Sunday, June 26, 2016

There's always this year

When I was a small child, probably five or six years old, I wrote and illustrated a book called "The cleveland browns Story book." I have no actual memory of writing this story, but I still have the book, and have enjoyed looking at it several times over the years. The full text of the story follows:

Once there was a man. His name was Berny kosar. He was a qurterback for the Browns.

His passes didn't score a point.

The other Team fumbled his team scored and kicked the extra point.

The kikoff went in to the other teams endzone. Hi's Team maid a safty. it was 9 to 0 at the end of the half.

Hi's team scored a 100 yard t.d.!

15-0 and there was no more scores. It was a shut out!

Cleveland was in the play offs.

They won the division title!

and maid it to the super bowl!

I have only vague memories of watching the original (before the move to Baltimore following the 1995 season) Browns. I do not remember seeing The Drive or The Fumble. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, but based on my writing this book, I was clearly a Cleveland sports fan from a young age (not surprising, as Columbus natives tend to go for either Cleveland or Cincinnati pro sports teams, and my mom was from Northeast Ohio). A couple of things jump out at me from my story. One, I didn't seem to have a high opinion of Bernie Kosar's quarterbacking skills. ("His passes didn't score a point.") I'm not sure why this was. When I wrote the book, the Browns were coming off of several consecutive playoff appearances, with Kosar generally playing well although not putting up gaudy statistics. And two, I seemed to know that it would be very exciting for the Browns to make the Super Bowl. Notice that the book abruptly ends before we get to find out whether the Browns actually win the Super Bowl.

My favorite pro sports team in the 1990s was the Cleveland Indians, who made the playoffs every year from 1995 to 1999. I definitely remember watching both the 1995 and 1997 World Series, both losses for the Tribe. My first real taste of what it was like to be a Cleveland sports fan was the heartbreaking Game 7 collapse in the '97 series vs. the Marlins.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were my favorite pro basketball team by default due to their representing Cleveland, but I have no actual memories of watching them as a child; their games were rarely available for me to watch. Most of my NBA memories from that era are of watching and rooting against the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. My younger brother and I hated the Bulls and even came up with what we thought were hilarious nicknames for many of their players - Michael Jordan was "Psycho Boredom," Scottie Pippen "Snotty Pickens," Toni Kukoc "Toni Cockroach," Luc Longley "Puke Longley." Every year we hoped to see the Bulls fall in the NBA Finals and every year we were disappointed. But looking back, those are some good memories to have.

I have now lived in Cleveland for almost fifteen years since starting college in 2001, and I truly consider it my home. I feel a much stronger connection to Cleveland than I ever did to Columbus. This was not really the case during my undergrad years, but once I started dating Cara in 2006 and we began to explore the city together, and especially after she moved here in 2008, I really fell in love with Cleveland, and so did she.

It was during our first year of dating that the Cavs reached the NBA Finals for the first time, in 2007. Before then, to be honest, I was a pretty casual fan of the NBA and probably paid less attention to it than any of the other big four major league sports. I do vaguely recall seeing this Sports Illustrated cover in 2002:

I wondered how it was possible that a high school junior could be receiving so much hype. (The fact that he has turned out to be even better than he was hyped up to be is truly remarkable.) I was happy, I'm sure, when the Cavs got to draft LeBron the following year, but it's not something I really remember; as I said, I was a pretty casual fan.

2007 is my first strong memory of watching the Cavs. They were playing their heated rival the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Game 5, the sporting world was abuzz at LeBron's spectacular performance in which he scored the Cavs' last 25 points in a thrilling double overtime victory. Game 6 was in Cleveland on June 2, and on the same day the Indians had a home game against the Detroit Tigers. Cara and I attended that Indians game, a 9-5 loss for the home team. After the game ended, the Cavs game was still going on. A huge crowd gathered on the plaza outside Quicken Loans Arena to watch, on a huge screen, the game occurring inside that arena. That game was "the Boobie Gibson game" - Cavs rookie Daniel "Boobie" Gibson played the game of his life, going off for 31 points including 5/5 on three point attempts to lead the Cavs to their first conference championship. Cara and I joined the crowd in exulting at the Cavs' victory. It was a thrilling moment.

Not long after the game ended, a fight broke out in the crowd not far from where we were standing. It wasn't anything too serious and ended quickly, but as soon as the fighting began I instinctively hugged Cara close to me and turned to shield her, putting myself in between her and the violence. She later said that it made her feel very safe when I did that.

As a not very knowledgeable NBA fan, I thought anything could happen in a seven game series and that LeBron might be able to lead the Cavs to victory over the San Antonio Spurs. As it turned out, the Cavs were horribly outmatched and lost in a sweep. That was okay, though. LeBron was still quite young and just on the verge of becoming the game's top player. I, and probably many other people, thought it was just a matter of time until he would succeed in "getting one for the Land" (not that we would have used that phrase back then).

The 2007 Indians, by the way, provided my second real moment of Cleveland sports heartbreak, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Red Sox in the ALCS. Now a true Clevelander, I felt this loss much more deeply than the '97 World Series loss. Cara and I were both very into the Indians that year. I remember going to a Nada Surf concert in Columbus and buying a double set of earbuds so we could both listen to game 3 of the ALCS on a single portable radio while we waited in line outside the venue, and also watching the game on the TV at the bar in between acts. I also remember watching another game in that series at Cara's parents' house.

It was in September 2008 that Cara moved to Cleveland, and in the season that began the following month the Cavs took the NBA by storm, rolling to a 66-16 regular season record. Was this finally Cleveland's year? I had so much confidence in LeBron. I thought he could lead the Cavs past any obstacle. Yet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs lost the first game to the Orlando Magic, and then blew a 23 point lead in game 2 and looked ready to fall into a two game hole as the Magic took a two point lead with one second left.

Then LeBron did this:

Cara and I were watching the game at La Dolce Vita in Little Italy. It was just down the street from where she lived (at the time, we still lived separately, but I'd be moving in with her in less than two weeks) and she often hung out at the bar there on nights that we weren't doing something together. It's funny to think about, now. Hanging out at bars just wasn't something I really did back then.

I still remember the feeling of disgust at the Cavs blowing the game turning suddenly to exhilaration at LeBron's amazing game winner. It's one of those sports moments I'll always remember.

Alas, the Cavs went on to lose the series four game to two. I curse the names of Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Mickaël Piétrus to this day for their ridiculous ability to hit backbreaking shots in that series. (Although less so now, I suppose!)

The following year brings another memory of a 60+ win Cavs team putting up a disappointing playoff performance. This time they didn't even make the conference finals, falling to the Celtics in round two. My most prominent memory from that series is actually of a game I didn't watch - during Game 5, Cara and I were at the Beachland Ballroom seeing Local Natives perform. My brother was texting Cara updates about the game. "I don't know what's going on," he said (or something to that effect), as the Cavs were demolished 120-88 and LeBron had one of the worst games of his life, shooting just 3-14 from the field.

So the first LeBron Cavs era is something that carries a close connection in my mind to the early years of my relationship with Cara.

The Cavs lost that series to Boston in six games, with LeBron infamously removing his Cleveland jersey as he left the court after the closeout game.

Then, of course, came The Decision.

I remember well all the speculation and rumors about LeBron's free agency. Of course, I was worried that he might leave. But when it was announced that he would make his decision known in a live TV special, I started to feel fairly confident. Surely, I thought, he wouldn't hold a live TV special just to crush the hopes of his hometown team's fans!

I remember sitting there in the small living room of our Little Italy apartment, watching the TV with Cara, full of nervousness but cautious optimism.

When LeBron said that he was taking his talents to South Beach, I was stunned. And then deeply saddened. Somehow I had built an emotional connection to LeBron and the Cavs unlike any I'd had with any other sports team. In a way, I suppose, the seeds of that connection were sown when Cara and I stood together in a huge crowd of people, watching the Cavs win the 2007 ECF. And for LeBron to leave, at the time, was devastating.

The following year brought LeBron's first Finals trip with his new team, and it also brought my and Cara's wedding. As the series between Miami and Dallas progressed, I noticed that game 6 was scheduled to be held on June 12, the same day as our wedding. And I began to worry that our wedding day might be marred by it also being the same day that LeBron won his first title, but not for Cleveland. I'm not joking when I say that. It was something that I felt genuine concern over. I was very relieved when the Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead, ensuring that my worst fears would not come true.

On our wedding night, I did not try to convince Cara to let me watch the entire game (I wouldn't have wanted to, really), but I did want to see the end of the game, and I talked her into having the TV in our hotel room on for the fourth quarter. As this was going on, we sat side by side in bed, each on our laptops, simultaneously updating our relationship statuses on Facebook to Married. I was overjoyed when the Mavericks finished off LeBron's Heat to take the championship. It was a perfect cherry on the top to the day that I still consider the best of my entire life.

The next three years saw three more Finals appearances for the Heat. Each time, I reflexively rooted against them, but I found that my feelings toward LeBron were gradually changing. By 2013 I don't think I even disliked him anymore. I couldn't help but admire and be awed by his tremendous basketball skills, and I also admired the fact that he continued to make great philanthropic efforts in his hometown of Akron. Although I cheered for the Heat's opponents in each of their four consecutive Finals appearances, looking back, I feel that things actually went perfectly with the Heat losing the first, then winning two, then losing again. If the Heat had won the title in LeBron's very first season after leaving the Cavs, it would have been simply too painful to watch. But LeBron needed to win titles in Miami, so that he could learn how to lead a team to greatness, and so that he could gain a reputation as a winner that would make talented players want to join his teams in a way that was not the case during his first go around in Cleveland. So it turned out to be a great thing for Cleveland that LeBron won those two titles in Miami. And yet it was also great that the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the Heat in 2014, because I very much doubt LeBron would have left Miami coming off of a threepeat with a chance to make it four in a row.

It's funny how now when I watch old highlights of amazing plays LeBron made wearing a Heat jersey, I find myself cheering him on, when I certainly would not have done so when those plays originally happened.

The summer of 2014 brought another much hyped LeBron free agency. Again there were rumors, this time that he would return to Cleveland, but I couldn't bring myself to believe them. I guess my years as a Cleveland sports fan had gotten to me, and I just never expected anything good would happen.

In 2014 Cara, of course, was going through various different treatments for her cancer. It was a difficult time, although one that we made the most of, enjoying many great experiences together.

Still, it was rare for me to experience moments of pure, unadulterated joy.

One such moment came on July 11 (it's easy for me to remember the date because it's my sister's birthday). I was at work, on my computer, when I saw the announcement. Could this really be true? I wondered. I clicked on the link. And saw... this was really Sports Illustrated's official website that I was on... and that was really a picture of LeBron James and the headline "I'm Coming Home." My jaw dropped. A Cleveland sports story with a shocking twist in a good way? Even seeing it, it was hard to believe at first. But it was true. I quickly shared the article to Facebook, my only comment on the post being "omg." Shortly after, I made another post:
By the way, anyone who is still upset at LeBron over The Decision really needs to get over it. Yes, the way it went down was handled poorly, but he did have every right to leave, and seriously, that was four years ago. If anything, the fact that LeBron was able to forgive that idiot Dan Gilbert is pretty commendable, and shows a lot more maturity than anyone still holding a grudge against LeBron!
I eagerly anticipated the beginning of the new NBA season. When LeBron's first game back with the Cavs finally rolled around, I decided I wanted to watch it with a crowd, so Cara and I headed out to a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings. The place was absolutely packed, and we returned home before ending up at the New Heights Grill, a local establishment just around the corner from the house we had moved into the second floor of a few months prior. It was my first visit to the New Heights Grill; little did I know how much time I, but not Cara, would spend there in the future.

We were able to secure a table, and we sat to watch the game along with all the other eager patrons. Cheers rang out as LeBron got an and-one on an early fast break. But after that, the Cavs just didn't look very good. It was surreal to watch. They ended up losing to a New York Knicks team that would go 17-65 on the year.

The Cavs, as it turned out, wouldn't look very good for the entire first half of the season, but in the second half, they really turned things around. I remember thinking that it would be really nice if the Cavs could win the title that year, so that Cara would get to see it, because I wasn't sure she'd still be around a year later. That doesn't mean I expected her to die within a year, but I was distinctly aware of the possibility. What I didn't expect at all, though, not until the very last week of her life, was that Cara wouldn't even be around to see that year's NBA Finals.

One of the very last things I did with her was watch game three of the Cavs' first round playoff series against the Boston Celtics. Well, watch the second half of the game, that is; during the first half her mother and I were picking up Papa John's pizza, which was what Cara wanted for dinner. I sat in a chair next to her hospital bed as we ate. At that point I was sadly aware that she didn't have much time left, but it was still something I was thinking about in terms of days or weeks. Not hours. Cara wasn't really paying a lot of attention to the game, to be honest, but at that point she was still herself. Still lucid. Still the same wonderful Cara I had spent all those years with, only now having to come to grips with her pending mortality.

The Cavs won the game to take a 3-0 lead in the series. It was not too long after the game ended that Cara's condition began to stunningly and rapidly deteriorate. There was a second NBA playoffs game on TV that night, the Golden State Warriors against the New Orleans Pelicans. As Cara worsened, more and more of my attention was on her. I would still occasionally glance up at the TV from her bedside, and I remember looking up to see Steph Curry nail a dramatic three pointer to cap a remarkable comeback for Golden State from a 20 point deficit and send the game into overtime, where the Warriors were victorious. That happened around midnight. At 4:15, Cara was gone.

And so I've realized that I will always carry a mental association between the NBA playoffs and Cara's death. It's really not a bad thing, though. Watching the playoffs, often with friends, provided a fun distraction from the deep sorrow I was feeling in those early weeks after her death. I even got to go, with my brother, to see in person the Cavs winning the Eastern Conference championship. As they were awarded the trophy to thunderous applause, I felt very excited, but also very sad that Cara wasn't there to see it. She wasn't really much of a sports fan, but she loved Cleveland and was always happy to see our teams do well. In the fall of 2014 she even became legitimately enthusiastic about the Browns for once, as they got off to a 6-3 start and briefly held first place in their division. We all know how that turned out.

In the very next game after Cara's passing, the Cavs finished off the Celtics but lost Kevin Love to a season-ending injury. In the first game of the Finals against Golden State, the Cavs lost the game and lost Kyrie Irving to a season-ending injury in overtime after barely missing a shot that would have won the game in regulation. That was Cleveland sports for you! Heroic efforts by LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova helped the Cavs win the next two games. What a great story it would be, I thought, if LeBron could carry his team to the long hoped for title after losing the next two best players on his team to injury. Alas, the Cavs and their depleted roster became too worn down and the Warriors took the series in six games, adding another entry to the long catalog of heartbreak for Cleveland sports fans.

The next season brought fresh hope. But as the season progressed, and the Warriors went on an ultimately successful quest for the greatest regular season record in NBA history while the Cavs looked underwhelming in comparison, I began to wonder whether LeBron could succeed in bringing a title to Northeast Ohio - now, or ever. As the playoffs started, though, the Cavs took their play to a whole new level. Cautious optimism emerged. The Finals rematch between the Cavs and Warriors was one of the most hyped ever - the 73-9 Warriors led by the league's first ever unanimous MVP in Steph Curry trying to finish off the greatest season in league history against one of the greatest players ever trying to end Cleveland's decades long title drought.

The Warriors took game one. Then, in game two, the Warriors not only won, but they utterly dominated the Cavs 110-77, and at that point I had honestly pretty much given up on the Cavs winning the series. I just hoped they wouldn't be swept. But in game three, the first home game, the Cavs won in just as dominating a fashion as they had lost the previous game. Perhaps there was still reason to hope.

In game four, the Cavs led at halftime but then sputtered out in the second half and fell into a 3-1 hole in the series. Now they would have to do what seemed like the impossible - winning three games in a row, with two of the games in one of the toughest road environments out there. Sigh, Cleveland sports... I and many other people undoubtedly thought.

A faint glimmer of hope appeared when it was announced that Golden State's star forward Draymond Green would be suspended for game five. Some Warriors fans will no doubt go to their graves contending this was evidence that the series was rigged, but Green's repeated shots to other players' groins over the course of the playoffs easily justified the suspension. The only curious part was that he hadn't been suspended during the Warriors' previous series. The Cavs responded, with both Kyrie and LeBron putting up masterful 41 point efforts in a Cleveland win. And now my cautious optimism returned. Game six was a home game, where the Cavs had been outstanding all playoffs besides the second half of game four, and if the Cavs won game six? Who would bet against LeBron James in a game seven?

The New Heights Grill that I mentioned earlier had become my go-to spot for watching Cavs games that season, especially in the playoffs, sometimes alone but usually with a friend or two. For game six, the New Heights Grill was the most crowded I'd ever seen it. And the crowd was jubilant throughout as the Cavs delivered play after highlight reel quality play and knotted up the series to force a single, winner-take-all final game.

I quickly realized that this was a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that I had to be in downtown Cleveland to watch game seven. Official watch parties, both inside and outside Quicken Loans Arena, sold out almost instantaneously, frustrating me and countless other fans. The next best option was to simply go downtown and find a restaurant or bar in which I could watch.

And so my friend Fiona and I took a bus downtown that Sunday afternoon, arriving several hours before game time, and already downtown was like I'd never seen it before. Throngs of people decked out in Cavs gear roamed the sidewalks wherever I looked. Popular establishments for watching sports were already packed, some with long lines stretching out the doors. We decided to inquire about the wait at Barrio, a popular taco joint not far from the arena. At 5:25 we were told there was a three hour wait, which would result in us being seated after the game had already started. We weren't even optimistic at that, figuring most people, once they had tables, would simply stay there. Still, we put in a name just in case, and then wandered around the downtown area for a while, scoping out other possibilities, and marveling at the crowds. One thing we both realized was that we had to get some food into ourselves at some point, so after a while we headed east on Euclid Avenue, away from the crowds, and eventually grabbed a bite at a Jimmy John's on Cleveland State's campus. Then we headed back into the heart of downtown to look for a bar where we could stand.

At 6:50, as we were walking through Playhouse Square, Fiona's phone rang. "We'll be there really, really soon," I heard her say. We had a table at Barrio! We walked as quickly as we could (for Fiona, with much shorter legs, it was more of an alternating walk and jog) and navigated our way through swarms of other Cavs fans to make it to Barrio in a little over five minutes. And there we were taken to our table. It was on the far side of the room from the projector screens that would be showing the game, but we had an unobstructed view, we were in a place packed full of other excited fans, and the location downtown was right near the center of where all the celebration would be going down if our desired outcome came to be.

I instantly regretted having eaten at Jimmy John's, because Barrio has much better food, but that was okay. I did eventually order one taco to enjoy along with a couple of margaritas. And then we settled in to watch one of the biggest games in NBA history.

I've never been so tense watching a sporting event. At times I was shaking with excitement. The game was a thriller from the start, with numerous lead changes, neither team ever taking a double digit lead. The enthusiasm of the restaurant patrons was incredible. Chants of "Let's go Cavs!" and "Defense! Defense!" repeatedly filled the establishment. I'm pretty sure it was a more into it crowd than any I've seen at games I attended in person! Cheers and applause filled the room with each made field goal by the Cavs.

None, of course, more so than Kyrie's clutch triple with less than a minute left that broke a long scoring drought by both teams and gave the Cavs a three point lead. At that point it was pandemonium. Could this really be happening? I'm sure we were all thinking. We were so close now to that long awaited title, but this was Cleveland, there was still plenty of time for something to go wrong. With ten seconds left, LeBron rose up for a thunderous, game-clinching dunk - was fouled hard and barely missed his shot - and fell to the ground writhing in pain, clutching the wrist on his shooting hand.

The inside of Barrio became quieter than it had been in a long time.

Nightmare scenarios spun through my mind. The injured LeBron would miss both free throws - or even worse, be unable to finish the game and the substitute free throw shooter would miss both. The Warriors would hit a three to force overtime. The Warriors would win in overtime. It would be a classic Cleveland sports ending.

LeBron shook off his injury and stepped to the line. His first free throw was up - and no good. Tension mounted. LeBron sent up his second attempt - it hit the rim - and it rattled home!

Jubilant cheers once more filled Barrio, only to increase many fold in intensity soon after as time ran out on the Warriors. Strangers exchanged high fives and hugs. It was like being in a dream. It was hard to believe it was real. Gradually, it began to sink in. The fifty-two year drought was really over. And what a way for it to end! The Cavs going up against the team with the best regular season record in history. Falling into a 3-1 hole from which no previous team had ever come back in the Finals. And led by LeBron James, the "kid from Akron" returning to Northeast Ohio with a promise to bring his hometown fans the title they'd craved for so long. Going up against the player in Steph Curry who was causing many people to question, for the first time in years, LeBron's status as the game's top player. LeBron clearly took this personally and it was amazing to watch him crush Curry's spirit by repeatedly swatting the smaller player's layup attempts over the course of the series. It's only fitting that the championship that finally came to Cleveland came in such a dramatic fashion. It's truly one of the great stories in all of sports history.

Shortly after time expired, we headed out into the streets, and instantly my decision to watch the game downtown was validated. A growing crowd of people joined together in raucous celebration the likes of which the city had never before seen. There was no wanton destruction of property (none that I witnessed, and very little overall). No setting things on fire. Just a whole bunch of people overjoyed at finally getting to experience something they'd long wondered if they'd ever get to experience, and sharing that joy with each other. We stayed there for a while, taking it all in, basking in the moment. People yelled, chanted, high fived, embraced, laughed in disbelief. It occurred to me that what we were experiencing - a city winning a major sports championship after having endured that long of a drought - was something that no one else had ever experienced. And what an experience it was!

Eventually we decided to make our way from Prospect back over to Euclid Avenue via East 4th Street. This was clearly not the fastest way to go, but speed wasn't our goal. Revelers were packed into East 4th like sardines. Progress was very, very slow. At times it was like navigating an obstacle course as we climbed over railings of restaurant patios and once even over stacks of chairs. Numerous high fives were exchanged. I've never before seen such a dense concentration of unmitigated human joy. Finally we made it out to the other end of the block. "That was an adventure," I remarked. We quickly reached the bus stop at which we'd disembarked hours earlier, but it was immediately apparent that the crowds of people in the streets were preventing buses from running downtown. So once more we began to walk east on Euclid.

We passed more and more excited Clevelanders in the streets and sidewalks. And soon a curious sight became apparent - a line of traffic backed up with cars driving into downtown. Apparently when the game ended numerous people decided they wanted to be where the most excitement was, and some just hopped into their cars and started driving. Celebratory honks from car horns frequently sounded, with passersby on foot whooping in response. Some passengers in cars held their hands out the windows, and we ran over to give more high fives. As we walked, I pulled out my phone to check the time. At the appropriate minute, I commented, "It's midnight, so it's my birthday now." Best birthday ever? Yeah, I'd say so.

Around Cleveland State's campus we reached a spot where we were able to catch an eastbound bus, which we rode to where Fiona had parked her car that afternoon. I do wonder just how long it ended up taking for people who parked in garages in the heart of downtown to get out of there. Most of them probably didn't mind.

Once we returned to our neighborhood, I decided it would be fitting for me to go over to the New Heights Grill and have a celebratory drink. When I went up to the bar, one of the employees, recognizing me because I'd watched all but one of the previous games in the series there, greeted me with a high five and then asked where I'd been. "I was downtown," I replied. "It was amazing."

Wednesday brought the parade that Clevelanders had been dreaming of for years. It was the biggest party the city has ever seen and it was a wonderful experience, but to me, being downtown in the epicenter of all the excitement during the immediate aftermath of the victory was even better. The fact that I was able to live that moment is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. One thing I will say about the parade and subsequent rally - LeBron's speech was truly great. He credited all his teammates and said very real and meaningful things about each and every one of them. LeBron is not only an amazing basketball player, but also a great leader and a great public speaker. The man could probably be president one day if he wanted to (I doubt he does). Additionally, as LeBron is just one and a half years my junior, I've very much enjoyed watching him grow and mature into the man he is today at the same time as I myself have gone through a great deal of growth and maturation over those years.

For the last week the whole city has had a different vibe to it. It's a really cool thing, something that is probably hard to understand if you haven't experienced it yourself. And most people will never experience something like this. There's something I realized. I'm a Cleveland sports fan because I love sports and I love the city that I've called home for almost fifteen years now. But also, being a Cleveland sports fan has fit really well with my identity as a person. Because in Cleveland sports, we've always expected bad things to happen. And in my own life, I've also come to expect bad things to happen. If you know me and especially if you've read my blog over the past half year, you can understand why I'd say that. It's an interesting coincidence that the first week of this past NBA season was the same week when I spiraled into a state of depression triggered by an awful recurrence of an old chronic pain issue. And the beginning of the playoffs coincided with me finally feeling like I was truly coming out of that depression, with the Cavs' run to the title coming alongside me feeling better and better. Throughout all that time, basketball, both watching and playing the sport, has been very important to me. And now that the Cavs have won that championship, and we finally have a Cleveland sports story with a happy ending, I'm thinking - maybe I don't have to expect bad things to happen? Or maybe that would be naive. I don't know. But it's a nice thought to have, and one I intend to keep with me for now.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Death Cab For Cutie at Nautica

After having listened to indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie for eleven years, I finally saw them live for the first time on Tuesday night at Nautica, the riverfront music venue in the Flats.

Although I never considered them one of my most favorite bands, I listened to a whole lot of Death Cab from 2005-2008, most especially in 2005 and 2006. In subsequent years, I've listened to them much less. I didn't stop liking them, but my interest waned. (In fact, from when I started using the website to track my music listening in August 2005 through the end of 2006, the only bands I listened to more than Death Cab were Ozma, the Decemberists, and Nada Surf. From 2007 to the present, in contrast, Death Cab are in 44th place.) And so there were a couple of times when Death Cab came to Cleveland and I didn't go because I felt like I wasn't into them quite enough to justify the cost of the show. Now that I'm no longer a poor graduate student, I decided I might as well go. (There was actually one time in the summer of 2006 when I was planning to see Death Cab and had purchased a ticket, but ended up not going because I broke my arm the day before the show. That was, of course, the same injury that occurred just days before the first trip I took with Cara.)

In 2015, after I hadn't given a whole lot of consideration to the band in a while, two things happened that closely tied their music to Cara and to her death. The first was that Death Cab released a new album, Kintsugi, and after the album was released, Cara asked me if I'd listened to it. She said that she had and it sounded good. The album was released on March 31, so this was very near the end of Cara's life. As it turned out, sadly, I did not get around to listening to the album myself until after Cara died. And I do like it a lot. Although I wouldn't put it up with my favorite Death Cab albums, I thought it was a significant step up from the album that came before it.

By the way, kintsugi is a Japanese term meaning "to repair with gold," referring to the art of repairing broken pottery with golden lacquer. According to Wikipedia, "As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise." Fitting, no? In an odd coincidence, three different bands I like, Death Cab, the Rural Alberta Advantage, and Hey Rosetta! released albums with artwork and/or titles related to this golden repair between September 2014 and March 2015. I in fact attended a Hey Rosetta! show less than two weeks before Cara's death.

The other event was that, as I was picking out music to play at the funeral home by looking through Cara's Spotify playlists, I came across a song she liked that I felt was a great encapsulation of her spirit: "Stay Young, Go Dancing." And so I chose this song to be played at the conclusion of the funeral ceremony.

Moving forward in time, now, to this past Tuesday. Going to a place, for the first time since Cara's death, that I had previously gone to with her always evokes feelings in me. This happened at both Nano Brew, the bicycling themed Ohio City bar where I had dinner (they have fantastic burgers), and at the music venue itself. Cara and I only went to one show together at Nautica, a very memorable Decemberists show the month after we got married, so I definitely thought of that show.

Unfortunately, my relative lack of experience with Nautica led me to make a very poor decision in purchasing tickets. Although the show was not sold out, when I went to purchase my ticket on the day of the show, I decided to also check StubHub, and I found some tickets that appeared to be better than any available from the venue and with no markup from face value: in the first row of seats. First row is good, right? (I did know that first row did not mean right by the stage, but rather the first row of seats after a standing pit.)

What I failed to consider was the layout of the venue. There is the stage, then the pit for standing room general admission, then a wide walkway, then a grandstand. The first row of seats in the grandstand is at ground level, at the same level as the standing pit, and directly behind the walkway through which people are frequently walking during shows. Therefore, the first row of seats is actually the very worst place to sit in the entire venue, because the view of the stage is partially obstructed by people standing, and people walking in front of you provide further annoyance.

The first band to perform was Pure Bathing Culture, who played a short but enjoyable set. This was actually the fourth time I'd seen the band in just nine months, which I'm pretty sure is the first time that's ever happened for me with a non-local band. I find this funny as, although I like the band, they are nowhere near being one of my favorites, so it's worth explaining how this happened. The first time I saw Pure Bathing Culture, they were on tour with another Portland, Oregon-based band I like, Wild Ones, and played a show at the Beachland Tavern last September that some of my friends also attended. The following week, I was in Washington, DC for a conference and as it happened I had a free night on which the same bands were playing a club in DC. I thought it would be fun and funny to go see them again, so I did. That show was especially notable because of the conversation I had with Wild Ones' lead singer Danielle at the merch table. I fondly remember the look of dawning recognition and excitement on her face after I said hi and she realized I was one of the people who had talked to her in Cleveland. The first time I saw Wild Ones, in March 2014, they were opening for one of my very favorite bands, Typhoon (also from Portland), and I had a very nice conversation with Danielle about Typhoon, Cara, and what Typhoon's music means to me. I was pleased to hear her say that she thinks Typhoon's lead singer Kyle Morton is one of the very best people she knows.

So anyway, to finish explaining how I ended up seeing Pure Bathing Culture four times. After the first two last fall, they then happened to be opening at two different shows I've seen this year: Lucius (an absolutely amazing show) and now Death Cab.

The second act Tuesday night was CHVRCHES (pronounced "churches"). I have their first album and I like it, and I was looking forward to seeing them, but unfortunately I found much of their live set to be bordering on obnoxiously loud (perhaps the thumping bass brought up unpleasant associations with noise problems I've had with my upstairs neighbor), and my annoyance with the seating situation was increasing. I could have stood up to get a better view, but no one around me was standing, and I didn't want to bother the people behind me. I did vow to myself that I would stand for Death Cab no matter what. But toward the end of CHVRCHES' set, I was wondering whether I'd made a mistake in going to the show. The fact that it came on the heels of the transcendent Florence + the Machine show I attended days earlier, I suppose, was also not in this show's favor.

Something great happened in the break between the second and third bands. I was walking back from a concession stand when I heard someone call my name. I turned to see one of my old college cross country teammates, Irene. We talked for a while, sharing memories of running and various concerts, including a Decemberists show in 2006 that we had both attended without being aware of each other's attendance. That show, at the Agora, was on November 9, just five days after Cara and I started dating. I called Cara during that show so she could hear the song "Red Right Ankle."

After I explained my unfortunate seating situation, Irene told me that she and her friend had seats much higher up in the grandstand and there was an empty seat next to them that I could use. So I joined them, and my new seat, in row S, was vastly preferable to my original seat in row A. Who would have guessed?

Death Cab quickly put to rest any doubts I still had about whether it had been a good idea to attend the show. As they played the opening chords of the song "Crooked Teeth" from their 2005 album Plans, I instantly remembered how much I had loved that song ten years ago. And it turns out I still love it today. I was surprised by how powerful the feelings of nostalgia were that were evoked by the songs the band played from Plans and the album that preceded it, Transatlanticism. Feelings of nostalgia for that period of time in 2005 and 2006 when I started grad school, lived by myself for the first time, got into indie music and going to concerts, and met and became best friends with Cara. I think the fact that I hadn't listened to those albums that much in the years since made the nostalgic feelings even stronger, because that music is even more tied to that time in my life than music by bands such as Ozma and Okkervil River that I listened to a lot back then but then continued to listen to a lot. I was very glad that Death Cab played several songs from each of those two albums, including closing their encore with a sprawling and intense rendition of the title track from Transatlanticism.

Before the concert, I thought about how I might react if Death Cab played "Stay Young, Go Dancing," the song from Cara's funeral. I guessed they probably wouldn't play it, though, and I was right, they didn't. What I didn't think about (because I hadn't listened to the song in years) was how I would react if they played "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," (like "Crooked Teeth," a track from Plans). It's a beautiful acoustic number. Opening lines: "Love of mine, someday you will die, but I'll be close behind, I'll follow you into the dark."

Yeah, I was in tears throughout the song, and also kind of just sitting there dazed. But as I've written before, I think it's healthy to experience those feelings, and music often helps me do that.

Cara and I talked about music a lot in our online chats as we were getting to know each other, and Death Cab For Cutie were one of the bands we talked about. So it shouldn't have been surprising that finally seeing them live would bring about a lot of feelings in me. I'm very glad I went.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

My favorite place and the two loves of my life

I've written before about my love for Roxboro Ravine, the section of Doan Brook in Shaker Heights in between North Park Boulevard and Fairhill Road. It's a really wonderful place, and a sort of hidden gem that doesn't attract nearly as much traffic as most parks in the area, which I think is due in large part to the fact that most people don't know about it. Cara once told me, while we were on a walk there, that it was a "special" place. Later on that same walk, I asked her to marry me, so I obviously agree with that assessment. About a year ago, after visiting the ravine for the first time after her death, I mentioned on Facebook that I had realized it was my favorite place in the world. I still feel that way.

I've been going to the ravine a lot recently. I think visiting there has become a sort of spiritual thing to me. For one thing, I love nature, and being able to enjoy the seclusion and all the beautiful trees and rocks and rushing water in a spot that is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood near where I live and where I work (I've recently taken to stopping there on my drive home from work) is wonderful. But beyond that, Roxboro Ravine is so tied to some of the most important experiences of my life.

I suppose that started in the summer of 2006. It was in the ravine that I broke my arm, just days before Cara and I (still "just friends" at the time) took our first trip together, to Washington, D.C. to see the band Ozma perform. As a result of my injury, Cara had to do all the driving and she also helped me with simple tasks such as opening a bottle of water. As the celebrant at her funeral so eloquently put it, "Their first meaningful time together was Cara as caregiver; Jeff as the patient."

Walking the trails of the ravine now brings about many emotions in me. Certainly feelings of happiness, peace, and contentment, but also feelings of loss. I'm reminded of how much I miss both of the two major loves of my life. You see, although Cara is the only person I've ever been in a relationship with, she was not the first love of my life. The first love of my life was distance running. It was easily my greatest passion throughout both high school and college; I pursued achievements in cross country and track with much greater vigor than any of my academic pursuits. After my collegiate running career was over and I found myself doing almost all my running on my own, the ravine became my favorite place for a run. The combination of beautiful scenery and rugged, challenging trails is something I've rarely found elsewhere, and located within easy running distance of where I lived, it was perfect. Now, as I walk those same trails, as much as I enjoy the experience, I wish so much that I could once more feel the wind in my hair and see the foliage rushing by as I barrel down those trails at a fast running pace.

The last time I went running for real was last summer, almost a year ago. I had not run for several months because of an issue with my left hip. I decided to try going for a run in the ravine for old times' sake. I loved it, but my hip did start to hurt again afterwards. Despite this, I proceeded to run the 5k at Breathe Deep Cleveland, Cara's lung cancer charity event, later that week. In fitting tribute to her, I was the first finisher. Unfortunately, my hip started to hurt a lot more, and continued to bother me greatly for over two months. (Cara experienced a lot of pain in her left hip due to a bone metastasis, so perhaps this was also fitting?) Every time since that I even begin to try running for distance, I feel that same pain coming on, so I stop.

By the way, I sometimes see or hear people who can and do run talk about how they don't enjoy running. I have to say this tends to grate on me, because there's little I enjoy more than going for a really good run, but I'm unable to do that.

There are times when I feel like I miss running even more than I miss Cara. Not all or even most of the time, but there are times.

There are also times when I miss Cara more than I could possibly miss anything else.

Actually, recently I've been missing Cara more than I had in quite some time. I see this as a good thing. Why is that? The reason is that the chronic pain and depression that I was suffering from throughout the winter have significantly improved. This has had the effect of allowing me to feel all sorts of emotions, normal emotions, that were sometimes difficult for me to feel. Happiness, but also sorrow. But not the crushing despair that I felt at many points during those very difficult months.

Honestly, although Cara's death was a horrible thing, I really feel that for much of the first six months following her death, I felt more alive than I ever had before. I was instilled with a sense of urgency to take nothing for granted and live life to the fullest. I had many moments of deep sorrow, but I also had so many wonderful, life-affirming experiences, spending time with friends and family, as well as the fantastic trip I took to Colorado where I saw the band Belle and Sebastian perform at Red Rocks and also went on an amazing hike in the Rockies. Then, just after the half-year mark had passed, I was suddenly stricken with horrific, near-constant pain. And for most of the ensuing five months, not only did I no longer feel more alive than ever, I felt less alive than ever before. It was like I wasn't really living, only surviving. So now that there has been a real, tangible improvement in how I'm feeling, the contrast with how I was feeling a few months ago is amazing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely better. I'm still struggling with pain, but not nearly as bad as it was. At times I've momentarily gotten giddy just because I once again feel like a mostly normal person and can reliably enjoy the things I normally enjoy doing. I'm once more starting to feel a desire to (to quote a pair of socks that Cara sometimes wore to her treatments) "carpe the fuck out of this diem."

And perhaps that's part of the reason why I've been spending so much time out in nature, particularly at the ravine.

It was from 2007 to 2009 when the ravine really became a big part of my life. That was the first time that I was battling the pain issue I've been dealing with recently, as well as the depression that accompanied it in periods of time when the pain was particularly bad. Running those trails was my escape from it all. So I guess it makes a lot of sense that I'm drawn to the same place now.

Between the broken arm and the numerous walks we went on there, including the most important one that culminated in our engagement, the ravine was already tied to Cara for me in many ways. It was much more tied, though, to the first love of my life, running. Recently, however, I've (without really planning it) found a new way to connect the ravine much more deeply to my second and greatest love, Cara.

Since last fall, there were several times when I felt like I was getting better, only to go back to feeling worse again. The last time this happened was in early March. I was prescribed a low dose of the antidepressant Zoloft. The doctor told me it wasn't something that took effect immediately, but rather would take up to six weeks before I would really notice the benefits. So I wasn't expecting to feel better right away. But what actually happened, initially, was the opposite - the difficulty sleeping I had been having temporarily become much worse, and this resulted in my pain becoming much worse. I had a very bad two weeks.

The third week was when things started to turn around. During that week, I went to a Cavs game with one of my best friends and had a great time, I went to an amazing concert by Lucius at the Beachland Ballroom, and my parents visited me and enjoyed a dinner I prepared, one of my favorite meals that Cara used to make for me (sweet potato gnocchi from Ohio City Pasta with chicken and a cinnamon nutmeg cream sauce). So it was a good week, all in all, although I still had a long ways to go until I would be feeling nearly back to normal. I worried, as always, that the improvement would be temporary, but that time it turned out to be not another false start, but rather the beginning of a real trend.

Going back to that terrible two weeks now. On one weekend day during that time, a dreary, rainy day (matching my mood) I decided to just head out on a long walk. I thought it might make me feel better. And it probably was better than just staying in, but I was still feeling quite down the whole time. I walked from my house to the ravine. I headed down those familiar trails. And then I decided to explore a side trail that was not part of my regular running routes because it dead ends. This trail leads to the waterfall in the ravine. And there, on the north side of the brook, I discovered a neat little place - a ledge next to the waterfall that was covered by a rock overhang. I climbed up to the ledge (it almost seems like it was made for me, because I think a short person would have a much harder time climbing up there) and sat there for a while, staring out at the water that fell from the sky and the water that rushed over the falls. I was feeling very dejected. Wondering if my life would ever get better.

Some weeks later I returned to the same spot and marveled at how much better I was feeling compared to the last time I had been there. And then a thought occurred to me - it would be a nice place to sit and read a book.

During a phone conversation with Cara's mother some time around the anniversary of Cara's death, she brought up the tattoo Cara had on her back between the shoulders and asked me if I knew the significance of that tattoo. The tattoo, I told her, was a symbol from the Thomas Pynchon novel The Crying of Lot 49.

It was the first tattoo Cara had gotten. I remember her showing me her new tattoo during the summer of 2006 when we went to a movie together in Columbus. Cara was a big Thomas Pynchon fan, and obviously The Crying of Lot 49 was a book that had on impact on her. She gave me her copy of the book, oh those many years ago, and I also read and enjoyed it. During that conversation with her mother, I realized that I should read the book again.

I remembered my thought that the ledge by the waterfall would be a good place to sit and read, so one day I headed over there with The Crying of Lot 49 in one of Cara's messenger bags. I began reading the book, and memories rushed back from the first time I had read it. And I was right - that spot was a great place to read a book. It's sort of a hidden sanctuary. So then I decided I'd read the whole book there. It's not a long book (152 pages), so over the course of a few visits to the ravine I did just that.

There were several times as I read that I became very emotional, partly because of the content of the book but more because of the connection with Cara and the early days of our relationship.

There's one passage I particularly like, in which the main character remembers looking at a certain painting:
Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she'd wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry.
I certainly enjoyed the book the first time I read it, but I'm pretty sure I appreciated it a lot more this time, largely due to the life experience I have now and didn't have back then. And so I found myself wanting to talk about the book with Cara. We talked about it some back then, but in retrospect, I think it was at a fairly superficial level. There's so much more to discuss. But she's not here to have those discussions. And I want to ask her, what was it, exactly, that made you want to get that tattoo? (I may have asked her back then. I'm not sure.)

So that spot in the ravine became, in a way, not just my spot, but my and Cara's spot. (Thus joining the spot, near the other end of the ravine, where we got engaged.)

I had never read any other Thomas Pynchon, but I decided that I should. It's a way for me to deepen my connection with Cara in her absence. She also had in her collection the much longer novel Gravity's Rainbow, which I plan to tackle but have not yet begun, and the short story collection Slow Learner. Cara received Slow Learner from my sister for Christmas in 2008. (I had remembered that she had gotten it for Christmas, but not the year. I determined the year by searching my chat history for the book's title, which brought up a message from Cara on 12/29/08: "Mitters says Slow Learner is a good book." 2008, incidentally, was the one Christmas after Cara had moved to Cleveland but before we lived together. It's funny the way time goes by, because before doing that search I would have pegged the year Cara got that book as much more recent, perhaps 2012.)

And so I've been reading Slow Learner at the same spot in the ravine. It's a collection of Pynchon's very early work, and it certainly doesn't affect me the way Crying of Lot 49 does, but it's been an enjoyable experience. I've especially liked coming across things in the book that Cara underlined. She underlined the last sentence of the book's second story: "Whitecaps danced across her eyes; sea creatures, he knew, would be cruising about in the submarine green of her heart." I guess she  really liked that description. Again I wish I could ask her about it. In one of the other stories, she underlined a single word: "laudanum." Seeing this, I immediately tried to think of why she'd have underlined that one word. And then I thought, it sounds so familiar - like I've heard it in a song - a song by an artist Cara and I liked. But which artist, and which song? Andrew Bird, perhaps? After a little searching I was able to determine that it was actually a Decemberists song, "The Legionnaire's Lament." (In a nice bit of happenstance, I'm listening to that song right now - I intentionally listened to the Castaways and Cutouts album while writing this entry but the fact that I'm on that specific song at the same time I'm writing about it was unplanned.)

I have no doubt that Cara outlined the word "laudanum" because she recognized it from those Decemberists lyrics, but did she remember specifically where she had heard it? Or did she underline the word because she wasn't sure where she'd heard it and wanted to figure it out? And if the latter, did she ever figure it out? I'll never know.

Cara was a really amazing person. I knew her better than I've ever known anyone else, but as time goes by I realize there are many things about her that even I didn't know, and I wish I could have more time to talk to her about life, the universe, and everything, but I can't. And so there's a lot of sadness. But there's also a lot of joy that she brought and continues to bring into my life. Cara Sadness, and Cara Joy.

My life really has been a lot better recently than it had been in a long time. Last weekend I went to Columbus for the first time since Christmas. I was trying to remember when was the last time I went five whole months without going on any out-of-town overnight trips, and I couldn't think of anything. The fact that I went that long without taking any trips was definitely the result of the pain and depression I was experiencing. I had a really good time in Columbus. I spent some quality time with my family and also had fun hanging out with a couple of good friends from high school, and even had a chance encounter with a classmate I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen since high school ended, with whom I shared a very nice albeit brief conversation. I also went to another place where I used to love running, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, and enjoyed a long walk. I ran there many times at high school cross country practice, and also over the summer while I was in college. It's a great place. There are some very large hills, of which I have both fond and painful memories of running. I hadn't been there in many years, but all the trails were as familiar as if I'd traversed them just weeks ago. And again, I found myself wishing I could run those trails.

I remember that I once told Cara, some time in the year 2013 but before we knew she had cancer, that I didn't think I could ever be truly satisfied with my life if I wasn't able to run, because running was my greatest passion. The last few years have given me some new perspective on life, for sure. I no longer feel that way. I miss running a lot, and still hope I'll be able to take it up again some day, although I'm quite confident I'll never be able to do nearly the volume of running that I once did. I miss Cara a lot too, and I know that she's never coming back, but I also know that her spirit will always be with me.

Yet now I know something that I didn't know a few years ago. Even having lost both of the two greatest loves of my life, I can continue to have a very fulfilling life, because the world is full of amazing things to do, places to go, and people to meet.

I wrote most of this post Friday night and yesterday afternoon. As it turned out, yesterday was an amazing day, so I think an addition is in order! I went to see Florence + the Machine at the Blossom Music Center. Blossom is in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so I decided it would be a good opportunity for another hike in the afternoon before I headed over to the venue. I enjoyed a great hike on the Lake and Salt Run trails beginning from Kendall Hills, another place with strong ties for me to both running and Cara. In April 2009, I ran a 25k trail race there. It was the first and only trail race I've run, and it was a great experience, with fantastic scenery as well as much more challenging terrain and elevation changes than any other race I've run. During the race, Cara told me that she got into a conversation with another woman who was also there to spectate. That woman was there to watch her son, and she told Cara about how her son was quite good at running. And he did do pretty well, finishing second place - about nine minutes behind me.

I guess one of the reasons I miss running so much is knowing how good I was at it, and also knowing that I never came close to unlocking my full potential.

Kendall Hills is also a place that Cara and I enjoyed visiting in the winter to go sledding. We had so much fun there. I walked by the spot where this picture of her was taken and couldn't help but think of it:

I also remembered the last time that Cara and I visited Kendall Hills, in July 2013. We went there to go on a little hike in preparation for our upcoming annual trip to the Adirondacks. I remember how much Cara was struggling on the uphills. Walking very slowly because she would become very short of breath if she went much faster. It seemed so wrong, because the whole time I had known her, she had gradually but steadily improved her physical fitness. Now she was having a hard time doing something that would have been easier a year before. She attributed the difficulty to the "asthma" she had been diagnosed with two months prior. It was very frustrating for her. It really seems, looking back, like we should have realized something more serious was going on. But who would ever suspect a 34-year-old never-smoker would have lung cancer?

All those memories were with me as I walked the trails, and I certainly felt sad at moments, but I very much enjoyed the walk. It's a great thing to have a national park so close to home. A notable aspect of this particular hike was the presence of a multitude of cicadas, having recently emerged after 17 years. The sound that filled the forest was incredible!

Next up was the concert. Florence + the Machine are one of my favorite musical acts, and I had never before seen them live (a few years ago I balked at the price of going to a show, and later came to regret not going). Despite this, I had been uncertain until quite recently about whether I was going to go. Why? Because I knew going to the show would be a significant commitment of both money and time (in particular, leaving the venue is a nightmare - once I got back to my car it took nearly an hour until I exited the parking lot). And I was afraid that I might be in a lot of pain and not have a very good time. It was only in the last few weeks that I became confident this wouldn't happen.

So I decided to splurge and get a GA pit ticket. It was the most expensive concert ticket I've ever purchased with my own money (only surpassed by the Springsteen show earlier this year that my dad paid for), but I figured why not? You only live once. I can only imagine how Cara would have reacted to seeing the price of that ticket. But it was worth every penny. I was perhaps ten feet away from the stage, and it was an utterly magical experience. Florence Welch brings so much energy and sheer joy to her performance, and that voice! Wow! Listening to her albums (over and over) did not prepare me for experiencing the same music in a live setting.

Before playing the title track "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" from her latest album, Florence asked the audience for one song to put away all of our phones. She said recently as she had been traveling to all sorts of interesting places, she realized she was spending too much time looking down at the phone in her hands. She also said that she had written the song while falling in love, and then when she started to look up and around her, she started to fall in love with everyone, and with all the beauty that exists in the world. You know what? At that moment I could really relate to what she was saying.

I could also relate to these lyrics in that song: "Maybe I'll see you in another life, if this one wasn't enough."

There was, near me in the audience, an annoying guy who kept yelling "No Light" over and over between songs. Because you know, if yelling it twenty times isn't enough, surely the twenty-first time will be the one that will convince Florence and her band to change their (already predetermined) setlist. At one point he even yelled "No Light" during a song - a quiet moment in an absolutely stunning rendition of "Cosmic Love," my favorite song from Florence's first album. At this, I turned toward him (I don't think I even made a conscious decision to do this, it just kind of happened) and exasperatedly told him to shut the fuck up. I can also only imagine how Cara would have reacted. She told me several times that it would really weird her out to hear me swear because she never had. Inwardly, I laughed, thinking about this.

It was such a great concert. I had so much fun. This is something that has happened a few times at concerts recently - Magic Man and Tokyo Police Club being the other notable examples - me just really having fun in a way I hadn't been able to do since last fall. The show last night was the best of all. I guess after Cara and running, I do have a third major love of my life, and it's music. And that one hasn't been taken from me.

As I drove home (finally having made my escape from the parking lot), it really hit me: I have my life back.

I'm always afraid that something bad will happen. I'll have another bad pain flareup. Or something else totally unanticipated. I can't help but be this way, considering everything I've been through. But for now, things are good.

Let me close this by saying that if you are depressed, for whatever reason, do not be afraid to seek out help. Of course, the sad truth is that depression itself can make it much harder to try to find the help you need. But it's worth the effort. Between physical therapy, medication, counseling, increased exercise, and several other factors, I do not know the size of the contribution of each to why I'm now in less pain and no longer feel depressed, but I do know it's a wonderful thing. And I hope that anyone else going through a similar experience can also get that assistance to find their way out.