My day

So my birthday has come and nearly gone again, I am at the apogee of my next year, the furthest point from the next time this day comes around again. For the most part I haven’t done a lot today. I visited with a friend, opened an unexpected present, and hung out with my son. We munched on cherry cheesecake and walked Umbrella Academy season one. I also got my free coffee at Dutch Bros. today.

The funny thing about free coffee this morning was they all asked me what I was going to do for my birthday. I even woke up this morning to a text wishing me happy birthday from someone I spent time growing up with long ago. She hoped I was having adventures today. Honest, today was so sedate, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. Really I had no desire to do much. With everyone still on lockdown and forced to wear masks anywhere you turn, hot springs still closed down until further notice, and not even a movie theatre open, my options were limited. I could either stay at home or spend money on food. I stayed at home and sliced up a sirloin roast and marinaded it to make beef jerky.

I am a wildman.

I might get some writing done tonight before I go to bed. I might not. Today was just sort of a stay at home and be lazy day. Maybe this is a symptom of the overall malaise everyone is going through these days, or maybe it’s just a part of being more comfortable in my own skin. I haven’t had FOMO for a while, mostly because nobody is really doing much to miss out on, and I’ve been busy with writing and figuring out my life these days. Letting things go.

I think back to last year and how I was just beginning a wonderful journey with the woman I was dating at the time. We spent all afternoon and most of an evening in Glenwood Springs in a hot spring listening to New Age music and then devouring an entire pizza together on the drive home. It was a great birthday, and enough to shut me up for a while about how “Nothing good ever happens on my birthday.”

The year before basically marked the end of another relationship. That was hard. It was more in line with how things had been. High expectations for a wonderful day and then the rug jerked out from underneath me. On my birthday, I have been fired two different times, had the flu as least a dozen times, been stood up for my birthday party, and any number of things that generally sucked. I’ve had some good ones. Last year, my 40th, my 21st (where the girl I was dating gave me a kilt), and a few other really good ones.

This year was neither phenomenal nor disappointing. It was peaceful, and I didn’t even have the urge to run out and get myself a gift. I was content with everything that I have. I think about those kids at Dutch this morning and that need to run out and celebrate. Maybe last year was the final time I feel that urge? Any day can be a day to run out and celebrate. Any day is the day that you can make your own.

Throughout the day I got notifications on Facebook from friends and family wishing me a Happy Birthday. It was nice to hear from everyone. It made me feel appreciated. Remembered. I sometimes thing of the past and those who are no longer in my life, and though I miss them, I can enjoy the good times and that brings me joy. I wonder if they thought of me today. I thought of them.

Tonight is not a melancholy night. No, that might happen later when I write. But for now, I am Clinton. I live. I burn with life. I love. I slay and am content. Today I became 45 years old. I’m just hitting my stride.

Early snow

Today was Labor Day in the USA. It used to mean the end of summer vacation, but since schools have been converted into state paid babysitting for the last 20 plus years or so, Summer vacation typically peters out in about mid-August for most people these days. When I was a kid, summer Vacation began with Memorial Day and ended on Labor Day, giving us around 100 or so day of summer. Of course where I grew up, this also meant these were the only relatively snow free days of the year. Give or take a week or two either way.

I used to dread snow, because it meant being trapped in the mountains for any of eight months per year. We had two seasons: winter and mosquitos. I still have nightmares about needing to get out of town before the roads closed.

This year is different. The running gag seems to be that this year things can’t get much worse. Truth be told, things can always get worse, don’t fool yourself. They’ve been worse. They will be worse at some point. 2020 is not the high water mark. According to some, 12,500 years ago, most of the human inhabited world was either suddenly under water or on fire. This is definitely worse that a game show host being the President of the USA. If I have to remind you of this, then you need to check your priorities.

This year, a big chunk of Colorado is expected to get around a foot of snow. We need it. For the last week or so, ash has been falling from the skies like snow. Some of the chunks I have seen are recognizable. Pine needles, flecks of bark, wood, pine seeds. They are now reduced to ash and we have been breathing them. I’ve had a wicked sinus headache and trouble breathing for a few days now. If you think COV1D, let me remind you that it has been snowing ash for the last week here. The smoke cloud hit 45,000 ft. in altitude the other day. It has blacked out the sun and it has been dark all day here.

Already the winds have cleared out the smoke in town and you can feel the chill in the air. A good snow storm will do more to control the fire than all the fireline crews and helicopters full of slurry we can throw at it.

Spending most of my time indoors for the last week has been a good thing for my creativity and productivity. I’ve been writing like crazy, taking off only a few days. My average word count on days I have been writing has been right around 4500 words. Some days has been 6500 and others have been 4000. I’ve been able to sit down and write a chapter a day in many cases.

Today, my son came back for the week, and it being Labor Day and the worst smoke yet, we decided to buy him some new shoes for the school year, heading south to Denver just to get the hell out of the smoke and ash. I took the day off so well that after he went to bed, I didn’t even know what I wanted to work on for the book. Every other day, I have had an idea for a chapter forming in my head, but today it has been a wash. I moved plants in from outside. I took a nap. We got settled in.

In a few days, I’ll be 45. Usually this time of year I get a little maudlin. Considering the challenges 2020 has held, I won’t veer into that territory. The last year has been some of the best times of my life. Also some of the most heartbreaking at times. A year ago, my son got me sick with some crud he brought home from school. I got pneumonia, which persisted until November. I still struggle with breathing problems. I dealt with more bullshit from my day job until the writing was on the wall and layoffs were imminent. I threw my hands up in the air and stops trying to please people who would never think my effort was ever good enough.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who have left my life ever think of me. If they ever miss me the way I miss them. Hell, there are times I still think about the people I knew in elementary and high school. I can still see their faces in my memories. It’s a good thing I have been gifted with the ability to write, because I have been cursed with a long memory. In the fifteen years I was married, some of my dearest friends moved on without me. My life was complex, a world of constant conflict. In many ways it was easier to just drift apart. At least they couldn’t see my destruction and I didn’t have to hear them try to save me. When I emerged from that cave, they were all changed, and I was trying to be the man I started off as when I went down into the dark.

Maybe they don’t. Most people have short memories and shallow hearts.

In a couple days, I’ll be 45. I’ve learned how to let go of some things and how to hold on to others. Mostly I try to walk away from toxic people, situations. I have turned my focus from chasing and chasing to pushing forward. I’ve put my long memory to use and am working on building a world that others can relate to. Right now, my big fears are being a good enough dad, pushing through an entire lifetime of being told nice things are for other people, more talented, well-connected people. Not some middle-aged guy who grew up in a poor Colorado mountain town.

“Quit these pretentious things, and just punch the clock,” as Arcade Fire says. But it’s hard to do this. I cannot begin to tell you how hard this is.

I punched a clock for 20 plus years. Now I get to work on my own, set my own schedule, and maybe the payoff will be everything I ever hoped for, or complete failure. At least the choice is mine now. I would say that it’s better to learn this at 45 than it is to learn it at 65.

I might not have worked on the book today, but I wrote here, and I suppose that is worth something.

The hard turns of life

Eighteen years ago today, a baby was born.  7lbs and 10oz. of wriggly, wrinkly, cheese-covered joy.  The entire world was open to him, any conceivable possibility was his to explore.  He was born over three weeks late.  He was supposed to be a September baby.  He was born to two people who already disliked each other.  None of that was his fault.

For the next 18 years, he got to see his parents fight.  His sister was born just a little over a year and a half after he was born, so she got to see us fight too.  And their brother further down the line too.

I remember the tough times with my son.  He cried a lot.  Sometimes all night.  He was a colicky baby.  He would often scream all throughout dinner if he wasn’t being held, much to the displeasure of anyone else in the restaurant.  But there were moments when he laughed too.  A chubby baby with such a capacity to just giggle and laugh, I’ve never met anyone so ticklish.  You didn’t even have to touch him to get him to double over, laughing from the intent to tickle him.  He fought nursing.

He used to roll from place to place, so stubborn not to crawl.  One day, about a week after he learned to crawl, I stood only a few feet away and he just stood up and took his first steps.  His first word was “Da-da”.  He was obsessed with letters and for Christmas one year, when he was just a little over two years old, one of his presents was a set of foam letters to play with in the bathtub, which he just kept repeating the names for over and over again until he had to go to bed.  By three he had taught himself to read.

He read everything.  In time, he became more withdrawn.  He preferred his books to the company of his sister, but they were still very close.  He didn’t care much at all for the herd of dogs and cats we had around the house, but he did take interest in the parakeet we had.

He loved Teletubbies and Boo-bah (which he called Bee-bah), and the Wiggles.  We all used to sing with Halloween and Christmas albums in the car.  He really liked Maroon 5 and Switchfoot, and singing off-key to his Kidzbop karaoke machine.  Making mixtapes of “fresh music”.

I was there for every milestone, from his first breath, first tooth, first word, first steps, first day of school, first cold brought home from school, first trip to the ER for problems breathing.  Doctors appointments.  Asthma and allergy treatments.  He used to hold my hand, just clutching one or two of my fingers as we crossed the street or walked through the store.  He used to cackle with delight at weird things like the Winnie the Pooh game on his V-Smile gaming console.  In time he graduated to Playstation and then to Xbox 360 and beyond.  I taught him how to ride a bike, which he would ride to school and I would carry home every day at lunch during my lunch hour, when I took him to school.

He had a few friends when he was little at school.  It seemed like everyone knew him whenever we walked through the halls at his elementary school down the street.  Until Second Grade, his teachers said he was so bright and that he was their favorite student.  His second grade teacher couldn’t have been more opposite to this attitude.  But she disliked my daughter and youngest as well.

Past then, the mark of being a difficult troublemaker followed him.  His curiosity wasn’t encouraged.  He was chastised for reading constantly.  He didn’t know the names of any of the kids who all knew him.  He acted out.  He had meltdowns.

Things at home degraded.  We were poor, and I was the only source of income in the house.  Things got strained, but that is more my story than his, though he was affected by it.  The word Aspergers was thrown around and soon the school had an IEP on him to treat him as such.  Some things improved.  Some didn’t.  He still doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but it seemed to help.

Five years ago, just a few weeks after his 13th birthday, I left his mother, whose mental state had become too much to deal with.  I wanted to give all three of my kids a somewhat normal life.  He couldn’t handle the contrast and left to live with his mom full-time a year and a half later.  The familiar chaos and demands were more comforting to him, it seemed, than a quiet home with structure, discussions, and no yelling and screaming.  He wasn’t being interrogated anymore going back to his mom’s if he had no information to surrender.  As far as I know, he became a surrogate dad, picking up where I left off with chores, discipline, and raising his brother and sister.

Then there were the CPS visits.  The reports of abuse and neglect, not just made against me, which I have spoken of in length, but at his mother’s house as well.  Cries for help that the local government does little to nothing to address.

I haven’t spoken to him in nearly four years.  It was “his decision” to not return to my house one April morning.  I am nothing to him now except a piggy bank for his mother.  She refers to me as a “sperm donor.”

All I hear about him now comes in snippets.  He’s a Senior in school.  He goes by his mother’s last name.  He wants nothing to do to me.  His story, in my mind, is now only memory or rumor.  He doesn’t sound happy.  That baby who was born with all the possibilities in the world has been hammered into something someone else wanted for him.  He has no friends.  He escapes reality in books and social media and video games.  His brother and sister have often told me, “I know you lost a son, but I also lost a brother.”

This is his last year of high school.  From what I have seen, his grades are awful.  His options are more limited now than being a helpless, fussing baby in a blue knit cap, his new lungs dragging in every breath and the moments of his life adding up as the days remaining began to tick down, like the rest of us.

I miss my son, Gabriel.  Named for an angel, one of the sweetest people I have ever known.  Sensitive, brilliant, odd in his own way.  I still love him, even though I no longer know him.  The little guy I remember lives on in my memories.  I hope that one day, that feisty creature rekindles something inside my son and he can find his own path, as was supposed to be what he got in life.  Even if he and I never meet again, I love him, and I wish him the very best.

I pray for that kid every day, and hope that one day he finds his way.  I hope at least I planted some seeds in his heart that lived, which will grow and help him become the man he can still be.

Happy 18th Birthday, kiddo.  May you find everything which is good in life, and may it be yours one day.