Monday, December 19, 2011

Seasons Greetings

Not to worry, folks. I'm still working here. I've just been busy of late. Historically speaking, blogging during the holidays is difficult at best and impossible at worst.

There will be new chapters. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Pleasant Solstice or whatever holy day you choose to observe while the neighbors get drunk and naked out in the yard or you sit through another viewing of "Home Alone," playing continuously on cable.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Interlude: The Funeral March IV

I put on my best suit for the funeral.

I have only one suit. In my business, I could do to have a couple, but maybe not. I’m a fucking entertainment writer. I make phone calls to rock bass players and country singers who play the tambourine. There are days when wearing a t-shirt seems like I'm trying too hard.

Still, the suit was the best I had, worn only a handful of times. It was worn once in 1999 for a wedding. Wearing that suit, I’d told a woman in a parking lot I’d fallen in love with her. She sped off in her truck right after –probably the smartest thing she ever did.

I wore the same suit at my sister’s wedding, my best friend’s wedding then at my wedding.

I wore it once to interview a dying blues guitarist. The man was about 70 and still having to play to pay bills. I thought he deserved better than to have to answer questions from a guy wearing a cartoon t-shirt.

The suit has been employed on a couple of occasions when someone has offered me a job I had no intention of taking. I’d worn the thing as an outward sign of my seriousness, of my deep consideration of their offer, but really, any job that would think someone like me needed to wear a suit to do his job wasn’t really a place I needed to be.

Still, it was the best I had, the best I could give my father, who would remember me better in the suit than my grandmother was capable of. Besides, she’d never seen me in anything more formal than a t-shirt and jeans.

At the entrance to the parlor of the funeral home, my father said, “You clean up real good.”

He repeated variations on the same theme for the rest of the day, which pleased me.

More than anything else, I’d dressed for my father, to show respect both toward him and to the woman who raised him. I wanted him to see me as a man, not a 40-year-old kid. I was there to help, to comfort, but not to mourn. I would do that on my own.

I was one of only a few suits in the room and most of the others belonged to people paid to be there.

My people are working class stock. I come from people who are autoworkers, mechanics, cashiers and clerks. My father was the oddball in the family: the teacher.

As it should be, we buried my grandmother on a rainy day. Sunshine and clear skies are a poor setting to bury people you love. Cold, gray rain came down in a steady pour. As a grim group, we made our way through a cramped city graveyard to my grandmother’s final resting place.

Words were said. I don’t remember them. A few people cried, but it was hard to make out who. I couldn't find it in me to cry in public, but I did have the suit.

Interlude: The Funeral March III

People were waiting for me at the funeral home in Flint. Viewing and visitation had been ongoing for most of the afternoon by the time my car rolled onto the parking lot.

My stepmother, Laurie, saw me first, hugged me then sent me inside to see my Dad, who was standing next to the room where my grandmother’s body laid in a box.

“I’m glad you made it,” he told me.

For a couple of minutes we talked about my drive and the little controversy that had arisen about my grandmother’s obituary.

Details about her life, children and grandchildren had been submitted to the funeral home by my uncle. My father, a retired, high school English teacher, had been asked to look over the finished copy.

He couldn’t have pissed them off more if he’d made the changes with a red pen.

We talked for a minute then he led me up to the small, wooden casket.

The dead cannot help but be a poor imitation for the living. My grandmother’s dressed, painted, and boxed corpse was only a vague outline of the woman I remembered. Her flesh sagged on her frame. She looked like the woman I knew, but carved out of wax and melted slightly under the lights.

“I don’t think it looks like Mom,” my father said. “I think they did their best, but that’s not her.”

He meant that both aesthetically and spiritually; and I agreed. It wasn’t her.

We spent a few minutes there and I felt numb from grief and guilt.

“She always appreciated those letters you sent her,” Dad told me. “I told you that, but she used to light up whenever she’d get flowers or a card or a phone call from one of you kids.

“She was proud of you.”

I heard what he said, but it sort of went through me.

The viewing was to be broken into two parts. The early part of the afternoon was meant just for family. The evening was open to the public, though none of us expected a crowd. My grandmother was almost 90. She’d outlived most of her friends. Few of those people from her past wouldn't be able to travel.

Still, a lot of family turned up: long-lost cousins. Of course, none of them had been long-lost. That was me. They'd stayed and been part of the ongoing family story, while I'd been absent; the one spoken about, but seldom spoken to.

I don't know that they'd even expected me to come.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interlude: The Funeral March II

To me, the worst part about the trip to Michigan for the funeral seemed to be the distance, the time in the car.

A lot had changed.

As a child, my family made an annual pilgrimage to Flint to visit my father’s parents. We’d leave just before dark in the summer. Dad would do most of the driving. By the time I was 10 years old, I rode shotgun with him, pouring his coffee, keeping him company while Mom and my two sisters somehow nodded off in the back and slept.

Those trips were important to me. I remember the smell of the hot coffee poured from his green and chrome thermos. I remember the old radio shows on AM radio: Fibber McGee and Molly, X-Minus One and a million different westerns and crime shows. I remember riding through West Virginia one year and hearing Bill Withers “Just the Two of us” played over and over on every other station we found.

On the road, in the wee hours, we talked –Well, Dad talked. He told me his stories and I listened. He told me things he never mentioned during the day. He talked about Vietnam. He talked about growing up in Flint and mentioned some of the less pleasant things he'd done and often regretted. He rattled off his thoughts about politics and music.

Some of it was nonsense or seemingly contradictory, but I loved it.

Still, the drive was a killer.

Many times, we left just before dark and usually arrived mid-morning in Flint, ready for Dunkin Donuts at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Dad would sleep all day.

And for years, I measured out the time to get to my grandmother’s house to be around 10 to 12 hours –half the day, for sure. It was too long to try alone, too long to try with a family, too long to try in a beat up Geo Metro, a beat up Toyota Station wagon, a beat up Dodge Neon…

It just couldn’t be done; not under these circumstances.

But with the funeral, at least this time I had a new car with a good engine, solid brakes and tires that didn’t need to be inflated back to a round shape every 30 miles. I also had satellite radio, a working cell phone and a yearly income that exceeded 18 thousand dollars per year. I was insured, too --something that wasn't always the case.

There was never going to be a better time for me to make the trip, even if I was going to have to take it alone. I didn't want to go alone, but I didn't have much of a choice. Neither of the cats are especially good travelers.

Before I left, I needed directions. I had a general idea where Michigan was on the map, just head north, but I’d scarcely looked in that direction in over a decade.

I checked online.

The first time I entered the start and arrival point, I shook my head. It had to be a mistake.

I picked a different map service and tried again.

The results were identical. Allowing some fuzziness to a hard number because of road construction, traffic delays or too much coffee, all sources indicated I could be at my destination in right around 6 ½ hours.

I felt sick and guilty.

As a comfort, I told myself on the road it was probably different. I would probably get turned around and I did, right off the bat. I started toward Huntington when I should have started toward Parkersburg. Also, one of my exits was closed and so I couldn’t leave the main route when I was supposed to.

Beyond that the speed limit fluctuated from 45 to 70 miles an hour and traffic was dicey around Columbus. I drove through the morning, stopped for gas, stopped for lunch at White Castle (a first for me) and got a coffee at Starbucks.

I still made it in 6 ½ hours.

Damn it to hell.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Interlude: The Funeral March I

I was in the parking lot of the regional jail when I got the call from my sister telling me my grandmother was dead.

“Grandma passed away at about 1:30 this morning,” she told me.

Everybody else was fine.

A week before, my 88 year-old grandmother had entered the hospital because of fluid around her heart. She didn't much like doctors, hated hospitals and had sort of been counting the days until her death for a while. She mentioned not being around in birthday cards sometimes.

My sister broke the news and I tried not to laugh. While I'd been inside the regional jail, talking with a loved one about choosing to sleep on a thin mat laid over a cement floor in an overcrowded cell rather than taking a bed someplace where he'd be beaten, my father was choosing a casket for my grandma.

I imagined him looking at coffins the same way most people would look at used cars and whatever he got would be like my grandmother lived: simple, unpretentious and fiscally conservative.

She'd never piss good money away on an ornament nobody would ever see much of --least of all, her.

Meanwhile, details of the funeral would be forthcoming and probably very soon. Plans were being made. The tune was being called.

“Somebody will call you,” my sister told me then asked me if I was all right.

I was fine. I'm always fine at the point of impact. Later, things would suck, like when I thought about how I hadn't seen her in over ten years and the reasons behind that.

In the beginning, I didn't go because of money. More times than not, I didn't have two thin dimes to rub together. I worked two jobs, struggled to provide both for myself and for my family.

That never seemed to get much better.

Then, there were problems with vehicles. Nothing I drove seemed all that reliable, especially not for a seven hour trip across Ohio to Michigan.

Then I worried about the fragility of my grandmother and the rambunctious nature of my family. I wasn't sure the old girl could handle an hour with us, let alone a weekend, a holiday or a week of vacation.

The minority of voices echoing my concerns encouraged me to think this was for the best.

All excuses were poor and had little merit. The old woman had survived the Great Depression, backwoods poverty growing up in Arkansas and my much loved, but not especially saintly grandfather. She'd raised two kids in Flint, Michigan, in auto worker and union country, which could get rough.

She'd have been fine. If we'd annoyed her, she'd have puttered off to her room and closed the door until we came back later.

And so a decade disappeared with nothing more than a few phone calls, birthday cards and those letters I wrote to her from time to time.

The letters were for my comfort as much as hers.
For a while, I was mailing them every week. Grandma didn’t have email and probably didn’t know what facebook was –not that it would have mattered. After cataract surgeries, she could barely see. My aunt, I imagined, read my letters to her and probably wrote her occasional responses back –except around birthdays.

For birthday cards, she managed to hastily scrawl some little note on the inside of the card, telling me she loved me, but mentioning her back trouble, her impaired vision or her advanced age.

They made me laugh sometimes, but I always appreciated those. She was trying to include me in her life in a way that made sense to her. The card with the money, she sent to share her joy. The messages were her little bits of pain. There was balance in that, I thought. She wanted to share the good and the bad, while I tended to gloss over things: car trouble, selling blood for gas money, an ended marriage, etc...

Sitting in the parking lot, it occurred to me that I'd cheated her out of a lot, but there was nothing to be done about it. I hung up the phone then drove home to pack.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ring cycle: Love and Davenport

There isn't really much of an interest to turn "Don't Print This" into one of those tawdry sex and crime magazines you used to see at your finer convenience stores --or at least I used to see, because my best friend was fond of stealing them --not that he was actually interested in reading it. It was just that he'd taken everything else: the car and gun magazines, a variety of mid-grade porn, and a few comic books that really weren't for him.

Really, those he gave to me, as a kind of payment for keeping my mouth shut and for housing the rest of the loot.

Shoplifting never bothered him, having to explain anything to his parents did and somehow, he thought, eventually, they'd catch him.

Anyway, there have been some odd, gossipy kind of developments. A few people have spoken up as being interested or knowing those who are interested me.

which is at once exciting and baffling. It's exciting that there a few women out there who'd like do more than lunch with me. It's baffling because it just is. I'm a snarling traffic wreck even during the best of times and here I am, split up, divorcing and probably more than a little off-balance and there's interest? in me? Really?

What is also strange is the number of former girlfriends and past crushes that have stumbled back onto the stage, seemingly a little drunk and not entirely sure of their lines.

"Oh, Bill. I have missed you... so. "

I don't know what to make of this, but I kind of like it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

ring cycle: elevator

It seemed like a moment. I met her at one of the places I go. She was working at the desk, looked me up in the computer. She called me, Mr. Lynch. I laughed, reached out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Bill.”

She blushed. We shook hands and she told me her name.

A week later in the same building, she stepped on an elevator and stood next to me, not saying a word. We went up a floor. She turned to me then asked, out of the blue, “What’s your favorite color?”

I don’t even remember the last time anyone asked me that and that’s what I told her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, embarrassed.

“No, it’s okay. I just haven’t thought about it in a while.” For a couple of seconds, I deeply considered the question then said, “I guess it depends on the day. It’s how I feel. Today, I guess, I feel green. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel orange.”

She nodded, understanding. I don’t know if it was a test or if she was just looking for a reason to say something to me. I kind of hoped it was the latter.

“What’s yours?” It was now my turn to be kind of lame.

“Purple,” she told me, finally.

The elevator door slid open and she went her way. I went on the next floor, feeling a little baffled at the nature of the exchange.

A week passed, another week, then another and I didn’t see her except once, walking on the street, far away from the place I knew her. I almost stopped to say hello, but thought maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

She contacted me on Facebook. It was random and out of the blue. I was a little intrigued. It seemed like… something.

We talked here and there, expressed our sanitized mutual admiration. She thought I was funny. I thought she was kind. We laughed together in front of our individual computer screens.

Again, there was a little momentum, the feeling that something could be happening. She mentioned a show. I thought, you know, maybe I could work something out, bring her along some time, something safe, something that wouldn’t actually have to be anything, but could be.

I moved too slow. The next day there were new pictures of the autumn leaves and the weekend she’d spent with her longtime boyfriend shuffling her feet through them. She smiled a lot. She positively glowed, but not because of the light, not because of the color clashing with her light, brown hair, but because she was happy to be with him.

Looking at the pictures, I was taken with how much younger she was than me. I felt my age. I felt my decades wrapped around me and chained to a lamp post like a bicycle chain. There was the fear, too, not just of being alone, but stumbling forward like a bull in a china shop and making meaning out of the meaningless.

In inexact words, she'd told me she admired me, that she liked my work and thought I was an interesting person to know. She thought I was a big deal.

I told her I wasn’t, but I was vain.

Friday, October 28, 2011

ring cycle: Burn

A pile of wood lay discarded in a ditch. Leftover from a fallen tree cleared by the county, the state or just some guy with a chainsaw; I didn’t know, but I passed the scattering of logs on my way home, on my way to work and I coveted them.

Cold returned with the falling leaves weeks ago and sent me into a sweat. Winter is coming, and I have come to fear winter. It goes back years and years, from that winter I spent in a hundred year old house with six-foot tall single pane windows, high ceilings and the cracks of daylight coming through the corners of first floor walls.

We put up plastic over everything, hung blankets over the door to the hallway and sealed the front door.

It still wasn’t enough. We practically froze and our heating bills were the stuff of legend.

I don’t know what to expect here. The house has almost twice the living space as the last place I lived. Some days, it’s like I haunt it and have yet to see what all this fine country space is going to cost me. I try not to worry about it, but my nature is to analyze, analyze, analyze.

But… there’s a small wood stove insert in the back room and that, maybe I can use.

Of course, I have no wood. I don’t even have an axe, a hatchet, let alone a chainsaw, but I did have a small economy car with a trunk and a certain sense of certainty.

Better to take what is offered, when it’s offered than to be wanting later. It’s not a bad philosophy to live by. It is a scavenger’s philosophy. It is a survivor’s philosophy and I am a survivor. I will not starve. I will not freeze to death and I will not be afraid of winter, not this year, not in my own house.

I drove past that woodpile several times over several days before I decided that if the owner of that wood wanted it, he probably should have done something about it sooner. It was a nuisance, probably some kind of hazard. So, I parked the car on the shoulder, popped the trunk and got as much in as I could.

I moved quickly. If a neighbor from across the road popped their head out and asked me my business, I decided I’d tell them the truth. I was but a poor man of limited means looking to catch a break, but if the wood belonged to them, I would be happy to put it back.

No one ever came out from across the road. No car traveling on that piece of road did so much as slow, but I could feel them staring as they passed. I could hear the words of my father echoing in my head.

“Fuck ‘em, they can go around.”

Yep, they could.

Lying under the still white flesh of the freshly cut logs were the bleached bones of several deer. I found three small skulls, alongside slender jawbones edged with gleaming teeth. The bones seemed not quite large enough to have come from full-grown animals. If I had to guess, I’d have said it was a doe and two fauns.

For a moment I wondered if the tree had somehow fallen on them, killing the deer together in one stroke, but that seemed impossible. Just as likely, this was left over from some other sort of incident: a heavy truck that could not stop or bored boys with nothing but time, a couple of rifles and nothing like a hunting license.

It didn’t matter what I thought. The bones belonged to the earth. The tree, however, was mine.

ring cycle: valkrie

There is a kind of peace in roller derby. I can’t explain it, but standing off to the side, watching women in hot pants and fishnet stockings go round and round on roller skates in a beat up former gymnasium is relaxing. It is soothing.

Not everybody sees it that way.

Standing next to me, one night, one of the girls on the injury list told me she still loved coming to practice, “because I just want to see someone knock a bitch down.”

She likes the aggression, the release of tension, even if the bitch getting knocked down is one of her friends.

I like the weird little community of women for other reasons. It's an odd little sport, which I like, but I also like that they seem more or less glad to see me. They also expect nothing. This is somehow different than the rest of the women I know who seem glad to see me and expect nothing from me.

The roller girls joke and talk trash. They say the most outrageous things. On some nights, the word vagina bounces off the walls of the place like a tennis ball in a dryer. The roller girls get raunchy, make sly allusions to sex lives both real and imagined, but they don’t flirt, not really. They don’t confuse me. Nobody pretends they want to take me home with them and somehow, I find comfort in this.

I don’t think I could stand the pretense of being wanted when I’m not.

Love and sex are things I think about a lot more and a lot less than I used to. I guess I mean to say that I think about it differently than I did. I think in past relationships, and not just my marriages, I’ve looked at sex as a kind of a validation. If I was having sex with my wife or my girlfriend on a sort of semi-regular basis, I guess I thought everything was okay. The relationship was okay. I was doing okay. We were okay.

That seems hopelessly na├»ve, but honestly, it isn’t so unique. I looked it up. Men often gauge the success of those kinds of relationships based on sex. I imagine this is why when these relationships unravel –and it can happen pretty damned fast – you come away from it feeling a little baffled.

It makes you want to reevaluate how you’ve seen the world.

A couple of friends have suggested I just say to hell with it, hit the bars, do the roadwork and play the inevitable numbers game of sex in the city. The ideas is if you ask enough drunks enough times whether they’d like to have sex with you, sooner or later one or more of them will say yes.

“Just move on, man.”

There is a similar theory about monkeys left in a room with typewriters and how long it would take them to reproduce the works of Shakespeare.

I’m not really that big a fan of Shakespeare. I mean I like MacBeth, but never could get to love Hamlet. I think I just wanted to see someone knock a bitch down.

Instead, I go to roller derby. I watch and listen: I only know about half of what is going on at any given time. Nobody seems to mind. I guess I like that they take me at face value and they all laugh when I bring juice boxes for the end of practice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ring cycle: Musical chairs

There was nothing particularly special about the chairs except they looked sturdy and were the right height to slide underneath the kitchen table. I wasn’t looking for much. I just needed them to work. They also had to fit in the back of my very small, economy car.

I pulled them out. There was a little wear and tear, but nothing damning, nothing that couldn’t be improved upon. They seemed fine, except for the price.

Twenty bucks each was a bit much. The chairs were probably worth it, but just a week before I’d seen kitchen chairs just like these (well, maybe not as good) for only ten a piece.

I almost walked away.

But I needed chairs. There was only one at the house.

Of all the things I wanted right now, I wanted a place to sit in my kitchen, just someplace where I could look across the table at someone. I wanted to eat dinner with my kids, not serve them individually from the stove while taking bites from a cooling plate by the sink. When it was just me, I wanted to sit at my table, look across at the empty seats and remind myself that other people lived here, too. It wasn’t just me.

Twenty bucks each was a bit much. So, I grabbed two of the four and marched them up to the counter.

The clerk started to ring me up and I noticed a small tear on the back of the chair. It was nothing much, but if I was going to have to pay twenty dollars for the chair, I wanted to make sure I got my money’s worth.

“Hey,” I said. “Would you mind if I swapped this out for one of the others? I think I meant to grab one of the others.”

She shrugged: fine with her.

A couple of minutes later, I was back with a nearly identical chair.

“It’s a shame to break up the set,” she said. “You know there are four chairs back there, right?”

I nodded. Of course, I knew there were four.

“Yeah, but I can’t afford all four of them, just the two right now.”

She looked at me then the register.

“You know, I think today those four chairs are forty dollars,” she said.


She nodded and told me to get them.

I thanked her and in kind of a gush, I explained why I needed the chairs in the first place.

“My wife and I split,” I told her. “She kept the stools and I got the table.”

She laughed and shook her head. I tried to explain that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I didn’t really want the stools. They never fit the table in the first place and really, I felt lucky to have the table. She’d been kind to let me have it.

I told her, “I’m just trying to put my kitchen together, you know?”

She nodded then said, “It’s going to be okay. You’ll fill your house up with new love. You’ll be fine.”

That sounded great, though I was also kind of looking for a foosball table.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Everybody Leaves

It's funny how you think you've known someone longer than you have. My friend Mona, for instance, I met four years ago, not the ten it feels. It was summer. I'd just come back to doing weekend radio with the vain hope of catching up on my bills. She'd just started as the new music librarian.

We were fast friends.

Over the past couple of years, I've watched her grow and do things I didn't even think anyone would ever want to do. She's been great and always good company. Together, we've explored at least a third of the bland, half-hearted dives on the West Side.

I regret that we will not find our way to the end of them --if there is an end. Jeez, it's like the only people who can cook over there work at the fucking Taco Bell.

And so, Mona is moving. She leaves in less than a week. My grief over that is only matched by my absolute pride. Mona's next job is going to be amazing. Not only will she accomplish wonderful things in Rochester, she'll see, hear and try things that I will likely envy for the rest of my days.

I wish her every happiness.

Friday, October 14, 2011

ring cycle: Sympathy for Gollum

A friend of mine has been having a little trouble at the gym. She's young, attractive and a target for the juice heads and horn dogs who believe the men's magazines that say a health club is a great place to hook up.

Now, in their defense, I have seen a couple of middle-aged juicers walk out with some middle-aged mommies in black spandex. I'm pretty sure they weren't going for a gatorade.

Casual sex happens, I think; just not the way most people would like it to happen.

Of course, what the fuck would I know about that?

For my friend, the guys come up, they toss a line that might buy them a minute or two of somebody's time in a bar or ask some inane question meant to gauge interest. She's polite, but she's just there to hit the elliptical machine and maybe work on he arms a little. She's got a boyfriend. They're in love, live together and are one of those cool couples who don't overdo it on the cute stuff that makes me want to climb from a great height then plummet headfirst.

I may be overly dramatic here.

Anyway, she told me about it and I poked fun at her. I, too, have been chatted up on occasion; sadly, by pruney old men in their 60s and early 70s who have intensely stared at parts of me most women have never so much as glanced at in passing.

Later, I felt bad. She didn't ask for the attention. It was a legitimate problem and while I joke about the occasional old guy taking an inexplicable interest in me, it's not really as serious --or as frequent (a couple of times in four years versus a fairly regular occurrence).

Then I remembered an old trick unwed mothers used to use: they'd fake being married with a wedding band. I figured it might work on some of the guys, not all of them probably, but some of them. It might be like a bulb of garlic to vampires... well, to some vampires. Those middle aged couples I've seen hooking up: I'm pretty sure all parties involved were married, just not to each other.

Still, I thought it might help and I have a spare wedding band.

My little band of gold never really fit, which is neither the fault of my marriage or the ring, but the fault of a well-wisher who gave us an gift certificate. We turned it into a South Beach Diet book and I lost 40 pounds. I had the ring sized then gained 25 pounds back. After that, my weight yo-yoed for years. I'd go up a few pounds then come down again.

The ring stayed on a shelf where I looked at it often and tried it on every couple of months, never happy with the result.

I found the ring while I was moving furniture around last weekend. It was never lost. It just never got unpacked. I've been kind of afraid to look at it.

I know I need to get rid of it. The ring has to go. It's part of the healing, the moving on.

A long time ago, I had another ring I wanted rid of, but that was a different marriage and I was a different man. I was very angry, resentful and full of spite. So, I took it to a pawn shop, took 15 or 20 bucks for the thing and watched in horror and strange amusement as the clerk tossed the ring in a coffee can along with what seemed like a thousand others.

"Yes, you, too, are just a statistic."

I didn't want that to happen to this seldom worn ring. It seemed like it deserved better, even though gold is fetching a good price according to those assholes on talk radio. More and more I see the marriage as less of a failure and more of season in my life.

But I am often full of shit.

So, I offered my friend the ring, told her she could put it on a chain and maybe that would keep some of the pigs at bay, give her a little peace. She laughed and said, "No."

I think my gesture probably came off as more creepy than caring and thinking about it, yeah, it kind of does sound creepy; taking a ring from a middle-aged slug for the purpose of warding off other middle-aged slugs.

So, now I have this ring I don't know what to do with.

It only looks like the same problem I've always had.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ring cycle: cancer man blues

I picked Lisa up at the doctor's office. It was the first time we met. Because of the length of time she needed to be under treatment and the distance in travel, another driver and me had divided the job.

From the sight of her, I knew Lisa wasn't doing very well. Her hair was gone and her skin was the color of sour milk left too long on the counter. Her belly was swollen yet her clothes hung loosely from her dwindled limbs. She'd overdressed for the weather, was in a loose sweat shirt and a coat, which was probably as much to hide the colostomy bag as keep her warm.

Lisa had a frantic, fearful cast to her eyes and she moved like she was perpetually crossing a frozen pond in late winter. She could hear the ice cracking under her feet with every step, getting louder. Lisa was dying and she knew it.

In the car, she thanked me too much for coming to get her and the ride back to her friend's home. She didn't actually live in the city or the county, but was a county or two over. She owned a small house there, something she'd bought just a few years ago.

"I rented my whole life," she said. "I hated it. Something would go wrong and the landlord wouldn't do nothing about it."

This went on for years until she finally had enough money for a down payment.

She'd bought the place with a little money inherited from her parents. Both had died in car accident and left her and what was left of her family with a couple of thousand dollars each.

The house was small, but it was hers. She hated that she couldn't get to treatments from home, but counted herself lucky that she'd landed a spare room among friends long enough to get through this round. Sadly, this was not her first time at this particular rodeo.

"The doctor got me through it eight years ago," she said wistfully. "Maybe he can do it again."

She changed the subject and asked about me, if I was married, if I had children. I explained that I'd been married and had children. She told me she was sorry for my loss.

"I never married," she said and sighed. "No kids."

Lisa said she'd dated a little in high school and through her 20s, but nothing had really took. She'd lived at home until she was in her mid-30s. Being alone didn't seem to bother her much. She had other family around and she had a cat, but no children, no husband.

Instead, Lisa was proud of her education and thought she'd had a good job.

"I worked for the welfare office," she said. "I helped a lot of people who needed it."

She also took a little bit of satisfaction in the screws being put to people who lied to her.

"Most of the time I knew while they were filling out the forms," she said. "I'd tell them to be sure about what they were putting down. Sooner or later, somebody would catch them."

She didn't have a lot of regrets. After decades of living under another's roof, she had her own home. That was a comfort to her, which I have come to understand. A shelter you own can be a different kind of refuge.

Lisa was fine with her house. She only wished she'd get to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ring cycle: 41

"Bill, you're 40 and you still have a wallet with a velcro strip?"

This was a friend and she was amused by yet another sign of my retarded maturity. There are plenty to choose from.

At my age, I should have a leather wallet. I should probably have a decent car and a savings account that registered more than double digits. I should probably have a better wardrobe, too, and something going for me other than a gold library card and the ability to make a pretty good apple walnut cake.

I tried to explain that leather wallets rot, but that didn't really get any traction. When a wallet, a pair of shoes, a shirt or anything else outlives its usefulness, you throw it away. That's what everybody does, right?

"I guess I'm aging awkwardly," I said finally and paid for lunch.

She smiled. Poor, silly, clueless me.

Looking at her, I think I saw how most women would see me.

I am 41 years old and don't have much of a future. I'm good for a few laughs, but not much else. Here I am, on the youngish side of middle-aged with few resources and many, many responsibilities. I am the survivor of two failed marriages and the father to a couple of kids. I also work too much and dress like I'm a second year Senior at a mediocre liberal arts college.

And to be honest, I kind of like that last part. If nothing else, I am very comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am. I like who I am. Better than most people, I live by terms I agree with --except this one: I'm kind of a joke.

As I put away my wallet, I could see the outline of my future. There would be many lunches like this one and a couple of dinners. There might be a few adventures here and there, but very few actual dates. Nothing like love. There would be many friends. I do make friends often and easily. I would be good company, but company no one would mind to see go home before it got too late.

It seems like a lot to read from a short exchange about a silly wallet and the look in one woman's eyes, and I can't defend it except to say, that's what it seems to me. I felt like I'd read the pulse of my personal universe, which was strong and steady, but lonesome.

Monday, October 3, 2011

ring cycle: growl

At the front desk, the receptionist at Hospice asked for my name then told me the person I'd come to see wasn't around.

"She's not in her office right now, but as soon as she is, I'll let her know. You can have a seat over there, if you like."

I was early: ten minutes or so. It wasn't even 8:30 and sure, everyone was just starting to settle into their day. That was fine.

To kill time, the receptionist gave me a clipboard that contained fire safety information and a confidentiality agreement. I signed them both, but really just glanced at one.

Coffee was offered. I declined. Minutes rolled by slowly, but without pause. Volunteers drifted in regularly, spoke as they passed the receptionist, made little jokes or gave details about lives outside of this building. Evidently, Ruby Tuesday is the best place for dinner in the free world.

Eventually, the receptionist spoke with who I'd come to see. After a moment, the woman left her desk, stepped into the hallways and coming only as close as she might a timber rattler, explained, "You'll be meeting with someone else. I'm the director."

"She's in a meeting now," the receptionist said. "She's doing interviews today." She looked at the closed door. The door had been closed since I'd arrived. The receptionist bit her lip. "I guess that one is going a little long."

I kept my seat, but the clock kept ticking. Wearily, I kept checking my phone for the time. I stood up. I sat down. I turned to look out the window. I watched the door.

Half an hour later, I got up, seething and politely told the receptionist, "I think I've come on a bad day. I'm going to go on to work now. If she'd like to reschedule, have her call me."

"Work?" The receptionist seemed genuinely puzzled. Maybe the process of volunteering for Hospice is long and difficult. Maybe she thought I'd come to see about a job.

I left.

Late in the afternoon, I got a call. Nothing much was said about my not sticking around. Nobody apologized. She offered to reschedule and for a while that seemed like a good idea until I realized I wanted an apology. I wanted her to fucking say she was sorry for making me wait out in the lobby for over half an hour. I wanted her to tell me that volunteers were valuable and that she felt bad for having wasted my time. I wanted her to gush. I wanted her to assure me that they weren't going to treat me poorly just because I had a conscience, because I wanted to do right by people. This was just a bad start and could we please try again.

I wanted her to kiss my ass.

And that's when I decided I needed to step back. I was annoyed at her for being busy. She hadn't meant to make me feel slighted. Volunteers were coming in regular bursts. They were in the middle of a project. Shit was going on and maybe she'd bitten off more than she could chew with her calendar.

So, I took a deep breath and apologized for being impatient and annoyed. I also explained that maybe this wasn't the best time for me to take this on. I'd missed the deadline for Hospice in the Spring by reaching out too late for the classes. This time, I just wasn't in the right place emotionally. I'm a wreck. It doesn't always look or sound that way, but I'm kind of screwed up right now and prone to moods.

I asked her if we could try again in the Spring, when I'm not desperate for warmth.

Friday, September 30, 2011

ring cycle: A few words from our sponsor

Hey, I made some changes to comments on the blog. I'd meant to make the change a while back. Given the nature of what I'm writing about now, it's important for me to say that people shouldn't judge too much.

That's not my intention.

These posts are meant to be both a meditation and description of what's going on with this divorce (at least my side of it), but not really an airing of my grievances if I have any. Yes, there is some pain. I hurt some of the time. I'm scared some of the time, but that's not a cause, just a symptom of how I'm moving forward.

Some of you who read this are my friends --actually, given the number of people who read blogs --most of you are friends. Some of you might feel like you need to show some support for your pal, and man, I ain't turning that away. I need support. I need kind thoughts and words of good cheer as much as people can stand to say them with a straight face, but maybe not so much in the comments section of the blog?

While I can't write about my eventually ex-wife's feelings on a minute to minute basis, it's not easy for her either. This is a trauma for both of us. I just whine about it more.

I also need to say that she's been pretty kind under the circumstances and a lot more reasonable than is maybe coming out on the blog. The world is full of enough horror stories about exes sticking it to the other party just because they can. I'm not writing that story because I'm not living that story.

So, as weird as it might seem, I'm going to say no more comments for a while. This may piss a few people off who've commented and found their comments deleted. I hope you'll forgive me.

I appreciate everything. Really, I do. I mean no ill will to anyone --except that fucker Bruce Springsteen.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

ring cycle: exodus

In the end, you have to go home and so I drove, in the dark, with the radio off dreading the moment when I'd see the house. Maybe, I thought, they'd still be there: another delay. I imagined the dog at the door then my son shrieking my name: one more day.

I did not imagine some sort of magical reconciliation. I did not think that at the last she'd chicken out and decide to try and convince me there was anything left to save. Just one more day where things had been how they had been. You can get used to anything, even the uncomfortable awkwardness of finding scraps of paper around the house; little hearts drawn with your wife's name and another (not yours) in the center.

Going home was like visiting the morgue. The lights were off. The driveway was empty. Nothing moved in the windows, not the flickering blue light of the television, not any pet or child. Opening the door was peeling back the sheet from a body, to see what was left after an accident, what could be recognized.

Of course, everything and nothing was still there. It felt as if the life had gone out of the place.

Eventually, the cats came bounding in, waiting to be fed and I surveyed the house. I turned off lights, threw out trash and found a little for the animals to eat. I turned the television on for noise and when I grew tired of it, went to sleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ring cycle: one more day

The end came sooner rather than later. Yesterday, Jen told me they were going to sign early on the new place and could be sleeping there as early as today.

It didn't happen that way exactly. Generously, she's given me another day, but it knocked the wind out of me when I heard. I was expecting Saturday.

Even though it's just a couple of days, I'd had it in my head that everything would happen while I was away. It would happen while I was visiting my family in Virginia for a night and a day. The move would be like getting a shot. I could turn my head. I'd feel the pain and realize something was being drawn from the vein, but I wouldn't have to watch.

Bedding down last night, sleeping next to my son, he told me how excited he was about the move. He really likes the place. It's twelve times the size of where we live, which isn't small by any means, but he sees adventure and places to explore.

"Why aren't you coming?" He asked and again, I had to pause and explain that my place was here.

"This is my house," I told him. "This is my house and this is your house, but you have two houses now. You'll be with your Mom a lot of the time and you'll be with me a lot of the time."

He nodded, wearily. Outside, rain poured down heavily.

"I'll see you every day?"

"Sort of," I punted. "It's going to be a lot like it already has been. You remember, I work those nights on the weekend and sometimes have to do stuff for the paper? Your mom took those classes. You'll see us both almost every day for a while and then it will be like that, where you don't always see both of us every single day, but you see us almost every day.

"This is going to be different, but the important thing is it's going to be okay. We're going to take care of you: your mom and me. You're safe and everybody loves you. Nobody loves anybody more."

Satisfied for the moment, he drifted off to sleep gripping my arm while I stared at the ceiling for a while then finally picked up yet another book to while away the time until it was safe enough to close my eyes and venture to dream alone.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ring cycle: melancholia

Out of the corner of my eye, something moved. I jumped. I thought it was a snake or a rat or anything. Early in the morning, before my coffee, I can be a bit skittish. At least, I was that morning, back when I took early morning walks before work.

After a moment, I recovered, turned and looked at what it was: a litter of kittens, piled together for warmth with no mama cat in sight. They laid together on the sidewalk, all six of them, near an overgrown and bramble-filled lot.

I figured they'd probably be gone if took the time to go home and find a box. Instead, I bundled them up in my t-shirt and carried them back to our townhouse.

Jen was in the bath when I brought them in to show to her.

"We can keep two," I told her, not even discussing whether we should keep any. The lease was rather specific about pets, but the neighbors had them. Fair was fair.

They were only a couple of weeks old, filthy and covered in fleas. I called the animal shelter, who warned me that bringing the kittens to them would likely result in their quick death. I told them we'd find homes for them, but asked if they knew how to get rid of the fleas.

"Warm water and mild dish soap," the animal shelter said.

Flea spray, the lady on the phone assured me, would be lethal.

I washed them all, one by one. None of them liked it, but we got them clean, got them fed and quickly chose our two kittens to keep while locating homes for the others. We wound up choosing the one orange tabby in the batch and a brutish, black fuzzball that seemed like the bully of the litter. I named them "Karma" and "Moose."

There was some discussion and disagreement over the naming of Moose. Others in the house had different ideas, but I pigheadedly refused to cooperate and eventually the name stuck. It seemed fitting. He was kind of a dumb lug.

The funny thing is neither cat really liked me all that much. They preferred the company of everyone else in the house, even the kids who tormented them regularly. The cats and me just never bonded. I was just the guy who changed out the litter box and occasionally took one for the team when it came time to wash off the fleas.

I kind of resented that for a long time. These should have been my cats. I'd saved them from certain destruction, fed them and given them shelter. I'd loved them, but they were indifferent. My contributions to their well being did not amount to the love they wanted.

A few months ago, that started to change, I guess. With age, they mellowed. Maybe they finally forgave me for the baths. I don't know, but now, it's not uncommon for me to wake up to see one of them nudging my hand, demanding to be petted. It's not unusual for one of them to squawk and mewl at my feet when they're hungry. They'll sit with me when I read, watch TV or just stare out the window.

The end of my cohabitation with the artist formerly known as Mrs. Lynch is nigh. Boxes are packed. She's told me what she's taking with her and now, we're just counting down the clock. She's taking a little furniture, the kitchen table and her vintage console stereo (which needs a new needle for the record player, if anybody knows where to get one). She's also taking the dog, which is her dog and has always been her dog and could not live without her, but I'm keeping the cats.

I'm glad they like me now, the cats. I kind of need for them to.

Friday, September 23, 2011

ring cycle: the wall

The next part is the hard part. In a week comes the move and the place becomes this medium sized building I'll haunt and try to make into a home. As funny as it sounds, I've only considered the place just someplace I'm staying at up until this point. Sure, I've mowed the lawn (and bitched about it), I've raked the leaves (and bitched about it) and I've hauled trash the curb (then bitched at the garbage pickup company when they drove on by), but where we've been has been a kind of holding pattern.

It's hard to think of yourself entirely as a bachelor when you're former wife is sleeping down the hall.

Next week, we pass through that wall, the one we can barely see over and I'm thinking a lot about it as this ending/beginning draws closer.

I've received lots of interesting advice about what I should do --after. One friend has suggested what I really need is to have a fling. I think she's thinking I might be hung up about sex or trapped by certain attachments to sex and love as conditioning because I've been in a monogamous relationship for ten years.

Of course, the message also might be that I need to lighten up, get laid and relax.

Others are willing to help me shop for furniture for my new place. A few have offered to help me get away for a couple of days. I've been presented with a whole range of opportunities for diversion.

And I don't know what to choose.

More than a few people have expressed concern. They're worried I'm going to turn into an emotional cripple, become a shut-in or maybe just flip out.

I think I'll be okay, but I'm looking at that wall. I'm looking at next week and feeling the days crumbling into one another. It's going fast and I know that I do not want to be there when that first round of possessions goes out the door.

So, I'm not going to be.

Beyond that, once the dust has settled, I just want to settle in. I like the roller derby people. Maybe I'll hang out with them a little. Their devotion to profanity is kind of liberating. When Hospice gets back to me, I'll do those classes in October. I will drive for the American Cancer Society. I will spend as much time as I can with my kids. I will write letters to my 89-year-old grandmother and maybe not tell her that her grandson is single again. I don't know how she'd feel about that.

I will write more. My muse over and over is my own gallows humor at my predicament.

I will take care of my cats. I will buy something from Ian Bode to put on my walls because I like his work and much of what he does makes me smile and cry a little at the same time. When I have a table and chairs I will invite some friends over... eventually... if the house doesn't feel so creepy.

I will go see "The Shining" at Park Place Cinemas and visit White Castle the week of Thanksgiving. That's as far as I'm willing to think and that has to be enough for now. That's as far as I can see past the trees and into the distance. The rest is cloudy, not frightening, just obscured.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ring Cycle: Rock band

In any relationship, there is a give and take of influences. You teach each other and more than anything, my former wife and I shared music.

At the time we met, I'd spent four years working at a six station radio interest in Bluefield that played top 40 country, crispy-fried oldies and the very dregs of mainstream pop (affectionately referred to as Adult Contemporary). It was like I'd spent four years half deaf. Anything I listened to beyond the crap that was on the air at the radio station I worked at was whatever was gleaned by accident on trips to Baltimore, where I discovered Radiohead one dark night on the Beltway around Washington.

Jen came into my life with volumes and volumes of CDs by artists I'd never heard of (Dar Williams and Toshi Regan come to mind) and many artists I'd forgotten (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and REM).

Thinking about it, I can't say I added much to Jen's musical experience, really. Probably, because I liked some of the things she already did, it encouraged her to listen to those artists a little more often when I was around. There wasn't much in my CD collection she liked.

REM was the most significant musical artist we shared. I liked them, had listened to them in high school and some in college, but they were her favorite band. She had practically their entire catalog and was a member of their fan club --something she was very proud of, since it gave her access to rare releases.

We listened to a hell of a lot of REM, particularly in the early days, and I came to appreciate the band's early and middle-year stuff much more than I had when it was new. We saw REM twice together --once in 2002 and again in 2004 --and while I can't recall for sure if we really ever had a song that was our song, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that REM provided the soundtrack to much of our relationship.

They were her band and they kind of became our band.

Yesterday, REM announced their breakup and that seemed so completely fitting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

ring cycle: the crash

The worst of all of this is what I've come to term, "The Crash." The Crash is all the shit I'm not dealing with, that everybody knows I'm not dealing with, that I've very quietly swept up under the rug: the feelings that range from grief and disillusionment to loneliness and downright despair.

I'm 41. I will live and die alone. No one will ever understand me. It might never have really been worth the effort in the first place.

Intellectually, I know this is bullshit. This is only fear. This is the stuff I tell myself is not true. I have all kinds of data, all kinds of objections: 41 is still young. I'm a good man. I worked hard to make that happen, but it happened. I'm plain, but not unattractive. I've got a good sense of humor. I'm smart. I listen.

And these added up are my shield against the crash, that wall I hide behind while I say over and over I'm fine. I'm fine, really. No problem. I'm fine. I'm fucking fine.

I am not fine.

Because no matter how many times I say it, sooner or later something gets through. Today, it was "Pancho and Lefty," just a song that I thought would be good to listen to while I finished my workout at the gym.

Yeah, about that... suddenly, I'm all but running to get the hell away from people like I've got a stick of dynamite strapped to my chest. I'm coming apart at the seams.

That's the crash. It slams into me and I feel helpless, embarrassed and suddenly everything around me gets very dark and very cold.

So, why "Pancho and Lefty?" The fuck if I know. It's a god damned song about two cowboys. Hell, I hadn't even really listened to it until a couple of years ago when I started to appreciate Townes Van Zandt. I'm not even a huge Willie Nelson fan. I was just tired of listening to the Old 97s.

But there I am, unable to listen to anything but that one song (Thank-you iPod for making that exceeding easy). I don't want to hear anything else and every time I listen to it, the thing makes me want to curl up in a basement somewhere and not come out until around February.

This is the crash. I would like them to stop, please.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ring cycle: the garden

Talking with the neighbor, I said, "This is going to sound nuts, but I'm not entirely sure where my property lines are. I don't know what's mine and what isn't."

She laughed. She could have told me anything. She could have annexed yards and yards of ground and I'd have never been the wiser --not until she passed away or sold her property.

"My yard ends at that tree and goes over," she said. "All that behind it: that's yours. The couple who lived in your place before, they had an amazing garden. There are some berry bushes up there, I think."

I'd only been mowing about half of my backyard. The horror of it dawned on me: all that space.

"I think I'm going to have a pretty good sized garden, too," I said quickly.

She nodded, smiling, knowing full well I had no idea at all what I'm doing or what I'll be getting into.

It's going to be a brave new world. Starting October 1.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ring cycle: Underworld

Jerry caught me coming around the corner at Ellen's and told me, after something of a hiatus, he was back to reading my blog.

He grimaced and said, "That stuff with the blood was killing me."

He'd kind of tuned out.

My visits to the plasma center proved to be too much for a lot of people, not that it mattered. I abandoned popularity here from the very beginning. Otherwise, I'd have prattled on about local politics and sports, which might have increased my numbers --if I'd had anything meaningful to say on the subject, but I'm mostly apolitical and have little to say about sports (other than roller derby, which I am learning to love, though I seriously doubt my new derby friends would like to be featured in posts here).

Anyway, Jerry loved the new stuff. Of course, he does. Plenty of people do. I don't even have to look at my stat counter. I can feel the eyes on the new posts. My fan base has always liked the personal destruction stories. They look forward to them. I make implosion fun. It's a gift.

We talked for a couple of minutes. Jerry told me how much he admired my coming apart at the hinges then laughingly said something about it eventually getting better. After six years of this blog, we both know that's not likely.

God, if that were to happen, what would I do with myself?

I have no idea.

Anyway, after a few friendly words about the blog, I said I had to get on back to the ranch. The folks at work would expect me to do something. Two steps past his table, the future former Mrs. Lynch called me over. She was having the pasta salad with a down under coffee thing from Ellen's at the table about eight feet away from Jerry.

I told her I'd just had lunch with an old friend and run into someone who read my blog. She told me the pasta salad was especially good.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ring cycle: supernatural aid

A friend I hadn’t spoken to in months called me up out of the blue and said, “Hey, let’s grab some lunch.”

She didn’t know any of what was going on with me. Not everybody knows. Word about the split is moving out in a circular ripple. Like sitting on the edge of a pond, I’m watching the news travel and waiting to see if the ripple bounces off the edge and returns.

So far, nothing, but there may not be a return. Everyone tends to believe their happiness and well-being is more important to other people than it actually is. We are all stars in our own dramas, our own stories. The rest of the cast, the people we know, our friends, our family, are only recurring characters –supporting and bit players whose contracts are constantly up for renewal.

Plans were made for lunch. Conditions were decided: no seafood, no curry. It needed to be close by. I had a big story to write, an interview and photo shoot with a local band, and needed to get to my second job. She needed to get back to work in sixty minutes or less. I wanted a salad, but wanted to stay open to the possibility of dessert.

By process of elimination, a place was chosen.

Inside the Blossom Deli, the Catholic school kids were crowded in a rough approximation of a line, waiting to get back to school. Everybody was in uniform. Nobody had money in their hands. They weren’t in a particular hurry and blocked the front entrance like a half-assembled beaver dam.

I felt slightly and inexcusably annoyed. Dining out is a treat for me. I don’t do it that much and can really only afford a 10 dollar lunch about once or maybe twice a month. The rest of the time, I eat beans, soup or chili, occasionally a sweet potato, a couple of apples. I eat good but I eat cheap.

I envied them their privilege, a petty feeling. Everybody has to eat; even the children of the upper middle class.

While a bus boy cleared tables and tried to prepare for the crunch of the impending noon day lunch rush, the young hostess waved me forward.

“Two?” She asked.

Behind me stood a slender brunette: mid-20s, straight-hair and very pretty. She wore a short, green dress that clung enticingly to her modest curves. Obviously, she was meeting someone. Nobody dresses like that just for a day at the office --well, most people don't. I don't.

I smiled at the hostess as if to say, “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence,” but I shook my head.

“No, um, I’m meeting a friend. I need table for two, but she’s not here yet.”

The hostess nodded. The statuesque brunette maintained her pose by the door. Her date would be there soon enough. He better be, I thought.

The hostess grabbed two rumpled menus from the counter then led me to a table in the center of the dining room with a clear view of the front door.

“Perfect,” I said and pulled back a chair.

At the booth across me, my soon-to-be ex sat with her boyfriend. The two of them leaned across the table, holding hands and looking at each other meaningfully. Her eyes looked warm and filled with an almost desperate affection. I tried not to look at him, tried not to commit anything about him to memory. It was like gazing into a Kleig lamp.

I pushed the chair back.

“Fuck this,” I spat and fled, practically ran to the door.

The woman in green stepped aside to let me pass. I hope she got my table.

Outside, away from the front door, I drifted toward the corner. I stood and tried to shake it off. I felt cold, baffled, and talked to myself.

A couple of people stepped around me.

“Please don’t do this to me,” I said. “Don’t make me wait. Don’t let them come out. Don’t let them have seen me. Not like this. Not here. I’m not ready.”

Minutes rolled by at a grueling pace: one minute, five minutes, ten minutes. My friend was running late. It would still be another two minutes before her car finally pulled up.

“Get me out of here,” I begged her when she did. “Just get me somewhere else.”

Nobody ever came outside. I wasn’t followed. They hadn’t seen me. Standing there, five feet away, I’d been invisible.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ring Cycle: Cancer Man crossover

“You don’t talk about your wife.” It was a funny thing for her to say, but Rebecca was right. I’d been driving her to cancer treatments for a couple of weeks. We’d covered her stripper daughter and her addictions and the vague possibility that the daughter might have a side job of a sort.

We’d talked a lot about her grand kids. They were slowly leaving her nest and getting on with their lives.

It sounded like she’d done a good job with them.

We even discussed FOX news, her grandson’s pornography collection and what she liked best. She liked Jesus, cleaning houses for a living and television shows involving witches and that girl from “Who’s The Boss?” We’d shared. She’d baked me cookies and a slab of Mexican cornbread. I’d bought her an apple fritter from the Donut Connection and she’d laughed when she’d returned from her treatment to find me napping behind the wheel.

“You do too much,” she’d said.

I shrugged. Stuff has got to get done.

“You don’t talk about your wife.”

And she was right. In conversation, I’d mentioned being married and having kids. I’d talked about the new house and getting ripped off on the used lawnmower I’d bought from a guy by the side of the road: that one should have been obvious. I’d said a lot of things, but I’d said nothing about my wife.

So, I told her.

“My wife and I are splitting up.”

I’d already broken the news to my sisters, told a friend, but otherwise hadn’t worked up the nerve to say anything to the people I worked with or to my parents. For a couple of weeks I’d been carrying it around; the inside of my chest feeling like it was made of mangled tin and leaking mercury.

I told her as much as I could tell her, explained that it was real, it was final. I felt like shit for mentioning it. She was sick (technically, though her treatment was more of follow-up to what had already been done through surgery). I was taking her back and forth to the hospital and she had a lot on her plate besides. How fucking selfish was that?

Rebecca was quiet for a minute then she said she’d pray for me.

“You’re a good man." She smiled. "I’ll pray for a good woman for you –one who can cook.”

I might have raved a little too much about the cornbread and the cookies. They were pretty amazing.

I told her she didn’t have to. I told her I was a long way from even in thinking in that direction. I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, let alone a wife. I wasn’t ready. I wasn't going to be ready for a long, long time.

“You’re young,” she said. “A young guy like you can’t be alone.”

I assured her it was possible and under the circumstances, pretty likely. I did not give her my reasons, but I think she knew them.

She laughed and told me she’d pray anyway and bake me some more cookies.

She made me a couple of dozen to share with whoever I wanted. It was one of the nicest things, I think, anybody had ever done for me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The ring cycle: refusal

Right after we split, we decided to tell a few people. I told my family and one friend a week after we made the decision to separate. I told the people I work with about two and a half weeks after and subsequently have slowly brought it up with people who know me.

I also decided to stop posting status updates on Facebook. I don’t like Facebook, but damned if it’s not addictive. It is the crack cocaine of internet communication, especially when you feel alone. It feeds into your loneliness with instant gratification. Post something and people respond if they like you.

People, I’ve noticed, like funny. They also respond to tragedy (as long as it’s real tragedy and not that stupid shit people cut, paste and repost), but relentlessly grim, self-serving, moody non-sequiters are like jerking off on public transport. Nobody really wants to watch. Well, I don’t want to watch and I didn’t want to be that guy with his trousers around his ankles. So, I stopped --at least with the status updates. I stopped trying to tell everybody what I didn't know how to say.

Everybody has been great about it, so far. A few people offered lunch, dinner or booze. Hugs were few, which was good. I'm a little touchy right now. The number of people I’m comfortable with giving me a hug at the moment could be narrowed to the number of people who could comfortably fit in my car. Close contact with anyone outside of my immediate family or my children is largely uncomfortable. It's awkward and wooden. I get no comfort from it.

This, I expect, is temporary: a kind of shock. It’s something that will fade with time. Otherwise, dating will challenging.

Not that I’m actually thinking about dating, not really. Friends have already suggested they could match me up, but this seems highly unlikely and downright foolish.

I’m not on the prowl either.

After “The Clash in the Coalfields” roller derby scrimmage a couple of weeks back, I was invited to the after-party. They’d been nice to ask me to announce their bouts, which might have seemed like I was doing them a favor and not the other way around. I didn’t have any experience, barely knew the game in the abstract, let alone the actual rules.

I stumbled through the evening like a refugee from a house fire.

At the end of it, my videographer, Kathryn said, “You look totally stunned.”

I felt stunned. I felt exhausted and shell shocked. I also felt more at ease than I had in weeks. For the previous three and a half hours, there’d been nothing to think about except roller derby.

Mostly, I’d thought about how much I was fucking things up.

After it was all over, however, some of the tabled anxieties started creeping back up.

A couple of people asked me if I was going to the after-party. This was supposed to be the best part and what was not to like: A bar full of raucous, wild women in the mood for a few laughs? It sounded like just the thing to kick me out of my funk. Why the hell not?

“Yeah, sure,” I said and I went --for about thirty seconds.

I wasn't even really thinking of a hookup. I just wanted to feel like part of the crowd. I stepped through the door and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea why I was even there. I only knew a few people; none of whom were there yet. I suddenly became very self-conscious of the fact that I'm awful company and even if I stumbled into actually "meeting someone" I had nothing to offer them.

Looking around the bar, I saw lots of smiling, younger men with good hair, decent tans and tight-fitting t-shirts. Every one of them was my superior in every way that counted. I felt outclassed, ugly and freakish: a bad-tempered mutant that should be chased off with fire.

It made no sense. My basic core confidence in who I am just crumbled. I was overwhelmed in a place called Buffalo Wild Wings? Really? Buffalo Wild Wings?

I shook my head. This was ridiculous. I didn’t feel like having a good time. I had nothing to celebrate and wanted nothing much except to find a nice, dark place to curl up in a fetal position and bawl.

So, that’s what I did. I went home, cried all the way and went to bed.

I’m still in the grieving process, not the mourning of the end of the marriage, but the end of a particular identity. I don’t know who I am yet, but I’m not the same guy anymore. I’m not even the guy I was before the marriage. I’m somebody else.

I think after something like a marriage ends you have to redefine who you are. You have to figure out what’s gone and what’s left. That’s not to say that this totally destroyed me. That’s bullshit, but being a husband and the head of a household has been at the core of who I was for almost ten years. It's colored my decisions and my opinions. It has driven my direction.

Now, the road signs have been removed. I don't have any idea where I'm going.