Epilogue

 

The summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505'), the highest peak in the lower 48. Check out the strap - the winds were 70 mph that morning.

At the summit of Mt. Whitney (14,505′), the highest peak in the lower 48. Check out the camera strap – the winds were 70 mph that morning.

What I wrote last night was something I’d wanted to say for a long time.

I hate secrets.

They lie on you like something to shame. They carry weight. They restrict freedom.

But I don’t want it to be misinterpreted.

I think a lot of you got it. But maybe some of you didn’t.

I’ve worked really hard to get here.

And I’m in love – with my wife, with my children, even, yes, with me.

I will not ruin that. So, please, don’t worry.

Last night was a confessional. From all of the letters many of you have written me today and in days past, I’ve learned – just like the old cliché, “The truth will set you free.” Lots of people we respect rebound from dark places to be incredible people.

So yesterday was a reminder to myself – it’s one I repeat often in my head – to be careful; and a nod to you that, hey, this is who I am. I’m not ashamed.

But, if you could know what’s in my mind, you’d see an almost boundless joy. I see with such amazing clarity what a wonderful life I live.

For many years, I toiled because it felt like I had to.

Now, I toil because I want to.

And because you keep saying I’ve got to write that book.

There is no book without the darkest corners, right? What a boring book that would be …

Consider the prologue written.

Here’s to a beautiful Sunday, Ed

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Always awake …

DSC07203The rules say you shouldn’t even start here.

Not at 12:30 a.m. Not after a long week. Not after the party is long over and you’re sitting in solitude – lightning flashing all around, hot breeze threatening to bring respite to your stretch of the city.

But here I am – begging the wind, begging the sky for a change.

We’re all making the same plea, right? We’re all going to change – for the better, because we have to, because we’ve planned it, because we’ve gotta’ make it for the kids, for our spouse, for something larger than us.

We’re all gonna’ change. It’s the mantra that drives a first-world economy. Not, “We have to survive.” No: “We have to change.”

I call bull.

We have to survive. Period.

Anything else is wishful thinking.

*  *   *

Today was sort of as it should be, I guess.

I did chores. Bought groceries. Filled the water bottles. Returned unused things to the hardware store.

And then I made dinner for friends.

They stayed long into the night.

Long after they left, I sat alone on the porch. It’s where I am now. On the cusp of change.

Or, maybe, on the cusp of a promise I keep making, but never deliver upon.

The day brings such clarity.

The night is unknown.

The night lacks control.

You think, maybe, I have some reign on all of this?

Quite the contrary.

It pulls me this way and that.

All my efforts at self-control, destroyed by the clock, and the sky, and the stress.

I’m out of my element.

And yet so within it.

The clink of the glass. The rustle of the wind. Lightning flashes on the horizon.

Yeah, this feels okay.

*   *  *

Tomorrow night, my children come home after 27 days away.

And if all that poetic mumbo-jumbo means nothing to you, let me spell it out: tomorrow I return to routine.

Routine is good in some realms. Routine allows me to do “what is right.”

Maybe it’s easy for you. It’s not easy for me.

Addiction runs through my veins.

Everything I’ve earned, I’ve earned the hard way.

I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve seen family members hospitalized. I’ve watched family members deteriorate under the spell of substance.

So I walk a fine line.

It’s like a tight rope.

Lose your balance? There’s the cliff.

No one can save you now.

*   *  *

Only, I have walked that tight rope for such a long time now.

In 2006, I spent 8 months in AA and I learned a lot about myself. About my source(s) of anger, about my own insecurities, about the moments in my life that once played like a broken record – over and over and over again.

I came out on the other side of that experience ready to embrace existence; ready to stop defining myself by the ways I had been wronged, and instead by the experience I wanted to have.

It was monumental; one in a string of life-changing experiences.

If you think you’re reading a confessional, stop. It changed everything.

I don’t walk the path of regret anymore. But I do tow the line.

And that’s the sort of craziness of it all; I’m stuck in 38-year-old limbo.

Where from here? Where do I go?

Most of it is all so numb.

Feeling? It’s fleeting.

I “do” because I have to; I “do” because I know no alternative.

*    *   *

But that’s a lie, too.

I “do” because I know there is something bigger than me.

They arrive on a nonstop jet from Newark tomorrow at 9:27 p.m.

And I must guide them; and lead them; and misdirect them from my own weakness.

Who gave me this responsibility?

Who trusted me with this purity?

Tomorrow they will get off that jet, and I will hold them.

Here we go.

Blast off.

God, I pray, give me the strength to be the father they need for another year.

Yeah, I have to pray for that.

Over and over and over again.

Mourning Dove

IMG_1627I’m certain it was the mother.

There’s no way to know this, of course. But it was the way she moved, the sounds she made.

Slowly, deliberately. A single step across the ground. Head side-to-side. Not eating, not searching for food.

But looking for something that was a lost. A child.

Another step. And then a chirp.

Baby was gone. Long gone. Twenty miles away, inside a building. Human hands tending to its health.

Do birds feel loss? Do the doves in my back yard – birds I’ve never given any thought to, really, before yesterday afternoon – feel the pain of absence?

It’s unscientific. A hunch based on observation.

But I’m pretty sure they do.

*   *  *

What an odd series of days.

It’s sort of a mess out there in case you haven’t noticed.

A missile shooting a passenger plane out of the sky. A war of words involving tens of nations. Escalating conflicts at the crossroads of religion.

And in my close circle of friends, the death of a 36-year-old man. A father to be. A loss so completely unfair, it defies processing.

My weekend started there, at the memorial. It incurred a defining turnout – the sign of an individual and a family loved intensely by scores of people. It was as I wished it would be.

I don’t think it appropriate to talk much about this. It feels out of my realm to delve too much into this subject.

I love his family. I love his friends. But I’m not qualified to talk about what his life – or death – means.

Unless it is to say that it underscores something I explore routinely in this space: the finality, the unpredictability, the you-ain’t-in-control-of-it-bitch of it all.

We ride on borrowed time. The where and when of your end will probably come when you least expect it.

And the things you worried about – the damn­ things you worry about – man, for the most part: they’re stupid.

*  *  *

Let’s start with your body.

Because this has come up a lot lately. Everybody is worrying about their goddamn body.

How much time do you spend worrying about that shit?

I’m too fat. I don’t like my (insert body part). So someday soon, you’re going to stop eating this, stop doing that, change this.

Let me ask you this: Are you exercising? Do you generally feel okay? Are you avoiding chain smoking a pack of cigs? Are you drinking responsibly – not what some dipshit magazine or television doctor says is responsibly – but what you say is responsibly? Are you getting up for work? Eating veggies? Taking care of your family, your life, what needs to be taken care of?

Yes? Then repeat after me, slowly.

I. AM. OKAY.

No one – not your kids, not your mom, not your dad, not your friends, will ever eulogize you by saying, “Well he/she was worthless because, damn, did you see those love handles?”

In fact, I’d bet the energy you’ve wasted on obsessing over that is, if not all-consuming, then at least a serious distraction. It is for me.

I exercise. I grill zucchini. I’ve got an electronic device in my pocket that tells me how many steps I take. I log everything I eat.

And, it never fails, when I tell somebody I’ve done not one, but two Ironman triathlons, that I do Crossfit three times a week, that I do 100 burpees a day, their eyes do a quick scan. I see them look at my puffy, computer-desk, overweight-belly, and wonder: Huh?

But in the last year, I’ve become okay with that. I smile and assure them I do exercise a lot.

If they push further, I say, “Well, I’d be a hell of lot bigger if I didn’t.”

But then I move on. It’s not important. It’s not why we’re here.

Yes, should some health-nut doctor or friend read this, they’d probably froth with fury at my laissez-faire logic, but I’m looking at the bigger picture.

It’s easy when your whole job is to focus on one aspect of life: if you reject sugar, if you eat under X calories a day, if you work out Y hours weekly, the odds of your life extending to age Z, with minimal risk of disease so-and-so, is greatly increase/decreased.

But that ain’t the whole picture, is it? Life is kids and jobs and friends and how you feel – how you really feel – about how you lived each day.

And if you’re going to make the most of it, you have to step back from all the things you’ve read, all the things people tell you and ask: What is it that I want? What is that make me happy?

When you stop the comparisons, and you start focusing on that, you’re on your way to living your life.

*  *  *

Let me say this, because I love honesty, the whiskey is gonna’ hurt tomorrow. I’ve been sitting here, thinking my way through this like some kind of Hemingway-lite.

I ain’t gonna’ race bulls tomorrow, but I am going to present my latest work accomplishment to a senior VP tomorrow – it’s on my calendar at 2 p.m. – and at some point, I’m going to wish that I had just gone to bed, rather than poured drinks and, in the process, poured the shit that fills my brain onto a screen and a keyboard.

Only I can’t.

Because that’s not me. And now, I embrace that.

And if guilty wants to move in at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, I’ll tell it to take a seat. Get lost. Go home. Leave me alone.

*  *  *

Back to this week. And that momma’ bird.

It’s all my fault.

The tree was so goddamn big. My beloved Saudi Arabian Mulberry (I could write poems to that beautiful tree – all deciduous in a world of dry, deathly heat) had gotten too big.

So I paid people to come and return it to health.

They mutilated it because they had to, so it wouldn’t fall down in the high-speed monsoon winds of the desert summer. So the shallow roots of a desert tree wouldn’t give way.

And that’s why the baby bird was there, alone in the grass. Waiting to die.

I came across it when I was writing the check to my friend – a great guy who owns the landscaping business I hired to take care of my fragile trees.

I pointed it out to him.

“That happens,” he said.

I went back inside. He went on his way to his next job.

“Heidi,” I told my wife. “There’s a baby bird out there in the grass.”

She sighed that sigh. It was the same one I was feeling: What are we going to do?

We researched online. We learned. We put in a shoe box with towels. We fed it water from a spoon.

It cried(?) Chirped. It wanted to live.

I wanted it to live, too.

*  *  *

Some backstory.

Last winter, we had a really nasty storm. Winter brings funny storms to the desert – the kind you know in the East and Midwest. When you can see them on a map, and they move all logical west to east.

One blew a newborn bird out of the nest last December and my kids were there to witness the aftermath.

They saw a baby bird on the ground. And it was hosed.

By the time we found it, a cat had gotten to it.

It was thrashed, all but dead. Torn to pieces. Broken wings. Clinging to life. Shallow breath.

My daughter cried for it.

I told them to go inside and ended the inevitable.

I hadn’t recovered from that.

So when I found this bird, I couldn’t let history repeat itself.

I picked it up, put it in a box, and found it a shelter. Drove 20 miles, made a donation and assuaged my guilt.

And for what?

There was a part of me that obsessed over the irony – that I would take such steps to save a life, while eating a steak that very same evening.

That a close friend’s brother had died, and later that night, I was socializing – happily – over salmon and decadent beer.

That the next night, I was at it again. With a different set of friends and delicious food and drink.

Here we were, in the chaos of all this horrible shit: laughing. Enjoying life.

I struggle. Because I want to make this all so beautifully poignant.

But sometimes there is only truth and cliché.

There is a finality to it all.

Tick-tock.

Live each day.

Tick-tock.

Respect the gift.

Tick-tock.

The wind blows.

You fall from the tree.

Aw, shit, you didn’t expect that, did you?

Too late …

Present Tense

AirportI find myself waking up a lot with a single question on my mind, “Where are you?”

It’s allegorical.

I’m not waking in bed wondering, physically, where I am.

I’m wondering where I am in the time/space continuum, how I got here and where I’m going.

I feel the comfortable routine of mid-life settling in. Of peace. Of self-acceptance. Of situational acceptance (or is it resignation?).

And I’m not sure that I like it.

But maybe I do.

It’s one of those kinds of issues.

*    *   *

Yesterday, I turned 38, and thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I received birthday wishes from across the country. From people I haven’t seen in 20 years. From someone I dated for two weeks when I was 17.

I liked it. Those quickly banged out Facebook and text messages allowed me to relive an amazingly wide swath of my existence – each birthday message from somebody once and currently important in my life bringing back a flood of images and memories.

Some spawned conversations of their own, like the time myself and a couple of coworkers took a “retreat” up to Christopher Creek, Arizona to do some creative thinking for upcoming issues of the magazine I was editing at the time.

We got furiously, fantastically drunk. We hit all three of the bars in this no-stop-light-town; and then we walked home, screaming obscenities – one obscenity in particular – over and over. We were loud. Stumbling. Obnoxious.

We were staying in a cabin and as we walked state Highway 260 towards it; someone from a different cabin – hidden by trees and thick brush yelled out. “Shut up!” We didn’t. “I have a shotgun,” he replied. Without missing a beat, my one buddy, Bang, screamed back. “I got your daughter!”

Silence for a second. Then Mr. Shotgun replied with a sigh, “That was a good one.”

We fell into a roadside ditch and laughed. It took us a while to get back up and get home.

Without Facebook, a story forgotten.

*   *  *

That’s not why I’m here – to recount anecdotes.

Or maybe it is.

I’ve got countless anecdotes and stories much deeper than that – of love and loss and fear. Of incredible highs and great accomplishments.

And plenty of just the opposite – of bad choices and grave mistakes, some that nearly cost me my life.

The thing that all of those stories have in common is that they were all fueled by a driving restlessness that lived within me for nearly all of my life.

I had something to prove: that I was better, that I could do it all, that I could defy your expectations and that you – you – would come to see it.

But now that restlessness is gone. Maybe not gone completely, but nearly gone. Slipping quietly away with each restful night, reawakened each morning ever-so-briefly by that question.

“Where are you?”

Oftentimes, I shrug it off. I turn on the coffee maker. Walk out to the driveway – typically in my pajamas – and grab the paper. Open it up.

The Diamondbacks lost. Again.

Oh, it’s 6 a.m.? Time to wake the kids.

And then it’s gone.

*   *   *

Only, it’s never really gone, is it?

Because here it is, 9:15 p.m. One beer down. Second one in the glass.

And clickety-clack goes the keyboard.

Clearly, I’m searching for an answer.

So, here’s what I’ve come to know in the last couple months.

1)      I don’t know where it is that I want to go next.

2)      The things I worry about – save maintaining my health – have very little to do with me and lots to do with the people I’m closest to.

3)      Everybody is dealing with issues. Many of them insanely complex. They put on their best face at work, at parties, at the grocery store. Most people are good people by nature, doing the best they can. And we share more in common than we don’t. They deserve our compassion, not our scorn.

4)      I’ve stopped worrying about what other’s think. Not my wife, not my kids, not the employer who writes my paycheck and my reviews, but almost everyone else.

5)      I’m imperfect and I’m cool with that. I’ll never achieve perfection and no amount of abstaining from this or doing that every day will ever fix that.

6)      I’m insanely aware of time. Maybe even borderline obsessed. Not over that fact that I may not have time to achieve plan X, but more over the fact that our days are finite and that the periods in our lives when things are going really damn well are even more limited. So I focus on that, and try to live with gratitude.

It’s number 6 that, if I do get stuck lying awake at night, deep in thought, that I really get caught up on.

Where have the ladder-climbing career goals gone? Is the plan to be an author – not the guy that bashes out these blogs, but the real book-writing type – gone? The political dreams, too?

Am I really content to be a internet strategist for a utility from here to retirement?

For the first time ever, I’m not really in a rush to answer.

*   *  *

If I’m lucky, I’ll have 9 years with my son, and 11 with my daughter before they potentially go to college.

If I’m really lucky, we’ll deal with no more health issues in our immediate family both during the time they live at home and well beyond. Heidi and I will live a long healthy life, get to grow old, love our grandchildren and do dorky retirement crap like gardening on Tuesday afternoons.

But none of that is really is my control. None of it.

Sure, I can eat right and wear seat belts and make the kinds of choices that maximize safety in any situation. But we live in a random and unjust world.

Car accidents and disease and hardships don’t play favorites. They play odds. And sometimes bad things happen. And they are beyond our control.

I am reminded time and time again – most recently when I read former Channel 12 producer John Faherty’s incredible battle to survive a pancreas transplant – that life itself is the real gift.

That getting to ask that question, “Where am I?”, is the real luxury.

And so I’m left to think that maybe what I’m experiencing is mid-life without the crisis.

It’s the subtle awareness that not knowing where you’re going, that not knowing what tomorrow holds, and simply being content with that, is a sign of knowledge and age colliding in a sort of rare, perfect storm.

Tomorrow, perhaps, when the question arises again, “Where am I?”, I’ll answer it.

“I’m in bed, with my beautiful wife and I’m going to get up and have a cup of coffee, exercise a little bit, read the paper, get dressed and go to work. And later, I’ll call my kids (who are in NJ with grandma and grandpa), have some dinner and a beer and read for a while.”

And if I remember – and really hold on to the sentiment I’m feeling as I write these final words – I’ll know where I am is a really, really incredible place to be.