The Story of Us, Part 9…

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It’s been four months with no contact, except for an occasional snot-note I’d send, letting her know I was still angry about how she’d let her anger end us.

Three weeks ago, I was back in Vancouver for another speech. While at the airport waiting to come home, I texted her about there being a flight departing to Kelowna the next gate over. Each time, the same response.

Silence.

But with each new day, I was able to understand more and more that everything that had happened in my life the last three years was going to happen, whether Leasa was in my life or not. The fact that she was, made the bad things easier and the good things better. And I knew that if someone asked about my being in her life, she’d say the same thing.

Then last week, at the anniversary of the Celebration of Life party, I texted the photo of her on the bridge. No words, just the photo.

Finally, a reply:

“That was a good day! I’m leaving CA, moving to GA soon. Wish me well and the same to you.”

I wrote back:

“Not surprised and happy for you. Surprised and sad for me, though I never really saw us ever having a fifth first date. Maybe once in a while, but not often. Mostly, when I looked at the pictures.

“Always loved, sometimes didn’t like you. But I understood and tried as best I could to create a warm, safe place where you didn’t have to be afraid. “

I ended with this:

“Thinking I’ll be the last person to ever love you. Pretty sure you’ll be the last person to ever love me. Thank you for both. Promise me you’ll go to Mary Mac’s once in a while.

“I’ll be able to feel it, when you do.”

I attached the photo of the bowl, asking that she take it with her back to Atlanta.WP_000337

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The Story of Us, Part 8…

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The following Tuesday, we left for an eight-day vacation to Princeville, Kauai, despite the tension that remained, starting with an Oldie-but-Goodie about whose car to take to the airport.

I tried to reassure her that she had options. That we had options. After an increasingly loud conversation at poolside one afternoon, we thought it best to go back to the room.

Early on, I’d told her about the ending of another, equally intense relationship, on the last night of a trip to Edinburgh and London, and the eight-hour flight back home the next day, in cold, stony silence.

When we got to the room she challenged me with, “Is this beginning to feel like that flight across the Atlantic”? “Let’s not go there”, I snapped back. “How many times have you been here, with how many different guys, and how many happy endings do you have to show for it?”

She slumped against the bed. Said she was sorry we weren’t getting along. She closed her eyes. In that instant, all the air left the room.

Two days later, we came home. A week after that, it was over. After a conversation both angry and sad, in tears, she said she thought it was time for her to go back to Atlanta. I agreed, despite being totally unconvinced there was any wisdom behind what either of us was saying.

I collected my things and left. For the first time, I felt like it was really over. Really. Over.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 7…

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The following Tuesday, we left for an eight-day vacation to Princeville, Kauai, despite the tension that remained, starting with an Oldie-but-Goodie about whose car to take to the airport.

I tried to reassure her that she had options. That we had options. After an increasingly loud conversation at poolside one afternoon, we thought it best to go back to the room.

Early on, I’d told her about the ending of another, equally intense relationship, on the last night of a trip to Edinburgh and London, and the eight-hour flight back home the next day, in cold, stony silence.

When we got to the room she challenged me with, “Is this beginning to feel like that flight across the Atlantic”? “Let’s not go there”, I snapped back. “How many times have you been here, with how many different guys, and how many happy endings do you have to show for it?”

She slumped against the bed. Said she was sorry we weren’t getting along. She closed her eyes. In that instant, all the air left the room.

Two days later, we came home. A week after that, it was over. After a conversation both angry and sad, in tears, she said she thought it was time for her to go back to Atlanta. I agreed, despite being totally unconvinced there was any wisdom behind what either of us was saying.

I collected my things and left. For the first time, I felt like it was really over. Really. Over.

It’s been four months with no contact, except for an occasional snot-note I’d send, letting her know I was still angry about how she’d let her anger end us.

Three weeks ago, I was back in Vancouver for another speech. While at the airport waiting to come home, I texted her about there being a flight departing to Kelowna the next gate over. Each time, the same response.

Silence.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 6…

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But as fall approached, conversations became less intimate, intimate moments became less often shared. Conversations that used to be about “us” and “we” became more “I” and “me”. Places we were going to go became places she was going to go.

Looking through the lens of hindsight, I think what started it all was a trip home for her 50th high school reunion. I think what happened was she looked around, saw how old everyone had gotten, then realized she, too, was part of the Class Photo.

Around that same time, a well-intending friend had given her a book for her birthday, one with the dumb-ass title of “Goddesses Never Age”, further adding to the distance between us. I tried to suggest that “Goddesses DO Age, just like the rest of us.” Adding that, all we can do is embrace each day and hang onto those who want to share what remains of the journey.

Just before Thanksgiving, she confided that she’d gotten an email from her ex, saying that a change in his financial circumstances was going to result in a change in hers.

But I knew it wasn’t just about that. At this stage of our lives, money wasn’t an issue for either of us. Rather, it was about Winning. Despite all the good within her, I’d never known someone who harbored, even nurtured, a hatred for someone as she did for him, someone she’d spent 30 years of her life with. Just as when he’d ended the marriage ten years earlier, she was angry that he was going to win again.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 5…

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Four months later, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Two months after that, he died. But I didn’t have Leasa to rely on because in the intervening months, we’d had Time-Out #3. This one lasted more than six months.

Still hurting, one day early last year I wrote a long, emotional email, mostly about life and particularly about Tom. I asked if we could talk. We agreed to meet at the same coffee house. It was Valentine’s Day. I brought a rose.

Weeks later, I received an Evite to a “Celebration of Life” party at the home in the Malibu hills where Tom’s younger sister had lived with her husband. Adele had died 18 years earlier from cancer. In the years since, other members of the extended family had passed away as well and so this party became an annual tradition. Now Tom was part of that tradition.

But in the words of the invitation, it was “Not just about those we have lost, but those we still have around us.”

It was all that. And so much more. A day about life and love and celebration. A day meant to remind us why we are here.

I introduced Leasa to Tom’s mother, a remarkable woman I’ve been blessed to refer to for more than 60 years as “Aunt Bea.”

As the afternoon wore down, Leasa and I went for a walk around the grounds. She saw an old-fashioned swing, suspended beneath a California Oak. She immediately ran to it. We then walked across a footbridge over a dry creek bed. She paused, turned and looked back at me. I took a picture.

Through spring and summer, it was our best time.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 4…

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It led to our third first date, a day-trip to San Clemente.

We walked along the beach, stopping to watch some young people set up a bungee cord between two palm trees. Ten minutes later, on the walk back, we stopped at the same spot. Only this time, I looked down and saw a small stone at our feet. On it, someone had written “He is for you.” I handed it to her, saying, “I think the Universe is trying to tell us something.”

She didn’t reply, but when I went to her house the next day, I saw that she had put the stone, a handful of succulent cuttings and some moss in a large ceramic planter, along with two rocking chairs she’d crafted out of champagne cages. I took a picture.

My family had come to L.A. in 1954. My first playmate was Tom, who lived next door. I was four; he was not quite two. In the years that followed, our two families stayed best of friends, moving from Studio City to Sherman Oaks and then to Woodland Hills, all part of an effort to remain close.

In the summer of 2000, Tom finally got married. I went to the wedding but lost touch the next ten years, until he called one day, saying that his son was now six and about to start Little League. Tom had bought a copy of the instructional book I’d written about baseball and through that, had found my number.

He asked if the three of us could meet and spend time teaching his son how to play. Each year, for the next four, we’d get together just before the season started, spending hours with his son. Then it was Tom’s turn. Wanting to play in an adult league in the Valley, he asked me to teach him the same things.

Afterward, we went to Leasa’s for dinner, putting his son in front of the TV with a bag of popcorn and a ball game, while the three of us talked. Tom was still an active L.A. County Lifeguard and still had a swimmer’s body. Only this time, he appeared thinner, even gaunt. He told us he was leaving the marriage, so I attributed it to stress.

Turned out, it wasn’t.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 3…

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I get to speak for a living – two, three, sometimes six hours at a time – teaching business professionals how to market their products and services to people my age (the “Mature Marketplace”, as I like to call us). Leasa started coming with me on some of those trips.

The best was a week that began in Vancouver for a speech, then to Kelowna, about a five-hour drive east and the heart of B.C.’s wine country, for another. We had lots of free-play time in between, hitting a couple dozen wineries. We spent one last night back in Vancouver, and while watching the sun go down over the water from the 17th floor hotel room window, I gave her a ring.

I told her it didn’t have to mean everything, but it did have to mean something. I also told her I wanted one in return, at Christmas.

The worst was to Atlanta, where I had one speech and then another booked half-way back across the country, while she stayed to spend more time with the grandkids. We ate at Mary Mac’s. It was lovely. But afterward, she suggested it’d be easier for everyone if I drove her to her son’s house, about an hour south of the city.

Well, maybe not everyone…

There was tension between us and when I left she questioned whether I really had her back. The evening ended with a flat tire only a block from the hotel during a driving Georgia rainstorm, followed by a 4:00 wake-up and a flight to Omaha the next morning.

Shortly after, there was yet another Time-Out. This one, lasting several months, until she sent an email suggesting I listen to a new O.A.R. song, called “Peace”.

“Maybe the words will make sense”, she wrote. “Even if they don’t, ‘Peace’ is what I wish for you.”

One of the lyrics stood out:

“We ran another off the tracks. That’s time we can’t get back.

But we can save tomorrow, if we try.”

Could we, I asked? Maybe.WP_000337

The Story of Us, Part 2…

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But it wasn’t always so. There were times when it seemed she felt the need to establish lines, past which she would not go. Separating “hers” from “ours”. Cars, for example. She drives a Mercedes; I drive a Corvette. And even when we had a lot of stuff to throw in the back, she was reluctant to take hers. This became a problem, both emotionally and logistically. Of all the reasons to own a Corvette, nowhere in the brochure is there mention of ample trunk space.

Almost feral, she could become. Like animals do when they feel threatened. Reverting to a wild state where self-preservation is the only motivation. I asked why she’d go there. She replied that it was natural for her, “because I’ve been on my own for a long time.”

Still, we moved forward. One night, while I was trying to find the words, she said, “You’re dancing around it. What is it you want to say?” I told her I loved her; she said she loved me. Later, she asked, “So, what are you going to do with me?”

“Love you, respect you and hold onto you as tightly as I can”, I said.

“Good answer.”

We lasted a couple months, then had a Kids-Behaving-Badly moment, which led to our first Adult Time-Out. It lasted a couple of weeks. The second first date was at her house. I told her the only crime we really committed was in trying to fly too close to the sun. I think she believed me. Anyway, like the old Dave Mason song, “It was like he never left”.

Because of an addiction to the Sirius Pulse channel, Leasa knew more about today’s music than a roomful of Millennials. I was more Rock n’ Roll, introducing her to groups like O.A.R. and the BoDeans. O.A.R’s “Dangerous Connection” became Our First Song, a song we agreed must have been written about us.

We spent July 4th at a concert on the beach and a fireworks show on San Diego Bay. Because of traffic, I had to drop her off, find a place to park and then walk back. It took about 30 minutes. Afterward, with chairs, coolers and all the other stuff to carry, it was more like 45 minutes to reach the car. “It took a lot less time, the first time”, she remarked. “You have to remember, I was a lot younger then”, I replied.

She laughed, one of those deep, uncontrollable, until stuff-comes-out-of-your nose laughs while I put her in the car. She quickly fell asleep.

It took two hours to drive back and every few minutes, I stole a glance. In the soft glow of the dashboard lights, I’d never seen a face more beautiful or a soul more at peace.

 

The Story of Us, Part 1…

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So, here’s the story:

Two people in their mid-60’s, three divorces and six kids between them, each coming out of long-term relationships, decide to take one last drive along the Internet Highway, in search of something that will last.

Leasa was stunningly pretty. But the first thing that drew me in were her words. Thoughtful. Articulate. Spiritual. Beyond the words, there was “The Look”. I saw it right away in her profile photo. Both soft and hard, it was a look designed to penetrate all the way through you, until the truth could be pulled back out. A look that asked the question, “Are you here to love me, or to hurt me?”

I learned she was born in a small town in Kansas, founded by her great grandfather, and raised in a farmhouse built by her grandfather. Her parents, both in their 90’s and married 70 years, still lived in the farmhouse. One day, I asked what she attributed her parents’ success to. “Mom’s always had this saying”, she said, “live large days, filled with small moments.” Those words became the toast I offered at my son’s wedding in Santa Barbara, later that summer.

Perhaps understandable only to those our age, one of the threads of our conversations was the subject of loss. The oldest of four sisters, she’d lost two of them under very different but equally tragic circumstances. A year earlier, we’d both lost our best friends to cancer.

Early in our correspondence, she wrote that she was leaving for a three-week visit with the grandkids in Atlanta, the city she’d moved to with a young son after the first marriage had broken up. It was there she met and married her second husband, having two more kids. And it was from there they moved west.

Despite the years she’d lived in Atlanta, she hadn’t been to Mary Mac’s Tea Room, an Atlanta institution since the ‘40’s. I made her promise she’d go. She said she’d try.

One day, a text: “We just drove by Mary Mac’s. Did you feel it?”

Swear to god, I did.

Eventually, she asked what I was looking for. “An adult relationship, where we can act like kids anytime we want”, I replied.

“So, is someone going to ask someone out?”

The first date was at a coffee house near where she lived. She was everything I’d seen in both words and pictures.

We went from 0-60 in about four seconds.  Years earlier, during another first date, I tried to be patient while someone tried to convince me that relationships take a lot of work. “Only the bad ones”, I said. “The good ones are effortless.” Thereby, ending any chances for a second date.

This felt like that. Effortless.WP_000337

Highway 60 – Why we Played the Game…

For more than 50 years, late August has always opened the vault of personal memories. Marking not just the end of summer, but the end of one more season of youth baseball. Starting in 1958 as a player, full of optimism if not much talent, then on through the ‘90s when I had the pure pleasure of teaching my sons, Chris and Zack, and hundreds of other kids the joy of baseball.

And now that they’re older, with lives of their own, for me this time of year has become an annual exercise in watching the Little League World Series, although it must be admitted with an equal mix of nostalgia and distaste, always asking myself the question whether it’s right and fair to put 12 and 13 year olds in front of a national audience, knowing that at the end of the game tears from the losing side will be what the cameras capture most.

Anyone who’s ever played the game, no matter what that game may have been, knows the inevitability of loss. A lesson first learned in the summer of 1965, as a 15-year-old left-handed pitcher for the Sherman Oaks American Babe Ruth League All-Stars, winning our way into the Championship Game, on a hot August night in Stockton, California. The record will show that in front of a crowd of several thousand, I pitched 10 innings, gave up two hits and struck out 18. It was the best game I ever pitched. But because of tournament rules, I had to leave after 10 innings, in a scoreless tie.

I watched from the dugout in the 11th, as a couple of walks, an error and a bloop hit combined to defeat us, 1-0. The loss hurt, more than any to that point in my life could have. We were the better team. And the better team is supposed to win, right?

A couple weeks later, the Dodgers hosted our team and our families to a game against the Chicago Cubs. We stood, as teams are supposed to do, win or lose, as one, when our names were flashed on the scoreboard in left field, with the gentle voice of Vin Scully commemorating the moment in the background. It was September 9, 1965.

Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers. Another left-hander with a far less glorious resume, named Bob Hendley, pitched for the Cubs. Hendley was what was referred to in those days as a “Journeyman”, having toiled for several teams and mostly, without distinction.

I watched as Hendley pitched the game of his life, giving up only one hit, an opposite field, broken bat single by Lou Johnson. He lost, 1-0, just as we had. It was the night Koufax pitched his perfect game.

This life-lesson became the preface in my book, “101 Things You Can Teach Your Kids About Baseball”, which I wrote 30 years later, and which eventually became the #2 Best-Seller of its type on Amazon, selling almost 25,000 copies, worldwide.

Fast-forward to this week and the three minute, thirty eight second life-lesson a volunteer coach named Dave Belisle taught his Rhode Island kids, after they lost 8-7, ending their hopes of winning the Little League World Series.  A snapshot in time meant to be captured in the minds and in the hearts of anyone who ever tried to teach young people the lessons that only sports can teach. Lessons about pride. About persevering. About friendship. And about memories that will last a lifetime.

That’s why we played the game…The Adobe Image Library ©1998 Adobe Systems Incorporated Father and son