Southern California – Day 8
Four hours of windshield time gave me the chance to reflect and get pumped about what was waiting for me in Southern California. Said goodbye to my Fresno family and friends and to my friend overseas in my thoughts – goodbye is always hard – but I will get to see more family, honor a loved one and go Hollywood baby! A special party for amazing friends defined “amazing” and I was reminded that impound lots are always hard to find in the middle of the night! Talk about a mixed bag!
I arrived late last night to my final destination on this journey. After the wonderful reunion with my family and friends I packed up my rented Dodge Journey and headed south on 99. I had about four hours to myself and my iPod and I appreciated the time I had to digest everything on this trip so far. It also gave me time to step outside of this travel experience and think through things that are heavy on my heart right now. I find I really like the moments of solitude in my life – I am a processor. I have to weigh things a lot before I make decisions. I am often guilty of letting my heart and emotions lead, when really I need to have confidence and patience in my own common sense and voice. Life, it seems, is never done teaching me the lessons I still have to learn.
I have someone in my life, someone special, and we have found ourselves on opposite ends of an issue, of understanding. I am stumped by this – I’m kind of like a man in some ways. When there is a problem, I want to fix it. Now. I have a hard time waiting things out. I am a rock star at keeping surprises and secrets, but when it comes to conflict in a relationship that is important to me I want to fix it quickly, in the most urgent of ways. When there is a chasm I want to build the bridge to fix it fast. This is something new about me since my divorce – something I learned the hard way. But as relationships always include more than you, it requires timing and patience and understanding first. I confess that creates an uneasiness in me and I fight the pull to an insecure place. I want to believe that the thoughts I was thinking on my drive south somehow went into the Universe and found him, that he would know by global osmosis that I am thinking about him and wanting to right whatever has gone wrong. But just like the dark highway I drove on tonight, I will have to breathe deeply and stay positive on this emotional dark road of misunderstanding and confusion until the time is right to build the bridge and right the world again.
Relationships seem to be the central theme to this California adventure of mine, and there are many special ones waiting for me in Southern California. Despite my divorce this past January, I am honored to still be in close touch with my ex-husband’s family. Particularly with his brother Jim, his wife Michelle and my nieces, Katia and Sophia (also my Goddaughter) and my nephew Jackson. And I cannot imagine my life without my mother-in-law, Carmion, who is one of the most special women I have ever met. Michelle and the girls have been pillars for me – a support system that I didn’t see coming when I separated, but have come to rely heavily on. The Ratkovich family has been my family for 20 years. My children are their blood. They share a proud heritage and a culture that goes back for many generations. We have spent countless hours over the years at family functions, playing that silly game Aggravation, raising children together, traveling, golfing and gathering for Michelle’s gourmet dinners and Carmion’s feasts of comfort. I am blessed that they will always be family.
So I arrived late, and snuck into Jim and Michelle’s home – way past bedtime. The house was quiet and I found my room, crawled into bed and wrote until my eyes could no longer focus and my brain had trouble remembering even the most basic sentence structure. I slept wonderfully and woke to a warm, beautiful Sunday morning in Altadena. I showered and dressed for a special trip back up to St. Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Church. One year ago, on September 20th this family lost an amazing man, who was the flag-bearer of the Ratkovich clan. Steve Ratkovich, my father-in-law…wait, no. That is not correct. It is technically, but over the past 20 years, he loved me as one of his own, he was a regular influence in my world. My son is named after him – he is woven into my life forever. He was a father to me. He had been struggling for the past several years with various health concerns. I think we all knew we weren’t going to get to keep him much longer. But, even with that knowledge, his loss was like a bomb going off in my heart. So today, on this Sunday a year later, there was a memorial service for him at church – it is Serbian tradition and my need to be there was as important as being able to breathe the air around me.
Three days before Steve died, I was sitting with girlfriends in Colorado for a lovely fall happy hour. My phone rang – it was Steve and Carmion. They rarely called at this time and I answered. They were calling just to say hi – Steve had told Carmion they needed to call me. He once again expressed his sadness and concern over the pending divorce. I told him I was sad too, and that he could never get rid of me – they were and always will be family. He told me I would always be a part of his family, regardless. We had the chance to express our love for each other, I told him I would see him soon at one of my son’s swim meets. We said goodbye. Three days later, his body finally gave out. I consider myself one of life’s lucky ones…we so rarely get the chance for that last call, the last time we can tell someone we love them. The last chance to say goodbye. I was given that gift and I understand and am in awe of the fact that I got to have that singular, perfect moment with him. I have now lost three fathers. My father, who I did not get to say goodbye to; my step-father Vern, who died suddenly and tragically and one I also did not get to say goodbye to. And Steve. But God gave me that moment in time to say I love you and tell him goodbye. It was a gift from the Universe – one I will cherish forever.
All along, with the patience of Job, his wife of 60 years was there – caring for him, worrying over him, keeping him in line….loving him. She was with him the night he died in his bedroom. Their love story is one for the ages – not because it was written with the ink of hearts, and roses and smooth waters. It was forged with good times, rough times, tough love and tradition. Perhaps the best definition of their marriage and life together comes down to these few words – commitment, family, love. They both defined these words – lived them every day. You don’t see many marriages like this one, the type that never questioned their vows or their future together, despite times and circumstances that tried their patience and their love. This past year has felt foreign to all of us I think, especially Carmion, without the presence of the man we all so loved. I am glad I got to be here in Southern California for this service to remember him – not that we ever forget – and to support Carmion through this milestone. The chance to gather again as a family in his honor and memory is a gift.
I got to the church early – Sunday service was not yet done. The memorial service was not until after the regular service. Michelle joined me and we waited to go in. Steve’s brother Leo and his wife Eleanor arrived. Both are a bit unsteady, using canes to walk, but dressed in their Sunday best and looking beautiful. Michelle and I helped them into the front of the church. Then something completely unexpected happened. I, for the first time in 21 years, did not know where to go. Despite the fact that I have always felt like family here, even since the divorce, I was surprised to suddenly feel like a fish out of water. It hit me like a canon ball to my gut – I am really no longer technically a part of this family – I no longer have a place in the first pew – no matter what has been said and felt for so long. My mother-in-law is there, along with my son and his father. My niece and nephew. Jim and Michelle. I don’t often feel awkward – I am pretty confident in most situations, but my stomach was mush and my anxiety exploded. So I sat back several rows, by myself through the service. This same awkwardness followed me into the social hall for the lunch afterwards. I didn’t know where to sit…I was lost. For the first time in a long time I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole! Thankfully, it was Carmion – my dear, sweet mother-in-law, and Michelle, who insisted I sit by Carmion, next to my son. How grateful I was to them! My anxiety disappeared and it was like days of old. Missing were Katia and my Jessica, but the rest of us were together again, sharing a meal, remembering Steve. I have such love for the people at that table. Despite the shock of the situation, I am glad I was there to pay my respects to Steve and the whole family. I can’t imagine having missed it.
The afternoon afforded me some down time and I did a bit of shopping before returning to my home-away-from home. I had a premiere party to get ready for!!! When planning this trip I contacted one of my oldest friends, Jay. I always call Jay when I come to LA, because I crave time with her. As I wrote about her in my Tahiti experience, she never ceases to amaze and inspire me. And she didn’t fail me this time either! One of our mutual friends, Ron Kellum and his best friend Tony Stovall are on this season’s “Amazing Race” reality show. And tonight was a premiere party in honor of them at a West Hollywood nightclub with big screens and lots of friends, including old and dear friends from my days with USA. I have been excited about this since I left Denver! I have this hot little brown dress and shoes, and yes, the killer necklace I found to go with it – so I am set. My son came over early for dinner with Jim and Michelle and didn’t really know what to say about his 47-year-old mother dressed for a nightclub. Oh well, that’s just something he’s gonna have to get over! I drove to West Hollywood, and in true fashion, got there early. (Arriving early is a symptom of my tendency to be OCD about things!). Soon, friends started to arrive – Jay, Ron, Paul Marks….this is old home week! Seeing Ron and Paul again was a shot of happiness – Paul was the first cheerleader that I ever did a flip stunt with who didn’t drop me! I will love him forever for that! Ron is a gifted choreographer – he has done a lot of work in Hollywood. Paul runs huge special event productions, and had just wrapped one the night before for the Los Angeles Museum of Art that featured a tented venue with pictures of masterpieces morphing onto the drapes from clouds, celebrities and dignitaries and a concert by Christine Aguilera. Truly mind-blowing stuff! He and Jay work together often – and it feels like an out-of-body experience to be back together with these wonderful old friends.
The premiere of the “Amazing Race” started – the room was filled with friends, all cheering and laughing. Ron and Tony start out strong and are the first to the airplane headed to England. The crowd is pumped for our friends!! We watch with sheer excitement as the show goes on – until we all start to realize that Ron and Tony are still in the car, stuck on one of England’s long highways. Everyone else is storming the castle and knocking down suits of armor. Where are our friends??? They finally make it to the castle, have a lot of trouble crossing the river in what looks like a large turtle shell. But we don’t care – we root them on. Anything can happen – this is only the first episode right?! Yet, unfortunately, the day was not theirs. Because of their odyssey on the highway that had no exits, they finished dead last—and were the first to be eliminated from the show.
But in true classy Ron style, he took the microphone and thanked everyone, explained all the crazy things we did not see on the show and then flipped the evening on its ear by introducing the next video. After being eliminated Ron and Tony could not re-enter their lives right away, or it would be a dead giveaway. So thanks to their good friends, Jen and Tim, Ron and Tony went on a real “Amazing Race.” To Africa where they spent a month aiding in relief efforts. Their story and the pictures on the video left many in awe, me included, and some in tears. This, Ron explained, is the real “reality show.” My esteem for my friend just went up three-fold if not more. To agree to this party knowing how the first show would end, then switching the purpose of the event to one that allows them to share and promote their cause was done in such a classy, touching way one could not help but feel inspired. The party that ensued was touched by the agony of defeat in the most positive of ways – because their elimination proved to be of help to many in Africa and gave us all a real-time perspective on what the world’s true “reality” shows really are….or should be.
The only glitch in an otherwise perfect night came when I went to drive home….and discovered my car was gone. No, not stolen thankfully, but towed! I had parked on a dark street and couldn’t really see the signs so I asked a man walking into the house in front of my car if I could park there. Checking his watch he said it was after seven so I was good. Done deal! Guess the last laugh was on me, as poor Jay – exhausted from a weekend of huge, busy, emotional events – had to drive my sorry butt around West Hollywood looking for the towing company who held my car hostage. We finally found it and $192 later I was back in business. Oh, and let’s not forget the $52 parking ticket on top if it all that is the salt on the open wound!
I put in a very late night call to my friend which unfortunately only left me in more of a confused and concerned state. I don’t know all that is happening there and little information is forthcoming. So all I can do is send him positive energy and accept that this beautiful part of my life is changing. I can’t control this, and in all honesty, that drives me a little crazy. No chance to fix this when I know so little about the circumstances conspiring against me I have to let my friend go and pray that the things that are problems for him resolve themselves and he is happy again. I was so sad driving home – I cannot build that bridge I was so hoping to construct, to bring him back to me. Letting go is hard….and my heart hurts….
I climbed into bed with a crazy soup of emotions – melancholy for the fact that one year has past since losing Steve; joy and happiness at seeing my old friends; thrilled and impressed by what I saw my friends Ron and Tony do tonight; heartbreak. I think I won’t try and write anymore tonight, but pick this up when my mind is clear and my body doesn’t feel like it was hit by a truck.
That, and it is already 3:30 in the morning!
I think I’m getting too old for this…..