It has been four years since I made a year-in-review post such as the one you’ve just started reading. But 2016 has been an interesting year. I was promoted twice, took a few day trips, and bought a car. On the other hand, my mom passed away, as did countless artists and celebrities, all of them before their time. Additionally, my general stress level seemed to increase tenfold. There have been times, during these last two months in particular, when it seemed as if 2016 would never end.
2016 highlights and lowlights
What a year it’s been!
January was uneventful on a personal level, but it saw the passing of two of my favorite artists: David Bowie – “Ziggy Stardust” himself – passed away on January 10th, and Alan Rickman, the never-nominated character actor who brought the complicated “Harry Potter” character Severus Snape to the big screen, died just four days later. Ironically, both artists were 69 at the time of their deaths, and both succumbed to cancer. Glenn Frey, of Eagles fame, also died. The cause: complications from arthritis medication, proving once again that prescription medication causes far more deaths than marijuana ever has. In Frey’s honor, I listed to “Hell Freezes Over,” one of the best concert albums of all time, on repeat for at least a week.
I had been planning a vacation to Mexico City for sometime in February, but the trip never came to fruition. Instead, I had an opportunity to serve as a SME – Subject Matter Expert (read: assistant trainer) – at work, and it was an opportunity too good to be true. Do not fret though, Loyal Reader: I won’t bore you with too many tales of work on here.
Harper Lee died that month, at age 89. The reclusive writer had published just two novels throughout her career. One of them, “Go Set a Watchman,” was released less than a year before her death. The other, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is one of the greatest books I have ever read.
March was innocuous enough. My SME feedback was 95%, and nobody famous died – at least not that I can remember.
A lot happened in April. I received a promotion at work, to Team Leader, and was “gifted” a new team of 25 agents. Attrition is high and only five of those original 25 remain, but they make me supremely proud. I can only hope that I never led them too far astray. In terms of R&R, I discovered the hiking trails of Panther Creek State Park, a veritable oasis of woodland greenery with over 30 miles of trails, every inch of which I hope to eventually hike.
Prince, nee Prince Rogers Nelson, passed away at age 57. He was found in his Paisley Park recording studio, and it was eventually disclosed that the artist died from an accidental opioid overdose. I grew up to “Purple Rain” and “Raspberry Beret” and “Batdance,” and remember seeing him on “SNL” just one season before his unfortunate death. This one stung.
The epidemic of substance abuse throughout East Tennessee ages people prematurely, so when I tell coworkers who ask about my age that I turned 41 in May, they often *swear* that they would have guessed then years younger. Thanks for the kind words, everyone!
I took my mom on a day trip to Clinton, one of Tennessee’s “Main Street Communities,” lined with antique shops, soda fountains, and an authentic “gaslamp quarter” feel. Clinton was home to the first segregated public high school in the southern United States. Much more noteworthy, however, was the fact that my mom had a wonderful time, and that our trip to Clinton was the last time I can honestly recall seeing her healthy.
June began on an innocuous note. My mom left for Memphis to visit her daughter and granddaughter, and I day tripped to Asheville, North Carolina. My destination: the Biltmore, the country’s largest privately-owned estate, and a shutterbug’s delight. Things took a turn for the worse when my mom had to cut her trip short, spending half of her time in Memphis in the hospital. She was admitted after throwing her back out, but it turned out there was much, much more going on with my mom than just a slipped disk. More on that later.
Also in June: Muhammed Ali – Cassius Clay, Jr., “The Greatest of All Time” – died of septic shock. Ali had been sick for much of the past year, and underwent frequent hospital stays for pneumonia and respiratory infections. The outpouring of global tributes to the heavyweight champion of the world seemed unparalleled; even Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump set aside their differences to eulogize Ali. Prince’s death in April stung, but Ali’s death stung like a bee.
My sister, my niece, and their dog, Dot, came for a visit in July. I remember that we visited Dollywood (and forgive me, sis, for sharing the picture below, of you and your daughter on the Wild Eagle roller coaster), but the rest of the month seems a blur to me. At least my mom was home.
My mom spent the entire month of August, including her 70th birthday, in the hospital. Although we didn’t know it at the time, she would never see Molly the Dog again. I didn’t always know what to expect when I came to visit her. In the beginning, she seemed in good spirits, and her body responded well to the first round of chemotherapy. Later, she was moved to ICU and placed on a ventilator; it was a miracle that she didn’t lose her voice or receive a tracheotomy. I will never forgot that one time I came to visit her and opened the door to her room, only to be greeted by the sight of nurses helping her poop into a pan. These visits so unnerved me that I couldn’t stay longer than two hours; from the hospital I made it as far as downtown Knoxville where I had to pull over and get some fresh air.
Gene Wilder died on the 29th. The star of “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles,” two of the funniest movies of all time, succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease – another cruel, merciless ailment. There is no dignity in dying, it seems.
September, just 30 days long, contained the highest of highs and the lowest of lows from the entire calendar year. The month began with me promoting to Corporate Team Leader, and inheriting seven new agents on my team. Good people all. One of them was “hot for teacher” as they say, and we started dating. Romance blossomed quickly, and we even discussed plans for the future together. The sex was amazing, far and away the best I’ve ever had. (Do with that information what you will.)
On September 15th, I visited my mom in the hospital. It was the first time in three weeks that I had seen her talking, and though her voice was raspy and she was clearly in pain from being bedridden for so long, it seemed as if she was finally on the mend, and that she may even have been one month away from coming home. But alas, this was not in the cards. My mother passed away four days later. It would appear that she simply got tired of fighting. My dad told me how she pleaded with him to get her take her home the day before she died, and how he had to let her down as nicely as possible. She deserved better, and I couldn’t help but feel that all of our petty arguments from the previous months were, ultimately, just silly.
The girlfriend was supportive and patient; she brought a rosary for me to leave with my mom, a lapsed Catholic. I took just three days of bereavement leave from work, and I know now that I should’ve taken more time. It took a full month for me to fully process the fact that my mom was gone.
I would just as soon put October behind me as I would live through the month again. There were a few bright spots; I rocked two clever Halloween costumes and I watched more than my share of horror movies, including the original “Poltergeist,” a genre classic. Additionally, my father’s trivia team placed second in the state championship. On the other hand, I found myself single again, against my will. Although it threw me for a loop, I still should have seen it coming. I no doubt sound like the typical male when I say that I didn’t do anything wrong, but in this case it is true: I honestly didn’t (knowingly) do anything wrong. I love women but I have never understood them. I know now that I never will.
Even though November was just one month ago, it already seems like a blur. I am told that some team called “The Cubs” won the World Series (whatever that is – J/K). I did get to spend time with my sister, her daughter, and Dot the Dachshund over Thanksgiving. We enjoyed good food and libations, making the seven-hour drive worthwhile. It was enough to put dreadful thoughts about our orange-skinned president-elect behind me.
But Leonard Cohen, that melancholy Canadian basso profundo, died in November. He made it to age 82, a fair spell, and left us with such somber classics as “The Future,” “Everybody Knows,” and the oft-covered “Hallelujah.” “It goes like this, the fourth the fifth/The minor fall and the major lift/The baffled king composing/Hallelujah.” Indeed.
December came with a vengeance. Holy shit. The few bright spots (ugly Christmas sweater contest at work, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) were book-ended by one tragedy after another. A 20-year-old coworker of mine was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia…and passed away. Another colleague lost his grandfather – the third grandparent of his to die in just six months!
As for me personally, I booked travel to Nicaragua, but pushed back the start of my trip after waking up on my original departure date with so much back pain that I could barely get out of bed. As for Christmas, I spent it with my dad and with Molly the Dog. Molly scored some serious presents, but my dad and I weren’t really feeling the holiday spirit. Christmas was my mom’s holiday, and I had myself a good cry upon waking up on the 25th and seeing her urn in the living room. I love you mom, and I miss you.
It gets worse. John Glenn, a four-term U.S. Senator and the first American to orbit the earth, died on December 7th. George Michael, whose Wham! song “Last Christmas” was a radio airplay staple all month long, perished on Christmas Day. Carrie Fisher, who enjoyed a supporting role in 2015’s “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” had a heart attack while flying from London to Los Angeles, and died the next day. Her mother, silver screen star Debbie Reynolds, suffered a fatal stroke the day after, upon learning of daughter Carrie’s passing. My heart aches.
I no doubt have omitted someone famous from my who’s who of deceased athletes, celebrities, and public figures. This was not intentional. And while I owe these people nothing, nor they me, the general theme for 2016 was that life is just a temporary perk, one that can be retracted at any time.
On a personal level, 2016 had a few bright moments, but as a whole is best forgotten. What will 2017 bring? Who can say! I have been saving money, little-by-little, and hope to make a career change or to at least travel with greater frequency. On the latter front, I have already jumped in with both feet (being careful not to injure my back again, ha!) and am posting this from the colonial city of León, Nicaragua! I spent the afternoon on the beach, and in a few minutes I will head to the city center to ring in the new year with new friends in a new city. ¡Saludos!