Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day eight hundred and eighty seven ... A true story.

I remember my first lie.

I had a picture of my mom in a little glass and metal frame. One day it fell on the floor behind the bookcase in my bedroom and broke. I freaked out. I don't really know how it came up that I would tell her that I didn't know what happened to it, because it seems strange for her to have even noticed it missing. All I knew was that I had been party to an accident and I didn't even want to think about what might happen if I got in trouble because ... well ... because I hadn't really gotten in trouble before.

I was probably four or five years old. I mean, sure, I had done stuff to get yelled at before. I was a kid after all. But I had never, up to that point, done anything that I felt would have warranted a punishment.

Once again, this was a picture of my mom in a little glass and metal frame. It was mine. I wasn't holding on to it for her. It wasn't pilfered from anywhere. I owned it and I broke it. And that was enough to make me go simply out-of-this-world crazy paranoid.

If I let myself go I can really relive the moment when I realized what I had done. I can be there in that minute or two when I nervously inched my bookcase slowly forward and away from the clown and circus wallpaper in my bedroom, a foot crammed in sideways on the bottom and a pair of hands clasped on top of each other in the middle. I can picture being half as tall as the five foot piece of furniture that I was moving. I can sense the impressive tightness from the rough back of the heavy case against one side of my forearm and the cold wall against the other. I can hear the way the frame sounded when I picked it up even before I could see it. And I can feel again how terrified I became to hear the pieces of glass move ever so slightly against each other as I brought it out from between that dark, dusty crevice--a tight, chirp and then a small "plink" on the floor directly below.

I, Frederick Alexander Johnson, was in trouble.

I hid the picture behind a pile of stuff (I had a lot of stuff in my room as a kid) and I left it there and went up to my mom and gave her a big hug. She smiled as she always did and told me she loved me.

Meanwhile, I had done something that I was ashamed no matter wether or not I really did it. I was hiding the evidence away from her and from me and from anyone who care to ask me, "Hey, Fred. Where is that great picture of your mother that was on your bookcase?", which would never happen anyway.

I knew I couldn't fix the problem myself. I didn't have any money or any way to get to a store on my own to buy a new frame if I did. I couldn't glue the pieces back together. And I couldn't take another picture out of one of the frames from any one of the other pictures in the house. And every day I came home and went into my room and looked at that empty space in my bookcase and my breath tightened just a little bit. And each time I did that my glance would inadvertently drift over to the pile of stuff which hid the missing photo. It was all there: the evidence, the coverup, the perpetrator, and the guilt.

I can't remember how long it went on like that. My mother, of course, didn't ask me about the picture. If I didn't want to display it--I'm sure she reasoned--I didn't have to. It was a nice photo, but it was one of many. To her it wasn't much more than just the way I chose to decorate my room.

But finally one day I remember picking up that broken picture and running--two barking dogs following--into her room.

It was time to confess.

I was crying when I held it out in front of her with both hands and told her that--through no fault of my own--it had just fallen off of the bookcase, and how sorry I was, and how it would never ... *sob* ... happen ... *sob* ... again.

And I cried, and I cried, and I cried ... as I lied, and I lied, and I lied.

Because of course it hadn't just fallen off the bookcase. It had been broken for days at least. But I couldn't confess the main issue without covering up another one.

And she brought me close to her with one arm as she carefully and slowly placed the inexpensive frame on her bureau with the other and she rubbed my back gently and told me not to worry.

"It's okay, sweetheart," she said. "We'll get a new frame for it. I'm just glad you didn't hurt yourself when it broke."

And with that I was given my first forgiveness--at least that I can remember anyway.

It felt good to get it off my chest.

It was so nice to look her in the eyes and tell her how sorry I was that I had done something wrong.

It didn't matter that the manner that I confessed propagated its own set of lies.

It didn't matter that it made no sense to cover up something that wasn't my fault.

It hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't be mad at me in the first place--that she would be worried more about my well-being than a ten cent pane of glass.

And when I look back on it now I guess I felt that, at the time, by breaking the frame which held a picture of my mother that I was somehow hurting her. I had attached some special power to the act of damage to her image.

It would take thirty years or more for me to learn that when you lie about even the smallest thing it hurts you more than the person you tell it to.

Forgiveness can come from those who you can see and hear and feel. It can come from a voice other than your own and often does.

But if you're the last one standing at any time in any place for as long and as far as you can walk, drive, fly, swim, run, dig, or fall, then you better be damn well capable of forgiving yourself.

It's not as easy as it sounds but not much in this world ever is, that much is certainly true.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day eight hundred and eighty two ... Stress test.

I suppose I should feel safe but I don't.

Every few days in the town where I live there are fighter jets that fly overhead from the Westover Air Force base in Chicopee, MA. They fly in low and they fly in loud. There's usually two or three at a time, then a couple of stragglers, and then one or two just for good measure. Jodi can't stand the damn things. I just kind of raise my shoulders closer to my head out of nervousness and kind of peek out the window in a lame exhibit of worried acceptance.

They're up there in the air, I realize, for the protection of the United States of America. But instead of picturing the front page of the paper reading "Fighter Jets Save the Day Fending Off Terrorist Attack", all I can picture is "Malfunctioning Fighter Jet Destroys Local Musician's House. No Survivors. Town Stunned, Saddened. Most Of U.S. Still Safe."

But these are the balancing acts that we have to endure in life in order to get by. These are the inconsistencies and incongruities that pepper our day to day existence making the world so rich with possibilities.

These are the things that stress me out to no end.

When I look back on the lives that my mom and aunt and grandmother had I see three lives--though beautiful, robust, and pure--filled with stress. I see a mill worker who gave up her demanding and thankless job to babysit a little hellion for her daughter. And I see two teachers who had to put up with kids who don't care being made to sit in a room they don't like, learning things they don't care about. And I'm sure they weren't always like that--the kids, I mean. I'm sure that there were many who did care and made an effort to do well. I have letters and small gifts, even, given to my mom and aunt from the students they affected positively. And I know for a fact that the way children treated teachers and authority figures in general has changed significantly over the last 40 years.

And I know that stress was one of the causes of their early demise.

How do I know? I know because I saw it in their faces and I heard it in their voices. I felt their frustration and I listened to their stories of kids who were so out of control that they had to have police patrol the hallways. I know because ... well, I just know.

Three women who never made it out of their sixties who had jobs that drove them crazy.

My Uncle Alex was in the Navy for forty-odd years and he died when he was 68.

It's enough to make a freshly forty year old guy a little nervous.

But I have things figured out, right? I just keep my little world rotating on its axis just so. I make sure I get enough sleep and try not to eat too much junk. I stay far away from the people who affect me negatively. And I ... well ... I work at staying stress free.

Right now, as I'm writing this, the sound of a jackhammer is blasting away outside my window no more than 50 yards from here. They started at 7 a.m. and will continue on for god knows how long.

The bank on the corner sees fit to have a landscaper crew come almost every other day with leaf blowers and lawn mowers to tidy up the painfully plain but perfect perimeter of the parking lot. I'm a heavy sleeper, and so, many times it just blends in with my dreams. Other people aren't so lucky--the noise from their gas powered engines rousing them from their dreams for the day.

The bar around the corner has a patio that faces my house. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night it fills with drunken, obnoxious people who scream and fight and rev their engines in the parking lot. Sometimes the cops come around 1 am, and the noise subsides for a moment or two. Last week, around closing time, they showed up right in the middle of a massive brawl and hauled several revelers downtown. It was an exciting time in my little village.


I just got back from my shrink. We haven't made any huge advancements in my understanding of the world together. I usually just take the 50 minutes to talk out loud to another human being who isn't Jodi or Paul. I've been able to work through some situations while sitting in the chair (I wish she had a big couch like you see in the movies, but no, it's just a crappy chair) and that keeps me coming back. I like to think of it as one of those things I do which I can't prove beneficial but which I know isn't bad for me.

We got to talking about how certain events have recently transpired in my life that tend to bring about adult responsibilities but don't necessarily mean much in the end.

For instance, I just took out a lease on a safe deposit box. It's one of those things that until now I only had seen in movies. To my dramatic side it smacks of espionage or high society. But really, it's just a well protected bus locker. And I got it for a couple of reasons, both of which have come about over the last few years. Both of which are of an adult nature--that is to say, it's not to hide my chocolate away from my girlfriend.

But it doesn't make me an adult.

It's just a box in a bank.

And it's in there with two hundred or so other boxes filled with items that someone else has deemed important enough to be protected to the max. Just being in there surrounded by all of that potential significance gave me chills.

But 200 other people having a box like mine doesn't make them an adult. It just means they have a bank account and a few extra dollars a year to pay for it's use.

I have friends who have babies now. All this is new stuff. I suppose that that would encourage some people to mature in a hurry. I'm sure it's happened and I'm sure it will never end. But there are constantly stories of people who have children who act like they're 18 or worse.

All it means on the shiny surface of literality is that you didn't decide not to.

I have tattoos on my arms, but it doesn't make me tough. I almost thought it would when I got them, or at least I thought that it would give the illusion that I was a tough customer. And part of me even came to the understanding that I probably got them to keep uptight people away from me. I'm going to hazard a guess that for the most part it's worked. But it doesn't make me tough. It just means I paid a guy to put a needle to my skin for a few hours.

My mother told me years ago not to confuse activity with achievement.

This was a huge understanding. This changed my world. I started to realize so much when I understood how this worked. See, years ago I used to quit drinking for a day or two--sometimes a whole week or more. But I didn't learn anything from it; it was just time spent differently. Had I sat down and really understood what I was trying to do or even why, I might have gleamed some insight from it. Maybe I could have even made the decision to seek real help before things got really bad. But I was just doing it to do anything.

It was just activity--not drinking. It was definitely not an achievement.

So now, when I get five things going at once and I wonder why I can't finish one of them, and I stand there pulling at my hair because it's already time for dinner, I have to think of this sentiment:

Don't confuse activity with achievement.

Stress will kill a person. That being the case I must learn techniques to deal with it and not just pull the covers over my head.

The landscapers who wake me up in the morning are making a living for themselves. I may not like the style of the work they do and I may think it's excessive, but I really only need to close the windows before I go to sleep to solve my problem.

The bar patrons are doing exactly what I used to do when I was in my twenties: getting wasted and screaming at the top of my lungs at whoever was closest. Perhaps this is karma coming back to me. Once again, all I need to do is close the windows and, on occasion, enjoy the sound of police cruisers and angry drunk people in the parking lot.

And as for the flyovers, I'll just be thankful that I have no idea how to fly one of those damn things. Because that would really stress me out like nobody's business.

It's a grand life I live. I can't complain about much. And the things that do annoy me tend to be things other people do. And if there's one thing I learned a long time ago is that if I can prevent other people's actions from affecting my mood then I am truly in control of my own happiness.

And that, my friends, is certainly an achievement.

I wish that you all find the happiness you seek.

I must admit, though, not too long ago if someone told me that, I would have wanted to smack them silly.

So I won't feel slighted if you feel the same.

It's just a blog after all.

Thanks for reading it.