Archive for the 'Love' Category

Are We Not Men?

The smell of evaporating rain on the summer-heated asphalt conjures ambiguous flashbacks and less-than-vivid feelings from my childhood, pretty much all summed up into one memory of laying in the middle of the double-yellow street, on a blind corner, in front of the house I grew up in. Somehow I’m not dead. I remember watching steam rise and swirl around me as the rain fell, creating more steam. The street was almost too hot for my skin and I would tolerate it as long as possible, then run to the back yard covered in grit and tiny pebbles and jump in the pool. Repeat.

My dad was not around much when I was a kid. Maybe he was, I’m not sure. That’s really not the point. The point is that he left no strong impression in my mind for better or for worse. I don’t remember him being around. He liked to work. He was always working on the deal of the century. Although, nine times out of ten or eleven he was home for dinner. Most of the time he got home just in time, I think. I wish I had more powerful memories of my dad, but they are just not there. The memories I do have paint him in a very passive and in-the-background light; always reading the paper, or absorbed in something other than what was happening. Not angry, not excited, not engaged. Sure, I have some fond moments with him, but those are from my teen years after the divorce. Everyone loved my dad. He was really good at giving everyone else the best of himself. He would walk into a room and not one person would not notice. He could be considered a genius by those who measure such things. I don’t know if I ever fought for his attention. I probably did. Perhaps we just get used to things. I was always more concerned with explaining to my mom how this or that Lego spaceship worked with all its escape pods and detachable rovers and mission-specific vehicles. The older I grew, the more frustrated and angry I became as I realized how she seemed to increasingly not pay attention. Then I had my own kids. Knowing what I know now, she was most likely trying to hold everything together and had very little left over for the non-critical things.

Recently, I had a chance to hang out with my littlest sister. I haven’t seen her in over two years and only once or twice in the previous two. She just graduated from college. We talked and laughed and reminisced and had an awesome discussion about how somewhere along the line, our awareness of the world around us became larger than our creativity, or our perceived capacity to be creative. At that moment, whenever it happened, we stop believing. Mostly in ourselves. As if we traded our imagination for the voices that would tell us, “That won’t work.” “That’s not a good idea.” “You can’t do that.” I shared with her my short story concept about a time machine… about always living in the past or waiting for the future to happen, thus completely missing the present. My dad missed her graduation. So did I. It’s funny how physical proximity and time as investment collateral can be a valid excuse by which we gauge how “worth it” something is. If the only truly eternal thing in this universe is people, then why do we write them off so easily? The fact that my sister graduated from college is huge. I didn’t. Neither did my other sister. Yes, I feel bad about missing it. I’m off the hook though, you know, because we live so far away and it’s expensive to fly and life and stuff. My dad is not. He could have been there. He chose otherwise, or probably more aptly let the choice for him to not be there be made for him. I love my dad. I miss him. My mom has always said he’s got a big heart. He’s a glorious asshole.

I used to think my dad was invincible. That illusion crumbled over 10 years ago. It was nothing dramatic. At least, not as dramatic as it could be or sounds like. He no longer represented the ideal man to me. I just realized one day that my dad made some choices and mistakes that he never recovered from, or never figured out how to get out from underneath. I don’t know. Maybe he likes his life. When I realized I did not want to be like my dad, that’s when my adventures in growing up began. There was no one in my life I wanted to be like. I was newly married, with an infant son, and a full-time job. And suddenly I had no time left for making spaceships.

I talked to my counselor today (back story). He listened to me tell my stories from the past two weeks. Stories of kids running away, father & son breakfast times, losing Lego pieces in the car, and the “quarter incident” at the grocery store. Then he punched me in the face. Twice. Metaphorically, of course. Over the past three months we’ve been talking about and working on what my role is, both as a father and a husband. Today was two fistfuls of both. I can’t recall the exact phrasing he used, but the following is what I got out of what we talked about.

Guys, here’s some free advice: if you’re living for the approval or praise of your wife (or anyone), stop it. It will undermine every decision you are required to make. It will be evident to your kids that your authority can be shaken, because they’ll know you can’t do anything without her. This is not a “tyrant” or “boss” kind of authority; rather, the kind that lets your family know you are provider, protector, teacher, and counselor. It is the kind that defines your presence as peace-giving and definite and not feared. This is the kind of authority your wife considers security. Second-guessing yourself is like drinking poison that hollows you from the inside out, especially when it’s centered around self-preservation and shielding from criticism from someone else, assumed or actual. Obviously, making sound decisions is important and should be revered to build and maintain trust so that we can be what we’ve been entrusted to be. Like it or not, carrying the title “husband” and/or “father” is not just for tax breaks. And don’t be a dumb-ass (read: passive, uninvolved, too tired, over-worked, etc…) forcing her to wear your boots to carry you both through life’s shit storms. It’s hard enough to navigate when you don’t have all the answers; don’t make it harder by making your wife/partner your obsession and your enemy. She needs you. You need her. She is amazing and it’s a miracle she chose you to be with. She’s your best teammate. Treat her like the incredible person she is by being the man you are meant to be. It’s time to stop being kids in our parents’ shoes and start being adults who can wear kids’ shoes. Here’s a great article about this, in better detail. The Art of Manliness is a great site in general.

Freebie #2: As parents, our kids need to see mom and dad as a united front and that there’s no chance for a “divide and conquer” strategy to gain any ground (either planned, reactionary, or otherwise). We gotta be ready for this. It happens. We do it to ourselves, our kids do it to us. Not out of a sense of malicious intent, but out of a reaction to any number or combination of things.

Bonus, maybe: Simple is not easy. These are very hard patterns to break. We have suitcases of garbage from our past that can affect and thwart our abilities to do what we need to do. Combined with your wife’s own case(s) of crap, we’re lucky anyone makes it out alive. But I’m not talking about dealing with the past. This is about starting right now, today, choosing to be active and present; choosing to give all we have to each moment we have. Our kids are not going to be four again. They’re not going to just sing as if no one is watching for much longer. They are not going to be eight again and be willing to tell you what they’re thinking, wether you asked them to or not. They are not going to be eleven again, wanting to explain how that Lego spaceship works, or what story idea is floating around in their brain.

As I drove away from my counseling session, wiping the blood from my nose and trying not to aggravate my new fat lip, I started thinking about role models. I was thinking of what I look to for examples and how there’s no shortage of role models, just a severe shortage of decent ones. Even now as an adult it is tough to find a voice not celebrating the stereotypical “guy” who only watches sports, can’t wait to drink beer, and has no clue what the woman who has pledged herself to him actually wants, as “the life.” I don’t know what the word for being sad and mad at the same time is… maybe it’s smad. From Dexter to Abraham Lincoln, from Superman and every other super-hero to late night talk show hosts, from The President to Jesus to rock star song writers and every protagonist from every movie ever made… they all want to tell us or show us how to make life work. That somehow they have the answer. And they can’t all be right, can they? I mean some combinations are deadly. On a more personal note: there’s my dad who pretty much traded us in for a new family long after my sisters and I “grew up,” who can’t stop trying to escape the present, teaching that when life gets broken, go get a new one. And you’ve got my amazing friend Carvis whose bio-dad who only knows him by silently lurking on his blog for the past eight years only to surface and defend himself after an angry post about Father’s Day (which consequently, was not about him), teaching that if you can justify what you did then no one has the right to be mad at you. And then there’s Bill Cosby who’s pretty much everyone’s pipe-dream of a dad, teaching us that television might be the best source for finding answers. Not to mention God, which we all fall short of living up to — I don’t even know how to pull that one in and still make sense and carry this post through.

Then I realized that all we get left with is the classic Frankenstein Syndrome. We become monster. Not as a role model, not on purpose, but as a result. We are demo. We break and get broken and try to find “experts” to fix what’s wrong and before you know what’s happening, your head is cracked open and a crazy doctor is pulling stuff out and cramming other stuff in and trying to tidy up the mess.

The Monster

Do not, through inaction, succumb to the Frankenstein Syndrome.

We become bits and pieces of all kinds of theologies and methodologies and flat-out lies fist fighting with undeniable truth and promises of grace and hope… all mixed up, leaving us for the most part numb and dumb; unable to make critical, life-long decisions; creating havoc everywhere we go when all we really want is to feel loved and accepted, but have no idea how to solve this problem and so we plow through people and ourselves and end up back in the hands of some other whacked out scientist repeating the process.

Then I remember my kids and my wife, and I start praying for God to disassemble me and extract all the parts he didn’t put in, and add back the parts that are missing, and nurse me back to the man I was created to be. And let my scars remind me of what life would be like without him, and let my dependence on him power my confidence in the effect of my presence in my kids’ lives, and let his grace sufficiently enable me to fulfill my responsibility to my wife and our family and to not end up cultivating a bio-hazard dumping ground.

The Graveyard Near The House

Two days ago I discovered the new album All At Once by The Airborne Toxic Event via Grooveshark. The song “The Graveyard Near The House” started to play and it immediately grabbed my heart. Bought the album (mp3 download version) for $5 on Amazon. There are a lot of great songs on this album, but this one is my favorite. I love the subtle morbidity accenting the incredible depth of love and the raw honesty applied to the characters in the story. This video is a live recording and not the polished album version — the underlying rainfall aptly becomes an instrument. The vocals, violin, upright bass, simple percussions and even simpler keys melt perfectly. Enjoy!

The Graveyard Near The House

And the lyrcs…

The other day, when we were walking by the graveyard near the house, you asked me if you thought we would ever die. And if life and love both fade predictably we’ve made ourselves a kind of predictable life.

And so I pictured us like corpses, lying side by side in pieces, in a dark and lonely plot under a bough. We looked so silly there, all decomposed, half turned to dust, in tattered clothes, but we probably look just as silly now.

Bye bye bye bye, bye bye to all this dogged innocence. I can’t pretend that I can tell you what is going to happen next, or how to be. But you have no idea ’bout me, do you?

And it left me to wonder if people ever know each other or just stumble around like strangers in the dark. ‘Cause sometimes you seem so strange to me, I must seem strange to you. We’re like two actors playing two parts. Did you memorize your lines? ‘Cause I did. And this part where I get so mad, I tell you I can’t forget the past. You get so quiet now, and you seem, somehow, like a lost and lonely child. And you just hope that the moment won’t last.

Bye bye bye bye, bye bye to all this dogged innocence. I can’t pretend that I can tell you what is going to happen next, or how to be. But you have no idea ’bout me. You have no idea ’bout me, do you?

So there’s always a way around. There’s something tying our feet to the ground. A moment passed, we hate how it sounds.

And it seems a little less profound. Like we’re all going the same way down. Yeah we’re all going the same way down. I’m just trying to write it all down.

‘Cause I write songs, and you write letters. We are tied like two, in tethers. And we talk and read, and laugh and sleep, at night in bed, together. And you wake in tears sometimes, I can see the thoughts flash across your eyes. They say “Darling, will you be kind? Will you be a good man, and stay behind if I get old?”

And then the letters all pass through my head, with the words that I was told. About the fading flesh of life and love, the failures of the bold. I can list each crippling fear like I’m reading from a will.

(Listen to the violin doubling the vocals with this next verse. It kills me.)
And I’ll defy everyone and love you still. I will carry you with me up every hill. If you die before I die, I’ll carve your name out of the sky. I’ll fall asleep with your memory and dream of where you lie.

It maybe better to move on, and to let life just carry on. I may be wrong.

But still, I’ll try.

‘Cause it’s better to love whether you win or lose or die. Yeah, It’s better to love whether you win or lose or die. It’s better to love, and I will love you ’til I die.

Lyrics by The Airborne Toxic Event

Dissolving

“Sir? Sir…” I called after the man we just saw moments before-hand digging through one of the many garbage cans lining the 16th Street Mall downtown — looking for food, looking for anything. At about 9am, the biting cold of a mid-November morning starts to loosen its jaws a bit, up to 30° give or take a few. Cold, nonetheless. What difference does two or three degrees really make? His hair was exactly as you’d expect it to be; his clothes following suit. No bags. A hollow gait with each trash can his goal. I caught up to him, and… actually, let me back up a bit. This all started with an anniversary weekend getaway, a blueberry muffin, and a very special girl.

Breakfast — the day before… I was craving just a blueberry muffin and a vanilla coffee drink (or grandé vanilla latté with no foam for those of you who only speak metro), but got distracted by the notion of a vanilla custard french toast offering and when we ordered our food at the Corner Bakery Cafe, I still ordered that blueberry muffin. You know those kind of huge muffins with that crumbly topping? Fresh-baked and moist in the middle with a crunchy outer crust? Like this one:

blueberry-muffin

A blueberry muffin from the Corner Bakery Cafe

Well, the muffin was still intact by the time we finished our meals so Jen wrapped it up to bring with us on our adventures and we thought we could share it when we were hungry again. Then I realized I left my phone up in the hotel room. I needed my phone. You need your phone, right? Gotta have your phone. Once back in the hotel room, it made sense to just leave the muffin there and maybe call it dessert and not carry it around all day. So that’s what we did and the muffin sat on the credenza in a bag in the hotel room all day while we delighted in a long day of walking, playing together, filling up our cameras with funny faces and amazing places and things that make Denver what it is, and topped off with a fancy impromptu dinner at Maggiano’s.

One of the threads weaving itself through our weekend was a heightened awareness of homeless people. For the uninformed, here’s a little something about my wife that defines a significant part of who she is — and this in no way encompasses the extent of her traumas and triumphs: she was a teenage runaway and spent 10 days on the streets and dealt with situations and things most people only know about from movies and the evening news. Because of her experiences and the damage and repercussions and the road to healing she’s been on, she now has this incredible gift of tenderness, forgiveness, intuition and the super power to see right through bullshit.

Okay, so earlier this night after our fancy dinner while walking back through the 16th Street Mall on our way back to our hotel room she wanted to give our leftover food from dinner to someone. It wan’t much, but something is better then nothing when you’re hungry. And hardly anything becomes even less if you share it. The streets were thinning out and the nightly chill started its descent on downtown. it was getting kind of late and most places were closed, but she did find a few people who were homeless. She handed me the to-go bag and said, “Go give it to that guy right there.” Timeout — a little something you should know about me: I do not do well with crowds, I will always find the least in-the-way place to stand in a room, and I’m borderline paranoid of talking to people I don’t know. It took a lot for me to look back at Jen and say, “Okay.” I don’t remember how cold it was, but everyone was wearing winter jackets. This was, after all, November in Denver.

The man I walked up to was an older black gentleman, almost like my dad’s age, or maybe life just made him look older like that. He was standing with two or three other older people. I had the food in my left hand and reached out to hand it him. He took it with his left hand and reached his right hand out gesturing to shake my hand. As I was reaching for his hand, he said, “Thank you, I’ll pass it around.” His hand was warm and not nearly as rough as I was expecting. I think I replied with something stupid like, “Stay warm.” or something like that. I thought for a split second about saying something like, “God bless.” which seemed so trite or perfectly insensitive. My force field started to decay. My head started reorganizing. Jen gave me a gift. She probably knew it, too.

By the way, “renting” a movie in your hotel room is a rip-off (thank you Redbox and Netflix for spoiling us all.) We watched what I can only describe as a really bad camcorder recoding of a TV screen that was playing the movie Date Night. Even still, we laughed and ate our pumpkin cheesecake in our pajamas, leaving us in no shape to be eating a muffin. “Let’s bring it with us to breakfast tomorrow and we’ll eat it then.” She suggested. My wife is always full of smart ideas. No, brilliant ideas. She has this knack for knowing the right time for saying whatever needs to be said or doing whatever needs to be done.

Waking up quietly and peacefully is one of the few luxuries in life that I’m sure all parents of small children could just die for. The last bits of our weekend were upon us, and we were so excited to head back to our new favorite place for breakfast.

So there we were, Jen and I, sitting in our front window seats, laughing, reminiscing, loving each other and people watching as if this was our normal Sunday morning routine and we’d been coming here for years. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast for the second day in a row on the last day of our weekend getaway in celebration of being married for 12 years. I can still taste the cinnamon and vanilla custard baked into the french toast. We ate and talked and sat in the restaurant for well over an hour, and I fell in love all over again with my wife.

People watching. We tried to guess the stories of the people we saw. Jen kept pointing out people who were homeless, explaining how she knew based on various clues I’d never pick up on. We watched a lady have an entire conversation with the thin chilling air. We watch a different lady move from one table to the next in the restaurant making up various stories trying to convince people to give her money. We saw a rich man (you can tell by the shoes, the overcoat, and the way he wore his baseball cap) walking around with and talking at what could have very much been his son who’s all grown up, but probably feels lost and unsure of himself. We watched a handsome man standing outside, patiently standing, nervously standing and watching in all directions; checking his phone every other minute, waiting for someone to show up. He was early, or maybe she was late. We guessed at his story and figured this was a Match.com moment in the making. She finally showed up. “It takes time to make yourself look nice. And he better appreciate her cause she looks pretty for him.” Jen says with a smile in her voice.

We finished our breakfast and continued to sit and watch and talk. We never got to the blueberry muffin. Once again, we ordered too much food. “We can just take it home and the kids can have it.” she said. We talked about our dreams and wishes. We held hands and watched the world spin itself up around us. And we watched the same guy that went down the other side of the street work his way back up on our side stopping at each trash can looking for something. Looking for anything. Without missing a beat, Jen grabs the muffin out of her bag, along with three dollars in cash that we had left and handed it to me. “Go give this to that guy.”

I’d like to say that I responded immediately with, “That’s what I was just thinking!” But, no. I challenged her. I started reeling with reasons why that was a bad idea to give someone in need a bit of food and a few bucks… “He’ll just buy alcohol with it.” I started to spew out and quickly realized what I was saying and tried to take it back. Words have this amazingly linear trajectory. There is no reverse. As I was trying to not say what I was saying, I got out of my seat, took the muffin bag with her three dollars and sped out the cafe doors. During my insolence, he managed to make it to the corner of the block. I went from a brisk walk to a hasty jog to catch up.

“Sir? Sir…” I called after him. He turned slowly, cautiously, perhaps incoherently. I must have caught him off-guard, calling after him like that. I handed him the bag and the money. He reached out to take it from me with both of his hands. I know I looked into his eyes then, but now recalling the story I barely remember them. They were so hollow and light.

“Thank you, brother. Thank you.” I can still hear his voice. Smashing what was left of the stale, hard candy-coated shell I’ve been constructing around my heart for most of my life. Going to work the next day and sitting at my desk and organizing electrons never felt so meaningless. The newly exposed, raw flesh of my heart was not ready to be so contained so soon. It still isn’t. Almost every day now for the past six months I’ve thought of this weekend and I’m finding myself more and more unsettled with what I spend my time doing everyday.

I have an idea, and I’m going to need a lot of money, or a miracle, or both.

Infinity, Minus One.

Limits. Breaking. A little more tape, and some glue and I think I can stand another run. Fake being alive. Holding myself together and pretending the cracks are not there.

I can’t tell if it is dusk or dawn or if my orbit has shifted ever so slightly that I never noticed the light fading and the warmth dissipating fractions of a degree at a time until I’m in the arctic circle again, wondering how the hell I got here and wondering why I’m so fucking cold. Empty. Dizzy. Paralyzed. Staring down at my feet the entire time I’m wandering around looking for answers. Looking for reasons. Navigating my life by the cracks in the concrete. Looking for meaning and validation as a person, as a man, father, husband, worker, dreamer. I keep running into the same obstacles. I keep cutting myself off and tripping myself up. If it was raining hope outside, I’d run out there and suddenly have an umbrella to stand under. Nausea. Vertigo. I’m stuck in an infinite loop fixated on my feet trying to keep my balance. Working way too hard to make sure I’m stepping in the right place so I don’t crash all the while wondering where the right places to step are, as if making a mistake will cause the universe to crumble. Paint over the mistakes; put more glue in the cracks. All I see are my feet, occasionally catching her reflection in the water I’m trying to not drown in, mistaking what I see for reality. My emotions and thoughts spin constantly. Unstable. Circles. Circular. Cyclical. Dead. Fight scenes and games play themselves in my head making me wonder if anything is real. Comparisons torment my self confidence.

Not all parts of the loop are bad. It’s nice when my orbit takes me around the sun and I get lit up and thawed. Moments like those are addicting and invoke ill-fated endurance and stamina, perpetuating the cycle and in the shadows it’s cold and lonely. Behind the light of the moon and falling through space without any sense of direction or sense of being makes me sleepy. The stars are a blur and they feel so far away. Hopeless, tired, worn out and contemplating letting it all go. Hoping I get lost. It takes all I have to hang on lately. The hardest thing to do is wait for another revolution for my time in the sun, my blip on her radar; to wait for the warmth and the embrace and the kisses like drops of light on my face. Giving up, walking away and drowning in the muck and the mire and the mundane and the deafening silence seems better than waiting for just another moment of peace, fleeting awareness and the stifled affections of brilliance. Come on, baby, play me somethin’ like, “Here Comes the Sun.”

Too many times I tell myself, “This time around is different. Nothing’s gonna get me down. Nothing’s going to own me and make me feel the way I hate to feel.” And I say that after every time I end up feeling the way I hate to feel. Torn between my untapped potential with access to the power of creation at my finger tips and the despair that conquers in the gaps between the ways I feel around her. It is so hard to love her, and it is even harder not to. Her smile melts everything. Her presence invigorates me and kills me. If I’m lucky enough that she looks at me, like, really looks into me, my insides ignite and sparks light me up. And I’m in stasis anxiously waiting for it every time. Paralyzed. Impotent and disoriented. After more than a decade, she still lights me up. With one look, she can wake the slumbering super hero in me, or rip me into a thousand tiny pieces. And yet, here I am swearing again that I’ll not get down like this. That I’ll not let her make me feel like this. As if I’m some how feeling empowered enough to expect a different orbit, to create a different orbit, or like now I deserve a different orbit. As if she even knows what she does to me.

Trying to find that line separating love, devotion and self-deprication from worship.

How do I break my own infinite loop? How do I shift from a love-sick, paralyzed robot short-circuiting in my own heart vomit hanging on her every motion hoping soon that I might catch a brush of her hand that I can pretend was intentional, to a man with a mission, with a rock-solid purpose and a shit load of righteous passion and the means to act on it? How do I transform into the man she wants and needs instead of this poor chunk of dead drift wood I feel like I am most of the time?

I caught a glimpse tonight up on the mountain. It’s a simple solution. Too simple. It’s so simple but it takes effort and thought and dedication and all things not automatic. At least not yet. You see, I have to look up — lift my gaze higher than the circumstance in which I’m trying to keep my balance. Scan the horizon and realize that where I am is precisely where you want me to be and there’s so much more to where I am than fixating on my own attempt at not crashing. I need to look up and see where I can go, see where you are pointing for me to go. I have to open my eyes wide enough to see that I’ve traded the truth of you for a lie: there’s more than her in my view. I need to let you lift my chin up to see that the light I’ve mistakenly called her is you because I’ve placed her in front of you, again. She can only reflect your light — anything else will burn her up and leave me frozen, lost in the deep of space.

I’m sorry.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My daughter observed the other day how weeds can grow in a crack in the concrete on a bridge and she thought it was remarkable how something can grow like that. I told her weeds grow when no one does anything. It takes effort and energy to grow good things and keep the weeds out. But weeds, they thrive in the absence of care.

Ghosts From Shadows

Leave her alone.

Apples to Apples

What are apples? Ever tried asking and listening as people try to explain as best they can? Are they yellow? Red? Green? Orange? Round and bumpy? Smooth? Think about it: how can you describe an apple well enough that your description, mere words alone, becomes a viable substitute for the real thing. But… until you hold one in your hands and wrap your fingers around its taut cool, smoothness and its aroma lifts as you hold it up to your face… until you hear the crispy snap when you sink your teeth in and pierce its skin and the crunching rip as you pull a chunk of its flesh off… until you taste its zinging juices at the back of your tongue, you have no clue what ‘apple’ actually means. How could you? Words alone cannot replace the actual eating of an apple. They only create the desire to have one.

I was so young and impressionable. At first I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. I was young. I was empty and blank. They used lots of words. Words that had no context — or definition — at such a young age. They talked about it a lot. Everyone did. Everyone always does. Continue reading…

Take A Number

My head is noisy tonight. It’s about 1:00 in the morning tomorrow. Too many pieces of words and sentence fragments floating around. Lots of half thoughts and shards of things that might have been considered ideas at one point. I can’t sleep. I mean, I can fall asleep but that sort of feels like giving up. I’m having a hard time right now. I’m not ready for today to be over. I’m not ready for this weekend to be done. I’m not satisfied at all with my day this life and I don’t want to spend the last handful of moments of what was supposed to be an amazing weekend lying in bed feeling worthless, unsatisfied, stupid, neglected, and angry. Hopefully writing this all out will solve one of two things: either kill these garbage feelings clogging me up, or tire me to the point of exhaustion… to the point when sleep becomes non-negotiable.

“I’m sorry I’m not who you want me to be.” She said unapologetically as I stepped back in apology, put my hands in my pockets and fell apart inside. Those words flowed from her lips flawlessly. She continued to climb out of the car without my help. She didn’t need it. I didn’t think she did. Where I come from, a man offers to help a woman out of respect and adoration. Out of delight and a sense of protection. She’s so capable to do anything on her own. Maybe she doesn’t know I think that. Maybe she feels trapped. Her words seemed to come out of no where, rehearsed almost, as if she’s been thinking about something for a while. I can’t stop thinking lately that I’m holding her back. I know she loves me. I just wish some days to feel… well, different than I do right now: like I’m her safe harbor, but not her adventure.

Who the hell do you think I want you to be? keeps spinning through my head, shredding all the other thoughts into pieces of words and sentence fragments. Breaking things that might have been considered ideas at one point. Autumn spirals and winter is inevitable. I’m locked out. I have a key, but I’ve no idea where the door is. The sky was crisp and black as velvet; the moon is hibernating. Yesterday’s snow still covers everything. I didn’t notice how cold it was — I was too busy trying to gain my composure. A bomb just went off in my face and I had less than a minute to clean it all up before we went inside to the party.

Yesterday was our anniversary. 11 years. 4,017 days (including Leap Days) of life, laughs, tears, joy and pain and everything else together. The day started off so relaxed and peaceful. I love those mornings when we stay in bed just a bit longer holding each other when we are both awake. I love the warmth the blankets have been storing all night and the way her hair fills the air with its scent. The way her skin seems to glow from the inside out making everything just a shade brighter. She is my adventure. Somewhere though, before we went out, after we spent the day reminiscing, she got lost. I don’t know where she went. Maybe she was already gone. The past week or so she’s been oddly distant. Preoccupied. I know she’s got a lot on her mind. I was hoping she could press pause for just a while. I don’t think she looked into my eyes once the whole evening. I’m not talking about making eye contact. I’m talking about looking into me. The kind of look that tells a person nothing else matters right now. I spent the evening fruitlessly fighting off thieves I could not see as they laughed at me while stealing away my bride. I spent the night standing in line wondering when I was going to get my turn to be in her sights. But standing in a line behind a noisy restaurant full of strangers and all their distractions, behind fucking asinine family drama, behind walls of pain and buckets of memories from hell is a long and lonesome line in which to stand.

My resilience is waning. I told her once: “I have more patience than you have crap to go through.” I can absolutely back that statement up. Last night, though, that limit was tested. Tonight that limit was tested, again. I’m finding myself slamming into that limit more frequently than I anticipated. More frequently than I’d like and it’s freaking me out. I don’t like what’s on the other side of that line. It’s not all that clear to me what is on the other side, but in my experience breaking a limit is typically not a good thing.

I used to be a bottler. I would stuff things away that hurt me or offended me and then once the bottle was full, I’d explode. I’ve been learning to not do that lately; to either deal with things or let them roll off into oblivion. Is that possible? I feel like I’ve been doing pretty good at letting quite a bit roll off. I suppose that very claim is an oxymoron. Actually… I’ve got a few things bothering me that I’ve not addressed. I don’t know if now is the right time to barf them all out. This is heavy enough already and I think my plan is working — my eye lids have become rocks and my legs are restless and numb. Proofreading is a chore. I’m battling the doze. It’s now after 3:30 am.

I love my wife. Make no mistake about that. I loved her before I knew her. She is an incredible creature, full of passion, empathy, fire, pain and light. She is thee most loving person I know, and the most honest. One of the many things she has taught me is honesty and for better or for worse, my words tonight feel brutally honest.

It’s a shame I wasn’t brave enough to make this public.

Finally posted on May 4, 2011.

Dear Copeland, How Did You Know?

Funny. I’ve had this song for years and it took a friend sharing it with me the other day for me to realize that. This song would have meant nothing to me no less than six months ago. Now, it is as the French say, à propos.

Sleep now moon
I’ll watch over her while the sun is up
And you’ll have her eyes again soon

It’s a glorious day
And my lonely heart is tired again
And I am starved for her attention

That’s when [she] sparks a light in my eye

Sleep now sweet princess
I’ll cheer for you silently and carefully not to disturb
I’ll be ready on that evening
When you’re starved for my attention

You’ll say, “Wake now, Prince
There’s a brilliant sky above
And a jealous moon in love
And they’re starved for our attention

Splinters, the Truth About Stars, and the Dust Storm

I stayed home from work today. I felt like crap and just wanted to rest. I needed to rest. A recent and previously alien development in my life has worn me out and beat me down. And after the past two nights of fruitless tossing and turning on what can only really be described as a lounge chair cushion, coupled with the previous handful of centuries (or weeks or months, I’ve lost count) on tenterhooks in my own bed, I finally broke down to the point where taking an unplanned day off from work seemed like a brilliant idea to try and gain some ground on the whole “getting some rest” concept. Naps are nice. But rest is not what I really needed. Needing rest is only a symptom. I could have slept all day and still that which is at the core of my somnambulism would remain unchanged; severely restless, relentless, dark and shifty like shadows at dusk, thrashing around chewing my head from the inside out. None of this may make any sense. Expect disjointed thought, non-linear timelines and contradictory assessments.

I’m starting to doubt. No. I’ve been on the cusp of full-blown doubt. Doubt in myself, my marriage, my faith, humanity, everything. I’m starting to lose hope in having hope. I’m starting to wonder what it means to have faith and I’m crumbling under not having any answers for my broken, fragmented questions that half the time I have trouble articulating through the splinters and sawdust they’ve created and the other half of the time I feel completely inadequate to know what to ask. It’s like I’m being undone and I’m literally feeling held together by a little glue, some tape and a few staples. At some point all this undoing gets rebuilt, right?

My world is unrecognizable. Blinding. Exhausting. Unbelievably amazing and frightening. I’m scared. Horribly frightened. If I accept the reality of what is going on around me, then that means things will change. Forever? Good? Bad? I don’t have a clue.

I’ve discovered that I’m not dead; that I’m not a tin-can, or an appliance with nicely tuned gears and crisp set of instructions. But I’m not sure yet if I’m fully alive. There are moments, sporadic moments of uncanny clarity and glimpses of something far better than my day-to-day goings-on but the past month or maybe more has me wondering if I’m stuck somewhere in the in between. I have so much to learn still about myself and the things I’ve buried and boxed away; about the things which make my blood boil and the things which capture my fancies stopping me in my tracks. I have much to learn about love and feelings I swore I’d never expose again out of a sense of mutated self-preservation. I love my wife with every molecule of love I’m capable of bestowing to her and I’m learning that it hurts like hell. Most days it seems like I don’t know her… at least, I don’t yet know who she’s becoming or who she has become. It seems like she’s lightyears ahead of me and I’m burning up trying to catch up. Or, maybe there’s nothing new to really know and just a whole lot more to re-learn. She’s amazing; so full of life; strong. But she says she’s broken. I think I might have a slight clue of what that feels like.

A storm recently ripped through our little home, turning everything inside out leaving us with piles upon piles of stuff that we’d just packed away. A bunch of stale, dusty feelings and memories, nightmares and seething, volatile monsters that individually we had hidden from the air, from the light. Jen embarked on a journey and is trying to hang on to a hurricane that has taken her dead-center through the valleys of the shadows of death. Her journey has forced me to evaluate my own skeletons and zombies — things I was so sure that I’d extradited from my mind and heart — only to catch them creeping up through cracks in the floor. They are like eerie shadows passing by limestone encrusted windows I can’t quite see out of. I expected to deal with garbage from her journey, but I was totally unprepared for the way it haunts and torments me. I thought I was a rock. Some days I am. Some days I’m a goddamned tank and other days I’m the unfortunate soul trapped under the treads.

Braving the storm, she made it to the point of no return. You know, that point where you suddenly realize the cost of the journey just as paralysis, like a virus, does its damnedest to secure a tactical advantage? I suppose we made it to the point of no return — a side effect of being cleaved with someone is the sharing of all the paths covered, uncovered or discovered along the way; marriage is like that, or should be like that. “We can’t go back to how things were, that would be living a lie.” she’s said before. Agreed. And she’s not always sure she has the courage to keep pushing forward into the darkness that just seems to hover around these parts. I’m not sure sometimes if I can bear her taking another step because with each determined, carefully placed step into the void she pulls us both closer to that which has tried and is trying to destroy her, to destroy me, and it scares the shit out of me. But, as long as she somehow musters the strength (wether it be given to her or born from inside) and dares to step in further, I know that same source will in my complete ignorance give me either the courage or the blindness to be right beside her, cheering her on, widening her path, our path, as needed… one step at a time.

Its going to take quite a few steps to make it through this and the hope of a lush, healthy life on the other side is powerful enough to draw us through all the garbage and decay and rotting, infested and infected pieces of ourselves. My life story is riddled with selfish and lustful and self-righteous and hollow and dishonest moments and I’ve drowned myself over and over again in self pity and I’ve hidden my shame and buried myself behind a facade of some lame-ass ideal. I’m trying to embrace my past mistakes and current state of brokenness because I’ve seen first-hand how powerful it can be… while she has been used and abused, neglected, tossed aside, molested, raped, drugged, thrashed, jacked up and left outside for dead somehow this beautiful woman wakes up every morning by my side and makes it through her day mothering and loving our three precious children and loving me and even carries a smile and a light in her eyes most of the time. Don’t mistake these words. She is human and would say herself that she fails daily. But we set such high expectations of ourselves we often cannot see the obvious that others can’t help seeing. She’s exhausted and burnt, but she’s strong… stronger than she thinks and she fights for what’s right.

God has reached down and grabbed me and saved me out of the muck and the mire and he continues to free and protect me from the destructive threads of darkness my heart was born with. He’s rescued her from the clutches of hell on earth; from the edge of obliteration and from the sharp, obsidian shards which lie in wait in the hearts of most men and she knows it. She knows grace in a more intimate and much deeper way than I’ll ever know. Her faith is monumental in my life. Her understanding of God’s grace and mercy has taught me empathy and how to love, and how to forgive. Though, I wonder sometimes if she’s ever forgiven herself. There are things we cannot change or avoid — life just grabs us and throws us down for reasons only God himself knows, but other things we could have steered clear of… those circumstances and situations and consequences we find ourselves in come down to conscious decisions we make. But even in those disheartening and disobedient times, God still loves to forgive us… that’s not the hard part. I’d venture to say that accepting the forgiveness freely poured out by the absolute spotlessness of the blood of Jesus is cake if you think about it. It feels good to think he washed us white as snow. I don’t mean to downplay his sacrifice AT ALL, but forgiving ourselves… now that’s a beast of a thing to do.

Two nights ago I was in the mountains and I looked up at the sky and saw some stars and thought, “Oh, wow. I forgot about stars.” Then I shielded my gaze from the glare of a nearby porch light and instantly the sky exploded with a zillion points of ancient light. The immediate and only complete thought I could muster in that moment was, “But she’s so much more than that, God. These stars are amazing and they don’t compare.” I think in that moment… in that strike of a synapse in my head I understood the significance of being alive… of being created by that which made everything. The vastness and sheer endlessness of the universe that night had zero effect on making me feel tiny and meaningless. As if for a brief sliver in the time stream of my life I got it… I understood God’s love for me and that those stars, all those stars, were made for me. For us. For all of us. That all creation was made for us. And then it dissipated. The questions came flooding back once the dam had cracked and collapsed releasing fathoms of deep, deep heavy sorrow and rage and despair and more questions.

Sometimes I make myself sick thinking about who knows how many assholes have done what to her and through the torrents of vomit and my misguided accusations against God for not stopping things from happening to her, up it gurgles, my crushing blow, my one silver bullet: the question of what number I am to her and that knocks me down to my knees with my face in the dirt and my heart in my mouth shredding through my teeth and my hands fisted and armed for bloody revenge and angry justice. Eventually though… not as quick as I’d like, and not nearly as loud as I hope, I hear a whisper against the raging waters of, well, rage and sorrow and putrescence with an answer. With thee answer. “One. You are the only one who loved her first, who loves her so purely, so deeply, so completely that she is sanctified through your love for her.” I know this because God said this:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Found in Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 25-27

It’s then I crumble [again] and submit my fears and worries to God [again] and accept the adorable gift he’s given to me [again]. It is then that I find myself more in love with her and so in awe of God and the way he designed the canyons of the heart to only be satiated by certain things and I get so horribly taken by her that I realize what we have is not normal. It is not common. It cannot be found, or stumbled upon, stolen or searched out. It was planted in us and cultivated, for us. It was given to us, this gift and burden of loving each other. This is my spin cycle. This is why I cannot sleep very well lately. This rift in my head with her pain and my pain and the darkness on one side and forgiveness and redemption and brilliance on the other. Constantly.

While up in the mountains, I was part of a conversation with a few guys and one of them said, “When you asked [her] to marry you, that’s the exact same thing as saying, “Not only do I accept you, I forgive you.” I had never thought about that before and after just learning that the covenant of marriage is intended to be a direct parable of Jesus and us, his church, his bride, that comment solidified for me what the parable of marriage is: Past, present, future forgiveness for each other and dedication and devotion to loving one another and the selfless, unconditional giving of grace and mercy.

Wait. Did you catch that? “Just as Christ loved the church…” I’ve been asking myself what that means. I’ve been sifting through the question that statement invokes: How do I love my wife just as Jesus loves me? That sounds like an impossible thing to do. Like a heavy and burdensome impossible directive. A while ago when she was setting down to bed she thanked me for my help that day with the house, the kids, and whatever else I did that meant something to her and in whole sincerity I told her, “All I have to give is yours.” which to her was cause for alarm, which broke my heart and made me so sad. She knows grace and forgiveness, but does she understand love? Does she know what I mean when I tell her I love her? Sometimes I’m not sure. How can she? I’m just starting to grasp what it means to love my wife… it means that I’d die in her place; that I’d do everything in my power to save her and lift her up; that I desire to be with her so badly that I’d defy death just to hold her tightly. And when she doesn’t know how to accept my love, I wait, patiently, with open arms for the moments when she might catch a glimpse. God’s command for me to love my wife as Christ loved the church creates incredible freedom to give Jen every bit of who I am and what I have to give. I’m learning little by little how to do this. I screw up and fail and I keep trying.

There’s still a disconnect, a sort of crossed wires effect that messes with me. This is the monster chewing my head into splinters and my heart into pulp. This is the beast who lives in the rift that keeps me from resting and relentlessly torments my thoughts and ability to trust and function. It’s “touch.” Physical touch. It’s my band-aid, my recharger, my pain-killer and my caffeine, my crutch and my kryptonite. Why, God did you make my primary mode of experiencing and receiving love through the one sense my wife has the hardest time with? How come with one intentional caress of her hand, or a single embrace, or a lingering kiss, or the passionate moments when we are whole am I suddenly validated as a person, husband, man, friend, lover, and parent? Am I selfish for thinking this? Am I horrible and rude and wrong and a sicko for wanting this? Is this war I find myself in only in my head and so far from reality? Who can I even talk to about this? Who’s going to understand that the one thing I crave, that’s built into the core of who I am, is the one thing intentionally or unintentionally withheld; the one thing with the power to feed me to oblivion? It’s not that I feel unwanted… just… not wanted. I miss the electricity in our glances and the acceptance of her gaze. I crave the promises remembered in her kiss. It pains me to think that she feels these things too and we hover in stasis next to each other, but it kills me to think that she shuts them off. Who has been in my shoes and can point me onward? Who is there to say, “Come on, son. It’s this way… this is the season where your patience and love are her jewels, not your passions and desires and she’ll be alright and you’ll make it. Don’t let go. There are streams to rest by along the way and there are parts where you won’t be able to tell where the path is. There are some big rocks to climb around and some areas where if you let go, you’ll plunge to your death, so be sure to hold on tight until you can get your footing again.”

I’ve no resistance to climbing a mountain, or two or ten. Bring them on! But which path leads to the top instead of the desolate hidden valley or the sheer drop halfway through, or the one that ends at the mouth of the cave? Where is the guide who knows what I don’t here in the foothills? She’s worth everything to me and these questions and fears and my monsters are pinning me down while her monsters are stealing her away. I went to the mountains hoping to find a guide, but scared out of my skin to ask.