Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Long Have You Known

How long have you known? How long has it shown?

Forever, if ever, forever.

-How Long Have You Known

The haunting, dreamy melody hit my ears as the needle scratched through my skin at Atomic Tattoo. I instantly recognized the rift even though I had never heard this song before. But I had been jamming to DIIV for the last few weeks and there was no mistaking their sound.  And just like that everything started to somewhat, slowly make sense in the world. Life had reached this inevitable intersection that I was always destined to arrive at. Nothing I could have done would have changed things. And with this knowledge I began to accept reality, even is so begrudgingly.

So this is the first time I've wrote about my life in six months. I was too heartbroken and consumed by negativity over Alana to even attempt it. Oddly enough I saw her  a week after that last post. We ended up spending one last wonderful night together. Then just like that she slowly faded away...and that's where everything went sideways for me. I went out with a secession of girls, each seemly worse than the last. Chicks from the Internet, friends from work, sisters of those same friends from work. It wasn't pretty at times and I may have even been somewhat of  a douche at moments. The whole spring and summer was somewhat of a clusterfuck. I was trying so hard just to forget about her. But the harder I tried the more I failed. It seems like couldn't get my grip on the wheel called life.

Then finally one day I realized the girl was on vacation with another man. And at that moment I just kind of snapped out of it. I deleted her off Facebook the following day and that was the last of it. I needed to break that psychological hold if I was ever to be normal again. I started to regain my footing and confidence in myself. Emboldened by this, I even ended another relationship that I had going off and on for fifteen years. It too had become toxic and it should have been done at least five years ago. But i didn't have the strength then that I have now. The whole process has made me a little more cynical but a lot wiser. There is no perfect solution that will make everything ok. Life will just slowly regenerate itself one day at a time. Just like my skin; my mind will slowly heal itself. What will be left over is a better version of me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


"Home is a place in the mind.  When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and times gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness."

-Maeve Brennan, The Visitor

Well it's been six weeks since I last wrote here.  Needless to say I needed the time away to compose myself and collect my thoughts since 2012 ended.  The one I love here walked away and I've been trying to put the pieces back together. In some ways I'm relearning how to live here in Austin. Reacquainting myself with a city that I somewhat ignored the past year. I've reconnected with old friends, gone out and tried to have as much fun as possible. Trying to love life again here in this town. But truth be told it's been the most lonely time I've spent since I first moved here two years ago. When I lay my head down at night there is still a huge void in my life. I'm still trying to find that happy place...I'm still trying to find my way back home.

Home is a funny word when you think about it.  It means so much more than a physical place. To me it means more about a feeling of comfort, familiarity and being loved. For the first year here in Austin I struggled to find that feeling. I made some friends, partied on 6th Street, Red River and the countless other drinking spots. Had brunch, went swimming, caught movies at the Alamo Drafthouse and did the so many Austin activities that define this place. I even met a couple girls during the process who were amazing people.  But I never confused having fun with a sense of belonging. In some ways the whole experience felt more like a long vacation of sorts.  It really wasn't until I met her that I had that feeling that we all crave.  Life just felt different after that. I felt like I was apart of something and somebody. I felt loved, appreciated and important here in Austin.  Life just started to click more for me here in all aspects. She in a sense became my happy place. I looked forward to the week to week routine that became our life last year.  It didn't really matter where we were or what we were just felt like I belonged.  It was a wonderful feeling.

So I am in a way back to where I started. Trying to get out, make new friends and that whole bit. I've gone to Super Bowl parties, free keggers and drunken birthday get togethers.  Life isn't over and it will get better. But for now it just ain't quite the same. I miss my home in more ways than one. I hope to find that feeling again. So I'm going to keep it brief and leave on that note. Until next time...

Monday, December 31, 2012

Full Circle

"We'll talk about it later" she said in regards to our set New Year’s plans.  It didn't seem promising.  So here I am again practically trying to force my date to spend New Year’s with me.  It was deja vu all over again.  My turbulent first year in Austin ended with a thud on New Year’s 2011.  It now seems that 2012 will end how it started...not well.

My time here is Austin has been a serious of up and downs.  Year one was pretty much a getting acquainted period with my new surroundings.  I didn't have many friends or social contact for the first six months here.  Eventually over the summer I met girl who became my first girlfriend in Texas.  It was my first real friend in Texas all together.  The relationship was relatively brief, about four months.  But it was very meaningful, given my circumstances of being in a new place.  It ended awkwardly with a New Year’s date that couldn't have gone worse.  In reality thought the relationship had been over for a few weeks.  Oddly enough I met someone else relatively quickly.  She was young and it was really just a two month fling.  Most importantly though it help soften the blow of the previous breakup.  When that ran its course by spring I found myself back to being alone.  Should I stay in Austin or just return home? 

I wasn't so sure what the future held for me here.  I knew this town had much to offer and I was determined to enjoy myself here at least for the time being.  I began to record videos of different places that I liked in Austin.  I wanted to have the memories in case I ever left.  On one of these occasions I went this local coffee shop called the Spider House.  The rest of my year would never be the same.  By sheer chance or destiny I met this girl there with her little boy.  He was very friendly and started talking to me.  Soon I was sitting at the table talking with his mother.  It was very sweet encounter and a little bit surreal.  Almost like something out of a romantic comedy movie.  We all ended up getting ice cream together afterwards.  Later that night we agreed to go out again on a date.

So a couple weeks later we went back to the Spider House and the rest was history.  We clicked immediately and began seeing each other regularly.  Her beautiful smile, her creativity, quirky and sometimes sarcastic personality were very attractive to me.  It was so much more than that though.  We just seemed to have that chemistry that you need.  Mutual likes in music, sports, conspiracies and our often cynical viewpoints on things just seemed to go together.  More than anything though it was her unwavering dedication and love for her son that won me over.  I knew she was a very genuine, loving woman. 

We spent much of the next four months together.  We often joked of the "3 day rule." We didn't like going more than three days without seeing each other.  Trips to San Antonio, Lady Bird Lake, movies, holiday BBQ's would soon come.  But mostly we stayed at home watching movies and documentaries.  We didn't need to go out to have fun.  We just enjoyed each other company...that was enough.  The simple life just seemed to work.  It was my first real 30's relationship.  We didn't need crazy night at the bars like I did in my 20's.  I really was in this comfort zone that I hadn't felt in Austin.  Hadn't really even felt that in Chicago in a long time. 

Life was good but it wasn't perfect.  My life here in Texas was still a work in progress.  I still hadn't landed a real permanent job or career here.  I am still in a sense finding my way.  I knew that would be problematic eventually with someone with greater needs than just herself.  After a mid-summer trip to Ireland I returned to a world that wasn't quite the same.  We had our first fight that day and I began to have a creeping sense of anxiety over the next few months.  We still had lots of fun most the time but the honeymoon seemed to be over.  It seemed that I was becoming more attached each passing month and she had a hit a stopping point.  I knew she cared about me but I still couldn't close the deal.  It was difficult position to be in...what are you to do?  There are three people’s feelings I had to keep in mind.  I was ready to give it my all.  My heart was fully in it but that appeared to be not quite enough.  Relationships are complex and just because I had most the ingredients didn't mean I had them all.

So here on New Year’s Eve I'm back to where I started.  As the year draws to a close it appears the sun is setting on my relationship.  My heart still holds out for hope but I need to prepare myself for the worst.  I don't know what life holds for me in 2013.  Things feel bleak right now but I know life always get better.  That's one thing I have learned here in Austin.

Happy New Years

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stranger than Fiction

"The fact that Northern Illinois is in the BCS in 2012 is really a sad state for college football and where we are with the current system," Herbstreit said. "And the fact, thank goodness, we're moving toward a new system in 2014. They don't deserve to be in the BCS this year. Are you kidding me with Northern Illinois playing in the BCS?"

I texted my dad asking him could you believe what they're saying?  I literally wanted to drive the 1,900 miles to Bristol, CT and smack the son of a bitch.  This was the crowning moment in the history of the program and the network was shitting all over it.  I shouldn't have come to expect anything less from ESPN.  The same network they shoves Yankees/Red Sox down our throats all year long, the network that acts like the NHL doesn't exist (ok, they may be right on that) and the ones who gave us the LeBron James debacle known as The Decision.  But nothing ESPN said could take this away from Huskie nation. Between the Northern Illinois Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish it has been an unforgettable college football season to say the least.

Living in Austin, Texas I have gotten used to the college football mania that infects this town every fall.  College football is big in Texas and in the south in general.  Coming from Chicago though I never gave much thought to college football.  Chicago is a pro sports kind of a town.  It’s all about the Bears there.  College football was just a way to kill time until Sunday.  Most folks there just root for their Alma matter or wherever their kids go.  The smart kids went to the University of Illinois.  Some of them went to the University of Iowa or Wisconsin.  The real overachievers went o Northwestern or Notre Dame.  Then the rest of them went to...Northern Illinois University.  That's where the regular kids like me went.
My father graduated from Northern Illinois in 1971.  My brother Colin is currently living in DeKalb and attending school there.  I attended school there myself from 2003-2005.  In fact, I think half my friends and family attended school there at some point in their lives.  Mostly everybody in Chicago knows somebody who goes or went to NIU.  They are a de facto Chicago "home team" in a loose sense.  The football program started to take off about ten years ago when I was there.  They knocked off Alabama in Tuscaloosa back in 2003.  They have produced a fair number of NFL players over the years.  They have had an increasing number of national televised games each year.  They are a perennial bowl team.  Northern Illinois has become somewhat a powerhouse over the years (in a mid-major sense.)  On New Year’s Day the program will reach its highest pinnacle yet.  The Orange Bowl vs. Florida State (more on them later.)

I can't talk college football though without mentioning another Chicago area team.  The #1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Like NIU, Notre Dame has a lot of alumni in the Chicagoland area.  Being a bigger program Notre Dame has had more of a love-hate relationship with the locals.  Mainly either you love them or you hate them.  I was part of the latter.  I had no room in my heart for a bunch of spoiled rich Catholic kids.  I've hated too many of those types in my lifetime.  Furthermore, I was still pissed about a game from 1993.  Back then it was my favorite team, #1 Florida State vs. #2 Notre Dame in one of the most famous college games ever.  Notre Dame knocked off FSU 31-24 by deflecting a last second pass from quarterback (and future New York Knick) Charlie Ward.  I was heartbroken by the loss.  Florida State did recover and won the championship that year.  I've been a huge fan ever since.  Meanwhile I've hated Notre Dame for the last nineteen years least I thought I did? 
Funny thing happen this year though.  Notre Dame opened the season in Dublin, Ireland last summer just after I had been there.  They must have had a little luck of the Irish rub off on them.  The unranked Irish won the opener and then won again the following week.  Week after week they were grinding out wins with defense in an era where no one plays defense.  It was very old school, almost like it was out of the 1960's.  As each week went by I found myself actually rooting for them.  I couldn't understand it...what had happened to me?  It was impossible for me to not respect a team of real students (and smart ones at that) in a world full of pseudo student-athletes.  I didn't think it was possible for Notre Dame to win big in the modern college sports era.  I had been proven wrong.  They knocked off USC in their final game and I was officially on the bandwagon.

So this January I'll be rooting for Notre Dame to win the National Championship over Alabama.  I also will be putting my love of Florida State aside for one night.  I will be rooting for my Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.  In that case blood is thicker than water.  Both teams will be heavy underdogs in their games.  That doesn't matter much though.  They have already done what was said couldn't be done.  In some ways they've already won.
Go Irish, Go Huskies

Monday, November 5, 2012

Coming Attractions

"I think we should start looking for hotels in New Orleans" I joked to the girl from my parents’ home in Chicago.  I was referencing the Bears beatdown of the Colts in the season opener.  "Yeah for the Texans Super Bowl victory" she replied back to me in a not so joking matter."This is our year" she followed.  Week one of the NFL season brings a sense of optimism to at least half of the team’s fanbases.  As each week passes that optimism dwindles down to fewer and fewer teams.  But for a couple teams that swagger is only growing...

Being a Texas refugee I have taken a likin' to a few "local" teams around here.  I haven't really caught on to the Texas Longhorns yet.  They haven't given me much reason too yet.  I jumped on the Dallas Mavericks bandwagon in 2011 all the way to the NBA championship.  It was more of an anti-Heat vote but fun nonetheless.  Likewise for the Texas Rangers who came within a strike of the winning the World Series.  I was sitting at the Tavern that night and could feel the air sucked out of the room.  Growing up around the Chicago Cubs it was a sight I was very familiar with.  Yet most of the people I've met in Texas, particularly girls, were not from Texas.  I had never had a real reason to root for a Texas sports team.  Then last March I met a native Texan girl (complete with a cute southern accent.) She is an east Texas native via Houston.  She's a big basketball fan and loves the Rockets and Spurs.  She's also been a lifelong Houston Texans fan for ten years (to be fair we'll count the Oilers from 1979-1996.) Regardless she likes sports and I love that!

So the first harmless teasing came during the NBA playoffs.  The Spurs and Bulls were each ranked #1 in their conferences.  Could there be a possible Finals showdown looming?  What would we do?  We had only known each other a couple months...would it break us?  Well not longer than 46 minutes into Game 1 that became a non-factor.  Rose tore his ACL and the Bulls crashed and burned not long after.  I legitimately rooted for the Spurs with her the next three weeks.  Eventually age caught up with them and Oklahoma City prevailed.  Trouble averted for the time being.

So now we come back to football.  The Houston Texans have looked awesome through half the season.  They seem to be the team to beat in the AFC.  They are definitely a Super Bowl contender.  Then a funny thing happened.  The Bears started winning...and winning big.  On Monday Night Football the Bears went into Dallas as the underdog and proceeded to whip the Cowboys ass.  Their defense began to destroy teams with takeaways.  They are routinely scoring over 40 points a game.  They have a real quarterback (jerkface and all) wide receiver and running back!  It's been their best team since their Super Bowl run in 2006.  They are legit and that's where things get interesting.

So now at the halfway point of the season the premiere game has arrived.  For me, for her and the entire NFL.  It’s the Houston Texans (7-1) vs.  Chicago Bears (7-1) in primetime.  Can love survive a Windy City showdown on Sunday Night Football?  I imagine we'll probably be fine.  I'm sure there will be a few wisecracks and mild teasing.  After much discussion we indeed decided to go out and watch it together.  It should be a fun time.  But what if this is just a preview of the looming armageddon that the Mayans predicted.  No, I'm not talking about December 21, 2012.  I'm talking about February 3, 2013 in New Orleans.  Could it really be Bears vs. Texans in Super Bowl XLVII?  I guess we'll all find out soon enough.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indian Summer

"Summers almost gone.  We had some good times but they're gone. The winter's comin' on, summers almost gone" read the timeless words of Jim Morrison.  That's from the Doors song Summers Almost Gone.  Here in Texas the summer is slowly winding down.  It is late October and college football is in full force.  I see Longhorn burnt orange all around me every Saturday.  There is even just a hint of orange and yellow to the trees.  Nonetheless, it's still almost 90 degrees and my AC is cranked up in the house.  Yes, this is still Texas after all!

It's been a long summer down here in Texas.  I moved into a new house, made new friends, and fostered a relationship with a wonderful girl.  Yet as the summer winded down I was hit with two major losses.  The death of my grandfather and my pet.  While neither of these events could qualify as tragic, they definitely hurt and affected my life.  The death of my cat Gypsy especially came out of nowhere.  The pain is starting to subside now though.  As these events move into my rearview mirror I'm starting to think about the future again.  I do so now with more optimism than last year.  Last year I felt very alone during the fall holiday season.  I still hadn't nurtured many real relationships here in Austin.  One year later I feel like I'm in a much better place.  I feel truly loved by people here in Austin now.  I look forward to the holidays this fall and whatever else may be on the horizon.

So as the leaves begin to fall (I swear they going to one of these days) I’m going to sit back and enjoy all that the fall has to offer.  The Bears are 5-1 and in first place.  Likewise, my fantasy team is also in first place (thanks babe).  The World Series is on this week (go Giants!) My favorite holiday Halloween is just around the corner.  And thankfully, the election will be over in just twelve days.  Yes, I have had some recent setbacks but Iife is still good.  I think my best days are still ahead.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Grandpa Mike

"Can't complain." Those were final words my Grandpa Mike said to me.  Funny since he spent a good portion of his 93 years complaining.  My father had called me a couple hours earlier and left a message asking how I was doing.  I knew immediately, something was wrong.  When I called he told me that situation was pretty dire.  I needed to call him while I still could.  So I called my aunt to speak to him.  The conversation was brief.  He was very out of it but knew who I was and that I was in Texas.  I knew it was going to be the last time I'd speak to him again.  The tears streamed down my face as I hung up the phone.  Who is ever really prepared to make that phone call in life?  He was the only grandpa I've ever known.  I was filled with regret that I couldn't see him those final few weeks.  I was in Texas though and that's how he wanted it.  I knew grandpa wanted me to move forward with my life...wherever that would be.

When I moved to Austin, I did so with very few regrets.  One regret I did have was leaving my grandpa in Chicago.  Being in his nineties, I knew my chances to see him again would be few and far between.  My grandpa encouraged me though to move forward with my plans.  It was in January of 2011 that I made that decision.  Both my grandpa and I were living at my parents’ house.  I was saving money preparing for my cross country move.  My grandpa was there on his monthly "time share" visit to his daughter’s house.  He had been alternating homes every month between his four children.  While some people would find that a burden I found it blessing.  We got to see so much of him the last few years.  He really got to know all his grand kids as adults.  While I planned my move to Austin, I shared every detail with him.  I remember even showing him Google maps pictures of Austin.  He was amazed at the technology of our generation. He even shared a few stories of when he lived in Texas while in the army.  He knew that moving would be good for me.

My grandpa's long and amazing life reads like 20th century America history textbook.  The youngest of eight children he was the only one born here in the United States.  His family had just fled the communist takeover of what would be soon called Yugoslavia a year earlier.  He lived as a teenager through the Great Depression.  In his mid-20's he was drafted because his boss forgot to mail in his deferment.  He soon took to the battlefields of North Africa and Italy.  He fought against the Nazis and the Italian Fascists.  He was even one of the few Americans to see the body of Mussolini strung up in Milan after he was killed.  Later after the war, he stayed an additional six months serving as a translator for the Allied troops on the Yugoslavia-Italian border.  Simply put, there were not many people who could speak Serbian-Croatian language.  It was  while living there that he was notified by the Red Cross of the birth of his first child Patricia.  He later had three more children, including my mother Sandy.  He later spent his postwar years working the steel mills in Chicago, fishing in Minnesota and vacationing in Florida.  He would in the end have four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  He did this all with his beloved wife, my grandma Margaret "Dolly" Milanovich by his side

It was on August 31st when I received the call that I had been expecting.  He finally succumbed after fighting for three weeks.  A lesser man would have lasted a few days but Grandpa Mike was a stubborn Serbian man.  He wasn't ready to leave this world yet.  He wanted to know if Jay Cutler would ever lead the Bears to the Super Bowl.  He was looking forward to a new Bulls season and how Derrick Rose's return would go.  And of course I can't forget the Chicago Cubs.  He would have kept watching them forever no matter how much they disappointed him.  I'll never agree with him on that but I always admired his loyalty.  

So I when I went home a couple weeks ago for the service it was a bittersweet reunion.  It's always comforting to see family and friends even under times of duress.  But I felt certain emptiness in the house with my grandpa not being there.  I watched the Bears opener with my dad that weekend.  I had watched the season opener one year earlier with my dad and grandpa.  I just happened to be in town for a wedding last year.  Looking back I feel so lucky to have been given the chance to do that one last time.  As sad as I feel right now, there are certain memories that bring a smile to my face.  I'll remember our last Christmas we had together. My grandpa got pissed because we tried to make him eat before the Bulls game was over.  I'll cherish that memory of him forever.  I'm not sure if anyone  else in the room appreciated how great that was.

I'm still pretty sad  but I do feel unbelievably lucky to have had him my life for so long.  Most people don't get to have their grandpa attend their 30th birthday dinner.  He packed a lot of living in those 93 years and we all can only hope to be so lucky.  When I was home this month,  my mom was telling me stories about him.  She told me that she would tell him laku noć before bed every night.  That means goodnight in Serbian.  So I want the chance to say it one last time to him.  Laku noć grandpa, love you.

In memory of Michael Milanovich