Tag Archives: Memories

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

man pulling luggage by pexels

No matter how beautiful things look up ahead, it’s hard to find a place to set down the heavy stuff. That’s why I mostly keep it shoved away in a closet. (Image/Pexels)

I’m good at hiding it.

The emotional baggage I drag around all the time.

Most of the time, I forget it’s there until something triggers it. I don’t like talking about it, because people sometimes assume it means I’m hung up on my ex-wife and pining for a life that I’m nearly six years removed from and barely remember anymore.

I remember being married, of course. But I don’t remember ME when I was married. I don’t remember what I thought and felt in my everyday baseline emotional state of being.

Those life choices led to the worst thing that ever happened to me, happening. So I’m not sure why pursuing that would make sense to anyone.

I also don’t like talking about it because it makes other people uncomfortable, like all those nights when I was freshly divorced and intellectually aware that no one wanted to talk about it and see me cry in the middle of a bar on a Friday or Saturday night. I used to always say to myself: “Don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce, don’t talk about your divorce.”

And then, without fail, I would talk about my divorce like a massive, undisciplined asshole.

So when I was walking around Las Vegas last week with two work friends, they couldn’t have known that underneath my calm exterior, I was triggered and distracted by more than all the flashing lights.

The past doesn’t always cooperatively stay hidden in the closet.

It was the week of July 6, 2007.

Our close friends were getting married at Bellagio in Las Vegas on that day. My wife and I were the maid of honor and best man.

They wanted to get married on 07-07-07 (because Las Vegas), but a million other people had the same idea (because Las Vegas), so logistically it made sense for them to move the wedding to the day before.

I don’t know what my marriage was back then.

Good? Bad? Average?

She’d have a different perspective, anyway. We decided to start the trying-to-have-children process not long after that trip, which might signal that she was already unhappy at that point and thought having a baby might make things better.

Regardless of how okay I thought my marriage was at the time, 39-year-old me today would have totally pegged us for a future divorce.

She was hanging out poolside with friends at Caesars Palace and shopping in the Forum Shops.

I was playing in a poker cash game at Harrah’s, warming up for an afternoon tournament at Paris.

This past week in Vegas, I didn’t play one hand. Not one. I chose to go out with coworkers and be social, rather than sit at a table with nine strangers.

But when I was in Las Vegas for the first and only time with my wife, I ran away to play cards and do what I wanted to do, rather than invest my time connecting with my wife and friends.

If writing is my thing now, poker was my thing back then.

I was running through everyone at the afternoon poker tournament in Paris.

My wife stopped into the poker room on her walk back to our hotel room to see how I was doing. I was at the final table. Maybe five or six players left out of a field of about 200.

I was on the cusp of victory, and instead of sitting down to cheer for me to win, she said she’d see me back in the hotel room when I was done, and left.

It kind of hurt my feelings. That she had so little interest in this thing that mattered to me.

I was too dense to recognize the 500 times I had made her feel that exact same way over the years, and make that connection that might have saved us later.

I won the tournament.

And I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted her to think I was good enough.

The tourney winnings paid for the Vegas trip, and then some.

I didn’t know back then that money couldn’t fix what was broken.

I didn’t realize back then how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch me succeed at an activity that adversely affected our marriage because I usually invested more time in watching, reading about, and playing poker than I invested in anything constructive, or proactive, or meaningful to our marriage.

Still. It was a good trip. Fun. Reconnecting with old friends. Making new good memories together, including a fun night with the bride and groom having lots of drinks and laughing at a Lewis Black comedy show at the MGM Grand, and then a memorable laugh-filled walk back to Bellagio afterward.

I hadn’t thought about that moment for years.

And then fast-forward to a week ago, when I found myself walking through the MGM Grand 11 years later.

Even though I LIVE IN THE SAME HOUSE that we lived in together as a married couple, and see and talk to my ex-wife several times per week and it’s super-normal and functional, here I was in Las Vegas on some random casino escalator having a moment.

Then, my friends and I walked north up the Las Vegas Strip. The same walk the four of us had made 11 years earlier on the Vegas wedding trip.

And involuntarily, I felt it.

I don’t know why that mattered.

I have no idea why it made me feel.

But it did.

It just did.

A couple of years removed from divorce, I spent a few days at Disney World and the Daytona 500 with friends, including a woman who liked me.

We were walking around the Magic Kingdom together, just the two of us.

It was cute. I liked her.

But, inevitably, we ended up walking right by the spot where I’d proposed to my ex-wife. We were talking about something, my friend and I. But walking by that spot on the bridge felt just like driving by a place where someone you know died in an auto accident.

Your insides recoil a bit involuntarily.

If you stay cool, it remains invisible to people who don’t know you very well.

The engagement-spot trigger. At Disney.

I don’t know that I’ve ever told anyone about that.

And then a similar thing sort of randomly happened again in Las Vegas.

I’m not sure what to do with that.

There’s luggage—an invisible suitcase—where all of the memories live.

The good and the bad ones. The laughs and smiles and triumphs. But also, the guilt and fear and shame.

It’s baggage. Human baggage. My baggage. But I think everyone else has a little too.

It’s the kind of baggage that single people don’t want to deal with while dating because baggage usually contains or requires a little hardship.

Baggage contains surprises, because it’s full of all the grimy, ugly history that sometimes tarnishes things that looked beautiful just the day before.

The thing about baggage is that you’re supposed to be able to set it down. Just set it down and walk away. It doesn’t matter anymore.

Baggage is something you’re supposed to be able to lose. Or give away. Or destroy.

But it’s like the longer we stay alive, the more things we shove into our suitcases. They just keep getting heavier and more difficult to drag around with us.

Maybe we will be able to set them down someday and walk away. Or maybe we’ll trade them in for new ones.

I don’t know.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Because it’s always hiding in the closet.

Hardly anyone knows it’s there.

Most of the time, not even me.

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In the Trailer Park with Elise and a Deaf Man

Woman piano player

(Image/Mike Kemp)

I lived in an Iowa trailer park.

Mom always called it a “mobile home,” and fondly remembers it as being “the nicest one in the neighborhood.”

I have no idea whether that’s true. Little kids don’t think about things like that.

I’d sit atop my favorite blanket spread out in the living room and play with my Star Wars and He-Man toys. I was 3 years old.

My mother sat on the bench in front of our upright piano—probably our finest possession—playing beautifully, despite the handicap of having small hands consistent with her short stature.

I’m sure my mother played many things on the piano.

But I only remember one: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Für Elise, a common choice of beginning pianists. I didn’t know the name of the piece until I was in my 20s. This version is gorgeous:

Near as I can tell, this is my oldest memory.

What are our lives, if not a collection of memories? And if this is my oldest one, what must it be worth?

Save the things we cherish today—right this second—what could be worth more?

I cried and begged my mom not to make me take naps, staring and poking at the bottom of the top bunk which no one ever slept in.

I sobbed when she threw away my blanket because the stitching had come undone on the binding.

I developed anger issues when my parents later divorced and mom moved us 500 miles to Ohio.

But there is no amount of sadness, anger or pain that can erase those moments with mom at the piano.

Everything was—really and truly—okay.

I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, or how to make more money, or whether I’ll ever meet a girl who will like me, and who I like back.

I was just there. Just being. Pure and innocent and totally content.

With my mom who would make it okay. With my dad who would come home from work later and play Star Wars with me.

And with this piece of music. Magic.

Just a footnote on the list of Beethoven’s best work. One he chose not to publish for the final 17 years of his life.

Maybe he thought it was shitty. Maybe he thought it would never matter to anyone.

I wonder what he’d think of that score being an endearing and enduring memory of some random stranger on the other side of the world more than 200 years after writing it.

He probably wouldn’t care.

But I’d like to believe the implications would make him feel good about his impact on the world.

Beethoven is famous for being deaf.

He wrote some of the world’s most influential musical pieces between age 30 and his death at 56, totally unable to hear any of it.

What’s the equivalent of that? A fragrance maker who can’t smell? A photographer who can’t see? A choreographer who can’t walk?

The story of Beethoven’s accomplishments in music following his hearing loss (which happened gradually—he wasn’t completely deaf until around age 30) is the ultimate retort for anyone offering excuses for why they can’t achieve success in their life pursuits.

He was shy. Socially awkward. Ill-tempered. And had, according to various biographies, an “unfortunate physical appearance.”

Women apparently didn’t want to have sex with, or marry, him.

The lonely genius.

So he poured himself into his art, producing many of the world’s most famous symphonies, which are still heard today—more than two centuries later.

A deaf man wrote music that people absolutely adore 200 years later. I don’t have an adjective for how astounding that is.

Even though Beethoven never married, he still had feelings. A love letter he never sent to a married woman named Antonie Brentano was found after his death.

Für Elise is linked to a couple different women, but there’s no direct evidence he was in love with them.

Beethoven’s loneliness is worth contemplating. Here’s a man so famous that every classically educated person on the planet has heard of him. He was admired and beloved while still alive despite being a prickly cock to most in his life.

We all know somebody like that. Except the one we know is a retired electrician or factory worker, and not very many people will remember them after they die because they didn’t leave behind anything of value.

They didn’t leave behind anything beautiful.

Not like this. This ode to Elise.

Beethoven was dead 40 years before ANOTHER guy named Ludwig found Für Elise and published it.

This musical composition is an afterthought.

If any hardcore classical music fans read this, they’ll probably think the score is low-level bullshit compared to Beethoven’s—and his genius German musical predecessors, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—most influential work.

You know how popular albums always have three or four songs everyone knows, surrounded by songs most people have never heard or care to?

It’s super-common for my favorite songs to be among those lesser-known titles. It’s either because I have amazing taste that most plebs could never understand, or because I’m the trailer-park rube who likes crappy things that will never be popular.

Both are possible.

I can listen to Für Elise on repeat for hours, as I have through this entire writing.

I don’t know how the world hears it. Maybe people think it’s silly that I don’t prefer Beethoven’s 5th or 9th symphonies.

Maybe dudes who lived in Iowa trailer parks can’t tell the difference between good and great.

I only know this:

My mother didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 while He-Man was riding Battle Cat, or while Luke was lightsaber-fighting Vader back when the good guys always won.

She didn’t play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 back then. Before the whole world changed, and everything went from safe and perfect to something else. To something unsteady.

But mom did play Für Elise 33 years ago, and it was beautiful. And even now, when it’s playing, it’s almost like nothing bad could ever happen.

It’s almost as if everything is going to be okay no matter what.

Maybe because it is.

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Our Souvenirs

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.

I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.

There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.

That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.

She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.

I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.

In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.

That nothing lasts forever.

I live in the only house our little family owned.

After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.

“I want to keep our house, daddy.”

Okay, son. Okay.

My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.

I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.

I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.

I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.

Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.

Our triggers aren’t always predictable.

That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.

We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.

Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.

Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.

Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.

School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!

Our hometowns are prisons.

Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!

Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.

When people die.

Nothing lasts forever.

When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.

It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.

Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.

Then it was gone.

I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”

Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.

We were so young.

Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.

We had no idea that life was just happening.

What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.

It’s powerful.

It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.

It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.

It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.

It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.

It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.

I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.

She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.

There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.

I pulled out old toys. I remember these.

Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.

In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.

Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.

I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.

You don’t miss the things, really.

You don’t even long for the past.

But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.

All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.

This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.

So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.

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The Things That Matter

13599-Memories

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite shows had a man sitting on the edge of a hotel room bed talking on the phone to his ex-wife sitting on the edge of her bed.

He had just learned she was dying of cancer.

His eyes well with tears and he calls her by his pet name for her. His voice breaks.

Her eyes well with tears because she hears this stoic figure breaking on the other end of the phone.

No one says anything, but they don’t have to, because the audience gets it. A silent moment where so much is happening. Two people who have completely let go of every ounce of anger and resentment toward one another because their time is short and they’re not going to waste any of it on anger. Two people focusing not on all the bad times, but on all the good.

He can’t speak.

She says: “I know.”

And we know that she does.

This was the end. Sadness and regret. Because it used to be so good and beautiful.

And they both remember those times.

The things that matter.

A Letter from my Grandmother

I’ve joked many times in this space about what will happen if my grandmother ever read my writing here, and about other things. Because I use a lot of bad words and occasionally write about mature themes, the working theory is that my super-sweet, kind, prayerful grandma will read it and then have a stroke and die.

I am her first grandchild, and was for nearly seven years. I am closer in age to my grandma’s youngest child than I am to her second grandchild.

I think when we are lying on our deathbeds, we are going to think about the life we lived and it’s going to be painfully obvious to us where our missed opportunities were. Where we failed to meet some standard to which we hold ourselves.

I think most of us are too afraid.

To go on that adventure.

To give up the day job.

To kiss the girl.

To dance.

To leap.

We like to do things that feel safe, and I think in the end we are going to regret all the chances we didn’t take. All the safe, comfortable choices we made.

And I think when we’re dying we are going to only think about the things that matter. The people we love and the people who love us. The people who shared in our pleasure and pain and celebrated or suffered along with us.

I’ve written a lot about what a charmed upbringing I had, despite not having much money. My childhood is the ultimate example of how money and having lots of “things” has never, and will never provide the happiness and contentment we seek.

I was happy because my family loved me, paid attention to me, treated me well, and always made me feel safe. My friends did the same.

That’s why adulthood has felt so uninspired. At times, so disappointing.

That’s why divorce was so hard. Because I’d never really felt the kind of pain divorce causes. When you’ve never bled before, I think the pain of the cut and the sight of blood is more traumatic than it is to those with battle scars.

My grandmother—a wonderful, kind woman; the matriarch of a large family (eight children and 19 grandchildren)—is largely responsible for the envelope of love, happiness and contentment in which I was raised.

She wrote me a letter.

Dear Matt,

Time goes so fast. I want to write you a letter and let you know how much you are loved. The time we came to Iowa. You got lost at 2 years old. We were to blame. I was so scared. But we found you and all was well.

The time I flew out with you to Iowa so you could be in Debbie’s wedding, and when we left, you sobbed for a half hour on the plane and I couldn’t fix it. You didn’t want to leave your dad. The time you went out to live with your dad when you were a junior in high school. Oh, how I missed you. I’m so glad you decided to stay here for your senior year and graduate with all your friends.

I remember all the times just you and I went to lunch together when you were little. It was so special for me to have you with me. I love you so.

As grandpa and I are getting older we want you to know how much we love you and always will. Our time on this earth is so much shorter than it was and I don’t want to waste any time, so I hope you know how much we care for you and our great-grandson.

Matt, you’re a good father and we are proud of the man you have become.

Just know we love you and always will. 

Grandma and Grandpa

How will we know? What matters, and what doesn’t?

We won’t always know while it’s happening.

But I think one day we will.

I think, one day, we’ll just know.

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The Moments

The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.

The rhododendrons bloom outside my house for just a couple short weeks each year. A reminder to slow down. To live in the present. And that these little moments end up being most important.

It was a slow death.

Not a major trauma—like a shooting or stabbing—that killed the marriage.

More like a terminal illness that could have been cured with early detection.

Despite having lived with my wife in my house for seven years, the daily surroundings don’t trigger memories and emotions within me the way one might expect.

But the opposite is true of places we visited together.

I took my son yesterday to a learning and discovery center geared toward teaching children about plant and animal life on farms.

While we waited for our friends to show up, we spent time playing on a little playground near the parking lot. The last time I stood there, it had been the three of us. The family. Dad. Mom. Son.

Together.

And it was a little heavier than I wanted it to be.

I didn’t feel it in the morning at the house in which we lived together.

I didn’t feel it looking into the eyes of our beautiful son who we made together.

But I did feel it standing on this relatively nondescript playground in a place I’d only visited a few times.

It’s because those are the moments. Sometimes they don’t feel like they matter now.

But they often feel like they matter later.

This Fleeting Life

My rhododendron bushes have bloomed.

My house looks particularly nice from the street for about two or three weeks each year. That small window is now.

The bushes stand there, green, nearly all year round. But during this short period as spring gives way to summer, they bloom, their vibrant pinks and purples providing a rare splash of color to enjoy each time you pull in the driveway.

They’re here today, gorgeous in their rarity.

Soon enough, perhaps even from the next hard rain, they won’t be. Because I watch this cycle year after year, I’ve learned to appreciate the moment. I’ve learned to appreciate how special and fleeting their simple beauty truly is.

I’ve learned to pause. To look. And look.

And look.

Willing the image into my mind. Willing gratitude into my heart. Willing more growth into this body.

Because these little things are the big things.

These moments are life.

How We Break Connection With Those We Love

I’ve written several times about my favorite book on male-female relationships—How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It.

I think the reason I believe it’s such an insightful, helpful book is because it, within the first 25 pages, absolutely nailed the way my marriage (and certainly millions of others) ended.

Authors Patricia Love and Steven Stosny wrote this about the female tendency to practice fear avoidance and the male tendency to practice shame avoidance, and how that instinctual behavior and dynamic poisons our relationships.

Women build alliances with other women by doing what they learned in early childhood: exposing vulnerability. Marlene doesn’t have to mention to her girlfriends that she feels sad, unhappy, lonely, or isolated. They infer from her body language or tone of voice, just as she can tell if something is wrong with them. As soon as one woman senses a friend in emotional need, they become more interested and emotionally invested in each other.

“But what do you think happens when Marlene tells Mark that she feels bad? (She has to tell him—his defense against feeling failure and inadequacy has blinded him to her emotional world by this time.) You guessed it—once she forces him to face her vulnerability, he feels inadequate as a protector. He responds with typical shame-avoidant behavior: impatience, distractedness, defensiveness, resentment, anger, criticism, or ‘advice’ that sounds an awful lot like telling her what to do.

“After a while, a woman will stop exposing vulnerability to the man in her life and turn more to friends, allowing the emotional void in their relationship to fill with resentment. Marlene doesn’t know it, but she already has one foot out the door. The probable catalyst for their breakup will be one of the following. Marlene becomes ill or depressed or loses a loved one. Feeling inadequate to help her, Mark withdraws emotionally yet again, leaving her to face her ordeal completely alone. When she recovers, she will see no need for such an unreliable alliance and leave him, thinking that they have grown apart. The other likely breakup scenario has one or both of them starting an affair, Marlene to ease her sense of isolation and Mark to prove his adequacy. Fortunately, a breakup can be avoided by paying attention to each other’s innate vulnerability.

And so we’ll think back on all that time together.

What destroyed my marriage?

And you have the tendency to think about how the relationship changed when your child was born.

Or how the relationship changed when you lost your job.

Or how she completely changed when she lost her father.

But those are just like the highlights on your curriculum vitae. The real job experience was gained going to work every day in each of those listed positions.

Those traumatic moments were opportunities to temper the marriage in fire. To make the relationship stronger than before. An unbreakable force forged in a little bit of sacrifice, a little bit of paying attention, and a whole bunch of choosing to love every single day.

It wasn’t the big events that changed my life.

It was the seemingly inconsequential ones. The things we take for granted.

But life gives us occasional glimpses of truth to help us keep our minds focused on the right things.

Like a random playground.

Like the fleeting beauty of a rarely seen blossom.

Like the very next time you speak with your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

An opportunity to make better, wiser choices.

An opportunity to take nothing for granted.

An opportunity to stop, to breathe, to look, and cherish all the beauty that surrounds us.

The moments.

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Things I Learned About Myself From My Baby Book

memory-lane

I once shit my pants four times during a wedding and everyone in the church heard each one.

Four times.

Last time my mom visited, she asked me whether I ever looked at my baby book.

She had given it to me to keep on my 30th birthday. I put it with the photo albums and never thought much about it.

I told her no, and I think it made her feel bad.

My ex-wife asked me recently for the cabinet in which we kept keepsakes like that. So now I have a bunch of old photo albums and my baby book sitting out.

I decided to commit some time to going through them.

Reading my baby book—which I haven’t completed yet, as I want to do this in real-time—I’m learning some things about myself I didn’t know.

That’s fascinating to me. I DID all these things. And I have no idea I did them.

Like all those keg parties in college.

I’m kidding.

Probably.

A Trip Down No-Memory Lane

I was so blessed to know all four of my great-grandparents on my mother’s side. A perk of being born to a young mother. They were beautiful people.

On my father’s side, I only knew my great-grandmother—the mother of my dad’s dad. The other three had died, as had my dad’s mom, prior to my birth.

I now know all of their names.

Earl and Laura. Lewis and Edith.

Maybe I’ll look them up someday.

My mother (who did a ridiculously good job detailing my early years) wrote that it took me four days to recognize her, but that I recognized my father almost immediately.

“He really is a Daddy’s boy!” she wrote.

My first word was “Ma-ma.” Good for mom. She deserved that.

I apparently loved to sing. Which is weird because I’m really terrible at it now, when I can speak well and know a lot of songs. I can’t even begin to fathom how shitty I must have been at singing when my vocabulary was predominantly baby gibberish.

My favorite stuff to play with were things I wasn’t supposed to. Shocking.

They used to call me Matrick Fitzpatrick as a nickname. Rad.

Oh, hell no…

My mother wrote that my first “girlfriend” was a girl named Kristy. When we were both babies.

The reason this is awesome is because I remember who this is.

When we were in junior high, Kristy’s dad used to come over once in a while and bring her along.

She was uncomfortably hot (you know, in junior-high terms). And I was a lot more confident back then.

One night, I stole some of my stepdad’s cologne so Kristy would think I smelled sexy.

We fell asleep on the couch together watching the original 1960s Batman film with Adam West.

Kristy and Batman. I must have been on Cloud Nine.

But when I woke up, Kristy was gone. And my mother was sniffing my neck.

“Are you wearing… cologne!?!?”

“Umm. No! What? No way. How would that happen? Of course not. Why would I be wearing cologne?”

I’m not sure I ever saw Kristy again after that.

Thanks a lot, mom.

I was two months old during the quad-shit wedding incident.

One of the gifts I received on my first birthday in 1980: “A leisure suit.”

Even+Goldmember+is+grossed+out+_7287f853faf49e5d134885d168995d81

One of the gifts I received on my third birthday (1982): 50 cents.

You’ve got to be shitting me. So this is what gypped restaurant servers feel like.

My first celebrity meeting?

*drumroll*

TOM POSTON!

Wait. What? You don’t think that’s awesome? Tom freaking Poston, baby!

No?

He played Mr. Bickley in Mork & Mindy!

tompostonsmallerYeah, I didn’t watch it either.

I was busy being a toddler.

In October 1986, I took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and scored better than 89 percent of all the other second graders in the United States.

Suck it, other second graders!

My worst score, by far? Word analysis. I ranked 59th for that.

I got three 93s. Vocabularly. Spelling. Math concepts.

59th for word analysis?!?!

inconceivable“Hey Matt! You keep using that word. I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

What they should have tested me on was my sick art skills.

If you need a reindeer drawn that looks like a cow, I’m your huckleberry, according to my letter to Santa in 1986.

IMG_0577

Just as I was feeling bad about my subpar art skills, I stumbled upon this gem, created by my aunt, who is just four years older than me. I’m assuming she made this for us when I was born. And I’m also assuming she didn’t mean to draw a bunch of multi-colored penises and upside-down Ls. If that’s my dad in the middle, he’s about to have a really bad day. But at least he has his entire body. I look like a turd with limbs.

IMG_0576

My letter to Santa in 1987. I didn’t believe in proper punctuation or capitalization back then:

“Dear. Saint Nick,

Please tell the Reindeer I said hi please give me some Ghostbusters and some Ghost

Please give me the Ecto 1 and Headquarters

Turn Over!”

*turns paper over*

“Hope you like the cupcake! Please Write Back!”

And then I drew Santa a very nice picture of himself with a black ink pen. He has just one boot on and a bunch of stars surrounding his face.

No wonder I didn’t get the damn firehouse headquarters.

I received my first-ever phone call from a girl in the fourth grade.

It was on May 6, 1989 at 9:38 a.m. This was apparently a big deal to my mom. But she didn’t write down who it was.

Which is a bummer because I was just about to call her up to see if she is single.

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Remember to Remember

I don't have a pensieve. Bummer.

I don’t have a pensieve. Bummer.

I was just paging through an old photo album my mom gave me during my Thanksgiving visit.

I was little in the photos. Newborn and toddler pictures. Photos of my mom, dad and I all together, before they split when I was four years old. Photos I’ve never seen before.

Images from the early 1980s. My parents, aunts and uncles all younger than I am now.

I don’t remember any of the moments captured in the images, even seeing the irrefutable proof I was there.

I don’t think that’s particularly abnormal—not remembering much from your first few years of life. But it got my wheels turning.

Friday morning, I sat with my five-year-old son, my 20-year-old sister and my mother. Mom’s obsessed with old family videos and insists on watching them whenever we’re all together.

VHS tapes.

She popped one in.

It was Easter Sunday, just after my 20th birthday. I was home from college. My little sister was five, like her little nephew today.

I watched myself supervising her Easter egg hunt, remembering none of it.

And that’s when it dawned on me that I don’t remember the vast majority of my life.

I can’t miss the memories I don’t have. But conceptually, I found that realization a little sad.

MCI and Cheap Long-Distance Rates

At some point on that Easter morning 14 years ago, my mom hit the “Stop” button on the camcorder. An inconsequential move at the time.

But an awesome one in 2013.

Because something rad happened. After a tracking adjustment (remember VCR tracking?!?! Mom’s totally old-fashioned) I realized my mother had taped over an old football game we’d recorded.

It was the 1989 NFL playoffs. The Cleveland Browns versus the Buffalo Bills.

“Mom, can we please keep this on for a little bit? This is kind of amazing.” I said.

She obliged.

Just a couple minutes in, my favorite childhood quarterback—Bernie Kosar—hit my favorite childhood wide receiver—Webster Slaughter—with a perfect pass down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown catch and run.

I instinctively raised my hand in the air, celebrating the success of an event I’d watched 25 years ago, but don’t remember.

It’s not a big deal watching old ball games. Because of ESPN Classic, most sports fans have seen old game footage before.

But you know what IS a big deal?

Watching 25-year-old television commercials. Because they DON’T show those on ESPN Classic.

First, it was an old Ford commercial, touting the merits of the 1990 model year Ford Taurus.

Have you driven a Ford, lately?

We all laughed.

Then it was a commercial for Delta Airlines. When’s the last time you saw a commercial for an airline? Southwest is the only one advertising on TV these days, right?

Fly the friendly skies.

Then it was an old Coors Light commercial. Everyone looked awesome because it was 1989.

Coors Light! It’s the right beer now!

And finally, there was a great MCI commercial bragging about how much cheaper their long-distance phone call rates were than AT&T’s.

The phones were big and old.

We were still 18 years away from the iPhone.

Amazing.

And the entire thing made me smile. I’ve told at least three people about it.

And it struck me as a reminder.

A reminder to soak in the moments.

To remember to remember.

To take a lot of photos. A lot of video. A lot of mental snapshots.

Maybe write it down.

So you can taste it again. Feel it again. Live it again.

The world’s always spinning.

The clocks, always ticking.

Always.

Tick, tick, tick.

You and me? Right now?

We happen once in a lifetime.

Make it count.

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