Chris McCandliss knew how to run, maybe a little too well. He starved to death in an abandoned bus in the vast wilderness of Alaska. After giving his entire life savings to charity, burning his remaining cash and identification, and ditching his car in a desert ravine; he disappeared. That’s one way to run.
McCandliss’s story was told by Jon Krakauer in a book called Into the Wild. Krakauer also wrote Into Thin Air, which chronicles the failed 1996 Mount Everest expedition that resulted in the death of 6 climbers. I know, more death, but please bear with me as I hope to salvage an auspicious metaphor. I’m no mountain climber, but Into Thin Air describes a phenomenon that occurs when climbing at high altitudes that can become fatal to even the most experienced climbers. The lack of oxygen, in combination with extreme cold and a possible depletion in morale, can cause one to become complacent on the mountain. You take pause to catch your breath and absorb the beauty of your surroundings. In doing so, you become stuck in this comfortable place of rest and grandeur. There is no panic in this place, just a needed break from the struggles of your climb. Everything in your body tells you to relax, you’re okay, this is fine; but there is a distant voice, a voice that can be easily disregarded, that says, “You gotta get up and keep moving. You may die here.”
Complacency won’t kill you, but aspects of it can deprive you of oxygen – distort your reality and judgement and make you just want to stay. It’s the waiting place, kid, and you can get stuck there – waiting for the weekend, waiting for your vacation, waiting for the holidays, inevitably waiting for the holidays to end so you can return to work and pray that the weekend comes soon.
I guess that’s what inspired me to run. I needed more oxygen. I needed to live a bit more. The ironic thing is that when I actually executed the running (I spent a lot of time just talking about it), the Paypal exchange to acquire my work visa, the purchasing of the plane ticket, even the actual boarding of the plane, I was right in the mist of the best and happiest time of my life. Not to cry in my beer, but I’ve been through a bit of shit, as you’ll soon see if I haven’t bored you yet. I’ve had plenty of things to run from, but this was different. I wasn’t running from something, I was running to something and the difference is as tangible as day and night.
I lost my mom and my sister to a car accident when I was 17. I’m aware that many have experienced loss, but the sudden theft of, inarguably the best mom ever, at such a critical age, will re-wire a kid. I could go on and on about it, but to summarize, I’m still a 17-year-old trapped in the body of a 40-year-old, with the hairline of an 85-year-old. It’s pretty pathetic.
The most dangerous part about personal tragedy, assuming your survive it, is that you’re awarded a lifetime excuse to fail – A permanent and always reliable crutch to lean upon when times are good or bad, happy or sad. I’ll give you an example. Have you ever watched the show Intervention? It’s the one hour reality show on A & E that chronicles the daily struggles of addicts, and the determined attempts of their families to get them straight. As far as reality TV goes, it’s actually one of the better programs and every episode goes something like this….
“Hi, I’m Zach, Z-A-C H.” (cut to footage of Zach guzzling airplane bottles of vodka, getting violently tossed out of bars, stumbling head first into shrubs, and passing out in the neighbors front lawn with one shoe missing).
(Cut to Zach’s mother), “Zach was a great kid. Until…” (Enter crutch stage left)
This “until,” the crutch, whether it be as ostensibly un-tragic as a family divorce or as disturbing as childhood incest, is always the turning point in the show. Once this crutch has been established, you better buckle up, ‘cause it’s going to be a bumpy ride; and my crutch was a beauty, the flashiest crutch in town. I had such an awesome crutch that strangers even discussed it in morbid admiration. So, I leaned.
I leaned on my crutch for 7 or 8 years sideways. Not even the birth of my son could inspire me to walk straight. It wasn’t until a completely chance encounter with my best friends girlfriend on Christmas Night, back in the late 90’s, that made me reconsider my bent posture. Her name was Anne. We were right in the middle of the typical holiday party small talk when I asked her how her Christmas Eve had been. I expected the trivial, “Oh, it was nice,” but that’s not what I got all. She said, “It was interesting, we went to go visit Jeff’s Dad in jail.” And while I listened to her describe the events of the previous night, my life changed.
Jeff and I had been neighbors when we were kids. We were friends then, but he was a year older than me, so we really didn’t become partners in crime until our high school years. Jeff is great looking guy, an athlete; things came really easy for him, as they did for me. He was never one to discuss his Dad, so the gossip I had heard was unreliable at best. What I had heard was that Rusty was in and out of prison his whole life, mostly for drugs, nothing violent, but he never played any sort of role in Jeff’s life. Dana, Jeff’s mom, is a saint and, coincidentally, was friends with my Mom in high school. I’m not sure how she met Gary the step dad, but he was Canadian, which is all that us small-town kids needed to dislike him, despite his anger issues and alcoholism. Gary was frequently drunk and shouting, while Jeff’s mom worked. It wasn’t ideal.
On the other hand, I had a picture perfect childhood for 17 years. My parents never fought. They made dinner together and did everything as a team. They went out with their friends on weekends and came home laughing, hard. I’m pretty sure my dad was shattered every time he drove our babysitters home. They were in love. They even listened to James Taylor and Paul Simon while cleaning house on Saturday mornings. There is a fine line between being cool parents and being lame parents, and they toed it, always to the side of the former.
Jeff didn’t have that. In fact most kids don’t have that. Jeff had a not so nice step dad that drank a lot. He had an absentee father in prison and a mother that, albeit, loved him very much, worked a whole lot. Given all of these excuses to fail, Jeff never leaned upon anything but his wits, his charm and his determination. He was the first one of us to get a real jobby job out of college, which we all found to be absolutely hilarious. Nearly every night, upon leaving the bar empty handed, someone would say, “Let’s prank call Josh. He has to put on a tie and go to ‘the office’ in the morning. Ha ha ha ha! Cheers!”
What I realized in that conversation with Anne on Christmas Eve was that everyone can manufacture a crutch to lean upon – everyone has an excuse to fail. Jeff had his, but he consciously chose to overcome it and succeed. It was a Christmas Miracle. Don’t get me wrong, I still had my share of rowdy times, but I finally let go and made up my mind to start living rather than waiting to die – not merely waiting, but teasing death as a matador does an angry bull. I’ve been gored, but not fatally. I’m lucky.
Becoming an Adult
Although I was now walking upright, I still carried a lot of excess baggage. I was inspired to give therapy a shot about 6 years ago as a result of one of my “You don’t know what you don’t know” fuck-ups. What I learned from my therapist, god bless you Judy, is that it’s really hard to change who you are – likely impossible. However, it is possible to learn things about your behavior so that you can manage yourself better, thus minimizing the collateral damage of your actions.
While in therapy, I was maintaining a very unsuccessful wellness clinic in Clayton called InsideOut Wellness. I’m a chiropractor. I had all the right ideas, true health radiates from the InsideOut, your outer beauty is a reflection of your inner health, holistically shed the physical by-products of stress and aging, really progressive shit, but what I didn’t have was a single brain cell or the corresponding neurology that’s necessary to manage a staff and drive a business. On payday, all the girls in the office would walk out with their check and I’d head to Felix’s with a wallet full of empties and a head full of stress. Most assume self-employment to be glamorous, but it’s anything but. You never clock out – you wake up thinking about your business and you go to bed thinking about your business. You even dream about it, frequently in the form of nightmares. It’s miserable.
I eventually traded in the Wellness Clinic for a weight loss company that specialized in a very specific diet plan. When I acquired the company, we had 14 franchises and I was over-seeing all of them, until I wasn’t. It was a struggle, but I faked it, nearly breaked it, but ultimately kinda maked it.
Why NOT Move to LA?
I started making some pretty good scratch and I had nothing better to do, so I decided to move LA. My dad and I set off on the three day road trip right after Christmas, 2012, and what a road trip it was. On night one, in the smelly city of Amarillo, which sounds way more appealing than the country songs imply, my dad dropped his brand new iPhone into the toilet. Unfortunately for me, just that very day, I regretfully taught him how to verbally dictate his text messages so that his amateur fingers wouldn’t have to do so much fumbling. By the way, poking fun at the technological handicaps of parents is comedic gold. It’s like putting a monkey in a business suit – it’s always funny.
I’ve never been awaken from sleep by a smell until I spent a night in Amarillo. And since my dad does more waiting than sleeping, we were at the continental breakfast by dawn. It wasn’t more than mile outside of town when he asked to borrow my phone so that he could text my step mom. This is when it became dreadfully apparent that, for the remainder of our trip, I’d be forced to listen to every deliberate and phonetically correct syllable that would be exchanged between the two of them. “HI CON. MAY-KING GOOD TIME. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOUR THEE EVE-EN-ING?” Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it. I’m not sure if it was his playful fascination with new technology or his pride and sense of adventure in joining me, or maybe just his beautifully naïve attempt at contemporary flirtation, but it was refreshing… for about an hour.
One thing for sure, my dad wasn’t bullshitting about the good time. We were hustling. We made it to the Grand Canyon on day two with enough daylight to snap a selfie, look around, debate how long it’s required to stay ( I recommend 15 minutes in the cold of winter, 30 minutes in ideal temperatures) and hop back in the car. Don’t be fooled by the desert, it’s fucking cold.
It was dark by the time we pulled back into Williams where we planned on getting dinner and a hotel. I made some calls over beers at a local bar, but there were no vacancies, nor stables to speak of, so, in the spirit of making good time, we shuffled on to Kingman, an hour and a half away.
We checked into the first hotel off the interstate and found ourselves sitting at the bar in an empty steak house. While I was chatting up the semi-hot bartender, I noticed her staring at my dad like he had horns growing out of his head, so I looked to my left to find him in the middle of what appeared to be some kind of seizure. This is funny in hindsight, but for the second time in my life, I was certain that my dad was going to die in my arms.
One thing about chiropractors, we don’t know shit about emergency medicine. I was in absolute panic mode and hysterically squealing “CALL 911! CALL 911!” By the time we got him off the bar stool and prone, the EMTs had arrived, as the hospital was literally and thankfully right across the street. With the rapid presence of the EMTs and his feet elevated above his head, he was beginning to show signs of life and regain his capacities. So much so that I could relax a bit and redeem myself with the semi-hot bartender by spitting some flashy, yet entirely amateur medical talk about the physiology of fainting. Chiropractors tend to do that. We’re constantly reminding everyone that we’re “doctors.” After an exhausting night in the ER, we were released with a diagnosis of a vaso-vagal fainting spell, complicated by elevation, dehydration and some beers. My dad still bitches about the hospital bill, although I was quite pleased with the results.
The Litigation Situation
The remainder of the trip was less eventful and my stay in Cali was brief. I was forced to move home because the evil woman I bought my company from decided she wanted it back, not the whole company, just the revenue, so she stole my website. What do you mean she “stole your website?” Well, that’s complicated. I still had all the content to my website but it had been reduced to a billboard on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. What she stole was my Google ranking and it’s as simple as a couple of mouse clicks if there is access to your domain account, which I naively and foolishly never changed after acquiring the company. You don’t know what you don’t know.
At the time, I was doing over a grand per day in sales. There are damages here – unjust enrichement is what I think my lawyers called it. I should be compensated. So I hired a pretty swanky firm with offices that overlooked the ballpark in downtown St. Louis. The litigation that followed was brutal. Even lawyers will tell you that the only winners in litigation are… the lawyers. The judge that was assigned to my case had the befitting reputation of being extremely lazy, which my lawyers informed me could be “good or bad.” I’ve since heard that all civil court judges are a bit lazy and why wouldn’t they be? There are no liberties on the line, just a bunch of assholes fighting over money. I wouldn’t give a shit either. I think the Honorable Judge Jamison’s exact words that closed the door on my injunction hearing were, “I don’t know enough about this, so it’s going to have to go to a jury.” Which, by the way, was the exact strategy of Evil Linda’s defense attorneys – throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Or, in this case, what confuses Judge Jamison. That’s the Honorable Michael T. Jamison of District 10 in St. Louis County, and since this is my blog and he’s a public figure, he’s lazy.
Washing Dishes in WashMo
Needless to say, I limped away from the litigation completely broke. With all of my income stolen, I couldn’t afford to continue it, nor did I want to. I was now 37, which coincidentally was the aggregate sum of all my wealth at the time – in cents, not dollars. It was a rough couple of years. I isolated myself from all of my friends because I was embarrassed of my pathetic-ness. They were all successful with families and here I was renting a house in my hometown of WashMo, picking up bar-tending shifts where I could, that sometimes awarded me the unique pleasure of serving drinks and food to classmates I graduated with 20 years ago.
“Zach, what are you doing back in town?”
“Oh, you know, just needed a change. Would you like catchup for your fries or another shot of ranch dressing?”
It was humbling. I don’t mind bartending, I’ve done it all my life, in fact. My parents own a bar in a cozy little touristy town on the Missouri River about an hour and half outside of St. Louis. It’s a hot spot for bachelorette parties and ladies that like to get dressed up and drink wine, so I’d periodically pick up shifts to get out of the city and do what I do best, chat up drunk girls. And besides, if I wasn’t on one side, I’d be on the other, so might as well make some money. I enjoyed it because I chose to do it. There is a big difference between choice and necessity. When choice is removed, it’s not the same.
I could make an amateur writer mistake and say something eloquent about rising from the ashes or rebirth, but there was nothing eloquent or poetic about the two years following my litigation. I really struggled and sacrificed. The easy thing would have been to get a job in a chiropractic office with a guaranteed paycheck, but, as strange as this sounds, I’m motivated by laziness. I work really hard at not working. My mind never stops, which I’ve learned is the by-product of creativity and I nearly lost my it trying to get back on my feet with the business I have now. I had zero budget, which meant I had to learn all sorts of things that chiropractors shouldn’t – SEO, SEM, CRM, abbreviations that are an integral part of the monotonous vocabulary of a successful businessman. If you have to abbreviate language, you’re not fully living. Language is beautiful. Why do you want to dumb it down to mere communication? It should be appreciated like art.
One thing I’ve learned, is that in retrospect, things are never as bad as they seem. In fact, when you feel you’re at rock bottom, as I did when it was apparent that I’d never get my company or my income back, there is only one way to go – and that is up. The end of the lucrative, but piece of shit company that would have sedated me for likely all of my remaining years, was actually and factually the beginning of a whole new life. Many hidden, but life-changing doors opened when the obvious ones had closed. I discovered that I’m a writer. I have a voice. We all have a voice, so do you. Everyone can live and experience, writing is merely taking the time to articulate it. Granted, that’s the hardest part, but that’s all writing is… articulating the obvious.
The best way for me to describe this is by asking you to think of your favorite stand-up comedian. I have the utmost respect for comedians – not only do they write their jokes, but they perform them in front of an audience as well. I’ve seen lots of stand-ups, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, Dave Atell, the late, but eternally great Mitch Headberg, and it never ceases to amaze me that a single person can entertain a full audience of people with nothing but a microphone and some witty dialogue. It’s truly amazing.
Now that you have your favorite comedian picked out, think about the jokes or stories that you laugh out loud at – are they not things that you relate to so well that it inspires you to laugh and say, “that’s so true.” This is what I mean by articulating the obvious. That’s what good writers do. And comedians have the brilliance to perform it.
I certainly don’t put myself in the category of Good Writer, but I’m trying and I’m enjoying the process. Had I not gone broke, I’d have never discovered it.
Not only did my rebuilding years in WashMo introduce me to my new passion and purpose in life, but it also opened the door to some healing. I couldn’t afford to date and I foolishly became a recluse to my friends (they would not have cared that I was broke), so that left only family, specifically my niece – the love of my life. From the very first moment I took Caraline into my arms, the anger I harbored since the accident two decades ago melted away. I was given back the unconditional love that was so violently stolen from me. Unbeknownst to her, Caraline restored in me what I lifetime of therapy could not – some peace.
The house I rented, but didn’t pay for, thanks to the understanding, benevolence and generosity of my Landlord Dave, was conveniently located right next door to my sister and her family – It was literally 15 yards from my back door. I believe there is always some manufacturing involved in fate and destiny, but sometimes the universe does all of the work and the universe put me right next door to Caraline for a reason. It was meant to be. My spring and summer alarm clock was Caraline’s dainty little voice calling up through my bedroom window,
“Sack, Sack! Sack! Saaack!”
“Uh, watcha doin?”
“Nothing, my love. I’ll be right down.”
I nearly forget to mention that I raised a son. Well, I was a weekend dad, his mom did most of the diaper changing and disciplining, which was little – the discipline, not the changing. That being said, I was a pretty good weekend dad and being a weekend dad, while it has its advantages, is also a lot of work. Not so much work, but planning. It’s not like I could take the kid to Felix’s and pass the time at the bar, although he ate a lot of their pizza and wings over the years. Fortunately, for us both, I was located on, or around Forest Park for most of his childhood, which gave us a lot of options. We’d hop on our bikes, peddle a dozen times or so and cruise down Tamm, past turtle park and from there it was a free-for-all. Forest park is a nice change of pace for a kid that spent his week amidst the fenced in back yards and mailbox castles of O’fallon. I mention the mailbox castles (the purely suburban practice of encapsulating your normal, letter sized mail box into a massive structure of brick and mortar, which I assume to have originated when a suburban dad, determined to get his “money’s worth” out of the bricks that remained after covering only the anterior ((street view)) side of his 4 bedroom – 3 bath house, leaving the other three walls adorned with cheap vinyl siding, another aesthetic illusion that families buy into when exchanging their entirely satisfying city life for a two-hour commute and .5 acres of grass that requires weekly babysitting throughout the most brutally hot months of the St. Louis summer), because my son had an intimate encounter with one of them following his 16th birthday. Come to think of it, his dad has some experience with body damage caused by a mailbox. Have you seen my funky knuckle?
I feel bad for not discussing Isaac sooner, but maybe that’s a reflection of his quiet, but confident demeanor. I’m not exaggerating, the kid has never asked me for a single thing his entire life. No, “can I have this” or “can I have that” has ever spilled from his mouth. He’s that cool and content. In that regard, Caraline is his antithesis. When she says jump, which is often, Uncle Sack says how hi. But Isaac is a man of few words, unlike his dad. Although like his dad, he’s a listener and a reader. When Isaac was 15, I gave him a copy of one of my all time favs, City of Thieves, by David Beniof. I handed him the book and said, “I think you’re at an age now where you can appreciate this.” Five hours later, while I was in the middle of March Madness binge, he dropped the 350 page book onto the coffee table like a rapper drops the mic at the feet of a sucker MC and says to me, “Yeah, it was pretty good.” Wha WHAT??? What 15 year old absolutely devours a pretty intense piece of literature (literature, not an Emily Giffin beach read), in one sitting? My boy does, that’s who!
And he doesn’t even study literature or anything whatsoever that’s related to language. He’s finishing his sophomore year at Missouri School of Science and Technology and majoring in civil engineering. He’s doing great by the way. He’s in a fraternity and living the college dream. Funny, I don’t feel that far removed from the lifestyle he’s currently living. I love hearing his stories and he loves sharing them with his hipster dad. He thinks I’m a hipster, but he’s not embarrased. Needless to say, I’m a very proud father. His mom did a great job. So did his step dad. I call Mike Super Step. He’s made me look bad at times, but I certainly wouldn’t trade it for the alternative.
So how do you run? I’m getting to that. I used to play the stock market, years ago, back in the late 90s when you could throw a dart at a tech stock and it would run from $18 to $90 in single day. I got a bit of a settlement following our accident, about $300k in 1995. By ‘98 I had run it to $1.2 million. I thought I was Warren Fucking Buffet. Fuck, Warrant Buffet’s conservative ass wasn’t getting glen close the returns I was getting in the 90s. It was insane. I was adding real cash to my account daily by trading the spreads on puts. I was buying covered and uncovered calls, maxing out my margin account, and partaking in all the associated extra-curriculars of the Wall Street lifestyle, all from my back yard pool at 4874 N. Four-Mile Rd.
I was bullet proof. I was the smartest guy in the room, and my broker, also my best friend, was my Gordon Ghecko. That’s the funny thing about your 20s, you don’t see consequence. You drink like there’s no tomorrow, you spend your money like there’s no tomorrow, you date like there’s no tomorrow and for some lucky dipshits, the day of reckoning ain’t tomorrow, or ever. I wasn’t that lucky. My consequences were as extreme and rambunctious as the behavior that preceded to them. My dad finally quit bailing me out of jail. He’d come see me in the drunk tank, but he’d shake his head and leave in disappointment, kind of like when he’d ground me to my room for a week long stretch when I was an adolescent. The only difference being, jail didn’t have tennis balls to juggle, a basketball to spin on my finger, a guitar to play and most certainly a mother to re-assure me that my dad loved me and he was only doing this so that I would grow up to become a good husband and father like him someday. My dad is my benchmark in that regard. He was the best husband to my mom and the best dad ever until he was lobbed a curve ball, except it wasn’t a curveball and it wasn’t lobbed. It was high heat, the kind that makes you consider retirement. But what can you do. You dust yourself off and take your base.
The day trading was a white knuckle roller coaster ride, and I’m grateful for the experience, but when the money ran out, I didn’t miss it. That’s the truth. Money dumbs you down. The cleverest pick up line I had in those days was, “Can I buy you and your girlfriend a shot?” Money is a crutch and every time I’ve lost it, I’ve bounced back smarter, stronger and extraordinarily more alive than I was when I had it. The point I want to make here is that when you’re playing the market, there comes a point when panic isn’t a strong enough word. I’ve never agreed with the phrase, “your back’s against the wall,” because when your back is against the wall, you only have one option – that makes it easy. The particular moment I’m speaking of is when you actually begin to manufacture options and choices and rationale that may or may not exist. It’s in this moment when you need to resist all that is logical, all that is instinctual and all that is easy. This is when true wealth is made. This is when you run.
But I didn’t run then. I didn’t run because it was the logical and easy thing to do. Nor did I run after I ran my wellness clinic into the ground. That would have been logical and easy also. I didn’t run after my litigation, which again would have been the easy thing to do – Go somewhere and start over. Following the news that I was going to be a 20yr old father would have been a great time to run, but I didn’t run. Actually I did run then which at the time was quite cowardly, but in hindsight, it proved to be a lifesaver, but that’s another blog.
I Met a Girl
But I stayed… again. Following all of this shit, I stayed. So why run now? I’m a published author and my book helps a lot of people. I’m working on a second book that will be better than the first and a novel. My website is generating 8 times the revenue it was just a year prior. I have a beautiful niece and nephew to entertain me. Oh, and right on cue, a pretty special person/persons made an unexpected, but timely appearance in my life. One minute you’re surfing Tinder, playfully conversing in cheesy Lionel Ritchie lyrics, the next, you’re meeting her children. That’s about how it went, but a little quicker. Say what you will about Tinder, but Jen and I had a really wonderful courtship and all of it is securely documented in the pocket sized treasure chest of Jen’s iPhone 5 – every joke, every selfie, every sweet nothing. There is a certain freedom you have when getting to know someone over digital media. You don’t have to filter as much, and if she doesn’t get your jokes, you just move on to the next. Jen liked my jokes and I liked most of hers. Sometimes over beers, we’ll scroll through our old flirtatious banter and giggle at the hilarity of it all. Thanks Tinder.
I’ve dated plenty of single moms with A kid, but never a divorcee with three of them. Jen certainly wasn’t my “type” in the structural permanence of her life, but things serendipitously evolved and eventually, somewhat reluctantly, she invited me into her world. We decided a bowling alley would be a proper setting for the ron de vu, so I cleverly brought my special needs cousin Josh and his teenage brother Daniel with me. Let’s just say that Josh, albeit unintentionally, and without exception, is always the center of attention. I could have been standing on my head juggling fire and her kids would never have noticed. Their only interest was Josh’s unique bowling style and that his shorts rarely cover the crack of his ass. They were fascinated with him, like I knew they would be, and that’s how you meet your potential partner’s kids – subtle and discreet. Don’t make the obvious mistake of manufacturing a grand entrance. You will with 100% certainty fail. There may be back peddling, but there’s no going back.
Fortunately for me, I like kids. Correction, I like good kids. Let’s be real, to paraphrase Azeez Ansari, some kids are just shitty. Shitty kids are typically a product of their shitty parents, but you can’t just toss out a net and say, “I love kids.” If your date says “I love kids,” it’s a good sign that he/she has little experience with them, good, shitty or in between.
It’s difficult to describe the instantaneous comradery I had with Jen. In the simplest terms, sometimes you just click. There’s a book called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and it’s all about how your gut reactions are generally right, especially in regard to the people you meet, but it’s time and sentimentality that cloud the minds ability to judge. Usually this maifests itself by allowing yourself to get involved with a person you know you shouldn’t, but over time your instincts are over-ruled by sentimentality that is cultivated by said individual. That’s kind of what I did with Jen, but in reverse. I knew she was right for me from the moment I met her, but I let rationality dissuade me. I was like The Beastie Boy, circa 1991, “calling all ya’ll, this is sabatage.” So like always, I did my worst and I tried to screw it up, but one thing I didn’t do this time was lie. I told the truth and when you tell the truth, mistakes become part of your past. When you lie, they become your future. Jen’s not one to take any bullshit, but she’s kind, she’s patient and she’s always seen the good in me. She’s just a really good person. And might I add, beyond all of the sentimentality, she’s really talented. Way more than she gives herself credit. Don’t just settle for someone that loves you. Find someone that impresses you. I’m lucky.
But Jen’s not alone. She’s a package deal, so I was forced to fall in love with her kids too, which was effortless. However, I didn’t fall in love with them collectively as “her kids,” I fell in love with each of them individually. Her oldest boy for obvious reasons – he’s an athlete, tons of personality, things just come really easy for him. In short, he reminds me of myself when I was twelve. Her middle boy, for far less obvious reasons. I’ve often said that curiosity is one of the most under-appreciated attributes one can have, and it’s embedded in Joe’s bones like sand in concrete. The kid can fix anything. In fact, when he was born, he came out wearing a tool belt. It’s a good thing for Jen and I both that she had him Cesarean. And her youngest, beautiful Brooke, there’s just nothing NOT to love about her. She shares a lot of attributes with her mother, and that’s one of them.
One thing I admire about Jen is that she’s never once apologized or made excuses for her kids. Not when they’re screaming at each other in the back seat of the car, not when Jack interrupts one of our dates because he misplaced his sport glasses, not when I’m dizzy to the point of nausea from dancing circles around the kitchen with Brooke. These are her kids and this is their home. It’s up to me to do the adapting.
Losing a mom is really hard – losing one like mine, even more so. To make another sports analogy, it’s like an athlete trying to perform without a fan base. It’s hard to keep fighting with nobody in your corner and I’d lost my biggest fan. But with Jen, I don’t need analogies or even words to explain this – through the relationships she has with her kids, particularly her oldest, she understands me and what I’ve lost more than anyone else on this earth. I can’t describe how much that means to me. I finally have someone to validate me and what I’ve been through. Someone who understands.
It would be nice to say that I prefer our weekends with the kids over our weekends alone, but that wouldn’t be 100% true. But what I can say with 100% certainty is that I absolutely love the kid weekends, primarily because I get to be one of them. I post up at her kitchen bar, I’m served beers with the top popped, I click channels and share Youtube videos with Jack, I dance and reluctantly play Twister with Brooke, I shake my head in fantastic amazement/bewilderment at Joe’s curious projects, I pick up where things left off for me in 1992 – at home.
So why did I choose to run now, with everything going so well? I don’t know, maybe that’s why. I know that fear of the unknown was a factor – fear that the rug is going to be pulled out from under me again. I know that the pressure of “getting it right this time” was a factor. I know that my sudden happiness after two years of rebuilding wasn’t inspiring much writing. I know that I was offered are really good opportunity here in Indonesia.
I’m sorry that people miss me. I’m sorry that I’m missing out on a really wonderful age for both my niece and nephew. I’m sorry that Jen is so frustrated with me right now and at a complete loss on how to move forward, either with or without me. I’m sorry for a lot of things, but I have no regrets. Writing is the process, it’s not the product. It’s the listening. It’s the learning and experiencing. It’s the living. Sometimes it’s hard to do that when you’re standing still. Sometimes you have to run.