathroom waypoint, it took me until 2002 to take a look around the town.

In Lexington Park, in those apartments that are now called St. Mary’s Landing, it was like we’d only been apart for a day. But, as I got older, it fully sank in that she was an adult and I couldn’t expect her to pause around age 26 until I caught up.

It sank in more when we learned she was pregnant with my nephew Tré. I was there that summer in 1997. I was in the hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland, the day he was born. I held him in my 14-year-old arms.

Although that was a great day, it was the beginning of the end. Unbeknownst to us, Theresa was beginning to show the symptoms of MS. Once we figured it out, we were told not to worry because, although it wasn’t treatable, it was manageable to the point that she could live a long, relatively healthy life. It was helpful that she had the relapsing-remitting form, they said. Never mind that one of the first bouts effectively paralyzed her for a while. So we went about our business: Theresa moved back to Hampton in 1998. My niece Shonda was born a year later. The new family had a house built. My nephew Michael was born. Although I had no idea where I’d go for college and where I’d be beyond that, I began thinking about how I’d stop by one day, watch the kids play and tell my sister about some ridiculous college story as we sipped on beers.

Instead, the disease turned malignant. She tripped and fell one night, breaking her ankle. She was in a wheelchair while it healed, but that night was the last one in which she was able to walk. We still kept our spirits up. It would be nothing for me to stop by while I was in college at Christopher Newport University to push her out of her house on Allison Sutton Drive, guide her into my car tell her some ridiculous college story and head to get cheesesteaks, a Smitty’s Better Burger with cheese, Dairy Queen or, our nostalgia food, Taco Bell.

But, by then, she was losing the ability to use any of her limbs.

Back in the early ’90s, when she got married, I was to keep her from stress eating to the point that she couldn’t fit in her wedding dress. I was still in Fat Elliott mode, so hells yes, let’s go to Taco Bell at 12:45 a.m. She barely fit in her dress.

By the time I was packing up to head to Petersburg, she was effectively bedridden. And her husband was headed to Stafford and then Hawaii with the kids. Theresa wound up at my mom’s house in what was our dining room/den because my mom doesn’t have a first-floor bedroom. One of my first memories is of her celebrating her 16th birthday roughly in the spot her hospital bed occupied.

It was strange. This time, I was the one in a different area code calling the sibling in my mother’s house. She had a custom-made wheelchair by then and my mom had a hard time transporting her for anything more than doctor’s visits because of it unless she made arrangements with someone to haul it. In retrospect, a van wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

That didn’t stop me. When I came to visit, I would sometimes wheel my sister out to my car and we’d at least go for a ride.

Then things worsened again. Not long after Grandma died in 2008, MS struck Theresa’s vocal cords. My sister — who, after fighting, was best known for yelling and cussing — was silenced. After nearly 25 years of feedback, I didn’t know what to say to her beyond idle updates. My time with her was reduced to sitting by her bedside in silence as the TV blared.

For about seven years, my trips home have been to see nearly every trace of my sister disappear into that atrophied shell. I didn’t start mourning her loss when Ma called while I was driving on High Street between Park and Seventh streets in Charlottesville — I’ve been mourning my sister for all those years.

Despite that, I still wasn’t ready for her death. Before her diagnosis, I thought I’d be at least 70 when I had to think about burying Theresa. I hoped for the chance that someone, somewhere would find at least a partial cure. Instead, I’ll see her in person one last time on Thursday, the day after her birthday.

I miss my sister. I’ve missed my sister with every ounce of my being for years, but she’s now free of that damnable disease. And we made the most of the short time we had together.

I love you, Theresa.

You big-headed galoot.

post of the year

Obviously, writing about the wedding wins this year’s post of the year.

The only problem is that I never wrote a detailed entry about getting married. I never even dumped some of the photos into a entry with captions. It was one of those moments I wanted to document in my head instead of on my website, and what I was told was true: Once it starts, it’s just a blur. A beautiful, beautiful blur. Having your last seconds of being 30 tick away by seeing the woman you’ve loved since you were 18 walk down the aisle toward you is beyond words.

I got married 10 years and 21 days after I started this blog in the living room of my fraternity house.

Who would think there would be a wedding @ exit265c.com.

post of the year

This year wasn’t hard to figure out. As I lived my first calendar year in Charlottesville, the biggest change in my life happened 75 miles away atop Chimborazo hill.

When Matt, Shaunelle and Loaf moved away, my home/home away from home was gone. But it was another moment of growing up.

I’m now sitting in the living room of the house to which I’ll return after walking down the aisle. I’ll always remember living in Church Hill, though.

I miss walking to Alamo, Capt. Buzzy’s the (defunct) OMG Café, Ben’s Barber Shop, Farm Fresh, the overlooks, the James River; seeing our nosy neighbor, the colorful but mostly benign pedestrians, the trash, the historic brick and granite, the hardwood floors; relaxing on the back deck, at a massive party downstairs, on evenings on the front porch, on Shaunelle’s balcony; Richmond.

But I can say I was there, it was good to be there and, if I had to do it again then trade it for what I have here, I would. This is no Richmond, but working here is no Tri-Cities, no Jacksonville. Not to say I don’t miss either. I must say I was stagnating down there. I’m growing and changing here with Renée and, who knows? I could be back. Or the future holds a city that Richmond pales in comparison.

I could barely write that with a straight face. RVA All Day.

RVA is in my blood now. I may be gone, but I’m there. That house may be gone, but it’s ours. I’m looking forward to saying that about another place soon. A place I can call home.

three’s a crowd

I learned some saddening news this week.

Goodbye, house

You’ll always be home to me

Matt, Shaunelle and Loaf are moving away.

My bonus year of guaranteed couch surfing in RVA is over.

Matt and the Greatest Dog in the World are heading to Georgia. Shaunelle now works in the Tri-Cities, so it looks like Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights will remain a part of my life in some form or fashion.

Although we knew this had to happen at some point, it’s still something I never wanted to happen. This house atop Chimborazo was the catalyst for the best post-college experience I’ve had  so far. You could come and knock on our door because we’d been waiting for you. This was our Friends house. This was our How I Met Your Mother house.  This was our Jersey Shore, our Real World. This was our halfway house between the our early 20s and the real world.

Much like my fraternity and our infamous chapter house at 210 Deep Creek Road, this was a house where inseparable bonds were forged.

If that house were a sitcom, I was the among the characters added after the first season to try to keep it afloat. I came after the first year of tenants. Matt and Shaunelle had lost two before I arrived in August 2009. After I arrived, we went through two fourth roommates before we realized it just wasn’t going to work with four. When I left for six months, my room never got refilled. I was able to come back in to round out my third year before heading to Charlottesville.

Those three years, including the time when I officially  unofficially no longer lived there were amazing. Over time, it truly became home. The very first time I changed the address on my license was there. Other than my mom’s house, I had been pretty transient during and after college (never mind the extraordinary amount of time I spent on Bull Run Drive in Hopewell). I couldn’t bear to go to the DMV back then and say that some of the places I’ve lived back then were where I officially lived (never mind that being a little illegal). When I arrived at that house, I knew it was going to be a place that stuck with me. It was in that house when I stopped calling my mom’s house home. Never mind that I was subletting: It was home.

But it is time to go. It’s run its course. Despite how amazing living in that house was, preparing to make my home as a married man is going to be more awesome. Although probably with fewer keggers in the backyard. Probably.

I still have the key to 210 on my key chain. When I got my new license, I still kept the one that said I was a Richmond, Va., resident in that Church Hill home. I’ll continue to hold on to it.