It Can Hit Out of Nowhere

As I’ve told numerous people over the years, Lisa and I had our first date on a Thursday. May 4, 1995 to be precise. Most couples that I know don’t make that big a deal out of the anniversary of their first date but for Lisa and I, it was always special. Mostly because over the course of 23 years, she never let me forget what she gave up to go on that first date with me.

Lisa loved to watch television and in 1995 there was no better night to curl up on a couch and watch than Thursdays. The night started with Friends, followed by Seinfeld and then was capped off with ER. She loved to watch ER. At first I’m pretty sure it had to do with George Clooney but eventually the stories and characters are what really captivated her and kept Lisa coming back week after week.

And much like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, once Lisa committed to a show, that was it. She didn’t miss and episode under any circumstances. She would watch for years even if the show became borderline unwatchable. We watched a train wreck of a show called Providence for years before she finally agreed to give up on it.

So Lisa agreeing to miss ER so she could go out to dinner with me was huge. And since she had no clue how to work her VCR, taping the show wasn’t an option. This was decades before DVRs and On Demand, so when you missed a show you wanted to see, that was it until the network reran it over the summer.

This was toward the end of ER‘s first season and the episode she missed was titled “Love Among the Ruins.” During dinner she even mentioned a handful of times that she hoped we got back to her apartment early enough so she could catch the last few minutes.

Yeah, not exactly a confidence builder for our hero here.

That being said, I must have done something right because even though we did get back early and the show was on, Lisa didn’t really pay attention to anything that was going on. We ended up talking the rest of the night and she didn’t seem that interested in the show.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from reminding me every Thursday that she missed an episode of ER to go on a date with me. And remind me she did because the following week, I became a part of her Thursday night television watching ritual. We would throw pillows and blankets on the floor and watch TV all night, culminating in ER at ten o’clock.

We did that for the next 15 years until ER went off the air on April 2, 2009, two days before Lisa’s birthday. That final episode marked the end of an era not just for television but for us as well. The following month Lisa would have a heart attack and shortly thereafter, the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s Disease that would eventually kill her started to make themselves known.

That may be why I haven’t watched ER since that final episode all those years ago. Too many happy memories tied up in a show we both loved to watch.

Flash forward to last week. An obscene amount of my time is taken up each evening watching YouTube. Regular television is for the most part garbage so I entertain myself watching old music videos, clips form Marvel movies and human interest news stories. It helps me to relax and de-stress after a day of dealing with the crap that is my life.

While diving headfirst into a YouTube rabbit hole I discovered that they had begun uploading official clips of ER to the site. Everything from the opening titles to the very first scene to the very last scene. Some of these I hadn’t watched since they were on originally so out of curiosity I clicked a video, sat back and watched. It was a clip from the third season where Mark was brutally attached and was later found by Doug.

I was fine until the theme music began to play. All of a sudden I was overcome with emotion and before I knew it I was sobbing uncontrollably. I hadn’t cried like that thinking about Lisa in over a year. I really thought those days were behind me.

I was very wrong.

And it wasn’t just that one instance. I’ve now watched dozens of the clips and each and every time I get a lump in my throat as I think about Lisa. All those nights laying on her floor or later on our couch watching that show. Talking about what characters we liked, the ones we didn’t (Don’t get us started on Dr. Romano.) and what we thought was going to happen next week.

I honestly didn’t realize how big a part of our lives ER was until I watched those clips and really thought about it. It was something we both really looked forward to every week, no matter how bad things were. It was an hour we could forget about the world’s problems and get lost in the lives of the doctors of County General Hospital.

It was something that I think I subconsciously put away and didn’t want to think about. That is, until it was put in front of my face again. Now I’m tempted to watch the entire series from the beginning. Sure, there will be lots of tears but I’m sure that eventually they will be replaced by smiles and happy thoughts of Lisa.

Lord knows I could more of those right now.

Love Shack

Can an apartment play a huge role in the birth of a relationship?

If you were to ask me, the answer would be an emphatic yes.

When Lisa and I first started dating in the spring of 1995, she was living in a second floor, two room shoebox of a studio apartment in a complex in Hatboro. It was small, cramped and there was barely enough room for one person to live there comfortably. That being said, Lisa absolutely loved the place and it was easy to see why. While some people saw “cramped,” she saw “cozy.” While some saw “small,” she saw “affordable.”

Seeing as I was still living at home, naturally we spent a great deal of our time at Lisa’s place. And I will admit that after just a few evenings of hanging out I quickly understood why she liked living there.

The apartment had a certain charm that more modern places just don’t have. The buildings in the complex were old to begin with and management wasn’t exactly the best with keeping things up to date. The hot water ran out quickly, you could hear pretty much everything the neighbors downstairs were doing and since it was right by Neshaminy Creek, the parking lot flooded any time it rained. But the coziness and intimacy of the apartment outweighed those negatives, especially for a young couple falling in love.

Some of the best memories I have of our relationship are attached to that apartment. Lisa would run off to get us ice cream whenever the Good Humor truck would come through. We would lay blankets on the floor and listen to tapes on her small portable radio for hours and talk. We cooked meals together, watched television, rented movies and spent an incredible amount of time getting to know each other in a way that I don’t think would have been possible in another place.

When we said “I love you” to each other for the first time, we did in the living room of that apartment.

I remember our first Christmas there like it was yesterday. It was Christmas Eve and I drove over to stay the night with her and then we would go spend time with family the next day. Seeing as it was our first Christmas together, I completely overdid it with the presents and went upstairs with my arms overflowing with wrapped packages.

When Lisa answered the door, I walked into an apartment illuminated in candlelight. It took my breath away. The tree was lit up too and underneath were gifts aplenty. She had cooked us a wonderful dinner and we exchanged presents, listened to holiday music and enjoyed a beautiful evening together. It forever made Christmas Eve “our holiday” and a special night just for the two of us I looked forward to every year.

I also remember the weekend of the Blizzard of 1996. All the weather forecasts we calling for a monster storm and I had no intention of staying home for it. As I was driving over to Lisa’s place the snow was just starting to fall and by the time we woke up the next morning, it was a full on blizzard. Once the snow stopped we trekked by foot to a 7-11 for cigarettes, chips, drinks and other supplies, laughing the entire time. We played in the snow, dug out our cars and helped Lisa’s neighbors dig out theirs and had an all around blast.

It was one of the greatest weekends of my life.

Lisa and I lived in a number of different places over the course of our 23 years together, some better than others. I often joked with her that we should never have moved out of that place. She always thought I was kidding around but I was completely serious. No other apartment made me feel as happy and optimistic as that small studio we lived in during our first years together.

To me, it was home.

I have realized that some day soon I will have to move out of the apartment I’m living in now simply because there are more bad memories here than good. However, no matter where I go, I will always have amazing memories of 300 Horsham Road. The place where I fell in love for the first time with a wonderful woman I adored more than anything in the world.

Can an apartment play a huge role in the birth of a relationship?

You betcha.

A Basketball Lisa Story

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a total, completely unapologetic basketball junkie. If it involves running up and down a hardwood court and throwing a ball into a basket, I’ll watch it with gusto. NBA, NBA G-League, WNBA, NCAA, International, it doesn’t matter. There are few things I love more than watching and talking about basketball.

My wife Lisa, not so much.

To her credit, Lisa tolerated my basketball obsession the best she could. She knew if the Sixers were on that talking to me wasn’t recommended. When we couldn’t afford the decent cable and I had to listen to games on my phone, she understood why I wouldn’t answer her pressing questions about The Bachelor.

In other words, Lisa got it.

The only time of the year Lisa let her aggravation show just a bit was during March Madness. I would be set up with two televisions, a tablet and my phone watching four games at once during the first week of the tournament and she would ask “How long does this go on for?” with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

But again, Lisa understood and let me have my fun.

In 2012, my beloved Sixers shocked their fans by squeaking into the NBA Playoffs with a 35-31 record. With Philly going up against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round, no one was expecting the team to get very far. Despite that, to my surprise, tickets for the playoff games were pretty easy to get and I managed to score a pair of tickets for Game 3.

I had never been to a playoff game before in any of the four major sports, so to me this was a huge deal. I was ready to invite a friend of mine when it dawned on me; Lisa probably had never been to a playoff game either. Considering how patient Lisa was with me during basketball season, I figured I owed it to her to at least offer her the other ticket, not expecting Lisa to accept.

Shockingly, Lisa said yes.

The tickets were pretty good, in the lower level, behind and to the right of the basket. We got there early to avoid traffic and as we walked in they were handing out rally towels to all the fans, which I thought was incredibly cool. A free souvenir! As we made our way to our seats, I got my traditional crab fries and giant Coke while Lisa opted for nachos and a water. We sat down and got comfortable, waiting for the game to start.

Thanks to Derrick Rose getting hurt, the Sixers actually had a chance to win this series and went into Game 3 with the series tied 1-1. Then during the game, Joakim Noah also got hurt when he stepped on Andre Iguodala’s foot. The Sixers had a real chance to win this thing!

None of which Lisa cared about at all.

Lisa watched as I jumped up and down like an idiot, screaming at the top of my lungs. She laughed when I yelled that Iguodala sucked for missing an open shot and told me to relax when the score got too close and I was freaking out.

It was toward the end of the third quarter when I asked Lisa if she wanted anything. She looked at me and said no, she was fine. I asked if she was sure and Lisa said yes, she was good.

That was until a vendor came by our section, selling chocolate-dipped ice cream cones. Lisa took one look, her eyes glazed over and she looked at me, silently asking if she could have one. Ten dollars later, Lisa was blithely eating her ice cream cone while the Sixers took it to the Bulls.

A short time later I was again standing, screaming at the Sixers when I heard Lisa say “Hun?”

Not looking over I said “Yeah?”

“Can I have a napkin?”

“I don’t have any Lisa. As soon as they call a timeout I’ll run up and grab some, okay?”

“Oh. Okay.”

Less than a minute later the Sixers called a timeout and I turned to tell Lisa I was going to grab some napkins for her. Instead my jaw hit the ground and I was struggling to find words as I took in the sight before me.

Lisa had solved her problem in her own very unique way.

She was using her Sixers rally towel to wipe the chocolate off her face.

Let me repeat that.

My wife was using her Sixers playoff rally towel to wipe chocolate off her face.

My eyes almost bugged out of my head as I exclaimed “What are you doing?!?”

Lisa looked up at me innocently and said “I had chocolate all over me. I figured I had the towel so I used that.”

“You… you can’t use a rally towel to wipe your face! That’s a violation!”

“Oh relax. It’s just a towel.”

As I looked around, trying to determine if anyone had seen what Lisa did, I said “It’s not just a towel! It’s a Sixers rally towel! You just can’t do that.”

Again, Lisa gave me a look and said “It’ll be fine. I’ll wash it when we get home.”

“But… but…” I was at a loss as I looked at the now chocolate-covered Sixers rally towel and then at Lisa, who was finishing her ice cream like nothing had happened.

The Sixers would go on to win the game 79-74 and eventually the series. Good to her word, Lisa washed her rally towel and handed it to me, saying “See? Good as new.” It now hangs on my wall, one of the most important pieces of Sixers memorabilia I own.

Over the years I’ve been to a lot of Sixers games, both good and bad. I have a ton of memories that are forever linked to that team and the joy and heartbreak they’ve brought me. But nothing will ever top the sight of Lisa at a Sixers game, covered in chocolate, wiping her face with a playoff rally towel, not thinking twice about it.

It’s just another one of the many reasons I loved Lisa so damn much.

Pain in the Cereal Aisle

Since my wife Lisa passed away last December, I’ve had to get used to doing lots of things alone. For the most part, I think I’ve done okay. It hasn’t been easy and there are times when I think it may be too much, but I know this is my new normal and I have to get used to it.

I’ve gone to the movies, gone out to eat, gone to a bar to have a beer, gone walking in the park and even gone to a Phillies game all solo. And sure it hasn’t always been fun, but Lisa wouldn’t want to see me stay in the apartment all the time and wither away to nothing. That is what I try to tell myself when things get to be too tough.

But the thing that’s been the hardest to get used to? The one activity that makes me wince every time I know I have to do it?

Going to the grocery store.

I’ve often told people that, unlike most couples I know, Lisa and I almost always went food shopping together. It was incredibly rare if one of us went shopping and the other wasn’t trailing behind the cart as we went down the aisle.

When we lived in Warminster, we would go to the Wegmans in Warrington and sometimes get dinner before we did our shopping. Lisa would get Chinese food while I ordered a hoagie and we’d go upstairs and eat, talk and enjoy a night of not having to do dishes.

When we moved to Willow Grove we would shop at the Giant at least once a week. We’d pick up all the essentials as well as fried chicken or seafood salad or whatever else struck our fancy. When Lisa quit smoking we would always have to hit the candy aisle so Lisa could stock up on gum and, more often than not, Swedish Fish for her sweet tooth.

Later, when Lisa’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse, going to the store became a regular weekly activity for us. For Dementia patients it’s all about routine, so every Monday, whether we needed to or not, Lisa and I would go to the grocery store. We’d make sure to get a box of her favorite cereal that she ate every morning, her gum and anything else that we decided we needed. It was a way to get her out of the house and have her interact with people.

And interacting with people is something Lisa loved to do. Even before she got sick when we went to the store I knew not to be in any hurry. Lisa would talk to just about anyone. We’d make the rounds and she would be saying hi to all the employees she knew, chatting with other customers and God forbid there was a sample station running. I’d lose her for 20 minutes at the minimum as she got into a discussion with the person running it.

Now, eight months after she passed away, I still get a lump in my throat and a dull ache in my chest when I know I have to go to the store. The first time I went was two days after Lisa died and I had to pick up a few things. I lasted all of ten minuted before I had a massive panic attack and had to call my sister to talk me down and get me out of the store.

Everyone tells me that eventually I’ll get past this and that going to the store will be just like doing anything else, but I’m not sure I believe them. Whenever I walk down the aisle I still always look behind me to make sure Lisa is still there, even though I know she’s not going to be. When I walk down the cereal aisle I make sure to brush my hand on a box of her favorite cereal because I just can’t help myself. As soon as I get to the bakery I smile as I look at the giant containers of chocolate chip cookies I know she loved so much.

Memories can be a beautiful thing. They help us get past the rough times and make sure the person we love will always be with us. But sometimes, I just want to be able to buy a loaf of bread and not break down into tears.

Of course, part of me hopes that never happens. And that for the rest of my life Lisa will be with me every time I go to the grocery store, walking behind me, telling me she needs more gum.

I guess there are worse things in life than that.