Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Every Day We're Apart Brings Us One Day Closer to Being Together

How to even begin this one? I returned from Fayetteville a few hours ago after spending the weekend at Carolina Beach with James and then seeing him off yesterday as he prepared to deploy. It's been a roller coaster couple of days.

Last Thursday (I can't believe it's nearly been a week), I left for Fayetteville after team. I was feeling surprisingly calm as I embarked on the weekend that I had been dreading for several months. After arriving, I gave James a letter I had written to him on July 15th, just talking about the things that were going through my head at the moment...a few parting words before he deployed. It wasn't much - just something else he could carry with him that I hoped would remind him of me. We turned in shortly after that as he had to be up for work at 4am. Around 1 or 2, we were awoken by a HUGE thunderstorm...definitely one of the worst I've seen in a while. And I DON'T like thunderstorms. I mean, a small one here and there is alright but I really hate ones in the middle of the night...who wants to wake up to that? Of course, it did give me a reason to cuddle even closer to James and he was sweet about my being such a scaredy cat.

The next morning, James was off to work and back before I had barely realized where he was. Unfortunately, he had to return to work after another hour of sleep, where he stayed for several hours. There wasn't much for me to do while he was away so I pretty much made a bum of myself until he got off and we headed for Carolina Beach. We hit another big thunderstorm on the way and didn't arrive until about 8:30. James's parents were already at his brother Jason's house when we got there. We were all in the mood to just sort of relax so the boys played pool a bit while James's mom, June, and I sat on the couch to watch. It was quite entertaining. James's idea of "breaking" was sending the ball off the table and across the room. I'm not sure if he did it intentionally or not but, either way, it was funny (and a little dangerous). After James's parents left for their hotel, James, Jason, and two of Jason's roommate, Kenny and Daniel, had the idea to watch Willow, mainly because I hadn't seen it and they thought it was amazing. After Hot Rod the weekend before, I wasn't sure what I was in for. Willow ended up being a bit more my speed though (fairies and whatnot) and it was fun to just hang out with the boys, seeing as how I don't get too much time with that sex. James and I ended up falling asleep on a chair. At some point overnight, James moved onto the couch - not realizing that Jason was also on the couch. When daybreak came, I found Jason shoved to the top of the couch and James shoved to the bottom. If I had been at all coherent when I saw this scene, I would have grabbed my camera. At the time though, all I wanted was a bed - not bamboo under my butt. Jason was kind enough to wake and usher us to his bed, thank goodness.

Saturday, it was time to hit the beach. James's parents, Jason, Michael (younger brother), Buford (Michael's beagle), James and I walked down the street to the beach (how nice it would be to live that close). James and his dad wanted to do some fishing on the pier but the rest of us wanted to relax so we headed for the beach below. Jason and I ended up talking quite a bit while we were out there and it was nice to get to know him a little bit better. I feel so comfortable with James's family...more so than I've felt with any other boyfriend's family. I'm completely myself with them and it's refreshing. James and his dad weren't able to catch anything that day and, after a few hours on the beach, we headed back to Jason's house. Everyone was pretty pooped. We had Chinese take-out for dinner and turned in pretty early.

On Sunday, Michael returned to Raleigh and James's parents left for home. Jason, James, and I went to Fort Fisher where we could drive onto the beach (with James's 4-wheel drive, of course) and the fishing was supposed to be good. The weather was great and so was Fort wasn't crowded at all - very relaxing. James waded into the ocean with his fishing pole and ended up catching 7 fish. He was quite proud and had a BLAST. It was exactly how he wanted to spend his day. He's in his element doing that sort of thing. Earlier, we had seen what we thought was a shark's fin but, nonetheless, I hung out in the water with James a bit. Shark or not, I didn't want to spend too much time away from him. It didn't escape my attention that, for a few days, we were under the impression that he would be deploying on this day. Nor did it escape my attention that he actually was deploying in two. While at Fort Fisher, James and Jason discussed the idea of watching The Graduate when we returned, which is a favorite movie of theirs and one I'd never seen (imagine that). So watch it we did. Afterward, James and I were starving but the only places open were bars. Even so, we ended up having some delicious quesadillas and pretzel bread at the Black Horn and it was more than satisfying. We then took a walk out to the beach and just sat in the sand for a while. I know our minds were probably on the same thing as we starred up at the stars and watched the lightning over the ocean. We hardly spoke a word to each other while we were out there. I was praying. It seemed like a good place to do it and, being outside, I felt a bit closer to God. I wanted to ask if he was okay but I avoided saying too much...I figured he needed some quiet time. Things got interesting when we got back to Jason's house that night. He was in bed because he had to be up at 3:30 to get ready for work. His roommates and their friends, however, were in the living room (where James and I were planning to sleep) behaving quite childishly (i.e. some guy was passed out drunk on the couch so they were putting shaving cream in his hand and tickling his nose...original). So where did we end up sleeping until Jason woke up and gave us his bed? On a couch in the garage. And James, sweetheart that he is, let me lie down while he slept sitting up. Oh, it was fun. Thank goodness Jason was leaving early. After a few hours of sleep, we started getting ready to head back to Fayetteville. It was depressing but I was trying to stay upbeat so James wouldn't think about it too much. I could tell he really didn't want to leave though. On the way, we stopped by Bojangles for breakfast. While we were sitting in the drive-thru, we feel a little nudge. I didn't even realize we'd been hit but that is exactly what had happened. James pulled out of the line and the woman behind us followed. The first words out of her mouth? "Did you back up?" Yes, he backed a drive-thru...with someone behind him. Fortunately, there was no damage to his truck and she seemed to be cool with the little crack in her car so we moved on. When we arrived back at his apartment, James knew he had to get busy. His deployment bags weren't totally packed, neither was the stuff he was sending home with his parents, and we were meeting Molly and Kendall for dinner that evening. By the time we left for the Olive Garden, he'd made some progress but there was still a lot to be done. Dinner was fun though. It occurred to me that we had sort of come full circle. The first weekend we were together was spent with Molly and Kendall and so was the last (for a while). On the way to the restaurant, I realized that, not only did we go to the Olive Garden together that first weekend as we were then, we were sitting in the same spots in the car. Maybe it sounds trivial but it was interesting to me (and Molly too when I explained it to her later). As enjoyable as dinner was, I didn't much like all the Army talk. It reminded me too much of what was taking place the next day.Getting back to James's apartment, there was A LOT left to do and it didn't all get finished that night. I cleaned the kitchen but then he insisted I sit down and watch Meet Joe Black, which we'd picked up that day because he knew I would like it. And I did...what I saw of it. Before the end, James and I decided enough had been done that evening and it was time for bed. This was a tough time for me. It was the last time I'd be able to sleep beside him for a long time. But we were both exhausted so I didn't have much of a chance to dwell on that fact.

The next day, Tuesday, was D-Day...or deployment day. I felt strange waking up that morning. He had gone to post (a.k.a. Fort Bragg) to tie up a few lose ends - I remembered him telling me goodbye. And when I woke up, it felt like just another day. The sun was out, I played around on Facebook...just a normal morning. Except that it was far from normal. Getting ready for the day became a bit more difficult when the electricity was cut off (they didn't play around after he told them he was moving the 28th). He soon returned from work and, shortly after, his parents arrived. The four of us ran a few errands, worked on the apartment a bit more, and then it was time to go to post. We had no idea how this day would play out because James had been given so little information. We went to a field where James was to check in and drop off his things. Then, we just stood beneath a tree, trying to stay in the shade because it was HOT. Soon, Jason's roommate, Kenny, and his dad arrived. Kenny used to be in the Army as well and they wanted to see James off. Next, James had to retrieve his weapon. Kenny and I went with him to do this. It was really difficult for me when he walked out with a gun strapped across his chest. This wasn't how I pictured James at all. Things were starting to become more real. He couldn't be in Kenny's truck with his weapon so he walked back to the field while Kenny and I rode over. I didn't break down until James had walked away and, fortunately, had gotten control over myself by the time we rejoined his parents. Then, there was nothing to do but wait. In total, we were there for 4 hours and, though it was hot and we were standing the whole time, I was grateful for a little extra time with James. But then it was THE time. It happened so quickly and our goodbyes were so rushed...not at all how I'd wanted it to go. I didn't get to say what I wanted to say. We kissed, said I love you and he was gone...he disappeared into the crowd of others dressed just as he was. We remained there, the 5 of us, while the soldiers gathered themselves. His mom and I were bawling. They were going down a roster and we heard his name called...then saw him walking toward the bus headed for the Pope Air Force Base. He waved at us as he went and I completely lost it. So did his mom. That was the hardest part. We headed for the car after that. His dad was driving James's truck and I was riding with his mom in the car. Before she could leave, she needed to have a good, hard cry. For a couple minutes, we just hugged and cried. After we had gotten ourselves together, I knew I couldn't cry in front of her again. Before, I was trying to be strong for James, now, I was trying to be strong for his mom. We were on our way back to his apartment when I felt my phone was him. He'd accidentally kept his cell phone which, for me, was a stroke of good luck. It meant I was able to correspond with him for a little longer. His first text said that he loved me and wished he could have given me the goodbye I deserved. That meant the absolute world to me. I received the last text at 3:30am this morning but missed it because I was sleeping. He was in Maine. And, this afternoon, his mom forwarded me an e-mail he had sent after arriving in Germany. He asked her to pass it on because he didn't have mine or his brother's e-mail addresses on him. It was sent at 11:40am today (our time). He was departing from Germany in half an hour and on to a couple other destinations. It may be a week before he's a Camp Stone, where he'll probably be for a month or so. How good it was to hear from him that early.
My soldier - please pray for him.

Thank goodness for Molly and Kendall. Kendall let me stay at his house last night so I didn't have to drive home and I was so glad not to be alone. Molly and I went to IHOP (I was in need of some french toast) and she helped to keep my mind off things until bed. I slept well (thank goodness I was exhausted) and was actually grateful when my mind wandered to school as I fell asleep instead of other things...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Harry Potter and a Weekend at the Fine's

I'm so ready to move out of this apartment. As we speak, I can hear my neighbor's television as if it were in the next room. And my TV is on too. Frustrating. This is why I had to camp out in the library all last semester. I pray that my new apartment will be quieter. I can't wait. Anyway, that's not really what I intended to write is just driving me nuts right now.

There aren't too many events to report since the last time I've written. Last Tuesday, I went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For the first time, I hadn't been counting down to the movie nor was I all that excited about seeing it. That had nothing to do with the movie, per se...I've just had SO much on my mind that has overshadowed any excitement I might have felt. And I ended up having mixed feelings about the film. I wasn't fond of some of the scenes they added that weren't in the book (i.e. the Weasley's house being set on fire - I'm pretty darn sure that wasn't in the book). I also felt that they left out some essential scenes, such as the last battle at Hogwarts and Dumbledore's funeral. Having that said, it was probably the funniest of the six movies. I don't think I've laughed so hard at any of the others. When Ron was intoxicated by the love potion, he was hilarious. And I liked how his and Hermione's romantic relationship was starting to develop in this one. Overall, I can say I enjoyed the movie and would likely see it just isn't my favorite. From most of the other reviews I've heard, it appears that the majority of people either love it or hate it. I'm more on the fence though. Maybe it's because I can hardly bring myself to insult anything Harry Potter related. I'm too loyal.
This past weekend was my next-to-last with James. It was nearly our last full weekend but, on Friday, he found out that his leave date had been changed yet again...this time to the 28th of July. So he gets two extra days in America. I had to also rearrange my schedule again so I could be with him but I didn't mind. At this point, I don't care too much about inconveniencing my work sites. They can deal. I have other priorities.

I left for Fayetteville on Thursday night, just to get in a little extra time with him. I was SO excited to give him the scrapbook I fact, I was downright giddy. I'm not sure if I've mentioned the scrapbook before. It was a complilation of pictures...of us, his family, his friends, his home. I wanted to include everything he might miss while away...everything that's most important to him. I was really pleased with how it turned out. I've been looking at it everyday - it was almost tough to give it up because I'll miss being able to look at those pictures. He seemed to love it though, which made me very happy. He could tell that a lot of work went into it. Not that I didn't enjoy it...I was sad when it was done. We stayed up late talking that night, which was really nice. I was worried that we'd be feeling down, especially since we'd both been in low moods throughout the week but, sitting there with him, it was as if he wasn't deploying at all. We were just a boyfriend and girlfriend spending the evening together.

We were pretty lazy for most of Friday and it was lovely. He didn't have to work so we slept in and then he fixed breakfast. I've been really restless lately and sleeping badly but I slept like a baby Thursday night...I think it's because he was beside me. That afternoon, we set out for his parents' house in Denton. Both of his brothers were coming into town as well but we were the first to arrive. The plan was to cook out by the pond but just as we were able to head down there, it began to pour. Still hoping to dine outside though, we just moved the grill to the porch. Before too long, Jason (James's older brother) showed up with one of his roommates. Then Michael (his younger brother) arrived. Just when I thought all the guests were accounted for, another friend of Jason's came over. The male to female ratio was now 6:2. I'm not used to be around so many guys but I was actually much more comfortable than I expected to be. And I guess his mom is accustomed to all men. I think she enjoyed having another lady in the house though :). Dinner was great. I'd never had a venison (a.k.a. deer meat) burger but it was delish and didn't taste too different from beef. I was able to talk to Jason a bit, which was nice since I had barely met him before. After dinner, a few of us (me and the boys) sat around a fire by the pond. It was relaxing and, again, I forgot about my worries. The evening ended with a late-night fourwheeler ride through the woods. It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, I woke at 10am, freaking out. I figured I had to be the last person up and couldn't believe James hadn't woken me. I had a bit of a reputation with Ben's family for sleeping in late and I didn't want to start that again with James's family. So I jumped up and rushed into the bathroom to take a shower. Little did I know that, actually, James and his brothers were still sleeping at 11am. Whew. Hadn't made a bad impression yet. I met James's grandmother and thought for sure that she'd interrogate me (James had given me a heads up about this) but she didn't. She really didn't say too much to me at all...not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

Saturday afternoon, James, Jason, and I went to a one-year-old's birthday party. You're probably thinking, "Ooh, what an exciting way to spend a Saturday". But this was unlike any child's birthday party I've ever been to. This party was half child-half adult. There was beer, for goodness sakes. At one point, the birthday boy's grandfather literally felt down the patio stairs and landed on his butt because he was so drunk. I only saw the aftermath (i.e. him on his behind and beer spilled everywhere) but I do wish I'd seen the whole thing (come on, you would have too). Nevertheless, after he cleaned up his scraped knees, he starting sipping (or guzzling) another beer. I guess some people never learn. The rest of the day wasn't quite so eventful. I watched a movie with James and his brothers (Hot Rod - sorry James, but you know it wasn't my cup of tea) and took another nighttime fourwheeler ride. Neither of us wanted to go to bed because we dread Sundays...this one especially.

But, of course, Sunday eventually came. Michael left early for Raleigh but the rest of us had a nice dinner, compliments of his mom. Then it was back to Fayetteville. I was definitely in no hurry to get back so we finished watching a movie we've been trying to watch for weeks, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I liked this one better than Hot Rod and it was good to laugh, especially since I knew that our time to say goodbye was approaching. And it was difficult, just as I knew it would be. I held it together until he thanked me for going home with him and I couldn't do it anymore. I'm quite proud of myself though...I pulled it together fairly quickly. So, no worries, I wasn't bawling as I went down the road, placing myself and others in danger.

Next weekend is our last for a good while. I plan to spend Thursday through Tuesday with him and I'm just hoping to make the very best of it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What a Weekend

My 4th of July weekend took a few unexpected turns (literally). I will explain...

Friday was actually a really good day. I woke up early to go to the gym with Sam, which I was pretty proud of myself for, especially since it was 7am on a day I didn't have to work. Afterward, I came home to finish packing and then ran a few errands around Greenville before heading out. Before going to my parents house, I was making a stop in Denton to spend time with James and his parents (seeing as how I had only seen them for 20 minutes previously). It was so nice to be at his house, to just see where he comes from. I was finally able to see the bedroom he grew up in, for instance. There were pictures of him as a kid and he was the CUTEST thing! Those were the first pictures I had seen from his childhood. Adorable. I wanted James to introduce me to some of the things he liked to do when home so we went on the four-wheeler. I was a little scared at first, especially when I realized that we were going through the woods (I was even slapped in the face with a branch, but it didn't really hurt) but it ended up being a lot of fun once I relaxed. I think James was gentle with me because he knew I was nervous. Afterward, James and I went to a little restaurant in Denton for cookin' to be exact. And that night, he took me down to the pond on their property to make a fire. I know that sitting by the fire is one of his favorite things to do so it was nice to be able to do it with him. Being there made it really feel like summer. I wish I could sit by the fire with James every night.

The next day was Independence Day and my dad's birthday. I was feeling a bit down most of the day. It had been very tough to leave James the night before. He was planning to come to my parents' house that day but he was unsure of how long he could stay. His parents were planning to see a fireworks show and he wanted to go with them. I know it's selfish but I just want to spend as much time with him as possible right now. Anyway, I was in a pretty low mood until he arrived. Then I perked up a bit. We grilled out for dinner and my grandmother joined us as well. Right afterward though, James and I left for the fireworks show (he had also invited me but I wasn't sure if my dad would be okay with me leaving on his birthday). We were running a bit behind and actually ended up seeing the fireworks (the whole 15 minutes of them) from the road. Just as we were almost there, the finale began and James's parents were calling to tell us we'd missed it. Oh well. We can't say we didn't see some fireworks for the 4th. We headed back to his house to talk to his parents for a bit, then it was back to the pond. We sat beside the fire, enjoying the time with each other, and talking. It was almost romantic even. :) I'm certainly going to miss nights like that.

Sunday morning and afternoon were uneventful. I had dinner at home and then got on my way back to Greenville around 5pm. That's when things became interesting. I was nearly home (about 5 minutes or so from my apartment) and had just gotten off the exit when I lost control of my car and ran into some bushes, placing my car at a nice little slant. I was hysterical. I've never had an accident before. My first thought was to call James, which I did. He couldn't even understand what I was saying through my sobs. I was on the phone with him when I looked behind me to see a man approaching my car. He was with three women and they had stopped to make sure I was okay. As soon as I got out of the car, the flood gates broke loose. I couldn't stop crying. James was still on the phone as I was trying to talk to this man. He asked if I wanted him to pray for me and when I said yes, he did it right then and there. I was just crying and clutching the phone. I can't even remember if I closed my eyes. The oldest of the three women came over and held me for a bit before I returned to James on the phone. He offered to come to Greenville and, of course, I said I wanted him to. By this point, 911 had been called and before I knew it, 3 highway patrolmen had shown up. One of them called someone to tow my car out of this small ditch and, fortunately, didn't give me a ticket. I still have no idea what happened...I wasn't texting, on the phone, changing the radio station, and I don't think I was speeding. I really can't explain it. They weren't sure if I'd be able to drive my car so I started going down the list of people to pick me up. Jodi was the first to answer her phone and she graciously agreed to come rescue me. Though I was able to drive my car after all, she had to take me to the ATM to obtain $225 (yes, that's right...I was taken complete advantage of) to pay for my car to be towed a couple feet. Both James and my parents were pretty heated about the price. The only damage to my car was a cracked panel on the passenger side. As far as I know, it's good to drive. I can't believe how blessed I was. I walked away without a scratch and, after looking at the scene, realized that I came VERY close to hitting a sign. I don't know how I missed it. James was there by the time Jodi and I returned from the ATM and he followed me home. His coming to Greenville very much improved my bad night. Though the circumstances weren't good, I was so glad to have another, unexpected night with him. As a little reward, I gave him part 1 of his two-part pre-deployment surprise. I had ordered him a stuffed animal (a beagle because he loves them) from Build-a-Bear, dressed in an Army uniform, complete with a little hat and everything. I was worried that he might think it too childish but he actually really liked it. It makes me so happy to give gifts...probably more than it does to receive them.

Today, James and I met Sam for lunch at East Coast Wings (I think I deserved a cookie skillet after last night). Then, we went to the barber shop so James could get a haircut. He has to report to duty tomorrow after 17 days of leave. It was strange to see him again with no beard and much shorter hair. I like his scruffy look. As usual, it was so difficult to see him drive away.

Needless to say, this is not how I expected my 4th of July weekend to turn out. I'm praying that this week will be a little less eventful so I can take a breath.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Aside from New York...

While visiting New York was, by far, the most interesting thing to happen to me over the last couple weeks, there are a few other things that have occurred...

First of all, I took my kitten to the animal shelter (my original plan was the Humane Society but they were closed on my day off). It was slightly heartbreaking because I was worried she wouldn't end up in a good home. However, I can't say I was too terribly broken up about it. Before leaving her with Kristy while I was out of state, I was only with her for 3 days. And I spent most of those 3 days being very irritated with her. I soon realized that what I needed was an older, more mature, lazy sort of cat...not a wild kitten. She really tested my patience. James jokingly asked if that was what I was going to do with my kids - take them off to the orphanage when they frustrated me (I didn't find this joke all that funny) but that's really not what it was. I think at a different time (i.e. not in grad school) and a different place (i.e. not my itty bitty apartment) it may have worked. But right now, I just don't have time to devote to fighting a kitten. Of course, it didn't help when I found out she had fleas. Three days this cat had been in my apartment and I now needed to treat the place for fleas (is it just a coincidence that my head has been crazy itchy the past few days?). Great. I guess that's what I get for impulsively rushing into something. Oh well. Moving on.

Molly returned from Iceland on Sunday and I was SO glad to see her. Molly is an incredible friend (there's every possibility that she'll read this and I hope she does). When she found out my mom had lost her job last week, she called me...from ICELAND. She also sent James a message, asking him to be extra sweet to me because I was going through a hard time. For these reasons and more (we just have a great time together), I love having her around. I drove to Raleigh on Monday to pick her up from Hillary with whom she had stayed the night before. We'd planned on doing Papa John's that night (Molly had a whole list of restaurants she wanted to enjoy after she returned) but ended up at the Olive Garden instead. Our waiter was awkwardly friendly. He was one of those who lingers after you thank him for whatever he just did. I felt like he was trying to hear our conversation. Anyway, we had a nice dinner and it was good to catch up. This was the first time we had really talked since I learned of James's deployment date and I had been needing to process that with someone who fully understands, as Molly does. It really is a bit of a blessing that she is also dating an Army man...otherwise, I would feel quite alone.

Tuesday night, we dined at Chico's which has become a favorite of Molly's since visiting Greenville. Afterward, Molly had told me she had a surprise and was going to drive us to it. Her plan was to treat me to a pedicure but, unfortunately, every place we went to was already closed. Of course, that didn't stop us from going on Wednesday and it was LOVELY. I'd had a really long day and exactly what I needed was a strange man rubbing my feet :). Last night, Molly and I hung out at my apartment with Sam for a bit and, for a moment, it felt like my days back at Meredith (having friends in my room, laughing and eating Papa John's). Kendall came to retrieve her this afternoon (it's been at least a month since they've seen each other) and I'm quite sad that she's gone.

I'm hoping that the rest of the week will be pretty smooth sailing. I have team tonight (but I have no clients myself - woo hoo!), dinner with Jamie, supervision tomorrow (which I enjoy for some reason), lots of errands, and I'm heading home for July 4th weekend. I'm excited to see James, his family, and my parents. :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We're Not in North Carolina Anymore, Ya'll

I have returned from my trip to the Big Apple and, if you've perused my pictures, you already know much of what we did. However, this will be the written version :). There is much that the pictures did not capture.

On Thursday, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for 4:30pm to come...that was the start of my weekend. Around 6pm, James and I got on the road out of Greenville (after a phone call from my mother telling me that Michael Jackson had died - what?!). It was later than we had planned to leave but we had already come to terms with the fact that we'd be getting to NYC late. The trip itself was pretty uneventful. James and I "fought" over who would be the navigator, each of us thinking that our directions were the right ones. I thought it was only fair that I navigate since he was driving (and I refused to drive) AND his iphone kept freezing when we needed it the most. Regardless, we made it without getting lost even once.

Entering the city was a bit of a laugh...mostly because we were delirious with exhaustion as it was nearly 5:30am when we arrived. For the last hour or so, we had been unsure if we were even going in the right direction. There were no signs indicating which highway we were on and nothing even mentioned New York. My worst fear was that we were badly lost somewhere in New Jersey and would have to spend the night there somewhere. I literally would have cried. But, to our surprise, we were suddenly driving right into NYC. It hit us like a ton of bricks. James and I are not city people. The lights, people walking down the sidewalk as if it were noon, and trying to navigate the one-way streets was almost too much for us country folk to handle. We found our hotel...just in time to pass it and, obviously, we couldn't just turn around. Eventually, after rounding the block a couple times, we stopped in front to inquire about the parking situation. We were directed to a parking garage around the corner that, as it turned out, charged $42 per night to park. After learning that the hotel charged $50, $42 didn't sound so bad. When we were parked and the keys had been turned over to the attendant, we made our way down a sketchy back alley carrying all of our stuff. That's right. We ventured down a New York alley at 5:30am with all of our belongings. Unfortunately, there was really no other choice. Finally, it was time to check in. James and I loaded all of our luggage onto a cart and he went to retrieve the keys. Twenty or so minutes passed before he returned (which we later realized was a relatively short amount of time to check in), and he informed me that the only way we could take a cart upstairs was if someone accompanied us. Whatever...not even worth it. So up we went with our things. Probably the funniest part of our arrival occurred once we got to our hotel room. James, who had really been looking forward to our magnificent view of New York, zealously threw back the curtains...just to see that our room was actually wedged between 2 walls and a building front. We just collapsed in was all we could manage at that point. It was 7am before we finally fell asleep.We slept a few hours before getting ready for our first day in the city. By that time, we were starving and had lunch at a healthy little place called the Pita Grill. Afterward, we wanted to visit the Museum of Sex. I just knew this would be entertaining and it didn't disappoint. The first gallery, however, was a bit deceiving. It was all about the sex lives of animals. Sure, it was interesting...just not what I expected. I learned things about animals that I really never wanted to know. I also took an amusing picture of James with a statue of white-tailed deer who, apparently, engage in threesomes (see below). Again, something I never wanted to know. The next gallery was devoted to sex in movies and television. There were different screens covering the walls, showing clips of movies from various time periods, commercials, and even an instructional video :-P. It was an interesting experience to be seeing these things with tons of other people around. I have to admit that I probably blushed on more than one occasion. The third gallery was a hodge podge of different items related to can more or less use your imagination on this one...or just go visit it for yourself. I'm too sheepish to divuldge details. :)After leaving the Museum of Sex, we took a quick walk through Madison Square Park, grabbed a smoothie, snapped a few pictures of the Empire State Building (actually, we didn't even notice the Empire State Building until we saw a large tourist group across the street with cameras in hand, turned around, and there it was), and headed back for a nap (we were still pretty tuckered out). Feeling refreshed, we met up with James's high school friend, Eric, in the lobby of our hotel and he took us to Times Square, which we didn't even realize was so close to where we were staying. He and his wife, Mandy, just recently moved to New York but it was quickly obvious that he knew much more about the city than us. We grabbed a slice of pizza for dinner and began to explore Times Square. It absolutely blew me away. I couldn't even walk for looking around! The lights were mesmerizing...that's the only way I can describe it. I couldn't stop thinking about the many New Year's Eves when I watched the ball drop in Times Square and there I was. There was just so much to see. I noticed a few places that I wanted to return to later (i.e. the Hershey's store and M&M store - hey, I like chocolate) as we made our way to Rockefellar Center. It was very cool to see the place where the ice skating rink is in the many movies have featured that spot? Eventually, we felt it was time to get a drink, relax, and catch up (well, they would be catching up) and found ourselves at the Pig and Whistle Pub. I promise it was better than it sounds. Eric and James were able to really talk for the first time in a while and I was able to get to know Eric a little better. It was also fun to hear stories from their high school days. The day ended on such a positive note but we were so worn out when we returned to the hotel. I went to bed still in disbelief that I had finally been to Times Square.On Saturday, we once again met up with Eric and, this time, his wife Mandy was able to join us as well. We braved the New York subway (not too different from the London Underground) and our first destination was Ground Zero. Like Times Square, this was another surreal experience...probably even more so. I had to really stop and think about how that area looked on 9/11, how it must have felt to be there then. Because I had not been to New York when the World Trade Center was still standing, it was harder for me to appreciate the void that was left. But it was still a very somber moment for me. James and I toured the WTC Gallery and it was definitely worth the time. There was a history of the WTC, pictures of "missing" loved ones, written accounts from people who were there as well as family and friends, remnants of the building and belongings of those who worked there, pictures of those who died, children's artwork...there was just so much to take in. No one was really talking, just looking and absorbing. For me, it made the event so much more real. It also gave James's deployment a bit more meaning. I'm so glad that we made Ground Zero a stop on our trip.I was in the mood for something a bit more cheery after the WTC Gallery so we headed for Little Italy. Though we didn't stop, it was fun to observe. Next was Central Park, another essential when visiting NYC. I had never realized, though, how big it was. We definitely didn't cover much ground but how cool it was to just be there. After taking the subway back to our hotel, it was time to part ways with Eric and Mandy. Without them that day, I have no idea how we would have made it around the city. James and I were, again, very sleepy so we took a quick nap before getting ready for dinner. We didn't have any particular place in mind so we just ventured off for Times Square again and knew that we'd be sure to find something there. We also took a bit more time to browse some of the stores, both before and after dinner. The restaurant we chose was one I had noticed the night before (actually, it was right across from the Pig and Whistle) called Langan's. It ended up being just the right choice. The service was great, the food was delicious, and there was even a jazz band. Even more, the quiet atmosphere was a nice break from the chaos outside. After dinner, we just strolled through the city (avoiding stampedes of people, of course), enjoying our time. I was quite sad to go to bed that night because I knew our trip was coming to an end and I definitely didn't want to head back to Greenville the next day.Our trip home was also fairly uneventful, aside from traffic, toll booths, and taking a wrong turn at one point. We arrived in Greenville around 1:30am and practically collapsed into bed. Pure exhaustion = a great trip. :-)