25 September 2018

My Sobriety, A Day at a Time


A couple of weeks ago I reached another sobriety milestone. Being clean and sober is not something I'd say that I take tremendous pride in. I'm leery of pride. I am very happy about my sobriety and glad that I got clean when I did --weeks before the missus found out she was pregnant and as I was embarking on my teaching career. I feel uncomfortable at AA meetings when people applaud my "birthday." It's a nice way to recognize people but I don't want to do an end zone dance about it. One of the most difficult concepts I've wrestled with in my life is humility. Looking back on your drinking and using years are a good recipe for humility, but it's best not to pump your fists in the air about keeping off the booze. After all it's a one-day-at-a-time thing. You've got to stay sober that day, it's a constant work in progress. Humility is more important than pride.

A lot of people talk about the miracle of their sobriety. I don't think staying sober a day at a time is a miracle. It's just what you do and the way to do is pretty simple: go to meetings, pay attention, talk to people, don't pick up that first drink, pray if you're into it (not me), meditate if your into it (me), do service and, as soon as you can, find a life that is more than just staying sober. Sobriety is not an end, it's a road to live a better life for people who have damaged some of their time on earth by getting very high very often. There's no miracle in it.

I have experienced a miracle however. Thirty one years ago after a two day drunken debauch I woke up and my first thought was that I had a problem. The wife, unsurprisingly, had been upset with my drunken state and slept on the sofa. I got out of bed and sat on the end of the sofa. She sat up. I said, "I've got a problem." Just like that. Mind you, I had never for one second prior to that morning entertained the notion that my drinking or drug use was excessive. When you're a social drunkard you can always point to other people and say, "now that guy drinks too much." Finding someone who uses more than you or who you think does, is easy. But me? I was fine. Over the years I've been questioned about this story. Surely, a person will say, the idea must have been planted by someone, or you had to have considered the possibility. Interestingly, none of the people who question my story are themselves in recovery. Folks who get clean and sober understand that sometimes, as we say, the bolt of lightening strikes.

That bolt was fortuitous for me because as previously mentioned I was eight months away from being a father. Managing that while imbibing and snorting would have been a disaster, not that my wife would have allowed it. As a result of my getting clean I was able to be a father to not just one but two daughters who today are successful grown women.

No, I don't miss drinking. Not anymore. There were times that I thought the only way to manage the world was though heavy doses of alcohol. Having given that up I faced something more daunting than simply not drinking, managing the world completely sober. It was a whole new way of life. I had relied on getting high to manage the pain I still suffered as an abuse survivor and controlling my panic attacks and blunting my depression. Absent booze, navigating the world was difficult. Fortunately I was busy, first with a pregnant wife, then with a baby and the whole time with my new career. It was sink or swim and through AA I swam. Awkwardly at first but I managed.

Drinking had been the be all and end all of my life. Drinking was parties, music, sex, sports, holidays, Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring a means of celebrating a means of drowning sorrow a means of escape, a way of life. One function of drinking is how it allows one to face life's grim realties. You can ponder mortality or discuss it with others when anesthetized by liquor. An existential crisis while high is easily blunted by getting higher. Of course, getting higher and higher is rather the point for an addict. Too much is never enough. There is no end, there is always more. I spent years drinking towards the perfect evening. Somehow this night would reach the stratosphere. There was some nebulous perfect high that could be attained, perhaps containing incredible sex, great insights, tremendous belly laughs, unparalleled excitement. One just had to keep at it, this dance with god was there somewhere.

Yes, I committed any number of truly stupid actions while high. I led women on, I hurt feelings, I broke things, I stole, I vandalized, I lied, I cheated, I made a bloody damn fool of myself. And I suffered some truly hellacious hangovers. All of this was collateral damage in the fight to be high, higher and highest. It was a stupid way to live, but the only way I knew. Truly it kept me sane, in the face of the horrors of my childhood and my crippling panic attacks, liquor allowed me some comfort and was a social lubricant without which I would never have made the scores of friends I did in my youth. But the cure for my ails took over and needed to be stopped. I'm a lucky man.

Being sober has not been a panacea. It has, however, been a truer path to enlightenment, understanding and coming to terms with who I am and what I've gone through. Sobriety does not make one perfect but it allows the pursuit of progress (perfection being unattainable). I am a work in progress. I am bi polar and suffer from depression but I live through it on life's terms, accepting the things I cannot change and trying desperately to change the things I can. I hope for serenity and honesty and courage, but do not ascribe those characteristics to myself. I'm just doing what I can today.

I'm really glad for today.

14 September 2018

Chicks Dig Me: The Life of Man Adored by Women


After a dental appointment I went to the bus stop. The wait was 12 minutes. If I waited there was a pretty young Latina college student who might have developed feelings for me. Ones I could not have in good conscience reciprocated. So I walked home. Poor kid missed out. She was wearing those tight yoga pants that a lot of young women use to try to lure me. I’m wise to their game. I’m a very happily married man and simply don’t allow comely lasses to tempt me into adultery. I’d just break their hearts anyway. I don’t know why young women throw themselves at me, but I learned long ago to accept it as a fact of life. I’m considerably older than most but I suppose that my obvious experience in the ways of love is attractive to women who tire of unsubtle, unsophisticated men their age pawing at them. I’ve also maintained my boyish good looks and smoldering sexuality. I’m a runner so am quite fit and this shows. I also have to surmise that women instinctually realize that I am a man of superior intelligence and great wit. My charm speaks for itself. My wife is well aware of the effect I have on women and has accepted it. She is proud of me and knows I’ll never stray (perhaps excepting a visit from Rihanna or Kristen Stewart).

It’s fair to ask if I’ve always been irresistible to the fairer sex and the answer is: indubitably. When I was quite young it was, the opposite of today as it was older females who were drawn to me. I remember as a toddler being pursued by seven and eight year old girls. This was not ideal for someone just out of diapers as my pursuers frightened me. By the time I was in kindergarten I was a man of the world and the constant attention I received from older girls was something I found flattering, plus I knew enough to act on their overtures. By the third grade I was getting attention from junior high girls and had a full social calendar. Being the catch that I was girls knew that they’d have to buy me dinner and bring me gifts if I were to consider them worthy of my increasingly precious time.

By the time I hit junior high school I was dating 17 and 18 year olds and even some university students who found the risk of impugning the morals of a child worth it for the chance to savor my presence. I struggled through high school, so preoccupied was I by fighting off the hordes of females of all ages who were competing for my affections. When I started excelling in soccer the numbers of my pursuers increase many fold and at our matches the sidelines were jammed with women lusting after me.

I escaped to another city for college hoping for a respite from love crazed females who saw me as the embodiment of masculine perfection. However a new town simply meant a new group of women seeking my companionship. At least in college I finally settled on dating women my own age. I tried a year abroad to relieve myself of the women swooning at my feet. But Europe proved much the same. British women, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Finnish, Danish, Italian, no matter what country, no matter where I turned no matter what I did there were women begging me for a date, a lock of my hair, a one-night stand all while pledging eternal devotion.

It was not until I married that I achieved relief. My eventual wife was one of my most ardent pursuers who literally punched, kicked and slapped her competition to get to me. I admired her determination and found that of all the thousands of women I’d been with, she was the most intelligent, compatible and beautiful. For once I was in love too.

Of course it hasn’t all been perfect since we married. Despite the prominence of my wedding ring and my advancing age there have been those many, many, many determined lasses who hope against hope that they can be the one to at last coax me into infidelity. It hasn’t worked yet.

If you’re wondering, no it has not been an easy life. You would think the constant attention of beautiful women would be heaven on earth, but a man needs rest, he needs time alone and once he is married he needs his sacred wedding vows respected. On the other hand having women forever falling head-over-heals for me has done wonders for my ego. Also, I had what one might call the pick of the litter and was able to find the perfect mate. She is a woman not only of eternal beauty but of strong character who realizes that tens of thousands of women are jealous of her. One can only speculate at how privileged she feels to be the one and only who lays claim to my heart.

I’ll have to close here, I’m being told its time for my medication. The doctors and nurses here are so nice. The females of whom all clearly have crushes on me.

09 September 2018

A Piece of My Heart on the Floor

Jenna and I in happier times
There was a piece of my heart lying there on the kitchen floor. Jenna had just cut it out executing this action with a nasty twist. I supposed it could be replaced some day but for the moment it felt like the damage was irreversible and permanent. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t move. I could only just barely breath.

Jenna was still there as if admiring the precision of her butchery. Her face was in a sympathetic frown, yet her arms were crossed creating a feeling of great distance between us. She was feigning concern for my well-being and one would assume probably felt a bit of guilt over the damage she had inflicted. I looked up at her and she’d never seemed so beautiful nor so ugly. I opened my mouth to speak but I could no more make an utterance than do a standing back flip.

“Is there something you want to say, Dirk? You can say whatever you need to. I’m listening.”

I could say whatever I needed to. How kind, how gracious, how thoughtful of her to grant me permission, to recognize my free will.

“Maybe, you want to talk later? I understand this is difficult.”

Difficult? She really acknowledged that this was “difficult?” Well it was for me, for her it seemed a rather simple matter. I wondered why she didn’t just stomp on that chunk of my heart that she had eviscerated. Why was she now being so superficially thoughtful?

My knees were weak, my body felt drained of blood, my fingers trembled. I was more zombie than man. The living dead, stuck in the same room as the murderer.

“Look, Dirk, would you prefer it if I left? We can talk later if you like. I’ll have to come back tomorrow to get the rest of my things. Promise me you’ll be okay.”

Jenna wanted a promise from me? She who had broken so many. And why would she care if I was “okay”? She was the one who had inflicted the damage.
I was growing weak at the knees so I sat down. I looked up at Jenna who was still looking beautiful/ugly, still frowning with fake sympathy and still keeping her arms folded.

“Please say something, Dirk.”

Oh, so she wanted me to say something. That was what SHE needed. I’d be doing her a big favor by talking. The guilt must have really wrapped itself around her. It’s coils and tentacles strangling what little conscience she had. I had half a mind to keep my big trap shut, that would really be doing a number on her. But at the same I wanted her gone and it seemed the only way to rid myself of her was by saying “something.” And so I did.

“Bye, Jenna.”

“Okay. That’s it? You don’t need to say anything else right now?”

I looked up Jenna and shook my head no.

“Fine,” she said flippantly, as if I was being a total asshole. “I’ll be going then.”

I sighed and looked down at the floor.

“I’ll probably come by fairly early tomorrow morning to get my things, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” I muttered.

With a flash, obviously feeling released as a result of my finally speaking, Jenna was out the door.

It seemed an obvious time for me to break into huge sobbing fit. I cry fairly easily, especially for a man. But with a piece of my heart out I was totally beret of feeling other than a numbness, as if death was approaching and I was settling into it. So I sat there on a chair in the kitchen staring at the floor. It needed mopping, I noted. I also noted that I had never felt such hate for a person as I did now for Jenna. Nor, for that matter had I ever loved her as I did now. But surely the love would fade. So would the hate. In its place there would be a huge hole, right where she had ripped out that chunk of my heart.

For a minute or two I kidded myself that Jenna would be back, that it was all a mistake she’d made and any minute there she would be saying she was back for good and all. But in what was left of my heart I knew better.

I sat in the kitchen for what I guess was about an hour before I finally got up and I only did so because mother nature had called. I relieved myself, splashed my face and got ready for bed. A bed I would be entering and waking up in alone. Alone for the first time in four years.
That’s how long Jenna and I had been together. We had been so happy — or so I thought. Quarrels were few and far between and never serious. Much more frequent was love making, drives in the country, visits with friends, dinner at gourmet restaurants, long quiet evenings together talking or just reading or listening to the radio. I never thought for a second it would end. Yet it did all of a sudden, in one night.

A long affair with a professor, the professor got a divorce, the professor proposed, she said yes, all this under my nose, my stupid nose. How matter-of-factly Jenna told me all of this as if recounting a day at work. Yes, she apologized, acknowledged that it was a shock, claimed she hadn’t been happy with me the past year and was surprised I hadn’t seen the signs. Well I hadn’t. Hadn’t seen a thing. No signs. Not to me. She’d seemed happy enough and yes she’d been out of the house more but she was working on her Phd, I  thought she was doing research, not having an affair with a married man.

Live and learn.

The next day was bad. The day after a little better. And so on. Better by degrees each day but the hole in my heart remained and though the pain lessened it was still a consistent presence

Two weeks after Jenna left me the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The day after that I enlisted in the army. Here I was teaching three classes in English Literature, on the tenure track, probably not too many years from being a full professor and I was going off to war. I’d never have done it if Jenna hadn’t sliced open my heart. But I was damaged goods and there was little that could happen to me in war that would feel as bad as what that woman had done to me. The war would be my escape. My house was full of memories and so was virtually every restaurant in town and every friend I saw. Jenna permeated everything. The army, especially with a war going on, was the only antidote I could envision. An escape. To others I was being patriotic, noble, serving my country. But I realized that I was running away

Basic training is over as I write this and I’m headed to the Pacific. I’m a grunt, an infantryman and I’m ready for action. Maybe I’ll win a medal, maybe I’ll get killed by a sniper, maybe a leg will be blown off and maybe I’ll be taken prisoner and maybe I won’t see much action at all. Right now I don’t care. I’m going to accept my fate. If I come out of the war alive and in one piece I’ll…well, I don’t know really. That’s a ways off. Right now I’m a solider and I don’t know what’s next but whatever it is, I’m ready.

05 September 2018

Ben in the Afterlife; The Pesky Visits of a Dearly Departed



PART ONE

(This part was written last week, October 17, 2017.)

That gall durn Ben Slipowitz keeps pestering me. Sure he was the best damn friend a fella ever had but he’s been dead for 10 damn months. Why the hell can’t he leave me alone? Most every night, usually about nine o’clock he starts banging on the ceiling. I look up and there’s this dark mist with an outline of ole Ben’s face in it, soze I know it’s him. He winks at me too. Then he swoops and swirls around the cabin sometimes making this, I guess you’d say, cackling sound. After a few minutes everything gets quiet and then I see him plain as day sitting in a chair by the fireplace with his old hunting jacket on, the one with the blood stain when he cut himself skinning a rabbit. He’ll look over at me, smile from one darned ear to the other then he’s gone. Who needs that kind of aggravation?

Ben and I hunted and fished together for a good fifty years, since we was kids. Well we fished that long, we gave up hunting a few years back. Ben, why he got tired of all the work that went into hunting compared with fishing and me I just lost my taste for killing mammals. Sometimes another friend or my oldest boy or one of my cousins visiting from the city would join us, but most of the time it was just the two of us. Ben died of a whopper of a heart attack just under a year ago. Was tying his shoes right here in the cabin when all of a sudden like he stood up, put one hand to his chest and looked straight up with his mouth wide open in a silent scream. Then he dropped like a dang rock and hit the floor with a thud. Yeah I saw it all right and knew without a doubt he was goner when he fell. I checked for a pulse just the same and there was nothing doing. Dead just like that, 67 years old, same age as me. I aim to go on living a lot more years though don’t know that Ill make it if Ben don’t stop visiting me from the spirit world or wherever the hell he’s supposed to be. Damn him.

Ben had never married and was an orphan so I was his only family to speak of. I got divorced from my darling Rebecca four years ago. Once our kids growed up and left home all she and I did was argue. She’d always wanted to do one thing and I’d always want to do the other. Worse, she brought up every bad habit I ever had and raked me over the damn coals about everything. Nothin’ I did was ever right anymore and I supposedly wasn’t good enough for her. I half think Rebecca just went off her nut the way she talked. Anyway I was the one who suggested the divorce. I could tell the old battle axe was surprised but her pride made her agree to it and before the papers were even filed she went off and moved in with her spinster sister over in Cabook County where I guess she spends her time talking about what I no good bum I was — or am. Hell, I don’t care. Like I said the kids are grown, Tom is big wheel in the real estate biz, Lorna is nurse and the littlest one, Jim is a fashion designer. Yup he’s a queer. The signs were all there when he was a kid, never did take to outdoor actives which is pretty much all I do. Real mama’s boy that one. Oh hell, I don’t care, he’s still my boy and I still love him and always will. I just don’t like to think about what he and what he calls his partner do when the lights are out.

I sold the house when Rebecca left and moved permanent into our cabin, it’s right down by where Lake Tahoma and Big Frog River meet. I still fish pretty regular — hell, who am I kidding, I damn near fish everyday — and many a meal I eat is fresh perch or trout or salmon or whitefish or whatever the hell I happen to catch. My life’s pretty good. I got all the nature a fella could desire which is good for long walks and now I got a satellite dish for the TV so that can keep me company along with all the books I never got around to reading when I was working full time at the mill which I did for 40 years. Mostly its detective stuff and biographies of great men although I don’t know how damn great some of the people I read about are. Most any person who lived long enough to be worth writing about has done his share of bad things. Hell I’m the first to admit that I ain’t exactly been an angel myself. Don’t believe me ask Rebecca, she’ll give you an earful.

Yeah sure I’m lonesome a lot of the time. I spent so damn many years with the guys at the mill and with a house full of kids and Rebecca that I’m used to other folks. I go into town now and again like for shopping and sometimes stop at McGinity’s for a beer or six but most days it’s just me and of course that gall darn ghost. I reckon it’s about time I got back to writing about Ben in the afterlife, cause that’s far and away more interesting than me babbling on about my Rebecca — who ain’t mine no more — or the kids or my solitary life.
More than once, hell more than a dozen times, I’ve asked Ben jus’ what the hell he wants out of me. I’ve asked that question in as many different ways as I can come up with but it don’t matter no how cause that son of a bitch don’t answer. I told ya what he does do and none of it entails him talking to me let alone explaining hisself.

The first time he “visited” less than a week after he died, it scared the bejeezus out of me. I thought for a second that I’d gone stark raving loco. I didn’t sleep a wink that whole night. The next night he came I was a little less scared but I still damn near soiled myself and still hardly got any shut eye. As he started coming regular I got a bit more used to it until by and by I came to get irritated by the whole show. Pretty much the same dang thing every night. Sometimes there’d be more thumping and other times he sit longer and other times the top of his head would float away while he was sittin’ there. That was downright spooky the first time, but like everything else I got used to it. What I can’t get used to is the whole idea of it. What’s he after? Is this what I have to look forward — more like dread — for the rest of my days?

Last week I drove into town and went to the library where I checked out everything I could find about the afterlife and what they call seances and mediums and anything else that was halfway serious about visitors from the graveyard. I’m still pouring through some of this stuff but so far haven’t learned nothin’ that I can apply to my situation. It does seem that Ben may be stuck going from this world to the next but that’s just a theory. I’ve thought about having someone over to the cabin hoping that Ben will do one of his “performances” and that I can at least talk about it to another human being. Thing is I don’t know whether to warn them or not. If I don’t it might scare a person half to death and if I do they might think I’m loony, especially if Ben takes that night off.

Ben lived most of his life in a small house just down the road a piece from our place. Course he lived alone. He worked at the lumberyard which was right by the mill so we saw each other every day. On weekends and vacations we’d head down to the cabin, which is only a half hour ride from town and like I say sometimes we’d have company. Ben always seemed like a happy guy, always ready with a joke or a story and a pretty good listener too. No one had a bad word so say about Ben, least of all me. Up until he started haunting me I regarded him as as fine a man as has walked the earth. Oh there was nothing special about him, no great talent, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but a nicer person you’d never meet. That was while he was alive, though. Right now I’m dealing with his spirit and he’s become goddamned aggravating.

PART TWO

(This part was written today, October 25, 2017, a week after I wrote the first part.)

I’m finally shed of Ben, least I think so, it’s been five days since he showed up last and he’d never before missed more than one day. What happened was this. The night after I wrote the first part of this story (and it’s a true one, I swear to God) I was sittin’ in my rocking chair by the fire reading one of those books on the afterlife with stories of ghosts and what not. To tell ya the truth I was having a deuce of a time making heads nor tails of most of what I was reading. Some of it just seemed damned silly and other books were full of scientific mumbo jumbo that I could’t understand to save my life. Anyway I’m getting kind of intrigued by this one story in a book by this fella who investigated ghost sightings when damn Ben shows up banging away at the ceiling. It was one interruption too many.

“Goddamn it, Ben!” I hollered, “you need to stop with this right now. You got no call to interrupt me every dang evening. I’ve been patient but this has gone too darn far. You hear me?”

Next thing there’s Ben again sitting in the chair on the opposite side of the fireplace from where I’m sittin’. Only this time he ain’t grinning. Instead he’s got a sadder looking face than you ever did see. In fact, it looks like he’s got some sort of afterlife tears streaming down his face.

“Now don’t get all weepy on me, Ben. That’s no better than the way you usually are. I’m sorry you’re dead but I can’t do nothin’ about it and I’ve got a right to live my life.”

Then Ben’s ghost looks right at me, more like he’s staring, and he mouths something, a word that seems like “shout.”

“You sayin’ not to shout at you? Is that it?”

Ben shakes his head no and mouths the word again. This time I take it for “out.”

“You saying ‘out’? Is that it?”

Ben nodded his head yes.

Suddenly it came to mind that Ben died right here in this cabin and maybe for some reason his spirit was stuck here and he wanted to get out. I walked over the front door, looked back at Ben and then swung the door open. I nodded my head towards the outdoors. The next thing I know this mist in the shape of Ben is flying past me and out the door. I look outside and the mist is hovering in the air about 40 feet over the ground. It seems to be smiling.

“You takin’ off now, Ben?”

The mist seems to nod its head yes and then breaks into the biggest gall durn smile you ever did see. Next he flies back and forth this way and that, up high, down low, doin’ summersaults and back flips like I kid diving into the lake on the first day of Summer vacation. Finally he paused for a few seconds and it was pretty clear he was looking down at me. I got the feeling this was goodbye. I gave him a good hard look and waved and said, “goodbye Ben, I loved you, you were a great friend.”

He hovered another few seconds and then disappeared into thin air.
I went back into the cabin and balled my eyes out. I hadn’t cried like that since I was little kid. I’ll tell you, it felt good. When I was done sobbing and had blown my nose and splashed my face I poured myself a tall glass of whiskey and sat staring at the fireplace, I had a good fire going. At one point I thought I saw Ben’s face in the fire but I’d been dozing on and off and it had been a pretty tall glass of whiskey so I don’t put much account to it.

It was late when I went to bed and I slept better than I have in years. When I woke up the next morning I had a huge appetite so I made eggs, ham, flapjacks and toast and ate every bit of it. Then I had a powerful hankering to do some fishing, which I did. I sat by the river with my pole in the water and goddamn I never caught so many fish in my life. The whole time I could feel Ben’s presence beside me and I tell ya that it was a great comfort. I miss the son of a bitch.