The Arena

Yesterday I spent the majority of the day picking the metaphorical gravel out of my teeth. The morning had been another disappointment. The rest of the day felt pretty bleak. I am exhausted by the process and there always seems to be just another squall line rolling up on the horizon. It’s hard to be optimistic about any of it.

Some days you just have to dig deep to find the will to fight on. Some days you find yourself utterly defeated. To not just roll over and play dead, but to actually just give up entirely. You’re done. Your tank has completely run dry. Yesterday was such a day for me.

Which sucks, because it came so close on the heels of a day that felt like a total victory. A day when I felt comfortable in my own skin and happy with the direction life was taking me. I mean damn, I’m a nationally published travel writer! I live in one of the most beautiful places in Colorado! My car is paid for. I have an adorable puppy. And I live in a cool old house, far from traffic jams and continuous police sirens, and bums sleeping in the park.

People who have survived abuse, neglect, and trauma know this feeling well. It’s the “This is why we can’t have nice things” feeling. Every amazing day, every tender heart that touches your life, every twenty dollar bill you find on the street just means that eventually the other shoe is going to drop and you are going to wish you didn’t let your guard down for that moment to enjoy life. Because here comes the hobnail boot, stamping your teeth into the curb from the back of your head.

I used to think of the good days as an emotional investment. The better the weekend or the victory I had, I knew some fuckery was brewing. You see, I left a burning house seven years ago, and I went back in to get my kids. And one by one, they went right back into it. My ex wife does not approve of my parenting methods (which do not include hysterics and screaming), my choice of where to live, my family, or likely the oxygen I take into my body on a regular basis. For the last seven years, I have had to fight for everything I have. I fought for everything I had for fifteen years before that too, but she kept most of it. I got out with my life and something even better: the potential to begin a new one.

But that trauma holds onto your soul like a bad smell. It’s easy to become bitter, gunshy, and know that eventually, you are going to have to deal with some shit, and risk getting sucked right back into it. That control someone else had over you, that panic that takes hold when you thought you could be done with it, but you have to walk back into that blaze.

Yesterday I looked down the long plain of the next seven years of storms, one rolling up on me after the next. I thought about how I’ll have to face them alone. Just like I always have. Damn, but that sand at my feet felt awfully cool and inviting to just lay in it. To watch it soak up my blood. To have just a moment of rest. Nobody would blame me if I gave up.

I’m so tired of fighting.

This morning I woke up, and got out of bed. I let the dog outside and looked at the snow that had fallen on the mountains all around me. I live in such a beautiful place. It is inspiring. In years past, it used to rejuvinate me to come visit the mountains where I grew up, even for just a few hours. The cold wind. The blue skies. The icy teeth of jagged peaks that bite up into those clouds. I think now this place sustains my spirit. Like the mountains, those storms will wash over me. But they will not subdue me. The rains and snows might chisel away the mountains, they might cover them, they might grind them into that fine arena sand over eons. But, the clouds just roll over them. A storm washes them clean of all the bullshit that has come before.

Today, I decided to fight another day. And another day. And another. And so on.

Today I’m going to smile back at the storm with a mouth full of broken teeth and spit out the sand. I can do this all day.

I Think I Overdid It

Today was a work on the house day. I have been installing flooring in the living room for this go around. I wish I had something profound or insightful or something prosaic to say about it, but really it’s probably just going to be an observation on age, why writing suits me, and possibly some things to say about what could be undiagnosed ADHD.

What I do know is that after about eight hours of demo, then standing up, sitting down, tapping in sections of flooring, and repeating the process over and over again on my hands and knees, the floor is about halfway done. It has been a one man operation. My blood and sweat is literally involved in this project. And a couple blood blisters from whacking my finger with a hammer.

Like most of these house projects, I get hyperfocused on the project. It’s hard to reach a stopping point for me, unless the work is just done, but I will need some help to move the heater stove out of the way to finish the second half of the room. When it’s done, people will think it looks great, and I’ll just see all of my mistakes. But eventually that will fade and I will think it looks great too.

Right now I am in a lot of pain. Mostly in my lower back and my arms and legs. Flooring is a young person’s job. I’ve done it before, albeit with a different kind of flooring, but I think this stuff will be fine for what I need it to do. Which is to cover up a patchwork quilt of old flooring. Tile, linoleum, all from different points in history. It’s easy enough to install, but just time consuming, and being on the floor most of the time doesn’t help.

I’m writing right now to wear out my mind. Three Motrin, a Zyrtec to help me sleep, a beef bowl which I made on autopilot, and maybe a shot of whiskey later, and my brain is still going. I went to bed at 10 and woke up at 11pm, wide awake. It’s insomnia that has affected me from many other instances like this. I get sucked into a project and my brain won’t stop if I pass a certain point. If I don’t find myself winding down around five or six, it wants to keep going.

I even read three chapters of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and installing flooring was an app in my brain, running in the background the whole time. So, I figured I would blog about it and see if that helps. The pain combined with the Brain that Won’t Shut Up are a double whammy tonight. I have half a mind to just make a cup of coffee and work on the book for a bit, but my eyelids are getting heavy, and I don’t want to tempt fate.

Last January, I started work on this place. The first project I tackled was to strip all the old wallpaper out of my son’s room and paint it. On that project, I stopped working at about 9pm and then wide awake, I came back at 5am to start again, up long before the winter sun. I’ve heard that with ADHD, you get distracted easily by things, but also become hyper-focused on other things. I wonder if I’ve been like this for a while or if my office job spawned this behavior, since I had to work through constant interruptions and meet deadlines. It sucks. I wish I could just turn it all off and sleep.

But I am excited to see what everything looks like at the end of this.

I’ll have just a few projects left. But I’m not in any hurry to do those. Trim. Install another floor. Fix my office up. I’ll need more money and warmer weather, so I’m looking at Spring or early Summer. With new floor, the faux tin ceiling, a couple big area rugs and the new bookshelf door working as a baffle to what was a cold ass hallway, the house is going to stay nice and toasty this winter.

The hearing to determine the parenting time schedule for my son is on Monday, and I’m also anxious about that. So, there is plenty on my mind. When my son comes back, he won’t even recognize the place. It has been a productive three and a half months. The old place has almost…responded to these changes in such a good way. Every time I refurbish something, there seems to be such a good feeling about it. Almost like the house appreciates the love and care I’ve been putting into it. It responds with being warmer. Smelling nicer. And feeling more like home.

My cousins and my aunts always used to talk about this place and say how it was haunted. I’ve spent so many hours in this place at all hours of day and night and really I’ve never had an experience of any kind. It was cold and run down in the beginning, but now, as I continue to put a new face on it, it feels inviting.

Even in this month of Halloween, when the cold earth breathes out long-forgotten spirits.

Maybe if there are ghosts in this place they lay low because they are afraid I’ll make them help. 😉

Big Life

Today it started to sink in a little bit. Last night on the drive home from seeing my son for the first time since I dropped him off with his mother on July 1st, I saw a break in the clouds. Metaphorically speaking…and literally too I suppose.

The last few days, Winter has begun to flirt with North Park. Four or five inches of heavy, wet snow dropped on us a few days ago and the mountains have been glazed with snow, which is melting off, but I think will serve as a base coat as the nights get longer and winter settles in.

A year ago…it’s hard to imagine what was going on a year ago. Like now, I was preparing for a court case. I put my writing on hold. The book, which was writing itself had to be paused so I could represent myself in court. That thing they say about a person who serves as their own attorney has a fool for a client…believe it.

It was a waste of time, but I did save a little bit of money on attorney’s fees. Anyway, enough about that. We are talking about a break in the clouds.

Yesterday, I got a my first face-to-face visit with my youngest kiddo. We played chess for an hour. He beat me twice. I’m proud of him. It was so nice just to be present with him and interact that I forgot to take pictures. It was good to just be near him, encourage him, help him through moves or teach him better ways to play the game. Zoom calls are no substitute. It’s a long process, but one I hope will end well for him. He has a lot of patience for an eleven year old. He could teach a lot of us what strength really is.

I wish he didn’t need to be so strong.

On the way home, I stopped at the old neighborhood where I had landed shortly after I began the journey of my divorce and new life. The old house has been bought and it looks like it is being flipped again. I spoke with my neighbor and former coworker. We caught up. I had left the neighborhood without saying goodbye back in December. We weren’t all that close, and about half an hour of chatting in the cold evening air was enough to motivate me to head back into the mountains. I stopped at Dutch Bros. for coffee. Chatted with a couple of my friends there. Then raced to Ft. Collins to pick up a copy of Big Life Magazine, which bought my story about road tripping with my mom and my son in Oregon and Washington back in March 2021.

I found the final copy at the Barnes and Noble there and then raced home before the weather could get too bad, with an ETA of around 11:00pm. The roads were dry and clear all the way up until the pass on the Colorado/Wyoming border, but with 4WD locked in, I didn’t have any problems. Just the solitude of the road at night and the ground blizzards which whip across the highway like snow snakes.

Today, I finally got a chance to read the article. Other than a few edits they dropped in, it looked great! My son and I have a picture together in the pages of a nationally published magazine for which I am a writer in the Summer 2021 issue. The magazine is about living your best life, and in a weird meta way, selling a story there was doing just that.

My imposter syndrome has taken a major hit.

Sometimes I feel like moving back to my home town was the worst mistake of my life. It cause a lot of feathers to be ruffled. Parents often live apart so that they can pursue their goals and dreams and continue to provide the best life for their kids. I’ve known parents who live a thousand miles away and make it work. Moving has brought me back to court. This process is slow, painful, and expensive. I’m not a fan.

But moving has challenged me to refurbish a 120 year old house and push my comfort zones in so many ways. Recently I designed, built, and installed a secret door bookshelf because I’ve always wanted one. I have Scooby Doo to thank for that. In the last couple months, I have taught myself how to use carpentry tools and skills I never thought I would have used past Woods I in high school.

I highly recommend the Bostitch 16 guage nail gun, by the way. It saves so much time and makes a better looking product than trying to beat nails in with a hammer.

Also, in moving, I have a little bit more freedom to write. I’m making headway on the novel. I’m pitching stories to magazines. I’m getting out more and having new experiences and writing about them. Sometimes things get intense, but on days like those, I pet my dog, Penny, and I sit down to work on the book or write a blog post, or challenge myself. In the last eighteen months, I’ve lost a few people who were very close to me. I blame myself for a lot of that. My regret is that I wish I could have been better. But it’s hard to do that when your world is coming apart at the seams. We are all struggling these days.

I’m learning. Always learning. Some lessons are hard. They humble you. They make you grateful for what you have instead of what you want. You learn that you can’t take anything for granted. Not your kids. Not your health. Not the people who are closest to you. You need to appreciate every moment you get, because nothing is guaranteed. We are not promised tomorrow.

Today, I read that article and for a little bit there was a break in the clouds. I am a nationally published travel writer. I’m achieving my goals. It takes baby steps to get there, but a year ago, I would have never dreamed I would be writing these words. A year ago was a whole other life away. Someone else’s story.

Tonight I sit typing these words in my office. I feel comfortable in my own skin. I miss my son, but I am trusting in the process. I’m working. I’m keeping my heart open to lessons it has needed to learn. I no longer fear the winter like I used to. Back in those days when being snowed in felt like you were being strangled, for no other reason than you were locked in with yourself.

Tonight, I’m comfortable with that. Listening to my Portishead Live from Roseland NYC album. The house is coming together. Things are falling into place. What comes next just might be scary, the next push out from my comfort zone. The next horizon to cross and a whole other set of stars to see shining in the sky.