Don’t let life discourage you…everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.
What a joy it is to be up at 4 am. Sleep is always hard to come by at the end of the year.
Might as well make some coffee, sit on the sofa and watch the ceiling fan blades make their never ending clockwise journey and think about what was, what is, and what could be.
I sigh and remove the eyeglasses from the bridge of my nose and rub my eyes with my thumb and forefinger.
My introspective moment is shaken by a voice from the love seat sitting adjacent to the sofa….
“Why don’t I have any hair?” The strangely high pitched yet familiar voice questioned.
I put my glasses back on and look in the direction that the voice centered from.
I was quite surprised to see…me.
Minus 30 years, waiting for a response.
I returned the question with a bewildered look and asked,
I took off the baseball cap I always wore, pointed at my bowl cut, unruly, red hair that hung just over my eyebrows and said,
“Where does my hair go?….I mean you are me…..except bald….why?”
As I look at my younger self, I question whether I should respond with the truth about the cranium shaving or avoid the impending heartbreak of me knowing why….years before I should.
I mean….would the 14 year old me believe it….even understand? Would it change anything?
I bite my bottom lip while I decide.
“Mom does that when she doesn’t want to tell me truth about something….” I say from the love seat.
“Does what?” I reply.
“Bites her bottom lip. You’re not gonna answer me….are you?”
I chuckle to myself….about myself…at how even at such a young age I realized my Mother’s nuances and apparently took them on myself.
“No. Not right now. Maybe later. I would like to know how you got here and why you are here.”
I look back at my younger self and wait for a reply.
My 14 year old self squints his eyes and unknowingly begins to bite his bottom lip while searching his own cranium for the answer.
“I don’t know….the last thing I remember is Mom telling me I had to go to bed…..Dad is drunk again and took off in the car. I hate him when he drinks…does he ever stop for good?”
I look deep into the eyes of my younger self and see……and feel….actually feel the pain and despair that I felt back then about life at home.
My Mom tried so hard to keep a sane and normal home life while dealing with an alcoholic husband. Our normal was not everyone else’s normal, but it was the only normal we knew.
Outside appearances were important. We tried to keep the implosion tightly within the confines of our crumbling family. Our job as the kids was to act like everything was great when out of the house. When at home, the reality was Dad was someone we hated (when he drank) and we didn’t know what to do.
I pondered how I should reply. Would telling me the truth alter what ends up happening? Would I believe me either way? Is this really happening?
Am I really having a conversation with a 14 year old me?
Hope wins out. I remember that at that particular age that all I wanted was hope.
“Things will be tough…..but he does stop. If you can do anything just hold on to that. Eventually…..he does stop.”
My 14 year old self relaxes a little and smiles. Then looks up at the sky and slumps his shoulders and says,
“I gotta go. Mom has to get Dad out of jail again….I gotta watch the babies. You sure he stops?”
I look at myself and fight back the tears of yesteryear and memories of how hard it was, what happened, and what eventually came to be and reply….
“Yeah, just hold on and never…ever…give up hope. Sometimes….that’s all you got.”
I smile and look back up at the ceiling fan that is still in its perpetual turn for a moment to stop the tears from falling then look back at the love seat which sits empty…..
Except for the baseball cap I always wore when I was 14.
Still reeling in my emotions from my meeting with my 14 year old self, I got up and turned off the ceiling fan.
My mind told me, it must have been the reflection of the bulb off the bottom of the blade that hypnotized me into believing I just had a conversation with my younger self.
I heard rummaging around in the kitchen and guessed one of the kids must be up and starving. A good nights sleep has that effect. I wouldn’t know, as of late, but that’s what I hear.
I walk into the room to see the fridge door open and someone funneling around in it.
I lean against he counter, took a puff off my electronic cigarette, exhaled the vapor and said,
“You finding what you need son?”
A familiar irritated voice started to answer and then came out from behind the door.
“Where’s the beer? I know you…got..WHOA…are you….me?…What happened to my hair?”
It was me….in my mid 20’s. Long red hair hanging in my eyes held back with a bandana. Blood shot eyes, nervous disposition, unshaven.
I had already talked to myself once. This time, I see myself older….but not wiser. I answer my question,
“Yeah…I am you….in about 20 years. There is no beer. I don’t drink anymore….I shaved it off about 13 years ago.”
My younger, cockier self seems to not share the same shock as I do in talking to myself. He just wants to drink.
“No way. Drinking is what I do. Quitting…..is for quitters! I hope there was a good reason for going all chrome dome. At least you still smoke weed. Lemme hit that.”
I snicker and reply,
“It’s not weed. It’s a cigarette substitute. It won’t get you high, And you’ll find that reason soon enough.”
“Is this what kind of lame ass I become? Next your gonna tell me I’m married and have a family.”
I just shrug my shoulders and smile.
I change the subject.
“Why are you here?” I ask
“How am I supposed to know….I went out with the guys for a few shots. I only planned to stay for a few. The next thing I know it’s 6 in the morning. I gotta be at Mom and Dad’s at 10. I gotta get rid of these shakes and pull it together. It’s their anniversary.”
I remember that disaster of a day. I reeked, tried to pull off that everything was fine and left early to get drunk to make myself feel better about it.
At that time, my Dad had been sober for over 5 years and was doing his best to make up for lost time. Only to watch his son follow in his footsteps into a slow oblivion.
I had to ask myself a question…even though I didn’t think I wanted to hear the answer.
“Why don’t you just stop? You saw what it did to Dad. It almost killed him. Remember that Christmas when he was drunk and asked you to come in and sit with him. You held him and put your head on his chest and heard his heart skipping beats as you smelled the alcohol coming out of his pores? I remember how scary it was…Do you? Is that what you want?”
Me and I shared a moment of uncomfortable silence as we both relived that scene. Each of us seemed to be daring the other to break into tears. My mid 20’s self broke the silence with defiance.
“That was him not me. I just like to party. I got this under control. He had to quit…I just need to take a break and slow down a bit. How dare you look at me and see….him. I gotta go. I gotta enjoy life while I have one…looks like I got a good 20 years left. You at least have a couple of bucks so I can get a quart?”
I closed my eyes, bowed my head and sighed. I thought to myself…
“Should I give myself money to drink or tell me to go?”
I opened my eyes and looked up, ready to answer, but my mid 20’s self was gone.
Except for the bandana that lay on the floor.
You’re born, you die, and in between you make a lot of mistakes. – Unknown
I grabbed up the baseball hat, the bandana and my truck keys and headed out the door.
I had no destination in mind. I just had to go….somewhere.
I couldn’t figure out why I was coming back to me at younger ages and reliving my past this way.
I am very well versed in my past. I know my feelings about it and how I dealt with it.
I know my life. It is MY life. I just want it to get back to the present where I don’t know what will happen.
I make the effort to drive around aimlessly down back country roads for a while to regain whatever sort of composure I have left.
I make my way back home and turn down our street and park in front of the house. I pull the keys out of the ignition, take off my seatbelt and open the drivers door.
I pull my left leg out and turn to face the house as I place my foot on the curb.
To my mental dismay, I have gotten out in front of my parents house….on the day my Father died.
I know this to be the day, because I am slumped down on the front sidewalk clutching my knees and rocking back and forth. I am 31 years old.
I walk up to myself and speak.
I look up at me and seem to have no recognition of my future self. I just stare at the photo of my father that is clutched in my hands.
I look down at myself and realize how frail and sickly I look. I remember I had been on a 3 or 4 day binge the week before he died. Cocaine. Booze. More cocaine. Little sleep. Less food. I came to the house from the bars when my Mom called me to say he wasn’t doing well the night before he died.
Prostrate cancer did him in. Years of hard drinking didn’t do it. He lived his last 12 years clean and sober.
I remember thinking then…as I do now…that it just wasn’t fair.
“He’s gone.” I said as I looked up at me and back at the photo.
“You can and will get through this.” I replied.
“Get through this?? How do I get through being an almost non existent son during the worse time of his life? A worthless junkie son who never had the balls to say he was sorry for not being there and caring more about getting drunk and high that anything else? Get through this….f$&k you.”
The words stung and hit home. I didn’t only hear them. I felt them. I believed them.
I know life gets better for me…but I can’t convince my former self of that anymore than I can convince myself right now.
I am left confused by the whole interaction.
I kneel down next to me and ask,
“So…what are you going to do?”
I look at me with dark sullen eyes, pause, smirk and reply.
“I need a change. I think I’m gonna shave my head like you and then drink myself into a coma. What does it matter…look at Dad, better yourself…die anyway. I gotta go. Mom needs me.”
He gets up to leave and I reply,
“Shaving your head because your Dad dies is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
I look back at me with complete recognition and reply.
“Stupid is as stupid does….and hey, ask yourself…have you gotten through it yet?”
I crouch down on the sidewalk and hug my knees and close my eyes for a second, taking all the events in.
I get up with the intentions of walking in that house and making things right.
I turn around to face the front door, only to realize I am at my house.
13 years, 8 1/2 hours and 500 miles away from my parents old house.
My 31 year old self is gone….but the photo of my Dad lay on the sidewalk in front of the door.
“To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go.” –Tao Te Ching
I stand on the sidewalk in front of my house and just stare at the picture of my Father who has been gone for over 13 years. I rub the worn, glossy print with my thumb to ensure its reality. I then return to my truck to retrieve the baseball cap, left by my 14 year old self, and the bandana, left by my mid 20’s self, and go inside the house unsure of what to do with the 3 items or the revelations learned from my past self.
I turn the knob, enter the house and close the door behind me. I walk into the family room and place the items on the table that sits below the 7′ by 3′ mirror that has been in the house since my wife bought the house a few years before we were married.
I stand up and look at my reflection. I stand arms at my side, confused yet contemplative look on my face.
My reflection looks back at me with arms crossed, concerned yet confrontational look on my face.
I blink, rub my eyes and move around like one of those weird windsocks that are on display at car dealerships
I just looked back at me from the other side of the mirror and shook my head back and forth in a ‘no’ motion.
“Have you seen enough?….cuz I have.” I say from the other side.
“I’m tired of talking to myself…I just want this to be over…I want to just live my life without…all this weird crap going on….yes I’ve had enough!” I reply exhaustively.
My reflection uncrosses my arms and begins to bite his bottom lip. After a few moments of thought he speaks.
“You haven’t lived your life in over 13 years…you have had periods of living….but you don’t stay…you always return to wallow in regrets of the past….”
I interject before I can continue.
“What are you talking about? In the past 13 years I’ve stopped drinking…and stayed stopped…I got married and am raising 2 kids with my wife….”
I agree with myself, then my reflection continues…
“But…during that process of growth, you have also isolated yourself. Outside the walls of this house you put on the happy face for the world. Inside you are your 14 year old former self who has to keep things together. You want to be out and about for family events but get so anxious and nervous about being good enough that you retreat in disparity like your mid 20’s self. And no matter what you do…you feel you will never…ever make up for time lost with Dad because of your mistakes…..just like you 31 year old self. In a world full of opportunity and people…you are alone….with yourselves from the past. It’s time to get past me…and get on with our life.”
I let my words sink in…really sink in and realize that I am right. I look at myself and ask,
“How do I get past…me?”
I relax my reflective stance and smile a little and reply.
“All you have to do is forgive yourself. You have spent a lot of time learning about amends to others since you got sober….but you have never made amends to yourself for carrying this weight for so long. Forgive. Let go. Live again.”
I felt a shudder as that sunk in. I closed my eyes and shook it off.
I looked back at my reflection and expected more. What I got was me staring at myself while I bit my bottom lip. I raised up my right hand and waved….the mimic was back.
I looked at the 3 items I placed on the table under the mirror. I placed the bandana and photo into the baseball hat and spoke,
“To my 14 year old self…I’m sorry for giving up hope on myself. You visited me and I told you to keep up hope when I had none for myself. I ask for my forgiveness.”
The baseball cap disappeared.
“To my mid 20’s self….I am sorry for exchanging alcohol for isolation. I was always good enough. I ask for my forgiveness.”
The bandana disappeared.
“To my 31 year old self….I am sorry for not allowing us to grieve and move on after Dad died. He was there for me when I was born and I was there for him when died. Each time we held each other’s hand. That’s all the time we needed. I ask for your forgiveness.”
The photo of my Father did not disappear. It changed into a photo of he and I from years past.
I took that photo and placed it in my wallet for safe keeping.
I returned to the spot in front of the mirror and did the little windsock dance again to make sure it was just my reflection and said,
“Wow. I got a lot of life to live…no better time like the present!”
I turned toward the kitchen with a little bounce in my step.
My wife was standing there, in her pajamas, looking at me with a bewildered look and said,
“Are you talking to yourself, again?”
I looked back at the mirror, chuckled, and then back at her and said,
“Not anymore…there are more important things than me.”