Not my scene

So it’s Rodeo Weekend this weekend. I walked down to the corner store to get a Cup O’Noodles and passed by the only bar in town. Someone was singing House of the Rising sun over the din of garbled voices of a hundred people talking all at once. Honestly, the bar scene makes my skin crawl. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t something wrong with me.

I went to the bar plenty of times when I was in college. I was a regular at a place called the Smiling Moose. The waitresses knew me and all of my friends. We closed the place down about four nights a week, usually after an evening shift at the computer lab where I was working. My shift would end at 10pm and it was off to the Moose for a couple pints, some nachos, and good conversations with friends. It was a neighborhood bar vibe with only a few nights a year when the place was super packed. St. Patrick’s and Graduation. It was a college town. Even then it wasn’t all that crazy.

The last girl I dated took me to her bar when I went to visit her up in Wyoming. That place was like the Stockman here in town with the exception it was about five times bigger and shoulder to shoulder with people. Here’s the difference between a place like the Moose and a place like the Dollar or the Stockman. In the Moose, it was just people hanging out. We would visit over beers and watch the World’s Strongest Man contest on the TVs. We would say goodnight and drive home. The Dollar and the Stockman are a whole other critter. Big white cowboy hats, pie-plate sized belt buckles, and girls in tight jeans with big glittery crosses on the back pockets. Because nothing says you love Jesus like getting railed in somebody’s king cab.

At those kinds of bars it’s a fucking mess. People just shouting at each other’s faces to be heard, drunk as shit, bumping into each other, huge lines for the toilets, puke all over the floors. Everyone on the verge of fighting or fucking. Some jackass always gets mean drunk and gives you that smirk before trying to talk shit to you, trying to prove he’s the biggest asshole in the bar. I’m nearly deaf anyway when it comes to crowds. Years of playing the drums in a band fried any ability to discern what some Bud Lite Badass is trying to say to me over another verse of Tennessee Whiskey done by a local band.

I would rather stay and home and demolish my liver for a fraction the price and no threat of getting curb stomped by some dildo and his five buddies.

I really tried to fit in that night, but she had her world, and I had mine. Maybe that’s why she said she wasn’t feeling it and began to distance herself. Her world still hinges on going out to the bar and getting wasted every other week. And I guess mine isn’t nearly as exciting. I binge-watched Umbrella Academy this weekend. I threw the squirrels and the tennis balls for Penny. I wrote.

I dated a professor for a while who liked going to the bars and flirting with the cowboys herself. She actually called me anti-social because I didn’t like going to bars. Maybe I just didn’t like watching her get hit on across the room, pretending I didn’t exist. I did used to hang out with a friend of mine at a bar sometimes and we would fake our way through swing dancing and karaoke but those were always her haunts and dive bars are a lot like the Moose. Even then, neither of us got hammered. She would flirt with guys and all of her other friends and me would say “Do you not see the red flags?”

Maybe I just grew up? Does that make me boring? I don’t know.

I mean I’ve done the 1940s Ball and met interesting people, danced with beautiful women, and am very social in that kind of venue. I missed the Ball this year because of other plans and I didn’t have the heart to bump into my former gf. I met her there three years ago, watching people swing dance. I think it would have hurt too much to see her, knowing that there is a lot of water under that bridge, and as much as I might have wanted to meet her again, our worlds are very much out of alignment right now. If she couldn’t stay then, she sure as hell wouldn’t want to now with where I’m living and what I’m trying to make happen.

Somehow there is a lot of difference between dancing and drinks and good conversations and the meat market of a cowboy bar packed to the gills with drunken assholes. Like I said, I would rather drink at home by myself. It’s a lot cheaper, and I don’t have to wonder how many guys have ploughed the girl I’m with. It’s safer too. I’m not on the road. I can take a piss without having to stand in line. I can finish my drink and go to bed.

Sometimes I feel like there is something wrong with me. Maybe Professor Girl was right. I’m “antisocial.” I guess I just never had any use for the drama of the bar scene. Too many of my friends come back with stories about getting drugged, or going home with some douche lagoon, or watching someone get their teeth kicked out. And always the fucking guys throwing darts at women’s butts, like some kind of troglodite foreplay. Does that make me anti-social?

I sure as hell hope so.

Maybe I’ve just hit that point in my life where peace is the most valuable thing a man can have. I have found enough trouble in my life without ever having to look for it. I guess it’s just not my scene.

Not that I’m looking for a relationship anymore, but I do remember quiet nights sitting around the fire pit, listening to good music, smoking cigars, and drinking beer or whiskey or wine. Making out for a few hours and then going to bed. Curled up next to the one I loved. Simple things.

Beats the hell out of having a shouting conversation with some drunk I don’t even know, having to breathe that cloyingly sweet tobacco breath while you wonder what is taking your date so long to get back with the beers. Not my thing I guess.

I prefer a clean, well lighted place.

Simplicity and Meaning

I’ve thought a lot about what I would want in a relationship. When we start out in life, we have no idea what to look for, and then as we get older, we begin to get a good idea. We set up expectations. Sometimes we get crazy expectations which would make it nearly impossible for anyone to fit the bill.

Young men often say they want someone who is a size four or under, they have to have a certain hair color, eye color, blah blah blah. Like any good plan, everyone has one until they get punched in the mouth. To quote Iron Mike Tyson.

I’ve boiled my list down to a few mandatory things, which I’ll share here.

  • Must be a good kisser
  • Must enjoy kitchen dancing (music optional)
  • Must be kind to animals
  • Not rude to servers and waitstaff
  • Must love to laugh (especially at themselves)
  • Must have their shit together

That last one is the kicker isn’t it?

Lately I’ve been trying to get my shit together even more. Some days I’m good at it, and others not so much. I recently started reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I got halfway through it in one sitting. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it tells the story of Viktor Frankl, who was a psychotherapist in Austria during the 1930s until he was rounded up with millions of other Jews and sent to death camps during WWII.

During his time in Auschwitz and Dachau (and other camps), Frankl made observations that sometimes the healthier people who were brought into the camps–bigger, stronger, better fed, etc.–were dying, whereas he, a doctor doing hard labor, was still alive. He attributes much of it to simply having a reason to live. The attrocities he saw on a daily basis became commonplace and after awhile all empathy was robbed of them. They fell to nearly animalistic impulses. But he held onto the belief that as long as he found meaning in his life, he could continue. Sometimes he held conversations in his head with his wife, whom he had no knowledge of being alive or dead. Some found meaning in art, which some still did as they continued the slog towards starvation and disease. A big one Frankl attributed to his survival was love. Whether it was love for the outdoors and a beautiful sunset, or the thoughts of his wife, or the love of his work. The man actually wrote notes for his books on scraps of paper while he was in the camps.

When people are exposed to stress and trauma over a long period of time, they become desensitized to awful things. They become cold. I have thought about that in my own struggles recently with my children, with court. I haven’t spoken about it much here, but the papers have all been signed. The loss of common sense in the whole thing. The disregard for logic or fairness…it’s enough to drive you crazy. It’s certainly enough to make you lose hope. My children are all gone now. Lost to parental alienation, and the courts facilitated this. It isn’t right. Remember what Mike Tyson said? I’ve lived that. I can see nothing but a hard life for all of my kids.

It was Father’s Day and not a single phone call or text. That was also done to hurt me (did it? Not really. I tend to agree with the Stoics on this one). They cannot go outside of their mother’s authoritarian control. Her only purpose is to cause pain in others, because they have to pay for her own demons, which she never dealt with. Showing love or compassion for me is forbidden. Believe me when I say I’ve been there and lived through it. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what she says unless you want to get hurt.

I started reading Frankl because of that situation. Because of the guilt associated with losing all meaning in your life. As a father–really any parent–our identity is tied to being able to provide for and protect our children. When our lawmakers take that fundamental right away from us, it is dehumanizing. We run the risk of losing hope. June is Men’s Mental Health month. A huge number of divorced dads commit suicide every year because of this system. A lot of dads turn to the bottle or drugs to cope. Really to numb that feeling inside that says they are unworthy of being on this planet. I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve dabbled in it.

I keep hearing that “One day your kids will come around.” No. They won’t. There is no rule out there saying they ever will. No crystal ball predicting this. Sometimes, people are just lost to you. That is a harsh reality. Ask any parent of a drug addict or any parent whose child walked to school and never came home. Or any parent who sat in front of a doctor and heard the words “It’s too soon to tell, but we are going to run some more tests…” Telling someone otherwise gives them false hope, and over time, according to Frankl, that “reprieve” will cut you just as deep as the trauma. So, please, don’t tell me they will come around. You don’t know that. Nobody knows that.

You come to a point where you have to admit to yourself you did everything you could.

So, I’ve decided to look for meaning in other ways. I have my Work. I have my writing. I have my memories of good people who walked with me for a while. Many of them are gone, but I still carry that piece of them with me. That piece that I loved. Like Frankl, I have conversations with these old ghosts sometimes. At least the part of them who held my hand and told me I was worthy of love. I have dreams and goals. I have the rest of my life to live and I refuse to let myself die on my feet doing meaningless, unfulfilling toil, just because I am not allowed to live for anything other than children who have been indoctrinated to hate me. But, whether their mother likes it or not, I will always be their dad.

I have the work of getting my shit together too, because the door swings both ways. I have a lot of trauma to work through. I don’t expect a partner to fix me, anymore than I would want to fix her. Getting your shit together means addressing the damage of the past and finding meaning in your life. Allowing yourself to love yourself and others. And seeking purpose. Meaning.

Today, I spent time with my dad on Father’s Day. We had good conversations. He made lunch and dinner. We aren’t very much alike, but time shared with him had meaning because these opportunities won’t last forever.

Having your shit together is a thin line on the horizon. It implies having done the work to no longer hurt yourself or others. It speaks to self-worth and boundaries. It probably means you are forgiving of yourself when you mess up and own your mistakes. And sometimes it means you can even harden your heart and walk away if you have to. It means you choose Peace over Drama. And you stop bleeding on others who didn’t cut you. It means honesty. It means allowing yourself to feel safe and asking good questions. It means tearing down walls and having better boundaries instead.

It’s also a pretty big red or green flag for those who work hard to get their shit together.

I hope I can find someone who fits this bill one day. Like many things in life, there are no guarantees. But I really do miss some great kissing and kitchen dancing. Until then, I will continue to find meaning. Fulfillment. Joy. Life goes on.

Summer Moon

I am a creature who lives in his memories. They have sustained me through some really hard times and for that I am grateful. Tonight is such a night. Some might call me pathetic for it. I don’t give a damn what they think.

I have mentioned before that one of the things that woke me up and reminded me of my worth during my divorce was an old box of letters from a girl who used to carry my heart. Until I broke hers. The grass was greener, or so I thought. I’ve always thought of that moment in my life as a low point. In retrospect, I needed to leave because we weren’t progressing as a couple. Back in those days, we probably needed to figure out who we were as individuals first, but I didn’t do it that way. I rushed into something else almost immediately and realized it was pale to what I had. I was married two years later to the wrong woman. Then divorced fifteen years later.

I read those letters in that box. Two years worth of them. It wasn’t so much that it built my ego as much as it was it reminded me of who I was back then. It reminded me that I could be desireable, when my marriage had tried to prove I was anything but.

Three years ago this weekend, as I was still mending from a heartbreak, I met someone wonderful. She awakened something in me that had been asleep for a long time. Probably around twenty years. It hurt like hell to lose her a little under a year after we met. She was good to me, but couldn’t watch my ex-wife break me or my son anymore. It was breaking her too. So she left.

I had a friend who was there for me, who sat with me through that grief. There were times I sat with her through hers. We were friends. We got close. We talked every day. I knew her faults. She knew mine. There was always an attraction between us, regardless of who we were seeing, and sometimes I put her well past arms length because of this. She did the same on occasion. Then, after a few years of leaning on each other, our friendship became something else. Something I hadn’t ever experienced myself, yet reminiscent of those letters in that box. Knowing someone’s mind before knowing their body. She told me my crazy ex wasn’t a dealbreaker, and that scared me a little bit.

I felt such things for her, even though we hadn’t met yet in person. Welcome to the difficulties of modern relationships. But we shared things. And she knew me and all my foibles and I knew hers as well. We made plans to meet. We didn’t have letters, but we texted every day. Sometimes for hours. I would write her bedtime stories to help her sleep. If I was having a panic attack, she could call or text and it would stop.

Tonight I re-read our texts from a year ago. Fuck, I have been missing her. I didn’t miss the way she made me feel about myself either. I missed her. A year ago, I knew, just by her words, her voice, her smile, I was undone. I knew she had problems. Demons. Don’t we all? But already, the cracks were beginning to show, and even the day I drove up to meet her, she was hesitant. Rather than meet me right away, she hung out with her friends for a couple hours beforehand. Maybe she was psyching herself up. I don’t know. I knew she was having problems at work and school and the general chaos of life. There were days she seemed exhausted. Days that I would say something sweet to her and she thanked me for always making her feel like my words were genuine.

They were.

You see, I decided to open my heart again. To my friend. To someone much more.

When I kissed her…it was like my first kiss all over again, only instead of a night in front of Niagara Falls in June of 1993, it was on her front lawn in 2021; no less wonderful. Like we were old lovers, meeting again for the first time after a while of being apart. It was that way for me anyway. With that first kiss…I knew what my heart wanted. I told her she was an amazing kisser.

What she said to me could have broken my heart. “It’s not like I haven’t had a lot of practice,” she said. She took that moment away from herself. She doubted her worth at that moment. If I would have said that, she would have shaken me!

Our weekend was amazing, even though I was stressed out over life that hit me hard in the face as well. I was fighting off bronchitis again, and would go into coughing fits for a long time. I was tired from driving and stress and being in a new town and trying to make a good impression. Then there were things in motion with the custody battle for my son.

I read some of her messages again tonight. The cracks I saw were exhaustion, but her emotions at the time were solid. There was the reciprocity, the companionship I learned to cherish from my last relationship. And there was such friendship! We knew each others’ lives so intimately, even with only meeting just then. Hell, it worked for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks more than once.

Not long after we met–just a few weeks–I felt her pull away. She was going through some crap, and she did what I do too. Instead of reaching out, she pushed away. She’s had to solve her own problems her whole life. I understood. I tried to be supportive. Until the beginning of August, I felt a distance between us. I was told it was my own insecurities. But when you feel the vibe is off from someone you’ve gotten to know really well…you just know. And then, I said some things I regret. And she said some things too. Or rather…it’s what she didn’t say.

I re-read those messages tonight. Such passion. Such vulnerability. Such connection. I’ve tried to tell myself it was all bullshit. I’ve tried to get angry about being led on. I wasn’t. I just think…she wasn’t ready to be loved like that yet. I read those messages tonight, and I understood something about myself. I know now that I will never let someone in that way again. Not out of resentment or being broken, but because that was for her. That way of loving someone. My friend. My heart…anything else just reminds me of what we shared.

It isn’t that I don’t trust it anymore. It’s just that it was something I gave freely and cannot give again. I hope she holds it inside in some secret place. And when the times get tough again for her, I hope she can look at it like I did that box of letters. And she will remember that a man once looked at her smile and heart-shaped face, and it could put happy tears in his eyes. That eyebrow raise really, truly just disarmed him.

It was like falling in love for the first time again. It was unique. I felt safe with her, yet thrilled at once.

I have passed the midpoint of my life. I used to be angry for being denied a love like that. After all, she never said it back, even though I could tell. But I have seen the pictures. I have heard her voice. I have read so many of her words. Just because she was afraid to say those words, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I knew. I loved her. I still do. I’m content to go through the rest of my life knowing that I won’t have something like that ever again. I know this now. She moved on and I had to say goodbye for my own sake. It isn’t healthy to love someone from afar and see them with someone else, knowing what you know.

Every time is like a song. Each love I’ve had is a story unto itself. Beautiful and strange. Losing her hasn’t made me bitter. I just know it won’t be like that again. The terminal optimists who say “It will be better! You deserve better!” Fuck. “Deserve’s” got nothing to do with it.

When I see the sunset like it was tonight, I think about her and the night we watched fireworks in her yard. I think about the long nights we spent talking. Those good mornings and good nights. The little details I can’t seem to shake from my memory. I miss those times. I miss my friend. I’ve tried to forget her, but I can’t. I knew a woman who was blooming. Realizing her self-worth, until she stumbled again. Fuck, we all stumble.

My close friends think I’m okay because I don’t talk about her anymore. It’s only because I know they are sick of hearing it. Tired of being reminded that I had someone closer to me once, who has left an empty spot in me, like the gap of a missing tooth you keep tonguing. Or rather, a ghost of who she was still sits with me and she’s just as confused as I am with what happened.

A big reason I write this is right now it feels like a long, cold night is upon me. I’m at a crossroads again. I have only a handful of very close people. But because I’m not going to post this on Facebook, they won’t even know to look for it. One of them is struggling right now. They have pushed me away and are in a place I cannot follow. Another is a dry drunk. A year ago, I would have talked with my friend about it. We could have talked about a great many things. But now, I have only myself again. Because I also grew up having only me to rely on.

I know I’m oversharing, but I’m low on connection lately, and there are times I think putting my story into the aether like this will somehow give it meaning. Life right now has been insular. The world is broken and doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense how two people who shared so much…weren’t meant to be. It’s not right. Everybody wants to fall in love like they do in the movies.