Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Reclamation Project

Photo by Me. I've been getting out hiking more lately. All part of the reclamation process.

Photo by Me. I’ve been getting out hiking more lately. All part of the reclamation process.

My wife moved out six months and four days ago.

On April 1.

I felt like a fool. But it wasn’t a joke.

It seems like nothing has happened since then. But that’s not true.

A lot has.

Some of it has even been good.

A Six-Month Review 

1. I learned that my wife left me to pursue a relationship with a rich guy. 

The first thing I learned about him is that he took my son to his first baseball game. My, at the time, four-year-old son. The second thing I learned about him is that he hosted a sleepover for my wife and son. That news fundamentally changed me and everything I believed about my world, forever.

2. I created a Match.com account. 

In one of my all-time worst moves as an adult, I tried online dating less than two months after my wife left. One of my friends convinced me I needed to as part of his Three Poles in the Pond theory. My online-dating experience was mostly sad and horrible and only made me feel worse about my life. I strongly considered renewing my membership. In the end, I told Match and the scores of women who hate me there to piss off.

3. I created MBTTTR and started writing almost daily. 

This is one of the most-important things I’ve ever done for myself. I don’t suppose that makes sense to very many of you who don’t spend a lot of time writing. But, this is important to me. I don’t quite have the words. I don’t know what this is. I call it my journal. It sort of is. But it’s something else, too, thanks to all of the beautiful people reading and participating and rooting for me to succeed. This is the opposite of online dating. It’s been remarkably therapeutic. I get overwhelmingly positive feedback, which is beyond appreciated. And I’ve made some really nice human connections. It has accelerated my healing more than anything. I’m so grateful for this. And you.

4. The Pillage

My wife came and took a bunch of things out of the house—namely the living room furniture, my son’s bed and some barstools from my basement. It dramatically changed my mood. Because she was cohabitating with a man with loads of money, and still she was taking major pieces of what little I had in comparison. It was as much symbolic as it was a logistical challenge. Every day since, I’ve walked downstairs in the morning and come home in the evening to an uninviting living room. A place that echoes. A place that looks and feels empty. A place that made my home feel like a foreign place.

5. The Hearing 

My life took a turn for the better on the day of my divorce hearing. And not because I was happy to be rid of her. But that was the day that I learned that my wife’s relationship with her new boyfriend had failed. I was not celebrating her sadness. In fact, I felt something akin to sympathy for her. But her boyfriend was a bad person. It was something I knew for most of their relationship, and she did not. I lost a lot of sleep thinking about that man helping to raise my son. My divorce hearing was when I learned I no longer had to worry about that. Something that should have been horrible ended up being positive. It felt like divine intervention. Seriously.

My son's new bed makes me feel like a better father.

My son’s new bed makes me feel like a better father.

6. Every Day Since 

It’s been a slow climb.

Slow and steady.

But I continue to inch closer. Closer to reclaiming my life.

And each day I feel a little less broken.

Friends in my life—both new and old—give me confidence.

My son has a bed. He slept in it for the first time last night. And a little bit of terrible went away.

I bought a new couch and love seat today. My son was with me and I let him choose between the three sets I liked the most.

My living room will be fully furnished on Wednesday. And then even more terrible will go away.

You can’t know what that means to me.

I bought this couch and matching loveseat today. It will make my home feel complete and comfortable. I'm very happy about this.

I bought this couch and matching love seat today. It will make my home feel complete and comfortable. I’m very happy about this.

Because my five-year-old was so well behaved at the furniture store, I took him to Chuck E. Cheese for the afternoon.

Aside from the obvious problem of potentially contracting Kids AIDS, we had a great afternoon.

I bumped into a guy I know and his two daughters. He’s a new friend who is in a serious relationship with a girl I’m friends with from college. They live less than a block away from me.

In the Holy Shit, That’s Ironic Department, she’s the person who introduced me to my ex-wife in a city 230 miles away from here 16 years ago.

Her boyfriend Justin has two little girls that play well with my five-year-old son.

He had brought the girls to Chuck E. Cheese so they could attend a birthday party.

He was with a pretty blonde woman. She turned out to be his ex-wife. The mother of his children.

Justin sat across a table from me. We were handing out tokens to the kids each time they’d run out.

I asked him about being in the same place with his ex-wife. She left him four years ago after having an affair. She’s still with that other guy today.

But they’re friends now.

They appeared to get along effortlessly. Justin’s girlfriend—my old college friend—has become good friends with his ex-wife.

Just a few nights ago, Justin was using her phone for something. A text came through from his ex-wife to his current girlfriend: “I miss you and need to see you!!!”

Remarkable, I thought.

I don’t really want to be friends with my ex. But I like the idea that four years from now, so much could change for the better.

In only six months, so much has changed already.

I don’t miss her anymore. I miss companionship. But I don’t miss her.

I was rifling through my iPhoto library a short while ago to track down an image. I stumbled upon all my wedding photos.

I barely gave it a second thought.

My life got taken from me.

But now I’ve reclaimed it.

My son has a bed.

I have couches.

I have friends.

I have you.

I have peace.

sunsetphoto

Photo by Me. The Overlook at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place to take in a sunset. The sun will rise tomorrow. And it has a great chance to be even better than today.

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The Hourglass Theory

hour-glass

Great. This guy again, I thought.

It was Joe. A guy I used to work with.

He was a newspaper reporter just like me. Only he worked for a different business publication in the same office building.

I liked Joe. And I didn’t always hate when he’d stop by my desk and talk my ear off.

But I did much of the time.

People think I’m really nice sometimes when I’m actually not. I’m not always patient. I’m not always kind.

I just don’t say anything because I’d rather feel stress and discomfort than tell someone to their face that something they’re doing is bothering me. I’ve always been this way.

On the days I didn’t want to talk to Joe, I’d pick up my phone and pretend like I was calling someone or listening to a voice mail if I saw him approaching my desk.

Despite being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I don’t have anything bad to say about Joe. He was just one of those guys who talked to you a lot longer than you’d prefer sometimes.

He was a really nice, friendly guy.

It would almost surprise you, because he looked intimidating.

Broad-chested. Long, dreadlocked hair, usually pulled back in a ponytail. Lots of tattoos. His look earned him the nickname “Voodoo Joe” in the running community.

Joe ran a lot of marathons. He traveled throughout the country to run in various races.

His travel stories were great. But I sometimes wasn’t too interested in hearing about the finer points of his training regimen.

I don’t run, Joe! I don’t care! Stop telling me about it!

Sometimes he’d be talking to me and the phone at my desk would ring.

Thank God, I’d think.

“I gotta take this, Joe,” I’d say. “I’ll catch up with you.”

My First Lesson in Unexpected Loss

I was 17. A senior in high school.

I was working as a cook at the local country club.

The kitchen phone rang.

“Matt, it’s for you,” someone said.

I grabbed the phone. “Hello?”

It was my father, 500 miles away in Illinois.

My uncle David was dead. My father’s only brother.

He was 37.

I didn’t get to see him very much. He lived in Wisconsin where he had a good job working for an airline. I’d be lucky to see him during one of my two annual visits to Illinois where my dad lives.

He and his fiancée were road-tripping to Chicago in a Chevy S-10 pickup truck to attend a Chicago Bears game. Uncle Dave was obsessed with the Bears.

During the drive, a white Pontiac Grand Prix was weaving in and out of traffic and sped by them from behind. The driver was being an asshole.

He did something to upset Uncle Dave. And my uncle, being my uncle, sped up so he could express his displeasure with his middle finger.

The white Grand Prix swerved into him in response.

My uncle lost control. The small pickup rolled violently and eventually ended up on its top on the side of the highway.

The white Grand Prix never stopped.

The roof of the truck caved, trapping my unconscious uncle until emergency personnel could pull him out. His fiancée Trish in the passenger seat didn’t have a scratch on her.

Oxygen had been cut off to Uncle Dave’s brain for far too long.

He was gone.

It was the first time someone close to me died unexpectedly.

My dad and Uncle Dave had stayed up really late talking on the phone and drinking beer the night before.

Lots of “I love yous” exchanged, something these two men hadn’t said much to one another throughout their lives, growing up in impoverished and dysfunctional conditions I might write about someday.

It was the last thing my father ever said to, or felt, about his younger brother.

That phone call got him through the funeral. That phone call is why my father could fall asleep at night.

They never caught the driver that killed my uncle.

He might be out there somewhere. Right now. Maybe he still drives recklessly. Maybe he told his buddies over drinks about the time he ran some asshole off the road for giving him the finger. Maybe he knows that asshole—my uncle; my father’s only brother—died in that accident. Maybe he doesn’t.

It always bothered me more than it did my father. That no one ever found the guy.

My dad is phenomenal at only worrying about what he can control, and taking the rest as it comes.

What he could control was telling his brother that he loved him in a rare and touching moment between the two.

My father displayed immense strength and grace during the funeral. Being the rock for his two sisters. And for me. And for Trish, who lost her fiancé.

“How did you do it, Dad?” I asked.

“Because we shared that phone call,” he said. “Because I got to tell Dave that I loved him.”

A Second Lesson

Nobody knew where Joe was the next day. The day after he’d annoyed me by being friendly and talkative. The day after I was relieved when he finally stopped talking to me.

Joe never called in to let anyone know he wouldn’t be coming to work. He didn’t live far away, so someone drove to his house at lunchtime.

His Jeep was there. But he didn’t answer the door.

The police were called.

They found Joe’s lifeless body in bed.

He died in his sleep. Heart attack. He was 37.

I made the two-hour drive to his hometown a few days later for the funeral visitation.

I hugged his mother.

She was so appreciative that I’d made the effort to drive down.

I didn’t tell her about her son bothering me a few days earlier.

I shook hands with his father.

He thanked me for being there.

I didn’t tell him his son—his wonderful, good-hearted, nice-to-everyone son—was someone I would intentionally avoid some days, just because my work schedule and writing habits were sometimes more important to me than kindness.

I cried for Joe’s parents.

I cried for his siblings.

I cried for his friends.

I cried for his girlfriend.

I cried for me. Because I’m selfish. Because a person I genuinely liked was gone.

And my final act toward him was one I’m not proud of.

It was polite. It was well-mannered. But it was bullshit.

Because I wanted him to go away.

And then he did. Forever.

And now I wish he was here. I wish he’d gotten to marry his girlfriend. To be a dad. To pass along all that kindness to a new little person.

I wish I could get a do-over for that final conversation. To listen to Joe’s story about running, through the prism of knowing it was his final day.

To respect his passions and interests.

To appreciate his kindness.

And to hold those feelings in my heart while I watched and listened to him in his final moments.

Live Every Moment

I try to remind myself and those I care about to Take Nothing For Granted.

Because I think it’s important to be mindful of the fragility of all this.

It’s why I need to call my mom more.

It’s why I need to visit my grandparents.

It’s why I need to maintain perspective when my son is frustrating me.

Everything changes when we’re reminded of our mortality. On the inside.

We’re just—different—in those moments.

You’d never flip off that asshole driver if you knew he was going to die in 30 seconds.

You’d never call your boss a psycho bitch if you knew she wasn’t going to wake up tomorrow.

You’d always remind those who matter most how much they mean to you if you knew this was their final day.

The bottom of the hourglass is always filling up.

Do I really want to sit in a cubicle 40+ hours per week?

Does my child’s behavior really warrant this reaction?

If today’s my last day, where do I want to spend tonight? And with whom?

Who needs reminded of my love?

Who should I thank?

Who makes me happy?

But we shouldn’t be passive when we ask ourselves the hard questions.

What can I do right now to make someone’s day better?

How do I want to be remembered when I’m gone?

What must I do to achieve that?

What behaviors am I least proud of?

What can I do to change them?

Does my behavior hurt others?

Am I who I want to be?

What actions can I take immediately to be the best version of me possible?

I don’t like that I take my family and friends for granted.

I don’t do it in my mind. But I do it with my actions.

I do care about people. I care about my family. My friends. You.

But I don’t always act like it. Is that curable? Or is this simply who I am?

A guy destined to regret inaction and the missed opportunities to remind people of their importance?

To fail and hurt, only to fail and hurt some more.

Maybe.

But I’m going to try not to be.

If tomorrow never comes, I hope the people who know me best remember whatever good I had to give.

I hope you know how important you are and how much power you have to shape lives and bring joy to others.

And I hope you try hard to be kind. To everyone. Because the top of their hourglass is getting lighter too.

Dear Joe:

Thank you for your kindness.

You were a good man.

And you are not forgotten.

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The Phantom Pain

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

It was a typical winter day in Ohio.

Around 9 a.m.

Co-workers were milling around, getting coffee and chatting.

I work in a large, shiny office building with hundreds of people. Our building sits along an Interstate a few miles outside the city.

Me and five others have desks nestled in a corner of the second-floor corporate offices. Huge windows line the walls, giving us a view of a busy two-lane road outside.

A typical winter day in Ohio generally consists of snow-covered grass and below-freezing temperatures. Moisture on the roads can freeze into an invisible layer of ice. Black ice, it’s called.

Driving the speed limit is encouraged in such conditions.

On this particular morning earlier this year, one driver didn’t get the memo.

He was driving a plain white contractor’s minivan. Recklessly. More than 80 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, the police said.

He lost control.

Through the large bullet-proof glass windows of our office, we all heard the sound of screeching tires, then a series of loud bangs as the van barrel-rolled across the road, taking out one of our company’s medium-sized trees, and slamming into six cars in our parking spaces nearest the road.

The driver was ejected and thrown headfirst through the windshield of a green BMW that had just gotten out of the body repair shop the day before. It was the last thing he ever did.

Now, those parking spaces are called “Death Row,” here. There is a mulch circle where the tree used to be.

Those spaces used to fill up pretty early in the morning. Now, many people are hesitant to park there.

As if the van crashing into them, and that man dying, makes it more likely that something bad will happen again, when—weather aside—the statistical probability of car accidents happening right there are the same every day.

It’s a Human Thing

We knee jerk. It’s what we do.

Terrorists fly planes into buildings. Then we’re terrified to fly.

I lived in Toledo, Ohio in September 2001. They evacuated the tallest building downtown that day. It’s only 33 stories. New York City alone has well over 100 buildings taller than that.

Remember your first trip to a movie theater after all of those people were shot and killed watching The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo.? Mine was a few days later. To see that very movie. There were extra policemen in theaters everywhere. I did think more about rogue gunmen that night than I normally would.

Similarly, not long after the D.C. sniper situation, some asshole with a rifle in Ohio was shooting drivers on their morning commutes just outside of Columbus. People everywhere were thinking about getting shot just driving their cars after that.

Whenever I walk into rooms in my house where I’ve seen the biggest spiders, I always catch myself looking in those same spots for them as if they’re most likely to show up there.

There are countless examples of this completely illogical, yet ever-present mental and emotional reflex many of us have to traumatic news or unpleasant situations.

Which brings me to…

My Next Relationship

I talk a pretty big game about wanting to meet someone. To eliminate the loneliness. To share moments. To connect on the kind of level that brings people together in meaningful ways.

But, like those people shaken when stepping on airplanes those first days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11 attacks; like those people nervous about walking into movie theaters after the Aurora shooting; and like everyone at my office hesitant to park in “Death Row,” I have an almost-involuntary aversion to letting myself get too close to another human being again.

I want to. In my head.

I believe inner peace and happiness lie there.

I believe satisfying physically intimate relationships lie there.

I believe a balanced life lies there.

But it does something funny to my chest. To my insides.

This idea of letting someone in again.

I’ve written about the feelings of rejection from my short-lived online dating experiment.

And other incidents have popped up where I realize just how fragile I am now.

I feel angry when people I care about are mistreated by their partners.

I feel concerned when people I care about have doubts about their relationships.

I feel sad when people don’t like me as much as I like them.

And it hurts when someone pushes me away. Whatever their reason may be.

More specifically, I feel all of these things more acutely than I ever have before.

The anger burns hotter. The concern, more pronounced. The sadness, heavier.

The pain? It scares me now in ways I’ve never experienced.

People who shouldn’t be able to hurt me can hurt me now. Little things that might seem silly and meaningless evoke feelings similar to when my wife expunged me from her life.

It’s like a layer of mental and emotional toughness has been stripped away, leaving me frail and weak. Vulnerable. Easy to damage.

Does this type of wound heal? Will scar tissue form? Is it possible to reacquire the armor I once possessed?

I don’t know.

Maybe time will heal this wound. Making me healthier.

But in the meantime, I have to ask myself some hard questions about what I’m willing to endure. What I’m capable of enduring.

Am I going to let a relative stranger in enough to hurt me the way my ex-wife did?

Am I going to ruin potentially good things by keeping people at a distance?

Am I being illogically reflexive? Irrational? Am I avoiding perfectly adequate parking spaces due to fears that don’t make sense?

At some point, I’m going to have to be honest with myself and others about these questions and answers.

Because I don’t want to live recklessly.

I don’t want to lose control.

I don’t want to end up a victim of self-destructive behavior.

Dead, but on display. Like that man on the BMW.

Unable to remind those looking on in horror to keep on living.

And to do so unafraid.

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