Friday, February 21, 2014

Uncle Mickey

As you know, my grandfather has been in the hospital for a little while now. So when my mother told me on the phone that she was going to visit me to deliver something that I didn't absolutely need, the thought crossed my mind that she was coming to tell me in person that something had happened to her father while in the hospital.

What she and my father came to tell me turned out to be, from my perspective, much worse. Firstly I should clarify that I love my grandfather and I will be terribly upset when his time comes, but I've already started to come to terms with the fact that his time is running out, and he hasn't had nearly as huge of an impact on my life as my uncle did.

Just like that, past tense.

My parents came to tell me that my uncle, Michael "Mickey" Matejka, died suddenly and seemingly peacefully in his home on Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Uncle Mickey was an amazing guy. He never asked for anything and yet he deserved so much. He was so giving that he wouldn't let us pay for his birthday dinner when we would go out to celebrate every year, he instead insisted that he pay for everyone's dinner for his own birthday.

I have nothing but fond memories of Uncle Mickey. From kindergarten through 8th grade he would pick my brother and I up from school on Thursdays. Even through high school he would take us out for ice cream, and in the summer he would still find time to see us every week to take us out to a movie and ice cream or lunch.

He always asked the waitresses/waiter if they were in school. He always tipped better if they were.

One of my fondest memories of him is when, on June 26th 2003, he took me to Summerfest. I'd been to Summerfest just about every year as far back as I can remember, but this was the first and only time that it was just the two of us. We arrived early, and spent the day walking around listening to new bands, Peter Gabriel, and then "Weird Al" Yankovic. At the Peter Gabriel concert we shared a pack of above-average-tasting raw hot dogs that he'd been carrying around all day because he'd forgotten to give them to my father (his brother) earlier that day, and we were two of the few (if any) people who got upgraded from the free grass seating to the low-cost chair seats "because we look like father and son," according to my uncle. It was an amazing day.

On that very day, as luck would have it, in that age before cell phones had cameras, we got our picture taken by a booth promoter with an instant camera.

As you can probably tell by the photo, he was an upbeat guy. Uncle Mickey loved to laugh. His laugh was distinct; loud and rough, and you couldn't go very long talking to him without hearing it. With Uncle Mickey, everything was funny. He even found reason to laugh at his own misfortunes, which is something I took as a lesson for myself.

And boy did he have misfortunes. Either Uncle Mickey was an incredibly unlucky guy, or he just wasn't too shy to talk about his bad luck. From being born on a date that would later be known for hijacked planes and tragedy, to an ex-girlfriend who drove him on the wrong side of the freeway, to being accused of carrying a bomb and getting surrounded by police and the bomb squad when he was a mailman, Uncle Mickey had no shortage of stories to look back on and laugh about.

Another quirky trait of his that has become an inside joke to my brother and I was his distinct ability to misremember the names of the restaurants we frequently ate at. No matter how many times we corrected him, "The Charcoal Grill" became "The Charcoal Broil" and "Culver's" became "Carvell's" or "Carvers". It didn't matter to him what they were called, as long as we wanted to join him there.

Overall my uncle Mickey was a fantastic guy. He was a huge part of my childhood and continues to be a huge influence in my life. I feel obligated to say that this just isn't fair and that he needed more years, but the truth is that fairness has nothing to do with it and he lived a full life - it is I who wants more years and more memories with him. He always said that when his time came he preferred it happened in his sleep, and while I don't know the details of his final moments at the time of writing this, from what little I know it sounds like it was peaceful, and he deserved at least that much.

I love him very much, and I will miss him terribly.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Update on my Grandfather, Snow, and Sickness

My grandfather returned to the hospital. Apparently his sodium levels were dangerously low, and things were looking grim. The doctors managed to strap him up to a feeding tube, and now people are talking about him actually getting better. His heart is a different story. It's been through a lot, and there's no way it's going to magically get better, but I saw him again and he's at least looking more lively.

He even told us a joke:
In France, in the age of the guillotine, three men were sentenced to death. A lawyer, a priest, and an engineer. The lawyer was first to the guillotine. They had him face upwards so he could see the blade coming. The executioner pulled the lever and the blade fell, but stopped halfway down.
"It's a miracle! It's a sign! This man is innocent!" people exclaimed, and the lawyer was set free.
The priest was next. They placed him in the guillotine face up, let the blade loose, and again it stopped itself.
"It's a miracle! It's a sign! This man is innocent!" people exclaimed, and the priest was set free.
The engineer was last to the guillotine. They placed him under the blade, face up like the last two.
"Oh, I see what the problem is!" he said.

It's nice to see him getting back to his old self, but I know it won't last forever. In fact, my fiancée and I were watching the Disney/Pixar movie "Up" together, and I balled my eyes out as I watched the introduction sequence where the boy grows up, gets married, and grows old enough to watch his wife die. I've seen the movie before and I knew it was coming, but it felt so real after having just seen my grandfather, an old man with an entire life story, lying so vulnerable in a hospital bed.

Work is the same. I know my internship deadline is coming up, and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I can work as hard as I possibly can, but if they decide they want someone with years of experience doing something I don't understand instead of a fresh-out-of-college copywriter, I'm out of the picture no matter how hard I work.

Yesterday was a bit of a snowstorm here in white wonderful winter Wisconsin, and I'm feeling a bit under the weather (it's either a cold or my allergies have mysteriously transcended seasonal limits). My boss let me go home early from work, and after double the normal driving time I was able to spend some much needed rest and relaxation with my fiancée. We'd had plans to go out that had to be suspended due to the snow, but I'm not the sort of person who needs to leave home to have a good time. I love when it's just the two of us cuddled together under a blanket eating pasta and watching a movie. It's the best.

Don't worry, I'm still hard at work writing short stories and my novel. Things are going pretty well in that department, actually. One day I was inspired with three whole new ideas for short stories and a particular scene in my novel, so I've got plenty to work on.

Summer cannot get here fast enough.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Marriage, Employment, Old Age, and Identity Crisis

Generally speaking I've kept this blog light. I've kept it somewhat topical. This past week I realized that a part of me misses keeping a journal, so I've decided to blog more like I would write in my journal, if only this once.

Life is complicated. In a few months I'll be getting married, I have no idea if I'll be employed then, my grandfather was just in the hospital, and to top it off I've been experiencing an identity crises for the past several years that's still affecting me today.

The wedding is exciting, but still a bit much to wrap my head around at times. There's no doubt that I'm in love, and I've  been living with my fiancée for almost four years so it's really just a signed paper and celebration, but I can't help but feel intimidated by permanence of it.

What if we grow apart? We've been dating since high school, so I know we've already grown up quite a bit and luckily it's been for the better, but what if careers or something force us apart? For the most part I'm just happy. For the most part I'm overexcited to marry the coolest lass I've ever known. But still, anything can happen.

As for my "job" (I say that in quotation marks because I'm technically an intern), I have no job security and a wedding coming up. They say they've got me as an intern till at least the end of April, but the wedding is in June. They say there's a chance that I'll get hired full-time, part-time, or freelance, but they also might let me go or just extend the internship for the third time. The worst thing is that they won't know what they're going to do with me until the beginning of April. So if they tell me they're going to let me go, that means I have one month to find a job that can support my fiancée and I. I'm fairly certain that my boss is in my corner but the decision isn't up to him; it's up to his boss.

I know it's my first office job, but sometimes I feel like a square peg in a round hole. I like the atmosphere and people enough, but from time to time I worry that some of them have something against me. Something I can't influence or dissuade. I've gotten pretty good at just going with the flow and ignoring my paranoia, but it's still there. It's just another layer of uncertainty on top of an entirely uncertain job. What if they don't like me?

And then there's my grandfather. The only grandfather I've ever had. He's survived multiple heart attacks, a war, and cancer, and he's made it all the way into his 80s. He's not a quitter. The idea that his time is nearing an end (perhaps not right now, but soon) is crazy for me to think about, especially since I've been fortunate enough to make it over two decades of life without losing any loved ones. I've known a person or two that have passed, but never anyone as close to me as him. I've never been good at dealing with those deaths, and it terrifies me to think of how I'll deal with his eventual passing.

I don't like to live with regrets. That's why I visited him in the hospital and told him I love him. He's got it in his head that he was a mean old man to my brother and I when we were younger, but neither of us remembers him like that. He may have been tough on us, but we always knew he loved us. In recent years he's made it his priority to ease up and show it more, but we always knew it was there.

As for my identity crisis? I'm not ready to talk about it in depth, and this post is getting a bit long. The gist of it is that I was raised with one set of beliefs and one way of living, and over the course of the past several years all of that has been challenged. I'm afraid to say that it feels like it's put a huge wall between my parents and I. I try to bring the wall down when I can, but it's still there. Still looming over me.

Among all these sources of stress I'm incredibly fortunate to have my fiancée around, who always keeps things simple, and helps me along every step of the way.