Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out...

I usually look forward to this annual reflection. This year is different. On December 31st, for the past several years, I have been able to look back on the year and assess it as one of the best years of my life. While there have been many really good events that have occurred in most any given year of my 51 years on the planet, one, or even several great events does not necessarily make for a good year. The years in which my children were born, for example, are forever memorable, but for a year to be a good year, there must be a consistency about it; it should be marked by steady forward momentum that carries into the next year. While forward momentum certainly exists today, and 2014 holds much promise, that promise exists despite a dismal 2013. It has not been a good year.

Exactly 365 days ago, the signs were already there. Still a “newly wed,” that marriage was already experiencing trouble, but I had no idea that it would disintegrate into the divorce that is in process right now. By the time New Years Eve night rolled around, my wife and I were at odds about what the plans for the evening should be. She wanted to go to the casino – a place that recent experience had shown to be a bad idea – I didn’t, because of the problems gambling had already caused. She got pissed. Happy New Year. But the gambling was only the tip of a very large iceberg, one that slowly revealed itself as the year progressed. Before we got to our one-year anniversary, I could no longer trust my wife in any capacity. Any capacity. As much as commitment means to me – and marriage is a commitment of solemn proportions – I could no longer carry the burden myself. My commitment was not enough to overcome her lack of it. It also meant breaking a commitment I made to her kids, but again, it was one that I could not follow through on by myself.

It was not the only commitment I have made in the recent past. I also committed to complete an education that was once beyond what I ever thought myself capable. That commitment is ongoing, but it was nearly derailed by the turmoil that was present in my personal life. My wife and I were separated by considerable distance for weeks at a time, a hardship for any couple, but not an insurmountable one. Many couples – especially when one partner (or both) is in the military – experience much longer and more difficult separations. At least we were able to be together every four to six weeks, for five weeks over the holidays and for the entire summer. Not the best situation, but better than many – and temporary. In addition to that, she lived in my house in California (with the utilities paid by my parents), had the use of my car and did not have to pay for insurance or many other monthly expenses. Meanwhile, I lived in a shit-hole apartment in Baton Rouge. I guess we all have sacrifices in life to make…

As a result of lie after lie, financial mismanagement, infidelity and other “issues,” my head was never really in Baton Rouge, at LSU, where it needed to be. It nearly killed my career, but thankfully I had a lot of support and the wherewithal to pull through. My work was not stellar by any stretch of the imagination, but by whatever grace I was granted, it got me through. I would say it is remarkable how this relationship could turn my whole world upside-down the way that it did, but in a way I am glad it did; I’m glad it meant that much. There was nothing superficial about it to me. I was in it because I was in love and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I was committed to helping her raise her boys even though my own kids are grown. I wanted to make this new, “blended” family work. But there were too many obstacles – and the external influences of so-called “friends” – that prevented it from even getting a start. And the signs were there even before we got married. I am not a victim, I volunteered.

The end result is a shitty 2013. I am glad to see it go. The good news is that 2014 is poised to be another record-breaking good year. While not 100% entirely “past” it, I am close. I am far enough past the bullshit that I can now focus on what is in front of me rather than what has happened. The reality is that if I want to go there, it only takes a few seconds before I get pissed off, sad, wistful, emotional… whatever, all over again. In have shed enough tears, and it helps knowing that the feeling isn’t and likely never was mutual. I am free; free to pursue whatever my heart desires. It looks as though it will be a happy new year after all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Home for the Holidays

For a brief moment it was surrealistic. I was up relatively early, grabbed a cup of coffee and went out front to smoke. In the quiet solitude I could hear the echoes of the past, see the shadows of my childhood. This is where I learned how to ride a bicycle, where the Fourth of July block parties were, where the kids would gather on school mornings and walk the two long sub-rural blocks to school. We did not live here when I was born, but by the time I formed my earliest childhood memories, this house has been home and this town, my hometown. That surrealism has now left me, the world around me has caught up. This is no longer the house I grew up in; this town is not the same as it was in the 60s and 70s. For one brief instance, however, I was home again.

Everything changes. This town, this house, indeed the entire world has changed in ways great and small. My parents bought this house almost 50 years ago. At the time most of the houses in this quiet neighborhood bore a striking similarity to one another. No longer. Virtually every home has been remodeled many times – the resemblance these 25 or so homes have to one another is scant. This town, once populated by more apricot trees than people, is now known as one of the premier locations for Silicon Valley millionaires – and today it would take a million dollars to even think about purchasing a home here. It still has the humble character it once had, but probably only to those who can see its shadows from the past.

In that quiet moment I could hear the voices of my childhood friends laughing. We played tag here. We raced our bicycles up and down the street. Some of our favorite hiding places for hide-and-go-seek are still here. But those kids are all gone now. They now have their own children. Some still live in this town, one still lives in this neighborhood in his parents’ old house, but most have moved on. This house looks almost nothing like the house I grew up in, but vestiges remain. My old bedroom is still there. The fireplace mantle is also among the lone holdouts. Many of the remodels occurred while I was still living here, others much after. Old photos, framed and hung on the wall or placed on accent tables, are the thread that holds this 50-year tapestry together.

I have lived in many houses and a few towns since moving away from this town many years ago. In fact, I have not been back here in many months and I have not spent a night here in at least a year, maybe more. But coming back here is always coming home no matter where my home at the time happens to be. I spent more years in this house than anywhere else. And I have likely spent more Christmas mornings here than everywhere else combined. Even my own sons, who did not enjoy the same stability I did growing up, have this home to claim as theirs, for many of my memories were repeated for them right here. This past year has seen more profound, bitter, trying and, at the same time, beneficial change for me than any other in recent memory. But one thing remains constant; this home has been an anchor. Once again, I am home for the holidays.