It’s morning. You’ve just woken up. It looks warm outside, the sun is shining, but there’s a thick blanket of snow on the deck. A large mug of coffee sits on the window sill, sunlight illuminating the steam as it lazily escapes the heat of the mug. You may be cozied up with your chin on your knees, a thick blanket wrapped round you as you stare out the window from the overstuffed leather chair. But it’s not a happy time. It’s sad. You’ve just lost a friend, finished the final legal hoops of a failed marriage. It’s a pensive, reflective moment. All cried out. Alone. Relieved, at peace, but saddened and forlorn. A complex web of emotions hangs stagnant amidst the lingering aroma of the coffee. They’re all real. Every bit of it as real as the snow outside. The sun, too far away to melt it, serves as a reminder that it will warm someday. This ain’t the last rodeo. The fingerprints on the window also serve that hope. There is life. And when the bell rings and the kids come traipsing in the front door, your silent melancholy will be abruptly shattered.
I’ve come to find that winter is my favorite season. I do like that cold. But that’s not it. It’s like a hard reset for planet America. Or at least planet North Texas. My world. It gets cold, freezes off the trials of the summer and the first nine months of a year, drops the leaves in the street and starts over. Let’s give it another chance. Let’s see if we can get it right this time. A perpetual trial and error in small, annual runs, like caption bubbles popping, saying “Once more”. Every year I contemplate what I could have done differently to make it a better year. Have I achieved what I set out to achieve this year? Have I grown as a man? A husband? A father? Am I where I wanted to be in life? On that third-grade questionnaire, where it asked ‘where do you want to be at forty-five’ what did I answer? Rich with a mountain home and a private plane? Warm with a red-haired wife and a black dog in a small cottage? Alone with a television blaring nonsense at a sub-audible level while I play solitaire on a sticky TV tray?
I feel like this has all happened already. Not quite deja vu, but another flash from another frame in that old toy projector. A different woman, different hair color. Different dog; different house; not quite a plane out front, but a dream car instead. I’m definitely not rich, but I am blessed. I have everything I need, and a lot of what I want. But these are just things. What do I crave? Money? Companionship? Friends? Sex?
I think I’m not sure.
At the beginning of 2008, I lost a friend. Shortly after, I met who would become my next wife. Sometimes we confuse what we want with what we need. It seems like yesterday I sat out behind my house, leaning against the wall of my converted garage, a bottle of bourbon in one hand, crying and drinking myself into a stupor. I sat behind the house because I cry up. Not down. I don’t like my kids to see me hurting. But it wasn’t long until I bounced back. I always do. I have this way of shutting off my emotions so I can function. I call it robot mode. Not very eloquent, but succinct. The problem with this is that it kills the smiles as well as the tears. I found myself doing this a lot back when I was in the service. I got married just a couple of years after I got out of the service. And yet, here I am sitting on this driveway, a bourbon bottle drinking from me while I ponder the imminent divorce. That was almost ten years ago now.
This year, 2017, has been a very eventful year, to say the least. I was assaulted by a family member. We sold off all the furniture and pulled stakes, moved to Palestine with a dream of living on some land. We bought that land, a four-and-a-half acre plot down a road off a road off a road. Very peaceful. Eighty-foot pines. Lots of cedar. Wet-weather creek. Gorgeous. Serene. I called it Dawn’s Whisper. We stayed in an RV park in this tiny RV while we prepared to improve the land. Once the land was improved, we would move the RV out there, and stay on the land while we built our house. I knew I couldn’t stay in that RV for long. Six humans in a cramped camper with only a tiny walkway for a kitchen – that’s not my idea of living. Even tiny-house lovers would be claustrophobic in that mess. That’s why I spent most of my time on the land. Chopping firewood, building fire pits, clearing driveways, blazing trails. Stout and I camped out there a lot. Cooked our meat on a fire. Ate steaks off flat rocks. And in the evenings, tossed cheap aluminum into crackling flames. It was the life.
This whole thing happened so fast that I never had time to stop and question anything. Like why isn’t our house selling? Why did we have to move so fast? Why does it feel like we’re running from something? Why does my wife never come to the land with me? She’s always cleaning the RV. That thing is small enough to polish up to brand-new looking in just a few hours. But I wasn’t concerned. I was relaxing and unwinding from the grill marks of twenty years of IT in the city life. This was therapeutic for me. And all the while, she was sneaking away with the RV park manager. She was learning algebra when this guy was born. He makes a hundred dollars a week. He has no education, no running vehicle, no property of his own, but apparently he’s the one.
We sold the land. I moved in with my parents while I waited for my apartment to become available. I met a lot of new people. I made many trips back to the old house to collect the remnants of a life left behind. While I was busy wondering why we weren’t proceeding with listing the house, she was busy not paying the mortgage. She insisted on handling all the bills. And since she made the most money, I didn’t argue. But handling means something completely different to her, apparently. I don’t know. Like handling it from the mailbox to the dustbin? Either way, there’s a foreclosure sticker on the window. My trips into the mansion that was once my dream have now desisted. I put hardwood floors in the game room upstairs. I built a wall up there to hide a fridge and a closet, then built a bar and decorated it with all the things that tell a safe story of who I am. Man, what a fun project that was.
I’m not lonely. And I didn’t find myself sitting against a wall on a driveway. But this sure feels familiar. I watch as my little girl is growing and becoming a big girl. I’m mom and dad. When mom only shows up once every sixty days or so, and only spends a few hours with her, I get no shortage of time with my girls. It seems unbelievable that this is the woman I married some eight years ago. I don’t really know her at all. In fact, having carried my newborn ‘down the aisle’ as we got married on the beach, it doesn’t even make sense that we wed at all, seeing as how the best thing to come out of it was already here. God had a plan though.
I’m definitely a happier person now. One thing I learned about myself over the last six months is that all my anxiety and stress came from living a life I couldn’t define. I have no stress anymore. No anxiety. No drama. No lies, deceit or assaults to worry about either. Maybe this is the life. Either way, I find myself sitting pensively, pondering, “What’s it all mean?” again. Nine years have come and gone. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve grown up a lot. I’ve made new commitments. New resolutions. New promises. But coming out of robot mode makes it difficult to define happy. Happier than ever. I think.
My hobbies change with the season. They change like radio stations on a road trip. They begin to grow fuzzy long before I notice the annoyance. Then suddenly I’m turning the knob and on to the next thing. I’m writing again. So that’s good. I have a little ditty that’s been tumbling around in my head for some time now. “…and though my heart doesn’t know the song, I’m sure I love the Melody…” My moods also change. But I’ve found that their range is a lot less extreme than before. My moods change from giddy to excited to happy to comfortable to relaxed. There’s no more anger or fear. No more heartbreak. Perhaps I’ve changed like the radio station too. I’ve gone from talk to rock. Maybe a little smooth jazz on the weekends. I have more ink. I’ve taken training classes to become more proficient in things important to me. Am I perhaps more scholastic now? Shrug. I don’t know. But I’ve definitely learned a lot in these six months. About who I am, who she is and where I’m going.
I played the guitar this weekend. I sat there and played it. I didn’t have any song in mind. Wasn’t singing the ever-requested Van Morrison. Speaking of which, I want my next love to request a song I’ve written every once in a while. Not some cover by an old Irish drunk. But it felt nice to sit and strum and pick that guitar, just listening to the intonation and pitch of the notes, the melodies – the hum of the maple. I was by myself. Feet up, eyes closed, strumming a soft progression I will likely never find again. I haven’t done that in a long time. I think it represents a spirit at rest. An old dog come home.
When you pull the hot iron from between two bodies, they can come to embrace each other once again. Relationships long burned by that fire have begun to see repair. That fire was refining, though dangerous. It pulled the lid off the id. I’m glad to have been burned by it because the scars are pretty. And others will benefit from rubbing fingertips across the stories told beneath. I’ve turned the page on part one. The flyleaf lies on the left. Part two sits waiting for me. It’s fresh, bold, black ink. I need only turn the page. I laced up my boots this morning with a kind of peace I’ve not felt in a long time. I’m starting the second half of my life now. And thank God I have no weights tied to my ankles this time around. There’s just too much swimming to do.
I’ve found I can walk a little slower now. Having seen everything through the window of a race car doesn’t leave much of an impression. And the pictures are all blurry. And what of the sitting still? My socks are warm. And though I no longer have a deck outside my window, and there is no snow to be found, it is cold. It is warm inside. The fingerprints on the glass no longer bring tears. They’re playful, happy memories. I have two precious little intellectual mysteries. They generate questions and intrigue I could never have imagined. They also generate laughter and smiles big pharma could never encapsulate. And there’s no interior danger to them. They might just last forever.
I do smile a lot more. I do laugh a lot more. I do play a lot more. What I don’t do a lot more of is wonder. Which is the true red? What of the evanescent integers in a ledger? No, that’s all gone now. When you’re playing putt putt, who has time to check their competitor’s score?
There’s a lot of scar tissue here, to be sure. But some women love a man with battle scars. These things excite me. They make me smile.
The ceiling creaks now. Time has passed and a lot has changed. The moon is more distant. Almost a foot. The sun burns a little warmer. But it still has no power over the cleansing effects of the axis. The leaves will still fall. Planet America still gets a reset. When the final snows melt this time, there will be a lot worth starting over. It’s just another notch on your bedpost, right? But it’s a new bed. New post. New sheets. The bed sounds nice right now, in fact. There’s no more steam rising from the coffee by the window. It’s almost as cool as the sidewalk outside. I see the wind rustling up new leaves and think of the incalculable numbers of leaves starting their new journeys. And not one of those leaves have I ever seen before. Nor will I ever see them again. But when you’re sitting still, you can see them with a crisper clarity. There’s no blur in the picture. The beauty and detail is unmistakable. Remarkable. Poignant.
I think I’ll lie down to sleep for a while. When the door bursts open and my little ones crash the silence, I’ll awaken. And thus begin a new day. And this time, with a smile.