All That’s Left …

Beauty.

There is always beauty.

That is all that is left.

So many times in my life, I thought I had come to the end of me.

So many times, I thought I had broken myself, into pieces too brittle and infinitesimal, to ever believe that I could put myself back together again.

So many times I thought I had broken those I loved, those who loved me.

So many times I felt the cold hollow cave made of stone and frost and filled with a chill wind that blew eternal in the pit of my stomach, the sum total of all the lies I told, of all the hearts I broke, of all the oaths I abandoned.

So many times.

But that last, that last was worst of all …

Lost to the dark.

Alone, in a ball, in a hole, in a wall, in the deepest darkest crack I could slither in, and crawl.

So many times.

So many times.

Darkness.

And then …

A glimmer …

A glimpse …

I would open my eyes.

Dry, burning, bloodshot, blurry, and red.

And I would look up.

And the height, the height of just where I fell from.

It was so high.

I had fallen so far.

All that trust built.

Smashed to bits with a single action, a cruel word.

But I would get up, like I had all those countless times before and my spine felt so weak and all I felt inside cold wind and hollow.

And I would get up.

My stomach would spasm reflexively from all the ragged crying and my eyes burned.

And I would get on my knees, scarred and pitted from gravel digging in, from years of gravel digging in, digging all the way into my cartilage.

I would wait there, gasping, until that pain was too much, and I would reach out and grasp that first rock again, with cracked hands that split from countless cold December nights when my hands were soaked wet from bleach and piss and mop water and Fabuloso and Murphy’s Oil Soap, from countless nights of cleaning and wiping and scrubbing, and I would begin the slow climb, back up to the top, back up, to the light.

And so I would grab another.

So many falls.

And so many climbs.

So many promises made.

So many promises broken.

So many scars, from within, from without.

Holding the hand of the one whose heart I broke.

What else could I do?

I couldn’t stay down there.

Not when I was needed up here.

Not when, if I couldn’t make us better, if I couldn’t heal us and make us whole, I could at least help you.

Help you get through.

At least I could do that.

So I did.

And those whose hearts I’d hurt, saw that I did my best to heal.

I left, but I did my best to heal.

I left, and I hoped that they had healed.

And to my surprise, they did.

As sure as spring follows winter.

As certain as day follows night.

As raw and red and as certain as the dawn, or a healing wound.

And time would pass, just as sure as spring follows winter.

As certain as sunshine follows rain.

And, with that passing left the pain.

And those who I made cry, I now made laugh.

I repaired what I could, and now, gray-bearded and older, I keep my vigil.

I watch and I care and I protect.

But I stay away.

And I marvel that in the passing, the pain fades away, like shadows melt away at dawn, and with that growing dawn light, in that shining sunlight, only the beauty is left revealed.

And nights, dark and dim they may be, are now just nights, because now I have the knowledge that the sun still shines on the other side of the world.

Nights reveal starlight, and moonshine, and the reflective glimmer of cats’ eyes.

I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt people, and though it was my depression, it was still me.

I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt myself, and though it was my depression, it was still me.

And I know this, and I will never forget – I have managed my depression.

I have named my demon and I have locked it within a faux-gold-covered wooden box.

And I will never open it up.

For I know this – with time and work and the healing-fevered pain of resetting bones, all the bad fades away.

Fades away, but does not dissipate.

It is always an ever-present reminder.

But what comes to the foreground, what comes into focus?

Beauty.

The pain, the dark fades away.

All that’s left is beauty.

Feeling Nothing Feels Great: Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.

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.

Why?

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?

Nothing.

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’ve accepted.

I’m at peace.

I’m balanced.

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.

Gone.

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.

I decide.

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.

Odds.

Percentages.

Additions.

Subtractions.

Age groups.

Demographics.

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?

Dispatches From the World of Depression: A Bad Decision, an Even Worse Detour, and the Film Annihilation – A Contemplation of Self-Destruction via Confession – or is it the other way around?

I drove into that neighborhood last night.

It wasn’t with the old intentions.

I put myself into a position where I had no choice.

There was no right so I had to turn left. I had to turn left to cool off after an aggressive driver began making me lose my cool.

Taking that left was instinctual, out of necessity. But it wasn’t from that old, feverish, infected instinct.
It wasn’t under the pretense of going on a cruise and then just happening to pass by her house. It wasn’t after another long weekend night ending with me and you getting into another drunken fight, me giving up, getting into my car and driving off, running away back to my parents’ house, wanting to escape what was becoming an increasingly tangled mess, driving myself into that neighborhood, driving past her house, in the ridiculous and desperately vain hope that somehow, she’d be up and outside at four in the morning, and we’d somehow end up talking, and that I could find comfort in her lying words, in a world inside my mind, where our relationship was eighty percent in my mind and twenty percent her using me to escape her own, fucked up world.

Driving through that neighborhood last night literally made me sick to my stomach. I was filled with such an utter and raw revulsion – the strength of it took me off guard, especially since I was on my medication.

It was the memories.

I have told you before that all that time was like living in a fever dream, like remembering a really bad, drunk night, where you made all the wrong decisions, and you’re left with fifty percent of the memory of what happened, but you’re filled with one hundred percent of the sickly cold vomitsweat feeling of guilt that no shower will ever completely wash away.

Do you believe me?

I really wonder if you believe me.

But it’s true.

It was the first time I had been in that neighborhood since … the end.

But I guess I should have known better.

Every stupid, reactive, hurtful thing I had said and done when my depression was at it’s worst had scorched the physical earth with psychic scars, creating emotional ghosts leaving many places haunted by the sticky and sickly sweet memory of my self-destructive cycle of hate-filled action followed by the inevitable reaction of sorrowful feelings – regret, guilt, disgust and self hate.
The after-feelings never went away.

Every time after I drove past a particular part of town, every time I entered a particular room, stood in a specific geographic location, the memory wave of what I had done along with all the accompanying feelings hit me and filled me, leaving me forced to experience the feelings of that emotional event all over again with cruel, startling clarity.

It was like an emotional crime scene.

It happened with you.

It happened with my ex-wife, too.

Laredo, McAllen, Edinburg, Alamo, South Padre Island, San Antonio, Austin.

South Texas was littered with haunted landscapes.

And the worst part was even with all of that, all of those constantly running, self-perpetuating crime scenes that ran viscerally in my head, in my emotional memory, those constant reminders, those “Ghosts of Bad Decisions Past” everywhere around me, serving as cautionary reminders that left me devastated and swearing and promising – to myself, and to you – that it would never happen again, I would still find myself repeating that cycle.

Again.

And again.

And again.

I would never learn.
I could never control myself.
I always found a reason to self-destruct and sabotage myself and my relationships, scarring my loved ones indelibly. Scarring you.

I promised you that I would never hurt you.

I assured you that I wasn’t like all those other guys.

And for a while, for a wonderfully beautiful long time – three years – I wasn’t.

Until I was.

Until all the pressures mounted, all the have tos.
Until my father getting sick.
Until knowing my father was never going to get better again, he was only going to get worse.
Until being a father to your girls.
Until having to care for you, with all your own mental illnesses, your needs.
Until there was nothing left of me because I gave everything I had to everyone I loved.
Until I realized how foolishly unprepared I was for the many responsibilities I took on.
Until all the things I loved began to turn into all the things I hated, leaving me bitter.
Until I started to feel misunderstood.
Until I started to feel trapped.
Until I found myself unable to talk to you anymore.
Until all I could do was shout, so I kept my mouth shut instead.
Until the constant beehive buzzing in my head and the blurred vision I had every time I saw you.
Until I got frightened and told you I couldn’t see or feel our love.
Until I started talking to her, who was all-too-willing to talk to me.

Until the end.

Until you found out.

Until I realized what you had already knew – that no matter how much your mind could understand, your heart could never forgive me.

And that was it.

Until in a vain hope to find out why I had done the things I had done, why I was the way I was, I found a therapist, and that lead to my finding a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and ADHD with mild OCD that I self-generated instinctively, to give my consciousness some sense of control.

I was happy then. I was relieved then. At last I had an explanation for all the whys of my life. The whys that made me repeat the same self-destructive cycles. The whys that made me hate myself, that filled me with self-loathing.

And I was prescribed medication to treat my illnesses. The medication was right for me. It worked. I changed my diet, drank less, exercised more. I was finally able to sleep, to finally sleep early and long enough to feel rested, balanced. And with the pain of my father passing, along with the slow-building clarity and self-control that came with managing my mental illnesses with consistently taking my medication, I got better.

But my heart was broken, because even though I got better, even though we both tried for awhile, our relationship was ruined. I had killed it. And my betrayal opened up all the old wounds and traumas you had tried to keep packed away. And I finally came to realize that even love can’t heal all – that some scars just run too deep. And finally I realized that you weren’t going to change, and that even though we still had love in our hearts, the illnesses in our heads would never allow us to be together again.

I realized that I had to let go.

I realized that the only hope I had left of us ever having even the slimmest chance of a possible reconciliation somewhere out in a vague future, was to cut myself off from you.

I realized what all the literature was saying was true: that we can only save ourselves.

I realized that now we are both on separate journeys.

Now, all I truly hope for is that you find your way, that you can use all your strengths to heal yourself.

So with time, medication, reflection, meditation, talking, writing, and thinking I achieved clarity. I saw clearly what my depression had done to me, what depression had taken away from me, how it tricked me and beguiled me and tortured and tormented me.

I had tried to be a good man. I tried to lead a good life. I tried to be a good boyfriend and friend to you. I tried to be a good father to your daughters. I tried to live the life of a gentleman.

My depression grabbed up all of that in one sweep of it’s oppressive, diseased, hallucinogenic hand and laughed blackly, looking wild-eyed at me like Frodo looking at Sam in the red heat of the Sammath Naur and told me, “Oh, you think you’re a gentleman, a good man? I’ll show you what you really are, motherfucker!” And with one squeeze my depression showed me.

It’s a dark moment when you truly see yourself for what you are, for all the things you’ve done, all the hurts you’ve caused yourself and those you love.

They say you are not your illness.

They say it does not define you, that it’s just a part of you.

It’s true, but it takes a lot of time to come to terms with all the things that I regret. I don’t feel the darkness in my mind anymore, though I’ve learned to accept it’s presence and respect the power it has. All of those haunted places, and the amassed baggage of negative emotions they contained, they’ve all faded away thanks to the medication.

And, if I do the math right, it’ll be three years come this September that I’ve been medicated.

Two months ago my psychiatrist told me that he was no longer worried about me. Last month, despite some tragic news of the death of someone who was dear to me, my psychiatrist told me that he was shocked. When I asked why he responded because despite the obvious pain I was in, not once during our follow up appointment did I once talk about me or what I was going through. I was talking only about others.

So it was a shock that by making that left turn into that neighborhood that I relived those feelings again.

But in reality I shouldn’t be surprised.

That place was ground zero for the worst part of my life.

It shook me.

So once I found myself in it, I drove as fast as I could. I tried to face forward, to not see too much in case every detail I’d glimpse would fill my mind with more memories, more emotions.

I made it out.

I made it home.

The feelings lingered there for a while.

I had just seen Annihilation earlier that day. It imprinted on me all of it’s surreal hallucinogenic and phantasmagoric beauty and terror, it’s sense of mental, emotional, and physical dislocation. It lingered with me long after I left the theater.

A line stuck with me, from a scene in the film where Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are talking, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who portrays a psychiatrist says, “Almost none of us commit suicide. And almost all of us self-destruct …

I found it a curious thing that the line from the film and my near-disastrous detour coincided with one another.

The mind, the heart, the body, the soul – all need to be tended to carefully, and with love, lest our illnesses give power to our desire to self-destruct. The only way to avoid that is through self-care, nurturing, and growth gained by self-examination.

Next time, I’m driving straight.

Dispatches From the World of Depression: I am a Foolish Man Blessed with Wonderful Women in my Life – The Healing Virtues of Mothers, Daughters, and Magical Blankets. 

And I’m up and alive and blessed by the sun.


It’s funny the things you get when you ask.

I’ve personally never had a problem with asking.

I was the baby of the family, so asking for things becomes par for the course. In a family of four siblings, it’s a way to ensure that you get your proper share of whatever choice goodies are proffered. As part of the process of asking, you learn to develop and utilize your charm. 

I’m the type of person who will go into any shop or store and ask for freebies or samples – more so when I was off my meds. I’m the type of person who will go to the movies, and if I don’t like what I’m watching, will walk out of the theater and go ask for a rain check – and I’ll get it. And I always find it surprising that many people find my behavior outrageous, that they would never ever ask for anything like that.

I think it’s outrageous to not try to get what you want, or to sit there in a darkened theater and suffer through two hours of your life that you will never get back,  watching a movie that’s horribly made.

That’s the type of person I am. Those are the things that I do. In a heartbeat.

But when it comes to me being sick, I’ve found that I have a very hard time asking for help. My mouth transmutes from flesh, muscle, cartilage, and bone to lead.

So, Friday night, when I was in the middle of my depressive episode, I knew I needed help, I knew I needed something. 

I was lying on the couch we have in our music room/study feeling leaden-limbed, and I called out to my mother, who was in the den watching TV and coloring the color books she uses for relaxation. And I felt bad, because she was by herself. She came over. I apologized. I explained to her how I felt. She said she understood.

You see, when I’m in that depressive state where I can’t move, I feel such oppressive guilt. I don’t want my mom to think that I’m ignoring her. I feel like I’m failing as a son, a forty-two year old man, a human being – despite everything I do, and I need to hear that it’s okay, to allay some of that guilt. 

My mom did that. She told me what I think anybody who’s struggled with depression wants to hear from a loved one: that it’s alright, get your rest, take as much time as you need. 

So I asked if she could bring me a banana and some walnuts because I hadn’t eaten anything that day. She did.

I ate a little, then lay there a while. 

Then my mom comes back in. In her hands she’s holding a charcoal gray blanket. I have never seen this blanket before in my life. She covers me with it. And I’m amazed because this has to be the most comfortable-feeling blanket I’ve ever felt. My mom didn’t make a fuss. She left quickly. I was near tears. I thanked her.

I laid there, wrapping myself up in the soft comfort of the blanket, and somehow, I found myself texting my ex-girlfriend’s eldest daughter, who I helped raise since she was twelve. She had texted me earlier, and it occurred to me that I never responded. 

But in the middle of texting her I had a thought, and something compelled me, so I asked. I asked the eighteen year old girl who I helped raise if she could stop by my house and give me a hug. Her mother struggles with depression as well, so she understands. 

I fully prepared myself for her to say no. She’s a teenager. I’m no longer with her mother. I waited, not very hopeful.

She texted back yes.

My leaden heart jumped slightly. Then I slipped back into a stupor. 

The doorbell rang. There was a knock at the door. 

She came. 

My mom, surprised and happy to see her, let her in. I heard her talking. I heard hellos being said, but there seemed to be more voices. Then to my surprise, she brought her younger sister with her.

Four and a half years I did my best to raise these girls. I gave them my heart unconditionally. They still have it. I have no other children. These are my daughters.

And when I needed, my daughters came. They sat beside me a while, they gave me hugs, and they let me hug them back. Then they stayed a while. They were themselves, being dorks and children and sisters – the eldest threw the youngest the finger behind my back, but I knew so I called her out, and we all just laughed. They sat a while longer, then they left.

I felt loved. I felt alive. I felt the lead in my limbs lightened.

They came, because I needed help.

And they enveloped me in their love.

For a moment we were a family again.

For a moment I had my daughters again – most probably the only children I’ll ever have.

And their love, and their energy, and their youth lifted me up a bit.

And for me, that bit was enough. 

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.