Rain. The puddles. A grackle at the feeder. These are important today. It isn’t the buzz of the headlines. News twisted to push agendas. Keep them rich. Keep them poor. Sick, sick, sick. Buy, buy, buy. It’s the yellow-eyed black bird holding its long tail in a “V” as it scatters seed onto the porch.
There’s a church bench out there. A twelve-footer. Weathered by snow, wind, rain. The ups and downs of temperature. Waiting for anyone to take a seat. Though it was used only on Sundays, holidays, and special occasions in the past, it saw more action then. Now mostly, we walk past it. Coming and going as families do.
My daughter sits there most. Sometimes on her phone. Other times with a book. But I’ve looked out the window and seen her many times sitting quietly, watching birds, talking to clouds, petting or feeding stray cats. Lately, a spunky black one named Obsidian. She loves it like it’s her own.
I see more these days than I have in the past. Life has slowed. I pick and choose what will consume my energy, use up my time. I don’t waste efforts on what others want me to think because I have my own list of simplicities to explore.
Fewer excuses. Less procrastination. Better judgement. That’s what I’ve been experiencing over the last month and three days not drinking alcohol. Granted, I drank half a gallon of vodka and up to half a box of wine a week. Cutting that in half likely would have helped. But, it was time to stop. I was tired.
I was tired of me, and I was tired of those around me.
Now, I’m only tired of a select few, and I’m learning to tolerate them.
There hasn’t been earth-shattering progress. It’s been days of simple success. More patient with the world. Less hung up on stupid shit—dirty dishes, vacuuming, harping on the kids about chores. Eventually, it all gets done. This appears to be the opposite of what I opened (the procrastination bit), but it’s not. The vacuuming, the dishes, all the work—it gets done. I have realized that it doesn’t need to get done on my schedule. There are other people in the house, living their lives, doing their things. Bellyaching doesn’t make anything get done sooner.
I’m more active. Lots of walking. My wife and I tally about four to six miles a day. On weekends, we try to hike local trails. Also, I’m doing more fix-its. I put the mantle on the fireplace. It had been in the garage for five years. I fixed our side door. I’m replacing lightbulbs, batteries, cleaning appliances and tools. My goal is to organize the garage, make it into more usable space. Additionally, I’ve been working on remodeling the apartment above our garage. Well, not the remodeling as much as the tear-down. But you have to start somewhere, right? There’s a lot to be said about stopping. Tearing out the old. Bringing in the new. Eventually, that apartment will be a family area—mostly for the kids. An area where they can gather with friends, feel safe, and have fun.
I’m learning to sleep again. For years, I battled rest. Once I was buzzing with drinks at night, I didn’t want to sleep. I felt inspired. I felt creative. I often tried to stay up late and write. While some of that effort yielded decent work, most of it came from a dark place. Most of it was shitty, borderline pathetic, which is typical even of sober writing. However, I began crediting any positive results to pushing my body and mind to their limits. Booze was my muse. I was writing by way of destruction.
One can only go down to the dark of the cellar so many times before it starts looking like a place he ought to stay. I was conditioning myself to believe that I needed to go dark to write well. Of course, I had always known that to be untrue, but it wasn’t until I sprung myself from the drinking trap that I was able to look back and see that the late nights of drinking, the lack of sleep, have only kept me from reaching my potential as a writer.
Now, I’m usually in bed by ten. Gone away into dream within minutes.
Honesty. Drinking clouded my reasoning. My lack of reasoning threw my honesty off balance. I made promises I couldn’t keep. I pounded my chest. Made myself into a person I was not. I was dishonest with myself. This led to dishonesty with others. If you’re not honest, you make bad decisions. I made lifetimes of bad decisions while navigating my drinking life. I can say this now because I am looking at myself through a more critical lens. Not in a harsh way, but in a caring way. Probably in the way my wife looks at me. She wants me to be happy, but to always be better.
I’m starting to see that now. Little my little. Day by day.
The dogs so happy to be out in the fresh day. Scents everywhere. Running. Pissing. Pooping. Around the yard, through the leaves, sniffing around the small wood pile, sure that something’s there. And it likely is. Or was. Nestled into a crevice. Surrounded by dried grass, leaves, bits of paper, and strands of string. A mouse, perhaps. Maybe a chipmunk.
We get our fill after fifteen minutes. It’s fun, running around with them. Playing.
They tire of it before I do, lead me into the house for sausage treats. They lay on the kitchen floor as I grind coffee and boil water. I talk them through the process every time. They listen intently, heads tilted, ears cocked.
The morning has started well. One can never tell what’s bundled up and waiting in the next minute. Life changes so quickly. But that’s okay. I think I’ve got a handle on it now. A better grip, anyway.
Sobriety does that. Once the fog lifts and the synapses start firing, there’s quiet, moving meaning in every thing.
A black squirrel fattening up on sunflower seed. A Downy Woodpecker jackhammering the suet. Doves cooing from the neighbor’s rooftop.
It’s nice to feel stable. To wake tired, but calm. The heart rate lower. Blood pumping smoothly, steadily, as it should. Sure, there’ve been more aches and pains—joints and back and stomach—but that’s bound to happen when parts aren’t lubed in alcohol. I’ll take the slower pace.
I wouldn’t have this perspective if I’d had more to eat or
less to drink. Nothing would make sense, and these words would not fall into
place like this had I not gone through all that I have in my life.
And I haven’t gone through much.
At least that’s what they tell me.
I am after all, white.
And semi-privileged. Which means my parents worked their
asses off to make sure I had what I needed to succeed—food, shelter, and an
insurmountable amount of love.
But I don’t want to get into the haves and have nots. I did
that once before—writing about riots and the poor decisions people make when
they are oppressed and frustrated—and a woman said that she felt sorry for me.
I didn’t understand, she said. I couldn’t understand, she said. I was ignorant,
she said. All because I mentioned that the issues we have can be boiled down to
something simple—you’re either nice or you’re not.
My kids get it. Other kids get it too. They don’t see color or history or gender or whatever other labels we do. They just see good. Unless their parents have poisoned them. Making them see what they want them to.
You know who you are. Devils.
We do everything we can to complicate this life. Create
issues that don’t exist. Blame people for their ignorance and try to push them
into some category that says—indirectly, of course—that they are less than
But that’s not true.
The overweight fella collecting carts at Walmart is not all
the different from the man loading his cart with organic veggies, cage free
eggs, protein shakes, and booze.
The elderly man offering savings in the form of a coupon-filled
flier at the entrance of Meijer is not so different than the lawyer and his family
buying candles, chocolate, and video games.
We are all in this together.
Human beings on a big ball of dirt and water whirling
But we don’t want to break down to the basics.
We want to be special. To be heard.
We are so selfish that we believe it’s early, but late.
We believe that our perspective has the power to shape. That
if we have less to eat or more to drink everything will make sense. Words will
fall into place and finally we will express all we’ve gone through in this life.
We are ignorant, they say. All because we believe the issues we face can be boiled down simplicity—either you’re nice or you’re not.
Have fun before they’ve grown up and no longer want to play.
Love, so both of you never forget the reason you came together.
Sing even if you’re off-key and people stare or start to laugh.
Cry when you have to. You should never be ashamed of your feelings.
Fight for the good. For your family, your friends, for anyone that needs help, especially when you know you’ll lose.
Give, not only when you feel guilty, when you’re being watched, when you have extra time or a bit more cash. Just give and give always.
Take a different route to work.
Call your parents.
Write a letter to an old friend. Not an email. Not a text. A real, hand written letter that’s put in an envelope, sealed, and stamped.
Believe, but remember that going to church doesn’t bring you closer to any god. That’s like standing in a garage and proclaiming you’re a mechanic.
Do good work. Smile. Hug and breathe deep and take naps and listen to music and birds and the sounds your children and wife make at night when they—unlike you—are able to sleep and dream and find peace in this world as you stand in the doorway balancing between in and out, day and night, the wet and the dry, and the beautiful beginning that leads to this—an unexpected end.