“So…who are you voting for??”
I’ve been asked this question so many times over the past year. And, honestly, it’s a legitimate, community-binding question. Right?
Often I would like to ask, in return, “I’m not sure yet, but let me ask, how many blow jobs did you give last year?!?” I don’t, of course, because I have decorum, dammit. But still. It would certainly raise a few eyebrows.
Politics is a polarizing issue. People love to talk about it! My Facebook page is rife with opinions (many wrong), thoughts (many stupid), and ideas (some worth while). Politics, though, truly is one of those subjects that gets even the most benign individuals to open up. Politics and religion. And sex. And the whole LGBT thing. And “Game of Thrones,” for some reason. Whatever.
I’m not a political person. I have peripheral knowledge, information I’ve gathered from the internet, billboards, news reports, and opinionated customers at work (because retail). I’m a Democrat – there, I said it. And that’s no secret. I am perched deftly on the Left Wing because, well, the Right Wing is all mangled and shit. But that’s just my opinion. I know about Hillary’s email scandal, but the details escape me. I know Bernie wants free education for everyone. I know Trump has small hands or some shit like that. And a trampy wife, but money can pretty much buy you anything.
I couldn’t have a political conversation/argument/debate to save my life. The last time my mother was here she started rambling on about Obama and what a mess he’s made of the country. I just nodded. If Obama has ruined the country, I haven’t noticed. At least no major buildings were pummeled by hijacked planes on his watch, but that’s a different story. All I know is I’m as well versed in politics as Ann Coulter is in shutting the fuck up.
Admitting to being a Democrat might give away which I’m leaning in the voting booth. But it’s still none of anyone’s business. It feels so personal, doesn’t it? Someone recently asked me, quite seriously, “You’re voting for Bernie, right?” It’s as if someone was asking if I’ve seen “Office Space.” Apparently an amazing film, but admitting to not seeing it is akin to not knowing men have walked on the moon. “How can you not have seen that movie??”
Easy. I haven’t seen it. There, done.
I’m being ornery, I know. If you know me, that’s my sassiness shining through. The truth is, though, I’m not letting a single soul know who I’m actually voting for. Okay, I will not be voting for Donald Trump (should he get the nomination, but as of this writing…duh). Maybe I won’t vote at all. Okay, that’s silly, but still. Maybe I won’t. (seriously, I’m kidding.)
Whatever the case, it’s often just voting for the lesser of two evils, isn’t it? Politics might be polarizing, but we can all agree on that. That, and Ann Coulter needs to shut the fuck up. Honestly, who invited her to the party? She doesn’t even go here.
Well here I am, two cocktails in to an otherwise uneventful evening. Am I drunk? No, not by a long shot. Am I feeling like I could spill a secret if a national terrorist organization demanded it of me? I’d lean toward yes.
So, here goes:
Have I told you my father left my family when I was eight years old? Up and gone. Poof!
Well, not quite so simple. I wish it were.
What do I tell you? Do I tell you about the day I begged and begged my mother for a dollar so I could go to the grocery store and buy a soda, knowing very well we didn’t have the money? A dollar. Can you imagine? We didn’t have a dollar, yet I asked for it. I should be ashamed of that, but I was eight years old. Eight years old. Isn’t that the age you start to truly remember things? Embrace them as part of your life?
Do I admit to you that feeling of shame, leaving the store, knowing I was enjoying a sweet beverage when that dollar could have gone toward something as substantial as food? A dollar in 1983 was a lot of money. Again, how could I possibly know, at such a young age??
Do I tell you about my father, coming toward me along the dirt path that led to the store, looking stern and serious? Do I tell you about how I froze, and wondered what he might say? Or, worse, do? He was in a rush, walking quickly, coming toward me like he knew I’d done something wrong. I was petrified. I can see him now: dressed simply, slacks and a t-shirt, his hair thick and shiny, his mustache threatening and rust-colored. “He was such a handsome man,” family members have told me, years later. I could swear he was clenching his fists.
“Don’t tell your mother you saw me,” my father said. Seven words, the last I’d hear. He might as well have dropped dead right there. But he didn’t.
Instead, he swept past me as if I were nothing more than an afterthought. His son. The child he had a hand in creating. Abandoned, a pair of old socks you toss in the trash. A cigarette smoked to the nub, flicked into the gutter. An empty beer bottle you chuck in the garbage. I turned back to look at him – I remember this clearly – and he didn’t turn back once. Not once.
I said nothing to no one. Even when we were forced to pack up and move, because my father, as manager, had stolen all the rent money to go gambling. I told my mother about the incident years later. She understood why I’d said nothing. What good would it have done? I think, even at eight years old, I knew my father’s departure was coming. I can’t imagine how, but I did. His involvement in my life was peripheral, at best. Showing up at Christmas one year. Patting me on the head at dinner. Jokes, laughing, being a Part Of Everything.
I don’t remember much of him. I have a few pictures, nothing substantial. I feel nothing but hate for him. Resentment. There will never be forgiveness, the way they teach you on Oprah or Dr. Phil. “To forgive is to let go, and to move on with your life.” Fuck that. If there is a hell, I hope he’s burning in it. Why? I’ll tell you why.
I know very well my life is better for not having had my father in it. Had he stuck around, who knows what kind of train wreck our family would have become. But what I do know is that he took away the choice. He took it upon himself to disappear, because it was easy. Is this my consensus? No. My family agrees with this completely. My father was a coward, always had been. I can’t begin to imagine any redeeming quality about the man. NONE. “Try, Sean, there must be something.” There is nothing. I see him as I would see a mannequin – hollow, useless, nothing more than a stand-in.
There are blessings, I suppose. I am who I am because my father did not stick around. I think if he had, I’d have killed him. A knife to the chest, or a gun to the temple. Quick, simple, clean.
And it would have felt wonderful.
If he is dead – and I hope he is – I can only wish I’d some hand in it. Maybe I did. I pray he was crippled with the decision to leave. I pray he thought about me, my sister, my mother, at least once a day. And I hope it hurt. If there is a god, then it hurt. A lot.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I cried a little when Prince died. Not like a baby – just a few sniffles. I purchased a copy of the “Purple Rain” soundtrack on iTunes. I’ve listened to it several times since. I’ve looked him up on Wikipedia to learn more about his career. I even sang “When Doves Cry” at karaoke not too long ago.
I am not obsessed with Prince. There’s more to it than that.
In 1984, when “Purple Rain” was released, I was 9 years old. That album, as you know, is some heavy stuff. For me, though, 9 and 10 years old is that age where music really starts to shape our formative years. Madonna was a Boy Toy. George Michael was all pop and white teeth. Duran Duran had us wondering what in the hell “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” meant. Cyndi Lauper, well, she was just so unusual.
It was a big deal when Prince died because it felt like a part of my childhood had been taken from me. I’d lost enough as it were: did the universe really need more? But people die all the time. It just…happens. So why the shock?
Our connection with music, I know, is inimitable. It is intrinsic to our being. I don’t even really need to ask why we’re upset when a musician dies because, ultimately, they’ve left a huge mark on our lives. We don’t think they have until they’re actually gone, and that’s why we’re left with a slice in our soul.
My point is this: when Prince died I was immediately drawn back to 1984. My dad had left the year prior. My mother, my sister and I lived in a small apartment not too far from where I live now. We didn’t have a lot of money. My friends Chris, Christine and Jimmy, all who lived downstairs and across the lawn, were my best friends, my escape. We thrived on Transformer cartoons. I stayed the night at Chris’s apartment more than my own. We watched too much MTV, ate horrible food. School was on the other end of town and I had to take the city bus, or walk if my mother didn’t have the 50 cents needed for the fare. It was a dark time, looking back, but I was just a kid so I didn’t know any different. It was bad, but it was also good. The music, all of it, helped ease that burden. Prince’s passing brought me back there all over again.
It’s like the song, “Purple Rain,” I guess. I read somewhere, during my newfound interest in Prince, that the title held a certain meaning. Something I hadn’t known. Even as a kid I always wondered what it meant: “Purple Rain.” It was such a clear yet devastatingly visceral reason: when the sky rains blood, blue and red make purple. Purple rain.
It sort of gets you a little bit, doesn’t it? The bad and the good – the red and the blue – still wind up making something beautiful.
I’ll tell you, though, I’m all about nostalgia, but when Madonna goes, I’ll be revisiting more than just 1984, and it will be overwhelming.
The recent series of Life Lessons I have experienced have been sobering. First, turning 40 was a more pleasant surprise than I’d anticipated. Then, sadly, my “career” with Starbucks took a disappointing turn. Of course, losing my car – and potentially my life – completely opened my eyes. It’s like these experiences were all ear-marked especially for me.
I don’t generally like to wax philosophical, but I am at a point in my life where I can say this and truly mean it: I believe things happen for a reason.
Let me explain.
For the first time in over three months I went for a walk. Outside. I know, you can lift your chins now – I was equally shocked (this isn’t the Life Lesson I’m alluding to, but it was unexpected nevertheless). I woke up, felt annoyed with myself for not having exercised in months, and decided to put on some sneakers, a long sleeve shirt, a hat, and my Fuck It attitude. So I did it. I took a nice, brisk walk around an old, familiar route I used to jog (when my knees weren’t the screaming bitches that they are now).
As I neared the end of my walk, something happened. Looking back, it was fateful. It had to be. There, scurrying across the busy four-lane street, was an animal. Tiny, quick-footed, the size of a grey purse. It came right at me. I stopped dead in my tracks: a kitten, frail, looking haggard and weary, coming straight for me. It jumped the curb, ran past my feet, and leapt into the ice plants that grew along the rise in the grass.
Savior Mode kicked in. From where I stood I could she she was malnourished. She was so young!! If I had to guess, I’d say a month old, six weeks at most. I carefully crossed the grass – clicking my tongue, patting my hands together, trying to soothe her. She wouldn’t budge. She was panting furiously, her eyes large and cautious. Despite her condition, she was beautiful. I wanted to pick her up and take her home. I stepped closer, putting out my hand…
…then, what I had mistaken for meowing had actually been hissing. Fierce hissing. She was feral, of course, what else should I have expected? She batted her paw at me, quick as a rattlesnake. That poor creature. I sat down, trying to satiate the tiny kitten, speaking to her the way cat owners do. She was unfazed. Her eyes, I could see, were clouded over. Her mouth, too, was covered in sores and drool. I texted my good friend, Martha, an equal Lover of Animals, and she suggested the kitten might have distemper.
Food, I thought. I’ll get her some food!
I got home as quickly as I could. I grabbed a can of cat food, got in my car, and went back to her. Fifteen minutes had passed. Astonishingly, she was still there, looking relaxed yet still panting heavily. I cracked open the can and used the lid as a spoon. I tried to feed her. She could smell the food, and I could see that she wanted it, but nothing. I was able to get a small amount of it on her mouth, her tongue – but she didn’t even try. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t even swallow what I’d given her.
Then I saw the ants. Crawling on her, near her mouth, her eyes. Every time I tried to get close, she’d hiss at me. I knew then she was exhausted merely because of my presence. I could call the Humane Society…but their priorities wouldn’t have let them get to me – or the kitten – in time. What in the hell was I supposed to do?!?
Something painful yet profound occurred to me at that very moment. It was like a needle to my skin – quick, seething, impossible to ignore. I cried because of it. I sobbed. The moment was surreal yet intrinsic. It was a very, very hard pill to swallow because, frankly, I hadn’t thought it was something I was capable of. There was a difficult decision to be made:
I had to walk away.
There I was, in my sweaty shirt and sneakers, hovering over a tiny, broken creature, realizing with a sense more jarring than mortality, that there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t be a savior. I couldn’t move mountains, as much as I wanted. I stood there, stunned, absorbing the very moment I realized that sometimes we MUST walk away. Sometimes there are issues Beyond Our Control. No matter how much it hurt, I could not be the person to save this animal. Not this time. I’d done it before, and it was hard – VERY hard. It was a strange sensation, to have this puzzle piece snap into place, allowing to both forgive myself AND walk away.
And I prayed, I did. I’m not a religious man, but I prayed. I prayed for that poor little soul. I prayed for myself. I also took stock. I took stock in my life, in my experiences, in my personal growth. I understood the shame I felt was normal, it was okay, and even then there is nothing to be done except feel the feelings – and move on.
I got home and briefly shared with Keith what had happened. I was brief on purpose, not giving him too many details. Seemingly unconnected, I thought of my new job starting next month. I looked outside at my new car. I even looked at my 40 year-old face in the mirror – the lines, the wrinkles, the gray in my beard. I recalled my father leaving when I was 8. I thought of that first car accident, when I was 19, and what a Life-Changer that was.
I thought of Keith, our relationship, despite its downs and ups. I thought of family, friends, work, and money. I thought, of course, about that kitten. And how I walked away. I’m not totally heartless – two hours later I drove past that spot…and she was gone.
And I thought, blessedly, how some things simply happen for a reason. Sometimes things happen and, no matter what, we’re meant to simply walk away. And that’s okay.
Last night, as I neared sleep, I had started to sink into self-misery. My life has been taking turns I haven’t necessarily been pleased with. But as I lay there, a mental reflex kicked in, something I truly believe I wouldn’t have experienced twenty, ten, even five years ago. My mind made a pleasant yet surprising leap. “Just chill, Sean, it’ll work out,” my mind told me. I was pleased with this. And i slept.
This was a mental reflex based on age and experience. I acknowledged that, at 40, I was able to do this. In fact, every age really teaches us something, doesn’t it? I felt I needed to reflect on this, for no reason other than self-confirmation.
AGE FIVE: What can I say about five? Here we have the three C’s: cartoons, candy, and carefree. What else, really, is there?
AGE TEN: Ah, ten. This was the first instance of understanding the struggle my mother went through for my sister and I. Money, I learned, didn’t grow on trees. That year I begged, and begged, and begged for my mother to buy me a Transformer toy. Bumblebee, I’ll never forget it. “I’m sorry, Sean, I just don’t have the money.” She had to tell me this several times. It took a while to sink in. Her tone, finally, drove the point home; harsh, insistent, near tears. I’ll never forget it. Ever.
AGE FIFTEEN: My father had been gone for some time. My mother had remarried, and I hated it. My stepfather, I believed, was a tyrant. A military man. Despite the vitriol in my veins, I saw that my mother needed someone, just as my sister and I needed her. I acquiesced, and managed to be civil, because I recognized my mother’s need for love. It was the first time I understood how painful it could be to be alone in this world.
AGE TWENTY: Life is responsibility. Life is working for what you want. Life is a struggle. Twenty was a year after a horrific, life-changing car accident. I realized, at twenty, that the universe is unforgiving. It’s a merciless thing. The universe works with you if you work with it. Nothing was going to be handed to me. EVER.
AGE TWENTY-FIVE: I deserved love. I deserved to be an openly gay man in a world that might not ever accept that. I could be myself and never apologize for it. There was nothing easy about this, accepting love; it was a mountain to be moved, a lion to be tamed. I met the Love of My Life at 25 – Keith – and I’m still learning about it to this day.
AGE THIRTY: I was thrilled that my twenties were over. Despite the learning curve, my twenties were claustrophobic and unyielding. I felt like it was one lesson after another. Thirty helped me embrace freedom. Freedom from judgment. Freedom from simply throwing up my hands and giving in. At 30, I began to understand it was important to think for myself, and not what others expected from me.
AGE THIRTY-FIVE: Life offers zero apologies. ZERO. There are no expectations, because no matter what I thought should happen, or might happen, the complete and utter opposite is what did happen. And this is fine. The distinction here isn’t that the unexpected happened, it’s that I was able to deal with it. Not happily, mind you, but dealt with nonetheless.
AGE FORTY: Life will change on a dime, and this is ok. Delilah came in to my life when I was 37, and by 40 she has made me understand that I will forever be facing challenges. I lost my car. I have several health problems that, at 20, I never would have anticipated. The career with Starbucks I thought was going to work in my favor turned out to be a joke. My interpreting career didn’t take a back seat, but I opened the passenger door and kicked its ass into oncoming traffic. Friends and family have questioned my choices, my decisions. I find myself stressing when I shouldn’t be. And you know what: IT’S MY LIFE AND NO ONE ELSE’S. That’s what 40 has taught me.
…and, if I’m lucky, I’ll be learning a LOT more in the oncoming years.
Yesterday, as I cleaned out my car – which had been deemed a Total Loss by the insurance company – I was struck with a profound sense of surrealism: I always seem to be losing something.
It’s a sobering task, cleaning out your vehicle, knowing it will be taken and ripped apart for scrap metal. It’s actually quite sad, at least for me. Granted, I’d much rather go through this than the grim task of, say, having to clean out the home of a deceased love one, so I will go on record here and admit I can’t imagine what that’s like. My problems certainly pale in comparison to something like that.
But I digress.
It wasn’t so much the removal of my belongings; it was the idea that I’d done it so many times before. When I was 19, I was in an accident that nearly decimated my car (seat belts save lives, just a head’s up). At the junkyard, I had to clean out my things; tapes, books, clothes, you name it. The car was my first, a vehicle I’d worked very hard for – saving 80% of my paychecks for months – so it was quite heart-wrenching for me at the time.
But life moves on.
Again, when I was 20, I had to do the same thing with a car that was repossessed (I was young, naive, with NO business having credit cards). There I was, with a big trash bag full of items I clearly thought so little of to begin with, since I’d kept them in my car without a second thought – until I had to pile them up like garbage. Why did this task hurt so bad?
Three times in life I had to leave things behind. When I was eight and my father uprooted us to live in California (heavy gambler, debts that reached far out of his control), I remember driving away from a family friend’s house, where our life was basically shoved into their garage – furniture, clothes, toys, electronics. It was awful. The sight of our sofa, upended, made me cry. Again, at 20, I’d defaulted on a storage unit; several weeks later I got a notice that my things had either been destroyed or auctioned off. That one hit me the worst, still does: pictures, yearbooks, memories upon memories, all gone. At 21 I moved to Boston, which turned out to be a mistake, and my hasty decision to move back to California meant leaving a dozen boxes of more prized belongings behind – more photos, books, and writing – overseen by someone I’m sure wound up tossing it all away.
But I moved on.
While I cleaned out my car yesterday, I was left wondering when this sense of loss will stop. IF it stops. “It could have been much worse,” my friends have told me, “you could have lost your life.” And this is true. Profound, eye-opening, and true. Again, I’m blessed with not having had to deal yet with Death – which I dread – so maybe these acts of loss are preparing me? I hate that idea. It makes me think that Life is, in fact, a test. Pass parts A, B and C, and successfully move on to D!!
It’s funny, to be so emotional over an inanimate thing. I really loved my car. And there I was, piling my belongings into a giant black trash bag while the Collision Guy stood by and watched, like a funeral director at a mortuary – standing rigid, arms behind his back, giving me All The Time I Needed. We shook hands, said our goodbyes. I drove away and it was the last time I’d see that car – that non-living, non-sentient piece of metal that got me from point A to point B.
And I actually cried a little. Again.
I was in a car accident recently. My own fault – sort of. Exhausted out of my mind, I fell asleep for the briefest moment at the wheel. Brief. About three seconds. Enough so that instead of making the left turn I intended, I went straight and slammed into a wall. It was the airbag that woke me up or, rather, knocked me into reality.
Enter the bystanders. “Are you alright? What day is it? Who’s the President? Have you had anything to drink?” Enter the paramedics, same questions. Enter the police, same questions (were they all handed a script before checking on me?).
“Yes,” I answered, “I’m fine. September 5th. President Obama. A few beers.”
Of course the ‘few beers’ part was enough to incur judgment. No, I was not drunk, but I know it goes with the territory. Did I need medical attention? No. Was I sure? Yes. Sign here, please. Of course the officer did a field sobriety test. Fine, let’s get it over with. I passed with flying colors. And of course, a few days later, I’m sore and I think I broke my right pinky.
My partner, Keith, showed up five minutes after I’d called him, which was about thirty seconds after the accident. Thank god he was there. Even if there wasn’t anything he could do, it was comforting to see him standing nearby, stoic but firm, asking questions I wouldn’t have thought to ask, offering me a genial smile each time I looked over at him.
The wake up call hit me later, when I was home, suffering the hurt I knew would come from the airbag slamming me in the chest: I could have killed somebody. I could have killed myself. The road I was on is popular for cyclists; one could have passed by as I drove straight into the wall. Luckily that didn’t happen. The only major thing bruised – despite my chest and pinky – was my ego.
Of course I couldn’t have predicted that I might nod off, even for the briefest moment. Maybe it was lack of sleep. Maybe it was the stress of being unceremoniously slighted by Starbucks. Maybe its’ the stress of finances. Maybe not having eaten in 12 hours played a part. Who knows? All I know is I’m lucky it wasn’t worse. Much, much worse.
My vehicle was towed. According to Keith, it was pretty bad – whole front end smashed in and up. After the cop let me go I went straight to Keith’s car and sat there until it was time to leave; I didn’t want to see it. At least we have insurance, and everything – so far – is going the way it should: it’s in a repair shop, might be a total loss, what the fuck do I do now? All I know is I felt such shame. How could I have allowed this to happen?
“It’s just something we have to get through,” Keith offered. And he’s right. But still. I’ve had dreams since about being slammed with the airbag, pushing me back enough to snap my neck, killing me. I think what needles me the most is having to go about my business as if nothing happened. Yep, I was in an accident, car towed, body ragged, mentality jarred…so how about this heat, isn’t it something?? I’ve already made attempts to grab my keys to go to the store, only to realize I have neither the keys nor the car. It’s unsettling.
I take it in stride, I suppose. I was in a massive car accident when I was 19 – wrapped that sucker around a telephone pole. I knocked out all the power in Rancho Santa Fe. And I lived. You know what’s weird? The cop had me do tests that seemed to have been tailored for me: finger/counting exercises (sign language, much?); stand on one leg, raise the other, count to 30 (um, hello, most of my gym workouts). So, it makes me want to to say – are you ready, because it’s existentialism at its best:
It’s like what happened was exactly what I’ve made it out to be: a wake-up call. I’m simply not meant to leave this world yet. I have things to do, things to say. I haven’t left a footprint on this world yet. I chalk it up to fate, I suppose.
Anyway, now that I’ve sufficiently rambled. I just needed to get this off my chest. I need to take writing more seriously anyway, if that’s what I want to do with my life. I guess it’s okay to ramble, then.