This New Year, Resolve to Make No New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m laying down on my bed as I write this, surrounded by pillows, covered in one of the most comfortable blankets in our home ( it was in a closet, no one was using it, so now it’s mine – no harm, no foul ), my go-to comfortable slouchy beanie on my head.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, looking at all the people I follow, and, since it’s January 1st, 2019, reading the occasional but unavoidable posts on New Year resolutions.

I left the site.

You see, after I was diagnosed with Major Depression and adult ADHD, and after talking to my psychiatrist and my friends and family, I realized three things about myself:

– Being on social media for long periods of time becomes a sensory and information overload for me.

– I’m an empathetic person.

– I’m a natural problem solver.

I’ve always been a pretty good speed reader since I was a child, but now that I’m on my ADHD medication, I can take in and process a greater amount of information a lot faster.

So, with that particular combination, taking in and processing too much information and/or too much emotional information means that my head becomes filled with people’s problems that I either want to solve, or that I feel terrible about, and I know there’s nothing I can do about it.

So, what’s the point of all this?

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.

I definitely believe that the very nature of the winter/holiday season lends itself to self-reflection, self-assessment.
Nature lies dormant, weathering out the cold until the sun’s warmth returns. All we see around us are ( mostly ) bare trees, slate gray skies, snow, if you’re lucky.

The calendar year, arbitrarily beginning in January, in the middle of seasonal winter, also forces us to feel as if we only have three hundred and sixty-five days to undergo some sort of amazing transformation, and as a result, forces us to feel as if we are some kind of failure in the eyes of our peers.

Social media only heightens this perceived pressure.

Many movies and shows make us feel that our lives are supposed to have a clear, definite beginning, middle, and end.

So after struggling for years, we’re told that we are supposed to overcome our problems, our weaknesses, our illnesses, our addictions, in a much shorter span of time, then proclaim ourselves free, new and improved, washed clean of the stains of our personal problems.

People in the public eye, be they celebrities or politicians, love to broadcast that narrative, and by doing so, make us believe that it’s the norm.

I don’t know about you, but I hate deadlines.

I love guidelines, but deadlines are crap.
Having depression has made me realize that growth is not a linear thing.

Spending time out in my backyard almost every day for the past year and a half, watching the leaves and flowers sprout and bloom, wither and fall, then sprout and bloom again, watching the constellations revolve above me, has taught me that growth is cyclical.

Growth is not linear.

That idea was the creation of some white scientist centuries ago whose belief system was a locked, rigid, racist, classist, patriarchal ideology. That idea, that way of thinking, is wrong.

Growth is cyclical.

We set a goal for ourselves. We often invariably fail at least once, if not more. We achieve that goal. But it’s rarely ever just one goal at a time. It’s many.

It’s growth in our careers, yes, but it’s also growth within ourselves, and without.

Growth in our interpersonal relationships.

Growth as men and women.

Growth in realizing our gender and sexual identity.

Growth in realizing just where exactly it is we belong on this insane planet, third from the sun.

Growth in being a good person to those who are good to you.

Growth in realizing the harmful, toxic behaviors we learned through nurturing by our parents, guardians, parent figures; and then trying to break ourselves free from those behaviors so we don’t hurt our loved ones the way we were hurt. The way our parents or parent figures hurt each other.

Growth is spirals.

It’s tree rings, stacked from its base, from its roots, raising high up towards the sky.

We grow in spirals.
And, more often than not, our growth process is represented as many spirals, rising and falling, loosening and tightening, as we try to discover and learn and figure out and master all the complex aspects of ourselves.

We spiral upward. We fall down, and we get back up again.

I have never followed the crowd.

I do things when I want to do them.

I do things when I am ready to do them.

And when I do, I do them slowly, over time.

But I do them.

I do not measure my success by the successes of others. I measure my success by how and what I do today versus how and what I did yesterday.

I spiral.

I rise.

I fall.

I forgive myself.

I analyze and see what went wrong, what I can do differently – not better.

Then I rise again.

And I don’t stop.

I may take breaks, but I never stop. I meditate. I try to keep my mind present. I always ask myself:

“Is what I’m doing truly making me happy?”

“Is what I’m doing hurting anyone?”

And I adjust, as needed. I take time to make sure I do everything I have to do, to learn everything I have to learn, to practice everything I have to practice.

But I do it at my pace, for myself, and not for anyone else, and definitely not so I can crow about it on social media.

So, do you honestly believe that pushing yourself doggedly, cruelly, without ever taking a moment to stop, enjoy, and feel the fulfillment of achieving a goal is going to create a kinder, happier, more loving you?

Instead of making resolutions that, by definition, are designed to fail, designed to make you feel terrible about yourself, don’t you think that you should simply work on being the best person you can be every day?

Don’t you think that’s better than saying, “Oh well, I’ll just try next year,” the very first time you break your resolution – in February?

Don’t you think you should do it in small, achievable steps?

Don’t you think you should nurture yourself?

Don’t you think you should be more patient, more kind to yourself?

Don’t you think you should be more forgiving with yourself?

Don’t you think you deserve it?

I know you do.

Colors, Patience, Superman – Teaching on the Borderlands.

The little boy would not enter my classroom.

I saw him lingering, out in the hallway in front of my doorway, amidst the organized chaos of our morning routine, as the other students were coming in. Then, a moment later, he was gone.

I didn’t think much of it.

He was either afraid, or he was having a bad day. Or both. His teacher – my colleague – had to take the day off unexpectedly because her son woke up with a high fever.

On days when a teacher is out, we normally split up that teacher’s class between the remaining four 5th grade teachers, so we get an additional five to six more students.

We do this because on a campus like ours, located just a mile away from the U. S.-Mexico border, where we service a heavily Spanish-dominant population whose median income is below the poverty level, and we have to prepare them to pass the 5th grade STAAR exams, losing a day of instruction can really hurt these children.

Rather than having twenty-two to twenty-three students doing busy work, increasing the chances of them acting up with a substitute, it’s better they come to us and continue getting actual instruction.

There are space issues. Classroom behavior spikes a bit, but as long as we’re prepared with constant instruction, lessons, activities, the students are too engaged to even try to act up. Usually it ends up alright.

This day, we’re testing our district’s CBAs – a mini diagnostic to check if teachers have been teaching and if the students have learned what their teachers have been teaching. I get my students settled and working on their morning routine while I make room for the extra students.

Our special education teacher comes in and tells me that the little boy went back to his teacher’s classroom.
He’s in the room by himself.
He doesn’t want to come to my class.

I can cut a pretty imposing figure, with my size and my beard, and the children can find it intimidating – even threatening if I stand too close to a child.

This little boy has ED, so there are times when he won’t cooperate, won’t want to go where he is supposed to.

I head over to his classroom.

The little boy is there, standing up against a whiteboard. He looks unsettled, with a small light of defiance in his eyes.

The substitute is there as well.

I ask her if she could go to my class and watch my students since I left them unattended. She does so.

When she’s left the classroom, I ask the little boy if he’s going to come to my class. He just stares at me.

I ask him what his name is. He mumbles. By this time, morning announcements have begun, and with my peripheral deafness, I can’t make out what he’s saying.

I ask again.

I still can’t hear him. I ask him again and I explain to him why I keep asking. This time he yells out his name.
I shift my demeanor and I tell him firmly not to yell at me like that.

I wasn’t yelling at him and I honestly couldn’t hear him. There was no need for it. I tell him he’s being rude.
He says his name again, this time in a softer tone.

This time I hear him. I thank him.

I slowly walk towards him, but he begins to walk around, opposite me, keeping himself equidistant from me. We’re both feeling each other out, and we both know it.

I sit down.

For a while, I don’t talk.

I just sit there, calmly listening to the morning announcements. I’m not frowning. I make sure that my posture is relaxed.

I make sure that I’m giving off an aura of calm. I let him grow accustomed to my presence. I ask him if he wants to sit. He shakes his head no.

I calmly, gently explain to him that he needs to come to my class and I tell him not to worry.

I explain to him that I don’t want him to get into any trouble.

Then his special education teacher comes in and begins talking to him in a rough manner.

She needs to take him to her room so she can give him his test.

I use this time to call the front office and ask for our assistant principal to come by.

I step out into the hallway and when she reaches me, I explain to her the situation.
She tells me she’ll take care of it and tells me to go back to my class.

I do, and I get my kids settled down and pass out their tests.

As soon as I’m done, I see the little boy at my door.

The security guard escorted him. I tell the boy, hi! Come in and sit by me. I gesture at a chair on one end of my banana table and I sit. He walks in slowly and sits down.

I have a colorful tray filled with different types of markers that I use to create my classroom posters. I give him loose-leaf paper and push the tray towards him.
I ask him if he likes to draw.
He says yes.

I ask him if he could draw me something he likes. I sit there beside him as he draws. It’s a crude child’s drawing of Superman.

I tell him that I like Superman. I tell that I like to draw also.

I ask him, would you like to draw with me? I could draw you Superman after you finish your test.

He smiles and nods yes. His teacher comes for him and he leaves my room to take his test.

I tell him goodbye and that we’ll draw as soon as he’s done.

He never comes back.

Later I find out that he was sent home because of his behavior.

This was Thursday.

It’s Friday now.

We have two 5th grade teachers out all day at a training.

This time I get seven additional students.

We’re done with testing.
It’s “activity” Friday, and I give my students an extra thirty minutes.

Again I’m getting all the students settled and working when a student stops by my class and asks if I can step outside so his teacher can talk to me in the hallway.

It’s the little boy again.

He doesn’t want to go into his classroom teacher’s room.

The special education teacher is there again and she says he wants to go back with me because I told him that I would draw him Superman.

She sounds angry and frustrated but I respond cheerfully, of course he could come with me!

I ask him to come with me.

He follows me.

As I pass, I tell the special education teacher to come by later, once he’s settled down, so he could be picked up and do whatever work he needs to be done.

We can’t have a student out in the hallway unsupervised. It’s a safety concern. Better he’s with me in my classroom where I can keep an eye on him.

The boy sits down back at my banana table.

I sit beside him. I gently explain that he is always welcome in my room and I’ll always find time to draw with him, but he has to go with his classroom teacher later and he has to go with the special education teacher so he can learn and be smart.
He says okay.

Then I explain to him that I have to go about teaching my class and showing them the activities they need to complete.

He doesn’t blow up.

He doesn’t have an episode.

He nods and sits and waits calmly.

I go to my instruction area, I get my students attention, and I begin modeling the activities for my students using my document camera.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice something.

I have the lights off, so the class can see what I’m doing on our smart board.

Off to my right, in the back corner of my room, the little boy is standing up.

I continue my modeling with one eye on him and I see what he’s doing. I was actually surprised.

He’s straightening up my banana table, organizing my papers, throwing scraps of cut paper into my recycling basket, putting all my stray markers, pens and pencils where he thinks they belong.
I pause in the middle of my instruction and I tell him thank you, you’re doing such a great job and I appreciate it.

Then I finally reach a stopping point.

The class is working and they’re in their flow, so I’m able to go back and sit down with him.

I have my phone jacked into a speaker system, and I start playing some instrumental chill hop and trip hop. That always gets the kids working but it doesn’t over stimulate them.

The lights are off, but I have a multi-colored octopus lamp that bathes the room in a soothing glow.

I start drawing Superman for him.

He watches me, smiling with delight as Superman slowly takes form, flying up into the air, his cape billowing around him.

It’s not my best work.

I stopped practicing my figure sketching in college, but I would sketch occasionally, and I’ve slowly taken it up again as I sketch out character ideas for the manuscript I’m working on.

I’m smiling, too.

I’m keeping an eye on my students making sure they’re on task, but I’m relaxed.
When I finish, I hand it over to him, and he starts coloring, asking which part of his costume is blue, which is red, and all that.

I tell him, but I also encourage him to color however he wants to, change it up.

I sit beside him and watch.
My students come to me with questions about their assignments.

I answer them.

Eventually, the special education teacher comes for him, and he leaves, not one complaint.

I take a breath.

Seven students working on their own separate activities, my twenty-two students working on their assignments, and this little boy, who calmed down when I began drawing him his Superman.

Teaching children is a nonstop job. You have to be good at juggling and have a quick mind.

You need to teach them the skills in Reading, Math, Science. Writing, often. Social Studies when we can.

But that’s fifty percent of the job.

The other fifty is seeing to their needs – and there are twenty-two very different students with very different personalities, with different levels of learning.

Guiding them when they do their work. Building their confidence by showing them that they can master any concept. Showing them different ways to try and solve problems. Teaching them to recognize their own self-worth. Showing them how to use their words and communicate with one another in respectful ways to settle differences.

These are not suburban kids.

Many of the students I teach have fathers and uncles and cousins in prison.

They come from homes where the stress level is high, parents, single or together trying to make ends meet.

Quite often the default tone at home is yelling.

Some only have the breakfast and lunch the district provides for them as their only meals.

There are some parents, single, grandparents, stepparents, who really care about the education of their children.

And there are an unfortunate few who don’t pay attention.

All these children want is to know that they can be good at something.

All these children want is to learn and be a success and have fun doing so.

All these children want is to know that there is someplace safe, with regularity, stability.

All they want is to know that there is someone who cares about them.

And I’ve grown with them.

I’m a forty-three year old man. I have Major Depression and adult ADHD.
I’ve been medicated three years now, and I finally feel that I am the teacher I want to be.

The loss of my father and my longtime relationship has tempered me.

As a Gemini I seek peace and balance. And all of that has informed my teaching.

I’ve grown into a father figure for my students, my children, whom I love driving thirty minutes from my home to teach.

I’ve been teaching 5th grade at this campus for eight years now.

To teach, it truly takes love – not some squishy, saccharine love, but a fighter’s love, a fighter’s heart.

It takes dedication.

It takes an almost monastic devotion.

There is a craft to teaching children, an art.

It takes a fair mind – free of bias or prejudice.

It takes kindness.

It takes a soft word and a firm but gentle hand.

It takes never giving up on any students.

Not.

One.

It takes humor.

It takes breathing – a lot of breathing.

And it takes patience.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it even takes some colors and Superman.

LivingNighttimeDaydream WakeUp.

And so I’m shedding another skin.

This one was dark but warm sleepy blue like grandfather’s cardigan, and it kept me from the cold.

It kept me sleeping.

I was in a fallow state along with trees in this strangest of South Texas winters.

There was actual snowfall here in Laredo.

Actual.

Snowfall.

I disappeared.

A strange side effect of my ADHD medication is the intense state of hyper-focus it puts me in, and as an educator, I still mark the time the way children do – by the seasons, by the state-mandated school year calendar. It was through this that I saw my rebirth as a focused teacher; every school year was a different fixation, a specific and laser-like focus on one area of teaching. This year was all about my classroom.

I had a vision for my classroom, and the way I wanted to tailor every last bit of towards learner-centered, small group instruction, instead of the shackles of the front and center lecturing teacher.

It began my second week back. I began pulling twelve-hour days, going in at 6 AM and signing out by 6:45 – 6:50 PM. It left me drained, exhausted, and not wanting to go out for anything or anyone – except, on occasion, when my best friend would coax me out. Even then, half of my mind still yearned for home.

My focus was such that I’m just now coming out of it. I actually have the mental energy to write again.

Waking up is always a strange instinctual, mechanical business, though, isn’t it?

That strange segue from the dream state to waking life. Knowing that your mind was somewhere else for some amount of time – that past a gray-misted haze of a memory – as the present comes into slow and clear focus.

I’ve never been more acutely aware of my evolution as a human being since my depression and ADHD diagnosis and being on consistent and effective (for me) medication.

I’ve always loved learning – about myself, about the world – and now I’m getting a crash course in the education of myself as person in more control of his life than he’s ever been, as well as the world of mental illness.

I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning.

I know that I will continue evolving.

What a strange adventure this is, being human.

You Are Not Alone: Death Rebirth Rest Change Nature Cycles Depression and the Christ child – or A Nativity Story for Non-Natives. 

“And the sleepiness kicks back in, this time more from sadness, the lethargy from my exhaustion from work is there, too. This very paragraph is where I’ve started writing, because I wanted to try and accurately describe how it feels, what I’m going through right now.

I simultaneously want to cry and fall asleep.

My eyes are closing while tears collect around the corners of my eyes.

And the feeling of falling away into the deep blue state of oblivion comes back strong.

This sucks

I have to put my phone down now eyes can’t stay open.”

I wrote this yesterday, when I was grieving after receiving the news that another dear, sweet, older coworker had passed away from a heart attack. 

Yes, another. 

About two weeks ago this evening I attended the memorial service that was held for a coworker, s kind, sweet, positive older woman, who finally succumbed to her six-year battle with cancer, leaving her husband – another coworker at our elementary school – and three children here on this plane of existence. 

It was hard going to the service. 

You see, lately I’ve been having a problem with funerals or memorial services for the deceased since my father lost his battle to liver and gall-bladder cancer. 

I’m getting drowsy again. I wonder, is this my depression, wanting me to shut down and go to sleep because it’s too much to process – especially when my body is already recovering from the physical exhaustion of working too many hours at my campus? Is it just the physical exhaustion? Or is it a combination of both?

Depression is funny that way. Even medicated, it’s hard to tell where the depression ends and you begin.

Can’t keep my eyes open anymore.

Time to sleep.

My mom woke me. 

I think ten-fifteen minutes have passed.

Right now I’m in the study/Music room in The Last Homely House, listening to a mix of modern throwback Christmas music by Pearl Jam, Sufjan Stevens, Dave Matthews and other Alternative, Indie, and singer-songwriter, along with some Beth Orton.

The study is filled with the clean gleam of gentle, natural sunlight, a sharp contrast to the midnight blue dark of my bedroom yesterday.

The grief has left for the most part, the lethargy has departed as well. Now it’s mostly a cozy church mouse sleepiness I’ve been feeling.

I got up at seven and did my Christmas shopping. I was done by 9:30 a.m. 

So, slowly but surely, my forced bed rest is helping my energy to come back. 

I live my life by the schedule of my sleep now.

Ever since I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and I discovered that lack of sleep really does cause a lot of damage for anyone with a mental illness – especially an untreated mental illness – I get as much sleep as I possibly can. And somehow, I knew this. As I grew older, it became harder and harder for me to be fully functional on five hours or less of sleep. My ex-girlfriend saw this firsthand. I became very emotional, very negative. I would joke that being in that state would make me suicidal – but that wasn’t far from the truth. I just wanted to drop everything and go to bed. I was a person who needed eight hours – seven minimum. 

Now I’m a teacher. I have to be on campus by 7:30. My daily commute is thirty minutes. But I like getting to work early, even knocking out a kettlebell workout real quick. And I also like to make time to eat a good sit down breakfast, and watch a little CNN. So in order to do all that, I need to be up by 4. I try to be in bed by eight pm.

Regular weekend nights out no longer exist for me, even just staying up late reading, or watching TV – those are pleasures I can simply no longer indulge in.

But sleep, glorious, languid descents into the deepest, darkest caverns of Oblivion – a darkness so complete, I rarely remember my dreams – that is a pleasure I now long for daily. 

It’s funny, but I had to change the person I was to save the person I could be, the person I’m supposed to be. And there’s still more changing I need to do.

But the sedentary, junk-food-eating, unfocused night-owl is dead.

Because all that I did and was doing to myself was making me miserable physically and mentally. I was like a smoker with lung cancer, a diabetic who kept eating sugary sweets. I was doing everything that would exacerbate my depression and ADHD.

So that part of me – which seemed like such an integral part of me, like it was tied to my identity – had to die.

I had to do two things which terrified the fuck out of me:

Die and Change.

Death and Change.

I see that now, those two phases are essential to the cycle of life, to the cycle of your evolution as a human.

And it requires rest and recovery. That’s what I’m doing – that’s what I’ve been doing ever since my father and my old life died. That’s why I barely go out. That’s why I sleep. That’s why I spoil myself. A part of me knows another change, another phase of my life is about to begin, and this one involves me finally doing continuous exercise and ends with me quitting the regular drinking, until I don’t drink at all. So instinctively my body is resting. I’m like a field in the winter, laying fallow. 

We have to change, we have to die, we have to let go of all the things we make ourselves feel we need that help define our identity but are toxic to us.

We die either way at the end.

The question is how do you want to go?

As your true, whole, happy self?

Or as a sickly, angry, used shadow of yourself?

These recent deaths are terrible. They are terrible in different ways. One family saw it coming, so there was time to prepare despite hope, but a sixty-year-year-old man has lost his life partner for good, and he will have to raise his teenage girls and older son on his own. The other family lost their matriarch suddenly, quickly – and cruelly – right before Christmas. Things will never be the same.

They won’t. And it’s terrible. But there is always hope that families can get past that void.

Five years ago, my mother, myself, and my siblings could not imagine a world without our father. But living here, in the same house – even after I practically moved in with my ex-girlfriend, I knew something was going to happen. I knew something was wrong. So I set my mind to abandoning the life I had built with my ex, moving back in with my parents, and waiting for the time when he would get so sick, he’d need constant tending to. I set my mind so hard to it, I became fatalistic – And that triggered the worst depressive episode I’d gone through.

Bad judgement, lack of communication, lack of compromise – that’s what killed my relationship. Then her discovering an emotional relationship I had begun with a very unprofessional ex-assistant principal is what cut us off for good.

Our relationship died. Who we were died, but it took me killing it to see that I had mental health issues that needed diagnosing and treating.

My life has been a constant shedding of skins that I never expected to shed and that I truly thought were me.

My mother, my whole family has. We’ve had to adjust to the changes. And we move on, our lives now tinged with the memory of my father’s death. 

Death and Change. 

Nothing is permanent. 

The only thing that can be permanent is your understanding and acceptance of that one truth: nothing is permanent.

Who you are.

What you have.

The material and immaterial things that you think define you – they can, and probably will, change in an instant. We just don’t know when.

Life is change.

Life is impermanence. 

Life is a work in progress that you truly never get to complete. 

To some reading this, the news might terrify the hell out of you, but that’s not my intention. That’s not my takeaway.

The takeaway is: know this, so you can live the life you want, your way, for yourself, without having to answer to anyone. 

Life is precious.

And it’s yours, to do with what you will.

And for those who may be depressed during this season, please understand, it’s all about perspective. 

This day is not supposed to be about gifts, how many and how much.

This is day is not supposed to be about family – even when it’s good – because most of us know that’s a lie, that family are the first, and sadly sometimes, the only ones who truly hurt, abandon, and betray us.

Today, well, this evening, marks the occasion where a working-class man decided to have the back of a Woman he loved who had a child who was not his own. This couple was on the run and the only shelter they could find for themselves and this child was a poorly manger, a shelter for animals. Shepards, some Wise Men, an angel. A strange collection all, strangers all, who were all probably laughed at, but who stopped, and made their way to see a child, to see life, despite it’s cruel miseries.

The story of this occasion does not exemplify an ideal of being satisfied living in a world of material excess. Far from it – the materially rich in this story were represented by an insecure, jealous king who decided to murder all the male babies he could find in fear of the rise of this one particular child.

No. This is a story of looking down at your feet, at looking up over your head, at looking into the mirror, and seeing an imperfect survivor living an imperfect life on the run the best way you can manage – and saying, “I’m alive. This is now and I’m alive.”

So, yeah, there’s death, there’s change, but there’s also rest, and recovery. The tree drops it leaves and grays, then splays out in a thousand shades of undulating emerald a season later.

It’s about rest and seasons and time, and simply being. 

Amidst all the sexy, shiny, glossy screens telling you, showing you:

YOU NEED THIS.

YOU MUST HAVE THIS.

YOU MUST BE LIKE THIS,

You have fulfilled their purpose in this manufactured illusion of “gotta have gotta buy!” and perverted inversion of an ancient tale that taught an important lesson and you have forgotten THE most important thing:

YOU are the gift.

My Time at the Music House. 

6.

Setting Up. Back in the Pocket.

This is a story (Saga, now, really, at this point. Saga? Maybe that’s a little too much. It was a three day weekend. “Saga” is a more apt term for how long it’s taking me to complete writing this and posting it. Maybe Odyssey is more appropriate, but without all that pesky “hexameter-“epic-poem stuff) of self-discovery, of being wronged, and realizing that you yourself were wrong, of forgiveness, of healing, of honesty, of acceptance, of letting go, of enlightenment, and finally realizing who you are and what your true purpose in life is – and, of course, rock and roll.
All of this is true.

All of this really happened.
WARNING:

This segment of My Time at the Music House contains graphic descriptions of drum kit set-ups, some technical jargon, some imprecise musical vocabulary terms – since I am neither a classically-trained musician nor am I guitarist, and scenes of descriptive, graphic consensual musical interplay among three grown men.

Up.

Gathered the sheets. Folded them up. Stacked them. Air bed lifted up.

Some of that beautiful furniture was arranged at an angle, not tucked, aligned corner to corner. I pushed it flush against the wall then I pushed it towards the front door, opening up the floor space, allowing myself as much room for my kit as possible.

Marce had told me not to bring my whole kit. The house was small which made the living room (our recording/jamming space) small. But there was no way I was going to simply take a basic set-up. This is Ryan we’re talking about here. Ryan Fucking Mitchell. Even Marce’s solo pieces, which I had played with him before, called for my whole drum kit – including all my percussion instruments.

I mean, the last time I played with the pair of them, I sucked, terribly. Of course, I was around seventeen-eighteen then. I had barely just got my hands on a kit, and I hadn’t really had practiced on one for the first seventeen-eighteen years of my life. And during my time living in the valley for close to twenty years, I had no drum kit – and it killed me.

My new drum kit, a Pearl Forum Series, I purchased in 2006. It was a floor model, but it was in top condition, and a steal at $500. Just recently, over the last five years, I was able to invest in additions and upgrades to it.

I wanted to be ready and able to paint with every tool I had at my disposal when the three of us finally got together to jam.

It sucks being a drummer.

When you’re a guitarist, you really don’t have much to set up. You have your axe, the case it comes in, your strap, your amp, and if you’re into it, then you have your pedals.

That’s it.

But a drummer, that’s a whole other beast entirely. I have a five-piece drum set, which means I have a bass drum, two tom-tom drums mounted on top of the bass, a floor tom, and a collection of different snare drums. I have a set of double bass drum beater pedals with wooden custom-made Low-Boy beaters, which I love. I have high-hats, two crash symbols, a ride with a nice amount of wash, a hybrid ride, and a holey China symbol – all along with their stands. I also have three splash symbols, a pitch block, a small timbale, and an Alo bell. That’s my kit.

Then there’s my percussion: a cajón, bongo cajón, claves, tambourine, foot tambourine, shaker, maracas, and sleigh bells.

I was ready.

So, after moving the furniture, I took my meds, had a quick breakfast, and commenced with setting up.

As I was doing so, Ryan arrived.

He came in, looking washed out with his pale skin, off-white t-shirt, olive-gray baseball cap, and olive-gray shorts.

Time is funny, and cruel – and often both at the same time. Not so with the three of us. At least, not so much. While Marce and I lost our hair (I had won that race pretty early on. Yay me.) Ryan, of course, still has his full head of beautiful blonde locks, a bit of a grayish tinge to them, but it definitely adds a bit of a dignified look – and I suspect, has always been the source of his musical genius. Slight wrinkles like the rest of us, but aside from that, he looks just as be did in high school, his blue eyes glinting as they always did with equal parts intelligence and humor.

We hug. Examine ourselves briefly, taking about the same time to catch up.

I’m halfway done setting up, so I hurriedly get about getting back to it, trying to talk and set up at the same time, which proves difficult for me to do, since I didn’t get enough sleep, which makes it a bit harder to concentrate – even with my ADHD medication.

So I basically shut up and focus on the task at hand while Marce and Ryan tune up and review the riffs they worked on yesterday afternoon when I was supposed to be there. A tightening of a screw here, an adjustment of a symbol stand there, a quick tuning of my drum heads and it’s away we go.

I wondered how it would be playing with Marce again. Had what I told him, how I felt about him, severely damaged or severed completely our connection?

But then they started off the riff, and, with a breath, I just stepped right into the pocket

Pure joy fills me as I lay down the beat, leaving nothing back, punching it hard and sharp and trying to keep the tempo tight.

I don’t play light and soft. I love jazz drumming, but I’m not a jazz drummer. Neither am I a speed freak death metal slasher. I’m naturally a feel/groove player in the mold of the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts. I have strong wrists and ankles, though I usually do punch the kick (bass) drum with the force of lifting my knee up and down.

I’m definitely not the most skilled drummer – not even in Laredo, TX, my hometown. I don’t play perfect. As with everything else that I loved to do, all my passions or fascination or talents, a swirling, mercurial, muddied mix of my ADHD and my Depression never allowed me to follow through on any consistent practice. I did what everyone else with a mental illness or cognitive impairment, I did the best I could with what I have. And what I have is passion, feeling, emotion – I have my heart, and I use it as I use it in my writing, in my teaching. That’s what I bring to the Music. Passion and joy – like the best parts of my father.

Of course, constant playing in the band a group of friends has formed since 2010 has built up my skill level. And now that I am medicated, I have begun to practice more regularly, so, little by little.

But I just let loose, reading Marce, feeling in sync with him, anticipating the changes, while finally adding my own contributions – playing with time signatures and off-time fills, speeding up the tempo, slowing it down.

We were on fire. The energy was there. The connection between us had never left. It was just waiting for the three of us to finally get back into one room.

And before we knew it, we were done.

Ryan had to do some work, so before he had to leave, we walked over to a local neighborhood Mexican restaurant.

We talked more and ate plenty. So we walked back and Ryan went home.

We rested, and then Marce called his brothers.

And that’s when things got wild.

Next week (pinky promise):

Old, Good Friends. Brothers. Reunions and Revels.

Memorybox.

I close my eyes and for a moment I picture the box …

My mind wanders.

My eyes open.

It’s been three years since I bought you the ring. It was perfect, remember? Like nothing no one had seen before. It was vintage. And it was you. And it felt so right.

Three years since I proposed, and I still can’t sort out the sounds of the beating of my heart you saying yes us laughing the sounds of our kisses the slowing then speeding up of our bodies our breathing as we make love.

The speeding up and slowing down of time.

The image of a wooden box …

Your house is fixed up finally. It finally becomes our house. I have my home. 

We fill it with the things that are Us. We don’t live like the Boring Rest.

We are a family. The four of us. You, me, the girls. We are glued, bonded permanently by love and arguments and lessons learned and taught and tears and laughter and talking and weekend night Netflix binges and lazy Saturday morning pancakes, Nutella French toast sandwiches topped with fresh strawberries. 

I hold my breath a second. Something hurts. I picture the box again.

The image goes away because we go to concerts, check in to hotels, wander strange cities travel have adventures laugh.

We have our jobs. Our workaday lives. We text each other throughout the day. Just hellos I miss yous silly memes that make us laugh – remember that time?

But that box …

We come home. You make dinner it’s amazing as always. The night winds down showers and everybody to bed and phones away as the girls grumble damp-haired and fresh from showers in soft PJs as they hand them over kiss us goodnight hugs and they close the door behind us.

We cuddle up to each other, saying as we always do – that this our favorite part of the day. Our bodies melding into one comfylump bedbeast. I breathe in the smell of your hair.

We take our medication together.

We’re healed.

The dark times behind us.

The feeling empty cold stomach alone in the same room, the old rituals frozen meaningless.

You’ve forgiven me, forgiven the things I did, the betrayal when I was hurt and mad and lost, the excuses, the attacks, the justifications.

I tried so hard to build a cocoon of safety around you, around us, nothing no one  will ever hurt you ever.

Until I did.

Until I tore it all down.

Until I lost.

Lost you. 

Lost my home.

Lost everything. 

Until my depression showed me just what kind of person I could be when everything became too much the lies of the secret lives I led.

And I loved you.

I love you.

I will always love you. 

And you love me. But we can never put back together what I tore down. And all the past three years have been our dissolution, our separation. And all I have are the what if pasts and revisionist memories of an alternate reality life. The old dry cattle bone shade wood skeleton houses built in the minds of the guilty and the regretful. Built so they can be haunted.

We loved each other. 

Love each other.

And I thought love … I thought love …

Love could not save us.

This is not a movie.

This is not a Broadway musical or a fairy tale.

Our love was not stronger than our mental illnesses. We became our poison. 

And now, three years later, I know two things with certainty:

I cannot see you again, because it will destroy me, because I see how our scars have scabbed, they scabbed very differently, and we will never be at peace.

And I still love you. 

I will always love you.

What cruelty.

What a cruel, fucking joke.

Three years. 

When will it go away?

Does it ever go away?

Am I stupid for voicing this thought out loud? Am I naïve? Am I a fool for not knowing something everyone else does?

Still I live on, I breathe, I walk.

I exist.

I live my life I laugh my laugh.

But in the quiet and alone, in the brief pauses between heartbeats, in the passing shimmer of a shooting star, a thought escapes. 

How to close what remains open?

Where do I put all this when it comes creeping out and still brings me to tears?

I have this box, you see.

It’s made of wood.

Upon it’s surface a delicate filigreed, swirling pattern is carved. 

It’s not a real, this box.

It looks like one my brother gave me. But this box is in my mind. I place those feelings in there.

Usually they escape. Sometimes I purposely take them out.

They’re so heavy. My heart the sick weight of a collapsing star.

Every day I drag it an inch further away from my heart. 

One day they’ll stay in there, those feelings.

One day they won’t come out.

Maybe one day I’ll stop sensing them pulsating within.

And then maybe one day, I don’t know when, maybe one day the box will disappear completely. 

And I’m terrified of that day.

lost among the shifting walls of your defenses, i know there is nothing i can do.

broken dancer

Often, I wonder why.

Inside my mind, amidst the vacant, dark back alley pauses between the brick-solid building thoughts that loom up out of the fog take up more immediate concerns – like my mother, my student’s needs, the thousand deadlines I’m days late on – I look, down deep into the gloom, hoping to catch a glimpse of the whys, and the twists and turns.

The Riddle of You exhausts me.

And then the next brick-and-mortar building of a thought emerges out of the fog reminding me of something more pressing and more present that must be attended to and merely a ghost of the puzzle of you remains, only to slowly fade away, like a MISSING flyer torn loose from its stapling on a wooden post, swirling away into the dimly lit downtown nights of my subconscious.

I cannot reason out your rhythms, your ebb and flow. And all I can conclude is that you simply do not know.

Do you know?

Are you at all aware?

I’ve seen you sometimes, so lost in the shifting dune landscapes of your mind, the quick channel changing as one thought emerges, only to flee as the next thought intrudes, with no way for you to hit the pause button.

The choices you make at the times you make them formed from a lifetime that had only the decayed bones of a structure.

And you needed structure. Badly.

The choices you make and the way you make them still, I cannot understand.

There are walls to you.

Surrounding you, around you, within you and without you, all about you.

Artfully constructed with a Do Not Approach sign on the front, and a Why Won’t You Come In? question graffiti tagged on the back. Arranged in such a way, with locks and tumblers and cogs that shift and shape, some formed from pure animal instinct, out of reflex, some that you have crafted due to bitter experience. More signs that sound proudly, “I am not my illness,” while others read, “You cannot touch that, I have an illness.”

You have built a puzzle that cannot be solved, a labyrinth with no clear center or exit.

Such skillfully constructed traps of logic and sympathy and pure animal reaction. I often think you do not know, you’re not aware.

I have a mind made for studying.

Did you know that?

I didn’t either.

Not till you.

Not till after.

And two years after our world ended, two years I’ve been medicated, two years I’ve been clear.

I have studied your walls, as they shift and seal, grow and change, and I know I cannot get past them.

Some days I forget this.

On those days I am hopeful, because I see the Promise of You as you should have been, as you could be – functional and happy. And it makes me hopeful that we might still have a chance, a chance at being a couple, at forming a family again, a chance that there might be a happy ending for us.

Other days I remember.

Those days, I see the Other You. The you without rules who exists in a timeless world.

“Have you taken your meds?” I ask, and you just shrug lightly and smile like you simply forgot to add softener to the wash. And “no” is all you respond.

Your shrugs destroy me.

Maybe that is why I cannot move those days.

Maybe that’s why I cannot get out of bed.

Maybe that’s why I have disappeared.

Because now I know.

After all this time, after all this hoping, after all the attempts, all the fights to try and fit – I know. There is no life for us.

There will never be a life for us.

There is no future. Your walls are too high, now. I know I did not put them there. Those walls were raised high by the hurts other men made, other choices.

But my betrayal fortified them.

I know now that I truly cannot help you.

I cannot save you.

I cannot untie all the strands and knots, the jumbled cords.

I cannot break through those walls.

I am no longer the Mender of Broken Dolls.

I cannot pick up your pieces anymore, put them back together.

Only you can do that.

I love you, and I always will, but I must leave this gray, formless place where I’m at. My father’s death changed all that, remember? I must move forward. I must move on. I have others I need to tend to. I have places I must be. The Road calls.

I can only hope that you can fix yourself.

I hope you realize what I’ve always known – that you have the power within you to break the spell that’s holding you back. Your own spell that you yourself cast, long ago, with the magic power of child who needed protection.

But now you must reverse it, you must look deep inside, and like an archaeologist you must dig down and dig deep and unearth each relic of pain that you have buried. You must dig them out, face them, inspect them, name it for what it was, remove its power over you, then place it in a box and file it away. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but it will be worth it. And then I hope you find the You Who Should Be. I hope you’ll start off on down the Road, journeying far behind me, but moving, healthy, happy.

Whole.

I hope that happens.

I truly do.

 

for l.