Social Misfit

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings from Mexico!

I wish it felt more Christmassy this year. As I am constantly reminded by every Hallmark Christmas movie, this is a time of snow, family, and love. That’s one of the downsides of living in a temperate climate. Thousands of miles away from everyone in your family. In a foreign country.

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To be honest, I’m not sure anyone in my family would visit me even if we lived across the street from each other. That’s probably my fault. I burned a lots of bridges back when I was drunk all the time.

Some fault also has to be allocated to my siblings. We’re all fairly fucked up, and almost everyone in my family has decided it’s way easier to just keep drinking than it is to try to fix all of those broken personalities and relationships.

That’s just one of the many upsides to living in a temperate climate, thousands of miles away from everyone in your family, in a foreign country.

* * * *

Speaking of burning bridges, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be drunk to do that. For those of you who placed bets on how long it would take for my Twitter account to be permanently disabled, if you picked December 4, 2019, you win.

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Even I thought it would take me longer than that.

I wasn’t a big fan of the Twitter. It was the domain of mystic poets and nude selfies. I fucking hate poetry and no one wants to see me naked. Including me. Twitter is the social media equivalent of a moral wasteland. I never understood the language of the Twitter, which no doubt makes me the Ultimate Twit.

So? What did you do to piss off the Twitter police, dude?

According to the Twitter police, I was guilty of engaging in a pattern of hate themed speech, which was a repeated violation of the community standards that Twitter sometimes takes seriously.

In the interest of transparency, I am totally guilty of everything Twitter accused me of doing. But there was another person who consistently violated Twitter’s community standards, and he did so without any fear of repercussions.

Donald Trump consistently lied about his accomplishments, blamed his political opponents for his failings, and fired off endless insults, taunts, and disparaging names at anyone that didn’t kiss his ass.

I pointed out Mr. Trump’s pattern of inflammatory fabrication to the Twitter police more than once. They had a response. If I didn’t like the things that Mr. Trump wrote, I should simply stop reading them.

That was their official stance on the matter.

That was something I couldn’t do, so I called out The Donald every time he bragged about a success, or projected his shortcomings off onto others, or insulted Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, or any of his Democratic opponents.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar. I could live with that if not for one, small, tiny, insignificant detail. He’s also the President of the United States. Because of his status, I find his actions morally reprehensible, even though I have often stated that I don’t have any morals or ethics.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Unfortunately, and I honestly feel it was an unfortunate course of action on my part, I tended to end the majority of my rebuttals to Mr. Trump with …you lying cocksucker! Or, …you motherfucking piece of shit!!

My Twitter account was temporarily suspended three or four times for saying bad things about the 45th President of the United States.

I was a psych nurse for thirty years. The one thing I hated more than anything was when someone started name-calling. I’m sure that can directly be tied to all of times I had to endure it when I was a child. That, and spitting. I really hated being spit on.

In a nutshell, because it was something I wouldn’t want to happen to me, I should never have engaged in that sort of behavior toward someone else. Even a fucking douchebag like Donald Trump.

Christians call it The Golden Rule. Everyone else calls it not being an asshole.

At some time during the day of December 3rd, I called Melania Trump a whore. And a mindless cunt. There’s probably not any evidence supporting my claim that The Donald ever literally sucked any cocks or had sex with his mother. And for that, my Twitter account was temporarily suspended several times.

However, there is a veritable ocean of evidence that indicates Melania Trump is both a whore, and a mindless cunt. And because those accusations were true, Twitter shut down my account forever the very next day.

I’m okay with that. I was engaging in behavior that I would never condone in another. Besides, getting into a Twitter war with The Donald isn’t just stupid, it’s a fruitless cause, and I already have one of those.

It’s called Golf…

* * * *

I’ve been a social misfit almost all of my life. I may still be one, but there’s one major difference between the old guy me and the young kid me. I no longer care what other people think of me.

Being an outsider looking in was easy for me when I was a kid. I was almost always the new kid in town. We moved a lots when I was in grade school. Minnesota, at least twice. Michigan. South Dakota. Arkansas. North Dakota, twice. California, twice. Missouri. And finally, Montana.

Eleven different school districts to complete eight years of school. I was either so far ahead of my classmates that they thought I was some kind of genius, or so far behind them that everyone thought I was a total moron.

Moving from one place to another in the Midwest was bad enough, but moving from the North to the South was absolute hell. Not only are you the New Kid in Town, you’re a Damn Yankee to boot. And back then, the only thing white southern kids hated more than damn Yankees was niggers.

Yes, I know I’m not supposed to say that anymore. But as I write this, it’s 1963. I was in the second grade when we moved to Little Rock. I was picked on so much in Arkansas that I shit my pants in school. Twice.

I vividly remember both of those incidents. What I don’t remember is why it didn’t happen more often. It’s possible that my heartless tormentors started feeling sorry for me, but it’s far more likely that they thought they might end up covered in shit, too.

Third grade, we were living in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was the only time I was considered the most popular kid in my class. And the only reason I know this is because my teacher whispered it into my ear one day.

I wasn’t the most popular kid in my class in Michigan. Or South Dakota. Or at either of the schools I attended in California. And I wasn’t even close to the most popular kid in my class when we moved back to Grand Forks because we lived in a different school district on the other side of town. 

1967. I was in seventh grade. That was the worst year of my grade school career. I started out the school year in Minnesota, spent something like six months in Missouri, then finished up the year in Montana.

Missouri might have been even worse than Arkansas when it came to being bullied because I was the New Kid/Damn Yankee in town, but that was one of the school districts where I was so far ahead of my classmates that even my teachers were in awe of me.

* * * *

There were no anti-bullying initiatives way back in the Middle Ages when I was a kid. As I reflect on this period of abject humiliation of my life, it’s a good thing my dad didn’t own any handguns.

I doubt that I ever would’ve been able to shoot anyone, but I’m pretty sure I thought about it. When I was a kid, there were probably a dozen different Western TV shows. Bonanza. Gunsmoke. The Rifleman. Conflict resolution was usually handled with a six-shooter.

But it’s far more likely that I wouldn’t have been able to hit the broad side of a barn even if I had access to a handgun. I got my first pair of glasses when I was in the third grade because I was essentially blind, but I refused to wear them because it was just another thing the other kids could use to make fun of me. I didn’t want to give them any extra ammunition.

That changed when I started the eighth grade. My new teacher introduced me to my latest set of new classmates. And then she said this, And class, please remind Mark to wear his glasses. His mother told me he doesn’t like to wear them, but he really needs to wear them… 

It was something like that. I stopped listening when I started playing for God to quit fucking around and kill me to death for real this time.

* * * *

It was probably around the time that we were living in Missouri that I started utilizing a few defense mechanisms that would keep me and all of the people around me alive.

The first is called a reaction formation. It’s a complicated Freudian concept. In essence, negative emotions or impulses which are mastered by substituting the opposite emotion or impulse. The substitute reaction is usually overly exaggerated.  I’m not an expert in psychoanalysis, so I’m not sure if this is commonly used or not. I do know this: my substitute reactions are not overly exaggerated, and I’m pretty sure that’s not very common.

Another is mirroring, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. One person unconsciously imitates the gestures, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Almost everybody uses this, especially with family and close friends.

And the third is humor. People are less likely to want to punch you if you can make them laugh.

* * * *

When I was a freshman in high school, I achieved the dual distinctions of being both a genius and a moron in just a matter of months. The first semester of the year, I was in the Honor’s Math class where I struggled to get D’s. My math teacher actually announced to my entire class I had no business being in his class, and told me to get out of his classroom.

I didn’t need a second invitation. I picked up my books, walked out the door, and kept on walking until I got home, five miles later. I’ve told this story to my lovely supermodel wife. She said I must’ve felt humiliated. I suppose I did, but what I mostly remember is feeling relieved.

I was called into the Principal’s office the next day. I fully expected to be suspended or expelled. Instead, I received an apology and I was placed in a different math class. The second semester was an entirely different story. I was a straight A student in the Math for Morons class.

I’ve tried not to make a big deal out what happened to me on that day so long ago when Father Weiss told me to get out of his classroom. I’ve tried, but I still hate math.

* * * *

I didn’t really have a best friend until my freshman year of high school. That’s when I met Dave Nelson. We’re still buds. I didn’t have a girlfriend until my senior year. That’s when I fell in love with Maureen Browne. I think we’re still friends.

She asked me if I was going to attend our fifty year class reunion in 2024. I told her I was thinking about it, but I was terrified of seeing her face to face again. She said I should be. And then she said she was joking.

I told her I wasn’t. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Dave and Maureen both gave the best gifts I have ever received from anyone. Acceptance. Friendship. Love. They were the first people outside of my family that showed me there was also beauty in the world.

* * * *

The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” That might be true, but from my point of view at this precise moment, examining your life doesn’t increase its value by any appreciable amount.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is supposed to be. No doubt there’s an Aesopian moral of the story that’s supposed to enlighten me. There’s only one small, tiny, insignificant problem.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t write it.

My writing process isn’t this organized. Nor is it usually this specific. My Muses apparently have a much better idea of what they’re doing than I ever will.

I hope they’re happy. Maybe they’ll take some time off for the holidays. My lovely supermodel wife and I are going to Mexico City. I’d like to be able to to enjoy it.

But you have any ideas for the moral of the story, leave me a comment.

Home For The Holidays

¡Feliz Navidad!

My lovely supermodel wife and I want to take this opportunity to wish you a blessed and joyful Christmas season. Well, and probably any other season too, for that matter. Unless it’s football season. If you’re a Packers fan, or a Bears fan–all bets are off.

In that instance, we hope that your team sucks and that you, as a fan, are miserable every time your team plays our team.

Despite a mediocre record this year, the Vikings still have a chance to make it to the playoffs as a wild card team. I had pretty much given up on them, and didn’t even bother to watch their game last week. So they played their best game of the season and clobbered the Miami Dolphins.

We’ll probably watch the game today. They’re playing the Detroit Lions. Besides, we’ve already watched every Hallmark Christmas movie at least five times. I’ve written about the Hallmark movies before. Despite the fact that they’re all essentially the same movie, we’ve apparently become addicted to them.

I’ve had my heartstrings pulled a few times watching them this year. As predictable as they all are, it’s Christmas. And everyone loves a happy ending at Christmas. 🎄🎅

* * * *

This will be our third Christmas in Mexico, but it’ll be the first Christmas in our new home. It actually feels like Christmas this year. For one thing, it’s freezing inside of our cavernous abode. Lea and I are from Minnesota, and Christmas is almost always cold there. Like, below fucking zero cold. It’s one of the reasons we moved to Arizona.

We have a couple of portable propane heaters at the new house, and we’re getting good use out of them. They kick out a lots of heat, until their tanks run out of fuel. The propane guys who fill the two big tanks that supply the main house and the casita can fill the portable tanks whenever they’re in the neighborhood, but I hate to request a special delivery from them if I only need a few liters of propane.

There’s a place called Zeta Gas about a mile west of here. They have a drive through facility. You pull up to the pump, hand the guy your tank, and he fills it up for you. It’s a minor hassle in the Big Scheme of Life, but the last two times our heaters died, they died on a Sunday. The one day of the week that Zeta Gas is closed.

Back in the States, you don’t actually buy propane tanks. You more or less rent the canister, and when it’s empty you take it back to the store and rent another full one. And you can do that at probably a dozen different places any day of the week. Here, you buy an empty tank at the hardware store. It’s up to you to get it filled and keep it filled.

It was one of those “on the job training/This is Mexico” things for me. We didn’t have this issue at our last house. So I bought a backup tank the other day, and filled it right away. Take that, Sunday! I’m ready for you now.

* * * *

Second, our Christmas decorations are on display. We even have a Christmas tree, thanks to Al and Jane Castleman. They loaned us one of theirs. It even looks fairly festive. We set it up on the patio so our kit-tens, Mika and Mollie, can’t destroy it.

Kit-tens. I don’t remember our last kit-tens being so…mischievous. I struggle to find the right word to describe their antics. From their point of view, all they’re doing is what comes naturally to them. They’re smart, they’re curious, and they’re very good at jumping. And they like us, so of course they want to help us, no matter what it is we’re trying to do.

I’ve discovered I spend quite a bit of time talking to our growing furbabies.

“Mollie! Get off of the table!” 

“Mika! How the hell did you get up there?”

“Don’t make me get the squirt bottle!!”

I don’t like having to use the squirt bottle on the kit-tens, but it’s the most effective tool in feline behavior modification, ever.

* * * *

And thirdly, we have guests this year. Gwen and John Henson flew down from Austin, TX to celebrate the holiday with us. Gwen is Lea’s oldest daughter. She’s also our brilliant financial planner. John is her loving husband. He’s a very good man.

Historically, Gwen and John have always traveled back to Minnesota for Christmas. I’m not sure why they decided to come here this year; I’m just glad they did. And Lea is thrilled beyond words.

Other than Lea’s boyfriend, Todd, they’re probably the only people who actually like us. They’ve come to visit us more than anyone else.

* * * *

We’re finally settled in at our new house. It feels like home. We’ve been here about two months, but it seems somehow longer. Like, this is the place we were supposed to be when we moved here. All of the big things we wanted to do when we moved in have been crossed off the list. Pretty much all of the little things that needed to be done have been taken care of, too.

I can get back to resting on my…laurels…again. And playing golf.

I went golfing last week with the guy who painted our house. Francisco Flores Bernini is a caddy at Vista del Lago, the country club that I’m a member of. He showed me several of the houses he had painted out there. That’s why I decided to hire him to paint our new house.

Francisco is a very good caddy, which has been good for me. He’s also a very good golfer, which wasn’t so good for me last Thursday. I played the best round of golf I’ve ever played in my life, and Francisco still beat me by seventeen strokes. He gave me a lots of tips while we golfed, and some of them even worked when I tried them. I might end up being a decent golfer someday if all of his suggestions work.

But my favorite best memory of that day was buying coffee from Luli, the refreshment cart girl. I was paying for our drinks, and I gave Luli a nice tip. You know, it’s Christmas…

“Do you want to give her a hug?” Francisco asked me in English, but the way he said it made it more of a suggestion than a question.

“Sure. Why not.” I replied. Francisco told Luli that I wanted to give her a hug, in Spanish. She speaks some English, but I guess he didn’t want there to be any confusion about this. Luli giggled, and she hugged me. That’s when I figured out why Francisco wanted me to hug her.

Luli has what we call in America an epic set of tits.

“¿Puedo tener un abrazo también?” Francisco asked Luli, and she smiled and hugged him, too. “Man, I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.” Francisco confessed, as we drove to the next tee box. “When I’m caddying out here, she won’t give me the time of day. But today, I’m a golfer. After you gave her that tip, I knew she wouldn’t say no to hugging you.

“I was just hoping she wouldn’t say no to hugging me. I’m never going to forget this day. I’m going to remember this as one of the best days in my life.”

Because of Francisco, I’m going to remember it that way, too.

* * * *

Christmas, as every Hallmark movie will tell you, is a time for family. I can tell you it doesn’t always work out that way in real life. The last time my entire family got together for Christmas was 2006 when my mother was dying to death from cancer.

It’s not one of those warm, fuzzy memories for me.

Given the fact that Lea and I are now living deep in the heart of Mexico, it’s not likely that we’ll travel to the Great White North. Lea has sworn that she will never go back to Minnesota during the winter. To be honest, it’s not something I would look forward to either. It’s even less likely that anyone in my family would come down here to see us.

That’s the reality of life. Even so, if I don’t spend another Christmas with my family, it won’t be the worst thing that will ever happen to me. Or them. We still love each other. Well, most of us still love each other. I can always call them. Or at the very least, send them a deeply affectionate text.

Once you grow up, you realize that family is a word that can have multiple layers. There’s the family you were born into. There’s the family you make when you get married. There’s the family you make with friends, co-workers; pretty much any group of people you want.

Family, much like unto reality, can be anything you imagine it to be.

So, Merry Christmas to us. Merry Christmas to you. And as Tiny Tim so eloquently stated, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us every one.”

‘Tis the Season

Tomorrow is Halloween, the official start of what I call the Holiday Season. Well, other people probably call it that, too. All of the Big Ones are coming up now in rapid succession, and Halloween kick-starts it all. Fun for kids and even more fun for adults who love to wear costumes and go to parties. I have a few vague memories of some epic Halloween parties, and it’s probably best that they stay that way.

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Romans added a couple of their holidays to the Celtic festival, Feralia and the Festival of Pomona. If you’re curious about these things, you can look them up on the Interweb. The Catholic Church added a couple of twists, mostly to water down the pagan aspects, and we eventually ended up with the current holiday we celebrate and all of its trappings.

I tend to think of Halloween as a mostly North American, Canadian/American holiday, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe kids ‘Trick or Treat’ in Pakistan. Or China…  I doubt it, but it’s possible. I don’t think they do much of that in Mexico.

Halloween is still pretty much of a gringo holiday down here, but that’s probably starting to change. You can buy costumes at Walmart here in Lakeside, so it’s starting to creep into the culture. The big Mexican holiday down here is Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead. It’s a three day celebration, and when it comes to celebrating, Mexico takes a back seat to nobody.

From the beginning of October until New Year’s Day, there will be endless barrages of cohetes and bands and parades and fiestas, pretty much every day. Hardly anyone here will sleep for the next two months. It’s a really good thing I quit drinking before we moved here, or I’d rarely be sober. There’s something like unto a couple hundred of holidays down here, and half of them begin tomorrow.

I used to really love Halloween. When we lived in Minneapolis, my lovely supermodel wife and I used to carve pumpkins. We handed out tons of candy and sometimes shoveled snow. We had at least one huge honker of a blizzard on Halloween.

* * * *

Little Known Fact About Me: I love the Holiday Season. Granted, as a nurse I tended to celebrate most of those occasions by working, but that’s the way it went. Be that as it may, we always celebrated the holidays, even if we had to wait until I finished my shift.

Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: Lea is an excellent cook, and she has served up some awesome Thanksgiving feasts over the years. And I have loved them all.

According to legend, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in November of 1621. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts and their Native American buddies got together and had a feast, and it kind of caught on. Until the white settlers decided they needed to get rid of all the natives, but that’s another story for another day.

George Washington issued a proclamation in 1789, a National Day of Thanks and Gratitude kind of thing. Abraham Lincoln issued another proclamation in 1863, and set the date for Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. I’m not sure when a turkey dinner became synonymous with the holiday, but I’m sure my Uncle Don was pleased. He raised a lots of turkeys.

Little Known Fact About Turkeys: they originated in Mexico. Another funny thing, turkey isn’t a very popular item at any Mexican restaurant. The Mexican people are very gracious and will cook a traditional gringo Thanksgiving feast at many of the fine dining establishments down here. Lea and I went to one last year with a lots of our friends, but we’re planning on celebrating at home this year.

Traditional American holiday or not, we love get together at least once a year to give thanks, and eat ourselves  into a coma, and watch football. Well, that’s more or less what I do…  And when we lived in Minneapolis, I’m sure I shoveled a lots of snow. Until I got a snowblower.

I don’t miss snow at all, but I do miss my snowblower. Go figure.

* * * *

Christmas is arguably the biggest holiday of them all, and the only reason I say that  is because everything is arguable nowadays, even things that shouldn’t be.

Christmas, on a superficial level, is a Christian religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. On a deeper level it’s a combination of that, the Winter Solstice, the Roman festival of the Saturnalia and a melange of any other number of beliefs and customs.

Anyone ever heard of Santa Claus? You can no longer have Christmas without Santa Claus. I can’t think of another person more closely associated with a major nonreligious holiday than Santa, and that includes Jesus, and St Patrick. No one dresses up like St Patrick. No one even knows what he looks like. Does Jesus come down the chimney and give you presents? Nope, he does not.

Christmas has become a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. Decorations, presents, wrapping paper and trees. It all adds up. Christmas is big business. Entrepreneurs live for Christmas. And it’s probably kudos to them, and Coca-Cola®, and Hollywood for making Santa Claus the superstar that he’s become.

I lived for Christmas when I was a kid, even though half of my presents were stupid things like socks and underwear. Eight kids. We all got a lots of socks and underwear for Christmas.

But then there was the good stuff. Toys. Games. More toys and and games. It was sweet. I tried like hell to be a good person simply because of Christmas. I didn’t want to be on The Naughty List.

Christmas became less magical as I got older, but I can’t think of anything that didn’t. Being so far from my children and family has had an impact. If nothing else, Christmas is a time for family. And yet Christmas still retains something special to me–maybe it was the memories, maybe it is something more.

And when we lived in Minneapolis, I’m sure I used my snowblower. I think Lea bought me my first snowblower for Christmas. I used to clear all the sidewalks on my block.

Merry Christmas to all, and your sidewalks are clean!

* * * *

New Year’s Eve is another worldwide celebration, and the reason for that is simple. The last year probably sucked and everyone is hoping the next year will be better. It can’t get any worse, can it?

Oh yes, it can.

This has been the most relaxing, least stressful year I’ve ever had since I was a kid, and I can’t wait for this year to end. We’ll be one year closer to getting Donald Trump out of the White House.

This is simply my opinion, but Donald represents everything that’s wrong with the world, and he’s proud of that. If God ever needed a reason to speed up His timeline…

When I was much younger, I used to go out every New Year’s Eve to celebrate with my friends. And then there was one year when I went out all by myself. I was in nursing school, standing at a bar in downtown St Cloud, drinking a beer. When midnight came, everyone started cheering and hugging and kissing.

The guy standing next to me said, “Hey, I’m Tim. Happy New Year.” I introduced myself, and we shook hands.

It was one of the loneliest moments of my life. It was also the last time I ever went to a bar to celebrate that holiday.

* * * *

I haven’t written much lately. I haven’t felt much like writing. I started out writing about my nursing career, but the longer I don’t do that anymore, the less I think about the days when I did. I might get back to writing about that again someday, but we’ll see. Part of me believes I’ve already written all of the best stories I have to tell about being a psych nurse.

I spent a fair amount time writing about what an idiot I was when I was drinking and doing drugs for a living. I have a lots of stories to tell about those days, and some of them are really funny. For that reason alone, I might be tempted to say more, even though I’m not sure I want to remember more about those days…

There’s not much to say about my current life, other than it doesn’t suck at all, and yours probably does, simply because you may still be working for a living. Start feeding your 401K now. You’ll thank yourself later.

I have never enjoyed being alive as much as I do now. I get to spend every day with the woman I love, and I cherish this time we have together. I played the best game of golf I’ve probably ever played a few days ago. It doesn’t get a whole lots more better gooder than this.

The only reason I wrote this is because the last time I talked to Jane Castleman, she told me to keep writing, and I respect her opinion. Not my best work, for sure. Probably not my worst either.

Have a safe and happy holiday season. Eat your kid’s candy. Watch out for the sugar buzz. Have another helping of everything for Thanksgiving. If you’re too full for dessert, eat pumpkin pie for breakfast the next morning. Yeah, you can do that, unless your mom tells you you can’t.

May your Christmas be perfect. If there were ever a time for perfection, it’s Christmas. Enjoy the time with your family. You never get it back, and you don’t get a do over. Remember the reason for the season. Jesus wasn’t really born on Christmas Day, but he was born, and he was born to be our King. And just like Aragon, son of Arathorn, someday he will return, too.

Stay safe, and more or less sober, celebrating the new year. Each year has the potential to be better than the last, but will probably be just as tragic as the last. What will be, will be. Anticipate the best, but steel yourself for the worst. You’ll probably find both no matter what you do.

And, just for fun, may your team win the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t a national holiday anywhere, but it should be, and it should be the official end of the holiday season. Maybe some day it will be…

Attitude really is everything. If you can remember that, you’ll get through anything life will throw at you. And I with that, I wish you the best of success until the next time. Whenever that might be.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

There are times when God has my Muse by the short hairs, and there are times when my Muse has me by the short hairs. Today, it’s the latter. In my short history as a blogger guy, these posts have not been much fun for me.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and that’s never a good sign for me. And there was another oddity. All of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking, and they did so until about 4:00 AM. There’s been a lots of bands and explosives and stuff at night, but the dogs have never behaved like unto that before.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, as I measure time. It’s going to be painful to me. And probably to Maureen. She’s my former high school sweetheart, and this tells the story of the dissolution of our relationship.

We broke up almost forty-two years ago, but some parts of this tale I remember like they happened ten minutes ago. Other parts, I wouldn’t be able to recall if my life depended on it.

Memory, is a funny thing.

But I do remember this. I fell in love with Maureen the first moment I saw her our freshman year of high school. This should come as no surprise to anyone that reads my blog on a regular basis.

It seems to be the only way I fall in love.

* * * *

I enlisted in the Army after graduating from Loyola, and went to Basic Training at Fort Ord, CA in July of 1974. I learned to march, and shoot an M-16. I was a pretty good shot. I was well on my way to earning my Expert badge on the rifle range, when I received a letter from my high school sweetheart.

I had received a lots of letters from Maureen. And she had received many from me. I saved all of them and read them over and over. But this letter was different. Maureen wrote that she had met another guy. I read her letter just before I went out to qualify for my Expert badge, and I probably missed every target.

My drill sergeant chose to feel very disappointed in my performance–I had had the highest score of anyone in my company on the rifle range–and he had me do a lots of push ups to help me get my mind right.

I doubt I ever thanked him for his concern, but thank you, Drill Sergeant Byrum. That was really nice of you.

Maureen’s next letter said nothing about this other guy, nor did any of her following letters. I called her as often as I could from the phone booth outside the barracks, and she assured me everything was fine between us.

After I completed Basic, I was given a least two weeks of leave until my Advanced Individual Training began in the beginning of November. I flew back to Missoula around mid-October to see my high school sweetheart for the first time as a member of the US Armed Forces.

My sister, Colleen, was living in Missoula with her first husband, Rod. I had lived with them so I could complete my last year of high school in Missoula, rather than have to start over at a new school in Minnesota when my family moved back there at the end of my junior year. I think Colleen picked me up at the airport, and if she did, Maureen may have been with her. This is one of the things I can’t remember.

At any rate, Maureen and I had a very joyous reunion, whenever it was that we first saw each other again that October. I spent every waking and every sleeping moment I could with Maureen. She was studying to be an X-Ray Technician at St Patrick Hospital, and she had an apartment across the street from the hospital.

I vaguely remember being at my sister’s house, but I think I spent much more time with Maureen at her tiny apartment. We missed each other. A lots.

Maureen had class and clinicals during the day. I have no idea what I did while she was at school. I did meet her classmates, but the only one I remember was a stunning redhead with long hair. I think her name was Kelly…maybe…  Maureen tried to study, but I’m pretty sure I was able to distract her. We had really missed each other.

We would go out drinking and dancing in the evening, and some of our friends from high school would meet us at the bar. I seem to recall a semi-epic Halloween party at one of our favorite bars that booked decent bands. I’m going to say we were both ready for me to go Fort Sam Houston, TX for AIT when the end of October rolled around. I departed for Texas secure in the knowledge that we were still together as a couple, and our love for each other was strong.

* * * *

I celebrated my nineteenth birthday all by myself in Texas. I graduated third in my class, and received a promotion to PFC at the end of my training. And seeing how it was so close to Christmas, the Army gave me another couple of weeks off, and I flew back to Missoula through the worst storm I’ve ever flown through.

I think everyone on that flight prayed the entire time we were in the air. The turbulence was unreal. I kissed the tarmac when I got off the plane, and then I kissed Maureen. This was an especially joyous reunion. My sister and her husband were there. All of my closest friends in high school were home from college for the holidays. They were all at the airport to greet me, too.

One of Maureen’s sisters and her husband had flown to California for the holidays. They were going to be out of town for a couple weeks and they had asked Maureen to stay at their house while they were gone. Maureen asked me if I wanted to stay there with her.

It was Christmas. I was essentially living with my favorite person on the entire planet. That holiday could not have been any sweeter for me. It would be one of my most treasured memories for a very long time.

There was one dark spot. Maureen and I decided to throw a big holiday party at the house, and essentially invited everyone in our class to come. It was probably the last time our class got together like that until reunions became popular.

I know I got really drunk at the party. And I know Maureen wasn’t too pleased the next day. But that’s all I can remember. I’m sure I did something stupid, after all, this is me. I probably tried making out with all of our female classmates, or humped their legs. Or both. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This was perhaps the first warning shot my addiction would fire across my bow, but like any great athlete in training, I ignored the pain and kept on going.

* * * *

January, 1975. I reported to my permanent duty station in Fort Sill, OK. Toward the end of the month, I went for a walk in the rain because I missed my girlfriend, and broke my ankle.

Life. One thing happens after another, and before you know it, everything goes to hell. And that’s what happened in late April. I got another letter from Maureen. The mysterious guy she had met back when I was in Basic Training had reappeared, and it was evidently much more serious this time.

I told my CO I needed some personal time off immediately, and because I was still an exemplary soldier, he gave me a week off without hesitation. I called Maureen to let her know I was flying back to Missoula. She seemed surprised that I was coming to see her. I also called my sister to let her know I was coming.

My sister, Colleen, and her husband, Rod, were starting to go through the throes of their divorce. Colleen wasn’t going to be in town, but she would leave a key on the porch so I could stay at her house. I have no idea where Rod was, they weren’t together, and he wouldn’t be at home either. I did have two cars to choose from for transportation, and that would be about the thing I’d have going for me.

I think my flight landed in Missoula around 7:00 PM on May 2nd or 3rd. No one met me at the airport. It was one of the loneliest moments of my life, ever. For all time. I took a cab to Colleen’s house, and stared at the walls for a few hours.

Maureen had been at a Gordon Lightfoot concert with Rick, I think that was his name. To this day, I fucking hate Gordon Fucking Lightfoot, and I’ve hated almost every guy I ever met named Rick.

Well, I’ve never claimed to be sane.

Maureen came over to break up with me after the concert. She told me that was why she came over when she arrived, but then she added something like  unto this, “That’s why I came here, but I just realized I’m still in love with you…”

So, we didn’t break up that first night. I’m not sure that’s a good thing or a bad now, but it was better than anything I could’ve hoped for at the time. We didn’t break up, but we didn’t exactly get back together either. All I knew for sure when she left was she was still my girl. Kind of.

Vague Musical Reference That No One Else Will Give A Damn About But Me: How Long by the British group Ace was getting a lots of airtime in Missoula at the time Maureen and I were going through our shared angst. It reached No. 3 in the US charts. I cannot hear that song without becoming an heartbroken teenager again. And the answer to that musical question ended up being since about August of 1974.

Maureen was no longer living in her tiny apartment across from the hospital. She had moved into a big place with a couple of girls from our high school class, Colleen and Priscilla, so on the odd occasions that I went to see her there, well, it was very odd.

I knew a lots of Colleens back when I was in high school. There was my sister. And the Colleen I took to the Prom. I have a vague memory of talking to her at her dorm on the U of M campus. And there was Maureen’s roommate, whom we both knew from high school. And at least one more more Colleen from our class. And my buddy Dave dated a different Colleen…  And after that time I think I’ve met two Colleens in forty years or so. I may be wrong about this, but I think Roommate Colleen introduced my then girlfriend to Rick, the guy my girlfriend would leave me for.

Maureen’s roommates did their best to comfort both Maureen and I during what was an extremely ackward situation for all of us, and that ackwardness was only accentuated whenever I was around. We had all gone to school with each other, we were all friends.

It was a painful experience for all of us. And then a very strange thing happened one night. Roommate Colleen and I were talking in her bedroom, and then we weren’t talking anymore. We started kissing.  And Maureen walked in on us. A situation I didn’t think could get any worse, did. I think I mostly stayed away from Maureen, Colleen and Priscilla’s house after that night.

* * * *

I didn’t have a lots of close friends back in high school. I wasn’t a Jock, and I wasn’t a Brain. I was kind of a Nobody until Maureen entered my life and made me a Somebody. She was the most important and incredible person/event that had ever happened to me in my young and haunted life.

Our first dates were double or triple dates. We got to know each other kind of vicariously through our mutual friends, and it wasn’t until we started liking each other that we started going out all by ourselves.

I was in love with Maureen from the moment I first saw her, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. We kind of joked around about it, and we might say something after we drank too much cheap wine at the drive in. And then, like it does in all romantic tales, it really happened.

We went to go see Live and Let Die. I can no longer remember the exact date, but the movie was released in June of 1973, so we probably saw it in early July of that year. Whatever day/date it was, that was the night Maureen told me she loved me for the first time.

I still remember the astonishment I felt at hearing her say those three words to me after the movie. And then she started crying. I told her I loved her, too, but I did not cry. I thought I might got dead from an overdose of Joy.

The fact that anyone could love me, especially Maureen Ann Browne–it proved there was a God, and He did more than answer prayers, He was an honest to God miracle worker! If Maureen could love me, maybe there was hope that my life wouldn’t always be some kind of fucking disaster. And if that was true, then Maureen had to be an angel. She was certainly as beautiful as an angel, and that is not an exaggeration.

Maureen was one of those people that other people couldn’t help but notice when she walked into a room. She was probably the same height as me, long dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, and the body of Venus de Milo, with arms. I thought she was the Goddess of Beauty and Light, and that’s not an exaggeration either. And she was spookysmart to boot.

Back when I was young, I believed you needed to have another person to make you whole. And I had found that person. As a result of my belief, I desperately wanted to be with Maureen, always and forever, but I also understood her position when she was trying to decide her future, and mine, almost two years later.

We were no longer physically together. She was living in Montana, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. And I was going to be in Oklahoma for another two and half years! I couldn’t just tell the Army that after giving it a lots of thought, I no longer felt being in the military was the best career choice for me, and I just wanted to go home and be with my girlfriend.

Well, I suppose I could’ve said that, but I knew the Army wasn’t going to be at all swayed by that sort of a plea.

I  knew where I wanted to be when Maureen decided what she was going to do with her life, and that was with her, but I had no tricks, no aces up my sleeve. I couldn’t make her choose me. So I anxiously waited for her to make up her mind, and while I waited, I hung out with the one other best friend I had in Missoula, Dave Nelson.

Dave was my first friend in high school. We practically became brothers. And Dave did what any guy would do when his best friend’s life was melting down. He introduced me to a few girls he knew, and we got drunk with them. We went canoeing, and got drunk. We went fishing, and got drunk. We drove around town in my sister’s Toyota Corolla or her husband’s Toyota Land Cruiser, and got drunk.

In retrospect, mostly, we just got drunk. Young guys. We didn’t have a lots of tools in the old tool box, eh.

* * * *

On the 8th of May, Maureen made her decision. She had most likely known all along what she was going to do, but that was the day she decided to tell me. She invited me over to her house and made me a really nice meal. I think we had sex, one last time. It was probably my going away present. As far as presents go, that’s a pretty nice present. But it wasn’t the same–there was no making love involved–and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed it anywhere near as much as we had in the past.

“I’ve made a decision.” She started out saying something like unto that after she had done everything she could to soften what would be the cruelest of blows to me, and that was all I really needed to hear. “I think we should break up. It’s not that I don’t love you anymore. It’s the distance and being apart.” She may have said more, she probably did. I didn’t hear any of it.

“Okay. I understand.” I said something like unto that when she finished.

“That’s it? That’s all you have to say? Aren’t you going to fight for me?!?”

I don’t think I had any response to that. Who was I supposed to fight? Geography? Rick? Time and Space? The Army? Her? And what was I supposed to say? She already knew I loved her. That didn’t seem to be tipping the scales in my favor, and that was all I had to offer her.

I’m sure I should have said something. I should have said anything! But I had nothing to say, no answer to her demand. She had chosen someone else over me, and there was nothing left inside of me. Part of me got dead that night, and it stayed dead for a very long time. Actually, I’m not sure it ever came back to life. Maybe it was never there, that’s a possibility, too.

I drove back to the empty house I was occupying, and all I wanted to do was die. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that empty. I didn’t think it was wise for me to be alone, so I called my best friend. The one who had just stopped being my best friend.

I’m not sure if I talked to Maureen that night or not, but I did talk to Dan. I think he was Roommate Colleen’s boyfriend, and Dan did something extraordinary. He came over to talk to me, face to face, and kept me alive that night. We drank a lots of beer, of course, and talked all night.

I’m not sure if I ever thanked him, but thank you, Dan. That was a stand up thing to do.

* * * *

Friday, May 9, 1975. I was supposed to fly back to Oklahoma the following day, but I couldn’t do it. I called my CO, and he extended my leave for another week after listening to my tale of heart wretching woe.

I went out with Dave that night. I was a single man on the prowl, so I sat at the bar and cried in my beer. That’s pretty close to the truth. I was about as much fun to be around as a suicide bomber.

I no longer remember which bar we went to, but Dave and his girlfriend were there, and probably another girl Dave was hoping would distract me from my misery. The fact that I can’t remember her name indicates how successful she was. And just like that rainy January night in Oklahoma when I was overcome with despair and loneliness, I suddenly couldn’t stand being around anyone, and decided to go for a walk.

It wasn’t raining that night in Montana. I had nothing to impede my progress as I left the bar and marched in the darkness toward my sister’s house, which was on the far end of town from the bar I’d been at. I didn’t care. I probably would’ve walked all the way back to Oklahoma if the idea had occurred to me. Nothing slowed me down, I looked neither to the right or the left, until I ran into the Missoula County Fairgrounds.

The county fairgrounds are huge, and they’re surrounded by a tall wire fence with strands of barbed wire running across the top. I could’ve walked around the fairgrounds, but I was young and drunk and pissed off, and no goddamn fence was going to stand in my way.

I climbed the fence, and walked across the fairgrounds until I reached the fence on the far side of the grounds. I had conquered the first fence without an hiccough, so I scaled the second, but this time the fence fought back. As I was coming down, my right hand got kind of tangled in the barbed wire.

I sustained a wound on my right hand/wrist. I was bleeding, but not too badly. I ignored it until I reached my sister’s empty house, and I took a look at it in the bathroom.

I spent a fair amount of time staring at my reflection in the mirror. The abhorrence I felt toward everyone in the bar transferred itself to my reflection. The feelings I had been struggling not to feel  since the age of seven boiled over.

I saw a pack of razor blades on the counter…  My wrist was already bleeding…  Might as well open that sucker up and let everything out…  I knew I had to cut between the tendons and ligaments on my wrist…

My first few attempts were pretty lame, but that fourth one, that stuck gold. I was actually surprised I cut as deep as I did, but that feeling faded almost immediately. I didn’t feel anything after that, not even pain. I laid down on the floor, stretching my right arm out away from my body. I didn’t want to accidentally lay on it and impede the flow of blood out of my body, and said goodbye to my life and this world.

* * * *

A little background information here. It sounds as though I had done a lots of research into how to kill myself, and that is not true. One of my Army buddies was a guy named Joe Parnell, and Joe had spent some time in prison.

Life in prison isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV, and Joe decided he couldn’t take another minute of being incarcerated. So he slit his wrist. I noticed the scars on his wrist one day when we were getting high at the barracks, and asked him about them.

It was Joe who had explained the dynamics of cutting one’s wrist correctly to me. And that was why I extended my arm. Joe said he would’ve died to death except for one little thing. He didn’t extend his arm, and the weight of his body diminished the blood flow out of his body enough that he was still alive when the guards found him.

He said it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. Even stupider than the stupid stuff he’d done to get his ass thrown into prison.

* * * *

It was weird. Great descriptive term there, but I lack any other word or phrase, and I’ve thought about this a lots.

I felt someone shaking my shoulder, waking me up. Leave me alone! I thought, but the shaking sensation persisted. I woke up and turned to see who was disturbing me.

There was no one there. Just a kind of ting-ly feeling in the air. It gave me goosebumps. Actually, it still does. It just did.

I saw my wrist, and the pool of blood on the floor. I have no idea how long I had laid there. I knew this was wrong, and stupid, and I needed to do something to stop it. I called the local crisis line, and told the person on the other end I needed urgent help, and I had no transportation.

While I waited for someone to come get me, I wrapped a towel around my wrist so I wouldn’t bleed all over everything, and cleaned up the pool of coagulating blood on the floor.

I’m pretty sure I wondered why I was still alive. I have given that a lots of thought over the years, and this was what I eventually concluded: I got lucky. I somehow managed to miss every artery in that area of my right wrist, so instead of quickly bleeding out, I more or less oozed however much blood I lost. The pool of blood I cleaned up was about one foot wide and maybe a foot and a foot and an half long.

Obviously, I didn’t lose enough blood to got dead, but it was enough to make me feel very lightheaded while I cleaned up. There was another reason I didn’t got dead, and that will be revealed shortly.

An orange Volkswagen microbus pulled into the driveway, and a hippie looking guy drove me to the St Patrick Hospital ER. My wound was cleaned, and sutured, and then the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. He could admit me to the pysch unit, but if I promised I wouldn’t try to harm myself again, I could go home.

I know, right! All of my psych nurse colleagues will have an hard time believing this. I would feel the irony of that for decades to come.

“I’m good. I made a bad decision, but I’m past that. I’ll go home, and sleep. I’ll be okay.” And I meant that. I would think about taking my life countless times over the following years, but I would never make an intentional attempt like that again.

The sun was coming up as the hippie looking guy drove me back to my sister’s house. I cried tears of joy to see that sunrise. And I told the hippie looking guy about the angel that woke me up, and saved my life.

“Wow, that’s far out, man. God must have another plan for you, man. That slash on your wrist looked pretty bad.”

That, was the other reason.

It was at that moment I started to believe God really did have a plan for me. I hadn’t narrowed it down to becoming a prophet yet, but I was alive, and I was alive for a reason. That was the precise moment my quest for God and the Truth began.

I have three scars on my right wrist, two fairly superficial, one very substantial. It’s about two inches long, and maybe half an inch at its widest point. The ER doc did a crappy job sewing me back up.

I’ve told a few people the entire story of how I got my scars, and several more a very condensed version of how I got them, but mostly I try to keep them from view.

* * * *

In retrospect, I probably should have just gone back to Oklahoma, rather than prolong my misery and hang around Missoula for another week. Dave showed up at my sister’s house early Saturday morning to check up on me, and saw the bandage on my wrist.

“Jesus, Rowen! You stupid sonuvabitch!! What the fuck did you do!!!” he said. I told him everything.

“Well, there’s only one thing to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

I can’t remember everywhere we went, but we drove my brother-in-law’s Land Cruiser, and we eventually ended up at the Aber Day Kegger. The ADK was a monster beer bash sponsored by the University of Montana. It was legendary, back in the day. A lots and lots and lots of kegs and a lots of bands and live music. Thousands of people went to the ADK.

My right wrist was bandaged. I was wearing a T-shirt and a long sleeve wool shirt. But it was very warm that day, and I rolled the sleeves of my shirt up to cool down a little. I was alive and the sun was shining. I sat on the mountainside drinking beer and listening to the music. I think I actually felt almost not totally miserable for the first time in a week.

And who I did run into in that crowd of thousands of people?

Rick and Maureen. I think that was the only time I met him. We might have even shook hands. I can’t remember for sure.

“What did you do?” Maureen asked when she saw my bandaged wrist.

“It’s nothing.” I replied. Something like that. Rick stepped away and let us talk. I don’t think he was all that happy to do it, but he did, and that was very nice of him.

I eventually told Maureen a very condensed version of events, but enough for her to know it was no accident. She said she would’ve been devastated if anything had happened to me. And I know I thought, Good! Then you’d know how I feel!

I told her to have fun or something, and walked away. I stayed mostly in that general area, hoping to decrease the odds of us continually running into each other throughout the day.

Dave gave me a little pep talk at the ADK. Maureen wasn’t the only girl on the planet. There were millions of them out there. I’d meet a lots of girls, and all of them would be better than that fuckin’ two-timing, backstabbing bitch. I can’t remember how long Dave and I stayed at the kegger, and I can’t remember anything of what happened after we left. I’m pretty sure I actually slept that night.

When I woke up the next morning, I tried to make some sense out of everything that had happened. I stared at the self-inflicted wounds on my wrist. I remembered seeing Maureen at the ADK. I remembered the music, and Dave’s pep talk.

I decided I would take Dave’s advice and try to move on, and I would try like hell to hate Maureen, and fail miserably at both.

* * * *

I spent the last week of my extended vacation in Missoula howling at the moon and getting drunk with Dave. He did his best to cheer me up by trying to hook me up with girls, and I was such a pathetic mess I mostly talked to them about how much I loved the woman who had broken my heart into a hundred million pieces, like unto the Portland vase.

She was the girl of my dreams, literally.

Before I ever started dating Maureen, I dreamed about her almost every night. And it wasn’t a daydream dream where I imagined us being together. She would come to me in my sleep.

I can’t remember if I dreamed about her while we dated, but I probably did. I spent almost every night with her for two years after we broke up. I would dream of her with decreasing frequency as the years lengthened. I think the last time I dreamt of her was just before we moved to Mexico.

I’m guessing the next time she visits me in a dream she’ll tell me she’ll kill me in my fucking sleep if I ever write another post about her.

Ah, my once beloved, I am so sorry for any pain I’ve ever caused you.

* * * *

Maureen and I would talk several times on the phone that last week. I’m not sure we talked in person. It’s possible…  She listened politely while I cried and whined on her shoulder, like any best friend would. I was such a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby. It embarrasses me to think about it now.

It was really nice of her to do that, and I’m not joking when I say I was a pathetic sissifated sniffle-snaffle mess of an human being.

All good things must end, and so must all lousy things. The days and nights of that week flew by relatively quickly. This time I had to return to Oklahoma.

Saturday, May 17, 1975. Maureen came over to see me at my sister’s house before my flight back to Oklahoma. We both cried. And cried. And cried. I think I used up two decades worth of tears in two hours. I told her I would love her until the day after I died. She told me she would probably always love me too. She may have taken me to the airport. That’s also possible, but again, my memory fails me.

That was the last time I saw Maureen.

I’ve been back to Missoula several times since then. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope I’d run into her somewhere in town. Alas, it was not to be.

I would eventually stop crying and start dating again. I would break up with some of the girls I dated after Maureen. Some of them broke up with me. Either I grew tired of them, or they were tired of me, but there was no ambiguity about saying goodbye on anyone’s part.

That was perhaps the oddest thing about our breakup. We didn’t break up because we no longer loved or cared for one another, or one of us no longer felt that way. We broke up despite the fact that we were both still in love with each other.

It would take me at least five years to realize Maureen and I had actually broken up, and that’s why every relationship I was in during that timeframe failed.

It would probably take me another five years to realize that Maureen and I would never get back together again. And if my high school sweetheart didn’t think I was a pathetic lovesick whining crybaby, she probably will if she reads this.

I carried that torch for a long time.

Time heals all emotional wounds, right? Well, only if you make a choice that you want to be healed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed I am somewhat of an hopeless romantic. I have stated that I still have affectionate feelings for some of the darling women I dated before I got married.

I even have affectionate feelings for one woman I never actually dated.

Somewhere deep inside me, I still love Maureen, too.

I haven’t seen my former sweetheart in over four decades. Do I love her now like I loved her then? No, I don’t. Neither of us are nineteen anymore, thank God. We’ve traveled thousands of miles on different paths. She has a family, and children, and grandchildren. I doubt very much she’d trade any of that for what we once shared.

I’ve been married to my lovely supermodel wife for almost three decades. We have a great life together, and I wouldn’t change a thing that got us to the very satisfied and comfortable place we are now. We are, and always will be, very much in love. I cannot imagine my life without her.

There’s no going back to that place again, and it would be foolish to think it could ever be recreated. The flames of Love are like unto snowflakes, each unique and different. And once a flame goes out, it’s extinguished forever.

And then there’s this: there’s no guarantee that if we had decided to stay together back then, we’d still be together now. Given the path of self-destructive behavior I was walking back then, I probably would’ve destroyed her life as well as mine, and then I really would’ve had to end my life.

Plus, she would most likely be the mother of my children, and there’s no telling what sort of price the world would have to pay for that. I was cursed by my own mother, and even the thought of Mark Junior running rampant on this planet sends chills down my spine.

Everything happens for a reason.

Only God sees everything perfectly from beginning to end, if even He does. But the reason for this chapter of my life hasn’t been all that important to me for quite some time. Now that I’ve purged this chapter, maybe I can file it away in my Do Not Open Again Ever File.

My Muse and I can both move on. And I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

The Island of Misfit Toys

I’ve been doing some musing about Christmas lately. Back when I was a nurse, I worked almost every Christmas. In fact, this is only the third Christmas Lea and I have spent together without me working.

We still celebrated the holiday, but my schedule would almost always dictate the timing of anything we did.

I spent twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine Christmases hanging out with people in the hospital who had no place better to be, mostly because they were caught up in a cycle of gloom and doom, generally because of the choices they made. Like Jacob Marley, they were busy making the chains that bound them.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

I’m watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer this Christmas morning. My favorite part of the show is The Island of Misfit Toys. It was where I worked. I thought it was an appropriate monicker, and certainly nicer than some of the other names given to psych units.

I didn’t look at myself as a misfit, even though I am perhaps the King of the Misfits. I’ve had trouble finding my place in the world most of my life. Feeling comfortable in my own skin was something I had never been able to do, until recently, and even that has been difficult of late given the problems I’ve had with my back and neck.

And I like Yukon Cornelius, too. It’s hard not to like him.

* * * *

My lovely supermodel wife and I have both been doing a lots of thinking about Christmases past this year. It’s our first Christmas in Mexico, the first Christmas of our retired lives. If we were isolated from our families when we lived in Arizona, well, this is taking that to a whole ‘nother level. If Christmas is meant to be spent with the people you love, then this Christmas has been bittersweet for both of us.

My family mostly lives in Minnesota. Both of our girls are up in the Great White North right now, spending Christmas with their Other Dad. Wait. Maybe that’s me. He’s their Real Dad. Either way, they’re about three thousand miles away.

And that’s probably been the toughest part of Christmas for us this year. I scroll through my Facebook page, and see all my friends’ posts with the tree and presents and family. And I am jealous.

You never miss something until its gone. I am relearning the truth of those words this year. And there are so many things, and so many people, that I am missing a lots this year.

When you’re young, you lack the capacity to see just how stupid you are. I took so many things for granted. When you’re young, you think nothing is ever going to change, and then life changes everything.

My mother died in 2007. Christmas was her favorite time of year. She decorated her house with enough lights and garland and trinkets to make Santa feel shamed. I used to look at spending the Christmas holiday with my parents as one of those odious and contemptible things I had to do. Like working for a living, and paying taxes.

I quit drinking the year before my mom died. I remember that first trip to my parents’ house to tell them. My dad offered me a beer when I walked in the house. I can still see the stunned look on his face when I told him I was an alcoholic, and I had quit drinking. Forever.

“I didn’t know you had a drinking problem!” he said.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table next to my dad. She turned her eyes to the heavens and whispered, “Thank God!” She later told me it was the best Christmas present I could have ever gotten her.

Merry Christmas, Mom. It’s been ten years now. Sorry it took me so long to get my head out of my ass, and I’m really sorry for the shit I put you through.

* * * *

The Christmas holiday is celebrated very differently in Mexico than it is in the States. American Christmas has become a commercialized celebration of material excess. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Small Business Saturday. None of these things existed in my youth, and they have become monsters.

American Christmas, sadly seems to have become more about the stuff than the substance. When saying, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays is an issue, there’s a problem.

No one camps out in front of the Walmart down here. There’s no such thing as Black Friday in the Lakeside area. Mexican Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus. Each neighborhood has a little posada. Two children are dressed up like Joseph and Mary, and they might be riding a burro. They go from house to house looking for a place to spend the night, and they’re turned away.

One house in the neighborhood is preselected as the party house. They welcome the weary travelers in, and it’s fiesta time! The parties last all night. There’s a lots of music, food and drink, and bonfires and fireworks.

Honestly, Lea and I wonder how any work ever gets done down here because there are something like seven hundred holidays in Mexico, and there are varying degrees of celebration that correspond with each of them.

But fireworks are seemingly mandatory for all of them.

Mexican fireworks aren’t the same as American fireworks, which are kind of pretty and spectacular. Mexicans are particularly fond of a kind of rocket called a cohetone. It’s essentially an half of stick of dynamite that shoots into the sky and explodes.

Loudly.

These incredibly loud fireworks are fired off almost every day of the year down here for seemingly any and every reason imaginable.

My first week in Mexico made me think I was back in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I have never been in Vietnam. I have kind of a bitch of a case of PTSD, and I am particularly sensitive to loud, unexpected noises. One of my neighbors is very fond of fireworks. I’ve been thinking about becoming an hitman again…

It was a very long night for the Mexican locals. The parties lasted all night. A veritable artillery explosion greeted the rising sun, and now it’s quiet. Christmas Day in Mexico is essentially a day of rest–all the Mexicans in this area have been celebrating their asses off for about the last two months–and eating leftovers. Small gifts are exchanged. It’s actually rather sweet and beautiful.

* * * *

As much as I miss my family, and especially my girls, I don’t want to give the impression Lea and I are sitting around the house contemplating suicide. Because we’re not.

We’ve made a few friends down here, thanks to Phyllis. Lea and Phyllis are best friends, and we retired in Ajijic because of her. I tell everyone we moved here to become Phyllistines, and it seems to be the truth.

Phyllis has been here several years. Actually, there’s a whole lots of Americans and Canadians living down here, and we’re getting to know some of them.

We went to Jim and Veronica’s house last night. They have an absolutely gorgeous home that should be declared a national treasure and an historical work of art. I almost feel like making the Sign of the Cross and genuflecting when I’m at their place.

They actually have an antique confessional in their living room. I thought about going in it once, but I haven’t been to confession in over forty years. I’m going to be in there for a long time. And it might burst into flames…

Today, we’re going to Casa del Castleman, the home of Al and Jane. They’re one of the couples we’ve met as Phyllistines. Jane and Lea seem to be cut from the same cloth, so Jane is an easy person for me to like.

Al seems to be kind of a character, so I’m sure I’ll like him a lots once we get to know each other better. Last night, Al probably had the quote of the evening.

“Grunge rock is the greatest music of all time.”

What do you expect? We’re old. And we mostly hate young people. I think the only grunge rock song I like is Come as You Are by Nivana.

I invited him to come over and listen to the Icelandic rap music my crazy neighbor plays. Al didn’t know that was a musical genre either.

“I think rap music is a bunch of people bitching about stuff.” Al said.

“Yeah, but when they do it in Icelandic, you’re not sure what they’re bitching about.” But it sounds kind of cool.

Well, it’s about time to go to today’s get-together. And I’ve been working on keeping my blogs short since I finished my Dallas series. More than anything else, I attribute that series to messing up my spine.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

XOXO,

Mark