Crash and Burn

Tonight I tried to record a podcast. One of the most difficult things about this process has got to be the absurd concept that right now I’m sitting there talking to myself for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve been trying to keep it to around 20 minutes, but seriously, the process is really goofy. At least when I’m writing something, I get to construct a narrative. I can go back, edit. I think in writing. I use pretty words. When you are just talking to yourself in a quiet room, you have a moment of “What the fuck am I doing?”

I have no idea. I don’t even really know where I want to go with this whole thing. It’s not like I have the resource of knowing a lot of interesting people to chat with either, well, not many who live around here anyway. So, for now, it’s me, boring the paint off the walls with my goddamned monotone voice. The voice that a friend of my used to call my “pediatrician voice.” She said it was soothing and very wise sounding. Really, I find it annoying. Boring. Fuck.

I attempted two recordings tonight. I was trying to talk about graduation, but with all the ums and uhs and getting lost in the weeds, I just couldn’t do it. I scrapped it tonight. Crash and burn. So, I’m going to write about what I was going to ramble on about in the same dulcet tones that I would be explaining to a seven year old why it is important that they don’t put their fingers in their mouth.

Friday was my last official day at the university. I have worked there for the last 18 years, but I was also a student there for four years and worked just down the hall from where I have been for the last 13 years. I didn’t get very far, did I? Tonight I took a walk around campus to reminisce about where I have spent the majority of my adult life. Other than a year in Aurora, selling Big Mouth Billy Bass fish and a year in Laramie Wyoming trying to not starve to death, I have been in this town. Other than a few months, I have worked at the University. Academia has been a significant part of my experience. Not only as a student, but later behind the scenes, seeing how the sausage is made.

I have a lot of memories of that place. From the day that I went to pick up a girl I was dating for her weekend furlough from Frontiers of Science to go to Renaissance Festival to last Thursday when I carried in the box containing my computer and some other office equipment for my unceremonious layoff. That day of seeing that young lady sitting underneath a dogwood tree behind Belford Hall in a summer dress was a kinder memory than people trying to pretend they were sorry to see you go from behind the protection of N95 masks, maintaining appropriate social distancing. I would take that day in June a hundred times over any second of last Thursday.

Graduation in the years between became a day you could scope our really cute shoes the graduating girls were wearing, and make bets with the other volunteers as to who was going to collapse from being drunk during the ceremony. It was also a day to say last goodbyes to some of the students who would pop into your life for that brief window. I wish them all well, but I doubt any of the hundreds of people I have met and known over the last 20+ years think of me ever. Most of them, I can barely remember their names.

The ceremony. Ceremonies are important. This is Graduation weekend for many students after all. In a way, I think graduation is a stupid thing. It’s a lot of sitting on bleachers or folding chairs, listening to Important People blather on. Sometimes a noted speaker will jabber about why they are important, and why this moment is so crucial to your development as a young person. But we need the ceremony.

Okay, so I lied. Writing this, I got inspired, so I wrote a graduation speech and recorded it as a podcast. Here’s the link. I’m still working out the kinks with the new computer, so the sound might be a little wonky. It’s a work in progress. But hey, I didn’t completely fail. I posted a podcast, which is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do this week.

I walked around campus thinking about a hundred different stories. The way people have touched my life, for better or for worse. I’m soured by the experience of working there and being unceremoniously laid off. The exit interview was a lot of “I don’t know the answer to that question, call so-and-so and she can tell you!” Thanks. That’s great.

I dropped off my shit and left on Thursday. I’ve been walking the campus grounds for exercise. It’s a safe place to walk. Lots of students out not obeying the shelter-in-place or whatever the hell it is these days. I see a lot of people on walks. Clusters of roommates and friends spending time together. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one without a tribe. I’m the only living boy in New York so to speak. They say no man is an island, but there are times I wonder if that is even true.

There are days that I think about the day that my son moves out, a grown man and ready to take on the world. I’ve often joked with him that I will pack up my things and move and not tell anyone where I have gone. I will start over. He has made me promise to tell him where I have gone, and I will. He wants his kids to know their grandfather and the kind of man that he is. Today, this man is tired. He’s had the metaphysical shit kicked out of him for the last couple months and he could use a little disappearing right now.

Today wasn’t a loss. It was a challenge, just like every other day from here on out.

2019. Not exactly like Blade Runner

What a year this was.

Each year, I think about many of the events that have formed my life during the last celestial swing around the sun.  At home, I have a bulletin board on the wall where the kid(s) and I post mementos from our adventures.  Ticket stubs, birthday invitations, wristbands, postcards, etc.  Sometimes it is drawings my son has made or even jury duty summonses.

We start off each year with a blank board and a bunch of thumbtacks and at the end of the year, the whole thing is covered with souvenirs. I also tend to write about my experiences, though this year, I have been keeping up with them as they happen on this blog as well as Gettingoutmore.org.

Here is a list of highlights and low points that comprised 2019.  I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…

I started off the New Year horribly certain about the path my “relationship” at the time had taken.  I had been ghosted.  It’s not a nice feeling, and it speaks very much to the character of the person doing the ghosting. When you get a 2am response to a Happy New Year text you sent at midnight, and have no idea where they are, this is an indication to give the hell up.

This time last year, I had bronchitis, depression, and I was struggling to make ends meet because my child support had doubled at the end of October.

In January, the “relationship” officially ended.  Anywhere between four and six months after the real end had begun.  I read several books on Boundaries, Dating, emotional pain, stress, co-dependency, and over the next several months, those words percolated and allowed me to be much more functional and sure of myself.  Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.

I took a roadtrip with my cousin to take him to Tuscon to be a ranch hand.  The trip was 16 hours one way.  We started off in -5 degree temperatures and at the destination it was 45 degrees and rainy.  Unfortunately his employer turned out to be an ex-beauty queen psycho bitch who was using him for slave labor. I’m not exaggerating. He has since escaped (by literally jumping a fence and hitchhiking the hell out of there).  Glad he is off to better places now!

On the way home from Tuscon, I decided to work towards my goal of travel writing, which has been an interesting and yes, fulfilling experience.  I talked with some friends and family about it while walking around downtown Santa Fe at night.  Most of them tried to discourage me from doing it.  That’s not something you hear about much.  hahaha!

I booked tickets for the UK in May as well as an AirBnB.  I had grand plans for where I would go and what I would see.  Then the State took over half of my tax return because of the aforementioned child support increase.  Undaunted, I trimmed back some of my plans.

I took several road trips, dealt with an HR nightmare at work over a review from a supervisor who just flat out doesn’t like me, and enjoyed time with my son.  My insomnia waned.  My depression thawed.  I weathered a series of layoffs at the day job. I reconnected with an old friend at the end of 2018 and we parted ways once again midway through this year.  In other words people come into your life and they leave.  It’s just part of it.

I took my son to church, and afterwards, decided I didn’t want to go anymore.  My faith wasn’t shaken really.  I just don’t believe that God lives in a building.

I went to the UK and had an amazing experience.  It was my first international solo trip.  I have been doing solo trips around the state for years.  The learning curve was sharp and steep, but at the end of my ten day trip, I got a handle on everything and affirmed my desire to travel write.  The first day I landed, I had no idea what I was doing.  At the end of my trip, I was giving directions to Austrian tourists on how to get around in London.  I met myself and let go of a lot of crap.  I was happy with being by myself.  Content for maybe the first time in my life.

I spent the next month writing about it.

At the last minute, I bought a ticket to the 1940s Ball and made new friends and enjoyed the experience without the trepidation I had the year before by myself.  I met my girlfriend at Rick’s Cafe, at the end of World War II.  She appears in many of my adventures and I couldn’t be happier.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, I am glad she walked into mine.

My son had a lot of fun with Cub Scouts and we experienced winter camping…in June.  We hit Renaissance Festival again, this time with company.  It’s always a great sight to see someone’s face light up when they walk out of that changing room in a new costume for the first time. ❤

Trips to the grandparents, lots of hiking, bike rides, summer camp, video games, cigars on the back porch, road trips and carousels, Fuzzy’s Tacos, nervously meeting the parents for the first time, people watching, sad choices watching, T-Fury shirts, fire-pits and wine, innumerable stops at Dutch Bros. and so many points in-between filled my summer and fall months. The end of the year was met with a feature article in the UNC student newspaper from a fan of my travel blog.  I picked up a couple copies to include in the box which holds the contents of the bulletin board.  I reconnected with one of my best friends from childhood after 20 years.  It was like we hadn’t seen each other in just a few weeks.  As Dre would say, “we dippin’ again.”

My birthday was a wonderful experience, unfortunately because of some asbestos abatement done by a fly-by-night crew in the building at work, it turned into pneumonia, which I fought all September. Happy 44th.  As a result, I got behind on writing, work, and life.  But today, I am healthy again.  In mind, body, and spirit.  Things continue to grow and opportunities to write keep coming. I’m working on the novel still, but lately I am more focused on this.

Money is tight, work generally sucks, but for the most part, I am happy.  I sleep well.  I am grateful.  And for the first time in maybe my adult life, I am sure of myself.  Confident.  Ready to take on the rest of my days.

 

 

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.