Posted by admin | Filed under Blog
“Do you remember your second grade teacher?” my mother asked me.
“Actually I do,” I said. “I always liked her.”
“Yeah, me too. It was so sad when she passed away.”
I looked at her, confused, “She died? You mean, like, back when we lived there?”
“You don’t remember that?” she asked me.
“No, I don’t.”
It’s interesting how many different types of memories there are. There are many things I remember very specifically. Details, dialogue and all. Then there’s other things, especially from that far in the past, where all you can remember about a place, a person, or thing is the feeling it evokes from you. It’s like a book you once read where you no longer remember the story, but you remember how you felt when you finished it.
I don’t really remember my other teachers from back then in any real way. Although I do recall thinking my third grade teacher was a real cunt (apparently my mom agreed). But I always remembered my second grade teacher rather fondly. Even though I have no stories about her I can tell you. Even thought I can’t even recall her name. I just always got a warm, kind feeling whenever I thought of her.
“You two were kind of at odds at the beginning of the school year,” my mother told me, “Because you would always get into trouble,” she looked at me sarcastically, “As usual.” I smirked, “So you got detention a lot. And I don’t know exactly what it was, but the more time you spent together in detention the more you two got to like each other. I guess it sort of forced you to get to know one another, and she took a real liking to you as the year went on.”
My mother continued, “I remember that her cancer came on pretty quickly. She threw up in the middle of class one day and had to leave. And I remember you coming to me and saying, ‘She’s really sick, mom. I’m worried about her.’ And then she deteriorated pretty quickly after that. She just had one of those cancers that takes you really fast. I remember seeing her wearing scarves on her head at school after chemo, looking worn down, but she wanted to keep on teaching as long as she could. But she passed away not too long after that. You took it pretty hard.”
It’s interesting hearing a story about your own life for the first time. It made me choke up a little bit. It’s the sort of story that makes me wonder what else I’ve chosen to forget.
“You really don’t remember that, huh?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “I don’t.”
I just sat there, thinking on it for a moment. My mother broke the silence, “You know what I always remember about you from when you were a kid? I remember you taking care of me when I was sick. Bringing me breakfast in bed, laying with me.”
I smiled at her, “Yeah. I did always like doing that kind of stuff.”
“Everyone else just wanted to avoid my icky germs, but not you,” she said, “You’d always be there right away to come take care of me… You were always the one with the big heart.”
I smiled at her fondly. Then I just looked away and tried to avoid eye contact.
CHAPTER 9: “ONE GOOD DAY”
I hate admitting that I’m a rather slow reader. I tend to be at the halfway point of three different books at any given time. Late last year, I finally got around to finishing Anthony Shadid’s novel Night Draws Near about his time in Iraq during the beginning of the war. As I came to the end I remembered thinking, “I wonder how he’s going to end it.” I’d been so impressed with his knack for capturing the human side of the story. He had that ability to really make you feel for the people he met. To make you see why things happen, not just give you a simple explanation that you can regurgitate to people when you want to sound like you have opinions. It’s a gift not many journalists have. It was why I took it so hard when he died in Syria last year.
I felt like it would be hard for him to find one passage that could possibly be worthy of closing out such a fine collection of stories:
“It’s going to get better and better,” Amal countered confidently. “This is just my opinion,” she said, “and I’ll say my opinion freely.”
“The people who died, did it get better for them?” Fatima asked, a little frustrated.
Amal glanced at me, only briefly. Then she turned her palms up and smiled. She spoke about the other story of Iraq, the one that I had heard so rarely heard after I left.
“There’s no answer to our problems. If you look for one, there is none,” she said. Her family had turned quiet, listening. “The situation is bad. It’s true, it’s really bad. It’s true that every day is worse than the one before. But we don’t ever want to be hopeless. I always want to leave something for tomorrow,” she went on. “The sun will set today, but it always rises again. Everything rises again. Even without life, there is hope.”
She stopped for a moment and smiled at the attention I and the others were paying her. “I don’t know how to express it,” she said softly, “but I understand it.”
I felt myself getting weak in the knees. I had to put the book down to collect myself.
Her words shamed me. It made me remember the person I always promised myself that I’d be. The person I felt I was losing a little more of with every passing year. And of course, given what I’d just been through with Elizabeth and how deeply it had been eating at me, it made me think of her and Jacob as well.
I’ve often wondered if Amal’s family was quiet because they were moved by her words, or if they were simply not wanting to tell their loved one that they thought she was a damn fool. I wish I could know what they actually felt when she said that. I wonder if Shadid was the only one in the room who actually understood.
His book ends right around the time I had my short stay in Iraq. That year of the war, 2004, always fascinated me. It was a year that began early (on December 13, 2003 when Saddam was captured), and ended late (on January 30, 2005 when the first free Iraqi elections took place). Both of those events were bookmarks of hope that surrounded a year of utter shit. It feels like it was that year the stage was being set for whatever uncertain future would unfold in the decades to come.
The “epilogue” chapter of that novel took place when Shadid (who had been away for a while) had come back to report on the elections of January 30, 2005. And reading it, I realize that I had forgotten how great that day felt. 2004 had been so intense, and yet the worst was still on the horizon as 2005 began. But reading Shadid’s words I started to remember the way I felt on that one day. In the middle of all that shit there was this one day…
I think most Americans and Iraqis alike figured everyone would be far too scared to vote on January 30th with the security situation being so out of hand. There was an overriding feeling that the whole thing would be a disaster. But as that day went on, people came out in droves. True, it was harder for the Sunnis, but even some of them braved through it. And in the following year’s elections, even more did. I laughed tenderly when Shadid mentioned an old man in a wheelchair being hoisted in the air and carried through the streets by some enthusiastic, young Iraqis helping him get to the polls in time. I remember reading so many uplifting stories like that. Stories of Iraqi police sacrificing their lives to protect voters from suicide bombers. Pictures of men and women waving their purple ink stained fingers in defiant celebration.
Over here the media reported it in typical fashion. The left begrudgingly acknowledged the election’s success, but still mocked its outcome. It was becoming more apparent every day that they had finally reached the point where it was more important to see Bush lose than to see Iraq win. Meanwhile, the right patted themselves on the back for a job well done. Even though it had fuck-all to do with them. This wasn’t their day. This was Iraq’s day. They won this battle. It was a day when they showed themselves to the world as a brave, noble, and honorable people. It even seemed possible that they could become a united people. It was like the clouds broke for a minute and the sun was finally allowed to shine through. For just that one moment, you could see what this could be.
Throughout the day I would enjoy comforting myself with wistful daydreams. Fantasizing about things suddenly changing. That world powers would put their differences aside and agree to unite and help the Iraqis hold their country together, regardless of all the in-fighting between the world’s leaders. That the Americans who’d become so politically polarized against one another would see that it was more important to do what’s best for a suffering people that we now had an obligation to than it was to simply prove themselves right. That the Iraqis who believed they could have something better would stand up to the ones who were tearing the place apart. That their countrymen would unite despite their ideological differences. And that my countrymen would do the same.
But obviously that never happened. Things fell apart. 2005 and 2006 were arguably the worst years of the war. And at the time I write this, the war is over for America, but it’s still going on for Iraq. And it will be for a long time. In the grand scheme of American history, I doubt the war in Iraq will leave much of an impact. For us, it’ll probably be just a hiccup that we’d sooner forget. We already refer to Korea as “The Forgotten War,” and we lost seven times as many people there (and in a fraction of the time). But in the story of Iraq’s history, that war will be something far more significant. Something far more devastating. Something that literally tore their whole world apart. And it may be a long, long time before we find out what it all amounted to. It would be a tragedy if I don’t live long enough to see it, but the real tragedy is that so many of those Iraqis who stood tall on that day already aren’t.
The cynic in me thinks it’s stupid to reminisce fondly about a day like that. Especially when you look at what happened afterwards. But I want to remember it. I want to remember that feeling. Even if it didn’t bring an end to the chaos, or solve any problems, it was something worth admiring. Something that they could be proud of, and should be proud of still. I think I’m starting to feel that the point is not as much about winning as it is about trying. You cannot forget those moments when life was beautiful, even if it didn’t work out in the end. You have to accept that sometimes things will fall apart. Sometimes the bad guys do win. Sometimes all you get is one good day…
I wrote 40 pages about Elizabeth & Jacob. I even let some very close friends read the unedited first half. I kept feeling this desperate desire to get it off my chest when I was going through it. But at this stage, now that it’s been almost a year, I see no reason to talk about it in detail. I don’t know that I want to talk about it at all honestly, but I still feel I should mention it. Because if the whole reason I write these things is to talk about the moments in my life that have had a deep impact on me, then this is something I absolutely have to bring up.
One comment that my friends consistently shared when I let them preview my original writing was, “It seems like you’re trying to figure things out as you go.” And it was true. I think I expected there to be some grand catharsis during the writing process, where I finally made sense of it all. But that never happened. No big revelation waits for me at the end of this episode. It’s just a fucking bummer. Dissecting it won’t change anything. You simply have to deal with it. Because even though these are things you can let go of, you don’t ever get over them.
The hardest part was the anger. I know I should feel sorry for Elizabeth. That she got stuck in a position where in the end she felt her best course of action was to go back to that abusive pig and be his “indentured servant” (her words, not mine). But after 13 years, and all the things we’ve been through, that she could do it without even having the balls to say goodbye… I hated her for it. Some days I would think to myself, “I hope he puts her fucking head through a wall and makes good on all his threats to kill her if she tries to leave. Just so she doesn’t try to contact me in another couple years and put me through all this again.”
Of course I know I didn’t mean it, but it tears me up that I felt it…
Sometimes Jacob was even harder to think about it. I’ve found myself constantly thinking about my last night with him, even though I try not to. The hardest part of that is knowing how much it means to me, and how little it means to anyone else. He was three when I fell in love with him, and he’ll never remember me again. That boy I cared for no longer exists. And it feels utterly ridiculous when I try to think of it fondly. His biological father gave him up without a fight, because he simply didn’t give a shit. And as soon as we came to love each other, I left him and never came back. And now the only father he’ll know is that piece of dog shit that treats his mother like garbage. I have no right to romanticize my time with him. I was just another in a long line of pretend dads that eventually let him down.
I remembered driving with another comic to a show once and he was telling me about this chick he used to nail that had a kid. He said he felt weird about hooking up with a woman that had a kid, and then the kid ended up calling him dad one day. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m outta here!’” he said. I laughed. More at myself than at him.
“Yeah,” I replied, “Who needs that shit, right?”
Elizabeth and I first fell in love in the summer of 1999. She was 18, and I was 20. Our first date was amazing. We would bring it up and talk about it every time we saw each other. She said the most memorable thing any woman has ever said to me that night. I’ll never forget it…
We rekindled our romance seven years after that in 2006, after she’d gotten divorced from her first husband, and after she’d had Jacob. It was like picking up right where we left off, even though it felt like we were so different at that point. We already knew when we started back up that I’d be leaving to make the move to Austin to start doing that stand-up comedy bullshit, and she was going to be staying near Chicago so Jacob could be close to family while she went back to school. I had just gotten out of the military and was on a paid vacation via the government. She worked during the day, and it wasn’t long before I was just spending the night there all the time anyway, so I asked if I could watch Jacob during the days and play stay-at-home dad. I still think that was the happiest I’ve ever been. Taking care of him. Learning to speak three-year-old. Inventing games for us to play. Getting little hints from Elizabeth when I’d have trouble getting him to eat or leave the playground when it was time to go.
Of course it was hard when I had to leave, but it seemed like it right thing to do. The path she was taking, the path I was taking. It all made sense to me then. But after I moved, Elizabeth quickly got herself hitched to some new guy and got pregnant. I found that disheartening, but I didn’t know anything about the guy, and it was none of my business. But a couple emails I got from her in 2008 made it very clear that it was not a fairy tale romance. We corresponded for quite a while, but then one email really alarmed me so I told her outright she needed to get out of this situation. After that her replies started seeming sort of odd to me, and then she just stopped writing altogether.
I didn’t hear from her again until December of 2011. I wanted to just tell her to run away immediately this time, but I didn’t want to scare her off again. So I slowly convinced her to let me come visit her. Then at the last minute she backed out because she decided she had to try and make things work with this man. So I decided with nothing left to lose that I would tell her everything. Even about that last night with Jacob.
I didn’t hear from her. And I didn’t expect to. I just hoped that maybe something I said would resonate with her and she’d find the strength to get out of there. A few months later I got a message late one night from her that said, “I left him. It wasn’t easy. Hardest thing I’ve even done.”
I let out a gasp. I was sobbing. It was like letting out a sigh of relief that was so intense it made me hyperventilate. I was so overwhelmed with emotion…
In that moment there was a lot of relief, but by morning I realized that the hard part was still to come. He tried to sue for custody of the kids (the ones they had together, not Jacob). She was very nervous about having to return to Ohio and face him in court, so I flew to Chicago and drove there with her. I was a little surprised when I saw she brought her younger cousin with us on the trip. I soon realized it was probably her insurance to make sure that we wouldn’t end up sleeping together. If that was the reason, it was a smart move on her part, because it would have been bound to happen even though it wasn’t my intention when I went up there. We always had a tendency of not being able to help ourselves.
That last night in the hotel, after the court hearing, her cousin was taking a shower and we were watching TV. We got closer and closer, and eventually we kissed. I pulled away long enough to tell her that I couldn’t possibly know what she was going through right now, so to please tell me if I need to back off. She admitted that she couldn’t let herself get attached to me again, at least not right now, and I understood. Even though I wanted her so badly in that moment.
I slept in one bed, and Elizabeth and her cousin slept in the other. In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of Elizabeth getting up and walking across the room. She walked over to my bed and pulled up the sheets. She slid under the covers, trying to be quiet, and just laid down near me. Then I reached out and pulled her in close. I held her next to me for the rest of the night.
The funny thing about it is — she’s not even my type. I don’t really know why I’ve loved her for 13 years, but I always have. I would have done anything for her. It was so strange looking through the emails she sent back in 2008 and at the end of 2011, when she was with this man. It was hard to listen to her trying to explain (more to herself than to me) why the two of them were together. It seemed impossible to believe she could really believe the things she was saying.
When we were together on the road trip, after she’d made up her mind to finally break free of him, it was like one of those “moment of clarity” periods they say Alzheimer’s patients get. She seemed mad at herself for ever believing those things. Mad at herself for being so stupid for falling for it. She knew it had all been bullshit, and she was finally ready to admit it. She finally seemed like the woman I’d remembered. And I loved talking to her again. We talked non-stop during that trip.
When we got back to Chicago, she had to drop me straight off at the airport. Her cousin was in the car, and I knew she was trying to keep her distance, so I got my bags out and prepared to cordially give her a hug goodbye. But before I could even look up she had grabbed me by the collar, pulled me in, and kissed me deeply. We sat there with our lips near each other, and held each other close for as long as we could. I whispered to her, “Anytime… I mean it. You say the word, and it doesn’t matter where or when, I’m on the next plane. I promise.”
“Thank you,” she said.
As the months went on, we corresponded regularly. She never allowed for me to come visit because she was already feeling nervous about experiencing “the old feelings” in the short time we saw each other. So for the time being, we kept it to just entertaining each other with correspondence and phone calls, and her keeping me up to date on how the court proceedings and such were going. As we got into summer, it started to sound like things were going in a bad direction.
When I re-read those messages there were obvious signs that she was being played back into his hands. That he was slowly wearing her down. Pretending to be a decent guy just enough to get the situation back to his advantage. Making her feel she had no options. But for some reason I couldn’t fathom the idea that she would ever go back to him. Especially not after I saw her on that road trip. She understood now. She was strong again. There was no way that would happen.
I hadn’t heard from her in a while, so I tried writing. No reply. Then I texted. She replied, “Sorry, I’m in Ohio, and very busy.”
I responded, “Wait, are you back LIVING in Ohio, or are you just there for visitation or court stuff or what?” …No reply.
I waited a week. Then I wrote to her that I was getting a sinking feeling that she was getting back together with this man, and that she wasn’t replying because she did not have the guts to tell me. I told her that if that was the case, I couldn’t speak to her anymore. I made it clear that I wasn’t angry (that came later), but I just couldn’t do it. I told her that if she didn’t reply to me this time then I would assume I was right about this, and that would be that… No reply.
So that was it. Thirteen years later, and she couldn’t even be bothered to say goodbye.
About five months after this, I was visiting my ex-wife, Jackie, in Maryland. We usually get together whenever I’m in town visiting my best friend, which I do pretty regularly. We were having dinner and talking about our lives and such like we do. She’s remarried now, but we’ve always talked openly about our relationship with each other.
At one point in the conversation, Jackie had a moment that caught me off-guard. We were just talking about the old days, and she looked down at the table and said, “I am really sorry about the way I acted back then.”
I was a little taken aback to hear her talk like that. She’s never apologized to me before. Honestly, I often felt that Jackie has always tried to make our relationship seem worse than it was just because I think she thinks I over-romanticize it. I even called her out on that one time when we were at a bar in San Antonio. I told her that when she talks about “back then” she always references the period after we divorced when we started hooking back up and I was being very insecure. Things were not great between us then. I pointed out that for two and a half years prior to that I did a pretty good job of being a boyfriend / “fake-husband” (there’s a whole other story behind that term). It wasn’t that I was upset, I just wanted her to acknowledge it. Because she’s about the only proof I have in my life that I can have a stable relationship with a woman. That I’m not a completely lost cause when it comes to this stuff.
She conceded and agreed that I was very good to her. She’s since been willing to admit that more regularly. But this particular moment, last year, when she apologized was the first time I’d seen her like this. Feeling bad for the way things ultimately ended between us when she left me for another guy (I actually was going up to her front door just as they were walking out to go on a date). This is the first time she’s ever said that she felt she wronged me.
“I was young and stupid, and I feel shitty about the way I handled that,” she said.
I kind of laughed it off, “Hey, I don’t care. Like I’ve said before, I know I was in total insecure mode at that point. I would have left me too.”
“But still, you didn’t deserve that,” she said.
I could see she was upset. So I tried to make her feel better.
“Look, would I say that maybe you could have handled that more tactfully?” I said, with a bit of a smarmy grin, “Yes. I would. But like you said, you were young and stupid. I was your ‘young and stupid’ relationship. Everybody has those relationships where they fuck someone over. You were nineteen when we met. I was four years older. But I was nineteen once too. And the shit I pulled on the girl in my ‘young and stupid’ relationship was way worse than anything you ever did to me. You just got lucky enough to meet me after I’d done my worst… So there it is. You’re sorry. I’m sorry too. So who cares? It’s over now.”
I bring up Jackie because I feel like I needed her in that moment to remind me. I’ve always lived by the adage that it’s never wrong to love someone. But after Elizabeth, it hardly seemed like that rule could be anything but detrimental to my mental well-being. But Jackie reminded me it’s not so bad to think that way. It’s just that they can’t all be victories. Sometimes things fall apart. Sometimes the bad guys do win. But I’m still glad I tried.
Right after things with Elizabeth and I reached their not-so-dramatic conclusion, I stayed pretty alone and drunk for a good while. I stumbled home one night in the summer at about 3:30am, and for some reason I decided to punish myself by looking through old photographs. I was looking at Elizabeth and Jacob at first, then I started stumbling across the ones of Jackie and I when we were young. I suddenly decided to pick up the phone and text Jackie (somehow I am remarkably good at composing legible messages even when blitzed):
“I really do love you. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t met you. I needed you in my life at that time and I can’t thank you enough for being there for me, and being here for me still. I was talking about you to a friend of mine recently and she said, ‘You always hear people spouting that cliché about how they just want the other person to be happy, but I feel like you never hear anyone who actually means it.’ I told her that I feel sorry for those people. Because that means they never really loved anyone.”
Then I tossed the phone onto the floor and fell asleep on my face.
The next morning I woke up to her reply.
“That’s funny. I was just thinking the same thing about you the other day. I was really in rough place back then when you met me, and you really helped me through it. I don’t think I could have done it without you.”
I did really need to remember that it can still be a good thing to put all of yourself into someone. After all the horrible shit Jackie went through after we broke up, she’s come out of it okay in the end. She’s got a new husband that was there for her when I couldn’t be, and has been mature enough to accept the two of us being so close still, even though I know at times it’s hard for him (as it would be for anyone). He’s always treated me with respect, and I only hope he knows how much I respect him.
Elizabeth may still find something better one day. It’s never too late for her to come out of this mess okay. But I know now that she has to do it without me. Still, I don’t ever want to be hopeless. I always want to leave something for tomorrow.
I’m done trying to figure it out as I go. I refuse to hate her. I won’t live my life being just another cynical cunt. I won’t stop being myself. Because if I lose that, I lose everything. I know because I have lost it from time to time, and I never like the results.
Elizabeth told me once that she always just really wanted a family. And if there was one thing that made me love her more than anything when we were together in 2006, it was how amazing a mother she was to Jacob. And I won’t sugar-coat things just to make this piece sound pretty. That bitch could be crazy. Hell, she’s the only woman who’s ever punched me during sex (it’s a long story, but trust me, I understood why). But when she was with Jacob, I was blown away at how great she was with him. She shows that same passion for all her kids, even the step-kids. She’s a nurturer. Maybe to a fault. Unfortunately, it was also those children that were used to keep her trapped in a shit relationship. But I have to believe she can find a way out. Maybe she already has.
She knows what I want from her. I already told her in that letter I wrote her at the end of 2011:
…I guess that’s why we have that “crazy love,” because we’re so alike in that capacity. It would just be nice if we could balance each other out too. I sometimes wish I knew whether my capacity to care about and hold on to people like you from my past is a good thing or a bad thing. I can’t tell if it’s good to hold on to this stuff, or if it’s just foolish. If I’m just setting myself up to get hurt and keep screwing up my life. But it’s always there just the same.
On the last day I was in Chicago with you and Jacob, you were in the other room, and I never had the nerve to ask you if you overheard what he said to me, but I know you might have. He was playing with my little cologne bag again, putting his toy cars inside it. I was watching him and I said, “You really like that thing, huh?” And he said yes. So I said, “I tell you what — why don’t you keep it. It’s a present.” And he got a big grin on his face and said, “A present for me?!?!” I was so amused at how excited he was over this silly, little cologne bag. I just chuckled at him and said, “Yup.” Then he jumped over to me and threw his arms around me in a big hug and shouted, “Thanks, Dad!”
My heart practically jumped out of my chest. I was awestruck by it. I didn’t know what to say. So I reached out and hugged him real tight. Then I softly said the only thing I could think to say, “I love you.”
I didn’t say it out of panic. I just said it because it was the only thing I felt in that moment. I really did love him. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized it. And to this day, I think about that ALL the time. Jacob was such a good kid. I think I loved you so much more when I met Jacob. Because you were such a great mother. You put that kid first, and you did such a good job of nurturing him. And he was such a terrific kid. Seriously. For being that age and going through the divorce, yeah, he had his tantrums but he was smart and lovable and fun and you could just tell through and through that he was such a good kid. And he wouldn’t have been without you. I loved you for that, and it made me love him too.
I don’t care if I never see you again, but please, please be happy. Both of you…
Jacob is gone now. That three-year-old boy I knew doesn’t exist anymore. He’s growing up, and with every passing year I will be less and less of a memory. If he hasn’t forgotten me by now, it won’t be long. But now I have to realize that Elizabeth is gone too. The woman I saw when I was with her is so vastly different than the woman I would see when she was trying to convince herself to stay with that man. It was almost like I was not even talking to the same person. And last year I lost her again. For the last time. No matter what happens now, I cannot ever see her again. I cannot go through what I went through last year. If she calls me, I’m hanging up. If she writes me, I’m burning the letter. There’s no hate in it. It’s all about survival at this point. That’s all. I still want her to be happy more than anything in the world… I just don’t want to hear about it.
I’m not sorry I loved her, but I am sorry I couldn’t help her. I hate to admit it, but I think I did her more harm than good. Every time I came around I seemed to shake her up. I think I wanted to pretend that feeling that intensity for each other would always be a positive thing, but I think all it really did was leave her in a position vulnerable enough so that a particular brand of shit-head could take advantage of it. I’m just glad for those moments when we were able to break through it all. To have those good days when I felt like I was seeing the woman I knew. The woman I loved. Those memories that I will remember until I’m old and gray. I needed her as much as I needed Jackie. Even if that experience ate me alive inside, I know I needed it.
I don’t know how to explain it. But I understand it.
I think Elizabeth may be the only girl I ever successfully asked out. And what I mean by that is that I’ve always met women in social settings, or via mutual friends, but I never just go up to a girl cold and try to flirt with her. I just don’t have it in me. Especially back then in the summer of ‘99. But for some reason I just couldn’t stop looking at her. She had a very exotic look. She was Mexican by heritage, but she almost looked a little Greek. I just walked up to her as she was closing at work and somehow the words came naturally. I was able to make her laugh, and then we got to talking, and then I walked her back to her car. I could tell she thought I was weird (but that wasn’t a very uncommon reaction from girls back then), but I think she ended finding it to be an adorable sort of weird. I asked her out, she said yes, and that was that.
On our first date I took her into Chicago. We both lived in the west suburbs, her in Aurora, me in Naperville. We rode the train into the city and talked the whole way. Everything just seemed to click with us right out the gate. We got dinner at a nice place in Little Italy, and then got lost in some really sketchy looking neighborhood. We ended up laughing about it as we tried to dodge crack-heads and find a cab to get us back to safety.
We finally found a taxi that took us down by Buckingham fountain to walk around. I remember we first kissed in the back of that cab (and then made out like the horny teenagers we were). I bought her a white rose at the fountain (I think I was really into them at the time because I’d just seen Hard-Boiled), and then we strolled down to Lake Michigan. We sat by the shore and could not keep our hands off each other, even though we were still visible to the passers-by. Many of whom occasionally broke our concentration by hooting and hollering at us. It would make us laugh nervously, and cause us to stop for a bit. But then we’d just start right back up as soon as they passed. I’m genuinely surprised we were able to keep from tearing each other’s clothes off right there in public, but we managed to wait until we got home to do that…
I remember sitting there on the shore, with her on my lap. Me running my hands through her hair while we kissed. She pulled away from me suddenly and just stared into my eyes. Initially, I was just wondering what made her stop. Then a moment later she sat there looking at me and said softly:
“Do you think we’ll remember how this night felt when we’re old?”
It was the most memorable thing any woman has ever said to me. I couldn’t even respond. I just looked at her and smiled. Then I pulled her in close and kissed her again…
That was a good day.
Posted by admin | Filed under Blog
Kelsey is seven years old. She is my best friend’s niece. She fascinates me. I’m sure there will be many more Kelsey stories in the years to come, but for this holiday season I wanted to share the few from this year that I’ve had the pleasure to experience myself.
I got to know Kelsey when we were with their family at Assateague Island eating blue crabs. Kelsey sat next to me and started drawing with the crayons the waitress gave her. Then she turned to me and asked, “Are you gonna draw too?”
“Sure,” I said, “Give me some of them crayons.”
Kelsey handed me a few colors and I proceeded to draw child-friendly cartoons on the place mat featuring bunnies and ducks and shit. At some point I looked over to check on Kelsey’s progress and saw her finishing one of several stick-figure-esque portraits she had done. But something caught my eye. On every one of the portraits the man/woman she had drawn had X’s for eyes. This made me a tad curious.
“Say, Kelsey, what exactly are you drawing there?” I asked.
She pointed to the one she was working on, “This girl was shot to death by Mr. Porcupine.” Then she pulled another drawing out of her pile and pointed to it, “He was strangled by Captain Alligator.”
“Cool! They’re really good, Kelsey,” I said. Then I turned to my friend, Dave, her uncle, who was sitting right across from me, “Can I talk to you for a second?” Dave leaned in as I whispered to him, “I think Kelsey is drawing cartoon homicide scenes.”
“Yeah, she does that,” he replied.
So I just rolled with it. Kelsey and I kept drawing. Each in our own way. Then a young girl, about Kelsey’s age, came over from another table in the restaurant. She approached us, and seemed to want to make friends with Kelsey, but being that I was sitting in front I politely said “hi” to her first. The little girl then got shy and scurried off.
I turned to Kelsey, “Oops… I think I scared her off.”
Kelsey patted me on the back assuredly, “Don’t worry. I’ll go talk to her. She just wants to play.”
Then Kelsey got down from her chair and made her way around me. But before she left, she stopped, then turned and put her hand on my arm and said, “Don’t you love how little kids make friends? They can just come right up to anyone and say, ‘Hey, you wanna play?’ And that’s it. It’s that easy.”
I found that startlingly insightful for a seven year old. “Yeah,” I said, “I do love that. That’s amazing. How do you know so much about the circle of life already, Kelsey?”
Kelsey just looked at me and said, “Hey — you’re born, you grow up, you die.” Then she just shrugged and ran off to play with her new friend. Leaving me sitting there, pondering my existence.
The next week was Fourth Of July. Kelsey came over to Dave’s house for the holiday. Dave asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate America’s independence.
“I don’t know,” Kelsey said, “Burn the American flag??”
Dave thought it was pretty hilarious, but I don’t think her parents would have found it amusing. But I think that they are failing to realize how far ahead of her time Kelsey is. Think about it: Burning the American flag is a constitutionally protected right in America. In almost any other country in the world, such acts would carry some form of penalty. But America is so free that even doing something to desecrate it is protected by law. Burning the American flag is, in essence, the ultimate representation of just how free we are as a nation. Kelsey gets that.
…Or she just heard it in a Rage Against The Machine song.
The last time I came to visit Dave, he told me that Kelsey had spontaneously decided she wanted to do a research paper on the sun. Keep in mind, this had nothing to do with school. She just voluntarily decided she wanted to go to the library, research the sun, and write a paper about it.
In usual Kelsey fashion, the paper focused on how the sun will turn into a black hole which will suck Earth in and devour our entire galaxy into a black nothing. But it’s impressive nonetheless the passion for learning she displays at such a young age. Mind you, Dave quickly pointed out that our sun is not going to become a black hole, but rather a red giant, thereby making the crux of Kelsey’s entire thesis complete garbage (he gave her an “F”), but even he was impressed with her enthusiasm (he gave her an “A” for effort).
So maybe Kelsey’s not a genius. Maybe she’s just a morbid weirdo. Maybe she’s both! I figure you can take a look at the illustration that accompanied Kelsey’s research paper and decide for yourself:
Posted by admin | Filed under Blog
I have to admit, I was genuinely moved when people I knew seemed genuinely moved by my writings. A friend of mine once asked me if I ever felt weird about putting my personal shit out there for anyone to read, although he may have been far overestimating how many people actually read anything I write. But the honest answer was yes. Because despite the fact that when I’m in the moment, when I’m putting the words to paper (or computer), I can imagine people I know reading it and it’s actually quite cathartic for me to finally unburden myself. But the second I actually put it out for real I suddenly feel incredibly uncomfortable. Like I’m having one of those dreams where you’re at High School naked. And the truth is I still have never written about the stuff that makes me really uncomfortable. I mean, I know everybody is at least a little fucked up when you get to the core of them, but I also know that if you reveal too much there will be people who will judge you. I know because I have been judged by them. On many occasions. But if I really want to continue down the “artistic” path of existence then I feel I’m best suited for being willing to put myself out there and having confidence that at least a certain selection of people will relate to it. But I also would lament having this stuff come up in a job interview one day. So I guess I’ll just have to be selective about which job I’m applying for from now on.
My youth is not a period of my life I particularly like to reminisce on. Other experiences I’ve talked about may not always be cheery, but they’ve at least helped me grow. Most of those experiences of late adolescence and early twenties just feel like a period of pathetic loserdom. If I’m taking the brighter approach, I could say that it had more to do with feeling lost than with being an unredeemable person, but it’s still not something I like to think about.
I had a habit of disappearing sometimes when I was in a particular state of emotional collapse. In one such episode, I randomly showed up at my friends’ place in Syracuse, New York, having driven there overnight from Chicago on a whim, stealing gas as I went (this was back when you could still do that). I left my job behind with no notice, no word. When I finally returned I found out that there were some detectives that had been inquiring with my mom and stepdad about my whereabouts. They wanted to speak with me regarding a burglary. This was all a surprise to me as I had no knowledge of said burglary, but apparently the victim had been a client at the laserdisc store where I had been employed, and the crime coincided rather coincidentally with my spontaneous disappearance.
I figured the best thing to do would be to promptly agree to be questioned by the detectives and clear the air. I had nothing to hide after all. I was innocent (of that crime anyway). So I showed up to the station and was placed in an interrogation room with two detectives.
I’d thought of writing out the scene here in detail, as I’ve done with prior episodes in my life, but unlike many that I seem to have a fairly firm remembrance of, I can only remember the “feelings” of that encounter. Not the dialogue. And I figure it better to speak of it in broad strokes, because after much contemplation I don’t really see the point of getting into the specifics of what was destroying my psyche at the time. At this point in my life, I don’t think it really helps to talk about that stuff. And what’s more… I don’t want to.
But I remember that when the questioning started it was clear that the detectives were certain they were going to be interrogating the kid they were sure committed the crime. I was their best lead after all. But as they asked me to explain the odd timing of my disappearance right after a client at the store where I worked at was robbed of a large amount of entertainment equipment (all of it bought exclusively at our store), I realized that the only way to really ease their suspicions was to tell them the truth. All of it. Let them here every uncomfortable detail of what was going on in my life, and how I’d reacted to it. They had to know that I wasn’t a petty criminal. I was just a fucked up, confused kid who was caught up in a self-destructive cycle.
And as I poured my heart out to a couple of strangers, their tone slowly changed. You could see it on their faces. They went from seeming accusatory, to genuinely feeling sorry for me. Like they’d realized that they just dragged in a broken, pathetic character into their office only to have him be forced to say out loud exactly what it was that had made him broken and pathetic. Not that my story was so awful in the grand scheme of things, but I think I just managed to run into two cops who happened to be decent human beings.
The burglar had been attacked by the victim’s dog and killed it. And the investigation was able to determine that he’d received some pretty good lacerations on his legs during this struggle. So as if to add insult to injury, they were forced to ask that I end the interview by pulling down my pants. Which I did. Because the only wounds I had were on my arm. Which clearly were self-inflicted.
They thanked me for my time and told me I was free to go. They seemed to feel almost as bad as I did by the end of it.
The feeling as I stepped outside is something I wish I could forget. It was as if I’d finally realized that I’d never been, and never would be, the person I thought I was going to be. It’s a feeling that’s stayed with me ever since. As I stepped outside I pulled out a cigarette. I was barely able to light it, my hands were trembling so much…
CHAPTER 8: “THE CONFESSION”
After my blog entitled “The Posse” I got an email from my closest friend, O’Banion (which is not his real name, but the name I gave him). He was responding to the things I wrote, particularly the parts mentioning the fact that The Posse had facetiously given me an alter-ego by the name of “Marty” who basically represented the moments when my depression and/or slightly insane tendencies would show themselves (much to everyone’s dismay):
Yeah, Marty was a prick. And really, I think we all felt bad for you… not angry at Marty. Sometimes Marty was annoying… but mostly Marty was just depressing… and no one else wanted to be depressed. Depression scared me. And to be honest– I could never grasp it the way I do now. Now… I’ve been through some really fucked up anxiety… shit that I now have to deal with every day. And while Anxiety and Depression are different… the negative effects on life go hand in hand. Living with either thing is a shitty, shitty deal… I get it now completely.
But I never look back at you as if you were some terrible person that I have to “accept” now. The last time I saw Marty I woke up the next day to you shaking my hand and apologizing. It blew me away. It felt like a turning point for you… like Marty was slipping away… and he was. He did. I thought that was amazing… and believe me, I NEVER want to see Marty again. Fuck that guy.
O’Banion recently (and spontaneously) starting getting really bad anxiety and panic attacks about a year or two ago. No real reason for them. They were just hereditary and suddenly hit him. It was a big shock to him (and me) because he is one of those guys who always knew how to let things just roll off his shoulders and not stress out, and then all of a sudden he had this intense shit inside him that was completely out of his control.
When we were talking about it recently one thing he said was that there would be times when it would start to hit him, and it would get worse because he’d “fight it.” Allowing himself to get frustrated or upset that he couldn’t control it. And he soon learned that a big part of conquering it is simply accepting it. Just understanding that it’s out of your control and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. It’s like me and my friend Jessica would often say when talking about growing up with depression, “It never gets better as you get older. You just get better at dealing with it.”
I guess that struck me because I feel like most of the most embarrassing and self-destructive things I did in my early years stemmed from a lack of acceptance. And I think it was harder for me because I was always like this. O’Banion had this thing suddenly hit him, so I’m sure it was easier to separate himself as a person from the feelings he was experiencing. With me, the feelings were always there so I thought that actually was me as a person. I was, I am, every negative thing I felt inside me. To “accept” it would be admitting there was something fundamentally wrong with me as a human being. Slowly over time I started to realize I actually did have to separate myself from those emotions. That “it” wasn’t me. It was just the thing I had to work through so I could find myself. But it’s difficult when it’s all mixed in like that. You find yourself questioning what is real and what isn’t. It’s as if I feel most people, “normal” people, spend their lives convincing themselves that what they feel so deeply and the beliefs they hold so dear are real. I have to spend my life reminding myself that it’s all in my head. On the surface, that may seem like a defeatist attitude, but it’s not about being negative or pessimistic – it’s about surviving. I know myself too well to think any differently.
I figure some of these stories might have the effect of making people feel sympathy for me, but my reaction to those memories is quite different. When I think about that “Eric” I get consumed with anger. Like I would take utter delight in being able to kick the crap out of that fucking coward. I guess that may be one of the reasons that I prefer having friends who can humorously and honestly give me shit rather than friends who coddle me and offer endless speeches about how “it’ll all work out in the end.” It’s not that I believe it won’t, but if I can sum up my philosophy succinctly: I truly believe that if you hang in there, if you stay strong and never give up, if you believe in yourself and you keep on pushing yourself forward, then things will work out in the end… or they won’t.
I’ve had enough experiences in my life that I now know not everyone is destined to win. And there’s not always a rhyme or reason to it. Some people come home safe & sound and move on to live a good life. Some do make it back, but they can’t deal with it and never find what they were looking for. Some people come back broken physically. Or mentally. Or both. Some of them work through it and some don’t. And some never make it back home at all. But you can’t control that shit, so you might as well just keep trying. You just keep trying because that’s the way it is… You accept it.
Our friendship today isn’t a friendship. You’re one of my brothers. When I think about how close we came to breaking up… it scares me. The fact that we’re together today is because of you. You were big enough to accept what happened. You needed time away… and we definitely were out of contact for a while. But we came back together.
It’s funny to hear you say that you count me among your greatest friends because I’ve seen you at your worst and still accept you. Because that’s not how I see it…
When I look at current Eric and old Eric… I guess what I have to say to you is that I have always looked up to you in so many ways. I look up to you today, and I looked up to you back then… Marty and all. Why?
You were and are a great writer. I studied writing and journalism in college… I do freelance writing now, and my job is to write website copy for hotels and travel destinations and resorts all over the world. But I still don’t think I’m very good at it… you and my ex-girlfriend are both people I’ve looked up to in the writing department, and always will.
You do stuff. I mean, you just up and decided to join the Air Force. You moved to NY to follow a girl and try to get into film. You volunteered to go to war. You set out to be a comedian and you did it. I love your stuff because again, you’re a great writer.
This is more of an envy thing than a look-up-to-thing: You’ve traveled. I mean… I’ve been to places… but that fact that you can fly for free means you’ve gotten to go to so many places. You’re a piece of shit for being able to do that. But man it makes me jealous the things you’ve seen and done– and just how interesting your life has been in general. You have good stories.
From the moment I met you, you were a thinker. Sometimes your opinion is horseshit, but I love that we can get into heated debates about the stupidest things. I can’t do that with a lot of people.
You also have a fucking charisma that is annoyingly awesome. People generally enjoy being around you. The 19 year olds go crazy for you. You have a natural way of being able to talk to ANYONE. We can take you to a random party, and bam… you’re the star of the show. In public, I feel way more awkward. I admire how you can interact with people you’ve just met. I know on the inside you’re shy and awkward as well… but you get the job done. Give yourself more credit.
You’re a stand-up dude. Obviously from your reaction to that news about Minnie, to the time you protected Kate to everything else. You protect your friends and you stick up for them. No one fucks with them but you.
You are who you are, and you make no apologies for it. You’re up front… I don’t have to walk on egg shells with you like I do some friends… and worry about offending them. Everything’s out there.
O’Banion and were the kind of friends that just fell in love with each other almost instantly. But I have this strange tendency to solidify my closest relationships through some kind of dramatic episode or conflict that is eventually forgiven. A friend of mine said to me that maybe that was a bad sign, which made me laugh. But I really don’t see it as it being part of my need for conflict as much as it’s the only time when you know for sure if me and the other person truly get each other. If you can both look at each other and say, “Ah, fuck it. All is forgiven,” that’s when you know they’re your people. That’s when you know you’ll get through just about anything together.
For me and O’Banion it was when we both fell in love with the same girl. A girl we’re both still friends with today. She rejected me and chose him. And at first, it seemed like he was working it for himself behind the scenes while pretending to be my “confidant” and getting me to tell him the details of what was going on between us. All the while I had no idea he wanted her too. It was not really like that of course. Shit just gets complicated, and when he was willing to actually sit down face to face with me to tell me that he was now with her, I accepted it.
I obviously couldn’t tell you right away… especially with everything that had happened with your hand prior to all of that. You still had the thing bandaged and you were still wrestling with all of it. After the party at Queens I remember you yelling at me (seriously, yet playfully)… “WHY DID YOU HAVE TO SHATTER MY BALL OF LIES!?”
So I waited a little bit and then told you we needed to talk. I think it was a phone conversation… because I distinctly remember it sounded like you were going to murder me. I’m not going to lie, I was scared out of my mind… so I can at least say, with no narcissism whatsoever that I am really proud of myself for telling you in person. That is the one and only thing I can really feel good about… I manned up. I remember sitting down at the bar and you telling me ___________. You told me this BEFORE I gave you the news. Oh, great… at that point, you might as well have told me, “You know Dave, I like to cut people. I like to cut people up and then lick the body parts.” I would have freaked out no less.
And I STILL TOLD YOU. To your face. I mean… that’s gotta be one of the manliest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s right up there with that time I accidentally scared the shit out of a black dude. You handled it well… and I knew deep down you meant what you said to me about not wanting to lose me as a friend. But I knew I would probably lose you. I hated it. We definitely weren’t friends until after she broke up with me the first time. And then, when she and I had gotten back together – I refused to tell you. I wanted her to man up and do it herself. By that point it didn’t matter. You were over her… finally when I went up to New York to live with her, I emailed you myself. You didn’t seem to care, and by then I knew you didn’t.
What I remember about that episode is sitting in the E.R. in New York City. As everything started to swell up in my mind and my emotions and fear and heartache started to grow and grow uncontrollably, I punched a wall spontaneously as I walked down the street. O’Banion was there when it happened. I broke my hand, and as I was preparing to leave New York back for home with my tail between my legs, I had to go to the E.R. to get it popped back into place and casted.
I remember I had to tell the nurse what happened for the report, so I said that my friend wasn’t looking and accidentally closed a car door on my hand. The nurse came back in with the x-ray a while later and said, “So you say it was a car door that caused this?”
“Yep,” I replied.
She looked at me like a disappointed mother. “Really?? Because we’ve seen this style of fracture many, many times, and oddly it is almost always without fail caused by someone punching a solid surface, such as a wall.”
We both knew I was lying, but I really didn’t want a lecture so I just nodded through tight lips and responded, “That’s interesting.”
Then we just stared each other down for a moment before she finally uttered, “Uh-huh,” and walked out.
The doctor came in a while later. He gave me a little Novocain to dull the pain for when he had to pop the bone into place. He gave me a warning before going through with it. I looked away and grunted as I heard the snap. Then I sat there silent as he casually and methodically held it in position while wrapping it in the wet bandages of the cast to dry.
Halfway through, I turned back to look and watched him as he worked. Then out of nowhere, the words started coming to me. Slowly repeating over and over.
“I need help… I need help… Please… I need help.”
I couldn’t say it out loud. But it kept repeating in my head over and over and over and over. It was so vivid I almost felt like I really was saying it. But my mouth never opened. I couldn’t make myself say it. I just stared at him, even though he never looked up to meet my eyes. I stared right at him the whole time. Thinking it again and again until he’d finished and abruptly left the room.
After I left the hospital I lost my wallet on a city bus. Someone turned it in to the bus station so I was able to get my ID back (because I needed that to get on my flight back home), but they were nice enough to remove the last $300 I had to my name from it before turning it in…
I guess most of my comic sensibility has come from learning to laugh at how ridiculous our most painful moments can be. I saw The Royal Tenenbaums in the theater by myself shortly after that happened. I was still wearing my cast. When it got to the scene where Bill Murray was telling Luke Wilson that he thought Margot (whom Luke Wilson’s character was secretly in love with, and who was Bill Murray’s character’s wife) was having an affair, Luke Wilson reacts by punching through a pane of glass. I started laughing so hard that I think everyone in the theater thought I was psychotic.
I’ve felt like I’ve had to start over quite a lot. When O’Banion mentions me just up and doing stuff, it’s more out of necessity than any truly adventurous spirit. The draining part is that I can’t really remember any time when it hasn’t ended in failure. And they may seem an exaggeration, but I really can’t. Every experience has eventually left me broken, disillusioned, or both. Stand up comedy meant a lot to me because it was the first time I can really remember setting my mind to something and actually pulling it off. I achieved every goal I set for myself in comedy, and I did it rather quickly. Although, I’ve never figured out how to keep that momentum going. But I still think that it was an art form that really helped me get past many of the things that were eating away at me for a long time. And surprisingly, so did writing all this stuff and hearing the amazing feedback from it. Even from strangers. Because I don’t think I would have been able to even go back to those places on my own if comedy hadn’t helped me come out of my shell some.
I do remember your speech at our wedding. Actually, I had forgotten about it. I think that either makes me a really shitty person, or it demonstrates how completely out of my head I was that night. I remember most of that entire week… I remember it because I spent the whole week before my wedding cuddling up with you on the couch, drinking coffee, watching Goldblum.
I’m glad you reminded me about what you said at the reception, because I remember watching you say it at the time and being really surprised and blown away. Lis and I talked about it on our honeymoon. It actually pisses me off that I lost that memory for some reason, because it meant a lot to me. But now I have it again.
I feel closer to you than ever these days… and honestly I don’t tell you this… but just about every single time you leave here to go home, my anxiety gets worse for a few days. When you’re here, it’s family. It means more to me than you’ll ever know, how close you and Lisa are. I see that you want to protect her and make her happy. You love her – and that means more than I can express.
That girl is my entire world man… nothing can happen to her. And you deserve someone that makes you feel the same way. I just hope you can keep in mind some of the things I’ve said here, because I know I don’t really get to say this stuff a lot. I know how down on yourself you can get… but to me, you’ve always been an inspiration in life, in so many different ways.
To be continued…