The Historically Bothersome Butterfly

I don’t remember when it was, but whenever it was, I watched the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The Moss was there. Must have been last year. Anyway, the movie begins with the lowdown on the crisis: A meteor is on a collision course with Earth, and this time Bruce Willis couldn’t save us. Or at least I like to imagine it was Bruce Willis. The film didn’t specify. So, the meteor is coming, and we’re doomed. Nothing can be done. There are no superheroes coming to the rescue, no amount of scientific trickery to call upon, or no word from God to pacify the internal need to know that humanity must live on. Just The End.

To my great surprise, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. Of happiness. Of relief that, just like that, life could end. No more struggle, no more anxiety, no more stress, no more self-doubt. I could take hold of the trusty eraser and wipe the Board of Life clean.

I think, somewhere in there, the shock overtook me. I mean, obviously, this wasn’t really happening. I knew that. But I had never before had such an overwhelming joy at the thought of it all being over. To know that I could finally put down my weapons, my gear, dust myself off and breathe a hearty sigh of relief. It stunned me. I’m not sure I can recall the first thirty minutes of the movie. Then again, I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it once more to find out. I don’t want to feel what I felt again because I liked it so much.

Allow an injection here, if you will. I’m not suicidal. Though I’ve contemplated the end many times in my life–several since that moment watching the movie in fact–I have no desire to end my life. It’s not a choice I could make, or one I am willing to make. Much like murder, I suppose. I trap insects and set them free for a reason. I say this only because I don’t want the thought or fear for my well-being to intervene in what may or may not be a casual read. I’ll die when I die. Not a day earlier. I’m fine with this. I do actually enjoy living, after all.

I spent a great deal of time internalizing that moment, trying to determine what it meant. All I can deduce is it meant I’m not at all happy with my life, or my place in it. Maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe it’s dead-on. I don’t know. However, it led me to a simple question I can’t shake. Where did it all go wrong?

I can remember a great deal from my childhood. More vividly than is ultimately helpful, it would seem. I remember this kid:

The Sonny's BBQ Padres, age 12.

The Sonny’s BBQ Padres, age 12.

I remember walking to my games. I remember playing them. I remember moments in the field, pitches I saw, the final scores. The first season I played, I fouled off exactly one pitch. One. I swung and missed at everything else. By age 12, I was clinking balls all over the field, one of the best bats on the team. Something happened between age 10 and 12 that changed everything I was as a baseball player. I think it was me. I happened. I practiced, I played all year with my cousin, I watched the Braves on TBS every day. And it clicked. I made a conscious decision to be better, and I became so. And as the years passed, I got even better. I probably could have kept going, made something of it, but in tenth grade I grew eight inches, turning me into a gangly all arms-and-legs buffoon with the coordination of butter. My skill set suffered and I quit. I could have taken the coach’s advice, worked out to get my body back in line with my growth, and likely found myself right back where I was. But I didn’t. And I’ll be damned if I can remember why. Or how I did it without feeling loss, or pain, or regret. I could have simply walked into another room for all the difference I felt.

It could very well be that writing finally found a grip where it couldn’t before, my focus on becoming a writer of substance narrowing my vision enough to allow the loss of a true passion. Yet, instead of seeing the more traditional path of the writer–in the modern sense that is–and furthering my education, building credentials through said schooling or articles or what have you’s, I chose to bypass college and travel. To see more of America than I had seen. To pour my soul into writing without the interference of an instructor’s voice. And, honestly, because I hated school. I didn’t want to endure any more years of study. Not institutional study any way. I wanted to learn. I just wanted to do it on my own terms. I made this choice without any hesitation or doubt. Into another room I went.

I met a girl when I was twenty-four. Exactly twenty-four, as it happened. At the time I was steeped in church, looking for answers to life’s myriad questions. She had just moved into town. We sat next to each other. We laughed. Emboldened by my favorite celebratory day of the year, I was exceptionally charming. So much so that, though she was away the remainder of the summer, I left a favorable impression she couldn’t shake. Several months later she surprised me at work with an invitation to her birthday party. Well, not a party so much as a dinner celebrating such in which her mother played a prominent eye-cutting presence. A few months passed and a romance blossomed. A proposal happened. A year and half later, I had a house, a wife, two dogs, a cat, and the distinct feeling that everything in my life was coming into focus. Then something happened. I think, looking back, it was me that happened. She had health concerns, sure, and they taxed me physically and emotionally (not to diminish her own suffering), and brought stress into our marriage, but it wasn’t really the cause. Religion became an issue, as I had begun to question my devotion to the church life, and to Christianity. This was a problem, but as the judge in divorce court would later say, plenty of couples of diverse faith co-exist. It could have been surmountable, I suppose. There were arguments about where things were going. Attempts to rectify what had been lost. But I admit to being horrible at articulating what bothers me at any given moment and loathe to cite minor problems when they happen in exchange for accumulating them and dropping them all at once in a twisted jumble of “what?” Which never goes over well. Then one day I just decided I was done. Just like that, it was over. I gathered what belongings I could carry and left the state. My home, my marriage, my life in that backwards, sleepy, little town, gone. Poof. And when the divorce was done, my move final, and my hands washed clean? Yeah, I just let it go. Moved on. Didn’t give one thought as to whether or not I made the right choice. Yet another room.

You know what? This happened AGAIN.

The factors were different, and the pressures of life much greater, but almost ten years from the time I met wife #1, I met wife #2. As before, there was a very brief courtship. Three months to be exact. And we were married. I can’t front the blame alone, ultimately, for the failure of this one, but end it did, and when it was over I was glad for it. I moved on. This happened near the time I lost my business. I’ve detailed it before, and there’s really no point in doing so again; but there’s definitely a parallel. I never considered the full spectrum of owning a business and what it took to run one. I just did it. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t take people down with me. Which is, perhaps, one room I didn’t blithely pass into. I don’t like bringing people pain or suffering. I don’t even like upsetting them. I just seem to somehow. By way of decision or circumstance, I have left a nice little row of destruction along the way. People I still love and care for, and I can do nothing to correct this wrong. I can do nothing to alter the choices I made.

These are mere examples, mind you. I have many more. Places in my life where I made decisions that now confound me, and leave me wondering what would have happened if I chose otherwise. I’m sure I’m not alone in this phenomena, but I only have my eyes to weigh them against. Only have my expectations. My dreams.

From that fateful day I left baseball forever, I’ve wanted to be a writer. No, a published author. No, a successfully published author. I do have two books published, which is nice. Good books. Not great, but good. Entertaining and fun. They were received well, which is something. I have a great children’s story I haven’t found a home for, and a few other stories I’m working on I believe could also be great. I’ve worked hard to become what I am as a writer. Same as I did as that kid who couldn’t hit. But there have been no breakthroughs. No a-ha moments of career-altering discovery. Instead, I place myself in the company, by work or network, with writers who have achieved my dream on their behalf. It’s infuriating. And depressing.

It may occur to you that there is no exact cohesion here. You would be correct. I’m just taking out garbage I’ve had a touch too long and hoping not to hit you over the head with the bag.

I used to be more active on Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve backed off because I don’t want to let everyone know how terribly unhappy I am with my life. I have the Moss, and she’s well worth bragging about (and an incredibly talented photographer at that), but what do I have otherwise? Just struggle and frustration, disappointment and despair. One bad decision after another, with a few good ones sprinkles in for taste. I’m not where I want to be in life, so I don’t talk about it because I don’t want everyone else to know I’m not where I want to be. I want to see the light, to feel the hope, to know that everything I’ve been through–whether by my own hand or not–will be worth it. My break is just ahead. My time.

But it hasn’t happened. Maybe that’s why I felt the way I did watching that movie. I’m tired. Losing hope. Losing faith that all the decisions I have made were made with a singular purpose in fate. And so I spend far too much time analyzing a life’s worth of decisions, wondering which of them would unravel the tapestry too much, which would incite the butterfly to flap a typhoon into my future. Then again, I can’t evade the sensation there’s a typhoon here already. What that I have would I be willing to lose in order to gain what I want but can’t seem to receive?

It’s a fruitless quest, searching for an answer like that. Regret is a pain in the ass. It will always be a pain in the ass. I remain steadfast that life has a purpose. Nothing is random. I lost a bookstore but gained a publisher and the Moss because of it. I haven’t rejoined the published world, but I’ve written in that time and improved dramatically. I don’t have what I want now, but maybe I need to have nothing in order to fully appreciate what I will have later.

I’ve never been one to prattle about me. I don’t spell out my woes to anyone other than family, or the Moss. I don’t pretend my life is great, but I don’t allow for sharing that it is not. I like to laugh. I just find it hard to do that these days.

I can’t deny that news reports of a meteor bringing about an Extinction Level Event would pacify me greatly. Not because I want all of you to die, but because knowing the end is at hand would allow me to once and for all let go of every disappointing decision I’ve ever made. Then again, maybe I can just whip out the scissors and cut loose all the rattling cans I drag behind me. More decisions.

Of course I’ll accept good news, in any form instead.

That would help.

Tales of a Heroic Nothing

I could have been a hero once.

Not in that Superman kind of way to which every kid aspires. You’d probably know about that. I’d have been all over the news. Likely because I would have exacted my revenge upon everyone who ever wronged me. Nothing too horrific, but with x-ray vision (which no kid should ever have), super strength, body like steel, and the ability to fly my ass away from any crime scene, I wouldn’t have exactly been kind about it. I guess, when you think about it, that would make me less of a hero than a villain. Less Luke than Anakin. More Jerry than Tom.

Boy that would have been cool.

But this isn’t a story about me being cool, largely because one doesn’t exist. No, this is a story about baseball, and perhaps other wandering ramblings in my effort to actually reach the point. If you don’t like baseball, then maybe just skim through, and settle on a few key words in order to get the gist. Let me help: turtle, cattle crossing, cactus cat, and this is totally unfair and stupid. I’m not sure yet if any of those will make it into this post, but if they don’t and you were skimming because you don’t like baseball, then that’s what you get for listening to me. Also, YOU’RE WELCOME. Because this story just got a whole lot shorter.

I grew up (for the most part, though a number of people will debate when, or if, I ever actually did that) in a small Northern Florida town called Palatka. Oh dear Lord, there’s a wiki page for Palatka! You have no idea how much that entertains me. Or perhaps you will, at some point. A wiki page! I’m not even sure the majority of the populace there even knows what the Internet is, short of some Big City way of greeting your neighbor like any decent folk would: with a shotgun and a beef about their pregnant daughter. Anyway, Palatka is a Timucuan Indian word for “cattle crossing”. Make of that what you will. If you’ve ever been near a cattle crossing, or heaven forbid through one, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this town is like. I feel as though I’m allowed to sound negative about the town I still consider home, whereas I should probably kick the ass of anyone else who dares make fun of it. Largely because this is my blog, and yeah, but also because I still, oddly enough, have a fondness for it. A lot of “firsts” there. Including my first attempt to flee my dumb stupid hometown.

So. Baseball.

See, that paragraph was easy to skim, wasn’t it? Two words. Boom. Done. And half of it had to do with baseball. It’s like you didn’t even know you were reading about baseball and the next thing, you’re all, “I totally identify with baseball now.” It’s the magic of writing, folks. Be jealous.

The first story I recall writing, and the one that made me want to do it forever and forever amen, was a little piece about baseball. I was twelve, so I bypassed the obvious need for an intellectually inert romantic spin that would have livened the story up to a more readable state, and focused on what mattered most: Being a hero. The plot was a simple one. I didn’t want to confuse the issue, detract from the overwhelming power of being a hero in the most important sport in all of history. Short of bobsledding, of course. That’s a cool sport. But it’s really just Hollywood’s love child, isn’t it? Unless you’re Jamaican, nobody cares. And really, we only cared because we wanted to hear them talk about it, right? I mean, so you’re inept. So your country doesn’t actually have a winter. So you might have spokespeople that shout “Hooray beer!” at you in a way that makes you feel the need to drink.

Cactus cat.

Still skimming? Well, you just totally missed a whole paragraph about Jamaican bobsledding. Skimmers. This is why book clubs are so fascinating, and why dropping in on one in order to talk about something that didn’t actually happen in the book is so much fun. You know these people haven’t all read it. Either they skimmed while being talked at by family that just won’t go the hell away for an hour, or they didn’t really read all of it, so if you drop in something–I don’t know, about a Jamaican bobsledding team for instance–they’ll panic. If they deny it, they risk the chance exposing they missed something while knocking a spouse upside the head. If they go along with it, you know they didn’t read it.

Actually though, the cactus cat story is pretty good, but I guess I’ll deal with that another time since I’m otherwise engaged in more important storytelling. So, in this story, a twelve-year-old boy, who looked NOTHING like me at all, is walking to the championship game. He steps in a hole, twists his ankle, rolls on the street a bit and feels the eternal letdown of potentially letting his team down. Not willing to give in, he hobbles to the game, where he’s forced to sit on the bench until there are two outs in the last inning, his team down a run, and the bases are loaded. Coach calls him up to pinch hit, because hero plot, and the kid delivers a game-winning hit, barely making it to first before his ankle completely gives out. Hero stuff! YAY!

I always loved that story. I always wanted to be that hero. I think part of me was certain it was prophecy, destined to be a part of ME and my heroic journey through life. Still, I walked very carefully to all my games. Who wants all that pain, right? Just give me the hero stuff. And a soda, if you don’t mind.

DISCLAIMER: I love baseball. Anyone who has had any contact with me whatsoever knows this. You may not. So, whatever your definition of love, whatever you deem to be the most passionate a human being can be about any one person or thing, you’re wrong. Just stop. It’s way worse than that. I don’t want to simply watch baseball. I don’t want to live it. I don’t want to own a team. I want to own baseball. All of it. Mine.  To love and to squeeze and to call George. Got it? There, now that’s out of the way.

I was on a few teams that were good. Two that even made it into the championship. I like to think I did a bunch of little hero stuff along the way to help out. But nothing big. Not that I didn’t try, I just didn’t get the opportunity. The first team got trounced in the championship. The second team, the second championship I was in, however, I flat-out got jipped. Worst part of it is, I didn’t even know. It was ten years later before I found out I had my potential hero moment ripped from my unknowing hands.

I played alongside a cousin of mine. He was six months older, always bigger, and always better. We played a lot together. Whiffle ball, a little with tennis balls, always he and I in a driveway annoying my mom by pitching against the garage door. On that first team, we were teammates. A few years later, we played on different teams. Teams that were both good. Teams that beat the snot out of other teams (there’s a lot of snot involved in Little League Baseball, in case you were wondering). Teams that faced off in the championship, my cousin pitching against us. We were evenly matched, my cousin and I. See, though he was better than me, we had played together for so many years that he couldn’t pitch anything I hadn’t already seen and hit. So, when the final inning came around, my team down by one, two outs and runners on first and second, I came up to bat feeling nervous but confident.

What I remember is this: I walked and the next guy to bat got out. Anti-climactic, I know. I could spin some wonderful tale about how he got me down to two strikes and I battled–as any good hero will–and earned that walk. Gave our team the chance to win. Not heroic stuff, but a courageous warrior type refusal to lose stuff. What I found out ten years later–ten years of seeing myself as the ultimate fighter who won out but didn’t have the support to be the victor–came from my cousin in a rush of undeniably heinous amusement. “Man, I remember that game,” he said, smiling slightly. “No way I was going to let you beat me. I just threw four pitches as far away from you as possible, and worried about getting Joe out. I knew he couldn’t hit me.”

Jaw. Floor. My chance at being a hero taken, not by circumstance, but by a cousin who was willing to be beaten by anybody but me. Images of what my life could have been flashed before my eyes. Al Bundy and his four touchdowns. Parades in my honor. A sense of confidence and purpose from that one moment driving me to a lifetime of success in the sport I loved. I stood there and gawked at him. Then, not wanting to seem surprised–ergo defeated–I smiled, said, “Yeah … crazy stupid Joe,” and walked out of the room, because that’s the way I roll. Non-confrontational to the bitter end. Then I went outside and beat the shit out of a tree with a whiffle bat. I’m sure the tree had it coming, hovering over me as it did like a cousin too afraid to let the sun shine on me for a moment.

And still, to this day, I think this is so unfair and stupid. Ok, I really don’t, but it was the last key word(s) to fit in, so, there. I did it. No, wait, there’s the turtle bit. So, advice you didn’t ask for with an image you didn’t want: When cutting the grass for a friend, DO NOT mow under any bushes that might line the side of the house, no matter how far under the grass may go. You may find it to be the unfortunate hiding place of a frightened turtle, and an unpleasant mess for you to clean.

Point here is I could have been a hero. I would have been. And all the x-ray power or superhuman strength wouldn’t have beaten it.

So intimidating.

So intimidating. You know it. I know it. It’s the glasses, isn’t it?