For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.

In March of 2008, my sister Laurie and her husband visited me in Las Vegas. To me, one of the best parts of Southern Nevada — no, the best part — is the hiking. That day, we decided to hike Kyle Canyon, about 45 minutes from Las Vegas. It’s not a desert area, it’s at a higher elevation so everything’s green and there are pine trees and snow. We wanted to see Mary Jane Falls, a waterfall in a rather remote area.

It was 1.5 miles up a mountain to the falls. We started walking and it was really steep. We walked across a lot of snow, even though it wasn’t really even that cold. We couldn’t tell if we were on any sort of trail or anything, but we decided to just go up and we’d get there.

I had to stop frequently because of my asthma, and because the air is so thin and I couldn’t catch my breath. I was really struggling.

At one point, while were stopped for a break, my chin went down and I passed out for a split second. Laurie rushed up to me and caught me before I fell backwards. I had no idea why she was shouting — I was completely out of it, sort of in a weird daze.

I’m clutching my asthma inhaler and wearing a Morrissey t-shirt.

But I had some water and some snacks and I took a rest on the ground for a few minutes and felt better. That’s when this photo was taken. We kept trudging on.

Finally, we made it! The falls were so cool. When we got there, a few other people were sitting on rocks resting. They saw where were came from and asked us if we just walked up the side of the mountain.

We said we did, and they told us about the switchbacks, where are basically unpaved ramps that were not far from the route we took, but we couldn’t see them because it’s so heavily wooded. They said it was really easy to make it up going that way.

Aaargh! We couldn’t believe it! People brought little kids and dogs up by using the switchbacks. Oh well — when we got up there we felt we had really accomplished something, so we didn’t regret hiking up the side of the mountain like we did.

We ate some snacks we’d brought and then Laurie said she wanted to go up to this cave that was next to the falls. To get there you have to scale a rock wall about 20-plus feet off the ground.

She’s tall and managed to make it on her own. Then Nick went. He didn’t make it on his first try — it’s really hard to find notches in the rock to hold onto and to place your feet.

I decided to try, but my arms and legs weren’t long enough to stretch to the footholds. I tried a second time and didn’t make it.

I was just sitting on a rock with our stuff. They said, “We’ll be down in a minute,” and I thought, “This is really lame. I know I can get up there.”

So without saying anything (they were in the cave and couldn’t see me coming up) I tried for a third time. I was almost there, then one of my feet slipped.

I was holding on with my fingertips and started yelling, “Help! I’m gonna fall! Help!” and I burst into tears.

Laurie rushed over and told me I wasn’t going to fall, it would be OK, and grabbed my arms. She pulled me up and we both fell in a heap right outside the cave.

I was shaking and crying…but I made it. They asked why I didn’t say anything about coming up and I said wanted to surprise them.

Pretty stupid. I really could have fallen and cracked some bones. But I was grateful that my sister didn’t let me fall either time.

For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.

My Uncle Eddie, my mom’s brother, died in December 2010, almost exactly four years after she did. I went up to North Jersey with my sister and two aunts for the funeral.

Afterwards, my aunts (sisters of my uncle and mom) said we should go to Holy Cross Cemetery to find the old Ward family plot. My grandfather, grandmother and Uncle Tom are all buried there.

My aunts, who are in their 70s, hadn’t been to the cemetery in years, but remembered roughly where the plot was and what it looked like. We drove very slowly through the cemetery path, craning our necks to see if we could spot it. Finally, one of us saw it, but it was quite a distance off the road.

There was also about six inches of snow on the ground, and nobody was dressed to make the trek out to the headstone. I decided to just go out there, even though I was wearing heels, tights and a skirt. I ran, literally — I thought if I ran it wouldn’t be as cold. I remember hurling myself through the snow and leaping deeper into the rows and rows of headstones until I got there.

I brushed off the snow to reveal the name WARD with a flaming heart under it, followed by, “James (1961), Irene (1972) and Thomas (1965).” I took a few pictures, then ran back in the same footprints.

I’m not completely sure how my grandparents died. I think my grandfather James had liver disease, and I think my grandmother Irene had Alzheimer’s, although it wasn’t called Alzheimer’s back then. Tragically, my Uncle Tom died of leukemia when he was in his 20s — he and his wife had a baby and they were expecting another when he got sick. My parents, aunts and everyone in the family were devastated when “Tommy” died — I don’t think any of them ever stopped grieving. They spoke of him often.

When I got back to the car, my Aunt Irene said she really wanted to see it because it had been so long, maybe 20 years, since she had visited the grave. So, she and my sister Laurie traced my footprints in the snow.

My other aunt took this photo of them as they made their way back to the car. I’ve always loved this photo — I love how the light is hitting the snow in such a hauntingly beautiful way and I love Laurie’s coat and how she’s helping Irene get through the snow by holding her hand.

I’ve also always loved cemeteries. When we were little, my friend Karla and I used to hang out at an abandoned cemetery called Frick’s Meetinghouse Mennonite Burial Ground near where we lived in Hatfield, Pa. with graves that dated back to the 18th century. So many kids died young back then. We used to love wandering around, reading the headstones, and wondering what life was like in the 17 and 1800s.

It’s not visible from the road and, at the time, we had to trespass on private property to get there. The cemetery and tiny, modest church had fallen into disrepair, and it didn’t even have a sign. So, everyone just called it church hill because it was on a slight embankment and flanked by a creek to the east.

I visited it a few years ago and it’s all fixed up now, with a plaque detailing the cemetery and church’s history. Plus there’s a driveway leading to it now, marked by a sign by the road. (It also has a Facebook page! Interesting.)

Does anyone else enjoy exploring cemeteries?

I just realized that this is another post about death. It was unintentional!

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Irene and Laurie at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, NJ on December 2010.

For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories of five photos over the course of five days.

In May 2005 a woman who was planning her wedding decided that she had enough. The wedding was shaping up to be a huge affair, with 14 bridesmaids and ushers and 600 guests. So, she did what I would do if faced with such a ridiculous situation: She ran away.

At first officials thought she was abducted, but then they found evidence that she took off on her own, so it was much less newsworthy…to me. She took a bus from Georgia to Las Vegas, spent the night, then took another bus to Mexico. That small Las Vegas connection was enough for the local and national media to anchor the story to the city. I didn’t even want to write about it (I was a crime reporter at the Las Vegas Sun at the time) because there wasn’t really anything to it. No crime was committed, she was an adult who just left, and she has the right to do that.

The cops said they were investigating, but there were no credible reported sightings of her. And frankly, I was busy with a bunch of other stuff and it seemed like a stupid story with such a tenuous connection to us.

So, I panicked when I received a call from Fox TV’s show, “On the Record” with Greta van Susteren, and they were looking for a Las Vegas police reporter to come on the show, talking head style,  to chat about this runaway bride. I didn’t want to do it because it was a dumb story and I hate TV news (and still do) and I hate Fox News (and still do) and tried to get out of it. But within a few hours I was sitting in an empty studio on the other side of town with a microphone on my shirt talking to Greta van Sustern on live national television.

I had been on television before, but just locally in Las Vegas, just like all of the other reporters at my paper. And then later I was the spokesperson for the Las Vegas chapter of the American Red Cross and speaking to all media was part of the job. But this was the first and only time I was on national TV.

It wasn’t so bad, and it only lasted maybe a minute. This runaway bride was said to have stayed at one of the resorts on The Strip, but she only had X amount of money on her at the time. So Greta asked me how much a room at this hotel would cost and I just made something up because I didn’t know, and a few other contextual questions like that.

The show didn’t air until 10 p.m. EST, so I told my sister in Philly to stay up and watch it. But the 10 p.m. show was the rebroadcast — it was shown live at 7 p.m. on the east coast. (In Las Vegas it was on after midnight.) So when I was answering her questions with the camera aimed at me, I didn’t realize I was on live TV right then. I’m not sure why that wasn’t explained to me but it’s probably better that I didn’t know. I might have vomited.

When I left the studio I was handed a VHS tape, which I still have somewhere (but no VCR). I took this photo of the TV as I played the tape later.  I broke a lot of cool crime stories and some did get picked up by the Associated Press, but it sort of sucks that this trashy story held more appeal.

Appearing as a talking head on "On the Record" with Greta van Sustern in May 2005
Appearing as a talking head on “On the Record” with Greta van Sustern in May 2005

 

 

For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.

The Wedding Industrial Complex. I have huge problems with it. My latest complaint is the wording of wedding invitations. So many of them refer to “starting our lives together,” as to invalidate the time that the couple spent together before the wedding. Case in point: Mike’s and my dear friends were together for 17 years before getting married 2 1/2 years ago.  Their lives together didn’t start with their wedding.

This brings me to today’s photo. Mike and I met Aug. 1, 2012, and a week later, he invited me to go to down the shore for the weekend with him and his friends and family. We went for a walk on the beach one morning, and I spotted him gazing at something in the distance. It took my breath away — he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. I told him to hold still and took this photo.

Six months later, we were house hunting. As of this moment, we’ve been living in our lovely South Philly rowhouse for nearly two years.  And later this year, we’re getting married.

From day one, Mike and I were inseparable; there was no doubt that he was the one for me, and vice versa. That’s when we started our lives together. That beginning won’t be on our wedding day. And this photo symbolizes the start of “us” to me.

Mike in Ocean City, NJ on Aug. 11, 2012
Mike in Ocean City, NJ on Aug. 11, 2012

 

For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.

I adopted Cali in December 1996 from Morris Animal Refuge in Philly. Morris is a kill shelter, and a note on her cage indicated her time was running out. She was a 6-year-old morbidly obese calico, and she rubbed the side of her face on the bars of her cage when she saw me. I decided she was the one, and I signed the papers for her. She was the first cat I adopted on my own as an adult.

She was so heavy that I wasn’t able to take public transportation back home to West Philly, where I lived at the time, so I had to take a cab. The cab driver was worried that she’d pee, but I said she wouldn’t. Luckily, she didn’t.

Cali was affectionate and loved people. Everyone in my  life loved her back. She was smart, too — she learned how to manipulate me as I’m sure she had done to others in the past. She had a loud, raspy meow and she was always, always hungry. I began to understand how she got to be so fat: She’d beg with that crazy, hoarse meow, standing on her back legs to get her face as close as possible to mine, until I fed her. Then she’d practically tremble with eagerness when I filled her dish, then dive into her food. When she was done, it would begin all over again. Eventually I had to put an end to this and although she never really lost much weight, she didn’t gain much either.

She lived with me at five different addresses in Philly, two addresses in Columbus, Ohio and one address in Las Vegas. Because she hated all other animals, I was never able to have other pets, and so she was the star of my life. I have so many photos of her and even VHS videos (not that I can watch them anymore). She had a lot of dog-like qualities — she’d run to greet me whenever I came home, she’d follow me around and she’d try to come with me whenever I left.

I was at my desk at the Las Vegas Sun one morning in April 2003 when my ex called to say Cali was dragging herself across the floor and appeared to have lost her ability to walk. He was rushing her to the vet. I was on deadline (it was an afternoon paper at the time) and I felt like I couldn’t leave, but one of the editors heard me crying at my desk and came over. I explained the situation she she told me to go.

The vet said she had a fatal blood clot and there was nothing he could do. She was 13 years old.

I didn’t feel like I could be there when she was euthanized. I feel horrible about this now. I understand why I made that choice back then, though — it seemed unfathomable to me to be there to see my special girl die. We petted her and cried and told her we loved her as she howled and meowed and looked at us with huge eyes and breathed through her mouth. She was taken into an exam room and I signed the papers. As I walked out into the parking lot, I could hear her raspy meow from all the way down the hall.

I went back to work and cried all day. I think my podmate must have thought I was crazy, but he didn’t understand. Losing a close friend is is profoundly devastating. She died on a Wednesday, and every Wednesday for the next two years I wore all black to work. And up until two years ago, I kept her urn in a place of honor in my home. Even now, a small framed photo of her is on a shelf to my left. I’d go on to love many more cats in my life, ones I adopted, fosters and ones I care for at the shelter where I volunteer. But Cali was the original cat who captured my heart and she’ll always be so special to me.

(A few months after Cali died, I adopted two new cats from the Nevada SPCA, Magilla and Callie. I’m sure it appeared odd that I chose a cat with the same name, but it wasn’t intentional. I grew to see it as a tribute to the original.)

That night at home, we both cried as we put away her cat dish (believe it or not, I still have it in my momento bin) and her other things. I didn’t have the heart to sweep up the stray pieces of cat food on the kitchen floor.

Cali
Cali

We looked through photos of her — this was back when photos were tangible. So many of the photos I have of her are close-up and blurry because she was always trying to get on my lap. Eventually we found the one I’m sharing. It was turned upside down, like it is here.

“It looks like she’s flying,” my ex said, and we both started laughing. “She’s flying to heaven!”

Despite my grief, it felt so good to laugh.

I didn’t really intend on this being a memorial to Cali, and I didn’t mean for it to be sad and I didn’t mean to go back to the “dead loved ones” theme that I seem to fall into in my blog. Once I started writing, though, that’s where it needed to go. I used the blog I kept back then to fill in the details.