Sunday, December 28, 2014

And Yet

"Glaciers had crushed this region in the time before history. There'd been a drought for years, and a bronze fog of dust stood over the plains. The soybean crop was dead again, and the failed, wilted cornstalks were laid out on the ground like rows of underthings. Most of the farmers didn't even plant anymore. All the false visions had been erased. It felt like the moment before the Savior comes. And the Savior did come, but we had to wait a long time."
- Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son. (the eerie applicability of this, my book life, to that of my life as a fan - two worlds that don't often intersect - is something I spent a considerable time pondering after I had read this.)

Internally, I buried the last notion of the Michigan Man that there would ever be in East Lansing this Fall. There, in the throes of yet another in-ring pummeling at the hands of the team we had so conceitedly labeled "Little Brother" those naive years ago, I hung my head in my hands in my seat at Spartan Stadium, surrounded in every direction by masses of enemy colors, each one of them basking at eardrum-shattering decibels in the complete and utter collapse of the university most reviled in that town: my Michigan.

It was not so much the loss that stung; no, those had come in doses far too heavy over the last several seasons to elicit such emotion yet, the pain of each successive loss having gradually become more tolerable than the one before it, until what before had been pain finally evolved into a perpetual numbness, and that which now teetered so critically on the brink of apathy -- the place where sports fans' souls went to die. There had been The Unspeakable Game, that perception-shattering loss to open up that revelatory sophomore season of my college years. There had been Ohio State four times over during my years as a student, too, including the two at The Big House -- that last one finding myself pondering the tragedy of that being my last game in the student section long after all the other fans had emptied the stadium -- and then there had been one more in person at the Horse Shoe just for good measure, as if I needed another dose of poison. There had been another four straight at the hands of our supposedly inferior instate rivals over on the Red Cedar. And there had been countless forgotten others that I had embarked upon deliberately trying to purge from my memory with an onslaught of illicit substances and a sailor's worth of liquor. There had been Minnesota only weeks prior, too: the day that Ann Arbor turned angry, resulting in a discomforting mob mentality atmosphere I had theretofore never before felt in Michigan Stadium -- a feeling I never wanted to feel in Michigan Stadium again.

Down 35-11 to the Spartans late, I tried to fight the tears that were welling up in my eyes; they would have eaten me alive in Sparta. All of the false promises had been washed away. All of the gods I had worshiped as a boy had been unmasked, and all of the churches I prayed at during those crucial years demolished into rubble, one disappointing revelation after another: Lloyd Carr was no longer a god, Michigan Stadium was no longer hallowed grounds, Charles Woodson was an old man, and Michigan Football as I had known it as a boy was nothing but a figment of my mind, existing only in that great void known as the past.

But for once these tears were not for me; like most fans mired in an unhealthy relationship with his team, I always felt Michigan's losses were my trials and tribulations, my great suffering, my life's grand injustice. I watched my girlfriend, clad in enemy clothes -- god bless her soul -- look down on me with sympathetic eyes. You'll never know, I so conceitedly thought, as if no other fan in the world could fathom the depths of my fandom; I had a vision of the inevitable argument that would occur in about an hour's time on the drive home on I-96 East when she would tire of my self-imposed silence and utter those cringeworthy words that other girlfriends before her had uttered before: "it's only a game, you know."

I watched a helpless Brady Hoke pace up and down the sidelines of Spartan grounds for the last time, a dead man walking. I felt bad for the guy. He was, after all, just another guy wearing pants like me.

I thought about my future son -- that little guy existing only in the twinkle of my eye, for now, that little miniature version of me who I hope to bring to The Big House for his first football game, just like my Father did with me on a fateful August day in 1995. I thought about how he'd never know the Michigan I knew as a boy, the Michigan I fell in love with. I saw the legends of Michigan lore that I planned to tell him of disintegrating before my eyes, falling away into the great void of things that might have been. He would never truly hear me tell of Charles Woodson's dash down the sideline on a cold November day in Ann Arbor -- one that eerily resembled the same path that Desmond Howard had taken only years prior -- or of Braylon Edwards' historic comeback against these very Spartans, or of how Denard Robinson's shoelaces flopped so beautifully in the wind as he bolted past Notre Dame defenders on his way to the endzone for the first of oh so many memorable times in a Michigan uniform.

A sea of green blossomed in eruption as the game clock ticked inexorably towards zero, and I not for the first time told myself, quite seriously, that I was done with Michigan once and for all. How had a relationship that had begun as a schoolboy crush become so toxic over the years? It seemed my time had come long ago to terminate such a childish dependence on something so out of my own control for my own well being, but that maybe I had drank my way through those developmental years of college and missed a critical junction somewhere along the way in the process.

I left my sports soul for dead in East Lansing that day, under the red sky of a fading Midwestern Autumn's evening. And I buried that idea known as the Michigan Man right there alongside it. If ever things were to change, it would have to be at the expense of absolutely everything Michigan Football used to be.

And yet. I sit here on the cusp of perhaps the biggest Monday in Michigan Football history, the Old Michigan Football suddenly, unexpectedly seeming not dead after all. Things feel strange almost. Like there are spirits in the air. As if perhaps the ghost of Bo has risen from the graveyard where I used to drunkenly roam as a freshman at Mary Markley Dormitory, risen and issued some prophetic creed to put an end to the disastrous landslide the program had been on seemingly since that very day Bo died, on the eve of the biggest Michigan-Ohio State game in perhaps a century, fittingly. It felt like Bo had come back to issue orders to his former Wolverine quarterback, a man made very much in Bo's image, a man who had hitherto seemed uninterested in returning to take Bo's long vacant place but had heard Bo's voice calling him in his sleep.

What do you when something you buried with your own hands arrives on your doorstep a la The Monkey's Paw? I buried the last Michigan Man I would ever believe in right there in Spartan Stadium, October 25, 2014. And now it's risen from those very grounds and arrived at the gates of Schembechler Hall, a zombie walking. Am I to pretend after all these years, nothing has changed? I should know better.

But here I am: Only some odd weeks removed from the last game of the season, feeling the familiar stirrings of that ever so dangerous idea known as hope. So I couldn't give it up, like I said I would -- it wouldn't be the first time I had been through that.

Because with Jim Harbaugh come home, there may indeed be life, yet - after all those dozens of times I had buried it over the years -life, yet, in the Michigan Football of my boyhood.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Last Thoughts on A Closing Year

I look around for the friends that I used to turn to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
- Jackson Browne, "Running on Empty"

In this most fortunate of years, that in which I finally had the opportunity to live in a house with the guys that I grew up with, it has not eluded me that they, too, are growing older. Growing up, the idea that one day we would be the ones holding down nine to five jobs, that we would be the ones driving into the neighborhood on the way home and interrupting a game of street football in progress, that we would be old, would have been unfathomable to us. Yet Millwood's sons are indeed growing up, and with each passing tick of time's heavy hands it seems that another one of us is taking another great leap into the world of adulthood, be it moving in with a significant other, accepting a new job offer, or just plain old cutting back. I keep them close in mind as another year draws to its close, the lake of our childhood ever fading further into that great void known as the past.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014, A Year in Review

"I buried her a thousand times." 
- Jason Isbell, "Elephant"

Before I started to get too sick on Sundays - sick with withdrawal - Sunday's used to be my day of walking. Walks were my way of battling the depression that inevitably followed heavy drinking binges. As I started in on the road to recovery, my walks became fewer and fewer as I gradually discovered, with awe, the novelty of a Sunday unblemished by booze. Now more than a year sober, they have all but faded into the past. 

An unseasonably warm Sunday today, though, stirred my soul with adventure and nostalgia. I grabbed my car keys and hit the road to Ann Arbor, not thinking much of it. 

In the years following my graduation from Michigan, I walked the streets of Ann Arbor endlessly: sometimes brimming with whiskey on those debaucherous, thinly-veiled attempts to recapture college; sometimes sick with depression in the following days, my heart feeling as if it had been torn open and sewed back in haphazardly, in a way that would never again feel mended. But in the course of these jaunts there was always one street I avoided: Greenwood. Greenwood was the street on which my college girlfriend lived for two years, the place where I slept every single night of my senior year. I couldn't ever bring myself to face it.

When I arrived at my old college house this evening, I paused to look up at the third floor window that I used to inhabit, incredulously thinking about the years that have already passed since that magical time. It was with surprise that I found myself thinking that I wanted to make that walk from my college house to her house on Greenwood one more time. Out of sheer habit I tried to wash my mind of the idea, as in the past my survival instincts would usually kick in at this point and tell me this was a foolish idea; in retrospect it is a testament to my well-being then that for a long time seeing that house would have crippled me. It felt like something I had to do, though: to bury her one final time. 

I walked underneath the tennis shoes strung up on the telephone wires that run along Greenwood Street, feeling like an old man. Inside the windows of those houses were college students who I could no longer identify with, each one of them unaware of the significance of simply walking down that street for the 26 year-old alumni who was walking by on the sidewalk. I paused in front of her house to tie my shoe, as if to double-check - I was supposed to be feeling something. But there was nothing - only the strange realization that a place that once was an integral part of my daily life had been scraped clean of its significance by the sands of time. I walked out of sight of Greenwood's lone streetlight, into the darkness at the end of the street.

It was only while driving home, the cornfields of those few farms in between Ann Arbor and Canton still untouched by modernity's hand passing by, that I realized maybe I wasn't drawn to Ann Arbor to bury her one last time. This time, I had went to finally bury my old self. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Nights are Getting Longer

- Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son

Life's felt a lot like that lately. Like some opium-induced dream. Feels like the type of weather you might sneak out in late at night to sell your soul to the devil at a delta crossroads.