Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Water

At one point during the hot minute that Dane Cook was on top of the comedy world, he had a bit about knowing a cry was en route. I think today has been one of those moments, but right now it’s acting like that sneeze that just won’t come already.

            It’s the first heavy, summerish day of 2020 in Kansas City. I’m in my home that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay in, the lingering threats of COVID-19 are looped around the ears of the face-masked, and American unrest rises by the hour with every heinous act committed by police officers and the stubborn, unchanging minds of so many who just can’t seem to shift their thinking by two millimeters.

            I’m about halfway through A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs, and via a shot in the dark, I’d say this is my 50th listen. This record serves as a kind of medicinal antithesis, and what a dose might do for an ailment seems to be the opposite with depression; your brain magnetizes to things that seem to only pull you in a step further.

            I’ve taken two naps today (one of which was in the same room my kids were watching something), and worried continuously across the week that my air-conditioning unit will vanish like a dying Jedi at any moment. From my dining-room-window view, an Amazon van slows but doesn’t stop.

            The shit is thick and so I turn to one of my only forms of healthy therapy and start the mower.

See it through through my eyes,
Walk me to the water,
Hold my hand and something turns to me…”

            Naturally -- a mere three years in to owning this piece of equipment -- the self-propelled unit craps out at the start of the mow, leaving me drenched in sweat, trembling with fatigue and hunger as I changed out of my yardwork sneakers. Ultimately it may have helped. It might’ve shaken me out of my funk, forced me to focus on my physical health and forget about the emotional and mental. In a more global sense, it put my path under the microscope.

            Some of my earliest memories were rooted in jealousy, an aversion to having a younger sibling come along, a loathing tied to having to share my parents’ love and affection with another human. This gave way to a sense of unity with my sister as we soon navigated the seas of divorce, moved, made new friends and new identities. Those were short-lived, though, and we said goodbye to those things as well. We re-rooted near the setting of our original lives, started anew once more. Puberty, acceptance came next; they were soon mixed with employment and partying.

            High school bled into college, thrusting me -- at the conclusion of both -- into real life, the real world, and a lot of time would come to pass before I’d recognize that my divorce wounds had been Band-Aided; treating them and finding healing for them remained an undiscovered star in the moonlit sky.

“Love me every night,
Drown me in the water,
Hold my hand and there's something turning me…”

At some point, having moved away from home, experienced the world on my own for a good while, I returned and found myself torn and toiling away my 20s in a kitchen. The battle embodied this longing for more education, the notion that I -- for whatever reason -- deserved better than the rung-climbing existence in the service industry, an enterprise into which I’d entered a dozen years prior when I needed a job and institutions would look the other way when staffing needs often outweighed the age of a potential employee. I’d fallen in love with writing and literature about halfway through my undergrad-psychology path and wanted to pursue a Master’s, but couldn’t quite land on which direction.

Somewhere in that mix I met Anna.

As the story goes, she told one or more fellow servers that she was going to marry me, which, given my grumpy reputation, was met with some certain aversion. We both, nevertheless, abandoned existing relationships to pursue one with each other and -- before I was ready -- she began pressuring me to get engaged.

The timing wasn’t right; we hadn’t been together long enough according to my cobbled, divorce-proof agenda, and a deal-breaker hung in the air as well: She didn’t want kids. When the topic was revisited months later, the shift in thinking revealed an approval stamp with one biological, one adopted. I wasn’t on board. We wound up landing on agreement, though it always felt weird. Not sure how that big of a shift (or shifts) happens inside the mind of one human alone, but it’s neither here nor there. What is and was -- in some amalgamation of hindsight -- could be dubbed red flag number one: the relationships we abandoned. As we would later learn in couples therapy, the adage, “If you’ll cheat with me, you’ll cheat on me” is, well, an adage that’s out there. The engagement pressure should’ve been red flag number two.

Number three was right behind it, too: the anti-support when I called her mom after engagement-ring-shopping meltdown number two. Having been encouraged to speed up my plan and take a loan, I bought a ring, we got engaged, planned a wedding. We honeymooned, which could’ve been called red-flag four in that we possibly bickered more than enjoyed ourselves, and I moved in with her. Naturally -- looking through a retrospective lens -- we had a super-rough first year (five). There were successful divisions of chores and responsibilities, some noteworthy career strides, and, then, a baby.

I thought we’d found our way. We had fun, laughed, travelled, hung with friends, expanded our networks, did all of the holiday things, and occasionally spent alone time together. Our daughter was amazing. She still is, of course, but the pregnancy, birth, all of the firsts…so great. Immeasurably great. Like, I look at your kid and hear your stories, and I’m like, Yeah, but

So great. We kinda fell into our ways, I guess. All baby boxes were checked, bills were paid with moderate consistency, our home was nice, quaint. Time for baby number two, which meant a move.

It was kind of a trip. The very first house we looked at, she’d seen before. She’d been in it before. Friend of a friend lived there. She’d been over for wine and allegedly said, “If you ever sell your house…”

That gal’s marriage didn’t make it. The house was two blocks from her folks’ place. She saw a “Coming Soon” sign in the yard. We called a realtor. I literally laughed when we pulled up.

“There’s no freaking way,” I said.

“Let’s just see,” she said.

We looked at a small handful of others, but none compared. Money was moved, papers were signed, the house was ours. Four months later we found out about baby number two. He joined us in the fall. And he was wonderful. And also still is. We, however, weren’t so good. We argued, especially over how to raise the baby and a toddler at the same time. Things shifted in and out of roommate-land. I got out of the restaurant business and lobbed my every ounce of energy at forging a career to make sure our home and family stayed protected. In the end I was told it hadn’t felt like support.

The first wave of affairs dust came down a notch, and I received instruction that there would be no begging, that my story -- the narrative that had become framed in my mind -- would (essentially) remain nothing more than that, that blame would always represent some form of equal distribution. There were a couple of quasi-unidentifiable wait-and-see periods, but after some undecipherable amount of time, it was clear that she was gone for good, unable to see things from my perspective, not wired to feel real remorse or culpability on any chartable level. And I’d eventually learn that -- in the occasional, fleeting moment -- some version of sorrow would flutter in, like a moth that found that perfect screen-door hole while the attic fan sucked breeze into the house. It’d flitter around in search of answers, find some light source it loved for a minute, then die on the wall, a literal still life.

The gravest of odor absences would always float in and around the house after those moments. Like meat seared on a grill or forearm hair singed in a stove-burner flame or the rotting carcass of a deceased rodent, each of these texture-changing episodes occurred without their signature smell. I somehow figured out a way to trudge through hangovers with minimal difficulty, a talent that had always evaded me. Moments would land on my shoulders, the proverbial Mr. Bluebirds, and things would feel alright. And then they wouldn’t.

Long after the end of things, knee deep in next relationships, still not sitting down with the official paperwork, a few whispers emerged: she’d gone but not far, I hadn’t pursued, we were too far gone by then. There were could’ves and would’ve-beens, bulletin-boardesque reminders that things were hard for her, too; the sharp-and-blatant statement that such and such didn’t matter just because I got my “feelings hurt.”

And so there I was. There I was. There I am and here I am. Schlepping a custody-share sash, the same way my dad had to. I gotta be honest, too: It feels just as awkward on the parent end as it did on the kid end. It sucks. It feels like failure. It feels unfair in so many of the kid elements. It feels like the very definition of rejection and abandonment, the precise opposite of the two things we strive so hard for in adolescence: acceptance and inclusion.

So the pieces of 15 years still lie scattered in the yard. I’ve picked a bunch of them up, put the handy ones to use, made refuse of those which were not. Things look and feel much better than they did two years ago, but it’s still hard in so many ways. The kids I wanted, the kids I bargained for like a grizzled pioneer at a trading post leave me now for half of the week and the house I swore we couldn’t afford became my albatross.

The ultimate conclusion proffered went like this: “I forced you in to this marriage once; I couldn’t do it a second time.”

Though I never actually wish for it, I sometimes can’t help but think, If she’d only left me alone in that kitchen. I mean, I was lost then and I’m a little lost now. I’ve grown and learned and experienced the births and raisings of two incredible children. I’ve dialed in what it means to be a partner and to have one. It’s just a weird chunk to chalk up to mistake.

Where to go next weighs with little forgiveness. That feeling in life of kind of assessing and determining that you’ve got a handle on everything that comes your way…it’s an odd one to obtain then lose. It’s a little suffocating to ponder the notion of entering into a commitment with another human, a blind faith leap into a pool you both know is cold -- togetherness your joy source -- to only come up for air to discover that one of you threw in the towel.

We were in our 20s. We partied well together, planned shit, had fun, made average love on some level of consistency, handled things the other was less equipped to, and tried to stretch it into forever.

“See it through my eyes,
Love me like no other,
And hold my hand and something turns to me,
And turns me into you.”

I can’t really put a finger on how or why or when little bouts of depression land in my taxiing zone. They do, though. And they clog the shit outta my runway. And then my girlfriend has to deal with it. My kids, too, sorta. Probably more than I allow myself to recognize.

I guess the point is that depression is a strange thing. And I don’t even know if that’s what we’re talking about here. It feels like it in spurts. It doesn’t often linger and for that I am grateful.

It definitely leaves a get-your-shit-together residue, though, and that part is sometimes even harder than the actual wave. Stuff’s heavy. I’m thankful that it’s almost always brief, but yo…

It ain’t no thang to ignore.

The next shit, though…

The next shit is for me to figure out. Again.

Figure it out as a jealous, minimally hoarding child. Figure it out as a tumultuous teenager. Figure out high school, the college path and all of its detours. Figure out how to be the proverbial grown-ass man, one with a deceased father, no less. Create your life’s Power Point and perpetually assess and criticize the lack with which you stick to said presentation. Find your way; lose your way. Think you’ve landed; learn it was a stopover.

“Lead me through the light,
Pull me from the water,
Hold my hand and something turns to me,
Turns me into you.”

So I’ve gotta figure out finances, time-management, parenting, self-love and self-care. I’ve gotta take care. I’ve gotta open myself up for bigger, unforeseen challenges. I’ve got to -- essentially -- pick up where I left off as that 2003 sous chef, a guy with questions, energy, ambition, and hair on his head. Everything between now and then was like an extended hotel stay. Except I woke up in that room alone and discovered a note scribbled on a small, pink Post-It.

And this is all under the pretense that the world is a good place to reside.

Sure doesn’t feel like it right now. Feels like people want to be right. People want others to fix themselves and fix themselves in a very specific manner. Fix themselves that way or cease to exist. People want to be justified.

I guess I’m no different.

I guess the point of this is to say that, yes -- there are people in the world that always seem to have easy sailing; all of their waves lacking chop. They’re anomalies, I think. Or maybe I am. I dunno.

Either way…when you see someone post the meme that says, “Be kind to people. You never know what they’re going through” (Or whatever it is.). Heed that shit. Make it your gospel. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to understand them. And you certainly don’t have to like them but be kind to them. It won’t cost you anything. It might even feel good. The portion of the world that flaunts bikini bods and six-packs and perfect-seeming lives on social media will always be reality’s minority. Most of us are just out here trying to make it. And maybe some of those ideal-seeming folks are, too.

A person I know took their own life the other night.

I hurt for what was that person’s existence. I hurt for their soul. I hurt for the surviving family members that wrestled with the difficulties of their loved one’s tangled ways for a time. I ache for possible, unfair anxiety they may be consumed by right now that falls under the what-more-could-I’ve-done header. I search but can only feel numbness in thinking about the two people that took their own cold leap so many years ago and brought people into the world as a result and are perhaps now feeling a different flavor -- the worst imaginable -- of failure. And I feel for any conscience weight they might be burdened with if the essence of relief ever dares breeze across their driveway.

“Just see it through my eyes
Love me like no other
Hold my hand and something turns to me
Turns me into you
Turn in me
Into you.”

The path, though…

I feel like I’ve been tubing on the dock side of the no-wake buoys for years, waiting to get past those wobbling things, eager for the vessel’s captain to open ‘er up.

And I can’t seem to figure out what it’s gonna take. Like, I only always have the vision.

It feels super-weird to be susceptible to situational depression, but I guess that’s the gig.

Louis CK was on Conan once talking about cell phones. He had been in traffic and recalled a time where he started feeling sad. Maybe not quite like that lurking Dane Cook cry, but sad, nonetheless. And he reached for his phone. To do something. Anything. To silence it. And instead he pulled over and wailed along with a Bruce Springsteen, and that cry came. Hard. And afterwards he felt better. And talked about how crying yields relief which chemically becomes happiness.

I know that feeling. We all do, I think.

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