It started out like pretty much every Saturday morning around that time (early 2013 if you want to keep track): cloudy, misty, and cold. Bundled up & running up a mountain with my dog in tow, the sounds of Explosions In The Sky swirling around my head. Perfectly enjoying one of those quiet internal-contemplation type mornings, I love them very much and they are wonderful. The smallish difference between this and other mornings like it? I had fairly recently experienced the end of a very long relationship which didn’t end particularly well. I won’t go into all the backstory on this one but suffice it to say the demise had been a pretty long time coming, both of us probably knew it, and even the purchasing of a house couldn’t change that fact (luckily, I kept said house which ended up being a pretty damn fine move. Go me.). There was a lot swirling around in my head that morning, and interestingly enough none of it was particularly sad. I did feel fairly alone at the time, I had built up a pretty large network of friends over the years but I lost the “friendship coin toss” when the relationship ended and she kept the friends (but again, I got the house so given the fickle nature of said friends I think I came out on top). There was also the gradual loss of pretty much everyone I befriended when I was in the music industry which came as a bitter pill I naively didn’t expect to swallow. It turns out that when you are in a position that enables you to help people they love you, but when life takes you down a different path the phone stops ringing. Suddenly, and coldy silent. You become a footnote to a time people will probably forget, a faded name in the liner notes, but if you’re smart you can at least recognize it and be more careful next time around. So, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t feeling at least a LITTLE bit morose but there was an electric undercurrent building up that I’d never felt before. I ran my way to the top of the mountain and stopped to survey what was around me. The clouds were breaking and I was looking out onto this place where I lived. I looked out and for the first time in a tragically long time, I saw possibility. I saw a clean slate. I saw a new beginning away from all the hurt, all the confusion, and all of the uncertainty that I had been stuck in for entirely too long. I had a chance to make my life look the way I wanted it to look, and it was an absolute new dawn. In that moment, I didn’t know what that would be. Back to school? New career path? Start a business? Move to another country? It could be anything, and I was just excited to have the options before me. It was intoxicating. I had NO intention of seeking someone new, let alone the person who would become my best friend & the person I would proudly walk through this life with hand in hand. I figured I’d be a tough sell anyway, just out of a long and troubled relationship, trying to refinance a house cause of the split- yeah, baggage city. I figured I’d work on myself, figure it ALL out, and jump back out to find love when I was the perfect version of someone vastly more awesome than myself. The universe, as per usual, had entirely different plans. This is the part where you’ll all start to believe in “destiny” cause this shit is off the charts. I was home alone on a Sunday, watching horror movies and enjoying an early spring thunderstorm. The storm started to get pretty gnarly though, and my power went out. Some trees fell in the neighborhood and there was a tornado warning going on and after hearing something in the basement I went to investigate. My fucking basement was flooding, and since I hadn’t been in the house very long I had NOTHING that I could use to make the situation better. I decided to dash out to Home Depot so I could get a shop-vac, cleaning supplies, and a big-ass cooler so I could keep all of my food fresh if the power stayed out too long. A friend of mine was pulling into the neighborhood at the same time in his truck and came to graciously help me out in exchange for dinner once the power came back on. We dealt with the water, cleaned everything up, and got all my foodstuffs into the big-ass cooler. A couple hours went by and the electricity came back on, so I cooked dinner and all was well. Nevermind the basement that I now know floods when it rains, we’ll worry about that shit later. So this friend, he casually mentions that it’s been a couple months since the breakup and I should “get back out there”, and he told me about the website he met his fiancee on and that it was free. I shrugged it off but after a couple beers I decided to check it out and have a laugh. When I was 20 I moved to Miami in what we’ll call ‘The Worst Online Dating Decision of the New Millenium” so I was cautious and about as averse as you can be- but I powered through. I made a profile at around 10:30 PM and wrote an honest and self deprecating bio that I hoped portrayed that I wasn’t like all the other fucking weirdos & maniacs on the site, and since I was doing a solo music project at the time I had a pretty cool set of pro pics to use too. In true “me” fashion though, I improperly cropped one of the pics that ended up being the main one and all it showed was a tree. Not the brooding guy in the wool peacoat UNDER the tree in the old cemetery (yeah, I did a cemetery photo shoot, deal with it), nope- just the god damned tree. Awesome. At about 11:00 PM this same night, my now-wife was logging on to the same website to DELETE her profile cause she was fed up with it. In what would come to be the best stroke of luck I’ve ever had I came across her profile and sent her a quick message at around 10:45 PM, just before she was logging on to quit. She wrote me back and we began a text exchange that lasted into the night and we set up a date for a couple days later. It was awesome, she was awesome, and this guy who had NO intention of seeking this out was excited like a kid waiting to go to Disneyland. Butterflies in the stomach, electrified with what could be, and then came a teensy snag. I had to do some work to the flooding basement walls and that friend could only help me on the same evening I had set up the date. I had to reschedule and I was terrified she would decide “no thanks” and think I was trying to ditch, which she nearly did, but we rescheduled and I got the work done. Fucking basement still flooded, but again-we’ll worry about that shit later. The date came and it was without a doubt the best night of my life to that point. We talked til the restaurant closed, and we went for a drink to talk more. After that? Sat in the parking lot and talked til 2:30 AM. We talked music, we talked about life, and we even got real and talked about what we wanted out of this thing cause we both pretty much agreed that it was something special. They always say “when you know, you know” and this was that 100%. In fact, the next day I called my mother and told her “unless she is a serial killer I have met the woman I’m going to marry’ and I was right. I proposed a few months later and we got married August 24th, 2014. If you don’t believe in SOME kind of destiny by this point I don’t know what to tell ya, cause this is all WAY too random to not be some sort of cosmic wonder. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had, the love of my life, and clearly some kind of gift from the universe.
She had a vast network of friends from all over the place (she was born in England, lived in Canada, cam to Atlanta by way of San Francisco) and they quickly became my friends too. Both of our families were moderately-to-severely dysfunctional but everyone was as close as you can comfortably expect and our life was full of parties, date nights, the whole nine yards. Then we had a kid. Around the time our daughter arrived, all fierce and independent even in the womb, the family dysfunction raised to stratospheric heights and the in-laws decided to misplace some anger onto us and fuck off for more than a year. Almost a year and a half in fact, no contact, no cards on holidays, nothing. Other family members were around disarmingly less than before, but not QUITE that severe. The in-laws came back to town and feebly attempted to be in our daughters life, and it was awkward and disastrous to put it mildly. Then we had our son, and it went pretty much the same way. More misplaced anger and dysfunction led them to check out again, and it’s now been more than two years since we’ve seen or heard from them. Other family members? Most of them have gone ghostly too, mine included. Some flamed out worse than others but the outcome is the same. The exceptions? My mother is wonderful and around as much as she can be, and my brother-in-law and his fiancee are around too, and they even take the kiddos once in a while so we get a MUCH needed break- but that’s it. All those friends? Outside of about two of them we pretty much see & hear from no one. All the parties, all the people- gone. If they say “it takes a village” then ours is fucking deserted. Ours is the emotional equivalent of Chernobyl. A wasteland too infected to return to, a place that will never be the same. Don’t let that sunny description lead you down the wrong mental path here, I’m only using it to illustrate the irreparable fashion in which people have left their relationships with us. As far as WE are concerned, we’re happy. Our marriage is solid, our kids are challenging but we’ve kept them alive for 2 and 4 years so YAY us, and we work hard to make our life be as good as it can be. We’re just doing it alone. And sometimes, it bothers me. Like REALLY fucking bothers me. I look around and I see enough people to equal a MASSIVE family compared to what I had growing up, and a very large percentage of said family lives within 20-30 minutes of us mind you, and I get real mad. I get a little depressed, and I struggle with it from time to time. Life is short, and life can be hard, the one thing we have is this moment. This life, this breath, this brief little flash of infinity. What we have is so small and we don’t appreciate it at all cause if we did? We would all just love each other, nobody would abandon anyone, and all the hurt would have nowhere to fit cause we would all be too busy living this life and loving the people around us. That doesn’t happen very much though, and resentments fester, anger grows, petty squabbles turn to war, and before you know if where there once was a family there is only silence. Where there was once friends there is now a contact list, all promise and no payoff. When I do happen to get down about all this crap, my wife is very wonderful to point out that it is nothing we should be bothered with. Instead of being surrounded by a bunch of toxic friends who are only around when we throw parties, or toxic family members who are ready to abandon us at the mere sight of our children or a small difference, that we have each other. Our little family is strong, and loving, and kind. It might just be the four of us, but we’re fucking awesome and we are the best unit we can be. Added bonus? Nobody can lay claim to us, we’ve done this shit on our own. These kids are kind, smart, and awesome because of how we are raising them. Our house is happy because of how WE choose to live in it. Our side of the street is fucking clean, and nobody is around to fill it with passive-aggression, mind games, or any of that lovely stuff that comes with toxic hangers-on. I remember listening to a podcast a few years ago (still one of my favorites by the way, Anxious & Angry by Ryan Young from Off With Their Heads, I’ll link below) and the host (Ryan) was addressing a listener’s letter about toxic family members bringing them down. He shared his own experience and it basically came down to the fact that you have to cut out the toxic people, regardless of who they are. It might be a lifelong friend, it might be your own mother or father, whatever the case may be- you have to cut it out, remove it from your life, to be free again. That has stuck with me ever since, especially since I’ve been dealing with this shit since around then too. Doesn’t make it suck any less, but it is absolutely true. Why the hell am I talking about this now? We recently attended a positively excruciating dinner with my family (Mom’s birthday) and it put all of this into stark reality. We showed up with two little kids to a place that had no kids menu, to sit down and eat with people our kids have barely interacted with, and then proceeded to do “toddler gymastics” which is the act of repeatedly taking toddlers outside to prevent tantrums. All this is happening and literally nobody said a word. Nobody offered to help, nobody professed sympathy (or empathy), everyone just sort of chuckled and acted like we weren’t there. It was torture and we’ll never be doing that again. Cause WHY? It is almost worse than total abandonment, this obsession with awkward occasions twice a year where you have to see these people and buy presents, when you know they don’t really give a shit about you or your kids. It’s just to save face. I’d rather you tell me to fuck off to my face than pretend that you care twice a year to feel better about yourself. Damn that, damn it straight to hell.
It’s shameful. it’s hurtful, and it does nobody any good. This all serves to say this- if you have family around, or a nice group of friends, fucking KEEP them around. Treat them with the reverence they deserve because, like I said above, this life is short and if people are choosing to walk next to you make sure to hold their hands. Hold them, love them, and make sure they know you appreciate them. Don’t let petty shit carve wedges between you, fix your shit and move on. Be better, be kinder, be grateful for each other. This world divides us further and further every god forsaken day but we can control this. We can control how we choose to treat the people we are supposed to love. Some of us will continue to do a shitty job of this, and some of us won’t. Do me a favor though, be in the “won’t” pile- do a GOOD job at this, be the exception vs. the rule.
Where do I sit with all this today? I’m doing better than I used to, cause all the stuff I said rings true every day- you have to cut out the poison or it will keep poisoning you. It’s not easy, but no matter who it is you have to resolve to keep their ugliness away from your light. If the people in your family or friends can’t be a source of positivity and love then they have to go. Period. I can’t pretend to not struggle with it still, but my wife & I have built a life that we’re incredibly proud of and we have done it 100% on our own. Without the luxury of “a village” it’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish. It might be harder, and paying for babysitting all the time is a motherfucker indeed, but at the end of the day- when our heads hit the pillow we can say that we did it, all us. There you have it, you got a little more backstory as a segue into the disintegration of family, and maybe you feel a little better at the end of it. The odds are pretty good that YOU have something similar going on and I hope it helps to know that someone out there in the ether understands. Til next time, thanks for playing along and go hug someone- just make sure they WANT you to hug them first.
PS- I mentioned Ryan Young’s podcast and I wanted to link to his website here for you guys. He is the main weirdo in Off With Their Heads (one of the most fantastic punk bands of all time) and he has a website called Anxious & Angry where he does- well, alot of things. Check it out here: www.anxiousandangry.com and make sure to listen to the podcast, there’s a metric ton of great stuff to catch up on.