I stayed up last night walking the town instead of sleeping. I did manage almost two hours of rest. The cold was a perverse distraction and relief as I walked without music, phone, or Fitbit. For whatever reason, my energy level was high despite the lack of sleep. I went running this afternoon, thinking of my brother Mike. I couldn’t help but be nostalgic about his absence. It motivated me to run like the wind, thinking of us when we were younger and when I started running out of the blue in 9th grade when we lived in Tontitown.
Wearing my lucky red ripshirt, I ran for him and for all the life he is missing out on. Though I love all manner of dreary weather, the sun was high today and I ran through the streets lined with countless apartments. Every time I thought I couldn’t run more, I reminded myself that Mike would love to be alive and out there with me if only he could have conquered his addiction.
There were a lot of people out and about today. I waved to most of them and wished anyone who could hear me a “Merry Xmas.” A guy near the E-Z Mart a few blocks away responded unexpectedly with an “Eff Xmas!” as if he meant it. I quipped back, “I’d like to, but the dinner I’d have to buy would be expensive.” He looked at me quizzically and just shook his head. A couple of days ago, a woman told me, “I don’t celebrate Xmas.” I said, “That’s okay. You might not be married, but you can wish your friend a happy anniversary, can’t you?” She was unamused by my quick wit.
Today, in addition to hitting my highest recorded number of steps, I’m going to break my “floors” record, too just to be arrogant. I try to get 50+ a day. I’m only 30,000 steps ahead of my nearest Workweek Hustle challenger, not counting the unrecorded 9 miles from last night. 🙂
Apart from all that, I was grateful that I woke up able to run, walk, and climb stairs. It’s not something I take for granted and especially with all the energy I unexpectedly woke up with for the day. Anxiety did grip me for a bit – which is always a surprise when I feel like I’m energetic. The workday beat that out of me.
I sit at my desk, watching my backward clock tick away the seconds, minutes, hours – all of which can’t be taken for granted. Mike would be nodding in agreement.
At 2 a.m. I stood out on the landing, looking at the glow of the fairy lights I strung yesterday. Güino excitedly examined them with me. When I looked up toward Gregg Avenue, a fox was running South down the middle of the street. It was an unexpected sight. I hope to see more such things today.
When we went inside, I rolled him with a lint roller, still one of his favorite things.
The fool on the far right with the fluorescent ‘X” on his jacket is me. I was the flower girl when my Mom and Dad remarried each other. They remarried exactly 29 years after their first marriage. 10,483 days have passed since this picture was taken.
My parents really were experts at drinking and driving. But for this moment, no matter how terrible the road behind them, they were happy. Dad died nine months later. Mom was not charged. (That last sentence is supposed to make you laugh.)
It is the only picture I know of where everyone was smiling. Even my brother Mike was smiling with glee. I wish I could always remember him, and Carolyn and Bobby Dean, like this.
Everyone in the picture is dead now – except for me. Dad died at 49, Mike at 54, and Mom at 67.
Plot twist/spoiler: he hit me a lot harder than he thought he was going to. That I was paying him made it hurt a little worse.
This is a personal post. It might be upsetting to some people. Fair warning. As always, I’m setting aside perfectionism or worrying about getting the content or tone exactly as I want it. I can’t control how what I write might be interpreted.
Backing up a little in this story. I have a secret. I hate secrets. I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it.
Several weeks ago, I had a Bobby Dean moment. It was one in which I realized that the only way to diffuse the potential for violence was to step in and confront the person as if I were willing to be hurt or hurt him. I’m glad I did it. As much fear as I felt, I stepped toward him to signal I was willing to find out how far I’d go. Despite his size, he wasn’t certain. I’d already told him that people misjudge me. I don’t want to say that I’m proud that the latch for violence inside of me is dormant but still present. My confession is that a little sliver of me WANTED him to make the mistake of forcing me into action.
That’s not the secret, though.
My Dad violently taught me to fight by hitting me unexpectedly. He also hated that I was non-violent and passive. But one of the lessons he taught me is that it is always a mistake to delay the pain. You have to step in and strike as hard and dirty as you can. The first punch often determines the entire outcome of the altercation. Most people spend a bit of time talking or trying to lull the person they’re threatening. If you know you’re going to be hurt, it is always better to hit them with everything you have, quickly. (If you can’t walk/run away.) Though my Mom had great dental and health insurance through Southwestern Bell, I only went to the doctor if it were a case of imminent death or blood spurting. When I was 18, I had a massive cavity that almost crippled me with pain. When the dentist examined me, he said, “How’d you crack your jaw? It’s almost aligned perfectly again.” Although I had many mishaps in my youth, I knew the break probably happened when my family lived on Piazza Road in Tontitown. Dad came home drunk to our luxurious trailer. I’d lost a lot of weight at the end of my 9th-grade year running the roads there. Dad hated that I’d gotten into shape running several miles a day, lifting my brother’s weights in the downstairs storage space, as well as doing pull-ups until my arms were dead weights. I don’t recall his exact slurred words, but he said something like “I’ll teach you to be a man!” Despite being on my guard, or so I thought, he hit me with a savage right slight uppercut. My head snapped back and I fell, hitting my head on the stone fireplace at the end of the trailer. “What did I teach you? Always expect to get hit.” For weeks, I knew something was wrong with my neck and jaw. I kept running, though. And even though it hurt to play my French horn, I still made the All-State band that year. Only the band director Ms. Ellison knew at the time that something was wrong. I’m sure she knew the cause, too, though she never said anything out loud. In time, the pain disappeared. Until the dentist mentioned it, I hadn’t thought it was anything serious. I was lucky. Not only that time, but dozens of others.
My brother Mike, who was a big, well-trained ex-military meathead and later a policeman and detective, often got exasperated at me, especially when we were younger. I still have a tooth imprint on my left index finger, though. I hit a bully so hard that I thought I killed him. His tooth hit bone when I punched him. He underestimate the anger I had toward him. That anger was honed by my brother Mike screaming at me that if I didn’t confront the bully, HE was going to punch me silly. Growing up, Mike and I had infrequent conversations about why it was that a higher power didn’t protect us. We both knew that the world didn’t work that way, but we still fantasized about someone stepping in and either beating our Dad senseless – or killing him. There is no question that Dad would have deserved a brutal death a few times. He had violent demons, ones which combined with alcohol and anger, made him capable of incredible acts of inhumanity. How he survived as long as he did still astonishes me. I do know that before he died, he realized that he had done considerable evil to us; I’ll never know how much road he would have needed to directly admit it and change his life once and for all. My optimism tells me that he would have made amends. He died at 49.
Because of that recent near-miss with violence, I decided that as contradictory as it might seem, I had to learn to hit more effectively – and to be able to turn off the switch that controls aggression. Living where I do, I don’t worry per se about getting robbed or hit. Let’s be honest, though. It’s much more likely. It turns out that the biggest threat I’ve faced so far has been extremely close to me. That’s usually the case.
I have paid someone for 1/2 sessions to teach me the mechanics of responding harshly to being threatened.
I messaged two people, asking them if they’d teach me the harsher side of self-defense, one that would enable me to channel a version of my Dad’s loathsome philosophy about fighting. Only one person replied – and he had misgivings about distilling his method to what I wanted to learn: not to diffuse, but to hurt. He relented when I explained that I am non-violent and had no intention of being the aggressor in any situation. I went on to tell him that circumstances in my surroundings necessitated that I be prepared if I couldn’t escape the threat of harm. He understood that he couldn’t hit me in the stomach, for obvious reasons, or throw me unexpectedly.
The first time I met him, he taught me the basics. Don’t go for the chest, as it never works. Don’t try to sweep the knees as a beginner. He liked that I understood that the first few seconds are critical in avoiding getting really hurt – and to try to get away if at all possible, but if not, hit hard to dissuade the attacker from choosing you as a target. It’s not about winning, because it’s not a competition. It’s about getting away, diffusing, and if that’s not possible, hurt the attacker as brutally as you can, immediately. (And get away as soon as possible.) Any altercation that drags on is almost always going to end badly for you. Run – or end it quickly.
A couple of days ago, he walked me through strategies to hit someone in the nose with the palm or side of my hand, strike the throat, hit in the stomach, or in the groin, in that order. He further instructed me, if you know you’re going to have to hit, hit immediately, and don’t pull back one iota of everything you’ve got. Break your hand if you need to: just hit violently. If you’re defending yourself, you need to ensure your safety without needlessly hurting the aggressor. As we repeated the same moves, he moved faster. Because he told me to keep moving, I went to the right just as he tried to hit me in the neck. He didn’t hit me with full force, but the side of my face felt like I’d been whacked with a stick. “Ha!” I said as I stepped back. “Picking on a post-surgery client like that!”
He laughed but also said, “Your attacker won’t care that you’ve been in the hospital, X. If they’re out to hurt you, it might entice them. You dropped a lot of weight. You’re in great shape for 54 but not having the weight means you have to be much faster when the time comes. If they get you on the ground, your options go to near-zero very fast.”
I thought about that for a few seconds, especially about the would-be aggressor not caring about my physical condition.
He added, “Your dad wasn’t wrong. If you’re surprised by an attack, use anything nearby as a weapon. Anything. Just use it with full force when you pick it up. Don’t hesitate. The other guy is the bad guy and you have every right to protect your safety and life.”
He spent a few minutes telling me that because my hands aren’t large, it would help me to improve my grip strength and to practice punching something relatively firm. I demonstrated that I’m quick – and doubly so if I need to run, no matter ridiculous I might look doing so.
I’m not violent. Fighting is ridiculous. There’s always someone stronger, faster, and probably armed. No one wins.
But if I get into another Bobby Dean situation, please remember that I want to be cremated. After I’m dead, for those who would do otherwise.
It’s a strange juxtaposition to go to a counseling session and then thirty minutes later to be discussing the physiology of hurting someone in self-defense.
I didn’t expect to ever go to counseling. I certainly didn’t expect to be living where I’d more likely need to channel my aggression effectively. Here I am, though.
The person I had to confront several weeks ago is one of those people who seem like they aren’t violent. I know better. I shut him down by convincing him that he needed to be wary of me. I trust my instincts: it’s obvious he’s hurt a lot of people in his life and doing so didn’t bother him like it would a good human being. There are a lot of “hims” in the world. He said a lot of vile things, ones which telegraphed that he has hurt several people, including women.
Learning these basics won’t make me over-confident. I’m a terrible fighter. The truth, though? I had a premonition that I will need the skill and ability to channel Bobby Dean at some point. And if I do, I hope the aggressor realizes that I, like so many other people, have a history of seeing (and feeling) how failing to defend oneself is a greater danger than being able to let the fire flow when it is necessary.
My brother Mike died a year and seventeen days ago. He would be laughing at me. “You JUST realized this?” he would say. “What have I been telling you your entire life, dipsh*t?”
I will probably need a neck tattoo to add a little menace to my appearance. The brooches I wear probably send the wrong message.
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.
Recently, a friend posted about kayaking on Lake Elmdale. He also mentioned that many people seem to be unaware of its existence. (The lake, not kayaking – although I do wonder if such people who kayak really exist.) I tend to agree with him. Lake Elmdale is an artificial lake built in 1953. It derives its name from a mix of the names for Elm Springs and Springdale communities. I think they missed their chance by not naming it something extraordinary, like “Devil’s Tooth Lake,” or even “Drowning Hole.” Arkansas already boasts Nimrod Lake, named after Noah’s grandson. (Sorry, but the word “Nimrod” was forever redefined by Looney Tunes.)
Since I have your attention, in 1950, Springdale had a bit over 5,000 people. Ten years later, the population doubled. Elm Springs started at 217 and, by 1960, added a whopping 21 additional people.
I have dozens of stories from my youth involving this body of water. Many from my early childhood are fishing stories involving my Dad and Uncle Buck or a rotating series of misfits called friends. Other stories are from the time when I lived in Elm Springs in the mid-80s.
If you look at the picture, you can see one of the lake access roads on the right, about halfway up. Just a short drive beyond, and you can take a left on Lakeview and quickly reach Elm Springs road. Continuing on the circuitous route past the lake entrance, and you’ll emerge on Elm Springs Road further east and headed to what is now I-40. This story is really about the roadway’s right side, where the lake access ramp road intersects with E. Lake Road.
(GPS coordinates if such things interest you.)
My Dad loved a good scare while driving. Whether it involved turning off the headlights at any random moment, cutting unexpectedly through a field (fence or not), jumping out of the vehicle if it were going slowly enough, leaving the wheel to whoever might be both inside and paying attention, shooting a pistol or shotgun from inside the cab, playing chicken with unsuspecting people dumb enough to be on the road at the same time, driving on railroad tracks (sometimes suspended) over creeks, marshes, and rivers, or hitting things for no discernible reason, my Dad often had no limits.
I know that the last sentence is intolerably long. I wanted to pile it all out there to give you an idea of the level of crazy that might Dad exhibited. Sometimes, it was scary. Looming death tends to be that way. Other times, it was fun – but after the fact. Surviving such ‘fun’ colors the ability to laugh about it.
My apologies for taking so long to get to the point. Before this picture was taken, the road was less maintained. Edges weren’t graded appropriately, and erosion and run-off worsened already bumpy or uneven roads. This specific spot was no exception.
While I don’t remember the first time Dad revved his truck to 50+ mph and fly across the edge of this entrance as he passed, I remember coming off the cab’s seat and floating for the briefest instant. Whether the vehicle had a solid axle or good suspension had a say in managing the landing. If you’re thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard reading this, you’re not far off the mark. Though you might think I am exaggerating, Dad once convinced me and my brother Mike that he would do it at 80 mph. He did, after telling us he was going to for a long approach. Our butts were clenched until the point we realized that Dad wasn’t bluffing. Afterward, I felt that Dad would have regretted doing it had he not been three sheets to the wind. When I tell the story, I usually say, “I could see Kansas from up there.” It’s a joke. It was decently dark when Dad took that last quarter of a mile stretch before hitting the bump at 80 mph. After keeping the truck in the road, he hit the brakes and skidded to a full stop. He took the Camel cigarette out of his mouth with a flourish, looked at Mike and me cowering against the other door panel, and said, “Which one of you wants to drive and do it again?” Dad took the same jump, albeit slower than 80 mph, while we were in the back of the truck in the bed, too. We failed to determine whether clutching the truck’s side was safer or to lay against the tailgate.
At times, Dad doing this sort of thing would involve Mom being in the car or truck with him. Mom’s reaction to being scared like this can best be described as “murderous rage” or by one of her signature phrases, “Go# Da## It, Bobby Dean!” shouted at ear-piercing levels. If it lands me in hell for saying so, I’ll admit that hearing her squawk like that was amusing as long as we weren’t witnessing the oft-overlooked attempted murder aspect of many of our weekends.
If you are wondering if Dad ever wrecked, broke an axle, or blew out a tire doing these things, the answer is “yes.” Likewise, if you wonder if any of us ever suddenly experienced bladder control issues, you’d be right for questioning.
On one occasion, Dad drove with his boss back to his house in Elm Springs. The truck was a Cheyenne or Chevrolet truck of some sort, one of their favorites to restore. In those days, rednecks often stated with confidence, “I have to blow the cobwebs out.” Being young, I didn’t understand the cliché but did know that it roughly translated to mean, “I’m going to go incredibly fast and possibly die in this vehicle.” Dad wasn’t drinking. I was in the bed of the truck with Duke, Dad’s german shepherd. Charles sat upfront up with Dad. He had a cigar in his mouth as he often did. Charles was also married to one of Dad’s cousins. I didn’t figure that out until years later.
We drove down Highway 112 and turned on E. Lake Road leading to the lake. About halfway between Highway 112 and the lake, Dad slowed and shouted to me out the window, “White lightning!” I immediately realized that it was a “go” for Operation Scare the Boss Shi$less.” The phrase could refer to the hell-raising 1973 movie starring Burt Reynolds or to moonshine – and sometimes both.
About 100 yards from the side road to the lake, Dad pushed the gas hard and shifted gears. As we hit the bump and sailed off the ground, I laughed. I heard Charles scream in surprise and then scream at Dad, asking if he’d lost his ever-loving mind. By the time we reached Charles’ house, he was laughing and jokingly cursing at Dad.
One more note. Thanks to Dad, I learned how to drive through barbed-wire fences, closed gates, front lawns, flooding creeks, and just about anything else. Here’s the secret: you have to not give a damn about what happens when you do it. Once you master that skill, sober or inebriated, you too can be an amateur stuntman. I wish that I had experienced that version of my Dad freed from alcohol. There’s no doubt he would have still managed to convince me I might die at a given moment.
When my brother Mike came home from leave in the Army, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Life’s demands and the constraints of his limited time conspired against us. We did drive the road leading to Lake Elmdale, though. I knew Mike was going to ask before we ever approached the jump zone. “Should we?” he asked me, laughing. We were in my car. He was driving. “How can we not?!” I shouted. We hit the bump going 50 mph. As soon as we started to lift, Mike regretted testing his courage. After the adrenaline subsided, we drove for another hour along what once were quieter roads. 33 or 34 years have passed.
In the years since, in the spirit of full disclosure, I too have excessively sped toward that same bump without warning the occupants of the car. Though the ridge is considerably flatter than it once was while I am much fatter, it never fails to fill me with nostalgia for both the times that were and those which weren’t.
“As sorry as I was to hear of my brother’s passing, I’ll bet the news bothered him a LOT more.” – X
There’s a considerable risk in people misunderstanding you on a good day. Many of us tend to judge others with the worst possible filter. I’ve found that good people can understand and appreciate contradictory and sublime behavior. Those who don’t just aren’t my people. Old age and experience, if we’re lucky, gives us more latitude in recognizing this.
The greater danger is people hearing what you actually said, and you having no defensible context to mitigate it. So much of life is context, and much of that isn’t immediately explainable. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a cliché for a reason.
The joke that started this post? I’m sure people can and will get angry if they choose to. They’ll claim I wrote it as an insult to Mike. It’s not. He would laugh his ass off reading that joke. About one hundred times over the years, I threw one of Woody Allen’s jokes at him: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Years later, I threw in another one: “My relationship with death remains the same,” he said. “I’m strongly against it.” When Mike and I were young, we both read “Death Knocks,” a story (turned play) by Woody Allen. It was a sometimes topic of hilarity, even though Mike did not like Woody Allen as he grew older. Mike and I both made many bargains with imaginary devils and deities when we were young.
Only those who can imagine hiding in the space between the bed and the wall in the dark and waiting for a parent to come for them in a drunken rage might be able to understand the connection between bargaining and gallows humor. I have a list of stories about these incidents, and some of them surprise me by being funny. If you’ve read my blog, you can see that I’ve largely refrained from identifying some of my family by name. Despite this, I still infrequently find myself at the receiving end of hateful criticism.
When we lived at City View Trailer Park in Springdale, Mike swallowed an incredible amount of tobacco juice. Several of us had played and fought down at the retched pond that once stood at the end of City View. Mike spent much of his time between punches proudly with a mouthful of tobacco. He puked violently on the floor for what seemed like a full minute. That black juice stained the purple carpet deeply. No amount of cleaning could remove it. We’ll talk later about how someone thought purple carpet in a tinderbox trailer might look attractive. When the trailer burned, the stain obstinately remained. The carpet was dark, of course, but the underlying stain plainly stood out. Years later, when Mike and I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s house on Highway 49, Mike compared that stain to dealing with being helpless all those years, or nearly so. That was the same night we discovered that a nest of yellow jackets inhabited the other bedroom’s west-facing window. That’s a story for another day. As for the tobacco, despite attempts to make Mike stop, he dipped most of his adult life. I have at least three dozen pictures of him spitting into a bottle, cup, or a family member’s potted plant to prove it.
After Dad died, my cousin jimmy recommended that I watch a particular Billy Bob Thorton movie. Most people have never heard of “Daddy And Them.” You’ll be shocked if you take a look at how many stars joined this movie. Because it was set in Arkansas, it accurately grabs the absurdity of white trash living and wraps it in comedy. (A difficult feat.) After Jimmy twisted my arm and made me watch it, I did the same to Mike. In it was one of the jokes my brother and I shared as hilarious. Here’s the joke:
“Hey! Do you know what Dad would say if he were alive today?” One of us would reply, “No, what?” Dramatic pause. “Let me out!” With the last line, we scratch the air in front of us with both hands as if we were clawing our way out of the coffin. Last year, an Irish veteran stole the joke and shocked funeral attendees by having a pre-recorded tape of his voice shouting to be let out played during his service. Mike thought it was hilarious and an excellent way to separate the humorless from the good people in a crowd. “Can you imagine how tightly wound up Aunt Elsie’s panties would get if someone did that?” was part of his reply.
I have to say, though, that despite the immense teeth-gnashing my brother and I often shared, our deplorable and macabre sense of humor was unrivaled. Marines and serial killers alike cringed if they accidentally overheard our nonsense.
No matter what you’ve read and heard on sitcoms or dramas about the impossibility of confining an involuntary laugh at a funeral, my brother and I separately were a disaster; in combination, we probably deserved the death penalty. Some of the fault lies with my Dad. Even when he wasn’t drinking, he could say some of the most outrageous things devised by a human being. He once called the preacher a “co$$su$$er” in front of about 50 people just to get a leg up on him. In a twist of fate I’ve written about before, Dad and the preacher somehow became friends.
My brother Mike once unknowingly used an open mic at a funeral home in Brinkley to improvise a bit of comedy regarding our Grandma’s teeth. The funeral director sheepishly ran into the outer area to grab the mic from my brother and tell him that it was a ‘hot mic.’ It’s essential that you know that my Grandma was one of the two closest people I ever loved. Despite that, I laughed. I cannot think about that incident without losing a little bit of my soul to laughter. I’m convinced each chuckle puts me a foot further into purgatory.
There’s no greater or sublime pleasure having someone who is both smart and willing to go the extra mile for a laugh, joke, or smile – even if it burns down a few villages on the way there. I give Mike the win, though, because he could tell jokes that I wouldn’t. That’s saying a lot.
Not too many months ago, I sent my brother a collection of hand-written postcards, each with a joke from comedians we both loved. As with index cards in my back pocket, I’m also a fan of prestamped postcards for quick notes. Even while we were uneasily bickering, I wanted him to know that humor was still a big part of my life. (Even if I’m old, boring, wear a lot of black socks as leisurewear, and get too excited by an early buffet.)
Mike would see these words as a compliment.
Because of our relationship, I tend to expect someone to emerge with poison in their hearts to attempt to silence me for joking. Those who know me also know I’ve written multiple times about the fact that they have my permission to mock me to the end of the world when I’m gone, especially if it is funny or creative. Mike was not someone to pull back from a bastardly comment. The same quick and violent tongue he sometimes used to wound me also created some world-class humor. For everyone who knew Mike and watched him in action on solemn occasions, the Bobby Dean in him could not be confined or controlled. Trying to do so was just catnip for his enthusiasm to up the ante.
It’s not reasonable to accuse me of glossing over or attempting to sugarcoat Mike’s life. Equally so, I have to tip my hat when it is merited. Both of us emerged from childhood with a scorched-earth comedic streak. It probably saved us as many times as it caused us grief.
As it turns out, Mike was indeed there when death came for him. His birthday would have been November 1st, the day after Halloween. For some, it is All Souls Day. When I sat to finish Mike’s ancestry record, I noticed that his two children are the same age I was when our Dad died. Mike was 20,062 days old, the mentioning of which would irritate him due to my occasional reminder that I still keep a tab of how many days old I am.
My job is to remember the Mike who put a fish under the driver’s seat of my 1984 Oldsmobile in the middle of summer during a visit to Aunt Barbara’s. (Without telling me.) Or the Mike who read “Lord of The Rings” in almost one sitting back in the early 80s.
Please don’t fault me for taking refuge in contradictory stories about Mike. But if you do, I’ll accept that charge. Given the arc of my origins, I find this potential sin to be minuscule.
P.S. The word “acolate” is mine, one devised to denote eulogic remembrance, perhaps a day too late.
This post is a portmanteau of lives. One was a dedicated writer, and one was a policeman; both failed to adequately recognize their afflictions.
My wife’s eyes sometimes glaze over when I hear tales of “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that is. I can’t help myself: I always say, “What’s that?” half-jokingly. It’s the same way with me regarding boredom. Reading, writing, genealogy, humor, photography, and just scrolling the window of the internet could entertain me for fifty consecutive years. I’d be ideally suited to be a vampire.
This time, we were watching “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” on HBO. Michelle McNamara had her deadline pushed forward a month and struggled to realize her ambition of finishing her book. It was her lifelong dream. She died before DNA solved the case of The Golden State Killer. Michelle and I share many attributes regarding writing. I don’t put myself on her level, though, so there’s no need to remind me snarkily. But I don’t understand the inability to plow through. She resorted to drugs to keep her up and allow sleep when necessary. The thing she relied on to help her achieve her ambition also undid her life.
I can’t walk the street, work, or sit and listen to music without wanting to research a hundred different ideas. Things breeze into my mind at a velocity that I cherish. The satisfaction of an overactive mind isn’t diminished by the value or result of the ideas. I’m able to divorce content from needing a goal. This allows me to produce dozens of things that never see the light of day or end up in the ‘delete’ file simply due to happenstance.
Had Michelle raised her hand and admitted she was overwhelmed, Patton Oswald and their mutual daughter would still have her in their lives. Instead, her book and ambition fell to uncertain others to complete, and Michelle lost a presumable thirty or forty years with family.
While I wrote the first part of this a few weeks ago, it still is on my mind. Not just because it was a great show, or a peek into a writer’s life, but also because a piece of it parallels the life of my brother. He was ridiculously smart. He could have worked to be a writer. As I do with anyone I recognize as innately great at writing, I repeatedly tried to convince him to spend a portion of his life writing his stories. I do not doubt that he easily had several books of material in him. Much of his writing might have derived from his professional career as a policeman and detective. Even his Army career was as an MP.
Michelle McNamara’s life revolved around crime and its intricate tendrils. My brother Mike spent his career investigating and collaring criminals. While Michelle’s ambition always included being a writer, Mike could have done the same, and just as expertly.
The contradiction is that his job itself was one of his biggest impediments. It put a wedge between his personal life and his ability to live it. The schedule, the demands, and the danger of having a job that perilously exaggerated his tendency toward authoritarianism. People often ask whether the job makes the man or the man gravitates toward it. I’m not sure. As much difficulty as my brother had coming out of his youth, the job exacerbated his personality defects. It’s no secret that police are more likely to be abusive and susceptible to addiction. My brother chose alcohol to appease his conflict. Michell McNamara chose prescription medications. Anyone who gets angry at me for saying so doesn’t understand me. In Michelle’s case, her husband Patton capably framed her turmoil in a very public and touching television show.
My brother’s intentions to retire as a detective after a full career collided with his inability to stop drinking. He was forced to retire. Even still, he could have turned that blow into a blossoming retirement. Had he stopped drinking, he might have lived to be seventy instead of dying before his fifty-fifth birthday. Because he was smart enough to work in the north, his pension was protected by a formidable police union. He had the option to pursue any interest he desired.
I was envious of that and his ability to work a job that allowed it. It’s a fantasy for most of us to round fifty and shift to do whatever interests us.
In the last couple of years, I sent Mike books, starting with “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee.” I knew it would ignite his interest and recognition of what writing about the South could do. It was my hope he’d begin to leave the alcohol to the side, even if it cost him herculean effort to do so. He’d be able to careen into another career writing feverishly. Whatever else Mike did or didn’t do, he also loved books and libraries. That’s something that can’t be said about many police.
Mike’s death not only closed the door on his gift of writing, but it also cost him a couple of decades with his family. They’ll each struggle with the legacy of his big personality and choices. As Mike declined, I couldn’t help but get irritated at him for the waste of his life. Instead of pivoting to change his course and take advantage of the privilege of a chosen life, he furiously wasted his and his family’s energies to dedicate himself to drink. As bad it was, we were all lucky a few of the circumstances didn’t cause greater harm to others.
Now, silence. What could have been a rejuvenated family and life is now a complicated and unenviable path to an uncertain future for all of them.
As in my mother’s case, I know that much of the harsh words I shared with my brother were a result of alcoholism. Knowing it helps more now that they are passed than it ever did while they lived. He recognized the danger, just as I always did, but relied on his devious inner voice to convince himself he could overcome it. The same personality that made him loud and larger than life also participated in his fall. Many of our family and ancestors did the same. None of our ancestors who knew they were alcoholics successfully pulled out of it. It’s a sobering thought. I’ve written about the infection of my family. While I cannot adequately describe it, the trajectory of those around me gives proof that my theory must have some validity.
Mike loved that I wrote stories. Some of them caused him grief, especially before he could come to terms with the magnitude of the shadow that our dad and others left behind us. He vested energy in secrecy while I opted to throw open the windows. I was often a terrible brother. The only safe harbor I had at my disposal was separation. Mike had trouble seeing that my life was not one punctuated by drama. He also hated that I told him more than once that were I in his shoes, I would do anything and everything to break my addiction. It wasn’t because I felt superior to him in that regard, but that I never fooled myself into believing that any of us have magical skills that preclude us from behaving stupidly. Behavior that is obviously hard-wired into our DNA is that much more insurmountable.
The shelf that could have held Mike’s books will be forever empty.
The lives he could have intersected with for the next twenty years will now bounce obliquely off someone else.
The silences and subsequent shouts of confused recrimination will echo in his vacant place.