the Rich Kid

Life on “the Ave” was a blissful time for me when I was a little boy. My cousin Mike, like most age-appropriate cousins, was a built in best friend hand chosen by God. We did what little boys do, or at least did in the 70’s before TV became our nanny, caregiver and teacher. We played in the high grass, stomped through the mud, we hid and spied on and generally annoyed the older cousins. I learned to ride a bike on the Ave, dodging giant puddles that made the task of learning to ride a bike about ten times harder than it had to be. The first time I made the whole street, Mike and the older cousins cheered for me the entire wobbly way. We had fun. We were inseparable. For a very brief while I thought that I had tapped into what my father’s childhood was like. It would be many years, I would be practically a teenager, before I would learn how wrong I was.

I think it’s fitting that the street my father grew up on was named Railroad Ave. There really are tracks in my hometown and my dad grew up on the wrong side of them. The squalor that I saw on the Ave was a massive upgrade to what my father had as a child. And in turn the life he had created for himself was a huge upgrade from the Ave. Understanding the difference those 3 miles across town meant to my Dad would be a huge step towards understanding the man.

I always knew my father was different from the rest of his family. I suppose I should just call it what it was, his family was poor. And they acted it. They weren’t much concerned with how they dressed. Many of them abused tobacco and alcohol. They spent money as soon as it was in their hands on frivolous items like jumbo boxes of candy, cigarettes, alcohol and fireworks. We all know the habits and stereotypes of poverty, and my father, despite having been textbook poor for his entire childhood, exhibited none of those traits.  He was different and even though my young mind couldn’t isolate how so, it stood out when he was with his family. It wasn’t in such transparencies as how he dressed or spoke, etc., he just acted different. I understand it perfectly today; he was still under the effects of the memories of his upbringing, but he wasn’t carrying the lessons forward. He was setting new rules for his own family while not disrespecting his own. He wanted a better life.

As a reward for his hard work, selfless behavior and commitment to self-improvement, his family would refer to him, in muted tones, as “The Rich Kid.” They didn’t mean it as a compliment. The snarkiness and inappropriateness of that label was what I had been missing. And of course, the reasoning behind it. It was quite the Dick Slap to learn that my awesome Dad, whom I oozed respect for, was made fun of for simply wanting better for us.

life imitates life…

It just happened one day recently. I think that I was trying to come up with a new Password for some website because I had entered the wrong one too many times. Boom. I realized that I don’t have much of an imagination. I don’t suppose I ever did. I was very into recreating things but I didn’t step much farther out of my comfort zone. I was probably most expressive when I was playing with my Matchbox cars, which I spent most of my time doing. Even with mountains of Trademark Orange track and a huge box of cars to work with in my room, I didn’t build empires. I stuck to what I knew. And outdoors, under my beloved pine tree, I limited my construction endeavors mostly to what I already knew. I built roads with Tonka Trucks, I used my car hauler, I used real mud in my Concrete mixers, and I pushed them around. Like they were real. I think Calvin and Hobbes used more imagination in one strip about playing in the dirt than I did in my entire life.

Despite not being an imaginative kid, I wasn’t without my skills. For example, at a very early age my mother identified me as a people watcher. Or “rude staring”, in my mother’s words. If someone or something caught my attention I was fixated on it.  I never meant to be rude, I just liked to take it all in. And I had a terrible habit of speaking without a filter. It has been both a curse and a blessing, depending on who was on the other side of it.

My Grandmother was a constant presence at my house when I was little. I really enjoyed having her over and she kept my mother company. There is so much to say about her, and I will as the story progresses, but for the sake of this entry let’s focus on one critical factor about her.
She was a terrible driver. The worst. Even at a young age I was reticent about being in the car with her. She had a heavy foot, a reluctance to brake, and Stop Signs were, well, they were for other people.  I suppose my Matchbox stories were a good example of it even at an early age.


One day she came in the house, her mouth going a million miles per hour as she told my mother about the incident she had with the “dang Po-lice” on the way over. Through the histrionics and across the many rooms of the first floor of my house I could hear her tell my mother her tale of injustice and overreach. The officer had the nerve to give her a speeding ticket. That day was one of the few times that I didn’t run into the kitchen to greet my Grandmother, it just seemed safer and smarter to stay in my room with my Matchbox cars. History and my limited experience at a young age suggested that I let her come to me this time.
Apparently I had dug through my big box of cars and had found a clunky red sedan that looked like the boat of a car Grandma drove, a big ol’ Lincoln that the front end arrived ten minutes before the rest of you did. I had also found one of my old beat up police cars. The stage was set for some hilarity. I began to act out the scenario I had heard playing out in the kitchen. Red car, pulled over by police car. I simulated an argument between the two parties, culminated by the officer telling the driver to get out of the car. I was having a blast when I looked up at the door to my room, occupied by my Grandmother. She had come to at last to say hello and there I was acting out her earlier humiliation.
When she realized what I was doing she wasn’t amused. My mother was of course amused enough for the both of them.
It was then that I realized how selective my Grandmother’s sense of humor really was.

Perception

My recent hospital visit really played into the narrative I have recently opened; that is to say that it did little to dissuade myself that I am indeed a FUS (a fucked up shithead). It may be difficult to do so, but please don’t argue with me on this. I know what it is and the key to my functioning is to be completely honest with myself.
A myriad of emotions are bustling within me. For starters, I’m embarrassed and concerned about the long-term ramifications of my recent hospital stay. Will future doctors treat me differently based on the nature of my last stay? Will I be taken seriously in my quest for treatment of whatever malady(ies) are next for me?
Why is that my initial assumption would be that people will think less of me, especially if they are part of my circle? Am I wrong in my assumption that people just look at you differently once they hear the words “psych ward”? Why would I think that those closest to me wouldn’t understand and support me? After all, most people that I have spoken to, doctors mostly, thought very little of the details of the situation and focused instead on immediately trying to get me into a better place.
I have told more people in my blog about the details of my last hospital than I have in my circle. My closest friends know all of the details, amazingly my family does not. My and oldest daughter is my health care proxy and she and my mother made the decision not to tell my other 3 children. They know that I was in, they just don’t know the details. I suppose I will tell them when I am ready but for now I will maintain my strict policy of not making people worry about me.
To the best of my analytical ability, and I am surprisingly adept in that area, I believe that is my biggest problem and the root of many of my issues. I am not honest with people when they ask me how I am and therefore it always turns about to be a little worse than expected when I do fall.

I’ve always been a believer in the old adage “when someone asks you how you are say fine, at the end of the day they don’t give a shit”. It’s harsh but there’s a grain of truth to it. Greetings are formalities and should be treated as such. I have always taken it a bit farther when it comes to admitting that I am not doing well, I smiled and acted fine. So when I did break down it was always worse than everyone thought.
Lately, fine was not happening. I was sick and my resolve to deny that dialysis was kicking the shit out of me was gone. I reached out to my doctor’s and they didn’t respond to my liking. So I tried to force their hands to treat me medically under threat of force.

I’m not crazy, I just fucked up. But this time I hurt the ones around me. Not only do I have to carry that around with me, but the pain is still there. The insomnia is still there. The memories of the outrageous, uncharacteristic and very dangerous thoughts that ran through my mind in which I vividly imagined every conceivable scenario in which I would end my life are still there. Now compounded by an unimaginable and insurmountably heavy sense of guilt for forgetting that there are people in my life that care for me, people who would miss me if I were to commit such an act.
Maybe that guilt would be less intimidating if I finally admitted that I am not doing as great as my fake smile and false assurances would suggest. Do they even want to know what it takes for me to get out of bed in the morning?

I hope I shake this darkness and never fall down this rabbit-hole again.


The aftermath

“I don’t belong here”, I said. As I spoke I scanned the group assembled at the long table. Looks like 2 Head Shrinkers and an intern. They looked like reasonable people. I could work with them.
“Sir, won’t you agree that most everyone here would say that?” said the Benjamin Bratt lookalike, young and sharp Psychiatrist.
“Maybe. And with no disrespect to those who are here, this is different.”
“How?”, the very cute Intern chimed in.
“Because I tried to force my Doctor’s hand and they called my bluff.”
“Could you give us a little more?”
I explained to them that I was struggling with my dialysis treatments. I was having itching and cramping and spasms that made being in a chair unbearable. That I couldn’t get relief day or night and the insomnia was beating me down. When I couldn’t take it anymore I demanded that my Dr. admit me to find out what was going on. That I was going to hurt myself if I couldn’t find relief.
“That was a mistake that I regret deeply,” I said.

I explained that I wasn’t aware of the steps they would take after my threat. The room without sharp objects that I spent almost a full day. That I would be roomed with a bunch of twitchy, clearly disturbed people. God love them but I’m not one of them. That it just wasn’t what I wanted to accomplish. I was very clear to apologize for wasting their time. But I was clear…I am here for medical care because nothing has been resolved yet.

The next 20 minutes was a back and forth about the seriousness of threats and the callousness of ignoring them, taking an opportunity to partake in some group therapy, digging down to see if I really wanted to harm myself. I had to think about that one long and hard with chin in hand.
I had had some dark-ass thoughts while in the booby -hatch room. Cold, alone, sleep-deprived and ravaged by the lack of dialysis treatments is not a good combination for me. I fought thoughts of slashing my wrists and watching myself bleed out. I imagined putting my .38 Special against my temple, or should I put it to my chest to make a better open-casket? I fantasized about swilling a bottle of Ambien and floating off to peace at last.
“And your children?” I came out of my fog.
“What about my children”? I asked.
“Says here you have 4 children. Are you concerned about how they would feel if you harmed yourself?”
Hell of a question. Should be filed under “no-brainer” but it had to be asked. My children would be fucking crushed if I did that. My children and I have an amazing relationship that I cherish. They have been the biggest reason for me to fight all along. “Yes, I’m very concerned. That realization did come to me. I have a great support network all around…friends, family, my Mason brothers. What made me clear my head between my admission 2 days ago and now is one recurring and terrifying thought.” I paused to sip my coffee. “What if there is a hell and my penance is to watch my children grieve for me, to struggle in life and I’m forced to scratch and scream at a window but they can’t hear me?”
“That’s a rather specific scenario…” Benjamin Bratt said.
“It’s happened before in my dreams…”

rock bottom

Well, you finally did it, dumbass. Look where you are now“.
The intercom crackled, “Sir, are you talking to us?”. I looked up at the dark globe that contained the all-seeing camera. “No, I’m talking to myself”. Just for the hell of it I screamed “Get me out of here!”
But I wasn’t going anywhere. See, when you tell your doctor that you plan on harming yourself, this room with no doorknobs, a TV encased by plexiglass and a communal bathroom with no toilet seat with which to bludgeon yourself to death, this is where you end up.

I was cold. The sweat-soaked flimsy hospital blanket did next to nothing. I spent almost 18 hours tucked in the fetal position and waiting for the sound of the big key in the big lock that may bring someone, fucking anyone that may talk to me about what was next. I was alone with my thoughts and those thoughts were dark, foreboding, scary as fuck and wholly, entirely unlike me. Thoughts of harming myself consumed me. Occasionally, the rational version of me broke through the morass and attempted to set me right, reminding me that I have so much to live for.
Think of your kids…
Your mom…
Your friends…
They will never forgive you. All of them. Mom just can’t take another loss and the kids would never get over it. Suicide is selfish, you just pass the pain on to someone else.
Yet here I was. Consumed by the darkest thoughts a man could have. I couldn’t shake it. Death called to me as a viable release from the pain.

13 hours later, at 3 AM I was transferred to my room. A burly security guard with too many tattoos and kind eyes inventoried my belongings. I could have my shoes, but no laces. My beloved Templar cross and chain was bagged and tagged. As he explained the rules and regs of the behavioral unit I glanced through the security window to the ward that awaited me. Nothing beckoned to me as welcoming. I asked the guard, half serious, if it was too late to retract my statement.
“Sir, when you say you want to harm yourself, shit gets serious.”

I had dug myself a big ol’ hole. I needed to find a way to play this. The end game was to get the everlovin’ fuck out of there. I’m not a danger to myself and nobody here is going to believe me. All I knew is that once this ward came to life in a few hours I needed to actively pursue my exit strategy. I knew there would be fallout from family and friends, but therein lay the problem. I’ve been so concerned about everyone else in my life that I failed to take care of me. Now I was broken, and at that moment when I was escorted into the booby hatch I had never been in a lower place.

How do you explain to someone that you love that you’ve lost your will to live? That life no longer gives you joy. How do you tell someone that you are in pain and sleepless and the demons of insomnia are putting bad ideas in your head and you would give fucking anything for the pain to stop, if only for a day. Maybe it’s my fault for smiling when I really felt like wincing. Maybe I should tell people the truth about how I feel and how well I’m coping. Maybe I should cut the damn act and get some help. How are my family and friends supposed to know what is happening if I can’t even be honest with myself…?

“Sir, we have your daughter on the phone…”, a heavy-set nurse was standing at the foot of my bed. I looked out my postage stamp of a window. In the absence of clocks I surmised that it must be about 8. I had finally fallen asleep after 3 just brutal days of insomnia.
“Where can I use a phone?” I asked.
Nurse Ratched motioned for me to follow her. I found a phone with the receiver dangling in the hallway. The cord was only long enough to use while stooped over. I picked up.
“Britt. I made a huge mistake.” Fighting back tears I choked into the phone. “Please get me out of here.”
Time was up. I hung up the phone and went back to my room, curled up into the fetal position again and didn’t move for hours. What had I done with my life… ?


Like Father like Son

I know people that openly talk about how their childhood sucked. Did it, really? Maybe in hindsight, that’s possible for some but not for me. That wonderful era before I morphed into a sullen, zit-faced chronic masturbator was a wonderful time.
My mother loves to talk about what a happy, easy child I was. I love the whimsical look on her face when she does. I suppose I was.
Looking back, one thing I remember is that I was able to amuse myself, which of course made my mother’s life easier. Between what seemed like miles of Orange Hotwheels track set up in my room and the dirt track that I created under the big pine tree at the top of the yard I could occupy myself all day with my cars alone. It’s interesting, I know I had a lot of interests and favorite toys as a little guy, but the Matchbox cars really stand out. It was a manifestation of my overall love for cars in general. I shared that with my dad, it was our thing.

Some of the Matchbox cars in the late’60s and early ’70s were silly, with huge tires and engine blocks sticking through the hoods. They were likenesses of the Funny Car craze. I liked them enough but I had a real taste for the classics from an early age. I liked the ‘Vettes, the Mustangs, the El Camino’s. I recognized them from the road, where I sat in the backseat of the family Truckster and just looked at cars. By the time I was 8, I could identify most cars by brand and model simply in seconds, even at night by their headlights alone. But as a little guy, maybe 4, my understanding of the American Muscle car was nothing less than precocious.
Just as grown men put their ‘Vettes and Mustangs in their garages and wipe them down with a cloth diaper, I also put my nice ones away when playing outside. They were to be looked at and shown off to my friends. Most of my time was spent playing with trucks. Pickup trucks. Tow-trucks. Cement trucks. Car-haulers. These toys looked like the real ones, I always picked them that way. It wasn’t a lack of imagination, it was an homage to my favorite truck driver, my father.

Is it a surprise that I spent a large portion of my career in some form of the car business?

It’s not you

Three powerful words from my daughter.
“It’s not you.”
I added another creamer to my coffee, took a sip and let it sink in. She’s right, it’s not a good look for me. Cheater. Adulterer. No thanks. It was then that I made the decision to end it. My daughter always keeps me on the straight and narrow. I trust her for the truth. And there I had it.

She’s known about my relationship from the beginning and knows all of the details. She kept quiet at the beginning because she wanted me to be happy. But she had an opinion waiting for me. When I told her that I was feeling conflicted and was thinking about ending it she put it right in my lap by calling me out on my character. In a way only she could. Blunt and to the point. And also correct. That’s not who I am.

I ended it, whatever it was, yesterday. It was heart-breaking. We had spent some really special times together. We had real potential as a couple, if not for one minor detail.
Her husband.

I did it by text. Texting is all we have had lately. She works full time and isn’t around for me to see her on weekends. Those rendezvouses we had, fleeting and precious, were few and far between. While I didn’t use the words “break up” she knew where I was going with my words. As if she was expecting it. Just like that, it’s over. We wanted it to work, we really did. But there was just no way. At least not now.

I can’t believe what I just threw away in the name of “doing the right thing”.

A person who thinks and acts along Grey lines may have been able to pull this off. I tried to be that guy. The Grey lines guy. Who practices “relative morality”. It was a perfect situation for that. They were unhappily married. He was horrible and controlling in everything he did to her. Grey lines guy could rationalize all of it. I can’t.

I’m not black and white in everything that I think and do. But I have a firm grasp on right and wrong. I believe in codes. The Guy Code, for example, which clearly states that you do not fuck another man’s wife. I may not know him personally but I respect him enough to honor the code. It’s tragic that he is too ignorant to see what he has before him.

She’s amazing. If I actually thought I had a chance with her I’d fight with the strength of 20 men to get her. She always deflected but I think she’s beautiful. We were wildly attracted to each other, when allowed we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We shared so many interests and activities. We liked the same music and movies. We waxed poetic about the things we wanted to do.
Be seen together in public. Go for walks. Socialize as a couple. Snuggle on the sofa. Watch silly movies. And of course see each other whenever we wanted to.

None of it could ever happen and I began to realize that unless I saw some serious signs that she was actually able (she was willing, we talked about it) to leave her husband then it was just unfair to all involved to continue. She needs her husband right now for what he can provide. Things that I can’t.

So it has to be this way. Love is just not enough…

within those 5 miles

Early on, my entire life occurred within the radius of 5 square miles. But within those 5 miles there were worlds of differences. Not one to dwell on the issue of class, but I think it’s the only way I can describe it.
First there was the lower-middle class life that played out in my house. I call it lower middle class because we lived in a section of town that we could barely afford but kept up with the proverbial Jones’s. My Dad worked all the time to afford it, to give us the better way of life that he never had. That life was still going on across town. The middle-lower part of town. “The Ave”.

“The Ave” consisted of 7 houses. All owned by some member of my family. A family so large that to this day I can’t remember who was related to who and how. 6 houses shared one thing in common, they were in very poor condition. The 7th was a overgrown lot that contained the collapsed remains of the house my father grew up in. His father had moved across town (within the same 5 miles) with his sister who he disliked. But I digress. The last house on the street was where his sister lived with her drunk wife-beating husband and my 6 cousins. The youngest was Mike. He was my age and my best friend. His house may have been absurdly overpopulated, with plastic on the windows and broken linoleum floors but I didn’t know better or didn’t care. I was there all the time. I can barely come up with an early memory that doesn’t contain adventures with Mike on “The Ave”.

3 miles away, in a different town lived my mother’s parents. It may have been a short journey but on it you can clearly notice that the houses looked better maintained, the yards bigger and lawns greener, the roads better paved as you drive. Just on the other side of the town line, on the left side were a row of houses that were dwarfed by the ones on the other. As if they didn’t belong. This town was big money. Pro athletes from all 4 major Boston Sports teams bought houses there. Along with bankers, doctors and lawyers. My grandparents owned one of those small houses. Like my parents they were barely clinging to their middle-middle class lifestyle.
But they belonged. My Grandfather was content, my Grandmother sometimes acted as if they were from that other side of the street, the one with the bigger houses. I would not go so far as to call her a snob, but she had her moments.

The parents

I was a happy kid. All kids are happy I suppose. Until the world sinks its teeth into our asses and fuck us all up. I was a product of the late 60’s and early 70’s when all of society was in turmoil. The highly unpopular Vietnam conflict raged both overseas and at home. The youth of America had stood up and defied convention, rejected the status quo and had asked hard and polarizing questions. We were divided as a nation and it wasn’t only on the Capitol Mall, it had metastasized into every community and neighborhood. Mine was no exception. We had neighborhood boys go off to fight, some at the urge of their fathers and some in defiance of. I watched the news, I didn’t get much of it but I saw more explosions and violence than in any of my Saturday morning cartoons. I can’t say that it affected me either way, but I knew it was there.

Vietnam was a formative event in my life and is essential to my story. In fact, my birth kept my father out of it. Don’t get me wrong, he had his shit packed and was ready to fight but my premature birth kept him home. As the story goes, my pregnant mom was living with her parents while Dad was stationed in Texas. My Grandmother was very careful about the evening news. The non-stop stream of violence was unsavory to her and she tried to protect my Mother from it. Despite my Grandmother’s effort to censure, my mother saw a newscast about our escalation in Vietnam and that our “Advisory” troops would soon double. It was said what bases would be sending troops. Fort Sam Houston was among them… Boom…Labor. I arrived.
My Dad never properly thanked me.
The cultural turmoil that occurred on the Living Room Idiot Box had permeated our lives also. Dad was a good “If you don’t like America then get the fuck out” American. Mom had peace signs on her Bell-Bottoms. Archie Bunker held tremendous sway with my Dad, Mom left the room when he was on, always muttering “idiot” under her breath. “Conversations” about the state of the country happened all around me. With them, when friends were over, even with family. I learned early on that people argue, shit can get loud, and how to block my ears.

When he wasn’t yelling, I worshipped my Dad. The dead mystique is a funny thing. Because he’s gone I tend to forget about the yelling. It wasn’t ok. I hated it. Mom hated it. But we forgave it because underneath it all he was a very good man. I was at his side like a loyal lapdog. He emitted strength and toughness. He was manly and I obviously had a penchant for that. I loved how hard he worked. Before I had ever heard the words “work ethic” I had dubbed him the king of it. It was so much more than how many hours he was out of the house; it was the times that he worked on our house, the times that he helped a neighbor or a friend with yard work or building something for someone. I learned at a young age that a man helps people, often as the right thing to do and not just for money.
Towards the end of his life my father, weakened and nearly destroyed by Parkinson’s, grasped my hand and asked me if it bothered me that he was out of the house so much. I told him the truth, I never had anything but respect for him for it. It saddens me that he had to ask me that. But I’m glad he did. It was just another moment that I found myself looking at him with unmitigated respect and admiration.

Especially when I learned about his childhood.

Diary of a F.U.S.

In my last Blog I put it out there that I was going to work on recovering the raw and brutally honest nature of my earlier blogs. I used to be interesting, I think at least, to some people and it was often stated that candor, harsh truths and genuine storytelling was the draw. I told my story as a means of therapy. I mostly told of the events leading up to my utter collapse; the loss of my new Kidney, my Divorce, my job, my house and subsequent bankruptcy. I told a few stories about my past but not many. As it turns out, through my blog and some other life events I had reconciled a lot my anger, forgiven a lot of people (myself included) and I had worked myself into a better place. I almost liked myself. I was close to being OK in my own skin.
As far as my blog was concerned it felt like my story was almost told.

Sure, I kept blogging but it was hit or miss. I had run out of (or so I thought) the funny stories that made the best blogs. I was searching for a new format, even if it meant no format at all, to make me want to write. I was uninspired.
Then I met a girl.
She made me feel accepted and loved.
I loosened up a little (I’m generally wrapped tighter than a take-out burrito).
I told her that I can be myself around her.
She asked me what that even means.
I couldn’t answer her, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

I can only come up with one thing. It took me waaaaaaay too fucking long to get to that place where I can feel safe and “myself” with someone. My Personality Theory 101 class could tell me that I must have some heavy historical baggage. Maybe it’s because of that formative incident in 1982 when someone wrote on the Men’s room wall where I worked Bill Mac is a Fucked Up Shithead. My mind goes back to it all the time, after all these years, and always offers the additional, and totally unhelpful “you are, aren’t you”?

Am I? Am I a FUS? I look back on the Highlight Reel and I can certainly think of some things that I want a redo over. You know, the ones that play in your head at 3 AM? I suppose most people get over things, I was born sans that ability. I remember every regrettable thing that I’ve done and I don’t need anyone to beat me up over it, I was there first and it’s already done. Why do I continue to dwell on them and why have I not achieved some sort of closure? Why can’t I forgive myself?

We all have a story to tell. Our story explains everything about who we are and why we act or think the way we do. I think it’s time to go back to the beginning of my story. Look at those memories and look for some answers. The story of Bill, the Diary of a Fucked Up Shithead