Dreams, Memories, & Captain America

I watched Avengers: Endgame with my son on Saturday.  I won’t spoil anything here, but Captain America, is, and has always been my favorite superhero.  He has a strong moral code, he always does what is right, he loved only one woman with all of his heart, and when he gets knocked down, he ALWAYS gets back up.  Some might think he is the ultimate Boy Scout/Do-gooder.  But I think he represents what is best in us.  What I’ve always taken to heart in myself.  Help other people at all times.  Keep yourself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.  These aren’t just words they make you say when you are a kid.  This is a code to live by.

I am cursed with having a long memory. It is genetic.  I come from a long line of people who value their grudges.  They forgive almost no one and as a result, I also come from a long line of people who are isolated, have very few friends, and warm themselves by the fires of the bridges they have burned throughout their lives.  I married into what was familiar.  The confluence of two angry rivers.  But being the true black sheep of my family, I hated living like that.  I tend to lean on the side of mercy, indulgence, second chances, and forgiveness.  The storm that was my life when I was married had no room for that.  It was considered weakness.  Disloyalty.

In college I rarely took notes.  I relied on my memory to get a decent GPA.  I retained a lot of what I learned.  Becoming a parent fried some of those synapses.  Three kids.  Two with colic and months of sleepless nights.  Stress.  Money problems.  Being the sole breadwinner as our ship circled the drain and I was the only one paddling.  I remember all of that too.  I remember the nights I held my children at the ER in the middle of the night with high fevers.  The nights I cleaned up vomit and went to work the next day with only a few hours of sleep.  The days I turned the garden myself.  The dogs I petted until the vet administered the serum and they were no longer in pain.  I did these things alone.

I remember the fights.  The times I tried to leave and came back for the kids, because they needed me.  I remember the sick feeling I felt in my stomach.  I refused to look back at who I had been not long before.  A man unafraid of the world.  Surrounded by friends who were closer to being family.  Someone who wanted to join the Peace Corps and see the world.  Someone who took two years of Japanese so he would know how to order noodles in Osaka.  I had been in love once (my first) and made a poor decision to see how green the grass was on the other side of the fence.

Many times I was told I wasn’t good enough for those dreams.  That I deserved the life I had.  I was an accessory in the house. Nothing more than another appliance.  I cooked.  Cleaned.  Took care of the kids.  Worked.  Built and fixed things.  None of it was good enough.  And none of it ever ended.  I kept a tally.  Every task.  Every birthday we couldn’t afford a present for me.  Every Christmas photo where the kids were screeched at to smile.  I remember the darker days too.  All of them. The things you wish you could forget.  I lost sight of who I was many times in those days.

I put my memory work. I used it to write.  No, I used it to escape.  Every experience I have had can be diffused into the tincture of a solution called a story.  When you read one of my stories or blog posts, you are seeing a facet of my life.  These are all things that really happened, or I heard about, bent a little bit and given a fresh coat of paint to fictionalize them.  The jewels of my life, set within a golden fitting of fantasy.

My first kiss was at Niagara Falls.  I was 17.  Yes, a little late considering when kids get started, even back then. I remember the heat of the June night, the spray of the waterfall raging near us.  The glow of the lights on the water.  I think it was worth the wait.  You have to be crazy to not keep that around in your head for a story.

The hardest thing for me about having a long memory is when things end, you get to remember all of it, but it is only a memory.  There is nothing new.  Like pictures, even a good memory begins to fade. So, I write my stories while the paint is still fresh and vibrant.  The details are caught and when I go back to them, it rekindles everything about that moment.  Even if it has been dressed up with dragons and sword fights.

My last relationship is still working its way into the stories.  Only now, taking a step back do I truly appreciate the good and the bad things about it. I held back a lot.  I started doing things because I was afraid I might lose her if I didn’t–or worse yet, if I did.  I treated our moments like secrets.  I didn’t infuse my stories with some of the best moments because I deferred to her discretion. I held back in ways that weren’t good for me.  Out of fear of losing her.  Given the chance, I might have done some things differently.  When I lost her, it was a hard blow.  I blamed myself for a very long time.  I blamed her.  Then I stopped blaming.  I started looking at what was lost.  Not only her, but the possibilities of new experiences with her.  New memories to join the old ones that were already fading.

But I also lost a part of myself too that I really loved being.  With her, I felt like I got to be the man I was on my way to becoming back when I was 17 and I was ready to take on the world.  I got to leave grudges behind.  I got to abandon anger.  I laughed a lot more.  Took chances.  Challenged myself.  Often surprised myself too.  Surprised her plenty of times! The man I was with her was the best of me.  Thoughtful, kind, romantic, supportive, intelligent, strong, inquisitive, confident (but not overconfident), creative.  She woke me up from the nightmare that my life had been before.  And she woke me up from the dream of her when she left.

But then I also lost the man I was when I was with her.  I really liked him.

I felt the ground of the Arena rise up to meet my face.  The cold mud and sand in my beard.  The taste of blood in my mouth.  I lay there for a while, listening to my pulse rushing in my ears.  The roar of the crowd was like that waterfall on a moonless night.  And I pushed myself back up. I might not be that man anymore.  This time I get to be better.



Youth is Well-spent on the Young

Just a couple thoughts I’m going to throw out there for the day.  Hold on.

There are times when our social media feeds overwhelm us.  It’s a skimming of the best (or in some cases, the worst) of people’s lives.  As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, unlike the kids of today, not every moment of my life has been documented with photographic evidence.  In thinking of my first car today, I don’t think a picture of it exists anymore.  Certainly not with me in it, since I doubt I ever had a picture of myself with it.  Back in my day, we didn’t have cameras attached to our bodies all day.

This is why Bigfoot was plausible when I was growing up.  There might be days you saw a baby coyote out in the wilderness and wouldn’t you know it, you didn’t have a camera.  Even if you did, it would have scampered off by the time you dug it out of your pack, took off the lens-cap–gone.  Imagine trying to do that when confronted with an 8ft tall cryptid ape-person!

Today, not only would the kids of today have the picture, but they would be doing a  duck lips selfie with Bigfoot and probably have some kind of dog ears or doe-eyed filter going on as well.

I just don’t think our pictures were all that important to us.  We were left with the feeling of having fun.  We didn’t have the luxury of digital shots either, where we could take a bunch of pictures and choose the best from the lot.  Our snapshots were usually a snap and find-out-later proposition.  When the one-hour-photo returned our pictures, we sorted through them and left them in the big envelope to be lost to history.  We didn’t have a semi-public archive of our lives, accessible from anywhere in the world.

I’ve seen all sorts of cute pictures of people on Facebook, Instagram, etc.  Whether its groups of friends, or the perfect couple pictures, there is a documented phenomenon that researchers have found causes depression.  People compare their imperfect lives with the perfect ones they see online.

But let’s look at it anyone way.  Nobody is causing depression.  It is how a person is responding to that information.  They might just see that happiness or success, that sense of belonging in contrast to an already growing and all-consuming depression.

The perfect pic is something a lot of people try to broadcast.  But there is no such thing as the perfect pic.  There are times when I have seen pictures of myself and nobody would have guessed that at that moment my heart was breaking.  We simply don’t know what is going on based on a picture.

But I do know that I have had plenty of goofy, crazy times, moments of sheer happiness, moments when my true smile comes out.  Not the grin I save for the camera.  Not the smirk I wear when I need to be charming.  Those moments aren’t recorded on film, and if they were, they are long gone now.  But I swear to you they happen. All the time!

But sometimes when the chips are down, it would be nice to see back into a time when those moments were preserved for posterity. For me, though, I’m lucky.  I have my words.  I can go deeper than a photograph and evoke the feeling of the moment in ways that a photograph cannot.  My contrast is doubled when I read something I wrote a long time ago and laugh at how naive I was–or wince at how angry.

When I was in high school, I hated journals.  I used to just write enough filler to get by and get the grade.  Today it is a little more useful.  I got hooked on it when I wrote on LiveJournal.  There was a whole community of writers who shared personal experiences.  It was a good exercise in not holding back when you wrote a story.

Photographer Robert Capa used to say, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  Granted, he died in the early years of the Vietnam war when he stepped on a land mine while on patrol with a group of soldiers.  There are dangers of getting too close.

My process of writing involves a lot of memory.  Converting those snapshots in my brain, the emotions that cling to them, into something viable for a story.  The bad stuff is easy to write about. But the good…that’s a lot harder, because it’s so close to me.  So personal.  So incongruous to any experience all but a few can relate to.

From moments of blindfolded moose, a round shadow on a lake and cows that look like ants, the view from behind a waterfall, kids that can’t keep their shirts on when the sprinklers come on; all the way back to tracking coyotes on a glacier and getting the worst sunburn of my life, jean jackets and dice hats, the Lion King, first cappuccinos, (and the revelation years later that espresso gives me bad breath).

Somewhere in the middle of all that is a powder blue Ford that could go anywhere and do anything.  Like the Road Warrior, it exists now, only in my memories.

For me, all of these memories are like photos found in a shoebox, but when I write about them, I am there again.  Events pulled from my mind which is always young.  Youth isn’t wasted on the young.  It is invested in the young and paid back in dividends later on we cannot put a value on.  Those goofy snapshots, real or recollected, still make us smile when we need it.

So, I leave you with a link that may or may not expire.  This song has followed me for 20 years.  Thanks, Chrissie Hynde.  And to all of you, may you stay Forever Young.