Summoning A Star


My favorite story to tell about our first date is how I summoned a star for Rebecca.

Hold that thought for a moment, though.

See those picture above? It’s Earth, from space. (Trust me, all this is going somewhere.)

Part of Rebecca’s job in education at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center involves the Sally Ride Earthkam project, a camera mounted aboard the International Space Station that provides students with pictures of Earth from space. Students pick the sites they want, and EarthKAM captures them when it flies over.

Those pictures are some from Rebecca’s work with the students. As luck would have it, they got taken on a cloudy day, but they are, nonetheless, pictures of Earth from orbit that she had a hand in.

So back to that date, and summoning the star.

My version goes like this:

We were already several hours into an awesomely epic first date that had thus far included a Sherlock Holmes movie and two bookstores, and we were walking through Big Spring Park. It was just dark, and there were no stars visible.

So I told her I would summon one for her. I pointed across the sky, and, sure enough, a star appeared in the direction I pointed, shining clearly and brightly, and then cut a path across the sky before disappearing.

I hoped she’d be kind of impressed.

The star, of course, was the International Space Station. I’d known that it would be passing overhead that night, timed things to be outside when it would appear, and then checked my phone really quickly to figure out exactly where it would be when.

While I like the magical romanticism of my version, her version was that she saw me doing something with my phone and then a little bit later the space station appeared, so clearly I must have called in some NASA connection to have the ISS fly overhead.

Frankly, I don’t know that having the ability to put in a request for the International Space Station to do things wouldn’t actually be more impressive than magically summoning stars out of the aether.

Flash forward five years. My magic is still limited to sometimes knowing when that bright star is going to pass overhead. And Rebecca actually does have the ability to put in requests for the International Space Station to do things.

And, yeah, I’m kind of impressed.

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month: The Monster She Fights


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Yesterday began Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.

Appropriately enough, Rebecca Hitt and I spent the day in Cullman for what could possibly be her last MS treatment. Possibly. Hopefully.

Rebecca’s experience with multiple sclerosis isn’t really a secret, but it’s not something we talk about a lot either. Honestly, it’s just sort of something that is.

She’s fortunate. We’re fortunate. If you follow us on Facebook, Rebecca doesn’t seem like someone struggling. We live full lives. There are people who have struggles with MS far far greater than she does. For Rebecca, it manifests in many “little” ways — heat can be more oppressive, she feels random constricting, her balance wanes randomly. It’s not always there, but it’s always nearby.

It’s easy not to know it. I respect her greatly for that. I’m half a foot taller than Rebecca. When we walk side by side, for every three steps I take, she takes four. You don’t notice it, but she’s always working a little bit harder. For those around her, that’s what her MS is like. She’s walking beside you, and you never notice how much more she puts into it than you, how much harder she works for it than you. It’s easy to miss. She makes it easy to miss. I’m proud of how brave she is. I’m proud of the positive attitude with which she undertakes her days.

For others, MS is a very different thing. They can’t walk beside you, because they can’t walk. It’s a condition that manifests itself in so many different ways. For some, it’s unnoticeable for years. For others, it’s crippling from its first appearance. We’re fortunate that hers is more benign. But we’ve also been always aware that could change at any moment. In MS, your body attacks its own nervous system. If you’re lucky, it does so in a way that causes mild annoyance. If you’re unlucky, it does so in a way that impairs you dramatically. Either way, it does so suddenly, randomly and without warning. We’re grateful for today, but we never know about tomorrow.

Save that, hopefully, now, we have some idea. Rebecca yesterday completed the second round of a relatively new treatment called Lemtrada. She took infusions for five days last year, and for three days this year. The treatment,a repurposed chemo, strips away her immune system. A new one grows, which, hopefully, decides not to attack her nervous system. It’s not a cure, they tell me, but a treatment that, hopefully, has permanent results. I understand some of it, but if you ask me too much about it, you’ll discover it’s one of those things that for me borders on Clarke’s Third Law – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I work at NASA, and this stuff befuddles me.

So far, it seems to be working. There’s noticeable improvement already from last year’s treatment. Hot days are less oppressive. The random constricting is less constrictive. She has more energy. Hopefully, those trends will continue and be amplified by the second round. We joke about that last change. At eleven years my junior, it can be hard enough to keep up with her as it is. If she gets any more energy, it’s going to be hopeless. I’ve joked that they should just half-Lemtrada her so I still have a shot.

But as nice as the improvement to the symptoms are, the biggest change will be not having to worry about tomorrow. She’s not had any new activity, any new lesions, any new attacks on her nervous system since round one. That’s a good sign. We’re never beyond worry – this is a new treatment, less than a decade old, so no one knows what year ten looks like. And nobody knows for sure what year two for Rebecca Hitt looks like. But maybe we can worry a little less.

We’re blessed. Crazy blessed. Blessed to live in a time that this is possible. Blessed to have insurance that will pay for it. Blessed to live near a doctor – Dr. Christopher LaGanke of North Central Neurology Associates – that’s been a pioneer in this treatment. (When we started dating and she told me about her condition, I pointed out that now that she was working in Huntsville, she could probably get a better doctor here. She just told me to Google her doctor. I did. I never suggested that again.) We’re blessed by casual miracles, wonders so seamless you miss the wonder of them. But they’re there. And we’re grateful.

So that’s my Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month story; my part for boosting awareness. I generally don’t ask or encourage others to give or work for a particular cause, and particularly not health-related ones. The sad reality is we all have our own monsters. If you’re reading this, you have felt the sting of cancer or heart disease or diabetes or any of the other thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. I believe we fight hardest when we fight our own monsters, so encourage you only to do so. But we become stronger through understanding each other’s monsters. And by knowing there are others fighting ours alongside us.

I’m honored to fight alongside Rebecca. I’m humbled by the way she perseveres and by the attitude she maintains. I admire her spirit and her strength, and proud and grateful to be part of her story.

To Love And To Cherish


“In the end I want to be standing
At the beginning with you…”

Rebecca on a turntable

The very first picture I ever took of Rebecca. In my mind, she wore that hat constantly in those early days, but she assures me that she had really only just bought it right before I took that picture.

David and Becky by a turntable

Revisiting the spot of that picture during our engagement photo shoot with Caleb McPherson

Rebecca,

Today I marry my best friend. My adventuremate, my partner, my complement, my help, my home. Today is a good day.

Today, we go back to the Depot. Back to the beginning, back to where we met. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of weddings there, and it was hard not to think “what if…” and gradually “someday…” and finally “soon…” I saw a lot of really neat things done at weddings there, and occasionally thought about whether I’d like them in mine. I like our wedding. I like that it’s “us.” I like that it’s us.

I remember when I first saw you there. I was an overwhelmed new tour guide on my first day of museuming. (Well, professional museuming.) You were, in my mind, one of several of the veteran seasoned tour guides I’d be working with. I didn’t know until much later how new you were yourself. You seemed so competent and confident. And you seemed so nice. You made me feel welcome, more than any of the others. I appreciated it.

It was fun getting to know you in those early weeks. You inspired me and challenged me. You made me push myself as a tour guide. You impressed me. And we talked some, and I got to know you not just as a tour guide, but as a person. You impressed me again.

And then there was a first date. And a second. (Or a first-and-a-half and a first-and-three-quarters and a second?) And then many more to follow.

Between meeting at the Depot and returning to the Depot today, it’s been a long journey. With museums and ducks and rockets and cheese and airplanes and ghosts and hardtack and music and histories.

A lot of that journey has been good. To put it mildly. And I’ve loved having you as my companion, sharing in those things. I’ve grown accustomed to your face. I like having you be there. I like you being the person I tell my stories to. I like you being the person I share my stories with. One day when I realized I truly couldn’t imagine you not being the person beside me, I realized I should probably do something about that.

Some of the journey was less good. And those parts made me realize how truly lucky I am. You have loved me in a way I’ve never been loved. You have taught me how to love better. You loved me selflessly, and, again, inspired and challenged me.

I am lucky. So very lucky. If I’m blessed to have you there to share my stories, I’m just as blessed that I get to share yours. I admire your excitement, your passion, your incredible incredible sense of pure wonder. To stand by you is to see the world and be reminded how beautiful it is. I love to see you smile, to bounce, to sing, to dance, to experience and radiate the underappreciated awe of creation.

I admire your heart. I admire the way you treat me. You make me proud to be associated with you. You, again, make me better. People like me better as part of us. I’m very OK with that.

I love that we can adventure together, that rockets and history and Huntsville and so many other things are not a thing one of us shares with the other, but are who WE are as a couple. I love what a strong and tangible “us” there is. That in so many of our undertakings, we are better together than both of us apart.

And if someone is going to be always by my side, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I find her incredibly beautiful.

I love our friends. Our love story is not just ours; it’s an ensemble. A story told with an amazing and beautiful cast of supporting characters, without whom we wouldn’t be us. I’m grateful for them, and love them.

I could go on forever. You would probably prefer I stop and go put on some fancy clothes. And so I will.

See you soon, beloved.

Soon, and forever.

David

Song Challenge Week 23 — A Song You Want Played At Your Wedding


The latest entry in my 30 Day Song Challenge weekly project.


Song Challenge Week 23 — A Song You Want Played At Your Wedding

“Witness to Your Life,” Lori McKenna

Have you ever noticed that I really like hedging on these things? I mean, like, almost every single one I start by saying how there’s not really a real answer, but I’ll provide some sort of context in order to give some sort of response. How many times have I just said, “It’s this”?

So, anyway, a song to play at my wedding.

I had a wedding, once. The music was pretty traditional wedding-y music. I remember more the song that wasn’t played. Nicole really wanted to play Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” (we got married all of 13 months after our first date. But it was a long 13 months, I guess) but I was deadset that there would be no country music played at my wedding. Oh, sure, she wanted the pop version of the song, but, dang it, Shania Twain’s a country singer, and it’s not going to happen.

In the last few years, I’ve been to concerts by Lady Antebellum a couple of times, Sugarland a couple of times, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, etc. etc. etc. But it was something then I wasn’t willing to budge on.

If I had it to do over again, I might handle it differently.

If I had it to do over again, I would handle a lot of things differently.

I’ve thought a few times since then I was going to have another wedding. There was the time we were going to have a Braveheart wedding at an outdoor mall. Or the time I was going to perform the service.

My favorite idea is still the one where I send out invitations asking people what they want to do in the wedding so that nobody was offended. The problem with that one is that it requires someone else who also wants that wedding.

So, getting back to hedging, the song kind of depends on the wedding, you know? I don’t know that the same music would fit all those weddings.

But to pick something to honor the request: Lori McKenna’s “Witness To Your Life”

It starts with a wedding — “Someone was crying and the bells ring” — and is still one of the most beautiful promises of partnership I’ve ever heard — “YOu should never have to be alone, someone will always call you home…

“… and I will be that witness to your life.”

How I’m Doing


It’s been a week since I got the call that Nicole had died. Random thoughts since then.

• Last Wednesday drove home for me what it is to be a writer. I had to write something that day. It was a need. I was not going to able to sleep unless I did.

• I cannot say how much the response to the post I wrote last week meant to me. I got more views of my blog just from Facebook last week than I have Facebook friends. I have never had the online community gather around me and express love and support as happened last week. It was amazing, and I appreciate it. There were moments that I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t be at the funeral, so it was special to me that I was able to share about her with more people than if I’d been there.

• I went to her grave on Monday. I wasn’t entirely sure where it was, but finding it was part of the adventure. It was strange.

• And that ties in to the other overarching theme of the week, and that is that it’s just been sort of random. My emotional landscape fluctuates, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel about it, so I just let things wash over me as they do. There is a lot of sadness, but it’s a very bittersweet sadness. There’s no pain in the sadness, there’s a peace in the sorrow. Oddly enough, I’ve never had to deal with death quite like this, and it’s a very strange thing.

• Today was our engagement anniversary. I really wish I could go back to where we got engaged today. But life, as it turns out, goes on.

Suitcases of Memories — RIP Nicole Hitt, 1975-2012


This post is random and chaotic and disorganized and being written too late, but I had to write. I can’t not.

I have wondered frequently how I would find out, who would tell me, how long it would take. My friend Lain was the one to tell me, for which I am incredibly grateful, and it took two days.

Nicole Hitt, who for seven and a half years was my wife, died on Monday.

That is the first picture that was ever taken of us together, or at least a picture of that picture.

Our first date was on January 27, 1999. We went to Memphis and ate Mexican and got lost trying to find a movie theater and hung out at B.B. King’s Club and heard Ruby Wilson, the Queen of Beale Street. Nicole had asked me the night before if it was going to be a date and I was too chicken to just say yes so I told her we would go and have a good time and see how the evening goes and decide at the end. The kiss in her doorway that night pretty well sealed that it was.

Nine days later, I took her home to meet my family. I had already turned down a job that would have moved me away from her. I was head over heels for her stupid fast, but I knew that this woman would be my wife. My mom took that picture, the first of us. A while back, I found it at their house, and took a picture of it.

We were young, and happy.

That’s the last picture of us together. It’s not the last time I saw her, but that particular time, months after the divorce, I just really wanted a picture of us, so I flipped my iPhone around and snapped one.

At one point in time, I was going to write a book, a fictionalized version of our story, and it was going to be called “The Last Time He Saw Her.” Vignettes capturing the arc of a love affair. “The last time he saw her, she had just been the other sister.” “The last time he saw her, he had no clue how beautiful she would be in that dress.” “The last time he saw her, she was still his wife.” And so forth. Maybe some day I will.

Thirteen months, less a day, after that first date, I was standing at the front of First Baptist Church in Indianola, and the doors in the back opened and I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.

This is not the time or place to discuss the issues that led us to fall apart. Nicole was, from long before I met her, haunted by demons that increasingly got the better of her. And eventually those demons led her, much to my dismay, down a road we could not walk together, and so we parted ways. I had hoped for a different outcome; I had hoped a different choice could be made. But one day papers arrived in the mail saying that we were now divorced.

We stayed in touch, to vary degrees, over the five years since. At one point, when it was the only form of contact possible, we wrote letters. Not e-mail, but actual letters on paper with stamps. I saw her occasionally. She stayed in Huntsville for a few months after the separation; that last picture was taken the first time I saw her after she moved, after not seeing her for months. When we started dating, if you count dates that last after midnight and into the next day, it was several weeks after the first date before there was a day that we didn’t see each other, at least briefly. That picture came after the longest I’d not seen her in years. It was strange. It was good seeing her, and I wanted a picture of us. The last one, ever.

I saw her a few times over the years since. Many of those were in hospitals. A couple were not. She showed me her Tuscaloosa during one of her better periods, when she was working on another degree, supplementing the master’s she already had. We went to church together during that visit, and I loved her church. Another time, I got to see her again in Oxford. We ate at an long-favorite restaurant, for old time’s sake.

It’s been two years since the last time I saw her. At some point, as her conditioned worsened, phone calls became more rare. At one point, they disappeared, as she was in a coma and then unable to talk. I heard from her for the last time earlier this year. At the time, I kind of thought it might be the last time, and that’s saying something. Nicole went through things that should have killed her several times over, and yet always she pulled through. When I talked to her last, it sounded like it would be impossible for her to recover, but she’d been through impossible before. At the same time, it’s inevitable to the human condition that, at some point, you stop recovering. If I hadn’t known better, the last time I spoke with her, I would have thought I was talking to a 90-year-old woman. She sounded old, weak. Worn. She was paralyzed from the neck down. At the time, I think I commented to someone that I could be honest with, that would understand, that an end to the suffering would be the best thing for her. I cannot imagine what life was like for her.

The health problems had gone on the entire time I knew her, and had gotten ever progressively worse. According to what I was told, the last straw was “Sepsis” — “a potentially deadly medical condition that is characterized by a whole-body inflammatory state and the presence of a known or suspected infection,” per Wikipedia. Ultimately, however, it was erosion, a body worn down by more than it could withstand.

Visitation will be from 11-1 today and the funeral at 1 p.m. at Coleman’s Funeral Home in Oxford, Miss., and burial will be at Delay Cemetery. Out of respect for her family’s wishes, I will not be there; I will be paying my respects in private at another time.

As I said, Nicole had her struggles. But through all of that, she had one of the best hearts I have ever encountered in this world. She was truly, truly loving and giving, and wanted nothing more than to make life better for others. As a counselor and social worker, she gave all that she had to her clients, at various times foster children, drug addicts, dying elderly, refugees and others. There were times the main thing keeping me going in the relationship was supporting her, because what she did was truly purely good. It amazes me what she accomplished, which would have been incredible even without knowing what all she had to overcome. Through the end, her thoughts were always for others.

In that respect, she has inspired me. I have learned so much through her, and it pains me, deeply, that I did not know the things when I met her that I know now. She was a precious, fragile doll, and I was a child too young and innocent to know that I didn’t know how to take care of this thing I wanted to play with. I made so so many stupid mistakes that I can only hope to use to make me a better person now. I’m grateful that I at least did see in time to tell her that I was so so sorry, even if it did no good at the time.

I could keep going, and it would still be inadequate. It was a weird thing, after the divorce, and particularly dating again, knowing that there was a woman out there who still wore my last name. It was an intentional choice she made, and it’s one that by now I am deeply deeply honored that she did.

I miss her, often, but increasingly in a strangely detached way. Losing her launched a series of changes in me that looking back at the memories I shared with her is almost like looking at the memories of a stranger. I know it was me, but, at the same  time, it wasn’t.

Several people have asked how I am. I don’t know. I’m good. Confused more than anything. I have no road map for how I’m supposed to feel about this. It’s a strange, strange thing, and I don’t know quite what to make of it. But, like I said, it was not unexpected, and not something I see as a bad thing, despite feeling very bad for her niece, so by and large, I’m well. I’ve cried, to be sure, but mostly I just really needed to write this.

For her, I am happy.

She was suffering. Badly. For a very long time. With no hope of not. And now, she’s not. Now, she’s whole and well.

But, more than that …

I’ve written once before about the child we lost, the tubal pregnancy she had. She had wanted children, and for many reasons, it just wasn’t an option for us. While the tubal pregnancy could have been much worse in many ways, it still hurt. But I believe that life begins at conception, and that means that, no matter how short a duration she was in this world, we had a child. The child that Nicole so wanted but couldn’t have in this world would be waiting for her in the next.

And, so, yeah, I’m happy for Nicole. Not only happy, but kind of jealous. She’s not only free of pain, free of suffering, but she’s there now holding Katelyn. Finally holding her child. And that’s not a bad thing at all. That’s not a bad thing at all.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do now, then I have ever done before… it is a far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known before.”

Farewell, Nicole.

Scenes From A Wedding


I’ve had the rather cool opportunity a couple of times now to operate a photobooth at weddings as a way to make a little extra money, and did so this past Saturday. During some of my downtime, I amused myself by taking a few photos, which I’m blogging here because, hey, why not.

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You can kind of see it in that picture, but the bride’s cake actually had a cube of pictures atop it, which was rather neat. The one on the other side of the front showed the couple together.

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The groom was apparently an Alabama fan, I gather.

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There was a table with candy in class containers that was rather pretty.

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When I got there, the groom was in a back room by himself playing “It Is Well With My Soul,” which I thought was a neat moment.

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The bride’s shoes, which were doffed rather quickly after the service for the duration of the reception.

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My test strip from the photobooth.