Month: September 2015
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.