Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring



Sometimes what we perceive as periods ending sentences and even chapters to our lives are not periods at all but merely commas. As Spring breaks, it feels as though I'm not only shutting the door on this brutal winter but on a heavy chapter to my life. The green horizon knows no bounds. All that is left to do is to walk, into the wild. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Leaving Home: Volume II



When I first left home for Ann Arbor during the autumn of '06, it felt like a biological imperative. I was young. Eighteen years old and stubborn. Wild and rebellious. In my eyes then my parents were not people with stories like the rest of us - their own flaws and daily dramas - but authoritarians I was at a crossroads with. The troublemaker of the family, I was ever getting grounded, banned from sleepovers, and given stern warnings after increasingly erratic behavior. I came home drunk not infrequently, the cops called home one night after they caught me and a couple other high school guys toking it up in the Levagood parking lot, and I had acquired somewhat of a bad boy reputation amongst the uptight Bible-thumping moms of my Catholic school community. Yet I maintained a stellar academic resume and was very active in sports and extracurricular activities - baffling those Bible-thumpers when I, for all intents and purposes, out-achieved their own flawless teens - which perplexed my parents enough that they couldn't keep me in trouble for very long.

I had one foot out the door of Westland as soon as that letter from the University of Michigan came in the mail. From my perspective my Catholic school community and the town I lived in was a dead-end lot, a perpetual prison of monotony and tedium for Simple-Simons and those who let life pass them by during the nine-to-five day. I wanted no part of their lifestyles or their low-ceiling ambitions, convinced I would surpass them all. I clung to my Dylan and Springsteen records pretentiously, convinced by their lyrics that I had to get out of Dodge lest I be sucked into its clutches before it was too late.

From the vantage of retrospect, I can see now what I was: a naive, somewhat arrogant, and rather sheltered product of suburbia in desperate need of sowing my wild oats. I hadn't the vaguest notion of the world I was living in, what it could do with you, the pain it could inflict.

I returned home a five and a half years later a shell of the man I was when I first left home. Like a Vietnam veteran who departs America a baby-faced kid and returns nine months later grizzled by war with scars that penetrate much deeper than skin, I had returned home with my tail between my legs, jaded and broken by Life out there in the world. Returning home, I thought that if I could just stay awhile in the house of my childhood memories that some of the brokenness inside me would heal.

I had never intended to return home, nor did I particularly want to, but in the end it was the biological imperative that leaving home for the first time those years ago was. The past two years at home proved critical to emotional healing and taking stock of my life. I rebuilt my life from the ruins of trauma and lay the stepping stones of my sobriety upon my childhood home's sturdy foundation. Without home, I don't know if I would have survived. About a month prior to making the ultimate decision to desert my apartment in Ann Arbor and return home I had driven across the state to Lake Michigan with a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of pills thinking about swallowing everything and jumping into the frigid waters - it was the lowest point of my life.

Two years and some odd months later, I'm leaving home again. My childhood buddies and I are moving into a nice little house in Garden City a few miles down the road. While living at home has long tormented me - the thought of my college roommates making their way in various cityscapes across the country while I remain in the limbo of living with my parents is psychologically demoralizing at times - leaving home this time feels much different than it did at eighteen. It was with skepticism and reluctance that I finally made the decision to leave home, knowing that it jeopardizes my sobriety and puts me at risk of falling back into my old habits; certainly there was no pressing necessity of soul to move out as their was post-high school. In fact I had grown quite comfortable living back at home, a prospect that ultimately influenced my decision to leave because I know how terrifying a thought that is to the eighteen year old version of me. Leaving home this time feels less like a mitzfah than something that simply that had come to pass.

I leave home this time wiser, more cautious, experienced in pain and life and love, nearly - gasp - a half year of sobriety under my belt. Responsibility is in my vocabulary now, even at the forefront, and settling down is what I am seeking rather than fleeing this time around. I have two jobs and bills to pay, which is okay in my book, and don't think it's in my wherewithal to storm right out of a job because I was better than it, as I did the month before leaving for college. Perhaps most tellingly, Dylan and Springsteen's middle-aged albums resonate with me more so than their debut albums nowadays, Born to Run seeming a distant chapter in my life. I'll still eat frozen pizzas on a regular basis, but I might mix in some vegetable dinners in there too.

If nothing else it's a new chapter, a chance to begin a new on a fresh canvas. And that's what I've been seeking for a long time now. I have no preconceptions that the road will be without heartache as I pack my suitcase this time around, but I know there are new memories to make out there in the world, too. So here's to blank pages.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visions of Belleville Lake

I often return to this passage for one reason or another. Like Seger's "Night Moves," its imagery has the power to take me back to a different time and place. The time is aught five, that Spring of my Junior year in high school. The place is Belleville Lake. I was young, full of life and night. Some nights I just wasn't ready to go home. Unleashed with a brand new driver's license, I drove the back roads of my hometown aimlessly looking for something I couldn't explain.

I used to drive out to her house alongside Belleville Lake, parking along the ditch at the end of her winding driveway. I killed the headlights and waited. Once her parents had drifted off to the great campground behind the moon she would climb out her bedroom window, suddenly appearing at the passenger side door in her pajama sweats with that innocent smile and beckoning red hair. She would kiss me and we would think we were in love the way you do at that age, then we would drive out and park alongside the lake where the yellow moon spilled onto the cat tails and the placid water.

The windows fogged up, she cuddled into my arms and we promised each other we'd be together forever; it was the kind of promise that could only come from the hearts of the very young. Naive as we were, we believed it all. For a moment the world went silent. And the seaweeds rise and fall at night in Belleville Lake.

"Ginny Cupper took me in her car out to the spread fields of Indiana. Parking near the edge of woods and walking out into the sunny rows of corn, waving seeds to a yellow horizon. She wore a white blouse and a gray patch of sweat under her arms and the shadow of her nipples was gray. We were rich. So rich we could never die. Ginny laughed and laughed, white saliva on her teeth lighting up the deep red of her mouth, fed the finest food in the world. Ginny was afraid of nothing. She was young and old. Her brown arms swinging in wild optimism, beautiful in all their parts. She danced on the long hood of her crimson Cadillac, and watching her, I thought that God must be female. She leaped into my arms and knocked me to the ground and screamed into my mouth. Heads pressed into the hot Indiana soil and pinned me in a cross. A crow cawed into the wide sun. Ginny had driven her long Cadillac through the guard rails of a St. Louis bridge and her car shone like a clot of blood in the mud and murk of the Mississippi. We were all there in the summer silence of Suffolk, Virginia, when the copper casket was gently placed in the cool marble vault. I smoked a cigarette and crushed it out on the black and white squares of the tomb. In the stagnant emptiness of the train station after the cars were gone, I walked into the women's toilet and saw the phallic obscenities on the wooden doors and gray walls. Ginny had gardenias in her lovely brown hair. I hear the train. The world's silent. Crops have stopped growing. Now they grow again."

J.P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

One Hundred and Twenty Days

In a room
By myself
Looks like I'm here with a guy I judge worse than anyone else.

So I pace
and I pray
And I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day.

- Jason Isbell

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The College Town Revisited

There are places I remember
Though some have changed

All these places have their moments
Of lovers and friends I still can recall






Sweet Ann Arbor. How you've shaped my life. 

This week, which annually must be one of the most forgettable chunks of time on the calendar nationwide, found me back in Ann Arbor. My aunt and uncle, both University of Michigan employees, are paying for me to house-sit at their place on the outskirts of Ann Arbor this week, though unbeknownst to them I probably would've done it for free because of what this city means to me.

I took a stroll through the old stomping grounds this evening. Through the diag and under the collegial ivory towers where I sat through poetry discussions and environmental science seminars. Down South University past the pubs looking like warm respites from the winter air, the very pubs that we went to when we were looking to celebrate, looking to get lucky, looking to forget a loss, looking to pass the time for lack of an alternative, or looking for nothing in particular at all. Into the student housing district, where select houses remind me of particular faces, particularly memorable parties, particular bedrooms of girlfriends I used to know.

As I took tally on the years that had passed since I called Ann Arbor home, something profoundly scary occurred to me: nearly four years have passed since I graduated in Michigan Stadium that spring of aught ten. In even more frightening terms, that means that I would be a senior preparing to graduate had I started all over again after graduation. Yikes. 

But I've finally come to peace with that fact. In the four years since graduating, I had a much more difficult time letting go of Ann Arbor and college than most of the people I graduated with did. When I went to law school the Fall after graduating, I was more stuck on the loss of old friends than I was intent on making any new ones. I took the eastbound Amtrak train from Chicago to Ann Arbor on a monthly basis, to visit the girlfriend, to see a football game, to go pretend I was still in college with old roommates who were in fact still in college. Rather than embracing Chicago, I spent a lot of time living in the past, living in the Ann Arbor of yesteryear.

When I moved back to Ann Arbor the following Fall, the monthly attempts to recreate college became an everyday way of life. Devastated by heartbreak, I hung out with a lot of kids who were still in college and took on the drinking habits of a college student accordingly. Try as I might, rekindling college never quite materialized. In retrospect, it was kind of pathetic. While my old roommates from college had all taken the next step, I was drinking cheap vodka with college students, hanging out at college parties, and hitting on sorority girls who were in high school during my own college years. The third post-college year was perhaps the worst of them all; I would often drive to Ann Arbor, physically and mentally decimated from another bout with the booze, just to walk around and wallow in my own self-pity and a serious case of unhealthy nostalgia.

Over the past year I've largely avoided Ann Arbor entirely. I guess it's the same as an ex-girlfriend: in order to get over it you need a clean break. I had to rebuild my life without the prospect of Ann Arbor.

For the first twenty-two years of my life Ann Arbor was the driving force behind my entire existence. The only real goal I had ever had in life was to get into the University of Michigan and earn a degree from the institution from which my beloved sports teams hailed. They say that recently retired professional athletes often have incredibly difficult times adjusting to life after sports, their dreams having been realized and suddenly distant memories. It was much the same way for me. After graduating from Michigan, what was there to do? I didn't have any discernible goals after that. My life's dream had been accomplished. As a result, my life seemed utterly directionless.

As I walked around Ann Arbor tonight, though, it wasn't the past that haunted me. Rather, it was the present and future that primarily occupied my mind. Those college years will always hold a special spot in my heart of memories. But tonight, for the first time, that's all they were: memories. Ann Arbor and the collegiate years I associate with it have finally become a part of my past, and nothing more. 



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Snowbound Blues




Dusk falls Friday night as another batch of snow pours from the starwealthy heavens. My dog tugs at the blanket I have buried myself away under for another sedentary weekend. Reluctantly, I emerge from my state of deep couch hibernation and toss him his drool-soaked tennis ball. He smiles a dog's smile. I wonder if he remembers yesterday at all; I wish I knew half as little as my dog.

Four deer prance through the backyard as midnight envelopes the Millwood woods in darkness. I wonder what majestic snowscapes they have seen today. I want to follow them in my wanderlust, wander off to the woods of my youth and disappear for a while. But I'm stuck inside, pining for a country road.

I bury myself in my books: Johnny Cash swallows pills by the mouthful and Jon Krakauer sits at the base of Everest camp, the peak of his dreams and one life-shattering event awaiting him up the mountain. Amphetamines and Everest sure make for a strange literary cocktail for the mind.

Sunday morning dawns bright and colorless. I rub the sand from my eyes and gaze out the window, half-expecting winter's doldrums to have melted away. But of course the trees are draped in white for as far as the eye can see, the frozen black branches drooping with icicles. From deep in the woods I make out the faint cry of the C&O train; I wonder if that old train conductor feels lonely wherever he is going. I turn on the news: another actor found dead with a needle in his arm.

And in my mind I've gone to Carolina.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

100


"--and then you're in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, that for so long gave you relief from the pain of the Losses your love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smily-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here, it's the Face in The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your worst nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror, now, it's you, the Substance has devoured or replaced and become you, and the puke-, drool- and Substance-crusted T-shirt you've both worn for weeks now gets torn off and you stand there looking and in the root-white chest where your heart (given away to It) should be beating, in its exposed chest's center and centerless eyes is just a lightless hole, more teeth, and a beckoning taloned hand dangling something irrestistible, and now you see you've been had, screwed royal, stripped and fucked and tossed to the side like some stuffed toy to lie for all time in the posture you land in. You see now that It's your enemy and your worst personal nightmare and the trouble It's gotten you into is undeniable and you still can't stop. Doing the Substance now is like attending Black Mass but you still can't stop, even though the Substance no longer gets you high. You are, as they say, Finished. You cannot get drunk and you cannot get sober; you cannot get high and you cannot get straight. You are behind bars; you are in a cage and can see only bars in every direction. You are in the kind of a hell of a mess that either ends lives or turns them around."


- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest