Yesterday, my long-lost secret sister Carolyn met my remaining sibling Marsha for the first time. I met my long-lost sister on New Year’s day this year. To imagine that she’d meet my other sister Marsha seemed unimaginable to me a year ago. I can’t describe how strange it is to think about how much was hidden. For years, I caught hell from some of my family for pursuing ancestry and DNA; most of them were compelled to silence me due to a misguided sense of family honor. Considering the things I already knew combined with the things I’ve forensically learned through research and stubbornness, I still don’t know what they were protecting. Like many families, the things I unearthed would fill a book. It’s amusing to me that their attempts to discourage me convinced me that there MUST be something they were hiding. It turns out, there were several “somethings.” To know that some of them kept the truth of a sister hidden astonishes me. Part of it for some of them was racism and shame; my Dad took advantage of a young black girl. After she was born, he fled Monroe County, as if he could escape the past. Luckily for all of us, the result of Dad’s misbehavior resulted in a fantastic human being, one who had a big family herself, full of love and stories.
Without bitterness, I still feel that if they would have spent 10% of that energy protecting us from the monstrous actions of some of my family, our paths would have been significantly brighter.
Almost all secrets come out, even 1/4 of a century after someone passes away.
I feel proud that my insistence and curiosity led me to find a sister I never knew I had. She’s smart, humble, and funny. My brother Mike missed the chance to meet the new sister Carolyn. His demons got the best of him. I’m hoping my new sister provides my sister Marsha a template for finding meaning and direction – and for building a new kind of relationship to sustain her.
Most of my family is gone, many of them chased and hounded by addiction into the grave. Soon enough, all of us will be stories and memories.
I’m tickled that I kept my curiosity sharpened; it led to yesterday.
No matter what comes of it, I count finding my new sister as one of my best accomplishments in life. People having access to their stories and truth is essential to make a good life.
Hi. It’s me, X, the guy who learned the hard lesson of discovering that I’m as stupid as anyone else. We’re all stupid; we take turns wearing the dunce cap. Mine fits a little too well. It opened my eyes to blind corners in my periphery, ones I was responsible for and failed to illuminate.
That’s my teddy bear in the picture. My friend Leigh gave it to me as a surprise when I was in the hospital. I named it Azon, short for “corazon” in Spanish. (It has a heart on its chest.) Because I didn’t want to breach her privacy, I didn’t say before that my ex-wife Dawn came to the ER and stayed there until 1 a.m. when the surgeons cut me open. She got to experience the joy of watching me throw up countless times, roll around on the cement floor, and semi-scream/groan at least five hundred times. Not many ex-wives would do that, especially with the rawness of the divorce so close. I won’t forget the kindness. Neither of us will forget the spectacle. It’s important to note that such kindness is the most difficult when we’re hurt. I’m not a Christian, but it’s as close to the ideal of “do unto others” as you’ll likely find. If she needed to see me suffer to get over the stupidity I put her through, this should adequately fill the need.
Life looks different when you’re older, after making mistakes and watching people around you mystify you with their decisions. When I was younger, I had an anger that has dissolved into recognition that I, too, contained slivers of the demons that possessed them. I’m grateful that I’ve avoided most of the dreck that worsened their lives. As a bystander, though, I paid the price.
I’m writing to a specific subset of friends and family, ones who might not otherwise see something like this and realize they have someone in their lives who needs attention.
There can be no preambulation or proverbial beating around the bushes. Time is short, even if you don’t realize it.
I wrote this with love in my heart; I’ve learned that my imperfectionism often jabs people unexpectedly, no matter my intentions. I’ve crossed the line a little by sharing parts of my experience that overlap with other people. It’s risky, but it’s also the most rewarding. Someone is going to read this and have a light bulb go off in their head.
Because of my history, I have a lot of experience around addiction. An inherent danger of such exposure is to fall into the hole, believing oneself incapable of succumbing to something that always originates with free will and repeated choices. Every addict started with no intention of losing themselves in the abyss and misery of addiction. Addiction is a byproduct, not a goal. I also hated to SEE that though I’ve acquired significant experience with addiction, my ability to pivot and behave differently in response to those in the throes of addiction hasn’t necessarily improved. I’m as helpless and stupid as the next guy when confronted with someone in my sphere who won’t “snap out of it.” When friends or family members ask for advice, you’d think I would be one of the most qualified people to answer.
Why should we shake our heads so violently at addicts? Most of us become obese, smoke, or routinely engage in detrimental behavior. We say, “It hasn’t killed me yet!” That’s true. Just as in the case of addiction, we don’t address our misbehavior until we are forced to. Addiction becomes unmanageable due to money, exposed behavior, or a decline in physical health. Addiction to things like heroin brings consequences more quickly than our national pastime of alcoholism.
In case you didn’t know, I drink. I love a good beer (and many bad ones, which many people claim tastes like dog urine), whiskey over ice, or vodka and sweet & sour. Oh, and wine, champagne, port, and several other things. Luckily for me, my like didn’t devolve into an unquenching thirst for it. I recognize how few punches it might take to drag me toward danger. I’ve experienced risk factors such as loneliness or uncertainty.
I’ll tell you a secret: no matter who you are, someone in your sphere has a secret addiction. Some take years to escalate to a point where the secrecy can no longer be maintained. Missing work, a DUI, increased self-isolation, loss of health, financial issues; these are but a few of the symptoms. By the time you note the signs, it’s challenging to pull someone away from it. In reality, you almost can’t. All such changes must start with the person in question. The harder you attempt to use logic and appeals, the more defensive the addiction becomes. They’ll appreciate the love and concern WHEN and IF they overcome their addiction. Until then, you’re just another person pointing a finger and drawing attention to their secret; disloyalty is always grounds for rejection. The agony of it is that if you love them, you’re powerless to resist the urge to try. That’s the bittersweet tendrils of love at work. It’s why I wrote the Bystander’s Prayer. All answers are unworkable. Until they’re not. Those who escape addiction look back and feel so much regret for what they’ve done to themselves and the agony of pushing away loved ones in preference to something they couldn’t escape. If the addict fails to survive, the friends and family always suffer regret.
For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m susceptible to addiction. Part of it stems from my childhood. Studies have shown that abuse and exposure to neglect or addiction hugely impact the likelihood of someone being an addict. My full siblings, parents, cousins, several aunts and uncles, at least two grandparents all suffer(ed) from addiction. For instance, I don’t have a single family member I know of who successfully stopped being an alcoholic. A few of them vilified me for my rejection of being around those who used alcohol to justify destroying their lives and those around them. It was a difficult road when I was younger. Addicts despise perceived disloyalty most of all. I was loudly disloyal and judgmental as hell. Part of that responsibility is on me. In my defense, the very environment that almost killed me taught me the lesson of escape, one I only partially implemented.
Paradoxically, I understand the addicts in my family much better than I did when I was young. As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed such a vast spectrum of people fail to “pull up” as their addictions wrapped themselves into their lives. It’s not about being intelligent, rich, having a family, or a good job. Addiction cuts a blind swath. I see many people doubt that their loved one or friend is addicted. They focus on the superficiality of there having been no crash. Yet. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I can see the allure of yielding to something that gives dangerous comfort.
For years, I’ve known that addiction would be an easy road for me. As much as I got angry at my sister for her more outlandish behavior with the rougher end of the drug spectrum, I watched in horror and regret as my brother chose the traditional and cleverly hidden method to reach his addiction. He chose the slow way of drinking excessively for years. He lost his job, his health, and he died much too soon. I lost him as a brother more than once on his journey. He was as intelligent as any human I’ve ever known. Truthfully, his intelligence made any attempt to address his alcoholism dangerous and impossible. Like so many others, he had a massive wall of rationalizations to explain why he did what he did. That people fiercely loved him had little impact on his behavior. He used it to create an anger shield. I could have been him with just the wrong push. I see the arc of his progression differently now. I have a lot of regrets. Equally valid is that his addiction and intelligence outmatched me. Every course of action I chose to deal with him was turned into a fantasy of aggression.
My cousin Jimmy, who I loved, struggled with alcoholism his entire adult life. Both of his parents ultimately died from it. Cancer got Jimmy; had he lived longer, I would have loved seeing him beat his love of alcohol. I think he would have. It’s no irony that the job he loved best was for a beer distributor. He loved that job.
Recently, I posted my Bystander’s Prayer, one which outlines the grief of those around someone suffering from addiction. No matter how intelligent you are, no one owns a playbook that effectively helps us reach out to someone at the bottom of the well. I wrote it for my brother but finished it for others who were peering down into their own well, helpless, afraid, but possessed by a love that compelled them to try. Thank god for love, even as it stings as mightily as any emotion can.
Most of us approach the issue of addiction as if it is a logical one. It’s not. It’s not genuinely emotional, either. It’s a strange, impossible alchemy of pain that resists easy confrontation. Most of us walk toward the battle with underserved confidence and a lack of appreciation for how powerful addiction is. Words will not work. Love will not work. Love compels us, though. The addict can’t see our intrusion as love. It’s one of our most significant errors when we try to encourage someone to change.
People suffering from addiction loathe attention. Secrecy and omissions govern their lives. So much of a person’s life begins to tighten in on itself like a series of perverse and elliptical constrictions. Sunlight itself serves as a living metaphor for how reduced a person can become. The next black buzz or unrestrained and unseen high becomes its own reward, excluding more and more as it tightens. People, friends and loved ones alike, get flung off the carousel.
Addicts need time alone with the thing that gives them the most comfort. As the addiction grows, time and energy directed to friends, work, and loved ones diminish. Addiction is a zero-sum game; its presence removes vibrancy and connection from lives. It reduces the possibility of a full life. This results in loved ones feeling an increasing emptiness and drives them to greater heights to “get through” to the addict.
For those who don’t suffer from addiction, it’s hard for us to imagine it. We foolishly believe that it is a question of willpower or intelligence. It’s not. Addiction is the parasite that wills its victim to the next high. It is the worst of diseases: it is both physical and mental.
Alcohol is a painkiller, just like other drugs. It grants oblivion from the shortfalls or pain that the addict experiences. All addictions are subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even addicts know this. But the pursuit ensues, no matter how dark of a road it leads someone. If anyone has trauma in their past, it’s that much harder for them to give up the relief of the high to face a drug-free existence. Drugs and alcohol allow us to shortcut our way to temporary oblivion. I viscerally understand the temptation. I’ve been on guard about it most of my adult life.
Prescription painkillers are so popular because they inexplicably don’t carry the same stigma as using street drugs or liquor. There’s no distinction in terms of the effects, though. Usage of prescription drugs continues to rise. I don’t see it abating.
Most people don’t become addicts, even if they try drugs or alcohol. This fact confuses many people who’ve done drugs or drink lightly without falling into addiction. They fail to see that their brain chemistry, environment, or circumstances are not the same as that of an addict. Willpower and motivation do affect people’s tendency to fall into addiction. They are bit players in the drama, though. I won’t go into the complicated realm of brain chemistry or trauma. Science clouds the essential truth of why some are prone to addiction while others are not.
An addiction is ANYthing that grants temporary relief or pleasure yet causes later harm. And even if you’re aware of the effects, you can’t stop. It can be shopping, work, sex, food, and several other things. I’m just addressing the common usage of the word.
I learned from experience that addicts resist connections and thoughtful concern. Even mundane expressions of affection, much less pointed inquiries about someone’s well-being, can be catalysts to rejection. There is no subtle way to ask how an addict is doing without significant risk of being flung away.
With addicts, a straightforward thing you can and should do is learn the habit of lifelining. If you’re not familiar with lifelining, it’s just a word to encompass letting people know that you are, at a minimum, still alive – or available if you have an addict in your periphery.
Addicts who survive the ordeal also face the backlash of loved ones who endured anger and pain due to the addiction. It takes a long time for people to forgive such damage. Many families are forever torn. Forgiveness is a personal choice.
The pandemic accelerated drug use and alcoholism. Isolation is a precursor to more people succumbing to addiction. We had a record number of people overdose last year. We don’t have the statistics yet to know how many more chose to drink to quench the loneliness and hurt of their lives. People are social creatures, and addiction thrives on secrecy. Depression is also on the rise. It’s often a close cousin to addictive behaviors.
Again, you have a person in your life, closer than you’d imagine, who needs a little extra love and attention. There is time to attempt to reach them. Don’t be surprised if your hand gets bitten. It’s the first step.
Even as addiction rises, we don’t provide people treatment. We stigmatize them. Even with excellent health insurance, many plans will only pay for 10% of the cost, if at all. Everyone else? They have to destroy their health and lives to get help.
I used a phoenix because it’s a symbol of perpetual rebirth. Any of us, sufficiently motivated and with the help of friends and loved ones, can turn a new page. It’s never too late. Addiction and habit makes the strongest among us weak and focused on our lesser selves. My sister can stand and testify.
I started this when my brother made it clear that he was going to stay out on the diving board. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Intelligence, though, often provides an even greater lever with which to push away people who love you.
I finished it recently when I found myself helpless to give useful advice to someone else who found herself in the bystander position.
It’s not the most well-written piece in the world; but you’ll find no greater honesty, reflecting the horror of being unable to help someone.
There are no bystanders.
And none of us truly lives a life just for ourselves.
This post is personal. Please forgive me if my tone is harsh; it’s not my intention. Like I always do, I write vaguely at times, use a word or adopt a tone carelessly. Read this with the idea that you’re getting to know me better. If you read it looking for errors or a fight, you’ll of course find motive.
I woke up this morning to find myself weighing 146.9 lbs. I was shocked. I knew my day yesterday had been intense. I walked over 40,000 steps and managed to do 2,500 pushups. Not to mention an insane amount of physical work during the day, too. I’ve always imagined 165-168 as the control setpoint, with 170ish as the upper limit.
I am a little amused that anyone would lecture me by saying, “You’ve lost too much weight.” From my perspective, it is a great compliment. Losing 35% of who you were makes for interesting stories.
I’m sorry you don’t see my weight as normal. That’s a problem.
Not for me. You. 🙂
My cousin is concerned, and rightly so, because she recognizes how easy it is to let a goal turn to obsessive madness. I’m not anorexic or suffering from an eating disorder. There are days when I burn as many calories as an athlete. Work alone is so intensely physical that I look back over the last 16 years and wonder how I managed to be obese so many times. My cousin has earned the right to be the chiding voice in my ear. Her voice is in my head, reminding me to eat a wider variety and more calorie-rich foods in the process.
It was in part due to my cousin that I started doing pushups on June 1st. If you’d told me that I’d do 2,500 in a day 13 weeks later, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” But I did learn an invaluable lesson: there is no upper limit to how many I can do. At the outset, I had to be careful of my right shoulder. Work is intense and taxing. The pushups have largely eliminated the pain. I’m going to do my best to limit myself to 500 a day for a while. Yesterday will be in my head for years, though, because I surprised myself. That can’t be taken away from me when my body finally gets old and surrenders.
In October of last year, I had an epiphany. I saw myself as thin. Explaining the certainty of it doesn’t translate well when I talk about it. While my goal shifted increasingly downward as my vision became a reality, I didn’t plan on going past 170 in my wildest fantasy. While other parts of my life exploded, whatever happened to my head in October didn’t fade. As the months passed, I was amused that people attributed my success to willpower. It wasn’t that. It was clarity and stubbornness. Looking down at the scale and seeing “155” is a fantastic feeling. 146.9 is a bit disconcerting. I’m working on that without succumbing to many bad eating choices: Doritos, thick pizza, cheese, 54 pieces of chocolate, that sort of thing. I eat “unhealthy” food at times. (I hate labeling food as healthy or unhealthy; it’s volume and frequency that are the culprits.)
There are a couple of precursors to my “moment.” In February of last year, I started the process of losing weight, in part due to Covid. Stress took its toll, and I regained most of the weight I lost. Not all of it, thank god. At some point, I replaced the relatively new stove in the house with a bigger, better one to be able to more easily cook batches of healthy food. That drive to finally kick the fat bucket was brewing inside me. I know that reeks of an excuse. In October, my brother Mike died. Thereafter, I thought I had Covid and felt like I was dying. That morning is when the light bulb went off with an explosion in my head.
I often think about what would have happened to me had I not lost the weight. Would I have experienced a health issue? Or died? I know that losing weight during the long stretch of the Covid run saved my bacon on countless days. It let me stop feeling my knees hurt and my back. The converse of that is whether or not the rest of my life would have blown up had I stayed obese. It’s a real question for me. How much did my massive weight loss and attitude change have to do with my marriage imploding? There’s no question that staying so fat was going to cost me a part of my mobility – and perhaps forever. Being so overweight takes away a bit of so many corners of a person’s life. It’s because we gain incrementally and in ways we don’t notice. From there, we realize, “I’m fat. Oh my god.” We choose the hard that we’ve learned rather than embracing the hard of making positive choices.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the feeling of eating healthy and making endless good choices is sublime. It’s a self-reinforcing mandate. This is true for any personal goal.
Today was the lowest weight I’ve hit. I got close Monday night after foolishly running five miles. Upon returning, I had to drink a gallon of water and then attempt to sleep. I think I dreamed about a running river, and that made me nervous for reasons that should be obvious.
For weeks, I’ve been in the low 150s. This week has been a barrage of work, running, walking, and pushups.
I get a lot of compliments. Questions. And some criticism. Some people are waiting for me to balloon back up. When I started, I repeatedly objected with, “Let’s see in a year.” The year is coming fast upon me in October.
One morning, the wife of a friend passed me in the hallway. “You look amazing, X!” We both laughed. Yesterday, someone said, “If you lose any more, you’ll dry up and blow away. You look great.” She lost a lot of weight herself for health reasons not too long ago. There’s rarely a day that passes where someone doesn’t notice that I’m thin. Today, a security guard who resembles me was standing by the elevator and saw that it was ME standing there. He thought I was someone he didn’t know. “You need to tell me your secret and how to do it.” He patted his stomach. “I’ll call you,” he said. He’s going to be disappointed when I tell him the big secret is to choose healthier food and to listen to what his body actually needs. “Keep your mouth closed” is a terrible name for a diet book.
On a recent morning, someone asked me in all seriousness, “How did you do it? You’re not sick, are you? Or did you have the surgery for weight?” I told her that it was simply eating well and that I didn’t have a secret. I told her about my friend Tammy, who managed to do what I did and that she was also about my age- and that if she could, I had nothing except excuses. I indeed started doing pushups on June 1st. But I had already hit 150 by the time I started.
“Just don’t lose any more weight, X.” My coworker meant it in kindness.
I have a couple of people in my life who resent that I lost the weight. It’s a bit bizarre to me, even now. I made it clear when I started that I was a bystander to my transformation. While I did adopt a diet that I experimented with, a big part of what happened was as if it happened to someone else while I observed it. All I can is that obsessively following a system yields results.
I’ve tried to avoid being too evangelical about weight loss. Some people do have medical issues that make it impossible or difficult. For those who’ve been less than enthusiastic about what I’ve done, I attribute it to that odd human proclivity toward pettiness. Watching someone do it renders many objections that it is difficult or impossible to be completely moot. With enough motivation to move from ‘wanting to’ toward ‘making it a reality,’ most people can do it. Anyone who decides that it is a ‘must’ will find a way. Or try. I remember a cartoon from years ago. A man was sitting on the pavement, having stopped halfway through the race. He said, “It’s too much. I can’t run 26 miles.” The next panel showed a man with prosthetic legs racing past. The people with the “sitting on the pavement” mentality often don’t appreciate it when people go racing by, ignoring objections. I used to find myself being that type of person, too.
It’s tough to be around someone who steps into a new motivation. Though I never intended my weight loss to be an insult to anyone else, it did happen. This sort of journey inevitably changes a person. A success in one arena drives them into others. Of course, the person is going to change. Sometimes fundamentally, especially as behaviors become habits and a new way of life. A common complaint in relationships is “You’ve changed.” A trite but true rebuttal to that is, “And you haven’t.” We’re not meant to be static. If you’re in a relationship and one of you will transform themselves, my word of advice is to have frank conversations about it – and go to a counselor if you see that it’s becoming a wedge.
One critic insisted that people were constantly saying how ill I looked. That I am too skinny. Relentlessly adamant. They quoted the anonymous “they” to me. When I’m ready to hire a consultant about my choices, I’ll let them know immediately. IF such people care for me, they will find a way to communicate it to me. Since they didn’t, I have to attribute what ‘they’ allegedly said to a polite conversation with my critics. There’s no crime in honestly talking to someone about their weight if you care about them. The bigger sin is not to do so.
So, of course, despite having the tools to show otherwise, I visited a nutritionist. She said, “Oh baloney!” She agreed that some of it is attributable to the fact that I was obese for so many years and that the change was abrupt and substantial. She looked at my pictures at 252 and 232 and then as I am now. “You’re great, X. If you do add muscle, your BMI will seem off. But it won’t mean you’ve become unhealthy. You have to balance your body against more than a simple BMI. If someone still incorrectly tells you that you are underweight, send them to me. I’d be shocked if they don’t realize how overweight most people tend to be now.”
If I continue to be as active as I am now, muscle mass will increase, resulting in a higher weight without the associated fat content. I chose 168 as my set point. My job is very physical, and I’ve kept my leisure time activity rate higher than average, too, without going to a gym. I’ve channeled my anxiety into exercise. As the counselor I saw told me, short-term measures are warranted; if they become long-term measures, you’ll have to figure out that, too.
Most of us don’t have a realistic idea of how much we should weigh, nor how many calories we should eat on an average day. I look back at my pictures and shake my head. I missed out on a lot by being so overweight. I can’t get that time back, so it’s on to the next goal of ensuring my habits remain permanent – without risking developing a food issue. They are rare in men who are 54 years old. Food is too damn good and calls me by name like everyone else.
The majority of people around me don’t think, “Ugh, he’s TOO thin and looks terrible.” They think, “X looks normal.” So, if you’re in the minority who feel like I’m too thin, get online or talk to your doctor.
Or get a hobby.
The consensus is overwhelming: I’m at a normal weight, with a buffer of loss and gain comfortably on both sides.
This is how I’m supposed to look, so get over it and be enthusiastic for anyone who can do it. If you love me, of course, you should step in and tell me I’ve got my head up my ass if I continue to lose weight.
To be clear, I’m not talking about my face; whether that’s normal is up for the monkeys to decide.
My weight, though? I’m good. It’s not just my body saying so. It’s science.
In time, people will see this as the new normal. It looks normal, but it feels fantastic to be able to move with agility, walk for miles, do pushups, and run even if I stupidly decide to do so.
There’s always the danger of forgetting the lessons I learned.
One of those lessons is to stop letting critical people get inside my head. They can make fun of my brooches all they want. Just not my weight.
And if I get off track or fail, I proved to myself that my objections and excuses about why I couldn’t do it were all dumb. And that I could do it again. We all fail until we don’t.
No matter who you are, you can do something today. That’s enough, no matter how small. Tomorrow, a little more. The law of increments seldom disappoints.
If you see someone finally get past their excuses? Take the time to applaud. We need it. We’ll return the favor when you succeed.
PS For my cousin: I don’t plan to stay quite this thin. I love you. Please keep an eye on me, though.
I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.
Here they are:
The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.
The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.
Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.
I remember before phones were ubiquitous, and cameras were a burden some of us willingly carried to capture moments.
“I love pictures but hate photography” is one of my quotes.
I used to take guerilla photos constantly, knowing at least one would be salvageable.
This first one is from May 2007, in Omaha, Nebraska. We shared a delicious Italian supper at an Italian restaurant. Though I didn’t realize it, I have a picture of the entrance! It was Lo Sole Mio Ristorante Italiano. I’d forgotten I took a quick snapshot, also grabbing a picture of my brother-in-law Joe in doing so.
Kim, in the lead, is looking down and smiling. My brother-in-law Steve is next to her. Behind him, my deceased wife, Deanne. She died four months later, unexpectedly, ten years my junior —her brother Steve, six years later. For all I know, everyone in this picture, even the innocent bystanders walking behind them, are dead. On a long enough timeline, this will be true for every single image you own.
I love this picture. Steve and Deanne gave me the one-finger salute independently and simultaneously. I laughed and laughed when I saw it. I apologized to the bystanders, telling them that some of us were from Arkansas.
Joe and Deanne had a bitter exchange of words afterward. I don’t remember why. I hope Joe doesn’t either because no matter what words they shared, they loved each other. I have a picture that captures the irritation.
I have better pictures of Deanne from that day. But the one of her getting into Steve’s gargantuan truck captures her perfectly in an unguarded moment.
Now that I’m living in my own The After, I think about Deanne more. She was ten years younger than me. Loudly and aggressively vivacious.
Were she here, she would absolutely holler at me to stop wasting time on ‘what ifs’ and wishes. She’s been gone fourteen years.
She would quote “The Green Mile” and tell me, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Don’t stop taking pictures, even if people give you the finger.
One day, you might be sitting and reminiscing. And that picture might give you a breath of life.
When the sun begins to sit on the horizon, we are all memories.
“When consequences come knocking, intentions ring hollow.” – X
Each of us has a personal narrative in our heads, one in which events seem linear and inevitable. We impose meaning and logic on the process of our lives. The truth is often that we are fooling ourselves. Examining our decisions and what we’ve done, it is obvious that we must conclude that we’re likely clueless about what pulls our levers.
I’m 54 and found myself shocked and surprised by some of the things I didn’t know about myself. I’m fortunate, even though I broke things getting to some of the conclusions. A lot of people around me didn’t survive the discovery process of seeing just how badly (or well) they could do things. Even as I grimace in recognition of some of the consequences I’ve caused, I try to remind myself that at least I’m alive long enough to do them. Getting older usually brings that pang of “What was I thinking?” while also shouting “You can’t change the past.” I think that’s why most of us go deaf when we get older. We’ve heard it all before and often at high volume.
An example of a harsh reminder? These fourteen $1 bills, each signifying a year that I was around for Xmas after my wife Deanne died – and when my ex-wife found me again. Talk about the long game! The first year, I saved a dollar bill and told my ex-wife, “Each year, we’ll sign another one, along with the year.” The first yuletide, it was a lonely dollar hanging like a wreath. By last year, it was fourteen. Honestly, even though it was my creative idea, I think it was sublimely fabulous.
That’s how you build a life – one little increment at a time, errors and right choices mixed unequally.
And then, consequences.
I took the dollar wreath with me when I jettisoned into another life. It’s a poignant reminder to find ways to celebrate life, in small ways and large. The last year proved to me that it is possible to be successful and a failure simultaneously. My intentions to find a better way to finish my life also led me to stumble into an alternate timeline, one I hadn’t anticipated. Against the backdrop of what could have been, it is a jab. But it is also an admission that I’m sometimes stupid and incapable.
It’s a little ironic that money, dollar bills, were what I chose to mark the passage of shared time. Money is the illusion that powers so much of what we do, even though we all know that everything that lights us up is intangible and invisible.
Though I’m not sure why I wrote this post, I know someone will find value in the idea. Odds are that someone reading this has a surprising year ahead of them, one they couldn’t predict. They’ll think that they have a handle on their choices.
Life will of course notice them and roll a boulder down the hill for them to remind them that most of this isn’t predictable. If you’re lucky, you will find value in the breaking. That’s your only choice, anyway. Things ARE going to break in a long arc of surprises. Most of us are lucky enough to not have it all break consecutively; we have time between to consider and reassess.
Though I claim not to believe in karma, I also tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s brought me a lot of stories and surprises, so in that sense, it has already paid off. It’s a pain to hoard this wreath and it’s also a pain to let it go. But I am a minimalist and know that all these things will soon enough be left behind by me. In an optimistic nod to the universe, I’m going to put these dollars back into circulation by buying lottery tickets. If I win, my promise still stands: I will use almost all the money to surprise other people. And if I don’t win, I am left with the optimism that I could have. It tickles me to think that these dollars will be in circulation, traveling in potentially infinite directions.
Intentions do matter, but we live with consequences.
Don’t read this post and forget that, at its heart, it is optimistic. I don’t understand people who can’t hold the disparate ideas of joy and wistful loss in their hearts, entwined like twin siblings.
I’m writing this after a blissful night of sleep, something that wasn’t always easy for me. And, in theory, I could be a millionaire. 🙂
It’s about 4 a.m. so I have to answer the call of the wanderer. Maybe you’ll see me out on the streets, in the unlikely event you’re wandering, too?
By coincidence, thanks in part to Covid, my divorce was final yesterday.
I just got a call from the mover, advising me that the next phase of my life starts in 17 minutes. I hope I carry forward the enthusiasm I have for life and jettison any bitterness that might infect me. Whatever lessons I was supposed to learn, I hope they stick with me. I also hope that all my errors are new ones and not repeats.
Once you jump out of the plane, you have to hit the ground; how you hit is up to you. P.S. I just took this picture of my cat Guino, who is staying in East Springdale. ..
I sat next to the large glass window, my food, chips, and Tajin in front of me. I’d describe my mood as grateful and happy.
Outside, a woman with her mom and two children were eating lunch. They’ve joined the two small tables on the sidewalk to make a megatable. Before I’d entered, I could hear the younger mother chastise her son in a way that made me attentively continue listening. He was prancing around the perimeter, his feet tracing a path around a sidewalk pot of beautiful yellow flowers. The breeze was brisk, and the day was a treat. Fair or not, I decided that the younger mother might be an asshole.
As I sat at my inside table, I couldn’t help but watch the four people as they interacted. The two children, especially the boy, seemed to overflow with energy and interest. Grandma didn’t fuss at the children; she appeared to be a little dismayed by the frequency and ferocity of her daughter’s ire at the children, though. While I couldn’t hear the mother as she fired staccato bursts of irritation, her expression and body language were a red flag. Whatever was going on in her life, it was apparent that her kids were the outlet of her anger, which probably was true most of the time. I’d say the girl was three and the boy was five.
I turned away from the otherwise beautiful view of the street and goings-on outside. A few minutes later, the door in front of me opened, inviting in the mom’s grating and irritated voice. “I said stay the eff out here!” I looked to see that she was yelling at her son, who attempted to follow her inside. He flinched and stepped back away from her reach. I recognized the body language from my own childhood. It took me a minute to convince myself to do what I don’t do best: shut the hell up.
What should have been a delicious meal in a beautiful setting instead became a refresher course in the insidious curse of having too much anger in one’s life. I hate it when I notice it like today. I know what the kid’s lives are going to be like. Every ounce of free happiness they have will be squeezed out of them by someone who might not know how angry she really is. Maybe they’ll get lucky. Perhaps the mom will get help.
Here’s why if you look at the picture on this post, you will notice my eyes are a little misty. As the four left the tables and walked to my right, I waved at both the boy and the girl who trailed behind the two older women. They waved back. I finished my incredible lunch, thinking about all the needless anger and unhappiness around us. A few minutes later, mother and grandmother passed within two feet of where I sat, both holding drink cups. Moments later, the two children pranced by. To my surprise, they both waved at me AGAIN as they passed. I laughed and waved back. Mom turned to chastise the children to hurry and catch up and noted that I was waving. She snarled and said something I couldn’t hear. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of, “Don’t talk to my children!” And then she scolded the children, who both stood motionless staring at the ground. Grandma stared up at the canopy or nothing. I’m guessing the mom told them, “Don’t talk to strangers.”
I wanted to duck outside and tell her, “I think they’d be better off with strangers.” But of course, I didn’t. I bit my tongue. The universe will take whatever course of action it is supposed to. That’s the lie I tell myself, anyway. Having earned my merit badge in parental anger, I know too well that it is nothing more than a lottery.
When I left, I took a picture of the corners nearby and then one of myself. I almost always do. It reinforces the idea of the new me, the melted one I still don’t always recognize. I’ve been accused of being vain. That’s not true. I’m trying to convince myself that it really is me. Looking at the picture, I realized I should have wiped my eyes a little. They betray the slight jolt of listening to that mom fail to get control of herself.
I’m not sure I have a takeaway for this little story. Likely, I’ll never cross paths with those people again. I hope the children cross paths with people who find a way to show them that life is not as their mother sees it. Were I one to pray, that might be the one I’d write on my little piece of paper and tuck away into my heart.
Before leaving, I retrieved a piece of chalk from my car and wrote a few words on the sidewalk about anger being infectious.
This is a personal post, so scroll past if you’re not interested in learning new and terrible things about me. I’m always one for transparency, even when it’s complicated. Especially when it’s difficult. I’ve not been silent out of apprehension or shame. I always feel free to tell my own story – because I own it. Being compassionate, I also realize that other people don’t want a rock dropped on their heads simply because their story overlaps with mine. I’ve waited to say anything specific out of deference to the other people involved. It’s my story now, though.
I’m getting divorced. Because people need to assign blame or frame such things in their heads, you can place the responsibility for the divorce directly on me. Of course, there’s more to the story – but it would be wrong for me to evade the finger pointed at me. Adding explanatory caveats would be equivalent to ruining an apology by offering excuses. Those who know me well know the story. When my marriage faltered, I turned my attention to another woman. While I did not consummate the relationship, I fell in love with her. That’s entirely on me. Not that anyone is entitled to know the details. But I’m not so stupid as to think that people don’t know. It’s human nature, and whispers travel faster and more loudly than headlines.
For the lurkers who are tempted to write something snarky, go ahead, but please take a moment to be creative in your attempt. I don’t mind contempt or passive-aggressive tomfoolery so long as it’s both authentic and distinctive. I can get run-of-the-mill snideness from several sources. Chance are your two cents won’t affect me. I’ve already paid the price for my choices; a few words can’t possibly inflame anything medieval lurking in my heart.
In so many ways, I failed and succeeded simultaneously over the last year. I hurt people who shouldn’t have been. I realize that my intentions are meaningless and irrelevant when compared to the consequences of my choices. I’ll try to take the successes and amplify them. Whether I’ll learn anything from my adventures and misadventures is always the critical question.
My wife is keeping the house. Evidently, homes and property should remain in the hands of responsible people. I’m not sure where I will end up. I much prefer having a roommate, but so far, that has been a bust. You wouldn’t know it, but I’m not nearly as crazy in person as you might think. (Admittedly, though, there is a disproportionate likelihood of tomfoolery.) If I move from Springdale, I’ll miss it terribly. I’ve grown to know it very well, especially during the pandemic. Barring something surprising, I will probably get an apartment in Fayetteville that’s too expensive for me, primarily because of work – and probably without a roommate or someone I know. I’d rather not live alone, even if doing so might be beneficial to me somehow. I’ve somehow managed to stay in the same job for 16 years without one of my co-workers murdering me. To be clear, I’m pretty sure there have been discussions, but luckily, no assassin has been hired, at least not that I know of.
As tough as things have been, I’m glad I had counseling. I was lucky. I put the pin back in before I made my life worse, as well as learning how to sleep again. Counseling didn’t fix all of my problems, of course, but it might have saved me.
My story isn’t particularly original and certainly not so during the pandemic.
There’s no need to react or comment if you don’t want to or don’t quite know ‘how’ to do so. This isn’t something you see on social media very frequently. It’s certainly something that happens all the time, though. By posting this, I’m removing the taboo of openly talking about it.