I woke early on the morning of my 18th birthday and went for a ten-mile run, down the street past the old school, out of town, up the road that lead to the airport, and back again. I hadn’t run in the months since graduating from high school the previous June. I’m not really sure what prompted me out the door that morning but maybe it was because I was 18. I was now and adult, and I wanted to mark the occasion somehow. And it worked, I suppose, because I still remember it 22 years later. Other things I remember about that day: my mother took me out for dinner at the Chinese restaurant ( I don’t remember the actual name of the restaurant—it was the only Chinese restaurant in town, and hence, “The Chinese Restaurant.”), and my mother bought me a six-pack of beer: Bud Light. I hadn’t asked for the beer and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have requested Bud Light. But there it was. So that evening I sat on the couch, inches from where I sit now, drinking my birthday gift, my mother on the other couch, my younger brother either on the floor watching television or in his bedroom playing computer games.
My father wasn’t here for a reason I don’t remember. He has, over the years, proved himself very able at not being around during certain life events. And maybe this is simply the way my brain has processed the past. Maybe it has something to do with his leaving our home when I was in 4th grade, moving an hour away to take over an A&W Family Restaurant. If there is one event that marks the transition, in my memory, from him being an active father to him being the guy I called “Dad,” that’s it. He wasn’t at my college graduation (golf tournament), and I don’t remember him at my high school graduation. The morning after my daughter was born I was surprised that he made the hour drive to my then-home to see his first-born grandchild. He didn’t say much. I just remember him saying, “Son, she may be cute now, but just wait about 12 or 13 years.” She’s been away for me now for 16 months. I am the absent father, and she not even four years old.
My 18th birthday came and went. So did 21 birthdays after. In between these two days, 22 years apart, I joined the Navy. I went to college. I quit college to work in a furniture mill. I quit working in a mill to work for two booksellers. I went back to college and began writing poetry, began studying religion, began reading for the first time in a disciplined way. I had an incredible manic episode in there—it lasted nearly a month and I had no idea that it was anything medical. I simply thought I was undergoing a religious transformation. I don’t tell this story to anyone because those who know me now will just take it as confirmation that not only am I crazy, but that I’ve always been crazy. Where were we? I graduated college with honors. I applied to and was accepted to an MFA program. I was kicked out of the program for the crime of having a “cavalier attitude.” I was accepted into an MA program. I began teaching. I received my MA and went on to pursue a PhD. I grew bored with PhD studies. I got a teaching job that I loved and I stalled on my dissertation. I quit my dissertation altogether. I met a woman and became involved in a very unhealthy relationship. I lost my job. I had a child. Now I’m 40 years old with no job, no income at all, ruined credit, and a daughter 2000 miles away.
It’s been a long 22 years. And it’s gone very quickly. If I’m to be completely truthful about my resume these past two decades, I should mention that I drank a lot too. In the early years I did my share of illegal drugs. I had sex with a few strangers. I was reckless with credit cards and loans. I made a ton of bad decisions. My wit and luck, though, always pulled me through. Or, at least most of the time they did. The depression and the mania came and went. I drank to self-medicate and was aware of what I was doing but desperately didn’t want to admit that I might have a mental disorder. I had no problem admitting that I might have a drinking problem—but that was far preferable to having to deal with the notion that I might be crazy. Of course, I imagined I probably was. But only for brief intervals. I drank. I immersed myself in the “poetry world.” Sometimes I got caught up in frantic exercise—running again. Running, maybe, to regain some bit of control.
These last three years, things have just fallen apart. I lost my job due to budget cuts (which I knew were coming and should have been planning for), my partner and I grew apart, though by that point we were probably only trying to stay together for our child. Before long I was living in a tiny apartment, but my kid and my ex lived just down the road and I saw them almost daily. But I still wasn’t working. The freelance jobs I had been working dried up. The savings accounts dried up. Paying bills was a challenge.
At this point in my story I want to stop because I can hear a voice—maybe a voice out there in the internet wilds, maybe a voice that sounds a lot like my mother, telling me “So what! Pick yourself up. Move on! Walk it off.” This, my friends, is perhaps what scares me most—that I am simply not capable of holding it together much longer. But something happened a few months ago. I won’t go into details but it was a change in medications. A very simple change. Almost overnight I began to feel stronger, no longer overcome by fatigue, indifference, non-specific anxiety and inexplicable fear. I don’t what this means for me or my future. I miss my kid. I miss having an adult life.