The uproar over Fat Thor in Avengers Endgame was, to put it simply, idiotic.
Quite the contrary, Fat Thor was brilliant.
Methinks the mindless twits on Twitter with their groupranthink doth protest way too damn much.
Apparently, the fact that Thor having a gut was too offensive for their delicate sensibilities.
Added to that, their accusation that some of the remarks the surviving members of the Avengers in the film made at his physical appearance was a form of “Fat Shaming” is beyond ridiculous.
The Avengers are comrades, they’re friends, they’re like an amiable bunch of athletes. You are going to dig on your friends for two reasons, because they love your quirks and because they call you out.
They did it with Captain America in Age of Ultron with the running “language” bit. They also did the same thing with Hawkeye being old in the same movie. They always dig on Bruce Banner for being geeky and socially awkward.
It’s par for the course.
Before I continue, however, I feel I should be as transparent as possible and establish my bonafides.
First, what qualifies me to talk about the subject?
I know, it’s a shocking revelation.
I’ve lived most of my life heavier than thinner.
Currently, I’m hovering around the two hundred and thirty pound mark.
According to the height ( I’m 5’11 ½” ) and age chart at my doctor’s office, I am considered clinically obese.
Last year, I was around two hundred and fifty pounds.
There were a couple of years were I weighed a lithe two hundred and twenty pounds.
At my heaviest, back in the mid-nineties, I weighed two hundred and eighty-five pounds.
I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life.
I’ve worked out more often than not for the past ten years, so there is some muscle, but more strength.
Oh, and I still bear the scars of childhood bullying from mean little assholes. The trauma is gone, but the memory is not.
So I feel that definitely qualifies me to talk about this particular subject.
Oh, and I guess I should have prefaced this blog with the words *SPOILER ALERT!!!!!* typed in all caps, bookended with asterisks, followed by a slew of exclamation points, in bold, and underlined.
But really, if you haven’t seen the movie already, then what in the hell is wrong with you?
So, back to Thor.
When I saw Avengers Endgame in the theater, and Fat Thor first appeared, the first of two thoughts shot out into the night sky of my mind and flared like a Fourth of July firework:
Holy crap – that’s me!
That immediate gut reaction was to his physical change.
That was me up on the screen.
I was represented.
Granted, I looked nowhere near as handsome as that damned Chris Hemsworth. His body shape was also slightly different than mine – my gut is not so prominent and my arms are not that muscular.
Nevertheless, I felt the strangest sensation watching him. In a way it was like being home. Like I could breathe comfortably.
Then there’s the scene where Hulk and Rocket Raccoon go to Thor’s home in New Asgard and try to convince him to rejoin The Avengers. There is a lot of comedy in that scene, and it’s easy to miss if you’re viewing it on a purely superficial level, but the mess, the bottles of beer and pizza boxes strewn everywhere, the way Thor’s dressed.
Then there’s Thor’s demeanor – the look in his eye, the way he talks, the way he carries himself. Those are all the telltale signs.
And this is the pure beauty, the sheer genius of Thor’s story arc:
Thor is sad, Thor is beaten, Thor is bruised, Thor is broken, Thor is depressed.
This was the second firecracker of a revelation I saw.
I saw and I understood.
That’s how depression looks like for some people. That’s how it was for me.
Not note for note, of course – because everyone’s battle with depression is different. But it always has to do with slowly being unable to things that others do with no problem, or even with things that you were able to do before with ease that seem impossible now.
Depression can come suddenly with the loss of a loved one. Depression can come with a sudden and drastic life change. Or depression can hover over you like a specter since birth, and wait, biding its time to slip into the cartilage of your joints.
During the course of Phases 1 through 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we saw in his struggles, pieces of him hammered, cracked, then chipped away, but he persisted.
He had a duty. He felt it was his job to solve all the problems that were destroying his world and the ones he loved. Only he could do it. He shouldered everything. He didn’t ask for help. Then when the killing blow was struck, it was not he who had won – it was Thanos.
And that was it.
He tried as hard as he could to hold himself together, to put on a brave face and soldier on. Then when he tried again one last valiant time – nothing.
To me, Thor was the image of my depression. In Thor, we see a god-man, once bright and beautiful and unbreakable and unstoppable just pure focus and vision and charm and wit, just the very best of how we see – or want to see – ourselves, and we see him simply break in two.
And the sad genius of it was that it was laid out well in advance, and it happened over time – since The Dark World. We saw him slowly crack. And it’s a scientific fact that if you hammer away at an object with the right tools, in the right way, it eventually cracks.
He lost his mother. Crack.
He lost his father. Crack.
He lost his friends. Crack.
He lost his hammer. Crack.
He lost his home. Crack.
He lost his brother. Crack.
He lost his half his people. Crack.
Then he lost half the life in the Universe. Crack.
And then, finally, he simply lost. CRACK.
Thor lost everything that he thought he was. He lost everything that he thought defined him. He tried everything, and nothing worked.
We all saw it onscreen. We saw the result:
All that was left was a man, only a man, a scared man, a raw, vulnerable, frightened human.
It was frightening to see onscreen. It’s even more frightening when you are actually going through something like that.
When you have a job, a task, a responsibility, and the weight of carrying it for so long, in silence, without asking for help, or refusing any help given, but with each step forward you can sense the small cracks underneath you like being on a frozen lake that you can feel breaking, but you ignore it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?
And that is the devil hidden deep in the details when it comes to depression – especially with male depression. We bear our burdens silently, because asking for help is admitting weakness, and admitting weakness is a Cardinal Sin for many of us. It is the fatal flaw in our own, personal Greek tragedy that destroys us in the end.
For me, it was starting up a brand new relationship just eight months after being divorced to my high school girlfriend, the last five years of which was highly toxic. Crack.
My new relationship with my ex-girlfriend, who needed special attention because she struggled with so many mental health problems. Crack.
My trying to be a good man and a good father to her daughters. Crack.
My trying to be a good, responsible son and care for my father who went from having severe Crohns disease to getting terminal cancer of the gall bladder and the liver. Crack.
Me, trying to handle all of this on my own, by myself, not talking to anyone about it. Crack.
My slow-slipping down into reckless behaviors, behaviors which caused my girlfriend and I to break up. Crack.
My father passing away. Crack.
Fortunately, I finally sought help. I saw a therapist, who then said I should see a psychiatrist. I went to my doctor, who referred me to the man who saved my mind.
Almost five years later, I’m still around.
Thor survived, and even fat he stepped up. Even after breaking, with the help of his friends, and his anger and his courage, he helped his friends, he helped them win. Greater still, he overcame his fears.
And though I’ve had days where all I’ve wanted to do was stay home and stay in bed – even with medication – I’ve stepped up and helped those friends and family who needed me. I’ve failed them sometimes, but I’ll never stop trying.
And I will continue to step up, grow stronger, grow calmer, because I have a little eighty year old mother whom I love dearly who, like my father, will need me to see them through to the end.
I know it will be hard.
I know it will devastate me.
But I have friends now, who stubbornly insist that I not slip into the Darkness.
I have family who I am no longer afraid to ask for help.
And I have Fat Thor, beautifully portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, with pathos, grace, and humanity.
Thank you, Chris.
Thank you, Kevin Feige.Thank you, Russo Brothers.
Thank you, Stan Lee.
And thank you, Fat Thor.
Thank you for showing me – this fat, broken, socially awkward old geek –
that I am worthy.
“I shut and locked the front door
No way in or out
I turned and walked the hallways
And pulled the curtains down
yeah I knelt and emptied the mouths of every plug around …
I’m in hiding …”
-Pearl Jam, In Hiding.
I am a man adrift on a raft on a sea of my Major Depression management.
It’s funny – I totally believe in medication – prescribed and administered properly.
God knows it’s helped me. But it’s never a cure-all. There’s a mental health saying that goes, “recovery never happens in a straight line.” And it’s true.
I know I’ve gotten better.
I feel it.
My psychiatrist told me he wasn’t worried about me anymore – and that was months ago I’m done grieving – both for my father’s passing away and my breakup.
So I’m feeling a strange kind of numbness.My emotional state goes from numb to even to content.
However, setbacks – predominately at work – really do set me back. I still feel the gravitational lethargic pull to my bed, to fall in, stay, and disappear.
One day I took off from work, I stayed in bed for most of the day. The following day as well. I recover back to neutral.
I go on.
I’ve isolated myself.
People and their problems were too much for me.
I had kind of lost myself in trying to be available to help others – as a way of avoiding my own problems, but also as a way of doing penance for the wrongs I’ve caused others. But people are people, and they’ll do whatever they’re driven to do anyway.
So I cut off everybody and cocooned myself.
I’d sit outside, smoke my pipe, and think. Sometimes listen to music. Often without, instead listening to the sigh and sway of The Three Sisters.
Now the school year’s ending.Summer’s coming.
I can feel it.
I’m getting restless.
My energy is coming back, now that it is not 100% focused on my students.
Another change comes with it.
And who I will be after that, who can say?
I just ride the ocean tides.
Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.
I’m a bastard.
A cold-hearted son of a bitch.
Heartless, cold, detached – removed from everyone and everything.
If you ask some people what they think about me, that’s what they would probably respond.
Asshole, I believe, would be another fitting epitaph that belongs in that Top Ten.
Because I’ve let a lot of people whom I’ve met recently go.
I’ve cut them off from my life.
Pointless relationships that have added more stress, more drama, more baggage into my life – a life that has already been overloaded by stress, drama and baggage.
How have I come to this decision?
What led me to this?
Feeling nothing has lead me to this decision.
What do I mean by that?
Ever since last summer, it’s been a constant ritual of mine to go out to my backyard, listen to music, have a drink, smoke, and think. Recently, however, I’ve noticed something. The ritual hasn’t really changed, but the motivation behind it has.
I don’t feel anything anymore.
And I mean that in a good way – in the best way possible. The pain is gone. The sadness is gone.
I’ve realized that I’m no longer grieving. My father, my breakup, my cheating.
The grief has gone.
I’m at peace.
And that is such a damn good feeling to have.
Fine, but strange.
I’m not used to this.
I’m not used to feeling even.
The rituals I have created to help me process and manage the pain are have now become the rituals I perform to simply unwind. It is now a ritual of relaxation, a ritual to enjoy simple pleasures.
I still think.
I still ruminate.
I still take mental and spiritual inventory. I practice being in the now, being self aware.
I’ve started smoking pipe tobacco.
I love it.
It suits my contemplative lifestyle, my fetish for collecting objects with I can physically interact with. But it is also a way for me to stay connected to my past – my dad used to smoke pipes. So it’s a ritual with a spiritual aspect, and I need those practices in my life.
It was during this time, when I was taking mental inventory and feeling at peace that I was able to pinpoint other, much smaller, but no less significant areas of stress and anxiety in my life. It was in that state that I was able to itemize the personal relationships in my life.
I’ve been striving to achieve peace. Now I have it. And it’s allowed me emotional distance and clarity of thought.
My life has been a constant struggle to balance a life of solitude with a life filled with having relationships with people whom I always feel I need to validate my life to, with whom I seek constant stimulation from.
I’m tired of that.
I’m tired of trying to impress people.
I’m tired of trying to actively have people in my life who don’t really want to be there.
I’m tired of trying to show people all the good about me that they don’t even have the eyes to see.
I’m tired of having people in my life who feel the need to remind how they don’t have to be here, how they could be doing other things – that their spending time with me is a sacrifice their making.
Who the hell says that to another human being?
Because I never have.
I’ve given my time up freely. I’ve accepted people into my life as is: broken, whole, mental illnesses or physical illnesses. I’ve accepted them because I’ve enjoyed their company.
And I don’t feel that any friendship should come with an asterisk, or with micromanagement. I don’t tell people to stop telling me about Zodiac signs, because I don’t believe in that. I don’t tell people to act this way when they themselves act that way.
I don’t tell my friends how to live their lives – I make suggestions. I’ll bring up the subject – but that’s only if they constantly vent about something in their lives. I tell people how to live their lives as a general statement more on a social media post than I ever have in a one on one personal relationship. And I do that to provoke thought.
And after the life I’ve lived, the mistakes I’ve made, the damage I’ve done, I know that I am no one to tell someone how to live. I can offer advice, that’s all.
I’m tired of trying to make friends I don’t really want and I’m tired of trying to impress or get the attention of women I don’t really care about.
So they’re out.
I’ve deleted, unfollowed, disconnected everyone who isn’t important to me, who hasn’t made my life better.
Is that cold, heartless? I don’t think so.
I’m not a fool, nor am I delusional.
I know that anyone that I’ve cut out will be as glad to be rid of me as I am of them. I know that anyone I’ve cut out already has too much going in their lives where they will barely notice my passing. Or if they do, they’ll get over it soon. I know no one I’ve met depends on me.
I know that no one I’ve met would be devastated by my absence. Because most of the people I’ve met and have formed any sort of bond of friendship with since my father passed away have been in their mid-twenties. Any twenty year old is not going to be all broken up by what at best would be considered casual friendships.
Even one whom I considered my best friend for a time, but with her unchecked depression, I would invariably be the one she would dump on. She would tell me not to send her memes on my being a Gemini – I mean flat out text me back, “I don’t believe in that. Stop sending me that.” She would always feel the need to remind how busy she was, and that she didn’t have to be here in my life.
I’m sorry, but who the hell is anyone to tell anyone that they can’t do the little things they do because it’s part of who they are?
Don’t check me like that. I don’t correct your spelling. I don’t tell you not to parrot your college professors – or at least not on the daily. You are as you are and I accept you as you are. Isn’t that real friendship?
I definitely do not need people like that in my life.
I’m sorry, but I feel only two should have the right to correct me – and that’s my mother and my mate – and she was neither, so I forced her out of my life.
I felt nothing when I cut her off, no grief, no sadness, no regret. Actually, I felt good, I felt light. I felt free. Now what does that tell you?
There are some people who I’ve remained on good terms with. People who I would like to have friendships with in the future, if possible. But these are relationships that have been maintained at a constant temperature, with people who are more even-tempered.
But right now, all I feel is the need to put myself first.
I’m still working on being me.
I’m still working on solidifying the relationships I’ve already had with the people who have been in my life. I have my relationship with my oldest brother and his partner. I have my relationship with my mother. I have my relationship with my best friend all the way back since our elementary school days who just had a child. I haven’t visited yet, and he expects me too. I need to prepare myself to be more of a presence in his and his son’s life – which he also expects.
Then there’s the relationship with my ex-girlfriend.
I reconnected with her. Things between us aren’t a hundred percent, but it’s the best they’ve been since we fell apart. The space and distance and boundaries I’ve set have helped. We’ve talked. We both know that we may never have the same relationship before. We may never be able to get back together as a couple at all. There’s still so much to work out before that, and our lives are still so different. But I do want her in my life.
I love her.
I always will.
Having her and her daughters as some part of my life is important to me. And after all that has happened, I’ll take whatever I can get.
I’ll be in their lives in whatever way she’s comfortable with – even if that means she doesn’t. It’s her call. After everything, she’s earned that right.
It’s worth it to me. It’s my decision, and it’s a decision that I choose to make, and it’s a decision that I make on a daily basis. And I’ll change it if it’s not beneficial to me, if it hurts me more than helps me.
Who I keep in my life, who I cut off – it’s my choice.
And if I no longer see any value or benefit for me, then I’ll cut you off.
I can do that, because it’s my life.
I can do that, because I’ve wasted too much of my time on people who just used me.
I can do that, because I know that I’ve either given, done, or tried something to make that person’s life better.
I have given them something of worth, of value. I’ve given, not taken.
And at least I announce it.
I’m not a coward, some indifferent person who simply ghosts you – that’s simply inhuman.
Every relationship begins with an introduction, so if that relationship must end, then there must be a farewell.
It’s the geometry of life – circles and lines.
I believe in closure.
The equations of relationships, the balance of my life.
Everything must be equalized, calibrated, on the scale of my life.
It’s what allows me to sleep at night, free of guilt, remorse, or what ifs.
I’ve put good karma out in the world. Now, some might say that karma will leave me alone in the end, that karma will have people I care about leave me on a dime, without a word, for the actions that I’m doing in the present.
That’s fine. It’s been done to me – plenty of times. But if they leave me, then they weren’t really good for me in the first place, were they?
If I’m left alone, good, I prefer solitude – especially now that I know who I am and that I’ve learned how to enjoy it.
Life’s all math, isn’t it?
It’s all odds and percentages and additions and subtractions.
Risky behaviors done repeatedly increase your chances of an early and ugly end.
Positive behaviors and habits increase your chances of a longer life.
Then there are those random one thousand-to-one occurrences – like car crashes, terrorist attacks, mass shootings – that come out of nowhere and in a few second’s time rip your world to shreds.
Funny how numbers rule and determine our outcomes.
Time, told in seconds, minutes, hours, with it’s ironclad multiples of sixty.
Days, months, and years – dictated by the Gregorian calendar, with its multiples of 12.
Your geographic location – longitude and latitude.
Some numbers we can’t escape.
Others we can proactively do something about, to change our predicted outcomes.
So, yeah, in a way, I am being calculating.
And if you consider that cold-hearted, then I’ll own it.
I play the long game. I follow my in-the-moment, short term-gut intuitions to increase my chances of the best long term life I can have.
Because in the end, that’s all we really do have, isn’t it – ourselves?
The Last Homely House.
The magic and comfort of The Last Homely House.
Always a light on.
Always a song to sing.
Always a tale to tell.
Always good food to eat.
Always good drink to drink. Always a chair to sit.
Always a place of peace, love, and good cheer.
And a fine place for a think, which is what I need right now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
i’ve got an idea.
let’s jump in my car.
just get in
you and me.
come along and I’ll make you this deal:
no false faces.
no promises made to break,
nothing but real.
let’s discover strange, uncharted places.
i will guarantee you one thing
come with me on this ride,
and I’ll have your back
i’ll stay right by your side
for as long as you say, “drive.”
let’s forget all the lies, all the times we cried, all the people who died,
let’s remember the Road is like the sky,
endless, open, and high,
like our futures before we knew,
full of promise and shining bright,
let’s remember before we forget
that even for one moment,
for one minute,
for one good mile, the Road,
like the limitless sky,
– we can be infinite.
It wasn’t just music that we were going to make, but magic. This was a ritual of reconnection. The resetting of a bond that had lain cracked and fallow in many ways for over twenty years.
I drove in to Austin just to go to sleep.
I arrived exactly twelve hours after Marce’s text. It was 2:00am – just a bit later than scheduled.
I found the house fast, thanks to Google Maps and its location – South Austin, a mile or two towards West Austin, right off 35.
I had to park and do reconnaissance. I wasn’t sure of the house’s exact location, so using the walking directions, I walked until I found the correct address. Marce had texted that he had left the door unlocked.
I opened the door and entered.
The smell of old wood floors and plaster comforted my road weary body as it filled my nose.I love the smell of old homes. It reminds me of grandparents’ home in San Antonio.
An inflatable air mattress, laid out and prepared with a pillow and blanket, greeted me in the middle of the small living room, to my direct right. On the left, amps and guitars were lined up along the wall that separated the living room from the kitchen.
I began to unload my kit in as few trips as and, as quietly as I could. I wanted to do it quickly, but my preparations for the trip had hindered my plans. I finally had completed buying carrying cases for each piece of my drum set, so I could only take in so many at time.
I didn’t want to risk doing the “Shopping Bag Thing” and carrying all of it at once, then dropping something or putting a dent either in the wall or one of my drums. So it was back and forth and back and forth, but silent and steady was going to be a problem.
Anticipating the probability of rain, I wore my chunky hiking boots. Muted – but audible thuds were the best my weary body could do after three hours on the road and all the events previous to that.
The continuous and uninterrupted sound of snoring in the next room allayed my fears of waking anyone up. Marce snores. Go figure.
I stacked my kit in the corner of the kitchen, beside the fridge where Marce had told me there’d be space. Then I brought in all my percussion gear and set it, as compactly and organized as I could beside Marce and Ryan’s amps along the wall dividing kitchen from living room.
Last, I brought in my duffle bag and my satchel that held all my writing and sketching gear.
I have this thing when I travel where I have to take out all of my gear and lay it out around and beside me just so: plug in my charger and charge my phone, lay out my keys and wallet, take out the novel I’m reading, as well as my writing journal, my sketch pad, along with pen and pencils.
Once that’s set, I feel at ease and a sense of security. Then I can take my meds and get ready for bed.
I couldn’t help but be aware that everything I had done that whole day up to this point had a sense of ritual about it – even me not rushing and going slow about all my travel preparations. But it was exactly that.
For me, even though this was a weekend jam session, it was a spiritual experience. Bob Batey’s death changed all that. I was, again, acutely aware of the Hand of the Divine at work, and I had to pay it the reverence of ritual.
It wasn’t just music that we were going to make, but magic. This was a ritual of reconnection. The resetting of a bond that had lain cracked and fallow in many ways for over twenty years.
There was the fact that I had to make amends with Marce.
I needed to make music to honor the passing of Batey.
And I needed to make music to attain a level of spirituality that I know I needed to set myself right.
But the house – the house was so cool – and not temperature-wise, it had a cool vibe. I had to look around first.
I took pictures immediately to document my journey. I posted many of them on Instagram that first night.
The living room and kitchen were both of equal proportion and both equally small – but cozy. All the furniture was late sixties/early seventies retro: wood grain speakers stacked on a an end table, a long wooden bench-style kitchen table, aluminum and red plastic diner chairs, vintage speakers and amps used as decoration, black and white pictures of Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen covered the walls, vintage posters of Rio de Janeiro Carnivale posters plastered on the fridge. The place was perfect.
There was magic to be made. And if there was magic to be made, this was the place to make it.
I changed, settled into bed, read a little, wrote a little, and drew a little, then before I knew it, sleep took.
I awoke to a room flush with pure bright sunlight. The sounds of Marce shuffling around in the kitchen and the bedroom as he made coffee.
There was nothing for it. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I had to get up.
It was time to see what the day had in store.
Next: Setting up. Back in the pocket. Old, good friends, old, good brothers. Reunions and Revels.
It’s always Signs and Providence.
I think I really began to notice their existence when my marriage began to disintegrate.
Chicken or egg.
Which happened first? Did I always possess this gift? This ability to notice windows of opportunity open up, briefly, to be taken advantage of before they disappeared? Or did the constant pain of the years-long dissolution of our marriage scrub any and all illusions of a perfect life out of my eyes, washed away by years of tears and sobs, leaving me to see only what’s real?
Either way, I was left, somehow, being in tune with my gut. Pretty accurately, too.
I don’t believe in prayer as a form of action. I don’t let go and let God. Unless I’m collapsed in a heap on my bed, going through one of my heavy depressive states, I move. I move forward, and I look, and I know that when I do that, then God presents us opportunities.
That’s how I ended up in downtown Houston, alone, by myself, for a four day weekend.
So it was, less than a month after dad passed away, that after scrolling through my emails, I saw that Brett Dennen was going to be playing at Warehouse Live, in Houston.
He’d be playing Austin on Wednesday, but taking off from work during the middle of the week is kind of tough.
Then I saw that he’d be playing Friday in Houston. Now, taking a Friday off is much more feasible. I did the math. I knew that I could get away with taking two days off — it’s May, we were done teaching everything. It’s just pure enrichment. So I bit the bullet. My dad just passed, my problems with my ex weren’t going away, I needed space, distance, and to have my ragged, worn-down spirit cleansed and rejuvenated.
And that’s why seeing Brett Dennen’s gig appearing serendipitously that May weekend is another sign of a door opening up by the Divine.
I love Brett Dennen.
He’s the only singer-songwriter whose songs have ever made me feel simultaneously astronomically happy, and tear-stained ashen heartbroken.
To me, Brett represents purity of musicality – with his bright melodies and his ability to often juxtapose them against heartbreakingly sad, authentic lyrics, he is a real musician and a singer-songwriter of the highest caliber.
Now it’s Monday morning, close to check out time.
I feel different refreshed.
I feel lighter – more so than I’ve felt in a long time. Seeing Brett Dennen, singing along, crying out all the anguish, heartbreak, and joy I’d been going through. Then exploring downtown Houston, finding a great coffee shop to hang out during the day, then haunting the local Flying Saucer across the street. Making friends, chatting with strangers.
Needless to say, I was happy.
So I truly don’t know why I decided to pick up my cell and text Marce.
I truly can’t remember – Did something come to mind. Did I text him totally out of the blue, after weeks of turning over the problem in the back of my head, what I needed to say finally crystallized and had arranged itself into perfect word order, or was I returning a text of his?
I honestly can’t remember.
All I remember was just getting out of the shower, getting all my gear packed up and ready to roll, then I got my phone.
I texted Marce.
Everything that I had been wanting to tell him about things that he had done – from high school to his comments on my work, to my thoughts on his work that had been gnawing at the edges of my consciousness, irritating me, burst forth in my machine gun texting style.
And I didn’t care. I did not give one rat’s ass. My father died, and he made it about him. Or so I thought. It was a minute or two of frenzied texting, then nothing.
There was silence.
I stood before my duffle bag on the bed. For a moment, I freaked at what I had just done, then I let it go.
“That’s harsh,” was all I could remember him replying.
“The truth is harsh.” I responded.
And that was it.
That’s how it was for a very long time. No communication. No social media. I believe I unfriended Time passed, as it tends to do.
I would get an occasional message from him, an infrequent text. Then – and to be honest with you, I cannot remember when it began – the messages and texts came with more frequency, the apologies. At some point, I apologized – not for what I said, but how I said it, and that I should have said it long ago. My tone changed. I changed. The death of my father irreparably changed me into someone much harsher.
My father died, and a part of me died with me.
I now had no problem telling people what I thought. I wasn’t “sweet,” or “kind” – and I sure as shit wasn’t going to be “diplomatic.”
Maybe not harsher – honest.
Finally knowing myself, knowing my worth, knowing what I will and will not put up with.
Everything was changing.
Everything had changed.
And that was a good thing.
Next: an invitation, a decision, more death, a path to healing.