Foundations

    Liam and I circa 1990.

“I wake up hearing unfamiliar voices convinced they’re trying to explain
that if my words were clearer
then maybe I would know what I’m trying to say”

– Idelwild, “Not Just Sometimes, But Always” (2005)

I always start with the story of the tee shirt.

Perhaps because it captures the innocence of youth, of idolization, of just how much I looked up to Liam.

There’s not much to the story, really.

My parents threw a pool party for my 10th birthday and in the chaos of childhood, Liam left the tee shirt he wore to the party behind.

I can still see it. A youth extra large, I’m guessing. Baby blue. Converse branded. Caricature with oversized feet, rocking a pair of Chuck Taylors.

I never gave it back. Didn’t want to.

Instead, I wore it everywhere. Everywhere I knew Liam wouldn’t be.

It didn’t matter that it was two or three sizes too large for me. That it looked like a night gown when I wore it.

It was his. And that made it cool.

Way cooler than me.

At 10 years old, I thought: If I wear this, it makes me a little bit more like him.

And that’s exactly what I wanted. To be like Liam.

* * *

Boonton High freshman soccer team. Andrew and myself are on the left of Liam, Art and Sean on the right. The four of us reunited Thursday during and after the family service.

How do you summarize a man that is everywhere in your mind?

The kind of person you dig back into your brain and find not just one story, but so many stories they’re hard to pick apart. Interwoven like fabric – or a network of masonry – forming the foundation of your life.

That’s Liam. Really, truly.

It’s bicycle rides and Mark, Sean, Devin, Jason, Todd, Bill, Freddy, Balchan, Steve. Names that were there every day for pickup hockey, dares and stories.

For trips to the Corner Store, where maybe we’d pay and maybe we’d steal (or perhaps some combination of both) bubble gum and baseball cards and soda and candy.

If it sounds all sorts of ‘aw, shucks’ hokey, that’s because it actually was.

Maybe we went home to parents that fought, or didn’t get along, or abused alcohol, or drugs, or each other, but 10-year-old boys (and oftentimes, 40-year-old men) don’t talk about stuff like that.

They razz, they shoot hoops, they play video games and run around along a riverbank or the woods until it’s time to come home.

That was our life.

* * *

We were famous investors in 1986, apparently.

Liam’s home was where all the kids went.

There were snacks, and cats and dogs and life … so much life.

There was Doug and Jen and Megan. And Bernie. God we loved Bernie. All of us.

I know that living room, with its big basket chair to the right of the television; that bathroom, crammed with so many combs, brushes, lotion and humidity (try to dry out when four kids need a shower daily), the kitchen, with the door out to the yard, where the dogs waited; the bedrooms upstairs … I can see them all. Literally navigate them in my mind like it’s yesterday.

And let’s not forget the basement, where in youth we played ping pong and as we got older, probably snuck a beer or two.

It was like that well into early years of high school. Even though at the time the activities seemed simple, the memories are burned deep in mind. Like the time we rented a Sega Genesis and played NHL hockey into the wee hours of the morning.

We added an “s” to the name of every player because Bill Rausch used to do it when we played real hockey, and baseball. He’d rip a slapshot, pretending to be his favorite player of the week – perhaps Mike Gartner – and scream “Gartners!”

So Liam and I would do it, too. Mario Lemieux was Lemieuxs and Jeremy Roenick was Roenicks. Why you do things like this as kids is not entirely clear, but the fact that you speak each other’s language and inherently get these little inside jokes are what signify the depth of your bond.

It’s for this exact reason that at any moment Liam or Sean or I could yell, “Well, you can tell Chris Colas he can suck my left nut!” or tap three times on a wall and scream “Now you got a roommate” and all of us would instantly be transported back to the same place and time.

Somewhere, in almost every reunion and conversation those jokes were told, those lines expressed with glee and followed by laughs.

These are the tools men have to express a bond, a friendship, love.

I know that now.

I didn’t then.

* * *

But for all the good memories, some of the deepest are the ones that hurt, the ones that crystalized that Liam’s addiction was not some passing teenage fad, that it was real and powerful and dangerous.

Just before I moved to Arizona after high school, I got a call from Liam and another of our friends – after 10 pm.

“Ed, can we borrow $10?”

“What for,” I asked.

They joked and razzed in their normal way, trying to cajole me into giving them the money.

Finally, they admitted it was for heroin.

“Just one last time,” they said. “Then we’re going into treatment. Please, just leave it in the mailbox for us.”

I left a note in the mailbox instead that said, “I can’t do this.” I think it also offered to help.

Ten minutes later they came by the house. I watched them from the window as they looked in the mailbox.

When they found the note, but no money in it, one of them returned to the car and positioned its headlights to face the mailbox.

For what felt like an eternity, they got down on their hands and knees and searched the ground for the money that wasn’t there in the first place.

* * *

Sean, Liam and I north of Vegas on Mt. Charleston circa 2008.

During those last years of high school, as Liam battled the first round of addiction, my connection to the Robinson’s didn’t fade.

It got stronger. Megan and I – along with Heather and our friend, Kenny – became an almost inseparable unit, complete with our own language. We had twisty locks and ba-dak-dak-dak-gak-a-gak and a shared interest in trying, by sheer will, to wish Liam out of the chains he was bound by.

We took the Lakeland bus to midtown and the PATH to the Village; hit concert after concert and snuck drinks at the legendary Smitty’s.

The move to Phoenix put some distance between us, but the bond never really faded. Time has no power over that love. It’s always there, somewhere, waiting to be reignited, rekindled, to be expressed.

The funny part was, the part I didn’t expect, was that it didn’t break the bond with Liam, either. He was a part of almost every trip home in the 90s and 2000s and for years, almost annually, Sean, Doug and I held a de facto reunion in Las Vegas.

The timelines are fuzzy now, but I know Liam got clean – many times.

And during those trips to Vegas, I was sure addiction was behind him.

We resumed our old roles. Liam and Sean were always more quick-witted than me. I was always the punchline to their joke.

By my late 20s and early 30s, I didn’t mind. Hell, with the complexities of life, I was happy to oblige.

One of the first trips with them, I lost at everything. I was straight up out of cash.

Sitting at the bar on the third night of a four night trip, bartenders were handing out raffle tickets for hourly drawings.

Two things happened that night. One, Liam developed a surefire way to win in Vegas: “Whatever Ed bets on, bet the opposite!” (It worked.)

And two, he predicted of the raffle: “This’ll be the only thing you’ll win.”

Sure enough, they pulled my name. Two tickets to the PBR Rodeo Finals.

The next morning I woke up and walked three miles to the Thomas & Mack Center, where the event was held. I didn’t want to waste a dime on cab fare.

I was scalping these babies to cull my losses.

Problem was, so was half of Las Vegas.

I got $29 for the pair and walked the three miles back to the hotel.

That night Sean and Liam told me fabulous stories about people from our high school – they came out of the closet, had sex changes, you name it – and because this was before Facebook, there was no easy way to verify this.

I went home that next day and because I was a magazine editor, I wrote about it. About the way time changes the things we know, and the people we know, too.

Here’s the kicker: none of it was true.

And neither Sean nor Liam ever let me know the joke was on me. For years. And years. And years.

I think Megan told me it was garbage a decade later – by accident – and Liam, never one to let the joke die, took it a step further. Since, by this time Facebook did exist, he posted a picture of the article to Facebook just to say, one more time, “gotcha.”

And probably cracking himself up the entire way; letting that smile – that big, toothy smile – fly the way it always did.

* * *

Liam and Cristiane on their surprise visit to Phoenix a few years back.

A lot of the last few years are lost in the ether, though.

He surprised me a couple years ago; showed up in Phoenix with his wife, Cristiane, at my work and we talked right there in the lobby.

They were headed to Los Angeles and the exchange was way too short. I wanted them to stay – or to go to LA with them.

He looked good – great – and with his bride by his side and his 40s in his sight, I thought: we’re through this. We’re finally through this.

But that’s not the way it works with addiction. We’re never through it. We’re always its slave and the ones we love are always caught in its aftermath.

The things we do, the choices we make, it’s not just us they impact, it’s all the ones who carry us and cry for us and worry for us and love us … and sometimes – sometimes – give up on us.

I don’t know if anyone gave up Liam. I can’t know that for sure.

But I really believe he never gave up on himself.

He tried hard to make amends. He tried hard to get out of his pattern. He knew he was loved; and he loved deeply.

He was a deeply intelligent, complicated, flawed and loving man.

We – not you and I, perhaps, but society as a whole – make the mistake of turning addiction into a black and white issue; of simplifying the men and women who struggle with it.

But in some ways addiction is no different than Alzheimers.

It changes what we do, not who we want to be.

* * *

Making sense of this death has not come easy.

For the last few days my mind keeps drifting back to a conversation we had in my bedroom. Originally, on Facebook, I had indicated this conversation took place when I was 11, but now I think we were 13 or 14.

It’d been a while since I’d seen Liam – that would happen from time to time – and he unexpectedly asked to come over.

I thought we were going to listen to music and play Nintendo.

Instead, he sat in my room and told me about his father; about the things none of us ever saw. No one had ever had a conversation with me like that before.

I don’t remember the words. What I remember is the sentiment – that the man who so carefully hid his feelings through that goofy sense of humor was laying bare his soul.

I know only a few of us have seen that side.

It was eloquent and sad; raw and full of love.

I feel like that conversation taught me how to speak in a way I’d never considered before. That I eventually developed the idea that, most times, it was the only way to speak.

Time blurs the details.

But nearly thirty years later, I’m certain of this:

It was important for both of us.

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We’re all in the same boat; don’t lie

A prelude: I wrote this a couple days ago for me, fell asleep and left this on my computer. Brody, my daughter, woke up and read this when she went to do her school work on my personal computer. We hide nothing in our house. So, I wasn’t mad or even concerned when she digested this; it just gave us something to talk about. I wasn’t sure I’d share this one; but once she absorbed it, it didn’t really matter anymore. It is truth.

And truth is the only reason to write.

 

“I get lost in the light, so high don’t wanna’ come down
To face the loss of the good thing that I have found.”

“Revelry,” Kings of Leon (2009)

 

The thing you need to know about recovery is that it is not linear.

In no way, shape or form.

It is messy – oftentimes ugly – racked with self-doubt, depression and sleepless nights of self-loathing.

These nights and the days are filled with constantly lingering questions: “How did I get myself here? How did I let myself get this like this?”

“How did I get so weak?”

And these thoughts build upon each other.

They’re a seed.

You plant them.

And they grow.

Self-doubt. Lack of worth.

With each waking day, the sunlight lets them take root.

There’s no moment, specifically, where you’re a shit show.

But one day, your blood pressure is 180 over 120. You don’t want to get out of bed and you’re overweight, depressed and unwilling to face the next day.

It happens just like that.

If you choose to medicate with alcohol and drugs, you cement your status.

Spouses and family and friends can say nice things; but mostly – you’re on your own.

Good luck.

* * *

I’ve been up and down this road too many times.

I’ve ridden the giddy rails of optimism and sobriety.

And I’ve labored through the drudgery of alcoholism and borderline depression.

Some of these things, I didn’t put upon myself.

I didn’t ask for a child who would test me; didn’t ask for a rare neurological disorder that would defy modern science – paralyze him, leave me fighting the medical establishment – but I got it.

There’s no handbook for the recovery from that – not once, but twice.

So, we blaze our own path.

Bills must get paid. Jobs must get done well – for Heidi and I both.

Life must move on.

That’s no fucking joke.

The medical insurance: that’s the lifeline between a potentially dead kid; and one that can get better again.

These treatments are expensive.

Hold the line my brutha’ (me); keep yourself irreplaceable; get that boy through another bout.

This is what you say, until you can finally breathe.

Until you can finally turn your attention to you.

And then you drink.

And go numb.

Because, fuck, you got the one you’re responsible for through another episode.

And you’re so, so tired.

It’s okay.

There’s brighter days.

* * *

And there are.

But they’re so, so far away.

And then one day, you realize you’re in the brighter days.

Suddenly, waking up is gift.

You look forward to coffee.

Yes, coffee.

And you think about the sun. And the cold winter air.

You think about walks. And sunrises.

You do these things if you’re me.

One day they matter again.

And you feel healthy.

Alive.

You stop drinking at a stupid rate.

And you say, “I’m back again.”

Productivity flows.

And you realize you’re saying this to the world: here I am.

But you’re only a step away from the shit show; from nature’s plan. From the universe throwing you back to a year ago.

Next time, I’ll respond differently, you say.

But will you?

Will you?

The evidence points to ‘no.’

* * *

But here we are, nonetheless.

It’s been almost a year since Guillain-Barre 2.0 and I’m doing better. We’re doing better.

Most nights, we go to bed at the same time: 9:30 p.m.

Most nights, my sister doesn’t have to chastise me for 1:30 a.m. blog posts.

I’ve only touched alcohol four times in the last month. I’ve exercised a lot more. My blood pressure is a wonderful 118 over 71.

I know these things because I know – I know I was killing me. And I know that the people that cared and paid attention were asking important questions about what was going on.

* * *

But here’s what I know, too.

And here’s what you know.

I’m not alone.

You’re in the same boat. You, kids, spouses, mom, dads, grandmas and grandpas.

You’re all in the shit show.

And if you’re not yet … you will be. Or you might be.

Your vice may not be my vice.

But you have a coping mechanism.

And you will give into it.

Or … maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ve been down this road; lived it enough times to finally end the cycle.

I hope you have.

* * *

So now we’re back to the present.

All optimism and the such.

How can I be in such a good place, you might ask, and write with such ominous tones?

It requires discipline.

Respect for brain chemistry.

There’s too much failure on all sides of my genetics.

So, I drift.

Slide, slide, slide.

Get to bed early. Lay off the juice. And have faith that sobriety can lead me towards happiness.

I’m not afraid to talk about this; about my weaknesses.

Yes, I can be an alcoholic. Yes, I can be sober.

Yes, I can straddle a fine line between both.

Yes, I can be the regular guy you see in all the places you see me.

But this is who I really am.

Trying to make sense of it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the Dead Visit

Alone, in my house, I know they speak to me.

It’s the kind of confidence you can’t fake.

When my daughter, Brody, says she scared, I tell her this, “They want you here. They want you to feel safe. They don’t want us to go.”

Heidi will sometimes tell her, “There’s nothing to be afraid of. They wouldn’t make you feel scared.”

I don’t think that Heidi knows them. She only knows that I know them. Or feel them.

Or something.

Let me explain.

* * *

Our house is surrounded by spirits.

And I would be as naturally prone to reject this idea as you.

Except that they are here constantly.

I have known this for a long time.

But it’s been easy to write off; as foolish; as subjective; as somebody searching for proof. A fool seeking a supernatural answer to feelings.

But then this happened.

* * *

To talk about this, we must take a step back first.

When I was 5, my grandmother died.

Grandma Frances was my world. Parents worked; and so she was my caregiver.

My mom always gone; we lived from place to place – in her basement; in the home of a friend.

Grandma, years passed, succumbed to a complication from polio, from a damaged heart, maybe from a botched surgery.

The details have never been clear.

I remember visits to a New York hospital; I remember her fading fast; I remember tears; talk of a litigation.

I remember when they told me she died.

I remember the funeral.

I remember what happened thereafter.

We moved into a home she owned with grandpa.

It was a home with its own problems.

A drug addict – an alcoholic(?) – had died on the couch in the living room.

We cleaned it out. And then we moved in.

My bedroom looked out towards the couch where the previous tenant died.

Night after night, I woke up, looking at that couch. Always bad.

* * *

I made a pillow in first grade.

All felt and fluffy – I think we made it in class.

Red for the frame; triangle green eyes, a circle nose; and orange felt mouth.

One night, I woke up and it came flying at me. Twisting on a 135-degree pendulum. Rotate, rotate, rotate.

Tempting me with fear.

The pillow went back to where it belonged. Regular size.

And by my bedside: an aura.

It floated there.

All serene. Gown white and moving.

I rubbed my eyes.

Surely, I was sleeping.

But it was there again.

Rub my eyes one more time.

It was grandma.

Rubbed my eyes again. Closed them. Rubbed them.

Surely this can’t be real.

But there it was again.

And then it got angry.

Came at me.

Teeth baring.

Poof.

Something happened.

And it faded.

* * *

This would play out; again and again through my early childhood.

The nasty from the couch; and the floating figure that made it okay.

But there was always a way to differentiate to the good from the bad.

A floater.

Red, orange, green. Shifting, simple, complex.

The orb gave me goose bumps; filled my body with calm.

In its light, a view to something. Unobtainable, but peaceful.

Goosebumps. Not fear.

That stopped when I was 10. Maybe 11.

* * *

Fast forward thirty years later. Blood pressure 177 over 110.

School, work, Beckett’s health issues stripping my soul.

The alcohol, the bad choices, stripping whatever progress I’d made a few years earlier running endurance races.

Every morning, a challenge to wake to – and that’s a grand, grand overview of what I’d been fighting.

I’d lost faith.

Period.

I was functioning.

On mandatory responsibility.

Nothing else.

Every day had been a challenge to face.

I lay in bed that night.

And I had a dream.

* * *

In it, I was maybe 5, maybe younger.

My grandmother, it was definitely my grandmother, was there.

She was sad.

There was a boy; but she called to me: “Eddie!”

She held out her arms to me.

Pulled me into her embrace.

“Eddie,” she said.

And then started bawling … for Charlie.

“Your Uncle Charlie,” she cried.

“Charlie … Charlie … Charlie.”

I woke up.

* * *

The orb was there again. The one I’d seen when I was 7.

Some 30 or more years removed, it hung over my bed – undeniably the same light source I’d seen as a child.

I hadn’t experienced anything like it since pre-puberty.

I was sure it was fake.

I rubbed my eyes. Closed them. Reopened them.

Still there.

Did it again.

Same result.

So I stared at it. Really looked at it.

Oh, the wave.

Calm and sudden.

Cool and soothing.

No threat; then goosebumps.

What is this thing? No 41-year-old man has this moment; surely I’m asleep or high, no?

But no drinks last night.

Just this.

Washing over me.

The light dancing and then expanding; faint and hard to see – but now clearly across the entire foot of the bed.

I say to it, “Okay, grandma. Gotcha’. It’s you.”

And it fades.

And I go to sleep.

Calm.

* * *

The next day, I woke up and called my mom.

“Who the hell is Charlie?” I ask.

She says she has no clue; but promises to ask around.

I tell Heidi.

About the aura. The red floating globe. How I know it was grandma. I tell the kids, too.

She searches the internet.

Looks up what it means.

We get the normal crackpot results.

But I know, even if no one else does.

I’ve been visited.

* * *

A couple weeks later, mom calls.

“I’ve been talking to Claire (Grandma’s 90 year-old-sister),” she says across the phone. “They had a neighbor they called Uncle Charlie.”

“He was a close friend who lived next door.”

I’ve never heard of this Charlie, I swear. It’s the first sign.

I take it as confirmation.

And life moves on.

And I forget.

Because the supernatural only has so much place in a busy every day existence.

And then … tonight.

* * *

I was walking to the neighborhood mailbox.

Mom had called several times today, during meetings.

Couldn’t take the call.

But I could now.

It had been many months since that dream / experience / whatever the hell it was.

Largely forgotten.

That’s the way it goes.

I returned the call. Mom answers.

I don’t get “Hello?” – I get this:

“What was the name of that guy in your dream?”

Don’t know how, but without missing a beat, I said, “Charlie.”

“Get the heck out of here,” she said.

“I found a picture of your grandma today that said, ‘Me and Charlie.'”

“Two of them, in fact.’”

 

 

Me, Too

I told them this tonight, because this is what the situation required.

Thirteen boys, and one girl, on the verge of being men, on the verge of being a woman.

“Hold your emotions inside, keep them to yourself.”

Because, remember: this is what the situation required.

It really did.

The umpire was terrible.

They were losing all night.

The strike zone inconsistent. Terribly small.

Every call nearly an atrocity.

The boys and girl threw strikes, inning after inning.

Pitch after pitch, no matter where it landed, the ump called it a ball.

“He’s human,” I told some of them in the dugout. “If you lash out, start screaming, complain,” I added. “It’ll only get worse.”

We eeked out the go-ahead run in the equivalent of the top of the ninth.

Carried a one run lead into the bottom of the inning.

We brought in our reliever.

He threw consistently in a zone where the batters could hit it.

Most were called balls; a few were called strikes.

As time neared the end (Little League games have a time limit), Beckett picked off the runner at third.

We walked off with a 9-8 win, stranding the bases loaded.

After the game, I told them, “Had you screamed at the umpire, told him what you really thought, we would’ve lost that game.”

But they didn’t.

And so we won.

And winning is what matters.

Right?

* * *

But what of this lesson? Keep silent in the face of atrocity?

It’s meant to promote sportsmanship. The umpire is always right. Accept the consequences; understand that your ability to get on base – or to get the batter out – is your responsibility.

Somehow, it takes on a new meaning in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo phenomenon.

In the most stressful situations – sports, with outcomes on the line – we are teaching our children to be silent. We’re reinforcing that this is virtue; the ability to hold it in and move on in the face of adversity.

Magnify this over years of reinforcement.

Some people question why those wronged remain silent.

I don’t.

We’re shaped by things like this; our kids are shaped by things like this.

And the lines of where to remain silent; and where to speak out are insanely, outrageously blurred.

Respect the umpire in blue; but instantly report the person in charge?

Easier said than done.

How can you, when keeping silent means winning?

* * *

If you’re anything like me, the proliferation of #MeToo posts across social media has been a sort of cosmic blow to the chest.

You know that harassment, assault – or just general shitty behavior towards women is prevalent – but the fact that it pretty much appears to be every woman causes something akin to shell shock.

Because if you believe in math, probability, statistics, you have to start to wonder if you, too, are part of the problem.

And if you think about every thing you’ve ever said, and every thing you’ve ever done – in your best states – and in your worst – you have to start to wonder (accept) if (acknowledge) you’ve been a part of the problem.

Let me digress for a second.

We are woefully incapable of understanding how our actions and words affect those around us.

I recently told the story to a friend at lunch about how a family member I’d never really had contact with struggled with the fact that we didn’t have a relationship.

As she lie on her death bed, another family member encouraged me to visit. I didn’t want to go. I barely knew this person.

But I went. Held her hand in her final hours.

It was only then I came to understand that how she saw me – and our relationship – was very different than how I saw her.

Truth is, I’d never thought about things from her perspective. Never saw how my myopic, self-centered view ignored her reality.

It was an eye-opener; a reminder of how, regardless of our best intentions, what we think we’re doing isn’t often how it’s perceived by those affected by our actions.

My being there and holding her hand, my being exposed to my own incorrect perceptions changed the course of the history of not just this dying person, but those who loved her.

Only with knowledge I didn’t have, could I change the course of our collective history.

* * *

I can’t reconcile this mess.

Not with ease, anyway.

I’m certain I’m guilty.

Can start identifying instances; can see them in my head.

In some cases, I’ve already issued apologies – weeks ago, years ago. In some, I don’t know where to begin.

I’ve got a daughter, a wife, a mother. Countless women I hold in high regard.

The mainstream man in me wants to say, “What is the appropriate line, between flirtation and violation? Between a joke and a mistake?”

Maybe I’ve done it right; maybe I’ve done it all wrong.

I do know this, though.

I like that there’s dialogue. Admission. Confrontation.

A couple days ago, when the president issued his statement that, “We’ll say Merry Christmas again,” I responded to a family member who suggested this was a political lurch forward the following:

“I always liked saying Happy Holidays because I had no freakin’ clue what the background was of the customers at my family’s hardware store and it conveyed the idea that I genuinely, warmly wanted them to enjoy the holiday season and the spirit of it. I never got hung up one a single word. It wasn’t some PC thing. I was trying to be polite so they came back and shopped there again. I just thought it was a smart business decision.”

That was the thought process of the innocent, unjaded 10-year-old me.

Even then, I knew: our behavior should always take the feelings of the person we’re interacting with into account.

Rather than be callous in our righteousness, we should be aware of how all the things we say and do affect those we say and do them to.

And when – and if – we’ve done wrong, we should work to correct that problem.

But politics, experience, age and learned behaviors get in the way.

I’ve no doubt that some (most) of the stories my female friends think of when they post #MeToo are horrific in nature, perpetuated by men with no regard for their well-being.

But I bet a good many of them are perpetuated by men who think themselves progressive, well-intentioned individuals. (And perhaps a few by women, thinking the same thing, throwing these same things at men.)

So where do we go from here?

* * *

Lately, I’ve been able to step outside myself.

The early part of recovery seems to be focused on merely expressing one’s observations; on extracting the self-doubt by admitting the helplessness you feel.

The next phase is a sort of awakening.

Of suddenly seeing from the outside. Of suddenly realizing that your self-proclaimed unique misery/horror/sadness/fill-in-the-blank isn’t that unique at all.

The next step is accepting the recovery – the path to acceptance, and ultimately happiness – starts with you.

By changing behaviors. By committing to those changes. And then living them.

It’s a rocky road to be sure; marked by lurches forward and minor regressions.

But you know when you’re on the right path.

It feels different. If only because getting up is a little bit easier; your soul a little bit lighter.

* * *

I come back to these lessons we teach our kids.

How in our effort to be right, we can – so remarkably – be wrong.

Respect the man in blue? Respect the authority figure?

Black and white? Right and wrong?

Those things rarely exist. Except when they do.

There are nuances. And there are lines.

Some lines you don’t cross.

Like challenging the ump. Like belittling a woman. Like asserting your sexuality as if that’s your right.

We’ve got a long road ahead, though.

Marked by communication and self-reflection.

It starts with us who are ready.

To see that even the awoken are amazingly asleep.

Awareness spreads like a virus; perpetuated by those strong enough to cut through the ignorance.

Bacon and Candy: Fall Ball

I like fall mornings – the light soft, not blinding like summer. And even here, in Phoenix, there’s a touch of cool to the air.

On the best days, I’m out the door as the sun rises. Or at least drinking my coffee by then.

This doesn’t happen enough. It’s a small life goal; to see that it happens more.

Today, though, we were out the door early. Heidi, myself, Beckett, Brody and Bob, Heidi’s father who is visiting from South Carolina.

We played disc golf in the park, met my mom, niece and nephew later and ate lunch near Tempe Town Lake, then all spent the afternoon at Feed My Starving Children – creating meal packages of protein, vegetables, soy and rice to be shipped to those in need in the Philippines.

Soon, I’ll pack Beckett up in the car and we’ll head 9 miles south for his baseball game tonight.

With any luck, I’ll be in bed by 9:30. Awake by 6 the next morning and walking shortly after; maybe up “A” Mountain, maybe through South Mountain Park.

It really doesn’t matter where; as long as I’m walking.

Being in the moment.

I like it there.

* * *

Tomorrow, too, we’re having lunch with my friend Carly. Carly, as you may or not recall, was someone we were introduced through from a friend of friend.

She got Guillain-Barre earlier this year, spent over 100 days in the hospital – where she coded, endured feeding tubes, countless secondary viruses – and then faced a long-road to recovery.

Beckett, Brody, Heidi and I would go visit her in the hospital. It was an eye-opening moment for Beckett, to experience the condition he had from the other side of the bed.

The first time Beckett met Carly in the hospital, he proclaimed, “You’re going to walk out of here.”

Tomorrow, she’s going to drive over here, to our house.

It’s pretty amazing.

Her recovery has been inspiring to watch. Even without a serious nerve-degenerating condition, regaining your movement after being more or less bedridden for three months would be a considerable challenge.

She says we were part of her healing process; but I’ve come to realize she’s also been a significant part of mine.

Recently she gave a speech that she later shared on Facebook. In that speech, she recalled to the group the idea that if you had everybody in a room write down their problems, laid them all out the table and asked people to choose, most people would probably choose to take back their own.

It’s funny that how works; but she chalks it up to a quote she encountered during her hospital stay. It centers on the idea that we get the challenges we get for a reason.

“You have been assigned this mountain to show others it can be moved.”

For me, that’s meant taking responsibility for the things in my life I don’t like.

The solution is mostly an internal one. It’s my job to show others; not someone else.

It seems so simple, like that’s something we should know.

And I have known it at times; and then forgotten it.

But now I know it again.

* * *

I have to run, get Beckett in the car and get on the road. But I don’t want to leave my seat – the TV’s playing softly in the background as Heidi and Brody nap on the couch, dishes are clinking as Beckett scarfs down whatever he can before we leave for his game, and I’m sitting in solitude as the afternoon light shifts across my office.

It’s calming. Nice.

But the baseball diamond calls.

It’s That Stupid

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone. And she’s always gone too long; anytime she goes away.”

–         Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971)

The last few weeks have been blissful, I swear.

You see me at function X and you worry. You say these things; and I assure you: everything is okay.

It isn’t lip service.

It is okay.

The navigation is a process.

Getting from “sick kid” to “sleeping well” is a journey.

I lay in bed and instantly drift to sleep.

Under the influence or not.

It doesn’t matter.

My heart is at rest.

* * *

I walk now.

A lot.

Miles a day. Red rocks and dust at my feet.

The desert sun burns my head.

I like it like that.

Reminds me of the place I’ve decided to call home.

Step by step, I process.

Step by step, I move on.

* * *

Tonight, I ask my wife, Heidi: “Why do you put up with this?”

Her answer is aloof, lost, confused.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

That’s not what she said, but I’m too dumb to capture it.

She loves me because she loves me.

I’ve gotta’ figure out why; or at least make sense of why.

I don’t deserve this.

But a friend says my kids love me, and I have a home, and I pay my bills, and I have a job, so I must be doing something right.

So there’s that.

It’s nice to hold onto that.

Especially when I want to slip away.

It’s also not true that Heidi’s answer is aloof.

Truth is: it’s firm.

She loves me.

Period.

I have to reconcile that.

Make sense of it.

Understand my place.

React accordingly.

Be the person I’m supposed to be.

Damn, if that ain’t a challenge.

(I wanted to use the F word, but my dad says I swear too much.)

* * *

So, I swim.

At least right now.

It’s allegorical. I’m not swimming, per se, I’m treading water, wondering where I go next.

I see the exit sign; run towards it.

And almost push the handle.

But what next?

What next?

* * *

Can I be completely honest for a second?

I don’t know what I’m doing here.

I’m just spilling it all into a keyboard, alone, late at night, hoping something resonates.

I’m trying to figure out what I’m all about – utility, nonprofit man – looking for a sign.

What do I stand for?

Why do I do what I do?

And, quite frankly, how did I get here?

It’s that ridiculous. It’s that lost.

Sometimes, I swear … what’s inside is an endless dialogue of searching like that.

There is no definitive answer.

It’s all vacant and empty and nothing makes sense.

* * *

Except, sometimes it does.

That’s what you want me to say.

Sometimes it does make sense.

Sometimes, there’s something you can glean from the unease.

But, no.

Sometimes you go to bed empty.

Knowing enough to let you sleep peacefully.

Knowing nothing of where you want to go.

 

The Other Side

“I’m not sick, I’m just fine. Tryin’ to make the most of this limited time.”

– “Flicker,” Atmosphere (2014)

I’ve been on a bit of a writing kick lately. It’s nice to have something to say.

Maybe it’s the endless travel; maybe it’s Heidi and I crossing like ships in the wind. I arrive, she goes. She arrives, I go. The kids getting shuttled between intermediaries in the gaps.

The lonely nights, the solitary cocktails, give you time to think, to reflect. And so my mind, with no one else to talk to, has spoken to the screen.

It’s been nice to hear from so many of you – friends from different times and places – weighing in on these late-night missives. Concern, encouragement, bewilderment. All of it is taken to heart.

But you have to know, I hope you know, it’s not always so dark up there between the eye sockets.

Quite the contrary.

The me you see is mostly the me you see. Generally happy, optimistic, always ready – when time allows – to have some (lots of) fun.

And always moved by the unexpected.

Today, in the midst of a particularly good day, I got the normal stream of texts from Beckett as he walked home.

“Leaving” – when he left school.

“Crossed Broadway.” – when he crossed the scary four-lane mega road that separates the neighborhood his school is in from the one our home is in.

“Arrived” – when he got through the front door of our home.

But then, as I cranked the music back up at work, popped in the headphones, and set to wireframing a four-page registration webform for an upcoming event, I got this from him.

Keep in mind he’s 12. (And he wasn’t looking for anything – any favor, any item.)

(Punctuation and grammar as sent.)

“Hey dad I know I say this a lot to you, but I really really love you, I mean this so much. I know you say that you are not always the perfect dad, but trust me you are. You do so much for me and Brody and I and we will never stop thanking you. I really mean this, you are my best friend. Love you dad.”

I damn near started bawling at my desk. He’s never written anything like this before.

I responded: “Oh my gosh, Beckett. You’re going to make me cry. Thank you for saying that.”

He replied: “When I come from home from a bad day at school, it makes me so happy to see you (smiley face).”

Later that night, after he got home from baseball practice and I had picked up Brody from a friend’s house where she was being watched, Beckett bragged to her while they were sitting on the living room couch.

“I almost made dad cry!” Beck exclaimed.

“How?” Brody asked.

“With a text,” he said.

“I wanna’ see,” Brody declared. “Show me the text, daddy.”

So I showed her.

She read it.

“Daddy, that’s how I feel, too,” she said.

That’s how you win the day.

* * *

Tomorrow, I leave for a trip that’s become an annual milestone in my life – a five-day gathering with my father-in-law, his brothers, their kids and a few friends of mine – that’s known among the group simply as “Man Weekend.”

I’ve done some amazing things with these guys – whitewater rafted the middle fork of the American River as it shoots out of the Sierra Nevadas; soared over canyons tethered only by California’s majestic redwood forests on ziplines; gone deep into the red rocks of Sedona on ATVs.

The trip has mellowed out through the years. We’ve learned the excursions are nice, but it’s the company we enjoy the most. And so now we mostly gather – alternating years on my uncle’s ranch in Sonoma County and at Heidi’s family’s mountain home on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim – and play it by ear.

We hike, we play games, I cook. We drink at night and tell stories. And then we go our separate ways.

It always makes me happy. And despite the inconvenience of the timing, I always make sure to go. With all the surprises in life, I don’t want to die thinking I missed the last one – or one of the annual participants’ last ones.

Without fail, I do something stupid every year. One year, messing with his camera, I erased every photo from my uncle’s family trip to Hawai’i. Another, I drove a scooter at full speed at his house, missed the break handle, and jumped it onto his brand new front patio, breaking the tile and wrecking the front door.

There’s cursing, and yelling, and chaos. But we always survive, and come out a tighter unit on the end, with better stories to tell.

That’s what families do. We gather. We laugh. We mess up. We forgive. And we end up better, and closer, for it.

* * *

I took a break from these first two sections I wrote. Stepped outside and enjoyed the rapidly shifting desert weather. The 100-degree July nights have given way to 80-degree late September nights.

The air is pleasant and soft. It’s easy to sit out there, beer in hand, and get lost in day(night?)dreams. I do that a lot.

Maybe there’s nothing more to say, I think. Maybe this doesn’t have to drag on.

I could tell you about my son’s realization today that he has career dreams. I could tell you about my daughter waxing poetic this evening about her love of her theater conservatory class. I could tell you about Heidi, calling at 11 p.m. from St. Louis, to the delight of the kids, merely to say goodnight.

I could elaborate on all of those things.

But for once, the devil really isn’t in the details.

It’s in merely saying, sometimes the things we elaborate on don’t convey the whole picture.

Sometimes, man, we just want to let others know: everything’s okay.

But it’s more than that.

It’s more than that.

It’s something about thinking where you want to go. Seeing that place. Playing that idea in your mind every day until you get there.

It’s messy – this process of documenting.

Sometimes there’s no neat conclusion.

No answer yet as to where you’re going.

But you think it over and over …

… and before you know it, you arrive.

* * *

That’s what I tell myself.

I’ve not arrived yet; but I’m thinking it. Laying the foundation.

And in between the lunchtime ping pong, a midday conversation with a close friend, and the goofy texts you shoot off with contacts – and the unexpected ones from an offspring –  you reflect: this is what it’s all about. The daily stories you take to bed. The ones you never tell.

I can’t find the next line, but I know it’s there waiting.

Someday the truth will unfold.

But today there is this – a snippet – to something I’m reaching for.

Today, this is enough.