Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On The Radio

Since I left Carmel, Indiana two years ago to move out to California, I have kept a pretty good line of communication open to my Indy nieces, Emma and Chloe; text messages, Facebook updates, blogs, emails, and cell phone calls make for easy checking in and catching up, as does the occasional well-timed letter/package coming and going. We had last seen each other at the 2009 KMF weekend in Lake Villa, IL, and like Cait and I's wedding before it, and a short visit the previous Christmas, most of the time we had spent together since Indy had been great, but also pretty hasty, and thoroughly surrounded by other people. With Cait 24 weeks pregnant, and who knows what big changes just around our corner, Beth and I exchanged a few emails and decided it was as good a spring as any for some quality uncle-nieces time (with Chase, yes, to follow in a few years). She did the legwork on her end to arrange the best airlines, then the best times/dates, and then Emma and Chloe followed Kayla's 2009 precedent and came west last weekend for a long weekend visit. Beth watched them board the airplane at 6am, and I met them 8 hours later at Gate 32 of San Francisco International, as they stepped down from the a Milwaukee connection for four-and-a-half days of touring around, hanging out, and catching up.

The night before their arrival, I worried myself into a good state of minor frenzy. I thought about all of the incidental, day-to-day fun of living in Indy, talking about school, playing MarioKart, watching Little Manhattan or Stranger Than Fiction or Music and Lyrics, going to the art museum, the Mellow Mushroom. Weren't those all built into the fabric of their daily lives and my living in their home? Was there really a winning equal in my new digs and daily writing, reading, and walking to the coffee shop? What if I had become boring in my two years of California living? What if, like Obama, my 2008 message had worn thin with my 2010 constituency? What if, like Iron Man 2, I could only staple a few bells and whistles to the same old costumes? Excepting even Cait's more-than-Mickey-Rourke-worthy star turn, what if I had lost my uncle groove? Would they have any fun or just politely count the hours until they could get back home?

Fortunately, it turned out to be a pretty amazing visit. From eating pizza in Golden Gate Park, to touring the Academy of Sciences and Alcatraz, walking across the Bridge and around Stanford campus, wandering through the City Lights bookstore and into North Beach, even watching the aforementioned thoroughly mediocre Iron Man 2, we settled into a pretty easygoing pattern of late mornings and long days out touring. We also found our old, familiar patterns. Chloe reminding me I had gained weight and lost hairline since the wedding. Emma talking me through the finer points of her quadruple-accelerated (or so it seems) freshman year schedule for next year and the ins and outs of appreciating the Decemberists and The Shins. I don't want to say too much more, for fear of drawing Chloe's ire that I talk too much about her here, and out of a sense of trying to keep things in proportion, but it meant the world to me to get this time together, and to enjoy it--and them--with so much admiration, affection, and joy.

Their last night in town, making homemade pizzas, listening to KFOG's Acoustic Sunset, getting ready to brave The Dark Knight, we got to realizing that, six years ago that weekend, we had all been in Carmel, IN, for Katie and I's wedding at the County Line Orchard, during which they served with Kayla as the maids of honor. Emma noted how nice it was, now, for her to think about Katie and think about good things, happy memories. It made me appreciate how much of Katie they carried in their daily lives, just in who they were as people and how they negotiate their daily lives, Emma's natural leadership and consideration, Chloe's exceptional will and strong sense of right and wrong, and all of that overlap in between. And how that was an amazing gift, both in what they had received and learned from Katie, but also in who they choose to be and what they choose to keep alive in their daily lives. Which I hadn't really thought of, in such explicit terms, since I had lived with them in Indy.

It's strange to think about not having control over when and how I think about Katie. I was contacted a few weeks ago by a producer for Animal Planet, who said they had read Katie's story on the KMF website, and would I be interested to talk about Katie's death for a show they were putting together about survivors of traumatic animal attacks? Ultimately, I decided, this wasn't the right thing either for me or KMF, and I thanked the producer for her interest, who in turn very decently congratulated KMF on its good work and wished us well. Still, the exchange really shook me. I hadn't thought so directly about Katie's death, in such explicit terms, in some time. I can and do talk about Katie on a regular basis, and I think about her from the safe distances of poetry, KMF work, talks with Cait and family and friends, as a point of reference for so many experiences in my life; doing so gives me a kind of privilege in selecting and controlling those memories, from my end, which is both wonderful (good stuff to remember) and necessary (filter). I was left feeling shaken by the whole experience, really kicked in the gut, I think, because I just hadn't thought about Katie as a victim, in plain and stark terms, in a good while. Which I think is also good: she hated the thought of being considered a victim to anyone or anything.

Driving to the airport, Emma plugged in her iPod and played Regina Spektor's "On The Radio." I think I brought this album to the LaPlante household, and I listened to it a lot my first few months living there. It was one of Katie's favorites and, over time, it had become Emma's, and hearing it driving south on Highway 101, it reminded me of Katie and sitting out on our balcony overlooking Bucharest; of walking across 126th Street to get ice cream at Baskin Robbins; and now, I suppose, of the incredible gift of getting to spend time together in San Francisco thinking about all of those things. These lyrics, in particular:

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again

I wrote on this blog, a while back, that Katie used to bring me out of funks by reminding me that I was a good uncle, and that being a good uncle, however lighthearted its origins, had become a kind of organizing principle for my life during hard times. It's important to me now, too, that times are plentiful with their blessings. I think the difference is instead of being something to fall back on when all else seems to be failing, I can embrace it, maybe learn to enjoy it. It's the difference between need and want, maybe, or of figuring out how things that aren't right in the center of life can still be vital and necessary, and wonderful. I feel like I keep using that word but its appropriate. Thinking of the people I love, get to love, and who love me, I am pretty full of wonder.