Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day four hundred and eighty three ... Never the same, only similar.

I'm planning quite a delightful trip.

Not to be too secretive, but I need to keep the details of it under wraps for a little while longer. I have some plans left to make, but I'm expecting that the whole undertaking may very well be the greatest vacation I have ever been on ...

... that is, since 1985.

In 1985 I took what would be the last vacation of the first phase of my growth as a person. It was the last time I'd go away for an extended time before my adolescence kicked in to overdrive and my "cool" gene took over. Shortly following that--upon entering the hallowed halls of Bishop Connolly High School as a sophomore, getting destroyed by my first love, and discovering the joys of drugs and alcohol--I would start to think that spending time with one's mom was the last thing in the world anyone would ever want to do.

But I remember feeling not at all like I ever did after that trip.

I don't recall all of the details. I know I was fifteen--a freshman no longer--and the world's biggest U2 fan. Their live, four song EP, "Wide Awake in America" had just come out and Bono was sporting a black fedora-like hat in some of the inside cover photos. I wanted one. I wanted his voice too. And I'd sing the impossibly difficult chorus to the song "Bad" at the top of my lungs when I was alone at home, often, much to the assumed chagrin of my next door neighbors.

I remember that Live Aid hadn't happened yet. I remember that because I remember watching it at my cousin's house in Bremerton, Washington, on July, 13 at 5:30 in the morning (the U.S. portion starting in Philly at 8:30 e.s.t.). It was amazing. I'm pretty sure I was up that early anyway due to the time zone difference but U2 was on at some point--that much I knew--and I would have done anything to see them play regardless of when I had to start watching. They were there, somewhere, and I couldn't afford to miss a casual glimpse by the camera of one of them backstage. I was a bit anxious, as they said back in the day.

I remember that west coast portion of my trip quite vividly, partly because my mom would end up having to rent and drive an unfamiliar car (strange, what variables provide aging memories sustenance). From 1977 to the late 1980's she had owned a beautiful, light green Volvo 240 that played an integral role in my childhood. It had an analog clock which I can still hear ticking away, second by audible second, as I sat on the tan leather seats--voluntarily, adamantly, and expectant--while she did her shopping at various farm stands, grocery stores, or clothing stores like Hit or Miss or Fashion Bug. Anyway, we had flown across country and then rented a car--a Buik Skylark, I believe--to travel down the coast to Arizona to go to the Grand Canyon, among other places of intense interest. 

I remember hearing Phil Collins' voice on the radio, singing "You Can't Hurry Love" and liking it. I remember that changing shortly thereafter. 

I remember seeing my first lesbian couple. It was an indoor tourist stop, somewhere near Yosemite. It was an older couple, both slender and with short hair. The exhibit was dark inside--perhaps a diorama of a wilderness scene with lots of dark blue light. Then I saw the two women holding hands. Gasping, I turned quickly to my mom, who was standing close by, as usual, and opened my mouth to speak. I remember her squeezing my arm and giving me the "we'll talk about this in the car" look. She had always been a progressive person and this would prove to be no different as we discussed the idea of two women forming a romantic relationship. "Anyone who has the capacity to love another responsibly, should," is what she told me. "But just because you don't see it where you live doesn't make it wrong." I may have been fifteen, but in Fall River in the 1980's we had no lesbians--certainly not any who would publicly display it.

I remember going to an emerald mine with her, excitedly sifting through for gems. We found a few and I'm sure I'll come across the box of them in my excavation of the old house. 

We explored the national parks. We explored the caverns. We went to gift shop after gift shop where I would beg her to buy me a fedora. She finally relented and bought me a black, felt fedora for somewhere in the vicinity of $40. I remember I wrote my name in the little card that said, "Like hell this is your hat" and stuck it in the inside band in case someone tried to steal it. I remember thinking that the brim was too wide--it didn't look just like Bono's--and so I trimmed it with a pair of scissors--badly--essentially ruining the hat I had begged for and finally gotten. But then again, I had a hard time just liking almost anything like it was as an early adolescent; I had to always screw with it. My hat, my guitar, my bike, my appearance (once even cutting--yes, cutting--my eyelashes off, in an attempt to look more like John Lennon). I just couldn't enjoy it for what it was.

And my mother always talked of that trip fondly. Of how it was the last time she got to spend time with me before she lost the "child" she knew. Not that she held it against me; it was just a natural part of anyone's growth--to run, screaming, from the comforting grasp of one's maker and teacher. She would reminisce about how it was an important time of healing for her. Her mother--my grandmother--had died five years before, and she hadn't taken a full inventory of her emotional situation until she had put some miles between her and the place of her birth and growth and spent time with me. She had put on hold the time of grieving, so as to concentrate fully on the raising of her one and only, her special boy. And she remembered seeing me expanding in inches and in insight as one does after running through the field of pre-pubescence. Because once the playful veil of childhood falls away and one can see clearly the amusement park of sensations and emotions that lie ahead, it is almost always never the same again. 

And in saying that, I realize that nothing is ever the same again. Each moment in time may be remembered, but once it is past we can only move on and add it to our collected and ever growing treasure chest of memories. 

I used to think in terms like, "Oh, it's not the same without my mom around ... " And this is and was the truth. But even the occasions when she was alive were always different. It was never the same, only similar. We can make the same turkey for Thanksgiving but each year the hand that lifts the fork that cuts the first slice has undergone 365 days worth of life. There are a few more wrinkles and a few more accomplishments; a few cuts, scrapes, and nails grown full and cut bit by bit, and a few hard lessons hopefully learned.

And as long as I have her memory in my heart I can enjoy the uncountable moments in my life in a similar fashion. She may not be here, but I can realize my life with her as a giant part of it. And the experiences I go through now, without her, are never the same, only similar. My birthday next week will be the second since she has gone. It will be the first since my aunt passed on. And this year will be different than the last two, and the last two will be different from the thirty six that came before it. This is the way I live now, and it is, I hope, the way I am someday remembered.

The vacation I am planning now, with the woman I love, will be it's own special and landmark event. I hope for it to be an amazing and unforgettable time in my life. And because it hasn't happened yet, of course, it cannot be remembered; it can only be anticipated. 

And this feeling of anticipation--when the clock ticks back from a place in the visible future--is unique. It is in a category all its own. Because it is something that will never grow old, no matter how many years we put in its way. 

That said, here's to the future ... may it be good to us all.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day four hundred and seventy six ... Me, myself and I

It wasn't as hard to say then as it is now to remember.

"I can't quit for you, Mom. I have to quit for me."

My mother was going in for surgery--surgery we thought would save her--and she told me how proud she was of me for all my accomplishments in almost every field of my life. She meant it, and I knew it. My mother was generous with her praise, but that didn't diminish the worth of even one word of it.

She said she was as proud of me as any mother could hope to be. How I was kind, loving, funny, hardworking, responsible (to a degree), and trustworthy. But she said that the one thing she wished the most for--the thing she knew even I wanted for myself someday--was to see me as a sober man. Because she hadn't seen me like that since I started becoming a man in my teens, and then abruptly stopped.

On the surface it may seem unforgivably selfish. It may seem like a total copout. It may seem horrifically repugnant, worthy of a severe thrashing or worse, but it was the truth.

I knew it, and my mother, in all her grace, understanding and infinite wisdom knew it too.

This part of the story would seem tragic, even reprehensible, had it not turned out the way it did. But as I sit here at my laptop writing--a mere six days away from sixteen months of alcohol abstinence--I know that it couldn't have happened any other way.

I know, in whatever symbolic or spiritual way, that she can see me when she chooses. And when she does, I believe that she sometimes cries mammoth waves of salt water tears in joyful observance of her boy ... her son, becoming a full and total person and not just a bloated, friendly, class clown with some talent left anonymously on his doorstep.

But when I said I couldn't do it for her I wasn't just buying some time. Regardless of how much I abused myself that year and the next, as I look back on it now, that was the first powerful piece of insight added to my cache of mental weapons--emotional and logical tools eventually put to use fighting what was slowly and systematically killing me.

I knew that if I were to fight this enemy on its own terms I wasn't going to do it overnight. I wasn't going to just up and say, "from this point till the end of time I promise to never drink again. Game over!" No. Of course not. Because I didn't get myself into this situation overnight. I did it over years and years of precious and irreplaceable life. I took my time.

It is said that when you walk into the forest--however far and deep--and you decide you want to go home, it will take you at least as long to get back out as it did to get where you stopped. That understood, I knew that--if done properly--it was going to take the rest of my life to succeed. It was, if you will, a prospect of acquiring power over an ever increasing reign. The more I gained, the longer I lived, or so it would seem.

And this is where I break paths with AA. Because I relinquish nothing. I turn my will over to no one. I refuse to submit. Instead, I become the power. Every sober breath I draw and release brings me closer to triumph over my invited captor. In doing this I defeat him with his most debilitating weapon: disinterest. Because a vice unchecked doesn't always come back to get you in your sleep; sometimes it just gets bored and leaves for good. And as I complete this process I do not consider what I have attained a "recovery" of even one molecule of healed tissue or emotional strength. Because it was always inside me. It never left me. It was not taken like a new bicycle by the bully down the street. It was not lifted from my back pocket like a ghetto thief. It was simply, voluntarily covered with rags--fetid, torn, frayed and soaked with my own degenerative pestilence--but covered and protected nonetheless. And when I decided, voluntarily, that it was time to pull the layers back and dust off what I had put away so many years ago, it was right where I left it.

I couldn't do it for her. I couldn't do it for my band. I couldn't do it for the courts, even.

I had to do it for me.

Because if I did it for anyone else but me, and the fates took them from this world first, then who would I have to hold me accountable? I can't tell you the number of people who pleaded with me to clean up. It all sounded like the same old noise--a garbage disposal, perhaps, activated with a piece of errant silverware stuck inside: unpleasant, severe, and annoyingly familiar.

I have a friend who was concerned with temptations recently because his daughter was away on a trip. He was worried that her absence (among other things) would allow him a dalliance with the enemy. I didn't say anything because it wasn't my place. But, just to expand on that idea for a moment, I feel that to remain sober is to become completely and bullheadedly selfish. And taken out of context that may sound disconcerting. But I firmly believe that in the context of staying sober I am the only person who matters in my world. That's it. Me. Just me. And nobody is going to be able to save me if I want to jump overboard. They may try to throw a life preserver but I have to grasp it with my own two hands. I have to want to live before I can save myself.

I don't have any children. I don't have a hectic job where people rely on me 40 hours a week. I don't have insurmountable debt that keeps accruing interest. I do, however, have a woman in my life whom I love more than I ever thought possible. But even she can't save me if I want to drown. She is an inspiration for me to continue on as I have, for a year and four months, but when I step back and ask myself why I am sober--or better yet, why I am not still a capricious and hopeless drunk anymore--I can only come to the conclusion that in December of 2008--even before the shit really hit the fan--I finally came to believe in myself. Today I actually can't wait to see what happens in my life every time I walk out the door. I stay up way too late most nights because more often than not, my dreams can't even come close to being as amazing as real life. The guy who was using my identity for the last 20 years would rather just pull up the covers and hope the phone stops ringing.

Dependency sometimes is like a cut you haven't seen bleeding yet. You may feel something odd or foreign; a friend might see you first and say, "Hey, dude! You're bleeding!", and you still might not feel it. You might even think they are kidding. But until you either see it for yourself--be it in the mirror, or in front of your face--you don't really feel it.

And then it hurts like hell.

And that's why I couldn't do it for my own mother. That's why I couldn't do it for my friends. That's why I certainly couldn't do it for the courts.

I didn't really believe I was injured until I saw the cut for myself.

It's been a while since I've seen my own blood. Here's to hoping it stays that way.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day four hundred and seventy ... Words to live by.

"You're going to miss me when I'm gone."

This was a phrase uttered by my dear late mother on many occasions. It was usually preceded by a moan and an exaggerated eye roll by me following an innocuous reminder of a banal impending task.

"Don't forget you have to call _____ about _____ in the morning."

"Yes ma ... "

"You know, you're going to miss me when I'm gone."

"Maaaaa!!!", I'd say, in a three note lilt like a vocal speed bump about a half note on either side of  the whiniest tone known to man.

I said it, and said it like that, because of a couple of things: I very well may have forgotten to call _____ in the morning and I knew she was right; and, I didn't want to actually give much credence to the fact that it was true that I'd miss this great woman when she left this world--my world and hers--someday in the unknown future.

And now she's gone, and of course I miss her like crazy.

There's a distinct feeling that I haven't experienced in a while: volatile, random embarrassment.

My aunt, Lynda, was able to produce this emotion in me now and again. My mom was good at it too. It's the kind of thing that even your best friend can't summon. I guess it's partly because your best friend knows you as well they do from the things you have either told them, or experienced with them. Your best friend did not know you when you couldn't be held responsible for your bathroom behavior. Your best friend never had to feed you with a spoon and bottle (although some people may be able to refute this, depends on what you're into, I guess). And your best friend probably doesn't know how many times it took for you to learn how to read, write, spell, and remember. 

But your immediate family knows all of this.

And just like I cringe every once in a while when somebody regales me with a story of my inebriated activities that I thought were long gone from anybody's memory banks (and were hardly ever even in my own), you can never be too sure who's going to be around when it happens.


Was that a reference to how I used to like to eat my peas balanced on a butter knife?

Did she just tell the guy at the Jiffy Lube how I play in a band that just came back from Europe?

Did I just get goosed?????

Yes. All of these things have happened in real life, at the hand of my mom, in public, on random occasions in which I suffered no immediate nor any long term consequences.

But at the time, it was almost as bad as if I locked myself out of my house completely naked, just in time to catch the attention of the local news team passing by.

And even that scenario I just mentioned doesn't have the deep impaling precision of a well placed embarrassing moment at the hands of a close family member.

I see it all the time these days. People get that look of pale horror when they and their parents meet public spaces that have routines designed for intensive interaction in close quarters with strangers.

A great example would be, waiting at the "Please Let Te Hostess Seat You" sign in any restaurant in the world. You just stand there with your hands clasped behind your back quickly scanning the room for acquaintances, co-workers, or, better yet, prospective love interests. You may be rocking from side to side, or rolling up on the balls of your feet. The hostess comes over, and, if it's a pretty woman, you may start to sweat, because if your mom is like my mom she's never going to miss a chance to try and introduce you to a complete stranger--someone she thinks you'll get along with famously. 

But before she does it--and you know exactly what's coming and there's absolutely no way to stop it short of pulling the fire alarm (whose edges you've already run your hand alongside)--before she calls you by name and asks you something she already knows in an attempt to get said pretty hostess's attention, you will inadvertently feel either the hand of your mother swiftly tucking the renegade tag at the top back of your shirt back in where it belongs, or a large ball of lint or two will get plucked off an arm or collar, sending shivers of anxiety and self-consciousness through your already agitated nervous system.

"Alex here just came back from a tour of Europe ... "


"Wow!" says the hostess. "That's great! Welcome back."

"Um ... thanks *cough*, I play in a group of senior citizens and they sing rock songs and they made a movie and we get to travel a lot."

And I scoot into the booth and grab for the water glass in an attempt to calm myself down, inadvertently knocking my knife off the table and getting a cramp trying to retrieve it myself.

And these are the kind of things that I miss from my aunt and mom being gone. Because nobody else in the world has the gall to up and promote me to a complete stranger as if I were going for a job at the school board where she was well regarded.

And she knew she could get away with it. She earned that right. And I'll be willing to bet that her mother did the same to her to a lesser extent. Pride runs deep, and small talk looms large when families travel these temporary plains. 

And I realized, albeit a bit too late, that my mom wasn't trying to embarrass me. Regardless of how much she teased me that I deserved whatever emotional distress her vocal reminiscences of my past might invoke--no matter how far back in my natural and very much dependent development--she was just doing what families do. 

She was extending to the world the evidence that I was a part of her, and she absolutely knew me better than anyone outside of the fold.

I, of course, made whatever concessions I had to at the end of both her and her sister's life over the last few years. I stopped being so embarrassed that the beam of attention was being shown on me to random people in restaurants and at car garages. I learned to simply smile and enjoy the gift of their lives, extended. I learned to gracefully soak in the pride that came from their souls. 

The smallest detail became fundamentally essential for survival. Every motion, every gesture, every utterance and every facial movement was engulfed by me so I could remember them always. 

I see it every so often when I'm out: the high school graduate out for a celebratory dinner with the folks. I see the look of mild shock and annoyance when the mother smoothes his hair with the palm of her hand, like she has probably done since the first day he was born. I see the tiny piece of lint pulled of an otherwise spotlessly black jacket with an air of meticulous ferocity. I see the halfhearted attempt to swat away the hand that determinedly tucks an errant label back inside a shirt collar. 

And I watch as the mother tells her child--her young man--under her breath, "You're going to miss me when I'm gone," and he curtly dismisses her, dramatically rolling his shoulders back as the pretty waitress with the innocent wide smile approaches to place a basket of rolls on the table.

It's so hard to take those words with anything other than a grain of salt when said by a person who is so full of life she could very well still be supplying her full grown child with the essential nutrients and protection for survival.

And she knows that her words will take on a different meaning someday.

Because, for her, at one point in her life or another, they most likely already have.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Day four hundred and sixty four ... Ride all day.

It's been said so many times before: this life is like a roller coaster.

And while this is true much of the time--how the long, slow, clunky ascent can suddenly lead to a rapid free-fall, whipping you around from side to side, bumping in to your seat-mate, and generally testing the mettle of ones constitution before coming to a startling and oftentimes unwelcome halt--to me it seems as if life's a bit more like the actual park itself: thrilling rides, games, clowns, sharks, risks, shifty operators, and long, laborious lines.

The amusement park is better than most places imaginable as a child. It's better than the beach. It's better than ice cream. It's better than a ride in the country. It's better, even, than toys. 

If you're lucky you'll get to enjoy a pass for the day to ride all the rides for one price, as many times as you want before the park closes. There are just a few rules: don't tease the operator, keep your hands inside the ride at all times, and don't spoil it for everyone else by making a mess that the grounds crew will have to clean up, essentially shutting down the ride for a while and denying access to those who have been patiently waiting in line to get on.

But this analogy can stretch further. The way I see it, the first time we spin around in a circle, or roll down a grassy hill, or do a somersault a few times in a row and stand up--the first time we do any of these things we get a buzz. We don't know the word for it yet but it feels good. And as we pick ourselves up off of the ground, and our eyes finally focus again ... when we look back at Mom or Dad or Aunt Janice standing there smiling at us we think to ourselves, "Man ... I bet I feel way better than they do right now."

And it's as good a bet as any.

And when you get taken to the amusement park you get your hand stamped (at least we did at Lincoln Park when I was a kid). And that means you get to run around to every single ride and stand in line with all the other kids with their hands stamped. You get to be part of the crew that know how to have a good time. 

There was always one exception: the Super Slide was an extra ticket. It was always the last ride of the day. I could usually see my mom's car from the crest of the ride and lamentably knew that it was exactly where I was going to be adjourning to upon gravity's somewhat controlled demonstration of power. The rush was worth it, no matter how much extra it cost.

But every ride up until the Super Slide was a thrill unto itself. Until I was old enough to go to the park alone my folks or my friend's folks would take me. And they'd be waiting, like clockwork, on a bench next to a giant clown shaped trash can, smiling and welcoming me back to the real world after each go-round. It was always the same as I'd come off the exit ramp holding my stomach, saying loudly into the air, "I want to go again! I want to go again! Please, please, please, can I go again?"

But, of course, you had to get up and get out before you could go again. You couldn't just give the operator another ticket; that's against the rules. Even rides that defy the laws of gravity have rules. 

So you stand there in line again. You can judge how many kids are going to get let in, and you can guess with a certain amount of accuracy if you will to go soon. Meanwhile, you memorize the seat you want in advance, because you are sure that one goes the fastest, or that end car is the one that gives you the biggest belly-rush when it goes down the hill. You want the best ride that you can get. Logic becomes extinct. You don't care about the kid who died last week; he was probably doing something stupid. You're way smarter than that. Stupid closed ride! Why couldn't that have happened next week?

And as you're waiting for your turn, you see the sorry-ass losers who can't keep it together wiping puke from the sides of their mouth. Everybody is staring and pointing at them as they proceed head down towards the colored planks that lead to the exit gate. The kids are pissed because due to a lack of moderation they now have to wait until that brat's mess is cleaned up and the ride is reopened for business.


And you hope that you can get in and get the seat you want. You hope you don't have to sit in the pukey seat that's got sawdust shavings still circling in the wind around it.

And all day long your parents or guardians traipse along a few paces behind you as you run from ride to ride and wait in line--they may have brought a newspaper or Robert Ludlum novel to read under the tree on the bench next to the lion shaped trash can. And you scream and holler and wave to them from the top of the Ferris wheel or the roller coaster. Your hair becomes a matted mess from the g-force and the wind. Your clothes become rumpled and your eyes water from the dust and the grease in the air. You check your pockets impulsively and obsessively to make sure the change you brought hasn't ended up under the ramp's colored planks. 

Meanwhile, the most important currency is a smudged mark on the back of your hand. 

But you get on and you get off and it's pretty good--not as awesome as the first one, but still pretty impressive.

And your guardians occasionally look at you and say, "I remember when I was your age. We had simpler rides back then, but we had just as much fun." And you just sip your soda and close your jaded little eyes, thinking how much it must've sucked to be them as a kid. 

And you run off again. Meanwhile, they've got their eye on you, showing up slowly and quietly just in the nick of time to fork over the buck or two you need to get you something you hadn't planned on. Perhaps they wish they had people like themselves when they were an excitable spendthrift, too.

And when you eventually leave--reluctantly being dragged away by the hand by the people who graciously spent their day keeping an eye on you amongst the hundreds or thousands of other people there--a little sick to your stomach and dizzy, all you can think about is when is the next time you can go.

You plan and you plan and you plan for the next time. But you know better than to ask about it on the way back from the park too often. Even a spoiled brat has limits.

You can't even think of ever getting tired of the place. You can't see yourself even close to being anything like the people who brought you there--they have no idea how much fun this is--and you go home and go about your life, bragging how many times you got to ride The Comet Coaster to your friends. And everyone has stories about how many times they did it. Amidst it all you suddenly quell your excited tone to mention into the inquisitive air what facts you know about the kid who died on the ride you really wanted to go on, and why because of him the ride is closed for a few weeks, and how you can't wait to get old enough so you can drive yourself, because then, you swear, you'll go every freaking day.

And, of course, you don't.

Somewhere in the back of your head you remember how you felt before you were old enough to ride the big-kid rides. How you stood on your tip toes and feigned being tall as the sign required. How you walked away dejected and ashamed past all the kids that were older or just tall for their age. What a load of bull that was. 

I realize this post is a bit lengthy, and I applaud all of you who have made it this far. But you see, all these ideas put forth in my dissertation on the amusement park in some way relate to the way I've lived a good portion of my life.

I've stood in line countless times to get my hand stamped only to have to wait in line again for a drink or twenty. 

I've watched as those who couldn't keep their shit together were hauled outside past those who could, wiping the vomit from their faces while that part of the club was put on hold--much to the dismay of the remaining patrons--until someone could clean up the mess with sawdust, a bucket and a broom. 

I've pretended I was old enough to get in and play with the big kids, showing my I.D. while I rolled my shoulders back and tried to look as serious as I thought someone who was a mere two or three years older than me needed to look. 

I've believed I could ride the most dangerous ride more times and with wilder abandon than any other person in my peer group. I've talked in hushed tones about those who weren't as lucky as I, and who went way too early because of any number of circumstances. 

I remember brazenly saying that that would never happen to me. Thank god it didn't.

And I remember how my mother and aunt would be there, always, to help me along, trying in vain to inspire me to look deep inside myself and ask if I'd been on that same ride enough times. They were always there, sitting by the hippopotamus-shaped trash can, with plenty of reading material to bide their time until I was through getting dizzy. They even came to my rescue on more than one occasion when I got into more trouble than I had bargained for. And each time, I told them I was done being reckless ... that I had learned my lesson.

And each time I went back out and stood in line again to get that feeling that I just couldn't do without. I felt it was part of my entitlement, that I deserved to enjoy this act of inebriation. I'd rail against the notion that I was in over my head. I'd get to the point where I'd be able to rationalize it and blame the fact that my generation just has more exciting rides and a greater tolerance for the big thrill.

I remember thinking to myself, "Man ... I bet I feel way better than they do right now." 

And it was as good a bet as any.

I'm done with that reckless way of living. That said, I still like to get my thrills and jollies, as it were. I have found that I am able to duplicate, through mundane and innocuous actions, the way I used to feel to a remarkable degree. I think that this is just a natural progression in life if one decides on trying to live as long and as happily as possible. Because the key, for me, to staying sober, is not mainly just in denying myself the things I used to enjoy doing. No, the key, for me, is to find things to put in its place, things that keep me busy and productive while still affording me the enjoyment and bombardment of my war-torn senses.

I enjoy the little butterflies that happen in my stomach when I go over a particularly steep hill. If I try hard I can stretch that feeling out longer than expected. I just have to pay attention. 

I like to dance to dizziness and then collapse for a few minutes while I catch my breath. 

I enjoy a strong cup of coffee, when I need a boost, while keeping in mind that caffeine is a powerful drug. That said, I don't feel like I'm going to steal or lie to get my hands on a cup. 

And yes, I even enjoy rolling down a hill every once in a while. It's just as much fun as I remembered, which I can't safely say about the other things that got my clothes dirty and left me a discombobulated mess.

This is my life now. I haven't changed how much fun I have, I just get it from a different source. It all comes back to what constitutes a new feeling that you can put a label on as good or desirable. 

The best part about the way I do things now is that it seems like the amusement park that is my life just keeps getting bigger, better, and more exciting. Every day I wake up there seems to be a new ride with a whole new spin on adventure. 

And this is good, because I can barely even remember where that giant Super Slide is located anymore. You know ... the last ride of the day. As much fun as that one is to go on, I don't think I want to walk up those stairs and try to spot my car in the parking lot anytime soon.

No, I just think I'll keep riding the ones that came with the price the stamp on the back of my hand.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, April 3, 2009

Day four hundred and fifty eight ... Illumination.

I felt safe by myself.

I should rephrase that: I felt comfortably encumbered with what made up the group of important people in my life. 

But that has all changed in a big way.

My dear aunt stopped letting new people into her life after a while. She told me that she was through with all that because she had all the people she cared about, if not right where she could see them, then only a short drive away. 

It was much easier that way, I suppose. Except, of course, when the people who you care about start to slowly pack their bags and head out the door of this world for points unknown. It got pretty scary for a while there when my mom was sick. We'd spend hours talking--my aunt and I--about the pros and cons of having a large family, a small family, no family. I would always argue the angle that no matter how many kids you have, it doesn't mean they are going to turn out right. To say "Oh, I wish I had had children," or "If you had a few kids there would be someone to absorb some of this loneliness and pain" may make sense to a certain degree, but you're leaving a lot of things to chance here. I'd just have to reel her back in and hope that my words made sense to her as she just shook her head and wondered aloud, "Why, Alex? Why"?

I've never been one to shy away from making new friends. I am a very social person by nature and love to share experiences with others. A laugh becomes an endurance contest when shared with someone who thinks like you. The falling down, clenching your gut and gasping for air--while not, on the surface, sounding a desirable condition--can bring about a release inside and out that can last for hours, if not a couple of days, as you wonder why your stomach hurts, then, remembering the cause, chuckling to the air as your mind blends the experience on high in a matter of a few seconds. 

But to partake in this kind of emotional pipe bomb one needs to be open to accepting the company of others. And for the majority of my aunt's life she had my mother for that. 

And then she was gone.

My aunt had not kept out everybody, though. She had made a handful of women friends at work when she taught at Durfee High School, in Fall River. After my mom died they became closer and started doing things together on a regular basis. They would go out to eat with coupon books in hand. They would go to music nights at a local cafe. They would get together over an ice cream sundae and talk for hours, laughing, sometimes, until it hurt. 

She learned to laugh again with new partners, this very solitary woman. The rhythm was different with them than it was with the woman named Judy, who had learned the delicate breathing dance of a laughing jag with her sister. But it was honest laughter nonetheless, and that was what counted. That was what made life fun. That was the salve that healed the wound ... slowly.

And then she was gone.

And that left me.

Now it is my turn to take the reigns and let new people into my life. I haven't had anyone to hug and hold and tell them I love them for a long time. Not that I consider my current partner a family figure in that way. But the emotions are similar. It is a longing for protection that you wish you could put in a bag, zip up like a sandwich, and send out the door with them to take to wherever they may go, whenever they may need it. Because the world has always been a maddeningly random and dangerous place to live. Unfortunately, it's the only place to live. And lately it just seems that things have been getting out of control, and we hear stories about horrendous tragedies a bit more often than ever before. I know I'm getting old, but I'm not that old that I can't notice the changes in real time.

And so, I now have a new commitment to a special person. And every time I look at her I feel I have a bond that is as strong as the ribcage that holds my heart in my chest. It was not designed for easy external tampering. No, to access that space is to disrupt the whole of the body and that is always a precarious venture. 

I also know that it is not just I that feels this way--which was so often my lamentable downfall--but rather a mutual discovery of emotional treasure dredged up from deep within the depths, but still, under the muck and the rust of past travesties intact, legible, and worth more now than anyone could have imagined who might have set sail from shore with its precious cargo on board so many years ago.

And just like nobody plans on a shipwreck I must go about my days expecting to make it to the other end of the ocean. I must not flinch or take my eyes off of the future for longer than it takes to look at my compass. Because on any given day there could be a million variables that test our mortal coil. There could be a danger that lurks within us that is ticking away, waiting for a randomly perfect time to strike. There could be someone who has no idea what their actions may bring about waiting to take the wrong turn or neglect to notice a blinker in the distance. Who knows when or if I will need somebody to reel me back in hoping that their words make sense to me as I just shake my head and wonder aloud, "Why"?

And this new thrillingly mutual liability continuously surprises me. I now have someone who thinks like I do some of the time, and, thankfully, has no idea what I'm thinking the rest of the time. I have someone who makes the innocent air between us thicken and conspire, conducting conduits of expelled breaths and emotions around the landscape of our waltzing facial features. I have someone who can laugh long and hard almost to the point of fainting before calling a time-out so we can both regain our composure, and then, unpredictably starting again with a heave and a jolt, almost feeling as if it might go on indefinitely, interrupting--if not making obsolete--the daily rigors of life.

We fall asleep slowly, relaxing our minds to match the bulb in the dimmer-switch lamp, almost asphyxiated from energy deprivation.

It stays that way through the night; the power surges let it vent.

We wake up and open the blinds, but we don't shut off the lamp; we don't even know it's on. 

It's only when the sun goes down again into its own finished basement that we realize that we never did turn it off.

Then it is brightened once more--we need it's light again so we feed it with electricity--and then, predictably, it is dimmed down just before sleep comes.

It wouldn't make much sense to have two lamps on one table next to each other, each one making up for where the other's beams can't reach.

Meanwhile two bulbs gracefully turn down side by side, both connected to the same source of energy, each wondering how they came to be on the same table, each knowing full well that one could very well burn out--and probably will--before the other.

And they go about their day, hardly aware that they are still giving off light, until the nighttime comes and they see each others beams and ask aloud ... are you glowing for me?

And, of course, we know the answer before we ask the question ... but we just have to ask anyway. We like to hear us talk.

And we turn the dimmers up and read each others faces until it hurts our eyes. Then we turn down our bulbs again and go to sleep.

And we hope to see each other again in any light.

And we hope to see each other again.

And we hope to see.

And we hope.

Thanks for reading.