I watched Avengers: Endgame with my son on Saturday. I won’t spoil anything here, but Captain America, is, and has always been my favorite superhero. He has a strong moral code, he always does what is right, he loved only one woman with all of his heart, and when he gets knocked down, he ALWAYS gets back up. Some might think he is the ultimate Boy Scout/Do-gooder. But I think he represents what is best in us. What I’ve always taken to heart in myself. Help other people at all times. Keep yourself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. These aren’t just words they make you say when you are a kid. This is a code to live by.
I am cursed with having a long memory. It is genetic. I come from a long line of people who value their grudges. They forgive almost no one and as a result, I also come from a long line of people who are isolated, have very few friends, and warm themselves by the fires of the bridges they have burned throughout their lives. I married into what was familiar. The confluence of two angry rivers. But being the true black sheep of my family, I hated living like that. I tend to lean on the side of mercy, indulgence, second chances, and forgiveness. The storm that was my life when I was married had no room for that. It was considered weakness. Disloyalty.
In college I rarely took notes. I relied on my memory to get a decent GPA. I retained a lot of what I learned. Becoming a parent fried some of those synapses. Three kids. Two with colic and months of sleepless nights. Stress. Money problems. Being the sole breadwinner as our ship circled the drain and I was the only one paddling. I remember all of that too. I remember the nights I held my children at the ER in the middle of the night with high fevers. The nights I cleaned up vomit and went to work the next day with only a few hours of sleep. The days I turned the garden myself. The dogs I petted until the vet administered the serum and they were no longer in pain. I did these things alone.
I remember the fights. The times I tried to leave and came back for the kids, because they needed me. I remember the sick feeling I felt in my stomach. I refused to look back at who I had been not long before. A man unafraid of the world. Surrounded by friends who were closer to being family. Someone who wanted to join the Peace Corps and see the world. Someone who took two years of Japanese so he would know how to order noodles in Osaka. I had been in love once (my first) and made a poor decision to see how green the grass was on the other side of the fence.
Many times I was told I wasn’t good enough for those dreams. That I deserved the life I had. I was an accessory in the house. Nothing more than another appliance. I cooked. Cleaned. Took care of the kids. Worked. Built and fixed things. None of it was good enough. And none of it ever ended. I kept a tally. Every task. Every birthday we couldn’t afford a present for me. Every Christmas photo where the kids were screeched at to smile. I remember the darker days too. All of them. The things you wish you could forget. I lost sight of who I was many times in those days.
I put my memory work. I used it to write. No, I used it to escape. Every experience I have had can be diffused into the tincture of a solution called a story. When you read one of my stories or blog posts, you are seeing a facet of my life. These are all things that really happened, or I heard about, bent a little bit and given a fresh coat of paint to fictionalize them. The jewels of my life, set within a golden fitting of fantasy.
My first kiss was at Niagara Falls. I was 17. Yes, a little late considering when kids get started, even back then. I remember the heat of the June night, the spray of the waterfall raging near us. The glow of the lights on the water. I think it was worth the wait. You have to be crazy to not keep that around in your head for a story.
The hardest thing for me about having a long memory is when things end, you get to remember all of it, but it is only a memory. There is nothing new. Like pictures, even a good memory begins to fade. So, I write my stories while the paint is still fresh and vibrant. The details are caught and when I go back to them, it rekindles everything about that moment. Even if it has been dressed up with dragons and sword fights.
My last relationship is still working its way into the stories. Only now, taking a step back do I truly appreciate the good and the bad things about it. I held back a lot. I started doing things because I was afraid I might lose her if I didn’t–or worse yet, if I did. I treated our moments like secrets. I didn’t infuse my stories with some of the best moments because I deferred to her discretion. I held back in ways that weren’t good for me. Out of fear of losing her. Given the chance, I might have done some things differently. When I lost her, it was a hard blow. I blamed myself for a very long time. I blamed her. Then I stopped blaming. I started looking at what was lost. Not only her, but the possibilities of new experiences with her. New memories to join the old ones that were already fading.
But I also lost a part of myself too that I really loved being. With her, I felt like I got to be the man I was on my way to becoming back when I was 17 and I was ready to take on the world. I got to leave grudges behind. I got to abandon anger. I laughed a lot more. Took chances. Challenged myself. Often surprised myself too. Surprised her plenty of times! The man I was with her was the best of me. Thoughtful, kind, romantic, supportive, intelligent, strong, inquisitive, confident (but not overconfident), creative. She woke me up from the nightmare that my life had been before. And she woke me up from the dream of her when she left.
But then I also lost the man I was when I was with her. I really liked him.
I felt the ground of the Arena rise up to meet my face. The cold mud and sand in my beard. The taste of blood in my mouth. I lay there for a while, listening to my pulse rushing in my ears. The roar of the crowd was like that waterfall on a moonless night. And I pushed myself back up. I might not be that man anymore. This time I get to be better.